1930s Sew-along with Norma: Contrasting fabric for belt and buttons

New Experience:  Contrasting Solid Color Fabric with Prints

This is a very quick update on my progress with the dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  As with all my sewing projects it goes at a stop and start pace.  I let things develop as the process advances.  I find it more of an adventure and hope you do, too.

The solid green fabric cuttings came in this past Saturday.  I enjoyed playing with the them by wrapping them around the neckline or waistline of the dress form.  I also draped  a large piece of uncut fashion fabric used for the dress pm the form, too.  I then had to make a few hard choices.

First the green velour was too shiny and did not have the feeling of the 1930s to me.   It would never work as a trim or a belt because it stretched and curled a lot.  This left the darker green poly silk that drapes beautifully and sets off the print fabric very well.  After making the decision to use this fabric I then had to arrange the green fabric against the floral print in different ways.

If I used the solid color fabric as a trim for the neckline and sleeve, there would be a bit of overkill in using it for a belt, too.  The color is very strong and I believe the eye and the brain respond more favorably to having a bold color like this be focused in one place on the dress.  For this reason I decided I will use it for a self-fabric covered belt.  The fabric will also look very good when used for fabric covered buttons placed along the vertical sleeve dart.  It will bring attention to the fitted line from wrist to elbow in a pleasing way.

This means the beautiful vintage Czech glass buckle and buttons have to wait for another fabric and another project.  As pretty as they look when placed against a swatch of the print fabric, they get lost when used on the actual garment.

In the end this means all my work on the bias tape finish for the neckline and sleeve hem will barely be noticeable unless you see it up close in person.  But when I think how striking the solid green belt and buttons will be I’m ok with it.  The bias tape finish will still work out well with the rayon faille and since it is unusual it is a sign of custom dressmaking techniques at work.

I’m usually very conservative when it comes to selecting contrasting solids to go with prints so this marks a big step out of my usual comfort zone.  I’m glad the dress is continuing its “conversation” with me and letting me know what changes will further add to a successful execution.

The Green Poly Silk

This is the one I’m going with for now.  I plan to wait until the dress is finished before making a final decision.



The Green Stretch Velour

Although this stretchy fabric wouldn’t work for a belt I think it would make a beautiful sash.



If any readers have a preference for one or the other fabric, please let me know.  I’m still open as to the final choice of fabric and how it will be used.



1930s Sew-along with Norma: Hand overcasting


As I’ve worked with the fabric for my 1930s Sew-along with Norma, I kept thinking that it does not really remind me of challis.  I associate challis with scarves and shawls, whether they are rayon challis or woolen challis.  There is something about the way the fabric I’m using is a little crinkled in texture that is definitely different from challis.

I checked the packing slip that is still in the padded envelope where I keep the remainder of the uncut fabric.  It turns out this is not rayon challis but rayon faille.  This explains the slightly crinkled texture and slightly heavier feel of the fabric.

The more I handle the rayon faille, the more it starts to shred.  Simply hand overcasting the seams is not working out.  I have come up with my own solution.  I washed and steam pressed white lace hem tape that has a slight stretch to it.  I’m stitching it by hand to the underside of each seam using a tiny running stitch.  The hem tape is placed slightly in from the seam line so it does not interfere with machine stitching and pressing the seam.  The other edge lines up with the edge of the seam.  I overcast both together.

This adds very little weight to the seam.  I find the seams stay open better which is important since this is a chemise dress with straight lines.  I also stitched a length of seam tape on top of the darts in the sleeves.  This keeps them in place.  I don’t mind the extra work because it is giving me the results I want.  I think it’s also very creative to try new approaches and see the effects.  I’ve added lots of photos so you can get an idea of how this approach is going.

Hand overcasting a fabric that shreds


1.     The smallest needle I’m able to use now is a Size 6 Between hand sewing needle.  I used the same size to sew in the zipper and liked the tiny stitches that resulted.

Hand Overcasting 2.JPG

2.     Here you can see that even though the overcasting stitches are small, the fabric is still shredding.  All the sewing books I have state that overcasting should be done with a single strand of thread.  That didn’t work for me because my stitches did not seem to have any effect on the shredding. I found I was able to make smaller stitches that were closer together when I used a double strand.


3.     I took one running stitch at a time so they would be as straight as possible.  The running stitches used a single strand of waxed and pressed thread.


4.     This is the finished edge of an overcast seam with the lace tape.


5.     Lace tape was also stitched to the upper side of the completed darts in the sleeve to keep them in place.


6.     The sleeves have interfacing and facing to give a little weight so that I can sew buttons along the vertical line of the sleeve dart.  I had finished the sleeve facing earlier and did not add the lace tape to it.  Since the sleeve hem has the interfacing I think the facing  will be ok.


7.     The seams are 3/4″ side.  I decided not to trim them to 1/2″ because they add a little weight to the sleeve.  I think rayon faille is a dream fabric for very drapey styles but requires some thought when making a dress that has straight lines like a chemise.


8.     This is how one sleeve looks after the seam is pressed.  The lace hem tape along with the interfacing give needed support to the fabric.

Steam Pressing Rayon Faille

My advice is to try steam pressing on a large scrap.  The first time I tried to steam press Rayon Faille it became very distorted.  After some experimentation I found using a mister and a warm iron worked to press my seams open.  A slightly damp, white wash cloth placed over the seam also worked.  I placed wide strips of brown paper under the seams so that there would be no impression when the seam was pressed open this way.

I don’t know how I’ll handle easing the sleeve cap in since Rayon Faille hasn’t responded well to steam so far.  Since the fabric is so shifty, I’m doing the ease stitching of the cap by hand.

Ease stitching a sleeve cap by hand


1.     Ease stitches need to be long so I selected a No. 8 Sharp hand sewing needle.  I used a double strand of pressed and waxed thread knotted at one end.


2.     In “Couture Sewing Techniques” Claire Schaeffer says the seamstresses at the couture houses use three rows of stitches along the sleeve cap.  I think this gives more control.  We’ll see more when I get to setting the sleeves in.

The swatches for the contrasting fabric came in today.  I have to see if one of them will work with the dress, the buttons and the belt.  Stay tuned…more to come.


1930s Sew-along with Norma: Contrasting trim needed

Greetings sewistas!  I thought I’d have another love fest with my 1930s dress project this weekend.  The neckline was scheduled to be finished until I cut out the bias binding using the same fabric as the dress.  There was absolutely no way to discern all the work that will go into creating the bias cut binding and the fine hand sewing involved in its application to the neckline and sleeve hem.  So…it’s back to considering another approach.

I’ve decided to look for a solid color fabric that will pick up on the lovely shade of Spring Green in the print of the dress.  This will provide just the right touch at the neckline and sleeve.  What I’m now concerned about is how will I handle the belt.  If I use just the dress fabric for the belt it will look as if the buckle is floating around on the waistline without the belt to hold it together.  What I’m thinking at this point is that perhaps I will use the print fabric for the dress and the solid fabric used for the trim to create a belt that is braided or a combination of both fabrics.  This seems overwhelming to consider right now with all the other details coming into play.  I think if I live with it for awhile it will become more approachable.

So here are the swatches I’ve ordered from FashionFabricsClub.com  for the next phase of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  The screen shots are from the Fashion Fabrics Club website with the link to the description below each fabric.  I will have to test the weight of each of these against the fashion fabric for the dress.  I’ll also have to be careful that they do not bleed if steam pressed or dampened.  This was an unexpected development but if I get the right shade of green the trim will work very well with the buttons.  We’ll have to see what happens with the belt when the dress is finished.  I think it’s best to leave that until last.

Fashion fabric for dress with vintage glass buckle and buttons.

Swatches on order for bias trimming at neckline and sleeve hem.

Spring Green Crushed Velour

Spring Green Crepe

Aqua Green Crepe

Dark Aqua Green Faille


Adapting to change

  1. Here are some excellent illustrations to add to our library of 1930s inspired styles. Thank you, Carol. Once again your research has turned up some lovely works.



Laura Baldt was the author of Clothing For Women; Selection, Design, Construction; A Practical Manual for School and Home, by Laura I. Baldt. Published in 1916 and reprinted in 1917. Her book can be viewed online at hathitrust.org


In the mid 1930’s in the midst of the Great Depression she was the editor for a newspaper pattern company. These few ads show a very current and chic outlook.

The first two are from 1934 and the last is from 1936.

Laura Baldt also authored pamphlets for the Department of Agriculture that were used in education programs during the Depression.


This “shirtmaker frock” is from 1936 and features the scalloped binding so popular at the time. Scalloped bindings are often seen in Depression era quilts. It’s possible that women in sewing groups sponsored by the federal government liked to show off their skills this way.


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The Seamstress Tag

I picked this up from Emily at Self Assembly Required.  Although this is called “The Seamstress Tag” Emily left it up to other bloggers to pick up on this only if they wanted to.  I prefer participating on this level as it doesn’t feel so heavy and I’m more light hearted about answering the questions.  So here goes…

Who are you?

EmilyAnn Frances May, born in Brooklyn, New York and still living here.  I’m descended from Italian, Sicilian and Galician Jewish  immigrants who settled in the U.S. between 1892 and 1930.

When / Why did you start sewing?

My maternal Grandma Josie was a big influence on me from childhood.  She taught me how to hand sew doll clothes when I was 5 years old.  We cut out circular shapes from tea cups and saucers.  Then slit the back to make the seam and put in a snap for the finished skirt.

Then when I was 6 Grandma Josie and Grandpa Sam bought me a little hand crank sewing machine that made a chain stitch.  Eventually when I was 12 I got my Mom to move her old 1950s Singer Sewing machine up from her room into my room.  I made many mistakes but by age 13 I had made my first dress.

Favourite/Proudest make?

An evening gown made for an exam when I was in design school.  It was the first strapless bodice I’d made.  The teacher gave me scraps of a silk brocade.  He had sunburst pleated material left over that I begged him for.  We used it to create the skirt and a dramatic cape.

I think the proudest part of the history of this garment was when I finally released it from my portfolio.  I knew I did not like the business side of the garment center and that I was not going to do this professionally after 2 years of an unsatisfying job.  I met a young woman who was a performance artist at poetry readings and also had a rock band.  She could fit the gown and some other pieces I made to a “T”.  It was as if everything was waiting for her.  When she put the gown on I knew it was meant for her and I released it.  Knowing someone actually made use of something I’d designed and made still gives me a high.

More recently, I had made a Dirndl Dress in 2013 out of quilting cotton.  I put an ad that the dress was up for a new home.  A woman contacted me who knew of a young teacher in Manhattan that she wanted to give such a dress to.  It turned out once more that this woman, unknown to me, was a perfect fit and match to the style.  I was happy to pass the dress on to someone so worthy as a teacher who had deeply impressed the daughter of the woman who answered the ad.  This dress was made for my new portfolio but I wasn’t 100% enthusiastic about the results of using quilting cotton.

Disastrous make?

Without a doubt the mess I made of a dress while in design school.  I used purple silk velvet and eggplant colored silk satin.  At the time everyone in class was cutting on the bias and I got caught up in the enthusiasm.  I didn’t realize how much the dress would stretch from the weight of the velvet.  It ended up needing so many alterations it was too tight to wear.  All the intricate seaming I’d envisioned stretched down too far.  The hipline sash of satin that I’d sewn into the dress ended up at an unflattering point right above the backside.

Favourite place for fabric shopping?

Nowadays I have to shop online.  Brooklyn has no old school style fabric shops in my area.  In Manhattan there are still a few shops but they’re very expensive.

Most used pattern?

My own.  But when I used commercial patterns my favorites were Vogue Paris Originals.  I also loved any patterns by Betsy Johnson.

Most dreaded sewing task?

Machine or hand made buttonholes.

Favourite sewing task?

Cutting and stitching up the toile and refining the fit.  The muslin toile is the purest form of expression for the creative vision.

Favourite sewing entertainment?

I prefer to have it quiet most of the time.  If I’m in the mood, I’ll listen to “The Moth Radio Hour” on PBS.  It’s a show where people tell funny, touching or shocking stories of events that have changed their lives.

Printed or PDF patterns?

Hand drafted.

What sewing machine do you use?

A Janome 3/4 machine I’ve nicknamed “Kitty”.

Any other hobbies?

Cultivating the “Simple Abundance” path and lifestyle.
1:6 Scale sewing for fashion dolls.
Family history-collecting our stories and preserving our memories.


1930s Sew-along with Norma: Buckle and buttons arrived


Thank you Norma, for encouraging me to get the green glass buckle for the 1930s Sew Along.   The buttons finally arrived and I was knocked out by what a great match they are to the buckle.  Both are Czech glass and deemed vintage by the respective Etsy sellers.

I had to wait for the buttons to turn up as my package acceptance service kept telling me.  Two weeks had gone by and even though the post office got a signature for the delivery the envelope was nowhere to be found.  Finally, the little envelope with the tiny box containing the buttons “turned up” after I showed up to find out what was wrong.  It’s a good thing the seller wrapped these buttons so well.  The envelope had fallen into a space between the wall and a table where deliveries are stacked up.

The buckle dates to the 1950s but for some reason it reminds me of Art Deco.  It might be the grooves in the circular shape of the buckle that adds to that impression.  The buttons could not be dated but I think these, too, are 1950s or perhaps 1940s.  Together I think these will add a nice touch to the dress.

The buckle and buttons are weighty.  I have to figure out how to strengthen the rayon challis so that it will work up into a good belt for the dress.  I have a belt making kit with everything I need but I have to think about how to back and stabilize the rayon challis.  Since we’re going for 1930s techniques I can’t rely on a fusible.  I’ll need to see what kinds of under linings or interfacings were used in that time period.



1930s Sew-along with Norma: Zipper installation completed

Update on my progress in the 1930s Sew-along with Norma…Hello everyone!  Here’s the latest development in my 1930s inspired dress.  While the construction details do not always reflect 1930s techniques, the end goal of a comfortable garment that can  be put on and off easily is working out.  I used an old fashioned slot application for the zipper that worked very well with the rayon challis.  Some of this is due to the preliminary work I did which includes:

  1. Sewing lace hem tape to the wrong side of the fabric inside the seam allowance on each side of center back for the entire length of the zipper.
  2. Allowing 3/4″ seam allowance because rayon challis shreds.
  3. Finishing the seam allowances off with hand overcasting that begins slightly deeper inside the seam allowance than is usually used.
  4. Using Claire Shaeffer’s recommendation to apply a couture touch by using a small running stitch instead of a pick stitch.  The result is a softer appearance in the finished welts on each size of the zipper opening.
  5. I hand overcast the edge of the zipper to the edge of the seam.  This has greatly reduced shredding and gives the zipper a secure anchor on this very shifty fabric.
  6. I found a size 9 sharp hand sewing needle worked well for the hand overcasting stitches.  I used a size 6 sharp in sewing the running stitches for the zipper.  I’m still in the process of learning which size is best for which kind of stitch.  This dress is a learn-as-you-go experience.

The most time consuming part of the construction is the hand overcasting of seams which was used by home sewistas in the 1930s.  This finish is also used in haute couture so in some ways this experience is taking me closer to the spirit of couture.  Hand overcasting doesn’t come easily to me but I think I want to develop this skill.  The finish works well for fabrics like rayon challis.  So it will be in my interests to make it work–I like the look rayon challis creates so I must treat it in ways that bring out the best characteristics of the fabric.

Progress shown in photos…

Sharps and Betweens are turning out to be the kinds of hand sewing needles that work best for me.  Having the thread conditioned makes threading the tiny eye of these needles much easier.

Here you can see the hand overcasting stitches and the running stitch used for the zipper installation.

This is a close-up of the couture slot application zipper.  The stitches are run 1/4″ in from the seam on both sides.  The welt is visible but the stitches aren’t.  Invisible zippers tend to be stiff so I’m not sure they’d work with a delicate and moveable fabric like rayon challis.  I’m very pleased that the 22″ nylon zipper I used has worked out well.