Historical Sew Fortnightly, Sewing

A blouse for Marilla of Anne of Green Gables

Here is a bit of a confession about the Historical Sew Fortnightly ‘Silver Screen’ challenge: film & TV costumes  don’t do a lot for me.  Or, more accurately, they don’t do a lot compared to extant garments.  There are SO many original pieces that make my heart go pitter patter, but when I watch period dramas  it’s very rare for me to love something and want to recreate it.  Sometimes a film makes me love a period, and then I go looking for original pieces in that period, but there are only a few costumes I really want to recreate, and even then I suspect I’d tweak.  I’m a tweaker!

Luckily tweaking is practically  mandatory for the Silver Screen challenge, because we’re supposed to historically accuratise the costume we choose.  And also luckily there is an onscreen costume that has always fascinated me, that I had fabric for (or close enough), and that fit perfectly into my sewing schedule.

My screen choice comes from everyone’s favourite non-BBC period miniseries: the 1980s Anne of Green Gables.

Nope.  Not an Anne dress.  I’ve always been fascinated by this blouse that Marilla wears:

Anne of Green Gables - Marilla's Blouse

Check out the stripe placement on the sleeves:

Anne of Green Gables - Marilla's Blouse


It’s not exactly in-character for Marilla, because that bias placement uses every bit as much fabric as the puffed sleeves that she refuses to give Anne because they are so wasteful, but it’s very effective onscreen.

Marilla wears at least two versions of the blouse.  A pale grey and white one when Anne first arrives:

Anne of Green Gables - Marilla's Blouse

And a lilac and purple one that shows up in a number of scenes, both as a ‘best’ shirt under a suit, and for everyday wear:

Anne of Green Gables - Marilla's Blouse

Anne of Green Gables - Marilla's Blouse

Anne of Green Gables - Marilla's Blouse

I think the blouse is just fabulous, and there are certainly plenty of examples of turn-of-the-century blouses in striped fabrics (as in this photograph with a friend of the Mansfield/Beauchamp family), though they tend to be more formal shirts, rather than gathered blouses.  I’ve even seen the chevron sleeve placement, but only on formal garments in silk, so it’s more of a ‘historically possible’ in a cotton shirt, than a documented feature.

I used Wearing History’s Edwardian blouse pattern as the basis for my blouse, hacking it to add a yoke, and more fullness.

An Anne of Green Gables inspired Marilla Blouse thedreamstress.com

And I am pretty darn pleased with the end result!

An Anne of Green Gables inspired Marilla Blouse thedreamstress.com

I didn’t have an even stripe, and I couldn’t find a suitable fabric with a similar one, so I went for a wide and narrow stripe in blue and grey (and, to be perfectly honest, I think it’s even better than the original!).

An Anne of Green Gables inspired Marilla Blouse thedreamstress.com

To control the extra fullness, and to avoid bulk at the waist, I used the peplum piece from Wearing History’s Camisole pattern, cut the blouse short, and gathered it to it.  Now my front gathers will always sit exactly as I want them  to, with no extra bulk.  This is a documented period technique, and has instantly become my favourite hack of the Edwardian blouse pattern.

An Anne of Green Gables inspired Marilla Blouse thedreamstress.com

The blouse has already featured in two photoshoots: on ‘Alice’ the maid at the Katherine Mansfield House Museum, and is modelled here by my friend Stella in Pukekura Park, New Plymouth.  We know from Mansfield’s stories that Alice liked a bit of flair to her clothes, so she would have appreciated the sleeves on this.  And Stella may be quite a bit younger and more fashionable than Marilla, but the Anne books mention borrowing patterns from neighbors  (as poor Anne found out out to her dismay when she was sent through the ‘Haunted Woods’ to borrow one), so even the younger members of Avonlea may have worn blouses made from Marilla’s blouse. (I know!  I’m skipping between the miniseries and two different literary worlds with abandon!)

An Anne of Green Gables inspired Marilla Blouse thedreamstress.com

The shirt looks fabulous  on both my models, which I am so pleased about, because there was a good chance that this could end up being frumpy.

Sun 18th October, for a photoshoot at the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace

The Challenge:  Silver Screen

The Onscreen Inspiration:  Marilla’s Blouse from 1985’s Anne of Green Gables.

Fabric:  2m  Striped cotton shirting ($4 from Fabric-a-Brac)

Pattern:  Wearing History’s Edwardian Blouse pattern, modified  to add a yoke, and a peplum waist.

Year:  ca. 1900

Notions:  buttons (50 cents), thread  (50 cents)

How historically accurate is it?:  The pattern and construction are  quite accurate, I’ve yet to find a documented example of the chevron sleeves on this type of blouse.

Hours to complete:  5

First worn:  Sun 18th October, for a photoshoot at the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace, and then again Sun 25th October, for an Anne of Green Gables inspired photoshoot in New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park

Total cost:  $6

Sun 18th October, for a photoshoot at the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace


  1. I am just watching you and only sometimes read (I confess) because I sympathize with world of sewing. I’ve read this article and I asked my self …this blouse, it’s wonderful, but don’t you think it would be great to see it in some modern set? with some pants-tube? are you agree to make this kind of mix or maybe you prefer just admire and recreate it?

    Greetings, Agata

  2. Really interesting. I watched this serie a zillion times and I never notice that there were three versions of that blouse. This gives me a reason to watch it over another time.

  3. It’s lovely, and I agree the wider stripe works better. Your clever chevrons are more visible in the wider stripe.

    I know what you mean about TV/film costumes. When you have an image in your head of how stunning the originals could be, costumes can be really underwhelming.

  4. Lynne says

    Fine blouses, theirs, and yours! I agree that the cut is a little more generous than the ‘real’ Marilla would have countenanced, but so effective. And I would forgive that series a lot for its brilliant casting. That woman who played Marilla was absolutely perfect in the role, and I’m one of the partisan fuss-pots.

    The chevron sleeves are beautiful, and your fabric works so well. Such a versatile pattern! I can see you making more variations on this theme.

  5. Elise says

    Ohhh….I need to check out the facebook page! Costume dramas helped get me into historical textile stuff.

  6. Lyn Swan says

    I always love your interpretation of garments…one of the joys of sewing is to bring our creativity to the process…no matter how historically accurate. As, I am sure, the original seamstresses did. The chevron stripes are a lovely was to add interest without overwhelming with embellishments. I know that you have posted this skirt before but I don’t remember when….a bit of information about it please. The blouse and skirt work so well together!

  7. I am intrigued to learn from your post that “…film & TV costumes don’t do a lot for me. Or, more accurately, they don’t do a lot compared to extant garments.”

    I feel the same way. Although there are some movie costumes that look great on the actor in a particular role, the costumes in period dramas are often embarrassing to the clothing historian. Even the ones that are close to accurate are often annoying, because a history-minded viewer can see what types of changes would make a garment CORRECT.

    The problem is worst of all for Dark Ages/Viking era dramas. Because the experts are still assembling the puzzle of what Viking clothing in particular was like, filmmakers tend to take particularly great licence when costuming Viking era dramas. So you get *way* too much fur and leather, and chainmail bits used for fashion, and the like. Ugh.

    • Hehe. That’s hilarious! Of course, I believe Henry’s actual objection to Anne was not that she wasn’t pretty, but that she wasn’t chatty and flirty and didn’t flatter him! He’d probably have loved Anne of Cleve Gables! 😉

  8. Janice says

    I am playing marilla in a community theatre production. How can I get a costume like this to wear? Desperate!!

Comments are closed.