The weather is cold and grey and we don't have much snow---but we do have ice. And so this has become a typical outfit for me: layers of stockings, and socks, and boots, and petticoats, and one of my homemade skirts (like this brown Simplicity 7880 one), and a sweater, and a wool beret, and a wool scarf, and leather gloves, and of course a very heavy coat. It makes 20 degree days and ice on the creek more bearable for my still Californian blood. This coat is from California, thrifted in San Diego while we were visiting our in-laws last year. I wondered if I should buy it because it was so big and heavy and takes up so much closet space, but I'm very grateful for its warmth now, and consider my $12 well spent. I think the best place to find wonderful coats is where it doesn't get very cold---all of my best heavy coats are from California, and even though I search for them at the thrift stores here, I rarely find any, because the good ones are all worn out. Well, I guess I will have to gear myself up and sew myself a new coat soon. . .
This is the first Christmas season that Mr Rat and I have had a full size tree to decorate. Our tree is still pretty modest, bought for a mere $20 from Savers, and not any taller than I am----but we are so pleased to have a chance to hang the ornaments we've been given and bought at thrift stores the last few years. Of course, there weren't very many ornaments, since we've never had a big tree to hang them on, and so our new tree looked very sparse. After considering all those empty branches, I took an idea from the miniature tree we've been using the last five years and pulled out my Japanese origami paper and made peace cranes, which I then threaded with sewing thread loops. I also had some fabric that a friend gave me years ago with a lovely pattern of Renaissance rabbits playing instruments at a feast. So I cut them out and cut matching backs from a scrap of pink and cream ticking striped cotton, and sewed them together and stuffed them and added white ribbon hanging loops. Between all the handmade ornaments and the candy canes we bought at the grocery store, suddenly our tree didn't look so bare anymore.
Have any of you been working on Christmas sewing? I've made a few presents by hand, including some jewelry, and also stuffed toys for Gia using the leftover fluff from stuffing the fabric ornaments, but I feel like the hand-made part of my holidays was mostly ornament making this year. Although there is still holiday baking to be done, so I suppose our hand-made Christmas is not done yet. . .
And here is the miniature tree we've used the past five Christmases, with its handmade crane ornaments that I folded out of wrapping paper. The rest of the tiny ornaments are from Michaels craft stores and bought at thrift store Christmas sales.
I hope you all are having a good start to your holiday season! My own got off to a rough start with a bad case of laryngitis last week, but hopefully the rest of the month will feel better. I wish you all a festive, peaceful, and restful December.
Mr Rat and I went to Southern California to visit our parents for Thanksgiving, and oh it was sunny and warm! Thanksgiving day hovered around 90 degrees in my parents' backyard, where Mr Rat and I took these photos of my newest attempt at 1990s-era Simplicity 8620. Although I like the pattern, I haven't had much luck with my last two versions: the first (reviewed here) was too wide in the shoulders and the fabric wrinkled badly and didn't drape well enough to really suit the looseness of this blouse pattern. The second (reviewed here) had wonderful drape, but the first time I tried to wash it I made the mistake of putting it in the washing machine on the delicate cycle and it came out weirdly warped and unwearable. I should have tried washing it by hand.
This version is made from a mystery floral fabric that I found at the thrift store a while ago. It has a gentle drape, and I suspect it is actually a lightweight wool, given the hand of the fabric and the way it behaves under an iron. It frayed badly, so I was careful to finish all my seams, mostly with a faux flat-fell finish, and to bind the armholes with some grey rayon seam binding that was also from the thrift store. I decided to use self-covered buttons, which I made with a kit from JoAnns. The fit is the same as my last black rayon version, with a narrow-shoulder adjustment, although this time I decided to add the large collar, which ended up being rather dramatic, but looks nice with the bishop sleeves, I think. I edge-stitched all the seams, sewed the button-holes by hand, and sewed two snaps to the top of the button-placket area, to help keep the blouse closed and neat where the collar meets.
Although the style, color, and pattern are somewhat of a departure from my usual earth-toned solids, I'm pleased with how this blouse turned out, and foresee it being a versatile blouse for all kinds of weather---the lightweight wool making it warm in cooler weather and wicking away moisture to keep it cool and comfortable in warmer weather. On Thanksgiving day I wore it with a homemade necklace made of autumn jasper and my brown Simplicity 7880 skirt (reviewed here).
Now that we are back in Utah, we are also back to grey landscapes, grey clouds, and heavy coats. How do you adjust to the weather when you are sewing? Do you readers always sew seasonally? I thought this blouse might be unseasonable, but I think it turned out to be just right for November in California, and I am hopeful it will make many reappearances here in Utah in the spring.
Simplicity 8458 is one of the handful of 1950s-era vintage reproduction patterns that Simplicity released this year to honor their 90th anniversary. I bought a copy during one of JoAnn's 99 cent pattern sales recently and decided it was worth a try. I've never had much luck with a-line skirts before because my hip and waist measurements are varied enough to be one, if not two pattern sizes apart, and so when I've tried sewing a size 8 (which is the best fit for my waist) sometimes the skirt won't fit over my hips, but when I've tried larger sized patterns, the waistline is huge, and when I've tried to grade the patterns to different sizes at the waist and hips, the skirt hasn't fallen into the proper folds. So this time I pulled out some denim I bought at the thrift store a few years ago that had some damage on it: a few small holes and a little bit of staining that wouldn't come out in the wash. I decided to try a size 10, and cut around the damage on the denim, and was surprised at how well it fits! The waistband is slightly looser than most of my skirts, but isn't extremely large (and is also easy to slip sweaters into). I think it also helps that the skirt is very flared, which makes it easier to pull on over hips of any size. The total flare of the skirt is probably close to a half-circle skirt, maybe a bit more. The skirt is designed with four gores, cut on the bias----it is important to follow the pattern layout for this skirt, because it has you cut out each piece in a single layer, and getting them at the right angles is very important for the skirt to hang well.
Even though I'm not wearing it with a petticoat in these pictures, it does accommodate a petticoat well, and flares nicely when I do wear one. I like that now I have an alternative skirt pattern to my normal gathered dirndl skirts, and that it doesn't add any bulk around the hips when I'm wearing it with a peplum blouse or jacket, like here, where I paired my new skirt with my denim peplum top I finished last month.
I top stitched all the seams and used a thick gold metal denim skirt zipper, for durability. Sewing this skirt is a simple process, but it is important to follow the instructions, even though there are few of them. The skirt has to be basted and hung out overnight so the bias can stretch out before you sew the panels together. It is also helpful to remember to sew from the bottom to the top on all the seams (the pattern reminds you to do so) so the stitches stretch in the proper direction. The instructions for attaching the waistband were different than my other skirt patterns----it has you finish the waistband with edge-stitching from the outside, rather than folding and finishing it on the inside, and the pattern doesn't recommend trimming the seam before sewing the waistband closed, which I found made the waistband stiff without having to add waistband interfacing. Since the bottom hem is heavily curved, I finished it using navy bias tape I thrifted a long time ago and had in my stash. I used a method like the one Bianca from the Closet Historian describes here.
I'm wearing my denim outfit with a thrifted shawl, a big tiger-eye brooch (also thrifted), thrifted leather gloves, and boots that I originally thrifted several years ago and had re-heeled earlier this year. Given my denim, buttons and bias tape were all thrifted too, I feel like I can truly claim that you can find most things you need second-hand shopping. Sewing doesn't have to be expensive. Neither does getting dressed in an interesting way.
I'm very pleased with how this skirt turned out and I've been wearing it a lot since I finished it. I think it is a practical, year round skirt, and could as easily be worn hiking or cleaning as taking a walk in the park.
Mr Rat was kind enough to take these photos while we were out walking with Gia in our local park. The weather is very grey most days, so it is very challenging to get good photos. The landscape has turned very stark: all shades of brown and grey. But there are beautiful bright berries on the bushes, and the evergreens are still dark green.
photo from 'Laura Ashley: the Romantic Heroine' - a show at the Fashion Museum in Bath, England
Mr Rat pointed out a recent New York Times article on modesty and fashion and asked me what I thought about it. After I read it through, I was shocked by how derogatory it was towards modesty, and how many assumptions it made about women who choose to wear modest clothes. Where does this anger come from, I wondered? Is it jealousy of other women confident enough to dress how they like instead of dressing to impress and manipulate others through their sexuality? Is it fear of being considered “unfashionable” and dressed inappropriately if more covered up styles become widely popular again? Is it fear of losing the freedom to wear as little clothing as one wants?
One of the stranger assumptions in the article, I thought, was that modest clothes are flattering only to the young, rich, and thin, because no one else could afford to look so “drab” and “dowdy.” My own observations have been that modest clothes (that do not overly cling and which cover the vast majority of skin) are flattering to a much wider range of ages and sizes than immodest clothes, which demand a perfect body because so much of the body is put on display for other people’s judgment.
I also found it odd that modesty should be aligned so simplistically with “patriarchal oppression,” ignoring the many personal reasons women can and do choose to dress modestly: comfort, style, warmth, practicality (no sunburns in the summer, for instance! No chances of accidentally showing other people your underwear!), or an affection for styles of the past. I can’t see that wearing skimpy clothing is terribly freeing from patriarchal oppression if it then exposes you to unsafe situations with men who “misread the cues” you are sending from your “liberated” clothing choices. Why does “liberation” involve becoming complicit in one’s own objectification? Liberation, freedom----to me, these mean having a range of choices, being able to make one’s own choice from among them, and then having that choice respected by others. I think what bothered me most about this article was its lack of respect for women who make the choice to cover their bodies, and for the range of reasons why they do so, including religious reasons. The writer assumes that women who adhere to their religion’s standards of modesty do so out of oppression by men who want to control and limit their sexuality. She ignores the fact that modesty is also a symbol of self-respect, of control of one’s own sexuality and how it is displayed and to whom and in what circumstances. She also misses that religious modesty is often connected to spiritual values of independence, responsibility, and individual worth. And lastly, she also misses the mystery created by concealment; for as Walter Benjamin wrote, "form and content, veil and veiled are the same."
Mr Rat made the comment that such an article about men’s fashion would be quite ridiculous, mostly because men’s fashion is by nature primarily quite modest and practical, not needing to exhibit the body in order to be confident of one’s control over it or one’s ability to be taken seriously or make an impact on the world. To me what is being debated when people talk about modesty is not women’s fashion, but women’s bodies and who gets to control them and why.
What are your thoughts about modesty? Have any of you read this article? What do you think about the debate between modesty and immodesty? Is there any middle ground?
The trees are bare and wet and the creek is full of fading leaves----our landscape is much starker now than when we first moved in three weeks ago. But there are still ducks that meander up and down the creek and visit our backyard, and there are still a few last yellow trees that dot our walks and glow against the low grey skies.
It is much colder here in Utah than California, and will only keep getting colder over the next few months, so I have been thinking seriously about planning and sewing warmer clothes. This is one of my first attempts at that since we’ve moved. I’ve made McCalls 6209 twice before (here and here) and so I knew already that it has a good fit and is very comfortable as an everyday dress, and I thought the bishop sleeves would be a nice touch to give a basic black dress an interesting element of shape, as well as being very warm for my arms. I made it out of an enormous piece of black cotton flannel that I bought very cheaply at the thrift store----and even after finishing this dress, there is still four yards left, plenty to make another winter dress. The only bad thing about the flannel is that it tends to get wrinkles and linty, but it is so soft and warm that I don't mind it so much. My other idea for using McCalls 6209 is that since it has a relatively fitted top with a skirt gathered to my natural waist that I can wear a wool skirt over it in winter and be extra warm from the layers. Having long, full, flannel sleeves works very well for my wool capes, too, since they keep my arms warmer than my thinner cotton dresses.
Since I have sewn this and shared this pattern several times before, I don’t think there is much to add about it here: I finished the inside seams with pinking shears, interfaced the edges of the back zipper so it wouldn’t ripple, and finished the waistline with a piece of black bias binding on the inside. This acts both as a stay, since it is sewn into the waistline seam, and it also covers the raw edges of the gathered skirt, since after I sew it to the waistline I fold it up and sew the top across the bottom edge of the bodice.
Even though I am thinking a lot about what I need to sew and buy for my new cold weather wardrobe, I am also planning on going home to California for Thanksgiving in a few weeks, and I know it will likely be warm there. My next project may therefore seem a bit unseasonable, since I cut out a lightweight blouse last week that I plan to sew before we go on our trip. And the last project I finished was also made for our trip, too, although I think it will be suitable to wear here in the winter---but more about that when I finally photograph it and post it.
Are any of you sewing anything special for the holidays?
I've been debating with myself whether I should post this or not, since it feels a bit like bragging to share the big pile of patterns I thrifted last weekend, but then I thought that since you are all sewers (and probably have an interest in vintage fashion if you are visiting this blog) that you might be interested in seeing them because some of these patterns I found are rare and unusual; certainly there are a few that I bought that I've never seen on the internet before. Since it will probably be a while before I can sew many or all of them (I found 20, almost all in my size, and very few are missing any pattern pieces----what rare luck!), here are some photos of my 50-cent purchases that delighted me so.
If any of you want closer photos to see the details of any of the patterns (or have suggestions for which I should sew next) leave me a comment!
We now live close to a beautiful city cemetery and often go walking there with Gia. Since we've moved, we've been struggling with finding sewing time (Mr Rat) and photographing new projects (me) because it gets dark so early and our schedule is still uncertain and unsettled. I asked Mr Rat if he would take some photos of my jacket that I finished earlier in the summer and haven't reviewed yet while we took our regular walk through the cemetery in the evening. The lighting was lovely but a little difficult, so I apologize if the photos are of uneven quality. I don't think the dead found it disrespectful for us to stop and take some photos in their vicinity, but I hope the living didn't mind us pausing to take a few photos of my jacket before the sun went down and a few photos of some of our favorite old gravestones, so beautiful and so lonely.
It is surprising and charming to me that it is very popular here to decorate the graves for Halloween so that the grass is dotted with jack-o-lanterns, colored LED lights, little ghost figurines, and lots of orange bouquets. I don't think we got any pictures of the decorations for this post, since we were mostly photographing in the older, less decorated and more neglected part of the cemetery, but Mr Rat did get a photo of an unusual grave below----one that will never lack a true and loyal friend.
Sewing the jacket: After making some observations about my homemade wardrobe at the end of Me-Made-May, I felt like I needed to make more outerwear, so I decided to try 1970s-era McCalls 4177 with the leftover bits of olive-green cotton twill that Mr Rat made a jacket out of a while ago. Since the jacket is unlined, I finished the seams with bits of brown bias tape that I had thrifted, and did lots of edge-stitching to make the prone-to-wrinkles fabric look as crisp as possible. The pattern itself is not difficult. The trickiest part is the notched collar, which takes more patience than effort. I like the length of the jacket and how well it works over dresses and skirts. I also like the way the darts on the upper back shoulders, beneath the collar, and at the elbows give it a nice fit. The rounded, cropped shape is unusual and interesting, and I like the little gathered puffs at the top of the sleeves. I think I will likely sew this jacket again at some point, since it is a good length to wear with skirts, like the homemade Simplicity 7880 one I am wearing it with here.
Happy Halloween! Mr Rat and Gia and I will be curled up in front of our fireplace full of candles tonight with some candy and good books. I hope you will get to celebrate All Hallow's Eve in your favorite way tonight!
This is a typical outfit for me during these moderately cool autumn days with the leaves very thick on the ground and very thin on the trees. I am wearing my homemade navy blue broadcloth skirt with a recently thrifted ruffled navy and green plaid blouse and a recently thrifted navy crocheted shawl. Blue for autumn feels fitting during a time when the weather alone can make you melancholy. Reading the recent news about sexual assault and harassment against women in the workplace makes me feel even more melancholy. It brings up some varied bad memories for me, from experiences I cannot even talk about to my recent encounter with a young man in a big truck who said some lewd things to me while I waited at the corner to cross the street. Sometimes I wonder if dressing up and caring about my clothing means that I am making myself more susceptible to these kinds of encounters because I am drawing more attention to myself as the lone woman in a long dress in a community of women in jeans and flannel, but then I think back to my more plainly dressed college days (when I had short hair and didn't wear makeup, and wore a lot of jeans and flannel) and how I would still get flashed signs that said "show us your boobs" by trucks full of men in their early twenties as they drove by slowly in Los Angeles bumper-to-bumper traffic, and I think no-----it does not matter how you look, if you are female it is very likely that some man (or men) will sometime, somewhere be inappropriate. And it will probably happen again and again. Certainly that has been my own experience, and most women I talk to have similar stories that range from the smallest of rude gestures and comments to the most serious of violations.
I won't let fear or rudeness or the actions of certain men keep me from dressing the way I want to dress and having long hair. I have had one experience that went beyond being made uncomfortable into the realm of sexual assault. And I have to admit that afterwards I couldn't stand the dress I was wearing went it happened, even though it was one I had made myself and was fond of before that. I threw that dress away. But I didn't change any aspect of my appearance because I felt like at the time of that encounter the man who harassed me took my choices away from me, and I couldn't bear to let him take any more choices from me after it was over. I choose to keep wearing dresses. I chose to look feminine. That is my choice, and I won't let other people take it away from me no matter what they say or do to make me feel bad. Wearing dresses makes me feel good about myself. Wearing skirts reminds me of the feminine legacy of which I am a part by nature of my birth. Dresses and skirts make me feel more elegant, more unique, more myself. They are also practical and comfortable for my lifestyle. I remember in middle school one of my male friends told me that he had heard (erroneously or not) that women who wore skirts or dresses were raped more often because it was easier/quicker for a man to violate them than a woman in pants. I also remember reading articles over the years that said that wearing jewelry or heels is dangerous for women because it makes it harder to run away from a man or to defend oneself in a fight. Although in general most men are bigger than me, so I can't see being at an advantage running away or fighting ever, no matter what I am wearing. It is a cruel thing to have your actions dictated by fear, to lose beauty and joy because of fear, to change oneself from fear, to throw away beautiful things that make one happy and grateful because of fear. The one thing that makes me glad about reading about the recent lawsuits is that the women in them are defending themselves and trying to bring the consequences back to the men who hurt them, which is as it should be. Those who hurt should bear the consequences of their actions and change their ways, not those who have been hurt. We women should have all our choices open to us: to wear a dress or to wear pants----because we like them, not because one is 'safer' than the other.
There are so many paradoxes that women have to live with (speak out, but don't speak up----be strong, but don't be frightening----beauty is both power and weakness----care for others, but do/don't care for yourself----work the same job as your male peers but for less pay----try to work in a field that discriminates against women but don't let that discrimination keep you from being successful, etc. etc. etc.) and so many pressures from every direction that all one can do is acknowledge the unfairness of the world and many situations we must encounter, and then to do what one can to make one's own corner of the world a better and fairer place. Sometimes I have no idea how to do that, or how to be a 'woman,' so I think: I will try to be myself, and find out who that is. I will try to be kind. I will try to make objects of beauty. I will try to share when I have a chance to share. And that will have to be good enough, because it is all I can do. I will wear dresses when I want to and as often as I want to. I will try to shape my own life as much as I can and not let other people's choices be the primary molder of mine.
I am excited to share these photos of my new backyard (and new denim peplum top) with you! Our yard may not be large, but it more than makes up for that with beauty. Given that we moved from a very tiny one-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area with no yard or even a balcony to grow plants on or be outside in, our new townhouse in Utah (with a backyard! with a creek with ducks in it! and a beautiful birch tree! and with a little front patio I can grow plants in next Spring!) is a vast improvement in Mr Rat's and my life for which we are very grateful.
It isn't too cold yet to put away my autumn clothes for winter wool, for which I am also grateful, since it meant I could get some photos of my new denim peplum top sewn from late 1960s/early 1970s-era McCalls 2592. I've been excited about this pattern since I spotted it on sale on the Mom's Patterns website and ordered it in the mail. It reminds me of some of the more elegant bohemian looks of that era, and also has a prairie/Victorian influence, which I like.
McCalls 2592 sewed up well. I didn't have to make any adjustments and the fit is overall pretty good. My fabric, a mystery piece of denim I bought at the thrift store, didn't behave as well as the pattern---it had a tendency to stretch out on the curves, so next time I am working with light/medium weight denim I will remember to stay stitch every curve, rather than just the recommended ones. I finished the seams with a faux flat-fell finish, and used some scraps of bias tape to finish the armholes and to act as both a finish and a stay for the waist. The buttons probably look familiar to you if you've been reading this blog long: they are the same black thrifted buttons from my large jar of them that I've used on many projects in the past. I made the buttonholes by hand, and top-stitched and edge-stitched the seams with black thread, since it gave a slight contrast to the navy blue of the denim.
I'm wearing my new denim peplum top with my often-worn and much loved brown broadcloth skirt (originally reviewed here) and a thrifted vintage gold leaf brooch. Since the autumn here is much cooler than in California, I was wearing a black long sleeved t-shirt under my denim top, and tights, socks, and a petticoat under my skirt for warmth.
I'm pleased with how my first attempt at this pattern turned out. I'm sure I will make other versions, and wear them with pleasure.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew