Hot! Gatsby Decisions

Okay, dear readers, I need your help, opinions and expertise!

Yesterday I found the most perfect silk chiffon for my Gatbsy Summer Afternoon dress at Satin Moon Fabrics in SF. At $19.98 a yard, it was certainly a splurge. I bought 2 1/2 yards at a 45" selvage which may or may not be enough. But, I can always buy more.

Here's a look at the fabric:


As much as I despise the thought of working with silk chiffon, it has the most perfect drap for a 1920s/1930s dress. And, it reminds me of another dress I have in my collection.

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So I have the beautiful antique dress that is in rather poor shape. Let's examine the damage:

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There is a massive hole one one of the shoulders on the cape overlay.

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The same thing on the other side, though not nearly as bad. There are a few smaller holes throughout the entire dress.

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All of the flare pieces have been mended and stitched poorly.

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There is so minor damage to the lace, but just in one spot.

But look at this back detail!

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This, readers, is where I need your help!

Do I attempt to mend this dress and venture into unchartered silk chiffon restoration territory? Or, do I take the dress apart, use it for a pattern for a new dress with the new silk chiffon? I'd remove and reuse the lace piece so an original part of the dress will remain intact.

The practical person in me says that I will never wear the antique dress in this condition and it will cost far more to repair than I would be willing to spend. I bought the dress for $35.

The sentimental person in me says not to ruin an antique.  Even if I tried to put it back together, I wouldn't have the lace back anymore.

What do you all think?


Mena Trott

Mena Trott started The Sew Weekly to document her attempt to sew all of her own clothes in 2010. Since then, she's made over 125 outfits and has way more clothes than she needs.


Comments are closed.

  1. I should add that one thing I considered is making my daughter’s dress out of the original material. Then, it will be used. Still, I hate doing this to something as old as this dress.

  2. I’d try to salvage the garment. If I’m seeing the damage correctly, the majority of the problem lies in the cape-section. I’d re-stitch the flare pieces and remove the cape. I’d use the cape as a pattern and find a complementary fabric and make a new cape. The damage to the lace is pretty minor so I would reuse that in the mended garment.

  3. i would take some lovely pictures of the dress (wearing them, if you can!) and then take it apart, trace the pieces onto pattern paper, and make a new one. go with the original idea of making a dress for your daughter with whatever you can salvage.
    it is a *beautiful* dress, but it’s not doing any good hanging around, unworn. and i don’t think it can be repaired. i know how sad it feels to pull apart an antique, but it deserves to be loved, even if not in it’s original state.

  4. I’ve always dreamed of hosting a Great Gatsby party! Sooo jealous! living vicariously! I’m not much of a seamstress…I’d take the dress apart (great pattern) and use it for a pattern for a new dress with the reused lace. Sounds dreamy! Good luck and post lots of pics!

  5. I agree with Lauren. While fabric of this type (and age) could be restored for museum purposes, I don’t think it would be wearable. I think you’d spend the whole party worrying if you were going to bust a seam. Take lots of pictures and then pattern it. Since you want to use the lace piece in the new garment, I’d say take the old one apart. Be sure to photograph the disassembly as well — it will help you put the new one together. If you wanted to preserve the remaining garment, you could try rubbing off a pattern instead of taking the dress apart. Good luck! It’s a lovely design and deserves to be seen in public again.

  6. I would try to get the pattern off the dress without taking it apart. Then make a new dress that will not be so fragile that you will be scared to move and have fun at your party (antique silk can just crumble and ‘self destruct’ when it gets particularly old) Then I would repair the old dress just enough so that I could display it somewhere in my house which does not get sun and consider it the artwork it is

  7. I’m thinking that the route of using the original dress as a pattern for a new dress is the way to go. You could use that beautiful lace panel in the new dress and perhaps utilize the vintage fabric to make a blouse. Best of both worlds. I agree with Lauren that it’s no use just hanging around in the wardrobe.

  8. I say use it as a pattern. Onwards + upwards! :)

  9. Same fabric!
    I’d recommend tracing the pieces as well – not to cut up the dress, but make the dress again with your newer, sturdier fabric. YOu will want to feel confident wearing it at Gatsby and not worry about seams splitting…

  10. In your shoes, I think it’s something I’d have a hard time initially taking apart to use for a pattern, but I think once I got past that and eventually was looking at/wearing the finished dress, I’d be really glad I did it.

  11. I think that the person who wore the dress originally would want you to make a new dress, one that would also be able to be much enjoyed and worn to many a party. Continue the tradition that she started. I love that it was a dress so obviously loved and can only imagine the circumstances of its many outings.

  12. I’m with most everyone else who’s in favor of using the original dress as a pattern for a new one. It’s a shame to see a beautiful, antique dress taken apart, but if you do so it’s legacy will live on.

  13. I agree with the people who said to lift a pattern from the original and to preserve the original.

  14. Even before I read through your post, I knew where you were going. And I would vote to use that fabulous lace. I used to work in a museum so I know how difficult it will be to disassemble the original. But you’d have a difficult time mending and wearing the original dress and that lace is going to look fantastic on a new dress!

  15. My vote is for deconstructing, determining a pattern from the original, and salvaging what you can of the fabric to make a dress for your daughter. How lovely to re-create a pattern from this time period!

  16. I agree with the majority – take apart and use as a pattern for a new dress. The original material was just not built to last for decades, and will continue to disintegrate, even if you’re able to repair it.

  17. I’m with those who say use this dress as a pattern. You might even be able to re-use the lace collar. It will look stunning…and the pattern shouldn’t be too hard to replicate. It looks pretty simple.
    Now can I recommend Sullivan’s stabilizer spray while sewing the silk chiffon? It will make your life so much easier especially on those hems. And I’d do some period touches like a picot edge on that collar, easy to with the right sewing foot.

  18. jonathan belmares

    I love the fabric you found i swear ive seen it somewhere before, but the antique dress is gorgeous, i do think you should use it as a pattern or find a similar one and make a new dress to wear.
    I love those chiffon dresses so much but youd be paranoid the whole time wearing one so old, Im paranoid of loaning out the ones i have in the costume closet (im running it again for gatsby this year) and there not old.
    Ps i hope you will be at the how to gatsby at sf modernism next weekend , ill be there collecting donations for the costume closet if you have anything to donate or lend please let me know

  19. You found the perfect fabric!! I say use the old dress as a pattern for a new one–reuse the lace collar and salvage what you can of the fabric to make Pen a new dress. I agree that trying to fix this would be really difficult and it’s such a shame that it wouldn’t be worn!!

  20. Have you tested the seams that appear to be intact? Are they stable? If not, then I would imagine that salvaging it for anything other than art would be impossible. I agree with many of the other commenters that say you could try to make a pattern from the dress without taking it apart first. That way you still have the dress to compare with your version.

  21. margueritedesigns

    Call me a philistine, but I would take it apart, make a pattern from it and then use the salvageable bits of old fabric to make something else with.

  22. Mena – do both (rescue the old dress, and copy it). There’s no need to take the dress apart to make a pattern, as there’s a couple of great books out there that show you how to copy RTW garments, or vintage favourites without damaging them.
    There’s ‘Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit: Using the Rub-Off Technique to Re-create and Redesign your Favorite Fashions’ by Steffani Lincecum. It’s highly recommended in a review by Beth at SunnyGal Studio Then there’s ‘Patterns from Finished Clothes: Re-Creating the Clothes You Love by Tracy Doyle’, used copies are going on Amazon for under $4.00 USD!

  23. I’d see if I can make a pattern off of the dress without taking it apart, then re-make the dress using that. I’d hate to destroy something like that dress! Also the chiffon looks so delicate, that I think with normal wear and tear (even for a day) it’d just fall apart.

  24. I agree with most everyone above – although it’s a lovely dress, if you’re like me, the mending won’t take place anytime soon and you’ll still be worried about the integrity of the dress any time you wear it. Use what you can of it, definitely use it as a pattern, and enjoy its essence in a new dress you’ve made and don’t have to worry about messing up when you wear it.
    I’m very excited to see your outcome either way!

  25. I can’t give you any helpful advice about the antique, but I can definitely sympathize. I have a 1921-1922 silk dress that has some major problems. Parts of it could potentially be salvaged but I can’t see myself ever dismantling it. I have the same “respect for age” inhibition you seem to.

  26. I feel for you! such a big decision… but you know what – life is for living and dresses are for wearing. You’ve found a darned good match/replacement fabric to recreate another one. And if the original owner was here.. she’d say.. ‘good lord Mena, what are you doing hanging on to that ratty old thing!’ Onwards and upwards! Cheers to the lace panel seeing more parties!

  27. I’m with the majority of folks who say take it apart and use the pieces for making a copy, and use the salvageable parts for recreations. I think if you photograph it well before you take it apart, learn and share the construction techniques, and use the pieces in a way that they can live on and help bring history back to life, the garment has served a much higher purpose than rotting away indefinitely in a box in a closet. These fragile dresses will just continue to disintegrate – you’ll never get it back to a wearable condition. You might could get a few careful photos of it on you, but that’s about the best you’ll get. If it isn’t a museum-worthy piece or something with sentimental value, I’m all for using it and learning from it as much as possible.

  28. If you want to use the dress as a pattern AND preserve the dress for future generations, you could take it apart, use it as a pattern, and trace the pattern off for others to use again and again. I saw that someone turned your Sorbetto sleeve into a pdf, and I bet you could find someone who knows how to do this and is willing to participate (btw I have used that sleeve pattern- thanks!).

  29. Ohhhhh, an extant garment is such a rare peek into the past that it is meant to be shared with others who appreciate history up close and personal. I would preserve the extant dress and use the others’ ideas to try the rub-off technique to recreate the dress. Then I’d carefully preserve the dress in acid free paper (and other such methods). Then display it during your own Great Gatsby parties while wearing your recreated one! What a hit that would be! The extant gown is history and a lovely item from the past for future generations to ooh and ahh over, allowing them to appreciate their heritage.

  30. I don’t think there’s any hope of salvaging the poorly repaired areas, and the silk is just disintegrating from age. If you can salvage the lace and use it in another garment, I would do it. It’s a lovely piece of history, but it’s crumbling to bits. Using its form to recreate a modern dress is enough of a tribute.

  31. what about that smudge tracing thingy? wait a minute…
    AHA! okay, found it on daughterfish’s blog: ,
    it’s all about using an existing garment, without harming it, to make a pattern. you could buy the book, but with that cool “look inside” feature you might get enough info to start on your own (i did!).

  32. I didn’t read all the other comments so sorry if I’m redundant.
    I don’t think you’d have to take the dress apart to make a pattern from it. You can probably make a new pattern by carefully looking at and measuring the dress. I guess that would depend on how skilled you are at understanding the construction of a garment, though, and if you have the time.
    Although, if you did deconstruct it, it would be awesome if you could incorporate that amazing back detail into the new dress somehow! If it is possible, then I’d say it’s worth it!

  33. I agree with Lauren!

  34. there are some great 1920’s pattern books on amazon. if you had one of those, you wouldn’t need to repair (immediately) or take apart the old one!

  35. I agree with those that say use the dress to make a pattern but DON’T take it apart. Do the minimal repairs and use it for display :) That IS fabulous lace though!

  36. i agree with the majority who say make a new dress without damaging the original and then mend it just enough to showcase it as the beautiful art piece it is. there are other gorgeous pieces of vintage lace out there you can use. i think you should make this an MTL for yourself. do it!

  37. So I think the point of taking it apart anyway was not just to have a pattern, but also so you could use the lace, right? I vote take it apart, lace and all, make your pattern and then use the fabric to make a dress for your little girl and a scarf for yourself. Pen will outgrow the dress, but a scarf will last and be “your size” for a lot longer. Good luck! I’m sure it will be beautiful!

  38. Frankly, the fabric is clearly disintegrating, and will continue to do so, either on you, or on your daughter, especially if she’s active. I have a lot of respect for antiques, but when they’re broken beyond repair, you have to face up to it, replace the item, and move on. You are not a museum curator. This dress is not so precious that it should be a museum piece. As Casey Sew said, the original owner would probably look at it as “that ratty old thing”, and probably got rid of it because she thought it wasn’t worth repairing. Your home is not a scrap yard for storage of damaged goods. I believe you can still use and enjoy the lace, so I recommend that you take the dress apart to get the pattern and incorporate the lace into your new dress.


  40. No need to keep the dress. An antique is only truly valuable when it’s in good condition. By reusing the lace (and possibly the fabric) plus drafting a pattern from the original, you are helping to give the dress a new life.

  41. Take it apart! Use it for something worthwhile!

  42. I second Oonaballoona here! As well as the rest that suggested the rub off technique. It would be such a shame to tear apart that beautiful vintage dress. I also agree that it might be worrisome to wear the original dress.
    I’ve done my rub offs with muslin (the book describes two methods, one with paper and one with muslin). The upshot of the muslin technique is that you can use the muslin as the pattern. My mom also recently tried this technique to copy a detail on a pair of jeans she loves, and she’s been able to alter the rest of her jeans with the pattern she rubbed off.

  43. I also agree with Lauren, you may do more damage to the fabric by repairing the garment.

  44. Agreed!! :)

  45. I think it is much worse wearing an antique and ripping it- it looks like it doesn’t have much life left in it. The pattern will give life to many more garments! :)

  46. I know I’m weighing in late here (on vacation and all) BUT you can easily get a pattern off of this one to make a new dress. This is a 30’s dress and they are quite easy to reproduce. I can even do it for you in an hour or so. Save this one, fold it up in acid free tissue and store it in a box out of light and temperature changes. The shoulder damage is probably from years of hanging. You can get antique lace very similar to what’s on the dress at L’acis in Berkeley. Take your pictures in and show them what you’re looking for (at least I used to be able to do this, don’t know what they’ve got these days!). I love making 30’s dresses, used to do about 4 a day so you can handle this no problem : ) If you need help, email me.