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 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.
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.
-Take your time while cutting and sewing. Patience brings the best results.
-Iron between steps. Press your seam allowances flat first, to ‘blend’ the stitches, then open, then on the opposite/right side of the fabric for the greatest crispness. It also helps to pre-iron your fabric (and pattern, too, if it’s wrinkly---just make sure to use a dry iron on the lowest heat setting) before cutting it out.
-Pre-wash your fabric. You will save yourself so much disappointment if you know how your fabric will behave in the wash, and it helps make the sewing process easier to have the sizing that is added to some fabrics washed away.
-Edge and top-stitch your seams. This adds a professional look to your sewing projects, strengthens the seams, and helps the fabric behave itself and stay crisp looking while worn.
-Finish your seams on the inside, too. It takes extra time and effort, but it helps your sewing projects get through the washing cycle intact, and makes your projects look good inside and out.
-Hand-stitching is more precise than machine-stitching, so don’t be afraid to spend some time with a thimble and a needle. Hand-baste difficult joins or trims, or add bias binding by hand.
-Sew on your buttons one at a time. After I finish making my buttonholes, I mark each button with a pin and sew them on one at a time, starting with the top-most button. This helps me keep the blouse or dress flat as I go down, and I can compare the position of each button to make sure they are even and properly placed. If I make a mistake and fabric bubbles above a button, I only have to remove and reattach the one button rather than a lot of them.
-Plan ahead! The more planning you do, the better you will be satisfied with your finished projects. Knowing what you like to wear, what fits are more flattering, what colors and cuts you like best, etc. will help you make good decisions when matching your fabric, pattern and trims. Consider doing some wardrobe planning, choosing a color palette, and/or creating inspiration boards before settling on your sewing projects.
-Don’t skip stay-stitching. It really makes a difference in accuracy and not letting important curved sections of your fabric stretch out before they’re sewn.
-Use a seam-ripper to unpick any basting or gathering stitches that may be visible after you’ve finished sewing a garment.
-Test your thread-tension on a scrap of fabric before jumping into your sewing project. Thread tension makes the difference between puckered and flat seams.
-If you’re uncertain about a pattern’s fit, make a ‘wearable muslin’ first out of an old sheet or leftover scraps. It takes extra time, but when you want a great result, extra time and effort are required.
-When gathering fabric, use 2 or 3 rows of gathering stitches rather than one. This will help your gathers look more even.
-Press your darts on a tailor’s ham, first on the inside of the dart, then on the outside of the garment. Make sure you never back-stitch at the ends of your darts, just stitch a few stiches flat against the very edge of the fabric, then leave the ends of the thread long and tie a knot and trim off the excess before ironing the dart. Pressing the dart on a ham helps give it a natural look and flattens the tips so they don’t look pointy.
-Plan some accessories for your finished outfits. Sometimes a garment doesn’t look quite right until it has the perfect jewelry, scarf, hat, etc. to finish the look.
-Take pleasure and pride in your work, and it will show in your finished projects!
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.
The Artist Sews Her Clothes II graphite on paper 2017
If any of you have ever looked on our 'about' page of this blog, you will probably already know that I am an artist, and have a website for my artwork at www.eowynwilcoxmccomb.com. Mr Rat and I have been visiting our parents in Southern California these last two weeks, which is why this blog hasn't been very active (I do have some new things to photograph and share once we go back north in a few days). While we've been down in LA, I had the chance to go out to lunch with an artist-friend who suggested that it is time I joined social media and started an Instagram account. While this account is for my artwork rather than my sewing, I thought some of you readers might be interested, so I am going to include the link here in case you would like to follow along: https://www.instagram.com/eowynwilcoxmccomb/
For those of you who are American, I hope you had a happy 4th of July. Otherwise, happy summer to all! We will be back with new reviews soon. We had a nice visit to the Los Angeles fabric district while we were traveling (they had the largest selection of cotton woven fabrics I've ever seen there---any LA sewers reading this, you should visit now to take advantage of all the beautiful shirting and gingham and striped and plaid fabrics they have for less than $4 a yard!), and I found some great vintage patterns at the thrift store during our visit, so we are well stocked for new projects.
Monday May 22
I wore my brown cotton blouse, my long brown skirt and my brown jade and ocean jasper necklace.
Mr Rat wore his first Hawaiian shirt.
Tuesday May 23
I wore my new black wool vest (reviewed here), my peter-pan collar shirt, and one of my black simplicity 7880 skirts. My brooch is a vintage sterling silver Taxco rose.
Wednesday May 24
I wore my bandana print dress.
Thursday May 25
The weather turned cold and windy and when we went walking I imagined myself on the moors of Haworth with the Bronte sisters. I wore my long brown skirt, my black wool cape, and a large black scarf that I crocheted for myself two winters ago.
Mr Rat wore his grey worker’s shirt.
Friday May 26
I wore my brown smock dress, my homemade red jasper necklace and a thrifted vintage shawl. Is it unseasonal to like to wear autumnal shades year-round?
Saturday May 27
I wore my black dress, my yellow-ochre jade hand-made necklace, and a thrifted wool shawl that I originally thought might be Ukrainian but turned out to be Japanese when I finally located its label.
Sunday May 28
I wore my tan striped dress, a vintage wool scarf and vintage brown leather gloves that, interestingly enough, were made in the American zone of Western Germany. When I read that on the inside of the gloves, I found myself holding them for a while, lost in thought, pondering their age and history, the tumult in which they were made. I wonder what woman bought them there, and how they came to end up in Northern California, soft with wear.
Monday May 29
This may be repetitive, since I already wore this dress several times this month, but my bandana dress was too perfect for our Memorial Day picnic to not wear it again. This time I wore it with my red jasper necklace and a blue shawl I found at the thrift store a while back.
Tuesday May 30
I wore my new tan striped shirt and one of my black Simplicity 7880 skirts.
My reflections on a month of wearing homemade: In some ways, it wasn’t challenging. I already wear my homemade clothes every day, and the only things I missed wearing were my few basic button-up shirts and my vintage jewelry that I’ve thrifted over the years. I have a few embroidered tops I wear on special occasions, and the rest of my non-me-made clothing are mostly sweaters, my single pair of jeans, and some jackets and coats. I do need to test out more of my jacket sewing patterns. It would be nice to have more homemade outerwear.
In other ways, though, it was surprisingly challenging. I had been looking forward to May, feeling excited to plan my outfits and make new combinations, only to find that emotionally the month was exhausting, the weather was unpredictable (rarely cold enough for my coldest weather homemade clothes and rarely warm enough for my warmest weather homemade clothes), and besides that, I was often too anxious and too busy with day-to-day needs to do much more than wear what I usually wear anyway. It was difficult finding time to take a photo every day, and sometimes I missed the chance to get a photo of Mr Rat wearing his homemade clothes.
Looking over the photos, though, it does make me realize a few things: My most common daily outfit is a shirt or blouse tucked into a full skirt (with long sleeves getting favored over short), I like wearing dresses, but rarely wear my full length dresses anywhere but church (perhaps this is a confidence issue, since they are not any less comfortable than my midi-length dresses), and as I wrote before, I need to sew some more jackets and maybe even a coat. I also realized that I favor my darker colored clothing and my white shirts more than anything else in my wardrobe.
So, Me-Made-May was helpful in its way. I think I have more direction now for my sewing projects for the rest of the year. I also finished sewing my vest this month, which was one of my new year’s sewing resolutions. It is always satisfying to achieve a goal, and satisfying, too, to have completed a challenge.
Did any of you participate in Me-Made-May this year, or during previous years? What have you learned from your experiences?
This is my second attempt at 1990s-era Simplicity 8620. The first version had shoulders that were far, far too wide for me, so I did a half inch narrow shoulder adjustment on this version. I feel as though it is a little too wide still, although the wrinkling the wide shoulders caused in the first version is not so obvious in the second, partly because of the soft drape of the rayon I used this time, I think. I got the rayon out of a remnant pile in the Los Angeles fabric district two years ago and it has sat on my shelf because I have been too frightened to use it. I’ve never sewn with rayon before, and have read on other sewing websites that it can be slippery and difficult to work with. But since my striped silk blouse (which was also sourced from the LA fabric district) turned out well, I felt like I should overcome my fears of using new fabrics and try it out. I suspected that Simplicity 8620 would do better with a soft and flowing fabric anyway, since it is so loose and unfitted and has no darts, and I think I was right. I’ll have to write a note on the pattern to only use soft fabrics with it in the future. Sewing with the rayon was challenging, but the soft folds of the fabric are forgiving, and if my edge-stitching is not perfect, it is probably not noticeable by anyone but me.
I used a lightweight interfacing to stabilize the facings and cuffs, and sewed my buttonholes by hand, as usual. I finished the inside seams very simply, mostly by pinking it and doing a line of stitching next to the pinking. The buttons are from a big bag I bought at the thrift store some years ago. They’re quite versatile in their plain simplicity, and I use them on a lot of my projects.
I’m wearing my new blouse with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, my home-made tiger-eye necklace, a thrifted pashmina shawl and a vintage silver ring that my mother-in-law gave me.
I’m sure I’ll be wearing this blouse a lot this summer, but I will probably give the earlier pink version away. Every time I wear it I am bothered by the extra wrinkles around the shoulders, and it diminishes my pleasure in wearing it. Do any of you have this problem too? I find that with store bought or thrifted garments I rarely focus on problems in fit or any other minor issues they may have (unless it is something I can fix, like a loose button, or a tear in the lining), but with my home-sewn garments I feel hyper-alert to any problems or mistakes and find myself worrying that they are obvious to other people when I wear my outfits out and about. Does anyone have any solutions to being overly or negatively self-conscious while wearing home-sewn clothes?
I don’t think it helps that the clothes I like to sew and wear are so out far out of the bounds of what is considered ‘normal’ and acceptable in the silicon valley (which is a very conformist place, much to the surprise of most people who live outside of it and think the vast numbers of Google employees that live around here must all be non-conformist. When in truth they all wear the same plaid or blue shirt to work every day and the same North Face windbreaker and expensive sneakers or leather loafers. It makes me miss LA, where all kinds of non-conformity were considered part of normal, and wearing something unusual was something to be enjoyed and appreciated). While I was wearing this outfit and Mr Rat and I were walking to the park with Gia to take some photos, some bicyclists rode by and made the comment, “a little early for Halloween, isn’t it?” Now even though I know what I like and won’t let other people dictate to me what I should wear, I do feel hurt when people stare or make insulting comments like that. Has anyone else had these experiences? How do you still step out with confidence in a community that is not friendly?
Does anyone have other anxieties about wearing their home-sewn clothes? I think Me-Made-May is a good time to ponder these interesting questions. I’d be really interested to hear about your experiences, or to read any suggestions you might have.
I made this blouse last summer thinking of the wonderful painter Frida Kahlo. She used clothing to shape other people’s perceptions of her identity, so that they remembered her as beautiful, proud, and queenly, rather than vulnerable, injured, and in constant pain from childhood illness and multiple surgeries. By choosing traditional Mexican clothes when her upper-class peers were wearing American-style clothes she chose her own history and made her divided identity (half German, half-Spanish-Mexican) whole in style, if not in fact. She was a woman who was not afraid of looking feminine and wore lots of lace, ruffles, embroidery, and beautiful jewelry. She chose aspects of herself that most people would see as weaknesses and made them her strengths, so that she was memorable, even unforgettable.
I used McCall 6437 cut to a size 8 for the basis of my Frida-Kahlo inspired blouse. I don’t think I will use this pattern again, because the fit around the neck and shoulders is poor for me. It is still a wearable blouse, but I would have to totally redraft the neck and shoulders of this blouse to sew it again, and I don’t think I’m likely to. The blouse itself is not hard to sew, so it could be a good choice for others. The fit is very loose and forgiving, and I like how it looks tucked into skirts. The arm-hole is very low, though, so you have to be wary of easily flashing some underwear when you raise your elbows.
I used bits of lace bought from various thrift stores to trim the yoke, the neck and the sleeves. The blouse is made of plain white cotton, and the button closure is just a simple white button from my button-box. My top-stitching ended up a little wobbly around the yoke, so I did some extra stitching by hand to make it more decorative, and I think that solved the problem in a nice way.
Even though my blouse is simpler than most of hers were, I think it does capture a faint reflection of Frida Kahlo’s beautiful style. It makes me feel more boldly feminine to wear it. Here, I am wearing it with a red jasper necklace and earrings that I made myself, and my brown skirt, previously reviewed here and worn again here.
Today is the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka Bangladesh. 1138 people died and over 2500 others were injured. This is an astonishing number to me, since every school I have ever attended, including college, had fewer students than that. While the collapse caused widespread shock at the time, it doesn’t seem to have changed very many manufacturing or shopping habits in the long term, something that the group Fashion Revolution is trying to change. Such an epic and tragic loss of life does not deserve to be forgotten, especially when there are millions around the world who still work in underpaid and unsafe conditions in the garment industry today.
Nicole, of the Artyologist, has a good introduction to Fashion Revolution week on her blog, or you can look at Fashion Revolution’s website for more information about the events they are hosting across the internet this week to raise awareness about the high cost of clothing manufacturing and clothing waste.
One of the questions Fashion Revolution asks is: “Who made my clothes?” I am pleased to answer that for the most part, I have made my own clothes. Out of the 70-ish garments that I own, over 60 percent is handmade by me, and those items that are not are by and large second-hand which in many cases I have repaired to make wearable again. Many of the items that are not made by me are things which I don’t have the resources or knowledge to make: a few knit items like turtlenecks, two special embroidered jackets that I found at the thrift store, a few heavy winter coats, two t-shirts, one pair of jeans, and some sweaters. I hope that as the years progress a larger and larger percentage of my clothing will be handmade, until when I am asked, “Who made my clothes?” I can simply answer, “me.”
The ethics of clothing are something we all have to consider every time we put something over our skin. The need for clothing is universal, and as sewers, we more than anyone know how much time and skill is needed to make the simplest item of clothing. I have been pondering some of the things we can do to improve our relationship with our clothes and to show more respect and gratitude for those who make them:
Mr Rat and I have decided to participate in Me-Made-May this year. My goal is to wear only homemade clothing and jewelry every day, and Mr Rat has committed to wearing homemade at least four times a week. We’re going to document our goals and hopefully update this website weekly with our progress throughout the next month. I hope it will teach me more about what else I need to make or things I need to change in order to have a home-made, loved wardrobe, full of clothes that feel right.
Do any of you have any other ideas to share about ways you’ve improved your relationship with clothing, your own methods for wardrobe planning, or how to make your loved clothes last?
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew