Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Toile for a 1912 Blouse

Last year I joined the 1912 Titanic Sewing Project where I got some patterns for free on the condition that I share my insights on how to sew them. These patterns were gloriously being brought to life again from their original 1912 La Mode Illustree publications that were written in French.  Our patterns arrived in English, however our task was to translate 1912 technique from our knowledge base of 2012 technique, then blog every little detail that we possibly could to help others!  Unfortunately the project suffered the same fate as the Titanic. Midway through the project everything came to a sudden end. Nevertheless in the spirit of the original challenge, I'd like to share the details of the process I underwent in sewing this French blouse from La Mode Illustree 1912.


I've already attempted this pattern once before, which didn't work at all because I sewed the pintucks into my cut out pattern pieces, which resulted in the pattern pieces not fitting together, nor did they fit me in the end!  Then I realized I need to sew the pintucks into the fabric first, before laying out the pattern pieces and cutting into the fabric.  With a new plan, I chose a sheer lavender cotton from my fabric stash, that replicates the drape of the white batiste that I have set aside for my actual 1912 blouse.

I had just enough fabric for laying out the pattern pieces. I needed to make sure I had enough fabric for sewing the pintucks for the front, the back and the cuffs.


In order to remember to not cut out the pattern for the front, back and cuffs, I placed pins across the fabric to indicate a length of cutting line, so I'd have a wide piece of fabric for pintucks.  Then I put pins in the other pattern pieces where no pintucks were needed. In the middle of all this my family had lots of messages for me...and I went for a walk...then I cooked dinner....


...finally I set to work and after I started sewing I realized I only planned pintucks on the front piece. I cut out the back and cuffs along with the other pieces, so it was impossible to add pintucks with those. Oh dear. Well it's not the end of the world. Now I had a new blouse there is that. The world is your oyster with these historical garments. Not everything has to be a 100% reproduction, but true to the era, if historical accuracy is the goal. Some extant Edwardian blouses even have pintucks on the length of the sleeves as well as on the front and back, so feel free to do as you wish. The most important, is the resulting silhouette. However on my own blouse, I'll try oh so very hard to remember: pintucks on the front, back and cuffs!

Here I was midway through the cutting, before I realized my mistake.  The sleeves are at the top ready to be cut.  To the right the back is cut (too bad) and so is the collar and the cuffs (again, too bad).  On the bottom left is the front with lots of room for sewing pintucks and this is the one I want everyone to focus on for this is the visual aid to leave room for sewing pintucks! If only piece can have pintucks, the front is the way to go!

(For some reason the next batch of pictures are mighty purple!)

Here is a close up of my marking the placement lines of the pintucks on each side, top and bottom, of the pattern...


Then I connected the marks and drew in the lines for the pintucks. Then I folded the fabric, matching the narrow parts of the lines with straight pins then sewing them on the machine.


Ta da! Before pressing...


Then it was time to cut out the pattern.  I placed the pattern so that the mark of the first line for pintucks lined up with the first pintuck.  I actually sewed an extra pintuck or two than was indicated on the pattern, because the drawings showed less than the directions indicated.  I decided I didn't mind having more.


Matching at the top...


Making sure I like the placement before I cut into my fabric...



Ta da! One side done.  For the best precision, because this really needs to be as symmetrically perfect as humanly possible, I decided to cut the front out, one piece at a time.


It would be easy for me to get mixed up here, so above the next panel of pintucks, I laid the finished side.  Then I flipped the pattern over for a mirror image, because that is what I need to cut out now, the mirror image.  Then I slid the pattern down and placed it carefully on top of the pintucks...


For ultra-precision, I stuck the pin perpindicularly to the paper at the site of the first pintuck. Yes, it does make that much difference. (I learned that in quilting and that is partly what makes perfectly pieced quilts so beautiful!)


Then I stuck it perpindicularly into the pintuck...


...then I peeked to make sure it was a match.


Then I poked it in horizontally...though if extra caution was desired, I could have easily pushed the pin perpinducularly into the carpet...

Then, deep breath....just to be sure, I flipped over my cut out piece and laid it over the pattern to see if all the pintucks matched. I do want them to be symmetrical...


All looked good, so I took a deep breath and cut out the second panel.  Ta da!


Then I stay stitched the bias edges.

Next I worked on the sleeves.  I needed to make a reinforcement seam. From the directions, this is the best I could figure out how to do it...



Then I cut out bias strips to bind the slits. To do that, I laid my special quilting ruler matching the edge of the fabric to the 45 degree angle marking...


Then I cut off the excess fabric, a triangle, which I put in the scrap pile.


Because the fabric was so delicate, I decided that a 1" strip would be easy to sew down and turn under. I flipped my ruler around to line up the edge of the fabric with the 1" marking.


Here are all the steps lined up:




Jumping ahead, here is a picture of the completed sleeves. On the bottom you can see the side with the bound slit, then I added the cuff to the bottom of that.


Lapped seams are used to join the shoulder seams (as shown in the top photo), as well as to join the top of the sleeve pieces (as shown in the above photo).  I did a bit of research on lapped seams and found an answer in my Couture Sewing Book. I bought this book a couple of years ago because I know nothing about couture sewing but thought it might come in handy someday.  I never used it until this moment. The history of couture sewing is quite interesting and relevant to this project! For more details on that, read the previous link.


Basically what I needed to sew was a flat fell seam.  In the above photo I purposely kept a few beginning stitches large for you to see!   After sewing that seam, I flipped it over and this is what it looked like. I was surprised the long stitches looked that long and were not tight.  I think that is in part due to the loose weave of the fabric, but perhaps it is only because I sewed it too loose. My stitches are rarely that loose though.


Anyway the next step was to turn under the edge and then I made slip stitches. Again, I made some of them largish so you could see.


Now I flipped it back to the front and this is what it looked like, with purposely largish stitches to show technique.


Now I started the placket. I found a length of muslin equal to the length of the front of the blouse. Then I evened up each side.


I pressed it in half lengthwise and zig zagged the raw edges


Then I had my daughter go through my button stash to separate and match all the white buttons.


Then I grabbed a set of 6 matching buttons and placed them equidistant on the strip. Then underneath them I put straight pins.  Next I got my 18th century buttonhole chisel and pounded out some button holes.  If I had more time, I would have handsewn the buttonholes, but I have a deadline to meet (more on that in a bit). I left them raw. Besides, this is a toile.


However my daughter loves the color lavender so she got the blouse!  Here it is finished!  Instead of cutting out lace pieces from a panel of lace, I dug through my lace stash and found 3 different remnants to combine in differing ways to her delight!  She has been wanting an Edwardian blouse for our upcoming history presentation of the early 20th century.  She wants to be Christy Huddleston who becomes a teacher to Cutter Gap in the Smokey Mountains in 1912, based on the Catherine Marshall book of the life of her mother (who is the real Christy) and movie/tv series.  I told her I didn't have time to sew two blouses, so she took the toile! I matched it with my old black skirt when I portrayed a dual role as Queen Liluokalani (I replicated her gown) and  a French dancer who stepped out of a Renoir painting, to teach about Impressionist art. 


Sooooo here is the completed blouse up close! The lace for the collar and center front are the same edge lace.  I sewed the sides together to create a symmetrical lace for the center front.  Then to cover up the sewing I used a thin symmetrical lace with pearl beads.  Then at the base of the collar lace I used an edge lace.  Then I found yet a different edge lace with pearl beads for the cuffs. It's completely different from the original design, but I think acceptable. 

The bottom front edge of the blouse was to be gathered a bit and sized to desired fit, whatever that was supposed to mean. I did a great deal of research, looking on-line for  extant Edwardian blouses, and I do believe I solved a query of mine.  This gathered front edge is what creates the pigeon front of Edwardian blouses, right? Then in the back we were to run a gathering thread, then gather to fit (again I wasn't sure what the complete look was intended to be, the directions of 1912 assume that the 1912 lady knows what that means), and then stay tape was to be sewn over the gathers.  I had no stay tape, whatever that is, so I cut out a rectangle which I sewed over the gathers, as indicated by the pattern piece. I wasn't sure if I was to do that on the inside or the outside, but I chose to place it inside the blouse.


This is my daughter's cameo that she wanted to wear with it. And here is the close up of all the lace I described above...


The directions gave me a choice of hooks and thead loops or snaps to secure the collar.  I couldn't find my huge assortment of hooks, hmmm, so I chose snaps.


Here is how the placket works under the lace...



Halfway unbuttoned...


Completely unbuttoned.  Also showing the reverse side of the buttons.  The directions did not call for reinforcement, however the buttons were a bit heavy on such a sheer, delicate fabric, so I took a length of muslin to the back to strengthen things a bit.


The inside view of the gathered back...


A bit of the gathered back and the gathered front. Analysis of several extant Edwardian blouses showed similar treatments.


The directions said to merely hem the lower edge of the front, however I liked the treatments I saw on many of the extant blouses I studied. So I cut rectangles to fit, matched right sides together, then turned the fabric over, and sewed it down to the inside.


If you read my post on the Couture Sewing Book, then you might be wondering how the history of couture sewing fit in with the book, and whether I used the sewing machine or hand stitched this blouse.  While referencing the Couture Sewing Book, I discovered that the history of haute couture was definitely within the timeframe of this French 1912 La Mode Illustree blouse.  Therefore I used many of the methods described in the book for plackets, lapped seams, etc.  Most informative was the most oft asked historical query, did they or didn't they use a sewing machine?  In haute couture they did/do use a sewing machine, but quite rarely.  It was primarily used for long seams and areas that need extra reinforcement.  However everything was hand sewed. That is exactly how I sewed this blouse. The long seams are machine sewn.  Everything else is hand sewed.

That's all I can think of for this post.  Any questions?  I'm about to start my own 1912 La Mode Illustree blouse.  I'm going to try to remember to pintuck not only the front, but also the back and cuffs on that one. Also I hope to use lace yardage, as called for in the pattern.  Also I can take more (and hopefully better) process pictures if desired.  Would you like one huge post of the entire process or do you prefer that I break it into steps? I'm quite open to what you'd like, since this is one of the projects where I'm strongly encouraged to share every little detail that I can! Let me know!

Now for the HSF details:

HSF  2013

The Challenge: #23 Gratitude

Fabric: cotton

Pattern: La Mode Illustree  


Notions: lace, buttons

How historically accurate is it? highly accurate

Hours to complete: lots

First worn: history presentation

Total cost: free, used stash items


  1. Wow, the blouse turned out beautifully. You did a fantastic job interpreting the directions, too!

    I was amazed that you lay your fabric out right on your carpet. Do you cut it out that way, too? I lay mine out on the carpet sometimes, but I usually have a cutting board underneath. I can see where laying the fabric on the carpet would help the fabric not shift quite so much.

    Here's another suggestion for you, if you haven't thought of it already--you can cut out rectangles for your bodice fronts and backs, tuck those, and then cut out your pattern piece. I have done it that way before, and it works well. You will have a little more waste, so if you are trying to be careful of your fabric that might not work for you, but it helps marking and sewing to be uniform.

    I was glad to read this--I wondered what happened with that Titanic project. It was such a great idea!


    1. Yes, I cut out the fabric right on the carpet. I don't have a cutting board, nor will all the fabric fit on it, so I just use the carpet. I never thought about the shifting aspect but that is a good point!

      I didn't have enough fabric to lay it out as you suggest, which is a preferred method I can see, but when low on fabric, oh well. I don't know how it will go with the batiste I got with my fabric. I bought it a couple of years ago.

      Thanks for the compliment!


  2. Always enjoy reading your blog! Catherine Marshall was a dear friend of my mother's, and her mom (Christy!), Mrs. Wood, was an awesome lady, indeed!!! Best, Liz

    1. How exciting! I'm so glad you mentioned this! I've read several of her books. Thanks for the compliment!