First skirt toile: Fitting issues


I decided to do the fitting toile in separate parts before assembling the bodice to the skirt.  This makes it easier for me to focus on the specific areas in each that present fitting problems.  As I am learning today, the surgical mesh that was put in place in the late 1990s to repair an incisional hernia has affected the fit of the skirt around the waist and abdomen.

Here are a few photos on the problems as well as what I think the toile is telling me the solutions should be.

First Skirt Toile-Fitting problems and possible solutions


My abdomen is a bit puffy where the mesh was placed.  This affected the waistline and abdomen lines.  The front skirt length is 1″ more while the side and back skirt length are the same.  I eliminated 1/4″ from the center front length and it now rests in a better position.

There was only 3/4″ for dart intake.  The drafting instructions called for dividing that intake evenly between two darts.  I do not like the way the darts look.  Also, during the fitting the waistline gaped between the darts.  I will use this extra amount to increase the intake.  The extra amount was pinned into place.


This custom made dress form includes a derriere which I think makes a big difference when aiming for an accurate fit and enough ease around a pencil skirt or any skirt for that matter.  At the back, I also found more gaping between the darts, so that excess will be used for the next skirt’s back darts.  Here, too, I am thinking one dart may be better than two.


To create a more pleasing shape, I’m going to try tapering the skirt from the hip to hemline.  I’ll measure in about 1/8 to 3/16″ at the side seam and taper to zero at the hip.  This will give the skirt a bit more of a curvy shape.


To create some sense of shape at the front and make something of a visual distraction from the puffy abdomen I think darts that slant to the side seams might work.  What do you think?


It’s still too soon to tell how the next toile will come out but I think there will be some improvement.  If you look at the right side of the skirt (left in the photo) there already is a better shape resulting from some tapering at the side seam and taking in the excess fabric that had been gaping.




















1930s Sew-along with Norma: The NEC Technique for applying a bias binding to a V-neckline


At last the neckline is bound with a bias binding.  This technique evolved over postings and comments to which Norma and Carol contributed:  Details follow the photos of the neckline as completed on the latest toile.

I am still tweaking the sleeve pattern.  I went back and reviewed the very first basic toile I made for the dress form.  I also checked my patternmaking books.  Anytime a sleeve has an elbow dart, whether vertical or horizontal, the crosswise grain must balance.  Below the elbow the lengthwise grain will not align with the side seam.  The dart causes the fabric below the elbow to swing to the front.  So here is part of the answer I need for why the sleeve with a vertical elbow dart swings forward.  I just need  now to work on some more details to get the rest of the sleeve right.



I have to practice my slip stitching a little more to get this just right but I think this is a good start.


I will use a lapped zipper application.  The back of the neckline will have a hook and eye or snap closure.  For decorative purposes I may also use a glass button and silk button loop as well.

The NEC Technique for applying bias binding to a V-neckline

NEC stands for Norma, EmilyAnn and Carol.

1.Stitch shoulder seams.  Press open.

2.On wrong side of the fabric, pin and baste into place a length of Dritz 791 1/2″ wide nylon stay tape.  The tape will go from Center Back to Center Front on each side.  Do not overlap at the point of the V-neckline.  The tape is placed between the edge and above the 1/2″ sewing line.

3.Use medium length straight stitch to stay stitch and fix the stay tape into place.  Stitching should be above the 1/2″ sewing line.

4.Clip and finger press the neckline seam allowance to the right side of the fashion fabric.

5.Cut a length of the fashion fabric on the true bias that is 1 1/2″ wide.  This length should be equal to one side of the neckline plus 2″ for seam allowances and stretch factor.

6.Cut another bias strip in the same manner.

7.Turn under each side of the bias strip 1/2″ to the wrong side and steam press each side.  When both sides have been pressed like this, steam press again from the right side gently stretching and slightly shaping into a curve.

8.Baste the neckline of the bodice into place making sure the edges are trimmed.  Press the neckline.

9.It works best to pin the bias tape in place by having the bodice on a dress form.  Work from the Center Back at the beginning of the neckline by wrapping 1/2″ of the tape to the inside.  Then pin on an angle all along the neckline making sure the tape covers the fabric that has been turned to the right side.

10.At center front, angle the tape so that it forms a point at the end.  Allow 1/4″ to turn to the wrong side and pin in place.

11.Repeat for the other side.  Make sure that at Center Front the tape lines up vertically.

12.Slip stitch both edges of the tape to the neckline and bodice.

13.To join the tape at the center use the drawing stitch.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Fabric ordered. Now to notions…

I’m still tweaking a few details on Toile Version 3.1 of my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma. Here are the latest developments…

Fabric Ordered and Belt Buckles Under Consideration

The flares for Version 3 were just right. I ordered a rayon challis print that looks very good when flared. Since I ordered a 1/4 yard cut for the sample I had enough to play with on the dress form. When the print is flared the tiny flowers look ok. At first I had thought such a print would not match up at seams. But no worries with this pattern. It’s too small to require matching up.

The fabric is very soft and feels nice against my skin. I’ve decided to make the belt buckle the focal point of the dress. I have two belt buckles I bought at a trimmings shop in my neighborhood. I’ve photographed each against the fabric for the dress.

I like the look of the gold buckle. If I use it the dress can be accessorized with a gold chain necklace and earrings.

I’m leaning towards the green buckle because it is very attractive against the print. I also think it has a retro look to it.

Bias Binding Slip Stitched to Sleeve

I followed Norma’s advice and slip stitched the bias binding to the sleeve. This required slip stitching from the outside and then the inside. It worked out beautifully. Thank you, Norma for sharing this new found technique. Here I have found the solution to working with bias binding. It does not pucker when applied this way. It also does not stiffen up as it does when machine stitched.

Since it’s very hot I still haven’t put the sleeve in to test the fit and the hang of it. This next step will take place after I deal with the V-neckline of the dress.

Stay Tape

On Version 3 of the toile I used a strip of muslin selvage stabilize the V-neckline. This worked out with mixed results. I found the neckline a little too heavy in feeling. It lacked the soft quality that I now see on the finished sleeve. I’ve read that the selvage of organza is the best to use as a stay tape. I’m still not sure it is the solution I need.

I ordered a roll of Dritz nylon stay tape to try on Version 3.1 of the toile. I will then test it on a scrap of the dress fabric to make sure the two work well together.

Eliminating the Ties
I have decided to eliminate the ties for several reasons. Among them are:

**The placement looks awkward on the dress form even though it has a small bustline (32″ inches).

**A set of ties right below the v-neckline takes away from the bias binding finish of the neckline.  The second set of ties would be located at bust level or below. It would look odd on a woman with a well defined figure.

**The ties at the sleeve would distract from someone seeing the belt buckle as the focal point of the dress.

**I considered sketches from “Paris Frocks at Home”, the 1930 book from which I took inspiration for my dress. Whether the dress with the ties is worn by a tall or short woman they will only look good if she is very slender and angular. I’m making this conclusion based on how I envision the dress with ties would look on the women around me. Most are curvy and it would not look that good.

**Instead of ties I’m considering buttons in a shade of green that matches the belt. There will be one at the neckline in the back and three buttons on the seam of the sleeve. These would close with a thread loop made in green silk thread.

**To accessorize the dress I’ll look for dangling earrings with crystal beads or stud earrings. A necklace 16-18″ long with crystal beads is also a possible accessory. I’d love to find beads or crystals in colors similar to the floral print of the dress fabric.

How the dress with ties would look on a tall vs. a short woman

These sketches are from “Paris Frocks at Home” published by Butterick Pattern Company in 1930. I have searched online but cannot find a photo of this dress to better judge how the ties would look.

Dress with ties on a tall, slender woman as imagined by the illustrator.

Here is how it is supposed to look on an average or petite size woman.

What’s up next

I will be looking for a very lightweight zipper. I plan to do a slot application using Claire Shaeffer’s couture method. I want to see if there is a zipper with a light tape. The kinds of zippers I usually use are, I think, a little too heavy for the dress fabric.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Oh my poor little toile!

Just a quick post on the progress of my toile for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  I’m enroute to Baltimore for a wedding.

I’ve reached a point in the evaluation of the toile where I feel so sorry for it.  The neckline has stretched more and the bias tape is rippling. The toile no longer looks good enough to keep working on.  I think it’s time to retire it and use the muslin for dolly dressmaking.

On the serious side I had a deep feeling that the sleeve alteration from Helen Joseph Armstrong’s patternmaking book was not going to work out.  It solved the problem of the excess ease and created several new problems:

*Lowering the cap cut into the extra width created by the ease tuck.  The sleeve is now too tight across the biceps level.

* The cap shape is stranger looking than before.  When the sleeve was basted into the toile it displayed  what I’d describe as baggy or pouchy areas around the curve.  It’s an excess of fabric.

*The sleeve does not hang absolutely straight.  It swings a little towards the back.  Helen Joseph-Armstrong recommends undoing the sleeve and rotating it until it hangs straight.  That will do nothing for the other problems.

So—this is where I made a decision—-

First, I’ll try one more time to alter the sleeve pattern using the recommendations from the 1930s draping book.  I also have an idea about the sleeve cap which I’ll try out, too.  Then if this last attempt does not work out I’ve decided to do the most expedient thing for a second course of action—-

I’m going to draft the sleeve. But not using the 1930s drafting pattern given in this posting.  The sleeve is based on a pattern block and not a draped garment so I don’t want to mix things up.  I’m just going to go back to the French Fashion method and draft a fitted sleeve with elbow dart.

This is the best compromise I can reach.  Namely because I so want to actualize the dress into real fabric.  I think I could, eventually, drape a sleeve.  That takes time and it could put me into an ongoing loop of doing it again and again.  This isn’t about draping per se but about using draping to create as much as possible a version of a 1930s dress.  I’m reminded when my draping teacher Susan Douglas told me that drafting the sleeve was a better use of time for set-in sleeves.

Here are three photos of the droopy, draped sleeve after the Joseph-Armstrong alteration.  When I’m back from the wedding I’ll start a new bodice and altered sleeve.  Better that all this happened on a toile than fashion fabric.



Side View.  On a fitted sleeve with elbow dart, the center of the sleeve should hang parallel to the side seam up to the elbow.  Then it swings slightly to the front because of the shaping in the seam from elbow to wrist.


Front View.  Can you see the pouchy, poufy curve?


Back view.  I think the sleeve cap looks like it has a bit of a muffin top.



1930s Sew-along with Norma: Making progress in a good way!


Greetings to all followers of this blog and the 1930s Sew-along with Norma

I’m very happy to inform you that the toile is taking shape.  The process of refining the sewing and applications used is now in progress.  This is where the drape and pattern come to life for me.

I believe the toile speaks to me on many levels.  It tells me what will or won’t work regardless of what is in books, photos or illustrations.  Here are the results of the .recent conversation.

The Toile-Bodice-First Review


The lengthwise and crosswise grain lines were marked in green pencil to save time.  In the front and back there is adequate ease in the bodice at bust, waist and hips to make it comfortable.  The chest area needs 1-2″ more ease to allow movement in the arm.  I will add about 3/8″ to the underarm seam and taper to zero below the bust dart.  I will add 3/8″ to each side of the sleeve, too.  Not just at the cap but all the way down.  After making the alteration to the cap I lost some ease.  Please note this additional width will not change the amount of ease in the cap.  This will simply add sufficient width for comfort.


The back does hang straight it just looks a little off because of all the ease.  It’s hard to gauge from the illustration of the original style how close or tubular the actual dress was once completed.  But since this is a pullover dress with no placket at the side it is imperative to have sufficient width to pull it over the head.

With that in mind I had to add a slit in the center back that will be closed with buttons and loops.  This is not part of the original but an adaptation to suit my preferences.  I do not want to lower the neckline in front or back so this is the solution I chose.


This illustration of the original, finished dress is reminiscent more of the 1920s than 1930, the year Butterick released the pattern for this dress.  It seems that the belt is at hip level but when I tried that on my dress form I immediately disliked the look.  For the most part hip level belts look cute on little girls with flat tummies.  Once you’ve got a figure and curves it’s one of the most unflattering styles around.


I’ve decided to use a belt at the waistline.  The actual width of the belt will be determined after I make the bow ties and attach them to the toile.


At the back the dress looks when it’s belted, too.  I really do not think the original dress was belted so low at the hipline.  It just wouldn’t look good with the elaborate inset pleats and the curving pattern of the lower bodice.




“Paris Frocks At Home” recommends using a single or double faced bias tape, premade or made from the dress fabric, as a neckline and armhole finishing or facing.  I based this neckline treatment on the illustration shown above and these instructions from the book.  I’m not at all satisfied with the results.  Once I tried the toile on and the neckline had been exposed to being pulled over my head it stretched slightly.  This is a warning sign of things to come.  I thought about stabilizing the neckline with a strip of seam tape along the inside of the band but now reject that.  I have to develop another way to handle this.  I do have a possible solution but instead of writing about it, I’ll just do it and see how it turns out.


I was very careful with the double bias tape down to pressing, steaming and gently stretching it into shape.  Yet it still proved difficult to use on this slightly V-shaped neckline.  It even distorted at the center back and does not match up neatly.  Time to move on to another solution.  What I have in mind is not 1930s style sewing but something practical.  It will mean some extra work but that’s what a muslin toile is for.  It is a workhorse that saves time and money.  If I messed up like this on the fashion fabric I’d lose the entire bodice.

The way I will test any alternate treatment for the neckline will follow after completion of this entire toile.  There is still the sleeve and skirt to sew in.  Once that is complete just the neckline will need a re-do.  Since that is all, I think I will prepare a new toile cut just to below the bust level.  This way I’ll save fabric and time since all I need to evaluate will be the way the neckline looks.




1930s Sew-along with Norma: Bias binding instead of facings

Update on my participation in 1930s Sew-along with Norma

Please check out Norma’s blog to see her pretty 1930s skirt.

1930s Sewing Technique Challenge:  How do I finish a neckline and the armholes of a sleeveless dress?

I found the answer to why so many 1930s patterns do not have facing pieces for necklines and armholes on sleeveless garments.  The pattern that inspired my project also does not have any facing pieces in the pattern diagram.  I went through one of my reference books “Paris Frocks At Home” to see what was an acceptable finish.  It turns out that bias binding was often used.  There isn’t a diagram or mention about armhole facings although there are some facings for necklines.  I have decided to use either organza or a poly china silk for the binding once I start sewing with the fashion fabric.

The binding of my copy of “Paris Frocks at Home” is fragile.  I won’t scan it but can photograph the pages I referred to.  I’ve typed the pertinent text in along with close-ups of the illustrations mentioned.

I’ve decided to put the toile together by hand. This gets me into the groove for sewing the dress.  Many of the finishings in the 1930s were done by hand.  In this sense dressmakers in the 1930s were closer to the spirit of haute couture than I previously realized.

Photos of what I’ve done so far follow at the end of the posting.

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Secretary Blouse and Sheath Skirt: Skirt Toile Version 1

I am in the midst of preparing for a move to a new apartment on September 13, 2014. Since I will not be able to finish the altered skirt toile by then I thought it best to show how the first version is progressing. I have an opportunity with the current version to show the alteration I continually have to make everytime I draft a skirt using the Size 4 measurements. I never had to make this adjustment for myself or others. At times I am tempted to simply deduct the 3/8″ I must remove from the front measurement BEFORE drafting the pattern. However, experience has taught me that once the basics of the drafting technique are altered the rest of the process is effected and often the resulting pattern has fitting issues in more than one area. So, I follow the instructions as I’ve previously shared and then make the needed alteration.

The alteration for the Misses Size 4 Sheath Skirt Front is detailed in this posting.

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