I spent almost a week at the end of March sick in bed with one of those violent colds that make it hard to do anything with either head or hands. When I am under the weather my favorite thing to wear is a smock dress. They are loose and easy and comfortable, and if I put on a necklace I feel a little bit put-together even if I am otherwise worn out.
I made this smock dress about two years ago using an old Simplicity project runway pattern 3529. It’s been a versatile dress: sometimes I wear it as a working smock, sometimes as a summer dress when wearing anything other than loose cotton feels unbearable, and I even occasionally use it as a nightgown when my proper one is in the wash. It is made from a large length of black cotton that I bought in the fabric district in Los Angeles. Since I had so much fabric to work with, I lengthened the pattern a great deal, and widened it, too, until it is ankle length and very loose. I made the pattern in a size 8, and although it is a little roomy in the shoulders, I don’t mind it. It’s a dress where more ease is a good thing.
I am wearing my smock dress with a homemade necklace made of adventurine beads. I was still a little sick when I took these photos, so if I look less than my best, hopefully you’ll understand why. Thank goodness for books when you are ill and cannot go out. They take us into other worlds, other lives, for a while.
I planned this blouse to be wearable with any of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, any of my sets of homemade jewelry, and any of my shawls that I’ve collected at thrift stores over the years. Unbleached cotton muslin is a beautiful color and so pale and neutral that it matches everything. The 1970s era Simplicity 8356 pattern that I used for my blouse is simple but interesting with its square yoked neckline and slightly puffed raglan sleeves gathered into buttoned cuffs. I used square buttons that I saved off of an old shirt to echo the square neckline. The square neckline takes some patience and precision, but otherwise the sewing is not complicated for a sewer with experience. After having made so many blouses, shirts and dresses with buttoned cuffs recently, I found it interesting that this pattern uses a facing for the sleeve slit rather than a continuous lap or fold and edge-stitch method. I tried to take a photo to show part of the facing going up into the sleeve. As far as finishing details: I did lots of edge-stitching, as usual, and finished my buttonholes by hand since my machine doesn’t like to make them.
All of the necklaces and most of the earrings I am wearing in these photos are made by me. The necklace, earrings and bracelet I am wearing in the first photo in this post are made of rose quartz and chrysoprase. It astonishes me what beautiful stone beads you can buy for so little compared to buying finished jewelry at the store or online. Jewelry making is very quick compared to sewing, and I find it restful to lay out the beads and string them. Do any of you make jewelry? Do you ever plan sewing projects around your accessories or jewelry that you want to wear more often? Or do you ever make jewelry to match your sewing projects?
This necklace is made of an alternating pattern of moonstones, rose quartz (one of my favorite stones) and a pale green bead I can’t quite remember---it might have been adventurine?
This necklace is my favorite: it is made of enormous beautiful tiger eyes. Tiger eyes are my favorite stone of all---I love the way they gleam and glow and shift.
This necklace is made of off-white agate nuggets with silver plated spacer beads.
This necklace is made of pink lepidolite. The stones have a beautiful matte surface.
This necklace is made of alternating brown jade and ocean jasper, one of my new favorite stones along with agate---jasper and agate are so wonderfully varied in color and pattern! I didn’t know until I started beading that jade also comes in so many different colors beyond green and lavender.
This necklace is made of green marble. They are the largest beads I’ve ever used, and I like the way they remind me of a child’s drawing of what a necklace should look like.
Simplicity 5976 from the 1970s is likely one of my most exotic vintage patterns, with its angel wings and bows and decorative bands. I’ve had all kinds of reactions from other people when wearing the dress I made from it, everything from being reminded of Pre-Raphaelite paintings to graduation or judicial gowns.
I sewed my version out of black broadcloth trimmed with black cotton calico patterned with little black flowers. After the bands were attached using the machine, I sewed black ribbon around the edges of the bands and the square neckline by hand. While the instructions were not difficult to understand, the pattern is complex enough in construction that I would not recommend it for a beginner. Having some previous experience makes it satisfying to sew instead of frustrating. The bands and trims took some time to apply, but were well worth it for the interesting effect they give to the finished dress. It is unique.
It is also comfortable to wear, and versatile for most kinds of weather, since in the summer I can wear it alone with sandals, and in the winter I can wear it as I am doing here, with a turtleneck sweater and long tights underneath for warmth. The necklace is handmade also, using glass beads from JoAnns and jewelry-making supplies that my husband gave me for Christmas last year.
As the days get shorter, so too do Mr. Rat’s and my chances to photograph the things we’ve been sewing. So we are trying to fit in a little bit of photography on the weekends when we go walking. It is a pleasure to be outside in the sunshine and feel the warmth on our faces just like the squirrels who so quickly hump their way through the long green-yellow grass to hide their acorns for the oncoming winter. Yesterday we walked to the local monastery gardens, one of our favorite places, and we were enchanted by the late-season scattering of roses, the cicadas chirping and rasping in the bushes, the ever-present squirrels scrambling overhead busy at their work, and the other flowers that opened up for a brief afternoon of warmer weather. We took along Marianne Moore’s book of ‘the Fables of La Fontaine,’ and read a few of them together on a shade-dappled bench. We both liked the poem about the sun and the frogs. It was a good time to rest from worry.
I wore my birthday dress, made from vintage Simplicity 5180, circa 1972. Most years I make myself a birthday dress to wear on my birthday or the weekend when we celebrate it. It makes the day feel a little more special. Do any of you readers make your own clothes for special occasions? I often make something to wear for Thanksgiving, too, but don’t always manage anything new for Christmas.
I made Simplicity 5180 in a size 8, as usual, and was impressed by the fit. There is enough ease for comfort without losing the slim and fitted look. This dress had quite a few darts: for the bust, the shoulders, the lower back, and the elbows, but was well worth the effort. I find darts to be a part of the sewing process that has gotten far less fearsome the more I sew them. Using a tailor’s ham underneath when pressing the darts helps a great deal, as does flattening out the tip of the dart by sewing a few stitches right on the edge of the fabric before tying off the point.
I took my time with the plaid matching and was pleased with the result. The fabric, a dollar-a-yard brown plaid cotton from the fabric district in Los Angeles, was very pleasant and easy to work with. It was crisp and easy to sew and didn’t pucker like the lighter broadcloths do. The midriff is fully interfaced. The only change I made was to widen the skirt, although I kept the same silhouette and style of gathers as the pattern. The pattern also includes removable cuffs and collar, which I have cut out in white linen, waiting on the sewing desk. Once I’ve finished sewing those, hopefully Mr. Rat will photograph the dress with collar and cuffs again. Although I like wearing it plain, as I did here, with the tiger-eye necklace and bracelet that I made myself with the beading supplies Mr. Rat gave me last year as a Christmas present.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.