Cascades were created in several different ways in the Nineteen Twenties. Using the pattern archive at CoPA to better understand the options, I found a considerable variety of pattern shapes. Some cascades were basically rectangles, others were shaped, and sometimes the solution was really simple: essentially a piece of fabric wrapped around the body, with one side seam sewn several inches inside the edge of the cascade, which jutted out. (See Pattern 1408, below….)
In 1980, a Twenties’ dress with two cascades like that green one was one of my early experiments in draping. Think of the skirt as a very big pillowslip with an opening in the top seam a few inches from each side seam. That opening is gathered and attached to the bodice at the waist. I used a fairly light silk, so the bulk of the seam at each side wasn’t a problem. It looked fine, but this week I learned that it probably was not the way cascades were done in the early 1920s.
If I had had CoPA for research, I would have noticed that there was usually only one layer of fabric in the cascade.
In that case, the cascade was a separate pattern piece. It was also separate in this LHJ pattern, but this cascade was shaped to taper at the bottom. And it was NOT inserted in a side seam.
In Ladies’ Home Journal pattern 3616, the cascade is shaped, and it has a pleat (“plait”) at the point where it is attached to the skirt waist. But the cascade does not appear to be inserted into a seam.
I don’t know how the straight, raw edge of the cascade would be handled, since it doesn’t appear to be inserted in a seam, but …. (I may be misreading this one! Perhaps those five dots on the skirt are a cutting line?)
Butterick 3417, from 1921, can teach us many things.
The blouson shape can be held in place by the bodice lining and the waist stay, in addition to the built-in belt we see. The cape is not just a square; the little jag at the point of attachment will affect the way the cape falls. The cascade is cut in one with the skirt front.
This cascade is cut in one with the skirt front; the jog at the bottom allows about three inches for the skirt hem to be turned up. (The cascades apparently have a narrow hem.) The pale lavender line is my guess at the seam placement.
Butterick 3417 (1921) makes sense once you realize that the three-dot triangle means “place on fold of fabric.” I circled the small dots which mark the place where the side seams need to go. The “tube” part of the dress has a hem allowance of about 3 inches. The cascade would be narrow-hemmed, or picot hemmed, if chiffon. Yes, the back side of the fabric would be seen — no problem with georgette or reversible satin….
This Syndicate pattern, No. 1789 from 1923 has just five pieces. A seamstress would have to know about facing for the belt, which apparently buttons at one or both sides. How are the sleeves and cascades finished? How about a neck facing? Is the bodice fully lined? All up to the seamstress.
The aerial view of this dress as it would look before the sides were sewn is very informative!
Pictorial Review pattern 1408 also makes the cascade part of the skirt front:
Once you match the skirt front to skirt back at one side, the entire skirt wraps around and is stitched to the front, allowing the cascade to hang free.
This beautiful 1922 dress, Ladies’ Home Journal pattern 3701, has only four pattern pieces:
I said “only four pattern pieces;” the seamstress would have to make her own bias bindings and figure out how to face the long sleeves and neckline…. (I would line the entire bodice with contrasting Chinese silk.)
Butterick 4025 makes the cascade part of its one-piece skirt.
More often, the cascade was a separate pattern piece. In this 1923 pattern (Ladies’ Home Journal pattern 3961) the cascade on this side-closing surplice dress is cut with one curved side, for a more graceful “fall.” (“Fall, waterfall, cascade….”)
Obviously, there’s more than one way to cut a cascade. I’ve spent a lot of my life looking at old paintings and photographs and illustrations, trying to figure out how those those garments were constructed (and what the backs looked like.) One rule of the costume shop is: “Never assume.” Knowing how modern clothes are made — what “makes sense” to us — isn’t always the key to an authentic replica. CoPA, the Commercial Pattern Archive — started by theatrical costumers — is an absolute treasure. Spread the word!
Personal experience: Around 1985, I was designer and cutter for a production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. One of my stitchers had been trained as a tailor in Germany. She was so unhappy with the way my men’s sleeves (patterned from Norah Waugh’s Cut of Men’s Clothes : 1600-1900) needed gathering at the back of the sleeve head that I revised my patterns for them several times. Two years later I visited the Costume Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where some 18th c. men’s clothing was displayed in a case that I could walk around. Finally, I could see the back seams of the coats I had been drafting! Guess what? There were visible gathers at the back of the sleeve heads. And I had gone without sleep to get rid of them in my patterns! (P.S. That’s also why I always want to see the backs at museum exhibits! Maybe a photo? Or a mirror behind the mannequin?)