I am sorry for the long absence. This has been a year of unexpected and difficult adjustments, and sometimes those take up so much time and energy that there isn't much left over. Those of you who have been following along for some time will already know that our twelve and a half year old Labrador, Gia, who we loved and adored, passed away at the end of December. We had a difficult January. We tried to adopt a border-collie lab mix but there were some very large problems with the adoption----ones we couldn't handle in our current living situation----so we had to give him back up to the shelter, which was a terrible experience for my husband and me. Our second adoption ended up being a good match for us and for our new dog. His name is Cougar. He is a five or six year old golden retriever, lab, pit bull mix, and he is as sweet as can be. But he has needed a lot of training, as all of his manners are indoor manners and no one had ever taught him to walk on a leash. Between Cougar's training, bad weather, family visits, having friends and co-workers over for dinner, working, learning to make tortillas, replacing a broken bed, etc. our weekends for February were packed full, and then we were in March and suddenly the news became an overwhelming presence in our lives, and we were carefully taking stock of our pantry, and then our worries were confirmed as the coronavirus epidemic became a pandemic and like most of the world we became isolated in our living space.
I imagine that you are all dealing with some form of social distancing and self-quarantining, so you will probably understand why after over a week of working together in our smallish dark apartment and only leaving to exercise with Cougar very early in the morning, my husband and I were feeling hungry for a change of scenery. We decided last Sunday that we should take Cougar and get out and go on a drive out to the Bonneville salt flats, on the edge of the Utah border.
The salt flats are a striking place----miles on miles of flat white thick crusted salt. I wore a recently completed dress that I made from a thrifted sheet with a large print of faded roses and thought that the contrast of roses and salt ended up being rather poetic. The dress is actually made from a 1990s pullover blouse pattern, Simplicity 9132. I simply shortened it to 5/8ths of an inch below the waistline marking and then added a gathered skirt made of simple rectangles. It was a fast and simple sewing project, and it is very loose and comfortable. I made a size 10, but it is such an over-sized design that I could have easily made an 8, or even a 6 and I think it would have fit fine. The buttons on the cuffs were leftovers from my button jar. There weren't any other fastenings. I did discover a small hole in the sleeve after I finished sewing---one of the risks of sewing with second-hand fabrics, especially vintage sheets----so I simply cut out a little scrap of leftover fabric and patched it up. I don't think it is noticeable unless you know it is there and look for it. I don't mind patching things these days, as I feel like it is a statement that I care about this earth, and that lovely things should be cared for.
Getting out in the sunshine and fresh air felt very good after so much confinement. Hopefully Mr Rat and I can catch up somewhat on our backlog of sewing projects to photograph since we suddenly have our weekends all to ourselves for the foreseeable future. I have been cutting out and sewing new projects in an effort to keep myself busy and cheerful in the hours that I am not painting in the studio or doing housework. I miss doing little ordinary things---getting to plan trips to gardens and museums, going to the grocery store, going out on errands to buy buttons or go to the thrift store. They used to break up the monotony of working at home. Now I've had to try to find other things like doing extra baking, playing records, and taking breaks to play games with Cougar. Getting dressed up every day helps me feel dignified even when I feel overwhelmed by sadness or worries for the future. I'm trying to wear more of my homemade jewelry again, as the splash of color brings me a little burst of contentment when I put in on in the morning. I spent some time today doing more beading because I realized I had several strands of stones that were given to me for Christmas that I hadn't used, and beading is so relaxing when I am stressed. The simple action helps me focus on my hands.
How are you dealing with social isolation and quarantine? Do your clothes or crafts bring you comfort, too?
This unfortunately won't be a very picture-heavy post, as the weather has not been cooperative for outdoor photos again this month. The snow is finally melting, but the winds are coldly biting and incessant, and made me very loathe to take my heavy wool coat off at the park, even for Mr Rat to get a few pictures of my new FolkWear Black Forest Smock. I've never posted about my winter coat on this blog, although it is a refashioned sewing project. I spotted it on the clearance rack of Decades vintage store in Salt Lake City last year for $5. One of the buttons was held on with a safety pin and the sleeves were outrageously long. But all the beautiful ribbon and ric-rac trim caught my eye, and I had to take it home and fix it. Now the lovely pewter reindeer buttons are secure, and I folded the cuffs inside the sleeves and stitched them up by hand, making them fit much better. This coat has kept me warm all winter so far, and I often get compliments from strangers when I wear it. It is so distinctive, and cheerful, too. I will have to try to imitate the way that it is trimmed on my own sewing projects at some point.
Back to the main sewing project of this post, my new Black Forest smock: my mom gave me the pattern for Christmas, and I've been excited to try it out. Even though it wasn't on my winter make-nine list, I decided to go ahead and make it anyway, since I've been struggling with my depression these past few months--especially this past month----and a warm smock made of flannel felt like just the thing I wanted to wear. And I was right, as I have worn it twice already since I made it, even though I barely finished the last bits of hand-sewing right before we took these photos on our Sunday afternoon walk. I was worried that it might be a hard pattern to sew. I've only made one Folkwear pattern before, as a pattern-tester, and found that it challenged me to learn new skills. This pattern took some new skills too, like learning to make many tiny pleats around the neck-line and cuffs. But it wasn't hard. It actually came together very quickly, with one day of cutting out the pattern and fabric, and another two days of sewing before it was finished. The style and sizing are so forgiving that there isn't any fitting to do except to make sure the neck binding will fit over your head (I used a very small seam allowance to make sure it would fit over mine, since I have a rather large head circumference). The fabric was easy to work with too. It is a blue and tan plaid flannel that I found while thrift store shopping with my husband and mother-in-law in San Diego this past Thanksgiving. I got a four-yard piece for $6. So far, it has pre-washed well, and is very warm and soft. The pattern instructions for the Black Forest Smock are clear and helpful, although I'm not sure that I got the tiny pleats quite right. But I think there is a lot of lee-way to adjust and change them, so I'm not too bothered about it----making pleats is a skill that I am still practicing. There aren't many size options to choose from for this pattern, as it is meant to be quite loose; I cut on the "slender woman" lines along the sides. I did a faux-french seam to finish the insides. I think I could have done a french seam, but I'm not very experienced with them, and I wasn't sure which seam finish I wanted to use until after I had already sewn the seams. Doing any kind of seam finish on a half-inch seam allowance was a bit of a challenge, so I ended up doing my faux-French seam mostly by hand, which worked well. The pattern doesn't tell you what sized buttons or button-holes to do on the cuffs, so I just chose two that I liked from my vintage button collection, and pinned out the positions myself, and then did the button-holes by hand, as usual. It is interesting making a garment that doesn't call for interfacing: it gives the smock a rumpled effect, but I think that adds to it's charm, and also makes it extremely comfortable. If I ever get tired of wearing it as a day dress, I can always use it as a nightgown. Or sew up another one as a nightgown. . . Or make a summer version out of linen or soft cotton, and learn to do the embroidery included with the pattern. . . I left off the pockets in this, my first version, but perhaps in the next one I will add them and decorate them too. . .
As you can tell, I do like my Black Forest smock a lot, and I am sure that I will make this pattern again.
As a side note, my mom recently trimmed my hair and cut off the layers for me. Even though they did make my hair curl more, I wasn't overly fond of that last hair-cut. Now it is short and light and one length, and I plan on slowly growing it back out again. It does make me feel a bit like an Edwardian child in these photos, though, to have cropped hair and a billowy smock. I just need a Steiff teddy bear named "Winnie-Ther-Pooh."
And as another side note, look at the bottom of the post to see what an interesting little creature Mr Rat and I saw while we were taking pictures. Mr Rat thinks it is a nutria, and we were both astonished to see it swimming in the icy creek in such cold weather. As soon as it saw Gia, though, it crawled into a crevice in the bank and disappeared.
This post is catching up from last year, as I made this smock and matching purse in the fall and only managed to wear them outside once before snowy weather blew in. Now that we are in the depths of winter, I've given up on the idea of photographing out in the landscape (at least until I have a heavy wool garment to share), and am going to try to take some photos in my studio on sunny days instead. And maybe this way I can catch up some of the things that I sewed last year and haven't had a chance to review yet.
My sewing cabinet housed almost 5 yards of this nice rust-colored corduroy for four years or so from the day that I originally found it at the thrift store to the long overdue day when I finally chose a pattern for it. The pattern I finally picked out, 1970s-era McCalls 3483, was also a thrift-store find. It is a size larger than I usually make, which made me uncertain about buying it, but for 50 cents I thought it was worth a try. When I imagined pairing it with my long-neglected corduroy, I thought that going a size up wouldn't make a difference to a loose over-garment, and I was right. I was actually surprised that I didn't need to narrow the shoulders, and the fit was good without any adjustments. I remember reading in one of my sewing books that the difference between pattern sizes is about 1 inch overall---which is a big difference if you are trying to make a fitted garment, but is very little difference in a loose or flowing garment so long as the fit is good around the shoulders. The one curious bit about the fit of this garment that I noticed is that the smock looks much shorter on the drawings on the pattern-cover compared to how it fits me in real life---which is almost down to my knees. I'm an average 5 foot 5 inches, in case any one else out there has this pattern and needs a reference for the length.
Since corduroy tends to shed and fray, I was careful to do faux-flat fell stitching on all of the seams, which had the nice benefit of giving them a top-stitched look on the outside. I also did top-stitching on the collar to keep it neat, as well as the cuffs and the narrow hem. I also used some scraps of old thrifted bias binding and sewed them by hand to the edges of the inside facing and sleeve openings so they won't have trouble going through the wash. This gave them a clean and neat finish, as well. McCalls 3483 has a lot of nice details: over-sized patch pockets, puffed sleeves with big cuffs, an exaggerated collar, and a neat yoke opening. Since the button closures called for loops, and I didn't want to deal with the hassle of trying to turn corduroy inside out (that sounds like a recipe for a headache), I cut little pieces of the selvage of the fabric and rolled them into little tubes and sewed them shut by hand. Then I made them into button loops and sewed them on to the yoke and cuffs by machine. The buttons are from JoAnns. I took my smock with me to see what kind of ball-shaped button I could find that matched the fabric, and was really happy to find these nice faux-leather ones in just the ride shade of ochre.
I think this smock makes a stylish alternative to wearing a sweater indoors all winter long. And in the fall and the spring, it is the perfect lightweight pullover jacket. I made a purse to match it out of scraps leftover from my smock and a wooden purse handle set that I bought half-off from JoAnns for the grand total of $4! The inside of the purse is lined with scraps from my Folkwear shirtdress. The last of the corduroy scraps leftover from both smock and purse recently got used by my husband as details on a shirt he is almost finished sewing. This ended up being a rather thrifty outfit, especially worn over my old brown smock dress that has some paint stains on it (which my new corduroy smock nicely covers up), and worn with the clogs that were given to me for my birthday. It makes me glad that we can take something that no one wanted and use every scrap of it to make not just one, but three interesting new useful things that will bring pleasure to Mr Rat and me.
I know this photo is terribly blurry, but Gia looks so charming that I couldn't resist adding it.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.