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.
We’ve been having a hot spell in California, and so I’ve been grateful for all the cotton in my handmade wardrobe. This was an outfit I was particularly pleased with for being cool but still interesting when I wore it last week on yet another 90 plus degree day: the blouse I reviewed here, and the recently completed gingham skirt I reviewed here. I made the citrine necklace, too, which I blogged about recently here.
It was so cool here the past two weeks that I had optimistically assumed that autumn had begun early. This past weekend proved me wrong with a low-90s heat wave that drove me to pick out one of my breeziest of homemade outfits to wear to church: my muslin blouse, reviewed here, and my matching muslin skirt, which though several years old, I have not yet reviewed until now. Since I have already reviewed this skirt pattern before, many times (here, for instance, or here), I won’t go into too many details about construction. I only made two major changes to this particular version of 1970s era Simplicity 7880----I lengthened the skirt, leaving the bottom hem on the selvedge of the muslin (I think it was 35 or 37-inch unbleached muslin, which hits me at the high ankle), and I used a button to close the back rather than a skirt hook and eye as most of my other skirts are finished.
Even though it was very warm when we walked out to take photos, there were a lot of beautiful flowers to admire, including an enormous sunflower patch at the school garden next to the monastery where Mr Rat and I like to walk on Sunday mornings. There were bees busy everywhere, and Mr Rat got some lovely photos of them intent on their work, their legs fat with pollen like little yellow chaps. He also got his coveted butterfly photo in the monastery gardens: a beautiful big swallowtail that circled us and landed on the fig tree, then drifted off and joined with another swallowtail who challenged it to an upward duel of spiraling until they were lost from sight in the redwood trees.
I’m wearing my homemade muslin outfit with one of my favorite straw hats that I bought five years ago at a farmer’s market stand, turquoise jewelry given to me by my thoughtful and generous mother-in-law, and a thrifted shawl. My clogs are Lotta from Stockholm, three years old and still wearing well.
So many of my favorite fashion/sewing blogs have bemoaned the recent racist rallies here in America and expressed that it makes them feel like their websites are shallow or frivolous in the face of such disturbing events. I’ve thought about this a great deal over the past few weeks as Mr Rat and I talk over the news, and I don’t think that blogging about sewing or clothing should be so easily dismissed. Our passions are what make us human, and sharing them is what keeps us kind. It is an act of optimism when we are feeling overwhelmed with darkness to keep on working and making things---whether art or clothes or ceramics or poetry or music. To make something ourselves and share it is to make a modest contribution towards a kinder, more generous, more creative world. Instead of feeling despair, let’s resolve to be more compassionate towards those around us, and keep improving whatever corner of the earth we inhabit.
I almost gave up on this blouse the first time I tried it on. It brought to mind a quote from L M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: “Look at those sleeves! Oh it seems to me this must be a happy dream. . . It would give me such a thrill to wear a dress with puffed sleeves.” But the part of my mind that agrees with Anne was at war with the part of my mind that looked at those sleeves in agreement with Marilla: “The puffs have been getting bigger and more ridiculous right along: they’re as big as balloons now. Next year anybody who wears them will have to go through a door sideways.”
This blouse is a bit over-the-top for me, but the more I spend time with it since I finished it, the more I think it is not the sleeves (puffy as they are) that make me feel that way, but rather it is the large gingham check that makes the blouse a little overwhelming. But having now worn it out and about, enjoying the comfortable lightweight cotton (bought for $1 a yard at the LA fabric district a few years ago) and the good fit, I think I will keep it for the occasion I’m feeling quite bold. The black-and-white gingham does make me think of late summer picnics and autumn harvest celebrations. I think it will look good worn with my black wool vest, or one of my black jumper dresses.
In terms of construction: The instructions have you stay-stitch every curved edge before sewing, which took some extra time, but was worth it to keep the blouse from stretching out and losing its carefully mirrored pattern. I felt that the princess seams would be difficult (if not impossible) to try to pattern match, so I took inspiration from the post about gingham over on Vintage Gal’s blog where she mentioned that in the 1930s seamstresses would purposefully not match the gingham on their projects so as to conserve fabric and didn’t bother to try to match the gingham, only to mirror it on both sides. I pinked the inside seams and pressed them open, and sewed sleeve heads out of scraps of white fabric, as the pattern instructed, which help the sleeves keep their dramatic poof. The sleeves are actually long, with darts at the elbow, but in these photos I’m wearing them rolled up a little so they look below-elbow length. I made the black buttonholes by hand, as usual, and switched them from horizontal to vertical and changed the positioning so they were in the middle of each black square. The black buttons are thrifted, from my stash, and I sewed them on with white thread for a little bit of subtle contrast. To keep the self-bias neckline binding from flopping open at the top, I sewed on two small snaps. The instructions for early 1980s era Simplicity 5900 are quite detailed, and I got a good fit without having to make any adjustments to the size 8. I recommend it to anyone looking for an Edwardian styled pattern, or a pattern that has sleeves that would make Anne Shirley break out into dramatic exclamations of joy.
I am wearing my new blouse in these photos with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, and a homemade sash.
Mr Rat says that this is his favorite dress (albeit a two-piece dress in this instance) I’ve made yet. We bought the fabric together at the Los Angeles fabric district last month for $4 a yard, which makes this one of the most expensive dresses I’ve ever made and shared on this blog. I’d estimate that it cost about $23 total, including the thrift-store bought buttons, thread, and the skirt zipper from JoAnns that I had already in my stash. I’ve had McCalls 6339 circa 1978 for a while and always felt a little intimidated by it until I thought to myself recently that truly it is just a skirt and a blouse---and even though the blouse has princess seams and self-bias binding on the bottom---that isn’t so hard. I’ve made button-up blouses before. And really, it wasn’t so hard, although it was somewhat time-consuming since I wanted the finish to be nice. I flat-felled and top-stitched the seams, bias-bound the inside of the arm-holes, stitched on the self-bias binding by hand, made the button-holes by hand also, and had to do quite a number of darts on the skirt before I gathered it. I’ve never seen a full skirt constructed in that way before, but it really controls the fullness around the waistband and gives it a nice, flattering shape. I didn’t make many construction changes to the dress: I left out the pockets since I usually carry a bag, I didn’t add the tucks at the bottom of the skirt, and I had the shorten the back of the blouse so that it didn’t wrinkle around the top of my hips. I think the next time I make it, I might try shortening the whole bodice a little bit, although this method worked fine; I just had to lengthen the bias binding a little to accommodate the new edge.
For its first debut, I wore my new gingham dress when we walked to the monastery on Sunday morning before church and watched the squirrels do astonishing acrobatic feats in the trees. There were lots of birds, bees, one fat and strangely hairless bumble-bee, and the aforementioned wildly active squirrels. Most of the garden looks very dry----summer in California is a brown time for the most part---but there were still a fair amount of pink blossoms to enjoy: oleander, roses, some curious-looking lilies, and the fuchsia bougainvillea. I hope your August is going well, and you have some flowers to enjoy, too.
This past Sunday when we took our morning walk to the monastery I wore my recently completed Simplicity 8131 bow-necked blouse, one of my long cotton-polyester broadcloth Simplicity 7880 skirts, my black wool vest, and since it was very cold and windy I wore my grey wool cape, too.
Mr Rat and Gia and I were charmed by the many squirrels taking advantage of the recently wilted clover to find all their hidden stashes of nuts. The wind scudded big white clouds across the sky behind the pink church with its beautiful bell-tower, and the heavy, sleepy flowers nodded in every rush of wind that sounded so much like the waters of the ocean distantly roaring.
The bow-tied neck, softly gathered forward shoulder seams and slightly puffed sleeves of this recently released Simplicity blouse pattern caught my eye (they feel so reminiscent of the 70s patterns I love so much), so I decided I should try it out. I combined two of the pattern views: the body and sleeves of version A with the larger tie of versions D and F. I cut most of the pattern to a size 8, widening out to a 10 at the bottom of the sleeves, and lengthening the neck tie to a 12 at the ends. I think the fit turned out well, although getting the neckline over my rather-large head is a tight squeeze, so next time I think I will extend the neck slit a half inch at the bottom.
For fabric, I chose some black and navy gingham cotton voile I bought in the Los Angeles fabric district for 99 cents a yard a few years ago. Originally I bought 5 or 6 yards of it, and I’ve been using it for linings here and there, and some wearable muslins. Out of all the things I’ve used it for, though, I think I’m most pleased with this blouse. The loose fit and soft lines of this pattern make it well suited to a lightweight, soft fabric like voile. I finished the inside seams with faux French seams, pinked the edge of the neck facing, and sewed twice around the arm-holes, trimmed them, and then zig-zagged the edges.
I like how the neckline gives you the option to tie the bow high or low. I also like the sleeves, even though I was feeling wary of putting in elastic instead of cuffs like I usually do. But the elastic is not tight and it looks inconspicuous, so I think I like it after all. Bow-tied blouses always look nice worn under vests or peeking out of jackets or jumpers. In fact, I like my first attempt so much that I think I’ll probably make another, probably in dark brown next time since I have a big length of cotton voile in that color in my fabric cupboard, waiting to be used. . .
1970s era Simplicity 7880 is my favorite pattern for many reasons: I love full skirts for their range of movement and their versatility, dirndl skirts are easy to hem and easy to lengthen, since this particular skirt is cut on the crosswise grain it only has one seam at the center back, and I’ve made this pattern so many times that it has become wonderfully easy---a project of two or three days at most.
This particular version is made of bleached white muslin, bought cheaply on sale at JoAnns. I’m wearing it with a blouse I which I also made out of white muslin, reviewed here. If you are thinking of what fabric you’d like to sew with for summer, don’t dismiss basic, inexpensive muslin, which comes in two summery shades of pale beige and white, is one hundred percent cotton, lightweight but still opaque, and delightfully easy to sew and press. It looks pretty even when it’s a little wrinkly, and also looks nice with all kinds of embellishments: eyelet or crochet trim, embroidery, and beading. I kept this skirt and top very basic and minimal, easy to mix and match with other skirts and tops, and easy to wear with all of my favorite shawls and jewelry.
Why wear a shawl in the summer, you might ask? Well, my husband and I don’t have a car, so we walk everywhere. When you walk a great deal, you realize that even when wearing sunscreen, your skin gets very hot in the sun, and long sleeves or a thin, sheer shawl make you feel cooler than having your arms exposed. In these photos taken at the monastery garden, I’m wearing one of my favorite Indian shawls, bought at the thrift store several years ago. My necklace is sterling silver and pink jasper, an anniversary gift from Mr Rat last year. As always-pedestrians, Mr Rat and I wear a lot of hats, too----this huge straw one is probably my favorite, bought a few years ago at a farmer’s market stand.
Happy early summer to my readers who dwell in the northern hemisphere, and happy autumn to anyone from the southern end of the earth. Remember to take a walk and admire the flowers while they're here.
At long last, I have fulfilled another one of my new year’s sewing resolutions: to find a vest pattern that fits. I’ve had 1970s-era McCall’s 5297 for a while, but only just got around to sewing it, and I’m glad that I finally did. For a first attempt, I think it fits pretty well, although I might make a few minor adjustments the next time I sew it: changing the slope of the shoulders a little to make the neckline more snug, and maybe bringing in the sides at the waist to make it a little more snug there too. This time I didn’t make any fitting adjustments, and I think it is a very wearable ‘muslin.’ Whenever I start to feel bad about fitting (it is so tempting to want everything to fit ‘like a glove’), I think of Nancy Zieman’s advice at the beginning of all of her fitting books: she says not to over-fit your clothes, because it can take the joy out of sewing. And I think she is right. When we only focus on the flaws and the minor problems, we don’t realize how wearable and comfortable the clothes are that we make, and wear them happily and un-self-consciously.
I made this first version out of a one yard scrap of wool (one of the delights of vest-making---it takes so little fabric!) that I bought at the thrift store for two or three dollars. The buttons are from my stash, the same ones that I used on my recently finished black rayon blouse, in fact. The only design change I made was to make the buttonholes smaller and add more of them so I could use smaller buttons. I think this makes it easier to wear, as it doesn’t bunch so badly when I’m sitting down, and I like the look of so many buttons in a line---it makes the vest look as though it could have come from the 30s or 40s as easily as the 70s or beyond. I interfaced all the facings, pinked and stitched all the inner seams, graded the seams around the bust, stitched down the darts in the back shoulders so they would stay flat, and edge-stitched all the seams and edges of the vest. I think this gives the vest a crisp appearance, even though the wool was very springy to work with and difficult to press.
I’m wearing my new black wool vest with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, and my peter-pan collar blouse. My brooch is a vintage Taxco sterling silver rose from Mexico.
This is my second attempt at 1990s-era Simplicity 8620. The first version had shoulders that were far, far too wide for me, so I did a half inch narrow shoulder adjustment on this version. I feel as though it is a little too wide still, although the wrinkling the wide shoulders caused in the first version is not so obvious in the second, partly because of the soft drape of the rayon I used this time, I think. I got the rayon out of a remnant pile in the Los Angeles fabric district two years ago and it has sat on my shelf because I have been too frightened to use it. I’ve never sewn with rayon before, and have read on other sewing websites that it can be slippery and difficult to work with. But since my striped silk blouse (which was also sourced from the LA fabric district) turned out well, I felt like I should overcome my fears of using new fabrics and try it out. I suspected that Simplicity 8620 would do better with a soft and flowing fabric anyway, since it is so loose and unfitted and has no darts, and I think I was right. I’ll have to write a note on the pattern to only use soft fabrics with it in the future. Sewing with the rayon was challenging, but the soft folds of the fabric are forgiving, and if my edge-stitching is not perfect, it is probably not noticeable by anyone but me.
I used a lightweight interfacing to stabilize the facings and cuffs, and sewed my buttonholes by hand, as usual. I finished the inside seams very simply, mostly by pinking it and doing a line of stitching next to the pinking. The buttons are from a big bag I bought at the thrift store some years ago. They’re quite versatile in their plain simplicity, and I use them on a lot of my projects.
I’m wearing my new blouse with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, my home-made tiger-eye necklace, a thrifted pashmina shawl and a vintage silver ring that my mother-in-law gave me.
I’m sure I’ll be wearing this blouse a lot this summer, but I will probably give the earlier pink version away. Every time I wear it I am bothered by the extra wrinkles around the shoulders, and it diminishes my pleasure in wearing it. Do any of you have this problem too? I find that with store bought or thrifted garments I rarely focus on problems in fit or any other minor issues they may have (unless it is something I can fix, like a loose button, or a tear in the lining), but with my home-sewn garments I feel hyper-alert to any problems or mistakes and find myself worrying that they are obvious to other people when I wear my outfits out and about. Does anyone have any solutions to being overly or negatively self-conscious while wearing home-sewn clothes?
I don’t think it helps that the clothes I like to sew and wear are so out far out of the bounds of what is considered ‘normal’ and acceptable in the silicon valley (which is a very conformist place, much to the surprise of most people who live outside of it and think the vast numbers of Google employees that live around here must all be non-conformist. When in truth they all wear the same plaid or blue shirt to work every day and the same North Face windbreaker and expensive sneakers or leather loafers. It makes me miss LA, where all kinds of non-conformity were considered part of normal, and wearing something unusual was something to be enjoyed and appreciated). While I was wearing this outfit and Mr Rat and I were walking to the park with Gia to take some photos, some bicyclists rode by and made the comment, “a little early for Halloween, isn’t it?” Now even though I know what I like and won’t let other people dictate to me what I should wear, I do feel hurt when people stare or make insulting comments like that. Has anyone else had these experiences? How do you still step out with confidence in a community that is not friendly?
Does anyone have other anxieties about wearing their home-sewn clothes? I think Me-Made-May is a good time to ponder these interesting questions. I’d be really interested to hear about your experiences, or to read any suggestions you might have.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew