“I want Magic” – Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire



Cathy MacDonald-Zytveld, Ottawa/Bytown

(click images to to enlarge)

Other Credits

Mixed media artist, writer, photographer, model

Outline the story …

The dress that Blanche DuBois wears as she enters her sister’s home in A Streetcar Named Desire is self-made. She refashioned it from an early 40’s dress that left out pockets (we can blame war rationing for our present pocketless condition) and a rationed and regulated a 42” hem. She’s hoping to find a wealthy man to rescue her, so she dresses accordingly. Wearing ‘luxury’ evening wear as she arrives in the big town of New Orleans.
Blanche is accused of being the ‘glamourous type’. And here is where I disagree with the movie costume design. Her character follows the latest trends. She enters wearing something she fashioned after a dress in the Vogue Home Catalogue. The pattern of caged birds speaks to her ‘reduced circumstances’. The eyes of the birds have been picked out with crystals so that they will catch the light in a low-lit room.
The rest of the story of the costume is told through the accessories – a grandmothers fur stole, vintage shoes, beaded purse, cigarette case, compact, a small vintage suitcase.
The fabric is an upcycled panel of cotton drapery (yeah, I see you Vivien Leigh, thank you Carol Burnette). The limited amount of fabric dictated the pencil skirt design, instead of the more flared skirts evident in home-sewing patterns of the 40’s. It also made pattern matching all but impossible. The facing is from my Mums stash.

Outline the construction…

This is my first dress and third garment. As a kid I learned enough to earn a Brownie Badge but never enjoyed sewing. I didn’t pick it up again until after my Mum, an award-winning quilter, passed. I started focusing on sewing a couple months before lockdown. Faced with a limited budget and a surplus of time, I decided to draft my own pattern blocks based on You Tube tutorials (the bust bodice took 10 drafts). Last February I didn’t know how a dart works, much less design a dress. This is only possible because of the online community.
The fabric is a thrifted curtain that I flatlined to white cotton to give the dress a little more heft. Once the pieces were cut I basted in the stich-lines. I ladder-stitched the darts in the front and back, then backstitched them by hand. I then machine sewed, with a 1915 hand-crank Singer 99K, the side and back seams. The zip closure was based into centre back and prick-stitched into place. The zip is not at the side, as is period appropriate, in a nod to theatre quick-changes. After a final fitting the seams were felled. A contrasting cotton fabric, was sewn as the facing for the neck and arms, then backstitched and herringboned into position. After hanging the bottom was leveled and hemmed. A chain was added to the hem of the skirt to help with the drape and movement. Crystal gems were added as eyes to the bird pattern.




  1. Avatar Lilian Walsh on March 11, 2021 at 7:40 pm

    I love the fabric that seems playful with the birds in cages, yet could still be a metaphor for the character. Also I like very much the different lining (and especially the Carol Burnette reference!)

    • Avatar Cathy on March 11, 2021 at 8:07 pm

      Thank you so much. When I found the fabric I knew it would fit the story of Streetcar. I wanted the lining to stand out from the main fabric of the dress.
      Carol Burnette is a hero of mine. And I honestly cannot think of Ms. Leigh and her work without thinking of Ms. Burnette sweeping her way down the stairwell…

      • Avatar Suzy Juneau on March 12, 2021 at 7:40 pm

        Beautiful dress and fabric. I sew and it takes skill to make such a dress. I also love Carol Burnett sweeping down the staircase.

        • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 10:37 pm

          Thank you so much! I tried to take everything I’ve been learning over the past year (and what I learned by watching my Mum for all those years) and funnel it into the dress.

      • Avatar Barbara on March 14, 2021 at 6:25 pm

        Amazing! First dress with lots of hand work. You go girl!

        • Avatar Cathy on March 14, 2021 at 11:14 pm

          Thank you so much.

          I really loved the mix of hand-crank machine and hand-work. I didn’t get the machine until sometime around draft 6 of the bodice mock-up. I started out being really intimated by machine work. During the first lockdown I started sewing by making a 10-pannel Moroccan-style floor poof (that we don’t quite have room for but was an amazing teacher).

  2. Avatar Danielle St. John on March 11, 2021 at 7:48 pm

    I *love* your use of found and repurposed fabric! It is perfect for a character with champagne taste on a beer budget to use whatever they could find and make it work. Well played!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 10:42 pm

      Champagne tastes with a minuscule budget and shut-down limitations was, literally, what I was dealing with. Take what you have and what you can find and work it. And I love upcycling – there’s so much stuff already out there waiting to find a home and a purpose.
      Thank you!

  3. Kitty Mortensen Kitty Mortensen on March 11, 2021 at 9:37 pm

    I love it- even the facing is amazing. and I love your photos.

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 10:44 pm

      Thank you so much. It meant the world to take fabric from one of Mum’s fat quarters and put it to good use.
      And thanks for liking the photos. Mister Husband took the ones of me posing and I took the construction ones…

  4. Avatar Phanuel Jagna Levinsen on March 11, 2021 at 10:47 pm

    You’ve really incapsulated the story and character! Well done!

  5. Avatar Jocelyn Lofstrom on March 11, 2021 at 10:51 pm

    Well done! You had me at Blanche DuBois. Love the dumpster fire pocket.

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 10:49 pm

      Thank you! I love Blanche, poor thing.
      I couldn’t help but include the dumpster fire pocket. It was So much fun to do over the holidays. And I’ve had that fabric in my stash for over a decade. I don’t have instagram so this is my only chance to share it out to the electronic universe…
      I figured, we get 5 photos and a video/photo option. And, being the techno Luddite that I am, I was locked into 6 photos. So why not have a bit of fun with the last one – that one’s for me, the rest are for Blanche.

  6. Avatar Elowen Blackthorn on March 11, 2021 at 10:59 pm

    Love the fabric and the attention to detail! Beautiful treatment of a tragic character, too. I love that you used done of your mum’s stash, too! Very good job!

    • Avatar Christy Bindhardt on March 12, 2021 at 1:51 pm

      Impressive for a first dress. Love the reference to the famous curtain dress. Bob Mackie was the first designer I ever fan followed because of it. Good luck.

      • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 11:30 pm

        Thank you!

        I remember seeing an interview with Carol Burnette about the absolute ‘lightning in a bottle’ it was to have a very young Bob Mackie in her corner. As a kid of the 70’s it was a great way to be introduced to how to use fashion to make a larger point…

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 10:54 pm

      Thank you so much!
      The chain, the gems for the birds eyes and the facing are from Mum’s stash. I wanted / needed to include her in this submission. It was kind of like spending some time with her… if that makes any kind of sense… She was always one for saving the ‘good stuff’ for some future project. It was time, past time, for them to see some sunlight.

  7. Avatar Sara on March 11, 2021 at 11:10 pm

    You can be super proud of your developing pattern drafting. REALLY impressive skill on display here!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 11:01 pm

      Honestly, it was kind of nerve-wracking. I’d stall out for a week or a month while I tried to figure out what the drag lines meant for the next version. That was a Wwhole bunch of YT tutorials to wade through…

      Didn’t have a working sewing machine until I got to draft 6. Which is allot of running stiches for something I knew wasn’t going to work… And there are still some tweaks I want to work out before I call the bodice an ‘Official Bodice Block’ that’s committed to board.

      Next up? Drafting the sleeve to go with the bodice. And a block for pants. Pray for us sinners… 😉

  8. Avatar Teri Plemel on March 12, 2021 at 12:38 am

    Very nice use of fabric! Also, the fit is amazing considering it is your first dress. Well done!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 11:04 pm

      Thank you!

      I got into this out of a desire to, finally, have clothing that actually fit the body I’m in. That. And the daydream of having a button-up shirt that doesn’t gape… (laughing)

  9. Avatar Jaclyn Spencer on March 12, 2021 at 2:18 am

    That is a wonderful interpretation, and I love your explanation- very much how I read the book, too.

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 11:09 pm

      Thank you!

      I tried to approach the book the way it was received at the time – as something contemporary. Which lead me down this complete rabbit hole of what women on the home front accomplished with the extremely limited resources they had at hand. Remarkable stuff.

  10. Avatar Cecile Carpenter on March 12, 2021 at 2:44 am

    Well done! Especially when you’ve never drafted patterns before! You’re much braver that I was as a beginner.

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 11:10 pm

      Thank you!

      I’m not sure about brave. Felt more like focused flailing… (laughing)

  11. Avatar Drago on March 12, 2021 at 10:28 am

    What a nice dress! Now I want to read a book!
    Chain in the skirt is a clever idea!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 11:13 pm

      I picked up the idea for the chain from watching one too many Chanel videos.

      It absolutely slayed me when I found out about weighing the hem for flow and drape. Then I found out she got it off the Victorians / Edwardians. And then I wanted to learn All The Things… which is how I ended up here…

  12. Avatar Anna Maranta on March 12, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    Holy wow! This is really beautiful! I love the upcycling that went into this, and of course adore the connection to Julie Andrews. Upcycling was very much part of the Depression and War years – I heard many, many stories about my grandmother reworking men’s coats for schoolboys, cutting down housecoats for little girls dresses and on and on.
    My mother was a professional dressmaker who began her apprenticeship to her aunt in the late 30s. She sewed daily until the year before her death in 1991. I did not learn to sew – fine motor skills deficits – but took in so much of the art being surrounded by it throughout my childhood.
    You did so well! I love the attention you paid to detail. I know the effort made to create this dress, adding the facing, and finished seams, etc. Congratulations!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 11:19 pm

      I have such love and respect the generation that came through the Wars and the Depression. They not only got through – survival is the ultimate repudiation. They got through with such Style. I grew up on stories about dresses from flower sacks and Depression glassware.

      It’s a gift to grow up with someone who sews at such a high level. There were times in this where it felt more like remembering than learning. I tried to make something that she would be proud of.

      Thank you!

  13. Avatar Mary Johns on March 12, 2021 at 6:12 pm

    The 10 bodice drafts really show in the fit! It fits you so well, and I love your fabric. Having never seen The Streetcar Named Desire, I now desire to see it!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 11:23 pm

      Thank you. Even after all those bodice drafts, the first draft of the dress achieved ‘potato sack’. Which made me happy, because it at least fit.

      See a production. You won’t be disappointed. I caught a British production, with Gillian Anderson in the lead, during the first lock-down. Mind. Blown.

  14. Avatar teresa van twuijver on March 12, 2021 at 7:11 pm

    that is the pocket of my dreams

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 11:24 pm


      Thank you. It does turn heads when I wear it to the laundry room…

      I’m just happy I was able to put the silk and wool to good use after having them in a pile for over 10 years.

  15. Avatar Lissa on March 12, 2021 at 10:26 pm

    I am so impressed by the flatlining you’ve done, and how smoothly your two layers fit together. I’ve just started reading about that practice and have been intimidated by it, but am now feeling encouraged to give it a try. Thank you for sharing your beautiful dress!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 12, 2021 at 11:26 pm

      Thank you so much!

      It was the first time I actually flat-lined anything. Not nearly as time consuming or as hard as I feared it was.

  16. Avatar Natalia V. on March 13, 2021 at 8:49 pm

    Congratulations! It looks great and I just loved the whole idea and story behind it!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 14, 2021 at 11:19 pm

      Thank you so much!

      I ended up deep diving on the late-40’s history that it’s based out of. And I always disagreed with the costuming choices the movie made – far more of a call-back to the whole Gone with the Wind esthetic than what would have been considered ‘glamourous’ for the time. I just wish I had 2 panels of curtains instead of the 1 I was dealing with. I love skirts that swish…

  17. Avatar Cassie Jackson on March 13, 2021 at 9:20 pm

    This is quite a bit of detail for your third ever garment. To hear you have taken time to learn to draft your own pattern blocks from you tube tutorials is really impressive too. Well done on entering your sewing journey learning from the start about correct fit. This is a very creative work and I like how much you pulled in detail from the story. Good use of colour. Well done! be proud of yourself! this is a great entry!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 14, 2021 at 11:27 pm

      Thank you so, so much!

      What got me into sewing in the first place is a family story about my Maternal Great-Granny. Legend has it that she could take an ad for, say, a coat from the evening paper. Use the newsprint from that paper to quick-draft a pattern, based entirely on that single image. And build the coat so that it was better quality than the coat that was being offered up for sale.

      Somehow that level of knowledge got lost over the 20th century. Part of which I suspect ties to the history of declining home-economic classes that turned from the how-to to the how-to-buy. I want that legacy of knowledge back in the fam.

      I’m a 38FF with a fixed income, so the only way I’m ever going to get clothing that fits me is to build that wardrobe for myself.

  18. Avatar Kathleen LaFlamme on March 14, 2021 at 3:12 am

    Nice job! A fitted sheath dress isn’t a simple beginner project. I love the accessories.

    • Avatar Cathy on March 14, 2021 at 11:44 pm

      Thank you!

      The irony being, I thought a 3 panel sheath dress would be the simpler choice than a bodice/skirt combo.

      The accessories are a combination of my Mum’s and my Granny’s. I wanted to include them into the submission, one way or the other.

  19. Avatar Maire Martin on March 14, 2021 at 5:57 am

    Lovely work, Cathy! I love the way you upcycled the fabrics a la Carol Burnette. It gives a wonderful air of shabby-chic to Ms. Dubois 😀

    • Avatar Cathy on March 14, 2021 at 11:47 pm

      Thank you so much!

      I couldn’t help but give Vivian Leigh a poke via Carol Burnette. The bonus being I see Blanche as the epitome of shabby-chic.

  20. Avatar KK Rose on March 14, 2021 at 6:32 am

    I love a lot about this dress, but that pocket is inspired! What a great thought, to add an 18th century pocket to a 20th century dress style.

    • Avatar Cathy on March 14, 2021 at 11:53 pm

      Thank you!
      The pocket picture is there for me, more than it’s there for the competition. I made it up over the holidays using silk and wool I’ve had for a while. I’m a techno-peasant without a cellphone, so no Instagram for me (le sigh – I had a whole bunch of illustrations I was going to put up in relation to the dress). This is the only chance I have to share it over the inter-webs… I haven’t done embroidery since I was in Brownies. It’s much more fun than I remember it being.

  21. Avatar Lucia on March 14, 2021 at 8:36 am

    mi firs garment wasn’t this good and well refined…well well done!!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 14, 2021 at 11:55 pm

      Thank you so much! It was a journey.

  22. Avatar Valerie Meachum on March 15, 2021 at 12:28 am

    I love all the thought in this so much! Especially the double-layered Vivien Leigh reference. 🙂 The birdcage print is a delight, and the choice to pick out the eyes seems such a wonderfully Blanche touch of glamor.

    And now I have the “I Want Magic!” aria from the opera version running through my head.

    Well done!

  23. Avatar Cathy on March 16, 2021 at 3:39 am

    Thank you so, so much!

    Renee Fleming does a beautiful work with that aria…

    I knew I had the dress when I found the fabric. To me it felt like the illustrations you would find on poetry books and theatre marquees in the period. The fact that the eye gems were red felt like a bit of synergy with Blanche’s Chinese paper lanterns. She was always playing with light and shadow. The gems are actually a part of my Mum’s inherited stash. It felt good to bring them out of a drawer and into the sunlight.

  24. Avatar Whats Sewing On on March 16, 2021 at 5:49 pm

    WOW!! This looks great!! I love the fabric, the inside looks very well done! Yay for upcyclng!! Also, I loved the beaded bag – it’s beautiful!!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 17, 2021 at 5:35 am

      Thank you so much!

      You know when you spot a fabric from a distance. Yeah, it was like that. I may have actually done a happy dance.

      The purse was my Mum’s and my Granny’s. It’s one of those things where I’ll find any excuse to bring it out.

  25. Avatar Abigail Wietecha on March 18, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    Very nicely done!

  26. Avatar Joshua Graham on March 18, 2021 at 5:30 pm

    So much thought and hard work – wonderfully done

    • Avatar Cathy on March 18, 2021 at 6:44 pm

      Thank you!

      It was actually a joy to make. An occasionally deeply frustrating joy, but a joy nonetheless.

  27. Avatar AnnaCatherine Sendgikoski on March 18, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    This was well thought out. I love the Carol Burnett referencing. Bob Mackie really did a memorable costume, didn’t he? I love whimsical fabric and your fabric is awesome. Thank you so much for letting us see it! Good luck!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 18, 2021 at 6:54 pm

      Bob Mackie is a god – he did that dress on, maybe a 2 or 3 week turnaround? At the most? It gives everything anyone could ever want in a costume. And what Carol Burnett did with it… ‘Went with the Wind’. Perfect critique of the original. I couldn’t help but dance with it…
      I am so thankful for this competition for giving me something to focus on this past year. The amount of talent and work on display in the entries is humbling.

      • Avatar AnnaCatherine Sendgikoski on March 23, 2021 at 12:06 am

        I agree with you on Mackie. I got to meet him on the set of the Sonny and Cher Show once in LA. My mother loved his work!

  28. Avatar Dixie on March 18, 2021 at 9:15 pm

    I love how you incorporated symbolism into the design and material choices. Nice work with adding all the accessories, too! Blanche is such an interesting character.

    • Avatar Cathy on March 19, 2021 at 4:34 pm

      Thank you so much!
      I Love your video on bust adjustments.

  29. Avatar Laura Ingalls Gunn on March 21, 2021 at 10:15 pm

    I really love how you brought the story to life. The pocket is perfection. Bravo!

    • Avatar Cathy on March 24, 2021 at 3:40 am

      Thank you so much! It was so fun to pull together.

  30. Avatar Carol Phillips on March 24, 2021 at 3:20 am

    Seconding previous comments regarding your story concept and execution!! And sending terrific admiration of your true grit in sticking with the frustrating process of pattern development!!!

  31. Avatar Robin the Part time sewer on March 25, 2021 at 4:18 am

    Wow The dress looks wonderful. You did a great job. Your first dress turned out beautifully.

    • Avatar Cathy MacDonald on March 27, 2021 at 8:18 pm

      Thank you so much Robin!

  32. Avatar Cathy MacDonald on March 27, 2021 at 8:17 pm

    Thank you so much. Sometimes it felt like the concept took more time than the execution.

    Calling my general stubbornness ‘true grit’ is humbling. Thank you. It feels like everything I tackle is yet another exercise in pattern manipulation. But that may be the point of the exercise…?

  33. Avatar Bianca on March 29, 2021 at 1:01 am

    First dress? It came out splendidly. I really like your breakdown of the costume inspo and your use of the bird material.

    • Avatar Cathy MacDonald on March 29, 2021 at 8:40 pm

      First dress.
      Thank you so much!

  34. Avatar Sue (sue-mcfluzen) Assenmacher on March 29, 2021 at 5:09 am

    You did an amazing job.

    • Avatar Cathy MacDonald on March 29, 2021 at 8:40 pm

      Thank you so much!

  35. Avatar Nina Martin on March 29, 2021 at 11:18 pm

    Beautifully done! (I also love your dumpster fire pocket!)

    • Avatar Cathy on April 1, 2021 at 6:11 pm

      Thank you! (and thank you – I enjoyed it too much not to include it)

  36. Avatar Susannah ALLANIC on March 30, 2021 at 12:25 am

    Well done! I think what I love most of all is the use of curtains, but the birds with glittering eyes trapped in cages well, that is a synopsis of the American culture of that particular time.

    • Avatar Cathy on April 1, 2021 at 6:12 pm

      Thank you.
      And yes, what America does to the heart right now…

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