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.
One of my favorite dress patterns, I’ve made three versions of Simplicity 7213 so far, and even worn one of them out. This is the newer of my two other versions of the dress, done in the shorter length with long sleeves. It is made out of a clean, old, black cotton sheet. I made some minor adjustments to the pattern: I raised the neckline very slightly by using a smaller seam allowance when sewing the neck, I lowered the right shoulder just a little bit at the neckline (and did the same for the facing pattern piece) since I was having some very slight gaping in my first version of the dress, and I drafted plain cuffs instead of using the tie-cuffs the original pattern has. One of the interesting features of this pattern is that it does not call for any interfacing at all: not for the facings, the cuff, or anything else. Perhaps they intended a softer, less structured look?
It may be hard to see some of the details in these photos, which were taken inside (with lots of help from Gia, who managed to get in most of the photos to keep me company) on yet another cloudy, cold day. The dress has a pretty gathered yoke detail at the shoulders, a slightly curved v-neckline, a slightly raised waist, and a gathered paneled skirt. I did a lot of edge-stitching on the neckline and bodice, both to keep the seams flat and facing the right directions after I wash it, and as a decorative detail. I love how comfortable this dress is to wear. I’m sure I’ll be making more versions in the future.
I thought it might be interesting to start a new series of posts here on the blog looking at the details of vintage garments that Mr Rat and I have in our closet. Most patterns have very little information about choosing seam finishes, even though seam finishes and other small details like button choice and placement become crucial design elements.
Since Mr Rat just finished his first ‘Aloha’ shirt and has another one cut out and sitting on our sewing desk waiting to be assembled, I thought I’d start the series by looking at a few of his vintage Hawaiian (or Aloha) shirts that we have found at thrift stores in Los Angeles over the past few years. I chose the three I am going to highlight today for their variety---maybe some other time I will highlight some of his other ones.
A few notes about what all of his vintage Aloha shirts have in common: they are all 100 percent cotton, and generally the older ones and the ones that are truly from Hawaii are usually turned ‘inside-out’ so the paler side of the cotton print that we would usually assume is the ‘back’ becomes the ‘front.’ They all have very little top or edge-stitching. I’ve also noticed that they rarely use any interfacing. Usually the only places they have stitching visible on the outside is on the collar and the pocket. The pockets are always meticulously pattern-matched to the surrounding print, and there is usually just one, generally on the left side. They all have straight bottom hems, because they are generally worn untucked, I believe.
For individual details, first let’s look at the Surfline Hawaii shirt at the top of the post, which is probably from the late 60s or early 70s, judging by the shape of the collar. The cotton on this one is much rougher and thicker than the other shirts in Mr Rat’s collection. It may even be barkcloth, which is a traditional Hawaiian textile. The collar is a true ‘convertible’ collar, with a little piece of elastic on one side and a tiny button hidden under the collar on the other. Mr Rat usually wears it open.
The buttons are wood.
The inside seams are mostly finished with a serged edge, except the yoke, which is clean finished so no edges are showing. The back of the shirt is gathered into two small pleats at the yoke. The collar is understitched around the back to help it roll correctly. The hems on the bottom edge and the short sleeves are rolled and stitched very close to the edge.
The most unusual finishing detail is the front facing: it is cut so the selvedge edge of the fabric forms the outer edge of the facing.
Next let’s look at this Cooke Street Honolulu shirt. It also has a convertible collar, but this one lacks the upper button to really make it convertible. The collar is topstitched, but only around the upper section. It also has a meticulously matched single front pocket and wooden buttons.
The inside seams are also serged, including the front facing. The hem at the bottom and on the sleeves is machine blind-stitched.
The back yoke is very similarly treated to the pink aloha shirt, with two small pleats at the shoulder blades. The yoke is longer than the pink shirt, however.
Last, let’s look at another Cooke Street Honolulu shirt. This one departs from the convertible collar look and
has a traditional stand collar instead, and a front button band instead of a fold-over front faching. There is more top and edge-stitching on this shirt: the collar, collar-band, pocket, hems, and front button band are all top and edge-stitched.
The back yoke has a different treatment, too: on this one there is a center pleat, more like you see on contemporary men’s dress shirts.
This one also differs by having slits to allow for extra movement at the bottom side hems.
The inside seams are also mostly serged, except for the hems, which are folded over and stitched very close to the edge.
I would like to not buy more patterns so that I can get to know the ones I have better. I would also like to re-use more of the patterns that have worked well for me in the past, adding different details like a ruffled or tiered skirt, a collar, ribbon trim, patch pockets, different sleeves, etc.
I would like to not buy more fabric unless it is needed to finish a project or an ensemble. We have a large stash of fabrics found at thrift stores and clearance tables over the years folded neatly in our sewing closet, waiting for our attention. Mr Rat and I would like to use as much as we can make this year.
Related to the previous goal, I want to sew warmer and sew more wool. We have some nice pieces of wool and I have always been nervous to sew much with them. Having lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles all my life, I have never owned a lot of cold weather clothes---a few sweaters, some tights, and two or three heavy coats was enough to manage through the winter. It is much colder here, so I would like to use the wool in our sewing closet to make some warmer clothing that I can wear in layers: skirts, dresses, vests, jackets, and capes.
The clothes that have been most on my mind for future sewing projects:
To find a vest pattern that fits.
To make more skirt and jacket ensembles.
To make some more long-sleeved blouses.
To make dresses, since some of my old ones have worn out.
And maybe even to make myself a new apron or two this year.
Our weekend was more cloudy than sunny, which is why these photos are rather dimly lit, but it wasn’t raining so at least we could take Gia to the monastery to look at flowers before church. The rain made everything vividly green and mossy, and the break in the showers brought some of the flowers out hopeful for sun.
I wore my two-year old little black cape made from Vogue 8959 in a size XS in a textured wool that I bought on clearance. It is fully lined in plain black polyester lining fabric and the leather buttons are from a JoAnns button clearance several years ago. They had a whole basket full of buttons for 25-50 cents each, and I bought so many that I am still using them on projects now.
Vogue 8959 is a good introductory pattern to start making outerwear, since the construction is simple and the fit of capes in general is very forgiving. The pattern is drafted to have very rounded shoulders, though, so if you have narrow shoulders, like me, even the XS will have a somewhat exaggerated shape. It gives it a 60s look---they also preferred bell-shaped capes---or a modern, avante-garde look, depending on fabric and button choice---but if you don’t like the shape of the shoulders, then you should probably chose a different cape pattern. I made the shortest view, and like the length, although I hemmed it more narrowly than the pattern called for.
The only vintage cape I own is made of double-faced wool and is reversible, so all the seams are top-stitched, and I noticed how nice and flat they are. Inspired by that detail, I top-stitched all the seams of my cape by hand. I think hand-stitching is more subtle and sinks into the wool fabric more nicely than machine stitching. The hem is also sewn by hand, and the button-holes.
I am fond of capes for several reasons: you can wear them over any shaped sleeve or any fullness or length of skirt, they are easily layered over jackets, suits or sweaters for extra warmth, they are easy to walk in, and they have a clean, elegant line.
This is one of the rare patterns where, when I bought it, I looked forward to sewing both the blouse and the jumper dress included. So often I choose a pattern because I am drawn to one garment or one view on the envelope, but not with this 1970s era pattern. Even though I made the jumper first, about two years ago, I reviewed the blouse first here. I felt that when I reviewed the dress (at last) that I should wear them both together, so you can compare the ensemble in real life with the pattern envelope picture.
I made a size 8, as usual, in black poly-cotton broadcloth. The empire bodice is lined with a piece of thin black and navy checkered cotton voile. The dress takes quite a bit of fabric to make the full length version, but it gives the skirt a grand sweep of fabric that makes using so many yards worthwhile. Although, I think the graceful shape of it is somewhat impeded in these photos by the long grass I was walking in at the monastery gardens. It has been rainy recently, and everything is growing---green, green, green! The grass and clover are lush and deep and there are flowers here that I’ve never seen before---snow-drops and tiny white and yellow narcissus, edging their way out of the ground early into the cold air.
The pattern fit well and needed no adjustments. I found putting the lining in slightly tricky at the time that I made it, since it was my first time inserting a lining. But overall the pattern would be an easy accomplishment for an intermediate sewer, or a beginner with patience. The only differences I have noticed between real life and the pattern envelope is that their version of the jumper seems to have a slightly different shape to the neckline, and the illustrator made it look like the end of the slit on the front of the blouse ends at the top of the jumper neckline, when it actually continues underneath.
Because I am fond of this jumper, and wear it often, I am considering making a winter version, perhaps in lightweight wool, for warmth. Even though I often wear this jumper over a black turtleneck and black tights, or under my favorite wool cape with a scarf (as I did here) it is better suited to spring and summer and early fall than these, the coldest days of the year.
Mr Rat has been in need of a warm robe, so I made him one as a Christmas gift, using a current Simplicity pattern, D0588/1021. I made it in a size medium out of navy blue cotton flannel, bought on a deep discount at JoAnn’s Black Friday sale in November. The pattern is simple to follow, and easy enough for a complete beginner, I think. It took me one day to cut out and two days to finish sewing. Mr Rat was pleased to open it and put it on, even though he had seen me making it, so it wasn’t a surprise.
The only adjustment I made to the pattern was to not interface the front binding that goes around the collar and edges of the robe. The binding gets doubled as it wraps around to the inside of the robe, and since it is meant to be a comfortable garment to lounge in, I didn’t want it to be stiff.
Inspired by the monogrammed handkerchief I gave Mr Rat for an anniversary gift, I also made handkerchiefs for my whole family, embroidering each person’s initials and hemming them by hand. My parents, most of my siblings, and their spouses attend the Mormon temple very frequently, and everything in the temple must be white, because it is a holy place, so I made all the gifts pure white in case they wanted to use them there.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.