Archive | December, 2011

Upcycling Inspiration: Gary Harvey

30 Dec

Like everyone else, I’ve been watching low-brow fabrics emerging into upmarket fashions for a little while, like the old flannel grunge shirt fabric finding its way into chic dresses. I’ve been wondering myself about taking cloth from unexpected sources and sewing into a conventional shape of a completely different form, but my thoughts have run along more mundane lines, like canvas and burlap.

Now Gary Harvey transforms blue jeans, tee shirts, laundry bags, trench coats, and army jackets  into feminine ballgown styles, taking it to a very elegant extreme.

More can be seen here, and they’re really worth looking at carefully:

Challenge 2: Blazerliness

28 Dec

Another goal I would like to accomplish during the course of this project is that I would like to make a suit jacket that I enjoy wearing.

Blazers have always been tricky for me: they make my shoulders look huge, my torso boxy, and the entire look is stiff and mannish. I occasionally find blazers at thrift shops, but the fit is usually “almost” at best, so I have resigned myself to the idea that blazers that fit and look good are far beyond my budget.

Apparently, it’s been a long-held intention of mine to remedy this by sewing my own blazer, customizing the fit where needed, because in my pattern collection I have quite a few patterns for suits and jackets, things that I clearly thought, at one time or another, might be good possibilities. And looking at them anew, I think I may just have something here.


Come into my virtual dressing room…

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Sewing from books

27 Dec

Work on my homemade handbag continues rather laboriously.

I’m going slowly, because I want this one to end up really nice: something I can carry every day and appreciate, without being distracted by crooked seams or other details I wish, later, that I had done better.

Also, I’m going slowly, because I’m following a pattern from the Burda Style Sewing Handbook.

I may very well be the only person not head-over-heels in love with this book. Then again, I may also be the only one who’s actually using it to sew a project.

It seems disorganized, to me. I suspect that the publishing house saw it as so “on trend” and with such a huge internet following that they rushed the book to print before it could be carefully edited. I’m finding errors or shortcomings at almost every step of the way. For example, the yardage requirement for the project I selected was waaaay off. I thought  it sounded weird, when I read it (2 1/4 yards of main fabric, with 2 1/2 yards lining fabric?) but I’m used to trusting pattern directions, and so I trusted…and ended up with far too much lining. It’s okay, this time: I can always use extra lining fabric for something else. But still…editor, please.

The most annoying thing, however, is inconsistency between the main “inspiration” project and its multiple variations. The way the book is laid out there is one main project with a pattern for it, and then multiple variations on each pattern, with directions for each, adapted from the original paper pattern. This is great, for general inspiration. But I’m following one of the variations, and it’s never clear whether the next direction or material or step comes from the original, or from the secondary directions. For example, there’s a “materials list” for each variation. But it’s not complete: you will still need things from the “materials list” on the main pattern…but not all of those materials, but the book won’t tell you which they’ve superseded, and which to rely on, you’ll just have to figure it out along the way.

Same with the directions: some steps you will find under the variation, and sometimes it will refer you back to the original, but nowhere along the way did anyone think of doing that by numbers, the way most knitting patterns would, for example. “Follow steps 1-3 on pages xxx-yyy”. So it requires constant scanning of both sets of directions, flipping back and forth to make sure you’re not missing or overlapping anything.

Same with the pattern layouts themselves, in fact. I’m used to clearly marked patterns from Butterick, Vogue, McCalls, Simplicity, etc. They tell you right on the pattern paper “Cut 2, cut 2 of lining, cut 1 of interfacing.”  Here, to know if a pattern piece applies to your main material, your lining, or your interfacing (or none at all, for your particular version) you have to cross your fingers and just hope to find it, somewhere. (On the bag I’m making, the lining is cut from the same pattern piece as the body, but only to a specific line, which is one of three lines on the pattern piece, none of which are labeled, nor is it described in the cutting directions for the version I am making, but rather under the directions for a bag that I am not making. I found this out only after staring long and hard at a diagram that didn’t look anything like my work in progress, even though I thought I’d been following along just fine.)

And then, as if that is not all confusing enough, I’m reading along on the main pattern (the bag I am not making, just to cover all bases) and I find an additional set of directions that says, essentially, “Oh, yeah, for the bag shown in the photos, we did something entirely different, so if you want to make yours look like the photo, here’s another step, requiring another material, also not included on any of our multiple materials lists that you’ve been using.” Nothing like cruising along, sewing, and find oneself completely stalled and unable to proceed, because whoops, here’s a surprise. So…the project proceeds in fits and starts, stalling each time I discover I need some other thing, or waiting on hold while I stop and try to figure out what I’d like to do, next.

I’m going to try another pattern from this book once this bag is finished (the skirt, probably…and using just the basic pattern, creating my own variation) before I give up entirely…but for now I say use this book as design inspiration and eye candy, but sew with caution. And if you’re weighing this against other pattern choices for some specific garment, keep in mind most commercial patterns come with multiple variations, as well, and are just as easily adjusted as any in this book. Plus, you’ll probably get an accurate materials and notions list along with it, as well as directions that proceed in a numerical order directly from the first step to the last.

Onward, handbag!

The strike of temptation

23 Dec

I didn’t mean to shop…really. I was running errands: mailing letters, dropping off boots at the cobbler to be re-heeled (see? very thrifty!).
But that fashion retailer–it was standing in my way, with all it’s big “50% off!” signs screaming at me.  So I went inside.  And surprise, I fell promptly in love. Fortunately, the item I wanted most was not available in my size…oh, the salvation!  So perhaps I got off easy, this time.

It was this plaid wool cape jacket, at right.  Really, I have a perfectly serviceable winter coat and I don’t need another jacket, even though none of mine swish and swirl at the elbows just like this one does. It’s very, very “Peggy” from Mad Men. [Fourth season, of course, I should note: when Peggy is at her self-actualized, saucy best.] At any rate, the more I looked, the more I realized that “Yes, I could make this, and perhaps I could make it better!”  Well, not objectively better, perhaps…the workmanship was fine enough. But perhaps, one I make might be a better garment, for me. And in truth, this fabric, while fun (yellow and turquoise!) would be difficult to coordinate with other pieces from my closet. To wear it, I’d have to dress for the jacket.  And even at 50% off the “already low sale prices”, I could still buy a nice fabric for the same cost…it would take, perhaps, 3 yards, at most? Plus lining fabric and buttons…it would be worth  a little more, perhaps, to have a cape jacket with a sash belt that also could be worn with most anything else I wear.

So I took photos in the dressing room, made notes of seams and lengths and designs, and now I will add a “Cape Jacket” to the ever-growing list of things I would like to make for myself, as part of this project.

I think the key to this one is that unlike many cape patterns I see, here the “cape” part is only the sleeves, which are built on a vest-like bodice, so the jacket fits close to the body at the centers, rather than wrapping you entirely in a shapeless cape form. It’s a double-breasted vest, with both front and back broken by a vertical seam, into which the bat-wing semi-circular cape part is added.  I can do that!

I am going to have to be careful, however, or my wish-list of sewing projects is going to quickly outgrow all of the time I have to devote to this hobby.

Bag Challenge: the Strategy

22 Dec

I decided to try corduroy, for the fabric of my handbag. That makes it very wintery, and I’ll want to do another one by springtime, but that’s fine with me–I’m feeling rather wintery right now.

My local fabric source did not have much in the way of wide wale corduroy.  No buttered-toffee color, no caramel, no gold, not even a mustard.

There was some rust-colored fine wale, however, a color I can enjoy.  For my pattern, I decided to try out one of the bag variations in the Burda Style Sewing Handbook. I bought this when it first came out, but I haven’t tried making anything from it, yet. I’m not used to the make-your-own-pattern Burda experience, so I’ll let you know how that goes.
This is how my concept looks, right now:I’ll post more when I’ve got more!

Smart Clothes for Women Who Want to Make Smart Clothes for Themselves

22 Dec

Old sewing manuals are fascinating to me. People have been sewing clothes forever, and writing about the process for just as long, and I’ve always loved the way sitting at my sewing machine makes me feel connected to my mother, aunts, grandmother, great-aunts, and all the generations of women who have gone before, making clothes for themselves all the way. Through vintage sewing guides, I can peer back and see exactly how things worked out, back then.

And often I find that very little has changed. One of my favorites is The New Butterick Dressmaker, published in 1927. As I read the introduction, written by Jacques Worth, of Paris’s “House of Worth”, I am struck by how accurate it is to me, 85 years later, embarking on my “make all my own clothing” wardrobe project.

It is, as suits its time, both patronizing and stuffy. But it’s also charming in how many similarities there are from one generation to the next of the work (and industry’s view) of “women who make clothes”. I’ll excerpt the best parts for you, here:

I have been asked to write out of my experience in making smart clothes for women something that would be helpful and illuminating to women who want to make smart clothes for themselves.  The world is always seeking a formula–for happiness, for making gold from base metals, for getting thin on sweets and cream sauces, for youth, for chic.  Here, at last, is something tangible, for one can at least lay down certain rules by which chic may be attained.

There was a time when interest in clothes was supposed to be the sign of a silly woman. To-day it is the woman of supreme intelligence who is well dressed. There are as many lines of character in your clothes as in the palm of your left hand. It takes intelligence to study and keep yourself so well informed that you can choose the superlatively good things that you need each season. It takes character to buy nothing else, to forego charming but unnecessary, unsuitable and inappropriate things. It takes energy an foresight to keep your clothes neat, fresh, and orderly…American women are making a study of their homes and are learning to cultivate their gardens…the time will come when the cultivation of your appearance and decorative qualities will be considered an unescapable part of your business and social obligations.

This book will be read only by women who make clothes, and since making clothes is half of my business–the other half is designing them–I can give you the formula for success. The smart style. The new material in an unimpeachable quality. The chic color. Perfect workmanship.

The choice of style…depends on your own capacity for study, observation, and a perfect understanding of your personal needs, both physical and social…The new material is as important as the new style. A shoddy material makes a shoddy costume. The wrong material–one that is too heavy or too flimsy, too soft or too stiff, one that won’t drape where drapery is required, one that won’t plait where plaits are needed, a material, in short, that will not give exactly the right expression to the particular style you are using–will ruin it utterly.

In choosing the chic color you must rely on your own study of the latest fashion news and your choice must depend on what is new, what is suitable, and what is becoming. Black, which is almost always smart in town, is never chic in the country…Color is as complicated a matter as style. It requires constant study, for it not only changes each season but you and your make-up and your physique are changing, too.

I put workmanship last, not because it is the least important, but because it follows logically the choice of style, material and color. Some one asked me once what made a French dress French. At the moment I had a frock over my arm. “This,” I said, and turned it inside out to show the beautiful, the exquisite workmanship that had woven together as if in one fabric the countless, intricate bits of material that make one of my frocks.

Most women who make their own clothes do not make it their sole profession. They have their homes, their children, their social life and their sports. Their clothes making, therefore, must be done as expeditiously as possible. One must eliminate mistakes, for they mean delay and extra work. For such women a book like the New Butterick Dressmaker is absolutely essential to good workmanship in making clothes. It should be within easy reach when you are working…Some of it you will never use. Whatever you need you can turn to as you work. ..It will give your clothes the chic air of clothes that are not only well but smartly made. Discard whatever dressmaking guide you have been using, for these books are not made for the ages but for the day of the current fashion. When fashions change, methods of dressmaking change with them and you must have the new methods. The only things that do not change are dead things.

Clothes are exceedingly vital and alive.

And while Mr. Worth’s manual should be, by his own instruction and in spite of its lovely diagrams, discarded today for the newest methods, I think he’s exactly right about many things, from desires to get thin on sweets and cream sauces, to my not-coincidentally ever-changing physique, to the frustration and delay mistakes cause, and particularly that clothes, as well as the arts involved in making them, are, indeed, “exceedingly vital and alive”.

Inspiration: Bergdorf Goodman

21 Dec

The window displays at Bergdorf Goodman are eye-catching year round, but at the holidays I find them a special treat. This season’s windows are no disappointment, with an emphasis on textures and lush materials. I’m a fan of the 1930’s style mannequins, in particular.

But the best part of the experience for me, today, was the synchronicity of this fabulously dressed young woman in a sheepskin vest, stepping up to the “Carnival of the Animals” window to closely photograph the wool-covered sheep in the display. The texture of the cabling on the knit of her sleeve, compared to the knitting in the animals in the window, the repeated motifs on either side of the glass….that is more beautiful than a mere window display on its own!

(click to enlarge)

Life imitates art…imitates life.

First Challenge: a new bag

19 Dec

My handbag is wearing out. I’ve dragged it around with me every day for more than a year, and the handles are wearing thin, as is the spot where each handle attaches to the bag. I’m a bag-as-big-as-a-tote kind of girl–I need a bag big enough to live out of, and I only change out bags for special occasions.  So I need a good, go-to kind of a handbag, on the large side.

It occurs to me that I could just go buy a bag, and claim my little project hasn’t officially started yet…but what would be the fun in that? Sure, making my own handbag isn’t as easy as, say, an A-line skirt…but I have tons of A-line skirts, and this whole deal is about finding my real necessities, so a handbag actually seems an appropriate place to start.  Also, I realize my specific needs in a bag are probably just as easy to fulfill, hand-making it, as they would be, trying to find something ready-made (that I can still afford.)

What I require in a bag:

-Versatile for everyday wear

-Sturdy, but not heavy or stiff

-Easy-access pockets for essential at-the-ready items like phone and keys and subway pass

-Long enough handles to sling over my shoulder and leave my hands free, even while wearing my winter coat

-It has to have at least one smooth side, the side against my body. Zippers and details (even seams) often rub and wear on more delicate clothing, over time.

And on top of all this, I’d like it in some fun color, not a print, but not boring. Some small bit of color that goes with many of the colors frequently found in my general wardrobe palette.  I’m thinking maybe mustard, or gold, or a caramel-toffee kind of color.
While most bags I choose tend to be leather-look, I think a sturdy fabric will be fine for a home sewn purse, as long as it’s heavy enough to be sturdy, with just a bit of slouch, some relaxed shape without looking…too hand sewn. Maybe lightweight canvas, upholstery fabric, or a wide-waled corduroy.

I’m off to find the perfect bag…