Vionnet inspiration for Frocktails

This year I decided to have more fun with my sewing.  My efforts to be more sustainable meant that I wasn't sewing much, because generally, I don't need any more clothes.  However, sewing is my therapy and it keeps my brain ticking through the more dreary aspects of life i.e. it is essential for my mental health.  I don't want to take up new hobbies, because that would mean acquiring more stuff.  Instead I decided to sew some things that I have always wanted to sew, whether it be to try a new fabric, pattern drafting technique or construction technique.  

I have always been drawn to 20's / 30's styles.  When I visited Melbourne, I went to see the Terracotta Warriors at the NGC and then by chance wandered into the Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion exhibition, which I didn't know was showing (sadly my family got restless and I didn't spend as much time looking at these dresses as I would have liked).  

The next day I visited the Alannah Hill outlet next door to the Fabric Store in Fitzroy, and purchased 6 m of a salmon polyester charmeuse, on sale for $5 / m (I also bought a matching georgette and metres and metres of ribbon, which I made up in a different twenties inspired dress, to be blogged another day).  Evening dresses from the thirties take such a lot of fabric, but this price point made it viable.  The wheels started turning in my head and I decided to look up some Vionnet designs for inspiration.  

I visited the Metropolis Bookshop in the city  to see if they had any of the Vionnet books.  They didn't, but I can well recommend this bookstore because they have a great selection of fashion and pattern drafting books (I purchased Fashion Pattern Cutting by Zarida Zaman).  You have to know about this bookstore because it is 6 floors up (I think 6??) in Curtin House on Swanston St, so it is not a shop that you are just going to wander past.  I stumbled on it several years ago when a friend took me to a bar in the same building...yes, everybody else was keen to start sipping cocktails and I was wanting to sit and browse all the fashion design books.

When I got home, I ordered the Bunka Vionnet book online.  The internet is a wonderful thing.

My favourite design in the book was Pattern 14.

I decided to make a skirt and top, rather than the dress as shown.  The dress as designed is very elegant,; there's no arguing with that.  There were two reasons that I didn't make a dress.  Mostly the reason was because the weight of the skirt would drag down the top, and I think ti would be essential to muslin the dress in the same fabric as the final version to get the fit right, and I did not have a spare 6m to play around with (The fabric was cheap enough that I probably could have, but I was back on the other side of the country by this time).  The other reason is that I am very pear shaped, and drop waist dresses are not the most flattering for my shape.  I decided to make a skirt and top in keeping with the spirit of the original design.

For the skirt, I knew I wanted to keep the draped section at the centre back, so I created a skirt yoke that dropped down in a V, to mimic the shape of the original dress back bodice.  I liked the fullness of the skirt, but I decided to incorporate some of the fun panelling seen in many 30's designs.

I borrowed this book from my local library.  It is a huge treasure trove of inspiration.

There are plenty of line drawings and catalogue pictures.

It also has plenty of photos of actual garments being worn on real people.  This is a great reminder that many of the styles do not look exactly like the line drawings.  I bet this socialite was happy when the wrap dress was invented.

I drafted a skirt from my personal skirt block.  I joined the skirt front to the skirt back and closed the darts by adding flare to the skirt.  I drew in lines for the inset panel and cut it separate from the combined yoke / front.  I extended the back skirt in line with the yoke seam to create the back drape.  I added extra fullness to the skirt front.  I really should have added more fullness to the front skirt, as I did not get the effect I was after (go and look at this gorgeous dress to see what I wanted).  That's the problem of not making a skirt muslin.

There is no closure on the top; The pattern pieces are cut on the bias and I relied on the bias of the fabric to slip it over my head.  You can see the grainlines maked on the pattern pieces.  The CB is on the left side and the CF on the right.  I started with one of my personal patterns and manipulated the darts / side seams, rather than use the grid / pattern from the Bunka book.  I made two muslins to refine the fit.

A few construction photos.  This inside view of the front shows that I made a facing.  I interfaced the facing with a lightweight interfacing, but I wish I hadn't interfaced at all, as the interfacing interfered with the bias drape of the top and it did not fit me so well once the facing was added.

Inside back view of the top.  I used a rolled hem on the top, but for the skirt, I just overlocked the hem and turned it up the width of the overlocking.

I used an invisible zipper at the skirt back.  I used petersham for the skirt waistband.  Petersham is actually a bit difficult to get hold of these days.  This one was not a great quality.  I'm not sure what it is made of, but I tried dying it to match the fabric, using my bra-making dyes, which are suitable for nylon and silk.  It did not take enough dye to fully match, but it was better than white.   The skirt yoke does not have any side seams.  Instructions for constructing a petersham waistband usually include steps to tack the petersham down to the side seams.  I was not able to do this, and the petersham did have a tendency to flip up a little.

Here is a close up of one of my inset skirt panels.

Perth Frocktails gave me the perfect opportunity to complete and wear this outfit, so I actually have photos of the outfit being worn.

A side view, showing the angled seams of the top and the inset panel of the skirt.

The back view, showing the drapy bit at the CB of the skirt.  The back cut in triangles of the top are not as dramatic in my version compared to the original, but that is because I wanted my top to be able to be worn with a regular bra.

 It was windy and I was running late so I don't actually have a great front view of the outfit.  These photo do show how swishy it felt.

I had a blast at Frocktails.  It was so fun to meet so many sewists and discuss all the finer details of dresses and fabrics and construction.  Thanks to the committee for Perth Frocktails for organising such a fab event, and to the sponsors (goodie bags!!) and thanks to all those ladies who saw that I was on my own and welcomed me into their sewing discussions.


  1. This looks fantastic, the fit, the color, and the execution.

  2. Gorgeous! love everything about it, the color, shape, style lines. looks beautiful and you look great.

  3. The real you! What a successful project. It's really inspiring. Thanks for posting all the stages.

  4. Wow, what a fantastic result!

  5. I love it. I really love the photos in real life and the wind helping to show how the fabric flows. Sounds like a real adventure in drafting and engineering.

    I'm with you on the amounts of fabric needed for 1930's-ish clothing. *meep* I can rarely afford that much fabric for one project.

    I'm also with you on the conflict between sustainable and mental health. Actually I find that in a lot of areas, not just sewing, but yup, sewing, wardrobe needs and mental health needs and bank account needs: a juggling act.

    I like your way through it.

    Also Frocktailes sounds awesome :-)

  6. Gorgeous! Perfect for Frocktails. The 1930's had such beautiful, unique styles. I am awed and inspired that you drafted the patterns from your own sloper. I sewed a muslin of a dress from the Vionnet book, using the scale grid in the book, and discovered it was about 2 sizes too small for me. I was able to find two German pattern magazines published in the 1930's on Etsy, They had dresses in my size from that era.