20-minute 1920s dress

By on May 19, 2012

Hi everyone.  I’m Kass.  I’m new to We Sew Retro.  This is my first time posting.  I hope I can add something to the wonderful mix you have here.

I am the patternmaker at Reconstructing History patterns.  But this post isn’t about one of our patterns.  It’s about making a retro dress without a pattern.

I know!  Crazy, right?  A patternmaker who’s not pimping her patterns.  Unheard of!

Well, everybody’s gotta take a day off sometime.  =)

I hope you like it:

The 20-minute 1920s Dress

You’ve all heard about the 1-hour dress, right?

Well, today I’m going to show you how to make the 20-minute dress.

Impossible? Not hardly!

At the risk of sounding like a commercial for Ronco:  You too can make a gorgeous 1910s evening or party dress in 20 minutes, start to finish.  And by “finish”, I mean done, in the can, ready to wear.  No finishing work required!

This is a design by Madeleine Vionnet from 1919. Vionnet was a master of drape, and this dress (also known as The Jabot Dress or Handkerchief Dress because of its distinctive handkerchief decoration) was one of her favourite designs. It was part of her collection for years to come and it was copied by many other designers and pattern makers.

You need:

Lay one of your square scarves directly on top of another, wrong sides to wrong sides. The right side of the top scarf should be facing up.
Pin the top scarf to the bottom scarf along a diagonal line running from approximately 11″ from top corner to 8″ from the bottom corner (the path of the pins is shown by the position of the rulers)
Open up the scarves on their non-pinned corner and add another scarf, wrong sides to wrong sides, to the pile. Pin the second and third scarf together as pictured above.
Repeat the pinning process with the fourth scarf.
Repeat once more, pinning the last (fourth) scarf to the first scarf. Your scarves should look like the photo at right: two rows of pins traveling diagonally across the scarves.  (The fabric has been plumped up around the pins to better show their position.)

Pin each of the two adjacent corners to each other, wrong sides to wrong sides, to make the shoulder seams.

Put the dress on your dress form or try it on.  Adjust the pins as necessary at the neckline and armscye.  You can adjust the size of the dress by widening or narrowing the spacing of the pins.  As you can see from the sketch of Vionnet’s original dress above, the dress is meant to hang rather freely from the shoulders.  But you can make it as fitted as you like by playing with the placement of the pins.

I used 35″x 35″ scarves because I measure 42″ from my shoulder ridge to my knees and the diagonal of a 35″x35″ scarf is 49.5″ (hello, Pythagoras!) and that gives me some length to pin at the shoulders and still get a goodly amount below-the-knee for that hankie hem.  You can use any size scarves you want.  The only real requirement is that your scarves be perfectly square.

Sew along the pinline with your needle and thread or sewing machine.

Tip:  These seams are on the bias.  So remember to pull the fabric taut both in front and behind your needle as you sew.  Also, take the time to get your tension dialed in before you sew.  You won’t be sorry!

Add a sash around the hips and you’re done.  (See, it’s already hemmed!)

The 20-minute Vionnet

I dyed mine turquoise blue.

You can completely change the look of the dress by where you tie the scarf. I like it around the waist. Around the hips looks more mid-1920s.

You can read more about this dress and other period fashion ramblings in the RH blog.

Editor’s note: Lots of visitors struggling with these instructions, but thankfully Rebecca has recommended the following more comprehensive tutorial. Thanks Rebecca! 🙂

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