What I wear

The Yellow Mantle of Summer Vionnet frock

Winter is definitely coming in New Zealand.  My summer frocks are getting pushed further and further to the back of my wardrobe, and merino socks and cardigans have made an appearance. Daylight savings is  over, and it’s dusk when I head out to teach night classes.  It’s rained for the last three days.

It’s all feeling quite grey and gloomy and sad.

Which is why it’s good, if slightly impractical, that I just finished the happiest, warmest, sunniest, summeriest dress that you could possibly imagine: a version of the Vionnet Chiton dress (make your own using my article in Threads issue #177) in aureolin yellow silk crepe de chine:

1920 Vionnet Dress thedreamstress.com7  Oh joy!

I’ve wanted a yellow Chiton dress ever since I made the Katherine Mansfield inspired Chiton dress for ‘When I Was a Bird’, and didn’t make a dress for  ‘In the Rangitaki Valley‘.

Now I have a dress that really is ‘the yellow mantle of summer’ – I’ll just have to wait for summer to come back again so I can stand ‘breast high in the broom’!

1920 Vionnet Dress thedreamstress.com8


The fabric for this dress came from Global-that-Was.  I drooled over it for weeks (saturated yellow silk crepe de chine!  Be still my heart!) before taking the leap and buying it, because I knew I’d regret it forever if I didn’t.

Sylko, quite unusually for them, simply calls this colour ‘Yellow’.  Based on their normal colour naming, I would have expected ‘Marigold Yellow’ or ‘Brilliant Daffodil’ or ‘Pure Sunshine’, but nope: yellow.  The fabric, I’ve decided, is actually just a bit darker than plain old yellow, so is aureolin.

1920 Vionnet Dress thedreamstress.com1


Don’t you just love colour names?  All the delicious possibilities?  Who else can remember that most wonderful of childhood moments: getting not just the 64, or 96 crayola crayon box, but the entire 120 set!   Oh, the happiness!  (and the smug satisfaction of showing it off at school)

And then the continued joy of carefully arranging it into perfect order…

Even better was getting Windsor & Newton watercolours as a teenager, with Cerulean and Prussian Blue, Burnt Umber, and, of course, Aureolin.

1920 Vionnet Dress thedreamstress.com5

Because the weather is packing in, I haven’t managed to wear this dress (though it almost made it to a Pokey Lafarge concert before I came to my senses and realised that debuting it at a venue where it might get a beer or wine spilled all over it probably wasn’t the brightest – as it was the only thing I got on me was Pokey sweat.  Yay?  Ewww?)

It’s not been out, but I photographed it in the entry with the front door open, so you do get a bit of Wellington wind effect in the photos:

1920 Vionnet Dress thedreamstress.com3


Though the dress is a 1920 design, which makes it immediately post-WWI, I’m not counting this as a HSF make for the ‘War & Peace’ challenge (or any other).

Why not?

Well, the pattern is period, the construction is period, the fabric weave and content are period perfect, but the colour is not.  Bright yellow was a popular ’20s colour, but not until the mid 1920s.  Vionnet’s actual design was black, and it is extremely unlikely that a version of this dress was ever made in this shade.

So while the dress is period in many respects, for me it fails the most important test: would it be ‘normal’ in period?  And I just don’t think it would.

1920 Vionnet Dress thedreamstress.com6


But, normal or not, I think it’s fabulous, and I’m going to have so much fun wearing it!

Once it gets warmer…

Or maybe just over leggings 😉

1920 Vionnet Dress thedreamstress.com4


  1. Absolutely gorgeous! And I think it would actually be the perfect thing to wear on a dreary day. You’d be like that lone forsythia bush in spring just before everything else goes into leaf-bud.

  2. Anne Staudt says

    Love, love, love the color and the fabric!!! And the red necklace is perfect with it! Can’t wait to see a picture of you in it!

  3. Lynne says

    Be like me – hang it on the wall for winter so that it can lighten your room!

    I loved Lakeland coloured pencils, but it was my mother’s cotton drawers that really inspired my love for colour names.

    • Barbara Stevens says

      On re-reading I saw what you meant by cotton drawers, but first reading conjured up a lovely picture of your mother’s undies!

      • Lynne says

        🙂 Wonderful! She would have loved the multi-coloured undies of today! I can quite see the possibilities for confusion there. Sylko, the many shades of, in the drawers of mother’s Singer treadle machine.

    • Elise says

      I once read an anthropological survey of the Scots-Irish settlers in Appalachia. They would hang their Sunday clothes on the walls in order to liven up their homes with their most beautiful possessions. I thought it was so neat–and your comment made me think of it.

      • Lynne says

        Lovely idea. Beautiful fabrics and colours enrich a home.

  4. Barbara Stevens says

    Long sleeved turtleneck and matching leggings underneath and you can wear it all winter. Brighten up those dreadful gloomy winter days. I can never understand the fashion world’s love of dreary colours for winter (think NomD for example) when we should be wearing the brightest colours we can get our hands on.

  5. Elise says

    My favorite dress–in a lovely color!

    By the way, what was the story about the 20s where the heroine wore yellow? Anyone else know of it?

  6. Alex says

    I looooooove the colour, and I know what you mean about it being cold recently, I’m in NSW, right near the northern border at the coast and we are definitely feeling the Antarctic winds right now. I might get my hands on some merino knit and make me some stockings for the coming freeze.

  7. I loved your comment about crayons and it brought back memories. I’m dating myself but the box of 64 was the dream box when I was a kid. Mom was a single mom so it was the small box (8? 12?) for us kids. I was sure she was the meanest mom in town. I understood when I was older but I still felt like I had missed out on something. When I had my own money I bought a box of 64. I was a teenager so I was a bit embarrassed by the purchase but I loved that long longed for box-it had metallic colors! I told myself that because I was older, I wasn’t just coloring, I was practicing to be an artist like my father.

  8. I do have a beautiful yellow organdy early 1920s dress but it is more a very pale daffodil yellow than proper yellow. And think of all those ravishing early 1910s “exotic” gowns in vibrant yellow….

    Although there IS this, from 1916.

    A quite dark yellow 1920 wrap:

    And hey – a 1920 bright yellow frock!

    And another from 1923:

    • Oh my! That second Madeleine Wallis design is AMAZING. Going straight to my inspiration folder! I don’t entirely trust that it would have been that vibrant as a real dress though.

      Cooincidentally, I also have an early 1920s dress in yellow (chiffon in my case) – but it’s that pale daffodil yellow again, which really seems to have been the yellow colour of the late teens-early 20s. This saturated yellow was more of a early ’30s hue.

      Ultimately, even if this shade of yellow was used in 1920, I don’t think it would have used for this type of frock (particularly not by Vionnet), which is really what makes me call this a modern take on it, rather than a period reproduction. Luckily I’m happy to have it just be a wardrobe item for me, not a historical item 😉

  9. It’s so cheerful and fits right into the time of the year when I am. I know you said you weren’t keen on daffodils, but now I see daffodils everywhere around here – it’s just their time – and think of this yellow. Keep it safe from Miss Fiss’s claws, it’s too precious!

  10. Jackie says

    Pokey LaFarge?!?! Wow. You know, it’s still a little hard to wrap my mind around the fact that he is, truly, an international sensation. After all, here in St. Louis he’s still the local boy! We are fortunate, indeed. And I, of course, think you have excellent taste.

  11. Oh, I love it! I have been wanting to make a dress in this style for AGES! I was going to do it for the April HSM, but haven’t got enough fabric or the time, as exams are looming. I smiled when you said winter was coming in New Zealand; here in the UK we have blue skies, a wonderful temperature of 23 degrees Celsius and gorgeous sunshine. Summer is just around the corner here, so maybe I ought to get my act together and make one!

  12. Sule says

    Probably the UGLIEST dress I have ever seen. You should take your fingers and run them thru a blender because that’s exactly what you have done to this fabric. Uggggh

    • Charity says

      I always wondered what went through the heads of the People of Wal-Mart when it comes to clothing. I believe that Sule has just shed some light on that mystery.

    • Michelle says

      Even uglier is a world where people fail to use filters for their unkindness.

  13. Well Sule, I think the dress is rather gorgeous! in the day way back when there were no overlockers and only sylko cotton thread, straight stitching and zigzag to use, this is the effect one got! this is probably the most authentic you would get bar the real thing! Its truely a blend of old and new!

  14. Nan says

    Living in France ( at the moment, since I also live in California) I have been to see Vionnet in museums– and I love them! This is GORGEOUS! Love style; adore color. I so wish you had a little shop around the corner!

  15. Sule says

    Well, maybe you all are right. I don’t know what you guys see in this dress. The “authenticity” part I can understand, but please let’s agree the sewing is poor. That’s why there are electrical machines (etc) to make stuff look stunning. You guys need to google the words “stunning yellow dress”….but what do I know – atleast I don’t live in the past.

    • There is benefit to looking into history. My looking into the past has helped me gain an appreciation for the time period I live in and has helped me develop my own style for everyday wear.
      I don’t feel that knocking someone else’s interest is of benefit to the world. There are lots of hobbies out there that are not interesting to me but they give joy to the people who participate in them. This blog gets a lot of readers so I suggest that this is a popular hobby…just not to your taste, Sule.
      As to your feelings about the dress and its workmanship, I’d like to see a sample of your work. If you are not an expert seamstress (especially historically speaking) then what you are sharing is merely opinion. When it comes to opinion, I’d like to share the advice of Thumper’s parents. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say nothing at all.

    • I suspect you’ve never tried sewing yourself, otherwise you’d have a better idea of the difference between what a machine does, what a pattern/cut does and what is Photoshop.

      • Fern says

        Although I am not fond of the colour of the dress or the shape (personal tastes…), the hand sewing is pretty amazing… I agree with Hana Marmota, Sule can’t have tried hand sewing to be dissing your skills, dear Dreamstress… By the way, Sule, hand sewing *is* part of the authenticity (if you are interested in period clothing and authenticity, that is…)

  16. Everyone in the world lives in the past. Future didn’t even happened yet or unknown, so we can’t live in the future, that would be the most inappropirate thing to do (namely we can’t use tools from the future still uninvented, can’t reenact future history still untold!) we neither live in the present, because within a flash turns to past. So we all live in the past, what we already did and know 😀 Only some of us love to stretch further back in time and I think they are the luckiests and blessed to have the skills and workmanship to produce days long gone by… If you are able, do something better and post it, but stop trolling on others work!

  17. This dress is Wonderfull and the work is delicate. Sule is trolling without knowing how it’s difficult to sew. We are not living in the past but we know it enough to say that this kind of dress is better seewed that a H&M one today…. Thanks to Sule, his nasty comments have enlightened this beautifull dress of yours.
    From France with admiration.

  18. Janet van Dompseler says

    With all the talk of Crayola crayons, do any of you remember where those childhood boxes of crayons were made? There was a large crayon factory in the next town over from where I grew up, in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada. Just curious if they were the same ones you used around the world.

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