Saturday, April 18, 2015

Prada Unravelled

It took a while, but I finally made my Prada inspired cocktail dress.  Prada's Spring / Summer 2015 show was, at least to me, one of the most profound statements about the ecological and economic future of the First World*.  Maybe I read a lot into a few dresses.  However, the idea of women walking the New First World, wearing dresses roughly pieced together out of the slowly disintegrating silks and brocades of the Old First World, really resonated with me. I think it's likely that in twenty years we will look back in utter astonishment at the way we wasted essential commodities--not just oil--but things we don't even think about right now: cotton, silk, wool, leather.

My Wiltshire neighbor gave me a random assortment of old fabrics that were sitting in her attic when she moved out of our village.  The original piece of fabric was an odd shape--she'd already cut a garment out of it.  However, by chopping up the front skirt pattern, and giving it some Prada-ish seam lines down the front skirt, I was able to squeeze the dress out of fabric.  The lining was also from her attic, and also cut into strange shapes.  The piecing allowed me to "make it work."

So, this dress is literally made out of salvaged scraps.  The fabric is, I think, some sort of a silk-ish blend.  It has a grey ash but continues burning when you remove the source of the flame from the fabric.  I don't know enough about burn tests to interpret that.

There's not a huge amount to say about the actual dress.  The pattern is the "Sofia" pattern from the Vintage Burda book that come out last fall.  I stripped off all the added bits and used the bodice and skirt pieces only.  I took advantage of the fact that the front skirt is already in two pieces, with a seam line coming straight down from the innermost dart on the wearer's left hand side.  I then added two more seam lines, coming down from the upper side seams and meeting at the vertical seam line.  The end result is an upside-down triangle on the skirt front.  Having four skirt pieces to play with allowed me to cut out the skirt.  I also like the piecing effect as it (obviously) harkens back to my beloved Prada S/S 2015 collection. I also topstitched all the seams and darts, a la Prada.

Unfortunately the glossy black fabric sucks up the details - they proved almost impossible to highlight in the photographs.  You'll have to trust me that this dress has a ton of interesting detailing - the seam lines really are great, as is the topstitching.

Originally I planned to add black silk organza to the seamlines, to add some rough, fraying edges.  But I couldn't find the material where I am.

Finally I hemmed the dress by leaving the edge raw, and adding a grosgrain ribbon backing which allows the fabric to unravel a little, but stops it from fraying too much. I wanted some element of rawness to this dress. It could easily have been a bit too staid and formal otherwise.

Vivienne Westwood is another of my favorite designers.   I love watching her navigate the paradox of being a designer, selling goods, but also being someone who is also strongly anti-consumerism.  I don't know how successful she is at it, but she is direct about the conundrum of being in business but also having essentially anti-business views.  Perhaps the future for ethical designers is something like this dress - scavenging remnants from local sources, piecing them together to create something that's a hybrid of new and old.  Obviously, the scale of production would be impossible.  But maybe that's not a bad thing?  After all, if there is one thing that home sewers know it is that quality in clothing is often more about effort than financial investment.

Thank you Nhi for the photos and the vineyard!

*I differentiate First from Third World, because I the problems I'm describing are problems that already exist in the Third World.  Mostly thanks to us.

Monday, March 02, 2015


I feel like there is a bit of denim fatigue in the online sewing community.  It's been fun seeing dozens of perfect, "I can't believe you sewed those yourself" Gingers.  However, I have a sneaking suspicion that for every perfect pair of skinny denims being blogged about there are at least three shitty pairs sitting at the bottom of everybody's cupboard.
The original GVs, funny how dated they looked a few years ago and how much fresher they seem now.
Here's my third pair of jeans.  I'm classing them as "janky with potential."  Really, the shape seems pretty great, but it's kind of ruined by my fuck-witted machine's refusal to to a decent, consistent top-stitch.
I really like the front view - more or less perfect Hasbeens Jeans.

NOTE:  it is IMPOSSIBLE to get decent photos right now.  These are the best of the bunch, and involved a self-timer, two very elderly neighbors and my mother's ultra-sweet, but not camera-savvy carer.  Don't be surprised if this post shows up again in your reader once I get some decent shots.

This is after a few days wear - the back almost seems too big - or the length of the back legs too long?  They don't look super hot, do they. Having said this, my store-bought jeans look way, way worse than this after a few days wear.  The high waist is stopping these jeans from slipping down and looking super baggy-butted.

Better in this shot, no?

Yup.  Getting pictures is kinda frustrating right now.

I wanted the high-waisted skinny-legged Ginger affect, but without the unfortunate mono-butt that Gingers give me.  This is the same, fabulous, Burda pattern from 3/2014.  It's a super skinny jean, with a low-rise.

Changes:  I added 3cm (I speak Europe now) to the waist height. 1.5 cm to the yoke and 1.5 cm to the back and 3cm to the front all in one place, just below the waist. I folded out a horizontal wedge from just beneath the bottom of the zip to the side seam - this seems to have taken care of the excess fabric at the cr*tch. I wish I'd been thinking clearly enough to experiment with the leg width - I really want jeans that are closer to stovepipes with a tiny flair at the bottom to accommodate heels. Yes, bootlegs by another name. As they are, these are the perfect jeans to wear with Hasbeens.  In fact, I believe I will call these the "Hasbeen Jeans."  I subbed in the Ginger waistband, but increased the center back fold angle - i.e., made the curve of the waistband more extreme.

I cut off a sliver of both front and back at the upper, inner thigh to make them just a tiny bit tighter and more flattering.

There are lots and lots of mistakes.  the zip faces the wrong way, the button isn't in the right place, etc.  In fact the front of the jeans looks a little askew.  I can't tell if it's an optical illusion because I don't have top stitching on the opposite side of the fly. But oh well.  Next time!

High waists are where it's at!  It's taken me a little time to get used to it, but with the higher waist my jeans are more securely anchored; I tend to get saggy-butt in my store-bought jeans by mid-afternoon, since the fabric stretches and slips down as the day progresses.  High-waisted styles grip my high-waist in the right place.  They feel more secure, and I no longer have to worry about flashing my underwear around town. If anything I suspect that I'll make the waist a teen bit narrower, to really hold me in with that Brooke Shields / My Calvins / Gloria Vanderbilt disco look.

The iconic Brooke Shields image - exactly what I want right now!

 I reckon I could have made a fully tailored coat in the time it's taken me to noodle away at these jeans.  A big part of the problem has been the endless unpicking and restitching of the damn top-stitch.  If' I'd just let it go they would have been done much sooner.  THe economics of making your own jeans are funny:  it's probably about $20 of materials but $500 dollars of human-time.  Having said that I think this is a skill, and once you learn, and make lots of mistakes, it will begin to pay off.  I'm obsessed with making a denim wardrobe, more or less as worn in this picture. If I can wrap my head around the necessary skills, and streamline my sewing, I'll be attempting something like this in the future:

It's strangely difficult to find images from the short lived high-fashion relaunch of Gloria Vanderbilt.  I think the jeans are still being licensed and sold, but even Gisele, Kate and Daria (?) couldn't get people thinking of them as "fashion" again. There seem to be three distinct styles here, a capri mid-waist, a high-waisted flare and a high-waisted boot-cut. All told this is pretty much my dream denim wardrobe right here.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Prada Redux

Fashion "Week" has gotten so bloated in the last few years that it's lot a lot of its original meaning and purpose.  The Prada (and, to a lesser extent, Vivenne Westwood, Miu Miu and Marc Jacobs) show is pretty much the only one that can be consistently relied on to make you think and ask some questions about femininity, women's role in society and "where are we all going?"  And, of course, she provides a ton of sewing inspiration in terms of cut, fabric and color.

Having said that the Fall/Winter 2015 show, while charming, was less thought provoking-at least for me.  Maybe she was taking a mental health break after her darkly beautiful, yet ominous show for Spring/ Summer.

 I loved the thick wool jerseys that she used to make coats, suits and pants.  They have a glossy, lush glow, that apparently a lot of people at the show mistook for neoprene. There's something very modern about the fabric.  Perhaps this is the point of the show?  The past remixed for the future? All of these shapes feel very familiar, but in the same slightly disconcerting way that the space-age flight attendants in 2001 were recognizable yet clearly belonged to a futuristic version of reality. I love how Prada dresses women for a world that really only exists in her head; I suppose all great designers do, but she and Marc Jacobs are the most extreme in their conviction.  Certainly her version of the world seems like an interesting place to visit.

2001: A Space Odyssey, flight attendant

 Prada has a sensational eye for color; who else would mix grey, mustard and pink and expect it to work?

 The shape of the pants, a kind of truncated boot-cut, were fabulous, especially with the low heeled shoe.  So flattering if you have a nicely turned out ankle.  Sewing group--I will be asking your help to frankenpattern this ;-)!

 The Pink Coat lives to fight another season. Love the emerald gloves and metallic baby-blue shoes.
Perhaps this show is the light at the end of the tunnel.  If her last show was the dark vision of post-social-meltdown survival, then perhaps this is a more modern, rational and scientific world reborn from those ashes.  Maybe I have too much dystopian science fiction on the brain, but these look to me like clothes that a truly evolved society would wear.  Clean, comfortable lines, sewn up in soft and forgiving jersey, with colors so rich and saturated that they look like they came from another (better?) planet.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

First Project of 2015: The Slam-dunk Asymmetrical Jacket

First off:  This jacket deserved a photoshoot at one of our local-ish landmarks, Stonehenge maybe, or the Bristol Suspension Bridge.  But that just didn't happen (thank you gale force winds and unending rain). So, after waiting a week for some more photogenic opportunity I caved and did the old self-timer in the patio garden routine.

Jumping out to take advantage of a ten minute break in the effing rain.

This pattern is a perfect example of why I love Burda so much, and why it's worth sticking with Burda, even when some of their issues can be less inspiring.  It's a great design, super modern, well thought out, elegant and chic.  The drafting is impeccable; it went together perfectly and I made no alterations - this is a straight 38.  Melissa at Fehr Trade mentioned that it runs tight - it does!  I toyed with sewing up a size, but ultimately I decided to make the trade off of less ease / slim lines.  This jacket does run small - I would probably strangle myself if I tried to do it up all the way to the neck.  In fact I have't sewn those snaps on yet because I'm pretty sure I'll never try.  I'd be interested to hear if anyone thinks this looks small - I prefer a very fitted style, so to my eyes it looks correct.
The back yoke has fantastic style lines, they look really modern and give a great, structured shape around the shoulders.
 I LOVE the asymmetrical lines of the jacket.  The two fronts are asymmetrical and significantly longer than the back.  This side view is my favorite look, there's something unexpected and chic about it.  The sleeves are super slim!  I won't be able to wear anything more than a fine sweater or long-sleeved top under it.
 When the jacket is worn open the back hip area peplums out a bit, which is interesting.  My neighbor, who used to sew a ton, told me off for not interfacing the back hem with canvas.  She's right, it would look better if I'd stabilized that area.

**Edit** I meant to add that I did an unusual-for-me experiment with this jacket.  I'm usually all about the sew-in interfacing, hair canvas, pad-stitching, etc.  This jacket is the opposite.  I took the lazy way out and followed Burda's directions about interfacing and construction.  No sleeve heads, no twill tape at the shoulders, and I only used fusible interfacing.  I've learnt my lesson!  Don't use fusible for any project that requires structure or real stability.  Even though I pre-shrunk the interfacing and was careful about fusing it, the jacket suffered for my "time-saving."  The fusible doesn't give enough heft to the neck areas, which need more stiffness to retain their nice shape.  The interfacing is also coming away in places, and I ended up having to catchstitch the seams to the actual fashion fabric to keep all the layers together.  Next jacket will be properly tailored!
The jacket looks completely different when you wear it open.  The sides hang loose and give an almost unstructured look.

One of my sewing goals over the last year has been to sew more modern clothes for myself.  I spent my 20s and 30s dressing like Miss Marple.  But if I dress like Miss Marple now I just look like a middle aged spinster (instead of a hot girl ironically dressing like one!). This jacket fits that bill.  It's almost a little futuristic to my eyes - like something a career girl in 2114 would wear.
 One of my other resolutions was to use more gifted / vintage / thrifted fabric (for financial and anti-consumerism reasons). This fabric came from a great store on Berwick St, London, whose name I can't remember.  In the basement they have a wonderful selection of vintage fabrics.  This must have been the bolt end, because this number-2232-and two red lines were embroidered across it.  I salvaged the number to use on the facing to add a bit of interest.  This was actually a great stylistic choice but a slight f***-up on my part.  I think this yoke facing is supposed to be cut with an ease pleat in the middle.  The jacket would probably be a bit more giving if it had those extra inches of ease through the shoulders.
Pockets! The only flaw I found in this pattern was that it was drafted without pockets.  I added some!

I consider this a great start to 2015!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Skipped Stitches

My friend Nhi thinks I should write a book that talks about life through sewing metaphors.  I think it's a fun idea… a novel perhaps… called "Skipped Stitches," or "Loose Tension."  Today I realized that I've been noodling over jacket / coat muslins for weeks.  Unable to decide what to make, what fabric to use. What I need or want in terms of clothing.  I suspect this is all symbolic of a very deep inability to figure out what I need or want in all areas of life.

The Burda peacoat is fine, but not inspiring.  Possibly because it has some issues that would require my sewing group's eyes to fix.  The Burda asymmetrical jacket from 1/2015 is much more interesting, but I need to figure out a way to get rid of the boob-truncating seam on the front.  It makes me look like a sexually ambiguous dentist from the 23rd century.  The seam adds shape at both ends.  One end can be turned into a dart, but the other requires more finesse.

I'm paralyzed by my fabric; my stash is on the other side of the world, and I have one piece of beautiful,  vintage, dove-gray herringbone to cut into.  It seems a bizarrely weighted decision.  The fabric is tagged with a yardage label going back 40 years… making the right choice seems important.

So that's it, Creativity wise. Other than that life continues to be a learning experience with a Major in "You've got to be Kidding Me," and a Minor in Red Wine and Rain.

Goodbye 2014.  You sucked.  Here's to a more hopeful 2015.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Winter Coat, 2014. Stage One.

I've made coats over the Christmas holidays for the last two years.  2012 was the Christmas of the White Coat. This coat needs some tweaking: I need to add shoulder pads, futz around with snaps on the lower front opening and so on.  Lesson Learned from this coat: It's hard to wear a white coat in a dirty city!  It's had very little use just because I'm so paranoid of getting it dirty, strictly a "special occasion" coat.  2013 was the Christmas of the Megan Draper coat. I still get a warm glow of joy from this coat; it's probably the most successful and ambitious thing I've ever made. I wore it constantly last winter. Lesson Learned: expensive materials pay you back in the end results and refinement is in the details.  The Hem could do with some work, but it never bothers me enough to actually sit down and do it.

This Christmas I'm hoping I'm able to sew a coat too: the main challenge is the unsettledness of the next few months (I'm in the UK AGAIN to help my mother threw another health crisis).  I don't have any materials with me so purchasing the fabric for this coat will require a schlep to London… and paying London prices.  Once again, kudos to UK sewers.  We in the US are spoiled by the relative availability of affordable, quality fabrics. 

Add caption

Vogue from 1996.  

I haven't nailed down a style yet, but I'm thinking of making this season's "must have" short coat.  The minty blue Gucci coat/jacket is fabulous.  I love the high, big collar, the welt pockets and the overall fitted, 60s look of it.

I've also had this royal blue coat pinned as an inspiration piece for years - longer, more of a traditional "coat" and simultaneously glamorous and effortless.  Both coats share the military inspiration, which I love.  The only pattern I have to work off of is this Burda from October, 2014.  It's more or less perfect for the long coat, but would require alterations to make it work for the shorter look. 

Here are my main questions about making the necessary changes to the pattern. a) The Burda WTF pattern has the kind of dart that runs down and across - i.e, the welt pocket in the line drawings is running over a horizontal line of stitching that extends to the side seam.  If I used this pattern that line of stitching would be exposed.  I would probably topstitch it and make it a feature (along with the other dart line) but is this considered a tailoring "no-no?"  I suspect it is, but I also don't want to spend weeks sourcing another pattern.

b) I'd have to move the break line up and adjust the size and shape of the lapel - this seems an easy enough alteration, but wondering if experienced tailors have any tricks to ensure that the end result is harmonious and pleasing?

Of course the other thing to consider is that this is essentially a variation of the pattern I sewed last Christmas.  I keep saying that I want my style to evolve and to become more modern.  So, should I hold out until the January, 2015, Burda is released and sew this fabulous short coat instead?

Or should I be insanely ambitious and make both??

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Ginger Jeaning / Sad Trombone

For all my big talk about supporting female entrepreneurship I've never actually sewn an indie pattern (other than those in Gertie's books).  This has changed! I joined the stampede and purchased the Ginger Jeans pattern. The fabric is a medium body denim with the necessary 20% stretch factor, bought from the local fabric store.  Let me tell you, one pays a significant premium for buying fabric in rural Wiltshire rather than the LA fabric district!  This stuff was no bargain.

Here are the end results:
 I'm going to the the long, trombone slide of "whhhhaaa-Whhhhaaa" in the Ginger Jeans parade.  These just don't work any magic for me.  I like the fit of the legs at the front, kind of a nice, relaxed style, but the rear is just unflattering.  I don't think it's the pattern's fault.  I sewed the low-rise, stove-pipe view, when I know that a higher waist and skinnier leg is better on my figure.  The pockets are way too big and too low for this view - though I'm guessing they fit nicely and accentuate the appropriate curves on View B.  I also sewed a 10, but really should have gone down at least one size.  I took in the inner and the outer leg seams on this, so these jeans are probably closer to an 8 now anyway.

The good news is that I was inspired to go back and tweak my Burda jeans from April.  I took in the leg seams, reset the zip and hemmed them.  They clearly have some fit issues too - at the front - but I think those are the result of sewing a stretch denim style with only slightly stretchy denim.  I think with the right fabric they'll look good.
 ** Some blogger out there wrote a really funny post about how Hasbeens are the official shoe of the sewing blogosphere - yep!  Here are mine. **

And I prefer the back view in these ones too!

I have one more length of denim, should I try View A of the Gingers or give the Burdas another go?

Sidenote:  Mad respect to UK bloggers.  How the heck do you get any photos worth a damm when the light is never brighter than "dull grey?"  And UK bloggers -- any of you in Wiltshire or Wiltshire adjacent?  I'd love to meet up… or in London.  Please let me know of any meet ups if you happen to read this!