Today I had planned on posting about making a shirtwaist to go with my 1890’s cycling costume. But I didn’t get the video that goes along with that post edited in time, so i’m writing about a new project instead!
This project is a relatively simple three piece Civil War Era costume. It will consist of a blouse, skirt, and hat. It’s based off the two-piece ensembles that can be seen in many photographs from the 1860s. Though I definitely prefer the elaborate evening costumes, and matchy-matchy dresses from this period I’ve always found these interesting, and I like that they are different from the previous 1860’s pieces i’ve made.
Though i’ve been aware of this style for a long time, I didn’t feel especially inspired to make one until I saw this fabric. I think the print is a bit too bold to be accurate, but as soon as I saw it I knew it would make a beautiful blouse, and I think I was right!
Like my cycling jacket this project was made with materials sent to me for review by Organic Cotton Plus. I was interested in this material since i’d never worked with cotton gauze before, and I found the print really interesting. From a distance it looks like a typical bold plaid, but up close you can see all the contrasting threads and detail work. I like fabrics that transform the more you look at them, and I think this fabric falls into that category!
The fabric is really soft and very lightweight. I’d say the weight is closer to chiffon than any cotton fabric i’ve worked with before. It acts a bit like chiffon too, which made it kind of challenging to work with. It frayed a lot and the pieces were prone to warping and shifting as I worked with them. But unlike chiffon the fabric didn’t pucker as I sewed it, and it gathered really smoothly.
The material is a double cotton gauze, so it’s actually two layers of gauze material that have been sewn together. This makes the fabric opaque and double sided, so if you wanted you could use the backside which has a check print (this side is also grey but looks more warm toned than the plaid side, which almost appears blue in some lights).
Even though this fabric was challenging at times, I really liked working with it and i’d consider getting more for similar projects in the future. But I don’t think I would recommend it for very fitted dresses that would put a lot of tension on the seams since it is quite delicate.
Now onto the construction! I didn’t bother making a sketch for this, I went straight into the draping. Which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea. Since I didn’t do any sketching I didn’t do much research either. And I didn’t realize that blouses from this period usually buttoned overtop of the skirt waistband, instead of being tucked into it. Instead I draped it like a shirtwaist, with gathers at the waistline and material flowing outward from that point.
But at least I remembered the dropped shoulder detailing!
Here is my pattern after being removed from the form. I cleaned the edges of this up, added seam allowances, dropped the shoulder more, and made each piece a bit wider to allow for more gathers.
Then I cut my pieces out and marked the gathering lines with basting stitches. This is the back panel.
And this is the front panel. All these pieces were cut from one yard of the gauze, with the other yard set aside for the sleeves.
To prevent the fabric from warping I fused interfacing into the shoulder portions of the front and back panels. I also ironed a one inch wide strip into the centerfront of the front panels. Then I finished the edge with lace seam binding.
Then the edges were turned inward by hand and sewed down.
I made a placket for the front panels out of a scrap of leftover material that was backed with interfacing.
I cut down the edges and turned them inward. Then they were trimmed with some vintage cluny lace. I finished the placket off with a bunch of black buttons. These are the washable ones that come in sets of eight for 99c at Joanns.
The placket was sewn on by hand.
Then I sewed in a whole bunch of tiny snaps, which serve as the closure for the blouse. I could have made the buttons functional, but sewing tiny button holes without a machine is hard. And since this material is quite delicate and prone to fraying I didn’t think I could get an end result I was happy with by doing that.
Plus it’s way easier to do up/undo snaps, so I went with that.
Then I gathered the back panel at the waistline and collar.
The panels were sewn together at the shoulder with french seams.
I bound the collar with bias tape.
And trimmed it with some lace trim. I think lace looks a bit softer than the stiff collars that were sometimes worn, and that goes better with this fabric.
And now I could move onto sleeves! These were cut out from the remaining material – I made them as wide and long as I could. The top edge is straight, but the bottom edge gets longer towards the underarm. I thought this was a fashionable thing during the 1860’s but I can’t find any examples of it, so I might have made that up.
I folded the bottom six inches of the seam allowance inward by a quarter inch, then inward once again to finish the edge. Then I gathered the cuff down with two rows of gathers that are spaced a half inch apart. I love how these gathers turned out and they were really easy to do – I used my typical method of sewing small running stitches and pulling them tightly as I go.
I think the fact this is a double gauze makes the material thick enough to create really pretty, dense gathers. But the fact it’s so lightweight means there isn’t a lot of bulk to them. It’s an interesting effect!
I repeated the process at the shoulder of each sleeve. Then the cuffs were bound with strips of bias tape and finished with more lace.
Look at those cute little cuffs!
They close with a single button and some ugly buttonholes – in my defense the fabric was fraying a lot and I didn’t have matching embroidery floss!
I sewed the sleeves onto the shoulder of the bodice, then bound the edge with lace tape.
The side seams were done up with french seams, then I gathered the waistline of the front panels. The final step was turning the hem inward and sewing it down with whip stitches. And that was it!
I think i’ll wear this with a velvet ribbon and a few paper flowers at the neckline. Or a cameo brooch.
The bottom few inches of the side seam are left open so I can easily get the cuff over my hands.
And the back! I had to add a pleat to the back of the collar to make it fit better, but other than that it’s perfect!
Okay perfect might be a stretch considering the goof up with the waistline style and sleeves. But other then those issues, i’m really happy with how this turned out! I think the lace/fabric/button combination is really pretty. Now I just have to finish up the matching skirt and i’ll be able to share photos of it all together!
That’s it for today! Thanks for reading!
5 thoughts on “Making an 1860’s Plaid Blouse”
That’s so cool! 🙂
Beautiful!!! I love the details!
Do you wear the clothes you make in your daily life?
Hey Angela, this beautiful plaid blouse made me think of the amazing scottish costumery from ,,Outlander”. Do you know the series? I’m obsessed with it, think you would love their dresses 😀
Maybe you could do something from the 18th century sometime? 🙂