Memorial Day Weekend–Taking a break from sewing

Hello everyone! Here in Brooklyn, New York we’re having a glorious start to the summer season. It’s the Memorial Day Weekend. I like to light a candle in memory of the veterans who served our country. After that I take a walk with the aim of cultivating an attitude of gratitude for the sacrifices made.

My walk took me along Ridge Boulevard in Bay Ridge. The variety of architectural styles is many. On one block you can feel like you’re in Tudor England and just a few blocks away will be colorfully painted mansions that remind you of a Mediterranean villa. Gardens are full of roses in bloom and the trees are already rich with deep green leaves.

As you walk closer to the Shore, houses begin to have fountains in the front gardens. I’m reminded of all the loving care that goes into keeping a house and garden in good condition. I’m reminded after a walk like this that many whom we don’t know work behind the scenes to keep us safe so that we may enjoy our homes, gardens and have the time to reflect on the meaning of holidays such as Memorial Day.

Rather than going out and mingling with the crowds I take the feelings gathered during my walk and channel them into my sewing or other crafts. Yesterday I decided to work with the flowers I dried in a mixture of cornmeal, borax and uniodized salt. The result is the floral circlet in the last photo. I never follow a pattern when making one of these. I just let Spirit guide me. The aim is to create something imperfect and rustic that serves as a reminder that nothing we create is ever perfect or finished. There’s always supposed to be something we see needs improving so we remain motivated to keep bettering our skills.

Photos of the homes and gardens along Ridge Boulevard and Shore Road in Bay Ridge Brooklyn

Circlet of Flowers

The base is made of florist’s wire shape into a circle several times and then bound with more wire. It is then covered with tightly wound hemp cord. The dried flowers are joined together by more wire and then fastened to the circlet with separate pieces of wire.


1930s Sew-along with Norma: Fabric Combinations and Bow Ties Upated


The fabric swatches came this past week and I enjoyed considering all the possibilities.  The coral pink suiting fabric is very soft and light.  I’ve decided this will be the fabric for the dress.  The 1930 dress I’m using as an inspiration is featured in the book “Paris Frocks at Home” published by Butterick Patterns in 1930. As participants and readers of the
1930s Sew-along with Norma  know, the project is taking on a life of its own.The original dress  has unusual ties on the bodice and sleeves of the dress.

I plan to use one of the floral fabrics for the ties.  Neither print is genuinely 1930s but to me there is a feeling about them based purely on association.  My maternal Grandmother Josie loved small floral prints and I think if there were floral prints in her fabric stash they would have been used to make something for my Mom or curtains for the kitchen.  What I have to do is cut and sew strips of the fabric into ties similar to the ones on the original design.  Then I can gauge whether the smaller or larger print will look better against the dress fabric.

I’d welcome your comments on the combinations since coordinating prints and solids is not always my strong point.I think the ties on the original design are a nice touch and unusual in their placement and construction.  For that reason I’m including close-up photos from the book in case anyone would like to try them out.

Fabric Combinations


The pink coral crepe with a rayon challis print.


The pink coral crepe with a rayon georgette print.

How many of you prefer to be as authentic as possible and how many of you prefer to work with a blending of modern and retro elements when creating an outfit?  Personally I take it as it comes because I want to enjoy the adventure.

It’s all in the details:  bow ties on the 1930s dress

Updataed 5-29-16:  Carol of bywayofthanks  has tested the instructions for making the bow ties and posted about at her blog.  She’s worked out lengths and widths for each tie that give good results.  I plan to try them out when it comes time to make the bows for my toile.

All photos are of illustrations from “Paris Frocks at Home” published by Butterick Patterns in 1930.

I do not think I will sew the bow ties the way in which the original design recommends on the pattern instruction sheet.  Putting a bias binding around a soft challis or georgette tie would, I think, stiffen it or worse cause puckering.  I plan to sew two pieces together for each bow tie.  Depending on how they look when turned to the right side I may or may not top stitch.

The unusual part of this bow tie is that one side is shorter in length than the other.  I have always thought that ties and bows need to be equal in length.  I will experiment with just how short one side of the tie should be once the toile is completed and I’ve time to focus on these smaller details.

Here are the instructions from the original Butterick pattern.  If anyone has sewn a bow tie like this please share your experiences with me.


Bow ties adorn the front bodice and sleeves of the dress.  Here you can see the instructions stating that some ties must be made shorter than others.

The bow ties are given a great deal of attention when it comes to finishing.  The edges can be picoted and turned under.  Or they can have a narrow hem.  Either way there is much handwork with sewing and basting for such a small detail.


Another suggested finish is bias binding machine stitched around all edges of the bow tie.  This seems a little too much for challis or georgette but might work on cotton.  A solid color tie with a floral or plaid binding on the edge might be very eye catching if the color combinations work well.


On the sleeve the lower part of the seam is left open about 2″ with a button or some kind of short placket used to snap the sleeve closed.  Then the ties are placed  about the middle of the sleeve with the shorter ties towards the front.  One set of ties is positioned towards the bottom while the lower one faces upwards.


The bow ties on the front bodice follow the same kinds of placement for top and bottom and shorter and longer ties.  Do you think the ties are of unequal length so that when they are knotted the ends will be even?


This close-up of the finished dress shows bias binding for a finish at the sleeves an neckline.  I plan to use the same fabric for the binding as I’m using for the dress.  I think having the bow ties in a printed fabric is enough of a contrast.

The toile is cut and I hope to start hand sewing it together this weekend.  I would so like to work on it continuously throughout this holiday weekend.  However, Summer is definitely at our doorstep so I plan to go out and greet Her by taking a walk along the shore.  If I have time I’ll post some photos here.

“Dress Cutting” by Margaret C. Ralston

Norma–Here are the instructions for taking measurements and drafting a basic jumper block and sleeve. They come from a 1932 book entitled “Dress Cutting” by Margaret C. Ralston. The title page of the book states that she was “lecturer in dressmaking and needlework, National Society’s Training College for Teachers of Domestic Subject, Hampstead, London.”

I haven’t tried this system but I do make a recommendation based on working with the patternmaking system I know. The method Ralston describes for taking measurements is to “take them loosely.” To make that work I’d think it best to add the same amount of additional width or “looseness” at chest, bust, waist, hip, upper arm and elbow. I’m thinking 2-3″ would work.

Even if you don’t draft the pattern for your block there are some interesting details here. I think the basic sleeve looks like a close fit. Unlike modern clothing where the sleeve seam is matched to the side seam of the bodice, this sleeve seam is 3/4″ to the front of the bodice side seam.

Let me know what you think.


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

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Adjusting the cap of the draped sleeve


Greetings!  I’m slowly making progress with my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  This past weekend I took another journey into the unknown:  truing a draped sleeve and then making an alteration I’ve never done before.

Deciding on the Alteration

In school I learned that set-in sleeves should never have more than 3/4″ ease.  The ideal is for 3/8″ in front and 3/8″ in back.   I’ve never had an excessive amount of ease to adjust so I was always able to adjust the paper pattern by folding out the excess ease at the sleeve cap and then tapering the fold to zero at the elbow or wrist.

The draped sleeve had 1 1/4″ excess ease that I had to get rid of.  The book I’m using recommended making a tuck down the sleeve.  I tried that but the result was a very tight sleeve.  All the comfortable width the ease tucks added was gone.  So I hit my modern patternmaking and sewing books to find a solution.  “Paris Frocks at Home”, the 1930s sewing book I’m using for the construction details, only offered the most basic of sleeve alterations.

Illustrations from “Patternmaking for Fashion Design”, Third Edition, by Helen Joseph-Armstrong.Prentice Hall, NJ, 2000.

I found what I think will be the solution.  The sleeve cap is lowered to remove the excess ease.   The width is not affected so the arm will be able to move when the dress is worn.

Sleeve Alteration in Progress

1. The armholes of front and back bodice are measured and 3/8″ is added to each.  This is the total amount that should be on the sleeve cap in front and back.  The bodice armholes were:

Measurement     +    Ease    =     Total measurement needed for armhole

8 1/4″                      +       3/8″ =     8 5/8″ for Front Armhole of bodice

8 3/4″                      +       3/8″ =    9 1/4″ for Back Armhole of bodice

2.  The amount of the armhole measurement plus 3/8″ is measured upwards from the end of the sleeve cap at the side seam.  Where the measurement ends is marked with an “X”.  The amount left between the “X” and the center of the sleeve (Red and Purple line) is what has to be removed.

For the front 1/2″ and for the back 7/8″ excess ease must be eliminated.

3. The drape is transferred to pattern paper.  Not shown are the alteration for the elbow dart and the side seam.

The pattern is cut across the sleeve cap.  Then the cap is cut along the center line.  A line from the center of the sleeve is drawn upwards onto the pattern paper the lower sleeve is taped to.

4.  To each side of the line the amount of excess ease is marked.  Here you see the sleeve cap of the front with the  of 1/2″ measurement marked to the side of  the center line, on the left.  The cap is matched at the side seam and then lowered until the “X” marked in Step 1 touches the center line of the sleeve.  On the paper pattern this is marked “l” by mistake instead of “X”.

The other “Xs” you see lower on the cap are match points for the armholes.  I never make notices like commercial patterns do.  I just mark with a dot or X and use that to match with the corresponding dot or X on another part of the pattern.

5. The back sleeve cap is lowered until the X touches the Center line of the sleeve.  By lowering the cap the excess ease is now removed.  Again, I forgot to mark “X” and put “l” instead.  But the idea is the same.  Lower the cap tuntil the mark touches the center line of the sleeve.

After lowering the cap, draw the center line upwards into the newly adjusted cap.  Then redraw the biceps level straight across.  Mark the center line at the end of the cap with a dot.  This dot will match the shoulder seam.

6. Here is how the altered paper pattern compares against the original muslin drape.

7.  Completed paper pattern after alterations are completed.  What was important overall was to keep the measurement of the overarm length, the side seams and the elbow dart level in agreement with the original measurements taken on the arm.

I’ve no idea how this will turn out.  I’ve not had good experiences with some of Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s patterns.  We’ll have to see how the toile turns out.  I plan to cut it  out next week.  I think  that front part of the sleeve cap needs a little bit scooped out so I plan to lay the pattern over the armhole to check before I cut the muslin.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: More fashions from Pre-Code Films

This posting is part of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  Pre-code movies continue to offer many details for study and inspiration.


Here in Brooklyn we had sudden gusts of wind and rapidly darkening skies about 6 p.m.  I hurried home from shopping and settled in for the night by watching more Pre-Code movies.  It hasn’t rained but it’s very quiet in my neighborhood considering it’s a weekend.  The stillness makes it possible to concentrate and pay attention to the details of a film even when the plot is so-so.

“The King Murder” is a little hard to get into during the first 10 minutes but it’s worth watching.  The dress worn by actress Dorothy Revier is very eye-catching in a most feminine way.  The dress has the prettiest sleeves I’ve seen in some time.  Dorothy plays the part of Miriam King, a high flying con artist who entices wealthy men into relationships and then threatens breach of promise law suits when they refuse to marry her.  Miriam loves none of her suitors, she just wants the blackmail payment in cash or jewels in order to stay quiet.  Her boyfriends and the women in their lives all come up as suspects after Miriam is found dead one night in the bedroom of her luxury apartment.

But back to Miriams dress.  In the first minutes of the film we see Miriam going up to her apartment with one of her lovers.  It looks like she’s wearing a skirt with a cape over it.  As the scene in the apartment progresses you’ll see that she is not wearing a skirt and cape, but a cleverly designed dress.  The sleeves look like a cape until she moves her arms.  Then we see that the sleeve consists of two parts.  A white sleeve underneath that looks like the sleeves of a blouse.  Over this is a loose, curved sleeve that is not sewed at the underarm seam.  The effect of a blouse is continued with the white bow and white fabric under the neckline of the dress.  What makes this style so interesting is that the entire dress looks like a knit because the fit is so slinky.

Miriam’s neighbor is Pearl Hope played by actress Marceline Day.  Day has such a slender figure that she looks like a 1930s fashion illustration come to life.  I have never seen an actress with such a flat abdomen during the time before high protein diets, diet supplements and high impact exercises like aerobics.  Day wears two outfits I especially liked.  One was a two piece consisting of a long bias cut plaid skirt topped with a belted sweater that had a flat collar in the same plaid fabric.  Towards the end of the movie she wore a long, slinky dress that had a lace bodice and sleeves.  The dress was a close fit.  Could it have been a knit?  There wasn’t any indication of a bulge or a placket.

Or were the fabrics used to construct dresses like this very lightweight?  Any ideas?  I’d be interested in learning what you think.  The movie isn’t the best detective movie but it does pass the time nicely plus the interior shots of the luxury apartments are a little bit of eye candy.  I’ve embedded the YouTube video at the end of the posting.

I think my favorite line from the movie is when Miriam King tells her boyfriend Van, “Hey I’m no ga-ga!” meaning she’s no baby.

Screen Shots from “The King Murder









“The King Murder” 1932 Movie from YouTube



1930s Sew-along with Norma: Checklist for proofing the drape

Here is the checklist I’ll use when proofing the drape for the dress I’m making as part of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  Once the drape is fully corrected I’ll then transfer it to patternmaking paper.  If anyone is interested in how I will work with the sleeve drape, I’ll focus the next posting on that.  I think it will be an interesting exercise in sleeve alterations and adjusting the amount of ease in the sleeve cap.  Please let me know via the comments to this posting.

Proofing the drape before transferring to pattern paper


  • Close neckline dark on back bodice.
  • Make sure the back neckline starts right at the point of the base of the neck or slightly lower.
  • Pin front and back bodice at shoulder line
  • Use curved ruler to true neckline curve.
  • The neckline must be a continuous curved line from center back to center front for this dress.

Shoulder Line

  • Make sure back shoulder is slightly longer (1/4-1/2”) than front. The excess will be eased in.
  • Measure and mark the middle of the front shoulder line and then the middle of the back shoulder line. This becomes the match point and the ease gets distributed to each side.
  • Fold back shoulder line under and pin over front shoulder.

Sleeve Cap

  • Check armhole curve between screw plate markings at front and back. The markings become the match points for the sleeve cap.
  • Make sure the curve between the markings is smooth.
  • Use curved ruler if needed to even out the curve below the markings.

Front & Back Bodice joining seam and armhole

  • Check front dart leg lengths and make sure the dart ends about 1/2” before the apex point. Shorten if needed.
  • Pin dart closed on front bodice at side seam.
  • Measure length of front and back side seams. They should be equal. If not, correct.
  • Next, fold back seam allowance under and pin back bodice side seam to front bodice.
  • Since this is a chemise with dropped waistline at below hip level, the joining seam to the skirt must be straight. Even out any irregular markings with the straight edge ruler.
  • Look over the curve of the armhole below the screw plate markings on front and back. It should be a smooth continuous curve. Even out or adjust if needed.
  • On armhole curve mark the position of the screw plate level.
  • On bodice joining seam, mark the match points for the flared skirt.
  • Note the width of lower bodice, at joining seam, from CB to side seam and from CF to side seam.

Skirt Front and Skirt Back

  • Measure side seams on front and back of skirt. They should be equal. Adjust if necessary.
  • Measure the curve of the skirt at the joining seam. It should be only slightly larger, about 1/2” or so, than the bodice joining seam. If it is greater, decrease the width by either pinching the amount out or taking off from side seams.
  • The skirt length will be total of length plus hem after the drape has hung for 48-72 hrs. and the hemline marked up from the floor.
  • Measure down from skirt joining seam to mark the finished skirt length.
  • The hem allowance should not be greater than 2”. It will be trimmed once the dress in fashion fabric is finished. 2” extra allows for any irregularities that arise when the skirt hem falls on the bias.

Sleeve Cap-Preparations for alterations

  • Measure the armhole of front and back bodice. Do not include seam allowances.
  • Add 3/8” to the measurement for front.
  • Add 3/8” to measurement for back.
  • This is what the front and back sleeve cap should each measure with ease allowed.


  • Measure the lengthwise grain line at center of sleeve. It should be the same as over arm length. If not add the length where needed when the paper pattern is created. Usually this is done by cutting across halfway between elbow and wrist and opening the needed amount.
  • From top of sleeve measure down to elbow dart on the drape. The center of the dart should fall on the line equal to the distance from top of shoulder to elbow when the elbow is bent. If adjustment needed make note and correct on paper pattern.
  • On front and back of sleeve, starting from the side seam, measure up the armhole measurement plus 3/8” for front and back. Mark this point.
  • From this point to center of sleeve will be excess. There are a number of ways to alter the sleeve and remove the excess. It all depends on how much excess there is.
  • Sometimes there is very little excess but a change in the position for the center of the sleeve. For example the armhole measurement plus 3/8” may take you past the existing center line. If so, mark it. When you measure up the armhole + 3/8” measurement from the front side seam of the sleeve you may find yourself going past the new center line. If so this means you have to open the sleeve to create more space to complete the amount needed for the front armhole.
  • Note all this down and then trace the existing drape to the pattern paper.
  • Make all corrections on the paper pattern and proof the seams, dart and sleeve cap again.
  • The manner in which you adjust the sleeve cap is up to you. I refer to Reader’s Digest Encyclopedia of Sewing and The Vogue Sewing Book.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: More fabric considerations

I have ordered more swatches for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  These also come from the Fashion Fabrics Club.

As much as I love all the prints I’ve selected there is an  important detail I have to consider.  The flared skirt has the straight grain on Center Back and Center Front until slightly before the Princess Line on the front and back of the dress form.  After that point the flares begin and the fabric goes on the bias.  This means the pattern will begin to appear on an angle.  And that angle increases at the side seam.  Not only that but some of the florals might form a chevron pattern on the side seam if they are perfectly matched.  I think this would ruin all the effort put into ensuring a good fit for the dress.  Also the flares and line might get lost in the prints.

The resolution is to have the dress in a solid color and select a print fabric for the ties on the front bodice and the sleeves.  Here are the additional fabrics I’ll consider.  Click on the name to go to the FFC site for the full description.


Buttercream Yellow Crepe de Chine


Beige Blue Floral Crepe de Chine


Deep Navy Blue Crepe


Beige/Pink Floral Crepe de Chine


Coral Pink Crepe Suiting


Soft Peach Crepe de Chine


Golden Beige Floral Triple Georgette


Poppy Red Crepe