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A Golden Dress for Your Grandma

We are way overdue for a #grandmachic make!

This gorgeous dress was finished months ago and was purely inspired by the pattern image on the envelope. I had been looking for a pattern like this for so long, and had even attempted to draft/hack something close to it (it was the original inspiration for the sheer fabric I used in this make) but I never managed to get close to recreating it until I found Simplicity 8545.

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What I like so much about the pattern is the sheer, embroidered fabric which gets paired with something more opaque (in this case, a slip) underneath. I like the peek of skin you get around the embroidered pieces of the outer fabric, and I love the way the embroidery kind of dances around on the body. I also like the high waisted gathered skirt attached to the loose-fitting bodice. The whole look feels a bit effortless, but it could easily be dressed up fancy, depending on how you style it. I had seen some exquisite embroidered tulle around the fabric district before, but while digging through my fabric stash I came across this brilliant bright yellow and gold embossed silk that I picked up at The Fabric Store in LA right before that location closed. I bought it without any idea of what I would make with it, but I felt like I couldn’t leave it behind because I LOVED the shade of yellow so much and I thought the whole piece was just incredibly unique. Once I got my hands on this pattern, though, I knew it was going to be a match made in heaven.

I should have muslined this pattern before I cut it out, because like most Big 4 patterns, they tend to come out huge on me, but I had no idea exactly how much ease was in this thing (I couldn’t find the information on the pattern pieces but it’s possible I didn’t look hard enough)! I chose a smaller size and assumed it would be a totally easy thing to fix any problem areas since the design was so simple, but it still came out about 5 or 6 inches too large in the bust. Somehow I was able to use the original darts in the pattern pieces and just take the extra fabric out at the side seams, but I also had to chop off about 2 inches from the bottom of the bodice, otherwise it would have landed way below my natural waist. I messed up on the sizing here, but thankfully I paid close attention to where the gold floral design would land on the bodice front. I knew I didn’t want it centered and symmetrical (#sorrynotsorry to the people who DMed me on IG “politely” explaining that my bodice wasn’t cut with the design centered on the front- I know it wasn’t, and that was intentional) because I wanted to give some visual interest to the composition of the bodice area and I liked the idea of having the floral bouquet crawling up my shoulder a bit. Placing the design off-center also allows the negative space of the fabric to become its own separate visual, and I like the peekaboo of skin coming out in unexpected places, particularly around the shoulders and arms.

Anyways, it took me a while to hack away at the crazy amount of easy in this pattern, but once I got it to a place that felt right, everything else was (mostly) a breeze. The trickiest thing about this make by far was the fabric. It’s silk, it’s slinky, it’s shifty, and it likes to fray so it needs a LOT of attention. I used a microtex needle to keep it from pulling on any of the individual threads but surprisingly I didn’t end up needing to use a walking foot. I sewed slowly and carefully, and aside from a few gold threads that got pulled up, the fabric was mostly well behaved. I spent the most time gathering the skirt with basting threads and attaching it to the bodice with french seams (gathered french seams are a real pain in the ass and never come out with absolute precision for me), but luckily it’s nothing you would see unless you were looking for some wobbly seam lines on the inside of the garment. Attaching the binding around the neckline also took a lot of patience on my part because I wanted it to look clean and neat, and I think it came out beautifully.

Once I completed the main parts of the outer dress I realized that I absolutely didn’t want to close the dress with a zipper as per the instructions- the sheer fabric seemed much too delicate to muddy up with a bulky plastic zipper, and I don’t particularly like it when you can see zippers on clothing. I know it’s a trend right now or whatever, and I am definitely into the sheer look that Ada Spragg introduced me to on IG, but a bulky zipper on sheer transparent fabric is just not my thing. So I decided to create ties in the back to close the bodice and waistline. I have seen ties used on vintage garments before and this dress was definitely looking very vintage-inspired by this point, so I thought it would be a lovely feature. I carefully created several thin lengths of ties from my silk fabric and knotted them at the end. Then I folded in my seam allowance twice (above the french seam that I used for the back skirt seam, right where the zipper would have been inserted), and sewed it down to the bodice. I attached the ties to the back with some hand stitching and decided to just use two pairs, one at neck and one at waist.

I absolutely love the way the ties look in the back, and it works because the outer dress is worn over a slip underneath that covers any exposed body parts that would have shown through the gaps between the ties. This Simplicity dress pattern also comes with a pattern for the slip worn underneath and this was…a really strangely designed garment. I hadn’t realized this when I first purchased the pattern but it’s actually designed WITH A BACK ZIPPER, TOO! Yes, that’s right- A SLIP. WITH A BACK ZIPPER. Meant to go under another dress that ALSO HAS A BACK ZIPPER. I’ve seen some bizarre design details in Big 4 before, but never something this glaringly wrong, lol. The thought of wearing two garments with zippers in the exact same place going down my spine is enough to give me agita. Who in the world would design such a thing? I have never even seen a loose-fitting slip with a zipper, so initially I thought that maybe the slip was drafted in a way that I wasn’t familiar with, a way that would make it impossible to get into any other way without the aid of a back closure, but of course it wasn’t. It’s a pretty traditional slip design: it isn’t cut on the bias but it has spaghetti straps on the shoulders and wide neck and back openings, meaning it should be a very simple thing to slip it over your head. To be sure that it didn’t need the zip closure, I cut my back fabric on the fold without the zipper and I basted the side seams to test it out (my slip fabric is a silk without a significant amount of stretch), and yes, that baby slid RIGHT over my head like a dream, although unsurprisingly it was STILL too big even though I made the smallest size and graded up in the hips. I would rather the slip be too loose than too tight so ultimately it’s fine, but on it’s own it’s just not the best looking thing I have ever made. Anyways, this is all to say that YOU CAN ELIMINATE THE ZIPPER ON THIS ONE, FOLKS!

The slip is the only thing I am a bit unhappy with from this make. I mostly followed the instructions but should have just sewn it up in the way I thought it should look. It is designed to have a small folded hem on the neckline and armholes, but I wish I had created some bias binding for the top hem instead. Folded hems on curved edges rarely turn out perfectly for me when I am using a shifty fabric like silk, and a bias bound edge would have looked so much neater and more professional. The corners where the straps are attached look bulky with the two hemmed seams coming together, and I just don’t like how it looks on me. Thankfully, the outer dress covers up all the imperfections of the slip so it’s not a big deal, but if I ever make this again, I’ll definitely use a different pattern for the slip. One thing I did change was to make the straps much skinnier than they are designed. The draft has them at something like 5/8″ width which looks bulky and weird even under the overlay dress, so I remade them to be thinner- honestly I probably could have gone even thinner than I did, but still, they work much better now.

Looking over these pictures I feel we did a disservice by not getting a great shot of the fabric on it’s own- the gold floral emblems on the yellow sheer fabric are really spectacular in real life, but you can’t see the details very well in these shots. Another thing you can’t see in the pictures is how ITCHY that sheer fabric is! Hahahaa! OMG! I have super sensitive skin to certain fabrics, but because the underside of the yellow and gold silk didn’t feel particularly gnarly on my hands I didn’t even consider that it might be an issue- but of course, the palms of my hands are toughened up and much less capable of determining what feels uncomfortable than the skin on my shoulders and neck. When I first completed this dress and tried it on I almost tore the whole thing off straight away because it was so immediately icky feeling. But I think maybe I had a dramatic reaction because I just wasn’t prepared for it. Once I tried it on a few months later to snap these photos, it felt a little better- still itchy, but once it had been on my body for a while I mostly forgot about it. I have been looking for tan long sleeve tops made of pantyhose material that I might be able to wear underneath this dress, and I think I could mostly get away with it except at the back neck area where the overlay dress opens up to show the slip underneath. I might be able to cut the neckline of the skirt wider so that it isn’t noticeable under the dress, as long as I don’t compromise the integrity of the fabric and get a bunch of runs racing all over the thing!

Thanks to Claire for these pics, and thank to you readers for your patience in waiting to see this up on the blog- I shared a lot of the process of this dress on instagram and then it took forever to blog about it so it just kind of disappeared on some of you!

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.