1920s · Historical · Sewing

The Making of a 1920’s Frock

A bar in my city was having a vintage vinyl night and people were encouraged to come in costumes from the 20s-40s. I got a small group (of like 9 people) together to go with me and we all made 20s style dresses! This is my 2nd time creating something from this era but only my first time doing it with regards for historical accuracy.

I started with research! I read the October-December 1923 issues of the Delineator, a catalog put out by Burda patterns. I scoured pintrest for scans of other magazines and catalogs from the era.

I just love the warm autumn colours of these frocks! I can imagine them made of a luxurious brown velvet and pumpkin silk. Alas, I had a strict 0 dollar budget for this project, so no velvet for me. I settled on a design, mostly following the illustrations for misses dresses in the first image.

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Alright, I settled on one design with 3 different trimming options. Jokes on me because I didn’t end up using any of these trimmings. The fabric I’m using is a lush woollen suiting with a small houndstooth design in red and brown. The skirt is a lovely dark copper linen that in a past life was an ikea curtain. The braid I ended up using is some random, slightly elastic, probably rayon trim that I found at the very bottom my suitcase of lace & trims after unhappily going through it halfway through the project.

For drafting the pattern I followed Mary Brooks Picken’s One Hour Dress instructions, first published in 1925. For a PDF of this book click here, which has been archived by Antique Pattern Library. Check them out, they’ve got great resources for antique needlework and sewing techniques!

The pattern piece was a basic T shape, cut twice on the fold, that was as long as my shoulder to hip measurement and as wide as 1/2 my bust measurement, plus seam allowences. After cutting the bodice out, I placed it on my form to mark the neckline.

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Pinned at the shoulders and sides, I cut down to the neck seam on my dress form to get the neck to lay flay, then marked half the desired neckline on both the front and the back. To cut the neckline I folded the pieces in half an cut along the seam lines I marked. I then re-did this 3 times at various times during the process because I didn’t like where the neckline was sitting.

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Cutting the neckline on the folded bodices

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Sew up the side and shoulder seams and you have a very literal T shirt. Onto the skirt! This is where all science, planning, and measurements completely go out the window. I started by marking the princess lines on the front and back of the bodice. I knew I only wanted the pleats to be on the hips, like in some of the illustrations I found. I cut a long strip of my skirt fabric that was approximately the length from my hip to mid calf. And I’ll admit, I totally cheated here. Since my fabric was a reclaimed linen curtain, I used the hem already on the curtain for the hem of my skirt. Lifehacks!

Time for the pleats! I used a pleating board for this process. To figure out how much I needed to pleat, I basically held up the pleat board to the hem where I marked the princess seams, and marked the pleat I wanted to stop at with a paper clip. I then started using the pleat board! I’ve never used a pleat board before and let me tell you it was a magical experience. So easy! can’t wait to utilise it on a late 19th century gown!

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The first pleat of many

I continued pleating and marking in my totally not technical way, only having to adjust a few times.

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A beautiful line of pleats!

The pleats ended up being about an inch apart, with an inch of intake for each pleat. The pleat board has enough space for 2 inches of intake but I had trouble getting the thick and textured linen to slide into the pleat slot far enough to make 2 inches, so I just lined it up with the 1 in mark on my ruler.

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After pressing all the pleats I stitched them down with a basting stitch 1/4″ away from the edge.

Because I was using one long strip of fabric, and I wasn’t using any sort of measurements, I then had to address the side seam. By some miracle it mostly worked out, and after lining up the pleats I was able to find the right place to join the fabric so the seam would be hidden in the pleat intake.

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I stitched along the crease line, re-steamed the pleat, et voilà! Perfectly hidden seam line.

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An attached, if a bit messy, pleated skirt

At this point, I tried the dress on, and realised that I had set the hips about 1½ inches too low and it was A) difficult to walk in and B) riding up on the hips to give me more movement, which gave me a VERY lumpy silhouette, nothing like the sleek lines of the 1920s. To solve this problem, I made about a 3tuck just below the natural waist and stitched it down.

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This solved the lumpy problem, but brought my skirt scandalously short- to just under my knees! Oh well, sometimes thats how things end up.

I then had to decide on trimmings for the dress. My original design had a sash belt made of the red linen, but after playing around with that I didn’t actually like the colour balance of it. So, I started digging through my stash of trims, laces, and other accoutrements. At the very bottom of this stash, I found some brown rayon braid that was given to me by my aunt many years prior. The colour looked perfect and I started playing around with positioning. I decided on two horizontal stripes to cover up the seam where I tucked the fabric, and after playing around with the braid, I created this sort of knotted rose shape.

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Once I was happy with that I stitched the trim on, then made the rose. I basically started crocheting the braid, locking the loops together to form a circle until I was happy with the shape. Then, I stitched the rose onto the dress by hand with tiny whip stitches. I added a few whip stitches in the middle to keep the “petals” positioned where I wanted them.

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At this point, it was about 2 hours before the party and I still had to figure out what to do with the neckline and the sleeves. I was already leaning against the huge collar I had drawn in the picture, but with this added time crunch, I was frantically looking for other solutions. I was originally going to finish the neck with bias tape, by this time I really didn’t want to fuss with making linen bias binding. So, I opted for a rolled hem, and hoped that the slight elastic of the braid would be enough to go around the curve of the neckline.

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Sewing the trim onto the neckline

For the sleeves, I really wanted to avoid topstitching but I was running out of time to put a facing in and tack it all down, so I reluctantly settled on a rolled hem, and hoped that the pattern of the dress would be able to hid it.

And thats it! So much for a one hour dress! I had every intention of making the dress within an hour but the pleats ate up way more time than I expected and I didn’t want to rush. One day I’ll do a one-hour challenge frock. One day.

I didn’t get hardly any pictures of us at the party because it was so dark in the bar, but luckily I had the foresight to get some pics before hand! I accessorised with a vintage hat, a pair of What Katie Did stockings, primark t-strap heels, and some random gold chain knotted into a long necklace. Not bad if I do say so myself!

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If you want to check out the pintrest board for this project click here! Thanks for reading!

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