1920s no-waste dress in a day!

Last summer, I went to an amazing exhibit at the Goldstein in St. Paul, MN, which I wrote up here in the blog. Among the many fantastic items on display was a pair of 1920s no-waste dresses made by drafting directly on the fabric yardage.

 Sweet embroidery on the bodice of one of the dresses on exhibit.

 Display notes with cutting diagram.

I decided to give this a shot with some 45" wide rayon challis. I put the slit for the inserted gathers at my high hip measurement, and also used the high hip plus ease to determine how far in to scoop that extra bit you cut out from under the arm. 

Due to the curatorial mention of pockets, I used those cut-out pieces to add pockets into the sideseams below the gather line. 

I cut my whole dress with pinking shears to save time and maintain sleekness in the seam allowances (serged seams would mean visible bulk through the rayon challis). 

I finished my neckline with a bias strip turned to the inside. This would also be a sweet dress to use a tatted or crochet collar with, but that's not my style. Schiaparellian creepy crustaceans are more my thing.

 Lobster rayon challis fabric detail. 
(I have a 1930s bias dress out of this same fabric, too!)

Here it is! Love the strand of floats like a necklace.
I'm so ready to make cutting commentary on the periphery of a Gatsby party now.

Sewing caveat: plan to make a mockup at least once before you cut your fashion fabric. Testing your measurement guesstimates is a good idea. I made this dress first in a crappy polyester to test my draft and I'm glad I did because WHEW, was I off on my dimensions. But this one above was my second shot, and I could (and will) make a few more of these dresses. They're a great compromise between stylish and practical for summer.

The exhibit notes mentioned that some of these dresses were touted as taking only an hour to sew. Mine took more like four hours, but rayon challis is not a simple textile to work with--it slips all over the place! Which makes it great for dresses, but maddening for sewing projects. 

I think if i were making this dress in a cotton calico, particularly for a small child, i could probably bust it out in an hour. As it is, having made it twice over now, I am pretty sure i could do a third and fourth version at around 2-3 hours. Definitely a one-day dress project.

Anybody want to give it a try?


  1. I'd like to try it--I'd add front length and some darts because fitting issues, and I'd raise the waistline because Empire waist is best on me, but it looks fun!


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