Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Vintage Challenge - 1931 Dress

The 5th Fabricista Challenge was to sew a garment from a vintage pattern. All entries can be seen at  Fabricista Challenge 

 My favorite decade for vintage fashion styles is the 1930’s. The long lean lines of the garments and the fascinating array of style lines and embellishment techniques really excite me. There are lots of decorative seaming, godets, flounces and  bias cuts.  Though the bias cut was used predominately in movie wardrobes and evening wear. Everyday garments, as pictured in the 1930 Sears catalog, were cut with economic use of fabric in mind.

Since I have never made a 30’s garment I chose one for this challenge. It may have been a risky choice from the contest point of view. 40’s and 50’s vintage seem to be more popular and they have the tucks and gathers the Challenge description mentioned. But the challenge prizes for this contest are token, so there has to be something  to  motivate me to  sew the specified challenge garment.

I chose a dress pattern from a 1931 issue of the magazine Praktische Damen und Kinder Mode - Practical Women's and Children's Fashions.   This German publication was produced during the early part of the 20th century, providing patterns and instructions for homemakers to use in creating fashions for themselves, their family and their homes. Original copies and photocopies are available on eBay and Etsy.

 The patterns in this magazine are printed in one size and must be traced from a pattern sheet, much like modern day Burda magazines. There was a paragraph of  instructions, but they weren't of any use to me as I do not read German. And the magazine was printed in a very ornate script that was difficult to read or I might have taken the time to type the words into an online translator.

 The dress I chose has a lace V inset in the front bodice, narrow fitting lace sleeves and a lace border with godets inserted in the front and back princess seams.

I had many questions I had to research and resolve as I made this dress. I knew the dress illustrations in the magazine were horribly exaggerated with respect to the model's height and width. How did these dresses fit the real ladies of the day? What kind of undergarments did they wear. Should the dress be lined? Should the border be unlined?   Were the godets so high they would be indecent without a lining. What was the best way to insert the godets, which had square inset corners where they hit the border and narrow points that merged into the princess seams. Which way to press the seams? Why were the shoulder so wide and square? Was that the style or more related to the physique of German ladies of the time. Especially helpful in answering these questions were sewing books published about the same time as the pattern. Three by the Woman's Institute of Scranton PA; Cutting and Fitting, First Steps in Dressmaking, Designing and Decorating Clothes, and a 1927 copy of the Butterick Art of Dressmaking

There were missteps and frustrations along the way. I have narrow shoulders, 4.75" wide and the dress pattern's were 5.75". I decreased the shoulder width, not thinking about the impact, which was to chopped off the point where the V lace inset hit the sleeve exactly at the shoulder. And then I read that shoulders were wider in the 30’s, so I recut all those pieces to be the original shoulder width. The dress bottom edge was a horror of mismatched lengths before the border was added.  I am not sure how that happened. I had to press DH into service to pin mark a level hem and hardest of all, trust his accuracy, when I had to cut 1' off the back and none off the front. He did a great job.

The dress was supposed to be Grosse(Size) 2 according to the illustration page, but the pattern instruction page said it was Grosse 3. It was huge and had to be taken in on all seams. This impacted the shape for the border and I had adjust those pattern pieces.

The fabric used for the dress was a green poly blend knit. Not my fabric of choice, but it was the only fabric in my stash that matched the green lace.  I lined  the bodice lace insert with a skin colored knit, but all other lace was unlined.

The dress is shown with a belt. I chose not to use it. It cut up the fit and flare lines of the dress and emphasized my uneven hips. The judges of this contest are not familiar with non symmetrical bodies and send me comments  about ' not sewing matching curves".  Yes, after every challenge we receive an email with a nice comment and a constructive criticism.  They are based on the judges' interpretation of the pictures and can be, lets say, interesting. Sewing this dress was a rewarding experience. I loved doing the research and reading. If I made it again I would do a better job of sizing the pattern before I cut out the fabric. ( no, I did not do a muslin) including redrafting the bodice for slightly narrower shoulders. And use a fine fabric, not a poly knit. Wool crepe would have been lovely

During my research I found a couple  similar dresses from the same decade. Some very charming and one that  I think is fascinatingly ugly. I'll let you guess which one that is.

Handmade Jane Blog

Tea with the Vintage Baroness



  1. I am so impressed by your attention to detail and especially by your fashion history research. What an amazing dress.

  2. Well done Audrey! I hope you make it through to the next round! :)

  3. I think your dress is lovely, and understand why you might wish for it to be made in "nicer" fabric. The style is timeless and looks very elegant on you. You did a great job of figuring out how to construct it, and I look forward to seeing what you do with the next "mystery challenge"

  4. Wow, what a challenge you gave yourself, Audrey! A '30s equivalent to Burda and in German! It came out beautifully!

  5. Oh, Audrey, I'm loving your vintage interpretation. You captured the thirties wonderfully and your research shows your precisel attention to detail. This looks like a 30s film "day dress" and something that I can just barely remember my grandmother's lady friends wearing on childhood visits. Good luck!

  6. That was a LOT of work. Kudos to you! While the knit might not be your dream fabric, that color green is very flattering on you. I love the lace!

  7. very pretty, I love godets in a dress and you don't see them that often now.

  8. Audrey, when I saw this on the FM site, I knew it was a 30s pattern. Just lovely and I wonder if you have any plans to sew it again, using a crepe.

  9. Wow! I am impressed! What can i say? That is one beautiful dress you got over there. It suits you. I must say you did an excellent job. I love the color. I love vintage dresses or vintage inspired dresses. I know you committed a massive amount of work for that but, it's really rewarding looking how beautiful that dress is.


  10. Interesting challenge. Your sewing and design research is always impeccible and educative. Forgive me for saying so, but I feel this dress needs a belt to give it right proportions.