When Wallis Simpson accompanied Edward VIII on a cruise aboard The Nahlin in the Adriatic Sea the couple were not yet married and Edward was still on the throne. It caused a huge stir and alerted the world’s media to the impending abdication crisis that was slowly brewing in the UK. When the couple stepped ashore during their trip they were surrounded by press photographers and journalists eager to get the exclusive on the pair.
It was recreated in the absolutely stunning 2011 film W.E. which was co-written and directed by Madonna. The photograph above is a still from this scene. Wallis, back in 1936, and Andrea Riseborough, who played Wallis in the film, both wore this incredibly feminine white linen blouse as they stepped ashore. It’s a blouse that has stayed with me for a long time now ever since I saw a photo of Wallis in the original moment many years ago. I absolutely love the double collar and large self covered buttons on it and how it fits her just perfectly. You know where this is going, right? Yes, of course, I had to make my own version!
1930s Style Double Collar Blouse – Made by me
1930s Style Burgundy Skirt – Made by me
Burgundy Belt – Made by me
1930s Straw Hat – Shepton Mallet Flea Market
1930s Style Burgundy Shoes – Deadly Is The Female
Faux Pearl Drop Earrings – Made by me
What I didn’t want to do was a direct copy of the blouse, I wanted to just take the elements I liked and make my own design. For quite a while I had no idea really of what that was but when I spotted this fun olive and burgundy berries cotton fabric on ClothSpot I knew it would make such a pretty 1930s blouse. I didn’t make it straight away though, I wanted to really think about how the end result would look, so the fabric sat in my pile over the winter as I gradually decided how I wanted it.
I knew I wanted a double collar and large buttons and initially thought of doing the whole thing in the one fabric but then I decided I wanted the buttons to contrast otherwise they’d disappear. I also decided I wanted sleeve cuffs and thought they’d look great if they matched the buttons, so finally I decided that the details would all be done in a matching ivory to the background of the pattern.
However, in the meantime I had made this burgundy skirt from an original 1930s pattern using up the last of the fabric I used for my 1930s burgundy dress and 1920s cardigan, also from ClothSpot. (Yes it’s a ClothSpot fest!). One thing women did so beautifully in the 1930s was to wear an ensemble, several items of clothing that harmonised when worn together, and I thought this was a perfect chance to create my very own burgundy and ivory ensemble. Everything had to tie in together in a very obvious way. So I decided the double collar had to be one layer of burgundy and one of ivory, although for a while I couldn’t decide what colour should be the top one. The buttons and cuffs definitely needed to be ivory and I also needed a burgundy belt. And so, I set to work.
The blouse pattern is completely self drafted. When I was visiting my parents’ house a while a go I discovered they’d kept the original pattern blocks I’d made at college for my own measurements, so the bodice blocks were used as my base. (A block pattern is a custom-fitted, basic pattern from which patterns for many different styles can be developed, often made in a sturdy cardboard). I did think I’d need to grade it up in size, as the blocks were made just under 20 years ago, but actually my current measurements were very much the same. To create my 1930s blouse pattern I moved the darts to where I wanted them, shaped the waist and hips to give it a close fit and added a little bit of puff to the sleeve head. It took two mock ups to get it exactly as I wanted it but it was well worth putting the time in to get it right.
I used my favourite pattern cutting book, Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear by Winifred Aldrich, to construct the collar by drawing out the larger one of the two first. I then made a quick mock up to check it fitted the blouse neckline correctly, then just traced it again and shrank it down for the top one. When it came to making them up in the proper fabric I had a mad panic. The burgundy cotton was just a scrap I had in my stash that matched absolutely perfect, however, I only had scraps of white cotton or cream cotton, no ivory!
In desperation I phoned up Alice at ClothSpot and asked if she could see if the ivory cotton lawn she had in their online shop matched the background of the berry print cotton. Thankfully they had just one metre of the berry print left in stock so she quickly double checked and came back to happily say it was a perfect match! She rushed a metre of the ivory in the post to me to make sure it arrived the next day so I could finish the blouse off. Thank you Alice, you’re a life saver!
I covered the buttons myself using self cover buttons, but unfortunately they weren’t terribly good quality ones (I bought them from eBay) and the metal teeth that grips the fabric weren’t very sharp. It took me forever to do them because the fabric moved constantly and I’m not completely happy with the end result. I won’t be buying from that seller again!
The belt buckle, however, was made for me by a company I’ve only recently discovered, London Button Company. As the name suggests they mainly make buttons, but they also do belt buckles and, with both, they will cover them in your own fabric. As I’d never used them before I decided to do a test order with a couple of buckles, this one and a brown one and I have to say I was very impressed. They answered any questions I had very quickly and the turn around from sending the fabric to them sending the buckles back was about two days. I’m already planning loads of buttons and buckles that I want them to do for future projects.
I made the belt itself using the last off-cut of the burgundy wool crepe type fabric of the skirt because I wanted to be able to wear it around the waistband of the skirt as well around the blouse. The gromets were added using an old pair of gromet pliers I’ve had for years. I wanted to have these rather than a slide through buckle because I always find they move about too much.
If you’re thinking that a lot of outfits I’ve shown you on the blog recently has been based around burgundy, then this isn’t just a coincidence. I actually consciously decided to make and buy clothes that mix and match with each other, almost like a mini collection because I’ve always had a habit in the past of just buying things because I like them. This meant that I ended up with pieces that could only ever be worn with one other garment. Well no longer!
My burgundy collection is made up of an autumnal 1930s style dress from Oxfam, a smart 1930s day dress, a 1930s velvet evening dress, an intricate Fair Isle pullover, an early 1920s cardigan, a simple 1930s skirt and a 1930s blouse. The brown skirt I wore in the early 1920s cardigan photos is also included in this collection, although it will be photographed properly at a letter date, as it mixes and matches with all three tops. The burgundy cardigan and skirt can be worn together for a 1920s day suit as well. Next up will be my green collection!