Vintage patterns

Lessons from 1940s

I have now made several patterns from Beyers Mode für Alle 1940/41 magazine. These patterns are significantly different from 1950s patterns that I’ve sewn before. My college tutors always warned us that you couldn’t just measure a 1940s pattern and know how it would fit – the amount of draping, subtle and obvious, and the choice of fabric is what determins the fit. Well, they were right!

No point in making a muslin

Usually, if you are not quite sure about the fit, you make a muslin to verify and correct it. Except when draping is involved! Since the choice of material plays such a significant part in the fit when there is draping, the only useful muslin would be one made of exactly the same fabric as the final garment… which rather defeats the point of a muslin!

Of course you can measure up the pattern across the bust, waist and hips to get a rough estimate of whether you’re going to be able to squeeze into it or whether it’s a doll’s dress really. 🙂 But not much beyond that! There’s no telling how much ease you are going to have or how it will be distributed. So once you decide that it should be roughly big enough, there’s nothing else to do but go for it!

Take a size larger

It so happened that the dress I wanted to make, came one size larger than my measurements. But I made it to that size, and the fit was excellent.

This is the sizing table from the magazine: bust, waist and hip measurements (at 18cm under the waist). The fourth measurement is the skirt length at the front, and the last row are average shop sizes, just to give you a rough idea.

According to this table, I am exactly size 46 in width (UK size 16). But the dress was size 48.

This is the second dress I made using this pattern. Here is the first dress.

The difference is 8cm in the bust, which is quite a lot, and may be the shoulders turned out a ted too wide – by 1cm each. So nowhere near 8cm! Which means that the 1940s garments had a lot less ease in them than what we are used to now, and had I made a dress exactly in my size, it would have probably looked too small.

But then I made another dress with saddle sleeves and a lot more draping.

From 1941 Beyers Mode für Alle. Click on the image to enlarge.

And just to make sure you didn’t miss it – this is the sleeve pattern:

The sleeve is cut into three parts with the middle part extending onto the shoulder, the side parts are laid out to create gathers. Originally the sleeve was elbow-length but I extended mine to full length using this idea.

The dress pattern came exactly in the right size, and I made it as such. The fit around the bust was good, but I think it could have done with a bit more gathers.

Conclusion: take a size larger than what should be right from the sizing table. It is much easier to take in a couple of centimetres than to insert spacing strips!

This was different from 1950s patterns – they clearly had a lot more ease in them. Not so crazy much as in modern ones though! The 1950s patterns were exactly right according to the sizing table.

The sleeves

1940s sleeves are quite close-fitting – don’t be fooled by the gathered head! They are extended upwards but not sideways, and the gathers are at the top only. So don’t assume that just because they are gathered, there is lots of room – there isn’t.

I have rather thick arms – thicker than “standard”, so I always suffer from narrow sleeves. I had to widen these sleeves just as much as any modern ones, so beware.

Another interesting point about sleeves is how they are set in. We are used to have the sleeve seam coincide with the bodice side seam, so you get a cross under the arm pit. But these sleeves are offset towards the front by about 1cm (it varies slightly from garment to garment).

Point 13 is for setting in the sleeve. There is a mark on the front pane and it is not in the corner!

I missed it on my first 1940s make and couldn’t figure out why the sleeves felt like they were twisted towards the back… That’s because they were!

Don’t cinch the waist

The drawing may show a cinched waist, but the patterns have a lot of ease around the waist – some 12cm or 5″! In my first dress, I initially introduced waist darts because I thought the dress would look baggy. Then I removed them – they interfered with draping, and the dress did not at all look baggy, in fact it looked slimmer without the darts.

The black and white dress above has a fitted waist, but with a lot of ease – 8cm (over 3″). I halved it, still making sure that the dress moves about the waist – I think this is necessary for the draping to fall correctly.

Expect hand sewing

Some of the details clearly expect hand sewing – there is just no way to get it under a sewing machine.

Here is a blouse I’m making. It is entitled “An Elegant Blouse”, so expect couture finishing techniques (click on the image to enlarge).

The front closure has an impossible point at number 2 in the schematic above, where the top material, facing and pleats come together.

The pleats are from part 51a, attaching to the front closure panel 52.

You can stitch the pleats to the front panel along the line 2-3, and even perform a “salto mortale” and turn to stitch along line 1-2, but there is no way you can sew the facing to it on the reverse using a sewing machine.

The sleeve is also tricky – it has a curved closure. I have done it on a sewing machine, but with a different fabric it may not have worked. I still need to make thread loops though, which is of course done by hand.

With these models you really get to use all your sewing skills. 😀


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4 thoughts on “Lessons from 1940s

    1. I found 1940s patterns to be quite different from 1950s, in particular in their fit and how the draping affects it. Hopefully this will be helpful to someone sewing such garments. And yes those sleeves were something else, even the ordinary looking ones!

      Liked by 1 person

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