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?
The past few Decembers I’ve done a rather thorough review of my year of sewing: how many garments I made, reflections on pattern experimentation, etc. I didn’t manage to photograph all the things I sewed this year for the blog, and looking back over the ragged patch-work of months that made up 2019, I don’t think my typical review will work well this year, anyway. My wardrobe has been in upheaval as I’ve had to make new adjustments for my body, my feelings about myself, and the tumultuous climate. So instead of looking backward, I will focus this post on looking forward.
A helpful thing that I discovered this past year is that semi-fitted to loosely fitted garments last the longest in my wardrobe because they accommodate subtle fluctuations in body size and shape. Other things that I learned: that I prefer small prints to large ones, cotton is my favorite fabric to sew with, and it is important to plan sewing projects with layering (can I wear a sweater over it? Can I wear a petticoat under it? etc.) and color combinations within my existing wardrobe in mind. Also I think that shirt-dresses, button-up shirts, and full skirts are the hardest working members of my wardrobe, as they are so versatile for so many kinds of situations from cleaning to attending a museum to going to church to hiking or walking.
In 2020 I want to reaffirm my sewing commitments. First is my commitment to making my own clothes, jewelry, and accessories. I find that I value and enjoy the things that I’ve made more than the things that I’ve bought. When I dress well I feel more dignified even when I’m emotionally struggling. I value the power of getting dressed. I read a quote from Virginia Woolf recently that encapsulates the idea perfectly: “Vain trifles as they seem, clothes… change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.”
My second commitment is to make my projects out of second-hand materials as much as possible. Valuing clothing shouldn’t come at a great cost to the environment. Reading books like Fashionopolis has opened my eyes not just to the great waste of the fashion industry, but also the danger to workers and the environment in the production of fabric itself. There are many sources of second-hand fabric in the world and I am blessed to have lots of thrift stores and a creative reuse center readily available in this area. I want to continue to take advantage of them while we live here. As the old pioneer motto says: use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.
My third commitment is to simplicity. I want to spend more time making tried-and-true patterns and experimenting with adjusting and drafting using those patterns. I don’t need as many patterns as I have had in the past, and I’ve spent some time over the past few months evaluating my collection and slimming it down. There are still patterns in there that I haven’t tried, so there will still be some new reviews over the next year (and some catch-up reviews for things I made this fall and haven’t been able to photograph yet). I plan to go on a “pattern fast” for 2020 and not buy any new patterns, but only to use what I already have. I know that I like variety, though, so I will leave myself a gentle clause that I can buy or ask for a pattern or two for holidays or my birthday. This will hopefully slow down my pattern acquisition to the same pace that I’m actually able to make toiles and finished items from them.
I am trying to decide if I want to make a “Make Nine” list or not, so for now I’m going to put down some general goals for things that I want to try to get done at the sewing machine over the next year:
My last sewing commitment for the year is to keep this blog going. It’s been a struggle to take photos and keep things updated here since we moved to Utah, and I can’t promise that the year ahead will be much better, as I anticipate experiencing a lot of the same challenges with the weather, lack of light, scheduling, etc. But I am going to try, and Mr Rat says he will try as well, as he thinks that making a record of our sewing is important, and getting to share and be part of a larger community.
Do you spend time reflecting on your past year of sewing before the new year arrives? What have you learned? What goals (if any) are you making for the year ahead? We are starting a new decade 2020----how startling! And how wonderful that we are all still here, still learning, and still creating, despite whatever struggles we face. I wish all of you a very happy New Year!
As the year has progressed, I've been working on paring down my patterns. I used to enjoy having lots of choices and trying out new patterns almost every time I sewed a garment. It gave me a sense of plenitude, adventure, and richness of choice that I missed in some other aspects of my life. That has been a fun way to sew, but over this past year, I've found that approach working less and less well for me. Instead of bringing me excitement, my ever-expanding collection of patterns has been giving me decision fatigue. When patterns didn't turn out well I felt intensely discouraged. This has led me towards simplifying my sewing supplies and routines, so I've spent some time over the past two months sorting through my patterns and pulling many out for donation at the local creative re-use center I've only kept ones that I have had success with in the past and that have enough ease for current and future subtle changes in weight and muscle tone, or that looked promising enough to merit getting wearable muslin tests and a final decision over whether or not to keep them after all. Simplicity 9902 is one of the second small selection of patterns that I hadn't yet made up, but that I wanted to try.
I found Simplicity 9902 at the local creative reuse center, Clever Octopus, earlier in the year. It is a size 11/12 for young juniors/teens, but the measurements for this size are actually quite accurate for me, except for the shorter back neck-to-waist length. Keeping that in mind, I lengthened the pattern a bit over an inch. It has a bit of blousing now, so I could probably shorten it slightly if I wanted to, but the blousing also helps it have more ease for movement, so perhaps I won't make further changes. I also lengthened and widened the skirt to suit my own tastes. Since the shirt-waist has an elastic waist that is hidden under a belt when worn, it is forgiving to wear, despite looking rather neat and tailored in an early 1960s way because of the peter-pan collar and the subtly puffed sleeves with their small cuffs.
I made my test version in a thrifted cotton that I believe was originally one of the "homespun" line at JoAnn fabrics. I like the small navy blue plaid: it is versatile, and the cotton is soft and has a nice drape that suits the looser, gathered waist very well. This will be a good year-round dress because the cotton is light enough to wear comfortably in the summer, but is a dark enough color to look good in the fall, winter, and spring, layered with tights, a petticoat, sweaters, and coats. The buttons are also thrifted. Other construction notes: I did lots of edge-stitching to keep things looking neat, I made my button-holes by hand, the elastic is inserted in a waist channel made by sewing the bodice and skirt seam allowances together at the top, and I made small sleeve heads out of cotton from my scrap basket to help keep the tops of the sleeves puffed out.
I plan to keep Simplicity 9902. It is a sewing success, and I can see it working well in other cottons, linen, flannel or light-weight wool. It is one of those rare styles that looks good in all seasons and can be worn for most situations. I can imagine doing a summery version where I left out the waist elastic and made a loose pullover with short sleeves. I think there are many possibilities for adjustments and drafting new details. The fit is overall good, although I will add a warning to other women venturing into sewing the occasional teen size to check the waist length and that the arm holes may be a little smaller and higher than they are usually drafted for adults.
I have a few other patterns that I want to test out with wearable muslins, so keep an eye out for some new garments over the coming months, both here and on Instagram (when I can get around to taking photos for either platform---unfortunately it is very dark through the winter and occasions to take photos can be sparser than ever with the limited hours of day-light). I think that I will start repeating patterns far more often next year as I finish making wearable muslins and start experimenting with making pattern drafting adjustments to the patterns that I've kept in my collection. There will probably be some more paring down of patterns and styles as this process continues, too. I feel very drawn to greater simplicity at this moment, and though I think I will always like some variety of choice, I also feel attracted to experimenting with more of a "uniform," or at least a more unified set of variables in my closet to mix and match.
Mr Rat took these photos of me in my new autumn dress a few weeks ago on a weekend trip to Red Butte Gardens. It was cool enough to also need my newly thrifted wool coat, which required a few hours of mending and patching the lining to be in wearable condition again. I am glad that I did it, though, because I think this coat will be a firm favorite for many winters to come.
Do you prefer to sew new patterns? Or to make adjustments to what you already have? Have you ever been inspired to make a big change to your sewing pattern habits? Do you sew "uniforms" for yourself?
Recently I've discovered Evelyn Wood and her YouTube and Instagram accounts. She is a big proponent of mending and caring for clothes--she even introduced the hash-tag #mondaymending to encourage others to take an injured item of clothing and mend it once a week. She is also a big proponent of re-fashioning thrift store finds into something more vintage and wearable and attractive. She doesn't care for the term "re-fashion" or "up-cycle" or "thrift flip" or any of those other odd ways of describing turning a garment into something else to describe what she does to clothing. Instead, she suggests "garment renovation," a term with historical roots, as she talks about in this YouTube video.
I like "garment renovation," as I agree that it is an accurate way to talk about taking a used garment and turning it into a newly customized garment, very similar to taking an old, shabby house and renovating it into a newly livable space. Sometimes renovations take a few small changes, and sometimes it requires a total over-haul.
The garment renovation that I did on this cotton calico prairie skirt is somewhere in-between a small change and a large one. Unfortunately I didn't think to take a photo of it when I brought it home from the thrift store last month for $3, but I can tell you about it: it didn't fit at all. The elastic waistband was far too large, and even if I held it up at my waist, the hem dragged on the ground. But I really liked the dark green calico with its tiny sprays of flowers, that the fabric was in good condition, and that the skirt had a huge, full sweep with a nice hem. So I decided I would take this skirt home and renovate it.
The first thing that I did was to measure up from the hem about 28 inches and cut it all the way around with the aim of getting a finished skirt length of about 27 to 27 1/2 inches. This is a little shorter than a lot of my midi skirts--which can be as long as 30 inches---but it is long enough to cover my petticoat. I wanted to avoid the pockets at the top of the skirt and also make sure there was enough room in the fabric that I cut off of the top of the skirt to squeeze out a new waistband. Cutting out the waistband from the remaining fabric was my next step. I wasn't able to cut it out without crossing a seam-line in the fabric, so my finished waistband looks pieced together, but that's okay. Then I seam ripped 7 inches down one seam and inserted a green skirt zipper. Then I gathered the top of the skirt on my machine, attached the waist-band, inserted my favorite waist-band interfacing for stiffness, and finished sewing the waistband closed by hand. I sewed on a skirt hook and eye, and I was done---no need to hem, as I had kept the hem intact from the original skirt.
And now I have a nice new calico skirt with a big sweep---that fits!---where before there was a rather sad looking elastic-waist skirt sagging off a hanger in the costume section of the thrift store.
I'm pleased with this simple garment renovation and plan to do some more from time to time when I find something that I really like at the thrift store and want to fit better, or improve the look of.
Do you renovate garments? Do you prefer the term "garment renovation" over "re-fashion"? What do you think about taking apart a garment to make something different out of it? Is it a good solution to fast-fashion and the plethora of second-hand clothes available, or does it risk spoiling perfectly good garments in the effort to change them?
I started sewing again as an adult with the purpose in mind of being able to sew interesting and inexpensive clothes that fit well and covered my body enough to meet my personal and religious standards of modesty. But as I've sewn more seriously for the last seven years and blogged about it for the last four, I've found two other reasons to continue to sew my own clothes: fairness and responsibility. I didn't know very much about the environmental and human rights issues in the fashion industry when I started sewing and buying my clothes and fabric secondhand. It was a practical decision, based more on saving money and being able to find things that were more to my taste than what I could find in stores. As I've become more aware of the many problems that beset the creation, consumption and disposal of clothing, it has given those old habits a new value. Buying second-hand clothing and fabric and using my own time and energy to sew and mend them offer me a way to wear clothes without feeling a profound sense of guilt.
That profound sense of unease and guilt over personal enjoyment of fashion causing harm to other people and to the environment is at the heart of Clare Press' Wardrobe Crisis. Press works as an editor at Vogue Australia, and has worked all of her career in fashion journalism. Her inside-view of the fashion industry strongly shapes her book: much of it focuses on high end fashion and the way that it trickles down into fast fashion. She looks at the fashion cycle in great detail, and also delves into the history of fashion through the 20th century and into the 21st, showing how the fashion industry has changed and how it became a globalized behemoth worth $2.4 trillion a year at the time this book was published in 2018. One of my favorite bits of fashion history that she included in this section was the surprisingly Utopian ideal behind the development of shopping malls in America. What was meant to be a social center like the marketplaces of Europe became instead a vehicle for manipulation of customers by companies. That feeling of becoming lost in the mall and shopping mindlessly is now known as the "Gruen transfer," ironically named after the disappointed socialist who had so hopefully created the first malls.
While packed with facts and written in a conversational tone, sometimes the first half of the book could feel very irrelevant and distant from my personal experience, focused as it is on high end runway fashion, furs, labels, and money. There is much in the book to feel melancholy about---much to feel depressed by. The second half of the book felt more widely relevant because it covers quite a bit of the science behind the production of clothing and why it is so toxic to the environment and to the (often poor) people who turn the fabric into garments. The chapters about the history and creation of different fabrics like rayon and nylon is especially eye-opening. It made me realize how important it is to be very careful about our fabric choice as sewers, because sewing our own clothing is not quite enough to make those garments ethical or environmentally sustainable.
The last chapter, entitled "Can We Really Change Our Ways?" looks closely at the conundrum of clothing: it is harmful to over-consume it, but it is also empowering to have choices and enjoy what we wear. Buying second-hand or dead-stock----anything that already exists----is our best choice to clothe ourselves without harming people or the earth further. Tamara DiMattina, the founder of "Buy Nothing New Month," points out that there shouldn't be any stigma about wearing pre-worn garments: "when you book into a luxury hotel, you're not given brand new sheets, are you? You are using a towel that's been used by someone else, then laundered... No one goes to a restaurant and thinks, ewww, that cutlery has been used before, and yet people think it's gross to buy it second-hand..." She goes on to say: "I am no expert in sustainability. I'm just one person who thinks that through some very simple changes we can do better by ourselves and the planet."
In some ways, this was a tough library book to read because so much of the information in it is so disheartening. But I agree with DiMattina, and with Press that it is worthwhile to try to make those "simple changes." There is a saying in my church that "by small and simple things great things are brought to pass," and I do believe that if we each individually change our relationship to clothing (and food, and public transit, and so many other things that we make choices about daily) that we can make a difference together, and make this world a little better for everyone to live in.
Before I get into reviewing this pattern, please let me first thank all of you who left kind and supportive comments on my last post from the bottom of my heart. I really appreciate the advice, the sympathy, and the solidarity. And I also want to mention that I was (and still am, a bit) worried about posting about the challenges I am sorting through this year. It is a hard balance between sharing real struggles, over-sharing personal details on the internet, and maybe worst of all---coming across as ungrateful and complaining when I think there are surely readers who are facing far worse challenges with health, finances, loss, grief, heart-break, or any number of terrible burdens. I know that I have much to be grateful for, and I am grateful for the good things and good people in my life---even as I simultaneously struggle with a sense of helplessness and discouragement about the things and people that are not good or whom I have lost, the slow pace of positive change in my own life, and how much I yearn for many things that are not available to me right now. I think those feelings are something that anyone who is struggling can relate to, and that was why I chose to post about some of my current struggles here (at least those not related to family or friends, as I wouldn't feel comfortable posting about problems in a public forum like this that involve other people other than Mr R and myself). I hope that you will forgive me if I was at all insensitive in my last post.
Sewing does play a role in facing and coping with hard feelings because sewing can offer small changes, and dignity, and self-expression. I value all of those things, and I value the conversation that I have with all of you, and want to thank you again for being here. As this hard year progresses, I am trying to using sewing's good qualities to keep bringing small, good changes into my life.
Now I will write a short review of my latest summer blouse. I often cut out sewing projects in batches, as cutting out fabric on the floor isn't my favorite part of the sewing process, and then I can sew several projects in a row without having to stop and do that step again. So I've had this peasant-style blouse cut from 1970s era Simplicity 8305 for a little while. I decided after a few sewing flops earlier this summer that I should focus on the simpler projects: ones that I am pretty sure that I will wear and like. This pattern reminded me a lot of a black gauze peasant blouse that I had for several years in California before it wore out. I've never found another one at the thrift store, so I thought that I should finally make my own and hopefully fill that long-standing hole in my closet.
I'm glad that I did, because this blouse turned out well. It is surprisingly generously cut, which gives it a flowing look, and also gives me no qualms about any possible size-changes in the future necessitating its removal from my closet (as I mentioned in my last post has happened to a lot of my more fitted clothes over the past few months). The lightweight brown cotton voile has a raised pattern of dots that give it a little bit of interest, and made it a little more challenging to sew, as my machine foot and needle didn't like getting over the dots very well. But my old Singer is very sturdy and managed, and the voile is very light on hot days. The slit down the front was too low when I finished the blouse, so I sewed it up a bit by hand and it still fits over my head just fine, as the neckline is relatively wide in the first place. The fabric was a remnant I picked up very cheaply in the LA fabric district a few years ago, so I'm glad that I finally used it, and that now it is a versatile summer blouse that I will wear often in the heat.
After such a positive review, it may be surprising that I don't plan on using the pattern again. But about a month ago I found an almost-the-same 1970s pattern at the thrift store that had a skirt and vest pattern with it that I liked better than this current one----and it has a draw-string neckline, which would make the blouse a little more adjustable. So I plan to keep the new, thrifted pattern, and send this one back to the thrift store for its turn to get chosen and used by someone else. If you ever come across a copy, I would still recommend it as a simple, elegant blouse, with clear instructions, and not too difficult for even a patient beginner to make.
In these photos that I took on our front patio with our sunflowers, I am wearing my new blouse with a brown skirt that I made almost two years ago, and new brown clogs that I found at a recent trip to the thrift store with my mom. It was a great find, as my over-five year old black clogs just got too uneven on the bottoms to wear anymore.
Please look forward to a new post from Mr Rat soon! I took some photos with him of his most recent sewing project and I'm excited that he will share them here as soon as he has time to sit down and write a review of his own.
It’s probably apparent that Mr Rat and I have been struggling to keep up with this blog. We’ve both been facing---some new, some old----challenges in the past year and a half since we moved from California to Utah. I thought that it might be useful to look at a few of those challenges here, both to help me sort them out and make plans to hopefully adjust to or overcome some of these problems, but also to offer support to those of you readers out there who are facing similar or different challenges. Sometimes we need a reminder that behind the photos of the beautiful things that we wish to highlight and remember and share on the internet, there is a continuum of daily living that includes many real struggles that also need to be considered and acknowledged.
A few of the challenges that Mr Rat and I are facing that relate to our ability to sew, photograph, and share about our sewing here on the blog include:
Right now, I am trying to solve the sewing problems in a few ways:
I know that this was a lengthy post, and probably more for my own benefit to be able to write things down and think about them, but what do you readers think about these issues? How do you deal with changes to your body as you slowly sew a workable wardrobe? How do you deal with sewing for different climates when you move states (or countries)? Does your sewing act therapeutically for you when you are stressed or sad or depressed? Or does it become another burden when things aren't working out on your sewing table or away from it? How does your self-image and the way that it changes over time as you get older and more experienced change the things that you want to sew or the way that you present yourself on the internet or in person to the rest of the world? How do you balance sewing with the many other demands on your time and energy---especially during difficult times when you might be care-taking for a loved one who is sick, or helping a friend in need, or feeling overwhelmed with the demands of work or church or family or just getting from day to day?
How do you like to make sewing plans?
My own process tends to be simple: I sit down in front of our sewing cupboard, take out my book of patterns and flip through them while looking at our folded stacks of fabric. If I think of a combination that I like, then I sketch it in a small notebook, noting any changes or adjustments that I want to make, and look to see if I have all the notions, thread, and trimmings to complete the project that I envision. Then I cut the fabric out and put it in a basket next to my sewing machine, so I can sew it within the next few weeks or months.
But I do sometimes do a little bit more in the planning process, which I will share here:
- Sometimes I like to poke around Pinterest looking for inspiring clothing. While I rarely fully imitate something that I see, I don't think it is a bad thing to make a copy of a garment that you love, so long as it is for personal wear and not to sell (since I think that would be disrespectful to the original designer). But so often, there is something you want to or have to change---whether it is the fabric, the color choices, the trims, or the hem length. Still, when you are stuck and can't think of what you want to make, looking at photos for inspiration can stimulate new ideas. You can also search on Instagram, Etsy, or the Met website, for instance. Do you have any other favorite places to look for inspiration when you are planning out new projects?
-It's also very helpful to check PatternReview, especially if you are trying out a pattern for the first time. Sometimes someone else has made it, and it can be very useful to see what they thought of the pattern, its instructions, construction, etc.
-The other thing that I find helpful when I'm planning out projects is to spend some time pondering my wardrobe, my needs, and my preferences. The best way that I've found to do this is to go through the questions in Colette's Wardrobe Architect at least once a year. Having a page of notes of personal preferences, colors, shapes, and favorite patterns and details is perfect if you want to challenge yourself to sew a capsule wardrobe, or just focus your regular sewing on the practical things that you need and want to wear. Participating in Me-Made-May has always been helpful as well, since I after I complete my yearly challenge I have a month's worth of photos to look at to see which silhouettes and colors I wear most often, what gaps in my wardrobe I still need to fill, and which patterns I should sew again.
What tools and techniques do you use when you are planning out your sewing projects?
Out of the 75 or so garments that I own, only 11 are not homemade. Those 11 items include 6 thrifted items (2 excercise t-shirts, 1 winter coat--which I hope to replace with a homemade one this year, and 3 sweaters), 3 free gifts (my exercise hoody and jacket, which were gifts to my husband, and a turtleneck sweater that I got years ago at a non-profit where I taught drawing classes), and 2 store-bought items (my exercise leggings and an old black t-shirt that I wear under sweaters in the winter time).
That means that 85 percent of my wardrobe is homemade. If you don't include exercise wear, then 92 percent of my daily wardrobe is homemade. I'm slowly learning to crochet, so I hope that as my current sweaters wear out that I will be able to replace them with homemade, too.
The numbers in my closet are pretty similar to last year's. Every year that I've done a wardrobe evaluation, I look at those numbers and think to myself: "I could have a totally homemade wardrobe---I am so close! Maybe by next year it would all be homemade if I replace this or that thrifted item..." But when I'm totally honest with myself, I don't particularly want to sew my own exercise clothes (not to mention that my 1940s Singer doesn't have a zig-zag stitch, so sewing knits is not something I can do easily even if I did want to) or my underthings. I like some of the things that I've found at the thrift store, like the Nordic folk coat decorated with bands of colorful ribbons that I wore all through this past winter. It's okay to not have a wholly handmade wardrobe. Maybe someday I will, but then again, maybe my closet numbers will stay the same from year to year, and that's okay too (so long as my clothes all fit comfortably in my closet).
A closet is a changing thing----shifting to meet new needs, growing for new events, and hopefully, gradually becoming more personal, useful, practical and beautiful over time. Most things that I make get made and worn all the time, but there are still a few that hang wistfully in the corner, not getting used. Those are the ones that I hope to re-purpose or donate. I do this once or twice a year, which is another reason why even though I sew a lot, my closet numbers stay relatively constant.
I'm still working towards that goal of a well-loved closet, full of clothes that last. It's surprising to me sometimes how challenging that goal is---how shifting needs and desires and changes to our bodies and age and lives change the clothes that are needed and wanted. But some things do stay steady: a fondness for certain silhouettes and colors, certain items of jewelry. And that steadiness is reassuring, because even though things do flow and change, our closets remind us that all those clothes are just facets of one's own personality. Sometimes one facet shines in the light, and sometimes another one, but they are all sides of the same thing that we know intimately even as we discover more about it: that is to say, oneself.
Do you do a yearly closet review? What does your review tell you? Do you make goals based on what you know about the numbers in your closet?
Simple, lovely, white peter-pan collar blouse, I made you three years ago when we lived in Santa Clara, California. We were so poor then, and I sewed often to help myself feel clothed in dignity while I walked everywhere because we couldn’t afford a car. I bought your pattern quite cheaply online, only to be disappointed that a piece of the matching jumper tissue was missing. But you were all there, blouse! And I was happy to try you, and liked you so much when I first put you on. You were my ideal blouse: simple, feminine, with a slightly puffed sleeve, pretty cuffs, and a nice round collar. You fit so well, with enough ease to be comfortable, and shoulders that were narrow enough for my small frame. I remember taking my time working on you, even though you were made from an old, thrifted cotton sheet. I used shell buttons I’d harvested from an old shirt, and sewed up all the insides of the seams by hand to make them neat, and made my button-holes slowly and painstakingly by hand, too. I wanted you to be crisp and perfect----to make me feel good. And you did. And you still do, every time that I put you on. I’ve worn you to church and to the library, to family photos (you looked better in them than I did, blouse), to the park, to museums. I’ve worn you in sunshine and rain and snow. And I hope to keep wearing you wherever I go. I also hope to make some more sister-blouses from your pattern. Blouse, you don’t let me down: you are formal, you are informal----you can and do go everywhere. I’m grateful for you.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.