I do not yet know how to crochet. At some point in my life I fully intend to figure that amazing skill out. Until then, I find sneaky yet creative ways to get around not knowing, which means that I wear crochet that is not really my own. Saying this means I try to sew with tricky, delicate fabric that is the closest thing to crochet that can be found – like an open-work sweater knit. To me, as someone who sews on an almost daily basis, this offers yet another “new and different” thing to try out. Speaking of something unconventional, these aren’t just your normal open-seam sleeves…they are part of the entire bodice design in a way that blew my mind when I made it.
Of course, I go all out with my dress – a vintage sweater knit dress with awesomely elegant features deserves its own fancy, fashion colored under-slip (since it will be somewhat seen anyway) and a custom-made, Grecian-inspired rope-and-tassel belt to keep up the mid-1930s glamour! Of course, as is our wont, we also found a historically appropriate and color matching Art Deco shop for the photo background so I could feel like I stepped back in time.
This outfit is rather a vintage way to interpret several modern (2018) trends – rope belts, sheer dresses, and statement sleeves. For myself, I like to be informed as to the source of a modern trend and realize the when, why, and how of it from years back. Nowadays, there is not a whole lot going on in fashion that is 100% “new”, it’s mostly just a re-inventions and all it takes is a peek into history to have a broader perspective of a fad.
Befitting my idealized mix of both old and new, this outfit is accessorized with modern 1930s D’Orsay style strap sandals by Aerosoles and true vintage pearl dress clips.
FABRIC: The sweater dress is made from a poly blended, almost shell-like stitched open knit in a cranberry color. The under slip is made from an all poly crepe in a royal blue color.
PATTERN: Butterick #6706, year 1936, for the dress and the “Slinky Bias Slip” came from Sew Vera Venus blog, on her free pattern page (link here). (I know the year for the dress pattern Butterick #6706 because it was featured in “Butterick’s Fashion News” magazine for April 1936)
NOTIONS: To make the dress and slip, I only used what was on hand already – thread, a vintage metal zipper, scraps of bias tape, and two buttons. The rope belt and its tassels required very specific supplies, so these bought to match after the dress outfit was finished.
TIME TO COMPLETE: This set took me about 15 hours to make the dress and 3 hours to sew the slip. Making the belt took me maybe 2 hours. The entire outfit was finished and ready to be worn by October 7, 2016.
THE INSIDES: The sweater knit doesn’t ravel (the wonders of a man-made poly), so the edges are left raw to let the dress be flowing. The slip is bias bound inside.
TOTAL COST: The sweater knit, slip material, and subsequent belting were bought at our local Jo Ann’s fabric store for a rough estimate total (it’s been awhile since the fabric was purchased) of about $30 to $40 dollars.
First off, I need to give full credit to my hubby for finding the sweater knit among all the bolts in the store and knowing my creative brain’s predictability enough to recommend something 1930’s to pair with it! I guess I’m training him well without even knowing it. Now, it wasn’t just about following his idea – the project plan rang true for me, too, and both him and old fashion images together helped me decide what contrast color for the underneath slip and what kind of belt would complement well.
The pattern I used to make my dress was also one of the very first 1930’s vintage patterns I bought back in 2011 (when they were so much more reasonably priced)! It’s so good, I had been “sitting on it” all these years waiting for just the right project plan for it. I felt like it was high time to take it up – hubby picked out a special fabric for me so I would go use my special pattern. No really, I feel like the fabric is a solid enough color to show off the design lines well yet curious enough to add depth and interest to an already luxurious design. The knit makes it practical while the sheerness of it makes it, well, oh-la-la! Yes, not only do I love what the 1930s has to offer for fashion, I also love how hubby and I can work together on my sewing projects to make something so interesting and creative that I can wear.
It was amazing how a few, large pattern pieces – only 4 to be exact (together with two incredibly tiny pieces) – can come together to make a dress like this. Vintage generally does smart designing impeccably, whether in fashion or architecture, and this is only another example to prove it to me. The sleeves of my dress are part of the bodice and only joined together at the front seam that runs from the neckline detail down the length of my arm. There is no shoulder seam whatsoever. It’s like an adapted kimono sleeve on steroids. There are two small darts at the shoulder tops, coming out from the neckline, but that’s it – I do believe the weight of the sleeve volume is enough to shape the fabric, pulling it down over the shoulders. The bodice front piece includes the sleeve front-bottom and the neckline “flap” detail, as well. From behind, there is the center seam so that a placket can be made for a neck opening (otherwise this dress wouldn’t go over the head), but besides that, the back bodice wraps around to the front bodice at the chest and front of the arms.
This design is not only amazing, it is also crazy easy to whip together with minimal seams (a big yay because with a delicate knit like this, the less seams the better). It also made for some overwhelmingly large pattern pieces that just barely fit onto my 60” width fabric. How these bodice pieces fit onto the old side fabric widths is something I don’t really want to figure out. As it was, with 60” wide fabric, I still used over 3 yards…in 35” width this dress would definitely take way over 4 yards. There’s Depression-era luxury for you! Even still, making a dress like this in the 1930s probably would have been much more monetarily affordable than buying something RTW which would be similar.
Now, the style of sleeve I chose to make on my dress is a combo of both views offered in the pattern. I wanted the slashed open style of the ¾ sleeve option, but something long, wrist length at the same time, so mine are a mix of both. Not that this is the first incarnation of such sleeves – this slashed open look that was popular in the 1930s is one of the many fashion details the era of 80 years back which were borrowed from Tudor styles of the 15 and 1600s. (See the artist William Larkin’s famous 1614 painting of Diana Cecil next to another 1936 pattern for comparison, check out the “Lady with a Fan” by Alonzo Sanchez Coello circa 1570, or see this “Fashion-era.com” post on coat sleeve styles of the time of Henry VII for just three examples.) Such sleeves also made a comeback for a short stint in 2014/2015. Today, the dramatic sleeves and balloon sleeves of all styles and volume are trending for this coming Spring 2018 season (see Carlos Vogue Patterns and Glamour.com to read more). Some things never change…what is forgotten, is doomed to be repeated.
All of that sleeve volume on my dress is pleated into skinny wristbands. The pattern directed for a dizzying amount of pleats that I wasn’t willing to chalk or thread mark because there was no way I was going to get them straight. So I did my own mathematical, segmented method of pleats, and it worked out just as fine (so I think). However, whether I did the wrists my way or the way of the instructions I do believe either end would be just as bulky as the other. All the pleating made the little “cuffs” more like binding or bracelets, but I like it, however they turned out.
For sporting such statement sleeves, I realize the 2017 “Year of the Sleeve” is over with now, but as I don’t see impressive sleeves disappearing from modern fashion anytime soon either, I am hoping that we are now in the ‘era of the sleeve’ because this is the best excuse to bring out and highlight more 1930s designs! Either way, fantastic sleeves should never be “out-of-style”…they need to be more appreciated and enjoyed because they sure are fabulous.
To balance out the fabric heavy and detail oriented top half, the waist and below is slim and basic. The skirt is just a really simple, two-piece 30’s bias skirt, plain in front and two waist darts in back. The waist of the bodice is ever so slightly pleated into the slim skirt. It is only for the skinny skirt’s sake that there needs to be a closure in the side of this dress, otherwise I would have preferred it to be left out. The delicate sweater knit wasn’t easily willing to be restrained into a zipper, but using a small 5 inch vintage metal one minimized the difficulty, and, at least when it’s seen, will hopefully make my dress seem like a real piece from the 30’s.
Sheer and see-through dresses are nothing new – they have been around in some form or fashion for about a century since the late Edwardian times had the lace bodices and the early teens came out with the “lingerie dresses” (so called, as they were lace and sheer linens or cottons). The 20’s and 30’s began to be more experimental with what was used for sheer effect – crochet, netting, devoré (burnout velvet), chiffon, metallic mesh, and other open-work or tissue weight material for both blouses and dresses. Don’t forget, however, past sheer fashions seem to have always understood that just because the garment is see-through doesn’t mean one should bare-all underneath nor use it as an opportunity to show off one’s lingerie. Modern trends seem to be taking sheer garments a whole new “nothing there” kind of direction on the runways for all the designer’s collections. Seeing legs, panties, or a ladies’ “headlights” is only distracting and does not do justice to an amazing, but sheer, dress as the garment is certainly not the first impression. I’ve sewn a fair share of sheer dresses already from the 20’s (here and here) and the 30’s (here and here), and one from 1961 already so this will be my 6th now.
The slip underneath my 1936 dress needed to be simple yet elegant, slimming and interesting yet with coverage. Who could ask for anything better than a free pattern?! Besides the ‘free’ part, this really is a great pattern. It was easy, came together beautifully, and fits well. The pattern itself is assembled much like a downloaded Burda Style pattern, where you print out all the pages then tape them together like a fashion puzzle before you can have something to place on your fabric. I do think the sizing runs a bit small, and although this slip fits, next time I will go up a size bigger. For using a polyester crepe, my slip has decent drape and bias yet it’s still a bit stiff (as you can see), but with a true rayon or silk crepe this slip would have some drop-dead slinkiness that I need to try. Other than these points, I couldn’t be happier. There is plenty of room for adaptations and individuality with this pattern, but the only personal touches I added were two strips of leftover bias tape to decorate my lower décolleté. My slip’s shoulder straps are stitched down to fit, but if they were made skinny, they could easily be made adjustable with a modern lingerie slide buckle. The best part is that I was able to make this slip with only one yard of fabric!
With the garments done, I initially thought a normal belt would complete the outfit, but no – every one I tried on looked awful with the dress. I knew what I saw in my inspiration pictures needed to be followed…go with the whole Grecian idealism of a rope belt. My dress outfit needed a hanging belt to lengthen the silhouette, I felt, and a rope belt with tassels at the ends would not overwhelm like a traditional, buckle belt, only slightly define my middle yet draw interest away from the waist. This is a much more feminine and delicate option to a boldly defining buckle belt. Rope belts are the new ‘thing’ this year, anyway. It’s listed as one of the top 5 trends of 2018’s Spring/Summer fashion. Burda Style has also talked about it and provided a “how-to” make your own roped belt. I might as well find a vintage way to love a current trend!
I took this as an opportunity to use my beginner’s knowledge of sailor’s knots to finish off the rope belt ends where the tassels are added. I put the loop that’s atop the tassel through the end of the roping, then made my sailor’s knot, and ended it by stitching the raw end to the rope for a little over an inch’s worth. Then, the end was finished by taking satin finish Mettler Metrosheen thread to wind tightly around and around until it’s nice and sturdy, and tie off the thread through the winding. Suddenly, I have a very fancy rope belt end!
You know, I have experience with doing this already because of a church we used to attend. Churches always have tassels on something, and for some reason all of theirs were coming off. I have a suspicion that the cause was our deeply ingrained human instinct to pull at a tassel (really, you don’t have to think to do it). Anyway, once I fixed only one for them, I ended up fixed them all. Let me tell you, I made sure those tassels did not come apart at all the way I finished them…I also have method to it after fixing more than a dozen. So, it was kind of nice to do tassel attaching again, sort of like bringing back something I know how to do like the back of my hand. Yet this time it brought that up a notch because it was so much fancier this time and also for myself! It was high time for some selfish tassel sewing.
It doesn’t really make sense to me – I can make and sew tassels, yet I do not crochet. Oh well, I have finally tackled another challenging fabric and a perplexing pattern I’ve been holding out on. I’m not out for the great instant “boom-and-pow” of doing everything big at once and burning out early. I’m looking forward to many years ahead of enjoying all the differing ways to make something to wear. Crochet is a whole new world yet to come for me and I really admire every and any one of you that I see who can do it. Even my niece has started doing it! I guess I’d better catch up, but until then I’m happy with this open work 1930’s dress set being in my closet as a substitute.