Mycenaean women wore a distinctive triangular short jacket over their heanos underdress. Like the wrapped kilt skirt and heanos, this garment was borrowed from the Minoans. However, in Minoan art the bolero is seen only sparingly, on some goddess/priestess/royal figures such as the Women Seated on Grandstand fresco in the palace at Knossos, without a dress underneath. (Most Minoan images show women and goddesses wearing heanos open in the front, a similar look but not using a jacket.) Mycenaean women wore the jacket as a standard, everyday item over a heanos or ankle-length chiton (boatneck tunic, post coming soon). Another visual difference between the two cultures is that Minoan women’s heanos and kilt typically were different colors, whereas Mycenaean women’s outfits typically use the same color and trim scheme for all outfit parts. (Visit my heanos and women’s kilt posts for those instructions and references.)
The bolero is functional as well as cute: it actually provides breast support by cinching with ties under the bosom and holding the heanos taut like a bra or a chemise worn with an underbust corset. The look in sculpture is often mistakenly interpreted as having a corset; in fact, the wrapped ties of the bolero, and the ties on the front of the heanos if they are worn together, can give that impression.
As a costumer, I feel like the best part about the bolero is that it is zero-waste! the pattern is genius and, knowing how valuable handmade cloth was, it really resonates with me when a garment wastes nothing. Many thanks to my friend Libby Cripps for the pattern. The only trick is getting the fit right, since even a half-inch makes a difference to the cutting angle. It should be snug but not tight or binding.
I made a three practice ones from scrap fabric to determine my perfect fit. Here’s how to make it:
- Start with a rectangle of sturdy or medium-weight wool or linen fabric. Width = elbow-to-elbow measurement (this includes seam allowance since the final sleeve ends just above the elbow). Height = arm scythe measurement (top of your shoulder, around your armpit, not too tight, and back to the top), plus seam allowance. Mine was 34″x16.5.”
- Measure the distance from one side seam to your other side seam across your back. Then divide this number by 2. Mine was 9.25.”
- Fold fabric in quarters and mark the center point of the bottom edge and center point of the whole piece.
- Open the fabric so it’s just folded longways. On both sides, measure out from the center point of the fabric along the fold the distance you calculated in step 2 on each side. Trace a line from the center bottom edge to each point, making a V whose top edge equals the entire side-seam-to-other-side-seam measurement. Then cut this V. For best results, fold the fabric shortways so you only have to make one cut and both sides are symmetrical.
- Finish all raw edges along the V cut and sleeve ends with a narrow rolled hem (1/4″, narrowing to nothing at the ends of the cutting points). Reinforce each of those weak spots with a row of back-and-forth stitches, which will be covered by trim.
- Cover the cut edges and sleeve ends with trim. I found the smoothest way to handle the edges of the cut was to flip the trim. I converged the trim at the point of the V. I used both sides of the trim in my matching kilt, so I enjoyed this opportunity to incorporate both designs again. If you use a one-sided trim, I recommend cutting it and repositioning it at the edges of the V; trying to converge it in a series of tucks around the curve can be bulky, especially if it’s wider than 1/4″.
- Flip the right-angle-triangle parts (front sleeves) up to meet the uncut long edge and create the shoulder seam. Line up the outer edges. The finished inside points will not quite touch in the middle since they were folded over when you finished that edge; this leaves room for your neck. Pro tip: if you have narrow shoulders like me, position the front pieces 1/2″ in from the edges of the back, effectively shortening the back of the shoulder seam by 1″ total.
- Sew the shoulder seam. I suggest sewing with raw edges on the outside (right side) of the garment so they will be covered by trim and protected from body soil and friction. Sew twice at 1/4″ and 1/2″ for sturdiness. Then flip the raw edges back together (don’t open the seam) to both lie over the back side. Sew them down. Also sew down the seam allowance over the little empty neck space. Then sew the shoulder trim down to cover this seam along the top of the back panel. This can be thick trim or two layers of narrow trim; it gives support for the garment so beef it up! Alternative method: Finish both sides of the shoulder seam (fronts and back) with a narrow rolled hem, then whip stitch the finished edges together and cover the join with trim.
- Add ties. These should be pretty narrow; for best results, I suggest about 3/4″ wide or less. The exact placement will vary according to your body shape and where you need support (if you plan to wear a bra underneath, they are more decorative than functional and the placement is less particular). Put on the bolero over your heanos underdress. Pin the ties a little bit behind your armpit; mine go right under the edge of my shoulder blades, but each person’s spot is different. Test out the placement by crossing the ties in front and tying them in back underneath the V back. Or bring them around again and tie in front. Tug down the heanos for a snug fit, then “fluff” and move around. Adjust as needed, then securely sew the ties on.