Subversive Femme
1940s smooth sailing blouse vintage wearing history reproduction colourblock

Finished: 1940s Colour Block Blouses, and how to make an exaggerated bell-sleeve

Smooth Sailing by Wearing History is my FAVOURITE blouse sewing pattern – I’ve used it so many times I’ve lost count.

It’s so easy to change aspects (sleeves, pockets etc) and is perfect for a 1930s and 1940s look.

I’ve had some 1940s blouses on my mind, and was grateful for some time recently to be able to create them. I’ve also shown how to create a bell-sleeve if you’re keen to recreate these too.

1940’s Colour Block Blouse v1

1940s colour block colourblock blouse colorblock vintage sewing pattern 1940s sunglasses vintage hair

To make this blouse from Smooth Sailing, I raised where the yoke goes about an inch higher in the front, more in line with 1940s blouses.

I used white rayon for the collar, sleeves and back; olive and orange for contrast fronts and cuffs.

smooth sailing pattern wearing history long sleeves telephone cord purse

You might notice that I don’t have buttons! My favourite button store is closed for the moment so pins it is.

For the sleeves, I used the sleeves off Simplicity 8243 – they fit perfectly with a gathered top and didn’t need any changes. They are definitely not as bell-shaped as the pattern image, more like a standard shirt sleeve.

Guess that means I need a bigger sleeve in my next one, right?!

1940s Colour Block Blouse v2

Carrying on with the colour block theme, I really wanted one with a plain body and bigger sleeves.

1940s colorblock blouse vintage sewing pattern subversive femme reproduction rayon

I took the sleeve from Simplicity 8243, and did a bell-sleeve adjustment. It’s super easy to do, and the cheat’s way is below:

Divide your sleeve pattern equally into four, using three lines (orange) – one through the centre, and then the other two on either side. Doesn’t have to be perfectly equal, but close.

Now, from the bottom of the sleeve cut upwards to the top along those lines. Cut up to but not through, leaving a little bit attached.

Now wing the pieces open like below. How far apart you spread them is how dramatic you want the sleeve, but the important bit is to add more to the back spread – it should be 25%, 25% and 50% across the splits.

bell sleeve adjustment pattern piece

For example, I did 1 inch, 1 inch and 2 inches in the back. Then what you’ll want to do is curve the sleeve line 1/2 an inch higher at the front spread and 3/4 inch lower at the back spread if your pattern doesn’t already do that (blue line). This allows for a nice drape at the back wrist.


1940s smooth sailing blouse vintage wearing history reproduction colourblock

I also made a little tie for this one out of a scrap.

1940s Blouse v3

OK, well now I loved the sleeve and wanted a plain blouse – so made one final version in mustard rayon. (And yep, still need buttons haha).

smooth sailing blouse wearing history 1940s rayon vintage top 1940s sewing pattern

I’m really happy with how this one turned out, especially the colour.

1940s blouse dramatic sleeve smooth sailing mustard rayon vintage style pinup rockabilly

Smooth Sailing is so easy to make, you can literally whip a blouse up in a day.

I hope you’re all doing OK during the Covid-19 Lockdowns, and if you give the bell-sleeve modification a go please let me know how you went!

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  • Reply
    May 16, 2020 at 4:18 am

    Beautiful blouses, and thank you for the bell sleeve instructions! I love the tip about creating the drape at the back wrist.

    • Reply
      May 16, 2020 at 12:22 pm


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