Saturday, January 28, 2017

A 1920's Evening Gown

I had a lot of fun planning my outfit for the Gatsby Ball. It was a completely new decade for me, and was very interesting to research. Considering last year I spent so much time in the 1910's, it was interesting to see the progression of fashion a decade later.

My first thought was to go full flapper: beading (like I had the time!), rolled stockings, sparkly headpiece. The whole bit. But the more I looked at fashion plates and photos from the era, seeing what fashions were really like, and considering the type of event I was going to, I started to really appreciate the more simple evening designs. I almost went with plain black satin ( I saw a lot of fashion plates that looked like cocktail dresses I would wear today!), but then came across this silver silk velvet and decided a little sparkle was the way to go. The pictures really don't do it justice. It was like liquid. It had spectacular movement!

I really liked the gowns I saw with open sides, to the waist, so I knew I needed to start with an underdress. I started with Vintage Pattern Lending Library's 1920's Three Piece Outfit (#5140). I used the blouse portion, modifying the neckline and armholes, to create a base for the under dress. 

The skirt was just a long rectangle, with the extra fabric pleated at the hips. The neck and armholes were done with a rolled hem, to keep them as inconspicuous as possible. The rest of the seams were french seams, and all machine stitched since they wouldn't be seen under the velvet layer. The waist seam was hand overcast instead of french, because of the bulk of the pleats.

The velvet over dress was semi drafted/semi draped over the chiffon dress. The neck and sides were done with a rolled hem, as well. The neckline got a little fuzzy since the velvet pile was actually quite long, so I trimmed down the pile that was sticking up with small scissors to neaten it up. 

To keep both dress layers tidy, I stitched the chiffon slip to the dress at the back of the neckline and partially over the shoulders, leaving the front of the neckline free, since the chiffon neckline was cut lower than the velvet, which worked nicely with the lightness and movement of the whole dress. 

The velvet shoulders were cut larger than the chiffon, so I gathered them and mounted them to the under dress. Originally, the overdress was supposed to have wider, loose shoulders, but I just looked like a line backer. 

One very helpful detail that I added were loops with snaps to keep all the slip and chemise and bra straps in one place. Very good idea! 

At each side, from the hip down, I inserted chiffon godets. I cut out the chiffon, rolled hemmed the "V" shaped hems and then machine stitched the chiffon to the side seams of the velvet dress. The velvet actually behave beautifully in the machine. I then drew up the sides, at the hip, and stitched gathers in place, mounting them on the under dress.

And from the inside out: 

It struck me how much the pleats weighted down the chiffon after a while. Good thing to keep in mind for future projects! Also, the velvet layer should have been hemmed more level. This hem was on the straight of grain, even though I pulled up the sides at the hip. Looking back, at period examples, even when the dress was drawn up, more often the not, the hem was still straight across. Something to address in the future, possibly.

I chose to face the hem instead of turn it up. The velvet was quite slippery and just wouldn't stay put for a regular turned up hem. 

I should also mention pressing the velvet. I tested out a scrap before I started. I tried with steam, with light iron pressure, and also with a terry towel used like a velvet board. The towel was the worst! It left pokey indents on the velvet that would not come out. So, I ended up using a mix of steam with finger pressing over a sleeve roll and light pressing with the iron. As long as the iron didn't move or I didn't let the edge of the iron dent the fabric, I had no trouble. Both with the pressing and sewing, and cutting, as long as I took my time and didn't rush, I had great success with handing such temperamental and delicate (and slithery) fabrics. 

And then there was the scarf. 

My favorite part of the outfit! I think the scarf ended up making the dress fun to wear. Like, it would have been pretty boring without it. I'm so glad I made that scarf happen. I wasn't going to have time to hem it like I wanted so I almost nixed it. But... at 5 am, while drinking my coffee before closing up my suitcase to leave for the airport, I said screw it and I ran the scarf's raw edge through the machine with a zig zag stitch. It worked great! Actually it flowed better and looked better than if I had spent hours rolling the hem!

Then when visiting the Museum of American History, I noticed the hem on one of Grace Coolidge's gowns in the First Ladies' exhibit. It's a terrible picture, and from a a few feet away, it was hard to see the exact treatment that was going on with the hem, but the overall effect was pretty similar: visible stitching on a raw edge, no turned up fabric. Maybe a machine hemstitch? It was very narrow stitching, for sure. 

Looking back, if I had known this ahead of time, I might have breezed through all that hand hemming...

I got the idea for the scarf because SOMEWHERE I saw a 1920's article about cutting a dress out of one side of a length of fabric, using the excess on the other side as a scarf. I thought I saved it, but cannot find the article now anywhere. Someday I will come across it again! But I did make an effort to lay the dress out in that way, so I ended up with a three yard long scarf. Win.

Gosh, that ended up being a way longer post than I planned!


  1. Your dress came out so lovely! And congratulations on the bonus scarf! I also saw a 1920s article somewhere that suggested using such leftovers to add some decorative draping to a dress. I will have to look for it again, too.

    1. Leftovers are good for so much! I hoard all the leftover bits of fabric :)

  2. Oh my but this is a most luscious dress you have made! I love all the gossamer layers, the color everything! I am sure that it simply floated when you walked!!! Huzzah!!

    1. Oh my goodness! Thank you so much! What a compliment! It absolutely shimmered and shimmied!