This is my ‘wearable muslin’ of a 1990s-era pattern I bought recently, Simplicity 8620. I liked the loose fit, the bishop sleeves and the many interesting collar options, so I decided to test it with a two-dollar piece of pink cotton oxford shirting that I found at the thrift store a few months ago. I think this pattern would be better suited to a softer cotton or other fabric with more drape, but I like how the blouse turned out all the same. I made a size 8 and my only issue is that the shoulders are too wide. I am of two minds about this: since I want the blouse to be a little oversized and comfortable, I could treat it as a slightly dropped shoulder and leave it as is in future versions, or I could either cut the shoulders down to a size 6 or do a narrow shoulder adjustment.
Still, shoulders aside, I think the blouse is very wearable and comfortable. I finished the seams very simply with pinking shears and edge-stitched the front neckline and the cuffs. The sleeves have continuous laps, and the instructions were very clear, which made them very simple to assemble. The blouse came together very quickly---maybe about three days of work, including sewing the button-holes by hand. The buttons were scavenged from an old worn-out shirt and saved in my button-drawer.
I am wearing my new blouse with one of my homemade Simplicity 7880 skirts and homemade rose quartz jewelry. The wool Indian shawl was a lucky find at the thrift store.
It was such a pleasure to wear my new outfit on a sunny morning to the monastery garden, where Gia went mad in the clover and made Mr R and I laugh a great deal. But another storm is coming, so now it is back to work on finishing my charcoal-grey wool cape that I have been sewing all month.
I thought it might be interesting to start a new series of posts here on the blog looking at the details of vintage garments that Mr Rat and I have in our closet. Most patterns have very little information about choosing seam finishes, even though seam finishes and other small details like button choice and placement become crucial design elements.
Since Mr Rat just finished his first ‘Aloha’ shirt and has another one cut out and sitting on our sewing desk waiting to be assembled, I thought I’d start the series by looking at a few of his vintage Hawaiian (or Aloha) shirts that we have found at thrift stores in Los Angeles over the past few years. I chose the three I am going to highlight today for their variety---maybe some other time I will highlight some of his other ones.
A few notes about what all of his vintage Aloha shirts have in common: they are all 100 percent cotton, and generally the older ones and the ones that are truly from Hawaii are usually turned ‘inside-out’ so the paler side of the cotton print that we would usually assume is the ‘back’ becomes the ‘front.’ They all have very little top or edge-stitching. I’ve also noticed that they rarely use any interfacing. Usually the only places they have stitching visible on the outside is on the collar and the pocket. The pockets are always meticulously pattern-matched to the surrounding print, and there is usually just one, generally on the left side. They all have straight bottom hems, because they are generally worn untucked, I believe.
For individual details, first let’s look at the Surfline Hawaii shirt at the top of the post, which is probably from the late 60s or early 70s, judging by the shape of the collar. The cotton on this one is much rougher and thicker than the other shirts in Mr Rat’s collection. It may even be barkcloth, which is a traditional Hawaiian textile. The collar is a true ‘convertible’ collar, with a little piece of elastic on one side and a tiny button hidden under the collar on the other. Mr Rat usually wears it open.
The buttons are wood.
The inside seams are mostly finished with a serged edge, except the yoke, which is clean finished so no edges are showing. The back of the shirt is gathered into two small pleats at the yoke. The collar is understitched around the back to help it roll correctly. The hems on the bottom edge and the short sleeves are rolled and stitched very close to the edge.
The most unusual finishing detail is the front facing: it is cut so the selvedge edge of the fabric forms the outer edge of the facing.
Next let’s look at this Cooke Street Honolulu shirt. It also has a convertible collar, but this one lacks the upper button to really make it convertible. The collar is topstitched, but only around the upper section. It also has a meticulously matched single front pocket and wooden buttons.
The inside seams are also serged, including the front facing. The hem at the bottom and on the sleeves is machine blind-stitched.
The back yoke is very similarly treated to the pink aloha shirt, with two small pleats at the shoulder blades. The yoke is longer than the pink shirt, however.
Last, let’s look at another Cooke Street Honolulu shirt. This one departs from the convertible collar look and
has a traditional stand collar instead, and a front button band instead of a fold-over front faching. There is more top and edge-stitching on this shirt: the collar, collar-band, pocket, hems, and front button band are all top and edge-stitched.
The back yoke has a different treatment, too: on this one there is a center pleat, more like you see on contemporary men’s dress shirts.
This one also differs by having slits to allow for extra movement at the bottom side hems.
The inside seams are also mostly serged, except for the hems, which are folded over and stitched very close to the edge.
Aloha shirts have always been a favorite of mine. I have a closet full of Aloha Shirts I have found at thrift shops. A year ago, while hunting around a local thrift shop, Mrs. Rat discovered an uncut 1960’s era Aloha shirt pattern by Patterns Pacifica. I was pretty stoked although I kept putting off making my own shirt despite the fact that I already had accumulated a number of Aloha print fabrics. This month I decided to give this pattern a shot. We found 4 yards of this beautiful seascape fabric at another thrift shop. Since we had so much I thought it would make a really nice shirt to do as much pattern matching as possible. We managed to match up the entire front of the shirt and pocket as one continuous seascape scene. I sewed the shirt using the reverse side of the fabric and authentic coconut shell buttons salvaged from a previous shirt. These details give it that Aloha shirt authenticity. The construction was amazingly simple and fast. It took me only one afternoon and 3 evenings to finish this shirt from start to finish. The collar definitely has 60’s era flare. At first I was a little wary about a collar this large, but the more I wear the shirt, the more I like it for that unique detail. What’s wrong with a big collar anyway? I am really happy with the way this pattern turned out and will definitely make a few more.
This is another favorite shirt of mine, made last year to wear to Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house. The pattern is vintage Simplicity 7372 from the 1970s, in a size 8. I didn’t have to make any adjustments---it fit very well, like most size 8 patterns from the 1970s. I’m not sure why the patterns from the 1970s in particular fit so much better and so much more consistently for me---perhaps they were designed for a relatively narrow shouldered, slightly built woman like myself? Because I have had so much success with size 8 patterns from the 1970s, they are my personal preference for sewing, since I can almost always rely on them to need little to no adjustments. I feel lucky that out of all the decades, it is the 1970s that fit me well, since it was an eclectic decade, with wide-ranging influences from the previous hundred years of clothing styles. The patterns often have interesting collars and sleeves, which I like, and long, full skirts, which I also particularly like. Many older patterns are easy to update by choosing a simple and beautiful fabric and keeping the trims subtle as well, unless a more exotic, exaggerated look is what is desired.
This shirt is made from smooth, thick, 100 percent cotton. The disadvantage is that it wrinkles easily and must be thoroughly pressed every time I wear it, but it does iron well, and it was easy to sew. I finished all the seams with faux French seams. The buttons are made of carved shell---I cut them off of an old shirt from the thrift store when it was too worn out to wear anymore, and re-used them on my shirt for their beauty. The buttonholes are finished by hand, since my machine refuses to make automatic button-holes. I don’t mind doing buttonhole stitch---it doesn’t take very long when you get used to it, and doing the finishing touches by hand on my sewing projects is a restful and quiet activity.
This is one of my favorite shirts. I like the collar, the gathering at the back, the big soft sleeves. My version of McCall 6648 is a size 6 made in soft white cotton. It takes quite a bit of fabric for a shirt, but it is worth it, I think. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. A beginner sewer with patience could make it without too much difficulty, since the fit is very forgiving. I did faux flat-fell seams on the sides and sleeves and edge-stitched the collar and button placket. The buttonholes are stitched by hand, and the buttons are flat, clear plastic. I found the set of them at the thrift store, still on their card. The only change I would make the next time I make this pattern would be to make the cuffs on the sleeves slightly larger. When I tuck in my blouse the cuffs are tight enough to make my range of movement limited if I try to raise my arms too high. A minor problem and one easily fixed, but if you are making this blouse for the first time, you might want to double-check how large the cuff is compared to your arm before you sew it on.
I am wearing my McCall 6648 shirt with yet another version of Simplicity 7880, this time made in black cotton. Although you can’t see it in these pictures, this particular skirt goes down almost to the floor.
This is how Gia feels about our sewing. Why aren't you petting me? She wonders.
1980s era patterns are very hit or miss for me. Sometimes the sizing works out well, other times there is so much ease and in such odd places that I struggle to make my garment fit in any kind of nice way. This blouse was a luckily easy success for fit. The pattern, Simplicity 8496, attracted me because of its curious sleeves, which give it an interesting and unusual wing-like shape. I made the blouse out of bleached muslin from JoAnn fabric stores, which has softened as it has been washed so that the folds have a gentle drape. I made view 6 in a size 8, with no adjustments. The buttons I used were cut off of an old shirt that was stained and ready to be made into a cleaning rag. I keep a folder with little bags for buttons, and when a garment from my side of the closet or my husband’s gets to a state where it isn’t wearable, mendable, or re-usable, I cut off the buttons and save them for re-use in future sewing projects. There is so much more variety in buttons off of used shirts, dresses, vests, and coats than what I can find in the single aisle devoted to buttons at the local JoAnns. I’ve also found some beautiful buttons in the big grab-bags of them that are sometimes sold at thrift stores, including metal buttons, big buttons, tiny buttons, mother-of-pearl buttons, and all kinds of curious and pretty varieties of plastic buttons.
As an aside, I am wearing my Simplicity 8496 blouse with another version of my favorite Simplicity 7880 skirt pattern----this one is made up in black poly-cotton broadcloth, and although you can’t see the hem in these photos, it goes down to about mid-calf.
We found a really nice piece of chambray at the thrift store and what better use than to turn it into a western shirt. The pattern I used is McCall's M6044 version E but without the pockets. I added the dark blue top stitching for contrast and used copper colored snaps for the closures. I have a 38R coat size and generally wear a medium as far as shirt sizes go. I chose to sew the medium shirt here and was very satisfied with the fit. I have also tried the short sleeve version of this pattern (A) but did not particularly like the absence of the yoke in this version.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew