Category Archives: The Handcrafted Wardrobe

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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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Guest Post by Dandy

I am very pleased to welcome my neighbor, friend and mentor Dandy to this space today! 

The day I stopped by to photograph Dandy for this piece was the first time I had been in her room since they did some remodeling and I just couldn’t resist photographing that as well.  Without further ado, I give you Dandy….   

Smiling My Way Through the Day

Living in the woods makes me wear browns and greens; it’s all that digging up of rocks and being still to observe wild life.  It has been a delightful quiet existence, but hermit time is now over.  I am leading an exercise class and dancing with a new troupe.  It’s time to bring more color into my life.  We all have so much beauty and uniqueness to share, and the gentlest way to mesh with others (aside from commenting on the weather) is to simply **present oneself**.

COLOR: What colors represent me best today AND do I want combinations that clash or not?  Clashing is always an interesting statement- one that I rarely utilize.

FABRICS: I love rayon & linen.  Wool, cotton, silk & synthetics are all there for us.  Do you ever mix fabrics?

As a late adapter, I have at last embraced leggings!  God, I love leggins. But then more attention needs to be paid to socks and shoes.

I LOVE socks!  My current favorites are tan with worms crawling on them.  More and more of us are shopping at “Sally’s” and “Willy’s” (Salvation Army/ Goodwill), but they can only sell new socks, of which they have so few.  So I buy socks at the best-in-the-world little small town hardware/general store.

ACCESSORIES: People who live in the woods understand that dressing up to go out means putting on earrings, so make that jewelry perfect for you.  I’ve taken to wearing a necklace that jingles an enchanting tinkling sound while I walk, sending it’s own pretty greeting.

I think if we spend maybe five minutes before we dress, checking in on our mood, life might be more fun.  Do my clothes reflect me and my mood accurately, or shall I dress to bring in something I wish to feel- “bass ackward” as they say.

Either way, I find that if you are AWARE that you are presenting your self as a gift to your fellow passengers on this planet, it makes for more delightful interactions…..a wee butterfly just landed on my hand as I write this; she concurs.

Note from Melody: I asked Dandy to tell the story behind the sets of earrings that she made for herself and her daughters….

When I was in the middle of child rearing, I came to a point where I desperately needed something creative to do for myself that used very little energy. I went to bed one night asking/begging for help. In my lucid dream that night, I was on top of a huge rock behind our house – the rock abutted an almost vertical cliff, out of which grew a lovely hemlock with exposed roots. As I sat on the rock, a small man around 3″ high – very grave, serious person- came from the earth beneath the roots of the hemlock. His wife was right behind him. They showed me earrings made in a book form.

The earrings I made are what the small man showed me.

Dandy is a 63 year old happily married woman with four adult children, who loves to listen to 100 year old people; dance with a dance troupe; and water big pine trees’ bark in the hot sun. She loves seeing earth spirit images in bark, snorkeling with her husband in the ocean and making forest paths to enable fellow humans to walk in the woods without ticks dropping on them.

A huge thank you to Dandy for joining us today!

What’s inspiring you this week?

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Thinking Ahead

I’ll have a new project to share soon.  Having spent the better part of this last week feverish and swollen and snotty, posing for pictures did not rank high on my agenda.  Besides, I’ve already shared a “Thinking Ahead” project.

I knew going into this project that it was going to be a hard sell.  The majority of my readership consists of mothers.  Convincing mothers to take the time to make things for themselves?  Talk about themselves?  Think about themselves?  Post pictures of themselves?? I smile and nod at all the lovely women I know who tell me that they plan on joining in, knowing that most of them will not get around to it.  And that’s ok.  We all know how it goes!  But every week I get emails and comments from people telling me that they have been inspired by these posts.  And there always seems to be an interesting dialog going in the comments.  It’s a good thing.  I want to hear more voices and see more people get involved.  I’m very grateful to those of you who have bravely shared your projects thus far!

To answer a couple of questions and just as a reminder…..

* Anyone can join this community!  Male, female, young, old, all are welcome!  In my opinion, the more diversity, the better.  This whole project is about discovering and sharing your own unique sense of style and no two people are going to have the same thoughts or projects to share, which is the true beauty in this.

* You do not have to post a project.  You can share an idea, thoughts about fabric, inspiration, plans for the future, musings on self care and your own process of cultivating your own personal sense of style.

* You may add photos to the link up from a blog, Facebook, Flickr and I believe, Instagram.  If you’ve never done it before, the process is really quite simple.  If anyone needs help with this, please feel free to contact me.

Our next challenge is July 25th – Luxury, now you know you want to get involved with that!

I am very excited about next week!  As I mentioned at the start of all this, from time to time I plan on bringing in a guest blogger to talk about style, sewing/knitting, the process of self discovery and anything else that might come up along the way!  My first guest is very near and dear to my heart, so I am hoping you will give her a particularly warm welcome!

And you? What are you working on/dreaming about/discovering this week?

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Thinking Ahead Part One

I don’t know about you, but I am in desperate need of clothes for autumn.  And apparently I’m now taking my fashion cues from my 7 year old!  This olive colored, cotton velour was actually meant for leggings for Mairi Rose- cotton velour leggings being her favorite sort of pants.  But when all of my leggings started falling apart, I began to wonder if there wasn’t enough fabric to cover me instead.

In my head I pictured myself wearing these with a long, oatmeal colored, tunic sweater, while ever so causally curling up with a book on a stormy autumn day.  It should be noted that in this fantasy I also had really long shapely legs.  Hey, if you are going to have an active fantasy life, you might as well have some fun with it.  The leggings are now done, but I’m still lacking the sweater and the legs.  Books I can manage.

To make these I took my most comfortable pair of (totally worn out) leggings and after closely examining their construction, turned them inside out and carefully trimmed off the seams.  I then used the pieces as my pattern, being sure to add the seam allowance back in.  I’ll be using this pattern again, but I will change a few things as I go along.  Mostly I don’t like the way I put together the waistband.

I learned something very valuable with this quick project.  With careful cutting I can make myself a pair of leggings from a single yard of fabric.  I just have to do the waist in two pieces instead of one.  Sometimes it pays to be short after-all.  Who knew?

Are you starting to think about cooler (or warmer, depending on where you live!) weather coming and what that might mean for your wardrobe?

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Comfort and the Miracle Sweater

Sorry for the delayed post folks!

That last picture is what happens when Elijah refuses to stop taking my picture.

While I could certainly make a case for the comfort that is this sweater, my posting it today really has more to do with it being finished and photographed rather than cut out and draped over the back of my rocking chair, which is how you would find my planned comfort project.

This sweater had some sort of cosmic destiny.  It was meant to be created.  Everything just fell into place in a way that completely defied logic.  It was like loaves and fishes or the oil lasting for eight days.

For starters, I wanted to make myself two cardigans this year; a heavy duty one for serious warmth and a cute cropped sweater for over dresses to extend their wearability well into the cooler months.  I had thought a good deal about this and had very particular patterns in mind.  The first in grey, the later in brown.  So, when Corina sent me brown yarn, the exact recommended yarn for the pattern I had in mind, it seemed meant to be.  Only….the pattern called for 5 skeins and I only had 3 1/2.  Still I dove right in, resigning myself to either shortening the sleeves or knitting contrast color cuffs or ?

I knitted away and despite my exhaustion and working almost exclusively in the middle of the night when my mind felt addled and dull, it grew, steadily and almost flawlessly.  My fingers seemed to have a mind of their own and inch upon inch of sweater tumbled from them, without my really realizing how.  And the yarn…it held out.  I saved the sleeves for last and carefully divided my remaining yarn, holding my breath as I knitted what turned out to be almost an entire full length sleeve.  I did have shorten the cuffs, but since I’m quite petite, it didn’t matter a bit.  They ended exactly at my wrist.  With the very gentlest of blocking I found there was even enough for a fold over cuff.

Oops! I forgot to add a Ravelry link! Here you go.

A new challenge: July 11th- Thinking Ahead

What have you been working on or thinking about this week?

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: On Color

I had a big, full post planned for this week, but I’ve been under the weather these last few days, so you are getting some brief musing on color instead.

It has not been lost on me that all of the creations I’ve shared so far have been blue.  It’s true that the cowl I recently made is grey, but I’m not really sure that will remain mine.  It feels like it maybe should belong to someone else.  And my new sweater is brown!  And done!  Buttons, blocking and all.  I love it and I will post finished pictures of it, just as soon as this heat wave breaks.  Because while I love it, I don’t love it enough that I’m willing to pass out just to be wearing it.

Still, I’m obviously in a very blue place.  The attributes of blue as listed in Knit the Sky by Lea Redmond, for the purposes of a “mood ring” cowl: “sad, fearful, disappointed, exhausted, heartbroken, unappreciated, restless, unable to let go, shameful, hesitant.”

Well, that’s kind of depressing!  Still, I can see how some of that rings true for me at this moment in life.  Though I’m not sure that exhausted is a strong enough word.  The truth is I have been feeling heartbroken and sad for various reasons.

Brown is “rooted, connected, centered, balanced, whole, secure, natural, earthy“.  I feel some of that too, which seems like a step in the right direction.  I’d like to turn that beautiful brown yarn up there, from dear Corina, into something for me, but I haven’t quite decided what.  Four hundred and thirty yards of possibilities.

What do you think?  Can color choice influence mood and vice versa?  I believe it can.  Though not in a one size fits all kind of way.  While there are general cultural associations with certain colors, there are also personal ones.  Like in my case, blue is one of my favorite colors and I find it soothing, which is why I painted my bedroom blue and perhaps why I’ve been so drawn to it lately?

Don’t forget, next week is comfort week!

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Aprons

Fabric selection was limited to what I had within the house.  I dismantled my Halloween costume from last year, which started out life as a sheet.

I used this tutorial.  Because like most young women, I’ve dreamed of owning a Regency style apron since high school….roughly corresponding with the release of this version of Sense and Sensibility.  Not a coincidence.

This whole project was a hack job.  I really meant for it to be just a practice piece to make sure it fits and works well for me.  As such I gave myself permission to cut as many corners as possible.  A professional seamstress would be horrified.  Even the somewhat fastidious home sewist would be aghast.  What can I say?  Frankly, it was either fast and dirty or not at all and this is a very useful garment for me.

I should have gotten proper pictures of the back and all, but really my highest priority in the moment was to get my parsley and basil in the ground.  The straps cross in the back, which I love.  It’s comfortably supportive.  I do not like the type of apron that just goes around the neck.

I have some large patch pockets with elastic cinched tops that I plan on stitching to the skirt portion the next time I sit down at my machine.

 What have you been working on?


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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Mother-Son Sewing and Apron Inspiration

Elijah has decided he’s going to start making all of his shirts, since he can’t find styles that he likes in his size.  After a long couple of days last week, when we woke up to heavy rain, I declared a sewing day.  I even changed my plans and opted for a project in a similar color to his so that we could share the sewing machine without having to re-thread.  He completed his entire shirt that day, while I only manged cutting out the majority of my project.  It must be nice to have so few responsibilities!  Still, sneaking in a seam here and a seam there, I made slow, but steady progress.

  On the very day I wished to wear it, shortly before leaving the house, I resolved to quickly finish it up.  Dear reader, this is how almost all of my projects are completed, if they are ever to be completed at all.

At the very, very last minute, I decided that unless I was planning on picking up work as a serving wench, the neckline was much too low.  When Steve walked in on me standing at my sewing machine- because who has time to find a chair?, in my underwear- I can’t very well alter a dress that I’m still wearing, now can I?  sheesh. He paused momentarily, taking in the scene, before seemingly coming to the conclusion that this was perfectly normal behavior for his wife and without a word went back to packing the car.

  My dress is a very heavily altered Washi, but I think I’ll have to save the details for another post because this one is already going to be a long one!

Our new challenge for June 27th is “Comfort”.  Two potential ways of approaching this challenge are the creation of clothing that is comfortable to wear or crafting that is a comfort in the making, perhaps using a favorite pattern that is so well known to you that working with it becomes almost meditative.  I’m sure there are many other ways of working with this theme as well.

Don’t forget, we’re looking at aprons next week!  Here is a selection of free apron patterns and tutorials to intrigue and inspire:

Gathering Apron

Harvest Half Apron

Yet another style harvest apron

Clothespin Apron

PDF Booklet Featuring 27 Vintage Apron Patterns

Romantic, Regency Inspired Country Apron

Edwardian Apron

“Best Worn Barefoot” Smock (a good option for maternity wear)

Recycled Men’s Shirt Apron

Japanese Style Cross-Back Aprons: tutorials 1 and 2 and a  child-mother matching version

No patterns, but tons of inspiration can be found at The Vermont Apron Company’s shop and blog.


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