Category: Sewing & Design

That 70s Thing in Yellow

I’m in the mood for yellow. And that would make sense for half of the planet, which seems to have been experiencing the most snowy, dreary, plane-halting winter ever. But this mood has nothing to do with cabin fever. Here I am in a part of Texas which, until last week, frolicked around the 70s for most of December and January. My roses had barely stopped blooming since October, my front garden was spilling over with the sweet fragrance of alyssum, jonquils and violets.

And then came a terrible arctic front–a record-setting freeze over 3 days that just about killed half of my very un-hardy garden. So long, alyssum, snapdragons and all of my beloved sweet pea vines. I think I may have just lost my lemon tree but I haven’t the heart to look into my back garden to consider all the damage.

Normally, when I dream of spring, I dream of coral and pale shell-colored roses. Yellow is just not a color I like to paint, plant, photograph or wear. But seeing it in Marc Jacobs fun spring collection got me rethinking my aversion.

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The French Stripey Tee

My last post on style resolutions got me thinking about doing a series on classic fashion pieces. I’ve not been so good up till now with “series”–I get so distracted.

So I was rummaging around fabric sites for some quality striped knit fabric from which to remake a long-sleeve striped t-shirt. I made a cotton black and white shirt last winter, but the fabric pilled terribly after one washing. I gave up, thinking that striped shirts are so ubiquitous I should just buy one, and then I got lost in a sea of online stores doing all sorts of sailor stripey things. I’m a sucker for stripes, but especially any kind of stripey t-shirt. It just oozes French style.

Of course the classic stripe is the Breton sailor shirt, going back to the late 1800s as the military-issue French naval uniform and is now an entrenched symbol of national pride. Famous wearers include Chanel:

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Some Style Resolutions

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions but I’ve got a lot of creative and personal goals that have been adding up since my momentous birthday two months ago, and I feel like setting them to sail this month.

Last year I started taking stock of my wardrobe as a way of acknowledging my age. I was soon to be 40, and that means something in terms of style and expression, right? While I wanted to challenge myself to me more experimental with fashion than I’d ever been I kept thinking about investing in some classics, things I’d want to always have around for the next 20 years.

I came across a book called The Pocket Stylist, which at first I was afraid would come down on the stifling side of fashion prescriptive-ness. I really don’t need prescriptions. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a kind of French motherly guidance on the art of dressing well. Understanding silhouette and composition on a body helps one’s style just as learning these basics in design make for better photographs. The book’s advice ranges from dressing for your figure to guidance on makeup and undergarments. It kind of bypasses all the now-ness of fashion to help a woman understand her DNA of style, no matter her age or lifestyle.

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Lady Grey Coat and Tailoring with Fusibles

Phew, after a few months of delay and other projects and big birthdays, I was finally able to get back to my coat project.

I had a lengthy fitting process to begin with–I was determined to cut the sleeves correctly and avoid all the sleeve ease. In the end what I came up with was a serious hack, so I’m not going to publish it here. I also redrafted the entire lining because I discovered some of the lengths between pieces didn’t match. (I’m wondering how others get around this.)

Just cutting this thing out took several sessions. The front is 7 pieces, the lining is 10, then two collar pieces, one long belt and belt loops. Then there’s the interfacing. Oh yay, more cutting!

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My Pattern Collection is Getting Out of Hand

One of the things that inspired me to get back into sewing was my discovery that one didn’t need to be limited by the local fabric chain store for pattern and fabric ideas. I completely missed the huge spawn of sewing blogs and pattern review sites, the craftwoman explosion, online fabric shops and independent pattern companies–all in the last seven years. Ten years ago I had never seen a Burda Magazine or even Kwik Sew patterns, let alone the dozens of small fashiony pattern companies that cropped up.

Then I discovered Etsy and its gorgeous reams of vintage pattern and knick-knack shops. Danger, Will Robinson!

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Adventures in Design Perfection

{Or how I learned not to trust patterns and wrestled with a sleeve cap in order to avoid stabbing myself with pins.}

I’m still in the throes of fitting my Lady Grey muslin. For about a week, there has been pattern paper and tracing paper thrown all over my office. In my spare time, I’ve been tracing and re-tracing. I had to adjust quite a bit in the bust area, and then realized the bust area comprised 2 front pieces, 1 facing and 2 lining pieces. It is not as simple as taking a dart out of one-piece bodice.

There is something about sewing patterns that brings out the utter abstractionist in me. Looking at the pattern and imagining how it works has become more fun than sewing it. As a teenager, I used to think the fun part of sewing was in the actual sewing, getting to the machine. The faster I could get things cut out the better.

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Lady Grey and Muslin Tweaking

The first time I made a “muslin” out of muslin, the project went awry. I was making a coat out of Chinese silk brocade. In muslin, the pattern behaved badly and I kept fitting and re-fitting the sleeves, cutting and re-cutting the muslin, until I realized that in silk the thing would have draped and fit quite perfectly the first time around.

I’ll pause here for my non-sewing readers who might ask, what the heck is a muslin?

Muslin: a term used varyingly by dressmakers to refer either to a testing/fitting garment or the actual fabric. Muslin is a cheap, often unbleached, cotton fabric. Geeky writerly explanation: using it in the former manner is synecdoche, a metaphor in which a part of a whole represents the whole. I think English dressmakers call the test garment “toile”, and the cotton fabric used to make it “calico”. I kinda like the distinction. Oh, and ‘muslin’ was an older colonial word for ‘muslim’, since the origin of the textile and clothing made from it came from ‘muslin’ traders. (Just as denim comes “from Nimes” — “de NĂ®mes”.) I just love etymology.

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Lady Grey progress and thoughts on tailoring

Things are moving fast over at Gertie’s Lady Grey Sew-Along. Apparently I should be cutting out my muslin now. The muslin fabric is ironed and laid out on my cutting table, the pattern is half cut out, but time is short and limited. I figured I have a total of 4-5 sewing hours a week. One would think that is enough but I am working on three other projects, including an apron dress for my friend Hannah and a pair of trousers that I will be posting about soon. Another is a surprise.

I really love the fabric I chose for the coat. It came in last week and is just gorgeous. I can’t for the life of me decide on lining fabric, which needs to be ordered, and soon.

This sew-along is focusing on traditional tailoring techniques. It’s an unusual project to learn tailoring on; it’s not a traditional jacket or coat, and I’m not using wool. One of my goals for the next year is to actually make a tailored blazer. Read more