1930s Sew-along with Norma: Lessons Learned and Next Phase

I’ve found the reasons why Version 2 of my 1930s toile still had rippling at the neckline and a very tired look. I was using a very lightweight draping muslin that did not work well with my touch and how I was using it at the neckline. I practiced binding the neckline again but using a medium weight muslin. This time I had success with the neckline.

I’m not satisfied, though, with the overall results I’ve produced for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma. I’m very fussy about the way a garment fits. My progress at draping is not at a level where I can successfully create a pattern for an entire garment. Yet I do feel that reconnection to this skill coming back. It’s going to take time, a lot of time, for me to get it all together. Draping is a little like learning how to play a musical instrument. The more you practice on a consistent, scheduled basis the greater the progress. Since I have many personal and job related activities right now this practice time is not continuous. Days lapse without me continuing the movements of the day before and it takes awhile to get back into the groove.

I have learned several things about vintage sewing and draping from this exercise. I’ve also realized several things about all the books on vintage sewing, draping and patternmaking. I want to share these with you:

• Sewing vintage is a specialty. So call yourself a specialist in vintage sewing and patternmaking techniques.
• You need sufficient knowledge of alterations to render the garment wearable with today’s undergarments and your own body shape.
• Journeying into the work involved with vintage patterns is like learning a foreign language. There many perforations and shapes you need to know the meaning of since most patterns did not have grain lines or sewing details printed on them.
• Some of the books available for draping like “Precision Draping” by Nellie Weymouth Link or “”Draping & Designing With Scissors and Cloth 1930s” by Sandra Ericson are not for the beginner. I say this because they lack the level of highly detailed books we have available today. Our modern books offer much more detail and better illustrations to take you step-by-step through the process. Which is why our modern draping books can cost more than $75 to $100 each.
• Vintage patternmaking books like Margaret Ralston’s “Dress Cutting” offer what appears like a quick way to make your own patterns using a block method. I’ve googled and seen some results of other bloggers who use her basic bodice and the results are very good. I do think that one would have to experiment with the amount of style ease needed for each dress in the book since Ralston does not even offer a guideline.

I’m going to complete this project using the patternmaking system I learned in design school. Otherwise this dress will never come into expression. What I have learned through all the versions of the dress will prove very valuable:

• I have learned where the most flattering levels for a flounce are on a skirt—Never put one into a seam at abodomen level or let the seam cross the end of your backside—This will not be flattering.
• When working with a tubular silhouette of the 1920s or very early 1930 it is best to place the dart at bust level or above, such as in the armhole or at the shoulder line.
• French darts to not look very good with an unfitted tubular dress or bodice. The long French dart that starts almost or slightly above the waistline looks better with an A-line type of flare at the side seam.
• 1930s long sleeves were quite fitted at the wrist with ease starting at the elbow. Consideration has to be given as to the level of comfort and movement we are used to today: do we give that up to keep the look authentic or do we alter the pattern?

So while my method for creating the dress will be a patternmaking system that developed after the 1930s I think the back story of the dress details will be from the 1930s. All the draping and experimenting done through the past versions of the dress have made it possible for me to know exactly how much style ease is needed as well as which sewing techniques from 1930s will work.

This will also provide a good lesson in the differences in fit the different methods and mediums produce. I have a rare four days at home this weekend so I plan to make the most of it and complete a drafted paper pattern before next Monday.

More to come…


7 thoughts on “1930s Sew-along with Norma: Lessons Learned and Next Phase

    • I’m looking forward to sharing the next version. What you’ve seen on the blog is similar to what design school was like. The difference is having an expert teacher to guide the way. It doesn’t take as long as it’s taking me now.

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  1. Do you feel frustrated by all the problems or happy with what you’ve learned from the process?
    I think your dress will still look 1930s even if you’re using a more modern pattern making method. My feeling is that it’s important to get something you will want to wear and enjoy the process.
    My outfit is very simple compared with yours – I love my skirt & I really want to make the second version, but I am still losing weight with my half marathon training and I think I’ll have to wait. I have bought some white fabric for the blouse – I think if I keep it plain I might like it better than the novelty print.

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    • I’m satisfied by what I’ve learned. This experience gave me many insights into vintage clothing I didn’t have before.

      I don’t think I would have realized all the details of vintage clothing that I’m now aware of. For example, I have instructions for a sleeve with a vertical dart running from wrist to elbow. In all my years I ignored that sleeve. Now I’m going to use it for the dress since the original pattern had such a dart and Margaret Ralston’s sleeve had such a dart. I’m also thinking of how I could convert an elbow dart into ease at the elbow since some vintage patterns had this feature.

      I’m much more aware of style ease, too. When we can use a zipper in the center back we can make the skirt or dress a little more form fitting. When a dress is pull on, like mine will be, the concept of style ease comes to the fore.

      Since the dress has to be loose I chose the chemise type of silhouette which is not a part of the draping book. I thought if I applied the techniques it would translate ok. But the book only shows waist length fitted bodices so I can’t completely fault the book.

      I love draping but the frustrations that came across are due to me losing that ability to handle the muslin with TLC. It also helps if one has a block of uninterrupted time since a calm an focused mind means one’s hands and thoughts work together. I think scheduling “me” time for my projects and disconnecting from emails and the cell phone for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday will provide a more calm and focused atmosphere for further explorations into draping.

      It’s a lesson in the relationhip between the state of mind and the output we produce.


    • P.S. I’m so happy to learn your weight loss program is working. Stick with it and you’ll be in top shape (physically and mentally) for the marathon. Yes, keep your fabric a solid color all the better to show off the pleat.


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