Sunday, 14 March 2021

Hack it or draft it - part 1, research and planning

Q. What do you do after you have finished a dress which gave you all sorts of problems with its construction because you chose to use a really awkward fabric?

A. Obviously, you start another dress in much the same fabric!

This quarter's challenge for the Sew A Vintage Style Dress Community is 'Hack It or Draft It' - either draft your own pattern, or take an existing one and alter it. I'm doing a bit of both, converting the blouse of Vintage Vogue pattern 2859 (now out of print) into a dress. And I'm going to use one of my #UseNine2021 fabrics for it; the very slippery, very drapey, teal satin. What could possibly go wrong?!

Vintage Vogue 2859, the blouse

I made this in 2014. I've still got it, and I still like it, but I never wear it because it is so short and rides up. Judging from the images I found when I googled the pattern number, several people dealt with this issue by adding length to the blouse below the waist tie.

Note the gaps between bouse and skirt

On closer inspection of the pattern envelope illustrations, it's apparent that it was intended to be worn over the dress, not as a standalone blouse.

The black 'skirt' is actually the slip dress

The blouse has darts at the front, a wrapover back, and ties at the front. The right back goes under the left, with the tie going through a bound buttonhole.

Blouse front and back

I have decided that I don't want to just extend the top to dress length and rely on the ties to shape it, instead my plan is to make a darted skirt attached to the front and the right back, with a side fastening on the left (not my preferred option for side opening, but necessary this time) and a waist stay to hold it in place. The left back will still wrap over, and tie at the front.

Cue dropping down the rabbit hole of research. At this point I should stress that my intention is to make a '1930s-inspired' dress from the pattern, rather than something strictly period accurate, so I have a lot more freedom to pick and choose design elements. CoPA has a good selection of 1935 dress patterns, which were my starting point, plus I have a couple of 1930s copies of Vogue Pattern Book. One feature which I liked was skirts with a centre front panel rather than a centre seam.

Vogue dress patterns featuring centre panel skirts

Some styles have flared skirts, like this Butterick pattern in my collection, while others are straight with pleats at the bottom. Some only have one front pleat (or even, only one front seam) to give a faux wrap effect - these usually have a further pleat at the centre back.

Butterick 7598, 1937

McCall 8350, 1935, from Etsy

I've decided to go for a hybrid approach, with two seams, but only one front pleat. The seams will (I hope!) line up with the centre one of the three pleats on the bodice. Then, while looking through "1930s Fashion: The Definitive Sourcebook" by Charlotte Fiell and Emmanuelle Dirix (currently out of print, but possibly due to be reissued later this year), I found this illustration.

La Mode Illustrée, 1932

I really like the idea of the offset, rather than central, tie.

Design decided upon, it was time to create the pattern. The only change I've made to the Vogue blouse is altering the back piece so that it comes all the way across to the side seam. The skirt is based on my standard skirt pattern, lengthened, widened to give a hem circumference similar to that of Vogue 8686, and with the front split into panels. I need one side panel with a vent, one side panel without a vent, and a centre piece with a vent on one side only (which means that it can't be cut out on the fold, but needs a complete pattern piece).

The fabric I'm using is a remnant, and finding a way to fit all the pieces onto the material available stretched even my pattern tetris skills to the very limit! It doesn't help that the bodice pieces are really odd shapes. In the end, I had to make rough scale drawings of all the pattern pieces and play around with different placements.

My cutting layout creation method

As usual when fabric is limited, it all had to be cut from a single layer of fabric. The fabric selvedges were very tightly woven, causing the satin to pucker, so I had to snip into them to get it to lie flat. Of course, this slightly reduced the width available to work with. I cut the bodice pieces first, on the basis that I could shorten the skirt if necessary, but couldn't really shorten the bodice if I ran out of cloth!

Cutting out the first bodice pieces

I had to check, double-check and triple-check that I had all the different-shaped skirt pieces laid out the right way round before I cut them out. Even with all my planning, I was hugely relieved to discovered that my layout worked, and all the pieces fitted on the fabric. The ties will be cut out later, once I know how the dress hangs together and what dimensions they need to be.

Simply cutting out the nine pattern pieces took a long time, and really emphasized how tricky this fabric is to work with. I must admit that I'm beginning to have very grave doubts about the chances of this project being a success, but there's only one way to find out . . .


  1. Wow! Can't wait to hear more. This sounds like it will be an adventure!

    1. Thank you! It's taking a long time, because I may have bitten off more than I can chew - hopefully there will be an update soon!