I'm even more pleased with this outfit than the last dress that I made. Even though the navy poplin dress I sewed a few weeks ago is beautiful and comfortable, it lacks the versatility of a button-up blouse and midi-skirt. Lately I've found myself reaching for my maxi dresses somewhat less and more often for my smock dresses, shirt-dresses, blouses and full skirts. I love that I can wear this blouse and skirt to church, to work at home, or to go hiking. And it still has personality, and makes me feel like myself. Lately, I've also been more and more interested in clothes with a historical influence---a tinge of 19th century romanticism and practicality. Most of my summer plans for sewing are along similar lines to this outfit: I am aiming for comfort, versatility, and to make items that I will reach for over and over for everyday wear for years to come.
The patterns I used for my blouse and skirt will be familiar to any long-time readers of the blog, as they are two of my most-sewn patterns. The fabric for both skirt and blouse are thrifted, as are the vintage contrasting white buttons. I really like the navy calico for the blouse especially, as I feel that it looks a bit Western, a bit Japanese, and a bit Victorian work-wear. The skirt fabric was from a large 100 percent cotton sheet that had a nice border of tucks along the top, so I used them as decoration (and a built in hem) for the bottom of my simple gathered skirt. There is still fabric left over from the sheet, so I plan to make a matching blouse sometime soon. The notions for the skirt were re-used from my old navy skirt that I sewed three or so years ago that recently wore out. I sewed the skirt in snatches of time over one week, and the blouse throughout the next. The most time-consuming portion was sewing the button-holes by hand and sewing the buttons on one at a time to make sure the front of the blouse is straight and flat when buttoned. I don't mind doing those finishing steps slowly, as I find sewing buttonholes to be a relaxing thing to do with my hands while Mr Rat and I watch our favorite mystery shows, like Endeavor.
I wore my new blouse and skirt with my old Lotta clogs, an old thrifted straw hat, and my silver charm bracelet for a leisurely and summery walk at the park with Gia and Mr Rat
What are your sewing plans for the summer? Do you find that you have more or less time to sew during the middle months of the year? I am trying to squeeze in another two or three simple sewing projects before Mr Rat and I will travel to visit his parents for a week next month. I don't find personally that my sewing rate changes much based on the season----it usually just depends on Gia's health and my husband's schedule, and if I have any deadlines I need to meet in the studio.
This blouse was an experiment. I had a big scrap of fabric left over from making my Easter dress, so I thought that I would test out my idea of taking a dress pattern that I sewed last year, Simplicity 7752 (it is an out of print pattern from the 90s, but it isn't hard to find on Ebay or Etsy if you are looking for your own copy) and making a blouse out of it. Well, it sort of worked, and it sort of didn't.
To make the blouse, I cut out the bodice, sleeves, collar and cuff pattern pieces and left off the skirt. I lengthened the bodice by a good three or four inches, since I knew that on the dress it ends slightly above the waist, and I wanted to make sure it was long enough to reach my waist and get turned up for a hem. Well, that was actually too much length---since I hadn't widened the sides at all, I found that the hem of my blouse bunched slightly around the full gathers of my skirt top. So I ended up taking the first hem that I made and turning it up again. Then it became a rather wide hem, which gives the blouse a rather structured, jacket-like look. In fact, I think that this pattern could make a nice lightweight spring jacket if I was using a heavier cotton or flannel or even a thin denim. My other problem while making this blouse was that the cotton was a little too stiff to ease in well at the shoulders, so I ended up giving them a slight gather at the top. I don't think this looks quite as nice as my first dress version, which has a smooth sleeve cap.
The rest of the construction details are simple: I pinked the inner seams and facing, did the buttonholes by hand, and used thrifted buttons that I've had for several years.
I'm not quite certain about this blouse: while it didn't turn out quite the way I imagined it, it's still wearable and comfortable. I think it could make a good gardening top, especially with the nice flower print. But I feel some doubt that it will become a favorite everyday blouse. I think my adaptation of the original pattern still needs some work----maybe if I try widening the bottom of the blouse so it has a slightly flared look, and maybe also experimenting with the sleeves----short sleeves might look nice. Or maybe I will just stick with sewing this pattern as a dress, since I like the dress that I already made from it.
I think that making this blouse was a good learning process, and I did use up some more of my fabric scraps. If I don't find myself wearing it, even for gardening----it is well made even though it is simple, and I won't feel shame putting in my Goodwill pile to see if someone else wants to give it a home.
What do you do with the clothes that you make when you feel uncertain about them?
This was a simple project from my winter "make nine" plans: my favorite skirt pattern, Simplicity 7880, sewn up in black flannel. Mr Rat and I made a small order from fabric.com last month, since he wanted to try out one of the Kaufman line of plaid flannels to make another version of his recent flannel shirt. I ordered a piece of Kaufman flannel, too, but in plain black. I've read good things about Kaufman fabrics on the internet, and wanted to see how different it was from the flannel I've bought before at JoAnn fabrics. Now that I've tried both kinds, I think that the reviews of Kaufman flannel are quite accurate: it pre-washed well, and is much firmer and stiffer and pills less than JoAnn flannel. It sewed and pressed well, too, with minimal fuzz loss.
I've made Simplicity 7880 many times. For this version, I did all the usual things that I do: pinked the seams, handpicked the zipper, made a narrow machine-hem, and used waistband interfacing for structure. The one thing that I changed was to widen the waistband by pressing the seam-allowances smaller before I attached it to the skirt, and sewing it over a wider waistband interfacing than I usually use. I think it gives the skirt a nice silhouette.
I've been in need of warm winter skirts, and I'm very happy with how this one turned out. It's versatile, simple, and fits in well to my wardrobe. I know that I will wear it until it is worn out.
I'm wearing my new skirt with my most recently completed blouse, a vintage Mexican silver and abalone butterfly brooch, some warm woolen socks, and a petticoat. I took these photos with the tripod in the studio the day before Mr Rat and I woke up to over two feet of snow. The last two photos show what our tiny yard has looked like for the rest of the week, as well as one of our favorite visitors to it.
I hope that all of you readers in the Northern Hemisphere are staying warm! And that readers from the Southern Hemisphere are managing to stay cool in the heat waves.
Here is my first completed project from my "Winter Make Nine" plans. A photo of the pattern I used for my new blouse, McCalls 5771---A 'Marlo's Corner' pattern circa the 1970s in my usual size 8---is in my previous post. McCalls 5771 is a very simple blouse pattern, perfect for a beginner who wants to try making a vintage, sightly Edwardian looking shirt. There are no bust darts, so the fit is slightly loose. The sleeves are gathered, (and rather more generously puffed than I thought they would be based on the pattern envelope illustration) which made setting them in very easy. The cuffs are very basic; in fact, I'm not sure how to describe the way they simply fold over to button without a lap in-between----just fabric that has been folded up and stitched. The collar is also basic: just a long rectangle that is set on more in the manner of a waistband than other collars I've done. I'm not sure about the shape it gives the collar; it tends to flatten a little in the front where it buttons. But overall, I think it is a good basic shirt design, and a quick sew (at least up until the time for buttonholes and buttons).
The material I used was a thrifted cotton sheet with small grey stripes. I edge-stitched the collar, front, hems, and cuffs for crispness, pinked the seams on the inside, did the button-holes by hand, and used some plain white buttons that I bought on sale at JoAnn fabrics to finish everything off.
I'm wearing my new blouse in these photos with my still-serviceable old grey wool skirt and my dark grey wool cape. And of course two warm pairs of socks, a petticoat, some thrifted grey leather gloves, and my old leather boots. We were lucky to get these photos before the next storm blew through and left almost a foot of crusty white snow. Trying to document sewing projects in the winter time is always challenging.
I feel as though almost all of my posts now start with an apology for the present irregularity of posts here on the blog, and I wish I could say that it is likely to change. . . But probably it won't, and posts will likely keep on being spotty for the rest of this year at least. 2018 has really been a rough one for Mr Rat and me. Every month has brought new challenges, unexpected problems, and all kinds of daily difficulties. November was no exception: first Mr Rat was sick with one of those head colds that makes it hard to sleep at night, and then we traveled to California for a week to visit his parents for Thanksgiving (luckily, he was feeling better by then), but when we got back I came down with some version of what he had. Between that and spending more weekends at family events now that we live closer to my parents and siblings, we just haven't had too many chances to take photos for the blog, even though we've both finished projects recently and have several other things in progress on our sewing table.
So I apologize! And hope that you will all be patient with the way life makes it hard to be consistent. Both Mr Rat and I care about documenting and reviewing our sewing projects for this blog, so don't worry----there will still be posts here, and I really do hope they will be more regular again next year. But until then, we'll just keep doing the best that we can.
All that being said, here are some photos I took with the tripod in the studio of a skirt set that I made to wear to California for Thanksgiving. Skirt sets are great to travel with, since I could wear the skirt with the blouse and then each separately with other tops and bottoms to make multiple outfits while packing very little. This particular set, which I sewed out of a $2 cotton queen-sized sheet that I found at Savers a few months ago, was also the perfect weight for enjoying the warm 70-degree California autumn days. I chose two tried and true patterns for my skirt set: my favorite 1970s skirt pattern Simplicity 7880, and the 1980s kimono-sleeved blouse pattern Simplicity 7460 that I sewed for the first time in the spring. What I didn't like about my first version of this pattern was that because the blouse is quite loose, it tends to shift around a bit while I wear it, making the lower v-neckline difficult to wear modestly. So this time I chose the higher, rounded neckline, which solved that problem nicely. It also makes it easier to wear this blouse under crew-neck cardigans, which is the only way I can wear it now that we've come back to Utah and found winter well arrived and settled in on the doorstep. But I know I'll be wearing it sweater-less next summer, and enjoying its versatility, practicality, and wearability. My favorite (and most worn) sewing projects combine those aspects with some artistic detail or bit of originality---in this outfit I think it is the subtle Victorian-like stripes that first drew me to buying the sheet, and also the spacing of the tiny buttonholes down the center front in sets of two. It took a long time to make so many buttonholes by hand, but it was worth it. I reused some tiny tan buttons salvaged from some old worn-out thrifted shirt that got turned into scraps some time ago to finish my top. The skirt was very simple and quick to make, since I used the existing deep hem of the sheet as the hem for the bottom of my skirt. I used waistband interfacing for stiffness, and also sewed in by hand a vintage metal zipper that I thrifted a long time ago. The seams are all finished with pinking shears.
And. . . I cut my hair. I've been thinking about it for a long time, but kept putting it off, and putting it off. I haven't stepped into a hair salon in about seven years. For most of that time, it just wasn't affordable for me to get haircuts, so my mom or Mr Rat would kindly trim my hair. And now that we have enough income that I can get my haircut without worrying about overwhelming our budget, I have been too frightened to go. When I was younger, the adults around me told me that I would grow out of my shyness. But I haven't, and the idea of talking to strangers can be enough to keep me from going outside on some days. Right before our trip I had a day where I was feeling up and brave and I decided I would walk to the salon first thing in the morning after my husband left for work----and I finally did it. My long hair was limp and straggly here in Utah because the humidity is so low. But with my new short hair, it has more wave and body again. Some days it curls a lot more than others, and most days it's a bit messy and wild, but overall I'm pleased with the change. Mr Rat likes it, so I think I'll keep it awhile.
I hope that you are all having a good close to your month, and that your start of December is peaceful, rather than stressful. The holiday season can be a hard one---but with some planning, it doesn't have to be more difficult than it has to be. At least, that is what Mr Rat and I are hoping. We are planning on going to a Christmas concert this weekend to celebrate the season. Is there anything that you do that is special to mark the upcoming end of the year or any of the many holidays that fall within the next month?
Green is an autumnal color---it is the color of early autumn, as the leaves just start to change golden, and the cooler weather makes the grass a tender color. Our neighborhood is very green right now, and I am glad of it.
My wardrobe is also a little greener after I finished my newest version of my favorite 1970s-era Simplicity 7880 skirt pattern. This one is made of green broadcloth from my spring trip to the Los Angeles fabric district with my mom. The green pin-striped wool that I made my matching vest out of was already in my stash from a lucky thrift store find several years ago. While I did succeed in making a wool vest last year, there were some things I didn't like about it: it tends to wrinkle in the back because it is a little too long there, and the pattern was unlined. So I decided I would try a new vest pattern that I found at the thrift store since we moved here: Simplicity 5204. I wasn't certain how this would work out, since it is a teen-sized vest, 11/12. But the measurements are close to my normal Miss size 8, so I decided I would try it out. And it fits almost the same! I compared it to my black vest and found it is almost identical. But there are a few differences that make this version my preferred one: it is lined! It is also darted instead of princess seamed----I don't really mind the difference there. And the other thing I prefer about it is that it is designed with small slits up the side (I added one to the center back seam as well) which takes care of the wrinkling and bunching problems I had with my last one.
Other details about the vest: I lined it in the same green broadcloth that I made the skirt out of. I stitched all the darts down by machine, and edge-stitched all my seams. Worsted wool is very springy, and I am not adept enough with the iron to make it behave with steam alone. I did the buttonholes by hand, as usual, and added a few more for that old-fashioned look. The buttons are from my stash, part of a big bag I thrifted a few years ago. The contrast between the brown and green is very gentle, and matched my new thrifted basket-purse, and my new thrifted brown leather shoes----which I like so much! My new shoes remind me of the Edwardian style ones that American Duchess is releasing, but at a much lower price point: $6 from Goodwill is a lot more affordable for me than $160. Although maybe someday I will have enough spending money to support independent businesses as well as the thrift store.
The rest of my outfit was thrifted as well: the tumbled stone charm bracelet (missing a lot of its charms, but I like it anyway) is from a few years ago, and long-time readers might remember my bow-tie blouse sewn from a thrifted sheet.
We are lucky to rent in a very verdant condominium complex. The buildings aren't new, and the little roads are full of potholes, but the somewhat wild landscaping is beautiful. We have a little green creek that runs through our tiny backyard. As we wander through the complex there are ponds full of fish, turtles, sometimes geese, and always many ducks. We've gotten used to their raucous laughter----sometimes even in the nighttime. It's more pleasant than the sounds our human neighbors made in some of our previous apartments. Mr Rat took all of these beautiful photos very close to home as we gave Gia the short walk that is all she can manage anymore. But how glad we are, that our short walks are so pleasant! We are so grateful to live where leaves and sky and water all meet together.
In other ways, I haven't been feeling very lucky because I've been sick a few times this month. It's one reason why posts here have been infrequent again. But the other reason is because I had the novel experience of being a pattern-tester for an independent pattern company. Mr Rat took some photos of my new garment that I made but I can't share them until the pattern is released, and I'm not quite sure when that will be. But I will try to keep an eye out so I can finally post them for you all, along with some notes about my experience.
Luckily, I have been sewing other things and expanding my fall wardrobe, so look forward to some new posts here as soon as Mr Rat can take some more photos with me! We have some plans for photos the next few weekends, and Mr Rat has finished a new shirt which I am excited to photograph and he is excited to share with you.
I hope you are all having an illness-free change of the seasons, and are finding lots of reasons to be outside while the weather is so gentle. At least, I hope your weather is gentle, and not still in the extremes of summer (or winter, for any of you in the southern hemisphere) still!
This blouse may look familiar to long-time readers. I've sewn this pattern before, most recently last fall in a soft floral tropical wool. This time I sewed it in crisp white cotton (from a thrifted sheet, like most of my projects) and trimmed it with a thin cotton lace from one of my very rare trips to Hobby Lobby. The construction of this blouse is simple because it is so loose and has no darts. Since the cotton was prone to fraying, I took my time and made faux French seams on the inside. I edge-stitched the collar, front placket, and cuffs, to keep it all looking neat. I made the buttonholes by hand, as usual, and used some thin-line buttons from JoAnns fabric stores that were in my stash to finish it all off. The most time-consuming part of sewing this blouse was sewing on the cotton lace after I was done with everything else. But I think it was worth it for that little bit of extra visual interest.
This year I've experimented with sewing printed fabrics and wearing lighter, softer colors. But I always feel most comfortable in plain black and white, and making this simple shirt reaffirmed that for me. If I could only wear three colors, I think they would be black, white, and brown. I'm never dissatisfied when I finish sewing a white blouse because I know I can wear it at anytime, anywhere, in any situation, and with any other color. You can't beat a white blouse for versatility. The only thing that gets quite as much wear in my wardrobe as my white shirts is probably this old black skirt made from my favorite Simplicity 7880 pattern that I am wearing here.
Mr Rat took these photos on our Sunday morning stroll through the park with Gia before we headed off to church and family time. The local schools are back in session this week, and it feels as though there is already a slight autumnal cast to the air, even though it is only late August. The mornings feel cooler, some of the leaves are starting to crisp at the edges and fall on the summer-green grass, and at last the day-time temperatures are dropping down about 10 or 15 degrees from the extreme heat we've had the last two months.
Do any of you do anything special to mark the changing of the seasons? Are you thinking ahead towards your next season's sewing plans? My next few projects will be in more autumnal hues and I'm even starting to think about what I need to sew to be ready for winter's snow. It feels like the year is shifting again----this one has been so full of changes----at least when I sit down to sew and to paint, I can feel steady and centered for a moment, like a rock in the middle of the stream.
I finished this new version of Simplicity 8458 (a 1950s reproduction pattern) back in the spring. Some of you might have noticed its appearance during Me-Made-May this year. I haven't worn it a lot since then, though. But when my sister invited Mr Rat and I on a wildflower hike up the Albion Basin in the Wasatch Front on a very hot Friday evening earlier in the month, I pulled it out of the closet and thought I should give it another chance. The good thing about a skirt like this is that it is loose and comfortable, has a good range of movement for walking and hiking, it is made of durable heavy twill from the thrift store (which makes it conveniently inexpensive, too, so I don't have to worry about getting it dirty or damaged outside), and is long enough to cover my legs from weeds but short enough to not tangle around my ankles. I think I've found this skirt's best purpose: to wear on adventures outdoors.
In terms of construction, I made it in the same way as my first version and my second version (which I have since given away because I wore it so rarely----it attracted lint very badly, which makes me feel wary of using cotton sateen again). It is a simple skirt with very few seams. Most of the time that goes into the sewing of it is in basting the pieces together and letting them hang overnight before sewing the rest of the skirt together. I used bias tape to hem the bottom, and used faux flat-fell seams on the inside to make the skirt really durable.
I'm wearing my homemade skirt in these photos with an old button-up white shirt I've had several years, thrifted leather boots and a thrifted straw hat. These beautiful photos were taken by Mr Rat and my sister, who generously gave us copies of the pictures she took on our spectacular sunset hike.
I finished this blouse a while ago (and took the photos a few weeks ago, too) but kept delaying making a post about it. The pattern is a Simplicity E.S.P. (Extra Sure Pattern) from the late 1970s or early 1980s, judging by its cover. I made my version out of a twin-sized navy cotton-blend shirt from the thrift store and on-sale thin-line buttons from JoAnns fabric stores. It all came together well and easily except the collar, which somehow was missing its notched look the first time around. I'm not sure if I was clumsy when I was cutting it out and it ended up a little long, or if it is a small flaw in the pattern itself, but I fixed it easily enough by unpicking the collar a little and making the seams smaller where the notch is---hard to explain, but it worked to make the notch visible between the upper collar and the shirt top where the bottom collar folds over.
The blouse has several interesting features: a yoke with gathers in the back that extends into a forward shoulder seam with gathers in the front. I forgot to cut a yoke lining when I first cut out the blouse, so I used a piece of blue and green plaid cotton from our scrap basket, which gives it a nice bit of secret interest on the inside. The sleeves are actually sewn into two parts, which are sewn together and the bottom and overlapped at the top and then eased into the armholes. They have a narrow seam along each edge, and then tie over the arm. When I started wearing my shirt, I found that they were flopping open all the way to my shoulder when I reached for things, so I sewed the top of the slit together for about two inches so the sides of the sleeves don't move around and gape so much.
I really like how this blouse turned out: a practical, camp-style shirt with a little extra style and interest in the sleeves. It is easy to wear, easy to wash, and cool and comfortable in this summer heat.
In these photos I'm wearing my new blouse with my three-year-old ochre skirt, which unfortunately just got a hole last week. It was in an obvious part of the skirt near the waistband. I couldn't figure out a way to repair it inconspicuously, so I took out the waistband interfacing, the zipper, and the skirt hook and eye to reuse on other projects, and put the rest of the skirt in the scrap basket (to get used as rat bedding for Daisy and Marigold, most likely).
I've been thinking a lot about the problem of fairness, and how difficult it is to attempt to be fair in one's actions towards others in a world where we are born into such radically different and often unfair circumstances. It is hard to try to live morally and ethically; it is surprisingly hard to live while causing as little harm to others as possible. We are often implicated in unfair practices just because we are ignorant that those things are happening on the farms where our food is grown, or within the factories where the items we buy and use daily are made. This article from Vogue Australia brought this dilemma freshly into my mind with its revelation that the fashion industry is the second largest industry in the world that practices slavery, right behind tech gadgets and just above fish, cocoa and sugar cane. The article quotes from the most recent Global Slavery Index that about 40 million people are trapped in slavery worldwide-----a truly heart-rending statistic. 71 percent of those enslaved people are women.
I don't mention this article just to make us saddened or to open our eyes to pain of others (although I think it is a good think to be aware of the pain of others---so we can do what we can to alleviate it). I mention it so we can consider that our efforts to sew our own clothes are never a waste of time. Yes, clothing may be cheap and plentiful and we don't have to spend time making it ourselves. But that kind of fashion comes at a great human cost, much greater than the pleasant hours that we spend sewing our own clothing. We sewers know that every time we put a hand-made garment on our bodies, we don't have to wonder if someone suffered to make it. I think that is a wonderful gift, and I'm thankful for it every day. I hope that we sewers can help educate other people to have more respect for sewing and the skill and time it takes to make clothing. If we join the growing movement to help garment workers gain fair wages and good working conditions (Fashion Revolution has interesting ideas about how we can help agitate for change), then everyone who gets dressed can share our innocent and untainted pleasure in putting on our clothes.
I already made this pattern once, in black striped cotton. I liked that first version so much that I thought it would be useful to have a second summer top, but this time in natural muslin, to match my muslin Simplicity 7880 skirt that I wore for these photos from last summer.
Mr Rat has been busy with work and so I took these simple photos myself on our patio, using a tripod and the self-timer feature on our camera. It is such a pleasure to have a garden of our own, even if it is small and young and somewhat battered from the unexpected hailstorm that blew through the morning I took these photos of my (relatively) recently completed blouse. The sunflowers have big buds on the top, and my cheerful marigolds are just barely starting to bloom. Not bad for 99-cent store four-for-a-dollar seeds.
I don't think there is much to add about the construction of this blouse, since I made the same version in the same way that I did last time. This time I accidentally got some wrinkles across the back of the yoke, but given that it is muslin and tends to be a little creased and wrinkled anyway, I don't mind it. I like the cool, light, gentle, and casual look of muslin in the summertime. Do you have a favorite fabric for a particular season? I feel like winter is time for heavy wool in black and grey, and summer is time for white and cream colored muslin.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.