Summer Sewing: A Retrospective

It’s still summer here, but not really.  The air changed, gradually, over the past few weeks.  The atmosphere no longer presses the city into the mud flats it sprang from, sweat doesn’t stick to the skin mixed with dust under a still, wet heat which seldom stirs.  Though the sun still shines brightly, it doesn’t bear down mercilessly from 8 in the morning until 6 in the evening.   At night soft, damp, cool air swirls through our opened windows.

Red Hemp-Cotton Skirt, Hemp-Silk Jacket, Cotton Blouse, Hemp Hat; Zemelda Dress

Past summers in this climate meant burned, roughened skin, blocked pores, insomnia, depression and tension headaches for me, coupled with a general feeling of “This ain’t right” around hot Christmas.  I find it physically difficult to reconcile my body to this climate though I hail from the southern United States.

 Opium Poppy

In previous years, my doctor prescribed a therapist for the depression and codeine for my headaches.  My head pounded from the moment I woke up until I could find a way to sleep, even if I took an aspirin.  The drugs created a vast distance between me and reality, and also blocked my digestion which was uncomfortable.  Last winter, I decided to try a new approach to summer.

I planned ahead how best to approach the endless summer though dress and grooming.  Here’s the list I wrote up last winter, and how it worked out for me:

Skin- I use an oats and yogurt mixture as a mask on my face nearly every morning.  I apply after breakfast, do some chores, then shower.  It’s effective; when I miss a few days my skin goes just as crazy as it has in past summers.

  • Big Hats, big beautiful hats– This tactic worked well, though I never wore sun hats much before.  I used a 1925 reproduction pattern for both hats.  The one on the left was made of hemp canvas.  The wide brim and silk band worked for me; unfortunately the brim interfacing gave out after two washes and the hat was always a touch too small.  The hat on the right comes from the same pattern, made of organic cotton and the crown fits better.  Unfortunately, the front brim is too skimpy.  I might use the crown from one and the brim from the other, or re-draw a wider brim on the second.  Either way, I feel naked if I go out without a hat now.
Mirabilis Top, Jean Ross Pants
Self-Drafted Wholesome Dress
  • Breezy coverage.  Flowing sleeves, wide leg pants, swirly skirts- After discovering the wonders of a sun jacket, I focused more on sleeveless tops which I comfortably wore beneath my jacket.   The beach pajamas worked better in theory than practice, though I have worn them this summer.  I put in a side zip, they’re inconvenient to wriggle off on a sweaty day.  I plan to make separate bottoms and a top from them.  Jean Ross pants suited me well through scorching hot days- covered legs but still cool.  The Wholesome Dress looks like summertime, it’s very cool to wear.
  • More and more sunscreen– I wore sunscreen every single day and must say I’m not fond of it- thick and greasy.  The stuff I used for my face made me feel like an oil slick, so I was happy to use very little and wear a hat.  Besides, it has to be re-applied with continuous sun exposure.  I found I was more comfortable in long, wide pants and my jacket than in shorts, coated with sunscreen. Thumbs down to sunscreen from me.
 Blueberry Parfait of linen saw much wear this summer, Five-Alarm Jalie saw less action
I finally made some Plus Fours in linen, paired here with “Sideways,” a linen blouse
  • Use of fibres that won’t stink when I glisten.  I want to experiment more with wearing bamboo, lightweight merino jersey, hemp and linen for summer wear- While I didn’t wear merino this summer, I had success wearing linen, hemp, bamboo and cotton.  These natural fibers work well in this climate to keep me cool.   I made an important personal style discovery this summer- I prefer wearing woven blouses to knit tops.
Ruffles Have Ridges Top in bamboo, Jean Ross Pants in organic cotton
Sex Candy” tunic of linen saw very little wear this summer, mostly because I gained some weight and had no summery pieces to match with it.
  •  Light colors / very bright colors that won’t appear washed out in the sunlight- While this may be a summer no-brainer for some, I tended to wear black, white, red and only occasionally blue.  Last year I made an effort to introduce more color into my life, especially for summer.  I think wearing bright, pretty colors can influence mood.
  • Parasol, possibly.  Some Asian ladies here carry around umbrellas, but I would want an actual parasol:  I didn’t try this, mostly because I discovered sun jackets and hats.  Maybe next year. 
  • Perscription sunglasses.  Or perhaps I should start wearing contact lenses more:  Again, another no-brainer but since I started wearing contacts, sunglasses and hats, my summer insomnia and tension headaches nearly disappeared.  I find I get headaches if I go out for extended periods of time without covering up, or if I forget to drink enough water.

On the whole, I found a few “new” ways to dress for a long, hot, damp, bright summer.  I discovered the role whimsy can play in lifting my spirits a little, especially around Christmas:

 Dressed for Husband’s graduation, hat of silk and stripped coque
 Christmas Cheer Hat, worn most of the month of December
Cleopatra and Caesar, we’re not fans of Antony


My Cleopatra dress from New Year’s Eve turned out to be the most perfect summer house dress I could imagine.  It’s flattering, I don’t have to wear anything else with it, and the cotton cheesecloth means it’s airy.  I might make more next summer.

Hats and shades and light unlined jackets changed my approach to summer.  My sun jacket saw almost continual use, as did my three rotating sun-hats.  Jean Ross pants were a great favorite, along with crisp little cotton blouses and easy-to-wear dresses.   In fact, I’m a little sad about washing them and packing them away for a few months.

This summer I had a few bouts of insomnia which responded to low dose melatonin tablets.  I had a little depression around the holidays which is to be expected.  My skin is clear, I have a normal appetite and don’t take drugs to get through every day.  On the whole, it’s been much easier to get by this summer than previous ones.  Perhaps it’s the sun blockage; perhaps it’s easier to cope because I’m finding my own ways to adapt.  I’m not sure, but I have an idea it’s a little of both.  It’s exciting to deal with my summer blues through behavior modification without turning to opiates.


  1. Oh Steph, I'm pleased you've found some solutions!I'm from Melbourne, where it's hot and dry in summer, but now that I live in Newcastle, I've realised how difficult I find the humidity.I can handle the sun; I'm so pasty white and always have been! I learnt very early about wide brimmed hats, a parasol, sunscreen and covering up. I dress to cover my skin (and attract odd looks and sideways comments occasionally) but those Melbourne habits haven't helped me cope with the humidity. I think I'll ponder some wardrobe changes for next summer. Good idea!Sam

  2. Good for you! I'm so pleased you have found your own way to deal with the problems the climate has caused you, here in blighty uncomfortably hot days are rare, fortunately!!! X

  3. Fantastic! Good for you! And thanks for sharing your experience – I'm sure I can use some of these myself, even though my climate is much milder."I prefer wearing woven blouses to knit tops." – my own experience exactly! I have one cotton woven (i.e. thrifted duvet cover!) blouse I made myself (I plan to make more) and it's much better in heats than T-shirts. Even in these mild Czech Republic heats. Maybe because the woven is more airy than the close knits?

  4. Your way(s) sounds much better than what the doctor had you doing. It can be a major process adapting to a new climate (not to mention, country). Your body reacts in totally different ways than ever before. I lived in Honolulu for 5 years (I grew up in Phoenix) and I constantly had skin problems from the humidity.

  5. It's sounds like you've had a terrible time adapting to the heat and humidity. It really can be very oppressive. I thought I might share some tips with you having lived in Far North Queensland now since 1998. As a beginner sewer I'll never be able to give you sewing tips but this I can do:1) I hate sunscreen as well. I use Oil of Olay 15SPF moisturiser and apply it at the start of the day. After that, I cover up. 2) Big cool hats. Nothing thick or heavy. 3) When in the sun, cover up with light, flowy items made from cotton voile, light linen etc 3) Drink water and plenty of it. 4) Avoid makeup bases 5) If you don't have a pool, set up a sprinkler and a plastic outdoor chair under a tree in the backyard. Sit and rejuvenate. 5) Soda water and/or herbal tea with lemon, mint and ginger and a ton of ice lifts the spirits and the mood. 6) Number 5 with gin is also fabulous. 6) Avoid knits, wear wovens. Knits are hot, sweaty and inevitably stinky. 7) Layer your clothing. I've had a lot of success with New Look 6700 worn as a tunic top over flowy pants. Throw on the pants and a necklace when you head out, then strip down to the top only when you get home. (If you type New Look 6700 into my search bar you'll see). 8) Dress as minimally as possible around the house. I strip down the moment I step through the door. 9) Have a spray water bottle to give yourself a spritz when needed. Keep it in the fridge if you're game. Best done near a fan 10. Hibernate into an airconditioned room during the unbearable part of the day. The kids and a huddle in one of their bedrooms (small and cheap to run) and read, play games, do puzzles etc until we're safe to come out. 11. Cold showers as often as possible throughout the day. Sounds annoying, but lifts the energy levels and the spirits. 12. Exercise as the sun is rising. 13. Eat frozen berries, frozen mango, frozen anything when a energy boost is needed. 14. Return to your childhood and enjoy iceblocks. 15. Hang out in airconditoned places like the library if it's getting all too much. 16. Sunglasses, sunglasses, sunglasses 17. Uncooked meals – platters of fruits, nuts, hams, salads. If you need to cook, cook outdoors on a BBQ. 18. Take dinner outdoors to a cool place – the beach or a mountain with breezes. 19. Long cool baths. 20. Don't accept lethargy as part of your day. Do what it takes to feel great even when you're not sure where on earth you're going to find the energy.

  6. I'm glad you found solutions to your problems without the drugs. On the other side of the world, I'm prepping for summer now. I've dusted off my sun hats — my skin is super sensitive and hates sunscreen (hates most makeup too). I bought several pieces of linen on clearance at the end of last summer I'm trying to sew up. I find skirts and dresses a necessity during the humid summer months. I looked for a parasol last year and couldn't find one. I'll search again this year.

  7. I do love your wholesome dress! I grew up in South Florida and the Panama Canal Zone. You are right – woven fabric is more comfortable that knitted when it is really hot and humid. I also hate the sticky feeling of sunscreen. I am happy to wear hats and light weight, loose long sleeved shirts to protect my skin instead. And finally, and I know this is cheating, but what about airconditioning? Terrible for the environment, but lovely to sleep in.

  8. I'm glad that you were able to have a much better summer! Summers where I live (Ohio) are humid but not too terrible. I have more issues in the winter (even though it's not terrible either). I hate being cold and I hate having to look frumpy to stay warm!

  9. Wow, what an amazing adjustment! I know the humidity would just kill me. My brother suffered a lot his first summer down under but seems to be adapting now—funny, I would've thought he would do well as he has the skin for it—much darker and tans easily and quickly…I get the most amazing headaches if I get dehydrated. I noticed this while studying for candidacy—I was drinking loads of tea to get me through, but not enough water, it turned out, to make up for the tea. So weird!I'm especially glad that you got through Christmas better… I can't imagine a not-white Christmas, never mind a hot one, I would probably have a nervous breakdown. Your Xmas hat is amazingly cute, too!

  10. Wow, I am in awe of your creations. I too am highly susceptible to heat and humidity and the rays of the sun. Growing up in the Arctic meant that in the summer the ultra strong rays of the sun bore down on us from 4 am to 2 am (I realize that sounds weird). If I did not hide out in my basement which was underground and surrounded by permafrost (think icebox) I would have surely perished. Now that I live on the west coast of Canada I suffer more from the heat and humidity but in both places THE most important thing is big ole' sunglasses and a wonderful wide brimmed hat. I would add chin straps to all my hats so I could continue to lead my active lifestyle. I would say that you are absolutely on the right track. I am so pleased to hear that your natural solutions are working for you. Especially how it positively affects your health and moods.As you know I have been experimenting with 'oatmeal face'. My acne on my chin is/has been quite severe but I find that if I add a 4 or so drops of 75%/25% grapeseed oil/castor oil into the mask, it greatly calms the irritation and bacterial growth (which feed on sweat).

  11. Yeah! I really enjoyed reading about your summer, because it starts here and now I suffer the same symptoms you have, headaches, sunburn, swelling in the extremities, this is very familiar to me, so I'm going to use your advice.

  12. I'm glad to know some of you may find use from my experiences. It's not so much the heat or humidity (actually slightly cooler here than where I grew up), but the lack of breezes and the intensity of the sun… I hadn't thought at all about why wovens may feel more comfortable than knit tops, but it makes complete sense. Peppertoast- That sounds intense! I find myself rather drawn to extremes like that, I wonder what it would be like to live that way. Weird, probably. Bernice- Thank you so much for your list of ways to cope! We do many of the lifestyle type things- raw or barely cooked dinners, frequent showers, frozen snacks, etc. I do like to have a small nap in the middle of the afternoon when I can, it works for the inhabitants of many other viciously hot climates. Besides, science backs up the idea that a nap refreshes you. Sam- I get some pretty weird looks when I'm all covered up, too. But then I see people with fried hair and fried skin running around in tank top and shorts and wish I could convince them that long sleeves don't mean cold weather.

  13. Thank you for this. It inspires me and I can so relate. Being from a cold northern climate, even after 8 years of living in TX I have struggled through the summers (I get tension headaches and muscle tightness that makes it hard to sleep). So two years ago I started planning ahead in early spring–both wardrobe and lifestyle changes. I have different exercise and eating regimens–way more fish, way more dark greens, berries, etc. and it has worked. I wear a lot of silk breezy dresses. I bought a parasol last summer, too! I also have taken some cues from other cultures and generally stop working between 3 and 6 p.m., even if I'm indoors. I think the brain produces some weird tired hormone during that period anyway.And I ADORE those beach pajamas!~ Amy, sitting on her porch feeling the last of the beautiful spring breezes and gorgeous smell of roses before it all goes blazing.

  14. Hi Steph, I really love that red blouse you have as the first photo, with the front detail. is that a commercial pattern, or something you designed? Thanks for your inspiration, Monika English

  15. Fascinating post. Sewing is the new pill! Or creativity is the solution and sewing is the tool. I'm glad you've found healthy ways to adapt. With N. Euro. roots, my family had a hard time living in the (US) South. Our solution was to move north again!Yay for melatonin. I discovered it this year and have slept soundly for the first time in 30 odd years.

  16. Monika (nice to see you here!)- It's a Burda, I made it from cotton-silk radiance from work and blogged it here. Hope that helps, it's a super simple pattern. Let me know if you can't find it and still want it.Thanks Joy. I keep rabbiting on about how lifestyle changes have helped me cope in the hopes it helps someone else. The melatonin is good. It doesn't exactly knock you out, it just makes the bed feel soooooo comfy, you stretch out and zzzzzzzz.

  17. Good for you that you are adapting! You must be so proud of all of your amazing creations, both comfortable and stylish! That is the way to live through the heat. :-) You never see me outside in the summer without a hat or a shawl on my head, either- It´s the only way to keep me from headaches in the summer. Great post!

  18. what an amazing post, you have created a lovely wardrobe to deal with the conditions you live in and its awe inspiring to see how you have adapted and fared so much better this time around. i can't even imagine living in that sort of climate, a 2month trip through S.E.Asia where temperatures were over 40Celsius offered a glimpse, and a glimpse was enough for is really easy to accidentally dehydrate yourself – even here in moderately temperatured ireland!

  19. Pingback: There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather- Just Bad Clothing « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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