In the summer of 2009, I was making plans to attend the Great Gatsby Festival and Tea in South Lake Tahoe, Ca. I have many costumes in my closet but surprisingly I did not have any in the 1920s style.
The book, the Great Gatsby, takes place in 1922, one year before the “flapper” revolution. Making a fringed and feathered flapper dress for a daytime tea party would have been inappropriate. Ladies day dresses were long, straight, and fairly conservative- the complete opposite of a flapper girl.
I looked at all my local vintage thrift stores for dresses from the 20’s as well as looking at patterns at Joann’s and Hancock Fabrics (my Favorite fabric store.) No luck. Therefore, I turned online and found the “One Hour Dress” booklet. A seamstress wrote this 17-page instruction manual in 1924. Her idea was to show women how to make a very simple frock dress in less than an hour- enough time to make a new dress for each garden party you are invited too. Sounds perfect.
I purchased the pattern and after reading through the directions and looking at each of the 17 variations, I decided to make the dress on the cover. The wispy skirt blowing in the breeze with a long pink sash trailing behind it captured the romantic simplicity a young 20’s girl ought to be.
How I Made My One Hour Dress
The first step was to take my measurements. I am not good with numbers so this part took me a while. The directions show you how much fabric you will need to buy based on your measurements. They assume you are making the dress out of the same fabric rather than making the top and bottom different. I measured how long the top and skirt needed to be, added a little extra “just in case,” and went shopping for fabric.
For the skirt, I found a beautiful navy chiffon material with colorful embroidered flowers. Since the fabric was see through, I picked a navy cotton blend to act as the lining.
For the top, I found a cream polyester blend material with a bit of texture to it. It was soft and flexible. Most fabrics during the 20’s were flexible, not stiff, so that it hugged your body naturally.
Finally, the sash was a long piece of pink satin ribbon about 6 inches wide.
Tips for Making Your One-Hour Dress
- The cutting and sewing directions were easy to follow. They are not written in modern English so you may have to read each line a few times and look at the illustration before figuring out what to do. If you have no sewing experience you will need some experienced help. Someone made a video series on sewing the dress. While I think her choice of fabric and final dress are unappealing, the videos can be a big help if you are a visual learner.
- Do not over estimate your size. I was nervous about the top and especially the sleeves fitting too tight (I have fat arms) so I added an extra inch to the measurements. Do not do this. I and several other people who have used this pattern found it ran big. If you are petite you may want to cut the sleeves shorter and reduce the width of the neck hole (just be sure to leave it big enough to fit over your head.) The same goes for the dress bottom- do not add extra inches. Even my second one hour dress was too big. You WILL need to make adjustments.
- If you are making one of the 17 variations read those directions first and figure out where in the basic directions you need to make adjustments.
- Fabric choice will make or break this pattern. If you want a “peasant” look you can use a cheap cotton blend otherwise spend a bit more and get a middleweight fashion fabric, jersey, wool blend, or poly cotton blend. Be careful about 100% polyester if you are wearing this dress in warm climate. Polyester does not breathe and you will get hot and sweaty very fast. Also be cautious of knit fabric. My second dress is made with knit. Knit is evil to work with but it still turned out pretty, except the hat. That was a mess.
- Spruce up your dress with details. The basic one-hour dress is just that-basic. Especially if your top and bottom are the same fabric, you will want to add some trim, pockets, sash, embroidery or other decorative element. You can also leave the dress plain but add accessories like jewelry, a cloche hat, gloves, purse, shoes, and tights (black or a fun geometrical pattern.) Look at images of 1920’s dresses for decorating ideas.
- This pattern was designed to make a frock- a day dress- however; it can easily be made into evening wear. Use a breaded chiffon, silk, or satin fabric. Add extensive embellishments and top it off with high-end jewelry and accessories .
The one-hour dresses pattern is one of the most useful patterns I have found online in a long time. The pattern is easy and the variations are endless. Although I have only made one two dresses to date I am planning to make several more- for both day and evening wear. After your first dress you will have a good understanding of the pattern and its potential to make dresses that will “wow” all the guests at your next party. Pick up your copy of the One Hour Dress and get sewing!