Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Inspiration: Helen Rose Yellow Ombre Dress

How amazing is this design? When I posted my green ombre chiffon dress, our dear Peter pointed out that it was very reminiscent of Helen Rose styles. Which reminded me of this fabulous yellow ombre dress (sourced here, with lots of interesting info).

It was worn by Debbie Reynolds in the film Give a Girl a Break. (Yeah, I've never heard of it either.)

What's great about the dress is how it uses the deep color of the ombre at the top and fades to ivory, whereas most ombre designs do the opposite. It gives an airy effect at the bottom: perfect for dancing!

Anyway, I became so obsessed with this dress that I made it the lock screen picture on my phone (briefly replacing Henry, can you believe it?). I couldn't stop thinking about making a similar design.

I stopped by B&J last week, and they had a fabric so close to the original dress that it's eerie.

I looked through my vintage pattern collection, and thought this design might be a good starting point.

McCalls 9526
To top it all off, I had the idea to try to reproduce the envelope silhouette as much as possible. In this post, I wrote about the difference between fantasy and reality when it comes to vintage pattern illustrations. Many people pointed out that the right foundation garments are key to getting the correct look. (I agree that it's a starting point, but no underwear is going to make me 9 heads tall!) So what better challenge than to make a similar dress to my green ombre, but using a very 50s foundation: waist cincher corset, crinoline, and longline bra. I'll write more about my undergarments of choice in upcoming posts.

P.S. Happy New Year! I spent last week with family at Rehoboth Beach. I'm home now, working away on the book, which is starting to look like a book!

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.

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!)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Finished! Green Ombre Chiffon Dress

I finished my dress just in the nick of time! I wore it Wednesday night to perform with my country music class. I hope I did Loretta and Tammy proud.

 This is vintage Simplicity 4414.

I made the skirt slightly less full (it already took 8 yards of chiffon, guys!) and shortened it a bit.
 Oh, I also omitted the cummerbund because that look just never works on me for some reason.
 Instead: rhinestone trim!

My favorite thing about this dress is the fabric. It's silk chiffon with a coordinating silk charmeuse underlining/lining.
 My second favorite thing is the cowl in the back.

 Hand picked lapped zipper--but I put it in on the wrong side! Whoops.

Because of time restraints, I did the hem on the serger with rolled hem function.

I used Polyarn thread in the loopers (a poly version of woolly nylon, a textured thread that makes pretty rolled hems). They don't make the exact color I needed, so I ended up using a light green in the lower looper and darker green in the upper looper--it worked perfectly! I also did the overskirt seams with the rolled hem and it produces a really nice finish on sheers.

On to the next project: a blue velvet Christmas dress!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


When I first dyed my hair pink, I wasn't sure about keeping it for even a day. And now it's been a whole year!


And now:

Obviously, I've made some changes. There's the new length. And I've been messing around with the color, settling on a lighter pink. (It's a 50/50 mix of Special Effects Atomic Pink and Cupcake Pink, if you're wondering.)

For the record, here are some things that will definitely happen to you if you have pink hair:

1. A guy on the street will ask if "the carpet matches the drapes." It's just inevitable.

2. A guy on the street will ask if you're a Suicide Girl. Also inevitable.

3. Little girls will treat you like a celebrity.

4. Women will be really concerned about your split ends and general hair health. (Short answer: yes, I have to bleach the roots to touch up, but not the whole head. The actual pink dye is vegan and plant-based, no peroxide. So the overall process isn't that much more damaging than using a regular hair dye.)

Of course, now that I've had this color for a year, I'm thinking about changing it. I'm tempted by purple or blue, specifically. Some inspiration pics:

I'm hesitant to mess with my current color since I"m happy with it, but these lush blues and purples are almost irresistible. What do you all think? Also: if anyone has experience going from pink to one of these colors, please let me know! Also, how hard is it to go back to pink?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Next Up: Ombre Chiffon Dress

I have a musical performance coming up tomorrow--and as always, I love to set self-imposed deadlines to make complicated dresses in less than a week.

The musical theme this time around is Classic Country, so I felt that it must have a flouncy skirt. Right? When I came across McCalls 4414, I knew it was the one. That skirt has EIGHT gathered panels. I ran out of fabric around 6, but I think that's ok. I don't want to get buried in chiffon.

I found this amazing green ombre chiffon at B&J.

Aren't the colors gorgeous? I'm using the pale green at the top and the darker at the bottom.

Off to sew! Next time I say I'm going to whip up a complicated chiffon dress under a deadline, please talk some sense into me.

P.S. I think I was subliminally influenced by this video of Tammy Wynette wearing a flouncy green chiffon dress.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Quick Retreat Update

Hi all! Just wanted to remind you to sign up for the Beacon Sewing Retreat mailing list if you're interested in attending. Mr. Gertie will be sending out registration info on Monday morning. Space is first come, first serve. We're keeping it small, with only 12 participants, and interest has been fantastic. This is going to be the most fun weekend EVARRR!!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Side-Draped Sheath Design, First Draft

Now that I've finished sewing the dozens of designs for book #2, I decided I needed a new challenge in my life. One thing I've been drawn to lately is sheath designs--dresses with no waistline. Specifically, how to manipulate the pattern and add design details when you're dealing with things like double-ended darts. I saw a vintage dress with three pleats on the side hip, and decided to give it a go. 

Here's my first try at the dress, which also has a sweetheart neckline as a feature. 

I made the side pleats by slashing and spreading the flat pattern. But, I also had to shorten one of the double-ended darts to accommodate the pleats.

A pic of the dress on (yikes, this fabric is hard to photograph well!):

It's much harder to get a smooth fit around the waistline once you've eliminated the waistline seam, since the curves of a seam at the waist add shaping to the garment. This resulted in some wrinkles around the torso.

Another fit note: I wanted a close fit around the armhole, but it ended up being a little too close. Easy enough to fix, though!

This is a first draft, and perhaps the last. I'm not sure why I got so obsessed with the idea of a side-draped dress with no waistline seam. The challenge, I suppose. However, I do love the neckline so I may make this again, sans pleats. (If you like the shape, it's very similar to the Sultry Sheath pattern in my first book, Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing!)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Hudson Valley Sewing Retreat Is ON!

Remember when I posted about a possible sewing retreat here in my hometown of Beacon, NY? Your response was so great that Jeff and I got right to work on planning it. And it's all coming together! We have a weekend set in early April 2014 at the Roundhouse at Beacon Falls, a truly fabulous luxury boutique hotel. If you're interested, please see all the details on this dedicated page.  I hope you can make it!

My favorite thing about planning the event is that Jeff (resident Order Muppet and long-suffering victim of pins in the carpet) is now on staff as my organizational wizard. He even has his own email address! Write to him at Mr_Gertie@blogforbettersewing.com. Now he just needs a Mr. Gertie t-shirt.
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