Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Yellow Dress (in Nashville!)

Well, the dress is finished and has had its inaugural wearing! I sewed the last stitch just before our museum meet-up at the Frist to see the Golden Age of Couture exhibit.

Jeff took pictures of me in the lobby of The Hermitage Hotel, where we stayed. It was ridiculously beautiful and grand, and provided quite the backdrop!

I posed, rather queen-like, in one of the fancy armchairs.

Then two of the exceedingly nice hotel workers insisted on moving the chair in front of the fireplace so we could get the perfect shot. A far cry from the usual shots in my apartment, isn't it?
Then we headed over to the museum.

And met up with the group—a fabulous mix of fellow bloggers (including Amy and Jenny) and fashion enthusiasts.

The Frist arranged a guided tour for us! Our docent was the wonderful Mancil, who was incredibly knowlegeable, funny, and photogenic.
Super big thanks to Ellen and Mancil at the Frist! They gave us quite the warm reception. The exhibit was absolutely breath-taking, and I will definitely be writing more about it in a upcoming post.

P.S. I know I dropped off on construction posts on the yellow dress. I'll do one more to wrap it up, including how to install a waist stay!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Guest Post: Draping a Knit Cowl Dress with Alyson Clair

This is the start of a fascinating new series with our favorite knits expert and all around awesome lady Alyson Clair. Check back soon for the rest of the series. And hey! Go look at Alyson's lovely new Fall/Winter line. It's fab.Gertie

Greetings again from Portland, Oregon. I hope all of you are getting to enjoy summer time. The weather here has been more than a bit funky, and I really hope Mother Nature will provide me with a few more lovely days that are warm enough to go swimming. As soon as it's over 75 degrees I'm a total river rat, I even keep a towel and floatie toys in the back of my station wagon. I'm the first one in the water and the last one out. Since the weather has not been so nice to Oregon, I have spent a bit more time working that I usually do.

So a little bit ago Gertie had a post about cowls. This got me all excited because I LOVE cowls, and I have one in my Spring / Summer 2011 line plan. (Sidebar: yes, I am working that far ahead to be ready for market. Sometimes it's a bit hard doing that, since all I want to do is make cozy sweaters and dresses for fall.) But back to the important thing at hand—pretty cowls! I am going to walk you through the process—sketch to finished garment—with draping a lined knit dress with a cowl.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gertie's New BOOK for Better Sewing!

Wow. Big news today, readers: it seems that I have gotten a book deal based on this little blog. That's right! It's with many excited butterflies in my stomach that I announce that I am very lucky to call STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books my new book publishing home. This has been in the works for some time, and I've been dying to tell you all about it. Now that I can, I feel quite overwhelmed by it! Let me start from the beginning and tell you how this all came about.

Earlier this year, I got an e-mail from a craft book agent named Caroline Greeven, asking if I would be interested in talking about a book project with her. It turned out that she's represented some of my favorite craft books, like the Built by Wendy series and the Alabama Chanin books. So, of course, I was eager to talk to her.

Caroline and I connected right away and then pretty much got right to work. And she was wonderful, helping me take the kernel of an idea and turn it into a detailed, 40-page book proposal. Fast forward to this July, and the proposal was ready to send out. I went on a series of meetings with craft book publishers, all of which were fascinating in their own way. I was especially excited to meet Melanie Falick at Abrams/STC Craft. Who doesn't love her gorgeous, beautifully made craft books? (Like Weekend Sewing, Last Minute Knitted Gifts, and Alabama Studio Style, just to name a few.) Melanie and I definitely hit it off, and she is such a pro at this kind of book. So I was absolutely thrilled when she was the one who ended up acquiring the project, with the deal sealed just this week!

You might be asking: but what is this book going to be? Good question! The tentatively titled Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing will be a modern guide to couture-style sewing using basic vintage techniques. I've always emphasized the use of good reference books on this blog, and that's what this will be! It is going to be packed with the kind of construction details that you see in an impeccably made vintage suit or dress: like hand-picked zippers, bound buttonholes, and padstitched collars. Secondly, it will be a retro-stylish pattern book, featuring 10 customizable wardrobe essentials inspired by Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing (made and modeled by yours truly!), as well as instructions for adapting vintage and contemporary patterns. It will have lots of fun sidebars throughout, on everything from vintage sewing machines to feminism to retro foundation garments. Basically, all the stuff that you've come to expect from my blog, in book form!

I've got to say, it feels decidedly surreal to know that I'll be the author of a sewing book, especially from such a well-regarded craft imprint. My emotions flicker spastically between ecstatic glee and nervous incredulity. After all, I'm certainly not a sewing expert in the traditional sense of the word. But I hope I've proved that I'm a passionate and tireless student of the subject. And, above all, I hope my book will make you feel how my favorite sewing books make me feel: inspired and ready to tackle new challenges and create beautiful things.

The next year will be a whirlwind of creating the book and I couldn't be more excited. It will most likely release in fall 2012, which probably seems far away but I have a feeling it will be here before we know it!

So that's my big news, readers. I want to thank each and everyone of you! This wouldn't have happened without the blog's success, and the blog's success wouldn't have happened without you. Here's to an exciting new chapter!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ankle Socks: Yea or Nay?

Have you seen the spread "Retro Modern" in the new issue of Lucky magazine? I think it is beyond fabulous. I love the hair, the makeup, the bold color combos, and the swingy 50s-style skirts. But all this is to be expected of me. I was, however, surprised to find how much I liked the stylist's use of ankle socks.

Are you feeling the ankle sock love, readers? Look how cute with pumps and t-straps!

I realize this might not be a popular opinion, hence the "nay" option in the title of this post. And, granted, I've never tried to wear ankle socks and it may prove to be rather unflattering on me. But you never know until you experiment, right? I'm excited to buy some for fall and give this look a go. (The Lucky spread sourced their socks here.)

What say you: yea or nay?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'm Obsessed: Hula Hooping!

You know me: new week, new obsession! The flavor of the week isn't sewing-related, but it's definitely retro.

Trudy wrote about her love for "hooping" a while back, and I was intrigued, to say the least. I kept thinking about it, so I recently took the plunge and ordered an adult-sized fitness hoop and an instructional DVD. The best part about the purchase was the mail room guy walking into my office holding my pink, glittery hula hoop (wrapped in a bit of clear plastic). Luckily, he seems to have a good sense of humor.

I took it home, cleared away the coffee table, and proceeded to fail miserably at hula hooping for the next five minutes or so. But then, something magical happened: I was hooping! And it was fun! And, it must be said, it was a tremendous workout that left me extremely sweaty—and with some decidedly weird hip bruises (I'm told these will pass). With the help of my DVD and a two-hour workshop I took last weekend, I've now even progressed to some cool moves.

Of course, the right outfit is everything at chez Gertie, and I'll admit that in my hooping daydreams I've been planning the perfect outfit for my new retro fitness activity. I think that some sort of 50s-style romper should be involved, don't you? This lady had the right idea:

Just you wait, readers. Before long I'll be performing super fancy hooping tricks in a custom-made romper. Until then, I'll be practicing in my living room, scaring the cats and hitting the lighting fixture on the ceiling. (On second thought, maybe I'll go practice on the roof.)

Any hoopers in the house?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Get Your Sew-Along Badges! (Plus a Few FAQ)

Oh my goodness, ladies! Casey has designed some beautiful sew-along badges for us! Now we can all display our Lady Grey solidarity on our blogs. Take your pick of these four beauties:

Right click to save any of these to your own computer. If you're inclined to add a link to your badge, please consider:


The response to the Sew-Along has been fantastic! I'm thrilled that so many of you will be participating. There have also been a lot of questions, and while I'm still working specifics out (I haven't even seen the pattern yet so it's difficult to get too specific!), here are answers to a few general FAQ.
  1. When will we start sewing? I'm going to use the next three weeks to publish a bunch of "prep" posts. These will include posts on choosing fabric, gathering supplies, and even a special post with Sarai Mitnick, the designer of the pattern! Then we'll start sewing our muslins. I'm aiming to have my post on constructing a muslin up the week of September 13th. (Don't worry, I'll let you know what supplies you'll need for your muslin in advance!) This will have us on track to be sewing our coats by the end of September.
  2. Can you help me pick a fabric? Yes! Yes, I can! One of the things I'm planning is posts about specific fabrics that will work well for this coat, along with links to online shops.
  3. I love the coat, but I want my lapels to be smaller. How do I do this? All in good time, my pretties. I will address this specific concern in the muslin stage.
  4. Can I use a different pattern? Sure! The steps to tailoring are pretty standard no matter what your design, but if this is your first coat, I'd recommend sticking to the group pattern.
  5. Can I make the coat without a dress form? Absolutely! I would recommend that everyone get pictures of themselves in their muslins so we can offer fitting feedback.
  6. Why don't you start a Flickr pool? Will do! Since our sew-along group is going to be so big, I'm really counting on all of you to make this a community project. If you feel comfortable doing so, please offer your feedback on muslins and other questions.
I think that's it for now! All you need to do at this point is order your Lady Grey pattern (20% with the code GERTIE20 at Colette Patterns). Also, if you want to start reading up on tailoring, I recommend finding a copy of Tailoring: The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket.

More to come!

Altering HeyDay Trousers (with Coupon!)

I know you all love the 40s-style swing trousers from HeyDay Vintage Style. But did you know that they're also super easy to alter to get a custom fit? Designer Shona Van Beers uses a classic men's tailoring technique: the back seam extends up through the waistband and has a wide seam allowance, allowing it to be taken in or let out easily. Shona was kind enough to send me a pair of her trousers in black. Like many women, my hips are a bigger ready-to-wear size than my waist. But it's easy to alter this style of trouser to fit perfectly. Just start with a size that fits you in your hips; for me, that's a UK size 14. Here's how to do the alteration! (And see the bottom of this post for a discount on HeyDay trousers.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Get 20% Off the Lady Grey Pattern!

Great news, readers! Sarai of Colette Patterns is offering us 20% off the Lady Grey coat pattern that we'll be using for our sew-along (blogged this morning.) To take advantage, just enter the code GERTIE20 (note that it's case sensitive) at checkout.

Many thanks to Sarai for offering this generous discount!

Update: the code will expire on September 30th, 2010.

A Blog for Better Sewing Sew-Along?

Sew-alongs are in the air . . . and I want in on the action! Would you be interested in a Gertie-hosted sew-along? I posted the idea on my Facebook page yesterday, and the response was quite positive. Now I'd like to hear from the rest of you too!

Here's what I'm thinking:
  • Coats for fall! I know coats are an advanced project, but I hope that by providing some technical (and moral) support I can have you all tailoring like crazy. Please let me know if you think I'm out of my mind and that we should start with something easier. 
  • So, we should all probably use the same pattern, right? (I'm such a sew-along newb!) LOTS of peeps mentioned the Colette Patterns Lady Grey Coat on Facebook, and I think it could be the perfect choice. Besides being gorgeous, it's a fairly easy entree into the world of coats. One could even think of it as a jacket! The wrap design is easy to fit and isn't too complicated in terms of closures. Another plus is that for those in the Southern Hemisphere, this coat can be made in a lightweight spring fabric, like cotton twill.
  • In order to give everyone plenty of prep time, we won't start until mid to late September.
  • I'll go over each step of the planning, fitting, and construction, add some fancy (but totally do-able) tailoring techniques like pad-stitching, and provide videos for visual aids.
  • I'd like to figure out a way to make this a community project, so that we can see pictures from participants and answer questions as we go along. 
So what do you think? Are you interested? Do you like the coat idea? What would you like out of a sew-along?

Can't wait to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

We Live in the Good Body

So, I've been doing yoga two or three times a week lately. One of the teachers I practice with is named Anna and has a lovely Swedish accent. One of the things she often says during class is, "We have a good body" or "Your body is a good body." I've come to appreciate these little things she repeats, but I didn't understand the origin of them until my last class. During the final savasana (which is when we all lie on the floor rather blissed out at the end of class), Anna said she wanted to share a quote from Eve Ensler's The Good Body. It goes like this:

Maybe being good isn't about getting rid of anything.
Maybe being good has to do with living in the mess
in the frailty
in the failures
in the flaws.
Maybe what I tried to get rid of is the goodest part of me.
Think Passion.
Think Age. 
Think Round.
Maybe good is about developing the capacity to live fully inside everything.
Our body is our country,
the only city,
the only village,
the only every
we will ever know.

It goes on, but ends with this:

We live in a good body.
We live in the good body.
Good body. 
Good body.
Good body.

Maybe I was just really dehydrated, but damn. This quote said a lot to me. This may sound crazy, but hearing this quote is the first time that it hit me that my body is the only body I will ever have. (Sorry, do I sound high right now? I'm not, I swear.) But seriously, let that sink in for a moment. You will never have Christina Hendricks's body, or Dita Von Teese's, or Kate Moss's. The one you've got is the only one you'll ever know.

I don't know about you, but there's something about this realization that's oddly freeing. It's saying, "This is what I've got. Deal with it, World." I think so much of our culture is built around the idea of somehow getting another body, as strange as that may sound. ("Get a bikini body!") I've certainly spent plenty of time buying into the idea that I could somehow have a "better body" if I just did something differently. There's no upgrading to a better body in this lifetime. I already have a body, and it's a good body.

It's interesting to think about in terms of sewing and fashion. (And I'm not just saying that so I can build a post around this, honestly.) Just like yoga shouldn't be about getting one of these mythical bikini bodies, fashion shouldn't be about wanting to get rid of yourself. ("Maybe being good isn't about getting rid of anything.") Perhaps it's about honoring yourself, as you are, while also "developing the capacity to live fully inside everything." Maybe it's accepting that 31" waist while also wanting to become fully-realized: to become a skilled seamstress, yes, but to decorate yourself in a way that speaks to the innermost part of you and makes that part feel beautiful. Not to decorate yourself in a way that says "I'm working on getting rid of this belly/these thighs, etc."

So that's the thought for the day, folks. I hope it speaks to you as well. I better go before I start leading us in Ani Difranco songs or chanting or something.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Yellow Dress, Part Three: Constructing the Boned Inner Bodice (with Video!)

Okay, I've created the outer dress layer and now it's time for some hardware! Get out your pliers, ladies.

I opted to put boning into my bodice in the lining layer. I was going to sew in store-bought boning channels, but my teacher Sharon had a better idea: she suggested making the bodice lining two layers that could be sewn together to create channels (kind of a like a bodice sandwich!). So I added a layer of silk organza to my cotton batiste lining. (If you've read Susan Khalje's excellent article "The Secret to Party Dresses that Stay Put" in Threads #145, then you'll recognize this method.)

So, I needed to create two bodice linings. One out of the cotton batiste:

And one out of the silk organza.

Aside: isn't silk organza so pretty on its own? Someday soon I want to use it as the fashion fabric in a dress, not just support fabric!

And then I pinned the two layers together at the seams. (Click to view any of the photos larger.)

And then I drew in the boning channels, lightly, in pencil. The channels need to be 3/8" wide to accommodate 1/4" spiral steel boning.
Stitch along your markings, creating a channel between the two layers of fabric. See how your boning slides in?

Obviously, this piece of boning is too long and will need to be cut. Here's a handy video showing you how! (Note: First, you want to add a row of stitching at your bottom seam allowance. This will keep the boning in its channel.)

If you can't watch the video right now, the jist of it is this. Cut your boning with wire cutters, to a length 1/8" shorter than your boning channel, minus seam allowances. (The 1/8" allows for the boning tip that you're going to add.)

Take a boning tip and crimp it on with a pair of pliers.
Do this for each of your channels and you've got a fully-boned inner bodice! Here's mine:

The next step will be to sew the skirt lining onto the skirt bodice. (There's no need for a layer of silk organza on the skirt lining, thank goodness. Just the batiste.) One thing to note: when attaching pieces to a bodice that's been boned like this, you have to be very careful not to stitch on the steel boning, as it will break your needle and possibly injure you in the process. Use a zipper foot and stitch very carefully.

That's all for this installment. Hope this was helpful to you!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Yellow Dress, Part 2: Constructing the Outer Bodice

Well, I have made loads on progress on my yellow dress! I promised you lots of construction posts on this one, so let's get right into it. I'm constructing the dress in this order: 1. the outer dress (fashion fabric and underlining), 2. the inner dress (lining and boning), and 3. hand finishing. Missed my earlier posts on this project? See the planning post, muslin, and underlining post.

The first thing to do on the outer bodice was to stitch all the darts. Then, I pleated the folds of the outer bust piece (the one that has the petal-like pleats). Sharon, my teacher, suggested that I handstitch lengths of silk ribbon into the folds to give them body. Here's what that looks like:

It turned out, though, that the silk ribbon wasn't enough to keep the folds from buckling and looking rumply. So later in the construction process, I added pieces of rigeline (a flexible sew-in boning). Rigeline has a nice curve to it (from being wound into coils at the store) so it was perfect to create that "crumb catcher" effect I was going for on the bust. I had to cover the ends of the rigeline with fabric to keep them from poking through the dress (I had that happen with a store-bought dress; it was quite painful!).

I inserted the rigeline pieces under the top pleats and then stitched it in by hand. (A thimble is a must if you ever need to do this!) Here's what it ended up looking like:

But back to the construction. I hand basted the pleated bust pieces to the under-bust pieces.

I hand-basted, and then machine-stitched, the center seam of the upper bust. (You can see here how the pleats were looking rumply before I put the rigeline in.)

Then I stitched the midriff and back pieces.

Now for the complicated stuff: twill tape and bra cups! Twill tape is a woven cotton tape that helps to keep the upper edge of the bust close to the chest, rather than gaping. I bought 1/4" white twill tape. It needs to be applied in the seam allowance so that the edge of the tape fits perfectly into the fold of the upper bodice seam. So here's the upper bodice seam allowance. I had already applied a row of stay stitching right onto the seam line, around the entire upper bodice - front and back. Next, I put in a line of machine basting right above it, to make slight gathers - but only on the front. Hopefully my little blue and purple arrows will help you out here!
Double click to view larger
I pulled the bobbin pieces just a teensy bit - not enough to show on the outside of the dress, but enough to cup the seam to the bust. Then I pinned in the twill tape to the inside of the dress, with the edge just butting up against the row of stay-stitching.

Then I stitched the twill tape on by hand, using a straight stitch. That's all there is to it!

Next, I put in the bra cups. This is very easy. Figure out the position of the cups by holding them, and the dress, up to your bust, and seeing what works. Once you're happy with the position, pin the cups in. Stitch them in by hand, using a catch stitch. Stitch them to the silk organza underlining only, not the fashion fabric. You only need to stitch the top of the cups. Don't stitch all the way around - this can cause the cups to pull at the outer fabric in weird ways.

Here's a close-up of the cup and the twill tape.

I finished the outer dress construction by attaching the skirt and applying the zipper.

Whew! I think that's enough for today, don't you? Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments. Next up: fun with spiral steel boning!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Guest Post: Cutting Knits and Other Tricky Fabrics with Alyson Clair

Welcome back to our guest series with Alyson Clair, who is our resident knits guru. Take it away, Alyson! And super big thanks!  --Gertie

Hello readers! Sorry for the gap in my postings. My contract work, and Fall/Winter production of my line (and also planning my wedding!) have taken up a bit more time than I had planned.

Today I'd like to talk about cutting. For me, this is my least favorite thing to do. I think perhaps it is because I am usually so excited to sew what I am cutting out, my patience for the time it takes to neatly cut something is very small! I've been thinking about the best way to talk about cutting, and first I'd like to give you an overview of how it's done in mass production. I also hope this helps you understand the way things are bulk cut, and that if you're cursing your fabrics for shifting, running away, and rolling that is totally normal. When I'm sampling my clothing line - and only cutting out one item at a time - my sailor mouth comes out rather often.

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