Happy national Sewing Month to all of my American readers! Are you doing anything special this month to celebrate the special place that sewing has in your life? I think I will. . . sew some more. And spend some reflecting on my gratitude that my mom taught me this useful and relevant skill when I was still a child.
I am dipping my toes back into the water of Instagram. I'm not sure how often I will post there, and it won't affect that I will still post here regularly. But I thought it might be another way to connect with other people, and share some of my drawings alongside my sewing projects. My new Instagram handle is @littlemrsrat, in case you want to follow along or chat with me there.
I've been seeing the hashtag #secondhandseptember around, so I looked it up and found that it is a 30 day pledge started by the British non-profit Oxfam. If you are also curious about it, you can follow this link to their website, where you can sign up for the pledge, if you wish. September has often been seen as a major retail month for clothing---a time when wardrobes are refreshed, the enormous "September issue" of Vogue is released, international fashion weeks are held, and many students go back to school. Much like Fashion Revolution, Oxfam seeks to educate people about the destructive influence of the fashion industry on the environment, and to encourage more people to buy second-hand instead of new. As sewers, sustainability is not a new topic for us, but it is always a relevant one. I've found thrift stores to be a rich resource for second-hand fabrics and notions which make my sewing practice both cheaper and less of a burden on our world's resources. Because this is already my habit, I probably won't officially sign this pledge----but I'm happy that clothing sustainability is becoming a bigger topic in the media and online.
Similarly, I've followed along some of the online debate about cultural appropriation via clothing. It's a complicated subject, and certainly there are designers who are not respectful to the traditions and heritage of the cultures they borrow from. But historically, fashion has always freely borrowed from other time periods and other cultures---it is part of the creative renewal that keeps it a fluid and changing medium of meaning and expression. While western fashion has borrowed inspiration from other cultures for centuries, other cultures have also adopted and adapted western dress styles for their own uses over the same period of time. I thought that this article from the Atlantic was an interesting and more historically grounded look at "cultural appropriation." Hopefully articles like this one might bring some balance to a conversation that is complex because it includes such sprawling and difficult subjects as history, race, culture, ethics, and creativity.
What have you been reading about or thinking about lately?
About two weeks ago I decided to try a small experiment to cheer myself up: I thought that I would try to make myself some hair flowers. I've seen many beautiful women in the online vintage community wear them, but when I've looked on Etsy they've always been a bit out of my price range. Besides, I like to make things with my hands, and the one or two YouTube tutorials I could find made it look pretty easy. And it was. Hair flower clips are easy, inexpensive, and quick accessories to make that have a big impact on outfits, and help a bit with feeling cheerful, too. And also hiding hair that is growing out, if you, like me, have that problem too.
Frida Kahlo and Paula Modersohn-Becker, two artists who I admire very much, both used to wear flowers in their hair when they painted. Paula Modersohn-Becker said that she loved to dress up to paint and put flowers in her hair, as it was a special occasion for her, and something worth celebrating by looking her best.
The orange chrysanthemums in my hair were a gift from my mom that she found at a local dollar store. The little orange flowers were on sale for a dollar at Michaels craft stores. I'm wearing them with a new dress that I made recently and hope to photograph with Mr Rat soon.
Without further ado, a simple tutorial for making your own hair flowers, if you're so inclined:
- fake flowers of your choice
- alligator hair clips or bobby pins
- a piece of green felt
- a hot glue gun and hot glue sticks (it is helpful if your glue-fun is a low-heat glue-gun, as it is easy to burn yourself working with small objects like the flowers and hair clips)
The first thing you will want to do is pull the leaves and flowers off of the stems. You can discard the stems or cut the wire and re-use it for some other craft project.
The fake flowers have a tube of plastic that sticks out of the back where they were connected to the stems. You will want to take your scissors and cut it off as close to the base of the flower as possible.
Next you will want to cut a circle out of the felt to cover the plastic base of the flower.
If you choose to add the leaves from your fake flower stems for your hair clips, hot glue the leaves to the base of the flower, then hot glue the circle of felt over the top. You may need to hold it between your fingers just long enough for the hot glue to set.
Next you will put a line of hot glue on the flat part of your alligator clip or bobby pin and press it to the back of the felt, trying to keep the flower and leaves positioned to cover the clip as much as possible. Set aside to let cool completely.
A completed hair flower clip!
I made a set of orange flowers for me, and two sets of pink flowers for my niece. She was delighted.
If you give this tutorial a try, or have done this before---tell me about it in the comments! I hope that you enjoyed this simple craft, and that it might cheer you up every time you put flowers in your hair (or give them as gifts to a special friend or family member).
"America's First Department Store" was the slogan of ZCMI or Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution and was founded in 1868 by Brigham Young in Salt Lake City. It was established primarily as a means to supply Mormon pioneers with lower cost goods by pooling the resources of Mormon businesses enabling them to have more buying power from wholesalers. ZCMI sold everything from household goods, fabric and thread, to beauty supplies and even began manufacturing their own line of work clothes and boots (wikipedia). ZCMI was officially sold in 1999 to May department stores.
Within our first few months living in Salt Lake, we stumbled upon this flamboyant western fabric, still carrying the ZCMI tag, at a Goodwill. I knew immediately that I had to make this into the Butterick 7651 western shirt designed by Robert Stock. We luckily had a remnant of the solid reddish/orange cotton that works so well as a contrasting yoke, pocket, and cuffs. The most interesting design of this shirt was the larger front pouch pockets. I was a little skeptical at first but I really think they give the shirt a unique touch. The fit of this pattern is very good. The construction was smooth. And I have received numerous compliments from co-workers. I have already cut out fabric to make two more versions of this shirt. I highly recommend!
Before I get into reviewing this pattern, please let me first thank all of you who left kind and supportive comments on my last post from the bottom of my heart. I really appreciate the advice, the sympathy, and the solidarity. And I also want to mention that I was (and still am, a bit) worried about posting about the challenges I am sorting through this year. It is a hard balance between sharing real struggles, over-sharing personal details on the internet, and maybe worst of all---coming across as ungrateful and complaining when I think there are surely readers who are facing far worse challenges with health, finances, loss, grief, heart-break, or any number of terrible burdens. I know that I have much to be grateful for, and I am grateful for the good things and good people in my life---even as I simultaneously struggle with a sense of helplessness and discouragement about the things and people that are not good or whom I have lost, the slow pace of positive change in my own life, and how much I yearn for many things that are not available to me right now. I think those feelings are something that anyone who is struggling can relate to, and that was why I chose to post about some of my current struggles here (at least those not related to family or friends, as I wouldn't feel comfortable posting about problems in a public forum like this that involve other people other than Mr R and myself). I hope that you will forgive me if I was at all insensitive in my last post.
Sewing does play a role in facing and coping with hard feelings because sewing can offer small changes, and dignity, and self-expression. I value all of those things, and I value the conversation that I have with all of you, and want to thank you again for being here. As this hard year progresses, I am trying to using sewing's good qualities to keep bringing small, good changes into my life.
Now I will write a short review of my latest summer blouse. I often cut out sewing projects in batches, as cutting out fabric on the floor isn't my favorite part of the sewing process, and then I can sew several projects in a row without having to stop and do that step again. So I've had this peasant-style blouse cut from 1970s era Simplicity 8305 for a little while. I decided after a few sewing flops earlier this summer that I should focus on the simpler projects: ones that I am pretty sure that I will wear and like. This pattern reminded me a lot of a black gauze peasant blouse that I had for several years in California before it wore out. I've never found another one at the thrift store, so I thought that I should finally make my own and hopefully fill that long-standing hole in my closet.
I'm glad that I did, because this blouse turned out well. It is surprisingly generously cut, which gives it a flowing look, and also gives me no qualms about any possible size-changes in the future necessitating its removal from my closet (as I mentioned in my last post has happened to a lot of my more fitted clothes over the past few months). The lightweight brown cotton voile has a raised pattern of dots that give it a little bit of interest, and made it a little more challenging to sew, as my machine foot and needle didn't like getting over the dots very well. But my old Singer is very sturdy and managed, and the voile is very light on hot days. The slit down the front was too low when I finished the blouse, so I sewed it up a bit by hand and it still fits over my head just fine, as the neckline is relatively wide in the first place. The fabric was a remnant I picked up very cheaply in the LA fabric district a few years ago, so I'm glad that I finally used it, and that now it is a versatile summer blouse that I will wear often in the heat.
After such a positive review, it may be surprising that I don't plan on using the pattern again. But about a month ago I found an almost-the-same 1970s pattern at the thrift store that had a skirt and vest pattern with it that I liked better than this current one----and it has a draw-string neckline, which would make the blouse a little more adjustable. So I plan to keep the new, thrifted pattern, and send this one back to the thrift store for its turn to get chosen and used by someone else. If you ever come across a copy, I would still recommend it as a simple, elegant blouse, with clear instructions, and not too difficult for even a patient beginner to make.
In these photos that I took on our front patio with our sunflowers, I am wearing my new blouse with a brown skirt that I made almost two years ago, and new brown clogs that I found at a recent trip to the thrift store with my mom. It was a great find, as my over-five year old black clogs just got too uneven on the bottoms to wear anymore.
Please look forward to a new post from Mr Rat soon! I took some photos with him of his most recent sewing project and I'm excited that he will share them here as soon as he has time to sit down and write a review of his own.
It’s probably apparent that Mr Rat and I have been struggling to keep up with this blog. We’ve both been facing---some new, some old----challenges in the past year and a half since we moved from California to Utah. I thought that it might be useful to look at a few of those challenges here, both to help me sort them out and make plans to hopefully adjust to or overcome some of these problems, but also to offer support to those of you readers out there who are facing similar or different challenges. Sometimes we need a reminder that behind the photos of the beautiful things that we wish to highlight and remember and share on the internet, there is a continuum of daily living that includes many real struggles that also need to be considered and acknowledged.
A few of the challenges that Mr Rat and I are facing that relate to our ability to sew, photograph, and share about our sewing here on the blog include:
Right now, I am trying to solve the sewing problems in a few ways:
I know that this was a lengthy post, and probably more for my own benefit to be able to write things down and think about them, but what do you readers think about these issues? How do you deal with changes to your body as you slowly sew a workable wardrobe? How do you deal with sewing for different climates when you move states (or countries)? Does your sewing act therapeutically for you when you are stressed or sad or depressed? Or does it become another burden when things aren't working out on your sewing table or away from it? How does your self-image and the way that it changes over time as you get older and more experienced change the things that you want to sew or the way that you present yourself on the internet or in person to the rest of the world? How do you balance sewing with the many other demands on your time and energy---especially during difficult times when you might be care-taking for a loved one who is sick, or helping a friend in need, or feeling overwhelmed with the demands of work or church or family or just getting from day to day?
In my last post I mentioned that I wanted to sew a few more things before we took our trip to San Diego to visit my husband's parents. Well, I only managed to sew one thing: this checkered tan smock dress made from one of my tried-and-true favorite patterns, Simplicity 9343 circa the 1990s. And I didn't even get these photos on the blog in a timely fashion either, for which I apologize. I feel like the explanation for my here-again, gone-again relationship to the blog this year is a bit lengthy and requires a blog post in itself, which I am working on and hope to post here soon. But the shorter explanation for my current disappearance from the internet is that Gia got sick again in July and I spent most of the month going to and from the animal hospital with her and managing a barrage of new medications to try to get her stable again. She is currently doing well, and recovering from the last of her infections. We are hoping that her current recovery will last a while, because the last three months have seen far more trouble than peace in her health.
Back to this dress: since I only sewed one thing for this trip, I'm glad that this is what I sewed! The fabric is a sheet that I found half off at Savers, one of our favorite local thrift stores, which means that the dress only cost me $2, as I already had interfacing and white thread in my sewing cabinet. Beyond being a thrifty make, it was a comfortable and lightweight choice for travelling, being in the car for long periods of time, and walking around in the dust and the heat. The long hem and sleeves kept me from worrying about sunburn, and the loose fit kept me from feeling too hot and confined. The only adjustment I made to the pattern is one that I've done on all my previous versions of the pattern: changing the elastic casing at the bottom of the sleeves for a narrow sleeve band that slips over my hands instead. I used the hem of the sheet for the hem of the dress, so it went together quite quickly and easily. This is a pattern that I would highly recommend to any beginner sewers looking for a manageable project that doesn't require fitting, darts, or closures, or for more advanced sewers looking for an easy summer dress that is extremely comfortable to wear.
I made a matching square kerchief out of a large scrap of the same gingham fabric so I can cover my neck while hiking or getting into the cooler weather of fall in another month or two. But I didn't bring it with me to the zoo, so it's not in any of these pictures. I mention it here because I think that making a matching kerchief, scarf, or bandanna is a useful way to use up some more fabric scraps. A lot of my 1970s patterns include a pattern for a shawl or kerchief---a useful addition. I wish that more modern patterns included those kinds of extras. Some of my vintage patterns also include extras like purse or pouch patterns, or ties and bows that can be tied at the collar or belted around the waist. Since our rats passed away earlier in the summer, I have to be more inventive about using our fabric scraps. I imagine that you'll see some posts about that in the future as I work my way through our scrap basket and come up with different uses for the ongoing problem of sewing project leftovers.
We did two exciting things on our trip to San Diego: we visited the art museum and saw a beautiful show of Spanish golden age artwork, and we visited the San Diego Wild Animal Park, which is the more distant partner of the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park. The Wild Animal Park is set much further back in the hills of rural San Diego County, and boasts a large "safari" area of the park where many species of African animals mingle together in a very extensive multi-acre enclosure that imitates their native savanna habitat as closely as possible, all the way down to the native African varieties of grass that are grown for the animals to eat. We had a really nice day there. Our favorite part of the park was the Australian section, where they had an enclosure you could enter to walk around with kangaroos, wallabies, and a variety of ducks. If the marsupials approached the path, you were allowed to reach out and pet them gently. There were a few babies there, and the smallest was aptly named Clementine (her mother's name was Orange). You can see her in the photo below. I wish that I could be so effortlessly good looking, and charming besides!
My husband took all of these lovely, amazing photos, except the ones of the two of us, which were kindly taken by my mother-in-law.
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.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.