Lounging Around

I spend a lot of my time at home. As a graduate student, my time is largely self-structured, and as a spinster introvert, my favorite company is my own. Lots of the time I wear basics like leggings and hoodies, but I also appreciate things that make me feel like I’m lounging in my manor home in the inter-war period full of queer passion and gin. I’ve been stocking up on silk nightgowns and silk pajamas, and with winter well set in again in Minnesota it seemed long overdue for me to finally make my ultimate dream piece of lounge wear: the perfect luxe dressing gown.

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Inspired by the kinds of things you see in adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, all tartan, silk, and velvet, I started amassing my materials at least two years ago, starting with a wool tartan in olive with blue-purple section set off by cream and teal stripes. To this I added a silk in a perfectly matching purple for the lining, a heavy flannel interlining, and one yard of a perfectly matching silk-rayon velvet for trim.

In anticipation of this project, I’ve been picking up and considering patterns for ages, and I finally decided on the vintage Butterick 5189, which is intended to be a double-sided reversible robe in an oversized, unisex fit. I went back and forth more than once on fitting: I fairly detest making muslins, even when I know I should, and I knew as long as this fit around my body I’d be happy with a variety of fits. So I cut an XL and threw caution to the wind and it worked out! It’s comfortably oversized, like wrapping myself up in the most decadent blanket.

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I largely followed the directions, cutting two full robes (well, three, including the interlining), but made it a smidge more complicated by adding sections of velvet onto the shawl collar and cuffs of the lining as well as the top of the pockets. I then ended up handstitching some of this down to keep the finish neat.

This is probably the most expensive garment I’ve ever made, even sourcing my fabrics from discount stores. It’ll probably also get more wear than anything else I’ve made, if the daily use in the weeks since I’ve made it indicate anything. It feels decadent to have made, and at once precious and comforting to wear: it is a piece I want to take care of, but it is also a piece I don’t want to be careful with. It reminds me to treat myself the same way, as a body and a mind and a soul to care for but not shield from the messes and scrapes of life. Lounge wear, when it comes down to it, is clothing we wear for ourselves, to cloth our bodies when outside of the public eye, and so often women receive the message that even that act is not ours to own. Plenty of mainstream industries remind us that the wrappings of our bodies even in the privacy of our homes should still appeal to the male gaze, attractive but not too sexy, down-to-earth but not frumpy. Mothers are reminded, by industry, by media, by their peers, that their clothing should exist in service to their acts of parenting, able to withstand all manner of bodily fluids and active movements.

I’ve structured my life to avoid the pressure of these narratives: there are no men in my life, and the only bodily fluid I worry about is my dog’s drool. As a person in society, though, I’m not immune to them altogether, and in crafting an at-home wardrobe that caters, nearly exclusively, to the pleasures, delights, needs, and practicalities of my own body and imagination, I do feel the presence of that specter of selfishness conjured by those narratives. That decadence, in and of itself, is an indulgence in narcissism, the purview of the frivolous. That “treating one’s self” should rightfully be a state of exception rather than regularity (not to mention an activity that should be predominately about consumerism, rather than making).

So, wrapping myself up in these layers of beautiful fabrics feels like care, and defiance, and a way to remind myself of the need for beauty across my life, rather than in secluded moments. It, too, reaffirms for me that this hobby of mine, stitching up all those things I dream in my imagination, is not just about practical outcomes. For the amount of money and time I spent on this project, I could have whipped up half-a-dozen pairs of leggings, a handful of tee shirts, and a good sweatshirt or two, garments that would certainly get wear in my life. There’s such an emphasis on deeply practical, comfortable basics in the online sewing community right now, and it makes complete sense! Yet, that approach to sewing misses out on some of the things I like best about sewing, like the slow working out of new construction approaches, the sustained handling of beautiful fabrics, the joy of bringing about something wholly unique.

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16 thoughts on “Lounging Around

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  1. I’ve been looking for the perfect housecoat for at least 3 years !!! I have the shell fabric but still looking for a contrasting satin for the the lapels cuffs and pocket flaps I also want to add some piping like classic men pyjamas. Your version is so luscious!

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    1. Oooh, yes, piping and satin trim would be so beautiful! I thought about adding piping to this, but my layers were getting pretty thick. I hope you find just the perfect fabric and trim! Thanks!

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  2. I rarely comment on all the sewing blogs I read, but yours truly expresses thoughts and feelings I have myself. Thank you for that! I love your emphasis on making, learning, spending time on the things we use to treat ourselves, rather than simply buying and eating and whipping up something. You also put your finger on how even the act of self care and the clothing we wear on our own are permeated with the expectations and norms we grew up with… Definitely food for thought there. And your gown is beautiful and practical and decadent and you probably deserve all of that! Love, Isi

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    1. Thank you so much! I really do believe that every item of clothing is full of values and expectations, and that sewing gives us opportunities to sit with those things and think about undoing them, if we take the chance. It means so much to me that my words resonate with you, truly.

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  3. Your dressing gown is DELICIOUS 🙂 I’ve been pondering a Reef camisole & shorts set in lux silk to wear around the house in the hot summer months and light liberty cotton lawn…and I’ve been thinking the same as you…that we too often assign our favourite, luscious fabrics to those “special” garments that we too often wear rarely and use our less valuable fabrics for what we would wear at home or to bed. Yet it is these very garments that we slip into the most! I loved your post. It was provocative and inspiring!

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    1. Thank you so much! I love your idea of a silk camisole and shorts set!!! That would be so perfect for summer. Silk is so luxurious but it’s also so versatile and durable; I think we forget that when we relegate it to just special occasion clothes. Even by upgrading to bamboo or silk knits for tee-shirts and leggings makes a difference, when it’s something you wear against your skin all the time.

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  4. I sew because I have to. Never thought to sew to please myself. I like that idea. The thoughts on ready to wear brings up some long overdue questions. As soon as I get home I change into comfy clothes. And they could be beautiful as well as comfy. To dress for me. Great concept! And your dressing gown is beautiful!

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    1. I’m so glad this brought up thoughts for you! I think a lot of us get straight into comfy clothes when we get home, so it seems like a nice idea to treat ourselves well with those clothes. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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  5. First let me say how amazing and beautiful your robe is! And secondly, thank you for such a thoughtful and interesting discussion on how culture and societal norms influence our every action, even on our own time and in our own space. I hope that by being aware of some of the negatives, we make conscious effort to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others and to allow ourselves to enjoy it all, without suffering guilt, or angst, or what have you!

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