Style Lines: First steps to transforming the basic pattern pieces

I’ve found the best way to approach pattern transformation is to break it down into a process. After sketching or studying photos of a vintage style, the next step is to determine exactly what type of fit the garment will have.

When the garment hugs the body and emphasizes shape, fitted bodices, sleeves with elbow or wrist darts, and pencil skirts are some of the pattern pieces that can be used. A looser fit will require the use of pattern pieces that do not have many darts (if any at all) and few curving or contoured lines at side seams.

A good foundation in drafting the basic fitted and unfitted bodices, fitted sleeves, unfitted sleeves and sheath skirts will give you everything you need to start creating your own interpretations of vintage styles.

I’m using photos from the January 25, 1964 issue of “The Saturday evening Post” to illustrate this approach. The fashions I selected from the article “Exotic new styles from Asia-Hong Kong Fashions” provide a good example of how simple styles from the past can be adapted or used as the starting point for your own vintage inspired creations. And you won’t need to have advanced patternmaking skills. What will help you achieve success are an eye for fit and alterations, suitable textiles and knowledge of what works best for your figure type. Although a photo may show a very low scoop neckline on a dress or blouse, you have the ultimate choice of proportions and should always work towards creating a version of the style that is most flattering to you.

Cocktail dress by Royal Lynne, Hong Kong, 1964.

The caption for this photo describes the dress as being made of chiffon with a beaded top. The name of the manufacturer is also given. Knowing that this dress was made by a company named Royal Lynne enables me to research any further garments made by the manufacturer during this time period. Finding results for similar dresses on Ebay or Etsy can provide valuable information on what textiles were used, the kinds of closures, and so on.

Style lines drawn over sketch of basic unfitted bodice.

The description for the original dress and the photo do not provide enough details as to whether this was a two piece dress or a one piece dress with a beaded overblouse. Rather than make things too complicated I try to reduce everything to the simplest, easiest approach. This keeps the amount of time needed to complete the outfit within reasonable limits and also eliminates the need for extravagant use of fabrics.

If I were to make an ensemble inspired by this photo I’d choose to do it as a two piece cocktail outfit. The top would be made from an unfitted bodice. Over a sketch of the basic front and back unfitted bodice I’d draw necklines and experiment with the width for the shoulder. Consideration would then be given as to how low the scoop neckline should be at the back. Also, I’d think about what to do with the shoulder or neckline dart from the basic pattern. If possible I’d try to ease the dart intake into the facing seam.

Placement of the bust dart would also be thought about. A French Dart might give a more structured look but could also result in a shape that is a little too boxy. The side dart might work better. As I’d draw in the style lines, I’d also jot down any ideas about closures and finishings. Often these seemingly random thoughts sometimes turn out to be the right solution to the issue I’m thinking on. The bodice would need lengthening to somewhere between 7-8″ below the waistline. From there the amount of style ease needs to be determined so that the easy, smooth fit of the top is maintained.

Basic sheath skirt pattern with style lines for tapered skirt and slanting darts on skirt front.

Since the top is an over blouse the skirt can be made without a waistband. I’d try tapering the side seams and lengthening the skirt to about 2″ – 3″ below the knee. To provide enough ease there would be either a slit or kick pleat at the Center Back skirt seam.

The original dress is described as chiffon with a beaded top. The photo does not supply enough details as to how many layers of chiffon were used. I think that given the fitted skirt and unfitted top other fabrics would work better than chiffon. I’d choose a crepe, Shantung or fabric with slubs for the skirt. The top could be have metallic touches. Before shopping for the fabric, I’d make a sketch of what the outfit would look like when completed and jot down color combinations or single colors that would look good.
Fabric shopping would come after transforming the pattern, fitting the toile and working out any alterations or changes needed.

And in the end, there would be a vintage inspired outfit that while being something like the original will also be an expression of your own talents and vision. Accessories, make-up and hair styling similar to the photo will bring an even more retro inspired feeling to the complete look.