Friday, January 22, 2016

My reproduction 1922 silk chiffon dress by Madeleine Vionnet

Another fun dress, another fun photoshoot!  This time, the dress is a 1922 design by Madeleine Vionnet made with silk chiffon, and the locale is Devil's Golf Course at Death Valley National Park.
Here's another shot of the dress, without me playing Woman of Mystery.
The pattern for the dress comes from the Japanese Vionnet book (review here).
The basic design of the dress is simple-- two quarter-circles of fabric, slashed to create the neckline, and joined at the shoulders and side seams.  The hem is shorter at the center front and back than at the sides, giving the bottom of the dress a sort of scalloped effect.

I made this dress from two layers of aqua/blue iridescent silk chiffon with a white silk charmeuse lining.  I considered using only one layer of silk chiffon, but I found that the chiffon was so thin that I really did need two layers to maintain the vibrant colors of the fabric.

Silk chiffon is a difficult fabric to work with, but this project went far better than I anticipated.  Even so, I am never going to sew with silk chiffon again.  It is far too easy to destroy it through normal sewing and normal wear.  I used sharp pins so as not to damage the fabric, but even then, the fabric would shift around and the pins would snag on other areas, ripping tiny holes in the chiffon.  The scratchy side of velcro also snags the fibers and rips them.  See below, for example.  Given the amount of damage it has already sustained, I really don't know how long this dress is going to hold up.
If for some reason you ever do want to work with chiffon, this is an excellent pattern for it.  The dress only consists of two large pattern pieces.  So, even if the chiffon shifts during cutting, the inaccuracies that result aren't a huge deal.  There are very few seams, and the most significant of them are the two long, straight seams at the sides.  The hem is irregular, so if you can't do an even hem, nobody can really tell.  Plus, the overall drapiness and floatiness of the design shows off the chiffon very well.
I employed a few strategies which made working with the chiffon easier.  First, for cutting out the chiffon, I didn't use pins-- I used large, heavy books as pattern weights.  This did a lot to keep the underlying fabric from shifting around.  Second, I used tiny, tiny stitches on my sewing machine.  For whatever reason, my sewing machine had a much easier time handling the chiffon this way.  Finally, I used French seams for the side seams.  Not only do French seams enclose the enclose the raw edges, they help to stabilize the floaty, insubstantial fabric.  I used French seams for the silk charmeuse lining as well.
The construction of the dress was straightforward.  First, for each of the three layers of fabric (two layers of chiffon plus one layer of silk charmeuse lining), I sewed together the front and back pieces  at the side seams.  I then stitched the three layers of fabric together at the neckline and armholes.  I used narrow strips of silk organza to stabilize the neckline and to prevent the slash at center front and back from ripping open further.  I then folded over and pressed the seam allowances, and finished the raw edges with hem tape.  (Apologies for all the wrinkles-- I washed the dress but haven't pressed it yet.)  After that, I sewed the dress together at the shoulders, and folded over and stitched down the seam allowances.
Finally, I used a narrow hem on each of the three layers (ditto about the wrinkles).
That was pretty much all there was to it.  It would be a very fast and easy dress if you were only to use one layer of fabric; with three layers, it was still an easy dress, but not quite as fast.
Overall, this dress surprised me.  It's not a style I would usually make, since I tend to avoid dresses which don't have well-defined waistlines.  They tend to hug my hips and aren't very flattering.  On the other hand, this dress is so floaty and fabulous that I don't care.  The three layers of fabric trap heat surprisingly well (it was in the 40's when I was taking these photos, believe it or not).  But, since it's so loose, I think it will work well for hot weather, too.  I could see myself making it again in thin charmeuse, at least in a color dark enough that I wouldn't have to line it.
Happy sewing!


  1. gorgeous - you are getting great results on you vionnet inspired dresses, those colours are amazing

  2. Your dress looks fantastic!! I made this in a floral poly chiffon, and it was a beast to get it looking good.

    Silk Chiffon Fabric NYC
    Silk Organza Fabric NYC