Finished Project: The Dust Bowl Dress

The project for the Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge this time was “Peasants & Pioneers.”

From the event page on Facebook:

“As wonderful as making pretty, pretty princess dresses is, the vast majority of people have always been poor commoners, whether they were peasants working the land, servants in big houses, or (later), pioneers carving their own space in new lands. This fortnight let’s make something that celebrates the common man.”

This automatically made me think of the dust bowl and the great depression.  The incredible hard times that people of my grandparent and great grandparent’s generation had to endure.  I want to celebrate something in our more recent history, within the memory of many of those still alive today.  The great depression, of course, hit across our nation (and internationally as well), but the dust bowl hit only part of the country, causing incredible hard time among those in the path of the dust storms, and forcing many to “pioneer” out to places for a new start, like California, in order to pick crops or use their farming skills where the soil was still fertile.

The dress I made is from all vintage materials.  I was fortunate to find a long length of vintage cotton print that I found reminiscent to the feed sack prints the ladies of the dust bowl would have used to make their clothing.  These were actually flour or feed sacks, and a housewife would collect them to make clothing for her family, or sew items for the home.  The buttons, buckle, and the bias tape are all vintage as well.  This is finished on the inside with rayon seam binding.

Very contrary to the dust bowl, today is a very cloudy and rainy day.  I was hoping to take pictures next to some old west style historic buildings, but it was not meant to be!  Since it’s a dark day, it is very hard to capture the colors correctly.

Without the belt, the dress looks rather 1920s.

A closer shot of the detail, which is more true to actual color:

This was made from a  mail order pattern from the earlier part of the 1930s, similar to what farming ladies would have used to make their clothing.  I have a copy, as I sent my original to a friend in England.  Although the dress in the illustration looks rather sporty, I wanted to take inspiration from vintage farm dresses and aprons, so added the bias tape to make this look more like a house dress.

Some inspiration images for this project that were found online:





Required info for this challenge

The Challenge: Peasants & Pioneers

Fabric: Vintage cotton print

Pattern: Mail Order 1918

Year: First half of the 1930s (about circa 1932-1934)

Notions: Vintage bias tape, vintage buttons, vintage buckle

How historically accurate is it? Very.  Without finished seams it would be more period, but I wanted to protect from fraying when washing.  The thread is poly, which is not period, but otherwise it’s totally dead on.  I found prints almost identical in a 1934 Sears catalog.

Hours to complete: Around 5-6.

First worn: Not yet!

Total cost: About $25 (not including pattern)

8 Comments on Finished Project: The Dust Bowl Dress

  1. Evie
    March 9, 2013 at 12:29 pm (11 years ago)

    I love the bias detailing, and the colors are so fresh and pretty! Very cute dress.

  2. PepperReed
    March 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm (11 years ago)

    Wonderful! and I love how the ‘style’ changes sans belt.

  3. Kate-Em
    March 9, 2013 at 2:42 pm (11 years ago)

    This is a lovely dress, like the addition of the bias tape. Interesting historical photos too.

  4. Erika
    March 10, 2013 at 3:47 am (11 years ago)

    Absolutly gorgeous! Love the colours, the print and the style. Basically, I want to make one :) Seriously, you made this in 6 hours? I hope this doesn’t sound creepy, but you are a huge inspiration to me. The fit and the quality of your sewing, in combination with your eye for material and style choices, makes me want to continue grow and develop as a sewist. Thank you for posting all your wonderful creations!

  5. Stephanie
    March 10, 2013 at 11:13 am (11 years ago)

    So cute! You’ll have to do a photo shoot sometime when the weather cooperates. I just adore the matching buttons and buckle! Eep!

  6. WendyBee
    March 11, 2013 at 7:45 am (11 years ago)

    I looooove this dress! It really does look so period-perfect, and the fabric is lovely. Feedsack? It looks a Liberty! And that shade of blue of the buttons and bias-binding is just soooo pretty!

  7. Elizabeth
    March 15, 2013 at 7:57 pm (11 years ago)

    Adorable! I have a vintage dress from around 1932, also made in a flour sack-type print, but it’s a cotton seersucker fabric. So fun to wear. My grandmothers both told stories about using flour sacks as clothing and household textiles; all their nightgowns/pajamas, slips and underwear, kitchen and hand towels, curtains, and everyday dresses (and men’s shirts) were made from flour sacks. They only bought fabric especially for clothes when they needed a better dress or a coat.

  8. Ruth
    March 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm (11 years ago)

    My grandmother made feed sack dresses for me when I was a little girl in the late 50’s. They had a suburban place and raised chickens, hence the feed sacks! I know she used some of the fabric for aprons, and the bonnets she wore outside until the late 70’s. I found flour in fabric sacks in the early 80’s when my husbnd and I lived in Tehachapi, CA.

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