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.
After a week of welcome warm sunny weather where I could wear a cotton summer blouse and feel comfortable, we are in fickle, surprising spring weather again: very cool cloudy mornings, sometimes sunny afternoons, and rain storms expected. I had planned to photograph some more of my homemade spring and summer clothes, but the weather made it necessary to wear more layers and so I decided to make a post about my new just-below-the-ankle length Simplicity 7880 skirt after all.
I finished my new skirt last week and have worn a few times already. It is made of dark brown poly-cotton broadcloth which I prewashed and then cut to 40 inches long and left the bottom on the selvedge so I didn’t have to hem it (which also makes it convenient to wear boots with, since there is no hem for the boot hooks to snag on). It’s a good length for me, I think, combining the grace and coverage of a long skirt with a short enough hem to make walking and climbing stairs easy. I’ve reviewed Simplicity 7880 a few times in the past (here and here and here for instance) and have worn other versions of it in a lot of other reviews, so I won’t write more about it here, but will instead post some more photos of our weekend walk to the monastery with Gia. Even though there was only the slightest bit of sunshine coming through the clouds, the flowers were spectacular: clover, cherry trees, forget-me-nots, poppies, tulips, wisteria, some lingering camellias, and so many others whose names I have not learned yet. What are your favorite spring flowers? Do you have flowers blossoming yet where you live?
I am wearing my new brown skirt with my recently finished brown cotton blouse (reviewed here), a vintage cotton velvet vest (for the details of its construction, you can look at my previous ‘in detail’ post about it), a vintage black crocheted fringed shawl I found at the thrift store last year, and a vintage Mexican silver and inlaid abalone shell butterfly brooch. Mr Rat took all these lovely photos.
I made this blouse last summer from vintage 1970s-or-80s See and Sew 6390 and it has become a favorite warm-weather blouse for its crisp yet comfortable look. The sewing was very quick and easy, since the sleeves are kimono-style and cut in one with the bodice. The instructions for the collar are clear and simple. I edge-stitched the collar and front band, machine stitched the hems on the sleeves and bottom of the shirt, and sewed the buttonholes by hand. The buttons are from an enormous bag I bought at the thrift store several years ago and have been using here and there ever since. The shirt itself is made of white cotton from an old sheet. For anyone looking for a quick, carefree summer blouse, I recommend this pattern. I’ll likely sew it again—maybe in linen next time?
I’m wearing my blouse with a new Simplicity 7880 skirt, just finished last week, made of dark brown broadcloth. I think I’ll be giving it its own post soon, since it is a good length and a versatile color for me. The malachite necklace I’m wearing in these photos (it was Saint Patrick’s day when I took them) is vintage, a gift from family, as are the earrings.
One of the blogs that I follow, Zelophehad’s Daughters, posted recently about crafting and its soul-healing and spirit-enhancing qualities. It is an interesting read. The blog author writes about her childhood aversion to crafting and femininity, having internalized masculine scorn for female activities and dress, despising them for being silly and shallow. It made me think of the same conflict in my own childhood, when I wore dresses to school only to be told by my classmates that “It’s not picture-day” and was sometimes teased by my brothers for my puff sleeves and eyelet-trimmed aprons.
Who is afraid of puff sleeves? It is ironic, is it not, that the second-wave feminists should have adopted masculine clothes like jeans, t-shirts and flannels as signs of their liberation? What is wrong with wearing feminine clothes? I think that to wear puff sleeves and ribbons and lace and full skirts (if you like them) can be a sign of respect towards the feminine identity, towards the skillful sewing and interesting designs of seamstresses past, and can also perhaps be subversive in a day and age that asserts that if you wish to appear to be an independent thinker and a serious person, you must adopt the respectable garb of men.
Well, like Frida Kahlo, Louise Nevelson, Simone de Beauvoir, Louise Bourgeois, and other unabashedly feminine women who were undoubtedly very serious people, I am not afraid of puff sleeves or feminine clothes. And here is my latest sewing project as proof: the very puff-sleeved 1980s era Butterick 4625. I made a combination of view D with the long sleeves used for views A, B and C. It surprised me how quickly I managed to finish this blouse. It took me only about 4 days total from start to finish. It was also a pleasant surprise to find out how well it fit. I made a size 8 and despite worrying at a few points that the blouse was going to be too small or the shoulders might be too wide, it ended up fitting very well. Since the sleeves had quite a bit of puff, I improvised some sleeve heads to help them keep their shape out of leftover scraps of the brown cotton I used for the blouse. I made a bow to wear at the collar out of some ribbon and a safety pin, which I can remove to wear a necklace instead, or a brooch. It was nice to make a shirt that fit so well and yet didn’t need any darts. It all cost very little, too, since the fabric was from the thrift store, and the buttons were harvested off of an old shirt of my husband’s when it was worn out and stored in my button stash until I could use them.
I am wearing my new blouse with one of my homemade Simplicity 7880 skirts, this one made of poly-cotton broadcloth.
After a big failure last year with making a pair of slacks, I decided to focus on mastering shirt making. I had a great experience with the McCall’s M6044 western shirt that I reviewed previously, so I decided to try this one as well. I have to say that I didn’t like the fit initially. This pattern is unisex and I didn’t follow the fitting process that the Palmer/Pletsch patterns recommended. It seemed like a big hassle. After putting in the side seams though, I found there was too much flare near the hips and decided to bring them in about 1 ½ inches about midway down. This straightened the sides out but then caused the shirt to wrinkle in the back. My solution was to insert 2 ½ inch side slits to allow the shirt to fall more naturally. I made the shirt from cotton broadcloth that has a visible grain. I sewed the shirt with a vertical grain but used a diagonal grain for the pockets to provide a little detail. I like the shirt overall, but next time I think I will put in a curved hem instead of the straight hem and will need to remember to bring the side seams in before I do the seam finishing. It is a good pattern and I would recommend it with some minor alterations.
This was Mr Rat’s first shirt, made from the same pattern he used for his chambray western shirt reviewed here. Since he has already written about his experience with this pattern, we’ll just keep this post to photos. Even the photos are from a while back----we’re so far behind posting all of our sewing projects! And we keep making new ones. . .
This is my ‘wearable muslin’ of a 1990s-era pattern I bought recently, Simplicity 8620. I liked the loose fit, the bishop sleeves and the many interesting collar options, so I decided to test it with a two-dollar piece of pink cotton oxford shirting that I found at the thrift store a few months ago. I think this pattern would be better suited to a softer cotton or other fabric with more drape, but I like how the blouse turned out all the same. I made a size 8 and my only issue is that the shoulders are too wide. I am of two minds about this: since I want the blouse to be a little oversized and comfortable, I could treat it as a slightly dropped shoulder and leave it as is in future versions, or I could either cut the shoulders down to a size 6 or do a narrow shoulder adjustment.
Still, shoulders aside, I think the blouse is very wearable and comfortable. I finished the seams very simply with pinking shears and edge-stitched the front neckline and the cuffs. The sleeves have continuous laps, and the instructions were very clear, which made them very simple to assemble. The blouse came together very quickly---maybe about three days of work, including sewing the button-holes by hand. The buttons were scavenged from an old worn-out shirt and saved in my button-drawer.
I am wearing my new blouse with one of my homemade Simplicity 7880 skirts and homemade rose quartz jewelry. The wool Indian shawl was a lucky find at the thrift store.
It was such a pleasure to wear my new outfit on a sunny morning to the monastery garden, where Gia went mad in the clover and made Mr R and I laugh a great deal. But another storm is coming, so now it is back to work on finishing my charcoal-grey wool cape that I have been sewing all month.
I thought it might be interesting to start a new series of posts here on the blog looking at the details of vintage garments that Mr Rat and I have in our closet. Most patterns have very little information about choosing seam finishes, even though seam finishes and other small details like button choice and placement become crucial design elements.
Since Mr Rat just finished his first ‘Aloha’ shirt and has another one cut out and sitting on our sewing desk waiting to be assembled, I thought I’d start the series by looking at a few of his vintage Hawaiian (or Aloha) shirts that we have found at thrift stores in Los Angeles over the past few years. I chose the three I am going to highlight today for their variety---maybe some other time I will highlight some of his other ones.
A few notes about what all of his vintage Aloha shirts have in common: they are all 100 percent cotton, and generally the older ones and the ones that are truly from Hawaii are usually turned ‘inside-out’ so the paler side of the cotton print that we would usually assume is the ‘back’ becomes the ‘front.’ They all have very little top or edge-stitching. I’ve also noticed that they rarely use any interfacing. Usually the only places they have stitching visible on the outside is on the collar and the pocket. The pockets are always meticulously pattern-matched to the surrounding print, and there is usually just one, generally on the left side. They all have straight bottom hems, because they are generally worn untucked, I believe.
For individual details, first let’s look at the Surfline Hawaii shirt at the top of the post, which is probably from the late 60s or early 70s, judging by the shape of the collar. The cotton on this one is much rougher and thicker than the other shirts in Mr Rat’s collection. It may even be barkcloth, which is a traditional Hawaiian textile. The collar is a true ‘convertible’ collar, with a little piece of elastic on one side and a tiny button hidden under the collar on the other. Mr Rat usually wears it open.
The buttons are wood.
The inside seams are mostly finished with a serged edge, except the yoke, which is clean finished so no edges are showing. The back of the shirt is gathered into two small pleats at the yoke. The collar is understitched around the back to help it roll correctly. The hems on the bottom edge and the short sleeves are rolled and stitched very close to the edge.
The most unusual finishing detail is the front facing: it is cut so the selvedge edge of the fabric forms the outer edge of the facing.
Next let’s look at this Cooke Street Honolulu shirt. It also has a convertible collar, but this one lacks the upper button to really make it convertible. The collar is topstitched, but only around the upper section. It also has a meticulously matched single front pocket and wooden buttons.
The inside seams are also serged, including the front facing. The hem at the bottom and on the sleeves is machine blind-stitched.
The back yoke is very similarly treated to the pink aloha shirt, with two small pleats at the shoulder blades. The yoke is longer than the pink shirt, however.
Last, let’s look at another Cooke Street Honolulu shirt. This one departs from the convertible collar look and
has a traditional stand collar instead, and a front button band instead of a fold-over front faching. There is more top and edge-stitching on this shirt: the collar, collar-band, pocket, hems, and front button band are all top and edge-stitched.
The back yoke has a different treatment, too: on this one there is a center pleat, more like you see on contemporary men’s dress shirts.
This one also differs by having slits to allow for extra movement at the bottom side hems.
The inside seams are also mostly serged, except for the hems, which are folded over and stitched very close to the edge.
Aloha shirts have always been a favorite of mine. I have a closet full of Aloha Shirts I have found at thrift shops. A year ago, while hunting around a local thrift shop, Mrs. Rat discovered an uncut 1960’s era Aloha shirt pattern by Patterns Pacifica. I was pretty stoked although I kept putting off making my own shirt despite the fact that I already had accumulated a number of Aloha print fabrics. This month I decided to give this pattern a shot. We found 4 yards of this beautiful seascape fabric at another thrift shop. Since we had so much I thought it would make a really nice shirt to do as much pattern matching as possible. We managed to match up the entire front of the shirt and pocket as one continuous seascape scene. I sewed the shirt using the reverse side of the fabric and authentic coconut shell buttons salvaged from a previous shirt. These details give it that Aloha shirt authenticity. The construction was amazingly simple and fast. It took me only one afternoon and 3 evenings to finish this shirt from start to finish. The collar definitely has 60’s era flare. At first I was a little wary about a collar this large, but the more I wear the shirt, the more I like it for that unique detail. What’s wrong with a big collar anyway? I am really happy with the way this pattern turned out and will definitely make a few more.
This is another favorite shirt of mine, made last year to wear to Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house. The pattern is vintage Simplicity 7372 from the 1970s, in a size 8. I didn’t have to make any adjustments---it fit very well, like most size 8 patterns from the 1970s. I’m not sure why the patterns from the 1970s in particular fit so much better and so much more consistently for me---perhaps they were designed for a relatively narrow shouldered, slightly built woman like myself? Because I have had so much success with size 8 patterns from the 1970s, they are my personal preference for sewing, since I can almost always rely on them to need little to no adjustments. I feel lucky that out of all the decades, it is the 1970s that fit me well, since it was an eclectic decade, with wide-ranging influences from the previous hundred years of clothing styles. The patterns often have interesting collars and sleeves, which I like, and long, full skirts, which I also particularly like. Many older patterns are easy to update by choosing a simple and beautiful fabric and keeping the trims subtle as well, unless a more exotic, exaggerated look is what is desired.
This shirt is made from smooth, thick, 100 percent cotton. The disadvantage is that it wrinkles easily and must be thoroughly pressed every time I wear it, but it does iron well, and it was easy to sew. I finished all the seams with faux French seams. The buttons are made of carved shell---I cut them off of an old shirt from the thrift store when it was too worn out to wear anymore, and re-used them on my shirt for their beauty. The buttonholes are finished by hand, since my machine refuses to make automatic button-holes. I don’t mind doing buttonhole stitch---it doesn’t take very long when you get used to it, and doing the finishing touches by hand on my sewing projects is a restful and quiet activity.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew