Art Deco Preservation Ball
Sometimes the best way to get something vintage is to make it new. Many companies produce vintage inspired patterns so the need to drape or draft your own has gone the way of the crank engine.
Pochoir Print from 1920
First find a pattern that you like. Pattern Review has a fairly robust search engine. Search under "vintage", "20s", "30s"or "flapper" Beware of anything you find under flapper as the word is misused a lot and sometimes gets you a costumy version of a 20s dress like Simplicity 5400 (ack!).
You can also find actual and reproduction vintage patterns at the Vintage Fashion Library or Google "Vintage sewing patterns". Vintage patterns are not for the unseasoned. The sizing is different and the instructions often nonexistent. Great data on vintage measurements here at The Fedora Lounge.
Be sure to check out the Greater Bay Area Costume Guild for their pattern reviews and terrific articles on the 1920-30s and every other period. Now you've got your pattern, your next step is the most important - picking the fabrics.
Vintage evening is all about what we consider classic glamour so classic fabrics are in order: chiffon, satin, charmeuse , organdy, lace, beads, and sequins. No: lycra, matte jersey, iridescence, pleather, or lurex. Natural fibers are best: silk, rayon, wool, cotton, and almost always a solid. Stretch and synthetic fabrics did not exist yet.
Crepe in rayon, wool and silk was very fashionable through these decades for evening. If you go with silk invest in some silk pins and use them, regular pins will leave holes in your fabric. For super light fabric start a new machine needle and replace it whenever you start feeling drag on the stitch. It makes a big difference. Feather light fabric don't take much abuse so never work in a rush. Some fine fabrics will only give you two tries before those needle tracks turn into tears.
Evening Gowns from 1925
Pour over the images from the period. Notice that while the 20s silhouette is boyish and simple the details are not. Ruffles, ribbon, organza, and lace abound. The overall effect is girlish, carefree, and expensive. Bone and jet carved buttons, hand embroidery, tissue weight silks, beading, feathers, this list goes on and on, but a hand stitched hem is at the top.
The 20s is not the most flattering look for the average American, but the figure of the time was a little plump. They did not mind at all and neither should you. Actually, the women of the time did complain about the new style, and then wore it anyway . . . and you should too.
The depression had a massive effect on fashion. The styles are more modest and less extravagant than the decade previous. These are not silly times so the style is conservative and smart. With its lovely natural curves this period is much more wearable than the 20s.
The 30s are all about the fluid line of the dress. Not too tight at the top, curving gracefully in to the waist and sliding over the hip and thigh still close to the body and a bit more volume at the bottom hem.
Vintage Sewing 1930s
Butterick 1939, note the sweetheart neckline
and the simple lines of the skirt.
Stiffer fabrics come to evening wear. Super fine fabrics aren't being made ("Don't you know there's a . . ."). Women's gowns are more tailored, often with a jacket over a simple dress or even a skirt. The lines are straighter and a bit more masculine.
Undergarments are a must in each periods. Slips are mandatory. Add girdles or garter belts to keep your seamed stockings from falling down. Bras differ. In the 20s the breasts are flat and down, basically as out of the way as possible. You may have to alter an older bra to create this effect.
In the 30s the look is more natural, but still demure so no bullet bras or wonder/miracle/look-at-these! contraptions. Your everyday bra should do the trick. Straighten this all out before you fit your garment or you will regret it. A girdle can take 1-4 inches off your hips and this will make the entire dress drape differently. Different bras, even the same style that is more worn in makes things wildly different.
The best Bay Area store for great vintage look fabrics has to be Stonemountain and Daughter in Berkeley - 2518 Shattuck Ave. They also carry Decades of Style patterns. The staff is helpful and they even offer sewing classes.
Britex - Expensive, unique, and fabulous.
Silk Road - Great for wedding and special occasion. Huge selection of satins, taffetas and silks.
Discount Fabrics - You'll have to dig, but it can be very rewarding. The San Francisco store is enormous.
Lacis - Unusual vintage items, laces, trim and everything for hat making -this place is mecca.
Stonemountain and Daughter - Great fabrics and staff.
Books on hats, handbags, beadwork and costumes.
Great article on fabrics of the 20s and 30s (through 1959)
Metropolitan Museum: Blythe Spirit, the Windsors