Design Inspiration: Edwardian Blouses (Sybil’s Choice)*

Disclaimer: I like historical fashions, but I am not a historian.  I am a sewist.  I don’t strive for historical accuracy, though I think it’s interesting when others do.  If you’re a stickler for historical correctness, please stop reading and come back again tomorrow.  This post will make your skin crawl.

(A gorgeous range of blouse fronts and backs from The Dreamstress)

That said, I’m casting around for inspiration to make myself a “flavor of 1912” blouse.  It has to suit my style, my habits and I would like it to work well with at least 5 other garments.  That means I’m looking for simple, tailored lines with a quirky detail or two for fun.  These are a few of my favorites, the blouses I pick apart in my mind as I go to sleep.

This lovely thing comes from Making Changes.  It’s one of several illustrations posted from a Mary Brooks Pickens sewing manual.  Though the manual was published in 1921, this blouse is closer to Lady Sybil than a snake-hipped flapper.  I like the crossover front and wide lapels- it would look gorgeous in a sheer fabric.  The layers would keep you covered up without much bulk at all.

The shape of the collar and lapels are similar on this blouse, one of a bonanza of lovely period illustrations Wearing History posted some time ago.  I’m not sure I like all the lacework (which has turned me off Edwardian blouses in the past) but I do like the shape.

I couldn’t help but notice this simple but elegant blouse cropping up repeatedly on Downton Abbey- both seasons.  After I took the screenshots, I realized this is the same pattern, different fabrics.  I find myself drawn to details like its borders, the elbow length sleeves and the gentle fullness gathered to a waistband (instant waist definition!).  Once I knock out a few more pressing projects, I’ll definitely try my hand at this.   Could you imagine it with a bolder contrast?

In fact the cut reminds me of the blouse on the left.  Leimomi posted this several weeks ago, and I can’t quit thinking about it.  Do you think this blouse also has a contrast inset running from shoulder to waist, or is that a dart?  Would a contrast band there work well?  Just one, for an asymmetrical look…

How essential do you consider lace, laciness, heirloom sewing techniques (pintucking, drawn thread work, hem-stitching, etc), and embroidery to get the “Edwardian” look?  What do you think of a more tailored, sensible approach to the era?

*Francois Robert doesn’t let people play with his images, which is why I immediately scrapped a project in the works.  Check out some of his work with human bones and messages of non-violence.

Psst- Jodie and Karin, check your email boxes shortly for the tester’s version of the Bow Tie Tee.  Everyone who is not Jodie and Karin and who offered to help me out: Thank you!  I’ll need more testers in the future.  The very near future.


  1. I too adore this blouse of Sybil’s! I’ve been working on drafting this top but it kind of got pushed to the side. Maybe I should shift it back to the top of the list.

  2. The working class Edwardian seemed to get on quite well without all the tucks and trims. Pintucks can add a little oomph to a blouse without adding much to either time or cost of a garment- I think this is why we see them used so much. Hemstitch takes more time if done by hand, but also adds a lot to the look of a garment.
    It’s like cake. Cake is lovely on its own. Add some frosting and it’s even more delicious. Add a few frosting flowers and it satisfies the eyes as well as the tongue.
    (I don’t do fondant. ick.)

    • I adore your analogy! I like the idea of taking a plain shirt pattern (cake), and adding details (icing! frosting flowers! SPRINKLES!) to make it more delicious and pretty. What a lovely thought!

  3. I like lace blouses a lot, but for me at least Edwardian style looks way too formal (and borderline costume-y) for me to make much use of in my everyday life.

    • Yes, same. That’s why I’m looking around for something a little sleeker.. Funny, because the ones I like in old magazines are often described as “severe.”

  4. These blouses are imminently wearable — it was the shirtwaist and ankle-length skirt that the first “liberated women” wore when they headed into office work, in the 1890s. (You might also look at Folkwear’s Gibson Girl blouse, and their Armistice Day blouse for styling and closure ideas.) Plenty of women made do without lace, which was expensive and could be difficult to clean. Masses of pintucks are far easier to sew in your uncut fabric first. Then manipulate your paper pattern for best placement of the tucks on each garment piece.

    • You’re so right about the “liberation” coming in the form of shirtwaist and walking skirt. I’d like to think when I’m a little older I can rock that look for everyday, but not yet. ;)

      I almost included those patterns, but decided to do a separate “Edwardian Blouse Pattern” post later.

      That’s my favorite way to do tucks, too! It’s so much easier than putting them in afterwards…

  5. Did you know that Sybil’s blouse in Season 2 was actually Edith’s blouse in Season 1? I don’t think it looked nearly as nice on Edith – maybe it was her colouring? It looks prettier on Sybil I think.

  6. I don’t think I could pull off many of these Edwardian blouses, and would probably feel uncomfortable wearing them. But I like the idea of adding a few Edwardian touches (frosting flowers!) to a modern cut blouse (cake! Sorry, I’m taken with Kathy P’s analogy)…hmm, something to think about for when (if) I finish my coat. :)

      • I guess saying a modern-cut isn’t really appropriate. I was initially meaning something like an office wear-like button-up blouse, with the collar and all. I’m picturing a fitted blouse, but with some pretty pintuck and lace details, particularly on the upper bust.

        I used to have a gorgeous button-up blouse that was made from what I think was large patches of different textured white cotton, some pieces that almost looked lacy and sheer. In fact, I think it had some lace between some of the fabric patches on the upper bust. It was such a light, airy top that I adored and wore to death. Hmm, I haven’t thought of that top in years and years. I suspect that’s what I was picturing while reading your post. I wish I still had it, if only to work out how they did the top.

  7. Lace?? DId Poiret use lace? Did Vionnet ?(OK, so right now anyone who knows they did, keep schtum!) I think the lines of the shirts of this era are so evocative, they don’t need a lot of froufrou. The strong assymetrical lines, contrast trims etc that are the beginning evolution of the 1920s look are so gorgeous.
    When I was a lass, there was a fashion for Edwardian clothing due in most part to Upstairs Downstairs and the Duchess of Duke Street (Loved that one!) and the collision of Edwardian with the tail end of hippy clothing was interesting. Anyway, high neck cotton blouses with lots of pintucks, inset lace etc poured out of India by the millions. They never really looked the part however. In spite of all this detailing, their line and cut were just not close enough.
    If you want to evoke the era, go for the strong lines that paint themselves into the mind’s eye and only colour it in with froufrou if you want it! :)
    I LOVE the one with the big button back lapels. And the one with the big lace collar though I think it would be much better with a plain one. Maybe a line of contrast 1/2 inch in from the edges.

    • Oh! You’re so right! (By the way, love the Poiret nod in season 1 when Sybil gets a new “dress”… As soon as I saw that I almost shouted “POIRET!”)

      I’m with you- and you phrased it so well! Evocative, no frou-frou. Not for me anyway. Reading “Paris Frocks at Home” years ago really helped me build my personal style sense… She talks about how assertive women look silly in frilly messes of bows and lace… Something along those lines. Anyway the idea stuck.

      I think I’m more likely to play with color while I’m working on this blouse. Petrol blue, anyone? Emerald? I think I’ll stick to jewel tones (but I can’t promise) and use the lines you’re talking about. We are SO on the same page about contrast… :)

    • Strong lines, evocative, no frou frou indeed! Well put, Mrs. C. Poiret, Vionnet and Erte were all about form, and decoration which added to said form, not decoration for its own sake. I think a far greater and more rewarding design challenge is to produce a cut that shows off the beauty of fabric and the wearer on its own merit, without needing a bunch of trim to draw the eye. This is a reason I’m also a great admirer of Miyake, Kawakubo and the ‘Japanese’ invasion of the ’80’s and ’90’s. And, of course, Poiret, Vionnet and the like took their share of influence from Asian cultures.

      I also like your point, Steph, about assertive women. I’m certainly not against trim or embellishment, far from it, but a little goes a long way. I wonder if there’s a connection between how ‘decorated’ a lady is with embellishments, and the degree to which she treats herself as a decoration? I may be stretching here, but some enterprising Grad student should study this! (Boy, I hope I don’t sound snobby about lace and trim now!)

      As for colours, how do you feel about eggplant, or other deep purples? They’d contrast nicely with a deep yellow/gold…

      • I adore lace, and froufrou, but I am realistic about my ability to carry it off -personality wise. :) Scramble, I got married in deepest eggplant purple combined with old gold silk shot with purple, it was delicious!

    • I DO like that one, and somehow I’ve missed it in my wanderings. I think I’ll order it for my collared/surplice blouses and now I can focus on the Sybil blouse without feeling guilty for abandoning the other blouses! :)

  8. I love heirloom sewing, but I don’t at all think it’s necessary to get the Edwardian look. As we get into the ‘teens, especially, there’s some very tailored looks without all the fussy insertion/tucking/trims, etc. I really like both :)
    Love all these pretty images, and I’m excited to see what you do!

  9. For myself, I like the idea of taking a touch of Edwardian—a single element, maybe two—and porting them to a more typical, modern pattern.

    Though I think that crossover blouse could work well—it might have a bit more of an 80s flavour than nineteen-teens, though.

    I’m very curious what you do with this! :)

    • I think the difference between teens and 80’s would be mostly fabric choice and styling. Mostly. And I wasn’t neeeearly old enough to wear blouses in the 80’s, so I don’t remember them much.. You probably weren’t wearing blouses then either, come to think of it… ;)

  10. I like the simplicity of the Sybil/Edith blouse and yes more contrast would work. I actually like the lace on the crossover as the contrast in textures is pretty, though it would depend on the lace and which fabric. Then again it would definitely be lovely without the lace…. sorry not being much help here!

  11. The blouse definitely has a lovely silhouette – I think they’ve done a good job styling the sisters’ figures. This shape/fabric/drape is perfect for Sybil’s softer (?) figure vs. Mary’s more angular one.

    The nice thing about stitching from a previous era: you don’t *have* to be historically accurate! Take only the good stuff. I’m glad I’m not limited to polyester (: For everyday wear, “inspired by” is much more appealing than “authentic replica”.

    • I think there’s a lot of potential in the whole “blousy on top, fitted through the torso” silhouette…

      Agreed about fabrics and fitting the garment into your life. Sometimes what looks like a really fun project can be costumey in real life.. Though a lot of that has to do with the wearer…

  12. Hey, I like historical, but I’m perfectly happy with historical inspired – I just think it is important to make a distinction between the two, which you do perfectly.

    The blouse that Sybil wears when she bakes a cake is one of my favourite Downton garments (actually, one of the few I really like at all). I’d love to see your version of it.

  13. Pingback: I Went to The Fabric Store, So Many Goodies! (And projects updates) « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

    • Yes… I have spotted one of these blouses in quite a few episodes! And there’s a purply one they all trade around. I’m sure they would have shared clothes, in fact there’s a line in one episode to that effect… Something about one of Mary’s skirts being altered for Sybil… I think I’ve watched this show too many times. ;)

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  15. Pingback: Finished Object: “Sisters of Edwardia Blouse” « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  16. My favorite clothing inspiration film is “Enchanted April”. The fashion silhouette camouflages the waist and has collars or subtle neck line detail to draw the eye up.

    For me, age 63 was like going through puberty again. Over night my body changed and nothing was going to prevent it from changing. My breasts, midriff, and belly extended to the front 2 inches further than before. It’s like month 4 of pregnancy. I am an exporer, seeking new styles and new alterations for my new shape. I will definitely mark your blog on my discovery map.

  17. Pingback: Status Update on Sisters of Edwardia, and A Weird-As Sizing Inquiry « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  18. Pingback: Finished Object: Sisters of Edwardia Pattern Sizes 30-40 « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  19. I’ve got my eye on sybils blouse you screenshotted. It would work for both historical and vintage sensibilities. I want to do it in autumnal colours. I’m in the process of making a 1907 edwardian blouse. All lace insertion etc. Its quite theraputic…pus I’m surprised as most of it is self drafted from a TNT shirt pattern I like. I thought th pouched front would make me look bigger in the bust than I am but when you sinch in the waist I end up looking more in proportion. And its quite flattering. I’m going to match mine with a maxiskirt. for my autumnal wardrobe.

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