1930s Sew-along with Norma: Draping the dress-Part 2


Continuation from Posting no. 1 about draping the bodice for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.

This posting presents only the key points of draping the back bodice of the dress that differ from draping the front bodice as shown in Part 1. The ease tuck can be seen in the middle of the side panel. It is the same width as the front. I learned that both ease tucks must have the same intake otherwise the front and back will hang slightly different on the Size 4 dress form. Given that each woman’s body has its own unique shape and fitting needs there may be times a variation is needed. Observation upon the making and fitting of a full muslin toile will show if this is the case.

Lesson Learned: Not everything in a book works out

Illustration for draping the back bodice from “Draping & Designing With Scissors and Cloth 1930s” by Sandra Ericson.

After marking all seam lines and darts on the front bodice, the book states the back bodice is pinned to the front along the shoulder line. Then the two pieces are placed on the dress form. I found this made draping the back difficult because of the pulling I felt at the shoulder line.

Highlights of draping the back bodice

The back drape is marked the same as the front: width from Center Back to Back Side Seam plus extra fabric as recommended in the book. Then the neckline is marked. From there the distance used from neck to bust level is marked off across the back drape starting downwards from the neck marking.

The distance from Center Back to Princess seam line is marked off as the first vertical grain line. From there another vertical grainline is marked using a measurement equal to the distance from the Princess seam line to the center of the side back panel. I traced these lines in orange thread.

After pinning the front to the fabric that becomes the back drape, the two pieces are put on the dress form. The front is pinned at Center Front of neckline and Center Front of the hip line at the bottom. Every effort is made to keep the horizontal bust line straight. The vertical grainlines of the front are also kept straight.

The back bodice is first draped around the neckline. Clips are made where necessary and the curve marked with pins.

1. First a clip is made near Center Back and a pin placed to mark the neck curve. Then the fabric is smoothed from the intersection of neck and shoulder towards the center back along the neckline. There will be a small amount of fabric that meets and bubbles up. This becomes the neckline dart. It is usually a shallow dart pinned into place with a pin at the start and one at the end.

Take a look at the shoulder line in the right hand portion of the photo. Do you see how the fabric does not lie smooth? This problem intensified after the drape was marked, pinned and placed back on the form.

2. The armhole was marked the same way as for the front.

Once the armhole was marked, the ease tuck was pinned into place.

Then the fabric of the back bodice was brought up against the side seam marking of the front drape. If the front bodice has a dart at bust level then the back and front bust level grain lines must match. Since the front bodice has a French dart the grain lines did not match because a French dart angles further down. The side seams are pinned together using the markings from the front side seam to place the pins in. Care must be taken not to pull the fabric and to allow enough room for movement.

3. The front and back drape, still pinned together, is taken off the form. On the worktable the pin line for the back shoulder is marked in chalk. Then the shoulders are unpinned. The back armhole is marked in chalk using the same rulers and technique showed for the front armhole in Part 1.

Here you can see how the bust level horizontal grain line dips at the side seam because of the French dart.

The back shoulder line is straightened using a ruler.

The back shoulder line is then folded under and pinned into place over the front shoulder line.

4. The fit is checked on the dress form. There aren’t any problems with the horizontal or vertical grain lines. The problem area is very clear: the neckline dart does not rest flat and there is too much ease along the back shoulder line.

Solution to the problem

The weight of the front fabric pinned along the shoulder line impaired the proper flow of fabric over the shoulder and along the neckline. Thus two areas were affected: the shoulder line and the neckline dart. I decided to drape the back shoulder line, neckline and neckline dart over again doing it the way I learned in school.

I will show how this issue was successfully resolved in Part 3.


6 thoughts on “1930s Sew-along with Norma: Draping the dress-Part 2

  1. Do you think the 1930s book misses too many things out? Is that why this looks difficult? I am looking forward to the next posting.
    On another topic: I got the length of my skirt wrong. I have shortened to knee length. Think the very traditional fabric makes the length I chose look wrong – so much to think about!

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    • Yes, Norma, I think the 1930s draping book has several deficiencies. This is due to the fact it’s a compilation of lessons from the Womens Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences which must have been published in the 1930s or thereabouts. Sandra Ericson is merely the editor of the book “Draping & Designing with Scissors and Cloth 1930s”. She selected the most basic material BUT omitted many important details. The result is that this book is a look-see into just a part of the entire system that was taught/published by The Women’s Institute. Still, I think back in the period 1910-1940 the systems we used today were just starting to develop. I can see some of that in this book. But there are other things in it that I’ve not seen taught in a classroom.

      If I had cut the fabric for just half the width as is usual practice this would have gone easier. But since I followed the preparation to a “T” and cut full width I had too much fabric to handle. I think it would have been a mess if I’d draped with the fabric folded in half which results in a double layer.

      I’ll try to post part 3 tonight.

      A knee length skirt would be nice for you. At least you are able to shorten it. It’s a problem when it’s too short and a longer skirt length is better. I agree sometimes traditional fabrics like tweeds look dowdy if the length of the skirt is too long. Your skirt looks nice long, I think, but the important thing is you be happy with it and feel it looks best shorter.

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      • The designer I saw draping also had full width – that’s one of the things I remember – I’ve been racking my brains to think what he did exactly. It was probably 20 years ago.

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      • Designers get used to handling the fabric in all different ways because this is almost a daily activity for them. I’m sure if we were all able to do our sewing and designing related activities that often we’d reach advanced stages of development, too. Plus being immersed in that environment keeps the senses and capabilities sharply focused.

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      • I wanted to do something, anything related to fabrics & sewing for a profession. It would’ve been lovely. But my Dad was obsessed with me going to a liberal arts college and becoming a teacher. I ended up becoming an executive assistant with stints as an admin, too. I made enough money and met enough people to really love the work and stay interested. I was able to be a weekend sewista. Not what I started out wanting but it worked out alright.

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