Friday, September 25, 2020

Literary Sewing Circle: Inspiration!

It's the first week of our Literary Sewing Circle featuring The Night Watchman! Have you found a copy yet? Have you started reading? If so, how are you finding the opening chapters?

It's time for our first inspiration post of this round, and this book has a lot to work with! Erdrich describes clothing and outfits often in her work, and there are many moments with all the characters in this story that could be used as direct inspiration -- here are a few of them to consider. 

Near the beginning of the novel, Patrice's mother Zhaanat is sleeping, and Patrice is watching over her:

"Zhaanat's dress was made of midnight-green calico dotted with tiny golden leaves. The style was from the last century, but Patrice knew it was only a few months old. Her mother had sewed the old-time dress from over four yards of cloth. The sleeves were slim and ran down to her wrists. There were shell buttons in the front, and the dress had a sweeping gathered skirt."

This beautiful description suggests a popular style currently, like the Wilder Gown from Friday Pattern Company, or perhaps this BurdaStyle maxi dress from September 2015, also found online.

At the first boxing match between Wood Mountain and Joe Wobble, there is also a piece of clothing in the mix:
"Wood Mountain, Juggie's boy, sauntered in wearing a blue robe he'd borrowed from Barnes. He shuffled to hide his nerves, danced a little as he shed the robe."

His sister Bernadette Blue, in the city, appears at her door when Patrice knocks:
"Bernadette was not the shy, awkward tomboy she'd been in high school, hunching around in men's clothes. She was a stunner. Wearing a red silk kimono with pink blossoms. "

Either of these moments suggests a robe, whether that's more masculine and functional or a very feminine lingerie style robe. There are many great pattern ideas out there --   

the Mélanie Robe from Jalie

or the Loungewear Robe by Style Arc

or maybe the Willow Wrap by Designer Stitch

Patrice is proud of the coat she wears:
"On Saturday morning, Patrice put on the swing coat she'd pulled from the piles of mission-store clothing. What a find. It was a lovely shade of blue, lined with flannel wool under top quality rayon. The coat was tailored, and had a fine shape. She tied on a red and blue plaid scarf, and shoved her hands in the coat pockets."

To make something with this kind of silhouette you could try using the free Dahlia Coat from Mood Sewciety, which is based on a 50s shape, perfect for this inspiration.

Or for something a bit more traditionally coat-like, but with fabulous pockets and a swing silhouette, you could also try out the Opium Coat by Deer & Doe.

During the homecoming parade, the four girls from the jewel bearing plant are riding in one car: "Valentine rode in the front seat, of course. She chatted away with Doris about how to match plaids cut on the bias for a circle skirt. Patrice rode in the backseat with Betty Pye."

If you're thinking Circle Skirt, there is a very handy tool to calculate your pattern at By Hand London. And if you want to figure out for yourself how to match those plaids on the bias, check out this blog post by the Selfish Seamstress with one technique. And Seamwork has a lengthy article about plaid matching as well.

Betty Pye also shows up in the lunchroom at work a little later.
"She patted the shining lumps of hair perched over her ears. Smoothed the rickrack bodice of her flowery green dress." 

You can mimic this 50s style embellishment with any dress that you make. If you need tips on how best to add rickrack to a dress, check out these two methods shared by Erica Bunker. 

When we meet Millie Cloud, it's clear from the start that she has a special relationship with the patterns on her clothing.
"Millie spent most of her energy for fashion on combining patterns -- she hated to purchase anything in a solid color and always found herself in a quandry. It was readily apparent that Millie was fond of geometric patterns. Today she wore double diamond checks. Her blouse in black and white, her skirt in bright teal. Around her neck she wore a scarf printed with random blocks of gray and gold." 

And when Millie has been staying at the reservation for a while, she discovers she needs more clothes. "She went to the mission bundles with Grace, but found only florals. Millie detested flowers on fabric. 'Picky,' said Grace... 
Grace held up a black and yellow checked shirt, the perfect size for her. It had a pointed collar, three-quarter sleeves, and darts. Then, while Millie was admiring the shirt, Grace reached deep into a pile and teased out a remarkable garment. It was a long heavy dress made of six different fabrics, and each of the fabrics was a different geometric pattern. The colors were the same -- blue, green, gold -- but each combination differed in an intricate way. It was made of twill and the patterns were woven into, not stamped onto, the fabric. Millie held her arms out. Her heart swelled." 

There are quite a few patterns out there that are conducive to some colour blocking, or some fabulous print mixing that Millie would love. Try one of these and see what you can mix up.

McCalls 7466, View D, is a very trim version
The seamlines on this Butterick 6481 offer some print mixing opportunities

Kwik Sew 4260 has a bit more swing to it

I hope some of these loving descriptions of clothing and the preferences of the characters make you start thinking about your own style, and what you might take from these characters for your own project. We'll have another inspiration post in a few weeks so if nothing here is striking your fancy, wait for the next set of ideas! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Mandy Boat Tee in Maze Print

I had a great fabric that I got from a remnant table, and liked it so much I put it on my #UseNine2020 list. But as often happens with fabric I really love, I was scared to use it in case the pattern wasn't right and I'd have wasted the fabric -- does this happen to you too?

In any case, now that the weather is turning toward fall, I started to feel in the mood for some warmer sewing, and got this cozy knit out again. I decided to repeat a pattern that I know worked for me before, the Mandy Boat Tee. I had just over a metre of this fabric so just enough for the 3/4 sleeve, which is my preference anyhow! 

The first time I made this I noted that the sleeve was pretty tight. This knit isn't very stretchy, so with that in mind I added a pinch of extra space in the sleeve this time, but just barely enough, as they are quite snug -- comfortably so but I'm glad I added that little bit extra! I did want this one fairly close fitting in the shoulder and sleeve, though, as I hope to be able to wear it under some of my jumpers this fall and winter as well as on its own.

But that sleeve size is definitely something to watch. I'm sure in a stretchier knit it would be fine but I'll be adding that extra bit to my pattern so I don't forget if I make this again. 

Like I noted in my first make, the shoulder/neckline finish on this pattern is pretty slick -- it's a simple dart when you're nearly done that makes the shoulder area lie nice and flat and hides any seam allowance perfectly. I can't figure out how it disappears into the seam so invisibly!

Couldn't match stripes at the shoulder. 
Win some, lose some!

I'm pretty happy with this one. I love the fabric and am pleased that the print was able to be arranged in a visually pleasing way on the front of the top. It's a bit too warm this week to wear it (it's a nice heavy knit) but it won't be long before the weather calls for it. 

Are you getting in the mood for some fall sewing? Have you started anything new? I'm bad at planning ahead for the seasons, I just follow my moods once we are into it! But this was a happy result for me. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Weekend Review: How to Make Clothes that Fit and Flatter


How to Make Clothes that Fit and Flatter:
Step-by-Step instructions for women who like to sew
by Adele Margolis
Garden City: Doubleday, c1969
296 p.

This week's review is another vintage sewing book but this one's a bit different. Rather than an overall guide to sewing, this book talks about fit and fit alterations. The title kinds of gives away the angle of the book, though -- that old question of "flattering", which in this case does indeed mean how to make yourself look thinner and taller, 

However, the fit information and the illustrations are top notch, and even if you aren't too keen on the obsession with thinness, you can use the techniques simply for fit purposes. The book opens with the statement that "fifty years ago, the fashionable American woman was size 16 going on size 18. Today she is size 12 going on size 10". Hmm. Fifty years after this book's publication we've returned to the 16 going on 18 normality, and completely reversed her maxim in this opening chapter that says "it is better to fit the clothes that you would like to wear than to make the clothes fit what you are". Today we know that sewing is the superpower that indeed allows us to make our clothes fit what we are today, and to love it! 

There are nine chapters, all focused on an area of size and fitting. The first chapter, as noted, is a bit egregious in its insistence that you must fit the youthful ideal, but it does include useful information on grading patterns. 

The second chapter deals with the visual -- colour, textures, design lines, proportion -- and is fairly useful as an investigation of how those elements affect the final garment. The third chapter is about flat pattern shaping; darts and control seams and how to manipulate them. The fourth examines how to take measurements and make basic adjustments to the pattern, truing it, where to add to it and so on. 

Chapter Five is the meat of things, a lengthy look at ease, draglines, seam and dart control changes, necklines and gaping, how to change a basic pattern to extend its use, allowing for fluctuating weight and so forth. Lots of information and delightful line drawings to illustrate it all (most of very thin women of course).

Chapter Six goes over how to make a basic pattern (or sloper) and how to create a dress form for yourself using this sloper; the seventh chapter is all about construction and how that plays a role in fitting a pattern to yourself.  Basting, underlinings, steaming, pressing, tailoring, trimming, blocking -- it all plays a role. 

In the eighth chapter, size appears again, since the topic is choosing patterns with an eye to fit. However, it also gives tons of examples of different kinds of style lines and what kind of fitting can be done with each. So you know if you choose a set in sleeve or a raglan sleeve, the fitting adjustments will be tackled differently. From sleeves to yokes, necklines to ease, each particular area of a pattern is looked at in terms of the way fitting techniques interact with the design lines.

The final chapter goes over the muslining process as well as adding in any general fitting tips that weren't covered earlier. 

So as you can see, this is full of useful information on fitting, from a very particular viewpoint. I really like Adele Margolis' detailed technical books but of course it is very 60s. The illustrations of the various styles are charmingly retro if you don't mind a very limited set of silhouettes. But there are also plentiful drawings of pattern pieces and alteration lines which are really helpful. Of course, modern fitting books have tons of photos which might suit you better in this area. But I enjoyed the sketches of the designs and the simplicity of the lines. 

Because this book is older, there are some design concepts that I haven't seen explained in newer books -- styles that are no longer en vogue, but are still intriguing to look at. If you can look past the 60s focus on youth and skinniness, this is an interesting read. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Literary Sewing Circle: The Night Watchman

Fall has arrived, and with it our new round of the Literary Sewing Circle. I'm so thrilled to announce our new title for our group read is:

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich


Based on the extraordinary life of National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s  grandfather who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C.

Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. It is 1953 and he and the other council members know the bill isn’t about freedom; Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. How can the government abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans “for as long as the grasses shall grow, and the rivers run”?

Since graduating high school, Pixie Paranteau has insisted that everyone call her Patrice. Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, has no desire to wear herself down with a husband and kids.

Thomas and Patrice live in this impoverished reservation community along with young Chippewa boxer Wood Mountain and his mother Juggie Blue, her niece and Patrice’s best friend Valentine, and Stack Barnes, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who is hopelessly in love with Patrice.

In the Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated with memorable characters who are forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature.

(via publisher)

photo by Alessio Jacona

About Louise Erdrich:

Louise Erdrich is an American author, writer of novels, poetry, and children's books featuring Native American characters and settings. She is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a federally recognized tribe of the Anishinaabe (also known as Ojibwe and Chippewa).

Erdrich is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. In 1982, Erdrich's story, "The World's Greatest Fisherman," won $5,000 in the Nelson Algren fiction competition. She expanded the story into the novel Love Medicine (1984), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. It is the only debut novel ever to receive that honor. Erdrich later turned Love Medicine into a tetralogy that includes The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), and The Bingo Palace (1994). She has written 28 books in all, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children's books. Her latest novel, The Night Watchman, was published in 2020 and was inspired by her maternal grandfather's life.

She is also the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis that focuses on Native American literature and the Native community in the Twin Cities.

(via Wikipedia)

This book is available for purchase in both hard copy and ebook formats, as well as in audiobook format.

You can find many formats at all of these locations:

Book Depository

Chapters Indigo


Barnes and Noble


ABE Books

Or, of course, check your local library!


How does the Literary Sewing Circle work? We read a book together, discuss it, and then make something inspired by our reading. As long as you can point out what inspired you from your reading, even if just a sentence, you can share your makes in our final roundup!

Anyone can join, and you can sew, knit, quilt or embroider - any textile art that you like doing - to participate. This is a reading/sewing circle, very low-key; no competitions here, just reading and sewing for fun. 

There is no official sign-up to worry about; just start reading along if you wish, and leave your thoughts on the book or your project on any of the Literary Sewing Circle posts. We do have a dedicated book discussion post halfway through and again at the end, but leave your thoughts anytime. And you can follow along on Instagram too if you like: look for #LiterarySewingCircle and you'll find us.

And when the final post goes up, so does the project linkup -- you can leave a link to your finished project there, whether it is on your blog, a pattern site, or even Instagram. It's easy :)

So, join in, and share!

Literary Sewing Circle Schedule

Sept 18 - Announcement & Introduction
Sept 25 - Inspiration post 

Oct 2
 - Author feature
Oct 9  
- Halfway mark: book talk
Oct 16
 - Inspiration post
Oct 23
 - Final Post: book discussion wrap up & posting of project linkup

(The project linkup will be live until Nov 15 - three & a bit more weeks - so you have enough time to get your project posted)

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Waistcoats, Vests, and 90s style

I ran across a discussion of the revival of 90s style on PatternReview lately. Apparently the 90s are back! I don't remember 90s style very much, probably because I was in university in the first half and working 3 jobs for the rest of that decade. All I recall are the grungy student outfits we'd wear, including my floral dresses with chunky black shoes. I checked out an article about 90s style and only really remembered one thing!

So I thought, nope, I'm not a 90s fan. (Definitely more of an 80s girl!) But then I realized that I do love a good waistcoat, and while that look was hot in the late 80s it carried over strongly into the 90s. I looked through my stash and found a handful of vest patterns from the early 90s. I chose two to try out. 

McCalls 8940 is my favourite -- there are at least 3 of these views that I'd like to try! But I started with view C, the short over-vest. That's the silhouette I've been thinking about making for a while. I had a nice piece of leftover linen from my recent drapy vest project (also from the 90s!), just enough to cut this unlined vest and the facings. I started working on it (sewing the shoulder & side seams with french seams to keep it tidy) and attached the facings. But I haven't quite had the time to finish it, so perhaps I'll share it next week! The linen sews up nicely and I think the style adds a fun element to a dress or tunic. I'd like to try View G next, the one button brown view -- though not in brown for me.

The next one that caught my eye was this Simplicity 8621. It's handy having quite a large collection of thrifted patterns! That floral brocade is SO 90s, I'll be avoiding that, I think. But the leopard print view (#4) has a great shape. I'm going to try that in a suiting, not a leopard print. This one is a lined pattern so may be a little more flexible in wearing options. 

If I'm not sick of waistcoats by then, I may check out the options in these two new-to-me patterns that I just thrifted this week. The New Look 6113 has an interesting shawl collar version I haven't seen in any of my current patterns, and the McCalls is a great dress pattern with vest included. It's a classic style with faux welt pockets. I'll have to see how far this waistcoat obsession takes me. Maybe I'll even finish the Vogue 8987 I started for my husband last year ;)

Are you a fan of the waistcoat, traditional or not? Do you lean more toward the 80s or 90s in your retro pattern love?

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Weekend Review: The New Butterick Dressmaker

NY: Butterick Publishing Company, c1927
309 p.
This week we're heading back to the 20s to investigate a book of instruction for the home dressmaker. The New Butterick Dressmaker is a volume focused entirely on garment sewing, with no extra crafty stuff that many household compendiums contained at that time.

This book also has an introduction by Jacques Worth, who at that time was, with his brother, running the House of Worth in Paris. He talks about how to make smart clothing and highlights what he thinks is the keynote of French fashion: Fine Workmanship. It is very period and entertaining.

The book is broken into chapters that cover most of the details of dressmaking, from hems and buttonholes to fine finishes and fitting. There is a short section near the end on maternity, layette and boys & men's clothes, and another on clothing care, covering cleaning, mending, & restyling as well. But the bulk of the book is on the details of sewing. 

One of the things I found most interesting because it is so specific to Butterick patterns of the 20s, is the beginning chapters on selecting a pattern and making it work for you. They go into great detail about the Butterick Deltor, a new phenomenon and their unique selling point -- it was basically a set of pattern instructions telling you how to sew the garment, which was a change from the basic outlines of shapes with punched holes that made up most earlier patterns. But many of the step by step tips on how to use a pattern still apply, especially to newer sewists using pattern instruction guides for the first time. For example, they recommend reading it all through before beginning, circling your view on the instruction sheet, only taking the pieces you need out of the envelope, and even suggest tissue fitting. It was really interesting to read the process that a sewist of the time would have gone through when choosing and buying patterns and fabric as well. 

Their patterns had "Outlet" or "Let Out" seams -- wider seam allowances on the seams most likely to be used for fitting, and the fitting chapters cover this as well as many other common alterations like lengthening and shortening, adding width to the hips or sleeves, FBAs (by a different name) and so forth. You'll learn how to properly make buttonholes, facings, plackets, ruffles, seam finishes, hems and more. It's amazing how much is covered, actually, and can still be used today. The illustrations are line drawings and are charming, everyone in long straight 20s shifts & bobs. There is even clear information on how to lay out and cut your pattern, though if I had a cutting table as huge as the one in the illustration I'd be a happy person ;)

This book also suggests keeping a place for your sewing machine to always be out and available to make it likelier that you will sew, although there isn't as much detail on how to set up a sewing room as there was in the 1947 book I shared last week. 

My copy was .50 cents from the thrift store, and it was certainly worth it; I received hours of entertainment and solid info as well. My copy has tucked inside a Certificate of Warranty from Eatons department store for a sewing machine purchased by Mrs. Scranton of Hamilton, Ont in March of 1930. I'm assuming she also received this book at the same time. I love finding those kinds of ephemera, it's so evocative.

But, and you know there is a but, this book would be so much better if they'd just left out the chapter on colour when they were talking about choosing patterns and fabric. It is absolutely dreadful, reeking of racism, sexism and classism, as well as some very dubious scientific claims! There are absurd statements like the idea that "savages" prefer oranges and reds because they aren't as common in nature, while the "civilized" person prefers greens to suggest nature in their grey cities. Or that lower classes will like bright hues while the more educated and refined person prefers subtler shades. As to the objection that some highly educated people do use bright colours, it is stated confidently that this is because those particular cases are due to colour blindness, not a flaw in this reasoning! Seriously, stated flat out. 

The most bonkers part of this chapter lies in the claim that too much of the same colour causes physical damage to the eye tissues and thus the need for colours to change every fashion season, to allow the eyes to recover. What??

In any case, other than the distasteful opinions in this chapter, the rest of the book is factual, clearly outlined and informative, as well as being a really interesting period piece. If you come across a copy, it is worth exploring. Or, if you like reading online, the Hathi Trust has the full scanned volume available -- so check it out if this discussion has made you curious about this 93 year old sewing guide!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Fall Friday thoughts

This week I spent a lot of time doing sewing that doesn't make for blog posts -- finishing off a stack of masks, for one. I think I'm finally done with that, at least for a while. I have enough for myself and my husband now, so will take a break. I find mask sewing so boring! ;) 

A lot of masks!

I also went through some of my already cut projects and prepped them with the necessary interfacing and so forth. Now they are ready to tackle. And, PatternReview's Wardrobe Contest is starting next week so I took a look at the rules: 10 pieces that all go together. That's a lot, and in reality there is no way I'll do it, even in the 2 month contest period, but I couldn't help myself and went down a rabbithole of searching my fabric and pattern stash for ideas of what I would make *if* I was going to sew along. It was a fun evening but not very productive, lol!

Mostly though, I've been looking ahead at what I have coming up in September. 

The next round of the Literary Sewing Circle starts in a week, on Sept 18th! I'm excited to announce the new title next week, and think it will be a great choice to read together. I've been working on some posts and information for that, and am looking forward to another round. 

I've also finally signed up for the Burda Teaching Certification Course that I've been eyeing for a couple of years. I decided that I'm ready to give it a go this fall; it starts Sept 28 so I'll have a busy Burda autumn. Hoping that I'll enjoy the process; I do love a Burda pattern so think it will be interesting.

Other than planning, prepping and reading I haven't had time for much else. How's your sewing month going so far?