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

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

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

[In Sint Maarten a few years ago]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

So, I did a few sketches…

GG-CC019-dress and skirt20181021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

noun

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

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

sundress

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

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

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

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

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

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

jackie in LP
Jackie (Kennedy) in LP

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

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

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

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

GG-CC019-03 alone

 

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…

IMG_1758

…and sewed up a muslin…

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

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

buttons

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

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

IMG_0048

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

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

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

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

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

RTW cruisewear
My past RTW cruise wear

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

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

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

Jacki & Audrey

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

IMG_1801

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

 

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

GG collection cc019-01 LBCD

 

 

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

GG collection cc019 a20180903

 

Perhaps in a coordinating fabric? We’ll see.

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

Posted in fabrics, Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Texture & colour & style lines, oh my! Fabrics & sketches for my cruise collection

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.

DSC02409
I took this photo of the beach in Nice on the Riviera a few years back when my son was working in Monaco. See what I mean by the “sand”?

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

my closet
A glimpse inside my closet. Black? Grey? Red? White? Oh yes.

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?

Colours 1

 

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?

IMG_1802

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

Shapes 4So 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.

GG collection cc01920180903
First ideas about the LBD for evening.
GG-CC019-0320180925
First thoughts about the day dress at the centre of the day-time collection.

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.

IMG_1801
The LBCD fabric is washable – and oh so yummy against the skin – but I’ll line it so the final product won’t be washable.

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.

IMG_1716

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns

Copying Ready-to-Wear: Making it better and making it for me (you)

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.

Imitation CCIn 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.

LE original
I doesn’t look like much now because of the faded black jersey, but it was a great T-shirt in its day. Trust me!

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.

LE GG update drawing
My drawing with the tweaks and updates included.

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.

LE T neck binding
The original neck binding.

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.

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

In praise of luxurious fabrics: Bamboo jersey

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My husband and I ready for the evening at sea. Yikes! All that dark hair I had!

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… [1]

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.”[2]

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.[3] 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).

 

B6517 finished

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!

[1] https://goodonyou.eco/bamboo-fabric-sustainable/

[2] https://www.cbc.ca/news/bamboo-textiles-no-more-natural-than-rayon-1.938759

[3] Gail Baugh. The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory, 2011, p. 16.

Posted in Little Black Dress, Pattern-drafting, sewing

My LBD* Project: Finally creating the winner!

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

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

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

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

drawing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How I got to this point:

The Project Begins

Option 1 (commercial pattern)

Option 2 (commercial pattern)

Option 3 (commercial pattern)

Option 4: My Own Design

 

Posted in Little Black Dress, Pattern-drafting, sewing

My LBD* Project: One Final Design Choice

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

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

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

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

hideous dress

“WTF is that?” I said to my husband.

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

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

Here’s how the sketch began.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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