I am excited to share these photos of my new backyard (and new denim peplum top) with you! Our yard may not be large, but it more than makes up for that with beauty. Given that we moved from a very tiny one-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area with no yard or even a balcony to grow plants on or be outside in, our new townhouse in Utah (with a backyard! with a creek with ducks in it! and a beautiful birch tree! and with a little front patio I can grow plants in next Spring!) is a vast improvement in Mr Rat's and my life for which we are very grateful.
It isn't too cold yet to put away my autumn clothes for winter wool, for which I am also grateful, since it meant I could get some photos of my new denim peplum top sewn from late 1960s/early 1970s-era McCalls 2592. I've been excited about this pattern since I spotted it on sale on the Mom's Patterns website and ordered it in the mail. It reminds me of some of the more elegant bohemian looks of that era, and also has a prairie/Victorian influence, which I like.
McCalls 2592 sewed up well. I didn't have to make any adjustments and the fit is overall pretty good. My fabric, a mystery piece of denim I bought at the thrift store, didn't behave as well as the pattern---it had a tendency to stretch out on the curves, so next time I am working with light/medium weight denim I will remember to stay stitch every curve, rather than just the recommended ones. I finished the seams with a faux flat-fell finish, and used some scraps of bias tape to finish the armholes and to act as both a finish and a stay for the waist. The buttons probably look familiar to you if you've been reading this blog long: they are the same black thrifted buttons from my large jar of them that I've used on many projects in the past. I made the buttonholes by hand, and top-stitched and edge-stitched the seams with black thread, since it gave a slight contrast to the navy blue of the denim.
I'm wearing my new denim peplum top with my often-worn and much loved brown broadcloth skirt (originally reviewed here) and a thrifted vintage gold leaf brooch. Since the autumn here is much cooler than in California, I was wearing a black long sleeved t-shirt under my denim top, and tights, socks, and a petticoat under my skirt for warmth.
I'm pleased with how my first attempt at this pattern turned out. I'm sure I will make other versions, and wear them with pleasure.
Goodbye to gingham---not forever, but probably for the rest of the year. Since we moved to Utah at the beginning of the month we have also moved to a cooler, more colorful autumn, so I have already had to pack this gingham dress away that I made before I had to pack up my sewing supplies, and which I wore on our last outing to the monastery. Simplicity 7213 is one of my favorite dress patterns, which I have made up several times, but only shared once here on the blog (my black version, which you can see here). I wore the other pre-blog versions so much that I wore them out, so I thought I should make a new version or two for my wardrobe. I had hoped that this navy and white gingham version could be a dress I could wear from spring till fall, but the fabric ended up being very light and sheer, better suited to hot weather and summertime. Still, I can’t complain, since the fabric was free: gifted by one of my mom’s friends to her, and then from my mom to me. It had a narrow width, which makes me think it was vintage yardage. It also has a lot of crisp body and is finely woven, but is also rather sheer, as I mentioned before.
The construction was straightforward: the only changes I made to the pattern was to interface the neckline facing this time, since I found with my earlier versions that with a lot of wear, the neckline can tend to stretch out otherwise. I also sewed some vintage buttons from my stash down the center front, but left off the button-loops included in the pattern. I decided to use the long sleeves and tie closures, but use the shorter skirt. I cut the shoulder yokes and tie cuffs on the bias for a little variety, and interfaced the shoulder yokes to make sure they wouldn't stretch out. I didn't feel like I needed to worry for the cuffs, so I left them un-interfaced. I did lots of edge-stitching for neatness, as usual, using white thread this time to help blend into the fabric.
Now that I’ve caught up on the last photos from before our move, I can start posting new projects in our new home and neighborhood. We are enjoying the most beautiful tapestry of leaves right now, and I feel lucky to have a 'twenty-four carat gold' tree (as my mom would call it) right in our new backyard. So please come back for more photos soon.
I hope you are all having a good autumn in whatever part of the world you inhabit.
This was one of the last photos I took in our old apartment, while the weather was up and down between late-summer hot and early autumn cool. I am wearing my navy twill jacket (reviewed here) and my navy broadcloth skirt (reviewed here) with a vintage pale blue striped shirt with a white collar I found at the thrift store and a new sterling silver Stuart Nye pansy brooch that I found on Ebay for only a few dollars. It was black with tarnish when I got it, but after some polish, it is quite lovely, I think. Pansies have been one of my favorite flowers since I was a child, for their cheerful faces, and royal colors, and because ‘pansies are for thoughts.’
This past week my husband received a job offer and our life is suddenly in disarray as we get ready to move to another state in less than a month! Since our move will be taking up all of our time and energy, I thought it was best to warn you all that this website will likely be on hiatus for the next month at least, if not two, while we get ourselves and Gia and our Singer 15-91 all safely settled in a new place.
Please do come back and visit again in late October or November! I have two recent sewing projects to share that I haven't photographed yet, and am eager to share more about our new sewing space, and any new projects I might get started on after the move.
We’ve been having a hot spell in California, and so I’ve been grateful for all the cotton in my handmade wardrobe. This was an outfit I was particularly pleased with for being cool but still interesting when I wore it last week on yet another 90 plus degree day: the blouse I reviewed here, and the recently completed gingham skirt I reviewed here. I made the citrine necklace, too, which I blogged about recently here.
There is something about the contrast of a white collar and cuffs on a dark dress that is always attractive to me. I am not disappointed with 1970s-era raised-waist collared dress pattern Simplicity 5497: it makes an attractive and comfortable autumnal dress, and even if the collar is larger in real life than the pattern envelope makes it seem, it is still proportional and nice looking with the long cuffs and the slightly puffed sleeves. I sewed my version out of striped black cotton that I bought at Michael Levine’s ‘Loft’ in the Los Angeles fabric district back in July. The Loft sells large pieces of remnant fabric by the pound, so most of the yardage I buy there ends up coming out to $1 a yard or less. I think this cotton was meant to be for men’s dress shirts, but there were two relatively large pieces of it, so I decided it would make a nice dress for early fall when the weather is still warm, and for later autumn and winter days worn with cardigans and heavier layers. For that reason, I left off the bow in the back of the bodice to make wearing sweaters easier and lengthened (and widened) the skirt pieces quite a bit, until they are at ankle length. I find that I like ankle length dresses and skirts a lot right now: they are easy to walk in without feeling tangled, and I never have to worry about them climbing up my legs in a stiff breeze. I think ankle length skirts also look nice with boots, like my favorite old Nine-West ones I’m wearing here.
Construction notes: I cut the skirt pieces on the selvedge wherever possible and pinked the other seams. I used a heavier interfacing for the collar and cuffs. It didn’t fuse very well, so they can look a little creased sometimes close up, but I think they turned out well enough all the same. My goal is to have wearable clothes rather than perfect ones. While I’m always striving to be a better sewer, I think it is better to accept minor flaws and consider them as part of the overall personality of a garment than to be continually dismayed over them. I edge-stitched the collar and cuffs, used bias binding to finish the waistline seam, and sewed the buttonholes on the cuffs by hand. I like the detail of the curved edge of the cuff---I think it echoes the collar shape and makes the dress more special. The buttons are from my thrift-store bought button stash.
Mr Rat took me shopping at our favorite thrift store the day before we took these photos, so I was happy to wear the new gold flower brooch I found on that trip with my new dress, and its matching clip on earrings (although they didn’t end up peering out of my hair in any of these photos). My hat is from the San Diego hat company, bought at the beginning of the summer via Amazon.
The monastery garden is starting to look more autumnal, even though the weather continues more hot than cool, and there are still flowers here and there, wilted but triumphant. Still, the leaves are starting to change, the earth is dry and brown under the olive trees and the redwoods, and the squirrels and spiders are all busy getting fat for the winter only a few months ahead. There are webs everywhere, which give the garden a haunted, mysterious aspect. Mr Rat got several lovely photos of a large and handsome spinner with her yellow stripes. She had built a web large enough to catch me had I been able to fly up above the bushes between two redwood trees. The industry of such an enterprise is astonishing to me----I can’t imagine what it would be like to crochet a blanket the size of a house (what I imagine a human-made-web might be like), or to construct a piece of architecture so enormous and so delicate. And yet spiders do it as a matter of fact, all the time. And when the wind or the rain blows down their creations, they find a new spot and start all over again.
-Take your time while cutting and sewing. Patience brings the best results.
-Iron between steps. Press your seam allowances flat first, to ‘blend’ the stitches, then open, then on the opposite/right side of the fabric for the greatest crispness. It also helps to pre-iron your fabric (and pattern, too, if it’s wrinkly---just make sure to use a dry iron on the lowest heat setting) before cutting it out.
-Pre-wash your fabric. You will save yourself so much disappointment if you know how your fabric will behave in the wash, and it helps make the sewing process easier to have the sizing that is added to some fabrics washed away.
-Edge and top-stitch your seams. This adds a professional look to your sewing projects, strengthens the seams, and helps the fabric behave itself and stay crisp looking while worn.
-Finish your seams on the inside, too. It takes extra time and effort, but it helps your sewing projects get through the washing cycle intact, and makes your projects look good inside and out.
-Hand-stitching is more precise than machine-stitching, so don’t be afraid to spend some time with a thimble and a needle. Hand-baste difficult joins or trims, or add bias binding by hand.
-Sew on your buttons one at a time. After I finish making my buttonholes, I mark each button with a pin and sew them on one at a time, starting with the top-most button. This helps me keep the blouse or dress flat as I go down, and I can compare the position of each button to make sure they are even and properly placed. If I make a mistake and fabric bubbles above a button, I only have to remove and reattach the one button rather than a lot of them.
-Plan ahead! The more planning you do, the better you will be satisfied with your finished projects. Knowing what you like to wear, what fits are more flattering, what colors and cuts you like best, etc. will help you make good decisions when matching your fabric, pattern and trims. Consider doing some wardrobe planning, choosing a color palette, and/or creating inspiration boards before settling on your sewing projects.
-Don’t skip stay-stitching. It really makes a difference in accuracy and not letting important curved sections of your fabric stretch out before they’re sewn.
-Use a seam-ripper to unpick any basting or gathering stitches that may be visible after you’ve finished sewing a garment.
-Test your thread-tension on a scrap of fabric before jumping into your sewing project. Thread tension makes the difference between puckered and flat seams.
-If you’re uncertain about a pattern’s fit, make a ‘wearable muslin’ first out of an old sheet or leftover scraps. It takes extra time, but when you want a great result, extra time and effort are required.
-When gathering fabric, use 2 or 3 rows of gathering stitches rather than one. This will help your gathers look more even.
-Press your darts on a tailor’s ham, first on the inside of the dart, then on the outside of the garment. Make sure you never back-stitch at the ends of your darts, just stitch a few stiches flat against the very edge of the fabric, then leave the ends of the thread long and tie a knot and trim off the excess before ironing the dart. Pressing the dart on a ham helps give it a natural look and flattens the tips so they don’t look pointy.
-Plan some accessories for your finished outfits. Sometimes a garment doesn’t look quite right until it has the perfect jewelry, scarf, hat, etc. to finish the look.
-Take pleasure and pride in your work, and it will show in your finished projects!
It was so cool here the past two weeks that I had optimistically assumed that autumn had begun early. This past weekend proved me wrong with a low-90s heat wave that drove me to pick out one of my breeziest of homemade outfits to wear to church: my muslin blouse, reviewed here, and my matching muslin skirt, which though several years old, I have not yet reviewed until now. Since I have already reviewed this skirt pattern before, many times (here, for instance, or here), I won’t go into too many details about construction. I only made two major changes to this particular version of 1970s era Simplicity 7880----I lengthened the skirt, leaving the bottom hem on the selvedge of the muslin (I think it was 35 or 37-inch unbleached muslin, which hits me at the high ankle), and I used a button to close the back rather than a skirt hook and eye as most of my other skirts are finished.
Even though it was very warm when we walked out to take photos, there were a lot of beautiful flowers to admire, including an enormous sunflower patch at the school garden next to the monastery where Mr Rat and I like to walk on Sunday mornings. There were bees busy everywhere, and Mr Rat got some lovely photos of them intent on their work, their legs fat with pollen like little yellow chaps. He also got his coveted butterfly photo in the monastery gardens: a beautiful big swallowtail that circled us and landed on the fig tree, then drifted off and joined with another swallowtail who challenged it to an upward duel of spiraling until they were lost from sight in the redwood trees.
I’m wearing my homemade muslin outfit with one of my favorite straw hats that I bought five years ago at a farmer’s market stand, turquoise jewelry given to me by my thoughtful and generous mother-in-law, and a thrifted shawl. My clogs are Lotta from Stockholm, three years old and still wearing well.
So many of my favorite fashion/sewing blogs have bemoaned the recent racist rallies here in America and expressed that it makes them feel like their websites are shallow or frivolous in the face of such disturbing events. I’ve thought about this a great deal over the past few weeks as Mr Rat and I talk over the news, and I don’t think that blogging about sewing or clothing should be so easily dismissed. Our passions are what make us human, and sharing them is what keeps us kind. It is an act of optimism when we are feeling overwhelmed with darkness to keep on working and making things---whether art or clothes or ceramics or poetry or music. To make something ourselves and share it is to make a modest contribution towards a kinder, more generous, more creative world. Instead of feeling despair, let’s resolve to be more compassionate towards those around us, and keep improving whatever corner of the earth we inhabit.
“You guys have an awesome dayyyyyyy!!!!” the vagabond called to us as he hopped onto the back of his grocery cart and sped away down the sidewalk. We were taking a few photos in front of an abandoned drive-through fast food restaurant on a recent Friday evening. I speculate that it was once a Long John Silvers back in the early 90’s but its most recent tenant appeared to be a fast food Biryani Indian restaurant. I felt like the setting reminded me of some of the neighborhoods near the beach in Oceanside, CA where I spent much of my youth.
This is my second version of the Aloha shirt from the Japanese pattern company Sunday and Sons. I have decided that this pattern will be my go-to Hawaiian shirt pattern from now on. The fabric comes from Island Fabrics located in the fabric district of LA and is sold as “bark cloth.” I used the fabric reverse side out like all traditional Hawaiian shirts and carefully matched the pocket to the pattern on the shirt. I appreciate that this shirt has a slim fit since many Hawaiian shirts I come across tend to have a boxy shape. Although the shirt is fitted it still maintains flexibility and comfort since it includes pleats on the upper back and side slits at the bottom hem line. One thing to keep in mind about these Japanese patterns is that the sizing runs a little small. I use the large shirt pattern even though I typically wear a medium.
Hawaiian shirts have always been an important part of my wardrobe for both casual wear and dressy attire. The great thing about a nice Hawaiian shirt is that by changing from shorts to slacks you can go from the beach to dinner at a nice restaurant without too much trouble (and vice versa). I am really excited to have a pattern that reliable produces excellent results every time!
Note from Mrs Rat:
Usually we take our photos in local parks and the monastery garden up the street. They show one side of California: lush year-round flowers, redwood and olive trees, and lots of sunshine. But for Mr Rat’s most recent Hawaiian shirt, we decided we would take our photos at an abandoned restaurant near the grocery stores where we usually shop. It is the other typical side of California: empty, decaying store-fronts, palm trees, weeds and trash and broken glass, and of course---strange encounters. Mr Rat mentioned the encounter with a friendly homeless man while we were taking these photos----a few months before, in the same spot, we watched with astonishment as over a dozen police cars sped down the street (we found out later there had been a shooting at the motel a block away). A different homeless man was walking by and told us in a disgusted voice: “This happens all the time around here.” And it does----in California.
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 and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew