A first attempt at draping: a 1950s style summer top

As the temperatures rose in 2020, I retrieved all my summer clothes from storage and began to go through them to see if they would make the cut for this year’s summer wardrobe. During this process I came across a pair of yellow New Look palazzo trousers with a geometric print. I absolutely loved wearing these trousers last summer and they have a special place in my heart as I wore them to my boyfriend’s graduation. However, I was devastated to discover that they no longer fit – so, naturally, I cut them up.

Spot the proud girlfriend

Perhaps this was done rather spontaneously but I had big plans for these trousers. I still loved the print and I wasn’t ready to let go of them yet. Although they no longer fit in the hip region, the long wide legs gave me loads of fabric to work with. I knew I wanted to showcase the geometric panel at the bottom of the leg but the question of how remained.

I also wanted to use this project as a method by which to improve my draping skills. I had made projects without patterns in the past but not having a dress form had always hindered the quality of the result. But now I have Vivienne in my life, my much-loved mannequin.

There isn’t really any other way to start with draping other than to get stuck in and start pinning stuff together. When I had cut apart the trousers, I had separated the legs from the rest of the trousers and cut open the seams to leave me with four vaguely rectangular pieces.

This wasn’t it…

The first design I tried was a sort of wrap top but this was disregarded almost immediately. the panel at the bottom of the legs was too long and wouldn’t have worked with the cropped design I had in mind. Next I had the idea of turning the leg pieces upside down, making the panel a feature along the neckline – now I was getting somewhere.

This was when she started to speak to me

The rectangular panel at what would become the neckline reminded me of slash neck tops from the 1950s; as I’m trying to expand my vintage wardrobe, this silhouette would fit perfectly. In order to crystallise my ideas, I turned to Pinterest to get some ideas.

I knew that in order to make this project work, I would have to meticulously plan and record what I was doing so I wouldn’t make mistakes – I have a tendency to rush into sewing things without considering all the little things that can and will go wrong. So I drew out a design, planned every element that I could think of, before I couldn’t avoid actually cutting things anymore.

Best laid plans

My first step was to make usable pattern pieces from the severed legs of my trousers. I straightened the edges the sewed the panels together, pattern matching as best I could. I then made my first big cut – shortening the bodice. The first cut in this kind of project is always the scariest as then there’s no going back.

It looked like a hot mess but I knew what I was doing

The next step was darts. To figure out where the darts should go, I pinned the front piece to the straps of vest top, essentially using myself as a mannequin, and used pins to create darts. Then I sewed them up and (only slightly to my surprise) they worked.

If you look very closely you can just about see a dart

At that point I decided to pin the front and back pieces together to check the fit. It was a little tight but that actually ended up working in my favour as I wanted to use button closures on one side so the extra pieces I needed to insert could be used to make plackets. On the other side, I simply added one extra panel under the arm to give extra room.

Adding a little extra room

The next step was to make the facing. I made these pieces from the rest of the length of the leg pieces that I had cut off before and traces the neckline of the main top pieces so that they matched. After sewing the facing in place, I understitched it so that it wouldn’t decide to make an appearance whilst I’m wearing it.

Now that I knew the fit was perfect around the bust, and I had my side inserts and facing in place, I was able to create my darts in the front and back which make a flattering fitted silhouette. In order to make these, I used a combination of pinning on my dress form and myself so that I knew the darts would be perfect.

Making back darts

The end was finally in sight. Now all that was needed was to make the buttonhole closures, sew on the buttons and hem. I used buttons to close the left side and the shoulder seams. I really love this look and the white buttons I used from my collection pick up on the white accents in the pattern. I also think the white buttons add to the retro aesthetic. To hem, I just did a very simple double hem which I ran under the machine.

The cutest little buttons

I am so happy with how this top turned out. Even though the pattern may not be the most historically accurate, the silhouette is spot on for the 1950s. I’ve worn this top with my denim capri jeans and I feel like I would fit in perfectly at a 4th July barbecue! This project also really boosted my confidence with draping and it’s definitely a method I’ll use again in the future.

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