Happy belated Valentine's Day! I'm glad I took these photos of my new dress yesterday on Valentine's Day, when there was a little bit of sunshine, because today we woke to a world transformed by snow.
I'm sure many of you will recognize one of my favorite patterns, 1970s-era McCall's 6209, which I have made before in tan striped cotton, black cotton-polyester broadcloth, and most recently in black flannel. I am fond of this pattern for its fit: it is more semi-fitted than fitted, and the ease makes the dress very comfortable for every day wear. But the small waist and full skirt and sleeves still give the dress a fitted look without the discomfort of tightness.
As I've mentioned a little bit before, I'm trying to experiment a little more with sewing with patterned fabric. Last summer I found that I like to sew and wear gingham, and I've sewn with stripes a few times, but so far I haven't tried many floral fabrics until the last few months. Our local Goodwill has a good selection of sheets, and recently I've found myself drawn to the ones with rose prints. At $2-$4 each, they are a small risk. I bought a few and have made two dresses out of them so far (only one of which has been blogged about), and I have yet another floral-print outfit cut out to start work on next. Roses are among my favorite flowers, and I miss my mother's rose garden very much. Wearing roses on my clothes reminds me of the places and plants that I love so much, and brings a little cheer to the grey winter that is so close to spring.
One of the advantages of sewing with sheets is that they are often already soft with washing. This sheet in particular had a nice drape and was easy to sew with, especially since the print hides any tiny imperfections and mistakes like a bust dart that isn't perfectly aligned with the other bust dart, or edge-stitching that can get a little wiggly. Imperfection has become a theme for me. I have to remind myself often that the goal is to get better slowly, and to make wearable clothes along the way. This dress turned out very wearable; it is so light and comfortable. Already since I finished it I've worn it twice, and received more compliments on it from people at church and from family members than any other garment I've sewn. When my grandpa saw it, he told me I was quite the "flower girl."
Since I've written about this pattern before, I will keep the construction notes brief here: I pinked the seams, finished the waistline with some thrifted bias tape, and had to trim the bottom a little to even it before I turned and finished it with a narrow hem. The zipper is stitched in by hand, and I stitched twice around the arm-holes to reinforce them. As usual, I edge-stitched the top of the sleeve-bands and the neckline to keep them crisp.
Mr Rat and I had a pleasant and quiet Valentine's Day. I wore my new dress and a Mexican silver heart necklace that I found a yard sale last year. I made a black-rice vegetable salad and prepared the ingredients so that when Mr Rat got home from work we could cook okonomiyaki together (savory Japanese pancakes with vegetables and little bits of meat cooked into them). We picked out our gifts for each other at a local antique mall a few weeks ago. One of the gifts Mr Rat gave me was a lovely little gold brooch shaped like a bouquet of violets, which is near the bottom of the photo at the end of this post that I took of my drawer of vintage brooches. Some were my grandmother's, and some are lucky finds from thrift stores, and some I've found with some careful searching on ebay for under $5. It's nice to have choices to wear with my dresses and blouses and jackets.
Did any of you do anything nice for Valentine's Day (with or without a significant other)? I like that Valentine's day can be a celebration of love in all its forms, including that of friendship. When we lived in Santa Clara we invited our friend K and her daughter to come have dinner with us, since her husband worked very late into the evening. It's pleasant to find a way to celebrate, no matter what the circumstances. And who doesn't need a reason to celebrate when winter feels like it has been here so long?
Mr Rat has been hard at work on his newest project, squeezing out the time to sew on the weekends and the occasional weeknight evening. He's been making great progress and we are both looking forward to when we can share his finished garment with you all. . .
There is something so therapeutic about sewing. It is varied, interesting, challenging, and yet also restful. There is something reassuring about following pattern instructions and knowing they will lead to a finished garment. And there is something so magical about taking a flat piece of fabric and turning it into a beautiful, detailed, dimensional item of clothing you can wear. It may take time to create, but the act of creation is a pleasure in itself, well worth the hours spent.
I feel like I have a few things to apologize for: first, that I've been somewhat absent around here. I mentioned in my last post that January was tumultuous and I was sick for a rather long portion of it. Second, that my new tweed cape-jacket made from McCall's 7291 is so wrinkly in these photos! I tried steaming it with my iron but the wrinkles didn't want to come out. I'm going to take it to the dry-cleaners to get it professionally pressed when my husband takes his suits to be cleaned, but I wanted to take some photos of it, and we haven't made it to the dry-cleaners yet. Hopefully we'll go in the next week or two, and the next time you see this jacket on the blog, it will look much more crisp. And third, I apologize that the quality of the photos is varied. By the time we walked to the park with Gia to take these pictures most of the sunshine we were hoping to photograph in had already disappeared. So only a few of these photos have even a little sunshine or warmth or color in them, and some of the photos are very cool-toned indeed, and even a little blurry (although that can be interesting, sometimes).
This project was a somewhat frustrating one, and I have to admit that at least twice I thought of giving up and not finishing it. But I'm glad I pressed on, because I like how it turned out very much. The tweed is also very warm, even if it wasn't very nice to me while I was sewing it. I used McCalls 7291 (which is still in print, I believe---I think it got released a year or two ago) as a base for what I wanted. I didn't like the way it is drafted on the envelope to hang open in the front, so when I was cutting out the fabric I widened the front pieces and the front facings so that they would overlap. I also decided I didn't want to add the collar onto my version, since the tweed is heavy and scratchy and I thought it would be easier to wear scarves with with my jacket (as I did here), or a collared blouse where the collar could peek over the top, without the collar getting in the way. The tweed is from a church rummage sale I attended with a friend some years ago, and the facings are cut from a scrap of flannel leftover from one of my husband's sewing projects. Some of you longtime readers might recognize the tweed from a Christmas present I made for my husband three years ago. I used all of the remaining fabric to make my jacket, and it was not only wrinkly, but badly-behaved. It liked to move about while I was sewing it, it was too thick to make rolled hems, and it frayed all over. My solution to these problems was to only sew the main seams on machine and hand-sew everything else. I top-stitched the seams by hand so they would stay flat and fray less. Then I hand-stitched bias binding (also thrifted---I was lucky to find two packages of the same 'seal' brown I used on all the visible parts of the jacket, and I used some green for the arm-holes, which are hidden by the cape-sleeves) to all of the edges, which made dealing with them so much easier than trying to wrestle the tweed under the sewing foot any more than was necessary. It took a while, but I am pleased with the result. Even though up close it is apparent that the bias tape is hand-sewn, at least it looks even, and it gives the jacket more visual interest. I finished the buttonholes by hand as well, and used some brown tortoise-shell style buttons from my stash that were probably harvested off of one of my husband's old and worn out jackets.
Once I get this jacket pressed, I can imagine wearing it a lot. The fit is good---close but not tight, and it looks nice with full skirts and dresses, like my flannel dress I'm wearing with it here. I think the McCall's pattern is better used as a base for drafting than sewn the way it was designed. But I may well use it again if I come across the right piece of fabric. I like the flared cape-sleeves, which easily accommodate puff sleeves worn underneath, yet are long enough to keep my whole arm warm.
I am grateful it is February because we are that much closer to Spring. I hope you are well, wherever you are, and enjoying the beauty around you, whether it is the greenery of the south or the stark white and grey of the north.
I'm sorry for the long pause around here. Like many Americans this winter, I came down with a nasty case of the flu that has lingered into a bad cough that is still going away. I've still been able to do some sewing and crocheting (when you are stuck in bed, crochet is a nice change from reading all day), but I haven't been able to go out and photograph the things I've been working on. Especially the unseasonable spring dress I finished recently----I'm not sure when I'll get to photograph that one. But I sewed it because I wanted to remind myself that warmth and sunshine will come again, even if it will take some months to get there.
In the meantime, here is a peek at a recently finished skirt (worn with my homemade wool peplum jacket) until Mr Rat can take better pictures of it. He snapped this quick photo while I ventured outside long enough to feed our neighbor ducks. We were lucky enough to still be standing nearby with the camera out when our most elusive duck-neighbors, the mandarins, came through our yard. They have such beautiful feathers. Whenever I see them against the snow, I think of Japanese woodblock prints.
I hope you are all healthier than I am at the moment, and enjoying the beauty of winter (or summer, if you are in the southern hemisphere).
My most recent dress reminds me of Jane Eyre, both for its somber color and its whimsy. The pattern I used was McCall 4968, circa the 1970s. I sewed it in a very lovely grey wool worsted with a subtle herringbone weave that I found at the thrift store a few years ago and only recently had both the confidence that I could sew with it and the need for more warm wool clothing to push me forward into cutting it out and making it into a dress at last. This may be one of my more eccentric dresses, with its little flutter sleeves, but I like it: it is warm and comfortable, and the sleeves make it special.
The sewing process was pretty straightforward: I edge-stitched all the seams to help them lay flat and crisp. I also pinked the edges of the fabric on the inside since I plan to wash this dress very gently and the wool is very firmly woven and not prone to fraying. I stitched the darts down so they would stay flat, a detail I've noticed on some wool jackets at the thrift store. Since even thin wool is still thick in layers, I was careful to grade my seams and gathers where they met. To make sure I didn't get a rippled zipper, I interfaced the edges of zipper opening before I stitched the zipper in by hand. The only part of the sewing process that was particularly difficult was sewing the facings over the gathered sleeves and trimming the allowance, then flipping it to the inside and top-stitching the outside. I had to unpick my first attempt and try again, because it was hard to manage that many layers of wool in such a small area as the arm-hole and have a neat finish.
Mr Rat was kind enough to take some pictures of my new jumper dress on our Sunday morning walk to the local park with Gia. Other than a few red berries, there isn't a very wide range of colors in our world right now: mostly shades of grey and white, a little bit of dull green, lots of soft and faded yellow ochre, brown, and the bright blue of a winter sky. We're due for a big storm that is supposed to blow in tomorrow, so the world will have even less color the next time we go walking. I hope wherever you are, you are staying warm, and enjoying the post-holiday peace of January.
Berthe Morisot Pasie Sewing in the Garden oil on canvas 1882
by Hazel Hall
The wind is sewing with needles of rain.
With shining needles of rain
It stitches into the thin
Cloth of earth. In,
In, in, in.
Oh the wind has often sewed with me.
One, two, three.
Spring must have fine things
To wear like other springs.
Of silken green the grass must be
Embroidered. One and two and three.
Then every crocus must be made
So subtly as to seem afraid
Of lifting color from the ground;
And after crocuses the round
Heads of tulips, and all the fair
Intricate garb that Spring will wear.
The wind must sew with needles of rain,
With shining needles of rain,
Stitching into the thin
Cloth of earth, in,
In, in, in,
For all the springs of futurity.
One, two, three.
Well, since I have made and reviewed this same skirt pattern very recently, I will be brief here: this time I sewed it in some cotton sateen I bought in the LA fabric district early this year. The sateen pressed well (and I was careful to use a press cloth so as not get shine marks from the iron) and I finished the seams very simply by pinking them and using black bias binding from my stash to finish the bottom hem of the skirt. I think the next time I make this pattern I will use waistband interfacing to stiffen the waistband. In my previous denim version the fabric is stiff enough to hold itself up, but in this version it rolls a bit after I've been wearing it all day, especially if I've been sitting down, so I usually wear it under a vest, like here, or with a belt.
I'm wearing my new skirt with a white button-up shirt, my homemade black wool vest, some thrifted black leather gloves, my rubber snow-boots, and my silk William Morris scarf that I inherited from a very kind friend.
Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it! And happy holidays to everyone.
First, some reflections on the sewing goals I made for 2017:
Well, I didn’t succeed at not buying new patterns! I still bought patterns from the thrift store and off of Ebay, although I think my pattern-buying was more targeted than it has been in the past, since I have been sewing long enough to know which patterns fit well (late 1960s-early 1980s size 8), and have a better idea of what styles of clothing I like to wear and are interesting to sew. I do think I succeeded at trying more of the patterns I already own, and reusing patterns that I have used in the past. I would like to continue doing both of those things in 2018.
While I can’t say that I didn’t buy new fabric, either, we did make a dent in our thrifted and fabric-district bought stash. Since most of our fabric is second-hand, I don’t think not buying new fabric until our stash is used up is a realistic goal to keep for 2018. When we find nice fabric at a low price, we buy it for future use----I don’t think that’s a bad way to fabric shop, so long as our stash does not overwhelm our apartment, and I don’t think it is in danger of doing that.
I did sew several wool pieces this year (like this vest, this cape, and a dress I have yet to post and review, among others), so I would say that this goal was a success. Now that I have more experience sewing with wool, I will keep working on using the thrifted wool in our stash. I can imagine some other vests would be nice, and I have a tweed cape/jacket cut out to get around to sometime, and I would also like to make some more wool skirts, since my grey wool skirt has seen a lot of use, especially since we have moved to an even colder climate here in Utah than we ever faced in California.
I did find a vest pattern (as I mentioned already above) that fits pretty well, and sewed some long-sleeved blouses, and some jackets, and some dresses----although no aprons yet. So those were successful goals, too.
And now, some new goals for 2018:
- To continue saving money by using thrifted fabrics, buttons, and trims, old sheets, and inexpensive yardage for our sewing projects. Even though Mr Rat and I are more comfortably off now that he's started his new job than we've ever been before, we still have savings goals to meet and the rest of Mr Rat’s student loans to finish paying off. This means that saving money is as important as ever.
- To sew more complete outfits, or even capsule wardrobes. While my sewing projects tend to be easily mixed and matched because of my general focus on a mostly neutral color palette (with black, white, off-white, beige/tan, brown, navy, and grey predominating), solid color fabrics, and simple silhouettes such as full midi-length skirts, midi-to-long dresses and elbow-to-long sleeve blouses----still, I would like sew more outfits that go together, like my gingham dress set from last summer. I also think the idea of a capsule wardrobe is intriguing, because it would make getting packed for trips to visit our family in California even easier.
- And lastly, to challenge my sewing skills by working on some projects with more complex embellishments or new sewing techniques, like pintucks and pleats. My main goal here is to use some of my vintage vogue patterns---I have two Jean Muir patterns I would love to try in 2018, especially the yellow one on the right, which is a pattern my grandmother made for my mother when she was young!
What are your sewing goals for the new year? Did you make sewing goals for this year? Were you successful in keeping them?
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 and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew