Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, Style

Cruise Collection Project: Creating an asymmetrical tunic

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We don’t actually have any snow..but it’s cold!

It’s the dead of winter, and there is nothing more quintessentially a part of urban Canada’s landscape than the unrelenting black uniform of the downtown residents and workers. Sometimes it just eases in during November, but it was never more apparent to me than last year when my husband and I spent a wonderful month or so travelling in South America, returning in November. When we left Toronto it had been autumn and there were flutterings of winter clothing beginning to appear. But when we returned! I remember standing on the corner of Bloor and Church Streets that morning looking at the sea of black winter gear that moved across the street en mass. Of course, I was a part of it. Black is my go-to winter colour. And in all of this darkness, I am delightedly still designing and making my cruise collection. Forgive me, but black is part of it this time around! A sleeveless tunic seemed like a good addition to a cruise collection. I did some sketching and it took me to…

asymmetric styling

Designs in which each side of an item of apparel is different in structure than the other side. In a symmetrical design, both sides are the same. Asymmetry may be seen in areas such as collars, necklines, closings or hemlines.[1]

 

Evidently one of the hottest trends last year (oh, am I already out of style? No matter!) was asymmetry. According to Keren Brown, writing last year in Medium, humans are drawn to asymmetry. I actually don’t think this is true, and she didn’t have any sources to back her up – I’ll get back to that. She also said, “…it’s edgy, bold, and says one thing loud and clear: ‘I don’t need to be like everyone else.’”[2] She also said that it is gender neutral and a sign of experience?  Really??

In a piece about asymmetry on the fashion blog Fashionipa, she suggests that humans have a strong preference for symmetry, which is what I remember from my psychology classes back in the day. However, she suggests rather more believable reasons for the popularity of asymmetrical fashions these days. [3]

Asymmetry is largely unexpected, you can use asymmetrical lines for covering parts of your anatomy you’d rather have covered (uneven hems, anyone?), these lines can be bold and dramatic, an asymmetric line elevates a basic style (think asymmetrical necklines on simple T-shirts), and these lines can be sexy (not so sure there is any evidence for this, but I like it).

Anyway, I could have created a basic tunic, but it is true that it would have been boring. Here’s where that sketching took me…

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So, I had a piece of crepe-like fabric in my selection of fabrics for this collection, and given its drape qualities, it lent itself to something with a bit of flow. Sometimes you need a bit of something flowy over a pair of skinny white jeans on a Caribbean cruise – think of the evening breeze on deck!

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Before I drafted the pattern, I took a close look at the pattern on the fabric. Did it suggest running horizontally or vertically? I draped it over Gloria Junior and contemplated it. In my view, the vertical looked peculiar. So, horizontal it would be. I love this designing thing!

I did begin with a draft pattern and then created a muslin. I find that a test garment is really the only way to ensure that I like the contour and most especially the length of these kinds of pieces. Every single one of us has a perfect tunic length, and it is not the same for all.

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I then had to decide how I’d finish the neckline. I cut a piece of bias self fabric to see if the pattern on it would look funky or not – I kind of liked it, so that became the neckline finish. Given the patterned fabric (and you know that I almost always dislike a pattern on me), I thought that the rest of the styling ought to be quiet.

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So, it’s ready to roll on to Puerto Rico and beyond next month – at which time there will be photos of the piece in action. Stay warm!

[1] https://wwd.com/fashion-dictionary/

[2] https://medium.com/@kerenbrown/why-asymmetry-in-fashion-will-change-the-way-you-perceive-beauty-92165eb6ff7f

[3] https://fashionipa.com/asymmetry/

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Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style

In search of the perfect summer skirt (The Cruise Collection Project continues)

I have to tell the truth: I am not a skirt kind of woman. That isn’t to say that I have any problem with my legs. I fact, I am very lucky to have inherited my mother’s legs – although mine are much longer than hers. She’s about 5 feet tall (5’4” if you count her hair), while I am 5 ft. 7 in. (okay, I’m 5 ft 6 ½ inches at this point in my life *sigh*). Anyway, I have no fundamental objection to bare legs even on older women (unless said legs are shown from the crotch down without benefit of shorts. My blog, my views.)

[In Sint Maarten a few years ago]

That all being said, when I started planning this cruise collection, it occurred to me that I ought to include a skirt. I have found over the past few years in the Caribbean, Tahiti, Hawaii etc. and even (perhaps even especially) in Toronto in the summer, that those well-loved white jeans that I could not live without, are a tad too warm for a 5-7 k walk in the city on a day where the humidex soars. I have recently acquired a few summer dresses (not “sundresses” as I mentioned in my last post) that I truly love. You can’t beat them for practicality and they do elevate a city walk just a tad. Anyway, I really felt that this cruise collection needed a skirt. Just think of all the combinations of T’s and other tops that could pair with one (or two).

It is at this juncture that I need to convey another important rationale for a skirt for this collection. And it is an opinion that might offend some women of a certain age because they seem to have clutched onto a certain type of garment like a drowning woman clutches that life preserver just thrown overboard by a husband puzzled as to how she got there off the side of the cruise ship. I’m talking about the proliferation of – well, I’m not just sure what they are called in fashion parlance, although I have to believe that real fashionistas would not even have a word to describe these abominations – abominations that cause no end of visual blight on cruise ships. I’m talking about the widish-legged, pedal-pusher sort-of length pants that flap around the leg, cutting the leg at its most unattractive spot.

[…and the ones on the left are newly offered for this season by Eddie Bauer! Ugg!]

And as far as I’m concerned, it ought to be illegal to sell them. If women cannot stop themselves from buying and then wearing them, they just cannot be sold any more. And if you are reading this, feeling slightly insulted, then you know who you are. Don’t tell me you don’t care what other people think of what you wear and you’ll wear whatever you want. Blah-blah-blah. I know you will. But I’ll bet you do care. And I’m here to tell you that no one, NO ONE looks good in these atrocities. They make even the sveltest among us look dumpy. And with all the discussion online in Facebook sewing and design groups about clothes that “flatter” I’m here to suggest that you reconsider your adamance about this garment. [Don’t bother commenting that you  like them or are insulted. I’m okay with you liking them.]

With that off my chest, I do have to come clean: I actually owned a pair for a while. I wore them hiking and zip-lining in Costa Rica a few years back. The photos are – you guessed it – cringe-worthy.

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Well, I can take as good as I give. If I’m going to show photos of others in these eyesores, here I am in Costa Rica. So butt ugly. What was I thinking?

So, if I’m not going to wear these eyesores on a cruise, what will take their place? Enter the skirt.

I don’t actually own a single skirt at this point in my life. I used to own skirts. When I met my husband 32 years ago, my closet was full of skirt suits – blazer-type jackets and matching skirts mostly by Simon Chang and Alfred Sung. It was an era – and I had that kind of job. But as my career evolved, so did styles and I found that pants suited my life better. These days, I never wear skirts as I have indicated. I wear pants, jeans, cocktail dresses and gowns. That’s my life – one extreme or the other! So, now as I contemplate a skirt design, I have to acknowledge my preferred style. And it is pretty narrow (no pun intended – well, maybe a bit).

I love pencil skirts. I hate billowy, wide, circular, gathered, pleated, and/or A-line skirts. I sometimes think they look nice on others, but not that often. It takes a certain woman, with a certain style, with a certain physique to pull those babies off. My style is tailored, sleek and narrow, but I’m not so sure that a typical pencil skirt style is really what I’m after for this kind of casual, vacation-ready collection.

A few patterns (some out of print) that I actually think are attractive:

 

Oh, and did I mention that it will be in the same fabric as my sunny day dress? No? Well, it will be grey and white striped seersucker, so I have that to add to the design considerations.

So, I did a few sketches…

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…then made a pattern for the one on the far right.

And finally settled on one that seems to tick all the boxes: narrow, slightly below the waist, no waist-band, just above the knee, pockets, back slit and back zipper.

The pockets on the bias just seem to add another element of flattery, drawing the eye in – or at least that’s what I’m hoping.

FYI: The history of the skirt is fascinating. It is one of the oldest garments in history and, of course, was originally a piece worn by both men and women. Here are two terrific posts that I enjoyed:

Dacy Knight. An Abridged History of the Skirt: From Edwardian Separates to Denim Minis. Who What Wear. https://www.whowhatwear.com/history-of-the-skirt/slide2

The history of the pencil skirt.  http://mppskirt.com/index.php/2018/01/30/the-history-of-the-pencil-skirt/

Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style, Style Influencers

Cruise collection project: Designing my perfect “sunny day” dress

I’m not really a sundress kind of woman. I know this about myself. All those flowy, floaty, cottony printed dresses with strappy bodices are simply not my style. With that off my chest, I can concede, though, that there is nothing quite as cool and comfortable, not to mention pulled-together, than a well-fitting “sunny day” dress. That I could get into – as long as it fulfils a number of important GG criteria. But before I get to that, what about all those sundresses out there?

Let’s start with a definition (forgive me: I’m a former Professor and this is where we always begin).

Dictionary.com (what would we do without those online dictionaries? Open a book perhaps?) defines a sundress as follows…

noun

  1. a dress with a bodice styled to expose the arms, shoulders, and back, for wear during hot weather.[1]

Well, isn’t that interesting. Not a thing about flowy, floaty, cottony prints! Just a lot of exposure. Interesting. But then, there’s the Urbandictionary.com definition (Don’t blame me; I’m not endorsing anyone’s definition. I’m just sharing what they say for the sake of discussion…)

sundress

A one piece dress with a to-the-knee or lower hemline, usually worn by clingy, slutty, chunky-looking women during the summer, often accented by clogsflip-flops, and the absence of panties…[2]

Geesh! Duly noted…but I’m a bit old for the last element! Well, I guess everyone is an expert these days. And if you didn’t know there were other descriptions out there, maybe it’s a good thing to be educated! In any case, that’s not how I see them. In any event, this definition doesn’t seem to mention that flowy, floaty, cottony thing either. So, I’m on firmer ground than I thought by establishing my own criteria for the perfect sundress.

In general, I think we can all agree with that all-knowing authority we call Wikipedia, that it is a “dress intended to be worn in warm weather…”[3] This is a suitably vague definition that has endless design possibilities. I have seen references to American designer and socialite Lily Pulitzer as leader in making the sundress a must-have summer garment choice in North America in the twentieth century. Her tropical coloured prints, so reminiscent of Palm Beach where she lived, became my reference point for Florida- style hot-weather dressing, and it never did suit my aesthetic. But it was everywhere. So, you can see where I got my notion that sun dresses are printed!

https://www.lillypulitzer.com/dresses/

…Although I have to say that I would wear a few from the current collection that even has black *gasp* and other non-print colours.(These are dresses from the current collection…Lily herself died in 2013.)

The brand really took off in 1962 when Jackie O. (then Jackie Kennedy) was photographed with her husband and children wearing an LP dress. As you already know, Jackie O.’s Mediterranean style is one of my design muses for this little cruise-worthy collection.

jackie in LP
Jackie (Kennedy) in LP

So, then, what are the attributes that I look for in a cool summer dress that is at the centre of my cruise wear day-time wardrobe?

  • The dress should be in a natural fibre – or at least a natural blend.
  • The dress should be in a light colour. I do love a black dress (no kidding), but have you worn a black T-shirt or top out walking in the sun? Not good.
  • The dress should be a sheath. In other words, it should not, as the original definitions of the sundress suggest, be a bodice with an attached skirt. That’s not as cool as a well-fitting sheath in my view.
  • The dress should be sleeveless, exposing arms: it should not expose the back. Have you ever walked a distance in the Caribbean sun in a backless garment? Not good at all. I don’t want to be nursing a sunburn for three weeks.
  • The dress should have a tailored vibe. Yes, that’s right. T-a-i-l-o-r-e-d. That’s who I am.

So, when I put all of these together, it’s little wonder that I was inspired by an old sewing pattern image I stumbled upon when collecting ideas for this collection.

I did a few sketches and decided that this was the one I’d go with.

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It’s really a shirt dress style, but I love the fact that the collar goes right to the edges of the cross-over at the front rather than to the centre front. If I were to actually close it over (which I nave no intention of ever doing) it would actually create a kind of stand-up collar, a look I might be inclined to use in a winter dress or top. I love the intentionality of the popped collar on this one.

I began with drafting a pattern from my sloper…

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…and sewed up a muslin…

After a few tweaks, I was ready to select a fabric from my cruise fabric selections. I chose the striped seersucker.

I did learn one new skill with this piece. Don’t laugh: I learned to use the machine button foot. Not the button-hole foot – I already use that – I mean the one that sews on buttons. I have to credit my husband for goading me into it. I always hand-sew buttons on a garment, but he, a master of gadgets, asked why I don’t use the machine foot designed for this purpose. I always thought it would be more trouble than it was worth. I was so wrong!

buttons

I have created a dress that will be an important part of day-time dressing on the cruise and during our pre-cruise week in Puerto Rico and post cruise couple of days in Fort Lauderdale. (Keep in mind that a Silversea ship isn’t exactly a sloppy T and cargo shorts kind of venue).

It may not be what you call a sundress, but it’s my “sunny day” dress! Photos of it in action will have to wait until the cruise!

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[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/sundress

[2] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sundress

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundress

Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style

Cruise Collection Project: The perfect LBCD (little black cocktail dress)

RTW cruisewear
My past RTW cruise wear

Every project has to begin somewhere. When you think of vacationing in the Caribbean and what you’ll be wearing, you might very well begin with an image of a beach and a palm tree and a cool cocktail. You might be wearing a dreamy, floaty swim cover-up, or a fluttery tank top and shorts, or even a sun dress. Well, I’ll get there eventually, but let’s face it – my cruise collection really is for a cruise. And a luxury cruise at that. What this means is a major requirement for cocktail attire, so that’s where I’m starting. My perfect LBCD.

I spent a lot of time last year on my Little Black Dress project, during which I completed four test garments using three commercial patterns and ending up with my own design. But during that process I did find a silhouette that I thought I might translate into one of my own pieces.

For this collection, I’m inspired by Jackie O. and Audrey Hepburn on the Mediterranean. Much of what that conjures up for me relates to daytime sand, sun, surf and shopping in Monte Carlo. But for evening, I need to look no further than their iconic cocktail style to be inspired to create a dress that will be the centerpiece of this evening cruise collection.

Jacki & Audrey

It will be a simple, boat-necked, princess-seamed black dress that fits to perfection and can be changed up by accessories and all manner of little jackets. That way, a cruiser like me need only take one or two cocktail dresses and never look the same twice.

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The fabric is black with textural striped detail and lovely drape which lends itself to the long, lean line of this princess-seamed dress. Although this fabric feels wonderful on its own (and is washable and packable to boot), I am lining it for a more sophisticated feel – and it finishes off the neckline and armholes beautifully.

 

It is so simple: boat-neck, sleeveless, lined, invisible back zipper, centre-back slit. Perfect fit. That’s it.

GG collection cc019-01 LBCD

 

 

Next I’ll need to draft a few jackets to accompany it!

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Perhaps in a coordinating fabric? We’ll see.

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[BTW: No final views of the pieces in action – i.e. on me – until we hit the Caribbean!]

Posted in Little Black Dress, Pattern-drafting, sewing

My LBD* Project: Finally creating the winner!

And so, my *Little Black Dress project is finally (!) coming to a close. Well, maybe that’s rushing things a bit since I have three really well-fitting muslins for three different dresses all of which would make terrific little black dresses. [I actually did four but eliminated one fairly early on.] And yet, how many classic dresses does one really need? The whole point of the perfect LBD in my view is that it is so versatile it can be dressed up or down, so timeless that it never goes out of style, so comfortable you enjoy wearing it everywhere, and so well-fitting that you need only one. But…well, I’ll start with one.

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My custom-made silk jacket created for me by a Hong Kong tailor. 

Before I get to the current process, I just need to mention that my absence from my “atelier” is not because of any loss of interest in creating or writing, rather it’s because I’ve been to Asia. The trip was unimaginably fabulous! There were some style and fabric aspects (I had a custom silk jacket done for me to wear with my LBD and more), but mostly we just visited Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, The Great Wall of China, then Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo in Japan. But all of that’s for another blog space entirely. (FYI my husband and I blog about all things travel at www.thediscerningtravelers.com). Anyway, I’m back in the atelier and at the computer, designing, sewing, and writing blogs and books. So, the LBD.

I have decided in a fit of narcissism that I really liked my own design best, at least for the first dress. So, I have gone back to the muslin of LBD #4 to begin the process. Of course, this means that I actually have to create a pattern since it’s not a commercial one. The truth is a LOVE pattern-making.

drawing

My process begins with a final fitting to see where the pattern might need tweaking (my darn shoulder slope did need a bit of a tweak), then sitting at the cutting table to cut it apart. I remember the first time I cut apart a muslin (I was making my first Little French Jacket). It almost broke my heart – I had become quite fond of that ugly piece, because it fit me! Anyway, I’m a bit less emotional about the process at this stage of my design/sewing career, but I’m still just as careful. These pieces will be the foundation of my perfectly fitting LBD.

I then take those muslin pieces to the ironing board and go at them with both the iron and a lint brush. Then I’m ready to make the pattern.

I decide not to use couture techniques – rough butting directly from the muslin, thread-tracing seam lines etc. – mainly because of my fabric choice for this first dress. Did I mention the fabric choice dilemma?

I had thought I’d be using a high-end wool-blend fabric, underlining with silk organza and lining with silk charmeuse. However, I haven’t found that perfect fabric yet. I will, but in the meantime, I found a textured crepe knit that will provide me with a dress that can also travel well because, as you’ve probably figured out, I do a lot of that, too.

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The fabric, as you can see, doesn’t actually beg for couture techniques. In fact, now that I’ve fallen in love with my serger (more about my former distaste for serged finishes in a future post), I’m going to use it for interior finishing. I know – I should be slapped. Bottom line: I’m making a paper pattern.

Since the last made-from-scratch pattern design I did, I’ve discovered a new gadget, a tool. I’m sure I’m late to the party but when I discovered the double tracing wheel, I thought: why haven’t I know about this? The truth is that I’ve seen them before on Amazon. You know when you buy something there they give you a list of related items others have bought? I had taken a passing look at it, but I just never figured out what I’d do with one – mainly because they show it flat in a package rather than in action with the wheels actually pointing in the direction they’re meant to go in. Anyway, I thought that this would be perfect for marking the cutting line outside my seam edges.

So, I trace my muslin seam lines onto paper and begin to use the double tracing wheel to mark cutting lines. The problem is that the tracing wheels themselves don’t have a serrated enough edge to transfer to the paper visibly. So, what to do? I pull out my large sheets of waxed tracing paper and mark the cutting line on the back of the pattern. Voila! I just cut the edges from the back-side markings and I have my pattern pieces ready! It has changed my life! No more going around the pattern with my ruler making little marks that I then join up to make a cutting line. Genius!

Now I just need to find a bit of time to cut the darn thing out, mark it and baste it together.

 

How I got to this point:

The Project Begins

Option 1 (commercial pattern)

Option 2 (commercial pattern)

Option 3 (commercial pattern)

Option 4: My Own Design

 

Posted in Little Black Dress, Pattern-drafting, sewing

My LBD* Project: One Final Design Choice

It’s April and spring is upon us in the northern hemisphere – at least that’s what the calendar says. And that usually means I’m heading down to Toronto’s “garment district” to shop for fabrics. It’s a terrific 45-minute walk from where I live and I love walking down a few times a year to find everything I could possibly need for sewing and design plans. My husband is my sidekick on these journeys, providing much-needed extra help with seeking out specific items in these wonderfully jumbled stores. I can set him off to find “black knits” for example while I explore the silks. When he has found the general area in the shop and pulls some bolts, I can saunter over the make a decision. As a side note, he has a terrific eye and is a great second opinion. Anyway, that’s not happening any time soon.

Here in TO, we have been in the grips of a hideous April ice storm for a few days and now it’s raining buckets. The streets are full of ice-pellet slush and the sidewalks a sheet of ice. That won’t last long, but it has curtailed Toronto fabric shopping plans for the week, and for the month for that matter as it turns out. You see, this coming weekend I’m boarding a plane headed for Hong Kong and with any luck, I’ll be browsing silk stalls this time next week. But what does all this have to do with my Little Black Dress Project* you might reasonably ask. Good question.

I was planning to make a final decision on the design of the dress which would have led directly to fabric choice decisions which would have happened on Queen Street West this week. I think I have made a decision about design (and if I’m lucky I might find something inspirational in the way of fabric in Hong Kong or Shanghai, or maybe even Tokyo – all of which are on our upcoming itinerary) and actually making the dress wouldn’t be far behind. But I am getting slightly ahead of myself because I wanted to share my experience with one final design.

I’ve tested and fit three designs –one from each of Vogue, Butterick and McCall’s – so far. The last option is a design of my own. So where would one find inspiration these days for a timeless LBD? Clearly not in this spring’s ready-to-wear offerings, that’s for sure. I really just had to share with you this photo of a dress in a window in Yorkville Village, an upscale, very tony mall-like shopping space in my neighbourhood. It was in the window of TNT, a popular store in Toronto. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

hideous dress

“WTF is that?” I said to my husband.

He was as perplexed as I was. To be honest, the first time I saw it I thought it was one of those art pieces that you see in fashion windows from time to time. It never occurred to me that it was actually for sale and that it was intended for someone to wear. Needless to say, it doesn’t fit in with anything that I might recognize as timeless, flattering clothing for real people. But it was good for a laugh, n’est-ce pas?

So, I went back to my personal guidelines for the perfect LBD to begin my sketch: timeless, chic, sheath-like, open to multiple ways of styling.

Here’s how the sketch began.

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I love the idea of neckline darts – they seem to lend themselves to perfect fitting across my concave décolletage. It began with two neckline darts radiating from the centre and two waistline darts. That was okay, but not perfect. So, I extended the neckline darts and manipulated the waistline darts into a princess seam from centre front. I liked it, and after two more fittings, was able to get it to fit me perfectly.

Then what about sleeves? I started with the idea of petal sleeves. Although I liked them, given that they have to be lines, I wasn’t at all certain I liked all those layers of fabric that are necessary. There would be the bodice, two layers of front and two layers of back for a total of five layers at the sleeve head. Hmm…

What to do? Well, back to a simpler sleeve shaped with a curve. That seems to work.

draft 2 sleeves rouge
This iteration has two different sleeves. The one on the left side is much too big and floppy for me while the one on the right is much better.

 

 

After several (at least three) muslins, I finally settled on a simple design and guess what? I really have to make this one. But then I also have to make contender number two for sure and may be number three.

I think I have to find a lot of places to go to wear these dresses – and I have a lot of fabric to buy! Wish me luck! Cheers – and join me back here when I get home from Asia.