Sunday, 8 April 2012

Dressing for a pregnant weekend in the 1920s - part 1

As I mentioned a while ago, I recently had to pull together outfits for a 1920s themed weekend in the country - not usually a problem, since I already own lots of twenties originals and reproduction clothing, but this time, being nearly 6 months pregnant meant nothing fit! I decided to make two dresses, and managed to borrow a third from a friend who'd been in a similar predicament when she was expecting a while ago (in that case needing a twenties maternity dress for my hen do!). I'll explain here which patterns I used, what I did to adapt them for maternity, and how well I think they worked and what I would do differently another time.

The two I made are based on two original 1920s dresses featured in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 2. I cannot recommend her books enough (and you will find many re-enactors and fashion history buffs say the same), even if you are not into making clothes yourself, the wonderful illustrations of the dresses and detailed descriptions of the originals are fascinating and highly educational. The really exciting thing about the books however is that they include 1/8th scaled patterns of the originals, so theoretically you can scale them up to make reproductions of the originals. Given that this includes classic patterns by some very famous designers, this is hard to resist!

However, Arnold does stress that given that the original dresses the patterns are based on were made for specific women not necessarily of standard size, really you need to use pattern drafting skills to adapt them to your needs. Unfortunately I've never had the chance to learn pattern drafting properly (on the 'things to do' list!), so I picked two dresses whose measurements looked like they would probably fit over my current shape and simply scaled them up with minimal adjustments based on guesswork.

First up is the black and silver dress I mentioned a while ago. This is pattern 27A in the book, and is based on a 1923-25 evening dress in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I ended up changing this quite dramatically which undoubtedly affected how is hung, but in essense it is a straight up and down heavily beaded tunic dress with a scallopped bottom. Unable to afford beaded fabric or the time and skill to add that much decoration itself, I used a layer of patterned silver netting over the crepe back black satin base. This probably made the fabric and drop more stiff than the original would have been. Once cutting and tring it pinned together, I found that the line of the shoulder straps did not work well with a larger maternal bust, so removed the sloped versions in the pattern and replaced them with wide, straight strips of black satin which hung better for me at the moment.

alternate shoulder straps

Finally, to incorporate my bump, I made the whole thing more A-line by adding triangular inserts of extra black satin into each side. My hope is that after pregnancy I'll be able to remove these and sew it up as originally designed and be able to use the dress again.

For decoration, I added lots of diamante and also some flower shaped beads that I bought cheaply at Annie's vintage clothes store in Islington;

They are very pretty, but are apparently originally french grave decorations (the mind boggles!). The store also mentioned that a stylist of Vogue had just bought a load of them for use in a shoot, so I'll have to keep an eye out for that. I wanted to make the dress look more highly decorated, hence using them, and they were a quick and easy way to add beading, but I wasn't entirely satisfied with how well it worked: the black beads merged too much into the dress to be very noticeable, and the ends of the wire I hadn't sealed off properly poked through the fabric and laddered my stockings! Oh well, it was a nice idea...

diamante and beaded detail

And here's how  the finished item looks on a non-pregnant dress mannequin:

And here's the back and side, showing the additional panels added for my bump;

Side panels

scalloped edge detail

It is, theoretically, a very simple dress to make, comprising of only two pieces. It's probably a pretty good way place to start with the Janet Arnold patters if you're as inexperienced at pattern drafting as myself.