Creating a Kimono; part Cocoon Coat, part Oriental Day Dream

Sometimes a fabric is purchased with a specific garment in mind, and it is made up as planned quite quickly. But for me that is regrettably rare…

This fabric you are about to hear about spent closer to 10 years in my stash… Growing up in the house that my grandmother had bought during the 1950s meant that there were always cupboards full of treasures. Old suitcases full of photographs, boxes full of tallow candles, and a trunk (referred to as ‘the coffin’) in the garage filled with bolts of cloth! One of those bolts was several metres of furnishing weight, golden-mustard coloured, striped, cotton brocade. For years it has sat in my stash, quietly waiting for its moment of glory. The longer it has waited, the more nervous I became that the moment I finally cut into it, its potential would be ruined!

But I was eventually brave, and cut a pattern for a cocoon coat which during the sewing process morphed into a kimono. This sort of thing does quite often happen, sometimes the fabric seems to choose its own design.

Of course (as you must be beginning to expect) the intention had been for a garment to add to my 1920s wardrobe; exoticism and orientalism were popular trends during the lead up to WWI which I wanted to explore more with my sewing. Paul Poiret had popularised Oriental designs and fabrics during the 1910s, themes which persisted throughout the ’20s. Discoveries such as the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922 and the opening of the Forbidden City in 1925 ensured that interest in all things oriental and exotic continued.

So I decided that this fabric would work beautifully as a kimono/cocoon coat!

Only I needed to find a design which would complement the wide stripe pattern. I did a fair amount of ‘Pinterest research’ and found no examples of kimonos or cocoon coats with a wide stripe. So I cut a basic pattern based on some of these images below (sorry about the lack of credits for these) and proceeded to drape the details on the mannequin.

Louise Brooks
Paris label silk and lame cocoon style evening coat, circa 1920
On Pinterest this was captioned ‘Paris Label Silk and Lamé Cocoon-Style Evening coat, c. 1920’

Below a couple of Kimono designs including pattern shapes which were useful for me when draping on the mannequin to get an idea of how some sleeves were created.

Eventually I settled on using the stripes as the main design, I sewed the matte stripe into a pleat running right up to the waistline from the hem – creating a wonderfully slim and shiny lower half which bursts into fullness and texture around the upper body.

Back view
Looking down the back of the Kimono

Next I had to decide on the sleeves, my original sleeves were ridiculously long and impractical (see below image) I played around with turning them into pointy wizard sleeves but it was a bit too Dumbledore-y…

sleeve decisions
The impossibly long and impractical sleeves

I ended up reducing the wizardy length of the sleeves and added more pleats along the top of the sleeve which pulled the cuff back from my wrist but still allowed the lower edge to billow.

nearly finshed
Decided sleeve style

Of course, I have glossed over the hours spent staring at the mannequin and parading in front of the mirror! The process above took about a month before I was able to decide on the sleeves and the pleating!

The neckline was finished with a simple shawl collar given body by a layer of horsehair canvas and felt. I own a proper Japanese Kimono which was of great help – the collar on that has weight and substance – which is why I chose such heavy materials for my interfacing.

I had found tassels in the exact right colour to match the fabric which worked beautifully on the end of each sleeve, but made me unhappy with the choice of white frog to close the front. Luckily I had a spare tassel which I could tear apart and turn into a matching frog!

torn up frog
Complete Tassel at top of picture, its sibling has been dismembered, the strands were knotted together in groups of six which I then twisted as rope. The first completed rope can be seen above curled into shape.
frog progress
As yet unassembled, the design started to take shape…
tassel to frog
Completed Frog! I sewed the ropes securely into position with many tiny stitches at the back, being careful to tuck any loose ends away.
attaching frog
Positioning the completed frog on the Kimono

And voilà it was finished! Its first outing was at my birthday party in December – where I had great fun dancing with it billowing about! It received plenty of attention and was tried on by several friends, it seems to fit and suit many different body types – something which I am very happy about! A great many people seem to think they couldn’t possibly dress ’20s the way I do, owing to their curves, but styles like this show that fashion of the era does not have to be exclusively for the slim and the boyish.

Having said all of that, of course I took no photos to prove my point 🙂

But this was another garment that got treated to a photoshoot with Stuart Attwood – so there’s plenty of images of me prancing around!

finished kimono 2
Photo Credit: Stuart Attwood, taken at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway
finished kimono 5
Photo Credit: Stuart Attwood, taken at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway
finished kimono 3
Photo Credit: Stuart Atwood, taken at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway
finished Kimono 1
Photo Credit: Stuart Attwood, taken at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway, this image shows off some of the pleating through the front and sleeve.

So, am I pleased I finally cut into this special bolt of cloth? YES.


Jodhpurs or Breeches?

Last year for a vintage cycle ride I made these Jodhpurs/Breeches. I cut a pattern, sewed a garment and wore it on numerous occasions all the while wondering absent mindedly if they were jodhpurs or breeches? So today it seemed fitting to do some quick research before posting about making ‘them’ what ever ‘they’ are.

Photo Credit: Stuart Attwood, taken at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway

My preliminary research was in my collection of fashion history books, (which are themselves part of history all being written pre 1952). In all books ‘jodhpurs’ were not mentioned – a good sign that ‘Breeches’ would have been the term of the day. Even the chambers encyclopaedia of 1923 made NO mention of Jodhpurs, despite quite a detailed account of the history of breeches, leading me to believe Wikipedia when it told me that the term Jodhpurs although used since 1897, was a colloquial term at the time; breeches the correct term.

I had worn the garment in question to Vintage cycle events, so I was also interested in the contemporary 1920s use of such a garment. Taste and Fashion features a whole chapter on sports wear; James Laver writes of cycle wear consisting of long skirts protected by chain guards until the 1920s when shorts were worn.

‘By the middle of the twenties skirts had become so short that to wear them on a cycle was hardly decent. The end of the twenties saw a widespread adoption, in England at any rate, of shorts for cycling.’ Laver, James, Taste and Fashion (revised edition 1946) (pg 181)

OK , so my wearing breeches was not completely accurate for cycling after all (although I’m sure some ladies would have worn them) … He also writes about ‘riding costume’, saying ‘an increasing number of women have taken to riding astride, and for this purpose have adopted an unconventional male costume, consisting of breeches…’ etc (pg 184).

General consensus seems to be that ‘Jodhpur’ referred colloquially to ‘riding-breeches with a tight extension to the ankle’ (Chambers Dictionary 1961), and were so named as they were a westernised version of riding garments worn in the region of Jodhpur, India. Well, my breeches are not ankle length – so I’m feeling pretty confident that they are breeches… but if anyone knows better do share!

Next question was… I made them from cotton velveteen – despite having no evidence that this was correct. Google to the rescue turned up this pattern from despite being called knickers (another term!) the pattern is very similar in shape to the one I drew… and lists velvet as a recommended fabric!

I often sew first, research after… but hopefully over time this will cease to be a theme for me!

So back to sewing BREECHES.

Last year I was fortunate enough to borrow a pair of original 20s/30s breeches from Susie Ford of Agent Bluebelles wardrobe. See my outfit below – The jacket was made by me – but breeches and boots are originals borrowed. While I had the original pair available I took a pattern – the cut of this garment is SO different from standard trousers. The pockets are sewn in unusual ways and working out how the button plackets are constructed was a challenge. Along with taking patterns I photographed many of the details for future reference – so here follows a possibly boring post if you’re not enthusiastic in 1920s breeches construction… I’m guessing it’s a subject for a select few – but there are pretty posed photos at the end!

susies photo
Winter Deco 2015 Left to right: Me wearing original breeches, Estelle and Susie (Susie’s outfit is entirely original!)

The breeches I borrowed are made of a heavy knit and have very little stretch. The waist was a little big, but the knees were tiny – in fact I could not fasten the buttons round the knee – but fortunately that is hidden by the boots!

So here are some close up images of the original breeches pictured above:


Detail of cuffs; all button plackets were cut on the fold out of a lightweight cotton.





Detail of centre back; showing extra seam allowance at waist – I am assuming this allows for easy alteration in waist size. Seam allowances are overlocked, facings machined in position. Is this standard for the time? I don’t see that many original pieces so am unsure.


breeches 4

Front; Note the welt pockets – they were challenging to recreate! The pockets are sewn in conjunction with the button facing, in what should have been one fell swoop but turned into much grumbling and unpicking! The choice of heavy cotton velveteen did not help matters!

Also evident in the above image is the different grain direction on left and right panels, whoever cut these was either in a rush or short of fabric!

breeches 6

Interior of the breeches, pocket bags cut on fold, crotch strengthened with soft leather.

So there are the details of the original garment along with the finished pattern… But this essay ain’t over yet!!

Here’s a few photos of the completed breeches I sewed up using this pattern 🙂

Photo Credit: Stuart Attwood, on location at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway
Photo Credit: Stuart Attwood, on location at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway

The staff were curious what Stuart and I were up to, and even joined in modelling 🙂

Photo credit: Stuart Attwood, on location at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway

Well I hope some of you made it to the end of this post! Is it too long? Not long enough? Do you have further knowledge on what differentiates breeches from jodhpurs in the ’20s and ’30s?

I welcome feedback and constructive criticism!

Reworked 1925 Day Dress

Three years ago I got hooked on Art Deco Weekend Napier, it sounds silly but it cemented my transition from gothy type to ‘bright young thing’ – I bobbed my hair, learnt to Charleston and started sewing 1920s dresses with gay abandon. Yards of fabric from the stash which before I had considered too girly, or proper, or light coloured were suddenly perfect!

1925 pictorial review
Pictorial Review for 1925, the dress second from left caught my eye.

The freedom of movement in dance and in fashion of the ’20s is inspiring! In my experience the right dress should be able to make you stand differently and behave differently. Maybe that’s why I was never completely happy with this dress… I started off with a fashion plate from 1925 (pictured above) as inspiration after finding a delightful  silk/viscose velvet burnout which I simply could not resist!

The result was pretty, but to me it was better described as ‘pretty boring’. The under-dress was too narrow to dance in and not the right colour match for the outer layer. Really I hadn’t purchased enough of the velvet burnout and to me the result was passable from a distance, but imperfect up close.

Here’s a photo of me down in Napier in Feb 2014 – doing my best to love it – because I really did want to! Note how disconnected the side gores look, and how the success of the dress is carried by the fabric – not by the design.

Art Deco Napier 2014

So this year, with Art Deco Festival coming up again in Feb, I decided to rework the dress. I completely removed the under-dress and all the bindings, then unpicked the side seams and the gore inserts in the side of the skirt. A replacement fabric was needed for use as a separate slip which would complement the soft blush colour of the chiffon. Luckily I found the perfect thing, a lovely lightweight silk crepe de chine… of course it was expensive, seriously wondering if I was throwing good money after bad I dithered and eventually bought a couple of metres… The slip might need to be a separate post, but here’s how the outer went!

I wanted to add volume, length and oomph. The dress needed to swing when I moved and make me feel wild and free (Deco Weekend to me means no shoes, no bra, no worries)… To achieve this I decided to leave the sides of the outer layer open to the hip, creating a more pinafore style top, further floofed out by the waistband sewn in position to sit on the hip. I added borders around the hem and right around the gores. While I have no evidence that this is an accurate 1920s design, it seemed appropriate and it made the best use of my small amounts of the velvet burnout.

gore detail
Progress shot showing silk borders being added to side panels

After all this I deemed the dress complete. To celebrate its new incarnation, the re-finished dress was then worn for a photo-shoot with the dapper and generous Stuart Atwood, photographer for Glory Days Magazine. We visited Calendula Cottage Café where I proceeded to prance around playing model in hydrangea bushes, willow trees and an orchard. Stuart has done a wonderful job editing and capturing some beautiful moments – he has so much patience!

hydrangea yellow
Loving the colour combination in this image!
My favourite photo from the series


Proving it’s now dance-worthy, the weighted ends with tassels are great fun!

willow 2
Stuart’s favourite (I think!)
The feel of this dress has definitely changed – the freedom is captured perfectly in this image 🙂

All in all I’m much happier with this dress now, and no longer contemplating getting rid of it – seeing it through the lens of Stuarts camera has definitely helped! Ive never really bothered reworking a garment before, but I sure will do so in future!

Until next time x

Bias cut 1931 Dress (Part 1)

Ooooh first post! This is a momentous occasion for me; starting a record of my sewing, travelling and dressing up has been in my mind for a long time. If I could have thought of a blog name earlier then this would have happened ages ago…

Well here goes!

A year ago I bought a WHOLE ROLL of silk burnout velvet for $20 – it is a beautiful Navy Blue with a large floral pattern. I was unable to pass up on an offer so good, despite already having a stash filled with fabric I had no planned use for.

Well earlier this week I realised that it would be perfect for a bias cut dress and I had a vision of using the pattern of this halter top (pictured below) for the bodice of a ’30s dress. I love the simplicity of this pattern and planned to add a long flowing slightly fishtailed skirt to turn it into an evening dress. Despite having a love of Art Deco, I have never attempted a 1930s dress before – so there’s a lot to learn!

This image below right was what inspired me, it’s a fashion plate taken from James Laver’s book Taste and Fashion, however never having attempted 1930s before I wanted to do a little more research.

james Laver
Image: James Laver, Taste and Fashion (revised edition 1946)

James Laver writes to accompany this image:

“No one, I think, has sufficiently emphasised the fact that the modes of the early nineteen-thirties were nearly all devised to be seen from behind… In a dance frock this has, of course, some justification. On the modern dance-floor the woman is clasped so tightly to the bosom of her partner that all the spectators are likely to see is the back of her dress. The concentration of the backs of dresses led to the strange result of bodices cut comparatively high in front and non-existent at the back… The bodice was reduced to a triangle of cloth… But this of course could only affect evening dresses and bathing costumes…” Laver, James, Taste and Fashion (revised edition 1946) page 110

I was pleased to realise that my unfounded design idea was in fact completely in keeping with the era – how to cut the skirt I had no real plan (aside from on the bias) – so I read through some of my other reference books:

“…the evening gowns of 1930 suddenly took the plunge and descended evenly to the ground, but with the reservation that the slip or underdress was still only knee-length in a great many examples when the dress was transparent… The generally fashionable evening gown reserved its fullness from the knee downwards, the gown fitting and outlining the legs from thigh to knee… The bottom edge was… over four yards in circumference though not more than 36 inches wide at the knee…” Brooke, Iris, English costume 1900-1950

In the end I settled on a skirt design from Janet Arnolds Patterns of Fashion 2, largely as the sketch below came with a pattern!

Janet Arnold
Janet Arnold, Patterns for fashion 2, circa 1931/2 Evening dress in silk chiffon. I used the skirt pattern minus the ruffles.

I drew up the pattern, roughly adjusted to my size, along with the bodice pattern I had already made for my Peach Beach Pyjamas. I didn’t bother toiling, partly because I knew the bodice pattern fit, and partly because I had a whole roll of fabric so there was room for recutting. As it turned out that was a good thing! The initial fitting featuring bodice and the upper skirt showed the upper skirt hem to be sitting well above my knees – and therefore not at all long enough!

Stage 1, skirt too short

So I added 15cm to the original length of Janet Arnold’s upper skirt pattern, recut and tried it on again for size. Being much happier with that, I pinned the lower half of the skirt in place as well. The results were far superior! I pranced around and felt svelte and sexy… just the right result!

Not bad for one evenings work 🙂

Now all I have to do is finish it!