‘Lady in Lace’ – an Early 1920’s Tea Dress

Flapper lace 20s dress at designerwallace     Amongst all the products in the world of fabric and textiles, there is nothing quite like lace which has stood through every century as an icon for everything about being feminine.  Lace especially meant more in the 20’s, as a sort of compliment by contrast, when the silhouette of the era was straight and boyish but the fabric and trim used was supremely beautiful.  This combination of the female “garconne” is most appealing to me in the flowing all lace “afternoon tea” dresses which were popular in the early 1920’s, such as the old original pictured at left.  Such early 20’s dresses hint at so much, they are irresistible – hinting at color by the under-dress while still staying muted, hinting at skin by being all lace but not really showing much, and hinting at freedom by wearing an unconfined and free form but still looking womanly.

Every year I make a special dress as a birthday “present” to myself, and year 2013 birthday dress was my special version of those early 1920’s all lace “afternoon tea” dress combinations.  My lace 20’s dress with contrast under dress was ridiculously easy to make and is incredible to wear.  Worn with my large summer woven linen hat, my dress sets the tone for the few years in the early 20’s when the fashions from the previous decade (Titanic-era) were clinging on before giving way to the full-fledged flapper of Prohibition times (circa 1922).  This has been my go-to dress for fancy summertime occasions – garden parties and tea rooms…here I come!

100_1780THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The lace is a stretch polyester fabric, so inauthentic, I know, but it was on sale on top of being on clearance.  I bought what was left on the bolt, which was just enough to make into a tablecloth, with 2 yards to spare to make my lace 20’s dress.  As for my under dress, I used a 100% polyester interlock in a mint green color.  The interlock knit was a small 1 1/2 yard cut that had been floating around in my stash for what seems like forever.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed for this project, basically only thread.  I had a small 7 inch piece of cotton lace leftover from this Thanksgiving project, and that lace went across the front of my under dress so I could be able to tell it from the back 🙂  See picture below.
100_1295B5522

PATTERNS:  The dress was made using a modern pattern Butterick #5522, year 2010.  The under dress is more authentic, as I used a Past Pattern No. 501, “Ladies and Misses 1920’s Combination Undergarment”.  I used this Past Pattern No. 501 once before to make these tap pants.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  For both the lace dress and the dress underneath, it took me about 5 hours or less to complete.  Both were finished by August 13, 2013.

THE INSIDES:  The side seams of the lace dress are in French seams, and the neckline is bound in a bias faced lace band.  The under dress is also entirely in French seams (excepting hems, of course).

TOTAL COST:  My interlock knit for the under dress was in my stash for so long, let’s consider it free – and a relief at that to find a use for it, finally!  The lace was bought from Hancock Fabrics for about 80 cents a yard. (Yes, you read that price right…cheap, huh?)  So my total was $4.00.

At first, I had a very hard time deciding what color and length the under dress shouldFrench-chiffon&lace-dress-c_1923-from-the-Vintage-Textile-archives become to make the certain ‘look’ I wanted.  Originally, I was inspired to make this lace 20’s project because of ‘The Historical Fortnightly 2013’ challenge sponsored by Leimomi “The Dreamstress”.  She had a “White” challenge (#15) in the summer, and then she was having a “Green” challenge (#21) later on in October.  I did try out a long white under dress, which I made using the same pattern as for the lace dress, but it made me seem like I was in a bridal outfit.  For some reason, Leimomi’s two challenges appealed to me together, especially when she posted an inspiration “Green” garment like this one at right, dating to 1923.  The final inspiration which helped me decide on going with my mint green color was, ironically, an outfit from a Rose's lace and green day dress combodecade older – a costume dress worn by the character Rose in the 1997 movie “Titanic”.  Thus, my dress is long and skinny, sort of like the “hobble skirt” fashion of the 1910 era, while still having the straight, no-waist, sleeveless style of the early 20’s.  I get the best of both decades with my short 1920’s combination under dress and my coral colored accessories (vintage scarf as a belt and my over-sized hat), just like Rose from “Titanic”.

Just to clarify my use of the term tea gown, I would like to reference to two blog posts from Leimomi “The Dreamstress”.  According to her terminology post (link here) my gown should technically not be called a tea gown.  However, reading the characteristics of tea gowns makes it more of a perfect sense thing to apply that title to this lace creation of mine.  Except for the “wrapper-style” category, my dress outfit certainly has ‘gorgeous materials’, a ‘dress that gets worn over an under-dress’, and an ‘ease of entry’ dressing method.  The ‘slip-on’ feature, to be worn without a constricting corset, of a tea gown is what designates it for the afternoons.  Leimomi’s “Rate the Dress” post from here also mentions the extra fact of the pastel colors of many tea gowns.  If I can check off most all the boxes in the tea gown category, when it comes to my lace dress ensemble, I am confident in using it in my title.  I’ve made another new type of historical garment!

100_1789     I really loved making the under dress.  The first time I made this pattern #501 from Past 100_1794Patterns (when I made tap pants from it), I had the feeling I was going to love this pattern in general, and, boy was I right.  The sizing is perfect – what size seems to be your size will be your right size when it is made.  All the pieces that I have made from the pattern sew together quickly and easily.  It is much appreciated how my under dress turned out so decent, covering up my lingerie straps.  The only tiny alteration to the slip dress was to make two small tucks under the armpits at the top of the bodice.  Those tucks bring in the bodice to fit the bust just a bit better, only remember this would not be possible in a woven material.

Using up my small remnant of lace to mark the front really made my day, as well.  I love to be able to find a way to find a useful purpose for every small bit of what I have on hand!  The little bit of lace also seems to connect the under dress with the over dress, in a ‘themed’ sort-of-way.

For my lace over dress, I was actually experimenting with the fit of Butterick 5522.  Finding the perfect basic shift dress is a little challenging to find, and I wanted B5522 to be one of those “basics”.  Reading the finished garment measurements tipped me off to a perfect fit – this pattern runs very small.  I had to go up a size for everything.  I’ve only had to do this once before, for this dress, and then that was only because I was converting a stretch pattern to be made into a woven fabric.  Generally, I tend to make pattern sizes 8/10, but for B5522 I had to use a 12/14, otherwise it would have been a snug fit which is not the way the dress looks like on the envelope cover’s model.  Now that I know how the dress fits, I can’t wait to make the cover dress with those amazing sleeves.

100_1784     To make the most of my fabric, I folded the lace selvedges into the center of my 60″ lace fabric, so I could cut out the front and back out of only two yards.  The sleeve edges of the B5522 pattern were extended just a few inches so my dress would extend over my shoulders while still being sleeveless.  B5522 doesn’t call for a bias faced neckline – I added this feature because it is always such a clean and professional method of edge finishing.  Two long strips were cut out of my lace, so I could double up the neckline facing.  Lace is so thin and I needed a stable neckline to support the rest of my dress and create a shapely frame for my face.  However, I really didn’t like the open, oval neckline that I ended up with – it is a nice neckline but it did not look at all good on my lace dress.  I was tempted to create a square neckline, but, in the end, I stitched two rows of loose stitches down the center so as to pull the neck into a gathered V-neck (see picture).

In the close-up picture above, you can see in detail how my lace is a really interesting mix of shapes and designs, all put together in a sort of geometric crazy quilt method.  I know my lace isn’t authentic, but all those geometric shapes (mostly hexagons and parallelograms) are the base ideas behind the Art Deco movement of the 20’s and 30’s.  As if I didn’t have enough lace, I also wore my vintage crocheted lace gloves with my outfit…they have geometric shapes on them, too!

100_1785100_1788     I could see having my dress a long, ankle length, being a bit too much, so I wanted to find some way of adding interest and shortening the hem, if only temporarily.  My Hubby came up with the idea of a kind of tie that could pull up/gather the bottom of the dress hem.  I took his great idea just a bit further by making the hem ties out of small 12 inch cuts of random leftover lace trim pieces from my stash.  There are two hem ties: one at 15 inches above the hem, and another at 29 inches above the hem.  Both ties are on the left side.  In the pictures at left and above, you can see my dress gathered up from the lowest level lace tie.  You can almost see the center back seam in the left picture.  My preference would have been to eliminate that center back seam, but it is needed because the two back pieces are shaped nicely and cannot be put on the fold.

I truly feel very cool and comfy buy oh-so-pretty in this early 1920’s inspired ensemble.  It has a different style that is a slight departure from the classic “flapper” ideal, but still apparently vintage, while also being fresh and modern.  That’s a lot for a dress!  Whenever I wear this outfit, it always seems to garner compliments, then astonishment, when I briefly explain how it was easy, simple, and cheap.  More women need to make a dress like this for themselves…it is perfect for all skill levels and is absolutely wonderful to wear.  What could be more fail proof than that?!

100_1775     The luxurious public garden where we took these pictures couldn’t help but remind me of the backdrop of a work of art.  I felt like I was in a perfect dream world, or maybe just coming to life out of a painting by James Tissot, where there are plenty of details and interesting settings.  Please visit my Flickr page, at Seam Racer, for more close-ups and great pictures loaded soon of my lace 20’s outfit at the garden.

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