My parents visited Mr Rat and I this past weekend and took us to see the Winchester Mystery House. It was a special occasion, so I wore my new bandana-print dress made from 1970s-era Simplicity 6278 for the first time. I don’t typically wear a lot of prints, but I like the pattern of bandanas very much, and couldn’t resist making a whole dress out of bandana fabric. The fabric is a stiff cotton-polyester blend, bought from a fabric-wholesaler on Amazon with a Christmas gift card. It came out of the wash a little softer than it went in, so hopefully this dress will get softer with time, although the stiffness gives the tiered and ruffled skirt more body, and is not uncomfortable to wear. When we went to the Winchester house it was a rather cool morning, so I wore my new dress with a black wool shawl and a Mexican silver necklace, both recent lucky thrift store finds.
I made the pattern in a size 8, as usual, and the only adjustment I made was to shorten the bottom tier of the skirt to just above my ankles, for ease of walking, and to widen it so the ruffle would be fuller. The pattern is not difficult for a sewer with previous dress-making experience. The bodice is somewhere between an empire and a raised waist, with darts in the front and back and a square neckline with a facing. The sleeves have cuffs that are meant to be closed with snaps, but I sewed buttons and button-holes on mine, out of personal preference. The tiered skirt has many pieces that are sewn together and then gathered at the top and attached to the tier above it. It is a little tricky to space the fullness evenly. I did a lot of edge-stitching to help make the dress durable and the seamlines smooth. The bottom ruffle has a narrow turned and machine-stitched hem.
I liked the Winchester house very much. It is a poetic, dusty place, a sprawling, labyrinthine palace that only the child-sized woman who built it probably ever truly understood. There are windows into rooms, hallways, floors---rooms that sprout out of rooms----doors that go nowhere----a stairway that ends suddenly at the ceiling----ornate wrought-iron elevators long rusted shut----a basement supposedly haunted by ghosts still stoking the long-dead fires of the enormous iron boilers----Tiffany glass windows gleaming in unexpected stacks and heaps in otherwise empty rooms. The rooms were not as large as I thought they would be. The carved wood ballroom was only large enough for maybe a dozen people or less to dance. But there are so many rooms---more than 160 in total, that they add up to quite a large house indeed. The two kitchens, the large laundry and the many beautiful pantries (one lined in marble to keep in the cool air) made me jealous---they must have been lovely and comfortable work spaces for Mrs. Winchester’s servants. When you stand outside in the gardens studded with her Victorian statues, you can close your eyes and imagine hundreds of acres of fruit orchards all around, heavy with the scent of blossoms and plums and apricots and peaches. A domain fit for a queen.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.