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! 


  1. I was able to pick up my book at the library yesterday (they are offering outside pickup - like the grocery stores). I have only gotten through the first couple of chapters so far and was afraid I was going to have to make a gingham shirt or something. LOL Your summary here gives me some hope and I think just based on your post, I might have a plan brewing.

    1. Ha! Don't worry there are lots of great ideas for outfits in this book, not just work clothes :)

  2. Still waiting for my book! Waiting for somebody to return their copy. There are several in the library so it must be popular. I could almost start thinking about my sewing from your fabulous review, but somehow that seems like I am cheating! (to myself). But so many options.

    1. There are plentiful options :) I hope you get your copy soon! I was hoping that by this time the holds queues would have dropped somewhat... but it is a great read.


Share your comments, ideas or suggestions here -- I am always interested in hearing from readers. It's nice to have a conversation!