(an older photo, but a personal favorite of me sewing in our last apartment in my homemade brown blouse and brown skirt)
I'm a little slow catching on to internet sewing events since I've left Instagram, but one that has caught my attention (albeit a little late) is Slow Fashion October, hosted by Karen Templer of the Fringe Association Blog. As I recently switched the clothes in my wardrobe from summer to autumn and winter wear, I pulled a few things out to give away that I haven't enjoyed wearing as much as I enjoyed sewing them. It was a disappointment to me that I wanted to give away some of the things I've made over the past year, and it made me feel that though experimentation is and can be helpful (how else do we know what we like, if we never try anything new or different?), I would like to have more focus in my sewing projects and I would very much like to make things that I want to keep and wear until they are fully worn out. This year's Slow Fashion October seems to be all about that theme: sorting through one's wardrobe and giving it a lot of thought through discussion prompts, interviews and readings, and then using what you've learned about yourself to make more mindful decisions about acquisition, making new items, and the difficulties of giving away or re purposing what isn't being worn in an ethical manner. It is so hard to live as harmlessly as possible! But a recurring theme on the Slow Fashion October discussions is that small steps help, and we can each do what we can to make a small step or two every year.
To help myself regain some focus in my sewing projects, I think I will fill out the prompts from the Slow Fashion feed, and then I will probably do Colette Media's Wardrobe Architect again. Wardrobe Architect is a series of blog posts that help you write about the many things that influence your sewing choices (from body shape to climate, color preferences, silhouettes, personal style philosophy, etc.) and end up with a page or two of information that will help you plan your projects with more confidence that they will be items that are heavily worn, rather than rarely taken out of the closet. If you've never tried it out before, I'd recommend it---and it's free.
My sewing goals don't really fit in with the current sewing challenge from Closet Case Patterns and True Bias to "Sew Frosting," but that's okay with me. I'm still planning out some challenging and exciting projects alongside the more pedestrian ones (such as some simple wool skirts and a new cotton nightgown), like making myself a winter coat with fabric I got for my birthday---I think it is more practical "cake," or even bread, really, than "frosting," but it will be a special project for me nonetheless, and I'm looking forward to spending time hand sewing and underlining and doing all the other lengthy details that go into constructing even a simple coat.
For some sewing inspiration, here are some new-to-me links that I've recently discovered:
- I'm going to try listening to the Love to Sew Podcast this week while I sew. I haven't listened to their podcast before, but they have some interesting topics like 'sewing struggles,' 'planning projects,' interviews with notable sewing business owners and bloggers, and even an episode on 'the financials of sewing,' (something that doesn't get discussed often, but I'm very curious about, since one of the reasons I started sewing seriously again was to save money----a reason I don't find often openly shared in the sewing blogosphere).
- I may not sew very many 1940s patterns, but I enjoy seeing the beautiful projects made by people who do. Two 1940s sewing bogs that I've been enjoying are: the Ugly Dame and Ms 1940 McCall.
-I've really been enjoying the autumnal hues of Goody McGoodface's vintage outfits on Eat the Blog. Her amazing purse collection has inspired me over the past two months to try my hand at sewing some of my own bags to match my outfits, which I hope to share here soon. Her jewelry collection is also enviable (and an inspiration to those who make some of their own jewelry, like me), and altogether her boldness in getting dressed is always inspiring.
-I've also enjoyed following Folkwear's blog. Their patterns are rather new to me, and I find them intriguing. I like Folkwear's emphasis on ethnic, historical and vintage fashion. Molly Hamilton always has interesting advice on fabric choices on her blog, and also photos of finished "art wear" that are really impressively made.
Another Bastheva prairie dress----this one is from Oroboro
Laura Ashley dress photographed by her daughter Jane Ashley - for more more of her photos, visit the Laura Ashley Archive
1970s Laura Ashley prairie dress (sorry, I can't find the original link)
Velvet prairie dresses by the Vampire's Wife, also known as Susie Cave (photo found on the Red Carpet Fashion Awards website)
front and back of a vintage Gunne Sax prairie dress from the FIDM blog
Lately I've been reading some of the many many articles popping up across the internet about the revival of prairie fashion: like this one from the NYT ("Pioneer Women Are Roaming the City"), or this profile of Batsheva Hay by the New Yorker, or this piece by the Washington Post. The Washington Post article, though short, is also the most positive and thoughtful. Robin Givhan recognizes why prairie styles are so surprising to so many onlookers, and also so intriguing to the women who wear them: ". . .there's no hiding in these clothes. They are provocative but only because they are so darned civil and precious and sweet. They don't swagger. They don't brag. Their power is in everything that they refuse to be."
The New York Times piece is more biting, making references to the Donner Party, the TV show Big Love, and "Amish dowdiness," but it is also perceptive, making connections between the resurgence of prairie style with current political and economic anxiety, and also the the fluctuating relationship most women have with modesty during a moment when sexual injustices against women are being exposed in the news. Still, my overall impression of Chloe Malle's article was one of ambivalence: a mixture of mean jokes with genuine interest and curiosity.
The article on Batsheva Hay in the New Yorker is interesting, too, not least because it profiles a woman living in an Orthodox Jewish household who is now one of New York's most popular new fashion designers. Her interest in prairie styles is also not without conflict---a mixture of affection for the modest and feminine looks and rebellion towards the way they have been presented and perceived as restrictive and repressed.
It's this recurrent theme of ambivalence towards historical women's clothing as being symbols of repression and oppression, and the association with "cults," that makes me a bit puzzled. When and where have women ever held equal social status with men? We are still striving for that elusive equality today. What is left for women to wear if we don't wear clothing that references the past?
And what clothing of the past can be more associated with feminine strength than prairie dresses, which are named after the garb of the pioneers? Pioneer women of the mid-1800s were the Victorian counter-cultural rebels: they walked from one side of the country to the other to follow dreams, opportunities, the chance to have more choices than many of their female peers and to be respected as essential members of their households and struggling communities. Pioneer women were adventurers; they showed courage by facing hardship, disease, and hunger on the trail and in their new homes on the very edge of the known world.
I can't really see how their clothes can be used as particular symbols of female oppression, given that the women who wore them were straining against the bounds of what the "gentler sex" were thought to able to accomplish at that point in history.
When I was in college I wore a long calico dress with puffed sleeves to school and got teased by one of my classmates that I looked like a fundamentalist polygamist cult member. Historically, this is an exaggeration, too. Some of my ancestresses were polygamists on the Mormon trail, but some of my husband's ancestresses were pioneers on both the Mormon and Oregon trails, and they were adamantly monogamous. Whether or not I agree with the choices my predecessors made in regards to marriage, I'm proud of their strength and courage to leave what they knew behind and make new lives out of scratch in the desert and the mountains.
I like the historical associations of prairie dresses. I also like the way they look: they have a wide, feminine, and varied vocabulary of print, pattern, ruffle, and puffs. Prairie dresses aren't boring---they are individual, and interesting, and brave, and sometimes bold---much like the women who wore them in the 1800s and again in the 1970s-1980s, and now.
What do you think about prairie styles? Did you wear them, and do you wear them still? Are you interested in trying them for the first time? Do you find their historical associations troubling, or interesting?
Photo of the Crisman sisters taken in 1886. They were homesteaders in Nebraska. Photo from the Denver Post website.
Berthe Morisot Pasie Sewing in the Garden oil on canvas 1882
by Hazel Hall
The wind is sewing with needles of rain.
With shining needles of rain
It stitches into the thin
Cloth of earth. In,
In, in, in.
Oh the wind has often sewed with me.
One, two, three.
Spring must have fine things
To wear like other springs.
Of silken green the grass must be
Embroidered. One and two and three.
Then every crocus must be made
So subtly as to seem afraid
Of lifting color from the ground;
And after crocuses the round
Heads of tulips, and all the fair
Intricate garb that Spring will wear.
The wind must sew with needles of rain,
With shining needles of rain,
Stitching into the thin
Cloth of earth, in,
In, in, in,
For all the springs of futurity.
One, two, three.
First, some reflections on the sewing goals I made for 2017:
Well, I didn’t succeed at not buying new patterns! I still bought patterns from the thrift store and off of Ebay, although I think my pattern-buying was more targeted than it has been in the past, since I have been sewing long enough to know which patterns fit well (late 1960s-early 1980s size 8), and have a better idea of what styles of clothing I like to wear and are interesting to sew. I do think I succeeded at trying more of the patterns I already own, and reusing patterns that I have used in the past. I would like to continue doing both of those things in 2018.
While I can’t say that I didn’t buy new fabric, either, we did make a dent in our thrifted and fabric-district bought stash. Since most of our fabric is second-hand, I don’t think not buying new fabric until our stash is used up is a realistic goal to keep for 2018. When we find nice fabric at a low price, we buy it for future use----I don’t think that’s a bad way to fabric shop, so long as our stash does not overwhelm our apartment, and I don’t think it is in danger of doing that.
I did sew several wool pieces this year (like this vest, this cape, and a dress I have yet to post and review, among others), so I would say that this goal was a success. Now that I have more experience sewing with wool, I will keep working on using the thrifted wool in our stash. I can imagine some other vests would be nice, and I have a tweed cape/jacket cut out to get around to sometime, and I would also like to make some more wool skirts, since my grey wool skirt has seen a lot of use, especially since we have moved to an even colder climate here in Utah than we ever faced in California.
I did find a vest pattern (as I mentioned already above) that fits pretty well, and sewed some long-sleeved blouses, and some jackets, and some dresses----although no aprons yet. So those were successful goals, too.
And now, some new goals for 2018:
- To continue saving money by using thrifted fabrics, buttons, and trims, old sheets, and inexpensive yardage for our sewing projects. Even though Mr Rat and I are more comfortably off now that he's started his new job than we've ever been before, we still have savings goals to meet and the rest of Mr Rat’s student loans to finish paying off. This means that saving money is as important as ever.
- To sew more complete outfits, or even capsule wardrobes. While my sewing projects tend to be easily mixed and matched because of my general focus on a mostly neutral color palette (with black, white, off-white, beige/tan, brown, navy, and grey predominating), solid color fabrics, and simple silhouettes such as full midi-length skirts, midi-to-long dresses and elbow-to-long sleeve blouses----still, I would like sew more outfits that go together, like my gingham dress set from last summer. I also think the idea of a capsule wardrobe is intriguing, because it would make getting packed for trips to visit our family in California even easier.
- And lastly, to challenge my sewing skills by working on some projects with more complex embellishments or new sewing techniques, like pintucks and pleats. My main goal here is to use some of my vintage vogue patterns---I have two Jean Muir patterns I would love to try in 2018, especially the yellow one on the right, which is a pattern my grandmother made for my mother when she was young!
What are your sewing goals for the new year? Did you make sewing goals for this year? Were you successful in keeping them?
I've been debating with myself whether I should post this or not, since it feels a bit like bragging to share the big pile of patterns I thrifted last weekend, but then I thought that since you are all sewers (and probably have an interest in vintage fashion if you are visiting this blog) that you might be interested in seeing them because some of these patterns I found are rare and unusual; certainly there are a few that I bought that I've never seen on the internet before. Since it will probably be a while before I can sew many or all of them (I found 20, almost all in my size, and very few are missing any pattern pieces----what rare luck!), here are some photos of my 50-cent purchases that delighted me so.
If any of you want closer photos to see the details of any of the patterns (or have suggestions for which I should sew next) leave me a comment!
1946 was a good year for fairy tales: World War II had ended in the late summer of 1945, and celebrations of life in the new year of 1946 mixed with bitter memories of the lost.
In 1946, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast made its debut in movie theatres. The computer generated effects of today still don’t match the magic of his cinematic artistry and the mysterious delicacy of his style. Who could interpret the famous French fairy tale written by 18th century writer Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve better than he?
Antoine de Saint-Expurey, the famous French aviator-writer who wrote so eloquently of the beautiful and dangerous lives of the first pilots in Wind, Sand, and Stars, wrote about a different flight of the imagination in the fairy-tale The Little Prince, a tiny volume that was destined to become his most famous work, despite being published without his knowledge after his disappearance (and presumed death) on a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean a year prior.
Fashion in 1946 reflected the fairy-tale relief of a newly peaceful (and for America, newly prosperous) life with growing luxury: longer hem-lines, fuller skirts, and more fabric than had been seen in years.
Dior's 'New Look' was yet to debut in 1947, but as this evening dress by Lucien LeLong shows, the taste for fairy-tale beauty was already strong.
And in June of 1946, with the burgeoning post-war economy driving a new burst in American production, our Singer 15-91 sewing machine was made in New Jersey. And that is the stuff of fairy-tales for me and Mr Rat, because somehow it traveled to northern California and 71 years later turned up in the gutter across the street from our apartment. And in a fairy-tale appropriate turn of events, we rescued it from the doom of being left out for trash, cleaned it with care, and spent the last month sourcing parts to refurbish it, and now it runs beautifully again, and we are as pleased with it as can be.
Our main sources of information for refurbishing the machine came from a the book How to Select, Service, Repair and Maintain Your Vintage Sewing Machine by Connie McCaffrey, the very-comprehensive Singer 15-91 manual (which Mr Rat sourced and printed for free from the internet), and You-Tube tutorials. Our parts were mostly sourced from Ebay and we bought any tools we didn’t have but needed to repair the machine from Harbor Freight. Altogether, we estimate that it cost about $60 to fully refurbish the machine and make it work again, even the lamp. Luckily the cabinet was still in pretty good condition, just rather scratched and cobwebbed, so all it took was a thorough washing with a barely damp clean rag and a gentle application of wood oil to make it look good again.
I’ve already sewn Mr Rat some pajamas on our new-old machine, and I’m pleased with how well it stitches. It came at just the right time, since my seven-year-old Singer Heavy-Duty was wearing out and skipping stitches, and I wasn’t sure how we’d manage to get it fixed or replaced. Now we have a machine that is known for its durability and skill at stitching through just about anything, and best of all, we can care for it and repair it ourselves. A fairy-tale ending, indeed. Or perhaps a fairy-tale beginning.
I made this blouse last summer thinking of the wonderful painter Frida Kahlo. She used clothing to shape other people’s perceptions of her identity, so that they remembered her as beautiful, proud, and queenly, rather than vulnerable, injured, and in constant pain from childhood illness and multiple surgeries. By choosing traditional Mexican clothes when her upper-class peers were wearing American-style clothes she chose her own history and made her divided identity (half German, half-Spanish-Mexican) whole in style, if not in fact. She was a woman who was not afraid of looking feminine and wore lots of lace, ruffles, embroidery, and beautiful jewelry. She chose aspects of herself that most people would see as weaknesses and made them her strengths, so that she was memorable, even unforgettable.
I used McCall 6437 cut to a size 8 for the basis of my Frida-Kahlo inspired blouse. I don’t think I will use this pattern again, because the fit around the neck and shoulders is poor for me. It is still a wearable blouse, but I would have to totally redraft the neck and shoulders of this blouse to sew it again, and I don’t think I’m likely to. The blouse itself is not hard to sew, so it could be a good choice for others. The fit is very loose and forgiving, and I like how it looks tucked into skirts. The arm-hole is very low, though, so you have to be wary of easily flashing some underwear when you raise your elbows.
I used bits of lace bought from various thrift stores to trim the yoke, the neck and the sleeves. The blouse is made of plain white cotton, and the button closure is just a simple white button from my button-box. My top-stitching ended up a little wobbly around the yoke, so I did some extra stitching by hand to make it more decorative, and I think that solved the problem in a nice way.
Even though my blouse is simpler than most of hers were, I think it does capture a faint reflection of Frida Kahlo’s beautiful style. It makes me feel more boldly feminine to wear it. Here, I am wearing it with a red jasper necklace and earrings that I made myself, and my brown skirt, previously reviewed here and worn again here.
When looking for inspiration for sewing projects, where do you like to turn? Pinterest, blogs, and magazines are obvious resources for collecting interesting imagery, as are fashion and art museums---but have you considered the library?
I checked this Dover book out from our local library, curious to see what ordinary American women were wearing in the early 1920s, and found that clothes of that era had a much more interesting variety of trims and embellishments---and that it was full of lots of ideas that could easily be used for sewing projects today. Since I don’t want to cause any copyright trouble, I just took a few detail photos. The book itself replicates an entire Philipsborn’s catalog, so it is quite large, with lots of ‘models’ on each page. For more books like this, try checking the Dover website. They have a large section devoted to historical fashion, and their books are always moderately priced.
Do you have any favorite books for sewing inspiration that you have found at the library?
All of these blouses use a contrasting ribbon bow at the neckline.
I like the idea of doing an oversized collar and cuffs of a blouse in eyelet and then trimming them in lace. Doing embroidery in two colors along the neckline and sleeves of a blouse is also an interesting idea.
It may be unusual to see special lace or cutwork collars added to shirts now, but they add a lot of visual interest. I noticed that many of the blouses have long sleeves with turn-back cuffs, sometimes cut in interesting shapes. This seems like a simple adjustment to draft using your favorite long sleeved, cuffed blouse pattern.
I would like to not buy more patterns so that I can get to know the ones I have better. I would also like to re-use more of the patterns that have worked well for me in the past, adding different details like a ruffled or tiered skirt, a collar, ribbon trim, patch pockets, different sleeves, etc.
I would like to not buy more fabric unless it is needed to finish a project or an ensemble. We have a large stash of fabrics found at thrift stores and clearance tables over the years folded neatly in our sewing closet, waiting for our attention. Mr Rat and I would like to use as much as we can make this year.
Related to the previous goal, I want to sew warmer and sew more wool. We have some nice pieces of wool and I have always been nervous to sew much with them. Having lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles all my life, I have never owned a lot of cold weather clothes---a few sweaters, some tights, and two or three heavy coats was enough to manage through the winter. It is much colder here, so I would like to use the wool in our sewing closet to make some warmer clothing that I can wear in layers: skirts, dresses, vests, jackets, and capes.
The clothes that have been most on my mind for future sewing projects:
To find a vest pattern that fits.
To make more skirt and jacket ensembles.
To make some more long-sleeved blouses.
To make dresses, since some of my old ones have worn out.
And maybe even to make myself a new apron or two this year.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew