A 1930s “Bonnie & Clyde” Sweater Blouse

Another adventure in sewing knits – I’m hooked, now! I’ve got my wooly nylon thread, my ballpoint needles, and a goodly dose of foolhardiness.

Sorting through my vintage sweaters board on Pinterest, I fell in love with this 1890s knit beauty:

The Met – sweater – 1895

I still want to make this more faithfully, but the fabric I found – a love Gryffindor striped jersey – was calling out for 1930s. The 1930s puff-sleeved silhouette certainly shares similarities with the 1890s, which I liked.

Another image floating around in my mind was of Bonnie Parker in her oh-so-30s sweater. The real version is nice:

The real Bonnie Parker

…but I loved these film version even more:


Then there’s Claudette Colbert’s drooly-worthy striped top in “It Happened One Night”:


And this red and white, glorious 1930s knitting/crochet project:


So here’s how I made mine…

I did everything wrong, and cut everything twice.

1930s striped jersey blouse with gauntlet sleeves

I learned quite a lot more about knit yardage, doing this project. For instance…

  • All knits stretch differently – an open sweater knit will stretch more than a tight jersey. You can’t use one to pattern the other!
  • Various jerseys have different amounts of stretch too, and you have to consider your pattern specifically for your knit.
  • My chosen jersey doesn’t stretch much on the bias – this was a problem when I cut my chevron stripes.
  • Ribbing is quite difficult, but produces amazing results.

I didn’t have a pattern for this top, so I made a lot of mistakes, and had to redo both the bodice and the upper sleeves twice. I blew through all two yards of my very wide fabric, but somehow finished without having to go back to the fabric store.

After math-ing out the first puff sleeve and failing, I draped a leg-o-mutton shape on my armed dress form.

This was my first project using ribbing. I’m insanely lucky to have a mill end shop (garment industry graveyard) that has a huge ribbing section, so I found some that matched the ivory in my jersey. It’s not cheap stuff – sold by the inch, and you have to double it over to make your cuffs, bands, and neck binding – and I nearly ran out of that too. The most difficult part of the ribbing was getting the cuffs sewn smoothly to the sleeves. I did it in-the-round, but now that I’m more familiar, I’ll do it “on the plane” (flat) next time.

The neck ribbing was also super-fussy. I had to piece it, and getting it to lay smoothly was a challenge. Braining through making a mitered V neck corner that fits the angle cut on the bodice is pretty tough, too, and I did a lot of seam-ripping at this last step, but was chuffed when I finally got it right.

The whole outfit – volume on top asks for a slim silhouette below the waist – a ’30s skirt is the perfect pairing

Despite the raft of re-do, I ended up with something I absolutely adore. Right in line with my love of jersey as a modern, casual fabric, I feel like this top is wonderfully vintage while also being completely laid back. I just adore the juxtaposition of such a casual fabric being used for a glamorous design.

Finally have some more ’30s daywear to pair with the ’30s oxfords we did for American Duchess a couple years ago

I paired my new top with my slim ’30s gabardine skirt, a very Bonnie-esque wool beret, and Claremont 1930s oxfords.


  • PinhouseP

    November 6, 2015 at 5:58 PM

    Oh yay!! What a lovely sweater! I love all your inspiration pictures, and lately I have seen some rather spectacular 30s and 40s knitting patterns featuring stripes. They really catch the eye. You look stunning, and perfectly period 🙂

  • Juliana

    November 6, 2015 at 7:18 PM

    Oh my goodness, this is fabulous! I really love the early 1930s, and this is just perfect! I love sportswear from the period, and your sweater is a perfect example. 🙂 Well done!!!

    • Lauren Stowell

      November 7, 2015 at 5:58 AM

      Me too! More '30s please! I've made a note to acquire quite a lot of tweed and make some more skirts and a coat perhaps. I never feel quite so glamorous as when I'm in '30s

  • Emileigh

    November 6, 2015 at 7:52 PM

    This is AMAZING! I've almost worked up the gumption to try sewing with knits again. I recently attempted a project that was an epic fail, but I'm LOVING your creations… so I'll have to try again soon. It's accounting for the stretch that I'm having trouble with.

    • Lauren Stowell

      November 7, 2015 at 6:00 AM

      Definitely try it again. I think my expectations of my knowledge/skill are low, so I build in a lot of contingency to the pattern – cut it with extra seam allowances; I can always take it in! – that kind of thing. I'm genuinely surprised that my two projects so far (not counting taking in sweaters and t-shirts) have worked out as well as they have. I'm fully expecting the third one to bite me in the derriere, lol!

    • Lauren Stowell

      November 7, 2015 at 6:03 AM

      I original went looking for sweater knit, like that chunkier hand-knit-looking yardage, instead of jersey. My local textile souk…well, you have to keep an open mind, because if you go looking for something specific you will be guaranteed not to find it (isn't that always the way?!). So when I saw the stripe it was kindof like "hrm, okay, how can this work?" and it just developed from there. Yay serendipity!

    • Lauren Stowell

      November 7, 2015 at 6:04 AM

      Thank you! That actually means a lot to me! I sometimes suspect I have really "off" style, even within vintage fashion, so I'm quite cheered that somebody else likes something I made enough to say they'd wear it too. 🙂

  • Cathy Raymond

    November 7, 2015 at 7:54 PM

    Your final product looks great! In my opinion, it was worth all the struggle. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    I was also blown away by the picture of the 1895 sweater–with the period huge sleeves–at the top of your post. 1890's fashion isn't my specialty, and I didn't realize that knit sweater tops were already period for that era. Wow.

    • Lauren Stowell

      November 9, 2015 at 9:07 PM

      I felt the same way when I saw it – like, "whoa! look at those sleeves!" I started looking into surviving pre-20th c. knitwear, out of curiosity, and was blown away by some of the things in museums – for instance, there are an unusual number of 17th century Italian knit jackets in the V&A. They look totally modern!

  • Anonymous

    November 7, 2015 at 10:25 PM

    Super cute! I remember hearing that knit and crochet wardrobe in the film with Holliday Grainger was actually mostly vintage. I think one of the costumers came upon a cache somewhere. I'd like to have the same luck. 🙂


    • Lauren Stowell

      November 9, 2015 at 9:08 PM

      Wouldn't we all! I actually haven't seen that version of Bonnie and Clyde, but I love Holliday Grainger, so I'll have to hunt it down to see. I think the costumer did a great job re-creating the sweater the original Bonnie was wearing in those photos. I bet the rest of the clothing is stunning, too.

  • Elizabeth Claire

    November 10, 2015 at 2:46 AM

    Great sweater! I was recently given a jacket of a similar style that belonged to my Great Grandmother. I'm obsessed with it (and its matching dress), and I just styled it for a historical fashion photoshoot. Unfortunately for me, it's too small for me to wear, but luckily I found a friend of mine who fits it perfectly!

    Elizabeth xx

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