Something as commonplace as a vintage feed sack print gets an upscale upgrade when it came to planning and making my Easter outfit of the year 2014. I had made a number of 30’s era garments earlier than my 2014 Easter outfit, but an authentic and all-out-beautiful classic of the mid-1930s (one of my favorite fashion era years) was in order sooner or later in my plans. Here is my post about a sheer, flowing, silk chiffon afternoon tea dress with a under slip which has Art Deco lines. This 1930s silk set was quite time consuming to finish perfectly, but very fulfilling to make and even more lovely to wear.
My Easter dress for the year before this one was a design from the 1920’s (my 1929 hankie-hem dress made in 2013; posted here). For 2014, I merely went up a decade to the 30’s, to have some continuity of progression through the upcoming years.
FABRIC: The sheer feed sack printed over dress is an “Anna Sui Vintage Floral Silk Chiffon” (close-up at right) from Mood Fabrics. The under slip was made using a “Kiwi Color Solid Silk Chiffon”, also ordered from Mood.
NOTIONS: I bought most of the notions that went into making my 1930’s Easter set. I had to buy several spools of thread, a package of stay tape, the buttons, and a skein of embroidery floss. I did have on hand the few snaps which were required. The belt buckle is a very old Art deco piece that I also had on hand, bought a while back from a vintage shop.
PATTERN: My outer dress is a pattern from Past Patterns, #2303, “Summer Party Dress: Circa 1935”. The under slip pattern comes from the book “Vintage Lingerie” by Jill Salen, pages 46 to 49, the “1930’s Silk Slip”.
TIME TO COMPLETE: The outer sheer dress came together quite quickly considering, about 20 hours stretched out over 4 or 5 days. It would have been even less if I hadn’t caused more work for myself when it came to the sleeves (I’ll explain this down lower). The slip took…oh, my, very much time! It took long enough to get the slip wearable with the dress in time for Easter (April 20th), but much longer to do the final fitting, seam finishes, and embroidery details. I worked on the fine finishing details on and off for the next few months until it was finally done in August of 2014 (for a total of maybe 30 hours).
THE INSIDES: All the inside seams for the sheer over dress are done in French seams, except for the bottom skirt flounce inserts, which were lapped on, and the skinny ¼ inch hems. My under slip had the bodice panels lapped on, similar to a flat felled seam. All the other seams to the slip were made in clean finished seams covered with a strip of stay tape for sturdiness (see left picture).
TOTAL COST: I ordered 3 yards of the Anna Sui Feed Sack Silk Chiffon, at a sum of $38.40. Now the Kiwi Solid Chiffon was $39 for my cut yardage of 3 ½ yards, but I only used a yard and a half for the slip ($19.50). My total cost for the outfit fabric comes to $58, but…I didn’t have to pay for it! It was free as part of $100 gift credit, my prize for winning the “Butterick to the Big Screen Contest” in June of 2013. All I really paid for then was the notions, which might have been $10 or less! Score!
This was my very first time sewing with silk this fine and expensive. Boy, was I intimidated! I was so afraid of messing things up or having something in some way going wrong. But I knew I just needed to dive in and start learning and progressing. I did use my hubby’s Grandmother’s old Brother sewing machine because it has a smooth run, predictable stitches (besides, my favorite tried and true work horse machine was needing repair). I also started out with brand new “sharps” needles, and replaced one or two more needles on my machine throughout the outfit’s construction to eliminate any possibility of getting runs in the silk chiffon. Besides these basic steps, and just plain old being careful, thinking clearly, and taking my time, sewing with these silk was a truly a wonderful dream.
I am still amazed at how easy the Anna Sui silk chiffon was to sew…much, much easier than polyester chiffon, with less runs and fraying than a poly imitation, too. Now I did find the thicker solid Kiwi Chiffon to be a bit more of a problem, but I think maybe it was just because I “wrestled” with making the slip work for so long, I may have a bit of prejudice towards it. At first, I also experimented with some scraps to do the method recommended on a few tutorials and blogs – keeping a layer of wax paper between the feed dogs and the chiffon. It was not working for me nor worth the trouble. All I did was stitch slowly and evenly, feeling out the bias of the fabric and being extremely careful to not stretch it in the least.
Using stay tape really helped add some body and help the feed dogs grip the fabric better, as well as stabilizing the seams for wearing. Stay tape was even sewn into every dart, and on top of the slip seams, because I didn’t want to rip or tear anything from the movement of wearing the dress. Look carefully in the picture at left of the dress’ insides and you can see the stay tape netting strips. This was the best idea for my dress – the stay tape holds and helps all the seams, does not itch against the skin, and is just as perfectly soft and flowing as the silk. Thank you to the wonderful employee at my Hancock Fabric store for giving me the idea.
The Past Pattern for the over dress seemed to be close to my size, just a tad larger all over than what I needed. Knowing that, from my experience, many 1930’s patterns run small, I cut it out as is and it turned out just perfect. The one single change I made to the construction was to make single darts on each right and left side (a total of two) for the waist back instead of making them in pairs on each side (for a total of four) as the pattern instructs. Everything else for the pattern was made unaltered.
Believe it or not, there are only 4 easy pieces to make the afternoon dress. All the pieces fit and matched together perfectly. The sleeves and the skirt flounce inserts are cut on the bias and all other pieces (the front and back dress panels) are cut on straight grain. As you can see, I did choose the square neck option (over the V-neck). I love the gentle fit of the tiny double bust darts on each side of the front panel. What the pattern calls “cape sleeves” also have a tiny dart along the top of the shoulder coming from the neckline for a small touch of added shaping. There is a small opening a few inches in for a snap closure at the right neckline of the raglan seam of the sleeve, so the dress goes over the head easily.
I decided to add the sleeve hem ruffles, and it took several hours to do their hemming, gathering, and stitching down. After, the ruffles were on, I just could not like them. So…off they came after some serious time spent unpicking. My hubby generously did a good amount of the unpicking while I worked on the waist belt. I did end up having the trim a bit off the edge of the sleeves after the ruffles were out, just because the silk is too fine to not get affected by sewing and unpicking, so they are a tad shorter than intended. The belt came out wonderfully, but I wish it was a little longer. It was supposed to be my size but only hangs out a handful of inches past my old amazing Art Deco buckle. Oh well – as long as it makes it around my waist. The belt is lined in the same fabric as the under slip, making the belt pretty much reversible and similar in color tone as the rest of the dress.
The side closure is a simple button and loop style. I used the same “President braid” trim leftover from making my scalloped collar “The Artist” movie dress for the loops, and sandwiched them under some more stay tape for support along the one opening edge. On the other side of the side closure edge are tiny light pink heart shaped buttons to go with the feminine theme and pastel colors of my dress set.
My under slip pattern, coming from the book, had to be enlarged 200% in order to become full sized and usable. I had a local print shop do this step for me instead of my doing the re-grading by hand and ruler. I did my best at measuring the proportions of the slip to find out what size it might be. The patterns from the book were not made from other patterns, but from old vintage pieces themselves (I suppose whatever the author had access to or owned herself) so each piece in the book is a random mysterious size. Every time I use a pattern from this book “Vintage Lingerie”, it’s like taking a gamble. From what I could tell, the slip would be close to my size, so I added on seam allowances (5/8 inch) and cut it out as is. The entire slip is apparently and early 30’s design and meant to be worn under a bias dress, that is why it has such long lines and all straight grain pieces. The only bias to the slip is on the curved shaped edge of the upper bodice panels.
Once it was finished, the slip was tried on and, yes it did fit but – wow – it was tight! My hips are about 35”, with my waist about 8 inches smaller than that, so I’m assuming this slip would comfortably fit someone smaller than me. My closest size estimate is that, unaltered, this 30’s slip is for a size 30” – 32” bust, 25” waist, and 33” hips. I was hoping to make the slip go on and off without needing a side closure so I needed to make extra room somehow. After some brainstorming with hubby, we came up with the idea of cutting out another two center front panel pieces from the slip pattern and adding it into the side seams. The center front panel is skinny with a slightly wider taper at hem end giving just the little bit of extra room I needed much like a godet. Adding in the side panels did add more seams for me to finish off, but so it had to be. I do wish the slip was a bit longer on me, and I think I’ll write a note to adjust the pattern, but I‘ve done enough work on it so I can’t complain.
In our pictures of me wearing just the slip, it actually fits tighter than originally when it was newly finished. This is because I didn’t wash the silk first before I assembled and wore it for Easter. It was washed later and now has a snug and complimentary body forming fit, but this was not intended. From the feel it, I am supposing the silk might act similarly to denim blue jeans: the fit is tighter once newly dried and out of the wash, loosens up again as I wear it, until the next time it gets cleaned when it shrinks up again. On the opposite side of things, the outer sheer overdress was not washed before the pictures were taken and it didn’t shrink much at all from washing it. The chiffon did change its finish, though, going from smooth and flat to looking like a seersucker after it was washed. The seersucker look is not a bad thing to have, and I like it enough to not iron it out…it was just unexpected. I normally wash every fabric before using, but now I know to make no exceptions (not even for silk, wool or linen) if I don’t want surprises.
The original blue slip shown in the book had more fine details, such as fagoting, drawn threads, and eyelet embroidery, than my own version. Making the slip was hard enough the way it was. However, I’m not really complaining, just happy the extra effort I put in comes to such a unique and special finished garment, even if (besides counting myself) it only gets seen on my blog! I don’t know if the front panel detailing was meant to be a monogram, and I was tempted to design my own, but it had a nice Art Deco design to it so I hand-stitched it exactly as the original in the book.
Afternoon Tea dresses have a style and beauty all their own. Soft flowing fabrics created a free-flowing, feminine, and comfortable garment – for summer it would be rayon, sheer cotton, and silk (if you had money in the 30’s), and for winter, wool crepes, rayon, and satins be in order. The swinging silhouette of mid 30’s afternoon dresses was achieved with flared bias panels and simplicity in design, like my own dress set, compared to day dresses which often had pleats and details like embellishments. Day dresses’ necklines had a utilitarian style, such as collars or front zippers and buttons, while afternoon dresses had simple, beautifully shaped necklines. Day or afternoon dresses were both quite decent as far as covering, but the “day” style was more utilitarian (for shopping or working at a job) while the “afternoon” style was for out of the home leisure, eating out, and other nice occasions. (Info from here.) A slim and sleek silhouette with wide but softly shaped shoulders is period appropriate for the decade of my dress with a belt necessary to define the waist, since the early 30’s drop waist look (of the 20’s) was definitely gone by 1935. My Easter dress set is indeed the perfect “tea” length which is mid-shin, iconic of the 1930’s…an odd length really, but quite complimentary once worn (so I think).
Afternoon dresses came from a time when there was a garment for different times of the day and occasions of life – day wear, afternoon “tea” outfits, house dresses, evening elegance, leisure gowns, negligée sets and nightwear. This did not last much longer past the 1940’s, but it sure provides an interesting variety of styles and garments to suit any person’s taste, body type, and need. History provides such a variety of vintage fashions. This variety enables “vintage” to be easily re-made (whether from a pattern – reprints and originals – or an old original piece) and worn in our modern times than many people realize. Try something new, and you might just find a new favorite!