Posted in Fashion, sewing

Sewing with knits: Moving into the 21st century

Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the planet who remembers wearing (and sewing with) crimplene. Yes, that’s how you spell crimplene. Trademarked in the 1950’s (long before I started wearing the stuff), this was a fabric that really came into its own in the late 1960’s, remained a mainstay of fashion and sewing for a few years, then disappeared into the mists of sewing history.

According to most online sources, crimplene was the trade name of both the yarn and the fabric made from it. Polyester in origin, this was a go-to fabric for all kinds of projects and will go down in my own fashion sewing history as the first knit I ever sewed with. It occasionally appeared as a woven fabric, but most of it was a textured double knit that we used for shift dresses, pant suits (yes, matching tunic tops and pants which, BTW might make a great come-back for the over-50 set with the right silhouette in my view), men’s leisure suits (please god no more leisure-suit come-backs), and even shirtwaists. I loved it.

purple crimplene
This great 60’s dress was for sale recently online – although I suspect that it was from the early 70’s. See that texture? Crimplene!

 

Crimplene had all the characteristics that we were looking for at the time:

  • It was forgiving (unlike many of the woven fabrics of the day).
  • It was totally unwrinkleable (likely not a real word, but you know what I mean).
  • It was machine washable, dryable and unshrinkable (which accounts for why I never learned to prepare fabric before sewing since crimplene needed no prep).
  • It came in every colour and texture you could imagine (and couldn’t fade even if you left it in the sun for years).
  • It was indestructible (and crimplene clothing is probably still stacked in our land-fills to this day).
  • And it never frayed (so those of us on the fast fashion sewing track which we have finally recovered from never had to finish a seam allowance *shudder*).

So, when I returned to sewing in the twenty-first century I wanted to learn the techniques for modern knits, of course. I decided to enroll in another Craftsy course (actually it was the first one I ever stumbled upon) on sewing with knits, took out the walking foot that came with my new digital sewing machine and figured out how to install it on the machine. I have to admit I had never seen such a contraption before – never even heard of it. But once I learned how to use that sucker, I cannot live without it.

As I made my way through the course, I found myself two lots of knit fabric whose weight I really liked and proceeded to make some modern knit tops. What I noticed, although it didn’t really strike me at the time I bought the fabric, was the extent to which it resembled – you guessed it – crimplene. Fashioned from cotton blends in this century, both lengths of fabric I chose were eerily like the crimplene I had known and loved in the last century.

See that texture? (Front on left; back on right) Not crimplene, but twenty-first century cotton knit!

Sometimes I wonder if our sewing DNA is a kind of blueprint for what we’ll evolve to as we age – but perhaps like a fine wine, we do get better with age. I’d like to think I’m a bit more discerning and that this discernment has evolved along with the increasing size of my pocket book that was thin, indeed, back in my undergrad years at university.

Anyway, as I examine closely the fabric of the cross-over top I made during that Craftsy course, I can see definite remnants of my former penchant for crimplene. Now I’m longing to have a length of that old stuff to see if it really is as terrible and unbreathable as I think it was.

This new century has taught me that knits should probably not be indestructible, nor should they be designed only for fast sewing. They should take beautiful seam finishes, and should feel divine when worn. Feeling and looking divine: that’s what I’m after!

 [If you need more about crimplene, here is a great post on a Sixties Style Blog that you’ll just love – and lots of photos! A Brief History of Crimplene http://stylesixties.blogspot.ca/2013/04/a-brief-history-of-crimplene.html]

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Posted in Fashion Journalism

#Fashion + #journalism? An oxymoron at times

words scrabbleThankfully for anyone reading my blog regularly or even only occasionally, I rarely rant. Today, however, I need a bit of rant space. Today I’m thinking about fashion (couture sewing is related to fashion, n’est ce pas?) with a particular emphasis on what passes as “fashion journalism.” In another life, I actually write other things – like books. Couple this with the fact that I’ve been a fashion magazine junkie for more years than most of you have been on the planet, I appreciate a well-written fashion-related article. There have always been those magazines that regularly demonstrate a high level of what can really be defined as fashion journalism (Vogue comes to mind), but there are so many others I have blindly stumbled upon lately that I have to vent a bit.

A lot of what passes for writing in some fashion magazines is now so riddled with jargon, secret in-talk, euphemism and oddly annoying abbreviations that we can’t help but be confused. The truth is that I’m not really a member of the demographic targeted by these magazines, but the demographic certainly is one I’d still like to understand! And I’m not dead yet, so fashion and style interest me. My question is how this demographic will be able to communicate their messages in the future. It’s no wonder that university freshmen can’t write a decent sentence.

Let’s start at the table of contents: we begin with ‘beauty inspo’, ‘fave picks’, ‘uber’ everything and of course a lot of ‘peeps’. I can let ‘favs’ and ‘fab’ go if these short-cuts are not overused. But three times on one page and we’re still only on contents!

How many times do I see ‘collab’? Really? Is it so difficult to spell out collaboration? Even with an online dictionary? And then we’re all ‘crushing on…’ something. The word ‘kicks’ for shoes has become so ubiquitous that if we really mean ‘kick’ as per the dictionary definition, we’d have a failure to communicate.

Moving on from the table of contents, I’m beginning to become very confused. I’m no longer sure of the difference between the hottest things and the coolest. Which is better? Then if we consider ‘cooler than cool’, I can’t even begin to contemplate what that might mean.

The verb ‘to rock’ (and they don’t seem to mean it in the sense of rock the boat or rock the baby) is so pervasive you can hardly go a page tap without falling over someone rocking flats, totally rocking boots, or rocking that awesome furry thing … and I’m so over being ‘all about’ anything especially if has to be hotly, coolly, uber awesome.

I guess the devil is in the ‘deets’ and the thing to do is to acquire ‘must-have prods’. I kid you not…prods, and not that kind they use on cattle.

This publication actually refers to its content creators as journalists – intrepid ones to be precise – and these are journalists who use words/spellings like ‘cuz’ for ‘because’. Yes, they did use it. This is not Twitter peeps! And ‘combo’ could be better applied to a fast food menu. Then I’m really confused when I read that ‘burgundy gets a colour kick’ with nary a shoe in sight in this instance. Is a kick now a kick or a jolt or a …? Of course it wouldn’t be a mag targeted toward young women without a ‘bestie’ or two.

And now sunglasses are ‘sunnies’ or so I inferred from the use of the term next to a photo of such. It’s starting to be a bit like learning a new language or at least the young women so entrenched will have to learn a new one for their writing classes at uni! Like that one? It’s a British-ism. Is that even a word?

Then I read about ‘sick kicks’. Are they hot? Cool? Totally anything? And ‘lippy’ means lipstick. I guess. I thought it meant mouthy, snippy, annoying.

Fave, fave, fave. I guess it would require too much typing to spell it out, or maybe they’re trying to avoid that cultural ‘or’ ‘our’ conundrum (favorite/favourite).

There is little doubt in my mind, peeps, that I’m totally uncool, and clearly unhot, cuz I crush on correct word choice and rock reasonably good spelling, and my fav authors provide me with terrific inspo. I’m also uber happy that the sun is out today and I’m totally rocking my sunnies so I’m going out for a walk. Bye-bye for now.

[Rant over. Sewing projects to continue momentarily.]

 

Posted in sewing, Style

Facing my doppelgänger: The dress form customization continues

wire mannequinsA few years ago I read an article reporting on a study whose results suggested that we are now experiencing a veritable epidemic of body image and consequent eating disorders among older women. The seriousness of it seemed a bit worrying, but the underlying message that it was shocking was a bit beyond the pale.

Imagine the shock! Women in their 70’s and 80’s concerned about their bodies! Concerned about how they look! OMG of course they care! I’m not quite to that age yet, but age does creep up even faster the older we get – or so it seems anyway. The truth is that, of course, excessive concern about body image and self-esteem that combine to result in disordered anything, is a problem. The fact that women continue to want to look good is to be expected. Then we (I) face reality: my body staring back at me in the form of that mannequin I’m hell bent on customizing.

So Gloria junior now has a shape to be filled out – my shape to be exact – yet there is much to be done. Here’s where I am to date.

I’ve actually gotten the go ahead from my Craftsy instructor, the incredibly knowledgeable Suzy Furrer, on my moulage on the second go round. She is just still slightly concerned that the high figure point might be a smidge too high, but I can go ahead and draft the sloper – my bodice block (I’ve done this and lowered the HFP 1/8 inch so I’ll see how that goes when I sew it up in royal blue cotton sateen with vents in the off chance I can actually wear it – more on that at another time, though). Before I get to the block, though, I’m using my moulage as the blueprint for my customized dress form (inspired by Mary Funt’s wonderful blog post on custom pattern drafting : https://cloningcouture.com/2016/07/11/custom-pattern-drafting-and-my-version-of-the-six-napoleon-dress/ ).

IMG_0714So, the first thing I did when approval finally came was insert a separating zipper in the back. My husband, my measurement partner, wished I had done it earlier. This way as I move forward with the stuffing, I can open it more easily. Then I had to make Gloria junior smaller to match the smallest part of my own torso – my under-bust. That’s why she now needs to be stuffed up again with the bits in the right place.

Next, I went to good old Fabricland in the basement of Honest Ed’s on Bloor Street West here in Toronto (If you don’t know about Honest Ed’s you’ve really missed out – what a crazy place!). I bought some batting and a number of shoulder pads, as well as the aforementioned cotton sateen that was BTW on sale: marked down from $20.00+ a metre to $7.00 a metre!

The fattest shoulder pads are now ensconced on the shoulders that had to be raised up. I now have a neck problem, though, which I’ll fix with a small round of batting and probably some duct tape. I need to re-establish the high neck point.

The other shoulder pads are now under Junior’s boobs that need more batting and support. The back, however, is nice and tight and exactly as it should look. It’s the front that I’m now working on.

When I have her as stuffed as possible within the confines of the moulage, I’ll need to figure out how to make a nice cover that hides everything underneath and gives me a great surface to contemplate my design and sewing projects. But back to that thing about body image.

If I never wanted to consider what my over-50 body is up to these days, I now have no choice in the matter. It’s a really humbling experience to see your own figure staring back at you, and it isn’t even quite finished i.e. completely stuffed. There is no hiding from what has shifted – what doesn’t exactly look like it did in that bikini on my honeymoon when I was 33.

It’s good to know, however, that I can laugh and accept myself for who I am. Fortunately, I’m of normal weight. That I’d be able to do something about. All that shifting downward? Not so much.

Let’s all remember what Betty Friedan told us at the beginning of the feminist movement: “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”wine.jpg

Or maybe I’ll use a line a saw on a cocktail napkin as my mantra: “Age gets better with wine.”

Posted in sewing, Style

The search for perfectly fitted clothing begins here: My dressmaker’s mannequin

 

 

wire mannequinsWhy, oh why does my dressmaker’s mannequin not resemble me? The short answer is that I’m too cheap to buy a custom dummy. So I’m left with Gloria Junior (her name) whose under-bust will never be as small as mine unless her waist becomes waspish, and her shoulders will never resemble mine unless they are raised at least an inch. And that’s just the beginning. So, why do I need her, anyway? I sewed my own clothes – and clothes for my sisters and my mother – for years without the aid of a mannequin. So, why now?

I was thinking about this when I was walking down the main drag in Stratford, Ontario about a month and a half ago with my husband, like you do when you’re there for the weekend to see two of their phenomenal plays or musicals that are part of the annual Stratford Festival every year (and, yes, it does sit on the banks of the Avon River with everything named after Stratford-upon-Avon in England, a Shakespeare park and all).

We stopped in front of a window display in one of the numerous boutiques that dot the street front. The mannequins made us laugh, and I started to think about how we rely on mannequins for a sense of the esthetics, and size, of the clothes that we think we’d like to have.

IMG_0601
One of the Stratford mannequins

Of course, that also got me thinking about how mannequin use came to be – so I’ll share my history lesson! 

Referred to by many as “glorified coat hangers”  mannequins seem to me to have been, and continue to be, so much more than that. According to an article published by The Smithsonian, when archaeologist Howard Carter opened King Tut’s ancient Egyptian tomb in 1923 he discovered “an armless, legless, wooden torso, made exactly to the pharaoh’s measurements, standing next to the chest that held the ruler’s clothing…” Since King Tut’s demise dates from around 1350 B.C., it seems clear that mannequins have been around for a very long time – this might well have been the very first, or at least the earliest on that we know about.

Fast forward to eighteenth-century France and the court of Marie Antoinette who, it seems, sent fully-clothed mannequins regularly to her sisters in the way we might send a copy of vogue magazine to someone who didn’t have access to current fashion news. These mannequins had arms, legs, heads – the whole body, but it wasn’t long after that when they mannequins began to appear headless, armless, legless, fashioned wire, wicker and leather. As one writer put it, “with as much personality as a doorknob.”

mannequin by pierre imans 1911
French mannequin, 1911

It was in the late 1800’s during the Industrial Revolution when expanses of glass fronts on stores became a kind of runway for the mannequin – shop owners needed a way to display their wares. The mannequin had now regained her head, arms and legs.

 

In a fascinating history of mannequins, writer Leighann Morris sees the evolution of the mannequin in the twentieth century as a kind of history of fashion itself – the shapes have resembled Barbie dolls, Twiggy, androgyny, fetishism – whatever has been in fashion at a point in history. And then there is the whole visible nipple debate which isn’t over yet! (As a sewer, visible nipples at least provide a sense of where one should measure the figure breadth!).

But these have been the mannequins designed for displaying clothing – store fixtures for the retail trade. What about mannequins that we know and love as the dressmaker’s dummy? Well, they have evolved alongside.

What’s interesting is that in spite of the fact that women’s heights, weights and body types vary more today than ever before, commercial dress-maker’s dress forms all seem to be very similar. It is true, though, that you can have a custom-designed dress form made just for you – a clone of your body – as it is at this moment in time, it has to be said.

LBJ finished on gloria
Gloria junior wearing my Little French Jacket. Although making a not-too-fitted jacket doesn’t seem to need a precise form, it would be nice if the boobs were in the right place!

I did a lot of online research before I bought Gloria junior. In fact, I set a maximum budget of around $300.00 so I knew I was looking for an adjustable. She has those dials that get her bust, waist, hip and back length to my size, but there is just so much more that goes on in between.

 

First, there is the issue of that relatively small underbust that I have. Then there is the neck – hers is fixed in position. Then there is that fact that most women are concave under the collar bone, but sadly she is not.

Why do I need her anyway?

First, I do think that being able to fit and pin without having to be a contortionist makes life easier – and probably results in fewer unnecessary puckers. Second, I think being able to stand back and really look at how everything fits and drapes without just having the mirror to help improves fit.

Then, I really just like the idea of pinning my projects on a form as I go. It makes me feel just a bit more professional – a bit of a fashion fantasy, I’m afraid.

Anyway, my Craftsy course on drafting a moulage and bodice sloper is my first step to that custom-fitted mannequin.

I’ve drafted, cut and sewn my first one. Of course, as expected, there are a few issues that were not unexpected. I’m about to cut my second one this afternoon. I hope I have the stamina to do as many drafts as needed to get it right!

 Sources:

The madness of mannequins. https://mannequinmadness.wordpress.com/the-history-of-mannequin/

Leighann Morris. The complete history of mannequins: Garbos, Twiggies, Barbies and beyond. http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/city/fashion/213389-history-of-mannequins

How to Buy a Dress Form. http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2013/08/how-to-buy-a-dress-form/

Photo credits:

http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/city/fashion/213389-history-of-mannequins

 

Posted in Style

Random Friday Thought

As I prep for my weekend fashion/style/sewing activities, I was strolling down Yonge Street this morning (before the mercury hit 33C) and thought this might just be the thing to get me through my  next challenge.

Hope it makes you laugh!

friday 1

Posted in Fashion, sewing

The search for the perfect size (uh…one that fits!)

rack 2It never fails: tune into a discussion of garment pattern sizes among newbie sewers and be prepared for the lamenting to begin. Yes, you, the experienced garment producer, think to yourself, a size 8 pattern is most assuredly not going to fit you if you wear a size 8 in ready-to-wear. In fact, I understand the depths of your indignance. If you wear a size 8 in most ready-to-wear, you probably wear a size 6 in Not Your Daughter’s Jeans (yes, I’m old enough to truly appreciate them). And, to add insult to injury, you probably wear a size 0 – yes, zero – in Chicos (of course their sizing is a thing onto itself). But here’s the thing – you only wear a size 8 in North America anyway. Rest assured, you’re never going to be able to zip up that size 8 dress off the rack at Harrod’s or, god forbid that you even try, at Galleries LaFayette in Paris. That’s because a size 8 in North America ready-to wear equates to a size 12 in the UK, and generally a European size 42, just maybe a 40 (not a 38 as you might wish). So, where does that leave you in pattern sizing? Probably a size 14.

size comparison chart
Source: fashion-411.com

 

I have one thing to say to you – the same thing I had to say to myself – get over it. If you really want to be able to get your clothing to fit, ignore the number and go with what works. Let’s back-track for a moment to see if we can understand this.

Did you know that clothing sizes were invented only in the early 1800’s? Before that, there was no need of them. If you were well-to-do enough, your tailor simply made your clothes to measure – all of them. If you were less financially fortunate, you made your own, fitting them to your body, your children’s bodies and the bodies of anyone else who relied on you (the matriarch usually) to provide them with wardrobe.

According to a very interesting article in Time magazine titled, “The Bizarre History of Women’s Clothing Sizes” (which is worth a read), true sizing as we recognize it today, really began to develop in the 1940’s. Before that, children’s’ clothing, for example, was sized according to age range. Even today you usually buy baby clothes by age: 6-12 months, 18 months etc., as if every child at 12 months weighs the same!

Interestingly, the standard sizing in the US was developed through an extensive survey of some 15,000 women who volunteered to be measured. The fact that they were paid to do this also resulted in the sizing being skewed toward the sizes of those in the lower socio-economic strata of society.

As the authors of the Time article state,

 “As American girth increased, so did egos…And thus began the practice of vanity sizing. Over the decades, government size guidelines were heeded less and less, items of clothing began getting marked with lower numbers and eventually, in 1983, the Department of Commerce withdrew its commercial women’s clothing size standard altogether.”

Oh vanity sizing! I remember being in a dressing room in the Gap several years ago. I was well aware that the Gap had changed their sizing, especially since I was comfortable in their size 6 jeans. Next door to me were several young women also trying on jeans. Suddenly I heard a screech: “OMG! I’ve lost weight! The size 10 fits!” Sorry, kid. You’ll really have to measure yourself and/or get on the scales to find that out if that’s true. Which is where we begin the search for the perfect fit in sewing patterns. Measuring.

There really is a knack to this measuring stuff. And then if you’re using an off-the-shelf pattern which many (most?) home sewers do, there’s the matter of finding out that you don’t really fit perfectly into any of their sizes. And it’s worth noting that in the sewing world, the notion of vanity sizing hasn’t really taken hold to the same extent, but there is no doubt about it, it’s there.

I stumbled upon this sizing chart from a 1948 Vogue sewing manual…

1948 vogue size chart

So, what size would you have worn in 1948? And here’s their chart today…

vogue size charts 2016

And not really fitting any of them perfectly? So goes the world. My answer was to seek out a way to make a personal moulage, from which I’ll create a personal block, or sloper – terms that I hadn’t even heard of six months ago.

So, I’ve embarked on a new course to learn to draft my own perfectly fitted patterns. It all begins with perfect measuring, and thankfully, I have a wonderful husband whose perfectionism borders on the mystical – a terrific trait in your measuring partner. I began there, then proceeded to the session on beginning to draft. I’ll let you know how it goes!

IMG_1240
My journey to find my perfectly sized clothing begins!

 

Time Article cited: http://time.com/3532014/women-clothing-sizes-history/