Friday, July 17, 2009

Inspirational Sewing

"At the Stile"
by Henry John Yeend King

Henry John Yeend King was a British Victorian artist, who painted young farm women doing their chores, or just enjoying the beauty of the country. His daughter, Lilian, also became an artist. To view more of the absolutely wonderful paintings, (even more beautiful than the scene above) go here Note throughout all these paintings, the aprons the women wore. Also, women are so worried about appearing "dowdy," but these paintings do not show magnificent clothing, just feminine clothing--skirts and dresses. Some of the clothes are not especially bright or attractive, yet the over all effect of the dress does its work. Today's fashions of jeans and tee shirts dont hold a candle to the women's clothing--even the worst, poorest women's clothing, of the past.

I call this my butterfly dress, which I sewed a few years ago. Click on the picture for a larger view. It is made of 100 percent cotton, and has a glitter sheen on it, which does not wash out. For a bit of whimsy, I added these butterfly buttons on the bodice. There are holes on the sides of the buttons to sew through, so that they lie flat, as opposed to buttons with a shank. A shank is an added piece that is useful in some garments, but uncomfortable in others. The neckline of this dress is one that I made up, myself, by cutting a shape on the fold of the fabric, just above the neckline on the pattern. This is where a knowledge of folding paper and cutting shapes, really comes in handy.

The sleeve has a pleated tuck in it. You make it before you hem the sleeve. All my sleeves and hems are machined sewn, and are done by ironing one-fourth of an inch down, twice. This fabric comes with a pink background, a light blue back ground, a green back ground and a lavender back ground. It is an all-over print that does not go just "one way" so there is no danger of getting the butterflies upside-down.

The skirt is circular, but when wearing, it hangs straight. This kind of style and fabric certainly will not suit everyone, but the idea is just to find out what you like and what looks nice on you and what inspires you and makes you happy when you wear it.

I think womens clothing should be fun. We are not tied down to a certain kind of uniform, and we do not have to follow the styles and spend our lives in jeans and tee shirts. A really creative person could take the left over fabric and iron it on to interfacing, then cut out some of the whole butterflies, and stitch them together, tying them with ribbon for the neck.

Make a scrunchie to tie up the hair, by cutting a long strip of fabric, sewing the sides together and inserting elastic.
To answer the question as to what I would wear on a homestead: anything pretty! The birds and the flowers are all dressed up, and the beautiful reflections of the sky in the water is not something ordinary. Dressing to reflect the creation gives you a lot of good ideas for creating your own style.
Don't forget to comment anonymously.


LadyLydiaSpeaks said...

If you do not want prints up near your face, for some reason, but still love them and want to sew them,you have several options, which were used in the 1980's.

First, you could sew jumpers, using the prints you love, and make a white blouse to wear under them. The white always softens the face, no matter what your skin color, and it makes a nice frame for the print.

Or you could sew skirts with the prints and make the blouses white. Skirts and vests are nice, and that blouse keep a print from overwhelming the look.

We have challenged ourselves in our home to use up our fabric. Now that we have used a lot of the larger pieces, we are using smaller pieces, and making the sleeves and collars different colors, or cuffs and hems accented with strips of coordinating fabrics.

LadyLydiaSpeaks said...

Regarding my photos: Thanks, Lynn, for the tip. My camera person is only 3 feet tall. I am not able to take pictures of myself, and good help is hard to get. I can change the settings for my helper.

Anonymous said...

These dresses are fantastic. Thanks for sharing them.

Many women do not know how to sew today. I find lovely clothes in yard sales that are simply missing a button or need some very minor repair. Either the former owner didn't know how to make the repairs, or they shoved the garment into the back of the closet for when they got time to repair it and never got around to it and it ended up in the yard sale because it had not been worn in a long time (true reason long forgotten).

Anonymous said...

Lovely dress! Did you make the pattern yourself or is it a commercial one?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

You are so creative.

Thanks for the artist link. I think I'll look up the other artists as well. I quite enjoy this era of art.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for sharing the different dresses. I love colors. I just see so many blah colors in premade clothing. Browns, blacks, navys White tops and such. I love your prints. I had been at Wal-mart today and saw the butterfly fabric, and almost purchased it. I think having pretty colors on, makes us happier. So many are blah-and makes me just kind of down in the dumps. I have purchased a few new pieces of fabric the last couple days, you are my inspiration. I love colors, and with my daughter I am finding some really pretty pieces. Have been laying out my pattern pieces for my first dress, sure helps to read instructions on layouts. Couldn't figure out how it would work, without wasting so much fabric. Finally figured it out. Can't wait til tomorrow to try it out.

Anonymous said...

Lady Lydia,
You have motivated me to get going on my "stash" of fabric for dresses. When I purchased fabric, I tried to choose "modern" looking material and now I am thinking I chose all wrong, but I will have to make due. I like all my fabric, I am just not sure it is the most feminine of material. Sigh. I am excited about doing more sewing. I have found a few simple patterns that I really like, though I think they look a little "frumpy" when put together. They all have a gathered waist, so I am thinking about putting in a gored skirt instead (if I do a regular A line, I don't think I'll have enough room to walk!) to see if that will reduce the "bulk"

Thanks for the inspiration!!!

Anonymous said...


You are so wonderfully gifted!! Oh how I wish I could sew!! (LL will know the practical problems with this)... My mother could sew, Oh how i wish I could; What have we allowed ourselves to lose? So much! As knitting seems to be enjoying a comeback, I wonder if sewing will? Especially with all the drab and bland androginus pap out there in the shops.

Keep on inspiring us all!!!

Anonymous said...

Once, my 2 sons, when they were in high school, were visiting with 3 neighborhood girls that they were friends with. One of the girls was bemoaning the fact that her favorite jeans had split, and because they had sentimental value to her, she wanted to keep and wear them, but didn't know how to fix them, and neither did her mother.

My sons said, "Come over to our house. My mom will know what to do."

They all came to our house and I got a needle and thread and repaired the split. The three teen-aged girls were watching me wide-eyed in wonder, as if I were doing Black Magic.

Later that week, the brother of one of the girls came over to ask if he could borrow a needle and a spool of thread to repair something. Obviously, his sister had caught on to how to hand-sew just by watching me. I threaded a needle for him and stuck it in a spool of thread and told him to keep them.

You could have a whole ministry just teaching young girls and women how to sew simple things, by hand or machine.

Anonymous said...

Lovely--I like the lacy shawl collar thing on the pink one. How do you think this sort of thing is made?

Anonymous said...

Lovely--I like the lacy shawl collar thing on the pink one. How do you think this sort of thing is made?

Anonymous said...

You look pretty as a picture yourself, Mrs. Sherman! :o)

Anonymous said...

You are a pretty lady! I love the new neckline you created. I would like to sew sleeves like that on a dress or top sometime.

Anonymous said...

Some people here have talked about "whale-butt and muffin-top", a problem that comes from the style of low cut jeans. This was also on a list that was going around in an email forward called "Some reasons to wear a dress." This can also be a problem with dresses and skirts. Do you have any ways to prevent this when sewing skirts and dresses?

Anonymous said...

This fabric is so cute! My daughter loves butterflies! I could see making a mother and daughter ensemble with this one!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your beautiful pictures and helpful sewing tips. You are inspiring me tremendously!

I wanted to make a comment. I've noticed in many old pictures of ladies during the Depression and at other times who were very poor and had holes in their clothes. Yet these women still dressed neatly as if the holes were not there.

Anonymous said...

Thank you SO MUCH for this series! It has been a gift to see the beautiful dresses every day and read the helpful posts and comments! I am just beginning to sew (at 48!) and am making a simple nightgown. I find lovely cotton material from thrift store sheets! I buy high quality (Laura Ashley, Eddie Bauer, etc) in king size and you get a lot of fabric for a dollar or two. I have used this to make pillows, tote bags,aprons, etc. but now am trying it for clothing. I find really beautiful florals. How I wish my grandmother were here to help me- she would take apart adult coats and sew ones for me without a pattern- I even had fur collars! Thank you again, I am so encouraged!

LadyLydiaSpeaks said...

Sheets are a great idea, and one flat sheet makes many things. I've seen dresses, children's clothes, and crafts made from a sheet. There are sheets in the calico prints and roses, which are great for any sewing project. Besides that, you can get the higher thread count, than in fabric.

If you find a dress with a missing button, it does not have to match the others. I have a thrift store jacket that had only 3 buttons and needed 5, so I bought a new card of buttons and replaced them all. However, you can do every other button in a different color. Mommy dresses and mommy jumpers are perfect for creativeness in buttons. Try bright round buttons in pink and green and yellow, to match a print. Today I hope sometime to show a mommy dress, and I hope my daughter gets her post up with all hers--I think she made 6 of them, factory style. That means that you sew all the seams on all the dresses and clip the threads between them, then sew all the sleeves, then all the bodices. She is just finishing up with trims. The trims are coming from machine thread and fancy stitches on the machine. I like trims, but they are messy when trying to store, and hard to find sometimes. Using those un-used stitches on the machine will make trims around the edges and bodice of dresses, and then you don't have to go buying trims. Trims, such as ruffle or lace, sometimes cost more per yard than the fabric.

LadyLydiaSpeaks said...

Lillibeth had a collar like the painting on her Pleasant Times somewhere on that blog. To make it, you need a triangle shaped piece of fabric. On three sides you sew gathered lace.

I hope to show on this blog how to make one.

I also hope to have time to show how a girl can make a skirt for herself without a pattern.

Also, how to take extra pieces of left over fabric and do interesting things with them.

Regarding wrinkled fabric : If you have already made the dress and it wrinkles, there is no harm in wearing it wrinkled. Sometimes it looks like crushed silk. If you are wearing it at home, it does not matter as much.
In victorian times, women had a dress they wore and then an apron style jumper over it. That way, theycould remove that top garment if they wanted to take the soiled part off and go somewhere. You can click on the link of the paintings, above and see some of the ways women made aprons. Some are just draped pieces of cloth, tucked or tied at the waist.

Anonymous said...

I really wish I had known about dressing like this when I was young (and had been open to it). It is hard to go back now. You really have to make an effort, and I'm not always successful. But, try, try again!

Anonymous said...

What a nice dress! Makes me want to sew again!


Anonymous said...

Hi, LadyLydia!
I have enjoyed reading your blog for awhile now. I really like the encouragement to be a better wife, mom, and homemaker homeschooler. I got some of this fabric from Wal-Mart a couple years ago and wanted to make my daughter a dress last year but didn't have enough and couldn't find more. Have you seen is somewhere recently that I could possible order on-line? Now I'm sure it would be as beautiful a dress as I thought. If not I can make her a blouse maybe.
Thank you for the time you put into this blog. We have made several of your craft projects and shared them with friends.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lady Lydia,

what beautiful dresses you sew! I have found some vintage 1980 back tie dress patterns on the internet ( and am very excited to try them out. It's also good, that you tell us, that it's no problem, if the dresses are not perfect, because they are always better than the bought ones. As soon as I will be back from my holidays, I will start with sewing up a new dress.
Thank you so much for your work, inspiration and the beautiful pictures.
Have a nice weekend!

LadyLydiaSpeaks said...

Just take your fabric to a fabric store and match up the back ground color to a cotton piece. Then buy enough to make the entire garment. Use the butterfly fabric for things like the bodice and the cuff on the sleeve, or a border for the dress. Or, use the butterfly fabric for a collar and sleeves. Then there will be enough left to make yourself a matching dress. Or, you could match up some cotton fabric to one of the colors in the butterfly print. Whatever you like.

Also regarding things not being perfect when you sew. I am currently finishing up a dress that I started a year ago, and I was not familiar with the pattern. It puckered on the bodice and no adjustment could be made. I will wear it anyway. The mistakes make good clothes to wear at home, and most people today are not aware that things are mistakes. They think that is the way it is supposed to look. There are so many strange looking clothes manufactured, that your sewing cannot be worse. THe prints on ladies storebought clothes are disturbing. They are not pretty flowers or birds or shells or even pretty stripes or checks. THey are great big shapes that cannot be described. They look like what a forest looks like after it has burned down (lacking a better description) Surely the manufacturers aqnd designers can find something nicer than this. I see why women prefer mens clothes. At least they arent so bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Thank you again for sharing past and present beauty!!
I can't handle all those great big ugly BLACK and 'eye-sore' BRIGHT colored paisley looking swirls on these new so-called dresses! (sorry for all that!)They look satanic! They make me nervous! I'm off to make clothing that is soft and lovely as the praise music plays in my sweet home! ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone! Thank you for all this inspiration! I just made two lovely aprons. One last week, one today. The first is a dark pink and white gingham with 1" eyelet around the bib and skirt. I put a rosette of the eyelet with a 1" red heart button on the front. The second one is of small pastel green and blue flower material. I put 1/2" lace around it and trimmed with a dark blue button over a soft blue ribbon on the front. All for about $5-$6 dollars. The pattern McCall's M5690--both pattern "A". Please keep posting and sewing! This 'new' life is great! ;)

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Sherman,
Your dresses are very nice. I especially like the pink one with the rose lace cuffs and the butterfly one. You look lovely in them. You and Jenny Chancey inspired me to learn to sew. I'm learning from books, Jenny's patterns and good old fashioned trial and error. That is how I learned to knit when my oldest son was born. (He's a teacher now). It' is not the easiest way to learn, but I do love a challenge! I want to thank you for continuing your blog. It's wonderful.

Slim White Rose said...

Dear Lady Lydia,

I've been following your writings (first from LAF website) for several years now. I am an Indonesian living in Jakarta.

Thank you for the wonderful encouragement on femininity and following the will of God. I'm not a dress-only lady (yet) and I work outside the home (I'm single, live alone, and do not even own a home here yet, so I do have to work to earn a living). However your writings have inspired me to do the best I could in my current situation to be a lady and a King's daughter - instead of waiting until the situation is ideal: being married and having a home, etc. - then give the rest to the Lord to be governed according to His will.

God bless.

PS: I love your beautiful pictures and photos of feminine dresses, but this one (the butterfly dress) is my favorite!

Anonymous said...

You're so cute! (ah, the dress is cute, too.)

Sewing is fun. I love outrageously overwhelming prints, though; lately I've been particularly fond of fruit and vegetable prints.

Last summer, I had four dresses with some kind of fruit theme. lol.

This year I'm trying not to dress up as the produce department, however.

Anyway, five years ago I could only barely thread a sewing machine. There is soooo much great information in books and the internet that anyone who wants to sew could really "teach themselves."

You don't have to learn to do everything, just learn the techniques you need to make the things you're interested in. I don't know how to put in a fly-front zipper. Or a boned corset.

Just don't be afraid to make a few hilarious "wadders" along the road to competence. ;)

Kaye said...

I adore the butterfly dress you made. What delightful fabric and lovely style! It's wonderful.


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