Sunday, 1 March 2020

Time spent in reconnaissance

Jennifer Rosbrugh, who runs the excellent Historical Sewing website, recently asked on Facebook what 'top tip' people would give to sewing newbies. At 800 comments and counting, I've not managed to read them all, but one of the recurring themes seems to be the importance of preparation.

I've had reason to think about this a lot this week, as despite working on Vogue 1277 for what feels like forever, I've still not taken scissors to (proper) fabric. My plan to leave the jacket toile until the dress was complete came unstuck when I discovered that the dress and jacket pieces are jumbled together in the cutting layout, so I need to have everything drafted properly before I could begin.

If only I'd looked at this before I started!

Proper drafting is taking time. Unprinted pattern pieces were cut in thick stacks with a bandsaw, and the pattern markings punched by hand, so there's plenty of opportunity for inaccuracy - and this pattern seems to have made the most of that opportunity! So it's not just a case of making fit alterations; I have to check that notches and circles match up, and 'straight' lines are actually straight.

That's a lot of markings to check

Although it's taking a lot of time, it hasn't felt like wasted time. This pattern is in a different league from my usual projects, and making toiles of the dress and jacket has given me the chance to identify tricky sections before I start on my (limited) proper fabric, and also to work through and understand the instructions properly. The instuctions for pleating the skirt, for example, seemed utterly impenetrable at first. It was only by marking the lines of circles in different colours for different circle sizes that I could understand the process.

I did skimp a bit on making the toiles. I only made one sleeve, and I shortened the skirt panels a lot because it was the fitting at the top that I needed to check, not the length. This was however enough to demonstrate that the side panel markings are totally off, so I need to do do some more work in that area.

The dress toile, with very un-1950s ra-ra skirt!

It wasn't apparent until I made the jacket up that its sleeves are far too long for me. As they have faux vents at the cuff, this would have been almost impossible to fix if I hadn't checked it first. Because I had graded the pattern up a size, I basted on a jacket pocket flap to check if I needed to grade that up as well. I also added stashed buttons of the size I intend to use, again to check the proportions (although as the picture above shows, I didn't manage to add them symmetrically on the dress).

The jacket toile

Adding the jacket buttons highlighted something which wasn't so apparent on the pattern marking: the vertical spacing is uneven because I had to shorten the bodice above the waist. I'm not yet sure what to do about this, but I would have hated to have only noticed it after I'd cut the buttonholes!

Uneven button placement

I'm not entirely happy with the bottom edge of the collar either, so that will have to be tweaked.

These are all things which can be fixed, but I only discovered that they need fixing by making the toiles. It was my mum who taught me to sew, but my dad is a maker as well, and it was he who taught me the maxim, "Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted". It's certainly been the case with this project.

Making these pieces up in white cotton, and adding white buttons and trim, reminded me of my favourite section in last year's Dior exhibition at the V&A; The Atelier, with its floor to ceiling display of toiles.  Obviously, the inhabitants of 30 Avenue Montaigne are not in the habit of missing off sleeves or shortening skirts, but here is my little homage.

Spot the difference!


  1. Upon study of your jacket toile, I think I'd be tempted to see what raising those two bottom buttons up a smidge so that they are spaced like the top ones would look like. You need the two at the waist and the top ones can't go up anymore. This is a lot of work, you are going to have a beautiful outfit at the end! Good luck.

    1. Thank you Susan. The problem is that I am short below above the waist, but not below it. Spacing the bottom buttons exactly the same as the upper ones looks oddly out of proportion, so I'm trying out various positions until I get something which works.

  2. I admire your fortitude and accuracy. Good luck!

    1. Thank you Lynn. My second attempt at the skirt side panel revealed that one of the markings had been stamped a good ⅜" out - now that I understand the construction properly,it was obvious where the problem lay. So it has definitely been worth all the work.