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Madeleine Vionnet was a revolutionary designer for her time; not as universally well known as Coco Chanel but just as influential to the world of fashion. She is credited with creating the bias cut, a technique of cutting on the diagonal grain of the fabric which creates a sinuous and slightly clingy silhouette. The designer regularly had fabric custom made for her as wide as 180 inches to cut her dresses from.

Her style was widely adapted by the fashion world in the 1930s and continues to be synonymous with the 30s look. If you examine her fashions pictured below you will see they have a timeless elegance and are amazingly detailed. Madame Vionnet was influenced by ancient Greek sculpture and statues and wanted clothing to move and flow with the wearer. It’s not at all surprising that she made dresses for Isadora Duncan, the avant- garde modern dancer of the 20s and 30s.

In today’s world, with all of our stretch fabrics, it’s easy to overlook how revolutionary it must have been to wear something that draped to your body the way Vionnet’s dresses did, especially so after the inundation of boxy and loose fashions of the 1920s. Unfortunately Mme. Vionnet had to close her couture house in 1914 with the start of the first World War, and for good in 1939. With the devastation of a second World War, fashion was put on the back burner to concentrate on the war effort and the country’s resources were reallocated. She never did reopen.

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I have been obsessed with the bias cut lately as I have been designing a wedding dress with a bias skirt. It seems like a simple enough process but there is definitely an art to it. For instance, a bias skirt can cling and tug in odd ways if it isn’t cut right or pressed properly during construction. The seams can stretch out of shape easily and it’s not unusual to have a garment stretch by as much as four inches after letting it hang on the hanger for a few days. There are many techniques for working with bias still to be learned one of which I learned after trying to make the skirt in one piece but now know that it’s better to make the skirt with a center seam so it hangs evenly on both sides.

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If you want to read more on Madeleine Vionnet and her influence in fashion, Betty Kirke wrote a wonderfully comprehensive article for Threads magazine which you can check out here.

~Justine

After moving from Los Angeles to an old farmhouse in the country with her husband and four children, Justine Abbitt (a trained fashion designer) found shopping outside the city rather uninspiring and difficult, so she decided to get busy with her needle and thread to start making things for herself and her family. Looking to get in touch with other DIYers she started her sewing blog, Sewcountrychick, which is also about country living through an ex-urbanists perspective.

14 Comments

  • Missing

    Jul 4, 2012, 06.14 AMby Bonnie Velazquez

    Well, for my wedding I was hoping to create my own bias cut pattern because I’ve found so many dresses I like, and I wanted a pattern to incorporate that. Is there anyway I can do this?

  • Missing

    Jul 16, 2011, 09.43 PMby Tokie Ang

    this is great article :)

  • Img01190-20110621-1408_large

    Jul 13, 2011, 03.57 PMby Rebecca Alleyne

    I used a bias cut for a flare skirt I made. I have to say it is my favourite skirt… the fall of the fabric (I used a light cotton with a bold print), the cross grain effect, everything came out beautiful. I used that same fabric to make a skirt on the straight grain and I didn’t like it nearly as much as the bias cut. Thank you Mme Vionnet

  • Sushi_party_large

    Jul 9, 2011, 05.10 PMby notdeadredhead

    Love it! I’m going to have to try it out, as soon as I finish my current project. :^D

  • 6e3656aa7036783b3e4bbc29f34d1029385afafe_large

    Jul 6, 2011, 05.55 PMby wzrdreams

    One of my favorite dresses that I made was a bias cut Calvin Klein sundress. I still wear it and I always get compliments. Another neat thing about cutting fabric on the bias is that it doesn’t unravel and fray like it would on grain. The pattern did not require any seam finishing other than to stitch twice and topstitch. I think it’s time to make another dress from that pattern.

    2 Replies
    • Meprofilebarn_large

      Jul 7, 2011, 02.14 PMby Justine of Sew Country Chick

      I’d love to see it. Is it posted here?

    • 6e3656aa7036783b3e4bbc29f34d1029385afafe_large

      Jul 7, 2011, 03.53 PMby wzrdreams

      I don’t have it posted here. I made it in 2000…. wow… and I still wear it! Next time I put it on I’ll take a picture and post it.

  • Meme_large

    Jul 6, 2011, 02.44 PMby bootycrewqueen

    I just ran up a pair of “hot pants” using the bias method-can get a bit tricky without a walking foot.

    1 Reply
  • Naburdaprofil_large

    Jul 6, 2011, 11.13 AMby janul

    I love these old pictures… beautiful. My favourite is the cascade dress on the picture with the oval mirror.

  • 413_large

    Jul 6, 2011, 01.59 AMby linen1

    Vionnet to me is the height of style. Well, at least the style I want to pursue!

  • Meprofilebarn_large

    Jul 5, 2011, 10.13 PMby Justine of Sew Country Chick

    Yes I would love to be able to but the Vionnet style vintage pattern pictured although to make a perfect fitting bias gown it’s best to draft it from scratch I think.

  • Vatten_large

    Jul 5, 2011, 09.39 PMby ichigogirl

    One’s got to love Vionnet…

  • Orp_1769_large

    Jul 5, 2011, 06.00 PMby loyl8

    fabulous is all I have to say

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