Thursday, 27 June 2013

A Change of Decade - the 30's Bias Dress

I think I'm like many people in that my understanding of times gone by, especially fashions and interiors, comes from old movies. Therefore the first thing that springs to mind when I think of the 1930's is images such as this:

Jean Harlow in a bias cut gown (Source)

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Source)
And why were the films and the stars of this era so glamourous? Because for a lot of the population, especially in America, life was more like this:

1930's Soup kitchen for the unemployed (Source)
A combination of massive economic collapse and the dustbowl of Mid West America, where most of the topsoil literally blew away, thereby making it impossible to grow anything, resulted in what we now refer to as the Great Depression. What followed was mass unemployment and large migrations of the population to find work, especially to California, which is exactly what my mother's family did when they moved from San Antonio, Texas to San Francisco.

It's understandable that movies of the time would provide an alternative to the troubles of daily life with glitz and glamour. Everything was shiny, from the floors of the ballrooms to the satin gowns that were usually draped around the ladies. Characters had housemaids and servants, and usually had nothing more to worry about than who they would bump into on the cruiseship to Europe.

Why the mini history lesson? Well, all of this was going through my mind when I decided to make the Sew Vera Venus Little Bias Dress:

This is a great pattern for a slinky, satin-y 1930's dress. But I didn't think I would have as much use for a satin dress, so I re-imagined it as something more everyday, with a touch of the mid-west.

I found this lovely cotton fabric at Goldhawk Rd on the recent Spring London blogger meet-up, and decided it was perfect for what I had in mind:

And here it is:

I was a grown-up and actually made a muslin for this dress (see this post); once I made some fitting adjustments, the dress went together really easily. Since most of it is cut on the bias I figured it would be a pain to put a lining in - trying to get the drape of the lining and the dress to match up would have been really difficult. (I'm not used to dresses being unlined, so I just wore a half slip which was just fine) To keep the insides neat and tidy, I used French seams throughout; to neaten the skirt frill and the armhole, I bound it with self-made bias binding:

Seam neatened with bias binding
I seem to remember that dresses of this era often didn't have zip closures, and used button plackets instead. So that's what I did!:

I even managed to find little mother of pearl buttons that matched the flowers in the fabric!

A few more details:

Back waist
There's a little belt at the back that I didn't really know what to do with, so I tied it in a neat knot. And instead if darts, the bodice gathers into the waist, making it softer and more comfortable to wear.

For some reason the frilly-ness of the sleeves doesn't really come across well in the photos, so you'll just have to believe me that they are super floaty and probably my favourite part of the dress.

The dress has a really summery, holiday feel to it - shame we don't have the weather to match here in London at the moment. But being inappropriately dressed has never stopped me from wearing a new outfit!

See you soon!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Fun with Bias - the Alexander Wang Skirt Makeover

I've mentioned before that I work in a hoity-toity department store full of designer goods. I'm a really bad advert for the stuff I sell because most days my outfits are at least 50% home made, but now and then I find something I deem worth spending my hard earned pennies on.

During the sale last Christmas, I found this skirt from T by Alexander Wang:

Morticia Adams?

It's a rayon velvet, floor length skirt. It's usual price was about £200, but I think because of the length, they proved to be pretty unpopular so they were being sold for £10. I snapped one up! I was never going to wear a skirt this length - a bit Goth for me - but at the very least I thought the fabric alone was worth the price.

So I took it home, put it in a pile of 'future projects', and forgot about it for 5 months.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when I had the urge to make something quick. I decided to shorten the skirt, but also to add an insert to the center back seam to give it a swingy feel when you walk. Sounds easy!

But the bias construction did everything it could to slow me down. For anyone not aware, bias is the diagonal of the fabric. It gives a natural stretch to the fabric, making it great for draping and flowing around curves. But it also means the fabric moves and slips when working with it, so you have to be especially careful when handling it.

The first thing I tackled was the length. With a skirt cut on the straight of grain, I would just estimate how much I want to take off, measure that from the hem up, then slice off. But with a bias construction, the fabric conspires against you, moving and stretching and slipping all over the place, making measuring a pointless exercise. I looked at books, I consulted the web, I even had some advice from the lovely Clare at Sew Dixie Lou, but in the end I came up with my own method involving a doorframe, a clip hanger, and some sticky tape:

I clipped the skirt firmly in place, hung it from a doorframe, then measured from the top down on either side of the door frame. This is where I placed my sticky tape, running across the skirt where I wanted to shorten it. Take a step back, make sure it looks level, then cut!

And it worked a treat! You'll have to take my word for it, because I forgot to take a photo. But it left me with this piece:

This was the piece which was to be used for my back seam insert. I decided to gather it up at the top and finish it with a strip of velvet at the top:

Then I unpicked the back seam, and sewed the gathered piece in place:

Inside view of the finished skirt

The hem was finished with a long strip of chiffon which I picked off the original hem and turned to the inside.

Here it is in action, swinging away on a rooftop in Kings Cross:

And here's the advantage of a bias cut - when at rest, the skirt is slim and slinky:

But then, when the urge takes you, huge lunges can be achieved with no effort at all:

And that's bias! See you soon!