Future plans and possibilities: 1940s-1950s Housedresses

In two weeks my custom sized dress form will arrive.  I am filled with anticipation because a new phase is beginning.  I will be able to start making dresses, skirts and blouses for myself now that my sewing and fitting skills have returned.

The first step will be taking measurements and then making the fitting shell.  Once this is taken care of the enjoyment begins.  My imagination is dancing around so many things but I have thought through what I need and want.  Need is more practical and means I will actually wear the result much more often.  So I will go for practical and make it a fun process.

I’m at a point in life where I’m very tired of jeans and jeggings.  In real time I’m on the move a lot with frequent travel by subway and commuter rail lines.  Anyone who has lived in or visited New York and New Jersey knows that this kind of travel is hard on clothing.  Jeans, t-shirts, Hollister and Aeropostale styled jackets and canvas messenger styled shoulder bags and flat shoes are more suited that pretty, feminine outfits.  Since travel is becoming more and more expensive in the area and between states I am cutting back on all outings and social meet-ups that require too much travel time and outlay.  I live in a lovely area and have so much to discover in my area.  With a pretty studio apartment I call home I want to find time to live a little more slowly and gracefully.

With this in mind I plan to change my style and enter into a kind of practical version of RetroGlam for weekends and days off.  I want to leave off the jeans, messenger bags and zip up jackets and connect to a more softer style that expresses who I really am.  I am considering making one or two housedresses.  One for Spring – Summer and the other for Autumn – Winter seasons.  In the past women wore these pretty dresses while cleaning their homes and going out shopping.  I think that the style can be adapted for modern use so that the house dress can move beyond cute and girly into a fun and flattering style suitable for any casual gathering or time at home.

Here are some newspaper clippings and pattern envelope illustrations of styles I’ll take some inspiration from.  I hope you will enjoy the beginnings of my new adventure which is slowly starting.

Housedresses Late 1940s-Early 1950s






1930s Sew-along with Norma: At last, a reference book with photos!

I’ve decided to use the last of my Christmas money on a 1930s sewing reference book that has wonderful photos and detailed explanations. I consider it an investment because there are many techniques in it I’ve not seen or used before.

The book is entitled “Weldon’s Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework.” For a good overview of the book and scans of the photos you can check out the posting about it at BlackTulipSewing.

The reason why I’m going this far is because I just might go completely out of the security of the little sewing box of techniques and systems I know so well. What started all of this was that 6 gore skirt pattern from the French Fashion Academy book. The hip curve is curvy and the resulting gored skirt is so attractive and flattering. But I do not believe it will work well with a snap closure. That system was created in the 1950s when women went back to wearing long line girdles and waspies. Zippers were already coming into more common use than in the 1930s so the way in which patterns were made and sewed continued to evolve. I have to post a scan of what the French Fashion Academy gored skirt pattern looks like. I think when you see the hip curve you’ll understand my concern about using snaps on it. As soon as I have time I will do that.

Having a book on hand is so different than relying on the internet. There is something very satisfying of looking through the book at other entries and then getting further ideas. That’s not always possible even when the blog posting is as good as the one at BlackTulipSewing.

1930s Sew-Along with Norma: Patternmaking methods

I think another educational aspect from this project is evolving.  Carol has been so kind and helpful providing me with many scans of patternmaking instructions for skirts and slips.  I always find a review of material like this helpful in learning how the finished shapes of the pattern should look.

I have to admit, though, that I will not be using an authentic 1930s pattern because the system I draft from was created in the 1950s.  It would be a great experience to use older patternmaking systems but to effectively do so requires more time than I have to invest.  I believe that to really know the basics of another system well it takes about 6 months to a year just working on the most basic patterns and sewing up their toiles.  The confidence gained from this is priceless and so is the ability to knowledgably discuss what one did in the process of transformation and fitting.

Since I don’t have the necessary time to delve into vintage patternmaking systems I’ll stick with the system I know.  The challenge comes in creating a pattern that will be close to a 1930s one. If the readers are interested I’ll share photos of my completed patterns so we can compare them to ones from the 1930s.  This would be a continuation of the learning experience.


1930s Sew-Along with Norma

I forgot to mention that I will be using the patternmaking system I learned at French Fashion Academy and possibly the draping technique taught at FIT. The French Fashion Academy method for creating a gored skirt is very simple and I think will make a good tutorial to share with others. I’ve simplified it even more since using it to make skirts for my Mom when she was alive. So there will be a nice takeaway for readers once that part of the project is underway.

1930s Lingere: Sweet and very simple

I’m at a happy meeting place of many influences that are feeding into the 1930s Sew-Along with Norma.

First, research for my family history project has my Uncle and I immersed in the 1930s newspaper archives of “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle” at the Brooklyn Library’s online Brooklyn Newsstand Archives. We are finding lots and lots of advertisements in each edition of the paper that provide great details about women’s clothing and accessories of the 1930s. Second, Carol of By Way of Thanks has been helping with research into the finer details of clothing construction. Tonight she sent me two scans of pattern drafting instructions for 1930s slips.

I found two vintage pattern envelope illustrations for a very simple half slip and full-slip. These illustrations are right in line with the adverts from “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle” during the 1930s. The lingerie was simply cut. Most of the decorative touch came through seaming. Lace was sparingly used. Perhaps because prices had to be kept reasonable in terms of manufacture and retail. I notice that half slips had darts and no elastic at the waist. I think they half slips may have been closed at a side seam with snaps or later in the decade with zippers. Spaghetti straps look like the norm on full length slips. I don’t think they had the kind of adjustable straps slips had later in the 1940s and 1950s.

Since neither Carol nor I have found ANYTHING at all about lining skirts or dresses I’ve decided to take the plunge and make a slip. I do not think the lining fabric I bought, a 100% lining weight polyester, will work well on its own as a slip. I’ve read about Bemberg lining which is satiny and medium weight as being a good substitute for real silk. Otherwise I think a poly crepe back satin will also work. I plan to make the slip in navy blue or black. I do not think a white slip will look best under the blouse and skirt fabric.

Here are the pattern envelope scans:

I might try to drape the slip. I have a very lightweight dotted swiss poly-cotton I have no plans for. I think it would work well for the draping. I find when having to make something close fitted like a slip that is as simple as one of these designs, draping is preferable to flat patternmaking and adjusting for contouring. We’ll see once I get started.

I have a few more weeks to work on the sheath skirt. Slowly but surely making progress each weekend. I’m nursing a cold at the moment so will wait until I’m really back in the groove to resume that work. It’s cold and damp here in Brooklyn. Perfect for a hot cup of tea, a good book or a vintage film. How is everyone in their part of the world? Sewing or hibernating?

New Year, New Plans

Happy New Year to all visitors and followers of RetroGlam. I hope 2014 is a very healthy and productive year for you all.

The need to make a new front bodice and collar for The Donna Blouse will slow up my progress for getting on with newer projects. I’ve decided, though, to make good of this and turn it into something of a tutorial. This way my readers can see how well using different colored threads for marking grain lines, buttonholes and seam basting helps a busy (and sometimes tired) seamstress keep track of what is what. I can’t tell you how many times, when I was a little bit fatigued, I got overwhelmed by seeing all my basted seams and grainlines in the same black thread. There were many times I ripped out the thread for the grain lines while removing basting stitches.

I plan to go back to “Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing” for the construction of the Classic Notched Collar with lapels and roll line. This should prove useful since readers will see actual photos of how the instructions work out for me.

My weekend schedule will be hectic for January so things may go slowly. While I’m getting photos for the tutorial, I plan to add in some book reviews and scans of fashion ads from some late 1940s and early 1950s romance magazines I have. These dresses would have been worn by teenagers and housewives who waited each month for the latest issue of such magazines like “True Story” and “True Romance”. The styles are very influenced by the New Look after 1947 and I think they offer a good insight into what everyday women were wearing.

A good mix of high fashion as well as manufactured, mass produced styles of any era provides interesting insights into an era, the economics and the role women had in the particular strata of society they occupied. I also think that the simplicity of the mass produced styles can offer some quick and accessible sources of inspiration to a modern lover of retro styles.