The basic pattern, a/k/a sloper, is the blueprint of a person’s body. It is a one dimensional representation of the measurements of the body used within a pattern drafting system. Or, the dress form itself is the basic pattern in three dimensional form. It represents the standard size or the size of the person for whom it was custom made.
The process of working the basic pattern into an individual style is called pattern transformation. Style lines are used to map out how the emerging style will look. They are drawn onto the basic pattern. Alternately, style tape is pinned to the dress form to show how the garment pieces will look. This helps the draper know where to mold the fabric and how the garment piece should look.
Analyzing an outfit and seeing the style lines
A knowledge of the different forms sleeves, bodices, skirts, collars, pants and dresses can take helps in analyzing an existing style. Rough sketches help clarify if one is seeing the style lines correctly or misinterpreting a photograph or sketch someone else has made. Of course the best way to analyze a garment is to see it in real time. That is not always, possible, though. When one is inspired by a vintage style sketching and studying photos is one way to help in the recreation or updated expression of that style.
An economical way to practice visualizing and understanding stylelines is to have a library of basic bodices, sleeves, skirts and slacks printed on 8 1/2 x 11 paper. With colored pencil or pen these copies can have style lines drawn over them. Immediately you can see the blueprint for the pattern transformation. Which darts and seams the style lines intersect with also comes to the fore. It is possible to get a better idea what needs to be done for the actual transformation.
Example of a style analysis and practice transformation
This photo comes from a 1964 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. Fashions from Hong Kong were featured. This cocktail outfit consists of a silk sheath shirt and unfitted, sleeveless blouse.
On copies of a basic bodice and basic skirt, fronts and backs, style lines are sketched and notes added to better understand one possible way to recreate, or at least interpret, the original 1964 fashion.
I hope these suggestions help you in your next vintage inspired style recreation or adaptation.
This project got its start with the pencil skirt pattern. The skirt currently available is slightly flared and more suitable to 1940s styles. For many 1950s styles a slim pencil skirt is needed. So that is what I draped. I then went on to drape a fitted bodice with darts above and below the bust. I also draped a fitted sleeve with elbow dart.
The curve on the pencil skirt breaks at the abdomen instead of the hipline. I want to see if this results in a better fit for the skirt. A fit that is attractive but not too tight. I’m hoping that the skirt will have more comfort and room to move. Not everyone has a smaller abodomen-larger hip measurement. It can also be the other way around! I look forward to seeing if this small difference results in a more flattering fit.
I drape in tissue paper using the Precision Draping technique created by author Nellie Weymouth Link. The tehcnique can be learned through her book of the same name. I will post photos of the progress and look forward to sharing the finished sloper when completed.
Photos of the pattern in progress
Original tissue paper drape is copied again to tissue paper. I call this the second pattern and it will be used to cut a full toile.
Tissue paper drape after marking. Next step is to press the paper. Then trace to a clean sheet of tracing paper.
A tracing of the drape was made to clean tracing paper. The fitted sleeve pattern needs a light pressing. Next step: cut the sleeve on fabric and add to the bodice.
This pattern is the result of testing the fit using the second tissue pattern paper. The results were good so the tissue was copied to dotted pattern paper.
Dressmaking Past & Present is a new feature at Pour Moi. Fashion History provides us with inspirations for our personal style. Understanding and learning about techniques used in the past and the present helps us find a variety of methods for possible use in our own projects.
This week, I put up some scans from a small booklet published by Coats & Clark in the 1940s. Dressmaker’s Suits have some tailoring but not to the extent that a fully tailored suit does. Here are some recommendations from the booklet that can help the dressmaker achieve the look in each illustration.
“Tailoring” by Coats & Clark – Tips for sewing a dressmaker’s suit
A clutch purse never goes out of style. It can be used for a formal occasion. Or, it can be popped into a larger tote bag when going out for the day and come out later for use. Clutch purses are not meant to hold everything. Just what is needed for an afternoon or evening out: keys, wallet, ID card, compact, comb, lipstick and cellphone are enough.
When I lived in Bay Ridge, a neighbhorhood in Brooklyn, I frequented a craft shop that found a treasure trove of old crochet patterns in the basement of the shop. These pattern booklets were put in a large basket for customers to take . I was very fortunate to find ones that I really liked. Most of the booklets were from the 1970s. I went deeper into the basket and found 3 books. One from the 1960s and two from a period spanning 1940s-1950s.
Thanks to the Internet Archive, vintage sewing and fashion enthusiasts can download a PDF version of How to design beautiful clothes, by Esther Pivnick. The book was published in 1949.
The patternmaking system used is the same as what was taught at the Traphagen School of Design in New York City. This book offers a complete guide to taking measurements, creating basic patterns and then transforming them.
Even if you do not use the pattern drafting system, there are details and pattern transformations that can be experimented with using your own sloper. It is well worth it to download a PDF version as the original book sells for over $100 when in good condition.
Here are screen shots from the book. I was surprised to see that the skirt is similar to the result I obtained when using the Precision Draping technique from the 1947 book by Nellie Weymouth Link. There is a slight flare to the skirt. It is not the straight, tubular shape of the 1950s basic skirt.
Here are screen shots from How to design beautiful clothes which show the resulting basic front and back bodices; back and front skirt patterns; and a diagram showing the measurements needed.
Last Spring I began development of a walking skirt and short dolman sleeve blouse based on two vintage pattern illustrations. I studied the wardrobe basics of 1940s everyday women’s wear. Clothing in the early to mid-1940s had to be functional. Fabrics, threads and notions were not easily available due to rationing. All resources, including textiles, were prioritized for the use by the troops and initiatives to move the American people towards victory in the war. This meant great sacrifice and rationing of many necessities.
Americans received ration coupons for clothing, food, shoes and other items needed for daily life. To get a new blouse, for example, so many ration book coupons had to be used for the purchase. One had to be very careful with how they used their allotment of coupons. When they were gone, there was a wait until the government issued new ration books.
This is why many everday clothes of the WWII period and shortly thereafter had a minimum of details. Everything had to be functional. Because of this simplicity, it was important to buy clothes that fit well and were well made. They had to last for a long time.
Development of the outfit
I took inspiration from two 1940s pattern envelope illustrations. The pattern was developed using a Misses Size 8 sloper developed through Precision Draping. Further draping was done on the basic blouse to develop the dolman sleeves.
The blouse features a shoulder dart, short dolman sleeves and a round neckline. As I developed the pattern and tested the toile, I learned that I needed a shoulder pad to support the shape of the sleeve on the shoulder line. Omitting the shoulder pad caused the sleeve to droop and the entire blouse looked tired. My solution was to purchase very thin, regular set-in sleeve shoulder pads and use them for the blouse. I had to experiment with the placement until they looked just right. In the end, the shoulder pad extended about 1/4″ past the shoulder line. The shoulder pads are about 1/4″ thick.
I lowered the neckline of the blouse so I could wear a locket or chocker with the blouse if I wanted to. I selected a very silky, dotted print. To create some visual interest I used 1/2 wide white buttons sewn on with red thread. The contrast worked with the red background and the white dots on the fabric.
I think that 1940 walking skirts are much more figure flattering than pencil skirts. Most 1940s skirts curve over the hip and slightly extend out from there to the hemline. This is not the cookie-cutter A-Line skirt of the 1960s. This is more a slim skirt with a nice built in movement. The skirt moves very nicely when walking. I added kick pleats in front and back to get the most movement out of my skirt.
Fabrics, sewing and finishing details
The front facing of the blouse is in one with the blouse front. A separate facing piece is used for the back. The fabric is very slippery and needed gentle shaping for the neckline and blouse front. I cut the cotton batiste used for the interfacing on the true bias. This worked well with the fluid properties of the fabric. Seams were stitched together, pinked and then stitched again away from the edge. All seams were pressed to the back. Wrights Flexi-Lace was used to finish facing, sleeve hem and blouse hem. The entire facing was slant stitched by hand to the blouse using a fine hand sewing needle and small stitches that were not too tight.
The bias cut batiste interfacing has 1/2″ extra past center front. This creates a soft roll on the front of the blouse. The sleeve edges have a 3/8″ bias cut interfacing that extends past the hemline to create a soft fold when hemmed. The sleeves also are finished with Wrights Flexi-Lace.
The skirtis a lightweight blend that needed body to support the kick pleats. For this reason I choose to underline the skirt. Seams were pinked and straight stitched 1/8″ from the edge. The edges around each kick pleat and the hem are finished with Wrights Flexi-Lace. To add some visual interest I backed the kick pleat insert with the blouse fabric. On the back of the skirt I placed the size and designer labels on the kick pleat. The kick pleat is catched stitched to the underlining at the top.
The skirt has a side lapped zipper application that is hand stitched into place. The waistband uses Banroll to maintain the shape.
The dolman sleeve has a low armhole opening. This blouse is very comfortable but the bra shows just a little if the arm is raised. If this is a problem a camisole or slip can offer some more coverage. Personally this does not matter to me, as I do not think that many people are going to be looking under my arms and into my blouse.
Since the fabric was very slippery, easing the facing into the proper position created problems. I had to place the blouse inside out on the dress form. Then I pinned and basted the facing into place and after that the hem.
The finishing touch is a custom made label and size label. This always gives me a great sense of accomplishment. I recommend getting your own custom labels for your own creations.
Photos of me wearing the Linda skirt and blouse
Linda was a popular name for girls in the 1940s. I chose this name because it conveys a sense of the everyday which this outfit is meant to do. The emphasis is on fit and a flattering result. I am delighted with this vintage inspired outfit because it can work today and any day in any year.
The finished pattern diagram is available in this posting. It may be copied and sized in your graphics program. I release the pattern into the commons for anyone to use. Always test the pattern and make adjustments where needed.
It is possible to create a retro inspired look interpreted through your own style sensibility. You do not even need to have authentic vintage fashions and accessories to do this. What you do need is a sense of adventure and a keen eye. These can be applied when evaluating the clothes and accessories you already have or shop for. The goal is to get a sense of feeling and look from the vintage fashion. Then express in such a way that it’s a combo of something old and something new!
The Look I took inspiration from
Claire McCardell was an American designer who had her peak popularity during the 1940s and 1950s. She designed comfortable fashions aimed at the American woman and her active lifestyle. Claire worked with knitwear as well as wovens. Her goal was to make elegance something that could be achieved in the simple pieces that make up a capsule wardrobe. She taught her followers how to do this in her book What shall I wear? By having comfortable, well fitting coordinates a woman was already on her way to elegant dressing every day of the week and any time of the day. Colors that worked well together and flattered the woman were important. Individual expression was achieved through beautiful accessories.
This photo comes from What shall I wear? I love the look of the chunky beaded necklace. And the multiple charm bracelets are enough to convey elegance and individuality.
The second outfit I took inspiration from is a trio of coordinates McCardell designed for beach wear. I especially like the slacks. The deep tucks at the waist and tapering legs of the slacks create a comfortable, easy garment flattering to a wide range of sizes. What I also love is the look of these slacks with the sandals.
With these inspirations in mind I set about recreating the look and making it my own.
How I expressed the look using modern clothing and accessories
I did not want a chunky beaded necklace. In the 1950s beading and sequins were very popular on cardigans and pullover sweaters. When I found this knitwear top it was perfect for starting the look. I also bought one in grey with silver beading.
I looked through the collection of costume jewlery my Mom left me and found the charm bracelets for the outfit.
The next step was to find a comfortable pair of slacks that approximated the look of the ones I liked. I also had to find sandals that worked with the slacks.
I ended up at the bargain store where I’d bought the tops. I found two pairs of floral print slacks: one with pink blossoms and one with grey blossoms.
When I saw the sandals I knew I now had the right combination to channel the expression of my vintage inspired vibe.
Photo of the completed look
I am very pleased with the way this look came together. It expresses my own style yet has some of the elements of the original outfit. I hope you take some ideas from this to start your own creative style expression using vintage fashions as a starting point.
Close-up from What shall I wear? by Claire Mccardell
The neckline and armholes of the 1950s styled Dirndl Dress were finished with an all-in-one facing. The instructions I followed are from Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, seventh printing, July 1980.
I cut the interfacing for the neckline and the armholes separately. The interfacing can be cut on the bias to give the armholes and neckline a little more flexibility when the facing is turned to the inside. If you do this be sure to stay stitch the armholes and neckline of the dress after basting the interfacing to the wrong side of the bodice.
Pin and baste interfacing by hand to the bodice pieces. Do not sew the side seams of the bodice yet.
Sewing the all-in-one facing
1. Pin and hand baste side seams of bodice front and back pieces. Machine stitch. Remove the basting threads. Steam press side seams open.
2. Pin into place small tucks at the mid-point on the shoulder lines of front and back bodice. Hand baste into place.
3. Pin, baste and stitch side seams of facing. Remove basting threads. Steam press side seams of facing open.
Finish lower edge. I used a straight stitch to sew flexilace into place at the top edge. Then I used a zig-zag stitch to sew the edges together.
4. With right sides together, pin the facing to the bodice. Shoulder lines are not stiched yet. The bodice remains flat. Baste by hand up to the intersection of armhole and shoulderline and intersection of neckline with shoulderline. The stitching stops slightly before the seamline of the shoulder. Machine stitch.
Remove basting threads.
5. Clip and notch armholes and neckline.
Finger press seams open.
6. Use a Tailor’s Curve to steam press seams of armholes and necklines open.
Turn facing to inside of garment.
7. It is time to understitch the facings so they do not roll and become exposed on the outside. Make sure the seam is turned towards the facing before stitching.
Instead of machine stitching the facing along the armhole and neckline on the facing, I hand sewed it into place using a prick stitch.
8. The facing is almost complete! Make sure it lies flat. Keep the tucks at the shoulder in place.
9. Turn back facing at shoulder lines. Release the tucks and work the ease into each shoulder line. Pin front and back shoulder lines together. Hand baste into place. Stitch.
Remove basting stitches. Steam press shoulder seams flat. Then press them through the opening. Baste the facing over then slip stitch together.
10. Tack the facing in place at the side seams.
Place the completed bodice onto a dress form to evaluate the results. The facing should rest secure on the bodice and not show on the outside.
In this posting I share how I adapted the ironing techniques from the 1930s book, Paris Frocks at Home. They work very well for hand sewn clothes, fine lingerie and clothes made with delicate fabrics. For hand laundering, clothing storage and scans from Paris Frocks at Home please refer to previous postings. You can follow the links above.
Blouse used for this demonstration
The blouse is modern and was purchased this year. It is made from a combination of 70% Viscose and 30% Linen blend. It is lightweight and drapey. I hand laundered and dried using the techniques shown in the previous posting.
The reason for choosing this blouse is that Rayon was very popular in the 1930s for women’s clothing. It is a delicate fabric made from plant fibers. Hand washing this blouse will prolong its life and attractiveness.
Ironing clothes using vintage techniques
Most important, the ironing board, the ironing board cover and the iron must be clean. Clean the iron out once a month according to the instructions it came with. This will flush out any deposits from hard water or particles that can discolor clothes when using steam.
Step 1. Get together the things needed to prep the hand washed clothes for ironing. They can be ironed when slightly damp, after drying on the rack or in the sun after hand washing. Sometimes that is not possible. That is often the case for me. So I prepare the garments by dampening them. For this purpose a spritzer bottle with cold water is used.
Step 2. After spritzing the garment lay it out flat on one or two overlapping cotton, lint free towels.
Step 3. Roll the garment up. Repeat this step for each garment that has been spritzed. Each garment is rolled in its own towel.
Step 4. Place the rolled up garments into a small plastic tub. Then place in the refrigerator for a few hours.
Step 5. Begin ironing. Use an appropriate setting for the fabric you are ironing. I used the low setting for steam for this blouse. Because it was cold and the moisture was evenly distributed, the iron glided smoothly over the fabric.
Step 6. Hang garment after ironing in a location with good air circulation. Do not put it immediately into the closet and wedge it between other garments. Let it dry first.
The garments press smoothly without need for spray on fabric finishes or ironing aids.
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