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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!

Linen and Loose

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I had the opportunity to meet Amelia a couple of years ago at a panel about diversity in media. Amelia’s young son recognized that he was gay from a pretty young age, and since there aren’t very many narratives that frame coming out in childhood in a positive light, she started blogging about her journey as a mother dealing with both the highlights and frustrations of having a young child who was the member of a disenfranchised community; you can check out her writing here! Anyways, the day that I met Amelia, I learned that she was lovely and warm and funny, an accomplished knitter, and also incredibly generous. She knew that I was a sewer and that I would be on the panel, so she came to the event with a huge stack of vintage patterns that had been in her garage unused for years, and she was giving them all to ME! Can you even??!!

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I’m not sure if this was the first pattern I sewed from all the designs she brought me, but it’s the first time I blogged about one of them. I chose Butterick 4485 for it’s loose fit and clever panel design feature on the front. I wanted to make an easy-wearing dress that would look good with the deep navy linen I had just found at The Fabric Store during one of their seasonal sales (their linen is so PREEEEEEETTYYYYY)!

Butterick 4485

Butterick 4485

This was a fairly straight forward make, and aside from the bizzarro steps that vintage patterns are sure to include at some point in their instructions, this came together very quickly and without too much thought (gotta love an easy make every once in a while, right?)

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I finished all the inside seams with a serger for speed and efficiency, and the back closes with an invisible zip. The buttons are decorative and don’t actually close anything (yay again for an easy make!) and were purchased at an antique store that Claire and I found on a trip a couple of months ago.

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There is a lot of ease in this kind of design obviously, so I didn’t make any fitting adjustments other than to shorten it significantly, otherwise this pattern would have come down to my damn ankles it was so weirdly long. I made view B because there is something about that shortened, slightly flared sleeve that is so CUTE to me- maybe because it’s a sleeve I don’t see very often in modern patterns? Most sleeves I come across seem to always be fitted, and either long, short, or 3/4 length. I love all those options, but this particular sleeve gives a tiny bit of drama without being too over the top, and who doesn’t love breathing room around their arms??

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Jury is still out on how I feel about the way this dress looks on me- I love the fabric and the design but I’m not really one for tent-dresses. I haven’t had a chance to actually wear this yet because I am working in Savannah, GA right now and…let’s just say that the weather is not quite ready for dark colors and/or anything with sleeves. So far my overall shorts and a tank top have kept me cool enough to look presentable when exploring the city; any more coverage than that is TOO HOT. But hopefully in a month or so I can test drive this little number out in the world and get a better idea of how well it fits into my wardrobe. Fingers crossed!

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Deer & Doe & Denim

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I was asked by Deer & Doe, a lovely pattern company that brought this gorgeous skirt into my life, to review their newest pattern, a pair of skinny high waist jeans called Safran. I had never been asked to review a pattern before, so, even though I felt like I already had a go-to jeans pattern in my arsenal (trusty Ginger jeans by Closet Case Files)  I figured that if nothing else, it would be a fun thing to try, seeing as how I am trycurious and all. And WOW, I am so glad that I did! Making this pair of  jeans pushed me out of my comfort zone, introduced me to new design features and made me pay more attention to the nuances of different construction techniques. But they also made me appreciate how essential Heather Lou’s jeans-making sew-along is, which she turned into an eBook for purchase. That ebook guided me through my first pair of jeans and has made each pair I’ve sewn since a breeze, including the Safran!

 

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I wont comment on the instructions for these jeans since I didn’t get a finalized version of the booklet before the pattern was released, and I ended up reverting to certain construction techniques that I was more familiar with for the sake of having my pair finished by the pattern’s release date. But I will of course comment on how much I LOVE how they turned out. I have always wanted a pair of cute floral skinny jeans in my closet, but back before I was sewing I had no luck with RTW versions; a brand called Earnest Sewn was the only brand that fit my body well but they only seemed to carry 50 different shades of indigo- no prints or fun colors. Of course now I can sew my own jeans, but finding the perfect stretch denim has been REALLY tricky.

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photo taken before I did more fit adjustments in the waistband!

Heather Lou gives some awesome tips in her eBook about finding a good ratio of cotton/ polyester/ spandex to get the stretch recovery necessary for a great fitting pair of skinny jeans, but the options on the market are few and far between when it comes to printed denim. So when I came across this unique stretch denim at The Fabric Store, it kind of seemed like destiny. The floral print is really pretty, but you can BARELY see it- the way that the threads are woven makes the print take on a gray-ish tint, almost like someone colored a picture and then started erasing it, so you can only just see the image peeking through (the photos in this post show the print as being a bit more vibrant than it is in real life). I LOVE IT SO MUCH! The fabric is soft, and it isn’t super lightweight like so many stretch denims/twills that I come across in stores. Safran calls for denim that has at least 20-30% stretch and this one from The Fabric Store seemed like it would fit the bill, so home it went with me!

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I was excited to see the size chart for the Safran jeans because they seem to be designed to fit curves- they required no grading to match my measurements, which is rare for me for pants and skirts- I am about two sizes smaller in my waist than my hips in most patterns. I did end up needing to make one adjustment for fit, though. There was a bit of gaping at my waist after I basted my pattern pieces together, but I had of course already cut my legs out and didn’t have enough fabric leftover to re-cut the back pieces. So I created one small dart on each leg back, centered right over the pocket at the waistline, and re-drafted the waistband to fit the new curve of the legs. Because these jeans have no yoke, the adjustment was simple to make and I don’t even mind the look of the dart on the back. I really like the no-yoke design choice on these jeans- it makes them look a bit more streamlined and modern, and I think the design choice works particularly well on this floral denim.

I also LOVE LOVE LOVE the pocket design. I always have trouble with front pockets on skinny jeans- they always try to peak out the top and I am constantly stuffing them back inside the pants, but the way these pockets are drafted, peaking out is pretty impossible. They are topstitched on both the side and opening of the pocket and they are also fairly deep, which helps keep them in place.

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Speaking of pockets, I am notoriously finicky about the ones on the back- I’ve got a lot of booty to cover and I can’t leave the job to too-tiny fabric squares. The Safran pockets looked pretty well-balanced for a proportionate booty, but I used my Ginger jeans pockets instead- they are about an inch longer and only slightly wider than the Safran pockets and I think they turned out really great.

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I used only one line of topstitching as opposed to the classic two on these jeans as the pattern suggests, and I opted out of using rivets, mostly because I didn’t have any leftover from previous pairs that matched. But they look just fine without them. The fit of these jeans looks incredible IMO, but they were preeeeetty tight in the waistband, and I think there are a couple of reasons for that. For one, I might have made my back darts a little too big when adjusting the waist- I could have taken out half of the width and been fine. Also, this pattern calls for you to make your waistband pieces out of denim, with the waistband AND facing interfaced. This keeps your waistband super snug and not as prone to stretching out over time, but it makes it REALLY hard to get any breathing room if the band is perfectly fitted to your waist, which mine was. In an attempt to get a little more wiggle room here, I moved my button over as far as I could without it looking too funky, and I even wet my jeans and wore them for a while to stretch the waist out a little, but the mistake was in my overfitting of the waist area with my darts and waistband redrafting (living’ and learnin’ over here)! So after I took these photos, I ripped out my waistband, took out my darts and started over: made the darts half the size, and altered the waistband to match the tiny adjustment in the back legs, and I only interfaced one side of the waistband. Now they are SO MUCH BETTER and I can wear them and actually breathe comfortably! It was a lot of extra work to take out the waistband and start over from scratch but it was so well worth it- I have made too many amazing things in my life that didn’t fit quite right and then sat in my closet unworn because I was too lazy/daunted to fix them. These jeans were obviously too good to sit anywhere unworn!

The most important realization I had in making these jeans was FIGURING OUT HOW TO MAKE MY JEANS EASIER TO PUT ON! I never blogged the skinny jeans I made after my first pair, but I kept running into the same issue with them- the jeans looked great on but I could barely pull them up over my butt! I know it was because the waist of the jeans is so much smaller than the hips, but I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what to do to fix it without changing how they fit. And then, on this pair of jeans, it hit me: Just make the zip fly longer! I am sure that some of you are like NO, DUH OF COURSE THAT’S WHAT YOU DO! Unfortunately it has taken me a year to figure this out, and I didn’t have the epiphany til after I had already finished these jeans, but I don’t care- better late than never, right? If I add about an inch to the bottom of the zip fly and make sure I transfer that length to the other necessary pieces, like the fly shield and the interfacing that goes on the jean fronts, it will allow my jeans to open up further, which should account for the extra room I need to get them over my hips. OH MY GOD I can’t wait to try this out on my next pair.

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All in all, Safron is a fantastic jeans pattern, and I am most definitely utilizing some of the design elements/ construction techniques on my future jeans, like the awesomely deep pockets and the belt loop construction (Safran has you baste the loops onto your outer waistband before attaching it to the waistband facing, so the loops are caught in the top waistband seam and you only have to stitch them down on the bottom- much less work and a cleaner finish. I also made my loops longer so I had room for a slightly wider belt). I would definitely recommend this pattern for an intermediate sewist/ someone who was confident with jeans-making. I love the original design details and the ease of construction. Because the design features of these pants are so pared down, they are quicker to make than the other jeans I have sewn, and they don’t feel redundant at all: a totally new take on a classic jeans pattern. Many thanks to Deer & Doe for allowing me a backstage pass to their newest pattern!!!!

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Elephants on a Vintage Blouse

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I stumbled across the etsy shop Indianstores, which sells block printed fabric on soft, supple cotton, after seeing it mentioned on a great sewing blog I follow. Their textiles are produced and printed in India by a team of talented artisans and the selection the shop offers is striking. I was in the middle of selecting a floral fabric from their online shop when an interesting textile printed with elephants also caught my eye, but there was only a 1.5 yard cut remaining in the store. I snatched it up anyways without any thought of what I would actually make with it (something I try not to do too often!), and it took me a while to figure out how to use it. The fabric would have worked with any number of patterns in my stash, and I had been eyeing it specifically for a new True Bias Southport maxi, but I just didn’t have enough yardage to make it work. With my newly organized space for patterns and pattern pieces, I rifled through the blouse section in my filing cabinet since that type of garment seemed like it would make the most use of my limited fabric.

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It didn’t take long to come across this re-issue of a vintage blouse pattern (Simplicity 1590) that I purchased several months ago at a Joanne’s for $1.

I liked the interesting lines of the blouse’s design, how the front is like a normal button down but then connects to the peplum on the sides in  an unexpected way. I love the little bow tie at the top of the collar (which I subsequently messed up, but more on that later) and the ties in the back, and I LOVE the kimono-inspired sleeves- all the details added up to a really cool looking blouse, one I hadn’t really seen out in the world before.

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As much as I love the look of vintage silhouettes, I don’t make them very often, and I realize now that it’s because getting good at sewing older patterns requires a fair amount of know-how in the general art of sewing- in my opinion, most vintage patterns are not well suited for beginner sewists because they sometimes use outdated construction techniques that are needlessly complicated, and they don’t often give many helpful details in their instructions, omitting certain steps with the assumption that the sewist will already know how to do something. Of course I am probably spoiled with the heavily worded, brilliantly illustrated PDF instruction booklets and sew-alongs in today’s sewing community, but there is no denying that for me, less is not more when it comes to learning how to do something new. The good news is that I no longer consider myself a beginner sewist, and vintage patterns that gave me trouble years ago when I first started sewing regularly are a breeze for me to figure out now. That’s not to say that I don’t make royally silly mistakes when I sew from vintage patterns, but they feel much less daunting for me.

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This blouse is a fairly simple make but the instructions for how to attach the peplum to the front was a little confusing. Fortunately I eventually figured it out, so that detail doesn’t look weird, but I didn’t fare so well with the collar. For some reason I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the collar piece shouldn’t extend all the way to the edges of the shirt front, because if they do, the collar flaps will overlap in the front when buttoned all the way, which will interfere with the little bow at the neckline- ROOKIE MISTAKE! When my collar and shirt front edges didn’t match up, I just thought I had cut my pattern piece incorrectly, so I basically stretched out my collar piece/ eased the neck opening as much as possible to match the edges of the button bands. I didn’t realize my mistake until the shirt was completed and I tried it on. SMDH!!!! The ill-positioned collar didn’t bother me enough to redo the whole collar piece though, and I can still wear it with the little bow (which is attached to the shirt by snaps), it just doesn’t look perfect. But guess what- it will the next time I make it!

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Here’s what I love about the final garment- the cotton is easy breezy lightweight, so it’s comfortable to wear on hot LA days, but not so lightweight that it doesn’t keep it’s shape. The fullness of the peplum is really pretty and the length of the whole shirt is just right on me with the slight dip down in the back. Originally I imagined wearing this with a vintage wool pencil skirt I have, but the skirt is too wide at the bottom when matched with this top- as a whole there was too much width on the top half and the bottom half did nothing to balance it out. But when I tried this blouse with my Ginger skinny jeans? BINGO! Perfect balance on top and bottom! I also love that the shirt’s silhouette looks kind of fancy on it’s own, but when paired with my elephant fabric, it looks way more casual.

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oh my god I HATE how my hair looks in this style. thank god for photo shoots where you can see exactly what does and what doesn’t make you look like a million bucks, lol

The addition of the red buttons, which I thought would break up the black and white of the print nicely, push it into even more adorable territory- I am basically a walking ray of sunshine in this top, as evidenced by the MANY compliments I got when I wore it for the first time a week ago. I had a big audition for a project I was really excited about on a studio lot that I had never been to before, which meant BUBBLE GUTS CENTRAL. Two separate compliments in the bathroom which sparked a whole conversation at the sink with a lovely woman who was just learning how to sew (I gave her my card so she could check out my blog) and then more accolades in the audition room from the producers and casting director. Nothing can diffuse my nerves more quickly than some shop talk about sewing- it’s the best way to make me feel empowered and excited about what I have to offer, because no matter what happens in front of that camera, I know that I MADE MY WHOLE OUTFIT AND I LOOK GREAT!

 

 

Peaches N’ Cream N’ The Fabric Store

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For those of you who grew up in the 80’s like me, you might remember a special Barbie Doll that made her debut wearing a floor length ruffled gown in a gorgeous shade of peach. The dress had a white sparkly bodice with sheer layers of polyester that cascaded into a wave of gathers at her feet, and a long, peach colored boa wound through her arms, the perfect accessory for this doll made in the era of TV’s Dynasty.

I was obsessed with this doll, and I didn’t get obsessed with toys very often. I knew we were poor and, from a young age, I understood it’s implications- asking for things that I knew my parents couldn’t afford seemed not only pointless, but also hurtful. I felt sure that they would give me the world if they could, so why make them feel worse than they already did? Still, this doll’s aesthetic tapped into some deep need I had, a need to exude wealth, class, and importance, to appear to be like all the other girls that I went to school with. Peaches N’ Cream Barbie represented the kind of woman who didn’t worry about money or holding down two part time jobs to make ends meet- otherwise she would not be dressed so extravagantly. She seemed confident and capable, the life of the party, good at holding court with esteemed individuals, which was something I aspired to. Why wouldn’t I be obsessed with her?

Although I never imagined that my wish would come true, Peaches N’ Cream Barbie ended up on my Christmas list, which, since my parents were not together anymore, needed to be duplicated so they could each have a copy. My mother, pragmatic as she was, must have sensed the magnitude of having this doll in my life, because on Christmas morning of that year I tore off the wrapping of a box to find, instead of the sweater or package of underwear I usually got (she, like many Moms without much disposable income, used Christmas as a way to replenish more of my needs than my wants), a beautiful Peaches N’ Cream Barbie Doll! But…she was black. For some reason I hadn’t been expecting that. To be honest I am not even sure I knew that Peaches N’ Cream Barbie CAME in black, because the black dolls didn’t end up in the commercials very often. I was thrilled that my Mom bought her for me, but I also had conflicting feelings stirring up inside that I had no idea what to do with. My Mom, (who is white), had always made it a point to buy me black dolls. I think she was trying to make up for the fact that I went to a predominantly white school, lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, and I only got to see my Dad (who is black) two weekends out of the month because that’s the way the custody battle went. She didn’t want my Southern white surroundings to damage how I felt about myself, and she understood the importance of me seeing myself in the things I played with. I know that now, and I appreciate it deeply. But at the time, I hated it. It was simply another reminder that I was different from everybody else in my life.

I pet my news doll’s beautiful dress and combed her dark hair that was straight and glossy and not like mine at all and waited for my Dad to pick me up and take me to my grandma’s house to celebrate Christmas with him and my cousins. There, I joyfully opened up toy after toy after toy- not an item of clothing in site- and stared in disbelief as I ripped the paper off my last present and found yet another Peaches N’ Cream Barbie, this time the one with blonde hair. My white Mom had bought me the black Peaches N’ Cream doll and my black Dad had bought me the white one (clearly my parents were not on speaking terms at this point in time). There was a sense of relief that I finally had the “right” doll, the one I had been hoping for all along, but in the coming weeks, as I held the two dolls in my hands, each exactly the same save for their coloring, I was suddenly faced with the real root of my dissatisfaction. I liked the white one because that was the one that all my white friends had, and that made me feel normal. But the doll itself didn’t make me feel normal- she looked nothing like me. It was like playing around with a fantasy that I had no say in creating. And the black doll didn’t look like me either; her skin was darker than mine, and she still had hair like the white doll, just in a different shade. I didn’t see myself in either of the toys, but I felt shame for liking the white doll better and frustration for not understanding why. Of course now I know that this is what happens when you live in a white supremacist society, but back then I just felt alone. I decided to make my dolls be cousins related by marriage for a while, but eventually they started kissing and became secret girlfriends, which is what happens when you also live in a homophobic society, but I digress.

Growing up, leaving Alabama, spending my 20’s in NYC- all of it helped me start unpacking the harmful rhetoric that I learned as a kid and replacing it with values that embraced all my different identities. I am still in the process of forgiving myself for not being prouder of who I was at a young age, which is hard- it’s even difficult to write these words here on my blog. But I do it because, if I have learned one thing since leaving Alabama, it’s that I am not alone at all. There are so many people around the world who have struggled to name their identities, to find a place that feels comfortable, to accept that this place might not be comfortable for others, and to not apologize for it. And if my words can make any of those people feel less conflicted about living their lives proudly and boldly, then it makes talking about it completely worthwhile.

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So here I am decades later, a grown, Barbie-less woman, when I enter The Fabric Store and come across the extraordinary textile you see here. I am immediately drawn to it and I realize that it’s because of the colors- the peach and white combination of my youth holds the same amount of power over me now. And when running my hands over the soft material on the roll, I flip over a corner to find that it’s reversible! Well, maybe it’s not reversible- it’s possible that one of these sides is meant to be the “right” one and the other is meant to be the “wrong” one. But see, I know better than that now. Barbies don’t have “right” skin tones and fabrics don’t have “right” sides. Which is why I used both.

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I thought that the graphic print and stable weight of this fabric would look really cool with a structured bodice, and then I remembered how great the cut-outs on the Bonnell Dress from Dixie DIY were. So I coupled the top from that dress with my circle skirt block, drafted with instructions from Gertie’s first book, Gerties’ Book for Better Sewing. The result is a perfect fit’n flare design that looks absolutely phenomenal with the body of this fabric! I don’t normally combine prints or think outside the box with my fabric choices, but this fabric made it pretty easy. It is so soft and airy and has an almost quilted feel to it because of the way the fabric is made- it looks a little like a double gauze, with two lightweight pieces of fabric tacked together through the lines of graphic print, the colors reversed for each side.

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The bodice from the Bonnell Dress is a very straight-forward make with great instructions- a fully lined bodice with cut outs on each side that connect to a waistband, closed with an invisible zipper in the back.

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Trading the gathered skirt that goes on the original dress with a circle skirt was easy, and I omitted the pockets to save time. I used french seams for both the skirt and bodice to keep the insides tidy since this fabric has a tendency to fray, and when it was all done, the completed dress looked almost reversible! The only thing to give it away is the invisible zipper, which isn’t so invisible on the inside, but I could probably still get away with wearing it inside out if I danced the whole time that I wore it. Which is not outside of the realm of possibility for me.

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I debuted this dress a couple of weeks ago at an event for an organization called Campus Pride, which promotes creating safe spaces on college campuses across North America for LGBTQ students through education, leadership and community. As you can imagine, it was a huge honor for me to accept the Voice and Action award along with the other recipient, Miss Lawrence, and it was a pleasure to meet so many amazing students, mentors and staff at the ceremony. In my speech, which Autostraddle will be publishing later this week, I talked about intersectionality and how my various identities as a queer, biracial woman of color sometimes inform one another; it was a happy accident that I wore this particular dress to the event, which seemed to embody a lot of the things I discussed that night.

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Thanks again to The Fabric Store for the gorgeous textile, to Campus Pride for giving me an opportunity to speak, and to Claire for the lovely photos!

Gertie’s Boat-Neck Dress: A Hack

 

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When I saw this grid fabric at The Fabric Store a few months ago, I could not pass it up, although I had absolutely no idea what I was going to make from it. I have mostly gotten out of the habit of buying fabric without specific plans in store, but every once in a while a textile speaks to me and I can’t tune it out. This particular fabric was a light, breathable, slightly sheer cotton, with a floaty weight to it and a nice drape. It begged to be made into something with a tiny bit of structure to it, something fit for warm weather. My first thought was a short sleeved Grainline Studios Archer Button Up, but I knew that this wouldn’t be a pattern I would get a lot of wear out of in summer. So, in my stash this fabric sat for quite a while until I started making plans for all my favorite designs in Gertie’s most recent book, Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book. I was already halfway through the muslin fitting stage of The Secretary Dress, which required a LOT of tinkering, and I knew that, even though the Boat Neck bodice in the book seemed like a simple thing to whip up, I needed to approach it with the same amount of care and patience that I allotted for my other make.

I ultimately made two muslins to get the fit right for this bodice and it’s attached mid-band, and the changes were the same as with the Secretary Dress: Small Bust Adjustment. The lines of this bodice seemed simple enough that it would let the unique design of this gridded fabric take centerstage, and I planned to pair it with one of the full skirts in the book. But when I laid out of my fabric, which I only bought two yards of, of course I didn’t have enough necessary to make the yardage-eating skirt (fyi: all of Gertie’s skirts except for the pencil skirt are yardage-eaters).

boat neck bodice and full skirt with pleats

I wasn’t dismayed though, because if I really did plan to wear it in the heat of the LA summer, I wouldn’t want that much fabric swishing around my body anyways. I racked my brain to think of a full-looking skirt pattern in my stash that would highlight the fabric, match well with the bodice, but not take up more than a yard and a half of fabric which is about all I had left over after the bodice construction.

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And then an image of one of my favorite recent makes flashed through my head! Although the neckline on this bodice is probably the most eye-catching component, the skirt is my personal favorite thing about the Simplicity dress. At first glance it’s just a regular dirndle skirt gathered at the waist, but upon closer inspection, it’s a cleverly designed 5 piece skirt with pockets placed inconspicuously on either side of the center front skirt panel. Even with so many interesting design elements, this skirt doesn’t take up much fabric, so I knew it would be a good choice for Gertie’s Boat Neck bodice.

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I did my best to pattern-match where I could, and aside from a couple of little snafus, everything came together nicely. My  best pattern matching work is on the skirt where it’s actually the least noticeable because of the gathers (doh!). I made some bias strips to bind the armhole edges since I decided at the last minute to forgo the cap sleeves, and the whole dress is lined with a solid white cotton voile, which is sheer and lightweight and breezy, just like the outer fabric.

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I love how in Gertie’s dress above she used piping to bring more attention to the design features of the bodice, but I ultimately decided not to use piping since the design on the fabric was already pretty graphic and I didn’t want it to compete with other features. I totally regret this now. I think a mint green or a yellow binding on the bodice, mid-band, and perhaps lined up down the two front skirt panels would have totally elevated this dress. As it stands, I don’t think the garment stands out very much, but that might change the more that I wear it.

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This dress is comfortable and flirty and cute, and I am assuming it will be easy to wear since I haven’t had a chance to take her for a spin yet, but I am hoping to do so in the next couple of weeks since I have a WTNV performance and a few festival events to attend for our film, Suicide Kale. If you want to see it in action, stay tuned on my instagram, as I am sure I will be donning it there first, with a much better hairstyle than I am sporting in these pics.

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Speaking of the difficulties of photographing your own makes (that’s where we were headed, right?), I love my current method of taking photos of several projects at once as opposed to creating individual shoots for each item as it is made because it’s so much quicker and more efficient. But the downside is that I have to figure out ways to do my hair for several different set ups, and I hate that part. I’m usually pretty motivated to do something cool with it for the first two looks, but after that, my dedication wanes and I just throw my hair up any which way and hope that it doesn’t make me grimace later when editing the photos (these made me grimace for sure). I should probably just stick to one hair look for each outfit/look, but that seems boring, but maybe being boring is better than scowling every time I see this side bun.

Speaking of my in-home photography set up (that’s where we were headed, right?), it is getting better with each project I document, and it has already come such a long way from it’s modest beginnings. I have finally cleared my craft room of it’s cute but not-very-useful pink couch, which was put there in the hopes that people, namely Claire, would come and hang out with me while I sewed. Unfortunately it didn’t work very well and instead just ended up taking space and being a resting place for newly purchased fabric. Now that the couch has been moved into our storage-cum-guest-suite, I have plenty of space in my craft room to set up my photography stuff and keep it up, as opposed to setting everything up in our living room and taking it down immediately afterwards. The natural light in the craft room is not as good as in our living room, so I have ordered some continuous photography lights that I am hoping will bridge the gap and make the photos look nice, bright and crisp (and this set up will also be helpful for the occasional time that I have to put myself on tape for an audition). I have some more #recdarpetDIY projects that I am excited to share on the blog and I am hoping to photograph them with my newer and even more improved set up. In the meantime, I am working on reupholstering an arm chair that someone in our neighborhood gave us so that I can put it in the craft room- the couch might be gone but I still need to have a comfy place for the occasional visitor and hand-sewing marathon. It’s been a couple of years since I reupholstered anything so I am very rusty, but I just so happen to have an online sewing friend who reupholsters professionally and I have a feeling that she will be very generous with any questions I may throw at her 🙂

Turia Dungarees, aka Stripey Overalls

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I made these overalls a couple of months ago when I was in the middle of a jeans-making blackout, and they came out SO much better than I anticipated. I knew construction would be a breeze, having made several pairs of jeans by this point (I have yet to write a post on the latest Morgan Jeans pattern by Closet Case Files– but I have made them, they are wonderful, and they will show up here soon!) but I was afraid that the fit on these overalls would be tricky to get just right, never mind the fact that there may or may not be an age appropriate cut off for wearing overalls in the first place. 

OK, wait. The fashion gatekeepers of our culture says that women of a certain age/build/type/look should not be seen wearing certain items during certain times of the year/season/position of Mercury, and obviously that is such bullshit, because no one, no matter their gender, body type or age, should be shamed for wearing what makes them feel happy (unless we are talking about cultural appropriation, of course, which is ANOTHER DISCUSSION ENTIRELY). That said, it’s still hard to erase those “rules” from our minds because we are force fed them all the time across all forms of media- they are ingrained in our thoughts and they affect the way we perceive others. Whether someone’s skirt is deemed “too short” or “too long” because of their age, the lines drawn are complicated but they are there, and they always seem to be tied in with what society considers to be sexy. I don’t think there is an easy solution to any of this; I, too, feel uncomfortable when I see young kids and disproportionate numbers of women vs. men being sexualized in media, but I also know that their sexuality would not be as much of an issue if they weren’t being prayed upon in the first place. What would our world even look like if rape and molestation were not issues that we had to constantly fight against, if we didn’t have to tell kids (and adult female-presenting individuals for that matter) to be careful what they wore so that they wouldn’t be targeted by others who wanted to harm them? At what age is it okay for a person to present themselves in a way that feels comfortable for them? At what point should other people’s discomfort be pushed to the side to allow an individual the full extent of their self- expression? How much does sexuality play a part in what we wear and how we wear it, and who should determine when we are “too” young/old/skinny/fat/disabled, etc. to experiment with how we present ourselves to the world?

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I am in my mid-thirties now and I know that the overalls look is not super popular with adults in my age bracket, but I feel AMAZING in them (they are my current favorite thing in my closet)! So, like others have been doing for decades, I am challenging the notion that there are things that are and are not age “appropriate”. The way we feel about ourselves when we quiet the judgemental voices in our heads should trump everyone else’s opinions, right? I am urging all of us to start unpacking the junk that society has been feeding us since we were little kids so that we can discover what tastes are influenced by our actual opinions and what tastes have simply been learned and undisputed. Here, I’ll start:

A Random Selection of Jasika’a Actual Opinions:

  1. lace is sexy
  2. Granties™ (aka granny panties) are also sexy
  3. these overalls are sexy
  4. I am not too old to be wearing these overalls
  5. you are not too old to be wearing these overalls

I have a lot of work to do. Like, I still can’t decide if I don’t like wearing shoes with ankle straps because I think they don’t look good on me or because every time I see a shoe advertisement, the strap is wrapped around a leggy woman with a 5 inch ankle circumference and I know I can’t ever compete with that. Dismantling the patriarchy one tiny tentacle at a time is such hard work! And at the rate I’m going, I will be feeling 100% satisfied with myself by the time I am 90 years old. But better late than never, right?

Dismantling the Patriarchy One Awkward Photo At A Time

Dismantling the Patriarchy One Awkward Photo At A Time

OK, some details about these sexy-alls! I did a lot of research prior to making them because the blogger world had lots of good tips and suggestions. Like

  • angling the back straps a bit so that they reach over your shoulders in a more natural and comfortable way without gaping.
  • omitting one of the side zippers since only one was needed to get them off and on.
  • doing a little surgery on the back pockets, which, from looking at a lot of pics online seemed like they were drafted much too small for this jelly and also placed a bit too high on the butt. I subbed the back pockets from the aforementioned Morgan Jeans pattern and lowered the placement of them substantially (it took me three tries to get them right but it was worth all the unpicking).
  • I graded the sizing from waist to hip and they felt a little bit snug at first but after several wears they have loosened up beautifully.

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My denim is a navy and cream striped, sturdy fabric from The Fabric Store, rivets are leftover from my Ginger Jeans kits, and my overall buckles are a cheap but efficient purchase from Joann’s. I topstitched in gold thread and I love the vaguely nautical look that this gives the overalls. I made a couple of mistakes in the process of this marathon-make (the bulk of these overalls were finished in a day), like accidentally punching a rivet hole in the middle of my front pocket (oooooops!) and incorrectly tracing the pattern piece for the back strap holder so that I had to add more pieces to make it wide enough to hold the straps. For this reason I have way more bulk and topstitching lines in the back pieces, but you can’t tell just from looking at them, and it doesn’t affect the fit as far as I can tell.

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My favorite thing about this make is the slim fit of the legs combined with the traditional look of the overalls. I wore different versions of overalls throughout middle school, high school and college, and they were always huge and baggy on me, which was fine at the time, but I have outgrown that look. These feel a bit more sophisticated while still being playful and fun and comfortable, and Renee thinks they look awesome 🙂 Actually, let me take a second to say thanks Renee, for inspiring this little feminist rant of mine! We had a short dialogue about overalls over IG and how old (or young) most people are who wear them, and she got me interested in breaking down my thoughts on the topic and articulating my own views on the matter! By the way, I am LOVING having sewing friends that I have met in real life, I finally feel like I am a legit member of the online sewing community!

*waves to my east coast homies*

*begs Marcy to come taste my dehydrator snacks*

(that is not a euphemism, I swear!)

 

Love for The Fabric Store with a Liberty Make

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After Claire and I moved to LA from Vancouver a few years ago, my sewing habit accelerated tremendously. There were plenty of reasons for this, but a big one was The Fabric Store. Based out of Australia, their LA store opening coincided with our arrival to the city, and walking through it’s doors was a revelation.

My past fabric shopping experiences had been limited to gigantic storefronts like Joann’s, a national chain, and Dress-Sew, a Vancouver staple. I liked being able to buy so many tools and notions at these places, but when it came to fabric, shopping was a chore. These stores try to pack so much into it’s walls that the fabric displays always seemed to be sloppy and disorganized, which wasn’t conducive to walking through the aisles and waiting to see “what grabbed you”, (one of my personal favorite methods of shopping). And even if I did walk into these stores with a specific type of fabric in mind, it took a while to hunt down the section I needed and even longer to sort through all the cheap, poor quality fabrics to find something suitable for my project. It didn’t help that I was still learning about textiles and had lots of questions to ask that no one ever seemed to be available to answer. At this point I had had so many poor customer service experiences with MOOD that I vowed never to shop there again, so big box stores and online retailers seemed to be my only resort.

The Fabric Store changed everything for me. I had been in lots of cute neighborhood fabric stores with beautifully arranged bolts lining the walls, but these shops almost exclusively sold quilting cottons- great for when I started out, but limiting when I wanted to expand my wardrobe beyond the cutesy prints that quilting cottons offer. The Fabric Store had everything great about these smaller independent stores (helpful employees, easy to navigate aisles, fabric that was reachable and viewable, clean and tidy space) but it also had a huge range of fabric! And not just fabric, GLORIOUS fabric! High quality silks, laces, apparel cottons, jewel colored merino wools from NZ, selvage denim, knits, brocades, charmeuse- literally everything you could think of, The Fabric Store had it. The store was wonderfully curated, as if your designer friend with impeccable taste pulled all her favorite fabrics into one room and invited you to worship her textile palate. As soon as I entered the store for the first time, my heart sank a little as I whispered to Claire “Oh, no…this place is going to be way too expensive for me.” I had assumed that a store this clean, this classy, this light-filled (what, no flourescents??) would be way out of my price range, so you can imagine my shock when I glanced at a few price tags and realized that they had a healthy range of prices, with some cottons starting as low as $8, higher prices for designer prints, and everything else falling in mid-range.

My makes immediately improved once I started buying fabric from a store that provided such high quality and inspiring textiles, and this in turn encouraged me to create even more, so it is a genuine pleasure to team up with them as an official ambassador for their brand and share some new makes with you- after all, I’ve been doing it for years!

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I was really excited to get my hands on some Liberty of London prints since The Fabric Store started carrying them in stores a couple of months ago. In person, these fabrics did not disappoint, and I was surprised to see so many different designs within their brand- I had no idea that they made prints outside of the floral genre! So many stunning pieces, so little time! Thankfully I had Claire around to help me narrow down my selection, and one of the winners was this incredible Liberty silk which features an abstracted cityscape in shades of pink and mint green on a black background. The fabric is truly luxurious, one of those supple, smooth, glide-y silks that you want to live against your skin. I’m still not a fan of working with silks, but with a fabric this great you kind of have to get past your personal issues and just vow to work carefully and slowly.

After a quick, completely un-scientific poll on instagram, I decided to make the Anna dress by By Hand London. In the past, I have had trouble getting their designs to fit my buxom bottom, but because this dress features a high waistline with a flared skirt, I took a chance that it would suit my shape well without a ton of adjustments, and I was totally right!

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I made a muslin in a size 6 for the bust and 8 for the waist and hips, and it fit pretty great after I took in the back bodice pieces slightly. Because this is such a high quality fabric and because this garment will be added to my #redcarpetDIY trove, I wanted to make sure the finishing inside was very neat, pretty and professional looking. I, like Renee (my new sewing friend- whom you all might know as Miss Celie’s Pants – that I got to hang out with in real life a couple of weeks ago!!!!!) am a real big fan of quick and dirty serging to finish seams, but I pulled it together, took my time, and did this dress justice.

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All inside skirt seams are french seamed, except for the back seam with the zipper (which is a Hong Kong seam) and the seam with the thigh slit, which is just turned under itself twice and sewn down. The bodice is finished with Hong Kong seams as well, and umm…does anyone have a good tip for finishing a clipped curved seam?? I usually just sew the bias binding onto it with all these gaps going through it and it doesn’t look very good but I don’t know what else to do!

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The Anna Dress, like all By Hand London patterns, was very easy to follow and construction was a breeze, even with all the french and Hong Kong seams. From starting the muslin to finishing the final garment, it took a total of about 3 days, and that’s with extra careful, very slow sewing with the slippery silk I had to contend with. I must be getting better at sewing with finicky fabrics because this garment didn’t give me much trouble at all and I didn’t feel like burning it in a fire when it was all done.

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I am in absolute love with the dress and I cannot WAIT to wear it to a function. I love the bold print and the unique color combination and I love how well the pattern is suited to the Liberty print- it really lets the drama of the textile design take center stage, while still feeling sexy and comfortable. I definitely want to make this Anna in a see-through lace like in one of the pattern samples on By Hand London’s site, so of course I will be keeping my eye out for a perfect match at The Fabric Store 🙂

(photos by the lovely and talented Claire J. Savage!)

 

 

#OperationDIYRedCarpet

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It’s been a few years since I was a series regular on a TV show, which brought the responsibility of attending lots of promotional and red carpet events as part of the job. Initially they were fun and exciting, but it didn’t take long for the red carpet to feel like a chore, namely because of the unspoken “rule” that as a celebrity you shouldn’t be photographed twice in the same outfit. I think the sentiment of this “rule” is that you want the public to view you as current, busy, and omnipresent, and if every photo the paparazzi snaps of you is in a new outfit (even if it’s in the course of the same day), the idea that you are an “it” celebrity is easy to maintain. Of course this idea is super antiquated and indulgent, but it also sets up an unrealistic and unhealthy goal for regular fashion-loving folk; if the celebrities they constantly see in the media are wearing new duds in every single tv appearance and photo spread, then they too must make sure their closet is packed with as many items as possible so that they don’t have to recycle looks. I have seen major celebrities in magazines be lauded for wearing the same article of clothing at more than one function (“Wow! She paired the same jacket with a different pair of shoes to make it look new!”) as if they had made some ground breaking, unprecedented choice, and I have also seen gossip articles criticizing people in the public eye for wearing the same dress or pair of shoes more than a few times. It’s like you can’t win for trying!

At the time, I accepted the “rule” without too much complaint and I spent my free time standing in line at flash sample sales, “shopping” at gifting suites, and utilizing the coupons that many expensive brands extended to the clients of PR reps so that they could get easy advertising for their clothing. I knew it was a racket, but who was I to challenge the status quo? After all, I was still trying to figure out how to keep my lips from sticking to my teeth after 5 straight minutes of smiling on the carpet! (I know the answer is vaseline, but honestly the thought of that makes me gag).

Eventually my work took me to Canada where the red carpet events were few and far between and I had a chance to think more critically about my own shopping habits. I have always loved clothes and shopping, but I knew that I needed to forge a better relationship with these things that fell more in line with my growing conscientiousness about the effects that clothing manufacturing has on the environment and human lives. Shortly thereafter I started making some of my own clothes, which was exciting and fun, but eventually I started getting invited to red carpet events again once we were settled back in the states. The anxiety of finding something nice to wear to these last minute invitations was high because I had already developed a distaste for buying new RTW clothing. My other option was to to try making red carpet-worthy dresses for myself, but I didn’t have much experience sewing finer materials or complicated pieces. But then I realized that this, of course, was something I could remedy with practice! I started collecting patterns for long dresses and cocktail attire and experimenting with more luxurious textiles like silk. It was weird to spend so much time making clothing that didn’t get worn immediately and instead just sat in a dark closet, so I decided to motivate myself by give my undertaking a name: Operation DIY Red Carpet. It served as a reminder that there was a method to my madness and that I would thank myself later.

valerievonsobel_functionSure enough, about three months after I made Vogue 8827, I was invited to a fancy dinner where I was finally able to wear it for the first time.

Me and lance headed off to the American Black Film Festival Awards! Vogue dress can't remember the number!

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

I wore that dress again about two years later to attend the BET Movie Awards with my friend Lance (above), and my good friend Mary looked stunning in it when we attended the Lamda Legal Awards together last weekend (below).

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The navy floral maxi dress (Vogue 8827) is a Very Easy Vogue design, and, like it’s namesake, it was very easy to construct because it doesn’t require much fitting to accommodate it’s loose shape. The most complicated part of the make was working with all those yards of material. I love how well this pattern works with the silk fabric, which was purchased from The Fabric Store a few years ago- the large, bold print serves the maxi style so well!

 

Me and Brittani at Transparent Season 2 Premiere!

Me and Brittani at Transparent Season 2 Premiere!

Several months after I made Vogue 1102 over a year ago, my friend Brittani invited me to be her date to the Transparent Season 2 Premiere, and this is the same dress I wore to the event with Mary. The yellow dress (Vogue 1102) is an absolute joy, mainly because the fabric is SO superb, but the design is also really easy to wear because of the high waistline (you can eat food without worrying about your dress restricting your stomach).

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It has a full, flowy skirt that you can only see well when there is a lot of twirling being done- fortunately I am BIG into twirling. Also from The Fabric Store, the fabric is a supple, soft charmeuse. I had never worked with this kind of fabric before and the learning curve was VERY steep- it shows every single pucker and nip so hand stitching the inside of the bodice was a bit of a nightmare. But I successfully created a thin smooth hem at the bottom and that was my biggest concern. I knew this pattern would probably fit poorly in the bodice so I made a muslin first and then made fitting adjustments (everything was mostly too big but some pieces needed to be totally re-drafted).

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I have a few more pieces in my Operation DIY Red Carpet vault, some that I have worn and some that I haven’t, and I hope I have time to share them on the blog soon.

Got to meet Daniel Franzese at Lamda Legal Awards, who I love so much!

Got to meet Daniel Franzese at Lamda Legal Awards, who I love so much!

So far, making my own garments to wear to big events has been easy to do because I have the time to spend and the events have been so spread out. But if I find myself on a 16 hour-a-day schedule with an abundance of invites any time soon, making all my clothing probably won’t be sustainable for very long. But I guess I will cross that bridge when I come to it; for now, I am happy with the pace that I am creating things, and thrilled that I have found some satisfaction in recycling some of my favorite looks. I am certainly not a big enough celebrity that anyone is very interested in how often I wear an article of clothing, but I think it’s the principle that makes a big difference. As I have written before, empowerment is the biggest gift that being a maker has given me: at the beginning of my career I was too intimidated to oppose the standards that had been set in place, but now I feel confident in using my voice- and my better judgement- to stand up to what feels important, even if I am the only one who is paying attention.

Sallie Maxi Meets The Hamburglar

 

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Last year I bought a knit-fix grab bag from Girl Charlee for the first time, and I haven’t bought another one because I still haven’t made my way through it! Inside there were 6 separate cuts of knit fabric, about 2 yards each, and I thought I would blow through it fast, but instead I have been very patient and thoughtful about using the designs. All were prints that I probably would never have bought on my own, but so far they have been made into wonderful projects and gifts (there was one cut of fabric in the bag that was a little too 70’s-inspired for my liking but it ended up being perfect to use for bra and panty muslins when I went through a bra- making obsession a few months ago).

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Anyways, included in my fix was this giant, blocky, slightly stiff black and white jersey knit. I immediately liked the fabric but felt clueless as to what I would make from it. Now fast forward many many months to the day in April when I woke up in the morning and thought to myself, I HAVE TO MAKE A SALLIE DRESS. IMMEDIATELY. Does that ever happen to you? No idea where the inspiration came from or why, but once the idea entered my head, it was all I could think about. I quickly finished up whatever project I had been working on at the time and assembled my materials for Sallie. The black and white jersey print was one of my last full cuts from the knit fix, and despite my worries of looking like the McDonald’s Hamburlgar, I decided it would have to do. I have made this pattern several times in many incarnations, and it is indeed a favorite, but I had never made the dress with the kimono bodice on the skirt before, so this dress felt new and exciting. I whipped it up in a day’s time, and was able to hem the dress using the coverstitch machine I had just gotten for my birthday (once I figured out how to release the thread from the machine, it was-and IS- such a joy to use!)

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I opted out of the pockets for this dress to make sure that the skirt didn’t get too bulky around the hips, and I originally I hemmed the dress to about mid-shin length, but after wearing it a few times I have since shortened it to the length of most of my other dresses, which is just above the knee. Tea length cut skirts and dresses have a tendency to cut my calves at their widest points, which I personally don’t find very flattering on myself (although I have noticed that if the mid-shin length skirt is very wide/has a lot of body, it balances out my legs a bit more).

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As with my other Sallies, I serged all my seams except for a couple around the neckline and armholes of the bodice, and it was constructed very quickly. I think that the stiffness of this striped fabric works surprisingly well with the slim fit of the dress, and it doesn’t tug or bunch at odd places when I wear it and easily keeps it’s shape. It’s cool and breezy in hot weather and the bodice, which is fully lined, offers just enough coverage to not have to wear a bra with it, which I think would interfere with the simple lines at the back.

Love this pattern, and love this unexpected bold print in my closet hanging right next to my Oona pantsuit 😉

(thanks, Claire J Savage for the gorgeous photos!)