I once had someone refer to an outfit I wore to a party as “Orphan” fashion. After I asked for clarification, it was explained to me that I looked like Esther, the main character in the horror movie “Orphan.” I was wearing a vaguely military-inspired black buttoned-up shirt, knee-length black skirt, and knee-high black boots. I had not seen the movie, so I could not connect my outfit to Esther’s, but any day that someone describes my fashion as murderous villain-worthy, it is a good day for me.
I eventually watched the movie, and it was then that I realized what my party companion had meant: My outfit was dark, austere, and a touch old-fashioned. And he was right. This is not how I dress every day, but I love black clothing with lace, frilly details, buttoned-up blouses, and skirts that cover my knees.
This story came back to me while I was browsing my pattern collection for inspiration. I wanted to use the leftover cotton chambray from my Faux Reggie, and I was limited to how much fabric I had. I had already sewn the Simplicity 1941 Blouse once; I knew that even though my first attempt was not the perfect fit, I could work on it. If I could get the fit right, I could have a pattern to create many more buttoned-up blouses and expand my Esther-esque wardrobe.
Simplicity 1941 is a buttoned-up blouse pattern with three sleeve options and design details like a pocket and front pleats. It is part of the Amazing Fit collection, so the instructions include many suggestions for fit adjustments. The pattern is described as a “no-gap button-front blouse”—and I have to say, it has been my experience that this pattern delivers on its promise. Unfortunately, Simplicity 1941 is out of print, but I found it available from eBay and Etsy.
This is the same cotton chambray from Fabric.com that I used for the Faux Reggie. The fabric is no longer available in black, but you can find it in blue and red. It has just the right amount of stiffness to give the shirt structure.
The nice thing about this pattern is that you don’t need a lot of fabric. The chambray I used is 60″ wide, so I was able to sew the blouse with less than two yards.
The last time I sewed the Simplicity 1941, I used a size 18 with a C cup. I knew that I would have to pick a larger size due to some weight gain. I looked at the finished sizes and decided to go with a size 20 and keep the C cup. Had I selected a size based on my bust size, I would have picked a size 22, and I would have ended up with a very roomy bust area. I know I can always add to places where I need more room, and I don’t have to worry about a collar that is too big or excess fabric on my upper chest.
Preparing the Pattern
I have made way too many changes to this pattern. I added 1/2″ to the side seam, took the back dart is to give the back more shape, changed the shape of the princess seam above the bust, raised the side seam by 1/2″ for better arm rotation, and added 1″ to the length of the blouse. I try to keep notes of all changes, but I am sure that I forgot some already.
It is REALLY important that you transfer all markings from the pattern to the fabric. There are many details that rely heavily on the markings matching properly. Make sure to transfer all the lines on the front edge and all the dots on the collar. You will need them!
Make sure to transfer all markings from the pattern to the fabric. You will need them to create the button placket, to line up the sleeves to the bodice, and to sew the princess seams.
Some of the instructions for this pattern are confusing. The first time I sewed the Simplicity 1941, I almost gave up because of the button placket. This was the first time I saw a placket fashioned this way. Hopefully, the pictures below can make these steps clearer.
Make sure that your markings are visible. I emphasized the lines digitally. I used white paper to transfer the lines, so they were not very visible in the picture.
With wrong side facing up, fold the front edge to inside using the first line as your fold line (Step 2).
With right side facing up, fold the front edge to outside using the second line as your fold line. Make sure that the large dots match (Step 3).
Sew a straight line from the collar edge to the dot, pivot, and sew a straight line to the front edge.
Clip diagonally to the dot, and then trim the sides.
And there you have it! It is not so difficult when you get the hang of it.
I had to change the curve of the princess seam because there was too much fullness above the apex of the bust. The last blouse I sewed using this pattern has too much fabric where the princess seam meets the armscye, and it just looks odd. I sewed a muslin, and it took me a couple of adjustments until I got the fit I wanted over the bust.
A good trick to sew princess seams is to reduce your seam allowances—the larger the bust, the narrower the seam allowance. This prevents the dreadful rippling effect right over the bust area.
Some sewists suggest going as narrow as 1/4 inch seam allowance when sewing princess seams. If, like me, you feel you may need to let the seam out, go with 1/2″. This has made my life so much easier!
I was really unhappy with the way the sleeves came out. I tried my usual sew them flat, and I ended up with some very ugly seams peaking from inside the sleeves. I had to undo the sleeves and sew the band the traditional way.
The technique used to sew the hem for the Simplicity 1941 makes for a very nice finish. The instructions are a bit hard to follow (well, I thought so!), so I am adding pictures of the process in case you might be having trouble too.
I plan to wear this blouse buttoned all the way up, so I placed a button very close to the collar. My machine wanted nothing to do with this buttonhole, so I had to sew it myself. I played around with my machine settings to find the right combination to the bartacks and sides of the buttonhole.
I know I should, but I don’t have a buttonhole cutter. I place thick pins where the buttonhole starts and ends, and I use my seam ripper to cut through the stitches. The pins prevent the seam ripper from cutting into your fabric.
A New TNT Pattern
I think that I finally got this pattern to the fit that I want. Even though my first version is not perfect, I love the fabric. Because it is so busy, it hides all imperfections. The polka-dotted version is a major improvement, and the adjusted Simplicity 1941 has already achieved TNT status in my collection.