The Secretary Blouse with Bias Pussycat Bow: Considerations for buttons

The buttons are 1/2″ wide.  This size always works well with blouses where other details dominate the style.

It took a long time for me to make a decision about what kind of button to use.  I want the bow to be the main feature that the eye goes to so the buttons are subordinate.

The print is very colorful and I wasn’t sure if covered buttons in the same fabric would work.  It seemed a very boring choice.  At the same time I wasn’t sure what color from the print would look best for the button.

So I’ve been travelling around this holiday weekend with a large scrap of fabric in my pocketbook.  I wasn’t sure if there were any fabric or notions stores in my new neighborhood.  It turns out there is one very old school notions shop on Fifth Avenue between 79th and 80th Streets in Bay Ridge.  It’s called The Beverly Trimming Shop and it was a delight to enter the shop.

The store is crowded with notions and trims.  The aisles are very narrow but the saleswoman helped me navigate.  There were so many buttons that could have worked with this print but not all were the correct size.

I finally went with the imitation mother-of-pearl buttons because they are distinctive enough to give some variety to the blouse but not so much that they will detract from the Pussycat Bow.

A special find was this vintage belt buckle.  I don’t have any specific plans for it yet but will be considering how to incorporate into a future project.

It was a very productive holiday weekend.  Most of the time went into Christmas card writing and mailing.  Then I got to decorating my apartment.  I feel a little down that none of the 4 days was devoted to sketching and sewing.  I’m about over the initial holiday preparations and hope next weekend I can make some progress on hemming the blouse.

I’m going to do the buttonholes at the end.  I’m still undecided about using silk buttonhole twist.  This polyester is light and the silk twist would, I think, appear too heavy and be too noticeable when finished.  I’m going to do one buttonhole with silk twist on one side and a double or quadruple strand of poly/cotton on the other.  The one which results in tiny, barely noticeable stitches will be the final choice.  While I like the look of buttonholes made with silk buttonhole twist sometimes I find them too noticeable and too dominant on a garment.  I prefer a duller look and less attention given to them once the garment is reviewed overall.

The Secretary Blouse: Blouse Sleeve with Cuff Special Detail

A blouse or shirt sleeve with a cuff will not look  fluid and graceful if it were completely straight.  There are small changes that can be made to the pattern to ensure a graceful drape to the sleeve and a flattering fit of the cuff around the wrist.  This effect is achieved through the way the sleeve is drafted.

Basic Shirt Sleeve pattern from “Perfect Fit Patternmaking”. French Fashion Academy, New York, 1973, page 58.

For the Secretary Blouse, I started out with the Basic Unfitted Sleeve and then modified it to create the Blouse/Shirt Sleeve. The extension which curves below the seamline at the back and then the curve that goes slightly above the wrist in the front helps create the movement at the hem that brings the cuff towards the front as shown in the photo above.

Blouse sleeve with French cuff. From “Couture Sewing Techniques” by Claire Shaeffer, The Taunton Press, Newtown, CT, 1993, pages 144-145

Claire Shaeffer provides instructions for creating a similar effect in a blouse sleeve that is not gathered into a cuff. Here only the back seam is lengthend 1 1/2-2″ and then angled up to the hemline of the blouse as shown above. This is slightly different from the method I used but I think the difference is caused by the fact one sleeve is drafted for gathers at the wrist and the one shown by Shaeffer is not. I have not tried her method or this type of sleeve yet but am offering it as a thought exercise to develop awareness of different sleeves, cuffs and ways to create the patterns for variations.


Links to postings on how to create the shirt/blouse sleeve and cuff

First you must create the Basic Unfitted Sleeve because it is the basis for the Shirt/Blouse Sleeve.

How to create the Shirt/Blouse Sleeve and Cuff.

The Secretary Blouse: Sewing a set-in sleeve, Part 2

Before heading to the sewing machine, I recommend checking how the sleeve looks on the inside from the bodice side of the garment. Then check on the outside. There should not be any fabric caught into the basting stitches nor should there be any pinching or pleating of fabric.

Inside the sleeve.

Wrong side, armhole, bodice.

12. Check to ensure that the basting stitches follow the stitching line. As you can see here, they’re not directly on that line in the lower part of the armhole curve. When this happens, just remove the basting stitches in the part that needs to be brought into line. Pin and baste again.

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The Secretary Blouse: Sewing a set-in sleeve, Part 1

Sewing in a set-in sleeve that has a smooth, pucker free cap and which hangs correctly is a mark of definite progress in dressmaking skills.

I’ve seen many tutorials on-line that do their best to present the fastest way possible to get through this part of the garment construction process. This is fine if you’re already possessed of such dexterity and capability that it is not necessary to baste or mark seams. More often than not, however, this is one part of the garment where it’s not always possible to rip out stitches, press and restitch without some real and noticeable damage taking place in the garment.

It is for these reasons that I’ve learned that it’s best to take time with this as in all things to ensure that it gets done right the first time. Especially when working with difficult fabrics and/or prints that can dizzy the eye and mind when looked at for too long. This presents another case for the value of creating a toile because it can always be used as a reference point when comparing the results to the garment in the fashion fabric.

Instructions for sewing a set-in sleeve from “Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing”. Published by The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, NY, 1980, page 256.

The ease stitching on the cap is done between the back and front match points (or notches). Then sleeve placket is constructed before sewing up the underarm seam. After sewing the underarm seam gathering stitches are made around the lower part of the sleeve and the cuff is sewn in. If there are no gathers and cuff, then the sleeve hem is finished and sewed into place.

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The Dressmaker’s Library: “THE NEW LOOK The Dior Revolution”

I highly recommend “THE NEW LOOK The Dior Revolution” by Nigel Cawthorne for the newcomer seeking knowledge of the master designer, Christian Dior. The book is also valuable to those with extensive knowledge of Dior. In this one book is an accessible, easy to assimilate history of the events which preceded and then followed the release of Dior’s first collection in 1947 which was christened “The New Look”.

Mitzah Bricard is often called Dior’s Muse. She was close to the designer working with him on each collection. Mitzah was also a milliner and woman of style known for her impeccable fashion sense.

The book traces the influences upon fashion in the two decades prior to World war II. We learn of the early influences and designers who brought clothing for women out of the last vestiges of the 19th century and into the 20th century. Along the way we also get acquainted with the designers Dior worked for during his early career such as Lucien Lelong.

Dior’s New Look, launched in 1947, made extravagant use of fabrics. This dress used 25 yards of fabric.

The middle of the book is devoted to the influence of Hollywood on fashion during the 1930s. A little known fact that is mentioned in this section is that at the end of that decade the Parisian couturieres were considering bringing back the corset. All that went on hold as the grim hold of WWII progressed throughout Europe. It wasn’t until 1947 when Dior brought in The New Look that the use of corsetry to shape the body returned as a major influence in fashion. This was made possible by the end of rationing so that boning, elastic, rubber and nylon could now be used for women’s lingerie and shape wear. There is in-depth treatment given of the Utility fashions of the WWII years with detailed descriptions of some styles and how women recycled old garments in order to use their rationing coupons for necessary clothing items. There are also many photos of the Utility fashions which make clear how economically the fabrics and notions were used. Skirts were shortened and slimmed down. Jackets were shorter with emphasis given to the shoulder line. Gone were the abundance of ruffles and ornamentation of earlier eras since they would have used valuable materials that needed to be diverted into the War effort.

A Dior inspired New Look Suit by British New Look, 1948.

The insight the reader gains into the austerity of the war years will make them better enabled to perceive the impact the luxury and femininity of the New Look had for women starved for the indulgences it offered.

Dior surrounded by his models. Tania is second from the left. Alla is second from the right.  Julie Hughes, a model from America, is the first on the right.

Included in the history are the sources of Dior’s inspiration as well as his models. Photographs convey the individuality of each model he selected. No two looked alike and each model would have an appeal to women of different figure types and ages. Dior’s muse, Mitzah Bricard is also touched upon in a manner that keeps her real as a person. She was known to have exquisite fashion sense but could be very blunt and temperamental as well.

Comparison of Dior fashions of 1947 (left) and 1948 (right).

The last section of the book provides good examples of how Dior evolved in his direction as the mid-late 1950s approached. In his A-Line designs is a precursor of the looser silhouette of the early-mid 1960s when the A-line dress became more youthful with shorter hemlines and more colorful prints. The book ends with a consideration of the other areas of fashion and design where the New Look had impact. It is worthwhile seeking out a copy of this book to add to your Dressmaker’s Library. It was published in 1996. I got a second hand copy through Abe Books for about $15.

Secretary Blouse: Some Guidelines for Sewing the Bias Cut Pussycat Bow

I cut the bow on the true bias to ensure a soft roll at the neckline. The bias cut also produces a bow that has soft fullness.

Bias cut fabric always requires extra care in handling. The type of fabric you are using will also determine how much extra work you will have to undertake to ensure a successful outcome.

I’m using a 100% polyester print. All the shortcomings of polyester are there including the ability to pucker. In addition the fabric is slippery and shreds at the seams. I was able to work around this and get a good result.

You’ll notice in the photos that the actual stitching falls below the line marked with dressmakers tracing paper.  Since the fabric I’m using is very slippery and the piece  was cut on the bias, I think the fabric stretched a little when pinned and marked.  I had to check before sewing and found that the seam allowance was larger than the 1/2″ I had wanted.  So I used the presser foot of the machine as a guide and stitched 1/2″ in from the edge.  The bias cut is very tricky.  I could have used tissue paper or stabilizer but having to remove it might have stretched the fabric more.

I suggest the following guidelines when you are using the bias cut to create a pussycat bow… Continue reading

Free downloadble PDFs: Planning, Evaluating, Using Color and Garment Support

I think having a digital library is just as important as having one in real time. There may be times when you are not at home and need to look something up or refresh your memory. This is when I find the many PDF files I’ve downloaded from university extension programs of great value. These brief guides focus on the essentials of the topic they present and are easy enough not to overwhelm the reader.

Here are some guides available from New Mexico State University, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. I’ve grouped them according to topic. The guides for Judging Clothing and Fashion Feasibility present a good overview and checklists of points to consider when planning a project. The guides on colors and interfacings are also provide a good overview on these topics.

Recommended Reading Before Beginning a New Design Project

Judging Clothing Projects
Guide C-103
Susan Wright, Extension Clothing and Textiles Specialist
URL to download PDF:

Clothing Construction Standards
Guide C-214
Susan Wright, Extension Clothing and Textiles Specialist
URL to download PDF:

Fashion Feasibility
Guide C-312
Revised by Nicole Lujan1
URL to download PDF:

Quickly pick-up some tips on the best support and finishing for your garments

Selecting Interfacings, Underlinings and Linings
Guide C-208
Reviewed by Constance Kratzer, Family Resource Management Specialist
URL to download PDF:

Consider the ways colors work together and determine what is best for you before shopping for fabrics

A Guide To Color
Guide C-316
Susan Wright, Extension Consumer Education and Health Specialist
URL to download PDF:

Determining Personal Colors
Guide C-315
Revised by J. Wendy Brown and Andrea Rojas
Cooperative Extension Service • College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
URL to download PDF: