March 1, 2012

My first go at a 1912 pattern

Did I tell you about the 1912 project before? I think I did, but just in case you missed that: the 1912 project is a great initiative by the lovely ladies behind popular vintage pattern resource the vintage pattern lending library. Because this year, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, they've set out to digitalize all the patterns from the 1912 issues of La Mode Illustree, an important French fashion and sewing magazine of the time.

Although I don't do a lot of historical costumes, I'm a sucker for history, interesting patterns and of course any combination of the two. So, I signed up as a test seamstress.
I think it's a great way to learn about an interesting but not very well-exposed era in fashion. Think about it, between 1910 and 1920 fashion changed from S-curved Edwardian elegance to shockingly free flapper looks and passed quite a few interesting and experimental stages in between...

Today, I can show you my first project. This skirt.

It's a high-waisted five-piece skirt. It has these interesting scallops and no real side seams (basically, those are placed more towards the back. it's a nice touch but I can see this as making grading/fitting while keeping the proportions harder)
I merely made a muslin, so don't get too exited. I will basically do fairly complete muslins (so, including things like facings. not the rough and ready 'just check the overall shape' things I sometimes make) of all patterns I receive and only make a chosen few into actual finished garments.
I am reading the instructions carefully and I will try to give useful feed
back on those and the patterns themselves.
Personally, I was curious about the dimensions of the garment. The drawing shows quite a curved back so it would be interesting to see whether this pattern was in fact drafted for a lady with a posture shaped by early 20th century corsetry. And talking of that, what would the waist-to-hip ratio be like?

I opted to receive the pattern as a PDF. It worked fine apart from the fact that I couldn't open the pattern on my older Apple computer. Fortunately, there were no such issues on my boyfriend's PC and I could print the pattern just fine from there.

It was a bit harder to assemble than Burdastyle's PDF patterns. Those have clearly marked boxes on each A4 on which the pattern is printed, all of which are smaller than the printable area. And points-to-match at each side.
In this pattern, they've clearly tried to use as much as possible of the paper avaible. Although a good idea, this placed the edges of the print just outside the printable area on the printer I used (my new printer has just arrived, so I'll see how that copes with the next project) which made matching the edges difficult.

When cutting the skirt, some little things caught my attention. First of all, seam allowance is included in the pattern, however at the scalloped edge, there was no seam allowance. Secondly, at the bottom, all pattern pieces were straight or even got longer towards the sides. In a flared skirt like this, I would expect the hemlines to be slightly rounded, being a bit shorter at the sides. And third, there was a line with the text 'natural waistline' 5 cm below what was going to be the top of the finished skirt. I itself that's fine. I've made plenty of high-waisted faced skirts myself. However, this skirt got narrower between that line and the actual top of the pattern, which I think is odd. After all, the waist is usually the narrowest point on the torso.

When I read the sewing instructions, my question about the scallops and seam allowance was immediately answered. Although you are supposed to made a facing for the scallops and apply it as the first step of construction, you're not supposed to sew it on at those scallops. Instead, you place the facing behind the skirt piece and catch both pieces in the bias binding you apply to the scallops (I didn't do that. My apologies. I thought this was a surprising step but of course I know this was an era when trim was loved...
Then, you had to turn in the inner edge of the facing and slipstitch it to the inside of the skirt piece. After that, it's not discussed anymore.

To attach the scalloped left front to the center front piece (and I read these instructions several times, just to be sure) I think you're just supposed to do this: lay the left front on top of the center front and topstitch. It's hard to see in the picture, but there's a line of stitching just on the inside of the right corners of the scallops.
If I were to make a 'real' version of this skirt, I think I would add seam allowance to the scallops on both skirt piece and facing and apply the facing in the normal way (just because I'm not a huge fan of trim), keeping it free at top and bottom. Then, I would sew the facing to the center front. Later, the waistband facing can be attached to the top of the front facing and the decorative buttons through the scallops will secure the left front skirt itself onto the center front.

For the rest, construction is pretty straight-forward. You sew the other skirt seams, and the vertical seams on the facing. Then you sew the facing to the top of the skirt, matching at all the seams. It is only at that left front where the two facings should meet that no mention is made of how to deal with that. As mentioned above, I would recommend not stitching the inside of the front facing down as a first step, so that you can sew the top of it to the waistband facing now and then sew the lot to the top of the skirt in one go.
Then, you only have hemming left. I didn't hem my muslin and I hope you can see my issues with it. At the bottom, the skirt pieces don't quite match each other, and there's a bit of that shape issue I mentioned above. Only 1 cm was included for the hem and that is how I cut it. That makes it a full length skirt for me (I'm 1,68 which is a fairly average height, at least according to Burda), so to hem it nicely, I would need to cut it a bit longer.

And now, just for fun, here are some pictures of me wearing the skirt. The pattern is for a 35 inch waist, which is a lot bigger than mine. I just kept the side you don't see in the picture pinned together.
So, this doesn't say much about the fit (I did some measurements though and the waist-to-hip ratio actually seems to be shy of 2 to 3, so this is not for a corsetted lady. The demoiselles of 1912 where definately moving with the times).
It does, however, show that it wasn't made for someone with a significantly different posture.

P.S. This may read as a lot of criticism but I have mentioned each and every little issue I found. Some of them may be idiosyncracies of early 20th centure sewing technique, others might be oversights or errors in translation.
The bottom line is: I really respect the ladies of the vintage pattern lending library for taking on this project and I hope to help them make it as good as it can be. And I think it's great they make it possible for all of us to use real antique patterns.

P.P.S I've assumed that 'left side skirt' ment left side for the wearer... looking at the drawing it seems like the scallops there are coming from the left side for the viewer... the right side of the wearer! Which would be in line with the rule of 'right over left' for ladies' clothes, which I blogged about here and here.


  1. BRILLIANT! Thank you so much!!! This is the same pattern I received and I look forward to delving into it soon!!!

  2. It's a really interesting project. The skirt would be lovely for evening.

  3. The skirt looks stunning on your figure. I think it would look good in a fine striped dark wool.

  4. I find this project as a whole so interesting! The skirt looks astoundingly good on you---I kinda want to steal the vertical scallops motif.

    The hem issue is interesting. I have a book on pattern drafting from 1908, I'll dig it out and see how they address skirt hem curves. :)

  5. Such an interesting project! It is very interesting reading about the idiosyncrasies of construction as you find them I made up a reproduction 1936 pattern last Oct, and discovered a few unusual details; the strangest (to our modern ways) was in joining two pieces together; press under the seam allowance and then lay over the seam allowance of the underneath piece and topstitch to join, rather than join right sides together and sew the two pieces together from the wrong side like we do now. Most unusual, and other patterns from the same era I have seen use the same method, so it must be common.
    Thanks for your comment, and in answer; you can get Dylon here too, and I've found it works just as well as iDye. Also, always pre-wash before dyeing, both for the shrinkage as well as to remove sizing etc. And lastly; yes, if you are dyeing a cotton garment that has been sewn with polyester thread then the thread will not take the dye, and you will end up with contrasting stitching! So if you know you will be dyeing, and you wish to use the stronger polyester; best to select a colour thread that will match the colour of your fabric after dyeing... Good luck with your fabric gift. Do you plan to dye it?

  6. Wow, that is just so pretty! And it looks so modern for being an antique design. It is so flattering on you.