I've made 1970s-era Simplicity 8611 before in black broadcloth, and it is a much loved member of my closet. Jumper dresses are so versatile, since any change of blouse makes them feel like a new dress altogether. In these photos, I am wearing my new golden version of Simplicity 8611 with my homemade peter pan collar blouse and one of my first ever homemade bags. I didn't use a pattern for my duck-goose bag---I found the panel of printed fabric at Goodwill and sewed two of the pieces together, using big scraps of muslin from my scrap box to interline it for some structures and some large pieces of linen leftover from my husband's shirt to line it. The wooden handles are from JoAnn fabric stores, bought with a coupon. So the grand total of the cost for my new tote bag was about $6. Tote bags are so useful for library trips, walking to the grocery store, or just carrying a sketchbook and a book of poetry to the park. On Sundays (like the one when these photos were taken) I use my handmade bag to carry my scriptures and a shawl to church.
The cotton for the dress is also a Goodwill find. In its previous life it was a king-size sheet, but I like it better as my new dress. I've worn it quite a few times since I finished it three weeks ago. As Mr Rat remarked, it matches the leaves exactly, and it pleases me to wear something special to enjoy the spectacular color of our neighborhood. Mr Rat and I watched an episode of 'Autumn Watch' on PBS recently and learned that people like us who go out to enjoy the fall foliage are called "leaf peepers." Autumn Watch is an unexpectedly funny show: in the first episode they aired hilarious (and sometimes tragic) footage of squirrels fighting over cached nuts, and bears eating tree-loads of apples.
Since I've sewn this dress before, its construction was quick and easy and had no surprises. I pinked most of the seams, lined the bodice with the same fabric that I used to make the rest of the dress, hand-picked the zipper, and used the big scraps left over to make door-cozies (my sister says that's what those tubes of stuffed fabric are called in England) for all of our downstairs doorways. The townhouse we're renting has two big sliding glass doors downstairs plus a front door and a garage door. This means that during the winter it is frigid and drafty downstairs. So now thanks to the leftovers from my new dress, our apartment is remarkably warmer. And that's a very nice thing, since it makes looking forward to winter not so hard.
(an older photo, but a personal favorite of me sewing in our last apartment in my homemade brown blouse and brown skirt)
I'm a little slow catching on to internet sewing events since I've left Instagram, but one that has caught my attention (albeit a little late) is Slow Fashion October, hosted by Karen Templer of the Fringe Association Blog. As I recently switched the clothes in my wardrobe from summer to autumn and winter wear, I pulled a few things out to give away that I haven't enjoyed wearing as much as I enjoyed sewing them. It was a disappointment to me that I wanted to give away some of the things I've made over the past year, and it made me feel that though experimentation is and can be helpful (how else do we know what we like, if we never try anything new or different?), I would like to have more focus in my sewing projects and I would very much like to make things that I want to keep and wear until they are fully worn out. This year's Slow Fashion October seems to be all about that theme: sorting through one's wardrobe and giving it a lot of thought through discussion prompts, interviews and readings, and then using what you've learned about yourself to make more mindful decisions about acquisition, making new items, and the difficulties of giving away or re purposing what isn't being worn in an ethical manner. It is so hard to live as harmlessly as possible! But a recurring theme on the Slow Fashion October discussions is that small steps help, and we can each do what we can to make a small step or two every year.
To help myself regain some focus in my sewing projects, I think I will fill out the prompts from the Slow Fashion feed, and then I will probably do Colette Media's Wardrobe Architect again. Wardrobe Architect is a series of blog posts that help you write about the many things that influence your sewing choices (from body shape to climate, color preferences, silhouettes, personal style philosophy, etc.) and end up with a page or two of information that will help you plan your projects with more confidence that they will be items that are heavily worn, rather than rarely taken out of the closet. If you've never tried it out before, I'd recommend it---and it's free.
My sewing goals don't really fit in with the current sewing challenge from Closet Case Patterns and True Bias to "Sew Frosting," but that's okay with me. I'm still planning out some challenging and exciting projects alongside the more pedestrian ones (such as some simple wool skirts and a new cotton nightgown), like making myself a winter coat with fabric I got for my birthday---I think it is more practical "cake," or even bread, really, than "frosting," but it will be a special project for me nonetheless, and I'm looking forward to spending time hand sewing and underlining and doing all the other lengthy details that go into constructing even a simple coat.
For some sewing inspiration, here are some new-to-me links that I've recently discovered:
- I'm going to try listening to the Love to Sew Podcast this week while I sew. I haven't listened to their podcast before, but they have some interesting topics like 'sewing struggles,' 'planning projects,' interviews with notable sewing business owners and bloggers, and even an episode on 'the financials of sewing,' (something that doesn't get discussed often, but I'm very curious about, since one of the reasons I started sewing seriously again was to save money----a reason I don't find often openly shared in the sewing blogosphere).
- I may not sew very many 1940s patterns, but I enjoy seeing the beautiful projects made by people who do. Two 1940s sewing bogs that I've been enjoying are: the Ugly Dame and Ms 1940 McCall.
-I've really been enjoying the autumnal hues of Goody McGoodface's vintage outfits on Eat the Blog. Her amazing purse collection has inspired me over the past two months to try my hand at sewing some of my own bags to match my outfits, which I hope to share here soon. Her jewelry collection is also enviable (and an inspiration to those who make some of their own jewelry, like me), and altogether her boldness in getting dressed is always inspiring.
-I've also enjoyed following Folkwear's blog. Their patterns are rather new to me, and I find them intriguing. I like Folkwear's emphasis on ethnic, historical and vintage fashion. Molly Hamilton always has interesting advice on fabric choices on her blog, and also photos of finished "art wear" that are really impressively made.
I started this shirt back in April hoping I would have it finished in time for Summer. That was too optimistic I suppose. This is also the third time I have sewn this pattern (you can see the other versions here and here). I like this pattern because it makes a shirt with a slim shape compared to most “Hawaiian shirts” one would buy from a store. We found the fabric in our favorite thrift shop that happened to be “Hilo Hattie” brand adding some authentic Hawaiian prestige. For this shirt, I decided to give all the seam allowances the standard 5/8” as opposed to the pattern’s recommended 0.7 cm (in most cases but varying depending on the seam). This allowed me to do my best job yet at finishing the inside seams since I had more allowance to work with. It also gave me some added room in the shoulders, which I think was fortuitous. I am very pleased with this shirt and am now starting on Sunday and Sons’ “Work Regular” with a nice warm flannel which I will probably complete just in time for spring!
This year Mr Rat and I celebrated my birthday by taking a trip to the Red Butte Gardens to see the colors of the changing seasons: red against green, green just turning golden, flowers still blooming while berries were clustered bright red on bushes and tees, and the birds, bugs and fishes all busy among the leaves. I wore my new prairie dress, made from 1970s-era McCalls 4038, and inspired by the dresses featured in my last post. McCalls 4038 is properly a wedding dress/bridesmaid dress pattern, but that didn't stop me from using it to make an every-day dress for myself. The black broadcloth portion of the dress is from my trip to the LA fabric district with my Mom back in April, and the black and reddish-brown floral cotton is from JoAnns fabric, a gift from Mr Rat earlier in the month so I could make myself a new birthday dress to wear, as I do some years. The alternating panels makes the style of this dress so interesting to me, with its resulting patchwork look. It's a unique take on prairie fashion, and historically inspired dress.
I sewed it with my regular methods---interfacing the back zipper so it won't ripple, sewing hooks and eyes to the collar by hand, and sewing some bias binding into the waistline as a stay and to cover the raw edges of the gathered skirt. The pattern has some interesting details, like elbow darts to make the fit of the puffed sleeves more comfortable, an underlined midriff (which doesn't keep mine from wrinkling a bit in photos---maybe I should shorten the midriff slightly the next time I sew this pattern? Or add a little bit more allowance at the side seams? Or both?), and the bottom band of the skirt is fully faced, which gives it a nice drape and swing. I pinked any of the seams that weren't faced, so the inside is neat and tidy and ready to endure the washing machine. Cutting out all those different panels in two different colors of fabric took quite a bit more attention than the cutting process usually demands. I'm glad that I took the time, though, because I like the result.
I decided that I wanted some embellishment on this dress, so I added some dollar-a-yard black lace from a past trip to the LA fabric district by hand, and then sewed on (also by hand) two rows of narrow black ribbon from JoAnns around the neckband and the wrists of the sleeves. I usually watch Poirot and Marple mysteries from the library while I do hand-sewing. Do any of you have a favorite thing to do while you sew? Or do you need to concentrate the whole time? I often sew and iron with just the sound of Gia snoring, or occasionally with a record or a CD on, but when I'm hand-sewing I find that I have enough attention to spare to put a movie or TV show on instead. It's one of the most relaxing parts of the sewing process.
I'm wearing the dress in these photos with an old pair of heeled boots (I have to wear a chunky heel with this dress or else the hem drags on the ground, which does limit my shoe options---but on the positive side, it makes me look taller), homemade red jasper earrings, a thrifted vintage crocheted shawl, and a thrifted crochet purse. Later on that day we went to the antique store on the way home and I found a very pretty necklace made of glass beads in the shapes of flowers and fruits. It looks really nice with this dress, and I intend to wear them together in the future.
Have you ever sewn yourself a birthday outfit? What do you like to do to celebrate the change from one year to the next? My birthdays can feel very melancholy ever since my grandmother died during the night of my birthday five years ago. When my brother called me the next morning, I thought he was going to wish me a belated happy birthday, but instead he told me the news of my grandmother's sudden passing. Every year I remember her, and remember time passing. But it makes those remembrances sweeter when they happen in a beautiful place with the person that I love most. Then---and when we have dinner with my family, or get Gia up on the bed so we can sleep in a pile after a busy and tiring day, or even if I am sad enough to weep but Mr Rat holds me while I do----then I feel comforted that even though time is passing, and sometimes it brings heartache and hardship, that it also brings moments that are filled with love and affection----and great beauty.
Postscript: have any of you ever dreamed about riding or sleeping on the back of a giant lizard? Mr Rat and I discovered these huge lizard statues in the children's garden and since no one was around, and it was almost my birthday, and I was wearing a special birthday dress. . . well, I just had to take a turn on the back of one of the lizards so I could indulge my fantasies for a moment. It would be so magical to be tiny for a while and see the world magnify in scope to the scale it is for a lizard---but I suppose that is already our view of things as such tiny beings on such a magnificent big planet. But I would like a garden to be my whole world, at least for a while.
Another Bastheva prairie dress----this one is from Oroboro
Laura Ashley dress photographed by her daughter Jane Ashley - for more more of her photos, visit the Laura Ashley Archive
1970s Laura Ashley prairie dress (sorry, I can't find the original link)
Velvet prairie dresses by the Vampire's Wife, also known as Susie Cave (photo found on the Red Carpet Fashion Awards website)
front and back of a vintage Gunne Sax prairie dress from the FIDM blog
Lately I've been reading some of the many many articles popping up across the internet about the revival of prairie fashion: like this one from the NYT ("Pioneer Women Are Roaming the City"), or this profile of Batsheva Hay by the New Yorker, or this piece by the Washington Post. The Washington Post article, though short, is also the most positive and thoughtful. Robin Givhan recognizes why prairie styles are so surprising to so many onlookers, and also so intriguing to the women who wear them: ". . .there's no hiding in these clothes. They are provocative but only because they are so darned civil and precious and sweet. They don't swagger. They don't brag. Their power is in everything that they refuse to be."
The New York Times piece is more biting, making references to the Donner Party, the TV show Big Love, and "Amish dowdiness," but it is also perceptive, making connections between the resurgence of prairie style with current political and economic anxiety, and also the the fluctuating relationship most women have with modesty during a moment when sexual injustices against women are being exposed in the news. Still, my overall impression of Chloe Malle's article was one of ambivalence: a mixture of mean jokes with genuine interest and curiosity.
The article on Batsheva Hay in the New Yorker is interesting, too, not least because it profiles a woman living in an Orthodox Jewish household who is now one of New York's most popular new fashion designers. Her interest in prairie styles is also not without conflict---a mixture of affection for the modest and feminine looks and rebellion towards the way they have been presented and perceived as restrictive and repressed.
It's this recurrent theme of ambivalence towards historical women's clothing as being symbols of repression and oppression, and the association with "cults," that makes me a bit puzzled. When and where have women ever held equal social status with men? We are still striving for that elusive equality today. What is left for women to wear if we don't wear clothing that references the past?
And what clothing of the past can be more associated with feminine strength than prairie dresses, which are named after the garb of the pioneers? Pioneer women of the mid-1800s were the Victorian counter-cultural rebels: they walked from one side of the country to the other to follow dreams, opportunities, the chance to have more choices than many of their female peers and to be respected as essential members of their households and struggling communities. Pioneer women were adventurers; they showed courage by facing hardship, disease, and hunger on the trail and in their new homes on the very edge of the known world.
I can't really see how their clothes can be used as particular symbols of female oppression, given that the women who wore them were straining against the bounds of what the "gentler sex" were thought to able to accomplish at that point in history.
When I was in college I wore a long calico dress with puffed sleeves to school and got teased by one of my classmates that I looked like a fundamentalist polygamist cult member. Historically, this is an exaggeration, too. Some of my ancestresses were polygamists on the Mormon trail, but some of my husband's ancestresses were pioneers on both the Mormon and Oregon trails, and they were adamantly monogamous. Whether or not I agree with the choices my predecessors made in regards to marriage, I'm proud of their strength and courage to leave what they knew behind and make new lives out of scratch in the desert and the mountains.
I like the historical associations of prairie dresses. I also like the way they look: they have a wide, feminine, and varied vocabulary of print, pattern, ruffle, and puffs. Prairie dresses aren't boring---they are individual, and interesting, and brave, and sometimes bold---much like the women who wore them in the 1800s and again in the 1970s-1980s, and now.
What do you think about prairie styles? Did you wear them, and do you wear them still? Are you interested in trying them for the first time? Do you find their historical associations troubling, or interesting?
Photo of the Crisman sisters taken in 1886. They were homesteaders in Nebraska. Photo from the Denver Post website.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.