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How to Sew a No-Waste Dress

A gown of timeless elegance inspires a no-waste layout

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Norman Norell, whose New York-based career spanned 1922 to 1972, was one of the foremost American designers of the 20th century. He designed this silk faille evening gown in 1965. Its crossover front, tied closure, full skirt, and high-waisted bodice are reminiscent of a traditional Korean hanbok. Spare garment silhouettes were Norell’s aesthetic, and in this gown, he anticipated a 21st-century design concept: no-waste design. This approach creates garments without leaving fabric remnants. Read on for more on Norell’s impeccable construction details as well as no-waste design from Threads #198 below.

Norell paid homage to an East Asian dress in this elegant evening gown.

In this silk faille gown from 1965, American designer Norman Norell devised a garment that could have been cut from a length of fabric, leaving only the tiniest of scraps. In doing so, he anticipated no-waste design, an approach that has gained traction in the 21st century.

Norell seems to have been inspired by traditional Asian costume when designing this garment. At first glance, the wrapfront style, wide neckband, broad waistband, and cut-on sleeves call to mind kimono. However, these elements are even more closely related to the Korean hanbok.

A two-piece garment, the hanbok is made up of a full skirt that wraps and hangs from a wide, bandeau-like band and is worn under a short, wrapped jacket that closes in front with ties knotted into a half bow. These elements are incorporated, in modified form, into Norell’s graceful design.

Norell was considered a leading New York-based designer from the 1940s to his death in 1972, and his genius continues to inspire us today. Find out more about his designs in Threads #25, Oct./Nov. 1989.

Norell’s ingenuity revealed

The gown’s charm lies in its simplicity, but a close look shows many thoughtful design and construction features.

A wide neckband/collar forms much of the front bodice. The dress wraps and fastens with concealed hooks beneath decorative bows.
Within the gown, a bandeau with narrow straps provides coverage and support for the bodice. This piece is attached at the back and hooks at center front. The bodice is underlined.
The internal bandeau provides modesty at the sides, where the armholes are deep. The skirt is fully lined in yellow silk that matches the bandeau, which is attached to the back.
Underlining provides opacity and body to the full skirt.

A no-waste interpretation

Although there’s no extant pattern for this gown, it’s possible to create a similar silhouette from an intriguing geometric layout that leaves little or no fabric waste. This diagram is one interpretation of how you could cut a dress inspired by the Norell original. Each pattern piece is a straight-edged shape, which you can fold, pleat, or gather to attach to adjacent garment sections. Experiment with this, adjusting dimensions and proportions to suit your size, or try your own design. Learn more about no-waste designs in Threads #155, June/July 2011.

 


Judith Neukam, a Threads contributing editor, teaches and writes about what we can learn from designers of the past.

Images: Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook (Laurence King, 2016); Photographer: Stephen Sartori

Source: The Sue Ann Genet Costume Collection, Syracuse University School of Design

Illustration: Judith Neukam and Rosann Berry.

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