Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vintage Pattern Illustrations: Fantasy Vs. Reality (Plus Other Questions About McCalls 4144)

There were some interesting comments in the post last week about the difference between the envelope illustration and the actual finished garment. This difference is especially pronounced in 50s vintage patterns, where the illustrations are so much more fantasy than reality. So how does one visualize the end product? For me, it's a result of analyzing the garment construction, fabric choices, and my own body type.

Here's what I mean:

 1. Garment construction: McCalls 4144 has an interesting skirt feature. It's actually a pencil skirt with a big fluffy overskirt. Take a look at the line drawing and the pattern pieces. You basically make a pencil skirt in lining fabric (I made mine in coordinating ombre silk charmeuse), and then cut 8 of the overskirt panels that get gathered over the pencil skirt.

Since the skirt lining is slim, I knew the design wasn't intended to be worn with a crinoline underneath. So, the fullness was meant to come from the overskirt on its own.

2. Fabric choice: Since I decided on chiffon for the dress, I knew I couldn't count on the fabric to provide a poofy look like on the envelope. For me, this was kind of a plus since I wasn't looking to have a huge skirt going on. I also decided to minimize the poofy effect by cutting 6 overskirt panels, rather than 8.

Now, if I really wanted the poofy effect, I would have to choose another fabric, like organza or tulle.

3. Body type: This is the trickiest thing to analyze, and you have to be brutally honest with yourself. Is your waist this small?

No. No, it's not. Also, keep in mind that fashion illustrations have a proportion that is entirely fictional--really! The standard for fashion figures is a height of 9 heads.

[source]
The average person is 7 heads high, for comparison's sake.

Given these three factors, I expected the dress to have more of this silhouette, but on my body.

And now! A couple other reader questions.

Anonymous asks: I love love this dress!! I do have a couple of technical questions. When looking at the pattern and then your dress, the front darts appear to be much shorter on the pattern front, did you lengthened them? if so why? Did you encounter any problems gathering and attaching the silk chiffon overskirt? One of the things I love about your blog is your attention to details.

Why thank you! I did not lengthen the darts. Looking back, I wish I'd shortened them! They looked great on the muslin, and then behaved a little differently in chiffon. By the time I'd sewn and pressed them, though, it was too late. Ripping stitches in chiffon is almost impossible, because it always shows. Also, the creases from pressing really wouldn't have come out. So, I decided the lesser evil was to have dart points on my boobs, rather than damaged, creased chiffon on my boobs. The gathering of the chiffon was one of the easiest parts since chiffon is so lightweight. I basted it by hand to the underskirt once it was gathered, and it was very easy.

Another Anonymous says: I'm in the minority on this, but while attention grabbing, this is not a look that flatters. Your eyes have disapeared between hair and the the undulating green waves of the dress. The darts at the shoulders are also not restful. I think the light pink dress from the top of the site is more complementary.

Okay, that's not really a question but I thought I'd address it. I agree that this isn't my best dress, but not every dress can be the awesomest, most flattering. One of the things I love about sewing is that we can try out different styles. Even if light pink shift dresses are the most flattering thing on me, that doesn't mean that I have to make only that for the rest of my life. I want to sew with chartreuse ombre chiffon! And wear swishy skirts even if I know dirndls make my hips look bigger! Screw it! As a sewing blogger, I post everything I make, not just the things I think will be unanimously agreed-upon as successes. It's all about the process. (As for the shoulder darts, they're actually tucks/pleats. They're not meant to lay flat. I can see how they might look weird, but I really like them!)



59 comments:

  1. Geesh, some people just can't be pleased! I for one kind of appreciate it when bloggers just post whatever they make vs only the ones that look totally perfect and professional bc I feel like I can totally do that stuff instead of just admiring from afar. Also, I really like that color...thanks for having an awesome blog!! (And I so wish I could come to the sewing retreat...It sounds amazing.)

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  2. I love this conversation - it is so interesting to hear further reflections on a project. And am I the only one who LOVES seeing the line drawings for vintage patterns and the individual pieces?

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    1. Nope - I love seeing them too. I like the technical parts as well as the artsy fronts of the pattern envelopes!

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    2. For me the line drawings define the pattern. The envelope fabrications draw my attention but the line drawings are the 'bones' of the pattern.

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    3. I love seeing the drawings too! The indeed define the pattern!

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    4. I rely on line drawings to work out what something will look like. When doing my own designs, I pretty much ONLY do line drawings!

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    5. I sew for hire, and I only show my clients the line drawings. Sometimes non sewers cannot see the garment in any fabric other than the one shown on the front of the pattern. The line drawing for me is only way to go.

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  3. There's a difference between style, creating and looking your best. I feel like I prefer to wear what will make me the happiest whenever possible, as opposed to what is the most flattering, or how people prefer me to present myself. I sew to express myself, and sometimes that is more important than cutting the perfect figure. I love pattern, and if sometimes that means people are looking at the dress instead of me, I might prefer that. At least when they do look at my face, I'm probably beaming in satisfaction!

    I love the joy of this fabric and silhouette, your inspiration for it, as well as how it suited the occasion it was made for. Also? What color could look better with your coif? I love the energy of pink and green!

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  4. It's refreshing to see a blogger accept and reply to criticism with as much grace as yourself! Sewing is trial and error first off AND you are free to wear whatever you like! I find the first question relevant. The second adds nothing to the conversation but good on you for addressing it anyways!

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  5. I also think it's fun to try new things..and not always stick to what you know is cutting edge fashion. I have recently made 2 Colette Violet blouses using flannel fabric..they may not be "in style" but they are comfy and flattering. I run cold all the time, so they are my go-to blouses !

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  6. As I always tell my mom when we are at the fabric store, I never trust pattern envelopes that are drawings! I am a hardcore pattern review lurker and Googler. I always want to see what the garment really looks like on a person, not an artist's misleading, albeit beautiful, representation!

    Also, I agree that the green dress isn't my favorite make of your I've ever seen, BUT I appreciate seeing things that you've made that aren't 'perfection,' since so many of my makes fall into that category. The vision in my head is rarely the reality, haha. But why would we sew if it wasn't to have fun and experiment? Plus, wearing clothes is all about Joy, if wearing it is not making you happy, it's simply a wasted opportunity.

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  7. Where's the fun in only making/wearing things that are conventionally "flattering" and safe? Good for you for addressing your anonymous commenter in a graceful way while staying true to yourself.

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  8. I totally didn't catch that the underskirt was a pencil silhouette! Now I wanna see a twirl so we can glimpse it under the chiffon!

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  9. When I saw the original post, I will admit this dress was not my favorite. The way the chiffon was working with the bodice darting was a bit wonky. But I didn't say anything because I'm of the camp of "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all". While I do feel like a bit of a grump for admitting that, the only reason I bring it up is to say not everything has to be perfect. The flaws are what we as sewers notice the most, but there's a total overall joy to this dress either way. Also thank you for accepting criticism like a rational adult, and not getting defensive.

    "You could be the sweetest juiciest peach in the world, but there's still going to be someone who doesn't like peaches"
    -dita

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  10. So glad you did this post. I agree with all of the comments that it is refreshing to hear your reflections on the dress and parts that you didn't like so much in addition to what you already said you really liked. I like the green dress and the little tuck details add interest. I love little details in patterns.
    I also liked your comments about looking at the pattern image and trying to envision what it might look like. I sometimes do not end up making things just because I can not imagine what the finished product will look like and keep putting it off for another time.

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  11. I have been going over pics of my grandma as a teen in the 50s and she used to get pretty close to the look using a combination of a very string girdle and many petticoats, both things modern women tend to avoid. I do agree that other than the blessed women like Marilyn Monroe and wait trained women like Dita Von Teese no one looks like a fashion illustration. That being said I do think this look would be much improved with a petticoat. Honestly I agree it's not the best I have seen you do but those of us who sew avidly, I make 1-4 garments a month, we have some winners and some losers. Like you said, everything can't be number one. I commend you for posting it all. It makes me feel better that I am not so strange when I have my losers, haha.

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    1. I think your comment hits on the money the most - we would look more like the fashion illustrations if we wore the corsets that would normally have gone with these outfits.
      Also the same reason why the 40s pattern envelopes, the girls have such slim hips and the big shoulders due to the shoulder pads and corsets from that era also.

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    2. Um, Marilyn Monroe was blessed with plastic surgery (as was Ann Margaret.) So if that's your thing, you too can go and buy that body/face combo.

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    3. Marilyn Monroe had plastic surgery--on her face. What does that have to do with her body? Which is clearly what the OP was talking about.

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    4. Marilyn Monroe had plastic surgery--on her face. What does that have to do with her body? Which is clearly what the OP was talking about.

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    5. Ann Margret had plastic surgery due to a horrible accident she was involved in.

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  12. Great post! I always giggle a little at old patterns- as if anyone actually looks like that. But I love your dress and your attitude toward sewing and blogging! I really appreciate it when I see a blogger who is not afraid to show off projects that maybe didn't turn out the way they looked in their head or (especially garment sewers) didn't end up looking perfect when they tried it on. Keeps things real! And interesting. You're right, who wants to sew the same things all the time? Trying new things is fun!

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  13. I'm glad you posted this follow-up. Kudos to you for addressing elements in your dress. This is what makes your blog so great is that we call all learn from you. Thank you!

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  14. I really appreciate you saying you want to post all that you make, not just the things you think will be unanimously agreed-upon as successes. This is very honest and humble. It is also very encouraging for others who have sewing skills vastly inferior to yours (ie me) to see even someone with skills as fab as yours have things that don't always go to plan. This gives us all confidence to keep on going. Thank you for your work and showing us all that you do. Some people will love this frock, others may not. If you don't dive into the creative process you give yourself little opportunity to discover new skills and new looks that work for you. Thanks Gertie.

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  15. I just want to say I love your blog and I find if really inspiring. I am an avid (ok obsessive) sewer and I love being able to make crazy outfits on occasion. That is part of the joy of sewing - and there is something about the creative experience of both making and creating fashion that overrides whether or not it is super-flattering, or even tasteful, don't you think?
    Winnie

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  16. The bodice darts may appear longer on Gertie's version because she didn't include the cummerbund piece. That would have covered up much of the dart, making the visible top part look shorter.

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    1. That's a good theory, but unfortunately no. Dart points should be at least 1 inch from your bust point. The darts on the pattern are simply too long for Gertie's torso length and she didn't adjust them. The dress still looks great, though!

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  17. I also agree with the other posters - I enjoy reading your blog because you are willing to take risks and post projects that aren't "perfect" or may not please every reader aesthetically (although I'm in the "pleased" camp).

    I also feel a creative surge when sewing with a specific color or style, and I have tried new silhouettes that I otherwise would not have, "just because." I can totally identify with you when you said that you wanted to sew that beautiful chiffon. Why not?

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  18. I was actually close to starting a discussion on my blog about pattern illustration realities in a series where i analyse the different years of the 60s and their patterns, but someone also pointed out to me about the 9 heads thing. I guess just like in magazines, their suppose to inspire you to want to wear that dress and look that fabulous, but with sewing you can make the adjustments as you go!

    And i love bright colours! green and pink go together well in my book. I didn't even notice the darts "issue" or the disappearance of your eyes, (omg where did they go!?) I was too busy looking at that gorgeous ombre chiffon! You rock that look Gertie!

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  19. Not infrequently, you do a post like this one, and I just have to admire you even more! Love what you say about enjoying the process and embracing all of the results. Sometimes it's great to focus on coming up with the perfect combination of fabric, silhouette and details to create the most "flattering" look possible, but there is so much freedom and joy in sometimes stepping outside of that goal to pursue other, just as worthy, ones.

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  20. I wonder it the "9 heads" originated from the size of the facial oval- my height is pretty much 9 faces on the dot.

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  21. I agree with the first commenter - I love your attention to detail. Thank you for posting your additional thoughts on you dress. Even though the second commenter doesn't think so, I love this dress!

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  22. Line art is everything, as is knowing your figure and what works and does not.

    I think you've written before about how vintage lingerie makes or breaks a silhouette, have you not? At any rate most of us will need petticoats, a girdle/corset, and/or an enhancing bra to get a true hourglass curve - certainly to the extent of a 50s model.

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  23. The nerve of some people. If you don't like it - go away. This is not the place for critisism. Go be a judge on Project Runway if you need to crush others creative expression.

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  24. Gertie, you are "sew" awesome because you are truly genuine. I sew too (obviously) and I have experienced the same outcomes you described with respect to the illustration on a pattern and the real outcome of the finished product (even after testing wIth muslin). Sewing is a journey and exploration. In sewing different types of garments, we discover a new look, technique and experience trial and error. There are times where certain looks flatter more than others, and there are times where the finished product is a masterpiece or not necessarily our best work. As sewers we need to be open to this and embrace it ;-)

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  25. You go, Gertie, and just be who you are. It's all good. If we all cared less about what other folks think and say, and more about how we feel, life would be better. Besides, flattering is indeed in the eye of whomever is looking and varies from person to person. You are beautiful.

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  26. I like this follow up post! I love to read your reflections on a pattern and the changes you made.

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  27. I appreciate that you post everything too. I like to see it all. I make stuff that does not always look great on me because I make stuff that I think I might like and sometimes its not perfect on me, but not everything will be. I want to see that stuff when someone else makes it though. Anyway, you might have fun making it and wearing it and another sewer might enjoy seeing it and sewing something similar for themself and who knows. Might end up being a great inspiration for that person. Wish people could just read blogs and enjoy them and if they have a critical comment...just keep it to themself.

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  28. Why is it allways the anonymous ones. I love that you show us everything...its one of the reasons I follow your blog above some of the more perfect ones!!! Thank you so much for being you....
    bestest to you.........Daisy j

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  29. I find your willingness to post everything very inspiring! Although I'm an avid sewer, making everything including clothing for my daughters I have never made myself anything that I've actually worn! I'm getting really close now though. You, Rhonda and Bunny showing me every step makes me think I can.

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  30. First of all, the shaded fabric of your dress is gorgeous, and you do look pretty in it.
    Next, I'm not sure if this point has been made already, but these vintage patterns were designed for women of a much daintier build than the modern woman. Maybe not so much in the USA, but in Europe we were almost all thin in those days, food shortages lasted into the 50s.

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  31. Hey Gretchen...one of the things I like about you is that you "keep it real"....thanks for that.

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  32. I appreciate the civility on all sides. Gretchen, you're a hero to me.

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  33. Body shapes have changed and thats not even taking undergarments of the period.Bullet bras and girdles change the shape even further.

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  34. Hi Gertie,

    I wonder if you noticed that your dress is very similar to the green dress illustrated in your blog header? And I think you have made styles similar to the other two dresses up there too, so even if this one isn't totally your favorite, I think that's pretty cool.

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  35. THANK YOU for this post! I have learned a lot.

    Kind regards,
    Anna

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  36. I really like this dress but then I love bright colours and the back cowl looks just gorgeous. Yes it's not one of your best but I love it all the more for it.

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  37. Great post! I love how you sometimes address things that you just don't see addressed in other sewing blogs with the attention you give them. Always a great read!

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  38. Thank you for doing this pattern and then discussing it! I have it in my stash of patterns and would never have been able to rightly envision it without your help. I like the discussion of details as well as how things went in the process. I feel like it cuts out a lot of the guesswork for the rest of us. Also, I love, love, love, the green ombre. (I really want some.) :)

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  39. And this Miss G is another example of why we love you!

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  40. I love the dress, I'd buy one in a heart beat, darts or not, and I love how you are your own awesome self! And your discussions on body image and knowledge of vintage pattern ALWAYS fascinates me.

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  41. I noticed the lack of absolute perfection on the bust darts, too, but that doesn't matter because just look at the dress. It's amazing. Every detail is great. The cowl, the ombre, the green, the fact that its silk, the interesting detail of the shoulders, the gathered skirt.

    The sewing world would be so boring if we all figured out the exact silhouette and color that flattered us best and made the exact same thing over and over again (not that anything here is even unflattering).

    Thank you for doing what you do, and thank you for calling out the unreasonable comments.

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  42. Ally - Design Rewind Fashions on EtsyDecember 23, 2013 at 2:10 AM

    Thank you for reminding me about the "be honest" part when looking at vintage patterns. Maybe that is why I've been gravitating more towards 60s patterns lately - honesty doesn't have to hurt as much :)

    I actually like the dress too! It looks like spring to me!

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  43. I love your blog and your honesty. Thank you for drawing our attention to the 'real' vs imagined pictures on those envelopes. I love those pattern pictures but can never really see my creations turning out that way, and those few I've tried (mostly kiddy ones), have been a dismal disappointment. I will remind myself to break it down like you did and go back to basics considering the fabric etc individually, which is what I should be doing in the first place, rather than fantasizing (although those pictures really do induce fantasy!). Thank you also for following up on those comments and sharing them with us. Critical feedback is fine by me but I find it so distasteful when it extends to body type, size or shape. Yet it is so easy for people use throw away comments (like she should eat a hamburger or that doesn't suit her size) online these days and I strongly feel this is unnecessary. Let's leave comments about size and body alone, recognising that everyone is different and beautiful and GOOD on them for experimenting with beautiful styles or dresses that may not necessarily suit them best but they have always wanted to sew or own! I myself made myself a trapeze dress this year, which I know makes me look a little like orphananny when I stand still, but boy do I love it and the gorgeous swishy fabric I used...love love love!

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  44. Hehe, after reading your last post about the green dress, I can now give my opinion, more a critical one than anything else. I dont't like anything about this dress, Gerthie! It might have been an excellent technical exercise, but the result is not good. The pleats in the shoulders are weird, the shoulder straps seam to be falling off at any moment, the bust darts look awful, the back pouch is also not nice, and the rhinestone belt is tacky! Worst of all, it does not flatter you figure at all. We have seen wonderfull dresses on you, and we readers know you can do better than that. Of course fabric is wonderful, but I see it for an old lady more than for you. Now, I think this is a perfect example of how one project can go wrong without any specific mistakes, but only becasue pattern+fabric were not a good choice. I have encountered LOTS of failures like that. It is precisely one of the magic moments in sewing, when you see (maybe in the first or second fittings, maybe just at the end, after finishing all the details), that one element (a zipper, a neck cut, a hem...) ruins the whole design, or that it was just a bad idea of a project. I offer myself a shameful example of a project gone wrong:

    http://mertxeshomesewing.blogspot.com.es/2012/09/summer-minishort.html

    I saw it was wrong at the first fitting. The whole idea was wrong. And there was nothing I could do to reapir it but finish it, and never wear it!

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    1. You seem to have missed the whole point of this post? Gertie has done a great job of discussing some of the things about this project that she was less happy with, but overall, she is quite satisfied with her work (and so she should be!). And also, I am afraid that it is not her reponsibility to always dress in items that others deem "flattering". If wearing this dress, with some noted trouble spots, makes her happy, that is all that matters. She doesn't consider it a "failure" at all and to be honest, it's not your place to call it so. I think you can do better than such mean-spirited thinking.

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  45. Gertie, your post about dresses that don't always work got me thinking. Do you have a set of favorites that you've made? I've loved reading about your projects but I always wonder which ones make it to your regular wardrobe and which ones you never wear again (after the photoshoot for the blog of course!)?

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  46. Oh my gosh, when I see negative comments like some of these my jaw literally drops open! At least some were brave enough to put their name to them, but notice it is usually anonymous commenters leaving really bad feedback. This happened to me when I first started blogging, someone made a really hurtful comment so I removed the anonymous comment facility and, guess what, it did not happen again.
    I think you are a very talented lady, some people may think it is not your best but I think it looks much nicer than what can be purchased in a shop. It shows off your individual style Gertie, you rock!

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

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