1930s Sew-along with Norma: Preparing for the first drape


I had free time in the evenings this week so I began the preparations for draping the upper front and back pieces of the dress I’m making as part of the 1930s Sew-Along with Norma

This is a picture filled posting behind the cut so read on if you’re interested in how I’m doing with the challenge of learning the 1930s draping system.

First Step:  Analyze the style


The upper front and back are not quite like a column because there is a slight shaping at the underarm.  There are two French darts at the bust line.  My version will be sleeveless.  The dress must hang straight like a cylinder below the bust.  The flounce on my dress will be symmetrical since it will use less fabric to drape than an asymmetrical flounce.

A sleeveless bodice always differs from a bodice for set-in sleeves.  It must be about 1/2″ in from the intersection of the shoulder and arm.  The line drawn must also be slightly less curved.  Since draping a set in sleeve is difficult for a beginner, I’m going to drape a kimono sleeve  in two parts with the lower section slightly bell shaped.


The part about the draping system I’m using which I’m not sure of is the use of what is called an ease tuck which is positioned from 3-5 ” from the Center Front along the bust line marking on the drape.  According to the instructions the horizontal dart near the underarm must stop 2″ from the apex point of the dart.  The book then states that the examples given were created on a size 36.  I don’t know what the measurements were for a size 36 in the 1930s but a gut feeling told me I had already encountered my first decision regarding this system.  Since all bodies differ there is no telling how the results will be whether using a standard size or your own measurements.  I decided to play around with the fabric after preparing the dress form.

Step 2:  Marking the underarm, armhole, neckline and other style lines


I put a bra on the dress form to better visualize the depth of the neckline as well as where the underarm seam should end.  Some draping videos show the teacher marking the armhole all around the plate.  This is ok initially but the armhole must be lowered when trueing the finished drape.  As a way to help me when I’m draping, I think about the depth of the armhole.  Usually you want it to end above where your bra will be.  You also want it low enough so it won’t bind the underarm area.  For a bodice with sleeves it’s about 1″ below the screw plate.  That can vary depending on whether you have sloping shoulders, square shoulders or a nice smooth shoulder line.  There are even some people who have one shoulder higher than another.  In which case there might be a need to make slight adjustments for each armhole depth.  Since this dress is sleeveless I will compare the mark I just made with the drape after it is assembled.


After marking the style lines with pins style tape is applied near the line of pins to mark the lines.  This helps also with marking the muslin or fabric.  It takes time to determine the best neckline shape and other details so using style tape is another aid to see if the reality matches the vixualized line.  I can’t find my roll of style tape so I used hem tape.

The upper armhole is marked to the screw plate level.  The lower curve is marked when the drape is trued.  This part I have used from experience and what I learned in school.  The draping book I’m using does not include any details like this.




The end of the upper front and back bodice is marked, for now at point starting at the standard hipline about 7″ below the waist and ending about 9″ below the waist.


Measure down from the intersection of neck and shoulder to the apex point of the bust.  Put a pin at this location on both sides of the bust line..


Create a bust bridge by pinning the style tape between the apex points of the bust.  This will cause the muslin or fabric to flow over the bust.  It is important not to pin above or below the bust bridge so the fabric won’t distort.

Note:  I think the expression bust bridge is very, very funny.

Step 3:  Get your fabric ready

The draping videos I recommended earlier, as well as the book I’m using, do not tell you that the very first step is to true your fabric, just as you do before cutting your pattern.  Tear off the selvedges for the lengthwise amount and also tear off the amount needed on the crosswise grain.  Then stretch until the crosswise and lengthwise grains are straight.

After this steam press (not iron) the fabric along crosswise and lengthwise grains.  Let fabric cool then press without the steam.


Here is where a dizzy day had an effect on me.  When I went to my scrap drawer I found that I only had black crepe to do the front and back parts of the bodice with.  The white crepe scraps were of a size great for doll clothes but nothing bigger.  I decided I’ll go with this anyway and place an order for white crepe for draping the flounce and the jacket.

You may be wondering why this is so wide.  Again, I wasn’t sure what I was doing since the book says the fabric should be cut the full cross width of the front and then another piece for the back.  It is folded in half and draped as a double layer.  I’m glad another alarm bell went off inside my mind.

This would make the drape hard to mold plus it creates a weight that the dress fabric will not have.  Everything about draping is alive and when you work with a double layer the results will be for a heavier fabric.  I decided that since I had trued everything and marked the neck, bust line, hipline and CF line I’d leave all the excess as it is.  Just in case I mess up badly when pinning there will still be more than enough to move around.

On the front bustline mark the distance from Center Front to the Apex.  For my dress form that measurement is 3 1/2″.

Step 4:  Do a trial run but do not cut anything

Now I ran into two problems.


The apex is marked at a distance of 3 1/2″ from the Center Front.  The ease tuck would interfere with the apex of the dart.  I marked it at 5″ from Center Front and still it interferes with the dart.  Also the dart stops way past 2″ from what will be the side seam.  Clearly my drape was not conforming to anything in the book.  So what should be done with the ease tuck?


I looked at what would happen above the point where the ease tuck ended (marked with a cross).  This is right by the armhole.  Once released that extra fabric will jut out pushing the armhole further out.  This was not working out.


I then decided to see if the ease dart would work out if it ended 3″ below the bust.


I then pinned the side seam  and undid the ease tuck.  In this case the fabric gave me the answer about using the east tuck.  It said “NO!”  See the flare where it was released.  This does not create a column-like shape below the bust.  The flounce will not look at all like the illustration of the style.  If the seam were angled, as for an A-Line shape or one of the slightly flared skirts illustrated elsewhere in the book this might be ok.  But for this dress I decided not to use the ease tuck.

I’ll leave the markings in place and when I drape it I’ll take a small amount of fabric, about 1/8″ but no more than 1/4″ only at the hipline.  Any other ease need will be determined after sewing a muslin and studying the areas where extra ease is added.


Since the chalk marks were getting faint, I used a machine basting stitch in red thread to mark the lines.

Step 5:  Sleep on it and come back another day

It’s so enticing to continue playing with the fabric but I find it’s good to take a break.  I throw a sheet over the dress form and take a break for a day or two or more whenever I feel something has to be worked on still.

In this case it was the placement of the curve lines for the end of the upper front and back.  I thought that at 7″ below the waist on a Size 4, the seam will cut across part of the abdomen and the buttocks.  I do not think the flounce will look its best there, especially if cut on the bias.  So I moved it lower where there will be no extra curves the fabric will have to flow over.




I have a very busy weekend ahead where I’ll be in and out Saturday and Sunday.  Since draping is an extended conversation with the fabric and an ongoing observation as to how the fabric and the dress form are getting along this will not be an ideal time to start draping.  I will wait for next weekend when I can take some time out to enjoy the process and do it to the best of my ability.

I hope you have learned some more about the process and picked up a few pointers, too.



4 thoughts on “1930s Sew-along with Norma: Preparing for the first drape

  1. Isn’t it strange how the ease tuck worked out? I thought you would definitely have to have one in the draping. I am following this as carefully as possible.
    I have my skirt to finish – probably tomorrow and then I am going to look at the fit of my previous version of the dress and see where it needs improving.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right about the ease tuck. I did have to add it but it took a while for me to figure out the starting point. It’s right at the hipline and extends up from there about three inches. It’s a 3/8″ tuck which will give a total of 1 1/2″ around the hipline so far. I’m jumping for joy when I’m not sitting down to check the blog. I draped the upper front this afternoon and it’s lovely! Right now the side seam had to be draped following the exact location of the dress form side . But when I drape the back, I’ll be pinning the back side to the front side and the position will change so there will be more room.

      It’s hard to explain so I took lots and lots of photos to show the process. I know right now that at the hips there will be 1 1/2″ and at the chest about 1″ of ease. The waistline won’t be a problem since this is loose. Any extra width needed will be a simple alteration at the side seams.

      Norma, I can’t get over the shaping. It turned out not to be a tubular shape at all. It’s got a slight but lovely smooth curve at the side.

      The difference from the pattern illustration is that I only got one French dart instead of two. There was not enough intake to share between two darts.

      It took 3 hours to get into the groove with this but it’s making sense a little bit at a time. Things are still changing. I’m open to the changes, too. Like now that the bodice front is completed it looks like the flounce will need to be higher. We’ll watch it develop. I’m so excited! Hope your skirt works out well.

      The way I made time for this was to put off all the dusting and floor mopping this weekend. I may put it off next week, too. I really don’t want to lose momentum.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll put the photos up later in the week or over next weekend for sure. There were two changes I made to the way it was draped which I’ll detail. I had to rely on the knowledge I had from school for that because the instructions in the 1930s book as far as keeping check on the grain lines is minimal.

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