My mom says I wear too much black. My artwork is quite colorful, but my clothing is more subdued: a lot of black and white, some grey, and navy, and the rest are shades of earth-tone browns, tans, and occasional burnt sienna, olive green, yellow ochre, pale blue, and rose. I used to wear brighter and more varied colors, but I found over the years that my favorite clothes were my most simple and subtle in coloring. Once I started making my own clothes, I could choose the colors I liked to wear best, instead of relying on the random choice of the thrift store. Choice is one of the chief delights of sewing.
There is something about black in particular, though, that makes it intriguing. It is simple, versatile, high-contrast, mysterious, and elegant.
When you wear black, you make your body into its own shadow. It is like making your clothing into a cutout silhouette. You can reshape your body through the exaggeration of line and volume.
Black is visible, black is invisible. Black is both strange and familiar. Black is serious and solid---it covers, it envelops. Black is comforting in the way that shadows and night comfort, because they wrap around us snugly.
I liked the fit of my tan striped version of McCall 6209 so much that I decided to make one in plain black broadcloth as a simple everyday work dress. This time I used the sleeves from view E, but didn’t roll them up as the illustration shows them. When it is warm, or I am baking bread, I do roll them above the elbow then. I also widened the skirt a little, since I like my skirts full. The skirt has a piece of bias binding sewn in at the waist as a stay to keep the waistline from stretching out with wear.
Broadcloth has its advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side: it is easy to wash, rarely needs to be ironed, is surprisingly durable considering how thin it is (I’ve been wearing some of my homemade broadcloth dresses for over three years now), it is lightweight, it is also very inexpensive (I usually buy it for $2 a yard on sale at JoAnn fabric stores), it comes in lots of solid colors, and it has a drape that starts rather crisp, and softens with washing. It also works well for simple seam-finishing, like using pinking shears. Some of the disadvantages include: broadcloth often has a high polyester content, which can make it less breathable, it puckers a lot at the seams, and it can dull your sewing shears faster than one-hundred percent cotton.
I’ve found a few useful tips for working with broadcloth, mostly from reading Claire Schaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide. The section on wash-and-wear fabrics has a lot of techniques that apply to sewing with cotton-polyester broadcloth as well. First, it helps to get your scissors sharpened regularly, and to put a fresh needle for lightweight fabrics in your machine. Make sure you have pre-washed your broadcloth, since it sometimes has a ‘finish’ on it that will make it harder to cut and sew. Then, it may help to lower your tension to reduce puckering. The puckering is worst on straight seams along the length-wise grain, so try to avoid them if possible when choosing your pattern. If there are a few such seams, it might help to pull the fabric taut as you guide it under the foot of your machine. Thorough pressing and edge-stitching will also help give projects a neat finish.
This is another version of my favorite skirt pattern, vintage Simplicity 7880, from the 1970s, sewn in a size 8, as usual. This one is made of navy blue broadcloth. I am wearing a petticoat underneath, which gives it more shape. When we were taking photos, Gia joined me at the doorway of our apartment, both of us looking out, daydreaming.
As the days get shorter, so too do Mr. Rat’s and my chances to photograph the things we’ve been sewing. So we are trying to fit in a little bit of photography on the weekends when we go walking. It is a pleasure to be outside in the sunshine and feel the warmth on our faces just like the squirrels who so quickly hump their way through the long green-yellow grass to hide their acorns for the oncoming winter. Yesterday we walked to the local monastery gardens, one of our favorite places, and we were enchanted by the late-season scattering of roses, the cicadas chirping and rasping in the bushes, the ever-present squirrels scrambling overhead busy at their work, and the other flowers that opened up for a brief afternoon of warmer weather. We took along Marianne Moore’s book of ‘the Fables of La Fontaine,’ and read a few of them together on a shade-dappled bench. We both liked the poem about the sun and the frogs. It was a good time to rest from worry.
I wore my birthday dress, made from vintage Simplicity 5180, circa 1972. Most years I make myself a birthday dress to wear on my birthday or the weekend when we celebrate it. It makes the day feel a little more special. Do any of you readers make your own clothes for special occasions? I often make something to wear for Thanksgiving, too, but don’t always manage anything new for Christmas.
I made Simplicity 5180 in a size 8, as usual, and was impressed by the fit. There is enough ease for comfort without losing the slim and fitted look. This dress had quite a few darts: for the bust, the shoulders, the lower back, and the elbows, but was well worth the effort. I find darts to be a part of the sewing process that has gotten far less fearsome the more I sew them. Using a tailor’s ham underneath when pressing the darts helps a great deal, as does flattening out the tip of the dart by sewing a few stitches right on the edge of the fabric before tying off the point.
I took my time with the plaid matching and was pleased with the result. The fabric, a dollar-a-yard brown plaid cotton from the fabric district in Los Angeles, was very pleasant and easy to work with. It was crisp and easy to sew and didn’t pucker like the lighter broadcloths do. The midriff is fully interfaced. The only change I made was to widen the skirt, although I kept the same silhouette and style of gathers as the pattern. The pattern also includes removable cuffs and collar, which I have cut out in white linen, waiting on the sewing desk. Once I’ve finished sewing those, hopefully Mr. Rat will photograph the dress with collar and cuffs again. Although I like wearing it plain, as I did here, with the tiger-eye necklace and bracelet that I made myself with the beading supplies Mr. Rat gave me last year as a Christmas present.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.