Sunday, 24 January 2010

A new treasure in the library, Vionnet

After a long wait... it's arrived! My christmas-parcel from Yesasia. I ordered it on the 26th of December, it arrived on the 21:st of January.

It contained: Drape-drape (a gift from my younger brother) and Vionnet (a gift from me, myself & I).

I love them both.

First up; Vionnet. 29 reproduced patterns, mainly dresses but also a couple of jackets, a coat and a simple neck-scarf.

For those of you who haven't heard of Madeleine Vionnet; she was one of a handful talented ladies who revolutionised fashion and the way women dressed in the 1920's and 1930's. Among the others were Madame Grès, Jeanne Lanvin, Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel.

Madeleine Vionnet was one of the first fashion-designers to cut fabric on the bias, in order to achieve more comfortable and figure flattering clothes. She used a method of draping on the dress-form, and her designs have been known to be almost impossible to reproduce, so, naturally, a book with reproductions of her patterns is a tresure for those interested in pattern construction.

I've seen pictures of a few of the dresses floating around the internet, nice enough to make me want the book. I would have assumed they were the nicest ones, so it was a pleasant surprice to find that there are, in fact, quite a few dresses I like even better!

This is one of them. It's a bit hard to tell the exact design of the dress, as is the case with quite a few of the dresses, but other than that the pictures are clear and the instructions are quite easy to understand even for those of us who can't read japanese. Line-drawings of the dresses would have been a great help though (anyone up for sewing them all and posting pictures?).

These are the instructions for the dress above. The instructions are quite brief, but the letters and numbers are very instructive and makes the pictures easy to read. In most cases that is (one of the dresses seems impossible to decode, ah such a challenge!).

I made simple scetches of my favourite dresses to try to understand how they are constructed, posted below.

These dresses are SO on my to-sew list! The blue one on the left reminds me of the infinity-dress, was it in fact invented by Ms Vionnet? It wouldn't surprise me, after looking through this book a few times I am truly in awe by her skills.

The green dress on the right has a very sophisticated halter-neckline with a slight gather in the back and little folds on the neck-strap (it was hard to draw, it looks more wonky in my picture than it should).

I think I will make the blue dress on the right of this picture first of all. I love the simple lines and the sophisticated but still rather simple construction.

The green dress on the left is my attempt to dechifer the dress I posted photographs of above. It has a gathered front with a belt-buckle. I'm not quite sure how it's constructed... (so I guess I have to try to make it!).

The red dress on the left is actually a two-piece dress with a bare tummy. Would one expect that from a 1937-design? I love it! The skirt is very wide, cut on the bias like - I think - all other garments in the book.

The black dress has long, flowy sleeves way below the hands. It kind of reminds me of The Lord of the Rings... wonder if the costume-designer knew his (or her) Vionnet?

I love the red dress on the left. Even though it's completely assymetric, it's perfectly well balanced. I'm not sure I would pull it off though, I think I might look totally shapeless and very short in it.... (ah, the curse of the tiny women, but we do look good in jeans!).

The green dress on the right has a pearl-embroidery that emphasizes the cut. It's one of the dresses I had seen prior to buying the book, and although it's a typical 1920's-style, I really like it (I normally go for more curve-inducing styles, my shape needs it!).

I haven't quite figured out what size the patterns are made for, except that they fit a size 9AR, a japanese standard size S. The only indication I've found on how big that actually is was on E-bay, where a used blouse is size 9AR. The seller writes "fit S", and provides a chart where size S has the following measurements: Bust 76-81cm, waist 53-58cm and hips 81-86cm. Quite small, yes... I have to choose the most simple project of them all (a blouse I think) and make a toile to find out.
Update: I found a conversion table for clothing sizes that includes japanese sizes, and a 9 seems to equal a European 36, or an international S.  That means it's probably just a tad too big for me. We'll see.

The only thing that puts me off jumping into a project pronto (despite 40 hours of work a week + a red & pink dress to be sewn, first of all) is the fact that the patterns come as diagrams built around 10cm-squares. If I had a big table or floor I might pull off scaling them up, but I just don't. Hurdle too high.

But I do have access to an A1/A0-plotter, AutoCad and an A3 scanner at work. All that combined = a plan to scan the patterns, scale them up in AutoCad (a piece of cake) and plot them in A1 or A0. If you're lazy you must be clever. Just got to ask the boss for permisson to plot them first.... ;-).

For those of you near Paris, there's right now an exhibition of Vionnets designs at the Musée de la mode. But you've got to hurry, it's only on until the 31:st of january! Otherwise the catalogue looks interesting too, it's for sale at the museum for 55 Euro's.

Update: Here's a quite interesting article at Fashion Incubator about the Vionnet Moebius Scarf that can be found in both the Japanese Vionnet and the one writen by Betty Kirke (I think I want that one too..). And here's a comparison between the two books with the Japanese intro translated to English. Courtesy of the great Fashion Incubator!


  1. Wow! I can't wait to see how you go with these dresses, they look so beautiful, but copying and enlarging the pattern sounds very challenging... There was an article in the latest Threads magazine on Vionnet and how she finished off her hems; she was very innovative and clever in this respect too.

  2. Ah, Vionnet... if I had the option of being a fly on the wal for a day in a couture workshop of old, it would probably be in hers. The sheer skill going into those designs is just amazing.
    If you can't print those patterns up at work, you could even try scaling them up 10 times on photocopier (messier and more work, but copyshops usually don't mind as long as you pay for what print).
    By the way, about the long flowy sleeves and LOTR-dresses: I think both were inspired by medieval dress.

  3. I'm will be excited to see your Vionnet dresses! It will take you a while though, I guess, with the printing and deciphering and grading, wow, what a project!

  4. How divine is Vionnet! Love her so much. If I ever get married my dress is SOOO going to be in that style. I think I might like Madame Gres ever so slightly more, but they are both so fabulous. Can't wait to see how your version turns out!

  5. Hi Karin! Wow, what an exciting task you have set yourself, can't wait to watch your progress.

    I am awarding you with a creative blogger award:

    If you want to 'play the game', these are the rules:
    1. Copy/paste the Kreativ Blogger Award picture onto your blog
    2. Thank the person who awarded it to you and post a link to her/his blog
    3. Write 7 things about yourself we might not know
    4. Choose 7 other bloggers to award
    5. Link to them
    6. Notify your 7 bloggers of their award

    I will not be offended if you don't want to pass this on, I just wanted you to know that you have a very special blog and are a very talented lady!

    All the best

  6. I just realized you that my lil' blog is on your list of creative spots... Thanks for the link - I rather enjoy your blog as well! Cheers!

  7. Hi Karin, I came here to leave a comment about your great challenge with the Japanese sewing book AND to let you know I'm awarding you with the award same as Zoe's. Keep posted about the dresses, they look so gorgeous!

  8. Hi Karin, my name is Camille. I like to puzzle with Vionnet pattern to. Wenn do you start with sewing? I would like to share expierience about pattern. You can also see my first testdress (pattern N27 from 1928) in my blog.

  9. Now I have both books and made a toile of pattern 12 on a schale 1:2. Hopefully this weekend I can make a full scale toile to fit. How did you pull off these designs?

  10. Finally I have a toile on the right scale, although I don't think I have the right size. I used 12x12 cm (nstead of 10x10 cm). Today I've printed pattern 26, I've posted pattern 12 on


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