Monday, November 30, 2009

Colette Patterns' Curvy Models: What Do You Think?

Have you seen the gorgeous new line of Colette Patterns? Designer extraordinaire Sarai Mitnick unveiled them for pre-order last week, and I'm in love. I was lucky enough to be a pattern tester for this line, and the dress I made turned out so well that I had women at work accosting me to ask where I bought it. (Pictures to come!) But sadly, the point of this post isn't to celebrate Sarai's new line. She wrote to me over the weekend to tell me about an unfortunate comment she received on her blog regarding her use of "huge" models.

On the post where Sarai revealed her new designs, a way-out-of-line commenter (let's call her or him "Commenter X") made the following nasty remark:
"Hate saying this...but if you had put the clothes on someone slimmer they would have looked better..I understand you need to market patterns for bigger sizes but they just don't look that good on your huge models.."
I think Commenter X's statement may be true . . . ON OPPOSITE DAY. The clothes look ravishing and the models are far from "huge." It strikes me as sad that Commenter X would look at these beautiful women in these beautiful designs and only be able to issue an insult.

Here's what the ever-eloquent Sarai herself had to say about the incident:
I found this upsetting on a few levels. First, if my clothes only look good on someone very thin (and I don't think that's true), then they are not well designed. Second, the two models are about a size 4/6 and 8/10. That anyone would find this "huge" seems so warped to me. Third, I think variety is beautiful and I find it so upsetting that there are people that are so hellbent on every woman's body conforming in order to be beautiful.

I'd be really interested in what you and your readers think, since you've written about this sort of thing yourself. I really worked hard to find these gorgeous models amidst a sea of sameness, and I know that many women appreciate it, but it's disheartening to hear that some people still think stick-thin is the only way to make clothes look good.
I think it's probably pretty clear where my opinion will fall on this matter. In my interview with Sarai from last summer, I commended her for modeling her first line herself; I thought it was fantastic seeing a curvier body type on a pattern envelope. And, obviously, I've written about body image fairly often here and discussed sewing as a way to come to love my own body, which obviously does not meet the super-slim criteria that Commenter X holds for pattern models.

But I can also admit that there is a self-destructive part of me that's internalized the core of what Commenter X is saying (however screwed up it may be): "clothes always look better on skinny women." I've grown up in a culture that accepts that opinion as a truism, so it's not surprising that a small part of me still worries that it may be true, even as another part of me is saying, "Damn, these women look hot." So while it's obvious that this conflict of opinion exists in society in general, it surely also exists as a niggling piece of doubt in many women's individual minds.

But, for Sarai's sake, I think the most productive conversation we can have here is this: How should pattern companies choose models? Should they follow the fashion industry's lead? Should they strive for a variety of body types? Or just a more "average" body type (whatever that means)? Do pattern companies have an ethical responsibility here? Do you think using larger models helps market patterns, as Commenter X suggested? Does it help you to see designs on women who have a similar shape to you? Or do you not care either way?

Whew! So many questions. For discussion's sake, let's please keep the following in mind: it's not productive to demean any body type, whether curvy, skinny, or anything in between. And also: no body type is more "real" than another, i.e. curvy models don't necessarily represent "real women."

Can't wait to hear your thoughts, lovely readers! And don't forget to pre-order your new Colette Patterns here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Coat Vlog #2: Shaping the Front

Welcome back to my series of coat vlogs! Watch as I take the second step of a tailored jacket or coat: shaping the front piece. Here I get all Martha Stewart and demonstrate how I shrink and apply weft interfacing to my entire front pattern piece.

Here's the tailoring book I refer to. And here's an online source for weft interfacing. Let me know if you have any questions!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Help Me Choose My Coat Buttons!

My coat-in-progress calls for six big old buttons, 1-1/4" each to be exact. I've decided to go the self-fabric covered button route, and I'll be sending away to have them done professionally at Pat's Custom Buttons and Belts. (Read my post about Pat's here.) I know they are going to be just fabulous. My only problem is that Pat has so many button styles to choose from! So. I could really use your help here.

Here's the pattern I'm using, to refresh your memory:

I'm making view D, the one shown in ivory in the front. As you can see, the button choice is crucial with this design.

My instincts are telling me to go with a classic half ball shape.

But isn't this "combination flat" design interesting?

What do you think: half ball or combination flat? Or something else entirely? (Click on the first image to see all the options full-size.) Thanks for your help, friends!

Coat Vlog #1: Shaping the Undercollar

Hello, all! This is the first of a series in which I'll update you on my coat progress as I go along. This whole business of tailoring is completely new to me, so I thought it would be cool to document each step as I learn. See the full post below for a corresponding resource guide!

  • The book I refer to is Tailoring: The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket from Creative Publishing International. I just noticed that it's currently 55% off on Amazon!
  • The pattern I'm using is Vogue 8346.
  • If you have trouble locating tailoring supplies such as hair canvas, I suggest contacting Greenberg & Hammer here in New York. They currently have a mail order catalog for download on their website, and have an online shopping feature in the works.
  • I'm including a scan of the pad stitching instruction page from my tailoring book below. (Click the image to see it full-size.) The material isn't mine to reprint, but I thought it might help for you to see one page if you're considering purchasing this text. I hope the copyright police don't arrest me! I highly recommend this book, and it's a steal for $8.57 on Amazon right now.

Friday, November 27, 2009

To Thimble or Not to Thimble?

The humble thimble is generally considered a rudimentary essential in any sewing kit. And yet, I've never used one. I actually just bought my first thimble last week! I didn't learn to hand stitch with a thimble, and I never saw the need to incorporate one. But then I realized the amount of padstitching I would be doing on my coat collar (through sturdy hair canvas, no less), and I figured it was time to see what all the thimble fuss is about. I have to say, I'm underwhelmed.

Granted, this might be my own awkwardness as a new user, but I found it a bit unwieldy, like an extra extremity to deal with. My thread kept slipping out of my needle and I suddenly couldn't figure out how to situate my fingers. It was like learning hand stitching all over again! I eventually just flung it off and went back to my old ways.

I was just learning padstitching, so maybe it was too much newness all at once. Or maybe I'm just not a thimble kind of gal.

What is your position on this all-important topic? Are you pro-thimble or anti-thimble? Any tips to share for new thimble users?

Also: coat updates to come! I spent HOURS yesterday padstitching, and I'm still not done with the undercollar. But, on the bright side: I'm finally getting the hang of it! And my collar is shaping up extremely well. I can't wait to show it to you!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thank You

It's very hard for me to believe that I've only been writing this blog for five months. I can't imagine my life without it now! When this little online project was born, I had no idea I would correspond with so many amazing people through it. I'm touched that you often leave comments and write e-mails thanking me for my posts. But really, I should be thanking you.

In the past five months, my life has transformed in almost every sense. I've gone back to work at a job that's both fulfilling and provides me with fabric money. (Who could ask for more?) Having the blog as an outlet has made me a better writer, a better thinker, and a better seamstress (if I do say so myself). Since I've quit drinking, I find that hours have opened up to me in each day. I've been asked before how I manage my time, and I seriously think sobriety is the answer, weird as that may sound. And if someone asked me how I manage my sobriety, I would probably say that blogging is the answer. So it all goes hand in hand, you see. I'm lucky to have a life filled with creativity and love.

Side story: As I've mentioned here before, I was once enrolled in a PhD program. It was a bit of a bust and I ended up dropping out after a couple years. When I left that life behind, in some ways I thought I was also leaving behind a life in which people listened to what I had to say. There were no more lectures to give, no more of the "publish or perish" mentality. I felt I was giving up the opportunity to engage in a larger dialogue in a meaningful way, as pompous as that perhaps sounds. Though I know I made the right decision, it was a bit sad for me.

Anyway, it's amazing to me that now I have all of the creative and intellectual interaction that I once longed for, in a forum (and on a topic) I never would have expected. I find myself truly shocked and extremely thankful that so many of you stop by to read what I have to say. I love that you've let me experiment with different topics and that you've opened my mind with your insightful comments. This blog has grown so much from my initial vision of it, thanks to your constant inspiration.

To make a long story short: Thank You.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Is Plus-Size, Anyway?

In response to last week's post about vintage patterns for plus sizes, Pattern Junkie asked an interesting question. Here's what she had to say:
Gertie, thanks for this post! Now, if I can ask my fellow blog readers for my small etsy shop (which exists mainly to justify my pattern addiction), I'd like to be able to mark plus-size patterns as such, but am not sure where the "plus-size line" is. I don't subscribe to the "anyone above a size 4 is plus size" way of do you think bust 42 and above is appropriate to mark as "plus-size"? Bust 44 and above?
This question is a compelling one that opens up many other avenues of discussion. It's interesting to think about how arbitrary sizing really is. Does "plus-size" really have any effective meaning any more?

In the modeling world, all the women featured in the photo above are considered plus size, and these models are generally a U.S. ready-to-wear size 8 or 10. The retail world is another story altogether. Lane Bryant, the popular plus-size clothing chain, starts its sizes at 14. (Interestingly, that's the size of the average American woman.) The vintage pattern world has its own rules: we generally don't think about number sizes, because they vary so much from decade to decade. The bust measurement is everything, and it never lies. But our perceptions can still become skewed, I think. Because so many of the patterns you see out there are very small, I've seen bust size 36" labeled as plus-size or extra large.

But all that aside, perhaps the real question is this: Is there truly a need to indicate plus-size patterns as such? I think I would argue that yes, there is. If Pattern Junkie tags certain items as plus-size, then someone can easily find them through a Google search for "plus size vintage patterns." Vintage sewing is definitely not known for being plus-size friendly, so perhaps easier access would change that.

On the other hand, is this categorization simply creating an unnecessary - and potentially damaging - ghettoizing of larger women in the pattern world? I mean, it's kind of like having a "gay fiction" section in a bookstore. It's nice that one can find them all in one section, but really . . . aren't they novels just like any other novels? Perhaps I'm getting a little carried away here, though.

Anyway, what do you think? Do you think vintage pattern sellers should denote certain sizes as plus? And if so, where does that range start? Please note that this question isn't meant to "call out" certain sizes or body types. I'm thinking of this as an overarching issue that can help vintage sellers and the women who want to find awesome patterns in larger sizes.

P.S. Thanks to Pattern Junkie for posing the question! The adorable pattern below is available in her shop in a size 44" bust for the excellent price of $6.25. Make it yours today!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dashing Dude

So, I finished Jeff's birthday jacket! And only seven months late too! Doesn't he look handsome in it?

As I wrote earlier, I modeled this jacket on a beloved Urban Outfitters jacket he already owns. I modified a shirt pattern (McCall's 4079) to get a jacket look.

And I lined it in a Mexican skull-print fabric, as requested.

I'm so glad this project is done. First of all, because he loves it. Secondly, so I don't have to see that sweet, pitiful, puppy-dog look in his eyes when he asks me repeatedly to finish it. And thirdly, because I made more mistakes on this project than any other, I swear. First there was the hole I cut in the middle of the sleeve with my serger. And then the mistakes just kept coming. The skull pattern on the lining front is upside-down, one of the cuff buttons is non-functioning (long story), the left side seam is felled and the right one isn't . . . oh, I could go on and on. The point is: it's a little screwy. But he adores it and doesn't mind (or notice) the flaws one bit.

And look! More video! We went up on the roof of our apartment building on Sunday to get some photos, and we played around with the new video recorder a bit as well.

P.S. Thanks for all your sweet and encouraging comments on my first video post! I very much appreciated your suggestions for future vlogs (I still can't believe that's a word). More to come!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Video Blogging! (Vlogging?)

Hello, friends! I hear video is all the rage these days. (Apparently, there's thing this called YouTube? All the kids love it.) So I'm giving it a go here. Go easy on me, I feel very vulnerable in this format!

Please leave any suggestions for future video posts here!

And the Winner Is . . .

. . . the 90s ladies' jumpsuit! This entry, sent in by Anna, has earned the dubious title of Most Awesomely Bad Pattern EVER. It was the clear favorite for the win, taking a whopping 83% of your votes.

Anna is also the seamstress whose question I last responded to in "Dear Gertie." As you may recall, she's an Air Force wife living in Norway without a sewing machine! I hope her prize of a vintage pattern of her choice from Etsy will inspire her for when she's back up and sewing.

P.S. Anna, e-mail me and we'll work out the details!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Plus-Size Vintage Sewing

Did you know this fab Claire McCardell pattern is available in a true reproduction in bust sizes 32" to 50"? Plus size ladies needn't shy away from sewing vintage. Au contraire! Today on BurdaStyle, my guest post has tips for sewing the full-figured retro wardrobe of your dreams. Stop by to read the full article!

Check back every week for a new guest post by moi on the BurdaStyle blog!

Awesomely Bad Runners-Up

It's the last day of voting for the Most Awesomely Bad Pattern EVER! Get your vote in by midnight EST tonight. For a little fun, I thought I'd share some of the other amazing entries. Above is one of my favorites: from Meli88a, a doggie bunting with matching chapeaus!

A bizarre silver jumpsuit, accessorized with a fanny pack! Courtesy of Kristine H:

Vicky London referred to this 70s get-up as "Reba McEntire without pants":

Sonya really brought it with these racy briefs.

And an ensemble for the Matrix fan in your life!

Pat shared this fugly apron pattern--check out the couple in the upper righthand corner. How festive are they?!

And Serendity Handmade entered this very Oliver Twist get-up:

Thanks to all who entered! It's been a wild, awesomely bad ride.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Threads Magazine: Yea or Nay?

I've made my love of Threads Magazine well known around these parts. I've learned many advanced techniques from their crystal clear instructions: bound buttonholes, boning a bustier, fitting secrets. But I have to confess, the first time I picked up an issue, I was immediately turned off. I think the first thing I saw was a technique to applique and embroider t-shirts. (Eeek.) I wanted something that spoke more to my fashion sensibility. But then a dressmaking teacher showed me some of the excellent articles in his favorite back issues, and I became a true fan. Once I learned to look past the styling, I discovered a treasure trove of information.

I amassed a decent collection of back issues from eBay, and have read through them more times than I can count. I certainly don't look at Threads for style inspiration, and I skip over articles on things like machine embroidery and quilting. I have to remind myself to ignore the styling of an article, and to focus on the techniques and how I can adapt them to my own taste.

I'm now a subscriber, and even though there are some articles I skip, I still love it. This month's issue is a pretty clear representation. There's stuff that's definitely not for me, like this:

But then so much that is. An article on the restoration of a couture vintage dress at Madame Paulette's, the "World's Leading Custom Couture Cleaner."

A profile of various trims and how to care for them.
And then an article on different tailoring methods, just in time for my coat project!

I figure it's a lot like the challenge that the pattern companies currently face. They have to keep a wide variety of sewists happy, so every article isn't going to be to my taste. No big deal, I'll just skip to the articles that are.

How about you: are you a Threads reader? Or do you have other sewing magazines to recommend?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coco Before Chanel: Hot Androgyny

So, I realize I am probably the last sewing blogger in existence to see this film. But I finally did! It's still playing at the Paris Theater (very appropriate, non?) here in New York, and it is so worth seeing. It's visually mesmerizing, and it made me want to bob my hair and traipse about in some slinky men's pajamas, a tailored jacket, and high heels. (But then I realized that no one can pull off that look like Audrey Tautou.)

The menswear looks were just so chic, and they made up the majority of Coco's bold wardrobe.

Coco was set in sharp contrast to the "painted lady" look of her time. She ridicules these women, comparing their jewelry to silverware and their hats to meringues. To be honest, I thought perhaps her message was being hammered home just a little too strongly, that she protested a tad too much. (Not that it stopped me from enjoying the movie.)

The film goes out of its way to highlight her subversive sexuality. During two separate steamy scenes, her lover makes very telling comments about undressing her: "I've never undressed a boy before" and "You're always so easy to undress." Interesting, eh? Homoeroticism and easy access = hot, apparently.

I loved seeing the inspirations for her famous looks, like when she swipes one of her English boyfriend's polo shirts. When he goes to reclaim it, she asks, enthralled, "What is the material?" "Jersey," he replies. It's fun seeing this from our modern vantage point, when we know that Chanel will later revolutionize women's wear with the use of wool jersey.

In another moment of inspiration, Coco watches a group of fisherman in striped sweaters hauling in nets from the sea. And what does she wear in the next scene? You guessed it.

The sewing moments are also fascinating. At one point, we witness Coco drawing a pattern freehand onto some rich black fabric. A swipe of chalk, and she improvises the sleeve cap! Incredible.

When Coco at last wears her iconic ivory and black boucle suit at the end, I admit that it was somehow a little disappointing compared to her daringly subversive earlier looks. My disappointment surprised me, considering that's the look Chanel is associated with. It should have been the perfect visual conclusion to the film. And then I realized: through my modern eyes, that suit symbolizes a sort of prim, conspicuous wealth - not iconoclasm. As one of my movie-going companions put it at the end of the film,"It's interesting how the Chanel empire now stands for everything that Coco was against." Couldn't have said it better myself.

How about you, lovely readers? Have you seen this, or are you planning to?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coat Muslin: Opinions, Please!

So, I know these aren't the best pictures in the world. (And yes, I also know that I have a Cabbage Patch Kid by my head, a paper mache egret to my left side, and a cat to my right side. That's just how I roll.) But, in any case, behold my coat muslin!

To refresh your memories, this is Vogue 8346, view D. The only weird thing about it is that I can't seem to find anything wrong with it. I made a straight size 14, no alterations or anything. And I'm completely happy with the fit. Am I missing something?

I'm wearing a dress and a cardigan underneath, which is what I wear on a typical winter day. It fits very comfortably, with a few inches of ease.

I love the shape of it! It hits me mid-calf, which at first I thought was too long. But the length quickly grew on me. I think it's going to feel like a big cozy blanket.
Anyway, I could really use your opinions here. Do you think the fit looks good?

The fabric is currently at the drycleaners being steam pressed, and I've been avidly studying my tailoring book. I'm actually starting to feel confident about the whole thing! Even if I don't end up making any changes in the muslin stage, making it really helped me get my bearings. Now I'm just excited to make the real thing!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Most Awesomely Bad Pattern Finalists!

Readers, a journey of a thousand miles can begin with a single pattern for apron chaps. Let's take another moment to thank ZipZapKap, who brought them into our life. (And visit her fab Etsy shop here!) Inspired by these apron chaps, you lovely readers have sent me many truly awful submissions for the Most Awesomely Bad Pattern EVER contest. You came up with some serious contenders for the coveted title, and it was very hard to narrow it down to three. But now, without further ado, I present to you the finalists.

1. Anna sent in this ladies' jumpsuit from the 90's, complete with a lacy bib. Anna says, "Worst look ever. I do not miss the 90's. These could only be worse made in plaid flannel!"

2. From Sonya, "a more formal look for your cat." (Also: what's going on with the backpack-like contraptions?)

3. And last but certainly not least, Sarah sent in this men's jumpsuit pattern, "the one on the left being the real winner here." (Don't count out the mustard yellow version, though--styled with a lovely gold medallion!)

Take the poll to make your voice heard! Voting will close this Friday at Midnight (EST). May the most awesomely bad pattern win!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sewing for a Dude

My husband's birthday is in April. This year, he requested that I make him a jacket based on a beloved navy Urban Outfitters jacket he already owned. He wanted it in black, with skull lining. (He has a thing about skulls.) I made a plan, zipped through most of the construction, and then promptly made a fatal mistake: I tried to set the sleeves in with my serger (WTF was I thinking?) and ended up cutting a whole in the upper sleeve. So then, naturally, I shoved the whole project into a bag and it hasn't seen the light of day since.

Well, now hubby has been begging for his skull-lined jacket, and I decided to be a big girl and come up with a solution. It was actually very easy: I ended up setting the sleeves a bit higher in, which hid the hole. Luckily, the fit was still good. (Actually, my client ended up preferring the more fitted look it provided.)

Here's the original inspiration:

And here's the pattern I ended up using:

I had to make some design changes to the pattern, including adding welt pockets in the front and adding a lining. And getting the fit right was challenging: this pattern is quite oversized, so I did a lot of fitting with a muslin. But now I'm in the final stretches of this jacket! It's a perfect sewing day here, kind of chilly and overcast. Wish me luck! Hopefully I'll unveil the results very soon.

And here's a kitteh update! Here's Professor Henry Higgins looking quite handsome:

And Pip, looking like she's having a particularly lovely dream:

We all hope you're having a lovely weekend of sewing!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Last Day for Awesomely Bad Entries!

Readers, you are not going to believe some of the entries I've gotten for the Most Awesomely Bad Pattern EVER contest! They are truly awesome in their badness. But I know there must be more heinous hilarity to be seen. So keep those entries coming! You have until midnight (EST) tonight to post your entries as a comment (click here) or to e-mail them to me at gertie [at] blogforbettersewing [dot] com.

I will pick the top (or is it bottom?) three patterns and post a poll for you to decide the winner on Monday. May the most awesomely bad pattern win!

Remember, the prize is the pattern of you choice (under 20 bucks) on Etsy!
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