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A Pin Up Dress in Raw Silk

I have a crazy story about this fabric. It was included in one of about 3 other gigantic bags full of used men’s clothes and old fabric remnants which was “gifted” to me by someone I didn’t know very well. I had offered to teach some friends how to sew a simple project at my house, suggesting they bring a friend if they wanted, and one of them brought someone who basically used my house as a Goodwill. Someone in this individual’s family used to sew and they had inherited some bags of (mostly unusable) fabric…which they in turn gave to me. They included about a dozen men’s button up shirts, too,  just in case I wanted to “use them for scraps or something”. Initially I thought that the gesture was thoughtful, albeit misguided, but soon it dawned on me that the person could have cared less about whether or not I was actually interested in what was in those bags- they just dumped them on my floor without a second thought because they didn’t want it taking up space in their house anymore. As you know, I am all about recycling fabric and clothes that have more life in them, but not everyone’s trash is someone else’s treasure- sometimes it’s just trash! A better way of handling this situation would have been for them to ask me ahead of time if I had any interest in their stuff before lugging it all to my house. Or at the very least, they could have brought the bags and asked if I would like to go through them to keep anything that might be of use. As it turned out there was hardly anything worthwhile in their giant pile of stuff when I rifled through it a couple of days later, mostly jagged fragments of cloth that had already been cut into and some stained men’s clothing, which was now of course my responsibility to get rid of. I threw away the remnants that couldn’t be salvaged, delivered everything else to charity, and kept one of the few shining lights in the pile, a narrow three-yards-long cut of a jewel-toned raw silk, for myself. I couldn’t imagine what I would use it for, but it was in great condition and I couldn’t stand to throw it out.

Ultimately this story has a happy ending because, even though I never wanted the fabric in the first place, I did end up making something beautiful with it, which seems almost worth having to deal with that annoying situation…almost. What is it with people giving crafters their discards in hopes that they can magically turn them into something beautiful? Maybe I am just sensitive about the assumptions that non-makers tend to put on us (since you really enjoy sewing it would be a cinch for you to make something for me! and my personal favorite, you should sell your items! I would buy them! so you need to SELL THEM!!!!!) but I tend to regard things outside of my wheelhouse with a bit more respect and sensitivity than people show to me. In my experience, questions invite dialogue while presumptuous declarations just show ignorance.

ANYWAYS. This dress! It’s awesome! I was genuinely surprised at how gorgeous the fit was when I went through all these photos- I hadn’t worn this #redcarpetDIY dress yet and it had been almost a year since I made it, so my memory was poor. But I feel like a bombshell in it! And that is NOT a familiar feeling for me. Cute? Sure! Pretty? Thanks! Glamorous? Aw, shucks! But sexy? Nope, not me. Well, not me unless I am wearing this dress apparently. It’s a pretty simple silhouette and that’s why I was so attracted to it. I love Gertie’s books because they have so many great classic blocks included in them, and though I don’t fit perfectly into her drafted patterns (the bust is always WAY bigger on me despite my measurements matching up with the sizes), I have found that the extra work needed to alter the fit is always worthwhile because they suit my style well and I know I will use them over and over again.

This dress was the first time I used boning in a bodice, and since it was kind of an experiment to see how I liked the process, I used the cheap plastic kind. It’s fine for this dress which probably won’t get TONS of wear since it’s so dressy, but I make all my boned bodices with steel wire boning now, which is much stronger and curves to your shape better than this plastic does (on me, at least- mine came in a roll and it was impossible to get the curve out of it before I sewed it in the dress).

I followed the instructions for making the bodice of this dress in Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book with the heart shaped neckline. The instructions were pretty good and definitely gave me a solid foundation for the concepts, but I feel like there were a few important bits of information left out. For example, I don’t recall any mention in the book of using an additional fabric to give your bodice more support, so the first few dresses I made with strapless bodices just have a shell with a boned lining attached, as opposed to a shell, a lining and another layer of sturdier fabric, either made of muslin or hair canvas, sewn inside of that. (And if this information is in the book and I just missed it, apologies- either way it’s still a great book!) I didn’t even know that a THIRD layer to give the bodice more of a sturdy foundation was a thing til Renee mentioned it to me. Without this additional layer of a stronger fabric, particularly for softer, drapey-er fabrics like the ones I used, the bodice can be a bit flimsy. I don’t have a big bust so I can totally get away with wearing this dress and not worrying that anything is going to pop out, but it would still be nice to have a more supported bodice when there are no straps to hold it up. Also Gertie illustrates a simple plan for how to lay out your boning placement across the bodice, but she doesn’t explain when and if you should deviate from that plan, and there are several patterns in the book that, as per the illustrations, have a different boning layout than the one she describes in the instructions. It’s unclear when you should make those adjustments and why- maybe it’s up to the discretion of the maker? Regardless, more information would have been helpful.

Aside from that issue, I found the construction of the bodice pretty straightforward once I altered the pattern pieces for the bodice (I didn’t use a SBA, I just took the seams in where needed and it worked fine). The skirt took some work, too, but I am more familiar with adjusting that type of garment so I knew how to make the changes I wanted- basically I just baste my skirt pieces together and try it on over and over again, altering the seam lines until they look and feel right. I made my first pencil skirt from another of Gertie’s books and it has served me well, but I started from scratch with this pattern block in case it was drafted differently than her previous books.

Unfortunately I could not manage to get my skirt darts and bodice darts lined up properly in the front! When I moved them on the skirt they made the skirt fit differently, and I didn’t want to rearrange the seam lines on the bodice because I had already sewn it together and I was too lazy to take it apart. So the front lines don’t match up at all. WHO CARES! Since I have such a significant curve in my hips, the seams on the sides bulged a bit in weird ways once I got the fit right, so had to cut notches in the seams to make them lay flat. It makes the skirt hug my body perfectly but the insides look wonky- it’s hard to finish a seam with notches cut into it. My solution was to use bias seam binding on that area, carefully sewing the edges of the little triangles created by the notches, but it still doesn’t look very clean to me. It’s okay though- next time I will probably just serge those seams individually (right and left side) close to the seam line and see if that gives the seam enough flexibility to stretch around my curves.

One other issue I have with the way this dress looks is the top of the heart shaped bodice- it has a little fold on either side of center that I can’t get to straighten out for the life of me! I trimmed and notched those seams and I also used a small length of basting stitch on the lining at the center front to gather the middle of the “heart”, as suggested in the book- still has a tiny fold. No idea what I did wrong, but it could just be an issue with the raw silk- it was pretty good to work with but certain areas had different characteristics, and maybe it’s just a little stretchy in that area.

For a dress that looks as painted-on as this one, it is surprisingly comfortable! Or at least it is standing up- I can’t remember if I have tried to sit down in it yet. I used this same pencil skirt block matched with a different bodice from Gertie’s book and I had to drive to an audition in it the other day. You guys. It was hysterically uncomfortable! I had to squeeze my knees together super tight just to drive my car and at one point I considered unzipping the entire back of the dress so that I would have room enough for my legs to move around freely. But that seemed like a dangerous prospect- what if I couldn’t zip myself up in the car by myself or I broke the zipper and had to have my whole backside exposed to the CBS lot before I could get help?? As long as you aren’t driving, this dress is manageable- all you have to do is sit on the very edge of whatever seat you are in and keep your legs either crossed or zipped up tightly at the knees and thighs. This must be how Marilyn Monroe walked around for an entire decade. The book suggests using a waist stay for this dress but I didn’t see the point- the skirt isn’t heavy and it is fitted to my body so closely that there isn’t much wiggle room leftover. Also the bodice isn’t really strong enough to be held up by a waist stay- I think the stay is most beneficial in something more rigid than mine turned out to be.

Okay, so that’s the dress! Not bad for my first attempt at a boned bodice! I made this bodice twice more over the past year but I am still perfecting my construction. I have another dress like this lined up in my cue, this time a boned strapless bodice attached to a circle skirt, and I will definitely use an additional sturdy fabric coupled with the lining and a waist stay. And I might play around with the neckline a bit, but the heart shaped bodice is so just so pretty- I might not be able to stay away from it!

Pleated Pants in Pink

I have always been quite fearful of sewing pants for myself, which makes very little sense considering I have successfully made nearly a dozen different versions of jeans over the past couple of years. Somehow Closet Case’s Miracle Jeans patterns (here and here) have seemed like a walk in the park compared to starting from scratch with a brand new pattern that has no sew-alongs or hand-holding to accompany it. I’m not scared of the actual construction so much as getting the fit right, and I am sure this fear comes from a lifetime of experience trying to buy RTW pants in commercial stores. I have never, I repeat, NEVER bought RTW pants that fit me perfectly. They have run the spectrum of I can’t believe you’re wearing those out of the house to I guess they look okay if you pull your shirt down over your butt, but never wow, those pants look amazing on you! Either the pockets gape at the sides or they are too tight in the thighs or, most often, the waist is huge while the hips fit snugly, leaving me with a big gap of space between my waistband and my actual body. Doesn’t matter the style- jeans, pleated, flat-front, darted- if they didn’t have an elastic waistband on them then they weren’t going to fit my body very well.

With her patterns, Heather helped me (and hundreds of other people around the world) craft a pair of jeans that fit our bodies beautifully and made us feel and look amazing, but for some reason in my head these successes seemed to only apply to jeans making- I couldn’t imagine those concepts translating to the world of trousers at large. Intellectually I knew this didn’t make sense, so I gave myself a bit of time to work through my fear without adding too much pressure to jump into pants making. I started reading blog posts about people’s journeys making their own pants. I pinned pants patterns that interested me and seemed suitable for my style and shape. And I bought myself a copy of the much heralded Palmer and Pletsch’s Pants for Real People. Some of the material in it is pretty dated, but on the whole the information is reliable and very helpful.

There are a few standout lessons I learned in reading this book which I was able to apply to these pink pleated pants. Number one (and perhaps most important) is tissue fitting. I always side-eyed the tissue fitting concept because I couldn’t comprehend how substituting pattern paper for fabric would translate to anything useful; pattern paper seems too thin, stiff and delicate to temporarily mold to your body. But with tips from the book I was able to get a better understanding of why you tissue fit- it is but one step in the process of creating a pattern that works for your body, and it is super helpful. First of all you are instructed to tape the crotch seams of both the front and back pants pieces to keep the paper strong during the fitting process, which addressed my initial concern about the paper not holding up well to fitting on the body. It is also recommended that you use a length of thin elastic tied around your waistline to keep the paper pattern pieces from falling off and to give you a visual reminder of where your actual waist is in relation to the pattern pieces. You pin the seams of the pattern wrong sides together and then (very very carefully) try them on and make your way to a mirror so you can assess the fit and look. The paper doesn’t necessarily give you a great idea of what your final pants will look like, but it does show you most if not all of the fit issues that the pattern will have, particularly if the waist/thighs/calves/crotch are too big/little, loose/tight, high/low. Once you see where the pattern needs to be adjusted, you make marks on the pattern paper and then add in or take out “fabric” as needed.

Many of these adjustments were familiar to me because I would make them when muslin-ing (or just working directly from my fashion fabric), but making changes on the paper pattern streamlines the process, takes less time than muslin-ing, and keeps you from potentially ruining your fabric. The two most awesome adjustments that I learned about from the book are 1. changing the crotch curve and 2. adjusting the waist height of the pants. Deepening the back crotch curve creates more room in the seat for fuller butts like mine (you can do the opposite if you have a flatter derriere) and WOW what a huge difference it made! I deepened mine by 1/2 inch from the seam allowance and it made for a pant that fit my curves in the back while still giving me plenty of room to walk and sit and bend- they look super fitted but they don’t feel tight at all. Amaaaaazing! Raising the waist of the pants was another impressive fix- it’s a quick and dirty way to keep the pants from sagging or gaping and seems to be a good solution to fixing a swayback as well. Since you have a band of elastic around your waist, it’s easy to see where the paper pattern should be adjusted in relationship to where you want the waistband to be. When I was tissue fitting these pants, the back came up super high on me, several inches past my natural waist, so I was able to cut that chunk out to make them sit better, giving plenty of room for ease and wearability.

After my initial tissue fit, I added more room to the hips, adjusted the width of the legs and calves and adjusted the length of the pieces between the waist and the hip (this created a shorter depth of crotch since mine hung down a little lower than what felt comfortable or looked good) on my paper pattern, then I cut out the new pattern pieces using a black textured fabric that I hoped would be a wearable muslin. Unfortunately, halfway through the process I realized that my fabric was of pretty poor quality and that I would probably never wear them once they were finished, but I didn’t mind- I got some great practice with that first pair and once I saw that the fit was getting closer to what I wanted, I was excited to move on to my pink fabric anyways. I installed my zipper using the Closet Case method she shares in her Jeans Making e-Book, then I basted the pant legs together, tried them on, and made a few more tiny tweaks in the hip and thigh area. After that it was smooth sailing- I just needed to create and attach my waistband and hem the bottoms.

Now the real exciting thing for me here is not that I used the Palmer Pletsch method of making pants, but that I used a BURDA PATTERN TO MAKE THEM. Yep, you read right! (I blame Renee). I have mentioned a dozen times on this blog how much I hate Burda patterns. I love the styles but MY GOD the instructions and construction techniques are just awful- too sparse, sometimes written incorrectly, no line drawings or photos (at least with the online patterns I have purchased) and no additional details on construction techniques whatsoever. When I first started getting into sewing a lot a few years ago, Burda enticed me with all their pretty photos, fashion forward designs, and inexpensive patterns, and I accumulated quite a few of them, even making a couple of dresses that turned out sort of okay, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was NOT the intended demographic for their patterns. With the exception of a few simple designs, their patterns are generally not for beginners who are unfamiliar with how to construct a variety of garments. I remember buying a cargo shorts pattern of theirs a few years ago which essentially began with the words “insert your front fly zipper” and no actual instructions that followed. I was like *#^!)#&%$%?!?!?!?!- aren’t you supposed to tell me how to insert a front fly zipper, Burda??? I looked up instructions online but I was too out of my depth, having never made a zip fly before and getting incredibly confused when the details of my pattern pieces didn’t match up with the tutorials I was finding. Needless to say, I threw that project in the Butthole Bin and hadn’t tried another Burda pattern since.

But when I realized that I wanted to make a pair of trousers for myself using the Palmer Pletsch technique, I had a lot of trouble finding a pattern that matched what I wanted. I was looking for a peg-leg trouser, something high waisted with a loose-ish (but not wide) leg that could be rolled up at the ankle, dressed up or down. I wanted pleats, too, a detail that ladies with curves are not “supposed” to wear since pleats can accentuate areas that you “should” want to hide. But of course, as mentioned in an earlier post, I am moving away from all those “rules” and experimenting with clothing that has aesthetics I am attracted to as opposed to details that I think will “work” for my body (/excessive use of quotations). The Big 4 companies didn’t have what I was looking for and neither did any of my fav indie pattern designers, but I found several pattern contenders when I reluctantly started sorting through the online Burda catalogue. I could vaguely hear Renee’s voice in the back of my head rattling off all the amazing Burda patterns she had successfully made over the years, and I started to gain a little more confidence. It had been years since I had last attempted a Burda pattern and I knew my skills as a sewist had grown a lot since then, but I had also noticed that as a I got more comfortable with the craft, I liked to challenge myself more. So. Maybe it was time to give Burda another chance. I chose the Pleated High Waist Pants 02/2012 #103A, (why do they choose the most confusing way to name/categorize their patterns??) added the damn seam allowance (I shouldn’t hate this as much as I do because I already trace all my pattern pieces- adding seam allowance is really not that big a deal for me…and yet!) and went to work.

This is me demonstrating how comfortable and easy it is for me to do a squat in these pants! I do squats in heels all the time, by the way!

Guys. It wasn’t that bad! I used my trusty Closet Case construction method for inserting my zip fly, adding and subtracting certain details to my liking, then I proceeded as usual for any other pair of jeans using the fitting adjustments described earlier in this post. With a solid foundation on how to construct a pair of pants, I didn’t even need Burda’s measly 7 sentence “instructions”, and maybe that’s how most Burda patterns are intended to be used- you use them with your own basic understanding of how to make the garment and they just supply the drafted pattern pieces. I guess there is reason these patterns are so cheap! I would still prefer to have a regular set of instructions included with my patterns, but I know now that I am capable of working from my own knowledge, and I love that the world of beautiful Burda patterns is now open to me again.

As for the pants, I LOVE them! I realize that I have been saying I love my makes way more consistently now which feels so exciting to me. And it’s true! These pants fit great, they are super comfortable, and I freaking love the gorgeous pink color of the fabric. On my last trip to The Fabric Store, the lovely Sara immediately led me in the direction of this hot pink raw silk when I told her I was looking for a bottom-weight fabric for some trousers. This fabric was a little more lightweight than what I was initially looking for but once I saw it, I obviously couldn’t say no (pink is my favorite color, next to yellow, and next to gray. I have three favorite colors, sue me). It ended up working perfectly with this pattern, and raw silk is probably a smarter fabric to wear in a Los Angeles summer than what I was looking for anyways. This is one of the (many) things about The Fabric Store that I love- everyone in the store is knowledgeable about the fabric and they also have really good taste, so whether you are looking for something specific or needing help narrowing down your options, they can steer you in the right direction. The color of this fabric is as brilliant in person as it is in the photos, it has a spectacular hand (soft with just the right amount of nub) and drape (a lot of body without being stiff) which works really well for this pair of pattern.

I didn’t use the waistband pieces of the Burda pattern, mostly because they made absolutely no sense to me- I couldn’t tell where they connected to each other and which piece was supposed to be cut on the fold. Instead I decided to use my waistband from the Ginger Jeans pattern, which was already curved and adjusted to fit my waist perfectly; I shaved off a little of the width and it worked like a dream on these pants. I played around with the idea of adding belt loops but eventually nixed that idea because I wasn’t sure if I would actually wear a belt with them. After wearing them once I can say that a belt is totally unnecessary and I am so glad I didn’t do the extra work of adding them, cause sometimes I am just lazy.

brushing my shoulders off, obvs.

Now that I have successfully made a pair of pants using a fitting technique I had never tried before and a pattern company that I historically hate, I am feeling kind of unstoppable, like I need to make ALL the pants! I already have a project in mind for my next pair- I want them to be a high waisted wide leg pant in another fun color, like yellow or robin’s egg blue. I wish I had some of this raw silk in every color because it would work for SO many projects, and I can only imagine how beautifully it would sew up into a dress. But let me slow down and take it one cut of fabric at a time…I already have two #recarpetDIY projects on the horizon in addition to one of the Pattern Review winners for best dress of 2016 lined up in my queue. And I have like three pairs of shoes that I am ready to try my hand at, too, now that spring sandals are in all the shops and I am feeling newly inspired.

Sigh. Sew little time, sew many projects 😉

edit: OMG I forgot to say: The top is a Grainline Studios Lark Tee in a knit fabric from Michael Levine’s which was just too pretty not to buy when I went shopping there a couple months ago- didn’t blog about it because these tees are super easy and there isn’t much to say about them, but it’s a great pattern with lots of options and I love how this one turned out!

Vintage Givenchy Vogue Gown in Silver

I made this dress over a year ago and wore it to an event already, so the details of the make are unfortunately not very fresh in my mind. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get it on the blog, but better late than never, right? Clearly it deserves some space here because it’s so pretty! What I love most about this pattern is how simple it is- no darts and only a handful of pattern pieces (sleeves, front and back and collar)- yet the effect is so glamourous! Everytime I see it in my closet on a hanger I’m like, “meh”, and then when I try it on I feel completely wowed by how stunning it is.

I used a silver silk charmeuse from The Fabric Store that was purchased quite some time ago, so they might not have any more bolts of this particular textile, but rest assured, they have a ton of comparable gorgeous silks and blends to choose from. Before I made this dress I thought that all silks were created equal, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out how wrong I was. I’m about to commit a huge personal sin here on the blog, which is to use food descriptors to better explain to you what this silk is like. I’m normally against this sort of thing, but I don’t know if the english language has enough words in it to accurately describe it for you otherwise, so here goes. Y’all, its buttery. It feels delicious. Some might even say yummy. UGH UGH UGH, I hated to do that, but it’s all true! The silk really does feel so good in your hands! It feels thick in a way, but it doesn’t LOOK heavy at all- see that drape?

It’s even more dramatic in person! When the fabric folds, it captures all the deepest tones in the silver color and it feels so luxurious against your skin. The inside of the silk (matte, compared to the right side which is shiny) has a greenish tint to it, and that might be why this color works on me, because, much like black, I am not generally a “silver” person. Again, my pictures are not doing this dress justice for how stunning it is in real life, but my skin has undertones of yellow in it and tends to look glowier when it’s covered in greens, yellows, mustards and chartreuses. This of course doesn’t stop me from wearing head-to-toe pink, but it’s nice to know I can wear a section of hues that the rest of the world doesn’t think it can. Whenever Claire accompanies me to a fabric store, her eyes immediately find the yellowy-greeniest fabric in the joint and then she convinces me to buy it. Gotta love a girl who knows what your most flattering color palette is, right?

Construction of this dress, although a vintage Vogue pattern which can come with it’s cons, was pretty straight forward as far as I remember. The sleeves gave me a bit of trouble, because as you can see they are very dramatic and they simply weren’t sitting right on my frame; turns out the shoulders were just set too wide (note to self, this is not the first shoulder adjustment you have made on a Vogue dress- maybe plan for this in the future with every new-to-you pattern?) The fix was fairly easy, I just took out my sleeves, cut away almost 2 inches of seam allowance at the top of the shoulders and halfway down the sleeve opening, then replaced the sleeves. If memory serves correct, I was able to get away with just taking that width out and not having to adjust it beneath the arms, which seems like a miracle because my side seams were french and it would have been a hassle to have to unpick them to take out some of the seam allowance.

Aside from the sleeves, my biggest obstacle was learning how to work with the silk, which sewed up pretty easily but because of it’s light color I was so scared to get it dirty and was therefore constantly carrying it around in my arms as opposed to picking it up with my fingers. This fabric isn’t super delicate, though, and it handled my hand stitching around the front slit beautifully. When glancing at the slit I had to do a double take when I pulled this out of the closet for this photoshoot because they were almost invisible.

Hemming was another issue for me. I’m not sure why, but I decided to use black lace tape to tack up the hem underneath the dress- I think I had discovered it for the first time and thought it was cool…which it is, but not for this dress. First of all, black was too visible a color to match with the gown (no, duh!) and I didn’t think about this when I was making it. Also, when I wore it to the red carpet event I attended, the little rubber knob on the heels of my shoes kept snagging the lace from inside and pulling it! Thank God it didn’t trip me up, but it did come close, and at the end of the night I saw that I had a long trail of thread floating behind me on the gown from a place that got snagged and started to unravel. I gracefully made my way to the bathroom and then cursed at it as I carefully snapped the thread off. As you can imagine, the lace on the inside of the hem looked a HOT MESS by the time I got home.

Since then I have removed the lace tape and re-hemmed the dress using a straight machine stitch which actually looks just fine on the outside, but in taking out the tape, I ended up having to cut some of my hem allowance off. So the finish is just a little jaggedy-looking down there, but only on the inside. That is actually my main regret about this dress- at the time I wasn’t as into clean finishes as I am now, so even though I did use a few beautiful french seams, I also serged the edge of the facing of my collar, which I think looks sloppy on a dress as fancy as this, and I used an iron-on interfacing at the collar instead of sewing in organza, which is what I use for all my silks now. Thankfully this charmeuse has so much body that you can’t see or feel the texture of the interfacing popping through to the other side, but I still would have constructed it differently if I were making this dress today. This silk, like many others, frays like crazy, so there are a couple of areas on the inside of the dress (around the hem and the collar) where the seam isn’t finished and it just looks messy. But again, none of this shows on the outside of the dress. And it’s a nice reminder of how far my tastes and abilities have come! I’ve said it before, but this bears repeating- I am all for serge-finishing seams on everyday wear, but for #redcarpetDIY projects, I like to step my game up just a bit. Last thing I would change about the dress? Finding nicer buttons! I love the look and color of the vintage-inspired buttons I used, but they are actually plastic- I could not find any black glass buttons of the size I needed for this dress so I settled for these. I think they look fine but they just feel cheap, whereas the rest of the dress feels pretty fancy. The good thing is that changing out buttons on a garment is pretty easy, so I’m just waiting for the perfect ones to fall into my lap.

If you couldn’t tell already, I LOVE THIS DRESS! My favorite things about this pattern are the gorgeous tulip sleeves, the front slit, the elegant collar, and the amount of ease included in the pattern, which is just perfect for me- plenty of room for my hips, butt and thighs to move freely without feeling constricted, while still giving a figure-grazing silhouette.

Now, take a look at the shoes I am wearing in the photos. Although not my usual style preference, the color matches the dress pretty well and the crystals offer a little bling to contrast with the understated gown. But that’s not the point. The point is that these are are Badgley Mischka shoes, bought during a mad-dash to find appropriate footwear for this dress after I got a last-minute invite to the event from a friend. This is significant to me because I used to work at Badgley Mischka. Yep, waaaaay back in the day, when I was single and living in NYC and my heart was set on musical theatre, not film, and I had no agent, no manager, and no bigger goals in my life beyond paying my rent on time. I had been in an Off-Broadway musical which closed unexpectedly (as they tend to do) and I suddenly found myself in immediate need of employment. A friend suggested I call a temp agency to try and get work as a receptionist, which was surprisingly easier than getting a job waiting tables, and within a few weeks I found myself as a perma-temp fixture at the studios of Badgley Mischka. I manned the phones, accepted deliveries, buzzed people through the glass doors and chatted with my friends on IM for hours. The job was easy and Mark and James were kind to me, which is probably why I stayed there so long. I had moved to NYC to be an actor, but I found myself becoming more and more comfortable with my survival job and worrying less and less about how I was going to make it to auditions with a 9-5 job.

Sometimes if I arrived to work early enough, I was responsible for walking through the studio and turning all the lights on before the rest of the employees (mostly sales team members and a couple of assistant designers) showed up. I would pause at the racks of gowns that were dripping in crystals and run my fingers down them, completely enchanted. The dresses were not exactly my style, but there was no denying how exceptionally beautiful and well-made they were. I wondered if I would ever wear a thing of such beauty, if I would ever even have a need to wear it. Celebrities and stylists were popping in and out of the office all the time to borrow Badgley Mischka gowns for red carpet events- I remember the office being abuzz for a whole week because someone named Anna Wintour was stopping by for an in-person discussion with James and Mark. I had no idea who she was at the time, but when she stepped off the elevator it didn’t matter; her energy, her clothes, her demeanor told you everything you needed to know about her. A week later I picked up The Devil Wears Prada and devoured it in a matter of days, thankful that I had no idea who she was before I met her, as the chances of me embarrassing myself would have been multiplied.

I didn’t necessarily want fame, exorbitant wealth, or even celebrity-status, but it was easy to equate the gowns hanging in the back of the studio with fortune, substance, success. And I did want to be successful! I had made my way from Birmingham, Alabama to New York City by the skin of my teeth, graduating college with a degree in the arts and then working 4 jobs for 8 months to save enough money to rent a U-Haul and pay a deposit plus one month’s rent on a one bedroom apartment that I shared with two other girls, an apartment we were not even legally supposed to be living in. I hadn’t settled when I first started dreaming of living in NYC- I set my sights high and made it happen by any means necessary. So why was I settling now?

A few weeks later, I turned my notice in to Badgley Mischka, and they seemed genuinely sad to see me go. They supported my dreams of wanting to be a professional actor, but I don’t think they really believed it would happen. How many young girls had sat at that same reception desk with dreams for something bigger than that studio could hold? I had no idea. But I did know was that I was no longer going to be one of them.

I am intrigued by the intersection of what we dream for ourselves and what we make reality, because, as you fellow sewists and crafters know, we are only limited by what we are afraid of trying to do. Whenever I put these shoes on, I am reminded of the connection I had to that studio, of how Badgley Mischka introduced me to a world that I wanted to be a part of but which felt unreachable. I had no way of knowing at the time that I would be a part of that world in ways that I never even imagined possible. My connection to it isn’t necessarily through a calendar full of high profile events with paparazzi following me around and photographers shouting “who are you wearing?”, but rather through the ability to bring beauty into the world, for myself, with my own hands. I don’t have to rely on anyone to make me feel beautiful, or successful, or fortunate. I can do it all by myself.

 

Working So Jaquard!

HA! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!

I made eyes with this amazing fabric twice at The Fabric Store before I finally took the plunge and got a cut of it. I had no idea what I would make with it, but I knew it wouldn’t take long to figure something out. I am learning to let a fabric speak to me first instead of trying to tell it what it should be and ignoring its qualities. Like many jaquards, this fabric has a LOT of body, it holds its shape beautifully and it doesn’t wrinkle, but this also means it doesn’t respond to ironing very well, so a pattern with lots of folds and gathers and tucks isn’t a good choice for it. Initially I imagined this fabric in a classic fit n’ flare shape- I wanted to take advantage of the volume it would exhibit in a skirt- but I have been feeling a little bored with this silhouette lately. I love fit n’ flare but I have made a this style of dress several times over the past few months and I needed to change it up just a bit. I brought this yellow and blue tear drop jaquard fabric with me to Savannah and let it marinate in my closet a bit while I waited for inspiration to hit.

And hit it did! While glimpsing over my BlogLovin’ feed, I read this post by Handmade Jane on a blouse she made from a Danish indie pattern company called How To Do Fashion. One quick scroll over to their pattern shop and I was SMITTEN! HTDF has a vintage aesthetic with uncomplicated silhouettes that have a really dramatic effect. I love pattern designer Nanna’s use of fabrics- she seems to be a genius at marrying her designs with the perfect classic print, color and textile to elevate the whole look.

These are two of the looks that immediately caught my eye on HTDF’s website, and I am posting them here because I actually made up versions of both of these designs, so I can talk to you about my experience with all of them. I will focus this post on the two-piece outfit in grey above (my version of the red polka dot dress will come in a later post)!

As you can see, both looks above are attributed to the pattern No. 8 Svaneke. I thought it was a pretty good deal to get this many different looks/options in one pattern, and I purchased the hard copy because PDFs were not available for this particular design. The pattern arrived in a large envelope with a How To Do Fashion clothing tag for my finished garment and the pattern printed on thick, high quality paper. In the above blog post, one of Handmade Jane’s complaints was that instructions were not included in the printed version of the pattern. I personally think this is a big plus because it wastes less paper, and the instructions are easily available on the pattern’s website- you can print the instructions out if you need a hard copy or you can download them as a PDF and read them off your computer, tablet or phone (which is my preferred method). So kudos to that! On the other hand, the pattern pieces are printed on both sides of the paper, so you can’t cut the pieces out. This is actually not a problem for me because, unless it’s a one-size-fits-all kind of pattern, I copy all my pattern pieces onto paper so that the original pattern can stay intact and I have the option to make different sizes/adjust the fit/loan out or sell the pattern in the future. I realize that this method kind of negates the “not wasting paper” rule of thumb, but on the other other hand, printing on both sides of the pattern paper is also less wasteful. I guess it’s just a personal preference, but for me, the HTDF printed patterns are spot-on for my needs.

The instructions, however, were another story! There were a couple of issues for me with these patterns when it came to figuring out how to make them. One was that the actual instructions are a little more bare bones than I am used to. Ultimately I was fine with it- I have been sewing for long enough that I can figure out how to make pretty much anything come together without too much hand-wringing, but I would not suggest that a beginner try and tackle these patterns unless they were okay with having to figure out a lot of stuff on their own. It is certainly not an impossible pattern for an inexperienced sewist to complete, but heads up: they might need to phone a friend. As Handmade Jane wrote in her blog post, some of this might come from the instructions being translated into another language, which is totally understandable.

But my main beef with the pattern instructions has to do with the photos used for the styled and completed garments. As seen in the picture of the two-piece grey outfit I posted above, the outfit consists of two pieces: a crop top and a matching pleated full skirt. The beautiful skirt is what actually caught my eye in the photo and I loved how it looked with the voluminous fabric- I thought this design would look perfect with my own jaquard textile. However, if you take a closer look at the line drawings for the pattern pieces, you will see that the skirt is actually gathered at the waistband, not pleated. I assumed that there was simply not enough room to show all the different versions of the skirt in the line drawing, and that instructions would be included in the pattern on how to make the pleated skirt shown in the picture, but once I got the pattern pieces, I realized this to be false.

Why would you include a photo of a garment with a pattern if you can’t actually make that particular garment? I hemmed and hawed for a while over what to do and eventually decided that I would just need to create a pleated skirt using my own drafting expertise experimentation. I was definitely annoyed at having to spend so much time essentially re-creating a pattern that I spent good money on (the total amount for this pattern after shipping and taxes came out to be around $30USD), but I had my heart set on the cute silhouette of this crop-top and full skirt pattern, so I wasn’t going to turn back now. I cut out skirt pieces using the pattern from my By Hand London’s Brilliant Bouquet Dress and after I had spent a couple of hours playing around with the pleats and making them even all the way around (I didn’t have a dressform in Savannah so I had to do all my adjusting and fitting on my body while standing on top of a bed because it faced the only decent-sized mirror in my apartment), I sewed the skirt together and felt fairly pleased with what I had created with my limited knowledge. And then a few minutes later while perusing the How To Do Fashion website’s blog, I came across a tutorial for making the No.8 Svaneke skirt pattern into the pleated skirt shown in the pictures.

COLOR. ME. ANNOYED. It turns out that the pleated skirt is a hack of the original gathered skirt in the pattern bundle! Sigh. I think that including a picture of a hack in a description of a pattern without any mention of it being a hack is misleading; all versions shown in the photos should be included in the instructions and pattern bundle, or at the very least, some mention of the hack should be written into the description of the pattern instructions so that the maker knows exactly where to go for the info to create the garments that are shown in the product description.

Anyways, enough about the instructional snafu! A little knowledge and growth isn’t a bad thing for me, and now I know that I can make a beautifully pleated skirt without too much hassle! I thought that large pleats for my skirt would be better suited for my fabric than thinner ones, so I started in the middle of the front of skirt and worked my way out, and once I was happy with how those pleats looked, I mirrored them for the other side. I played around with the placement for quite a while until I was satisfied with how they laid around my hips, then I sewed the waistband and zipper on. In the original pattern, I believe that the skirt waistband is supposed to be lapped (I didn’t follow those instructions so I can’t quite remember), but because of my thick fabric, it created too much visual bulk. So I decided instead to have the waistband edges meet at center back above the zipper and use two hooks and eyes to close it.

Despite having to create my own skirt from scratch, the crop top is what required the most amount of work. I made the top as instructed from start to finish, but realized I didn’t like the amount of width around the bottom of the blouse. Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room to play around with the seams because the blouse closes with an invisible zipper in the back and needs to be wide enough to get it over your torso. Although I love the boxy look on the model in the photos, I knew it would look much better on me cinched in a bit more at the side seams, so I needed to figure out a different way to close the back of the blouse. One option would be to use a separating zip so that it could open completely and I could get in and out of the blouse with ease, but I didn’t want the zipper to detract from the rest of the shirt and the matching skirt, and detachable zips seem to be pretty bulky and visible. My other option was to create a button band on the back edges of the blouse with buttholes and buttons, but that seemed like more work than I was willing to put into such a simple blouse. Ultimately I compromised- I used a button and loop method so that I could use the original blouse pieces as-is without having to add interfaced bands. I cut out and attached a piece of fabric the length of the back center piece and about 2 inches in width, and then attached 8 loops of white corded elastic evenly spaced along the edge. I then sewed them to the seam allowance of the back left bodice piece and folded it under. On the opposite bodice piece I sewed corresponding buttons close to the edge, and voila! Easy button closure without all the hassle of buttonholes and bands!

no idea why i look so sad in this picture. i think i might have resting sad face?

After I made the new closure, I took in the side seams about an inch or so, angled up towards the sleeves, and I much prefer the way the blouse fits and looks now! The sleeves and bust of this blouse are a teensy bit tighter than I would prefer, even after letting the seams out a bit, so if I make this top again I will go up in the bust at least one size and keep the adjustments I made to the side seams, and I might shorten it just a bit so that you can see more crop when my arms are down at my sides (as you can see in the pics, you can’t really see much belly skin unless my arms are raised).

All in all a super cute outfit that definitely looks different than anything else I have in my #redcarpetDIY wardrobe! I love the little sliver of skin that shows between the hem of the blouse and waistband of the skirt, and I love the unique and dynamic look of the jaquard print; up close it looks like yellow teardrops with a spot of blue inside, but from just a few feet away the pattern meshes into a haze of trippy polka dots. My favorite color to wear is yellow so I am in total love with the subtle brightness this fabric lends- coupled with the blue accent, it’s not overpowering, but it definitely makes a statement.

Candy Stripes and Wood Grain

7blogAt long last, the dress that has, for months, been a mere a vision in my head, is finally ready for it’s debut! I made this entire dress in Savannah and when I was able to make it back home to LA in September for a quick trip, I got some photos of it since I don’t have a great photo-taking setup on location. Because of some wonky scheduling, I wasn’t able to hem the bottom of the dress in time, so it pools a bit around my feet in these photos. But never fear, the dress is hemmed now and ready for some party action!

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The fabrics are from The Fabric Store in Los Angeles and were purchased with some very specific qualities in mind. As I discussed in my post here, the first iteration of this dress was kind of a disaster because I got all the wrong fabrics for the type of garment I was making. Thankfully I was able to salvage the skirt, but the underdress fabric was meant to be used as a lining so it didn’t have enough body or stability to work as a bodice with boning attached as I intended. For my second try at this dress, I searched for a fabric with a heavier/sturdier hand, and I found it in this midnight blue Moiree textile (I am pretty sure the fibers are silk, but I don’t remember what the tag specified). Anyways, I don’t know much about this type of fabric but apparently one of it’s qualities is that it has a very subtle woodgrain-looking imprint across it, and I think it’s stunning. It gives the under dress just a little more depth without overpowering the bold striped print I chose for the overskirt.

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The striped overskirt might be a printed organza and if it isn’t, it feels exactly like one so that’s how I will refer to it in the rest of this post. The fabric is stiff and transparent and it has a lot of body. This is what was missing in the pink dress I initially tried to make with this design in mind- my fabric choice for the overskirt was a barely see-through cotton with a swingy drape, and it didn’t offer enough contrast in color or texture to the underdress fabric I used. I had also chosen the wrong kind of skirt pattern for it- the overskirt for my pink dress was cut as a 3/4 circle skirt which laid down over the underdress without providing much variance to the fabric beneath. For my second dress, I gathered the waist of the organza instead of cutting it into a circle skirt, so the body of the fabric poofs out at the waistline, showing a definite contrast between the slim fitting pencil skirt underneath. Also, because the organza is more see-through than the pink appliqued fabric I initially used, the deep blue color of my underdress pops a lot more.

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In terms of fabric choice, I made all the right decisions this time around, but I think this dress still needs a little bit of tweaking for fit. Either the bodice is not fitted to me as perfectly as I thought it was or the Moiree fabric has stretched out a tiny bit after all my trying on and adjusting, ORRRRR I might just need to find a better pattern?

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I am very happy with the way this dress looks and the general silhouette is spot-on, but I would love to extend my understanding of boned bodices. My only experience with them so far is what I learned from Gertie’s latest Ultimate Dress book, which is where both the bodice and pencil skirt patterns came from. While I think her overview and instructions are a great starting point, I am ready for more information/extensive patterns for my future strapless bodices. I am sure that part of this comes from having to wear a corset all day for work- and for the record, I HAAAAAATE my corset and find it incredibly uncomfortable and claustrophobic- but I do think there is a middle ground between the boned and tightly tied corset for the show and the measly fit of the bodice for this dress. I think it could be a bit sturdier and hug my body more than it currently does. If anyone has some suggestions on supportive strapless bodice patterns/ boning tutorials that could push me further along my boned-bodice-making journey, I would be thrilled to hear about them!

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Aside from finding a more elaborate bodice pattern, the other thing I would change about this dress is the shape of the overskirt. I got three yards of the striped organza fabric but since I had to use almost the whole length of it, I didn’t have much space for cutting out the proper shape. I will definitely keep the gathers at the waist but next time I will make it more A-line in shape so that it floats out a bit wider at the bottom of the skirt than at the top. I attempted to give it this shape when I cut it out, but again, I ran out of fabric, so the difference in the width of the fabric from top to bottom is very subtle. I also made a mistake in cutting out the fabric for the over skirt so the seams are in odd places- one is in the back middle of the skirt but the other one is on the side, and there is not another one on the other side to balance it out, lol. I think it’s completely unnoticeable unless you are a sewer looking very carefully at the inner workings of the dress, so it doesn’t bother me much, but I would still be sure to plan out the overskirt panels more carefully next time. I also plan to insert some tiny snaps to close the opening of the overskirt at the back seam. I didn’t want to have the zipper connect to the overskirt because I wanted to maintain the poofiness of the organza all the way around the dress, so I left an inch or so of extra fabric peeking out of the edges when I sewed the waist, then I folded the raw edges in and kept them separate from the zipper seams when I sewed the zipper in.

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This dress has a real party-vibe to it and I love the unexpected color combination of the stripes on the midnight blue! I wrote this post a few weeks ago and had it in my publishing queue, and now looking back at the photos, I am curious to see what the dress would look like if I chopped the outer skirt off at the knee, to maybe just a few inches past the length of the underskirt. Not sure if that would look better or worse, but I probably shouldn’t make any significant changes to this dress until I wear it at least once as-is and see what it feels like and how I respond to wearing it! My #redcarpetDIY makes have really been piling up lately and I have been out of town and working too much to show them off anywhere- hopefully that will change after the holidays and I will have ample opportunities to get these garments some wear! Which reminds me, I have about 20 uncut pounds of a gorgeous wool coating and a deep gray satin lining to make myself a floor length coat fit for dressy occasions in wintry months that I haven’t done anything with- I guess I know what my first project of the new year will be (cue coat-making panic)!

Brillant Bouquet

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This dress is BRILLIANT (hence it’s name) and it is hands-down the fabric (from none other than The Fabric Store!) that makes it so exceptional. I am unsure of the fiber content of this textile so I wont even speculate about it here, but I can tell you how it handles and looks in person: it has a significant amount of body, is sturdy but soft to the touch (not scratchy like some textiles of it’s ilk), it holds its shape well with no folding or creasing, and it has a very delicate sheen on its surface without looking glittery or shiny.

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This is the first panel fabric that I have ever sewn and I couldn’t have chosen a better material to start with, but, like many memorable relationships, I’m not sure if I chose this fabric or it chose me! It grabbed my attention from across the store because of the bright orange flowers and interesting color combination- I would never imagine that lavender, orange and deep blue would work so well together, but I guess that’s why I’m not a fabric designer! HA!

I had no idea what I would make with this fabric when it came home with me, but I knew my choices of pattern would be narrowed down considerably because of the unique qualities of the print and the hand. The fabric is stable without being crispy and it also has a lot of volume, so drape-y, flowy and gathered designs were out of the question. The panel flowers also needed to be taken into consideration- I needed a pattern that would let the bright print of the flowers take center stage. I rifled through my pinterest boards for pattern inspiration but didn’t find anything that grabbed me, so on a whim I decided to take a look at the By Hand London catalogue. I had most recently made the Anna dress to tremendous success and I wanted to see what other patterns I might have overlooked that would work for my unique fabric.

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I had seen the Flora dress before but it didn’t really stand out to me at the time, probably because the dress on the model is cut fairly short and I generally stay away from those lengths on my frame- I also have a love/hate relationship with high-low skirts and dresses. But this time around, armed with a specific fabric in mind, the Flora dress pattern seemed like the perfect partner to my Brilliant Bouquet fabric. The pattern has wide pleats at the waist instead of darts, which, depending on my panel placement, was a must since I didn’t want to break up the line of the flowers if possible. I also thought that pleats would create a more interesting look with my full-bodied fabric than darts would. The bodice I chose for the Flora dress (there are two options) was simple and understated, which seemed like a nice contrast to the drama of the skirt, and I thought that keeping the flower print at the bottom of the skirt and having it complete before the start of the bodice would look nice.

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The majority of my mental concentration came when trying to place the skirt properly on the print. The skirt, which is essentially a 3/4 circle, is made of three pieces- one for the front which is cut on the fold, and two for the back. The waistband of the skirt is curved but the panel print is placed straight across the fabric, perpendicular to the straight grain, so trying to determine the smartest way to take advantage of pattern placement without having the line of the flowers broken up was nearly impossible. At this point I realized that having a dart in the skirt as opposed to pleats would have been helpful in terms of keeping the flower print continuous across the skirt. But ultimately I decided that the break in print placement could be an intentional design choice, especially coupled with the full folds of the pleats, so I forged ahead and cut out my pattern pieces as planned (but not before taking several deep breaths!).

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I cut the front piece of the skirt a couple of inches longer than the pattern called for and I extended the length of the back pieces to give a more dramatic look to the skirt’s silhouette. This design choice was inspired by a photo I had come across a while ago on tumblr:

I am OBSESSED with the look of the main fabric contrasted with the printed lining, and I thought I could try it out with my Flora dress by lining the back skirt pieces with the main fabric so that the panel print was visible underneath, too, but, for several reasons, it didn’t quite work out. For one thing, my Brilliant Bouquet fabric has way too much body for a lining of the same material- it would have created even more volume and the pleats would not have formed properly. Secondly, the high-low length of the skirt of my Flora dress isn’t dramatic enough for you to see the lining beneath it- to accomplish this look I would have needed to make the dress almost floor length, and there was not enough room between the panel prints to accommodate that much fabric.

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In the end, everything worked out for the best- I love how the Flora dress came out even without a special lining, and I am excited to try and recreate the above look on a future garment (and hopefully in that same lemon color because OMG it’s stunning). The only thing I wish I had done differently is put pockets in the dress, because they would have worked so well coupled with the volume of the skirt, and who doesn’t love pockets when they don’t interfere with the silhouette of a garment?? The dress is super comfortable and the fit is wonderful, which is an impressive feat for me since the entire thing was sewn in my temporary apartment in Savannah without a proper standing mirror or dress form- there was lot’s of arm-contortion involved when trying to get my zipper placement right, but I must say that I am getting pretty good at it!