All sewers face the dilemma of what to do with the fabric scraps left over at the end of a project. Most of us have boxes or bags or baskets of scraps taking up valuable space in our sewing storage. Finding ways to use those scraps makes our sewing pursuits more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and thrifty, too. Using scraps is a practice with historical roots: from the crazy quilts of the English Victorians to the boro patchwork or tiny fabric gifts called “omiyage” of the Japanese, who had a saying that if a scrap of fabric was large enough to hold three beans that it was large enough to keep and reuse. Fabric waste is a growing problem around the world with terrible environmental effects. Using up even the little scraps left over shows that we value the resources that went into the creation of the fabric that we use and the people who made it. When we re-use and re-cycle, we are doing our part to help make this world a little bit better place.
In honor of Earth Day and Fashion Revolution Week, I’ve put together a list of ways to use up scraps. Probably you’ve thought of many of these same ideas yourself, but maybe some of them are new to you, and hopefully all of them are interesting enough to inspire.
Do you have any other ideas or methods that you’ve used to use up fabric scraps?
This week marks the sixth anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,138 people and injured 2,500 more, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. Every year, the organization Fashion Revolution has marked that week with regret and respect by drawing attention to the dangers of the fashion industry, and prompting people everywhere to ask the question: “who made my clothes?”
And not just that question, but the many more that come afterwards: were they paid well? Where do they work? How did the fabric of my clothes get made, and where is it from? Are my clothes harming other people or this Earth?
There are lots of interesting resources on the Fashion Revolution website, if you take a look. They have fan-zines, events all over the world, and ways to participate by (among other things) asking brands, manufacturers, and policy-makers for more transparency and change in the way fashion is produced.
Reading about the current state of fashion is shocking: According to the Fashion Revolution website, in the USA alone, 10.5 millions tons of clothing are sent to landfills every year. That’s about 30 times as heavy as the Empire State Building. When you add facts about how much water and other resources it takes to create new fabric, how little clothing makers are compensated for the work they do in very poor conditions, and many other mind-boggling statistics----suddenly it is easy to comprehend how high the cost truly is for cheap, fast fashion.
Since we as sewers and seamstresses have the skills to make our own clothes, there are many things that we can do to reduce our own participation in the cruel cycle of fashion, and to hopefully help raise more awareness of the value of the clothes that we make and wear----and the great value of sewing, even in this modern, post-industrial world.
Since Fashion Revolution week, Earth Day, and Arbor Day all overlap this year, I thought that I would celebrate them in a small way by putting up a post every day. So, starting tomorrow, here are the posts coming up this week:
1.Ways to Use Up Fabric Scraps
2.Loved Clothes Last: A Love Letter to my Homemade Blouse
3. Yearly Closet Review
4. Making Sewing Plans
5. Inspiration: Patchwork
I stumbled across this illustration that Feodor Rojankovsky made in 1955 for Froggy Went A-Courtin' recently and thought----oh! It's a picture of me! Mrs Rat sewing at her vintage Singer, complete with glasses and long skirt and funny little necklace-brooch. I don't think I've seen a more charming picture of sewing in a long, long time. (And it gives me goals for how I want to dress---maybe a ruffled orangish blouse and bright blue skirt are in order. It wouldn't hurt to add more color to my life.)
I found 1970s-era Simplicity 7100 at the thrift store and immediately thought that it would make a great cleaning dress. As a housewife-artist, a significant amount of my time every week is spent cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, baking, gardening, and doing messy tasks in the studio like gessoing new canvases, sanding panels, or washing brushes. I don't mind cleaning---in fact, I find that it helps me focus my mind and dissipate my anxiety. Bringing a little order to my surroundings can help me feel like I am bringing a little more order to my head and heart. But I get tired easily---I'm not sure if that is an effect of my depression or a different health problem, and I have to admit that there is something discouraging about the endlessness of cleaning. No sooner do I finish my mundane tasks than it feels like I must start them all over again. Routine can be calming, but it can also be stultifying and sometimes exhausting.
One way I've learned to deal with the harder aspects of cleaning is to dress up for it. This might sound counter-intuitive, since you don't want to get your nice clothes dirty, and cleaning is by nature a dirty task. But I've found that having a few items of clothing that I've made especially for cleaning out of durable materials like cotton, twill, and denim, and also setting aside some older dresses that I've retired from wearing outside the house, means that I can clean without feeling frumpy and messy and unattractive. Feeling at least moderately pretty and neat while I clean means that the large amount of time I spend doing it doesn't feel so burdensome. It also lifts my mood to wear something that I like, and a simple necklace or earrings, too. I don't have to worry about the way that I look if someone knocks on the door, and I feel more dignified in general, which is very helpful when doing tasks (like scrubbing out sinks) that can feel very undignified.
So when I see an interesting smock pattern, or in this case, jumper dress, I often consider its qualities as a cleaning outfit. This pattern looked like a great cleaning dress. And I already had about 5 yards or so of heavy dark brown cotton twill that I found at the thrift store for $9 last fall, that I thought would work perfectly with the simple lines of the flared A-line jumper. Twill would make my new jumper nice and durable for all kinds of indoor and outdoor tasks. The loose shape and the larger size (10, when I usually sew an 8) also meant that it would be very comfortable. The pattern is sized for maternity, but I asked my mom whether she thought it would work for a non-pregnant body, and she said she thought it would. Her experience sewing her own maternity clothes was that they were cut looser, but were otherwise not very different from regular patterns. So I bought the pattern for 50 cents, took it home and noticed that the only thing different about it was that there was a little extra length drafted into the center front of the dress, so I lined it up with the back and trimmed that extra amount off. I did add about two inches to the bottom of the dress when I was cutting it out because I wanted to make sure that it would hit my legs below my knees.
The rest of construction was easy: I was careful to finish all the seams with faux-flat fell stitching to keep them neat and from fraying (I've found in the past that twill tends to fray badly). I sewed in the zipper by hand and added a hook and eye at the top of the zipper to help keep the neckline closed. I folded and stitched a narrow machine-hem. The neckline facing is also folded and machine-stitched, and I top-stitched the neckline and arm-holes.
Because the dress is so loose, it sometimes slips a little backwards on my shoulders, which can make the hem look a little off from the side. But it is a minor issue for a dress that turned out the way I had hoped: perfect for cleaning, for tough jobs, for getting dirty, for being comfortable.
In these photos I'm wearing my new jumper with a very old t-shirt (my one and only, since I usually wear button-up shirts and blouses), my trusty old Lotta From Stockholm clogs, and a necklace that I made myself from leftover beads from other projects. And please pardon my unruly hair! It's getting to that length where sometimes it curls under and sometimes out, and I can never tell what it will do in the morning.
Do you ever sew anything with very specific tasks in mind? Have you ever made an outfit just for cleaning in?
I've been intrigued by how many #makenine references I've seen around the internet over the past few years. If you're not familiar, it is a challenge set up by Rochelle New of the blog Lucky Lucille and the small business Home Row Fiber Co. The concept is to choose nine sewing (or knitting or crocheting, etc.) projects to be completed throughout the year at any pace. Since my end of the year review shows that I make far more than nine projects a year, and one of my goals is to plan out more of my projects in advance, I thought that I'd try to make two sets of "make nine" plans: one for cold weather, and one for hot weather. Utah doesn't have much in-between weather---it hardly ever hits the 60s or 70s. Mostly it is in the 50s or below or the 80s and up. So while we live here, I think it might help to have two defined wardrobe planning categories, and I thought I'd start by sharing the nine patterns that I have cut out and ready to sew over the next three months of winter.
Starting in the upper left corner and going roughly clockwise:
McCalls 5994 - I have the jacket and skirt cut out of thrifted navy pin-striped wool.
Simplicity 7752 - I thought this might work to layer under the jacket of McCalls 5994 as another option from the matching skirt. This is cut out of a thrifted navy cotton-polyester sheet.
Simplicity 9842 - This is also cut out of the same thrifted navy cotton-poly blend sheet. I'm going to make the long-sleeved version, which should work well year-round, and I can wear it with the navy wool McCalls suit for a monochromatic look.
McCalls 5766 - I cut this out of some black flannel that I bought from JoAnns on sale. I wear my flannel dresses a lot in the winter, and would like another option. This one will be maxi length, and I'm excited to try out this pattern and to have a cozy long dress.
McCalls 5771 - This one is almost done, actually. It is laying on my sewing table waiting to have the cuffs finished and buttons done. I made it out of a thrifted white sheet with pale grey stripes. I think this will look nice with my grey wool skirt or grey wool jumper.
Simplicity 7880 - I just cut out a new version in black flannel, to add some warmth to my selection of skirt bottoms for the colder months. I wear my other versions a lot, but they are mostly made out of broadcloth, and I need some heavier, warmer ones.
McCalls 5531 - This is going to become my new brown wool winter coat (although lengthened, and with the skirt widened a little). My mom gave me the wool for my birthday, and I have it cut out, as well as brown flannel left over from another dress I cut out for interlining the bodice and sleeves, and lining that I bought using a birthday gift card from JoAnn fabric stores.
New Look 6073 - I started sewing this before I got my coat supplies, and have been taking a long time finishing all the hand top-stitching, which is why I haven't started my coat. But I'm getting close to finishing, and I think I should be able to wear it over my coat for extra warmth on extra cold days. This is made out of thrifted camel colored wool and thrifted rayon lining (a really lucky find, especially considering it is in a matching, slightly darker shade of camel-gold!).
McCalls 6209 - I have this cut out of brown flannel, also bought on sale at JoAnns.
I do have two other projects I'm tempted to add in, even knowing that I might not get all this done during the winter months. The other two are a black and white cotton-poly blend dress that would work for the warm months, too, and a brown twill jumper dress, which could also be worn year round. So if I don't get to them yet, they will probably be on my warm-weather list. And if I don't get to all of the projects I have cut out, I'm not too worried. I will just start up again on them in the fall, as they are all things I want to wear, and I will still need warm clothes next winter, too.
When planning out sewing projects (especially nine at once!), it's hard not to think about the time needed for the projects, the patience, the skill-----the endurance. When I was writing this post, I wondered if "thoughts on patience" might be the right title, but then I felt like endurance is more accurate: sticking with something until it's done, even if it is tiring, or hard. Mr Rat and I were having a conversation about sewing and other people's perceptions of it. When he tells his coworkers that he likes to sew, or when I mention that we sew to people at church, we both experience the same reaction: sewing is generally seen as being too time-consuming, and scary to start doing because it requires the acquisition of so much skill. But like making art, or learning a language or a musical instrument, it is really endurance that is required most of all. There are two important steps in sewing: first---to get started, and second---to stick with it. Mr Rat and I started this blog almost three years ago to record our projects and to make that record public in case our sewing pattern reviews and the other things that we post might be helpful to anyone else. But Mr Rat wondered if our current intermediate to advanced level of sewing might seem daunting to a sewing-newcomer, which made us both reflect on how we got started sewing. It was messy! It was frustrating. I learned the basics as a child, and I can assure you that there were temper-tantrums and crying on the floor, and claims that I'd never get over being scared of the machine. Anything that we do with our hands requires muscle memories built up over a long period of time to really get comfortable and skillful. Mr Rat just decided to recycle two of his oldest self-made shirts into fabric he can use as patches on new shirts. And they look so different from his most recent shirt, finished three years later. I had been sewing my own clothes as an adult for at least three years before we started this blog, so my first wonky projects are not on the internet. But I remember them, and how when I made them I wished to be better, and sew more complex things. And years later, I am a better seamstress (although striving to get better, still) and I can sew my own coats and capes and complicated blouses and dresses (with tucks and handmade buttonholes and darts that are not bubbly), things that I struggled to even attempt when I first started sewing regularly again.
I just wanted to mention this as an encouragement to the beginners, as well as all of you more experienced sewers: it's important to keep on enduring. Practicing is the only way to get better, and even if it is tiring, it is worth while. Because after a year, two years, a decade. . . then you can look back and see that elusive progress that you dreamed of. The process may feel hard, just like looking at a long list of projects can be daunting at the beginning. But I know that over months of an hour spent here or there at the sewing machine and the ironing board, these projects will get made and posted about here, and then I will get to have the pleasure of wearing them, and feeling like myself every day. And getting a little better at sewing along the way. All of our goals have to be reached one step at a time, and just sticking with it----enduring----is how to get there. It doesn't take anything more special than to just keep trying.
Mr Rat and Gia ---- walking into the future
Before we make new goals, I’d like to take a moment to see how I did with last year’s goals.
-We definitely used a lot of thrifted fabrics, buttons, trims and sheets for our sewing projects. I think we did a good job saving money by continuing to purchase most of our supplies second-hand and sticking to our budget.
-I did sew more skirt sets, and many of the things I sewed mix and match well. I didn’t make a capsule wardrobe, per se, but I think that I’m gradually moving in that direction as I increasingly plan and cut out several projects at a time.
-I did challenge my sewing skills with a vintage Vogue and a Folkwear pattern, but I still haven’t sewn either of my Jean Muir patterns yet. Still, I learned how to make tucks and pleats, among other things.
I think that we did well with our goals for 2018, and the ones that we’ve made for 2019 have a lot in common with last year’s:
-To use what we have: as I mentioned in the last post of year-end reflections, Mr Rat and I already have enough fabric in our cabinet to keep us busy all year long, and many patterns that we haven’t tried out yet. I think we are getting better and better about being selective about what we purchase, especially since we don’t have a lot of storage space. So this is still a goal for us going forward: to use what we have, and to make minimal purchases that aren't to help us finish projects that we already have the supplies and patterns for. I am interested in learning some basic pattern drafting and adjustments, so I can take patterns that I already know fit well and give them different sleeves or necklines or collars, etc. I have two sewing books that cover some of this information----perhaps 2019 will be the year when I crack them open and give them a try! If you, too, are interested in stash-busting over the next year, I thought that this series of blog posts called "Stash Less," by the Craft Sessions, were really interesting reading.
-Mr Rat wants to make 2019 his year of pants-making. He hasn’t found a pattern that he really likes yet, so he is going to focus on trying out his various pants patterns and getting a good fit. He also has some shirts made with tried-and-true patterns planned out (and one in progress).
-I would like to do a couple of slow projects over the next year: the first being my brown wool coat that I’ve already cut out and need to start sewing. I’d also like to try to make an embroidered blouse, and maybe also some more heavily embellished dresses, with pin-tucks or ribbon trims or eyelet edging. My favorite dresses are monochromatic, or the trims vary only in shade or are simple white on black contrast. I will keep that in mind as I plan out some more complex projects to do alongside my simpler ones.
-Another goal that we have together is to try to be more regular about taking photos of our projects (there were quite a few that never got photographed this past year) and posting. It would be great if we can post once a week, but even twice a month would be a very respectable goal. I think it might also be nice if we tried out some other kinds of posts, as well: sewing and pattern-drafting tutorials, outfit posts where we take a photo of our previously finished sewing projects and how we wear them differently from day to day (and year to year), maybe some more posts about jewelry making (I haven’t done any of those in a long time!), inspiration, historical, and discussion posts, how to repair and maintain clothing and accessories, and thrift store/antique store finds.
What are your new year’s sewing goals? Do you make sewing goals, or just go with the flow of what the year brings you? Are there any types of posts that you’ve enjoyed reading here on the blog and wish we would do more often? Or types of posts we’ve never tried that you would be interested in reading? I can’t promise that we will manage to do many different posts than our normal pattern reviews right away, but we are curious about what you are interested in----this blog is a conversation with you, the readers, as well as being a document of our sewing-related endeavors and it’s always nice to know what you are thinking about.
I think that this year I will write my end of the year sewing reflections in a slightly different format, looking at Mr Rat's and my successes and misses through the year in some detail so we can use that list to help plan for next year. One of the things I’ve learned from two years of participation in Me-Made-May is that being thorough in reflecting on past projects does make for clearer and more cohesive thoughts when putting together future projects. This might take a while, and may not be too interesting to anyone but myself, so feel free to speed-read or even skip through this post if you are busy. So here is my (I think complete---hopefully I haven’t missed any projects) list of 2018 sewing projects:
Blogged Successes –
McCalls 7291 tweed cape-jacket
McCalls 4968 grey wool jumper dress
Simplicity 5639 square neck pullover blouse- both black and muslin versions
McCalls 6209 navy flannel dress
Simplicity 7880 and Simplicity 7460 tan striped skirt and blouse set
Simplicity 9470 navy camp shirt with tie sleeves
Folkwear Lindy Dress - dark red floral Indian cotton shawl-collar 40s style shirtdress (my sister ended up giving this back to me as it wasn’t quite the right fit for her, and I’ve worn it a lot more than I thought I would when I first finished it---so this one is a surprise success for me)
Butterick 6914 brown check empire waist maxi dress
All of Mr Rat's projects were successes: his tan linen shirt, his new rayon aloha shirt, and his as-yet-unblogged flannel pajamas.
As Yet Unblogged Sucesses - (some of these got worn during Me-Made-May, so there are a few photos of them above, and others are recently finished makes from the fall of which I have no photographs at all----yet)
Simplicity 3573 striped cotton nightdress (previous version of this pattern blogged about here)
Simplicity 3573 robe pattern sewed up as a lightweight denim coat - see photo above
Simplicity 8131 brown cotton voile tie-neck blouse (previous version of this pattern blogged about here) - photo above
Simplicity 7886 blue roses cotton maxi dress - photo above, from Me-Made-May 2018
McCalls 3483 rust colored corduroy smock dress
Muslin peasant blouse – I’ve lost the vintage pattern that I used, so unfortunately I can’t give you the patter number, but I changed the sleeves from a gathered long sleeve to a elbow length cropped sleeve anyway, so it looks rather different than when I first finished it. I like it a lot though, and when this version wears out, I think that I will take it apart and use it to make a pattern for future versions.
Maybe Successes? (these are patterns that fit well, but I’m still trying to see if these particular garments that I made from them will have a permanent place in my wardrobe)
Simplicity 8611 golden jumper dress
Simplicity 7752 little pink flowers peter pan collar dress
Butterick 6469 light blue gingham maxi dress
Simplicity 7880 and Simplicity 5204 green skirt and vest set
Butterick 3846 high waisted wide leg denim jeans (unblogged)
McCalls 6209 rose print cotton dress
McCalls 4038 birthday patchwork maxi prairie dress – this is a beautiful dress, but I doubt I will make this pattern again because the fit is very snug! And the style is not particularly suited to my everyday wear with a shaped and faced hem that is so long that I have to wear heeled clogs underneath to not trip while walking.
Simplicity 8620 white wide collared blouse – this blouse pattern only looks good in softer, more flowing fabrics, and my choice of white cotton was just too crisp. I ended up giving away this pattern this year because despite several tries at sewing it (I did like the shape of those sleeves a lot) I never liked the way the blouses tended to untuck themselves at the sides while I wore them. I think this is because they had no bust darts to give them shape and keep the sides neat.
Butterick 3953 striped top – this pattern didn’t have enough ease at the hips to sit nicely over my full skirts. I also haven’t been wearing scooped necklines often since we moved to Utah because my skin has become very sensitive in the dry and polluted air of the Salt Lake valley. I ended up giving this blouse away, even though I liked the fabric and the trim.
Simplicity 9486 gingham maxi dress – even though I let the seam allowances out a bit while I was sewing it, this dress ended up being uncomfortably tight around the rib cage. I ended up unpicking the zipper and saving it and turning the bottom of this dress into a skirt, which will probably appear on this blog sometime next year.
Simplicity 7460 v neck floral blouse – I like my second version of this pattern so much better. The v neck ended up being a little too low and because the blouse is so loose, it would shift around as I wore it, which made keeping the neckline modest quite difficult.
Vogue 1231 – this dress was a great learning project: I learned to make a pleated skirt and to do tucks, and I followed the rather complicated and sometimes vague instructions of a vintage Vogue pattern for the first time. But I didn’t end up wearing the finished dress very often---the pale blue tended to stain, and I didn’t end up liking the big bow on a looser silhouette on me very much----I think it exaggerates my child-like body shape. I’m also not a big fan of elastic waists, even when it is rather well hidden, as this one was.
McCalls 2592 and Simplicity 7880 in green and pink Indian-style cotton. I think I didn’t end up wearing this set often because of the color. It looked just fine! But it isn’t a color that I turn to often, so I rarely picked it out of my closet, and wore my previous denim version from last year far more often.
Simplicity D0739 1950s skirt in tan twill. This pattern is fine, but I need to start using waistband interfacing and maybe go down to a size 8. I don’t much like the way most of my previous versions slide around on my waist after I’ve tucked my blouse in, and this particular pale tan twill tended to get Gia’s hair stuck all over it, which made it hard to wear.
What I’ve learned from my lists: I’ve been productive this year! I think I’ve averaged 2-3 finished garments a month. Mr Rat finished three projects this year---probably not so surprising given that he’s had to work long hours and our weekends have been busier than ever with lots of family events to attend. Knowing our average sewing output is really helpful when making sewing plans for next year. Looking over our fabric choices in our sewing cabinet, I can see that Mr Rat and I already have enough fabric for a year’s worth of projects. This means that we should be realistic and buy little or no fabric this year if we want to use up most of what we already have.
Knowing our sewing output and also my disappointment that five of my outfits that I sewed I ended up giving away (and that there are another couple of projects that I’m still on the fence about) makes me think that I need to be more organized in the way that I plan projects. Usually I keep a paper in my pattern notebook with a list of things I’ve learned about my preferences from doing Colette’s Wardrobe Architect. This year I was experimental and strayed from my favorite colors, prints (or lack thereof----if I am being honest with myself, I don’t wear a lot of prints from day to day) and silhouettes fairly often. While sometimes this worked out surprisingly well, oftentimes it ended up that I made something that I found interesting and pretty but didn’t want to wear very often. So I think I need to refocus my color scheme back to my favorites: black, white, navy, grey, brown, blue and cream. And I think it will be helpful if I plan out my sewing projects a month in advance, or even two or three months at a time, ‘capsule wardrobe’ style. This will help me make garments that are more versatile and worn longer, I hope. I won’t give up on experimenting altogether, but maybe I will limit projects that stray from my list to once every two or three months, working on things that I know will be practical and useful the rest of the time.
I’ve found making this list and pondering it very helpful as I’ve started putting together a post about Mr Rat’s and my sewing goals for next year. I think that I will try to make a year's end list again next December, too. Are there any methods or tools that you’ve found especially helpful as you plan out your sewing projects? Do you make year end reflections on your sewing, or new year’s goals? I’m curious to hear about your process, if you want to share in the comments.
(an older photo, but a personal favorite of me sewing in our last apartment in my homemade brown blouse and brown skirt)
I'm a little slow catching on to internet sewing events since I've left Instagram, but one that has caught my attention (albeit a little late) is Slow Fashion October, hosted by Karen Templer of the Fringe Association Blog. As I recently switched the clothes in my wardrobe from summer to autumn and winter wear, I pulled a few things out to give away that I haven't enjoyed wearing as much as I enjoyed sewing them. It was a disappointment to me that I wanted to give away some of the things I've made over the past year, and it made me feel that though experimentation is and can be helpful (how else do we know what we like, if we never try anything new or different?), I would like to have more focus in my sewing projects and I would very much like to make things that I want to keep and wear until they are fully worn out. This year's Slow Fashion October seems to be all about that theme: sorting through one's wardrobe and giving it a lot of thought through discussion prompts, interviews and readings, and then using what you've learned about yourself to make more mindful decisions about acquisition, making new items, and the difficulties of giving away or re purposing what isn't being worn in an ethical manner. It is so hard to live as harmlessly as possible! But a recurring theme on the Slow Fashion October discussions is that small steps help, and we can each do what we can to make a small step or two every year.
To help myself regain some focus in my sewing projects, I think I will fill out the prompts from the Slow Fashion feed, and then I will probably do Colette Media's Wardrobe Architect again. Wardrobe Architect is a series of blog posts that help you write about the many things that influence your sewing choices (from body shape to climate, color preferences, silhouettes, personal style philosophy, etc.) and end up with a page or two of information that will help you plan your projects with more confidence that they will be items that are heavily worn, rather than rarely taken out of the closet. If you've never tried it out before, I'd recommend it---and it's free.
My sewing goals don't really fit in with the current sewing challenge from Closet Case Patterns and True Bias to "Sew Frosting," but that's okay with me. I'm still planning out some challenging and exciting projects alongside the more pedestrian ones (such as some simple wool skirts and a new cotton nightgown), like making myself a winter coat with fabric I got for my birthday---I think it is more practical "cake," or even bread, really, than "frosting," but it will be a special project for me nonetheless, and I'm looking forward to spending time hand sewing and underlining and doing all the other lengthy details that go into constructing even a simple coat.
For some sewing inspiration, here are some new-to-me links that I've recently discovered:
- I'm going to try listening to the Love to Sew Podcast this week while I sew. I haven't listened to their podcast before, but they have some interesting topics like 'sewing struggles,' 'planning projects,' interviews with notable sewing business owners and bloggers, and even an episode on 'the financials of sewing,' (something that doesn't get discussed often, but I'm very curious about, since one of the reasons I started sewing seriously again was to save money----a reason I don't find often openly shared in the sewing blogosphere).
- I may not sew very many 1940s patterns, but I enjoy seeing the beautiful projects made by people who do. Two 1940s sewing bogs that I've been enjoying are: the Ugly Dame and Ms 1940 McCall.
-I've really been enjoying the autumnal hues of Goody McGoodface's vintage outfits on Eat the Blog. Her amazing purse collection has inspired me over the past two months to try my hand at sewing some of my own bags to match my outfits, which I hope to share here soon. Her jewelry collection is also enviable (and an inspiration to those who make some of their own jewelry, like me), and altogether her boldness in getting dressed is always inspiring.
-I've also enjoyed following Folkwear's blog. Their patterns are rather new to me, and I find them intriguing. I like Folkwear's emphasis on ethnic, historical and vintage fashion. Molly Hamilton always has interesting advice on fabric choices on her blog, and also photos of finished "art wear" that are really impressively made.
Another Bastheva prairie dress----this one is from Oroboro
Laura Ashley dress photographed by her daughter Jane Ashley - for more more of her photos, visit the Laura Ashley Archive
1970s Laura Ashley prairie dress (sorry, I can't find the original link)
Velvet prairie dresses by the Vampire's Wife, also known as Susie Cave (photo found on the Red Carpet Fashion Awards website)
front and back of a vintage Gunne Sax prairie dress from the FIDM blog
Lately I've been reading some of the many many articles popping up across the internet about the revival of prairie fashion: like this one from the NYT ("Pioneer Women Are Roaming the City"), or this profile of Batsheva Hay by the New Yorker, or this piece by the Washington Post. The Washington Post article, though short, is also the most positive and thoughtful. Robin Givhan recognizes why prairie styles are so surprising to so many onlookers, and also so intriguing to the women who wear them: ". . .there's no hiding in these clothes. They are provocative but only because they are so darned civil and precious and sweet. They don't swagger. They don't brag. Their power is in everything that they refuse to be."
The New York Times piece is more biting, making references to the Donner Party, the TV show Big Love, and "Amish dowdiness," but it is also perceptive, making connections between the resurgence of prairie style with current political and economic anxiety, and also the the fluctuating relationship most women have with modesty during a moment when sexual injustices against women are being exposed in the news. Still, my overall impression of Chloe Malle's article was one of ambivalence: a mixture of mean jokes with genuine interest and curiosity.
The article on Batsheva Hay in the New Yorker is interesting, too, not least because it profiles a woman living in an Orthodox Jewish household who is now one of New York's most popular new fashion designers. Her interest in prairie styles is also not without conflict---a mixture of affection for the modest and feminine looks and rebellion towards the way they have been presented and perceived as restrictive and repressed.
It's this recurrent theme of ambivalence towards historical women's clothing as being symbols of repression and oppression, and the association with "cults," that makes me a bit puzzled. When and where have women ever held equal social status with men? We are still striving for that elusive equality today. What is left for women to wear if we don't wear clothing that references the past?
And what clothing of the past can be more associated with feminine strength than prairie dresses, which are named after the garb of the pioneers? Pioneer women of the mid-1800s were the Victorian counter-cultural rebels: they walked from one side of the country to the other to follow dreams, opportunities, the chance to have more choices than many of their female peers and to be respected as essential members of their households and struggling communities. Pioneer women were adventurers; they showed courage by facing hardship, disease, and hunger on the trail and in their new homes on the very edge of the known world.
I can't really see how their clothes can be used as particular symbols of female oppression, given that the women who wore them were straining against the bounds of what the "gentler sex" were thought to able to accomplish at that point in history.
When I was in college I wore a long calico dress with puffed sleeves to school and got teased by one of my classmates that I looked like a fundamentalist polygamist cult member. Historically, this is an exaggeration, too. Some of my ancestresses were polygamists on the Mormon trail, but some of my husband's ancestresses were pioneers on both the Mormon and Oregon trails, and they were adamantly monogamous. Whether or not I agree with the choices my predecessors made in regards to marriage, I'm proud of their strength and courage to leave what they knew behind and make new lives out of scratch in the desert and the mountains.
I like the historical associations of prairie dresses. I also like the way they look: they have a wide, feminine, and varied vocabulary of print, pattern, ruffle, and puffs. Prairie dresses aren't boring---they are individual, and interesting, and brave, and sometimes bold---much like the women who wore them in the 1800s and again in the 1970s-1980s, and now.
What do you think about prairie styles? Did you wear them, and do you wear them still? Are you interested in trying them for the first time? Do you find their historical associations troubling, or interesting?
Photo of the Crisman sisters taken in 1886. They were homesteaders in Nebraska. Photo from the Denver Post website.
I finished this blouse a while ago (and took the photos a few weeks ago, too) but kept delaying making a post about it. The pattern is a Simplicity E.S.P. (Extra Sure Pattern) from the late 1970s or early 1980s, judging by its cover. I made my version out of a twin-sized navy cotton-blend shirt from the thrift store and on-sale thin-line buttons from JoAnns fabric stores. It all came together well and easily except the collar, which somehow was missing its notched look the first time around. I'm not sure if I was clumsy when I was cutting it out and it ended up a little long, or if it is a small flaw in the pattern itself, but I fixed it easily enough by unpicking the collar a little and making the seams smaller where the notch is---hard to explain, but it worked to make the notch visible between the upper collar and the shirt top where the bottom collar folds over.
The blouse has several interesting features: a yoke with gathers in the back that extends into a forward shoulder seam with gathers in the front. I forgot to cut a yoke lining when I first cut out the blouse, so I used a piece of blue and green plaid cotton from our scrap basket, which gives it a nice bit of secret interest on the inside. The sleeves are actually sewn into two parts, which are sewn together and the bottom and overlapped at the top and then eased into the armholes. They have a narrow seam along each edge, and then tie over the arm. When I started wearing my shirt, I found that they were flopping open all the way to my shoulder when I reached for things, so I sewed the top of the slit together for about two inches so the sides of the sleeves don't move around and gape so much.
I really like how this blouse turned out: a practical, camp-style shirt with a little extra style and interest in the sleeves. It is easy to wear, easy to wash, and cool and comfortable in this summer heat.
In these photos I'm wearing my new blouse with my three-year-old ochre skirt, which unfortunately just got a hole last week. It was in an obvious part of the skirt near the waistband. I couldn't figure out a way to repair it inconspicuously, so I took out the waistband interfacing, the zipper, and the skirt hook and eye to reuse on other projects, and put the rest of the skirt in the scrap basket (to get used as rat bedding for Daisy and Marigold, most likely).
I've been thinking a lot about the problem of fairness, and how difficult it is to attempt to be fair in one's actions towards others in a world where we are born into such radically different and often unfair circumstances. It is hard to try to live morally and ethically; it is surprisingly hard to live while causing as little harm to others as possible. We are often implicated in unfair practices just because we are ignorant that those things are happening on the farms where our food is grown, or within the factories where the items we buy and use daily are made. This article from Vogue Australia brought this dilemma freshly into my mind with its revelation that the fashion industry is the second largest industry in the world that practices slavery, right behind tech gadgets and just above fish, cocoa and sugar cane. The article quotes from the most recent Global Slavery Index that about 40 million people are trapped in slavery worldwide-----a truly heart-rending statistic. 71 percent of those enslaved people are women.
I don't mention this article just to make us saddened or to open our eyes to pain of others (although I think it is a good think to be aware of the pain of others---so we can do what we can to alleviate it). I mention it so we can consider that our efforts to sew our own clothes are never a waste of time. Yes, clothing may be cheap and plentiful and we don't have to spend time making it ourselves. But that kind of fashion comes at a great human cost, much greater than the pleasant hours that we spend sewing our own clothing. We sewers know that every time we put a hand-made garment on our bodies, we don't have to wonder if someone suffered to make it. I think that is a wonderful gift, and I'm thankful for it every day. I hope that we sewers can help educate other people to have more respect for sewing and the skill and time it takes to make clothing. If we join the growing movement to help garment workers gain fair wages and good working conditions (Fashion Revolution has interesting ideas about how we can help agitate for change), then everyone who gets dressed can share our innocent and untainted pleasure in putting on our clothes.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew.