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.
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.
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.
Monday May 22
I wore my brown cotton blouse, my long brown skirt and my brown jade and ocean jasper necklace.
Mr Rat wore his first Hawaiian shirt.
Tuesday May 23
I wore my new black wool vest (reviewed here), my peter-pan collar shirt, and one of my black simplicity 7880 skirts. My brooch is a vintage sterling silver Taxco rose.
Wednesday May 24
I wore my bandana print dress.
Thursday May 25
The weather turned cold and windy and when we went walking I imagined myself on the moors of Haworth with the Bronte sisters. I wore my long brown skirt, my black wool cape, and a large black scarf that I crocheted for myself two winters ago.
Mr Rat wore his grey worker’s shirt.
Friday May 26
I wore my brown smock dress, my homemade red jasper necklace and a thrifted vintage shawl. Is it unseasonal to like to wear autumnal shades year-round?
Saturday May 27
I wore my black dress, my yellow-ochre jade hand-made necklace, and a thrifted wool shawl that I originally thought might be Ukrainian but turned out to be Japanese when I finally located its label.
Sunday May 28
I wore my tan striped dress, a vintage wool scarf and vintage brown leather gloves that, interestingly enough, were made in the American zone of Western Germany. When I read that on the inside of the gloves, I found myself holding them for a while, lost in thought, pondering their age and history, the tumult in which they were made. I wonder what woman bought them there, and how they came to end up in Northern California, soft with wear.
Monday May 29
This may be repetitive, since I already wore this dress several times this month, but my bandana dress was too perfect for our Memorial Day picnic to not wear it again. This time I wore it with my red jasper necklace and a blue shawl I found at the thrift store a while back.
Tuesday May 30
I wore my new tan striped shirt and one of my black Simplicity 7880 skirts.
My reflections on a month of wearing homemade: In some ways, it wasn’t challenging. I already wear my homemade clothes every day, and the only things I missed wearing were my few basic button-up shirts and my vintage jewelry that I’ve thrifted over the years. I have a few embroidered tops I wear on special occasions, and the rest of my non-me-made clothing are mostly sweaters, my single pair of jeans, and some jackets and coats. I do need to test out more of my jacket sewing patterns. It would be nice to have more homemade outerwear.
In other ways, though, it was surprisingly challenging. I had been looking forward to May, feeling excited to plan my outfits and make new combinations, only to find that emotionally the month was exhausting, the weather was unpredictable (rarely cold enough for my coldest weather homemade clothes and rarely warm enough for my warmest weather homemade clothes), and besides that, I was often too anxious and too busy with day-to-day needs to do much more than wear what I usually wear anyway. It was difficult finding time to take a photo every day, and sometimes I missed the chance to get a photo of Mr Rat wearing his homemade clothes.
Looking over the photos, though, it does make me realize a few things: My most common daily outfit is a shirt or blouse tucked into a full skirt (with long sleeves getting favored over short), I like wearing dresses, but rarely wear my full length dresses anywhere but church (perhaps this is a confidence issue, since they are not any less comfortable than my midi-length dresses), and as I wrote before, I need to sew some more jackets and maybe even a coat. I also realized that I favor my darker colored clothing and my white shirts more than anything else in my wardrobe.
So, Me-Made-May was helpful in its way. I think I have more direction now for my sewing projects for the rest of the year. I also finished sewing my vest this month, which was one of my new year’s sewing resolutions. It is always satisfying to achieve a goal, and satisfying, too, to have completed a challenge.
Did any of you participate in Me-Made-May this year, or during previous years? What have you learned from your experiences?
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.
Sorry for the delay, everyone---I’ve been having some trouble getting internet access. Usually I go to the library to make my posts, but I’ve been blocked off from getting there in the mornings by road construction. The roadwork looks like it may go on for a while, so my posts may be a little erratic, but I’ll put them up whenever I can!
Monday May 15
I wore my black smock dress, reviewed here. Monday was a day of unusual luck----I was walking to the library when I saw this lovely 1946 Singer 15-91 in a big heap of trash and furniture someone was throwing out. My friend helped me get it back to the apartment, where I gave it a good cleaning and smiled all day in astonishment over my rare good fortune. It’s going to need to be refurbished before it runs again---there are a few small parts that need to be replaced, a missing power cord and foot pedal, and the wiring is poor condition---but Mr Rat is confident we can fix it all ourselves, with the help of the Singer 15-91 manual we printed off the internet and a sewing machine repair book I got for my birthday last year. We’re both excited to order the parts and start repairs. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to find such a lovely machine, much less for free! I’m sure we’ll be posting about the repair process, so stay tuned.
Tuesday May 16
I wore my brown cotton blouse, one of my black Simplicity 7880 skirts, and a brown jade and citrine necklace Mr Rat made me as a gift two Christmases ago.
Wednesday May 17
I wore one of my favorite white blouses, my long brown skirt, and a long rose quartz and silver bead necklace I made earlier this month. My Indian wool shawl is a thrifted find.
Thursday May 18
Thursday was a hard day, and although I started the day in a home-made dress, by afternoon it was hot and I was tired and weary so I changed into one of my favorite thrifted white shirts and a home-made skirt, and by evening it was cold, so I put on a vintage sweater. It wasn’t my best outfit for keeping with my pledge of only home-made this month, but some days are difficult like that.
Friday May 19
I wore my cream cotton and lace pullover dress. We had a picnic at the park---Gia’s attitude towards picnics is “why can’t I have that?” every time we pull something out of the basket. She got plenty of snacks and treats, so don’t believe her attitude of sadness in this photo.
Saturday May 20
We had a marathon afternoon of babysitting for a friend, and by the time we got home in the evening I just wanted to change out of the homemade blouse and skirt I was wearing into my most comfortable homemade dress.
Mr Rat wore one of his Hawaiian shirts. He wore more of his homemade clothes throughout the week, keeping up with his pledge, but we missed photographing them.
Sunday May 21
I wore my new rayon blouse (I’ll post a review in my next post), my long black skirt, and my homemade tiger-eye necklace.
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?
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew