Tag Archives: Vionnet influence 1930s thirties

Fashion Advice for Summer, 1933 (Part 2)

Beach pajamas [aka pyjamas]; detail from Delineator cover, August 1933.

When we think of summer fashion, we usually think of loose clothes, cool dresses with bare arms and backs, and sporty clothing suitable for vacation activities. Here is Part 2 of summer fashion advice from Marian Corey, writing in Delineator,  June 1933. [Click here for Part 1.]

For Tennis

Butterick 5182, at right; “The pinafore frock that buttons down the back is THE tennis dress.” Delineator, June, p. 61. (This is the only illustration of it that I found.)

Delineator, June 1933, p. 61.

Like dress 5182, Butterick 5025 buttons in back:

“Bermuda” is the name given to this dress (Butterick 5025) which, like tennis dress No. 5182, buttons down the back. “…Known technically as a beach dress although it is far more apt to be worn off the beach than on.” Delineator, April 1933.

Notice the bare backs and chic suntans of these blonde models.

“Hello Everybody” is the name given to Butterick 5021, at right. From Delineator, April 1933.

Bicycle Clothes

Clothes for bike riding and skating, Delineator, June 1933.

I didn’t find any illustrations of divided skirts in this issue, but there were good-looking slacks or beach pajamas, and shorts sets, too,

Butterick 5219 could be made as trousers or shorts. Delineator, July, 1933.

The Talon fastener — a slide fastener or “zipper” — was still new in 1933; many dressmakers would not know how to install one.

Butterick slacks pattern 4884 had a sailor influence in its double row of buttons. The shirt pattern was included.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/1934-june-p-17-sea-sun-sand-4884-5219-pants-500.jpg?w=423&h=498

Left, Butterick 4884 photographed for Delineator in June, 1934. The reclining model wears Butterick 5219.

Shorts (or slacks) pattern 5219 was featured again in July; this time No. 5219 was christened “Eight Bells.”

Slacks pattern 5219 (“Eight Bells”) pictured with a bathing suit, 5215 (“Seawothy.”)  Delineator, July 1933, p. 60.

For those too young to remember, this was what roller skates looked like in the 1930’s; they were the same in the 1950’s, when I learned to skate:

You could earn a pair of skates like this by selling subscriptions to Ladies’ Home Journal. Ad from LHJ, August 1936. My skates could only be used with leather-soled shoes; the clamp at the front was adjusted with a “skate key,” but slipped off of tennis shoes.

The Pretty and the Kitsch blog happened to show this photo of women roller skating in trousers (like Butterick 4884 or 5219) or beach pajamas. The photo is not dated precisely, but it’s apt! Thanks, Emily Kitsch.

Bathing Suits

“Don’t get a wool jersey bathing suit — the wool suit isn’t enjoying its usual popularity. The rubber bathing suit and the cotton ones are making it look sick.” Marian Corey, Delineator, June 1933. p. 61.

Wool bathing suits in an ad for Ironized Yeast, Delineator, March 1933.

A wool bathing suit — and especially a heavy, soaking wet, wool bathing suit — did not camouflage any figure faults:

Wet wool bathing suits, late 1920’s or early 1930’s. All (well, nearly all) is revealed as the weight of the cold water pulls the knit suits tight against the body.

This cotton bathing suit was designed by Orry-Kelly for Bette Davis, seen wearing it. Butterick briefly offered line-for-line copies of clothing worn in the movies, as “starred patterns.” This one is from June, 1933; Delineator.

Marian Corey recommended cotton bathing suits, like this one, Butterick pattern 5215. June 1933.

Two versions of Butterick bathing suit 5215, from July and June, 1933.  “Jersey tights” were worn under the skirt  or shorts.

[You can read more about Butterick Starred Patterns from several movies: costumes for Bette Davis by Orry-Kelly, Katharine Hepburn by Howard Greer, Mary Astor by Orry-Kelly, Kay Francis by Orry-Kelly, and Helen Twelvetrees by Travis Banton.]

If you’re curious about the “beguiling” drawstring neckline dress mentioned by Marian Corey, here it is:

Butterick 5173, a dress with a drawstring neckline; Delineator, June 1933, p. 62.

And here are two rubber bathing suits featured in McCall’s Magazine, July 1938. In case Ms. Corey piqued your interest: “We know you can think of dozens of reasons why a rubber suit wouldn’t suit you, but even so and nevertheless! You see, they’re good-looking, and so nice and cheap, and they give one quite a figure.”

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/p-70-bathing-suit-btm-text-500.jpg?w=500&h=405

Rubber bathing suit pictured in McCall’s Magazine, July 1938.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/p-71-bathing-suit-top-500-text-rubber.jpg?w=500&h=351

Rubber bathing suit pictured in McCall’s Magazine, July 1938.

Beach Pajamas

Gingham beach pajamas and bare shouldered sundress. Butterick 5133 and 5075 , Delineator, May 1933.

In “Gingham Girl” one can crawl about on hands and knees and get in the way of the garden hose without any harm being done. “Gingham Girl ” takes housework in its stride, too, doing away with bulky and unattractive aprons.” “New Low” is the thing for tennis, for there’s nothing to hinder the most smashing serve.” — Delineator, May 1933, p. 52.

Now I’m ready for July.

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Filed under 1930s, Bathing Suits, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Swimsuits, Vintage patterns, Vintage patterns from the movies, vintage photographs, Women in Trousers, Zippers

Day and Night in Vogue Patterns, 1937

“Make These and Have Something to Wear: Vogue Designs for Busy Days and Crowded Nights”

“Vogue Designs for Busy Days.” Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1937, page 30. November 1937.

Vogue Designs “for Crowded Nights.” Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1937, page 31.

This two-page spread in the Ladies’ Home Journal (LHJ) featured nine Vogue patterns. Here they are in detail:

Vogue two-piece dress pattern 7508 (in “copper”) and dress 7511 in black trimmed with grosgrain ribbons in “flower colors” to “trim the deep-lapped seam from neck to hem.” November 1937, LHJ. Shoulders are getting broader.

Vogue 7508, at left,  is “fitted to bring out natural curves;” Vogue 7511 has a “Victorian” collar and bands of grosgrain trim around the hem, too.

Vogue 7510. November 1937; LHJ. “An opportunity… if you’ve never sewn before, for it’s ‘Easy to Make.’ The skirt is in four gores, and you may use tiny buttons down the front in place of a slide fastener.”

Vogue 7510 has a zipper front and is worn with two (!) belts. Zippers made the change from sportswear to more formal clothing in 1936-1937.

This high-cut collar is also seen on the “copper” colored two piece dress, No. 7508.

Vogue dress 7509, in red, and 7512, in blue. In spite of the zigzag look at the hem and cuffs, 7512 is not a knitted dress. LHJ, Nov. 1937, p. 30. No, 7509 was available for large women, up to a bust of 46 inches.

Details of Vogue 7509 and 7512, from 1937. No. 7509 has a “soft, shirred plastron front”  and amazing sleeves. It is worn with matching dress clips. No. 7512 is “of a new violet-blue crepe with tiny wavy pleating worked right into the fabric. You can make the saw-tooth trimming on your sewing machine. Don’t you think the new-length sleeves are young?”

Alternate views of Vogue 7508, 7511, 7510, 7509, and 7512. LHJ, Nov. 1937.

On the facing page, four Vogue patterns for evening were illustrated:

Slinky satin evening gowns without a center front seam show what can be done with a bias cut and a flat tummy. Vogue 7506, in white, and Vogue 7505, in two shades of green.

“If you can enter a room regally, princess dress 7506 is for you!” This is not what is usually meant by “princess dress.” But she is wearing a tiara….

“The apparent lack of a seam down the front is not a mistake; there is one right down the center in back. We just couldn’t bear desecrating the lovely backward sweep with mere seams. The twisted shoulder straps, that are part of the dress front, drop to the waistline in back. We suggest platinum satin with mink or kolinsky banding.”

(A little digression: Kolinsky is a very expensive fur. High quality watercolor brushes are still made from it; Winsor & Newton will sell you a size 10 Kolinsky brush for $499. Movie plug:  In the 1937 comedy, Easy Living, the life of a hard-working young woman is transformed when an angry millionaire throws his wife’s Kolinsky fur coat out the window. Since our heroine doesn’t know what” Kolinsky” is, she wears the coat, not realizing it’s worth $55,000 — in Depression Era dollars! To her surprise, people start treating her differently because they think she is rich — or immoral….  Easy-to-relate-to Jean Arthur is the star. )

Vogue 7507 has a twisted tie on its bolero jacket. The glittering shoulder straps on the dress can be rhinestoned or sequinned. LHJ, Nov. 1937.

Both the bias cut and the twisted fabrics in those two Vogue evening gowns show the influence of Madeleine Vionnet.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/vionnet-evening-dress-and-jacket-1935-met.jpg?w=448&h=496

A bias evening gown with twisted and tied jacket by Madeleine Vionnet, 1935. Photo: Metropolitan Museum.

Left, Vogue 7507, with a sheer, deep pink cover-up. Top tight, Vogue evening gown 7504. LHJ, 1937.

“Coronation pink” refers to he coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England and the United Kingdom in May of 1937. They were the parents of Queen Elizabeth II. “Shocking pink” was introduced by Elsa Schiaparelli, also in 1937.

Alternate views of Vogue 7506, 7505, 7507 and 7504. LHJ, November 1937. Backs were cut to the waist on the gowns at left.

Are you inspired to start sewing your New Year’s gown?

Note:  These patterns were featured in November, so women would have been making and wearing them in 1938 and 1939 — or later. By mid-1939, the hems on the day dresses would have looked much too long.

Butterick Fashion News flyer, July, 1939.

Butterick Fashion News flyer, page 3. July 1939.

 

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Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Not Quite Designer Patterns, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes, Zippers

Biased in Favor of Vionnet and Ericson, Part 2

Vionnet , 1936. Metropolitan Museum photos

Vionnet , 1936. Metropolitan Museum photos

In Part 1, I shared bits of a marvelous lecture about Vionnet, given by Sandra Ericson in 2010.  I recently looked at Sandra Ericson’s site online, The Center for Pattern Design, (click here)  and found that there have been many changes — she has relocated from northern California to Oregon, she now sells patterns and specialized books online, and she offers lectures and seminars all over the country. (Back in 2010, she was getting ready for a seminar/workshop on Balenciaga. See her two-day seminars.  Vionnet is not her only specialty, but is the topic for a five day seminar/workshop.)

Her site says, “Each seminar and the instructor, Sandra Ericson, meet the qualifications for university level instruction for degree or non-credit fashion programs.  If inclusion in an accredited program curriculum is desired, please contact us for further compliance information.”

You can also watch her free online class in patternmaking “from sketch to pattern.” ) On my computer it took a very long time to load, but a long-ago class — in grad school — when I first learned about “pattern manipulation” was one of those life-changing moments.

The Most Expensive Gown in the World: by Madeleine Vionnet, in a Pebco toothpase ad. Delineator, Sept. 1931.

“The Most Expensive Gown in the World:” by Madeleine Vionnet, in a Pebco toothpaste ad. Delineator, Sept. 1931. “Though apparently simple, its classic loveliness is founded on the most intricate cutting and  molding to the body lines. By courtesy of Bergdorf-Goodman.”

When Ericson lectured at the de Young museum, she said the only way she publicizes her draping workshops is via her newsletter, so please visit her website if you want to subscribe to her mailing list. (click here, then scroll down to bottom of page.)

The lecture included plenty of visual material, with slides and half-scale versions of Vionnet designs from the early 20’s through the end of the 1930’s. Obviously, it’s hard to to do her lecture justice without her slides, but Ericson also recommended some books on the life and work of Madeleine Vionnet, especially Madeleine Vionnet by Betty Kirke (available from Amazon for as little as $76). Another, Madeleine Vionnet by Pamela Golbin, is also available for $75 or so, used.

Betty Kirke also wrote a “must read” article about Vionnet for Threads Magazine, which you can read online (illustrated).  It has some amazing pattern layouts!

Velvet gown by Vionnet, photographed by Edward Steichen. Advertisement in Delineator, 1925.

Velvet gown by Vionnet, photographed by Edward Steichen. Advertisement in Delineator, 1925.

Also just a click away is an article in Threads Magazine which shows half-scale reproductions of Vionnet designs. To read read “Vionnet in Miniature” (click here).

Vionnet draped on half-scale mannequins so that she could see the whole design at once. (Click here to see her at work.)

(Where can you get an affordable half-scale mannequin? Ericson ingeniously makes them from My Size Barbie dolls — and sells a pattern for turning a Barbie figure into a human figure for about $13. (See it here.) The doll is not included — they cost about $60 online.

These are notes I took at Sandra Ericson’s 2010 lecture on Vionnet — any errors are mine. The patterns used for illustration are not by Vionnet, but show her influence. My drawings are pure conjecture.

What I Learned in Two Hours

Ericson divided her lecture into “6 Principles of Elegant Cutting” – “epiphanies” she had while studying Vionnet.

Vionnet as Architect:  Vionnet thought of herself as an architect or geometrician. Her design goal was simplicity and integration. Integration: nothing is added that isn’t part of the whole (no trims, etc., that don’t have a function) and Simplicity: achieve the most design excellence with the least amount of “work” – that is , the fewest seams/cuts possible.

Vionnet gown photographed by Irving Penn.

Vionnet gown photographed by Irving Penn. This dress is four rectangles, worn on the bias. Collection of Metropolitan Museum

Vionnet’s Fabrics:  Ericson also gave a list of fabrics that work best for Vionnet’s approach:  those that have a balanced thread count, a loose weave (not synthetic, usually), twisted yarns, less friction (so they flow over the body), less dimensional stability (seek fabrics that do NOT keep a square well) and weight:  Rayon, silk, wool, crepe chiffon, georgette, twills, nets.

Anatomy and Style Lines: Vionnet stressed the importance of the geometry of the human body: Style Lines – places where the seams go – should coincide with the direction of the muscles.

Vionnet thought seams should follow the lines of our musculature. Anatomical drawing by Hugh Laidman, Vionnet gown photo: Metropolitan Museum.

Vionnet thought seams should follow the lines of our musculature. Anatomical drawing by Hugh Laidman in his book Figures/Faces; Vionnet gown photo from Metropolitan Museum.

Ericson’s Analysis of Vionnet’s Six Principles of Elegant Cutting

Principle 1:  Cut geometrically. Vionnet based her cutting on circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and especially on the quadrant (quarter) of a circle.

Vionnet often began draping with a quadrant, sometimes with the tip cut off.

Vionnet often began draping with a quadrant, sometimes with the tip cut off.

Some of her early dresses were cut on the straight, seamed on the straight grain, and worn on the bias. Other gowns were formed from four identical pattern pieces, often cut as rectangles, worn on the bias. (See one by clicking here.) Sandra Ericson reproduced one and wore it:  a timeless design.

This 1920’s dress is tucked on the straight grain and worn on the bias:

Vionnet dress, 1926-1927. Metropolitan Museum photo.

Vionnet dress, 1926-1927. Metropolitan Museum photo. Click image to enlarge.

Some of her most influential gowns were based on a quarter circle, slashed to create a V neckline or an armhole, shaped by triangular inserts at waist or hip. . . .

Vionnet Nightgown with triangular inserts, 1930. Photos: Metropolitan Museum.

Vionnet nightgown with triangular inserts, 1930. Photos: Metropolitan Museum.

An astonishing number of 1930’s dresses are shaped by geometrical inserts which use bias stretch to achieve their fit — even these dresses from Sears.

Dresses from the Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1932.

Dresses from the Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1932.

It’s tempting to think this dress is simply a quadrant with a halter, but that was just the beginning.

Vionnet evening gown, 1936. Collection of Metropolitan Museum.

Vionnet evening gown, 1936. Collection of Metropolitan Museum.

A quadrant wrapped around the body. Vionnet added a side front seam.

Drawing:  A quadrant wrapped around the body and seamed below the waist at center back. However, Vionnet shaped her gown with a side front seam, just visible in the photo.

Principle 2:  Weight creates fit and form. (Rayon double crepe and 4-ply silk crepe are recommended.) Vionnet’s dresses won’t hang properly unless there is enough weight to pull the bias fabric down over the body. The weight of the fabric will usually do this on a full-length gown, but a knee-length dress will skim and stand away from the body, unless you find a way to add weight. However, Vionnet did this by integrating the added weight into the design, not by weighting it with chain.

Chiffon gown by Vionnet, 1926. Metropolitan Museum photo.

Chiffon gown by Vionnet, 1926. Metropolitan Museum photo. The trim weights the light chiffon.

She might use many tucks or applique to add weight on a light fabric, or fur at the hem, or a pattern of fringe.

Fringd evening gown by Vionnet. 1936. Photos: Met Museum.

Fringed evening gown by Vionnet. 1936. Photos: Met Museum.

Principle 3:  Any part can extend – into twists, ties, folds, loops. Think of a halter dress which is one long strip of fabric, covering the bust, twisting into a ‘knot’ below the breasts, continuing around the back and returning to the front to form the sash…. The folds and twists of fabric become the ‘ornamentation.’

Vionnet evening dress and jacket, wrapped and tied. 1935. Photos: Metropolitan museum.

Vionnet evening dress and jacket, wrapped and tied. 1935. Photos: Metropolitan Museum.

Butterick patterns 4199 (1931,) 4222 (1931,) and 4587 (1932) shown the twisted fabrics pioneered by Vionnet.

Butterick patterns 4199 (1931,) 4222 (1931,) and 4587 (1932) show the twisted fabrics pioneered by Vionnet.

Butterick 4546: "...the cape shoulders, the twisting that Vionnet has made famous, and the wrapping and tying that is very 'last-wordish' here now." Delineator, June 1932.

Butterick 4546: “…the cape shoulders, the twisting that Vionnet has made famous, and the wrapping and tying that is very ‘last-wordish’ here now.” Delineator, June 1932.

Twisted effects in a Kotex ad and a Butterick pattern, 1932.

Twisted effects: gown in a Kotex ad and a Butterick pattern, 1932.

Butterick pattern 4271, "Crossed and tied." January 1932.

Butterick pattern 4271, “Crossed and closely tied.” January 1932. “A frock with its decolletage made by crossing the bodice at the back and tying the ends round in front.”

Note how many of these thirties gowns use panels based on quadrants in their skirts.

Principle 4:  The design should integrate the closure. Vionnet liked closures to be part of the design, not added later. Often a pattern piece extends to become a draped collar, wrap behind the neck, and fall as a scarf or cape over the opening, so that there is no need for a closure.

Vionnet, 1920. The collar extends into a long scarf, whose weight helps keep the wrap bodice in place. Met Museum, NY

Vionnet, 1920. The collar extends into a long scarf, whose weight helps keep the wrap bodice in place. Met Museum, NY

Betty Kirke’s pattern taken from this dress can be seen here. Another view of the dress, showing a rectangular insert in the left side, can be seen here.  One Vionnet ‘suit’ which appeared to be a dress and cape was actually a single piece.

Principle 5:  Decorative details create silhouette, fit, and finish. Work them on the straight grain. Examples: several rows of pintucks on a crepe day dress appear to form an X from shoulders to hips. They are stitched on the straight, but worn on the bias, and contribute to the structure of the dress.

Detail of Vionnet dresses from the 1920's. The fabric was tucked on the straight grain, but used on the bias. Mertopolitan Museum Photos.

Detail of two Vionnet dresses from the 1920’s. The fabric was tucked on the straight grain, but used on the bias. Metropolitan Museum Photos.

She also used fagoting (connecting pieces of fabric with openwork stitching ) – a square worked on the straight – which formed diamond shaped neckline and sleeve details in the (bias) finished garment. (This black silk dress from a private collection is not attributed to Vionnet, but it uses this technique.)

Black silk vintage dress with squares set on the bias and connected by fagoting.

Black silk vintage dress with squares set on the bias and connected by fagoting.

Principle 6:  Use inserts for specific shaping.

Suit, Butterick pattern 4316, Feb. 1932. The inserts at the hips are attributed to Vionnet.

Suit, Butterick pattern 4316, Feb. 1932. The inserts at the hips, and the skirt beginning above the waist,  show the influence of  Vionnet.

4316 skirt cut like vionnet text 1932 feb del

Can you visualize the skirt of No. 4316 beginning as a straight-grain section of a circle, with straight-grain squares inserted on the bias? (The squares seem to be incorporated into the bodice.) This dress fits closely over the hips without any visible darts to shape it, although there is a bust dart in the bodice.

Think of a satin 1930’s evening gown, very full at the hem, with triangular or rectangular inserts, with the points toward the center of the body. With the sides of the rectangle on the straight grain, the panel stretches horizontally. (Click here for illustration.)

Butterick evening patterns , from 1931 and 1932.

Butterick evening patterns , from 1931-32.

The dress on the right has inserts over the hips; the dress in the center seems to have a triangular insert in the bodice. Like the dress on the left, it follows Vionnet’s rule about seams following the muscles of the body.  Pure genius!

Butterick 3949. Delineator, August 1931.

Butterick 3949. Delineator, August 1931. The skirt is based on quadrants and inserted squares used on the bias.

This Butterick pattern is clearly influenced by Vionnet.  Here are some others: Butterick 3559 from 1931, Syndicate 201 from 1932, McCall 6316 from 1931, Vogue S-3453  from 1931.

Vionnet’s fabric was custom made, in widths up to 100 inches! However, you can create your own fabric by piecing straight to straight – just remember that Vionnet would want the new seams to be integral to your design!
Madeleine Vionnet never re-opened her couture house after World War II, because she knew that her body-conscious clothes were not suited to the military-influenced, shoulder-padded, boxy styles of the 40s, nor to the “New Look” with its elaborate understructures, which depended on reshaping the body rather than working with the body. However, she lived and continued teaching into her nineties, and it’s amazing to realize how much the “look” of the twenties and thirties owes to her – and how much later designers continued to incorporate her genius into the couture.

This lecture by Sandra Ericson was truly inspirational. Check out her classes, etc., at  The Center for Pattern Design

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Dresses, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

Biased in Favor of Vionnet and Sandra Ericson, Part 1

 

Back of a gown by Vionnet, 1932. Photos: Metropolitan Museum

Back of a gown by Vionnet, 1932. Photos: Metropolitan Museum

I can’t look at 1930’s fashions without being constantly reminded of the genius of Madeleine Vionnet. She was a successful couturier in the 1920’s, when fashions were mostly tubular, falling with the straight of the grain, but it was Vionnet’s exploration of fabrics used on the bias — which allows woven fabric to stretch — that is, for me, the “look” of the thirties.

Dresses that cling to every curve and pour over the body like water . . . .

Vionnet bias silk and metallic lame gown, 1936. Photos: Metropolitan Museum.

Vionnet bias silk and metallic lame gown, 1936. Photos: Metropolitan Museum.

Diamond-shaped bias panels caressing the hips . . . .

Butterick suit pattern 4176. Delineator, Dec. 1931.

Butterick suit pattern 4176. Delineator, Dec. 1931.

“Mermaid gowns” that glide over the hips and flare near the hem . . . .

Butterick patterns 4093 and 4097; Delineator, Oct. 1931.

Butterick patterns 4093 and 4097; Delineator, Oct. 1931.

Jean Harlow in a slinky halter dress . . . .  All show the influence of Madame Vionnet.

In November, 2010, I attended a lecture on the techniques of Madeleine Vionnet given by Sandra Ericson, who runs the Center for Pattern Design. It was one of the best organized presentations I have ever heard — packed with information, and illustrated with slides and with half-scale and full scale Vionnet reproductions that Ericson had made. (Yes, we were allowed to touch them and examine them.)

As a member of an organization of costumers who work in professional, educational and community theatres, I took plenty of  notes and shared them with members who couldn’t attend. I will post them in Part 2 of this series.

One of the things Ericson said about Vionnet’s draping technique (there is more about it in Betty Kirke’s book,  Madeleine Vionnet) was a real  “light bulb goes on over my head” moment for me.  Actually, since I had been draping and drafting patterns for 30 years at that point, I should probably call it a “Well, Duh!” moment.

Butterick evening gown 3696, with square bias panels over the hips. Delineator, February 1931.

Butterick evening gown 3696, with square bias panels over the hips. Delineator, February 1931.

Ericson (and Betty Kirke before her) pointed out that Madeleine Vionnet cut geometrically. Vionnet based her cutting on circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and especially on the quadrant (quarter) of a circle. Her early 30’s dresses were cut on the straight, seamed on the straight grain, and worn on the bias. [More about that later.] Some of her loveliest bias gowns were based on a quarter circle, slashed to create a V neckline or an armhole, with triangular inserts, or were formed from four identical pattern pieces, often cut as rectangles, stitched on the straight, worn on the bias.

Nightgown by Vionnet, 1930. The quadrant has been slit at the top and sides, and triangles inserted at the sides. Photo: Metropolitan Museum.

Nightgown by Vionnet, 1930. The quadrant has been slit at the top and sides, and triangles inserted at the sides. Photo: Metropolitan Museum.

I think these concepts are worth writing about here.

Forgive me if I seem to be stating the obvious to some readers; I never took a sewing class until I started my MFA program. My Girl Scout leader taught us how to operate a sewing a machine and use a commercial pattern; after that, I learned mostly from making commercial patterns and following the instructions. So I knew enough to pay attention to “straight of grain” and “bias grain” when cutting out a pattern; I knew what the words meant, but not how they affected the outcome. It wasn’t until grad school, when I started draping fabric on a professional dressmaker’s mannequin (the kind that costs hundreds of dollars) that I had a clue.

The Basics of Fabric Grain (we’ll get to Vionnet in a minute…)

Everything that follows applies to simple, woven fabrics, not to knits or stretch fabrics.

Fabric is woven with vertical threads and horizontal threads, which wrap around the vertical threads at the sides — this is called the selvage (selvedge in the UK). The straight grain of the fabric runs parallel to the selvage and at a right angle to the selvage ( the cross grain.) If you draw a line from the top left corner of a square of fabric to the bottom right corner of a square of fabric, that line follows the bias grain.

The important thing about the bias is that it stretches. If you pull on a square of fabric with a hand at each side, or a hand at top and bottom, it doesn’t stretch much. But if you take hold of two opposite corners and pull, the fabric will stretch. That is why “bias tape” stretches, and bias cut skirts mold to the body.

bias x str grain

The Magic of Draping

Suppose that you have cut a simple skirt out of muslin. It has just a back and a front, and each is a quarter of a circle, with a slightly curved line at the waist.

skirt front

skirt front (quarter section — “quadrant” — of a circle)

If you pin the skirt front to a mannequin and pull the center of the waistline up just a half inch or so, an amazing thing happens:

Raising the center of the waist just a small amount will change the way the skirt hangs.

Raising the center of the waist just a small amount will change the way the skirt hangs.

The sides will move closer together, and the fullness of the skirt, which was evenly distributed, falls toward the center, directly under the place where you raised the waist.  Keep this in mind when looking at 1930’s dresses. The tiniest “tweak” at the waist will determine where the folds congregate — to the center, to one side, etc.

Front of skirt raised quarter circle088

 

A godet (a wedge of fabric usually shaped like a pie slice) is typically a section of a circle.  Often a godet  is inserted between two straight-of-grain panels, where it falls into evenly distributed folds like these:

Godets in 1930's dresses: Butterick 4222 (1931,) 4456 (1932,) and 5447 (1934)

Godets in 1930’s dresses: Butterick 4222 (1931,) 4456 (1932,) and 5447 (1934)

But, in the godet at the left, below, and the skirt at the right, the fullness has been “tweaked” to force the folds away from the center front. The fabric has been lifted a bit at the points of the yoke.

The godet of Butterick 4341 (left) and the entire skirt front of Butterick 4333 (right) have their folds falling from a point of suspension. February 1932.

The godet of Butterick 4341 (left) and the entire skirt front of Butterick 4333 (right) have their folds falling from their points of suspension. February 1932.

Playing with fabric’s behavior and making discoveries like this is one of the joys of draping.

Vionnet Influence, Butterick Pattern

In this evening ensemble from 1932, Butterick mentions the influence of Vionnet. Because the fabric has a vertical stripe, we can see the grain very clearly. The dress is cut on the lengthwise grain, following the selvage. The godets are cut on the cross grain. And the jacket hangs on the bias.

Butterick evening pattern 4546, Delineator, June 1932.

Butterick evening pattern 4546, “Floating Power,” Delineator, June 1932.

1932 june p 66 4546 vionnet jacket

Here is a later wrapped jacket by Vionnet in the Metropolitan Museum collection.

Cut Cut and Sew on the Straight Grain; Wear on the Bias

Another of those “Well, Duh!” moments for me.

BUtterick pattern for 1931. Vionnet Gown dated 1932. Gown photo: Metropolitan Museum.

Butterick pattern for 1931. Vionnet Gown dated 1932. Gown photo: Metropolitan Museum.

To illustrate “cut and sew on the straight, wear on the bias,” I’m rotating that Butterick evening gown 45 degrees.

The panels of the gown are sewn on the straight grain and worn on the bias.

The panels of the bodice are cut and sewn on the straight grain and used on the bias in the finished dress.

This beautifully made early 1930’s dress was butchered by having one sleeve torn off.  Luckily a collector recognized its quality (the squares were hand-stitched together!)

Vintage bias silk dress. ON the right, I removed the confusing shadow.

Vintage bias silk dress made with squares of fabric stitched together with fagoting. On the right, I removed the confusing shadow.

It is a bias-cut dress, and flows over the figure, clinging to every curve. But it was made of squares cut on the straight grain:

Squares with the seam allowances folded under and connected with fagoting.

Squares with the seam allowances folded under and connected with fagoting.

Before being made into a dress, the stitched-together squares were tilted 45 degrees:

black squares in position on dress

Now the dress has bias stretch in two directions.

Detail of black silk bias dress.

Detail of vintage black silk bias dress.

Detail of fagoting, which allows the undergarment to show through. Vintage black silk dress in private collection.

Detail of cross-stitch fagoting, which allows the undergarment to show through. These loose seams allow even more stretch. Vintage black silk dress in private collection.

In the words of the old gravestones: “Go thou, and do likewise.” Play with fabric. Experiment with bias. ( It’s O.K. to use a sewing machine!)

More about Sandra Ericson’s brilliant lecture on Vionnet  in Part 2.

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