Friday, February 1, 2013

Making a Wool Dirndl

I was going to work on a dress for my brothers wedding this week. Well, a mock up dress. But a few nights ago I was lying awake, after a nighttime feeding with the baby, and thinking of all sorts of different dress designs. For some reason the thought of a simple jersey dress made in a drapey Greek-style appealed to me.  The next morning I did a google search and found this dress, and it is just what I want. So that is taken care of. I'll make mine in either blue or green. Or if I can find it, a bluish-green. Maybe I will just buy white jersey and dye it myself. It's a perfect style. Breastfeeding friendly, slimming, modest. (okay I despise the word "modest", but you know what I mean. It's good for a conservative wedding.) My mom, who is not a fan of historic styles, likes it. My husband, who is not a fan of modern styles, likes it. So we'll go with it.

So I have been working on this dirndl instead. I have never made a dirndl and I found it very, very hard to find out much information on how these things are cut or constructed. I came across a few blogs that showed other's versions of the dirndl; one of the most helpful is here: How to Sew a Dirndl. Some defining features that stood out to me included the V neck at the back bodice, the skirt cartridge pleated to the waistline of the bodice and a center front opening with either zippers, hooks, buttons or lacing. The basic style is a closely fitted bodice with or without sleeves and with a full skirt attached, often worn with a peasant-blouse-type shirt and an apron. Modern dirndls show lots of cleavage and extreme versions look to be more seductive in appearance. I'm not going for that, but I do like the lower cut neckline worn with a white blouse look. It works great for nursing! The image below is from wikepedia.

I found this vintage pattern for a dirndl.

The pic of the pattern pieces gave me a clue as to how the bodice ought to be shaped (princess seams) for this particular style of dirndl.

I used the pattern I draped for my 1910's brassiere as a starting point. I did not have to modify it much and here is the finished pattern:

I plan to use these fabrics. I have had them a while and there is not enough yardage of any of them to make a complete dress but since dirndls can be made of a variety of fabrics it is the perfect style to utilize these odd lengths and scraps of fabric!

So far I have made the bodice. I puzzled over how to put this thing together. I ended up using 1860's corset construction methods. I decided to use the royal blue wool for the bodice and it is lined with linen and interlined with cotton/linen blend. The construction method covers all the seam allowances with one swipe through the sewing machine so its a quick, good, sturdy method of construction. The pattern is fitted with "negative ease" since I wanted a self supporting bodice. Actually, the fit is quite similar to my hobbit bodice only with a front opening instead of a back opening.

For the front opening I inserted metal grommets and boned either side of the grommets. I wanted a laced opening as it seems that works the best for negative ease garments. There is no boning anywhere else in the bodice. The armholes and neckline I finished with binding.

The bodice came out a tad short, I think. I think I will just leave it a tad short for now, though. I don't want to add a waistband to the bottom of the bodice since I haven't seen any examples with separate waistbands. Besides, I can always tie the apron a bit low to extend the look of the waist.

I hope to finish this soon as it is totally freezing outside right now. My body is screaming for wool. Wool is just awesome. The skirt will be the stripey wool and the apron will be the blue and white printed cotton.



  1. Looking forward to seeing your finished outfits, Sarah! The fabrics are beautiful and whimsical-- what great combinations!

  2. It makes me think 'the sound of music'.
    Love the colour choice. I'll be interested to see the finished result.

  3. so from growing up in germany i can tell you there seem to be so many styles of dirndls it makes your head spin, so really there's no wrong or right way to construct these. i have a dirndl that i got a while back that's from a store that exclusively sells them and it's quite similar to yours just with silver buttons closing in the front instead of lacing. when i was little my mom had about half a dozen dirndls and they ranged from evening wear made of silk and lace to mini skirt dirndls that apparently where all the rage in the 70's some just had a mock front and a zipper up the back. also i recently discovered hobbits basically wear dirndls, i got a cheapo costume pattern from simplicity last fall for a hobbit costume that i plan to turn into a dirndl one of these days....

  4. This post is so perfectly timed. I've been thinking about folk dresses and making one for a little bit now, and as my family is mostly German I thought that doing a dirndl would be very fitting.

    I spent a considerable amount of time looking at Swedish folk dress, and when I started researching German folk dress I became highly disappointed that the same level of tradition and care wasn't put into them anymore.

    I still want to make a dirndl, but would like to make it more folk-y than sexy. Eventually I'd like to venture into Swedish folk dress as well, but that's something that looks like the slower it's done the better just because of how much care has to go into it.

  5. Dear Sarah,

    The Bohemian Belle is right: there are a gazillion styles. In September, 2011, Burda Magazine had a long section on Trachten -- for our uses, "dirndls" -- and lots of fascinating patterns. Have a look at one review at It would be worth scouting for the issue, because it was wonderful.

    Very best,


  6. Your bodice reminds me of Butterick 6196. I love your work!

  7. If you need some better replacement words for modest in reference to clothing you can borrow my phrases. Now I will confess, my style is far from modest. It has been said that if you look up trashy clothing on wikipedia you will find my picture. Ok, that was a joke. But while I'm not a "modest dresser" I believe in being appropriate for the occasion. I hate seeing women show up at a wedding in a thigh high dress with cleavage spilling out. Especially a church wedding. But I hate the word modest, it brings to mind a drab woman in a dumpy frock. I prefer the word "classy". It conveys an image to me of being dressy without being dumpy or slutty. It was my grandma's word for any outfit that looked nice on me (dressy or casual)without being overtly sexy .
    I like the dress design you picked out, definately classy.

  8. Bohemian Bell and Natalie, thanks so much for your input! I'd love to be able to unearth that issue. I will be looking for it! In my searches for dirndls on the net I have found a whole lot of very beautiful "vintage" and "traditional" style dirndls that are just gorgeous. I may adopt this style more and more for everyday use.

    Lynn, thank you!! Classy...yup, that is what I will use from now on. I have a horror of looking "modest"; nightmares of wearing a thick turtleneck printed with cherries or something and a shapeless denim jumper...I don't think I dress really trashily but I don't think a woman should have to hide the fact that yes, she is a woman...and I abhor legalism...i.e. "you have to wear dresses longer than knee length" "no necklines lower than an inch below the collarbones" etc. etc.

    Nope, that's not for me. I can't do that. I've seen both ends of the spectrum and right now am happily floating somewhere in the middle.

  9. Wow! thank you so so so so much for taking pictures of your pattern pieces. I'm just starting on making my own patterns and it helps me so much.
    And now I need to make a dirndl.
    The Grecian dress is beautiful, I have been wanting to make one for almost 2 yrs now, I am looking forward to seeing how you make that one too :)

  10. Sarah, I just want to say I really appreciate what you said about how you dress. I've not actually been in the legalistic end myself, but I've been around it enough to have just as much a knee-jerk reaction to certain looks and words. You're not alone!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!