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.
After a week of welcome warm sunny weather where I could wear a cotton summer blouse and feel comfortable, we are in fickle, surprising spring weather again: very cool cloudy mornings, sometimes sunny afternoons, and rain storms expected. I had planned to photograph some more of my homemade spring and summer clothes, but the weather made it necessary to wear more layers and so I decided to make a post about my new just-below-the-ankle length Simplicity 7880 skirt after all.
I finished my new skirt last week and have worn a few times already. It is made of dark brown poly-cotton broadcloth which I prewashed and then cut to 40 inches long and left the bottom on the selvedge so I didn’t have to hem it (which also makes it convenient to wear boots with, since there is no hem for the boot hooks to snag on). It’s a good length for me, I think, combining the grace and coverage of a long skirt with a short enough hem to make walking and climbing stairs easy. I’ve reviewed Simplicity 7880 a few times in the past (here and here and here for instance) and have worn other versions of it in a lot of other reviews, so I won’t write more about it here, but will instead post some more photos of our weekend walk to the monastery with Gia. Even though there was only the slightest bit of sunshine coming through the clouds, the flowers were spectacular: clover, cherry trees, forget-me-nots, poppies, tulips, wisteria, some lingering camellias, and so many others whose names I have not learned yet. What are your favorite spring flowers? Do you have flowers blossoming yet where you live?
I am wearing my new brown skirt with my recently finished brown cotton blouse (reviewed here), a vintage cotton velvet vest (for the details of its construction, you can look at my previous ‘in detail’ post about it), a vintage black crocheted fringed shawl I found at the thrift store last year, and a vintage Mexican silver and inlaid abalone shell butterfly brooch. Mr Rat took all these lovely photos.
I made this blouse last summer from vintage 1970s-or-80s See and Sew 6390 and it has become a favorite warm-weather blouse for its crisp yet comfortable look. The sewing was very quick and easy, since the sleeves are kimono-style and cut in one with the bodice. The instructions for the collar are clear and simple. I edge-stitched the collar and front band, machine stitched the hems on the sleeves and bottom of the shirt, and sewed the buttonholes by hand. The buttons are from an enormous bag I bought at the thrift store several years ago and have been using here and there ever since. The shirt itself is made of white cotton from an old sheet. For anyone looking for a quick, carefree summer blouse, I recommend this pattern. I’ll likely sew it again—maybe in linen next time?
I’m wearing my blouse with a new Simplicity 7880 skirt, just finished last week, made of dark brown broadcloth. I think I’ll be giving it its own post soon, since it is a good length and a versatile color for me. The malachite necklace I’m wearing in these photos (it was Saint Patrick’s day when I took them) is vintage, a gift from family, as are the earrings.
One of the blogs that I follow, Zelophehad’s Daughters, posted recently about crafting and its soul-healing and spirit-enhancing qualities. It is an interesting read. The blog author writes about her childhood aversion to crafting and femininity, having internalized masculine scorn for female activities and dress, despising them for being silly and shallow. It made me think of the same conflict in my own childhood, when I wore dresses to school only to be told by my classmates that “It’s not picture-day” and was sometimes teased by my brothers for my puff sleeves and eyelet-trimmed aprons.
Who is afraid of puff sleeves? It is ironic, is it not, that the second-wave feminists should have adopted masculine clothes like jeans, t-shirts and flannels as signs of their liberation? What is wrong with wearing feminine clothes? I think that to wear puff sleeves and ribbons and lace and full skirts (if you like them) can be a sign of respect towards the feminine identity, towards the skillful sewing and interesting designs of seamstresses past, and can also perhaps be subversive in a day and age that asserts that if you wish to appear to be an independent thinker and a serious person, you must adopt the respectable garb of men.
Well, like Frida Kahlo, Louise Nevelson, Simone de Beauvoir, Louise Bourgeois, and other unabashedly feminine women who were undoubtedly very serious people, I am not afraid of puff sleeves or feminine clothes. And here is my latest sewing project as proof: the very puff-sleeved 1980s era Butterick 4625. I made a combination of view D with the long sleeves used for views A, B and C. It surprised me how quickly I managed to finish this blouse. It took me only about 4 days total from start to finish. It was also a pleasant surprise to find out how well it fit. I made a size 8 and despite worrying at a few points that the blouse was going to be too small or the shoulders might be too wide, it ended up fitting very well. Since the sleeves had quite a bit of puff, I improvised some sleeve heads to help them keep their shape out of leftover scraps of the brown cotton I used for the blouse. I made a bow to wear at the collar out of some ribbon and a safety pin, which I can remove to wear a necklace instead, or a brooch. It was nice to make a shirt that fit so well and yet didn’t need any darts. It all cost very little, too, since the fabric was from the thrift store, and the buttons were harvested off of an old shirt of my husband’s when it was worn out and stored in my button stash until I could use them.
I am wearing my new blouse with one of my homemade Simplicity 7880 skirts, this one made of poly-cotton broadcloth.
Mr R and I went to the park on Saturday and walked around the pond where the big handsome geese and the neatly attired little ducks like to float and preen and sun. There were seagulls too, drifting and flying about lazily as if the weather was warmer than it truly was. But the sunshine made it feel almost like spring.
Mr R wore a new shirt he made (which you will see in a new post) and I wore a jacket that I made during the fall using 1970s era McCall 4130 and only wore once before the weather grew too cold and wet to wear an unlined cotton twill jacket. The jacket matches my Simplicity 7880 skirt (previously reviewed here) very well, so I wore them together to make a navy suit. I pinned my new Mexican silver rose brooch that Mr R gave me for valentine's day to the jacket lapel to celebrate the return of the flowers. This jacket has some interesting features, including a bust dart hidden under the large lapels, back and elbow darts that make the whole jacket quite fitted, and gathers at the shoulders that give the top of the sleeve a slight puff. The only trouble I had with making it was that I didn’t realize until after I had sewn in the facings that the jacket was a little too long at the bottom to end at my natural waist, and so it wrinkled and bunched when I wore it with full skirts. I ended up doing a simple fix by folding up the facing to the right length and re-sewing the hem with the facing doubled. It doesn’t look as nice on the inside with the doubled hem despite the time I had taken to finish the seams with seam-binding, though, so I traced out the pattern pieces and redrafted them shorter for next time, so I can have a clean finish and a good fit. Otherwise I like the fit and shape of the jacket, although the one hundred percent cotton twill does wrinkle very easily. But that is what irons are for, yes? And for my first time attempting this pattern, I think the result is quite wearable.
This is my ‘wearable muslin’ of a 1990s-era pattern I bought recently, Simplicity 8620. I liked the loose fit, the bishop sleeves and the many interesting collar options, so I decided to test it with a two-dollar piece of pink cotton oxford shirting that I found at the thrift store a few months ago. I think this pattern would be better suited to a softer cotton or other fabric with more drape, but I like how the blouse turned out all the same. I made a size 8 and my only issue is that the shoulders are too wide. I am of two minds about this: since I want the blouse to be a little oversized and comfortable, I could treat it as a slightly dropped shoulder and leave it as is in future versions, or I could either cut the shoulders down to a size 6 or do a narrow shoulder adjustment.
Still, shoulders aside, I think the blouse is very wearable and comfortable. I finished the seams very simply with pinking shears and edge-stitched the front neckline and the cuffs. The sleeves have continuous laps, and the instructions were very clear, which made them very simple to assemble. The blouse came together very quickly---maybe about three days of work, including sewing the button-holes by hand. The buttons were scavenged from an old worn-out shirt and saved in my button-drawer.
I am wearing my new blouse with one of my homemade Simplicity 7880 skirts and homemade rose quartz jewelry. The wool Indian shawl was a lucky find at the thrift store.
It was such a pleasure to wear my new outfit on a sunny morning to the monastery garden, where Gia went mad in the clover and made Mr R and I laugh a great deal. But another storm is coming, so now it is back to work on finishing my charcoal-grey wool cape that I have been sewing all month.
The weather has become decidedly cool, and I found myself wishing for warmer skirts to wear under my coats and capes. Sometimes I am afraid to use my wool that I have found over the years at the thrift store, aware of how expensive it would otherwise be if I hadn’t found it secondhand. But this year I have decided to be braver and use more of it. I still have several pieces, so I hope more wool pieces will find their way to the sewing table and then to be photographed and posted here.
The wool I used to make this skirt is very lovely---very lightweight, with a soft drape----but had some problems when I bought it cheaply from the thrift store. It had been cut into several narrow pieces and had extensive tears and holes around the edges. My first step was to cut the damaged areas off so that the pieces were long rectangles. Then I sewed them together into one large panel that I then used to make a skirt based on my favorite 1970s era Simplicity 7880 skirt pattern. I used waistband interfacing to stiffen the waist, pinked the inner seams, and finished the bottom hem with pale grey lace seam binding, also thrifted. The lace gives the hem a beautifully clean finish, and it doesn’t snag on my boots the way that my folded and sewn hems sometimes do. I like this method of hemming so much that I think I will do it much more often for my skirts and dresses.
I am wearing my new wool skirt with my handmade peter-pan collar shirt, previously reviewed here, and my favorite vintage cape, made of heavy double-faced wool. It is wonderfully warm and comfortable, and ideal for all the walking we do in all kinds of weather. When we were walking to church, a man crossing the other way smiled at my husband and me and told us that we looked like we were ready to go Christmas caroling.
While I can’t claim to have a uniform, I do have certain outfits that I wear a lot of variations on over and over. One of my most common outfits for weekday work, for instance, is a blouse tucked into a full skirt. This is one of my oldest skirts, made from Simplicity 7880 again, this time in brown cotton. Very often my cotton clothes are in fact made of clean old sheets I’ve found at the thrift store and washed and used as yardage. This skirt is made from an old sheet, and it has been very durable. I’ve been wearing it at least once a week for over three years, and other than some slight fading from washing it so many times, it is doing fine.
Since the election earlier this month, I’ve been reflecting on the difficulties Americans face on so many fronts, including economically. The online sewing community can sometimes seem like an economically exclusive place---full of hobbyists who can and do spend their well-earned money to buy beautiful fabrics and make attractive clothes. While sewing your own clothes is always an ethically better choice than buying fast fashion made in sweatshops at vast distances across the world, it doesn’t always seem like the financially easier choice, and when most of the examples online are of middle-class and relatively well-to-do sewers making lovely clothes with a large budget, it can be hard not be to envious, or to wonder whether it is still possible to make better clothes for the same price you would spend at the thrift store or on the clearance rack.
I do believe it is possible to make beautifully sewn clothes and save money. But you may have to widen your search for materials beyond the fabric store. Instead, you might find yourself thrifting most of your fabric and bindings, waiting for sales and coupons before purchasing thread and needles, going to your local garment district of whatever large city you live closest to buy wholesale priced yardage, refashioning and patching older garments, and yes---sewing with sheets.
Sewing is an affirmation of personal choice. It is ethical, since you know the value of your time, and it is your own time and skill that is devoted to the covering of your body. It is creative, because you can express inner states of being through your appearance. It is practical, since with a little practice you can make clothes that fit better and are more durable than the flimsy clothing sold at stores now. You can also customize your clothing to suit your own needs: modest hem-lengths, pockets in all your skirts and dresses, colors that aren’t popular this season but are your personal favorites, high necklines or low----you can choose for yourself.
Fellow sewer Bianca Esposito recently wrote on her blog The Closet Historian: “I can't help but feel us ladies" and I will add, gentlemen, "have to be more devoted to our passions, louder in our assertions of our own agency, and more committed to raising each other up than ever before." One of my closest friends, a fellow artist, wrote in a similar vein to me in a recent letter. He said it is important to keep making artwork during this time of increased prejudice and limitations. Whatever it is you make or create, please keep on, and don’t be discouraged. To create is to expand the number of possibilities and choices in your life, no matter what your circumstances. I believe this because I try to do it every day, and I often find some of the limitations of my own circumstances heavy to bear. But every day we can choose to find time to create, and every day we can face what makes us sad and try to keep on working anyway, and every day we can try to form and shape our lives according to our own principles, as much as we can.
This is another version of my favorite skirt pattern, vintage Simplicity 7880, from the 1970s, sewn in a size 8, as usual. This one is made of navy blue broadcloth. I am wearing a petticoat underneath, which gives it more shape. When we were taking photos, Gia joined me at the doorway of our apartment, both of us looking out, daydreaming.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew