Living History

In Character Part II: The Blouse

photo 1  The irony of this blouse is that it’s the only piece I used a pattern for, and it was still the hardest to make with the worst fit.

I’m still not happy with it. I’ve remade it twice, and it’s still not what I want. Alas, it looks like this will be our last year in the 1860s, so I won’t really get a chance to change it.

During the 1860s, the fashion called for dresses and blouses that were snug through the waist, with billowing sleeves and a collar that sat higher on the neck than in previous decades.

Before I started, I put together a whole pinterest board of outfits I liked from the era. Some of them are modern reproductions, but most are either historical costumes from museum collections, or photographs from the period.

The pattern I used was provided by the village wardrobe, and the finished pattern is supposed to look something like this:

Since I already had a skirt, I decided to turn the top of the dress into a blouse by making it a bit longer. I also added some detailing around the bottom, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

There were a few problems with the end result: The way the pattern is designed is not meant for my body type. The darts were in the wrong place, the waist/bust/shoulder ratio was off, the sleeves were too small. Based on my measurements it should have fit, but the length of my torso and the position of various curves therein didn’t match the pattern as written.

I made it once as written and it came out horribly. After purchasing more fabric, I remade it, making the shoulders boarder, adjusting the placement of the darts and the rate at which the decreases from the underarm to the waist happened.

The fit still wasn’t right; After discussing the situation with the Village seamstress (who also railed against that specific pattern), she suggested pulling the button band off center, which would allow me to get the fit I wanted.

photo 4
I wound up using three different types of buttons on this blouse. These are the larges, at the cuffs.

The civil war era was a time when necessity made seamstresses of many, and women had to get creative with their fashion. It wasn’t uncommon for women to take apart dresses and resew them with the interior fabric on the outside to give their wardrobes new life; to cut down old garments for women of different sizes, use old skirts as fabric sources for other garments. ACW women were making do and mending long before the patriotic posters of the following century.

By adding trim and a decorative button, I was able to turn my mistake into a design feature, which fits in with the slightly eccentric nature of my character. Additionally, I chose a bright color inspired by the chemical dyes just coming into use around that time. It might be a little outside the range of what was actually available, but I chose a solid color that compliments my skin tone–I get compliments on it every time I wear it, even though it’s still not where I want it to be.

The good things:

1. Excellent color choice.

2. The fit through the shoulders is good. 90% of the stuff in the Village wardrobe was too small in the shoulders and upper arms which is what lead to me making a costume in the first place.

3. Points for creativity and design sense, even if my execution wasn’t quite what I wanted.

If I were to remake it here are the changes I would make:

photo 51. Better tailoring, especially in the sleeves and waist. I think that this could be accomplished if I had someone to help me; I had to do all of it myself the first time, without the aide of a full length mirror. It’s most evident in the back, with the little tail/frill. I usually wear it tucked in because I don’t like the way it came out. I have to wear just the right number of petticoats for it to lay properly.

2. Better use of trim. I’m not very experienced with pipping. There are places where it really shows, especially around the collar (though in that case it was a bit of an after thought).