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.





Manufactured Clothing: Lessons in seam finishes


Naomi of Spare Room Style and I had an interesting and helpful exchange this morning about stabilizing and finishing seams that fall on the bias.  Naomi might make a camisole completely cut on the bias.  She is thinking of using French seams but wondered if that would be too heavy.

I have not sewn with garments cut on the bias so my advice here is very limited.  I am more familiar with sewing flounces where either the side seam falls on the bias or the entire piece is on the bias.  In those instances I’ve sometimes pinked the seam but never used a zig-zag stitch.

I mentioned a very old teddy I have that is completely cut on the bias.  I thought that the construction used in this manufactured item could offer us sewistas some clues.  So here are photos analyzing how the teddy was constructed using factory techniques.  I’ve also included photos of a pair of lounge pajamas made in a polyester that feels something like silk.  The teddy and the lounge pajamas are almost 30 years old.  It proves that careful hand washing and storage can prolong the life of anything you wear.  The pajama bottoms need a new elastic waistband.  I may do a drawstring so that the issue is corrected once and for all.

The bias teddy is stored flat in a box and is wrapped in tissue.  It was a gift to me way back in the day.  As pretty as it looks I will be honest with my blog friends about this gift:  it is not flattering at all.  It is cut too low at the bust and too high at the leg.  The lace at the crotch isn’t soft and overall it is not sexy once on.  For a small boned, small busted woman with nice curves below the waist this is a disaster!  I also felt so very strange getting a gift of intimate lingerie from a married couple who knew this was not in keeping with who I am.  I quietly thanked them and put it back in the box.

My boyfriend at the time also didn’t like it.  He thought I looked better in faded denim shorts a la Daisy Dukes style, a cropped white t-shirt and wedgie sandals.  Go figure what women think is sexy doesn’t always line up with what your guy likes.

Teddy Construction

The teddy is by a company called Sami.  The fabric is 100% silk and the lace is nylon & polyester.

The lace was applied to the front and back pieces at top and bottom.  Then a French seam was sewn all the way down at the side seams.  The finished French seam is 1/4″ wide.

The French seam is very lightweight and smooth from the outside.  On the inside it looks slightly puckered but that may have been caused by the turning of the seam into the fabric for the second stitching of the French seam.

This is the front of the teddy on my dress form.  You can see how high the sides are cut.  It’s almost at abdomen level.  It was not flattering to have part of my backside exposed so much.  And the top is too low.

This is the back of the bias cut teddy.  The back is slightly baggy and because so much shows in an unflattering manner, it’s hard to envision who this was made for.

The lace overlays the silk on the right side of the fabric.  A tiny stitch similar to a zig-zag joins the two pieces together.

Lounge Pajamas

There is no manufacturer’s label inside the lounge pajamas.  They are very comfortable but the top buttons too low.  It’s way below my bustline so I wear these with a tank top underneath.

Top and back of the loungewear pajama set.  This was a gift from the same people who gave me the teddy.  Again the construction is beautiful but the styling leaves something to be desired.  The buttons start almost below the bust line.

The fabric is very silky and I would think prone to shredding as their are threads I sometimes have to trim from the side seams.  The seams are 1/4″ wide, finished with a merrow stitch and pressed towards the back of the garment.  I think a home sewist could do the same with a small zig-zag stitch in lieu of an overlock stitch.

The pajama top was not interfaced along the center front.  The edges were merrowed.  I think this finish provides the best solution.  If I were to sew such a pajama set on my own machine, I’d straight stitch 1/4″ from the edge and then hand overcast if it were real silk.  For polyester I might zig-zag.







1930s Sew-along with Norma: Rayon Faille and Bias Seams


Here’s my update on the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.

The flounce for my 1930s inspired dress was cut with the center front on the lengthwise grain.  The flounce is a semi-circular shape with side seams falling on the bias.  The fabric I’m using is rayon faille.  It has a lovely drape and feels very light next to the skin.  It is not slippery but very shifty.  And since the side seam of the flounce is on the bias, this part of the construction required some thought and adaptation of familiar techniques.

What I show here is a solution I came up with based mostly on the needs of the fabric.  The purpose is to encourage you to take those techniques you know and, when required, use them as a starting point to your own solution to a sewing challenge.  It’s impossible to always find an answer in a book since the combination of styles, fabrics, sewing machines and time available vary from one sewista to another.  This is why creative thinking is a good thing.  Books are there to guide us but it is experience that is our greatest teacher.

Basting the side seams of the flounce

In Couture Sewing Techniques , Claire Schaeffer writes about a basting method used in couture sewing called lap basting.  It is used when sewing a bias seam and permits the grain to settle when the garment is hung on the dress form for a few days before sewing.  I used this technique when sewing a denim circle skirt and it worked out perfectly.  The basting was one as described by Claire:  I used a single strand of conditioned thread that was knotted and had a 2″ more or less, tail of thread behind it.  With this I basted from the top down for about 6″ more or less.  Then I cut this length of threa leaving another 2″ tail.  Another length of conditioned basting thread was used and a new row of basting stitches continued where the other left off.  This new row of stitches started slightly above the previous.  From there it continued down about 6″.  Then it was cut and the process repeated.  The only knot was in the first length of thead starting from the top.

The cotton denim skirt then hung on the dress for for a few days.  The threads permitted gravity to pull the fabric down as the grain settled.

I tried lap basting on a scrap of rayon faille only to find it did not hold the fabric well enough to prevent shifting when I machine stitched it.  Since the side seam is on the bias I did not want to use tear away or even water soluble stabilizer.  When sewing on the bias I find less is more.  I decided to do something different which I’ll show in the photos that follow.

Basting rayon faille when the seam is on the bias

I’m using a scrap of muslin since the print of the dress fabric prevents the basting stitches from showing up.  I use two different sizes of hand sewing needles.  To condition the basting thread I used a new dryer softener sheet.  My advice is to change the dryer sheets often and avoid using ones you’ve already put into the dryer.  I find them to have no conditioning and softening effect on the thread.

The solution I came up with was to baste two parallel rows of basting stitches next to the seam line of the side seams.  One length of stitches was longer, for which I used the #8 Sharps.  The second row consisted of smaller stitches which filled in the spaces between the longer basting stitches.  For the smaller stitches I used the #6 Between hand sewing needles.

I’ve learned that rayon faille response better to a double strand of basting thread.  The seam remains stable enough to sew without the need for a stabilizer.  In the photo above you can see the lap basting on the top.  Below that is the solution I used to baste the side seams of the flounce.  The knot at the start of the line of stitches  worked out very well since the top remained stable and the stitches after it did not come undone.

When machine sewing, I used a medium stitch length and stretched the side seam only a little.  None of the basting threads broke and the seam did not pucker when the basting stitches were removed.  After pressing the seam was flat.

Finishing a side seam on a bias flounce for any fabric

My sewing teacher taught me a way to stabilize the side seams of a bias cut skirt or flounce.  This will lessen the tendency of a bias cut seam to continue to stretch even after the garment is finished.  We used cotton twill tape that was washed and then steam pressed while damp.  When the tape was dry it was catch stitched to just the seam.

Cotton twill tape is too weighty for rayon faille.  I went into the stash I keep of different hem tapes and trims.  This 1″ wide piece of lace was just right.  After pre-shrinking I catch stitched it to the side seams of the flounce.

I then pinked the edges of the flounce to keep them from fraying.  Since the bias is very tricky to handle I believe this was enough of a finish.

Once the flounce is sewn in I will photograph the way the flounce and bodice side seams hang so you can understand the reasons why these different finishings were applied.








1930s Sew-along with Norma: Sewing a flounce

Progress Report1930s Sew-along with Norma

This week I worked on the flounce for the dress.  Flounce and ruffle are words sometimes used interchangeably.  For me, a ruffle is a strip of fabric that is cut on the straight grain, gathered an sewn into the garment.  A ruffle can have trimming or use other notions to add to its effect on the overall garment.

A flounce moves much more than a ruffle will due to its cut and shape.  The pattern piece for a flounce is circular or semi-circular in shape.  It can also be slightly flared instead.  The key features of a flounce are that one part is on the straight grain and the other part is on the bias.  This creates a fluidity that a ruffle will not have.

Flounces use up a lot of fabric.  Cutting goes well on the widest piece of fabric you have.  For this flounce the center front and back pieces are on the straight grain.  The side seam goes on the bias.

It is very, very important not to rush when sewing a flounce.  Before even sewing the side seams, it is wise to baste the flounce at the side seams in a special technique I learned from Claire Schaeffer’s “Couture Sewing Techniques”.  I will show how this is done next week using a scrap of muslin and basting threads in two different colors.  This technique has proven to be very effective in that the drape of the flounce sets in beautifully before the side seams are sewn.  Gravity works it’s power to settle the fabric so that there is very little puckering when machine stitching.

It is important to also stay stitch any other part of the flounce you will hang or pin from when allowing the hang of the side seam to set in.  I did all basting and stay stitching by hand.  Again another time consuming and exceedingly slow procedure.  However, given how shifty rayon faille is this proved worthwhile.  Sewing was so easy.

In the weeks ahead I also have to begin focusing on the belt.  This is going to be another project in itself.  The belt making kits I have come with silver buckles and silver prongs.  These look very cheap and tacky against the rich green fabric for the belt.  So along with an appropriate interfacing for the belt I now need to see if anyone sells prongs and buckles that are close to the green color.  Gold is a possibility but I think it will be too obvious and detract from the way the belt and dress print are meant to blend rather than compete with each other.

Progress Photos


The flounce doesn’t look like it’s doing much after hanging on the dress form for 6 days.  This is because we’re looking at if from Center Front which is on the straight grain.  It also will need some special consideration for finishing the side seams so that the flounces move outward, rather than inward as they are doing right now.

Right now the flounce doesn’t look so great.  It will have more movement once the hem is completed and it is sewn to the bodice.


This close-up of the side seam shows just how much gravity has had its effect on the settling of the hang of the flounce.  Once the side seams are finished and pressed it will be sewn to the bodice.  To be safe I will let the completed dress hang for a few days more before trimming the hem to even it out.



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.