drawstring frock

Following a pattern for dressmaking is an education in itself. I’m very much a new seamstress, and have only recently started working from patterns instead of improvising. I scoured pages of vintage patterns, searching for a dress that might be casual, elegant, and very simple to construct.

1960's drawstring frock

The 1960’s drawstring frock looked perfect to me. I decided to make the sleeveless variation for a cocktail dress, though I’d love to make another version for everyday wear in the autumn.

drawstring frock

The pattern arrived in the post. I do love Etsy.

drawstring dress

Best to wash the fabric first, to prevent shrinking later. For the smocked dress, a glossy, warm smoky grey cotton. For the drawstring, a very light, pale linen, leaning hazily toward the cooler spectrum. Ecru.

1960's drawstring frock

1960's drawstring frock

Careful measuring and altering, pinning, marking, notching and cutting of the pattern. Half a century on, the sizes are all different, of course, so it is worth measuring and adjusting the pattern as needed! My mother, an experienced seamstress, showed me how. Easy!

drawstring frock

A pattern that was considered easy when many people sewed their clothes, now seems quite complex. When things begin to come together it is pure joy! Such a delight to see how clothes were assembled fifty years ago. I loved learning how to construct the facing around the arms and the neckline.

1960's drawstring frock

I did make one change (I can never resist) and that was to substitute a cord for the flat tie, and a round, eyelet buttonhole to match it. I tell you, handstitching the buttonholes took more time than the entire dress! Next time I will be faster.

1960's drawstring frock

I like to wear the linen drawstring frock with my red wedges. It requires a half slip, which is a vintage turn in and of itself. I think I might be ready to try something more difficult next. A jacket?

1960's drawstring frock

honeycomb dress

Pardon my absence these last, long weeks of summer. I’ve been finding my way along an unexpected path, and I very much needed to settle in. The story of how I’ve returned to live in Canada is a bit curious; full of serendipitous accidents, sudden changes, strange realisations. Despite falling in love with beautiful England, we were pushed along by chance and circumstance, and find ourselves beginning life in Canada again. It feels right to be settling on the Pacific Coast, though we are keenly missing my sweetheart, who is traveling the world yet and living with us whenever he can. Such a strange life! Best laid plans and such. We are very blessed to be with family, and can catch our breath and watch what dreams are unfolding. Now I’ve unpacked the boatful of belongings that led the way back, and nestled us into our space for now. I hope to study traditional skills that my adventuring life never left time for – I will share them with you. Though I’ve been reeling from the changes, I have made a few things. The first piece I’ve been wanting to show you is a frock that I designed and constructed on my grandmother’s 1950’s singer, to wear to my dear cousin’s summer wedding.

gathering-dress

Like the honeycomb smocked pillow I once made, I gathered the fabric into pleats;

smocking-dress

Then handstitched in a pattern to smock the gathers.

shirring-dress

After some gymnastics in sorting out the tension, I sewed the shirring elastic in rows along the remaining width of the fabric. Have a look at the shirred linen cushion I made as a study for this kind of piece.

honeycomb dress © elisa rathje 2012

Done! I threaded elastic into a gusset along the top edge to help it lie flat. Then I simply stitched the seam and hemmed the piece.

honeycomb dress © elisa rathje 2012

At the wedding, near an island vineyard. I’m so pleased with the sculptural qualities of the glossy cotton. The honeycomb dress is a lovely, simple thing to wear on a beautiful summer evening. What do you think?

tailor’s chalk

Like a set of wooden drawing pencils, or an ink-filled fountain pen, I adore tailor’s chalk for its simplicity of form.

tailor's chalk © elisa rathje 2012

Just a flat shape to grip, a sharp edge to mark fabric with, a pure substance that harms neither the cloth nor the tailor. I have great respect for the ecology of a product that leaves nothing to throw away when it’s done. Even a broken piece remains useful. I love to use this chalk for measuring and marking in quilting and dressmaking. And isn’t it a pretty object?

nightclothes

Before the cold weather sets in and returns us to dark, chilly mornings of tending the fire, I wanted to sew our children a warm nightdress each. I’ve had some beautifully cosy organic cotton for quite some time.

nightclothes © elisa rathje 2011

They’ve been requesting these for months, and planning their design with me, something old fashioned and very simple, long and comfortable. My tall child wants to embellish hers with embroidery and lace as well!

nightclothes © elisa rathje 2011

Now that my studio is mostly in order, I pulled the fabric out and set to cutting two patterns. I cut a variation of the Molly Peasant pattern that I’d made a summer dress with. It is a child’s version of my own peasant frock, this time using three-quarter sleeves and a much longer hem. I cut the little one’s nightgown particularly large with a plan to adjust the elastic a year or so on, to give her a bit more time to wear it. My tall girl isn’t growing quite so rapidly, though she is set to overtake me and it won’t be long before I can sew the same pattern for the both of us!

nightclothes © elisa rathje 2011

I’ve shuffled my antique machine toward the window a bit, I like the odd corner it makes with the ladder to the little reading room in the rafters, but I haven’t quite decided how to organise the space I’ve left. What a pleasure to sew again, here! It takes me such a long time to return, but I adore it once I’ve begun and then a hundred projects are added to my list. Making this dress is really very easy, I highly recommend it!

nightclothes © elisa rathje 2011

I’ve finished one little nightdress, to keep our small one warm as she recovers from a fever. She’s very fond of it and wants to wear it all the time. I’ll assemble the tall one’s nightclothes next, I wish I had enough fabric to make a third for myself! And I think a pair of felted slippers would be just the thing to keep them through the cold months ahead, if I can figure out how to make them.

smocked sundress

After an experiment with smocking on a cushion, using shirring elastic in the bobbin of my machine, I’d acquired some confidence to pursue some dressmaking plans. Yet summer on the west coast has been entirely unconvincing, and it began to seem like my tall girl would never have need of a smocked sundress. I finally gathered up my fabric and pattern to start sewing it anyway. And the sky is clear blue this bright morning!

smocked sundress © elisa rathje 2011

The pattern that I adapted for my ten-year-old is gratis from a little book called Weekend Sewing that I keep hearing such good things about. I measured and shirred, using a piece of fabric that I could see would wrap generously around her even after smocking. It’s very thin stuff, so I doubled the layers, inspired by a smocked dress of my own. All the directions translate up a few sizes effortlessly, just fit it frequently.

smocked sundress © elisa rathje 2011

I’m amazed how something so simple can be so beautiful. The top edge has yet to be turned under, as I’m fussing with how I’d like to make the straps, but I thought you might like to peek at it before things go quiet and restful for the long weekend here. Perhaps quiet with a bit of weekend sewing, even.

smocked sundress © elisa rathje 2011

The smocked sundress is a classic, and puts me affectionately in mind of my childhood. Yet somehow this one shows me just how tall my tall girl is becoming. I hadn’t anticipated that a frock could cause one to feel the speed of the planet turning. Giddiness!

Have a bright, beautiful weekend. If the hurtling planets align, next you’ll find me in a local apothecary, playing with bottles and vials, and a bit of joyful still room production.