Happy belated Valentine's Day! I'm glad I took these photos of my new dress yesterday on Valentine's Day, when there was a little bit of sunshine, because today we woke to a world transformed by snow.
I'm sure many of you will recognize one of my favorite patterns, 1970s-era McCall's 6209, which I have made before in tan striped cotton, black cotton-polyester broadcloth, and most recently in black flannel. I am fond of this pattern for its fit: it is more semi-fitted than fitted, and the ease makes the dress very comfortable for every day wear. But the small waist and full skirt and sleeves still give the dress a fitted look without the discomfort of tightness.
As I've mentioned a little bit before, I'm trying to experiment a little more with sewing with patterned fabric. Last summer I found that I like to sew and wear gingham, and I've sewn with stripes a few times, but so far I haven't tried many floral fabrics until the last few months. Our local Goodwill has a good selection of sheets, and recently I've found myself drawn to the ones with rose prints. At $2-$4 each, they are a small risk. I bought a few and have made two dresses out of them so far (only one of which has been blogged about), and I have yet another floral-print outfit cut out to start work on next. Roses are among my favorite flowers, and I miss my mother's rose garden very much. Wearing roses on my clothes reminds me of the places and plants that I love so much, and brings a little cheer to the grey winter that is so close to spring.
One of the advantages of sewing with sheets is that they are often already soft with washing. This sheet in particular had a nice drape and was easy to sew with, especially since the print hides any tiny imperfections and mistakes like a bust dart that isn't perfectly aligned with the other bust dart, or edge-stitching that can get a little wiggly. Imperfection has become a theme for me. I have to remind myself often that the goal is to get better slowly, and to make wearable clothes along the way. This dress turned out very wearable; it is so light and comfortable. Already since I finished it I've worn it twice, and received more compliments on it from people at church and from family members than any other garment I've sewn. When my grandpa saw it, he told me I was quite the "flower girl."
Since I've written about this pattern before, I will keep the construction notes brief here: I pinked the seams, finished the waistline with some thrifted bias tape, and had to trim the bottom a little to even it before I turned and finished it with a narrow hem. The zipper is stitched in by hand, and I stitched twice around the arm-holes to reinforce them. As usual, I edge-stitched the top of the sleeve-bands and the neckline to keep them crisp.
Mr Rat and I had a pleasant and quiet Valentine's Day. I wore my new dress and a Mexican silver heart necklace that I found a yard sale last year. I made a black-rice vegetable salad and prepared the ingredients so that when Mr Rat got home from work we could cook okonomiyaki together (savory Japanese pancakes with vegetables and little bits of meat cooked into them). We picked out our gifts for each other at a local antique mall a few weeks ago. One of the gifts Mr Rat gave me was a lovely little gold brooch shaped like a bouquet of violets, which is near the bottom of the photo at the end of this post that I took of my drawer of vintage brooches. Some were my grandmother's, and some are lucky finds from thrift stores, and some I've found with some careful searching on ebay for under $5. It's nice to have choices to wear with my dresses and blouses and jackets.
Did any of you do anything nice for Valentine's Day (with or without a significant other)? I like that Valentine's day can be a celebration of love in all its forms, including that of friendship. When we lived in Santa Clara we invited our friend K and her daughter to come have dinner with us, since her husband worked very late into the evening. It's pleasant to find a way to celebrate, no matter what the circumstances. And who doesn't need a reason to celebrate when winter feels like it has been here so long?
I feel like I have a few things to apologize for: first, that I've been somewhat absent around here. I mentioned in my last post that January was tumultuous and I was sick for a rather long portion of it. Second, that my new tweed cape-jacket made from McCall's 7291 is so wrinkly in these photos! I tried steaming it with my iron but the wrinkles didn't want to come out. I'm going to take it to the dry-cleaners to get it professionally pressed when my husband takes his suits to be cleaned, but I wanted to take some photos of it, and we haven't made it to the dry-cleaners yet. Hopefully we'll go in the next week or two, and the next time you see this jacket on the blog, it will look much more crisp. And third, I apologize that the quality of the photos is varied. By the time we walked to the park with Gia to take these pictures most of the sunshine we were hoping to photograph in had already disappeared. So only a few of these photos have even a little sunshine or warmth or color in them, and some of the photos are very cool-toned indeed, and even a little blurry (although that can be interesting, sometimes).
This project was a somewhat frustrating one, and I have to admit that at least twice I thought of giving up and not finishing it. But I'm glad I pressed on, because I like how it turned out very much. The tweed is also very warm, even if it wasn't very nice to me while I was sewing it. I used McCalls 7291 (which is still in print, I believe---I think it got released a year or two ago) as a base for what I wanted. I didn't like the way it is drafted on the envelope to hang open in the front, so when I was cutting out the fabric I widened the front pieces and the front facings so that they would overlap. I also decided I didn't want to add the collar onto my version, since the tweed is heavy and scratchy and I thought it would be easier to wear scarves with with my jacket (as I did here), or a collared blouse where the collar could peek over the top, without the collar getting in the way. The tweed is from a church rummage sale I attended with a friend some years ago, and the facings are cut from a scrap of flannel leftover from one of my husband's sewing projects. Some of you longtime readers might recognize the tweed from a Christmas present I made for my husband three years ago. I used all of the remaining fabric to make my jacket, and it was not only wrinkly, but badly-behaved. It liked to move about while I was sewing it, it was too thick to make rolled hems, and it frayed all over. My solution to these problems was to only sew the main seams on machine and hand-sew everything else. I top-stitched the seams by hand so they would stay flat and fray less. Then I hand-stitched bias binding (also thrifted---I was lucky to find two packages of the same 'seal' brown I used on all the visible parts of the jacket, and I used some green for the arm-holes, which are hidden by the cape-sleeves) to all of the edges, which made dealing with them so much easier than trying to wrestle the tweed under the sewing foot any more than was necessary. It took a while, but I am pleased with the result. Even though up close it is apparent that the bias tape is hand-sewn, at least it looks even, and it gives the jacket more visual interest. I finished the buttonholes by hand as well, and used some brown tortoise-shell style buttons from my stash that were probably harvested off of one of my husband's old and worn out jackets.
Once I get this jacket pressed, I can imagine wearing it a lot. The fit is good---close but not tight, and it looks nice with full skirts and dresses, like my flannel dress I'm wearing with it here. I think the McCall's pattern is better used as a base for drafting than sewn the way it was designed. But I may well use it again if I come across the right piece of fabric. I like the flared cape-sleeves, which easily accommodate puff sleeves worn underneath, yet are long enough to keep my whole arm warm.
I am grateful it is February because we are that much closer to Spring. I hope you are well, wherever you are, and enjoying the beauty around you, whether it is the greenery of the south or the stark white and grey of the north.
My most recent dress reminds me of Jane Eyre, both for its somber color and its whimsy. The pattern I used was McCall 4968, circa the 1970s. I sewed it in a very lovely grey wool worsted with a subtle herringbone weave that I found at the thrift store a few years ago and only recently had both the confidence that I could sew with it and the need for more warm wool clothing to push me forward into cutting it out and making it into a dress at last. This may be one of my more eccentric dresses, with its little flutter sleeves, but I like it: it is warm and comfortable, and the sleeves make it special.
The sewing process was pretty straightforward: I edge-stitched all the seams to help them lay flat and crisp. I also pinked the edges of the fabric on the inside since I plan to wash this dress very gently and the wool is very firmly woven and not prone to fraying. I stitched the darts down so they would stay flat, a detail I've noticed on some wool jackets at the thrift store. Since even thin wool is still thick in layers, I was careful to grade my seams and gathers where they met. To make sure I didn't get a rippled zipper, I interfaced the edges of zipper opening before I stitched the zipper in by hand. The only part of the sewing process that was particularly difficult was sewing the facings over the gathered sleeves and trimming the allowance, then flipping it to the inside and top-stitching the outside. I had to unpick my first attempt and try again, because it was hard to manage that many layers of wool in such a small area as the arm-hole and have a neat finish.
Mr Rat was kind enough to take some pictures of my new jumper dress on our Sunday morning walk to the local park with Gia. Other than a few red berries, there isn't a very wide range of colors in our world right now: mostly shades of grey and white, a little bit of dull green, lots of soft and faded yellow ochre, brown, and the bright blue of a winter sky. We're due for a big storm that is supposed to blow in tomorrow, so the world will have even less color the next time we go walking. I hope wherever you are, you are staying warm, and enjoying the post-holiday peace of January.
The trees are bare and wet and the creek is full of fading leaves----our landscape is much starker now than when we first moved in three weeks ago. But there are still ducks that meander up and down the creek and visit our backyard, and there are still a few last yellow trees that dot our walks and glow against the low grey skies.
It is much colder here in Utah than California, and will only keep getting colder over the next few months, so I have been thinking seriously about planning and sewing warmer clothes. This is one of my first attempts at that since we’ve moved. I’ve made McCalls 6209 twice before (here and here) and so I knew already that it has a good fit and is very comfortable as an everyday dress, and I thought the bishop sleeves would be a nice touch to give a basic black dress an interesting element of shape, as well as being very warm for my arms. I made it out of an enormous piece of black cotton flannel that I bought very cheaply at the thrift store----and even after finishing this dress, there is still four yards left, plenty to make another winter dress. The only bad thing about the flannel is that it tends to get wrinkles and linty, but it is so soft and warm that I don't mind it so much. My other idea for using McCalls 6209 is that since it has a relatively fitted top with a skirt gathered to my natural waist that I can wear a wool skirt over it in winter and be extra warm from the layers. Having long, full, flannel sleeves works very well for my wool capes, too, since they keep my arms warmer than my thinner cotton dresses.
Since I have sewn this and shared this pattern several times before, I don’t think there is much to add about it here: I finished the inside seams with pinking shears, interfaced the edges of the back zipper so it wouldn’t ripple, and finished the waistline with a piece of black bias binding on the inside. This acts both as a stay, since it is sewn into the waistline seam, and it also covers the raw edges of the gathered skirt, since after I sew it to the waistline I fold it up and sew the top across the bottom edge of the bodice.
Even though I am thinking a lot about what I need to sew and buy for my new cold weather wardrobe, I am also planning on going home to California for Thanksgiving in a few weeks, and I know it will likely be warm there. My next project may therefore seem a bit unseasonable, since I cut out a lightweight blouse last week that I plan to sew before we go on our trip. And the last project I finished was also made for our trip, too, although I think it will be suitable to wear here in the winter---but more about that when I finally photograph it and post it.
Are any of you sewing anything special for the holidays?
Goodbye to gingham---not forever, but probably for the rest of the year. Since we moved to Utah at the beginning of the month we have also moved to a cooler, more colorful autumn, so I have already had to pack this gingham dress away that I made before I had to pack up my sewing supplies, and which I wore on our last outing to the monastery. Simplicity 7213 is one of my favorite dress patterns, which I have made up several times, but only shared once here on the blog (my black version, which you can see here). I wore the other pre-blog versions so much that I wore them out, so I thought I should make a new version or two for my wardrobe. I had hoped that this navy and white gingham version could be a dress I could wear from spring till fall, but the fabric ended up being very light and sheer, better suited to hot weather and summertime. Still, I can’t complain, since the fabric was free: gifted by one of my mom’s friends to her, and then from my mom to me. It had a narrow width, which makes me think it was vintage yardage. It also has a lot of crisp body and is finely woven, but is also rather sheer, as I mentioned before.
The construction was straightforward: the only changes I made to the pattern was to interface the neckline facing this time, since I found with my earlier versions that with a lot of wear, the neckline can tend to stretch out otherwise. I also sewed some vintage buttons from my stash down the center front, but left off the button-loops included in the pattern. I decided to use the long sleeves and tie closures, but use the shorter skirt. I cut the shoulder yokes and tie cuffs on the bias for a little variety, and interfaced the shoulder yokes to make sure they wouldn't stretch out. I didn't feel like I needed to worry for the cuffs, so I left them un-interfaced. I did lots of edge-stitching for neatness, as usual, using white thread this time to help blend into the fabric.
Now that I’ve caught up on the last photos from before our move, I can start posting new projects in our new home and neighborhood. We are enjoying the most beautiful tapestry of leaves right now, and I feel lucky to have a 'twenty-four carat gold' tree (as my mom would call it) right in our new backyard. So please come back for more photos soon.
I hope you are all having a good autumn in whatever part of the world you inhabit.
There is something about the contrast of a white collar and cuffs on a dark dress that is always attractive to me. I am not disappointed with 1970s-era raised-waist collared dress pattern Simplicity 5497: it makes an attractive and comfortable autumnal dress, and even if the collar is larger in real life than the pattern envelope makes it seem, it is still proportional and nice looking with the long cuffs and the slightly puffed sleeves. I sewed my version out of striped black cotton that I bought at Michael Levine’s ‘Loft’ in the Los Angeles fabric district back in July. The Loft sells large pieces of remnant fabric by the pound, so most of the yardage I buy there ends up coming out to $1 a yard or less. I think this cotton was meant to be for men’s dress shirts, but there were two relatively large pieces of it, so I decided it would make a nice dress for early fall when the weather is still warm, and for later autumn and winter days worn with cardigans and heavier layers. For that reason, I left off the bow in the back of the bodice to make wearing sweaters easier and lengthened (and widened) the skirt pieces quite a bit, until they are at ankle length. I find that I like ankle length dresses and skirts a lot right now: they are easy to walk in without feeling tangled, and I never have to worry about them climbing up my legs in a stiff breeze. I think ankle length skirts also look nice with boots, like my favorite old Nine-West ones I’m wearing here.
Construction notes: I cut the skirt pieces on the selvedge wherever possible and pinked the other seams. I used a heavier interfacing for the collar and cuffs. It didn’t fuse very well, so they can look a little creased sometimes close up, but I think they turned out well enough all the same. My goal is to have wearable clothes rather than perfect ones. While I’m always striving to be a better sewer, I think it is better to accept minor flaws and consider them as part of the overall personality of a garment than to be continually dismayed over them. I edge-stitched the collar and cuffs, used bias binding to finish the waistline seam, and sewed the buttonholes on the cuffs by hand. I like the detail of the curved edge of the cuff---I think it echoes the collar shape and makes the dress more special. The buttons are from my thrift-store bought button stash.
Mr Rat took me shopping at our favorite thrift store the day before we took these photos, so I was happy to wear the new gold flower brooch I found on that trip with my new dress, and its matching clip on earrings (although they didn’t end up peering out of my hair in any of these photos). My hat is from the San Diego hat company, bought at the beginning of the summer via Amazon.
The monastery garden is starting to look more autumnal, even though the weather continues more hot than cool, and there are still flowers here and there, wilted but triumphant. Still, the leaves are starting to change, the earth is dry and brown under the olive trees and the redwoods, and the squirrels and spiders are all busy getting fat for the winter only a few months ahead. There are webs everywhere, which give the garden a haunted, mysterious aspect. Mr Rat got several lovely photos of a large and handsome spinner with her yellow stripes. She had built a web large enough to catch me had I been able to fly up above the bushes between two redwood trees. The industry of such an enterprise is astonishing to me----I can’t imagine what it would be like to crochet a blanket the size of a house (what I imagine a human-made-web might be like), or to construct a piece of architecture so enormous and so delicate. And yet spiders do it as a matter of fact, all the time. And when the wind or the rain blows down their creations, they find a new spot and start all over again.
Mr Rat says that this is his favorite dress (albeit a two-piece dress in this instance) I’ve made yet. We bought the fabric together at the Los Angeles fabric district last month for $4 a yard, which makes this one of the most expensive dresses I’ve ever made and shared on this blog. I’d estimate that it cost about $23 total, including the thrift-store bought buttons, thread, and the skirt zipper from JoAnns that I had already in my stash. I’ve had McCalls 6339 circa 1978 for a while and always felt a little intimidated by it until I thought to myself recently that truly it is just a skirt and a blouse---and even though the blouse has princess seams and self-bias binding on the bottom---that isn’t so hard. I’ve made button-up blouses before. And really, it wasn’t so hard, although it was somewhat time-consuming since I wanted the finish to be nice. I flat-felled and top-stitched the seams, bias-bound the inside of the arm-holes, stitched on the self-bias binding by hand, made the button-holes by hand also, and had to do quite a number of darts on the skirt before I gathered it. I’ve never seen a full skirt constructed in that way before, but it really controls the fullness around the waistband and gives it a nice, flattering shape. I didn’t make many construction changes to the dress: I left out the pockets since I usually carry a bag, I didn’t add the tucks at the bottom of the skirt, and I had the shorten the back of the blouse so that it didn’t wrinkle around the top of my hips. I think the next time I make it, I might try shortening the whole bodice a little bit, although this method worked fine; I just had to lengthen the bias binding a little to accommodate the new edge.
For its first debut, I wore my new gingham dress when we walked to the monastery on Sunday morning before church and watched the squirrels do astonishing acrobatic feats in the trees. There were lots of birds, bees, one fat and strangely hairless bumble-bee, and the aforementioned wildly active squirrels. Most of the garden looks very dry----summer in California is a brown time for the most part---but there were still a fair amount of pink blossoms to enjoy: oleander, roses, some curious-looking lilies, and the fuchsia bougainvillea. I hope your August is going well, and you have some flowers to enjoy, too.
Mr Rat gave me some beautiful stone beads for our recent wedding anniversary. I chose the colors: yellow, green and grey. I made necklaces and earrings and bracelets out of them, and have been wearing them often since.
This necklace is made of citrine nuggets. I love the vivid deep yellow—it reminds me of Van Gogh’s paintings.
This necklace and earring set (I also made a bracelet) is made of green jasper and onyx. The jasper reminds me of reptile skin.
This necklace and earrings are made of grey zebra jasper spaced with silver plated beads. I love to see the differences between stones. They are all similar, but each different, wonderfully unique.
I’ve always liked to wear shirt-dresses, but haven’t tried sewing one until now. I’ve had this late 1950s or early 1960s era Butterick 9947 in my pattern collection for a long time. It was probably one of the first vintage patterns I bought via the internet when I was first getting serious about sewing about five years ago. And now, I have finally used it, and I’m glad I finally got around to it. I sewed a size 12 this time, since it is an older pattern with the older pre-70s sizing. I think it fits well, with a slightly blousy top and a fitted waist. It uses a mixture of side zipper and front buttons to close, which makes it awkward to get on over my head, although comfortable once it’s on. When I opened up the pattern, I was disappointed to find that the previous owner had cut the sleeves to a short length and threw the other part of the sleeve pattern away. I made it with short sleeves this time, and I like it for summer, but next time I will draft new sleeves using the old short ones as a base, so I can sew the below-elbow length cuffed version like the front of the pattern envelope.
I sewed my dress out of a king-size cotton-polyester sheet I bought at the thrift store a few months ago. It may have been a little off grain, since I think the gathered skirt I substituted for the pleated version has a slightly odd drape, but I can live with it, especially since I intended this version as a casual, every-day work dress. I lengthened the skirt from its original below-knee length to ankle length. Since I live in a windy area, longer hems are more comfortable for me. The insides of the dress are finished very simply, mostly by pinking the seams.
The squarish buttons are vintage, from a bag I bought at the thrift store, and I think they suit the dress well. This style of dress always has to be worn with a belt, but that doesn’t bother me, since I have several thrifted black leather belts to choose from.
Mr Rat and I walked to the Santa Clara mission last weekend to enjoy the flowers and take a few photos of this dress, which has been lingering in my closet un-photographed for at least two months now. There was a wedding in the mission, so we weren’t able to take any photos of it (except for the steeple, below) this time, but we enjoyed the gardens, which were blooming despite the heat, and walked around the rest of the university campus that surrounds the mission. There were lots of squirrels and birds out enjoying the greenery, too.
Dresses with interesting shapes always intrigue me, and dresses with interesting shapes and unusual methods of closure doubly so. This 1970s era pattern had both. It was difficult to find a copy of McCall 5906---I’ve only seen it twice in my size, so I was happy to find a copy for not too much on Ebay that was even uncut. McCall 5906 is a pullover dress with a triangular yoked front and back, ties that wrap around to the back and give the dress somewhat of an empire waistline, a keyhole neckline opening, a mandarin-style closure, bottom ruffle, puffed sleeves, and all closures on the dress (neck, sleeves) are made with extra-wide bias strips that tie into bows.
I made this first attempt out of a large cotton-polyester sheet I got from the thrift store a few months ago. I find that even though the grain can get a little off with sheets sometimes, they are good sources of inexpensive thick cotton, and work especially well when trying out a pattern for the first time. Since I made my dress from durable, versatile cotton, I finished my seams very simply with pinking shears.
The tricky shape of the yoke meant that I did a lot of hand-basting before I machine sewed the dress together, and I sewed the bias tape together by hand so that it wouldn’t warp the way it sometimes does under the pressure of the sewing machine foot.
I like how the dress turned out. It is comfortable to wear and unusual in style. It reminds me of the shape of traditional Russian clothing, and the bows are an interesting and charming detail.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew