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1930’s dress making methods

Rue | Posted in General Discussion on

A friend has asked me to help her make a vintage dress from the early 1930’s.   The Model “A” club they belong to gave a source for a basic pattern, however, there are no instructions other than a 3/8″ seam allowance printed on the pattern.  since zippers weren’t around then, how does one get into the dress?  The dress must be  authentic in construction, only fabrics available at the time, such as rayon, can be used.  How does one keep the seam from fraying with only 3/8″ seam allowance and we can’t use a serger?  The Sears Roebuck catalogue has been helpful with styles and colorsbut does not show the inner construction of garments.    Can anyone help us  


  1. mimi | | #1

    Rue:  Beleive it or not Voque Patterns has a new line called vintage vogue that offers some patterns from the thirties.  Other sources are Eva Dress at http://www.evadress.com

    You could also visit your local historic society to see if they have anything in their archives.  As for fasteners, I think that hook and eye was the option, with or without buttons.


  2. cafms | | #2

    Have you seen this site?  There is a section for 1930's sewing books and techniques which have been scanned in so you have instructions for sewing the way they did at that time.  It might give you some help.


    1. mimi | | #3

      That is fascinating, but I am really glad I have my Viking!  Imagine having to do that all by hand is really intimidating :)


    2. Rue | | #5

      Thank you, the site you suggested is exactly what we were looking for.

      1. Monkey1961 | | #6

        If you can get ahold of any of the Singer Dressmaking booklets, they can give you ideas.  The zipper was indeed in use at this time, so that would not be a problem.  As far as finishing the inside seams you have many options.  Often they would be sewn by machine an 1/8 inch from the edge, then turned under and sewn again to enclose the raw edge, if it was a firm fabric, pinking the edge may work.  Other options include a bias or tape bound edge, or simply overcasting at an angle by hand.  Some people also did french seams so they would all be enclosed.

        Fabrics offered a lot of options, but for the most part were loomed in narrow widths, 36 inches for most cottons, 44 for wools, so you may have to check your requirements.

        Since a lot of hand finishing was done, you find great touches, like arrowheads stiched at stress points, and hand faggoting at a neckline. 

        If you have any questions, feel free to contact me

        [email protected]

        (Geo. Bolton)

        1. Rue | | #7

          Thank you. Your information is most helpful. We're learning so much!

          1. SherryG | | #8

            You might also take a look at TCM (Turner Classic Movies) to get a look at styles.  They very often show movies from the 30s.  Zippers where in use at that time.  I googled zipper history and found this.  So, use your zippers!!  But don't use the nylon or invisible zippers.  Those came much later.


          2. Rue | | #9

            Thank's for your input.

  3. ixs | | #4

    I collect antique clothes (18th, 19th, and 20th century) and have an old dress I bought for my grandgirls to wear for dressup.  Are you sure zippers weren't used in the 30s?  You can also always widen the seam allowances.  I think they used a lot of buttons; I bought an old dress (30s or 40s) that was handmade.  It is a lightweight cotton with buttons up the front and a zipper in the side and a belt.  There is lace on the collar and the buttonholes are homemade.  This dress is very intricate and well made and the seams aren't finished.....

    Will these be judged?  You would have to be somewhat of an expert to be able to discuss and judge the intricacies of that type of sewing, and who is? 


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