I'm even more pleased with this outfit than the last dress that I made. Even though the navy poplin dress I sewed a few weeks ago is beautiful and comfortable, it lacks the versatility of a button-up blouse and midi-skirt. Lately I've found myself reaching for my maxi dresses somewhat less and more often for my smock dresses, shirt-dresses, blouses and full skirts. I love that I can wear this blouse and skirt to church, to work at home, or to go hiking. And it still has personality, and makes me feel like myself. Lately, I've also been more and more interested in clothes with a historical influence---a tinge of 19th century romanticism and practicality. Most of my summer plans for sewing are along similar lines to this outfit: I am aiming for comfort, versatility, and to make items that I will reach for over and over for everyday wear for years to come.
The patterns I used for my blouse and skirt will be familiar to any long-time readers of the blog, as they are two of my most-sewn patterns. The fabric for both skirt and blouse are thrifted, as are the vintage contrasting white buttons. I really like the navy calico for the blouse especially, as I feel that it looks a bit Western, a bit Japanese, and a bit Victorian work-wear. The skirt fabric was from a large 100 percent cotton sheet that had a nice border of tucks along the top, so I used them as decoration (and a built in hem) for the bottom of my simple gathered skirt. There is still fabric left over from the sheet, so I plan to make a matching blouse sometime soon. The notions for the skirt were re-used from my old navy skirt that I sewed three or so years ago that recently wore out. I sewed the skirt in snatches of time over one week, and the blouse throughout the next. The most time-consuming portion was sewing the button-holes by hand and sewing the buttons on one at a time to make sure the front of the blouse is straight and flat when buttoned. I don't mind doing those finishing steps slowly, as I find sewing buttonholes to be a relaxing thing to do with my hands while Mr Rat and I watch our favorite mystery shows, like Endeavor.
I wore my new blouse and skirt with my old Lotta clogs, an old thrifted straw hat, and my silver charm bracelet for a leisurely and summery walk at the park with Gia and Mr Rat
What are your sewing plans for the summer? Do you find that you have more or less time to sew during the middle months of the year? I am trying to squeeze in another two or three simple sewing projects before Mr Rat and I will travel to visit his parents for a week next month. I don't find personally that my sewing rate changes much based on the season----it usually just depends on Gia's health and my husband's schedule, and if I have any deadlines I need to meet in the studio.
Thank you for your patience with my sudden absence from the blog, and for the many kind and supportive comments that you made about my pets' health. The rats are at rest now, and Gia has recovered from her infection. It's been a hard few weeks, but I've gotten back to work in the studio, and I've started sewing again, too.
This is my most recently sewn project, and for once, I felt better about it once I put it on than when I was putting it together! It's nice when a project turns out better than you expected, rather than worse (or when you feel uncertain or indifferent towards it---those can be discouraging feelings, too). I think this may be my ideal prairie dress: a solid dark color trimmed in one of my two favorite trims (eyelet ruffling and ribbon, if you are curious), with a big sweep of skirt, interesting sleeves, and great comfort of wear. I've noticed that pullover dress patterns from the 1970s can be very ingenious, and this is one of the most interesting ones I've come across yet. Essentially it is a big smock dress with a ruffle at the bottom and a belt that is sewn on just at the top of the triangle near the bust-line/neck-line. All of the shape comes from tying the belt---which looks so deceptively like a sewn-on midriff---into a bow in the back over the very full trapeze-style skirt. This means that the waistline is fully adjustable, and because the rest of the dress is quite loose, it could be worn comfortably no matter how my body shape might subtly fluctuate. And yet it looks quite fitted! I think that this is rather a remarkable sewing feat, and I am very impressed by whoever drafted this dress.
It took me about a week to sew. The most complicated part was inserting the eyelet along the bottom ruffle, as it had to be sewn upside down into the seam allowance and then the ruffle sewn over the top and all of it turned and ironed downward. I'd never done that before, but it worked out fine, with only one little bit getting caught in the seam and needing un-picking. The eyelet also gives the big sleeves some more shape and definition.
The fabric is some 100 percent cotton poplin that I got for Christmas from my husband. It was only $2.70 a yard (and had free shipping) which I think is quite a good price for such nice, crisp cotton. I still have almost half the yardage left, so there will likely be another navy poplin summer dress here on the blog at some point. The eyelet was thrifted long ago, and even though I used a lot on this dress, I still have a little bit of it leftover for some other neckline, some other time. This dress really needs the eyelet, as otherwise this particular neckline would be just too low. This particular pattern was a Christmas gift, as well.
I feel like I now have a great prairie-style summer dress to wear to church or family picnics or going to the farmer's market. I like sewing projects that can be worn on nice occasions or more casually. My wardrobe space is not large, so the more versatile items I have in it, the easier it is for me to get dressed every day. Having this dress be a success is an encouraging start to my summer sewing. I'm working on a simple gathered navy skirt now to replace an old one that got worn out, and then I hope to sew some simple summer dresses and blouses, especially ones that I can wear walking and hiking and that are light and cool in the heat that I know is coming.
What are your summer sewing plans? Or winter, for those of you who reside in the other hemisphere?
I'm sorry to disappear right in the middle of my Me-Made-May pledge, but I don't think I'm going to be able to keep up with the photography part of the challenge this year. I apologize to miss out on sharing with you all, and hope that I can return to regular sewing pattern review posts soon.
I do have most of the photos that I have taken of my me-made outfits for the last two weeks, which I will post below. However, this month has been another unexpectedly stressful one, so I have decided to not photograph the last couple of days of Me-Made-May this week while I try to catch up on everything else that needs to get done. I feel comfortable sharing with you all that some of the recent stress has been due to the declining health of our pets: our rats have lung disease---a very common problem in domesticated rats---and it has caused their breathing and overall health to get worse and worse over the past few months. Their decline has gotten to the point where I've had to make plans to take them to the vet this week, as I don't want them to continue to suffer. Our pet dog, Gia, has also been struggling with her age and her health. She suffered an infection this month that was caused by her diabetes, and although she has safely recovered, she still needs some extra attention and care right now. Being ill drained away her energy. She has been my good companion, and I want to be hers in her time of need.
Thank you for all the kind and interesting comments that so many of you have written here on the blog recently. As I get more on top of things, and as Gia's health---I hope----improves again, I will try to approve all the comments and write back to you all. And hopefully return to posting about new sewing projects. My sewing practice has been in a slight slump, but I am working on cutting out some new projects that I am looking forward to sewing and sharing with you all.
I think that I did do enough of Me-Made-May to have time to reflect on what I've learned from it this year. It has occurred to me that while it is a good thing to include experimentation in the sewing process, that when I focus more on experimentation than on practicality, as I did last year, that I often end up liking less of the clothes that I make. This May has reminded me how important it is to reflect on my needs, to be honest with myself about my taste, to consider the demands of the daily activities and weather that affect how I dress, and to plan ahead to make sure that the clothes that I make will easily integrate into the wardrobe of clothes, shoes, and accessories that I already have. I have found over the past month that: I prefer to wear darker colors for my regular, every day clothes (except for blouses, which I also like to wear in white or cream), and that I wear a lot of skirts and blouses, shirt-dresses, smock dresses, jumper dresses, and midi-length dresses--often with tights and a cardigan when it is cold. My most worn everyday clothes tend to be cotton or flannel, and I have to plan to wear layers through much of the year here, due to the chilling influence of the snow on the mountains. The other things that I have noticed is that I prefer wearing small prints over large ones, and that I've been wearing more warm shades of brown and dark red and pinks lately. And lastly, that I will be relieved when my hair grows out more, as it is a really awkward length right now! Please pardon my daily messy hair in so many of the photos below.
I think those realizations are very helpful, and will help me as I focus and plan realistically on what projects I want to make over the coming months. Right now I have some fabric set aside to make some more button-up shirts, as well as shirt-dresses, and a new full cotton navy skirt to replace my old one that has worn out. I also hope to get started on sewing my winter coat soon, as I have it all cut out, and know that if I begin early that it will be a more relaxing process to make it.
Have any of you learned new things from Me-Made-May that help you in your sewing process? Have you ever had to end a personal challenge early because life got in the way?
Monday May 6 - My mom came over and helped me re-pot all of our houseplants, so I wore my practical two piece dress and a thrifted cardigan.
Tuesday May 7 - It was still chilly and I had an art lesson to teach in the afternoon, so I chose a relatively new thrifted sweater to wear tucked in to my homemade brown skirt. The sweater was $1 on sale at Goodwill. I think that it had been left on the rack because it had some loose buttons and other little issues that needed mending. Based on the collar, cut and quality of the wool, I believe that either it is an authentic 1950s sweater, or a very good imitation from a more recent decade. In any case, I'm glad that I bought and fixed it, because it matches this skirt very well.
Wednesday May 8 - Still a chill in the air. I wore my Indian block-print cotton shirt-dress, but made it warmer by also wearing tights and a thrifted cardigan. When I took Gia for her daily walk, I also put on an Indian block print cotton scarf that a friend gave me a long time ago. I don't typically wear much red, but I feel like I'm coming around to it in small doses.
Thursday May 9 - I didn't get a photo that day----sorry. Some days end up unexpectedly stressful. I was wearing homemade clothes, as usual, though.
Friday May 10 - Cleaning day, and I had some errands to walk to, so I wore an old black dress, a thrifted cardigan, a homemade dark brown twill bag (still not blogged yet, sorry! Me-Made-May makes me remember what things I've forgotten to photograph), and my old black clogs. The necklace is silver with an amber drop, a gift from my husband a few years ago.
Saturday May 11 - Here are some of the re-potted houseplants! They all did really well with their transition this year---no casualties and hardly any drooping. I think they're all happy to get fresh soil and bigger pots. Mr Rat and I had a family dinner to attend to celebrate Mother's Day and some May birthdays, so I wore my recent floral and lace pullover dress, as it was finally a nice warm day. It felt good to wear something casual and celebratory. You can also see my most recent dress in progress in the background.
Sunday May 12 - I wore my brown checkered homespun dress. Those of you who remember when I made it last fall might have noticed that I added some more buttons down the front, as I was getting some slight pulling between the original buttons. I think it looks even nicer with more buttons, as the spacing between them is closer to the spacing between the buttons on the long cuffs now. I wore it with a homemade tiger-eye necklace.
This blouse was an experiment. I had a big scrap of fabric left over from making my Easter dress, so I thought that I would test out my idea of taking a dress pattern that I sewed last year, Simplicity 7752 (it is an out of print pattern from the 90s, but it isn't hard to find on Ebay or Etsy if you are looking for your own copy) and making a blouse out of it. Well, it sort of worked, and it sort of didn't.
To make the blouse, I cut out the bodice, sleeves, collar and cuff pattern pieces and left off the skirt. I lengthened the bodice by a good three or four inches, since I knew that on the dress it ends slightly above the waist, and I wanted to make sure it was long enough to reach my waist and get turned up for a hem. Well, that was actually too much length---since I hadn't widened the sides at all, I found that the hem of my blouse bunched slightly around the full gathers of my skirt top. So I ended up taking the first hem that I made and turning it up again. Then it became a rather wide hem, which gives the blouse a rather structured, jacket-like look. In fact, I think that this pattern could make a nice lightweight spring jacket if I was using a heavier cotton or flannel or even a thin denim. My other problem while making this blouse was that the cotton was a little too stiff to ease in well at the shoulders, so I ended up giving them a slight gather at the top. I don't think this looks quite as nice as my first dress version, which has a smooth sleeve cap.
The rest of the construction details are simple: I pinked the inner seams and facing, did the buttonholes by hand, and used thrifted buttons that I've had for several years.
I'm not quite certain about this blouse: while it didn't turn out quite the way I imagined it, it's still wearable and comfortable. I think it could make a good gardening top, especially with the nice flower print. But I feel some doubt that it will become a favorite everyday blouse. I think my adaptation of the original pattern still needs some work----maybe if I try widening the bottom of the blouse so it has a slightly flared look, and maybe also experimenting with the sleeves----short sleeves might look nice. Or maybe I will just stick with sewing this pattern as a dress, since I like the dress that I already made from it.
I think that making this blouse was a good learning process, and I did use up some more of my fabric scraps. If I don't find myself wearing it, even for gardening----it is well made even though it is simple, and I won't feel shame putting in my Goodwill pile to see if someone else wants to give it a home.
What do you do with the clothes that you make when you feel uncertain about them?
Sorry to be a little late posting about the start of Me-Made-May. I've decided this year to not worry about repeating garments or mixing in my vintage sweaters, but to just get dressed as I usually do, and make a record of it. So a lot of my outfits may be very casual-cleaning-studio-work themed. The weather has also been unusually cool and rainy so far this month, so you will see more of my cold-weather wardrobe than in previous years. We will see what weather the weeks ahead hold, and what activities.
I hope that your month is off to a good start! Here is my first week of outfits:
May 1 - Wednesday - I needed to walk to do an errand, so I bundled up in my black flannel dress and tweed wool cape-jacket to keep me warm in the drizzly weather. The bag is one of my recent sewing projects which I have yet to post about on the blog. It is made from a 1970s pattern out of thrifted scraps of denim lined in black cotton. I am also wearing my jewelry set of brown jade that my husband made for me a few years ago.
May 2 - Thursday - Another cold day, spent working at home. I am wearing my homemade shawl collar blouse, a thrifted cardigan, a recently completed ribbon embellished wool skirt that I need to blog about soon (if I can just get more photos of it! The weather hasn't been very cooperative, with all the dark clouds and rain), and my old Lotta From Stockholm clogs. You can't really see it in this photo, but I am wearing a dainty little gold floral vintage necklace with matching earrings.
May 3 - Friday - Cleaning day, so I wore my brown twill jumper over a home-made blouse, along with a thrifted cardigan and boots. My earrings are also homemade, from a set that I made out of red jasper. Not only did I clean, cook, cared for our pets, and did laundry, but I also weeded and planted our little patio garden. I'm eager to see what comes up in the next few weeks.
May 4 - Saturday - My husband and I went out for lunch, so I decided to dress up a little and wear one of my favorite homemade blouses and my homemade long brown skirt. The bag by my feet is another recent sewing project (sewn at the same time as the black bag I used on May 1) made out of remnants of brown twill from my jumper and some brown cotton from a dress that I sewed last year that didn't fit quite right (and thus never made it onto the blog). You can only barely see it, but I'm wearing a vintage scarab bracelet that was once my aunts, and which I have had since I was a little girl.
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?
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.