I'm a sewing enthusiast in Beacon, New York, with a love of all things retro. This site is all about tutorials, tips, inspiration, and lots of spirited discussion about sewing as it relates to fashion history, pop culture, body image, and gender. My first book, Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing, is now out from STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books! Also look for my line "Patterns by Gertie" from Butterick.
Guys, I love sewing. I suppose that should be obvious by now. But does it ever just hit you, out of nowhere, how absolutely madly in love with this craft you are? That's been happening to me a lot lately. And I know it's a direct result of a recent resolution I made to spend more time sewing for myself, from other designers' patterns. I've been trying to get back to my sewing roots recently--picking out a pattern, fantasizing over fabric, poring over the directions.
I picked up Sewaholic's Cambie dress pattern recently, feeling like I was the only person in the sewing blogosphere who hadn't made it. And the pattern did not disappoint!
I made a muslin of the whole dress--pockets and everything--to really test the fit. I made a size 10 and ending up taking in the hips quite a bit--that was a new experience for me! (Sewaholic Patterns are designed for a pear-shaped figure, so the proportions are slightly different from other patterns.) The fit in the bust was perfect, no dart adjustment needed.
I made the dress in a small turquoise gingham.
I decided to cut the waistband on the bias, to break up the check pattern a bit.
The dress is lined in white siri, a cotton poly blend lining fabric. I added a facing to the front neckline, so that the white wouldn't peek out the top of the dress at all. Here's the inside.
As many have noted, Sewaholic's instructions are fabulous, and this dress had an emphasis on machine finishing. The only thing I did by hand was to tack down the lining to the dress at the waistline. It was nice to be sewing out of my usual comfort zone--I even used an invisible zipper! (I have a slightly irrational dislike of them, preferring a more vintage-y lapped zipper in a dress.) I feel so modern.
Yesterday was the first very warm day we've had, and I wore the dress to my knitting group. I can already tell that it's going to be a summer time staple. (I confess that I've already cut a second version.)
Other than that, I've been doing lots of home dec sewing. I recently developed an obsession with the idea of having piles of blankets all over the house (Jeff is convinced it's some Freudian thing), and I've been working on building up the blanket stash.
We did some antiquing in New Paltz last weekend, and I found this amazing mannequin head. Isn't she beautiful?
Remember this post, where I wrote about cutting slippery fabrics with tissue paper? Well, I've found a great source for industry-quality tissue paper. I asked the folks at Marist College (where I just finished up teaching a semester long course) where they get theirs, and they pointed me in the direction of South Star Supply Company, a Nashville-based business that provides sewing supplies to the garment industry. (Note: I'd never actually used this kind of tissue, since they had a different, mystery-sourced tissue paper in the studios when I was working at Marist.) South Star Supply also caters to us humble home sewists, making it very easy to place an online order.
Their tissue paper is called "High Yield Tissue" and you can order it in widths from 30" to 72". I ordered a roll of 45" tissue, which had 900 feet on the roll, and cost $50 plus shipping. I chose the 45" width because that's the width of most slippery silks that I use. Did I mention it's pink? It's pink! Bonus points for coordinating with my hair and sewing room colors.
My only complaint about ordering from South Star Supply is that two of the other items I ordered were out of stock, so they placed my whole order on backorder without telling me. A couple weeks went by, and I contacted the company to see what was going on with my order. They were super responsive and offered to ship out the items they did have in stock (which included the tissue roll). I just wish they'd offered that when I placed the order! If you have an order that's urgent, I would recommend calling them to make sure the items are in stock and ready to ship.
I received the tissue shortly after my email conversation with customer service. When I unwrapped it, I was surprised by how thick it is--not like gift wrap tissue, which tears easily. This stuff is pretty beefy, and it has a coarse texture, which is perfect for preventing fabric slippage while cutting.
I cut out a dress lining using the tissue, and loved the results. A bonus to this thicker tissue is that you can use the leftovers as pattern paper, making it more economical than the thin tissue, which just gets thrown away.
You can even draft facings and other pieces from your leftovers! Here's a skirt piece after cutting.
To draft a skirt facing, I just used the top of the tissue to make a 2-5/8" facing piece.
Cool, huh? You could also use those extra tissue pieces to make variations on your favorite patterns.
Overall, a highly recommended product. If you're looking for thinner tissue paper, Uline carries 36" rolls, which have a whopping 5,200 feet on them. They cost $128, but will obviously last a long time. I think I prefer the South Star Supply stuff, though, since it's wider and has multiple uses.
Hi readers! I've been felled by a nasty stomach thing for the past several days, but I just got something in the mailbox to cheer me up: my dress design on the cover of a magazine! Stitch with Style is a special fashion sewing edition of Stitch Magazine, out on newsstands May 14th. (You can find ordering info and stuff here.) The magazine features the dress and instructions, and then you can download the free pattern on their website to make it yourself! Update: you can also buy a digital copy of the magazine here.
The dress made its merry way to back to me yesterday, along with a fresh-off-the-presses copy of the magazine.
And hey! I also have an essay on the back page, all about the process of designing and making the cover garment.
This dress was really fun to make. I developed the pattern by draping it on my small (model-sized, not me-sized) dress form. It has a low scoop neck, tiny cap sleeves, and a full skirt with side pleats.
The fabric was a delightful find at B&J Fabrics. (I don't see this particular fabric on their website, but I think they have more, so you could call them or email them this picture if you're interested in buying some.) It's a pure silk organza with a soutache-like ribbon embroidered on top. I choose a periwinkle silk habotai as a lining/underlining (there's both in the bodice) to set off the deep blue of the ribbon work.
I'm definitely going to be making this design for myself now that it's available to download in a range of sizes (XS to XL, or bust size 32" to 44-1/2"). More to come on that!
I wrote about my love for this TV show here. In case you missed it, The Great British Sewing Beeis an amazing reality TV series devoted to finding the best amateur sewist in the UK. You can watch all the episodes on YouTube, starting with episode 1 here. You will quickly want to follow with episodes 2, 3, and 4, all of which are also available on YouTube.
Now allow me to get a little weird. Love really isn't a strong enough word for how I feel about this show. I was truly delighted, charmed, entertained, touched, and inspired to sew by each episode. I find myself thinking about it all the time: strange, but true. I could gush about it for hours on end. Let's just call it an obsession. So I was thrilled to get an email from the production company behind the show announcing that they're casting for season 2. Let me repeat: THEY'RE CASTING FOR SEASON 2!!!! There are not enough exclamation points in the world.
British readers, please allow me to live my dream vicariously through you! Go apply now and don't forget to report back on the experience. Aunt Gertie wants to know everything. Is Patrick truly that handsome? (It kind of freaks me out how good-looking he is.) Is May that sweet and knowledgeable? Is Claudia really so quirky and delightful? (I've now added the phrase "Ring-a-ding-DING" to my everyday vocab.)
P.S. And also, can we please brainstorm on how to make an American version happen? Are you a TV producer? A powerful media mogul? I've had daydreams about somehow getting a Great American Sewing Bee on the air, but I don't even know where to start. I would humbly submit myself as contestant, judge, consultant, anything! Anything, people!
Hey readers! I'm hard at work planning the skills and designs to go into my second book, Gertie Sews Vintage Casual (due out Fall 2014). I've come to a conundrum that has completely flummoxed me: do vintage enthusiasts care about fly front pants? I thought I'd go right to the source: you, dear readers.
Fly front trousers were very unusual for women in the 40s and 50s; the majority of pants had a back zipper. However, there are always exceptions to the rule! The great Katharine Hepburn's signature clothing item was beige gabardine trousers with a fly front. Here's an example from her actual wardrobe.
Sewing patterns for fly front pants are almost impossible to find in this era. Here's a lone exception from the 50s.
My point is: sure, fly front pants are not completely historically inaccurate. But does that mean that we want to make them? I personally do not like a fly on a high-waisted trouser since the fly opening has to be so long, making the pants look strange proportionately (at least to my eye). But on the pro side, I think sewing a fly front is an invaluable skill, and one that I've been teaching a lot lately in my classes at Marist College.
So I'm going to leave this up to you, dear readers. I've arranged a highly democratic voting system (i.e. the time-honored blog poll). Please vote below and leave your comments as well! As always, I appreciate your feedback.
Update: the fly front pattern and instructions would be in addition to side and back zippers, not in place of them.
Whew! That was a whirlwind. I made this dress over the course of a week, flew out to Dallas to wear it to a wedding, and flew back home the next day.
To catch you up, this pattern is part of my line of retro designs for Butterick Patterns, "Patterns by Gertie." (And they are all currently on sale for $1.88!) This particular design is number B5882 and was inspired by a 50s style called the "shelf bust."
Here's how my process works: I make the pattern and sample garment (all in a size 10), send it in to Butterick for grading and photographing and all that stuff. When the pattern is officially released, then I get a copy and can make it for myself in my own size (which is a 14, for reference).
Here's the model-y version.
And the Gertie version.
I added pockets!
And just happened to have the perfect shoes in my closet, never worn.
They're by Poetic Licence (the style is called "Faithfully"), and they are black on the outside and white on the inside of foot! Perfect for my black and white dress.
It was unseasonably cold in Dallas (I spent the outdoor reception huddled in Jeff's jacket) and crazy windy. Hair at the beginning of the day:
Hair one hour later:
Anyway, back to the dress, with a few construction details.
I added 3" wide horsehair braid to the hem. I bought this horsehair from Steinlauf and Stoller by the 36 yard roll. That's how much I love it. It's the best quality horsehair I've come across, very firm with a strong cord for pulling to shape the braid. (If you're curious how to use horsehair braid, here's tutorial to help you! I also have a segment from It's Sew Easy if you're more of a video person.)
The unmentionables! I added bra cups to the bodice. I just tacked them in by hand.
The waist stay is a wide petersham ribbon from a millinery supply store. The bodice is steel-boned all the way around. I made the boning channels by cutting two bodice linings, sewing them together wrong sides together, and then stitching lines to make pockets for the boning. (I detailed this method on my yellow dress from 2010, the days of yore. Thankfully I've figured out a better way to cut steel boning since then, which I will share one of these days.)
I borrowed a pocket pattern from a skirt pattern I own and sewed them into the side seams.
The fashion fabric is a silk and cotton brocade with flocked velvet polka dots from New York Elegant Fabrics. AMAZING. The contrast is a silk satin shantung from Paron Fabrics. I lined the whole thing in a lightweight cotton-poly blend from Metro Textiles, and finished the hem on the lining in black contrast narrow hemming on my serger.
Oh my. I've discovered my new favorite TV show. (Okay, it doesn't quite compete with My Little Pony. But really, what does?) Have you all heard about The Great British Sewing Bee, a BBC show designed to find Britain's best home sewer? I mean, just the concept alone is amazing.
The show starts with 8 contestants.
And hey, look! One of them is our very own Tilly from the lovely blog Tilly and the Buttons. How cute is she? She looks gorgeous on screen and performs beautifully under pressure.
I've only watched one episode (you can watch it here), and I savored every minute of it. There were three challenges: make an a-line skirt from a pattern, design and sew a new neckline for a simple cotton blouse, and make a custom dress for a client. The exciting thing about this show is that it really is ALL about the craft. The judges examine each sewn product with care, admiring facings and handstitched hems. It's like a full hour of garment sewing porn. The narrative goes into great detail on construction, and even has some sewing history segments thrown in. The least successful part of the show (in my opinion) is the short sewing project. In episode one, it's a drawstring laundry bag. They rush through the construction (not that I'd want to see it, honestly) so it feels tacked-on and very separate from what the contestants are doing on the show.
The most charming thing is how very quiet and quaint this reality show is. Between challenges, the contestants sit down for tea at a local cafe for a nice little chat. The bitchiest comment from a judge so far was (whispered furtively behind her hand as a contestant cut some lining fabric from a bolt): "that's way too much fabric for a lining." She was promptly chastened by her fellow judge, because after all, the sewer could have been making a full-length skirt. (He wasn't.)
If you'd like a taste of the drama, check out this video, the ominously titled "Sandra's Mistake." (Spoiler alert: she sews her neckline facing on her blouse with the right side facing up.)
My major complaint is that the series is way too short overall: only four episodes! Hopefully it will be a smash hit and come back with more. Oh, my other complaint is that there's not yet a Great American Sewing Bee. Because I would so be there.
Episodes two and three are available to watch online, and I seriously cannot wait. Who will win this thing? I've got my money on Ann, an 82-year-old whose flawless construction reflects decades of experience.
Are you readers watching this show? If not, no excuses! Run, don't walk, to YouTube and check it out. Happy viewing!
Well, I am just tickled pink (ha!) to have been asked to participate in the blog tour of one of my sewing heroines, Nancy Zieman herself. She's launching a new book, Sew Knits with Confidence, as well as four new patterns specifically designed for knits. Read on for my version of her knit dress design, plus a lovely giveaway of the book and all four patterns!
Nancy's publisher sent me a copy of the book plus the patterns, so that I could choose one to make. I was super excited to read Nancy's tips on sewing with knits--they've become more and more part of my wardrobe, fabric stash, and plans for my own next book, which has a casual twist. But I was also very impressed by the four patterns. I think there's something for every type of seamstress in this selection. I chose the Santa Fe dress, mostly because it reminded me of a simple knit dress I owned from Anthropologie and wore til its tragic death.
But I was also incredibly tempted by the skirt and top in the Monterey collection. So cute!
The dress won out, probably because I'm in a summer wardrobe state of mind. But both these patterns provide particular opportunities for the retro-loving seamstress, in my opinion. I chose view A of the Santa Fe, which is dress-length and sleeveless. For my fabric, I used a black organic cotton jersey (purchased here and highly recommended).
First let me say this is a FAST project. I started cutting it at 2:30 in the afternoon, and was setting up my camera to take pictures at 4:30--and that includes time for fitting and style changes!
I chose to make the size small, knowing from experience that I like my knits to have little to no ease. However, I used the length and flare of the XL size, since I like my skirts swingy and on the longer side.
The bodice came together super quickly.
When trying it on, I found an easy way to "retro-fy" this design: pinching the neckline pleats to each side and stitching them in place to make a sweetheart neckline.
While I do like the original design very much, I think this small change makes it way more me.
Seriously, all I did was pull the neckline pleats to the side in a pinch. Then I used some black embroidery floss to stitch it in place by wrapping it around the pinch. You could also add buttons or small brooches here!
The other change I made was to nip the dress in at the waist. It had a very flowy empire silhouette and I knew a more dramatic waistline would work well for me. I started by chalking in just an inch on each side, machine basting it, and then trying on. I eventually took two inches out of each waistline side, tapering down in a straight line to the hem (I got rid of that hip curve you see below since it has a distinctly fin-like appearance on the body).
Here's the overall result. Hopefully Nancy won't shun me for bastardizing her pattern! The changes were fairly small but resulted in a garment I'm in love with.
Easy to dress up or down, and all sorts of other fashion clichés that I won't subject you to.
The back has a basic high scoop neckline.
The pattern instructions were great, explaining all the ins and outs of sewing with knits. I learned that jersey curls to the right side of the fabric--good to know!
I love the little notes from Nancy throughout! She tells you how to sew with either a sewing machine or serger, and even specifies when to use one over the other (for instance, she suggests sewing the bodice pleats on the machine for more control, then switching to the serger for easier bits like the side seams). I did use my serger, but it's definitely not necessary.
I'll definitely be sewing this dress again since it's perfect for summer (and for standing awkwardly with armchair).
Okay, now for the giveaway! Nancy's publisher provided me with a copy of the new book Sew Knits with Confidenceas well as ALL four new patterns to give to one lucky reader. Please leave a comment here by the end of the day on Wednesday, April 24th. All countries eligible. Make sure that you link to your blog or include a way for me to get in touch with you in your comment!
I'm going to be eagerly following the blog tour to see what everyone else comes up with. Good luck in the giveaway!
Update: the giveaway is now closed for entries. See the winner here!