From Block to Pattern: Moderne Dress Alterations

Amendment:  I have had a few e-mails about my sloper.  I made a full set of dress, sleeve and pants slopers in a day-long class with Maria Martin.  Details found here.  It changed the way I make clothes and was not difficult.

Wearing History’s Moderne, View 1, to be made with cotton pique and silk accents dyed with lilac iDye.  I want to use the lighter silk for bound buttonholes, covered buttons, and inverted pleats.

This dress has already provided quite a ride- excitement over earning a free pattern as a tester, then fear as I contemplated fitting a high-necked, asymmetrical bodice.  This dress shouts “Art Deco,” which is the point, though aggressively vintage styles can be hard to “pull off” without looking costumey.  After working with the pattern I think it will be flattering and fun to wear as clothing, not a costume.

I started with a 34″ high bust, as my measurements dictate and used my basic dress block (or sloper, whatever you like to call it) as a shortcut to alterations.  I traced the original pattern in green marker, then placed my block underneath and traced it with the black lines.  I started with an easy one, the back:

I knew that the CB would the be same for both pieces, and decided to line up the neckline at the CB.  From there, I made my adjustments.  I’m usually shorter through the waist in most patterns, and have found 1930’s shoulders/sleeves problematic in the past.

I think the waistline curve downwards to the side seam is meant to provide a blouse-y effect along with the gathering.  Experience tells me I don’t care for the 30’s/early 40’s blouse effect on my dresses and I edit it out when I can.  I read (perhaps in Paris Frocks At Home) that women who can’t afford proper fitting are helped out by the blouse-y effect, as they can wear a belt.   I like a smooth line at my waist.

Not yet keen to tackle the front bodice, I worked on the back skirt.  This dress has a raised neckline, 19″ (48cm) from the top of the neck to my waist.  I used a Golden Section calculation to find the optimal skirt length by solving for A:  48(1.618)= 78cm.  I made the skirt 78cm after hemming, which I adjusted on the paper pattern before tracing.

The top is a little different but not alarmingly so.  I have a high round side hip (also called muffin tops).  It’s better to fit it than fight it.

I traced the right front bodice off in green and did some funny stuff to find out the angles of the darts which proved pointless in the end because I kept the original darts.

I laid the RF bodice on top of my sloper, matching CF lines and the bottom of the neckline.  I had to be careful because the sloper has no seam allowances and the pattern does.  Once I had it aligned, I re-drew part of the neckline, shoulder, armscythe.  I (eventually) left the darts and the side seam as intended by the original.   Rather than gathering under the bust (unflattering), I divided the dart and made tucks.

I adjusted the left front bodice similarly.  Funny, I always used to assume my bust caused all the headaches when fitting a 1930’s blouse or dress, but I think it’s actually my back and the shape of my shoulder as those are the areas I most had to alter.

The front skirt pieces and facings needed no adjustment.  I did change the sleeve cap a little bit, but I find it very interesting that I only needed to adjust the cap, which smoothly flowed into the underarm seam.  I may need to change the collar, when I tried to attach it to the muslin it was several inchest too short.

I don’t like the pouf around the bust, which I think might be part of the original design but doesn’t work with my body shape.  I plan to tweak in the two side darts slightly for a smooth but not tight fit.

Back is ok, I think it has a little residual blousiness, side is well-shaped.  I feel confident enough with this muslin to crack into the real thing.  I’d appreciate any constructive criticism, I know there’s some smart cookies reading this!

Also working on myWW2 Jacket pattern as per Sherry’s instructions, nothing to show you yet.


  1. Nothing constructive to say, just an overwhelming sense of awe of your alteration ability. :)I have a high round side hip (also called muffin tops). It's better to fit it than fight it.Oh, this made me laugh. I've learned to accept my 'muffin tops' (and assorted other bumps), which is much better than to fight them. Bloody things win most of the time. Funny how sewing for yourself changes how you look at your body, eh?Good luck with your projects, especially this dress. I'm eager to see how it turns out. I always wonder how a lot of these vintage patterns translate to modern fits, particularly a dress like this.

  2. I am excited to see your suit come together as well. I love this sew-along. It is great to see what others are doing and get some great tips and inspiration. I am going to add blog links to my site soon and I want to add yours as well.

  3. Thanks Heather, and you're right, it does. :)Sure, R.Shelly. I'm not 100% sure I'll make a jacket or a suit, though I really would like to have a matching skirt, and I have the draft of it waiting for me to fix… We'll see.

  4. I am also impressed with your pattern alteration abilities! The colour fabric you chose to make the dress up in is gorgeous too!

  5. Very intersting to watch, I love your disciplined approach to pattern drafting and redrafting. I just scribble all over things and sort it out in the fitting, but I am sure it would be easier to do it 'properly' :) Also interested in the alterations to the blousiness, as I think it's this that can make 30s-40s fashions quite frumpy looking. Even in the toile the difference in your recutting is really noticeable. Looking forward to the next stages!

  6. Yum. I love the look of this dress. Unfortunately, it wouldn't suit me as I am shaped like an easter egg with feet. Seeing how you work with your slopers is very helpful to me, so thank you for the photos and explanations. Can't wait to see how the pique turns out!

  7. Mrs C- I like your input. I'm wondering if I should go ahead and make the back completely smooth with no residual blousiness? Hmm… I think the curve of the small of the back is perhaps the most beautiful curve on a woman and don't like obscuring it.Kathy- I'll probably do several such photo projects on different types of garments over the next few months so I can send my students here as a reference so watch this space for more.

  8. I personally loved the design of your dress. But the little think you can change is color . You can have more bright color into your dress so even if you don't like the pouf around the bust, it will be look good … anyways try it out .

  9. First of all, you have a fabulous fit and congratulations on that. Secondly, remember you are going to want some ease, and this is going to be a "bargain" between comfort and those "easing gabs". Think about what you want to do in the garment and how much easy you're going to need. For my formal gowns, since my clients aren't going to be bobbing around athletically, they don't need much ease, but in some more casual wear, there should be more ease. Actually I don't think the gabs you mention here are all that bad, but I'm up in years now and I like having that ease in my clothes. Your bodice (front and back) look fabulous! Great job!

  10. I love those gorgeous colors, kind of bluebonnet purples; the dress will really bring out your eyes. Ha, I'm drawn to 30s styles the most because of those blousy looks with belts–I think my favorite of vintage patterns. I'm so small above my waist it gives me more shape. And thanks for posting how you use your blocks–that gives me an idea to go on. I made my own last summer but never did anything with them. I have so much to learn about altering, and think I'd like to take time this summer to really understand and get my "usual" alterations down.

  11. You're right- just like bluebonnets. Are they out yet? I plan to make heaps more posts about using my sloper to alter patterns, especially weird patterns…. It's interesting to her your take on the 30's look. :)

  12. Pingback: It’s Not Me- It’s You: Breaking Up « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  13. Pingback: Moderne: We have sleeves! « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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