“You guys have an awesome dayyyyyyy!!!!” the vagabond called to us as he hopped onto the back of his grocery cart and sped away down the sidewalk. We were taking a few photos in front of an abandoned drive-through fast food restaurant on a recent Friday evening. I speculate that it was once a Long John Silvers back in the early 90’s but its most recent tenant appeared to be a fast food Biryani Indian restaurant. I felt like the setting reminded me of some of the neighborhoods near the beach in Oceanside, CA where I spent much of my youth.
This is my second version of the Aloha shirt from the Japanese pattern company Sunday and Sons. I have decided that this pattern will be my go-to Hawaiian shirt pattern from now on. The fabric comes from Island Fabrics located in the fabric district of LA and is sold as “bark cloth.” I used the fabric reverse side out like all traditional Hawaiian shirts and carefully matched the pocket to the pattern on the shirt. I appreciate that this shirt has a slim fit since many Hawaiian shirts I come across tend to have a boxy shape. Although the shirt is fitted it still maintains flexibility and comfort since it includes pleats on the upper back and side slits at the bottom hem line. One thing to keep in mind about these Japanese patterns is that the sizing runs a little small. I use the large shirt pattern even though I typically wear a medium.
Hawaiian shirts have always been an important part of my wardrobe for both casual wear and dressy attire. The great thing about a nice Hawaiian shirt is that by changing from shorts to slacks you can go from the beach to dinner at a nice restaurant without too much trouble (and vice versa). I am really excited to have a pattern that reliable produces excellent results every time!
Note from Mrs Rat:
Usually we take our photos in local parks and the monastery garden up the street. They show one side of California: lush year-round flowers, redwood and olive trees, and lots of sunshine. But for Mr Rat’s most recent Hawaiian shirt, we decided we would take our photos at an abandoned restaurant near the grocery stores where we usually shop. It is the other typical side of California: empty, decaying store-fronts, palm trees, weeds and trash and broken glass, and of course---strange encounters. Mr Rat mentioned the encounter with a friendly homeless man while we were taking these photos----a few months before, in the same spot, we watched with astonishment as over a dozen police cars sped down the street (we found out later there had been a shooting at the motel a block away). A different homeless man was walking by and told us in a disgusted voice: “This happens all the time around here.” And it does----in California.
I almost gave up on this blouse the first time I tried it on. It brought to mind a quote from L M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: “Look at those sleeves! Oh it seems to me this must be a happy dream. . . It would give me such a thrill to wear a dress with puffed sleeves.” But the part of my mind that agrees with Anne was at war with the part of my mind that looked at those sleeves in agreement with Marilla: “The puffs have been getting bigger and more ridiculous right along: they’re as big as balloons now. Next year anybody who wears them will have to go through a door sideways.”
This blouse is a bit over-the-top for me, but the more I spend time with it since I finished it, the more I think it is not the sleeves (puffy as they are) that make me feel that way, but rather it is the large gingham check that makes the blouse a little overwhelming. But having now worn it out and about, enjoying the comfortable lightweight cotton (bought for $1 a yard at the LA fabric district a few years ago) and the good fit, I think I will keep it for the occasion I’m feeling quite bold. The black-and-white gingham does make me think of late summer picnics and autumn harvest celebrations. I think it will look good worn with my black wool vest, or one of my black jumper dresses.
In terms of construction: The instructions have you stay-stitch every curved edge before sewing, which took some extra time, but was worth it to keep the blouse from stretching out and losing its carefully mirrored pattern. I felt that the princess seams would be difficult (if not impossible) to try to pattern match, so I took inspiration from the post about gingham over on Vintage Gal’s blog where she mentioned that in the 1930s seamstresses would purposefully not match the gingham on their projects so as to conserve fabric and didn’t bother to try to match the gingham, only to mirror it on both sides. I pinked the inside seams and pressed them open, and sewed sleeve heads out of scraps of white fabric, as the pattern instructed, which help the sleeves keep their dramatic poof. The sleeves are actually long, with darts at the elbow, but in these photos I’m wearing them rolled up a little so they look below-elbow length. I made the black buttonholes by hand, as usual, and switched them from horizontal to vertical and changed the positioning so they were in the middle of each black square. The black buttons are thrifted, from my stash, and I sewed them on with white thread for a little bit of subtle contrast. To keep the self-bias neckline binding from flopping open at the top, I sewed on two small snaps. The instructions for early 1980s era Simplicity 5900 are quite detailed, and I got a good fit without having to make any adjustments to the size 8. I recommend it to anyone looking for an Edwardian styled pattern, or a pattern that has sleeves that would make Anne Shirley break out into dramatic exclamations of joy.
I am wearing my new blouse in these photos with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, and a homemade sash.
My library bag has looking rather pathetic, with holes wearing right through the quilted fabric. But I’m fond of it and I’ve had it many years----I don’t want to give up on it yet. I spent some time over the weekend patching the holes with bits of gingham left over from my dress, and now my bag is ready to take some books to the library again.
When a favorite cloth bag or garment starts getting holes, what is your solution? Does mending/patchwork add beauty and character to an object, or do connotations of poverty outweigh what interest visible mending might add?
Mr Rat says that this is his favorite dress (albeit a two-piece dress in this instance) I’ve made yet. We bought the fabric together at the Los Angeles fabric district last month for $4 a yard, which makes this one of the most expensive dresses I’ve ever made and shared on this blog. I’d estimate that it cost about $23 total, including the thrift-store bought buttons, thread, and the skirt zipper from JoAnns that I had already in my stash. I’ve had McCalls 6339 circa 1978 for a while and always felt a little intimidated by it until I thought to myself recently that truly it is just a skirt and a blouse---and even though the blouse has princess seams and self-bias binding on the bottom---that isn’t so hard. I’ve made button-up blouses before. And really, it wasn’t so hard, although it was somewhat time-consuming since I wanted the finish to be nice. I flat-felled and top-stitched the seams, bias-bound the inside of the arm-holes, stitched on the self-bias binding by hand, made the button-holes by hand also, and had to do quite a number of darts on the skirt before I gathered it. I’ve never seen a full skirt constructed in that way before, but it really controls the fullness around the waistband and gives it a nice, flattering shape. I didn’t make many construction changes to the dress: I left out the pockets since I usually carry a bag, I didn’t add the tucks at the bottom of the skirt, and I had the shorten the back of the blouse so that it didn’t wrinkle around the top of my hips. I think the next time I make it, I might try shortening the whole bodice a little bit, although this method worked fine; I just had to lengthen the bias binding a little to accommodate the new edge.
For its first debut, I wore my new gingham dress when we walked to the monastery on Sunday morning before church and watched the squirrels do astonishing acrobatic feats in the trees. There were lots of birds, bees, one fat and strangely hairless bumble-bee, and the aforementioned wildly active squirrels. Most of the garden looks very dry----summer in California is a brown time for the most part---but there were still a fair amount of pink blossoms to enjoy: oleander, roses, some curious-looking lilies, and the fuchsia bougainvillea. I hope your August is going well, and you have some flowers to enjoy, too.
Mr Rat complained to me that he didn’t have light enough pajamas for summer, so I decided I would surprise him by sewing him a set from the same pattern I sewed his Christmas flannel robe last year, Simplicity D0588, released in 2015. I made a size medium, same as the robe, but was rather surprised by how the fit turned out. The shirt top is quite large, which Mr Rat says is very comfortable, and the shorts fit well, but they were surprisingly short---certainly not the knee-length that the pattern implies. Mr Rat is 5 foot 10---perhaps the pattern was designed for a slightly shorter man? In any case, if you try this pattern, you might want to check the short length before you begin. I compensated by turning the hem up once and pinking it before sewing rather than turning it twice as I normally do hems, but the shorts are still a good two or three inches above my husband’s knee unless he wears the waistband low on his hips. I should have been smart and measured the length before cutting the shorts out, but I’m not sure I would have had quite enough fabric to make it differently anyway, given that I made the whole pajama set out of a twin-sized Ralph Lauren striped cotton sheet I found at the thrift store. It made very breathable, crisp pajamas, and was easy to sew, but it was a tight fit getting everything cut out and as many stripes matched as possible (including the pocket). Since I had so little fabric, I cut the facings out of some white cotton fabric scraps I had in my sewing basket. I finished all the interior seams by pinking them, and top-stitched all the hems and facings.
This pajama pattern has quite a few details considering it looks so deceptively simple. There is a front chest pocket, which is somewhat hidden by the stripes in the photos, side slits on the shirt, the shorts have a working fly closed with snaps, and the shorts also have side-seam pockets, which I made out of plain white cotton. I decided to cut the waist-band on a lengthwise stripe and use only one row of elastic, since my elastic was a little wider than what the pattern calls for (which they have you double in two waist-band casings, one above the other). Still, the pattern is not hard, and would be suitable for a beginning sewer, I think, so long as they had some patience. This was the first pattern that I sewed entirely on our new-old Singer 15-91 sewing machine, and it took me some patience to adjust to the differences between it and our old Singer heavy-duty. But our Singer 15-91 is truly the heavy duty machine that sews through multiple layers with ease, and even if my topstitching might be a little wiggly here and there on the pajamas, I’m really pleased with how well it sews, and I think I’m getting used to its pace and feel.
Mr Rat jokes that these are his ‘designer’ pajamas, since they are made of Ralph Lauren fabric. I joke that he could wear them to referee a basketball game, if anyone ever asks. He jokes that if I had cut the stripes the other direction, they would have been prison-worthy. He likes them very much though, and wears them every night.
We both joke that Gia is our dog rug, given the way she loves to sprawl on the floor like a bearskin.
It likes both to enter and to leave,
actions it seems to feel as a kind of hide-and-seek.
It knows nothing of what the cloth believes
of its magus-like powers.
If fastening and unfastening are its nature,
it doesn't care about its nature.
It likes the caress of two fingers
against its slightly thickened edges.
It likes the scent and heat of the proximate body.
The exhilaration of the washing is its wild pleasure.
Amoralist, sensualist, dependent of cotton thread,
its sleep is curled like a cat to a patch of sun,
calico and round.
Its understanding is the understanding
of honey and jasmine, of letting what happens come.
A button envies no neighboring button,
no snap, no knot, no polyester-braided toggle.
It rests on its red-checked shirt in serene disregard.
It is its own story, completed.
Brevity and longevity mean nothing to a button carved of horn.
Nor do old dreams of passion disturb it,
though once it wandered the ten thousand grasses
with the musk-fragrance caught in its nostrils;
though once it followed--it did, I tell you---that wind for miles.
--Jane Hirschfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt
Mr Rat gave me some beautiful stone beads for our recent wedding anniversary. I chose the colors: yellow, green and grey. I made necklaces and earrings and bracelets out of them, and have been wearing them often since.
This necklace is made of citrine nuggets. I love the vivid deep yellow—it reminds me of Van Gogh’s paintings.
This necklace and earring set (I also made a bracelet) is made of green jasper and onyx. The jasper reminds me of reptile skin.
This necklace and earrings are made of grey zebra jasper spaced with silver plated beads. I love to see the differences between stones. They are all similar, but each different, wonderfully unique.
I’ve always liked to wear shirt-dresses, but haven’t tried sewing one until now. I’ve had this late 1950s or early 1960s era Butterick 9947 in my pattern collection for a long time. It was probably one of the first vintage patterns I bought via the internet when I was first getting serious about sewing about five years ago. And now, I have finally used it, and I’m glad I finally got around to it. I sewed a size 12 this time, since it is an older pattern with the older pre-70s sizing. I think it fits well, with a slightly blousy top and a fitted waist. It uses a mixture of side zipper and front buttons to close, which makes it awkward to get on over my head, although comfortable once it’s on. When I opened up the pattern, I was disappointed to find that the previous owner had cut the sleeves to a short length and threw the other part of the sleeve pattern away. I made it with short sleeves this time, and I like it for summer, but next time I will draft new sleeves using the old short ones as a base, so I can sew the below-elbow length cuffed version like the front of the pattern envelope.
I sewed my dress out of a king-size cotton-polyester sheet I bought at the thrift store a few months ago. It may have been a little off grain, since I think the gathered skirt I substituted for the pleated version has a slightly odd drape, but I can live with it, especially since I intended this version as a casual, every-day work dress. I lengthened the skirt from its original below-knee length to ankle length. Since I live in a windy area, longer hems are more comfortable for me. The insides of the dress are finished very simply, mostly by pinking the seams.
The squarish buttons are vintage, from a bag I bought at the thrift store, and I think they suit the dress well. This style of dress always has to be worn with a belt, but that doesn’t bother me, since I have several thrifted black leather belts to choose from.
Mr Rat and I walked to the Santa Clara mission last weekend to enjoy the flowers and take a few photos of this dress, which has been lingering in my closet un-photographed for at least two months now. There was a wedding in the mission, so we weren’t able to take any photos of it (except for the steeple, below) this time, but we enjoyed the gardens, which were blooming despite the heat, and walked around the rest of the university campus that surrounds the mission. There were lots of squirrels and birds out enjoying the greenery, too.
The Artist Sews Her Clothes II graphite on paper 2017
If any of you have ever looked on our 'about' page of this blog, you will probably already know that I am an artist, and have a website for my artwork at www.eowynwilcoxmccomb.com. Mr Rat and I have been visiting our parents in Southern California these last two weeks, which is why this blog hasn't been very active (I do have some new things to photograph and share once we go back north in a few days). While we've been down in LA, I had the chance to go out to lunch with an artist-friend who suggested that it is time I joined social media and started an Instagram account. While this account is for my artwork rather than my sewing, I thought some of you readers might be interested, so I am going to include the link here in case you would like to follow along: https://www.instagram.com/eowynwilcoxmccomb/
For those of you who are American, I hope you had a happy 4th of July. Otherwise, happy summer to all! We will be back with new reviews soon. We had a nice visit to the Los Angeles fabric district while we were traveling (they had the largest selection of cotton woven fabrics I've ever seen there---any LA sewers reading this, you should visit now to take advantage of all the beautiful shirting and gingham and striped and plaid fabrics they have for less than $4 a yard!), and I found some great vintage patterns at the thrift store during our visit, so we are well stocked for new projects.
1946 was a good year for fairy tales: World War II had ended in the late summer of 1945, and celebrations of life in the new year of 1946 mixed with bitter memories of the lost.
In 1946, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast made its debut in movie theatres. The computer generated effects of today still don’t match the magic of his cinematic artistry and the mysterious delicacy of his style. Who could interpret the famous French fairy tale written by 18th century writer Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve better than he?
Antoine de Saint-Expurey, the famous French aviator-writer who wrote so eloquently of the beautiful and dangerous lives of the first pilots in Wind, Sand, and Stars, wrote about a different flight of the imagination in the fairy-tale The Little Prince, a tiny volume that was destined to become his most famous work, despite being published without his knowledge after his disappearance (and presumed death) on a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean a year prior.
Fashion in 1946 reflected the fairy-tale relief of a newly peaceful (and for America, newly prosperous) life with growing luxury: longer hem-lines, fuller skirts, and more fabric than had been seen in years.
Dior's 'New Look' was yet to debut in 1947, but as this evening dress by Lucien LeLong shows, the taste for fairy-tale beauty was already strong.
And in June of 1946, with the burgeoning post-war economy driving a new burst in American production, our Singer 15-91 sewing machine was made in New Jersey. And that is the stuff of fairy-tales for me and Mr Rat, because somehow it traveled to northern California and 71 years later turned up in the gutter across the street from our apartment. And in a fairy-tale appropriate turn of events, we rescued it from the doom of being left out for trash, cleaned it with care, and spent the last month sourcing parts to refurbish it, and now it runs beautifully again, and we are as pleased with it as can be.
Our main sources of information for refurbishing the machine came from a the book How to Select, Service, Repair and Maintain Your Vintage Sewing Machine by Connie McCaffrey, the very-comprehensive Singer 15-91 manual (which Mr Rat sourced and printed for free from the internet), and You-Tube tutorials. Our parts were mostly sourced from Ebay and we bought any tools we didn’t have but needed to repair the machine from Harbor Freight. Altogether, we estimate that it cost about $60 to fully refurbish the machine and make it work again, even the lamp. Luckily the cabinet was still in pretty good condition, just rather scratched and cobwebbed, so all it took was a thorough washing with a barely damp clean rag and a gentle application of wood oil to make it look good again.
I’ve already sewn Mr Rat some pajamas on our new-old machine, and I’m pleased with how well it stitches. It came at just the right time, since my seven-year-old Singer Heavy-Duty was wearing out and skipping stitches, and I wasn’t sure how we’d manage to get it fixed or replaced. Now we have a machine that is known for its durability and skill at stitching through just about anything, and best of all, we can care for it and repair it ourselves. A fairy-tale ending, indeed. Or perhaps a fairy-tale beginning.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew