Loving my clothes …

Social media is awash right now with discussions about what you wear – whether it’s Truly Myrtle talking about her Local Wardrobe or Fringe Association’s Slow Fashion October.  So, I guess it’s timely for me too to be looking at the clothes I wear right now.

First of all, I need to confess to loving my clothes deeply – ever since I was a very little girl.katherine-aged-3-and-halfIn the 1960s, in our tiny little London home, I would wake up early – and to my mother’s utter exasperation – take out my entire wardrobe and try it on.  In the end she was so fed up with the mess I created that she put locks on all the cupboards and drawers that contained my clothes.  I don’t remember my reaction …

I was lucky enough to have a large wardrobe of beautiful clothes, many of which were made by my mother. Tartan was absolutely the thing for young children to wear when we were young, and I am amused to see that while my sister and I are wearing identical dresses, I’ve been to the trouble to add a little extra necklace decoration.katherine-marian-in-tartanI can vividly remember having a major paddy aged 10 or 11 because I was fed up with the frilly girlie dresses my mother put me in.katherine-wearing-dress-made-by-her-motherBy 1971, in my mid teens, I was beginning to experiment with clothes (perhaps as a result of the paddy, my mother had given me a small clothing allowance). Here, we are at Hythe beach in Kent, and I’m all dressed up in a baby doll up outfit I’d recently bought for myself and a homemade cloche hat.1971-seaside-wearA later family holiday (1972) and this time we’re on Dartmoor and I can see that I’m experimenting with my clothes even more – those are tie-dye jeans, and a fantastic man’s corduroy jacket!1972-dartmoor-wearI went to university that year and there, free for parental inspection, I was definitely in full experimenting mode. I’ve had a perm, and I’m wearing an old fur stole (it was trendy to wear real fur in those days) and a camel coat, both hand-me downs from my grandmother.katherine-as-a-studentA few years working in London followed university, and they were sort of smart, sort of still hippyish.  This was the 1970s after all.  It was quite by chance that my sister and I are dressed so similarly in the picture below – we hadn’t discussed our clothes before going to this London wedding (of my current husband to an earlier wife – yes, I know!)katherin-marian-at-stephen-zitas-weddingBy complete contrast to London, the late 1970s found me living a more rural, truly hippyish existence in Devon – and you can see that in my clothes.hippy-mumThere were practical things to be done with gardening, chickens – and children – and I was much more of a scruff.katherine-as-a-young-mumThe odd times that I looked smart were for family events like this picture taken at my daughter’s christening. She’s wearing the family christening robe, and I’m wearing a dress I’ve made out of an old Japanese yukata.katherine-at-helens-christeningMy abiding memory of my clothes during this period while my children were young was this enveloping brown coat.  I’d bought it when at university and it was quite stylish then, but it lingered on and on and on – partly because we were very hard-up and partly because it was wonderful for carrying children as their muddy boots just brushed against muddy brown fabric.katherines-brown-coatI trained as an early years teacher when my children were small, and that meant respectable, practical clothes like this dress I was wearing when TEFL teaching (in those days, headteachers frowned at their staff wearing trousers – seems unbelievable now.)katherines-first-teaching-jobLater, I went to work in a library, so I dressed as befits a librarian!librarian-clothesBusier and with more money, I ceased to make clothes for myself.  I think the last garment I made was this coat. It was cut from my grandmother’s old curtains – yes, I kid you not – when I was very broke (proper Scarlett O’Hara stuff here), and it was indeed gorgeous, and much-admired but completely failed to keep out the cold.my-grandmothers-curtains-coatWhere am I going with all this, you may well ask?  Well, in this mini-tour of my clothing life, I’ve looked at all the different clothes I’ve required for my various occupations in so many places.  Now in retirement, in very northernmost Northumberland, you might think it would just be a case of jeans, thick woollies, wellies and a Barbour.

No thanks!

I do have some of those garments, and wear them on walks out and about – that’s for sure.  But I would hate to be restricted to wearing them all the time.

So, over the last few years I have been looking again at my wardrobe. I went back to dressmaking last summer, and wrote about my first attempts in my Batik dress blog post .  It wasn’t easy because I’m quite a different shape from the young woman I used to make clothes for.  And there is that indefinable je-ne-sais-quoi that restricts older women from freely wearing whatever they see on young people.

I’ve discovered that what suits me is to wear tunics or short dresses – I’m not very tall, and longer dresses dwarf me.  Shorter garments do me no favours: make me look round. Under my tunic, I almost invariably wear leggings or coloured tights – these are immensely comforting to one like me who has curious white legs.  Also I feel the cold.  I don’t wear jeans – at all, if I can help it.  I find them so uncomfortable and restricting – and dull!

So, with that in mind, I started sewing earlier this summer, using my grandmother’s old Simplicity pattern number 9141.  How the young Katherine would have laughed to see me making myself the same style of clothes that my mother and grandmother wore!Simplicity paper patternMy first experiment was with a gorgeous African veritable wax de luxe fabric which we bought on our spring trip to Paris. I wasn’t really thinking when I cut it out, and so have ended up with a long dart down the front which slightly spoils the fabulous pattern. african-fabric-dressDespite that flaw, it is a wonderful garment, and I have worn it a great deal – sometimes more wrapped up than others. I dithered about adding sleeves – after all there’s a certain reluctance for ladies of an older age to bare there arms, but I took heart from this Advanced Style post and went for bare arms.african-shift-dress-dressedupIt was followed by an enormously brave attempt to make myself a plain-coloured linen dress using the Merchant and Mills dress shirt pattern.  It’s brave because I don’t usually wear plain colours.  It did take me a long time to fit this dress satisfactorily.  I found the pattern too big for my frame, so had to trim quite a bit of width.  I do love it – another great success.  And I like the plain colour very much – my only caveat would be that I am an enormously messy person, and spills don’t show so much on pattern.turquoise-linen-dress-finishedMy next attempt was to make a copy of a dress I’d designed for myself years ago.  It was made from some gorgeously soft cotton that I bought in Habitat, and I have worn it and worn it, and shortened it, and worn and worn it again.  A really good old friend. habitat-pleated-dressI was a bit hesitant about this – still nervous about my seamstress skills.  So I bought a cheap and unremarkable fabric for the copy, and I think the dress I came up with is also unremarkable. two-pleated-dressesIt took endless patient pinning and re-pinning to get the seams right.  There are no darts in this dress – all the shaping comes from the seams, so it was essential to get them right.pinned-pleatsBut it does look very good when dressed up – and can you see the slight curve I gave the back for added interest?  I was very pleased with that.new-pleated-dressBy now (mid- August), I was beginning to feel a lot more confident.  On the spur of the moment I decided to make another tunic dress using my grandmother’s Simplicity pattern with this gorgeous fabric I’d found in Newcastle’s John Lewis. I didn’t worry about cutting this dress out.  I knew it would be OK!  And it was! grren-and-pink-tulip-dress-styledI’d taken on board the problems with a front seam spoiling the pattern, and just added a few tuck darts round the neck to cope with the extra fullness. So there is no centre front line to spoil the pattern. three-of-this-summers-handmade-dressesMy grandmother’s pattern fits me almost perfectly  – bar the bust darts. I have to lower the bust seam by about an inch which I find quite inexplicable.lowered-dart-on-my-grandmothers-patternBuoyed up with my success, I returned to a dress I had started at the very beginning of the summer. This is Grainline Studio’s Alder shirtdress.  It is cut from some fabric my husband bought me secretly on our Paris trip earlier this year – an enchanting Japanese doll fabric in several colourways.  I cut it out with great enthusiasm, and then realised I would have to do buttonholes – oh, no! So it got put to the side.

Come the end of the summer, with all this dressmaking experience under my belt (so to speak), I knew I could tackle buttonholes satisfactorily.  And I did indeed sew some very good buttonholes. This is another garment that I love wearing – I love the mix of fabrics (which was forced on me because there wasn’t enough of either fabric). And I love the pattern.  It also has a slightly curved back hem.alder-dressThis garment also dresses up well for colder days. Just what I needed on my recent London trip!togged-up-for-london-selfieIt feels such an achievement to have completed these different dresses. I’ve written about them speedily in this blog, but actually they took ages and ages of pinning and unpinning, trying on, measuring and repinning.  It may not really be what Karen Templer had in mind with her Slow Fashion October, but it is still a sort of slowness that has been reflective and patient and careful, quite different from the younger me who would throw garments together in an afternoon – and could carry them off however ill they fitted.

I’ve revisited Karen Templer’s Slow Fashion October since I started this blogpost, and she does indeed allow for a multiple of different interpretations for this slow project.  Perhaps the uniting factor running through this month is thoughtfulness. (I hesitate to use the word, Mindfulness because it is becoming tarnished with overuse) And with that thoughtfulness there is an accompanying pleasure – a delight in the simplicity and care of detail, a relish in getting garments that fit well and that are worn regularly and comfortably.  Well, my summer sewing projects certainly fit that bill.

And, if you were to listen to the Truly Myrtle podcast on Your Local Wardrobe that I referred to you at the beginning of this post, you would hear that she too is, like me, searching for the right clothes for the right place in her life right now! I can identify so much with her search for colour and fun in her clothing.

Perhaps best of all, I can now say that I have confident plans for more making ….. ideas for more garments … my mind is buzzing. handmade-dresses

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kaydeerouge

Lost - and found.

26 thoughts on “Loving my clothes …”

    1. Now that is flattering indeed – to be compared to Felicity Kendall! Yes, it has taken a while, but I’ve been helped by the fact that I’m scanning the family photo albums at the moment. My mother wants them back, so I’ve been putting in so serious scanning hours …. all those photos at my finger tips 🙂

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  1. Oh I loved this trawl through the clothes you loved. Then followed up with a new and hand made wardrobe to suit you now. I am on the verge of being ruthless with my wardrobe. I have clothes I wore for work which haven’t been worn in ages and I am getting fed up of life in jeans! Thoroughly enjoyable post.Thanks.

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    1. Thank you. I too went through the process of getting rid of work clothes after retirement – it takes a while to be ready to clear out, I think. And I am delighted to hear somebody else is fed up with jeans!

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  2. Love your new frocks, really pretty. I too find that leggings or jeggings with a shorter skirt or tunic look best on us. We ‘shorties’ can’t wear a lot of the stuff in the shops at the moment – long, shapeless woolly shift dresses with high crew necks and sleeves that come down to your fingertips! Hardly any V or scooped necks about, which are much more flattering to older women, and cooler to wear. I notice CRIMPLENE(!) has made a comeback, Heaven help us! I mentioned this to the staff in John Lewis and they said they’d had a lot of similar feedback from customers.

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    1. Thank you, Mandy. I do think the current fashion to wear tunics or short dresses is fun, allows the use of all those pretty fabrics. Lots of witty fabrics around too. I seem to remember that you were an excellent seamstress – so if you see Crimplene around, you know what to do: get the sewing machine out!

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  3. Oh, this post is just amazing! I love all your outfits – they have the character… I used to be obsessed with Vogue during my university years and could stare at the photos of the textile designs for hours. But I never felt the urge to actually make something, until I picked up knitting needles. It was so bizarre! I just had this sudden desire to create my own clothes that would mean something… I even tried sewing, but it never grew on me for some reason, though I would love to be able to create my own dresses, that I am so in love with! Thank you again for sharing!!!

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    1. Oh, thank you Alina – yes, I guess they do have character. There’s something special about a garment you’ve thought about, and created – and you know that all too well with all those wonderful knits you’ve designed! I rather think one day you may be drawn to become a sewer …. it sort of complements knitting so well.

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  4. That was such an interesting post – thanks for sharing! I loved all the photos. Your new dresses/tunics look amazing and I know what you mean about all the pinning and adjusting “behind the scenes” work. It’s slowwllyy getting easier for me but takes me a while for sure. Looking forward to seeing what you make next!

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words – it does take a lot of perseverance to make your own clothes, but I’ve definitely found it gets easier with practice. That’s partly because your dressmaking skills improve and partly because you get to know how to clothe your own shape. Whatever it’s worth sticking with it!

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  5. I have thoroughly enjoyed this post! As a 51 year old woman, finding a new style is not as easy. Like you, I have opted to wear tunics myself. I am quite short 5.2…so wearing longer skirts and such, swallow me up. Even though, I did wear them for quite some time ;D . Now, it is fun to be comfortable and still look stylish. Thank you so much for sharing with all of us 🙂 mari

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    1. Interesting to hear that you’ve found the same thing about yourself as a shorter woman as I have. Tunics are really lovely and there’s lots of scope with them for great patterns and styles but idiotically I have to admit to still longing to wear long skirts! So glad you enjoyed the post.

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  6. I loved reading this. You must be a similar age to me, as I remember dressing in similar way in the 1970s. You are very clever to be able to make such lovely clothes and wear them so confidently. Keep up the good work!

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    1. I rather think from reading these comments that we are all of a similar age, Georgie! It’s not easy to feel comfortable in your clothes as an older woman – sometimes I don’t think I get it right at all. Thank you for your complimentary words about my clothes in this post. I can certainly say it’s been rewarding making them.

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  7. I LOVE this post. Like the poster above I am a 51 year old woman, but tall and, until about a year ago, fairly lean. I sewed almost all my own clothes when I was at Uni (five years of home ec in school and two grandmothers who sewed equipped me well in that regard) because it was fun, and I could make things fit. Now in mid-life by tummy has expanded and I find myself dressing dully, sort of semi-professionally for work (even though there is no particular dress code and my coworkers wear jeans all the time), I think because I am a rare older female in the office and it would blow my coworkers’ minds if they saw me as I really am. Like you, I find myself craving color in the clothes I wear in my free time, and there are few that I find off-the-rack that fit my height or taste in colors.

    I’m joining an a Guinness Book of World Records attempt in two weeks to get as many people as possible dressed as David Bowie at one time and have been sewing my costume for that since August. It is a four-garment deal (Google “Bowie Phoenix Festival 1997” and you may find the image – he’s dressed in a chinese shirt, tunic, sparkly skirt and pants – all look to be made from a sequined sari). Making these garments has rekindled in me the fire to sew. Making things that truly fit my shape makes me feel so much better about how I look, about myself, about my abilities. I think it is a great gift at this age to be able to create for ourselves. Brava to you for getting through the buttonholes and thank you for posting all those lovely photos!

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    1. Oh I can identify with so much that you say, Frith! I’m actually 62 and retired but when working in my 50s dressed just as you describe yourself doing – I longed to wear tunics and free-er, more patterned and colourful tunics but felt constrained by social etiquette to stick to a dull work wardrobe – that’s partly why these clothes I’ve written about here feel such an achievement for me. You sound well on your way to more self expression with your clothes with this wonderful David Bowie event – what a fab idea, and how liberating it sounds for you! Bravo to you for that! – and my thanks to you for your very encouraging appreciative comments!

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  8. Hello there…what a magical mystery tour we have taken through the land of fabric dreams! To have such a well documented history of clothing choices is a valuable thing and each of your images depict a certain era in our fashion twirl just so well… sends me straight back to my own history.

    I wish that I had your clever dressmaking skills…despite having a Mother who was brilliant at making nifty 50’s and 60’s outfits on the old Singer I failed to learn that special something that she had. I can sew but in a slow, lumbering sort of way.

    I love the fact that you have now returned to your sewing roots and are whipping up such fabulous little dresses to mix and match in enticing french fabrics… Wonderful! I myself still wear what I wore when I was a teenager in Kensington back in the 70’s…jeans, teeshirt and hand knitted cardigan… no loons though! Although I yearn for the return of the bell bottom!

    Here’s to slow dressmaking for ever – long may we deliver!

    Bye for now…. Lydia

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    1. It’s a real revisiting of our lives in these clothes, isn’t it, Lydia? So evocative of the times we have lived through! I chuckle to read that you’re waiting for the return of the bell-bottom – no thanks, from me! Bit like those stinky Afghan coats, something I’ll happily consign to history. I don’t actually feel nifty with my sewing – more lumbering as you describe yourself. But I am driven by a longing to make the things in my mind. Oh yes, it is certainly slow dressmaking, but it’s definitely the result that counts.

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  9. Oh what an utterly brilliant post, thank you so much for sharing! I love the photos chatting your early fashion choices, and am very impressed with your recent sewing. I have a sewing machine… which is still in the box! I have this suspicion that I could be quite good if I would just be prepared to get my head down and learn (and accept that I won’t be perfect for a while yet). This post had made me want to try again so thank you!

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    1. I’m so pleased to hear that my post has inspired you to get that sewing machine out and have a go – it’s true that it’s not always immediately easy to sew clothes, and like my blessed buttonholes somethings are really daunting, – but achievable if you work at them. And the good news is that as your skills grow, it really does get easier. I’m very touched that you enjoyed this post so much – thank you, and very good luck with your own sewing!

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  10. I did enjoy this post, Katherine! (Have to get this in before I see you as may very well forget once there). How lovely to have had such a consistent thread running through your life – my relationship with clothes has been more love/hate and sometimes disinterest, with many associations with having to be dressed up and presentable as a child for social functions which were agony. Did you not suffer from this too in the diplomatic life? Beautiful pictures of you too, and how elegant you always were, even in what you call scruffy clothes! I’ve never heard that term paddy though it must mean tantrum. And I always take pleasure in how you dress now as well, indeed all that wonderful pattern and colour.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Polly 🙂 Yes – my love of clothes is an abiding passion in my life. I did indeed hate the diplomatic functions – but I loved the clothes that went with them! You may not love your clothes as I do, but we share a love of pattern and colour – so much to take pleasure in there.

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