Tutorial: How to make the ‘Deco Echo’ blouse

As promised, and per popular demand, a tutorial on my Deco Echo blouse!

First, a caveat.  This blouse best suits a figure with a small bust and less than 10″ bust/waist difference. If you have larger bust, you could try adding length and side-bust darts.  It would also help to taper the side panels in at the bottom, and to add a opening (either buttons up the CB, or a side fastening with snaps or hooks).

The finished Deco Echo blouse

Fabric: I used the panels of silk crepe from the susomawashi (the lower lining) of a kimono for my blouse.  I recommend lightweight silk or cotton fabrics.  Silk crepes are particularly nice because of their drape.

My blouse of silk crepe, side view

The blouse is made from 5 rectangles – two large ones, two narrow ones, and one really long and narrow one for the waist tie.

The blouse with the ties undone so you can really see the shapes

To make a blouse to fit a 34″ bust you will need:

  • 2x 21″ x 13.5″ (l x w) rectangles – these will be your front and back panels.
  • 2x 10.75″ x 6.5″ (l x w) rectangles – these will be your side panels
  • 1x 54″ x 4.75″ (l x w) – this is your waistband

To make a blouse to fit a 36″ bust you will need:

  • 2x 21″ x 14″ (l x w) rectangles – these will be your front and back panels.
  • 2x 10.75″ x 7″ (l x w) rectangles – these will be your side panels
  • 1x 56″ x 4.75″ (l x w) – this is your waistband

To make a blouse to fit a 38″ bust you will need:

  • 2x 21″ x 14.5″ (l x w) rectangles – these will be your front and back panels.
  • 2x 10.75″ x 7.5″ (l x w) rectangles – these will be your side panels.
  • 1x 58″ x 4.75″ (l x w) – this is your waist tie.
If you are very tall or have a long torso, you may wish to add length to the front/back and side panels.  If you are petite, don’t worry about the length – that’s easy to adjust later on in the sewing process.
  • Step 1: Finishing: Finish all four edges of all the panels with narrow hem stitching.  It’s important that all the edges are finished nicely, because the finished seams of the panels also form the armhole & collar edges.

    Seam & top edges finished with narrow hem stitching

  • Step 2: Side seams:Sew the narrow side panels to the front & back panels using 1/2″ seam allowances, right sides together, carefully lining up the bottom edges.

    The side front and back seams

  • Step 3: Fitting the sides and shoulders, and checking the length:Hand-baste the shoulders of the blouse together 2 1/2″ from the loose collar ends.  Make sure you do it really loosely – so its easy to unpick if it needs adjusting.  Pull the blouse on over your head.  Check the fit.  Is it too loose?  Take in the side seams.  Too tight?  Let them out.  Check the fit of the shoulders.  If the side panels are too low on you, sew the shoulder tacks lower.  If the side panels are too high, let the neckline out.  Now, check the length.  The bottom as it is should sit right at, or just the tiniest bit below your natural waist.  Remember that you have about 4 1/4″ of waistband to add.

    The inside out blouse with the waist-ties undone

  • Step 4:  The shoulders:  Hand-sew the shoulders together properly – .  Use matching thread, because it will show on the outside (I used white so you could see what I did).  Sew in from the front of the blouse, out the back, and in through the front again, enclosing the edge in your thread.

My sewn shoulder seams

  • CFStep 5:  The waist tie:  Carefully mark the CB & CF points of the bottom of the blouse, and the mid point of the waist tie.  Pin the waist tie to the blouse body, matching the CB of the blouse & the mid point of the waist tie.  Leave a 3″ gap unpinned at the CF of the blouse.  Sew the waist tie to the blouse using a tiny less than 1/4″ seam allowance, or an edge to edge machine faggoting stitch (this is what I did, but it’s a bit trickier), leaving your 3″ gap at the CF.  An easy way to do a cheater machine-faggoted join is the lay the two edges right next to each other, and use the stitch that looks like a zig-zag with running stitches.  

My machine faggoted join

  • Step 6:  The divided back collar:  Carefully mark the CB of the blouse, and cut a line 4″ down from the top of the collar along the centre back line.  Finish the edges of the cut with a zig zag stitch with a moderate length, and the narrowest width (basically, a buttonhole zig-zag).  Reinforce the bottom of the point.  I know it sounds like cheating, but it actually looks quite good!

The blouse back

The finished edges of my divided back collar

And that’s it!  You are done!

I had fun making my ‘Deco Echo’ blouse – it was so fast and easy.  And I had fun wearing it.  I hope you have the same experience!

There are all sorts of variants that you could do to this blouse – add a divided collar in front as well as back, or instead of back.  Add a button opening up the back.  Play – have fun!

Elise’s gift: the mannish cape

Last week, out of Elise’s gifts, I showed you an exceedingly quirky and romantic and feminine leaf-green velvet evening wrap – a perfect illustration of the mid-late 1930s Medieval Revival.  This week I’m sticking with velvet evening wraps, but going to the other extreme, to illustrate another fashion trend of the late 1930s – the masculine look for women.  Thus an almost severe and mannish evening cape:

The cape

You’ve already had a sneak-peek at this rather masculine monochrome evening cape: I wore it to the premier of Porcelaintoy’s Monsters.

Me in the cape at the launch

I’m afraid the cape hasn’t photographed very well – the contrast of the black velvet and the white satin lining was just too tricky to balance.  I’ll try my best to tell you about it in great detail to fill in the gaps.

Quilted white satin lining, black velvet outer

Like most of the textiles Elise gave me, this cape dates from the late 1930s, as shown by the materials used and the broad shoulders.

Classic late 1930s broad shoulders

The cape outer is black velvet – almost certainly rayon.  It’s fully lined in quilted rayon sateen.

The quilted lining

The lining swings loose from the velvet outer at the hem, allowing the inside construction to be inspected.  The quilted is backed in some soft of fill – definitely synthetic, but I’m not sure what it is.  The fill is foxing badly with age.

The foxed and stained quilt backing

While the lining is relatively cheap, and the outer velvet is probably rayon, a bit of luxury has been added in the cloaks hood with a silk satin lining.

The lux silk satin hood lining

It makes sense that valuable fabric would be used where it makes the most effect: the hood lining is always visible, whether it is hanging down the back, or pulled up, with the silk framing the face.

The hood hanging down the back of the jacket, with glimpses of the silk lining

For all its severity and masculinity, this cape does have one distinct similarity to the leaf-green jacket: the shoulders are gathered in exactly the same way.  The extra stitching controls the fullness, and padding and structure underneath the gathers create the fashionable broad-shouldered effect.

Gathered and controlled cape fullness

The only other decorative detail in the construction of the cape is the double-buttons that fasten the front of the cloak, a feature common to male evening cloaks of the early 20th century.

The double buttons and loops on the front of the cloak

The cape is a commercial garment, as shown by the label in the neck, which still has the original owner’s initials pencilled on it!  The label could be the garment maker, or the department store that sold the garment.

The label. MBH? MRH?

Despite its age, and unlike most of the other garments, the cape is still quite robust and eminently wearable.  I’m not sure if it will get many more outings – I do want to keep it in perfect condition.  I did feel quite fabulous and glamourous in it!  I hope MBH, whoever she was, felt the same when she wore it.

Wearing the jacket

Terminology: What is a cloche?

First, have you seen that there is a ‘bonus’ post this week?  Yep, the ‘Deco Echo’ blouse from my Art Deco wardrobe is being featured over on the Sew Weekly.  I’ll be posting a tutorial on how to make it on Sat or Sun.

Alright, turning our attention to the (suitable Art Deco) term of the week.  What is a cloche?

Cloche, Bijou, circa 1925, Plaited horsehair with silk ribbon embroidery, LACMA

A cloche is a tight fitting hat which comes low over the forehead and at the nape of the neck.  It can have a brim or be brimless.

The word comes from the French for bell.  The first known use for a hat was in 1882.

Cloche’s are famous as the hat of the 1920s.  Their sleek styling matched the shorter, sleeker fashions, and the new bobbed hairstyles allowed a low, tight fitting hat.

Cloche, Lichtenstein Label, mid-1920, Balibuntal straw with grosgrain ribbon, LACMA

1880s origin or not, the cloche hats didn’t pick up steam until the 20th century.  A 1908 fashion article credits the invention of the cloche or ‘mushroom’ hat to Mademoiselle Cecile Sorrell “The Queen of French Fashion”.  Her innovation must have been quite popular, as bridesmaids were wearing it in New Zealand that very year.  Despite her promise to introduce a shape of hat that would make the cloche obsolete, the style was on the rise.  In 1910 hats are describes as being “quite cloche in shape”.  In 1917 they were considered a type of toque along with turban and mandarin shapes.  By 1919 they were one of the leading shapes, though the wide-brimmed portrait hat still reigned supreme.

Cloche, Jardine hats, 1917, LACMA

The early cloche though, is not at all what we envision a cloche hat as looking like.  It had a deep crown pulled low, but also a wide picture brim.  A 1907 article describes it in depth:

Evening Post, 14 September 1907, Page 11

A 1917 ad for ‘full dress’ race wear describes a “A large natural leghorn hat, underlined with black tulle, high cloche crown and drape of shell pink silk velvet; quaint flowers in pastel shades are the sole trimming. A 1918 ad describes the shape as ‘high crowned’.

An early cloche - Ohinemuri Gazette, Volume XXXII, Issue 4218, 21 January 1921, Page 4

Throughout the 1920s the brim receded, so that the cloche became the deep, small brimmed hat that the name now refers to.

In addition to the decreasing brim, the cloche went through a number of style changes throughout the 1920s.  In 1926 the fashion was for the brim to be turned up (image above). A 1929 story on the “Popularity of the Cloche Hat” extolls its virtues “for their is nothing that suits a woman so well as this type of hat, and mentions “the many types of cloche’, including the new cloche – trimmed round the sides with laurel leaves (sounds like my kind of hat!).

In addition to different styles of cloches, one could get cloches in a wide variety of materials: felt, fabric, straw, and 1928 even saw a brief fashion for wooden cloches – extremely expensive wooden cloches at 10 pounds a hat (though Mmlle Sorrell had not thought 40 pounds too much in 1908!).  Another fancy was for matching cloche hats and scarves – quite the thing in 1931.

A linen & silk cloche, ca. 1923, French, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Whatever they were made of, the cloche was the hat of the 1920s.  A 1927 fashion article out of England (as were  most fashion articles in early 20th century New Zealand) expresses boredom with the ‘ubiquitous cloché’.

Ubiquitous they may have been, but they weren’t entirely accepted.  As late as 1925 they were seen as being a bit risque – the attire of the fast modern woman (one who smoked!), as this cheeky story illustrates.

A fast woman of the '20s, cloche on head and cigarette in hand

And not everyone was happy with clochés from an aesthetic perspective.  A 1931 fashion article bewailed the effects of brimless hats that do not shield the face from the sun, and the unflattering effect of a bare brow.

By 1935 the heyday of the cloche was over.  A fashion article warns that only “an extremely chic woman can look smart in a cloche” , and promotes little hats pushed well back on the head to show the hairline – quite different from the pulled-down, forehead hiding cloche.

Still, having been introduced along with shorter hair, and being so suitable for modern lifestyles (and windy climates!) the cloche would never go away entirely, and has fashionable throughout the 20th century in different guises.

Cloche, Hattie-Carnegie, circa-1944, Grosgrain ribbon & feather trim, LACMA

Cloche, Bergdorf Goodman, United-States, circa-1960, Wool knit jersey, LACMA


Merriam-Webster Online

O’Hara, Georgina, The Encyclopedia of Fashion: From 1840 to the 1980s.  London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.  1986


Meet the Dreamstress

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

Come sew with us!