A Femme’s Guide to Improvement: Make a Blouse!

by L M

So I got an email from Jane last week, linking to this top: “The one I tried on was shorter and not sheer. Can you show us how to make it? It looks SO beautiful on and it’s a fucking square with a hole in it, that’s it. A square folded in half, a neck hole cut out, and two short seams on the sides to hold it in place. Does that make sense? UGH! Why is it three hundred dollars!?!”

It is three hundred dollars because they say it is! Also because big profit margins on items with basic construction and minimum material allow mid-price companies to not go broke producing more complicated things for comparatively equal prices. This takes maybe 30, 45 minutes for a home-sewer, start to finish, and less for a professional in a factory setting. Compare that to the infinite number of steps and five different types of (expensive) material it takes to make, say, a winter coat. Guys, I’m making my girl a winter coat right now and it is HARD. This is why they charge $300.

Dolce and Gabbana probably charged even more when they did this a decade ago for their S/S 2002 collection, which was when, as a freshman in college, I saw it and decided I had to have it. So I made it in black (polyester) chiffon, keeping the selvage on the fluttery sides so that I didn’t have to finish them, and wore the shit out of it. That worn over a camisole and skinny black pants from Express saw me through most of my orchestra concerts through college. (Music major, heeey. I was really cool then. Just like I am now.) But enough blabbing! Let’s learn how to make it, fluttery sides and all! This is another great beginner project since no buttons, hooks, or zippers are required and most of your time is spent ironing.

You’ll need:

  • A yard and a halfish of standard 45″ wide fabric with nice drape. We’ll get to the exact amount you’ll ask them to cut you based on how long you want the blouse in just a minute. I’m using a lightweight silk georgette, but you could use a crepe de chine or a silky rayon.
  • Matching thread
  • An iron and ironing board
  • A sewing machine or needle — this doesn’t require that many seams, so it’s not a lot of hand sewing. If you’re new to or rusty on machine sewing, here’s a basic guide I wrote that applies to most neglected/second-hand/mom’s basement machines.
  • A tape measure

So, how much fabric to buy? Measure from the top of your shoulder to wherever you want the bottom of the blouse to hit in front, then add two inches to that total. Mine was 21+2, so 23 inches. Double this and that’s how much you’ll ask them to cut for you. So I had 46 inches cut. Using the selvage as the sides, now cut two rectangles from your fabric, making two pieces that are 23″ x 45″. Place the fabric right side-down on your ironing board and fold over one raw side — the long side — about ¼ inch. Iron this in place, fold over again another ¼ inch and iron again so that the raw edge is completely hidden. This is the top of your rectangle. Repeat with the bottom side, but with ½ inch folds instead of ¼ inch. Guess what? Meet the hem of your blouse! Then do the whole thing again to the other piece of fabric. The skirt tutorial I did a while back starts with the same steps, and comes with close-up pics, if you’re confused.)

Machine or hand-sew the two folded edges on both pieces of fabric before proceeding, as close to the inner folds as possible. Trim away any extra fabric sticking out past the selvage, which can happen when you’re ironing, no matter how precise you try to be.

Next, three more measurements: get the distance from the top of your shoulder to the top of the side band of your bra — this will be for your armholes, and the fancy sewing word for it is scye. Scye depth. Never say I didn’t teach you anything! Then take the measurement around your hip wherever you want the blouse to hit. (Or waist if you are making this short.) Keep the tape very loose, as you want this to fit easily over your head and shoulders and not ride up around your waist. Your third measurement will be the neck width from mid-clavicle to mid-clavicle, or more or less the distance between your bra straps. This is for the boat-style neck hole. Headhole? I’m going to call it the headhole, because that word is making me laugh. For reference, the measurements I used were:

  • Headhole: 13”
  • Scye: 9.5”
  • Very loose hip: 39”

Place your rectangles together, right sides facing each other, and use two pins to mark your headhole opening. To center mine, I calculated the mid-point of the fabric (45”/2=22.5”), and then from that mark measured 6.5” in each direction. (Since 6.5×2=13″ — the headhole width.)

Machine or hand-sew next to, but not on, the top hem from each selvage to its respective pin. These are your shoulder seams. To flatten them, turn the fabric right side-out, open the seam like butterflying a shrimp, and iron the seam flat.

A little more math: divide your loose hip measurement in half, and then in half again. Or just divide it by four. I’m not really picky about how you do your math, as long as its accurate. (The approximate opposite of everything every algebra teacher ever taught you.) Anyway, 39″/4= 9.75″. This is the distance from the fabric mid-point (that 22.5 from before) from which you’ll want to put pins at the base to mark the side seams — we’ll call them hem pins 1 and 2. The total distance between them should be 19.5 inches, or whatever half of your hip measurement is. Use a measuring tape or a ruler to create an imaginary line from hem pin 1 to the shoulder seam, and mark the scye depth with another pin. (Mine was 9.5” from the shoulder seam.) Take a couple more pins to fill in the imaginary line; then repeat the whole shebang with hem pin 2. With the fabric right side out, machine or hand-sew from each scye pin to each hem pin.

You’re done! Really. That’s it. Told you: easy.

Previously: Ask a Handy Femme About Unplungeable Toilets.

Lucia Martinez reads too many old poems and tries to be a lady.

Photos by Helen Pearson.