During the swap and sell at last summer’s Newport Vintage Dance Week, I came across a rather awful 80s or perhaps 90s evening gown while browsing. I had been considering trying to hand bead my own gown for the Gatsby Ball during the dance week, but had determined that I was not devoted enough to the 1920s and had settled for a less time intensive green silk gown. This 80s/90s dress, though, got my brain going. What if I used the beaded section to make a beaded 1920s evening gown? No hand sewn beading required! I dithered about the decision for maybe 20 or 30 minutes and asked for lots of opinions from my friends (none of whom were very decisively helpful, I must say), but then I hurried back to buy the dress before someone else did! It was only $10 or $15, not bad, for not having to bead it myself!
The whole thing was rather bleh colored with the pale lining. I decided that when I remade the dress it would need more color than the original, but I wanted to keep new fabrics in line with the beading colors so they wouldn’t look out of place. I picked grey for the skirt to bring out the beading and I picked pink for the slip to add some color under the grey but not distract from the beading.
First thing was to cut off the skirt. I kept it because I hate throwing things away, but it’s heavy and polyester… My thought is that one day I might need some sort of petticoat base or lining for a dress that is so great on the outside that this skirt won’t detract from it if it’s not seen. In the meantime, it’s taking up space in my stash. Oh well. After the skirt was cut off I removed the sleeves. They really were contributing to the dowdy look of the beaded section and they did not add to the sleeveless 20s evening dress look I was going for. I kept those too… I have no idea what I’m going to do with them! Beaded evening bag one day, perhaps?
I debated for awhile about taking out the zipper (because it would add work, you know). In the end I decided I really didn’t want to see the lap of the zipper in the back, especially since it was pulling the beading around and making it not match up symmetrically. I also removed the nude lining in the bodice to expose just the silk gauze with the beads. I’m so glad the beading was done on silk! It really adds to the look. Of course all those interior seams were french seamed and I didn’t want to actually take apart all those seams in the silk gauze. So I carefully cut the lining away along the seams then was able to pull out the lining seam allowance because it would just fray where the stitches are. That part wasn’t super fun…
But I was left with a sleeveless top of beaded silk gauze! There was more hand sewing required to get it looking nice (there was no way to get a machine in there with all those beads!): I whip stitched the arm and neck openings; sewed up the back seam where the zipper was; whip stitched all of the seam allowances down on the inside; whip stitched the seams on the outside to close up un-beaded gaps on the seams so the princess seam lines weren’t so visible… Not all of this sewing was necessary to make the top wearable, but it was necessary to make it durable. I want to be able to wear this dress for a long time and not have problems with the beading or the silk gauze, so durability was important.
After getting the top finished up nicely I had to figure out a pattern/plan to make the grey skirt. I scoured my 1920s pinterest page to look for ideas. I liked the idea of an uneven hem and a skirt with extra fullness at certain points. This lovely yellow dress was my main inspiration.
My points aren’t quite as long as this, though I wanted them to be… I didn’t have quite enough fabric for that. I had the added challenge of making sense of those little cut ups in the bottom edge of the beading in conjunction with the skirt. I didn’t want to sew those cut ups closed because the edge beading continued up them and it looked weird, so I had to figure out a way to work them into the skirt.
I think the yellow dress had rectangle pieces that are just left free at the dippy points. My skirt, however, has four a-line panels at front, back, and sides with diamond shaped pieces in between that go up into those cut ups. The skirt pieces are french seamed by machine. The hem was serged and then turned and topstitched by machine. The finished skirt was then attached to the beaded top by hand. First I sewed it along the beaded edges, then I turned the raw edge under on the inside and whip stitched that in place to keep the skirt from fraying.
For the slip, I measured my waist and bust to determine the trapezoidal shape I would need to use. I just guessed at a length (which turned out to be about 6″ too long!). I added a few inches of ease to the waist and bust measurements to make sure I could easily put on and take off the slip without any closures. The side seams of the slip are french seamed by machine. I made tubes for the straps and machine sewed those on. The neck and hem were finished by hand because I had time and didn’t feel like pulling out my machine.
While wearing the slip I noticed it was showing at the underarms and front neck. The underarms were expected and I’m totally ok with that. But I didn’t want to see the slip at the front (I think part of it is because the beaded section is heavy and pulls down in front when I move), so I bunched it down with a safety pin. Will I ever sew it for real? Probably not. Sometimes safety pins are your friends.
Ready for some more facts?
Fabric: ~1yd pink polyester medium weight crepe, ~1.5 yds grey polyester chiffon, and the beaded silk gauze section of an old evening dress.
How historically accurate?: I give it 85%. Polyester was definitely not in use in the 1920s and the princess seams on the bodice aren’t really accurate for these dresses either as far as I know.
Hours to complete: 20-25. Lots of hand sewing or it would have been faster.
First worn: To the opening of the Great Gatsby, old sport! I was part of a dance performance before the movie. More on that soon!
Total cost: $18-$23 depending on what I paid for the original dress, which I can’t remember!
This is the description for this HSF challenge:
The written word has commemorated and immortalised fashions for centuries, from the ‘gleaming’ clothes that Trojans wore before the war, to Desdemona’s handkerchief, ‘spotted with strawberries’, to Meg in Belle Moffat’s borrowed ballgown, and Anne’s longed for puffed sleeves.In this challenge make something inspired by literature: whether you recreate a garment or accessory mentioned in a book, poem or play, or dress your favourite historical literary character as you imagine them.
Oh wait, did I mention that my literary inspiration for this is The Great Gatsby?
It was super fun to wear this to the opening of the Great Gatsby and dance in it. I was able to wear my ivory American Duchess Astorias (not for dancing, but for walking around) which made me happy, as well as a necklace recently given to me by my mom! And in the end, it’s great that the original dress was a size 14, because it gives the top that roomy/boxy/no waist 20s style on me!
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I’ve got these two related final notes:
- The safety pin was patented by Walter Hunt on April 10, 1849. “Hunt’s pin was made from one piece of wire, which was coiled into a spring at one end and a separate clasp and point at the other end, allowing the point of the wire to be forced by the spring into the clasp. It was the first pin to have a clasp and spring action and Hunt claimed that it was designed to keep fingers safe from injury – hence the name.” From about.com’s entry on Walter Hunt as an inventor.
- Serging/overlocking/merrowing was invented by the Merrow Machine Company in 1881. From wikipedia’s entry on ‘overlock’. It has been used to finish seams since at least the 1920s, according to the Vintage Fashion Guild (they’ve got a whole page of neat vintage clothes dating information that has good dates for when different sorts of construction styles and methods came into use!).