This past Sunday while we were at the park taking Gia on her evening stroll, Mr Rat was kind enough to take some pictures of this dress I made from 1990s-era Simplicity 7752. I have been wearing this comfortable, easy shirt-dress a lot since I finished it at the end of May, when some of you might have seen it here on the blog or on Instagram.
It is an easy dress to put together, and would be a good pattern for someone just venturing into dressmaking, I think. The bodice has no darts, the facings on the skirt are simply folded over, the cuffs are made in one piece without needing a button closure, and the overall fit is loose and forgiving. I made my version out of a $4 cotton-blend sheet that I found at our local Goodwill thrift store. The collar and cuffs are made from scraps leftover from another sheet that I used to make a blouse recently. The buttons were also thrifted, a long time ago. I have a jar full of this particular style of white buttons, which I use on a lot of my casual sewing projects. I used some scraps of bias tape to cover the waist-seam on the inside of the dress, and did lots of edgestitching to keep everything crisp. My buttonholes took me the most time since I sew them by hand, but it is a relaxing thing to do while watching Masterpiece Mystery shows.
I like the peter-pan collar and the simple, breezy, comfort of this dress. I think this pattern will likely become a favorite, as I've already cut out another version in navy blue, with a white collar and cuffs. I will probably use the same white buttons on that one, too, I would highly recommend this pattern to anyone looking for a simple sundress. Although I can imagine this pattern working just as well for fall or winter, sewn up in a nice warm flannel.
I've missed posting here---I've missed taking photos with Mr Rat----and I've missed all of you, and the interesting conversations that we have. This summer has been a hard one, and taking pictures and updating the website have both fallen by the wayside. Now that a few of the hard things are over and we are in the midst of coming to terms with some of the other difficult bits, I hope that we will be able to post here more regularly again. My goal is to manage a post at least one to three times a month. It is such a pleasure to have this project to work on together with Mr Rat: a little world of creativity to inhabit and develop here on our shared website, a record to keep of our efforts and growth. I don't want to let it go, and don't think that we are currently facing any life changes that will make continuing our work here impossible----it just gets hard sometimes when other things need our attention for a while.
I've had my copy of late 1960s-era Simplicity 9486 for at least two years now, and have always liked the look of the high waist, full skirt, ruffled sleeves and square neckline. Recently I found a large pale blue gingham sheet at Goodwill (much like the one I used to make this dress in the spring, just a shade darker) and decided that this would be a good time to try this dress out: at the height of summer, when comfortable, light dresses are the best thing to combat daily 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Simplicity 9486 didn't disappoint. My only adjustments were to widen the skirt quite a bit, since I like freedom of motion that fuller skirts give me, and to use narrow seam allowances at the back of the bodice along the center-back zipper, since I found the bodice to be rather tight around my ribs and I had already gone too far in the sewing process to let out the side seams. In the future, I will remember to add a little bit of allowance at the side seams along the ribs, for ease of breathing and comfort. Otherwise, I'm very pleased with the fit: I like the higher square neckline, the four darts on each side of the bodice give it a lot of shaping, and the sleeves have a nice shape and pleasing amount of puff.
As usual, I edge-stitched around the neckline, interfaced the fabric along the zipper to keep that area from rippling, inserted the zipper by hand with a prick-stitch, and finished and stayed the waistline with a piece of bias tape which I sewed into the waistline seam and then folded up over the trimmed waistline gathers and sewed to the bodice to completely cover the raw edges. I pinked the other seam allowances and used some scraps of white bias binding to make the casings for the elastic at the wrists.
I'm wearing my new dress with a new-to-me $3 straw hat that I also found at Goodwill. Mr Rat took these photos during golden hour at the park down the street from the complex where we live. The park has an arboretum on the other side of the creek from the play areas for children. Mr Rat and Gia and I had a lovely, peaceful time wandering under the trees and admiring the flowers and bees that are still enduring despite the extreme temperatures all month.
On a different note: I do have to admit that I feel uncertain about wearing light blue. I like to wear navy and feel like it is a good color for me, but I find it hard to tell whether light blue is an unflattering color on me or whether I am just more comfortable wearing mid-to-darker shades than lighter ones. Do any of you have any advice about this? Choosing colors is such a subjective process. Light blue does feel very summery to me, so perhaps it doesn't matter whether or not it is a flattering color, so long as it is a happy one.
What do you all think about choosing colors for sewing projects: do you only choose flattering colors to sew with, or do you sew with any color that strikes your fancy and makes you pleased?
Monday May 28 - Day 28
This was Memorial Day, a bank holiday in the USA, so Mr Rat and I got to stay home. Since I knew I'd be doing some housework, spending time in the studio, and going walking (stormy weather or no), I chose to dress for warmth and comfort and wore my flared denim skirt along with one of my rare t-shirts and a thrifted sweater.
Tuesday May 29 - Day 29
I wore my denim peplum blouse and my long black Simplicity 7880 skirt.
Wednesday May 30 - Day 30
The weather started to feel summery so I pulled out some older favorites: my Laura Ashley jumper dress and my puff sleeved muslin blouse.
Thursday May 31 - Last Day
I wore my just-barely-completed new summer dress, made from a 1990s pattern. The dress and collar and cuffs are all made out of thrifted cotton sheets and the white buttons are thrifted too, from a long time ago. I'm glad that I finally tried this pattern, because I can envision it becoming a firm favorite. It could easily be redrafted as a loose blouse, too.
Things I have learned from participating in Me Made May 2018:
I am amazed that in a month's time I rarely wore the same garment twice (skirts excepted) and yet I still didn't wear all of my hand-made wardrobe options. I don't have an especially large closet----I think it's average, or even rather small by American standards. So that shows me that my whole wardrobe is really wearable, which gives me a lot of choice. Over the last six or so years I've made a lot---enough to gradually switch almost all my clothes from thrifted to handmade (right now I have two button-up shirts, one drawer of knits, sweaters and jeans, and one coat that I am in the process of relining----everything else is handmade by me). This weekend I'm going to see about selling my faux-fur winter coat because I have plans to make my own heavy wool coat. Then my wardrobe really will be homemade, for all seasons. I'm really pleased with my progress, and glad to have the many combinations I can make with all of the homemade clothes in my closet.
I don't enjoy taking a photo of myself everyday, but it is helpful in making good sewing plans for the rest of the year. Looking at photos of myself wearing my handmade clothing helps me see what looks good, what particular features and shapes I favor in my pattern choices, and what I still need to sew to make my wardrobe fully functional and practical.
It reaffirmed for me that I like the color palette that I've chosen for my clothes: I wore a lot of black, navy, brown, and white, as well as a little bit of tan, cream, rose, and olive green.
It helped me see that I like simplicity in my clothing and accessories. It also helped me identify some of the features that I like in my clothes: peter-pan collars, softly puffed sleeves, small prints rather than large ones (particularly gingham, stripes, and floral prints with lots of roses), solid-colored cotton fabrics, bishop sleeves, button-up shirts, jumper dresses, peasant blouses, and full skirts with a midi-to-ankle length hem. I realized that I prefer a semi-fitted or loose bodice over a highly fitted one (except for dressy clothes to wear to church on Sundays and other special occasions), and I also realized that I don't care for scooped necklines anymore, since my skin has had such a hard time transitioning to the dry weather here in Utah. I find that I like to be covered up, and then I don't have to worry much about sunburns or skin troubles or quick changes in the weather from cold to hot or vice versa.
I chose a few items that I think I will give away, as they are silhouettes or prints that I've realized were an interesting experiment, but don't fit in well with my other clothes. Right now I've pulled out three blouses to give away or put away for a while while I consider their place in my closet. I also put one dress away into my sentimental keepsake box.
This year's Me-Made-May also helped me realize that I don't need so many sewing patterns, or to keep collecting so many new ones. I have a good variety of patterns that I have tried and liked, which I can keep refining as I make new versions. As I wore different versions of the same patterns through the month, I realized how much I've come to like tried-and-true patterns. Tried and true patterns have many advantages: I already know how they will work with other parts of my wardrobe, I can count on a good fit, and they are easier to plan for. While I'll still try out some of the patterns that I already own which I haven't made yet, and I'm sure that I'll also still keep an eye out at thrift stores for the occasional pattern that catches my eye, I don't think I'll be buying many more patterns, because I like what I have to work with right now. Inspired by this realization, I've also been slowly working through my patterns and weeding out ones that I don't think I'm likely to ever make (or be satisfied with if I did make them) to give them away. This clean-out is helping me fit all of my supplies and patterns in an orderly way in my new sewing cabinet, which is exciting. When I have it all in order, I'll have to take some photos of our sewing space and how we organize our supplies for a future blog post.
Monday May 21 - Day 21
I wore my shawl collar blouse and the bottom half of my pale green floral set. Gia never has to get dressed, and yet she is always beautiful.
Tuesday May 22 - Day 22
I wore my black shirt-dress with a thrifted vintage leather belt. Some day I will have to try remaking this pattern and drafting the longer 3/4 cuffed sleeves that the previous owner cut off and neglected to put back into the pattern envelope.
Wednesday May 23 - Day 24
I didn't get a photo because I was baking bread in a homemade smock dress and got quite messy with flour.
Thursday May 24 - Day 24
I wore my brown puff-sleeved blouse, a handmade ribbon pin, and one of my black Simplicity 7880 skirts.
Friday May 25 - Day 25
Fridays are usually a big housekeeping day for me, filled with laundry, cleaning, and cooking, and time spent in the studio and taking care of the animals and the plants, of course. So I went casual and simple in a black cotton dress and a homemade necklace made of tree agates.
Saturday May 26 - Day 26
We had an early Memorial Day picnic with my brother's family, my sister, and my grandparents, so I dressed up a little in my recently completed (and very comfortable) blue floral dress. Also the eagle-eyed among you might notice that Mr Rat was kind enough to trim my hair for me.
Monday 14 - Day 14
I wore my black banded dress with a vintage agate necklace that I restrung after it fell apart one day on the way to the library. Finding all the beads was impossible, so I made a new, shorter necklace out of what was left.
Tuesday May 15 - Day 15
I wore my peter pan collared blouse with a ribbon tie and one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts.
Wednesday May 16 - Day 16
I wore my recently completed rose blouse and one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts that I made during the winter.
Thursday May 17 - Day 17
We had a wedding reception to attend in the evening, so I accessorized my rose print dress with my rarely seen (and only) pair of high heels, a vintage hat that Mr Rat gave me as a Christmas gift, and a wooden beaded bag that I found for a dollar at the thrift store recently.
Friday May 18 - Day 18
Friday was a busy cleaning and laundry day and although I was wearing a homemade smock dress, I didn't get a photo of it.
Saturday May 19 - Day 19
I wore my navy cotton twill jacket and my navy broadcloth Simplicity 7880 skirt, along with an old ready-to-wear white collared shirt (one of the few things left in my wardrobe that isn't handmade) and a sterling silver brooch in the shape of the letter E.
Sunday May 20 - Day 20
I wore my pale blue gingham dress and a recently completed crocheted shawl. This is the first time I've read a crochet pattern on my own and been successful with the outcome, so I'm really pleased with this simple shawl (although I didn't read the pattern perfectly and the shawl is a little shorter than it was meant to be as a result----but I'm fixing that on the new version I'm slowly working on when Mr Rat and I watch an occasional movie in the evening).
Monday May 7 - Day 7
I wore my pale tan striped puff-sleeved blouse and one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, along with a vintage tiger eye brooch.
Tuesday May 8 - Day 8
I wore my black broadcloth jumper dress and a muslin blouse made from a 1970s pattern that I recently completed and haven't photographed for the blog yet. My necklace is a silver locket Mr Rat gave to me right before we got engaged. It's my favorite piece of jewelry.
Wednesday May 9 - Day 9
I wore a as-yet-unblogged khaki version of Simplicity 8458, a 1950s reproduction skirt pattern, and my floral collared blouse.
Thursday May 10 - Day 10
I wore my muslin square-necked blouse, my long brown Simplicity 7880 skirt, and my homemade jade necklace and earrings.
Friday May 11 - Day 11
The weather took a turn towards cold and rainy and I had lots of chores to do, so I wore a simple outfit: my black flannel dress and a homemade adventurine necklace and earrings.
Saturday May 12 - Day 12
I didn't get a photo of my outfit, although it was handmade. It was just that kind of day.
Sunday May 13 - Day 13
I wore my tan striped dress with a vintage silk scarf and a hair barrette I made myself with some velvet violets and leaves.
Day 1 - Tuesday May 1 -
I wore my 1970s Simplicity 5497 striped cotton dress with white collar and cuffs, along with a homemade black velvet bow pin. I should sew this pattern again. I really like it.
Mr Rat wore his recently completed tan linen shirt.
Day 2 - Wednesday May 2 -
I wore my checkered blouse and my long black Simplicity 7880 skirt. My necklace is homemade with black agate beads.
Day 3 - Thursday May 3
I had some errands to walk to, so I wore a very simple and practical outfit: my denim jacket made from Simplicity 3573, which is actually a robe pattern (this is one of the sewing projects I made during the winter and haven't caught up reviewing here on the blog yet, so you will likely see another post about this jacket sometime soon) and underneath that, although you can hardly see it, is my denim skirt made from 1950s-reproduction Simplicity 8458. And though you can't see them in this photo either, I am wearing homemade sodalite earrings. My straw bag is thrifted.
Mr Rat wore his chambray western shirt.
Day 4 - Friday May 4
I wore my blue bandanna dress along with a necklace I made myself from sodalite nuggets.
Day 5 - Saturday May 5
I wore my navy and white gingham dress, which was perfect for the warmer weather we got this weekend. We were so busy that my best photo for the day was this candid snap Mr Rat took of me making faces at Gia trying to convince her to kiss me.
Day 6 - Sunday May 6
I wore my blue roses dress made from a vintage 1970s wedding dress pattern. I haven't reviewed this one for the blog yet---it was a dress I made back in January when I was longing for spring----so you will likely see some photos of this again soon.
This dress marks many firsts for me: first vintage vogue pattern (I tried sewing a few modern vogue patterns when I first started sewing my clothes again and had bad troubles with the fit every time, which scared me off from Vogue patterns for a couple of years), first buttoned front that overlaps a little ways under the waistband rather than going all the way down the dress, first pleated skirt, and first tucks.
The pattern is a 1970s Vogue American Designer Giorgio Sant'Angelo pattern in my usual size 8. It fit perfectly! So I think I can try other vintage Vogue patterns from the same era with new-found confidence. This particular pattern is actually designed to be made out of bed sheets, so my choice of a thrifted striped floral sheet from Goodwill suited it very well. I couldn't quite squeeze out enough fabric for the bottom ruffle, but I think the dress looks nice without it. With the ruffle I think it would have come down to my ankles, which is something to consider for future versions, but being a little shorter this time makes it more summery, I think. My only other change was inadvertent: since Vogue patterns can be rather scarce in portions of their instructions, I think I may have done the tucks on the sleeves on the wrong side, but I like the way they look, so I am not displeased with my mistake.
The construction is interesting: the whole skirt is pleated and then you turn up and sew the seam allowance on the back of the skirt only to create a casing for elastic. There is a sort of button fly detail in the front that was hard to figure out with the minimal Vogue instructions, but I managed it eventually. The fabric ties are pleated where they are sewn into the bodice sides. And the top of the sleeves are tucked (a very lovely detail), before they puff out down to the elasticized wrists.
Considering the greater level of detail, this dress didn't take me much longer to sew than any of my other dresses, which I find encouraging. I like the shape of it, and I think I'll likely make it again.
These photos of my new dress are also from our visit to our parents in California. I made this dress specifically to wear to an opening at the Getty Villa. We didn't get any pictures that night and I thought it was a shame not to wear such a pretty summer dress again while we were enjoying such warm weather, so I wore it again when we went to Descanso gardens with my Dad. It made me feel happy as a child to find some tall snap-dragons and make them 'snap.' And oh----the blossoming trees, and all the wildlife we saw! So many big frogs and turtles, all sorts of birds and insects and butterflies of every color. It was really a pleasant day to enjoy Spring.
Have you done anything special to celebrate the arrival of spring (or autumn, if you live in the southern hemisphere)?
These photos of my new spring outfit are a bit belated: Mr Rat took them on the same day that I took pictures of his tan linen shirt. And I actually sewed this outfit several months ago in February but it just wasn't spring-like enough to wear it right away. It wasn't quite spring at the beginning of this month, either, except for the blossoming trees and the very beginnings of leaves coming out on the willows. You can see also that the grass was growing green, but it was still very cold and windy. And so I'm afraid that my two-piece vintage dress made from 1970s McCalls 2592 (which I sewed last fall in denim) and Simplicity 7880 (which I have sewn many, many times) looks a little disheveled and wind-blown in these photos and so do I.
I made this outfit out of a queen sized sheet that I found at Goodwill. I suspect that it was homemade, since there was a zig-zagged seam that ran all the way down the middle, and an extra wide border where the Indian-inspired floral paisley print was turned sideways. Light green isn't a typical color for me, but I liked the old-fashioned print and decided to try it out, since $4 for a whole lot of fabric is not a large risk. The seam in the middle required some creative cutting, as you can see in the photo below. The collar, blouse, and peplum all have a seam down the middle back. And the wrinkles around my arms aren't typically there, it was just that I was hugging myself from the cold and wishing I could put my cape back on. We didn't get many other photos of the back of the dress, since it was a very quick, very cold photo shoot that day, so this one will have to do. The buttons are the inexpensive $1 'thin-line' sort from JoAnns, which I bought half-off on sale. It took me two sets of buttons to finish the front of the blouse, for a grand total of $1. It is a little hard to see in the soft grey light of these photos, but the buttons are a soft peach-pink that looks well with the pink flowers in the print of the dress. As usual, I finished the inside of the waist seam with bias tape, pinked the seams, stitched around the arm holes twice before I trimmed them, and used stiff waist-band interfacing to keep the waistband of the skirt from rolling. As a last construction note: I also cut the skirt so that the border was on the bottom, taking away the need to add any kind of hem, since the border was already finished on the edge.
I'm wearing my dress with my favorite vintage boots, stockings and a petticoat for warmth, and a vintage gold brooch shaped like a bouquet of violets that Mr Rat gave me for Valentine's day. My nephew gave the outfit his stamp of approval: it was the first time he told me that I looked 'very pretty.'
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1138 people and injured many more. In remembrance of that great loss, all over the internet, people have been asking "who made my clothes?"
For me, that answer is simple. I make almost all of my clothes. This morning I counted my wardrobe and found that out of the 66 woven garments that I own, only 6 are not handmade by myself. That means that 91 percent of my clothes are made by me. I am not counting sweaters, knits, or underwear in the total number because I don't currently have the capacity to make those things, but in case you are wondering, my few sweaters and t-shirts fit neatly in a single drawer along with my one pair of jeans and my one set of exercise clothes. My socks and slips other delicates also fit in a single dresser drawer. I thrift most of my sweaters and turtlenecks, so I don't think they are adding much to the problems that beset global fashion right now. If you want to learn more about the toll that the fashion industry takes on garment workers, the environment, and even the people who wear clothes that they may not like but feel pressured into wearing and quickly discarding because they have no personal relationship with the garments on their body, there is a lot of information on the Fashion Revolution website.
I started sewing my clothes when I was quite a small child. My mom taught me how to sew with a plastic needle and plastic canvas when I was a toddler, and by the time I was seven years old she had me sewing myself a matching shirt (teal blue with a pattern of white cats---I'll have to find the photos of me wearing it to share some time) and shorts set (with lots of her help, of course). I remember crying when the thread would snarl up, and laying on the floor feeling like I would never finish. But I did finish that outfit, and I wore it until it was worn out. Although I made things here or there through my youth and teens, it took me until I was married and had a sewing machine of my own to take up sewing my own clothes again more seriously. It has been a long six years since then of learning and making that I am glad that I continued with. My classmates at art school questioned whether spending time doing things like sewing was worthwhile, especially if it took time away from art-making. It is something I have questioned myself, since sewing certainly takes time and patience. But it also brings creative and aesthetic pleasure, and it is part of the 'total work of art' which is life. Artists like Georgia O'Keefe (who sewed quite a few of her own clothes) and Frida Kahlo valued their clothes as a means of expression. Why shouldn't I, as an artist, a seamstress, and a woman?
Sewing my own clothes means that I have a personal relationship with my clothing. I get to wear things that I like and that fit me. My clothes are made from mostly thrifted fabrics and cheap remnants from the fabric district, so I can feel confident that I am making as little negative impact on this beautiful world that I love that I can.
Every year we have the chance to make a little progress if we keep practicing.
Do you make your clothes? How does sewing impact your life?
(The photo above is a sneak peak of a new review coming soon. I've got three sewing reviews worth of photos ready to post, so expect some action here on the blog in the next week!)
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew