You can see that I persist in sewing hopeful spring/summer clothing despite the weather's just as persistent insistence that it is not warm enough to wear them. I had just finished my first attempt of 1970s-era Butterick 3953 before Mr Rat and I decided to go visit the Red Butte Gardens in north-eastern Salt Lake City this past Saturday. Since it has been too dark, too stormy, and too busy to take photos for most of the month, Mr Rat suggested I wear my new blouse and he could photograph it during our exploration of the garden. It was a hopeful suggestion, but most of the time I was bundled up in my homemade grey wool cape and my long brown skirt and the only time my blouse saw the very weak sunshine was when I took off my cape long enough to capture the few photos above.
We enjoyed our trip to the gardens, and seeing the first bulbs blooming in the midst of the grey and brown expanses of grass and soil and bare branches. I also enjoyed wearing my new blouse, and foresee it making many reappearances during Me-Made-May and afterwards, as the weather warms up. I like the fit, the ruffles at the bottom of the sleeves, and the scooped neckline. The hardest part of sewing it was turning the long drawstring inside out. That took me quite a while of patient poking with a bamboo skewer. And the next hardest part was sewing the bias binding casings on straight for the sleeve elastic and the drawstring waist. The rest of the blouse was quite simple: it has no darts, just a little easing at the sides of the bust, and all the shaping comes from the casings. I did the buttonholes by hand, used thrifted buttons (I have so very many of these white buttons! You will probably see them on a lot of my summer sewing ahead this year), and added white cotton crochet lace trim by hand to the neckline, the bottom hem, and the ends of the sleeves. I like the crochet trim a great deal: it is delicate and simple. I try to buy a few spools of it whenever trims come on sale at Hobby Lobby and I happen to be near a store. Then I pre-wash it, since it is prone to shrinking, and iron it before I sew it onto my chosen fabric. This particular fabric is a thrifted piece of seersucker in a nice shade of grey-blue.
Altogether, I am pleased with my first attempt at this pattern. I think I might change the slope of the shoulders just a little, so that the neckline is a little tighter, but otherwise I don't think it needs any adjustments.
Has spring sprung in your part of the world yet? (Or autumn, for the lower hemisphere). Do you ever sew out of season, just because you are looking forward to the next one a little more than the one you are in? Winter feels like it has been going on for such a long time.
Now that the snow is melting and the sun is back warming up the very-blue sky, perhaps I can finally try to catch up on some of my sewing projects here on the blog. It is still cold to photograph outside, so I used the tripod and took a few photos of my new blouse in my studio (you can see some pieces in progress and some of my various sketches and paintings behind me). This short and simple top exists almost entirely thanks to thrift store finds and a little bit of work: I found both the pattern, 1970s-era Simplicity 5639, and the fabric, a black cotton with a subtle stripe woven into it, on separate thrift store trips. I think I've had the fabric since we lived in California, but I found the pattern here in Utah. It is always a nice thing to find a pattern I like in my size at the thrift store, and even nicer when that pattern is not missing any pieces.
I like that this pattern is a very quick and easy project. It didn't take me long to finish it. In fact, most of the sewing was done in one day. There are no closures to worry about, which speeds up the process even more. I did my usual finishing touches: edge-stitching the yoke all the way around, and finishing the hems with a narrow machine-stitched seam. Although it may be hard to see in these photos, I cut the yoke on the crosswise grain so that the stripes run perpendicular to the rest of the blouse. I'm pleased with the fit, which is breezy and comfortable. The simplicity of the cut lends itself well to highlighting handmade jewelry, like this honey jade necklace I made last year, or a beautiful shawl. The only concern I had during the construction would be that the blouse would be too short and I would worry about raising my arms whenever I wear it. But it turned out not to be a problem; with a narrow hem, it hits me at the high hip, and I can stretch any direction without trouble.
I imagine I will wear this blouse a lot as the weather warms up. It is wearable now with one of my long handmade Simplicity 7880 skirts over a slip and stockings and socks, and layered with a shawl, but it will be even easier to wear when it is hot enough to not need so many layers. In fact, this pattern strikes me as being so perfect for summer that I already cut out another copy in unbleached cotton muslin. I suppose it is optimistic to be thinking ahead to warm weather clothes, but I feel a need for hopefulness right now. Maybe the snow will finish melting this week---maybe it will be warmer next week---maybe by next month I can start planting flowers and re-potting my faithful houseplants, and even draw outside again.
What are you looking forward to doing when spring arrives? Or autumn, if you are in the southern hemisphere----summer can be just as hard to endure as winter, which makes the transitional seasons of spring and fall so beloved, so beautiful, and yet so brief.
Mr Rat and I went to Southern California to visit our parents for Thanksgiving, and oh it was sunny and warm! Thanksgiving day hovered around 90 degrees in my parents' backyard, where Mr Rat and I took these photos of my newest attempt at 1990s-era Simplicity 8620. Although I like the pattern, I haven't had much luck with my last two versions: the first (reviewed here) was too wide in the shoulders and the fabric wrinkled badly and didn't drape well enough to really suit the looseness of this blouse pattern. The second (reviewed here) had wonderful drape, but the first time I tried to wash it I made the mistake of putting it in the washing machine on the delicate cycle and it came out weirdly warped and unwearable. I should have tried washing it by hand.
This version is made from a mystery floral fabric that I found at the thrift store a while ago. It has a gentle drape, and I suspect it is actually a lightweight wool, given the hand of the fabric and the way it behaves under an iron. It frayed badly, so I was careful to finish all my seams, mostly with a faux flat-fell finish, and to bind the armholes with some grey rayon seam binding that was also from the thrift store. I decided to use self-covered buttons, which I made with a kit from JoAnns. The fit is the same as my last black rayon version, with a narrow-shoulder adjustment, although this time I decided to add the large collar, which ended up being rather dramatic, but looks nice with the bishop sleeves, I think. I edge-stitched all the seams, sewed the button-holes by hand, and sewed two snaps to the top of the button-placket area, to help keep the blouse closed and neat where the collar meets.
Although the style, color, and pattern are somewhat of a departure from my usual earth-toned solids, I'm pleased with how this blouse turned out, and foresee it being a versatile blouse for all kinds of weather---the lightweight wool making it warm in cooler weather and wicking away moisture to keep it cool and comfortable in warmer weather. On Thanksgiving day I wore it with a homemade necklace made of autumn jasper and my brown Simplicity 7880 skirt (reviewed here).
Now that we are back in Utah, we are also back to grey landscapes, grey clouds, and heavy coats. How do you adjust to the weather when you are sewing? Do you readers always sew seasonally? I thought this blouse might be unseasonable, but I think it turned out to be just right for November in California, and I am hopeful it will make many reappearances here in Utah in the spring.
Simplicity 8458 is one of the handful of 1950s-era vintage reproduction patterns that Simplicity released this year to honor their 90th anniversary. I bought a copy during one of JoAnn's 99 cent pattern sales recently and decided it was worth a try. I've never had much luck with a-line skirts before because my hip and waist measurements are varied enough to be one, if not two pattern sizes apart, and so when I've tried sewing a size 8 (which is the best fit for my waist) sometimes the skirt won't fit over my hips, but when I've tried larger sized patterns, the waistline is huge, and when I've tried to grade the patterns to different sizes at the waist and hips, the skirt hasn't fallen into the proper folds. So this time I pulled out some denim I bought at the thrift store a few years ago that had some damage on it: a few small holes and a little bit of staining that wouldn't come out in the wash. I decided to try a size 10, and cut around the damage on the denim, and was surprised at how well it fits! The waistband is slightly looser than most of my skirts, but isn't extremely large (and is also easy to slip sweaters into). I think it also helps that the skirt is very flared, which makes it easier to pull on over hips of any size. The total flare of the skirt is probably close to a half-circle skirt, maybe a bit more. The skirt is designed with four gores, cut on the bias----it is important to follow the pattern layout for this skirt, because it has you cut out each piece in a single layer, and getting them at the right angles is very important for the skirt to hang well.
Even though I'm not wearing it with a petticoat in these pictures, it does accommodate a petticoat well, and flares nicely when I do wear one. I like that now I have an alternative skirt pattern to my normal gathered dirndl skirts, and that it doesn't add any bulk around the hips when I'm wearing it with a peplum blouse or jacket, like here, where I paired my new skirt with my denim peplum top I finished last month.
I top stitched all the seams and used a thick gold metal denim skirt zipper, for durability. Sewing this skirt is a simple process, but it is important to follow the instructions, even though there are few of them. The skirt has to be basted and hung out overnight so the bias can stretch out before you sew the panels together. It is also helpful to remember to sew from the bottom to the top on all the seams (the pattern reminds you to do so) so the stitches stretch in the proper direction. The instructions for attaching the waistband were different than my other skirt patterns----it has you finish the waistband with edge-stitching from the outside, rather than folding and finishing it on the inside, and the pattern doesn't recommend trimming the seam before sewing the waistband closed, which I found made the waistband stiff without having to add waistband interfacing. Since the bottom hem is heavily curved, I finished it using navy bias tape I thrifted a long time ago and had in my stash. I used a method like the one Bianca from the Closet Historian describes here.
I'm wearing my denim outfit with a thrifted shawl, a big tiger-eye brooch (also thrifted), thrifted leather gloves, and boots that I originally thrifted several years ago and had re-heeled earlier this year. Given my denim, buttons and bias tape were all thrifted too, I feel like I can truly claim that you can find most things you need second-hand shopping. Sewing doesn't have to be expensive. Neither does getting dressed in an interesting way.
I'm very pleased with how this skirt turned out and I've been wearing it a lot since I finished it. I think it is a practical, year round skirt, and could as easily be worn hiking or cleaning as taking a walk in the park.
Mr Rat was kind enough to take these photos while we were out walking with Gia in our local park. The weather is very grey most days, so it is very challenging to get good photos. The landscape has turned very stark: all shades of brown and grey. But there are beautiful bright berries on the bushes, and the evergreens are still dark green.
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.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.