Pattern Puzzle: vintage dress

vpl_30s_style_ppWasting time Researching on Facebook the other day, I found an illustration of a dress I love. Not that I’d wear it, perish the thought, the things I like are the things I’d like to make. That’s my narrow and self serving idea of a good design.

This is a real challenge, I’d like for us to think of it in terms of construction so forgive this side jaunt into cutting the pattern.

See that peak of the skirt rising into the midriff, attached with two buttons? [Don’t let those buttons spook you, those aren’t functional but decorative.] Were I to cut this, I’d likely add more shaping -this silhouette being slender- with bust darts feeding from a closer fitting midriff to the bust, partially concealed on one side by the revers overlap. Darts would be more obvious on the underlap side but I think this is readily forgiven. Maybe a series of short tucking? There seems to be a bit of blousing in the sketch so who is to know the truth of it?

I’m not wild on bishop sleeves but I love the peaked shaped cuff.

Okay, onto what I consider to be the critical but understated element of this look -have you examined the CF hem closely? There’s a pleat there. How would you draft and stabilize the pleat?

I’m aware there’s myriad ways to draft a long pleat. You can partially stitch it closed, releasing midway between knee and hip but it doesn’t resolve the head of the pleat. Should it be halfway up or start at the waist? Have you ever drafted a frock coat? This is a common issue with those.

Having done this in all of the wrong ways and in a few good ways, I obviously have an opinion on the staying of this pleat. What is particularly dreadful is when a long pleat -even partially closed- splays inordinately. What say you? How would you tackle this problem? Let’s compound the difficulty by saying the dress is unlined. Obviously, I’m trying to point you toward a given solution. Humor me but I’m interested in your suggestionss. Have fun.

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  1. Elle says:

    I ran into a similar problem recently. Aside from being told to make the pleat deeper and/or fuse it to weigh it down, I also toyed with the idea of staying it with a tape inside the garment. But I was suspicious it would work at all and therefore have yet to try it out.

    Love to hear what the solution is.

  2. Barb Taylorr says:

    I would put a triangular shaped gusset inside the pleat, so there is no excess fabric to worry about at the top. (The top of the pleat/gusset is where that topstitching line ends.) Topstitch the folds on the inside to help it hold it’s shape. Make sure the seams of the gusset are hidden by the front folded edge and that overlapping left panel.

  3. Amy says:

    Oh, this caught my eye. I love all the diagonal seams. The other dresses in that picture are cute, too.

    I cheated and looked around–and found this solution from the same period:

    Although all that extra fabric seems a bit bulky, and I can’t figure out how one would get the top edges of the pleat section to hold their shape, to keep from drooping. If the pleat was drafted from the waist down, I wonder how one would eliminate the extra fabric bulk around the hips, seeing as how the intent of the design was to “slim”?

  4. Lori says:

    This is one I’ll be following closely! I’m probably displaying a ton of ignorance here, but recently I have been drafting a skirt with a off center pleat from the waist down. Looked great on paper, but when I did the muslin, it ‘leaned’ toward the center front on the bottom third–what could be considered ‘splaying.’ I noticed several of the older pattern books I have show doing a longer pleat with a triangular top similar to what Barb describes, however, I wasn’t sure how to sew everything together to get the look. A more experienced seamstress suggested sewing the pleat from the waist, adding the ‘gusset,’ then cutting away all the extra fabric to get rid of excess bulk. Haven’t finished trying it yet, though, as the whole sew, cut away seems unnecessarily a work around for something not being drafted properly.

  5. Yvonne says:

    I love this dress and will probably add it to my collection of vintage dresses I will make one day. Thanks for the Vintage Fashion Library link.

    As to the pleat challenge, my first thought is that the pleat is more functional than decorative and to start it midway between the hip and the knee, making an inverted pleat with pleat backing, but I don’t think the edge-stitching at the centre front seam would be enough to hold and stabilize the pleat head so I would start it closer to the waist securing the left side of the pleat head in the bottom seam of the overlap and the right side would be stabilized by the edge-stitching than ends above the knee.

    I did a quick sketch of what I think the pattern pieces might look like.
    first thought
    second thought

  6. Laura says:

    I know how I would do it: This pleat extends to the top of the skirt. The skirt left front extends into the right bodice at an angle; that tab is faced. This creates a symmetrical “v” shaped seam on the inside at CF. I think the pleat is a separate pattern piece, attaching from CF to CF.

  7. Yvonne in England says:

    I believe the pleat would be created with an additional piece of fabric whose vertical seam on each side coincides with the centre-front of the garment (the pleat edge). The arrow-head top reaches up into the midriff portion and is stitched directly behind the ornamental flap and button construction of the overlap. I think this is similar, if not the same, as that described by Yvonne above, although I think my idea of the inserted piece being seamed at the centre front may differ. This would give stability to the front edge.

  8. Kerryn says:

    My initial thoughts were the same as Yvonnes, to save fabric and reduce bulk I would start the pleat as illustrated by the topstitching at the knee. I would blindstitch by hand the top of the pleat in place inside. I do like Barb’s idea of a triangular gusset too, eliminating any hand stitching.

  9. Babette says:

    I’d be inclined to make the pleat underlay go all the way up into the shaped waist seam. That would support the pleat well. The skirt extensions would only need to go a bit past where the pleat opens and could be stitched to the underlay across their top to keep them from drooping.

  10. I’m with the send-the-pleat-up-into-the-waist folks, but I’d have the bit between the top of the opening and the waist be an extension of lining fabric to reduce bulk at the waist.

  11. I look at this dress and I think, “Wow, I’d love to wear that (well, except for the sleeves).” And I want to look closely and admire the crafts-woman-ship and I’d be so impressed. I just love all the details in vintage dresses. But I’d never think, “I’d like to make that.” I’d just want to show everyone I know.

    So, about the pleat? I haven’t a clue!


  12. ClaireOKC says:

    I love Barb’s idea of a triangular gusset, although the simplest and surest way (cause I fit a lot of “grande dame” types), is to just do it straight – I know it sounds like extra fabric, but would probably use something tightly woven, very light weight with an incredibly smooth hand….Bemberg to make up the gusset.

    But here’s the other part, I don’t think I would have that parallel extra seam/line in the up-arrow seam from the waist I (the one that’s parallel to the left side). I love the fit that seam would make, and personally I think the additional seam/dart below it takes away from the line.

    But then I’m always thinking in terms of simplicity – for my grande dame types!

  13. Elaine says:

    Did you see the back of that dress?? The two waist seams have got me stymied. How do they connect to the front on the sides? Or don’t they?

  14. Kim Stewart says:

    Hello, I’m so happy that you are discussing this amazing 1930s pattern. I make reproductions of 30s and 40s clothing custom from the original patterns for years as a hobby, and now I have a successful little custom made business. Each pattern is like an archeological experiment! I agree, the pleat does likely start at the waist. The desired fabrics used however were very light, therefore bulk would not be an issue. I do tend to add bust darts even for the vintage die-hards–it always makes the fit nicer. I have made a similar dress recently with a plain waist, and getting the plackets to lay right was certianly a challenge. And those bound buttonholes!

  15. Jinjer says:

    I’d be tempted to use a trick we used when making bedskirts at the interior decoration workroom where I worked: make a fake pleat. The pleat is a CF seam until just above the knee, and then it becomes a side hem, blindstitched at the sides and top. There is a separate piece of fabric, slightly shorter than the dress, and– attached along it’s top edge to the hem of the slit to make it look like a pleat. Because the style looks like it has more fullness below knee level, I’d also hide a tiny bit of flare in that slit. That would also discourage it from kicking out.

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