Lines of Wheat on the Bias

Early fall or late summer is a lovely season to me where I live.  It has warm days, which I like, in between cold snaps that preview the next season to come.  Together with the richness of colors building in the trees, interesting smells in the air, and enjoyable holidays on their way (familial birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Halloween), I really do wish I could hold on to this season for longer than it lasts, and not just because I despise winter.

My newest vintage 1930s sewing project, featured here, is I feel a perfect transition garment which takes into account all that I love about late summer and early fall.  Stripes the golden color of wheat as well as fluffy clouds in the sky are on an earthy, textured linen dress, which has a fascinating use of the bias grain line.  Vintage accessories from my Grandmother – gloves, earrings, necklace, and a brooch of double wheat sheaves – together with my Jeffrey Campbell leather lace-up shoes, a silk scarf, and a hat I refashioned to be an accurate 30’s shape all are meant to play with the richer colors of the fall season and thus bring out the muted stripes which highlight the amazing design of this dress pattern.

This was actually my outfit for our recent trip to Chicago, Illinois.  Yes, I traveled and explored the busy city downtown in fully accessorized vintage style and loved it!  And just think…this dress is linen too!  What I discovered from the compliments I received from passer-bys is that apparently this dress is a transition piece in another way.  It is not glaringly vintage, yet still completely true to year 1933.  That is a trademark of a truly classic, lovely design!  It is interesting enough in design that (especially made in striped fabric) it doesn’t scream for attention yet certainly can turn interested heads…almost like a toned down Wallis Simpson fashion for the modern vintage aesthetic.  It is also simple enough in silhouette and sewing difficulty that it can be whipped up easily to suit many differing occasions depending on how one finishes or accessorizes.  Case in point – this dress (before hemming) turned out very long on me and it looked very good with fancy jewelry and evening shoes…I can see a solid color satin or crepe ankle-length version of this dress making a wonderful elegant style!  Oh no, another project idea in my future!

Sorry, I know you can’t see all of my dress’ neck and shoulder details with my scarf, but the dress really looks better for it…and Chicago is a city with a cool wind, indeed!  Scarves were popularly worn like this in the 1930’s (see this article for more info and tips on using scarves) but they make such a great multi use fashion accessory in any era.  I cannot do without a scarf more often than not.  As for further clarification about my refashioned hat, it is modern, in straw, and something which I’ve had for years.  It started out with the popular modern “bucket” style crown and I merely pinched it in from the inside at the center top so it would have a proper vintage shallow crown with a very 1930s style ridge down the center.  The excess crown inside is folded flat and was hand stitched down in place.  Easy-peasy and oh-so-handy, this hat is a great way to protect my face while complimenting my wardrobe using both something on hand and my penny-pinching capabilities!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  slubbed, thick 100% linen

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7153, a 2015 issue of a year 1933 design

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread and some interfacing was pretty much needed.  A true vintage buckle was used to finish the belt as well as some stitch witchery bonding web. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This came together rather quickly – it was made in about 10 to 12 hours and finished on August 6, 2017

THE INSIDES:  Mostly French with the some seams in bias binding.  So clean!

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought when the now defunct Hancock Fabric’s was closing.  This lovely linen was about $2 a yard…so I suppose this dress cost me about $6. How awesome is that!?

As someone who very frequently works with true vintage original sewing patterns of all decades in the 20th century, I can say I can recognize features of a vintage design and sort of estimate when something has been changed.  As much as I do love my new dress and am generally impressed with this pattern, there are a few things I am not happy with and strike me as ‘off’.

First of all, there are small separate triangular panels which are sewn on at the true waist at the top of the side front skirt panels.  This could have been on the original but I highly doubt it – there is no waistline seam to the similar side skirt panels in the back!  For a long and lean bias 1933 dress like this one, why would this small panel be separate without an obvious purpose?  A depression era pattern knew how to combine ingenuity and elegance in dressing with a complicated appearing simplicity and this small odd feature doesn’t strike me as ringing true to that habit.  Either way I do not like it one bit.  I should have just matched it to the top of the skirt side panels, taped it on there and cut the piece as one long part extending up to the bodice with no side seam.

The presence of the jarring, random horizontal waist seam remnant presents several ‘problems’ in my experience.  It places too much importance on precise matching of the grain line and fabric print – if this small section is off it will be noticed.  It mars the elegant and beautiful stripe work to the dress if the belt is not “just-so” over the seam…and with normal living’s body movements, a garment will not stay “picture perfect” anyway!  Besides, my true waist seems to be slightly higher naturally and a belt carrier wouldn’t help by keeping it down where it doesn’t want to stay.  After all, year 1933 was still coming off of the 20’s ideology and that year’s dresses were rarely defining the waist with a modern, boring horizontal seam, instead frequently opting for a wide panel, side gathering, interesting paneling, or similar gently hinting methods.  This ugly, tiny waist seam remnant needs to meld into the rest of the dress.  I made the pattern ‘as-is’ so I could learn from it – did I ever!  Please do my recommended change for your version…one little extra step will make your version of this dress so much better!

My beef about the waist seam aside, look at the lovely details to the rest of the front!  The tiny stripes matched up pretty well, and all the seams matched up impeccably.  This dress’ stripe paneling reminds me of something along the lines of two of my favorite American designers/dressmakers Elizabeth Hawes and Muriel King, both of whom I admire for their stunning mitering methods (among other things).  Mitering, often understood as a woodworking term for right angled joints, was appropriated by dressmakers in circa 1934.  Its earliest proponents outside of America were the French couturier Marcel Rochas and a young Balenciaga. (Info from the book Elegance in an Age of Crisis from FIT.)  However, Elizabeth Hawes used a bulls-eye pattern on the bias in the middle of the torso for a 1936 dress, a method very similar to the styling of this McCall pattern.  Not meaning to brag, but the tiny, muted color stripes of the linen I used for my dress also reminds me also of the subtlety of Balenciaga’s cotton 1938 dress.  If I can sew for myself anything that I feel can “knock-off” the designers that both I and history admires, that’s a big win!

Not to divert from my glowing praise, but my second complaint with this vintage reprint pattern was actually the same fitting problem as their other year 1933 re-issue (McCall #7053).  They both turn out to have a very droopy shoulder seam in their kimono sleeves, which makes me think it is something that McCall’s does to the patterns and not the patterns themselves.  After all, their Archive patterns are not really re-prints…from my understanding they are new drafts off of images and/or line drawings of old patterns they had issued in the past.  I have sewn using vintage original patterns from both 1931 and 1934, both of which have kimono-style sleeves, and neither of them have given me the same problems I have with the 1933 McCall’s Archive issues.  However, it is an easy fix.  I sewed the long kimono shoulder/sleeve seam about 2 inches further in from the original 5/8 seam allowance.  That’s a lot, isn’t it!  This dress was severely droopy.  The sleeves are very open anyway so taking out some doesn’t make much of a difference.  When I sewed the sleeve/shoulder seam in smaller I also straightened it out – originally it has a dramatic curve that I think does not work out at all.  The weird puckering curve in the shoulder seam is a big, obvious turn-off on the model version of the envelope cover.  Other than the drooping shoulders, I did find the body of the dress to fit pretty much true to the size chart for the bottom half, and slightly a size big for the top half.

Many 1930’s dresses have a very figure hugging bias which I’ve heard many women say won’t work for everybody.  This one seems to have a bias grain just gentle enough for shaping yet not enough to be overly clingy.  The best part about the bias in both the skirt and the bodice is there is no closure needed!  That’s right – no zipper, buttons, hooks, or snaps.  It’s just plain easy.  I know the instructions show a center back zipper, but those can be hard to do on oneself and sometimes also hard to keep the top pull from sagging down.  I believe McCall’s threw the back zipper in to ‘modernize’ the design.  The dress stretches wider easily from the smart grain line layout so why a zipper?!  I see how the zipper weirdly bubbles out and warps the loveliness of the bias on the back of the model’s dress on the pattern cover.  “Keep things simple, silly” (to put it mildly) is an engineering principle that is worthwhile to remember when engineering clothing, too.

This McCall’s pattern is not the best re-issue of a vintage style, but it does make for a very nice dress, with designer touches that is highly underrated once you get past its “meh” cover and fitting issues.  This is a good pattern I would recommend everyone to have on hand to try.  Once you make one successful version, I believe you will use it again, as I plan on doing.  Don’t let the sole sleeve version deter you – there are many types of sleeves that could be added to a short kimono style like this one.  There are no closures needed and deceptively easy to sew.  Do you need any more reason to try this one?  Come on…I want to see many more inspiring versions from all of you talented and lovely bloggers out there!

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“Blank Canvas” – a 1939 Hollywood Dress and Re-Fashioned Hat

Allie J's Social Sew badgeEvery blank canvas is a starting point just waiting, pleading for personalization and a touch of color.  My creation happens to have soft, white linen as the canvas, and all the colors added (in controlled moderation) for a culturally-influenced dress and hat.  I even made my own earrings from buttons to match!  This is part of Allie J.’s Social Sew #4, theme “Vintage”.

Mock embroidery, courtesy of some appliques, a wildly striped scarf belt, and my bright coral “Chelsea Crew” T-strap shoes liven up a white dress.  Subtle features and lots of bias cuts take the backstage to complete the dress.  My Tyrolean-style, dome-crowned straw hat was another successful experiment in more modern hat re-fashioning.  Together, I am again finding myself loving the year 1939 fashion – part 30’s and part 40’s combined into one lovely and comfy outfit.

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My dress and hat happen to have a wide variety of Hollywood personas related to its making – the famous Lucille Ball is the “star” of the dress pattern I used, an “Agent Carter” character Ana Jarvis was another inspiration, as well as actress Joan Blondell’s fashion, especially as worn in the 1939 movie “Good Girls Go to Paris”.  My more basic sources were 40’s and late 30’s pattern covers plus an extant 1939 garment from Jonathan Walford’s “Forties Fashion” book.  My first 1939 dress (blogged here) was also directly patterned after a dress from his book.

Simplicity #4203 & #2070, Walford book's 1939 Mexicali dressThe “Forties Fashion” book chapter which shows my inspiration dress (Chapter 1) addresses the subject of culturally inspired fashions of the early 40’s/late 30’s.  Much of the Mexican, South and Central American themed clothes, aprons and embroidery from those times stemmed from President Roosevelt’s ‘Good Neighbor’ policy from the early 1930’s, but as the decade went on, Bavarian and Alpine themed fashion and headwear grew popular universally.  I would also like to think of this dress as further inspired by both the classic ‘Guayaberas’ or Havana shirts and the Phillippines’ version (called ‘Barong Tagalog’) that I’ve seen on the men (and some women) in old movies such as “The Lone Wolf” series.  These shirts are made for warm weather and are often of a type of linen, have lovely details, and have frequent floral embroidery.  Havana and Panama were of course known for their straw hats, too.   Thus, my outfit combined several cultural influences for ‘39.

As far as Hollywood influence, 1939 was the year that Lucille Ball stepped out as something 1939 Hollywood inspiration collageother than a mere radio voice and a B movie actress when she starred in the film “Five Came Back”.  One of the main ladies in that film actually wears an identical hat to the one I made!  I’ve also seen similarities to my dress in the other ’39 movies like “Star Reporter” (same bodice) and “Good Girls Go to Paris” where Joan Blondell has similar puffed arched sleeves, Tyrolean hats, and cropped boleros.  Currently, though, Ana Jarvis from the Marvel television series “Agent Carter” Season Two wears many ethnic inspired fashions, and in “A View in the Dark” (Episode 2) she wears a cream colored blouse with floral vine embroidery.  I know Hollywood is not a good example of what the everyday woman might have worn, but it sure is awesome to bring into one’s wardrobe!

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I have yet to decide on what bolero to sew up to match – one with the large collar in this Hollywood pattern for my dress, but I’m tempted to go with Vintage Vogue #8812 for a simpler look that would go with my later 40’s fashions.  Something else for my already long bucket list of future projects!

THE FACTS:Hollywood 1773, year 1939, front cover-comp

FABRIC:  Thick pure white 100% linen for the dress, polyester chiffon for the scarf belt, and a basic modern hat made out of straw for my re-fashion

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1773, year 1939

NOTIONS:  Floral appliques, thread, bias tapes, and two different zippers – all bought last year when I originally planned on making this dress

THE INSIDES:  All bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  maybe 10 to 15 hours to make – it was finished on July 14, 2016

TOTAL COST:  Everything was bought when a Hancock Fabrics store was closing a year ago, so everything needed was bought on deep discount and amazingly just what I needed for a perfect match.  For several yards of fabric and all my notions I think I spent maybe $20.

DSC_0973a-compHollywood pattern #1773 was an amazing find at an amazing deal which was obviously too good to be true.  It was almost like hell in paper just attempting to sew it into a dress like the one on the cover.  First of all, it was in a very large size for which I had to grade out 4 inches besides taking out 4 inches from the length of the skirt hem.  However, the real problem was the fact the pattern was cut into and changed dramatically.  I really don’t know what someone was trying to do but after studying the line drawing and doing much detailed mathematics,DSC_0972a-comp I had to re-draw in about 3 to four inches added for the center front where someone cut out scalloping.  After all this, the instructions were disintegrated to the point they were in about 5 crumbly, delicate pieces.  All the instructions have now been scanned in and saved as files on my computer for a permanently safe copy.  Still, the instructions added to the multiples of problems, although I am glad that at least the tissue pattern pieces were in good shape.  Gotta be positive especially after a (finally) successful result!

Luckily, after all the trouble leading up to making this dress, sewing it was a breeze.  There are no darts in the skirt portion, as both the front and the back are cut on the bias.  The back bodice has no waist tucks and there are only two small ¼ darts at the neckline.  The front bodice has all the details, with its ten 3/8 inch tucks (five on each side) on the shoulders and two simple waist pleats (one on each side).  The sleeves are also cut on the bias and are tightly gathered at the cap tops.  This dress does have double zippers – a decorative metal one down the front neckline and one on the side at the waist.  For some reason the pattern had the front waistline dipping down low.  I sewed it like that at first, but did not like it and unpicked to level out the waist, instead.  The seam allowance gets cut off along the neck and the sleeve raw edges so as to cover with bias taping.  My prized vintage all-cotton ¼ inch bias tape from my Grandmother was used for the sleeve and neckline edges while modern store bought (yucky) poly cotton blend was used for finishing the insides.

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The appliques are my cheat-shortcut to all the hand sewing necessary to do real embroidery.  Anything more than a little hand stitching bring out my carpel tunnel issues.  The appliques I had are actually meant to be iron-on, but I merely stitched it down by hand.  I don’t want to ruin the fabric nor make it that permanent by ironing it down.  The flowers on the design remind me of Mexican Bird of Paradise (yellow), moss rose (pink), and milkweed (orange/yellow).  The two appliques which are on either side of the neckline are the largest and longest of the set – I have four other smaller half size ones that I am tempted to add on the rest of the dress.  I sort of like the simplicity of the appliques just at the neck.  I’m afraid that with the bright scarf belt, more appliques might make the whole dress look overly busy and tacky.  For now, I’ll leave it as-is.

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It was really the scarf belt that started this whole outfit.  I was so happy and surprised when I happened to find this chiffon in the same color tone and striped pattern as the on inspiration dress in the “Forties Fashion” book!  It was one of those great “Eureka!” moments that told me I needed to make this dress.  The belt is one long bias scarf cut from two opposite corners of 1 ½ yards with the raw ends finished off with a touch of fray check liquid.1936  Purple felt hat, FIT museum

My hat started out as another one of those basic one dollar non-descript pieces that I’ve re-fashioned before (here and here).  I started out by making two tapered darts about two inches apart up the crown where I chose the back to be.  Then I brought those two darts together in a tuck that extended into the brim and topstitched the excess down.  A light steaming from and iron as helped further shaped the hat.  The darts shaped the crown while the tuck brought the size smaller so it would sit higher up on my head and have that cup-like center top to the traditional ‘cone crown’ of a Tyrolean Hat (like the purple one at right from FIT museum).  To keep my hat on my head, I took a ribbon and knotted it together at the sides and used an upholstery needle to wind it down and through the straw so I can tie the hat around my hairstyle.

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This outfit so completely reminds me of some sort of summer resort wear, something meant to keep one looking great and moving comfortably in searing temperatures, and…yes, this dress does fit that bill!    I tested this out, as the day on which I wore it for these pictures was extremely, oppressively hot.  Linen is a super sweat wicking fabric, yet it kept me cool.  The linen kept absorbing the sweat off me, yet it did not feel soaked and it was a cooler temperature than I was when it was wet.  This particular linen has zero scratchiness and is lacking that “hemp-like”, raw feel which I find in many other linens…only softness so there is another high comfort here!  However, my favorite benefits are the no-see-through thickness of this linen as well as the way it does not change color or show however much I might be sweating to death, like many dark fabrics.  This linen dress definitely does not just give the impression of being cool but also helps that along.  To top things off, my hat ‘perches’ lightly on my head, keeping my hairstyle underneath pristine and cool, yet the brim is enough to keep the sun off my eyes.  I was doubtful that this outfit would be that great in steamy weather, but I am a converted believer in effortless summer fashion a la vintage with linen and straw!

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It’s funny, in the fabric stores I go to the bolts are always full and untouched when I buy linen.  The employees that cut my fabric often seem mystified that I want linen and tell me that hardly anyone buys it.  Do you wear linen?  If so, have you found it to be as lovely of a trooper for wearing as I have?  If not, what are your reservations to this natural fiber?  Why is linen overlooked as a fashion fabric?

“Retro Forward” Burda Style – 1920’s Geometric Bias Dress

In strong simulation of the famous Madeleine Vionnet, this Burda Style dress is perfect for modern day glamour a la 1920’s.  My fabric is a silvery pink satin.  With its frosty sheen and surrealist clock “cog works” print, the fabric reminds me specifically of the cold, hard, mathematical beauty that I love about the Art Deco era.  The dress, in classic Vionnet style, is on the bias for a flowing, body complimentary gown the likes of which are not seen that often in modern patterns anymore.  I love this dress!

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McCall #6560 year 1931 Vionnet style facy gownI am not exaggerating – this is one of the most ingenious designs I have come across in my sewing.  It’s so simple yet so complex and so smart.  Just a few geometric shapes cut in the right grain line makes all the difference.  Vionnet had the foresight and ingenuity to create very similar styles, but Burda made this kind of dress reasonable in price and availability as a great option to going with a pricey hard-to-find old 1930’s/1920’s original patterns (at left)…without compromising authenticity.  Yes, believe it or not the 1920’s was more than just beads and fringe – it was also about bias cuts, freedom to move unconfined, and mathematical glamor.

THE FACTS:102 tango dress line drawing

FABRIC:  A 100% polyester satin bought from a Hancock Fabrics store

PATTERN:  Cowl Neck Dress #102, from 07/2012, on Burda Style’s store online or in the July monthly magazine issue.

NOTIONS:  I had the interfacing and thread I needed, as well as the money coins which went into the fabric weights for the dress’ inside.

THE INSIDES:  As this is on the bias, all seams are left raw and free.

100_3629-compTIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made quickly in about 6 hours, and finished on August 8, 2014.

TOTAL COST:  about $10

This was my first Burda Pattern to make and I’m glad it was a success.  The instructions for the neck/bodice all-in-one facing were quite impossible to understand merely reading but as long as I followed them to the letter in my sewing, as weird as they sounded all worked out great.  I didn’t do any changes to the pattern.  Besides fitting in the sides, I kept the proportions and length as-is.

As for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced out using a roll of medical paper from the insert sheet of the magazine issue but you can also buy it, download it, and print it out from Burda Style’s online store.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t know.

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Usually I grade from my “normal” Burda size (usually the smallest one offered) up to the next size for the hips but for this pattern I made the whole dress out of the size for my hips, just to be on the safe side.  However, I ended up taking in each side a few inches.  I don’t know if the bias is making the dress size seem so big or if it’s truly the sizing but either way for more of a body fit, rather than a loose and overall drapey fit, go a size down.  Now that I’ve made a few bias garments I’ve found there is a delicate balance.  A loose fit is needed so the bias does hang a bit on the body (you don’t want the bias stretched over you) but yet too much ease can make bias dresses look bad and frumpy with draping and wrinkles in the wrong places.  100_3614a-comp

The vertical sides of the dress are on the bias, but the side panels take turns with the main body of the dress to change things up.  There is the straight grain on the semi-horizontal downward edges of the panels while those corresponding seams of the dress are on the bias.  I had to be careful of both differing grains to ease in the fullness and yet also not stretch the bias in those spots– slightly tricky.

Bias cut also means no closures, no darts – just simple beauty.  Sweet!!!  While on me, if I pinch the dress and pull it out it could just keep going.  When putting this on, it falls open wide so it seems like a giant dress but then once it comes on over the head it magically falls around my body to fit.  Bias cut is so awesome yet so sadly unknown by the general non-sewing populace (at least from my experience).

My chosen fabric is feather-weight so it really makes the dress flow nicely, but with a slightly heavier fabric (such as a rayon crepe or silk charmeuse) the dress would have more of a correct drape.  Thus, I had to add some strategic weights at certain spots of the dress.  The cowl needed to drape better to keep the neckline down so I added a weight to the inside of the center front.  Then, the dress was lopsided so I had to also add a matching weight to the inside center back neckline.  My weights are merely small rectangular “pockets”, made from the same fabric as the dress, and they hold two quarters each.  So, I guess I ended up putting and extra dollar into my dress just to keep it hanging right on me!  Whatever it takes…

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I really don’t know why but the high-low hem didn’t turn out as obvious as in the pattern’s line drawing.  The high-low hem was a trademark of the late 1920’s and very early 30’s, which is why this dress is part of my “Retro Forward” blog series.  Around the time of the stock market crash of 1929, hemlines became more modestly transitional to the mid-calf skirt/dress lengths of the 1930’s by being frequently part short (like the 1920’s) yet getting elongated (mostly visually) by also being partially long.  Thus, during the transition of the 30’s and 20’s all sorts of hemlines became popular such as “high-low” hems, “hankie” hems (see this post), fur trimmed hems – and the variety doesn’t end there!  I find it funny how I still see many of these hemline styles in modern clothes.  Also, this Burda pattern is totally a Tango dress…similar to Folkwear’s version.  Many varied length hemlines were seen on dresses styled with a Spanish influence to be worn swaying to the then “new” music craze of the Tango.  Dancing that required full movement of the body was then not only popular but actually possible, too, for corset-less unconfined women in the late 1920’s, and crazy hemlines with body hugging bias cuts made the dancer seem all the more exotic.

This dress can easily go modern, but I preferred to glam it up ‘a la’ late 20’s style, with my fishnet stockings, bobbed hair, and my handmade long beaded necklace.  My Tango-style shoes are (I think) “1960’s does 1920’s” – they are “Debs” made by the famous Palter DeLiso footwear designer.

Even our background has the same time period and the same geometric shapes as my dress.  The building behind me is one which I have long admired and I happy to be integrating it into a project’s photo shoot.  It was built in 1930 as a power-station for an electric company, it is so awesome for such a mundane use, but that is the Art Deco movement to put glamour in everyday life.  The National Register of Historic Places Inventory for this building (page 16) lists it as “having metal grillwork in an abstract chevron-like pattern fills the rectangular openings” between the terra cotta and marble of the piers on the building.  “Above the openings of the spandrels, between the piers, large stylized ornament, linear, with hard edges, embellishes the parapets.”  Aren’t those details amazing?!  Sorry to go into detail here but I love historic architecture appreciation, and this building is up there on my “favorites” list so I can easily get going!

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I hope you like Art Deco like I do and hopefully this post can inspire you look for this era’s buildings in your town or even to work a little of this era into your sewing.  Have you tried bias garments, especially these geometric 20’s and 30’s ones with beautiful simple design like this dress?  If you have, they’re special aren’t they?!  If not, you need to go ahead and make one…let me know about it…I’d like to see it!

An Emerald Mid-1930’s Vionnet Gown

With Prom season upon us, I’d like to post about a quick and easy but awesomely elegant gown to make from the genius of history’s famous designer Madeleine Vionnet.  I love finding patterns that look the opposite of the amount of difficulty they present in the making process.  If you’ve got a handful of hours, a super fancy buckle, and several yards of nice fabric with a formal event to attend, then this pattern could be for you!  It’s the epitome of 1930’s glamour yet passes as fully modern.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% polyester crepe back satin (I wish I could have used silk, but one can only spend so much dough for fabric…*sigh*)vionnet book covers - from iocolor

NOTIONS:  Just thread and bias tape were the only notions I needed, besides the buckle.

PATTERN:  Pattern #12: “Planes and Gussets”, page 84, of “Madeleine Vionnet” book by Betty Kirke (book covers image from here)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Only four hours!  It was made on the evening of December 4, 2015, with about an hour more to place and sew on the buckle and finish the ties.

100_6801-compTHE INSIDES:  All bias bound, except for the bottom hem which is on the bias and left raw with some fray check to keep the edge in check.

TOTAL COST:  the crepe-back satin was a Hancock Fabrics “Beautiful Fine Fabric” special – I bought it on sale for about $20.  The buckle was bought at an antique/vintage re-sale shop for about $35.

This Vionnet gown makes me feel so amazing and elegant, like some movie star of the silver screen of olden times.  Words to describe it would just seem tacky.  The bias moving with you and flowing around you is a lovely feeling.  Every lady deserves a good bias dress.  I have heard some women mention that only certain figures can pull off a bias dress, but I disagree.  First, women of the 1930’s were generally slender (it was the Depression) but they did wear foundational undergarments which helped with shaping.  Shaping underneath or not, nevertheless when the bias is cut well with a good design it will do a body good!  After all, I have never yet found any RTW (ready-to-wear) frock which accomplishes the bias correctly like when you find a really good pattern and make it yourself.

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Although I absolutely love it, I cannot figure out an anomaly about this gown.  The original dress which is on display online at the MET museum lists this design of evening gown as dating to 1936-1937.  However, the Betty Kirke book from which the pattern came from lists this dress as 1935.  Alright – who’s right?  Which year is this dress?  Also, between knowing what I know about fashion history and what I’ve read, the gown is both behind its time and ahead at the same moment.  The early 1930’s had a fad for the “half-naked-from-the-waist-up” styles of evening gown, then by about 1933 the styles became slightly more decent by following the fad for higher necks and shoulders covered with ruffles or poufy sleeves (discussed here at “Witness2Fashion” under “The Letty Lynton Dress” and “Very Bare Backs, 1930’s”, also see my past-made mid-30’s evening gown).  This emerald Vionnet gown has a taste of both contrasting styles.

So, I’m slightly confused but still impressed that Vionnet’s design of this post’s featured dress is from the mid-1930’s, but it goes with the Depression era perfectly when women’s clothes were excessively extravagant and richly elegant – the opposite of the (then) current economic circumstances.  Simple ornamentation is the ‘normal’ key to such clothes…the gown itself is amazing interest enough… but Vionnet’s gown calls for a unique closure to be a focus point!  How daring, but it works.  Another common feature to similar 30’s gowns are the extremely low backs and hemlines – achieving this with Vionnet’s evening gown was hard and a tad tricky.  I’ll explain further down.

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The patterns in the book are small sized with no specifications as to what percent to grade up to for full size.  I went through a copy store’s services to have them scan in, plot out, enlarge, and print my patterns since this was my first time making a pattern from this book.  The only “bench mark” I went by to know how much to enlarge was for me to pick one spot on the garment for which I could say how long it should be, and figure the rest of the garment should follow grading up properly from there.  For instance, I realized for this pattern that the length of the front rectangles, from the top of the neckline to what should be the side waist, should be about the length of my collar bone to my waist (adding in some extra inches for error).  This measurement was a define spot to realize how much to grade the book’s pattern up to…probably not the best way but wasn’t the worst either, just so as long as it worked.

As far as I could tell the pattern is made for Japanese sizes 9 AR (US/Canadian sizes 8, U.K. size 10, and European size 38).  This would make it for bust 34” (86 cm.), waist 26” (66 cm.), hip 37 (94 cm.).  I don’t remember where I read this but it seems accurate, maybe slightly smaller.  I am very close to this size so I didn’t make any changes to the fit because bias cut is a bit forgiving.

100_6776a-compAs it turned out, I could have made some small changes/adjustments to the fit, but this is just really the perfectionist in me wanting everything just right…a carbon copy of Vionnet.  Part of me wishes I had made my gown just a tad longer so it sweeps the floor like a true 30’s gown, but that’s impractical for me so my dress is just below ankle length.  Also the dip in the back where the ties make a “U” turn around the inserts could have been made a little wider for a sharper curve.  My back curve to the dress is more like a “U” that got bent open and I think only the upper tops of the inserts could be lengthened for a look more like the original Vionnet dress.  Pick, pick, pick – it’s what I do.  My dress is fine and the pattern is really easy…a tad hard to adjust.

The pattern for this evening gown is awesomely simple and so awkwardly large.  Except for 100_6593a-compthe little parallelogram-shaped piece which completes the back dip, the dress is made of one huge shape.  I really don’t know how someone who doesn’t have ample floor space or a gigantic table can cut this dress out.  We have large open floor spaces at our home but even still it was maxed out to lay out 3 yards of 60 inch fabric in a single layer.  This also had to be done when no one was around to walk in the house but me!  As you can also see in my picture, I let the natural end of the fabric’s width dictate the seam where the dress would have a panel joined in to complete the dress.  I did not follow the “joining line” on the pattern, as I wanted minimal seams (the dress seems to have been accommodating for the 35 inch or 45 inch fabric widths normal for those times).

I believe the key to this dress being a success is 1.) the necessity of making the neck high and back low and 2.) the placement of the buckle.  Firstly, the back dip needs to be low, low…like right at or above the waist because if not, the bias will not spread out over the bum properly.  The neck needs to be high (close to the collarbone) for the back dip to be in the right place but also because it keeps the front in proportion, especially when it comes to adding the buckle which brings the dress in.

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Thus, secondly, I found from looking at the original garment from Vionnet at the MET and experimenting with the placement on my own dress that the buckle has to be at a “sweet spot” on the body to reach the intended shape, drape, and look.  There is a triangular space above your belly button that is between your ribcage just about big enough for the palm of my hand to cover.  When the dress neckline comes to reach or go just under your collarbone (where it needs to hit), THIS SPOT between the ribcage and above the waist is where the buckle should go on the dress.  Why am I so strong on this?  I have seen plots of Vionnet’s garments where it proves how her clothes where designed with the composition of the natural lines of the body and its muscles in mind so it makes sense to me for her to pull the dress in at the same place where your body is “pulled in”…not where it pivots.  Also, when the buckle is placed in that “sweet spot” the dress naturally flares out over both the bust and the waist/hips, creating the illusion of a small middle and at a more proper waistline, too.  Conventional dressing knows nothing of the power of working with the body, and most people (including me) get so wrapped up in the only spots we focus on – waist, hips, bust, and maybe shoulders or other points, too.  The comfort spot of “the waist” is different on everyone, but the buckle’s “sweet spot” is the same on everyone, and a very strong point in the body as it is…a good place to hang the dress.DSC_0584a-comp

The ‘leaping gazelle across the pastoral scene’ on the original buckle is so beautiful and also very appropriately classic to the 1920’s and 1930’s.  An image widely used on anything and everything to home and eating pieces to fashion (see my very own Elgin Compact, at right) and ornamental purposes, the leaping gazelle is an Art Deco carryover from the peaceful Art Nouveau era.  The 1930’s 100_6803a-compideal enjoyed reliving the Grecian past, through flowing, body-conscious dressing, and no one expressed this better than Vionnet, so the carved ivory buckle on the original gown could not be any more perfect.  My own buckle, however, takes on the more uber-fancy and bling-loving side of the Art Deco era though it does have some swirling to the design.  My buckle reminds me of costume jewelry with all its gems and details but it is some sort of fine metal (sterling silver, maybe) because it polished up nicely, even though the gems are probably fake.  I also pinned another authentic vintage 1920’s or 1930’s pin to keep my back straps in place at the back of my neck.100_6755a-comp

We went back to the proper time period and location where a dress like this would have been worn for our photo shoot location – the Chase Park Plaza.  This hotel in downtown was newly completed in 1931 “as an opulent Art Deco masterpiece despite the Great Depression.”  Many famous people have walked the Chase Park Plaza’s hallways and stayed under their roof, and with Art deco splendor around every corner need I say why I felt even snazzier modeling my fancy evening gown?!