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.
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!