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.
After I saw a few more holes appear in Mr Rat’s favorite jacket, I persuaded him to leave it at home long enough for me to pull out my mending kit and some scraps leftover from my bandana print dress and from a new Hawaiian shirt that Mr Rat is working on to patch it with. Every time I cover the threadbare spots with colorful bits of fabric and sashiko-style stitching, Mr Rat comes home, puts on his transformed jacket, and admires its increase in character and personality. It takes time to get to know an object, just as it takes time to get to know a person. And I love that he wears my love on his sleeve, and his collar, and every other ragged spot.
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.
Today is the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka Bangladesh. 1138 people died and over 2500 others were injured. This is an astonishing number to me, since every school I have ever attended, including college, had fewer students than that. While the collapse caused widespread shock at the time, it doesn’t seem to have changed very many manufacturing or shopping habits in the long term, something that the group Fashion Revolution is trying to change. Such an epic and tragic loss of life does not deserve to be forgotten, especially when there are millions around the world who still work in underpaid and unsafe conditions in the garment industry today.
Nicole, of the Artyologist, has a good introduction to Fashion Revolution week on her blog, or you can look at Fashion Revolution’s website for more information about the events they are hosting across the internet this week to raise awareness about the high cost of clothing manufacturing and clothing waste.
One of the questions Fashion Revolution asks is: “Who made my clothes?” I am pleased to answer that for the most part, I have made my own clothes. Out of the 70-ish garments that I own, over 60 percent is handmade by me, and those items that are not are by and large second-hand which in many cases I have repaired to make wearable again. Many of the items that are not made by me are things which I don’t have the resources or knowledge to make: a few knit items like turtlenecks, two special embroidered jackets that I found at the thrift store, a few heavy winter coats, two t-shirts, one pair of jeans, and some sweaters. I hope that as the years progress a larger and larger percentage of my clothing will be handmade, until when I am asked, “Who made my clothes?” I can simply answer, “me.”
The ethics of clothing are something we all have to consider every time we put something over our skin. The need for clothing is universal, and as sewers, we more than anyone know how much time and skill is needed to make the simplest item of clothing. I have been pondering some of the things we can do to improve our relationship with our clothes and to show more respect and gratitude for those who make them:
Mr Rat and I have decided to participate in Me-Made-May this year. My goal is to wear only homemade clothing and jewelry every day, and Mr Rat has committed to wearing homemade at least four times a week. We’re going to document our goals and hopefully update this website weekly with our progress throughout the next month. I hope it will teach me more about what else I need to make or things I need to change in order to have a home-made, loved wardrobe, full of clothes that feel right.
Do any of you have any other ideas to share about ways you’ve improved your relationship with clothing, your own methods for wardrobe planning, or how to make your loved clothes last?
We had an unusually sunny Sunday after a few days of heavy rain, so the three of us went over to the monastery to enjoy the greenness of the garden and the heady spring flowers that scent the air. I wore a new jumper dress that I finished last month using 1970s era Butterick 6000 as my starting point. Originally I intended to add long sleeves, but when I set them in I didn’t like the way they looked, so I cut out the sleeves, enlarged the armholes slightly and finished the inside with off-white bias tape. The bodice is lined, since the ivory cotton I found at the thrift store is slightly sheer on its own, and I finished the waist seam with bias tape on the inside, which acts as a waist stay and covers the gathers so it has a clean finish on the inside. As far as other adjustments go, I also cut the skirt wider than the original skirt in the pattern, and I took a little wedge out of the middle of the bodice front when I cut out the pattern, with the wider point of the wedge at the neckline tapering to nothing at the empire waist, since I’ve found in the past that low scooped necklines can sometimes be a little loose on me. I dislike rippling zippers, so I was careful to interface the edge of the fabric along the full length of the zipper, and then I hand-picked the zipper into place. I’ve found that doing my zippers that way solves the rippling zipper problem, and they always turn out straight and crisp.
You’ve probably already noticed if you’ve been following our sewing journal that I have a penchant for raised waist dresses. They are so very comfortable and easy to wear. I’ve sewn Butterick 6000 before because I like the empire waist and the simple lines of the design, but sadly the blue cotton dress I made from it last year got a big stain on the skirt that wouldn’t wash out and so I had to retire it before I ever got to photograph it for this blog.
I wore my new jumper with one of my thrifted pashmina shawls, a necklace I made myself out of blood agates and gold-plated spacer beads, and jade and cats-eye rings that I inherited from my grandmother.
Happy Easter to all Christian readers, and happy spring (or autumn if you live in the southern hemisphere) to everyone else!
In my quest to find the right Hawaiian shirt pattern I came across this pattern book by Sunday and Sons called “Shirt”. The book contains 4 basic patterns entitled “Sport”, “Dress”, “Military”, and “Work”. Each basic pattern contains 4 variations giving you 16 types of shirts to fulfill any aspect of your wardrobe. The “Sport” shirt pattern contains a variation for this Aloha shirt which I have completed here. Overall, I felt like this pattern exceeded my expectations for design, fit, and finish. To start my review I will just say that this entire book is in Japanese however, they provide enough translations (measurements, titles, and sizes) and clear diagrams to make this doable even if you don’t know Japanese. There were only a few Japanese symbols that I needed to study and match on other pages to figure out a few sizing charts. Also, the patterns run on the small size. I usually wear medium and am a 38 Regular coat size, but in this pattern I was large and the shirt is fitted. Another aspect of working with these patterns is that you have to trace them all out on tissue paper and add seam allowances as they do not include them in the pattern. The pattern recommends 0.6 cm seam allowances but next time I will probably do a standard 5/8 inch to give a little more fabric to work with for seam finishes. For this shirt I used a cotton/polyester blend fabric that I sewed together using the reverse side of the print to mute the tones as all traditional Hawaiian shirts are done. The shirt came together nicely and the diagrams were easy to follow. The fit is slim but I have full range of movement and no tight spots in the shoulders or back. The only issue I came across was some improvisations I had to make for finishing the inside of the collar but this was minor. I will definitely use this pattern for my next Aloha shirt and I am excited to begin making other shirts out of this book as well, all of which look very promising!
This is another dress from about two years ago. I made my 1970s-era McCall 3562 pattern out of a king-size cotton sheet I found at the thrift store. It has a very subtle stripe which makes a slight chevron on the full skirt of this comfortable pullover dress. The most interesting feature of this pattern is the sleeves, which are gathered at the top and have a tuck at the front, creating a puff without needing a band at the bottom. The inside of the sleeves have a facing to keep the tuck from opening while moving around. I’ve only seen this style of sleeves on 1930s and 1940s era patterns, reflecting the 1970s eclectic taste for using features of past fashions in new combinations. The v-neck has a facing all around it that is sewed onto the outside, overlaps at the front of the chest, and then wraps around to make a bow in the back. This gives the dress an empire shape without using any zippers or buttons at all. It is very inventive, I think, and one of the reasons why I like to sew 1970s-era patterns so much.
Mr Rat and Gia and I walked to a nearby park on Sunday afternoon so Gia could walk about off-leash while we took our photos. While we were there a friendly dog came running by, greeted Gia, and was off with his master on a bicycle a minute later.
I am wearing my homemade dress with a straw hat my mom bought for me in the Los Angeles fabric district last year. The jewelry is all aquamarine: the necklace was from Kohls from some years back, and the ring I inherited from my grandmother. The metals don’t match, but the stones do, so I often wear them together anyway. They both match my blue dress so well.
I spent almost a week at the end of March sick in bed with one of those violent colds that make it hard to do anything with either head or hands. When I am under the weather my favorite thing to wear is a smock dress. They are loose and easy and comfortable, and if I put on a necklace I feel a little bit put-together even if I am otherwise worn out.
I made this smock dress about two years ago using an old Simplicity project runway pattern 3529. It’s been a versatile dress: sometimes I wear it as a working smock, sometimes as a summer dress when wearing anything other than loose cotton feels unbearable, and I even occasionally use it as a nightgown when my proper one is in the wash. It is made from a large length of black cotton that I bought in the fabric district in Los Angeles. Since I had so much fabric to work with, I lengthened the pattern a great deal, and widened it, too, until it is ankle length and very loose. I made the pattern in a size 8, and although it is a little roomy in the shoulders, I don’t mind it. It’s a dress where more ease is a good thing.
I am wearing my smock dress with a homemade necklace made of adventurine beads. I was still a little sick when I took these photos, so if I look less than my best, hopefully you’ll understand why. Thank goodness for books when you are ill and cannot go out. They take us into other worlds, other lives, for a while.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew