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.
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!
This is another dress from about two years ago. I made my 1970s-era McCall 3562 pattern out of a king-size cotton sheet I found at the thrift store. It has a very subtle stripe which makes a slight chevron on the full skirt of this comfortable pullover dress. The most interesting feature of this pattern is the sleeves, which are gathered at the top and have a tuck at the front, creating a puff without needing a band at the bottom. The inside of the sleeves have a facing to keep the tuck from opening while moving around. I’ve only seen this style of sleeves on 1930s and 1940s era patterns, reflecting the 1970s eclectic taste for using features of past fashions in new combinations. The v-neck has a facing all around it that is sewed onto the outside, overlaps at the front of the chest, and then wraps around to make a bow in the back. This gives the dress an empire shape without using any zippers or buttons at all. It is very inventive, I think, and one of the reasons why I like to sew 1970s-era patterns so much.
Mr Rat and Gia and I walked to a nearby park on Sunday afternoon so Gia could walk about off-leash while we took our photos. While we were there a friendly dog came running by, greeted Gia, and was off with his master on a bicycle a minute later.
I am wearing my homemade dress with a straw hat my mom bought for me in the Los Angeles fabric district last year. The jewelry is all aquamarine: the necklace was from Kohls from some years back, and the ring I inherited from my grandmother. The metals don’t match, but the stones do, so I often wear them together anyway. They both match my blue dress so well.
I spent almost a week at the end of March sick in bed with one of those violent colds that make it hard to do anything with either head or hands. When I am under the weather my favorite thing to wear is a smock dress. They are loose and easy and comfortable, and if I put on a necklace I feel a little bit put-together even if I am otherwise worn out.
I made this smock dress about two years ago using an old Simplicity project runway pattern 3529. It’s been a versatile dress: sometimes I wear it as a working smock, sometimes as a summer dress when wearing anything other than loose cotton feels unbearable, and I even occasionally use it as a nightgown when my proper one is in the wash. It is made from a large length of black cotton that I bought in the fabric district in Los Angeles. Since I had so much fabric to work with, I lengthened the pattern a great deal, and widened it, too, until it is ankle length and very loose. I made the pattern in a size 8, and although it is a little roomy in the shoulders, I don’t mind it. It’s a dress where more ease is a good thing.
I am wearing my smock dress with a homemade necklace made of adventurine beads. I was still a little sick when I took these photos, so if I look less than my best, hopefully you’ll understand why. Thank goodness for books when you are ill and cannot go out. They take us into other worlds, other lives, for a while.
My parents visited Mr Rat and I this past weekend and took us to see the Winchester Mystery House. It was a special occasion, so I wore my new bandana-print dress made from 1970s-era Simplicity 6278 for the first time. I don’t typically wear a lot of prints, but I like the pattern of bandanas very much, and couldn’t resist making a whole dress out of bandana fabric. The fabric is a stiff cotton-polyester blend, bought from a fabric-wholesaler on Amazon with a Christmas gift card. It came out of the wash a little softer than it went in, so hopefully this dress will get softer with time, although the stiffness gives the tiered and ruffled skirt more body, and is not uncomfortable to wear. When we went to the Winchester house it was a rather cool morning, so I wore my new dress with a black wool shawl and a Mexican silver necklace, both recent lucky thrift store finds.
I made the pattern in a size 8, as usual, and the only adjustment I made was to shorten the bottom tier of the skirt to just above my ankles, for ease of walking, and to widen it so the ruffle would be fuller. The pattern is not difficult for a sewer with previous dress-making experience. The bodice is somewhere between an empire and a raised waist, with darts in the front and back and a square neckline with a facing. The sleeves have cuffs that are meant to be closed with snaps, but I sewed buttons and button-holes on mine, out of personal preference. The tiered skirt has many pieces that are sewn together and then gathered at the top and attached to the tier above it. It is a little tricky to space the fullness evenly. I did a lot of edge-stitching to help make the dress durable and the seamlines smooth. The bottom ruffle has a narrow turned and machine-stitched hem.
I liked the Winchester house very much. It is a poetic, dusty place, a sprawling, labyrinthine palace that only the child-sized woman who built it probably ever truly understood. There are windows into rooms, hallways, floors---rooms that sprout out of rooms----doors that go nowhere----a stairway that ends suddenly at the ceiling----ornate wrought-iron elevators long rusted shut----a basement supposedly haunted by ghosts still stoking the long-dead fires of the enormous iron boilers----Tiffany glass windows gleaming in unexpected stacks and heaps in otherwise empty rooms. The rooms were not as large as I thought they would be. The carved wood ballroom was only large enough for maybe a dozen people or less to dance. But there are so many rooms---more than 160 in total, that they add up to quite a large house indeed. The two kitchens, the large laundry and the many beautiful pantries (one lined in marble to keep in the cool air) made me jealous---they must have been lovely and comfortable work spaces for Mrs. Winchester’s servants. When you stand outside in the gardens studded with her Victorian statues, you can close your eyes and imagine hundreds of acres of fruit orchards all around, heavy with the scent of blossoms and plums and apricots and peaches. A domain fit for a queen.
One of my favorite dress patterns, I’ve made three versions of Simplicity 7213 so far, and even worn one of them out. This is the newer of my two other versions of the dress, done in the shorter length with long sleeves. It is made out of a clean, old, black cotton sheet. I made some minor adjustments to the pattern: I raised the neckline very slightly by using a smaller seam allowance when sewing the neck, I lowered the right shoulder just a little bit at the neckline (and did the same for the facing pattern piece) since I was having some very slight gaping in my first version of the dress, and I drafted plain cuffs instead of using the tie-cuffs the original pattern has. One of the interesting features of this pattern is that it does not call for any interfacing at all: not for the facings, the cuff, or anything else. Perhaps they intended a softer, less structured look?
It may be hard to see some of the details in these photos, which were taken inside (with lots of help from Gia, who managed to get in most of the photos to keep me company) on yet another cloudy, cold day. The dress has a pretty gathered yoke detail at the shoulders, a slightly curved v-neckline, a slightly raised waist, and a gathered paneled skirt. I did a lot of edge-stitching on the neckline and bodice, both to keep the seams flat and facing the right directions after I wash it, and as a decorative detail. I love how comfortable this dress is to wear. I’m sure I’ll be making more versions in the future.
This is one of the rare patterns where, when I bought it, I looked forward to sewing both the blouse and the jumper dress included. So often I choose a pattern because I am drawn to one garment or one view on the envelope, but not with this 1970s era pattern. Even though I made the jumper first, about two years ago, I reviewed the blouse first here. I felt that when I reviewed the dress (at last) that I should wear them both together, so you can compare the ensemble in real life with the pattern envelope picture.
I made a size 8, as usual, in black poly-cotton broadcloth. The empire bodice is lined with a piece of thin black and navy checkered cotton voile. The dress takes quite a bit of fabric to make the full length version, but it gives the skirt a grand sweep of fabric that makes using so many yards worthwhile. Although, I think the graceful shape of it is somewhat impeded in these photos by the long grass I was walking in at the monastery gardens. It has been rainy recently, and everything is growing---green, green, green! The grass and clover are lush and deep and there are flowers here that I’ve never seen before---snow-drops and tiny white and yellow narcissus, edging their way out of the ground early into the cold air.
The pattern fit well and needed no adjustments. I found putting the lining in slightly tricky at the time that I made it, since it was my first time inserting a lining. But overall the pattern would be an easy accomplishment for an intermediate sewer, or a beginner with patience. The only differences I have noticed between real life and the pattern envelope is that their version of the jumper seems to have a slightly different shape to the neckline, and the illustrator made it look like the end of the slit on the front of the blouse ends at the top of the jumper neckline, when it actually continues underneath.
Because I am fond of this jumper, and wear it often, I am considering making a winter version, perhaps in lightweight wool, for warmth. Even though I often wear this jumper over a black turtleneck and black tights, or under my favorite wool cape with a scarf (as I did here) it is better suited to spring and summer and early fall than these, the coldest days of the year.
Simplicity 5976 from the 1970s is likely one of my most exotic vintage patterns, with its angel wings and bows and decorative bands. I’ve had all kinds of reactions from other people when wearing the dress I made from it, everything from being reminded of Pre-Raphaelite paintings to graduation or judicial gowns.
I sewed my version out of black broadcloth trimmed with black cotton calico patterned with little black flowers. After the bands were attached using the machine, I sewed black ribbon around the edges of the bands and the square neckline by hand. While the instructions were not difficult to understand, the pattern is complex enough in construction that I would not recommend it for a beginner. Having some previous experience makes it satisfying to sew instead of frustrating. The bands and trims took some time to apply, but were well worth it for the interesting effect they give to the finished dress. It is unique.
It is also comfortable to wear, and versatile for most kinds of weather, since in the summer I can wear it alone with sandals, and in the winter I can wear it as I am doing here, with a turtleneck sweater and long tights underneath for warmth. The necklace is handmade also, using glass beads from JoAnns and jewelry-making supplies that my husband gave me for Christmas last year.
I liked the fit of my tan striped version of McCall 6209 so much that I decided to make one in plain black broadcloth as a simple everyday work dress. This time I used the sleeves from view E, but didn’t roll them up as the illustration shows them. When it is warm, or I am baking bread, I do roll them above the elbow then. I also widened the skirt a little, since I like my skirts full. The skirt has a piece of bias binding sewn in at the waist as a stay to keep the waistline from stretching out with wear.
Broadcloth has its advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side: it is easy to wash, rarely needs to be ironed, is surprisingly durable considering how thin it is (I’ve been wearing some of my homemade broadcloth dresses for over three years now), it is lightweight, it is also very inexpensive (I usually buy it for $2 a yard on sale at JoAnn fabric stores), it comes in lots of solid colors, and it has a drape that starts rather crisp, and softens with washing. It also works well for simple seam-finishing, like using pinking shears. Some of the disadvantages include: broadcloth often has a high polyester content, which can make it less breathable, it puckers a lot at the seams, and it can dull your sewing shears faster than one-hundred percent cotton.
I’ve found a few useful tips for working with broadcloth, mostly from reading Claire Schaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide. The section on wash-and-wear fabrics has a lot of techniques that apply to sewing with cotton-polyester broadcloth as well. First, it helps to get your scissors sharpened regularly, and to put a fresh needle for lightweight fabrics in your machine. Make sure you have pre-washed your broadcloth, since it sometimes has a ‘finish’ on it that will make it harder to cut and sew. Then, it may help to lower your tension to reduce puckering. The puckering is worst on straight seams along the length-wise grain, so try to avoid them if possible when choosing your pattern. If there are a few such seams, it might help to pull the fabric taut as you guide it under the foot of your machine. Thorough pressing and edge-stitching will also help give projects a neat finish.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew