Category Archives: The Handcrafted Wardrobe

The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Sick Sewing Day

There is something soul-satisfying about matching the right outfit to the occasion, isn’t there?  A quick pic between sneezes here.  I did promise you real life with this project!  Not exactly high fashion, but probably at least a step up from answering the door in my pajamas (even if having my hands in my pockets like this makes my hips look funny).  And very, very comfortable.  Which in a day of discomfort is the highest of priorities.

Yes, there is a new pair of pants in my life.  I had a box up in the attic with some fabric in it.  Mostly little bits of some favorite fabrics that I wanted to keep for a quilt sometime in the undefined future, but also two larger lengths of fabric from my mother-in-law, that I thought might work as dresses for the girls.  I was surprised to also find a pair of regular women’s XL yoga pants that I must have gotten during one of my pregnancies and never gotten around to hemming.  These are them, reshaped.  There was also a length of black jersey and some navy stretch terry, but I haven’t yet determined if there is enough of either to be of use in the pants department.  But hey, I’ve just doubled the number of pants I own!  It’s a start anyway.

Save

Save


By

Wrapped in Flannel: Part 2, now with words!

Iain took a stab at fixing the space bar and it now more or less works, provided you strike it just right.

And now for the items left unsaid on the last post…My second to last pair of pajama pants disintegrated just days before the big labor day fabric sales.  With the ability to purchase flannel at around $2.50 a yard, I thought it was time to treat myself to some new jammies.  But evidently my commitment was only tentative, because my shopping trip turned out much the way it usually does.  My plan was to make myself two nightgowns and three pairs of pajama pants.  Which seems reasonable enough.  But as I approached the cutting table, I started to get nervous about spending money at all and specifically on myself, so I decreased the amount of, or completely eliminated, the fabric that was slotted for projects for me, while leaving the fabric that was meant for the children.

The result being that when I got home, I discovered that this green flannel, originally intended for a nightie that I was really excited about, was the only length of fabric big enough to cut a pair of women’s pajama pants out of. So I made them, with a pang of regret for the much wanted, but less needed nightgown.  And as soon as they were off the machine, I slipped out of the tattered leggings I was wearing, depositing them directly into the trash, and slipped into these.  I would probably be wearing them still, if I hadn’t been called upon to leave the house.  And even so, I spent some time considering if they could pass for trousers.

The bottoms situation is getting a little dire.  By the end of last week I was down to this pair of leggings, the afore mentioned “last pair” of not-long-for-this-world pajama pants and this new pair of pajama pants.  Which does not quite seem to be enough.  In desperation, I did finally try to fix the waistband on the olive leggings and managed to put a few holes in them in the process.  Word to the wise: velour does not like to be unpicked. But they are more wearable than they were.

I think the problem is two-fold.  One: it’s much harder to piecemeal together pants from what one might have around and, as mentioned, I have trouble investing in fabric (or clothing) for myself.  Of all of my Handcrafted Wardrobe projects so far, I’ve purchased fabric for one of them.  And that felt like a huge, somewhat guilt inducing, treat to myself.  Everything else has been made from whatever I have around.  And two: pants are boring.  At least the pants I wear are.  And as much as I might need them, I’d rather dream up and sew a dress or a top instead.  All the same, I think it’s clear what my priority needs to be!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

By

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!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


By

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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


By

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?

Save

Save

Save


By

The Handcrafted Wardrobe: On Mothering Daughters and Self-Worth

‘As a child, I never heard one woman say to me, “I love my body”. Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said, “I am so proud of my body.” So I make sure to say it to Mia, because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.’ ~Kate Winslet

I take this quote very differently from how I did the first time I read it.  I can’t say that I’m at a place where I’m comfortable walking around declaring myself a ravishing beauty, and I’m not sure that I would ever want to be.  But this much I know; I am now a mother of daughters.  They watch me and from watching me they are learning how to move through this world as women.  If I tell them they are beautiful while being harsh with myself, they will instinctively see beauty in their own children, but never in themselves.  If I say that I don’t like my smile or my waist or my hair or my thighs, that there are parts of me I am ashamed of, what will they think when someone innocently tells them how much they look like me?  I am proud of my body.  Against many obstacles, It has grown and nourished five unique and amazing people.  I don’t think I can ask better of it than that.

Long time readers of my blog may remember that in years past, I was virtually unseen.  I am 5′ 0″, maybe 20? 30 lbs? over weight at the moment.  I have thinning hair and more stretch marks than smooth spots.  I have crooked teeth and chronic dark circles under my eyes.  When I’m unwell all of my veins show through the skin on my arms and torso like some kind of freaky 3D diagram of the circulatory system.  I can be ghostly pale and often appear just plain haggard.  Growing up the message that I was given by society is that women like me do not deserve to be seen.  That we have to be altered before we are worthy.  Worthy of what exactly I don’t know.  Everything it seems.

I want to say that there is nothing wrong with me, but that would be an outright lie.  But the things that are “wrong’ with me are the makings of my own private struggles and manifestations of my humanity.  There is nothing about me that makes my image unfit for public consumption.

I knew that with this project I would be opening myself up to judgement.  And I have.  But I feel very blessed to be able to say that in over 10 years of blogging in this space I’ve only received one nasty comment.

I’ve spent pretty much my entire adult life trying to find a comfortable and healthy relationship with the shape of my body.  And it has been a challenge because over the last 17 years of motherhood, that shape has altered time and again.  I have my set backs, but mostly I accept and embrace what is.  In recent years I’ve been caught off guard in finding that I have a hard time seeing myself look sick.  I find it upsetting.  It makes me feel fragile and I find myself avoiding mirrors and cameras.  In part this project is a way of forcing myself to face myself.  I’ve found that I have to desensitize myself to my own image.  And a couple of years ago I started consciously doing just that. To try to be comfortable with sharing a picture even if my hair is a mess or I don’t like the look on my face or the way an outfit fits.  To get used to being me in the world, with all of my flaws and imperfections.  For me to accept who I am without fear or concern about what others will think of me.  Because that is what I want to teach my daughters, in all of their flawed, imperfect, deep, and eternal beauty.  That is the gift I want to give to them.  And I am not fit for this work of going against the world and myself and all I’ve been taught, but I plan to keep on trying all the same.

Save

Save

Save

Save


By

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.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save


Save

By

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?

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


By

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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


By