1930s Dress: Construction Update

Here is a quick*  “where I am up to” on the 1930s dress: First up on Saturday morning I went fabric shopping to my new favourite fabric mecca The Fabric Warehouse. They have some amazing fabric in right now, great quality and good prices too. I chose a really nice weighted satin in a lilac and a so-close-we’ll-call-it-the-same-colour sheer for the sleeves. I got 4.5 meters which is probably waaay to much but I am envisioning a matching clutch, time permitting.

And then I began to cut 🙂

To keep my neck edge in check this time I decided to use my newest sewing investment, a roll of Stay-Tape. I probably could have just stay-stitched the edges but I want to give this dress a more lasting finish and besides, I like trying new sewing techniques.

There aren’t really a lot of images that help you to understand where exactly to apply the stay tape so I ran it along the edge of the fabric, within the seam allowance and stitched it down 10mm from the edge (I am using 15mm seam allowance). I did this to the open back as well. I was really happy with the result and continued on with my construction.

Husband quite likes the idea of Stay-Tape, he walked around all weekend telling things to, “Stay! Because the tape says so!”

Then I realised I should probably draft myself a sleeve pattern 😉 …

…and test it out…

Initially I finished the edge of the sleeve with a narrow hem but it looked terrible. So I glanced at my overlocker…thinking about attempting a 3-thread rolled hem edge finish. I’ve never had much luck with it in the past, the last time I tried the chain kept falling off the fabric and it ended in disaster. Hmmm, so I got out my threading cheat sheet and adjusted the appropriate dials for a quick test…success! But I decided to get Nerdy Husband’s opinion as well:

Me: “This looks terrible doesn’t it?” *holds up ugly hemmed sleeve.

*Nerdy Husband stares at the sleeve for a full five minutes trying to gauge the correct answer, it’s dangerous territory, he knows I am after either agreement or reassurance….nervously he responds: “Yes (?)”

Me: “But this looks better, aye?” *holds up test swatch of rolled hem.

*Relief floods Nerdy Husbands face, he’s on to the game now, “Infinitely!”  *jabs finger at ugly hemmed sleeve, “That one looks like it came from K-Mart”, a clever comparison, three-thread rolled hem wins and so does Nerdy Husband.

That's better!

Then I basted it to the shoulder…

I’ve chosen to underline the upper part of the bodice with my left over lilac cotton and I am under-stitching all the edges I can get to so that it stays out of sight. To keep the finish really clean I’m using my new favourite bodice assembly technique that I picked up in the instructions while making my Rooibos Birthday Dress. Basically, through some clever sewing science and trickery, it allows you join up the shoulders, neck and armholes all inside out with no visible seams. I don’t think it’s right to scan in the Colette instructions so I’ll show you how I did it with photos.


Great! After you join your shoulder seams lay the self fabric onto the lining with right sides facing and sew all around the inner neckline edge. Then turn it through the neck hole so that you are looking at the correct side of the fabric. See below:

Now begin to roll one armhole edge towards the other. (Click any images to make them bigger)

When you get close to the opposite armhole you flip the self fabric towards you, on top of the rolled part. Next flip the lining part towards you but underneath the rolled part so that the armholes line up.

Now you can pin and stitch the armhole. To prevent accidentally catching any of the fabric that is rolled up inside I put a second line of pins outside my seam allowance.

Now you can turn it through! Reach inside and carefully pull the rolled fabric out.

Start pulling...

...keep going...

...keep going...

Ta dah!

Ok, not really, you have to do the other side as well, I cheated and did it already. But you’re a pro now so just follow the steps above again, for the opposite side.

It’s about now that I remembered that I forgot to buy the zipper! Oh, well, that means another trip to fabric heaven on Sunday, bugger 😉

After that little bit of cleverness I attached the centre front diamond panel, and then: DISASTER!

There was this little bit of thread peaking up at the top of the triangle so I grabbed it to pull it out…except that I grabbed the most infinitesimal bit of fabric as well and put a huge pull right up the left hand front piece, argh!

It’s hard to see but IT’S THERE!

It was the stupidest thing and I was so mad at myself. I stared at it hoping it would disappear, hoping I’d just fallen asleep at my sewing machine and it was all a bad dream but it wasn’t, so I raged away at myself for a bit longer. Nerdy Husband came in and told me it wasn’t that bad, probably no one would notice it. But I can tell that I’m going to LOVE this dress and I need a big sewing win after the whole Gok Coat outcome. This will be the most formal gown in my closet (not including my wedding dress) so I want to be able to wear it again and be proud of it.

Then my Dad made a surprise visit, a welcome distraction, and after he left I sat down with my unpicker and began to disassemble all my hard work.

Last night at 8pm I got the new panel in place so I was back to exactly where I was on Sunday at 3pm before bad luck struck me down. But it’s not so bad, the bodice was where all the major construction and piecing work was. The skirt is (relatively) easy after all that, I just have to decide if I’ll line it and what with.

To console myself I went out at lunchtime yesterday looking for shoes and jewellery. I got myself a long string of fake pearls and some blingy art-deco chandelier earrings – very glam Hollywood.

The lady at the shop wouldn’t let me try on the long white gloves but I might give them a miss anyway, too much? I also found my 1930s Gangster Husband a Panama hat and white suspenders. He was most pleased with me.

Here is what awaits me tonight when I get home, the front and back skirt parts ready to be cut out…and I did cut the side panels too conservatively, more flare is required!

*You know when someone says, “This will be quick” it never is 😉

1930s Dress: Drafting

Woah, I have been a busy little kiwi the last few days, sorry to keep you waiting on the 1930s dress progress. What have I been doing? I joined the gym. Have I lost my mind? Probably! 😉

It’s just down the road from my work so I really have no excuse not to go. So far I am really enjoying it and feeling much less slothy, goal one achieved!

On Saturday I got down to the scary and exciting task of drafting my 1930s dress pattern. I had a pretty good idea of what the final pattern pieces would look like but I needed a starting point to draft them from.

Here is my sketch for a reminder:

And here is the plan for my pattern pieces:

Basically I intended to draft up a front and back sloper to the hip using Winifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Making. Then I would alter these pieces to match my sketch, create a centre diamond section and then cut that out of the top of the skirt. The skirt side-panels come off then get joined together and spread to give more flow to the side of the skirt.


So here is a bit of the drafting process:

The tools…


…adding darts to finish.

I made a big stuff up of the shoulder, look how sharp the angle is!

Whoa, what?!

I have no idea how it happened but I knew as soon as I’d drawn it that it wouldn’t work but I couldn’t work out how I’d gone wrong and put it down to a tape measure error and pushed on anyway.

I also found a HUGE error in the book:

Line 3-4 is from the bust point up to the top of shoulder but the text tells you to use your ‘front shoulder to waist’ measurement, what?! Point 4 would end up 20cm above my ‘0’ starting point. I knew it had to be wrong, but Google didn’t help, it must be just in the 4th edition because there was very little chatter about it online. I found one very old sewing forum where someone was asking if anyone else thought it was an error and no one had replied. So I ignored it and worked my way around it by skipping to line 1-5, then I think the 3-4 measurement is actually used for the line 4-6 and it all lined up ok.

Anyway, so here it is on Scarlett:

I corrected my crazy angled shoulder and the consequently too-tight neck by hand, sketching directly onto the calico.

From these two slopers I drafted the main pattern pieces almost identical to my sketch above. I originally intended to gather under the bust but after seeing how nicely the darts worked out in my Rooibos dress (three under the bust on each side) I decided to take a similar approach and spread the piece for six darts each side with the intention to pleating them instead. There was a bit of light-hearted swearing and lots of cellotape. I like a bit of mathematics every now and again and I’ll get more detail about my drafting method up after this is all over to share how I got to my final pattern. It’s definitely been a huge learning curve but I’ve really enjoyed it.

On Sunday I visited Spotlight where I bought 4 meters of a hideous lilac cotton poplin for my test muslin dress. It’s not really too hideous but it makes me think of cheap bed sheets. I chose lilac because I am thinking about using purple for my final dress, not the same colour as this cotton I promise, it’s actually quite a sophisticated colour and I figured if I am making a muslin I may as well make it in at least a similar colour.

On a side note: /Can you believe the Spotlight lady wouldn’t sign my ‘bring your own bag’ card because she said my handbag didn’t count?! This despite me putting the fabric into my handbag and zipping it up. I’m sorry, and I know this sounds petty, but the point of the card is to encourage you not to need a plastic bag by bringing your own bag when you shop, what part of  ‘handbag’ is not reusable? Sheesh!/end rant

After a few changes to my pattern I set to mutilating the cotton. Hehe, well, it wasn’t that bad, but I discovered a few flaws with my drafting, purely part of the learning process and when I re-compared my new pattern pieces to my original sloper it all made sense.

  • First up I somehow managed to make the back piece waaaay to wide so I pinched out an area of that.
  • The front bodice gapes but this might be due to my lack of stay stitching so I will definitely make sure I do that on my final piece. I pinched it out anyway and then checked it against the paper pattern.
  • You might not be able to see in the pictures but the side seams are straining just above the hips and have ripped a little. I made a mistake when cutting the center part out and instead of curving out for the hip I just went straight, and clearly my hips are not straight down from my waist!
I traced the back cut out directly onto the lilac cotton while it was on Scarlett, then I took it off and cut it out.

It looks good, just like I want it, maybe it could be a bit wider but I don’t want it slipping off my shoulders. Ignore the gapey bit at the bottom on the right, that’s my fault, I think the fabric wasn’t quite folded right when I cut it out so when I transferred it to the paper pattern I used the left-hand side as my line.

The hardest part for me has been the proportions. I really really want to get them right, just as they are in my sketch. If they are too low I’ll look dumpy, too high and they’ll look stupid. Having the waist and hip lines marked on the original sloper has helped a lot with locating the style lines. I think next time I do a sketch I’ll make my own croquis, not one that is half my body size and has legs that go on forever. I think I’ll take a few picture of me posing in my underwear (in heels of course!) and then sketch over them to make my own. If I put a piece of elastic around my waist and hips I think that would help too.

Last night I finished drafting up the skirt and cut it out. I will stitch it up tonight and attach it to the bodice. I spread the side sections just like my sketch but I’m not sure if I spread them enough. As a general rule I tend to over do things (take in the side seams to much,  buy too many meters of fabric/patterns/buttons, drink too much coffee) so perhaps when they are stitched up I might change my mind.

Are you fingers still crossed for me? Good 🙂 I’m going to need all the happy sewing thoughts you can send my way, next weekend the dress has to be sewn up and all finished since the party is the following Friday. That gives me the weekdays in-between to do a little accessory (read: shoes!) shopping at lunchtime.

1930’s Dress: The Sketch

I was really excited this morning when I logged into BurdaStyle and saw my Rooibos dress was one of the days ‘Featured Member Projects’! Yay! (*jumping up and down, claps hands)

Last night I sat down with some paper and a pencil and did a little sketching. I’m not very good at it so don’t laugh too hard ok? 😉

Here were my first attempts:

I wasn’t really feeling it but I pushed on and eventually started to like one of them and worked it up further:

I am imagining the sleeves are actually sheer and it is slightly gathered under the bust. The side panels in the skirt add a little flare but not too much and most importantly I think this is within my ability.

So my plan is to have a good idea of how I’ll draft the pattern pieces by this weekend so I can make up a muslin and then it’s fabric shopping…I’ll keep you posted.

I’m dreaming of a 1930’s Christmas party

Nerdy Husband announced last month that his work’s Christmas function was to be themed 1930’s and partners were invited. Could there possibly ever be a more beautiful sentence uttered?*

I love costumes and I was quite disappointed that this year we didn’t get to go to any Halloween parties. Halloween isn’t really a big deal here in NZ (or in Australia), we didn’t even get a single trick-or-treater despite our street being full of children. I think Halloween is more of an excuse for adults to have fun dress-up parties and after an Alice and Wonderland themed 21st in 2009 and a Halloween party (evidence here and here) shortly after I was hooked and I had some really awesome costume ideas.

Then the following week Humble Husband carefully phrased that we probably wouldn’t be going since he would be out of the country on said date and having already filled a flash drive with google images for investigation I was crushed! 😦

This week I received an email from Apologetic Husband, it read, “You better warm your sewing machine up honey because you are going to the ball!” and there was an attachment (cleverly edited by me to maintain some sense of confidentiality)

So…we go to the ball! And this makes me very happy 🙂

Except that now the date has been bought forward to the end of November so there isn’t much time, but I relish a challenge and I intend to “win”, even through it isn’t actually a competition, in my mind it is and I always win the competitions in my mind 😉

Once-again-in-the-good-books Husband’s requirements are simple: Black pinstripe gangster-style suit (which may or may not be sewn by me), wing tips, Sinatra style hat and fake tommy gun.

For me the 1930s conjures up images of effortless glamour, long gloves, art deco jewellery and long strings of pearls. I’m no history buff, or fashion history buff for that matter, but I’ll do my best to keep it fairly authentic. I know I want to avoid the flapper girl, which for me is more 1920s (and I expect to see plenty of those)  and that poorly fitting costume shop look offering. I really want my dress to look like I got it in the 1930s and just happened to have it hanging in my wardrobe, I want to be that awesome.

Here are my favourite images so far:

So what is it about these dresses that makes them “1930s”? What do I need to include in my design to capture that era? After a bit of analysis here are the common design elements that I like the most and will give my dress a distinctly 1930s look:

Draped Sleeve

Panelling to the skirt and midriff


They are also all loooong – floor length or lower shin to ankle (not always the most flattering length) and I don’t really do long so I’ll have to think carefully about my hemline.

The only problem now is how I get the pattern I want. I don’t like my chances of finding something similar in a modern pattern and altering it (my usual attempt at “drafting”) or am I up for a quick and fast self-taught drafting lesson? My bookcase is full of enough books (Harriet Pepin, Natalie Bray, Winifred Aldrich to name a few) and I have been meaning to commit to learning more about pattern drafting…or do I hunt for a suitable authentic 1930s pattern and then deal with all the fun (and expense) of a vintage pattern? I’ll keep you posted 😉

Oh and shoes! How could I forget the shoes?!

Oh this is going to be such a chore 😉

*”Honey I’d like to take you shopping for a new sewing machine” springs to mind…but I cannot complain because he did take me dress dummy shopping and that’s how Scarlett came home with us.