I find surprisingly little sewing information in Butterick’s Delineator magazines from the 1920s, considering that, like McCall’s magazine, it originally existed to sell patterns. That makes this brief article from December 1926 all the more interesting.
The Plus and Minus of Figures and Patterns, 1926
I’ll transcribe the whole thing, complete with its nasty assumption that all blondes are gold-diggers.
“Leila — the little creature without the hat — is a blonde, a Nordic by nature as well as by the color of her hair, but when she couldn’t gold-dig a new frock from her husband she decided to make something dazzling for herself and burst out in one of the new dolman frocks.
“She had her bust and hip measures taken when she bought her pattern, so she knew the size was right. ‘And that’s that,’ she thought, and cut it out gaily. It went together like a shot and she turned up the lower edges several inches, for, as I said, she’s a little creature. All went merrily as a wedding-bell until she tried it on and then, it was just all wrong.
“It was all top and no skirt, the waistline and the dolman armhole came below the hips and the sleeve itself acted very strangely on the lower part of the arm. You see, she’d done all the shortening at the lower edges while the frock was as long for her in the body as it was in the skirt.
[Butterick patterns from the 1920’s were for women taller than we’d expect. “Misses patterns,” sold by age instead of bust measurement, often had the words “or small women” in their description, but a short woman with a bust bigger than 37 inches (age 20) would need to do the same pattern alterations as “Leila.” (Age 17 was expected to have a 34 inch bust; age 18, 35″, age 19, 36.” )]
“I’m on the short side myself, so I knew she ought to have shortened her pattern before she cut her material. We pinned half of the pattern together and put it on with a tape measure at her natural waist.
The we put the small perforations that mark the waistline of the pattern at the lower edge of the tape measure and took up the extra length in a plait across the body of the pattern, making it just the right length.
“Very tricky, for it kept the waistline in place and gave the body and skirt an even break.
“We took the extra length out of the sleeve below the elbow instead of at the wrist, so that the dolman drapery wouldn’t come down on the lower arm where it is clumsy and ungainly.
“Trying on the pinned-up paper pattern is the easiest way to find out if the length needs altering — the pattern directions will tell you where to do it.
“The third picture of Leila, registering success, shows the recut frock is precisely the right length with its original proportions intact in spite of shortening.”
Before and After
The skirt, which was originally pinned up several inches, is now at the length called for in the pattern. Good thing Leila didn’t cut it shorter before consulting her friend!
Normally, I don’t write two consecutive posts about the same year and issue of a magazine, but The Delineator for December 1926 has both this discussion of the importance of adjusting the dress to the actual, not ideal, body, and another connection to “Pleated Dresses from 1926.” The friend who is helping Leila adjust her pattern is wearing that great art deco dress, Butterick 1163! I was sorry that I had no back views of it; while working on these pictures I remembered that its description mentioned “a tab yoke in back.” Here it is! On her left shoulder you can just make out the start of the button-trimmed arrow on the front of #1163, and her sleeves have the identical buttoned trim at the wrists.
In the early twenties, dresses often had surprisingly boring one-piece backs; the skirt godets, drapery and pleats were usually limited to the front.
P.S. If I had to come up with a sophisticated 1920s outfit in a hurry, that metallic [tissue lamé? ] blouse #1174 and its timeless flared skirt would look very tempting.
6 responses to “How to Alter a Twenties’ Dress Pattern; Advice from December 1926”
Well, I hate trying on paper patterns, even though I was taught to do it. And now we have and endorsement of this technique from 1926! Maybe I should change my ways. I’m glad to see that the arrow dress is just as marvelous from the back.
I’m not a fan of pinned-together paper, either — but it does mean that the patterns included a seam allowance. Paper can’t have looked much like a soft, silk dress, though.
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