Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Evening Dress Construction Notes

Before I get into the sewing process, I thought you all might enjoy learning more about how the VoNBBS Evening Dress is constructed. To this end, I have created a Flickr set that includes the entirety of the book text for this project! (Fun fact: the rights to this book long ago reverted to Conde Nast--who owned Vogue Patterns at the time. So it's not owned by Vogue Patterns as we know it, and the original publisher, Simon & Schuster, lost their rights to it after they took it out of print. Hopefully Anna Wintour's goons will not come after me with a cease and desist letter.)
Here are my observations, after reading both the pattern instructions (which are quite pithy) and the book instructions (which are very very detailed).

  • Though the dress can be made in one fabric, VoNBBS shows you the construction technique for using three fabrics: a lace overlay, taffeta underneath, and an organdy collar. I've substituted embroidered illusion for the lace. (I'll just refer to it as lace for this post, however.)

  • As always, VoNBBS instructs to baste the whole dress together by hand, do a fitting, and then permanently stitch the dress. 

  • The bodice and skirt pieces are cut out in both the taffeta and lace. The taffeta and lace layers are made separately and then basted together after the seams are sewn. 

  • The skirt gathering is done with two lines of hand basting, in a heavy thread or buttonhole twist. 

  • The neckline and armholes are finished with bias strips--the neckline with bias strips of organdy, and the armholes with bias strips of lace. 

  • Tailors tacks are used for marking, and the seam allowances of the taffeta are pinked. The lace seam allowances are left unfinished: "You don't have to finish lace seams--isn't that nice?"

  • There is a 12" side zipper opening that uses a lapped facing (like I wrote about here).

  • The skirt is four panels, which are all the same. Instead of being rectangular, like most dirndls, they curve slightly in at the waist. The seams of the skirt end up at the princess line locations in front and back, rather than center front and back/side seams. This means that a slash has to be made in the left side of the skirt to make the zipper placket in the skirt. This is a little odd, but I do think the skirt seams will be more pleasing in this position.

  • There is an "inner belting" (aka a waist stay) inside the dress to support the skirt. 

  • The hemming method is a little strange: "Now turn under lower edge of lace and stitch it twice. Finish taffeta the same. Press both hems. Easy, wasn't it?"

  • There is a supplemental page on making the dress in white pique. This method only uses one fabric, and store-bought bias strips for the neckline and armholes. 

As always, I struggle a bit with the VoNBBS instructions. Some of the old-school methods are very precise and couture-based: like the marking, basting, and fitting. But others just seem a little dated. For instance, I think it would be nicer to line the whole bodice to the edges in a breathable cotton rather than having strips of itchy lace and stiff organdy to finish the edges. What do you think? 


  1. I love the diagrams in vintage sewing books - you could almost frame those and put them on the wall. I guess hey print in monochrome for cost reasons but it makes the page so elegant.

    I also like the reassuring subtitle - 'easier than you think'!

  2. I love a bias strip finished armhole, but agree that what's suggested sounds itchier than the lovely idea of cotton (voile would be so silky!) I wonder if it's because they have you making the dress twice with taffeta and lace overlay, maybe making the bodice again in cotton would prove too much even for the capable"can-do" vogue home couturier....

  3. This is such a great project. These are the types of projects I live for - ones that time, research, and lots of patience. I cannot wait to see the final product!

    I think lining the bodice would be in a cotton would be much more comfortable!

  4. I am really enjoying your blog. It is wonderful that you share construction of more intricate sewing projects. I have been sewing for years and I love reading about sewing more advanced and better made clothes.

  5. I agree about not using lace bias tape - but wouldn't lining the dress make it really thick? I mean you already have two layers of fabric in the bodice.. What do you think?
    I can't wait to see the final result, it's going to be amazing!

  6. I think the bias binding would be uncomfortable for the types of undergarments we're more likely to wear today. However, in the 50s you'd likely have worn both something like a long-line bra and a full slip under the dress - perhaps wearing a slip underneath would protect the skin from the scratchiness.

  7. Fascinating to see the illustrations from the book!Sewing instructions have changed somewhat over the years, especially as many of us have access to sergers etc. can't wait to see the final dress!

  8. I work in miniature for doll collectors and I have to laugh when they always comment about how it is lined and everything. Lining a bodice is SO much easier than getting all the facings just right. hahah k.

  9. My Aunt Jean was a prolific seamstress during the 50's and 60's. At her knee, I learned techniques that are considered advanced today. In spite of the instructions she would never have used lace as a binding, because of the scratchiness. (she would substitute a silk or satin bias or use the lining to finish the raw edge.) And since all of her garments were lined, I mean everything, it was rarely an issue. I do remember a lace over blouse on a bridesmaid dress that was strapless. The over-blouse was sleeveless and trimmed in a pale blue silk/satin, stunning. By the way, the three buttons at the back neck were covered with the same fabric. The design lines were always strong and well supported. The clothing withstood wear and some of them have survived until her recent death. If you are spending time and money for a fine garment, make it well, and it will serve you well. Her Motto. I wish my cousin had not discarded those pieces. Interestingly, she rather resented having to wear made at home garments rather than the store bought her friends wore. Hers were always nicer and one of a kind. I was the lucky one, I received many as hand-me-downs!

  10. Hmf... Very interesting Gerthie. I think intructions are a starting point, rather to trigger your own process... part our set routine method (for me, use seam lines as guidance and mark everything in taylor tucks, etc etc), and part the needs of every specific process, like for example the kind of fabric or the structure of the dress.
    As for the lining of the dress, if you need suport, cotton is not gonna be enough, maybe you need silk organza as interlining and then for lining... maybe cotton, but it wrinkles! and that's not nice, because it will pull at the bodice.
    Well, all in all it will be really interesting to see how it all ends up. So here we are expentant...
    Good luck!

  11. Bias lace sounds so itchy! Maybe bias silk? Or lining it voile sounds like a good idea. I adore your blog, so interesting!

  12. I love when you ask your readers for advice and they give it. SO informative. I read every tip and suggestion and learn something new every single time!
    Someone thanked you already for posting more advanced project, I want to thank you for that, too. Everybody loves a quick sew project for immediate gratification but the long, complex project.....so, so satisfying. Not a popular thing in our hurry up society.
    I appreciate your work, research and willingness to be an open book with your projects; asking advice and showing mistakes.
    Sew on!!!!

  13. I think, technically, if the book was printed in 1963 or earlier, it's now in the public domain.

    1. In the US, it's public domain 70 years after the death of the author. VoNBBS doesn't have a listed author, so that makes it trickier. I'm pretty sure Conde Nast could claim the rights if they wanted to, but I highly doubt that they do!

  14. Thank you for sharing all of this wonderful information! My sewing skills need to be improved and I am learning so much here. I have a copy of the 1963 McCall's Sewing Book and love it.

  15. Is the skirt lined? How fill you finish the seams?

    I'm working on a gown for myself and struggled with the seam finishing. It's got pockets, so I wound up just serging it with matching thread. I think I'm fixating on this too much.

  16. This is going to be an amazing dress! I'm anxious to watch your progress. In the meantime, I am still trying to finish up my bombshell dress!

  17. You really enjoy your dressing stuff. I do hope that someday you might put up your own dressing shop.

  18. Thank you very much for that great article.

  19. It is really amazing that you can make a evening dress yourself. I think I can learn much from you.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

© Gertie's Blog For Better Sewing. Powered by Cake