My grandmother died 20 years ago this past weekend. It’s hard to believe it’s been that many years. I remember packing my car to drive from the North Shore of Long Island to Upstate South Carolina for the funeral like it was yesterday. It was packed with books, as I was to take my comps the next week. So much has happened since then – in the blink of an eye.
Before she died, she spent about 10 years (or more) struggling with Alzheimer’s. Back then, we didn’t really know what Alzheimer’s was, and just thought she was a little kooky. As grand-kids, I don’t think we were especially kind, though by the mid-90s, and my mid-20s, we knew she wasn’t odd, but that something was really wrong. I found my compassion then, but it was too late to get to know her.
My relationship with my grandmother was complicated. My grandmother didn’t like that I was in politics… she wanted me to find a husband, have children, settle down. I did that eventually, and even became the teacher she thought I should be. Along the way, she taught me to garden, preserve food, and to sew.
I’m going through all the family files and photos, and I’m seeing a different woman than the grandmother I knew. She laughed a lot. That’s what striking
My grandmother was a remarkable in ways that I can finally respect. She married young, into what became career military. At that time, it meant raising her daughter while her husband was at war (three wars!!). Later, she returned to her homestead in South Carolina with a new husband (the man I would know as my grandfather, as her first husband died when I was 2). There she forged a career of sorts for herself at Converse College.
My grandmother was a really great seamstress, helping me to learn the finer points of sewing. She was also into millinery.
One of the things I’ve learned about her in recent days is just how good a seamstress she always was – even if I didn’t appreciate it much as a middle school kid. In this picture, she is wearing an outfit she curated, sewing the dress herself. It’s 1940, she’s not quite 17, and she had just won the dress revue for the State of South Carolina 4-H club. She was headed for a free trip to Chicago to the national 4-H meetings. Her budget: $10.
I’d like to say I’ve been sewing, but I haven’t for about a month. Too many things demanding my time, and I’ve been exhausted. I mentioned I start a new job in the fall (at the same place), but parts of that job have already begun, while I continue with the old. And when I don’t sew, I buy fabric. Ooops.
In any case, this is the state of my sewing room with two abandoned – no just set aside for now – projects in disarray (the Guy Laroche suit and a skirt/top combo).
Work isn’t the only thing keeping me busy. I’ve been working on two side projects as well. Project #1 is scanning, organizing, and archiving all of the family photos. My dad died a year ago tomorrow, and we’re still cleaning out the house. I’ve scanned 1000 photos so far – photos that go back to the 1880s. I’m not kidding when I say there are about 3000 more to go (though I think many are duplicates). It’s a challenging project, as many of the photos aren’t labeled, so I’ve been in contact with other relatives for help. It’s also a joyous one! I’m seeing my parents and grandparents as children and young adults. It makes them more complex, interesting. I’ve also found pictures of my grandfather’s flight crew in World War II (Pacific theater), and I’m trying to locate their families so I can send them these snapshots.
Project #2 is the ongoing re-landscaping of our yard and garden. My window for planting is nearly gone – it will soon be too hot for that.
Meanwhile, here’s a picture of some of the fabrics I’m hoping to sew up in the next few weeks. I have other projects mixed in there too, but I only pulled a few of the linens out for the time being. I need tops/blouses, and I have some beautiful linen, silk, and cotton fabrics to make those.
Unfinished projects, a.k.a, UFOs, or works in progress (WIP)? This is the first of three blog posts about the status of my semi-abandoned projects. I’ve been sewing, but I also spent time reorganizing my sewing closet, including the pile of UFOs. In this post, I write about my plans for what I’m calling works in progress, since these are back on the agenda for 2019. In the second part of this series, I look for advice about what to do with other unfinished projects. I seek advice regarding refashioning several projects in the final post.
1. The Vintage Vogue Long Coat (Vogue 1083):
I started this project in 2010. I remember buying this fabric at Rosen and Chaddick’s in New York City. It was such a fun experience. The fabric is a merlot colored wool-cashmere blend and boy, was it expensive. The pattern calls for an interlining – I used cotton flannel – and lining (I used black warmback coat lining). This is a heavy coat, both in weight and in warmth. It’s too heavy for most Florida days, but I was living outside Washington, DC, when I started this project.
I looked at where I stopped, and I’m ALMOST DONE! I need to finish attaching the lining at the sleeves and hem, and finish the bound buttonhole. I remember it taking me a long time, and I stopped because Spring had come. I also didn’t like the collar, and for some reason it dawned on me that it wouldn’t be that warm because, it only had one button at the neck. How did I not see that before? However, we do get some very cold (below freezing) mornings here, so it will be useful for that, even if it doesn’t get much wear. In addition, when I draped it on the dress form, I liked the unbuttoned, shawl collar effect. Again, an open coat isn’t an issue here in Florida, so I like the style again.
2. The Short Trench (Vogue 8884):
Started: 2013. Another project that should be complete, but is not. I had trouble easing the sleeves into the armscye properly. I’ve already cut the lining, so there is no reason I can’t finish this one in 2019. This coat would get considerably more wear here in Florida in the winter, except for the cold, cold days.
The fabric is a coated cotton from Marcy Tilton, the lining is a black silk twill.
3. The Butterick Tote (Butterick 5540):
Started: 2013. I started this project when we introduced my then toddler to the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay. I got distracted and never finished it. All I need to do is add the lining. We go to the beach regularly now (it’s only an hour away) and I’ve got plenty of totes that are more beach-appropriate. But this one will be useful for day trips in the car. The fabrics are cotton twill and linen, both from the old Gorgeous Fabrics, and the lining is rayon acetate.
4. The Matthew Williamson Caftan:
Started: maybe 2014? This one never really hit UFO status. I pick it up every summer and work on it in spurts. I finished the caftan last summer, 2018, but decided it was too plain (in spite of the fabulous fabric). I need to add the trim, as in the photo. That’s it. I’m definitely finishing this for this summer. The neckline is too low, so it’s a layering piece. The fabric is a stretch double georgette that I am almost certain I purchased from the old Gorgeous Fabrics, but it could have been Emma One Sock.
5. The slim, very fitted, tank dress (Vogue 9184):
Started: 2016. This dress is more fitted than the pattern let on. It’s also when I realized I was gaining weight (but went into denial). I let this one out as much as it can go, but it’s a no go. I held onto it thinking, maybe if I lose the weight… The plan with this is to finish the armholes and the hem and donate it. It’s too nice a fabric to just throw away (a linen from Britex Fabrics, underlined in cotton batiste). I do plan to make this dress again this year, but in a larger size, and after a muslin.
6. The McCall pieced top (McCall 7390, view B, adding a sleeve):
Started: 2017. I had made this top before, but decided to make another with the flared bottom and sleeves. I thought my work was sloppy, so I stopped, disgusted with myself. After examining it, I think I was being too critical. Yes, the fabric (a soft silk cotton voile from the old Gorgeous Fabrics) is soft and difficult, but it’s worth finishing. However, I’ve decided the sleeves are a bad idea. I only need to finish the armscye and the neckline. It will be a lightweight summer top.
7. The Carolyn PJs
Started: 2018. This one technically never made the UFO pile – it stayed on the sewing table, staring me down. I started it last February, but kept making error after error. I knew I needed to work on something else and/or take a sewing break. This was at the beginning of my dad’s precipitous decline, so I think I was struggling to focus, and maybe having a little too much wine. I’m better know, and desperately need pjs, so it’s back on the agenda. The Japanese cotton is from Farmhouse Fabrics.
Seven old projects, back on the agenda, many near completion. I think I can do it, as long as I remember to intersperse them, along with the mending, with new projects. Of course, that’s easier said than done! And, which to finish first?
I haven’t really written a “reflections” blog on the sewing year before, but I’m finding reading others’ blogs useful for thinking about the future. Thus, here I am trying to sum up the year and move forward. Frankly, 2018 wasn’t a great year for me personally, so perhaps I dove into sewing a bit more to compensate. Here I will talk about what worked, what didn’t, reflect on the ready-to-wear-fast, and discuss sewing goals and plans for 2019.
What didn’twork: Tops and dresses. The torso is the hardest part of the body to fit, especially without a partner/fitting buddy. It didn’t help that I haven’t been honest about my pre-menopausal body. I finish an item and expect to see the svelte 30 year-old, not the body whose midsection is stubbornly clinging to weight. But I really did have misses with tops and dresses.
Or at least I thought tops were a total failure – I made/attempted 11 tops! I had four complete failures (the Ralph Lauren top, the two attempts at chiffon tops, and converting a woven top, B6134 to ponte). Four of the tops were okay – but I don’t wear them often, and don’t know how long I’ll keep them. The color-blocked ponte top (M7600) is comfortable, but not so flattering, as is the red Mandy boat tee. I kinda like the woven version of B6134, but the fit is off and it’s not comfortable to wear. I might make another version. I also kinda like the statement sleeve top, but not sure it’s me.
I really don’t like the summer dresses I made this year. The proportions are off. I may shorten the black rayon ponte dress. I will still wear the floral for running errands.
I wore the Pucci pant with the terrible fit exactly one time, and like other items I made with bad fit, they went to Goodwill.
What I loved: quite a bit, actually!
I fell in love with Paco Peralto! His skirt, his wide-legged trouser, and the big shirt! I made the 8 gore skirt twice and wear them all the time. I made four pairs of the wide-legged trouser – in black linen, purple linen, pink linen (not blogged) and black suiting. I wore the black and purple linen so often I wore them out. The big surprise was falling in love with the big white shirt. It took me a while to pair the shirt properly, but it looks awesome with the black wool suiting wide-legged trousers.
The Pucci shirt was a surprise! I hated it at first: it was too blocky and unflattering on me. I add some darts to add shape, and found myself reaching for it on a regular basis. It transferred into cooler weather well, when paired with a black blazer (which toned downed the loudness a bit as well.)
Just realized I took this in front of the dogwood.
I pretty much liked everything else I made during the year, but the above were my favorites.
Reflections on the Ready-to-Wear Fast: I participated in the RTW fast over at Goodbye Valentino this year. Basically, no RTW purchases (except lingerie) for all of 2018. I found it relatively easy to stick to the fast – I had no real desire to purchase anything. It could be that we had no major events or travel requiring new clothes, or simply that I have slowly, over the years, filled in some of the major gaps in my wardrobe.
The one thing I did learn was to think more deliberately about what to sew. Like a magpie, I’m drawn the the showy, pretty outfits that get worn once or twice. Now, I think more carefully about how pieces I make will fit with existing items. Two months ago, I spent some time purging clothing (both RTW and hand-made) that I don’t wear, or doesn’t fit, or I don’t really love anymore. Some things I still loved, but simply didn’t have a place to wear or would never fit into again. I was surprised at how liberating it was to let go of these pieces. It’s helped me set up my wardrobe planning for the coming year.
I also enjoyed meeting more men and women in the sewing community. Before I moved to Florida a few years ago, I had a neighbor who would ooh and ahh with me over patterns and fabric. She had an eye for fit and proportion as well. I started this blog when I realized I was going to move and lose her daily advice. But it can’t replace her. The Facebook group has been helpful – even on those days I simply read about other trials and triumphs.
Will I continue to fast? Not deliberately. I’ve always preferred what I make to what I buy, even if my skills weren’t up to par. But some things I don’t care to make – technical gear, such as running clothes, and cashmere sweaters (which I can only wear for a very short season here). If I see something that I love, and it fits/flatters, I will buy, but I will continue to build my own style.
So what about 2019? Cleaning out my parent’s house has been a eye-opening. I didn’t realize how much STUFF they had. I’m sorting through photos, old letters, and other items that we’ll keep. But we’re also sorting through a whole lot of things that ultimately just take up space. Every time I come back from their house, I clean out a closet and make donations.
My stash is huge – fabric, patterns, zippers, thread, buttons. How did this happen? I track my purchases and makes in a spreadsheet, so I know what I have. But I have too much. I patterns are one thing – I collect the vintage patterns. But I need to sew more and buy less!
My goal last year was to reduce my fabric stash – and I managed to sew or give away more yardage than buy for the first time since I started tracking. But it wasn’t a big dent, and wouldn’t have happened without donating 20 yards to my son’s school.
Goal number one: sew more than I buy!
Goal number two: don’t be distracted by what others make and blog!
Goal number three: shop the stash before hitting the online vendors!
Other than that, I would like to keep sewing to add to gaps in my wardrobe. I would like to conquer fit on my torso – shirts and dresses. And, I’d like to reduce my UFO pile.
Last night I wrote down (in about 10 seconds) the items I would like to make in the first quarter of the year. Well, I am ambitious – I’d be lucky to make them all in one year. But here are two pictures of what I’d like to make in the coming weeks:
I’m so tired! You know what happens when a seven year old goes to bed more than an hour late, still wound up? He wakes up an hour early (at 5 am). I feel bad for the teachers this morning.
This year we went as vampires, though, because we were running late getting over to my son’s friend’s neighborhood, we didn’t finish the makeup. And, that big giant wig I was wearing covered most of my costume.
Patterns: Simplicity 1045 view A (dress); McCalls 4139, views B & C (adult capes); McCalls 7494, view D (child cape and vest); McCalls 2447 (men’s vest). Note: the cape run long on me, but the dress was soooo short. I added two inches at the waist, as I normally do for my long waist. I still didn’t have enough length for a 1.5 inch (much less proper) hem, so I turned and stitched a 3/8th inch one. I also dropped the sleeves from the dress and changed how the back drape was done. Other than that, no issues with the patterns. DH and DS wore their own pants and t-shirts (it was 80F/27C degrees out, but no humidity).
Fabric: Lots of polyester here. I means yards and yards! All the satin and chiffon was from Mood Fabrics. The satin was nicer quality than I would expect, medium heavy with drape. The weight on the dress meant I didn’t have to worry about cling. The braid for the dress was also Mood. The bemberg rayon lining was from Emma One Sock, in my stash.
The two vests are layered. I used the black satin as the base in the front, and layered it with the spiderweb mesh/tulle from JoAnns (they seem to carry it every year – Witching Hour brand).
After I made the buttonholes and attached the buttons, the boys decided they wanted skull buttons. Given I’d already made the holes, I was limited in what I could buy size wise. After many searches, I settled on what turned out to be very small, but very high quality buttons from Joyce’s Trimming on Etsy.
I know it’s a lot of work and more money than purchasing costumes. But the year we bought costumes they were so cheap it wasn’t worth the money or time saved. We carefully box away the costumes for another year. Some day soon, the boy won’t want to match us and we can recycle.
Catching my breath. It’s been a busy past couple of weeks. My husband and I hosted a spooky luau for 45 people (including kids) – and cooked/smoked all the food. I’m still putting things away. I also made a major life decision – to cut back at work to focus on my family and me. I put in my “retirement” letter last week – as well as an application for a new position at the same location (bureaucracy/budget lines make this necessary). Hopefully, in a week or two, I’ll know if that maneuver is successful. I do know that once I made the decision, my sleep improved immediately.
Anyway, the sewing I’ve been doing? Halloween costumes. Some preview pictures:
And, still fasting. More than a year since I bought RTW. The RTW fast ends at the end of this year, and I’d like some new workout clothes. I have no interest in making my own!
I finally decided to alter the Pucci top that didn’t work from a few weeks back. First, I put buttons down the back (simple purple shirt buttons). Second I took in the sides: I added a “curve” to the straight box cut by taking it in 1/4 inch (1/2 inch total each side) on the side, tapering to the hem and up to the bust dart. Third, I added fish eye darts to the back (total of 2 inches removed at narrowest part of back) and front (one inch total). Yes, I removed 4 inches from the waist to provide a semi-fitted silhouette as opposed to a straight one.
I like it much better, but the second problem is not fixable. I really think the print overwhelms my frame. No matter, I will wear this running errands.
The pants are Vogue 1550. No changes from the black pair I made some months back. IN fact, I started these the week of my dad’s funeral back in April and they were the first things I completed when I started sewing again.
The fabric is a cross-dyed linen from Marcy Tilton that I bought last year. The threads are black and hot pink, which combine to give a purplish appearance. It’s quite lovely. This linen is more wiry than the black, so it’s not as appropriate for this pattern in terms of drape, but it’s manageable. It was a bit shifty though, and the grain is slightly off.
Grumbling about photo quality, yet I’ll not do anything about it…