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  1. I’ve got the Blogging blues…

    October 8, 2013 by rosie

    I feel like this blog is doomed! Part of the problem is that in order to post, I feel I need to have created something new to share, but I have had so many setbacks lately, I just haven’t had the chance to sew anything!

    Last time I posted, I was all revved up about winter patterns and 1960’s-inspired pinafores and a bit of a fabric splurge on winter woolens at the Fabric Store’s sale. Unfortunately, sinus surgery put a big fat ugly spanner in the works – two weeks bedridden, in totally unglamorous recovery without even so much as cutting out a pattern let alone making something. Even knitting was too hard (I’m not a very committed knitter – I’ve been on and off knitting this for over a year now).

    However, whilst convalescing, even though I couldn’t physically do much, I did manage to do a lot of thinking about clothes and pattern construction and sewing and fabric. I opened up a few of my books for inspiration – including Claire B. Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques; the V&A’s The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957 (that exhibition traveled to Bendigo back in the summer of 2008/09 – I went twice); and several of my Australian Home Journals. I love my AHJ’s, but the frustrating part is that, until the late 50’s/early 60-‘s, all the gorgeous free patterns are designed for ‘the average 36” bust figure’. I have come to the conclusion that this size is simply too big for me to try and adapt for my body type in a satisfactory way – the difference is just too much. As is my frustration. The only compromise I can see is to use the pattern pieces given as a guide to drafting a pattern from scratch in my bust size. However, there is one obvious impediment – I am not a trained pattern drafter.

    In pondering this whilst bedridden, I rediscovered Harriet Pepin’s Modern Pattern Design – my husband had given me a copy of this book for my birthday a few years back. In a nutshell, this is a textbook, written in 1942, for pattern drafting. The images within it are delightful, and, obviously, all examples and illustrations and designs are beautiful, (and often complicated) vintage concoctions.

     

    draped skirt


    glamour skirt bodic backs

    The text itself, and its tone, is also a reminder of a bygone era. Harriett makes no concessions, and she certainly doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to her (and her era’s ideas) of ‘good’ or ‘right’ design. Coming from today’s world, where we are encouraged to celebrate a diversity and range of body shapes, styles and opinions, Harriet’s world seems unforgiving:

    “Notice that side seam lines E-F-H should change to conform to changing contours caused by flesh deposits on the heavier, mature figure. If side seam on Mrs. Heavy were to be made vertical as it was for Mrs. Slim, it would fail to divide her silhouette vertically and would reveal her bad figure lines.”

    If the following illustration is anything to go by, it’s amazing what 70 odd years can do to body shape perception. Consider Harriet’s examples below. In a country with one of the world’s highest and fastest growing obesity rate, is this how we would describe “Mrs Plump” ?

    Mrs Slim to Mrs Heavy

    Aside from the historical skew, I’ve been meaning to try out Harriet’s drafting technique for a while. It seems a little more involved than Winnifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting, and as it’s ‘genuine vintage’, I guess I’m secretly hoping it will help me achieve a ‘genuine vintage’ look. Apart from the inconvenience of it all being in imperial measurements rather than metric, the one thing that has stopped me every time in the past is the apparent omission of any mention of ease in the bodice. Upon reading the chapter, it looks as though one is meant to take the literal body measurements and use them in the pattern draft without factoring in any ease at all. Surely that would make it impossible to get on the wearer, let alone make for a flattering and comfortable fit? Frustratingly, Harriet alludes to ease here and there in the chapter, but never explicitly states how much to add, or to which measurements. My first attempt at the bodice was pretty dismal – it’s evident I’m going to need a good chunk of time and space (and patience) to try and nut it out.

    Unfortunately, two weeks off work means a lot of catching up upon return, which, in turn, means no progress in the sewing front. The few things I have attempted lately have been disasters. It’s always so disappointing – you invest so much emotional hope and energy into the ‘vision’, and then there’s all the time spent cutting out the pattern, cutting out the fabric, sewing the pieces together, only to discover that, frankly, it looks terrible. The latest to this list was a shirt for my husband. In theory, it should have been fine – I’ve even used this pattern before on a shirt for him, with good results. But for some reason this time round, it’s just not working. It’s the cut of the shirt – it’s too daggy, too old man 1980’s baggy, and I’m not sure I can fix it. So bits of it are lying all over the house, mocking me. Do I spend the energy and try and finish it anyway and put it down to ‘experience’, or do I just move on? The worst of it is that I even used the ‘Classic Tailored Shirt’ tutorial from Craftsy. Don’t get me wrong, the tutorial is excellent, and Pam (the instructor) has such a relaxed and calming way of speaking and teaching. It’s just that, I was even more care careful than usual – trying to be precise in my pressing and turning and folding, and flat felling all the seams! So it’s a real shame that I’m just not convinced by the end product.

    And now that things have settled down a bit, the season is turning, and I’ve realised how fickle I am. We’ve had glimpses of sunshine, the days are getting longer, and daylight savings has just kicked in. All of a sudden I’m looking longingly at my summer cotton stash and thinking of 1950’s sundresses and Christmas party outfits and 50’s inspired shorts and shirts for the perfect picnic and bike ride scenario.

    Too bad we have to find a place to live and move house next month.


  2. Vogue 1338 and gourmet tracksuit fabric: flirting with the 1980’s

    July 27, 2013 by rosie

    Red Dress 001Illness has slowed me down in my turbo sewing frenzy, but I have managed to complete another project.

    A somewhat dangerous trip to The Fabric Store on Brunswick Street resulted in purchasing of more fabric (so much for stash reduction).  They were having a sale (it’s still on, with even more reductions now!), and so my husband wisely felt that I would require his supervision. He was right, and luckily he was able to balance my euphoria and enthusiasm with a more rational approach of forcing me to justify the potential purchase for each piece of fabric fondled.

    So much temptation!

    I ended up with a few really nice pieces of fabric. A great pink and grey houndstooth wool which I think might end up as Simplicity 2154 , some awesome silk to use as lining which picks up these colours, a remnant piece of tweedy wool (not sure what I’ll make from this yet) and a few other pieces as well.

    My Fabric purchases

    But I also purchased some  dark red pure wool fleece. It was so soft and cuddly and cozy, I just had to get it. It has a very slight stretch to it, and the lady at the store felt that it would work for Vogue 1338, even though it’s not as stretchy  and is much thicker than the fabric suggested on the pattern cover. By the time I got home, I realised that I was at risk of serious 1980’s channeling – batwing sleeves, wide belt and – shcok horror – an elasticized waist! And to top it all off –I was about to make it out of what is essentially very gourmet tracksuit fabric!!!!! Was this all a very big mistake?  All I would need to complete this 1980’shorror vision would be some geometric earrings and lashings of turquoise eyeshadow…

    Nevertheless, the allure of a comfy, fuzzy, cosy dress was too much. I haven’t really sewn with many knits or stretch fabrics, and I confess that I have a bit of a fear of them. But I’m so glad that I went ahead – I’m really happy with the result.

    reddressmontage

    These photos were taken early in the morning after I had debuted the dress at the office. Consequently the dress is a bit crumpled – I really should have given it a pressing. And apologies for the low-res images.

    The pattern packet says ‘easy’, and it really is! The hardest part was laying out the pattern pieces on the fabric  for cutting out– the front bodice piece is really wide, so trying to get all the pieces to fit on with the right grain/stretch direction is a challenge. You really do need to have wide fabric to get it out.

    I love the fact that the design means that there isn’t really any fitting requirements for the bodice- it’s loose and baggy, and there aren’t even any sleeves to set in – Brilliant! I will say though, that with all the folds in the front bodice, you do  have to sew through lots of layers of fabrics – probably about 6 at some points. With my thick fabric choice, this was the equivalent of an off-road 4WD adventure, but my trusty Bernina handled it well.

    As usual, there were a few modifications:

    • The usual tapering of sizes in the side seams,

    • adding 5cm to the skirt length (thank goodness I did!)

    • Omitting the elasticized arms. This was because my chosen fabric was simply too thick to cope with the gathering caused by elastic. These arms are VERY tight – there wasn’t enough give in the arms or the fabric for further bunching up. I simply hacked off the length where I wanted it, and hemmed the bottom.

    • I didn’t have any clear elastic on hand, so I just got a thick piece of white elastic and cut it to fit my waist. I centered it over the bodice/skirt seam allowances, and stitched it down on each side. Believe it or not, I’ve never sewn with elastic before, and I did a bit of a messy job – it looks fine on the outside, but there’s a reason I’m not showing you any photos of the inside!

    I have to say, this dress is very comfortable to wear, and I was warm and snuggly in it all day. And I felt very smug with my little secret that I was, essentially, wearing tracksuit dress to work!

     


  3. Stash Slasher: Simplicity 1913 “Think Pink!”

    July 16, 2013 by rosie

    You know those projects that look innocently painless on paper, but end up being far more trouble than they should? Simplicity 1913 was one of those for me.

    pink dress2(3)

    For something as basic as a princess line bodice and straight skirt, this dress occupied a lot more time and energy than I anticipated. This was mainly due to the fabric I chose, and some silly oversights and lack of preparation by me.

    I had some lolly-pink wool in the stash that I’d been saving for ages – I had envisaged a straight 1960’s frock in it when I purchased the fabric. When I saw Simplicity1913, I thought it was a match made in heaven. I decided to do things ‘properly’ and so I splurged on some leopard print silk (it was on sale) for the lining – such a decadent choice for a lining! I was convinced this was going to be a glamour frock.

    I deviated from the pattern’s original construction instructions a little. As well as lining the skirt (which the pattern doesn’t call for – I can’t believe that!) I also interlined the back of the skirt with silk organza (I need to find out where I can get this stuff at a cheaper price). I decided to do this as I had been re-reading Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing, and also another book on couture techniques, both of which extol the virtues of silk organza as a stabilizer. Given that this was a very loosely woven fabric, I felt the back of the skirt might sag, and could do with some extra reinforcement. I also reinforced the zipper with silk organza. I haven’t done either of these before, so I’ll be interested to see how the dress wears.

    This dress is designed to sit above the natural waistline (something I failed to notice until I had cut out the fabric). After making this dress, I don’t think I’m a fan of higher-than-usual waist lines for fitted things. If I made it again, I would be lengthening the waistline. As it is, I did a .5cm seam allowance on the join to try and add in a bit more length.

    In my haste to start the sewing, I COMPLETELY forgot to cut out the lengthened hemline (I always make the hems longer than the pattern does, due to most of my height coming from my legs). I am still berating myself for this – such a stupid mistake!!! I did the tiniest hem possible (bias binding), and I think it’s only just passable. Personally, I feel the dress looks silly this short. If you are on the tallish side, I highly recommend lengthening this dress.

    DSC_0235 (9)

    The other thing that totally didn’t work for me was the gathered waist in the skirt. Maybe it was the bulkier fabric choice, but this just looked terrible on me – far too much bulk and extremely unflattering. I improvised by putting two tucks in the front to get rid of the excess fabric, and by fashioning two darts in the back. I guess the result doesn’t look too bad.

    One thing that really  annoyed me about the pattern/construction was the collar. This is stitched onto the bodice after the lining has been attached. However, the instructions just tell you to leave the edges of the collar raw and exposed. I was shocked!!!! How ugly – and on the outside of the dress! Even though, in theory, this seam allowance is covered by the collar, I still feel that this is scandalous. Once I realised, I had to do something. I didn’t have any binding in an appropriate colour, and it was late at night, so I improvised by sewing this grosgrain ribbon (which was actually a decoration on a wrapped present I was given at Christmas) to neaten up the raw edges. This isn’t ideal – too bulky and springy to do neatly – but still, it’s better than nothing.

    I ended up not lining the sleeves – partly because I tend to get hot in the office during winter, and partly because I loved the lining fabric so much that I decided to make a matching neck bow to place at the collar with the remaining fabric.(Note, I was in such a hurry to wear the dress that I didn’t have time to stitch on the tie for the photos – I wore it to work all day with only two sewing pins holding it on! I think I will make it detachable by putting two little buttons underneath the collar to which the tie can attach).DSC_0243

    By the time I was ready to sew on buttons, I was fed up with the entire dress. I felt I had spent too much money on an outfit that didn’t come up to scratch, and which hadn’t fulfilled my vision – I wasn’t going to spend any more on it! All the buttons I loved were metallic and beyond the ‘budget’ for this dress ($2.50 per button adds up when you have to purchase 8 or so!). I went for some cheap and nasty plastic ones instead. The shop only had 6 left, so I had to be stingy with how many I could use (I had to be quite strategic and careful about where to space the buttons for the bust, to avoid unfortunate placings!). It turns out, these buttons annoy me in their plastic tackiness, so I’ll keep an eye out for some metallic ones in second hand shops and see if I can upgrade down the track.

    DSC_0240 (4)  DSC_0243

     

    The final change I made to the original pattern was the addition of a structured belt. Because of the dodgy .5cm seam allowance, the waistline isn’t sewn very neatly – it’s a bit uneven, and it needs hiding. It’s also still higher than I’d like, so a wide belt helps the ‘allusion’ of a longer bodice. It also helps to cinch in the waist a bit – I feel this dress isn’t very flattering, and has the opposite of a slimming effect (again, I think the bulky fabric is partly to blame).

    With the amount of re-picking and altering and silly mistakes,  I had to spend some time away from the dress in order to recompose myself and not end up completely hating it. Revisiting it now, and after a very positive debut at the office,  perhaps it isn’t too disastrous? I do love the pink and gold combination.  In fact, I feel like I could step into the  “Think Pink” scene from the timeless Audrey Hepburn classic ‘Funny Face’. And that can only be a good thing, so perhaps this dress will grow on me after all….

     

     


  4. Stash Slasher: Burda 7125

    July 7, 2013 by rosie

    DSC_0216This is the first of my recent pattern purchases to be made up into a finished garment. I chose this one because it looked quick and easy – no zipper, no buttonholes, no real fitting!

    However, it took longer than it should have – mainly because of user error!

    The fabric I chose was something I’ve had sitting around for years. I bought it when Darn Cheap Fabrics in Newport was still in existence, and when I was still a student. This combination of store name and my own limited student finances means that, even though at the time  I felt it was an extravagant and ‘special’ purchase  – it is silk after all – it turns out the quality of the fabric isn’t that great. However, I couldn’t part with it, and it actually made it easier for me to hack into it once I realised that it didn’t matter too much if I stuffed the whole thing up. And I still love the colours.

    I decided to line the upper yoke/sleeve part in just a plain thin silk lining I had kicking around from a previous project. This worked out fine, although some of it peeks out a tiny bit around the neckline facing which annoys me slightly, but I can live with that. It’s not too terrible.DSC_0214

    I made the usual depressing size alterations – size 8 bust/sleeve, tapering out the side seams to a whopping size 12 by the time I get to the hips.

    I started out thinking that I would do the whole thing properly and commit to french seams – at least for the side seams. But I wasn’t sure if I would have to take it in anywhere, and I just couldn’t face the prospect of french seaming everything, and attaching the top half of the top, only to have to unppick it all to readjust the fit. So I ended up being lazy and overlocking the edges to stop the fraying. Lately I’ve noticed that lots of people spend the time and effort doing beautiful seam finishes on their garments (binding, french seaming etc), and I really wish I could be one of those types of sewers. It puts the insides of my garments to shame.

    Things were going along swimmingly, until I got to the part where I was meant to turn through the lining for the yoke/sleeve section. The instructions just say ‘turn’, and my poor little brain just couldn’t figure out HOW to turn it through. I ended up with this hideous tangle of sleeves, but for the life of me, I couldn’t get it to turn through. I’m sure there must be a way, but I was tired and impatient and  I just couldn’t figure out the logic to make it work. Grumpy and defeated, I ended up unpicking the lower sleeve hem (where the sleeve is joined to the lining right sides together) and instead cut out a rectangle of the fashion fabric to make a little cuff that would be the casing for the elastic. This worked out fine, but the slippery fabric made this a little more fiddly and messy to deal with. Then, of course, I couldn’t find a safety pin small enough to fit through the tiny channels for the elastic, so I spent a very long time trying to feed the elastic through using various other articles. Once I had done that and tried it on, I realised that in one of the arms, the sleeve lining and somehow twisted.  More unpicking!

    DSC_0217  The rest of the garment went together pretty easily. At the end, the inside of the top looked so messy around the armholes and where the yoke joined the body of the top, I had to do something. I felt that the bias binding I had on hand would be too stiff and bulky for the fabric used to use as a binding, so instead I improvised and decided to use the seam allowance of the black lining to wrap around the other seam allowances and act as a binding to encase all the raw edges. I hand stitched this around the armholes and yoke seams, and although it’s not perfect, it’s a whole lot better, and definitely worth the little bit of extra time. Because I had already clipped into the corners where the needle pivots around corners, these edges aren’t perfectly neatened on the inside, but it’s better than nothing.

    All in all, I’m generally  happy with the result. It’s not an amazing, show-stopping pattern, so neither is the finished product. (I wore it to work and it went through the day unnoticed by friends and colleagues), but it’s comfortable and the fabric feels nice against the skin.  It’s a useful basic wardrobe item, and no doubt I’ll probably make more down the track. I’d like to experiment with using two contrasting fabrics and colours at some point.

     

     

     


  5. Pattern Purchasing Frenzy!

    July 2, 2013 by rosie

    My goodness! It’s July already, and I’ve only written a handful of posts. I make one very pathetic blogger.

    Having said that, my absence can be explained, in part, by my getting married. I am now a Mrs! While this happened at the end of April, let me tell you, despite my best efforts to remain calm and not delve into Brideszilla territory, the lead up to and preparations for the wedding still sucked up A LOT of my time. (Handy hint – if you plan on getting married, plan on not having any spare time to devote to other ‘projects’…like sewing, or socializing, or cleaning.)

    A month-long honeymoon in the northern hemisphere’s late springtime weather, followed by post-wedding/return- to-work blues, the obligatory bout of winter illness and a lot of post-wedding-follow ups means that my sewing room has been abandoned for months.

    Now that I’m feeling back on track, my sewing libido has well and truly returned with a vengeance.  This has been encouraged by two other factors:
    1) I went the ‘big chop’ and got all my hair cut off.  I’ve never done this before, but I am now sporting a Mia Farrow-esque ‘do’. While I love it, it has been the catalyst for a bit of a wardrobe crisis. I used to channel Betty Draper’s hair and outfits – now all of a sudden, I’m looking at things that are a bit more ‘modern’, and half of my go-to ensembles simply don’t go with my new look.
    2) There have been a lot of stocktake sales going on. And while I have been very good and promised my husband that I will endeavour to make a dent in my enormous fabric stash before purchasing more fabric, I calmly and rationally stated my case and justified my need to obtain new sewing patterns that would contribute towards solving the problem outlined in reason 1.
    So here are some of the patterns I snapped up:

    patterns

    Clockwise from top left:

    Butterick 5608:OK, so the illustration makes this look super daggy. And there’s the chance that it will be. But I thought that the two on the right might be a good staple for when summer comes along. So often I’ll make a skirt and realise I have nothing that matches with it. I also have a few lengths of fabric that aren’t  long enough to do much with, but I might be able to squeeze out a few of these tops from them. I’ll probably file this pattern away and wait until the sun is a little warmer for the time being.

    Simplicity 3833: Another haircut-friendly ‘mod’ 1960’s look. I like the two tone potential (a good way of using up remnants!). Although it’s pictured on the pattern cover as a summer frock, I want to try and make it into a
    sleeveless pinafore to wear now during the winter months. I’m not sure if I’ll need to do any alterations (maybe lower the arm holes a little?)

    Burda 7114: How could I resist? I think the short hair will work with this! It looks easy and quick and isn’t particularly special, but it looks comfy and something that will get me back into the swing of things. And it has pockets!! I like the winter and the summer version, but my priority will be the ones with sleeves to wear with bright tights and my new boots (purchased in Florence during our honeymoon!). There are a few potential fabric candidates in my stash for this one – I’ll have to double check the lengths and thickness of some of them to see what will work best.

    Simplicity 1913: I’m really liking the few Project Runway patterns that I have, particularly how they come with lots of options and bits and pieces to play with. I like both the slim skirt and the flared version, and will probably end up making both. Right now I have some lolly pink wool in my stash that I want to make the ¾ sleeve version with collar and slim skirt.

    Simplicity 1717: I know I could probably sit down and draft something similar to this if I tried, but it would take so much time and space and patience, and this was half price and already done! It’s a very basic pattern, but I do love an A line skirt. And it has pockets (OK, so they are just basic patch pockets you could easily make up, but I’ll ignore that.) I’m curious about the longer length skirt, too. l I always thought that this was a bit of a ‘naff’ length, but lately I’m curious. It would be nice and warm and swishy in winter, and maybe when paired with my new boots, it wouldn’t look so daggy? My priority though is to whip up a winter version of the skirt pictured on the cover with some left over wool pieces.

    Vogue1340: Ok, this had nothing to do with my hair, or my remnant stash. I just liked the crisp lines and the subtle bodice detail with the pleats.  Very sharp and elegant

    Burda 7125: Nothing particularly mind-blowing about this pattern, but I like how it’s got potential for contrasting fabrics (great for stash slashing!) in the yoke/sleeves vs the main body of the shirt. I’m also attracted to the way it’s a bit loose and billowy. I’m hoping this will be a quick and easy project to run up (especially view A – no buttons!)

    Simplicity 2154: I’ve had my eye on this pattern for ages and couldn’t resist. What isn’t there to love? A librarian pencil skirt and matching jacket. And that bow! I just love that bow! I know this is a bit more old
    fashioned, and less ‘mod’, but I think I can make it work with the hair. And again, I should be able to find some remnants in my stash for this project.

    Vogue 1338: This is a little more modern day, but the pattern intrigues me. I’m not very good at working with knit fabrics, and I love the way the construction is all drapey and triangle-y. I have some wool knit somewhere in
    my stash that I inteded for this, but once I read the back of the pattern I realized it’s cut on the bias, so I’m not sure if I’ll actually have enough. I may have to make some fabric purchases after all. If I can successfully make it, I think this would be a very comfy, cosy and office-friendly dress to wear. I’m a little scared of it though – my previous attempts at sewing with knits left me questioning my sewing ability.

    So there you go! Now that I’ve posted this online, I’m going to have stick to my word and make at least a few of these projects, so watch this space!

    I have to admit, it was VERY difficult for me not to go out and buy the usual suspects – the 1940’s reproduction patterns with the beautiful curves, drapes, pleats and details, or the Betty Draper-esque 1950’s frocks with full skirts and demure bodices and bows and collars. Luckily my long-suffering and super patient husband accompanied and supervised my purchases to make sure I stuck to my self-imposed requirements.

    Now I had better get cracking and start sewing!


  6. Performance Anxiety – when that outfit just shouldn’t be on stage

    March 21, 2013 by rosie

    Some things just shouldn't be witnessed!

    Some things just shouldn’t be witnessed!

    Something happened to me recently just after my last post:  it was just such a timely reminder and such a reinforcement of my ‘top five rules‘, that I just have to write about it.

    At the risk of sounding like a constant whinger, and turning my blog into an outlet for all my gripes, I would like to briefly touch upon the subject of performance outfits.  I attend (and occasionally partake in) numerous concerts and performances, and more and more often, I find myself disappointed and distracted by what performers choose to wear.

    While I realise that the outfits should be, and are, secondary to the music, or whatever other talent the performer is sharing with the audience, I find it impossible to completely separate what I am visually experiencing from what I am hearing. And yes, I suppose I could shut my eyes, but often I want to see the facial expressions, the instrumental technique, the interaction between performers etc. And, if they have chosen a horrendous outfit, for me, it’s like watching a disaster unfurl; like a car crash. It is upsetting to see, but at the same time, I can’t take my eyes off it.

    The level of  enjoyment gained from my latest two concert-going experiences was severely reduced by the soloists’ choice of attire. In performance number one, the soloist (a fantastic singer) decided to wear something that looked like it had been purchased from Supre back in the late 90’s. And for those of you who don’t know exactly what I mean here, Supre = STRETCH fabric. Of the worst kind.

    This lady had a very attractive face, even for a woman in her 50’s, but that fact that she was wearing a  super-stretchy, faded black dress that showed up every bulge and curve, with a split that was far too high, and with fabric that was entirely see-through when under the spotlight, and with  cleavage that was far too low and revealed half her bra, completely cheapened her entire look. The fact that she decided to wear knee high boots under her dress (when her fellow male soloists where in full tails getup) deleted any last vestige of class that remained. No matter how hard I tried to focus on her singing, I just couldn’t wrench myself away from the horror of this ghastly (clothing) ensemble.

    Her fellow lady soloist wasn’t much better. While her dress, thankfully, was slightly more opaque, saving the audience from knowing EXACTLY what lay beneath, she had committed the irredeemable sin of wearing a bra which wasn’t low enough for the cut of the dress in the back.  So for the entire first half when she wore this outfit, her underwar featured.  Again, not a classy look.

    The second half of the concert, where a costume change occurred, offered some relief. Singer number one came out in a less tacky outfit, which offered far better scaffolding for optimal bodily containment. However, the chunky knee high boots remained. Here’s my advice. Chunky knee-high boots NEVER look good underneath a ballgown. It might seem that ‘no one will notice’, but we do! We DO! Shoes are noticeable!!  Particularly if they look completely ridiculous and don’t match the rest of your wardrobe!

    Again, the other soloist appeared in the second half in what I’m pretty sure was her wedding dress. This I can accept (actually it’s quite clever, really, if you can get multiple wears out of your wedding gown). However – and this is just one of several examples where I have seen this – it also looked as though the dress had been crumpled up in the back of the cupboard for several years.  Again, here’s my advice – if you are on stage, in the spotlight, please take the time to make sure that your gown, or suit, is crease-free. There is nothing worse than being in the audience and knowing that the soloist hasn’t even bothered to make an effort to look their best. And it’s distracting.

    Another concert I attended recently also featured several soloists. The two women were both wonderful singers in their own right. But their choice of attire bothered me for the entirety of the concert. For one thing, it was obvious that they hand’t discussed their wardrobe choices with each other prior to performance (if they did, then this is even more disturbing). They couldn’t have been more at the end of polar extremes if they tried. One looked like she was trying to channel a sexy, evil serpentine stepmother at a mirrorball disco; the other looked like she belonged in a 17th century Italian portrait of the madonna. Unfortunately, neither of the singers were representing characters, and, equally unfortunate, the extremeties of their ‘look’ caused the other to appear even more ridiculous. As  the piece being performed did  have an historic religious context and theme, the Virgin Mary look (however distinctly 1990’s in its vibe) was probably slightly more appropriate than the other soloist’s choice of attire. I think, if one is performing something that has a sacred/religious context, then it’s probably best to steer away from super-sexy, giltzy outfits.

    Similarly, other soloists have appeared on stage looking fabulous in knock-out frocks, until the embarassing and awkward moment when both they, and the audience, realise that this fabulous-ness came at the cost of functionality. If your dress is so tight and fitted that you struggle to walk in it, this is going to be emphasised a hundred-fold when you make the trek from the wings to centre stage in spotlight. If your strapless dress doesn’t seem to stay put during your performance, your audience may be on the edge of their seats for the entire concert, and not becuase they are enraptured by your outstanding performance. If your shoes are so ridiculously high that you are forced to teeter and totter in a completely stilted fashion, you will end up looking ridiculous.

    However, it’s not just soloists. I am repeatedly disappointed by attire of tutti musicians in ensembles and orchestras. Inevitably, it’s the women that let the team down. The gentlemen usually have the safeguard of having to wear tails, white bow tie etc – they don’t have to think about what to wear.  But very rarely do the ladies match the level of formality and ‘specialness’ of the occasion that the gents’ tails – and the concert hall –  invoke.  I don’t mean that the women need to be in full-blown ball gowns (and I personally feel that strapless items should be avoided at all costs – particularly if you are frantically bowing a string instrument), but I do think that ladies performing in daggy stretch t-shirt fabric tops, and synthetic supre-like quality pants is offensive to the audience.  I’ve seen skivvies on stage that look they’ve been purchased from target; faded black t-shirts; layered outfits that resemble something you’d wear to the grocery store; crumpled up garments that you just know have been sitting in a muso’s emergency “blacks stash” in their instrument case or locker. Few of these are becoming in general, let alone under stage lights.

    Musicians’ hairstyles also annoy me  too. You’re sitting on stage, amongst gentlemen in tails, and it looks like you haven’t done your hair since you shoved it in a ponytail for that run this morning. I just don’t think its good enough. And while garments on stage do need to be functional  to a degree – you need to be able to move in them, play your instrument etc – part of their function is also to present each musician at their best, and to lend the sense of occasion,  beauty, elegance and pizazz to the whole concert experience. You are not just lost in the sea of musicians – you are important, you are noticed and you impact the overall image and integrity of the company you represent.

    So, after all that, here are my top five fashion tips for performers:

    1. If it’s even vaguely see-through in normal conditions, it will be see-through on stage.
    If you’re worried that it’s too tight or clingy, it probably is. (Maybe it’s time to invest in that petticoat?)

    2. If you are appearing with other soloists, take the time to coordinate outfits to some extent.

    3. Whatever you’re wearing, make sure it’s pressed and presentable.

    4. Whilst I acknowledge it’s more effort, chances are if it doesn’t need to be dry-cleaned, it’s probably not suitable for wearing on stage.
    Tasteful use of sequins and beading can be excused, but tread carefully!

    5. Dress for the occasion – if your male counterparts are in tails, make the effort to be in sync with the visual aethetic.

    And in case you missed them earlier, my five general shopping tips also apply.


  7. The 5 Shopping Rules of a Fabric Snob

    February 28, 2013 by rosie

    let's go shoppingA particularly busy time at work means that I haven’t had the chance to fire up the sewing machine very much lately. I have made one dress, (a relatively boring modern one). Photos of that are to come, once my betrothed has stopped commandeering the camera.

    However, often when I am stressed, or down, or bored, or happy, or motivated, or tired or frustrated, I think about fabric and clothes. I suppose it’s obvious really, but because I make quite a lot of outfits, I just become more aware of them in general. I notice what people wear, and I notice how they fit (or not). My sewing has also informed the way I shop for clothes, and I have recently come to suspect that my personal ‘shopping rules’ that have consequently arisen may be not be considered normal by my peers.

    The following ‘rules’ have formed over time, but the more I sew, the more they inform my non-sewing part of my wardrobe:

    1. Wear natural fibres*

    This would be my number one rule. I have quite a few reasons for this; some rational, some probably more psychological.  I can see that many would argue this rule, and that’s OK. But for me, it’s something that  I really try to stick to. Every time I deviate from it, I regret it. Firstly, natural fibres just look and feel better. They wear better. They BREATHE! The idea of wearing plastic (polyester, nylon, synthetic fibres etc) just disturbs me.

    *There are a few obvious exceptions to this rule: Underwear, swimwear, and sportswear. The latter doesn’t really have much relevance to my wardrobe requirements.

    It’s amazing how restrictive this rule is when you start shopping.  I view this, most of the time, as a positive. Most retail clothes feature very little nature fibre content. It’s quite a saving and a turn-off.  It makes me realise how much of a ridiculous markup there is on these clothes. Or they are just cheap, crappy, poor quality plastic imports. The GFC also seems to have brought with it a significant reduction in the natural fibre content of even premium brands, for both men and women. I would prefer to buy fewer items of better quality. They will last longer, look better and feel better. It only becomes frustrating when you are desperately searching for something specific and NOTHING in any of the stores is made from natural fibres. That’s where being able to sew is useful!

    One further thing on this very important rule. If you wear natural fibres, you are more likely to cope with extreme weather. One of my biggest gripes is when ladies, in winter, complain of being cold, and they are dressed in nothing but acrylic/nylon/polyester. Usually without sensible layering. There’s a reason why sheep exist! Wear wool! And embrace woolen/cotton spencers and singlets!

    Similarly, wearing polyester in the middle of summer is crazy. And gross. Even if it’s some cute and floaty fake chiffon garment, your body would cope far better if you wore, say, cotton, or linen or silk.

    2. Avoid stretch fabrics where possible.*

    Harsh I know, but again, there are exceptions. This is mainly a subset of rule number 1; ie – don’t wear stretch fabrics made from fake fibres. They are the epitome of eww, unless you are playing sport. I don’t know why girls insist on stretching stretch fabric to its maximum stretch – it’s just not cool, I’m sure it’s not sexy (a quick poll of some of my male friends confirmed this) and 99% of the time,  it’s generally not flattering.

    Knits from natural fibres such as wools, cottons etc are ok. A lovely wool jersey dress in winter is cosy, and it breathes.

    *Again, the underwear and sportswear exception applies! I also occasionally stretch the rule to allow garments such as fitted but not-too-tight trousers to be, say, 97% natural fibre with 3% stretch.

    3. If  it doesn’t fit properly, don’t buy it.

    I was amazed last year to discover that a lot of people buy their clothes off the rack without trying them on first. How is this possible? Fit is so important! It might be a fantastic garment on the hanger, but if it doesn’t suit your body shape, or it doesn’t sit properly on you, then, no matter how great the item in question, it’s going to make you, and it, look bad.  My number one gripe – ladies squeezing into skirts/dresses that are obviously too tight across the hips/thigh area. The skirt bunches and wrinkles up; if there is a split in the back, it warps; the seams are stretched and the whole thing just looks terrible. Even if it looks great from the waist up, if it’s not right elsewhere, it’s still going to be wrong. I could go on about all the ill-fitting clothes I see being worn every day. Half the time, I don’t think people even realise! It fascinates me, yet also drives me silently crazy (well, less silently now!).

    4. Iron your clothes.

    Annoying I know, and this can probably be viewed as a number one reason why people don’t stick to rule no. 1. But, it’s so completely worth it. There is NOTHING  like beautiful crisp cotton. Rumpled and crumpled clothes never look good. This goes for guys too – so-called “iron-free” clothes, aside from violating rule number one, just look cheap and make you look lazy. When you sew, you spend so much time pressing and ironing during the whole construction process, that it becomes second nature. And if you’ve spent all that time and care and effort making a garment, you want to display and wear it to its best advantage, so ironing just becomes standard.

    5. Wherever possible, wear a slip or petticoat.

    Without getting too Nanna, there is a reason why these exist. If the garment isn’t lined (and let’s face it, store-bought items usually aren’t), then wear a slip (petticoat) underneath. They stop things being see-through (another gripe!), they make everything hang and fall better, they are great for stopping stockings sticking to dresses and causing them to creep up, and they help smooth out any unwanted lines etc. It’s totally worth it.

    So there you go; my top 5 personal rules for all items of clothing – whether store-bought or handmade! I admit that sometimes I deviate from these rules, but every time I do, it comes back to bite me.


  8. Bound for Glory! (almost) – in pursuit of the perfect bound buttonhole.

    February 11, 2013 by rosie

    After what feels like an eternity and a thousand set-backs, I have finally completed my AHJ Frock No. 7641 from September 1, 1950. Yes, remember that dress I started ages ago, with the overly ambitious small bust adjustment? That SBA was stressful. But, it did end up working – sort of – with a lot of wrangling and ‘ad lib’.

    The reason I chose this dress in the first place was because I wanted to overcome my fear of bound buttonholes. With 13 of the suckers, I figured this dress was sure to put me on track.  Plus, I was also attracted to the ridiculously huge pockets.

    I consulted the Readers Digest in addition to Gertie’s new Book for Better sewing. The instructions and diagrams in this are great, and I highly recommend it. Warning though: Bound buttonholes are just as time consuming as you’d think!!!

    I must admit though, my bound buttonholes still aren’t as perfect as I hoped. I think they did improve as I went along. I did the window facing with silk organza for the facing as well – I had to do these entirely by hand for  the two buttonholes in the corner of the collar, as the angle was too acute for me to use the sewing machine by the time I had attached the facing to the collar. I suppose I shouldn’t aim or expect perfection for the my first time, and overall, I’m fairly happy with the dress.

    The fitting did cause some issues – I had to use 6 cm seam allowances rather than the normal 1.5, and I ended up fitting the front and back darts by ‘eye’ retrospectively (well, mum did the fitting when I went home to visit one weekend.) There’s one bit in the front (the bottom of the button hole facing bit) that doesn’t sit particularly well, and I’ll have to go back and hand sew it down a bit, but I think I can pull it off, overall.

     

    A bit crumpled from being at work all day, but you get the idea. The SBA didn't turn out too shabby after all!

    A bit crumpled from being at work all day, but you get the idea. The SBA didn’t turn out too shabby after all!

    The original pattern

    bound buttonholes are everywhere - collars, sleeves, opening and pockets!

    bound buttonholes are everywhere – collars, sleeves, opening and pockets!


  9. A complete pattern bust-up….or down

    January 14, 2013 by rosie

    The inevitable return to work (sigh), other domestic duties and a shoulder injury have temporarily prevented me from any recent sewing pursuits. However, my mind has been busy with plenty of visions which are probably far too ambitious and will remain far more brilliant and glamorous in my head than they ever will in reality. This is probably owed, in part, to me looking more like one of those chic women on the front of retro pattern envelopes, with the impossible waist and charming allure and poise, than the real me. I have set these visions aside, however, for a more practical challenge, which started off concentrating on one thing (bound buttonholes) and has landed up in the territory of another equally scary topic.

    My love for collecting the Australian Home Journal is largely due to the fact that each monthly issue came with free patterns – you can still find them with patterns intact. Some of the illustrations are just to die for, and I now have quite a substantial stash of potential projects, all cocooned in the wonderful historical Australian housewife context that is the magazine. But, because of one factor, they are all too tantalizing close, yet oh so beyond my reach: They aren’t my size.

    Until the late 50’s or early 60’s the AHJ only issued these free patterns in one size, each month – the “average 36 inch figure”. I don’t know if it’s just me, but there doesn’t seem to be anything average about this figure! 36inch bust is, I think, quite substantial (particularly when viewed from my vantage point!), but when you combine this with the accompanying waist and hip measurements – which I might add were not written down anywhere (I had to consult a 1952 edition) – whoa! Was this really the way women were shaped back then? Or are these measurements factoring in some sort of corset/torture device that got them to the desired size? Either way, it seems I am not far off the almost the average 36inch bust figure, except for the crucial bust bit, which is severely lacking. Sigh.

    The construction instructions for these AHJ patterns are, generally, quite hilarious in their vague-ness and lack of diagrams, but when it comes to their advice on sizing, it’s particularly laughable. Their suggestion is to add or subtract, using strips of paper, to the side seams until the desired size is reached. Well, its’ going to take a hell of a lot more than that to get it fitting me. I’m still not sure whether it’s even possible.

    All the advice in blogs, tutorials and books tell me I shouldn’t even be attempting to reduce a bust line by 6inches. You’re probably screaming something similar to me right as you read this. Logically, I agree. But emotionally, I feel like there MUST be a way I can get these patterns to fit me, dammit!

    Enter AHJ pattern No. 7641 from, September 1, 1950. My original reasons for choosing this pattern were because of the numerous buttonholes – I need to practice making bound buttonholes (I have chronic bound-buttonhole-a-phobia). Also, it looked like a relatively comfortable ‘everyday’ summer dress that was practical; sun smart with its sleeves and collar, and useful with its big pockets. Plus, I have so much summer cotton fabric in my stash.

    "Frock No. 7641" AHJ 1950 cropped

    SBA Hell

    But Frock no. 7641 has now turned into my first SBA adjustment guinea pig. It hasn’t been a very enjoyable process, and in retrospect, was probably a bit of a dumb design to start off with. I HATE doing toiles, even though I know that the benefits of getting it right far outweigh the hassle. Even so, it’s still a tiresome, tedious, frustrating exercise, and even now, after all the sweat blood and tears (literally), it’s not a perfect fit. It’s probably just as well that I don’t totally and completely love the design of this dress – if I had been lusting after it too much I think I would have found the process too traumatic and the results too disappointing.

    I read lots of blogs and tutorials and looked up some books to see how the whole SBA thing works, including the following:

    http://blog.megannielsen.com/2012/04/how-to-do-a-small-bust-adjustment-sba/

    http://www.coletterie.com/tutorials-tips-tricks/flat-pattern-small-bust-adjustment-for-the-parfait

    http://www.blogforbettersewing.com/2010/12/helpful-links-for-bust-alterations.html

    http://hungryzombiecouture.blogspot.com.au/2007/03/my-cup-does-not-runneth-over.html

    I managed to confuse myself a little, as each blog/article/chapter I read was slightly different to the previous one. But I do think I understand the concept a little better now. I drew my lines and cut up them, and then overlapped things around 1.5 inches. The problem is, that reduced the length of the bodice pattern A LOT (I’ve had to add length back on). But the biggest thing was getting those damn kimono sleeves right. I don’t know whether they were just super huge to begin with (they don’t look THAT long and baggy in the line drawing), but there was just SO MUCH excess fabric in those sleeves. And while I know that the design is intended for shoulder pads, I still don’t think that accounts for it all. I have basically re-drawn in the kimono style sleeve, taking out HEAPS of excess fabric, and making the curve of the armpit higher. I’m worried now that I’ve completely ruined the line and design of the dress.

    I also had to do a similar thing to the back (probably a totally unorthodox thing to do). With the back, instead of making up where the armscye would be and chopping off the kimono part, I ended up extended the line all the way up the kimono sleeve, to eliminate more fabric. This seemed to work OK-ish.

    After massive amounts of chopping, sticky taping, toiling and pinning and guessing, I think I’m almost ready to cut into real fabric. I’m still apprehensive. Will I even like the dress? Will the not-so-perfect fit always bug me? Will it look distorted and stupid and obviously home made in the worst sense? Am I simply nothing more than a well-meaning but totally self-deluded butcher of vintage patterns?

    Only time will tell.


  10. Summertime Playsuit!

    January 8, 2013 by rosie

    Watermelon Playsuit

    The final product!

    I’ve secretly been attracted to the notion of the “playsuit” for a while now – so frivolous and carefree, and a little bit silly! To me, they just scream fun and summer and ice-creams and sunshine.

    I decided I was overdue for one, and what better time than during New Year’s  summer celebrations?  It was meant to be when this this cotton watermelon fabric that I had been eyeing off for a while came on sale at Spotlight. At just over $3 per meter, how could I resist?

    Of course, I didn’t actually have a pattern, but I did have a vision. The resulting garment is a hybrid, using the bottom half of a “sportsuit” from a 1956 Australian Home Journal for the shorts (and yes, I feel there is a slight difference between a play suit and a sports suit) and the Sweetheart Sundress bodice from Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing.

    "Sport Suit"  pattern, Australian Home Journal, 1956

    “Sport Suit” pattern, Australian Home Journal, 1956

    All along I knew I wanted shirring in the back – added comfort with lots of ease combined with a snug fit to maximise the ‘play’ factor. Serendipitously, Gertie’s bodice even had instructions on how to adapt her back bodice for this very purpose. Moving the zip to the side for both the shorts and the bodice was the only major change.

    Full of virtuous intentions fuelled by the extremely new year, I was diligent and prepared a calico toile  for the bodice.  A few minor adjustments were required, mainly in the bust area to compensate for my lack of bustiness. This was simply a bit of pinching in the side seams and centre front seam. I had made the shorts before, so I knew that the side seams would need taking in, as the pattern isn’t my size. As the fabric isn’t of high quality, I lined the front of the bodice with a plain white cotton to give it a bit more body and structure.

    I was worried that this bodice style wouldn’t suit me. I am not very busty, and this bodice sort of calls for it. I was concerned that it would all look a little pathetic. However, I think the gathered detail on the front creates the illusion of more, and I was pleasantly surprised!

    This should have been a relatively simple and quick project, but for some reason I just made lots of stupid mistakes which required a lot of unpicking. Probably the fact that I was combining two different patterns didn’t help the situation – I sewed the shorts on three times before I felt the fit was OK. I also have a sneaking suspicion that the back bodice piece might be upside down. I’m not going to undo all that shirring to find out though! I gave the whole thing a bit of a lift by using some old white bias binding I had lying around as contrast around the bodice band, shorts hem and shoulder straps. These were all finished by hand, so that was also quite time consuming.  It was a super hot day when I made this –  over 40 degrees –  sweaty hands do not make for easy hand stitching!

    Overall, I’m pretty happy with the final product.  I’m not sure how many playsuits I actually need, but if I did make it again, I would make the crotch a little longer (I had to do a very narrow seam to try and get a bit more length), but it’s OK.  I would definitely recommend this bodice pattern – I think I’ll be using it down the track for a dress or two!

    Holidays are over and I’m now back at work, so I’m not entirely sure when/where I’ll have the opportunity to wear it, but hopefully there will be some nice weekend weather before summer ends. The only problem is, I’m so fair, that I don’t usually expose this much skin, as I tend to burn to a crisp!