1930s Dress Completed! Meet Miss Norma N. Carol

Hello to all my WordPress friends and blog subscribers.  I am very happy to introduce you to Miss Norma Naomi Carol, the name I selected for the dress I’ve finally completed for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  I love selecting a name for an outfit I have completed.  I chose this name as a way to say thank you to the three WordPress bloggers who have seen me through this year long learning experience.  Norma started it with the challenge to sew a 1930s style using techniques appropriate to the period.   Carol generously provided material from her research which she posted at her blog and some which she emailed me during the early stages of the sew-along.  Naomi gave me ongoing support and encouragement as I worked my way through the stumbling blocks and challenges that come with going outside one’s usual repertoire of sewing techniques.  I hope you will accept this homage as my way of saying “Thank You Very Much!”

I will let the photos do the rest.  .  .


I decided that since this is an interpretation of a Depression Era style, accessorization should be very simple and kept at a minimum.  For that reason I chose a simple pair of pearl earrings with a bow made of rhinestones that works with the orange-yellow buds in the print of the fabric.  The other accessory is a reinforced belt with fabric covered buckle and snap closure.  Thread loops were created in the color of the belt to downplay their presence on the dress.



Here she is, Miss Norma Naomi Carol












1930s Sew-along with Norma: Update 8-2016

Hi everyone!  How are your summer sewing projects?  It’s been very, very humid here in Brooklyn , New York and I find everything gets limp, even freshly cut muslin.  It’s more than the weather that is causing delays for the completion of the 1930s dress toile.

The two stumbling blocks I’m having continue to be:

  1. Getting a v-neckline finished with bias binding to lie flat.
  2. Getting a sleeve with a vertical elbow dart to properly balance on the cross and lengthwise grain.

I used a very lightweight poly stabilizing strip to keep the v-neckline from stretching.  After applying it the neckline was still flat.  But after slip stitching the bias binding into place around the neckline it stiffened up and looked unattractive.  The only reason I can think of is that a v-neckline goes on the bias.  Joining that to a bias binding brings two very changeable pieces together.  I’ve never had this problem with a round neckline.  Also, the same bias binding worked out beautifully on the hem of the sleeve.  This leads me to believe I must finish the neckline another way, even if it is not an authentic 1930s technique.  The overall comfort and integrity of the dress is more important.

The sleeve has eluded me again.  Margaret Ralston was right in saying that the sleeve seam must go 3/4″ towards to front of the bodice side seam.  I have tried again to figure it out but am left with more difficulties in the sewing.  This change throws the front ease of the sleeve out of whack because it is not being completely distributed between the front notch and the shoulder seam.  The top of the sleeve shifts forward 3/4″ too so that is 3/4″ less at the top to put the ease into.  I proofed the sleeve measurements I used for the draft.  They are derived from my basic fitting toile which proved correct all the measurements I base my drafting on.  So where I went wrong with this sleeve is a matter for an experienced teacher to explain to me.  Perhaps one will turn up through this blog.  This also goes to prove that even if you take coursework and have a solid library of reference books, you still need the advice and guidance of someone with more experience  at some point.  This is why I always encourage others to save their money for a workshop or a few private lessons.  No matter how many books you have you will always have to go to another person at some point.

I’m going to work on my modern day solutions to recreate something of a 1930s look.  What I’ve learned is that I love our advances in sewing all the more.  So far the closure, the neckline and the sleeve have forced me to make changes but the fact I can find solutions is very satisfying.  I also realize that recreating period clothing is a specialty and I have more insight into why some professionals go for their Masters degree in this specialty.






1930s Sew-along with Norma: Completed Toile V.2

Observations on vintage garments:  darts, flares, armholes and sleeves

Version 2 of the toile for 1930s Sew-along with Norma is completed.  I have a much, much better idea where improvements are needed.  Better yet, I also have some solutions that will take me forward.  I’m not ready to cut the fashion fabric yet.  There is still more to accomplish in the learning curve.  I’ve come a long way since diving in and taking up vintage draping and drafting techniques these past two months.

The drafted sleeve from the Ralston book “Dress Cutting” did not work out.  I think it is due to the shape of her armhole being different from the one in the toile.  Also, I discovered a few things about draping for set-in sleeves:

*Drawing the armhole on a draped garment is not always easy.  Sometimes the toile tightens up after sewing.  The markings that were in the right place when pinned to the form shift slightly inward.  This can happen if the drape is too tight.  When there is too much ease it will shift outward after being unpinned and sewn.

*Draping a set-in sleeve results in more ease than I’ve ever seen in a sleeve pattern before.  Dealing with 1-2 inches of excess ease is a big problem.  Alterations that work for lesser amounts do not succeed as you’ve seen with the previous postings.

*From drafting and sewing the sleeve from Ralston’s book I got several impressions about vintage garments.  First the armholes in some years were higher than what we are used to today.  Second, sleeves were tighter at the wrist and elbow.  This means that the concept of style ease was different.  Today we require comfort and movement from our closthes.  This is why we do not see many sleeves with darts or elbow ease.

Bust darts are another problem in vintage garments.  I think whether you sew from a vintage pattern or use a system from the period to drape &/or draft you’ll find the bust darts are too high for modern standards.  The apex goes past the natural point of the bust.  I think this is due to the different foundation garments women wore in the past.  Uplift, underwire, padding and cone shaped bras lent to that shape.

The flares of the dress need adjusting and greater depth if the dress is to have more pizzaz to it.  Right now they look so tired.  Thankfully, there is a solution to that.  There is also a solution to the bust darts.  I plan to play around with some muslin again.  I’ll try the double French darts that were shown in the pattern illustration from “Paris Frocks at Home”.  If that doesn’t work I’m going to modify the dart to a more modern interpretation and put the apex at the level we are used to today.

Even if the sleeve worked out it, too, would need adjustment.  It should cover the arm but not encase it.  So it’s back to the drawing board and dress form.  My  modification is to go back to a sleeveless style.

The ongoing problem I have is with the bias binding at the neckline.  I am applying it right on top of the neckline and using pick stitches or back stitches.  Even though I’m hand sewing the bias binding keeps rippling.  I’m going to try opening it up, stitching on the edge and then turning it to the wrong side.  Do you think that will stop the rippling?  If that doesn’t work, I’m going to look to different, non-1930s techniques that will provide a solution.  I really don’t want to use armhole and neckline facings since this is a pull-over dress.  It needs to be lightweight.  But I can’t have the neckline damaged by normal wear and pulling on and off.  Stay-stitching hasn’t completely solved this problem.    Any suggestions most welcome!

Version 2 photos


The flares need working on.  I plan to fix the placement and depth.    I need to fix the level of the dart.


The sleeve I made using Ralston’s drafting instructions sings too much to the front of the dress.  It was somewhat tight at the wrist.  Since the underarm seam has to be 3/4 ” to the front of the side seam this may have something to do with it.  I think using a sleeve drafted from a different patternmaking system was part of the issue.  Also my armhole was not that well positioned.


The mitering went pretty good this time but I’m still not satisfied with the rippling that takes place.  I’ve steamed, stretched and shaped before applying but it still doesn’t lie flat when sewn on as “Paris Frocks at Home” recommended to readers in 1930.  The Butterick pattern directions I have from the book also recommend sewing it on by placing over the neckline and machine stitching.



1930s Sew-along with Norma: The Drafted Sleeve, Part 1

I’ve completed cutting out and sewing the sleeve for the dress I’m making as part of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  I’m hoping with all my heart that it works out.  I’ve yet to sew it into the bodice because I have to complete other parts of the bodice in this order:

  1.  Sew the facing for the slot seam at center back.
  2.  Sew the shoulder seams.
  3.  Apply a new technique to miter the bias binding before sewing to the neckline.
  4.  Sew the bias binding to the neckline and sleeve hem.
  5.  Sew side seams of bodice.

This doesn’t seem like a lot to do but I’m in need of some serious nap time after a 4 hour train ride back to New York last Sunday and another travel day to New Jersey on Thursday.  If it’s one thing I’ve learned it’s never to sew when sleepy.  More time will be spent undoing stupid mistakes like sewing the sleeve in backwards.  How many of you have done that, too?

The very first thing I did after cutting the new toile out was to stay stitch the neckline front and back.  I also stay stitched part of the side seams.  The sleeve, too, got stay stitched along the wrist and side seams because they are curved.  The vertical dart has a very large intake.  I do not think I will cut it open and press it flat.  Instead, I’m going to trim the dart intake and press towards the center of the sleeve.  I’ve decided to leave 2″ open from the bottom of the sleeve seam upwards.  This will allow the sleeve to go on without any pulling.  I think a button and thread loop will work as a closure.

The sleeve drafting instructions come from “Dress Cutting” by Margaret Ralston.  She notes that the sleeve seam has to be placed 3/4″ in front of the bodice side seam.  Now I have to figure out if the center marking on the sleeve cap should also go 3/4″ forward from the shoulder seam or match up at the shoulder seam.  This is why I’m going to wait  until I’m more rested to proceed with the next steps of the sewing.

Here are some progress photos…


Sleeve drafting instructions from “Pattern Cutting” by Margaret Ralston.


Drafted pattern after alteration to remove excess ease.  If this works I’ll tell you all about it.


Sleeve before pressing seams and dart.  Sleeve cap needs to be steamed.


This dart intake is very large but gives the wrist such a lovely curve.  Now let’s hope the cap works out when sewn into the armhold.


The Dressmaker’s Library: Vintage books on-line

I’ve just discovered two on-line vintage books  you’re sure to enjoy browsing through.  They are complete and available for viewing.  You’re able to print one page at a time but not download the entire book.

“The Mary Brooks Picken Method of Modern Dressmaking” by Mary Brooks Pickens was published in 1925.  Many of the new techniques Mary promotes are now very familiar to the home sewist.  What I found interesting were the chapters dealing with figure types and standard measurements.  The average measurements give some indication that women did have curves and were not at all the wispy, tubular shaped girls we  imagine when we think of the 1920s.  There are many photos of garments, seam finishes and Mary at her sewing machine.

Use this link to get to the on-line book:

“Pattern Drafting, Pattern Grading, Garment Making, Garment Fitting” was written by a professional tailor named Edmund Gurney.  He teaches a method of pattern drafting using standard measurements.  This is done to keep the drafting, as he says, simple.  A method for adjusting the resulting pattern to your own measurements is provided.

Mr. Gurney must have had what I’d consider a sparkling personality.  He intersperses pages of poetry and witty quotes between the technical chapters.  He does draw the reader in.  I especially liked his family history and how one of the earliest ancestors became a tailor.

This book was published in 1939.  The basic shell has the beginnings of what we see as the fitting shell used today.  The main difference I see is that the 1939 fitting shell had an A-line type of skirt.  Today ours is closer to a pencil skirt.

This book is available at:  https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924003596545;view=1up;seq=1

1930s Sew-along with Norma: A possible solution to the sleeve problem

A fast update before I go away for the weekend.  I’m so determined to stay true to the period that I had an “Aha!” moment in the middle of last night!

I have to break my habit of falling back on what I know as the only possible solution.  The whole purpose of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma is to learn new skills and problem solving approaches.

I realized this as I tried to alter the draped sleeve again.  It still is too tight.  But rather than draft a sleeve based on the 1950s origins of the French Fashion patternmaking technique I decided to try drafting the sleeve from the 1932 book “Dress Cutting” by Margaret Ralston.  I made a few changes to the way the sleeve cap was drawn.  For the alteration to reduce the cap I used an alteration mentioned in the 1930s draping book.  This might be the solution.  I’ll have to try but at least it’s truer to the period.

I may end up with a draped bodice and a drafted sleeve but it will all have originated in the 1930s.  If the sleeve works out I’ll share how I made a few changes so that it would work with my drape.  Sometimes using different systems is tricky but maybe I’ll get lucky and have a good result.



“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.