The Seamstress Tag

I picked this up from Emily at Self Assembly Required.  Although this is called “The Seamstress Tag” Emily left it up to other bloggers to pick up on this only if they wanted to.  I prefer participating on this level as it doesn’t feel so heavy and I’m more light hearted about answering the questions.  So here goes…

Who are you?

EmilyAnn Frances May, born in Brooklyn, New York and still living here.  I’m descended from Italian, Sicilian and Galician Jewish  immigrants who settled in the U.S. between 1892 and 1930.

When / Why did you start sewing?

My maternal Grandma Josie was a big influence on me from childhood.  She taught me how to hand sew doll clothes when I was 5 years old.  We cut out circular shapes from tea cups and saucers.  Then slit the back to make the seam and put in a snap for the finished skirt.

Then when I was 6 Grandma Josie and Grandpa Sam bought me a little hand crank sewing machine that made a chain stitch.  Eventually when I was 12 I got my Mom to move her old 1950s Singer Sewing machine up from her room into my room.  I made many mistakes but by age 13 I had made my first dress.

Favourite/Proudest make?

An evening gown made for an exam when I was in design school.  It was the first strapless bodice I’d made.  The teacher gave me scraps of a silk brocade.  He had sunburst pleated material left over that I begged him for.  We used it to create the skirt and a dramatic cape.

I think the proudest part of the history of this garment was when I finally released it from my portfolio.  I knew I did not like the business side of the garment center and that I was not going to do this professionally after 2 years of an unsatisfying job.  I met a young woman who was a performance artist at poetry readings and also had a rock band.  She could fit the gown and some other pieces I made to a “T”.  It was as if everything was waiting for her.  When she put the gown on I knew it was meant for her and I released it.  Knowing someone actually made use of something I’d designed and made still gives me a high.

More recently, I had made a Dirndl Dress in 2013 out of quilting cotton.  I put an ad that the dress was up for a new home.  A woman contacted me who knew of a young teacher in Manhattan that she wanted to give such a dress to.  It turned out once more that this woman, unknown to me, was a perfect fit and match to the style.  I was happy to pass the dress on to someone so worthy as a teacher who had deeply impressed the daughter of the woman who answered the ad.  This dress was made for my new portfolio but I wasn’t 100% enthusiastic about the results of using quilting cotton.

Disastrous make?

Without a doubt the mess I made of a dress while in design school.  I used purple silk velvet and eggplant colored silk satin.  At the time everyone in class was cutting on the bias and I got caught up in the enthusiasm.  I didn’t realize how much the dress would stretch from the weight of the velvet.  It ended up needing so many alterations it was too tight to wear.  All the intricate seaming I’d envisioned stretched down too far.  The hipline sash of satin that I’d sewn into the dress ended up at an unflattering point right above the backside.

Favourite place for fabric shopping?

Nowadays I have to shop online.  Brooklyn has no old school style fabric shops in my area.  In Manhattan there are still a few shops but they’re very expensive.

Most used pattern?

My own.  But when I used commercial patterns my favorites were Vogue Paris Originals.  I also loved any patterns by Betsy Johnson.

Most dreaded sewing task?

Machine or hand made buttonholes.

Favourite sewing task?

Cutting and stitching up the toile and refining the fit.  The muslin toile is the purest form of expression for the creative vision.

Favourite sewing entertainment?

I prefer to have it quiet most of the time.  If I’m in the mood, I’ll listen to “The Moth Radio Hour” on PBS.  It’s a show where people tell funny, touching or shocking stories of events that have changed their lives.

Printed or PDF patterns?

Hand drafted.

What sewing machine do you use?

A Janome 3/4 machine I’ve nicknamed “Kitty”.

Any other hobbies?

Cultivating the “Simple Abundance” path and lifestyle.
1:6 Scale sewing for fashion dolls.
Family history-collecting our stories and preserving our memories.



1930s Sew-Along: Trumpet Skirts and 6 Gore Skirts

As promised here are the drafting instructions for a gored skirt using the method I spoke about in previous postings. The patternmaking system was created at some time in the 1950s. This pattern represents some simplifications I made to the process as well as some additions. The original did not include any allowances for style ease. My first attempt at drafting a gored skirt turned out too tight.

Please, Please, Please make a muslin. You must test the method and adjust it to suit your own unique figure. Spending time to ensure a good fit will save you money and worry later. Nothing ever hides a poor fit so consider time spent on a muslin an educational process that will ensure a wonderful garment once your fashion fabric is cut.

Permissions to re-use

This pattern can be freely circulated and reused for whatever purpose you want. I’d love to see any photos of finished skirts you make.

Six Gore Skirt Drafting Instructions

Before drafting this skirt pattern please see How to Take Measurements.

The measurements used in this pattern are for a Misses Size 4. They are used to provide an example. You will substitute your own measurements to draft your custom pattern.

The Flattering Qualities of a Gored Skirt

Gored skirts are flattering to all figure types, especially when the pattern is drafted to your own measurements. This is because the pattern is drafted with a slight curve from waist to abdomen or waist to hipline. After the slight curve, the line becomes straight and ends however many inches from the center of the skirt that you want. The greater the width of the hemline the more flare and movement the gores will have.

The point at which the curve stops is best determined by your own hip and abdomen measurements. In general these are the guidelines:

—If your hips are larger than your abdomen let the flare start at the hipline. If this is your body type, then you will use the measurement Waist to Hip line for points A-C.

—If your abdomen is larger than your hip let the flare start at the abdomen. In this case you will use the measurement Waist to Abdomen for Point A-C.

The Front Skirt Length used is completely up to you. A length of 27-30” will give you a retro looking skirt reminiscent of the 1930s. To achieve such an effect use the diagram for creating a Trumpet Skirt with flare starting at the hip line.

Style Ease to add to measurements

For a gored skirt add 1-2” of ease for the abdomen or hipline. To the waist add about 1/2″ of ease.

Misses Size 4 Measurements (used for an example) for a Gored Skirt Pattern

Waist 24”+ 1/2″ ease=24 ½”

Abdomen Circumference 35”+1” ease=36”
Hip Circumference 36”+ 1” ease=37”

Waist to Abdomen 4”
Waist to Hip 8”

Front Skirt Length 28”

Continue reading

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Draping vs. Flat Patternmaking

For the 1930s Sew-along with Norma things continue to develop at my end. I hope my readers get a glimpse into just how fluid and changeable a project is when you decide to create your own patterns. I have located a very reasonably priced book at Amazon about 1930s draping techniques.

“Draping and Designing with Scissors and Cloth” by Sandra Ericson contains genuine 1930s draping techniques that will help when I create the pattern for the half slip. You can see scans and a description of the book at The Center for Pattern Design. I was delighted to find a used copy at Amazon for $19.95 and have just purchased it.

I want to study this book and the technique because the draping method does not look as complicated as the one I learned in school. If the process and illustrations work out well for the slip, I might try to drape the blouse and/or the skirt. One of the great things about draping is that you actually see how things look as you make the pattern in muslin. Flat patternmaking can be tricky because it’s not always easy to assess how much style ease to add or just how the design will look in the fashion fabric.

With this book I know I’ll be in a better place as far as getting closer to the spirit of the 1930s and learning something new! Stay tuned as this project continues to evolve.

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 Sew Along with Norma of She Sews You Know

There’s a brand new project in planning.  It comes at a good time, too.  Norma of She Sews You Know recommended that we do a sew along together.  There are no hard and fast rules.  I like that.  There’s no deadline.  I like that, too!  We agreed to choose a time period.  Norma had a 1930s dress she wants to make and I thought I need a change from the 1950s.  Like Norma, I’m going to do my best to work with techniques from the time period.  This is not always as easy as it sounds, since some will be a new learning experience.

Norma is taking on the challenge of a detailed and sophisticated style which you can see at her posting, Sewing a Bit of History.  I’ve decided on something much simpler but which still challenges me.  There will be a skirt and blouse inspired by simple patterns from the 1930s.  I’ve collected some screen shots from Pinterest and Google Images which I’ll share.

Right now I’m lining the Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kick Pleat.  While that is going on I’m going to consider the ideas I’m getting from the vintage pattern envelope illustrations.  This is how I work.  I first consider many things and then pick the elements that I think I can work with.

Candidates for the skirt pattern


Six gore skirt with flare starting at hipline.


Six gore skirt with flare starting somewhere between abdomen and before hipline.

When the flare starts somewhere near the thigh you have a trumpet skirt.  Another style element I love are the bias cut flounces that were sewed at the bottom of 1930s dresses, slips, gowns and skirts.


Nightgown with bias flounce.

If I use a bias flounce the upper portion of the skirt would be a sheath skirt but with only one dart on each side instead of two.  The final choice of the skirt depends on the style of the blouse I choose.

At this point I’m leaning towards the 6 gore skirt.  The challenge here is where to put the closure without disturbing the flares.  There is no Center Back seam.  The closure will have to be in the side seam.  I’m thinking of trying a genuine 1930s snap placket based on a tutorial at Of Dreams and Seams.  I have never used snaps in as a skirt closure nor have I tried this technique.  I am curious to see how flat and inconspicuous it will be.  I have a 60″ wide piece of navy poly gabardine that has the right body for a gored skirt but it shreds very much.  It also is a medium weight so I have to make sure the closure is not bulky.

If I go with the 6 gore skirt I will be able to provide instructions for drafting the pattern.  I intend to make a toile first.  Even though the pattern is easy to make there might be some tweaking I can learn and pass on to you after evaluating the toile.

Candidates for the blouse


I love blouses with short kimono sleeves.  They hide many flaws such as thin arms and the softness helps a small busted woman look fuller on top.  I think that is a nice balance to a flowing gored skirt.  I like style #1.


This blouse looks very simple but study the neckline treatment.  There appear three elongated ovals along the neckline through which a scarf is looped.  I think this blouse is very smart but worry that the fabric I have for the blouse might not have enough body.  It is a rayon print with a light weight.  The background is navy with white, orange-red and yellow colors in the flowers.  I do not think the way this fabric shreds and the light weight will support the openings.  Still, I got some good ideas for the top from this.


I think the bodice of this dress will work well when the style elements are worked into a blouse.  The blouse will be made from an unfitted bodice from which the side dart is eliminated.  It will be a slip on with a slit at the center front.  The turn backs can be faced in a solid color that contrasts with the print.  The bow can be the same or pick up on another color in the print of the fashion fabric.  I might even do this as an over blouse with a self-covered belt made in the fabric of the skirt.  If I choose this then the skirt will not need a waistband.  I’d finish the waist of the skirt with a facing.  This will eliminate bulk that arises from a skirt waistband and then a blouse with belt over it.  If I go with this style I think I’ll make the bow detachable.  If I decide to sew it on then the opening will be a slit in the back of the blouse.  The challenge is to figure that detail out.  I’ll also have to figure out how much style ease to add to the pattern.  I want a blousy effect with the belt but I don’t want it to be too blousy.

My sketching is not up to display quality.  As the project progresses I’ll use photos.

Another challenge is deciding on the colors for the bow and the turn backs of the blouse.

I always give my projects a name because each ensemble takes on a life of its own.  I’ve decided to call this one Carole, in honor of 1930s comedienne Carole Lombard.

I invite you to join in and learn as we go along.


Sheath Skirt with Kickpleat: Links to all postings in this series

To create the 1950s Style Sheath skirt with Kickpleat

How to Take Measurements

How to Add Style Ease for a Skirt Pattern (excludes Circle and Half-Circle Skirts)

Basic Skirt Front Drafting Instructions

Basic Skirt Back Drafting Instructions

Basic Skirt Front-Alteration for Misses Size 4

Fitting Toile with alterations-Misses size 4