A Blouse to Match with My Grandmother’s Jumper

Grandma Emma May, late 1940s

One of the many tough things about 2021 was losing the last grandparent I had left.  Now I am an orphaned granddaughter, as I see it.  My maternal Grandmother passed away last spring.  Despite the heartache, I have been blessed by having the family pass down to me a handful of items that were left from her belongings, particularly her vintage clothing.  The several items from her post WWII wedding period and before are too incredibly tiny for me to wear (22” waist) and will be preserved as family heirlooms.  They will also be the basis for me to recreate them from scratch in my size, but that’s for a future project.  However, I was also given my maternal Grandmother’s 1950s woolen tweed jumper which that does just fit me.  Of course I had the perfect matching fabric on hand that was just pleading to be sewn into a blouse to match!  I am proud to dress like my Grandma! 

Let me point out that while the only me-made part of this post will be my bow-neck blouse, my Grandmother’s woolen jumper is also handmade…by her!  She had worked for many years at a major North American department store nearby (no longer around) but shopping there, nevertheless, was reserved for Easter, Christmas, and a special occasion.  All else was sewn at home by her, and by my mom and her sisters as they got old enough.  Funny enough, I was also bestowed her sewing machine, the “newest” one she bought when my mom was older so she could have the zig-zag stitch – but that is a story in itself which I will not dive into here. 

I’ve always heard that my two Grandmothers were very proficient, capable seamstresses and I have seen proof of that with my dad’s mom, but now I have seen it firsthand for my mom’s mom.  This jumper is very well made with a Bamberg rayon lining, perfectly matching thread for the seams, a hand-stitched hem covered on the inside in rayon tape, and overall finished in every way the same as I would aspire to do.  It makes me want to cry.  I guess sewing truly runs in my blood but to find exactly how alike this affinity is with my Grandmother after all these years of not knowing…I’m at a loss for words for this but it is something very special to discover. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  1 ½ yards of a dated 80’s polyester satin

PATTERN:  Simplicity #9559, from the year 1980

NOTIONS NEEDED:  nothing but lots of thread, a handful of buttons, and some interfacing scraps

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I whipped this blouse up in about 10 hours, and finished on May 21, 2021

THE INSIDES:  Pristine in clean French seaming with hem tape along the bottom edge

TOTAL COST:  The material was a remnant from a rummage sale bin that I paid a few dollars for, so this is as good as free.  The buttons came from the notions stash of my husband’s Grandmother.

Grandma Emma May would have been in her early 30’s when she made this jumper, based on how the design lines are so very similar to this 1956 pattern which I have sewn from already.  My chosen blouse pattern matches with the era of the dated fabric I chose for it – 1980s – but the style is very classic and aligns perfectly with the popularity of sweet collars in the 1950s and 1960s.  Polka dots never go out of style, but this blouse – being in a gaudy 80’s satin – has a polka dotted shine woven in for double the texture, double the print!  Too bad someone has to get into my personal space bubble to actually notice such a detail on me in person.  Sometimes the best details are for my special enjoyment only, much like my favorite technique of French seam finishing to the edges inside.

The bow neckline may look simple here and the envelope cover plainly basic but the finished garment is subtly crafted to be an elevated tweak on the style.  The trick here is how the tie neckline is not a straight cut piece, but a tailored, curvy one which is cut on the bias and left free of interfacing.  This concoction makes it hang so nicely, effortlessly, smoothly against the body, and tie so softly.  I would love Simplicity #9559 for this reason alone, but it also happens to fit me precisely and was easy to make.  I will definitely be coming back to sew another iteration.  Of all the tie necklined garments I have sewn, I think this one may be my favorite.  It is right up there next to this 1946 black crepe tie neck blouse, which I just posted earlier this month.  The width of the ties, the open but still conservative neckline, as well as the practical seaming in to main body is what wins me over.  If you find this pattern online to buy, do pick it up for yourself.  It is super cheap everywhere I see it for sale, but that is only because it is a hidden gem.

My sleeves have a deep hem so that I have the option of wearing them like a longer short style or roll them up to a cuff, as the pattern intended.  I have not tacked the cuffs down because I like the versatility to decide to change up the look.  The blouse’s overall length turned out rather long, which is fine because it blouses out whenever I wear it tucked in a skirt so the generous length is helpful to keep this silky blouse tucked in.  The silkiness of the polyester is much more appreciated than normally – Grandma’s jumper is quite itchy and the smoother the layers underneath means the raw wool might not work its way to tickling my skin!

The case for the historical accuracy of 22” center back zippers is again put to rest her with my Grandmother’s jumper.  It has a long metal zip down the back for ease of dressing.  My Grandmother was a practical and sensible woman, and seeing this feature makes me laugh because it is totally her.  As they are not commonly seen, though, so I am supposing that 22” metal zippers must have been a bit more expensive than the ‘normal’ side zip.  Grandma was super sensible with money especially, but I could see her justifying the purchase because of the ease a center back zipper offered.  She was a busy working mom with a handful of girls to take care of – Grandpa was a busy man himself at that time with two jobs. 

Anyways, to get back on topic, I have talked about the issue of the long, full length vintage center back zipper in old (primarily 1940s and 50’s) dresses, jumpers, and house frocks in this post.  Agent Carter’s trademark red and navy blue dress from Season one of the television show was true vintage and it had a center back zipper, as does this blue late 40’s vintage dress in my wardrobe.  I cannot vouch for the Agent Carter dress, but my vintage blue late 40’s dress has all the features of being handmade, just the same as Grandma’s jumper.  If anyone has seen a center back zipper on a vintage garment as well, come join with me in this discussion and let’s de-bunk a popular myth of old clothes only having those difficult side zippers!

The rest of my Grandmother’s clothes are so fancy, they would not have been as wearable as this jumper even if they did fit me.  They include her velvet wedding dress from 1947, what we surmise to be her bridesmaid’s dress from her brother’s wedding the year after, and some sort of fancy late 1930s or early 1940s fancy semi-sheer silk dress from when she was an older teenager. See picture below. 

The best part about Grandma’s collared peach moiré bridesmaid’s dress is that she must have used the same pattern as was used for the bridesmaid’s dresses for her own wedding – it’s the same style.  For further proof that my Grandmother is ever the practical one, as I said above, there were two different sleeves which she made and kept with the dress, which is sleeveless.  There were long, full length gloves to mimic long sleeves and short sleeves ready to fit into the dress, both made of the same moiré fabric!  I am happy have recently found a late 1940 Advance brand sewing pattern which will be perfect to help me sew my own copy of this dress, as I mentioned above. 

The silk dress from her teen years is so amazing in quality and details, as is her wedding dress, that they deserve their own post, so I will only add here that they also seem to be handmade.  They were probably by Grandma Emma May herself, since her mom – my Slovak Great Grandma we called “Baba” who happily was alive until I was 10 – enjoyed more cooking, quilting, and artistic ventures than complex apparel sewing.  (I know this from the many visits and good meals she offered us at her house.)  To have one’s family stories be able to be recounted through the lens of just a few inheritance garments places of whole level of gravity upon something as basic as clothing. 

I’m sorry (but not really sorry) if these family tales make this post a bit uninteresting or at least confusing to be such a different approach than my ‘normal’ bog offerings.  However, it does me good to write about such things – it helps me remember, is therapeutic to share, and hopefully helps you connect with your own past as well as with me.  Do you also happen to have any family stories which are tied up with a garment which has been passed down to you?  What are your best tips for preserving a velvet wedding gown that has been turning an ivory-toned brown?  Is there anyone else you know who has had the opportunity to personally experience their older generations like a Great Grandparent, or even a Grandparent, or am I that much of a rarity?  Drop me a comment, and let’s talk about Grandmas and old clothes, please! 

Diving into Swimwear!

It’s a good thing I whiz through my sewing projects as quickly as my blog’s name references.  There is so much I want to find time for!  There is still so much to create which I haven’t yet done before!  One of those seemingly “holy grail” items to attempt to sew has long been swimwear.  This year, certain occasions called for me to have a swimsuit that I felt completely comfortable wearing and has all the features I wanted.  Nothing I have found to buy seems to ‘suit’ me 100% – if it does, it is at a price that the cheapskate in me balks over.  As I have sewing patterns for swimwear already on hand in my stash, I realized it was time to pull out my bravery to try out something new.  It was time to check off another box in my list of achievements.  Now I can announce a successful achievement in handmade swimwear that I absolutely enjoy.  You truly never know what you can do until you try!

If you notice, my theme for this month has been both local pride as well as water related, so a swimsuit is the perfect way to end it.  Our pictures for this post were taken along the banks of the Big River in Missouri to visit my sister-in-law and for our son to have his first float trip.  However, my new swimsuit is very on point right now with the Olympics having started a week ago!  Also, the athletic wear of the 80’s is in focus right now and coming back in popularity with the new Apple TV+ drama series “Physical” about the rise of aerobics to counter the body anxiety of the times. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  one yard of a high density, lightweight, super stretchy, active knit polyester/spandex/lycra for both the print and the nude ‘bra’ lining with scraps on hand of a black scuba knit for the contrast.  The hibiscus print is called “Aloha Stripe” from Stylish Fabrics in Los Angeles, California.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #4301, year 1988, from my stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  4 yards of elastic, lots of thread, and a pair of molded bra cups

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished in 4 or 5 hours on the afternoon of July 2, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  clean! More on this later on in the post

TOTAL COST:  I spent only $15 on all the supplies!

This pattern was labeled as “The Creative Tank” by the prestigious Palmer & Pletsch instructional institute.  True to the 80’s era, this is can be a tank (for exercising and the like) or a swimsuit…it is whatever or however you want to make and wear it!  This may be a one-piece, yet there is complex but smart engineering to its construction.  True to Palmer & Pletsch, thankfully, the thorough and easy-to-understand instructions helped making this suit become palatable.  The stitching and finishing techniques are catered to serging (overlocking) but show three other ways to sew this, which was helpful as I only have vintage machines to use.  Every point to the suit design is adjustable to cater this to your taste and body type, and the instructions tell you just how and where to do those.  There are two options for leg openings (I chose the low cut), there are different strap stitching marks according to your torso height, and many bust and cup size options.  Together with the three different style views, this pattern has everything going for it and I couldn’t have picked a better one to help me make my very first swimsuit.

This pattern’s main selling point for me was the options and helpful assistance, for sure, but I absolutely loved the low dipped, fully open back as well as the bold 80’s color-blocking opportunity of the pattern.  I had some scraps I wanted to use as well, so I went with an adapted means to end up with view C.  First off, at the pattern stage, I raised the front dip of the neckline by 1 ½ inches and widened the back panty lines so as to have more booty cheek coverage.  All else is pretty much unchanged from the pattern lines…almost.  I disliked the idea of the bottom solid panty portion being its own separate piece, stitched to the rest of the suit’s body as a panel.  I do not yet trust my swimwear sewing skills enough to know for sure that such a seam will be strong and hold together for me, especially with that tricky center front angled point to manage.  So I cut out a full one piece suit (view A) and applied the bottom panty portion on top of the suit and top stitched it down.  This way the crouch portion has an extra layer of opacity and support since I was not going to add an inner panty.  Also, I didn’t have to stress out over whether or not my suit would separate on me into a two piece.

As one yard (at 60” width) was double the amount of fabric that I really needed for this suit pattern, I doubled up on the white striped print for the body.  This knit was super sheer, and getting it wet exasperates the issue…duh, it’s white.  The nude colored lining I chose for the bust area was very sheer on its own as well.  I figured stripes under more stripes will add a bit of confusion to the print, enough to cover any remaining sheerness of the fabric.  I put the two layers of striped fabric body cuts wrong sides together, right sides out, after the side and crotch seams were stitched.  I end up with two perfectly clean and mirrored sides to the body of my suit.  This was something not in the instructions, merely something I improvised so that there would be no raw edges to be seen inside.  Anyone who knows me or has followed me through this blog knows I am a stickler for a professional, clean finish.  In my defense, I was merely guessing that raw edges might be a bit uncomfortable to feel against the skin in this project, and so justified going the extra mile.  I’m so happy that I did.  RTW swimsuits that I’ve seen are not this nice.

As I alluded to already, there is an inner shelf bra to help shape and support this swimsuit.  I had to pinch in the bottom hem of the shelf bra because it ended up being too loose to do any supportive action, but that was accomplished with 3 tucks done next to the side seams and at the center front.  I also added molded foam cups.  As the swimsuit has completely different ‘finished’ measurements when it’s off of my body versus when it’s on being worn, I couldn’t justify tacking the sides of the cups down 100% along the edges to the shelf bra.  It was very frustrating and near impossible enough as it was to try and figure out where they needed to be placed evenly as it was.  I mostly did this job when the suit was on me, but ended up poking myself too many times and bleeding onto my new creation.  Luckily, swim knit polyester is hard to stain!  I merely tacked the edges down of each cup in a handful of strategic edge corners.  The shelf bra, once I got it to fit, does the rest of the job that my “almost floating” bra cups do. 

Yes, I am wearing my Captain America themed necklace – it was Independence Day!

Even still, the trickiest part of sewing this whole suit was definitely doing the elastics on the edges.  It wasn’t *hard* to do (yes, really) because I’ve done it before and understood the concept of stretching the elastic out to match with the fabric’s excess, and stitching it down while pulling the fabric taut.  The instructions also showed me how to do it with a zig-zag stitch very effectively, too, because swimwear finishing is NOT the same as sewing lingerie.  The main challenge was matching up to the suit all the separate points along the elastic cuts and dealing with completely differing amounts of ‘gathering’ and stretching.  It was both tiresome and very tricky to accomplish correctly.  For example, the leg opening from the hips down to the back crotch had a tighter “gather” in than the front which was about equal in length with the fabric.  This way the suit stays pulled in over the booty.  I luckily did remember to add or subtract all the inches I added or took out of the suit to the total length measurements of each cut of elastic.  Yay for me!  It was very hard to remember to do one more adjustment along the way.  There was a lot to remember sewing this thing together, and I was scared to whole time it would fail. 

At a family member’s pool here in this picture!

Even still, sure I didn’t get certain portions of the edge finishing just “perfect”.  This is still such a triumph of a sewing project anyways that I am saying “well enough” is good enough.  The seams don’t bubble, the finishing looks as good as RTW suits, and I feel it is sturdier than a bought suit.  It is also very comfortable.  It completely moves with my every move to the point that I forget I have it on.  This baby is solid.  Even with the entirely open back, the suit stays put where it should in all sorts of water fun or exercise…I’ve already tested it!  My swimsuit sewing success is sweeter than a summertime iced tea.

All this being said, I am generally uncomfortable to post this of myself in a swimsuit.  I am unsettled at being so “seen”.  I also am not in optimum shape right now.  So go easy on me, please.  This handmade suit though feels so right for me and I am so proud of this project, nevertheless, so I can’t help but share!  I had to be out where I love being in nature, near the water, in my favorite season of summer for me to be at ease enough to have these pictures taken in the first place.  I find that there is dual physical and physiological well-being in wearing anything I make for myself.  Thus, I hoped by making my own swimsuit that sense would extend into even a garment normally uncomfortable for me to wear.  I was not wrong!

Making your own swimwear is now something I can definitely recommend for anyone to try.  First make sure you are comfortable sewing with knit fabrics, however, but please do give it a go…especially if you can find yourself a copy of the same pattern I used.  You do not need much fabric – about ½ yard – (which means spending is a minimum) to end up with a big reward.  I completely understand why the nicest suits are so expensive though, now after making one.  They are challenging!  However, the risk is worth the possibility of the reward of a custom made swimsuit that can make you feel like a million dollars.  This suit is only the first in a new obsession of things I suddenly love to sew.  I have already made a 1960’s hot two-piece set, and have plans for about three more, including a golden 1950’s suit.  I need a pool membership at this rate, right?!