Every year the Art Deco Society of California throws a massive picnic party on the grounds of the Dunsmuir-Hellman Estate in Oakland, and about 1300 people are invited in their finest summer wear from the nineteen twenties through the early nineteen forties. This is the Gatsby Summer Afternoon, or as most people call it, “Gatsby.”
My boss’ husband runs the set-up of the sixty or so vintage cars that show up to decorate the lawn and so she got all of us jobs volunteering with him, and hence free tickets! Very helpful given that tickets are $50+ and this year they completely sold out.
Although I do own an extant 20s dress it is an extant 20s evening dress with beads and rhinestones, and is therefore not appropriate for a summer picnic. I needed to make something instead.
We have a bolt of vintage silk chiffon at the shop in navy blue and coral red stripes that I have always liked, and although the How To Gatsby guide discourages you from wearing dark colors I figured the airy chiffon would balance that out. And it’s much more me than a blush pink or peach anyway.
I poked through a few sources before deciding on the Zig-Zag Dress from Decades of Style. I love how their patterns have a lot of fun details to them that you see in extant pieces but that are often missing from recreations.
I also decided I wanted to make a matching hat and bought a navy parasisal hat blank from Judith M Millinery as well as some coral wired ribbon. We have a 1920s cloche block at the shop that is delightfully charming that I used to shape my hat.
After the preliminary blocking I turned the edges under and stitched them down. I originally intended to face them with petersham but they turned out pretty smooth so I didn’t bother. I then stitched the ribbon down around the base of the crown and made a cute little half-cockade thingy on one side.
The hat was a fun easy little project but the dress… the dress was a pain.
It had been a very long time since I worked with any chiffon, and the last lot I had was
a) polyester, not silk and
b) intentionally supposed to be messy, shredded, and ragged.
This was not. Left to its own devices my sewing machine eats this stuff and after putting the project on hold for a week until I could obtain the walking foot I found that said foot didn’t work. So we were back to square one.
I used a LOT of tearaway stabilizer, particularly for any sewing that was only on one layer of fabric as I could not sew that at all without it. I found that loosening the tension on my machine helped, as did shortening the stitch length. The actual seams I found putting the chiffon under tension as it was being sewn helped keep the seam from wrinkling.
Attaching the skirt to the bodice was the hardest part. I hand-basted the whole thing draped over my bare knee to keep it smooth, as crumpling it in my hand would mess up the alignment. I looked like I had some sort of terrible allergic reaction for days from all the times my needle went through the fabric and hit flesh.
The top layer of hand-basting holds the seam allowances under, while the bottom attaches the skirt and the bodice together. I ended up just roll hemming all the edges by hand for simplicity, and I left the very 1925 Chanel ties off since I was so sick of this by early last week.
Sunday was Gatsby and I arrived there bright and early at 8:15 to help get the cars set up.
Just a note– if you are volunteering, and you get assigned to the lawn crew, you will be running. A lot. Bring sneakers as well as your cute low heels– my legs and feet are very definitely sore.
I’m really pleased with how everything turned out! A quick run-through of my outfit:
Dress: me! I really like how it looks even though it was such a pain
Slip: extant 1920s, I’m going to make a pattern from it and then retire it officially as some of the seams are pulling
Stockings: American Duchess 18th century silk stockings, which are the closest thing I could find to the extant 20s stockings I’ve seen. They’re much less fine than the 1940s-1950s seamed stockings we’re used to.
Shoes: Capezio character shoes– very, very glad I did not wear my extant ivory brocade ones or they would have been killed. So much wet grass.
I didn’t end up staying very long after the event officially started at 1pm, as I was pretty tired. Here’s a few snapshots I managed to grab.
Overall, I’m very glad I got to experience this once before I leave the area. It really is a glorious spectacle and a chance to see some fabulous clothes and people.