The Art of the Twenties Dress


Things are happening.

First – who doesn’t love Miss Fisher of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries? I mean, seriously, the clothes, the locations, the music…sigh…

Check this out:

There is a Miss Fisher costume exhibition going on RIGHT NOW and I’ve got tickets to see it!! I am meeting up with the lovely Trish from Quiet Vintage Sewing to see the exhibit, check out a fabric store or two and explore Sydney and its surrounds.

To that end, I REALLY want to get a handle on this 20’s thing. I made a stab at the Gatsby sewalong last year and failed miserably. The biggest hurdle to overcome is my view of my own body – I’m not tall, I’m not willowy, I look nothing like Miss Fisher or any of the drawings we typically see from the 20’s. I AM smart enough to know I AM typical, women were shaped like me back then! To get over my own silly self I’m going to jump right into the era and invite you all along : )

You see, on Vicki’s blog she’s got these links on the right side. And I was bored one day so I started reading them ALL, and I stumbled onto 20’s gold. Kathleen from Midvale Cottage Post has posted some of the cutest, seemingly simple yet elegant 20’s “patterns” by Ruth Wyeth Spears. One page patterns/directions, most likely from a magazine, they epitomize the look of the 20’s.

I’m going to start from the underwear out to re-create some (hopefully) fabulous looks. I found a pattern on Reconstructing History that I’m excited about:

I am SO fortunate to be able to pick my grandmother’s brain (my mother’s mother) about what was worn! We have some photos of a trip my great grandparents took to Niagra Falls in the late 20’s that I’ll be able to share along with some funny and new-to-me stories of life back then. She was born in 1919, is turning 95 this September and remembers EVERYTHING! The only thing that she doesn’t quite understand is my fascination with that era. Ah well…

I have a photo of my dad’s mother that I want to completely re-create. I look just like her and inherited the boob gene from her so it should work out well : )

In keeping with my vow to buy as little as possible this year <cough*hoarder*cough> I’m going to try to make everything on my list from stuff I have in my stock. Unless of course I find something SO FANTASTIC in Australia that I MUST have it, but I’ve done a cursory inventory and I should be able to do this.

Here’s a sample of the goodies I want to make:

I think this is one of my top favorites! This is the ENTIRE pattern but if you read it its pretty clear. Ruth is assuming that you (or we) have a basic shift pattern. I’m going to draft one, and show you how, using a pattern we can all find online for free. Free is good : )

I love the simplicity of this, and have a piece of printed chiffon that might do it justice. I’m also guessing each of these creations can be done in an afternoon : ) I’m going to use ‘mostly’ standard sewing techniques available back then, but I’m not above using a rolled hem foot or even the rolled hem serger stitch to save my sanity. My grandmothers would approve.

Oh! I just LOVE the idea of this! Will it look like this when I’m done? Who knows… But I’ve got a box of tablecloths made from Indian inspired fabrics (and Marion Boyce uses lots of Indian fabrics on “Miss Fisher”) that are just waiting to be something fun.

I’m not a big point fan, mainly because making them is a pain, but I can’t pass this up. Time to hone those skills!

And if you have fabulous dresses you need cover-ups:

That piece of bright pink velvet my girlfriend gave me years ago is PERFECT for this, wait until you see what I pair it up with!

I’m not sure if I’ve got 4 yards of velvet but I certainly have yards and yards of other things.

How cute is this collar?

Fringe, honey, fringe…

I like the IDEA of this, now I’m going to see how close the reality is!

More squares…again, how will it look on a real person (me)?

We had a version of this in the 60’s. I’m hoping the right hair and make-up makes me think 20’s and not caftan : )

I love this sporty stripy outfit!

I would wear this to work today, in a snap.

And the perfect accessory for this? Hats!

Hats, hats…for career girls…

Felt. Just felt. No buckram. MUST TRY.

RIBBON. Just ribbon. Again, MUST try!

Again, felt. Scraps in stock, can’t wait.

Metallic brocade. Sigh…

This one uses a buckram frame, and I have buckram and a mold so I’ll show you how utterly easy this is : )

What about some fun accessories?

The drawing is cute but how functional is it? Let’s find out.

A handy belt to dress up a plain frock. Again, box of tablecloths just waiting to be something new.

Hats need flowers : )

And more flowers!

So you see, there is PLENTY of inspiration out there that takes just a little ingenuity. This is my starting point, the project may change as I go. I’m using my Grandma Bertha’s book, “The Art of Dressmaking” by Butterick as my go-to source for period details. (Sarai on Coletterie wrote about it here.)  I don’t have much from her so this is precious to ME. She was a seamstress, tailor and all around character. I think she would heartily approve of this project.

You all are invited to sew along with me!

I’m turning the top photo into a button for pasting onto your blogs : ) Several bloggers out there have recently cut their hair into 20’s style bobs so I hope they come play. I’m kicking this off June 3, the day AFTER I get home from Australia, and considering the number of projects I’m looking at means I’ll probably be posting over a 6 week period. I’ll do step-by-step pictorial tutorials so you can compare the written instructions to the photos and hopefully all will be de-mystified.

If nothing else, I’ll have some really fabulous frocks to choose from for the Gatsby picnic at Dunsmuir house this September : )

27 thoughts on “The Art of the Twenties Dress

  1. The second dress is absolutely beautiful! I am making a flapper girl dress for Halloween and I think it would fit the bill perfectly. Seeing as I am a relatively inexperienced in the world o sewing, I was wondering if there was possibly a link you could send me to that goes a little more in depth that the original pattern. Thanks

  2. I know the dress and other patterns where from another bloggers website and the author’s name is Ruth but do you know if those little magazine articles were collected into a book? Do you know where i can find a complete collection of the lady’s dress and hat patterns? Thanks!

    • You know, I’ve been looking and haven’t found anything yet! She wrote quite a few books but I haven’t seen these particular patterns in one. I’m tempted to put together a book myself. I’d pick about 4 dozen patterns, reprint the original instructions and then put my version next to it with expanded directions like I’ve done on the blog. I’ve got at least six more items made that I need to photograph. I’m also thinking of doing a two or three day seminar where people can actually make a dress, a hat and maybe a basic set of undergarments.

  3. What a treasure your grandmother has given you! I’m in love with them all.
    My granny (Mum’s mum) gave me my sewing machine – 14 yrs ago and still going strong. She gave it to me about 6 months before she died, it’s incredibly precious to me. I know she’d heartily approve of all the things I’ve sewn on it in those years 🙂

    Regarding the dress with the points, I learnt a trick from my friend who blogs here
    Instead of making a facing and turning all the points, for things like that, she uses clear nail polish gently painted along the edge of the fabric to stop it from fraying.
    (It reminded me of how I used to put a dab of clear polish on any holes in my ballet tights to stop them running.)

    So I tried Katy’s trick on a chiffon underskirt, though I only had clear with glitter polish. Worked a treat, was very easy and faster than I thought it would be, and the added glitter was extra-pretty too! Possibly not authentic for the 20’s but I’m sure if they had that kind of thing back then they’d have embraced it 😉

    I’ve been toying with the idea of making a ’20s style dress for ages. If you’re hosting a sew-along or a challenge or something, I will probably join in 🙂

  4. You are AWESOME! I love, love, love Miss Fisher! I joined Acorn just so I could see season 2 in the US. OMG. Every outfit. Every character. I could watch it over and over. I’d love to join this sew along. I was thinking of hosting a 1920’s sew along myself. All these instructions you shared are freakin awesome! Count me in, sister!

  5. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. I’m so literal I can’t yet see how this would translate for me but you frequently pull makes off that Blow. Me. Away. in the I-want-it-for-myself-dept. Have an outrageously soul renewing vac!

    • We’ll see how these come out. Since I’m using stuff around the house I’m excited to not only try these patterns but do some serious stash busting! I’m SURE you could do one of these for yourself : )

  6. Wow!! How completely fabulous! I will be following your blog to see how the sewing progresses. I can’t wait to see what you sew first. And a trip to Australia? Total excitement!! I don’t know if I have the time to sew all of the wonderful “Ruth’s Tips” items you have displayed here, but I hope to try some of them. I’ve been itching to, that’s for sure!

    • It’s all because of your posts that this is going to be such fun! I wish I could take needle and thread on the plane, I’d be tempted to make some of the flowers for future hats : )

  7. You had me with the first pattern image. The 20s have been calling to me too. I’d love to play around and see what you get up to. Safe travels and have a wonderful time on the other side of the world!

    • They are quite intriguing, aren’t they? Maybe next summer I’ll check out Berlin since I now know two people there : )

  8. I’m in! Simply to join you in persuading the world that 1920s styling doesn’t just have to be for people who are straight up and down and tall with it. I was pleasantly surprised I managed to make something I didn’t loathe on me for the Gatsby Sew Weekly challenge, so let’s do this thing again! Enjoy Australia. And I’d better finally get watching Miss Fisher on netflix after everyone keeps raving about it hadn’t I?

    • Yes, yes, yes!! You actually did an ADORABLE dress for the Gatsby Sew Weekly challenge, so let’s have some FUN! Yes, you must absolutely watch “Miss Fisher” on Netflix. They only have season 1 so far, our local PBS just started showing season 2 here and I’ll miss next weeks episode…might have to actually buy the dvd’s….

  9. I am in total awe of your project and I can’t wait to see how they turn out in real life. They look simple, but also very sophisticated and feminine. I’m looking forward to your tips and tricks on constructing these beautiful dresses. I’d love to make a few along with you. What great fun! Enjoy your trip!

    • Please sew along with us! You would ROCK any one of these dresses, and there are still more being posted by Kathleen on Midvale Cottage Post : )

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