Whenever I talk to my mother now about sewing, she says the same thing: “I used to sew, but I don’t anymore. It’s easier to buy.” Every once in awhile she’ll admire something I’ve made, or even offer a bit of advice, but it always ends in the same refrain.
She has dementia, at 76. She’s too young, but isn’t everyone? I made my peace with my mother’s condition about a year ago and now I try to call and talk to her and treat her with as much respect and dignity as I can.
But this weekend, when she was returning home from a trip out west with my dad, there was a new development. During an extended layover at the Atlanta airport, she claimed that the man traveling with her (my dad) was not her husband and she didn’t know him – her husband and life-mate of over fifty years. For those of you who have been here, you know what a bitter moment this is. From what I understand, the Delta personnel, both on the ground and their flight crews, were a god-send to my dad, helping him navigate this new challenge.
My mom and I shared sewing – often making outfits together. She made my high school gowns and many of my sister’s as well. I wore one of my sister’s gowns to the 1993 Inaugural Ball. She always did the difficult work – I mostly assisted. But I think sewing was more of a necessity for her, as much as she wanted it to be more. And I think that’s why she eventually gave it up.
I sifted through old photos and here are some of the outfits she made in no particular order. I wish I had more photos, and probably do somewhere. Some of the patterns are known, but most I do not know. My apologies for the poor quality – the photos haven’t been stored well and were meant to capture moments more than anything else.
My in-laws recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They asked everyone to dress from the era (1966). A few months back I ran some ideas on this blog, but in the end settled on a very different, much simpler dress. Little did I know when I selected it, that it would connect me once again to family – this time my father’s mother.
While we were traveling, I fell hard for the Marfy re-release of their first pattern. I didn’t feel ready for a Marfy dress, so when I got home, I looked through my pattern collection and found Vogue 1415. It was perfect, even though it’s a simple shift dress.
I didn’t know my grandmother well, though I wish I did. This is a picture of her as a young woman. It’s her senior yearbook photo when she was at Duke University. She graduated in 1927. She loved history, and was in the Women’s League of Voters at Duke. According to the yearbook, “she was the embodiment of dignity and modesty, and hers, too, is that rarest of womanly virtues, silence. When occasion demands, she talks and what she says is well worth listening to. That she will be a success is a foregone conclusion.”
She died when I was just 13, of heart disease. Most of my early life I lived far from her. I did get to know her husband, my grandfather. Even after she had been gone for 20 years, he still spoke of her with respect. I didn’t really know her, except that I admired her. She was elegant, sophisticated and an amazing cook. We took walks together whenever I visited. But I never knew she sewed.
So when I opened Vogue 1415, which was her pattern, I was surprised to see her fitting notes on the pattern pieces. I made version E, the print dress on the right in the photo, the same one she chose. I don’t know if she made this dress for herself, or for my Aunt, who would have been in her early 20s at the time. (I’ll never know as my Aunt and grandfather both passed away in 2003). But I felt connected to her in a way I hadn’t before.
I used a silk/wool sharkskin suiting from Emma One Sock. This fabric can have a fair amount of luster, depending on the light. Because this is a superfine worsted wool, I decided to underline the dress with silk organza. Though the dress didn’t call for lining, I used black silk crepe de chine to line the dress. Both lining and underlining came from Gorgeous Fabrics.
My first lesson on this pattern… 1960s sizing with a modern body. I made a muslin first: the pattern envelope had the right measurements for me, but I’ve been having fitting issues of late. This is bustier than I expected – the darts and princess seaming were difficult to adjust just right. If the girls weren’t high, the dress itself had all kinds of drag lines. So, I found a bra that did the trick. (My grandmother noted that the bust darts seemed high).
Though the muslin fit well otherwise, it was very fitted, so I used 1/2 inch seams. This gave me a bit more wearing ease, though the fit is still off a bit. In addition, there was a fair amount of easing to do in the princess seams, and I’m glad I discovered this in the muslin first.
The second lesson was the fabric. Worsted wool requires tailoring skills – and that means proper pressing skills. I made good use of a press cloth, steam and clapper to get the seams to lie flat. Still, the final pressing was problematic. Why? I didn’t finish sewing in the lining or the hem until after we got to North Carolina. And the folks at the airBnB had a fantastic collection of movie memorabilia, but only a miniature iron:
I had better success using my flatiron and press cloth on the hem.
Overall, I was pleased with the dress. I wore my grandmother’s pearls and an old pair of Betsey Johnson platform heels.
This weekend, we traveled. We went north to a very hot, and very humid Charlotte, NC for my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary. I have a post later this week about the dress I made for it. On the way back to relatively cool Florida, we stopped at the old family farm in upstate South Carolina to clean out my late grandparents house. Or try anyway.
In the four-generation picture above, my grandmother Margaret is on the left, and oldest woman is my great-grandmother, Marie, who owned the house before my grandmother. But the sewing items I found at the house also tell the story of my mother, and of one of my great-great grandmothers.
I’m not sure who these thimbles belonged to, but most likely my great-grandmother. I found them in a jar in the kitchen, and I think the jar had been in the attic. I’d love to ask my mother, but sadly, her memory is being robbed of her. I put them in my pocket and fidgeted with them the rest of the day. They are bent, as if shaped to great-grandma Marie’s finger. I’ve never mastered using a thimble, but these felt good on my fingers. I loved her dearly. She was my earliest sewing teacher. (“Those stitches are beautiful, but these are not. Keep your focus all the way through a project, don’t be lazy.”) She also taught me crewel embroidery. Sadly, I never learned tatting, her specialty, but I have some of her pieces. Of all the things I brought home, these thimbles have the most sentimental value.
We also cleaned out the patterns. Well, this occurred before I got there – my sister saved them from the trash. My sister said they found them in a suitcase in the attic. They’ve probably been there since the mid 70s, when the house was renovated. She said they did have to throw out more than half the patterns because they were in such bad shape. Many of these envelopes are tattered and disintegrating. Almost all of these were used – my grandmother actually used her patterns.
I only had one in my collection – the Balmain, which I got from my other grandmother. Judging from the dates on the McCalls patterns and the styles/sizes, I think my grandmother was sewing mostly for my mother who would have been in high school/college. My mother’s handwriting is on a few. Still, my grandmother married very young, and the styles would have been fashionable for someone in their late 30s, early 40s. I think my grandmother liked McCall’s best, given how many there were.
My grandmother clearly liked Spadea patterns. These are in pristine (but used) condition. These patterns, and the catalogues above, were still in the mailing envelopes. The patterns were all mailed to Loring Air Force base, which dates them to the early 60s (I think 1961). The catalogues were mailed to her at the farm, after she remarried, so it’s from the early 70s. (My first grandfather died in his 40s, when I was 2.) I think she bought these designs for herself, as they were a bit more sophisticated and elegant than the many mod patterns from McCalls.
I knew this existed, and I had requested to have it when my grandfather passed away:
But I didn’t know this still existed (terrible pix, no lighting, nor AC for that matter):
Both are still at the farm. My brother is going to get both (and all those parts to the left) and bring them to me, as our car was full. I remember them being together and even using the treadle when I was very, very young. But I thought the machine was lost.
The machine itself is in terrible condition. Perhaps it’s just aesthetics, I won’t know til I get it out of the house. I think it may have been in the attic for the last 40 years. The cabinet/treadle is in great shape, as it had been used as furniture since the mid 70s. The drawers were still filled with acorns – my doing from when I was little.
I’m not sure who owned it. My grandmother obviously got it from her mother, Marie. But Marie’s life span doesn’t really overlap when these machines were made. Still, the house didn’t have plumbing til the 70s, so perhaps it had limited electricity as well. Looking at when my great-grandmother lived (1861-1964), I’m thinking it was hers. She also lived in that house in her gloriously long life. It could have been my great-grandfather’s mother’s machine though (1872-1937). I’ll never know.
I don’t have the faintest idea how to restore it or preserve the old patterns, but if anyone knows anything, please comment! Likewise, if you know of any restorers in the north Florida area (or east Tennessee, where the machine will live with my brother for a while), please let me know!
I’ve got [too] many projects cut out for myself, half started, nearly finished, planned. Some are easy, others quite challenging. I’ve gotten myself in the situation of not knowing where to start to finish. Well, not quite true. I know I’m going to finish the Marfy top next, in a beautiful print silk chiffon. But it’s going to require patience and focus… and I’ve been working on overcoming a nasty cold. Or will it be the Marcy Tilton raincoat?
So, how to keep sewing when your have a nasty cold and are super exhausted? Say yes when your niece politely asks for a new apron. Her mom and I selected a pattern via texting and then I was off to JoAnns, where I bought cotton prints for not one, not two, but three aprons for McCall’s 5720. Oh, and some new Star Wars Force Awakens flannel for pajama bottoms for my son.
McCall’s 5720, view B: I decided to surprise my sister and niece by making coordinating aprons for them. This is a simple pattern, and goes together fairly quickly. The fabric is okay – lots of body which is fine for this view (and loads of sizing, that washing didn’t eliminate). I have a very strong aversion to rick-rack, and an aversion to most trims I find at JoAnn’s, so I ordered some 1/4″ rayon braid in orchid from MJ Trimming. The buttons are JoAnn’s. The most challenging elements were the patch pockets and attaching the braid neatly.
Like many McCall’s patterns for crafts/costumes, it uses 1/2 inch seam allowances. Still, on several pattern pieces, like the ties, it calls for 5/8 inch seam allowances. If you follow the pattern pieces, the ties won’t align with the dots. It doesn’t always call for the best techniques for good results. I especially disliked the idea of the narrow, essentially shirt-tail, hem on those deep curves. On my niece’s apron, I did the hems using Claire Schaeffer’s way. While they are very stiff, you do get a better result than when you use the pattern directions, which I used on my sister’s version. You can see the puckering at the waist – that’s from the finishing, not from how I tied it.
There is an error in the placement of the notches on pieces 7 & 8 of the girl’s pattern. they don’t align at all (not even close).
This came together quickly, and it was off to the post office. My niece was very happy that her mother got one too!. On the other hand, I made the largest girl size (7-8), and it looks mighty small (though it works).
McCall’s 5720, view C: Since I was there, and I had the pattern, I thought I would make view C for myself. I was curious to see how the layered flounces would look on an adult, and I needed a “pretty” apron for when I have company (or I will wipe on my good clothes without thinking – I’m a messy cook).
I made a mistake! I meant to make the bottom layer the dark blue, not the middle. I didn’t catch it until I cut it out. I think I would like it marginally better if the base color was the darker blue. The pictures are washed out, but the three prints are meant to work together in a quilt, I guess. Aesthetically, in the end, I don’t really like this for me. And, the fabric has a lot of body, so it adds weight to the bottom half of the figure.
This view went together much more professionally than the other one – a simpler design, no real issues. There is an error in the directions however, between steps 12 and 13. You need to fold the waistband down, right sides together, stitch, and trim. Again, watch the seam allowances and hems, which differ on the pattern pieces, specific directions and general directions.
Blank Slate PJ Bottoms: I said I wasn’t going to use this pattern again. Then it got cold (yes, it gets below freezing in my part of Florida). My son also decided he liked his pjs styled like his dads: bottoms with a t-shirt. Most of the problems I have with the pattern are with the top, and the fit on the bottoms is spot on right now.
I let my son help me. This upped the difficulty level. He wanted to randomly mix the two prints; I convinced him of this more subtle variation. He was a good helper – he really wants to learn how to sew, and is taking sewing lessons after school. He just wasn’t always patient or wanted in my lap to see better.
A couple of notes about this flannel: it’s not intended for children’s sleepwear. It’s also pretty low quality. What I bought was very much off grain, and I wasn’t able to straighten the grain. The red Republic emblem bleeds, even on cold, even after multiple washings.
Note to self: When purchasing fabric from a place like JoAnns, buy extra. Every single piece was cut poorly, sometimes resulting in several lost inches. When I order online, I almost always order extra, because I often change my mind about how I will use the fabric, and figure extra is good. Need to do the same in person, too.
I haven’t been sewing much lately. The usual reasons… too tired, too unmotivated, etc. It’s not that I haven’t planned projects, but… In any case, two days before Christmas, I decided to make the little guy new PJs. I’d already purchased the fabric from JoAnns – the new Star Wars cottons for The Force Awakens (heroes, of course). Note: the fabric states “not for sleepwear.”
I’d used the Blank Slate Lazy Day Pajamas pattern before (about 8 months ago, but can’t link to the blog post). This time I went up two sizes (how he grows), made the long sleeve/pant combo and added piping. Unfortunately, I had the same problems with this pattern as the last time. Nonetheless, he loves them, even if it is still too warm for long PJs.
I love the style. I didn’t bother to match the pattern, which means that Rey’s head is on Chewbacca’s body. It really bothers me, but a 4.5 year old boy finds that hysterical. The piping turned out to be really easy.
The real problems with the pattern are: lack of grain lines, lack of match points, and the facing does not fit properly, so it does not lie flat. I was anticipating it this time, so I made doubly sure that I cut the right pieces/sizes from the pdf and constructed it properly.
The Fabric: a cotton from JoAnns with Imperial and Rebel ships, including the Millennium Falcon. Not intended for sleepwear.
Easy enough, though not without issues. The shorts were super easy.
The fit for 4T was spot-on, unlike the McCalls PJs (6236) I made at Christmas. Though he’s grown, it’s been in height, not girth, so he still swims in those.
I made tons of changes for the pattern – no cuffs – he needed shorts/short sleeves since its summer here; no piping.
No grains lines or match points for the pattern. Could have used more for the shirt.
Attaching the collar and facing was not easy – in fact, I think I did something wrong or the facing is drafted wrong. It does not fit the top/neckline. I had to add some “darts” in the facing at the shoulders to get it to lay flat – excess fabric. Because of this, I won’t be making it again.
This gave me more practice using the new serger on finishing seams, which is good.
Of course, he doesn’t care about the issues, he has Star Wars pjs. But he wouldn’t sit still for photos. (He really didn’t want his picture taken).
BTW, I am looking for suggestions for good quality men and boy’s patterns.
Next up, a simple linen skirt. I’m still working too much and exhausted, so simple items for a while before getting back to complex and interesting sewing.
The first skirt I made for her was from Butterick, and while she loved it, it was way too big for her. I decided to make the LHS for her, but one size down (this was a knit). The fit is much better, yet she still has plenty of room for growing.
The pretty floral was very stable to sew and took no time at all to make. This version is the four panel, full circle skirt, double layered. It has a bias cut yoke, and elasticized waist. I did make the belt, but not the loops (they looked terrible, so I did thread loops).
I made this so long ago now that I’m having some memory issues – I do know that I think it would be better with a lighter weight fabric. I also got the report that a wider strip of elastic would be better (calls for a 3/8th inch elastic).
I do remember this: for some reason when I sew knits on my regular sewing machine, the fabric “pulls away” from the marked seam line. I know I’m not describing it right. In the photo, the fabric was lined up to the yellow tape to make a half inch seam. When I started to stitch, the fabric pulled away to make a narrower seam. Any thoughts?
Anyway, it’s cute, it fits her, she likes it. I’ve got another variation on the LHS on the cutting table (the A-line button front). As soon as I figure out the new serger, I’ll get going on it.
My little guy (3.5 years) is taking swimming lessons. Outside in February. The pool is heated (hot) but the air temps are in the 50s and 60s (I know, that’s balmy for many of you) and class is at sunset. When he gets out of the pool he’s shaking like a leaf! All the kids line up for cookies afterward wrapped head to toe in towels, and the instructors place cookies in their mouths like they are baby birds. The little guy needed free hands and the ability to walk quickly to get inside to the shower.
I’ve had the Blank Slate Baja Hoody in my stash for some time – I wanted to make it for beach trips. But he needed it now! So we went to Bed, Bath and Beyond, and he chose an over-sized beach towel that he liked. Fun! A beach towel? One of the suggestions from the pattern (and messy, like all terry, to sew with, btw).
I made 4T, which is what he wears in RTW. It fits fine, but it would be easier for him to put it on if I sized up (to be fair, he was rushing to put it on). I liked that he chose a stripe – it gave me practice with matching stripes.
The pattern is super easy to make, and the directions are very detailed (except the way she has you attach the hood, but that could be me). I made this in an evening.
I did a few things differently:
I eliminated the center front seam, and cut on the fold. This made matching stripes easier and simplified the pattern. This meant that I now needed to do a bound slit for the neck opening.
I cut the pattern so the lower hem was the towel hem – I also lengthened the top by three inches to help give more warmth. Doing the towel hem made sense – simplified the sewing, taking advantage of a pre-existing feature. (This does mean that you are ignoring nap for the front and back).
I lengthened the sleeves out to the towel sides – again to take advantage of the pre-existing selvedge. I got lucky – perfect length to make this his size as a long-sleeved top.
I didn’t have double-fold bias tape on hand (as recommended by the directions), so I used one inch twill tape to finish the edges. This came out okay. Better than the tape, but marginally.
Placed the pocket to have horizontal stripes against the vertical.
A few things I would do differently next time (because there will be several more next times):
I would do the pocket differently. I didn’t practice how I would do the twill tape, so it’s off. I would finish the sides of the pocket with binding, but not the bottom edge. Not sure how I would attach the pocket, but differently, to get a better, more professional result.
I would practice the bound slit! This looks fine in the pictures, but I know it will fall apart in the wash eventually.
Consider a button/loop closure at the neckline (for warmth).
Instead of lengthening the sleeve by extending the pattern, consider making regular sleeves, trimming up the body (have the shoulders extended, but not fully as in the pattern), and setting the new sleeves in flat.
Cut in a single layer layout (with terry and the thickness).
I like sewing for him, especially since the indie companies don’t ignore little boys. It’s got me thinking that perhaps I should buy a serger (for easier seam finishes.)
We took the pictures inside, as it was pouring rain outside (and we still had practice outside). I also took them with my phone, so the quality is not as I would have liked. (Didn’t want to bring the nice camera out in the weather or to a pool).
All in all, I’m pleased with the result, even though I know all the flaws. I feel pretty good about my almost perfectly matched stripes. The little guy loves it (or at least the hood and pocket). And my husband said, “that looks good, really really good.”