Sunday, March 27, 2011

Deconstructing a Blouse -- A Sewing Experiment

Yep, that's me -- Nothing to Wear, that looks good anyway. In this terrific book, Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo advise you to throw out everything in your closet that no longer fits, and I thought, "Well, why not? I've waved bye-bye to menopause and the need for a working wardrobe." (not that those two conditions are inclusive -- but come to think of it, they're both pains!) So, to my closet I trudged, and believe me when I say I donated BAGS of stuff to charity. But midway through all the tossing and cursing, I started looking at those clothes in a different light. Why not use some of them for sewing patterns? I mean, it's the devil you know -- right? I can't tell you how much money I've wasted on commercial sewing patterns that were never meant for short, plump people like me.

So I collected some likely pattern experiments: pants that fit just right but for an extra inch or two in the waist and high hip; jackets that need just a dab more fabric in center front and back; and blouses that fit my shoulders and arms perfectly but strain across ye olde bustline.

Making a pattern from a fitted blouse was first on my list. Here's a "before" shot of a blouse identical to the white one I ripped apart for a pattern: Gapping, pulling, stretching -- I feel like a sausage stuffed into a casing.

So to begin: On the white blouse, I marked my actual bust point on the blouse front. (That's the black dot in the picture below, way below the blouse's bust point -- Who do these companies use for fit models? Teenagers??) Then I took the garment apart completely -- removed the sleeves and collar, ripped the seams, and opened up the darts. I ironed each piece to fusible webbing (Wonder Under) because I'm going to have to add fabric here and there:
Then I trimmed away all the excess fusible webbing from the edges.
Now to alter the front so that this "pattern" will fit my peculiar figure. Because I have more junk in the front than in the trunk -- and because all that junk has headed south with age -- I had to change the blouse's front. I used the excellent instructions in "Easy Guide to Sewing Blouses" by Connie Long: and drew boxes around both front darts, which are supposed to end about 2" from my bustline and actually point to it. I also reshaped and shortened the vertical front dart:
I removed the paper backing from the Wonder Under, cut out the dart boxes and repositioned them. I also enlarged the front by cutting along the side seamline and moving it over about a half-inch at the bottom. The sleeve and arm opening fit fine, so I didn't want to change the upper side seam. Next I had to extend the horizontal dart into the new side seam allowance. Then I ironed the front with repositioned bust darts and side seam to a piece of muslin:
With that done, I trimmed the excess muslin, leaving 1/2" seam allowances all around. This gave me a stable pattern piece, with all alterations glued in place by fusible webbing:

I didn't have to alter anything else, so I just added 1/2" seam allowances to the back, sleeves & cuffs, collar and collar stand. Then I was ready to cut out my new blouse. I bought this fabric at JoAnn's -- It's a pretty cotton lawn from Lisette Co.:
And I stitched, using Connie Long's excellent instructions. Here's the result:
I've been sewing since I was a very young teenager, and this is the first time in MANY years that I've been so pleased with the fit of a garment I've sewn. This blouse is very comfortable with just the right amount of ease. I have three more pieces of Lisette fabric, and some gorgeous turquoise silk that I've been saving -- I can't wait to get started on my new blouse wardrobe! If you sew also, I hope my experiment helps you!