Dressmaker’s Library: “Grace Kelly-Icon of Style to Royal Bride”


Cover of “Grace Kelly-Icon of Style to Royal Bride” by Kristine Haughland.

As a little girl I thought the most beautiful wedding dress I ever saw was my Mom’s. Then along came Barbie and I experienced the delight in having all the beauty and enchantment of a wedding gown in small scale. But as I came of age in the 1960s I had no attraction to the wedding gowns of that time period. I also had no intentions of getting married so that may have been part of it. The styles of the mid-1960s through the 1970s left me uninspired. I did not find the empire waistline gowns very attractive for a variety of figure types. For me the styles of past decades were what inspired me during the last year at French Fashion Academy. As part of my final exam I created a simple wedding gown that used elements of the 1950s gowns I loved so much. It had a princess seamed bodice covered with Alencon lace pieced over ivory silk charmeuse. The skirt was flared and over that was English cotton net edged with the lace which I had help piecing along the hemline.

Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco.

I never cared for strapless bodices that lacked something to provide a little cover, so we added a draped piece of silk organza overlaid with cotton net. It was gathered at center front. Then the piece was draped around the shoulders from center front and all the way around the back to create a look of short, puffed sleeves in the front. The shoulder blades in the back were also covered. The ability to wear a strapless bodice and look truly natural and elegant is difficult for many women. There are collar bones, shoulder lines, shoulder blades, upper arms and other parts of the body to consider. Even a minor weak point in these areas can turn into an unflattering focal point when a strapless bodice is worn. These are some of the reasons why it is not my preferred style for wedding gowns. I think that the wedding gowns of Her Serene Highness Grace Kelly and Princess Kate are beautiful examples of how alluring and captivating a bride looks when she covers up. Minor figure flaws can be camouflaged with wedding gowns like these. The styles will also look good when the wedding photos are viewed by future generations.

If you are like me and enjoy drafting your own patterns, you understand that it’s not enough to take in a well made garment. There is a need to know how the pattern was drafted and if any special techniques were used in the construction. I am delighted to share with you a peek into the book I bought myself as a birthday present. “Grace Kelly-Icon of Style to Royal Bride” is a wonderful addition to any dressmaker’s library. You will receive a very basic overview of some of the elements of Grace’s style as a young woman, then as an actress and finally as a royal bride. The book was published by The Philadelphia Museum of Art to coincide with an exhibit in 2006 of Grace Kelly’s wedding gown. That year marked the 50th anniversary of her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

In this sketch you can see the contrast between the popular fashion silhouette and Grace’s classic sense of style.

This book will not give you tips or insights into how you can distill the essence of Grace Kelly’s style and make it your own. There is an overview of the evolution of her style with the goal of setting the stage for when she becomes a royal bride. The focus is on how her cool, sophisticated and simple elegance translated into the beautiful wedding gown that continues to be one of the most popular items in the museums’ collection. The information about the gown’s designer, Helen Rose, is concise. You will have enough background to do further research about Helen on your own. There are photos of garments Helen designed for different movies Grace appeared in. From them you can distill some of the elements of Helen Rose’s design portfolio for Grace Kelly. There are such garment features like high necklines, nipped waistlines and simple ornamentation that Miss Rose followed in the creation of Grace’s studio wardrobe and the famous wedding gown.

These sketches contain details about the components of the wedding gown.  The book contains more drawings like these.

The part of the book that I found most valuable comes towards the end. There are drawings which present the different parts of the wedding gown. At last I have the answers as to how Grace’s gown was created. Helen Rose did not make the garment all one piece. Instead she followed the techniques used by the great couturieres: she built the gown by means of a series of layers and different parts. For example, the strapless bodice is part of a foundation garment that has a straight slip. Around the waistline is a layer of ruffles. The strapless bodice and slip are fastened first in the front. The lace bodice is also part of this foundation garment and is buttoned up next. The skirt is a separate piece as is the bias cut cumberbund. Other layers are added until the process of assembling the gown and dressing the bride is complete. There are also detailed descriptions and photos of the dresses for the bridesmaids and flower girls.

Second hand versions of the book can be purchased through Amazon for under $25. I recommend adding this book to your library. It is not only a reference book but also a delight. The color photos and sketches provide much inspiration for your own versions of Grace’s timeless and elegant styles.

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Online Vintage Patternmaking Book: “Modern Pattern Design”

“Modern Pattern Design” by Harriet Pepin was written in 1942.

I’m very happy to share a discovery with you today–a complete vintage patternmaking guide that is available FREE at http://web.archive.org/web/20070308175038/http://vintagesewing.info/1940s/42-mpd/mpd-toc-long.html

“Modern Pattern Design” offers a complete system for creating pattern blocks along with the techniques to transform them into various styles.  There are many illustrations and the instructions for drafting are given step-by-step.  Harriet also provides very detailed commentary.  I plan to read through each chapter before incorporating any of her techniques into the system I use.  Her tone and style of writing is very conversational so it is easy to follow along.

This website does not have a “Save as PDF” link but I found a way to save each chapter.   The link provided brings you to the Table of Contents which consists of links to each chapter.  After getting to the site do the following:

  1. Create one folder on your drive and name it “Modern Pattern Design.”
  2. Within this folder create sub-folders named for each chapter as well as the Author’s Statement, Acknowldegement and Summary.
  3. Click on the first link to navigate to that page.  On the menu of your browser click on “File” menu.  Then click on “Save As”.
  4. Select the correct sub-folder by clicking to open it.
  5. Then click the “Save” button on the File Save screen.
  6. Use the forward arrows at the top right hand portion of each screen.  This navigates to the next chapter.
  7. Repeat steps 5-7 until all chapters are saved.
  8. Within each sub-folder your PC will create a sub-sub folder that holds all the graphics from each webpage/chapter.  Below that will be the saved webpage.  Do not delete the sub-sub folder.  It is important to keep.
  9. Print out each saved web page if you want to have a hard copy of this book.

I hope you will find this book as useful as I am.  It is thorough enough to give you a good foundation to get started in creating your own custom made vintage garments.  The illustrations present many wearable, everyday styles of the early 1940s.  They can serve as the basis for your own interpretations.