Modest Sewing for Plus Sizes

I used to wear a size four. That was a while ago. While I haven’t had to move to the upper teens in size, I have sympathy for my friends who find that advancing years have meant advancing waistlines. I say it’s a natural process, that our bodies get smarter about not wasting all those useful calories by running them off. That’s my rationalization, and I’m sticking to it.

While culture pushes us to look like pubescent girls or stick insects, men may not find that very attractive. Husbands in their honest moments may even complain if their wives have lost too much weight. They may like a certain roundedness to the womanly figure. My husband does. I was a runner when he started dating me, but aging and lack of time to run mean I’m back to my old seminary weight. I don’t like it, but he appreciates it. So I’ve come to accept it.

Dressing Plain means I don’t have to worry about tummies and soft padding. It pretty much gets covered up. I’m wearing clothes that allow me to move, work, lean over, stretch and reach without showing what doesn’t need to be shown.

But if you have gone past the point where off-the-rack fits well, and you have to hunt out speciality stores for your sizes if you want anything of quality, it may be time to get out the old sewing machine and oil it.

The following measurements refer to American sizing and inches.

Friends Patterns ( has sizes up to XXL, with a waist measurement of 34 and a bust of 48. Three of their patterns come in the largest size, the Ohio three-piece dress, the contemporary Plain dress, and the women’s jumper. I would recommend scaling the patterns to fit best, in case you aren’t tall as well as plus size.

Folkwear Patterns ( are sized for women up to 16, which I don’t find particularly “plus.” But some patterns are sized for men as well, like the Black Forest Smock, up to a chest size of 44.  Made in a dress length, it would be modest, and attractive. The English Smock has nice detailing on the front.

Candle on the Hill ( offers a Kwik Sew button front dress in sizes to 4X (bust 47, waist 49). It is very modest and something beyond the a-line jumper so common in plus size patterns. They have a good variety of different patterns. Their Simply Modest Dress and Country Cape dresses are sized up to XXL, and work well for Plain women. The Jewel’s Apron pattern goes to XL, waist 47.

Sewgrand patterns ( , while not specifically a modest dress company, does have some lovely and modest patterns. They have sizes up to 26, bust 50 and waist 42. They have a full range of modest clothing – tops, skirts, dresses, pants and a raincoat. They seem to really understand how to fit a plus size woman. I have never ordered from them; if anyone has any experience with them, please add a comment. They are a Canadian company.

Some commercial patterns (Simplicity, Butterick, McCall`s) are scaled to plus sizes, but it takes a bit of hunting amongst them to see what will work.

Unless you want to wear just caftans and muu-muus, I recommend that you borrow a book on fitting a pattern from the library, have a good friend help with your measurements, and most importantly, take  your time sewing. You can try pinning the pattern pieces on what you are wearing, if you have an extra pair of trusty hands, or pin the pieces onto a dress you know fits. This can help you decide where things need to be modified.

I think plus size women often get discouraged about their clothing. Don`t be! No one has the perfect figure without a lot of life-threatening, expensive surgery, and whose idea was it that there had to be some ideal – not yours or mine!

Time to Write

I’m going to take a brief hiatus from the blog, probably a week or so. I want to do some indepth thought and reading on a couple of subjects that are a little deeper intellectually than what I have been doing. I like the kind of post I have been writing, and the responses to it – but I need to shift gears and flex my heavy-lifting theological muscles as well. Not that there isn’t plenty of theology in daily life!

My online time is very limited right now, for various reasons. I know that I am in entering another transition; that things will change in the next few weeks – I know this through the Spirit, and I hope I am hearing His voice in it.

Among the topics I would like to explore is hospitality in mainline churches (especially Anglican) and the profound stillness of God. The recent readings in the lectionary on Elijah got me thinking about that. I heard an online sermon that so missed the point about listening for God, that what Elijah encountered in the profound stillness on the mountain was a voice inside himself. That has troubled and disturbed my spirit. There is a whole book around that.

As well, I would like to do more reading and reflection on the creation spirituality of women. How do we articulate what we are to the rest of the world?

I hold you all in prayer; those who have my email address can find me there, and for those who don’t, there is facebook – a little work will find me.

God’s blessings to thee!

Capes and Winter Coats – Making Your Own

“What do the Amish wear in the winter?” asked a friend a while ago. Traditionally, the women wear a cape, men wear wool jackets. Mennonites I know wear everything from plain black coats to parkas. Staying warm is what’s important.

Friends Patterns ( has the Amish Mandlie or Mantle cape pattern. It has a short overcape. They also have a pattern for a Jennifer coat, a simple, a-line coat to go over dresses, which can be made long or short. I find it hard to drive in a cape, so I prefer a coat when we have to go somewhere by vehicle, since I do the driving now.

I love capes. I packed mine with my now-disappeared vestments. I plan to make a new one, but what I really want is the Kinsale cloak from Folkwear Patterns ( It’s a full, hooded Irish cape. I wear a cape because I am walking somewhere, and I want extra fabric over a cape dress or a coat, a hood that will cover a bonnet, and enough length to cover to the ankles. I carry things under the cape – handbag, shopping bags, even a backpack. (Looks a bit odd, but very effective.)

Costume cape patterns are not meant to be lined with anything heavy, and you will need a good wool, quilted or flannel lining in a cape you wear outdoors. My last cape was black wool, lined with wool in the front and flannel in the back, to save some weight. It had a velveteen lined hood and a pewter clasp. I wore it at seminary, at burials, and in the cathedral in the winter if we had long meetings there. (Which got me a mild reprimand from the bishop, who said that “some” thought it “too ecclesial in appearance.” I said, “It’s what I wear in the winter.” Do you think I cared if someone thought it looked like a cope? It’s black! Besides, I could pull it around me and close my eyes, with my head pillowed back on the wall against the hood. Just meditating, of course.) In really cold weather, in unheated bedrooms, we slept with the cape as a top blanket.

I don’t think commercial coat patterns are big enough to go over all the layers we Plain women wear. They tend to be fitted through the torso, or have lapels, or fancy pocket designs. the witner coat I wear now is an old wool one, bought when I was first ordained, single breasted, with a small collar. It’s starting to show its years, though. I hope one more winter…

Plain Sewing for Men

I haven’t had to sew for Nicholas. He is quite satisfied with jeans, blue and black, and simple shirts. Almost everything he has was bought at thrift stores. That it was really cheap and it fits him is what he likes the best about it. He never wears a sports coat or a suit, and the last tie he had was used to wrap up an old futon going to the tip. The only sewing I do for him is mending – buttons, rips, and remaking a pair of stretched out braces. (I intend to make a good pair as soon as I can find all the necessary hardware.)

But what if you want to make some traditional, or simply styled men’s clothing? Maybe you are a wife or mother sewing for the men, or a man who wants to run up some inexpensive clothes for himself. (I come from a family where the men knew how to use a sewing machine – and a good skill it is!)

The best choice is Friends Patterns ( for a range of Plain garments. They have patterns for broadfall trousers, fly front pants, a vest, a Hutterite cap (usually worn by boys), a placket shirt, a more traditional “coat” shirt (like a dress shirt), a Wamus dress jacket, a Mutze frock coat and work clothes like overalls, coveralls, and a farm jacket. This covers just about every need a Plain man should have. They also have boys’ sizes. My experience is that their patterns are high quality and meant to hold up for years. If your man doesn’t change sizes much, you may be set for life.

Candle on the Hill ( carries boys’ patterns for simple, modest clothing. They have a few Friend’s Patterns in stock.

Folkwear Patterns(  has a a number of men’s styles that might be adaptable to Plain life: The Drover’s Coat 9137; various ethnic shirts (212 frontier shirts, 102 cheesemaker’s smock, 116 Shirts of Russia and Ukraine, 221 English smock, 148 Black Forest Smock, 202 Victorian shirt, 204 boatman’s shirt) and a “vintage vest” pattern, 222. Some big fabric stores carry Folkwear patterns, but I would expect to have to mail order them.

For those who don’t want to mail order patterns, although I believe the Friend’s patterns are worth the effort, there are some commercial patterns that can be adapted. Butterick has two costume patterns that might be adapted for shirts and jackets, 4486, which is a laced placket shirt – the lacing could be removed and buttons used; and 3072, a pattern I have used to make a Swedish men’s costume. It has a placket shirt, a vest and a frock coat of Colonial style, along with knee pants. Please note that most men’s costume patterns have pull-on, elastic waist pants – meant for an evening of dress-up, not all day use. You will either have to add a fly front or have a very disgruntled man on your hands. I’d just give the costume pants a bye, or use them for pajama pants. (Even then, men want a fly front.)

McCall’s has some patterns that might be useful. There’s a simple buttoned vest pattern (8285, for men and women.) Under costumes, there is a pirate’s costume that includes a laced placket shirt and a very simple vest. Again, forget the trousers. But for a more formal but Plain suit that would not require a tie, I like the look of the Civil War uniform, 4745. There is a single-breasted tunic jacket and button fly trousers that are more than basic costume pieces. Made in black or dark grey, with plain buttons, it would be nice for a wedding or Sunday, without looking costumey or like a uniform.

Simplicity  has some useful men’s and boys’ patterns. Pattern 2741 is a simple shirt and vest, also sized for women. For the rugged fella, there’s a husky/big and tall pattern for men and boys for shirts and vests (4975). If you are inclined to make trousers, Simplicity has 4760, shirts and pants for men and boys. One (7030) includes a shirt, vest and suspenders (braces) sized for men and boys. In costumes, Simplicity has a men’s caped coat (2517) which may not look so Plain, but is very practical – the cape sheds water and keeps the coat from getting soaked. Make it in wool. I like the looks of 2895, a Western style pattern, to make a frock coat, shirt and vest in men’s sizes. If a man wanted a more medieval or peasant type shirt for comfort, there’s 3519, which has dropped shoulders and a placket front.

Men’s clothing may take a little longer to make because of all the fitting, but it is worth the effort, considering that men wear their clothes for years. My grandmother made pants, shirts and suits for men all her life; my grandfather and uncle were quite well-dressed! And I wonder if some of their Pendleton wool shirts, made by Nana, are still being worn!

Friday, Food Waste

I did something really stupid – a real beginner’s stupid thing – and put eggs on the top shelf of the refrigerator. Six of them froze. I boiled them and chopped them for eggs salad, but they were too tough for human consumption, so they supplemented the dogs’ ration, and were much appreciated. Leftover salad got eaten (by me) and cold take-away pizza got reheated for supper last night, with a pasta and fresh herb side and more salad. I love salad – if I lived alone I would eat salads twice a day, with cold meat or shrimp and some cheese. Breakfast used to be whole-grain bread with goat cheese and soem fruit, and the rest of the meals were salads or a bit of pasta with the salad. I was quite thin, too. If I tried that now, there would definitely be a rebellion.

An onion went bad in the five pound bag, and I suspect there may be another one. It’s the time of the year when everything wants to sprout. I’ve got a chunk of fresh ginger to either use or plant soon.

I’ve got a few things in the big freezer, mostly chicken and pork, and a packet of hamburger rolls to use. I hope to get through all that this coming week.

The No-Plastics Challenge: Low-Plastics Feminine Hygiene

Here are some sites to look at if you are interested in feminine care products that don’t use disposable plastics  or bleach: (patterns) (pads, diva cups)

I’ve considered making my own, and now may be the time, since I’m over fifty, and I’ve been doing this for many years now, and maybe I’m just tired of throwing away money on a natural process like this. As one young woman said to me in the personal-care aisle of the store, “It’s hard enough being a woman! Why does it have to be so expensive?”

Personally, if I had a heavy flow, I’d probably choose a commercial product for those days, and use a washable product the other days. I’ve never tried a Diva cup – I have reason to think it would not be a good choice for me. (This is a reusable internal “catcher” – many women love them as actually more convenient than the usual products.)

I truly dislike that tampons, as useful as they are in some circumstances, have at least some nylon in them, rely on bleached fillers (excuse me!) and often come in a plastic applicator – which ends up in trash, which ends up dumped somewhere, and ends up washing into waterways. Plastic applicators were so common on the beaches of Chesapeake Bay that we called them “beach whistles.” It is possible to hunt down all-cotton, non-bleached alternatives, but again – cotton is an expensive fibre to produce, and we are just throwing it away. (Some cities have composting programmes for menstrual products, but like all protein composting, this requires higher heat tha the average composter.)

Now, let’s be sensible here. Our female ancestors didn’t have a lot of periods in their lifetimes. They got pregnant, nursed babies when they weren’t (and sometimes when they were) and their fertility cycles were farther apart.  Because we don’t get pregnant as early or as often, and most women don’t nurse their children for more than a few months, ours are monthly. So we try to suppress that fertility with birth control, and we try to manage the sloughing off of the uterine lining. This is not “bleeding” in the technical sense, as it is uncirculated blood.

Maybe we have too many periods, or we don’t manage them well. Girls reach puberty and first menses younger and younger. This may be related to diet or even estrogen-like compounds in water as well as food. It might be part of a natural genetic cycle that pushes our girls to maturity faster when food supplies are high. It certainly needs more research and consideration.

Keeping our daughters on a natural foods diet, and avoiding excess weight gain will probably help delay menstruation. Our children now eat too much fat, and are too sedentary. Fat produces estrogen. So using a low-animal fat diet, lots of whole grains and organic vegetables and milk products (especially milk products) may slow down the rapid maturation of North American girls. It might help prevent estrogen-related cancers.

As for ourselves – there are ways to prevent heavy periods. Keeping body fat low and gaining muscle will help a lot to balance the estrogen levels. One thing more women need to do is cut back on stressful activities. DON’T multitask all day, every day! (By this I mean have too many distractors in front of you – computer, phone, cell phone, book, paper to read…) Driving is very stressful – if you can cut your work commute or the hours spent shopping or carrying kids to activities, do so.  Give yourself a “down” day just before your period starts. Get off your feet for a while -stay out of the gym, cut back on that long daily walk, have someone else cook. While regular exercise is necessary to keep a good cycle and to keep weight gain away, it can be stressful on top of all the other stressors.

Find some herbal teas that work for you. Chamomile is good, and there are many proprietary blends on the market for women. Avoid caffeine and sugar.

This is all common sense advice – but if you are having heavy periods, you definitely need some rest. This was the best advice a midwife gave me when I had trouble about fifteen years ago and I was facing a hysterectomy. Get off your feet! Literally, she meant – I had to take three days off work and go to bed.  I’ve kept that advice since if my period starts heavy. Nicholas will insist that I get into bed, elevate my feet, and let him do things. (Not always successfully, mind- but you can live on peanut butter sandwiches for a while.) You may think “I haven’t got time…” but I would advice you to find it. Don’t be a martyr over your period. 

The menstrual separation laws of some older cutltures were not to punish the women or keep the men “clean.” That was just the excuse. Because women’s periods came more rarely, they were moved to a special place for rest and care. Older women cooked for them, family members did the household chores. It was like a spiritual retreat for some. I think this is a marvelous idea.

I really think we need some honest discussion amongst woemn about birth control itself, as well. The hormone-based birth control spills into the water system as urine, and may be causing all sorts of problems. Barrier methods are – well, messy, inconvenient and often disposable and nonrecyclable. (There’s an ehw factor involved.) Other methods are invasive (IUDs) and may cause complications like heavy periods or infections. The natural methods require a “normal” cycle, counting days and a good deal of self-restraint at times. (If you are young and in love, that may be too much to ask, as we all know.)  There are herbs that can help suppress ovulation, but their efficacy and safety are unproven. I’m going out on a limb here, but part of the discussion has to be the push to lower population levels worldwide. What does that mean? Why is that a hot issue? Who is behind all this? (As we say in America, “Follow the money.”) Even if we are not feminists in a political sense, have we bought into Betty Friedan’s critique of the “feminine mystique?”

We don’t discuss women’s health care and the spirituality of our lives as wives, mothers and caregivers in a Christian context. Women end up looking to the neopagans for these things, which won’t help in the long run, really. Why can’t we face the fact that women are different, have different needs, physically and spiritually, and the church is a place where we could be supporting each other in that?

Would your church be willing to sponsor a women’s health care group or seminar that focusses on wellness? We seem to be willing to go all-out on breast cancer, to the point where it is a bit of a cult. Why aren’t we addressing the health of women (and children and men) on a daily basis, in a truthful and realistic way?

Clerical Patterns

This is the second update of this post. Much has changed since I wrote this 5 years ago.

wordpress blog post vestments

Many of you who follow this blog have no use for these! You may belong to a church that doesn’t vest, doesn’t have a robed choir or even a paid minister. Those of us who are still in the “high” churches, though, sometimes have need for these weird clothes. I have lost almost all my vestments in some move. (If anyone knows where they are, please tell me!) Although I am not in need of any right now, and I do have access to some old albs and stoles, I am a cassock and surplice kind of woman, which is about as Plain as vestments get.

Butterick has the cassock pattern that was made for me previously, a simple Roman style, with buttons down the front, stand up collar and deep cuffs. (Butterick has changed this pattern number a couple of times. Currently, it is 6844, and it has been 6765). It has to modified a bit for me – I’m short, and hourglass shaped, not straight and narrow or portly, like male priests. I require darts.

Butterick has a costume pattern (5441) in their “Making History” line that has bishops’ mitres and ‘crowns’ – what were once called tyres, a tiara like headpiece for women. I would use this if I were making wedding crowns for an Orthodox wedding.

I found patterns for surplices, both round and square-necked, at Church Linens and Vestments ( Included in their inventory is a pattern for a cassock-alb, which is the traditional style of Anglican cassock, sometimes made in white for the altar services, and black for the choir offices. They have stole patterns. For those who aspire to sew for a bishop, they have instructions for making copes and mitres.

Clergy Stole Patterns on Etsy has PDFs to purchase, and the owner is an experienced liturgical seamstress. Stoles can be very satisfying to sew, even fun. They are a quick creative project. (

If you can draft your own patterns, there are a number of books available:

20 Simple and Elegant Vestment Patterns, by Cheryl and Russell Miner

Vestments and How to Make Them, by Lilla B.N. Weston (1915, Anglican)

How to Sew Vestments, by Lynn Greene and Sue Merriam

Vestments for All Seasons, by Barbara Dee Bennett Baumgarten

These are available from Amazon and others.

Everything Vestment is no longer online.

Convent Embroidery and Vestments is no longer online.

The Liberal Catholic Church website is no longer functional.

Priests and altar guilds get, metaphorically, wrapped up in the vestments too often. The idea was that we would all look about the same at the altar, with no show of wealth or position. So as to know who to watch when, the priest wears the stole, and then the chasuble. The deacon wears a different kind of stole, and a tunic called a dalmatic. The archdeacons and canons are distinguished by the cope, the bishop by cope and mitre, and sometimes a special kind of tunic. It’s my opinion that is all rationalization. If the bishop knows who is doing what in the church, do we need distinguishing dress? That defeats the purpose of the Plain cassock and alb. I have done services in just cassock because I got called out of the vestry and forgot to go back for the rest. No one noticed! I’ve forgotten stoles many times, and when it was really hot in the church, I celebrated in street clothes. This scandalized other priests, but the congregation didn’t care. God makes you a priest, not your clothes.

The No-Plastics Challenge – Personal Care

It seems that everything we use to enhance our physical well-being is made of or contained in plastic. Shampoos, liquid soaps, toothbrushes, combs, hair brushes – all are plastic or contained in plastic or wrapped in plastic.

I have switched to all natural locally made soaps. I developed a rather painful rash on my scalp and back from the shampoo I was using, a commercial brand in a big plastic bottle. This has happened before, so I knew the culprit. I had been using a commercial, “mild” bar soap, and couldn’t get near it without sneezing. Again, I knew the problem, as I have had fragrance sensitivities since my bad episode with a penicillin reaction a few years ago. I’ve bought a bar of laundry soap as well, against the time when the very weak scent of the laundry detergent starts to bother me. Right now, we are using a super-concentrated detergent that comes in a container the size of a drugstore cologne bottle. Four little pumps, and the whole load is clean, with almost no fragrance residue. That’s good for now, but sometimes I need a bar soap for the laundry, espcially if I am doing it in washtubs.

Soap is easy. Anyone can make soap. You can find hundreds of books on making soap. Even lye isn’t that hard – rainwater trickled through wood ash. Saponification is a chemical process that turns fats into soap. A chemist could tell you more, that’s about as far as I can get. Your great-grandmother made it from tallow or cooking fats. It is harsh at first, but mellows as it ages and the alkalines dissipate.

I use a bar soap on my hair. It has no artificial fragrance or colourings, and I just work up a lather between my palms, rub it in, rinse it through. ThenI follow with a rosemary vinegar rinse – cider or white vinegar (I only use Heinz because it is not made from petroleum) with dried rosemary steeping in it for a couple of days, filtered into a spray bottle (which is plastic – I’d use a metal one if I had one.) I spray my hair, rinse it out, and spray it again, which is left in. The vinegar smell evaporates as my hair dries. (You can use other herbs -lavender, chamomile, sage or calendula.) The vinegar cuts any soap residue. Vinegar will work in your laundry rinse, too.

Vinegar isn’t hard to make either. It takes a special kind of yeast called mother of vinegar and some clear fruit or vegetable juice. It is a bit like beer or wine making, with a more sober result.

Toothbrushes that aren’t plastic are hard to find. Here are some resources for either recycled toothbrushes or wooden/boar bristle ones: Good post on toothbrush alternatives. : Excellent blog on learning to live plastic free, with stuff on toothbrushes and toothpaste.

To purchase products: : Wooden toothbrushes and alternatives, lots of containers and such, wooden hairbrushes. Expensive, but might be worth it. I would get their wooden toothbrushes.

I have a wooden hairbrush, but I think the cushion that holds the boar bristles is a plastic of some sort. I’ve had it for years. In twenty-five years, I’ve had maybe three hairbrushes, all wooden handled, with natural bristles. I’ve only worn out one, and lost the other.

Combs used to be made of wood, metal, bone or even of amber or tortoiseshell. Amber is anti-static, but that would be a bit pricey. Tortoiseshell is considered endangered, although not all turtle species are. Still, who wants to kill the cute little guys just for a comb? Nice wooden combs are still around, and are quite a pretty accessory. My guess is that a good woodworker could make some combs in different sizes and types, polish them up, finish them (tung oil?) and sell them at craft fairs or farmer’s markets. I’d buy one, especially a wide-toothed detangling comb. Mine gets drafted for combing out warp on the loom quite a bit. Bone is up to you; I’m not opposed to it.

Toothpaste comes in plastic based tubes, no way around it. Even Tom’s of Maine has some plastic to it. They will let you return the empty tube for recycling, though. Toothpaste alts are usually made from baking soda, sea salt, and essential oil. I recommend 3/4 baking soda, 1/4 sea salt, and a couple of drops of myrrh or rosmary or sage essential oil. Myrrh is especially healing to mouth ulcers and inflammations. I rinse with a few drops of myrrh tincture in a 1/4 cup of water every night. The myrrh tincture was made by my local pharmacist, but you might be able to find it at an herbalist.

Toothbrush alts, if you simply couldn’t get a soft bristled small-handled brush, are fragrant twigs – sweet birch and licorice root are two old standbys. Chew on the end until it frays out, then rub over the teeth like a brush, no need for toothpaste or water – many people still do this around the world. Simply cut away the frayed bit when it is too worn. Rinse and set to dry just like toothbrush.

Olive oil and other light vegetable oils are the original skin softeners. Lanolin is an old emollient, used by the Egyptians, but not everyone likes sheep oil on their skin. (It’s precipitated out of the wool, not rendered out of the animal.) Beeswax and olive oil melted together with some essential oil for fragrance is the oldest cosmetic ever made. I still use it.

As for hair dyes, make-up and other popular beauty products – just don’t. Someday soon they may not be available, so don’t get dependent on them. I never use hair conditioners, they are quite unnecessary if you do not dye your hair or expose it to the sun. Many of these products are made of harsh chemicals, including petroleum. The best way to get over them is to get rid of all your mirrors but one small one for brushing your hair and pinning on your cap.

Men who must shave (and it is far from necessary – Nicholas has given it up completely now, saying he doesn’t need to spend time staring at himself) may need to invest in a straight razor or the old-fashioned drop-in disposable of the King Gillette type, although someday the blades might be hard to find; they are mostly a mail-order product now. Shaving cream and gel are just expensive alternatives to hard shaving soap and a brush.

As for feminine shaving – what do I need to say? Why bother? I’m so completely covered from neck to ankle that no one but my husband knows what is underneath. If the man in your life objects, there are natural beeswax methods for hair removal.

I’ll cover feminine hygiene products at a later date; this is a particularly sensitive topic amongst women!

Less attention to self and more attention to others, a cheerful and good-hearted acceptance of oneself as God made thee, and a life rich in work for the Lord will replace the need for self-adornment.