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.

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Posted in Little Black Dress, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

My LBD* Project: Considering option #2

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Contender #1

My Little Black Dress* project continues. I’m still mulling over designs. I have already made up contender #1 and put it away for a side-by-side comparison to the other two contenders in due course. I’m now on to the next one.

Before I get to my muslin, though, I’ve been thinking about the fine line between a “little black dress” which implies something that I might wear to a cocktail party, on a cruise or perhaps out to dinner at a chi-chi restaurant on a special occasion, and a couple of other garments that wouldn’t fit the bill at all. I’m talking about “sun dresses” and “house dresses.”

Let’s first consider the “house dress.”

Megan Reynolds, of Racked, wrote a really nice piece about this anachronistic piece of clothing. She talks about the real pleasure of coming home from work, shedding the daily armor (whatever that might be for you: anything from a buttoned-up business suit to a uniform) and kicking back in a pair of old sweat pants and a grubby T-shirt. She considers the modern house dress to be a better alternative. She writes: “A good house dress lacks anything constricting about the midsection and should slip over the head with ease…A house dress is the antidote to slovenliness and an effective way of making you feel dressed when you’re really not…”[1] And it seems to me that in the 1950’s which seems to be the height of house dress popularity, the dress was less floaty and loose than today’s versions.

And while I’m on the subject of today’s versions of the house dress, it seems to me that they could pass for what I think of as sun dresses: loose(ish), cool and most importantly, made from fabrics light handkerchief linen or cotton voile.

modern house dress
What passes for a “house dress” or “sun dress” today. Gag me!

So, why am I thinking about house dresses and sun dresses on my journey toward the ultimate LBD? It’s because I’m struck by how the style might be somewhat less important than the eventual fabric choice. I’m thinking about this because as I ponder the lines drawings of contender #2, I see that this dress, fabricated from, say, cotton sateen, would be anything but the kind of LBD I’m searching for.

lbd 2 line drawingsAnd yet, if I squint, and see black, crepe-backed silk satin in lustrous black with the crepe side used for a contrasting yoke and sleeve band, styled with beautiful gold earrings and a necklace to die for, I’m seeing possibilities. Anyway, here is contender #2, Butterick 6410, and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.

As I cut and fit this dress I’m struck with the fact that it’s actually a better fit than contender #1 (McCall’s 6464). It also has sleeves with that cuff detail that could look corporate in certain kinds of fabrics, but as I mentioned my image of silk, crepe-backed satin, this becomes cocktail-worthy. I also really do like the neckline, which comes as a surprise to me. I thought that and Audrey-Hepburn-inspired boat neck would be my first choice, but I see lots of possibilities for jewelry with this one.

 

As I move on to contender #3, I realize that the choice might be difficult in the end. But, then, doesn’t’ everyone need more than one LBD? We’ll see.

 

 

 

[1] https://www.racked.com/2016/9/1/12519724/house-dress

Posted in sewing, Stylish Books

For the love of tunics: My “Tunic Bible” experience

While everyone around me is readying themselves for the upcoming Christmas season (it may be upon you already, but for me it is still upcoming!), I’m toiling away at finishing a project that I had planned to accomplish for over a year. I am making a tunic. From a book. That is probably old news to you.

So, I’m late to the Tunic Bible party. That does not mean I am any less sincere!

FullSizeRender_1I love a great book, especially one on the general topic area of sewing, couture sewing, style, fashion and how to look one’s best as one embraces the wisdom of the mature years *clears her throat* I occasionally review books here or rather I share my particular responses and general musings about them, so this is not really a book review. That being said, it is really a how-to book and so if you want to know about the qualities of a how-to book, you really have to get in there, turn up your sleeves so to speak, and learn “how-to.” But please let me set the stage.

I love certain kinds of tunics. I mean I really love them, and always have. When I think of “tunics” I’m not thinking of the box-pleated tunic I wore to elementary school – although now that I think of it, maybe the love of tunics did start there. I really liked school. And this one looks just like the tunic I had to wear (sans tie)…

box pleated 2

 

And I’m not thinking of all those shapeless, knit tunics that women wear to cover up parts of them they would prefer not to show although the jersey-type fabrics might not really be doing their job. No, I’m talking about the Tory Burch kind of tunic.

 

 

Since the first time I saw a Tory Burch tunic quite a few years ago, I have loved her approach to creating a garment with a dizzying array of approaches to carrying it off. She refers to her tunics as “the height of bohemian chic” which is probably true, but the idea of me being the slightest bit bohemian would probably make anyone who knows me giddy. Nevertheless, this is why I swooned when I happened upon the Tunic Bible.

Written by Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr, The Tunic Bible purports to be… “One Pattern, Interchangeable Pieces, Ready-to-Wear Results…” To me it seemed like the most brilliant idea in the world. Well, for me it was two out of three, anyway. It is just up my alley these days as I attempt to create my own working pattern blocks that can be changed over and over into different well-fitting garments that I love. So, when no one bought it off my Amazon wish list last Christmas, I bought it for myself.

I spent a few months just enjoying its photos and planning how my first one might look. I didn’t, however, ever get around to actually buying a piece of fabric exclusively for the purpose of a tunic creation of my own. So, for months, it was just a figment of my imagination.

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Last summer I had created my first created-entirely-by-me pattern and had lots of fabric left over. 

Then I had a brain child. I had been looking for ways to use up some remnants left over from this year’s projects. I would have just enough if I used the coordinating pieces effectively. So, I determined my size in the included pattern, traced off my size and proceeded to create a fitting muslin. Well, that didn’t work out so well. The fit was hideous – but the neckline was good.

The pattern seems to fit so many people from the reviews I had read, but I just could not get rid of the bubble of material in the front of the tunic sample. The shape of it just wasn’t right for me. If I had taken waist darts it might have worked, but I wanted to be able to use it with or without those darts. Sometimes you just don’t want it so fitted and don’t want to have to put in a zipper. If it had had a front seam, I could have accomplished it, but alas, that would ruin the look of the tunic. So, I took out my own bodice sloper and began to experiment with the Tunic Bible necklines and my own bodice size. It had mixed results – pun intended.

The muslin fit well enough for me to go ahead with cutting it out of the left-over material I had on hand. I was excited because I was going to creatively use the pieces to get a unique piece that I hoped would be great for next summer. The cutting and sewing went so well. That was until I began to attach the collar – I had not put a collar on the muslin – my first mistake.

There was not a doubt about it: the collar was too small for the neckline. Well, I thought, maybe I’m supposed to ease it in. Mother of god – just look at the gathers I had to put in.

It wasn’t that this looked so bad, but it really changed the fit of the back (which I had expected at this stage) and of course, as nice as it looked on the dress form, I would never be able to wear it. So, I thought about what my husband might do if faced with a situation where he had run out of, say, duct tape, and decided I could remove the collar to just past the shoulder seams, cut it at the mid-back, measure the gap, insert a piece of contrasting fabrics as if it were a design element (!) and sew it back on. So that’s what I did.

But really, there was a 1 3/8 inch gap when I took it off.

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Had I changed the size of the neckline when I transferred it to my own bodice? Had I cut the collar out incorrectly? So, I went back to the original pattern from the book, measured the neckline, then measured the one on my pattern. The length, curve, everything was the same. So, I measured my collar pattern piece and compared it to the collar pattern provided in the book. Identical. I have no idea what I did wrong.

I really love the idea of a tunic that fits well and lends itself to so many possibilities, but this one isn’t it. I won’t be making his particular one again, but some day I’ll make it work!

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merry christmas

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, sewing

My Little French Jacket #3: Muslin-fitting challenges

home-ec-class
Ah…home ec classes!

When I learned to sew – way back in the ‘olden’ days – the notion of making a muslin/toile/test garment never occurred to any of us in the ‘home ec’ classes of the day. In fact, the idea of taking the time to make a garment that you would never even wear (don’t get me started on the notion of a ‘wearable muslin’ – a rant for another day) was so foreign as to be laughable. These days, however, for my money, making a quality garment of quality fabric without a fitting muslin would be fool-hardy. For me, getting that fit right before laying out and cutting my fabric is key to the success of the project and my feeling of accomplishment. So, in the case of my current project, when last we talked, I had whipped together the toile and was just about to put it on. Moment of truth…

Dear god…it’s hideous. Every single complaint anyone had about this pattern played out before my eyes in the mirror. Despite the fact that I had done a tissue fit, I had not, of course, fit the sleeves. How problematic could they be? As it turns out – very problematic. And although the thing now fits around me relatively well, the shape was clearly wrong.

 

Reviews I had read of Vogue 8804, Clair Shaeffer’s LFJ pattern suggested that it was boxy, despite the picture on the pattern envelope, so I had nipped it in a bit. Not nearly enough. For me, the upper chest area was also billowy, but with princess seams, that’s always an easy fix for me and becomes the difference between the fit of an off-the-rack jacket and a custom-made one. First adjustment taken care of.

 

The sleeves are another problem. Given that one of the hallmarks of a Chanel-inspired jacket is the slimness of the sleeves, I’m left wondering just who CS and Vogue thought had arms this large. However, since they are three-piece sleeves, there are several different points of reduction available to me including that seam that runs from the shoulder point to the cuff. I also add a dead dart at the under arm which helps. But the sleeve head also seems too bit for the armscye at the front — too much fullness that will have to come out. Also, they are an odd length for me. They are designed to be bracelet length, and I thought that I’d like that. Turns out that the proportion is just wrong on me—it might work for someone else, but not me. So I decide to remove the sleeves, re-cut them and see how the second pass goes.

sleeve fit problem

The bottom line at this point is that I need to do a second muslin.

I use the pieces of my first muslin with their extensive alterations as the pattern for muslin #2 and sew it up. When I look in the mirror, I see that it is better, but there are still some fit issues.

The sleeves now fit better and are a better length, but it’s still a bit boxy – the waist is too wide and needs to be nipped in at the front princess seams and a bit at the sides. There is also another issue.

When I first cut out the pattern, I did note that CS had used ease at the bust along with the princess seaming. The pattern directions then call for this to be converted to an underarm dart in the lining.

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On the first muslin, I had to take a dead dart from the side seam to the armsye on the front to get rid of some of the boxiness. 

I had thought this would be a good idea, but now it’s just puffy. Of course the muslin fabric does not have the characteristics of fluidity that will be part of working with the bouclé, but I’m wondering if removing the ease with a dead dart will improve the fit. And…it does!

Then there is the length issue. I ignored it at the first muslin fitting, but now it’s of concern. It’s either not short enough, or not long enough. After consideration, I opt for the shorter length, then see that there is too much flair at the hemline. I lengthen it again to the original pattern length, and the flare only gets worse. So it’s back to the drawing board for the hem.

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You can see the dead dart in the sleeve: I took it from the armhole to the centre seam. This did get rid of the excessive ease in the front of the sleeve but you can still see some of the puckering at the sleeve head. 

I take the hem down again, reduce the width of the side panels and shorten it again and it works. Now I need to evaluate the pocket placement.

This jacket has four pockets and when I examine their location on Chanel originals, I note that the placement varies a lot. So, I’m going to have to go with what works best for my body shape and height. I move them up and over, then back and find them too close to the centre line making them look asymmetrical. Back they go and now the muslin is ready.

Now it’s time to pick it apart, iron the pieces well and ensure that they are free from lint bits. I now have a pattern from muslin and it’s on to the exciting bit of cutting and marking real fabric!

Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, sewing

A muslin/toile for my new Little French Jacket: Marking for perfect fit

coco quoteCoco Chanel is often quoted as having said, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” And nothing says impeccable dressing to me more than perfect fit. Oh how I strive for perfect fit (as anyone who has read previous posts on this journey with me will know!). As I advance down the road toward Little French Jacket #3, I am faced squarely with fitting a new design rather than reusing an already fitted one. Of course this begins with the muslin.

When last we spoke I had done a preliminary pattern fitting, tweaked a few known problems, and then began cutting out the muslin to create my first test jacket – and with any luck and a few more tweaks, it will be the only one I’ll need.

In the Spring 2013 special fitting issue of Threads magazine Susan Khalje begins her article on creating a muslin by saying, “Muslin may be an inexpensive fabric, but a muslin test garment is worth its weight in gold.” And I wouldn’t even consider cutting into that expensive bouclé or that even more expensive silk charmeuse for the jacket lining before getting as close to a perfect fit for the pattern as I could possibly get. This is especially important in the case of these jackets because of the nature of the fabrics themselves. Both bouclé and silk charmeuse fray appallingly and the less they are manipulated the better. This means that there should be no seam ripping whatsoever. The only way to avoid redoing any seam in my view is to be absolutely certain that the pattern fits then baste everything before sewing. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I now have my muslin fabric cut out and am ready to mark it. I am going to be marking and working with seam lines as I mentioned in my last post, rather than seam allowance edges, so the muslin pieces are pretty roughly cut out. Now I have to transfer all seam lines, grain lines and other markings onto the right side of the muslin pieces. The right side you ask? Well, this is what I asked after a lifetime of tailor’s tacks in good fabrics (I’ll get to those as well – wait and see) and piddly little pieces of carbon tracing paper sandwiched between two pieces of fabric to mark on the wrong side. I learned that approach in long-ago home ec. classes! With the couture approach to muslin creation, however, I need the markings on the right side so I can see them when I do the fitting in due course. Won’t I need some marks on the inside for sewing – well, yes, but I’ll get to that.

I’m using large sheets of dressmaker’s waxed marking paper that I bought online from Susan Khalje’s web site. When I started using it I thought, “Where have you been all my life?” I think each sheet (it comes in a tube of 4 sheets of different colours) measures about 26 inches X 39 inches.

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The sheets of the heavily waxed paper are enormous and wonderful to work with. But they do cause a bit of hand staining! (It comes off easily!)

I roll out the red sheet (I like red for my first pass on muslins) on my cutting board and hold it in place with random things on the four edges that will otherwise curl unmercifully. I have a tape dispenser on one, a pair of shears on another – well, you get the idea.

I place my first cut-out muslin piece on the tracing paper and just begin tracing all the marks with my tracing wheel. When I need to move the piece to be closer to me, I just move it. When I need to turn it, I just turn it. There is no rearranging of carbon paper etc. I’m in heaven. I mark everything in sight. Grain lines for sure, seam lines, darts, circles, notches, waistline, bicep line, high figure point etc. When I have all of this on one piece and I have carefully checked to ensure I haven’t missed any markings, I remove the tissue paper pattern, re-pin the two layers together and just turn it over. I use the markings on this side to mark the other side. Brilliant! I then take a red pen and label each piece: centre front, side front, upper sleeve etc. I repeat this process with every single piece. Because I’m a bit OCD about this process, I actually note which is the right side and which is the left for each piece and mark this as well.

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I’ve marked from one side, removed the tissue pattern, re-pinned and turned the piece over to use the initial markings to mark the other side. 

I need to say a few things about this pattern (Vogue 8804). It is Claire Shaeffer’s design for these LFJ’s and on the pattern pieces she has provided markings for the quilting lines. When made a LFJ before, I always made my own decisions regarding the location and spacing of the quilting lines based largely on the pattern woven into the fabric itself. However, I do note that since this one will have buttons and buttonholes, and the front will be underlined with silk organza which she specifically indicates should be quilted directly to the fashion fabric rather than doing this line through the lining, I do mark those quilting lines on the front pieces. I will leave out the back markings though, and make a decision and measure them when I get to the quilting part.Vogue 8804 pattern front

So I now have all the pieces marked on the right side, but I’ll be putting right sides together to sew up the toile, so how in the world do I get the marks I need on the wrong side? Thread tracing to the rescue.

I put all the tissue paper pattern pieces back in the envelope: I shouldn’t need those ever again as long as I live if I get this right. Then I take the muslin pieces to the machine. I thread it with red thread. (Remember, I like red for my first pass at a muslin then I know which marking I’m looking at.)

Using a 3.5 mm stitch length (it does go faster this way and there is less puckering), I sew along any line I will need to sew. This means I don’t thread-trace grain lines, waist markings etc. I don’t back-tack at all and I sew to the end of each line, stop, cut the thread, then sew the next one so that I have very clear transections of the seam lines. This should make it easier to match up the corners.

 

When this process is complete, I have a perfect set of wrong side sewing markings. I take all the pieces to the ironing board and give them a good steam press. I’m ready to sew the muslin together.

Using a 3.5 mm stitch length and dark grey thread to differentiate the stitching line from the thread tracing line, I whip it together. Well I whip it and carefully prepare and set in the sleeves to be honest. Once it’s complete, with great trepidation I put it on, approach the mirror, and hope that it comes close to fitting.

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing

The first complete G.G. design finished!

done finishedThere is something deeply satisfying about reaching the successful conclusion of a project that has been planned carefully and executed systematically taking the time along the way to get it right. Well, I have just completed my first start-to-finish personal G.G. design and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Unlike my deep, dark past when sewing meant getting to the finish line before the deadline, my year-long foray into slow sewing (…from fast sewing to slow…), my present sewing self is much more interested in taking on projects that will teach me something. To say that this project has taught me something would be a serious understatement.

It all started last year when I decided that now was the time to begin fulfilling a long-standing dream of mine and begin to learn something about fashion design. I decided to begin with learning flat pattern-making. This would have two important outcomes: first, I would be able to actually design something that could be sewn together; and second, I could find that elusive perfect fit.

suzys classAs you probably already know, this meant beginning with a Craftsy class (or three) delivered via video by instructor Suzy Furrer. I began with creating my own sloper developed from a personal moulage – the moulage which I eventually used to create my personalized dress form. The sloper then became the basis for learning the first steps in design – baby steps, the first of which was dart manipulation to create different style lines. Then it was on to learning how to create different necklines, collars and closures, then finally a sleeve that would fit me and any bodice I might create. It was at that point I decided it was time to plunge into my own first design.

I’ve noticed that many people choose a very simple “pop-over” type top for their first project. I wanted to challenge myself a bit more so designed something that would fit my summer, downtown kind of lifestyle. It would have to be sleeveless; it would have to have a collar; it would have to have a front placket. And so I began sketching.

As I mentioned in my last post, the design actually evolved through the process; this was a situation that I had not anticipated, but I suspect is more the norm with “real” designers. The initial concept has to be tested to see if it actually works and has the aesthetic that you’re looking for.

I started with an idea which became the sketch.

first pattern

…which became the toile…

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…which resulted in a few new ideas…

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…which became the final pattern…

 

…which was then cut from my cotton/polyester, linen-look fabric and sewn into the final garment…

…which is now awaiting the perfect day for its first outing!

I have a couple of other small projects on the go now: I’m challenging myself to use up some left-over fabrics, so I’m doing a commercial project and a simple new design. Then I begin my third Little French Jacket project. Who wants to sew that one along with me? Hmm?

ends and beginnings

 

 

 

Posted in sewing, Style

Commercial or self-drafted pattern duel: We have a winner!

I can’t remember exactly when it was I decided that I wanted – no, needed – to learn to draft my own patterns. In my past sewing experiences, I confined my own designing to making changes in commercial patterns. You know: you change a sleeve, or tweak a collar, you make creative fabric selection, or ditch a zipper. In the end you believe it is truly yours. Well, that’s okay, but it does limit creative expression, and when I found myself continually having to tweak commercial patterns for fit, that’s when I realized I really needed to create my own patterns. So I started the courses to learn.

After a year of following several courses, creating a personal bodice sloper from a personal moulage, then learned a thing or two about operations necessary for creating patterns from that sloper, I finally created my first pattern. By the end of my last post I had completed the final muslin for my first totally self-designed pattern, and was ready to embark on creating a muslin for the commercial pattern that was also in contention for a particularly nice piece of shirting fabric. Here’s how that process went.

When I first clapped eyes on McCall’s 7546 earlier this spring, it was the sash that drew me to it. I like the idea of tailored shirts with body-conscious shaping. My own design this spring incorporates that idea, but does it differently.

First, my own design has princess seams.

first pattern

Although 7546 looks as if it has princess seams, it really has slashed darts from the armholes that end some distance above the hem in both front and back.

line art

The sashes are also different. The one I designed is sewn into the side seams leaving the back unencumbered. The McCall’s pattern has a wider sash that originates in the back seam resulting in a bit of a bulge – at least it was in unbleached cotton. I could only hope that it would be smoother in a smooth shirting fabric.

The necklines are also quite different as you can see. My own design has a mandarin collar – a design I love. The commercial pattern has an open collar with a collar stand. And of course, the sleeves in the dueling designs are so very different: my own is sleeveless, while the McCall’s has full-length sleeves with a cuff – one version with a so-called cold shoulder, the other without.

chicos cold shoulder
My ready-to-wear cold-shoulder…

It was not in any way the cold-shoulder sleeves that attracted me to this pattern. This design feature is certainly ubiquitous in spring/summer 2017 ready-to-wear, and I have to say its popularity puzzles me a bit. Maybe it’s the Toronto weather: too cold in winter for cold-shoulders, too hot in summer for any sleeves at all. Anyway, I did buy one this year, but I’m not really sure where I’ll wear it other than on a cruise through the Panama Canal this fall. I never wear prints, and on pain of death avoid the “boho” look. Wonder what got into me? Anyway, I decided that I’d make up one of those sleeves when I created the muslin. Hmm. That was interesting.

 

So many sleeves, so little fabric! I decided that in the interests of making a decision, and the fact that I was unconvinced about the cold-shoulder, I should cut and sew two different sleeves for this test garment.

I first cut and sewed the cold-shoulder with the cuff, then drafted up a three-quarter length sleeve using the armscye of the pattern and my own sleeve sloper – since the sleeve from the pattern seemed a tad wide for my arms in any case. So here’s what I got on the first try.

The cold-shoulder sleeve was hideously large, gaping even more than the photos show. My own ¾ sleeve, on the other hand, wasn’t so bad. But it didn’t seem quite finished. So I unpicked them both and cut the commercial sleeve without the cold shoulder. I also re-drafted my own slightly shorter and a tad wider to accommodate an external facing. Here’s what these two looked like.

 

So here I am, having to make a decision before cutting into the Mood fabric. I really loved my own design – the look and the fit. But I realized that the fabric might not be the best for it. So the winner is: the commercial pattern. But I’m making it with my second three-quarter length sleeve. So, I guess it’s my own design? Not so much.

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I have cut it out and begun to sew, but I’m off to the Toronto garment district this week to find the perfect fabric for my own design!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Dueling patterns: Commercial or my own design?

A couple of months ago I found myself with a free hour to wander by myself up and down the aisles of Mood Fabrics in Los Angeles. I perused all the aisles first, then zeroed in on the two or three that were home to the fabrics I was actually on the hunt for. I am not a fabric hoarder in any way. The mere thought of a so-called “stash” makes me gag. (As I’ve said before, that’s just me – no judgment – I know others feel differently, very differently!). This stems from my and my husband’s inclination for quality over quantity in as many aspects of our lives as we can manage. That means fewer clothes, a little less wine and even fewer pairs of shoes – but every one of better quality than we might otherwise accumulate. This philosophy even governs our travel: we travel less often than many of our friends, but always in style – no economy seats on long flights, that’s for sure! Well, this is how I shop for fabric.

Anyway, as excited as I was about the surfeit of wonderful fabrics – there were dozens of silks, linens and wool bouclés I adored – I stuck to my little pink book where I had specific patterns and their requisite yardages. I only buy when I know I have a project. One such project was a bit hazy, though.

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The Theory blouse at Saks, summer 2016 collection that inspired me

I had a picture in my mind of a sleeveless Theory blouse that I had considered last summer at Saks. It was, however, a whopping $385.00 CDN which, even for someone obsessed with quality, is a bit steep for a blouse. So, I reluctantly put it back on the rack, concluding that given what it was and its potential price-per-wearing, it was past my point of diminishing returns. But I never forgot it.

 

With the concept of the blouse still in my head, I searched the shelves for white, textured shirting to see if anything caught my eye. It did. So, against my own rules, I bought it without an actual pattern in mind. When I got home, though, I found what I thought might be the perfect pattern.

McCall’s 7546 isn’t even sleeveless, but it has of-the-moment- bare shoulders at the top of its long sleeves. It does have that tie, even if it is a bit wide and long, sewn as it is into the back seam. So, I prepped the fabric by washing, drying and ironing, then began to think about tissue-fitting and cutting a muslin. But there was something nagging at the back of my mind.

I’m ready to design my own blouse, I was thinking. I had learned to draft a bodice for a blouse, how to draft necklines and collars, how to create button plackets, and I was certain that drafting a tie that was set into the side seams would be a piece of cake. I was ready. So I started sketching.

My own version of the sleeveless, tie-front blouse has that front placket, but it also has princess seams in the front and back and a mandarin collar. I just love a mandarin collar (and have a plan to draft myself a cheongsam someday). Anyway, I thought why not draft the pattern then cut and sew muslins for both of the patterns? Why not make it a bit of a competition (where I get to be the judge and decide which one will have the privilege of being cut from my Mood fabric)?

So, I started drafting a pattern then cut out both patterns in muslin. Then I started sewing.

Of course, with my own pattern, I knew I’d likely need at least two test garments to get it just right. I needed two. The second one fits perfectly, and although the muslin is stiffer than the fashion fabric, the tie isn’t bad. However, I actually think I like it better without the tie at all! I guess that’s part of the design process.

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So, here’s where I am in the duel of the commercial versus self-designed patterns: I have now completed a muslin for my own design and it’s ready to rip apart to make the final pattern. But before I do that, I’m working through the muslin for the McCall’s pattern. I want to see the two of them side-by-side. At this point, I do have a contender in mind for the prize fabric, but I’m not quite there yet.

Next week!

Posted in sewing, Style

In praise of (sewing) button-front shirts

If I had to describe my personal fashion style in one word, I’ve always immediately jumped to “tailored.” When I met my husband just over 30 years ago, he commented on the number of suits hanging in my closet (with shoes in labeled shoe boxes lining the upper shelf). In fact, he had the audacity to remark that they all looked the same. The nerve! I of course pointed out that they were indeed all quite different. Several, however, were from the same two designer – Montreal designer Simon Chang and Alfred Sung to be specific – so, I suppose to the style challenged they must indeed have all looked very similar.

As my career evolved, and dress codes changed, sadly I wore fewer and fewer suits. But what never changed was my attraction to sleek lines, button-front, collared shirts, blazers and great shoes. Even today, with my current casual lifestyle, I wear a blazer with jeans and I have a favourite Brooks Brothers cashmere one that is one of those pieces that transcends fashion and trends. It will always be in style!

All of this got me thinking about the sewing patterns and styles that I’m drawn to these days. Why is it that I so often create for myself those soft knit pieces? Of course they, too, have a place in my life, but there is little doubt that they are a bit less complicated to fit and sew. This from the woman who delights in those couture sewing techniques that require so much time and attention. I think I always hesitated to tackle a real “shirt” for example, because I so love. Brooks Brothers shirts where the workmanship is without equal for the price point. Not cheap, but certainly not the most expensive you can buy. I love that attention to quality and my question to myself is would I be able to produce something I’d be prepared to wear. Well, this is my year and I’ve just finished the first of at least two shirt type garments that I have planned.

Before I reveal my latest project, though, I was interested to find out when and where we actually started wearing this particular style that seems to transcend fashion. Where did these collared shirt designs originate and, even more interesting, when did women begin to embrace them – because to be sure, they did begin as men’s fashion. So, I did a bit of digging.

DSC05153First, I need to clarify a bit of terminology. My well-dressed son who loves his Armani tux (which he bought on sale ten years ago and still wears) as much as he loves his jeans and sneakers, loves a button-front shirt. However, he and his friends all call them “button-down” shirts. This had always bugged me since my understanding was that only shirts whose collars actually button down were correctly called this. It turns out that I am, indeed, right. So much for the millennials and their terminology!

It seems that collared shirts have been a part of men’s wardrobes for centuries. In fact, the terms “white collar” and “blue collar” actually do originate in the difference between the colours of the collars worn by men who worked in more clerical, office-type and executive-type positions versus those who toiled as laborers. As you may be aware, before the early 1900’s men’s shirt collars were not, in fact, attached to the shirts at all. It was only after laundry became more accessible and clothing manufacturing became more sophisticated that different fabrics and colours and attached collars became a fashion item for men.[1]

mens collars

The actual button-down collar has an equally interesting history. In 1896 Brooks Brothers started producing soft button-down collar shirts inspired by the shirts worn by polo players at the time. These days we tend to think of the polo shirt as having a collar that flops around, but it seems that polo players back at the end of the nineteenth century didn’t’ like those floppy collars and began buttoning them down. Still these days the buttoned-down collar is considered to be more casual than one that is not: a button-down is likely to be considered to be a sports shirt while the non-buttoned collar may be on a dress shirt – but as you know, everything is changing in our casual world!

So, when did women start wearing this style? Just last week I received a catalogue from Brooks Brothers. It seems that in 1949 they began to notice that the smaller sizes of their famous button front shirts were selling much faster than the larger sizes. When they tracked down the cause of this they found that women were buying them! It was that year they introduced what is now their iconic button-front shirt for women and so many others have followed suit. So, what am I going to make?

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Butterick 6376 and my fabric from Mood Fabrics LA. I’m making view B

I happened on Butterick 6376 before I landed at Mood Fabrics in LA in February. While I was there, I swooned over their array of shirting fabrics and found a winning combination for me: black and white stripes and black contrast. I then scoured the Toronto garment district for buttons when I got home and plunged in.

 

What I liked about this particular pattern was that it’s not a simple white (or even coloured) shirt, rather it’s a tunic with interesting sleeves. I know that in my distant sewing past I constructed a variety of collars, but I could not remember ever making a collar with a stand. It looked a bit daunting, but it turns out it’s so easy.

The fabric was so easy to work with, but I wanted it to look great on the inside so decided to flat fell as many of the seams as it would work for and I do love the interior finish.

I haven’t had a chance to wear it yet – still not quite warm enough – but I do know that I need to make another button-front shirt. I have an idea of what’s next, and this time it includes a design of my own that I’ve been working on and all that entails: making the pattern is up first. I’ll let you know what’s happening next!

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[1] A Brief History of Men’s Dress Shirts. https://www.pacificissue.com/the-blog/a-brief-history-of-mens-dress-shirts

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Style inspiration: The 1960’s in the 21st century

I’m not sure why, but I’m really inspired by the styles of the 1960’s. I’ve been collecting inspirational vintage patterns on a Pinterest board for some time, and when I look at them I’m struck by a few design elements that seem to emerge again and again.

As I examine these shapes, I see that there is a certain neckline style that immediately appeals to my personal aesthetic. So, it isn’t at all surprising that I was attracted to Vogue 8886 on a recent online pattern-buying spree. It has that very retro feeling without being truly vintage – I’m not a vintage kind of gal in any way, shape or form. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t swoon over clothing from earlier eras from time to time. I just like to think that I can take elements from them and make them contemporary. So, I embarked on this sewing project hoping it would be just that kind of outcome. Well, it is – sort of.

First, this was the subject of my rant about fitting the bust. I made the mistake of thinking that I had to cut the larger cup size (which Vogue handily made available in the pattern envelope). Never again. I had to do a bit of research to understand that even if I measure a D- cup, the fact that it is a 32-D and not a 38-D makes the need for that fuller bust change entirely moot. *sigh* Well, I’m now over it.

I actually finished the top. It now fits quite well (although as usual it is probably not quite form- fitting enough since I tend to be frightened of the possibility of anything being too tight), and it is divinely comfortable. The problem is – if you must know – that the very thing that inspired me to buy the pattern and sew it up is the very thing that bothers me. It’s about the neckline.

When I first laid eyes on the pattern, it looked to be a raised boat neckline. A bateau and the Sabrina, a variation on the bateau, is probably my very favourite neckline.

sabrina neckline
Audrey in that Sabrina neckline first designed just for her!

I think it is über flattering on most women, and especially on me. I thought that the banding just made it even nicer. The problem is that the band isn’t a band at all – it’s a large, fold-over collar.

 

vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

Right from the cutting out, this surprised me, but I thought, how big can it be? When I made up the toile, I had my answer: big. But I decided to persevere. It didn’t look too bad on me, I thought. In fact, I thought it might be quite nice. So I completed it as designed. But now I’m left wondering where and when I’ll ever wear it.

At this time of year when it should be the most appropriate kind of thing to wear, it occurs to me that it doesn’t fit well under a coat or blazer (it’s really bad under a blazer), and it’s too cold to go without a coat yet. Once it’s warm enough to go without a coat, it will be too wintery to wear.

My lesson here is that I need to examine the line drawing on the patterns I buy more carefully before putting my money down. I worked hard to get this pattern to fit and thought I’d make it again as a dress, but there is still that collar. I might try making it up without a collar at all, but I might as well draft my own boat neck that is ideal for me and not take a chance on this commercial pattern again. You live and learn!

I still think I can make some 1960’s style elements work in the twenty-first century, though!