The prompt for the Historical Sew Monthly in July was “Sleeves.” Initially I had grand plans of making an Ionian chiton and even dove far enough down that rabbit hole that I was reading an archaeological journal article from 1928* to understand ancient Greek fastenings…but it was getting a bit overwhelming, so I turned to the 20th century, instead. I turned exactly to 1921.
Is that even historical? A plain shirt with cut-on sleeves and some gathers at the waist? Yes! Below is a set of instructions for a pattern that you could buy if you were a reader of the Woman’s Home Companion in 1921. As a source, it has several exciting features: an exact year, period-accurate instructions for a home-seamstress, and, conveniently, the actual shape of the pattern piece. Pattern piece–singular–because as advertised, it’s Cut in One Piece.
I also found a Sears catalogue page from around the same year. I liked the blue one on the upper left, and based my own on that.
You know, if I walked down the street in 1921, I don’t think anyone would point and shriek at the time-traveling lady.
Of course, this isn’t a totally accurate reproduction. I sketched up a pattern based on my best guess of how it’s supposed to fit; I couldn’t find an extant example. Regarding the embroidery, which is the most obvious difference–I researched hard to justify not doing any. Alas, the style was for large-scale, symmetrical motifs in at least two contrasting colours. Even the Woman’s Home Companion version includes fringe and satin stitch. My double-line of running stitch represents the the most I could handle and still took two full episodes of The Night Manager (special thanks to Olivia Colman for being excellent). I’m thrilled with how crisp it came out, but it has zero historical basis that I could find.
To my credit, though, I sewed the whole shirt by hand. I wanted to practice my hand-sewing, and it was (surprisingly) pleasant, just very slow–those underarm seams are French seams. I don’t see myself doing that again any time soon.
The rayon poplin is a substitute for tricolette, a fabric I’ve never seen; it’s is a drapey knit of rayon or silk. I finished my version with facings and hems instead of bias tape, because hand-sewing rayon bias tape sounds like a shifty, slippery nightmare.
Fabric: 1 m rayon poplin
Approximate Cost: $13.00 CAD ($10 for the fabric, $1 for the embroidery thread, $2 for a box of metal snaps)
What didn’t go well: The sleeves should be about 50% wider at the hem, and the puffs at the waist could less puffy. For some reason, the snaps don’t lie nicely when I wear the shirt, and look like they’re straining even when they’re not. Maybe they’re too heavy? I also managed to cut a slice out under one arm near the seam and had to patch it.
What went well: The embroidery went much better than expected, as did the hand sewing. The facing went in smoothly. I drafted a pattern myself and it worked! Most importantly, I got a new shirt that I plan to wear regularly. Hurrah!
*Kate McK. Elderkin. “Buttons and Their Use on Greek Garments.” American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 32, no. 3, 1928, pp. 333–345. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/497471.