1930s Sew-along with Norma: Draping the dress, Part 3


With this posting you’ll see the completion of the front and back bodice for the dress. Participating in the 1930s Sew-along with Norma is proving a very educational experience. I’m learning new things about draping as well as revisiting techniques I learned in school.

When a person is using a draping system they are familiar with the process is not laborious. What you’ve seen in the postings is the result of me using a completely new technique. It also is caused by a degree of unknowing which the book “Draping and Designing with scissors and Cloth 1930s” does not clear up. This book contains only basic lessons in draping that were taught by The Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences. As such it is incomplete. For example, there are no instructions given on how to true the drape once you’ve completed all the steps. Illustrations show the armhole draped around the lower part of the arm without being adjusted for a comfortable fit. I would advise anyone wanting to learn vintage draping to buy a book that contains a complete system and not just some lessons from that system.

Corrections that had to be made

The pinning of the front and back fabric using the front shoulder line as the basis created problems along the back neckline dart and shoulder line.

Another unknown for me was how the drape would look once the ease tuck was released.

I cut 2″ wide seams as a precaution in case I needed more ease. As it turned out I didn’t.

The use of a curved ruler to mark the complete front side seam resulted in a slight flare at the bottom of the drape. This was corrected by redrawing the line straight.

It is important for the bodice to hang straight because the lower part of the dress will be flared. A dress with a flared bodice and then a flared skirt would be difficult to drape. The reason why the upper bodice must fall flat without flares is because it acts as a hanger for the lower portion that will be flared. The lower skirt will be heavier because of the increased width a flared skirt takes. A bodice cut on the straight grain which hangs smoothly forms a strong and perfect surface upon which the lower flared portion can be sewn.

Correcting the shoulder line, neckline and neck dart

1. I pinned the drape front and back onto the dress form again. The side seams remained pinned but the shoulder seams were not. This is how I learned in school.

The front shoulder seam was pinned towards the front and out of the way so that the back shoulder line could be pin marked. Here you can see how much higher up the previous shoulder line was (chalk lines). Now that the back fabric was being draped without being pinned to the front shoulder line the ripples and pulling are gone.

2. The neckline was also redraped and the neckline dart repositioned. The chalk marks indicate the first dart. Notice now how smooth the dart is. In the illustration from the book the neckline dart is shown as almost straight. The final result for your neckline dart depends on the shape of your neck and curve of the back. All illustrations are just that, illustrations. You have to work with the form in front of you and move the fabric in the best way that form (or your body) requires. There should not be any pulling or puckering.

Correcting the side seam line

After correcting and marking and pinning the new shoulder line and neckline dart in place, I released the ease tuck. There turned out to be too much ease from the hip down to the end of the drape. It was also showing a little flare. I didn’t take a photo of that part, sorry!

1. I used a straight ruler to straighten the side seam. The blue thread marked the previous seam line. I used my tracing wheel and dressmaker’s paper to transfer the new seam line to both sides. Then I took out the old basting threads and thread traced the new side seams.

Note: The need to keep adjusting seamlines was due, I think, to draping in a medium weight poly crepe in BLACK. If I’d used muslin or a lighter colored fabric it would have been easier to see the seams and style tape underneath. The flip side is that I draped using what I had and since this is the first time I’m draping in fabric I must say it’s way different than using muslin.

2. The drape is put back on the form because I wanted to mark in chalk a rough placement of where the flared portion of the dress will go.

3. I ran out of the poly crepe and was waiting for an order of some more to arrive. Since all I wanted was to assess where the flared skirt of the dress would look best I pinned up a scarf, draped it on the bias and walked across the room. This helped me better visualize the overall look. I noticed that the neckline needed to be a little lower, too.

This was the moment when the dress started to come to life for me in terms of the possibilities. I felt all the previous effort is starting to bring good results.

4. The drape was taken off the form again and the positions of where the flared skirt will go are marked off. The style line is marked using the shallow hip curve ruler. The same curve is also marked in the back.

Since I’m never fixated on imposing style lines on any type of drape, I’m very open to considering and reconsidering where things go and where they get cut. Someone with a more definitive outlook will decide more quickly and just cut. I’m not like that. I have to putter around the room and come back every so often before making the final markings and cuttings on a drape.

Adjusting the armhole for a comfortable fit

This part I learned in school.

1. The armhole is marked following the natural curve of the dress form or the arm. The underarm portion is at a point where the underarm crease is when the arm is straight at the side of the body.

It is necessary to lower the armhole for a comfortable fit. In sleeveless garments it is lowered 3/4-1″. For a bodice with sleeves it’s 1″ or slightly more if you have sloping shoulders.

2. To add ease under the arm, I measured out 1/2″. This gives a total of two inches all around the area slightly below the chest and above the bust.


3. The curve ruler is used to blend the new seam line into the rest of the side seam.

4. The armhole is now lowered from the screwplate (or mid-point) level to the new lower marking.

5. By this time the chalk marks were starting to fade so I thread traced the new markings.

6. The front and back are pinned together at the side seams and shoulder seams again for one more check of the fit.

Checking the fit

This is a preliminary check to make sure the front and back hang straight on the form. Once this is confirmed, the flared skirt portion of the dress will be draped over the bodice.

Once all parts are completed the drape is used to create a flat, paper pattern. This will be proofed and when completed used to cut the fitting toile.

I think the back armhole needs adjustment and remarking but I’ll wait until I cut a muslin before working on this. Next, will be the skirt. I originally thought I’d drape the flares on the bias but that looks very extravagant now. It uses up so much fabric. I’m going to think a little more and commence the skirt drape once I decide whether I cut on bias or straight grain. Either way there will be flares.


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

  1. It’s interesting the way the shoulders and neck changed once you used the system you learned. Maybe there is something missing from the edited version in the book or maybe someone mis-edited the instructions.
    I am enjoying this.

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