20th Century, What I wear

Finished project: The Summertime Southerly 1931 dress

I’ve finished another dress this week: a wool crepe dress from a 1931 pattern.

I killed two birds with one stone with this dress: this week’s theme on the Sew Weekly was ‘Down Under’ (sew something from the opposite season to the one you are experiencing), and next week’s theme is ‘UFO’.  This dress does both.

Well, sort of.  It’s definitely a UFO: I started it at the beginning of spring, with the idea that if I sewed a wool dress Murphy’s law would the weather would definitely be too warm to wear it!  The weather may have cooperated, but the dress got set aside when other stuff became more pressing.

The ‘Down Under’ challenge was a bit murkier.  The whole idea of ‘seasonal’ weather in Wellington is just ridiculous though.  We are the land of four seasons in one day (yes, I know you have that stuck in your head now.  You’re welcome).  On various days this week I’ve been in jeans, wool tops and wool socks, and shorts and a singlet.  What on earth is seasonal appropriate weather in Wellington!?!

I went for a dress to wear all year round, and never: too warm for summer, not warm enough for winter, no good in a stiff breeze, but charming nonetheless.  I’m calling it the Summertime Southerly.  One of those things that shouldn’t exist, but does.*

Southerlies in Wellington are stiff winds that blow straight off Antarctica, up the Cook Straight, and into Wellington, where they chill you to the bone no matter the time of year.  Sometimes in the summer they come as light breezes, rather than stiff gales, and those days are perfect for dresses like this. So are still days in winter.

I’m reasonably happy with the dress.  I still want to find the perfect buckle to go with the belt, and am going to re-finish the cuffs with black satin bias tape.  And wear it with a better slip.  And I wish I had given the side seams Hong-Kong finishes AFTER I fit the dress, because I ended up taking in a LOT of fabric with the fitting, and it’s all still there.

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric:  2ish metres of thrifted vintage 100% wool crepe (the fabric had pieces cut out of it already, and I forgot to measure it before I cut, so I can’t tell you exactly how much there was.  Trim of vintage black silk satin from an obi.

Pattern: Excella E3169 ca. 1931 without the cape, with long sleeves.  This is the same pattern I made the Frumpy Dress from.

Pattern alterations:  The collar is a not-very successful self-draft.  And I didn’t have enough fabric to do the sleeves properly, so I pieced them along the line where the hem would be for a short sleeve.  If I get tired of the long sleeves I can just unpick the bottom half!  I also dropped the back hem just a bit to add flair to the skirt.  (See Steph, I don’t dislike mullet skirts!)

Year:  ca. 1931

Notions:  lots and lots of thrifted cream bias tape to finish the inside.

Hours:  Ergh.  Lets not go there shall we?

Techniques used:  French seams, Honk Kong seams, pintucks, rolled hems, and a tiny bit of pattern drafting..

Will you make this again?  The pattern?  Yes!  But not in wool crepe.  It’s much better as a proper summer dress in floaty chiffon.  And I’d rather save the wool crepe to make stuff like the Dress Clip Dress.

Total cost:  Don’t remember exactly, but under $3 for the fabric.

And the inside?:  bias-bound Hong Kong seams at sides and waist, french seamed sleeves, hand stitched collar.  All rather decent.

*I was going to call this the Edna dress, because it reminds me of a 1920s photo of Edna St Vincent Millay.   Then a friend pointed out that the juxtaposition of ‘Down Under’ and Edna really wasn’t a smart move.  It took me a minute, but I had to agree that I didn’t want people thinking Dame Edna!


  1. I love classic white dresses with black details! Thanks for showing the insides of your dress again; it’s so inspiring to me, who never finishes off seams properly. Also, it’s kind of creepy to think that you are receiving winds from Antarctica. But then maybe I’ve just been watching too many documentaries about South Pole expeditions and everyone dying of cold. Um. Right, this comment and its tangents need to end now.

  2. Great dress and such perfect accessories! I assume that UFO means un-finished outfit, not unidentified flying object – I’d never heard that one before.

  3. Clarissa Dunn says

    Gorgeous!!!! You are going to have the best wardrobe in Napier. Enjoy. CX

    • Well thank you, but this is definitely not for Napier – I’ll die of heat in it this time of year! Not unless a real Southerly comes in for the weekend.

  4. I am HYPERVENTILATING at how amazing and perfect this dress is. How beautifully made – how amazing it looks on you – and, yes, how versatile it will be for our capricious weather in Wellington. With the littlest bit of layering (a real silk slip and some fleece tights) you could wear it as winter white.

  5. Polly says

    I am learning something new (as I so often do on here). I hadn’t heard of Hong Kong seams till now. Is it a regular stitched seam and then bound?

    Gorgeous dress!

    • Yes, a Hong Kong seam is stitched and then bound. They are usually used in light jackets, where you want the inside to look nice, without the weight of a lining. I was just being pedantic doing them here. Mine aren’t very well done – nothing like the ones Mrs C did in her Doctor coat, for example!.

      Thank you for the compliment!

  6. This is a fantastic dress! I love it on you. I think a dropped waist suits you. And mullets. Definitely. 🙂

    That’s so poetic about the summertime southerly. 🙂 And your photos look awesome!

    I have some red wool crepe here… I keep thinking it should go to a purpose like this… It might work well for our chilly but not cold winter… hmmm

    • Thank you! I knew you would approve of the mullet 😀

      I’m happy to send you the pattern if you want to try this one. It’s a bit harder to fit on a more curvaceous figure, but should be do-able.

  7. Oh I love this! Gush, gush, gush some more. So where can we mere mortals fine this pattern? It’s too lovely- I want, I want!

    • Thank you! I think Excella patterns turn up on etsy every once in a while, but that’s the best I can offer at the moment.

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