1930s Sew-along with Norma: Draping the Dress, Part One


Beginning the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.

This photo laden posting details how the front bodice of the dress was draped. I am using the technique presented in “Draping & Designing with Scissors and Cloth 1930s” by Sandra Ericson. The original material was published by The Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences. I think that Ericson has assembled the most basic lessons. I think that some knowledge of draping makes using the technique much better and easier. There are many details that are omitted such as trueing the seams.

I’m repeating in this posting the photos of a page from the draping book, as well as photos from “Paris Frocks at Home” which is the source of the dress I’m basing my drape on. I think it is better to repeat these photos sometimes so readers do not have to go back and forth to find the photos in previous postings.

Disclosure: I had no idea how to approach this when I started!

The first thing that threw me off were the instructions to drape the garment with the fabric folded along Center Front and Center Back lines. This results in a double layer when draping. The reasoning seems to be that you will be able to create the full front and back bodices once marking is finished. This then facilitates a quicker route to creating the muslin. I didn’t like the idea but went along with it anyone.

The fabric I’m draping with is a poly crepe called “Crème Fraiche”. It is lightweight and takes to draping beautifully but it’s horrible to pin. It would not cooperate with the fine steel pins recommended for draping. I ended up using much thicker and longer pins with glass heads. As you gain experience in draping you learn to let the fabric tell you what it needs and you’ll work accordingly.

I cut more than the full width of fabric thinking it was better to have all that just in case it did work out but it didn’t. When it came time to cut the back bodice I decided to be like someone in a draping video and try to cut while the fabric was still on the form. What a terrible cut it was. It’s much better to unpin and lay the fabric flat on the cutting mat. I ended up with an uneven side seam that had to have some scraps patched in. Thank goodness I was able to match the grain as best as I could.

Why did you use black fabric?

I’m trying to think in terms of the 1930s. Everything would be used in order to save money. I think even though this was more work, feeling around for the style tape underneath, I didn’t do too badly. And I saved at least $12-15.00 on having to buy new fabric.

The dress

If you study the pattern diagram you’ll see that the front bodice has two French darts in the side seam. The French dart that formed on my form was only 1″ wide. The fabric was not doing well at being divided into two smaller darts so I left it at just the one, I also tried curving the side seams as shown in the diagram but that created a slight flare at the bottom of the front and back bodice once the ease tuck was released.

In draping anytime you add width at the hip or lower you get a slight flare. If you take in a little just at the waist to create an indent, a slight hanging of fabric forms below the apex. This is the fabric telling you it wants a vertical dart.

The instructions for draping stated that the front bodice, once marked, should be pinned along the shoulder to the back. This did not work out well when draping the back. The shoulder line pickered and the weight of being pinned to the front distorted the neck dart.

The ease tuck ended up at a point that started right at the hip and extended upwards about 5″ or so.

At the end of the entire process of draping front and back I found the curvy shape had to be eliminated. This was important because the flared lower skirt must hang from a bodice that falls in a straight line. A flare would distort the fall of the flares in the lower skirt and make the draping difficult.

There will be two more postings after this that continue with draping the back and then trueing the pieces.

Marking the lines

I used pins just as shown in the illustrations. It made sense to me to use either pins or tailor’s chalk. In fact I hadn’t thought of this before. When working in muslin I used pencil but the result was my dress form was very dirty from the lead. It cost $500 to get the form recovered. I do not think I’ll be using pencil again. And I do not think, despite what some videos show, that using a sharpie or magic marker on a dress form is a very good thing to do. You can never be sure if the marker will bleed through and mess up the covering.

Draping the Front Bodice

1. The fabric was thread traced along the bustline level with the distance from the CF to apex marked off. I had originally used machine stitching but the fabric tightened up too much. I ended up removing it and hand basting the bust level crosswise grain marking on front and back.

After pinning, the fabric is smoothed up to the end of the desired neckline and down to the desired end of the bodice (above, below or at the waistline if a two piece dress). Then the fabric is smoothed and clipped around the front neckline.

2. The fabric is then smoothed across the shoulder. The pins mark the location of the seam lines to be marked.

3. The armhole is marked at intersection of shoulder and arm. Another mark is made at the level of the screw on the armscye of the form. Here you can see the burden of having too much fabric on the form. Since I will only drape using half the amount of fabric when I work on the rest of the dress this problem will be eliminated.

4. In this and the photos that follow, you’ll see two lengthwise grain lines marked in orange thread. One runs from the apex to the end of the bodice. The other is at the center of the side panel. These grain lines are very important for me visually, especially when a fabric like this polyester lacks a visible grainline. Marking like this is part of the way I was taught at school. I think it was necessary to incorporate. A horizontal grainline only is not enough.

The armhole was marked to right at the start of the side seam. It was not lowered yet. The side seam was smoothed and marked with pins. The fabric becomes droopy as it reaches the bust. The vertical grain lines go off. The dart is formed by adjusting the fabric droopy part from the bust and below into a dart. The size of the dart depends on the size of the bust. The dart is pinned in place.

5. The rest of the side seam is marked with pins. Along the way some pins are stuck into the form to hold the fabric in place. Here you can see the unfitted bodice shape evolving. The vertical grain lines are straight so things are progressing.

The ease tuck was placed along the grain line at the center of the side panel. It is 3/8″ wide. It had to be basted in place so that the fabric is easier to drape. In posting no. 2 in this series the ease tuck is released and the fit assessed.

6. It’s time to transfer the pin markings to the fabric. I used tailor’s chalk because it was the easiest thing I could think of.

7. You need a variety of rulers when transferring the markings to the drape. In each photo you’ll see which ones I used.

8. I used the clear plastic straight ruler to mark the shoulderline. To line up the armhole curve I used the triangular ruler to get a 90 degree angle just at the shoulder line and armhole point.

9. The arm/hip curve ruler was placed against the straight line which acts as a guide. The curve is drawn up to the screw plate level. This is also the place a notch would be marked on the armhole and sleeve.

10. The lower part of the armhole is marked. The armhole at this point is not ready to be completed so that it is comfortable for wearing. The adjustment comes after completing the back bodice.

11. The armhole is marked. Working in chalk is messy! I’m glad I thread traced the outline in colored thread.

12. The dart after the pins are removed. Definitely in need of a straight edged ruler. The important thing to mark is the apex and the starting points of the dart.

13. After using the ruler to straighten the dart legs.

14. The shallow hip curve ruler can be used to create some shaping from under the arm down the side seam past the bustline. Here was the start of a boo-boo on my part. I continued using the ruler down to the end of the bodice. This resulted in a slight flare when the ease tuck was released. If this was a one piece dress I would have left it as it was because the shape was very pretty.

15. When in doubt don’t cut too much out. I used very large seam allowances because I still wasn’t sure if I needed extra fabric or not.

16. Bodice front is now marked and thread traced. The ease tuck is still basted in place.

17. Front bodice pinned onto the dress form. Do you see the style starting to slowly emerge? I loved that side curve but alas, in part 2 you’ll see why we had to say goodbye to it.

18. Side view of the bodice. Here you can see why the bust bridge is important to keep the fabric flowing smoothly over the bustline. This, too, is something I learned in class.

Next Posting coming in a day or two. It will cover draping the back.


3 thoughts on “1930s Sew-along with Norma: Draping the Dress, Part One

    • Yes, that’s right. Unless I had the exact drafting system I could never duplicate what you see there. It also shows how a different body type or dress form determines the finished pattern too. I think the sleeves look so strange from this point in time. it looks like they’d be a bit tight and very fitted.

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  1. Pingback: 1930s Sew-along with Norma: Draping the dress-Part 2 | Retro Glam

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