Guys, I have lofty plans. There are 28 dress patterns plus a scarf pattern in this book and I plan on muslining all of them. I’m not setting a time limit for myself, so it might be 12 months or 12 years before I finish this, but I am fascinated by the construction behind these dresses.
It combines my childhood love of tangrams, origami, and Nancy Drew with my recent love of sewing. Tangrams because you are only given pieces and a final shape, then you’re left to your own to get it constructed correctly. Origami because you do a lot of folding and creasing as well as relying on diagrams with limited text to transform a simple shape to a complex object. Nancy Drew because I don’t read Japanese and there are no fit books or sewalongs to consult for these patterns. However there are a few clues in the form of diagrams that I have to decipher to figure out how to turn into a dress.
All my dresses will come from this book right here. One day I would like to drop $96.16 on this Vionnet book by Betty Kirke, but after reading this review here of both the Japanese and Kirke books, I am more than happy with the $40 spent on the Japanese Bunka book. I purchased this when I was in Taiwan earlier this year since Taiwan is basically Japan’s neighbor and I wouldn’t have to pay any shipping costs.
Don’t you like how much of a statement the word VIONNET at the top makes? Vionnet needs no introduction, but if you haven’t heard of her there is always Wikipedia, or even better, this Coletterie post.
Originally I bought this gridded paper with 1cm squares with the idea that I’d just hand draw the pattern myself to blow it up. While this would work with simpler rectangular patterns, there are some patterns in this book that are absolutely crazy with lots of concave and convex curves that would be a huge pain to draw, even with the aid of a grid.
This page, near the beginning, I assume has some important information regarding the patterns and construction. I think there is information about seam allowances or lack of seam allowances here. If anybody reads Japanese, that’s all I’d like to know… are seam allowances included or not in the gridded pattern? For the first pattern I could tell it didn’t matter, so I went with the assumption that they were included. For future patterns this will be a problem, but I’ll handle that when I get there.
Let me introduce you to Petit Atelier in downtown Dallas. They do custom garments as well as teach sewing classes, but they also have a weekly sewing group each Thursday that I have been attending. They also have a fully equipped studio with industrial machines, sergers, gravity feed irons, a giant cutting table, dress forms of all shapes and sizes… so it is a great place to sew if you lack the space or equipment at home. And let me tell you, if it is one thing these Vionnet patterns need it is space. Lots of it. The pieces are huge and I can’t possibly cut them out or pin them together on my folding table at home. Petit Atelier to the rescue. I ended up doing all of the prep work at Petit Atelier, and actual sewing back at home.
Now here is my old school method of enlarging the patterns. An overhead projector that they have – anybody still remember these clunky things? And transparencies? And spray bottles with water soluble markers? And how excited you were when your teacher called on you to solve a math problem on the projector? And making shadow animals with your hands? You know, before digital projectors took over.
I tape a large sheet of paper (sometimes more than one sheet) to the window and trace with a sharpie and marker. Sometimes I have to climb up on the windowsill to reach the top. Sorry about my shorts wedgie. (This is actually Pattern 2, I don’t have a photo of the tracing of Pattern 1. But the process is the same.) Another idea I have for enlarging these patterns is to scan them into the computer, enlarge them to scale, then take them to a reprographic shop/large scale printer and have it printed there. It would be less work, cost more money, but be more accurate then my traced projection. We’ll see, since some of these are huge, like 180cm+ (70in) wide!
Turn into this? It’s my muslin on a size 14 dress form! This dress is actually a one size fit all dress since it is very roomy until you tighten it with the waist tie. But dress form 14 is my size so I went with her.
Then you layer Piece A on top of Piece B and stitch on the green line. It looks simple enough, but I found it really unsettling to sew a seam on top of and overlapping another seam that I can’t see. I pinned it by feeling, then as I sewed I felt the fabric to make sure there was still fabric underneath. It goes completely against the “edge to edge” sewing that contemporary patterns do. A definitely change of perspective for me. I also hated how I couldn’t ensure a perfect seam allowance since couldn’t line up my fabric to anything as I sewed. Do this twice. So you’ll have two sandwiches – A on top of B, then A on top of B again.
Now you stack them again. A on top of B on top of A on top of B. So an ABAB sandwich. And this time you move part of the first A out of the way and the two middle layers (B to A) together along the blue line. Yeah this makes no sense. I can’t explain it. I also gave up on my drawing as you can tell, oops. Obviously technical illustration is not my strong point.
Then once that is all sewn together, you sew the shoulder seams together and gather them (purple dots). Cut out the 4 holes for the waist tie and pass the tie through them. Then you rotate the entire garment 45°, slip your head and arms through the top, then smile and twirl around! If you were seriously making this garment, you’d also finish your seams/hem and add the facing. I chose to finish the hems before sewing this together, but in retrospect I’m not sure it was the best idea. Next time I would definitely finish the green/blue seams first though.
Do you see the genius behind this pattern? The entire thing is cut and sewn on the grainlines. Then it is worn on the bias. But nowhere in the actual construction do you have to deal with the bias and the shifting that comes with it. It’s a bias garment without the bias headache and all the perks of the immovable grainlines! As a precaution I still stay stitched all my edges just in case, but it turned out to be unnecessary. Note the fabric that is in my left hand as it is able to move over.
As to why I am only making muslins, the reason is quite simple. I am interested in the construction and the challenges for each of these garments, and not necessarily having a wearable-in-public piece. Mainly because I don’t have the type of lifestyle that allows me to wear full length goddess statement type dresses. Even if I made this in a beautiful silk 4 ply, I would never wear it. Also, I don’t have a lot of experience working with luxurious fabrics, and so I rather learn to make a few contemporary blouses and skirts before tackling Vionnet dresses. So as I become more skilled, I may make some Vionnet dresses later in splurge fabrics, but it A) has to be suitable (or modified) for my lifestyle and B) I have to feel ready to work with that fabric.
Look at that drape! I can’t get over how much I loved wearing this and seeing how my silhouette changed with every gust of wind. Also, I’m wearing heels because I actually was too short for this dress. While wearing flats the hem of this dress dragged across the ground. If you paid attention to the shoulders of the mannequin in the book and dress form at Petit Atelier, you’ll noticed the cowl drape is much more prominent there compared to on me. I have broad upper shoulders, so the neckline looks considerably flatter on me. Not enough to bother me though. It’s just something I’ll have to learn how to modify if I want a real cowl.
I’ve nicknamed this the butterfly dress since it looks (and feels) as if I have wings coming off my back. The end for the muslin of Vionnet dress #1 from 1918-19. Hey, in 2018 it’ll be this dresses 100th anniversary! Four more years. Maybe then I’ll sew it in a nice silk.