Finished Object: Model T Dress

 (With 1925 Sun Hat that still needs trimming)

It’s finished!  A little bit of drafting, a little draping, a little inspiration from early Chanel.  Husband took Lila out to the Botanic Gardens today, I took full advantage of the peace and quiet.  This was a dress in a day.

First, this fabric… I really, really want to like hemp jersey.  Hemp grows quickly in poor soils with no fertilizer.  Most pests leave it alone.  It even puts nutrients back into depleted soil.  On top of that, it is naturally anti-microbial and anti-bacterial.  It’s on my list of summer fabrics.

But… It won’t turn black!  After two dunkings, all I manage is a tired shade of faded t-shirt black.  Starving-art-student-black.  I’m planning to dunk it again, this time in the vat and I’ll leave it for a few days.  When I laid out the jersey to cut, I nearly put it away again, disgusted by the color and texture.  It feels almost grainy- I can’t decide it it is pilling or nubbly texture, but it’s kind of weird.   I think it may be nubblies caused by uneven fibres.  I admire it in my hemp wovens. It does seem to wear a little smoother with handling.  It’s also kind of… stiff.  My other hemp clothes were the same at first and become excessively soft and drapey with age.  We’ll see.

Second, the pattern.  This could easily be made from any old TNT t-shirt pattern or a dartless no-ease hip length sloper.  I wanted to make a dress that would fit Chanel’s rules for a LBD:

  • Dress should cover the knees
  • No décor is acceptable: no pleats, frills or embroidery
  • Clear silhouette
  • No sleeves; if there are ones, they should be narrow and without any décor

I’m also interested in drafting for knits that accentuate curves- woven fit, with the ease of a knit.  Darts on knits can turn out awkward- why not try a seam?  Inspired by the seams on my recent Cat Pine coat, I thought to use a sort of inverted Princess seam:

Now, I like the 1920’s, but leave them well enough alone because I simply do not have the slinky, slim, “garcon” figure in vogue at the time.  If I wear something cut boxy, I look enormous and dowdy.  I decided to try Chanel’s ideas on a Dior’s New Look type of figure to see what would happen.

For this dress I used a dropped waist a la 20’s; when I was playing with where to attach the skirt to the body of the muslin I decided I like the effect of a higher front and lower back.

Then, in my book Chanel: The Couturiere At Work, I discovered this snippet:

“Fashion in 1927 was characterised by the uneven hemline, as once again there was uncertainty about the length.  This time Chanel was no exception and produced several evening dresses which were longer in the back than the front.  She recognised that by raising the line of the waist at the front of a garment a woman appears taller and lowering it at the back is flattering.” (43)

Wicked.  Hello 1927!

Now, to the instructions.  The preliminary pattern can be made from an existing t-shirt or sloper, as I mentioned.  In the muslin post, I outline how to make the initial pattern.  It’s not so important to make it perfect- just draw a straight line from the middle of the shoulder to the middle of the center front and the same on the back.  Then I put some new polytrace on top of that and traced off each front, side front, back and side back piece, adding seam allowances.

Then I had some help pinning in the curves on the muslin.  For the first time since I did theatrical costuming, I found myself wanting a dress dummy.

I cut the finished muslin apart at the seam lines, traced it off, applied my alterations, and added seam allowances.   I keep promising myself I can have a double chalk wheel to mark directly on the fabric, but I’m not there yet.

(Side Back)
(Center Back)
(Center Front)
(Side Front)

The side front is especially hilarious, I felt like I was drawing some cartoonish version of a princess seam- yet it works.

Cut a strip 2.5″ wide and slightly longer than my neck edge for a neck band.

Cut a 45″ square, folded it into eighths and cut it into a circle.  I was again tempted to leave it with handkerchief points, but it’s just a little too dramatic for a “go anywhere” dress.  I cut a little hole in the middle of the circle, it stretched like a demon until it was much too big.  Growl.

I cut two sleeves from my Jalie pattern, though I wish I had drafted my own sleeves.  I have a few irritating little wrinkles on the bodice that weren’t there before the sleeve went in.

After sewing the bodice sf/f and sb/b seams and one shoulder, I put the strip on like any other t-shirt neckline (serging and stretching) which worked well.  I cut off the extra neck edge, then sewed the other shoulder seam, put in the sleeve, and sewed the underarm and side seam at one time.

I used a double rolled hem on the skirt, and folded the top edge on itself to do a lapped seam.  I had a rare lucid moment (no doubt brought on by several hours of quiet sewing) and attached 1/4″ elastic to the top edge of the skirt with a triple stitch zig-zag.  It helped snug the unfortunately stretched edge and keeps the back edge of the skirt just under my backside.  Which I like.  It did go off the rails a little bit at the back left side, which I only noticed in the pictures, especially this one:

I’m pretty unhappy with the back, but nothing a few minutes of unpicking won’t fix.  I wore the top, adjusted the skirt, pinned on myself, and then sewed it.  Another moment of wishing I had a dummy.

Double rolled hem.  Miraculously flat with little fiddling.

I’m pretty pleased with the pattern, I’m thinking if I can convince this dress to dye blacker I’ll love it more.  As it is, I’m very comfortable- it breathes so well.   I think this will indeed work as a “go anywhere at any time” dress, or a “background” dress, especially with various accessories.

Did I mention this is for the PR LBD contest, and I’m putting together an accessory wardrobe for yet another contest?

Well, I am.    I have the white hemp hat to finish, my Betty Shopper of recycled rice bags, a brocade clutch, a red belt, and my fascinator…  They’re all in the “cusp” or needing finishing stages.


  1. Wow! What a fantastic idea! I love the dress and the hat–I especially love the movement in the dress skirt and the uneven hem! Very tres chic a la 1927! Love it!!!

  2. Wow! Good job Steph! I love the twirly skirt, and that first picture is particularly sweet with your great pose and the motion blur of the skirt. I love the asymmetrical waist line, with the skirt higher in the front than back. It's a very good look on you.I am so impressed with your drafting skills. The fitted bodice (with knit!!) looks really good, especially how you managed to get that V with straight edges on the front without any strange warping to the side. Is that due to your "cartoon" side-front princess seam? Sorry, I'm babbling. I'm just so impressed with this dress! It's very you, and looks like it's a dress you can wear any time, dressed up or down. I hope you can get it more black, but if not, it's a great Little Charcoal Dress! :)

  3. That dress looks so very 20's that I can just imagine you dancing the Charleston. I am intrigued by the way you shifted the princess seam lines, and am inspired to someday try to do something like that with my self-made patterns, though not in quite such a form-fitting style (with my plump figure it would not look at all happy, though on you it looks both shapely and elegant).The only time I tried to dye something black, I found that the advice from Dharma Traders* was quite correct, to get anything even close to black, it takes at least 4 times as much dyestuff for the comparable weight of fabric as it does for many other colors. (There is a reason that historically, black was considered a luxury color) What kind of dye are you using? I have had best results with procion-type fiber reactive dye.* main dyeing information: specifically about black:

  4. It's fantastic! Hopefully you'll get the black you want, because the cut is excellent. I do feel like it's missing something….perhaps…a bow? KIDDING! Great job, and good luck in the contest!

  5. You guys are so kind. Sarah, I laughed out loud, you had me there… (The hat will have a bow, thought and I ruefully thought of you as I was making it)Alison, that's so good to know. I've already used two packets of iDye, which is a fiber-reactive dye. I suppose the stewing solution will work. Heh heh heh… I used the self-timer and because of the position of the camera, had to jump up on a rickety bench for the pictures. Meanwhile, my neighbors were sitting on the verandah in their backyard enjoying a beer, which overlooks our yard… It's ok, I'm positive they wrote me off as a whackjob a year or two ago.

  6. That's gorgeous, and it looks so comfy and easy to wear! I may have to try my hand at your little tute there :)If you can't get it to go pure black, what about over-dying in a purple or blue kind of a colour to get a deep purple/grey? It looks a bit lavender on my screen (in a good way), and I think that could be a good look (although obviously it would no longer qualify as a little black dress.)

  7. Adorable! I love the name you picked for the dress – classic, but it can go anywhere. The pattern you arrived at is actually scarily close to the pattern for my "frumpy" dress – which is an actual 1929 pattern. I'm just not lucky enough to have your curves so I can get away with the blouson tops!One thing – I love the curve from front to back, but I think that it is just a little too low, and cups your bottom just a wee bit too much.

  8. Pingback: Hemp: For Sewing, Not Smoking « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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