Posted in Little Black Dress, Pattern-drafting, sewing

My LBD* Project: One Final Design Choice

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

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

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

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

hideous dress

“WTF is that?” I said to my husband.

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

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

Here’s how the sketch began.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

My LBD* Project: Considering option #2

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Contender #1

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

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

Let’s first consider the “house dress.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Posted in Little Black Dress, sewing patterns, Style

The LBD* Project: Finding the right design for my ultimate Little Black Dress

It’s time for me to move on from gazing at inspirational (and aspirational) pieces and do a deep dive into the kinds of sewing patterns available to me in my quest for the perfect (for me) Little Black Dress.

Let me get straight to the point about commercial sewing patterns: Many of the “big three or four” are far too embellished to put it politely, while so many of the “indie” patterns available are bags. What ever happened to elegant and sophisticated?

Let me show you what I mean. I generally find that Vogue patterns provide the me with the most appealing style options, but if I look at the most recent offerings, I find myself scratching my head. Take for example Vogue 1576. A sophisticated option for the perfect LBD? I think not. Because I prefer not to look like a bat just about to take flight.

V1576

Then there’s Vogue 1578.

 

At first glance it seems like it might have possibilities – but then I take a look at the line art and what do I see? Gathers. Gathers? Gathers everywhere. Not in my sleek LBD. So, I move on.

I see that Vogue’s 1579 has that sheath silhouette that is so appealing to me.

V1579

But what about that attached cape? Uh-uh. Not what I’m looking for. So, it’s on to other brands.

Just look at some of the McCall’s spring 2018 dress offerings. I think not…

mccalls winter 2018

 

…but McCall’s 7714, view C has possibilities.

 

 

Then there are the new offerings from Butterick. Their new #6515 is actually appealing to me, but it is really too much “of-the-moment”, too trendy and not timeless enough. Those statement sleeves (I think I may want sleeves) will date it faster than you can say “fake news,” and the ruffles on the sleeveless one – don’t get me started. I’m not a ruffle type. So that’s out.

I surf on over to Simplicity to see the new offerings and am met with…

simplicity 2018

 

…and what is this obsession I see all over online sewing communities with vintage? I like a bit of retro myself – although I tend to prefer the 1960’s aesthetic to the 1940’s – but I think it needs a bit of an update. I don’t find the literal reproduction appealing at all.

So, I have a quick look at some offerings from indie companies. I don’t find most of the sites appealing at all, but I am drawn to Style Arc for their knit patters. Let’s see what they have in dresses…

style arc dresses

…hmm, not what I’m looking for, but to be fair to Style Arc, they do have a couple that I really like, maybe just not for this project. I really love their Serena dress and their Renae. This last one is actually a possibility that I might return to.

 

There are other online indie pattern companies, but most seem to design for knits or people who really just want to hide in a tent. I get it, though.  If I were to offer any of my own designs as patterns, I would choose to offer the ones whose fits are the most forgiving. That way I wouldn’t have to test them on so many bodies to get the very best composite sizing. S-M-L is so much easier than 6-8-10-12. Anyway, I think I need to look at some of the older patterns that might fit my criteria as follows: elegant, sophisticated, stream-lined and timeless. On to Susan Khalie’s Couture Dress course on Craftsy.sk couture dress class

I have been all through this course with the intention of using it to guide my couture dress project. However, I find I’ve used many of her techniques on other projects to date, but have not plunged into doing the dress along with her. One of the reasons I have hesitated so long is that the pattern Craftsy sends along to be used in the course is Vogue 8648, View A or B. It fulfils many of the criteria that I am looking for, but it has one serious drawback. I really don’t like the square neckline.

Vogue 8648

Oh, actually it has two drawbacks if you must know: I don’t think I want that inset waist. The pattern is one of those that permits fine-tuning the fit – all of those seams lines make fitting much easier than in a fitted dress that is minus those offerings. So, I’m back to the drawing board.

I find that I have been contemplating three patterns for dresses in general, so I dig one of them out of my pattern box and order the other two. The first option that I’ll make a muslin for is McCall’s 6464. I really love a boat neck and it has both sleeve and sleeveless options, the sheath silhouette I love, and style lines for fine-tuning that fit. Stay tuned!

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Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion Design, Little Black Dress, Style, Style Influencers

In search of the perfect LBD: My new project begins

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s a cliché that seems to transcend time. They say every woman needs the perfect “little black dress” – LBD for short – and I agree, but the search for that perfection seems to go on and on. Enter the sewing talent that we possess!

Over the years I’ve had any number of what would be labeled “little black dresses.” They have all been eminently useful in their own ways.

In recent years my LBD wearing is frequently confined to travel: we often take cruises on those kind of high-end cruise lines where those informal nights really require cocktail dressing. That means that a LBD that is also packable is a must. On a recent cruise down the west coast of South America, my Joseph Ribkoff black dresses were a godsend. Both the short cocktail dress and the gown (it’s actually a strapless worn a plethora of different jackets to change it ups) in the photos above are Ribkoff’s I wore on our recent cruise down the west coast of South America on Silversea’s Silver Muse.

And yet I still search for the holy grail of LBD’s. So, what are my criteria for LBD perfection?

  1. First and foremost, it should be black! While this seems like a no-brainer, we are forever bombarded by asinine pronouncements from the style police that “red is the new black” or recently “white is the new black.” Okay, I know what they’re getting at, but black is the only thing that is black. If you want a LRD or a LWD, that’s great, but I’m talking about a LBD and it naturally has to be black.
  2. Second, the perfect LBD needs to fit perfectly. The beauty of the Rikoff dresses is in the fabrics – they are knits and are a bit forgiving. This means that even a not-so-perfect fit is perfect enough. What I’m searching for is a LBD that doesn’t have to be a knit to fit perfectly. It is made for me. It follows the curves of my body and no one else’s.
  3. My perfect LBD is a sheath. I often see LBD’s that are any number of silhouettes, but somewhere in my mind’s eye, I see a real LBD as a sheath. And since that’s the silhouette that suits me best and I love the most, that’s what it has to be.
  4. My perfect LBD is simple. It is simple enough that if I choose to wear different jackets or jewelry with it, that works and changes the look. The perfect LBD is versatile in my view. I need to be able to dress it up or dress it down. Which brings me back to silhouette: many of the complicated silhouettes on offer these days – flounces, ruffles, big skirts, peplums, “statement sleeves” – all of these distract from the simplicity of the perfect LBD. I’m going for clean lines.

I don’t know yet if my perfect LBD is sleeveless, has long sleeves or short sleeves or anything else in between. I’m not sure yet if the neckline is round, square or boat-shaped. I’m unsure of the fabric – this will be dictated by many of the design factors. But I do expect perfection to be lined in silk – silk charmeuse if I have my way and since I’m making it, I think I do. But anything can change at this stage.

So, how do I find the perfect dress? As I do in my other life, I begin with research. First, I want to understand the history of this oh-so-indispensable article of clothing and find inspiration from that.

chanel first lbd 1926 vogue
The October 1926 Vogue magazine sketch of Chanel’snew LBD

Coco Chanel is often touted as the creator of the LBD – or at least the notion of what a LBD means. In October, 1926 Vogue magazine published a picture of a simple, elegant sheath in black crêpe de chine that was shown with a simple string of pearls. It seemed to start a kind of trend – or what today we might call a meme. It is true that in the early part of the twentieth century and before that, women wore black to indicate that they were in mourning. Remember Queen Victoria? After Prince Albert, the love of her life died at a fairly early age, she wore black for the rest of her life. Anyway, black transformed from the colour of death to the colour of simple elegance. Chanel wanted a piece of clothing that could be available to everyone. And Chanel’s idea influenced many a designer from that day until now.

Hepburn_little_black_dressMy second icon of the LBD that I look to for inspiration is Audrey Hepburn. She wore them, but she didn’t design them. She had a long working relationship with Givenchy who designed many of her LBD’s including the most incredible one – at least for me – the gown she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s although to be sure, there were other LBD’s even in that film. I especially love the lines of that dress.

In a continuing search for inspiration, last week I visited the Dior exhibit currently stationed in the Royal Ontario Museum. A mere 10-minute walk from my home in Toronto, the ROM provides a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon – and that’s just what I did.

I’m not a big fan of Dior’s “New Look” which was featured prominently – it was a 1947, post-war look that Chanel dispatched unceremoniously in 1954 with her LBJ style – but I do find close examination of designer fashions, especially historical ones, to be educational and inspiring.

I did find a number of Dior’s take on the LBD like these ones…

…and find myself inspired by the workmanship and the fabrications. The one on the left is the only one who’s silhouette is right for me, though. So, I’m off to search for the pattern or patterns I’ll try out on my way to finding just the right one. In the meantime, here are some of the other confections I took in last week at the ROM…

…I do find the above gown oddly compelling. I think I could actually wear it…

…and red is a great colour if you don’t want black. In fact, it’s my favourite colour (I don’t think black, grey, white and taupe really count although they are truly my favourite garment colours! It’s all in how you mix them in my view.).

And finally, one extraordinary gown, worn once by a Toronto socialite’s daughter for her debutante afternoon tea dance in the 1950’s. Those were the days *sigh*

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Up next, the pattern options for my own LBD. Stay tuned!