Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Perhaps this pattern crush means I secretly long to return to my roots as a child of the 70's. Some fashion elements of that decade certainly appeal to me: the tie-neck blouses, pleated skirts, dolman sleeves, the narrow-shouldered jackets. Then again, there are many more that definitely do not appeal to me: polyester, disco wear, caftans, maxi dresses, and bell bottoms, to name just a few.
But there's probably a bit more to my obsession with this pattern than that: I also find myself filled with an overwhelming sense of giddiness at trying a style so far out of my comfort zone. Do you know what I mean? I think it's kind of like imagining oneself with a completely different haircut: that soaring feeling that maybe there's a new, more fabulous version of yourself just waiting to be revealed. But then you chop off all your hair and realize that you're just the same person with a different haircut. And it dawns on you just how large your derriere will look in a pair of 70's-style trousers, even though you know you shouldn't say those things because you're trying to set an example of being more body-positive. Wherever you go, there you are, eh?
I still do have a tiny yearning desire to have this pattern in my collection. Sadly, I can't find it in my size and I'm not about to try grading this one, especially when I'm not sure I'd make it anyway. So, if you are a 32-1/2 inch bust and want to dazzle the world with your devastatingly glamorous Annie Hall look, please buy this pattern. Come on. Do it for me.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I was lucky enough to find this pattern in my size, so I just plan on doing a simple tissue-fitting before going whack-whack into my fabric.
And oh! the fabric. I'm following VoNBBS's directives to the letter. Here's what they say: "we suggest a black velveteen, lined with black crepe, because it lends texture interest to any skirt you may combine it with." Seems like a good idea to me. I saw this black cotton velveteen on Gorgeous Fabrics, and was amazed by the low price. When I received it, I wasn't disappointed in the least. For $10 a yard, this compares to some $40 per yard velveteen I've seen in the Garment District. I have some black silk crepe on hand, so I'll be using that for the lining. See how good I am at following your instructions, VoNBBS?
This pattern has several fantastic variations, and VoNBBS offers instruction for a short-sleeved one as a bonus project. (It's the blue one above, but Doris drew in long sleeves. She wanted a long-sleeved version, dammit. To each her own!)
I think this variation is adorable, so I'll definitely be making it next. VoNBBS suggests sewing it in white pique, but I'm thinking a nice plum-colored wool boucle will be just the thing for fall.
I discovered a delightful little surprise in the pattern envelope: a flyer from Vogue Patters, singing the praises of separates. They've gone out of their way to suggest several skirt and blouse options to go with your new jacket. Isn't that kind of them?
So, "why separates," indeed? Well, according to Vogue, the reason is thus: "for a lot of variety at little cost to you." Okay, I'm with you there. But now check out this totally unintelligible sentence that follows:
"That's why to sew separates, designed by Vogue for now, is to be smart in fashion."
Uh, pardon? That has got to be the most awkwardly constructed sentence I've read in a long time. Perhaps it made more sense in 1952?
Monday, September 28, 2009
Did you know that in the U.S. during World War II, it was actually a federal offense to throw out waste paper? I wonder if the same rules applied to waste fabric. There are so many interesting parallels between the U.S. of the 40's and today, considering that at both times our nation has been at war and there are new movements to conserve. The "Make Do and Mend" of the 40's has become the "Reuse, Reduce, Recycle" of the new millennium. But for all the similarities, there are just as many differences. With a nation so politically divided, the idea of rationing to support the war efforts seems unlikely.
As a modern gal, sometimes I think the biggest waste product in my life is fabric scraps! When I first started sewing, I read in a beginner's book that you should always save your scraps, since they might come in handy for other projects and for testing out techniques and such. I dutifully followed this advice, filling bins and bins full of odd-shaped remnants. And then I stashed them away and promptly forgot about them.
The real problem, though, is that I don't have room to store all these scraps. So now I've just started throwing scraps away after each project. I hate how this feels, though. It's so awful and depressing to see nice fabric scraps in the trash can along with grody old food scraps. Ugh.
I know there are about a gazillion small projects to make with scraps like quilts and pin cushions and necklaces and brooches and etc, etc, etc. I even found a tutorial for making thumbtacks from scraps and another for a beautiful butterfly mobile. But that's not really what I want to spend my precious sewing time on, and again, it feels like refashioning just for refashioning's sake. Another option is to try to make money off your scraps: fabric Designer Anna Maria Horner sells her scraps for $10 a bag!
So I'm coming to you for advice. What do you do with your scraps?
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Here I am waiting for the train, dress in tow. I had planned on wearing my red satin sheath, but I chickened out and ended up buying a new, more casual dress at the last minute. I realized I might feel a bit self-conscious wearing red satin in the afternoon. (Do you notice that I'm wearing a full skirt that hits well above my knees, a style that I railed about just a couple days ago? I'm such a hypocrite!)
The flower girls (the bride's fabulous nieces) performed their duties with aplomb. The pianist was playing "The Rainbow Connection," and I got a little choked up.
Luckily, I recovered in time to do my reading of Sonnet 116 during the ceremony.
The lighting of the unity candle. Here's my friend in her formal ceremony gown. Doesn't she look lovely? Her veil had little sparkly bits that glimmered in the candlelight.
After the ceremony, we had some time to kill. Luckily, the Brooklyn Arts Festival was happening under the bridge, so my husband and I meandered about for a while. There was a couple walking around in knitted camouflage full bodysuits. Artsy, huh?
I thought my date looked quite handsome.
It was a chilly day, so I cozied up in a wrap. Did you know that I wear spectacles? I always try to avoid having them on in pictures, but that gets a little tiresome after a while.
After dinner, the bride was ready to slip into something more comfortable.
(You'll notice that her niece also slipped into something more comfortable, which included jammies, a binky, and her froggy.)
And here I am, next to my muse.
What a day! I just love weddings, don't you?
P.S. As for the dress I bought, I loved the fit and look of it - especially the really cool corset detailing, including laces up the back. But I wasn't happy with the quality. The boning (which was rigilene) tore out of the fabric - at the top of the bodice on one side, and on the bottom on the other side. This meant I had boning sticking me in my right breast and left hip, simultaneously. This was quite uncomfortable, as you can imagine. I've made my own dresses with rigilene boning before and have never had this problem. You can bet I'll be writing a complaint letter to Anthropologie!
Friday, September 25, 2009
I've noticed girls wearing these out and about. They usually seem to be paired with a tank top, a wide belt, and flats. Cute, but I always wish their skirts were about 4 inches longer. Not just for modesty's sake. (Though can you imagine trying to pick something up off the floor in one of these?) My real complaint is one of proportions. I think a knee-length gathered skirt is flattering because the poufiness of the waistline is tempered by the weight of a longer hem.
I usually make my skirts 24 inches long, which hits right below my kneecap. The longest gathered skirt I could find at Anthro was only 20.5 inches long.
The irony, though, is that I'm always complaining about the long length of vintage dirndl patterns. For my full gathered skirt from VoNBBS, I had to take a good four inches off of the pattern. Of course, hemlines are one of the most quickly shifting and provocative elements of fashion history. There are even economic theories surrounding hemlines, as well as a handy "abstract conceptual hemline overview chart", if you're really interested.
What do you think of these lengths? Do I sound like a cranky old fuddy duddy?
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Take the pattern above, for instance. It's McCall's 6523, which I first saw sewn up beautifully on Joanne's blog here. Joanne mentions that she saw the pattern for $50+ on eBay, but then found it on Etsy for $10 the next day. Since I loved her version, I've been keeping my eye out ever since. And my experience was very similar to Joanne's.
I originally found the pattern on Etsy for $48. The seller sites an eBay auction (perhaps the same one Joanne saw), saying, "this pattern recently sold on an auction site for over $50." (I suppose $48 should seem like a bargain then?)
Doing another simple web search, I came across the pattern on eBay and quickly made a bid. To my surprise, I had no competing bidders and I won the auction for $3.99. The seller had very reasonable shipping rates, and all told, I spent under $5 for the pattern. Why such hugely different prices for the exact same pattern?
I have a theory, as you might be unsurprised to hear. Several years ago, I worked in a used and rare bookstore. My duties included buying and pricing rare and antiquarian books. While I suppose this does require a smidgen of literary knowledge, it mostly just requires being able to use the internet. You see, the way I was taught to decide on a price for a book was to see what the same edition in similar condition was selling for from various online dealers. Therefore, what other people were charging determined the cost of the item, not the actual value of said item.
Pattern sellers must use a similar system when lacking a better one (such knowing it's a high-profile designer pattern - a Claire McCardell for McCall's for instance). If a pattern has once before sold for $50, it must automatically be worth $50, right? Flawless logic indeed. Strangely, the high price tag seems to have been a fluke in the case of McCalls 6523. Though it will be interesting to see if the perceived value of this pattern will eventually make it actually valuable.
Anyway, enough of my theorizing. Would you like to see which patterns are currently the most expensive on eBay and Etsy? Of course you would.
On eBay, here's a lovely Simplicity ensemble, selling for $65.28. A reason for the high cost is not given.
On Etsy, the winner is this Vogue Special Design for $95, which the seller simply states is "very rare."
Isn't it interesting? There are no real guidelines out there for pattern pricing (as far as I know), so often we must take the seller's word on whether something is indeed rare or not. Of course, the condition of the item comes into play. But it seems that actual serious collectors of vintage patterns themselves are quite rare. The rest of us actually want to use them, so some damage to the pattern or envelope is no biggie.
Have you had similar experiences with pricing?
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I think the best thing about making a custom garment for someone you care about is that you can add human touches that show you were thinking about the wearer while you were constructing it. For instance, I made an inner corselet for the dress according to Susan Khalje's instructions in the latest Threads magazine, which include stitching in a grosgrain waist stay and a wide hem lace. Thinking of the beautiful bride, I knew I had to add a special touch to these elements: a soft something blue that would be hidden away, but that only she would know was there. I've also noticed that I have a driving sense of perfectionism on this project, more than usual. I've so wanted the construction to be flawless, and the result is a garment that while certainly not perfect, I can say that I am immensely proud of.
I made a traditional muslin for the dress (I even made it out of muslin, not old curtains!) and did a preliminary fitting. I was glad that I had taken a dressmaking class at Sew Fast Sew Easy last year where I learned how to fit a princess-seamed sheath dress on another student. Who knew just how valuable that would prove to be!
I've been sewing like a mad woman this past week, and yesterday we had another fitting. My friend looked absolutely gorgeous in the dress, and it gave me a new kind of sewing satisfaction: seeing my work on someone else, and seeing it make her happy.
I think it has to do with this: There's a guiding principle in some circles that to have self-esteem, you must first commit esteemable acts. And the way to do this is to be of service to others. If ever you feel awkward, nervous, or [insert any other uncomfortable emotion here], the way to alleviate these feelings is to perform an act of service. While I normally am a cranky old broad who rejects any sort of self-help psycho-babble, this actually works like a charm. And what better service than sewing? (Ugh, okay, enough. Can I go be cranky and sarcastic again now please?)
I'd love to hear your experiences sewing for others. Do you do it? Or do you avoid it at all costs?
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
This has sent me on a research frenzy of suit patterns from the 40's. Here's a recent eBay score:
These patterns are often called "two-piece dresses" and I think that's what I like about them: they're less structured and more feminine that your standard skirt suit.
It's interesting to note, though, that suit skirts from the 40s were generally a-line rather than slim. It was in the early 50's that skirts started nipping in at the knee. Perhaps the Vogue images above are really just our modern perception of the 40's: the slim-skirted femme fatale and all that.
I've found myself considering recent pattern releases too, with modern silhouettes that hearken back to the forties and fifties in subtle ways. I like the idea of pairing a short-sleeved peplum jacket (like McCalls 5936) with a high waisted straight skirt like my beloved Burda 8155.
My worry with wearing a suit to work, though, is feeling too self-consciously "done up." I suppose it's one of those styles that probably all depends on the industry you work in, among other factors. So my question is this: based on your experience, lifestyle, and career, are suits a yea or a nay?
Monday, September 21, 2009
For instance, take a look at the blouse and jumper pattern above. It looks like a run-of-the mill 40's pattern that you could easily find on eBay, right? Well, Unsung Sewing Patterns reveals a thrilling hidden side to this pattern: there are actually instructions included for making the blouse out of a men's dress shirt and making the jumper out of an old dress. See the cutting layouts below:
Isn't this fascinating?
Of course, this sort of clothing makeover was de rigeur during the Second World War, the era of rationing and "Make Do and Mend." I have a sewing book from the 40's that offers similar advice.
What's interesting is that there now seems to be a definite return to these thrifty ideals of the 1940's. Sewists and crafters are interested in refashioning old clothes for two reasons (which are pretty obvious, but I'll point out anyway): first, to be economically responsible, given our current financial crisis and second, to be ecologically responsible, given the damage we've done to the environment. And, oddly, men's dress shirts are usually the item being refashioned. Sewing Green is a recent craft book release that shows you, among other things, how to make an apron from an old men's dress shirt. Countless tutorials on the internet show you how to make tops, dresses, and even laptop cases from shirts.
I'll admit that I'm a bit reluctant to jump on this bandwagon. First of all, I don't have piles of old men's dress shirts lying around! Secondly, I'm always adding to my fabric stash, which, I know, is just needless consumption of its own. But I hope that by not always purchasing from mass retailers, I'm at least doing a little bit of good.
And, also . . . I hesitate to admit this, as I fear I'm gaining a reputation as a major snob. But some of the refashioning projects on various "hip" crafting websites seem so slapdash to me. Why bother turning an old shirt into something different but low quality? It just seems like the idea is "take this old thing and cut it up and throw some fabric paint on it and ta-da! Green sewing!"
I guess my point is this: the idea of salvaging usable fabric from worn items is an excellent and important one, and one that speaks volumes, historically and culturally (just look at any quilt from the early 20th century, usually cobbled together from worn-out dresses and shirts). But I don't understand the idea of refashioning for refashioning's sake, and that's what some of the green trend seems to be about to me.
What do you think? I am more than eager to be called out on my snobbery, so please: have at me!
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Aren't these fun? The one on the left is a polka dotted challis, which is a very thin wool. I bought a couple yards of this for a dress. On the right is a herringbone that is the perfect soft cherry red, which has been calling my name at B&J, perhaps for a little 40's-inspired suit.
I'm coveting a bright blue sheath dress for fall (possibly from McCall's 5971?) so here are a couple options on the left. The left-most one is a wool sateen, and the middle swatch is a crepe.
On the right is a wool crepe georgette in a lovely lavender hue.
Here's some unusual suiting from Carolina Herrera (one of my favorite designers). Aren't the blue dotted lines cool? I have a yard of this to make a pencil skirt with, which my mother bought me when we went to Mood. (Thanks, Mom!) It will obviously requite an electric blue charmeuse blouse, right?
Oh, and the houndstooths! (Houndsteeth?) I bought a few yards of the plum and black one here on the left, and the pink and brown on the right recently caught my eye at B&J. I haven't taken the plunge on that one since I don't usually wear brown (too monochromatic with my hair), but I might make an exception for this!
I ordered some of this lovely soft black boucle below from Gorgeous Fabrics, and it has a nice drape and subtle basketweave texture to it. Perfect for a long-sleeved LBD!
And finally, look at this black wool satin. It's very smooth, with an understated sheen.
It gave me a little idea. How about a wool satin for the wiggle dress/overskirt combo pattern? Here it is with a swatch of the embroidered tulle I bought for the overskirt:
Ding ding ding! I think we have a winner!
Friday, September 18, 2009
A Snuggie is a blanket. With sleeves. Because, you see, traditional blankets are so terribly inefficient! You can't, like, do stuff in blankets. Important stuff like eating and clicking the remote. Oh, and reading. (Whatever.) Amazingly, Snuggie has a major competitor which has named their product the "Slanket." (Get it? Sleeve/blanket = slanket?)
Snuggie took part in New York Fashion Week on Tuesday, which I have to say, is brilliantly cheeky of them. Jezebel wrote up some must-see hilarious faux commentary on the show here.
But the thing that gets to me is this new McCall pattern (#5970). So, this is considered a "contemporary, trendsetting design"? It's also one of those "one-hour projects" that seem to be replacing designs that are actually interesting. This is truly the Angel of Death to the sewing world, don't you think? I mean, is this where we've ended up? Really?
Come on, guys, let's all go down to Jo-Ann's and pick up some fleece with kittens printed on it! And then we'll have a Snuggie-making party! And sit on our sofas for the rest of our lives!
Okay, true confession time (now that I've alienated anyone who might want one of these): will any of you be making McCall's 5970? Do any of you own a Snuggie? Don't be shy. Jump right in.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Someone at the office (who doesn't know that I sew) remarked to me yesterday (with admiration, I swear) that I have the most interesting clothes. And I realized that that is about the greatest compliment someone can give me - well, about clothes, anyway.
I've always been entranced by the magic of clothes (not fashion, clothes). Certain styles and colors appeal to me in a way I can't explain. For instance, the thing that got me into garment sewing a year and a half ago was that I wanted a pencil skirt. But I didn't want just any pencil skirt. I wanted one in bright Barbie pink with a high, curved waistband. The image of this imaginary skirt had burned itself into my brain. So, I made it. And I had such fun making it. The way the pieces matched together like a puzzle and eventually turned into my dream pencil skirt was just enthralling.
And that's what keeps me going today. I have a very personal, creative connection to each garment I make. Each one started out as a fantasy that, amazingly, I'm able to make a reality. And that's what makes my clothes interesting, I think.
I think this is probably true for a lot of us, right? The idea of being the absolute creative director of your own wardrobe is an enticing one. And not having to rely on what J. Crew is offering any particular season is incredibly freeing.
But still (here's the half a PhD talking), it is valid to look at the broader reasons that we might want this freedom. Whether that is a desire not to participate in fast fashion or to protest the ways in which women are expected to dress today, all of these reasons can be at play simultaneously. In other words, still look for lots more over-analyzing to come!
P.S. Speaking of J. Crew, they have a fantastic pencil skirt this season that would be my taste entirely if it just had a more interesting waistband:
It's almost perfect, isn't it? Isn't it wonderful that I can make my dream version of it - without paying $118 for it?
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
And yet, I am the demographic that these retailers are targeting. Female, urban, professional, 30 years old, childless, interested in fashion, and with a certain amount of "disposable" income. (Problem is, I would much rather dispose of my income in a fabric store.) The attitude among my peers seems to be that anything cute and cheap is a great thing. But, as many people have pointed out, this kind of fast fashion isn't harmless. Its victims are the people who make the clothes for less than a living wage, as well as the environment.
I was interested that commenter Hanna brought up the idea that perhaps vintage fashion/sewing is a reaction to this fast fashion culture of disposable clothing that we live in. She resisted the notion that raunch culture, as I proposed, was at play here and made a very compelling argument for her point of view:
I've really enjoyed reading this discussion and the older one about vintage fashion and gender politics. Can I suggest another modern trend that fans of vintage clothes might be reacting against? It is 'throwaway culture' or whatever you like to call it - the way you can buy items of clothing (or indeed lots of other things) for astonishingly low prices, the kind of prices that make it cheaper to replace something when it wears out rather than repair it. As several other people have pointed out, sewing vintage patterns is a way of connecting with the skills of the past . . . Perhaps we also like to connect with the attitude of that past, when even mass-produced clothing was generally of a higher quality and cost more relative to other household goods than it does now, and was therefore less disposable and more cherished.Well said, Hanna!
I think she's on to something. Have we perhaps gotten so fed up with the unethical way stores churn out cheap clothes that we've turned to sewing to counteract it?
Of course, it's also easy to get into a mindset of fast fashion even when sewing. As I pointed out yesterday, I often get into the mindset of "fast sewing:" trying to make more and more projects, and practically turning my sewing room into a sweat shop. And many pattern companies seem to be gravitating more to "one-hour" projects. Are we really in such a hurry?
But, at the heart of Hanna's point is the idea that when you sew something, you cherish it and honor it. When you buy it at H&M, it's more likely to end up as a cleaning rag (or in a landfill) by the next season.
Thank you, Hanna, for your excellent points. If any others have theories on the return to vintage fashion and sewing, you know I'd love to hear them.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I imagine I'm not alone in this hyperactive sewing planning. (Um, right?) After all, there are so many beautiful fabrics and patterns and trims out there, that sometimes it's tempting to try to use them all. I suppose the thing to remember is this: there will always be more sewing projects out there. We don't need to do them all today.
So, I propose that we all take a deep breath and enjoy the project that we're actually working on, this moment. Let's enjoy each stitch. Sewing isn't really worth it unless it brings you some sort of serenity, I think. And it's quite hard to be serene when running about like a mad woman trying to do eighteen different projects at once.
So, I will be focusing my attentions for the next couple weeks on one, that's right, ONE project. The party dress for my dear friend. As for the others, I have plenty of dresses that I can wear to the wedding (like the red satin!) and I certainly don't need to enter every sewing contest.
So that's my plan to restore some sanity into my sewing life. What's yours?
P.S. Though there won't be a lot of new garment action in the next few days, still come visit for a crinoline tutorial, a Garment District Post, fun with feminism, and plenty of my other ramblings.
Monday, September 14, 2009
I wanted something that wouldn't be so full as to appear costume-y, but that would still provide just a little bit of body to my full skirts. Substituting cotton organdy for tulle did the trick, as well as being easier to work with.
Here's a picture of a full skirt without the crinoline:
And with the crinoline:
Doesn't it make a world of difference?
Check back later this week for a tutorial on making this easy modern crinoline!