“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!

My Emerald 30’s Vionnet Evening Dress – Buckle and Closure Details

In response to Nikki’s comment and to clarify what I didn’t address in my latest post, here is a follow up which will explain the closure system to my Vionnet evening gown and how the buckle works.

DSC_0591a-compWorking with vintage parts can be rather tricky because they are slightly different than what we are used to with modern notions and sewing parts, but with some ingenuity they can be made to work in more than one way.  This buckle is no exception.  The back had a very odd and basic bar to the back of each half, like it was made for the ends of a belt to be looped around.  The hook closure is a simple metal piece bent over to loop into an opening of the other side detail work.  I have several other 1930’s buckles and they have these same features.

Now, Vionnet original plan for this dress call’s for a square decorative piece (look at the pattern piece), not even aDSC_0592a-comp buckle.  Her original dress has four eyelet openings so that hooks in the decorative piece can loop in the openings and bring the dress in that way.  Since I was working with an actual buckle, I attached the backer bars behind each side to fixed spots on my dress.  This was a bit challenging…I had the measure the space between the two bars when the buckle was closed and figure that in when I was estimating where to attach the closures and how tight to bring in the dress.

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At first, I merely whip-stitched the backer bars around and around directly to my dress, flat on top with no pleat or anything, at a spot of my choosing.  The fabric of the front just folds in and gathers on its own under the buckle when the dress gets clasps.  After a night of partying and dancing, however, the threads around the buckle back broke and I had to come up with something which gave the fabric more support.  Plan two was to still sew the buckle on in the same spot in the same way but I used a small cut of some green felt, double layered, to back the buckle inside the wrong side.  This works great and feels quite stable as well as not ripping out the stitches and/or fabric.  The felt inside acts like a cushion for the thread to wrap tightly around (although it looks like surgery stitches), and provides a wide anchor spot to strongly bring the dress in with no appearance of even pulling at the fabric.

I hope this post clarifies any confusion as to how to use those vintage buckles you see or find and also how my emerald Vionnet dress closes.  There are plenty of awesome vintage notions out there – go find that ‘perfect’ project to make them have a new life at the hands of your creativity.  A little voice in the back of my head wants to “save” stuff like this…but no!  Vintage pieces can really help a project shine, elevating it from special to extra-special!  They might need some t.l.c., or some extra effort but it’s worth it.  Have you worked a really neat vintage notion into a sewing project or had to get creative with it?  Did this post help you?

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?!