Gia Sick graphite on paper 2018
This past month has been a hard one. Mr Rat and I have been calling home often to hear about our families' latest troubles (which don't need to be listed here), while meanwhile we've been dealing with trouble of our own: at the end of May, we noticed that our dog, Gia, was feeling ill. By June 1st, we were very concerned, and when she woke us in the middle of the night by throwing up all of her food and then laying panting and insensible on the floor, we decided to rush her to the all-night emergency room at the animal hospital. A very long four hours later, we found out that she is diabetic. This has been a hard adjustment for us all, since now Gia needs twice-a-day insulin shots after her meals, she can't have very many treats or snacks or trimmings from the counter when I'm cooking, and even with her new medication, she is still more easily fatigued than she used to be.
Learning how to take care of our best friend's new needs has been absorbing a lot of our time and energy over the past month, so I'm afraid that all my hopes to make new posts fell by the wayside as I tried to balance attention for Gia with finishing a commissioned painting and doing some sewing and crocheting during moments of rest. Now that we are getting used to the insulin injections and are getting into more of a routine, I hope to start posting here more regularly again. I miss sharing the things I'm working on, and having a reason to take pictures on our walks and outings.
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.
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1138 people and injured many more. In remembrance of that great loss, all over the internet, people have been asking "who made my clothes?"
For me, that answer is simple. I make almost all of my clothes. This morning I counted my wardrobe and found that out of the 66 woven garments that I own, only 6 are not handmade by myself. That means that 91 percent of my clothes are made by me. I am not counting sweaters, knits, or underwear in the total number because I don't currently have the capacity to make those things, but in case you are wondering, my few sweaters and t-shirts fit neatly in a single drawer along with my one pair of jeans and my one set of exercise clothes. My socks and slips other delicates also fit in a single dresser drawer. I thrift most of my sweaters and turtlenecks, so I don't think they are adding much to the problems that beset global fashion right now. If you want to learn more about the toll that the fashion industry takes on garment workers, the environment, and even the people who wear clothes that they may not like but feel pressured into wearing and quickly discarding because they have no personal relationship with the garments on their body, there is a lot of information on the Fashion Revolution website.
I started sewing my clothes when I was quite a small child. My mom taught me how to sew with a plastic needle and plastic canvas when I was a toddler, and by the time I was seven years old she had me sewing myself a matching shirt (teal blue with a pattern of white cats---I'll have to find the photos of me wearing it to share some time) and shorts set (with lots of her help, of course). I remember crying when the thread would snarl up, and laying on the floor feeling like I would never finish. But I did finish that outfit, and I wore it until it was worn out. Although I made things here or there through my youth and teens, it took me until I was married and had a sewing machine of my own to take up sewing my own clothes again more seriously. It has been a long six years since then of learning and making that I am glad that I continued with. My classmates at art school questioned whether spending time doing things like sewing was worthwhile, especially if it took time away from art-making. It is something I have questioned myself, since sewing certainly takes time and patience. But it also brings creative and aesthetic pleasure, and it is part of the 'total work of art' which is life. Artists like Georgia O'Keefe (who sewed quite a few of her own clothes) and Frida Kahlo valued their clothes as a means of expression. Why shouldn't I, as an artist, a seamstress, and a woman?
Sewing my own clothes means that I have a personal relationship with my clothing. I get to wear things that I like and that fit me. My clothes are made from mostly thrifted fabrics and cheap remnants from the fabric district, so I can feel confident that I am making as little negative impact on this beautiful world that I love that I can.
Every year we have the chance to make a little progress if we keep practicing.
Do you make your clothes? How does sewing impact your life?
(The photo above is a sneak peak of a new review coming soon. I've got three sewing reviews worth of photos ready to post, so expect some action here on the blog in the next week!)
I, Mrs Rat, of Mr and Mrs Rat, do pledge to wear me-made garments and jewelry through the month of May. I pledge to minimize outfit repeats, wear as many me-made items as possible, and to be more adventuresome while creating outfit combinations. I will document this here on the blog and I will also attempt to document it on Instagram if time allows me to (you can find the link to my profile by clicking here) with the intention of discovering which sewing projects will be useful to plan for the rest of the year, how to make my wardrobe more cohesive and practical, and how to be more confident wearing my me-mades.
Are you planning on participating in Me-Made May this year? I like to photograph my outfits as part of the challenge, but Zoe, of So Zo What Do You Know, who runs the Me-Made-May challenge has made it clear that you do not need to take photographs or have a blog or social media account to participate. My first time participating in Me-Made May was last year (you can find the link to my posts on the right hand of the blog) and I thought that it was an interesting and challenging experience, and it did help me plan out my sewing projects for a while afterwards. You can find the sign-ups for this year's Me-Made May by clicking here. With fashion revolution week right before Me-Made May starts and right after Earth Day (Sunday, April 22) ends, I think it is a good time of year to ponder our relationship to our clothes and to consumption and production (since we are not just shoppers, but sewers and makers also). It is also a good time to plan for the rest of the year ahead, as we creep towards the halfway mark of June.
(the photo above is one I took of myself during last year's Me-Made May wearing a homemade blouse from a 1980s pattern, a homemade skirt from my favorite 1970s Simplicity 7880, and a homemade sodalite necklace)
Here is my way of using up fabric scraps: save up money, adopt two beautiful rats in a big cage, clean said cage with repeated scrubbing, cut leftover fabric scraps in pieces and use to decorate cage for rats, let rats enjoy. Enjoy rats. Repeat cleaning, cutting, decorating (also watching the rats redecorate), and enjoying.
Marigold and Daisy seem to like it, anyway. And I really like having pet rats again.
I think most of you readers are not new to sewing, so you can skip this post if you like. One of Mr Rat's coworkers has asked us to teach her how to sew, so I've been putting together a list of supplies she needs to get started. Since it has been very difficult to get photos of my new sewing projects with all of the snowstorms we've been having the last few weeks (and are supposed to keep having the next few days), I thought I'd post the same list here in case there are any visitors to this blog who are curious about learning to sew and don't know quite how to start going about it.
Things you need to get started sewing:
A sewing machine – for dressmaking, the only essential stitch is the straight stitch, although it is convenient to have a machine that also does a zigzag stitch. If you want to sew with knits, look for a machine that has a stretch stitch as well. It isn’t necessary to have lots of decorative stitches unless you want them, and I would avoid getting one of the expensive quilting machines or a computerized machine (which can break when exposed to magnets), since they are more specialized than you need as a beginner. We used to use a contemporary Singer Heavy Duty machine before we found and refurbished our current Singer, which was made in 1946. The vintage metal-body machines are more durable and reliable than modern machines. If you decided to buy a used machine you can either buy a refurbished one from a shop or look online at sewing forums such as patternreview.com for advice on what brands and models best fit your needs. It is useful to have an automatic button-holer on your machine, but not a necessity, since we can teach you to make your buttonholes by hand. You’ll also want a cover or case if the machine doesn’t come with one. You can use the box the machine came in (if it had one) to store the machine when you are not sewing with it, or buy a portable carry-case, or some older machines come inside of cabinets (special sewing machine desks) and cannot be carried, but still need to be covered or put back inside their cabinet in between uses. Dust can clog and damage your machine, so you need to protect it somehow when you are not using it---a piece of cloth will work in a pinch.
A small brush and a tiny screwdriver – most machines come with one, but if yours doesn’t, you will want a small brush to clean the lint out of your machine. If you are using an older machine you will also need to buy sewing machine oil to keep your machine running well. Not very many contemporary machines are built in a way that you can open them to oil them, so refer to your manual to see if your machine needs to be oiled or not. If you buy an older, used machine, you can usually find and print the manual off the internet. This will instruct you on how to use and thread the machine, how to clean and care for it, and how to switch stitches and fix problems. If your machine does come apart to be oiled, then you will need a tiny screwdriver to open the machine to oil it.
A steam iron and ironing board – it is helpful if your steam iron also has the feature of using concentrated bursts of steam, and the ability to adjust the amount of steam as you iron. Your ironing board should be a comfortable height and have a padded cover.
An ironing shield/cloth – I use a plain white cotton bandana for this purpose. You can also use a large square of white cotton. This is used to place between the iron and your fabric when you are concerned that the iron may leave a shine or a mark on the fabric.
Bent-handled sewing shears – these are the scissors you need to cut out fabric. The bent handle makes it easier to keep the bottom blade flat against the floor or table when you are cutting. It is worthwhile to spend some extra money to get a good pair (we use Gingher) because you will be using them a lot, and will want to get them sharpened every year rather than having to buy a new pair when the blades get dull.
Sewing or embroidery scissors with a pointed end – these are your all-purpose sewing scissors, used for trimming seams, making notches, and cutting threads, etc. If your machine doesn’t have an automatic button-hole feature, then I would recommend getting some small embroidery scissors with a sharp and pointed end for cutting buttonholes.
Ordinary scissors – for cutting out patterns. You don’t want to ever use your sewing scissors on paper, as it will dull the blades very quickly.
A package of hand-sewing needles – you will need these for doing slip-stitch as well as sewing on buttons, etc. You can buy sets with different sizes, just be careful you are buying a set that is intended for hand sewing rather than embroidery or leather, etc.
A thimble - this will protect your fingers when you sew by hand, especially if you are sewing into a heavy fabric. It should fit tightly but not squeeze your finger. There are many varieties of thimbles out there---we use old-fashioned metal ones, but there are also leather and rubber ones.
Dress-making pins – if your pins don’t come in a closable box, you will also want to buy or make a pin-cushion or a magnetic pin holder to keep your pins handy while you sew.
Weights for cutting out patterns – we use small canned goods from our pantry. You can also use large, heavy, clean washers from the hardware store.
Measuring tool/point turner – this is very helpful for measuring seam allowances and hems, adjusting the placement of buttons, and turning things inside out.
Seam-ripper – self-explanatory, I think, and very necessary. We all make sewing mistakes and need to unpick seams from time to time.
A marking tool – while you may not use this all the time, it is helpful to have a washable fabric pencil or piece of tailor’s chalk, or even a small sliver of soap to mark pocket placements, pleats, etc. We often use pins to mark our projects, so buying this right away isn’t a necessity.
A flexible tape measure – this is important for taking measurements, especially of your own body, and also the fabric and pattern-pieces, to make sure that they will fit.
A box or basket to keep your sewing supplies in – there are lots of sewing baskets at the fabric store, but you can also use any handy medium sized box or basket that you like to keep your supplies in. It is useful if it is lidded to keep everything dust free.
Your first pattern, fabric, thread, and notions – it is easiest to start with a less-fitted pattern (such as a loose, pullover dress without darts or a pullover blouse with few or no darts) or a pattern that is fitted in only one place like the waist (a full skirt gathered to a waist-band would be an example). But if you want to sew a basic, fitted dress with bust darts and a full or a-line skirt, it is not too complicated to sew for the first time if you have some guidance along the way. For your first few times sewing, I would recommend buying inexpensive fabric, since you will be figuring out fitting and sewing techniques. Cotton is among the easiest of fabrics to sew with, since it frays very little, washes and presses well, and can be used for all sorts of clothing. You will want to pre-wash your fabric before you cut out your pattern. Use the same method to wash and dry your fabric as you will for the finished garment. This is in case the fabric shrinks or warps in any way---it is better to know this before you cut into it than after you’ve finished sewing your garment. Before you choose your pattern size, know that the sizing on patterns is quite different than ready-to-wear from the store. You will want to use your tape measure to take your own body measurements and write them down. It is not uncommon to fall within two different sizes for your top and bottom; most modern patterns are multi-sized, so this is not a difficult issue to work around. Most patterns will fit better if you use your upper-bust measurement rather than your full-bust measurement. It’s very helpful to get onto JoAnn fabric store’s e-mail or mailing list for coupons and mailers. They do pattern sales regularly where you can buy the patterns on sale for anywhere from 99 cents to 5 dollars each. The pattern envelope will tell you what fabrics are recommended for your sewing project, and what notions (zipper, buttons, bias tape, etc.) you will need to buy to complete your garment.
Interfacing – Almost all sewing projects require interfacing to give fabrics structure, stability, and support in necessary areas (such as collars, button bands, cuffs, necklines, and sometimes hems, pockets, lapels, and waistbands). I usually buy several yards of it when it is on-sale at the fabric store and keep it stored with my sewing supplies so I can use it when I need it. Lightweight or featherweight fusible interfacing is a good all-purpose weight for most sewing projects.
Things that are nice to have, but you don’t need to buy right away:
Tailor’s ham – This is incredibly helpful for ironing darts, princess seams, and any kind of curve. If you are going to sew fitted, darted dresses, then I would recommend buying this sooner rather than later, because it gives your pressing a much more professional look.
Pinking shears – If you sew a lot with firmly woven fabrics such as cotton, pinking shears are a quick and easy way to finish your seams so they go through the wash better.
French Curve – This is helpful for making fitting adjustments on your pattern, copying patterns from books and magazines, and drafting your own patterns.
Yardstick – This is helpful for measuring fabric, measuring dress lengths, and pinning up your hems or checking that they are even all the way around.
Extra bobbins – Most machines come with two or three extra bobbins. You can also buy them at the fabric store in a little case. It is useful to have extra for when you are switching thread colors---this way you don’t have to unroll your bobbin to switch colors every time.
A white glue-stick – this can be helpful when putting collars and cuffs together, or when attaching trims that you will sew on by hand or machine. The glue helps things stick together while you work and washes out of your finished garment.
Sewing books – I like the Vogue sewing guide from the 1970s-80s, although I also have a 1970s-era Butterick sewing book that is packed full of useful information and diagrams. These books will help you solve problems and learn new techniques.
Extra sewing machine needles – as you sew, you will need to switch needles as they get dull after a few projects. Size 10-11 is the most common needle we use, since it works for light and medium weight fabrics. But if you sew with especially light or heavy-weight fabrics, you will need different sized needles to accommodate your fabric choice (the smaller the number, the lighter the fabric----the larger the number, the heavier the fabric). If you sew with knits, you will need a ball-point or special knit needle so as to not damage the fabric. You will also need special pins for sewing with knits, or fine and delicate fabrics such as silk.
Beeswax - this is very useful if you sew a lot by hand. You pull your thread through it, which strengthens the thread and makes it harder to tangle.
Mr Rat has been hard at work on his newest project, squeezing out the time to sew on the weekends and the occasional weeknight evening. He's been making great progress and we are both looking forward to when we can share his finished garment with you all. . .
There is something so therapeutic about sewing. It is varied, interesting, challenging, and yet also restful. There is something reassuring about following pattern instructions and knowing they will lead to a finished garment. And there is something so magical about taking a flat piece of fabric and turning it into a beautiful, detailed, dimensional item of clothing you can wear. It may take time to create, but the act of creation is a pleasure in itself, well worth the hours spent.
First, some reflections on the sewing goals I made for 2017:
Well, I didn’t succeed at not buying new patterns! I still bought patterns from the thrift store and off of Ebay, although I think my pattern-buying was more targeted than it has been in the past, since I have been sewing long enough to know which patterns fit well (late 1960s-early 1980s size 8), and have a better idea of what styles of clothing I like to wear and are interesting to sew. I do think I succeeded at trying more of the patterns I already own, and reusing patterns that I have used in the past. I would like to continue doing both of those things in 2018.
While I can’t say that I didn’t buy new fabric, either, we did make a dent in our thrifted and fabric-district bought stash. Since most of our fabric is second-hand, I don’t think not buying new fabric until our stash is used up is a realistic goal to keep for 2018. When we find nice fabric at a low price, we buy it for future use----I don’t think that’s a bad way to fabric shop, so long as our stash does not overwhelm our apartment, and I don’t think it is in danger of doing that.
I did sew several wool pieces this year (like this vest, this cape, and a dress I have yet to post and review, among others), so I would say that this goal was a success. Now that I have more experience sewing with wool, I will keep working on using the thrifted wool in our stash. I can imagine some other vests would be nice, and I have a tweed cape/jacket cut out to get around to sometime, and I would also like to make some more wool skirts, since my grey wool skirt has seen a lot of use, especially since we have moved to an even colder climate here in Utah than we ever faced in California.
I did find a vest pattern (as I mentioned already above) that fits pretty well, and sewed some long-sleeved blouses, and some jackets, and some dresses----although no aprons yet. So those were successful goals, too.
And now, some new goals for 2018:
- To continue saving money by using thrifted fabrics, buttons, and trims, old sheets, and inexpensive yardage for our sewing projects. Even though Mr Rat and I are more comfortably off now that he's started his new job than we've ever been before, we still have savings goals to meet and the rest of Mr Rat’s student loans to finish paying off. This means that saving money is as important as ever.
- To sew more complete outfits, or even capsule wardrobes. While my sewing projects tend to be easily mixed and matched because of my general focus on a mostly neutral color palette (with black, white, off-white, beige/tan, brown, navy, and grey predominating), solid color fabrics, and simple silhouettes such as full midi-length skirts, midi-to-long dresses and elbow-to-long sleeve blouses----still, I would like sew more outfits that go together, like my gingham dress set from last summer. I also think the idea of a capsule wardrobe is intriguing, because it would make getting packed for trips to visit our family in California even easier.
- And lastly, to challenge my sewing skills by working on some projects with more complex embellishments or new sewing techniques, like pintucks and pleats. My main goal here is to use some of my vintage vogue patterns---I have two Jean Muir patterns I would love to try in 2018, especially the yellow one on the right, which is a pattern my grandmother made for my mother when she was young!
What are your sewing goals for the new year? Did you make sewing goals for this year? Were you successful in keeping them?
photo from 'Laura Ashley: the Romantic Heroine' - a show at the Fashion Museum in Bath, England
Mr Rat pointed out a recent New York Times article on modesty and fashion and asked me what I thought about it. After I read it through, I was shocked by how derogatory it was towards modesty, and how many assumptions it made about women who choose to wear modest clothes. Where does this anger come from, I wondered? Is it jealousy of other women confident enough to dress how they like instead of dressing to impress and manipulate others through their sexuality? Is it fear of being considered “unfashionable” and dressed inappropriately if more covered up styles become widely popular again? Is it fear of losing the freedom to wear as little clothing as one wants?
One of the stranger assumptions in the article, I thought, was that modest clothes are flattering only to the young, rich, and thin, because no one else could afford to look so “drab” and “dowdy.” My own observations have been that modest clothes (that do not overly cling and which cover the vast majority of skin) are flattering to a much wider range of ages and sizes than immodest clothes, which demand a perfect body because so much of the body is put on display for other people’s judgment.
I also found it odd that modesty should be aligned so simplistically with “patriarchal oppression,” ignoring the many personal reasons women can and do choose to dress modestly: comfort, style, warmth, practicality (no sunburns in the summer, for instance! No chances of accidentally showing other people your underwear!), or an affection for styles of the past. I can’t see that wearing skimpy clothing is terribly freeing from patriarchal oppression if it then exposes you to unsafe situations with men who “misread the cues” you are sending from your “liberated” clothing choices. Why does “liberation” involve becoming complicit in one’s own objectification? Liberation, freedom----to me, these mean having a range of choices, being able to make one’s own choice from among them, and then having that choice respected by others. I think what bothered me most about this article was its lack of respect for women who make the choice to cover their bodies, and for the range of reasons why they do so, including religious reasons. The writer assumes that women who adhere to their religion’s standards of modesty do so out of oppression by men who want to control and limit their sexuality. She ignores the fact that modesty is also a symbol of self-respect, of control of one’s own sexuality and how it is displayed and to whom and in what circumstances. She also misses that religious modesty is often connected to spiritual values of independence, responsibility, and individual worth. And lastly, she also misses the mystery created by concealment; for as Walter Benjamin wrote, "form and content, veil and veiled are the same."
Mr Rat made the comment that such an article about men’s fashion would be quite ridiculous, mostly because men’s fashion is by nature primarily quite modest and practical, not needing to exhibit the body in order to be confident of one’s control over it or one’s ability to be taken seriously or make an impact on the world. To me what is being debated when people talk about modesty is not women’s fashion, but women’s bodies and who gets to control them and why.
What are your thoughts about modesty? Have any of you read this article? What do you think about the debate between modesty and immodesty? Is there any middle ground?
This past week my husband received a job offer and our life is suddenly in disarray as we get ready to move to another state in less than a month! Since our move will be taking up all of our time and energy, I thought it was best to warn you all that this website will likely be on hiatus for the next month at least, if not two, while we get ourselves and Gia and our Singer 15-91 all safely settled in a new place.
Please do come back and visit again in late October or November! I have two recent sewing projects to share that I haven't photographed yet, and am eager to share more about our new sewing space, and any new projects I might get started on after the move.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew