How to make the Madeleine Vionnet 30s Scarf



In a recent post I promised details about making a scarf designed by Madeleine Vionnet, which is shown at the bottom of this post in the photo composite. As I mentioned, the Betty Kirke “Vionnet” book, which you can see on this link: has drawings of pattern pieces for a number of Vionnet gowns, and also for this scarf. The one thing that’s missing is the “key” to the dimensions of the pieces, which makes the gowns difficult to recreate.

In recent years, the Bunka fashion school in Japan took Betty Kirke’s drawing and recreated them, putting the pattern pieces on a grid. There was an exhibit of the recreated gowns, and then the book with the patterns and instructions (pictured above) was released. Currently this book is only available in Japanese, but between the two books it’s possible for an English-speaker to figure out how to recreate the patterns, which is pretty amazing. Here’s a link to the Bunka Vionnet  book:

I decided to test out a method of recreating these designs by using a relatively simple pattern, which was the scarf. Since these books are under copyright, I won’t be showing the actually pages with the pattern and direction, but you’ll get the idea.

Since I was too lazy to draw the gridded pattern onto a larger sheet of paper, I found a website called, copied and uploaded the picture of the pattern in the book, then was able to set it to print out on a larger scale. It came out piece by piece on 8″x10″ paper, and then I taped it together like a PDF pattern. After some trial and error, it worked fine.

I traced over the pattern with butcher block paper, and it looked like this:

imageIf you look closely, you’ll see that the grainline is on the bias, which a very important element in the drape of the scarf. Vionnet’s manipulation of the stretch on the bias in her garments are what made them architectural masterpieces. According to Betty Kirke, Vionnet did a line of dresses that she shipped to US manufactures that were unhemmed. The idea was that the bias cuts would stretch to fit anyone, and all the store had to do was lengthen or shorten for the individual customer. Unfortunately the idea was way ahead of it’s time and it bombed. But wow, what a forward-thinking concept!

The instructions for the scarf are all in Japanese, but I’ll give you the general jist:

Cut two of the pattern piece shown above, on the bias. Choose a fabric with some crispness, or underline a soft fabric with identical pieces of silk organza. You’ll need about 1 1/2 to 2 yards of fabric, and I suggest using something that looks interesting on the bias. Here, I used some vintage 30s wool challis from International Silk and Woolens in Los Angeles.

imageSew the “V” shaped cutouts into darts on both sides of both pieces, right sides together, and press. When sewing on the bias, be very careful not to stretch the fabric as you feed it into the machine.

imageSew two of the short ends of the pieces right sides together (you can see I’ve added a silk organza underlining to this soft wool challis).

imageFold the entire scarf lengthwise, right sides together, and sew along the lengthwise seam, again being careful not to stretch it as you’re sewing. Press the seam open.

imageTurn the entire length of the scarf right side out via one of the short ends. The lengthwise seam is now the center back of the scarf. Give that seam and the rest of the scarf a soft steam press, avoiding making creases.

imageTuck under the seam allowances of the two raw ends at either end of the scarf. Make the scarf into a circle like an infinity scarf, without any twists. Insert one unfinished end into the other and fell-stitch them together. You’re done!

imageTo wear the scarf, fold it in half and put the two narrow ends behind your neck. The two large loops will be hanging down in front of your chest. Stick your hands through the loops as shown, grab the outer edges and pull them through. The scarf becomes a bow like magic! Fiddle with it a little to hide the seam. Sometimes I find it works better to put it on inside-out so the seam is hidden when you pull the loops through.

This scarf is so distinctive, yet easy to wear. The bias cut and darts give it that bow “poof” without a big knot. What a great design!

This is why I’m doing this type of re-creation, honestly. It’s one thing to see these designs in photos, but it’s much more educational and meaningful to go through the designer’s process and then hold it in your hand. My hat’s off to Betty Kirke and the people at Bunka who painstakingly researched these patterns. It’s a rare window into early 20th century design.

I’d be curious to know whether any of you are fans of Vionnet. Have you seen any of her creations up close? She closed her atelier during WWII so I can’t imagine there are many of her gowns still circulating in the vintage world, though there are a number of them in museums, thank goodness. I’ve been getting so many interesting comments, and would love to hear more. Thanks for stopping by.

Chanel/Vionnet Smackdown!

The book "Madeleine Vionnet" by Betty Kirke

The book “Madeleine Vionnet” by Betty Kirke

Are you ready to rrrrrumble?!? This post looks at who’s cooler, Coco Chanel or Madeleine Vionnet. Chanel is still in the public eye due to intense marketing by the modern company that bears her name, as well as the numerous books about her highly dramatic life.

But I’d argue that one of Chanel’s design contemporaries in the 20s and 30s, Madeleine Vionnet, was every bit of a maverick. She perfected the bias cut, inspired countless designers (including my current girl-crush, Claire McCardell), and yet was a much more decent and mature human being.

As  Chanel references for the smackdown, I’m using my faulty memory of a number of books either glorifying or trashing “Mademoiselle” Coco, the chain-smoking party girl who basically made it possible for women to wear comfortable clothes, become enlightened, go to work, and then stress out about having it all. Thanks, hon.

I’ll admit that I’m cribbing a number of points from a review (by The Vintage Traveler blog) of a book about Chanel positing that not only did Chanel have a Nazi lover during WWII, but she was also a spy. Here’s a link to that review, and Lizzie, thank you again for reading a book so I don’t have to:

As my reference for Vionnet, I’m using one of the sewing/vintage fashion world’s most fabulous books, “Madeleine Vionnet” by Betty Kirke. This book should either be put on your coffee table or Christmas list immediately. Here’s the link on Amazon:

Originally published in 1991, this cult classic is filled with pictures of Vionnet’s groundbreaking bias-cut gowns, and it includes drawings of the pattern pieces, meticulously researched by the author. The text is a complete history of Vionnet, her philosophy, her methods of construction, her inspirations, her company. All I have to say to Betty Kirke, author of this excellent tome, is “you rock”. Here’s a peek inside:


Smackdown point #1:

Who was better to her workers?

Coco Chanel had a bitter labor dispute with her workers in the 30s that she lost. Rumor has it that she shut down her atelier during World War II to get back at them, putting 3,000 people out of work.

Madeleine Vionnet, on the other hand, remembering her exploitive treatment at couture houses as a girl, was the first to offer her workers coffee breaks, paid vacation, maternity leave, and the opportunity to advance in the company. During vacations her employees were welcome to come hang out with her at her villa in the south of France. Score 1 Vionnet.

Smackdown point #2:

Who was riding out WWII shacking up with a Nazi in the Paris Ritz? And sleeping with just about everybody else the rest of the time? I have to admit I’ve given that a lot of thought while hand-stitching the Chanel jackets I’ve made.

Meanwhile, Vionnet was caring for her father in a little garden apartment until his death in 1922. After that, she married a man 18 years younger and their relationship was a happy one in the early years at least. You go girl.

Smackdown point #3:

Whose clothing from the 30s would I been seen in walking down the street in now?

Well, unless I’m going to a toga party, I’d be more comfortable wearing a 30s Chanel suit than a floaty bias-cut gown. I’ll give you that one, Coco. However, I have made a bias-cut scarf from a pattern in the Vionnet book that’s very jaunty, and I have been wearing it to death.

Smackdown point #4:

Whose clothing from the 30s would I wear to the Oscars? Though Chanel did create a number of lovely gowns in that era, the hands-down winner is Vionnet, whose bias-cut confections were architectural works of art. Also, because they’re cut on the bias, they have more give, so you can gain a few pounds and still get in them.

And the winner is…

I’ll admit, it’s splitting hairs. They both got women out of corsets and into the modern world. They both were innovators in manipulating fabric for soft structure. They both were geniuses who inspired generations of designers. And they represent the “yin and yang” of modern woman–the unconscionable control freak vs. the mature mentor.

Here’s a photo of Deepika, founder and fearless leader of, modeling a Vionnet scarf that I made:

Deepika in Vionnet Scarf

She looked so cute, I just had to hand it over to her. In my next post, I’ll be writing about how I made this scarf using drawings from the Vionnet book and instructions from this Japanese pattern book:


It’s an easy and fun project.

Who do you think wins the smackdown? Chanel or Vionnet? Leave a comment and let me know. And I’m always interested in hearing about your projects! Thanks for stopping by.