Next Up – A Dress for a Singing Gig

Okay! It’s the fall, that means singing season is getting into full swing. I have two gigs coming up in as many weeks. One is at Tufts University’s Goddard Chapel. It’s just a half-hour recital at the noon hour, but what the heck. It’s a great chance to trot out some things, and it gives me the chance to work with the best accompanist in the Boston Area, Bill Merrill. Bill is also a great friend, and we have done work together in the past. Here’s a page with links to a recital we did together (with our dear friend Monique Argent, who is also a great musician). The week before that, I am going to be the soprano soloist for “Laudate Dominum” from Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes di Confessore – one of the most beautiful pieces in the choral repertoire. I am singing that for The International Catholic Stewardship Conference. It’s taking place in Boston this year and they asked little old me to sing for them. That’s kind of cool! I understand the presiding bishop at this shindig is going to be the number three guy at the Vatican. No pressure, right? Good thing the running joke about me isn’t “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s been 37 years since my last confession. Where would you like me to start?” Well, as my dear Daddy used to say, “He likes to hear from strangers.”

So of course, I need a new dress. Preferably one I can wear to both events. I have hit several of the recent pattern sales, and I decided to use this one, Butterick 4849. I’m going to do View C, the one with the closer fitting sleeves. It’s not as instantly dated as the “Duro” lookalikes, and I’ll be able to wear it for several seasons.

I’ll make it with a lovely matte rayon jersey I bought from my Darling Kashi at Metro Textiles in New York. I have three trims that I got from Heritage Trading on Ebay that will work. I’m going to use the middle one. The background matches the color of the jersey perfectly. It looks lighter in the picture, but that’s an artifact from the flash. Oh, by the way, Phyllis, if you’re reading this, I’m going to need some expert help on how to make this work!

Well, I’ll keep you posted. I certainly have enough projects to keep me busy for a month of Sundays.
Happy Sewing!

I Was There!!!!

Do you watch Project Runway on Bravo? If you don’t you should. It’s a fabulous show. Probably the best reality TV around. 3 of an initial 16 designer wannabes sketch, drape and sew their way to the tents at Bryant Park. These folks seriously know what they are doing. I watched the show from Season 1 Episode 1, and I could qualify to be an officially licensed Project Runway Groupie. And Tim Gunn is – well, he is the ne plus ultre of fashion TV. Style network should ditch Cindy, Fiona and, dare I say it, Isaac? And they should make themselves into the All Tim Gunn All the Time network. Manolo suggested this first, I’m just seconding his nomination. Oh, and speaking of PRun commentary, if you haven’t already, get thee to Project RunGay. Fabulous commentary that is snarky, hilarious, and dead on! But I digress…

Anyways, this last episode was mostly set in Paris. And lo and behold, where were the designer wannabes staying whilst in the City of Light? The facionable Hotel Lutetia. I was there! Okay, it was 11 years ago, before most of the designer wannabes could drink (and probably while a few of them were still in diapers), but I was there! It is a fabulous hotel. We didn’t actually stay there. We were staying at a place closer to the Gare Austerlitz. But we went to the Brasserie for dinner to celebrate my husband’s birthday. If you check out the bonus videos on Bravo’s site, there’s one of the designers having breakfast in the Brasserie. We sat at the next table over from theirs.

Oh, the seafood was unbelievable! I remember the oysters. Having been raised on Chappaquidick and Wellfleet oysters, I thought I knew something about those little mollusks. No way. The French have it all over us when it comes to oysters. We got one of those big towers with about one and a half dozen oysters of different types. There were several varieties, delicate briny babies, medium meaty sweeties, and these amazing ones called Belons. Oh. My. God. I died and went to heaven. I can’t say if the Brasserie still specializes in seafood, but you must try Belons when you are in France next!

After dinner, we went up to the bar. Our waiter at the bar was just a sweetie. When he realized we were American, he asked if he could speak English with us so he could practice. Contrary to popular myth, Parisians are charming. Parisians are the Bostonians of Europe. Crusty, reserved, but they are genuine and quite warm once you break the ice with them. I found that with just about everyone I met in Paris. I think it helped that we both spoke passable French with a fair accent. As we arrived, a jazz trio was setting up. We struck up a conversation with the singer, and it turned out she was originally from California. She found out that we were swing dancers (I was still teaching at the time), and they played a bunch of songs for us. I was drinking Champagne (natch) and for his birthday my husband ordered a glass of Napoleon cognac – when in France, right? We danced, we chatted with folks, we had a wonderful time, and decided to order a second round (it was DH’s birthday and our last night in Paris). When we asked for the check, the waiter brought it, and it was way too low. We asked him to fix it so we could pay for the second round, and he told us that the second round was on him. His words: “Because I prefere you.” Needless to say, we left him a very big tip.

Ah, Paris! Some day I hope to get back there. I’ll wait until after 2008 though.

Mmm, thanks for letting me indulge in some lovely memories. Bon Nuit!

The Cobbler's Curtains, I mean, Kids….

I finally got around to making new curtains for my spare bedroom. The spare bedroom is really the cutting room. There’s no bed in it anymore. These curtains have been a very long time coming. I made the last set when I was pregnant with my oldest. He’s 11 now, and I threw the last curtains together at the last minute – literally. It was the day before I went into labor, and I figured I had best make some curtains so the poor baby wouldn’t have sun in his eyes all afternoon. I was in such a rush I didn’t bother to line the curtains, and as you can see, sunlight was not kind to them over time. If you look from left to right, you’ll see a definite fade pattern. The left side was in direct sun much of the afternoon. The boys never noticed. They’re boys, you know? But after they both vacated the room to bunk beds in the adjoining bedroom, the decor from the nursery remained. And by now it has officially outlived its usefulness.

Well, I again don’t have a whole lot of time to make stuff. And honestly, I’m not big on sewing home dec. I do it, and I charge a lot of money for it, and I do a great job, but not for my own home. It’s that whole cobbler’s children thing. But this weekend was a pretty rainy one here in Boston, so I figured I would whip up some cafe curtains and line them this time so they will hopefully last a little longer. It’s not much, but it’s a little sewing while the kids have been getting ready for school. So here’s what I ended up with:

The fabric is a cotton pique from Building 19. One of my students, Jeanne, bought some, and I liked it well enough that I ran to the store and bought a couple of yards too. It’s lined (or in the case of the valance, backed) with unbleached muslin from my stash. The entire project took me less than two hours (thank you, industrial Juki!). It’s not couture, but at least it makes the room a little nicer. Until each of the boys wants his own room and I have to give up my cutting room.

Happy sewing!

Are They Nucking Futz???

Here’s a reason I’m glad I sew. I just read an article in the September, 2006 issue of Harper’s Bazaar titled “How Much is Too Much?” It’s a good read, if you like reading about insanity in the corps de la mode. Now, I have come face to face with the Balenciaga platform booties that are all the rage with the fashion cognoscienti. They look like the dog’s dinner to me, but if you have size 10s like mine, you don’t necessarily want to wear anything that makes them look that much bigger than they already are. But even if I didn’t think they were ugly as sin, would they be worth $1200? In my most spendthrift, Manolo Blahnik buying days, that number would have been tough to swallow (witness the fact that I never ponied up for the black lace stiletto boots back in 2001).

But that’s a drop in the bucket next to some numbers that are floating about. You like the Calvin Klein cashmere/mink coat?
(photo courtesy of
$29,500. You read correctly. $29,500. My godson is going to Eckerd College. That’s roughly a year’s tuition – for a coat!

How about a dinner outfit? This one from Balenciaga:

(Photo courtesy of
$101,000 and change. My mortgage isn’t much more than that. As my husband said, “What happens if you spill spaghetti sauce on it?” What happens, indeed? It wouldn’t be so insulting if it weren’t so instantly dated, not to mention butt ugly. The ugly comment is my opinion. The dated comment is fact.

The article talks all about the weak dollar, the increased fuel costs, the increased labor costs, the costliness of the fabric, and other lame excuses for these obscene prices. Whah, whah, whah (think of the sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher made). It still is just voodoo economics if you ask me.

So what would it cost me to make a mink/cashmere coat? I have a brown mink/cashmere fabric in my stash that I bought ages ago at the now defunct DiCarlo Fabrics in Boston. I think I paid the princely sum of $100 for the fabric. Add in another $50 for lining, interfacing and notions. And I’ll splurge on the buttons – let’s say I get really nice ones at M&J Trims in New York for $12 each, that’s $48. My time is worth about $150/hour, so 5 hours to make it, and I can still afford to send my kid to college! That’s why I sew.

The Balenciaga? If I were to make it… Never mind, it would never happen. But even the most expensive dress that I have ever made totalled less than $600 in fabric costs, and took about 10 hours to make. That’s a lot less than my mortgage.

The shoes? I don’t make shoes. But I can go to any number of places and find some vaguely comparable (but more flattering) style for 1/5th the price, or less.

I did like these boots by Christian Louboutin:

These I could see me wearing. They are $1,190 at Barney’s New York. As one woman said in the article, “The Louboutin wedge boots are a must. You’ll just have to bring your lunch to work every day for a month to afford them!” That’s $60 per day for lunch? Wow – that’s a lotta baloney, if you ask me.

Yes indeed, I’m very glad I sew!

Fun With Lining

I wrote a review for a skirt here at PatternReview. One of the things I did when constructing the skirt was to substitute a faced waistband with an attached lining for the “standard’ lining provided with the pattern. I decided to do this because I wanted to complement the slotted seams I used in the skirt. So rather than a lining that went all the way to the top of the waist, I created the facing and lined below it. This is really easy to do. In the case of this skirt, I used the top front piece of the garment pattern for the front facing, and I traced the top of the back pattern piece for the back facing, Then I grafted those onto the bottom of the lining pieces, adding seam allowances. There’s an even easier way to do this, which is to slash your lining pattern about 3″ from the top, add seam allowances and go!

But here’s the fun part. Don’t limit yourself to ho-hum lining fabrics. Banish that Bemberg! Hang the Hang Loose! If you are a stasher like I am, I’ll bet you have some fabrics in your collection that you look at and say, “Wow, I must have had a couple of cocktails in me when I bought that.” Not hideous, but not necessarily something you would want to flash to the outside world. Well my darlings, here’s your opportunity to use that fabric and let it bring a secret smile to your face. The world may not know that you are channeling Catwoman or similar, but it adds a luxurious touch (mmmmm, leopard print silk charmeuse slides so well over leggings or tights), and people will wonder at your enigmatic smile. Have fun with it! After all, isn’t that why we do this?

Happy sewing!

Narrowing the Choices

I hit the JoAnn Vogue Pattern sale two weekends ago, and among other things, I narrowed my choice for the Winchester Hospital Breast Care Center gig to these two dresses:

Vogue 2801 is a serious contender. I love the draping, and I think the overlay would be great in the charmeuse, with the crepe as the underlay.

I would probably end up bustling the train. We’re expecting about 700 people at the gala this year, and last year I was very grateful to have put a wrist loop on the train of my Flamenco dress. Face it, no one ever intends to step on your dress, but when you get a bunch of doctors cutting loose on the dance floor after a couple of cocktails, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Vogue 2774 is another strong contender. Thanks to SBanks for pointing that one out to me. I really like the almost Grecian lines of this fabric, and the drape could work in either of the fabrics. I’d have to mock it up on the dress form to see which I prefer – charmeuse as overlay or as the under piece.

The other thing I am on a quest for to make whichever of these gowns I choose is cotton tulle. I have Kashi at Metro Textiles looking for me. He had tons of it last year, but so far can’t find any. Anyone have a source? I’m very grateful for any info. I need it to make the bustier that will be the underpinning of the gown.

Happy Sewing!

What's up in Scandinavia?

Here’s a question for my readers. I checked my tracking software, and I have gotten tons of hits today from Finland and Sweden. When I checked the referral pages, they were all searching on the Maine Mutant Beast. Can someone tell me why? I’m really curious about this one. Is Scandinavia beset by a similar phenomenon? Or did the story of the beast, which experts now think is a Chow dog gone feral BTW, just make the news over there?

Thanks for letting me know!
Happy hunting.

They Want to Take Away My What????

I just took a break from working on Butterick 4859 (at left. It’s going to be fab, just wait and see), and I came downstairs to check my email. Now, I live in the Northeast. We can put up with a lot of stuff. Hell, we have the Maine Mutant Beast in our backyards for ages and I always thought it was my dog Hoover chasing a squirrel. We can put up with loads of crap from nature, neighbors, even government. But this has gone too far.

My husband sent me this story from ABC News. We all know about the foiled terrorist plot. Even though the skeptic in me says, “Wow, terrorists; election year, hmmmmm…”, I’m still grateful for the fact that someone is looking out for us, and trying to keep the ol’ snakes off the planes. And for those friendly skies, I’m willing to give up carrying my Arbonne RE9 skincare set, my Redken Mousse, and my Poland Spring water. I’ll even forego my duty free booze, if it keeps some bureaucrat happy and off my airborne case. But now they want my Cleavage Cupcakes!?!

My first thought was, how the hell are they going to know? Is the TSA going to hire a bunch of “feelers”? Can’t you just hear the conversation?
“Joe, there’s a plane full of beauty pageant contestants at Newark in Terminal B”
“You want me to put out the feelers, boss?”
“No Joe, I think we should take care of this one personally.”
“Alright boss, I’ll get my coat”

Okay, that was bad. I like Sewing Diva Phyllis‘ take on it, “falsie-wearing jihadists – that’s brilliant!”

Well, the friendly skies haven’t been friendly for a while, but I really would rather not get friendly in that way with folks at the airport. I think I’ll limit my traveling to within driving or Amtrak distance.

Happy, um… nevermind

Ta-tas darlings! (groan!)

Garments I Have Known and Loved

Here’s one that I was thinking about all yesterday and today. Garments that I made long ago that still give me great pleasure to look at, if not wear, today. I have several. They are garments that defy the philosophy: “If you haven’t worn it in two years, throw it out.” These are pieces that I made, in some cases, more than 10 years ago, and I may not have worn for 5 or more years (or since I had my second child, who is now 8). I can’t bring myself to throw them away. There is an emotional tug that I get when I look at them. Heck, two of them predate both of my children. Let me share them with you:

Butterick 4300 is a classic princess line dress. I think it’s out of print at this point. I made this dress from a beautiful lipstick red, 4-ply silk crepe for a Christmas concert I sang with Cantillare, a singing group in central Massachusetts. I love everything about this dress – it’s lined with china silk, so it’s heaven to wear. I love the lines of it, and the fact that I can cut it down for a dinner dress if I ever choose (not likely). I also was inspired by an article of Susan Khalje’s in Threads magazine to insert the zipper by hand using sequins and beads as a small embellishment on either side, as you see here:

This dress is an out of print Vogue Belleville Sassoon evening gown. I made this dress for a big party I threw for my husband’s birthday. The day before the party, I stopped nursing my then infant youngest son, and this dress was my “I’m FREE!!!!!” dress. The fabric is a fabulous silk by Gianni Versace that I bought at G Street while he was still alive. The buttons are gorgeous pearl and rhinestone fabulosities that I also bought at G Street for an arm and a leg. But boy are they worth it!

This jacket is a Claude Montana. I made coordinating high-waisted pants to go with it. The zipper on the pants broke back in 2000, and the truth is that after two kids, I don’t have a high enough bust or a small enough ribcage to pull off high waisted pants any more (these were right up to my third rib). So I tossed the pants, but I kept the jacket. This was from the times when Vogue would send you “Vogue Paris Original” labels with the pattern. I think I made this in 1991. I know my dad was still alive, so it was definitely before 1993. The fabric is a fabulous wool tweed that I bought at the late, lamented North End Fabrics in Boston’s Chinatown. I lined it with a soft silk/rayon brocade. It still hangs in my closet. Well, it hangs in my cedar closet, actually. I put it on the dress form today, and after admiring the asymmetric closure, all I could think was, “My god, I actually wore shoulder pads this big????”

Speaking of linebacker shoulders, this suit is another keeper. It’s a Vogue Karl Lagerfeld design. I made this suit when my eldest was a baby, so it’s almost eleven years old. There are several reasons I will keep this suit forever. One, it was featured in Threads Magazine’s inaugural “From Our Readers’ Closets” section. That was pretty cool! Second, it was the turning point in my sewing career where I decided that if it was worth making, it was worth investing the time to do it right, and this beast took a lo-o-o-ong time to make because of that. Hand padstitching, bias cut interfacings here, hair canvas there, steam and press, steam and press steam and press! I also wore this suit to close more big ($million plus) sales deals in my high tech career. My husband and I call this suit my million dollar suit for that reason. And I bought this fabric in Paris, in a little tissus shop right off Rue Faubourg Ste. Honore. I spoke only passable French, the vendeuse spoke no English, but the language of sewing is quite universal, and we managed to understand each other quite well.

The final dress is actually a two-piece outfit. It’s an old Vogue Issey Miyake design, made with I made this one before I had kids, so it’s at least 12 years old, probably 13. The top is a pretty straightforward, loose fitting shirt with dropped shoulders. I made it and the skirt from cotton broadcloth in a solid blue, with a gorgeous midweight Viyella paisley challis as the contrast. The amazing thing about the skirt is that it has (are you ready?) Eleven and one half yards of fabric in it! Check this picture out:

The skirt is an origami marvel. It’s folded upon itself quite intricately. A funny little anecdote about this dress is that when I took it to the dry cleaner the second time, Kim (dry cleaner) said to me, “Oh, I know this dress. My presser really knows this dress!” I’m not sure if that was positive or negative. I used to call this my Demo Dog Dress. Before my youngest was born, I was the assistant teacher at the Boston Center for Adult Education swing dance classes. Joni (the head teacher) used me to demo steps, and to teach classes when she wasn’t there. I called myself the Demo Dog. The third week of every term, we would do a big demo dance for the beginning students, and this was what I always wore, because when I’d do spins, the dress would be quite spectacular.

Yes, we all have ghosts in our closets. Enjoy yours, and happy sewing!

Life is Too Short to Buy Cheap Fabric

That’s my signature over on a sewing forum. It’s actually my philosophy, and I try to apply it in life as well. I’m a Diva. I admit it; I’m proud of it, and anyone who thinks that calling me a Diva is an insult just doesn’t get it. The fact is that my philosophy has nothing to do with snobbishness, and everything to do with wringing the most you can out of life. There’s a wonderful quote from the movie “Auntie Mame”, where Mame takes her secretary, Agnes Gooch, by the hand and tells her “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death. Live!!!!” That’s the way to approach fabric, life, and everything.

Sewing Diva MaryBeth inspired this post. She was talking about being frustrated with a batik of indeterminate age that she bought from a very reputable fabric vendor. She decided to give up on working with the fabric because it was causing her such grief. She also paid a lot of money for that fabric. It was expensive, but it wasn’t worth it. And therein lies the crux of this post.

When someone attacked me via email for my signature line, I told her, look, just because a fabric is expensive doesn’t mean it’s not cheap, and just because a fabric is cheap, doesn’t mean it’s inexpensive. I love a bargain on good fabric. The thrill of the hunt, you know.

Conversely, I have paid a lot of money for fabrics that were dreck. I’ll pick on one of the big nationals, who shall remain nameless, but they are the only one in the Boston area. They carry some velvets that they charge $24/yard for, and they’re crap, plain and simple. I have seen fabrics costing an arm and a leg that I wouldn’t let my worst enemy’s cat sleep on. Look at it this way. If you sew as a passion, regardless of whether it’s business or hobby, spend your money on the best you can. That doesn’t mean spend your life savings, but it does mean that you should get yourself educated about what makes a quality fabric, and find vendors that supply quality fabrics and patronize them. Oh, and the corollary to my philosophy? Life is too short to drink cheap wine. Speaking of which, dinner and a lovely glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc are calling my name.

Happy sewing!