Author Archives: Deirdre

Classic 1930s Coat Part 1

Classic 1930s Coat Part 1

I was hoping to get the next section about the Traveling Jacket posted, but I got a bit stalled out in the pattern alteration phase. I will be posting up the information about the pattern alterations in the next day or so.

In the meantime, I thought I’d let you know about my current sewing project – a 1930’s coat.

My old winter coat (nearly 20 years old) is finally at the point where further repairs just aren’t going to cut it. And thanks to a very generous Christmas  gift last year from my wonderful mother-in-law, I was able to brush up on my dormant tailoring skills by taking a refresher course at Apparel Arts in San Francisco. (Be sure to check out Suzy Furrer’s book.  Simply one of THE BEST books on pattern drafting, in my humble opinion.)

I went burrowing through the Library’s archives, looking for a pattern close to my size, and matching the requirements of the class.  (Notched collar, welt pockets, two piece sleeve – etc.) Eventually out of 5 patterns than met the requirements, I narrowed it down to this pattern from 1933 –

It has that classic “Casablanca” look to it, and I love the long length with the box pleats falling from the waist at the back to the hem. Another interesting design feature is the long dart that comes in from the underarm and angles down towards the pocket.  (You can see a bit of the dart if you peek closely at the right hand side of the white coat.  There’s a little angled shadow that’s center and just above the double welt pocket – that’s the dart.

Now – if I could only find a pair of those brown shoes shown in the left illustration!

My old coat was black, so I decided that for a fabric I wanted something a bit different.  I wasn’t sure what, one of those I’ll know it if I see it things.  I also knew that while Britex Fabrics would be the number one choice for wool – I didn’t want to pay 250.00 a yard for a full length coat.  I knew if I even browsed over there I would fall in love with something much beyond my budget.

Instead, I went to Discount Fabrics in Berkeley, CA.  Which is a great place, if you don’t mind spending a couple of hours in there browsing.  It’s rather like a fabric treasure hunt, and if you find something you like,  snap it up — because there’s no telling if it will be there the next time you come.

It took me a bit to track down the woolens . . . and while the selection wasn’t nearly as huge at Britex . .  all of it was lovely stuff.   I found what I was looking for.  A blue-gray Italian wool, with a very slight pile surface.  It was a bit lighter weight than I was looking for, but  the canvas and other structure inside should give it more body.

(excuse the slight wrinkles from it being folded!)

The fabric is 60 inches wide, 100% camel hair wool,  and ran about $ 55.00 per yard which means it would have run anywhere from $ 100.00 – $ 150.00 a yard anywhere else.  You can’t really see it in this picture, but it has little flecks of pale blue, pale and medium gray in it.

I made a muslin first, using Nancy Zieman’s book Pattern Fitting With Confidence.  (This is a reissue of her earlier book Fitting Finesse.) I’ve used this primer for years to alter vintage patterns to fit me – and highly recommend her method.

I ended up having to adjust through the waist and hips for my extra inches.  and having to widen the upper sleeve to for my more “fluffy” upper arms.  I also decided to raise the neckline lap at the center front a little higher – since one of the things I hate is wearing a coat where the cold air is whistling down my front!  The muslin only needed a few little tweaks in class (hooray for Nancy Zieman!) — one of which was to open up the shoulder seam a little more to allow for shoulder pads.

Unfortunately I can’t show you the finished muslin – because I’ve already taken it apart to use as the pattern for cutting the coat.  But trust me . .  even as a muslin . . . it looked SHARP!

I decided to do everything in classic couture tailoring methods, which translates into lots of hand work.   I went through and chalked all of the markings, and then thread basted everything . . . and I mean everything with silk thread.

(thread basted pocket opening)

(Dart hand basted and ready to be sewn)

All of the thread marking didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would – and there was a sort of zen quality to plying needle and thread through buttery soft wool.

The refresher course at Apparel Arts helped get my brain in motion – but some of the techniques were a bit modernized for what I wanted to do, such as machine stitching rather than pad stitching being used for the collar.  Don’t get me wrong – for current tailoring these options work great, and are amazing time savers.  But having chosen a vintage pattern, I wanted to do something a lot closer to what would have been done in 1933.

So – my next step was off to research the Library’s vintage tailoring books!

Part two of this series will cover constructing the darts, making the double welt pockets  . . . and what my tailoring research turned up.

My next post will cover sewing the darts and the double welt pockets.

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Afternoon Dress

This version of our pattern # T1060 has the elegant styling that all of the classic 1930’s dresses show.  Featured at the FABRICATIONS Blog – there is a wonderful detailed write up on the construction of this dress.

1895 Traveling Jacket Tutorial Part 1

A slight technical glitch prevented me from getting this up on Tuesday as planned. But it seems to be resolved now . . . so here is the post that should have gone up yesterday!

All sorts of things come into the Library’s Archives, almost on a daily basis. Fashion catalogs, commercial patterns, odd bits of paper brick a brack, so that when a package comes, it’s always a surprise and a treasure hunt when I get to open it.

There’s always swoon-worthy stuff . . . from that amazing chic 1950’s ensemble, to the complicated design of early century evening gowns. But – even amongst so much eye candy, there sometimes comes something exceptional that just grabs me.

This 1895 “Robe de Voyage” or Traveling Dress is from a copy of La Mode Illustree dated May 5, 1895. (I’ll write a longer post on the history of La Mode Illustree at another point.)

When I opened up this newly arrived issue, and saw this jacket, the first thing I did was scan the included pattern sheet to see if it was there . . . and found it! Not all of the garments shown in an issue are included in the pattern sheet, so it was just good luck that this jacket that I was so taken by was included.


In all of the 1895 archives that the Library owns I have never seen a design like this one. I went to work to replicate the pattern from the pattern sheet, and get it set up in electronic format. When the formatting was completed, the pattern pieces look like:

Listed from upper left, going clockwise – the pieces are:

Jacket Trim


Jacket Inset

Jacket Front

Jacket Back

Jacket Side Form

Sleeve (at bottom)

As with most of the patterns from this period from La Mode Illustree, there are no sizes given. Typical of these early patterns, I presumed that the jacket would run very small. Especially through the armscye and the bust area. Measuring the pattern through the approximate areas, I came up with an estimate of an 18″ waist and 30″ bust. (Clearly a lot of adjustment is going to need to happen to make this wearable for me!)

Looking at the illustration of the front and back, the jacket looks to be constructed using princess seams, which appear to be lapped (or welted) seams with top stitching. The shoulder seam is placed directly on the shoulder, and the collar is a standing, mannish style that folds over on itself.

The sleeve is huge – it measures 32-1/2 inches across at it’s widest part. The leg 0′ mutton sleeve has the lower part fitted closely from the wrist to the elbow by a series of pleats. Many of these sleeves had a lining, and used netting or crinoline in between to keep the poofy shape of the sleeve. This pattern does not have a sleeve lining pattern included.

The jacket trim is a separate piece, that gives the illusion of a double breasted closure, when in fact the jacket opens at the center front. It is interesting to note that the lower edge of the center front does not meet, but wings open slightly from about the hip bone. (My best guess based on looking at the picture.)

The original text indicates that it is to be made of a gray-blue serge and trimmed with large metal buttons.

There is also a skirt pattern given with this jacket, and the text indicates that a “chemisette-blouse” was to be worn underneath. In an issue of Harper’s Bazar from about this same period, a similar jacket and skirt is shown, with a sleeveless blouse, that was to be worn underneath the jacket, with the understanding that the jacket would not be taken off in public. I am guessing that the “chemisette-blouse” might have been something very much like that. Especially looking at how tightly the sleeves fit in the lower arm, it would be uncomfortable to say the least to try to get an arm through there with a long-sleeved blouse! (I will include a picture of the full ensemble with the skirt later this week, in the next blog post. )

Given how small the sizing is on this pattern, my usual method of sewing a muslin and then slashing and adding is probably not going to give as good results as starting with a pattern that is closer to my dress form’s size. I have a set of princess pattern blocks from String Codes, which I’ve had for quite a while, and haven’t put to use. I’ve heard mixed reviews about how accurate they are for pattern design – I’d love to hear from anyone who’s used their product. I think in this case, even if they don’t turn out to be very accurate – they will provide a jumping off place to start working with the original pattern pieces.

**Next post which should be up on 09/10 or 09/11 I’ll have information on the skirt, and redrafting the pattern.**

H1440 Hat Tutorial Part 3

In the last tutorial (part # 2) we completed the Brim Foundation and the Crinoline Headband. This week’s tutorial will be shortish – as we will be doing some prep work for the bigger push next week.  While it may seem like we are getting a bit bogged down – we’ll be making lots of progress on finishing the hat soon!


Place the Brim Foundation on a flat surface with the basted edge upwards, and the folded edge on the flat surface.   Matching the center fronts, place the Crinoline Headband over the Brim Foundation and pin on either side of the center front mark.  The bound edge of the Crinoline Headband should be upwards, and the folded edge  should be against the Brim Foundation.  Match the folded edge of Crinoline Headband to blue lap line on the Brim Foundation.

(photo above shows the center front of the Crinoline Headband matched to the Brim Foundation. A piece of paper is inside to provide contrast.)

Repeat the process to match the center back markings.

(photo above shows the Brim Foundation, with Crinoline Headband matched at center back. A piece of paper is inside to provide contrast.)

Ease Brim Foundation as needed to fit into Crinoline Headband.  Depending on the stiffness of your Crinoline you may be able to gather it by hand, or may need to pleat it.  The crinoline that I am using in this tutorial is fairly stiff, so I have pleated it as needed to fit.

Pin securely, using lots of pins to control fullness.

(photo above shows the brim foundation eased into the Crinoline Headband. A piece of paper is inside to provide contrast.)

Steam and press Brim/Headband assembly over rolled towel or pressing ham to set easing, and to nudge back into a circular shape.

(photo above shows the pressed Brim Foundation and Crinoline Headband before stitching. A piece of paper is inside to provide contrast.)

Join the Brim Foundation and Crinoline Headband by machine or hand stitching close to the edge of the binding strip.

(photo above shows the Crinoline Headband joined to the Brim Foundation, stitched across the top, along the muslin Headband. A piece of paper is inside to provide contrast.)

Set the Brim Foundation/Crinoline Headband aside, while we make the Brim Facing.


On the wrong side of the fabric, mark the center front and center back lines at both ends, by chalk, thread basting, or dressmaker’s carbon.  If your fabric is of a light color, thread basting is suggested so that the markings do not show through to the front.

Be careful not to stretch or distort the bias cut Brim Facing while marking.  You do not have to mark the center horizontal turn line unless you wish to.

In the photos below the center front and center back lines are marked by black thread basting.

(photo above shows  the center back line of Brim Facing, marked.)

(photo above shows the center front line of the Brim Facing marked.)

Place the Brim Facing wrong side down on a flat surface, oriented as shown in the picture below.

(photo above shows Brim Facing, wrong side down and oriented correctly for joining.)

Bring the two ends of the Brim Facing towards the center, so that they parallel each other as shown in the photo.  (A piece of paper has been placed underneath to show the alignment clearer.)

(photo above shows the Brim Facing ends turned towards each other in the correct orientation for joining.  The wrong sides of the ends are facing up.)

Place right sides of Brim Facing ends together, matching center back markings, and notches.  Pin in place.

(photo above shows Brim Facing placed right sides together, with center back markings matched, to create diagonal seam.  Right side is inside of the Brim Facing.)

Join seam along the diagonal using a 3/8-inch seam.  Being careful not to stretch the bias.  Press seam open carefully.

(photo above shows completed and pressed seam for Brim Facing – wrong side out. A piece of paper is inside to provide contrast.)

Turn the Brim Facing right side out, so that the seam is on the inside.

Hooray!  This part of the tutorial is complete.  Next week we will attach the Brim Facing and construct the Side Crown for the next phase of the hat.

April 1924 Latest Fashions

(Transcribed from McCall’s Fashion Catalogue)



When the days lengthen and the cold ceases to strengthen, to transpose the old rhyme, it’s time in a woman’s mind to conserve money – to coyly lift it from the housekeeping allowance,possibly – in order to buy the new so that one may throw away the old.  What a glorious gesture is that particular one which woman makes in springtime;  that sweeping gesture which discards all the flotsam and jetsam she has made serve for clothes in the name of thrift.

Now she has a reason, a dire necessity for things new, so she goes to the work quite merrily.  The shop counters are as colorful as an exhibition of cubistic pictures.  Fabrics have lost the influence of Tut’s tomb.  Thank the designers for that much.  But they have not lost the touch of the Orient.  Indian prints, Chinese flowering, Persian and Arabic letterings and patterns are offered.  Roman striping and Venetian blossoms cover silks and cottons.  Whatever is old in art is modern in its application.

Silk fabrics are plentiful for spring clothes and well they should be –  they suit our climate.  Tub silks come to us for simple frock from Paris and Cairo.  Cotton crepe is to be fashioned into frocks for hot days.  Ginghams take their established place for morning gowns.  Dimities with their ancient patterns and some new ones, are to be worn by youth an middle-age.  Pique is struggling for importance in sports skirts and sleeveless jackets.  Silk alpaca is accepted at last.  Nursery flannel, plain, is also striped like cricket blazers in England, is so highly sponsored that none can resist it.  It goes into frocks as simple a monastic robes, and monks are the source of the inspiration.  It goes into tuck-in shirts with rolling collars.

There are three lines to follow in spring clothes.  You should choose the one that suits you best, or take all three.  The first and dominating one is straight with the suppleness of an eel.  The second is wide below the hips and tightly trig above the waist.  The third is flexibly circular, its movement achieved through the cut of the fabric, not the insertion of godets.

1930s Gown with Cascade

That amazing sewing maven at the Sew Weekly blog has done it again!  Her version of our pattern # T3946 is sure to turn heads at the upcoming Bay Area Gatsby Weekend.   Be sure to scroll down in the blog and read all the details about the construction of this dress!.

1940s Daytime Frock

A lovely version of pattern number F3666made by one of our clients.

To read about the construction details of this dress – visit her blog!

Another Version of Felt Cloche Hat

Here is another beautiful version of the 1920’s Cloche hat made from our pattern number HW001

There’s an excellent review of the pattern at her blog : Silk, Wool and Needles

Spring Dress Client Project

What a great way to start off the spring!  This wonderful dress made up from pattern # T7746 looks like just the thing to enjoy the warm weather!

You can read up on the details of the construction:  HERE!

Art Deco Client Project

This lovely version of our pattern # Z2773 in black and white was made for the Art Deco Weekend in Napier New Zealand, the biggest event of it’s kind inthe world (much bigger even than the Great Gatsby picnic held in San Francisco every year)!

This outfit won two first prizes at the event. “Women’s Reproduction Day Wear” and overall “Best in Show”

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