Doing a Jantzen: 1920s bathers

I was (and still am) working on an elaborate project for the Historical Sew Fortnightly The Great Outdoors challenge, but (as so often happens), I’m busy dealing with stuff, and won’t be able to get it done in time, so it’s been pushed back to a later challenge.

Luckily, I quite unexpectedly ended up with the inspiration for a simpler alternative item.  I’ve been working my way through all the various T-shirt patterns that are available at the moment.

I was trying the Tessuti Alexa T (not linking to it, because really, don’t buy it – SO overpriced for what it is) in a gorgeous fuchsia merino blend knit.  Unfortunately, I was so disappointed in the cut of the T-shirt that it was unfixable (enormous armholes.  You can fix almost anything but enormous armscythes in a T-shirt), and I almost threw it away.

Then I remembered the gorgeous fuchsia swimsuit that Knotrune did for the HSF Art challenge.  She was inspired by Picasso’s Bathers, and my fuchsia wool was the same shade, and looking at Bathers, it wouldn’t be too hard for me to cut my T-shirt neckline’s down to match Picasso’s

Les baigneuses (The Bathers), Pablo Picasso, 1918

Les baigneuses (The Bathers), Pablo Picasso, 1918

Of course, I had a T-shirt, and The Bathers are wearing one pieces.  Off to do some research, which yielded, this:

Ta da! Early 1920s Jantzen girl wonderfulness – in two pieces!

So I adjusted the neckline of my T-shirt, bound it and the armscythes, and used the last of my merino to whip up a pair of knee-length shorts (using Cake’s Espresso leggings pattern, which I DO recommend, as my base).

And the result:

1920s inspired bathing suit

Ta da!  Early 1920s (ish) swimwear wonderfulness!  On me!

Because it’s the middle of winter, and far too cold to be outside in a swimsuit (even a wool one), I posed inside, in the bathroom.  It seemed vaguely suitable, especially when I pretended to dive into the bath!

1920s inspired bathing suit

I’m really happy with my swimsuit, but I am just thinking of it as a working toile – it’s certainly not period perfect, but it does the job, and will help me to make another one that is perfect later on.

1920s inspired bathing suit

For now, it’s fun to wear, and it might even get a trial dip in the sea once the weather is warmer.

1920s inspired bathing suit

I might have to work on my diving form though…

1920s inspired bathing suit
Here are some flat shots, if you are interested in the construction:

Felicity the cat

Felicity the cat

I was short on fabric so had to do a bit of piecing:

1920s inspired bathing suit

1920s inspired bathing suit

The Challenge: #15 The Great Outdoors

Fabric: 1ishm of merino/something synthetic (probably nylon) blend knit.

Pattern: Extremely altered versions of Tessuti’s Alexa T (I don’t think there was a single line left that matched their pattern by the time I was done), and slightly altered Cake Espresso leggings.

Year: 1918-1924

Notions: polyester thread, elastic

How historically accurate is it?: Not much at all, since it didn’t start out as a period item.  The construction itself is plausible, though I should have done my bindings slightly differently to match the period examples I have studied.  The knit is much finer than a period knit.  The overlocking is actually accurate, as overlockers have been around since the 1880s, and in the ‘teens and 20s were commonly used on knitwear and swimsuits.

Hours to complete: 3 or thereabouts, depending on whether you count my fussing with the Alexa pattern as part of the construction.

First worn: For the photoshoot

Total cost: I paid $15 for a 3x metres length of the merino at a clearance sale, and also made a long-sleeved T (that actually works!) out of it, and a cardigan, so lets say $5 +$1 in notions = $6 for the swimsuit.

And (of course), most importantly:
Does Felicity approve?  Well, she certainly enjoyed hanging out with me as I sewed it!
Felicity the cat


A checked 1910s blouse

When I announced the Paisley & Plaid challenge someone commented that both patterns were lovely, as long as you didn’t wear them together.

Naturally, that was far too big of a challenge for me to pass up on!

And luckily, I had a length of checked cotton in my stash, just waiting to be made up into a 1910s blouse!

So, with some help from Felicity (at her most elegant!) and Wearing History’s amazing Edwardian blouse pattern, I made a 1910s blouse to be worn with my paisley skirt.

1910s checked blouse

OK, so the blouse is a very subtle check/plaid indeed,  but it does show that you can blend paisley & plaid!

1910s checked blouse

I accumulated a whole pile of inspiration images to base my blouse on, and I settled on a front buttoning blouse with 3/4 length sleeves and the one piece wing collars that appear in fashion plates around 1914:

Les Modes ,1914, Robe d'apres-midi par Bulloz

Les Modes ,1914, Robe d’apres-midi par Bulloz

To achieve it, I altered the Wearing History pattern to have a front button opening, drafted the collar as an extension to the pattern (as it’s cut in one piece with the shirt front), and took the gathers out of the sleeves for a smoother, slimmer look in keeping with the 1910s silhouette.  I debated altering the sleeves to cut-on kimono sleeves, and rather regret that I didn’t.

Still, I’m quite taken with the result.

1910s checked blouse

I’m definitely going to make more versions, though I’ll tweak the pattern a bit.  It’s got slight wrinkles around the collar because 1) my button placement is too high (easily fixed as they are false buttons), and 2) it’s a tiny bit too small across the bust and down from the shouers, because Wearing History patterns (unlike every other pattern ever) are actually the size they say on the packet, and I have a really long upper-shoulder to bust measure , but mostly because I forgot to add width for the button overlap (the perils of midnight pattern drafting)

1910s checked blouse


Obviously the photos were taken as part of yesterday’s photoshoot with the 1913 paisley skirt.  I’ll finish with one showing how pretty the interior decor and teacups at Floridita’s are (even if you can barely see their paisley wallpaper in this shot):

1910s checked blouse


The Challenge: #14 – Paisley & Plaid

Fabric: 1.5m of lightweight cotton muslin with a loose, open weave and a woven in checked/plaid pattern – from the $5 bin at Fabric Warehouse.

Pattern: Wearing History’s 1900s-1910s blouse with significant pattern alterations.

Year: 1913-1916

Notions: Cotton thread, plastic buttons, twill tape, bias for the waist channel.

How historically accurate is it?  The pattern is accurate, as is the fabric and the construction techniques.  I don’t have a documented source for  false button fastenings on blouses for this period, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t used (I didn’t look very hard).  The blouse as it is is a bit too snug to be accurate on me, but it’s perfect for someone one size down, so I won’t take points off for that.  There were early forms of plastics in use during the 1910s, so the buttons are only mildly anachronistic in the type of plastic.  So 90%.

Hours to complete: 5, most of which was spent drafting that annoying collar.

First worn: On Friday for the photoshoot, and then to teach a sewing class, because it was just so comfortable (a modern version of this is going to be a wardrobe staple for me!).

Total Cost: $5 in fabric, less than $1 in notions as they were mostly inherited.  $6 all up.


The 1913 paisley skirt

All last week Miss Felicity was helping me with my sewing: making a 1913 skirt for the HSF Paisley & Plaid challenge.

We finished it last week Saturday, but my blouse wasn’t done and I couldn’t schedule time for a photoshoot.  I took some quick documentary shots on Isabella:

The 1913 paisley skirt

For the Paisley & Plaid challenge I’d wanted to use an amazing paisley silk jacquard that I found at Fabric-a-brac a few months back, but I just couldn’t get my ideas to come together into the perfect design, and none of my wilder plaids were speaking to me either.

Then, a few weeks before the challenge, I found an amazing paisley twill at The Fabric Warehouse in Wellington.  I loved the scattered woodblock inspired design, rather than the more common crowded, swirling Victorian paisley, and while orange isn’t usually a colour I gravitate towards, the dark blood-orange shade is really growing on me.

The 1913 paisley skirt

For the pattern I used the little diagram of the ‘Side fastening skirt’ from Thornton’s International System, 1913 which is reproduced in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion.

The 1913 paisley skirt

You can follow most of the construction along with Felicity’s help, but basically I drafted the pattern onto calico/muslin, made a toile, made some minor adjustments based on that, and then sewed the skirt up.

To break up the pattern and provide definition to the asymmetrical drape, I finished the edges with a silent piping made out of a wool cavalry twill I inherited from Nana.  It’s the only piece of beige-y/brown fabric I have in my entire stash!  The buttons are vintage tortoiseshell and mother of pearl buttons inherited from Grandma.  I was really excited to find the perfect garment to showcase them on.

I did make a few changes from the pattern, as I only had a metre and a half of fabric to work with, so I omitted some of the overlap, and also managed not to notice that it is a ‘side fastening skirt’ and so mine fastens in back! (which is a real pain to hook up)

The 1913 paisley skirt

I finally had everything finished (and time for a photoshoot) this Friday.  I tempted a friend who had the day free to help with photos in exchange for treats, and we explored the vicinity of Made on Marion for vintage-y locales.

The 1913 paisley skirt

I can’t decide if my favourite images are the ones taken against a blank black wall:

The 1913 paisley skirt

Or the ones taken in front of The Bake House, which would have been a brand new building when my skirt was en vogue:

The 1913 paisley skirt

The Bake House images do a great job of showing off  the very clever patterning, with no side seams and the cunning addition of an angled back seam, which gives the skirt enough room for you to walk in, while keeping the front silhouette quite straight and slim.

The 1913 paisley skirt

My hat, if you are wondering, is a terrible last minute job where I bobby pinned a vintage feather to a reproduction ’30s hat for a quick and dirty 1910s look.  I’m going to have to do a much better job next time!

The 1913 paisley skirt

After getting me thoroughly chilled in the brisk wind and slight drizzle (despite it being a very warm day for winter) we headed indoors to warm up with the promised treats at Floriditas, which serves tea in beautiful porcelain cups, and has the best cinnamon buns in New Zealand.

The 1913 paisley skirt

Floridita’s also has one other perk that made it just perfect for the event: paisley wallpaper!

The 1913 paisley skirt

By the way, have you noticed my blouse?  Isn’t it pretty?  Have you also noticed that it is very subtly checked?  Oh yes!  Paisley and plaid in one outfit!  More about the blouse tomorrow…

The Challenge: #14 – Paisley & Plaid

Fabric: 1.5m of midweight paisley patterned cotton with a very fine twill weave ($18pm), scraps of wool cavalry twill (inherited).

Pattern: ‘Side fastening skirt’ from Thornton’s International System, 1913, reproduced in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion (only without a 22″ waist!).

Year: 1913, fashionable from about 1911-1915

Notions: Cotton thread, vintage tortoiseshell and mother of pearl buttons, buttonhole twist, bias tape (lots!), 13 hooks.

How historically accurate is it?  Plausible as an avant garde designer item, but certainly not common or proven. The colour and small scattered prints were both extremely fashionable among the more exotic designers (such as Poiret), and there was a slight paisley revival in the 1910s, though all three elements were far more likely to be seen on soft, draping indoor and evening fabrics, not stiffer outdoor/suit costume fabrics. I had to alter the pattern slightly due to fabric constraints. Construction methods are spot on. So 85% at the best, and possibly not at all.

Hours to complete: 7ish, from drafting the pattern to the last hook and eye.

First worn: On Monday, to give my lectures at the local university (and no one noticed it was ‘period’) and then on Friday for the photoshoot.

Total Cost: $27 in fabric, less than $3 in trims = just under $30.

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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