Pattern Puzzle: vintage 1930’s pt.2

pp_vintage_30_slip2Well wasn’t that fun? I tell you, in some ways it’s a lot easier sitting at the front of the class and having the answer key. I wouldn’t be opposed to playing stump the chump if someone wanted to submit a challenge for everyone, me included. All that said, I still had my work cut out for me because -you’re not going to like this- the pattern featured mis-matched seams. Yes indeedy. I still think the challenge was valid because this is something that pattern makers deal with every day. We have to figure out how things fit together even though there is no conceivable way they can. As you may have guessed, the solution appears right. It’s a bias cut slip.

First I’ll present the brave souls who submitted sketches. Laugh all you like but my hat’s off. I admire people who are sufficiently intact to have the guts to try it. Then I’ll explain the pattern issues involved and how they were resolved.

At the time of this writing, we had 18 submissions and four sketches. Our brave souls are Clara, Gale, Katherine, and Jasmin.

30s_pp_claraAt right are Clara and Gale. Gale is new here so everyone be all friendly-like (hi Gail!). These are both nice samples;  Clara’s is kind of space-age and she really went to a lot of work to engineer those seams together. Several people mentioned after seeing the solution that this gave them other ideas for design renderings that they ended up liking better. I think Clara’s falls in that category. I think Gales’s does too; in addition to making a fashioney sketch, hers was a dressier style. I like the back of it.

30s_pp_katherineOur next two contestants were Katherine and Jasmin. I grouped theirs together as raglans – a lot of people guessed this was a raglan style because let’s face it, nobody had much to go on -again absent scale which counts for a lot. These are also workable and perennially popular styles.

So let’s hear it for our contestants, yay!

Okay, now for an explanation of the pattern rendition I posted; it came from a link that Elizabeth sent me. The original pattern is for sale in an eBay auction -there’s four days left on it if you’re interested.

It was more work than you’d think to put up what I did. First I copied and pasted the quarter scale picture of the pattern pieces from the eBay ad. I blew those up 200 or so percent. Then I printed them out on a sheet of paper. I cleaned up the lines as best I could and cut them out of oak tag. Then I digitized the mini pieces into StyleCAD. After that, I scaled those up 400% (in StyleCAD, it’s a one step button, very easy). The result is what I showed in the post.

Having done all that work -and because I really did want to see how it sewed up- I decided to walk and fix the pattern -it was pretty far off. In the process, I figured out a nifty way to make opposing interlocking seams match easier -it’s more easily done in CAD than by hand.  The result is an in depth tutorial for the pattern correction in the forum explaining step by step how it was corrected.

To make the differences between the two versions clearer, below is a schematic showing how the pieces nest together -only half of the front and back are shown so you’ll have to mentally mirror the pieces. On the left is the before version that you all had to work with. On the right is the corrected version.


Going back to the issue of recreating patterns from very small scale illustrations. It is not so difficult to do as I did and tender a better result but it depends on the era the pattern was published and by whom. If the company reduced the pattern with the aid of a pantograph, one is more likely to get a close facsimile of the original style. This is important in the case of recreations etc.. However, with some styles such as this one, it can be a matter of guesstimating if the pattern was reduced manually -an illustration rather than an accurate scale reduction. One can still get pretty close and in any event, you have to do a test sew for fitting anyway because many vintage styles were cut to fit trimmer corset wearing figures.

In the interests of continuing to play this out for sew and fit testing, I will update the forum thread when the sample pattern is available for download, probably tomorrow. Initially it will only be formatted for a plotter but Ann will probably help me get it ready for 8.5 x 11″ printing. In any event, it will only be a alpha, not even a beta pattern so users beware!

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  1. Anon says:

    I never would have guessed a slip. I honestly thought it was some kind of dressy, wing-collared cape.
    Tell me, is there a reason for the zigzag side seam? Is it meant to be a kind of built-in dart? It looks like it would be hard to sew, even if the pattern did fit together without your adjustments.

  2. Matthew Pius says:

    I’m more confused by the answer than the puzzle! I realized it was a kind of spaghetti-strap dress. But I kept trying to figure out why there were bust darts on the front and the back. So, the vintage sketch shows a Z-shaped side seam. But there is no shaping for the bust. I, along with some of the submitters apparently, entertained the thought that it might be a loose garment. But the sketch shows something very clingy. Is this because of the corseted 1930s figure doesn’t need much darting to follow the shape? So that a bias-cut alone is sufficent?

  3. There actually is bust shaping, as the angles of the side seams aren’t quite the same. It’s subtle.

    Also, the pieces are cut on the bias – that puts the side angles closer to on- and cross-grain, and would give drape.

    Note that this is a slip, not meant to have a foundation garment under it (none is shown, and there’s certainly no coverage for one). The styling has evolved from f the late 20’s, for young, trim figures.

    I got as far as interlocking the pieces, but they were so far off (even with scale, and assuming seam allowances were included) that with no reference graphic and other work needing to be done, I poohed out on it.

    I do love these. Please continue, Kathleen!

  4. Kathleen says:

    Anon (btw, there is no need to leave a fake email address), your question invites a much larger discussion and exploration of bias cutting and incorporating design lines. If the topic intrigues you (as it does many of us), I suggest exploring Vionnet who is the best known practitioner of these elements. And surely, it is more difficult to sew but that’s how these things work. It is not out of the realm of possibility that there is a dart in the draft (altho not positioned where people may suspect) but this is something that can only be explored in a full scale sewn sample. I may still do it yet.

    Matthew: You have to keep in mind two things. First is that the design illustration is exactly that, an illustration as opposed to a photo. You can draw something to fit however you like. Secondly, that even if it were a photo, it is common practice to draw in excess fabric with clamps.

    As far as whether a dart is needed, this is somewhat similar in shaping to a Vionnet style that I wrote about several times. I re-created it for my own amusement and labeled it style no 24001 (search the site for “24001” to find it). The original Vionnet style did not show a dart yet its silhouette was similar to this one. For my purposes tho, I had to add a dart to get the same fit due to figure differences. Since most “commercial” patterns are cut for a B cup, darting in bias is not as necessary as it is for C, D or larger cup sizes.

  5. Jordan Elizabeth says:

    This is my first comment here, but I’ve been reading for ages. Being a 19-year-old pattern maker wannabe, I love the site but am a bit intimidated :) The Book is on my wish list.

    Anyway, I loved this pattern puzzle because I love simple designs with “complicated” details. Plus, I am in the design stages of a bespoke 1920 outfit for a client, and I’m making a bias slip under it very much like this one.

  6. Colleen says:

    OK, that was fun. The side seam shape definitely threw me off, but I like the look.
    Thanks, Kathleen, and nice job to all who sent in sketches.

  7. Samina says:

    What fun! I’m a sewing hobbyist and maybe (or maybe not) would have guessed the design from the pattern piece! Too timid to submit a sketch, though. Are other commenters pattern making pros? Or not?
    Please continue to do this Kathleen.

  8. Matthew Pius says:

    Thanks for the clarification Kathleen. Examining this further, I think I can see how the angles of the side seam allow for shaping/waist supression (thanks Carol!). Your point about cup size is taken. But, a bias cut makes it easier to fit the bust when the shaping is all in the side seams (ie, not approaching the bust point), right? And some of that fitting is illusion, since there will probably be more ease around the waist than the bust or hips – meaning there is less waist suppression.

  9. Gale says:

    I was away from my computer and am glad to get back and see this answer.

    I must admit I was assuming that the pattern seams were perfected (walked) and so when I could not find a way to match them as side seams without gathers in places where no ease could possibly be needed, I moved on to finding another solution.

    As I can see the possibilities of my incorrect solution being an interesting garment, I have entertained the thought of making the pattern I drew. As I am always up for an interesting test for my sewing skills I will be curious to perfect these seams and see about making a side seam of this detail.

    This was fun and I hope for more of these brain teasers.

  10. Brina says:


    Bias shapes differently around the body than straight-of-grain cuts. (And even straight-of-grain cuts can take advantage of bias.) So the fit isn’t an illusion–if it fits, it fits–generally there is not any more ease around the waist because of the way bias hugs the body. Still, even with bias’ stretch, the garment needs to be cut well to fit well–one should not rely on the stretch to do all the work. But really the question should be based on how fitted are we talking about, since you can have very-fitted to loosely fitting garments in both straight-of-grain and bias cuts.

  11. Matthew Pius says:

    When I said illusion – I was talking about the closeness of fit, not whether it fits in a functional sense. So, referencing the illustrations of this particular sheath-dress – it is close fit at the bust and around the hips. A sheath dress like this one will not usually be as closely fitted at the waist as something with a waist seam. And one way to avoid having shaping seams in the area between bust and waist is to allow more ease at the waist (or less waist suppression) which will not necessarily appear visually as having more ease, just smooth lines. Bias might allow it to be cut without leaving more ease at the waist, but wouldn’t the performance of the bias depend on the particular fabric chosen? Different types of fabric will behave differently on the bias.

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