Category Archives: Blouses

A White Blouse

White blouses (or shirts, if you prefer) seem to occupy a niche all to themselves in the annals of fashion.  There is something both unpretentious and elegant about a white blouse.  A white blouse is almost always noticed and admired, and even the most tailored white blouse has an air of femininity to it.

Here is what Christian Dior had to say about the color white when he wrote The Dictionary of Fashion in 1954: “White is pure and simple and matches with everything. For daytime it has to be used with great care because it must always be really white and immaculate…  But nothing gives the impression of good grooming and being well dressed more quickly than spotless white…”  (Published again in 2007 by Abrams, New York, New York; page 120).

What could be a better example of being well dressed than this white blouse featured in the February/March 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine (page 28)?  With its tucks and French cuffs, it is both demure and sophisticated.

Now this is an elegant blouse!

Timeless is another description that could be given to the classic white blouse.  Here is one featured in the August/September 1962 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, page 49.  “In suburbia, nothing has as much unstudied elegance as a classic neat, white shirt…”

By the 1970s, collars look like they had overtaken the world, but even with its outsized points, the white blouse gives this velvet suit its focal point:

This is an advertisement for Crompton velvet, featuring a Vogue pattern (Yves St. Laurent evening suit), page XVI of the October/November 1971 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

The Wall Street Journal had a full-page feature on The White Shirt in the Weekend Section of March 26-27, 2016.  “Always timely and the quickest shortcut to chic,”  says the caption. Part of the feature is shown here:

Although the article fixated on RTW white shirts, a small section was absolutely apropos for those of us who make our white shirts. Finding your Match maintains that there is a certain chemistry involved in finding the perfect shirt for oneself, and it emphasized the importance of choosing the right fabric.  While cotton is usually the preferred fabric, even it is subject to an appropriate quality and weave.  Choosing a pure cotton fabric will necessitate a commitment to laundering and ironing.  Quoted from the article, “You can throw it in the machine, but for a finished look, Ms [Carolina] Herrera (who has made the white shirt her style signature) recommends hand-washing with a splash of starch for a crisp finish.  The white shirt, remember, is about contradictions – it may be easy, but it has good manners.”  (Oh, yes!)

Well, I can’t say I was thinking about chemistry and laundering and manners when I purchased this white cotton shirting fabric from Britex a few years ago.

I just thought it was so lovely with its woven stripe and scalloped detail.  I am happy to say it has been brought to fruition as a classic white blouse.

While the woven stripe IS lovely, it presented some definite considerations when I was laying out my pattern.  For example, what reveal of the stripe did I want to show on the collar and cuffs.  What about the back yoke?   How should the buttons line up on the design on the center front?  The following pictures detail my decisions as I worked through each component.

I chose to use the plain white band as the center portion of the cuffs.

I chose to position the stripe on the collar in the middle.

I decided to interface the yoke, as the cotton is lightweight, and the facing of the yoke would have shown through without it. I always use a woven, sew-in interfacing when I am making blouses. It works beautifully. I evenly balanced the placement of the stripe on the yoke, with just a slight plain reveal noticeable at the lower edge.

And then, what buttons should I use?   It is so easy – and often appropriate – to choose a simple white pearl, two-hole button to accompany this style of shirt. I was prepared to do that until I came across this card of vintage buttons in my collection:

My first thought was, “How perfect!  The incised stripes on the buttons mirror the stripe in the cotton.  And, to seal the deal, they were also the perfect size, at 3/8”.

I used the same 1970s’ Simplicity pattern (with my many alterations to it) that I used for the two gingham blouses I made over the summer.

It is always satisfying to use a fabric which had been purchased – in the past, shall we say? It reinforces my thought that there is a time for all those lovely pieces of silk, wool, cotton and linen still waiting for their destination.   Perhaps it really is about chemistry, after all.

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Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Fashion commentary, Fashion history, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage buttons

A Surfeit of Sewing

Do you ever have so many sewing plans that you don’t know where to begin?  Do you find yourself at a loss of how to prioritize your projects?  Do you look at the calendar and find yourself in disbelief that there are only two months left in the year?  How did that happen?

My answer to those first three questions is Yes, Yes, and Yes.  (My answer to the last question above is “I have no idea,” but that’s my reaction every year when the calendar is about to turn over to November.)

It is very unlike me to have more than one project going at a time.  I like to finish what I start before moving on to something else. However, four different “sewing adventures” are vying for my attention right now, so I think they are going to have to share space and time.

The first item is the one about which I am least concerned.  That is the skirt I am making as a member of the newly minted Susan Khalje Sewing Club (SKC Sewing Club).   Inaugurated in September, this online couture sewing club is by subscription only, but open to all who may already employ couture techniques in their fashion sewing or those who want to learn more about this remarkable method of creating beautiful apparel.  As a way of creating dialogue and offering fitting advice, Susan sent all members a copy of her “skirts” pattern.

This pattern is available in Susan’s online store (see link above.) It is a beautifully drafted pattern, and very versatile. I will be using it often!

Those who choose to follow along (Susan posts video lessons online) are working through the process with their own choice of fabric.  I have chosen to use this lightweight wool herringbone tweed for my skirt:

With my skirt fitted, basted and underlined in silk organza, with darts and seams sewn, I am currently on hold, awaiting our next step.  Bit by bit, this skirt will be finished forthwith, of that I am confident.

An item I had every intention of getting to this Fall is another Classic French Jacket.  I am currently in the process of laying out the pattern on my boucle.

Here is a small swatch of the boucle I am using for the jacket, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics.

I have revised my expectations now to have, at the very least, the jacket cut out, the outline basting complete, and the lining pieces quilted onto the jacket pieces.  Actually finishing this jacket will no doubt happen in 2019.

For some reason, I have it in my mind to make a white cotton blouse.  Where that came from, I don’t know, but that’s what I want to do. I found this woven-in-stripe Swiss cotton at Britex Fabrics several years ago, and it keeps surfacing in my fabric closet.  I think it is time to make this blouse!

And then there are Christmas dresses for my two granddaughters, to be ready in time for December’s many pre-Christmas activities.  There is no negotiating on these.  They must be finished on time.  I have ordered fabric (kindly through Mulberry Silks and Fine Fabrics, which I had the pleasure to visit on a very recent trip to North Carolina.) Oh, the many (still secret) plans I have for these!

The last two months of 2018 are going to be . . . well . . . very busy indeed.

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Filed under Blouses, classic French jacket, couture construction, woolens

Forever Gingham

Gingham fabric has been around for a long, long time.  Since the early 17thcentury to be exact, although the look of the fabric has changed considerably since those days.  The word “gingham” is from a Malay word “gingang” which means “with space between,” hence, striped.  Yes, originally gingham was a striped fabric.  It appears that it became a checked fabric sometime in the mid 1700s, and of course, that is how we think of it today.

Gingham has a fresh, timeless appeal to it, and the iterations of it are countless.  The size of the checks can be absolutely miniscule or large and prominent.

Each check in this gingham is only a couple of threads wide. I do not have an example of a really large checked gingham, but you can surely visualize it.

There are two types of gingham; the entry in The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion (Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora; Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2003, page 209) explains it beautifully:  “Checked ginghams are two-colored effects made by using two colors, or one color and white, for groups of yarns in both the lengthwise and crosswise.  Plaid ginghams are yarn-dyed designs of several colors.”

And do you know what zephyr ginghams are?  “Zephyr ginghams,” according to Fairchild’s “are made with fine, silky, mercerized yarns.”   Obviously both checked and plaid ginghams can be zephyr ginghams.

And indeed, it was a zephyr plaid gingham which I used for my most recent blouse:

I purchased this fabric at the same time I ordered the fabric for my lavender gingham blouse. I still had the “blouse bug,” so I decided to go for it!  I made a few tweaks to the pattern; specifically I added a tapered half inch to the lower half of the  sleeves, to give me a little more ease in rolling them up.  Of course, this meant I needed to add a half inch to the diameter of the cuffs.  I also increased the length of the sleeve vent by about 1.25 inches. I find these changes just add a bit more finesse to the wearing of this blouse, which is super comfortable anyway.

I kept the center back pleat, as it just makes this blouse so comfortable to wear, especially on a hot summer day.

Now, do you see that double navy blue line at the center front?

That is a mistake. I thought I had calculated the grid of the plaid correctly to have a continuous pattern across the front of the blouse.  About halfway through its construction, I discovered I had calculated incorrectly.  At that point I did not have enough fabric left over to cut out two – or even one – new fronts, so my fate was sealed.  Now I know what I did wrong, and hopefully I won’t make that mistake the next time I make a gingham blouse.  (And there will be a next time, but probably not this year.)

This is a blue jean kind of blouse!

Being a button aficionado, I of course searched again for the right buttons for this blouse. I thought about using these vintage pearl buttons with their square motif. However, at 5/8” wide, they were just too big.

I finally admitted to myself that buttons on a blouse like this should not be the focal point; they should be delicate and discreet – which led me to this card of vintage buttons in my collection:

These buttons are 3/8″ in diameter.

The luminosity of the pearl in these buttons actually picks up the pink in the plaid in a very subtle way – and they are definitely discreet.

I used the spread collar again for this blouse.

I love any excuse to wear pink shoes!

Well, I don’t want to end this post without giving you a few more fun facts on gingham.  Did you know that “gingham” was a colloquial term for an umbrella in the 19thcentury?  Again, according to Fairchild’s Dictionary (page 462), “so called because the less expensive types were made out of gingham fabric.”

And who doesn’t know that Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz wore a blue gingham dress?  Or that Brigitte Bardot wore a pink gingham wedding dress (which led to a shortage of this fabric in France, according to Wikipedia)?

If you have not recently read the classic poem by Eugene Field (1850-1895), “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat,” it might be time to reacquaint yourself.  Here is how it starts:  “The gingham dog and the calico cat, side by side on the table sat.” Just the mention of the fabrics creates a mental picture of what is to ensue between these two!

There are few fashion references to gingham that are noteworthy, save for this one from interior designer Kelly Wearstler,  “The best thing I ever bought is a vintage Oscar de la Renta short gingham dress that I wore to my rehearsal dinner the night before my wedding.”

And finally, this from Christian Dior on “checks”  (The Little Dictionary of Fashion, by Christian Dior, Harry N. Abrams, New York, New York, 2007, page 21): “I love checks. They can be fancy and simple; elegant and easy; young and always right….  They are always in fashion …  and there are so many styles of checks to choose that there will be one to suit every age and figure.”

Feeling happy about this blouse despite that center front mistake.

From “always right” cotton gingham, I now head to another “always right,” forever, classic motif: polka dots  – in silk!  New month, new project.  Happy July, everyone!

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Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Shoes to make an outfit complete, Uncategorized, vintage buttons

Gingham and Pearls

Way back at the beginning of our just-past long winter, I was on the hunt for fresh cotton gingham to pair with some Liberty cottons for dresses for my granddaughters’ birthdays. Always having been a fan of gingham, I couldn’t help but notice the offerings of shirting gingham in the Etsy shop where I was making purchases.  Of course, I ordered two pieces.  (Why wouldn’t I?!)  One piece in lavender has been tugging at me and I knew it would be next to make after finishing my purple boucle coat.

What I did not realize when I purchased this fabric is that it is a printed, rather than woven, gingham. However, the quality is lovely and silky soft.

In the meantime, I came across this spread in the April (2018) issue of Harper’s Bazaar:

There in the lower left hand corner is – yes – a lavender gingham blouse.

Now at this point in my life, I do not sew to save money, although I am always happy to have that as an added bonus.  But in this instance, once I looked at the listed price of that blouse ($375!!!) I felt quite pleased with myself, knowing I could make this  knock-off, for well less than 10% of the cost of that shirt:

The feature I really liked about the “$375 blouse” was the spread collar.  A spread collar, of course, has a wide division between the points in front, as opposed to longer pointed ends.  I determined to alter my pattern to make my shirt look like the one in the magazine.

I used a Simplicity pattern from 1972, which somehow survived all my now-regrettable purges of sewing patterns over the last 40-some years.  I had to make several alterations to it in addition to the shape of the collar, but its basic lines – with a yoked back, single button cuffs, slightly fitted body, and a long shirttail – lent itself to my vision.

The pattern art here is so dated! I actually used this pattern once before for a silk blouse.

To me, buttons are always an important component of any style requiring them.  I went through my button collection to see what I could find, knowing that what I really wanted would be simple mother-of-pearl, two-hole buttons.  When I came across this card of “Lucky Day” buttons, I knew they would be perfect.

These buttons date from the 1940s!

These 2/3″ buttons are in good proportion to the 1/4″ gingham.

What is it about gingham that makes it so fresh and happy – and timeless, as the tag line in Harper’s Bazaar, states?

I added an inverted pleat to the center back below the yoke. I may eliminate that the next time I make this pattern.

Because the fabric is a printed gingham, when I roll up the sleeves, as I am wont to do, the reverse white of the fabric shows. This doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it might.

Well, I am quite certain my “Gingham Style” looks just as good as the much more expensive “Gingham Style” detailed above.  All the more reason to wear it with pearls!

 

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Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Uncategorized, vintage buttons

A Three Piece Outfit for the Holidays, Part 3: The Sash

The sash started it all. After finishing this silk taffeta coat last year, I was left with about 1 and ½ yards of that luscious coral fabric.

I just could not stand the thought of having that yardage sitting in my fabric closet, unused, as I found it so delightful to sew and to wear. That is when I got the idea to combine this fabric with the Guipure lace, also sharing space in that closet of wonders. However, my first thought was to make a blouse from the fabric and also use it as the fashion fabric for a lace skirt, knowing I would need at least one more yard to accomplish this plan. I contacted Britex Fabrics, from whence the fabric came, and to my dismay, they were sold out, with no more available to special order. Undeterred, I then came up with the idea of coordinating fabrics for the blouse and skirt, and using the coral silk to tie it all together. After receiving swatches of several silks from Britex, I settled on the bronzy brown and the apricot colored fabrics for the skirt and blouse, respectively.

A sash should really be straightforward, right? Well, yes; however, I thought it would be good if the sash had a slight curve to it to follow the curvature over the upper hip. That’s when I went to my closet and pulled out a silk sash that I purchased from J. Crew years ago. I had remembered correctly that it had a slight curve to it:

I often think of the tip in the book 101 Things I Learned in Fashion School, page 86: “When in doubt, look in your closet.” Looking at something that is “Ready to Wear” will often help you with construction methods or design ideas.

The J. Crew sash is 72 inches long. A trial tying of the bow proved to me that I needed to add more length to the sash if I wanted to tie a full bow at the waist, which was my intent. I determined that adding 12 inches would do the trick. Then I used that sash as a template to make a pattern, not quite knowing how sewing that long, slow curve was going to work (the sash has one long seam on the concave side of the curve, meaning that some give would need to be worked into that seam.) As it turned out, ironing was the trick to get it to behave correctly, as is so often the case!

84″ proved to be the perfect length to tie a complete bow.

I had to piece the sash in the center back, but I knew that ahead of time and it really does not bother me.

After trying on this completed outfit for the photos, I know that I need to somehow tighten up the interior waist of the skirt (you many recall from my last post, that I added what turned out to be unnecessary width to the circumference of the waist.) My blouse is not going to stay tucked in if I don’t, and the skirt feels like it is drooping on me. I am going to try adding interior waist elastic to straddle the side seams and see if that might do the trick. I am not about to take the skirt apart and remake it! And the sash should help conceal any bobbles in the waistline.

The “concealed zipper.”

It was cold and blustery when I took these photos! I could not wait to get back inside for a cup of hot tea!

Sewing for the holidays is such an anticipatory activity, and one that I love to do. There is already a festive feeling in the air here in late November, and so much more to sew…

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Filed under Blouses, Bows as design feature, Fashion commentary, Lace, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized

A Three-Piece Outfit for the Holidays: Part One, The Blouse

“Today blouses are not worn quite as much as they used to be and I think it is a pity.” So said Christian Dior in 1954. With that in mind, hopefully he would have approved of this Vogue blouse pattern from 1958:

You have already seen my toile of this blouse, where I worked out all the “kinks.” I liked it made up in muslin and now I am quite thrilled with it made up in silk dupioni, purchased from Britex Fabrics.

The iridescent quality of silk dupioni woven with two contrasting colors, such as this one, makes it an excellent fabric to use for “fancy” attire. The only reservation I had was whether it would be too stiff for use in a blouse. It is by nature rather “papery” in composition. I was a little concerned it might not have enough drapeability for this blouse, where a major focus is on the softly pleated sleeves. I did a little research, and of course, the first guideline I found was an admonishment not to wash dupioni! Doing so would diminish that papery nature. Well, that was exactly what I wanted to do – soften it a bit. Further research led me to an article in Threads Magazine from a few years back, where, indeed, a reader had successfully washed dupioni in her quest to make it suppler. Off to my washing machine I went with a large swatch for a (successful) trial run. Soon the entire two yards were gently swashing around in cold water on the delicate cycle. It took quite a bit of heavy steam to wrestle out the wrinkles, but I was left with a soft, drapeable fabric for my blouse.

Quite apparent in this image are the two contrasting threads, one fuchsia and the other bright yellow, which, woven together made a shimmery apricot color.

Buttons for a blouse such as this one are an important element. I knew they needed to be special, and what could be more special than vintage glass buttons from France? I found these listed in an Etsy store (YumYum Objects).

These glass buttons have silver accents, adding just a bit more depth to their appearance.

The listing was for a set of 6, and I needed 8 for this blouse. The French cuffs required two buttons each. These buttons were too perfect to pass up, however, so I decided I could use two buttons of another style for the rear-facing part of the cuff. I found a set of little, clear glass, ball buttons in my button box, which seemed appropriate and a good compromise!

The ball button on the back.

For some reason I always like to make sleeves first, so that is what I did. The French cuffs, by their very nature, of course, call for two buttonholes with two buttons looped together to thread through those openings, one on each side. However, I placed a buttonhole on the front part of the cuff only. I then sewed the two buttons together, back to back through the back part of the cuff, with the fancy button meant to thread through that single buttonhole and the other button to be stationary. I liked the idea that this method would hold the two sides of the cuff more tightly together.

The fancy glass button on the front.

This view shows the three pleats in the sleeve. In addition, there is a small amount of gathering which adds to the blouson effect of the lower sleeve.

Being a pattern from 1958, the instructions called for bound buttonholes, of course. However, due to the nature of the fabric, I decided machine buttonholes would make a nicer finish, so that is what I did (with a little hand-finishing on each one…)

The rest of the blouse was quite straightforward.

I took this picture with the sun streaming in one of my sewing room windows. It really shows the luminosity of the fabric.

I am so happy I decided to keep the released darts at the waistline. I think they will work beautifully with the skirt I have planned.

I gave my usual attention to hand-finishing the hem and facings (it just looks nicer!) and marveled again at the finesse added to this notched shawl collar by that small dart in the collar crease. Hopefully you can see this detail here:

That dart makes the collar turn beautifully.

Next up is a guipure lace skirt! I wonder what Christian Dior would have to say about that?

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, sewing in silk, silk, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Prepping for the Next Project

Sewing is a little bit like house painting in that successful end results are often dependent upon good prep work. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be making a muslin (toile), tedious as it sometimes is, than sanding, spackling, and cleaning walls or woodwork. And sometimes, a pattern reveals unknown charms as its toile comes to life.

Such has certainly been the case with my next project, a three-part ensemble, the first of which is a blouse, to be made out of lightweight and shimmery silk dupioni. This is to be a dressy blouse in which I want to emphasize the fabric and some amazing French buttons I found for it. Because I love a notched collar which can be raised up at the back of the neck and frame the neck and face in the front, I looked for a pattern which had that feature, but also some feminine sleeves. Among the possibilities in my pattern collection was this Vogue pattern from 1958.

Of course, View A is my version of choice.

After studying the pattern pieces, I determined it had just about everything I was looking for, even though the pattern art doesn’t make this look like a particularly fancy blouse.

The back of the pattern envelope often gives important information, such as placement of darts. This one also told me that the collar has a center back seam, which is a stylistic detail I like.

I was especially intrigued by the small diagonal darts you can see here on the “blouse front” and “collar and interfacing” diagrams. The instructions were to graduate the dart down from 1/8 of an inch at the center point to nothing at both ends. I discovered that little bit of shaping makes a huge difference in the way the collar turns, allowing it to emphasize the neckline.

Click on the image for enlargement.

I show the collar flat here, but I intend to wear it with the back of the neck standing up.

The sleeve pattern called for three tucks (also visible above on the pattern diagram) as well as gathering at the cuff, which I knew would add a gentle feminine silhouette, especially in dupioni. And the cuffs are French cuffs, but very petite ones, with a small angled turn-back, which is just such a lovely feature. The only thing I could not determine was if the sleeves were too short for my “vision.” Of course, that is what muslins/toiles are for, and indeed, the first sleeve was too short. I added a three-inch extension to the next sleeve, knowing I could always take it up. I finally settled on lengthening the pattern by 1.5 inches.

Here is the blouse with the original sleeve on the right (as you are looking at it, actually the left side of the blouse), and the sleeve with an extension of 1.5 inches opposite.

I believe the longer sleeve looks less like 1958 and more like 2017. I love using vintage patterns, but I don’t want to look vintage!

The toile also told me that the top button needed to be lowered, and I needed to add a bit of width around the hips. I originally thought I might not want to use the released darts at the waistline, but I love the effect they make.

It’s not often that I stand back and admire a muslin, with its loose threads, its uncut seam allowances and lumpy corners. I am usually anxious to tear it apart so I can quickly proceed to use its pieces for my working pattern. Of course, I will be doing that, but until then, I will marvel at all the design secrets it has revealed to me in its humble cloth.

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Pattern Art, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s