Gardening Clothes

Ever since Eve, gardens and clothing have had a problematic relationship – particularly for women. Before I even made my passionate avowal of regular gardening, I had made a frustrating discovery in this regard. As suitable as my long-skirted dresses are for many a pursuit, gardening is not one of them.

Ladies' Home Journal Vol.10 No.11 (October, 1893)
Elegant train – doubles as weed mat!
What clued me in? Standing on my hem with muddy gumboots when bending over my work. Frustratingly unavoidable.

And yet, women (and even ladies) have gardened lo these many centuries. The problem, I deem, is the combination of ladylike attire with unladylike gardening. A full sweeping skirt is all very well for a little light flower-gathering on a dry summer’s day with a Sussex trug over one arm, but squatting down in the muddy grass uttering dire threats against a dock root is in an altogether different class of gardening.

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Making Cuts

I’ve been posting a lot lately about purging, decluttering, getting rid of things, seeking the essentials and hacking back everything else.

I don’t want to be one of those irritating people who give everyone else good advice but never follow it themselves; and I think what I’ve been trying to do with all these posts is to shift the balance of my thinking. It is not easy, as I’m sure you know. Mental habits are ruts that are hard to break out of.

Rutted field near Ravarnet - - 1144990

The good is often the enemy of the best, I wrote. This is a lovely aphoristic saying, full of insight and meaning. But it isn’t anything more unless you apply it, put it into practice.

There are a number of elements I consider as essential to my life: the love of God, my husband, family and friends. Writing, reading, and handwork. Those are my core activities and priorities. Then there are the necessary ancillary activities like cleaning, eating etc.

There are a lot of other things I would like to do – often, being all excited about a new shiny idea, I start doing them straight away – which there isn’t room for in my life, not without filching time from the more important activities.

Where this really lands me in trouble is with the sunk cost fallacy – having enthusiastically launched into a project or activity, I feel I can’t call it quits, because that would be wasting the resources I have put into it.

Does anyone else know the dragging guilt and wearying heaviness induced by too many unfinished projects? Are you in over your head too?

Raise your hand if you can't swim

Here’s the truth I have to face: if it wasn’t a good idea to start giving your time to something, it isn’t a good idea to keep giving your time to it.

The sensible thing – nay, the wise thing to do is to admit that there isn’t room in your life for this right now, and let it go.

That being the case, I am regretfully withdrawing from the Historical Sew Monthly. I made a shift and a balaclava, both of which are useful, and I am pleased that I did.

I also made half of an Edwardian maid’s apron – my first attempt at pleating – which I may use as a half apron, or finish with bib, straps etc in the fullness of time, either with the frou-frou Edwardian bib, or with a fuller, more practical one.

Spot the Jabberwocky!
Spot the Jabberwocky!

But as much as I enjoy historical sewing (or at least, the results thereof), it isn’t a high enough priority in my life for me to be devoting as much time to it as the HSM’15 requires. So, I shall take my final bow (that’s me in the back row) and retire to the audience where I can sit and applaud the efforts of others.

I do feel disappointed, I admit. But the disappointment is tinged with relief, knowing this was the right decision to make, and nervousness, knowing that this is very likely only the first of many such decisions.

Eccentric Æsthetics: In Which I Attempt the Historical Sew Monthly

You know how it is. You lurk for a while, then you comment for a while, and then you decide you just can’t resist and you get involved. So it was with me and the Historical Sew Fortnightly. In 2013 I lurked, in 2014 I commented, and now in 2015, I plan to take part. Ths year it’s been revamped as the Historical Sew Monthly, but I still don’t think I’ll manage all twelve challenges. Small but sustainable, that’s my beginner’s ambition.


I didn’t want to make anything that I couldn’t wear in daily life, but being æsthetically eccentric, that’s a wide range. Not as wide as a crinoline, though. I do have some sense of practicality.

So I decided to start with a simple chemise or shift, the foundation of Western clothing for centuries, and something which would fill the gap in my wardrobe marked “light summer nightgown”.

I give you, therefore, my first HSM project: The Igor Thift!
(Apologies for the exoskeletal dress-form – she’s in shape, but I haven’t got around to covering her yet.)


Challenge: Foundations (Jan)
Fabric: an old sheet, feels like mostly cotton
Pattern: I used’s 18th century chemise instructions
Year: eighteenth century
Notions: thread, bias binding

How historically accurate is it? Somewhat? The pattern is all good; the fabric is possibly part man-made fibre, but “old sheet” is a historically accurate fabric, in my opinion 🙂 The binding is of uncertain age, but it is bias binding, which is historically inaccurate, as far as I know.

The construction is a bit mixed: I used historically accurate flat-felled seams, but they were sewn partly by hand and partly by ye notte quite olde enoughe hand-crank sewing machine (post WWII Japanese Singer knock-off).

The finished shift includes lock-stitch (machine), back-stitch, running stitch, whip stitch and even, embarrasingly, blanket stitch. This, combined with the fact that the Caped Gooseberry was reading me Terry Pratchett’s The Fifth Elephant as I worked, caused me to dub this the Igor Thift. Alas, my thtitcheth stitches are not quite Igor-worthy in their tininess, although the hand-crank does up to 30 stitches per inch, should anyone be mad enough to want it to.


Hours to complete: embarrasingly many. Perhaps as many as 20? The whole process was slowed down by not deciding it was too wide until I had already sewn the side gores on. So I tore part of it off, cut two new side gores and started again on that side. (The pattern suggests adding 20cm ease – I should have done this before halving my maximum circumference, not after.) I did two side gores on each side, attached to the body along the hypotenuse for that isosceles-triangle effect.

First worn: as a nightdress for a trip to the Coromandel in the last week of January. Light and comfortable.

Total cost: time and energy. The sheet was discovered in an archaeological dig of the rag cupboard, and the binding was inherited from my grandmother’s stash. So it could also be considered as an entry for March (Stash-Busting) were it not against the rules to enter one item for multiple challenges.

What to Do Art.IWMPST14754

What I Have Learned From This Project:
1) Even with simple things, it pays to plan ahead. Especially where one is going to have three seams merging into one.
2) It’s all right for things to not be perfect.

I had originally planned to do about six items, each of which would work for two consecutive challenges. But that was when I thought Stash-busting was February and Colour Challenge Blue was March, rather than the other way around. I may still try to do six items which between them cover all twelve challenges, as I have an idea for something which will work excellently for both Blue (Feb) and War & Peace (Apr). Opinions? Advice?