This post is catching up from last year, as I made this smock and matching purse in the fall and only managed to wear them outside once before snowy weather blew in. Now that we are in the depths of winter, I've given up on the idea of photographing out in the landscape (at least until I have a heavy wool garment to share), and am going to try to take some photos in my studio on sunny days instead. And maybe this way I can catch up some of the things that I sewed last year and haven't had a chance to review yet.
My sewing cabinet housed almost 5 yards of this nice rust-colored corduroy for four years or so from the day that I originally found it at the thrift store to the long overdue day when I finally chose a pattern for it. The pattern I finally picked out, 1970s-era McCalls 3483, was also a thrift-store find. It is a size larger than I usually make, which made me uncertain about buying it, but for 50 cents I thought it was worth a try. When I imagined pairing it with my long-neglected corduroy, I thought that going a size up wouldn't make a difference to a loose over-garment, and I was right. I was actually surprised that I didn't need to narrow the shoulders, and the fit was good without any adjustments. I remember reading in one of my sewing books that the difference between pattern sizes is about 1 inch overall---which is a big difference if you are trying to make a fitted garment, but is very little difference in a loose or flowing garment so long as the fit is good around the shoulders. The one curious bit about the fit of this garment that I noticed is that the smock looks much shorter on the drawings on the pattern-cover compared to how it fits me in real life---which is almost down to my knees. I'm an average 5 foot 5 inches, in case any one else out there has this pattern and needs a reference for the length.
Since corduroy tends to shed and fray, I was careful to do faux-flat fell stitching on all of the seams, which had the nice benefit of giving them a top-stitched look on the outside. I also did top-stitching on the collar to keep it neat, as well as the cuffs and the narrow hem. I also used some scraps of old thrifted bias binding and sewed them by hand to the edges of the inside facing and sleeve openings so they won't have trouble going through the wash. This gave them a clean and neat finish, as well. McCalls 3483 has a lot of nice details: over-sized patch pockets, puffed sleeves with big cuffs, an exaggerated collar, and a neat yoke opening. Since the button closures called for loops, and I didn't want to deal with the hassle of trying to turn corduroy inside out (that sounds like a recipe for a headache), I cut little pieces of the selvage of the fabric and rolled them into little tubes and sewed them shut by hand. Then I made them into button loops and sewed them on to the yoke and cuffs by machine. The buttons are from JoAnns. I took my smock with me to see what kind of ball-shaped button I could find that matched the fabric, and was really happy to find these nice faux-leather ones in just the ride shade of ochre.
I think this smock makes a stylish alternative to wearing a sweater indoors all winter long. And in the fall and the spring, it is the perfect lightweight pullover jacket. I made a purse to match it out of scraps leftover from my smock and a wooden purse handle set that I bought half-off from JoAnns for the grand total of $4! The inside of the purse is lined with scraps from my Folkwear shirtdress. The last of the corduroy scraps leftover from both smock and purse recently got used by my husband as details on a shirt he is almost finished sewing. This ended up being a rather thrifty outfit, especially worn over my old brown smock dress that has some paint stains on it (which my new corduroy smock nicely covers up), and worn with the clogs that were given to me for my birthday. It makes me glad that we can take something that no one wanted and use every scrap of it to make not just one, but three interesting new useful things that will bring pleasure to Mr Rat and me.
I know this photo is terribly blurry, but Gia looks so charming that I couldn't resist adding it.
I was sad to not get this dress finished and photographed during the fall, as I had intended when I got the fabric for my birthday and started sewing it in November. But even though I didn't finish the last of the buttonholes until December, it isn’t so inappropriate for the brown and grey shades of a milder winter’s day---so long as I wear my thrifted vintage sheepskin boots and my homemade crocheted shawl with it.
This fabric is homespun cotton in a tiny gingham check/plaid from JoAnn fabrics, making it the rare fabric that we bought on sale at the fabric store rather than buying it second-hand. The buttons are from JoAnns, too, and the zipper that closes the dress in the side seam. This was my first time trying out 1970s-era Butterick 6914. I am very pleased with the comfortable fit, and I also like that there is no zipper going up the middle of the back like most patterns. Side-zippers can make getting dresses on and off a little slower, but they have the advantage of being far more invisible. I like the sleeves with their long, deep cuffs (so long that they are curved and faced, rather than folded like a shorter, straight cuff would be) and I think the little pocket on one side of the skirt is an interesting detail. It gives it an apron-like feel, just right for working and cooking and painting and sewing----you can stow any number of little things in a useful patch pocket like that.
The homespun drapes nicely, but has a tendency to warp and fray. I interfaced the top of the patch-pocket to help keep it from stretching out, used bias binding to finish the inside of the waist seam (as well as acting as a waist stay), and was careful to finish all the seams on the machine rather than pinking them as I normally would for cotton fabrics. I edge-stitched all my seams, as usual, to help keep them crisp and make them more durable. I've noticed with my vintage empire-waist dress patterns that the bust darts tend to be very deep and will end up very pointy if I don't stitch right along the edge of the fabric for a good half-inch or so at the end of the bust dart to help flatten it out. I also suspected that the sleeves wouldn't ease in smoothly at the tops (in previous patterns I've tried from the 1970s I've found that the sleeves tend to have excess ease) so I did a little extra gathering at the very top of the sleeve-head to make the extra fabric look purposeful, and I think that I was successful. The buttonholes are done by hand, and took me a long time, since they are rather large and there are quite a few between the bodice and those lovely long cuffs. The other thing that delayed my finishing this dress was getting Mr Rat's help pinning up the hem. Since the sides are cut on a curve, they stretched out and I couldn't just turn and hem the bottom the way I would with a dirndl-style skirt.
I think that prewashing homespun fabric before you cut into it is very important, since it is a little stiffer with sizing when it comes straight off the bolt, and gets very soft after even one wash. All that said, I like how my first homespun dress turned out, and will definitely use this fabric again if the opportunity arises.
In these photos that Mr Rat took at the park, I’m also wearing one of my homemade capes for extra warmth and a brown jade necklace and earrings that Mr Rat made me as a gift several years ago.
I made a black flannel version of 1970s-era McCalls 6209 almost exactly a year ago, and wore it so much last winter that I thought I'd better plan ahead and make another flannel version for this upcoming winter. In fact, I will eventually have three flannel versions of this pattern, since I also cut out a long-sleeve version in brown, which is awaiting my attention in my sewing basket. It's nice to have more than one dress I can rely on for extra warmth in frigid weather.
Since I've made this dress so many times before, I won't add any construction details this time. I'll just add that I'm wearing it here with a petticoat and stockings, and a glass bead necklace that belonged to my grandmother.
I hope that you are all having a good start to November, and that you had a safe and happy Halloween, if you live stateside.
Now that Folkwear has officially released their newest pattern, the 1940s Lindy Shirtdress, I can finally share my version of it with you all! While I was still on Instagram, I noticed that Molly Hamilton of Folkwear patterns had put out a call for sewers who were interested in pattern testing. I've never pattern-tested before and thought it would be an interesting opportunity, so I replied. I didn't get selected for the first round of pattern testing, but I did get an email inviting me to join the second, for this shirtdress. My reward for being a tester was a free copy of the test-pattern and 50 percent off a pattern of my choice from their catalog. I haven't sewn with Folkwear patterns before, mostly because they are rather expensive for me, so this was a lovely chance to get something I otherwise wouldn't. I ended up choosing the Gibson Girl blouse, partly because of some of the beautiful versions I've seen of it on the internet, like this one by Sallie Oh.
The photos above are the quick shots I took in my studio when I finished sewing the dress over a month ago. A week or so later, Mr Rat took the photos below while we were walking in the park. I've gifted this dress to my sister, who wears a lot of shirt-dresses to work (she is a professor). In the park photos, I'm wearing the dress with an experimental crochet purse that I made myself and a vintage brooch shaped like sewing scissors.
In terms of construction, this is one of the more complicated dresses that I have sewn thus far, with a shawl collar, pleats on the front bodice at the shoulder and waist, gathers in the back, cuffs on the 3/4 sleeves, a waist band, and a pleated and darted skirt made out of 5 panels (if i am remembering correctly). I used a piece of Indian block-printed cotton that I found at the thrift store in Santa Clara and had waiting in my stash for the right special project. This soft cotton was a good choice, because it was thin and easy to press and sew into the darts, pleats and gathers that give this dress its interest. It also had a nice, soft drape that made the flare of the skirt very lovely. The instructions of the pattern are clear and thorough, and I think that overall the dress has a good fit. I chose to sew a size small, although I'm right inbetween the measurements for a small and an extra-small. I think the next time I will sew this pattern I will adjust it for my own tastes: narrowing the shoulders, which are rather wide for my narrow shoulders (period appropriate to the 1940s, of course, but not my favorite look on myself), and possibly substituting a full gathered skirt for the pleated skirt. Changing the skirt should be easy, since the dress has a side zipper and the skirt is attached to a waistband that sits at the natural waist. All I have to do is make sure that I have a side seam that leaves an opening for the zipper.
If you've never tried Folkwear Patterns, I can now say that I recommend them. I think their patterns are unique and interesting and well drafted, and I look forward to trying more in the future.
I've made 1970s-era Simplicity 8611 before in black broadcloth, and it is a much loved member of my closet. Jumper dresses are so versatile, since any change of blouse makes them feel like a new dress altogether. In these photos, I am wearing my new golden version of Simplicity 8611 with my homemade peter pan collar blouse and one of my first ever homemade bags. I didn't use a pattern for my duck-goose bag---I found the panel of printed fabric at Goodwill and sewed two of the pieces together, using big scraps of muslin from my scrap box to interline it for some structures and some large pieces of linen leftover from my husband's shirt to line it. The wooden handles are from JoAnn fabric stores, bought with a coupon. So the grand total of the cost for my new tote bag was about $6. Tote bags are so useful for library trips, walking to the grocery store, or just carrying a sketchbook and a book of poetry to the park. On Sundays (like the one when these photos were taken) I use my handmade bag to carry my scriptures and a shawl to church.
The cotton for the dress is also a Goodwill find. In its previous life it was a king-size sheet, but I like it better as my new dress. I've worn it quite a few times since I finished it three weeks ago. As Mr Rat remarked, it matches the leaves exactly, and it pleases me to wear something special to enjoy the spectacular color of our neighborhood. Mr Rat and I watched an episode of 'Autumn Watch' on PBS recently and learned that people like us who go out to enjoy the fall foliage are called "leaf peepers." Autumn Watch is an unexpectedly funny show: in the first episode they aired hilarious (and sometimes tragic) footage of squirrels fighting over cached nuts, and bears eating tree-loads of apples.
Since I've sewn this dress before, its construction was quick and easy and had no surprises. I pinked most of the seams, lined the bodice with the same fabric that I used to make the rest of the dress, hand-picked the zipper, and used the big scraps left over to make door-cozies (my sister says that's what those tubes of stuffed fabric are called in England) for all of our downstairs doorways. The townhouse we're renting has two big sliding glass doors downstairs plus a front door and a garage door. This means that during the winter it is frigid and drafty downstairs. So now thanks to the leftovers from my new dress, our apartment is remarkably warmer. And that's a very nice thing, since it makes looking forward to winter not so hard.
This year Mr Rat and I celebrated my birthday by taking a trip to the Red Butte Gardens to see the colors of the changing seasons: red against green, green just turning golden, flowers still blooming while berries were clustered bright red on bushes and tees, and the birds, bugs and fishes all busy among the leaves. I wore my new prairie dress, made from 1970s-era McCalls 4038, and inspired by the dresses featured in my last post. McCalls 4038 is properly a wedding dress/bridesmaid dress pattern, but that didn't stop me from using it to make an every-day dress for myself. The black broadcloth portion of the dress is from my trip to the LA fabric district with my Mom back in April, and the black and reddish-brown floral cotton is from JoAnns fabric, a gift from Mr Rat earlier in the month so I could make myself a new birthday dress to wear, as I do some years. The alternating panels makes the style of this dress so interesting to me, with its resulting patchwork look. It's a unique take on prairie fashion, and historically inspired dress.
I sewed it with my regular methods---interfacing the back zipper so it won't ripple, sewing hooks and eyes to the collar by hand, and sewing some bias binding into the waistline as a stay and to cover the raw edges of the gathered skirt. The pattern has some interesting details, like elbow darts to make the fit of the puffed sleeves more comfortable, an underlined midriff (which doesn't keep mine from wrinkling a bit in photos---maybe I should shorten the midriff slightly the next time I sew this pattern? Or add a little bit more allowance at the side seams? Or both?), and the bottom band of the skirt is fully faced, which gives it a nice drape and swing. I pinked any of the seams that weren't faced, so the inside is neat and tidy and ready to endure the washing machine. Cutting out all those different panels in two different colors of fabric took quite a bit more attention than the cutting process usually demands. I'm glad that I took the time, though, because I like the result.
I decided that I wanted some embellishment on this dress, so I added some dollar-a-yard black lace from a past trip to the LA fabric district by hand, and then sewed on (also by hand) two rows of narrow black ribbon from JoAnns around the neckband and the wrists of the sleeves. I usually watch Poirot and Marple mysteries from the library while I do hand-sewing. Do any of you have a favorite thing to do while you sew? Or do you need to concentrate the whole time? I often sew and iron with just the sound of Gia snoring, or occasionally with a record or a CD on, but when I'm hand-sewing I find that I have enough attention to spare to put a movie or TV show on instead. It's one of the most relaxing parts of the sewing process.
I'm wearing the dress in these photos with an old pair of heeled boots (I have to wear a chunky heel with this dress or else the hem drags on the ground, which does limit my shoe options---but on the positive side, it makes me look taller), homemade red jasper earrings, a thrifted vintage crocheted shawl, and a thrifted crochet purse. Later on that day we went to the antique store on the way home and I found a very pretty necklace made of glass beads in the shapes of flowers and fruits. It looks really nice with this dress, and I intend to wear them together in the future.
Have you ever sewn yourself a birthday outfit? What do you like to do to celebrate the change from one year to the next? My birthdays can feel very melancholy ever since my grandmother died during the night of my birthday five years ago. When my brother called me the next morning, I thought he was going to wish me a belated happy birthday, but instead he told me the news of my grandmother's sudden passing. Every year I remember her, and remember time passing. But it makes those remembrances sweeter when they happen in a beautiful place with the person that I love most. Then---and when we have dinner with my family, or get Gia up on the bed so we can sleep in a pile after a busy and tiring day, or even if I am sad enough to weep but Mr Rat holds me while I do----then I feel comforted that even though time is passing, and sometimes it brings heartache and hardship, that it also brings moments that are filled with love and affection----and great beauty.
Postscript: have any of you ever dreamed about riding or sleeping on the back of a giant lizard? Mr Rat and I discovered these huge lizard statues in the children's garden and since no one was around, and it was almost my birthday, and I was wearing a special birthday dress. . . well, I just had to take a turn on the back of one of the lizards so I could indulge my fantasies for a moment. It would be so magical to be tiny for a while and see the world magnify in scope to the scale it is for a lizard---but I suppose that is already our view of things as such tiny beings on such a magnificent big planet. But I would like a garden to be my whole world, at least for a while.
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.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew