For various reasons, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my maternal grandmother—that’s her, Hilda, on the right, with her sister, my great-aunt Ida. I wonder what she would have thought about Hillary Clinton being nominated for President. I think how much different my life is from hers, and I wish that she had had the healthcare advances that have made my aging so much more comfortable than hers. I remember the swing on her front porch, and how, on hot summer days, we would sit there sipping lemonade—and she would be wearing a “house dress.” She isn’t wearing a “house dress” in the photo, because she was visiting Aunt Ida. Aunt Ida IS wearing a house dress, because she is at home. There was a protocol to these things.
After church, say—or any event that required dressing up—the ladies of the house (my maternal grandmother, aunt, mother, and little 5-year-old Yours Truly) would gather in the huge bathroom upstairs—the only one in the old house. The good dresses came off—and then a layer or two of what, to my young eyes, was an impressive quantity of underwear. The slips, the dreadful girdles that actually contained real rubber, the corsets with boning and row upon row of hooks-and-eyes—these were undies forged from the cannons of Stalingrad, and no doubt purchased from Ermentrude’s Secret. They must have been absolutely miserable in the humid summer heat.
Then, for Nana at least, came the house dress—a cotton lawn or broadcloth shirt-dress, loose-fitting to the point of shapelessness, often in a fussy little print—tiny pink roses on a blue background, tiny green bows on aqua, that sort of thing. (I always hated those prints. and would soon be grateful that God would invent psychedelic paisleys just so I wouldn’t have to wear tiny violets or shamrocks.) Mom and I were all about shorts and halter tops, but for Nana, the house dress was the apotheosis of cool comfort in the days before air conditioning—even though it goes without saying that she would have stood over an ironing board in the sweltering heat to make sure that it was presentable.
So here is my version of the house dress—cool summer comfort in a not-so-ditzy print that I can just snag out of the dryer. Since Mildred is a lot shorter than I am, but she is nothing if not intrepid. Here she is, teetering on a dining room chair so that she can show you the final result:
The pattern is McCall’s 7402, and the fabric is a rayon batik from Nancy’s Notions.
There were some fit issues–one would think that, when one purchases tank-top type patterns in the same size from the same company, they would have the same armhole depth and curvature, but that would be naive. I finally got it fixed, but there were moments when the shapeless house dress in cotton lawn prints started to seem a lot more appealing.
It’s comfortable now, though, and really fun to wear; the fabric—and there is quite a lot of it— billows and floats around my legs as I walk, rather like a self-contained fan. (When my cats first saw me in it, they were terrified; they aren’t used to seeing acres of fabric floating down the hall toward them. It took them awhile to figure out that it was just me inside that yuuuuge tent, and they weren’t going to get swept away or anything.)
I think Nana would approve.
Here endeth the summer sewing projects–on to fall!