It comes as no surprise that I love vintage fashions. After making my Edwardian waistcoat I had a perfect pattern for a bodice and I decided to use it as a base for a shirtwaist. On a whim, I decided to try to combine the historic pattern with modern fabric and think that my experiment was a successful one. The new lightweight Nuppu print company cotton satin works perfectly for this kind of a blouse and the old-style shirtwaist is updated to the 21st century.
So, what is a shirtwaist? The shirtwaist is a name that was used for a basic everyday blouse in Victorian and Edwardian eras. It came in various shapes and was almost always tucked in a long skirt. The front is usually full as it is creating the fashionable pidgeon-breasted look of the Edwardian women.
Drafting the Edwardian shirtwaist pattern
My old Finnish pattern drafting book, Pukukaavojen piirustamisopas, from the year 1912 has instructions on how to draft a shirtwaist from the basic bodice pattern I already drafted before. Basically, the two back pieces are combined together and the side piece is divided between the front and the back. The instructions on how to draft the high collar have also given. The collar is curved slightly and it is higher at the back.
The book also gave instructions on how to draft a two-piece sleeve. However, I didn’t have any idea on what the sleeve looked in real life so making a proper toile was necessary.
Making a toile
I cut out the pattern pieces out of cheap Ikea cotton. I then quickly sewed the back and the front pieces together. The basic bodice worked well. However, the armholes were really tiny and I couldn’t really see how the sleeves would fit into them as the sleeve caps were much bigger. This might have been a drafting error from my part but luckily it was easy to fix. I drafted a new armhole that was bigger.
This is how the toile ended up looking. Sorry about my sad-looking messy hair and no makeup!
The sleeve is really narrow, especially at the lower arm. But then, I have pretty muscled lower arms for a person of my size.
The armhole at the back was a bit weird. There was too much fabric at the armpit.
After making the toile, I had enough information on how to draft the actual shirtwaist pattern. I fixed the armhole issue by taking the armhole from the modern basic bodice pattern that I drafted a year ago. I figured that it wasn’t really historically so inaccurate as the shoulder positions and slopes matched. Simply, I just saved myself some time. I left out the shoulder dart that was in the modern bodice but decided to cut the back shoulder pieces wider and ease the extra width to fit.
I didn’t actually want the tight sleeve but a loose fitted puffy sleeve. To make that I checked out many period pattern-drafting manuals that didn’t really have specific instructions besides spreading the two sleeve pieces out and adding height and width to form the puffy part of the sleeve. I ended up slicing the upper sleeve in half in order to spread the pattern evenly.
About the fabric
I bought a piece of this new Nuppu print company cotton sateen as I fell in love with the softness and drape of it. It looks and feels almost like a viscose and it is the lightest cotton fabric I have come across in Finland. With 85 g/m2 it comes close to the Liberty Tana Lawn (which is 76 g/m2) but the sateen weave makes this fabric drape much better. (By the way, Nuppu calls this fabric satin but I think that “sateen” is the right name for it as it is 100 % cotton.)
I chose the design called Hopeapaju, which means Silver willow. It has mustard-orange-beige-ish silver willow leaves and little birds flying between them. The print quality is great but you have to be careful to place the pattern the right way around. Otherwise, you may end up having the birds flying upside down!
The fabric washed well and it was easy to iron. However, it does wrinkle quite easily. Cutting the fabric was easy as the fabric isn’t shifty like viscose and it doesn’t fray that much.
I recommend sewing this fabric with a very sharp needle. I used a microtex needle. It is a good idea also to use sharp pins. Once, when I was pinning my pieces together and used a dulled pin I pulled a thread that was luckily in a place that doesn’t show. As the sateen weave has long floating threads it makes it much more susceptible to pulled threads than plain-weave cotton. However, the long floating threads are also the thing that makes sateen look so luxurious.
The finished shirtwaist
I admit that I took a risk with the sleeves as I didn’t make a second toile. However, I know from experience that puffed sleeves tend to be forgiving. I concentrated the gathers at the top of the shoulder which makes the sleeves puff up sharply. This makes the sleeves look more Victorian than the 1980s, which is what I was aiming for! I decided to forgo the cuffs and instead, chose to finish the sleeves by gathering the cuffs with elastic.
The button closure is at the centre back. I had buttons that matched the fabric just perfectly just sitting in my large button stash. However, I don’t need to open all the buttons when I want to wear this shirtwaist. I just open the top four and slide the blouse over my head. Thus, it is not difficult to button myself in!
In the side view, you can see how the front is fuller and looser than the back. However, it actually looks much more modern than what I thought it would.
I think that this blouse looks great with jeans but It looks just as good with a skirt.
And autumn is a perfect time to wear this print!
I am super happy on how this shirtwaist blouse turned out and I will definitely be using this pattern again! With little tweaks, I can make a wardrobe of different pretty blouses that go with everything else I have in my closet!
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