20th Century, What I wear

The Spotty Not-Quite Nautical dress

While I showed lots of different colour options in my By The Sea inspiration post, the classic nautical colours are red, white and blue.

I’ve got one last dress from Art Deco Weekend that I haven’t blogged about, and it just happens to be red, white and blue and (almost) nautical.

The early 1930s 'Spotty Not-Quite Nautical' dress

Everything is nautical when you pose by the sea and pair it with a giant white anchor, right?

The Spotty Not-Quite Nautical 1930s frock thedreamstress.com

The dress was a prototype for my Garden Party Frock, with sleeves borrowed from Past Pattern’s 1931 McCalls pattern.   Interestingly, the skirt is nearly identical to the PP McCall’s pattern as well, but comes from one of my Excella patterns.

Early 1930s Spotty Not-Quite Nautical frock

I ended up going with a easier to wear, more universally flattering, fuller skirt for my final Garden Party Frock, but I do like the slim lines of this one.  The sleeves were another thing altogether.  They look darling, but I had to get Miss Rachel to re-tie them for me literally every 15 minutes, all.day.long. She was so glad when I changed out of the dress!

The Spotty Not-Quite Nautical 1930s frock thedreamstress.com

I wore the dress on the first day of Art Deco Weekend, and started out in quite high lipstick red suede shoes for our annual 1st photo of the day at the bed and breakfast.

The hat is a quickie reshape, but is made from synthetic fibres, so didn’t reshape well, and was uncomfortable to wear, so I’ve since discarded it.  The red belt is not of my making, it’s just something I have in the wardrobe.

The annual 1st morning photo, Napiers Art Deco Weekend

Our lovely host was so enamoured of our frocks he got us to pose with his grandmother’s Art Deco tea set.  You can tell that Miss R is the hostess, and I’m visiting, because I’ve still got my hat and gloves!

Early 1930s Spotty Not-Quite Nautical frock

After tea it was off to Hastings for op-shopping, and off to Napier for more op-shopping, and then we checked into our hotel for the rest of the weekend, I gave up on the heels (my knee was still injured), and we took a walk on the waterfront in much more sensible shoes.

Early 1930s Spotty Not-Quite Nautical frock

I was really hesitant about making this dress up in polka dots, because they are such a vintage cliche, but I ended up loving the dress (other than the annoying sleeves).  It’s so crisp and fresh, was perfect for shopping in, and the tiny nod to nautical worked so well at a seaside town like Napier.

The Spotty Not-Quite Nautical 1930s frock thedreamstress.com

The Spotty Not-Quite Nautical 1930s frock thedreamstress.com

The dress is my extremely soft nautical entry, eligible on grounds of slight nautical inspiration, and because I realised two months after Art Deco weekend that I hadn’t actually finished hemming one of the sleeves (because you’d think after two hours of machine hemming you’d be done hemming a pair of sleeves, but no), and I needed to sort the sleeves so they weren’t a total pain in the neck to wear.  So it did get finished during the challenge!

the Spotty Not-Quite Nautical 1930s frock thedreamstress.com

To fix (or at least help) the sleeve untyeing issue, I sewed a little loop of hat elastic to the sleeve for the ties to slip through, so hopefully they won’t come undone as easily.

Loop of elastic on the sleeve the Spotty Not-Quite Nautical 1930s frock thedreamstress.com

Here is what the improved sleeves look like tied now:

The Spotty Not-Quite Nautical 1930s frock thedreamstress.com

The Challenge: By The Sea

Fabric: 3 metres vintage (1980s) blue and white polka dotted rayon from Fabric-a-Brac, 30cm vintage (1940s) white rayon for sleeves and bow.

Pattern:  My own, cobbled together from three different vintage Excella patterns and Past Patterns #6731 (1931 McCalls frock)

Year: 1931

Notions:  Thread

How historically accurate is it?  Quite accurate.  All the sewing and construction techniques are period appropriate, and the fabrics used, while not always period, are quite similar to what would have been available.  Say 90%

Hours to complete: 5 (and half of that was sleeves)

First worn:  Napier Art Deco Weekend, Friday Feb 15

Total cost:  $12


  1. Oh! That is one of my favorite patterns!! And I ADORE your polka dots. I may have to copy this but I’ll give you FULL credit if that’s ok : ) I know what you mean about those sleeve ties, I ended up lining them. It seemed that the extra fabric helped hold those suckers. This is just so CUTE!

    • Thank you! You are most welcome to copy this – especially since you are the one who first brought the pattern to my attention! I was so intrigued by the sleeves I just had to buy it. Alas, they have turned into such a hassle, and the rest of the pattern is nearly identical to ones I already own, but c’est la vie.

      If I ever do them again (doubtful) I will line them, which will also save the hassle of hemming the dratted things.

  2. Lynne says

    Love the polka dots! I don’t care if they are a cliche – they are a cliche for a very good reason! Pretty as a picture. And I’m sure the anchor was delighted to act as an accessory. 🙂

    • Yep. They are one of those cliches that actually was popular historically!

      I sometimes wonder if every seaside focused town everywhere has an anchor sculpture somewhere. Maybe I should do a book of ‘anchor sculptures of the world’. Depending on how you count it, Wellington has at least 3.

  3. Claire Payne says

    Polka dots? Is this the Dreamstress? I love the dress but don’t you have a thing about polka dots?

    I accessorise a navy and white dress with red bag and shoes and I always receive lots of comments from people who tell me I look nautical. It is such a good look.

    Those white sunglasses of yours go so well with everything too.

    I appreciate the link to the pattern. This is a new source I haven’t tried.

    • I do have a think about polka dots being a vintage cliche, and tend to avoid them for that reason, though I don’t otherwise dislike them. Art Deco weekend is a good time for things that are really obviously vintage like polka dots.

      I love those white sunnies. I’m so glad I bought them! They didn’t work with the hat though – it sat so low they wouldn’t fit!

      The one problem with those patterns is that they only come in one size, and if it isn’t yours, you’re out of luck.

  4. It’s perfect! My view on polka dots is, if, then definitely white dots on blue background are the best. 😉 And yes, it’s perfect for seaside.

    (I caught myself “pronouncing” seaside in my mind as Teatime in Pratchett… Sea aside… :D)

    • Elise says

      Me too! Navy with white dots is the only kind that is acceptable. How funny that we share that opinion.

      Lovely dress, lovely accessories.

  5. Ooooh, that’s gorgeous! I normally don’t like polka-dots, but that looks smashing, and very nautical.

  6. It’s adorable! And it does look nautical when you pose next to a giant anchor.
    All the red and white stuff matches perfectly.

  7. I love it! The ties on the sleeves and the bodice are my favorite parts. How did you do the tie on the bodice? is it just tacked on? Anyway, the pictures with the anchor on the beach are just perfect for this dress.

    Will you be releasing this pattern anytime soon? I would so love to make my own 1930s dress!

    • Thank you! If you look closely at the image of the neckline and bodice tie, you can see that there is a hand-worked thread loop (like the kind I sew for hooks and loops, just on a much grander scale) in dark blue thread. The neck bow is just a long, thin shape which slips through the loop and ties in a bow. This allows me to take if off completely to iron it – very important with 1940s rayon which crumples horribly.

      Thank you for reminding me about this pattern! I’d forgotten I’d meant to release it. It needs a bit more tweaking, and then I have to decide if I want to try to release ‘proper’ patterns on tissue, or if slightly quicker, cheaper, dirtier self-printing ones are the way to go.

      • Thanks for the info! I love that bow look, so it’s good to know re: the ironing.

        Any idea of when it might be released? I definitely want to make a 1930s dress for one of the HSF challenges, but have been having trouble finding a pattern that combines all the aspects I want. I’ve been in love with your drawings since I first saw them last year, so I keep hoping to see yours for sale!

        • Would you like to be a pattern tester? I could have it to you by the end of June – still plenty of summer for you to wear it in.

          I have to do taxes for NZ and US (stupid US, only industrialised nation that taxes its citizens who are resident in another country) first though. Blech.

  8. […] rather stunning 1930′s style spotted dress, from The Dreamstress, was made using blue-and-white spotted rayon from […]

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