March 11, 2015

Sewing 1930's?

I'm really over this dress... 
As you know, I'm used to drafting my own patterns and although that takes time and effort in its own right, it removes a lot of the more annoying and challenging issues one tends to encounter in sewing: Those involving fit. 
Generally, I'm very happy with that. It's only when I want to try and learn about new-to-me periods in fashion history that I look for patterns. I know that they provide a way to learn about the period silhouette. About fit, ease and the relationship (if any) between those glamorous illustrations and what real people wore. And yet, vintage and reproduction patterns are subject to the same problems as any other pattern you may ever use...

I've tried to make a 1930's dress last year using an unprinted vintage pattern. The result managed to be way too small at the neckline and armscyes and way too big everywhere else. And too far from being wearable to try and fix.

And yet... 1930's fashion looks so pretty in all the pictures... Having hips might be a bit of a problem but, on the other hand, being slender should help.

So, to give myself the best possible chance of making this work, I picked this lovely pattern from EvaDress (as part of my prize from last year's Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge). It's a multi-size pattern from 1937. Using a modern reproduction like this should, at least, help me past the vagaries of the period sizing tables. 
In fact, the reason to pick both my choices from the multi-size patterns was insecurity about size: According to the sizing table EvaDress uses for its reproduction patterns, my bust and hip size (yeah!! Those are actually in the same size...) are exactly half-way between the size 16 and 18, my waist is a size smaller.

After receiving the patterns from EvaDress, I didn't really dare to start on them. Styles like this always require materials like crepe, which are hard to find in nice-isn fibres at a reasonable price. So, I had to look out for fabric with a soft enough hand first.

Two weeks ago, the fabric market was in town and I bought these fabrics. Both are thin cotton and I got three meters of each. The gray and black printed fabric is very soft and I think the style of print might work for my 1940's EvaDress pattern. The mini-polkadot has a bit less drape but I still thought it might work for this dress. 

So, I got started. I traced the pattern (which is very clearly laid out on a huge sheet of thick paper) between the sizes 16 and 18 and made a quick toile. This is the first time I've ever worked with a vintage pattern that includes seam allowance, by the way.

I'm so glad I tested this before cutting into any good fabric... I don't know much about a real 1930's fit but I'm pretty sure this is too big. It's definitely too big for my taste. Even very conservative pinching at the most 'close fitting' points showed that I had to loose at least two inches all round. Which is a size.

So, I traced the pattern again, a size down. 
I was going to make another muslin but I just really didn't feel like it. Instead, I used some very soft thin velvet/corduroy for the body of the dress and some satin for the center front/scarf. With these fabrics, I could even wear the dress as soon as it would be finished...

Last week, progress seemed promising and I put off posting about it to do a big reveal with nice pictures last weekend... Which didn't happen. 
It partly didn't happen because the weather was nice and spring-like on Sunday and E and I took a walk on the beach. It also didn't happen because the dress still wasn't right. I had decided not to mess with its proportions (for that waist size), to wait and see what the fit would be like. 
I waited until after I put the zipper in. Then, I couldn't deny it anymore. It was still big, baggy and lumpy. The shoulders, upper back and upper chest seemed OK, the torso didn't (unfortunately, I didn't take pictures at this stage). 
So, I had to unpick the zipper and take in side seams. This, of course, messed up those elegant curved panels but there was nothing I could do about that now. 
I should mention that I hate 'dirty fixes' like that. And unpicking and tightening up side seams. It's a logical result of three years of bridal dress alterations...

This is what the dress looks like now. In these pictures, the hem is pinned up and there is still an odd little bulge at the hip I need to fix (which doesn't show in the picture). 
I will finish it today but I don't really know what to think of it.
That scarf-front is really nice but I'm starting to think 1930's is just not for me... Although the whole thing looks nicer in these pictures than it did in real life. 
I'm wondering if I'm over-fitting the dress (although I didn't make it tight anywhere). Maybe my fabric was just too stiff and bulky after all and something like crepe might have worked without the extra tightening-up? And maybe the dark brown just makes the dress look more frumpy than it has to?

It's supposed to be worn with a belt, which does look better (oh, and please ignore the bit of pink at the neckline. That's my slip). 
I'd love to know what you think about 1930's styles if you have hips, about the 'normal' fit of that time and about whether or not it is normal to have to undersize substantially when using a pattern...

(I'll discuss construction and the, nice and clear, instructions in the next post about this dress because this one is getting too long)


  1. I think the whole dresss looks fantastic but the shiny blue just stands out too much, maybe if that was a drapery cotton or some sheer fabric in a more pale colour it clould look better. I am not into 30 s mayself but it really suits you. You have an interesting blog , I really like it, stands out!

  2. I'd suggest shortening the sleeves. I definitely like it better with a belt.

  3. It's always interesting (weird?) to see how a stylized fashion illustration translates onto an actual body. I agree with you that the muslin looks WAY big compared to what the illustration suggests, I like how your finished dress has photographed, though I think the sleeves could be a bit more fitted. I haven't made any Eva Dress patterns so no input on the sizing there. I'm curious, though, how the dress would compare if you'd drafted the style features from your own blocks that fit you how ou'd like. I know you were going for an exploration of 30s fit and proportion, but in the end, I think it's probably more important to end up with an item that fits and looks a way you like. Or maybe not. Hmm. Interesting to ponder, anyway. Maybe I should be giving 30s styles a try, since I lean towards the broad shoulders and narrow hips to begin with... :) (though usually I'm trying to minimize that look!)

    1. I tried making a 1930's style dress based on my own blocks a year and a half ago and I wasn't to sure about that either. Among other things because I felt it looked "1950's doing 1930's"... Hence my attempt at a period pattern.
      And I think you might try 1930's looks(just keep in mind that the silhouette changes over the decade: from loose with a dropped waistline in 1930 to sleek with big shoulders at the end). After all, you looked great in 1970's styles with a vaguely similar shape.

  4. I've never sewn anything from the 30s myself but I just love how this turned out. I think the difference between sizes in vintage patterns and the difference in stylised image and finished product is kind of a lucky dip. I've never really found any consistencies and always am a bad judge when it comes to images. I do like the finished product, I think it was such a good idea to size down, I usually size down too.

  5. I love to see this kind of experiment--I also usually draft my own from looking at vintage illustrations and photographs, so I am always curious about how the patterns actually sew up. The sleeves look too big to my eye, but they also look straight out of a period movie--in fact the shape of the dress is so distinctively 1930s that it looks a bit odd to me in the shorter length.

    1. Thank you! And I agree with you about both the sleeves and the hem length but after some consideration and a bit of research, I kept both as they are.

  6. Your stuff always looks so fab and you so good at knowing what to sew, it's good to know you can struggle a bit. I suspect that the chief issue is the fabric - 30s dresses tend toward flowing fabrics, crepes, chiffons and silks. I only have a few 30s items but I love the contrasts in their designs, looser tops and quite fitted skirts or very close fitted tops and big collars . I recently got a jacket from mid 30s, made with a surprisingly stretchy wool fabric which has enabled the cut to be closer fitting than a jacket from the 40s, and being so close fitting it has to have an enormous over collar for contrast.

    1. Yes, fabric is definitely part of the issue. Unfortunately, I don't have real 1930's garments for comparison.

  7. The muslin that you made definitely looks to big. I think your first "test' dress definitely looks better. I've actually only sewn one 1930's dress before, but one thing I have found out after much research is that waists were meant to be a bit bigger, and then belted in. I hope that helps! And go for the fit that you want! After all, I imagine if you were a seamstress in the 1930's, that's what you would have done anyways.

    the Middle Sister and Singer

  8. I totally agree about the sleeves needing to be tighter-the bagging round the upper arm is contributing largely to any frump in my opinion-I think the rest is really nice. You might find it more interesting in a fabric where the seamlines are more obvious?