The One Hour Dress: Drafting Instructions

The 1930s Sew-along with Norma brought up a discussion of the straight lines of some dresses in the late 1920s and early 1930s. At Norma’s request I’m posting scans of drafting instructions for one version of the One Hour Dress. The first scan contains instructions for taking your measurements.

I have not made a garment using this system developed by Mary Brooks Picken during the late 1910s through 1920s. I have seen different versions online of this dress. Some came out very well and others did not look flattering. Since it is a very boxy shape I think making a muslin is a good precaution. The width is based on the hip circumference. Those who have a larger abdomen or smaller bustline may need to make some adjustment.

There are vertical or horizontal darts to give some shaping at the hipline. Walking pleats in the side seams are another unusual feature in some styles. I’d love to see photos of any readers who use these instructions to create a dress, tunic or top.

This pattern came from “The One Hour Dress-21 New Designs with Complete Instructions for Making”


1930s Sew-along with Norma: Fabric ordered. Now to notions…

I’m still tweaking a few details on Toile Version 3.1 of my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma. Here are the latest developments…

Fabric Ordered and Belt Buckles Under Consideration

The flares for Version 3 were just right. I ordered a rayon challis print that looks very good when flared. Since I ordered a 1/4 yard cut for the sample I had enough to play with on the dress form. When the print is flared the tiny flowers look ok. At first I had thought such a print would not match up at seams. But no worries with this pattern. It’s too small to require matching up.

The fabric is very soft and feels nice against my skin. I’ve decided to make the belt buckle the focal point of the dress. I have two belt buckles I bought at a trimmings shop in my neighborhood. I’ve photographed each against the fabric for the dress.

I like the look of the gold buckle. If I use it the dress can be accessorized with a gold chain necklace and earrings.

I’m leaning towards the green buckle because it is very attractive against the print. I also think it has a retro look to it.

Bias Binding Slip Stitched to Sleeve

I followed Norma’s advice and slip stitched the bias binding to the sleeve. This required slip stitching from the outside and then the inside. It worked out beautifully. Thank you, Norma for sharing this new found technique. Here I have found the solution to working with bias binding. It does not pucker when applied this way. It also does not stiffen up as it does when machine stitched.

Since it’s very hot I still haven’t put the sleeve in to test the fit and the hang of it. This next step will take place after I deal with the V-neckline of the dress.

Stay Tape

On Version 3 of the toile I used a strip of muslin selvage stabilize the V-neckline. This worked out with mixed results. I found the neckline a little too heavy in feeling. It lacked the soft quality that I now see on the finished sleeve. I’ve read that the selvage of organza is the best to use as a stay tape. I’m still not sure it is the solution I need.

I ordered a roll of Dritz nylon stay tape to try on Version 3.1 of the toile. I will then test it on a scrap of the dress fabric to make sure the two work well together.

Eliminating the Ties
I have decided to eliminate the ties for several reasons. Among them are:

**The placement looks awkward on the dress form even though it has a small bustline (32″ inches).

**A set of ties right below the v-neckline takes away from the bias binding finish of the neckline.  The second set of ties would be located at bust level or below. It would look odd on a woman with a well defined figure.

**The ties at the sleeve would distract from someone seeing the belt buckle as the focal point of the dress.

**I considered sketches from “Paris Frocks at Home”, the 1930 book from which I took inspiration for my dress. Whether the dress with the ties is worn by a tall or short woman they will only look good if she is very slender and angular. I’m making this conclusion based on how I envision the dress with ties would look on the women around me. Most are curvy and it would not look that good.

**Instead of ties I’m considering buttons in a shade of green that matches the belt. There will be one at the neckline in the back and three buttons on the seam of the sleeve. These would close with a thread loop made in green silk thread.

**To accessorize the dress I’ll look for dangling earrings with crystal beads or stud earrings. A necklace 16-18″ long with crystal beads is also a possible accessory. I’d love to find beads or crystals in colors similar to the floral print of the dress fabric.

How the dress with ties would look on a tall vs. a short woman

These sketches are from “Paris Frocks at Home” published by Butterick Pattern Company in 1930. I have searched online but cannot find a photo of this dress to better judge how the ties would look.

Dress with ties on a tall, slender woman as imagined by the illustrator.

Here is how it is supposed to look on an average or petite size woman.

What’s up next

I will be looking for a very lightweight zipper. I plan to do a slot application using Claire Shaeffer’s couture method. I want to see if there is a zipper with a light tape. The kinds of zippers I usually use are, I think, a little too heavy for the dress fabric.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Quick update

Greetings.  How is everyone?  It’s been hot and humid here in Brooklyn.  Not the best weather to sew.  I put the sleeve with vertical elbow dart in.  The results were exactly the same as they were when I drafted the sleeve using Margaret Ralston’s method.  The sleeve, drafted using the French Fashion Academy drafting system, had exactly the same results:  The sleeve swings too far to the front of the dress.

Ralston recommends putting the underarm seam 3/4″ to the front.  As I look at the sleeve again it seems to me that I should try putting the seam 3/4″ to the back of the bodice side seam.  That may get the balance needed for the sleeve to hang just right.

The rest of the dress pattern and toile are completed except for one detail.  I am going to make a needed departure from 1930s techniques.  Now that I have a sleeve in the dress it is not easy to put on.  Even with a slot seam at center back, dressing would be difficult once both sleeves are in the dress.  I could make the neckline wider but then there is my concerns that the V-neckline will look sloppy.  I also do not like to lower a neckline too far below the collar bone in the back.  This has the effect of making the neckline look longer which is flattering if you have a long graceful neckline.  It is also important to be nicely filled out on the shoulders.  If you’re skinny or have prominent collar bones this is not an attractive neckline treatment.  I always think showing less is better in this area for many women.

I have never really liked the side zippers and snap plackets on vintage clothing.  The side seams on fitted clothing goes bias and often this seam sticks out when a zipper is inserted there unless the dress includes a belt.  For my dress, it would be silly to put a zipper into such a loose dress at the side seam.  Also the side seam from underarm to below the bust does taper slightly.

I’m going to have to put a center back seam and use a 22-24″ modern nylon zipper.  I never appreciated a center back zipper until I had to wiggle in and out of the toile last night.  I’m no longer able to wear a size 4 personally but I do use this for practice and creating a portfolio.  At some point I’ll start my own custom made clothing again but my focus is on learning right now.  Having a different size and figure type to work with helps me learn about styles I wouldn’t use for my own figure.

The toile looks very good with a belt but once the dress is on the fullness moves around a lot.  This could result in the dress looking uneven in areas as the fabric moves around.  I am thinking of putting elastic in a casing to very slightly control the fullness at the waist.  In this way when the belt is used there will already be some control so the dress looks neat no matter how much you sit or move.

So please stay tuned.  We’re almost there.  I can really feel the evolution of this dress and hope you do, too.  I realize how many wonderful products and techniques that have developed throughout the decades since the style that inspired this dress was made.  We no longer let the clothing wear us.  Clothing has to move with us and agree with us.  For that I’m just as grateful as the fact that as I was coming of age women began to accept their bodies for the way they were.  The idea of being constrained by girdles and long line bras was on the way out.  Having enjoyed this freedom of movement and ease of getting into and out of clothes so easily I never gave it a thought until I struggled with getting in and out of the toile last night.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Toile 3 is the one!

Here’s a quick update on my progress with Version 3 of the toile of my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma   This version was created from a pattern drafted using the French Fashion method.  The lessons I learned from my mistakes in draping were applied in how and where I used darts, type of dart, depth of flares for the skirt and depth of darts for the neckline.

This is it!  The dress is officially now in progress.  After three months of intensive attempts at draping I have come very far in developing my eye and assessment of what is needed for this dress.  Despite all the failures with the drape and resulting toiles, I come away with the following:

*Understanding how much style ease is needed for a pull-over dress.
*The depth of the neckline needed for a pull-over dress.
*Use of a slot seam at center back to make putting the dress on easier.
*Using an old fashioned type of fitted sleeve with a vertical dart from wrist to elbow to create an attractive looking sleeve that has that certain something that distinguishes clothing from the past.
*A good depth for flares on a skirt.
*A good technique for applying bias binding to a V-neckline.

I will go into more detail once I finish the sleeve and it is sewn into the armhole.  There is an excellent tutorial for working bias binding around a v-neckline that I recommend. Please visit  How to bind an inverted corner (or v-neck) with bias binding at  It has provided me with the results I want.  One thing I do realize is that using a pick-stitch or back stitch for sewing in the binding is not a good choice of stitch.  It can cause some puckering.  I’m going to try slipstitching the binding from the outside and inside as an alternative.  I think handsewing like this might be better than machine topstitching.

I used Margaret Ralston’s technique for drafting the flared portion of the dress.  The lessons learned from my draping failures made drafting this pattern very easy.  Creating neckline darts was the only tricky part.  Here are photos of the successful Toile Version 3.












The Dressmaker’s Library: The One Hour Dress series






The One Hour Dress by Mary Brooks Picken

In centuries past women not only wore corsets and fitted clothing.  They carried yards of fabric trailing after them or bustled up behind them.  The clothing actually wore a woman by  defining how she moved and shaping her body in ways nature never intended.  With the dawning of the 1910s, women in many Western countries began to move into clothing they could wear and move in with ease.  The development of the One Hour Dress by Mary Brooks Picken must have seemed astounding in one way.  In another way women may have looked at its simple shape and wondered why nobody had made such clothing for them before.

For this book review I’m using three of the many books Mary wrote about the One Hour Dress.  The books are all published by Bramcourt Publications.  The titles are:

The One Hour Dress 21 New Designs with Complete Instructions for Making

The One Hour Dress with 17 New Designs for 1924

The One Hour Dress with 17 New Designs with Detailed Instructions for Making

The pattern drafting instructions are very simple.  The measurements needed are the length from about the collarbone at the front going straight down to the waist or hip.  The measurement for the armhole is taken by measuring from front to back around the arm.  The only measurement for width is the hipline.  Using these measurements and following a detailed sequence of steps, the pattern is drawn onto the fabric and then cut.

As I studied the instructions I noted that there is no exact measurement for style ease or lowering the armhole for a comfortable fit.  These are adjustments that I think it is wise to make on a muslin.  Another factor for creating a muslin is to check if the finished width of the dress will be flattering on your figure.  It is important to remember that the hipline defines the width of the entire dress.  If one is pear shaped or larger in the middle, the fitting might not be the best without some adjustments.  For women with curvy figures the resulting tubular shape will also require some experimentation.  Once the fit and amount of width is agreeable you are free to use this basic block shape in many ways.

The creativity comes from the way in which skirts are created using gathers, fluttering insets or wide sashes.  Contrasting bands of color are sometimes added.  There are also many clever use of pleatings at the side seams to create walking room.  A very unusual feature is a horizontal dart made at the hip level.  This is supposed to achieve a degree of shaping.  I’ve tried it but find the hemline on a one piece dress goes off-grain.  I think this is because the intake of the horizontal dart requires lifting fabric up from the side seam and tapering to nothing near the hipbone.

The dresses all feature a form of a kimono sleeve which you can vary in length and depth once you get used to working with this technique.  There are also instructions in some books for creating long sleeves.  These are more rectangles sewn into the kimono type sleeve of the dress.  Overall I look at this dress as a series of rectangles that gain character and style based on the embellishments you add, the type of color or print, and the way you vary other elements such as pockets, bands and pleats.

The dresses slip over the head and are closed along one shoulder line using snaps.  Necklines are often finished with bias tape.  Hems for sleeves and skirts can be machine or hand stitched.

I have seen some good results of dresses other bloggers have created using Mary’s system.  The results are very creative.  Check out the pretty results at the Take a Length Blog posting The One Hour Dress.

Even if you don’t use Mary’s system it will help you when you draft a basic chemise dress for a 1920s inspired fashion.  You’ll get a good idea about where pockets, pleats, insets and sashes can be placed while at the same time using the more precise and proportional results a drafted pattern using modern techniques will achieve.