Category Archives: Sewing a Half-scale Toile

Exploring Construction of the Elusive Bicorne.

Analysis of Inner Structure of a Chapeau de Bras Bicorne - worn by ZiZi Bleu.

Analysis of Inner Structure of a Chapeau de Bras Bicorne – worn by ZiZi Bleu.

With gilded lips, golden soulful eyes, and her cheeks rouged blue – Zizi Bleu models a miniature toile for the inner structure of The Elusive Bicorne – or, in this case – The Elusive Chapeau de Bras.

A kind Blue Bonnet and her son, schooled in the construction of chapeaus de bras, helpfully directed my attention to the Robert J. Moore, Jr. and Michael Haynes book – Lewis and Clark:  Tailor Made, Trail Worn – Army Life, Clothing, and Weapons of the Corps of Discovery.  I saw therein a chapeau de bras, unfolded and freed to reveal the inner hat (which rests within its taco-shell-like facade).

Yet to be discovered – whether the inner cap should be cut separately, or if it is possible to cut the hat as two large pieces:  front and half-cap, back and half-cap.  According to Tailor Made, Trail Worn – the actual parts are:  crown (cap or fez), cock (front), and fan (back)… with the back “fan” crescent cut slightly taller than the front crescent.

Chapeau de Bras Interesting Fact – examining Chapeau Bras (generally from militia officers) within museum collections, average dimensions are these:  15.5-inches to 23-inches wide – lower tip to tip – and 7.5-inches to 13.5-inches from hatband to fan-peak.  (pp.168,169)

See more Zizi Bleu moments in posts at the blogs Toile La La and Art Fashion Creation.  See here a recent Art Fashion Creation post – and hat – inspired by Diana Vreeland’s eye for something-never-seen-before.

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Clever Vintage Blouse Construction…and a Grand Bell Hat: VPLL.

If fashions of the past make your heart thump a little faster, don’t miss out on Vintage Pattern Lending Library’s great design collections. Earlier in the year I’d learned of VPLL’s Titanic project, which involves recreating 1912 fashions from La Mode Illustree – a major turn-of-the-century sartorial arbiter. As a project volunteer, I test-sewed a hat, two women’s blouses, and a child’s apron.

Test-sewing the hat was an unusual experience for me – as I’d never created a hat with a wire armature. However, the Ladies’ Spring Hat depicted a frame… so I produced a small-scale practice model. As life goes, other responsibilities began to demand my time – but I still like to check VPLL’s Titanic progress… and was ecstatic to discover a new hat pattern there tonight!

Check this link to see the beautiful hat project – this time it’s a Bell Hat (much like the ones Marc Jacobs presented in his Fall 2012 Louis Vuitton collection!) You’ll see this hat is also based on a wire armature – but, using a stiffer fabric, one might avoid the necessity for the framework structure.

Louis Vuitton Fall 2012 by Marc Jacobs. Runway collections image at

Now, the other thing that may excite you (especially if you sew) – is this 1912 La Mode Illustree blouse design, which is fabulously engineered so that the side-body and sleeve are in one piece. You just have to see it to understand, so don’t miss the link directly above.

Small-scale toile created to test La Mode Illustree 1912 Blouse 0219. Toile La La toile and photo.

VPLL has recently announced they have a sufficiency of volunteers, but don’t fret… you can still investigate the website to see the great work of VPLL’s testers, view vintage fashion illustrations, and look for great sewing patterns!

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Early Twentieth Century Sewing Sampler Journal.

Overcasting Stitch Quilting Swatch from Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler.
Scanned by Toile La La.

Small Pillowcase in Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Small-scale Apron Toile from Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Great-Grandmother’s Apron Toile Close-Up. Scanned by Toile La La.

Closure Techniques from Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Buttonhole Samples from Great-Grandmother’s Normal School Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Sock and Stocking Darning Sample from Great-Grandmother’s Journal. Scanned by Toile La La.

“Hem Stitching, Tucking, Rolling and Whipping” – Stitch Techniques from Great-Grandmother’s Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Embroidery Detail on a Patch-Sample from Great-Grandmother’s Journal. Scanned by Toile La La.

“Straight and Bias Darn, Three-Cornered Darn, Darn with a Patch” – Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Detail of Cover and Twine Closure for Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler Journal. Scanned by Toile La La.

My Great-Grandmother Myrtle attended a “normal school” (which was a turn-of-the-century training institute) when she was a young teen and there she learned to weave and sew – among other things.  My great-great-grandparents came from meager means and Myrtle was one of thirteen children – and the school was 90 miles away, but somehow she went.  And, somehow this sewing sampler journal survived.

My Nana married Myrtle’s son and must have been impressed with the little booklet because she saved it and I can remember her showing me the miniature pillowcase and apron when I was a child.

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Test-Sewing Blouse E1000 (Quarter-Scale) – La Mode Illustree 1912.

Quarter-Scale Blouse E1000 Ready to Assemble for VPLL Project. Photo Toile La La.

With a “Little-Engine-That-Could” mentality, I began this third Vintage Pattern Lending Library Blouse pattern.  Folding the eight quarter-scale pleats at blouse center front, I began to feel like Gulliver in Lilliput.  Though my hands are too small to easily span a piano octave, the pleat manipulation rendered me too big and clumsy.  Sewing the upper and under-sides of the collar halves, I finally admitted it:  Quarter-Scale is too small for a practice toile of this type.  A practice toile should be a helpful tool, not a tedious impracticality.  Still, I didn’t want to abandon ship… so, I kept chugging along.

Granito Update:  After writing this post, I found a helpful YouTube video – Embroidery:  How to Satin Stitch – by shinyhappywendi, which shows how to outline a shape in split-stitch then fill in with satin stitch.  Click this link to view the video tutorial.

As a test-sewing trial for this VPLL 1912 Project – I wanted to try to follow the original La Mode Illustree directions, without consulting the internet for sewing advice.  Deciphering the pleats was not too complicated. The blouse illustration was very nice and depicted stitching along the pleats. 

Prior to the pleat-folding obstacle was the problem of pleat-marking.  Chalk-paper wasn’t reliable – because the slightest discrepancy is magnified in quarter-scale.  With little room for error, I decided to reduce the eight front-pleats to four – and to reduce the four back-pleats to one on either side of the button-placket.  I also widened the pleats, making them easier to handle.  In the large photo above you’ll see the blouse front folded in half – with black thread-lines indicating the pleat markings.  My idea was to then remove the stitching, which left perforations, then fold the pleats, pin them, iron them, then stitch in the crease… and Voila! – it worked! 

Fleur and Bebe Bouton with Blouse E1000 from La Mode Illustree. Photo Toile La La.

VPLL Ladies Blouse E1000 – La Mode Illustree 1912.

I liked the look of the basque/peplum, but felt it would have been helpful to have markings indicating its placement at blouse front.  There were two circles marking the area to be gathered along the blouse bottom, but it seemed the gathering interfered with the pleating.  I decided to try Blouse E1000 later – after I find an attractive method for achieving the “padded granitos”, and after I think of a nicer way to attach the collar.  Then, I will add the pretty (facade) row of buttons at the front.  Or, instead of having a hard-to-reach back button-placket – perhaps add a center back-pleat and make the front row of buttons functional.

It was vicariously enjoyable to see my cat attack the directions with her claws and teeth at my peak of frustration.  I felt like giving the instructions a few bites too.  But most of the frustration stemmed from sewing the pattern quarter-scale.  I’m still glad I tested the pattern first and would definitely construct a full-size test toile before sewing the blouse for myself.  The test toile provides a way to remedy pattern glitches.

Bebe Bouton in Ladies Blouse E1000 VPLL La Mode Illustree. Photo Toile La La.

Finally, I decided the quarter-scale, unfinished blouse (with basque removed) is a nice cover-up for Bebe Bouton. 

Now, one final thing to mention:  If you look at the large photo at the beginning of the post again – you’ll see notations at the side-underarm of the blouse-front piece.  The notation reads:   “Match Underarm Seam of Sleeve To This Line”.  I will be sure to mark that point when I sew the blouse full-size, since it is an unexpected way of assembling sleeve-to-blouse.  Generally the underarm seam is in line with the side-seam.

Bebe Bouton in Tree – Before the Completion of Blouse E1000. Toile La La photo.

Bebe Bouton has spent her life dressed in a flashy harlequin oufit.  After removing it, I discovered her Missoni-looking arms and legs, glove-hands, and Prada Mary Jane boot-feet.  More than a blouse – Bebe Bouton needs a body.

Vintage Pattern Lending Library Checklist:

1. Pattern Name: Ladies Blouse E1000.

2. My Skill Level:  Experienced/Intermediate

3. Pattern Rating:  Pattern layout and instructions were good, but vague in describing attachment of collar and completion of back-closure.  I would have loved instructions for “padded granito” embroidery.

4. What Skill Level would someone need to sew this pattern?  The blouse construction was more complicated than I had imagined.  Collar, back button-placket, and waistline belt construction rely on guesswork.

5. Were Instructions Easy to Follow? Except for the pattern/fabric layout, there are no diagrams (as in modern patterns).  The written instructions are good, but don’t quite cover all the questions one encounters when sewing this blouse.  My questions were:  How should I attach the collar if I want it to look like the  illustration?  How much space should I leave at blouse front – between the basque/peplum halves?  How do I achieve a nice round embroidered “granito” (as opposed to an oval…)?

6. Fit/Sizing:  The pattern is sized to fit a 36-inch bust.  I practiced sewing the pattern at quarter-scale, so I cannot judge the fit, but the Alterations recommendation is very good:  “Before placing pattern on material, pin pattern together.  Fit or hold it up to the wearer, to find out how much alteration (if any) is needed.”

7.  Necessary Alterations:  I was impressed by the alteration suggestions from Leila at Three Dresses Project (whose post appears in the E100 blouse category).

Pattern Review Checklist:

1. Pattern Description:  Ladies Blouse E1000 –  pleated front, sleeves, and back with scallop cutwork at collar, cuffs, and peplum/basque.  Transfers for embroidery are included.

2. Pattern Sizing:  Pattern is sized for a (corseted) woman of 1912 – with a 36-inch bust.

3.  Did finished product look like the pattern illustration?  I only practiced pattern assembly with a quarter-scale toile.  It was difficult to assemble the small double-thickness collar and cuffs at quarter-scale size.  It was also almost impossible to execute the total eight pleats at blouse front in quarter-scale, so I had to decrease the total number of pleats.

4.  Were the Instructions easy to follow?  I would recommend the Blouse E1000 pattern only to someone who is comfortable setting-in sleeves and making pattern alterations. Much of the construction is left to guesswork and do-it-yourself-research:  The scallop-embroidery technique is described, but not illustrated – although transfers are included.  The granito-embroidery is not described, but transfers are included.  Pleating lines are printed on the pattern, but instructions for pleating are not included.  Collar-to-blouse assembly, back button-placket, and waistband finishing are not fully described.

5.  Pattern Feature Likes/Dislikes:  I loved the description of the padded granito embroidery (and the look of the blouse illustration), but was disappointed to find no instruction for the embroidery technique.  I love the look of the pleats, basque and waistband, and the 3/4-length sleeves.  I dislike the vague description of collar construction.

6.  Fabric Used:  Discard sheet fabric.  When I make this blouse for myself, I will use a muslin-weight fabric – or line a sheer fabric.  I think it’s best to use a light solid-color to showcase the pleats.

7.  Pattern Design Changes:  I would probably leave out the scallop-work, since I don’t own an embroidery machine and would not invest the time-intensive handwork – but I am going to keep looking for a way to achieve nice round little embroidered circled – because I would take the time to embellish a blouse with those.

8.  Would I recommend this Pattern?  See 4 above.  The design is very attractive, but the pattern instructions need further explanation.

Conclusion:   In researching clothing of this time period, I realize this design was rather ahead of it’s time.  The collar lies flat, instead of rising around the neck – which enables the wearer to enjoy freedom from collar-stays or boning.  Also, wearing blouses (or waists) was a fairly new concept – as women had previously worn dresses, rather than shirt and skirt combinations.  (See my previous post about Wearing Edwardian Clothing – which includes commentary from people of that era.)  I like this pattern and hope to see VPLL enhance its directions.

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Sewing a Half-scale Toile for 1912 Child’s Apron.

Here it is!   The half-scale version of  Child’s Apron – CO500 from the 1912 La Mode Illustree:

Toile La La Half-Scale Child’s Apron sewn for VPLL 1912 Project.
Stencil and Stipple Variations Pictured. Photo Toile La La.

It is the second pattern I’ve sewn for the Vintage Pattern Lending Library 1912 Titanic Sewing Project.  My first venture into Edwardian fashion was a wire-structured hat – which you can view in older posts.

After downloading and printing the pattern pieces and instructions, I followed included directions – sequencing the rows and columns and carefully aligning the registration marks… taping along the way.

For prior practice toiles (muslins, mock-ups, or prototypes), I’ve used dolls… Hattie – the hat model – and very small-scale Fleur, who has only appeared in my Toile La La blog.  But, serendipitously, I found an inexpensive home decor mannequin that seemed perfect for this project.  Her name is Mimi (short for Marilyn Monroe… because of her va-va-voom curves).

In this first photo, you’ll see the assembled pattern, Mimi (draped in scrap fabric), my pincushion-lady “Camellia”, supplies, and even a La Mode Illustree illustration of the Child’s Apron.

Mimi in her Rough-Draft Toile with Camellia Pincushion. Photo Toile La La.

An aside:  I’m curious to know… can anyone identify the age of the quilt in the background?  My great-grandmother or even great-great-grandmother made it… and in those days, women were very clever in repurposing clothing of all the family members – creating colorful and warm quilts.  Our family has several of these heirlooms, which have stood the test of time.  I think I’ll write a post about it later on – with close-up photos of the various prints.

Before minimizing the pattern on a copier, I had to determine the size necessary to fit Mimi.  I draped, marked, and cut my own rough-draft version of the apron after examining the pattern.  (This apron is not a very complicated shape.)  I took the rough-draft with me to the library – where a librarian helped me fiddle with pattern-reduction until we achieved accuracy.

Reducing the La Mode Illustree 1912 Child’s Apron CO500 to fifty-percent produced a pattern that is almost perfect for Mimi.  It was a bit boxy though and didn’t showcase her figure even a smidge… which would be a shame!  Luckily, I had recently seen a small advertisement in one of my father’s ancient 1913 magazines.   (And if any of you reading this happen to be 101-years-old, that is not ancient… it is excellent.)  Here it is:

Edwardian Peerless Patterns Ladies Apron. Digitized scan by Toile La La.

Magnified here, you can see the pattern has a dart under the arm, which gives it a lady-shape.  The La Mode Illustree Child’s Apron doesn’t have a dart, but it does have straps which nicely criss-cross in back.  Here’s a sketch of the back.  It’s easier for me to scan a sketch than to go through photo-loading.  I did try stitching along the edges of my drawing – so that was probably counterproductive – but enjoyable.

Child’s Apron CO500 – stitched sketch by Toile La La.

I think the La Mode Illustree Child’s Apron is prettier than the Peerless darted apron, but it needed bust darts to flatter Mimi’s figure.

The La Mode Illustree apron also includes designs for pocket embroidery, piping or binding, and scenes of children sailing a toy-ship and riding a stick-pony.  For now, I only worked on the half-scale toile.  I didn’t want to waste precious time embroidering… but did want to complete the look of the little apron, so I chose to stencil it with one element from the original embroidery design – the toy ship with sails:

Here is a close-up of the ship.  Because I created a stencil, the lines needed to be “broken” to form bridges, so the stencil would be more durable.

My Good Luck Employee has slept throughout this project.  Here, she looks as if she might fly away.  Granted the gift of flight, she would be a true menace to birds and bumblebees.

Toile La La’s Good Luck Employee Cat: Napping.

If you are considering becoming a VPLL 1912 Project participant, you may find the following pattern assessments useful.

Vintage Pattern Lending Library Checklist:

1. Pattern Name: Child’s Apron CO500– La Mode Illustree

2. My Skill Level:  Experienced/Intermediate

3. Pattern Rating:  A very-well written and diagrammed pattern.  Concise instructions.

4. What Skill Level would someone need to sew this pattern?  Sewing this apron would not be too difficult for a determined beginner.  The cutting layout is particularly straightforward.  For a quick version (perhaps a holiday apron), fabric glue and ric-rac trim would easily camouflage raw edges – and shoulders could be secured with brooch pins.

5. Were Instructions Easy to Follow? The pattern is very simple, so instructions are almost inessential – but they are included and thorough.

6. Fit/Sizing:  Since this is a child’s pattern and I constructed a half-scale model, I would need to make alterations in creating the garment for my own body.  The pattern is intended for children between 3 and 5 years-old – and looks accurately drafted.  The measurement around mid-center is 25-inches.

7.  Necessary Alterations: To adapt the apron to a womanly figure (like that of the curvy mini-mannequin), I added bust darts.

Pattern Review Checklist:

1. Pattern Description:  Child’s Apron – complete with ideas for embroidery, piping or binding.

2. Pattern Sizing:  Pattern seems to be sized accurately for children 3 to 5 years-old, but adjusting the size would be simple.

3.  Did finished product look like the pattern illustration?  The pattern illustration is accurate, although the embroidery details on the pattern illustration are not clear.  The included embroidery patterns are very clear and quite nice!  I chose to use only a small element from the embroidery designs.

4.  Were the Instructions easy to follow?  Yes, the pattern is very user-friendly.  I would recommend it to first-time Vintage Pattern Lending Library patrons.

5.  Pattern Feature Likes/Dislikes:  I loved this apron pattern.  Very happy with this choice.

6.  Fabric Used:  Discard sheet fabric.

7.  Pattern Design Changes:  Added bust darts.  I forgot to add seam allowance around the main apron (although the pattern instructions specified seam-allowance is not pre-drafted).  I would remember to add seam-allowance on the wearable garment.  Note:  Pocket seam allowance is drafted into the pattern.

8.  Would I recommend this Pattern?  Yes.  I would encourage anyone to try this apron pattern.  The crossover straps at the back are a great detail and I liked that the apron is cut all in one piece (except for the pockets).

Conclusion:   This Child’s Apron pattern seems very versatile.  I’m looking forward to trying different variations interchanging trim options, fabrics, embroidery, and stencil technique.  I will certainly make the apron for myself.  I really want to make one to wear as a pinafore.

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