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 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.
Dresses with interesting shapes always intrigue me, and dresses with interesting shapes and unusual methods of closure doubly so. This 1970s era pattern had both. It was difficult to find a copy of McCall 5906---I’ve only seen it twice in my size, so I was happy to find a copy for not too much on Ebay that was even uncut. McCall 5906 is a pullover dress with a triangular yoked front and back, ties that wrap around to the back and give the dress somewhat of an empire waistline, a keyhole neckline opening, a mandarin-style closure, bottom ruffle, puffed sleeves, and all closures on the dress (neck, sleeves) are made with extra-wide bias strips that tie into bows.
I made this first attempt out of a large cotton-polyester sheet I got from the thrift store a few months ago. I find that even though the grain can get a little off with sheets sometimes, they are good sources of inexpensive thick cotton, and work especially well when trying out a pattern for the first time. Since I made my dress from durable, versatile cotton, I finished my seams very simply with pinking shears.
The tricky shape of the yoke meant that I did a lot of hand-basting before I machine sewed the dress together, and I sewed the bias tape together by hand so that it wouldn’t warp the way it sometimes does under the pressure of the sewing machine foot.
I like how the dress turned out. It is comfortable to wear and unusual in style. It reminds me of the shape of traditional Russian clothing, and the bows are an interesting and charming detail.
While I have already reviewed this dress, way back here near the beginning of our blog, I never felt like we got very many photos of it, so I thought I’d add some more here from when I wore it last Sunday on our customary walk through the monastery gardens.
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.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew