Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Willi Smith + Butterick, for the #bhmpatterndesigners Challenge

I always love participating in the #BHMPatternDesigner Challenge each February. This Black History Month challenge is run mainly on Instagram by @SewNaturalDane and challenges sewists to make something designed by a Black designer - but everyone is welcome to join in. 

This year I decided on a pattern from my stash which I thrifted a while ago. It's a Butterick pattern designed by Willi Smith, the creator of WilliWear in the 80s, who also released many sewing patterns over a decade. In fact, when I was looking up some more information about him, I found this wonderful statement about his opinions of home sewists: 

Smith respected the home sewers’ awareness of their bodies and willingness to take risks, and saw this audience as more intimately connected to fashion as a means of individual expression than the ready-to-wear shoppers who followed the colors and trends of the runway. He understood how choosing the pattern, selecting a custom fabric, and assembling the full garment allowed many possibilities for invention.   (you can read the full article about his patterns at the Willi Smith Archive) 

My Willi Smith pattern is Butterick 5987 -- there's no date but it's likely 1979/1980, before he moved over to McCalls. I loved the blouse so decided that I could make it up in the last few days of February! I had a lightweight cotton in my stash that I've never been able to decide what to do with, but it jumped out at me as the perfect choice for this floaty blouse. 

It's a fairly easy design; it's boxy, with cut on sleeves & no bust darts required. The tricky part of the whole process was the yoke design. It crosses over back and front, and so is installed after the front and back are sewn together at the shoulder. You stitch the underside on kind of in reverse, pressing all the seams onto the yoke, then press the hems of the top yoke under and edge stitch it on top. That may sound simple but my goodness how fiddly! Thankfully my cotton pressed well so some steam averted any minor disasters. I did cut the yoke on the bias so that I wouldn't have to worry about matching up the edges of the squares in the design - it's subtle but I like it.

Once that was done, the rest was pretty straightforward. There's a one piece collar, and the split hem is interesting in that the front edges are curved but the back ones are left straight. This requires some easing as you are pressing in that front hem, but it's worth it. It's a really cute design. 

Didn't notice that my back collar was flipped up! 

I happened to have the perfect buttons in stash as well. I recently thrifted a set of 6 lightweight and square black buttons. They were just the right size and weight, and I like how their shape reflects the print of this fabric. There were only four called for in the pattern but I added another one at the top as I like to be able to close my blouse a little higher. 

I enjoyed sewing this and also enjoyed finding out more about Willi Smith. When I was researching a bit more about him, I discovered that the Cooper Hewitt Museum had created an exhibit about him, Willi Smith: Street Couture, which opened on March 12, 2020. Well, it was only open one day as it happens. But they've created a wonderful website from the exhibit and I strongly recommend you take a look if you want to learn more about this designer and the fabulous things he made. 



  1. Thank you so much for the archive link! I had no idea that so much was available about one of my favorite designers from the 80s.
    Your shirt looks awesome, and that's a great fabric pairing. I'd probably hack the yoke to be a regular one instead of sticking to the afterthought construction though, that sounds like such a pain 😉. Big 4 have always been lacking on construction

    1. Thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed the links. I was surprised by the great info I found when I started looking into him -- such a great 80s designer.

      If I make this again I'm definitely hacking the yoke construction lol - it was the most frustrating part.

  2. Your blouse is cute and playful. And thank you for the reminder of Willi Smith; his design from the '80s is still fashionable today.

    1. Thanks so much - this design seemed to call for this fabric! I agree that the pattern is timeless. I really like it. I can tell I'm going to wear this a lot, once the weather warms up ;)

  3. I always enjoy your posts but this one is exceptionally good. I like how you have the gray stripe on both cuffs. It balances everything out. Now I'm off to go back in time re: Willi Smith, whose patterns I recall from when they first came out. Thanks for the links!


    1. Thanks so much! I wish I had a few more Willi Smith patterns! Hope you enjoy the links to all the great info on him.


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