Charles James and the 4 Leaf Clover Peplum

Picture 22

Peplums are undeniably enjoying a resurgence in popularity these days.  Why not?  It’s a distinctive, versatile design feature that echoes fashions from times past- the 80’s, the 40’s, the 1910’s.  (When else?)  When cut well, the little flounce of fabric gracefully floats over the high-hip area that can be so troublesome to dress.  The Peplum is all about silhouette.

I found myself wanting to take a crack at making my own version of the peplum top some time ago.  Nothing too extravagant or bulky.  Smooth and quiet and subtle.  Something intriguing to stitch, but not difficult.

click for source- an beautiful collection of images of this dress

click for source- an beautiful collection of images of this dress

I played with a few circle-based peplums before my mind went to Charles James.  Specifically, I started to think about his legendary 4 Leaf Clover shaped dress.   Charles James was called the first American couturier.  Though trained as an architect, his passion lie in creating stunning wearable fabric sculptures  gowns for his wealthy clients.

click for a journey through the guts of this exceptional gown

click for a journey through the guts of this exceptional gown

As much as I like James’ design, the shape of the skirt comes from some seriously intricate, carefully engineered couture.  To quote Gail Strege (researcher at OSU):

The thing that intrigued me the most about looking inside the gown was its understructure and discovering the overlapping layers of 4-5” wide horsehair braid (used in millinery) used to create the stiffness required to maintain the shape of the understructure. So many different types of stiffening materials were used to create the armature upon which James draped his satins, velvets and taffetas, including the braid, boning, horsehair canvas and non-woven interfacing.

Gina Bianco…likened the bodice to the crown of a hat and the skirt as a very wide brim—held out and reinforced with various stiffening materials.

That’s definitely not washable.

The shape reminds me of the skirt on my wedding dress.  I didn’t stiffen the hem, or the skirt, or even wear a petticoat, but the shape was similar.  It’s a 1950’s cut I altered heavily to create a silk pinafore dress.  I thought I might use a similar waistline treatment on my peplum top to echo the shape that James created- an everyday sort of top inspired by couture.

Once I muslined this peplum, I knew I’d hit on just the right cut.  The gentle 4-leaf clover shape is exaggerated in heavier weight fabrics, and the peplum falls in a very pleasing scalloped hem shape. (Please, please someone make one with a stiffened hem!)  Best of all- it’s simple enough for a beginner to sew.  And naturally, well illustrated and explained in the instructions.

Hummingbird Green | The New No Gape Neckline

The Hummingbird Green (view) Top also features the latest in Cake’s “No-Gape Neckline” engineering.

Hummingbird About Town

We took some great photos of the Top as well as the Pink View skirt at the Botanic Gardens that fringe the central business district in Brisbane.  To view the Top gallery and learn more about the cut, visit  We’ll take a close look at the Pink View skirt tomorrow!

Hummingbird Peplum Top & Skirt

You can make your own 4 Leaf Clover peplum with the Hummingbird Top & Skirt pattern for pre-sale now on Etsy.

What do you think?  Is there a place for couture inspiration in everyday clothing? Everyday Couture?  Which is lovelier- a painstakingly engineered and possibly unwearable dress, or a distinctive twist on an everyday garment, durably stitched?  (I can think of arguments for both!)


    • Thanks! I was doing a little “tonal dressing”- a bit subtle for me… I usually go for high contrast colors. And I thought after our body shape discussion the other day I should throw on a wide belt. ;) The peplum makes me feel sooo pretty, when I made the first muslin I got that happy/fluttery feeling I get when the fabric matches my imagination… :)

    • May. We have been working on a better production process, better printer, quicker deadlines. It’s possible by early May but I’m wary of promising. But absolutely as soon as possible! The rest of the work is nearly wrapped, and Maya will be in your sewing room before you know it.

    • Oooh… Hmm… No. I mean, maybe, if you add a side zip, put a seam in the peplum, and figure out some darts. But probably no. Do we need a woven peplum top? I think I might have another one in me somewhere…

      • I just prefer woven to knit. I know knit is more comfortable, but I hate sewing it and have next to none in my stash, while I have scads of pretty pretty wovens! And it looks like I’m just obsessed with Cake patterns lately, and considering that it’s been nearly 100% of my sewing lately… :D Oh well, worth a try. I’m excited about your denim Hummingbird skirt! :D I love denim skirts.

  1. Your outfit looks fabulous – comfy and chic. Now I can’t decide which version I like better. :) Yesterday I was all set to make the blue top and orange skirt. After reading this post, I want to make the the green top and pink skirt. I guess I may have to make all the versions!! I just ordered my copy plus swatch kits. Those are so helpful for me :)

    • Thanks, Tanya! Hahaha- yes, make ALL the versions. (Hyperbole and a Half? :D)

      Oh I’m so pleased the swatch kits are helpful! It’s a good way for me to use up remnants, and spread the knowledge around. There’s just no substitute for handling fabrics and knowing what they’re all about. Eventually you’ll be a fabrics ninja, just one touch of a bolt of fabric and you’ll know what it is. :)

    • Thanks! I do try for “lady” but then, you know, I see a tree that needs climbing and that’s all over… :)

      Well- the no gape neckline is a major sewing consideration for me! It’s the kind of thing I put into my clothes anyway, so naturally I’d do it for a pattern. Right? I’m working on another sample with the deeper neckline/no dickey, it’s definitely wearable but a bit cleavagey!

  2. I love your interpretation of Charles James’ design. Much more accessible for today but still so stylish. I am an avid reader of Worn Through and just soak up the information presented on this blog. Oh my, so much inspiration out there it some times feels like a sensory overload. But a pleasant one.

  3. Oh, and thanks so much Steph for rectifying my pay pal mistake. You were so quick. Have a lovely long weekend with your family.

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