Burgundy Jacquard Dressing Gown

Hubby and I have been long overdue for a vacation for over 5 years now.  A few weeks back we finally went somewhere for a few days – Chicago!  Our hotel was the historic Knickerbocker in the heart of everything, along the Magnificent Mile.  To cut to the point, we explored the hotel in the evenings, and we found the secret door to the speakeasy upstairs as well as seeing some of the unique, original 1930s and 20’s posters which lined the hallways.  All of this made me glad I had taken this as an opportunity beforehand to sew myself something special for the occasion!  I figured (correctly), that by the evening, I would be dog-tired, and not want to stay completely put together, yet stay elegantly presentable while being comfortable.  A vintage 1936 dressing gown was the perfect answer…

It seems a true dressing gown is something that rides a fine line between opposites.  It is not purely utilitarian and overly warm, both of which better suits a housecoat.  Yet, at the same time, a dressing gown is much more restrained than a tantalizing, sexy boudoir robe and not flimsy like a negligee.  It is a garment with practical, chic elegance which is unashamedly luxurious and feminine.  It is meant to be cozy in the way of being light yet chill-busting, because a dressing gown is generally flowing (and very classical Grecian in influence especially for the decade of the 1930s).  This vintage page (below) from a “Good Needlework Magazine”, year 1937, describes the ideal dressing gown.  See how it recommends satin, rayon, silk velvets for the best materials.  A modern robe is no match in opulent charm to a full dressing gown.

Unlike both a housecoat and a boudoir robe, a dressing gown is something to be seen and worn in somewhat private settings, such as a secluded hotel lounge (my immediate modern purpose) or to host late night card parties with friends or answer the front door (traditional recounts of their usefulness).  However, the name immediately implies that a dressing robe is a garment for a stage in-between dressed and undressed…like a “wrap dress sort of a housecoat” for when you would just have your slip on to do your hair and makeup before going out or for doing the opposite actions unwinding in the evening.  Even still, a dressing robe isn’t so much about action, as it is for inaction…especially for any time after the 1930s.  Most homes have had decent central heating since then, as well as leisure time being an attainable part of life, and with the frilly details and scant warmth to a dressing gown, this is something perfect for not doing anything, and completely treating one’s self to a little bit of luxury under the excuse of usefulness.Making this gown was somewhat of a leisurely luxury…it was so easy to whip up!  I used a great, small Etsy shop reproduction of a year 1936 German pattern and some luxurious mid-weight jacquard that seems to mimic a very nice rayon for the ultimate dressing gown for myself.  I am not one to wear reds all that much, but this burgundy jacquard was like a magnet to me in the fabric store…something I wanted to use in some way.  I couldn’t see it as anything but nightwear, for some reason – even though my dressing gown idea meant I needed a whopping total amount.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fancy exterior is 3 ½ yards of 60 inch wide mid-to heavy weight jacquard, 98% polyester/2% spandex (which feels like a rayon), from Jo Ann’s fabric store.  The lining is a crepe finish (buff, non-shiny), lightweight, matching burgundy poly lining, also from Jo Ann’s.

PATTERN:  a German year 1936 pattern re-produced in PDF form through “Repeated Originals” Etsy shop  

NOTIONS:  I had thread, ribbon, and clasp closures on hand…this needs only very basic notions!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This gown was made in about 10 to 15 hours and finished on August 9, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  …what insides?  This gown is fully lined…

TOTAL COST:   This maybe cost me about $30 or $35, all coming from purchasing the fabric…

Perhaps I only pictured the jacquard in nightwear because I was thinking of the rich red robe of Scarlett in the movie “Gone with the Wind” or Whitney Frost’s robe in Season Two of Marvel’s Agent Carter.  Both ladies wear some dressing robes I crush over but I credit Whitney Frost’s gown to give me the idea to use two metal, gold-enameled filigree clasp buckles from on hand for the asymmetric chest closing.  An elegant robe with a luxury fabric which is not seen that much anymore deserves even more fancy touches…because I can!  Any garment can have buttons.  My gown has something to close it as unique as it is, and there are two less items in my notions stash, too. One of the unique details which are part of the design itself is the pointed, arched front waist seam.  It perfectly complements the gently arched neckline, in my opinion, and both provide a nice ‘frame’ for the asymmetric bodice closing.  The arched, pointed waist is on both sides of the front wrap, and amazingly do line up when the dressing robe is closed.  The waistline does have double tie closings to anchor this flowing robe in place – a pair of burgundy satin ribbon ties for the inside, and a pair of self-fabric bias ties for the outside closing.

The hardest and most time consuming parts to having a finished dressing robe were two things.  I’ll start with the first in the order of being made – assembling the PDF pattern.  I believe we have an extra ordinary amount of open floor space in our living room (where I cut out projects and assemble PDF patterns) and still I was almost completely out of space, so the large size of the connected pages into one full set of pattern pieces might be the biggest drawback for anyone else.  Take note – this pattern is similar to many PDF patterns, especially from Burda Style, where there is no seam allowance given.  It must be added in by you, in the width of your choosing.  As the size for this dressing gown’s original measurements are (bust 38”, waist 30”, hips 42”) technically inches above my body size, I did not add seam allowances so as to easily cut down on the excess.  In reality I could have added little seam allowances because this seems to run small in the overall fit.  It just fits me, without any room for bulky clothes, but I do not think I would like this any bigger because a sloppy fit would make all the fabric to this ankle length robe overwhelming.  So I guess I succeeded in a good fit after all.

Turning all the edges out all around so I could have a fully lined gown was the second challenging part that took up most of the relatively short time I spend on sewing this.  I didn’t really want to bother deciding on a seam finish (bias, French, or raw) and a dressing gown’s inside is seen much more than any regular wearing garment.  Thus I went all out and fully lined my robe, except for the sleeves.  Whenever I want to make something nice, going the extra mile to make that special touch, even though it’s probably a bother, always ends up so very worth it in the end…at least for me!

I know the pattern shows cuffed sleeves, but I can wear that on my every day long sleeve shirts – I wanted the drama that wide bell sleeves add to my dressing gown.  Besides, many, if not most, of the various other dressing gowns I perused on the internet (both patterns and extant garments) have similar bell sleeves, especially the 1930s ones.  I did find the original pattern sleeves to be a tad short when I checked before cutting out.  I am on the smaller side of average for my arm length, and I added 1 ½ inches, so everyone else interested in this pattern take note!

Many of the 1930s dressing robes also tend to have a neckline frill or ruffle, too, I noticed.  I do have a vintage one yard scrap of some sheer, black, mechanically pleated 3 inch wide trim that would mimic the collar on my pattern’s drawn image cover.  I was sorely tempted to add that trim to my dressing gown, but the trim is vintage and uniquely lovely, so I really think it deserves to be seen on a 1930s street dress or nice dress.  I actually used up all of my jacquard fabric on the gown, so a self-fabric neckline ruffle was out of the equation, anyway.  Having something frilly, fussy, and complicated around my neck doesn’t sound like anything but a bother on something meant to relax in, and I like the simplicity of the elegance to my robe as it is.

You really can’t see my slippers all that well, but I am wearing my prized vintage late 1930s to mid-1940s Daniel Green slippers.  They are mine because of an even trade with a local shop of some vintage heels I wasn’t wearing, so I count myself as lucky to have these because they are something I probably wouldn’t have bought otherwise.  They are in pristine condition and just so amazing, I had to bring them on the trip and wear them with my dressing gown.  House slippers have changed so much since these beauties – another example of how modern versions of things cannot stand up to vintage when it comes to class and personality.

Please – do yourself a favor and find a dressing gown pattern for yourself (maybe use the one I did) and make one, too.  Like me I believe it will come together quicker than you imagined, and you will want to wear it more than you expected.  Just find that luxurious fabric that speaks of fluid elegance in your mind, and go for it!

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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?!