I found 1970s-era Simplicity 7100 at the thrift store and immediately thought that it would make a great cleaning dress. As a housewife-artist, a significant amount of my time every week is spent cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, baking, gardening, and doing messy tasks in the studio like gessoing new canvases, sanding panels, or washing brushes. I don't mind cleaning---in fact, I find that it helps me focus my mind and dissipate my anxiety. Bringing a little order to my surroundings can help me feel like I am bringing a little more order to my head and heart. But I get tired easily---I'm not sure if that is an effect of my depression or a different health problem, and I have to admit that there is something discouraging about the endlessness of cleaning. No sooner do I finish my mundane tasks than it feels like I must start them all over again. Routine can be calming, but it can also be stultifying and sometimes exhausting.
One way I've learned to deal with the harder aspects of cleaning is to dress up for it. This might sound counter-intuitive, since you don't want to get your nice clothes dirty, and cleaning is by nature a dirty task. But I've found that having a few items of clothing that I've made especially for cleaning out of durable materials like cotton, twill, and denim, and also setting aside some older dresses that I've retired from wearing outside the house, means that I can clean without feeling frumpy and messy and unattractive. Feeling at least moderately pretty and neat while I clean means that the large amount of time I spend doing it doesn't feel so burdensome. It also lifts my mood to wear something that I like, and a simple necklace or earrings, too. I don't have to worry about the way that I look if someone knocks on the door, and I feel more dignified in general, which is very helpful when doing tasks (like scrubbing out sinks) that can feel very undignified.
So when I see an interesting smock pattern, or in this case, jumper dress, I often consider its qualities as a cleaning outfit. This pattern looked like a great cleaning dress. And I already had about 5 yards or so of heavy dark brown cotton twill that I found at the thrift store for $9 last fall, that I thought would work perfectly with the simple lines of the flared A-line jumper. Twill would make my new jumper nice and durable for all kinds of indoor and outdoor tasks. The loose shape and the larger size (10, when I usually sew an 8) also meant that it would be very comfortable. The pattern is sized for maternity, but I asked my mom whether she thought it would work for a non-pregnant body, and she said she thought it would. Her experience sewing her own maternity clothes was that they were cut looser, but were otherwise not very different from regular patterns. So I bought the pattern for 50 cents, took it home and noticed that the only thing different about it was that there was a little extra length drafted into the center front of the dress, so I lined it up with the back and trimmed that extra amount off. I did add about two inches to the bottom of the dress when I was cutting it out because I wanted to make sure that it would hit my legs below my knees.
The rest of construction was easy: I was careful to finish all the seams with faux-flat fell stitching to keep them neat and from fraying (I've found in the past that twill tends to fray badly). I sewed in the zipper by hand and added a hook and eye at the top of the zipper to help keep the neckline closed. I folded and stitched a narrow machine-hem. The neckline facing is also folded and machine-stitched, and I top-stitched the neckline and arm-holes.
Because the dress is so loose, it sometimes slips a little backwards on my shoulders, which can make the hem look a little off from the side. But it is a minor issue for a dress that turned out the way I had hoped: perfect for cleaning, for tough jobs, for getting dirty, for being comfortable.
In these photos I'm wearing my new jumper with a very old t-shirt (my one and only, since I usually wear button-up shirts and blouses), my trusty old Lotta From Stockholm clogs, and a necklace that I made myself from leftover beads from other projects. And please pardon my unruly hair! It's getting to that length where sometimes it curls under and sometimes out, and I can never tell what it will do in the morning.
Do you ever sew anything with very specific tasks in mind? Have you ever made an outfit just for cleaning in?
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.
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 7 - Day 7
I wore my pale tan striped puff-sleeved blouse and one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, along with a vintage tiger eye brooch.
Tuesday May 8 - Day 8
I wore my black broadcloth jumper dress and a muslin blouse made from a 1970s pattern that I recently completed and haven't photographed for the blog yet. My necklace is a silver locket Mr Rat gave to me right before we got engaged. It's my favorite piece of jewelry.
Wednesday May 9 - Day 9
I wore a as-yet-unblogged khaki version of Simplicity 8458, a 1950s reproduction skirt pattern, and my floral collared blouse.
Thursday May 10 - Day 10
I wore my muslin square-necked blouse, my long brown Simplicity 7880 skirt, and my homemade jade necklace and earrings.
Friday May 11 - Day 11
The weather took a turn towards cold and rainy and I had lots of chores to do, so I wore a simple outfit: my black flannel dress and a homemade adventurine necklace and earrings.
Saturday May 12 - Day 12
I didn't get a photo of my outfit, although it was handmade. It was just that kind of day.
Sunday May 13 - Day 13
I wore my tan striped dress with a vintage silk scarf and a hair barrette I made myself with some velvet violets and leaves.
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.
We had an unusually sunny Sunday after a few days of heavy rain, so the three of us went over to the monastery to enjoy the greenness of the garden and the heady spring flowers that scent the air. I wore a new jumper dress that I finished last month using 1970s era Butterick 6000 as my starting point. Originally I intended to add long sleeves, but when I set them in I didn’t like the way they looked, so I cut out the sleeves, enlarged the armholes slightly and finished the inside with off-white bias tape. The bodice is lined, since the ivory cotton I found at the thrift store is slightly sheer on its own, and I finished the waist seam with bias tape on the inside, which acts as a waist stay and covers the gathers so it has a clean finish on the inside. As far as other adjustments go, I also cut the skirt wider than the original skirt in the pattern, and I took a little wedge out of the middle of the bodice front when I cut out the pattern, with the wider point of the wedge at the neckline tapering to nothing at the empire waist, since I’ve found in the past that low scooped necklines can sometimes be a little loose on me. I dislike rippling zippers, so I was careful to interface the edge of the fabric along the full length of the zipper, and then I hand-picked the zipper into place. I’ve found that doing my zippers that way solves the rippling zipper problem, and they always turn out straight and crisp.
You’ve probably already noticed if you’ve been following our sewing journal that I have a penchant for raised waist dresses. They are so very comfortable and easy to wear. I’ve sewn Butterick 6000 before because I like the empire waist and the simple lines of the design, but sadly the blue cotton dress I made from it last year got a big stain on the skirt that wouldn’t wash out and so I had to retire it before I ever got to photograph it for this blog.
I wore my new jumper with one of my thrifted pashmina shawls, a necklace I made myself out of blood agates and gold-plated spacer beads, and jade and cats-eye rings that I inherited from my grandmother.
Happy Easter to all Christian readers, and happy spring (or autumn if you live in the southern hemisphere) to everyone else!
This is one of the rare patterns where, when I bought it, I looked forward to sewing both the blouse and the jumper dress included. So often I choose a pattern because I am drawn to one garment or one view on the envelope, but not with this 1970s era pattern. Even though I made the jumper first, about two years ago, I reviewed the blouse first here. I felt that when I reviewed the dress (at last) that I should wear them both together, so you can compare the ensemble in real life with the pattern envelope picture.
I made a size 8, as usual, in black poly-cotton broadcloth. The empire bodice is lined with a piece of thin black and navy checkered cotton voile. The dress takes quite a bit of fabric to make the full length version, but it gives the skirt a grand sweep of fabric that makes using so many yards worthwhile. Although, I think the graceful shape of it is somewhat impeded in these photos by the long grass I was walking in at the monastery gardens. It has been rainy recently, and everything is growing---green, green, green! The grass and clover are lush and deep and there are flowers here that I’ve never seen before---snow-drops and tiny white and yellow narcissus, edging their way out of the ground early into the cold air.
The pattern fit well and needed no adjustments. I found putting the lining in slightly tricky at the time that I made it, since it was my first time inserting a lining. But overall the pattern would be an easy accomplishment for an intermediate sewer, or a beginner with patience. The only differences I have noticed between real life and the pattern envelope is that their version of the jumper seems to have a slightly different shape to the neckline, and the illustrator made it look like the end of the slit on the front of the blouse ends at the top of the jumper neckline, when it actually continues underneath.
Because I am fond of this jumper, and wear it often, I am considering making a winter version, perhaps in lightweight wool, for warmth. Even though I often wear this jumper over a black turtleneck and black tights, or under my favorite wool cape with a scarf (as I did here) it is better suited to spring and summer and early fall than these, the coldest days of the year.
Mr Rat and I went to visit the San Jose rose garden a few weeks ago. It is one of the largest rose gardens in the entire United States, and it looked beautiful in its early autumn glory of blossoming. It was hotter and brighter than I thought it would be, and the sun made everything glint, a vast, dizzying mosaic of color.
The jumper dress I am wearing is one I sewed from a vintage 1970s Laura Ashley pattern published by the McCall pattern company, number 4760. It is made from black broadcloth, and is one of my favorite skirts. I consider it a skirt, but with the suspenders, it is somewhere between a skirt and a dress---a jumper, really. The only change I made was to make gathers at the waist of the skirt instead of pleats.
I like Laura Ashley’s patterns from the 1970s more than her later clothing. Her designs from the 1960s and 1970s are interesting and varied takes on clothing from a hundred years previous. Perhaps because my own ancestry has several plains-crossing pioneers, I feel drawn to prairie clothing, and gather patterns in that style from the 1970s when I can find them. This particular jumper has a unique cut that I am very fond of. It is quite unlike anything but itself.
Someday I will have to make the jacket and blouse in this pattern, too, and a long jumper to match, so I can have a suit like the model on the cover.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.