Oct 01

Jacqmar calling




The distinctive Jacqmar mark


When this vibrant blouse was brought to the M Shed’s World War 2 day last Saturday, it created a frisson of excitement. Apparently upcycled from a Jacqmar propaganda scarf by the owner’s mother (a primary school teacher in London during the war), the blouse is an eye-popping reminder for us too young to have experienced the war IRL that it wasn’t lived in black-and-white.



Economic cutting


The 1942 line drawing by Jacqmar’s company designer Arnold Lever contains a selection of  topical references. Here’s much more about it and them c/o Meg Andrews, a specialist in antique costume and textiles.



Back view


The blouse is threadbare here and there, but still very bright and beautiful. It’s noticeable that the green binding is much finer and more flexible than the run-of-the-mill stiff stuff on offer to us nowadays. And it’s still doing the job, though a little worn here and there. The red buttons are not original to the WW2 item.



Binding finish


I’m a little puzzled by this piece. Jacqmar propaganda scarves were expensive items when new, so turning one into a blouse would have been a very bold project, in more ways than one. Admittedly, in this form it would have been wearable for a young teacher during her working day, whereas a head-scarf would not. But have I made a false assumption that this was made from a headscarf? It looked to me as if the pieces could just come (if carefully cut) from the square yard of fabric provided by a scarf. But did Jacqmar produce garments too? Or was the fabric ever sold by the metre? My hunch is that this was a homemade item; look at the stitching visible beyond the binding – not a professional finish. And the fact that contrast binding was used, not self, would indicate a paucity of fabric which as being negotiated with the greatest care, so the upcycled scarf theory still holds water. 



The odd hole here and there…


I bet this made a real impact on pupils when the young teacher wore it. Do you know of someone who made items from bright scarves during the war? Maybe you’ve inherited a Jacqmar propaganda scarf? Or another item of clothing made by Jacqmar? Perhaps you recognise the vintage blouse pattern this was cut from? If you have any insight at all to offer, I’d be delighted if you’d share it with me below. And if you happen to be in Bristol and have a story about World War 2, or an artefact you’d be willing to loan for an exhibition next year, do get in touch with the M Shed. Thanks.

PS Since writing this post I’ve discovered that famed scarf producer Jacqmar did indeed turn out fabrics. In fact, they were doing this before they began to make scarves: the scarves being, ironically, a thrifty way to use up precious silk scraps. There’s a nice story about Arnold Lever’s patriotic fabric over here, used to create a VE party dress.


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  1. thevintagetraveler says:

    How completely intriguing! I'm glad you were able to find that exhibition review that answered all the questions. This is my favorite kind of fashion mystery.

  2. Lizzie says:

    Oooh I think I'm going to have to have a go at copying this blouse shape (next summer though maybe).
    With the raglan sleeves it looks as if it would be an easy shape to sew and also economical with fabric.

  3. Lorna says:

    Fascinating post, as usual! My mum was a young mother during the war, and taught me other make-do-and-mend skills when I was a youngster in the 70s.

  4. Jen O says:

    After seeing your comment on 'Dress a Day', I came over to see your cute blouse. I also wondered about the pattern that she used–it looks like a classic WW2 era peasant blouse, but most of those don't have a button front and do have drawstring necklines. It might be a hybrid of her own making, since the underam is cut a bit low around the sleeve opening (this may hang awkwardly when worn).
    To copy this style you could start with any vintage peasant blouse pattern, especially those that don't have raglan sleeves. That seamline is almost decorative on a blouse of this type, so feel free to add it to a one-piece kimono type peasant blouse pattern. Adding the front buttons is only a matter of additional fabric for that overlap. The cute binding can replace any drawstring if you gather up the neckline on a basting thread to fit, then bind that edge off. I am guessing the binding may have been hand cut, as was common at the time when every scrap was saved.
    Current raglan blouse pattern Butterick 4685 could also be used to start, and Simplicity 1692 has the right vintage silhouette–if you took #B neckline and added it to #C body, then drafted a 'mock' raglan seamline.
    It would be fun to try.

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