I am Angela and I love to sew. I started sewing as a child and by the time I was a teenager I was wearing the very latest fashions to go out in. All me-made. I am passionate about reducing the amount of textiles sent to landfill, and encourage you to repurpose fabrics and clothes I started this blog in order to have a way in which to pass on my gained knowledge, and my professional knowledge to you, Sewing is empowering, you can save money by making items, make money by selling then, You can pass your knowledge on to others. What is there not to love? Interestingly I am a direct descendant of the Flemish weavers who came over to England in the 1300's. I find that fascinating especially as most of my family from as far back as I can trace are somehow involved in the manufacturing of fabric . . I have a degree in tailoring with a special interest in WW2 fashion.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

how to make a 1940's style tea dress

Sewing a 1940s dress

This is a post I wrote some time ago, but I think it is worth re visiting.
Vintage fashion is very much "in" at the moment and when I was looking through my sewing room I found this Folkwear pattern for a 1940's dress. I also found some viscose floral print which hangs nicely.

For this dress I researched traditional methods and used them as for as possible. This is not a quick make and is for experienced sewers.

I have wanted to sew a dress in 1940's style for ages, I bought the vintage style fabric  and pattern ages ago but never got around to sewing it.
I am pleased to say that this pattern is now for sale in the UK and you can purchase it from MinervaCrafts. Glamour girl dress pattern
I'm suggesting that you use a heavy woven dress fabric which hangs well, this floral viscose Challis would be perfect Floral print viscose challis

When sewing vintage the first step is to take your measurements and choose the pattern size which  corresponds most closely. Do not just use your usual dress size as patterns do usually vary from these. This is true for any pattern, but more so for vintage as women were much smaller back in the 1940's.
Cut the pattern pieces out and lay them on the fabric on the correct grain, as shown on the pattern piece.
Cut out the material, leaving larger than normal seam allowances in true vintage style. Vintage garments were made to last a lifetime and so extra fabric was always left in the seam allowances to enable the garment to be let out if necessary and to be honest it is good practise to do it now.
The next step is to transfer all pattern markings to the fabric using your prefered method. Keeping with tradition for this garment I am using tailors tacks and thread markings.

The front bodice has been stitched together and pleats formed at the shoulder, just follow the pattern markings and you cant go wrong. One point to note is that if you want an authentic finish to your 1940's dress there were no domestic overlockers and seams were finished by turning under 1/4" . Similarly zippers if you could get them, or salvage them from another garment, had metal teeth and were quite obvious by todays standards, no invisible zips here girls! Sometimes a piece of fabric was used to make a cover, as in this pattern, so that the zipper does not show.

I need a bit of bias binding and made it myself with an easily obtained, and easy to use tool. To be honest bias binding is so easy to make I would not bother to buy it ready made, and the quality of home made is so much better

Bias binding makers are available from Jaycotts Bias binding maker .

 This is the begining of the front bodice. I have to admit that the pattern is fairly complex! In this period fabrics were in short supply so patterns tend to use less fabric pleats, buttons and length of hem all were begining to be reduced to the bare minimum, but I have to say because garments just had to last they were very well made.
The pattern is quite complicated and is taking a fair bit of time to get it to look right. Thank goodness I chose a patterned fabric which is more forgiving than plain! In all honesty I would not recommend this particular pattern to any but an experienced sewer,  the main pattern houses Simplicity,  New look, and the rest all have beautiful vintage style patterns.

This believe it or not is the front skirt and front bodice waiting for the midriff to be inserted.

And this is the front almost completed bar a little tweaking here and there.

As a point of interest clothes rationing was introduced in 1940 and coupons had to be used when purchasing a garment or material.Fabrics were needed for the forces you see and so women had to "make do and mend" Fabric was usually rayon although silk and wool were prefered if you could get hold of them. Nothing could be wasted and when a garment wore out it would be remade into something else. Old curtains,worn sheets, even parachute silk would all be used by resourceful women trying to make herself something to wear.there were restrictions too on hem length, knee length was the order of the day . The number of buttons and pleats were all severely restricted too. Knit wear was unravelled and made into something else and as there was no nylon any more, there were no stockings! Women used tea bags or gravy browning on their legs to make them look more attractive and a "seam" was drawn up the back of the legs with eyebrow pencil to emulate stockings.
Hats and gloves were always worn, sometimes a head scarf replaced the hat but the head was usually covered in some way. Handbags became larger because of the need to carry gas masks around constantly.
Siren suits were very necessary and they were nicely tailored. Imagine an air raid warning going off in the middle of the night, what do you put on over your nightwear? All in one garments made out of a fleece fabric became a vital piece of clothing which were warm and afforded some sort of decency when going down to the air raid shelters. So don't think that Onesies are a new invention - Sir Winston Churchill wore one! 
If you are going to purchase an original vintage dress then do remember that sizes were different than they are today, sleeves were narrower and hips and waists were smaller. Also Bras gave you an entirely different shape than  today's look  Do
try the garment on and make sure that it fits. If it doesn't , then look at the seam allowances, can it be let out? If it is too big on top can it be made smaller? With a bit of thought it ought to be possible to make it fit you.

I have more or less finished making the front of the dress, the complicated design makes it impossible to make it up in the normal way, ie making the bodice first then attaching the skirt.in this design the front and back are made seperately and joined at the side seams before the sleeves are added. I did tack it together for fit first by the way, but it can be adjusted at the sides later if needed.
I must say I am looking forward to wearing it! 

It is going to take me a week or so to finish this garment so dont just read my blog, have a go, you can always ask me for help.

Well, two weeks later and the dress is still not  finished. There has been much excitement because I have just bought my first overlocker! I am trained as a tailor and many of the techniques I use are different to a seamstress/dressmaker, and I finish seams differently. 
I spent several hours last night playing with it, learning to thread it and generally getting  to know it.
I found threading it quite complicated at first, then I had to get the  tension right, so I did find that the evening soon passed.  Now that I have it I can see that it will prove to be my most favourite and most used tool. I have even ordered a book to see what else I can do with it. 
See, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! 

My  overlocker  is from Jaycotts and the selection is constantly being added to , these are the current models Overlockers at Jaycotts
Back to the dress soon, I promise. I am easily sidetracked!


We left off last time with only the front of the dress completed.
The dress is made quite differently to usual in that the fronts and backs are made seperately and joined at the side seams.
So, on with the back!

The back has two pleats in it for ease of movement so they were tacked then stitched in place adding the midriff section and then the skirt.
Before adding the side zip and stitching the side seams I tried it on just to ensure that I liked the fit, I did.
There is a zip in the side and I added a small welt to ensure that it could not be seen, then I stitched the side seams and tried it on again.

If you want to be correct then use a metal teeth zip Metal tooth dress zip you could use a plastic zip butane invisible zip is not suitable
 Now, I know that I said that seams were finished differently, but I have just got my very first overlocker, so guess what? Thats right, I finished the seams on it, all of them. I have to say the garment looks fantastic on the inside so a break with the vintage era worked in my favour! I have to say also that I was longing to use it.

The fronts and backs are now sewn together, zip inserted and all neat inside.
The next step is the sleeves. They are rather cute because they ae gathered up the sides,

I dont know if you can see them properly on this photograph.
Once the sleeve seams are joined gather the top as this makes it easy to put the sleeve in place. Gently ease the gathers to fit the armhole, makeing sure that you do not leave any pleats in the fabric as it will spoil the effect.
Neaten the edge of the sleeve and the armhole. Press.

The next job is to cover a pair of thin shoulder pads with some leftover fabric and to first of all tack them jn place, try it on , make any adjustments and loosely catch stitch them in place

I overlocked the bottom of the skirt and turned it  up about 1 1/2 inches, but you hem it to the length you would like. This dress is longer than I would normally wear, it is calf length but I can always shorten it if I want to another time.

So, here it is, awaiting its final pressing.
I have some vintage jewellery from the period  and will wear some with
 It, the jewellery actually belonged to my grandmother and I do wear it quite a bit myself

I hope that you have enjoyed seeing how I made my dress,  I would appreciate your comments and questions.

This is my favourite go-to dress whenever I need a smart day dress, it is probably the garment I have worn most often.


#vintage #1940s #Folkwear #sewingblog