The ‘Wrapped up with a neat little bow’ top

First, a confession. I’ve been a terrible little Sew-Weekly-er. I sew like mad all week, every week, but somehow the Sew Weekly stuff hasn’t been getting done because I’ve been focusing on things like finishing presents and stuff for clients and making crazy historical things and doing photoshoots and earning a living. So this week’s garment manages to cover more than a few themes: it’s inspired by an old family photo, but also pink, but also inspired by a childhood photo, but also Pantone Sweet Lilac, but also a VIP fabric, and it reminds me of Tokyo. So it’s doing a lot!

It did start out simply as a garment inspired by an old family photo, or two old family photos, to be precise.  When I saw the theme I looked through all my old photos, and two jumped out at me.  This one:

Early 1920s wedding with Great Grandfather-in-law as a groomsman

And this one:

Grandma looking gorgeous

I love the picture of Grandma, but wasn’t sure how to interpret it as a garment.  The wedding picture particularly appealed for the bride and the sophisticated loosely wrapped and draped cocoon shape of her early 20s dress with its hip bow.  Using that shape as an inspiration would be easy.  And I love a good hip bow.

So I went looking through my stash for suitable fabrics, and stumbled upon a roll of gorgeous vintage kimono crepe in luscious lilac pink, with two resist dyed bouquets of flowers along the length. I love using kimono fabric, and everything about this length immediately reminded me of Grandma.  She loved that shade of pink, and roses, and taught me how to make corsages of ribbon roses which looked like the bouquets on the kimono fabric.  She also spent time in Japan in the 1960s, learning how to do ikebana (Japanese flower arranging).

Grandma, my older sister, and I with the corsages she taught us to make - see those lilac pinks!

And kimono fabric is perfect for making early 20s clothes!  I could use both images as inspiration!

For a pattern, I immediately thought of Madeline Vionnet’s 1920 ‘Chiton’ dress.  The simple shaping works well for kimono fabric, is totally in keeping with my family photos, and is very adaptable.

To mix things up a little, I decided to use the full width of kimono fabric (rather than cutting it into narrow panel), and to omit the draping from the top panels, and to do two drapes on on each side of the hip panels.  I made the drapes very long, so I could wrap them and tie them around my hips to reference the draping and blouson silhouette of my inspiration.   And that fabulous hip bow.

Hip draping and ties

The top went together super quickly – it’s just a bunch of rectangles joined with machine faggoting, with the ends finished with rolled hems and the neckline with buttonhole stitching.

All four hip drapes tied on my left hip

I finished the inside edges with french seams, and it was done!  I did have a little moment where I hated it when it was finished, but by the next day I had gotten over it and liked it again (whew!)

Very appropriately I was actually teaching a course on making the Vionnet Chiton dress the day after I finished this top, so I wore it for that, and got my students to take pictures of me in it during a naughty lunchtime trip to the fabric store (mmmm…fabric!) and while I was teaching.

Talking a student through the Chiton dress (with a sneak-peek at my next project behind us)

Other than the hip-bows getting caught under the wheels of the chairs as I sewed, the top was surprisingly comfortable and practical to wear.  I bounced around and waved my arms and cut fabric and sewed fabric and ironed and tied and untied the top to use it as a demonstration piece, and it all worked very well.  I think I’m rather starting to love it.

A basic T-shape in multiple panels

I did want to show you photos with the hip-panels untied and tied in different ways, but I put it on again to take those photos, picked up a cup of tea, tripped over the cat, and splashed tea all over myself.  So the top got bundled off and into the sink to rinse the tea out before it could stain and is currently draped over the shower rod, dripping faintly pink water all over the floor and smelling terribly (the dyes used on vintage kimono are seldom waterfast, and often reek of chemicals) and this post is short a few photos.


But yay for being back sewing weekly, and long may it continue!

The Facts:

Fabric: A length of vintage heavy synthetic crepe kimono fabric
Pattern: Self made very roughly based on Vionnet’s Chiton dress from 1920.
Year: 2012 with a nod to to the early 20s
Notions: None
Time to complete: 2 hours
First worn: To teach a class on making a replica of the Vionnet Chiton dress
Wear again? Surprisingly, yes.  My first reaction was that the colour was terrible on me, and the top too wacky and costume-y, but I rather enjoy it.
Total price: $15.  I had a moment of madness when I bought the kimono fabric and paid more than I usually would.

Which fabric shall I use for my next project?


Leimomi Oakes - The Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes learned to sew as a child in Hawaii, and hasn't spent a day without doing it in the-more-years-than-she-would-like-to-admit-to since. When she was 18 she was nicknamed 'The Dreamstress' and bought the domain name, and now she's stuck with it. After getting degrees in Art History, Costume Design and International Relations she worked in a number of fabulous museums before going freelance as a textile and fashion historian and historical seamstress. She lives in Wellington New Zealand with a lovely husband and a world-famous cat.


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  1. Oooo this is very interesting! I really like it! I can totally see the inspiration in your finished garment. Great job, and welcome back!

  2. Very pretty – such a lovely dusky pink

  3. Wow, it looks amazing! Just today I had watched a German 1930s movie with a dress (I think really a blouse and a skirt) with a similar bow but around the waist not the hip. This looked lovely and I wondered if it would be possible to do something similar that could be wearable. I completely dismissed the idea … but now that I see this, I’m just amazed! It looks so good and retro and “today” at the same time, I love it! :)

  4. Thank you!

    @Verena, what movie were you watching? I’ve got a bit of an interest in Weimar era German film.

    And I’m so pleased it managed to come off as retro and modern at the same time! I often feel that my Sew Weekly outfits are very literal and historical compared to everyone else’s, but this week we’ve flipped!

    • Yes yes Verena- I want to know too so I can dig around and find more Weimar inspiration. It’s such an interesting and tragic mini-era niche…

      Leimomi, love the top. Super dramatic, but still wearable. Awesome.

  5. This top looks beautiful on you! And very modern and dramatic– not costumey– paired with jeans. I love how you interpreted the photos and various themes. I don’t know the Chiton dress, but I’ll be checking it out.