At long last, I have fulfilled another one of my new year’s sewing resolutions: to find a vest pattern that fits. I’ve had 1970s-era McCall’s 5297 for a while, but only just got around to sewing it, and I’m glad that I finally did. For a first attempt, I think it fits pretty well, although I might make a few minor adjustments the next time I sew it: changing the slope of the shoulders a little to make the neckline more snug, and maybe bringing in the sides at the waist to make it a little more snug there too. This time I didn’t make any fitting adjustments, and I think it is a very wearable ‘muslin.’ Whenever I start to feel bad about fitting (it is so tempting to want everything to fit ‘like a glove’), I think of Nancy Zieman’s advice at the beginning of all of her fitting books: she says not to over-fit your clothes, because it can take the joy out of sewing. And I think she is right. When we only focus on the flaws and the minor problems, we don’t realize how wearable and comfortable the clothes are that we make, and wear them happily and un-self-consciously.
I made this first version out of a one yard scrap of wool (one of the delights of vest-making---it takes so little fabric!) that I bought at the thrift store for two or three dollars. The buttons are from my stash, the same ones that I used on my recently finished black rayon blouse, in fact. The only design change I made was to make the buttonholes smaller and add more of them so I could use smaller buttons. I think this makes it easier to wear, as it doesn’t bunch so badly when I’m sitting down, and I like the look of so many buttons in a line---it makes the vest look as though it could have come from the 30s or 40s as easily as the 70s or beyond. I interfaced all the facings, pinked and stitched all the inner seams, graded the seams around the bust, stitched down the darts in the back shoulders so they would stay flat, and edge-stitched all the seams and edges of the vest. I think this gives the vest a crisp appearance, even though the wool was very springy to work with and difficult to press.
I’m wearing my new black wool vest with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, and my peter-pan collar blouse. My brooch is a vintage Taxco sterling silver rose from Mexico.
This is my second attempt at 1990s-era Simplicity 8620. The first version had shoulders that were far, far too wide for me, so I did a half inch narrow shoulder adjustment on this version. I feel as though it is a little too wide still, although the wrinkling the wide shoulders caused in the first version is not so obvious in the second, partly because of the soft drape of the rayon I used this time, I think. I got the rayon out of a remnant pile in the Los Angeles fabric district two years ago and it has sat on my shelf because I have been too frightened to use it. I’ve never sewn with rayon before, and have read on other sewing websites that it can be slippery and difficult to work with. But since my striped silk blouse (which was also sourced from the LA fabric district) turned out well, I felt like I should overcome my fears of using new fabrics and try it out. I suspected that Simplicity 8620 would do better with a soft and flowing fabric anyway, since it is so loose and unfitted and has no darts, and I think I was right. I’ll have to write a note on the pattern to only use soft fabrics with it in the future. Sewing with the rayon was challenging, but the soft folds of the fabric are forgiving, and if my edge-stitching is not perfect, it is probably not noticeable by anyone but me.
I used a lightweight interfacing to stabilize the facings and cuffs, and sewed my buttonholes by hand, as usual. I finished the inside seams very simply, mostly by pinking it and doing a line of stitching next to the pinking. The buttons are from a big bag I bought at the thrift store some years ago. They’re quite versatile in their plain simplicity, and I use them on a lot of my projects.
I’m wearing my new blouse with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, my home-made tiger-eye necklace, a thrifted pashmina shawl and a vintage silver ring that my mother-in-law gave me.
I’m sure I’ll be wearing this blouse a lot this summer, but I will probably give the earlier pink version away. Every time I wear it I am bothered by the extra wrinkles around the shoulders, and it diminishes my pleasure in wearing it. Do any of you have this problem too? I find that with store bought or thrifted garments I rarely focus on problems in fit or any other minor issues they may have (unless it is something I can fix, like a loose button, or a tear in the lining), but with my home-sewn garments I feel hyper-alert to any problems or mistakes and find myself worrying that they are obvious to other people when I wear my outfits out and about. Does anyone have any solutions to being overly or negatively self-conscious while wearing home-sewn clothes?
I don’t think it helps that the clothes I like to sew and wear are so out far out of the bounds of what is considered ‘normal’ and acceptable in the silicon valley (which is a very conformist place, much to the surprise of most people who live outside of it and think the vast numbers of Google employees that live around here must all be non-conformist. When in truth they all wear the same plaid or blue shirt to work every day and the same North Face windbreaker and expensive sneakers or leather loafers. It makes me miss LA, where all kinds of non-conformity were considered part of normal, and wearing something unusual was something to be enjoyed and appreciated). While I was wearing this outfit and Mr Rat and I were walking to the park with Gia to take some photos, some bicyclists rode by and made the comment, “a little early for Halloween, isn’t it?” Now even though I know what I like and won’t let other people dictate to me what I should wear, I do feel hurt when people stare or make insulting comments like that. Has anyone else had these experiences? How do you still step out with confidence in a community that is not friendly?
Does anyone have other anxieties about wearing their home-sewn clothes? I think Me-Made-May is a good time to ponder these interesting questions. I’d be really interested to hear about your experiences, or to read any suggestions you might have.
Sorry for the delay, everyone---I’ve been having some trouble getting internet access. Usually I go to the library to make my posts, but I’ve been blocked off from getting there in the mornings by road construction. The roadwork looks like it may go on for a while, so my posts may be a little erratic, but I’ll put them up whenever I can!
Monday May 15
I wore my black smock dress, reviewed here. Monday was a day of unusual luck----I was walking to the library when I saw this lovely 1946 Singer 15-91 in a big heap of trash and furniture someone was throwing out. My friend helped me get it back to the apartment, where I gave it a good cleaning and smiled all day in astonishment over my rare good fortune. It’s going to need to be refurbished before it runs again---there are a few small parts that need to be replaced, a missing power cord and foot pedal, and the wiring is poor condition---but Mr Rat is confident we can fix it all ourselves, with the help of the Singer 15-91 manual we printed off the internet and a sewing machine repair book I got for my birthday last year. We’re both excited to order the parts and start repairs. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to find such a lovely machine, much less for free! I’m sure we’ll be posting about the repair process, so stay tuned.
Tuesday May 16
I wore my brown cotton blouse, one of my black Simplicity 7880 skirts, and a brown jade and citrine necklace Mr Rat made me as a gift two Christmases ago.
Wednesday May 17
I wore one of my favorite white blouses, my long brown skirt, and a long rose quartz and silver bead necklace I made earlier this month. My Indian wool shawl is a thrifted find.
Thursday May 18
Thursday was a hard day, and although I started the day in a home-made dress, by afternoon it was hot and I was tired and weary so I changed into one of my favorite thrifted white shirts and a home-made skirt, and by evening it was cold, so I put on a vintage sweater. It wasn’t my best outfit for keeping with my pledge of only home-made this month, but some days are difficult like that.
Friday May 19
I wore my cream cotton and lace pullover dress. We had a picnic at the park---Gia’s attitude towards picnics is “why can’t I have that?” every time we pull something out of the basket. She got plenty of snacks and treats, so don’t believe her attitude of sadness in this photo.
Saturday May 20
We had a marathon afternoon of babysitting for a friend, and by the time we got home in the evening I just wanted to change out of the homemade blouse and skirt I was wearing into my most comfortable homemade dress.
Mr Rat wore one of his Hawaiian shirts. He wore more of his homemade clothes throughout the week, keeping up with his pledge, but we missed photographing them.
Sunday May 21
I wore my new rayon blouse (I’ll post a review in my next post), my long black skirt, and my homemade tiger-eye necklace.
I liked the brown cotton version I sewed from this 1980s era pattern so much that I cut out another blouse using some pale brown and white pin-striped stretch cotton-polyester blend shirting I found at the thrift store a while ago and had waiting in the sewing cupboard. It was simple to make, just like the first time around, the only differences being that I chose to do a plain high collar band without a collar, and that I accidentally arranged the button guide higher than I did the last time. This meant I had to add an extra button on the bottom, but I think I prefer it this way, because having the top button higher and closer to the button on the collar-band keeps the blouse from bubbling at the top or leaving a little gap, as shirts are often prone to do when there is a wider space between the top button and the collar. The striped shirting was not always well-behaved: since it had stretch fiber content it wanted to pucker a little at the seams, although I think it is not so noticeable after ironing. It also had a tendency to fray, so I finished all the inside seams with faux-French seams. As usual, I did my button-holes by hand, and the small white buttons were from my stash---they were clearance purchases at JoAnns from a few years ago.
I am wearing my new blouse with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, made of poly-cotton broadcloth, a thrifted vintage shawl, and a homemade necklace made of black agate.
I’m very pleased with the fit and comfort of this blouse. I’m sure I’ll sew it again. I’m finding more and more the usefulness of sewing “tried and true” patterns in different colors and fabrics, with different collars and trims and buttons, etc. It allows for variety while giving me the assurance the fit is already good and it is quick, too, since once you’ve done the instructions once, doing it again is not so hard. It also makes integration into my wardrobe easier, since I know the style and cut of the garment, it is easy to know how to mix and match it with the other silhouettes that I have.
Do you prefer sewing with tried and true patterns? Or do you enjoy the search for ever-new styles and techniques, trying a different pattern every time you sew?
Monday May 8
We walked to the library in the evening to make last week’s update on the website and stopped at the pond to watch the ducks floating by with their mates. I am wearing my pink blouse, reviewed here, and one of my ubiquitous Simplicity 7880 skirts, which hasn’t ever had a post of its own, I think, even though it has been in many posts. I am wearing rose quartz jewelry that Mr Rat made for me last Christmas.
Tuesday May 9
Mr Rat is wearing his grey broadcloth shirt, reviewed here.
Mrs Rat is wearing her bandana print dress, reviewed here. My jewelry is made of sodalite. Tuesday was a hard day for me.
Wednesday May 10
I am wearing my black v-neck dress, reviewed here, and a necklace and earrings made of indian adventurine and chyrsophase. I was very grateful to have a quiet day of work behind me and be sitting down to a peaceful dinner with my husband. When you have pretty dishes, good food made from scratch, and lots of healthy, green house-plants to surround you, eating at home is nicer than a restaurant.
Thursday May 11
Mr Rat is wearing his blue denim western shirt, reviewed here.
Mrs Rat is wearing her peter-pan collar shirt, her navy blue skirt, and her sky blue cape.
Gia insisted we go to the park with the redwoods that evening, because she wanted so much to frolic in the cool grass. You can see it in her face---she was extra mischievous.
Friday May 12
I am wearing my black dress and a vintage sweater and wool scarf. When we went out for grocery shopping, I put on my black wool jacket (it was so cold and windy), and carried my home-made grocery bags, which I have never posted about.
Saturday May 13
I am wearing my brown long skirt and my navy blue jacket, reviewed here. The scarf is vintage, and even though you can’t see it in any of these pictures, it has little white rabbits all along the back edge.
Sunday May 14
I am wearing my long black skirt, which hasn’t had its own post, but was featured heavily in this post, and a new striped blouse that I just finished sewing last week. I will write a review about it soon, but if you are curious about it already you can look at my review of my brown blouse here, which was made from the same pattern. There are a few small changes, but much of the construction was the same. My necklace is made of graduated black agate beads.
This week it continued to be challenging taking daily photos, but I also felt newly challenged figuring out what to wear while baby-sitting, doing long drawing sessions, baking, and walking a lot during windy, chilly, fluctuating weather. I’ve been thinking about some of my sewing projects I’ve made but not worn often and am trying to use my experience this month to figure out why: do they not suit the weather? Are there not many other things in my wardrobe to wear with them? Is there some aspect of them that makes them uncomfortable? Did I not make good design choices? Is the fit a little flawed?
I think I will likely give away a few items of clothing at the end of the month. But I hope I will also have a better idea of what patterns work the best, and what patterns I want to try out with the hope they will suit better than some of the ones I’ve tried and not liked to wear after all.
One of the most challenging things about sewing is that you can’t try on a garment until after you’ve made it, to see if you like the shape, or the lapels, or the length, etc. . . . How do you manage this difficult aspect of making your own clothes? I find that I’m starting to sew more versions of the patterns that I know work for me. But trying out a new pattern always brings that risk that I won’t like it on myself as much as I liked it in the pattern illustration. Do any of you readers ever have that experience?
Monday May 1
We had a dentist appointment first thing in the morning and the dentist complimented me on my style and asked me where I shopped for clothes. I make most of my clothes, I replied, and she asked me if I made my jewelry too, since it matched my outfit so well. Yes, I said, I do that too.
Mr Rat is wearing his chambray western shirt, reviewed here.
Mrs Rat’s necklace and earrings are made of yellow-ochre colored jade. I am wearing my muslin square-necked blouse, reviewed here, and my poplin skirt, reviewed here.
Tuesday May 2
We stopped by a local school during our evening walk to take a few quick photos, and found the classrooms all decorated with very mysterious looking signs and symbols.
Mr Rat is wearing his second Hawaiian shirt, reviewed here.
Mrs Rat is wearing her brown plaid dress, reviewed here. Although it is hard to see in this photo, the necklace is made of autumn jasper.
Wednesday May 3
On the hottest day of the week, I am wearing my kimono sleeve shawl collar blouse, reviewed here, and my navy skirt, reviewed here. My necklace and earrings are made of sodalite.
Thursday May 4
Mr Rat is wearing his Patterns Pacifica Hawaiian shirt, reviewed here, and his patched Levis jacket, which I posted about here.
Mrs Rat is wearing her Laura Ashley jumper, reviewed here, and one of her favorite white shirts, reviewed here.
Gia, as always, is wearing her one and only lovely fur coat.
Friday May 5
Mr Rat is wearing his green twill jacket, reviewed here.
Mrs Rat is wearing her brown smock dress, reviewed here. My necklace is made of a mixture of stones left over from other beading projects.
Saturday May 6
I am wearing my brown ankle-length skirt, reviewed here. My sweater and pin are vintage, which I think is okay with my pledge, since neither of those garments are things I know how to make myself.
I’m holding a letter I wrote to my friend on some recently thrifted vintage stationary charmingly decorated with strawberries and matching strawberry stickers.
Sunday May 7
I am wearing my muslin blouse again, reviewed here. I haven’t blogged about this muslin skirt yet, which is made from my trusted 1970s era Simplicity 7880.
The surprise for me about the first week of Me-Made-May is that I didn’t feel as challenged by wearing my homemade clothes and jewelry as I did taking photos of what I was wearing every day, and often what Mr Rat was wearing, too. The lighting is always difficult in our apartment, the weather ricocheted from a heat wave to a cold weekend, Mr Rat doesn’t get home until sunset most days, which made getting non-blurry photos difficult----all the usual problems for anyone trying to document a daily project.
I also had some bad days this week, and couldn’t always manage a smile. Since I am trying to document the whole month, I thought it would be more honest to include those photos than to skip over them and leave them out. I try to keep things pleasant here, and as positive as I can, but I’m sure we’ve all felt the difficulty of those days when getting up and dressed at all is a challenge. I am feeling a lot of uncertainty and anxiety right now, which is one reason why I look to getting dressed as one of the few times when I get to make a choice that is all my own, even if it is just what color blouse or what piece of jewelry I get to wear that day.
After photographing one or sometimes two garments each weekend for a while now, I think Mr Rat and I are almost all caught up on older projects. There are only two more in our queue, and then we will be posting our current makes, and the rate of posts on this blog may slow down a little (after Me-Made-May, I suppose---there will probably be a lot of posts about that over the month). This particular dress is probably the oldest homemade garment in my closet. I made it around four years ago for the opening of my second solo gallery show in Los Angeles. I had made a previous version of this pattern in white with yellow flowers (which I no longer have), so I knew I needed to move the bust darts towards the middle, because they were spaced strangely far apart. Although I did make the adjustment, I think it could be adjusted a little bit further the next time I use this pattern. I made this version in black broadcloth, which has only gotten softer and more gently draping with wear and washing.
And I will likely sew it again at some point, because it is an extremely comfortable dress, with just the right amount of ease for movement, and a high waist that slopes down into a U-shape in the back of the dress---an unusual detail, but one that is strangely flattering, I think, since it makes me look tall and slim. The construction is not difficult, and the only thing that makes Patterns Pacifica different than any other vintage pattern from the 1960s-1970s (other than the fact that they were designed and printed in Hawaii) is how the pattern is printed on a heavier paper that feels a lot like construction paper, rather than typical pattern tissue. I cut a size 8, as I do for the big 4 pattern brands, and it fits just as well as they do from that same era.
Mr Rat and I ordered straw hats for summer, since we walk so much, and we were both surprised when they showed up on the same day. We couldn’t resist wearing them out on our Sunday walk to the monastery to see the flowers with Gia. We were glad of the shade, and I was glad of my very light, sheer thrift-store bought Indian shawl to cover my arms from the sun. Last week we went to some garage sales, and I bought a vitnage silver heart necklace that was black with tarnish, that I polished and wore for these pictures. The monastery gardens are lovely every time we go. On this visit the miniature roses were a riot of color, although the clover that was so lush two weeks ago is now wilted by the rising temperatures. How strange and changeable the weather is here! I wonder what surprises we will face during May as we work on our Me-Made-May challenge.
This dress dates from about two years ago---my mom gave me a big bundle of old lace she had in her sewing cupboard, and when I got this pattern, I thought it would be a good match to make a lace-trimmed summer dress. McCall’s 4281 is one of those ingenious 1970s-era pullover dress designs that uses ties that extend from a midriff band to give it its shape. I cut a size 8, and it is loose and comfortable without being large. It also has interesting puffed, flared sleeves, which I like. It is nice to sometimes sew a dress without darts, zippers, or buttons. It makes the sewing process very relaxed. I sewed the lace on by hand, and I think it gives the dress its personality and character. It is a dress I often get compliments on when I am out and about.
I think I’ll likely sew this pattern again—maybe in the longer length with the long sleeves for winter. I can imagine it would be very warm and comfortable in flannel. But since it is just starting to feel quite warm and summery here, that project may be a ways off.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.