(Note:This post is not quite completed. I will be adding more pictures, so please check back later!)
Today my subject is sewing clothes for the homemaker.
Homemaking is not all housework. I do not like to wear soiled, worn, drab work clothes all day, so I have made a few things that are pretty to wear while doing the typical daily work and other interests at home, and I can protect them with an apron. Then, when it am not keeping house and want to do something else or go somewhere, I remove the apron.
Ladies often write, asking me when I am going to do another sketch page of sewing ideas, and today I have one to show. I did not put a tremendous amount of thought into it and I grabbed names out of thin air to make impressive titles for the dresses. Although some of them have lofty names, they are all to be made of cotton fabrics and worn at home, a dress a day. I have chosen one of these ideas to sew, using a sleeve here and a skirt there, from patterns in my collection. I did not mention "travel" but any of these dresses will suffice, with an added jacket. I think ladies like to feel pretty in the car, as well, so the one I am currently making will be my "travel" dress, even though it is also suitable to wear all day at home.
(John White Alexander, 1912)
If you are used to seeing the current clothing on the market and viewing updated and chic, you might wonder about these dresses. I live in what might be considered the country, and it rains a lot and is overcast, so I like to wear color. I dislike the industrial office palette, and in summer I want to wear colors I see around me--the many hues of the ocean, or carpet of wildflowers in the fields, and there are also yummy shades of white I like to wear: Devon cream, Milky Way, Latte, and of course anything made from soft white muslin. I also like light beiges and some pale gold for autumn. In the Color Me Beautuful book, I am a Summer, using the pale shades of most colors. Whites take on a whole range of colors, as some will have an aqua cast to them, others a pink or green or yellow.
I like to put Victorian elements in my clothes, such as the sleeves and longer skirts. I am a mood-dresser, and like to wake up feeling that a certain color or style is just right for today. It is determined by the weather and the season and the kind of atmosphere I feel or want to create around me at home.
(Time for Tea by Valentine Cameron Prinsep, 1838-1904)
If I am hosting a morning Tea for ladies, I might try to wear something that "goes" with the table setting I am using or has a print similar to the tea cups--or at least does not look too discordant with what we are doing.
Also, clothing helps contribute to a memory of any era or occasion, and in like to have photographs of events. Later, when I look at the pictures, I don't want to see myself or my family in the same or almost the same outfit, because I want to distinguish the time and place. That is why, when I pack to on a trip, I want some choices and I don't want to wear the same dress every day to every new scenic view. Some people feel differently about this, and that is their preference, but this is mine, mainly because I like fabric and enjoy wearing it. I would rather see a floral print on my skirt.
(John White Alexander, 1912)
Some clothes, by their style and color are light-hearted, others more serious, and others luxurious or simple. I am trying to make clothes that "go with" the mood of the countryside and the house where I devote most of my time. The house has a cottage-y old fashioned feel to it and so I am not interested in any current style. I get my ideas from the 19th century paintings of ladies, and then I make the garment less full in the skirt, not so long, and just customize it to fit my current way of life, moving about the house, using the oven, the washer, the vacuume, etc. The clothes have to have slim lines and not get caught on anything, and they cannot be too skimpy either.
I like fabric, and although I have made quilts, I enjoy fabric more when it is made into something I can wear and enjoy seeing and feeling no matter where I am. Quilts are only seen when you are in someone's house, if they are on display anywhere, and of course I really value them, but wearing the fabric -- I really like it and each little print or solid has a mood and a relationship to life around me. Friends who have accompanied me to a fabric store will hear me say, "This one evokes a feeling of a vacation in Hawaii," or "This is exactly the color of fireweed in Alaska." I like a skirt or dress for berry picking or picnicking or working in the kitchen, and I think there is a print for just about everything!
(Edmund Blair Leighton, 1899)
Besides the constant upkeep of the house and the garden, I entertain when possible, and when I have the car (we share a family car) I usually go to the grocery store,post office, dollar store, fabric store and a few other favorite places. I remember when people used to dress up to go shopping, and so I want to sew clothes that are at least a bit more dressy than the casual look that is so predominate today. I do not want to change my clothes before I go shopping, so a dress is the perfect garment--all one piece and matching, cheerful for the home and dressy enough for outings.
I base my sewing selection upon the clothes in my closet that I go back to over and over and that make me feel happy and give me a sense of well-being. I am a preacher's wife in a small country congregation and I attend church services of some kind, including Ladies Class, 4 times a week, so I don't want to look drab or bore everyone by dressing in the same outfit all the time. I got to thinking the other day about the elderly people in church who lived in an era when ladies wore pretty dresses: how depressing it must be for them these days when there is not much pretty clothing be worn by ladies. So, at church, even if it is a casual mid-week evening Bible study around a table in the fellowship room, I try to dress up for it, out of respect for these people and to lift their mood, too.
(Sketches above are ideas for simple cotton dresses good for wearing at home and other places.)
I do not know if I can find any of this fabric, since I made it all up in my dreams, but I especially like the Afternoon Walk dress because it has a print like something you would see on a walk down the side roads of farmland, with the blackberry bushes on one side and the green grass on the other. The "I Do" dress is for wearing to a wedding, and nice for ladies tea. I hope to make at least one of these dresses, or the yellow Molly dress with the sage green shawl, in Kona cotton or Southern Belle cotton, two fabrics that look like linen and feel like silk, in my estimation.
This lemon yellow dress with the sage green shawl worn by Molly Gibson in "Wives and Daughters" is something I have been thinking of making for years and years. My life goes in slow motion, it seems, as plans can take years to complete. Look how long it has taken me to draw these dresses.
Now, in the sketch I made for the cotton dresses, one dress would be worn the entire day, and so it wouldn't be necessary to go changing into something more formal or more comfortable throughout the day. The dress would be appropriate for wearing at home all day. The above dress worn by Molly is her bridesmaid dress, but when made with cool cotton, it would be a very pretty home dress.
It has been several years since I have made a planning sheet like this. The clothes I made from the last sketches are worn thin and pretty much shot, so that in a pinch, I bought an outfit to wear. There is a difference in the way the home sewn and manufactured clothing feels! As soon as I bought the ready-made outfit, I felt the motivation to sew, leave me, and now I do not even like the outfit and do not want to see it in the closet. It has a lot of synthetic fibre in it and it does not feel as the same as the woven cottons I have made.
The ideas I follow in making these garments are:
-A one-piece garment hangs better in the closet and is easier to put away than separates.
-Buttons in the front make it easy to dress yourself.
-Too many embellishments in the way of trims and ruffles and scarves, etc. get in the way of the busy homemaker and can catch on things.
-Not too trendy, so that the garments style is just as appealing now as in the future. I can use the old patterns many times and update them by buying new fabrics.
-Not long enough to trip on, and not too short for modesty when leaning, stepping on a step-stool, reaching, picking something up, etc.
-pretty enough to enjoy wearing it at home but not so fancy you are afraid to wear it.
-the clothes are loose at the waist, and generally roomy enough to pull on, and some of them do not even require zippers or buttons. I have added a lot of tucks and pleats and collars, riffles, etc.nonnthe sketches, but what works best for me at home is a very plain pattern and nothing extra on the garment, and it will not be as much trouble to sew. The print or color of the fabric is really enough of a decoration.
The dress in the painting at the top is lovely, and I was unable to find the name of the artist.
These clothes are very casual, as I want to get up in the morning and don something I feel good about wearing at home, and not feel too dressed up but not feel too dressed down. I have leggings for comfort and petticoats for layering that gives the dress more texture. Once a lady gets used to dressing like this at home, it feels odd to wear anything else! When I have drawn one of these planning sheets, people ask me what I do with "all those clothes." Wearing them daily means with all the wear and tear and wash and wear, they wear out and when I have a new one sewn, an older one gets cut down into a skirt, an apron, or something else. I never send any home made dresses to Goodwill or the charity shops because they are so worn out, and get used for other things.
I actually have a very slim section of the closet which fits about 4 summer dresses, and if there are still four of them, it is because they were my least favorites and I did not wear them often. When I sew a dress, it gets a real work-out in wearing, and there is always one in the making on my machine.
(Closet corner with my hand sewn dresses.)