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? 

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Grainlines and Pattern Changes

Hi readers! Yesterday in my post I mentioned that I had taken ease out of the bottom center front of my bodice, and tapered up to the neckline, creating a new center front. (Edit: I should mention again that the reason I took out excess at the waistline this way was that I found wearing a corset required special fitting at the waist. Taking out from the side seams--which should be your first option for removing waistline excess--only caused horizontal pulls.) Of course, this created a new grainline. A commenter asked, "How much do you think you can take out of the CF and not effect the grain line of the bodice?"

Well, that's an interesting question that has a complicated answer. I'll give you my thoughts and you can let me know if you think I'm an idiot. (I know some of you aren't shy about that!)

First, you are definitely affecting the grainline anytime you alter center front like this. Hence, you have to re-establish the grainline. Your new line becomes the new straight-of-grain. It's not unusual to have to re-establish the grainline after making pattern alterations.

What you have to consider is whether or not you're skewing the rest of the pattern by re-establishing center front. For instance, in my change, pivoting the pattern causes the shoulder to move further outward. (Just imagine, if you were laying the bodice front out on fabric to cut, how you would have to turn the pattern to make the change I made.) This, in turn, caused some gaping at the neckline. My first thought was to fix the gaping by moving that excess into the neckline dart. However! The smarter thing to do would be to move the shoulder in by the amount that I took out at center front. (Thanks to commenter Mrs. C who pointed this out!) So my next change would look like this:

So! I guess my answer to the question is that you can take out however much you want at center front (within reason), as long as you consider the effects in other parts of the bodice and adjust accordingly. 

An aside: Another way to re-establish the grainline anytime is to fold the side edges of the bodice piece together and crease at the fold. The fold is your new grainline. I learned that at FIT, so it's totally legit, I swear. 

Readers, what do you think?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Drifting Lace for Evenings of Dancing"

Champagne lace over a rustle of taffeta . . . one of the prettiest dresses you could wear to a dance. In white, it would be charming for a wedding or graduation. The tiny bodice has a wide neckline underscored by a double organdie collar. A wide, drifting skirt whittles in your waist, whirls gracefully as you dance. It should take about 20 hours to make. Vogue Pattern No. 7631. "Easy-to-Make." Sizes 12 to 20 (30 to 38). Price, 60 cents. Also in Junior sizes, No. 3462. 9 to 15 (29-1/2 to 33). See the pattern envelope for the yardage requirements. 

Ah, doesn't VoNBBS know how to talk to a lady? A rustle of taffeta, whirling, whittling--I'm swooning! Of course, VoNBBS is also very practical. No "instant dress" nonsense here. No "one hour project!" promises. Nope, young lady, you are going to spend 20 HOURS on this thing. And you're going to do it right--tailors tacks and all!

Here's the picture diagram on the pattern instructions.

 And VoNBBS's charming illustrations of the pattern pieces.

As for my progress, I'm happy with my bodice muslin! I didn't get good pictures of the first (sorry), but here is the second muslin.

As you can see, I'm practicing how to stand in an evening dress. This is how I imagine it must be done.

A closer look at the front. You can see that I've repinned the darts on my left side; they're a much better fit now. I plan to take in the neckline dart just a smidge to get rid of the small about of gaping.

Can I take a moment to wax rhapsodic over corsets? Where have they been all my life?! They're much more wearable than my powernet waist cincher (I've even worn it all day at work), and they provide the perfect 50s silhouette under dresses. I had a revelation about fitting too. Previously, I was trying to mold my body into a retro shape with my fitting--taking out too much ease, etc. Now I can just let the clothing skim over me and it looks lovely! (I think so anyway.) The one thing I had to do was take out fabric at center front for the corset. I notice that fabric can pool around the midsection on a corseted figure. Taking in the side seams just cause horizontal pulls. But drawing a new center front line (the "cut on fold" line) is the solution. I took out 1/2" at waistline center front, and drew a new straight line up to the original neckline center front, as shown by the red line below.

That's my new center front. It shifts the grainline a bit. It worked surprisingly well.

Here's the back.

So I'm feeling ready to cut! I want to retain the original collar shape, and the skirt is a simple gathered pattern, no fitting required. I will keep you updated on the cutting and construction, readers!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Evening Dresses of the New Look and Early 50s

Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing was published in 1952, and it was a wonderful time for evening gowns. Christian Dior’s New Look was unveiled in 1947, and by the early 50s the silhouette was well established, with its full skirts, tiny waists, and structured bodices.

Waspie "corset" from the V&A collection

The New Look silhouette relied upon a corseted waist, so it’s a happy coincidence that I just made my first underbust corset. My corset is very similar to the waspies of the late 40s and early 50s, actually. It’s narrow, encircling the waist and leaving the hips and bust free. (Of course, a true New Look devotee would take this opportunity to add hip padding and bust padding to increase hourglass proportions; I think I’ll stick with what I’ve got in those areas.)
Evening gowns provided even more opportunity to use obscene amounts of fabric than day dresses and suits. At least, it must have seemed obscene in those early post-war years. It’s no wonder that the New Look was protested by some: after years of rations and “Make Do and Mend,” skirts that ventured below the knee seemed extravagant. Fabrics were milled in narrower widths in those days, so it’s not unusual to see an evening dress call for ten yards or more of fabric.


I read an interesting statement in the book Theatre de la Mode: Fashion Dolls: The Survival of Haute Couture that's stuck with me ever since. The author wrote of the marvels of seeing a fresh couture exhibit in a recently war-torn continent: "Today, freed from such preoccupations, are we even capable of being sufficiently amazed?" Likewise, I don’t think we can manage to be suitably impressed by the wonder (and perhaps anger) these huge evening gowns would have instilled in someone of the time period. (Interesting side story: I told Jeff about about the above quote, and he replied, "I don't really think we're sufficiently amazed by anything anymore." How true!)

The pattern for the Evening Dress featured in VoNBBS actually came out a bit earlier than the book. It was originally released in 1949, and I think the styling betrays its late 40s origins. Which I think explains why there’s something relatively restrained about this dress. The skirt could be much fuller than it is. But perhaps that's because this is from the very early days of the New Look, when designers were still testing the waters with the idea of excess and volume.

The pattern was reissued in a new envelope for the publication of VoNBBS. The illustration style certainly changed, didn’t it?

The model pictured has raven (Elizabeth Taylor-esque even) hair and bright red lips. The line quality of the art is different: less restrained, I think. And of course the brilliant pink screams femininity.

Well, that's your Evening Dress installment of the day. I'll be back tomorrow with my adventures in muslin-ing the VoNBBS dress!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Next Up in VoNBBS: The Evening Dress

I’m gearing up to a big Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing project: the Evening Gown. This is Vogue Pattern 7631. I plan on doing a series of posts this week about the pattern and the supporting text in VoNBBS, but let’s start with fabric, glorious fabric.

First let me confess: I’ve come to a decision that may be unpopular. I want to make the pattern tea length, rather than floor length. Shocking, I know. The thing is, with the fabric I found, I could only envision myself wearing it in a shorter length.

Are you ready? The fabric is this amazing embroidered illusion. It’s white with black floral motifs on top.

The underlaying fabric will be white silk taffeta, and the collar will be a crisp Swiss cotton organdy.

As you can imagine, the financial investment in these fine fabrics was not insignificant. Hence, I cannot stand the idea of making a floor length dress that won’t get worn.

But! To stay true to the VoNBBS vision, however, I also purchased some very festive Halloween fabrics from JoAnn to make this dress again in the fall. You see, Rosie and I are going to be witches this year and a full-length gown in purple organza flocked with black velvet spiderwebs (yes, that’s right) seems just the ticket. More to come on that later.

But for now, I’m just putting my intentions out there into the vast depths of the internet. I’ve already traced off the bodice pattern pieces and I’ll be making a muslin, hopefully later today. I plan to wear my underbust corset with this dress, so the fitting will be a little different than usual.

More to come tomorrow! Yay, VoNBBS!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Sneak Peek Inside My Book!

Hi, readers! As promised, here's a little peek inside the pages of my book. I got my first copy recently and took a ton of photos for you. It's also viewable as a Flickr set here. A little reminder: the book comes out September first, and you can pre-order on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Indie Bound, etc!

Okay, on to the pics:

The pattern envelope!

Title page.

Contents, etc.


Tailoring stuff.




Doesn't the Index look so official?

I hope you enjoyed this little peek. And, as always, thanks for reading!
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