1930s Sew-Along with Norma: New drape


I am very happy to share a break through in my progress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma. I’m finally “getting it” as far as developing a 1930s style is concerned. I credit that to watching the Pre-Code Hollywood films every chance I get. Seeing the clothing in motion has tuned me in on how fluid the lines were and how there wasn’t the heavy interfacings and shaping of the Post-WWII and 1950s era.

It’s been hard process these past 6 weeks but I finally let go of the need to sculpt the drape and add darts and cinching. I also had to do a very hard critique of the first toile.

Why I Changed the Silhouette

The first drape looked good on the dress form. But…

–When I tried it on reality set in.

–The dropped waist did not look becoming at all.

–When the style line or joining seam is placed right in the middle of the abdomen and crosses into the back right across the backside the effect is unflattering.

–The body looks wider and the line makes the naturally curvy part of the abdomen and backside look unattractive. Think about it. This is why the yoke on a pair of jeans is much higher up.

–When I made the first drape I had a hard time figuring out how to work with the ease tuck. This is a 3/8″ to 3/4″ tuck made from the waist up to about bustline level. I put too much ease in–about 3/4″–which accounted for those diagonal dropping areas in the back bodice. By the time I corrected that the toile was becoming too tight.

–I went through as many pattern envelope illustrations I could this week through Google Images. Nowhere did I find dresses from the late 1920s and 1930 with long vertical darts in front or back of the chemise dresses. To be true to the 1930s I had to redo the drape.

–I’ve learned that even though the illustrations show the flared portions of a dress starting at the abdomen or hip you have to think about your own shape as I’ve described here. If you’ve got curves this style has to be changed. This is what I had in mind when I made the new toile.

–I wanted a 1930s style that could look good on not just tall thin women but women of average height (5′ 4″ to 5′ 6″) and average weight (125-140 lbs.) could wear and look graceful in.

–With this in mind I decided to make the flared portion of the dress fall below the widest point on the form, about 3″ below that which places it on the upper thigh. When a woman is walking the motion will begin there and the eye will see that.

–To keep things attractive I decided to add a thin belt like the kind used for some illustrations in “Paris Frocks at Home”.

New Style Lines

I used the lace tape to mark off the location of the ease tuck and where the new level for the flared skirt will be.

I realized that since my dress form does not have a backside it was easy to think a dropped waistline ending in the middle between waist and hips would look ok.  Since the form is flat I had no way of seeing how unflattering it would look.

I feel I’ve come a long way since starting the project.  I’m more comfortable with this technique and can remember it even when I’m sleeping.  Talk about total immersion!  The new bodice was easier and faster to do.  I completed it between Thursday and Friday night.  You can see the ease tuck running parallel to the vertical grain line below the apex.

Another thing I did to get a better shape was forego using the French dart.  This dart has its center at the bustline level.  This helps maintain a better line for the chemise.

I also “got it” when it came time to use the curved ruler.  The side seam came out much better and the curve flows into the straight line below the bust.

Draping the Flared Skirt

The skirt on the previous toile was difficult for me to drape.  I just didn’t have the right touch the first time.  The fabric stretched so much on the front that it was impossible to ease into the bodice of the dress.  Also I did not add the extra fabric for the ease tuck.

The solution this time was to handle it more carefully and use more pins while draping.  Since this is a flared skirt I didn’t add an ease tuck all the way down.  I took a pinch of fabric that was 3/8″ at the upper part of the skirt and tapered it to nothing.  Then when I took the drape apart I measured the bottom of the bodice and the skirt to ensure there wasn’t a big difference in the width of each.

The belt makes the entire dress come together.  Also there is no pulling at the side seams.  When the ease tucks are released there will be more room.

The flares on this dress have less width than the previous one because I don’t want the skirt pattern to need 60″ wide fabric.  I want to be able to use 45″ if necessary and not worry about having to cut the skirt shorter.  It wouldn’t look very 1930s if the length from waist to hem was less than 27-28″.

Sleeveless with a Pretty Collar

I still want this dress to be sleeveless but would like a feminine collar for it.  This past week Naomi at Spare Room Style inspired me with her sweet little capelet that has a blue velvet bow at the collar.  I decided to go through my books for draping ideas for capelet collars.

This pattern is from “Dress Cutting” by Margaret C. Ralston.  I’m thinking of a collar that will look something like this.  Or I will make the capelet separate so that the dress can have more versatility.  I need to play around with the muslin and see what develops.

Next Step

None of my draping books mentioning using the arm with the dress form when draping a cape, capelet or capelet collar.  I think this might be necessary so that the shape of the curve and the amount of fabric needed for movement can be assessed correctly.

I hope to make some progress next week but may not be able to post since I have a family get-together next Saturday.  I’m also running low on muslin so I’ll definitely get an order in for that.

Here’s a big thank you for all the encouragement and sustained interest you’ve been providing.  It does make a difference and I hope you’re learning from me as much as I’m learning from this project.




1930s Sew-along with Norma: Inspiration in Pre-Code Movies


I’ve been in a rut the past two years.  Not a bad one but a limiting one.  Since the 1950s have many happy associations for me I am very drawn to the fashions of this era.  I’ve become familiar with the structured clothing and ways in which the sheath dresses and skirts were contoured.  I’m used to working with the support needed for blouses and necklines, along with darts and seams that emphasize a curvy figure.  Which is all great for 1950s inspiration.

What’s happening is that I see I’m still clinging to some of that as I work out my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  It’s only by actually draping, trying out the different techniques and making the alterations that I realize the following about 1930s fashions:

  • There was much less structure and interfacings used.
  • Finishings had to be lightweight, too.
  • The entire thrust of a design was to wear it and see it in  motion.
  • The static tubular silhouette of the 1920s was left aside in favor of one that emphasized the female form in action, graceful, fluid action that set the frills, ruffles, flounces and godets into motion.
  • Even walking across a room could make a woman look divine if the capelet collars, flounces and ruffles were in a lightweight fabric.

So how do I get it into my sub-conscious that the 1930s was not the post-Dior New Look Era where women wore waspies, bullet bras and dresses shaped with many vertical and horizontal darts?

The answer that came to me was:  “Go to the movies!”  And so I did that over the weekend.  I’m strictly using Pre-Code Hollywood films for this study for many reasons.  One is that there is a more down-to-earth quality in some films and in most there is a direct presentation of issues that seem familiar today.  Some ways in which Pre-Code Hollywood films presented topics like marriage and children were very in-your-face in showing things such as a young couple strapped for cash not really wanting their first baby or a woman being an unrepentant schemer and doing well at rising up in the world.  The Hayes Code came into being after certain civic and religious groups put themselves in the place of moral authorities and decided that the Pre-Code films with strong, smart talking, successful women and the none-too-obvious play between the sexes (and sometimes same sex relationships, too!) were a danger to civilization.  The result was a heavy handed censorship on expression that was not removed from film making until the 1960s.

The second reason why I’m watching so many Pre-Code movies is for the clothing.  Yes, despite some of these films being lesser known and small budget productions, the actors and actresses are dressed very well. Here are screen shots from two films I recommend seeing just for the clothes alone.  The stories are very melodramatic in a soap-opera fashion but they pass an hour or so enjoyably so long as you don’t let the endings get to you.  Even Pre-Code films take their strong, witty leading female characters and have them melting from love and yearning for marriage at the end.

What follows are screen shots from two movies I think are worth seeing for the purpose of studying the fashions.

“Bad Girl”

Sally Ellers stars as the so called “Bad Girl” of this story but I failed to see how she was bad.  I loved her wise-cracking, self-assured manner in the first 15 minutes of the film.  Also the footage of Coney Island is real and a glimpse into Brooklyn in 1931.  I recommend the beginning for that and the costumes Sally wears.  The movie opens with a scene of a fashion show where Sally is modeling a wedding dress.  It’s gorgeous and the suits she and the other models change into afterwards when the show is over are also lovely to watch as they move across the screen.

The rest of the movie is downhill as Sally’s character falls in love and everything that made her of interest becomes submerged into the object of her affection.







“Parole Girl”

Mae Clark’s wardrobe in this movie is not what you’d expect of a young woman left destitute by the death of her father, jailed for extortion and granted parole because of a contrived act of heroism at prison.  The main action is her character’s desire to get revenge by messing up the life of the department store executive who did not respond to her pleas for mercy.  What happens is that this unlikely couple fall in love and the movie ends with a wedding-to-be.  Still, Mae’s wardrobe is very classy and made the movie worthwhile for me.  I especially love the lace collar and cuffs of the suit she wears in the opening scenes.  Her housedress and frilly apron are also very pretty.  I like the touch that she’s dragging on a ciggie which completely clashes with the sweet housewife she’s going to portray when the owner of the department store comes to dinner.







Resources & YouTube Links

“Bad Girl”
Good Old Movies


“Parole Girl”




1930s Sew-along with Norma: Completed First Toile


Here’s the weekly update on my participation in the 1930s Sew-along with Norma  The toile is completed and I’m happy to report that the results are almost at the point where I can say “It’s worked!!”.  The overall drape has translated well into a toile.  There are some less than satisfactory spots that require correction as I will show in the following sections.  This necessitates creation of another toile because they are serious enough to merit the extra care.  I figure time spent on another toile is better than losing money on a poorly fitting garment in the fashion fabric.

1930s Sewing Challenge: Learning about lapped seams

The bodice of my dress is curved at the bottom where it connects to the skirt.  The curve is lower at the side seams. I’m using “Paris Frocks at Home” as my main roadmap into genuine 1930s sewing techniques.  This week I turned to the many very small illustrations that show garments that have lapped seams in some parts.  I now realize what a valuable technique this is for getting good results on curved areas where a bodice and skirt such as the one on my dress are joined.

To make the small illustrations and pattern instruction sheets easy to analyze I photographed them and then enlarged the photos in PaintShopPro.  My copy of “Paris Frocks at Home” is to fragile to withstand the pressing down necessary to obtain a good scan.  In this illustration I noticed that the finished dress has top stitching where the pleated skirt joins the chemise bodice of the dress.

This pattern instruction sheet is used in the book as an example of the need to follow the exact sequence worked out for constructing the garment.  Notice how it looks like the bodice of the dress is lapped over the top of the pleats where they curve.  This would be the only way to produce a neat joining.

I decided to try this technique out on the toile of my dress.

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1930s Sew-along with Norma: Fashion trends reported on April 20, 1935

This posting is part of the  1930s Sew-along with Norma


It’s time for our weekly look into the trends of fashion during the 1930s as reported by The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  Today’s screen shots come from the Saturday, April 20th, 1935 edition.  Orchids were the flower to wear as a fashion accessory for the Easter season that year.  This seems so extravagant given that the U.S. was still in the midst of the Great Depression.  I wonder if some clever seamstresses found a way to make fabric flowers that looked like orchids.  These fabric orchids could be used  throughout the Spring season and not just for a few days. I can definitely envision them made in silk organza.

I think there are a few good ideas in this report from the Eagle because of the novelty of wearing orchids with tailored suits.  Wearing a real or fabric orchid against a black velvet jacket or dressy white blouse is very dramatic and fresh when we visualize it.  Since orchids are not the usual flower one would wear with a suit, the fabric of the blouse or jacket has to have the right texture and color to be suitable as a background for the orchid.  Some thought and consideration has to be given to this to make the impact of the orchid effective.  For tailored suits I tend to consider a tiny rosebud or carnation more suitable, usually done up in silk or organza.

The Fashion Report for Saturday, April 20, 1935



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1930s Sew-along with Norma: Bias binding instead of facings

Update on my participation in 1930s Sew-along with Norma

Please check out Norma’s blog to see her pretty 1930s skirt.

1930s Sewing Technique Challenge:  How do I finish a neckline and the armholes of a sleeveless dress?

I found the answer to why so many 1930s patterns do not have facing pieces for necklines and armholes on sleeveless garments.  The pattern that inspired my project also does not have any facing pieces in the pattern diagram.  I went through one of my reference books “Paris Frocks At Home” to see what was an acceptable finish.  It turns out that bias binding was often used.  There isn’t a diagram or mention about armhole facings although there are some facings for necklines.  I have decided to use either organza or a poly china silk for the binding once I start sewing with the fashion fabric.

The binding of my copy of “Paris Frocks at Home” is fragile.  I won’t scan it but can photograph the pages I referred to.  I’ve typed the pertinent text in along with close-ups of the illustrations mentioned.

I’ve decided to put the toile together by hand. This gets me into the groove for sewing the dress.  Many of the finishings in the 1930s were done by hand.  In this sense dressmakers in the 1930s were closer to the spirit of haute couture than I previously realized.

Photos of what I’ve done so far follow at the end of the posting.

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1930s Sew-along with Norma: What were the fashions featured on April 13, 1932?

As part of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma, I’m posting ads for fashions from editions of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle that were published during the 1930s. Today’s advertisement is from the Wednesday, April 13, 1932 edition. These lovely silk dresses were sold at A&S Department Store which was located in Downtown Brooklyn for several decades. My Grandma Josie, my Mom and then I shopped there up until the 1970s.

What I found interesting in this ad is that these 100% pure silk dresses were being marketed as ideal for hot weather wear. Even though they had short sleeves silk can be hot in the summer. I wonder how the women who purchased these would treat perspiration stains since silk is delicate. Anyway they are still lovely to look at and would be lovelier to wear. Let me know your favorites!

I will post an update on my toile over the weekend.


“Brooklyn Daily Eagle”
Wednesday, April 13, 1932
page 16
Brooklyn Public Library Brooklyn Newsstand

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Coffee Break for 4-6-2016

Progress Report on my project for 1930s Sew-along with Norma

I’ve cut out a new toile for the dress and am in the process of thread tracing the grain lines on each piece.  I’m going to take my time with the sewing because the practice will do me good.  In “Paris Frocks At Home”, published in 1930 by Butterick Patterns, the recommended finishing for necklines and sleeveless tops is a double faced bias tape.  Since the neckline of my dress is now lower and the intended fabric is light-medium weight crepe I think this will be a good finish.

Another reason why I will finish the neckline and armholes is because, once the toile is finished, the jacket will be draped over the dress.  I think this is the only way I will be able to gauge whether or not I’ll have enough style ease for the jacket.  I’ve not read this in any book, but from thinking on it this seems a good way to go, especially to gauge how much ease I need for the jacket armhole and sleeve.

I have a travel day for work this Friday and then another busy weekend.  I don’t know how far my actual sewing will go but at least the preparations are progressing.  I find that if I have time in the evening and am not fatigued, it’s best to do pinning and basting of things like darts.  I don’t do too much else because I’ve made some really silly mistakes when I’m tired such as basting a sleeve in backwards.

I thought I’d share an advertisement, along with close-ups of the illustrations it contains, from the Sunday, April 6th, 1930 edition of “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle”.  The fashions were sold by a store called Loeser’s located at Fulton Street in Downtown Brooklyn.  The lovely, fluttering sleeves and skirt insets would flatter many figure types, don’t you think?

The ad is at http://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/59886270

I access “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle” through the online database, Brooklyn Newstand, at the Brooklyn Public Library’s website.


Each dress cost $39.50 which, according to the CPI inflation calculator, translates into $553.73 in 2016 dollars.