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: line sketch of the dress

Naomi of Spare Room Style brought up a good point about the photos of the completed dress.  All the details get lost in the print of the fabric.  At her request I’m uploading a pencil sketch I hope will make the details clear.


Details of front of the dress

Bust darts from center of front shoulder to 1″ above apex of bust.
V-neckline with interfacing and facing on inside, bound with bias trim slip stitched into place.
Bodice extends about 2-3″ below widest part of the hip line.  On the Misses Size 4 this is a length about 13″ below the waist.

Details of back of the dress

Center back seam.
Slot zipper application (hand sewn with running stitches).


Cut with center front and center back on lengthwise grain.
Two flares each side of center front and center back.


Fitted sleeve.
Vertical dart running from wrist up to elbow.
Sleeve finished with hand sewn bias binding at wrist.
Somewhere between 5 to 9 buttons to be placed along vertical dart line.


In planning stages.

Pattern Notes

A basic chemise pattern is used for the bodice of the dress.
–Slight shaping was applied from underarm down to end of bodice.  This is not a straight, tubular shape.
–The width at the hipline is widest to accommodate movement and the need for enough fabric so that the dress can be comfortable when the belt is worn.
–The wider the hip line is creates a need for the flares to be slightly wider.  The flares for the size 4 will have a little less depth than the flares for a size 6, 8 or 10.  It is a matter of preserving the overall proportions of the dress.








1930s Sew-along with Norma: Dress finished, belt next!


To all my blog friends, readers and subscribers.  A big thank you for following, advising, correcting and encouraging me during this year long journey from conception to creation for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  I am happy to report the construction of the dress is completed.  The project, though, is not.  I still have to make the belt.  And that is the element that will transform this late 1920-early 1930ish chemise into an attractive dress.

I’m thinking of making fabric covered buttons in the same green fabric that the belt will be made of.  There would be five buttons along the vertical dart of each sleeve to create the look of of a buttoned closure.  Right now I’m not sure.  Further experimentation will show if this will work or not.

Here are progress photos of the completed dress along with construction details I learned along the way.  Once the belt is completed the dress will get a professional hand pressing.

Completed dress

The vertical bust darts originating at the center of the front shoulder help keep the chemise shape straight.  I have never worked with this kind of dart before but will consider it again should I make a dress or blouse where a straight side seam is used.  It provides a nice flow to the fabric over the bust line.  This kind of dart can also be transformed into tucks or gathers over the bust.

The vertical dart in the sleeve affects the way it looks from the back.  It creates a forward movement from the elbow down.  The sleeve has a nice fit around the wrist but is not tight.  The vertical dart can be worked into an opening that closes with ball buttons and fabric loops.  I’d like to use this sleeve again.

The flounce is on the lengthwise grain at center front and back.  The side seams go off onto the bias.  Even though the rayon faille is very lightweight, the extra weight of the fabric from the flounce made it slightly heavier than the tubular shaped bodice of the dress.

I found that rayon faille is a great fabric to work with for simple styles that float and drape around the body.  To get the effect I wanted for this dress a little control was needed.  I decided to improvise and created lightweight stays out of lace hem tape.

The lace stays for darts and seams

To keep the bust darts positioned and facing towards center front, I hand stitiched a length of Wrights Flex-Lace hem tape onto each dart inside the stitching line.  This was done before pressing and sewing to the back bodice at the shoulder line.  Two rows of tiny running stitches were used.

After joining the flounce to the bodice I noticed that there was a slight tendency on the bodice to look like the joining line was going to sag.  To remedy that and prevent stretching, I encircled the joining seam above the stitching line with Wrights Flexi-Lace hem tape.  A row of tiny running stitches above the sewing line and near the edge of the joining seam were used.  Then the seam was pressed up towards the bodice.

The hem tape was awful to work with.  It is Wrights Soft and Easy hem tape but I found it anything but that.  Despite being washed and softened and steamed before use, it crinkled no end when applied to the circular hem.  I will not be using it again.  The plus side of using it is that is provided a nice weight at the hemline.  From the right side the flares hold their place beautifully so I consider it a happy outcome.  Still that rippling and crinkling get to me.

More Wright’s Flexi-Lace was used along the vertical sleeve dart before it was pressed towards the center vertical grain of the sleeve.  The bonus which the stay provides is that there will be more support for the buttons if I decide to sew them along the dart line to create the look of a button closure on the sleeve.

I also used Flexi-Lace along the inside of the seam where the zipper was hand sewn.  It provided the right support for all the hand stitching which followed:  running stitches for the zipper, another row of running stitches to the inside tape along the seam and vinally the hand overcasting of the seam.

Since rayon faille is so twisty and lightweight, I found that the flounce had a tendency to move inward when placed on the dress form.  I wanted the side seam to flare outward so I used a 1 1/2″ wide strip of soft lace hem tape which was stitched over the completed side seam of the flounce on each side.  One row of running stitches that attached the lace only to the seams was used.  The lace stay was applied after sewing the flounce and before attaching it to the bodice.

To keep the side and shoulder seams of the bodice and the seams of the sleeves flat I used lace stays on each seam before sewing the seam itself.  Near the stitching line I used a running stitch.  At the edge I hand overcast the rayon faille and lace together.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Using hem tape

Update:  Hemming the 1930s styled dress

My dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma is coming into the home stretch.  There are many reasons why it has taken me almost a year to actualize this style.  First, my full-time job keeps me very busy and some weekends I’m not up to the level of attention fine dressmaking requires.  Another reason is that when you draft your own patterns it’s a very big adventure.  It takes time to learn how what you see in your imagination will eventually play out with the pattern, muslin and fashion fabric.  Sometimes there are such bad flops along the way it is better to start anew with the hard earned knowledge gained from the mistake.

I have learned so much from this project that I plan to do another 1930s influenced style after the dress is finished.  In that project I hope to create a combination of modern and period techniques based on what I learned from the 1930s challenge created by Norma.  I’m very reluctant to skip along to a 1950s style project since I would lose the awareness and sensitivity gained from this year long journey into 1930s sewing land.

After the flounce was sewn into the bodice gravity not only worked on the hem, but also on the seam that joined the flounce to the bodice.  The pattern goes straight around a point about 10 inches below the hip line.  After the dress hung on the form, I noticed it dipped slightly at the sides.  This might be one reason why the inset flounces on 1930s dresses and skirts  have a curved seam that is higher at Center Front and Center Back and lower on the side seams.  I plan to do my next flounce like this.

My reference books show hems finished with a tape that looks a little like ribbon.  I do not think they had anything like Wrights Flexi-Lace in the 1930s so I went with Wright’s Soft and Easy Hem Tape to finish the hem of the flounce.  It was very stiff when I took it out of the package so I washed it.  I hung it to air dry until slightly damp.  Then I pressed it with a steam iron.  In the close-up of the hem, I’ve already machine sewn the hem tape and basted it in place for the final hand stitching.

The rippling comes from the circular hem.  I’ve pinched in excess fabric where needed.  After hand stitching and light steaming the hem will flatten.  When seen from the right side the hem is smooth so I think this hem treatment will work out.  To stabilize the joining seam of the flounce and bodice I hand stitched into place Wrights Flexi-Lace all the way around.  Tiny running stitches at the top and bottom of the lace were the best choice to sew it in place.

At the French Fashion Academy, we rarely if ever used either Flexi-Lace or Soft & Easy Hem Tape.  Seam edges were zig-zagged and sewn in place with a catch stitch when a flat hem was needed.  Even so, I like the look of lace hem tape because it does look a little retro as do pinked seams.  If I have a choice, though, I prefer Flexi-Lace because it is softer and accommodates curves much better than the Soft & Easy Hem Tape.

Progress Photos

The dress is turned inside out so you can see the finishing for the hem and the joining seam of flounce and bodice.

Close-up of hem finished with Wrights Soft & Easy Hem Tape.

Close-up of the flounce hem, from the right side of the dress.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: How to handle a flounce

Here’s a very quick update on my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.

After some cold sweats and a worrisome night, I fixed the boo-boo I made with the flounce.  In my previous posting, I said I was going to try stay stitching by hand.  After doing that I pinned the flounce to the dress form to let the drape set in.

What a mess I made.  The delicate flounce stretched horizontally and was too big for the lower edge of the dress.  It was a good thing I cut the flounce much longer than planned.  I had to cut a few inches at the top off after stay stitching by machine about an inch below the edge.  I used three tows of machine basting for stay stitching.  Then I clipped the top of the flounce and gently pinned and basted to the bottom of the dress.  This solution worked.

Lesson learned—

  1.  Always stay stitch a flounce along the upper edge.
  2. Then stitch side seams.
  3. Finish side seams.
  4. Clip the edge of the flounce before basting so that the edge will go straight in to the other seam.
  5. Use lots of pins and baste with small basting stitches.
  6. Machine stitch along stitching line and then 1/4″ above.  Trim seam and finish according to what works best for the design and fabric.
  7. Now is the time to hang the dress or skirt with the flounce onto the form or a hanger so that the drape can set in.


Here’s the dress as I await the drape to set in.  Hemming will be next.  I think I’ll do a photo tutorial of how I make the fabric covered buttons.  I think I will make the belt myself.  A seamstress on Etsy does beautiful work for the kind of belt I want but it’s $30 and up.  That is more than what I spent on the belt fabric.  I’ll have to think of a way to make a belt that doesn’t need eyelets or a prong to close.  The gold or silver of prongs and eyelets will clash with the print and belt fabric.  I do not find a prong and eyelets to match the green fabric for the belt so a creative workaround will be developed.

The dress needs a pressing but so far I’m getting more pleased with how late 1920s it is looking.  Once the belt is made it will be more early 1930s.





1930s Sew-along with Norma: Bodice and sleeves finished!

Update on the dress

And so as 2017 begins, I’m back to the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  I’ve learned so much, so very much on this slow but productive journey.  The more I work with rayon faille, the more I love it.  Plus I’ve broken out of my comfort zone since this I’ve not used it before.  Here are the things I’ve learned which made the bodice and sleeve construction turn out well:

1. Rayon faille is not slippery but it moves around easily.  It requires many sharp pins to hold the garment pieces together.  It is best to use a conditioned, double strand of cotton basting thread when preparing for machine stitching.

2. This fabric shreds and shreds and shreds.  I cut all seams 3/4″ wide.  After stitching the seams I trimmed only the edges of the fabric.  I wanted to keep the seams wide to add some weight to the seam.  This is a very floaty fabric, too.  I wanted just a hint of structure so I hand stitched lace seam tape to the wrong side of the seam after machine stitching.

3. The lace tape was stitched to the inside using a very small running stitch and a double, waxed, and pressed strand of poly-cotton thread.  After this the outer edge of the seam was hand overcast using a double strand of the poly-cotton thread that was waxed and pressed.  I used a size 6 sharp hand sewing needle.  A smaller needle works out well for more control.  At least for me.

4. The sleeves were a journey into a sewing technique that was partly from Clair Shaeffer’s “Couture Sewing Techniques”.  The Claire part consisted in using 3 rows of tiny hand stitches on the sleeve cap for easing into the armscye.  Couture applications of set-in sleeves do not use machine basting thread.

I used double strands of cotton basting thread that was conditioned with new fabric softener strips and then pressed.  To set the sleeve into the armscye I used a double strand of cotton basting thread, also conditioned and pressed, in a different color.  Then I was ready to machine stitch.

Although time consuming, the sewing of the sleeve went off smoothly.  There were just two places on the right sleeve with the fabric underneath formed a little pucker.  That was unpicked and restitched without any harm to the lovely curve on the sleeve cap.

5.  Putting interfacing and facing into the lower sleeve, about 5″ in length from the wrist upwards, creates that little outward position you see in the photos that follow.  When the arm is put into the sleeve it falls into place with the lower edge resting neatly around the wrist and the upper portion looking more relaxed.  My concern was that a facing was needed because there will be about 5 fabric covered buttons on each sleeve.  These will run up along the vertical sleeve dart at the back.

The flounce is going to require some thought.  It has to hang before a final stitching of the side seams to let the weight and bias hang of the skirt settle in.

I think that I’m very geeky with my happiness I find in the little details but this has gone beyond what I expected.  Even the pattern of this fabric flows well across the center back seam.  The print drives me crazy after a prolonged session but with a little time away I come back and love the progress this is making.

Right now the slight shaping at the underarm seam is not apparent but when the dress is belted this is going to be very figure flattering.

Progress Photos

Front of ‘dress. Fabric:  Rayon Faille.

The seam finishing enables the zipper and seam to stay flat.  From a distance you can’t even see the zipper application.  I used a hand stitched slot application.

I  recommend trying out 3 rows of ease stitching on a sleeve cap.  I’m not sure how it will come out with machine basting but if you try let me know.  I am so pleased with what I have learned about hand ease stitching I plan to use this technique again if I use a slippery or shifty fabric.  I didn’t even have to shrink or steam press the cap before or after sewing.


1930s Sew-along with Norma: Success! We have a sleeve with a vertical dart at last!


Thank you to Norma, Carol, Naomi and my other blog readers for your ongoing support.  Thanks to all the encouragement through my flops with drafting this sleeve.  You gave me the drive to keep going.  I’m am so happy to say that not only has the latest version of this sleeve succeeded but I also know where I went wrong.  What follows is the process of evaluation I went through.  At the end is a brief tutorial on how to create this sleeve from an existing pattern for a sleeve with an elbow dart.  I did not take photos of the process but I will upload a photo of what my finished pattern piece looks like as soon as I can.

Special Shout-Out

Norma, for getting this project going.

Carol, for the many scans of vintage pattern drafting instructions at the start of this project.

Every bit of info has helped from you and the readers.

Photos of the Half-muslin of the successfully completed sleeve

I used a half-toile since the bodice, neckline and flares have worked out in earlier versions of the toile.  The sleeve was all I needed to focus on now.




This ongoing loop of working with fitted sleeves raised my awareness of many points I had forgotten about.  This is because we tend to use unfitted sleeves so much more in modern sewing.  Points I realized are:

1.  Sleeves with vertical and horizontal darts will run straight on the lengthwise grain until the point at which the dart is placed.

2.  From the dart and downward, the lengthwise grain line shifts slightly towards the front.

3.  Above the elbow, the horizontal grain lines at elbow and cap level will run round the sleeve and remain parallel to the floor.

4.  This sleeve keeps the sleeve seam at the same point as the bodice side seam.

Why a sleeve with a vertical elbow dart?

Such a sleeve was used in some of the 1930s dresses I studied prior to drafting my pattern.  I was especially attracted to the contouring of this sleeve in Margaret Ralston’s book “Dress Cutting by the Block Pattern System”.  She recommends placing the seam of the sleeve 3/4″ to the front of the bodice side seam.  I took note of that.

This sleeve has a very old fashioned look to it.  But the main reason why I have wanted to persevere with this patternmaking exercise is because this sleeve is the basis for two variations I think are very elegant.

One variation is the sleeve that comes to a point over the wrist and right above the middle finger.  This is such a romantic and 1940-ish kind of sleeve.  I think with a few other details it could be the focal point of an elegant evening gown or day dress.

The second variation I really love is one where the dart is changed into an opening consisting of numerous ball buttons on one side and fabric loops for closure on the other side.  The possibilities to make the buttons a statement are endless.  Rhinestones, crystals, vintage Czech glass buttons, Lucite, pearl and so many more.

So with these visions dancing in my mind I continued to deal with several versions of the sleeve that did not work out.

Analyzing the problems and failures

Ralston’s recommendation to shift the sleeve seam 3/4″ to the front of the bodice side seam threw everything off.  The vertical grain at biceps and elbow level were not parallel to the floor.  The sleeve looked like it had swung around the armscye a few times and randomly settled into a position I’ve never seen on a sleeve before!

Another version of the sleeve with the sleeve seam matching the bodice side seam fared no better.  This time the cap had too much ease to deal with as well.  The vertical grain lines were not as off but the sleeve cap itself was a mess.

Alterations to reduce the cap width made for complications elsewhere in the sleeve.  As many of you know a big alteration in one part of a pattern piece always affects other parts of that piece and often other pattern pieces as well.

So I knew something was wrong with the pattern all the way from the start.  The starting point and origination is the basic sleeve draft.  That works up to the fitted sleeve with elbow dart.  From the elbow dart is derived the sleeve with vertical dart.

So I started going back to the beginning of the project.

The source of all the problems:  Too much style ease resulting in too much cap ease

The original dress I based my pattern on was a chemise with set-in sleeves, a low neckline and no closure.  Based on the illustrations only I assumed the dress was a pull-over.  Even the pattern instructions in the book the illustration came from “Paris Frocks at Home”, did not show any side snap closure.

I thought 4″ of style ease would create a roomy dress.  It did but the width was too much around the biceps level.  This resulted in a very wide sleeve cap that had almost 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ inches.  The alteration to reduce the cap width did not help.  It threw the sleeve off an resulted in the strange hang once it was in the armhole.

Things improved when I realized that a pull-over dress in a woven fabric is difficult to achieve when there are set in sleeves.  I think short kimono sleeves and a roomier kind of shape is better and more comfortable.  I’m thinking of the blouson type of dress with an elastic waistline, low U-shape neckline and short kimono or short dolman sleeves.

I decided to make an adaptation of the dress instead of sticking to a purely 1930s approach by foregoing the center back zipper. Changing the dress to one with a center back zipper meant I didn’t have to add so much style ease.   This freed me up to use the standard 3″ of style ease which always provides a good fit and comfort for smaller Misses sizes and Junior sizes.

With just three inches of ease at the biceps level the excess cap ease was just 5/8″.  I made the adjustments to the sleeve by moving the lengthwise grain line where needed.  This resulted in the balanced sleeve you see in the photos of this posting.

Tutorial:  How to create your own fitted sleeve with vertical dart

It is essential to have as the basis a fitted sleeve with horizontal elbow dart that fits you very well and is comfortable.  The bodice is best from the same pattern that uses this sleeve.  If you’re going to use pieces of different patterns do a good review of the measurements of the arm holes and the sleeve cap to make sure things will balance and the ease will be correct.

Once you have such a fitted sleeve with horizontal elbow dart proceed as described.

  1.  Trace your pattern without any seam lines.  You can add these later.  I find it makes for easier cutting.
  2.  Transfer all grain lines and markings and the dart.
  3.  Measure the curve of the wrist from back to front side seam.
  4.  Divide this measurement by 3.  Note the amount.
  5.  From the side seam of the back of the sleeve measure along the wrist the amount derived in Step 4.  Mark with a dot.
  6. Draw a line from the apex point of the elbow dart down to this dot.  It might be slanted.  That is ok.
  7. Cut open the vertical line.
  8. Cut the lower dart leg and close the horizontal dart.  The vertical dart will open.  Fill the space with paper and mark the dart legs.
  9. Lower the apex of the vertical dart about 1″.  Redraw the dart legs.
  10. The seam of the back part of the sleeve will need to be evened out above, below and at the point of the pattern where the horizontal elbow dart was.  The shape will be slightly curved.  This part of the sleeve will be eased into the front part that is straighter.
  11. You can use a curved ruler if you want to make the dart legs slightly curved if you want.  The outward curves can make the dart look like a wishbone.  The curve should just be slightly outward midway at the dart leg but end right where it should at the wrist.  Do not make the dart wider.
  12. After stitching the dart, run a second line of straight stitches 1/4″ above the dart leg.  Then trim and steam press towards the center.
  13. A tailor’s ham is very helpful when pressing the dart.