Vintage patterns

A dress from 1941

This is a dress from the May 1941 issue of Beyers Mode für Alle magazine – Germany.

I don’t have the actual magazine, just the pattern sheet. I bought one issue of this magazine and it came “complete with all the pattern sheets” – oh joy, they are so rare. But it turned out to have three pattern sheets – from three other issues of the magazine. I was annoyed and overjoyed at the same time: annoyed because I now had a magazine full of lovely dresses and no patterns to go with them; yet overjoyed because I got three pattern sheets instead of one, albeit without the corresponding magazines. But I figured it was an excellent trade-off. 😀 

Everything about this magazine reminds you that it was published in the middle of a war. The pattern sheets and the magazine pages are made of very poor quality paper, so they are very fragile. The magazine features a monthly competition of “re-use and re-fashion” and publishes ten best makes that were sent in by the readers, and the winner gets a prize: 10 DM – enough for a year worth of magazine issues. There are cooking tips on dishes made of stale bread crusts. And this is only 1941! The war was still going well for Germany. But soon all the fashion magazines would stop anyway, until well after the war.

But back to the dress. The 1940s fashion had a lot of gathering and draping, and this dress has more of it than what is apparent from the sketch. We have the big draping effect on the front, but also gathers along the central front and back seams around the waist area, as well as two gentle pleats on the collar.

The collar is interesting – it ends in the back insert – a narrow triangle (part 3 in the diagram). You get a scewed diamond shape: a small triangle for the back of the neck and a long triangle down to the waist (almost). The pleats from the collar are tucked into the triangle on the neck, then the main back piece is attached. But have a look at that seam – it’s curved! Some of the shoulder and waist shaping is gone into it.

Collar construction. Left piece is the front with the shawl collar, pleated, meeting the side of the top triangle of the back insert (top right piece). The main back panel meets the front panel at the shoulder, then continues along the neck with the shawl collar and into the long triangle of the back insert, all in one smooth line.

Like many other patterns of the time, this pattern does not include facings or sewing instructions. The quick description that came with the diagram, is extremely brief – you don’t need to be told how to sew, do you? 😉 So I have drawn my own collar facing piece using the overlay in the above photo – with the collar pleats closed and extending into the neck triangle. I’m going to line the dress, so the facing doesn’t need to extend into the back or onto the shoulders as it attaches to the lining.

The sleeves are wide, and the long sleeve variant is gathered at the wrist, but they are not gathered at the top – they have short darts instead creating that pronounced “head”.

Now for the size. The magazine has patterns in eight sizes corresponding to seven “standard” shop sizes:

Measurements of bust, waist and hip circumference, hip measured at 18cm below the waist. The fourth measurement is skirt length at the front. There is no length of back measurement, but you can tell from the skirt length that these are proportionally scaled: the bigger sizes are for taller perfectly proportioned women, not for short stout ones like yours truly.

According to this table, I am size 46 in width and I estimate size 40 or 42 in height… Ouch! 😮 But never mind – the dress is size 48, so way too big anyway. Or is it?

Don’t forget that they used to give a lot less ease in their garments back in 1940s than we do now. Plus I have generous shoulders. I measured the pattern, and actually it is exactly how I would size it for me, just too wide in the waist and too long. Normally I would shorten it in the back length and may be between waist and hips, but with this pattern I decided to just shorten the skirt. For waist shaping, I go with soft pleats on the main fabric to look like draping, and regular darts on the lining, for smoothness.

I’m making it out of crêpe chirimen lined with plain viscose. That chirimen is synthetic but the weave should make it breathe better, and I couldn’t resist the butterflies (or are they moths?). 🙂 

Viscose lining will improve the feel though – the outer fabric is for the eye to see, the inner fabric is for the skin to feel. So pure silk dresses with polyester lining are all wrong.

Both fabrics are quite soft and reveal bumps underneath quite easily. By “bumps” I mean overcasting stitches on the back of the seams. So I can’t use overlock as it is way too bulky, but even zig-zag on a single layer shows through (you see obvious zig-zags “embossed” on the dress!). Then I decided to try Singer’s method: fold the seam allowance over and zig-zag over two layers of fabric.

Yes, that worked! 😀 The thread now gets buried in the fabric and nothing comes through to the right side. The seams look quite neat on the reverse, too.

It was taking too long to manually hem long seams like that, so I rammaged in my “untried bits” drawer and picked up an old bed-mounted adjustable hemmer. Wow! Amazing. This goes on active duty immediately!

And there was more creativity with overcasting. I didn’t have quite enough material for the lining, so had to make a connecting seam across the back. But it needed to be very flat otherwise it’d show through the main fabric! So, I stitched the seam, ironed it open, stitched with a fagotting stitch over it and trimmed the seam allowances. This makes for a very narrow and light connecting seam that is still strong enough and won’t unravel in the wash (fingers crossed!).

Attaching facing always makes for messy seams because the facing has fusible interfacing ironed onto it (but never onto the seam allowances – why reinforce that?). So rather than overcasting the seams and letting them flop about, I trimmed the lining seam, ironed the seam onto the lining side and stitched it with a decorative scallop. This makes it flat and prevents fraying but doesn’t have the bulk of overcasting.

I was using differently coloured threads here, so I set the tension such that the little dots would come through to the wrong side – didn’t fancy them on the red.

I made two further changes to the style: I gathered the sleeve tops instead of making those little darts; and I added cuffs to the long sleeves instead of just gatering them at the wrists. This is purely a personal choice: smooth darts in sleeve tops would extend the shoulder line making the shoulders wider according to the 1940s (and 1980s) fashion, whereas a gathered sleeve top cuts off the shoulder line, optically making the shoulders smaller. As this is a garment for 2018, I chose to gather the sleeve tops.

The same thing with the cuffs – I just prefer the look. 🙂 In retrospect, I should have shortened the sleeves a little for the cuffs – this pattern has generously long sleeves! But I didn’t do it because I thought they would come up too short as is often the case for me – I’m a bit of a gibbon with extra long arms. 😀 And now I’m too lazy to redo the cuffs. 🙂 Anyway, I think it’s Ok as is!

Notice how the draping along the front and back seams doesn’t look like draping but just gives the blouse part that extra lift? (And yes, I should have pressed the seams better before taking pictures – but I only saw it in the photos! 😣)

The collar was supposed to stand up like a tulip collar, but I found it a bit much, so I turned it over to make a little shawl collar. It works! 🙂 And here is the back with that long diamond:

I must admit, I really like this pattern! There may be a re-run at some point. 😀

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9 thoughts on “A dress from 1941

  1. I love it Elena! Well worth all your work. I sure wish you were my neighbor…..!!!!! Thank you for the great info and inspiration! —Michele ….in Minnesota, USA….should you want to consider being my neighbor 🙂


  2. Just beautiful. So lovely through the torso and the skirt is just right. You look so very British! Very proper. I love the pattern and sharing your sewing adventure. Thank you,
    Pat in South Carolina, US


    1. Thank you, Pat! I made it for work but we’ve been having such a heat wave since, that I haven’t worn it yet – too warm! 😮 But cooler days will come, of course. 🙂


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