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.
















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