Thursday, November 29, 2012


I think perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about vintage enthusiasts is that we wear all vintage, all the time. People who see me in "vintage drag" are often surprised to hear that I own (and wear) jeans and (gasp!) sweatpants. It's certainly fun to give off a public image of total glamour, but it's also a bit of a pitfall: you can start to feel like you aren't allowed to wear jeans or sweatpants.

Not true! When I'm home, I live for comfort. When I walk through the door, I go straight to the bedroom to change into my "comfies." These include jeans, tank tops, wool socks, flannel jammies . . .  you get the point. One of my favorite "modern gal" outfits is jeans and a black tank top. It's my "sexy tough girl" drag.

When I have an event or a day in Manhattan, I generally go all out vintage glamour. Dresses, jewelry, foundation garments, stockings, heels. Lately I've been enjoying wearing the "wintertime jumper" from my book as a sheath dress. It's made in turquoise baby wale corduroy with a matching belt. Add polka dot stockings, heels, gloves, and earrings and it's a dressed-up look.

I'm curious what you all do (if anything) to maintain a modern/vintage balance. Is it something you think about? 

P.S. Can we talk about my hair just a little bit more? I wanted to thank you all for your lovely supportive comments in my last post! After one wash, my Atomic Pink hair has mellowed to a fruity pink that I love. The whole thing makes me feel girly and confident. So glad I took the leap!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Taking a Hair Risk

Well, I did it! All pink, readers. I love it. But I have to say, I really struggled with this decision. I think that's because hair color is tied to so many other issues: self image, aging, public perception, standards of beauty, etc. I've realized from comments here and elsewhere that if you're someone who is thought of as conventionally attractive, people consider it a crime to do any sort of body modification. "But your natural hair color was so pretty!" If I had your skin, I'd never get a tattoo!" Stuff of that nature. That brings up so many questions about beauty: pink hair dye is only for people who have naturally "ugly" hair? People who we think are pretty shouldn't do anything to change their appearance? It's a weird, loaded topic.

Anyway. I did the deed Saturday night, and then I laid in bed agonizing over my decision and Googling "dyeing hair from pink back to brunette." I felt guilty for messing with a good thing.

I woke up on Sunday morning and confessed my fears to Jeff (he had been sleeping soundly next to me through all the Googling and agonizing). He said: "You shouldn't think you made a terrible decision, you should think you made a whimsical choice! You're like Mary Poppins!" Awww.

What really turned me around on the whole issue was getting up, putting on my makeup, and doing my hair in my sidecomb style (see above). Whoa, I looked hot. We went out that day to do some Christmas shopping and have lunch, and I felt awesome. I even liked how people did doubletakes at my hair.

On day two, I still loved it. Here's another instagram. It photographed more intensely in unnatural light.

As for the details: it's Special Effects Atomic Pink (bought online). I completely bleached my hair first with 40 volume bleach. That was the scariest part, watching my hair turn yellow. I like the pink, but I think next time I might mix a little Cherry Bomb dye in to skew it less magenta. (Has anyone tried this?) I will keep you all updated with the maintenance.

All in all, I'm glad I did it. I've always loved pink hair, but held back for many reasons: fear that I'm too old for this, for instance. Wanting to appear conventionally attractive is another. But isn't it better to have dyed one's hair pink and regret it, than to never do it and wish you had? (It's getting really philosophical up in here!)

Speaking of philosophy, may I finish with a My Little Pony video? Pinkie Pie is one of my beauty and life idols, and I confess that this song got me through a night of worrying too much over things like hair color. Smile, everybody!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stabilizing a V-Neck with Twill Tape

I've been moving right along on my version of Butterick 5814. One thing that's very important in a design like this is to stabilize the neckline. V-necklines are notorious for gaping. That's because the fabric is usually cut directly along the bias--the stretchiest part of the fabric. If it's not stabilized, the v-neck will continue to stretch over time. (Note: sometimes a design will have you cut the bodice piece so the v-neck is placed along the straight grain of the fabric, but it's more common that you'll see the straight grain at center front, which places the v-neck on the bias.)

You'll want to stabilize your neckline as soon as possible after cutting.

First, mark the neckline seamline with chalk (in other words, mark 5/8" in from the cut edge of the fabric). Here, I'm working on the right front bodice piece.

Next, cut a piece of 1/4" wide twill tape. Cut it 1/4" shorter than the length of the line you just marked.
Pin the twill tape at either end of your chalk line, just inside the seam allowance. (So the edge of your twill tape will butt up against your chalk line.) Because the twill tape is shorter than the chalk line, it will buckle up.
 Next, distribute the ease of the fabric into the twill tape by pinning all along it.
 Hand baste along the lower edge of the twill tape to keep it in place.
Repeat this process on the bodice left front, and both bodice back pieces. Then sew as usual! Though it looks a little ripply now, when the seam allowance is turned to the inside, the ripples will not show on your bodice. Do not trim down your twill tape when trimming seam allowances.

I did the same thing on the top of my raglan sleeves.

Now you have a neckline that won't stretch or gape!

P.S. I'll be taking the rest of the week off blogging in honor of Thanksgiving. I hope you all have a great holiday and weekend!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pink Haired Lady (with a Sew-Along Idea)

Readers, I think I've wanted pink hair for at least 18 years but I never had the guts to do it. (Yes, I do see the irony in covering my body with tattoos, but being afraid of a little hair color.) But! My friend Fleur (a former hair dresser with a penchant for crazy hair colors) came to visit last weekend, Jeff was out of town, and well . . . it was a perfect storm for pink hair!

We only did the tips, despite me bursting out with "let's just do the whole thing!" every now and then. Fleur suggested starting small. She's hardly a model of restraint in these things, so it seemed wise to listen when she's holding back.

She bleached it first, and then we dyed it with Manic Panic Cotton Candy Pink. It looked pretty good at first (see bad Instagram below).

But in the morning light, it was more of a pale orange than pink. So yesterday I re-did the ends in Manic Panic Hot Hot Pink. The color name did not lie, friends!
I left it on for about half the time of Cotton Candy Pink, and it was still shockingly intense. Basically, it's perfect.
 I set it in rag curls overnight, and it's styled with a comb on each side.
In other news: I've been thinking about doing another sew-along with a pattern from my book! Would you all be interested in making some Portrait Blouses? That's what I'm wearing above. It's the easiest pattern in the book, so it would be a beginner-friendly sew-along. Plus it's a great wardrobe basic that can be made in lots of different fabrics, from charmeuse to cotton to wool jersey. What do you think?

Friday, November 16, 2012

The B5814 Bodice Muslin!

Now may be the time to mention: Butterick 5814 is not a modest dress. (That's an understatement.) I don't wear a lot of really low-cut garments, so this muslin took some getting used to. I made sure to press under the seam allowances at the top, so I could really see the actual neckline, and then I showed Jeff the results.

Me: Is this too, um, revealing?
Jeff: Nope!

Men are so predicable sometimes.

But let's back up. I did have to make a couple adjustments to the muslin. When I first put it on, it looked like this. (Please excuse the cell phone photo.)

As you can see, the sleeves would not stay up at all. The fix for this took a couple steps. First, taking in the raglan sleeve seam on the front. See where it's pinned below?

On the pattern, I just shaved off 1/4" on that seam--on the bodice pieces and the front side of the sleeve. The revisions are in orange marker below.

The next adjustment I made was to add a seam to the top of the sleeve, so that I could curve it to fit my shoulder curve. See the red arrow in the photo below? That's how I want the top of my sleeve to curve.

This involved splitting the sleeve pattern piece into a front and back, drawing a new curved seamline, and then adding a seam allowance.

Here's how the new sleeve front piece looks.

When I pinned these changes on the muslin, the sleeves stayed up easily. Yay!

Other than that, I'm very happy with the fit.

I also checked the skirt measurements on the pattern tissue to make sure the amount of ease was correct for me.

I've also been working on a tutorial for adding a 3/4 length sleeve!

P.S. Several of you have been asking about the right bra to wear with this dress. In the photos I'm wearing a low-cut bra with wide-set straps, but they kept peeking out a bit. I would suggest either adding bra carriers to the sleeves, or wearing a strapless, waist-length bustier bra.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Butterick 5814: Construction and Fabric Details

As I mentioned yesterday, the construction of this dress is more complex than meets the eye. To give the bodice structure, it's boned along the darts and sides (on the lining). There's a waist stay (a grosgrain ribbon fitted snugly around the waist) to keep the bodice where it's supposed to be, and to support the weight of the skirt drape as well. Because the dress sits slightly off the shoulders, the waist stay also helps anchor the bodice so the sleeves don't slip off or ride up. The boning and the waist stay work together to these effects.

The pattern envelope calls for fabric for lining/underlining. What does that mean, you may ask? Great question. The bodice is lined traditionally. However, the skirt is underlined with lining fabric, meaning the fashion fabric and the lining fabric are hand basted together and treated as one. The underlining helps give body to the skirt pleats (underneath the drape), and also hides the hemming stitches. The fabric I used in the sample is a hot pink silk crepe-back satin, and it's almost impossible to hide hemming stitches without an underlining.

Speaking of fabric! The fabric used for this dress needs to have the right combination of drape and body. A draping fabric is important to accentuate the folds and drapes of the design. However, you don't want something too limp, as it will hang kind of sadly on the skirt drape. A crepe-back satin turned out to be perfect for the sample--drapey enough to showcase the design but beefy enough to make the skirt drape look full and dramatic.

The envelope calls for these fabrics: faille, crepe de chine, taffeta, and cotton damask. Butterick has experts who suggest the fabrics, and I trust them implicitly, but I admit I would have listed more fluid fabrics. Crepe de chine is in line with what I had in mind, as long as it has enough body for the skirt drape. Taffeta and faille are both more crisp than I had imagined. I don't think I've ever sewn with cotton damask, so I can't comment on that. If I had written the suggested fabrics, I think they would have been along these lines: crepe-back satin, 4-ply silk crepe, wool crepe, rayon crepe, lightweight wool gabardine. I hope I'm not being a jerk by contradicting the pattern envelope! As you know, these things can be very subjective. Butterick's fabric suggestions would certainly work; fabrics like faille and taffeta would just create a crisper look.

For my version, I'll be using a wool satin gabardine (like this one) for the fashion fabric and silk crepe de chine (like this) for the lining/underlining. The wool satin is a lovely deep wine/ruby color. It's fluid, but has a certain amount of body. But it's definitely not a crisp body, like taffeta.

As you're gathering supplies for this dress, I would recommend purchasing (I'm including links to some online suppliers I like as well):

  • 1/4" twill tape for stabilizing the neckline (a fusible stay tape would work as well)
  • Spiral steel boning (the envelope calls for plastic feather boning, but I prefer steel for its flexibility and strength). I keep a variety of lengths on hand, and cut them down to custom lengths. You'll also need boning tips for this purpose. Note: I cut my boning last night, and I ended up needing four 4" bones, and two 8-1/4" bones. This will vary by size however. I wear a size 14.
  • 1/2" Boning casing
  • Petersham ribbon for the waist stay, the rayon/cotton blends are more comfortable around the waist than poly grosgrain. 
  • Hooks and eyes for the waist stay and the back zipper.
  • A 20" zipper. I used invisible on the sample for a smooth look on the crepe, but a more vintage approach would be a regular zipper with a lapped application. The choice is yours!
Upcoming posts: I'll write about fitting my muslin this week. I'm also planning a tutorial on how to extend the raglan sleeves into 3/4 length for those who like a little more coverage!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Butterick 5814: The Draped Wiggle Dress

Now that my coat is finished, I'm embarking on a new project: sewing up my other new Butterick pattern for myself! (It's Butterick 5814, and it's currently on sale for $3.99 online.) While I don't quite have the stamina to do an official sew-along for this one, I will be doing a series of detailed posts on its fit and construction. Like I did with the coat pattern, I wanted to start with a post on the design and its inspiration.

From the beginning (when I proposed this design to Butterick), I've always called this "The Draped Wiggle Dress." When I think of the classic wiggle dress, I usually think of something in wool, with sleeves and a higher neck. (Like the one in my book!) But then there's also the cocktail-style wiggle dress, in a fancier fabric. The genesis for this one was the green dress Joan wears in a Mad Men poster.

I loved the side drape on the dress she wears here. From this point, I started looking at other designer dresses from the era, particularly the work of Peggy Wood. It was her use of little raglan sleeves and bodice draping that inspired by own bodice design. Here's an example of a typical Peggy Wood bodice:

So now you can see how my own design was born; it's a mish-mash of a couple favorite styles.

It's certainly an interesting way to design. It's obviously nothing original, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its challenges. While working on a pattern like this, things constantly need to be tweaked and re-imagined. Taking cues from photos is one thing, but then the process of putting those details into an original pattern can be quite time-consuming and difficult.

Tomorrow I'll write about the construction of this dress. While it looks drapey and soft, it has a serious inner structure, including steel boning, underlining, and a grosgrain waist stay!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Butterick 5824, Finished!

Hi all! As promised, here are pics of me modeling my finished version of Butterick 5824. To see all the posts on the making of this coat, please click here.

I'm loving this coat! My only regret is the way I did the contrast band on the collar. I now realize it would have been wiser to wrap the black bias band around to the bottom of the collar so you can't see the undercollar fabric peeking out. My method would have worked in a thinner fabric, but this one is so thick that you can see the layers of the collar, despite my best pressing, basting, and steaming efforts. Live and learn?

I'm already scheming another version of this coat, in a lightweight wool. The lace/boiled wool fabric I used here has a lot of body, and I'd love to have a drapey version that could double as a dress. Perhaps in a silver-colored wool gabardine?
The fit came out nicely, though with a bit more ease in the waistline than I anticipated. This works well for outerwear, but for my dress version, I'll be nipping in the waist a bit.
The whole thing is lined in Kasha satin (flannel-backed lining fabric) so it's very warm.

I can't wait to wear it out on the town!

Thanks to all who are participating int he sew-along. I can't wait to see your versions!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Happy Weekend

I was setting up to take some pictures of my finished coat (!) and couldn't resist doing an impromtu Rosie-and-me shoot. Isn't the light kind of pretty? Very late fall afternoon, golden hour-ish.

I've been covertly working on trousers a lot lately. These are some high-waisted jeans that I practically live in. I feel like I'm really making some breakthroughs in fitting my basic pant pattern, which I will write about soon!

In the meantime, have a fabulous weekend!
© Gertie's Blog For Better Sewing. Powered by Cake