Two Hour Blouse Refashions for Two Hour Skirts

     I love to pointedly integrate math into my sewing, as you may read time and again here on my blog.  Almost as much as that, I also love extending the enjoyable use of my existing wardrobe in a thrifty and renewable mindset.  This post combines both those approaches to my creativity into one post!  Here you get to also see what I wear when I am not in vintage fashion.  No matter what I am wearing, I make sure something to each outfit is me-made, to some degree, and refashioning the store-bought items left in my wardrobe helps me reach that goal!

     The math here is a combination of a whole lot of twos or fours, especially if you pair things together.  I am presenting a duo of refashions which became blouses that each only took me two hours to complete.  These two refashions were items in my wardrobe that I still loved enough to hold onto, yet they fit me far too snugly.  I sized them up by cutting out panels about 4 inches wide from off of the extended hems (one had originally been a dress and the other a tunic top).  Now they fit again, with a fresh new look to boot!  I like to pair them with two skirts that took me only two hours to sew when I made them twenty years ago…and 20 is a number that can be equally divided by fours or twos.  Had enough of my “mathing”?  Let me add in just one more point – the skirts are made of four of the same bias cut panel, making them super easy to cut and assemble!  Growing up, I would have never guessed I would end up enjoying math in such a practical manner, but I love to see how this post’s outfits are fun and comfortable extensions of me merging my style of today with fashions from my past.


FABRIC:  The one skirt is a polyester satin while the other is a quilting cotton.  Both tops are a cotton and poly blend.

PATTERN:  The blouses were a refashion and no pattern was needed to size them up.  The skirts used McCall’s #8796, a pattern from 1997.

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Mostly just thread, with ½“ elastic needed for the skirts’ waists

TIME TO COMPLETE:  As I said above, each blouse and each skirt was its own 2 hour project!  The blouse refashions were done just a few months back while I made the skirts in the early 2000 decade.

THE INSIDES:  Since I was still living at my parents’ house as a teenager at the time these skirts were made, I cleanly finished the seams with my mom’s Bernina overlocker (serger), even though they are both fully lined.  The blouse refashions of recently have my ‘faux overlocking’ – multiple layers of tight zig-zag stitching over the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  Refashioning something you have with only what is on hand makes this a zero cost project, especially since the skirts were made so very long ago…

     I always have such a weak spot for anything military inspired, as well as camouflage green.  (See this sweatshirt, my 1940s suit, this dress, and my map print blouse for a few posted examples of how much I love camo and military stye.)  This garment has both of my favorite things, besides offering amazing brass hardware for an adjustable sleeve length together with nice and roomy pockets!  However, it used to have even more pockets and be a different type of garment before now.  I bought it second-hand in the mid-2000s when it was a slim fitting shirtdress with metal buttons all the way down the front.  I’m guessing the origin date to be the late 90’s, and is a lovely, wrinkle-free gabardine twill that is thick but also a wonderfully comfortable fabric.  It has a “Made in Spain” label by a brand that I do not know because I cannot decipher the cursive.  (Please let me know if you can read the label!)  

Circa 2014, I had adapted the closing to be a zip front instead, to give me some room since it was a little snug.  I took off the buttons and then covered both the cuts in the fabric (left from removing the buttons) as well as the buttonholes with olive toned twill ribbon.  The applied ribbon ran vertically along each side of the zipper.  I gained 2 inches with this quick fix, yet still retained it as a dress for a while.  Now, however, my current hip width and the shoulders no longer fit into the dress, and the only fix I could think of was to change up it up more drastically to continue enjoying it.  Thus, this post is showing you the second refashion (and probably the final incarnation, too). 

     It has been many years since I’ve worn it as a dress.  I had worn this at a military reenactment to meet up with an old friend (who has since passed away).  The last time this dress was enjoyed was probably 2015 when I wore it to a small concert venue to watch a performance by one of my favorite bands, the “Plain White T’s”.  I got to shake Tom Higgenson’s hand that night!  I wanted to preserve those good memories this dress reminds me of but still also enjoy it, so I was ready to change up this garment’s use. 

     Firstly, though, I needed more fabric to add room.  Unzipping the front, the amount that gaped open to a comfortable fit told me how many inches I needed to add in. That number was then divided in half to be appropriated to each side seam.  The large cargo pockets (at thigh length) were taken off for the hem length to be sacrificed.  I added in rectangular panels (the length of the hem circumference) which stretched from the sleeve edge to new bottom hem edge.  This creates a sort of underarm gusset that stretches down into a side panel.  Each panel is four inches in width, and a ½“ seam allowance on each side means I cut two panels of 5 inches, thereby shortening the dress’ hem by ten whole inches.

This adaptation turns this into a jacket-blouse combo piece that I am already getting more use out of than I ever did when it was a dress.  This jacket-like blouse is even more military looking now, as well.  I left the fit roomy on purpose so I can add layers underneath if I want, as I did here.  I can always take the seams back in, but this is most likely my last chance to take it out. 

     I have previously shared other varieties of this tried-and-true skirt pattern (posted here, as well as here) but this version is by far my top favorite and most worn.  The print makes it look like a suiting tweed at first but it is a silky polyester, so it flows like water around me.  It is an unexpected anomaly of the appearance of texture not matching with what is really there.  I just love the color scheme – a mix of dark brown, tan, burgundy, and olive green – being so versatile.  It can be casual as worn here or dressed up with a blazer. 

I have gone into detail about the construction, assembly, and features of this skirt in the two previous posts mentioned in the links included above.  Thus, I will not be overly thorough here.  Suffice it to say that this is such a comfortable and versatile style which is elegant at the same time as giving me full range of movement.  Three different views offer a choice of fullness – this one is the fullest (view C) while the next version I highlight is the mid-flare (view B).  Cutting out is an hour or less and a great way to dive into a bias grain project.  If it wasn’t for the elastic waist, I might not even be still wearing these older me-made items anyways. 

See a fresh-faced younger Kelly wearing her mock tweed skirt at a Roman restaurant.

     Few of my handmade items carry so many special memories as this particular skirt.  I brought it with me on two trips, one of which was my trip to Rome, Italy in 2004 (when it was a newly made piece in my wardrobe).  The cleaning lady in our Roman hotel actually stopped me one morning to let me know in her limited English vocabulary how much she liked what I was wearing…little did she know it was handmade!  Yes, my me-made wardrobe made me look much nicer than the average American tourist, but I didn’t care.  This skirt has lived through a large chunk of my life with me, and I love that fact. I might be counterculture here, but I am so happy to still be enjoying something I sewed so long ago.  When I made this skirt, I never would have thought that I would have still be wearing this today.  Not relying on the whims and direction of fickle fast-fashion, I can focus on what my personal taste is and curate my own sense of style for a wardrobe that is an authentic representation of myself.  Being the creator of my own wardrobe can easily enable any immediate changes in my fashion taste but in this case also perpetuates the personal preferences that also do not change.       

     The second skirt to be featured here is different than the previous one in shape on account of the stiffer quilting cotton, even though both are of the same pattern.  It all goes to show how the choice and understanding of fabric makes all the difference in the world when planning a sewing project.  This skirt is flatlined so the polyester inside is more like a backing to the cotton exterior, so I end up with a flowing skirt nevertheless.  Again, this one is a mix of colors that makes it versatile and easy to match with.  It is a dark floral that works well for cold weather, so I am not completely at a loss for flowers in the winter.  Yet, there is nothing as appealing to me as some rich jewel tones, and so I prefer to pair up with the main color in the skirt with my refashioned blouse.

     I had worn this old store bought blouse a time or two to go out on dates with my husband when we first met, so it had memories, to be sure – mostly I just still appreciate all the tiny pintucks and insertion lace as being details I might not sew myself.  I love the bright fuchsia color, as evidenced by the fact I have sewn several other projects in a similar tone (such as this 1940s blouse and this Burda Style dress).  However, the high, underbust “waist” combined with the hip length tunic bodice has not been my favorite combo lately.  As the top became smaller in fit, I found I wasn’t willing to part with it either.  There were fabulous rows of tiny pintucks which ran parallel to the hemline, and so I was determined to save them as part of my re-sizing effort.  How to do that was the real mystery.  I had to wait for an idea to come to me, like a light bulb turning on in the dark. 

     One day, after another random try-on, I realized that the front fit me terrible only because the back bodice and back shoulder line were far too small on me.  If I merely added room across the back, the front should then fall into place properly.  It is hard to explain how I realized this, and it is indeed a very tricky thing to correctly read an ill fit.  It is something I learned from many experiments and thus much experience over the years.  In this case, the back shoulder line was pulling about two inches too far into my back away from my shoulder.  Two inches on each side meant that a center panel insert needed to be 4 inches when sewn in.  This calculated to being 6 inches wide as a cut piece, just to account for the lack of a seam allowance in the blouse body.  In order the get a straight piece that incorporates the pintucks yet is also wide enough for what I needed, I realized my top was going to be much shorter and end right at waist length.  I wasn’t sure about this at first, but there was no other option.  I ended up liking how the cropped look gives a fresh, fun, modern, a youthful look that is a welcome replacement for what the top looked like before (of which I didn’t take a picture of, wah). 

     This refashion has bestowed such vast improvement on the original, I only wish I had done it sooner.  With the pintucked hem panel becoming the center back panel, it looks natural and decorative and as if was always meant to be there.  I kept the elastic shirring that had been in the center back for extra ‘give’, and shortened the front button placket, thereby saving the extra buttons and sewing them to the inside side seam label, just like many ready-to-wear items.  The covered buttons pop apart every so often anyway over the course of wearing this, so I am glad to have replacements now.  This seems to be what the blouse was always meant to be.  I finally figured out how to make this mediocre store-bought piece be as uniquely fantastic on me as I always wanted it to be.

     Nothing went to waste with this refashion and every literal inch cut off went back on.  The little bit of extra pintuck panel that was leftover went towards making a modesty placket to the front button opening.  These kinds of panels are merely an inner flap of matching fabric that is sewn to or in with the left closure edge so there is no gape exposing skin, slip, or lingerie from the space between the buttons.  This lack of a modesty panel along the front buttons were just another feature to the original blouse that has always bothered me and I had just enough fabric left for this purpose that the situation seemed almost surreal. 

     Now that the front gaping is remedied – along with a fresh silhouette and better fit – I am so over the moon with this bright fuchsia blouse.  The first military-esque refashion has me equally ecstatic, though, and I do like this new version best, not just because I have put my mark on my ready-to-wear.  Both items have been redeemed, personalized, and saved from a landfill.  Both projects gave me a quick and satisfying mission to complete that also maximizes my wardrobe without adding more or spending a cent.  They feel like something new even though they’re technically not.  I invested less time in turning around something on hand already than it would take me to drive to a store and try on a million different things to find one item worth buying.  This refashion was certainly less time than if I had started sewing something comparable from scratch, as well. 

     Here I go parsimoniously calculating my time and money saved just the same as I exactly figure out my math numbers in my sewing!  It’s no wonder I felt like dancing instead when my husband was trying to take these blog pictures.  Sewing successes like this make me so happy…and happiness is not something that can be counted by numbers!

More Betsey Johnson Dresses!

This blog’s previous post featured my own version of a Betsey Johnson “Alley Cat” dress, made from one of her 1970s Butterick patterns.  In that post I frequently mentioned the details of my wardrobe’s existing Betsey Johnson dresses.  What I learned from having and wearing them helped me sew my own garment to be authentic to her brand’s style, quality, and size proportions.  I figured it might be fun for my readers to actually see these dresses!  So here is something different – a post not about something I made, but something I have bought pre-made that has inspired my sewing.  Her offerings have been one of the few non-me-made garments in my wardrobe that I find to be just as much a joy to wear as the things I make for myself.

This will be a picture heavy post because I need to show you the glorious details that make Betsey Johnson dresses so worthwhile.  After all, if her brand offers garments that I admire and hold up as sewing goals, then you know they have to be good, right!?  These pieces are from the 1990s or early 2000 decade, and are all in silk material finished with French seams inside.  They are something I bought later than the decade they originate from because I have learned that sometimes being an adult with your own hard-earned money can enable you to buy for yourself the things you never had (or were not allowed) when growing up! 

These dresses are so clearly “me” since they have definite vintage inspired vibes that come from details culled out of the 1940s and 30’s.  The shorter hem length and the tighter fit come from the teenage proportions of Betsey Johnson clothes but also are a clear reminder they are still a product of their times.  In the late 90’s, there began a subtle trend of reworking all the styles from the last 100 years of the 20th century…it’s as if the turning of time beyond the year 2000 was prompting a reminiscing.  Besides, the younger set then was rebelling against the general establishment and designer houses found themselves threatened by the desire for thrifty individuality that the Grunge movement brought about.  There was a renewal of interest in wearing and appreciating “vintage” clothing and it shows in all the older denim, worn flannel shirts, sweet floral prints, bias cut dresses, and plenteous use of silk that was popular for the times! 

Of course, all of this was right on par for Betsey Johnson, whose brand was inspired by fashions of the past.  When she was director of “Alley Cat” she went for remaking “frontier” fashions of the 1870s.  Under “Paraphernalia” Company she used velvet and lace inspired by a funky take on Victorian fashion.  Then, her own brand of “Betsey Johnson” offered a wildly creative, punk-influenced take on modern vintage fashion. 

When was the last time you tried jumping for joy?!

Her garments are not just things that I enjoy but also are something I would never think of to sew for myself…and it’s fantastic to find a ready-to-wear brand that can fill that gap.  Granted, at this point, I understand that these styles are almost vintage now in their own right because the 1990s was over 25 years ago!  Betsey Johnson’s take on the era is not the normal stereotype styles for the decade.  They appeal to my inner “old soul” in a way that still screams Betsey’s spirit of joy and confidence, even for today.  Finding a designer who offers clothes that can fill such a role for my taste is rare (picky as I am after solely sewing for myself for years).  I suppose the added appeal is that her clothes are more affordable than vintage pieces from other brands I admire, such as Yves Saint Laurent or Dolce & Gabbana, for example. 

The best Betsey Johnson dresses can be found second-hand, and some can be a small investment…but they are worth it!   Luckily, I’ve found my pieces as good deals.  Sorry, though – I don’t have an insider’s secret to finding them other than tell you to search the internet or ask at your local vintage shop and don’t be afraid to barter for the price.  Make sure you find a size bigger than what you normally wear in store bought clothes as her garments run small.  Always message a seller for measurements if they’re not provided, notice any condition flaws, and look for the silk content pieces…those are the ones that with higher quality details that were generally made in the USA. (Ah, I miss the 90’s when my country still had plentiful garment manufacturing!)  Betsey Johnson has a trend for having dedicated followers.  Those who seek after her offerings generally keep them, care for them, and wear them for many years…like me!  I’ve got you curious now and you come across one of her items up for sale that is too appealing to pass up, make sure to be ready for something fun and luxurious enough to find yourself wanting to hold onto it for a while!

Betsey had her heyday starting in the 1980s, with sales burgeoning and doing her famous cartwheel that ends in a split to close out every New York runway show.  However, after 2008 the brand was sorely in debt until fellow designer Steve Madden picked up rights to the name in 2010.  It’s no wonder that I was also a “Madden Girl” in 1990s as well…I still have his brand’s black leather heels from back then.  Betsey has since been downgraded to being an employee of her own brand.  Nevertheless, in a recent interview with the New Yorker (see it here), she spoke of considering getting out her sewing machine and bringing back her retro styles of the 90’s and 80’s.  Wouldn’t that be fantastic if that comes true?  Ms. Johnson is now 80 years old and I can only hope that I have as much interest and initiative for fashion as she does when I am her age.  Enough said – onto my dresses!

This one was my first acquisition.  It is probably the oldest one of the three I own, too.  I felt it was the perfect thing to wear standing next to my 90’s car!  The dress material alone makes it dreamy against the skin – the silk is such a buttery soft, slinky satin that feels absolutely luxurious. 

There are necktie-style fabric strips attached to the neckline, little cut-on sleeves, a front pleated skirt (which is bias cut for the back), and rows of shirring all the way down the center front bodice seam.  I love how everything about this dress is so fine, especially how the zipper tape edges are even finished off in dress fabric binding for a smooth finish inside.  There is rayon hem tape on the hem edge and it has been pick-stitched down.  This dress is unlined and in a size 4 which *just* fits me after all these years.  The giant lily print is bold but pretty, obnoxious but pleasing…the classic Betsey Johnson attitude!

My next feature is something I can see my favorite vintage fashion muse – Marvel’s Agent Carter – wearing if she got transported out of the 1940s to live in the 1990s.  (The concept of time travel has already messed with her pre-established story timeline, so I am just mentally running with what Marvel started!)  This dress is in Agent Carter’s favorite color of a deep burgundy, here in a silk crepe that is lined in acetate from the waist down.  It has a 1930s to 1940s appeal with details like the pleated puff sleeves, V-neckline, fabric covered buttons, pleated bodice, and flared multi-paneled skirt.  There is a smart little padded sleeve cap filler piece inside the shoulder top to help the sleeves stay puffed out. 

Even still, what immediately sold me on this dress was the neck detailing.  I do not see myself attempting anything like what this shoulder line has, so this particular dress is an especial admiration piece for me.  There is appliqué work applying the dress’ silk crepe onto soft, burgundy organza in a wavy floral design that runs over and around the shoulder panel.  It is semi-sheer in the most glorious way imaginable.  Then, in the front where the sheep paneling ends, there is a multitude of shirring rows to decoratively add bust fullness.  As if this whole neckline isn’t interesting enough, would you believe it’s every bit as cleanly finished inside as it is outside?  This is 100% sewing goals to inspire me! 

Finally, I have a Betsey Johnson little black dress that is anything but plain.  It is in a unique ribbon silk that has alternate sheer and opaque lines woven in as part of the material itself.  The dress was a great find just judging by only by the fabric’s quality.  However, this dress also directly appeals to my sewist’s perfectionism by having the ribbon silk be perfectly matching to miter together flawlessly at all four skirt seams, even while being cut across the grain on the bias…incredible!  Such seaming is such an understated detail and thoughtful quality so rarely seen in modern ready-to-wear.  Since this is fully lined in an attached black underdress, I conveniently need no slip and it hangs beautifully. 

The fabric may be the highlight to this dress but the bodice still has fantastic details.  The sleeves are triple puffed, the deep-cut sweetheart neckline has a wrap front, and there are rows of shirring to both the neckline sides and the empire waistline.  I went up one number from my “normal” Betsey Johnson size for this dress because I didn’t want the skirt portion to be too tight…it’s never good when bias cut skirts can’t hang properly.  Even though I went with a classic red pairing here, this dress is surprisingly versatile and vies with my own me-made black dresses to be the favorite among them.

I hope this post will open your eyes to see how there can be such a thing as affordable yet high-quality ready-to-wear clothes.  Betsey Johnson has done it within the last 30 years.  Her styles may not appeal to you as they do for me, but their quality and unique style offers a teaching moment for garment production of today.  Even though such details may be few and far in between to find off-the-rack today, it is time to no longer be so accepting of continuously low standards from ready-to-wear.  Keep looking for well-made garments that also appeal to one’s personal style.  Let your purchase show your support for the brands that offer items which will last longer than a cheap tee shirt. 

Between Betsey Johnson clothes and my own personal sewing I know I am blessed to have my dream wardrobe that keeps me both feeling like the best version of myself and dressing just how I wish to.  I hope you find some great clothing pieces that will be something you wear for years to come.  Maybe you’ll receive some good gifts to add to both your wardrobe and your memories this holiday season?  Everyone deserves clothes they can feel themselves in.  Here’s an early holiday wish for a fashionable holiday that can be both sustainable and enjoyable!

Sunshine Linen and Silken Flowers

Excuse the lack of new posts recently but an extended weekend trip to Chicago has eaten away at my free time for blogging.  However, you know what a trip away for home means for me?  New outfits were sewn!  This equates to fresh new material to share on my blog for you to enjoy!  Here is the most recent outfit project hot off my sewing machine – a summer silk hooded blouse from the 1990s and a linen early 1940s Clotilde brand jumper dress.  I couldn’t have wanted a better set to wear for enjoying my day in cheery, luxurious comfort and style.

I have learned from many visits to Chicago’s surrounding Lake Michigan beaches that not all beaches are equally temperate.  I find Chicago’s beaches to be pleasant and enjoyable to be sure, but quite windy with a cool breeze and not as warm as a Florida beach.  Lake Michigan has water that can feel like it’s refrigerated, even in the summer!  From previous visits to Chicago, I knew what to expect and mentally pictured exactly what was needed out of my outfit for our day at the beach.  I’m happy to report, my set was every bit as wonderful as I had anticipated! 

When 1940s meets the 1990s things are bound to get interesting!  All my garments are in lightweight, soft and breathable fabrics which kept the wind and the sun from turning me into a crisp.  The color scheme is richly saturated and elegantly cheerful.  The fiber content is natural and sustainable in linen blended with rayon, and silk with coconut buttons, all finished using vintage notions.  The styling is versatile and unexpected, which I love, with a fluid vintage vibe which is also timeless.  Having a hood handy kept my hair tamed for beach time or when we drove our convertible car through downtown Chicago with the top down.  I love an outfit that has some good eye-catching features with lovely tactile qualities.

I paired my me-made items with a 20-something old RTW cotton stretch tee as my base layer under the jumper dress this time.  However, the billowy blouse included in with my jumper dress’ Clotilde pattern strongly reminds me of the 40’s chiffon blouse I made to wear with these 1991 NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s trousers.  If you visit that post, you’ll see that this is not the first time I’ve combined the WWII era with the age of the Internet. 


FABRIC:  a linen and rayon blend for the jumper dress and an all silk satin for the blouse

PATTERNS:  Clotilde sewing pattern #3559, estimated to be from the spring season of 1942, and McCall’s NYNY “The Collection” #5640 from January 1991

NOTIONS NEEDED:  thread and a bit of interfacing (I used the cotton iron-on), bias tape as well as one vintage 1950s era metal zipper for the jumper dress, some vintage rayon hem tape for the blouse, and finally a pack of coconut buttons from my local JoAnn fabric store

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse and the jumper together were a combined time of 16 hours and were finished at the end of this month of May (just before our trip) 2022

THE INSIDES:  All French seams for the hooded blouse and bias bound edges in the jumper

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics are from my local JoAnn Fabric store, but only the linen blend is still currently in stock.  The silk was something I found many years back now when they sold limited amount of fine fabrics in the physical stores and not just online.  It was on deep discount being as it was a one yard remnant of something the store no longer wanted to carry.  My entire outfit all together cost me under $40.

Clotilde patterns, such as this one, were often for what was considered the average woman (not talking about body size average) or for the on-the-go teenage girl.  I have noticed that Clotilde patterns through the 30’s and 40’s were often knock-offs of small designers or downgraded versions of Paris fashions for the woman who wanted a practical taste of the current styles.  They were pitched in ad write-ups as easy-to-make (especially when they offered a line of notions and haberdashery to match) with design details to make them appealing enough to have an edge on the market.  The company began offering patterns circa 1925, continuing to do so through the 1960s, and expanded to become a giant in the sewing catalog industry for many years.  Ms. Clotilde passed away in November of 2011 and the Company was sold to become “Annie’s Quilt and Sew Catalog”. 

Seeing as my Clotilde pattern was ordered through The Chicago Tribune newspaper, I researched through an archival site for that publication and was able to pin this design down to somewhere between the fall of 1941 and the spring season of 1942.  As this pattern’s blouse is so similar to the sheer bishop sleeved one I already made (posted here, also intended to be paired under a jumper dress), I am leaning towards thinking both share a date of early 1942.  Jumper dresses – intended to be worn over a blouse or top of some sort – were incredibly popular offerings through the mail order sewing pattern companies of 1941 to 1942, mostly tailoring their appeal for teenagers but also for young adult women.  Jumpers are so good for beach time because it is easy to hide some shorts underneath, he he.  This jumper has a very pre-WWII influence with the full skirt with a longer mid-calf length.  Even still, it required just over a full two yards of material.

This jumper was simple and quick to make – except for the double sets of ties I had to make (I hate sewing them).  Yet, as is the normal “quirk” I find for vintage unprinted mail order patterns, I had just a bit of trouble getting this finished.  I correctly predicted it ran a tad roomy, as many old unprinted mail order patterns do.  This sizing generally worked in my favor because I took advantage of it to do a modern 5/8” seam allowance.  Even still, some of the quality to the pattern drafting was lacking, as is another normal “quirk” for many old mail order patterns.  I had to taper in the side seams smaller up to almost 2 inches on each side, only from the top edge down to the hips.  Luckily, I had greatly simplified the design so that the fitting efforts I had to do didn’t really set me back.  The biggest change to the original design was that I eliminated the back button placket closure and opted to lay that pattern piece out on the fold for a smooth, seamless look.  A vintage metal zipper was installed in the left side seam instead. 

The pattern gave little to no direction as to where to place and button the shoulder straps.  Mysteriously missing markings are another frequent occurrence to old unprinted mail order patterns.  I guess it is obvious from looking at the original design that I simplified the shoulder straps by leaving out the ruffles to them.  I pared things down to the basics even more by merely stitching the straps down to the jumper dress edge.  Why bother to make them adjustable when the pattern didn’t help me out and I’d have to figure all the buttonhole settings out myself?  The waist ties already add a level of fussiness to the style so stitching down the straps helped keep my travel wardrobe simple.  However, the pattern did call for ridiculously simple bias strip edge finishing.  I knew this design needed something more stable along the top edge, so I drafted together my own interfaced facing for the bodice.  It was two steps forward and one back during the construction process, but this was not intended to be a perfectly fitted garment…so all is well that ended well! 

The loose fit is sort of a design element based on the fact that there are waist ties to pull in the fit on this jumper dress.  I love how they are like little pointed arrows that sit at the waistline where they are top stitched down.  They help to visually slim the silhouette.  To gather in and control some of the center back waistline fullness, I stitched in a strip of ¼ inch wide elastic to the inside.  I picked a 3 inch horizontal segment at the waistline and sewed it into a 1 inch length of elastic, shirring the difference into gathers.  This was not part of the pattern but my own addition.  I also finished off the tie edges with a hand sewn buttonhole stitch for a little bit of a fine touch. 

My hooded summer blouse pattern is by far the standout piece to this outfit.  It is from my favorite NY NY “The Collection” line of McCall’s designer patterns which stretched between the late 1980s and the early 2000’s.  This will have been the seventh NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s item I have sewn.  There is a lot going for #5640 with lots of options to each and every item it offers so that an entire wardrobe of separates could be sewn of this one pattern.  The hooded blouse has the option of instead being sewn up as a wing collar and was originally supposed to be long sleeved.  How could I pass up something as uniquely amazing as a hood blouse, though!?  My amazing silk satin was just begging to me to be used to full dramatic effect and this design hit my creative happy place. 

Such items as hooded dresses or blouses were popular in the 1930s and 40’s for evening wear or resort occasions and now are rarities that sell for big money in the current vintage market.  Fashion designer houses of Valentino, Givenchy, Max & Moi, as well as Aurora De Matteis all offer their own silk satin hooded blouses today.   If I ever start my own business of offering couture finish custom-made ready-to-wear (not promising it will ever happen, though), a summer hooded silk blouse like the one in this post would be included in my collection.  It is amazing to wear and truly a useful statement piece.

As I only had one yard of silk to work with for the hooded blouse, I overhauled the design to accommodate both my shortage of material and desire to personalize this amazing design for myself.  The oversized print needed minimal seams so as to not disturb it.  This was perfect for that because there are no darts or tucks, and the entire shirt is made of only three pattern pieces.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The hood was configured to be cut on with the blouse fronts – a one piece design!  So cool, right?

The original pattern called for the front center but, as you can see, I altered this idea.  It was intended to be a pullover top with a generous box pleat giving room across the one-piece front between the buttons and buttonholes which were to be worked onto the folded edges.  I was not doing this plan with my reiteration, which has an open front like any other blouse.  It is more versatile to me this way.  I can tie the waistline together to cinch the boxy, oversized silhouette in and keep it from flying around in the breeze like a flag.  I can still let my outfit underneath be visible, too, if I keep the blouse unbuttoned.  I don’t have to risk messing up my hair or smudging the blouse with makeup by having it be a pullover.  A hoodie is one piece, and that to me becomes more like a jacket.  I wanted a hooded blouse and adapted the pattern to be such.  However, it is loose fitting and rather makes a better overblouse anyways than being worn on its own.

My silk satin was so luxurious like insubstantial butter and a cooling delight to touch…I wish you could reach through the screen and feel it with me.  Such amazing fabric deserved my bringing out the high-end finishes along with such a good design.  There are solely French seams inside, which sort of makes it hard for me to tell the right side from the wrong side out for this blouse! 

Then, I used special rayon binding to hem the bottom edge for a clean yet decorative inside.  Such a notion is not manufactured anymore (to my knowledge) and it is a joy to use.  It is like a piece of tangible happiness to see when getting dressed so I see it as worth it to use rather than hoard.  I luckily have a few whole rolls of such notions so this was not the last to be had in my stash.  Even still, you can tell which projects are more prized by me when there is rayon tape as part of the inside detailing.  I hand stitched down the front and hood cut-on self-facings as well as the hem because I couldn’t stand to see obvious thread lines anywhere else but along the shoulder line.

Why highlight the shoulder line?  I absolutely love the way the hood is one piece with the bodice front.  I am proud of how well I achieved a perfect corner down and around where the hood angles into the back bodice.  This way the dropped shoulder line can be noticeable, too.  Might as well bring attention to how creative is the one major design line to the blouse!  I chose to use an all-cotton thread to compliment the silk material, but it is a fluffier, chunkier, duller thread when compared to the satin finish.  As I said at the beginning of this post, I was going for sustainable and natural fibers here. 

Trips away from home especially give challenging incentives to my sewing plans.  Now that we have traveled again after a long span of staying at home, I am remembering anew how trips inspire me to treat myself to exceptional hand sewn pieces (those over and above my everyday wardrobe) so I can rock my self-expression while creating wonderful vacation memories.  Do you bring your own handmade wardrobe on trips with you?  Please let me know I am not alone in this.  My most comfortable, favorite pieces are necessarily also the ones I have made for myself so there is one basic reason to bring me-made items on a trip away.  Seriously, though – can’t you tell by my glow that the beach is a special place for me?  Just think of what an amazing new outfit added to that!!  There will soon be more to come of our Chicago trip – hang on to this thread.

So – next time I have a break in my regular postings, just know that it means I am either taking personal time for recharging myself or at least working on some great new content.  I truly have the best readers and you all are the best audience!  For your information, if you only knew the amazing projects already sewn that are in my backlog of things yet to share, you’d flip.  This post’s particular outfit had a special day out so recently, I had to share it right away.  It was just too good, and I hope you are glad I didn’t let this outfit wait in queue to be posted later than sooner!

Blushed Briar Rose

It mystifies me that something as vigorous, beautiful, and pleasant smelling as the shrub rose, also known for its wild varieties the dog briar or briar rose, can also be designated as a weed.  Yes, I agree a shrub rose can grow out-of-hand, it creates dense vegetation of spiny brambles, and it can be aggressively invasive.  However, many flower shops and high end events desire lab curated roses for arranged displays, yet snub their nose on the humble, steadfast briar rose that was the humble ancestor to all roses back from the time of the dinosaurs.  After all, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is the popular quote from Shakespeare.    Did you know that most of our important crop plants are in the “Rose” family?  A pretentious pedigree should not matter for a plant. 

It’s cooling down now that September is here, yet in our city’s Botanical Garden there are still plenty of shrub roses blooming untamed next to some single oversized hybrid.  A desire for overly curated cultivation has grown a skewed perspective.  I think a plant such as a briar rose that perseveres through the ages, with healthy benefits to boot, while still having loveliness to share despite their alleged flaws is the diamond in the rough that deserves more respect – ‘weed’ or not.

The hidden beauty with a hopeful heart, Princess Aurora, of Disney’s 1959 animated film “Sleeping Beauty”, was also called Briar Rose.  This was a term for the fairytale princess which comes from the German version of her story as told through the Brothers Grimm.  I can deduce that this genus of plant was specifically what grew into an impenetrable barrier to enclose the sleeping princess.  This is what I’m channeling today – the wild and prickly beauty of the briar rose as inspired by the Princess Aurora.  Here is a delicate combo of a blouse in sheer white chiffon similar to Aurora’s forest outfit and flowing rayon trousers in a soft rosy hue…because briar roses are almost always pink, you know! 

Here is a rare example of me mixing decades, I would like to think to great effect.  These pants are from the 1990s, yet my old-fashioned ways I keep calling them trousers by default because they are high-waisted and wide-legged as if from the WWII era.  The blouse is 1940’s, a piece from an old dirndl pattern because it has been suggested that there is a Germanic influence to Briar Rose’s forest attire (no doubt coming from the story being derived from the Brothers Grimm).   The fabric I chose and the way I’ve worn it here keeps the blouse more of agelessly romantic in aura than pure vintage.  I been having a lot of fun with my style recently.  I find the eras that revived older fashions so very interesting, but now especially so when it comes to the 90’s, a decade peppered with the influences of the past 20th century, all of which I already sew, wear, and love.  Besides, the 1940s era came up with some of the best classic pieces, particularly for separates.  Put all this together and I can’t go wrong, right?

Before I go on with my post, can we all take just a moment to appreciate the skills and patience of my 9 year old to take these blog pictures of me?  Let’s give him a hand for being my photographer for a day!


FABRIC:  Blouse – a poly chiffon with the ‘interfacing’ of the cuffs being a sheer white stiff organza; Trousers – 100% rayon twill

PATTERN:  Blouse – Simplicity #4230, year 1942, from my stash; Trousers – McCall’s NY NY “The Collection” pattern #5718, year 1991

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one 7” invisible zipper for the pants and lots of hook-n-eyes together with one vintage covered button for the blouse, but otherwise lots of thread, some bias tape, with a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was made in about 8 hours and finished on January 6, 2020.  The bottoms were done on April 3, 2021 in 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse is a combo of French seams and serged (overlocked) seam allowances.  The trousers’ raw edges are bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  All supplies came from my local JoAnn Fabric store.  Two yards for the pants and 2 yards for the blouse came to about $30 in total.

Similar to the way I successfully used a bedsheet to sew a couture dress (in my previous post here), this outfit was also started with materials not what I intended, but what struck my immediate fancy.  It just goes to prove that the final look of any and every sewing project is entirely dependent on the execution of every step along the way towards the finish.  It doesn’t take fancy supplies to end up with something amazing to wear, and trying something new might just end up better than you originally thought.  “A rose by any other name…” comes to play here, too.  If you can make the most of what you have it doesn’t really matter if it’s a bedsheet or a polyester in the end if you’re happy with what you’ve created and think it is fantastic!

I would have preferred a silk chiffon for my blouse but after getting tired of internet searching, I instead took advantage of a fine polyester option that was both convenient to find and reasonably priced.  I was doubtful that a slinky rayon would be substantial enough for what was supposed to be a structured pants pattern, but I wanted to try something experimental and it was in most enchanting pink tone…I couldn’t resist.  Together, this outfit ended up way better than I imagined.  I love these results!  Luckily, I avoided being snagged by all the thorns around me while wearing my delicate fabrics.  I took the risk, as you see, to folic like a modernized, dreamy version of a princess, spend time touring a lovely rose garden for an afternoon, smelling all the flowers.

These two pieces were really a lot easier to construct than they may look.  The pants pattern fit me straight out of the envelope like it were drafted just for me, a trend I find with this 90’s line of NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s patterns.  There was a front piece, a back piece, and two facings, all with just the right curves for my hips, so it was pretty simple to make and match the very geometric windowpane plaid. 

I took a shortcut from the French seams I started in the blouse to do the rest in serging (I rarely use overlocking) because it was a poly after all, not a silk like I wanted!  It has a loose and flowing fit, but as I already used the rest of the pattern before for a dirndl vest (posted here) I knew what sizing to expect and graded accordingly.  A little before-hand knowledge is not always something available when working with vintage patterns, and I definitely appreciated it here.

As the pants and blouse were easy otherwise, I spent a bit of extra time on the details.  For my bottoms, I made sure to have impeccable inside edges and a center back invisible zipper.  I sewed in a hook-n-eye placket to close the blouse along the side seam, just like a proper vintage garment might have.  A fluid, sheer, light-as-a-feather blouse deserved something other than a harsh and rigid zipper!  This type of closure was the fiddliest part of the blouse, next to the neckline, but elevates it closer to the quality I’d hoped to end up with for a silk version. 

Of course the resemblance of my blouse to Princess Aurora’s “Briar Rose” peasant blouse was made all the more similar thanks to a little piece of vintage lingerie in my collection.  I wore an authentic 1940s boned long-line satin foundation undergarment beneath which gave my blouse an illusion similar to the sweetheart neckline of Aurora’s black overblouse corset.  I acquired this amazing garment in the first place because not only was it my size, and something I did not have, but I also felt sorry for it.  The brassiere needed some TLC to bring back up to a wearable status. 

All the boning channels had been torn through but otherwise it was in impeccable condition, with elastic that was still very intact.  To do the mend, I merely used some old vintage twill tape from on hand and re-sewed down the channels, closing in the spiral steel boning strips once more.  This repair took me only 30 minutes!  It is pretty enough of a piece to be seen in it floral damask satin, but I remember it is still lingerie, so I loved being able to fulfill both aspirations by wearing the brassiere with my sheer 40’s blouse.  At this point, it rather looks like a mere strapless top underneath anyways, and highlights more of the gauzy goodness to my blouse than anything else.  If anyone but my husband notices anything otherwise, shame on them!

I would be remiss if I failed to also highlight the unusual choice of footwear I chose for my outfit.  As I was going both romantic old-timey but also experimental, I felt it was time to enjoy my new purchase of a pair of American Duchess’ “Kensington” 18th century leather shoes in ivory with “Cavendish” 18th century brass shoe buckles.  To be inspired by “Sleeping Beauty” meant I had all sorts of historical references in my mind for this outfit, and these pretty – if a bit unusual – shoes made me happy with their finery.  It was all about creating an aura for this mashed-up outfit.  Yet, after all, I was also being practical.  There was an 18th century reenactment to attend the coming weekend, and all American Duchess shoes need time to be “broken in” before they really start forming to your foot and becoming more comfortable.  A walk through the soft ground of the Botanical Garden did just the trick!   

The way you see these pieces worn and accessorized in this blog post is merely one out of the many other ways I pair them with other separates from my wardrobe.  You can see this post here where my sheer blouse is being worn with my scuba knit sundress like a jumper!  As pretty as these pieces are on their own, they really are being enjoyed much more than I had hoped – which is a very good thing! 

After all, ever since the pandemic of 2020 started, I no longer ‘save’ my nice stuff for just nice functions, otherwise much of my wardrobe would never be worn.  I really do think people appreciate it when they see there was thought and enjoyment behind putting myself together – no matter the occasion.  You know, after these pictures at the Botanical Garden, I wore this outfit to do some practical grocery shopping, and received the most unexpected amount of compliments.  Public appreciation or not, pulling cans off the shelves with sleeves like these suddenly felt much more elegant than hum-drum.  Pushing the shopping cart around in 18th century heels feels empowering instead of droll.  It was fantastic!  I highly recommend it.   

It’s just a parody to my earlier reflection of appreciating a ‘weed’ of a rose as something to be valued in one’s personal estimation.  If I can’t avoid the weeds of life – like droll errands – I will find a way to see them as palatable by also doing something I enjoy at the same time…like wearing my me-made clothes.  I will not let the lack of events to attend get in the way of an outfit like this not having an opportunity to be worn!