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Hi! I am Asta! I am a philologist and a philocalist to the heart's core. Here I share things that I consider being aesthetic and fantastic!

20 Jun 2020

Vacation Sewing Project: Recreating 1930s Dress

Summer is already here and since current pandemic messed up my carefully assembled plans (a trip to Sweden, to be more precise), I was left with three weeks of vacation and no decent plan what to do. So I conjured myself a challenge that involved lots and lots of sewing. Yes, my dear friends, I decided to recreate (I am using this word in a very broad sense) a dress from 1932. 

I saw the dress at The Museum of Applied Arts and Design. It belongs to the famous fashion historian and collector Alexandre Vassiliev, whose exhibitions are a real treat for the antique and vintage lovers like myself. 

When I saw the dress in question for the first time, I thought that it is a lovely garment. However, even after a month I was still thinking about it, and when I came back to the museum for the second time months later, I understood that this is kind of The Peacock Dress situation - it is THE DRESS for me. So, after watching lots and lots (and lots) of videos by Rachel Maksy, Bernadette BannerKarolina Żebrowska and many other costubers  for encouragement, I decided to make it.

Naturally, what I did at first is I went back to the Museum once again and sketched, marked down, and took photos of the dress. I counted that it has 8 panels (4 in the front and 4 in the back), it's bodice consists of four panels, the puffy sleeves are made of one large piece of fabric, and the collar is double - black one peeps from under the emerald one on top. The dress is closed with hooks and eyes (one pair), as well as what I guessed might be a zipper (because of the dress is in position where I was not able to get closer to inspect what's going on in the back). I counted the fabric covered buttons (8 on top and 30 on the bottom part, although there might be a couple of them missing) and examined the belt, which appeared to be made out of a different fabric than the rest of the dress (but I also might be mistaken). But most important of all, my dear readers, on the left side it has a pocket!!!
   As for the historical context, the dress was made in USA, in 1932. The black fabric is moire (more on it - here), while the emerald green collar is made from lamé (a woven or knitted fabric with metallic yarns, usually gold or silver).
   All in all, I went back home determined and mentally ready that the project might be more challenging than it looked from the first glance.

Day 1 begun with the making of the pattern. Maybe I should clarify that I am no seamstress, sewist, or whatever the crafty people name themselves these days. The last time when I drew a pattern was in 7th grade for a night shift, and I have never before have sown a dress from 0. Usually I was just upcycling, adjusting the clothes, but even then it was nothing serious. 
   So, back to the pattern. I measured myself then tried to place those measurements on my drawing of the dress. It was getting quite complicated, so what I did for the skirt part was that I took one of my vintage inspired dresses that also has 8 panels and is pretty much similar shape to the museum one, placed in on baking paper, traced it and added more centimetres for the extra swooshiness

Day 2 was spent creating the pattern for bodice part and sleeves. Since the method from the previous day was super effective, I took my original vintage 1940s blouse (yes, it was made at least a decade later, but it also had the right shape that I could latter adjust), pinned it to the baking paper and traced it's contours. 

After I had all the necessary panels, I moved on to make a dress mockup. I used white cotton sheets that I found in second hand store for around 2€ each. 

When I had all my cotton panels cut out, I started stitching them together. It took me three whole days, because the sleeves required some serious rethinking and adjusting, to get that right amount of puff. 

So at the end of the week I had this result (don't pay attention to my sweaty face, because I was working during those unbelievable heat waves...):

So, half of my day 6 was spent on pinning and unpinning the panels, adjusting measurements, taking in the darts, constructing sleeves (who look very limp here, by the way, because cotton is far from the best choice if you want to create something puffy).
   On the morning of day 7, I went to buy the real fabrics. Since I tried to do this dress on a budget, I knew that I was not able to afford real moire or lamé (that's why I previously said that I am using the word recreate very broadly). I chose black satin (97% cotton, 3% elastane) for the dress and two types of fabrics (emerald/electric green organza and shiny emerald green polyester) for the collar. On that day I also cut out all the parts of the dress.

I did not adjust or redrawn my paper patterns, but used mockup instead, because I just decided... not to bother. And it turned out quite fine.

So I ended up with a pile of freshly cut fabric, that needed stitching (I have very hard time using pins), adjusting, more stitching, more adjusting... It took me almost three days to be able to sew it with a machine. 

On the day 11 I was finally able to take out my old and trusty sewing machine that is just couple decades older than I dress that I tried to replicate. It is an old, Russian made, hand turned sewing device, that has only 3 options for fabrics (normal, silk, wool), 7 options for the size of a stitch, a reverse option, and... that's all. So, it is always a challenge to make straight seams with this one. But I manage somehow, because I've been practicing on it since I was little - this sewing machine previously belonged to my dear grandmother. 

After a day of very careful sewing, I once again had adjust the sleeves. 

After lots of struggling, I had a result that I was mostly happy with. And when I thought that the biggest struggle, that was the sleeves, was over, I moved on to the collar. And boy, I was mistaken!

Organza is a devil's incarnate of a material. Sorry, but it is true. I was constantly struggling with it, because it kept wrinkling, shredding, covering every inch of the dress in green, shiny, and almost transparent threads. When I tried the dress on, it just scraped my neck and was just a pain in the a**. So I tore it away, and sat down to make another collar. It went much better. 

Last but far from the least came the buttons. If I had known, that finding right amount of buttons was close to impossible, I would've ordered them from Amazon or somewhere else. But since my vacation was coming to an end, I visited couple of stores that sell buttons and bought the ones that had 40 pieces of them. They are larger than the original, not to mention that they are not covered in fabric. Nevertheless, beggars can't be choosers, so I bought what was available. I decided that I am going to look for the right buttons in the future. Fingers crossed, they exist somewhere. 

All in all, more than two weeks, the trilogy of Lord of the Rings (including extended cut), one BBC period drama and countless Youtube videos later, the dress was done! 

And the final result? Stay tuned for the next post!

Photos © aesthastic