Out of the Plain Doldrums

I`ve had to pay attention to clothing again. We had a small infusion of cash, and some of it has to be spent on covering our bodies decently. I sometimes get kind of frustrated with myself this way – I`m really good at fashion, but not for myself. I chose to be Plain, but maybe I carry this too far, and start throwing on random clothes from the closet in the morning. Two days in the same deep purple shift and loose black dress, with a loose cap over the barely brushed hair. No shoes. Apron. The hair pokes out from the cap edges, the hem of the dress is muddy, there are flour smears on the sitting down part. The purple shift is darned in several places visible over the neckline of the dress.

I am a mess.

Saturday night, Mother Kay and I left Patience asleep in bed under the supervision of Nicholas, who doesn`t do evening things, and we went to the Great Vigil at the Cathedral. It is not Easter-Pascha for me until I have heard the Exsultet, even if I have to sing myself in a darkened room over a tiny taper. I had pulled it together for the Vigil, at least. I wore the black dress, cape and apron, the new bonnet over the white stiff cap, and a black shawl. (The boots do not bear inspection, but feet were mostly tucked under the pew.)

As we were leaving, a clergy spouse stopped Mother Kay (and she in collar) and said to her, “Oh, your friend is so adorable! She looks so sweet!` Kay said, `Tell her yourself, she won`t bite.`(That`s true.) So Mrs. Clergy came up to me and told me that I was the first Mennonite person she had ever seen! (Oh, I`m wondering, don`t you live in Ontario. But it may have been a mild exaggeration, maybe she meant up close.) I then explained that I am not Mennonite, but Anglican, which sort of surprised her mightily, and she wanted to know if I dress this way all the time.

Well. yes. Sort of. Because sometimes I`m not nearly that tidy and presentable.

I have decided that it might be time to lose the wild-child persona that hangs out in the house. I have ordered patterns from Friends, the Quaker pattern people, who have patterns for Amish and Plain-modest dresses. I am getting the three-piece Ohio dress, cape and apron, and a pattern for a surplice apron, big enough to cover everything. I am on the look-out for some additional caps, since I really like the stiff cap with the set pleating down the back. I assume that the set pleats are done on a wooden form, and are steamed and starched in. I don`t think I can make them myself. (If you have been avoiding stiff caps because they look difficult to clean, but like them, I wash them with a damp cloth and a stain removal stick that is made locally; any oil removal product would do. The caps don`t lose their shapes with spot washing.)

I look forward to sewing some things myself, knowing that the fit and length will be right. (I am blessed that Mother Kay also knows how to sew, and I will have my Pfaff machine back soon.) I found that I am very fussy about the fabric, as well, and things I ordered, while well-made, have been in fabrics I don`t really like long-term.

I am still looking for a parish; I have a meeting in a bishop`s office next week. While I don`t intend to wear the collar again, I think I might make a better impression if I don`t look like a survivor of a trek through the Ozarks in a hard winter.


18 thoughts on “Out of the Plain Doldrums

  1. I can mail you a copy of a kapp pattern that I use which is quite simple, if you like. It’s pleated to the brim, not gathered, but doesn’t require a form. I drew it myself. I sew them from a black Kona cloth and add 1/4 inch ribbon ties.

    And I can sooooo definitely relate to that “wild child persona” who hangs out in the house. And, like you, I’m looking at her with an eye to giving her the heave ho. Or maybe just a gentle nudge out the door into the warm moonlit evening….

    Alternatively, Tabitha’s Legacy – Sarah makes a nice kapp.

    • I used to make my own, but decided I liked the stiff back. Maybe I`ll change back some time in the future. The stiff back sometimes gets crushed down and looks lopsided. Or maybe it`s my head. But thanks for the offer. Kona cloth is a good choice – I`ll have to try that.

      As for that moony hippie I still am – well, maybe if I wash her and dress her nice she`ll pass for normal. Or just pass!

  2. I started thinking about one of many sayings of my mother. She has passed away now, but she still lives through many of the lessons she taught me as a child. Regarding clothes: “If your clothes are clean and without holes that is OK. It does not matter if they are mended, but you cannot just leave the holes. And they have to be clean, what if you need to go to the hospital?” So my mun would have been OK with worn and mended clothes but she would not have liked your muddy hem… 😉

    The older I get, the more I realise how smart my mother was. As a child I found this saying silly, of course you have clothes and mum washes them if you get dirty, but as an adult I now understand that having clothes that were clean probably was the only thing my mum and her family could be proud of back then. They were 7 children and my grandfather did not have a well-paid job. They couldn’t get new clothes all the time and if they did they needed to last a long time and often be handed down to a younger sibling. The only part I still don’t understand is why it would be worse to be dirty at the hospital than anywhere else…

    • I come from a big family, and neatness was more important than newness and fashion. I mend my clothes a lot; usually no one would be able to tell. But that particular day (or two) I was uncommonly untidy. I was an embarrassment to decent Plain women everywhere.

      My mother said very much the same thing. I don’t know why the hospital required clean clothes to get in.

  3. I am going to try making this one on the weekend, we have a spray product here similar to starch but much much stronger and I can’t remember the name of it….anyway I will just use cotton and once it’s made I’ll spray it with that stuff. I find that I’m so messy and my hands tend to go to my cap so I need to wash them all the time, but after a few washes they look a bit sloppy but are so comfy.


    • That’s where I got my first pattern. I make my patterns out of old gift wrap – they last so much longer. Spray starch just isn’t stiff enough, I agree – is it called sizing? I haven’t found it in Canada.

  4. I am from a big family too, we are two sisters and three brothers. My parents were not poor and we never lacked in clothes, food and necessary things for our survival and developement but we did not get every thing we pointed at (and thank god for that). I am the youngest so I probably got more new things than my brothers and sisters since there are 10 years between me and my brother and many things had been passed on to cousins and friends instead.

    I do not get why people do not mend their clothes, I do too, unless it is an item I do not like, then I must admit that I take it as a reason to get rid of it. I love wearing woll-socks and wear them almost all the time. They grow thin or get holes from the wear and then I mend them which to many people is the height of ‘old-fashioned’. I often ask if they knit themselves and they usually say no. Then I say that they do not know the work that was put into that sock but I do and therefore I honor the knitter by making use of the sock a little longer. I mean, even for an fast knitter a pair of socks takes a day or two, mending them takes at the most a half hour, throwing them away is not time management! You can med them a lot of times and still save time.

    • I used to wear handknit socks, but I can’t knit in the round, which is my own fault for not taking the trouble to learn!

      • I learned knitting in the round from doing ‘Lovikka-mittens’ a traditional Swedish mitten made in very think yarn which are very easy to knit and when I had made two pairs I made mittens in regular yarn. But socks were too hard for many years, I started but made some mistake and got irritated and threw them in a corner until I needed the yarn for something else. At 22 or so I decided that I should learn how to make socks no matter what and I did so now I make a lot of them and I do not need a pattern anymore. I made my first pair of mittens at about 12 so it took I while to move on to socks.

      • I think I might be able to do these! The directions are so clear. I love felting, too. When I had sheep, I used to teach children how to felt and help them make little items from their own felt.

    • Nobody wears hand me downs any more.I remember my brother and I would wear old clothes given from older cousins.Then the clothes would be passed on to a friend and then back to my little sister (in order of age), and then onto cousins of the older cousins.

      • We did the same thing – we had trouble telling photos of sisters apart because we all wore the same snowsuit, from eldest to youngest! Two of my sisters look very much alike, and we tell them apart in old photos not by their clothes, but by the pattern of linoleum on the floor.

        Patience gets hand-me-downs, but so much of it is worn thin, stained and stretched out of shape. Clothes are not well made anymore. I will be sewing for her soon, and her Nana and I want to make her a special quilt.

  5. magdelaina,

    I second the thoughts others have shared here. clean, orderly, pressed and tidy even if a piece of clothing has been mended lifts the spirits and works a work on the heart. it can be so easy when one is home by and large, (I know all too well in my own life) to let things slide – a bit…

    I love the three piece capedress; http://www.plainlydressed.com sell it; http://www.thekingsdaughters.com will make you any form of cape dress with optional pinnie or apron at a far more affordible price 🙂 three or four in durable fabric, muted colours (grey or brown), or, perhaps, two ‘jumpers’ with several pettiblouses will do well. It isn’t too much; I think the plain witness, from my reading of it, has always advocated neat, tidy, cleanness and presentibility; after all, we are witnesses, even to those around us in our own homes, and our plainness is a sacramental practice; a gift from and for God.

    ‘Candle on the Hill’ sell patterns also, including cap patterns. does Bayley sell the type of mesh cap you’re after?

    May God continue to bless you,


    • Bayley is on hiatus right now, so I will check with her later. I think I must try to get together some current resources on Plain dress. So often the google links are old (not their fault – they just provide the search engine). Now if I can only sit still long enough for someone to take some photographs – maybe some of you ladies (and men who dress Plain) would be willing to offer a few images? It is so NOT a Plain thing to do, but it might help others.

  6. Magda you sound just like me with old clothes and long torn skirts and I get those comments too.I just find them amusing but I was much less comfortable when a man filmed me on a camcorder.

    • I was worse last summer, since we were living alone in the woods. I wore an old pull-on skirt and a t-shirt, and a very worn out pair of moccasins. The patched linen shift was no better then, but I wore it as a dress. It (and the skirt) have been demoted to underwear. I have promised myself a decent pair of summer shoes, too. Maybe Keds, like Amish girls wear!

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