It’s the dog days of summer here in Toronto. The humidity is high and the temperatures soaring. I’ve just returned from a two-week road trip to the east coast where it was cooler for at least part of the trip. It was a great trip, but now it’s back to writing (a new book is underway) and designing. In the meantime, I’ve just finished a few pieces that once again forced me to move from a commercial pattern to a personal design. It all started – as it does – with a sketch, and a piece of fabric.
I really like the look of knit tops that have some kind of waist definition – it elevates them just a bit, n’est-ce pas? So, I started toying with the idea of a belted T, but let’s face it, who wants a belt around the waist in the height of summer on what is supposed to be a comfortable piece of clothing? And there are lots of design alternatives.
There are half belt ties. There are darts (but not so much in knits). There is side-seam and centre-back-seam waist shaping. Then there are faux ties. This idea I like.
So, I made a sketch of a top that would not require a constricting belt, but would still provide some kind of drape and definition at the waist…
…and contemplated the fabric I had picked up. The fabric is cotton jersey with a foil design, so it occurred to me that it could be a bit dressy. Then when I happened upon Butterick’s pattern #6628 and saw the rendering of it’s view A, I thought I could skip the pattern design part of my process and move right on to cutting and sewing. Well, not so fast.
First, though, I didn’t love the neckline, so that would have to change. I widened it slightly and went ahead with the pattern pretty much as is. The outcome was okay, but it didn’t have the kind of sleek style I love. Those sleeves were a bit annoying, but at least since they aren’t full-length, they don’t drag in your dinner! The real problem, however, is the drape of the fabric. It doesn’t have much.
But it is comfortable for summer wear and it does fit.
So, I reworked the pattern, made a trip down to Queen Street West here in Toronto and picked up a piece of bamboo jersey with more drape and a lovely hand. I’ve written about bamboo fabric before, so if you’ve been reading along, you know that I prefer higher-quality fabrics and a luxurious feel. This piece of bamboo has it all.
Then I went back to my original sketch and created a new pattern that is very similar to the Butterick design, but has a wider neckline and sleek sleeves. As I usually do with this kind of fabric, I cut it out single-layer, and it came together nicely.
Bamboo is a wonderful breathable fabric, and I wore this with white jeans out to dinner while we were away. (For the life of me I cannot understand why I didn’t ask my husband to take a photo of me wearing it, but that will have to wait. Trust me it fits really well!).
As much as I hate to admit it, the time for thinking about a fall collection is upon me and as I get back to recording my escapades, I’ll be sharing my design inspiration in the next week or two. *Sigh* summer will come to an end soon – but let’s not wish it away just yet (here in the northern hemisphere!).
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner. I plan weekly menus before I go to the grocery store. I map out an entire two-week road trip months in advance ensuring that all hotels are booked for the right days and I know the precise driving time between stops. I write outlines for everything I write, and writing is what I do in my other life (in this one, too, you might well respond – I don’t outline blog posts, though, which is probably obvious!).
To be clear, when I started my writing career many years ago, I learned very quickly that to sell a non-fiction book to a publisher, I’d need to learn to write a book proposal which is nothing short of a complete outline among a lot of other stuff. So, I learned the process of book proposal writing well enough to sell seven or eight books that way. So, when it comes to my sewing and design life, I pretty much take that same approach.
Remember my cruise collection? That started with an actual inspiration board, moved on to sketches, then I created original patterns, chose fabrics planned for specific projects (no fabric hoarding here). My Little Black Dress project? It progressed the same way as did my three Little French Jackets. So, I have no reason to think that much of my work will be on the fly. Well, you know what they say: “The best laid plans…” Let me back up a bit.
When I returned to fashion design and sewing a few years ago, much had changed in that world. For years my sewing machine collected dust between jean hemming and costume sewing projects. (I’m happy to say that the costume sewing for children’s theatre actually resulted in a child who grew up to be successful in the performing arts.) Then, the muse struck and I finally had the time to devote to a return to something I had loved as a young adult. But, as I mentioned, there were many new things.
First there was the rotary cutter. When I first saw one, I thought, Doesn’t anyone use shears anymore? I soon learned that, yes, shears are the way to go on most projects for me. I use a rotary cutter mostly for interfacing and muslin cutting. Otherwise, they’re not my thing – dreadful on silk, wool, bouclé etc. Then there were the patterns.
I had never before heard that McCall’s, Vogue, Butterick and Simplicity were now referred to as “the big four” and not in a good way. What was that all about, I thought? This led me to learn about the new “indie” pattern companies. That sounds very democratic, doesn’t it? What I found was an avalanche of half-baked patterns, generally for tent-like bags that would fit everyone and no one – I’ll leave the rest of that rant for another day to equalize out all those rants from sewers who seem to dislike the “big four” with a passion. I happen to think they do very good work. But that’s for another day. Anyway, I finally found a legitimate one or two whose patterns interested me. Style Arc was one.
An Australian company, Style Arc’s sketches were what really drew me in. And I loved the fact that not all of their patterns are for knits which means that they really do have to know how to create something that fits. That being said, I decided to try one that was for a knit first.
The other thing that had changed was that not all patterns came in little envelopes anymore. Some of them were pdf downloads. Who knew? Well, just about everyone but me! Everyone has to have a first time, though, don’t they?
Style Arc produces both hard copy patterns and pdf’s. I decided to try my first pdf and my first indie pattern all in one fell swoop.
I used to have a cardigan sweater I loved so much it was actually worn out by the time I finished with it. t hadn’t been expensive, either, but was black (a must for a sweater that will serve me over the long term) and instead of buttons, it had a half-waist tie. It looked terrific with collared shirts, T-shirts, just everything. It had a lot more style than the average cardigan. So, when I saw Style Arc’s Terry Tie Cardigan pattern, I was in.
I downloaded it and printed it out. Then, of course, I proceeded to tape it all together, as one must. Interesting. I cut out the pattern pieces and looked for some fabric.
Wouldn’t you think that something called “sweater knit” would be great? I did. But…well, stay with me.
There were just so many things wrong with the pattern in my view. It has these shoulder tucks—too many of them and way too small for the fabric I’d chosen. When I went back to Pattern Review to look at other people’s versions, they were all in flimsy jersey, so the tucks worked – but they were hideous. They were shapeless columns of jersey even with the belt tied. If I had looked at them first (lesson learned) I would never have chosen the pattern. But onward…
Okay, the first problem was the tucks, as I mentioned. Then, there was too much overlap at the front – and neither the centre front nor the waistline was marked by the way, a real problem with trying to get it to fit properly. The ties were too close to the centre front resulting in an odd look which was very evident on the ones done by others as I found out. Oh, and the seam allowances: you have to be very careful not to assume that they are standard 5/8 inch. They are not. The sleeves were too long (of course, this is an easy fix, but do women really look like orangutans?), leading me to think the sketch is quite misleading. So, what to do?
Back to the drawing board I go to try to rescue the project.
First, redraw those shoulders without the tucks.
Then, move the belt so that it is farther away from the centre front (which I had to find).
Then, as I went to sew it, I realized that the belt was going to be butt ugly so I ditched it.
Ditched the belt and took in the waist darts, extending them to the hem for a better fit.
Put it on Gloria junior, and began to redesign it on the fly.
Actually, I really enjoyed the “semi-draping” process. I redrew the pattern and it no longer resembles the original in any way.
What I learned about myself is that designing on the fly might not be such a bad approach, and that I think I would enjoy learning draping as a design process.
I love it when I learn something from every project!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are the things I learned about this program on this first go around:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
We are now deeply ensconced in the dead of winter here in Toronto. Up until recently, the winter has been pleasant enough: dry weather, sun, no snow, cold but bearable. That all changed within the past week, and now it is truly a Canadian winter.
I can see snow on the sidewalks below our windows and everyone on the street, rushing back and forth in the requisite winter uniform of black – with the odd bit of fur and faux fur embellishing the ensemble – is clutching hats and scarves better to stave off the minus 20-degree Celsius wind chill. And here am I submerged in finishing my cruise collection. The gauzy, Indian cotton that is currently draped over Gloria junior is taking me away to images of sandy beaches and palm trees. But I’m taking a bit of a break just this minute because I have a new design toy and a couple of books that are distracting me.
I don’t know how you do it these days, but when it comes to Christmas shopping, members of my immediate family (meaning husband and son) do enjoy a bit of real-life shopping, but nothing beats the convenience of the online, world-wide mall. Of course, I refer to Amazon. So, about eight weeks before Christmas, I make the annual proclamation to everyone: “Clean up your Amazon wish list!” And they do, removing odd things that seemed like a good idea when they were clicked into the cart in July, but now don’t seem to be priorities. Because everyone in our family knows, if it is on that list, it’s fair game for under the Christmas tree (except for the vacuum attachment kit that had been on my husband’s list for four years – he always wondered why no one had given it to him as a gift. A vacuum attachment kit? Really? Well, he got it this year!).
Picking things off that list often results in my husband and son proclaiming, “Well, I didn’t really know what it was, but…” as they hand me a sewing or pattern-making gizmo or gadget that had been lurking on my own wish list. And occasionally a send along a link to a product that I think would be terrific. This year it was a link to Cochenille’s Garment Designer, a software program that I had uncovered after a lot of online research.
I had considered others: Adobe Illustrator for one. Right off the bat it’s a bit of a non-starter since it’s so expensive, and I’m not entirely sure that computer-assisted design is the way for me to go yet. Then there is Wild Ginger which looks interesting and I might get there. But Garment Designer had a bunch of online instructional videos that allowed me to tour the program. That sold me on it. I thought I could easily learn it.
I am just beginning to explore it and what it can accomplish. I’ve gone as far as creating four draft garments – simple ones to start – based on my personal sloper measurements. I haven’t had time to sew up any muslins yet, but it’s not far off and I’ll share that journey on this blog.
My son gave me another book in the series Fashion Patternmaking Techniques. This one is “Haute Couture.”
Last year he gave me volume 2: “How to make shirts, undergarments, dresses, waistcoats and jackets.” Both of these volumes are incredibly entertaining and inspirational. I like to flip through them, zero in on a design that catches my eye, then study the pattern.
I have learned so much just from browsing. These are winners for sure – and there are more volumes for future Christmas lists!
My husband’s list included a number of items from Lee Valley. Lee Valley is a Canadian, family-owned business that sells high quality woodworking and gardening supplies – and lots of other interesting items for your kitchen and other things. He happened to mention that he had seen a sewing-related item that I might like. So, when I ordered his presents, I also ordered one for myself. It is called the Pro Seam Ripper Kit. I am nothing if not becoming a pro at seam ripping! Oh, I think they mean the kit was a pro one!
Anyway, here it is.
What’s so fabulous about it is the quality of the surgical-grade steel that is used in the blades. A slight flick and the thread is neatly sliced. Just watch your fingers! It has two different blades and handles: one is a regular seam ripper with a slightly bulbous point that does not rip through fabric. The other, called a stitch picker, has a very pointy point to get under even the tiniest of stitches. That one is slightly lethal: I use the regular one more. Anyway, it is a fabulous kit that comes in its own hard plastic case with replacement blades. I only hope I won’t need to replace the blades any time soon: that would mean there had been a whole lot of seam ripping.
Oh, yes. I have used it. I just finished the second skirt in the cruise collection and the fabric – well, let’s just say that it was a bit challenging, and not all of the seams came out perfectly on first try. And that invisible zipper? I have never in my life had a problem with one, but this time, I actually sewed one side inside out – twice. The pro seam ripper came in very handy for that one.
Well, now it’s back to the atelier where I am putting the finishing touches on the cruise collection. “Cutting it a bit close, aren’t you?” said my husband a day or two ago. Perhaps!
It’s the dead of winter, and there is nothing more quintessentially a part of urban Canada’s landscape than the unrelenting black uniform of the downtown residents and workers. Sometimes it just eases in during November, but it was never more apparent to me than last year when my husband and I spent a wonderful month or so travelling in South America, returning in November. When we left Toronto it had been autumn and there were flutterings of winter clothing beginning to appear. But when we returned! I remember standing on the corner of Bloor and Church Streets that morning looking at the sea of black winter gear that moved across the street en mass. Of course, I was a part of it. Black is my go-to winter colour. And in all of this darkness, I am delightedly still designing and making my cruise collection. Forgive me, but black is part of it this time around! A sleeveless tunic seemed like a good addition to a cruise collection. I did some sketching and it took me to…
Designs in which each side of an item of apparel is different in structure than the other side. In a symmetrical design, both sides are the same. Asymmetry may be seen in areas such as collars, necklines, closings or hemlines.
Evidently one of the hottest trends last year (oh, am I already out of style? No matter!) was asymmetry. According to Keren Brown, writing last year in Medium, humans are drawn to asymmetry. I actually don’t think this is true, and she didn’t have any sources to back her up – I’ll get back to that. She also said, “…it’s edgy, bold, and says one thing loud and clear: ‘I don’t need to be like everyone else.’” She also said that it is gender neutral and a sign of experience? Really??
In a piece about asymmetry on the fashion blog Fashionipa, she suggests that humans have a strong preference for symmetry, which is what I remember from my psychology classes back in the day. However, she suggests rather more believable reasons for the popularity of asymmetrical fashions these days. 
Asymmetry is largely unexpected, you can use asymmetrical lines for covering parts of your anatomy you’d rather have covered (uneven hems, anyone?), these lines can be bold and dramatic, an asymmetric line elevates a basic style (think asymmetrical necklines on simple T-shirts), and these lines can be sexy (not so sure there is any evidence for this, but I like it).
Anyway, I could have created a basic tunic, but it is true that it would have been boring. Here’s where that sketching took me…
So, I had a piece of crepe-like fabric in my selection of fabrics for this collection, and given its drape qualities, it lent itself to something with a bit of flow. Sometimes you need a bit of something flowy over a pair of skinny white jeans on a Caribbean cruise – think of the evening breeze on deck!
Before I drafted the pattern, I took a close look at the pattern on the fabric. Did it suggest running horizontally or vertically? I draped it over Gloria Junior and contemplated it. In my view, the vertical looked peculiar. So, horizontal it would be. I love this designing thing!
I did begin with a draft pattern and then created a muslin. I find that a test garment is really the only way to ensure that I like the contour and most especially the length of these kinds of pieces. Every single one of us has a perfect tunic length, and it is not the same for all.
I then had to decide how I’d finish the neckline. I cut a piece of bias self fabric to see if the pattern on it would look funky or not – I kind of liked it, so that became the neckline finish. Given the patterned fabric (and you know that I almost always dislike a pattern on me), I thought that the rest of the styling ought to be quiet.
So, it’s ready to roll on to Puerto Rico and beyond next month – at which time there will be photos of the piece in action. Stay warm!
Every project has to begin somewhere. When you think of vacationing in the Caribbean and what you’ll be wearing, you might very well begin with an image of a beach and a palm tree and a cool cocktail. You might be wearing a dreamy, floaty swim cover-up, or a fluttery tank top and shorts, or even a sun dress. Well, I’ll get there eventually, but let’s face it – my cruise collection really is for a cruise. And a luxury cruise at that. What this means is a major requirement for cocktail attire, so that’s where I’m starting. My perfect LBCD.
I spent a lot of time last year on my Little Black Dress project, during which I completed four test garments using three commercial patterns and ending up with my own design. But during that process I did find a silhouette that I thought I might translate into one of my own pieces.
For this collection, I’m inspired by Jackie O. and Audrey Hepburn on the Mediterranean. Much of what that conjures up for me relates to daytime sand, sun, surf and shopping in Monte Carlo. But for evening, I need to look no further than their iconic cocktail style to be inspired to create a dress that will be the centerpiece of this evening cruise collection.
It will be a simple, boat-necked, princess-seamed black dress that fits to perfection and can be changed up by accessories and all manner of little jackets. That way, a cruiser like me need only take one or two cocktail dresses and never look the same twice.
The fabric is black with textural striped detail and lovely drape which lends itself to the long, lean line of this princess-seamed dress. Although this fabric feels wonderful on its own (and is washable and packable to boot), I am lining it for a more sophisticated feel – and it finishes off the neckline and armholes beautifully.
It is so simple: boat-neck, sleeveless, lined, invisible back zipper, centre-back slit. Perfect fit. That’s it.
Next I’ll need to draft a few jackets to accompany it!
Perhaps in a coordinating fabric? We’ll see.
[BTW: No final views of the pieces in action – i.e. on me – until we hit the Caribbean!]
I have made garments following every instruction on a commercial pattern down to the smallest detail. I have made garments using a commercial pattern but using my own approach to process. I have tweaked commercial patterns. I have used commercial patterns for the foundation for personal designs. I have designed patterns from scratch using only my own drawings. But I have never done this before. I have never actually copied a ready-to-wear garment.
In my “other” life, I’ve spent a lot of my time writing, teaching and thinking about ethics. And the very notion of copying something that someone else created has never really sat well with me. Stealing intellectual property comes immediately to mind. That being said, most design these days, barring the most outrageous (and even some of them) is in some way derivative of something else. Sometimes it is simply reminiscent of another era, but often the designers seem to have a type of groupthink in a season where shapes and colours all seem to have come from a single mind. So, is there really anything that is truly original in fashion design these days?
I had that conversation with myself when I was thinking about a fairly practical issue. How could I get myself another version of a sleeveless T-shirt that I absolutely loved when the original producer was no longer making this design? The only answer would be to copy it.
Years ago, I bought a Landsend T-shirt that turned out to be one of my very favourites. You know the type of garment I’m talking about. It’s the one that you didn’t see coming. It’s the non-descript little piece that you find yourself turning to every time the weather/season/event begs for one. Yes, you have others in your closet, but this one feels terrific, fits well and just makes you feel good. You should have bought three, but who knew that you’d love it so much. So, the day comes when you look at it and think, “I can’t really be seen in public in this anymore. It’s too worn/old/holey…” Pick one, or in my case too faded. It was a black cotton jersey which, as we all know, fades miserably over time.
So, I went online to see if Landsend had them and of course, they no longer existed. So, the question was, could I recreate it and perhaps tweak the design a bit to make it even better. Well, as much as I hated the thought of cutting the thing apart, I knew I’d never wear it n public again, so I took out my trusty sheers and got to work.
Making the pattern would be quite easy, I thought, but what would I actually make it out of? I knew I didn’t want a fade-prone black jersey again. And I know how much I love bamboo jersey. So, I wondered if I had enough of the black-striped grey that I’d used on another faux-wrap top. And I did! My newly updated faux-wrap sleeveless T design was coming together. Of course, the bamboo jersey has more stretch than the cotton jersey, so I figured that I’d probably have to tweak it a bit smaller – I was right.
Once I had all the pieces for the T cut apart, I trimmed them, pressed them and laid them out on pattern paper. I traced the pieces, added seam allowance and notches, trued the seams, decided where the shirring on the faux wrap should be (it had always been lower on the seam than I thought it should be), labeled everything and got ready to cut out the fabric.
The one thing I had to really think about was how I was going to finish the neckline and armholes. The original had binding. I wasn’t keen on that. I wanted a softer finish. So, I found that simply doing a double-turned and stitched hem was the answer.
I’m delighted at how it turned out.
The question is: is this really a copy or is it my own new design inspired by the original? The fabric choice is very different, so the T fits better. The designed was tweaked. Is it mine or is it theirs? In the end, does it matter? As far as I’m concerned, Coco Chanel can have the last word… Imitation is the highest form of flattery. I hope the original designer of this T is flattered. It’s meant sincerely.
A few years ago, my husband and I were on a kick to figure out what the concept of “luxury” means to people these days, and by extension, what it means when we say something is “luxurious.” We were sailing on one of those all-suite, 6-star, “luxury” cruise ships with a group of people who would, by all accounts, have more than a passing acquaintance with luxury. So, one evening while all dolled up for a formal evening, with all manner of creative tuxedo and evening gown dressing on display, while sipping cocktails at one of the chi-chi bars on board, we posed the question to the group. “What does luxury mean to you?” The answers were perhaps not what one might expect – although on deeper reflection, they are precisely what one ought to have expected.
One of the evening gown-clad women took a sip of her champagne and thought about this for a moment. They were all taking this turn in the conversation seriously. “Well,” she said finally, “Having someone make my bed with fresh sheets every day would be so luxurious.” Interesting. I guess we thought they might think about cars or first-class air travel…but I’ll get back to those in a minute.
The second woman said this: “It would be such a luxury if I had someone to wash my hair for me. I love that feeling,” she said. And I thought to myself, she’s right. What feels better than that massaging shampoo at the hairdresser? I was beginning to see a trend in their answers to the question.
It seems that in the twenty-first century, luxury is, at least in part, based on how something makes you feel. And I suppose that the fabulous car or first-class air travel isn’t luxurious in and of itself. It is only luxurious because of how it makes you feel. Then I thought, that’s exactly how I define luxurious fabrics. They are fabrics that have a kind of sensuous feel that make you feel divine when you wear them. When I wrote about alpaca before, I may not have articulated this in precisely this way, but it’s underlying all of my sentiment about alpaca, cashmere, silk…and now bamboo.
I bought a couple of T-shirts in the past few years from a company called LNBF (Leave Nothing But Footprints), a Canadian design group that bases its design philosophy on sustainable, natural, environmentally-friendly fabrics. It was the first time I had worn bamboo which is one of their mainstays. Well, sustainable it may be, and natural mostly, but environmentally-friendly? That’s actually debatable depending on the processes used to create it, but I’m going to focus on the fact that, in my view, it deserves to be in the category of luxurious fabrics, not based on its cost, but on how it makes you (me) feel. But it is worth considering its environmental footprint.
As Yvette Hymann, writing on the blog Good on You wrote back in 2016, bamboo is having its moment, and that moment seems to have legs since people are still embracing it in 2018. But there are questions about it. She says the following:
…there are a few things to consider…although bamboo is fast growing and requires no pesticides, that doesn’t mean that it is being grown sustainably. The majority of bamboo is grown in China, and there is no information regarding how intensively bamboo is being harvested, or what sort of land clearing might be underway in order to make way for the bamboo. Also, although bamboo doesn’t need pesticides, there is no guarantee that they are not being used to maximise outputs… 
Bamboo fibres that are woven or knit into fabrics that we use to make our luxurious T-shirts, are almost always “rayon” which is categorized as a semi-synthetic fibre. It would be extremely rare for the bamboo fabric you have to be created from a mechanical process, so you know it’s been chemically processed. When the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) did a bit of an exposé on bamboo-clothing manufacturers’ claims a few years ago, they found that,
“…Bamboo is soaked in sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda or lye, and carbon disulfide and turned into a mush from which fibres are extracted. A diluted sulfuric acid solution is used in that part of the process.”
The truth is that there is hardly a fabric around today that doesn’t have some kind of environmental baggage. That goes for natural fibres such as cotton and silk, as well as manufactured fibres that are often oil-based – such as polyester, nylon, spandex, acrylic and olefin. Once we have that figured out and we at least understand that apart from going naked, we might simply consider the sheer volume of clothing we make and own – and the amount of fabric sewers hoard. I have to be honest, though, I am not among those hoarders, so I’ve take a step.
Now that all that is off my chest, can I tell you how luxurious I find knit bamboo jersey to be? It is comfortable – oh so comfortable – it breathes and it just feels so sumptuous against the skin.
[Pattern envelope and drawings from McCall’s site]
When I found Butterick 6517, I knew I had a contender for the two yards of pin-striped grey bamboo I found on Queens St. West in Toronto on my last fabric hunt. I love the wrap styling of this top because it’s so flattering when it fits well.
I found that I had to cut it out single-layer to ensure stability and avoid stretching it. It’s a small price to pay for a good fit in the end. I did find that the wrap over was a bit droopy, but since I’m a baster, I basted the front seams before finalizing them and was able to perfect the fit. I also find these days that what some of the pattern designers are calling ¾ sleeves are, in fact, bracelet length. I am 5 feet 7 inches tall with normal length arms and I find their ¾ length dowdy. So, I shorten them on every occasion – unless I really do want bracelet length (which is rare).
I did the seam finishing with my serger (the piece of equipment I vowed I’d never use – I really do have to tell you about this long-standing prejudice of mine which has all but evaporated recently) and did some top-stitching. Then, voila! I have a top that I’d love to wear but the summer here in Toronto has been so stifling, it will have to wait until the fall!
Karl Lagerfeld, late of the House of Chanel, once said, “One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a little black dress.” Amen to that. And amen to my LBD project. It is finally over.
After four muslins of four different dresses, much machinating over which one to choose, I have finally finished one.
Based on my own design, it’s a simple sheath – my favourite silhouette – with neckline darts that extend down to the hem giving it a kind of princess-seam-from-the-neckline look. It has short sleeves which are the only part of the garment that’s lined (the fabric didn’t scream for lining but the next one will be lined as a quality dress should be), a simple neckline to permit all manner of necklaces and scarves, a back vent and an invisible zipper. That’s about it. Simple.
Now that the dress is finished, of course, had to go shopping for some fabric for my next project. While perusing the extraordinary selection at King Textiles on Spadina in Toronto, I naturally stumbled on the perfect fabric for my next LBD. So…it’s not up next, but it’s coming!
How is it possible to work closely with someone for years, enjoy their company, respect their knowledge and experience and appreciate their collegiality yet not really know something this important about them? I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Barbara Emodi for years in my “other” life and wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear that she’d written a book. However, I expected that the book would be about political communication, a topic about which she’s something of an expert. Turns out I didn’t know her at all!
Expert though she may be in political communication and university teaching (which is where she and I intersected happily for some years), it seems that she’s equally expert in sewing. How did I not know this? Let me back up a bit.
About three years ago, after I had returned to sewing and had taken early retirement from my university career, I happened to be reading an article in an old Threads magazine on the topic of fitting. It was a terrific article, and as someone who also writes books and magazine articles from time to time, I glanced at the by-line, like you do. Many people don’t ever do this, but if you’re also a writer, you know what I mean. The author’s name was Barbara Emodi. Hmm…I thought, not a very common name in my view. So, I did a bit of exploring and found that Barbara had this whole other life all the time we were working together. It must be a testament to our single-minded focus on our work that we never discussed this mutual interest. It seemed that alongside of Barbara’s stellar work with me in my university department, she was writing magazine articles, teaching sewing, developing a seriously popular (and very entertaining/educational) blog, and generally becoming an internationally-renowned sewing expert. And she has written a book – about sewing.
Sew…The Garment-Making Book of Knowledge: Real-Life Lessons from a Serial Sewist is a seriously good book. With Barbara’s signature wry style, she presents a book that purports to be the sewing advice and lore you would received from your mother or grand-mother… well, it is if your mother or grand-mother happened to be a sewing expert with wildly well-developed communication and writing skills.
She begins the book with a rumination about “what sewing can do for you.” Her discussion goes beyond the usual – sewing is a creative outlet – to take in notions of improving your resourcefulness and making you see things about yourself and your life more clearly. You should really read it yourself. But suffice it to say that few sewing writers address this fundamental aspect of sewing – and she does it in such a clear and accessible way. The book doesn’t simply impart knowledge; it also makes you think. How often does that happen?
Although this book would be terrific for anyone who is just starting out on their sewing journey, it is also for those of us who have moved beyond the basics. She begins with finding the right pattern and moves on to fitting issues and altering flat patterns. I especially appreciated her discussion of what makes a great pattern to help everyone who has ever struggled with whether or not a particular pattern would work for them. She also talks about choosing and cutting fabric which is of particular interest to me.
One of my other favourite books that I reach for often is The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory by Gail Baugh because I adore fabric – not hoarding it (that goes against every principle I hold about having enough but not too much of anything) – but understanding it and figuring out how it will behave in specific applications. Barbara’s chapter isn’t exhaustive by any means, but it’s a great place to start.
Sew… is lavishly illustrated and is replete with extraordinarily well-conceived full-colour photos. It’s a wonderful addition to my own library and I think anyone interested in sewing would appreciate its wisdom and insight. And it’s entertaining, too.
In my own inimitable way, I have two minor bones to pick with the book: first, on page 39 she refers to the double-ended, fish-eye dart as a French dart. Nowhere I can find calls this a French dart. A French dart, as defined by Craftsy (and everyone else on the internet), is “…a type of elongated bust dart that start[s] at the side seam, down near the waistline, and end[s] up near the bust point…”
The second issue is on page 185 where it says “…Your machine needs oil.” End of story. In fact, some machines, mine included (Singer Quantum Stylist 9960) has specific instructions NOT to oil. I say follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Both of these are editorial issues, not author issues in my view.
Anyway, you should buy this book for yourself to add to your collection (or put it on your Christmas wish list) and buy a copy for your sewing friend.
All of this as a way to put off just a bit longer my final unveiling of my Little Black Dress and the end of that (very) long project!