Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Building a Pattern Wardrobe, Part 3 -- Blouses

For me, sewing my own blouses has been extremely beneficial for my wardrobe. While I do find some blouses off the rack, it would be very difficult if I had to depend solely on what clearance racks and thrift stores had to offer! Blouses can be finicky to fit, so I highly suggest finding *one* pattern (per style) that you like, and sticking with it! You can change things up from there. So here's my list of basic patterns:

1. Button-up darted blouse (collar)
2. Princess-seamed blouse (no collar)
3. Empire waist blouse

~ Button-up darted blouse: Simplicity 4499 (out of print)

This is absolutely the most basic blouse style. And for me, Simplicity 4499 is the only way to go! I've tried one or two other patterns with disastrous results, so I've decided to stick with something I know will work every. single. time.

Making the exact same blouse over and over again can get extremely boring! The original pattern has a little pleated cap sleeve (the absolute easiest sleeve in the world!) and a long sleeve. Nice, but boring. It has a one-piece collar that I don't particularly like. It has a "cowgirl" option, but that's about it. It has two darts in the front, two darts in the back. But with such a basic pattern, you can do just about anything! Here are some things that I've done in the past:

1. Use a short puffed sleeve from a different pattern
2. Use a 3/4 length sleeve from a different pattern
3. Add tucks to either side of the front opening
4. Add tucks up the center back (with a smocking-like detail at the waist)
5. Add several loops to each back dart and "lace them up" with a ribobn
6. Use sheer fabric and omit buttons to make it an overshirt
7. Omit sleeves and make a facing
8. Make cap sleeves
9. Use a different collar pattern (I like 2 piece patterns for a better lie)
10. Make a flat Peter Pan collar
11. Omit the back darts and add ties to the side seams
12. Add a pintucked "bib" to the front
13. Use a mandarin collar
14. Add bias-cut ruffles to the front
15. Add ruffles to either short or 3/4 sleeves
16. Use bias trim to accent the fabric
17. Omit the collar entirely and shape the neckline as desired
18. Add lace to either side of the button closure
19. Add a ruffle to either side of the button closure
20. Use snaps instead of buttons

Making these kinds of adjustments made me much more comfortable with basic pattern drafting and altering! And here are some of the results (click to enlarge):

I've had to transfer my pattern pieces to non-fusible interfacing, because tissue paper patterns aren't meant to stand up to 20+ uses! *wink*

If you can, find a pattern that you don't have to alter (or that you can alter successfully, then make yourself a new pattern with those alterations included). I don't have much "shape," so center front darts are perfect for me. Women with more "shape" might need a side dart, as well. There are plenty of patterns on the market, so it's worth it to experiment until you find the right fit. And don't be afraid to use other patterns to augment your own pattern! Most armscyes are relatively similar, so a sleeve from one pattern will probably work in another pattern (actually, I've seen vintage patterns of nothing but sleeves!).

~ Princess-seamed blouse: McCalls 3571 (out of print)

It's also handy to have a princess-seam blouse pattern, since this style can cross over well from "nice" to "formal." In fact, my favorite princess pattern is actually a formal wear pattern!

The only time I've used the V-shaped back neckline on this pattern was for my senior violin recital (at the bottom of the collage below), and even then I raised it considerably! The other blouses I make have a regular rounded back neckline (it's very simple to change necklines, so that wasn't a huge adjustment). I usually keep the buttons up the back, but I've also done one with buttons in the front and one with a side zipper. And I change the sleeves depending on my needs -- especially since the sleeve that comes with the pattern is very formal (and lined!). This is also a great pattern for a camisole, since the princess lines are more fitted. The sleeveless turquoise blouse in the collage below is just a sleeveless version, with neck and armhole edges bound in the same fabric. Here are a few of my versions:

~ Empire waist blouse

This is a fun option to have in your pattern collection, plus it's flattering for most body types. There are several options available on the market, or you can make your own from existing patterns. For the blouse below, the bodice is from dress pattern Butterick 4443 (which will show up in the "dress" post!) -- I added fabric to the center front and gathered it on both top and bottom. The sleeves were salvaged (the whole blouse comes from a former dress), and the bottom half are self-drafted.

Another good option would be the Sense and Sensibility Regency dress; just shorten it to shirt length. If you want a smooth back, omit the gathers/pleats by using the back lining piece.

1. Whatever style jacket fits you best!
2. A shrug pattern

~ Basic jacket pattern

I don't have a specific recommendation for a jacket pattern -- I'm still not overly comfortable with tailored garments, so I don't have a "favorite" pattern yet! Also, jackets aren't the easiest thing to alter, so this is one case where having multiple patterns may be necessary.

~ Shrug pattern: Simplicity 4334

A good shrug pattern is very handy! Sometimes it can make the difference when you find a dress that's a *tad* too immodest without some sort of covering. It's also a nifty fashion accessory! I love this particular pattern because it has sleeves -- the kimono-style sleeves I see on most shrug patterns just don't work well for me. But the set-in sleeves are very easy; this pattern is very well made, in my opinion! And I can whip one of these up in an hour or less, which is fantastic.

I'll finish up the series with a look at dresses!


  1. Wow, you've done a lot of work! I think everything you've made is darling... :)


  2. Shannon, I am really enjoying your Pattern Wardrobe series! You are giving me some great ideas. :-D (BTW, you always look so lovely in the outfits you wear. :-) )

  3. I'm also loving your Pattern Wardrobe posts, Shannon.

    One question though regarding shirts and violin playing... =) Do you at all find it hard to play when the sleeves and/or the bodice is fitted. A couple years ago I made myself a "formal dress" to wear when playing, and I find it nearly impossible! The dress is fitted, but not at all tight or really conforming.

  4. It has been a joy to look at your wardrobe planning! You have made such wonderful things! :)

  5. your talents never cease to amaze me shannon! just the inspiration i need. these are all gorgeous!

  6. I'm enjoying your Wardrobe series so much! I know this must be a lot of work for you!

  7. Just a question, what sort of material did you make the empire line top from? I'm been eyeing it off for quite some time and now I know how you made it. I have B4443.

    Thanks for your great blog.


  8. Thank you all for your kindness! It's been more work than I thought, but it's also a lot of fun! ;-)

    Cheri, I know what you mean about fitted bodices/sleeves tending to restrict playing! The bodice I made for my recital gown really wasn't bad (surprisingly, since it's quite fitted). What I did to help was make a 5" waistband on the skirt, so I could lift my arms without worrying about any skin showing. A friend of mine made her recital bodice out of matte satin, and used a stretchy material for the sleeves -- it was all black, so it worked! Cap sleeves are also helpful, but a little chilly for performing. :-)

    Amy, the fabric I used is a quilter's cotton from JoAnn's -- I think they might still carry it!

    Love in Christ,

  9. This has made me quite wild to start sewing for my own wardrobe, but, alas and alack, my sewing machine is in Oregon, and I am in Kentucky. Unless I can find a cheap machine, I am out of luck. I am loving these post on building a pattern wardrobe!

    Have a very bright, very cheerful day!
    Miss Eyebright

  10. *Sigh* Shannon, I love all your blouses! I still have yet to cut into that pattern, but you inspire me with each design. I was looking forward to the blouse collage and you didn't disappoint! You are terrific!

  11. Bravo, very good idea


I'd love to hear your thoughts! Thank you so much for stopping by!