I liked the brown cotton version I sewed from this 1980s era pattern so much that I cut out another blouse using some pale brown and white pin-striped stretch cotton-polyester blend shirting I found at the thrift store a while ago and had waiting in the sewing cupboard. It was simple to make, just like the first time around, the only differences being that I chose to do a plain high collar band without a collar, and that I accidentally arranged the button guide higher than I did the last time. This meant I had to add an extra button on the bottom, but I think I prefer it this way, because having the top button higher and closer to the button on the collar-band keeps the blouse from bubbling at the top or leaving a little gap, as shirts are often prone to do when there is a wider space between the top button and the collar. The striped shirting was not always well-behaved: since it had stretch fiber content it wanted to pucker a little at the seams, although I think it is not so noticeable after ironing. It also had a tendency to fray, so I finished all the inside seams with faux-French seams. As usual, I did my button-holes by hand, and the small white buttons were from my stash---they were clearance purchases at JoAnns from a few years ago.
I am wearing my new blouse with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, made of poly-cotton broadcloth, a thrifted vintage shawl, and a homemade necklace made of black agate.
I’m very pleased with the fit and comfort of this blouse. I’m sure I’ll sew it again. I’m finding more and more the usefulness of sewing “tried and true” patterns in different colors and fabrics, with different collars and trims and buttons, etc. It allows for variety while giving me the assurance the fit is already good and it is quick, too, since once you’ve done the instructions once, doing it again is not so hard. It also makes integration into my wardrobe easier, since I know the style and cut of the garment, it is easy to know how to mix and match it with the other silhouettes that I have.
Do you prefer sewing with tried and true patterns? Or do you enjoy the search for ever-new styles and techniques, trying a different pattern every time you sew?
Monday May 8
We walked to the library in the evening to make last week’s update on the website and stopped at the pond to watch the ducks floating by with their mates. I am wearing my pink blouse, reviewed here, and one of my ubiquitous Simplicity 7880 skirts, which hasn’t ever had a post of its own, I think, even though it has been in many posts. I am wearing rose quartz jewelry that Mr Rat made for me last Christmas.
Tuesday May 9
Mr Rat is wearing his grey broadcloth shirt, reviewed here.
Mrs Rat is wearing her bandana print dress, reviewed here. My jewelry is made of sodalite. Tuesday was a hard day for me.
Wednesday May 10
I am wearing my black v-neck dress, reviewed here, and a necklace and earrings made of indian adventurine and chyrsophase. I was very grateful to have a quiet day of work behind me and be sitting down to a peaceful dinner with my husband. When you have pretty dishes, good food made from scratch, and lots of healthy, green house-plants to surround you, eating at home is nicer than a restaurant.
Thursday May 11
Mr Rat is wearing his blue denim western shirt, reviewed here.
Mrs Rat is wearing her peter-pan collar shirt, her navy blue skirt, and her sky blue cape.
Gia insisted we go to the park with the redwoods that evening, because she wanted so much to frolic in the cool grass. You can see it in her face---she was extra mischievous.
Friday May 12
I am wearing my black dress and a vintage sweater and wool scarf. When we went out for grocery shopping, I put on my black wool jacket (it was so cold and windy), and carried my home-made grocery bags, which I have never posted about.
Saturday May 13
I am wearing my brown long skirt and my navy blue jacket, reviewed here. The scarf is vintage, and even though you can’t see it in any of these pictures, it has little white rabbits all along the back edge.
Sunday May 14
I am wearing my long black skirt, which hasn’t had its own post, but was featured heavily in this post, and a new striped blouse that I just finished sewing last week. I will write a review about it soon, but if you are curious about it already you can look at my review of my brown blouse here, which was made from the same pattern. There are a few small changes, but much of the construction was the same. My necklace is made of graduated black agate beads.
This week it continued to be challenging taking daily photos, but I also felt newly challenged figuring out what to wear while baby-sitting, doing long drawing sessions, baking, and walking a lot during windy, chilly, fluctuating weather. I’ve been thinking about some of my sewing projects I’ve made but not worn often and am trying to use my experience this month to figure out why: do they not suit the weather? Are there not many other things in my wardrobe to wear with them? Is there some aspect of them that makes them uncomfortable? Did I not make good design choices? Is the fit a little flawed?
I think I will likely give away a few items of clothing at the end of the month. But I hope I will also have a better idea of what patterns work the best, and what patterns I want to try out with the hope they will suit better than some of the ones I’ve tried and not liked to wear after all.
One of the most challenging things about sewing is that you can’t try on a garment until after you’ve made it, to see if you like the shape, or the lapels, or the length, etc. . . . How do you manage this difficult aspect of making your own clothes? I find that I’m starting to sew more versions of the patterns that I know work for me. But trying out a new pattern always brings that risk that I won’t like it on myself as much as I liked it in the pattern illustration. Do any of you readers ever have that experience?
Monday May 1
We had a dentist appointment first thing in the morning and the dentist complimented me on my style and asked me where I shopped for clothes. I make most of my clothes, I replied, and she asked me if I made my jewelry too, since it matched my outfit so well. Yes, I said, I do that too.
Mr Rat is wearing his chambray western shirt, reviewed here.
Mrs Rat’s necklace and earrings are made of yellow-ochre colored jade. I am wearing my muslin square-necked blouse, reviewed here, and my poplin skirt, reviewed here.
Tuesday May 2
We stopped by a local school during our evening walk to take a few quick photos, and found the classrooms all decorated with very mysterious looking signs and symbols.
Mr Rat is wearing his second Hawaiian shirt, reviewed here.
Mrs Rat is wearing her brown plaid dress, reviewed here. Although it is hard to see in this photo, the necklace is made of autumn jasper.
Wednesday May 3
On the hottest day of the week, I am wearing my kimono sleeve shawl collar blouse, reviewed here, and my navy skirt, reviewed here. My necklace and earrings are made of sodalite.
Thursday May 4
Mr Rat is wearing his Patterns Pacifica Hawaiian shirt, reviewed here, and his patched Levis jacket, which I posted about here.
Mrs Rat is wearing her Laura Ashley jumper, reviewed here, and one of her favorite white shirts, reviewed here.
Gia, as always, is wearing her one and only lovely fur coat.
Friday May 5
Mr Rat is wearing his green twill jacket, reviewed here.
Mrs Rat is wearing her brown smock dress, reviewed here. My necklace is made of a mixture of stones left over from other beading projects.
Saturday May 6
I am wearing my brown ankle-length skirt, reviewed here. My sweater and pin are vintage, which I think is okay with my pledge, since neither of those garments are things I know how to make myself.
I’m holding a letter I wrote to my friend on some recently thrifted vintage stationary charmingly decorated with strawberries and matching strawberry stickers.
Sunday May 7
I am wearing my muslin blouse again, reviewed here. I haven’t blogged about this muslin skirt yet, which is made from my trusted 1970s era Simplicity 7880.
The surprise for me about the first week of Me-Made-May is that I didn’t feel as challenged by wearing my homemade clothes and jewelry as I did taking photos of what I was wearing every day, and often what Mr Rat was wearing, too. The lighting is always difficult in our apartment, the weather ricocheted from a heat wave to a cold weekend, Mr Rat doesn’t get home until sunset most days, which made getting non-blurry photos difficult----all the usual problems for anyone trying to document a daily project.
I also had some bad days this week, and couldn’t always manage a smile. Since I am trying to document the whole month, I thought it would be more honest to include those photos than to skip over them and leave them out. I try to keep things pleasant here, and as positive as I can, but I’m sure we’ve all felt the difficulty of those days when getting up and dressed at all is a challenge. I am feeling a lot of uncertainty and anxiety right now, which is one reason why I look to getting dressed as one of the few times when I get to make a choice that is all my own, even if it is just what color blouse or what piece of jewelry I get to wear that day.
After photographing one or sometimes two garments each weekend for a while now, I think Mr Rat and I are almost all caught up on older projects. There are only two more in our queue, and then we will be posting our current makes, and the rate of posts on this blog may slow down a little (after Me-Made-May, I suppose---there will probably be a lot of posts about that over the month). This particular dress is probably the oldest homemade garment in my closet. I made it around four years ago for the opening of my second solo gallery show in Los Angeles. I had made a previous version of this pattern in white with yellow flowers (which I no longer have), so I knew I needed to move the bust darts towards the middle, because they were spaced strangely far apart. Although I did make the adjustment, I think it could be adjusted a little bit further the next time I use this pattern. I made this version in black broadcloth, which has only gotten softer and more gently draping with wear and washing.
And I will likely sew it again at some point, because it is an extremely comfortable dress, with just the right amount of ease for movement, and a high waist that slopes down into a U-shape in the back of the dress---an unusual detail, but one that is strangely flattering, I think, since it makes me look tall and slim. The construction is not difficult, and the only thing that makes Patterns Pacifica different than any other vintage pattern from the 1960s-1970s (other than the fact that they were designed and printed in Hawaii) is how the pattern is printed on a heavier paper that feels a lot like construction paper, rather than typical pattern tissue. I cut a size 8, as I do for the big 4 pattern brands, and it fits just as well as they do from that same era.
Mr Rat and I ordered straw hats for summer, since we walk so much, and we were both surprised when they showed up on the same day. We couldn’t resist wearing them out on our Sunday walk to the monastery to see the flowers with Gia. We were glad of the shade, and I was glad of my very light, sheer thrift-store bought Indian shawl to cover my arms from the sun. Last week we went to some garage sales, and I bought a vitnage silver heart necklace that was black with tarnish, that I polished and wore for these pictures. The monastery gardens are lovely every time we go. On this visit the miniature roses were a riot of color, although the clover that was so lush two weeks ago is now wilted by the rising temperatures. How strange and changeable the weather is here! I wonder what surprises we will face during May as we work on our Me-Made-May challenge.
This dress dates from about two years ago---my mom gave me a big bundle of old lace she had in her sewing cupboard, and when I got this pattern, I thought it would be a good match to make a lace-trimmed summer dress. McCall’s 4281 is one of those ingenious 1970s-era pullover dress designs that uses ties that extend from a midriff band to give it its shape. I cut a size 8, and it is loose and comfortable without being large. It also has interesting puffed, flared sleeves, which I like. It is nice to sometimes sew a dress without darts, zippers, or buttons. It makes the sewing process very relaxed. I sewed the lace on by hand, and I think it gives the dress its personality and character. It is a dress I often get compliments on when I am out and about.
I think I’ll likely sew this pattern again—maybe in the longer length with the long sleeves for winter. I can imagine it would be very warm and comfortable in flannel. But since it is just starting to feel quite warm and summery here, that project may be a ways off.
I made this blouse last summer thinking of the wonderful painter Frida Kahlo. She used clothing to shape other people’s perceptions of her identity, so that they remembered her as beautiful, proud, and queenly, rather than vulnerable, injured, and in constant pain from childhood illness and multiple surgeries. By choosing traditional Mexican clothes when her upper-class peers were wearing American-style clothes she chose her own history and made her divided identity (half German, half-Spanish-Mexican) whole in style, if not in fact. She was a woman who was not afraid of looking feminine and wore lots of lace, ruffles, embroidery, and beautiful jewelry. She chose aspects of herself that most people would see as weaknesses and made them her strengths, so that she was memorable, even unforgettable.
I used McCall 6437 cut to a size 8 for the basis of my Frida-Kahlo inspired blouse. I don’t think I will use this pattern again, because the fit around the neck and shoulders is poor for me. It is still a wearable blouse, but I would have to totally redraft the neck and shoulders of this blouse to sew it again, and I don’t think I’m likely to. The blouse itself is not hard to sew, so it could be a good choice for others. The fit is very loose and forgiving, and I like how it looks tucked into skirts. The arm-hole is very low, though, so you have to be wary of easily flashing some underwear when you raise your elbows.
I used bits of lace bought from various thrift stores to trim the yoke, the neck and the sleeves. The blouse is made of plain white cotton, and the button closure is just a simple white button from my button-box. My top-stitching ended up a little wobbly around the yoke, so I did some extra stitching by hand to make it more decorative, and I think that solved the problem in a nice way.
Even though my blouse is simpler than most of hers were, I think it does capture a faint reflection of Frida Kahlo’s beautiful style. It makes me feel more boldly feminine to wear it. Here, I am wearing it with a red jasper necklace and earrings that I made myself, and my brown skirt, previously reviewed here and worn again here.
After I saw a few more holes appear in Mr Rat’s favorite jacket, I persuaded him to leave it at home long enough for me to pull out my mending kit and some scraps leftover from my bandana print dress and from a new Hawaiian shirt that Mr Rat is working on to patch it with. Every time I cover the threadbare spots with colorful bits of fabric and sashiko-style stitching, Mr Rat comes home, puts on his transformed jacket, and admires its increase in character and personality. It takes time to get to know an object, just as it takes time to get to know a person. And I love that he wears my love on his sleeve, and his collar, and every other ragged spot.
This recently completed blouse is unusual for me in a few ways: it is made from a recently released sewing pattern, Simplicity 8215, and it is made in a soft, flowing fabric---some silk I bought very cheaply from an alley of remnants in the Los Angeles fabric district a few years ago. If you’ve been following along with our sewing journal, you’ve probably noticed my preference for crisp-soft fabrics like cotton, cotton blends and wool. The silk was intimidating, but easier to sew than I thought it would be. It was heavy enough that it didn’t shift very much when cutting or sewing and I found the drape is forgiving to small mistakes, since they get hidden in the soft folds.
I’ve had the silk for a few years now and wondered what I could make with it until I saw Simplicity 8215 in a recent pattern catalogue at JoAnns and thought immediately that it had interesting design options for arranging stripes. The bow tie and the interesting sleeves drew my eye as well.
I cut my pattern in a size 8, and the only adjustment I made was to sew the inside of the yoke lining so that the raw edges of the top of the body piece are encased inside. I don’t know why they don’t have you do that in the first place, since it is a cleaner finish, but it does take more hand sewing. The buttons are made of abalone shell, harvested off an old worn-out dress shirt and saved in my button box. The blouse is difficult enough I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners, but for a sewer with some experience and patience, I think it is not too hard, and it has a rewarding result.
I am wearing my new blouse with my handmade grey wool Simplicity 7880 skirt, previously reviewed here.
We took Gia to the monastery over the weekend to enjoy the flowers---the roses are so very beautiful this year, enormous and heavy of head, and the lilacs were blooming, and huge bushes studded with white flowers like stars whose name I do not know. It was a pleasure to have some sun in between so many days of low, grey clouds.
Today is the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka Bangladesh. 1138 people died and over 2500 others were injured. This is an astonishing number to me, since every school I have ever attended, including college, had fewer students than that. While the collapse caused widespread shock at the time, it doesn’t seem to have changed very many manufacturing or shopping habits in the long term, something that the group Fashion Revolution is trying to change. Such an epic and tragic loss of life does not deserve to be forgotten, especially when there are millions around the world who still work in underpaid and unsafe conditions in the garment industry today.
Nicole, of the Artyologist, has a good introduction to Fashion Revolution week on her blog, or you can look at Fashion Revolution’s website for more information about the events they are hosting across the internet this week to raise awareness about the high cost of clothing manufacturing and clothing waste.
One of the questions Fashion Revolution asks is: “Who made my clothes?” I am pleased to answer that for the most part, I have made my own clothes. Out of the 70-ish garments that I own, over 60 percent is handmade by me, and those items that are not are by and large second-hand which in many cases I have repaired to make wearable again. Many of the items that are not made by me are things which I don’t have the resources or knowledge to make: a few knit items like turtlenecks, two special embroidered jackets that I found at the thrift store, a few heavy winter coats, two t-shirts, one pair of jeans, and some sweaters. I hope that as the years progress a larger and larger percentage of my clothing will be handmade, until when I am asked, “Who made my clothes?” I can simply answer, “me.”
The ethics of clothing are something we all have to consider every time we put something over our skin. The need for clothing is universal, and as sewers, we more than anyone know how much time and skill is needed to make the simplest item of clothing. I have been pondering some of the things we can do to improve our relationship with our clothes and to show more respect and gratitude for those who make them:
Mr Rat and I have decided to participate in Me-Made-May this year. My goal is to wear only homemade clothing and jewelry every day, and Mr Rat has committed to wearing homemade at least four times a week. We’re going to document our goals and hopefully update this website weekly with our progress throughout the next month. I hope it will teach me more about what else I need to make or things I need to change in order to have a home-made, loved wardrobe, full of clothes that feel right.
Do any of you have any other ideas to share about ways you’ve improved your relationship with clothing, your own methods for wardrobe planning, or how to make your loved clothes last?
We had an unusually sunny Sunday after a few days of heavy rain, so the three of us went over to the monastery to enjoy the greenness of the garden and the heady spring flowers that scent the air. I wore a new jumper dress that I finished last month using 1970s era Butterick 6000 as my starting point. Originally I intended to add long sleeves, but when I set them in I didn’t like the way they looked, so I cut out the sleeves, enlarged the armholes slightly and finished the inside with off-white bias tape. The bodice is lined, since the ivory cotton I found at the thrift store is slightly sheer on its own, and I finished the waist seam with bias tape on the inside, which acts as a waist stay and covers the gathers so it has a clean finish on the inside. As far as other adjustments go, I also cut the skirt wider than the original skirt in the pattern, and I took a little wedge out of the middle of the bodice front when I cut out the pattern, with the wider point of the wedge at the neckline tapering to nothing at the empire waist, since I’ve found in the past that low scooped necklines can sometimes be a little loose on me. I dislike rippling zippers, so I was careful to interface the edge of the fabric along the full length of the zipper, and then I hand-picked the zipper into place. I’ve found that doing my zippers that way solves the rippling zipper problem, and they always turn out straight and crisp.
You’ve probably already noticed if you’ve been following our sewing journal that I have a penchant for raised waist dresses. They are so very comfortable and easy to wear. I’ve sewn Butterick 6000 before because I like the empire waist and the simple lines of the design, but sadly the blue cotton dress I made from it last year got a big stain on the skirt that wouldn’t wash out and so I had to retire it before I ever got to photograph it for this blog.
I wore my new jumper with one of my thrifted pashmina shawls, a necklace I made myself out of blood agates and gold-plated spacer beads, and jade and cats-eye rings that I inherited from my grandmother.
Happy Easter to all Christian readers, and happy spring (or autumn if you live in the southern hemisphere) to everyone else!
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew