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.
I'm sorry for the long pause around here. Like many Americans this winter, I came down with a nasty case of the flu that has lingered into a bad cough that is still going away. I've still been able to do some sewing and crocheting (when you are stuck in bed, crochet is a nice change from reading all day), but I haven't been able to go out and photograph the things I've been working on. Especially the unseasonable spring dress I finished recently----I'm not sure when I'll get to photograph that one. But I sewed it because I wanted to remind myself that warmth and sunshine will come again, even if it will take some months to get there.
In the meantime, here is a peek at a recently finished skirt (worn with my homemade wool peplum jacket) until Mr Rat can take better pictures of it. He snapped this quick photo while I ventured outside long enough to feed our neighbor ducks. We were lucky enough to still be standing nearby with the camera out when our most elusive duck-neighbors, the mandarins, came through our yard. They have such beautiful feathers. Whenever I see them against the snow, I think of Japanese woodblock prints.
I hope you are all healthier than I am at the moment, and enjoying the beauty of winter (or summer, if you are in the southern hemisphere).
Simplicity 8458 is one of the handful of 1950s-era vintage reproduction patterns that Simplicity released this year to honor their 90th anniversary. I bought a copy during one of JoAnn's 99 cent pattern sales recently and decided it was worth a try. I've never had much luck with a-line skirts before because my hip and waist measurements are varied enough to be one, if not two pattern sizes apart, and so when I've tried sewing a size 8 (which is the best fit for my waist) sometimes the skirt won't fit over my hips, but when I've tried larger sized patterns, the waistline is huge, and when I've tried to grade the patterns to different sizes at the waist and hips, the skirt hasn't fallen into the proper folds. So this time I pulled out some denim I bought at the thrift store a few years ago that had some damage on it: a few small holes and a little bit of staining that wouldn't come out in the wash. I decided to try a size 10, and cut around the damage on the denim, and was surprised at how well it fits! The waistband is slightly looser than most of my skirts, but isn't extremely large (and is also easy to slip sweaters into). I think it also helps that the skirt is very flared, which makes it easier to pull on over hips of any size. The total flare of the skirt is probably close to a half-circle skirt, maybe a bit more. The skirt is designed with four gores, cut on the bias----it is important to follow the pattern layout for this skirt, because it has you cut out each piece in a single layer, and getting them at the right angles is very important for the skirt to hang well.
Even though I'm not wearing it with a petticoat in these pictures, it does accommodate a petticoat well, and flares nicely when I do wear one. I like that now I have an alternative skirt pattern to my normal gathered dirndl skirts, and that it doesn't add any bulk around the hips when I'm wearing it with a peplum blouse or jacket, like here, where I paired my new skirt with my denim peplum top I finished last month.
I top stitched all the seams and used a thick gold metal denim skirt zipper, for durability. Sewing this skirt is a simple process, but it is important to follow the instructions, even though there are few of them. The skirt has to be basted and hung out overnight so the bias can stretch out before you sew the panels together. It is also helpful to remember to sew from the bottom to the top on all the seams (the pattern reminds you to do so) so the stitches stretch in the proper direction. The instructions for attaching the waistband were different than my other skirt patterns----it has you finish the waistband with edge-stitching from the outside, rather than folding and finishing it on the inside, and the pattern doesn't recommend trimming the seam before sewing the waistband closed, which I found made the waistband stiff without having to add waistband interfacing. Since the bottom hem is heavily curved, I finished it using navy bias tape I thrifted a long time ago and had in my stash. I used a method like the one Bianca from the Closet Historian describes here.
I'm wearing my denim outfit with a thrifted shawl, a big tiger-eye brooch (also thrifted), thrifted leather gloves, and boots that I originally thrifted several years ago and had re-heeled earlier this year. Given my denim, buttons and bias tape were all thrifted too, I feel like I can truly claim that you can find most things you need second-hand shopping. Sewing doesn't have to be expensive. Neither does getting dressed in an interesting way.
I'm very pleased with how this skirt turned out and I've been wearing it a lot since I finished it. I think it is a practical, year round skirt, and could as easily be worn hiking or cleaning as taking a walk in the park.
Mr Rat was kind enough to take these photos while we were out walking with Gia in our local park. The weather is very grey most days, so it is very challenging to get good photos. The landscape has turned very stark: all shades of brown and grey. But there are beautiful bright berries on the bushes, and the evergreens are still dark green.
We now live close to a beautiful city cemetery and often go walking there with Gia. Since we've moved, we've been struggling with finding sewing time (Mr Rat) and photographing new projects (me) because it gets dark so early and our schedule is still uncertain and unsettled. I asked Mr Rat if he would take some photos of my jacket that I finished earlier in the summer and haven't reviewed yet while we took our regular walk through the cemetery in the evening. The lighting was lovely but a little difficult, so I apologize if the photos are of uneven quality. I don't think the dead found it disrespectful for us to stop and take some photos in their vicinity, but I hope the living didn't mind us pausing to take a few photos of my jacket before the sun went down and a few photos of some of our favorite old gravestones, so beautiful and so lonely.
It is surprising and charming to me that it is very popular here to decorate the graves for Halloween so that the grass is dotted with jack-o-lanterns, colored LED lights, little ghost figurines, and lots of orange bouquets. I don't think we got any pictures of the decorations for this post, since we were mostly photographing in the older, less decorated and more neglected part of the cemetery, but Mr Rat did get a photo of an unusual grave below----one that will never lack a true and loyal friend.
Sewing the jacket: After making some observations about my homemade wardrobe at the end of Me-Made-May, I felt like I needed to make more outerwear, so I decided to try 1970s-era McCalls 4177 with the leftover bits of olive-green cotton twill that Mr Rat made a jacket out of a while ago. Since the jacket is unlined, I finished the seams with bits of brown bias tape that I had thrifted, and did lots of edge-stitching to make the prone-to-wrinkles fabric look as crisp as possible. The pattern itself is not difficult. The trickiest part is the notched collar, which takes more patience than effort. I like the length of the jacket and how well it works over dresses and skirts. I also like the way the darts on the upper back shoulders, beneath the collar, and at the elbows give it a nice fit. The rounded, cropped shape is unusual and interesting, and I like the little gathered puffs at the top of the sleeves. I think I will likely sew this jacket again at some point, since it is a good length to wear with skirts, like the homemade Simplicity 7880 one I am wearing it with here.
Happy Halloween! Mr Rat and Gia and I will be curled up in front of our fireplace full of candles tonight with some candy and good books. I hope you will get to celebrate All Hallow's Eve in your favorite way tonight!
I am excited to share these photos of my new backyard (and new denim peplum top) with you! Our yard may not be large, but it more than makes up for that with beauty. Given that we moved from a very tiny one-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area with no yard or even a balcony to grow plants on or be outside in, our new townhouse in Utah (with a backyard! with a creek with ducks in it! and a beautiful birch tree! and with a little front patio I can grow plants in next Spring!) is a vast improvement in Mr Rat's and my life for which we are very grateful.
It isn't too cold yet to put away my autumn clothes for winter wool, for which I am also grateful, since it meant I could get some photos of my new denim peplum top sewn from late 1960s/early 1970s-era McCalls 2592. I've been excited about this pattern since I spotted it on sale on the Mom's Patterns website and ordered it in the mail. It reminds me of some of the more elegant bohemian looks of that era, and also has a prairie/Victorian influence, which I like.
McCalls 2592 sewed up well. I didn't have to make any adjustments and the fit is overall pretty good. My fabric, a mystery piece of denim I bought at the thrift store, didn't behave as well as the pattern---it had a tendency to stretch out on the curves, so next time I am working with light/medium weight denim I will remember to stay stitch every curve, rather than just the recommended ones. I finished the seams with a faux flat-fell finish, and used some scraps of bias tape to finish the armholes and to act as both a finish and a stay for the waist. The buttons probably look familiar to you if you've been reading this blog long: they are the same black thrifted buttons from my large jar of them that I've used on many projects in the past. I made the buttonholes by hand, and top-stitched and edge-stitched the seams with black thread, since it gave a slight contrast to the navy blue of the denim.
I'm wearing my new denim peplum top with my often-worn and much loved brown broadcloth skirt (originally reviewed here) and a thrifted vintage gold leaf brooch. Since the autumn here is much cooler than in California, I was wearing a black long sleeved t-shirt under my denim top, and tights, socks, and a petticoat under my skirt for warmth.
I'm pleased with how my first attempt at this pattern turned out. I'm sure I will make other versions, and wear them with pleasure.
This was one of the last photos I took in our old apartment, while the weather was up and down between late-summer hot and early autumn cool. I am wearing my navy twill jacket (reviewed here) and my navy broadcloth skirt (reviewed here) with a vintage pale blue striped shirt with a white collar I found at the thrift store and a new sterling silver Stuart Nye pansy brooch that I found on Ebay for only a few dollars. It was black with tarnish when I got it, but after some polish, it is quite lovely, I think. Pansies have been one of my favorite flowers since I was a child, for their cheerful faces, and royal colors, and because ‘pansies are for thoughts.’
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.
After I saw a few more holes appear in Mr Rat’s favorite jacket, I persuaded him to leave it at home long enough for me to pull out my mending kit and some scraps leftover from my bandana print dress and from a new Hawaiian shirt that Mr Rat is working on to patch it with. Every time I cover the threadbare spots with colorful bits of fabric and sashiko-style stitching, Mr Rat comes home, puts on his transformed jacket, and admires its increase in character and personality. It takes time to get to know an object, just as it takes time to get to know a person. And I love that he wears my love on his sleeve, and his collar, and every other ragged spot.
Mr R and I went to the park on Saturday and walked around the pond where the big handsome geese and the neatly attired little ducks like to float and preen and sun. There were seagulls too, drifting and flying about lazily as if the weather was warmer than it truly was. But the sunshine made it feel almost like spring.
Mr R wore a new shirt he made (which you will see in a new post) and I wore a jacket that I made during the fall using 1970s era McCall 4130 and only wore once before the weather grew too cold and wet to wear an unlined cotton twill jacket. The jacket matches my Simplicity 7880 skirt (previously reviewed here) very well, so I wore them together to make a navy suit. I pinned my new Mexican silver rose brooch that Mr R gave me for valentine's day to the jacket lapel to celebrate the return of the flowers. This jacket has some interesting features, including a bust dart hidden under the large lapels, back and elbow darts that make the whole jacket quite fitted, and gathers at the shoulders that give the top of the sleeve a slight puff. The only trouble I had with making it was that I didn’t realize until after I had sewn in the facings that the jacket was a little too long at the bottom to end at my natural waist, and so it wrinkled and bunched when I wore it with full skirts. I ended up doing a simple fix by folding up the facing to the right length and re-sewing the hem with the facing doubled. It doesn’t look as nice on the inside with the doubled hem despite the time I had taken to finish the seams with seam-binding, though, so I traced out the pattern pieces and redrafted them shorter for next time, so I can have a clean finish and a good fit. Otherwise I like the fit and shape of the jacket, although the one hundred percent cotton twill does wrinkle very easily. But that is what irons are for, yes? And for my first time attempting this pattern, I think the result is quite wearable.
I liked the shape of McCall 5526 with its slight peplum and sharp collar, so last winter I decided make a heavy jacket with it, making some modifications, since the original pattern is unlined and meant for light to medium weight fabrics. I made mine out of wool and tried some tailoring techniques for the first time. The whole front of the jacket is interfaced, as is the upper back, the bottom of the sleeves and the bottom of the hem. I used a stiff interfacing for the collar to give it more structure. I top stitched all the seams and edges by hand to make the wool lay flat and keep the corners sharp and crisp. The hand stitching sinks into the wool and becomes fairly invisible. I used the pattern pieces to draft a lining: the back and front are lined with cotton flannel, for warmth, and the sleeves with polyester lining fabric, to make it easier to put on and take off. I used some of the leftover pieces of flannel to make sleeve-heads to give the tops of the sleeves a nice shape. The faux-leather buttons are from an old clearance sale at JoAnns, and the fabric was a decent sized piece that I found at the thrift store. I stitched the button-holes by hand.
I cut the pattern to a size 8, and am mostly pleased with the fit, although I think I would make some changes the next time I make this pattern. I think the shoulders are a little too wide, since they tend to wrinkle a bit in the back, and sit out a little further than where my shoulder ends. Next time I will try narrowing them at the edge and a little at the top of the princess seams. After looking at the photos Mr Rat took of me wearing the jacket, I think the back waist may need to be shortened very slightly, also. And although I don’t mind the way the peplum gapes a bit in the front, I would need to add some more fabric to the hips to accommodate my full skirts if I would like it to close all the way next time.
Mr Rat took some photos of me wearing my jacket over my striped cotton McCall 6209 dress at the monastery on Sunday afternoon. It was a grey, beginning-of-winter day, and the garden was green with recent rain. Gia came along with us; though she was too busy smelling the squirrels’ hidden caches of acorns in the tall clover to want to join in the photos with me.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew