I feel like I have a few things to apologize for: first, that I've been somewhat absent around here. I mentioned in my last post that January was tumultuous and I was sick for a rather long portion of it. Second, that my new tweed cape-jacket made from McCall's 7291 is so wrinkly in these photos! I tried steaming it with my iron but the wrinkles didn't want to come out. I'm going to take it to the dry-cleaners to get it professionally pressed when my husband takes his suits to be cleaned, but I wanted to take some photos of it, and we haven't made it to the dry-cleaners yet. Hopefully we'll go in the next week or two, and the next time you see this jacket on the blog, it will look much more crisp. And third, I apologize that the quality of the photos is varied. By the time we walked to the park with Gia to take these pictures most of the sunshine we were hoping to photograph in had already disappeared. So only a few of these photos have even a little sunshine or warmth or color in them, and some of the photos are very cool-toned indeed, and even a little blurry (although that can be interesting, sometimes).
This project was a somewhat frustrating one, and I have to admit that at least twice I thought of giving up and not finishing it. But I'm glad I pressed on, because I like how it turned out very much. The tweed is also very warm, even if it wasn't very nice to me while I was sewing it. I used McCalls 7291 (which is still in print, I believe---I think it got released a year or two ago) as a base for what I wanted. I didn't like the way it is drafted on the envelope to hang open in the front, so when I was cutting out the fabric I widened the front pieces and the front facings so that they would overlap. I also decided I didn't want to add the collar onto my version, since the tweed is heavy and scratchy and I thought it would be easier to wear scarves with with my jacket (as I did here), or a collared blouse where the collar could peek over the top, without the collar getting in the way. The tweed is from a church rummage sale I attended with a friend some years ago, and the facings are cut from a scrap of flannel leftover from one of my husband's sewing projects. Some of you longtime readers might recognize the tweed from a Christmas present I made for my husband three years ago. I used all of the remaining fabric to make my jacket, and it was not only wrinkly, but badly-behaved. It liked to move about while I was sewing it, it was too thick to make rolled hems, and it frayed all over. My solution to these problems was to only sew the main seams on machine and hand-sew everything else. I top-stitched the seams by hand so they would stay flat and fray less. Then I hand-stitched bias binding (also thrifted---I was lucky to find two packages of the same 'seal' brown I used on all the visible parts of the jacket, and I used some green for the arm-holes, which are hidden by the cape-sleeves) to all of the edges, which made dealing with them so much easier than trying to wrestle the tweed under the sewing foot any more than was necessary. It took a while, but I am pleased with the result. Even though up close it is apparent that the bias tape is hand-sewn, at least it looks even, and it gives the jacket more visual interest. I finished the buttonholes by hand as well, and used some brown tortoise-shell style buttons from my stash that were probably harvested off of one of my husband's old and worn out jackets.
Once I get this jacket pressed, I can imagine wearing it a lot. The fit is good---close but not tight, and it looks nice with full skirts and dresses, like my flannel dress I'm wearing with it here. I think the McCall's pattern is better used as a base for drafting than sewn the way it was designed. But I may well use it again if I come across the right piece of fabric. I like the flared cape-sleeves, which easily accommodate puff sleeves worn underneath, yet are long enough to keep my whole arm warm.
I am grateful it is February because we are that much closer to Spring. I hope you are well, wherever you are, and enjoying the beauty around you, whether it is the greenery of the south or the stark white and grey of the north.
I'm sorry for the long pause around here. Like many Americans this winter, I came down with a nasty case of the flu that has lingered into a bad cough that is still going away. I've still been able to do some sewing and crocheting (when you are stuck in bed, crochet is a nice change from reading all day), but I haven't been able to go out and photograph the things I've been working on. Especially the unseasonable spring dress I finished recently----I'm not sure when I'll get to photograph that one. But I sewed it because I wanted to remind myself that warmth and sunshine will come again, even if it will take some months to get there.
In the meantime, here is a peek at a recently finished skirt (worn with my homemade wool peplum jacket) until Mr Rat can take better pictures of it. He snapped this quick photo while I ventured outside long enough to feed our neighbor ducks. We were lucky enough to still be standing nearby with the camera out when our most elusive duck-neighbors, the mandarins, came through our yard. They have such beautiful feathers. Whenever I see them against the snow, I think of Japanese woodblock prints.
I hope you are all healthier than I am at the moment, and enjoying the beauty of winter (or summer, if you are in the southern hemisphere).
My most recent dress reminds me of Jane Eyre, both for its somber color and its whimsy. The pattern I used was McCall 4968, circa the 1970s. I sewed it in a very lovely grey wool worsted with a subtle herringbone weave that I found at the thrift store a few years ago and only recently had both the confidence that I could sew with it and the need for more warm wool clothing to push me forward into cutting it out and making it into a dress at last. This may be one of my more eccentric dresses, with its little flutter sleeves, but I like it: it is warm and comfortable, and the sleeves make it special.
The sewing process was pretty straightforward: I edge-stitched all the seams to help them lay flat and crisp. I also pinked the edges of the fabric on the inside since I plan to wash this dress very gently and the wool is very firmly woven and not prone to fraying. I stitched the darts down so they would stay flat, a detail I've noticed on some wool jackets at the thrift store. Since even thin wool is still thick in layers, I was careful to grade my seams and gathers where they met. To make sure I didn't get a rippled zipper, I interfaced the edges of zipper opening before I stitched the zipper in by hand. The only part of the sewing process that was particularly difficult was sewing the facings over the gathered sleeves and trimming the allowance, then flipping it to the inside and top-stitching the outside. I had to unpick my first attempt and try again, because it was hard to manage that many layers of wool in such a small area as the arm-hole and have a neat finish.
Mr Rat was kind enough to take some pictures of my new jumper dress on our Sunday morning walk to the local park with Gia. Other than a few red berries, there isn't a very wide range of colors in our world right now: mostly shades of grey and white, a little bit of dull green, lots of soft and faded yellow ochre, brown, and the bright blue of a winter sky. We're due for a big storm that is supposed to blow in tomorrow, so the world will have even less color the next time we go walking. I hope wherever you are, you are staying warm, and enjoying the post-holiday peace of January.
Berthe Morisot Pasie Sewing in the Garden oil on canvas 1882
by Hazel Hall
The wind is sewing with needles of rain.
With shining needles of rain
It stitches into the thin
Cloth of earth. In,
In, in, in.
Oh the wind has often sewed with me.
One, two, three.
Spring must have fine things
To wear like other springs.
Of silken green the grass must be
Embroidered. One and two and three.
Then every crocus must be made
So subtly as to seem afraid
Of lifting color from the ground;
And after crocuses the round
Heads of tulips, and all the fair
Intricate garb that Spring will wear.
The wind must sew with needles of rain,
With shining needles of rain,
Stitching into the thin
Cloth of earth, in,
In, in, in,
For all the springs of futurity.
One, two, three.
Well, since I have made and reviewed this same skirt pattern very recently, I will be brief here: this time I sewed it in some cotton sateen I bought in the LA fabric district early this year. The sateen pressed well (and I was careful to use a press cloth so as not get shine marks from the iron) and I finished the seams very simply by pinking them and using black bias binding from my stash to finish the bottom hem of the skirt. I think the next time I make this pattern I will use waistband interfacing to stiffen the waistband. In my previous denim version the fabric is stiff enough to hold itself up, but in this version it rolls a bit after I've been wearing it all day, especially if I've been sitting down, so I usually wear it under a vest, like here, or with a belt.
I'm wearing my new skirt with a white button-up shirt, my homemade black wool vest, some thrifted black leather gloves, my rubber snow-boots, and my silk William Morris scarf that I inherited from a very kind friend.
Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it! And happy holidays to everyone.
First, some reflections on the sewing goals I made for 2017:
Well, I didn’t succeed at not buying new patterns! I still bought patterns from the thrift store and off of Ebay, although I think my pattern-buying was more targeted than it has been in the past, since I have been sewing long enough to know which patterns fit well (late 1960s-early 1980s size 8), and have a better idea of what styles of clothing I like to wear and are interesting to sew. I do think I succeeded at trying more of the patterns I already own, and reusing patterns that I have used in the past. I would like to continue doing both of those things in 2018.
While I can’t say that I didn’t buy new fabric, either, we did make a dent in our thrifted and fabric-district bought stash. Since most of our fabric is second-hand, I don’t think not buying new fabric until our stash is used up is a realistic goal to keep for 2018. When we find nice fabric at a low price, we buy it for future use----I don’t think that’s a bad way to fabric shop, so long as our stash does not overwhelm our apartment, and I don’t think it is in danger of doing that.
I did sew several wool pieces this year (like this vest, this cape, and a dress I have yet to post and review, among others), so I would say that this goal was a success. Now that I have more experience sewing with wool, I will keep working on using the thrifted wool in our stash. I can imagine some other vests would be nice, and I have a tweed cape/jacket cut out to get around to sometime, and I would also like to make some more wool skirts, since my grey wool skirt has seen a lot of use, especially since we have moved to an even colder climate here in Utah than we ever faced in California.
I did find a vest pattern (as I mentioned already above) that fits pretty well, and sewed some long-sleeved blouses, and some jackets, and some dresses----although no aprons yet. So those were successful goals, too.
And now, some new goals for 2018:
- To continue saving money by using thrifted fabrics, buttons, and trims, old sheets, and inexpensive yardage for our sewing projects. Even though Mr Rat and I are more comfortably off now that he's started his new job than we've ever been before, we still have savings goals to meet and the rest of Mr Rat’s student loans to finish paying off. This means that saving money is as important as ever.
- To sew more complete outfits, or even capsule wardrobes. While my sewing projects tend to be easily mixed and matched because of my general focus on a mostly neutral color palette (with black, white, off-white, beige/tan, brown, navy, and grey predominating), solid color fabrics, and simple silhouettes such as full midi-length skirts, midi-to-long dresses and elbow-to-long sleeve blouses----still, I would like sew more outfits that go together, like my gingham dress set from last summer. I also think the idea of a capsule wardrobe is intriguing, because it would make getting packed for trips to visit our family in California even easier.
- And lastly, to challenge my sewing skills by working on some projects with more complex embellishments or new sewing techniques, like pintucks and pleats. My main goal here is to use some of my vintage vogue patterns---I have two Jean Muir patterns I would love to try in 2018, especially the yellow one on the right, which is a pattern my grandmother made for my mother when she was young!
What are your sewing goals for the new year? Did you make sewing goals for this year? Were you successful in keeping them?
This is the first Christmas season that Mr Rat and I have had a full size tree to decorate. Our tree is still pretty modest, bought for a mere $20 from Savers, and not any taller than I am----but we are so pleased to have a chance to hang the ornaments we've been given and bought at thrift stores the last few years. Of course, there weren't very many ornaments, since we've never had a big tree to hang them on, and so our new tree looked very sparse. After considering all those empty branches, I took an idea from the miniature tree we've been using the last five years and pulled out my Japanese origami paper and made peace cranes, which I then threaded with sewing thread loops. I also had some fabric that a friend gave me years ago with a lovely pattern of Renaissance rabbits playing instruments at a feast. So I cut them out and cut matching backs from a scrap of pink and cream ticking striped cotton, and sewed them together and stuffed them and added white ribbon hanging loops. Between all the handmade ornaments and the candy canes we bought at the grocery store, suddenly our tree didn't look so bare anymore.
Have any of you been working on Christmas sewing? I've made a few presents by hand, including some jewelry, and also stuffed toys for Gia using the leftover fluff from stuffing the fabric ornaments, but I feel like the hand-made part of my holidays was mostly ornament making this year. Although there is still holiday baking to be done, so I suppose our hand-made Christmas is not done yet. . .
And here is the miniature tree we've used the past five Christmases, with its handmade crane ornaments that I folded out of wrapping paper. The rest of the tiny ornaments are from Michaels craft stores and bought at thrift store Christmas sales.
I hope you all are having a good start to your holiday season! My own got off to a rough start with a bad case of laryngitis last week, but hopefully the rest of the month will feel better. I wish you all a festive, peaceful, and restful December.
Mr Rat and I went to Southern California to visit our parents for Thanksgiving, and oh it was sunny and warm! Thanksgiving day hovered around 90 degrees in my parents' backyard, where Mr Rat and I took these photos of my newest attempt at 1990s-era Simplicity 8620. Although I like the pattern, I haven't had much luck with my last two versions: the first (reviewed here) was too wide in the shoulders and the fabric wrinkled badly and didn't drape well enough to really suit the looseness of this blouse pattern. The second (reviewed here) had wonderful drape, but the first time I tried to wash it I made the mistake of putting it in the washing machine on the delicate cycle and it came out weirdly warped and unwearable. I should have tried washing it by hand.
This version is made from a mystery floral fabric that I found at the thrift store a while ago. It has a gentle drape, and I suspect it is actually a lightweight wool, given the hand of the fabric and the way it behaves under an iron. It frayed badly, so I was careful to finish all my seams, mostly with a faux flat-fell finish, and to bind the armholes with some grey rayon seam binding that was also from the thrift store. I decided to use self-covered buttons, which I made with a kit from JoAnns. The fit is the same as my last black rayon version, with a narrow-shoulder adjustment, although this time I decided to add the large collar, which ended up being rather dramatic, but looks nice with the bishop sleeves, I think. I edge-stitched all the seams, sewed the button-holes by hand, and sewed two snaps to the top of the button-placket area, to help keep the blouse closed and neat where the collar meets.
Although the style, color, and pattern are somewhat of a departure from my usual earth-toned solids, I'm pleased with how this blouse turned out, and foresee it being a versatile blouse for all kinds of weather---the lightweight wool making it warm in cooler weather and wicking away moisture to keep it cool and comfortable in warmer weather. On Thanksgiving day I wore it with a homemade necklace made of autumn jasper and my brown Simplicity 7880 skirt (reviewed here).
Now that we are back in Utah, we are also back to grey landscapes, grey clouds, and heavy coats. How do you adjust to the weather when you are sewing? Do you readers always sew seasonally? I thought this blouse might be unseasonable, but I think it turned out to be just right for November in California, and I am hopeful it will make many reappearances here in Utah in the spring.
Simplicity 8458 is one of the handful of 1950s-era vintage reproduction patterns that Simplicity released this year to honor their 90th anniversary. I bought a copy during one of JoAnn's 99 cent pattern sales recently and decided it was worth a try. I've never had much luck with a-line skirts before because my hip and waist measurements are varied enough to be one, if not two pattern sizes apart, and so when I've tried sewing a size 8 (which is the best fit for my waist) sometimes the skirt won't fit over my hips, but when I've tried larger sized patterns, the waistline is huge, and when I've tried to grade the patterns to different sizes at the waist and hips, the skirt hasn't fallen into the proper folds. So this time I pulled out some denim I bought at the thrift store a few years ago that had some damage on it: a few small holes and a little bit of staining that wouldn't come out in the wash. I decided to try a size 10, and cut around the damage on the denim, and was surprised at how well it fits! The waistband is slightly looser than most of my skirts, but isn't extremely large (and is also easy to slip sweaters into). I think it also helps that the skirt is very flared, which makes it easier to pull on over hips of any size. The total flare of the skirt is probably close to a half-circle skirt, maybe a bit more. The skirt is designed with four gores, cut on the bias----it is important to follow the pattern layout for this skirt, because it has you cut out each piece in a single layer, and getting them at the right angles is very important for the skirt to hang well.
Even though I'm not wearing it with a petticoat in these pictures, it does accommodate a petticoat well, and flares nicely when I do wear one. I like that now I have an alternative skirt pattern to my normal gathered dirndl skirts, and that it doesn't add any bulk around the hips when I'm wearing it with a peplum blouse or jacket, like here, where I paired my new skirt with my denim peplum top I finished last month.
I top stitched all the seams and used a thick gold metal denim skirt zipper, for durability. Sewing this skirt is a simple process, but it is important to follow the instructions, even though there are few of them. The skirt has to be basted and hung out overnight so the bias can stretch out before you sew the panels together. It is also helpful to remember to sew from the bottom to the top on all the seams (the pattern reminds you to do so) so the stitches stretch in the proper direction. The instructions for attaching the waistband were different than my other skirt patterns----it has you finish the waistband with edge-stitching from the outside, rather than folding and finishing it on the inside, and the pattern doesn't recommend trimming the seam before sewing the waistband closed, which I found made the waistband stiff without having to add waistband interfacing. Since the bottom hem is heavily curved, I finished it using navy bias tape I thrifted a long time ago and had in my stash. I used a method like the one Bianca from the Closet Historian describes here.
I'm wearing my denim outfit with a thrifted shawl, a big tiger-eye brooch (also thrifted), thrifted leather gloves, and boots that I originally thrifted several years ago and had re-heeled earlier this year. Given my denim, buttons and bias tape were all thrifted too, I feel like I can truly claim that you can find most things you need second-hand shopping. Sewing doesn't have to be expensive. Neither does getting dressed in an interesting way.
I'm very pleased with how this skirt turned out and I've been wearing it a lot since I finished it. I think it is a practical, year round skirt, and could as easily be worn hiking or cleaning as taking a walk in the park.
Mr Rat was kind enough to take these photos while we were out walking with Gia in our local park. The weather is very grey most days, so it is very challenging to get good photos. The landscape has turned very stark: all shades of brown and grey. But there are beautiful bright berries on the bushes, and the evergreens are still dark green.
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?
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew