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.
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.
This past Sunday when we took our morning walk to the monastery I wore my recently completed Simplicity 8131 bow-necked blouse, one of my long cotton-polyester broadcloth Simplicity 7880 skirts, my black wool vest, and since it was very cold and windy I wore my grey wool cape, too.
Mr Rat and Gia and I were charmed by the many squirrels taking advantage of the recently wilted clover to find all their hidden stashes of nuts. The wind scudded big white clouds across the sky behind the pink church with its beautiful bell-tower, and the heavy, sleepy flowers nodded in every rush of wind that sounded so much like the waters of the ocean distantly roaring.
The bow-tied neck, softly gathered forward shoulder seams and slightly puffed sleeves of this recently released Simplicity blouse pattern caught my eye (they feel so reminiscent of the 70s patterns I love so much), so I decided I should try it out. I combined two of the pattern views: the body and sleeves of version A with the larger tie of versions D and F. I cut most of the pattern to a size 8, widening out to a 10 at the bottom of the sleeves, and lengthening the neck tie to a 12 at the ends. I think the fit turned out well, although getting the neckline over my rather-large head is a tight squeeze, so next time I think I will extend the neck slit a half inch at the bottom.
For fabric, I chose some black and navy gingham cotton voile I bought in the Los Angeles fabric district for 99 cents a yard a few years ago. Originally I bought 5 or 6 yards of it, and I’ve been using it for linings here and there, and some wearable muslins. Out of all the things I’ve used it for, though, I think I’m most pleased with this blouse. The loose fit and soft lines of this pattern make it well suited to a lightweight, soft fabric like voile. I finished the inside seams with faux French seams, pinked the edge of the neck facing, and sewed twice around the arm-holes, trimmed them, and then zig-zagged the edges.
I like how the neckline gives you the option to tie the bow high or low. I also like the sleeves, even though I was feeling wary of putting in elastic instead of cuffs like I usually do. But the elastic is not tight and it looks inconspicuous, so I think I like it after all. Bow-tied blouses always look nice worn under vests or peeking out of jackets or jumpers. In fact, I like my first attempt so much that I think I’ll probably make another, probably in dark brown next time since I have a big length of cotton voile in that color in my fabric cupboard, waiting to be used. . .
1970s era Simplicity 7880 is my favorite pattern for many reasons: I love full skirts for their range of movement and their versatility, dirndl skirts are easy to hem and easy to lengthen, since this particular skirt is cut on the crosswise grain it only has one seam at the center back, and I’ve made this pattern so many times that it has become wonderfully easy---a project of two or three days at most.
This particular version is made of bleached white muslin, bought cheaply on sale at JoAnns. I’m wearing it with a blouse I which I also made out of white muslin, reviewed here. If you are thinking of what fabric you’d like to sew with for summer, don’t dismiss basic, inexpensive muslin, which comes in two summery shades of pale beige and white, is one hundred percent cotton, lightweight but still opaque, and delightfully easy to sew and press. It looks pretty even when it’s a little wrinkly, and also looks nice with all kinds of embellishments: eyelet or crochet trim, embroidery, and beading. I kept this skirt and top very basic and minimal, easy to mix and match with other skirts and tops, and easy to wear with all of my favorite shawls and jewelry.
Why wear a shawl in the summer, you might ask? Well, my husband and I don’t have a car, so we walk everywhere. When you walk a great deal, you realize that even when wearing sunscreen, your skin gets very hot in the sun, and long sleeves or a thin, sheer shawl make you feel cooler than having your arms exposed. In these photos taken at the monastery garden, I’m wearing one of my favorite Indian shawls, bought at the thrift store several years ago. My necklace is sterling silver and pink jasper, an anniversary gift from Mr Rat last year. As always-pedestrians, Mr Rat and I wear a lot of hats, too----this huge straw one is probably my favorite, bought a few years ago at a farmer’s market stand.
Happy early summer to my readers who dwell in the northern hemisphere, and happy autumn to anyone from the southern end of the earth. Remember to take a walk and admire the flowers while they're here.
At long last, I have fulfilled another one of my new year’s sewing resolutions: to find a vest pattern that fits. I’ve had 1970s-era McCall’s 5297 for a while, but only just got around to sewing it, and I’m glad that I finally did. For a first attempt, I think it fits pretty well, although I might make a few minor adjustments the next time I sew it: changing the slope of the shoulders a little to make the neckline more snug, and maybe bringing in the sides at the waist to make it a little more snug there too. This time I didn’t make any fitting adjustments, and I think it is a very wearable ‘muslin.’ Whenever I start to feel bad about fitting (it is so tempting to want everything to fit ‘like a glove’), I think of Nancy Zieman’s advice at the beginning of all of her fitting books: she says not to over-fit your clothes, because it can take the joy out of sewing. And I think she is right. When we only focus on the flaws and the minor problems, we don’t realize how wearable and comfortable the clothes are that we make, and wear them happily and un-self-consciously.
I made this first version out of a one yard scrap of wool (one of the delights of vest-making---it takes so little fabric!) that I bought at the thrift store for two or three dollars. The buttons are from my stash, the same ones that I used on my recently finished black rayon blouse, in fact. The only design change I made was to make the buttonholes smaller and add more of them so I could use smaller buttons. I think this makes it easier to wear, as it doesn’t bunch so badly when I’m sitting down, and I like the look of so many buttons in a line---it makes the vest look as though it could have come from the 30s or 40s as easily as the 70s or beyond. I interfaced all the facings, pinked and stitched all the inner seams, graded the seams around the bust, stitched down the darts in the back shoulders so they would stay flat, and edge-stitched all the seams and edges of the vest. I think this gives the vest a crisp appearance, even though the wool was very springy to work with and difficult to press.
I’m wearing my new black wool vest with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, and my peter-pan collar blouse. My brooch is a vintage Taxco sterling silver rose from Mexico.
This is my second attempt at 1990s-era Simplicity 8620. The first version had shoulders that were far, far too wide for me, so I did a half inch narrow shoulder adjustment on this version. I feel as though it is a little too wide still, although the wrinkling the wide shoulders caused in the first version is not so obvious in the second, partly because of the soft drape of the rayon I used this time, I think. I got the rayon out of a remnant pile in the Los Angeles fabric district two years ago and it has sat on my shelf because I have been too frightened to use it. I’ve never sewn with rayon before, and have read on other sewing websites that it can be slippery and difficult to work with. But since my striped silk blouse (which was also sourced from the LA fabric district) turned out well, I felt like I should overcome my fears of using new fabrics and try it out. I suspected that Simplicity 8620 would do better with a soft and flowing fabric anyway, since it is so loose and unfitted and has no darts, and I think I was right. I’ll have to write a note on the pattern to only use soft fabrics with it in the future. Sewing with the rayon was challenging, but the soft folds of the fabric are forgiving, and if my edge-stitching is not perfect, it is probably not noticeable by anyone but me.
I used a lightweight interfacing to stabilize the facings and cuffs, and sewed my buttonholes by hand, as usual. I finished the inside seams very simply, mostly by pinking it and doing a line of stitching next to the pinking. The buttons are from a big bag I bought at the thrift store some years ago. They’re quite versatile in their plain simplicity, and I use them on a lot of my projects.
I’m wearing my new blouse with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, my home-made tiger-eye necklace, a thrifted pashmina shawl and a vintage silver ring that my mother-in-law gave me.
I’m sure I’ll be wearing this blouse a lot this summer, but I will probably give the earlier pink version away. Every time I wear it I am bothered by the extra wrinkles around the shoulders, and it diminishes my pleasure in wearing it. Do any of you have this problem too? I find that with store bought or thrifted garments I rarely focus on problems in fit or any other minor issues they may have (unless it is something I can fix, like a loose button, or a tear in the lining), but with my home-sewn garments I feel hyper-alert to any problems or mistakes and find myself worrying that they are obvious to other people when I wear my outfits out and about. Does anyone have any solutions to being overly or negatively self-conscious while wearing home-sewn clothes?
I don’t think it helps that the clothes I like to sew and wear are so out far out of the bounds of what is considered ‘normal’ and acceptable in the silicon valley (which is a very conformist place, much to the surprise of most people who live outside of it and think the vast numbers of Google employees that live around here must all be non-conformist. When in truth they all wear the same plaid or blue shirt to work every day and the same North Face windbreaker and expensive sneakers or leather loafers. It makes me miss LA, where all kinds of non-conformity were considered part of normal, and wearing something unusual was something to be enjoyed and appreciated). While I was wearing this outfit and Mr Rat and I were walking to the park with Gia to take some photos, some bicyclists rode by and made the comment, “a little early for Halloween, isn’t it?” Now even though I know what I like and won’t let other people dictate to me what I should wear, I do feel hurt when people stare or make insulting comments like that. Has anyone else had these experiences? How do you still step out with confidence in a community that is not friendly?
Does anyone have other anxieties about wearing their home-sewn clothes? I think Me-Made-May is a good time to ponder these interesting questions. I’d be really interested to hear about your experiences, or to read any suggestions you might have.
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?
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.
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.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew