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The Eponine Dress and Furry Heels

I call it The Eponine Dress for reasons that are obvious if you are familiar at all with Les Miz- Eponine’s character is beautiful, sad, and tragic, having faced more hardships than any one young woman ever should, pining after a lost love while surviving on the streets of Paris during the French Revolution (well, sort of…the show is entirely historically inaccurate but that’s not what we are debating here, I’m just painting a picture…a picture of Eponine, beautiful, sad and tragic!)

Image result for vogue paris original 2352 nina ricci

I bought this vintage Vogue #2352 by Ninna Ricci on Etsy several years ago when I first learned about the glory of Vogue Paris Originals, and I was drawn to this particular design because it reminded me of the ladies on the tv show Designing Women- broad shouldered, bossy, and feminine. I loved the silhouette of the collar, sleeves and bodice and the intricate detailing of the pleats on the front and back of the dress, but I had no idea what fabric I would make it in or when I would get around to trying it out. Earlier this year I very randomly packed it into my sewing suitcase for #sewnawayfromhome, but I still I had no idea what the hell I was gonna make it in. To be honest, I didn’t think I would even have enough time to even get to it on my trip- I had packed two other patterns with me and would only be out of town for about a week and a half, so the chances of me cracking it open were slim.

But lo and behold, I blew through my first two patterns (this piece and this piece) is quick succession and with a few days to spare. Because of fabric restraints, I wasn’t able to use the leopard print tencel twill with this VPO pattern (I used it for the DKNY pattern I linked above instead), but I did have a couple of wide yards of this olive green slubby linen viscose fabric I bought at Dress Sew while in town. Since that was literally the only fabric I had on hand, I just went with it. I was drawn to the admittedly drab looking fabric because I loved the texture (soft, but nubbly) and I don’t come across this type of linen very often. The color was subtle and not very exciting, but I knew it would look great on my skin tone.

Because the fabric is so soft and pillowy, it’s not exactly a great fit for the detailing of this pattern- linen doesn’t iron super crisply and as you can see, a significant portion of the bodice is made up of very precise pleats. Well, they are supposed to be precise. Mine are anything but, and this section of construction had smoke floating out of my ears cause I was so frustrated. I wish I had taken pictures of the pattern pieces for this garment- they were bananas- not easily identifiable pattern pieces at all, which honestly is one of the reasons I love VPOs so much- the patterns are so unique that the methods and pattern pieces can be super untraditional and challenging to put together, but it pays off because there are so few other designs out like it. There was not a traditional bodice for this pattern, it was effectually a large rectangle labeled as “yoke” with a couple of slices through it that would become the opening for the head and front of the garment at the neckline. The shoulders and sleeves are raglan but put together like no other raglan garment I have ever sewn- now that I am on the other side of it, I can say I loved this process, but while I was in the middle of it I hated every second, lol.

When I started marking and working on the pleats, I realized immediately that it was nearly impossible to keep them from looking sloppy- again, I couldn’t get crisp, clean edges on the folds, so I decided to edgestitch them down to keep them in place, but the lines of stitching looked wobbly because of the slubby texture of the fabric, even though they weren’t- it’s like a trick of the eye! I almost gave up at this point and decided to call it a mistake of right fabric paired with wrong pattern- it was just looking so street urchin-y (apparently a recurring theme in my sewing)! But then…I got indignant. This fabric was  pricey! But even if it wasn’t, I hate wasting fabric! What if I was wrong and the dress wasn’t a loss? What if I could just get over this one hump of figuring out how to make the pleats look decent- would the whole thing look better then? I had another full day in Vancouver at this point in the construction process and nothing better to do with my time so I decided to keep working on it til it was time to go- if I couldn’t successfully save it? Well, at least I could say that I tried!

honestly had no idea how gratuitous my nips were in these pics til I started adding them to the blog post lol

I kept toiling away at the pleats, and maybe they didn’t all look perfectly straight and crisp close up, but by the time I was done, the 3 foot rule applied- you couldn’t see anything askew or horrific looking when you were maintaining my personal space, so I gave myself permission to keep working. Next came attaching the “skirt”, which really isn’t a skirt at all but rather the bottom of the dress, and that gets connected above the bust area, at a seam line hidden under the bottom pleat on both the front and back of the dress. See? So strange! But so effective! It means that there is no visible seam at the waistline or anywhere else on the dress so it looks as if the garment is made of just one piece of fabric, which I think is really cool.

Since I couldn’t figure out how the hell this dress was supposed to come together from the start (reading through directions ahead of time rarely helps me in understanding construction because I am a visual learner and need to see the garment in my hands at each step to comprehend what comes next) I didn’t make many adjustments to the pattern pieces in advance, but I did shorten the sleeves, and thank god I did. The sleeves were also very strangely put together (they weren’t set in the shoulders, but instead attached to the bottom of the yoke) and I could tell by holding them up to my body that they were drafted for a giraffe. Seriously, these things were like 4 inches past my fingertips! I liked the idea of the sleeves being so dramatic and voluminous, but I hate sleeves that get in the way of like, eating or using the bathroom, so I shortened them significantly and the length came out great- they’ve still got that Labyrinthian look to them with all that body and poofiness, but they don’t interrupt me living my life.

 

love all the random but pretty details of this dress! Also I picked out these buttons from memory because I forgot to bring the fabric with me to the button store lol

Once I had finished the funky pleating and constructed all the main parts of the dress, I tried it on to see how it was looking. It was looking…like a massive failure. UGH! So drab! So shapeless! Beautifully big, dramatic sleeves and shoulders that cascaded into a garment that overall actually looked, and I am not  being hyperbolic here, like I was wearing a potato sack. The WORST. But I didn’t feel overwhelmed- I had come too far with this damn thing and I was too close to GOOD to turn back now. I had imagined that I would be able to wear this garment without it being cinched at the waist, as per an image I had saved on Pinterest of a dress very similar in shape to this one, but I quickly realized that this was not the proper silhouette to pull off that look, so I sewed up a belt and belt loops for the dress and tried it on. It was much much, better- having a clearly defined waist made me feel like I was actually wearing the dress instead of drowning inside of it. But I still had the issue of the hem, which was cut straight across, hitting my legs in a place that made them look very short (in real life I’m 5’3″ but in fantasy life my ass is pushing 6 feet!). I decided to take a risk and alter the whole shape of the hem by curving it up at the sides on both the front and back pieces, an idea inspired by the Kalle shirtdress. If it was a disaster, I would have enough room to cut it off straight again, but shorter.

I’m still amazed at how instantaneously the altered hem changed the whole look of the dress- the curve at the bottom makes it feel modern, fun and trendy, while the rest of the dress looks pieced together from different eras of fashion- shoulders from the 80’s, detailed pleat work from the 40’s/50’s…she looks designed by Frankenstein! I actually left off the shoulder pads suggested for use in this dress because the pleating at the shoulders created enough structure on it’s own and they weren’t necessary. As drab as the beginnings of this dress were, I receive lots of compliments every time I wear it- on paper I feel like it shouldn’t work at all, there are too many design elements fighting for space, but somehow all together it totally works, and I don’t have anything else in my closet that evokes the energy that this dress does. I love it!

Now for these cool shoes! This is my second pair of shoes made with this last (my first pair of pointy toed heels with the faux snakeskin leather are here) and they are really terrific! I was inspired by an image on pinterest of a pointy toed heel with some cool straps and I based my design completely on those, but with different upper material.

X21QX Alice + Olivia Davey Lizard-Embossed Pump, Hot Pink

I lined the shoes and the heels with a black sueded pigskin leather, used a faux leopard print “fur” for the toe of the shoe, then used a really cool deep dark gold for the straps. Few people on instagram thought this selection of materials would work and suggested I use black leather for the straps, but I was really drawn to the variety of textures in the gold/black/fur combo and decided to trust my gut- thankfully they came out beautifully! I was worried about lasting the fur over the pointy toe but it was totally forgiving, and the horse hair covers up any imperfections that might be going on underneath. Aside from figuring out the placement of the straps, these shoes came together very easily and the impact is strong- I have never seen a shoe quite like this before! I actually haven’t had a chance to wear these yet outside of the house so I can’t say how comfortable they are after more than 20 minutes of wear, but if they are anything like my snakeskin heels, they will be great- or rather, great if you like wearing heels. They certainly don’t feel like wearing sneakers, but as far as heels go, they are pretty damn comfortable.

Thanks to Claire for the beautiful pictures! When we get our backyard deck and landscaping done sometime in the next 20 years this is gonna be a killer place to take photos, lol!

 

 

 

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.

Image result for simplicity 8545

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!

Starry Night Dress

It’s been a while since I said this but….this dress was a JOURNEY, hahaha!

I have a conservative but beautiful stack of Vogue Paris Originals in my pattern stash, most of which were gifted as Christmas and birthday presents over the years, which I am slowly making my way through. I think I may have 3 or 4 of these makes under my belt by now, and some of them have been easier than others, but all of them have been challenging. I have found that the sizing for these garments, save for the normal adjustments I make on patterns regarding length, is pretty spot on and don’t have as much ease and therefore require as much futzing as most Big 4s. BUT! The instructions can be INSANE to follow. Part of it is because the distance between construction methods and materials then and now continues to get larger as time goes on. For example, a lot of vintage patterns from around the 70s and before include the use of interfacing, but iron-on interfacing either had not been invented yet or wasn’t readily available to home sewists, so the instructions always account for sewn-in interfacing, which of course needs to be attached to a separate fabric facing. As a modern sewist I am often so used to just ironing woven interfacing onto whatever pieces need to be stabilized, whether it’s the facing or the actual garment, that I forget that those aren’t always what the instructions are asking for.

Another reason these VPO designs can be so tricky to sew up is because the designs are so unique that they require construction methods that are very strange/unfamiliar. VPO patterns are pretty special, created by famous clothing designers of yester- (and sometimes today!) year to recreate some of their  designs for the home sewist, and these aren’t just your everyday bodice and gathered skirt kinds of dresses- these have interesting details and often complicated construction techniques that up the ante of your regular sew-at-home outfit.

Image result for vogue paris original pierre balmain

So back to this dress. Pierre Balmain was a couture designer of women’s gowns and dresses and hit his stride in the 40’s/50’s/60’s creating voluminous skirts with “nipped in waists”, using luxurious textiles with embroidery and beading, but as you can see, this VPO # 1625 is a very wearable, simplified silhouette, which is why I was so drawn to it; without having an excessive amount of frills and pleats, it screams decadence! The woman who wears this is SO FABULOUS AND UNCONCERNED that SHE CAN’T MOVE HER ARMS ABOVE HER HEAD…AND SHE DOESN’T EVEN CARE! It’s not the most practical design, those batwing sleeves that keep me from reaching up higher than my shoulders, but then again, red carpet ensembles don’t really have to be, and I am crazy about the look. It’s kind of like a cape dress, but the cape isn’t free-flowing all the way around- it’s tacked down at the front and back waistline and the “wings” of the cape are only free underneath the arms.

I was gifted this gorgeous Star Print Crepe de Chine from The Fabric Store and was  overcome by a surge of inspiration when I unboxed it. The print, small white stars of varying sizes stretched out across a dark navy background, is eye-catching and subtle enough to not look twee but bold enough to feel really special. It has a crisp hand, and even though it’s very lightweight, it is opaque on the body and holds it’s structure really well- it isn’t drapey or silky (although the texture is very soft), and even though it’s listed as a crepe de chine, it has a very smooth hand and the textured effect isn’t very prominent. An idea popped into my head that I could use this fabric for one of my VPOs, but I kept talking myself out of it, thinking that it would be too lightweight to pair well with this pattern in particular. Eventually I decided to go for it anyways- once I realized that the pattern didn’t require a heavy or lightweight fabric, it just needed something that held it’s structure well, I felt confident that the fabric would translate beautifully, and thankfully I was right!

First I traced out all my pattern pieces and (thankfully) remembered to shorten the bodice, but it required some extra work. I’m not sure if I have ever seen lengthen or shorten lines anywhere on a VPO pattern except the skirt/pants, and because the bodice is curved on the bottom and has indents to make way for attaching the bodice to the skirt in certain areas, I had to create my own lengthen/shorten lines by redrawing the bottom of the cape a couple inches shorter, then truing the lines of the side seams. Easy peasy!

Next I got to working on the skirt. I had no idea how well it would fit as-is, so I extended my side seams at the hips- VPO patterns come in one size as opposed to nested with multiple measurements, so you can’t grade between sizes and instead have to take in or add extra allowance where you usually grade.  I also widended my seam allowance on the side seams of the skirt from 5/8″ to 1″ so I would have ample room for making adjustments if I needed to. Next I cut the skirt out, basted the front and back darts, then tried it on to see where it needed more adjusting. I brought the back darts in a bit more and toyed around with the side seams til the skirt fit well in the hip and butt area, then I french seamed the side and back seams. All of this was pretty standard fitting stuff for me, but I made one big mistake- I adjusted the fit the skirt without taking into account that the front has an overlapping button band, so when it came time to constructing this part of the design, my skirt fit me perfectly when the front seams met at center, but not when they folded over to accommodate the placket. OOF!!!! ROOKIE MISTAKE, J! Somehow, some way, I was able to fudge things and I ended up squeezing just enough room out of the back french seam to give me a tiny bit more breathing room at the waistline of center front.

This dress is designed to have a lining underneath it, but I was confused as to what it would look like and whether I would end up needing it (I have trouble reading ahead in patterns if I don’t have a 3D visual aid, ie. the garment, to refer to), so I just moved full steam ahead but used french seams everywhere that I could in the event that the lining didn’t work and the insides needed to be finished. Another thing I neglected to take into account when adjusting the skirt was making sure that my bodice matched up with the smaller waistline. The bodice is attached to the skirt at the front and back waistlines and then flows freely underneath the arms, but now my back bodice was much too wide to match up to it. I decided to sew a big dart, beginning at the neckline and extending all the way down to the waistline, to cinch all that extra fabric in, and it turned out beautifully- it just looks like the back was cut into two pieces instead of on the center fold, and the print of this fabric is very forgiving so it looks intentional.

The bodice, though very simple looking, has a very interesting construction. There is a V-shaped dart at the lower front center of the bodice to accommodate the bust area since the dress isn’t fitted at the arms and there are no side seams in this area. I had never created darts like this- they start at the apex of the bust and then pivot before trailing out towards the front center, and because they intersect at the button band, the placket overlaps at the darts. Sewing this dart wasn’t difficult, but the instructions were pretty rough, and the maker should have been advised to use a tracing wheel to mark the seamlines of the darts on both bodice pieces (since it’s not a typically constructed dart, they didn’t show the normal dotted wedge line on the pattern piece to pin together and sew closed). I had to take my darts apart a couple of times to get it exactly right, but once I did, the effect was really cool!

The back neck facing was meant to be cut out separately for this pattern (which was difficult to tell in the instructions- there was a pattern piece specifically for the interfacing but not for self fabric) so I just applied the back neck interfacing directly to the back bodice, which worked out fine except now I had to figure out how to finish the neckline since I wouldn’t be sewing the outer shell of the dress to separate facings. To be honest, I am still unsure of exactly how they wanted the neckline to be completed, since, as I mentioned, the front facings are not separate and are merely extended pieces of the bodice folded in on itself. This is what I meant when I said that sometimes with these patterns you just have to do what makes the most sense to you instead of adhering to instructions that may or may not be correct. I trimmed the neckline of my fabric, made some bias tape, then sewed it to the seam line, understitched, and folded over and under to enclose the raw edge and give a nice, clean finish, which I am very happy with.

Lastly came the lining, and because I wasn’t sure if I was even going to make one, I hadn’t purchased any fabric to use specifically for it. I dug through my stash and found some black organza that I thought would pair well with the qualities of my poly crepe de chine, and it just…wasn’t quite right. The organza was a tiny bit too stiff for the star print poly, and the poly also creates a lot of static, so the dress just clung to the lining underneath instead of gliding over it. Although I loved the way that the lining was meant to be attached to the dress (just at the button band and shoulders, and designed with regular bias bound armholes as opposed to mirroring the lines of the batwing sleeves), I had already finished most of the seams inside of the dress so I just decided to omit the lining and wear a slip underneath if I felt like I needed more coverage- in these pictures you can still see that I am dealing with some static cling wearing a simple silk slip underneath, but in all honesty, the slip is unnecessary.

I bought a few packages of inexpensive but really pretty gold-rimmed white buttons to use for the front of the dress and I think they look great- they don’t interrupt the print of the dress too much and flow well with the rest of the stars around it.

This dress was a LOT of work to complete and of course if and when I make it again I know a million things I will do differently (or not do at all!) but overall, I am pretty stoked at how it looks, especially after seeing these pictures. The print is dynamic but so is the fit- I don’t often see many structural sewing patterns like this and I love the silhouette, specifically that swoop from back to waist to hips and the flow of the sleeves floating off the sides. So cool! I really want to make a pair of bright yellow heels to pair with this dress- I think it would be a nice nod to the bright stars of the print, but I also just love yellow and navy together and think the color combo would be brilliant!

Again, many thanks to Lawrence and Claire, who art directed this photo shoot and came up with some of the most beautiful photos we have ever taken- you guys are a real dream team, we should do this more often!

 

Starburst Dress for Stylemaker Fabrics Blog Tour 2019

Hey hey hey! I am chuffed (can you tell I have British friends on IG??) to be a part of this year’s Stylemaker Fabrics Spring Tour! The tour is an opportunity for fabric lovers to be introduced to and inspired by all the new textiles that the Stylemaker Fabrics online store has to offer, and there have been some really fantastic makes on the tour so far!

I had a really hard time figuring out which fabrics I wanted to work with for my make- there were so many pretty colors and interesting prints that I could have stared at the fabric swatches for days, but then I stumbled across a new-to-me-pattern by Amy Nicole Studio called the Roksi Dress and felt a surge of inspiration. This dress has a simple but clever design- it’s basically three of the same garments of varying lengths layered over each other, so a knee-length swishy spaghetti strapped dress goes underneath a hip-length swishy spaghetti strapped tunic which goes underneath a belly button-grazing swishy spaghetti strapped crop top. Cool, right? I love how this design leaves so much room for playing around with color and print, love what an easy dress this probably is to wear and make, and I love how far you can stretch the pieces out for various looks…the pieces can be worn individually or together in various ways to create completely new looks! Thinking that this was the garment I was going to make, I spotted three different, very summery shades of tencel twill from Stylemaker Fabrics that I knew would look really lovely together, reminding me of a popsicle, or sherbert. Something summery and fun and breezy in the California heat!

Me trying to be in West Side Story

No sooner had I ordered my fabrics than I stumbled (it appears that I stumble around a lot on the internet) upon a version of McCalls 7894 that Bianca of Thanks I Made Them recently completed. I came across it because the McCalls instagram shared a picture of her make on their account and I! WAS! SMITTEN! I had not seen this Big 4 pattern before and if I had, I’m sure I would have overlooked it. For some reason the pattern envelope just didn’t call out to me in any way, shape, or form…however, with Bianca’s spin on it? WHOAH! I loved the use of color in her fabric choices, which made the whole dress feel like a day at the beach, and the style and fit were just so flattering, even with it’s weird waistline which dips down at the sides (not usually my cup of tea). Even though I had been dead-set on making the Roksi Trio, I was suddenly in the McCalls 7894 camp, and I imagined that my three cuts of fabric would transition beautifully into this dress. Ultimately I decided that switching these patterns was a brilliant idea because the Roksi Trio, while it would have looked great in my three sherbet hues, would be better served by playing around more with print and color than just color- every version of the Roksi Trio that uses prints and solids together stands out, and I would love to make this pattern in the future using some exciting prints from my stash!

So onto this here make…I was very out of Big 4 practice when I started this project. Because of my Family Crisis/December Hiatus and a busy work schedule in Jan and Feb, it had been a while since I had created much of anything, much less a Big 4 pattern I hadn’t sewn before, and I was out of practice. Because of this, I made a lot of mistakes that I normally don’t, but fortunately I was able to fix pretty much all of them!

First mistake: I pre-washed a bunch of new fabrics in one load (these tencel twills plus a couple more) and got bleeding on the yellow and peach cuts of my tencel twill (surprisingly the pink didn’t take the bleed). The bleed wasn’t super dark and it wasn’t completely covering the yardage, but it was definitely noticeable and annoying. I think forgot to put a dye catcher sheet in the wash when I was pre-washing these, but I shouldn’t have washed all the pieces together in the first place- this was totally my bad. Also, before anyone suggests in the comments that I should have used that smelly dye-remover stuff to get the spots out, I chose not to use it because I think the results can be ineffectual- when I have used it in the past it has gotten most of a dye bleed out, but never all of it, and it has faded the original color of the fabric I used it on, which I didn’t want to happen- the vibrancy of this tencel twill is one of the reasons I picked it out! As a result of the bleed, I had less fabric to work with because I had to avoid the areas that were dotted with blue. Stylemaker Fabrics very generously offered to replace my fabric, but I wanted to avoid that at all costs- I HATED the thought of wasting all that fabric and I was determined to make this project work with what I had. With some artful placement of my pattern pieces, I successfully cut out most of the dress without getting too many of the blue spots anywhere, although there are a couple of tiny, very inconspicuous places where the dye spills over- but I would have to point them out to you (and you know I’m not gonna do that!)

Next mistake: I totally forgot to grade out from my waist to hips when tracing out my pattern pieces, even though I do it on literally ALL BIG 4 PATTERNS I make, so when I tissue fit my pattern pieces onto my dress form, there was no ease whatsoever in the hips! Instead of recutting my pattern pieces, I decided to simply add extra seam allowance (via paper taped to the edges) to my skirt pattern pieces to accommodate the room I needed. Once I made those tweaks, I sewed the dress up, serging the insides close to the seam line to finish them since there are a lot of curves on the dress and I was afraid french seams would be too bulky. I basted the skirt and bodice pieces together and tried it on and…. I HATED IT!

Image result for hated it gif

It looked awful- ill-fitting, super frumpy, too long…issues I am used to addressing early on in construction with my pattern tweaks. Then I realized why- I had ALSO totally forgotten to shorten my bodice like I also ALWAYS do! What was wrong with me?!? I was such a mess! I didn’t have enough un-spotted fabric to re-cut my bodice so I had to take the easy way out and chop off an inch of the length from the shoulders to raise the dress higher. Of course this was not an ideal fix because it changed the drafting throughout the entire bust area, affecting the armholes and sleeves and making the upper bust area have much more room in it than necessary, but it was the easiest, most efficient fix and it isn’t too noticeable. To accommodate the raised/shorter bodice, I had to take out an inch from the height of the sleeves so that they would fit the shorter armholes, and I also had to extend the opening of the armhole below it’s original drafting so that they wouldn’t be too tight.

Completely separate from the bodice length issue but just as frustrating was the front bust area. It is designed with gathers under each side of the bust, and then it crosses over to wrap at center front, but on me, it looked hideous. Part of this was because I had not yet shortened the bodice, so the waist was way too low making my boobs look like they reached to my belly button (low swinging boobs might be in my future, but I am not there yet!). Beyond that, the look just wasn’t flattering on me- maybe because I don’t have a very full bust so the gathers had nothing to hold. Regardless of the why, I knew I wanted to omit this design detail. I contemplated trading them out for darts but ultimately saw that pleats worked much better, still giving me lots of ease and wiggle room in the bust and keeping in line a little more closely with the original design.

 

Those were the major mistakes changes I made to the dress- once I lifted it up by shortening the bodice, the skirt fit much better (it had initially been too low and wasn’t hitting my bottom in the right spots). Thankfully this tencel twill was a real dream to work with and the fabric was able to withstand a lot of hustle and bustle as I made major and minor changes to the dress throughout construction. I have always been drawn to tencel twill because it has a sandwashed look to it, a tiny hint of sheen that bounces off the fabric when the light hits it in the right spot, so it makes something that would otherwise look ordinary seem much more luxe. The weight of this tencel twill is also particularly nice- it’s got such a nice hand feel, and as you can see, the drape is terrific and pairs well with this dress. The fabric looks beefy without actually being heavy, and it took my sewing AND my unpicking beautifully!

This dress is only lined in the bodice, which makes it feel substantial and supportive while the skirt gets to stay light and breezy. I had been referring to this project as the sherbert dress as it sat in piles of fabric waiting to be sewn together in my craft room, but once I actually started construction I was amazed to see myself transformed into a package of starburst! In this dress I look like a trio of red, pink and lemon candies, and I am not mad at it one bit! This color combo still screams summer, just as I had hoped it would, and I think the choice looks really chic and fun without looking like a kindergartener (no shade to kindergarteners!)

This dress was a lot more work than I was anticipating (again, all because of my own mistakes), but it was totally worth the blood, sweat and tears- I love the overall look of this dress, and something about it feels a little bit vintage to me. I don’t know if it’s the poofy sleeves or the color blocking, but it looks ripped from a page of a seventies teen magazine, and I dig it, man!

Thank you, Stylemaker Fabrics, for inviting me on your fabric tour this year- I never would have made this dress without inspiration from your spring collection, and I know I will have a lot of fun wearing it out in the world! For this dress I used tencel twill in coral, yellow, and melon, and you can find more of the beautiful fabrics in the newest collection at Stylemaker Fabrics here! There is one more stop on the tour tomorrow, by none other than Michelle of Stylemaker Fabrics herself, and you can check out her make here!

Lastly, big thanks to Claire and Lawrence (BFF) for teaming up together to art direct and shoot my looks today- Claire is always a big help to me in documenting garments for my blog, but Lawrence’s keen eye for detail and enthusiasm in helping us stage everything was amazing- it was one of the most relaxing and fun times I have ever had shooting blog photos, which normally feel like a chore. I am so so lucky for you both, and thrilled that we got to work together like this- we gotta do it again!

Lawrence doing final touches LOL!

Jackie Dress in Floral Velvet

I bought this Jackie Dress by Victory Patterns as soon as it came out- didn’t even let the pattern marinate on my brain! I loved the seaming of the dress, made of princess seams, coupled with the additional panels in the skirt, and I loved the subtle flare the dress has at the hips- it looks chic and classic, but also comfortable since it doesn’t hug every single curve of the body. Maybe it’s because of the styling in the pattern photos, but it has a decidedly 70’s vibe to me- and I have been GAGA FOR SEVENTIES for the past year or so after having never paid much attention to that era in the past. What can I say, my tastes are evolving! This pattern calls for a knit fabric with stretch, and a while ago I bought some cheap, slinky crap for it on a whim when I was purchasing fabric for other projects. I didn’t put a lot of thought into what I was buying because I was in a hurry, and my inattention really showed when I got it home and realized that the fabric was of super poor quality and I didn’t even like it that much. It was thin and showed every lump and bump underneath it, and it also looked like it would pill and snag very easily when worn. All was not lost- that cheap fabric ended up being a terrific muslin for some other projects I worked on that called for stretch knits, but the Jackie Dress got put on the back burner indefinitely since I didn’t have anything to make it with.

Then fall rolled around and I was sorting through my pattern stash and I realized that this design would be a terrific garment to add to my arsenal of fall/winter makes. It’s got a shortened turtleneck (providing a little bit of warmth, not that much is needed in LA anyways), an option for long sleeves, and, depending on the length you make, the skirt of the dress could be short, tea length or maxified, which works great for the silhouettes I was looking for at the time (in this post right here I talked about focusing on specific garments for fall/winter since my cooler weather wardrobe has been seriously lacking for forever). The floral velvet fabric that I ultimately used for this pattern was a total happy accident. I have only recently been exploring the fabric district in DTLA outside of Michael Levine’s, thanks to SewDIY’s blog post about her favorite LA fabric/notions spots. I’m not exactly sure why I’m not in the habit of exploring the smaller shops around the strip, but I think it has something to do with time– I rarely go fabric shopping to meander, I just want to get in and out, and knowing the layout of a place and what to expect from it works well for my goal-oriented sensibilities (my one exception is The Fabric Store- I love the shop, I love the staff, I could hang out there all day…and I have! lol) and also I don’t like to haggle. I have this idea that all hole-in-the-wall places don’t have set prices and want you to do the work to settle on a price and I don’t like that at all. Just tell me how much it is- if it’s too expensive then I won’t buy it, no back-and-forth price jumping necessary.

ANYWAYS, on one of my exploring trips to the fabric district I passed by a bolt of floral velvet placed on the sidewalk in front of a store (I’m sorry but I have no idea what the store was called and I don’t remember where it was, except that it was on a corner). I inquired about it and the guy inside stated a fair price. HOWEVER, when we went to cut it, I told him I wanted 1 and 1/2 yards, and he very quickly blabbered something about “3 yards cut, discount, only, special, you want?” and I was super flustered because like I said, I DON’T LIKE HAGGLING!!! and my brain shuts down sometimes when I am having a social interaction that is going a different way than I anticipated, so I just mumbled “umm, yes, ok? sure? ok…” and I walked out spending something like $50 cash for 1.5 more yards of fabric than I needed, so my whole trip home was spent wondering what the hell I was gonna make with all three of those yards… I envisioned an entire velvet suit comprised of an overcoat and long bell bottom pants and a matching purse, because 3 yards is way more fabric than I normally buy if I am not sure what I am going to use it for, and of course I felt I needed to use every bit of it because I didn’t want to waste anything. And then lo and behold, a few days later after feeling bad about how the whole exchange went and berating myself for not being able to ask for what I needed in my haze of anxiety, I pulled out the fabric to admire it and I realized that it was EXACTLY enough to squeeze the Jackie Dress out of. Whew! What a journey, right?

With that 3 yards I eeked out a size 2/bust graded to a size 4/waist and hip with sleeves and the longest skirt version. I find that Victory Patterns tend to be too small on me but I figured that since this was a knit dress that was supposed to be very fitted and would stretch out a bit on my body, I could get away with it. Turns out I was ALMOST right, but not quite. Construction of the main part of the dress was straightforward and fast- I serged all the dress panels together (definitely my preference when working with velvet) and the bulk of it was constructed in less than 10 minutes. The more time consuming part came when piecing together the facings for the back bodice, which creates a modest but beautiful slit for a peekaboo glimpse of skin of the upper back, closed at the neck with three fabric loops + buttons. I used some knit interfacing for these pieces, which in my experience doesn’t work well with all knit fabrics, but it worked a treat on the velvet, stabilizing the pieces without bubbling and gaping anywhere.

This pattern is labeled as Intermediate probably because of the back facing and loop closures, which require some careful sewing, clipping to the seam allowance, and understitching, but the construction wasn’t difficult at all- I think that a beginning sewer could figure it out if going slowly and carefully. Once I finished my facing pieces and had everything constructed and laying perfectly flat, I sewed the short turtleneck collar onto the dress and tried it on. I was NOT impressed. As per the instructions, I sewed the neck seam with a zig zag stitch instead of serging it so that it wouldn’t be too bulky, and I under stitched to keep the top of the neck from rolling out, but it just wasn’t behaving at all. It looked messy and awkward, but even more importantly, IT WAS TOO TIGHT! I didn’t adhere to my go-up-a-size-with-this-company’s-patterns rule and I thought I was going to get away with it, but NOPE, turns out I was wrong. I hoped that I could squeeze out a bit of extra room since the back of the neck isn’t closed by a seam, but with a button, which provides a tiny bit of wiggle space. Maybe if I moved the button to the verrrry edge of the seam I could get a bit more breathing room? I tried it out by safety pinning the button loop to the furthest edge of the opposite seam, but it didn’t work- it was just too uncomfortable, and I knew that I would get no joy out of wearing the garment if I was constantly fidgeting with the fabric around my neck. But the ill fit didn’t end there- the back slit wasn’t behaving properly either; instead of laying flat, it was gaping slightly open into a subtle diamond shape and the inside edges were rolling out. The bodice did not feel or look too tight at all front the front or the sides, but the slit was splaying open as if it were too tight. UGH.

As per usual when I am stumped and frustrated by a project, I put the dress away for the day. I don’t remember if I dreamed the solution to my problem with this dress or not, but that happens often- when I am deep in a sewing project that isn’t working, I have anxiety dreams about it. When I waited tables back in the day, after particularly busy shifts I used to dream about being at work all night, and I would wake up in the morning so pissed because I wasn’t getting paid for the “work” I was doing in my dreams! My sewing dreams are similar- I replay the sewing issue I am having on a loop, trying out different possibilities until I figure out what will work. More than once I have woken up in the morning and remembered the solution to my problem after dreaming about it. But I have also woken up before, excited that I had the perfect fix, and then, after recalling what I was supposed to do, become completely disheartened that the fix made absolutely no sense at all (once it went something like  wake up: “Oh, It think I know how to fix this blouse now! Okay, what was it again?…I have to….glue…glue something….glue a….plastic…wait, I’m supposed to glue a plastic tube into the threads of my fabric?? what the hell??”). Anyways, I can’t remember if I actually dreamed about this Jackie dress or not, but regardless, I woke up knowing exactly what I needed to do to fix the super tight neck and hopefully the gaping peekaboo slit in the back.

I unpicked the turtleneck and it’s facing (which was bulky underneath the dress and never wanted to lay down properly anyways), and I added a simple neck binding in it’s place, folding the ends on either side under since the neck wasn’t a closed seam. This obviously lowered the neckline of the dress, which in turn affected the placement of the buttons, and that mostly fixed my issue with the gaping back- with lower buttons, the pieces were closed further down the back so there wasn’t as much room for it to splay open. It still doesn’t lay down as flat as I would like, and in hindsight I should have used some stay tape at those seams to keep them more stable, but I don’t think it’s that noticeable…and if it is, I simply don’t care at this point- the rest of the dress is too pretty to get stuck on that small detail.

I really did like the look of this dress with the turtleneck, but I am super happy with my regular neckline now. For one thing, it is WAY more comfortable, and for another, I’m not entirely sure that the turtleneck looked that good on me in the first place. I love turtlenecks, but I sometimes feel a bit swallowed up by them, like I just have a big, round, floating head on top of a mass of fabric. The garment still looks dressy and feminine with the more casual neckline, in part because I was able to keep the back of the dress as is with the button closures and slit. I love the length of the dress and the width of the swingy skirt paired with the long sleeves, and I have already worn the dress a lot this season. But most of all I am REALLY into this beautiful velvet! I have seen other floral velvets on the bolt that look so dated and tired that I half expected them to smell like mothballs, but the design of this fabric is so great! The size of the print and the bright colors against the black work really well together, and coupled with this pattern, it’s got the perfect 70’s vibe that I keep finding myself drawn to. Unfortunately I had a really hard time photographing this dress- I’m not sure why! But after two separate photoshoot attempts with sub par results, I decided to just stick with the 3 or 4 photos that looked decent enough to share here and call it a day. Thanks for your help with the photos, Claire!

Velvet, Gold and Pussy Bowed

When I randomly saw this dress on Beate J’Adore’s blog sometime last winter, I was more than a little obsessed. The rusty chocolate silk velvet she used was so luxurious and stunning, and I loved the easy shape of the garment: fitted and flirty and feminine without looking too buttoned up. But of course, most of all, I just loooooved that long bow at the neck! So GORGEOUS! I was so obsessed that I even started perusing the silk velvet she used from Mood Fabrics, and y’all know I can’t STAND Mood- the only way I ever use fabrics from that place is if someone buys some for me as a gift! Anyways, I pinned the image onto my Clothing Inspiration board on Pinterest and kept drooling over it periodically, even when the weather in LA turned hell-fire hot and the mere thought of wearing velvet could make you break out into a sweat. And then, as the seasons began changing around the rest of the country, velvet started popping up in all my favorite fabric stores- I’ve always loved velvet but I haven’t had the easiest time hunting it down. Thankfully it was a huge trend this season and I was able to snag a few beautiful cuts of it.

I went back to the blog post and read the notes on the dress. They were very scant, which I am not judging because I do the same thing on my blog- when I make pattern hacks, I am not very forthcoming with all the minute details, only because when I’m in the middle of the process, I rarely take notes since I’m not interested in doing tutorials. Of course, now I have experienced firsthand the frustration of reading about a beautiful garment on a blog and not knowing exactly how they got to their end result! But this is the beauty of sewing and pattern hacking in general- sometimes you have to figure out how to make it your own, and that’s what I did. I even took notes! It’s still not a tutorial mind you, and definitely not as detailed as they could be, but it should be enough to put you on the right track if you want to recreate the lovely garment that J’Adore inspired!

She used an older Vogue pattern that I think is out of print, so I got my hands on a cheap copy of Vogue 8829 from etsy. I laughed when I saw the pattern envelope- the image art looks pretty dated and I just don’t think I would ever have seen this pattern and thought to myself, “this would make a stunning garment,” which is one the reasons I love following sewing bloggers- some people can find diamonds in the rough where you see nothing but a pile of dirt. First issue I ran into: which version of the dress did she use?? This is one of those patterns with a lot different variations- long sleeves, short sleeves, knee length, maxi, regular collar, pussy bow, etc. I could figure out the top half the dress, but I wasn’t sure which skirt shape she used, the slightly flared skirt or the one with pleats. Ultimately I chose Version A which most closely matched the photos of her dress, and then I dove into making all the tweaks she mentioned in her blog post: cutting the front bodice and front skirt pieces on the fold instead of as drafted with button bands down the front, adding some width and length to the bow (if I make this again I might add even MORE length!), and making room for a side zip (since the front opening is omitted).

I was a bit confused on the back piece- she wrote that she added darts to the back bodice, but there were no photos of her in the dress with a view of the back so I had no idea where they were placed or if she had eliminated the pleat at the top of the back bodice where it meets the yoke. In hindsight, I should have redrafted the entire pattern piece because it’s actually huge, but I didn’t realize how big it would be at the time so I constructed it according to the directions, creating two pleats at the top middle of the back bodice piece. I tried it on and it had a poofy, bloused effect at the back waist- way too much fabric back there, which ended up looking really heavy in my velvet fabric. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough velvet to redraft the back bodice piece so I decided to do a moderate adjustment and take out some of the length at the back bodice where it met the waistband of the skirt. Then I sewed the extra fabric poofiness down into darts on either side of the center back. It’s not the most glamorous adjustment you’ve ever seen- pleats at the top and darts at the bottom of a back bodice is not exactly a design choice that you see too often with good reason- it looks so busy! But I would rather my silhouette look nice and smooth with some weird darts thrown in than have a clean looking bodice that is poofy and too big for my frame. I also shortened the shoulder seams which I often do on Big 4 patterns, and I ended up taking the waist of both the bodice and the skirt in over an inch on each side.

At this point I made an accidental discovery that actually worked in my favor for once. For some reason I had entirely forgotten to leave enough room at the skirt and bodice seams for a side zip since there were no other openings to get in and out of the dress with the omission of the front button bands. And then I realized that J’Adore’s silk velvet must not have been a stretch knit, which is why she had to put in the side zip. I’m not sure why it took me so long for this realization- I had been happily serging all my seams together from the very beginning, which I prefer when working with velvet because for me, it’s so much easier to serge fabrics with pile than it is to sew them on a regular machine, even with a walking foot. So, now with all my side seams completely serged together, it was time for a moment of truth- would this dress fit over my head easily or would I have to unpick all my stitching and figure out a way to squeeze a zip in? I suddenly remembered one of the adjustments J’Adore made that didn’t make sense to me at the time. She said she added two inch panels to either side of the dress underneath the sleeves. The panels, which are barely visible in the photos, don’t seem to offer much in the way of a design choice, so maybe she had an issue with fit, or maybe she forgot to put in a side zip to get in and out of the dress just like I did, and then added panels to make it a bit easier to stick the zip in at the last minute? I don’t know exactly what her process was, but thankfully, with my serged seams and stretchy velvet fabric, the dress fit over my body through the neck hole with ease- no need to add a zip- hallelujah!

After fixing the back bodice to hug my body better, the rest of the dress was a breeze. I lowered the neckline as directed by her blog post, enough so that my head could squeeze through, but I took out less than she did (I think about 3/4″, since I had more flexibility with my stretch knit). I attached the band of the bow at the neck and hand sewed it close to the edges of the neckline.

This area was a little tricky since I was sewing a rectangular pattern piece to a circle, whose edges had to simply end front and center instead of being attached to a left and right button band as the pattern was initially drafted for.  I sewed the edges of the bow as close together as possible at the center front neck and it looks fine on the outside, but a little more visible on the inside. I don’t anticipate that the neckline edge will stretch out much since my stretch fabric has a lot of resiliency, but on a less stable knit, this would be something to be aware of.

The last adjustment came with the sleeves. I had to take out additional length from them even though I cut the lines for the “petite” option on all portions of the garment- I think they might be drafted as very baggy and drapey over the hands, which is not a design element I like at all. I don’t like stuff flowing around my hands or getting in their way, it takes all I can muster to wear a bracelet for longer than 10 minutes. Here I took a cue from J’Adore’s post where she wrote that she put pleats in the sleeves and used elastic at the hems. Another thing I don’t like about sleeves? Elasticized hems, lol. Not sure why, but I just prefer either a regular folded hem or a cuff. Thankfully I was able to use the stretchiness of my fabric to my advantage once again, so I attached a self drafted cuff at the bottom of the sleeves and I didn’t need to use elastic at all (the original cuff was as weirdly long as the sleeves).

And voila! Although I wasn’t using a beautiful silk velvet like J’Adore was, I think the dress still came out really nice- I love the way it shimmers and shines in the light and the fit is spot on! It’s a very luxe looking dress to me and I think it will serve me well if I ever go on a trip to a place that’s cold as it’s still SEVENTY DEGREES IN LA RIGHT NOW. Sorry, I shouldn’t complain when the east coast is suffering through a snow bomb or whatever they are calling it, but a little bit of breezy weather would be such a treat considering all these nice fall/winter makes I have in my closet! Even if it does get cooler I’m not sure if I can pull off the dress-over-jeans-look like J’Adore did in her photos, which looks stunning, but who knows- I was inspired enough to do a mad pattern hack based on her style choices make so maybe I will be brave enough to test out her layered look, too!

 

P.S. Sorry, I don’t remember where I got my hat from, and also, THANK YOU FOR THE PICTURES, CLAIRE!

Coming To America

It is embarrassing how long it took me to put this little number together- I think from start to finish two and a half years passed between the skirt and the top! But better late than never, right?

I made this wrap skirt from a vintage 70’s pattern (Butterick 6809) that I saw on someone else’s blog and purchased from etsy. The skirt made me nostalgic, because even though I was a teenager in the 90s, I was always a HUGE fan of a good wrap skirt, and I collected a lot of them throughout my high school years, some from thrift stores and consignment shops, others from some of the cheap fast fashion retailers in the strip mall down the street (do any of y’all remember ‘Rainbow’? or ‘5- 7- 9’? We also had a spot in Birmingham that I loved called ‘Warehouse of Fashions’ that was filled with enough statically clung polyester to make a small army sweat profusely in a snowstorm). No one really thinks of the 90’s as being the era of the wrap skirt, but I’m here to tell you that it was! These skirts were way less stylish and fashion forward than their 70’s-centric counterparts, but they were most definitely available in RTW, often found positioned next to the infamous skorts garment, which was like a mullet for your bottom: a pair of shorts that came equipped with a flap of fabric attached to the side that could be buttoned or clipped closed at the opposite hip to make it look like a skirt in the front. I had these in denim, cotton, plaid, you name it! My love of fashion has come a long way, right? I can only imagine what kind of ensembles I would have put together if I had known how to sew way back then!

Anyways, my love for the wrap skirt waned after I got to college when my attention focused more on cheap JNCOs knock-offs and stretchy boot cut pants (sigh), but I have continued to reserve a little space for the iconic garment my heart. I like the simplicity of a wrap skirt- depending on the fabric you make it in, you can get a lot of drama out of the look, but the architecture remains simple; it’s basically a big rectangle with a long tie at the top and a hole with which to pull the tie through. I can’t remember the name of the blog that I saw this specific pattern on, but I loved how structured the skirt looked on the maker in a stiffer kind of fabric, so I immediately snapped it up to add to my pattern stash.

A little while later when I saw this bright geometric print at The Fabric Store in LA (again, from so many moons ago!), I knew it would be a great pairing of fabric and pattern. I loved the geometry of the textile, the clean white mixed with the bright gold, and it’s also reversible! It isn’t easy to tell in the pics but the main part of the skirt is made with the golder side of the fabric while the waistband and bodice are made with the whiter side (I accidentally put the skirt on the dressform inside out in the above photo so don’t pay attention to that lol). It’s a slick little design choice that doesn’t seem glaringly obvious but succeeds in breaking up the print a bit. So yeah, I knew it would be a great pairing, but I had no idea of the actual outfit I would try and create with the skirt, and once it was completed (again, this is one of the quickest garments to make, definitely a contender for easiest ‘first sewn garment’) I realized that I had no idea what to wear with it. In my head I was gonna pair it with a cute, tight t-shirt or make a nondescript silky tank that wouldn’t detract from the dramatic fabric of the skirt, but alas, I never got around to it. For one thing, I didn’t actually own the t-shirt that I was envisioning would look cute with this skirt, and if I’m honest, that kind of rock’n’roll meets couture look is not really so much my vibe anyways. And as far as the tank is concerned, I couldn’t for the life of me find a fabric that would look good with the white and gold foil.

Skip two and a half years-ish, where the wrap skirt has sat in my closet collecting dust because it doesn’t have a partner in crime yet. I had been perusing sewing blogs and I came across a lovely maker who had just recently made this MimiG crop top (Simplicity 8394) with a gigantic bow on the front. The top was adorable and sweet without looking juvenile. The blogger had paired it with a full skirt in a very pretty soft floral fabric with a bit of body, and I was in love with the whole look. I wondered what I could possibly wear with the top, which was pretty dramatic and unique in it’s style, when suddenly a flash of my gold and white wrap skirt popped into my head. Although it had been years since I had made it, I was almost positive that I had a tiny cut of the fabric left in my stash, probably enough to make this blouse, which surely didn’t require that much material.

 

I grabbed the pattern during the next sale at Joann’s, cut out the pattern pieces, and pulled out my remnant of fabric to see if I had enough to make it. I did. Just baaaaaaaarely. It required a very inventive cutting layout, some shaving off of certain pattern pieces, and the use of a different type of fabric to line the top with, but I made it happen! And it was just as cute as I had hoped! It has a few pieces of boning at the seams to give it some structure and help it maintain it’s shape, but it feels very comfortable and I love the length of the bodice- it’s not so high that it feels like you’re wearing a bikini top, but it is low enough that you get a little peek of belly skin, depending on what garment you are wearing on your lower half. I like that the back of the top buttons up, and I love that the bow isn’t stationary; it is sewn into the side seams, so you can tie the bow in the front or in the back, depending on your preference.

I had planned on tying the bow in the front as the pattern envelope shows, but once I paired it with the skirt, which has a wrap with a side tie, I didn’t quite like how it looked- it was overkill with two big bows screaming for attention, and this is coming from someone who LOVES bows. I was a little disappointed with the final result at first- imagine waiting nearly three years to complete an ensemble and then choosing the one pattern that doesn’t quite pair up perfectly! But then I played around with the bow placement and realized that I quite liked it when the bows were not tied on the same side (like with one in the front and the other in the back). My preference is: bodice bow in the back (party) and skirt bow in front (business). Looking at the profile I think it gives the whole look a bit of artistic flair that I wasn’t anticipating. Now I need to be real with y’all- when the bow is in the back I can’t tie it myself so I had to get Claire’s help with it, and ummm…Well, let’s just say that she doesn’t have a lot of experience tying big bows and making them look nice, even and full. That’s all I’m gonna say! I’m sure she will get better with practice LOLOLOL!

I obviously look like an extra in one of the most prolific movies of my lifetime, Coming To America, so I hope it doesn’t look too costumey because I am really digging it. The fabric isn’t an Ankara or Dutch wax print, but the bold geometry and stiffness of the fabric seems synonymous with it, particularly paired with the patterns I used. All I need is a head wrap and I will be golden! Oh man, I just realized, this would be such a great Halloween costume if I walked around in this ensemble with a basket of flower petals that I dropped all over the ground for people to walk on – I wonder if anyone would get it?

All in all, this was an easy, straightforward make, it doesn’t look like anything else in my #redcarpetDIY wardrobe, and I can’t wait to actually wear it to an event, although I will have to figure out the bow situation first. Maybe it’s because of the heaviness and stiffness of my fabric, but the bow starts to sink down a bit after a while and look pitiful, so I might need (Claire) to tie it perfectly and then sew it closed just to make sure that it stays perky, because you never know, someone might ask me to hop on one foot and bark like a dog (“a BIG dog”) and I want my outfit to pass muster 😉

 

Suits Me, the Refashioners 2017 Challenge!

Well, bless it! The sewing community has come through again with a rush of encouragement, appreciation, and smoke blown up my bum, this time in the form of an invitation to join the illustrious Refashioners Blog Tour! For those unfamiliar, the refashioners take on an annual challenge of refashioning some specific type of garment into something new and (hopefully) improved. My introduction to the group was maybe a year or so ago when the theme of the refashion was ” jeans”, which obviously conjures up all kinds of possibilities, and the sewing bloggers who participated did NOT disappoint! This year’s theme is “Suits Me” and you can only imagine my amazement when coordinators Portia and Elisalex asked me to join their talented group of contributors. Although I have certainly re-worked an old garment or two in my past with some mending or re-hemming, I don’t actually have any experience with completely revising a garment from top to bottom, and I wondered briefly if my skillset would translate at this level of talent. Fortunately, the thought was quickly replaced with “You’re trycurious, damnit!”, and I quickly wrote Portia back to thank her for the consideration and to tell her to please count me in!

First up? Finding my suit! This was the most time consuming part of the challenge for me, since I don’t buy much clothing at all other than shoes and am out of the loop with the good consignment and vintage shops in LA. My only parameters for the suit were for it to be inexpensive (which can be a real feat in price-jacked Los Angeles) and I wanted it to be made of a quality material, namely NO POLYESTER, which has a tendency to absorb funky smells easily and makes me sweat like a Trump supporter reading Black Twitter. I spent days reading Yelp reviews of vintage shops around the city and jotting down their addresses when, on a whim, I decided to drive to Out of the Closet, a well-known chain of thrift stores in the city whose proceeds go to supporting LGBTQ and AIDS affected communities. It’s clean and well-stocked and I walked straight to their rack of suits and rifled through the thirty or so they had on display; within 10 minutes I had found my match- a black and white birdseye 100% wool two-piece that was several sizes too big for me, leaving me what I hoped would be plenty of room to play around with. The suit cost only $25 and if memory serves correct, one of the tags said the suit was made in Malaysia with Italian wool. The designer tag said “Andre Vachon”.

I didn’t think long and hard about what was to become of this suit before I pulled out my seam ripper, I just sat down on the couch and began taking it apart while watching season 2 of Last Chance U. At the end of a few episodes I had a pile of fabric puzzle pieces at my feet and a smaller discard pile consisting of things like lining and pockets. I decided straight away not to salvage the lining because, although the suit itself was made of what seemed like a good quality wool, the lining was a cheap acetate that I wanted no part of. I saved the buttons, too, though they were also cheap. I was amazed at how complicated the innards of the jacket looked once the lining was removed. I had seen and worked on certain elements of tailoring a jacket like this from books and websites, but I had never seen the handiwork up close and personal before. So many interfacings and pad stitched hair canvas, my goodness! I got rid of what I could but kept the interfacing on the front pieces because I figured they would offer whatever I ended up making a bit more structure.

As I took the suit apart, a solid image of the suit’s potential began to take shape. Thanks to the awesome suit-inspired pinterest board that the Refashioners had set up, I had lots of ideas floating around in my head, but I also wanted to keep in line with how the suit originated. As I mentioned, I had never taken on this kind of project before, so maintaining some simplicity and honoring the original architecture of the garment seemed like a good vibe to follow.

What if I just slightly altered the concept of The Suit, which has a tendency to feel a little stuffy and buttoned up? What if I took The Suit and made it a little more casual, a little more comfortable, a little more current and applicable to the needs of my life and career (which, as a professional actor, has virtually no dress code whatsoever)? If you follow my blog at all then you know that this concept is not out of the ordinary for me, as I just recently finished making a Jacket + Shorts outfit that upends the classic idea of a tailored two piece. I wanted this new refashioned suit to do the same thing, but I had to adhere to certain rules, namely sticking with the traditional suiting fabric it was made of, and incorporating some of the original design details in the suit that would prove impossible to work around.

The idea of a kimono jacket suddenly popped into my head, which I heartily latched onto. Maybe because it was one of the most recent patterns I had added to my stash? Or because the kimono silhouette, relaxed and so easy to wear, seems to be everywhere right now? (Although kimonos have certainly been fashionable and culturally relevant for far longer than when us westerners got hip to them)! A kimono provided an interesting twist to the idea of a classic suit jacket but the two still felt connected to me- both garments look structured and traditional, and they both feel like cultural identifiers. Kimono robes, at least the ones I have worn, are so comfortable, yet something about those wide sleeves that jut out from the body look very presentational to me. Couple that with the elegance of the band that flows around the neck and down the fronts of the jacket- a band that has the same visual impact of a necktie, but of course, looser, and perhaps more inviting. The more I thought about it, the more I loved the beauty and symbolism of subbing a kimono for a suit jacket, but who is paying attention to symbolism when you’re trying to refashion a garment into something wearable?

I am, damnit!

Once I settled on the kimono jacket, it made sense to make myself another pair of pants out of the suit bottoms, but obviously a pair that would fit me well and look good with the larger frame of the top- perhaps something high waisted with a slim leg. So that was it- I had my design! Now I just had to implement it.

With all my fabric pieces separated from their siblings and the seam allowances ironed out, I cut out the paper pattern for my jacket (I used McCalls 7200) and tried to figure out how to use them with the meager amount of fabric I had. It really was like trying to solve a puzzle! Looking at the suit on the hanger in Out of the Closet, I thought I was going to have yards upon yards of fabric to work with, but once the suit was deconstructed, I had much less to play with. I pulled out a couple of yards of black tencel from my stash that LA Finch Fabrics had kindly gifted me over the summer and planned to use it to supplement what I couldn’t create with the wool.

 

It took a while, but eventually I came up with a plan for the pattern pieces. I didn’t have enough fabric to make a full sleeved kimono as I had intended, but I didn’t mind; instead, I would use suit scraps to apply binding to the edges of my short sleeves, giving it a more finished look. I used the fronts of the original suit jacket for the fronts of my kimono, and because I didn’t have much room to play with, I kept the front welt pockets and darts intact. The pockets are functional, though very thin (actually perfect for glasses!) and although I tried to fight the inclusion of those details at first, I quite like them now. I love that echoes of the original suit are still peeking their way into the refashion in unexpected ways, like the breast pocket/handkerchief slot at the top of the suit jacket- when sewn up into my kimono the breast pocket ends up as a shoulder pocket on me, but you know what? That’s kind of a cool design detail! I feel like it’s something Rachel Comey might utilize, haha. And of course I chose to highlight this detail by sticking a little matching handkerchief inside it, lest it go unnoticed!

I had to do a lot of hacking to make the back pattern pieces and yoke for the jacket work- I didn’t have any original suit pieces large enough to accommodate them so I halved the pattern pieces on the fabric I had left, added seam allowances, and worked with them as if the jacket had a center back seam. Easy peasy. I used my black tencel for the band since I didn’t have enough suiting fabric, and I really like how it softens the stiffness of the jacket, and, as mentioned earlier, gives a bit of a symbolic nod to a more traditional necktie which is usually paired with a suit jacket. I used french seams for all exposed jacket seams and serged the hem before turning it up and hand stitching it down.

The jacket came together relatively quickly and I’m not gonna lie, I was really feeling myself at this stage of the refashion! I was like ‘oh, girl- you GOT this! You have SKILLS and you are SLAYING this challenge!’

But then it was time to work on the pants.

Cue horror music ending with a blood curdling scream.

I have had some great success making pants this year! The Palmer Pletsch method of tissue fitting was super helpful to me once I moved on from stretch jeans to slacks, and, having successfully nailed down the fit more than once of my most hated pattern brand, BUUUURDA, I felt confident that I could tackle a suit refashion with no problems! Unfortunately I made the mistake of using a pattern I had not tested out before. The pattern I chose, Burda #118 01/2015, has pleats with a plain waistband in the front, and in the back, an elastic waistband gathers the excess material instead of darts, which is a look I have loved for a while but never attempted to create myself. I tissue fit the pattern pieces for the pants, hoping to achieve a slim fit in the leg, and once I was happy with them, I proceeded to cut out my suit fabric

Here is the tragic retelling rundown of everything that went wrong how I Tim Gunned my pants:

  1. The fit of the original suit pants was gigantic on me, but when I deconstructed them I had much less fabric to work with than I thought I would,  meaning there was little to no room for error.
  2. I eliminated the pleats in the front of the pants thinking that the wool fabric from my suit wasn’t drape-y enough to keep them looking right.
  3. The suit pants had back welt pockets that were impossible to work with because of their placement- I tried hard to integrate the pockets as-is into my refashion, but because I intended to have a gathered, elasticized waistband in the back, the bulky welt pocket openings wouldn’t lay flat on my body and looked ridiculous.
  4. I decided to get rid of the welt pockets and openings to accommodate my back elasticized waistband. Of course that meant I would have huge gashes in the fabric right on my butt, so I planned to construct large patch pockets to cover the cut fabric (I also interfaced the pocket openings and used my machine’s darning stitch to cover them and keep them from stretching out/ripping further).
  5. With pockets omitted, I constructed the waistband for the pants using the original waistband. I removed the belt loops and used my tencel as a facing for the waistband. I sewed one edge of the elastic to the side seam of one side of the waistband, then tried the pants on so that I could cut my elastic to fit my waist. One look in the mirror and I realized that the decision to gather the back waistband was bad bad bad. I should have known the fabric would look way too bulky when pushed onto elastic, given that I omitted the front pleats for the same reason. But sometimes you have to see it to believe it!
  6. I changed the design of the pants, ditching the elastic back waistband idea for a more streamlined look with darts in the back. Which meant that I now needed a closure for the pants (the previously planned elastic waist meant I could just pull them up- in theory anyways, but when I tested them out I could barely squeeze them over my hips)!
  7. Enter: two darts on either side of the center back seam, and I also opened a side seam so that I could apply a zipper (I didn’t use the original zipper that came with the suit pants as it was just a cheap, regular plastic dress zipper and I prefer metal zippers for pants).
  8. The addition of these design elements requires a second a third a fourth an outlandish number of fit alterations of the pants, so I end up removing the waistband several times to do things like raise the rise of the pants, make way for a side zipper, change the curve of the waistband, take the side seams in (over and over again), cut up the waistband to accommodate all the changes, etc. This is where my waistband starts looking like frankenstein.
  9. I notice, not for the first time, that the waistbands of men’s pants have a center back seam, while literally NONE of the women’s pants I have worn/bought in recent memory comes equipped with the same. I can’t imagine why they don’t- a center back seam at the waistband means that if you want to give yourself or take away room in the waist area of your pants, all you have to do is open the center back seam and remove/add fabric to the seam without having to fuss with cutting the waistband up or opening the side seams. What gives? I am determined to remember this detail and cut all my future waistbands with a center back seam!
  10. I should have taken out some length at the hip line of the pants during my tissue fit phase, but it’s too late to do that now, so I keep bringing the crotch in more more more so I don’t look like I have a diaper on.
  11. Where am I? What day is it? Am I still working on these pants? What are pants??? What…is…life???
  12. WHAT ARE PANTS, I ASK YOU???
  13. The fit at this point is about as good as it’s gonna get, so I can now start focusing on how to cover up the horrendous slashes from the welt pockets in the back. I had decided that big patch pockets would cover them up nicely, but of course, because of the weird positioning of the welts which are very high and close to the side seams, this is easier said than done. On one side of the pants I am able to cover the welt completely with the large pocket, but I can’t seem to get it even on the other side without the slash from the welt peeking through on the side.

    And here is where I achieve my proudest moment in this make. I spy the black designer tag from the inside of the jacket chillin’ on the edge of my cutting table- I saved it because I thought it would have been fun to position the Andre Vachon tag and my own TryCurious tag together somewhere inside of the garment, but now it looks like the perfect way to conceal the cut from the welt pocket. I fold the tag and place it inside of the pocket so that just the AV emblem is peeking out of the side, which perfectly covers up the cut and looks like a design element I have seen on a million RTW garments before.

    Because the tag is black, it matches the wool fabric and looks intentional. I sew the edges down onto the wool to ensure that it won’t flip up and reveal the cut underneath, and for extra good measure, I sew a button through the pant leg to the top of the pockets, holding the open edge down. Because the cuts are so close to the top of the pocket edge, they have a tendency to slide into view and I want to make sure that they stay covered. This makes the pockets less functional, but I don’t mind, as I’m not a big back pocket user. Besides, the pockets were only added to cover up the cuts in the first place.
  14. I reattach all the belt loops around the waistband thinking they will help cover up some of the mad piecing together of this pattern piece, which has so many seams in it at this point that I could just refer to it as a quilt. Pants are tried on to scrutinize my handiwork. Belt loops are immediately removed because they look too distracting.
  15. I tack down the zipper tape, hand stitch a blind hem in the pants legs, and…I’m done? My pants saga is over? Could it be???

As a final result the pants are… not terrible! Ha! But of course there is room for improvement. The zipper on the side of the pants is wavy, which, in my experience, means the seams need to be stabilized with stay or twill tape. The big patch pockets on the back of the pants don’t look as bad as I thought they would (they remind me of the 70’s when all pants seemed to be extremely high waisted and pockets were positioned halfway up the wearer’s back!), but I am not crazy about the way that they peek out underneath the kimono jacket. This could have been avoided if the jacket was the length that I initially wanted it to be (a few inches longer), but of course I was constrained by the amount of fabric that the suit gave me to work with and I couldn’t squeeze any more length out. I ironed out the creases that were originally in the suit pants because I don’t like the way creases on pants fronts look on me when they don’t disappear into a waist dart, and I omitted the darts to keep the front looking crisp and clean. However I think they look fine without the creases, and I love the slightly tapered ankle length.

My last and final decision for this make was to add a belt for the kimono jacket, because the silhouette just looks way better to me when the waist is cinched in. Thankfully I was able to use most of the jacket collar for this piece (and it was already interfaced!); my pile of suit pattern pieces dwindled quickly- pretty much everything I had left was small or curved and I really didn’t want to have to make a belt comprised of 32 seams to rival my waistband, LOL.

As for the styling of this outfit, I have no idea what initially sparked me to pair it with this Esplanade Bra from Orange Lingerie, but once the main pieces of the jacket were completed and I was ready to try it on, it was the very first thing I grabbed from my closet (the strapless bra is gorgeous and since I have made it twice now, I am planning on blogging about it, but til then, know that this one was made with a kit from the wonderful TailorMadeShoppe’s etsy store) ! I’m sure it has a little something to do with the fact that I had just recently finished making the bra in a different fabric as a bustier to pair with a skirt (coming to the blog soon!), so the look was fresh in my mind. Either way, I tried it on and it immediately conjured up images of a 90’s Madonna, with her baggy suit pants and torpedo bra. The bra shows a fair amount of skin, so pairing it with this suit feels unexpected, but I still really like it. The lines of the front of the jacket do a great job of revealing just a tiny bit of the surprise that’s underneath, and it also ties in well with this Budoir For the Streets theme I have going on. For me, the idea of a kimono robe draped over a stately, beautifully shaped bra in pinks and reds is totally incongruous to the look of a black and white wool birdseye men’s suit, but surprisingly, the two together really work.

And that’s it, folks! I finished this project in record time, mostly because I was obsessed with getting it done as soon as I started working on it- I didn’t want to procrastinate and then be stressed out trying to problem solve at the last minute. I like my sewing to be fun and pressure-free! Plus, my job can take me out of town with little more than a day’s notice, and I hated the thought of being in the middle of this refashion with a deadline looming and then having to hop on a plane. As a whole, I am so happy with how this make turned out- I tried really to hard to create something that I would actually wear at some point in the future, not just something that would suffice for this challenge, and with that, I think I have succeeded. There are definitely some little things about the make that bug me, like, as I mentioned before, the pants pockets not being totally covered up by the jacket, and how there are lots of teeny tiny tears and holes throughout the wool fabric, which couldn’t be avoided- most of them came from the holes that were leftover after I carefully removed buttons, seams, welt pockets, etc. It’s just par for the course when you’re working with fabric that has already been manipulated into a garment. Fortunately, this just adds even more character to an ensemble that already has a pretty remarkable story. I feel so grateful to have been able to participate in this challenge, pushing myself out of my comfort zone and proving that I have both the creative chops and skillset to compete with the rest of The Refashioners, so here is a big thank you to Portia and Elisalex for believing in my abilities and inviting me into the fold- this has been such a blast and I feel very proud 🙂

Click here to stay up to date with The Refashioners 2017, see all the other inspiring refashions AND find out how you could win an amazing prize!

That Rachel Comey Dress

Everybody loves Rachel Comey and everybody loves Vogue 1501, but it took me a really long time to jump on the bandwagon. I appreciate Rachel Comey’s designs across the board, but I don’t think that they often suit me and my style. At first glance, some of the designs are just a little too out-there for my tastes, and others seem a little too simple, but I am learning that I should give her patterns (and probably others that I judge too quickly) a second glance. It turns out, very little of what Comey designs should be categorized as ‘simple’, and paying more attention to the technical drawings as opposed to the styling on the pattern envelope would probably do me good. Vogue seems to be a fan of matching Comey designs with abstract and/or bold fabrics, and while I LOVE a good print, I think that practice has a tendency to overwhelm the design features of a garment with as much nuanced detail as Comey’s tend to have. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I have definitely overlooked many designs simply because the styled image of the garment turned me off, so it looks like that old adage about books and covers holds true for the sewing world, too; you can’t judge a pattern by it’s envelope.

I first saw Vogue 1501 on either Heather’s blog or IG feed a while ago, before she had even sewn it up (I think she posted a pic of the pattern envelope and shared how excited she was to sew it up). I remember thinking “what a strange design!” and not giving it another thought til I saw the finished makes that she and What Katie Sews created; both were dark colored and beautiful. There was something special about the pattern that I had overlooked before, and seeing it sewn up and being worn on an actual body showed me how classy and sophisticated (and yes, very NYC Magazine Editor!) it was. So I bought the pattern, because I am nothing if not heavily influenced by my favs in the sewing community. It only sat in my craft room for a few weeks before I decided what fabric to us for it.

Interestingly enough, my experience with the fabric I chose was very similar to my experience with the pattern. I had seen the bolt in The Fabric Store several times before and gawked at the beautiful periwinkle blue of the background, but maybe because it was silk, which always requires a bit of extra work and attention) or maybe because I had no ideas of what to make with it, I just disregarded it. It wasn’t until I saw Mimi’s stunning shirtdress version in the same fabric that I felt inspired to grab it, regardless on if I had a plan for it or not, and I am so happy that I did, because this material + pattern are a match made in heaven!

Aside from the gorgeous color palette (that pale peach and blue together are EVERYTHING), I love the Art Deco inspired look of the print. I thought it would pair well with the design of Comey’s pattern, which at first glance seemed pretty modern to me, but after making it, it feels a bit more rooted in vintage elements. I get a 20s/30s vibe from the loose, blousy top paired with the knee-length skirt, but the tucked-in front makes it feel more current. I made a size 8 in the blouse and a size 10 in the skirt, which was easy to combine since the blouse and skirt are separate pieces and are only connected at the waist front by one line of stitching. I could probably have gone down a size/adjusted the blouse to make it even smaller but the loose fit works for the silhouette. I ended up having to take the skirt in significantly at the back seam where the zipper is inserted, but it was easy to do- the pleats at the front of the skirt (which are so pretty draped in this fabric) allows for a lot of flexibility in the body of the skirt, so I only needed to adjust the fit at the waist and then taper down to nothing at the hip.

I had read on Pattern Review that this dress has shoulder pads and an interesting shoulder seam gusset to accommodate the extra material at the top of the shoulder (I had totally overlooked that detail from the pattern envelope info). I wasn’t sure if I wanted shoulder pads or not so I decided to construct the dress with the gusset and just yay or nay the pads when the time came to insert them. I am generally not a fan of shoulder pads in anything other than coats, maybe because my shoulders match up pretty well with the width of my hips and don’t droop down, so pads tend to make my shoulders look incongruous with the rest of my body. Once the gussets were in, I sewed up a thin shoulder pad from some quilt backing and covered it in the dress fabric, then inserted it into the blouse. It didn’t make a significant difference with the overall shape of the dress on my figure, but you could see the edges of the shoulder pad imprinted on the inside of the blouse, which was very noticeable and messy looking. I decided to forgo the pads but I kept the gussets in because it would have been too complicated to try and remove them without ruining the fabric.

For some reason I totally forgot to use French Seams when I started sewing the blouse of this dress, so there are all kind of finishes on the inside: a couple seams are serged, most of the others are frenched, and I managed to get a few Hong Kong seams in there, too! Ha! As long as they don’t come unraveled, it doesn’t matter which technique I use.

I recognize that the busy-ness of my pattern hides a lot of the design details of the dress (something that I didn’t like about the styling on the pattern envelope), but maybe I just like my fabric print better than Vogue’s so I give it a pass. I can definitely see myself making this garment again, in a solid color this time, and maybe a few tweaks to the fit; I would be interested in removing a tad bit of length from the blouse (mine billows out a bit and I have to pull the blouse up at the shoulders so that it sits straight and doesn’t fall forward), skipping the insertion of the shoulder pad gussets, and I would also like to play around with the idea of shortening the back part of the blouse so that you can see the skirt back; a bit of a play on a crop top look while keeping the front the same. It might not work, but it’s certainly worth a try! When I envision this new version of the dress, it’s peach or orange hued with a rich, velvety texture, so let’s see if this ends up coming to fruition!

The Rachel Wrap Dress in Vintage Fabric

 

I didn’t grow up in the 70s, so although I have always understood Diane Furstenberg’s work during that period as iconic, I never had any firsthand experience with it. I knew that her signature wrap dresses were a defining aesthetic of the decade, making women of all shapes, sizes and ages feel beautiful with their simple, figure flattering design, but I figured that all wrap dresses were essentially the same. GUESS WHAT I WAS WRONG. And I didn’t know how wrong I was til I got my hands on an authentic DVF design a few years ago from a TJ Maxx in a ritzy suburb of LA.

sidenote: The “ritziness” of this TJ Maxx is important to note because not all discount brand name clothing stores like this are created the same- this Maxx had a whole section of expensive designer garments with price tags way higher than I was used to seeing at, say, the TJ Maxx in Birmingham that I spent my high school years shopping in. In my opinion, a Maxx’s proximity to high-end department stores in a large, fashion forward metropolitan area has an effect on the kind of stock the store will have, but you also have to take into account how busy that store will be. For example, the TJ Maxx in Manhattan was always a dud for me because all the super nice clothes that came through there got nabbed almost immediately by all the stylists, fashionistas and bargain-hunters that made it their job to find good deals before everyone else in the city nabbed them up. I am convinced those shoppers had people on the “inside” alerting them to when they got especially good shipments of clothing. Anyway, this Maxx in the ritzy suburb was a goldmine because it was close enough to the Bloomingdales/Nordstroms/Saks of LA, but far enough outside of the city to have not been scavenged yet.

a DVF original

Anyways, as I was saying, I found a bright orange, white and black floral printed DVF wrap dress on the rack, tried it on, and was very, very impressed. Every wrap dress I had ever owned, worn or looked at before suddenly vanished from my memory and all that was left was me and this gorgeous garment, which was miraculously impervious to any flaws created by the overhead fluorescent lights of the dressing room. I swear I felt a wind machine start to blow on me as I oohed and ahhed over myself in front of the mirror. The fit was spot on, and the design made all the right things happen exactly where they needed to- the hem ended at the perfect spot just above my knees, the waist was ever-so-slightly gathered in the back so that there were no puckers or folds in weird places, the skirt hugged my hips and then dropped straight down at my thighs giving my shape an hourglass frame without making it impossible to walk. The fabric was made of a 2-way stretch knit so it had give in some places but felt stable and secure everywhere else. It was comfortable, it was sexy without revealing too much of my skin, and the color and pattern was eye-catching without being too busy. I was in love! This DVF dress was much pricier than anything I had ever paid for at TJ Maxx before, but it seemed worth it. This was at a time when I was only dabbling in becoming a better sewist and I hadn’t yet committed myself to making all my clothes, so finding a RTW garment in a discount department store that looked this good was rare for me.

just posting these DVF wrap dress shots for comparison’s sake!

Three years later, this DVF wrap dress is one of maybe 5 RTW dresses that I still own, but it is hands down the one that gets the most wear. For three years it has been my go-to audition dress for any character with the words “sexy” or “sophisticated” in her breakdown description, and I have gotten at least one compliment every single time I have worn it.

another sidenote: I just realized I have never washed this dress in the three years I have owned it!?!?! Hahahahaha!! That probably seems ridiculous to some people but unless I have a visible stain/dirt on a garment or if I know I sweat a lot in it because I lost my mind on the dance floor at an event (which happens A LOT), I don’t launder the dressier items in my closet very frequently. I was always taught that this preserves the life of your clothing, and because the majority of wears for this dress have been for only a few hours at a time- the approximate length of an audition- I simply didn’t notice that it needed immediate cleaning. Of course, after this realization I ran to the closet to pull the dress out and examine the underarms and…ummmm…IT DEFINITELY NEEDED CLEANING! The pits were yellowed from sweat + deodorant and they also had the not-so-faint smell of old sweat combined with fermented grapefruit and cedar, which are the essential oils I like to use most in my homemade deodorants! LOL! Needless to say the dress went straight to the cleaners!)

 

ANYWAYS! I have thought many times of how awesome it would be to replicate this wrap dress in other colors and prints, but this dress’s design is a little more intricate than it appears to be at first glance. I’m sure that the DVF company has played around with the original concept over the past few decades to add a little more interest and nuance to the design, and the dress I own seems to be a more recent incarnation. It has a seam at the back waist which allows the skirt to be ever-so-slightly gathered to pull into the waist while also allowing room for a fuller bottom, and the outside front edge of the dress where the neckline binding meets the wrap tie is constructed in an interesting way- it’s gathered so that the edge of the skirt creates lovely draped lines that fall down across your hip. I’m not entirely sure why that design element was included, but I’m guessing it provides a little visual interest while also camouflaging any “problem” areas around the hips and thighs (that’s not my term- I’m just using it because I figure that’s what the fashion world would call an area of the body that they think many women wouldn’t want to draw attention to).

 

I can’t imagine replicating my DVF dress successfully without taking it apart (I’m sure a more skilled sewist could do it, but that sewist is not me), so for now it will stay in my closet, finally laundered (LOL) until I get sick of it or it doesn’t fit well anymore at which point I can take it apart and create a pattern from it. This of course got me thinking about how I should just look for a wrap dress pattern to replicate the general look, if not the exact DVF design. I know that DVF doesn’t license her patterns anymore so the only way to get your hands on one of her original Vogue designs is to stumble across a paper pattern at an estate sale or pay upwards of $100 for it on eBay. Since I have not had any luck on the former and I refuse to do the latter, I have been keeping my eyes peeled for something comparable by another designer. I tried the Very Easy Vogue wrap dress pattern and attempted to make a version of it for my mother before working on one for myself, but soon after I started constructing it I knew it wasn’t the dress for me- the design and fit were not what I was looking for, and I ultimately had to trash the whole project because my knit crepe fabric was too heavy for the (weirdly large) skirt portion of the dress and it was sagging and drooping in all the wrong places. Eventually I stumbled upon Pattern Review (I don’t use this site as a resource as much as I should!) and found some promising wrap dress designs by indie pattern makers. One was called The Onion dress and the other was by a company called Maria of Denmark. I had trouble finding out where to buy the first pattern online so I decided to get the Rachel Wrap Dress by MOD instead and keep my fingers crossed that it would be a winner.

Although the finished product is a much more simple design than that of my original DVF dress, I have to say that I love the Rachel Wrap just as much. It is an incredibly quick project to sew, despite the snafus I made in the construction of mine that I then had to spend a fair amount of time undoing. It isn’t fussy or overly detailed so the fit is smooth and classic, giving the exact silhouette you’re probably looking for if you’re in the market for a wrap dress. Now in most of the finished versions I saw online, sewists used a simple cotton jersey to make their wrap dress in, usually in a fun novelty print. These looked great, giving it a very easy and casual feeling, but I was way more interested in ramping my wrap dress up and using a more sophisticated fabric. Maybe it’s because I always wear my DVF wrap dress when I am dressing up for an event or an audition, but I much prefer a more styled, dolled-up version of this kind of design as opposed to a casual one. No matter if you prefer to dress your wrap up or down, I love that this pattern accommodates the whole spectrum- you really can’t go wrong!

 

So about my fabric- I have had this in my stash for probably 3 years. After moving to LA four years ago I became slightly obsessed with going to estate sales where sewists and crafters used to live. I would find the most amazing vintage notions, old quilting fabrics and random bundles of sewing goodies and I would be so excited to give them a new life in some way. Once my fabric stash got too big for comfort I stopped going to the sales, but I accumulated some pretty fantastic vintage pieces in my heydey, including this incredible silky 2 way stretch knit. I have no idea what it’s made of, all I know is that when I got it it smelled like a stinky vintage store but the color palette was gorgeous. I saved this fabric for a long time because even though I don’t think the print is dated, it reminded me of a 70’s disco babe, and I wanted to wait for a pattern that could really amp up that retro-feeling. Last week I was looking for some scrap fabric in my fabric bureau for a different project and this black and peach yardage practically jumped out at me. I had literally JUST purchased the Rachel Wrap dress the night before and I knew immediately that these two would be a marriage made in heaven.

As much as I love this fabric, I decided not to make a muslin before cutting into it, and thankfully the sewing goddesses were on my side. I cut a size ___ at the bust and a ____ at the waist and hips. The instructions for this pattern are just ok. I knew how to construct most of this garment except for the neck binding so I didn’t need to rely on them very much, but there are no line drawings to accompany the steps and the photos (and one illustration) that are used are pretty subpar. One of the images is downright confusing! I sat at my sewing table scratching my head for 5 minutes trying to decipher what these wavey lines and color codes meant and finally I just ignored it and tried to figure it out myself. You can complete this dress in a few hours but it took me a bit longer because I made one silly mistake from the very beginning. I decided to interface my neck binding to give it more structure and keep it from stretching out too much because I know that lots of complaints about wrap dresses revolve around the dress needing to fit better around neckline so that the wrap at the bust doesn’t sag out and expose people’s cleavage and bras.

I didn’t realize that the neck binding in this pattern is drafted to be stretched out along the neck of the dress considerably when you construct it- that elasticity is what gives the wrap it’s snugness at the bust and keeps all your goodies covered up and supported. Initially I just thought that the neck binding was cut way too short but then I realized it is actually supposed to stretch a lot. Thankfully I was able to remove my interfacing from the piece and get the band to fit the neckline, but now that the dress is completed I would definitely add a bit more length to the binding. The binding at the neck is stretched out so much that it creates little gathers along the neckline, and maybe if you have a really full bust or torso your body will fill up all that space so that the gathers are stretched out and the neckline looks smooth, but on me it just looks puckered and weird- that amount of stretch in the neckband is unnecessary on a smaller bust like mine. I carefully steamed and ironed out the fabric around the neckline which helped ease the gathers a lot. It’s not obvious enough for me to dislike the dress at all, but again, next time I make it I will try adding an inch of two of length to the neckline pattern piece so that it doesn’t need to be stretched out as much.

I had a bit of trouble getting the edges of the straps of the dress (where the binding intersects with the dress fronts) to lay smooth and flat. This is a bit difficult to describe without any photos, so I forgive me for that oversight! I am not sure what the culprit is, but I suspect that more detailed instructions for these steps would have been incredibly helpful. The issue resulted in the front edges of the dress, which get turned in towards the inside to create a hem, curving in a weird way and not laying flat. But when I tried to keep the fold on the edge straight, the section above it where the neck binding and strap met would not stay even and would morph into a very wonky shape. Again, explaining this doesn’t make much sense when you can’t see what I am talking about, so just know that I somehow managed to unpick my stitches and shift the pieces around so that they looked even and smooth. I’m not sure if this is a drafting issue or just a miscommunication in the instructions for this part of construction, so next time I make it I will pay close attention to how these steps are supposed to be worked (and what I did to fix them, if necessary).

demonstrating how much fabric is underneath the wrap of the dress – it’s plenty! so less chance of the wind blowing your skirt wide open!

After taking the photos for this dress, realized that I didn’t like the edges of the sleeves. Maybe because the fabric is relatively fancy or maybe because I prefer cuffs on sleeves in general, but the simple folded hems with twin needle stitching just didn’t do it for me. They looked too casual for a dress with this much oompf. So a couple of weeks after completing this garment I went back and took out the stitching at the sleeve hems. I cut out some cuffs whose final measurements would equal the width of the neckline band for visual consistency and then I serged them into the sleeve edges. The addition of the cuffs added a tiny bit more length to my sleeves (which I didn’t mind as they already ended a couple of inches beneath my elbow) and looked way more finished than they had previously. To finish the front edges and bottom hem of the dress, I folded in the allowance and used a twin needle to stitch everything down as I had initially done on the sleeve hems. It looks clean and pretty on the inside.

Despite my complaints about the sub par sewing instructions, I do think this is an easy pattern to make that comes together quickly and yields pretty dynamite results. You are required to draft a couple of pattern pieces (I think just for ties, whose length you can adjust depending on your preference- I made mine longer than suggested) and it’s important to note that you have to add seam allowances to certain parts of the dress and that not all of the seam allowances are the same, but those are listed pretty clearly in the instructions. One last thing is that this dress is the perfect length on me as drafted, and I usually have to shorten patterns considerably to keep them from being too long, so if you are one of those #blessed with long limbs, keep that in mind if you don’t want this to end up being too short on you.

Big thumbs up to this pattern- I hope some of you who have been keeping your eyes out for a classic but simple wrap dress give this one a shot!