Category: Sewing & Design

The Shirtdress: a curated history

I‘m a total sucker for shirtdresses (or you may be a bit old fashioned and call them “shirtwaisters”). I like the idea of a dress with a collar, or a dress that looks like one long shirt. And even if it’s fitted, it’s not telling you it is. One’s figure is definitely there, but not screaming at you. It’s so simple, so, I don’t know, 50s screen beauty sipping lemonade on the veranda.

I started thinking about them again when I saw this Stella dress last spring.

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Ooh la la, my swatches are here.

So I’ve committed my way to making the Lady Grey coat, at least in the form of buying swatches. They arrived yesterday, along with the pattern.

I’m an insane collector of fashion images, color schemes, design layouts–both physical and virtual–so gathering the supplies and going through swatches is probably my favorite part of sewing. Silhouettes are one thing, designs another, and I’m even less concerned with fit than many people. Even the actual sewing itself comes behind this part. I often fall asleep at night thinking about all the possible outcomes of a project, imagining details and fabrics. (I’m a fan of beginnings. I usually “hear” my best potential poems falling asleep, which doesn’t help me much as a poet.)
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Tailoring a Vest

Seven years ago my husband started asking me to design a vest. Inevitably, if you sew, someone you love is going to ask you to make something for them. I don’t know why this happens all the time, but it’s sorta like someone asking you to write a song for them if you’re a musician. And at the same time there’s something gratifying in that; somehow they perceive the skill or talent to be extraordinary.

But Derek understands what it means to ask; he knew that me making a vest for him would take on some spiritual implications. Kinda like me designing his a coat of armor. I was happy to do it, but some of the skills required were way above my level.

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Beginnings are good, but the follow-through?

I love beginnings, full of possibilities and options. And somewhere in the middle of things I get bogged down, bored or stressed, and I’m realizing it’s because I often spend too much time on the beginnings, leaving all possibilities open. I re-took the Myers-Briggs personality test last year and it really opened my eyes to this aspect of my personality. (I’m a classic, off-the-charts INFP.)

I am primarily a writer, but I’m a historian, an art critic, an armchair designer, a gardener–so topically, I could never limit my blog. That’s why I couldn’t imagine being a “fashion blogger” or “craft blogger” or “film blogger”. I worry I might bog down readers, because my obsessions and skills are so wide and varied. (I have spared you, so far, from my still-in-draft entries on Marshall McLuhan and his media theories). I can’t help but chase down my whims, research them endlessly, and write about them.

On a friend’s advice, I’ve decided that I need to narrow down the beginnings of things. Not to take away the joy of project-visioning, but to take small mental notes of the rabbit trails that interest me, and narrow down the possibilities to a few into which I can actually cut a road.

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A Winter Coat, Now? A Sew-Along

Hoo ahh, it’s a hot one today. After an abnormally cool (and cool being a relative term here) summer with lots of rain in June and July, Austin finally decided to reach its proper summer temperatures (100+) this month. And this past week has been the worst.

While stores and magazines fill with fall clothes, I’ve still got another two months of hot weather. It’s like you have to have two summer wardrobes here, your first set and your second set when you are bored with all your “early” summer clothes. So I’m still at work making tees and tanks in my sewing studio, while stalking the extreme summer clearance sales at my favorite shops.

So I must be seriously crazy for thinking about sewing a winter coat. I’m at least a month behind on all my art projects, including summer sewing. But I guess I like the challenge of thinking ahead. I need more of that. This particular project is a “sew-along”, which is a group of people that sew the same pattern and share what they’re doing along the way.

This sew-along is sponsored by Gertie’s Blog for Better Sewing and the pattern is the Lady Gray Jacket by Colette Patterns. Details on the sew-along are here

I’ve never done a sew-along, but I think it might help me actually finish something complex (rather than throw it on the mannequin for months on end when I can’t be bothered to finish the binding because it’s slipping around too much). It’ll also give me goals that have feedback.

Most of my life involves freelance work–writing, design, blogging. And it’s difficult if you “freelance” anything to find outside feedback. Feedback is good, it helps you know where you are in your process, refines your technique and goals and pushes you. I like working on my own but I’d also like to be a better dressmaker and sewist.

And it might be good for me to meet other sewers, even online. I’m kind of private and don’t belong to many forums or boards (other than one gardening forum and I dipped my toe into one sewing forum, but not for long) nor have I had my blog for long so I’m not used to internet dialog. But hey, this might let me get my feet wet.

p.s. There is a discount code for the pattern on the sew-along blog, which maybe (just a bit) convinced me to buy and try yet another new pattern from a non-mainstream pattern company. All of the Colette Patterns styles are so cute. I think the coat is more glam-me than some of their styles.

and p.p.s. I’ll try my hardest to post updates to the project. Another push to blog more often (saving you from my infrequent, yet epic blogs).

An Ode to the Jumpsuit

It’s been three years since jumpsuits made a reappearance in fashion, and although the 80s revival has been going on for a good eight years now, it took some time for the jumpsuits, rompers, onesies, et al to return safely into mainstream consciousness. We just couldn’t reconcile ourselves to wearing them again. The first signs were the return of bright colors, the knit drop-waist t-shirts and skirts. The poppy, Madonna side of the 80s.

But what about the boxy tailoring? No way. The slouchy pants? No way. Leggings? I remember when people said they wouldn’t be caught dead again in leggings but that was before arbiters like Kate Moss–if she wore stirrup pants, what the hey, we would, too. Now of course leggings are everywhere and on everyone. Baggy jackets are the rage, and balloon-hipped carrot pants have made a return. It was only a matter of time before jumpers were back.
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Beautiful Ikat, what to do?

So I was shopping for fabric, very innocently. It always starts that way. I was looking for a light silk for a vintage shirtdress pattern, and one of the fabric shops I browse had a lovely cotton ikat fabric in stock “from an unnamed CA designer”. I immediately recognized it as a print from a designer I really like, Heidi Merrick (I’ve written about her clothes before). I have four of her pieces; she does summer clothing really well–elegant but surprisingly effortless.

I always seem to have a fashion crisis in summer. I like style, I don’t like slumping around in t-shirts and jeans and flip-flops. But I’m a layer-y kind of person; I like New York style, London style. Lots of layers, lots of accessories, and boots–my favorite shoes of all. It’s taken a lot for me to make peace with a climate that has summer dressing six to eight months of the year. Read more

I went a little crazy buying fabric.

A couple of months ago I went a little berserk buying some knit fabrics off of Ebay. Nothing is as dangerous as eBay (Etsy coming in a close second) for art supplies. Yes, art supplies: that’s how I justify buying textiles.

I’ve never been really big on knits in fashion, outside of t-shirts. Knits are a little too casual, or maybe I am still shell-shocked from the sorts of fabrics I knew as a kid in the 70s and 80s. (Who, oh, who, thought up that ugly polyester doubleknit stuff that made up cheerleading uniforms of the 80s? It made you smell. Bad.) But there seems to have been a jersey revolution in the last decade. Blame it on Juicy Couture and yoga, but I’ve sort of come around to some of the drapey jersey fashions. They’re getting more sophisticated.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, there is a certain L.A. style that’s crossing over into high fashion. Look at designers like Rachel Pally, Velvet, Ella Moss, T-Bags, Splendid. (Aren’t they all from L.A.?) The type of fashions built around these fabrics become more tempting because I live in a hot and even more casual climate.

Last summer, I decided to give in and sew a knit jumpsuit out of a kelly green rayon jersey. I was thinking something like a drapey, sexy Stella McCartney jumpsuit but the thing was a little too close fitting and I ended up looking like Kermit. Even so it gave me a chance to pull out my serger which had been collecting dust for five years.

Now that the heat is coming on again, I’m inspired again to find some knit designs I can live with. The particular ebay seller that I found sells designer-quality modal jerseys (modal is like rayon, a breathable fabric made from wood pulp). My buying splurge resulted in about 10 fabrics which all seemed to have come from the same designer, as they have matching colorways. One of them is signed Rachel Pally.

As far as style, there are some cool patterns for knits. Mostly I am into lightweight dresses. I like these two, especially the Simplicity pattern, which is kind of 70s retro cool. Hot Patterns has a lot of sewing patterns designed for knits and I like the dress below but I don’t think the style would flatter a big-bottomed woman.

I’m far more interested in some of these 70s Jean Muir patterns; I’m a sucker for vintage patterns but they also sometimes seem more now than the now patterns. Jean Muir was known for her unusual knit designs.

Even better, I might try and draft my own. I’ve already taken a t-shirt pattern and turned it into a knee length dress with a bateau neckline. It was so easy to do that I might keep morphing the pattern into other styles.

Sewing: a little bit of a preamble.

With sewing or fashion design, my ambitions are bigger than my skill level. Which is nothing new for me, really; my garden started out the same way. I must have started 300 seeds indoors my first year of gardening, many of which were plants I just read about and sounded beautiful, but I had no idea if they would work in our climate or when to plant them for their best benefit. I pruned things wily-nily, I planted stuff in hard clay. Over time, the information all started to fit–it just took some mistakes, or noticing the behavior of plants over time.

I never would have learned this in a book or blog, but I learned the hard way not to prune tender things before a frost. I lost a beloved Barbados Cherry tree because I pruned during a beautiful spring March day. It had struggled the summer before with drought and lost most of its leaves but was still alive. After pruning it the tree immediately began to grow tender new leaves, but a sudden late March frost killed this growth and the entire tree with it. I knew by watching the tree that what little hope for nutrients it had, in the form of these tender leaves, were demolished with the frost. Over time, some things just become intuitive.

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