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Jul 27, 2010

Working on the 1942 Hollywood Dress

So, 1942 -- I remember it well!  Well, not really; my connection to it is mainly through Hollywood movies (actually, that's my connection to most things).   For much of the world there was a war on, and that's how many of us still define the period: The WWII Years.

Hats were popular, but fashion was relatively subdued: many textiles became scarce for the home sewer, who had to limit herself to what was available.  And the mood was more somber than that of the late Thirties, fashion-wise.  Plus everything was in black and white.

Hollywood pattern #910 is very typical of women's clothes of the period: a one-piece dress with a simple four-panel skirt, attached bodice, gathered yokes, and padded shoulders.  Demure and modest (there's that word again!), with the hemline just below the knee.  Nothing fancy; just something you'd read a letter in.

Of all the vintage dress patterns I've worked with up to now, this was the most fragile.  I'm not sure it had ever been used, but the tissue paper had aged badly -- it was very discolored and ripped easily.  It should probably be traced.

This is one of those patterns that's unprinted but rather has little holes and "V" cuts that signal where seams line up or where a dart goes.

Piece "E" is the front yoke.

The instructions are detailed but brief.  It's not a complicated dress. 

So I cut this very shifty fabric yesterday and hung on my dress form overnight.  Then I started sewing, beginning with the skirt.

I tried hard to get the grain lined up correctly.  You can see already that while the two front skirt panels match nicely grain-wise....

...the back skirt panels do not, the piece on the right coming into the seam at an angle.

I have so much of this fabric that I may just cut those back skirt panels again.  It's really hard to keep the grain straight with this fabric and obviously the skirt just hangs anyway.  Am I being too much of a perfectionist?

I try to learn as much as I can from each project I undertake, and I don't want to learn that grain really does make a huge difference, even on a droopy four-panel skirt.  Also, while it's not readily visible, I can see that mismatch plainly.

The front bow, which I'd like to include, can be sewed, untied, to either side of the front yoke.  I'm a little reluctant to do this because I'm not sure how this fabric is going to look tied in a bow.  It's certainly not going to look crisp like this:

So maybe I'll experiment; I have some black cotton sateen that would make a much sharper-looking bow than this droopy rayon blend.  Thoughts?

I have some non-sewing related things to take care of today so I'm not sure how far I'm going to get on this.

Wise readers, how much of a perfectionist are you when you sew?  Will you go back and start over if something goes awry or just live with it?  Where do you draw the line?  Should I just leave the skirt back panels as-is (as-are?)

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. Forget the grain, I'd try to match the pattern because it's such a feature on the fabric. Non?

  2. Being me, I would probably try to match it. The bow should be in something else, maybe even cream (white) whatever is the color in the fabric or black.

  3. I agree, don't worry about the grain. Not sure I'd bother trying too hard to match the pattern, either, since the design is fairly busy. Maybe make a test bow with some fusible interfacing to stiffen it? And definitely trace old patterns! Much easier to work with them that way, especially if you need to do some alterations.

  4. Black cotton sateen sounds made for a bow! As long as your blacks match of course...

  5. I'd only change the panels if I thought they were going to annoy me everytime I looked at them... otherwise, I'd let it slide.

  6. I would try to match the designs at the panel seams, although admittedly that would be a lot of work. You'd have to chalk the pattern with the sewing lines onto the the right side of the fabric, cut them out, and then slip baste the seams from the right side.

    Why don't you try glueing the pattern sheets to oaktag with something like a glue stick, and then try tracing it?

    Why is it hard to keep the grain straight with this fabric? Is it too slippery? If that's the case, there are various methods, but the easiest for you might be to use freezer paper. You lightly iron the freezer paper (just a touch) to the wrong side to stabilize it and the trace the pattern onto it, or with smaller pieces, trace the pattern on the paper before ironing. Make sure that the grain line on the pattern piece is parallel to the selvage and that you don't have any bumps or wrinkles.

  7. UPDATE: I decided to leave it as-is. We'll see how it turns out...

  8. As for the bow, you should make samples.

    Unless you really don't give a damn about this project, I think you should pay as much close attention to detail as possible. That's the difference between something that looks homemade and something that looks polished.

    I really admire the progress you've made on your own, by the way. I'm still very much a beginner in my opinion and I've had to take classes. But since you live like three blocks from FIT, you might want to take an evening or weekend class.

  9. Response to Update:

    NOW you tell me! :-)

    Good luck. It'll be fun to see how it works out.

  10. OK so you decided what to do with the skirt panels. As for the bow--I'd go with white or cream. Whatever matches the design. A red bow would also be cute.

  11. What a neat pattern. I've never used one from the 40's.

    I need to become more of a perfectionist sewer. I tend to get sloppy, especially if I've fallen out of love with a project or fabric.

  12. The Girl from Breckenridge St.July 27, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    I'm a total perfectionist when I sew... also a world class procrastinator. That's why the living room curtains (no pattern except in my head) have been in progress for a year. I would have taken the dress apart and recut the panel. Then, because I have minimal sound judgement I'd probably take the not-quite-right panel and make an accessory, say a soft bag from the same fabric as the bow and lined with the print fabric. This is why my children occasionally threaten to put me in the Home For The Confused. Happy sewing!

  13. The idea of tracing the pieces I think was to preserve the original pattern, using glue stick to paste it onto oaktag would surely defeat that purpose.

  14. I have a pattern of similar vintage and condition that I am planning to make in summer. I was planning on tracing it because I will probably need to alter it. As for perfection, I am ashamed to say that sometimes I am and sometimes I just don't care. You should see the inside of the skirt I knocked out last night. Thankfully, it only needs to last a weekend. I love the idea of a bow and I would consider a contrast in a bold colour for a bit of fun. Maybe you could match shoes to it??

  15. That's a busy enough design that I doubt the mismatched pattern will show. Myself, I'd have put the center front seam on a fold, even if I had to fold it on the bias, so as not to have a seam running down the front of me. But that's one of my foibles. Make the bow in your black fabric with more body; it will be a nice, subtle contrast.

  16. I was going to agree with the black bow, but now I prefer the idea of white or cream, whichever is the right answer for your fabric! That way you don't have to worry about matching the black colour perfectly.

  17. I have to look very close to even see the grain. As for perfectionism... I finished my niece's new 1946 dress yesterday, but there are some basting stitches showing in one shoulder ruffle that are getting on my nerves, so I have to go back and pick it out.

  18. Peter, you always seem to do such a great job. I'm sure the small bit that the grain is off will more than be made up for by your skills. The Bishop Method of Clothing Construction (copyright 1959) has made me a total slave to perfectionism. I actually thought I finished my Japanese duffle coat today but the seams of the lining didn't line up with the seams of the coat. I ripped it all out tonight and will do it again tomorrow morning. I just knew that I was never going to be able to live with it.

  19. I am nuts. I would match patterns and hand baste that sucker. But I have way, way more gray hair than you do from this sort of thing, too.

    I dare you to also give Cathy a 40's hair do to go with with this. Double Dog Dare you.

  20. The grain makes all the difference in how the skirt hangs, especially at the hem. My sewing teacher from back in 1965 would almost pass out if we didn't pay attention to all the details. I am very happy to have had such a perfectionist teach me to sew. Too bad Singer doesn't have sewing stores with those wonderful classrooms anymore. Generations of sewers learned there.

  21. I tend to be quite a perfectionist. That being said, if I can't get something to line up perfectly (as in a fabric pattern) due to the grain of the pattern piece (such as an angled seam), I just chalk it up to "that's how it is" and try to forget it. Not that this always works... rofl.

    ♥ Casey
    blog |

  22. lsaspacey:

    I know why he was suggesting tracing in the first instance. My point was that if he wanted to patch the pattern, he'd have to trace the pattern as well. The tissue paper would rip if he laid it on the right side of the fabric and tried to transfer the sewing lines.

  23. "match the pattern."

  24. I just finished this great book and learned that rationing was only for clothes and fabrics, not for hats, which explains why wartime hats got really extravagant, especially in Paris.
    As to the skirt, the best ones I've met have -not- been cut on the straight grain, they hang better if at least slightly on the bias. Go with it.
    And as to putting up with things being a bit wrong, basically it depends whether I'm making something, like a coat, that I'll be seeing every day for 15 years. If it's kind of a disposable item, like a one-time photo shoot, forget it :-).


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