Just as you fold and manipulate flat, one-dimensional paper to create something magical and 3-D in the practice of origami, so too does the same thing happen with sewing. You start with flat panels of fabric and fold, tack, and manipulate it into something that forms to envelope the body in the most fantastic way.
I know I’ve mentioned this opinion before, but this blouse’s post deserves to have it stated again – 1950s blouses really do have the most intriguing and unique details. This top, with its mitered cornered collar that reminds me of origami folds, I saw as having a strong Japanese influence which I stressed by using a print for the placket which has bright and beautiful hand fans. After all, it already had kimono-style sleeves (as they are called in fashion terms) and pleated bust darts which radiate from the neckline much like the “Rising Sun” flag. All of that symbolism together into one scrap-busting project and now I have one lovely blouse that is both a wonderfully dressy-casual wardrobe addition as well as being an opportunity to learn more about another culture!
FABRIC: a solid burgundy red Kona cotton together with a fan printed quilting cotton
PATTERN: Butterick #6567, from the Summer of 1953
NOTIONS: All I needed was thread, some interfacing scraps, bias tape, and buttons (which were leftover from the buttons I used at the neckline of this movie inspired dress from the year before)
THE INSIDES: all cleanly bias bound on the side seams with French seams for the shoulders
TOTAL COST: Well, the solid Kona cotton was leftover from making this dress awhile back now, and the printed placket material was a discounted ½ yard remnant…so I can estimate that this blouse is under $5. Pretty awesome!
As lovely as this turned out – if I do say so myself – what I am most proud of is the fact that this used up scraps. Yes…a garment from seemingly worthless remnants can go towards something amazing and wearable! I save pretty much everything that is leftover from all my projects, yet I do not count myself as a hoarder because I really do use that stuff up, as this proves so clearly! The solid Kona was only about ¾ of a yard, and the placket was (as I said) a quilter’s fat quarter, but by turning the blouse pieces oppositely to mirror each other, and by piecing the placket strips together (you’d never guess, would you?) I made my idea work. Blouses and tops with cut-on sleeves are so awesome for fitting in the smallest cuts of fabric.
Now, I can actually back myself up, historically speaking, with using the fan print for this 50’s blouse. It was originally chosen to make both the most of a scrap and to explore understanding a culture other than mine. (I have made a few Chinese inspired garments – here and here – so it was time to dive into Japan!) However, I have found fan prints in some extant vintage 1950s garments, the best example being this dress sold on Etsy. Interest in the Asian culture through fashion was extremely popular in the 1950s but unfortunately the decade was not differentiating between the nations nor appropriating appropriately. Hopefully this blouse does a better job at that!
The collar area called for slow, exact sewing and my favorite, under-used technique…mitered corners! I was worried that between piecing the placket and interfacing it, the neckline would be too stiff compared to the soft Kona cotton but I think that is the point. The stiff, stand-up collar is like a portrait frame for the face…I am fascinated with its unusualness and love the way the look of it changes at every manner it lays – open, buttoned, or folded back. The envelope back description calls this collar style “…the newest cardigan look” “inspired (by) Paris”. Hummm, I never heard of this, and sadly have not found any research info about it. Neither does it exactly look like a sweater cardigan, and I do have a small collection of vintage 50’s ones to compare. However, there is a more famous designer, or at least famous novelty blouse I should say, that does have the exact same collar with the mitered origami one of this post. I’m talking about Hollywood designer Edith Head’s “Birds and the Bees” blouse offered through Dial brand soap in 1956. This is 3 years after my blouse’s pattern date with no name listed for the collar style. There is a new fashion terminology mystery here yet to explore and understand.
After it was finished, I was worried that my stash busting Japanese-inspired blouse would not match with anything. However, I just need to wear bottoms with color – like my purple 40’s trousers (posted about here), my pink skinny pants (posted here), or a pink linen short A-line skirt (an old RTW item), or even some dark denims. Usually I’m very conscious about my ideas for separates, making sure they actually are versatile and will pair with what I already have. What’s the use of fulfilling an idea if it never is worn and enjoyed? I disregarded thinking about that this time, and got lucky.
We took our pictures at our local Botanical Gardens’ Japanese Garden. They have the most peaceful combed rock beds, and artful bonsai. Bonsai, the artistic cultivation of small trees, is another one of the many wonderful traditions of Japan, but hand fans are much older to the culture. Did you know that the folding fan was invented in Japan, with the earliest visual depiction date from the 6th century? The Japanese believe that the top of the handle of the fan symbolizes the beginning of life and the ribs stand for the roads of life going out in all directions to bring good fortune and happiness. Where would women’s history be without such a beautiful and practically useful invention!?
As the hand fan had eventually been universally adopted, many forget to think of the country of its origin. The tradition of origami is so much more understood to be Japanese. However, no matter what culture you are, it is still so universally enjoyed. I think the art of paper folding is so special because it’s great to help people who don’t sew understand the art of creating with fabric and thread. There is a form of fashion drafting that is called origami for a fantastic crossover, only it is one of the most challenging sewing imaginable (in my opinion). Check out the origami sleeves on this Badgley Mischka dress! However, it was Issey Miyake was one of the first designers to explore how origami could influence design. The Spring 2009 collection by designer André Lima was also directly inspired by origami. Art and garment design, form and functionality finds Zen through origami.