The Little 1943 Blouse “On the Prairie”

Here is a little different style of a 40’s top to add more variety into vintage sewing. Just when you think you’ve got a decade understood, wham…here comes a style to throw a wrench in your wheels and keep you from thinking you know it all (as in my case). History, and especially the history of fashion is a bottomless pit of info – I hope you enjoy the dive in as much as I!

100_4227compThis 1943 blouse definitely has a country-style look that easily reminds me more of the 1870’s. It was never supposed to end up like this – it just happened mostly because of the homey, almost too cute, tiny floral print on the cotton fabric. I really enjoy doing gathering and small details, so with the ruffled front and sleeves this blouse was definitely “up my alley”. I just have to be careful how I style my hair and pair it with bottoms or it becomes something from “Little House on the Prairie – does 1943”. I should call this project the multi-decade mash-up top! badge.80

This is another  “Agent Carter” 1940’s themed post.


FABRIC:  An ultra-soft 100% cotton in a tiny floral print (a mix of small portions of the colors steel grey, dusty blue, rust orange, dark brown against a background of creamy ivory). This cotton is thicker than most quilting cottons, so between the colors and the fabric weight, my blouse is perfect for chilly weather!

hollywood1117_yr1943NOTIONS:  Everything I needed was on hand already – a vintage grey zipper leftover from repairing a 1960’s era dress, thread, and bias tapes.

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1117, year 1943

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I was finished on November 9, 2014, after maybe 10 (or 12 at the most) hours. This was my Thanksgiving Day outfit – perfectly roomy and comfy, perfect for visiting with family and eating lots of food!

THE INSIDES:  The blouse’s side seams are French seams, but the rest of the seams are bias covered.

TOTAL COST:  My only cost here was for the fabric, which was about $10 in total.

I’ve already used Hollywood pattern 1117 before to make the skirt with the arched front waist (see the finished skirt here). I am incredibly pleased with the finished skirt, and found its sizing and fit to be right on for me, needing little or no adjustments beyond a slight grading up in size. This was a good sign. There are many vintage original patterns (between the 1920’s and 1940’s) that I find seem to run wonky in the sizing. Not all of them, mind you… but I’m getting to a point where I can surmise which pattern brands have predictable sizing (I’ll save this discussion for some other time unless you want to ask me for my opinion). However, when it comes to a pattern that has separates, once I sew up one piece from a pattern, such as a skirt, and find that I like the fit, then I feel quite safe to make the other pieces, such as a blouse and/or jacket. The situation just mentioned with vintage “separates” patterns is what led me to making my 1941 military wool suit set (post here) as well as this 1943 “Little Blouse on the Prairie”. I’m beginning to really like the old Hollywood patterns now that I’ve made a set from #1117.

100_4231compThis really a sweet twist on a basic 1940’s blouse design. It has simple sleeves with slightly gathered shoulder tops, and the conventional 40’s tucks that end at the waistline for a bloused effect. There is also the classic wrap-over the-shoulder seams which end at high chest at the collarbone. The tops of the front bodice are gathered, not pleated as some blouses, into the wrap-over shoulder seam. I added some extra length to the bottom, as is my norm, to make blouses easier to stay tucked into a skirt or trousers.

100_4230compIt’s amazing how such a little addition as strips of ruffles change the look completely. This was the tiniest gathering I’ve done in a while. I was tempted to get out and use my giant monster-looking ruffle attachment on one of my old sewing machines, but as I needed the strip to be a particular length, I thought better of it. There are two very long strips for the neck that get sewn together at the center back of the neck and taper at the ends, while the sleeve ruffles are two long strips that get sewn into a circle. As per instructions, the strips for the ruffles are single layer, and cut on straight grain, with the outer edge receiving a narrow ¼ inch hem. I wish I had done a double layered bias ruffle instead, just because I’m not sure if I like the wrong side of the fabric showing, although my blouse turned out just fine the way it is.

100_4257compAll I know is it sure was a challenge to get all that ruffle gathered onto the edges. I enjoyed it, though. My hubby was intimidated when he saw the neckline chock full of straight pins to keep the ruffle down for sewing – I’m talking about a whole box’s worth of about 200 pins. If I had put it on then… Ouch! Firstly, I sewed the ruffle down to the neckline and sleeve edges first to keep everything in place and take out all those pins. Then I sewed down the bias tape over the ruffle so the raw edges insides would be covered when the ruffle gets turned straight out. All this bulk and layers of fabric was a challenge for my Singer, and I should have used the Brother machine’s heavy duty setting. If you are doing this pattern, or something similar in the way of ruffled edges out of a heavier material, if might be a good idea to use a machine or setting that can tolerate substantial thickness…don’t break your most important tool for creating with fabric!


Whoo Hoo! Don’t mean to make it look like I’m flashing you here.

I was totally lost and confused in regards to the instructions about the zipper insertion so I made up my own and installed it in the center front. It seemed I was supposed to add the slide fastener in the center front because the instructions said a brief mention of closure between the ruffles and there wasn’t any markings or mention of where to position the zipper on the side. I went all out vintage with an old original zipper in the front – I figure it should be stronger than the modern zippers (which was all that I had on hand at the time) with its metal teeth. I didn’t know how else to do it but the connected end of the zipper (covered with bias tape) is at the top of the neckline, where it comes together. This makes for a slightly awkward and snug fit to get the blouse over my head, and I have to remember to fix my hair after and not before putting it on. I would have rather put a modern separating zipper, but I didn’t have one on hand, and couldn’t think of the harsh modern look it would have lended, ruining the overall quaintly vintage theme of the blouse. Do you also try to stick with what you have on hand? It is a challenge but feels satisfying in the end.100_4255a-comp

After my blouse was completely finished, the hips had just a bit too snug of a fit for the blouse to lay right on myself. So I unwillingly unpicked (I hate unpicking) to make slits on both side seam bottoms – much better!

My “Little Blouse on the Prairie” is so very clearly the style that the character of the villainess Dottie Underwood wears in the Marvel television series “Agent Carter”. My blouse’s secondary nickname in my head is actually “Dottie’s style blouse”. Dottie “supposedly” came from Ohio (the mid-west of America), from farmland Dottie combo pictureterritory. She wore homey, sweet, toned down fashions to make her fashions play that part of an innocent country girl and help her seem the opposite of what she was to Peggy Carter – a dangerous threat. She wore cream colors, pastel yellows, olive greens, and small floral prints and cultural-themed sweaters – all of which is in my ruffle front blouse in this post, if only in very small doses.

Not that I am the type of person to want to play the par100_4659a-compt of the evil character, but, just for fun, I did my best at making an “evil Dottie” photo. Maybe I succeeded too well because hubby was like, “Oh, goodness, whoa…” as if he was at the receiving end of my tough attitude. Gee, I was only having fun! It is fun to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, especially when it comes to the decade of the 1940’s, although things were tough for a woman in that decade.

This ruffled blouse my not be my favorite 1940’s creation, but this project has won me over to wearing it again and again by its features. It fits so well in the arms and shoulders and bust plus the ruffles and thick cotton is nicely warm in the winter, all the while still keeping me a comfortable temperature inside buildings by having the short sleeves. I have a big box store brand micro suede skirt which I like to wear with my blouse (you see it in our pictures). It has all the feature of a forties skirt with its high waist and six-panels, shaping it into an A-line perfect for activity and, ahem, martial arts kicking like Agent Peggy Carter (I wish). Lucille in blue ruffled blouse with Bud from Best Foot Forward movie - cropped pic

The ruffles of my 1943 blouse are another interesting fashion feature of the decade of the 1940s. They are something you see a whole lot of in the 40’s, and when you do they are often, like my blouse, used as an easy way to jazz up a garment (especially the small ruffles that don’t require much extra fabric to make). After all, a ruffle front blouse was good enough for the famous Lucille Ball to wear in a movie made the same year as my top, “Best Foot Forward” of 1943. Ruffles and ultra-feminine features like ruffles, bows, and quaintAdvance 4214 pattern 1940s ruffle neck two-piece playsuitcountry prints (such as the Advance #4214 play-suit pattern shown at left) had begun to be popular with the Bavarian/Tyrolean cultural fashions beginning at the late 30’s/early 40’s, lasting through the entire decade of the 40’s. However, I find peasant blouses to be the one remnant from that trend that is perennially appealing…after all, the 1970’s brought them back to be used in our modern times as well.

Do you have an outfit that you made which is different than what you normally like to wear, but you find yourself liking it after all? I feel that is one of the best perks to sewing your own clothes…to get to try all sorts of new, different, and unusual things and have fun experimenting with fashion, such as I did with my “Little Blouse on the Prairie”!

Year 1943 – My “Workday Style” Plaid Skirt

I have found that, for myself, once a weakness or fear is conquered in regards to a certain sewing skill, that it then becomes something very enjoyable to do.  Such good feelings happen because I end up with more confidence towards something which had been a boundary.  I don’t want any walls to hold me back from what is possible.

This plaid 40’s skirt falls into that rank of “confidence building projects”.  I wanted this to be a very casual, comfortable, unassuming wartime wardrobe staple – and my finished skirt most definitely fulfills all those wishes.  However, at the same time, I am hoping that my 1943 skirt has a special classiness that shows in the time and attention which I spent in meticulously matching all eight plaid panels.  So many RTW (ready–to-wear) store clothes sadly lack precise matching of fabrics which are plaids or stripes, and I hope that a skirt like mine inspires others to see at least one obvious benefit to making clothes for oneself!

100_2691aSimplicity 4602 cover drawing     Here in the above picture, I am aiming for a “Bomb Girls” or a sort of “Rosie the Riveter” look, as if I just got off from ‘work’ at the late Art Deco style factory building where I’m posing.  My blouse is also from a 1943 pattern, but it is a Simplicity #4602, (left picture) blogged about in a previous post (click here for link).

The waist band is a wonderful and unique 40’s design.  It was a bit more complicated to get it right than I realized, but it was still easy enough.  There is a similar skirt worn by the actress Ginger Rogers in the 1940 movie “Lucky Partners”.  Unlike my skirt, her look-alike skirt was part of lucky partners 2a suit and in a solid color, but the high, curved waistband is the same.  The pattern for my “workday” plaid skirt comes from a vintage Hollywood pattern which doesn’t have a famous actress or a movie directly associated with it, only the “four star” guarantee that it is a high fashion (for ’43) and quality design.  I would like to think I have found one source of design inspiration for the pattern used for my plaid skirt by finding the renowned Ginger Rogers wearing a similar style feature (see the scene in the right picture where she’s with actor Ronald Colman).


FABRIC:  The olive plaid fabric for my skirt has been in my stash for as long as I remember, so I am making a calculated guess as to what it is made of.  I am almost 100% sure it is a rayon and linen blend, and it might even have cotton, but there is definitely no synthetics.  The plaid fabric’s raw and nubby hand, soft drape, and open weave characteristics are very similar to the fabric I used for my “Geometric Lines” 1920’s tunic top.  However, my skirt doesn’t wrinkle as easily as the fabric for my 1920’s tunic, so I know there’s another unknown fiber in the content.  Whatever my fabric is made of, it is very comfy and easy to wear, but wrinkles like crazy when it’s washed and looks like it got rolled in a ball when it’s dry.  Ironing is a must!  The skirt is lined in a beige/tan color polyester (I know, ‘modern’) cling-free lining, which came from my stash as well.

NOTIONS:  Besides buying a zipper for the side opening, I had everything else I needed on hand: thread, interfacing, waistband hook and eye.hollywood1117_yr1943

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1117, year 1943. (I want to use this pattern to make the short sleeve ruffle blouse, too!)  I used a modern, basic, two piece skirt for the lining.  It was a pattern I have used before, Butterick 4522, year 2005.  This skirt is cut on the bias so it would ‘move’ and flow well underneath.Butterick 4522 skirts pattern yr 2005

TIME TO COMPLETE:  From start to finish, my plaid ’43 skirt took about 6 to 8 hours.  It was finished on April 6, 2014.

THE INSIDES:  The raw edges are finished like they would’ve done it in the 40’s – just a simple zig zag stitch along the raw edges of both the lining and the plaid fabric.  Self-fabric facing inside covers up the raw edges all along the waistband, while the lining covers up the inner seams to the plaid fabric.  The side opening edges were turned in and sewn down to make a clean edge before the zipper went on (see picture).  A large sliding style hook and eye holds down the waistband extension.   

100_2699FIRST WORN:  A vintage market fair was the first place I have worn this 1943 skirt.  I wore it with the ’43 blouse, just as you see it paired in my pictures.  I got a number of compliments from vendors who seemed to appreciate the fact I was dressed in authentic vintage.

TOTAL COST:  The only money spent on my skirt was from buying the zipper, and everything else was completely from my stash.  Thus the total cost is at $1.00.  There’s 40s frugality!

The Hollywood pattern I used for my skirt is my second unprinted pattern to use.  The white blouse I’m wearing in my pictures is the first unprinted pattern I’ve done.  I’m really liking unprinted patterns…or at least getting used to them.

I had to be quite careful to label which pattern piece was which, since the pattern has four skirt panel pieces (eight fabric pieces).  All those panels actually helped me match up the plaid, as well, since I got to use all the balance marks to align the lines properly.  The pattern also really impressed me with beautiful shaping and curves built into the pattern pieces around the hips and waist, especially around the side seams and…ahem…the behind.  I don’t see such beautiful details in modern patterns too often.

100_2696a     I had to grade up because my pattern size was too small.  The total amount I needed to add was four inches, but, breaking it down between the four skirt panels makes it much less intimidating.  A scant 1/4 inch was added to both sides of each skirt panel pattern piece to add up to a total of four extra inches. This wasn’t a big deal until I had to adjust the waistband.  I made a paper copy of the original pattern piece for the skirt then worked on grading up the copy.  I marked the front center, back center, side seam, and the rest of the spots where the skirt panel seams meet at the waistband.  Then I split the skirt waistband at each of those places where I marked so I could spread it open in intervals of 1/2 inch.  For some reason, adding only 1/2 inch to the waistband where each skirt panel comes up did not get the tabs to match up.  Only when I added 3/4 inch at the center front, center back and side seam did the waistband match the skirt.  You can see my grading work to the waistband in the picture below at left.100_2688

Lightweight interfacing had been ironed on to the back of the waistband pieces, even though the instructions made no mention of doing this.  I am so glad I did that step, because it helps the waistband keep its unique shape instead of wrinkling up.  After trying on the skirt before adding the waistband facing, I unexpectedly realized I needed to further adjust the fit for the curved panel to succeed.  I added a tiny 1/2 inch dart to the waistband side seam, while the each of the two waistband tabs at the zipper opening had 1/4 inch darts added right where the zipper meets.  The darts brought the waistband in slightly, shaping it to a woman’s curves, otherwise it would have stuck out stiffly like an ill-fitting corset.

100_2701     Two inches were cut off the bottom of the hem to bring it to a good length at my legs and make it even with the hem of the lining.  A longer length seemed to make the skirt appearance a bit more dowdy.  Besides, the shorter, below-knee, mid-calf length I chose would have been just right for the activities appropriate for a 40s woman wearing a skirt like this: gardening, biking, shopping, and the like needed to be done while still looking feminine.  I sewed a small 1/4 inch hem on my skirt, which brought it even with the lining hem by about a 1 inch difference in between the two (see above picture).

100_2698a     Throughout the entire construction process of my 1943 plaid skirt, I was very skeptical as to whether or not I would hate, love, or merely tolerate the finished garment.  About 90% of the time I was generally on the ‘hate’ or even ‘merely tolerating’ side of emotions.  However, as usual for many garments I’m skeptical towards, once my skirt was done and mRosie-the-Riveter-poster-satched up with shoes, belt, blouse, and even the right hairstyle, I could smile and honestly say I really love it!

Wearing my “workday” outfit put me in the mood to do my very own  “Rosie the Riveter” poster imitation.  I even turned our picture into black and grey tones to get an even better 40s feel to it.  Look at my muscle!100_2694-b     I am planning to build upon my 1943 skirt, adding to the aim of it being the foundation of a wartime wardrobe of easy separates.  Thi100_2851 yr 1941 suit sets coming Fall season, maybe early September, I would like to use another vintage pattern I own – a year 1941 Simplicity 3961, in the right picture – to sew up a suit jacket or suit style top to wear with this plaid skirt.  I have a nice rayon gabardine or linen in mind for the fabric, and either an ivory, a brown, or an olive green for the color of the suit jacket or top from Simplicity 3961.  I think a suiting separate will easily take my “workday plaid” into a higher “Sunday-worthy” sort of classiness.  The versatility of my new skirt is endless!