So last year I whipped up a quick 1920s evening dress using a vintage silk dupatta and a basic One-Hour Dress pattern. It was fast, easy, and the fabric made it interesting despite its shapelessness. I learned that I really enjoy sewing with vintage saris and dupattas, simply because of all the fantastic details that are already present in the fabric– no extra embellishment needed!
That being said, you knew I couldn’t stop there, right? Having made a bunch of 1920s-style day dresses, I decided to revisit the evening dress and my love of vintage dupattas to make a glamorous emerald green flapper-style dress. While I don’t ordinarily wear a lot of green, I admit to having been inspired by Cyd Charisse’s sultry green costume from Singin’ In the Rain– I may not be quite as fabulous as she was, but I can aspire!
Obviously, Charisse’s costume isn’t anywhere near historically accurate, but it’s the feel I’m going for more than the actual look.
So, obviously I enjoy attending costumed events, but dragging friends along with me is half the fun! And that generally involves my volunteering to make something for them so they have something appropriate to wear. And that brings me to this dress, which I made so that a friend of mine could accompany me to the annual historical costumers’ picnic I host every summer (or at least, this is the second annual, so I’m hoping to make it a tradition!).
Because 1920s-style dresses are the fastest and easiest historical outfits I know how to make, we decided to go with a basic day dress, very similar to the ones I’ve been making recently. She wanted something in navy blue, but I just couldn’t seem to find anything cute in that colorway or to think of any interesting design ideas until I came across this fantastic flamingo-print rayon voile, and it all came together!
So while I was working out the bodice block pattern for my green 1920s dress, I did some experimenting to determine whether I wanted to do a pintucked detail at the shoulders. I thought that the tucks might be a good way to narrow the shoulders while still allowing more space through the torso and around the hips, so I gave it a try on an early mockup made of a blue cotton sheet, figuring I could always cut it narrower if it didn’t work out.
I started out by cutting my torso piece as a rectangle instead of a trapezoid– the difference meant that each piece (front and back) was about 4″ wider at the top than it had to be. To take in the extra width I stitched in four 1/4″ tucks on either side of the neckline before stitching together the shoulder seams, grading the tucks so they were longest towards the center and shortest towards the armholes. They actually looked pretty decent once the shoulder and side seams were done, and they did provide a little shaping in the shoulders that let the dress hang nicely without needing an underarm dart.
In fact, despite the fact that I eventually decided not to do pintucks on the green dress, I liked the effect so much that I decided I might as well complete the mockup, so as to have another option to wear to future events.
Once I got all of my pieces properly cut out, assembly *should have* been fairly straightforward. Do you sense foreshadowing here? Because you ought to. I’ll tell you now, after this series of disasters I went to bed vowing that I would just scrap the whole dress and wear the blue one instead… but the next morning I decided to give it one more try, and eventually managed to salvage the project.
Like I said, I’m not a huge fan of the 1920s silhouette, but I was browsing eBay for beaded chiffon dupattas– the perfect source for inexpensive pre-embroidered/beaded fabric– to make an evening dress out of, when I came across this lovely item:
It wasn’t really right for the dress I had in mind, but for some reason I kept coming back to it. Something about the floral pattern, the burgundy/cream/gold color scheme, and the tiny sequins just made me think it would make a gorgeous flapper dress. Finally, I just bit the bullet and ordered it, and now that it’s here I’m so glad I did!
Once my insertion was in, it was time to actually cut out the dress. Like I said, I went with a One-Hour Dress pattern, which is basically a glorified T-tunic– you just cut a hole on the top fold for your head, cut in some sleeves, and fuss with the hipline a bit to get pleats. Here’s the diagram I ended up using:
I made a mockup out of an old sheet to be sure I didn’t have too much or too little ease, and to determine a flattering hip level (on me it was 21″ down from the shoulder). I ended up using 2″ of ease from the widest point of my hip, which meant that there was 7″ of ease at the bust.
You’ll note that I basically used every scrap of fabric, using the cutout panels from under the sleeves to add extra width to the hips– I was incredibly lucky that I had exactly enough, because I couldn’t find any matching fabric to make up the difference. It took a little piecing together, but it all worked out!
While I adore the look of insertion in Edwardian lingerie dresses, I’d never actually tried sewing it myself until I decided that this 1920s dress needed something special to add visual interest on the main body. With this insertion trim I figured that the entredeux would make it slightly more difficult to sew, since apparently there’s a specific technique involved to make sure the ladder-like parts look right. I was a bit worried about what I’d gotten myself into, and I read many tutorials and watched videos to be sure I was getting it right. Once I’d gotten the trim stitched down to the main fabric I was tempted to just leave it as-is without cutting out the base layer– it was pretty anyway– but decided in the end to just go for it. I’m glad I did!
Going off momentarily in a different direction, I also started on a 1920s-style day dress for yet another vintage-themed event I’m attending this month…
I admit it– I’ve never really been a fan of the standard 1920s silhouette. It basically makes everyone look shapeless and dumpy– I mean, if even the ladies of Downton Abbey look like they’re wearing gussied-up hospital gowns, what chance do the rest of us have? But when I got the chance to attend a 1920s lawn party I figured I may as well give the look a shot– after all, the columnar silhouette was popular for years, it couldn’t be all bad!
I even had the beginnings of a day dress in my fabric stash already– some vintage pre-embroidered white cotton that had originally been set up to make a Victorian or Edwardian blouse out of. I couldn’t be sure of the precise time period, but the padded satin stitch embroidery just screamed “turn of the century” to me. I found it on eBay and bought it for a song, and it was just long enough to make a knee-length dress out of! (photo darkened so you can see the embroidery pattern)
I decided against using the embroidered neckline as an actual neckline– it was too wide and drew too much attention to the bust– so I turned the whole thing upside down and decided to use it as a hem decoration. There were also some smaller areas of embroidery that I could use to decorate other parts of the dress. I sketched out my basic design, planning on using a variation of the One-Hour Dress I’d seen online.
I bought some vintage insertion trim to add some interest to the body of the dress– it has an area of central embroidery and cutwork, with entredeux on either side. What is entredeux, you may ask? It’s basically an embroidered ladder-like trim, often inserted between fabrics to make a decorative line of openwork. It helps make the embroidered insertion look more deliberate, in my opinion, and less as if it was just pieced in.