20th Century, Sewing, What I wear

A Little Bit of Red dress

Last week I blogged about all the stuff I wanted to get finished for Art Deco Weekend.  I didn’t get everything I wanted done, and that wasn’t all a bad thing – it turns out that evening gowns aren’t really a great idea for street dancing in sweaty heat (actually, street dancing and sweaty heat aren’t a good idea either, alone or together).

One thing I did finish was my floral chiffon 1930s dress.

It’s made from Excella E3137, one of my vintage patterns.  I made it up without the hip ruffles, because really, hip ruffles?

I’ll do a proper review of the pattern in a bit, once I finish the dress properly.

I mean, it’s finished properly (rolled hems, French seams & double sewn seams), but I’m not happy with it.  Somehow it just looks uninteresting.  Somehow I failed to notice that except for those hip ruffles it’s just a sack with quirky seaming.  And the quirky seaming doesn’t even show with the print!  Maybe it needs those hip ruffles after all!  So I’m going to take it apart just a little and see if I can’t give it some flair.  Any suggestions?

So the dress as you are seeing it now is Little Bit of Red dress V.1.

And when I feel like fussing with silk chiffon again, I’ll pull it apart, and we’ll have V.2 .  Almost as good as a new dress!

Uninteresting or not, it was lovely to wear on a sweltering Sunday in Napier.  It kept me nice and cool, the breeze blew the chiffon about, I ran about on the beach and sat on the gravel and took pictures and even got in a dance or two.

And went in the fountain again:

In fact, I even drove home in it, all the way to Wellington!

So what do you think?  Are the fabric and a belt enough to make it interesting, if not spectacular?  Or do you have a brilliant suggestion for spicing it up?


  1. I quite like it. It’s basic for sure, but the slanted hem line is lovely and echoes in the flutter sleeves. I think it’s a busy print, so no matter how it was designed/sewn, without something to break up the busy print you’re going to have a “sack-like” dress. I’m afraid I don’t have any suggestions on fixing that one…but perhaps next time a solid colour, or colours would work? A colourblock sort of dress?

    • Thank you! Alas, the lines on this dress would not be flattering in a colourblock pattern, though I have some other 1930s patterns that do that effectively. I could use piping to highlight the waist seaming, but it would add bulk, and is not at all historically accurate. Sigh. Too many decisions.

  2. Laura says

    I love the hip ruffles as shown in the pattern illustration. However, I honestly think even those might be lost in that busy print. It might just look bulky. I think the print is sufficient as a point of interest. It can be frumpy dress 2.0.

  3. I love those floaty sleeves and the slight fishtail hem! I think it would be fine with hip ruffles; it’s not like chiffon is extremely bulky in the first place. Could you just cut some ruffles and pin them on to see how it would look?

    • I’m thinking about that, but I’m torn. As it is, I have enough fabric left to make something else – if I start cutting hip ruffles, it all goes into this dress. Sigh.

    • Elise says

      I really like the idea of floaty hip ruffles. Heck, my wedding dress had a similar feature, and it looked GREAT. In fact, I was considering cutting off the floaty sleeves of the dress, but discovered they balanced out the hip fabric. Maybe the hip fabric will balance off the (pretty) flutter sleeves?

      Why don’t you try pinning some not-precious-chiffon to the dress, and decide then? If it’s a different color, it would even give a better (ie photograph-happy) view of the lines of the stuff. If you like it, you can use your pretty fabric.

      • Your wedding dress was indeed gorgeous. I’ll have a rummage through my scrap fabrics and see if I have something limp enough to mock-up some ruffles in. And then will post a photo and people can weigh-in

        • I think this is a great idea! (for whatever that’s worth) I can see real potential in the hip ruffles for adding that extra bit of visual interest. But can fully empathize with not wanting to cut into the leftover fabric if you don’t have to.

  4. Kathy says

    I think the dress is sweet as is. However, I loved the look of the hip ruffles on the line drawing. My only concern is if in fabric, the ruffles would flair out more than the drawing shows. Would they just add bulk at the widest point? Have you jumped on the make-your-own-croquis bandwagon? This could be a way to fiddle without ripping apart the dress, which looks lovely as is.

    • This fabric is so light that the ruffles wouldn’t flare out more than the drawing (except when the wind caught them), but I am curvier than the drawing, so they would still add bulk to my hips.

      I’m pretty self-aware where my figure is concerned, and have a strong background in fashion drawing, so the make-your-own-croquis as it is going around now seems a little unnecessary. It’s just making me stop and think about it all when I am in a hurry that is the problem!

      • Elise says

        It would make your waist look teeny tiny (although don’t get me wrong, you already look great)

        What’s a croquis?

        • My waist looking teeny tiny is something I would like to see!

          A croquis is (properly speaking) either a quick sketch from a live model, or a fashion drawing done in 9-heads high ‘Amazon’ proportions. The latest trend that is going around is to use it as a term for a sketch of yourself that accurately reflects your proportions, and can be used to sketch clothes over so that you can see if they will look good on your size/shape.

          I think that is a brilliant idea (remember how Tim Gunn did a computerized version on his short lived “what to wear” type show?) but I wish they would find a proper name for it, rather than using a name that already belongs to something quite different! I like terminology and it drives me crazy when words are co-opted for something they aren’t at all. (OK, end scholar rant)

          • Ha, I can understand scholar rant! I did not know that. What it really meant.

            And I also think the hip ruffles might balance out the flutter sleeves and actually make your waist look smaller in comparison. It would probably not work so well on bigger figures (or even me with my bigger hips that flare out enough from my small waist on their own), but I think it could be just the thing for you. You may be curvier than the fashion drawing, but you’re still slim. 🙂
            But, at the same time, I also like it as is. I like simplicity, and this looks like a simple yet fun summer dress. Works for me.

          • Elise says

            I think it’s funny to watch words transform–I once asked for what I had been taught meant ‘kiss’ in French, only to ask for a roll in the hay! (L’americaine terrible!)

            But it CAN be frustrating to try to communicate ideas using words with multiple meanings.

            I LOVED Tim Gunn and his respectful, kind, and fabulous show–and you would like the Oscar dresses, speaking of hip ruffles.

    • Thank you! Ummm…not sure I know what an instagram style app is? I did use a processing program though, if that is what you mean!

  5. Well you know I have a soft spot for the hip ruffles and they would be so sheer and floaty, no bulk will be added in the process. SO I say, go for it! More is More!!! MWAHAHAHA!! (umm, that;s not really going to sell the idea to you is it? hehehe)

  6. I tend to like simple, so I think it’s an adorable, spot-on little dress. The floaty fabric, the great print, and the belt grounding the whole thing works for me. It’s precisely how I would leave it 🙂 It’s a fab print, so you’re right–the construction details get a little lost–but I see the beauty of this piece in a simple cut with a fab print. That said–if you went with hip ruffles–what about slightly longer hip ruffles, so that they were less hippy and more floaty, if you wanted to add an extra kick? I’m not sure that they still wouldn’t get a bit lost though…hmmm.

    • Lynne says

      Good idea, Rowenna! Longer hip ruffles. I was thinking maybe another ruffle below the two on the pattern. This would bring the third one closer to the hem, and give some flattering fullness at a lower level. Less hip and more skirt. More flip and flair when dancing. Makes the waist look smaller – always a good thing.

  7. I think it’s very cute, but I’m not sure about hip ruffles–I can’t imagine them looking good, bulky or not. Maybe you could add another layer that ends a few inches above the other skirt and a little fluffier. The only other thing I would suggest is moving the end of the sleeves further away from the bust. I can’t think of anything to make it really “interesting,” but I like it’s simplicity.

    • Haha! All these comments and only a guy noticed the most obviously wrong thing about the dress! Yes, moving the chiffon sleeve ruffles away from the bust points is definitely on my to-do list.

  8. I love the sleeve ruffles… I think the dress would look great with hip ruffles if you lengthened the ruffles – or actually that idea of a shorter skirt layer on top would be good… What about leaving out the upper hip flare (which looks to end at exactly the wrong place!) and using just the lower hip flare?

    • The construction doesn’t work to have only the lower hip flare, but I’m really considering these longer ruffles – something that divides the skirt length in thirds, or less at the bottom.

  9. 1- Very very cute dress and your photos are beyond gorgeous…

    2- Put in the hip ruffles. I think it will take it from “kind of pretty but ordinary dress” to “hello 1930’s chic.”

    3- I rather enjoy sweaty street dances… I find a swirly fun cheap cotton dress is best for those occasions…

    Wow, really, your photos are so lovely…

    • I shall respond in kind:

      1. Thank you, and thank you again (though of course, I can’t claim responsibility for taking them!)
      2. That was my thought. Only it included the possibility of “Hello 1930s frumpy!” – and that did exist!
      3. I enjoy the idea of sweaty street dances in swirly cotton frocks, but the reality is a really good way to ruin your knees and feet and shoes. Especially on cobblestones. And I really value my knees and feet (the shoes are negotiable).

  10. I think teeny tiny piping would be nice. Perhaps you can do a mock up and look at it… the ruffles are pretty and I think they would look pretty too. Our company is just finishing up Ain’t Misbehavin’ and the costumer used piping and ruffles…

  11. what about a wider belt, would that be period incorrect? I love the dress as it is. But there is a part of me that does want to cinch the belt tighter, I almost feel like the dress sits too loose. I don’t sew myself, just from the perspective of someone who gets to advise folks on how they look all day long, I want to see your waistline.

    • Alas, wider belts are not period correct, and (more importantly) not my friend. I tried cinching the belt tighter, and it just made the fabric gather in a very unflattering way. I’m going to take in the waist and hips just a tiny bit to see if that helps. I think a period-correct fancy belt buckle might help too.

  12. I think it’s perfect! SO gorgeous! The print is to die for as well as the silhouette!
    And I love your hat!


  13. Stella says

    I say give the hip ruffles a try. You have a nice figure; you should accentuate it!

  14. I think it looks lovely! That print is quite perfect for the dress.
    I admit I’m a huge fan of flowy early 30’s hip ruffles 🙂
    Perhaps adding a vintage deco buckle to a self fabric belt? But I do think it looks lovely as it is.

  15. Kay says

    I love the fabric of the dress and the style. You’re very talented.
    re: dress improvements. I am just wondering if there was a reason why you made the length of the dress shorter than the pattern? I know the body proportions on pattern drawing are ridiculous but nevertheless my reading is that your dress length doesn’t go as far down the leg (at least at the front) as does in the drawing. So even taking into account the implausible Twiggy body shape, I think this might be contributing to the frumpy look. ie not maximising the potential to capture the long, sinewy (sp?) 30’s look. i wonder if it might even be a good idea to go even longer than the drawing in order to compensate for not having an implausibly long figure – in order to achieve the overall ‘look’.
    another suggestion: I wonder if there is a way to combine block chiffon colours with the pattern fabric to add interest and to strength the lengthway lines. I think they did combine fabrics this way sometimes. but I’m not entirely sure whether it would suit this pattern – particularly because the sleeves (as you say) are in an odd place. anyway, one possibility might be to use one of the colours in the fabric for the middle section (right to the hem) to draw attention to the length – and it might be slimming too. not sure.
    Alternatively perhaps the sleeves and the bottom skirt ruffle could be in a matching block colour to lift the dress out of frumpiness and add interest. eg if you put two longer (i lke that suggestion) ruffles on the hips the bottom one could be in the colour too. It is posisble that will also draw your eye lower to the length of the dress – which would be good if the dress was also quite a bit longer.
    one more simple suggestion: how about using red accessories. eg a thin red belt to lift the dress – although it is less slimming than navy my reading is that it is less important to have a small waist than a kind of boyish long look. so the difference between the waist and bust/hips is probably more important to diminish than the size of the waist. you could perhaps get a neat fitting red deco hat and bag too – perhaps that would do the trick.

    great site by the way. lots of fun.

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