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Betty Kirks Book on Vionnet

mem | Posted in General Discussion on

I have just aquired a really great book by Betty Kirk on Madeline Vionnet.It has been reprinted recently and is available at a quite  reasonable price from Amazon.

I am wondering if anyone has had experience using the drawings which she has of patterns in order to create a pattern . They are drawings of the garment pieces and have instructions on the basics of putting them together but I cannot fathom how I can make the patterns in my size . They are the most amazing clothes with the strangest pattern pieces .  Its a great book and very inspiring.


  1. tadochas | | #1

    what fun!  I wish that I could help -- just to let you know someone is out here reading your note -- and what you wish you could do is just what I wish I could do


    Would I love to know how to create my own patterns for clothing -- I can do the simple things -- but that is it --


    Good luck -- I will be interested to see if someone can help.

  2. FitnessNut | | #2

    I'm interested in any responses to this as I have the book and have wondered the same thing. I have patternmaking experience at a professional level, but the shapes of those pieces is quite beyond anything I've ever seen before!

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      artfulenterprises | | #3

      Just a thought....could you lay out the pattern pcs. over a personal fit block and adjust them accordingly??? Or perhaps expand them using the method recommended by Burda publishing for their published "magazine' patterns, using a grid to adjust the pattern. Vionnet worked on a half scale mannikin...maybe you could try that first to get a feel for the design and what she's trying to accomplish before you take to your own dress form. Big challenge! You are brave...!

      1. FitnessNut | | #4

        I don't think working from a block will do the trick, unfortunately. The pieces for most of her garment defy the usual rules and look rather strange. You have to see them to believe them! It may just be a matter of enlarging the scale drawings in the book, making a muslin and playing with it on my mannequin to make it fit me. Her designs were so complex....she was a genius! Also, she had an understanding of the bias that many of us simply do not.

  3. Teaf5 | | #5

    With such unconventional pattern pieces, you could make a smaller mock-up (maybe 1/2 or 1/4 of normal) of recycled fabric just to see what goes where and how big it turns out once assembled, so that you get a general idea about size.

    Most copiers will do 200% enlargements, which you can then re-enlarge to a reasonable-to-handle size to use as a pattern. I use metric measurements on mock-ups because it's so much easier to enlarge proportionately, once I figure out that magic number.

    Somtimes, though, all the math in the world doesn't help, and I take a shot at creating a rough pattern out of newsprint and tape the piece together so that I have an idea about how big the pieces will need to be. It's not very scientific, but it's fast and cheap--and very entertaining for family and friends who happen to catch me while modeling it!

    1. mem | | #6

      Thanks for the photocopier idea . It might be the way to go . Betty didnt even give a scale so it really is rather a mystery.

      1. user-60627 | | #7

        A long time ago (I can't be certain of the date, but it was early-to-mid-90's), Threads did an article about a pattern rub-off of a Vionnet dress, to recreate the dress.  The pattern piece they ended up with for the front of the dress was a very odd-looking piece, with darts in places you wouldn't think to find darts (the dress was darted around the waist).  They had to do some pattern correction to true up the pattern, but I have always wondered if maybe it should have been left alone, since Vionnet always worked by draping her fabrics on the mannequin.  Maybe if you could find that article, it would give you some clues.  But I think patterns, as we use them, were an ending point, not a starting point for her, and you may have to drape them to even figure out their scale. 

        And some of those designs may just never work in this day and age, because Vionnet had fabrics woven specially for her in enormous widths to accommodate her designs.  Even 60" wide silk is hard to find.    

  4. KathleenFasanella | | #8

    I've recreated quite a few of the styles in her book on varying scales, some full scale, some quarter scales. The full scale ones I made by plotting them out on alpha-numeric paper (1" grided paper used to make markers).

    She was undeniably brilliant but to really appreciate her spatial sense (get in her skin) you'll have to recreate the styles. There is no other way. It is a journey worth exploring and I've long advocated doing this. My favorite dress block is based on one of her styles (you can see a tie dyed silk version on my personal website bio page). Last summer I was running a series on developing a vintage style from Hillhouse using one of Vionnet's styles as the block but interest (participation) seemed to fizzle due to the project being perceived as too difficult. Pity. I love challenges.

    1. mem | | #10

      Hello Thanks for you reply Could you be more specific as to how you did the full scale designs?

      1. KathleenFasanella | | #11

        hmm, how I enlarged the designs? Boy, that'd make for an article wouldn't it? That's more than I could cover here. Basically, I did it in two different ways. One, I measured the mini pieces with a cm c-thru rule for dimensions and "blew" it up in even proportions to match my own. Of course it took some fiddling. I think I went through about 5 iterations on the first one (the one I made into a block). All iterations were wearable btw so I was pleased.I know I did one style based on estimated fabric width (judging from the location of horiz/vertical seams) and went from there. That reportedly doesn't work on all styles because Vionnet had some goods custom loomed to widths of her liking and the book is lacking on specifics. Kirke doesn't make it easy for you, that's for sure.

  5. Kilroydownsouth | | #9

    When I took history of costume many years ago, as her project, one of the other students made the dress in the back that is overlapping squares of chiffon in quarter size for a large mannekin doll. She used graduated colors going from peachy pink to burgundy. It sewed up into an exquisite flapper style dress. I would recommend that perhaps you start with that pattern, we all though it might be the easiest. I would take your largest round the body measurement, add between two to four inches for ease, (less if you are petite, more if you are zaftig) and scale the pattern pieces up to half your around the body measure since there is a front and back, and go from there.

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