Sunday, August 30, 2009
As you may or may not know, Ralph Lauren is the official sponsor of the U.S. Open. So there was a Ralph Lauren boutique on the premises - and the wares were quite impressive. I had just experienced the sticker shock of a $4.50 Diet Pepsi, so I went into the boutique hoping to find the most expensive item on the premises. RL did not disappoint.
The dress on the above left retails for a mere $395. The ensemble on the right racks up to $440, and includes a cashmere tennis tank. I love how the mannequins are sporting pearls! Be careful not to perspire on your cashmere, darlings.
I like how tennis is one of those sports that has such a cultured air about it, and a dress code to go with it. The idea of "tennis whites" always makes me chuckle a bit.
We also visited the museum onsite, where there were lots of pictures of Maureen "Little Mo" Connolly, a tennis star of the early 50's. Here's a great pic of her in a dress by Ted Tinling, designer to the tennis greats:
Anyway, I was reminded of recently seeing a vintage pattern for a tennis dress online, and I've compiled a few for you here. Here's a rare find from the 30's:
A chic 40's ensemble:
A kicky dress from the 50's (look at the little shorts underneath!):
And a sassy 60's example. How about that matching kerchief?
There are about a million tennis dress patterns from the 70's out there, perhaps due to the popularity of Billie Jean King? But these earlier patterns are harder to come by - and so adorable! Tennis, anyone?
P.S. All of the above patterns are currently for sale. Just click the image to be taken to the seller's site!
Saturday, August 29, 2009
In her words:
There is no such thing as a wearable muslin. There are muslins, or test garments, and there are finished garments. The point of a muslin is to test out fit, proportion, style and construction. In couture, the muslin, or toile, is made of cheap unbleached cotton, or similar cheap fabric. It is used to determine fit. Once finished, it is torn apart and used as the pattern for the final garment. It is not worn.It was with these words ringing in my head that I went ahead and made what I called a "test drive" of the sheath dress from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing. But let's face it, it was a wearable muslin. And though I initially wanted to agree with Ann's points, I have to say that I think there is indeed such a thing as a wearable muslin. And that I'm glad I didn't do a traditional muslin for this project because I don't think I would have fixed all the fitting issues that way. Let me explain.
When I hear someone say "I'm going to make it a wearable muslin" that sounds to me like "I'm willing to settle for second best." A muslin is a test garment, not the real thing. You deserve better than second best for your sewing efforts.
I'm not sewing in one of them there fancy couture houses. I need my garments to be able to take a LOT of wear - countless sweaty subway rides, weekly wear at the office, being covered in cat hair and de-linted, etc. When you make a muslin, you only wear it around your home, and usually without closures--so a seam might be pinned rather than zippered up. Now, this is a pretty limited way to get a sense of how a garment wears.
And, sure. There are plenty of times when I would do a traditional muslin instead. Like before making an evening dress or a Chanel-style jacket.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Now I just adore this fabric combination (thanks, Catherine!), but is this the project for it? I mean, I obviously must make something out of this, but perhaps it should be something else - a skirt perhaps? Or how about this simple sheath with a lace overlay from February's issue of Burda World of Style?
So, I'm now almost 100 percent decided on the blue fleurs for the overskirt/wiggle dress combo ensemble. Thanks to all of your excellent feedback, I think I should just take the plunge and go for it. After all, this is an experiment. If it doesn't work out, the fabric will still be in a lovely rectangular shape with which to make something else (since the overskirt is your basic dirndl shape).
It also has a really pretty scalloped edge, which I think will give this a nice, finished look. And the dress and jacket in electric blue shantung will be an excellent addition to my work wardrobe.Seems a solid choice for this pattern, right?
Seriously, this is it. Decision time!
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Essentially, the bodice is just too long. See how it rumples in the photo above? I need to take about a one and a half inch tuck above the waistline, and then the fit will be perfect. Here I have the tuck pinned out:
It's very fitted at the waist, as you can see. I think if I were making a casual version of this (which I definitely will, since I love this shape), I would add about one more inch of ease to the waistline for everyday comfort. But since the red satin version I have planned will be a special occasion dress, I'm going to go for the fitted look.
Once I get the fit down, I can see myself making several versions of this. It's the perfect work dress, either with a cardigan or as a jumper.
I made the belt on my own, using 1-inch belting and a little rhinestone buckle ($1.99 at Pacific Trim!) I think it looks all right. Just wait, though, until you see my custom-made red satin belt. It is to die for!
So, what do you think? Any fitting issues I'm missing?
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
So first off, we have the fleurs, which were quite popular with you ladies. At Paron's I found this blue rayon shantung, which I think is the perfect shade of blue to match.
However, I have to say, I'm hesitant about this one. I think it looks too heavy or something, and I think there needs to be some small sort of contrast between the dress and overskirt.
Then, we have the tulle with flocked velvet polka dots, which would also match the electric blue shantung.
I rather like this! I think there's just the right amount of contrast between the two fabrics.
Finally, there's the embroidered black flowers on ivory illusion. I would pair this with a black fabric with some body like shantung or taffeta. I'm showing it here with a black crepe de chine for effect.
Again, I like the bit of contrast that would set the skirt off from the dress.
So. What do you think? I'm drawn to the vivid blue (particularly the dots, I think), but I worry that the effect will be a little Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ("It happens every time; they all become blueberries.").
The black could be chic - I could use an LBD anyway. But is it not dramatic enough?
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Allow me to explain. I'm lucky enough to have in my possession the Vogue Pattern catalog from April 1957, on loan to me from a very generous co-worker. There are lots of pretty dresses in this catalog, as I'm sure you can imagine. Isn't it funny, though, how pretty can become a little tedious after a while? I went in search of more unusual treasures, like very strange maternity pants and swimming bloomers paired with conical straw hats (more on these wonders to come). But the real goldmine was a section with a tab that reads, "Mrs. Exeter: Sizes to 42 - 44 - 46."
I was intrigued, to say the least. I wondered if this was Vogue's version of Simplicity's Slenderette patterns, which I investigated here and here. Well, a little web searching revealed something more fascinating altogether.
Apparently, Mrs. Exeter was a fictional character introduced by Vogue magazine in the late 1940's meant to represent women "of a certain age."
Mrs. Exeter introduced herself to Vogue readers by proclaiming:
"I, for example, forgive myself a 33 inch waist. I've made my peace with my upper arms and my disappearing eyebrows. I've forgiven the yellowing (mellowing? Thank you, dear) of my complexion… Fifty has its tricks, too, just as have 17, 30 and 40. Dressing well, looking well, at any age involves some playing up and some playing down."Isn't she quite sassy?
The Mrs. Exeter section in the 1957 Vogue Pattern catalog has a larger size range than the misses' section, and the designs were chosen to be flattering for the Mrs. Exeter type. It also has style advice for the season. For spring 1957, Mrs. Exeter's fabric choice was linen tweed. As for color, she fancied "arbour red," which is described as "purply-pink shades . . . sweetbrier rose and rich fruity mulberry." (Mmm!)
At the bottom of the following catalog page, you'll see the tagline, "Easy Slimness . . . Perfect for Mrs. Exeter."
I know I've only just met Mrs. Exeter, but for some reason, I've rather come to like her. At least, I rather like the version of her in my head - where she does not resemble any of these tiny-waisted models in the slightest. (She's more of a Mrs. Doubtfire character in my mind.)
I'm a big fan of the writer Anne Lamott, and as I was reading this article on Mrs. Exeter, I came to think of Lamott's essay entitled "The Aunties" from the book Traveling Mercies. Here's a sample:
I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly wherever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarrassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way.Now, mind you, I'm not comparing Mrs. Exeter to the aunties, because Mrs. Exeter is very dignified. But Mrs. Exeter has a very real acceptance of herself, one that I would like to carry with me everywhere, just like Anne Lamott carries her aunties.
To Mrs. Exeter!
Monday, August 24, 2009
You see, this weekend both my parents and my in-laws are coming to visit and my husband didn't want them to see that we live like savage exhibitionists with no curtains. So off I went! I started these yesterday afternoon, and had them done in the evening - after a little Mad Men break, of course. I used this fantastic tutorial as my guide. I absolutely adore this fabric, and I wish I had enough left to make a dress so that I could match my curtains!
Anyway, there's not much interesting to say about making curtains. But I did have an ironic, contemplative moment while finishing them up. Jeff and I had just finished watching last night's Mad Men, which was so much about Peggy: her confusing status as both single girl who wants to be desired - and conversely, as a budding feminist and the one voice of women's perspectives in an "old boys' club" office.
As I sat at my sewing machine, Jeff had gotten out the tool kit and was puttering around, getting the curtain rod put up. Weren't we the perfect picture of 1963 domesticity! It's funny how sewing, while being creative and resourceful, can also be a symbol of the ideal housewife. Just look at this Elna ad from 1955:
Look at the happy homemaker, hanging her curtains! This ad really highlights that sewing at this time wasn't thought of as a hobby, but as a vital part of home economics for a wife. Even my mom said in this interview that my dad bought her a sewing machine when they first got married 40 years ago so that she could repair his clothes. (Very romantic, Dad!)
And, of course, home sewing is a money-saving, ecologically responsible, and fun activity. I actually starting sewing again a year and a half ago after being horrified by the selection of window treatments in my price range. (Hello, polyester!) But I do think it's crucial to remember the roots of this feminine activity, just as it's crucial to remember the historical/political implications of what we wear.
Whew! I guess I had more to say about curtains than I thought.
P.S. The young gentleman in the first picture is my beloved kitty, Henry Higgins. He bids you ladies a good day.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
The pattern was reissued in recent years as part of Butterick's retro line. Home sewists went crazy for it all over again, making it a top pattern of 2007 on Pattern Review (with 27 reviews to date!).
True confession time: I just don't like it all that much. I've seen some cute versions of it, and some not so cute. I can see why people are attracted to it. But everytime I try to envision making it, it just looks like a hospital gown in my mind.
Butterick did make a later version called the Saturday Morning dress, which I think is vastly improved. Look at the interesting neckline and curved midriff! The idea is the same, but the execution seems more elegant and flattering to me. (It's interesting too, that the two patterns are so close in number, the Walk-Away is #6015, and the Saturday Morning is #6150.)
The only problem is that it also seems to be terribly rare, as I can't get my grubby little hands on a copy of it.
Oh, how I want this pattern! Please let me know if you come across it, that is, if you don't buy it for yourself first. In which case I wouldn't blame you, though I'd be very sad. Sigh.
So, what are your thoughts on the Walk-Away dress? Yea or Nay?
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Don't you think that must be the most high-pressure job ever? How do they come up with those whimsical names all the time? For example: Flight-of-the-bee dress. Angles Awry Cardigan. Fruit Compote Skirt. Aren't they wonderful? I think I would get burnt out very quickly. It's just a green skirt, damn it!
Anyway, this is a skirt I made last week from my all-time favorite skirt pattern, Burda 8155. I had some of this fabulous wool crepe leftover from my first Joan Holloway dress, just enough with which to make a pencil skirt. I loved the idea of this vivid color in a basic slim silhouette, even though sewing with wool in 96 degree weather is . . . itchy. And sweaty.
I didn't line it because I have so many of these little slips now. I hate lining things, so this is a big plus for me! I've also become very well acquainted with my machine's blind hem function. It's so professional looking and easy.
Sometimes it's fun to make a basic pattern that you know well, don't you think? It refreshes me for the big challenges. Onward!
Friday, August 21, 2009
Here are a few choice items, in no particular order.
- Daniel Franco: My name is Daniel Franco and I wish you all bliss.
- Santino: If Van Gogh had had my personality, he wouldn't have had to cut off his ear.
- Heidi: When I saw her coming down the runway, I thought 'How pretty are you!' I just want everything to be pretty pretty pretty!
- Tim: Andrae . . . look at all this flotsam and jetsam!
- Elisa: I'm coming to your planet, but with gifts.
- Robert: (about his recyling materials dress) I'm really thrilled, because it looks like a cocktail dress . . . albeit a cheap, tacky cocktail dress that a hooker might wear, but nonetheless it still looks like real clothes.
- Tim: It's looking very happy hands at home granny circle. It's hippie dippie.
- Michael Kors: (about Alison's model) She looks like a paper brioche.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I thoroughly enjoyed the show tonight, but I realized that going into my sixth season of watching Project Runway, there is one thing I just can't stand anymore.
Have you noticed that at each runway show, there's a voice over from the designer as their creation is modeled that always goes something like this:
Oh my God, when my dress walked down the runway, I just couldn't believe it.
I almost cried when my dress walked down the runway; it was soooo amazing.
People. DRESSES DO NOT WALK. PEOPLE WALK. I mean really, would it kill you to say "When I saw the model in my dress, etc." or even better you could use the model's name! Yes, models have names! Gracious.
And the other thing I would like to complain about is that there is such a disdain for home sewing on this show. From my beloved Tim Gunn, no less. In the All-Star Challenge tonight, he dismissed something as "matronly" and "a little home sewing, if you know what I mean." And Sweet P's cheeky flowerpot dress was derided by one of the judges as looking "a little bit homemade."
I get what they're trying to say, course. There's a different connotation between handmade and homemade. But what I don't understand is why these designers think they're doing something so rarefied, so separated from the fashion sewing that people do at home, like it's an entirely different skill set.
But perhaps I'm being a little sensitive.
What do you all think? Are you bothered by any of this?
1. First up is not fabric related, but still a place I make a point to stop nearly every time I'm in the neighborhood: Candy Castle! (7th Ave, between 39th and 40th) This place is like a Willy Wonka-invented old-fashioned sweet shop. The candy is lined up in glass jars along the entire wall, and the effect is mesmerizing to me.
And look at these gum balls! They're the size of grapefruits. I think they should probably be in the Guinness Book of World Records.
I could imagine a big-name designer stopping in this sweet shop and being inspired to create an entire collection around it, can't you? Candy couture!
(Also, the peanut butter frozen yogurt is excellent.)
2. B&J's Most Extravagant Fabrics. B&J is the ritziest shop in the district (7th Avenue, between 38th and 39th), and it has some must-see wares. How about some hand beaded illusion, made in France?
$510 a yard!
A fun game is to see if you can find the most expensive fabric in the shop. The best I've done is $810 a yard, but I've heard tell of some that are upwards of $1,000!
3. While you're at B&J, take a look at the old-fashioned register at checkout. This was the shop's first register, when they opened in the 40's! It's no longer functional, but still a great reminder of the rich history of this area.
4. On the lowbrow side (but still glitzy!) is this Obama rhinestone decal.
5. And last but not least, are the sculptures that I think of as the heart and soul of the Garment District.
At the corner of 7th Avenue and 39th street, you'll see this oversized needle and button.
And then, a beautiful and haunting depiction of a garment worker, toiling over his work. The history of garment production was not always a happy and glamorous one in New York - far from it. I think this sculpture captures that beautifully.
My one gripe is that I wish they could have portrayed both a man and a woman garment worker. Sewing has always been women's work, and female immigrants bore the brunt of the oppressive garment labor in New York. Shouldn't a woman be part of the capturing of this history?
Okay, end feminist rant.
Check back next week for more weird and wonderful sights of New York's Garment District!
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
This project is an important one to me for several reasons. First of all, it's the one on the cover of the book. Secondly, I bought an amazing red duchesse silk satin to make it in. Thirdly, I ordered a custom made belt in the same fabric. And lastly, this pattern belonged to Doris, and I feel I owe it to her to make it fabulous. (It's worth noting that Doris also made it in red. Well, at least her notes indicated "linen - red.")
I love that it's on the cover of VoNBBS, and my plan to is to recreate the cover look as closely as possible. Hence, the red satin. VoNBBS makes the suggestion:
"Satin, when used sparingly as in this sheath, has an 'after-five look.' If, however, you're shy about satin, make it in a faille crepe or - wonderful idea! - a grey flannel. And if after-five clothes don't fit into your scheme of life, make it in a sun sheath of linen, pique, or Shantung."It's possible that I am a little shy about satin, but no time to get over that like the present! And I'm sure I'll find some occasion to wear it, right? Besides, just look at this gorgeous ruby-red duchesse:
So, I'm excited. But I don't want to just go whack-whack into this beautiful and pricey fabric, obviously. So I'm going to do my usual tissue-fitting, and then do a test run in a less expensive fabric.
"Wisely, Chinese women repeat a style in a gamut of fabrics. Why shouldn't you, once you find a fashion that's becoming?"Ah yes, the wise Chinese women.
Um, what? What in the world does that even mean? Are they possibly referring to the cheongsam? I know this type of style was an interest to fashion-forward American women in this era, just like the sarong dress. What do you think?
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Sunday, I posted the first part of this tutorial (see it here), which showed you how to draft a simple pattern for the blue skirt above, which is similar in style to the taffeta gingham one on the right, from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing. Now, here are instructions for the easy-peasy construction.
First, a note about fabrics. If you want super-duper fullness, I recommend using a fabric with a lot of body, like taffeta. If you want a softer look, something with more drape (like silk crepe or a soft cotton) would work better. Also, it's worth noting that this type of pattern was just made for border prints! For my skirt here, I'm using a navy dupioni ($9 a yard at AK Fabrics in New York!) The dupioni is softer than the taffeta, and you can see the difference in the photos above. For a 45" wide fabric, you'll need about 2-1/2 yards.
Also, please note that my method is a little unusual in that the zipper stops at the top of the waistband, rather than requiring a tab and button. This makes it faster and easier to construct, but it might look a little strange to you at first, if you're used to traditional methods.
Okay, let's get sewing! So you've followed the directions in part one of this tutorial, and you have your pattern pieces ready to go.
Now, on to the cutting. For a 45" wide fabric, you'll need to use a crosswise layout. This means laying out the fabric completely flat, with the selvages at the top and bottom, and then folding the fabric horizontally, so that the fold is on the right side.
Above is a picture of my layout. Note that there is a double layer of fabric, with the selvages at the top and bottom, and the fold on the right side. Make any sense? The waistband piece can go below or above your skirt piece.
If you're serging your seam allowances, do so now. If you're finishing your seams by pinking or zigzagging, do so after the seams are sewn.
Now, sew the right side seam of the skirt only. We'll sew the left side after inserting the side zipper. Press open.
Gather the top of the skirt. You can use the traditional method of running two lines of long stitches, and then pulling up the bobbin threads. But have you ever tried the method of using cord and a wide zig zag stitch? There's a great tutorial for it here. It's fantastic for fabric like taffeta that has a lot of body. I used it for the first time for this skirt, and I don't think I'll ever go back to the old way!
Apply interfacing to one of the waistband pieces. Pin the two waistband pieces together, right sides together. Sew along both short sides and one long side.
Trim seam allowances, cut corners diagonally, and turn right side out.
Use a point turner or knitting needle to push corners out. Press.
Next, you're going to pin the interfaced side of the waistband to the gathered skirt, right sides together.
Now, find the middle of the waistband by folding it in half. Mark that point with a pin. Match the halfway point on the waistband to the side seam on your skirt. Next, pin the ends of the skirt piece to the end of the waistband. The finished ends of the waistband will match up to the raw edges of your skirt. (This method is a little unusual, but bear with me.)
See how I'm only pinning the interfaced side to the gathered skirt, and the uninterfaced side is free?
Now, distribute the gathers evenly among the sections and pin. Next, baste the skirt to the waistband by hand or machine. If your fabric has a lot of body (like a thick taffeta), I highly recommend doing your basting by hand. You'll save a lot of time ripping out machine basting that went wrong! This dupioni I used was soft enough that machine basting was fine.
Now, stitch the skirt to the waistband. Trim the seam allowance and press up towards the waistband.
Next, you're going to hand stitch the inner waistband down. Turn the seam allowance up and pin it in place on the inside of the skirt.
Using thread and a hand sewing needle, slip stitch the inner waistband down.
Next you'll insert an invisible zipper. You need to cut off the top of a zipper, right past the upper stop.
See where I've marked this zipper in blue? Cut off the top with pinking shears.
Now, you're going to insert the zipper. Make sure to align the top of the zipper with the top of the waistband, like so:
Follow your favorite method for invisible zipper insertion. There are a lot of tutorials online, like this one. My favorite method is from issue #119 of Threads magazine, which you can order online here.
After your zipper is in, finish sewing the seam.
Now, all you have to do is hem. Remember that you have a 4" hem allowance on your pattern. So turn up four inches, press and pin. Try it on to check length. Then hem by hand or by using a blind stitch on your machine. (There's a great video tutorial for that here.)
Add a hook and eye to the top of the zipper, if you wish.
Now, as VoNBBS would say, press your skirt, freshen your makeup, and slip into your fabulous new skirt. And go show the world what you've made!
If you have any questions at all, please leave them in the comments and I will respond in a jiffy.