Posted in Men's Designs, Style

An Unexpected Design: The man’s shirt project

Well, I never thought I’d ever write or even utter these words: this is the beginning of my man’s shirt project. It’s the last “project” of 2019 and it was unexpected, to say the least.

Anyone who knows me knows that my design and sewing projects are pretty well confined to me, me, me. My love of female dress and design always nudges me away from any other kinds of projects I might consider – or those I would never consider. For example, I have yet to think of a single reason why I would make a handbag or tote bag. Blecch! I really hate those wildly-printed monstrosities that the pattern companies seem to foist on avid sewers. (I apologize if you love these; but my blog, my views. You are perfectly entitled to make or wear whatever you want.) And just lately I saw a sewing blogger I follow encouraging people to sew their own shoes. Joke, right? For me, it would be. I love shoes or to be more specific, I love high-quality shoes. Ergo I wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of shoes I made myself. If you’re a cobbler and into bespoke shoes, well, that’s a different thing. But feel free to make your own espadrilles. But I digress…

Why in the world did I start a man’s shirt project? Well, my own personal style runs to the classic, tailored look so I do love a collared, buttoned-up look for myself. I really love a Brooks Brothers women’s shirt, for example.

And I have also made shirt-like pieces in the past and enjoy the process. Add this to the fact that I always like to have a project on the go but I don’t always need a new piece myself.

Not exactly a button-up “shirt” but my last related project.

So, I was feeling magnanimous one day and asked my husband if he ever thought he might like me to make him a shirt. He respectfully declined. This is a man who already owns sufficient shirts for his lifestyle.Ya think? And besides, I really think he harboured the feeling that a home-made shirt might, well, look homemade in spite of the fact that he often marvels at the pieces I make for myself. Anyway, I moved on. Then, a few months later, we happened to be talking about bespoke shirts and other things and he said something to the effect that I had never made anything for him. I reminded him of our previous conversation of which he claimed no memory. In any case, it seems that the idea of selecting his own fabric and having a bespoke shirt crafted for him now had an appeal. I jumped on the chance to create a well-fitting, truly unique shirt for my very best friend in the world – my husband. And so, we were off.

My husband does have a substantial number of shirts.

I don’t know about anyone else, but whenever I start thinking about a new design and creation project, I start to do some research. Mine started in my husband’s closet, examining the fine details of the shirts he already has. I looked at yokes, cuffs, cuff plackets, front plackets, buttons and buttonholes, counted buttons (did you know that there are eleven buttons on a regular shirt and that doesn’t count the collar buttons if you use them which I would have to since that’s the kind of shirt he likes). I examined the top-stitching on a number of his shirts and scrutinized the seam finishes. I noted that the more he paid for a shirt (a Robert Graham versus a Landsend shirt), the more likely it was to have not only French seams but also to have the armscye seam bound. So many things to think about! I even started doing this kind of research as we browsed through the men’s department at various local stores: Hudson’s Bay, Nordstrom and Saks in particular.

All this hands-on research got me wondering about the provenance of many of the details. Why do men’s shirts have the kind of construction details that are so important?

When I made my own button-front shirt-like piece over two years ago, I did some research on these shirts. At the time, I wrote the following:

I’m sure you enjoy a well-dressed son as much as I do! The Armani tux…

“… 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 labourers. 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… 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!”

I noted this and recognized that casualness notwithstanding, my husband is not a lover of the floppy collar. He prefers it to be buttoned down either where it can be seen or on the underside. Check.

Okay, so that reviewed for me the history of the button-front shirt but since I wasn’t making a man’s shirt at the time, I didn’t research those other details.

It seems that yokes first appeared in the 1880s or 90s and although I can’t find details about this, I’m guessing that it was in the Wild, Wild West in the U.S. Think: cowboy shirt. But the yoke does have a more practical purpose.

According to David Page Coffin writing in his wonderful book Shirtmaking: Developing Skills for Fine Sewing, “A yoke is vital to a shirt. It provides extra strength in the area bearing the weight of the shirt…conceals seams at the shoulder…” where they might otherwise “rub uncomfortably.” [page 21]. I forgot to mention that when I decided to embark on this project, I thought I better get myself some professional help so immediately surfed over to Amazon and purchased his book. He’s a bit of a shirtmaking guru and the book is a must for anyone wanting to up their shirtmaking game.

As far as front bands are concerned, according to Coffin, the use of the front band is actually an American standard with the cleaner front more European. Duly noted. My husband’s style would skew more European than American if we had to judge.

And what about cuffs? I do love a French cuff – the ones that are folded back and fastened with a cuff-link. But they always say “formal” to me. What I didn’t know was that the non-French cuff is actually called a barrel cuff. So, since this is to be a less formal shirt, a barrel cuff with its simple button closure it will be.

Cuff illustration: https://georgehahn.com/essentials-the-great-white-dress-shirt/

As for silhouette, my husband prefers a trim fit rather than a big box, but he also doesn’t want a shirt that is too tight. And that goes for the sleeves as well. Have you noticed how balloon some shirt sleeves are these days? I knew I’d have to be careful about the sleeve volume.

With all of this in mind, I began searching for the perfect commercial pattern for this shirt. Well, naturally, the perfect pattern does not exist. So, I ordered a Vogue 8759 measured my husband and began fiddling with the details of this pattern.

What I liked about it was the fact that rather than a pleat or two at the yoke, it has a three-panel back and you know that the more seams there are, the better fit you can accomplish. I also liked the two-piece sleeve, not that common on everyday shirts. And as for the front placket? None, so it has that clean European look. But what of the collar? Not what he really wanted so I knew that in the first-draft of the project, I would have to redesign it.

Then all I needed was fabric…or should I say fabrics. We were going to need to do one or two trial runs of this sucker before landing on the right size and design. In that process, I found a new fabric store far from the usual Toronto fabric district. Its divineness has to be experienced. I’ll share that experience with you in the next installment.

Cuff illustration: https://georgehahn.com/essentials-the-great-white-dress-shirt/

Posted in fashion history, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

When a design gives me headaches, I give it…buttons!

Buttons from my collection – individual pieces just waiting for the right place to embellish something.

I’m not a fan of stashes. In fact, I truly believe that “stashing” away fabrics is akin to hoarding. I’m kind of a minimalist that way. (No judgment here – it’s just not my thing. Well, maybe a tiny bit of judgment.)  In fact, the term “stash” actually means something that you put away in a secret place for future use, so this notion of a secret implies that you are trying to hide it from someone. That leads me to wonder who everyone is hiding their stashes of fabric from – themselves? Anyway, I don’t stash fabrics, but I do have a stockpile of buttons. Isn’t that a better word? Let’s start by backing up, shall we?

Buttons are extraordinarily functional little things, aren’t they? If you went into your closet this very minute and began counting the number of buttons adorning your various pieces of clothing, I’ll bet that you’d be astonished by the number. And what would happen to all those shirts and blouses, not to mention blazers and coats if there was no such thing as a button? They’d all have zippers and that would be aesthetically boring in my view. And this brings us to the history of the button.

Buttons were largely decorative when they were first used. The earliest buttons that history offers us date from the Indus valley in what is now Pakistan from the late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age – which would make them some 5000 years old – and were made from some kind of copper alloy. These buttons had to be decorative since the buttonhole as we know it today wasn’t invented until the 13th century.

Buttons as closures really came into their own in the Middle Ages when clothing evolved to become more form-fitting. This required some kind of fastening to keep those breeches and vests closed – and close to the body.

Listen to fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi talk about buttons…

…notice he suggests that buttons are a fashion statement? Well, that’s where I come in. As far as I’m concerned, buttons are first and foremost decorative. And they are endlessly variable. They can be made of metal as the earliest ones were, plastic, resin, wood, mother of pearl, glass, crystal, leather, fabric and just about anything you could imagine.

So, when I add some buttons to my collection, I look first to their aesthetic value and second to how utilitarian they might be at some point in the future. I buy buttons regularly whether or not I have a design in mind for them. There are several avenues I use for button collection.

First, of course, there are button shops – or at least portions of shops that are devoted to buttons. Downtown Toronto in the fashion design district, there are a couple of shops that offer this vast array of oddities in the button world (of course, alongside the purely functional ones).

This is a free Pixabay image but it might as well have been taken on Queen Street West in downtown Toronto — my favourite button shop looks exactly like this!

I also keep all those little extra buttons that come along with ready-to-wear clothing. You’d be surprised how that kind of collection can enlarge over the years.

Fishing tackle boxes from Canadian tire make surprisingly good storage containers for keeping buttons organized. Most of these are ones I have collected over the years from those “extras” that come with ready-to-wear pieces.

But my favourite way to collect buttons these days is from eBay. Yes, I buy lots of buttons online. If I have a specific project that I’m seeking buttons to complete, I don’t mind paying a good sum for them. However, when I’m just collecting, I’m looking for inexpensive, funky, different. And sellers from Asia – largely mainland China and Hong Kong – offer cheap buttons and free shipping, although shipping usually takes two to three months. But these are really interesting design features

Just a small sampling of my EBay buttons. Each set of about 10-50 buttons runs me less than $2.00 (Canadian) and with free shipping that I look for, it’s a bargain! You have to admit they’re inspirational, yes?

 The fact that they are also functional is largely secondary in my “design” experience.” As a result, I tend to pull them out when I’m stumped in the final stages of the design process. And occasionally they offer me both aesthetics and functionality – buttons can cover a multitude of sins. A case in point: my recent fall/winter party top project.

I began with a commercial pattern: Vogue 9270. I love the idea of a fancy tunic-like garment for entertaining at home over the festive season and I thought that this one might fit the bill.

I  had this fabric that I bought at the beginning of the season, inspired by my design board that I created for this season. The fabric has a bit of sparkle and a really drapey quality to it. Of course, this is where it all went so very wrong.

The first change I had to make to the pattern was to widen the neckline. Why in the world do so many pattern designers insist on making necklines that creep up to the high neck points? Wider necklines are more flattering on almost everyone. So, I made that small change in the design and carried on.

The fabric. I wish you could see the tiny sparkles all over it. They’re subtle, but festive.

The fabric was a nightmare to sew. I used a titanium ballpoint needle and still had trouble at the beginning of every seam getting it to feed evenly even with the walking foot. But once I fitted the princess seams and installed the largely unnecessary 20-inch zipper (this baby pulls on over the head), I kind of liked the way the fabric fit from the bust-line up. The seaming down from the bust to the hemline was another story. I could not get it to hang properly. (I refused to even take a photo – it was that bad.)

Of course, it was my own fault since I had chosen a fabric that didn’t have nearly enough body to hand the way it was intended to hang. In addition, just as I had feared from the beginning, the tunic was far too long. Long tunics kind of cut off your legs. Not a good look. I knew that I’d have to do something to salvage it so I began cutting length off the bottom, cut a slit part-way up the centre front. I started experimenting with centre-front knots, centre-front wrap overs, off-centre knots, off-centre wraps, a blouson style. Then I cut a bit more off. I would have to make a decision before I was left with a midriff-baring piece. I finally decided that elastic on the bottom would be useful and installed it.

So, those sleeves look like they should be a nice design feature? Not so much.

That decided I had to tackle those bell sleeves. Why in the world did I think I’d like these? I did not. They were miles too long and they just kind of flapped around like bat wings that would certainly not have been functional in the least for entertaining. So, elastic to the rescue again. So, was this little number finished? No.

I looked carefully at the front “wrap-over” and decided that it looked weird. This is when I pulled out my button collection and began the fun part.

Here are two accent buttons I considered. I finally settled on the black with the gold bar.

After a significant number of failures, I finally settled on a button that would cover the little imperfection in the front and that would be an aesthetic addition to a piece I hope to wear at home over the holidays and on a cruise next year. Since I wear yellow gold jewelry almost exclusively, the black button with the gold bar would work. I think I love it just a little. 

What do you think? It doesn’t look at all like the original but I think I look ready to cook a turkey! Talk soon.

Sources:

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/design/2012/06/button_history_a_visual_tour_of_button_design_through_the_ages_.html

Posted in fabrics, Fashion Design, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

The Festive Season is Coming: Finding the right party look

It feels a lot like winter today here in Toronto. In fact, when I raised the blinds this morning, there was some of that “white” stuff” on the rooftops some stories below. Thankfully, there wasn’t actually any of it on the streets or sidewalks. It’s too early for that! What this always means to me – and in spite of the fact that the calendar says it’s nowhere near winter yet – it’s time to consider what I’ll be wearing to those inevitable Christmas get-togethers whether I like it or not. When I started planning this season’s little collection, I was inspired, at least partially, by a couple of fabrics that I bought on my early fall pilgrimage down to the fabric district along Queen St. West here in the city.

Fabric shopping in that district always has to be planned in my view. First, it has to be just off the high tourist season. Queen Street West is a zoo during tourist season in the summer. Second, I always walk. That’s non-negotiable. But since it’s a good forty-five-minute walk, the day has to be just right. It can’t be raining or, god forbid, snowing. Then, I always take along my fabric-buying assistant (also known as my husband) who is a great scout if I give him a few guidelines suggesting what I might be looking for. On the early September day we chose, the walk was particularly nice and I actually came home with a few pieces of fabric that were inspired by my fall/winter mood board.

I hadn’t been looking for special-occasion fabrics specifically, but that’s what I came home with. I had been thinking about textures and colours for my inspiration…here are two that inspired me this year…

Two of the fabrics I bought as inspired by my original texture samples.

Another texture that inspired me was a pair of SJP shoes that I actually happen to own. There’s just something about a pair of sparkly shoes that dresses up even a pair of skinny jeans…but I digress.

Here are those shoes in action…

I am no slave to fashion trends, always preferring timeless classics (except clearly in shoes), but I do like to be modern. So, I love to see what the industry is suggesting might be the in thing to wear to festive parties this season.

According to Vogue magazine, arbiter of all things fashionable (arguably, I’m sure), “fabulous dresses and practical bags” are the way to go. I suppose in some world this dress might work…

…but in my world of Christmas parties, I can’t quite see this as I prepare the ham for a family Boxing Day dinner, or for drinks with the neighbours in our condo building. Not going to happen. Good Housekeeping (god love them) on the other hand is suggesting dowdy…

…and dowdier.

I find that this length they’re all suggesting this year is one of the most unflattering ones for just about any woman. There is a way to avoid that conundrum, though, wear pants. They are my go-to. And the truth is, these days, anything goes. So, what can we do to dress up a pair of pants (other than adding a pair of sparkly SJP shoes, of course)?

I’m often inspired by old movies with those fabulous costumes. Some months ago, my husband and I happened to watch the1956 film “Written on the Wind” starring the incomparable Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone. Oh the costumes! In one scene the two of them are drinking and arguing, and Dorothy Malone is wearing an Asian-inspired blue silk jacquard jacket, which would probably be called a smoking jacket if it were on a man.

Isn’t this fabulous?

I have no desire to recreate their pieces, but I do think that using them as design inspiration can often meld the old with the contemporary aesthetic. So, I began sketching and my design ended up a bit like this…

So, I began to create the pattern and put together a muslin.

Work was going well, so I bought some velvet to make a contrast collar. I thought that the silver and black fabric would be wonderful. This is where I ran into my first problem. The fabric was all wrong for this design. It was not wrong from an aesthetic point of view, but it was so wrong when it came to fabric properties – especially drape. It had too much. I loved the fact that this was a bit like liquid silver, but the design I envisioned begged for something like silk jacquard, something stiffer. It occurred to me (after discussion with my dear husband and style consultant) that a bomber-style jacket might work.

I scoured the commercial pattern offerings and found Butterick 6181 that also had a version with buttons rather than a zipper which seemed a better party design for me. I did some pattern fitting and found that the design had just a bit too much “blousiness” in both the body and the sleeves. I had to take out 2 inches of volume in the sleeves or I would have drowned in fabric. I also removed some from the body.

I thought I might use the velvet I had bought to make a contrast collar. That was an unmitigated disaster. Note to self: learn how to mix wovens with knits (did I mention that the silver and black fabric is a knit?) so that you can avoid the mess I ended up with. My trusty surgical-steel seam ripper came to the rescue.

My next design decision was about buttons. I had a set of funky silver buttons that I had in mind. However, when I compared them with a self-covered button, it was no contest. The covered buttons were much classier. So, I did something I hadn’t done in some forty years: I did that fiddly button-covering thing.

Finally, I have a party jacket for the season, but I also have a pattern for a more form-fitting one that I will not give up on. I’d love to make that one but I have one question: how many party jackets does a girl need? 

On to the next project…


Sources:

https://www.vogue.com/vogueworld/article/valentino-fall-trend-holiday-dressing-ideas

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/uk/fashion-beauty/g538763/christmas-party-dresses/?slide=1

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

In Search of the Perfect Wrap Top: Fall/Winter 2019

Have you ever found a silhouette that you just love? For me, it’s been the pencil skirt, the skinny pant and the wrap top. I don’t wear skirts all that often (with the exception of my cruise collection 2019 skirt) so searching for a pencil skirt is a bit of a time-waster.  I have actually found my perfect skinny jeans (Paige denim – no, I do not make jeans and will never make my own jeans as long as Paige continues to exist).

But…I have been searching for the perfect wrap top for years and this season wanted to add one or two perfect ones to my wardrobe.

Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve experimented with a couple and my desire to create one in (expensive) silk knit set me off on a quest to ensure the perfect silhouette, the perfect wrap and the perfect fit – before I take the plunge into an as-yet-unpurchased piece of (expensive) silk. But first, where did this little gem of a piece of clothing begin? It’s a fascinating history.

Of course, Diane von Furstenberg has been credited with “inventing” the wrap dress more than 40 years ago back in the 1970s (not all the clothes during that decade were hideous), and we can all be forgiven if we believed, up until this minute, that this is where this silhouette began. It did not. If you look closely, you might even conclude that DVF borrowed the idea from an American designer who preceded her by some 40 years.

Original Charles James wrap dress

According to most online sources, the wrap silhouette can be traced back to American couturier Charles James in the 1930s when his body-hugging designs were just short of scandalous. Of course, he was also known for his extraordinary ball gowns, but it is the wrap silhouette that is the most avant-garde as far as I’m concerned.

Until I began looking into the origins of the wrap design, Charles James hadn’t even registered with me. But there he is. This little video, hosted by none other than Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, provides a terrific overview for those interested in the history of fashion. But CJ’s wrap creation doesn’t really appear here.

However, if you have a few moments and the interest), you’ll notice that buried among all his other voluminous creations, the CJ wrap dress appears (at about 3:27 of the video is you want to skip ahead).

What’ really interesting about the design as far as I’m concerned, is the way it wraps. And not every one of his wrap dresses had the same inner construction. The one featured in the videos above is actually a wrapped skirt.

The above dress opened out

If we move forward into the 1950s, you can see that even the pattern companies were offering home sewers options. The silhouette in general is a very ’50s look the way I see it.

I started my own wrap journey with a faux-wrap tank top that I designed based on a favourite top from, of all places, Landsend. (I wrote about it here.)

It’s kind of cute, but not the real deal. I do like the fact that with a faux-wrap you don’t have to worry about a wardrobe malfunction, though!

Then I moved on to Butterick 6517. (Note the same striped bamboo jersey).

I liked the outcome, although I did think that the wrap-over bit at the front was a tad bulky. So many folds. Nice, but not worthy of (expensive) silk jersey.

I finally hit upon Butterick 6628 and with a few tweaks I’m happy to say that it became the first piece of my 2019-20 F/W wardrobe. You might remember my inspiration board for this season along with its colour palette.

I picked up a drapey synthetic for the purpose of trying out this pattern before the (expensive ) silk knit that I plan. It turned out better than I had expected and this will be the design for the final product when I find the right fabric.

In the meantime, I’ve put this one into the fall/winter rotation and am still searching for the perfect silk knit. On to the next design!

More images of the Charles James wrap dress: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/171965

Posted in Fashion, Fashion Design, Fashion Journalism, Style

Fall/Winter Wardrobe Planning: Design inspiration and a few trends

It happens every season: fashion pundits cobble together the trends, tips and colours of the season so that the rest of us might fall into line and get behind those trends. Personally, I do enjoy seeing the new trends and figuring out which of them (if any) might actually work in a real life in general, and in my real life in particular. Add on to that a serious consideration of whether or not I really NEED any new pieces of clothing, and you find me mulling over my fantasy fall/winter 2019-20 design inspiration. It’s partly fantasy because I don’t really need many new pieces and because I prefer style classics, but it’s also partly reality since I will, indeed, use it to figure out what I will design, make and buy for the season.

When I say that I don’t really need any new pieces, I really mean that. Since it’s the beginning of October and the fall chill is beginning to put the run to summer weight wardrobe pieces and bare ankles (so sad to see them go, but I do have two new pairs of boots that I look forward to wearing), I took advantage of some time over this past weekend to begin the changeover from summer to winter clothing. Of course, there’s a bit of crossover at this point in the the year. One day last week hit 27 degrees Celsius (something like 80 degrees Fahrenheit for the centigrade-challenged), so those cashmere sweaters just don’t cut it.

Anyway, during the great-closet-turnover of the fall season, I discovered that I have plenty of clothes. In fact, if I went on one of those year-long clothing-buying boycotts, I’d be okay. I wouldn’t have to leave the house unclothed. But I would really enjoy a few new pieces. I just have to be judicious about what I buy. For example, I’d love to have three new coats, but I cannot justify this on several levels.

First, I’d need more closet space – not going to happen. Second, I’d need to look beyond black, other wise what’s the point? This isn’t going to happen either because I live in Toronto and black is de rigeur for the winter. Just take a walk down Bloor Street past D & G, Holt Renfrew, Louis Vuitton and the like and you will see a sea of black. Even down on Bay Street among the financial towers. Black. Yup, everyone is in black. Oh, wait. Do I see a rust-coloured parka? Well, yes, I do. Rust is fine these days, but still an oddity.

Anyway, this is where I begin my rumination about this year’s wardrobe.

My second stop before beginning my own process is to take a look at those fashion pundits and their narrative about what we will all be wearing this year. I love to start at the colours.

As usual, Pantone (the paint people of all things) seems to lead the way on this front. Or so they’d like to think. Evidently, this season’s colours include the following…

…as well as a few more that are grossly orangey and/or the colour of guacamole. They are too putrid to even consider on me.

According to Harper’s Bazaar, we should all save our black ensembles for next year in favour of…

Yes, pistachio, shades of purple, bright orange, shocking pink (fuchsia to me) and neon. First, I have to say that in my view only one of these colours could actually be worn from one season to the next. There is only one that wouldn’t cause me to feel slightly nauseated every time I passed a mirror. That colour is fuchsia. It’s a cosmetically-flattering colour and I think it can be worn by lots of people, especially those of us who have embraced our natural silver and platinum locks. So, I think that could be a keeper. My palette this year, then, reflects only a few of the so-called on-trend colours…

… and I’m planning to use a hearty dose of black and grey to ground the collection. Because that’s who I am. And it has to be said that Chanel presented a lot of black and white this season. Love it!

So, I considered the style trends as well. According to Elle magazine, the 90s are back as are the 70s and 80s. Dear god, do those of us who lived through this the first time have to be subjected to another dose of Dynasty shoulders and bell-bottomed pants? In a word, NO! There is an old saying that if you lived through a fashion trend once and it comes back again, just step away. It’s not for you. I don’t’ know who said that, but I’m sticking with it. There will be no bell-bottoms entering my closet. I think that older women are so much more sophisticated than that.

An what about that “lavender trend” that they talk about? Think about older women, then think about lavender. What does it conjure up in your mind? Arsenic and old lace? Lavender-scented, dark, musty rooms? Hankies? Not happening here in my household.

And what about capes?

The prom cape! Oh, and all that hair!

(I actually think the model on the right is wearing a blanket from her grandmother’s sofa, but I digress.)

The last time I wore a cape was to accompany my prom dress when I graduated from high school. I was sixteen, made both the dress and the matching (*gag*) cape, thought I was something else, and will never wear a cape again. It’s just not me.

I do, however, like that suiting is back. I love tailored jackets and suits. It’s just that my lifestyle doesn’t’ really require much in the line of suits these days. I suppose I could wear one when we go out for dinner.  

As usual, I’m inspired by Audrey Hepburn and the 1960s style but interpreted in a more modern, grown-up way. So, here is my design board for this season. I’m working on pattern design at this stage and will be using a combination of commercial and personally-designed patterns as I move toward figuring gout what to do with the three or four pieces of fabric I’ve that have inspired me this season. Net time: the fabrics and shapes of the designs.

What are you wearing this winter?

Photo sources:

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/trends/g28787858/fall-color-2019-fashion/

https://www.elle.com/fashion/trend-reports/a26147021/fall-fashion-trends-2019/

Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, Style

In praise of the bateau (boat) neck!

I am so easily distracted these days. So many projects, so little time! My usual approach to life is to streamline my projects so that I have two to three (at the most) major projects ongoing at the same time. These days, however, I am finishing a publishing project, working on two books simultaneously (not so uncommon for me – I write both nonfiction and fiction and do like to have one of each going on to balance off against one another), and I have a number of design/sewing-related projects that are edging ever closer to the front of my mind. I have plans to move forward with my fall-winter wardrobe blueprint, yet I find myself with a few left-overs from the summer to complete.

Recently I seem to be stuck on tops with waist definition (as I discussed in my last post), and have finished another one in a woven rayon fabric. (I picked up a Simplicity pattern when we were on our summer road trip in upstate New York. Can’t get them any longer in Canada.)

 

 

I do love how it drapes, and I will pick up some silk twill this fall (I hope when we visit New York) to add to that unfinished design board, and perhaps make it again. But, what about that neckline? I’ll have to do something about that.

It’s something of a “bleh” neckline, n’est ce pas? It’s more than a crew neck, but not quite that true bateau neckline that is my favourite.

Two summers ago, I spent months perfecting my “perfect boat-neck” T-shirt pattern. (This was before anyone had even an inkling that Meghan Markle would choose this neckline for her wedding dress.) It wasn’t that the T-shirt was a challenge: the challenges was getting that boat neck to be precisely the right width and depth for my personal fit and style preferences. Why, oh why, do I seem to be wanting to make everything with a boat neck these days? I thought it might be useful (and fun) to have a look at the history of this oh-so-appealing design feature. Then I’ll tell you why getting the pattern just right is a matter of both mathematics and squinting. Anyway…

Boat neck. Bateau neck. Sabrina neck. Are they all the same? Well, it seems that there are a few differences. (Well, bateau is French for boat in case you’re a bit French-challenged!) But it all officially started back in 1958 in France when the now ubiquitous white and navy striped shirt became an official part of a French sailor’s uniform.

french sailors
French sailors back in the day…

Rumour has it that the stripes were supposed to make a man-overboard easier to see in the water. As time went on, the so-called French sailor shirt – or Breton shirt – became a wardrobe staple made even more famous by iconic American actress Jean Seberg who spent half her life in France, artist Pablo Picasso and the likes of Jean-Paul Gaultier.

jean seberg
Jean Seberg does it right.

Not to mention Jackie O. and Coco herself. But it was all about the stripes in the early days. What about that neckline? (Jackie’s boat necks helped it to move along past the stripes.) 

 

 

If you examine the original design on the French sailors closely, you can see that the neckline was widened slightly. When you see an homage to the Breton shirt on Jean Seberg above, you can see the allure of the widened neckline exposing much more of the collarbone.

Then, of course, there is my personal muse, Audrey Hepburn. According to legend, Audrey didn’t love her neck or décolletage. So, many of her necklines were high and wide, exposing just that touch of collar-bone that is so sexy on almost every woman. However, when she was doing the film Sabrina, the boat neckline came up even slightly higher, thus creating a new kind of boat neck now and for all eternity to be called the Sabrina neckline. It isn’t clear whether Givenchy (who designed many if not most of Hepburn’s film wardrobes) or Edith Head (personally my favourite costume designer) who actually designed it since they both worked on the film. [The Sabrina neckline, higher and straighter than the others is on Audrey in the upper left photo below. On the lower right photo of Jackie, hers is almost a Sabrina.]

Jacki & Audrey

Anyway, stylish women have been picking it up ever since. *bats eyelashes*

I learned about drafting boat necks from the pattern-making course I took online from Suzy Furrer. What haunts me most about them ever since is trying to ensure that the back neckline is taken up just enough to ensure that the front of the neckline doesn’t gape. She has a rules she calls the “wide neckline adjustment rule.”

Inkedsuzy furer_LI
Original neckline at high neck point on the left. Newly drawn boat neck on right exposes the shoulder. As much as the designer chooses.

According to what I learned, if the front and back of the boat neck are the same measurement, the front will gape. And the truth is, I have noticed this on some of the ready-to-wear pieces I have picked up over the years. It’s usually a small bit of gaping, but gaping nonetheless. And if I am going to design and make my own pieces, they have to fit perfectly. So, I learn the rule.

Here is an example:

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When I altered the original neckline of this pattern I made (I didn’t like the shape of depth of the original), I decided that it would be better if it were 1/2″ wider on each side in the front (I also brought it up 2″ but that doesn’t affect the shoulder adjustment). So, after I made this change on the front neckline, of course I had to true up the shoulder seam by making the back neckline 1/2″ wider as well giving me a 2 1/2″ shoulder seam which I like with a boat neck. But, as  you can see in the photo below, I also shortened the length of the back neck by 1/8″ by lowering the high neck point.

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If I create a boat neck from my original sloper where the neckline is right at the high neck point, and I want my perfect boat neck which gives me that 2-2 1/2″ shoulder seam, I generally have to shorten the back by as much as 5/8″. In the case of the above example, the point I moved was already a distance from the high neck point (hope this makes sense!).

The point is that the farther out the neckline is from the high shoulder point, the shorter the back needs to be to prevent that gaping – up to about a maximum of 3/4″. Now, I always check these measurements on commercial patterns with boat necks, too.

 

 

[Two of the designs from the GG Collection basics from last year when I was perfecting my perfect boat neck!]

As I doodle toward my fall designs, I’m noting that this neckline keeps popping up there too. Good thing it works in many fabrics in all seasons. So, now I’m back to my design board. Talk soon!

The patterns…

 

 

Posted in fabrics, Pattern-drafting, sewing, Style

Summer sewing: Commercial pattern versus personal pattern

It’s the dog days of summer here in Toronto. The humidity is high and the temperatures soaring. I’ve just returned from a two-week road trip to the east coast where it was cooler for at least part of the trip. It was a great trip, but now it’s back to writing (a new book is underway) and designing. In the meantime, I’ve just finished a few pieces that once again forced me to move from a commercial pattern to a personal design. It all started – as it does – with a sketch, and a piece of fabric.

I really like the look of knit tops that have some kind of waist definition – it elevates them just a bit, n’est-ce pas? So, I started toying with the idea of a belted T, but let’s face it, who wants a belt around the waist in the height of summer on what is supposed to be a comfortable piece of clothing? And there are lots of design alternatives.

There are half belt ties. There are darts (but not so much in knits). There is side-seam and centre-back-seam waist shaping. Then there are faux ties. This idea I like.

 

belted T
Do you really want a belt around your waist when the temperature is 28 degrees Celsius? I think not. 

So, I made a sketch of a top that would not require a constricting belt, but would still provide some kind of drape and definition at the waist…

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…and contemplated the fabric I had picked up. The fabric is cotton jersey with a foil design, so it occurred to me that it could be a bit dressy. Then when I happened upon Butterick’s pattern #6628 and saw the rendering of it’s view A, I thought I could skip the pattern design part of my process and move right on to cutting and sewing. Well, not so fast.

First, though, I didn’t love the neckline, so that would have to change. I widened it slightly and went ahead with the pattern pretty much as is. The outcome was okay, but it didn’t have the kind of sleek style I love. Those sleeves were a bit annoying, but at least since they aren’t full-length, they don’t drag in your dinner! The real problem, however, is the drape of the fabric. It doesn’t have much.

But it is comfortable for summer wear and it does fit.

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Out to dinner on road trip #1 of the summer in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

So, I reworked the pattern, made a trip down to Queen Street West here in Toronto and picked up a piece of bamboo jersey with more drape and a lovely hand. I’ve written about bamboo fabric before, so if you’ve been reading along, you know that I prefer higher-quality fabrics and a luxurious feel. This piece of bamboo has it all.

Then I went back to my original sketch and created a new pattern that is very similar to the Butterick design, but has a wider neckline and sleek sleeves. As I usually do with this kind of fabric, I cut it out single-layer, and it came together nicely.

Bamboo is a wonderful breathable fabric, and I wore this with white jeans out to dinner while we were away. (For the life of me I cannot understand why I didn’t ask my husband to take a photo of me wearing it, but that will have to wait. Trust me it fits really well!).

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They never look quite as good on Gloria Junior. She has no arms! (It’s hard to tell that the neckline is widened, but it is.)

As much as I hate to admit it, the time for thinking about a fall collection is upon me and as I get back to recording my escapades, I’ll be sharing my design inspiration in the next week or two. *Sigh* summer will come to an end soon – but let’s not wish it away just yet (here in the northern hemisphere!).

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

Designing on the fly…or how the first pdf pattern I ever used morphed into a GG Collection original

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner. I plan weekly menus before I go to the grocery store. I map out an entire two-week road trip months in advance ensuring that all hotels are booked for the right days and I know the precise driving time between stops. I write outlines for everything I write, and writing is what I do in my other life (in this one, too, you might well respond – I don’t outline blog posts, though, which is probably obvious!).

To be clear, when I started my writing career many years ago, I learned very quickly that to sell a non-fiction book to a publisher, I’d need to learn to write a book proposal which is nothing short of a complete outline among a lot of other stuff. So, I learned the process of book proposal writing well enough to sell seven or eight books that way. So, when it comes to my sewing and design life, I pretty much take that same approach.

Remember my cruise collection? That started with an actual inspiration board, moved on to sketches, then I created original patterns, chose fabrics planned for specific projects (no fabric hoarding here). My Little Black Dress project? It progressed the same way as did my three Little French Jackets. So, I have no reason to think that much of my work will be on the fly. Well, you know what they say: “The best laid plans…” Let me back up a bit.

When I returned to fashion design and sewing a few years ago, much had changed in that world. For years my sewing machine collected dust between jean hemming and costume sewing projects. (I’m happy to say that the costume sewing for children’s theatre actually resulted in a child who grew up to be successful in the performing arts.) Then, the muse struck and I finally had the time to devote to a return to something I had loved as a young adult. But, as I mentioned, there were many new things.

rotary cutter
This is the one I have. I use it infrequently. 

First there was the rotary cutter. When I first saw one, I thought, Doesn’t anyone use shears anymore? I soon learned that, yes, shears are the way to go on most projects for me. I use a rotary cutter mostly for interfacing and muslin cutting. Otherwise, they’re not my thing – dreadful on silk, wool, bouclé etc. Then there were the patterns.

I had never before heard that McCall’s, Vogue, Butterick and Simplicity were now referred to as “the big four” and not in a good way. What was that all about, I thought? This led me to learn about the new “indie” pattern companies. That sounds very democratic, doesn’t it? What I found was an avalanche of half-baked patterns, generally for tent-like bags that would fit everyone and no one – I’ll leave the rest of that rant for another day to equalize out all those rants from sewers who seem to dislike the “big four” with a passion. I happen to think they do very good work. But that’s for another day. Anyway, I finally found a legitimate one or two whose patterns interested me. Style Arc was one.

An Australian company, Style Arc’s sketches were what really drew me in. And I loved the fact that not all of their patterns are for knits which means that they really do have to know how to create something that fits. That being said, I decided to try one that was for a knit first.

Terry tie cardigan
What’s not to love about this sketch? Well, I should have look more closely at the version on the right. 

The other thing that had changed was that not all patterns came in little envelopes anymore. Some of them were pdf downloads. Who knew? Well, just about everyone but me! Everyone has to have a first time, though, don’t they?

Style Arc produces both hard copy patterns and pdf’s. I decided to try my first pdf and my first indie pattern all in one fell swoop.

I used to have a cardigan sweater I loved so much it was actually worn out by the time I finished with it. t hadn’t been expensive, either, but was black (a must for a sweater that will serve me over the long term) and instead of buttons, it had a half-waist tie. It looked terrific with collared shirts, T-shirts, just everything.  It had a lot more style than the average cardigan. So, when I saw Style Arc’s Terry Tie Cardigan pattern, I was in.

stylearc pattern tie front

I downloaded it and printed it out. Then, of course, I proceeded to tape it all together, as one must. Interesting. I cut out the pattern pieces and looked for some fabric.

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Wouldn’t you think that something called “sweater knit” would be great? I did. But…well, stay with me.

There were just so many things wrong with the pattern in my view. It has these shoulder tucks—too many of them and way too small for the fabric I’d chosen. When I went back to Pattern Review to look at other people’s versions, they were all in flimsy jersey, so the tucks worked – but they were hideous. They were shapeless columns of jersey even with the belt tied. If I had looked at them first (lesson learned) I would never have chosen the pattern. But onward…

Okay, the first problem was the tucks, as I mentioned. Then, there was too much overlap at the front – and neither the centre front nor the waistline was marked by the way, a real problem with trying to get it to fit properly. The ties were too close to the centre front resulting in an odd look which was very evident on the ones done by others as I found out. Oh, and the seam allowances: you have to be very careful not to assume that they are standard 5/8 inch. They are not. The sleeves were too long (of course, this is an easy fix, but do women really look like orangutans?), leading me to think the sketch is quite misleading. So, what to do?

 

Back to the drawing board I go to try to rescue the project.

  • First, redraw those shoulders without the tucks.
  • Then, move the belt so that it is farther away from the centre front (which I had to find).
  • Then, as I went to sew it, I realized that the belt was going to be butt ugly so I ditched it.
  • Ditched the belt and took in the waist darts, extending them to the hem for a better fit.
  • Put it on Gloria junior, and began to redesign it on the fly.

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Actually, I really enjoyed the “semi-draping” process. I redrew the pattern and it no longer resembles the original in any way.

gg cardigan
It’s not at all what I had originally envisioned, but I’ll love it on cold days next winter. I left all the edges serged only. 

What I learned about myself is that designing on the fly might not be such a bad approach, and that I think I would enjoy learning draping as a design process.

I love it when I learn something from every project!

Posted in Computer-assisted pattern design, Pattern-drafting, Style

Computer-assisted pattern design: Dipping my toe in!

The expert in anything was a beginner once.There’s always more than one way to do something, I always say. And there is nothing more satisfying than learning something new. So, put those two elements together, and I’m looking at a new tool for designing patterns.

When I begin a new design, I always begin with a sketch. New tool or not, that isn’t likely to change. That sketched idea can be inspired by any number of elements like a 1960’s sewing pattern I love, an outfit I saw in a film, a piece of fabric that I just can’t get out of my head. Regardless of its provenance, that sketch is the start. However, up until now, I have only had one approach to getting that sketch off the paper and onto Gloria junior (my fitting mannequin, in case you haven’t met her yet.)

That tool has been flat pattern making. I have a longing to learn draping, and I’ll get to that eventually, but I love the geometry of creating that flat pattern on paper from a variety of numbers and lines (I was that nerd who loved analytical trigonometry in high school and topped the class). Back in January of this year when I shared with you some of the design and sewing-related presents I’d been lucky enough to find under the Christmas tree, I was excited to tell you that I had received Cochenille’s Garment Designer, and this would be my first foray into using computer-assisted design software. Well, I have now finished my first project with this software. Let me begin by saying that understanding flat pattern making makes this particular software far more accessible, and provides you with far more design options. You’ll see why.

One of the things I liked about this program (and the reason I suggested it to my husband as a terrific Christmas present for me), is that the designer’s web site has some very good videos to help me along with getting to know what it can do. I’m not ready for Adobe Illustrator – nor am I prepared to pay the price for it at this point. I just wanted to dip my toe into the water, and this program is a good way to do that. But it does have its limitations. Stay with me here.

This is what I wanted to create a pattern for:

Garment deisgner twin set sketch

 

So, after inserting the USB key which is necessary to actually open the program on every occasion that you use it (keep it in a safe and handy place), I began with inputting my own measurements for a personalized sloper.

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The key inserted into one of my USB ports. YOu cannot open the program without it. 

The program comes with standard sizes programmed in, but what’s the point in a custom design if it isn’t a custom size? I found that creating the simple sloper was just that, simple. I took my basic measurements and plugged them into the program. The more accurate one, which has far more specific body measurements, I have not yet been able to master. However, since my first design is for a knit twin set, the simple, personal sloper would do.

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How it looks on the screen. I have the grid and sloper lines turned on. 

I started with the simple tank that pops under the cropped cowl neck. That was fairly easy to produce a pattern for after I got the hang of their terminology and figured out how to move lines and points for a more custom fit. You can see on the pattern below that I kept the sloper lines visible at all times so I could get to know the amount of ease they have included for various fits: fitted, versus semi-fitted, versus very fitted, for example. The manual does provide this information, but I’m a visual learner and prefer to see it. That way I can tweak it as I like. You can turn that off so you don’t see the sloper (or the grid lines for that matter) but for me, they are very helpful.

Once I had the simple pattern created, I added seam allowances (you can make them any width you like), rendered it as a final pattern (it automatically adds notches etc. at this point) then set it up as a full-size document and printed it like you would a regular pdf pattern – tiled and in need of being taped together.

IMG_0162
Ready to print.

I had a lot less luck with using this program for my cowl neck. I was able to create a pattern for the cropped main body, with all of the correct measurements, and the raglan sleeves, but I could not find a way to use the program to create the cowl. I could have used their funnel neck, but I wanted the cowl to be a separate piece. If there’s a way to do this with the program I don’t know what it is yet. More to learn, I guess. Anyway, here’s where my flat pattern-making skills came into play. I created the cowl the old-fashioned way.

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Here are the things I learned about this program on this first go around:

  1. Their definition of “very fitted” is quite different from my definition of “very fitted.” When I chose this silhouette, I found that they had 4 ½ inches of ease at the waist and 5 ½ inches of ease at the underarm. This is far too much for my conception of “very fitted.” Duly noted.
  2. Their definition of a “wide” neckline is very different from mine. It’s not nearly as wide as I would like so this needs alteration. Obviously, this is all within my control (as is the amount off ease – see #1).
  3. The hems of narrow sleeves are not trued. If I didn’t know anything about pattern making, I would have had sleeves that were too narrow at the bottom to turn up. I simply trued them up and added little bits of paper where needed.
  4. When you create the final pattern here, the sleeve notches are the same on the front and the back. And they are not in the standard location (3’ and 3 ¼’). I had to add them.
  5. Although I also received two plug-in design packages that are extra with the software, I still don’t have access to a large enough variety of necklines. Okay, I can create them, but I did hope that separate turtles and cowls would be inclusions. If they’re there, I can’t find them. Yet.

The program is actually very fun to work with. I enjoyed noodling around with a few other designs and have found them to be a very good fit. The program’s designer mounts webinars every so often, and I think that this little program can do a great deal more than I have figured out yet. I plan to take a few of the courses (they are $25 each it seems and come up periodically – you need to be on their email list).

So, at this point, I will continue to play around with it (in fact I already have a mock-up of a princess-seamed, zipper-front jacket which I’ll show you at some point) to see how much more it can do than I have figured out yet. But I still love my flat pattern-making!

Oh…the final reveal…

twinset 1

Posted in Fashion Design, Style, Stylish Travel

The cruise collection in action: Days at sea, days ashore

Consider what comes to your mind when I say “Caribbean cruise.” If you’re anything like me, you probably have visions of open decks caressed by gentle, warm ocean breezes. Perhaps you can feel yourself sitting on a lounge chair gazing meditatively out at sea just as a sliver of a sand-ringed island comes into view. Then maybe you can see yourself walking along a powder sand beach in the shade of waving palm trees. Yes, this is a Caribbean cruise to me. So, what about that wardrobe for these laid-back days? In my last post I brought you up to date on how the evening little black cocktail dress design worked out. This time, it’s the day-time looks, that were inspired by a length of grey and white-striped seersucker.

I realized early on that what I called a “sunny day dress” would be at the centre of the daytime wardrobe. I can’t call it a sundress, because if you have read any of my past posts on my personal style, you’ll know that anything flouncy, flowered or otherwise flirty is so removed from my style as to be ridiculous. I’m one of those women who resembles nothing less than a reupholstered sofa whenever I make the mistake of wearing prints – especially floral ones which seem to be the mainstay of ready-to-wear sundresses. Anyway, my foray into print is always geometric or striped, and the fewer colours the better. So…seersucker.

There was a time for me when choosing the fabric came only after the design selection or creation. These days, I sometimes find a length of fabric that inspires the style. This was one of those situations. So, with a few metres of seersucker, and my inspiration/mood board in mind, I went to work on a couple of styles.

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Washed, dried and ready to cut. 

I was guided in my daytime dress design by a number of considerations (e.g. the fabric should be a natural fibre, light colour, sheath style because that’s who I am, sleeveless with a full back and it had to be tailored). This last consideration was the starting point for the design. I love a tailored dress. So this is where my sketching started…

GG-CC019-03 alone

How did the design work out in the reality of a Caribbean cruise?  Well, here it is.

sunny day dress

 

Then, I used the same fabric for the little skirt that was so comfortable and useful during those hot days touring ashore – especially on Grand Cayman.

seersucker skirt
Add a T and a pair of trusty Cole Haan tennis sneakers in pink…

One other piece that I designed for casual evenings or lunches in the dining room was the asymmetrical top. This is the kind of print that I will agree to wear from time to time – geometric, with few colours. I love how it worked with white jeans with or without the Joseph Ribkoff shrug that comes with me on every vacation.

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Notice how I matched the decor at Indochine one evening when I wore it to a casual dinner?

So, the cruise came to an end with a few days in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where we always enjoy a bit of beach and shopping time before flying home to the Great White North. As I write this, the calendar says it’s spring, but no one here in Toronto is buying that. So, it does seem fitting that I still have a few winter-like projects to complete before I can take my seasonal pilgrimage down to the Queen Street West fabric district just in time to make clothes for…you guessed it…next fall and winter! Until next time…Cheers!