Saturday, October 31, 2009

Is Your Sewing Machine Haunted?

Here lies the body of the man who invented the sewing machine, readers. I took a tour of Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn today, and can you believe it? We came across the grave of Elias Howe, the man who (arguably) invented the sewing machine.

Though others had already come up with the idea for the sewing machine, Elias Howe was the one to make the first working model and to be awarded the first U.S. patent for the design.

Visiting Howe's grave got me thinking about death and sewing . . . specifically, about the horror-movie potential of sewing.

Sewing can be scary, no doubt. Danger lurks at every corner: fingers can be sewn clean through, rotary cutters go awry, and then there's the prospect of bound buttonholes. (Eeek!) And there's always the possibility that your sewing machine could be haunted. That's right, haunted. (Bwa ha ha!)

Apparently it's quite common for sewing machines to become possessed by spirits. Take this eBay listing for a haunted 1894 Singer, which unfortunately ended last week. (But there were no bidders, shockingly enough, so don't give up on your chance to own it!) According to the seller, the machine is haunted by the spirit of a woman named Paloma, who was killed by her abusive husband while she was sewing on the machine. If you listen closely, you'll be able to hear Paloma sobbing, or you might even see visions of her bloody head resting on the machine.

Sewing machines provide plenty of other opportunities for haunting. The internet is rife with tales of machines whirring away mysteriously . . . with not a human user in sight. And isn't this prime horror movie material? Think Stephen King's Christine, but with a possessed vintage Singer instead of a murderous car.

So, let's hear it. Anyone out there have a haunted sewing machine?

P.S. Happy Halloween! Watch out for the ghost of Elias Howe and other things that go bump in the night . . .

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bound Buttonholes (Ack.)

So, I have a confession: I've never made a bound buttonhole. And the bow-tied blouse (which I cut out last night! In the baby blue wool jersey) has five of 'em. Right smack down the middle of the back. I'm scared, people. I've been doing research on various methods, and here's what I've come up with.

Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing boasts about their method: "Speaking of buttonholes, we show you how to make Vogue's streamlined one-piece fabric buttonhole. We love it. It's quick and easy." It's funny that VoNBBS acts like they invented this method, because as far as I can tell, it's the standard "patch" method.

Now, I am not impressed with this method. I first attempted it while making my taffeta skirt, and the results were so sad that I ended up just making the buttonhole by machine. But not this time! I'm determined to make some pretty bound buttonholes if it's the last thing I do, damn it.

So I turned to Issue 140 of Threads Magazine, which has an article on bound buttonholes that promises "professional results with industry techniques." I admit I have a soft spot for this article because the author, Barbara Frangione, opens the piece with a charming story. Here's a little excerpt:
Once upon a time (actually, it was during the winter of 1949), I took a draping class in New York City. I rode Long Island Railroad to get to class, and I usually sat next to a fellow student whose father owned a clothing factory.

One night, I wore my new wool coat - a Vogue pattern with every plaid meticulously matched and not a thread out of place. The bound buttonholes were made the way the pattern instructions had always directed. Needless to say, I was more than pleased with my work.

I said to my fellow passenger, "I made this coat."

"I know you did," he said.

When I asked how he knew, he replied, "By the buttonholes. They're just not right."
Can you believe he said that, readers? What a cad! I don't like this young fellow one bit. But the story has a happy ending, in which Barbara learns an industry technique for making bound buttonholes. It involves using strips rather than patches, a technique that looks a little something like this:

You then turn the strips to the inside and secure them in place. So that's what I will be testing out tonight (on some scrap fabric first, of course). Wish me luck!

And please, anyone have any great tips on bound buttonholes? I need all the help I can get!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Top Alteration Tips for Vintage Patterns!

Happy BurdaStyle Thursday, everyone! That means there's a new guest post on by yours truly on the BurdaStyle Blog. This week I discuss the three alterations that I consider to be essential for creating a modern fit with vintage patterns.

So please stop by and join in the conversation. I know you all some fantastic tips up your own (couture) sleeves!

My Sweater Guard Collection

Here it is, in all its glory! A lot of you asked about the sweater guard I was wearing yesterday, so I thought you would be interested to see these. I bought the entire lot at once on eBay for less than $10. I thought they would make nice accessories or embellishments, but then I stowed them away and hadn't thought to use them until I finished this bolero. It just screams for a sweater guard! The little pink posies second from the top are my favorite. (Also: don't worry, I won't ever wear them all at once like this. Though it is tempting.)

Sweater guards are a fascinating fashion relic. In the 50's, it seems that there was an frightening epidemic in which ladies suddenly couldn't keep hold of their sweaters! How alarming that must have been.

You see, it had become de rigeur to throw a cardigan insouciantly around one's shoulders, like a capelet. But how to retain that "devil may care" look while still keeping your cardigan secure? I know - A sweater guard!

(Sweater guard is just a funny name, don't you think? It seems a little melodramatic. I mean, they don't really guard your sweater from anything. Well, except from falling off.)

I think the most interesting thing about sweater guards is how they fell completely out of fashion. People don't even know what they are today! But there are a plethora of them out there for the taking. I found some fun examples currently on Etsy that are still fastened to the original card they were sold on. This is good stuff, people!

This sassy orange set
has user instructions that read like a haiku:

around shoulders
guard holds securely.
Cannot slip off.

It seems that sweater guards became a way to show tribe spirit at a certain point. I've found sweater guards with the Cub Scouts logo, Florida seashells, Canadian flags, the Boston Bruins logo. And look, for the Catholics in the house . . . this one is a Miraculous Medal sweater guard!

And, sadly, it seems that some hipster crafter types are making "ironic" sweater guards these days, fashioned from beer bottle caps and plastic spiders. Seriously? Is nothing sacred?

Oh, and unrelated: here's a picture of the skirt from yesterday on Veronica, my dress form, so you can see the design lines a bit better.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bonus Bolero (Plus Skirt!)

Here it is! The bolero suit ensemble! (Note: you must pronounce "ensemble" in the French manner: Ahn-SAHM. Try to look very sophisticated while you say it.) I paired the Ahn-SAHM with a vintage sweater guard and my pink portrait blouse. I would love to show you more detailed shots of these pieces, but this is what I could get as I was running out the door this morning. (Don't you just hate it when life interferes with your sewing and blogging?)

The bolero is the bonus variation from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing, which is view C of vintage Vogue 7259. I had to draft the front piece on my own since it was missing from my pattern. It went pretty well, if I do say so myself. I decided to make the sleeves elbow length, which I thought was the perfect compromise between what VONBBS wanted (short sleeves) and what Doris wanted (LONG sleeves!).

The skirt is Vogue 8603, and I am IN LOVE. I will definitely be making this again, probably in black stretch suiting, with about two inches added to the hem. It falls just above my knee as is, and I prefer a just below the knee length. Here's the back view:

Take that, hip ruching!

Anyway, I can add more pictures later if you're interested in some detail shots. I must say that I'm quite proud of this little ensemble!

(Oops. I mean this little Ahn-SAHM, of course.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why Are Coats So Complicated?

The latest project I've been scheming and obsessing about is a winter coat. I own a coat that is black, completely nondescript, and not warm enough at all. I've decided that this year I want to make one with a really warm interlining in a fabulous color. So I've turned to the old interwebz for information, and there is A LOT of it out there. In fact, I had no idea coats could be so complicated!

And this is coming from someone who likes to complicate everything. No project is too simple for me to render completely unmanageable in its ambitiousness. I guess I thought making a coat would be like making a jacket . . . only longer. But oh, how wrong I was. There are so many choices to make! What kind of interlining, underlining, and lining? Do you "bag" the lining or put it in traditionally? Should I add fancy tailoring techniques like pad-stitched hair canvas on the collar? Oy, I'm exhausted just thinking about it all.

And then there's the fact that I've been in major indecision mode, in tandem with major obsessive mode. I found the PERFECT fabric: a gorgeous lipstick-red wool/cashmere flannel from Paron's. But I've been agonizing about the pattern. I ordered an amazing pattern from the 1930's, but then realized it would be all wrong for a heavy coat. See the gathers at the bust? It's more meant to be a coat dress.

So then I decided to go with a contemporary pattern, and landed on Vogue 8346, view D (shown in ivory on the envelope below), which is a classic frock coat with a retro feel.

I read over the instructions, and they seem very simple. No hair canvas, no pad-stitching, no tailoring. Is Vogue trying to deceive me? Or is it really possible to make a coat without losing your mind?

Do you think I'll be happy with the results if I follow the simplest instructions possible, only modifying them to add an interlining for warmth?

I would love some advice here. Have any of you made a winter coat before? Should I just give up and head to Macy's now?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Would You Get a Sewing-Themed Tattoo?

I got some new ink over the weekend (pics to come!) and I was reminded of this Flickr group of sewing-related tattoos that Sarai linked to several months back. I loved looking through this photo pool (check out the fabulous one above, courtesy of the lovely Kaylah from the Dainty Squid), and obviously I'm no stranger to tattoos myself. It got me thinking . . . would I get a sewing-themed tattoo?

The two questions I get most often about my tattoos are: 1) Did they hurt? and 2) What do they mean? The answers are: 1) Hell yes, and 2) they don't really mean anything. I'm not one of those people who has a momentous life event and then goes out to get a tattoo to commemorate it. Tattoos, while not meaningless to me, are more just . . . art. You know, pictures of things. Pretty things.

So I guess what I'm saying is that it would be out of character for me to take something that's such a big part of my life and make it incarnate it on my flesh for the sake of it having meaning to me. (Not that I think that that's a bad reason to get a tattoo at all.) But . . . I do think scissors are cool-looking. I especially love this work-in-progress from Cherry Pie Vintage on flickr.

So don't count me out completely on the sewing-themed tattoo. I do still have an awful lot of room on my arms . . .

How about you, dear readers? Yea or nay on the sewing tattoo?

P.S. I probably don't even need to say this, but: please, let's make this a discussion about sewing tattoos, and not whether you personally approve of tattoos or not. (Okay, Mom? Ha ha.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ten Things I Hate About Sewing

So, we often talk about why we love sewing. But let's have a break from all that positivity and sunshine and get negative for a minute. So here's my list. Top ten things I hate about sewing!

1. Lining things. Making linings is boring, let's face it. No one will ever see it, the materials are slippery and hard to work with, and it's just a big, boring hurdle to face before you can put on your lovely finished product.

2. Scraps. My sewing room is turning into a scrap landfill! (Read more thoughts about scraps here.)

3. Constant scheming and obsessing. I have an obsessive mind, so I pretty much think about sewing in all my free (and not free) time. My internal monologue can start to sound like a broken record, which is really annoying.

4. Pins. Why do they end up everywhere except in my pin cushion?

5. Ironing. Self-explanatory. Ironing is boring.

6. Hemming. Hemming is a constant source of anxiety for me. I'm always worried about how it's going to turn out: will it be straight, will it be invisible? Arrrgggh.

7. Sewing brings out my indecisiveness. Which pattern? Which fabric? I don't know! Let's obsess about it for days on end! (See number 3: constant scheming and obsessing.)

8. Finishing seam allowances. Wouldn't it be nice if fabric didn't ravel?

9. Hand Sewing. Actually, I just hate it when my thread tangles and knots. Which is all the time.

10. And finally, the top thing I hate about sewing is . . . when I can't find time to sew. Because then I can't do what I love. What a second, am I being positive here? Crap.

Your turn! What do you hate about sewing?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Are You There, Vogue? It's Me, Gertie.

Vogue, are you listening? I have a couple requests. Specifically, I've been thinking about which fashion designer you should hire next for your designer pattern line. I don't want to be rude, but I think your choices have been veering a bit off track lately.

Readers, we discussed the latest Vogue designer patterns here, and there was a general feeling of disappointment (to say the least). Personally, I'd like to see Vogue hire more designers with ultra-feminine, retro sensibilities. More Tracy Reese than Chado Ralph Rucci, in a nutshell. This all got me to thinking . . . if I could be in charge at Vogue for a day, which designer would I hire?

I did a bit of debating, and I have to say, I couldn't decide between Rebecca Taylor and Nanette Lepore. Can I please have both, Vogue?

I love Rebecca's ladylike looks that are both glam and wearable. And she's proven this season that she is a master of the faux two-piece dress. How cute are these little retro numbers? I'll take one of each, thank you.

Now for my next fantasy pattern designer, Nanette Lepore, another designer who does retro so well. (This is just like fantasy football, but actually fun!) Specifically, I want a line comprised entirely of skirt patterns from Nanette. She makes the most kick-ass skirts with strategically placed peplums, ruching, and ruffles.

So that's what I want, Vogue: patterns for faux two-pieces dresses and fabulously intricate skirts from Rebecca and Nanette. Is that too much to ask?

Now it's your turn to play creative director, readers. Who would you hire?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's BurdaStyle Thursday!

Just a reminder that it's that time of the week . . . time for my BurdaStyle guest post! Today I wrote about my top tips for starting out with vintage patterns.

If you're new to the world of sewing vintage, this post is a great place to start. I hope you'll find it useful! And if you're looking for more advanced tips, come back next week for a list of the most common alterations needed to make vintage patterns wearable today.

Hope to see you there!

A Progress Report

First off, I want to say hello and welcome to all the new visitors who have come over from BurdaStyle! It's a pleasure to see so many new faces alongside my familiar friends here. I hope that you'll all feel free to jump right into the dialogue. And there's going to be a lot of said dialogue . . . I have some discussion posts up my sleeve that I think you'll all enjoy! So stay tuned for some stitching and bitching (and theorizing and debating and scheming).

Secondly, I thought it might be a good time to have a sort of progress report on my Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing (aka VoNBBS) project. (If you're new, you can read about the conception of the project here.)

There are 14 core projects in the book, which you can see scans of here. I have completed six of them (click the links to see the finished projects!): the chemise dress, the full skirt, the portrait neckline blouse, the sheath dress, the bolero, and the slim skirt. Some of the projects have what I'm calling "bonus projects," or extra variations of the patterns. For example, there was also a bonus halter dress variation of the full, gathered skirt.

I am currently working on one of the bonus projects: an awesome variation on the bolero, with short sleeves and lapels. Here's a little illustration:

I'm making it in a plum-colored gabardine with a matching skirt (Vogue #8603 from the current collection) for a smart suit look. I'm almost finished with the skirt (and it is to DIE for - I can't wait to show it to you!). Here's a swatch of the fabric:

And then next up is the bow-tie blouse! This has been one of my favorites from the start.

But I have questions, so many questions . . . First of all, VoNBBS strongly suggests making this blouse in a wool jersey, as it "will teach you how to handle knitted fabric" and is "so wearable." Isn't that interesting? I don't associate knit fabrics with the 50's. But then, it's helpful to remember that Coco Chanel popularized the use of wool jersey in 1916, so wool jersey would have been old news by 1952.

But what's really interesting is that there are no special instructions for sewing with knits other than how to cut open fabric that had been knit in a tube. In fact, it's sewn with regular techniques just like any other project in the book, and it even includes bound buttonholes, which I would not have thought to do on a knit either. And my 1952 Singer certainly doesn't have any zigzag or stretch stitches, so I'll just be using a regular straight stitch.

I picked out two wool jerseys (I got indecisive) and I made sure they were both relatively stable so they would be easier to sew. Here are swatches!

The one on the left is a pale blue wool jersey, and the one on the right is a teal wool/angora blend. Doesn't angora just scream 50's somehow?

So. What do you all think? Do you have a jersey preference? And what do you make of sewing this blouse in a knit? I guess I'd always pictured it in a sumptuous 4-ply silk . . . but I suppose that can come after I've perfected the pattern! In fact, there is a darling variation with a Peter Pan collar . . .

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Something is very wrong with this book cover. No, it's not the cliche use of the color pink and cutesy shoes as a shortcut to market to women (okay, that is a little wrong). What's really wrong is this: why in the world is this woman sewing in stiletto heels???? Is one of the 101 ways to use your first sewing machine putting on the least sensible footwear you own and seeing how quickly you can lose control of the pedal and sew over your own finger?

I cannot sew with any shoes on whatsoever. Even sneakers or flats. I feel I need bare or socked feet in order to commune with my foot pedal. (Yeah, that's right, I said commune.) Otherwise, I can't properly gauge how much pressure I'm applying to it. I took a dressmaking class in a sewing studio last winter, and I was the only weirdo removing her right shoe in order to sew.

So I felt less alone when, in response to my post asking what you wear while sewing, several people mentioned bare feet as a necessity. So once again, my curiosity is piqued and I must ask you all another strange, invasive question. What do you wear (if anything) on your feet while sewing?

And seriously, don't you think it would be actually impossible to sew in high heels? Will someone test this out and report back to me please? I'm scared of what might happen if I try.

P.S. Speaking of pink(ish) things, what do you all think of my fabulous new banner? It was designed by my bestie, April. I love it so much that I can't stop staring at it. (Thanks, Apey!)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

'Dear Gertie' (In Which I Attempt to Give Fashion Advice)

Readers, I love getting your e-mails. And I have a particularly interesting one to share with you today: a lovely lady named Kris wrote to me recently for vintage style advice. It was especially thrilling for me since it made me feel like a style columnist for one of them there fancy fashion magazines or something. Hence, "Dear Gertie" is born.

Kris is a beginning seamstress who would like to try her hand at vintage patterns, but has one nagging concern: her body type, which she describes as size 12-14 hourglass, or "aging Marilyn Monroe with a tummy bulge."

Here's what Kris had to say, in her own words:

Can those of us without supermodel flat stomachs wear a wiggle dress without the aid of our grandmother's girdle?

And ya know, in writing this email a new train of thought has steamed into the station. Why should I care if I have a few bulges? Rather than stressing out and trying to make myself fit the clothes, why shouldn't I just make the clothes fit me? . . . So, what say you? Should I face "reality" and continue with the jeans and t-shirts or forge ahead with the pencil skirt (and stiletto pumps) of my dreams? Can a regular, non-waspy woman make these vintage styles work without a winch and pulley system? Any suggestions on good styles for a beginner to start with?

As you can imagine, I have a lot of thoughts about all this. But let's start with the first part of the question: foundation garments. I feel like my thoughts on this subject vary from other ladies who like to wear vintage styles. Namely: I do not like girdles, and I do not feel I need to wear a girdle to make a vintage style look "right." I have one 50's style girdle made by Rago, and it does absolutely nothing for my figure. It actually makes me lumpier, with all the boning and hooks and such. I do make use of Spanx for smoothing purposes under fitted pencil skirts and sheath dresses. (Tip: I highly recommend Spanx control-top tights - perfect for winter!)

Now, to the question of facing reality. "Reality" can bite me. "Reality" tells me that I can't have a dress that fits me in both my waist and hips, that I have to choose one or the other. To this I say HA! Every dress and skirt I make needs extra room added to the hips. I could take this as a sign of defeat, but instead I like to think that conventional sizes simply aren't bodacious enough to contain me. Yeah, it takes a certain attitude. And, obviously, I am a big believer in making clothes fit ME, not making myself fit clothes.

My overall thought is this: In essence, you should definitely wear what YOU want and what you're comfortable in, and hopefully those two things overlap in some way. And honestly, Kris, it sounds like you have the perfect figure to pull this stuff off! Imagine that you're Joan Holloway from Mad Men. When I worry that I'm not skinny enough, I don't have the confidence to pull off pencil skirts and sheath dresses. But when I tell myself that I'm a smokin' hot curvy lady like Joan, it does wonders for my confidence. I guess it really is all in the attitude, huh? So here's your new mantra: What would Joan do?

As for style recommendations for curvier and plus size ladies: You might want to start with retro-style contemporary patterns rather than jumping into vintage patterns, with all their quirks and fitting issues. I think a simple high-waisted pencil skirt (try McCall's 5590 or Burda 8155) and a secretary blouse (maybe McCall's 5884 or Simplicity 2501) are very flattering on larger sizes and will help you get your sewing skills sharpened before moving on to bigger challenges.

There! I've done written an advice column! (Don't worry, I won't quit my day job.) Readers, do you have anything to add?

P.S. If you have a question you would like answered in "Dear Gertie," kindly e-mail me at gertie [at] blogforbettersewing [dot] com.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What Do You Wear While You Sew?

Even if you're sewing the fanciest evening gown, there is no need to dress up while sewing. In fact, I highly discourage that sort of thing.

In my opinion, the best thing to wear while sewing is whatever you slept in the night before. I'm modeling this look above, which includes my husband's pirate t-shirt and a pair of voile pajama shorts. This ensemble is best paired with fuzzy striped socks.

Even if I come home from work and decide to sew before dinner, I immediately put on whatever I slept in the night before. Even if it has stains on it, as demonstrated above. I highly recommend this route.

The second option is to sew in your underwear! This is very practical, as you can do frequent fittings without a lot of fuss. You should close your curtains first, though.

The third option is to wear a white lab coat (clothing underneath optional), like they do in the Dior couture workrooms. This is perhaps overkill, but it might be fun to pretend that you're a head dressmaker in Paris.

I'm sure I'm missing some possibilities here. So, tell us: what do you wear while you sew?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What's Your Favorite Sewing Word?

Sewing is full of fun terminology. From technical jargon to Frenchie fabric names, it's a word enthusiast's paradise.

My two favorites are rip and slash. First of all, because they're badass and totally rock star. Secondly, because the terminology is so melodramatic for what the words actually mean. Think about it: to rip something is to carefully remove the stitches. To slash something is to gingerly cut into it. But from the sound of it, you'd think they were stage directions in a gory horror film. (For example: She rips the zombie's skin off and then slashes its throat.)

Unfortunately, neither ripping nor slashing is as fun as it sounds.

There are tons of other amazing sewing and fashion words out there: organza, armsyce, mercerized. And then there are the terms of the sewing blogosphere: TNT, wadder.

And it's interesting to see the words that aren't really in usage today. Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing has a sewing dictionary, and there are some fascinating outdated terms. Instead of straight grain, they said straight of goods. Batting is referred to as wadding. Notions were called findings.

And then there are the word anomalies, like ravel and unravel, which both mean the same thing.

So what are your favorites? And why?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Come Visit Me on BurdaStyle!

Want to hear something exciting? I'm a new guest blogger on BurdaStyle! I'll be doing a weekly post on all things regarding vintage sewing.

Check out my first post here, and come back every Thursday for a thrilling new installment about the ins and outs of sewing vintage patterns and styles. And please: I would love to hear any suggestions you have for topics that would appeal to a wide audience of sewing enthusiasts.

And, of course, keep visiting here for your regularly scheduled programming. Also, I'm going to say this quick so it's not too sappy: Thanks to everyone for reading my little blog, and for your funny, insightful, and helpful comments. In a not-very-oft quoted Homer Simpson line, "I've really come to like you guys!"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is This Anything?

So, as I mentioned earlier this week, that wench Doris had the nerve to lose the front pattern piece for the "bonus" bolero project in VoNBBS. Well, some of you believed that I would be able to draft the missing pattern piece myself. And while I'm dubious of the confidence you have in my patternmaking skills, I just can't resist a dare.

So here's the muslin of what I came up with, made out of old curtains! Not bad, eh? What do you think? The only thing I'm really having trouble figuring out is the length of the lapels, and that's why the lapels are two different lengths in the muslin. In these two illustrations below, they vary quite a bit. The one on the left is from the pattern envelope, and the one on the right is from VoNBBS. See where they end in respect to the bustline?

I toyed around a bit with the length on my muslin, as you can see in the picture above. (The left lapel is shorter than the right.) Which do you think is better? Also, remember that the seam allowances will make everything 5/8" shorter.

I'm leaning towards the shorter lapel version; I think it's a bit kickier.

But, nit picking aside, I'm pleased as punch with myself that I might have figured this out. Especially since I already had planned a skirt to go with this version of the bolero. Vogue 8603, view A, which is a knock-off of a Nanette Lepore piece. It has ruching on the hips and a gathered ruffle in the back. Cute, right?

The whole ensemble will be made in a wool gabardine in a color I've been describing as "plum," but that could be inaccurate.

Anyway, I'd love your thoughts and feedback on my muslin!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fat and Fashion

I woke up yesterday morning with a weird combination of nausea and a fever, so I took a sick day and spent it in bed with a good book: Hungry: a Young Model's Story of Appetite, Ambition, and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves by Crystal Renn. Luckily, my strange malady passed quickly, but the book will continue to stay with me for a long time, I hope. Hungry was written with a collaborator and isn't a perfect memoir by any means, but it is stunning in its truthfulness. (Perfect for National Honesty Month!)

Crystal Renn once lost 70 pounds to achieve her dream of becoming a high fashion model. She got the big contract, along with a severe eating disorder. Eventually, she (and her body) rebelled against the pressure to be extremely thin. She's now the highest paid plus-size model working today. But her work hasn't been limited to Lane Bryant fliers. She's done editorial work in Vogue and Glamour, and she walked the runway for Jean-Paul Gaultier in an amazing couture dress designed specifically for her.

This book is a fast and compelling read, despite the gravity of some of the topics. I identified with Crystal quite a bit. While she obsessed over Elle Macpherson's workout tape and Oreos as a teenager, I have memories involving a Cindy Crawford exercise tape and a batch of peanut butter cookies. I've been a yo-yo dieter since my teens. I've always wanted to be super skinny, though it's gotten to the point where I'm not really sure why I want that anymore. At this very moment, my weight is at a high point on the yo-yo's arc, and now is, historically, the time I start running for diet books and new exercise classes. In fact, I bought a copy of The South Beach Diet just the other day.

There are very direct correlations between sewing, body image, and fashion. As I discussed in this post, sewing my own clothes has, to some extent, alleviated a lot of my body issues. But sewing is hardly a happy fuzzy land disconnected with the grim realities of fashion: in fact, they go hand in hand more often than I would like. Vogue Patterns relies on big name designers, and many of us follow the runways religiously so we can knock off the looks on our own. The point is: we're certainly not immune to the workings of the fashion industry, just because we make our own clothes.

And it's hard to ignore that there's something about the whole culture of fashion that makes most women feel bad about themselves (just check out this article for proof), and Hungry gets to this point in a concise way, exploring how the fashion industry employs a certain amount of victim-blaming and lack of humanity in their continued support of models with disordered eating. And to the people that automatically screech, "But being fat is unhealthy!" this book offers a lot of solid research on why health actually comes in many different sizes. I also found Crystal's take on health to be very refreshing; she's an organic food enthusiast and seems to eat more healthfully than many skinny women who, in our culture, appear to be the "picture of good health."

Health at Every Size is a book that Crystal recommends for replacing weight obsession with healthy habits. I think I've found the perfect book to replace my new copy of the South Beach Diet . . .

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Separate Piece

Dear Doris,

You know I love you. I feel we have a special bond. After all, you were the original owner of several of my vintage patterns from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing. I think about you often. Yes, I know you're a figment of my imagination. But still, I have a bone to pick with you: I'm peeved that you lost the crucial pattern piece to make view C of the bolero.

Doris, I know how excited you were to make this version of the bolero. You even had strong opinions on the design, feeling that it would be much stronger with long sleeves rather than short. I appreciated your pluck at drawing in the sleeves on the pattern envelope. I do stuff like that all the time too! I like how emphatic you were about it; you even wrote long sleeves on the envelope back, as if your re-working of the illustration didn't say it all.

I hope your long-sleeved version was everything you hoped it would be. I'm sure you looked ravishing in it. But Doris, really. What did you do with the front pattern piece? Why did you put the long sleeve piece back in the envelope, but not the front pattern piece? That piece is the key to the bonus bolero project in Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing! Didn't you know that 57 years after you made your bolero, a slightly obsessive gal would buy your old pattern on the internet and need to make version C of the bolero and blog about it? Hmm. I can see I've lost you here, Doris.

Oh, well. Anyway, who am I to cast aspersions? Good lord, if someone comes across my sewing patterns in 57 years, I think it's a fair guess that they won't be in a pretty state. I can barely keep all the pieces together when I'm actually making a damn pattern, much less 57 years later.

Maybe I'll make view A instead, since you were kind enough to leave me all the pieces for that version. And it's quite cute, with its double buttons and Peter Pan collar.

Anyway, Doris, what I really should be saying now is this: Thanks for everything. Really. I'm sad that this is the last of your patterns that I own. It's been real.



Monday, October 12, 2009

All Zipped Up

Exposed zippers have been everywhere lately, haven't they? I'm not usually one to go for super trendy styles, but this is one that intrigued me, so I added one to my latest dress project. I like how the utilitarian zipper adds a bit of toughness to an otherwise sweet and pretty dress.

Last spring's issue of Sew Stylish magazine had a tutorial for inserting an exposed zipper, and the instructions were excellent. Seriously, I was very impressed. (Thanks, Sew Stylish!) If you'd like to order a copy of that issue, look here.

Here's the front of the dress!

This is McCall's 5971, and it is also excellent. I never really knew what people meant when they say a pattern is well-drafted, but now I do. This is a well-drafted pattern. The various pleats and darts all lined up easily and it just went together like a dream.

I made it in a bright blue wool crepe from New York Elegant Fabrics, which has an excellent selection of wool crepes and gabardines in fabulous jewel tones, mostly for $18.95 a yard. The bodice is lined in a black silk habutai.

I usually make a size 14 in McCall's patterns, but I sized down to a 12 for this dress, and I'm so glad I did. I just had to add a little more ease to the hips, and it fits like a glove.

Here's what it looks like with black tights and ankle boots.

And here's what it looks like when I'm doing the robot!

Anyway, I highly recommend this pattern. Has anyone else tried it? Also, what do you think of the exposed zipper trend?
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