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.
We’ve been having a hot spell in California, and so I’ve been grateful for all the cotton in my handmade wardrobe. This was an outfit I was particularly pleased with for being cool but still interesting when I wore it last week on yet another 90 plus degree day: the blouse I reviewed here, and the recently completed gingham skirt I reviewed here. I made the citrine necklace, too, which I blogged about recently here.
There is something about the contrast of a white collar and cuffs on a dark dress that is always attractive to me. I am not disappointed with 1970s-era raised-waist collared dress pattern Simplicity 5497: it makes an attractive and comfortable autumnal dress, and even if the collar is larger in real life than the pattern envelope makes it seem, it is still proportional and nice looking with the long cuffs and the slightly puffed sleeves. I sewed my version out of striped black cotton that I bought at Michael Levine’s ‘Loft’ in the Los Angeles fabric district back in July. The Loft sells large pieces of remnant fabric by the pound, so most of the yardage I buy there ends up coming out to $1 a yard or less. I think this cotton was meant to be for men’s dress shirts, but there were two relatively large pieces of it, so I decided it would make a nice dress for early fall when the weather is still warm, and for later autumn and winter days worn with cardigans and heavier layers. For that reason, I left off the bow in the back of the bodice to make wearing sweaters easier and lengthened (and widened) the skirt pieces quite a bit, until they are at ankle length. I find that I like ankle length dresses and skirts a lot right now: they are easy to walk in without feeling tangled, and I never have to worry about them climbing up my legs in a stiff breeze. I think ankle length skirts also look nice with boots, like my favorite old Nine-West ones I’m wearing here.
Construction notes: I cut the skirt pieces on the selvedge wherever possible and pinked the other seams. I used a heavier interfacing for the collar and cuffs. It didn’t fuse very well, so they can look a little creased sometimes close up, but I think they turned out well enough all the same. My goal is to have wearable clothes rather than perfect ones. While I’m always striving to be a better sewer, I think it is better to accept minor flaws and consider them as part of the overall personality of a garment than to be continually dismayed over them. I edge-stitched the collar and cuffs, used bias binding to finish the waistline seam, and sewed the buttonholes on the cuffs by hand. I like the detail of the curved edge of the cuff---I think it echoes the collar shape and makes the dress more special. The buttons are from my thrift-store bought button stash.
Mr Rat took me shopping at our favorite thrift store the day before we took these photos, so I was happy to wear the new gold flower brooch I found on that trip with my new dress, and its matching clip on earrings (although they didn’t end up peering out of my hair in any of these photos). My hat is from the San Diego hat company, bought at the beginning of the summer via Amazon.
The monastery garden is starting to look more autumnal, even though the weather continues more hot than cool, and there are still flowers here and there, wilted but triumphant. Still, the leaves are starting to change, the earth is dry and brown under the olive trees and the redwoods, and the squirrels and spiders are all busy getting fat for the winter only a few months ahead. There are webs everywhere, which give the garden a haunted, mysterious aspect. Mr Rat got several lovely photos of a large and handsome spinner with her yellow stripes. She had built a web large enough to catch me had I been able to fly up above the bushes between two redwood trees. The industry of such an enterprise is astonishing to me----I can’t imagine what it would be like to crochet a blanket the size of a house (what I imagine a human-made-web might be like), or to construct a piece of architecture so enormous and so delicate. And yet spiders do it as a matter of fact, all the time. And when the wind or the rain blows down their creations, they find a new spot and start all over again.
-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.
“You guys have an awesome dayyyyyyy!!!!” the vagabond called to us as he hopped onto the back of his grocery cart and sped away down the sidewalk. We were taking a few photos in front of an abandoned drive-through fast food restaurant on a recent Friday evening. I speculate that it was once a Long John Silvers back in the early 90’s but its most recent tenant appeared to be a fast food Biryani Indian restaurant. I felt like the setting reminded me of some of the neighborhoods near the beach in Oceanside, CA where I spent much of my youth.
This is my second version of the Aloha shirt from the Japanese pattern company Sunday and Sons. I have decided that this pattern will be my go-to Hawaiian shirt pattern from now on. The fabric comes from Island Fabrics located in the fabric district of LA and is sold as “bark cloth.” I used the fabric reverse side out like all traditional Hawaiian shirts and carefully matched the pocket to the pattern on the shirt. I appreciate that this shirt has a slim fit since many Hawaiian shirts I come across tend to have a boxy shape. Although the shirt is fitted it still maintains flexibility and comfort since it includes pleats on the upper back and side slits at the bottom hem line. One thing to keep in mind about these Japanese patterns is that the sizing runs a little small. I use the large shirt pattern even though I typically wear a medium.
Hawaiian shirts have always been an important part of my wardrobe for both casual wear and dressy attire. The great thing about a nice Hawaiian shirt is that by changing from shorts to slacks you can go from the beach to dinner at a nice restaurant without too much trouble (and vice versa). I am really excited to have a pattern that reliable produces excellent results every time!
Note from Mrs Rat:
Usually we take our photos in local parks and the monastery garden up the street. They show one side of California: lush year-round flowers, redwood and olive trees, and lots of sunshine. But for Mr Rat’s most recent Hawaiian shirt, we decided we would take our photos at an abandoned restaurant near the grocery stores where we usually shop. It is the other typical side of California: empty, decaying store-fronts, palm trees, weeds and trash and broken glass, and of course---strange encounters. Mr Rat mentioned the encounter with a friendly homeless man while we were taking these photos----a few months before, in the same spot, we watched with astonishment as over a dozen police cars sped down the street (we found out later there had been a shooting at the motel a block away). A different homeless man was walking by and told us in a disgusted voice: “This happens all the time around here.” And it does----in California.
I almost gave up on this blouse the first time I tried it on. It brought to mind a quote from L M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: “Look at those sleeves! Oh it seems to me this must be a happy dream. . . It would give me such a thrill to wear a dress with puffed sleeves.” But the part of my mind that agrees with Anne was at war with the part of my mind that looked at those sleeves in agreement with Marilla: “The puffs have been getting bigger and more ridiculous right along: they’re as big as balloons now. Next year anybody who wears them will have to go through a door sideways.”
This blouse is a bit over-the-top for me, but the more I spend time with it since I finished it, the more I think it is not the sleeves (puffy as they are) that make me feel that way, but rather it is the large gingham check that makes the blouse a little overwhelming. But having now worn it out and about, enjoying the comfortable lightweight cotton (bought for $1 a yard at the LA fabric district a few years ago) and the good fit, I think I will keep it for the occasion I’m feeling quite bold. The black-and-white gingham does make me think of late summer picnics and autumn harvest celebrations. I think it will look good worn with my black wool vest, or one of my black jumper dresses.
In terms of construction: The instructions have you stay-stitch every curved edge before sewing, which took some extra time, but was worth it to keep the blouse from stretching out and losing its carefully mirrored pattern. I felt that the princess seams would be difficult (if not impossible) to try to pattern match, so I took inspiration from the post about gingham over on Vintage Gal’s blog where she mentioned that in the 1930s seamstresses would purposefully not match the gingham on their projects so as to conserve fabric and didn’t bother to try to match the gingham, only to mirror it on both sides. I pinked the inside seams and pressed them open, and sewed sleeve heads out of scraps of white fabric, as the pattern instructed, which help the sleeves keep their dramatic poof. The sleeves are actually long, with darts at the elbow, but in these photos I’m wearing them rolled up a little so they look below-elbow length. I made the black buttonholes by hand, as usual, and switched them from horizontal to vertical and changed the positioning so they were in the middle of each black square. The black buttons are thrifted, from my stash, and I sewed them on with white thread for a little bit of subtle contrast. To keep the self-bias neckline binding from flopping open at the top, I sewed on two small snaps. The instructions for early 1980s era Simplicity 5900 are quite detailed, and I got a good fit without having to make any adjustments to the size 8. I recommend it to anyone looking for an Edwardian styled pattern, or a pattern that has sleeves that would make Anne Shirley break out into dramatic exclamations of joy.
I am wearing my new blouse in these photos with one of my Simplicity 7880 skirts, and a homemade sash.
My library bag has looking rather pathetic, with holes wearing right through the quilted fabric. But I’m fond of it and I’ve had it many years----I don’t want to give up on it yet. I spent some time over the weekend patching the holes with bits of gingham left over from my dress, and now my bag is ready to take some books to the library again.
When a favorite cloth bag or garment starts getting holes, what is your solution? Does mending/patchwork add beauty and character to an object, or do connotations of poverty outweigh what interest visible mending might add?
Mr Rat says that this is his favorite dress (albeit a two-piece dress in this instance) I’ve made yet. We bought the fabric together at the Los Angeles fabric district last month for $4 a yard, which makes this one of the most expensive dresses I’ve ever made and shared on this blog. I’d estimate that it cost about $23 total, including the thrift-store bought buttons, thread, and the skirt zipper from JoAnns that I had already in my stash. I’ve had McCalls 6339 circa 1978 for a while and always felt a little intimidated by it until I thought to myself recently that truly it is just a skirt and a blouse---and even though the blouse has princess seams and self-bias binding on the bottom---that isn’t so hard. I’ve made button-up blouses before. And really, it wasn’t so hard, although it was somewhat time-consuming since I wanted the finish to be nice. I flat-felled and top-stitched the seams, bias-bound the inside of the arm-holes, stitched on the self-bias binding by hand, made the button-holes by hand also, and had to do quite a number of darts on the skirt before I gathered it. I’ve never seen a full skirt constructed in that way before, but it really controls the fullness around the waistband and gives it a nice, flattering shape. I didn’t make many construction changes to the dress: I left out the pockets since I usually carry a bag, I didn’t add the tucks at the bottom of the skirt, and I had the shorten the back of the blouse so that it didn’t wrinkle around the top of my hips. I think the next time I make it, I might try shortening the whole bodice a little bit, although this method worked fine; I just had to lengthen the bias binding a little to accommodate the new edge.
For its first debut, I wore my new gingham dress when we walked to the monastery on Sunday morning before church and watched the squirrels do astonishing acrobatic feats in the trees. There were lots of birds, bees, one fat and strangely hairless bumble-bee, and the aforementioned wildly active squirrels. Most of the garden looks very dry----summer in California is a brown time for the most part---but there were still a fair amount of pink blossoms to enjoy: oleander, roses, some curious-looking lilies, and the fuchsia bougainvillea. I hope your August is going well, and you have some flowers to enjoy, too.
Mr Rat complained to me that he didn’t have light enough pajamas for summer, so I decided I would surprise him by sewing him a set from the same pattern I sewed his Christmas flannel robe last year, Simplicity D0588, released in 2015. I made a size medium, same as the robe, but was rather surprised by how the fit turned out. The shirt top is quite large, which Mr Rat says is very comfortable, and the shorts fit well, but they were surprisingly short---certainly not the knee-length that the pattern implies. Mr Rat is 5 foot 10---perhaps the pattern was designed for a slightly shorter man? In any case, if you try this pattern, you might want to check the short length before you begin. I compensated by turning the hem up once and pinking it before sewing rather than turning it twice as I normally do hems, but the shorts are still a good two or three inches above my husband’s knee unless he wears the waistband low on his hips. I should have been smart and measured the length before cutting the shorts out, but I’m not sure I would have had quite enough fabric to make it differently anyway, given that I made the whole pajama set out of a twin-sized Ralph Lauren striped cotton sheet I found at the thrift store. It made very breathable, crisp pajamas, and was easy to sew, but it was a tight fit getting everything cut out and as many stripes matched as possible (including the pocket). Since I had so little fabric, I cut the facings out of some white cotton fabric scraps I had in my sewing basket. I finished all the interior seams by pinking them, and top-stitched all the hems and facings.
This pajama pattern has quite a few details considering it looks so deceptively simple. There is a front chest pocket, which is somewhat hidden by the stripes in the photos, side slits on the shirt, the shorts have a working fly closed with snaps, and the shorts also have side-seam pockets, which I made out of plain white cotton. I decided to cut the waist-band on a lengthwise stripe and use only one row of elastic, since my elastic was a little wider than what the pattern calls for (which they have you double in two waist-band casings, one above the other). Still, the pattern is not hard, and would be suitable for a beginning sewer, I think, so long as they had some patience. This was the first pattern that I sewed entirely on our new-old Singer 15-91 sewing machine, and it took me some patience to adjust to the differences between it and our old Singer heavy-duty. But our Singer 15-91 is truly the heavy duty machine that sews through multiple layers with ease, and even if my topstitching might be a little wiggly here and there on the pajamas, I’m really pleased with how well it sews, and I think I’m getting used to its pace and feel.
Mr Rat jokes that these are his ‘designer’ pajamas, since they are made of Ralph Lauren fabric. I joke that he could wear them to referee a basketball game, if anyone ever asks. He jokes that if I had cut the stripes the other direction, they would have been prison-worthy. He likes them very much though, and wears them every night.
We both joke that Gia is our dog rug, given the way she loves to sprawl on the floor like a bearskin.
Mr and Mrs Rat
Mr and Mrs Rat like to sew