Thursday, July 11, 2013

Inspiration: The Babydoll Dress (Mod, Grunge, and More)


I'm going through a total babydoll dress lust thing right now. It's sort of a '60s/'90s inspiration mash-up. As you know, I've been totally into making mod mini dresses at the moment. So I'm raiding Etsy for every cute mod dress in a size 36, including a couple babydoll inspired numbers.


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Coincidentally, I'm also taking a "rock band bootcamp" at the Beacon Music Factory. It's me and 3 other ladies getting together to play women's rock music--culminating in an actual gig! (Guys, I'm learning the bass. It's the coolest thing ever.) So I've been listening to a lot of my old riot grrl favorites like Hole.

You may not know this, but I am enamored of 90s grunge fashion. I graduated high school in '97, so it still signifies the ultimate counterculture to me. Courtney Love of Hole popularized a look that became known as "kinderwhore"--which combined 60s-style babydoll dresses with trashy-fabulous details like ripped fishnets and smeared lipstick. 


Some of her dresses were straight from the 60s, but with a postmodern take.


Which explains why there's some style crossover between 60s and 90s sewing patterns.

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I know some people find any sort of juvenile fashion on women to be disturbing. Well, the look in the 90s was meant to be somewhat disturbing. It was a very specific time and place, fashion-wise and music-wise, when women created their own style. For that reason, it's hard for me to call the look regressive in any way. It was transgressive, and made a huge statement. Was it sexy? Repulsive? Both?

Yves St. Laurent is bringing the look back for fall 2013. Plaid babydoll with rhinestones and bows, fishnets, and motorcycle boots? YES.

What do you think of the style?

P.S. I've gotten some new fabrics in the shop! I'll also be doing a Twitter conversation called Fabric Chat from 4-5 EST tomorrow, the 12th. Search hashtag #fabricchat. To celebrate, I'm giving 10% off in the shop through Monday. Use coupon code FABRICCHAT.

62 comments:

  1. What interesting take on the grunge period! I too am somewhat enamored with the babydoll dresses. I grew up in the Puget Sound area and graduated from high school in 98 so I literally lived in the birthplace of grunge. I'm glad to see I'm not alone in revering the style and I love to see you exploring it!

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  2. Oh, man. I had a plethora of plaid babydoll dresses back in the day. I'm also a late 90's high school grad. Only thing I'd have to change is the fullness at the front of the babydolls. Back then I was really, really thin and the waistline suited my figure. With some of these patterns (like Butterick 4942), I'd adjust for a slightly less full front or add pleats or something.

    Nice round-up!

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  3. Bah. People need to stop being such Judgy McJudgy pants. I like people being able to wear what they like. Well, provided there isn't a needed uniform for a job. :)

    I'm getting my sewing machine serviced this weekend so I can try some stuff and maybe make some things I like for myself.

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  4. I think it is cool that you like to venture out of your usual style and do other stuff. I made a baby doll dress when I was in high school in 92'. It was adorable. I wore it with striped tights and Dr Marten boots. I saw the whole grunge thing come about but never ever embraced it. We never would have considered a baby doll to be in the grunge genre.(I guess when Courtney Love trashes it up, that changes things) We were all Morrissey/Smiths/Cure wannabe sorta goths. "Alternative" I guess. The cool thing about this style is that it can be done in SO many ways. I am interested to see your take on it. This should be good.

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  5. No getting away from it, a complete style icon, I am still heavily influenced by her. beautiful elegant dresses worn with a slipped halo, I still own a tiara and hope I always will.

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  6. I like all of it - with the exception of Courtney Love herself!

    Don't get me wrong - I am, and will always be, a grunge and alternative fan - as I'm writing this I have our local alternative station playing in the background! For some reason, however, that woman just comes across as tragic and sad, probably because she has tried so hard with her *celebrity* to be someone she's so clearly not. Kinderwhore? Yes, and probably because she truly was - I might find it sexy if I felt that it was a facade or simply a fashion statement on her, but for me it seems and feels quite the contrary - my impression is that it was too close to who she probably saw herself as being, and I find that so very trashy and sad. Her behavior, marriage, parenting, and lifestyle always inspired a feeling of "ickyness" in me. Like turning over a rock and seeing something truly gross underneath -

    Love the plaid babydoll with the boots though!

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  7. Oh! Remember the thigh high socks? And the fuzzy cropped sweaters? Maybe that was less grunge and more Clueless, but still!

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    1. That's what I love about the second coming of the 90's, I can mash up the bits I did wear/listen to and those I wish I had!

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  8. Ah, the 90s. I was in college and definitely not fashion-forward, but even so my favorite outfits were home-sewn dresses in weird fabrics, worn with bright blue Doc Martens. And I had a very cute babydoll dress...

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  9. At the time, I thought Courtney Love was just acting out for shock value, but I look back now and see this huge feminist anger in her style. Like: "What, isn't this what you want, America? Women harmless and dressed up like dolls?"

    I am THRILLED to see that YSL is bringing it back for 2013. Talk abotu zeitgeisty, because we are right back in that place: isn't this what you want, America? (At least, some political contingents in America?) Women harmless as dolls?

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    1. thanks brooke!
      were are the courtneys now? when i look around me (in germany) all the women try to be nice and pretty and harmless and available :-(

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  10. 90s grunge had such a huge impact on me and my style (Class of 2000 graduate here. These were my formative years). I loved to rock baby doll dresses and flannel with boots. I still have elements of it in my own style. I am so excited to see it coming back.

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  11. I'm a '97er too! Babydoll dresses definitely recall a specific time for me. I love all 60s fashion anyway.

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  12. I love the style of these dresses but it's hard for me to pull them off. Since I'm 5'2" and have a young face, it's not easy to be taken seriously if folks think I'm 14 (I'm actually 25). I'll just have to admire the style on other people.

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  13. I completely adore Baby Doll style dresses. I have since the 60's, and being of the short, round persuasion they suit me well. These patterns are wonderful and I'm green with envy.

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  14. I was born in '80 and had my share of grunge... the baby dolls... though I really loved the shoes... the orthopedic looking mary janes with the very thick treads.... I was into Hole and Courtney then, but now, not so much. The babydoll dress isn't my thing, though I liked it at the time. I even wore the little pink bow in my hair. lol

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  15. 90's grunge holds some special memories for me too. I graduated HS in the mid 90's, and I distinctly remember how freeing it was to ditch the hairspray, big hair and perfectly matching outfits, for flannel and Doc Martens! One of my favorite dresses back then was a long blue plaid flannel number like that White Butterick 4924.

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  16. I'm a class of '97, too. I had so many babydoll dresses I wore all the time. My daughter actually wears one for dress up and it's really short on her (and she's 7) I can't believe my dad let me out of the house in it!

    I always had a bit of grunge in me and have never given it totally up. I still wear black knee high combat boots -- especially with a modern/contemporary outfit. I have gotten so many compliments from the fashion forward ladies at work -- little do they know they are "vintage," if you can call the early 90s vintage.

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  17. Ooh, I'm a '96 grad, and this brings back so many memories! I'm the youngest, and my older sister absolutely HATED my clothes, and was all part of it. I think, for me at least, it was also about rejecting name brands in favor of thrift stores, and rejecting conventional ideas of pretty. My Doc Martens are still in my closet, having traveled through three moves, marriage, and two kids. They mean something to me!

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  18. Class of 91 here, so I'm a bit older. By the time grunge really happened, I was married and starting a career. Like you mentioned, some people do find the juvenile fashions on women a bit disturbing. I confess that, as I age, I find it more and more so, and I would never wear it, but who am I to say others shouldn't? *Some* can pull it off just fine. But my other point is that, as a size 12, very-full-busted (hello G cup) and proportionately curvy woman, shifts and babydoll/empire waist fashion just aren't flattering on me. It's not that I haven't tried it (for nothing more than trying to keep my style somewhat current through the 90s). But the best thing about my figure is my hourglass curves. When they're hidden behind gobs of fabric that hangs off the ends of my boobs, I just look fat instead of curvy.

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  19. I interviewed Babes in Toyland for my fanzine in like 1989. I have always liked the idea of toughening girly by wearing clunky mens' shoes or bootd. I will someday be an old lady in motorcycle boots & dresses I think.

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  20. LOVED Courtney. I graduated high school in '92 and loved her all throughout college. She was all about reclaiming stereotypes. What she was doing was clever. I recall the interviews she gave at the time being fascinating. She was very much making a statement with her look. Unfortunately I think at some point she lost her credibility, but 90s Courtney was a glorious thing.

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  21. I Dress how I feel not what others dictate.
    (except at work ; darn uniform requirements)
    But I do love the baby doll pajamas I made from a vintage pattern..and I'm 46! :)

    Kristine~

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  22. I was not old enough to appreciate grunge in its heyday, but my oldest sister was in college at that time and I idolized her style. She did more of the flannel/ripped jeans/authentic military combat boots thing, but a babydoll dress is right up my alley. You'll have to let us all know which patterns are your favorites once you get going!

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  23. I still have one of my '90s-era baby doll dresses and just wore it day before yesterday! It's one trend I'm glad to see again -- I carried it through by belting and wearing it over jeans last decade. Now I wear it in all its baby glory!

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  24. I was only a kid in the 90s so I got away with wearing babydoll dresses as a baby. LOL!
    90s revival seems to be a trend at the moment which I'm not really into, but if I started seeing the floral dresses and boots with slouch socks brought back then I would be totally into that. I sew 60s mostly so it would just give me more excuses to keep doing it but with a grunge edge.
    I really like that Simplicity 7252 pattern - have you seen it around for sale?

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    1. There's a link right under the pattern image to a vendor on etsy--it's too small for me or I would have bought it myself!

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    2. Oh there it is! Hopefully its still there by payday! =)

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  25. Loved Courtney back in the day. Seeing Hole on SNL (probably '93 or '94) was the first time I really felt like a teenager. I was watching it with my mom; she was appalled and I was fascinated. My school had a no-jeans dress code but I could still rock the babydoll with flannel shirt and docs.

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  26. I really like the second pattern. I love 60's style and the 90's versions are pretty darn cool!

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  27. Michelle PhillipsJuly 12, 2013 at 2:47 AM

    Always feel good when looking into old style. Overalls are one of my favorites.

    Michelle
    http://www.apparelnbags.com/adidas-golf/index.htm

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  28. I think the dresses are perfect :) As I have an apple shaped figure the A-line dress hides my tummy but shows my nice legs. I like the patterns no 2 and 3 best. During that time I was very much into rockabilly so I missed the gunge era completely

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  29. loved this look!
    in the 90´s my dresses were short as possible - or impossible ;-)
    but now as an busty 40something this would look like i had not heard the shot.
    i go better with the more sophisticated 60´s look.......

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  30. I live in Tokyo and this summer the grunge look is all over the place. I'm thinking it might be time to dig out my old military boots, too! Thanks for the post!

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  31. I was in my early teens in the late 60's, and I remember the baby doll dresses. I loved the puffed sleeves and they were very girly dresses. The style was also popular for prom dresses, unlike today's body-baring prom dresses. I was way too old for grunge when it was popular.

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  32. I never got into babydoll patterns--they look too much like maternity wear if you're pear-shaped (I graduated from high school in 1996, during the grunge era, and was obviously not anxious to be mistaken for someone who needed maternity clothing!), and I wasn't that nuts about the floral dresses. I was way into the wide-leg jeans, heavy boots, and flannel shirts, though. I love dresses, I just wasn't into the floral rayon they had going on. I will always be a boots-and-dresses girl, though.

    I've actually collected a few 1990's patterns for longer dresses, though, with plans to modify them a bit (no wrist frills, for instance). I guess sort of making things I would have made had I known how to sew back then.

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  33. Oh Courtney! I was still kind of a kid when grunge got really big, but I remembered how awed I was by Courtney's look at that time, kind of sweet and fragile but tough as nails. I was given some nice soft plaid fabric recently so might be time to make myself a new 90s-inspired dress soon!

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  34. Gertie hello plucked up courage to actually comment on your awesome blog!!
    I like this style it has superb stylish elements...but only on the right age and body!!!
    not for everyone methinks?
    bestest to you and yours
    daisy j (in awe)
    x

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  35. Chloe and Louis Vuitton are also really embracing baby doll dresses for Fall. I think they are going to be big. What I am most excited about for the Fall is the materials though. Velvet, patent leather, and the plaids...oh the plaids. I feel like I am revisiting my youth, and I LOVE it!

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  36. Having lived through the first Babydoll dress era, let me tell you a full-length mirror cured me of that obsession. It's a shame because I was so comfortable, so stylish and yet there is no getting around it...I looked exactly like a mushroom.

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  37. I never liked Nirvana, or Courtney, goth and grunge were just too costumey. Plus if 'everyone' was doing it, I sure wasn't going to. Mostly, I just can't stand the babydoll dresses look on adults- though it's adorable on babies. IMO, it is hard to present yourself as a competent adult whilst dressed as a 2 yr old. When women already get 75 cents on the dollar, why make it easier for people to label you as incompetent at first glance and pay you less? Besides, I work my azz off to have a waist. Why dress like I'm 9 months along? So it's not for me - but I guess that leaves plenty of vintage baby doll patterns for others!

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  38. I remember using Simplicity 7252 in the 60s. I loved it! So fun to be reminded of those dresses I made.

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  39. While I don't think I could pull off the look, Courtney sure does! And I love the Yves. St. Laurent look. Thanks for the informative post! I never knew the term "kinderwhore."

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  40. Very interesting (and inspirational) choices! I wonder- do you read Tom and Lorenzo's blog's Mad Men Style posts (Mad Style)? On this season's reviews they had some extremely insightful posts on the infantilization of women in the 60s (did I spell that right?) which made me look at clothes from that era in a totally new light.
    I recommend those posts in any case as I had no idea how much symbolism and motifs are quite deliberately hidden in the Mad Men wardrobe.
    Love your posts and can't wait for the next one, wave from Germany
    xBettina

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  41. I was way too young in the 90's to really remember the grunge period, and I had never thought of Courtney Love as a feminist figure, but Brooke's comment above really makes me think about it.
    It's funny that you should quote Saint Laurent's 2013 show; I remember it being highly criticised not because of the infantilization of the models (even though it always irked me a bit), but because this look has come back in fashion in Paris for quite a few years now : light, flowery dress, peter pan collar, and half closed biker boots? every slightly fashionable college girl has some variation of it in her wardrobe.

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  42. Definitely not my personal style. But I'm very interested to see what you'll be doing with it.

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  43. I have to laugh about Courtney Love, I was rocking the baby doll, ripped Danskin fishnets and Soviet combat boots in the late 80's and early 90's! By the time Courtney Love came on the scene, it was already old news here and the look was not considered grunge, it was post punk. By the mid nineties, us undergrounders were well into the early 70's "superfly" look, leather/suede coats with huge notched collars, halter and maxi dresses, weird polyester shirts with landscapes or hideous prints and of course the same ripped fishnets with combat boots. Those days were a lot of fun, mainly because we completely ignored what was going on in mainstream fashion and just made it up as we went along.

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    1. Yes, I was going to shows from early 80's on and was honestly dismissive of the Nirvana wave hitting at Lollapalooza-- decided to skip that show. Fashion had changed for me by that point as well. The torn fishnets, babydoll type dresses often were just altered stuff we found in the thrift stores (minidresses-- were wearing them in 1980). Flannel was what we went to when the paisley was sold out and when it got cold. Didn't Hot Topic open around the mid 90's turning and underground fashion movement into mallwear spurring a whole trend of emo? The music was also derivative, perhaps played/produced more professionally. I suppose those from the 70's underground sneered at us young'ns with our hardcore sensibilities. But women of punk like Exene, Wendy O Williams, Lydia Lunch, --they not only inspired you to make your own look and brave the stares and thrown objects but also to own your creativity and live your truth, think for yourself.

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    2. Hey Kathy, I have an equivalent story of me missing Nirvana at the very first Big Day Out festival(Sydney 1992) to go see my favourite Australian band the Clouds.

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  44. When I was a kid, babydoll bathing suits were very popular! Imagine the babydoll top over a bathing suit bottom. Very cute, but I sure couldn't pull it off at my age, LOL! Thanks for bringing back some fun fashion memories!

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  45. Never been into grunge or babydoll dresses, but I'm curious on what your take would be on making a short short (original) Uhura style Star Trek dress?

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    1. whoops! forgot to mention: the original version has some rather interesting diagonal seaming on it!

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  46. ~ ✿✿✿ ~ RIOT GRRRL 4 EVER ~ ✿✿✿ ~ ( remember this collection ? ! grrrl inspired ! http://www.style.com/fashionshows/review/S2011RTW-MKIRCH ) ... gertie ... girl ... babydoll dresses are my *SPECIALITY* ! my blog has examples for pages and pages ... lol ... basically my signature ...

    but really ! i kind of want you to adopt me and we can start our own riot grrrl band named "the screamstresses" and watch mad men and sew together ? dream luvr ...

    + ! hedi slimane got so much bleep for that collection ... i think i quite liked what he did ... ;-) ... ~ScAnDeLoUs~ ... what do u think ? ... i bet a. wintour loved it ... lol ...

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  47. I like the look and it's because babydoll dresses are perennial garments - worn with sandals in the summer and worn with boots/tights in the winter. And if you made it with a timeless fabric, it will be in your closet for decades!

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  48. I love babydoll dresses (from both decades!) I've found myself drawn to 90's style again recently..perhaps it's a bit of nostalgia ;)

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  49. I love short dresses, but I always get a little nervous about babydoll styles being a busty gal. I can't wait to see what you come up with. BTW - It was great to meet you in person at the 39th street fabric stores!

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  50. Thanks for the history lesson. I think many of us would remember more about history if they always linked it to fashion. I have a vintage clothing book that does just that, it is my favorite to read.
    Kinderwhore sounds so nasty.....but I do like to mix things up. Not on me, necessarily, but in the world of costuming where I work. Combat boots with "pretty" dresses, denim with formal...that kind of thing.

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  51. I remember reading an interview with Kathleen Hanna and Gloria Steinem in BUST about 10 years ago. Steinem said that she didn't approve of the kinderwhore look because she thought it was infantalizing. Hanna said it was about girls reclaiming their childhood because girls generally have to grow up a lot faster than boys. Either way, it was definitely subversive.

    I've been really nostalgic for fanzines and punk rock lately.

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  52. I loved this look. I used to wear dm boots in orange or purple with baby doll dresses or petticoats with baggy cardigans. Did you ever hear of a band called Daisy Chainsaw? The lead singer was my fashion icon of the time.

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  53. I rocked the kinderwhore look in my teens, torn fishnets, babydolls and all. Turned up to my school leavers disco (UK equivalent of a prom but without all that king and queen nonsense) in a little white dress and big black boots sprayed with silver glitter. I still wear stripy knee length socks, mary janes, and own at least one rather frilly short dress. Maybe I'm getting too old for it now, but I just don't care ;)

    PS - first time commenting here, but I've been a huge fan ever since signing up for your Craftsy Bombshell Dress course!

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  54. I use this all the time and it is great for finishing seams.I use the overedge foot and a zigzag stitch. I also use it for mending frayed edges on my husband work pants or frayed towels. It also can be used for a waistline casing without turning the fabric under, makes it flatter and is easy. I have used up thread by using wild colors on the inside of kids clothes or pjs.

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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