Hi everyone! How are you? I’m very excited to share this project with you today, as I’ve been working on it for the better part of the last two months (not solely, obviously – I do have a job and sometimes a life… okay, I don’t really have much of a life, but sometimes I watch Netflix!) Anyway, I’m very excited to have it out of my sewing room, and into my closet!
Let me introduce you to my Edwardian blouse!
Don’t let my miserable expression in this photo fool you! I am beyond excited about this blouse! I have always adored the Edwardian era (1900 – WWI) for fashion. Particularly these ultra feminine blouses that became extremely popular around the turn of the century. Usually made of a white handkerchief-weight linen, or a cotton batiste, these blouses would feature delicate detailing like pintucks, lace insertion, and white-work (white-on-white embroidery) – often all of these on one garment! They were worn tucked into high-waisted, trumpet skirts which hugged the waist and hips and flared out below the knee, accentuating the desirable S-bend silhouette that defined this era of fashion.
Wearing historical garments as contemporary fashion can be a bit of a gamble, because it’s easy to veer off into costume territory. However I always thought that Edwardian fashions were more wearable than some other eras. They also tend to come in-and-out of fashion pretty regularly, and the delicate workmanship and feminine details are, in my opinion, timeless.
Because off-the-rack or RTW fashion began to become more commonplace around the turn-of-the-century – especially with a loose garment like these blouses – it’s not unusual to be able to find original blouses like this one in vintage stores. I’ve come across quite a few in my time, but was always disappointed to find that they never fit me. I’m quite broad in the shoulder and upper back, which apparently was a rare feature for my sisters of yesteryear! So making one has been on my sewing dream-list for quite some time.
For my blouse I used this White Solid Viscose Batiste from Mood Fabrics online. I’ve talked about this fabric before. It’s one that I like to keep on hand because I love to use it for a variety of purposes. It feels absolutely marvelous against the skin and is great for lining sheer and drape-y fabrics, but on its own it makes for a beautiful, lightweight garment, much like a cotton batiste, but with an added silkiness from the Viscose. I have to admit that as much as I love this fabric, and I love it in the finished garment, it may not have been the best choice for all the delicate detail work that this blouse required. Viscose, like rayon, is wonderful and silky, but can also be shifty to work with. However, once I committed myself I was determined to power through, and I think it turned out alright in the end!
But the real star of the show here was the lace. Do you guys do much experimentation with trims? I feel like until I started making historical costumes I never really paid the trimming section of fabric stores much interest, save perhaps for the occasional piped seam, or bias-bound finish (if those things count as trims). But if there is one thing historical costuming taught me it’s to never underestimate the power of trims! Mood has an incredible selection of trims in their online store, and I encourage you to give it a browse sometime – you might be surprised what it inspires!
For my project I wanted to find lace that had a vintage feel to it, and that would work well for the lace insertion technique. To do lace insertion you want to look for a lace with a straight edge, not a scalloped or decorative edge. And if you’re going for a vintage look it’s best to stick with cotton, or crochet laces, as they mimic handmade lace the best (it is also possible to find historic or bobbin lace, however they can be pricier and may be stained, or have limited yardages). I ended up using this White European Cotton Crochet Lace and this floral White Cotton Lace Trim, both of which were about 1 inch wide. For the collar, and a touch on the shoulders, I used a wider Novelty Lace which looks like it is three trims tacked together, but is actually just one. Of course you shouldn’t feel limited to white lace! I wanted my blouse to emulate the historic blouses I envied, which were almost always white or cream, however I think there are a lot of creative opportunities to be had using different colors of lace.
Lace insertion isn’t a super difficult sewing technique, in that it can be done entirely by machine and doesn’t require any more skills than stitching a small zig-zag in a straight line. However it is quite time-consuming and labor intensive, as you’re stitching over the same area more than once. In addition, it is a purely decorative technique so it’s something that must be done before you even begin constructing the garment. However, it’s so very pretty, and well worth the effort on occasion in order to create a truly special garment. If you’re unfamiliar with this technique I’ll be doing a little tutorial over on my blog later this week.
The lace insertion was interspersed with pintucks, which are a simple, yet effective, way to add detail to a garment. Pintucks in this viscose and cotton blend batiste was definitely a challenge, as the fabric wanted to shimmy this way and that. Part of me wishes I would have saved working the front yoke section until the end, as my pintucks became much better as I went along! The pintucks on the sleeves were the last that I did, and I love how tiny and delicate and even they are. I was definitely learning on the job with this one!
I used Folkwear Pattern’s #205 Gibson Girl Blouse pattern for this top. I’ve raved about these patterns before. If you’ve never bought one of these patterns I urge you to take a look at their offerings. The patterns are a sewing and fashion history nerd’s dreams! Every one that I have bought comes with extensive literature about the history of the design, traditional embellishments and fabric choices, and suggestions for making it wearable for a variety of occasions – from everyday wear to costume. The design for the lace insertion and pintucking was given in the pattern, and for the most part I followed the pattern as drawn. However I did have to do a little bit of improvising here and there. Particularly on the sleeves. I was running out of lace (I purchased the lace before I had a clear plan what I was going to do with it, and while it seemed like quite a lot of yardage, I underestimated how much this blouse ate up!) and didn’t have enough of the floral lace to do the overlapping design on the sleeves as well. Instead I ran one strip of the geometric lace down the center of the sleeve and surrounded it with 6 pintucks. Because the pintucks are so fine they don’t eat up a significant amount of fabric and didn’t change the shape of the sleeve at all.
The blouse was sewn with french seams for the majority of the construction, but I did use my serger to finish the front yoke edge and the armsyce, because I don’t particularly like doing french seams on areas with heavy gathering.
While much of the blouse was sewn by machine, I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to avoid some handsewing on a garment that is this historically inspired! The neckline was finished with a tiny hand-rolled hem, and then the lace collar was tacked on using a whipstitch. Despite the fact that I had multiple false starts with my hand-rolled hem, and eventually had to google it, this ended up being a very neat and tidy way to attach the lace collar. Because the collar was just a tube of lace I also added two small darts at the back of the neck to shape it to the natural curves of my neck. This made for a much more elegantly fitting collar.
The blouse closes up the back with buttons, and the lace collar uses snaps. It’s a loose enough fit that I only have to undo the snaps, the top button and the bottom button in order to get it on and off. The waist ties are attached at the back and can be worn either wrapped around and tied at the front, like I have here, or simply tied in a bow in the back, which gives the blouse a loose, swingy shape that is also quite pretty.
So what do you guys think? Would you ever wear a blouse like this? It’s pretty safe to say that I’m obsessed with it! Do you think it’s possible to wear historical clothing in a way that doesn’t feel costumey? I sure hope so! Do you have a favorite era of clothes that you think works well in a contemporary wardrobe? Anyone want to teach me how to embroider so I can add white-work into my Edwardian sewing repertoire?