The great thing about America (allow me to brag about my homeland), is that we are a country of diverse peoples, with equally diverse nationalities, who can celebrate that individuality freely. A past head of state, President Reagan, once said “…our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”
This weekend (May 5th, actually) marks the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, and I have made a 1945 wrap-on blouse to wear for the occasion. The 1940’s had a fascination for Mexico (due in part to the Good Neighbor policy), often using stereotypical prints on blouses, aprons, and skirts. Here, my blouse only quietly nods to Mexican culture through colors and decorative rick-rack. Every year, I see tasteless Cinco de Mayo pictures, store sales, and meals that have no intention of being respectful and it angers me. I like to have the opportunity to learn more about different cultures, their history, their traditions, their clothing, and celebrate with them the right way. If I can do all of that by sewing a vintage pattern, then I have succeed in my aim.
In case you were wondering, my blouse becomes an outfit thanks to a 1980s-does-1940s skirt, my Grandma’s vintage earrings, and modern 40’s style Worishofer wedge sandals.
FABRIC: basic 100% cotton
PATTERN: Simplicity 1412, year 1945
NOTIONS: I had on hand all the thread, bias tape, and ¼ inch elastic scraps that I needed to make this blouse. The neckline’s baby rick rack half vintage – the green is a recent Jo Ann’s Fabric store find while the red is a slightly smaller width and is true vintage. My back closure ball button is also vintage from my Grandma.
TIME TO COMPLETE: This was completed on May 5, 2017, after spending maybe 5 hours in total.
This blouse was a fun, simple, and different little project that came together quite well. It is seriously so awesome, easy, comfy and cute that I think every one of you vintage and non-vintage gals would love this. I’m even considering somehow coming up with a PDF of my pattern to share on my blog at some point, because I know I now feel an unrealistic ‘need’ for about half a dozen of these wrap-and-go blouses in my wardrobe. I do not think this blouse looks like an obvious wrap-on top. I also think it fits remarkably well for as basic and squared off that the garment looks on a hangar. This basic design was apparently in a year 1945 LIFE magazine article on easy wrapped clothing to sew, and obviously (and smartly) Simplicity pattern company jumped on board. At first you might question whether a pattern for something so simple is necessary, I know I did! However, Simplicity #1412, not only has killer accessories to boot, but the top does has lovely bust darts, a curve in the back half of the wrap, and shaped shoulder seams. It might look like a square, but I believe those subtle added shaping details add so much more to the success of such a top than a basic drafted square ever could.
My pattern is a medium, which turns out is the perfect size for me. This fitting designation is unique. Usually vintage patterns tend to go by numbers for their sizing and not “small-medium-large”. According to this size rage chart for the medium I should have technically been fitting into a small. No – I think going up a size gave me enough extra wrap-around room without being too much. Having a wrap-on top makes fitting not as cut-and-dry as a ‘normal’ blouse!
There were a number of changes that I made to the blouse which greatly add to its finished success. Firstly, I doubled up on the layers to eliminate any see-through issues and the need for fiddly facings around the neck. In other words, I cut and sewed two tops – stitched only at the shoulder seams – then sewed them (right sides together) at the neckline, snipped, trimmed, and turned right sides out so as to top-stitch the neckline down. Then I reached underneath and sewed the outer sleeve edges from inside out so there would be no visible seams. Secondly, I cut the back tie on fold eliminating a vertical center seam. Thirdly, the back waist tie (which closes in the front) was supposed to be a single layer but I folded it in half and sewed it just like a casing to cover all the rest of the seams and make the waistband smaller for my shorter frame. In other words, it’s half the width the pattern planned it to be. Fourth, I lowered the high, almost choking-high neckline by 1 ½ inches. Fifth comes the most important adaptation of all – the ties which attach to the front panel. Not to blatantly pat myself on the back, but the way I made them makes this blouse truly work, so I will explain in detail.
The pattern calls for ties on either end of the turned under hem to the front bodice panel. With just these ties, the blouse cannot be worn by itself – the arm openings gape too much…I would’ve needed an extra tank or camisole top underneath. Besides, a regular tie would just be uncomfortable to get snug. So – my answer is two-fold. Six inches up from the bottom hem is another set of ties keeping the arm openings closing higher to cover my lingerie. Also, my blouse’s ties are skinny bias strings attached to a 3 inch remnant of ¼ inch elastic. The elastic end is sewn to the blouses’ side edge so when I tie the strings behind my back they have a very comfy ‘give’ that is not confining. This elastic especially comes in handy with the upper ties! I can stretch, and my blouse stays closed, but stretches with me. A plain old bias ties would not be this forgiving.
This is pretty much the first time I have blatantly used rick-rack for obvious decoration, and I do like it. Using baby rick-rack makes it delicate and understated to me, not something that is screaming homemade. Adding interest to a high and/or otherwise basic blouse seems to have been a common practice for the 40’s. There is a Witness2Fashion post on ”Simple, Glitzy Tops from the 1940s” and a third of the way down she shows McCall #1283, from 1946, a strikingly similar wrap-on blouse with a featured sequin neckline detail. Even my Grandma’s high school pictures (1944 to 1948) show her with several high necked, simple sleeved blouses similar to both this post’s blouse and Simplicity #1692 and they all have decoration at the neck such as fagoting and trim shown in the Witness2Fashion article. See? Apparently I have a little of my Grandma’s taste in me…
I know I am lacking one color of rick-rack for my neckline trim to be the colors of the Mexican flag, but I was going for tasteful, ascetically pleasing, and symbolical all at the same time. Some informational sites say that the red color was originally intended to represent unity with Europe. I’ve also read that the red represents the Spaniards that joined in the quest for Independence as well as the blood of the national heroes shed for Mexico’s liberty. The green stands for hope, independence, and nationalism. My cheery yellow top underneath pays homage to Mexico’s traditional culture of the sun – from the sun comes positive energy and life, and “Tonathiuh” is often given the highest honors in festivals and traditions. Yellow is also the color of corn or “maize”, not just a crop but a deep cultural symbol intrinsic to daily life and in ancient times revered as “what the gods had chosen to create to feed mankind”. Of course, on a practical sewing level, I was also inspired by this vintage Simplicity #4440, a circa 1942 apron pattern with its two-color rick-rack on yellow. However, researching the color meanings to my Mexicali top helps me better realize just some of what they are celebrating this weekend.
My title is named after one of my favorite classic “ranchero” western songs. “South of the Border, Down Mexico Way” from 1939 is a lovely song that I remember my dad singing “…manyana…” along to the refrain as he would listen to his recordings of WWII and pre-war tunes. No wonder it makes me happy and peaceful even though it is an intrinsically sad song. I had to have it as my title…it makes me think of all the best of what I picture Mexico to be, even though I haven’t been there.
I think I reached my goal of understanding Cinco de Mayo better this year than before thanks to making my blouse and typing this post. I will not bore you with all the related history I would love to share, and for now just hope I gave you enough inspiration and eye candy, with a little sharing of my research, to make your day.