This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun, most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

My photo
HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, and a representative of the San Diego History Center. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Monday, March 28, 2011

1907 Afternoon Tea Gown from The Edwardian Modiste

March 28, 2011
A couple days ago I went to a small workshop to learn how to grade up patterns from the Frances Grimble book, The Edwardian Modiste (1905-09).

I have two more of her books, The Voice of Fashion (styles from 1900-1906), and one of her newest, Directoire Revival Fashions (1888-89). Once I get the hang of this, I may invest in one or two of her other ones.

These books use an ingenious method of rulers cut to your size (the American System of Cutting rulers), which they recreated with vintage patterns. By following numbers marked on the pattern in the book, you use the rulers and mark the numbers on paper. Once those are done, it’s like a “connect the dots” game and you draw the cutting lines of your pattern. Even though this is supposedly cut to your size, it’s still highly recommended you make a muslin/toile to check the fitting. Also recommended is to pin the darts on while you’re wearing the muslin. Each book uses its own set of rulers, which are printed in the back of the book.
The gowns, suits, and underpinnings are like none available in the normal pattern companies, and I’m excited to make my first one. I chose a fairly simple pattern for my first attempt at this, a 1907 Afternoon Gown. It’s a kimono-type sleeve bodice and doesn’t require a lot of fitting. And the fabric I chose to use is a black with white polka dot polyester, which the instructor said was perfect for this. It will look cute with a white voile underblouse.

However, as we learned, all of these have a fitted underbodice which the outer bodice, the jumper, attaches to it which gives it its shape. So the first thing we did in class was to make our pattern for this. Once done, we cut out fabric for our muslin, and the instructor fitted those to us. It gave us a chance to learn and practice how to grade up the pattern.
While I was being fitted in my muslin, my instructor told me the upper portion of my bodice wasn’t fitting properly. I am very narrow in front from shoulder to shoulder, and short from my shoulder line to my bust line. It wasn’t a bad measurement or a mistake. I just had an unusual shape. So she drew lines on the muslin and told me to recut my pattern by tracing that onto it. I’m supposed to always use that upper portion of the pattern on any of patterns I grade up in the future. This was an “ah hah!” moment for me because this explained why I always have problems with the top portion of my bodices being too big, and sleeve caps hanging down too far, even further than those period correct ones. Instinctively I’ve been chopping off a couple inches of my shoulders whenever I put in sleeves. So I can use this information now for any patterns that I use.
Today I started grading the jumper for this gown but am already eyeballing this pretty bodice on a 1905 Dressy Reception Gown once I’m confident with the process. But if I need a refresher course I came across Jen Thompson's tutorial on using the grading system on her blog.


  1. Cool! Glad you feel like you got a hang of it!
    I tried drafting up that last one, was what I based the Edwardian I made for Costume College last year, but the top ended up odd for me so I drafted my own and used the basic shapes. I could have made mistakes, though.
    I love these books! So glad you're going to be making things from them!

  2. I guess we need to remember we don't all have bodies that fit the norm, Lauren.

  3. Have fun with this. Grading and pattern making were my career for 25 years, so this is interesting to see.

  4. Neat, neat! I have used the Edwardian Modiste to make a really nice shaped camisole. It didn't fit perfectly, but I wasn't skilled enough to know how to correct it at the time, but it was a fun project.

    I have all her books, excepting the latest one, and love them.

    Very best,


  5. hey! I am French and I have this book ( he edwardian modiste). I understand the method of rulers, but how doing without the "form piece" for the curves ? Is it necessary, or could I do the draft without it ?

  6. I'm not really well educated in how this works, but I believe you may be referring to using a ship's curve. Its a plastic curved ruler to smooth out curves from straight lines. But I'm sure you could do it by hand too. Other than that, I don't know how else to answer your question.

  7. thank you; What is a "form piece" looking like ? where could I find a picture , and have an idea ?

  8. Brigitte, most fabric stores carry them. They're also know as French curves. You just kind of move it along between your two straight lines to get the curve you want.

  9. I'm glad to hear that you figured out how to use this book! I too have it but haven't gotten around to sizing up any of the patterns. I just adore that polka dot dress. :)

  10. Stephanie Lynn, it was a lot of fun actually doing the sizing but I haven't had a chance to go back and start making the actual bodice yet. I had to take the class when it was offered but have had so many other things I needed to make first that it had to be set aside until after Jan. I love polka dots too, and wished I could find more, especially in a silk.


I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!