Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Decades of Style Butterfly Blouse

Here is my mom, looking glamorous in her Decades of Style Butterfly Blouse. This blouse takes time to create but it's well worth the effort. I made it as a gift for her, using silk charmeuse fabric with a pattern of pansy flowers. I found this fabric at F&S Fabrics or you could try Thai Silk where you can find a fabulous selection of prints. The cost was $75 for some mighty fine fabric.

Pretty shape of the butterfly sleeves

Lovely curve of the shoulder seam

And here is a Roberto Cavalli silk chiffon top that I recently spotted on Net-A-Porter for nearly $1200. Not that different, is it? The sleeves are a similar shape. Roberto offers us a boatneck and has slit the sleeves, but you could do add that detail if you have great arms and you like the look.
Roberto Cavalli silk chiffon top

Proof (as if you needed it) that it pays to learn to make your own clothes. 

The butterfly blouse poses a few challenges so I've written down some tips. I'd love to hear from you about methods you've discovered, in particular for seam finishes.

Tips for cutting out silk fabric

1. Use a single layer of fabric
2. Use brand-new silk pins - Clover glass-headed ones are superb
3. Layer the fabric over a piece of tissue; cut both fabric and tissue together 
4. Or, layer the fabric over cardboard. Stab pins vertically through both layers
5. Try a rotary cutter, or sharp scissors (cutting slowly)  
6. Pre-shrink your silk

Message to hand-washers: some silks run, especially prints with red in them. Beware.

Tips for sewing

1. Use cotton or cotton-wrapped or silk thread
2. Use a fine sewing needle with a sharp point
3. Use a short stitch length (2.0)for the seams
4. Go a bit longer (2.5 or 3.0) for the topstitching

Take a look at Sandra Betzina's excellent video on sewing silks, available on the Threads website.

Topstitching the shoulders to the front and back pieces

I read a few reviews suggesting it was difficult to topstitch the shoulders in place, but it wasn't as daunting as I feared it might be. (I had more trouble with the binding as you'll see below.) Here's what I did, and it worked well: I placed the shoulder pieces on my ironing board wrong side up and turned the seam allowance back. Then I used my wonderful glass-headed Clover pins to hold the seam allowance in place while I pressed. It looks as though you're dissecting a frog but I tried not to think of that. I covered the fabric with a scrap of white silk organza, gave it the tiniest possible mist of water and pressed. I let it dry and cool in place. 

Here's the completed topstitching (above)

Here you can see the shoulder piece pressed and still pinned in place

To assemble the front and back: After you press, lay the shoulder pieces and the front and pieces right side up on your work table. Layer the shoulder pieces over the front sections. You may need to adjust the gathers so the pieces fit together perfectly. You won't be able to see the seam allowance on the front pieces when you sew, so it can help to mark them, on the front so you can see. You could use a basting line of neutral silk thread. I just used some dots of mark-be-gone pen (although I did test first to make sure it would come out). Pin in place. You might want to flip the pieces over to make sure the back looks good. You can baste before sewing - possibly a good idea - but I just left all the pins in place. I topstitched the pieces together with a 2.5 length stitch. I looked great. I was surprised, and relieved. 

Seam finishes

Once I topstitched the shoulders in place, I found there were quite a few layers of fabric. I ended up pinking the raw edges and it looked very neat and pretty. This is fast too, and in the spirit of the 1930s (I guess).  I wanted to try French seams on the sleeves, but the pattern does not leave you enough seam allowance. You need to plan for that in advance and extend the sleeve seam allowances. If any of you have better suggestions for seam finishes on those overlapped shoulder seams I'd love the hear them.

French binding

The pattern suggests you leave a little bubble of fabric as you turn the corners on the binding. I might have left too big a bubble, because it became very difficult to miter the corners. There was just the tiniest bit too much fabric to fold under neatly. I would reduce the bubble if I made this blouse another time. Again it's worth experimenting with techniques on a bit of scrap fabric if you're aiming for perfection and want to avoid grief.

Here's the binding as I prepare to sew it up to the corner point (belt tie in the background)

Attaching the binding

It took me quite a few hours to slip stitch the French binding in place. You go around the entire circumference of the blouse. I think you could stitch in the ditch very cautiously and get a beautiful result without all that hand sewing. It depends on how much patience you have and how important the hand sewn look is to you.

Rolled hems on the sleeves

It's definitely worth hand-rolling the sleeve hems. You end up with a hem that looks like an couture scarf. I wouldn't press the edges; it's nice to see a bit of volume along the tiny roll at the edge. 

Slipstitching the rolled hem on the sleeves

The pattern suggests that you machine stitch 1/8" from the edge and then roll. This is awfully hard to control with slippery, light fabric, at least I found that. I'd extend the sleeve length so that you can sew 1/2" from the edge and then clip close to the stitching. It's easier to sew a perfectly straight row of stitching this way.

I'd love to hear from any of you with comments or suggestions. Try making this blouse - it's a great experience and a fabulous addition to your wardrobe.


Miss Amelina said...

Thank you so very much for posting this, as I have been trying to decide whether or not to buy this pattern. You have sold me....Beautiful execution and explanation...i am a visual learner, and I now feel secure enough to take this on, thanks to you!

AMJ said...

Hello Miss Amelina, Good luck sewing your butterfly blouse! If you have any questions at all please contact me and I will try to help you solve the problem. You can email me through If you click on my profile you'll find a link there for emailing me.

Anonymous said...

my mother is 71, too, (i think you said in your review that your mother is 71) but she wouldn't dare wear such a daring top, although she certainly could. what a give of time and love you gave her! i pm'ed you through patternreview with a couple of questions, although, looking at your pictures, i think i've answered them myself. martha allen "calminatrix"