Skip to content

From the stash: Sleeveless floral blouse-skirt duo

This floral cotton-spandex resided in my stash for several years, because I loved it so much I didn’t want to make it into something that turned out to be a disappointment.  …

Sleeveless blouse and skirt fabric RSR

I finally settled on a sleeveless blouse-skirt combo, i.e., a 2-piece dress.  The outfit is devoid of embellishment, and has no decorative features at all.  My plan was to start with the most basic garments and add to them as necessary for aesthetics or function.  To my surprise, the basic un-embellished duo became one of my favorite go-to outfits this summer.

Sleeveless blouse and skirt

For a pattern, I traced a simple, old linen blouse in my closet.  The only change I made was to slightly indent the side seams at the waist.

IMG_20180906_122905492_LL a

The blouse slips over the head, and has a button-loop closure in the back.  I used a reflective fabric covered button.

 

The skirt is a simple rectangle, seamed up the back, slightly tapered at the waist, with an elastic casing.

Skirt

I lined the blouse and skirt with cotton percale sheet fabric.  The lining is super comfortable in hot weather, and adds just a smidge more body to the garments.

Lining

This turned out to be the kind of simple outfit that sneaks up on you and becomes the thing you wear everywhere.  I’ve worn this outfit when bicycling, to the office, to meet friends for dinner, and to the ballpark.  I wore the blouse to a big-time concert last month with a pair of khaki shorts.  (More on that to come.)  The outfit basically goes anywhere.  It’s been excellent for road trips and travel.  This simple duo is going to end up in my personal little dress hall of fame.

Here it is with a 10+ year old hand-embroidered Putumayo sweater that I thought was inching closer to the donation box.  Not anymore.  It’s part of the ensemble now.

Sweater2

With Autumn arriving in a week, I already miss wearing this outfit.  I’m considering making another version in fall colors, with simple 3/4 sleeves.

 

 

Advertisements

Dressmaking and Tailoring class 1937

Inside this old loose-leaf cover is my Grandma’s workbook from the tailoring and dressmaking college she attended in Kansas City in 1937, after graduating high school.

Tailoring class notebook a w RSR

There are some large, printed base patterns and instructions.  Here is one complete unfolded sheet:

Pattern full sheet

And now some close-up details:

We’ve got the name of the college.

Label a w RSR

And a statement about the badassery of women in dressmaking, tailoring and pattern making.

Dressmaking pattern quote RSR

Clear instructions and diagrams for taking measurements.  Lots of measurements.

Measuring points diagram 2 RSR

Instructions for Taking Measures a RSR

After the students took their own detailed measurements and recorded them in the notebook, they made their own base pattern.

The big sheets spell it all out in diagrams and lists.   Here is the tight-waist blouse base pattern:

Side bodice

Sweeping lines diagram

The list of measurements in this piece:

IMG_20180826_141850821 a RSR

Then the step-by-step drafting instructions:

Bodice pattern instructions RSR

After mastering the pattern drafting, the class turned to incorporating different styles into the basic pattern.

They made miniature to-scale paper patterns of different skirt, blouse and sleeve styles.  There are pages and pages of examples of clothing styles, drafted into miniature paper patterns.  They started with simple skirt styles, and then got more complicated.

Two Skirts RSR

Flared skirt with v waist panel RSR

Skirt with 4 inch flares RSR

Then they moved on to bodices.

Pintuck bodice RSRSlash and gather waist RSR

This one below, with the curved inset is my current fave and the one I want to try for myself.  I’m not sure there is enough muslin in this city for all of the mistakes I’ll make, but I’ve got to try it.

Curved waist inset RSR

How do you draw all of these to-scale patterns?  With a miniature to-scale ruler and curve, of course.

Ruler and French Curve a RSR

Fast-forward 20 years, during which my Grandma got married, had two daughters, worked as a ‘Rosie’ at Pratt & Whitney while awaiting her husband’s return from WWII, had two sons, and in 1958,…she got her dream machine, the Slant-O-Matic 401A.

Fast forward another 20 years, when as a teen, I spent many hours at this machine learning techniques from her that still serve me to this day.

Fast forward another 40 years, and the machine is in my care now.  That is her balsa wood pin cushion in the picture foreground.  It’s an awesome pin cushion.  Those are her Wiss shears, too.  She taught me that there is no substitute for a big pair of precisely-made, expertly-sharpened metal shears.  She’s still right.

Grandma's Slant-o-Matic RSR

 

 

The county fair and a campout

The night before my recent trip to the vintage clothing store, I went to the county fair.  I enjoyed looking at all of the hand crafted items, and home grown produce of the local 4-H’ers.

There were some excellent handmade garments on display, by teens and by grade schoolers.  To my distress, what you see here was all of the constructed garment entries this year.  This downtrend makes me want to stop what I’m doing and personally try to reverse the trend and bring young people into the wonderful world of sewing and handmade clothing.

DG County Fair garment construction teens

DG County Fair garment construction grade school age

There was beautiful home grown produce.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There was gorgeous woodworking, and a fun repurposing challenge.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The foods entries were great.  They had everything from breads and baked sweets to canned and dehydrated produce.  I was too busy admiring to remember to take a picture.

Over in the animal buildings, there were newly shorn sheep in fabulous jackets.  Two of my favorite jackets were the high necked trench coat and a fabulous hot pink number.  The sheep were quite friendly, too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As for the other animals, there was a handsome rooster that did a great cockadoodledoo, but refused to do a repeat performance for my camera.  There was a lovely dairy cow who looks great with purple accessories, a perfect pink pig that belongs in Charlotte’s Web, and a spotted pig on the loose, who had the prettiest floppy pig ears.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was demolition derby night, too!  This event was packed; standing room only.  This picture should come with sound.  The motors were loud, and the crowd roared with appreciation.

DG County Fair Demolition Derby

Campout!  

That night, hotel rooms in town were scarce and pricey, but that didn’t matter to me, because I’d opted to take advantage of the gorgeous weather forecast.  I packed my tent, chair, backpacking stove, and breakfast, for an overnight at the lake campground just outside of town.  The lake was a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) construction project in the 1930s, and has been nicely preserved.  My siblings and I loved visiting this lake when we were growing up.  Point of trivia:  William S. Burroughs had a little cabin at this lake in the last years of his life.

On this particular night, my thirtysomething nephew came out with his lawn chair.  We sat and talked while looking out over the lake until 1am, mostly sharing fun memories about the lake and about our siblings, parents and grandparents.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Four woman aviators; one with a side hustle as a designer

MARY ELLIS

Several times this summer, women aviators were on my mind.  Most recently, the news that Mary Ellis, one of the last living female WWII pilots has passed away.  This BBC article gives a summary of her wartime service and her life after the war, when she was put in charge of Sandown Airport on the Isle of Wight.

Woman WWII pilot

 

AMELIA EARHART

Amelia and I were born more than six decades, but only about 50 miles apart.  Hers was one of the first biographies I read as a young girl.

Amelia-Earhart-propeller a

Her accomplishments as an aviator are universally known.  But did you know:

  • She sewed her own clothes
  • She designed practical flying attire for women pilots, and
  • She launched her own line of women’s clothing designs.

Amelia Earhart Adjusting Sleeve

Amelia clothing line2

Amelia Earhart fashion label a

Amelia Earhart fashion magazine page5 a

She pioneered the use of ‘Lastex’ yarn, that may be a sort of precurser to the now-ubiquitous and indispensable Spandex.

amelia earhart vogue ad Lastex a

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary–“Lastex”:

Lastex definition from Merriam Webster

During the Great Depression, she made her designs available as sewing patterns.

Amelia Earhart patterns magazine article

It’s more well known that Amelia had a line of suitcases.

amelia-earhart-travel-luggage

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The suitcase line bearing her name continued after her disappearance.  Below is a May 1947 ad; ten years after her disappearance.

Amelia Earhart luggage ad 1947 a

Before she became a pilot, she served as a nurse during WWI.  During this duty, she contracted pneumonia.  The pneumonia treatment left her with a sinus injury that plagued her with headaches and other complications, requiring occasional treatment and hospitalization for the rest of her life.

Amelia Earhart WWI nurse

From the time I was little, she inspired me with her independence and determined character.

More reading about Amelia’s sewing and designing:

 

AMY JOHNSON

Amy was a British pioneer aviator.  I’d never heard of her until I one day looked up the meaning of Al Stewart’s song, Flying Sorcery.  Wow, what a lovely tribute.   Amy Johnson is another person I wish I could have known.  In 1930, she became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia.  She set other flight distance records as well.  Like Mary Ellis, she flew for England in WWII; ferrying planes to the war front.  While on one of her missions in 1941, she died in a crash in the Thames Estuary.  The circumstances of her crash have never been fully explained.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy_Johnson 

 

ONE MORE

So, why women aviators, and why now?  The answer is that on the same day I read the news about Mary Ellis’ passing, I was talking to an acquaintance who’s had a long career as an aviation engineer.  She casually mentioned being able to ‘cross another thing off her bucket list’.  That ‘thing’ was an emergency landing she’d made a few days before, while flying alone through rural Oklahoma.  (By crossing it off her bucket list, she meant she never wants to experience it again.)  She told the story calmly and technically, how the engine started acting up, so she maydayed the nearest manned air traffic control tower, which was an entire state away, in Fort Worth, TX.  The controllers stayed in continuous contact with her and talked her through the entire process.  Long story short, she safely landed at an unmanned airstrip in rural Oklahoma.  I was hanging on every word she said; my mouth probably gaping open in awe.  She immediately shot to the top of the list of women badasses I personally know.

 

Another trip to the best vintage clothing store ever.

It is probably a good thing this vintage clothing store is in my old home town, and not where I live now.  If it were closer to me, I’d have to build on a room addition just to hold my vintage purchases.  I was there earlier this month, and came home with four awesome dresses.  Here they are, starting with my fave, which I’ll wear as soon as the hottest part of summer is over:

Dress #1 is a  vintage 100% cotton calico print elbow-length sleeve shirt dress will be worn as-is, with a lightweight cardigan in chillier air.  The center front button placket stops at the waist, eliminating the need to fuss with buttons down the front of the skirt.  I’m not sure where it has been hiding these past decades, but it has never been worn or laundered.

Red calico floral shirtdress RSR

Dress #2 still had the store tags on it, so it too has never been laundered or worn.  It’s the one I’m less sure about than the others.  I think it is lovely, but I’m not sure about the style on me; not sure it is ‘my’ style.

Dress with long collar tie2 RSR

Tags RSR

On me, I like its appearance better with the long ties tossed back over the shoulder (see below).  That modification would be a shame though, because it’s main feature is the long ties down the front, and I love that feature.  Maybe it is the pleated skirt that isn’t right.  I could easily remove the pleated panel and replace it with a different fabric, or leave it off and make it a tunic instead of a dress.  As a tunic, I think the long ties down the front would be okay.  Bottom line, this one is going to be a puzzle.

Dress with long collar tie to the back RSR

Dress #3 is handmade of lightweight wool or wool blend, unlined.  It’s nicely sewn, and the fit is perfect.  It doesn’t look boxy like a suit jacket; it fits like a dress.  I’ll wear it this Autumn with a thin turtleneck or blouse underneath.

Purple wool blazer dress RSR

Dress #4!  Burberry plaid has been on my wish list for a long while now, so this lined rayon-cotton (I think) jumper that was on the half-price rack, was a no-brainer.  It too is handmade.  I hope to wear it to the office this Autumn with a white blouse underneath.  Because of the roomy pleated skirt, it should be great for the bicycle commute.

I am making one modification to this dress, and that is to turn half of the pleats the other direction.  The way they are now — pleats all turned one way, is interesting, but looks awkward on me.

Burberry plaid jumper RSR

More coolness from Burberry.  They have dynamite live music for their runway shows……

 

Paris, someday soon.

In my mind, I have my day-trip to Paris all planned.  I’ll take an early train from London or Amsterdam, and spend the day seeing the sights on foot–the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Seine; and eat at a sidewalk cafe, and then catch the night train back.

I’d like to visit the Beat Hotel

And the Boulevard de la Madeleine

This book, Fall Irmgard, has strengthened my resolve to make the trip.  It is the only book I’ve ever won in a Goodreads giveaway, and lucky me, I won an exceptionally good one.  It is the first published novel by Rand Charles.Fall Irmgard2 a RSR

The story took place in occupied Paris in April 1941, a few months before the US entered WWII.  A young American woman named Addie Bridges, who had been working in Paris and loving it, was reluctantly trying to get back home while leaving France was still possible.  The German occupiers were getting in her way at every turn, while Parisians had all they could handle just trying to endure the Nazi occupation and keep their lives and livelihoods intact.  The book was a long, slow, captivating read.  The author enabled me to effortlessly visualize the scenes–the settings and the mannerisms of each character at every encounter.  Highly recommend for readers interested in that period in history.

Meanwhile over in the sewing corner, I’m trying to figure out what to make with this Paris-themed fabric:  Dress, skirt, curtains, or all three; … andIMG_20180720_071127065_LL b panel RSR

I’m savoring Paris-inspired music.

 

Daisies, linen and box pleats for bicycling

I was so excited when I brought this 1960s daisy dress home from the vintage clothing store in August 2015, that I mentioned it in my blog right away.

vintage-dress-green-daisies RSR

For two summers I wore the dress as-is and loved its style.  But bicycling in it was a no-go, because the dress is narrow and straight with no stretch and no pleat for getting on and off the bike and for pedaling.  I loved the dress too much to change it.

Eventually my desire to wear it on my bike commute won out.  I formed a bold plan to add box pleats, and worked up the courage to make the first cut.  I measured and sliced the skirt where four pleats would go.  I was lucky to find some fabric for the pleats that was a near exact match of the creamy white color in the dress.

The result:  Ta-da!

vintage-dress-green-daisies pleats added RSR

The next morning as I was preparing to wear the modified dress for the first time, I took a mirror selfie, BHM (before hair and makeup).

Mirror selfie BHM RSR

On its first outing with the box pleats, I bicycled a total of 14 commute + errand miles.  The skirt was perfect, in roominess, length and drape.

After that first wearing, I decided the top of the pleats should be reinforced to prevent inevitable strain and fraying in the corners.  So I added little tabs.

pleat tabs RSR

This project was an unqualified success.  The person most surprised is me.  I feared I was going to ruin the lovely dress for good.  But no, I’ll be using the box pleat ‘hack’ again sometime when I need to convert another dress for bike-ability.  I want to post a set of instructions, but I feel like I need to try it again a time or two before telling others how to do it.  Stay tuned.

 

And their love that was more than the clothes that they wore,
Could be seen in the gleam of an eye…

 

And Never Let Her Go

The difference between this and any other Ann Rule book, is that something made me pick this one up at the bookstore, take a quick look through it, buy it and read it.  Ann Rule has done important work in writing books about stalkers and murderers who outwardly appeared to be leading ordinary lives among us.  I find the books too haunting to read.  But something about this story made me want to know what happened.

And Never Let Her Go

As I read further into this book, I began wondering why I had never heard of this story on the news.  The Delaware Governor’s beautiful secretary goes missing and then the murderer turns out to be a well-connected, married lawyer from a wealthy family, well-known in the region.

The news story may not have reached me in real time in 1997, but in 2000, this book did a thorough, careful job of helping me get to know these people.  Anne Marie was tall, slender, kind, fun loving and beautiful.  Her doom was being at her desk when this man came to the Governor’s office for a meeting.  He pursued her the way an experienced man pursues a trusting young person.  He was practiced at cheating on his wife, and cheating on his girlfriends, one of whom was the wife of one of his law partners.  Before long Ann Marie was trying to figure out how to leave him.  That’s when he turned on the other type of manipulation, in which he made her think she owed him.  He stalked her as well.  When those tactics stopped working and he sensed she was getting away, he murdered her.  With the help of one of his brothers, he dumped her body at sea.

Anne Marie kept a diary, which would seem to make an open-and-shut case.  But no; it was anything but that.  When he was arrested and prosecuted, he manipulated family and friends from jail; trying to get them to lie for him.  He paid a thug to break into another girlfriend’s house to scare her into lying for him.  Meanwhile, he was setting her up to take the fall for his crime.

Maybe I was drawn to this book because I was close to Anne Marie’s age, and worked with some suits who thought they had perfected the double life.  I don’t know.  When I finish a book, I usually pass it on.  The ‘keepers’ that remain in my possession, take up less than a single shelf in my bookcase.  This is one of the keepers.

Read and watch more:  

Book:  There was another book written about Anne Marie’s murder, titled ‘Summer Wind‘.  It is a shorter book, but also did an excellent job telling the story.

Newspaper articles:  The Delaware News Journal recently did a story marking the 20-year anniversary of the murder of Anne Marie.   https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2017/11/15/thomas-capano-convicted-murdering-anne-marie-fahey-and-conviction-how-happened-one-turn-after-anothe/851736001

That newspaper story links to this in-depth report on the case and several key individuals.  https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2017/11/15/20-years-after-capano-arrest-juror-breaks-silence/839587001

Movie:  Ann Rule’s book was made into a TV movie, also titled ‘And Never Let Her Go‘.  It starred Mark Harmon.

The movie is available on DVD https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000UAE7J0

I couldn’t find an official movie trailer, but here is a collection of scenes from the movie.

The movie contained a clip of this beautiful song, which made me search for the song and buy the album.

Twenty years before #metoo, and the outing of Matt Lauer and Bill Cosby (two of a growing list), we all knew there were people among us in our daily lives, shrouded in respectable suits and positions, underneath which they honored nothing but their desire at any given moment.  They thought they had somehow been endowed with an entitlement to take what they wanted, by criminal means if necessary, and have their colleagues and subordinates help keep it all in the closet.  They are still out there among us.  Don’t be their next target, and don’t be an enabler.  My wish is that Anne Marie never be forgotten.

It worked! I stretched a shrunk rayon dress back to size.

Absentmindedly I tossed this dress into the wash with a load of colors, on the cold gentle cycle.  Out came a tiny dress for a shorter stick version of myself.  Turns out it is one of those awful super-shrinky rayon dresses from a prior decade.Care label w comment

I didn’t take a picture of the shrunken dress, so you’ll have to imagine the dress in this picture not draping freely from the dress form, but instead fitting snugly with open gaps between the buttons down the front.  The sleeves were skin-tight on my arms.  It was bad.Rayon dress 1 -- rsr

My only options I thought, were to put it in the donation box, or repurpose it into another garment.  Then I found this unshrinking method that uses hair conditioner.  This blog gave super easy instructions:  Almostherealthing.com  I checked a couple of other sites to compare, and they were mostly consistent on the method:

In a tub or pan, combine warm water and hair conditioner, in a ratio of 1 quart of water to 1 tsp. conditioner.  Soak the garment in the solution for about 10 minutes.  Remove the garment and blot with a towel to remove dripping water, then stretch and reshape and dry.  Repeat if necessary for more stretching.

I didn’t have hair conditioner on hand for the unshrinking project.  Dollar Store to the rescue!Conditioner

I was dubious.  But…wow, it really worked!  The unshrinking was easy and inexpensive.  It’s truly regrettable that I didn’t take a ‘before’ picture of the dress in its shrunken state, for dramatic comparison purposes.

Here is the dress after unshrinking and drying.  I’ve had the dress for years.  For ‘vintage’ events, such as WWII or 1940s themed occasions, it is my go-to garment.  It’s super comfortable and bike-able.  It goes well with a straw sun hat.  I’m glad to have it back.  Rayon dress 2 -- rsr

I’m wearing the dress in this shadow picture, taken at the end of a vintage homes bicycle tour.  Bicycle dress shadow -- RSR

About that $1 bottle of conditioner…

Now that I have a nearly-full 32oz bottle of hair conditioner on hand. I need to figure out what to do with it.  Here are some ideas.  20 Genius Uses for Hair Conditioner  This article makes hair conditioner seem like WD-40 for the body.  I’ll certainly be giving some of the suggestions a try.

This machine is a sewing ambassador.

There I was, browsing through my then-fave antique furniture dealer/restorer, telling myself I didn’t need any more furniture.  Then I came upon this.  Machine in cover

The hand crank turned easily, and all the parts appeared to be there.  The price seemed low.  I’d never worked with an antique machine, and my curiosity quickly won out.  Decals

This was more than 15 years ago.  The internet was still new enough that personal web pages consisted of a lot of plain text and a few little photos.  But lucky me, a few people had done DIY pages on bringing an old Singer back to life.  All it took for this one was some sewing machine oil, and careful cleaning of the head, to not ruin the decals.  A universal bobbin and needle were all the parts I needed.  Soon it was sewing beautiful stitches on a test scrap.  Crank view

The decals are the “Lotus Petal” design.  The serial number is stamped on the base, in nice big numbers.  There is a little storage compartment under the hand wheel, for holding attachments, etc.  Serial number and equipment cupboard

I love looking in the storage compartments of old machines.  They are like opening a time capsule.  There were a few specialty feet in this compartment.  I confess, I still haven’t used them.  I need to make that a future fun project.  special feet

There was also an online database of Singer serial numbers, that quickly told me this machine is a Model 66k; one of 75,000 manufactured in Clydebank, Scotland, in 1917.  Handcrank machine history w heading

Around the same time I got the machine, I acquired a little stack of scrappy stars in another antiques shop.  In keeping with their vintage status, I decided to assemble them into a quilt top using my ‘new’ hand crank sewing machine.  Then, I taught myself to hand-quilt.  Then I took the finished quilt into the shop where I’d bought the stars.  The owner got choked up, and told me her mom had made the stars.  She loved how I framed them in red and muslin.  Quilt

The sewing machine currently resides in my sitting room, on top of a treadle base.  There is another antique sewing machine folded up in the treadle base.  This first purchase and all of the wonderful experiences that came from it, caused me to buy more old Singers and put them back into ‘service’.  My feeling is that they need to be re-appreciated, and used occasionally.  And that’s a duty I thoroughly enjoy.  base-pup rsr

This hand-crank machine’s most recent use was at a workshop where outdoors enthusiasts were learning to make custom straps with buckles, adjusting slides, and other embellishments, for camping, hiking, and biking.  A small bit of straight stitching on the straps was optional.  This sewing machine being non-electric, low-tech, and virtually unbreakable, was not threatening to people who had never sewed, or who’d had a bad first sewing experience.  Everyone opted to take a turn with it.  I think I (or more likely, the machine) successfully recruited some sewing newbies that day.