Category Archives: sewing

The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Fern Green

“…I must wander off here to remark on the self-hate involved in those descriptions of ordinary human body parts.  In primitive cultures people get old, and when they get old they wrinkle and sag and get wise.  And their wisdom is recognized as adding value.  And I’ll bet you that old women in those cultures don’t look at their upper arms and cry.”~ Excerpt from Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life and Vegetables by Joan Dye Gussow

My big boys surprise me with the first ferns to venture out of the snow each spring, like Jem traditionally bringing the first may flowers to Anne.  They know that by winter’s end I’m desperately craving green and growing things, so they scout out a little spot they know of, a sheltered space, tucked under a cliff.  When they were younger there were clumsy attempts at secrecy that left me surreptitiously averting my eyes and feigning obliviousness.  As they have grown in maturity and discretion, a vase or two does just appear for me, seemingly out of the blue.

This is not the first time that I’ve undertaken the making of a custom wardrobe for myself.  During my last pregnancy I worked to compile a nursing-friendly wardrobe.  The pictures in this post are from that time.  Keep in mind I am 3 and 6 weeks postpartum, respectively, so do be kind in your thoughts.

This shade of green was an experiment for me.  It’s not one of the usual core colors that I gravitate to, but I felt like it had the potential to be.  I didn’t think I could know for sure until I tried.  It’s a keeper!  Part of why I’m posting this now is that this shade is popping up in many places in my life right now.

Having done this five times now, you would think that I would remember that perfectly innocent tops very quickly become outrageous to the point of near indecency.  With Mairi I remember popping on a formerly benign dress, looking down, and feeling a bit scandalous, going to seek a mirror.  On my way I encountered toddler Galen, who looked at me with hands on his hips and asked, “Why your na-nas stickin’ out?!?”  No mirror needed!

This was the first time I wore this green dress after having given birth and I very quickly (though clearly not quite quickly enough!) realized that a camisole underneath was a must.

It was made just like this dress*, only longer.

Things I liked about this dress:  The color!  The length.  Ease of nursing.

Things I hated about this dress:  The 4-way stretch fabric!!!!  It was murder to work with.  I’ve never had such a frustrating time with cutting out in all my life.  And it shows every single little bump, bulge and roll, up to and including panty lines and every bit of that required cami.

I had enough of it left that I managed to eek out a second dress….

Which you can’t really see!  It’s just like this one, only green.  Both the blue and green versions succumbed to too many days working in the garden, but they were pretty much my summer uniform for two years running.

  Lesson learned; keep the color, ditch the fabric.

What’s your go-to color palette?  Do you ever try to branch out?

*Looking back at that post I am laughing at myself, having just gone through a phase where I was making everything in blue, followed by an all-brown run, followed by a splash of green.  Apparently I’m ridiculously predictable!

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Simplicity Seeking

First off, I want to say thank you for all of the kind comments on my last post.  I’ve read them all, several times.  And I wish I had the time to write back to each of you, but that’s just not possible right now.  I sincerely thank you for the words of comfort, encouragement and support.

This week I’ve been planning a handcrafted wardrobe on a smaller scale, for my dear Mairi Rose, who is very much in need of clothing for the autumn.  I came up with a pretty simple plan with just a handful of different patterns and shapes: a basic sweatshirt-tunic type thing*, a playdress, leggings.  I have a pajama pattern that I might alter to make her a pair or two of elastic waist slacks with elastic gathers at the ankles in a sturdy fabric for hiking and climbing trees and that sort of thing.  And I think I’ll do a basic, quick and easy peasant dress for nighties and maybe cut it short for a blouse or two.   I’m really proud of myself for keeping my plans minimal and reasonably do-able.

I realized that this sort of simplicity is really what I need within my own wardrobe making endeavors.  A set of capsule patterns for a capsule wardrobe.  Easier said than done.

I was once invited to join a group of dear women in encouraging each other to be creative.  While I was honored to be asked and delighted to be involved with these lovely women, I was totally baffled by the idea of needing encouragement in this area.  Frankly, if people really wanted to help me out, they would create some sort of support group that teaches people to resist creative urges.  Or perhaps find something that could just siphon off all those surplus creative juices that so often turn me into an inspiration fueled crazy person. Because, like so many other areas of my life, this is what happens when I come up with a good basic plan…. the “and maybe…”s start up.  And maybe I’ll make this alteration to that pattern and this one and that one, effectively turning into drafting an entirely new pattern, which is neither quick, nor easy, nor simple.  Or I’ll come up with a collection of basic patterns and maybe decide that I should just add in a few other ones just for fun and maybe a few to add interest, etc., and it snowballs.

Less stress, streamlined sewing, comfortable basics, these are really what I need right now, so I must find a way to gag the muse and get on with it.  Perhaps if I just keep uttering the words, “Keep it simple, keep it simple, keep it simple” over and over again?

Do you think you could come up with core patterns to be repeated for a basic wardrobe and stick to it?  What would you include?

*I now see that this pattern has been retired, so back to the drawing board on that one.

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Refashion #1

Remember that lilac colored men’s sweater?  I didn’t want to do anything drastic with this one.  I wanted to use as much of it as possible.  And really all it needed to be wearable was a better fit and to be a touch more feminine.  It started out like this…

And became this….

Goodness that side view there feels a little scandalous!  Forgive me.  I was just trying to get a visual for you of the altered shape.

For those who are interested in clothing construction, or reconstruction as the case may be, I started by cutting off the sleeves and cutting down both side seams.  I used a shirt that fit well through the shoulders and bust as a cutting guide and sewed everything back together again once the excess had been removed.  I left slits along the lower portions of the side seams because I didn’t like the way it bunched and was gathered around the band at the bottom and wanted it to hang freely and also because it allowed it to drape rather than bag in the front.  I’ll probably be layering it over a long camisole or tank top, which I should have done here, but didn’t think of when I threw it on for these quick pictures.

Taking in the shoulders and bust meant that the sleeves were raised up and naturally became the right length.

And finally, I popped it in the dye pot because that lilac color isn’t really me and in this house anything that light would be stained within moments.

To dye it I used RIT Dye in ‘Wine‘ and the bucket method, which is incredibly simple. Instructions can be found all over the internet.  It’s less purple than it appears in some of these photos, in reality a true deep burgundy.  My only complaint about the color is that I thought I used 100% cotton thread, but I must have used a cotton/poly blend, which didn’t pick up the dye at all and unfortunately that shows a bit in some places, though I doubt most people would notice without it being pointed out.

Now what I really need are some pants to wear with it!  In these photos I’m trying to stand so that you can’t see the holes in my junky leggings.  For the record I’d rather wear this with trousers of some sort.  I don’t think I’d feel comfortable wearing it out in public with just leggings (but I’m willing to post pictures of myself wearing it that way, effectively broadcasting them to the entire world.  I know, it makes no kinds of sense.)  At the moment I own a couple pairs of the afore mentioned thin and holey leggings.  All of them have holes.  Terribly indiscreet holes.  I try to hide them with dresses.  Also a pair of ill-fitting, hand-me-down, sweatpants from Iain.  Also with holes.  And the velour leggings that I posted before, which I still haven’t gotten around to fixing the waistband on.  I think if I don’t come up with a plan on this front, it’s going to be an awfully chilly winter.

What is on your absolute must sew list this season?

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Holding and Held

What to say? Galen has started work on Christmas presents.  Cucumbers and zucchinis are coming in.  The chickens are getting big…soon there will be eggs. It remains to be seen whether or not we will be able to eat them. At a time of year when most other gardens, ours included, are a fiery mass of colors, our front garden is having it’s white moment. It’s calmly beautiful, though short lived.  My favorite crimson rose is about to bloom again.

I’ve barely been knitting at all.  My head is swimming with lesson plans and meal plans and sewing projects and cold weather house preparations to be made.  I’m envious of mothers that have childless periods of time in which to think and work uninterrupted.  I could be so much more effective if I had the mental and physical space to plan and prepare.

The chickens aren’t the only ones growing.  I’m keenly aware that not just one, but two of my children will be able to vote in not the current, but the next presidential election!  I have two high-schoolers this year.  Iain is actively working through the state required steps for getting his driver’s license.  This growing children thing is getting serious!

My “baby” is no longer a baby, but an extremely active, clever and mischievous young girl, perhaps the very 2ist two year old I’ve ever encountered.  Last week when she was doing something naughty and being quite cheerful about it, I told her it wasn’t funny and she looked at me and replied, “I laughin’…”

This week marked a right of passage for my oldest daughter as well.  After many months of comments like, “There are only two people in dance class who don’t have their ears pierced.  You know who they are?  Me and Galen.”  And being assured that having pierced ears makes for a loving sister, with a sunny disposition, who does her chores without complaint and always remembers to put her clothes in the hamper, etc.  We finally agreed to take her to get her ears pierced.

Not being one to take for granted that the conventional way of doing things is always the best way and feeling really uncomfortable with the idea of some random kid at the mall putting holes in my child’s body, I did my research first.  Based on what I read, I decided that a professional piercer using traditional methods (as in a needle, not a gun) was the way to go for our family.

I nervously gave her some relaxing and pain relieving herbs in the waiting room before hand. She didn’t even bat an eye.  She didn’t flinch or whimper or cry, her eyes didn’t well up…she was just totally chill.  That girl is pretty hardcore.  We’re using chamomile tea bag compresses now, in addition to regular saline rinses, to help with healing and reduce the risk of infection.  She’s pleased as punch.  I don’t think there has ever been a gift she’s liked so much.

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Just for Fun

I’m somewhat at a loss.  I had planned what I wanted to say, but nothing went as planned, right down to these very pictures I’m sharing.  And really I just want to have a little temper tantrum and kick my feet and scream.  But, since I’m a big girl (but really mostly just because I don’t want to wake the baby) I fixed myself a cup of relaxing tea, put on some classical guitar music and took a great many deep breaths instead.

How my dress came about: Someone was giving away a couple of vintage floral sheets.  I snapped them up telling the lady how I make dresses out of this sort of thing, while Steve simultaneously talked about all of the other fabric I already have in a pointed sort of way.  I/we all have been having a really rough couple of months (years/life).  On a whim I decided for sanity’s sake to do something completely frivolous to break up the funk.  It was a two part plan: Find a way to go out alone for a few hours with my husband on his birthday and make a new dress to wear for said occation.  I figured this huge swath of free fabric was my one chance to indulge my dramatic side in making a really, really full skirt.  I can be wearing the dress, grab a fistful of fabric on each side, raise my hands up over my head, and still be completely covered.  The skirt is that full.  I completed the dress exactly two weeks after his birthday.

How her dress came about: She made several comments about wanting a dress made with the “beaufufull” flowers.  I made several frazzled, distracted comments about wanting to pair that fabric with an old pattern I had, but not being sure when I would find the time.  Elijah looked at the pattern, looked at the fabric, looked at his sister, and went and made her a dress.

For my dress I paired the Princess Bodice and the Box Pleat Circle Skirt patterns from Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book: A Modern Guide to Sewing Fabulous Vintage Styles, with an improvised, home-made crinoline for underneath.  Seraphina’s dress is McCall’s 3809 from 1972 I think.

I think I owe it to myself to say that that dress was a whole lot of work.  Obviously, it is rightfully going to be over-shadowed by toddler cuteness and brotherly love.  It looks simple, but it. was. a. lot. of. work.  And I thought I should at least do myself the honor of recognizing that.

And it was all really in vein because I can’t think where I would possibly wear it.  If anyone is planning on hosting a fancy garden party, do give us a call.

 

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Refashion Candidates

First up some details about my sweater in progress.  I’m making a Calligraphy Cardigan (love that name).  I think it will be just right for all of those autumnal hikes I’m praying I have the chance to take.  It’s not my highest knitting priority at the moment, but I’m still hoping that putting in a bit of time here and there will let me finish it by cool weather.

My “Just for Fun” project is nearly complete.  I really needed something frivolous and not the least bit serious to counterbalance some intense situations in my life.  And while it felt like just what I needed in that moment, I was also making it for a specific event, which has now passed (because rushing and pushing myself for something entirely unnecessary was decidedly not what I needed) and now I have absolutely no idea where I would ever wear it.  I’m feeling a little panicky, like autumn is bearing down on me, and perhaps this particular detour was not such a good one?  I now need to get very serious about some practical sewing, not just for myself, but also for my children.

I thought I would start by trying to make something of a couple of pieces which currently aren’t of use to anyone, but still have a bit of life left in them, and seeing if I could make them useful again.

This first sweater was accidentally sent to us.  I believe it’s a men’s sweater.  When I asked the two man shaped people in my house if either of them was interested in it they scoffed and looked at me like I was nuts.  It’s not like I picked it out!  I just wanted clearance to cut it up!

It’s 90% cotton and 10% cashmere, so quality fabric worth trying to make something of.

I’ve had this basic cotton cardigan for maybe 6 years now?  Every outfit that I put it over suddenly turns all frumpy, and not in a good way.  Plus there is that weird, slightly off thing with the button band and also, this hole…

This was one of my favorite shirts of Steve’s because it’s incredibly soft to cuddle up to.  But it’s life as a men’s shirt was cut short by a building accident….

Classy, no?

I have no idea what’s going to come of any of these projects, but there is nothing lost by cutting them up and giving it a try.  Something to think on this week: is there anything around your house that’s just dying to be made into something new?

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: History

My father recently acquired some old family photographs.  I want copies of every single one of them, but so far I’ve only managed to scan a couple.

The baby in that top one is my grandmother.  Would you just look at my great-grandmother?  Pearls at the beach!  Ack!  I love it.  The second one is my grandmother again, but a bit older this time.  All of those ruffles slay me.  The last one is of my grandparents together.  I’ve had this one for a while now and that dress has really got to be one of my absolute favorite dresses of all time.  I have no idea what color it actually was, but I always pictured the bodice in a dark green velvet, with the skirt being a warm ivory.

And this one….

Is really completely off topic, but the boy on the left there is my father and I just really think that teenage Elijah looks a lot like teenage dad.  And I also kind of think Elijah would dig that jacket.

Over the years I’ve discovered that I adore fashion and clothing, and yet I have absolutely no interest in current trends.  A huge part of the appeal for me is the story behind the garment.  And it just seems like the only story behind most modern styles is that so-and-so famous person wore it and it caught on.  That means nothing to me.  Which is not to say that I’m not influenced by current fashion.  We none of us live in a vacuum!  Everyone’s views and tastes are shaped by the time and environment that they live in.  I’m just not passionate about it. 

What really fascinates me is where clothing and history meet.  Those times in the past where situations arose that shaped a style.  Events that may not even seem to have any relation to fashion at all, but which in retrospect, have had a huge impact.  Think of the invention of the bicycle and how it was really the start of the downfall of the strictly bound corset.  Women suddenly had this new found freedom in a mode of transportation that was relatively inexpensive and socially acceptable for them to utilize on their own.  The only catch?  Dressed as they were, they couldn’t bloody well breathe to make it up those hills!

In particular I’m truly intrigued by those periods of times where clothing yourself and family was a struggle, say during wartime or a depression.  What really inspires me are those times when women, and men too I’m sure, but mostly it was women, looked at a situation and said, “okay, we’re going to make this work, but we’re going to make it beautiful too”.  Times when creativity and ingenuity were paramount.  Think flour sack dresses or blouses cut just so, to use a minimal amount of fabric while still remaining feminine and flattering.  Think of women going in droves into factories and farm work and needing to keep their hair out of the way for safety’s sake.  That could have been a strictly utilitarian endeavor, but women went and cultivated styles that were glamorous instead.  Have you seen some of the dresses and other articles of clothing from after WWII made of silk maps?  With cloth rationing still on the escape maps printed on silk being brought back by soldiers must have seemed as good a source of fabric as any.  Look at knitting in times of lack, when stripes become en vogue and intricate fair-isles made from odds and ends, along with whatever you could harvest from a worn out old sweater, start cropping up. Even the rebound effect of luxuriating in fabulously full skirts and the completely frivolous use of fabric after rationing was lifted is an intriguing glimpse into a particular period in time.

As I said, it’s the story that captivates me, whether it be a hand-woven fabric made in some ancient tradition, the alchemy of yarn dyed with local flora, or a little snippet of embroidery that’s the mark of a doting mother’s hand.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to making clothing.  Hand made garments have their own unique tales to tell.

For a lavishly illustrated look at some of the fashions of years gone by, taking you all the way back as far as we can gather, check out Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style.  It does not disappoint.

What about you?  Are there any eras you are particularly drawn to?  What is the appeal?

Last week I forgot to announce the next challenge!  It’s August 15: Just for Fun.

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Luxury

The world’s quickest, and quite possibly worst, finished object pictures.

This dress evolved over the course of time.  It started with a serious crush on this dress  Also pictured here, because apparently I’m a style stalker now (if you are curious, it came from this adorable little shop.  I asked.).  Now, I have enough self-awareness to realize that much of the appeal lies in the cozy scene and setting of this particular image.  But that’s where my search for fabric that looked like it belonged on a couch circa 1976 began.  My intention was to make a shirt dress in the same style.

One of the things that I love about the book Women in Clothes is that it totally validates whatever your style may be.  To be honest, there are a great many days for me where the mood of the day can only be classified as “frumpy”.  And I actually don’t mean that in a derogatory way, more that the message I wish to convey to myself and anyone else who happens to be paying attention is that comfort is a great priority and I have no interest in trying to impress anyone or calling attention to myself in any way.  It’s kind of like going cocoon-mode.  With this dress, I totally wanted to embrace that.  This was meant to be my comfort dress.  I was basically going for a glorified mu-mu.  The first thing I would reach for when it was unbearably hot and I wanted nothing clingy or fitted.

In my great fabric search I found the fabulous cotton-silk blend voile (pictured above), which kind of changed everything.  It somehow reminded me of this dress, which I’ve worn and loved for over 20 years now, but which is sadly starting to show it’s age.  Instead of the makings of a crisp shirt-dress, I now possessed a fluttering, drape-y, semi-sheer cloth to ponder.

The final piece of the puzzle came when I was style stalking* that really beautiful woman who we sometimes see at local cultural events.  She had on this beautifully simple, sheer brown paisley dress that cinched at the waist.  It was a real ah-ha moment for me when I realized I could run some slender elastic loosely through the mid-section to make it a bit more flattering without sacrificing the comfort factor at all.

I self-drafted the pattern, using an old nightshirt as a reference.

I have more fabric, since the dress was originally going to have sleeves.  I think a scarf from it would be lovely, but I haven’t totally ruled out a blouse or perhaps some silky/slinky nightwear?

* Just so we’re real clear, by “stalking” I mean when we happen to be somewhere and she, with no prior knowledge on my part, happens to be at the same place, I try to discreetly check out what she’s wearing.  And yes, I promise to introduce myself the next time our paths cross!

What do you consider luxurious?  For me it’s all about comfort, sensuous fabric and a departure from the practical.

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days of pink lace

I’m still reading and enjoying The Summer Book.

I’m trying to pull myself out of a long standing food funk.  Breakfast one day last week: Cinnamon-Raisin Meatballs, broccoli from our garden and half a Japanese yam.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of making sauerkraut, even though my children love it and it’s excellent for them and good too just to have around to pad out meals.  After years of successful kraut making, we were experiencing problems with mold growth.  It was frustrating and wasteful and at some point I just gave up.  This time I used this method, packing it in a Fido Jar to ferment and it turned out beautifully.  We get our jars at our local Farmer’s Supply, but you can also find them here.

I’ve also been experimenting with making vegetable based “cheeses”.  I added some fresh herbs from the garden to the batch above.

Speaking of the garden, these purple radishes have grown amazingly this year.  I wish I could remember what variety they are!

The first pair of little toddler socks are done and seriously a more adorable, little, rosy, lacy pair of tiny ankle socks has never been seen.  I always want to nibble her toes when she wears them.  They are made of yarn leftover from this dress and bonnet.  Would you just look at her perfectly precious, tiny baby self?  Darling little love of my heart.

There are so many small projects going on all the time here, but little to no time to share them.

The chicken coop is well underway!  So far we’ve managed to use all salvaged materials.  Once we get to the siding I think we’ll be investing in some local rough-cut lumber.

Someone discovered her old Moses basket!

Do you know the trick of blocking hats and bonnets over an inflated balloon?  Just blow it up to about the size you need and balance it on a bowl.  Or, as in this case, with a very tiny bonnet, a large mug.

One of my oldest and dearest friends just found out that her fifth baby is going to be her first girl.  If that isn’t a reason to knit a pink lacy bonnet, I don’t know what is!  (you can’t tell me that there is never a reason.  I simply won’t believe you.)

This is my Flora Irene pattern again (also here and here).  I have three patterns either ready or almost ready to go out to test knitters.  But the test knitting process requires my being ever available and quick to answer questions.  And as my over-flowing inbox will attest, that is *not* in the cards at the moment.  frustrating.

Oh, have I mentioned it’s reversible?

I often get asked why I don’t talk more about chronic illness and how it effects our lives.  I guess the simple answer is that there is enough heartbreak and sorrow in the world.  And I’d rather devote my precious little time to trying to put some beauty and joy out there.

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