Friday, October 28, 2011

The Trends and Politics of Bra Shape

So, bra shapes have clearly changed significantly over the past 60 years. No argument there. In the famous "I dreamed . . ." Maidenform ad campaign, you see the bullet shape that the 50s were known for.

These seamed bras push your breasts into the point of the cup, making the plane of the chest above your bra appear flat. Modern women find this whole idea quite weird.

Fast forward to 2011. The "t-shirt bra"--a molded seamless bra resembling two basketballs cut in half--rules.

As lingerie giant Victoria's Secret describes the above bra: "Special padding lifts you up and out, instantly adding up to 2 full cup sizes for maximum cleavage and fullness." It seems the whole point of the t-shirt bra is create the illusion of perfectly round breasts, while forcing your actual breasts out of the cup so they're perched above your bra. Kind of weird too, right?

The interesting thing is that each era seems to think that they've created a "natural"  or "feminine" shape, when in fact both are quite manufactured. Just as body shapes go in and out of fashion, breast shape does too. And--it seems to me--the trend is influenced by the pornography of the day. Women of the 50s tried to emulate the pin-up girls that their men so adored. And we now live in the "Girls Next Door" era of grapefruit-shaped implants. Hence these crazy push-up bras with two-inch thick layers of molded foam.

I recently discovered the amazing Bali Flower bra (seamed but not overtly bullet-y), which has been in production for many years. It's listed on a lingerie site on a special "conical bras" page:

States the copy: "Whether it's nostalgia, the fashion runaways or the TV series Mad Men, those bullet-shaped bras are baaaaa-ck. We're by no means suggesting that this is the look of the modern woman, but why not enjoy a little dreamy escapism just for fun?"

It's interesting that this look is so on the fringes of "the look of the modern woman" that a site has to suggest that these are bras only worn for "escapism", like a Halloween costume or something. No, the modern woman wears what Oprah and porn has decreed we will wear: the t-shirt bra. Which is not costumey at all! No siree! It's just two lumps of foam strapped to your chest!

Anyway, I could probably write a book on this subject (we haven't even discussed the "no-bra" bra of the 60s!), but to boil this down to a blog post: bra shape is incredibly trend-driven, and tied up in all sorts of gender and sexual politics. And now, with the prevalence of plastic surgery, breast shape itself is changeable and trend-driven.

Do you agree? Do you see one shape as more "natural" than the other? Is one woman more "liberated" than the other?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Winner of Quick Stuff to Sew

It's Gabriella! From Sweden! Who was the 28th commenter out of 275! She will win a copy of Quick Stuff to Sew magazine, which features an article on circle skirts by moi. Congrats, Gabriella.

Thanks to all who entered and for your amazingly sweet comments. I read and loved every one of them! Now, if you're one of the 274 people who didn't win, may I suggest that you head over and order a copy online? Or check out your local newsstand to buy one?

Also, I'm cooking up some more giveaways since we haven't had nearly enough around here lately. More to come!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Circle Skirt Article (with Giveaway!)

Readers, I'm so excited! I wrote an article for Quick Stuff to Sew, and it's on newsstands now. It's a publication from the editors of Threads. (You may know that I'm obsessed with Threads magazine, so this feels like a brush with greatness for yours truly.) I'm giving away a copy; read to the end for details.

An editor approached me early in the year, saying they were looking for an article on drafting and sewing circle skirts. Would I be interested in writing something like that? Um, yeah! I love making circle skirts, and here was an opportunity to do a tutorial that would be professionally illustrated, photographed, and edited. I was all over it, readers.

Circle skirts aren't hard at all, but they take a little bit of math to draft the pattern. I'm really proud of the instructions in this article--in fact, I've gone back to refer to them myself a couple times!

There are two skirt examples in the article. One is knee-length red taffeta with a sparkly button closure at the waist. The second is a tea-length variation with a layer of polka dot tulle over iridescent taffeta, with a simple bow sash. My friends at B&J provided the fabric, so it's the good stuff. If you ever want some of this amazing tulle, give them a call--they have it in a jillion colors.

I have the samples at home now, but they're so tiny that I just get to stare at them longingly rather than wear them. The models wore a 25" waist. I had several minor panic attacks while sewing, terrified that I'd made the skirts too small. They looked so miniscule! They'd barely fit on my old Cabbage Patch doll, Barney! But all was well; it turns out models really are that skinny.

You can order the issue online here, and I've seen it in the newsstand at Barnes & Noble. But I'm giving away a copy to one reader here! Just leave a comment (email address included, please, just so I can notify you if you win). I'll draw a name at the end of the day tomorrow. Readers from all locations eligible!

Friday, October 21, 2011

40s-Style Side Ruffle Dress

This may be the most difficult dress to photograph ever. The print, which I so love, makes it nearly impossible to make out any details! So let's start with the fabric. Here's a close-up:

Isn't it cute? I bought it online here. It's a drapey rayon/cotton blend, and the print reminded me of Mexican tourist garb from the 50s. The drape of the fabric just screams 40s, though, which is how I came to this design. Also, the patternmaking was a project I could easily take on the road with me. Just some paper, a ruler, and a hotel room floor!

I started by copying the bodice from a vintage dress I own that fits me perfectly, and then I drafted simple band sleeves to go with it. 

The asymmetrical ruffle skirt was inspired by this Trashy Diva dress.
Isn't it just so fabulous? I made my ruffles curve slightly downward from center front, though, since I thought the original looked a bit like a Western yoke at the top. I converted a straight skirt to a flared one without a dart (tutorial here!) and broke one side of the skirt front into three tiers. I made ruffles (with the aid of my narrow hemmer foot and ruffler foot) and inserted them into the seams between the tiers. That's it!

When I showed it to Jeff, he said "Are those frills only on one side of the dress?"

"Yes!" I replied, thinking how clever it was.

You know what he said, readers? He said: "Interesting."

Oh, the dreaded "interesting." I explained very patiently to him that asymmetry is a design principle that some people find quite pleasing. Readers, he still seemed unimpressed. Ah well.
The back is left simple.

I made a self-covered belt (from a kit that was a gift from dear Sunni!), not that you can even detect it in these pictures. It also somehow needed a brooch.

Now that I'm home again, I'll be back to working on my coat. I'll be doing the welt pockets this weekend, wish me luck!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The "Miracle Dress": Yea or Nay?

I spotted this dress in the New York Post a while back, and made a mental note to write about it. The article featured a form-fitting dress by Stella McCartney that has slim panels at the sides in a much darker color than the main fashion fabric. The effect is an optical illusion that gives the wearer a pronounced hourglass shape at first glance. The press has dubbed it the "Miracle Dress" since it supposedly takes off 2 dress sizes. (It also has some strange bust shading and shaping that makes one's breasts seem to be looming in the foreground.) The $1600 dress has been worn by several celebrities and is sold out in stores.

On one hand, the whole thing is rather ridiculous. There are no "miracles" being performed here--just illusions. Also, Kate Winslet's figure doesn't really need any help. It's a little disturbing how the dress is engineered to give the impression of the ideal female form, in a sort of extreme way. If you look at it too long, it becomes flat and overly stylized, like Kate Winslet is sticking her head through one of those boardwalk murals with the face holes. (What's the correct term for those things anyway?)

But on the other hand, I enjoy how the dress highlights the way color and seaming can work together to create a certain effect. The whole thing reminds me of the Lanvin Castillo dress that I saw at the Golden Age of Couture exhibit, which our guide pointed out as having a trompe l'oeil ("trick of the eye") effect from the beading. From across the room, one might be scandalized by how low-cut the dress is, only to discover that the neckline is actually fairly modest upon closer inspection.

The Miracle Dress effect would actually be quite easy to replicate, and there are several color-blocked patterns on the market now, including Butterick 5554:

One could make the panels curvier and voila! A Miracle Dress. But the question is: should one?

It's also easy to see this kind of paneling fitting into a retro look. The two-tone thing in light and dark was popular in the 40s, as seen in this repro dress:

What do you think of the Miracle Dress? Sublime or silly?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Converting a Skirt Dart to Hemline Flare

A while back, we looked at using the pivot method to move a dart around on a bodice. I thought I'd show you another easy dart technique--this one eliminates a waistline dart on a skirt and turns it into flare at the hemline. It's like magic! Here's what you do, as illustrated on a tiny, not-to-scale front skirt pattern.

You have your basic straight skirt, right?

Draw a line up from the hem to the bottom of the dart.

Cut out the dart, and then slash up the line to the dart, leaving a little hinge.

Open out the slash until the waistline dart closes up.

Ta da! A flared skirt with no dart. Tape the pattern down to a new piece of paper to secure. True the lines at the waistline and the hemline, as shown in red below.

This technique just came in handy when I wanted to eliminate the dart on a skirt for a clean waistline look, while simultaneously adding more flare to the hem.

Slashing and closing a dart will work on a bodice too, to convert the dart to gathers or a dart in a new location. Try it and see!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cultivating a Scissor Arsenal

Scissors are no doubt one of a sewist's most important tools. It's all well and good to start out with a cheap pair of shears, but pretty soon you'll want to amass a collection of quality cutting tools, each having its own special purpose. I've spent the last couple years figuring out what works for me, so I thought I'd share. This list may seem like overkill, but I really do use all of these quite frequently!

  1. Paper Scissors: these should be inexpensive and plentiful in your abode. I seem to have a pair in every drawer, which helps avoid temptation to cut paper patterns with my fabric shears.
  2. Dressmaker's Shears: aka the most important pair of scissors you'll own. Get a sharp, high-quality pair that feels good in your hand and cut smoothly. I'm quite partial to my new Kai 10" Shears which are lightweight and smooth as butter. 9" or 11" may work better for you, so try out several. I put a fancy fabric scrap on my handle to discourage "borrowing."
  3. Serrated Shears: these aren't a necessity, but they sure are nice. These shears look like standard shears, but they have tiny serrations along the blade, which will help you cut slippery fabrics. You know how regular shears can push a slippery fabric away while you're cutting? The serrated shears grip the fabric instead, making it easy to cut. Of course, another option for slippery fabrics is a rotary cutter.
  4. Pinking Shears: I often use these to create a vintage-y finish for seam allowances. Simply trim the two allowances together and you're done!
  5. Tailor's points: I couldn't live without these 5" Ginghers. They're perfect for notching and clipping into layers of thick fabrics, like when you're tailoring a coat collar made of heavy wool.
  6. Embroidery scissors (top photo, middle): Great for getting into small places and for ripping stitches.
  7. Applique scissors: also called duckbill scissors, these ingenius little things have a curved blade that helps you isolate one seam allowance at a time to avoid cutting things you shouldn't. Great for baby hems and grading seam allowances.
  8. Snips: I keep these by my machine for quick cutting of threads. Mine are the dollar-bin variety, not these shiny ones.
    So that's it, my nearest and dearest scissors. Any you'd like to add, readers? 

      Thursday, October 13, 2011

      Pants Are Weird

      {Not my butt; photo courtesy of Colette Patterns}
      Have you ever sat around and thought about the way pants are sewn? I spent some time doing just that yesterday and it really messes with one's head. Isn't it kind of mind-blowing the way the pieces sew together to form the shape that they do? Personally, I think that's why they're so hard to fit. It's impossible to look at those flat pieces and understand where all the points are going to end up. For me, anyway.

      I fit my Clover pants (modeled yesterday), mostly through an understanding of issues that I have in ready-to-wear: the ever-present gaping back waist and the weirdly low back. But I long to really understand how pants are supposed to fit and how to make them do so. So I went ahead and ordered Pants for Real People, hoping for some major insight.

      To be honest, I just don't get the crotch at all. You know how Michael Kors is always shrieking something like "that crotch is craaazy!" on Project Runway? I don't make a lot of pants because I live in fear of the craaazy crotch. I'm hoping that my new fitting book will have a lot of insights into the crotch issue. (Tee hee!)

      Are any of you out there pants-fitting wizards? How did you come to understand these wacky bifurcated garments anyway?

      P.S. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Colette's great pants-fitting cheatsheet!

      Wednesday, October 12, 2011

      Up in the Air in Clover Pants and a Liz Blouse

      Technology is an amazing thing, readers. This morning I was rushing out of the apartment to get my flight to Orlando (heading to the Southern Women's Show with BurdaStyle, y'all!) I've made a few separates lately and haven't even gotten around to blogging them (the horror). So after I dressed in my new Colette Patterns Clover pants and BurdaStyle Liz blouse this morning, I had Jeff take a picture with his phone. He then e-mailed it to me, I downloaded it on my laptop, and now I'm writing this from 30,000 feet in the air with in-flight wi-fi. The mind reels.

      Anyway, I know it's not the best detail shot, but at least I'm blogging a sewing project, right? The Clover pattern was really quick and fun, and I made it in a thick rayon doubleknit. So comfy! I had some fitting issues in my posterior region, which is--ahem--not insignificant on my frame. I didn't make an official muslin, since I needed a stretch fabric to get the fit right. I took a risk and knew this version may not be wearable, but it totally is, after a few tweaks. I had the very-familiar-to-me problem of a gaping center back seam and the waistband dipping down at the back. The fix for the gaping was easy--I took out an inch at center back. But the dipping was an issue that should be solved in flat pattern by lengthening the back crotch. Instead, I added an inch to the center back top of the waistband, tapering to the side seams. It worked like a charm! I may still have some thigh/front crotch issues to work out, more to come on that exciting topic.

      I made the blouse as a sample for season 2 of It's Sew Easy, since I show a simple retro pattern tweak on it in my episode. This version is made in the best fabric of all time, Liberty of London's Carmine print. I could only wear this print and be happy. I could decorate my entire apartment in it and not get sick of it.

      So there you have it. An outfit.

      Any of you live in Orlando? Anyone going to the Southern Women's Show?

      Tuesday, October 11, 2011

      Washing Machine Lust

      Well, I'm back from The Sewing Summit in Salt Lake City, and I should be writing about the conference. (In a word: it was fabulous.) But what I really want to write about is washer/dryer combos. Yeah.

      You see, when I stayed at my friend's childhood home, her parents had a Whirlpool Duet. This, I learned, is a practically space-age set of appliances. Friends, I was mesmerized. I washed almost everything I brought with me just so I could use it. The washing machine has a "hand wash" cycle that is more delicate than "delicate." It was perfect for my bombshell dress. I watched the entire 20 minute cycle, completely transfixed.

      The dryer is just as amazing. Readers, it has a "Quick Refresh Steam Cycle" that is genius. I put my linen suit (which was all wrinkled from traveling) in there, and it came out looking new. There's actually a water hookup for the dryer so you can steam your clothes!

      Anyway, I could on. And on. But the point is that this experience practically ruined me for city living. Since I've been home, I've been ogling the cherry red version (above) and looking at real estate listings in the suburbs. Yes. I want to buy a house just so we can get this thing. It will be the most expensive washer/dryer set ever. But pre-washing fabric would actually be fun!

      Are any of you so lucky to have a Duet? Also, because I'm curious, what is your garment care situation? Do you have a washer/dryer or do you depend on a laundry mat?

      Thursday, October 6, 2011

      Hi from Salt Lake City!

      Dear readers, I'm writing this from Utah with an adorable black cat in my lap. His name is Ed. Isn't he handsome?

      I'm here for the Sewing Summit this weekend, and came a bit early with my friend Ashlee, who is originally from Salt Lake. I'm staying at her lovely family's lovely house with this lovely temporary cat, who is helping me bear the separation from my own adorable kitties a bit better. I'm working on my book today and prepping my classes for the Sewing Summit, but don't worry--it's not all work! I'll have time to explore some vintage shops here later today and relax a bit too. And hopefully find some time to play around on Ashlee's mom's amazing vintage sewing machine. It's pink!

      I've been so fortunate to see so many parts of the country this year: St. Paul, Cleveland, Novi, and now Salt Lake City. (And Orlando next week!) I've truly liked each one of them, and the change of pace is refreshing. I've been so stressed at home, and traveling can certainly be stressful too. But all the gallivanting has really helped me detach from my day-to-day life, which is a kind of a good thing right now!

      More to come on the Sewing Summit and my adventures in Utah! How is everything in your neck of the woods?

      Wednesday, October 5, 2011

      Student Spotlight: Debi and Oona

      Since I'm teaching so much these days, I thought it would be fun to write about my students and what they're making. And damn, I have some talented, interesting students. Let's start with two ladies you've probably seen around the blogosphere. Oona and Debi came in to take a private lesson with me last week.

      Readers, I  can't believe I get paid for this. Hang out with two amazing, funny, charming, sewing enthusiasts for two hours? Yep, I'll take that job! These gals wanted to learn bound buttonholes and a bit about draping. We started with an hour on buttonholes and they picked it up super quickly. I'm a recent convert to the patch method (more on that later) so that's the technique I taught them.

      On to hour two. Oona was curious to learn more about draping--which, mind you, I've never actually taught. But I won't let a silly detail like that stop me! I was lucky enough to score a vintage half-size dress form last week (from Sew Fast Sew Easy, which is sadly closing up shop). It's a Wolf, and I've named her Tiny. She's the perfect size for demonstrating and experimenting upon. Oona skipped the basics and made some crazy pleated-shoulder design. It was awesome.

      After our lesson, we went out for a lovely Italian dinner. The whole night was just so much fun--exactly what I needed. My cheek muscles got a workout since I pretty much laughed the entire time. Thanks, Oona and Debi!

      More to come on my other students and what they're making . . .

      Tuesday, October 4, 2011

      Guest Post: Draping a Knit Cowl Dress, Part Two

      Hey everyone! Remember this post on draping your own knit cowl dress? Well, our knits expert Alyson is back for a second installment. Enjoy! Also, check out the flier for Alyson's trunk show this weekend in Portland (see flier below). --Gertie

      Hello folks, so sorry for the delay on the follow up from the first installment of this draping a knit dress. My life got away from me for a minute there! Got hitched, bought a house, adopted a 3rd dog (adopting senior dogs is the best thing ever), and have been traveling. Don't fret though; I've finished writing up the entire thing now. As Bob Ross would say - I've encountered a few happy accidents with this dress, and I'm finally pleased with how it turned out.

      Sunday, October 2, 2011

      Help Wanted! I Need a Clone for a Day.

      Update: the clone position has been filled. Thanks everyone!

      Hey readers! I'm on a couple deadlines right now and things are getting a bit much for one person to handle. I looked into cloning myself but I think it might be easier to hire some temporary help. I'm looking for someone, preferably for a few hours tomorrow, who can trace some patterns for me. That's it! Not hard work, but I need a sewist's eye. I can pay a modest hourly rate. The work will be done in Chelsea at The Sewing Studio. Please e-mail me at if you can do it.

      Saturday, October 1, 2011

      How Would You Sew this Neckline?

      Happy weekend, readers! For once I am home in my pjs rather than gallivanting around the country. I'm working on a project for an article (that's all I can say about that for now, but more to come) and I've hit a slight roadblock. The question is: what is the best way to sew an illusion neckline like the one on the Peggy Hunt dress above?

      A few thoughts:

      1. I originally thought this kind of yoke would be made in a mesh illusion fabric, but later decided it must be chiffon. It has a floatiness (is that a word?) to it rather than the fitted mesh of a figure skater's costume.
      2. I can only find this kind of design addressed in one sewing book, Singer's out-of-print Sewing for Special Occasions. The text suggests making a double layer of sheers--one is a lining and one is the outer layer. Sew right sides together, trim down the seam allowances, and flip right sides out. The problem with this method is that a double layer spoils the super-sheer effect of the dress above. I can't imagine that it's more than one layer.
      3. The neckline above seems to resemble a serger's rolled hem, no? It looks more like thread than fabric at the edges. Do you think that's possible given the time period? Also, would you use a serger rolled hem around a curved neckline? I would worry about stretching out the bias.
      4. The other option is to bind the neckline with self fabric. But it seems that would give a wider effect rather than the narrow edge in the photo. (And also be a major pain to sew in chiffon!)
      Whew! I've been thinking about this a lot--can you tell?  I'd love to hear your thoughts. And here a couple more Peggy Hunt beauties to get your creative wheels turning.

      All these photos were taken from this Peggy Hunt photo collection on Flickr. I credit Sarai with introducing me to its wonders!
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