It's that time of year again! Me-Made-May starts tomorrow. If you haven't heard of it before, you should visit this blog post by founder Zoe of So, Zo What do you Know? I imagine that most of you are already familiar with the challenge, which is to wear your homemade clothes as often as possible throughout the month of May. This will be my third year participating, which means that I've been around for almost a third of the 10 years this challenge has existed on the internet!
My pledge is similar to the last two years: I, Mrs Rat, commit to wearing my homemade clothing every day for the month of May. I will try to wear my handmade garments in new combinations, including my homemade jewelry, bags and other accessories. I will try to document my outfits with photographs, posting them weekly here on the blog. At the end of the month, I will reflect on the things that I've learned and use them to help me plan my sewing projects for the rest of the year.
I hope that I will make it through the month with a photograph every day and a post every week, but recently life has been a bit stressful for Mr Rat and me, so right now I am making my pledge to do the best that I can.
Are you participating in Me-Made-May this year? What's your pledge?
Since I started Fashion Revolution week this year with some ideas of how to use up fabric scraps, I thought that it might be interesting to put together an inspiration post looking at patchwork clothing---another great way to use up those scraps and re-purpose old fabrics. So without further ado:
Seminole patchwork dress. This dress is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but I found this photo of it while reading an interesting article that features a brief history of Seminole patchwork on the Pendleton Woolen Mills blog.
Dior crazy quilt dress from their Fall 2018 collection.
1970s dress from the VintageLadyGR etsy shop.
1970s quilt skirt from the VintageChicVA etsy shop.
Bandana patchwork jacket by the Japanese brand Kapital.
How do you like to make sewing plans?
My own process tends to be simple: I sit down in front of our sewing cupboard, take out my book of patterns and flip through them while looking at our folded stacks of fabric. If I think of a combination that I like, then I sketch it in a small notebook, noting any changes or adjustments that I want to make, and look to see if I have all the notions, thread, and trimmings to complete the project that I envision. Then I cut the fabric out and put it in a basket next to my sewing machine, so I can sew it within the next few weeks or months.
But I do sometimes do a little bit more in the planning process, which I will share here:
- Sometimes I like to poke around Pinterest looking for inspiring clothing. While I rarely fully imitate something that I see, I don't think it is a bad thing to make a copy of a garment that you love, so long as it is for personal wear and not to sell (since I think that would be disrespectful to the original designer). But so often, there is something you want to or have to change---whether it is the fabric, the color choices, the trims, or the hem length. Still, when you are stuck and can't think of what you want to make, looking at photos for inspiration can stimulate new ideas. You can also search on Instagram, Etsy, or the Met website, for instance. Do you have any other favorite places to look for inspiration when you are planning out new projects?
-It's also very helpful to check PatternReview, especially if you are trying out a pattern for the first time. Sometimes someone else has made it, and it can be very useful to see what they thought of the pattern, its instructions, construction, etc.
-The other thing that I find helpful when I'm planning out projects is to spend some time pondering my wardrobe, my needs, and my preferences. The best way that I've found to do this is to go through the questions in Colette's Wardrobe Architect at least once a year. Having a page of notes of personal preferences, colors, shapes, and favorite patterns and details is perfect if you want to challenge yourself to sew a capsule wardrobe, or just focus your regular sewing on the practical things that you need and want to wear. Participating in Me-Made-May has always been helpful as well, since I after I complete my yearly challenge I have a month's worth of photos to look at to see which silhouettes and colors I wear most often, what gaps in my wardrobe I still need to fill, and which patterns I should sew again.
What tools and techniques do you use when you are planning out your sewing projects?
Out of the 75 or so garments that I own, only 11 are not homemade. Those 11 items include 6 thrifted items (2 excercise t-shirts, 1 winter coat--which I hope to replace with a homemade one this year, and 3 sweaters), 3 free gifts (my exercise hoody and jacket, which were gifts to my husband, and a turtleneck sweater that I got years ago at a non-profit where I taught drawing classes), and 2 store-bought items (my exercise leggings and an old black t-shirt that I wear under sweaters in the winter time).
That means that 85 percent of my wardrobe is homemade. If you don't include exercise wear, then 92 percent of my daily wardrobe is homemade. I'm slowly learning to crochet, so I hope that as my current sweaters wear out that I will be able to replace them with homemade, too.
The numbers in my closet are pretty similar to last year's. Every year that I've done a wardrobe evaluation, I look at those numbers and think to myself: "I could have a totally homemade wardrobe---I am so close! Maybe by next year it would all be homemade if I replace this or that thrifted item..." But when I'm totally honest with myself, I don't particularly want to sew my own exercise clothes (not to mention that my 1940s Singer doesn't have a zig-zag stitch, so sewing knits is not something I can do easily even if I did want to) or my underthings. I like some of the things that I've found at the thrift store, like the Nordic folk coat decorated with bands of colorful ribbons that I wore all through this past winter. It's okay to not have a wholly handmade wardrobe. Maybe someday I will, but then again, maybe my closet numbers will stay the same from year to year, and that's okay too (so long as my clothes all fit comfortably in my closet).
A closet is a changing thing----shifting to meet new needs, growing for new events, and hopefully, gradually becoming more personal, useful, practical and beautiful over time. Most things that I make get made and worn all the time, but there are still a few that hang wistfully in the corner, not getting used. Those are the ones that I hope to re-purpose or donate. I do this once or twice a year, which is another reason why even though I sew a lot, my closet numbers stay relatively constant.
I'm still working towards that goal of a well-loved closet, full of clothes that last. It's surprising to me sometimes how challenging that goal is---how shifting needs and desires and changes to our bodies and age and lives change the clothes that are needed and wanted. But some things do stay steady: a fondness for certain silhouettes and colors, certain items of jewelry. And that steadiness is reassuring, because even though things do flow and change, our closets remind us that all those clothes are just facets of one's own personality. Sometimes one facet shines in the light, and sometimes another one, but they are all sides of the same thing that we know intimately even as we discover more about it: that is to say, oneself.
Do you do a yearly closet review? What does your review tell you? Do you make goals based on what you know about the numbers in your closet?
Simple, lovely, white peter-pan collar blouse, I made you three years ago when we lived in Santa Clara, California. We were so poor then, and I sewed often to help myself feel clothed in dignity while I walked everywhere because we couldn’t afford a car. I bought your pattern quite cheaply online, only to be disappointed that a piece of the matching jumper tissue was missing. But you were all there, blouse! And I was happy to try you, and liked you so much when I first put you on. You were my ideal blouse: simple, feminine, with a slightly puffed sleeve, pretty cuffs, and a nice round collar. You fit so well, with enough ease to be comfortable, and shoulders that were narrow enough for my small frame. I remember taking my time working on you, even though you were made from an old, thrifted cotton sheet. I used shell buttons I’d harvested from an old shirt, and sewed up all the insides of the seams by hand to make them neat, and made my button-holes slowly and painstakingly by hand, too. I wanted you to be crisp and perfect----to make me feel good. And you did. And you still do, every time that I put you on. I’ve worn you to church and to the library, to family photos (you looked better in them than I did, blouse), to the park, to museums. I’ve worn you in sunshine and rain and snow. And I hope to keep wearing you wherever I go. I also hope to make some more sister-blouses from your pattern. Blouse, you don’t let me down: you are formal, you are informal----you can and do go everywhere. I’m grateful for you.
All sewers face the dilemma of what to do with the fabric scraps left over at the end of a project. Most of us have boxes or bags or baskets of scraps taking up valuable space in our sewing storage. Finding ways to use those scraps makes our sewing pursuits more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and thrifty, too. Using scraps is a practice with historical roots: from the crazy quilts of the English Victorians to the boro patchwork or tiny fabric gifts called “omiyage” of the Japanese, who had a saying that if a scrap of fabric was large enough to hold three beans that it was large enough to keep and reuse. Fabric waste is a growing problem around the world with terrible environmental effects. Using up even the little scraps left over shows that we value the resources that went into the creation of the fabric that we use and the people who made it. When we re-use and re-cycle, we are doing our part to help make this world a little bit better place.
In honor of Earth Day and Fashion Revolution Week, I’ve put together a list of ways to use up scraps. Probably you’ve thought of many of these same ideas yourself, but maybe some of them are new to you, and hopefully all of them are interesting enough to inspire.
Do you have any other ideas or methods that you’ve used to use up fabric scraps?
This week marks the sixth anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,138 people and injured 2,500 more, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. Every year, the organization Fashion Revolution has marked that week with regret and respect by drawing attention to the dangers of the fashion industry, and prompting people everywhere to ask the question: “who made my clothes?”
And not just that question, but the many more that come afterwards: were they paid well? Where do they work? How did the fabric of my clothes get made, and where is it from? Are my clothes harming other people or this Earth?
There are lots of interesting resources on the Fashion Revolution website, if you take a look. They have fan-zines, events all over the world, and ways to participate by (among other things) asking brands, manufacturers, and policy-makers for more transparency and change in the way fashion is produced.
Reading about the current state of fashion is shocking: According to the Fashion Revolution website, in the USA alone, 10.5 millions tons of clothing are sent to landfills every year. That’s about 30 times as heavy as the Empire State Building. When you add facts about how much water and other resources it takes to create new fabric, how little clothing makers are compensated for the work they do in very poor conditions, and many other mind-boggling statistics----suddenly it is easy to comprehend how high the cost truly is for cheap, fast fashion.
Since we as sewers and seamstresses have the skills to make our own clothes, there are many things that we can do to reduce our own participation in the cruel cycle of fashion, and to hopefully help raise more awareness of the value of the clothes that we make and wear----and the great value of sewing, even in this modern, post-industrial world.
Since Fashion Revolution week, Earth Day, and Arbor Day all overlap this year, I thought that I would celebrate them in a small way by putting up a post every day. So, starting tomorrow, here are the posts coming up this week:
1.Ways to Use Up Fabric Scraps
2.Loved Clothes Last: A Love Letter to my Homemade Blouse
3. Yearly Closet Review
4. Making Sewing Plans
5. Inspiration: Patchwork
Easter is my favorite holiday. Even more than Christmas or Thanksgiving, I find it a hopeful holiday----a reminder that second chances are possible, that spring comes after winter, that warmth and light come back after darkness, and that death is part of the cycle of life and rebirth and renewal that all things go through. I love Easter hymns, and reading about Christ, and pondering the challenges of trying to practice faith and be genuine in my heart.
When I can, I enjoy making a new Easter dress to make going to church and family dinner feel even more festive. This year I decided to go back to an old favorite pattern: 1970s-era Simplicity 5497, which I have made once before. I like the fit of my original striped dress, which I wear often, and have been meaning to make a new version. When I started thinking of what I wanted to make for Easter, I thought immediately of that pattern, with a few changes. This time I made the short puffed sleeves, and I tried doing a little pattern drafting by tracing out the collar pieces and taking out 2 inches of width to make a much narrower peter pan collar. I was hoping to get a slight 1930s look, with the raised waist, puffed sleeves, delicate little round collar, and lovely floral pattern. I'm not sure I quite succeeded in evoking that decade, but I'm pleased with the look nonetheless.
Let's talk about the fabric! I found this beautiful sheet at the thrift store a few months ago and thought that it is the best floral sheet that I've ever found. I love the print, the green striped border, and the names of the flowers. It evokes a botanical garden to me, or a herbarium. It was a little sheer, though, so I was careful to underline the bodice with a white cotton sheet (also thrifted) which I also used to make the cuffs and collar. I cut the skirt of my dress long enough to reach my ankles, and used the green border as a ready-made hem, since I wanted to incorporate it into my dress design. To keep things neat, I sewed a scrap of bias tape into the seam where the skirt meets the bodice, then folded it up and tacked it to the interlining layer by hand, so it hid the raw edges of the trimmed skirt seam. I always stitch a second time around the arm-holes before I trim them as well, for extra strength in an area that gets a lot of wear. The zipper was also stitched in by hand, and the facings at the neck were folded and stitched along the edge of the zipper tape, to keep things neat inside.
One problem with using thrifted sheets is that sometimes they are not quite on grain, as I found out when I cut my cuffs out thinking the grain line was matched to the edge of the fabric only to find that they warped and twisted slightly when I interfaced them and folded them to sew onto the dress. It's not something that shows up when I'm wearing it, only on the hanger, so I think I will just have to live with it. It's one of those things that's difficult to tell ahead of time. Another little problem that I faced was that when I drafted the collar to be smaller, the points stuck out in the back on either side of the zipper and didn't want to lay flat against the dress. That problem had a simple solution: I just tacked down the edges of the collar by hand. They won't fold over a sweater anymore, but they lay flat.
I'm wearing my dress with a homemade white crochet shawl from last year, a gold brooch shaped like a little bouquet of violets that Mr Rat gave me two Valentine's Days ago, and my trusty old clogs. Even though the trees are finally blooming, there has still been a chill in the air until just the last few days. And now suddenly we are close to 80 degrees, and a short sleeved dress will be just right.
Happy Easter to all of you, no matter what faith you practice! I hope that today brings peace to your heart and wonder for the beauty of this brief season.
As you might have noticed from my last inspiration post, vintage Gunne Sax has been on my mind, as well as other highly embellished, be-ribboned, lacy, summmery dresses. Since my last few sewing projects have been very practical: winter flannel dresses, yet-to-be-blogged shoulder bags, and a twill jumper for cleaning----I felt like I needed a fun, frivolous project for a change, and to give me a distraction from the disappointing ups and downs of early spring weather. So I pulled out my old McCalls 4821 from the 1970s, which I have made once before. I remember that it was easy to sew and comfortable to wear.
McCalls 4821 is an ingenious pattern: it has no closures, but pulls over the top of the head, and then ties at the back of the waist, giving it a breezy, flattering shape. Because there is no zipper, no buttonholes, and no darts, it sews up quite quickly for a dress. The only some-what time-consuming parts are doing the gathers at the front waistband and sleeves, and doing the narrow hems along the sleeves, waistband ties, and bottom hem.
This whole dress is made from one cheerful vintage twin sized sheet that I found for $3 on a recent thrift store outing. There wasn't quite enough to do the maxi length with the bottom ruffle, but there was enough fabric to cut out long sleeves. I like long sleeves in the summer time because they keep my arms cool and shaded from the sun. I left the bottom hem of the dress quite long for the same reason. The only tricky part that I faced using the sheet with its big floral stripes was that when I cut out the bodice for the first time one side had bright orange roses and the other side only had a pale strip of daisies. Luckily there was enough fabric left to cut out one more bodice piece matching the bright orange roses on both sides, which gives the dress a far more balanced look.
The trims are all bits and pieces I've found on thrift store trips for a quarter there and 50 cents there. The lace is actually hem-binding. I wasn't sure what I would do with it until I realized that no-one except for me knows that it is hem-binding, so why not use it as a trim, instead? I machine-sewed a band of wider lace along the neckline and sleeves, and used up the last scraps of a smaller lace to give the neckline lace a little extra width. Then I covered the seam between them with some ivory grosgrain ribbon, and used the same ribbon to sew two bands along the bottom of the sleeves. I like the effect. It may not be as elaborate as many Gunne Sax dresses, but it gives the dress a subtle interest, and extra texture. As a finishing touch, I sewed some decorative shell buttons along the center seam above the waist-band.
I'm pleased with my new summer dress, and hope to wear it often after the weather truly warms up. It was a nice, lightly warm day when Mr Rat took these photos at the park---warm enough to wear it with a tulip patterned scarf that my sister gave me, and my birthday clogs from last year.
It's exciting to see the first buds leafing out on the trees, the first daffodils nodding their bright heads, and the robins out in greater numbers surveying their newly green domain. I hope that the weather is treating you kindly in your corner of the world, and that there is something beautiful around you to enjoy.
I stumbled across this illustration that Feodor Rojankovsky made in 1955 for Froggy Went A-Courtin' recently and thought----oh! It's a picture of me! Mrs Rat sewing at her vintage Singer, complete with glasses and long skirt and funny little necklace-brooch. I don't think I've seen a more charming picture of sewing in a long, long time. (And it gives me goals for how I want to dress---maybe a ruffled orangish blouse and bright blue skirt are in order. It wouldn't hurt to add more color to my life.)
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.