Depression Era Dress Replica, Birth of my Solids Challenge and Curt Dalton’s Book, Made do or Did Without

Let’s start with the depression era dress, although I also want to talk about how this dress birthed my 2016 solids challenge and Dayton historian Curt Dalton’s book about the depression'”Made Do or Did Without”.

In 2012 one of my students gave me this tattered depression era dress.

Depression Era Dress Replica and Study Tracy McElfresh

My first attempt at this replica was my Little House on the Prairie dress. The busy print was the problem, all of my fine details of craftsmanship were lost and hidden in the print of this garment. Hence the birth of my 2016 “Solids Challenge” and this my big finale.

Depression Era Dress Replica and Study Tracy McElfresh

I chose georgette and a poly for my fabrics. These are a few shots of the cutting.

The dress has butterfly sleeves that are sewn on top of the dress, pin tucks at the shoulders and back neckline, a square collar, drop waist, pleats at every tip point of a triangular cut out band and the dress has no closures. Meaning I would need to get the fit right to get the dress on my body. This was not easy!

I did use my serger as I want to wash my dress.

Humility: The original dress has a pleat at the bottom of each triangular point on the band. My “Little House” dress I made the pleats first, then cut the triangular band measuring to match exactly at the pleats, this was the right way. This dress, I made the band first then tried to add the pleats after, not right. After spending a morning studying the fabric I noticed that if I pressed the fabric with my hot iron. I could see an imprint of where each pleat needed to be and then simply measured one inch on each side to form a box pleat.

To get perfect edges on the angles on my cut out band, I made stitch lines with my machine on a tighter tension using a 1/2″ seam allowance. This helped my fabric to turn and have almost perfect corners. Remember to clip curves. This piece is laid on top of the pleated skirt and was topstitched down.

Depression Era Dress Replica and Study Tracy McElfresh

While making my dress I read Curt Dalton’s book, Made Do or Did Without, How Daytonians Coped with the Great Depression. I borrowed the book from one of my favorite places, Wright Memorial Public Library.

Depression Era Dress Replica and Study Tracy McElfresh

His book has facts at a national level and how locals coped. I love the stories about Charles F. Kettering promising to back the banks with his own funds to keep them open, communities building structures reusing old bricks, NCR charity balls to raise money for food for the poor, Goods Certificates that were used to trade food for clothing and such. Plus, I had no idea our “witches tower” the old NCR look out was built by boys of the NYA.

Photo used with permission from local Dayton historian, Curt Dalton's book "Made of or Did Without"

This book is also full of awesome old photos, one of my favorites is this one. The lady to the far right is wearing a dress similar to my replica. The story says these ladies started out making overalls for workers but when the fabric exceeded what they could make from them they started making dresses instead.

I learned that Dalton has written 30 books about Dayton history, there is so much I do not know about and what a wonderful community I live in.

Thank you for reading!

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Tracy McElfresh

Tracy McElfresh

Tracy McElfresh is the owner of Tracy’s Sewing Studio LLC.
Tracy McElfresh

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