I am sorry to be absent for so long! 2020 has been full of surprises and changes. Some are unexpected and happy, like finding out that I am pregnant and that we will have a baby in November. And some have been very difficult: getting used to Gia not being here, losing my part-time job as an art teacher, trying to be cautious about going out on any errands during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, struggling to see the doctor for prenatal visits during a pandemic, worrying about the stability of my husband's job (so far it is holding steady and we are immensely grateful), and finding out that we unexpectedly had to move apartments at the end of May.
The national and international news have been overwhelmingly sad and tragic, and Instagram has become very politicized at the moment as many people justly share their anger over so many wrongful deaths and so much neglect of the vulnerable and the poor. I've always hoped that sharing sewing projects here or on Instagram could create a moment of hopefulness: sharing how I make the best of what I have, encouraging myself and others to make do and mend, and attempting to dress with dignity no matter the circumstances. I feel like those things have continuing value and importance, especially in these current times when we are all justly afraid for the future because almost every life has been destabilized and touched by (or even overwhelmed by) trial and hardship.
Still, because Instagram is currently embroiled in important political conversations about race and resistance to injustice, I'm saving my tiny message of ordinariness for this blog. I am going to post some of my early maternity outfits that I've worn through my third month of pregnancy and into my fourth. Even though I've been lucky to avoid much nausea, pregnancy has still been a hard experience for me so far: my body is changing quickly which brings back some body-anxiety that I had as a teenager who struggled with anorexia, and my first trimester was exhausting and I spent a lot of it asleep. I'm relieved that some energy is slowly returning now that I've passed 15 weeks, and I am trying daily to find ways to cultivate comfort and hope, no matter how small or brief those moments are.
I've been starting to sew some things for the baby and my changing, and I plan to post them here as energy and circumstances allow. Changes are happening, and I am trying to adapt every day.
My blue check dress, worn here under a thrifted denim skirt. Both have elastic waists--perfect for early maternity, when fitted waists stop fitting.
My brown check maxi dress, worn here with a homemade black velvet bow attached to a pin.
A new and un-blogged smock dress made from Simplicity 9343 and a thrifted floral sheet with pale pink poppies on it. I am wearing it here with a thrifted pink cotton cardigan and a locket that my husband gave me.
My first outfit photo from our new apartment: my yellow Folkwear prairie dress (I don't think I've given it a proper blog post yet either) with the sleeves rolled up---truly the most comfortable, light, and flowing thing to wear while pregnant in hot weather.
My sister gave me this ready-made cotton-linen blouse and the thin cotton jumper, which she sewed. It is wonderfully comfortable and adjusts with ties at the side.
I am sorry for the long absence. This has been a year of unexpected and difficult adjustments, and sometimes those take up so much time and energy that there isn't much left over. Those of you who have been following along for some time will already know that our twelve and a half year old Labrador, Gia, who we loved and adored, passed away at the end of December. We had a difficult January. We tried to adopt a border-collie lab mix but there were some very large problems with the adoption----ones we couldn't handle in our current living situation----so we had to give him back up to the shelter, which was a terrible experience for my husband and me. Our second adoption ended up being a good match for us and for our new dog. His name is Cougar. He is a five year old labrador mountain cur mix, and he is as sweet as can be. But he has needed a lot of training, as all of his manners are indoor manners and no one had ever taught him to walk on a leash. Between Cougar's training, bad weather, family visits, having friends and co-workers over for dinner, working, learning to make tortillas, replacing a broken bed, etc. our weekends for February were packed full, and then we were in March and suddenly the news became an overwhelming presence in our lives, and we were carefully taking stock of our pantry, and then our worries were confirmed as the coronavirus epidemic became a pandemic and like most of the world we became isolated in our living space.
I imagine that you are all dealing with some form of social distancing and self-quarantining, so you will probably understand why after over a week of working together in our smallish dark apartment and only leaving to exercise with Cougar very early in the morning, my husband and I were feeling hungry for a change of scenery. We decided last Sunday that we should take Cougar and get out and go on a drive out to the Bonneville salt flats, on the edge of the Utah border.
The salt flats are a striking place----miles on miles of flat white thick crusted salt. I wore a recently completed dress that I made from a thrifted sheet with a large print of faded roses and thought that the contrast of roses and salt ended up being rather poetic. The dress is actually made from a 1990s pullover blouse pattern, Simplicity 9132. I simply shortened it to 5/8ths of an inch below the waistline marking and then added a gathered skirt made of simple rectangles. It was a fast and simple sewing project, and it is very loose and comfortable. I made a size 10, but it is such an over-sized design that I could have easily made an 8, or even a 6 and I think it would have fit fine. The buttons on the cuffs were leftovers from my button jar. There weren't any other fastenings. I did discover a small hole in the sleeve after I finished sewing---one of the risks of sewing with second-hand fabrics, especially vintage sheets----so I simply cut out a little scrap of leftover fabric and patched it up. I don't think it is noticeable unless you know it is there and look for it. I don't mind patching things these days, as I feel like it is a statement that I care about this earth, and that lovely things should be cared for.
Getting out in the sunshine and fresh air felt very good after so much confinement. Hopefully Mr Rat and I can catch up somewhat on our backlog of sewing projects to photograph since we suddenly have our weekends all to ourselves for the foreseeable future. I have been cutting out and sewing new projects in an effort to keep myself busy and cheerful in the hours that I am not painting in the studio or doing housework. I miss doing little ordinary things---getting to plan trips to gardens and museums, going to the grocery store, going out on errands to buy buttons or go to the thrift store. They used to break up the monotony of working at home. Now I've had to try to find other things like doing extra baking, playing records, and taking breaks to play games with Cougar. Getting dressed up every day helps me feel dignified even when I feel overwhelmed by sadness or worries for the future. I'm trying to wear more of my homemade jewelry again, as the splash of color brings me a little burst of contentment when I put in on in the morning. I spent some time today doing more beading because I realized I had several strands of stones that were given to me for Christmas that I hadn't used, and beading is so relaxing when I am stressed. The simple action helps me focus on my hands.
How are you dealing with social isolation and quarantine? Do your clothes or crafts bring you comfort, too?
Please pardon my messy, half-dry hair in these pictures. I've been struggling to get photos of my new sewing projects through the winter time, so these ones that I squeezed in before Mr Rat and I went to church will have to do---otherwise I might end up another with another month gone by and no posts here on the blog. Despite the photos of it being less than ideal, I am pleased with how this dress turned out. I used one of Simplicity's current releases, S8945, which I bought late last year before I decided to go on a pattern fast for 2020 as one of my new year's sewing goals. The pattern interested me primarily for its sleeve and shoulder shape, which struck me as being reminiscent of an 1830s dress silhouette. Here is a 1830s fashion plate, and you can tell me if you see a resemblance also in the dropped shoulder, puffed sleeve and full skirt:
I made some adjustments to the pattern to make it a little more historically inspired (and more to my liking): I drafted a new neckline and facing following the curve of the neck and ignoring the way the pattern dips down in the front. I also left off the waistline ties and added a full, gathered, dirndl skirt instead of the a-line or narrow skirt included in the pattern.
I sewed a size 10 this time, which is closest to my true measurements. In the past I've usually sized down to an 8, but since I've been going running and lifting weights for almost two years now with my husband, my body shape has shifted slightly and I find my true size to have a more comfortable amount of ease now. I think going up one size did result in the bust darts being slightly too wide for me, so next time I will use the darts for the smaller sizes. Otherwise, I think that the fit is good, and I think the bodice is actually more fitted than the pattern envelope suggests.
Some notes about sewing construction and details: I used a bit of bias tape to act as a stay for the waist-line of the dress by sewing it into the waist seam on the inside. I interfaced the edges of the fabric along the zipper and sewed in the zipper by hand, which I find gives me the neatest and flattest result. The fabric is from a queen sized brown cotton-poly blend sheet that I found at the thrift store for $4. It has a lot of crisp body, which makes the sleeves stand out well on their own without any extra padding beneath.
In these photos I am wearing a vintage blouse that was a Christmas gift underneath my new dress, so the collar of the blouse shows over the plain jewel neckline of the dress. I think it gives my outfit an even more historically inspired, or "history-bounding" look. I am also wearing some tiger-eye earrings that I have had for many years and a tiger-eye bracelet that I made myself. I'm not wearing any shoes because it was before church and I hadn't put on my snow boots for our walk over there yet. But I did wrap myself up in my homemade shawl to give you a sense of what I really looked like through the day, because I don't spend much time not bundled in a shawl or a sweater at this time of year.
I hope that you are all staying warm (or staying cool, for those of you reading from the southern hemisphere). Those of you who have been following along on Instagram as well as here might already know that my beloved Gia passed away right after Christmas. My husband and I were (and still are) grief-stricken. She was my companion and best friend for 12 1/2 years. It is hard to face the world without her. I miss her intensely every day.
Since we found our home so empty after our loss, we decided to adopt a dog again. Two weeks ago we found Cougar through a local animal foster care group and adopted him into our family. He is a 5 year old golden Labrador mix. He is sweet and affectionate and sometimes reminds me of Gia but is firmly and definitely his own dog---funny, fond of kissing, in need of leash training, but altogether a good boy who we are growing fonder and fonder of. Gia is still the sweetest, gentlest dog in the world to me, and I will love her always and immensely. But my heart is expanding to make room for this new friend.
Here is a photo of Cougar and me in the studio:
As the year has progressed, I've been working on paring down my patterns. I used to enjoy having lots of choices and trying out new patterns almost every time I sewed a garment. It gave me a sense of plenitude, adventure, and richness of choice that I missed in some other aspects of my life. That has been a fun way to sew, but over this past year, I've found that approach working less and less well for me. Instead of bringing me excitement, my ever-expanding collection of patterns has been giving me decision fatigue. When patterns didn't turn out well I felt intensely discouraged. This has led me towards simplifying my sewing supplies and routines, so I've spent some time over the past two months sorting through my patterns and pulling many out for donation at the local creative re-use center I've only kept ones that I have had success with in the past and that have enough ease for current and future subtle changes in weight and muscle tone, or that looked promising enough to merit getting wearable muslin tests and a final decision over whether or not to keep them after all. Simplicity 9902 is one of the second small selection of patterns that I hadn't yet made up, but that I wanted to try.
I found Simplicity 9902 at the local creative reuse center, Clever Octopus, earlier in the year. It is a size 11/12 for young juniors/teens, but the measurements for this size are actually quite accurate for me, except for the shorter back neck-to-waist length. Keeping that in mind, I lengthened the pattern a bit over an inch. It has a bit of blousing now, so I could probably shorten it slightly if I wanted to, but the blousing also helps it have more ease for movement, so perhaps I won't make further changes. I also lengthened and widened the skirt to suit my own tastes. Since the shirt-waist has an elastic waist that is hidden under a belt when worn, it is forgiving to wear, despite looking rather neat and tailored in an early 1960s way because of the peter-pan collar and the subtly puffed sleeves with their small cuffs.
I made my test version in a thrifted cotton that I believe was originally one of the "homespun" line at JoAnn fabrics. I like the small navy blue plaid: it is versatile, and the cotton is soft and has a nice drape that suits the looser, gathered waist very well. This will be a good year-round dress because the cotton is light enough to wear comfortably in the summer, but is a dark enough color to look good in the fall, winter, and spring, layered with tights, a petticoat, sweaters, and coats. The buttons are also thrifted. Other construction notes: I did lots of edge-stitching to keep things looking neat, I made my button-holes by hand, the elastic is inserted in a waist channel made by sewing the bodice and skirt seam allowances together at the top, and I made small sleeve heads out of cotton from my scrap basket to help keep the tops of the sleeves puffed out.
I plan to keep Simplicity 9902. It is a sewing success, and I can see it working well in other cottons, linen, flannel or light-weight wool. It is one of those rare styles that looks good in all seasons and can be worn for most situations. I can imagine doing a summery version where I left out the waist elastic and made a loose pullover with short sleeves. I think there are many possibilities for adjustments and drafting new details. The fit is overall good, although I will add a warning to other women venturing into sewing the occasional teen size to check the waist length and that the arm holes may be a little smaller and higher than they are usually drafted for adults.
I have a few other patterns that I want to test out with wearable muslins, so keep an eye out for some new garments over the coming months, both here and on Instagram (when I can get around to taking photos for either platform---unfortunately it is very dark through the winter and occasions to take photos can be sparser than ever with the limited hours of day-light). I think that I will start repeating patterns far more often next year as I finish making wearable muslins and start experimenting with making pattern drafting adjustments to the patterns that I've kept in my collection. There will probably be some more paring down of patterns and styles as this process continues, too. I feel very drawn to greater simplicity at this moment, and though I think I will always like some variety of choice, I also feel attracted to experimenting with more of a "uniform," or at least a more unified set of variables in my closet to mix and match.
Mr Rat took these photos of me in my new autumn dress a few weeks ago on a weekend trip to Red Butte Gardens. It was cool enough to also need my newly thrifted wool coat, which required a few hours of mending and patching the lining to be in wearable condition again. I am glad that I did it, though, because I think this coat will be a firm favorite for many winters to come.
Do you prefer to sew new patterns? Or to make adjustments to what you already have? Have you ever been inspired to make a big change to your sewing pattern habits? Do you sew "uniforms" for yourself?
Like most sewers, I have a lot of scraps. Especially since I often sew with second-hand fabric and sheets from the thrift store and so I can't buy just the amount of fabric that I need for a project. Usually this works out well---I can often fit in more than one project on a large piece of fabric. But sometimes it just means that I have a lot of odd shapes left over and can't quite squeeze a blouse or a scarf out of them. Then what do I do?
We don't have a lot of storage space in our apartment, and since our rats passed away at the beginning of the summer, I don't have any ready way to use up the fabric scraps that we produce on an almost weekly basis. It has become a pressing problem (especially after a few failed sewing projects this summer---I liked the fabrics but not the finished garments, and wanted to re-make them into something I would actually wear) to figure out a way to use up a large amount of scraps at once. Inspired by the aloha-shirt quilt we are making out of my husband's old clothes, I thought that I could cut up as many of my scraps and failed garments as possible into squares, sew those squares into patchwork fabric, and then use that fabric to cut out a dress.
This method of using up scraps is time-consuming, but I think that the result is eye-catching, unique, and very wearable. I used my favorite 1970s dress pattern, McCalls 6209 for my first try at this experiment, and I am pleased with the results. I didn't do anything to finish the seams this time, as I was working with sturdy cottons and cotton-blends. I didn't trim the seam allowances either, so I think it should go through the washing machine just fine for at least the next few years. I always try to launder our handmade garments as gently as possible and air-dry them anyway. I can see this as a useful way to use up fabric scraps and make any kind of garment more visually interesting. Right now I am imagining future patchwork skirts, blouses, vests, jumpers, smocks, tote bags, etc.
Mr Rat took these pictures of my new experimental dress a bit over a week ago at Wheeler Historic Farm. It is a unique state park that is still a working farm, historic site, and a hiking area. It's only a few miles away from us, and we've been trying to take advantage of the free admission to enjoy being outside there and visiting the plants and animals while the weather is still somewhat warm. I felt very autumnal and festive in my patchwork and my home-made hair flowers. If you want to make your own, you can follow my simple tutorial here.
Have any of you attempted a patchwork garment before? Is it something you would like to try? How do you use up your fabric scraps?
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).
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.
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?
Easter is my favorite holiday. Even more than Christmas or Thanksgiving, I find it a hopeful holiday----a reminder that second chances are possible, that spring comes after winter, that warmth and light come back after darkness, and that death is part of the cycle of life and rebirth and renewal that all things go through. I love Easter hymns, and reading about Christ, and pondering the challenges of trying to practice faith and be genuine in my heart.
When I can, I enjoy making a new Easter dress to make going to church and family dinner feel even more festive. This year I decided to go back to an old favorite pattern: 1970s-era Simplicity 5497, which I have made once before. I like the fit of my original striped dress, which I wear often, and have been meaning to make a new version. When I started thinking of what I wanted to make for Easter, I thought immediately of that pattern, with a few changes. This time I made the short puffed sleeves, and I tried doing a little pattern drafting by tracing out the collar pieces and taking out 2 inches of width to make a much narrower peter pan collar. I was hoping to get a slight 1930s look, with the raised waist, puffed sleeves, delicate little round collar, and lovely floral pattern. I'm not sure I quite succeeded in evoking that decade, but I'm pleased with the look nonetheless.
Let's talk about the fabric! I found this beautiful sheet at the thrift store a few months ago and thought that it is the best floral sheet that I've ever found. I love the print, the green striped border, and the names of the flowers. It evokes a botanical garden to me, or a herbarium. It was a little sheer, though, so I was careful to underline the bodice with a white cotton sheet (also thrifted) which I also used to make the cuffs and collar. I cut the skirt of my dress long enough to reach my ankles, and used the green border as a ready-made hem, since I wanted to incorporate it into my dress design. To keep things neat, I sewed a scrap of bias tape into the seam where the skirt meets the bodice, then folded it up and tacked it to the interlining layer by hand, so it hid the raw edges of the trimmed skirt seam. I always stitch a second time around the arm-holes before I trim them as well, for extra strength in an area that gets a lot of wear. The zipper was also stitched in by hand, and the facings at the neck were folded and stitched along the edge of the zipper tape, to keep things neat inside.
One problem with using thrifted sheets is that sometimes they are not quite on grain, as I found out when I cut my cuffs out thinking the grain line was matched to the edge of the fabric only to find that they warped and twisted slightly when I interfaced them and folded them to sew onto the dress. It's not something that shows up when I'm wearing it, only on the hanger, so I think I will just have to live with it. It's one of those things that's difficult to tell ahead of time. Another little problem that I faced was that when I drafted the collar to be smaller, the points stuck out in the back on either side of the zipper and didn't want to lay flat against the dress. That problem had a simple solution: I just tacked down the edges of the collar by hand. They won't fold over a sweater anymore, but they lay flat.
I'm wearing my dress with a homemade white crochet shawl from last year, a gold brooch shaped like a little bouquet of violets that Mr Rat gave me two Valentine's Days ago, and my trusty old clogs. Even though the trees are finally blooming, there has still been a chill in the air until just the last few days. And now suddenly we are close to 80 degrees, and a short sleeved dress will be just right.
Happy Easter to all of you, no matter what faith you practice! I hope that today brings peace to your heart and wonder for the beauty of this brief season.
I found 1970s-era Simplicity 7100 at the thrift store and immediately thought that it would make a great cleaning dress. As a housewife-artist, a significant amount of my time every week is spent cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, baking, gardening, and doing messy tasks in the studio like gessoing new canvases, sanding panels, or washing brushes. I don't mind cleaning---in fact, I find that it helps me focus my mind and dissipate my anxiety. Bringing a little order to my surroundings can help me feel like I am bringing a little more order to my head and heart. But I get tired easily---I'm not sure if that is an effect of my depression or a different health problem, and I have to admit that there is something discouraging about the endlessness of cleaning. No sooner do I finish my mundane tasks than it feels like I must start them all over again. Routine can be calming, but it can also be stultifying and sometimes exhausting.
One way I've learned to deal with the harder aspects of cleaning is to dress up for it. This might sound counter-intuitive, since you don't want to get your nice clothes dirty, and cleaning is by nature a dirty task. But I've found that having a few items of clothing that I've made especially for cleaning out of durable materials like cotton, twill, and denim, and also setting aside some older dresses that I've retired from wearing outside the house, means that I can clean without feeling frumpy and messy and unattractive. Feeling at least moderately pretty and neat while I clean means that the large amount of time I spend doing it doesn't feel so burdensome. It also lifts my mood to wear something that I like, and a simple necklace or earrings, too. I don't have to worry about the way that I look if someone knocks on the door, and I feel more dignified in general, which is very helpful when doing tasks (like scrubbing out sinks) that can feel very undignified.
So when I see an interesting smock pattern, or in this case, jumper dress, I often consider its qualities as a cleaning outfit. This pattern looked like a great cleaning dress. And I already had about 5 yards or so of heavy dark brown cotton twill that I found at the thrift store for $9 last fall, that I thought would work perfectly with the simple lines of the flared A-line jumper. Twill would make my new jumper nice and durable for all kinds of indoor and outdoor tasks. The loose shape and the larger size (10, when I usually sew an 8) also meant that it would be very comfortable. The pattern is sized for maternity, but I asked my mom whether she thought it would work for a non-pregnant body, and she said she thought it would. Her experience sewing her own maternity clothes was that they were cut looser, but were otherwise not very different from regular patterns. So I bought the pattern for 50 cents, took it home and noticed that the only thing different about it was that there was a little extra length drafted into the center front of the dress, so I lined it up with the back and trimmed that extra amount off. I did add about two inches to the bottom of the dress when I was cutting it out because I wanted to make sure that it would hit my legs below my knees.
The rest of construction was easy: I was careful to finish all the seams with faux-flat fell stitching to keep them neat and from fraying (I've found in the past that twill tends to fray badly). I sewed in the zipper by hand and added a hook and eye at the top of the zipper to help keep the neckline closed. I folded and stitched a narrow machine-hem. The neckline facing is also folded and machine-stitched, and I top-stitched the neckline and arm-holes.
Because the dress is so loose, it sometimes slips a little backwards on my shoulders, which can make the hem look a little off from the side. But it is a minor issue for a dress that turned out the way I had hoped: perfect for cleaning, for tough jobs, for getting dirty, for being comfortable.
In these photos I'm wearing my new jumper with a very old t-shirt (my one and only, since I usually wear button-up shirts and blouses), my trusty old Lotta From Stockholm clogs, and a necklace that I made myself from leftover beads from other projects. And please pardon my unruly hair! It's getting to that length where sometimes it curls under and sometimes out, and I can never tell what it will do in the morning.
Do you ever sew anything with very specific tasks in mind? Have you ever made an outfit just for cleaning in?
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.