First draping project underway-Late 1940s skirt and blouse


Draping Technique used is from 1947 book,  Precision Draping by Nellie Weymouth Link

I have finally resolved the issues with the skirt darts.  The best fit is achieved by angling the darts towards the side seam.  This means that they are slightly off grain.  I was surprised that this solution worked but the fit over my abdomen is very smooth.  The dart length is also shorter than if they are positioned on the straight of grain.

I found it impossible to work with one large dart for the back of the skirt.  When the dart intake is greater than 3/4 of an inch the dart has a very sharp point and does not look flattering over the part of the body is rests on.  For those skirts in Precision Draping that must have only one dart in the back, such as when making flares, I will think of a workaround when the time comes.  Right now I have selected a very simple style I can use my new skills on.

I want to thank Norma of She Sews You Know and Naomi of Spare Room Style for all their encouragement during this long process.  Your encouragement has continually motivated me.

Style Chosen:  Late 1940s straight skirt and short kimono sleeve blouse


This skirt is a late 1940s, post-New Look style.  You can tell because the hemline has dropped from the knee length skirts of the WWII era to the mid-calf length that was to dominate after 1947 due to Dior’s New Look.  The Pencil Skirt as we know it today, with its straight tapered line below the hips and it’s noticeable curve along the hipline, would not be developed until the mid-1950s.  The 1940s straight skirt had more walking ease thanks to a slight flare at the hemline. The side seam lacks the more pronounced curve of the Pencil Skirt and is therefore kinder to many figure types.

While this isn’t an exciting skirt and blouse it is a good starting point to apply many of the principles from Precision Draping.  I want to use them as much as possible to achieve a fit and style as close to the late 1940s as possible.

My first drape of the blouse and skirt

I do not like how form fitting the blouse on the pattern illustration is.  Since I am smaller on the top I need a more blousy effect to balance out the fullness of my abdomen and hips.  The collar on this blouse attracts the eye upwards.  A belt made with the same fabric as the skirt will reduce the size of my waistline in relation to the upper torso.

To control the fullness in the blouse I will use a hip yoke to sew the bodice into.  The yoke gets tucked into the skirt and keeps the blouse neatly in place.

The bodice of the blouse was draped using the standard bodice with armhole.  That drape in turn was transferred to paper and a short kimono sleeve drafted onto it.  Precision Draping combines draping and flat patternmaking.  This is not as difficult as it sounds.  Anyone with knowledge of making pattern alterations will have the skills to take the next step if they stick to a simple style.

Kimono sleeves can use a lot of fabric when draped.  Using this technique by drafting them onto the draped bodice saves on muslin.

Photo of the drape of the blouse and hip yoke pinned onto the form.

Front of straight skirt pinned in place over the blouse.  This kind of checking is very important to determine if more ease is needed.  That adjustment can be made when transferring the drape to a paper pattern.


Meet Josie, my new dressform


This is Josie, my custom made dress form.  She is very modest about her figure and wanted to be dressed up when I introduced her to the RetroGlam readers and subscribers.

Earlier in the Spring of 2017 Naomi and Norma encouraged me to begin sewing clothes for myself again.  I’ve spent the last three years or so getting my skills back by making clothes for a Misses Size 4 using my Wolf dress form.  With the completion of the 1930s Sew-along with Norma project, I was confident enough to do just that.

I had saved enough money to get a custom made professional dress form by Andy’s Forms in New York City.  Rohan of Andy’s Dress Forms made the form for me based on a series of measurements taken at the store.  When the form arrived last week I was so pleased and so amazed that it duplicated every aspect of my figure.  Rohan makes each form using the traditional hand made methods involving paper mache and fabric.

I decided to name the form Josie Jr. after my Grandmother Josie who taught me how to sew.  My late Mom used to help with all the fittings and critiques when she was alive and before the onset of Parkinsonism began a slow set-in of her life.  It is important for me to have this form since I cannot do a proper fitting without the help of another person to pin, review and assess how the outfit looks.  Even a three way mirror is no substitute for the ability to stand back and see how the toile looks from different angles.

My Basic Fitting Shell

I have been on vacation this past week so there were many happy, uninterrupted hours spent getting acquainted with Josie and her fitting needs.  By naming the form and looking at it as a bit removed from myself, I am better able to critique the fit and results.

One thing I had to admit was that the various surgeries I had in the 1990s altered the shape of my body.  The clothing I made prior to that time was more symmetrical and there were very definite differences between bust, hip and waist.  I have gained weight so that there is some cleavage at the bust and a nice curve at the hip.  But due to an ovarectomy in 1992, I was left with an incisional hernia that had to be repaired twice.  During the second operation a surgical mesh was put in that solved the problem.  Thank goodness I have no further problems.  The mesh, though, resulted n a little bulge at the abdomen that makes me look like I have a bit of a puff in that area.

This has resulted in the front skirt length being 27″ and the side and back skirt length being 26″.  The skirt pattern looks a little odd at this point and my waist is less indented than it was before the surgery.  Overall, though, the operation was a success and that is what counts.

Here are the photos of the basic fitting shell pattern.  The muslin is already cut and awaiting sewing.  Results will appear in the next posting.

The side dart was bigger than the vertical dart.  It was better to shift the dart intake to the vertical dart so now I have a shell with just one dart.  We’ll have to see how that looks.  I’m used to having a vertical and side dart since working with a standard Misses Size 4.  Since this is custom dressmaking now I’m sure more surprises are ahead as I get familiar with sewing for my new body shape.

I’ve always had sloping shoulders so the shoulder dart is about the same as it was when I drafted patterns for myself over 20 years ago.  What is different this time is the center back seam on the bodice has less shaping since my waistline is a little larger due to the surgical mesh.

Here you can see the way the skirt rises at the center front.  I had no idea when drafting the pattern that this would happen.  This needs testing through the fitting of the first toile.  I’m very curious to see the results and what further adjustments may be needed.  It is my hope that anyone else who has undergone surgery and gone through a period of adjustment will learn along with me how to develop styles that will make the least of any figure flaw and favor those parts that are more flattering.

Right now I think that the skirt darts are too small.  Perhaps only one dart each side with the entire amount for intake will be better than two.  We won’t know until the skirt is finished.

First Project after Perfecting the Fit

At first I was thinking of making another 1930s inspired dress for my first custom made project.  But dealing with my little fitting issues has me thinking I should start simple before attempting anything with flounces and all the pretty, fluttery features of 1930s styles.  So I will go with the 1950s styles which flattered my Mom and Aunties and which I grew to love as a little girl.  They were women with a healthy body weight and well defined figures (helped by wearing girdles).  I do not plan to wear a heavy girdle but I favor  light-weight shape wear.  I think 1950s styles with their well defined waistlines are a good place for me to start.

I plan to start with this basic chemise from the 1952 edition of “Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing.  There will be changes such as a back zipper instead of a front slit because I do not like pull-over dresses made of woven fabrics.  The collar will be turned back for further comfort because Mandarin collars are not one of my favorites since they are too close to the neck.

Knowing how the pattern pieces of the original style looked will also help me draft the style and figure out the kind of kimono sleeve used.  It could be a Short KImono Sleeve without Gusset.  Another possibility is that the pattern was based on a long  Kimono Sleeve cut to the desired length.  I will compare these illustrations with those in my patternmaking book.

The book also shows the pattern layout, which is another help since I don’t have to do much to  figure out the placement of the pieces.

Now, back to working on the toile.







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.