1930s Fashions: Mode Illustree and Vionnet Designs


Anyone ever sewn from a Mode Illustree pattern sheet? Wowza. This has got to be a great brain-aging preventative if ever there was one.

Mode Illustree was a French fashion/home magazine published weekly from the 1859 until at least the 1930s–I haven’t seen any later examples, but they may very well be out there. I was lucky enough to find a few with the original pattern sheets, which are a large sheet with all the pattern pieces traced on top of one another with different lines. A bit of a tangle to wrap the head around. I guess the idea is to trace them onto paper and voila, you have your pattern.

It has taken me roughly three days, but I have finally gotten it drafted (digitally!) to the point of being ready to print it out and test it. The patterns for Mode Illustree are all listed as size 44, which at least in this 1930 version is for a 70cm waist, 94cm bust and 100cm hip (27.5in waist, 37in bust, 39.4ish waist). That waistline is *not* gonna fly, but we’ll see how it goes.

My other current perseverations: pondering the mysteries of the math behind radial grading systems (how does Lutterloh do it??! and how does one create a pattern that can be drafted in this way? *and* how does one blend sizing in this system?) There is a little bit about this in the book The Victorian Tailor but I have been too scattered to really focus on that book like it deserves. And ever since witness2fashion’s wonderful posts on Vionnet, I’m planning on trying a Vionnet (for a Halloween costume wedding reception dress!):


I love so much about this dress. I love it’s Cersei-esque I-will-cut-you style feminity. It’s flowing and feminine without being revealing. Which means a) I won’t be bitterly cold and b) may not even have to worry about shaving my legs and c) I run zero risk of wardrobe malfunction. For a form fitting flowing dress like this, though, some homemade Spanx might be a necessity. But I digress.

This is from The Bunka Fashion College’s book on Vionnet, which gives diagrams that can be enlarged to draft patterns for 20+ designs based off of actual garments. I have vain aspirations of working my way through it to learn everything I can from hands-on practice with her technique, but given my sewing ADD in this post alone, it’s unlikely that will ever happen. (I go from obsessing on 1860s sleeves to 1930s cowls to 1970s tunics over the course of a day. Is there a name for this obsessive interest roulette wheel my consciousness turns on?) But the book is amazing. It’s in Japanese only, but the illustrations are remarkably clear.

The pattern pieces for this one are mindboggling:


I’m looking forward to trying it. Has anyone tried any Vionnet type designs? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Style Inspiration: Catwoman of The Dark Knight Rises

Full disclosure: I had a major goth girl phases in my misguided early twenties. My aesthetic has changed immensely over the years–no more black pleather with chainey things, no more piercings jutting out of my face, no more Black No. 1 hairdye. But I still adore wearing black; it makes me feel self-possessed, crisp, and it has the potential for unrivaled elegant minimalism.

Cut to my in my PJs, working and zoning on some fluff tv in the background. The Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy as “fluff” reveals much about my dark broody nature but I digress. The trilogy is okay, I don’t feel particularly strongly about it, except for Selina Kyle’s character. The first watch, her semi-snarkiness seemed a bit over the top for me; the second watch, I was in love with her I’m-a-hardass-but-really-not vibe, her complicated morality, her color scheme choices. Something about the dark elegant costume pieces with retro inspired lines and feminine but not overtly sexual styling just mesmerized me. Which is to say: there shall be costume design emulation in my future.

catwoman style lines

The catsuit is functional and gorgeous as superhero costumes go. I love the curves of the waist and the almost corseted look of the curves there, as well as the raglan sleeve and the almost Mandarin stand collar. There is a curve hugging dress she wears in another scene which appears to have kimono sleeves and a 50s era waistline, but the styling is so perfect it doesn’t look like a period piece. In her airport scene, the suitjacket and skirt ensemble are pure 50s glamour. I haven’t been able to find much about the inspiration for the wardrobe, since most costume discussion of the film focuses mostly on the action hero suits and more obvious costume choices. But if I had to wager money on it, I’m betting there’s something interesting happening with femininity and contemporary womanhood driving those concepts.

And during my obsessive internet scouring for future sewing and styling inspiration, I found a few images from shooting of scenes that apparently never made it in the film. Imagine, Gentle Reader, my squeals of girlish glee and the jazz hands that ensued.

catwoman not in filmA capelet AND a coat dress. Maybe a little too glaringly vintage for the film, but really cool to see given a Hollywood treatment. Definitely trying to sew the capelet soon. There’s something about the aesthetic of the whole world that I deeply enjoy. Contemporary but with these nostalgic overtones in everything from the design elements and architecture to the story itself.

Reading List: May/June 2014


In no particular order:

Virginia Postrel. The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture and Consciousness.

Lars Svendsen. Fashion: A Philosophy.

Maya Donenfeld. Reinvention: Sewing with Rescued Materials.

David Braeber. Debt: The First 5000 Years.

Sara Ahmed: The Promise of Happiness.

Simon Reynolds. Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past

Some of it is heavy, some of it is not so much. All of it is connected in my mind in some way to questions of how the crafted surface of the self matters in the world. How style matters, and to what extent the way we present ourselves socially shapes our identity. The system of signification clothing navigates in a world stratified along lines of power/class/gender/culture. I’m also interested in the social consequences of our ideas about consumption and the way we are led to consume despite them.

To illustrate: I get this idea in my head that I’m going to be a better global citizen consumer and start making my own clothes. I really suck at this so far, so I’m burning through a lot of fabric in the process, and I’m sure that has a social/environmental cost I’m happily pushing out of my head. I’m also deluding myself in seeing this as a pursuit of some minimalistic lifestyle, because fabric.com has become my fantasy closet and even though I want to make my own wardrobe that fits well and is an expression of my creativity, when I finally do get to be okay at it, my current, fully functional clothes are going to probably be waste material or donated (not a perfect social solution either). So as part of my challenge to myself, I want to try to incorporate the fabric from my current wardrobe into my as yet nonexistent super fantastical vintage inspired future wardrobe.

While scouring the internet for vintage patterns, I saw a digitized version of a book that described how to make clothes out of cotton sacks. How to unknit a moth eaten sweater and mend it. It was written during WW2 during the lean years when men were gone and Veronica Lake was modeling how to put one’s hair up for factory work. It’s easy forget the historical context that some of my favorite patterns come from, and what women were able to craft out of so much less than what I possess. That fact is humbling, and inspiring, and circles me back around to questions about what humans really need to be creative, to be happy, and what false ideas of happiness and ownership and necessity and normalcy we are fed via ad images and pop culture in order to keep us hungry for more.

(image credit: Van Gogh sketch from here)