It’s the dog days of summer here in Toronto. The humidity is high and the temperatures soaring. I’ve just returned from a two-week road trip to the east coast where it was cooler for at least part of the trip. It was a great trip, but now it’s back to writing (a new book is underway) and designing. In the meantime, I’ve just finished a few pieces that once again forced me to move from a commercial pattern to a personal design. It all started – as it does – with a sketch, and a piece of fabric.
I really like the look of knit tops that have some kind of waist definition – it elevates them just a bit, n’est-ce pas? So, I started toying with the idea of a belted T, but let’s face it, who wants a belt around the waist in the height of summer on what is supposed to be a comfortable piece of clothing? And there are lots of design alternatives.
There are half belt ties. There are darts (but not so much in knits). There is side-seam and centre-back-seam waist shaping. Then there are faux ties. This idea I like.
So, I made a sketch of a top that would not require a constricting belt, but would still provide some kind of drape and definition at the waist…
…and contemplated the fabric I had picked up. The fabric is cotton jersey with a foil design, so it occurred to me that it could be a bit dressy. Then when I happened upon Butterick’s pattern #6628 and saw the rendering of it’s view A, I thought I could skip the pattern design part of my process and move right on to cutting and sewing. Well, not so fast.
First, though, I didn’t love the neckline, so that would have to change. I widened it slightly and went ahead with the pattern pretty much as is. The outcome was okay, but it didn’t have the kind of sleek style I love. Those sleeves were a bit annoying, but at least since they aren’t full-length, they don’t drag in your dinner! The real problem, however, is the drape of the fabric. It doesn’t have much.
But it is comfortable for summer wear and it does fit.
So, I reworked the pattern, made a trip down to Queen Street West here in Toronto and picked up a piece of bamboo jersey with more drape and a lovely hand. I’ve written about bamboo fabric before, so if you’ve been reading along, you know that I prefer higher-quality fabrics and a luxurious feel. This piece of bamboo has it all.
Then I went back to my original sketch and created a new pattern that is very similar to the Butterick design, but has a wider neckline and sleek sleeves. As I usually do with this kind of fabric, I cut it out single-layer, and it came together nicely.
Bamboo is a wonderful breathable fabric, and I wore this with white jeans out to dinner while we were away. (For the life of me I cannot understand why I didn’t ask my husband to take a photo of me wearing it, but that will have to wait. Trust me it fits really well!).
As much as I hate to admit it, the time for thinking about a fall collection is upon me and as I get back to recording my escapades, I’ll be sharing my design inspiration in the next week or two. *Sigh* summer will come to an end soon – but let’s not wish it away just yet (here in the northern hemisphere!).
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner. I plan weekly menus before I go to the grocery store. I map out an entire two-week road trip months in advance ensuring that all hotels are booked for the right days and I know the precise driving time between stops. I write outlines for everything I write, and writing is what I do in my other life (in this one, too, you might well respond – I don’t outline blog posts, though, which is probably obvious!).
To be clear, when I started my writing career many years ago, I learned very quickly that to sell a non-fiction book to a publisher, I’d need to learn to write a book proposal which is nothing short of a complete outline among a lot of other stuff. So, I learned the process of book proposal writing well enough to sell seven or eight books that way. So, when it comes to my sewing and design life, I pretty much take that same approach.
Remember my cruise collection? That started with an actual inspiration board, moved on to sketches, then I created original patterns, chose fabrics planned for specific projects (no fabric hoarding here). My Little Black Dress project? It progressed the same way as did my three Little French Jackets. So, I have no reason to think that much of my work will be on the fly. Well, you know what they say: “The best laid plans…” Let me back up a bit.
When I returned to fashion design and sewing a few years ago, much had changed in that world. For years my sewing machine collected dust between jean hemming and costume sewing projects. (I’m happy to say that the costume sewing for children’s theatre actually resulted in a child who grew up to be successful in the performing arts.) Then, the muse struck and I finally had the time to devote to a return to something I had loved as a young adult. But, as I mentioned, there were many new things.
First there was the rotary cutter. When I first saw one, I thought, Doesn’t anyone use shears anymore? I soon learned that, yes, shears are the way to go on most projects for me. I use a rotary cutter mostly for interfacing and muslin cutting. Otherwise, they’re not my thing – dreadful on silk, wool, bouclé etc. Then there were the patterns.
I had never before heard that McCall’s, Vogue, Butterick and Simplicity were now referred to as “the big four” and not in a good way. What was that all about, I thought? This led me to learn about the new “indie” pattern companies. That sounds very democratic, doesn’t it? What I found was an avalanche of half-baked patterns, generally for tent-like bags that would fit everyone and no one – I’ll leave the rest of that rant for another day to equalize out all those rants from sewers who seem to dislike the “big four” with a passion. I happen to think they do very good work. But that’s for another day. Anyway, I finally found a legitimate one or two whose patterns interested me. Style Arc was one.
An Australian company, Style Arc’s sketches were what really drew me in. And I loved the fact that not all of their patterns are for knits which means that they really do have to know how to create something that fits. That being said, I decided to try one that was for a knit first.
The other thing that had changed was that not all patterns came in little envelopes anymore. Some of them were pdf downloads. Who knew? Well, just about everyone but me! Everyone has to have a first time, though, don’t they?
Style Arc produces both hard copy patterns and pdf’s. I decided to try my first pdf and my first indie pattern all in one fell swoop.
I used to have a cardigan sweater I loved so much it was actually worn out by the time I finished with it. t hadn’t been expensive, either, but was black (a must for a sweater that will serve me over the long term) and instead of buttons, it had a half-waist tie. It looked terrific with collared shirts, T-shirts, just everything. It had a lot more style than the average cardigan. So, when I saw Style Arc’s Terry Tie Cardigan pattern, I was in.
I downloaded it and printed it out. Then, of course, I proceeded to tape it all together, as one must. Interesting. I cut out the pattern pieces and looked for some fabric.
Wouldn’t you think that something called “sweater knit” would be great? I did. But…well, stay with me.
There were just so many things wrong with the pattern in my view. It has these shoulder tucks—too many of them and way too small for the fabric I’d chosen. When I went back to Pattern Review to look at other people’s versions, they were all in flimsy jersey, so the tucks worked – but they were hideous. They were shapeless columns of jersey even with the belt tied. If I had looked at them first (lesson learned) I would never have chosen the pattern. But onward…
Okay, the first problem was the tucks, as I mentioned. Then, there was too much overlap at the front – and neither the centre front nor the waistline was marked by the way, a real problem with trying to get it to fit properly. The ties were too close to the centre front resulting in an odd look which was very evident on the ones done by others as I found out. Oh, and the seam allowances: you have to be very careful not to assume that they are standard 5/8 inch. They are not. The sleeves were too long (of course, this is an easy fix, but do women really look like orangutans?), leading me to think the sketch is quite misleading. So, what to do?
Back to the drawing board I go to try to rescue the project.
First, redraw those shoulders without the tucks.
Then, move the belt so that it is farther away from the centre front (which I had to find).
Then, as I went to sew it, I realized that the belt was going to be butt ugly so I ditched it.
Ditched the belt and took in the waist darts, extending them to the hem for a better fit.
Put it on Gloria junior, and began to redesign it on the fly.
Actually, I really enjoyed the “semi-draping” process. I redrew the pattern and it no longer resembles the original in any way.
What I learned about myself is that designing on the fly might not be such a bad approach, and that I think I would enjoy learning draping as a design process.
I love it when I learn something from every project!
It’s Valentine’s Day and for so many people out there it seems like this is such an important day, although to tell you the truth, I cannot really remember anything special about Valentine’s Days gone by. We used to do something like go out for a lovely dinner, and that was nice, but when you get to a certain point you realize that every day is a day to celebrate love. So that’s what we do. And in so many recent years, we have found ourselves on vacation anyway – which is pretty special in itself. This year, as it happens, we are still a couple of sleeps away from sunshine, palm trees and a cruise ship. But my cruise collection is finished and I’ll be packing it up momentarily. So, here’s the wrap-up.
Since we last “spoke” I actually added a few more pieces – some hits, some misses.
I added a second skirt. It’s based on the original design sans pockets, with a side zipper and a front seam. I went looking for the fabric at King Textiles in the Toronto fabric district because I wanted something particular, and came home with what is supposedly rip-stop, but it has an oddly shiny interior which has design possibilities, but I fear it may stick to me. Never mind: I plan to take it and wear it in the 28-degree Celsius weather and I’ll report back.
I also wanted two more, cool tops. Based on the design of the little black dress that will be the basis for many a cocktail evening coming up, I created a princess-line top from the seersucker that is at the heart of this collection. It fits me well, and is comfortable, but there is something about it…
It has a bit of a funky, broad-front look about it despite my careful selection of the placement of the stripes. We’ll see.
I added a tank made from the patterned (you know I rarely wear patterns) textural material as I work on creating my perfect tank. This one isn’t exactly what I’m going for on a long-term basis – the pattern still needs work – but it’s going to be great on the cruise.
I also wanted to make a floaty tunic top from some Indian cotton I bought for the project last summer while we were in Portsmouth, Hew Hampshire. I designed a tunic with short sleeves, and know I will wear it, but it looks more like a bathing suit cover-up than a top that should be worn on the street. It is such a heavenly comfortable fabric, though. Beach walk here it comes.
I started this project back in September. September?! Wow, that’s a long time. I wanted to enjoy the whole process from concept, through design and then execution. And I have done that.
I started by researching a capsule versus a collection. So many people online seem to create, through either shopping ready-to-wear or making it themselves, what they are calling a capsule collection. That wasn’t exactly what I was going for, so I decided to design a collection.
I created a “mood board” for lack of a better term so that I could visualize where I was headed. It was a very creative exercise that I will probably repeat seasonally. It forced me to really consider my personal aesthetic, which included colours, textures and eventually fabrics I loved.
But for a cruise collection that will actually cruise, there is more to it than aesthetics – there is also functionality.
We will be spending almost a week in San Juan, Puerto Rico where we expect the daily temperatures to be around 28 C with a humidex of 31C or so. We do love San Juan. We’ve been there several times, but this is the longest stay for us. We stay in an area called the Condado, named for the miles-long beach it borders. It’s about 5 km from old San Juan in a lovely, upscale residential neighbourhood. We’re staying in a new hotel for us, but the area is familiar. Then we’ll board the Silver Spirit, a 604-passenger Silversea Cruises ship – a bit large for our taste, but Silversea provides a wonderful experience. This will be our fourth Silversea cruise. This one is doing a historical-cultural tour of Cuba and a few other islands, ending in Fort Lauderdale.
[Some images from our last visit to San Juan]
Silversea has interesting wardrobe expectations. We will have two formal nights on this one (I will wear a gown and my dear husband will take his tux – not so many opportunities to gear up for a formal occasion these days, so we have to get some mileage out of the wardrobe). Not everyone aboard will go long-dress-and-tuxedo, but they will be dressed up. Even on the informal nights, most will be in cocktail dresses, and I will be wearing the LBD from my collection. There are only three casual nights on this cruise where I’ll be attired in white jeans, beautiful tops and appropriate sandals. This is not a T-shirt and ball-cap kind of cruise. And there are generally no children so that’s great, too, at this point in our lives.
Anyway, the new cruise collection, in concert with my favourite ready-to-wear pieces, is about to get its work-out. There will be photos.
We are now deeply ensconced in the dead of winter here in Toronto. Up until recently, the winter has been pleasant enough: dry weather, sun, no snow, cold but bearable. That all changed within the past week, and now it is truly a Canadian winter.
I can see snow on the sidewalks below our windows and everyone on the street, rushing back and forth in the requisite winter uniform of black – with the odd bit of fur and faux fur embellishing the ensemble – is clutching hats and scarves better to stave off the minus 20-degree Celsius wind chill. And here am I submerged in finishing my cruise collection. The gauzy, Indian cotton that is currently draped over Gloria junior is taking me away to images of sandy beaches and palm trees. But I’m taking a bit of a break just this minute because I have a new design toy and a couple of books that are distracting me.
I don’t know how you do it these days, but when it comes to Christmas shopping, members of my immediate family (meaning husband and son) do enjoy a bit of real-life shopping, but nothing beats the convenience of the online, world-wide mall. Of course, I refer to Amazon. So, about eight weeks before Christmas, I make the annual proclamation to everyone: “Clean up your Amazon wish list!” And they do, removing odd things that seemed like a good idea when they were clicked into the cart in July, but now don’t seem to be priorities. Because everyone in our family knows, if it is on that list, it’s fair game for under the Christmas tree (except for the vacuum attachment kit that had been on my husband’s list for four years – he always wondered why no one had given it to him as a gift. A vacuum attachment kit? Really? Well, he got it this year!).
Picking things off that list often results in my husband and son proclaiming, “Well, I didn’t really know what it was, but…” as they hand me a sewing or pattern-making gizmo or gadget that had been lurking on my own wish list. And occasionally a send along a link to a product that I think would be terrific. This year it was a link to Cochenille’s Garment Designer, a software program that I had uncovered after a lot of online research.
I had considered others: Adobe Illustrator for one. Right off the bat it’s a bit of a non-starter since it’s so expensive, and I’m not entirely sure that computer-assisted design is the way for me to go yet. Then there is Wild Ginger which looks interesting and I might get there. But Garment Designer had a bunch of online instructional videos that allowed me to tour the program. That sold me on it. I thought I could easily learn it.
I am just beginning to explore it and what it can accomplish. I’ve gone as far as creating four draft garments – simple ones to start – based on my personal sloper measurements. I haven’t had time to sew up any muslins yet, but it’s not far off and I’ll share that journey on this blog.
My son gave me another book in the series Fashion Patternmaking Techniques. This one is “Haute Couture.”
Last year he gave me volume 2: “How to make shirts, undergarments, dresses, waistcoats and jackets.” Both of these volumes are incredibly entertaining and inspirational. I like to flip through them, zero in on a design that catches my eye, then study the pattern.
I have learned so much just from browsing. These are winners for sure – and there are more volumes for future Christmas lists!
My husband’s list included a number of items from Lee Valley. Lee Valley is a Canadian, family-owned business that sells high quality woodworking and gardening supplies – and lots of other interesting items for your kitchen and other things. He happened to mention that he had seen a sewing-related item that I might like. So, when I ordered his presents, I also ordered one for myself. It is called the Pro Seam Ripper Kit. I am nothing if not becoming a pro at seam ripping! Oh, I think they mean the kit was a pro one!
Anyway, here it is.
What’s so fabulous about it is the quality of the surgical-grade steel that is used in the blades. A slight flick and the thread is neatly sliced. Just watch your fingers! It has two different blades and handles: one is a regular seam ripper with a slightly bulbous point that does not rip through fabric. The other, called a stitch picker, has a very pointy point to get under even the tiniest of stitches. That one is slightly lethal: I use the regular one more. Anyway, it is a fabulous kit that comes in its own hard plastic case with replacement blades. I only hope I won’t need to replace the blades any time soon: that would mean there had been a whole lot of seam ripping.
Oh, yes. I have used it. I just finished the second skirt in the cruise collection and the fabric – well, let’s just say that it was a bit challenging, and not all of the seams came out perfectly on first try. And that invisible zipper? I have never in my life had a problem with one, but this time, I actually sewed one side inside out – twice. The pro seam ripper came in very handy for that one.
Well, now it’s back to the atelier where I am putting the finishing touches on the cruise collection. “Cutting it a bit close, aren’t you?” said my husband a day or two ago. Perhaps!
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.
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…
…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:
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…
a dress with a bodice styled to expose the arms, shoulders, and back, for wear during hot weather.
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…)
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 clogs, flip-flops, and the absence of panties…
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…” 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!
…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.
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.
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…
…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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Next I’ll need to draft a few jackets to accompany it!
Perhaps in a coordinating fabric? We’ll see.
[BTW: No final views of the pieces in action – i.e. on me – until we hit the Caribbean!]
There was a time in my creative life when I always, ALWAYS began any project with a design. In the beginning (all those years ago in home ec sewing classes) that always meant a commercial pattern. I’d go to the fabric store and sit for what seemed like hours pouring over those gargantuan catalogues. (I have not looked in a pattern book for about 20 years: if I want a commercial pattern, I’d rather let my fingers do the clicking online.) And it does have to be said that there was a lot to like back then.
I’d select my pattern number, search for it and my size in the big drawer, then, and only then, would I head toward the bolts of fabric to select something appropriate. (There was so much crimplene, woven cotton and corduroy!) I loved the process of finding just the right piece so that, even though I hadn’t actually designed the piece from scratch, there would be enough of me in it to call it an original: the colour, the drape, the way the contrasting colours were applied. But I never once, at least as far as I can remember, ever started just with a piece of fabric. Times have changed.
These days, I do occasionally find a piece of fabric that I know I just must do something with. But in all honesty, I still find that I do have a picture in my head of what it will be, even if that picture changes as I move through the project. I never, NEVER buy fabric without any idea of what I’ll do with it. I do not hoard or in any other way stash fabric. Oh, there goes my rant again.
So, back to my fabric selection for my cruise wear. Last time we talked, I was showing you my inspiration board. That inspiration board is leading me to the actual designs and to the fabric choices.
My “muses” for the collection
What comes to mind when you think about Jackie O. or Audrey Hepburn on the Mediterranean?
For me, they conjure up visions of airy cottons, pristine white T’s, striped French-sailor jerseys and big sunglasses. They make me think about sun, sand (okay, it’s hard to call it sand on the beaches of Cannes and Nice, more like pebbles), yachts, the ocean and cold glasses of Sancerre.
This is my inspiration…my stepping off point…my stimulus. The rest of the elements, however, really happen organically. Colours, textures, line…all of these come together not in a linear way; rather they feed into one another.
A cruise collection colour scheme
If I am being quite honest about my sartorial choices in general, I have to tell you that I live in a limited colour palette. I love neutrals: grey, black, white, taupe. But I do have a bit of colour: red, fuchsia, burgundy, occasionally blue. And that’s about it. These are the colours that flatter me and the colours that I think look best in the kind of tailored style that has been my hallmark for decades. I also eschew prints for the most part. I find wild prints distract from the clean lines I prefer and to tell you the truth, I usually look like I’m wearing upholstery when I try on any kind of print. Oh, I do love to see prints on others – especially ones with a dark background, but they’re not for me. It’s who I am. That being said, perhaps there might be room for a bit of whimsy in my wardrobe? Who am I kidding?
A colour scheme for a cruise collection, though begs for a reflection of sun, sky and water. So, for this collection I’m drawn to blues, greys, white and a bit of black, of course. Because, who can go on a cruise without a little black dress? Hmm?
So, I need a bit of texture, do I?
Any fashion designer will tell you that collections need texture. When I buy ready-to-wear, I don’t really think about texture in that way. How I think of it is how it feels on my skin. And I do think that this kind of feeling is very important. But what about how texture looks? How it enhances the style lines of a design making aspects of it stand out? I have had to think about texture in a different way when creating pieces rather than simply buying them.
I found these wonderful photos of sand textures and was immediately drawn to them…then to the Egyptian-motif print (Yikes a print!) with the texture.
I think I can embrace this black on white print because of its simplicity, although I see it more as a partner piece rather than a complete outfit on its own. And then what about that striped seersucker?
It has texture, print (my kind of print, anyway) and to its credit, is a natural fabric – the best choice for a Caribbean cruise in my view.
Style lines that inspire
So what kind of lines will there be in this collection? Palm trees that sway in the gentle island breeze provide my mind’s eye with both a visual and a feeling. I’d like to capture that in both fabric and in design. But flowy dresses don’t suit me personally (I don’t think I’ve worn a full skirt since I was 11 years old), so even though it might be fun to design a flowy sundress, I’ll pass on that because I’d never wear it. I’ll just have to find a way to capture this feeling with cleaner lines.
Basic design decisions
I’ve decided that the collection will have two foci: one of them will be a day dress of sorts that will be the centre-piece of the daytime wardrobe. A little black cocktail dress will anchor the evening grouping. So, I started a bit of sketching and contemplation of which fabrics go with which designs.
Prepping my fabric
Most of the fabrics I am choosing for this collection are easy care, easy packing. I prepped the materials as I always do by using my 4X4-inch template to cut swatches and throw them in the washing machine.
I then measure them against the template after coming out of the machine and then again measure and examine them after the dryer. That’s when I decide how to prep the whole fabric piece. The black fabric for the cocktail dress which will be the centre of the evening wardrobe is washable, but I’ll plan to line it so, in the end, it will not be a washable dress.
Now that my fabric is prepped and I’ve given some preliminary thought to the design of some pieces, it’s time to get to work tweaking drawings and making patterns.
I have made garments following every instruction on a commercial pattern down to the smallest detail. I have made garments using a commercial pattern but using my own approach to process. I have tweaked commercial patterns. I have used commercial patterns for the foundation for personal designs. I have designed patterns from scratch using only my own drawings. But I have never done this before. I have never actually copied a ready-to-wear garment.
In my “other” life, I’ve spent a lot of my time writing, teaching and thinking about ethics. And the very notion of copying something that someone else created has never really sat well with me. Stealing intellectual property comes immediately to mind. That being said, most design these days, barring the most outrageous (and even some of them) is in some way derivative of something else. Sometimes it is simply reminiscent of another era, but often the designers seem to have a type of groupthink in a season where shapes and colours all seem to have come from a single mind. So, is there really anything that is truly original in fashion design these days?
I had that conversation with myself when I was thinking about a fairly practical issue. How could I get myself another version of a sleeveless T-shirt that I absolutely loved when the original producer was no longer making this design? The only answer would be to copy it.
Years ago, I bought a Landsend T-shirt that turned out to be one of my very favourites. You know the type of garment I’m talking about. It’s the one that you didn’t see coming. It’s the non-descript little piece that you find yourself turning to every time the weather/season/event begs for one. Yes, you have others in your closet, but this one feels terrific, fits well and just makes you feel good. You should have bought three, but who knew that you’d love it so much. So, the day comes when you look at it and think, “I can’t really be seen in public in this anymore. It’s too worn/old/holey…” Pick one, or in my case too faded. It was a black cotton jersey which, as we all know, fades miserably over time.
So, I went online to see if Landsend had them and of course, they no longer existed. So, the question was, could I recreate it and perhaps tweak the design a bit to make it even better. Well, as much as I hated the thought of cutting the thing apart, I knew I’d never wear it n public again, so I took out my trusty sheers and got to work.
Making the pattern would be quite easy, I thought, but what would I actually make it out of? I knew I didn’t want a fade-prone black jersey again. And I know how much I love bamboo jersey. So, I wondered if I had enough of the black-striped grey that I’d used on another faux-wrap top. And I did! My newly updated faux-wrap sleeveless T design was coming together. Of course, the bamboo jersey has more stretch than the cotton jersey, so I figured that I’d probably have to tweak it a bit smaller – I was right.
Once I had all the pieces for the T cut apart, I trimmed them, pressed them and laid them out on pattern paper. I traced the pieces, added seam allowance and notches, trued the seams, decided where the shirring on the faux wrap should be (it had always been lower on the seam than I thought it should be), labeled everything and got ready to cut out the fabric.
The one thing I had to really think about was how I was going to finish the neckline and armholes. The original had binding. I wasn’t keen on that. I wanted a softer finish. So, I found that simply doing a double-turned and stitched hem was the answer.
I’m delighted at how it turned out.
The question is: is this really a copy or is it my own new design inspired by the original? The fabric choice is very different, so the T fits better. The designed was tweaked. Is it mine or is it theirs? In the end, does it matter? As far as I’m concerned, Coco Chanel can have the last word… Imitation is the highest form of flattery. I hope the original designer of this T is flattered. It’s meant sincerely.
A few years ago, my husband and I were on a kick to figure out what the concept of “luxury” means to people these days, and by extension, what it means when we say something is “luxurious.” We were sailing on one of those all-suite, 6-star, “luxury” cruise ships with a group of people who would, by all accounts, have more than a passing acquaintance with luxury. So, one evening while all dolled up for a formal evening, with all manner of creative tuxedo and evening gown dressing on display, while sipping cocktails at one of the chi-chi bars on board, we posed the question to the group. “What does luxury mean to you?” The answers were perhaps not what one might expect – although on deeper reflection, they are precisely what one ought to have expected.
One of the evening gown-clad women took a sip of her champagne and thought about this for a moment. They were all taking this turn in the conversation seriously. “Well,” she said finally, “Having someone make my bed with fresh sheets every day would be so luxurious.” Interesting. I guess we thought they might think about cars or first-class air travel…but I’ll get back to those in a minute.
The second woman said this: “It would be such a luxury if I had someone to wash my hair for me. I love that feeling,” she said. And I thought to myself, she’s right. What feels better than that massaging shampoo at the hairdresser? I was beginning to see a trend in their answers to the question.
It seems that in the twenty-first century, luxury is, at least in part, based on how something makes you feel. And I suppose that the fabulous car or first-class air travel isn’t luxurious in and of itself. It is only luxurious because of how it makes you feel. Then I thought, that’s exactly how I define luxurious fabrics. They are fabrics that have a kind of sensuous feel that make you feel divine when you wear them. When I wrote about alpaca before, I may not have articulated this in precisely this way, but it’s underlying all of my sentiment about alpaca, cashmere, silk…and now bamboo.
I bought a couple of T-shirts in the past few years from a company called LNBF (Leave Nothing But Footprints), a Canadian design group that bases its design philosophy on sustainable, natural, environmentally-friendly fabrics. It was the first time I had worn bamboo which is one of their mainstays. Well, sustainable it may be, and natural mostly, but environmentally-friendly? That’s actually debatable depending on the processes used to create it, but I’m going to focus on the fact that, in my view, it deserves to be in the category of luxurious fabrics, not based on its cost, but on how it makes you (me) feel. But it is worth considering its environmental footprint.
As Yvette Hymann, writing on the blog Good on You wrote back in 2016, bamboo is having its moment, and that moment seems to have legs since people are still embracing it in 2018. But there are questions about it. She says the following:
…there are a few things to consider…although bamboo is fast growing and requires no pesticides, that doesn’t mean that it is being grown sustainably. The majority of bamboo is grown in China, and there is no information regarding how intensively bamboo is being harvested, or what sort of land clearing might be underway in order to make way for the bamboo. Also, although bamboo doesn’t need pesticides, there is no guarantee that they are not being used to maximise outputs… 
Bamboo fibres that are woven or knit into fabrics that we use to make our luxurious T-shirts, are almost always “rayon” which is categorized as a semi-synthetic fibre. It would be extremely rare for the bamboo fabric you have to be created from a mechanical process, so you know it’s been chemically processed. When the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) did a bit of an exposé on bamboo-clothing manufacturers’ claims a few years ago, they found that,
“…Bamboo is soaked in sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda or lye, and carbon disulfide and turned into a mush from which fibres are extracted. A diluted sulfuric acid solution is used in that part of the process.”
The truth is that there is hardly a fabric around today that doesn’t have some kind of environmental baggage. That goes for natural fibres such as cotton and silk, as well as manufactured fibres that are often oil-based – such as polyester, nylon, spandex, acrylic and olefin. Once we have that figured out and we at least understand that apart from going naked, we might simply consider the sheer volume of clothing we make and own – and the amount of fabric sewers hoard. I have to be honest, though, I am not among those hoarders, so I’ve take a step.
Now that all that is off my chest, can I tell you how luxurious I find knit bamboo jersey to be? It is comfortable – oh so comfortable – it breathes and it just feels so sumptuous against the skin.
[Pattern envelope and drawings from McCall’s site]
When I found Butterick 6517, I knew I had a contender for the two yards of pin-striped grey bamboo I found on Queens St. West in Toronto on my last fabric hunt. I love the wrap styling of this top because it’s so flattering when it fits well.
I found that I had to cut it out single-layer to ensure stability and avoid stretching it. It’s a small price to pay for a good fit in the end. I did find that the wrap over was a bit droopy, but since I’m a baster, I basted the front seams before finalizing them and was able to perfect the fit. I also find these days that what some of the pattern designers are calling ¾ sleeves are, in fact, bracelet length. I am 5 feet 7 inches tall with normal length arms and I find their ¾ length dowdy. So, I shorten them on every occasion – unless I really do want bracelet length (which is rare).
I did the seam finishing with my serger (the piece of equipment I vowed I’d never use – I really do have to tell you about this long-standing prejudice of mine which has all but evaporated recently) and did some top-stitching. Then, voila! I have a top that I’d love to wear but the summer here in Toronto has been so stifling, it will have to wait until the fall!