The weather is cold and grey and we don't have much snow---but we do have ice. And so this has become a typical outfit for me: layers of stockings, and socks, and boots, and petticoats, and one of my homemade skirts (like this brown Simplicity 7880 one), and a sweater, and a wool beret, and a wool scarf, and leather gloves, and of course a very heavy coat. It makes 20 degree days and ice on the creek more bearable for my still Californian blood. This coat is from California, thrifted in San Diego while we were visiting our in-laws last year. I wondered if I should buy it because it was so big and heavy and takes up so much closet space, but I'm very grateful for its warmth now, and consider my $12 well spent. I think the best place to find wonderful coats is where it doesn't get very cold---all of my best heavy coats are from California, and even though I search for them at the thrift stores here, I rarely find any, because the good ones are all worn out. Well, I guess I will have to gear myself up and sew myself a new coat soon. . .
Mr Rat and I went to Southern California to visit our parents for Thanksgiving, and oh it was sunny and warm! Thanksgiving day hovered around 90 degrees in my parents' backyard, where Mr Rat and I took these photos of my newest attempt at 1990s-era Simplicity 8620. Although I like the pattern, I haven't had much luck with my last two versions: the first (reviewed here) was too wide in the shoulders and the fabric wrinkled badly and didn't drape well enough to really suit the looseness of this blouse pattern. The second (reviewed here) had wonderful drape, but the first time I tried to wash it I made the mistake of putting it in the washing machine on the delicate cycle and it came out weirdly warped and unwearable. I should have tried washing it by hand.
This version is made from a mystery floral fabric that I found at the thrift store a while ago. It has a gentle drape, and I suspect it is actually a lightweight wool, given the hand of the fabric and the way it behaves under an iron. It frayed badly, so I was careful to finish all my seams, mostly with a faux flat-fell finish, and to bind the armholes with some grey rayon seam binding that was also from the thrift store. I decided to use self-covered buttons, which I made with a kit from JoAnns. The fit is the same as my last black rayon version, with a narrow-shoulder adjustment, although this time I decided to add the large collar, which ended up being rather dramatic, but looks nice with the bishop sleeves, I think. I edge-stitched all the seams, sewed the button-holes by hand, and sewed two snaps to the top of the button-placket area, to help keep the blouse closed and neat where the collar meets.
Although the style, color, and pattern are somewhat of a departure from my usual earth-toned solids, I'm pleased with how this blouse turned out, and foresee it being a versatile blouse for all kinds of weather---the lightweight wool making it warm in cooler weather and wicking away moisture to keep it cool and comfortable in warmer weather. On Thanksgiving day I wore it with a homemade necklace made of autumn jasper and my brown Simplicity 7880 skirt (reviewed here).
Now that we are back in Utah, we are also back to grey landscapes, grey clouds, and heavy coats. How do you adjust to the weather when you are sewing? Do you readers always sew seasonally? I thought this blouse might be unseasonable, but I think it turned out to be just right for November in California, and I am hopeful it will make many reappearances here in Utah in the spring.
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!
This is a typical outfit for me during these moderately cool autumn days with the leaves very thick on the ground and very thin on the trees. I am wearing my homemade navy blue broadcloth skirt with a recently thrifted ruffled navy and green plaid blouse and a recently thrifted navy crocheted shawl. Blue for autumn feels fitting during a time when the weather alone can make you melancholy. Reading the recent news about sexual assault and harassment against women in the workplace makes me feel even more melancholy. It brings up some varied bad memories for me, from experiences I cannot even talk about to my recent encounter with a young man in a big truck who said some lewd things to me while I waited at the corner to cross the street. Sometimes I wonder if dressing up and caring about my clothing means that I am making myself more susceptible to these kinds of encounters because I am drawing more attention to myself as the lone woman in a long dress in a community of women in jeans and flannel, but then I think back to my more plainly dressed college days (when I had short hair and didn't wear makeup, and wore a lot of jeans and flannel) and how I would still get flashed signs that said "show us your boobs" by trucks full of men in their early twenties as they drove by slowly in Los Angeles bumper-to-bumper traffic, and I think no-----it does not matter how you look, if you are female it is very likely that some man (or men) will sometime, somewhere be inappropriate. And it will probably happen again and again. Certainly that has been my own experience, and most women I talk to have similar stories that range from the smallest of rude gestures and comments to the most serious of violations.
I won't let fear or rudeness or the actions of certain men keep me from dressing the way I want to dress and having long hair. I have had one experience that went beyond being made uncomfortable into the realm of sexual assault. And I have to admit that afterwards I couldn't stand the dress I was wearing went it happened, even though it was one I had made myself and was fond of before that. I threw that dress away. But I didn't change any aspect of my appearance because I felt like at the time of that encounter the man who harassed me took my choices away from me, and I couldn't bear to let him take any more choices from me after it was over. I choose to keep wearing dresses. I chose to look feminine. That is my choice, and I won't let other people take it away from me no matter what they say or do to make me feel bad. Wearing dresses makes me feel good about myself. Wearing skirts reminds me of the feminine legacy of which I am a part by nature of my birth. Dresses and skirts make me feel more elegant, more unique, more myself. They are also practical and comfortable for my lifestyle. I remember in middle school one of my male friends told me that he had heard (erroneously or not) that women who wore skirts or dresses were raped more often because it was easier/quicker for a man to violate them than a woman in pants. I also remember reading articles over the years that said that wearing jewelry or heels is dangerous for women because it makes it harder to run away from a man or to defend oneself in a fight. Although in general most men are bigger than me, so I can't see being at an advantage running away or fighting ever, no matter what I am wearing. It is a cruel thing to have your actions dictated by fear, to lose beauty and joy because of fear, to change oneself from fear, to throw away beautiful things that make one happy and grateful because of fear. The one thing that makes me glad about reading about the recent lawsuits is that the women in them are defending themselves and trying to bring the consequences back to the men who hurt them, which is as it should be. Those who hurt should bear the consequences of their actions and change their ways, not those who have been hurt. We women should have all our choices open to us: to wear a dress or to wear pants----because we like them, not because one is 'safer' than the other.
There are so many paradoxes that women have to live with (speak out, but don't speak up----be strong, but don't be frightening----beauty is both power and weakness----care for others, but do/don't care for yourself----work the same job as your male peers but for less pay----try to work in a field that discriminates against women but don't let that discrimination keep you from being successful, etc. etc. etc.) and so many pressures from every direction that all one can do is acknowledge the unfairness of the world and many situations we must encounter, and then to do what one can to make one's own corner of the world a better and fairer place. Sometimes I have no idea how to do that, or how to be a 'woman,' so I think: I will try to be myself, and find out who that is. I will try to be kind. I will try to make objects of beauty. I will try to share when I have a chance to share. And that will have to be good enough, because it is all I can do. I will wear dresses when I want to and as often as I want to. I will try to shape my own life as much as I can and not let other people's choices be the primary molder of mine.
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.’
We’ve been having a hot spell in California, and so I’ve been grateful for all the cotton in my handmade wardrobe. This was an outfit I was particularly pleased with for being cool but still interesting when I wore it last week on yet another 90 plus degree day: the blouse I reviewed here, and the recently completed gingham skirt I reviewed here. I made the citrine necklace, too, which I blogged about recently here.
It was so cool here the past two weeks that I had optimistically assumed that autumn had begun early. This past weekend proved me wrong with a low-90s heat wave that drove me to pick out one of my breeziest of homemade outfits to wear to church: my muslin blouse, reviewed here, and my matching muslin skirt, which though several years old, I have not yet reviewed until now. Since I have already reviewed this skirt pattern before, many times (here, for instance, or here), I won’t go into too many details about construction. I only made two major changes to this particular version of 1970s era Simplicity 7880----I lengthened the skirt, leaving the bottom hem on the selvedge of the muslin (I think it was 35 or 37-inch unbleached muslin, which hits me at the high ankle), and I used a button to close the back rather than a skirt hook and eye as most of my other skirts are finished.
Even though it was very warm when we walked out to take photos, there were a lot of beautiful flowers to admire, including an enormous sunflower patch at the school garden next to the monastery where Mr Rat and I like to walk on Sunday mornings. There were bees busy everywhere, and Mr Rat got some lovely photos of them intent on their work, their legs fat with pollen like little yellow chaps. He also got his coveted butterfly photo in the monastery gardens: a beautiful big swallowtail that circled us and landed on the fig tree, then drifted off and joined with another swallowtail who challenged it to an upward duel of spiraling until they were lost from sight in the redwood trees.
I’m wearing my homemade muslin outfit with one of my favorite straw hats that I bought five years ago at a farmer’s market stand, turquoise jewelry given to me by my thoughtful and generous mother-in-law, and a thrifted shawl. My clogs are Lotta from Stockholm, three years old and still wearing well.
So many of my favorite fashion/sewing blogs have bemoaned the recent racist rallies here in America and expressed that it makes them feel like their websites are shallow or frivolous in the face of such disturbing events. I’ve thought about this a great deal over the past few weeks as Mr Rat and I talk over the news, and I don’t think that blogging about sewing or clothing should be so easily dismissed. Our passions are what make us human, and sharing them is what keeps us kind. It is an act of optimism when we are feeling overwhelmed with darkness to keep on working and making things---whether art or clothes or ceramics or poetry or music. To make something ourselves and share it is to make a modest contribution towards a kinder, more generous, more creative world. Instead of feeling despair, let’s resolve to be more compassionate towards those around us, and keep improving whatever corner of the earth we inhabit.
I almost gave up on this blouse the first time I tried it on. It brought to mind a quote from L M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: “Look at those sleeves! Oh it seems to me this must be a happy dream. . . It would give me such a thrill to wear a dress with puffed sleeves.” But the part of my mind that agrees with Anne was at war with the part of my mind that looked at those sleeves in agreement with Marilla: “The puffs have been getting bigger and more ridiculous right along: they’re as big as balloons now. Next year anybody who wears them will have to go through a door sideways.”
This blouse is a bit over-the-top for me, but the more I spend time with it since I finished it, the more I think it is not the sleeves (puffy as they are) that make me feel that way, but rather it is the large gingham check that makes the blouse a little overwhelming. But having now worn it out and about, enjoying the comfortable lightweight cotton (bought for $1 a yard at the LA fabric district a few years ago) and the good fit, I think I will keep it for the occasion I’m feeling quite bold. The black-and-white gingham does make me think of late summer picnics and autumn harvest celebrations. I think it will look good worn with my black wool vest, or one of my black jumper dresses.
In terms of construction: The instructions have you stay-stitch every curved edge before sewing, which took some extra time, but was worth it to keep the blouse from stretching out and losing its carefully mirrored pattern. I felt that the princess seams would be difficult (if not impossible) to try to pattern match, so I took inspiration from the post about gingham over on Vintage Gal’s blog where she mentioned that in the 1930s seamstresses would purposefully not match the gingham on their projects so as to conserve fabric and didn’t bother to try to match the gingham, only to mirror it on both sides. I pinked the inside seams and pressed them open, and sewed sleeve heads out of scraps of white fabric, as the pattern instructed, which help the sleeves keep their dramatic poof. The sleeves are actually long, with darts at the elbow, but in these photos I’m wearing them rolled up a little so they look below-elbow length. I made the black buttonholes by hand, as usual, and switched them from horizontal to vertical and changed the positioning so they were in the middle of each black square. The black buttons are thrifted, from my stash, and I sewed them on with white thread for a little bit of subtle contrast. To keep the self-bias neckline binding from flopping open at the top, I sewed on two small snaps. The instructions for early 1980s era Simplicity 5900 are quite detailed, and I got a good fit without having to make any adjustments to the size 8. I recommend it to anyone looking for an Edwardian styled pattern, or a pattern that has sleeves that would make Anne Shirley break out into dramatic exclamations of joy.
I am wearing my new blouse in these photos with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, and a homemade sash.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew