Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sewing Simple Clothing

  Women Taking Tea
Allbert Lynch, 1851-1912  Peru, South America

Women Taking Tea

Giclee Print

Lynch, Albert

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A slideshow of Albert Lynch paintings:

More art from this artist

I have just attended a sewing day.  Women brought their unfinished sewing projects, sewing machines and iron boards, and helped each other complete their garments. One young woman had never used a pattern, and needed clothing right away. She took big squares of fabric and draped them around her, and then sewed them together at the shoulders and sides.  She then cut triangles of fabric from a burgundy curtain,  and inserted them in all the skirt. She made a wonderful dress that did not look at all unusual and yet was very long and elegant, and modest.  She is an active young woman who raises sheep and yet she wears these beautiful long dresses that she makes.. 

The dresses in the above painting, from the 1800's, look very simple, yet womanly and modest. Here again is an artists depiction of women's clothing, which shows the shorter length on the young girl, and the longer length on the older women.  Girls at that time wore short dresses and wore their hair down.  I have heard stories from my older relatives about girls begging their mothers to let them put their hair "up" and  let their hems down.  If mothers didn't want their girls to look too grown up too soon, they kept them in the girls clothing.  I think that is interesting, in contrast to the styles imposed on women today.

American women at home need clothing that does not catch on things. Pockets have to be placed so that they do not snag on the drawer handles in the kitchen or the door handles, as they walk past. Sleeves have to be roomy, but not too billowing that they snag on things in the home.  They work in the kitchen a lot, and cannot have ruffled cuffs that would get in the way.  Aprons over the dresses are a must.  American homemakers are hard workers. They do almost every thing themselves, and so their clothing has to be simple. Because embellishments and jewelry, scarves and accessories get in the way and cut down on efficiency, clothing worn for homemaking has to be beautiful in a different way. That is why the cottons in the fabric stores are so appealing. They come in endless colors and patterns. You can use a pattern that is very very plain, but use a wonderful color or print.

An American homemaker might plant a vegetable garden, water it by hand, weed it, and  pick the fruits of her labors to make a salad for lunch or a pie for dessert. These things take a lot of time and work, and the clothing has to be protective, as well as pretty. She does her own cleaning and often sews for the home. The American homemaker is trying to take care of her family and make a comfortable and peaceful home for them. Her clothing has to be something she really likes and enjoys wearing daily. If it is too fancy, she wont wear it every day at home. If it is too shoddy, she will not feel she can wear it outside the home. In this Painting-Inspired series, I have tried to show how a woman can work at home in a cotton dress and then go to the store or post office without changing. It looks good anywhere.

Clothing for the American homemaker has to be dignified and modest, yet a pleasure to wear. Beautiful dresses affect the mood.  If the day is cold and gloomy, the color of the clothes can make a difference.  If some jobs are difficult repetitive, having a variety of dresses to wear, can give her a lift. If there are great responsibilities, and monumental events in the family, the homemakers clothing can make every single day significant.  

That is one reason I am showing some of these beautiful paintings of the past centuries. Historically speaking, this clothing was not just an after- thought. The clothing was sewn by hand, with great care. One woman recently told me that stitches on the seams were done in a special way so that you could not see the seams on the outside of the garment.  That would require a lot of time.

The dresses in the paintings look like something that could be worn today. The garments in the painting would be good autumn dresses. The vivid leaves and the produce--pumpkins and squash in golds and browns and off-whites, and the burgundy colors, plus the darker greens, are good choices for autumn fabrics.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for all the work that goes into encouraging and inspiring us.

How very true. "The homemakers clothing can make every single day significant."

You influence me to strive to improve in so many homemaking areas. Thanks!

Mim said...

I haven't commented before - I come across your blog every so often. I love the dresses in this photo! Do you by any chance have any instructions for how to make them?
My problem with wearing dresses is that I can never find shoes that don't look silly with them, but that are comfortable for around the house.


Anonymous said...

My Grandma born in 1901, told me that when she was about 12 she wanted her dresses lengthened , and her Mother said no. So she went up to her room and spent an evening ripping out all her hems and lengthening them . Her Mother was so impressed by the quality of her work that the scandel of having her daughter in long dresses was smoothed over somewhat. My Grandma was then responsible for making all her own clothes, she had a reputation of being a wonderful seamstress all her life.
She also mentioned very often that her well turned ankles were so pretty peeking out from under those long skirts . !!!

Anonymous said...

I am nearly finished sewing my first all-cotton dress. I am so happy I got the sleeves right because it is tricky for a beginner to do set-in sleeves! The dress is simple and long with a tie-back. It is also very substantial, due to the fabric. My store-bought long dresses are too "dressy" and made of rayon and other finer fabrics that are not suitable for housework. But this cotton is so substantial, and the dress so well made, it is perfect for housework!

I am going to make another right away and stick with this pattern for awhile until I can do it quickly and easily.

I even bought enough extra fabric to make a matching apron. I love this dress. I can lean over and be decent, I can clean house in it and still get to the bus stop to pick up the kids looking nice...I can run out in it and not feel bad about how I look. I can throw a cardigan over it and pair it with boots for the winter. I never would have used cotton if it were not for your suggestions.

Another great aspect of this is the price. The pattern was free (uncut and unused) from a Freecycle user, and the fabric was just $2.44 a yard for a pretty blue print. I bought four yards.

Anonymous said...

Like one of the other posters, I struggle with finding shoes that do not look silly.
Also, I wonder if you could give some tips on doing husework in dresses--the actual mechanics, I mean. For example, if you need to scrub a floor by hand, how would you do this in a dress? I hope I am able soon to make some of these dresses. I'm tired of being drab!

Anonymous said...

I also love cottons for sewing. However, with fall/winter coming I have had the hardest time finding some of the proper thickness. Do you have this problem also?

Anonymous said...

I"m currently in love with the house dresses and wrap around dress/aprons from the 1930's (picture Olivia Walton). I just wish I could find some reproduction patterns from that era, but so far no luck. I like that so many of them aren't fitted around the waist, which makes them so comfortable while doing work around the farms/house. Their loose, but have just enough fitting to be attractive (not potato sackish). Here are some examples:

Anonymous said...

To the lady who just finished her first dress: I have also been using the cotton quilters fabricand have done 2 dresses and 3 skirts. This cotton launders so well that I don't have to iron. Put them in the dryer 10 minutes, pull them out and hang to finish drying.

Anonymous said...

For the ladies curious about shoes that will look good with dresses, practical sandals for summer and sturdy leather working shoes/boots (lace up is best with a good practical soul) in black or brown always fit in. I wear the black shoes with black socks or kneehighs and black leggings/bloomers. As my skirts are never more than around 3 inches above the ankle, this always looks smart.

Re scrubbing in a dress, if you wear an apron, when you're down on hands and knees, if you're sure to be kneeling on the apron, the dress will be protected. Save the rough work like this for house-dresses; i've got a blue chambre dress that I wear for house and garden work that's suitable to wear to the local shops, though I rarely wear it other than home, garden and shops. This dress has three-quarter cuffed sleeves, a collarless round neck, backties and is not taylored, but it doesn't hang like a sack either. it zips up the back so I don't have to worry about buttons or gaping at the bust. all my dresses are made to the one pattern, but a variety of fabrics and accessorising means there's never a dull moment; vests for most occasions, draping scarves for church or more formal wear.

I caved to curiosity and have purchased a capedress in navy and white check that will eliminate need for a vest; this will be a 'home and to the shops only' dress. I also have several denham skirts with four white pettiblouses cut to the same design as the dress minus the backties; this with a denham vest works well.

its not everyone's look, but my dressmakers (they're an online US home business) do a fabulous job, they're willing to collaborate and are most prompt & polite. Its worth the $$$!!

Lydia said...

To the lady in Europe: I really thought that a Welsh lady named Laura Ashley had the answer to the needs of women, regarding clothing design and fabrics. Her fabrics were just top of the line and many of her fashions in the 80's were loose and could be worn with little anklet socks and thin canvas shoes. It was all so charming.

Anonymous said...

I live in the Pacific Northwest where we have lots of rain and thick clay mud to deal with every winter. I have found that slip-on boots for outdoors and indoors are the key to fast easy transition from house to yard and back again.
Since the winters are cold here I have found that dressing in layers is also the key to staying warm and comfortable indoors and out. I wear thermal underwear under denim jeans, under a petticoat and jumper or dress made of corduroy, suedecloth or wool most of the time. Indoors just slip off the jeans or leave them on. I usually wear a larger pair to accomodate the thermals during winter.

Anonymous said...

To those wondering about shoes: I practically live in mary-janes (shoes that have a strap and buckle). In fact I just bought a tennis shoe type for wearing when I'm doing a lot of walking (for example, our county fair this week)
They are pretty and practical, and I am much less likely to kick them off, because the strap makes that harder to do(!).
A note of caution though, I would avoid wearing them with white tights or socks, as that will give you the little girl look- just silly on a grown woman!
I noticed Wal*Mart has several styles right now, that are really nice, and reasonably priced.

Anonymous said...

What about Australian homemakers? Don't we count either? :-)


Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,

I'm also from Australia (sydney) - yup, the daft one who has just bought the capedresses :-) has just put out their summer catalogue; she's perhaps the best Aussie designer we've got; makes beautiful skirts, dresses, tops, both overshirts and blouses; her shop's in Berri, and for something special (she's a bit pricy) you can't go wrong; good for regular and plus sizes.

Noni B usually have some nice dresses along with skirts and blouses that will do for casual as well as beautiful wear for Church or more special occasions. they're also pricy, though (works out cheaper for me to go the on line modest dress route).

Little Jenny Wren
has one of the best Australian homemaking blogs I've ever come across (must check out yours also :-) )

We need more aussie voices getting the message out there from the Southern Hemisphere and way of life perspective!!


Anonymous said...

Dear Lady Lydia,

I love all the dresses... . I really like the hawaian dresses, espcially the ruffle at the bottom. Who wouldn't want to wear dresses instead of boring jeans...
As far as shoes, I needed something very good for my legs. So I have Danskos. Great for walking and if you live on a concrete slab they are the best. Teachers and nurses favor them.