There is perhaps nothing so expressive, so poignant, so telling of emotion as the human hand. Some of the greatest, most touching pieces of art are of nothing other than hands. Through our hands, we create a tangible version of those abstract thoughts and feelings inside. Hands are instruments to write books or letters, perform music, form sign language, make art, and cook food to name a short list of the many varied ways possible to show the affection, communication, sensuality, and creativity we have within. It never fails to amaze me that one of the most common, utilitarian parts of our body can speak volumes in the strongest yet most beautiful way possible without a uttering a word. The power of a simple – even silent – “show of hands” as a public display of solidarity for change has been proved powerful and relevant with the protests of the last few years for racial equity. All of the things I have listed that hands can do are each so closely untied to the workings of our emotive heart.
Thus, even though I am posting this following on the heels to the holiday for romantic or filial love, I would like the feelings given by this blouse to be expressive of bigger affections. I guess I’m wearing my “heart on my sleeve” through the interpretation of fashion by crafting a blouse which calls to mind the many symbolical meanings connected to combining both heart and hands (with roses, for good measure) in my chosen fabric print. With a motif like I am using, my garment’s design called for a vintage reference in its style so I can go back to the era that understood how to sport an obnoxiously mysterious hand print with unabashed artistic license.
The art form of Surrealism really understood the natural connection between fashion and manual handiwork with the way it persists in having such an obsession with anything hand, glove, or finger-like. The Surrealist movement gravitated to fashion as its most visually stunning means of expression, especially due in part to the famous and talented trio of Elsa Schiaparelli (designer), Salvador Dali (artist), and Man Ray (photographer) in the 1930s decade. There isn’t one, clear message to anything Surrealist – the viewer can feel free to internalize within themselves the dream-like eeriness of its art for individual interpretation. It is better to keep things open to the perspective of the viewer for profound topics in art or fashion. For me, here though, things are a bit more precise because I have my own vision coming from the perspective of the maker and not just a spectator!
At first sight, my print immediately sent me back into my undying fascinated adoration for Schiaparelli’s creations. Hand motifs are the trademark of her brand. This will have been my third project directly inspired by things she made (my first being her “Metamorphosis” 1937 dress and duster coat, then my second her 1951 voluminous sleeved blouse). Here I am using a year 2014 Burda Style pattern which has a subtle, timeless, 1930’s style with its creative paneling, fit-and-flare silhouette, strongly squared off shoulders, and clever use of godet additions. I will explain throughout my post the rest of my specific symbolical ideas. For now, let’s move onto construction details. You’ll want to know how not only this was the most complex pieced blouse pattern I have worked with – ever – but also a one yard project!
My blouse is here paired with a true vintage 1930s beaded necklace, my maternal Grandmother’s old earrings, vintage 1940s original heels, and my 1930s inspired Burda Style “Marlene trousers” (posted here). I was playing up the vintage connotation with this combo yet it looks equally on trend with a modern skinny pencil skirt and stiletto heels. I even added a hand drawn temporary tattoo on my left hand using the Inkbox free hand ink pen. It is a squiggled abstract rose alongside my thumb. I’ll do anything for a thoughtfully intentional, carefully curated outfit! I even succeeded in achieving a full wrap-around French braid crown with my hair – something I have seen on the models in some of the old high fashion photography of the 1930s. My mask is me-made of some dobby striped Indian cotton.
Our downtown art museum was the location for our photos. The sepia toned hand prints behind me are an exhibit called “All Hands On Deck”, a series of photos from Damon Davis printed and published as lithographs by Wildwood Press in 2015. These images originated in the protests that arose after Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer in August 2014. Davis photographed protestors’ hands held up in the “don’t shoot” gesture, now transformed into a gesture of solidarity, community, and a call for change. These large scale photographs were originally pasted onto boarded up storefronts around town which were damaged by rioting. The secondary background we used (seen further down in this post) is modern architectural blue Plexiglas boxes by Donald Judd, year 1969, and made for a good Surrealist inspired setting. Nevertheless, I absolutely adore the connection created by me wearing my blouse to the exhibit of hand prints. Symbolism like this is what I made my blouse for. I couldn’t be happier with my new sewing creation!
FABRIC: 1 yard of 100% silk crepe for each the exterior print and the white lining; sheer contrast godet panels of navy polyester chiffon
NOTIONS NEEDED: one invisible zipper and lots of thread
TIME TO COMPLETE: This project was a time hog! This took me over 20 hours to sew (not counting the time spent agonizing over the pattern and its layout on my material). It was finished on October 22, 2021.
THE INSIDES: My edges inside are raw but cleaned up nicely and stitched over to reduce fraying
TOTAL COST: The novelty printed silk was a discounted remnant that I bought back in 2017 from a shop on Etsy which is no longer in business. I spent $20 for the one yard, while the solid white silk was found at a different shop online for $15 a yard. The poly chiffon was bought from JoAnn Fabrics for about $10. Altogether, I spent about $50 including the zipper.
Honestly, for as much as I had a very certain vision of what to do with my printed silk and how I intended to interpret my vision, this project was one of the most challenging to achieve. At the project stage, I could find a handful of patterns or design ideas which felt like what I wanted. Yet, each time I found they would not work on one measly yard. My lack of fabric was the major controlling/limiting factor here, actually. I would have bought more from the shop but one yard was all they had left. This was a skinny 35” width material, too, so it was basically the size of a large scarf square. I knew a fill-in fabric would be necessary, which I wanted become a natural part of the design and not something due to my shortage of yardage. A print like this seemed to me to call for a classy design with sleeves and full coverage with a touch of something unexpected. Doesn’t that sound like quite a challenge to fulfill?! Now you can see why I stashed this fantastic silk print for the last 5 years!
I suppose I was unintentionally ‘waiting’ for the right pattern to fall into my radar. My final chosen Burda pattern was a happy, if unintentional, find I came across one night browsing through my magazine while looking for another design I wanted. It suddenly struck me, as I saw it in my magazine, that my hand print fabric would be a probable match for the design. I especially liked how the sleeves as well as the main body, particularly through the waist, are primarily the print so as to give a cohesive appearance to the design. This way, the contrast godets refrain from clearly advertising that I ran out of fabric (which I practically did). Together with the modern-vintage flair to it, everything else I was hoping to find for my project ideal was fulfilled better than I imagined. Some things in life are just meant to be.
The instructions by no means call for one yard, but it seems to my special talent – dare I say trademark – for squeezing the most unexpected patterns out of small cuts. This was the most extreme version of that which I have yet done. Every cutting line was the neighboring pattern piece’s cutting line. The top and bottom hems were at the fabric edge. There was a one-way directional print that needed every pattern to be lined up and running the same direction, though, too. If I would have needed even one size up from the one which was my size (36 graded up to 40 for the hips) the pattern would not have fit on the fabric.
However, the fact that the main body pieces were quite rectangular and relatively straight cut (thanks to the additional shaping the contrast godets add) was the saving grace. The sleeve pieces (two-part raglan style for the loveliest shaping over the shoulder point) just barely fit in between the convex curves of the main body patterns. “Silver linings” outlook aside, this tight layout did work me up to being a stressed, freaked out, sweating mess. Using a special material always makes me pause for extra figuring to weed out any mistakes, but squashing in the layout so very impossibly was the “icing to the cake”. I don’t want to be in this circumstance ever again but I am so thrilled it worked out I can literally tear up slightly just thinking about it sometimes.
Ideally, I wanted the contrast to be jagged panels to contrast off the delicate trio of items on the print. The heart is a well of emotions which can be crushed, betrayed, and injured all too easily. Hands can be an instrument in protecting or harming the matters of the heart and are the instrument through which we can feel sensory pain. Roses may be the flower of love, but they have tiny, thorny daggers which grow along with their beauty. To have the added godets pointing in towards my chest like daggers is the kind of unsettling message that I feel Surrealism – particularly Schiaparelli – would prefer and only strengthens the symbolism of my chosen print.
These godet stilettos are merciful, though, being in a gentle chiffon, adding the softly shaping curves that the straight cut body panels need to contour and form over my body. They hide a sensual little secret, too, as they are sheer. The opacity of the dark blue together with the fact that I double layered every godet (so as to have a clean finished hem with the raw edge tucked inside) makes their translucent quality subtle. I originally wanted a striking sheer blood red chiffon for the godets. Going for a navy chiffon blended in with the background to let the red and white print stand out better.
This was a project listed on the higher than average end of Burda’s difficulty level scale, and I agree. However, it’s not on account of requiring advanced skills. Yet it is tricky and complicated, needing precision sewing and the patience to stitch many three point corners. There are 9 pattern pieces in total that look terribly similar to one another. These 9 pieces cut out to 18 fabric pieces. Don’t forget that I doubled everything to 36 pieces because everything for my version is lined!! This was such an ordeal to assemble and such a confusing jumble of pieces to keep track of!
I did change up one small part of the construction assembly along the way for a smoother finish and finer detailing befitting my deluxe material. I wanted something nicer than just conventional turned under hems. Thus, before assembling anything, I sewed each piece’s hem wrong side-to-wrong-side. Then, I sandwiched the seam, trimmed to ¼”, between the doubled up fabric (as there is a white lining to the silk and two layers to the chiffon godets) and did a tight top stitching at a scant distance from the clean edge. Only then did I put the main body pieces together, followed by adding in the godets, setting in the side zipper, and tidying up my seams. Achieving perfect corners every time was so laborious and challenging!
Luckily, this was one of the very few Burda designs which fit me precisely with no tweaks to the fit. I measured the heck out of the pattern pieces before I did any cutting of my fabric, so I figured such…even still, it was a pleasant surprise. I recommend this – out of any pattern ever – as the one which needs to be perfect at the pattern stage because tweaking the fit after being fully constructed is very nearly impossible. The sizing is extraordinarily good here for curvy bodies so trust the size chart and try this for yourself, as well. A very supple and softly draping material (nothing too stiff) is important to choose here, though, to get the full effect of how the godets fall into themselves, or open up, depending upon your body movements. Even without the unique print I chose I think this blouse would still be garnering compliments literally everywhere it is worn – which is the case already! This is a standout, extraordinary design worth every minute and penny I put into it and couldn’t be happier. I have plenty of lace scraps from my Grandmother which I am tempted to save towards another version of this blouse. I would also like to try out the dress version of this blouse design at some point the future.
I find it ironic and confusing that among professional academic circles fashion is the most frequently discredited and underestimated means through which to express oneself. Clothing is a basic need, just the same as being both the viewer and the spectator is a natural part of the communal human existence. We use our hands to make and acquire our basic needs, and craft them (if we have that luxury) to our own liking. Even the cheapest ready-to-wear clothing is made by human hands (in some degree), which so many people forget when they pay $5 for their favorite retail store leggings or t-shirt. Garments necessarily intertwine both human expression as well as some sort of manual effort, so turning that into elevated, intentional art is only one step away. Expressing ourselves without a sound and by sight only is a shared characteristic of both our hands and what we wear…both are influenced by the workings of our heart.
As beautiful and meaningful everything else our heart through our hands can do, it is charity – love for our fellow beings – that is surely the loftiest act. With parents of both sides of my family dealing with the disfiguring effects of rheumatoid arthritis, I realize all too well that something as simple assisting with doing a button is one small but mighty act of kindness with our hands which can make a world of difference. I realize, too, that both heart and hands of humanity can sadly also do damaging, evil, scheming deeds of mischief at an individual level as well and create terror and sadness in this world. What have your hands done today? How is your heart? I hope this post finds you happy, healthy, and feeling safe. I also hope this blouse project of mine has cheered your day, made you consider, and inspired you!