Looking for Inspiration

I know it’s early, but I’m already thinking about my dress for the Winchester Hospital Breast Care Center annual gala. This year it’s going to be held on November 11. I’ve been involved with the BCC for quite some time, and this is the one black tie event that I actually am willing to show up for. Since I’m on the board, I want to look nice. Last year I made a dress, dubbed Judy’s Beautiful Dress, named for a student of mine who was undergoing treatment for cancer at the center.

This year, I want to make a dress again. I have some silk charmeuse that has been aging in my stash since last year:
It’s a gorgeous, Italian burnout charmeuse. It has an ivory background with large peonies and flowers in shades of red, yellow and coral. It’s an absolute stunner, and I bought it (any guesses?) for the stunning price of $12/yard. As an aside, that same weekend I saw the exact same fabric on a dress form at Sposabella fabrics on West 40th. I had to check it out, so I dragged poor Sewing Diva Phyllis in with me and innocently asked how much. $40/yard, and the sales lady went on about how good a price that was! Yeah, right. I also bought several yards of peach colored 4 ply silk to coordinate with it when Kashi called me earlier this month.

So now the question is, what should I make? Here are some possibilities:
I like this pattern, Vogue 2801. It has good possibilities for using both fabrics, with the charmeuse as the top and the crepe as the skirt. I also like the neckline on it, and I can use Kenneth King’s CD Book, Birth of a Bustier to build the foundation and give myself a good challenge as well as a great fit.

I already own Vogue 2810, a two piece corset/skirt pattern. I’m not sure I really like it for this fabric, though. I don’t think the corset would showcase the floral charmeuse (big flowers, small pattern pieces). The more I think about it the less inclined I am to use it. I just don’t think it will work. I think I’ll just leave it in the stash for future use.

Vogue 2890 is pretty, but it calls for 60 inch wide fabric, so I’m not sure it will work very well. Plus, the rosettes are a little much with the peony fabric. And if you watch Project Runway this season, you’ll understand my aversion to too much wickety-wack trim. This is tasteful, but it’s still a little more than I am comfortable with.

Marfy 9541 is a remote contender. Unfortunately, I have only made one Marfy pattern so far. It was a skirt. It went togther just fine, but I’m leery about how their patterns are to work with. this one is not too complex, which is part of its appeal. But I can’t tell much about it from the drawing. I really wish they would put technical line drawings in their catalogues, not just these fantasy figure drawings.

Well, I do have some time before I need to make up my mind. JoAnn is having a sale this weekend on Vogue patterns, so I may just pick up a few at that and see if any thing strikes my fancy. I’ll report back, and I’m always open to suggestions.

Until then, happy sewing!

Butterick Early Fall

Oh yay, Butterick put their patterns up. You know, they’re usually not that inspiring to me, but I liked a bunch this season. Of course, they have their version of the ubiquitous “Duro Dress”. Yes, this is going to be next year’s poncho. Wear it quick, then put it away for 10 years and pull it out again when you can call it vintage. On the other hand, just toss the ponchos. They won’t be back for another generation, thank the heavens!

So here’s their version of The Dress, 4849:

There are a couple of things I like about this dress, especially in comparison to some other versions out there. I like the fact that the skirt is not as gathered, so you run less risk of getting the “when are you due” reaction from people on the street. I also like the closer sleeves on version C. That takes it out of the realm of the “that’s so 2006”, especially if you make it using a fabulous dark crepe or jersey. The neckline and waistbands would also provide a good foundation for some cool embellishments (like the ones in Phyllis’ blog, Obsessed with Embellishment

I love this skirt, 4859:
. This has amazing and fun options for contrasts. For evening, I would make this out of a heavy silk crepe and use a cool contrast in a funky silk print. Another evening option is a black stretch velvet with an animal print for contrast. For day, I would use wool crepe in contrasting colors. Another cool thing to do with this is to make View B with piped seams, or even better, make it with slotted seams and contrast bias tape. Black wool crepe with hot pink slotted seams? How YSL is that??? Oh yes, this pattern will be mine.

Jacket 4863 has some interesting possibilities. I’d skip the gathered shoulders if you have wide shoulders (I do) or lived through this look in the 80s (I did). But View A is kind of cool if you can find fabulous buttons (try M&J Trims in New York). Avoid the blue/red combination that they show though – you run the risk of looking like an extra from Pirates of the Caribbean. It would be nice in a beautiful tweed with coordinating solid color wool trim, and would be at home in an office with a pegged skirt, as well as thrown over jeans for a casual dinner look.


4870 is a very good wardrobe pattern. This is the kind of thing that would look good on a woman of a certain age, without looking too matronly, as long as you get the fit and fabric right. I know, you’re thinking, “well, that’s the trick, isn’t it?” Yup, it is. The bones on this pattern are good, There are a lot of fitting possibilities. The jacket hides the upper arms, the top seems to hit in a good place. The pants look sharp, and if you are a little adventurous (it’s not that hard), you can release the darts in the back and make the facing from elastic, to give a little more ease. This is the kind of outfit that women I know would kill to find for weddings and other events they have to attend. I have a red 4-ply silk crepe that would look great as the dress, and a matching rose-print crepe georgette that would be a fantastic jacket. Plus, you can pair the jacket and top with skinny pants for a more casual dinner look.

4875 is a wardrobe of coats. For my money, I prefer the Vogue version (check two posts back). This one is a good basic design. The collar could be tricky, especially on more petite figures. If you’re tall, or have the gumption to carry it off, then please, DON’T make this coat in fleece! I don’t care that it says you can. Don’t. Sorry, time for the soapbox. I have seen more decent coat patterns ruined by people using fleece for them. It doesn’t look rich; it doesn’t look good; it just ends up looking sloppy. Listen to me, I’m serious. A coat of this type is meant to be made from a fabric that has body and doesn’t stretch. Wool melton is not much more expensive. Invest your time in something that you will have for years. Put the fleece down. Good. Now, back slowly away from the fleece and turn towards the wools. Good. Pick up that lovely wool coating. Good! Now, doesn’t that feel better? You’ll look better too, and you’ll wear it for years and years.

Okay, it’s only a short side trip to snarky, so let’s have some fun. First, let me say about this pattern:
I owned a RTW jacket (part of a suit) that looked just like this when I first got out of college. It was blue pinstripe, and I thought I was all that and a big bag of chips when I wore it. I got my first job offer while wearing that suit! My kids recently dug out an old photo album and saw a picture of me in that suit. My first reaction was that I looked like a waiter at some yuppie restaurant. Well, that look is back! But you won’t see me in it. Once was good, sorta. And the peplum version? Can you say Princess Diana, circa 1986? At least it doesn’t have the 1 inch shoulder pads


“Napoleon, Napoleon, wherefore art thou, Napoleon?”


“Here I am, my petite choux foie gras!”

“Oh, Napoleon! Is that a hand in your vest or are you just happy to see me?”

I want to know where I can get the hat.

Ah, I could go on, but I think I’ll stop there, with sincerest apologies to my French readers (I’m a Francophile, really).
Until next time, a bientot, and happy sewing!

McCalls and Kwik Sew Fall Patterns

I was hoping to do Butterick and McCalls together, but Butterick hasn’t posted their early fall patterns yet. Kwik Sew has posted their new patterns, so I’ll combine them with McCall. Let’s start with Kwik Sew. I’ll tell you this right off, I find Kwik Sew’s patterns to be good basics, but their fashion drawings leave something to be desired. On the plus side, they are accurate, if not inspired. Read on!:

Let’s start with

outerwear. Kwik Sew is known for their patterns for knits and activewear. This season they published a raglan sleeved jacket and a similarly styled vest. These are both really good looking basic patterns. I really like the contrast insets in the vest and the contrast back of the jacket. From the picture, it looks like the jacket back extends slightly forward of a standard side seam. Both of those are very slimming effects. I would do them up in a lightweight fleece (say, Polartec 100 or lighter) in a bright color and use black as the contrast. I’d also match the zipper color to the contrast for a designer touch.

I’m seeing a lot of blouses like 3436 in the pattern catalogues for fall. It’s nice that they are a little dressier. For a great transitional piece, I would make the long sleeve version in an ivory or black cotton eyelet. View B, the short sleeved version, is very of-the-moment. But here’s a caution. That sleeve length can be deadly if you have either a large bust or if your arms are not model-thin. I’d recommend lengthening the sleeve to just above the elbow. That will cover multitudes of, well, you know. If you’re adventurous, push the envelope and make it from a jersey rather than the recommended wovens.

3451 is the Kwik Sew version of the ubiquitous bubble skirt. I’m going to be frank. I don’t like these skirts. That’s my personal taste, and it’s influenced by the hideous bubble skirts worn by Angela on the current season of Project Runway. The other thing about bubble skirts is that, if you don’t have perfect legs, avoid them like they were plutonium. Now that I’ve said all that, let me point out that, if you do want to make a bubble skirt, this is a cute pattern. I really like the fact that this pattern has a twisted bubble as well as the straight version. Try making this dressy by using a really high-quality silk shantung (Thai Silks and Metro Textiles both have good ones), or a silk gazar as the top layer of the bubble.

In the activewear category, this pattern, 3443:
tops my list of must-buys for this season. I love, love, love the waistband on view A. It’s just a great look. I’d make this pant in versions for the gym, and maybe in a silk or lightweight rayon jersey as a pajama bottom (hello, Kashi?). I am less thrilled about the waistband on view B, but I love the length for Cy-Yo (it’s a spin/yoga class I take). Yes, this pattern is going in my basket next time I’m out.

Okay, snark alert. For some reason this pattern, 3444

reminds me very much of Frank Gorshin as the Riddler on the 1960s TV series “Batman”:

Maybe it’s the green trim on the leotard. I don’t know. This may be the latest style for the dancing crowd. If so, then go for it. But I would be careful about the color combinations, or it can look like a Harlequin costume from a third rate Commedia dell’Arte troupe.

McCalls Patterns
I wasn’t really thrilled with the new patterns on the McCall’s website. They seem like they are rehashed versions from the Vogue catalogue. There were a few that I liked though.

Jacket 5176 is a basic princess jacket, but I like the view D with the ribbon trim. It will make a nice platform for some of the great beaded trims I’ve bought from Heritage Trading. View A is nice too, especially if you try using Georgene’s idea on The Sewing Divas and make the flounces from tulle.

5184 is a basic skirt pattern with hemline flounce variations. I made one very like it three seasons ago when Simplicity did this same type of pattern. It’s a great wardrobe builder. Take a pass on the cutesy appliques, though. They scream “happy hands at home”. Instead, I’d make this in a beautiful lightweight crepe, pair it with a fitted jacket and wear it to the office and then out to dinner.

This pattern, 5206:

Is titled “Snow Queen”. Hmmmm….. I don’t know. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentson,

“I know Jadis, Queen of Narnia, and you, Ma’am, are no Jadis, Queen of Narnia!”

That’s all for now. Happy sewing!

How do you Rate?

I’ve been thinking about this for the last few weeks. There are some websites to which I subscribe, not all sewing related, that in your profile, ask you to rate your skills. I find this to be an interesting social experiment. Let’s limit the discussion to sewing for right now. How do you rate your skills? I don’t mean, do you think you are beginner/intermediate/advanced. I mean, how do you decide what level you’re at? Me? I would probably say I’m advanced in many areas. But there’s the rub. I’m not advanced in all areas. I can’t draft a basic sloper if my life depended on it. So am I advanced? No, not there. But boy, can I take anyone’s pattern and make a gorgeous garment from it? You bet! Can I drape a beautiful, but simple top and skirt? Absolutely. Can I do a phenomenal job fitting pants to any body? Mmmmm, maybe not.

So I decided, on one of them, to remove my self-rating. Why? I was rating myself alongside folks whose skills I can only dream of. Some people who rated themselves as less skilled than I are (IMHO) better than me at many things. And there were folks who rated themselves as the same skill level as me or higher, but I wouldn’t let my dog sleep on their work. Snarky? Maybe. But it’s true and I ain’t naming any names so don’t take offense; there is none to be had.

Look, we’re all good at certain things. I’m a really good technical teacher. I can get a couch to sew a straight seam and produce a ripple free garment. Given enough time, I can personally produce a couture garment worthy of Paris or Milan. But I can’t do everything, and so I don’t really want to give a blanket statement that says, “I’m xxx level!” Heck, look at medicine – you’ll find specialists, and generalists. They don’t claim to be experts at everything. Why should you?

Happy sewing, however you rate yourself!

Vacations with Friends – Running with Scissors?

I just read a great article in today’s Wall Street Journal. I love the Journal. It’s so right wing, and it annoys the bejeepers out of my husband that I gleefully pore over it every morning while he’s faithfully reading the Boston Globe (about as left wing as you can get). It keeps our marriage interesting after 21 years, ya know?

Be that as it may, Friday is my favorite day to read the Journal cover to cover. In addition to all the great business reporting and the uber-conservative opinions in the Op-Ed pages, it has the Weekend Journal section. And today’s Weekend Journal cover story was about the perils of taking vacations with friends. I just got back from a vacation to St. Croix with my family and my best friend and her family. You can read about it in the post called “Fabric Shopping on Vacation” at The Sewing Divas Blog. We had a wonderful time. Barb and her family travel so well with us. We’ve been traveling together since the 80s, when we all first learned to SCUBA dive, and long before we ever had kids, so we have it mostly down to a science. I’d like to share with you some tips that make our lives easier, in the hopes that it will help you out.

Get Separate Rooms/Suites/Houses
This is the one cardinal rule that I never violate. I love my friends, but I need my space and they need theirs. Once I violated that rule. Actually, I didn’t violate it so much as the place we were staying violated it for us. This was with a different couple. To protect my friendship with them, I’ll just call them “Family X”. The place we were staying was a little Caribbean spot that was, um, lackadaisical about having rooms ready when they said they would. Family X’s room wasn’t ready for the first two days. The place we were staying in had two bedrooms, so we crammed 8 of us into what became a very claustrophobic space. By the end of the second day, I wished I had never invited Family X to vacation with us, and I was ready to commit suicide by Bahama Mamas.

Travel on Different Airplanes, if possible
Or at least make sure you’re not sitting right next to each other. This is not always a hard and fast rule on the way to vacation, but it is rock solid on the way home. At that point, I want space from my own family; I definitely need it from someone else’s.

Get Separate Cars
Another must. The fastest way to ruin a vacation is to get into transportation conflicts. Back to the trip we took with Family X. They didn’t reserve a car. We did. We reserved a compact. Mrs. X was shocked that I was not planning to get a car large enough for 8 and shuttle her wherever she wanted to go. My husband and I stood firm, and after one day of having to rely on the bus services and taxi cabs with toddlers in tow, Family X decided that enough was enough and they got a car. The vacation went uphill from there. The moral of the story is that you want to be able to go where you want, when you want. Different people have different goals in mind for their vacations. Having one car per family unit makes it possible to achieve those goals and keep harmony.

Have a “Common Wallet”
At the beginning of a vacation, have each family put a predetermined sum into a community wallet. For example’s sake, let’s just say $250/family – you can put in more or less, depending on the circumstances. This money will be used to cover any expenses that occur while both families are together. This prevents any “they only paid A, while they ate B” bickering and bad feelings. I’ve found that this works marvelously.

Plan One Co-Family Activity
You may end up doing more, but plan one, and let the rest fall as they may. On our vacation to St. Croix, we all spent the better part of Sunday afternoon and evening at the west end of the island. It was heaven. We parked right near the West Side Grille, which is right on the beach. We spent the afternoon on the beach in front of the restaurant (which is an open air casual place). We all snorkeled, we had snacks together, we swam with a really nice, very drunk off-duty policeman and his horse, and we had dinner and drinks together. It was everything a day at the beach should be, and we have wonderful memories and pictures that we will share for years to come.

Plan One Day of Separate Activity
Like the co-family day above, you may end up doing more days apart, but plan for at least one. In the case of our vacation in St. Croix, Barb and her family wanted to go snorkeling at Buck Island National Park. We had done that on an previous trip, so they went to Buck Island and we went up into the rain forest and fed beer to the pigs. It’s a big tourist draw, don’t laugh. Okay, you can laugh. Everyone had a great day, and everyone felt they got to do what they wanted.

Try to Get Zen
You’re on vacation. Things are going to happen. Things may go wrong. You might get annoyed at one another, especially after a long, hot, crowded plane flight. Try to keep it light, and try to breathe deep. Multi family vacations can be a bad experience, or they can be a blast. It depends on your outlook. Try to enjoy yourself, and as the Wall Street Journal advises, set your expectations low. You’ll probably exceed them, and everyone will have a great time.

Now that the heat in the Boston area has broken somewhat, I’ll be getting back to the sewing room and will blog about that more. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

Name That Tune!

I’m going on vacation, and this is one song that always brings a smile to my face. 10 points if you guess the source, the original oevre from whence it came, and the actor who voiced the Paranold Android:

So long and thanks for all the fish
So sad that it should come to this
We tried to warn you all these years.

You may not share our intellect
Which might explain your disrespect
For all the natural wonders that grow (around you)
So long so long and thanks for all the fish

The world’s about to be destroyed
There’s no point getting all annoyed
Lie back and let the world dissolve (around you)

Despite those nets and tuna fleets
We thought most of you were sweet
Especially tiny tots and your pregnant women

So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long and thanks for all the fish

If I had just one last wish
I would like a tasty fish
If we could just change one thing
We would all have learnt to sing

Come one and all
Man and mammal
Side by side in life’s great gene pool

(instrumental interlude)

So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long and thanks for all the fish

Happy humming!

Hey! I are a Celebrity!

Okay, I’m really about 6 degrees lower on the celebrity scale than, say Kathy Griffin. But I got my own little video on the Threads Magazine Website!

The shoot itself was a blast. Gary, the videographer from Taunton Press, is a consummate professional. It was a humid day in the Boston area. We have had a ton of rain this spring, and that day was no exception. Because it hasn’t been hot, we hadn’t brought up the A/Cs yet, so we had to work in my sewing “studio” (an 8 foot by 10 foot room) with no relief from the humidity. Thankfully, Gary is a wiz, and I can talk a blue streak with no prompting. I had to actually slow down my speaking – ask any of The Sewing Divas – I usually talk fast. It’s that whole born-in-New-England thing, I’m sure. We were pretty much improvising everything. I had all the tools, and I actually do know how to use them, and I’ve even taught other folks how to use them before, so I was able to give an extemporaneous lesson. But boy, do I ever admire folks like newscasters who can rattle off a report with few notes and no TelePrompTers!

I haven’t seen the article in Threads yet. My subscription will probably come in the next day or so. But it’s kind of fun to see myself on screen, even if I only see how much weight I have to lose. And all those years of operatic training must be paying off. I don’t hear too much of a Bahstin accent, even though I grew up in Jamaica Plain!

Happy Pressing
Ann

Elastic Hanger Loops

Here’s a tip for those who are making a garment that may need support on the hanger. I like hangar loops, but when I make them from ribbon or twill tape, they often fall off the padded hangers in my closet, making them moot. As an alternative to ribbon/tape, use a length of clear elastic for your hangar loop. The important thing is to cut it about 3 inches shorter than you would normally (I’m assuming you’re making a dress here). This will make the elastic bear more of the weight of the garment. The clear elastic is also slightly sticky, so it won’t slide off your hangers. This is a marvelous solution for keeping the shape of knit or crepe garments.

Happy Sewing!

And Now, for Something Completely Different

A little musical humor at us singers’ expense:

A band was discussing a few tunes before a gig. The bass player said, “I got it. Let’s start off in Bb and after three measures go to E. In the middle of the verse we’ll jump to the bridge, but we’ll do it twice. Then let’s mix between 4/4 and 17/8, go around a ii-V cycle of tritones, jump back to the bridge and then do the second half of the verse, heading towards the coda in 1.763/2 time and then let’s just stop.”

All the guys in the band shook their heads in agreement and then the singer, in total panic, screamed “What on earth do you want me to do?!!!!!!!”

The bass player just looked at her calmly and said:
“You? You just do what you did last night.”

Sample Gifts – a sewing odyssey

Sewing for others can alternately be a joy and fraught with terror. I received a call from a friend two weeks back. She’s a designer for a fashion house in California. The next week was Market Week in New York City. Market Week, for those who aren’t familiar, is the week when different fashion centers and showrooms display all their samples for the coming season. It’s a huge deal in the industry. Buyers come from all over and place their orders. It’s tense and exciting: the quickened pulse of the of the industry in a way.

So that weekend, I received a call from my designer friend. One of her sample makers was unable to do two dresses because of a conflict. Was there any way I could help her out? Of course! I love this lady, and I admire her deeply, and besides, I love to sew, and I really love to get paid to sew! I would only have time, however, to do one dress. No problem, she sent me the line drawings and the pattern, and she had actually cut the pattern pieces for me. All I had to do (yeah, right!) was sew up the dress and make it look spectacular. No pressure right? The problem with sewing for others is that I cast a much more jaundiced eye on the piece than I ever do for my own things. I know, Kenneth King, my hero, says, “I don’t try for perfection, I strive for the illusion of perfection.” He also has a pithy saying to the effect that, if they are examining your clothing closer than three feet away, you have every right to slap them!

But when it’s a piece that is professional, for a friend in need, it’s a different story. Buyers are not only going to be closer than 3 feet, you’re definitely not allowed to slap them, regardless of how much they may deserve it. They’re kind of like Brothers-in-law that way. I started in on the dress, and I had a similar, but not exact, style to kind of emulate the finishing and get the feel for the placement of boning and lining. Of course, I had a lot of questions for my friend, and I called her up. I’ve done tons and tons of sewing for myself and for private clients. But I am not an industrial seamstress, and I wanted to check a few things before I started.

“So, just to make sure, are the seam allowances 5/8 of an inch?” That’s the standard for home sewing patterns BTW.
(long pause)
“Noooo. In industry, the seams are 1/2 inch, and facings are 1/4 inch.”

This was said in a thoughtful manner, not in any way to make me feel stupid. It didn’t help. I felt pretty damned stupid anyway. As an aside, why do pattern companies use a different standard than the garment industry? It seems like the industry has some good ideas – there’s less wasted fabric, and you don’t need to trim. Whazzup? Most homesewers I know aren’t dumb. They could figure out different seam allowances. Grrrrr…..

So I sewed up the dress. It went together beautifully. But there was the hem. It was a knife-edged narrow hem. No big deal. I made it up, But when I looked at it the next day, the thing looked crooked! So I took out my measuring tape. Nope, the measurements from all angles showed that the hem was exactly the same length all around the skirt. What the…? I let it hang on the mannequin overnight to see if it stretched out any and would need re-hemming. The next morning, nothing had changed. It was still measuring all the right lengths from the waist, but the durned thing looked wonky! My DH came in, looked at it and said, “Looks fine to me.” So I packed it up, sent it off, and let my friend know she would have the dress first thing Monday morning. She was happy with it, and I believe the collection was a success.

The moral of the story is, project fatigue can make you crazy. I’d only had the dress for 4 days, but by the end, I couldn’t see it for itself. All I could concentrate on were perceived faults that weren’t actually there. When that happens, get someone else, even someone who doesn’t know about sewing, to take a look at it. The second set of eyes can give you an unbiased opinion. DH is astute enough after 21 years of marriage to notice if a hem is off. He didn’t see it, so I figured I’d just go with it. And it worked!

Happy sewing!
Ann