1930s Sew-along with Norma: Preparing for the first drape


I had free time in the evenings this week so I began the preparations for draping the upper front and back pieces of the dress I’m making as part of the 1930s Sew-Along with Norma

This is a picture filled posting behind the cut so read on if you’re interested in how I’m doing with the challenge of learning the 1930s draping system.

First Step:  Analyze the style


The upper front and back are not quite like a column because there is a slight shaping at the underarm.  There are two French darts at the bust line.  My version will be sleeveless.  The dress must hang straight like a cylinder below the bust.  The flounce on my dress will be symmetrical since it will use less fabric to drape than an asymmetrical flounce.

A sleeveless bodice always differs from a bodice for set-in sleeves.  It must be about 1/2″ in from the intersection of the shoulder and arm.  The line drawn must also be slightly less curved.  Since draping a set in sleeve is difficult for a beginner, I’m going to drape a kimono sleeve  in two parts with the lower section slightly bell shaped.


The part about the draping system I’m using which I’m not sure of is the use of what is called an ease tuck which is positioned from 3-5 ” from the Center Front along the bust line marking on the drape.  According to the instructions the horizontal dart near the underarm must stop 2″ from the apex point of the dart.  The book then states that the examples given were created on a size 36.  I don’t know what the measurements were for a size 36 in the 1930s but a gut feeling told me I had already encountered my first decision regarding this system.  Since all bodies differ there is no telling how the results will be whether using a standard size or your own measurements.  I decided to play around with the fabric after preparing the dress form.

Step 2:  Marking the underarm, armhole, neckline and other style lines


I put a bra on the dress form to better visualize the depth of the neckline as well as where the underarm seam should end.  Some draping videos show the teacher marking the armhole all around the plate.  This is ok initially but the armhole must be lowered when trueing the finished drape.  As a way to help me when I’m draping, I think about the depth of the armhole.  Usually you want it to end above where your bra will be.  You also want it low enough so it won’t bind the underarm area.  For a bodice with sleeves it’s about 1″ below the screw plate.  That can vary depending on whether you have sloping shoulders, square shoulders or a nice smooth shoulder line.  There are even some people who have one shoulder higher than another.  In which case there might be a need to make slight adjustments for each armhole depth.  Since this dress is sleeveless I will compare the mark I just made with the drape after it is assembled.


After marking the style lines with pins style tape is applied near the line of pins to mark the lines.  This helps also with marking the muslin or fabric.  It takes time to determine the best neckline shape and other details so using style tape is another aid to see if the reality matches the vixualized line.  I can’t find my roll of style tape so I used hem tape.

The upper armhole is marked to the screw plate level.  The lower curve is marked when the drape is trued.  This part I have used from experience and what I learned in school.  The draping book I’m using does not include any details like this.




The end of the upper front and back bodice is marked, for now at point starting at the standard hipline about 7″ below the waist and ending about 9″ below the waist.

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Links to series for patternmaking of RetroGlam Secretary Blouse with Pussycat Bow

Links to series for patternmaking of RetroGlam Secretary Blouse with Pussycat Bow

Pattern envelope illustration that acted as source of inspiration

Photos of the toile which used the RetroGlam pattern

Secretary blouse with Pussycat Bow Part 1: The Bodice Pattern
-How to add style ease
-Includes links to drafting instructions of the Basic Bodice Front and Back

Secretary Blouse with Pussy Cat Bow Part 2: The Blouse Sleeve
-Includes link to Basic, Unfitted Sleeve
-Detailed instructions given to use the Basic, Unfitted Sleeve as a basis for the Blouse Sleeve gathered into cuff.
-Drafting of cuff pattern included.

Secretary Blouse with Pussycat Bow Part 3: Creating a Horizontal Side Dart
-Instructions to change the dart on the Basic Unfitted Bodice into a Horizontal Side Dart.
-This dart manipulation MUST be made since the fitting dart of the Basic Bodice is higher up and will not look good on a finished garment.

Secretary Blouse with Pussycat Bow Part 4: Lengthening the Bodice and Shaping the Neckline
-How to lengthen the Basic Bodice for use as a blouse.
-Shaping a gently curved V-Neckline for the front of the blouse.

Secretary Blouse with Pussycat Bow Part 5: Adding Ease at Hipline and Dart Tucks
-Instructions for a simple pattern transformation using the Unfitted Bodice
–Creating slight shaping at the waistline
–Adding enough ease at the Hipline
–Adding vertical dart tucks to create shaping and eliminate some bulk on the lower part of the blouse from Waistline to Hip Line.

Note: Many 1950s blouses had numerous vertical darts or tucks running down to the Hip Line. I think this technique created a close fit similar to a Blouse With a Waistline Yoke.

Secretary Blouse with Pussycat Bow Part 6: Pattern for the Bow
-The principles used to create a Pussycat Bow pattern
-Discussion of the benefits in cutting the bow on the true bias

Secretary Blouse with Pussycat Bow Part 6: Pattern for the Bow

It takes a lot more fabric to cut a Pussycat Bow on the true bias. The results, though, are well worth it. The finished bow will drape beautifully. It will also follow the curve of the neckline smoothly so long as care is taken in the cutting and sewing.

Since the Retro Glam version of the 1950s Secretary Blouse with Pussycat Bow has a lower neckline even more fabric is required than would be for a blouse with a higher neckline following the shape of the neckline.

If a Pussycat Bow is cut on the lengthwise or crosswise grain the fabric will circle the neckline in a satisfactory manner but it will lack the softness of one cut on the true bias. The bow, too, will not have any softness or fullness. Instead of looking appealing, the bow will droop. It will not have the fullness that a bias cut bow will.

The choice is up to you. I recommend experimenting with inexpensive lightweight muslin, calico and gingham to see what appeals to you. Using a gingham or striped fabric will also stimulate creative ideas from comparing how prints and stripes will look for a bow when cut on the straight grain or true bias.

The pattern follows…
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RetroGlam Winter Break: Vintage Sheath Skirt Drafting Instructions

Here is another classroom handout I got from the friend who attended Traphagen School of Design. I do not know whether this was an instruction sheet created by the school or if it came from an older book. Based on the appearance, it looks like the instructions were done on an old manual typewriter and then reproduced for the classroom. The instructions in this handout are for the drafting of a sheath skirt sloper. I have not used these instructions since I do not work with slopers. The system I learned at French Fashion Academy is much different than this one. Since I’ve always been very pleased with the fit of the skirts I make from that system I’ve never ventured too far into drafting patterns based on other systems.

I’m providing these instructions because there might be a few readers adventurous enough to want to give this a try. There are sample measurements given at the start of the handout but I’ve no idea what size they are for. There is 2” added to the hipline for ease but no mention of any ease added to the waistline.

If I were to draft this pattern I’d use 2-3” ease at the hipline and at least 3/4″ ease at the waistline and then stitch up a toile to check the fit.

The instructions given use the same measurement for Center Back and Center Front Skirt Lengths. The system I use has a slightly shorter Center Back Skirt Length which allows for a slightly lower curve at the waistline.

In the instructions There is a “Back Waist Measure” and “Front Waist Measure”. This might be a different way of measuring the waistline. In the sample measurements given the Front Waist Measure is 13 3/4″ while the Back Waist Measure is 12 3/4″. It seems to me that the Front Waist Measure, being 1” more than the back, might be derived as follows:

1. Take total measure of waistline.
2. Divide in half.
3. Then take 1” off the back measurement and add to the front.

Or the measurement actually is taken in two parts. First the back waist is measured from the left to right. Then the front waistline is measured from left to right. This would be a little tricky to determine where the beginning and end of the measurement points are. The side seam placement would be affected by what measurements are used,

When the weather starts getting warmer and I feel better, I plan to finish the Donna Blouse. Then I will show how to create a pencil skirt pattern using the system I learned at French Fashion Academy.

If anyone does have success with these drafting instructions please let me know how you worked out the measurements and addition of style ease. I’d also love to see a photo of the finished skirt.

What follows are the instructions shown in the scan.

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Pattern Diagram: Sleeve with cuff all-in-one

Adapting an existing sleeve pattern to create a Sleeve with Cuff all-in-one.

Interfacing and sewing instructions for a sleeve with cuff all-in-one from the “Vogue Sewing Book” 1970 edition.

Instructions for facing and sewing a sleeve with cuff all-in-one from the “Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing” 1978 edition. The tapering at the side seams is for a pattern piece with a slightly fitted sleeve.

Measurements needed:
Your upper arm circumference plus 2-3″
The most flattering length for a short sleeve which looks good on your arms. Usually this is about midway between the shoulder and the elbow.

This diagram shows how to adapt an existing sleeve pattern to create an unfitted sleeve with an all-in-one cuff. I am using this sleeve as part of The Donna Blouse, a take-off on the kind of blouses Donna Reed sometimes wore on her TV show in the late 1950s-early 1960s.

If you are drafting your own pattern, whatever patternmaking system you use, it is best to use the unfitted sleeve pattern. The fit will be more comfortable. I recommend about 2-3″ added to the upper arm width when drafting the sleeve pattern.

A commercial pattern for a fitted sleeve could work provided there is no elbow dart in the pattern. The side seams may taper slightly. Draw down straight lines from the side seams to create an unfitted sleeve.

Measure across the biceps line to check for the width of the sleeve. It should be your upper arm width plus 2-3″ more. If you have to increase the biceps line (in the sketch above it is right in line with the sleeve cap) remember to adjust your armhole pattern as well for the extra length to the sleeve cap. For The Donna Blouse
in size 4 the total measurement is 14″.

Use the measurement of your favorite short sleeved blouse as a guideline. The cuff should turn up somewhere between the middle between the shoulder and elbow length.

This is the A-B vertical line. The dotted lines represent the tapering seams of a fitted or semi-fitted sleeve. Vertical lines Ending at Points F and G represent the new side seams. For Misses Size 4 A-B=9 1/4″. Label the horizontal F-B-G line “Finished Length”. You can also call it “Turn Back Line”.

Use a 2″ clear plastic ruler and measure down the width of the finished cuff one time. Draw a horizontal line and label it H-C-I and write in “Fold”. For Misses Size 4 the width of the cuff is 1 1/2″ from C-D.

Repeat this step again measuring down the same distance from C-D. Draw the horizontal line equal to the width of upper arm plus style ease. Mark this line J-D-K and call it “Hem”.

From J-D-K measure down 1″. This is the seam allowance and the cutting edge for the sleeve’s bottom where you can sew lace hem tape or finish with zig-zag stitching, pinking or overcasting.

Extend the side seams down to the cutting line. Add seam allowances around the sleeve cap and side seams if you like having seam allowances on your paper patterns.

The “Vogue Sewing Book” (1970 Edition) and “Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing” (1978 Edition) recommend using a lightweight facing inside this sleeve. I think the use of a facing depends on the fabric you are using. For lighweight, opaque fabrics I think it’s a good idea. The cuff will stay neat and in place. The Donna
Blouse is made out of a medium weight cotton broadcloth that doesn’t need the support but the facing made the edges and turnback part of the cuff appear softer which I like.

I cut the facing the length from C-E. At the line H-C-I I added an extra 1/2″ for the facing. This provided the softer edge throughout the entire cuff after it was turned and pressed. I used a very lightweight poly-cotton batiste.

Before using the pattern it is best to make a toile to check the fit as well as to make certain that this customization works well with the intended blouse or dress you will use it with.

Please see the next post for photos of how the sleeve is marked, sewn and what it looks like when it’s finished.

Donna: Pattern Diagram for Half Circle Skirt

Please see “How To Take Measurements” in preparation for drafting your pattern. You will need your waist circumference, waist to hip and front skirt length measurements.

Instructions for the waistband will appear in the next posting because I want to discuss how to select the right width waistband for your figure type.

The pattern drafted represents the complete pattern piece for front and back of the half circle skirt. A fabric of 58-60″ width will enable you to cut one piece each for the front and back. The resulting skirt will have a lovely series of flares across the front and back. To make the most of them, it’s best to place the zipper in the side seam using a lapped application.

If your fabric is less than 58-60″ wide, fold the pattern in half and cut four pieces to make the skirt.

The type of fabric used will determine how pronounced the flares will be. The toile for the half circle skirt was made in a lightweight plisse so the flares were very soft. The fashion fabric is a 6 ounce denim that has a soft drape but more body. These qualities will make the denim half circle skirt have a different appearance.
The following diagram does not include seam allowances. You may add them after completing the draft or when cutting the fabric.

The measurements used as an example are for a Standard Misses Size 4. Substitute your own measurements when doing the calculations and drafting the pattern.

The extra amount added to your waistline measurement will provide enough ease for a comfortable fit with about 1″ more or less for the waistline style ease. I recommend making a toile first and cutting the seams about 1″ wide just to ensure that the fit is comfortable enough. It is always easier to let out a little extra room from a wider side seam.

Measurements Needed
Waist Circumference…..For Size 4 24″

Waist to Hip Length….For Size 4 8″

Front Skirt Length…..For Size 4 24″ + 2″ for hem=26″

Waistline + Ease Calculation

Calculate one fourth of your Waist Circumference. For Misses Size 4 it is 6″.
Next, depending on your total Waist Circumference add the following amount to 1/4 of your waist circumference:
-1 3/4″ for waist circumferences 22 to 26″
-2″ for waist circumferences 26 to 30″
–2 1/4″ for waist circumferences 30 to 34″
-2 1/2 for waist circumferences 34 to 38″

For Misses Size 4 the result of 1/4 the waistline measurement 6 plus 1 3/4 gives a measurement of 7 3/4″.

Note: If your waistline is larger than 38′ try increasing the range of measurements in increments of 1/4″ until you reach your waistline circumference. For example from 38 to 42″ try adding 2 3/4″.

Completed pattern diagram for half circle skirt.

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Dirndl Skirt Pattern Diagram for Misses Size 4

The measurements used here are for a Misses Size 4. You can see how this dirndl looks as part of my current sewing and draping project, The Dirndl Dress. This pattern may be freely used, graded, circulated and made up into skirts or as part of dresses whether privately or commercially made.

The finished skirt length is 25 1/2″. On a woman about 5’5″-5’6″ who is a Misses Size 4 it will be slightly below the knee.

You may preview how the completed Dirndl Skirt will look as part of my Dirndl Dress. This pattern was used to complete the skirt portion of that dress. The dress was made of a medium weight quilting cotton and underlined with cotton batiste. It will work even better with light to medium weight fabric specifically made for skirts or dresses.

All pattern pieces are shown without 1/2″ seam allowances. You must add them at the time of cutting the fabric or when drafting the pattern. It’s up to you.

The skirt and waistband are drafted for a skirt that rests at the natural waistline. Although some sewing blogs are calling such skirts “high waisted skirts” it is not the high waist. It simply seems high because of the ongoing popularity of the low waisted skirts that rest at abdominal or hip level. A high waisted skirt, technically speaking, can be 1 to 2″ above the natural waistline.
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