One pattern, two tops: Wearing History circa 1939 blouse review:

When I finished my blue stripey Smooth Sailing trousers and my orange Simplicity 8447 trousers, I had quite a bit of each fabric left – enough, I thought, to make matching tops. I had also recently finished my lemon ensemble and was really inspired by coordinating sets. In the past, I’ve made simple strappy tops from scraps but I’ve realised that I like tops with wide straps or sleeves a lot more. I didn’t have any patterns that would work in my stash so I went to have a browse on Etsy.

It was during this search that I found Wearing History’s c. 1939 blouse, skirt, shorts and girdle pattern. I really love the square neckline of these kind of blouses – I’ve seen people I follow online (like Rachel Maksy) wearing them and they feel very cottagecore. This pattern is also in keeping with my current love for 1940s sewing projects and fashion. I’m a huge fan of Wearing History patterns, so I was excited to give this one a go.

The pattern.

I decided to start with the orange linen/viscose blend I used for my 8447 trousers. I had less of this fabric and once I laid out the pattern pieces I quickly realised that I would have to make a sleeveless version. I also had to adapt the front pattern piece in order to fit it on the irregular shaped piece I had left. I folded back the facing and added seam allowance.

Instead of using the facing attached to the front of the blouse, I traced the back and front neckline and created separate facing pieces which were about 3″ in width. The pattern calls for bias binding around the neckline anyway so I figured this adaptation wasn’t a huge departure from the original instructions.

With all the pieces cut out, I could start assembly. I had cut out a size 20, which corresponded to a bust measurement of 38″, waist measurement of 32″ and a hip measurement of 41″. I knew this would end up too big on my waist and bust but I wanted to be conservative when it came to the hip measurement (even though I knew I would probably shorten the top to make it hit at my waist but more on that later). I sewed up the darts on the back, tucks on the front then sewed together the shoulder and side seams so I could check the fit.

Sewing the side seams and shoulder seams.

I had anticipated that the top would be too big but not as big as it ended up being. I think it wouldn’t have been as bad if I was adding sleeves but as this top is sleeveless I needed it to be a good fit, particularly around the armhole. I reduced the top at the side seams, grading from about a size 14 in the bust (32″ bust) to the size 20 in the hips. I also added a dart on each side at the mid armhole to get a closer fit.

Grading the side seam.

As I had added a dart in the armhole where there wasn’t supposed to be one, I ended up with an awkward angle. I figured this was a good excuse to invest in some french curves and while I waited for those to arrive, I carried on with the facings. Once I had connected the neckline and front edge facings together I wanted to finish them on the overlocker but the facing along the edge had sharp corners which I didn’t have experience overlocking. I returned to a video by Sewing Machine Warehouse that I used to learn how to sew curves to get some tips. The methods shared in the video looked quite easy but in hindsight I wish I had done a couple of samples first because it didn’t go as smoothly as I would’ve liked! It turned out well in the end though! Once I had the facing overlocked, I sewed it to the top, trimmed the corners and understitched it for a crisp finish.

At this point, when I draped the top on my mannequin, I was feeling quite underwhelmed with it. I wasn’t convinced by the shape and the fit, and I knew it was too long. In an attempt to get myself more excited about it, I sewed on four of the buttons (I didn’t sew on any more because I wasn’t sure how much length I was going to take off). The orange and white buttons, the same ones I found on Etsy for the trousers, really lifted the top and did make me feel more excited to carry on!

With the buttons sewn on, I had a break for a few days until the french curves arrived. I ordered a set from Ebay which came with a few rulers of different curvatures so I experimented to see which one worked best with the armhole. Once I found the right one, I drew a new curve on and cut away the excess. I also tried on the top with the matching trousers to figure out how much I wanted to take off the waist. I wanted the top to sit level with the top of the waistband which meant I had to take off 6 cm, leaving space for one extra button. With these issues sorted out, I went back to the armhole, which was still bothering me. I decided to take off 1/2″ from the top edge of the armhole so that it would sit on my shoulder rather than hanging off it.

I decided to use a bias tape to finish the edge of the armhole but I didn’t have much of the fabric left at this point, let alone enough to cut long pieces on the bias. I cut as many smaller bias strips as I could from the little fabric I had left so I could seam them together. As the bias tape would be inside the armhole I didn’t mind that it would be pieced.

Once I had sewn the bias tape to the armhole, I realised I had too much seam allowance. I was on autopilot when I made the tape and pressed it like a double fold bias tape. I cut away the excess seam allowance so I could fold the bias tape to the wrong side and it wouldn’t be visible from the outside. I understitched it before folding it inside the armhole and felling it in place.

I knew the fit on the body of the top still wasn’t quite how I wanted it but I decided to sew the buttonholes first so that I could try on the top properly and fix the issues. I know that hand-sewn buttonholes are a lot slower than machine-buttonholes but I really enjoy sewing them and I find that I can make my buttonhole placement more precise.

I tried on the top again once I had sewn the buttonholes and decided to take 0.5cm of each of the back darts, tucks and side seams and extend the back darts by 7cm, this really improved the fit.

Now I could finally sew the hem. I wanted to reduce bulk at the waist so I overlocked the hem and folded it up once before sewing it in place by hand. In hindsight, I wish I had folded back the facing and sewn it in place to enclose the hem once I folded it up but this method worked just fine and I knew I was going to make another top using the same pattern where I could try out the other method. Before calling this top finished, I also had to reduce the facing along the back neckline edge and edge which lay next to the armhole as it was too wide and sat just in line with the armhole edge. With that done, I called it done, for now.

As I had already used the pattern once, you would think it would have been a breeze to make the stripey version; however, as I was adding sleeves this time, it came with all of its own fit issues. Nevertheless, I did learn a lot from my previous attempt and cut out a size 16, which has a 34″ bust, and shortened the pattern by 6cm from the start. I also narrowed the facing by 1/2″ so that it wouldn’t intefere with the shoulder seam as it had on the orange top. As I was dealing with scrap material from a previous project, I also had to cut the back as two separate pieces and the facing in two pieces on one side. I overlocked the centre back edges of the back pieces and sewed them together.

The centre back seam.

I got started sewing the tucks, darts, and shoulder and side seams – I didn’d adjust these from the start as I had cut the pattern down by a couple of sizes. However, when I tried it on, I found that I still had to reduce the side seamd by about 1/2″, grading into the waist.

As I had to adjust the width of the shoulder on the orange version, I wanted to test the sleeve insertion before sewing it in properly. I basted in one sleeve and tried it on. The sleeve sat way too far off my shoulder so I cut back the top of the armhole by 1″.

Adjusting the armhole.

With that fit issue sorted, I gather up both the sleeves and set them in properly, overlocking the seam to finish it neatly.

Now that the sleeves were sewn in, I could work on the facings. First things first, I had to sew together the two pieces that made up one side and I was super pleased with the pattern matching – the facing is on the inside so it will never be seen but I’m a bit of a perfectionist! I also got a lot better at overlocking around corners.

I wanted to try out the other method of hemming so, before understitching the facing, I overlocked the hem of the top (knowing that the fit was good in the body) and folded back the facing so I could sew along the hem line. Then I could fold the facing back the right side out and understitch it along the centre front and neckline edge. I also secured the facing at the shoulders and centre back.

Before working on the closures and hemming the sleeves, I sewed up the hem in the same way as I had on the orange top.

Sewing the hem.

Next, I worked on the buttons and buttonholes. I needed to find buttons which matched the buckle on my Smooth Sailing trousers which did limit my options a bit but I found the perfect match with a sheet of 36 white buttons from Rhubarbjumbleshop on Etsy. I’ve bought haberdashery items from them a couple of times before and always been very impressed and this time was no exception! They are also really versatile and I’ve got loads left over so I’m sure some of them will find their way onto other projects – a vintage blouse perhaps? Once again, I hand-sewed the buttonholes.

Now I only had a couple of steps left until I could call the blouse complete! Firstly, I finished off the sleeves. I wanted to make them slightly shorter than the pattern called for, so I cut off 1/2″ before pressing up another 1/2″ then an 1″ to make a double fold hem. Once I had tried on the top I also decided to sew a popper at the bottom edge to keep it level, I did the same thing to orange blouse. In hindsight, I perhaps should’ve used a light interfacing on the facing to keep it more stable but the popper helps in its place.

I thought, at this point, that the stripey blouse was complete and I did wear it out a couple of times to give it a test drive. However, I still wasn’t completely happy with the sleeves. When I’ve used 1940s patterns in the past, they usually call for shoulder pads but I’ve been able to omit them because the fabrics I’ve used can support themselves. This pattern also called for shoulder pads and in this case they are necessary. The linen/viscose blend I used has quite a soft drape and doesn’t hold its shape which makes the sleeve look deflated and a bit sad.

Instead of using organdy or taffeta, like the pattern suggests, I decided to use fusible interfacing. I have multiple weights of interfacing and I wasn’t sure which one to use so I made a couple of samples, using a mid-weight and heavy-weight interfacing. It was clear immediately that the heavy-weight interfacing was better. It held out the sleeve really nicely and saved the silhouette! I made up another shoulder pad by fusing the interfacing to the navy cotton with an iron and sewing it to another layer of cotton on my overlocker. I used a 1/2″ seam allowance on the curved edge and no seam allowance on the edge which would go along the shoulder. I pinned the shoulder pad in place and sewed it down. Now the tops were complete!

These tops were quite challenging to make, not because of any difficulties I had with the instructions, but just because of fit! At various points I lost my enthusiasm for these tops but I’m so glad I pushed through because I love how they turned out. Although they’re made from a 1939 pattern, they feel very wearable as modern garments and I’m excited to wear them through the summer! They look great as part of matching sets and with other garments!

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