You Know I Will Anyway

Hotpatterns Cosmo Dress

I really shouldn't buy this Hot Patterns "Deco Vibe Cosmopolitan Dress" pattern. First of all, I had trouble with their Duroesque pattern — not so much in the sewing, as in the comprehension of the instructions, which were written with a Waring blender. (The pattern itself was beautifully drafted.) Also, it's nearly $20. And I have a gazillion patterns already lined up to sew. In addition, I am neither Deco nor Cosmopolitan, and I have no discernible "vibe"; that leaves only "dress" as a word applicable to me.

However, I love the scoop-neck version (although I might put the other sleeves on it) and would like to do the waistband/sash and bias binding on the sleeves and neck in a contrasting fabric. (Yes, I'm still obsessed with contrasting fabric.)

Luckily for me, the pattern isn't shipping for "up to 28 days". So I have some time to decide … or give in, as the case may be.

More on Fabric

All About Wool

Okay, I said that you didn't need to spend a lot of money to get started sewing (and you don't) but Bellaleigh brought up a good point — if you aren't near a good fabric store (and sadly, fewer and fewer of us are) you won't be able to do the "go wander around and touch everything" learning that I recommended yesterday.

But, if you have a spare $30-40 or so, you can get one of Julie Parker's books. That's All About Wool there, but she also has one on cotton and one on silk. The genius of these books is that not only do they give you the usual "how-to-wash-it, where-does-it-come-from" info, but they also tell you how difficult it is to sew, and what you can expect to pay per yard. Plus, swatches of everything, so you CAN feel them!

This is the kind of book that I would hint mightily to someone that I wanted for a birthday/holiday present, perhaps by saying, suggestively, that if I knew how to SEW, *someone* might get a handmade whatsis. At some undetermined point in the future.

Another way to get your hands on fabric is to sign up for a swatching service. For the same amount of money ($30) you can subscribe to Sawyer Brook's high-end fabric swatch club: I've never done so because I am notoriously cheap about fabric (other than Liberty of London) and Sawyer Brook is a bit pricey. Also ringing up at $30 is Vogue Fabrics' (my "local" store) swatch club.

You can also sign up for the Fashion Fabrics Club swatch service, which is much cheaper (about $5). Or you could just buy some fabric from their site, since that seems to have gotten me on the mailing list. Their swatches are quite small, and may be hard to match up with the descriptions (I've never yet been able to open the envelope without spilling them all on the floor), but it's a start. (Also, they tend towards the rayon end of the spectrum.)

In addition, if you are looking for one specific kind of fabric, many of the big independent fabric stores (like Britex, and possibly G Street, although I can't find it on their website) will take a swatch request. The one time I did this (I think it was in 1997) I was looking for white cotton with a red cherry print, so I called up G Street and Britex (now they only do this kind of thing by email, snail mail, and fax) and told them exactly what I was looking for. Britex had only one possibility, so I bought it sight-unseen (I still have the dress, too, I'll have to dig it out and photograph it for y'all). Swatch requests run about $5-10, depending on what you want. Thai Silks sells sample swatches, too, but their sets range from $3 to $40.

So, if possible, it's best to rummage around a real store, but if that's not an option, a moderate amount of money can get you a big box of little scraps of fabric to fondle. Also, I know there must be more stores that do this, so if you know of some, please leave them in the comments!

Oh, yes you can. If you want to. (First in a series of exhortations to sew.)

simplicity 4543

Lots and lots of folks, lately, have looked at whatever I'm wearing, heaved an enormous sigh, and said "I could NEVER sew." I always try to tell them that "Yes! You Too Can Sew!" but then the elevator doors close and my monologue is cut off too soon. So I thought I'd post it here. You, too, can sew!

Sewing, basic sewing, is not really that complicated. If you can cook or drive a car, you can sew. (If you can neither cook nor drive a car, you probably live in Manhattan, and can go take sewing classes at FIT.)

The trick to learning to sew is this: start small. Don't try the Oscar de la Renta pattern as your first go-round — do something like the Simplicity skirt above. Be patient: do one little bit at a time, and stop before you get frustrated. (Do not, for the love of pete, start your first sewing project at 5 p.m. and expect to wear it out that night. Start it the first Saturday of the month and expect to wear it the last one.)

Ask questions: find a good fabric store, go at a slow time, and see if you can corral a friendly employee who will gently talk you out of using eyelash knit for your first project. Walk through the store and touch all the fabric. (Don't worry, if your hands are clean, they won't mind. They're used to it.) Fix in your head what silk charmeuse feels like, what cotton twill feels like, what wool jersey feels like, so when you read pattern envelopes you'll know what they're talking about.

Do some background reading — get a couple of sewing books from the library and read them through, like you'd read a cookbook, almost. What sounds like fun? What do you read three times and still not understand? (Hint: that last probably involves zippers.) Look through your closet and take notes: what do you wear the most? Then try to find a SIMPLE pattern that follows the same lines.

Don't assume you need an expensive (or fancy-embroidery, does-everything-but-make-you-poached-eggs) machine right off. See if you can Craigslist one (although if you do that get it tuned up before you start sewing, and factor in the cost of a tuneup [$50-100] in your budget), or ask your local sewing repair store about a "starter" machine. They know that if they can get you sewing they will have your business for life, and that you WILL upgrade!

I think learning to sew has a lot of similarities with learning to do other things: Start slow & simple. Do your reading. Don't push yourself until you're frustrated and ready to give up — keep it fun. Don't invest in a ton of expensive equipment until you know you're really going to enjoy it. Ask for help. Tell yourself, "I can do this!" until you sound like a character in Saturday-morning children's television programming. Rinse, repeat!

Open Duro Roundup (with non-bonus whining!)

Butterick 4849

So. Despite what Butterick 4849 says above, my day today has NOT been "fast & easy." My flight home was delayed last night; I woke up this morning to find that my access to the pure sweet rushing stream of electrons that I like to call "the Internet" had inexplicably dried up; there were various moving-house tsurim (tsurises?) that had to be dealt with, with the urgency level set to "right now, immediately, c'mon we're not foolin'"; I thought I had the Internet problem licked, at least on paper, but then realized that what I thought was a router was really a switch (not the switch's fault — there's this neat little trick called "reading" that I really ought to look into, it would have helped me out). And the entree of "Blackened Bad Day" comes with two sides, your choice, of the so-forth, and the so-on.

But — all's well that ends well, and it looks like I have Internet access now, especially if you turn your head to the side and squint a little bit. And tomorrow all of the moving problems that don't involve the eleventy-hundred unpacked boxes (e.g., the Troubles of the Old Place) will be firmly marked "somebody else's problem." Hurray!

But — dresses. Remember dresses? I remember dresses, and if I unpack all the boxes marked "who the hell knows" on Saturday, then on Sunday I'm going to make one of them-there dress things what all the young-uns are wild about. Nancy O'C. reminded me of this pattern (yeah, that one, up there above all my whining) and I think I'm going to try it.

Also, while we're all here: I wanted to make an Open Duro Call, in the comments for this post. If you have links to similar patterns, or to other folkses' blogs where they have made Duro-type dresses, or catalog or retailer website facsimiles, or Pattern Review reviews, or whatnot, please leave them in the comments. I'll do a once-through in my sadly-overflowing inbox over the next little while, and then do a big wrap-up post that I can keep in the sidebar as a handy clicky-link for those who want to know what the big deal is.

Does that make sense? Because it would be nice to have all the Duro-nalia in one place, would it not? It would also be nice to have all the boxes unpacked, and a really watertight scientific explanation as to how books I am SURE I gave away years ago have mysteriously reappeared among my possessions, causing me to need even MORE bookshelf space than I thought I did. And since I need roughly one linear foot of shelving space for (it seems) every minute I've been alive, a solution to that problem would also come in handy. But I think I will settle for three hours on Sunday to make a dress. Keep those fingers crossed!

Blue Flowers!

blue roses fabric

Mina sent me a link to this *great* fabric store, Make Me! Fabrics. They have a walk-in-and-look around store in NC, and a click-around store at that link right there. They also have blue roses fabric, and I am a gaping, open-mouthed sucker for blue roses. I don't know what it is. "They're roses — and they're BLUE!" I swear I don't like other unusually blue things. I never drank Pepsi Blue (well, neither did anyone else) and I hate that those blue raspberry Slurpees have driven out Coke Slurpees in finer 7-11s and movie theatres everywhere. It's just blue roses that I like. (Although, just thinking "blue flowers" gets that Dr. Octagon song into my head, which more of a side effect than a bonus.)

Make Me! seems to post new fabric all the time … seriously, Mina just sent this link a couple days ago and they already had new stuff when I went to write this up. They're in a part of NC that has/had a lot of textile mills, so they keep turning up more stuff. (Being from NC myself, I have a feeling I know exactly what garages, garden sheds, disused tobacco barns, and attics the retired millworkers might have kept the leftovers that came home from the mills. Covered in kudzu, the Carolina-blue or Wolfpack-red pickup parked outside …)

Anyway, they have modern fabric & trim, too … check 'em out!

Five Things I Will Never Buy Again

After moving, I have come to the realization that I have actually achieved a gracious sufficiency (and more) of most of the things that it is possible to have (the two notable exceptions being dresses and books, of which too much is never enough). For instance, I really, really do not need to ever buy another pair of patterned shoes (even ones like this):

delman flats

I believe now I have a pair of patterned shoes in most possible colorways and I barely, if ever, wear them.

I'm also not buying any more barrettes or hairclips. I could probably outfit an eight-year-old's slumber party with what I've got now, and my hair has been short for at least a couple of years. Not even sparkly Hello Kitty clips from Japan. Really. I swear.


Neither am I buying (or hopefully, causing to be bought) any more THEMED SOCKS:


I never wear them. I mean, NEVER, unless the house is freezing and nobody's done any laundry. I have several pairs that have never been opened. I think I have come around to the philosophy that funny socks are not for me. (Actually, I've always thought so, but, as with the bananas, I gave into other people asking me to try them. How do you turn down a five-year-old boy giving you Supergirl socks? You do not.) I like white socks, and I like (when necessary) black trouser socks, but considering how long it's been since I wore *trousers*, that hasn't come up in a while.

It's still open season on patterned tights, though. Those are always good.

And speaking of trousers, I don't think I'm buying any more of those, either. I don't wear them; I don't even think about wearing them, and yet I moved half-a-dozen pairs. I have a pair of wide-legged black wool, no cuffs; a pair of narrow-legged black wool; a pair of wide-legged gray wool, cuffs; and a pair of black silk toreador pants. And a pair of tuxedo pants. And a couple of pairs of jeans in various sizes, ranging from "only in your dreams, dress-girl" to "you and a friend can wear me." I think the pants just hang in the closet and look sulkily at the dresses. The last time I wore the gray ones I wore them with a chunky chartreuse wool short-sleeve turtleneck — that should tell you how long it's been.


And this last is more of a "shouldn't buy" than a "won't buy" — NO. MORE. BEADS. At least until I finish making something, anything, out of the drawerful I moved (and, of course, spilled). No more beads! Not even ones like this:


There. I think, instead of keeping a "Want List," I'm going to start keeping a "Don't Want" list. Think of all the things I could put on it! No more knit fabrics until I sew what I have. No more bad chocolate–wait for the good stuff or nothing. Nothing with a logo (that's been on my list FOREVER). What would be on your "don't want" list?

Just so we're all clear

A recent (and anonymous) commenter posted (on the recent "misconceptions" post) that he or she "could have lived without knowing [I was] an athiest."

Why on earth my religion or lack thereof should matter on a blog about dresses, of all things (it's not like I'm claiming to be a prophet of anything other than the essential goodness of full skirts) is unclear to me, but, just so everyone understands, and so no one else feels a stunning sense of hollowness upon learning this belatedly:

First of all, it's ATHEIST. (It's one of those words that isn't "i before e.") And I never said I was one; just that I don't think God (if there is one) bothers too much with what you wear. I think any putative deity would be much more concerned about whether you show sufficient kindness than a little too much leg.

That "if there is one" should have tipped you off (if it matters) that I'm a card-carrying sealed-in-the-temple (and full-immersion-baptized) agnostic; I belong to the First Pentecostal Evangelical United Agnostic Church of We're-Not-Sure, which holds services whenever it gets around to it and has a very, very short Catechism. (Q. What do we believe? A. We don't know.)

Funnily enough, if you image-google "god dress" one of the pics that comes up is this one, even though I couldn't find the text "god" on the page:

technofur dress

Which, as you might remember, I wrote about here. I might say something about "moving in mysterious ways" or something "being a sign" but that would be unnecessarily provocative, don't you think?

To sum up: if your life is enriched by a strong religious faith, I am very happy for you. I have been privileged to know many sincerely religious people who are kind, thoughtful, and generous, and who live lives that anyone would be proud to emulate. I envy them their faith and certainty, and I am exceedingly grateful to them for not pressuring me to resolve my lack of certainty, because I can't believe (get it?) that will happen any time soon (as I have no plans for a trip to Damascus).

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled semi-Godless posting about dresses. (Although you should really click on that dress link above, if you haven't already. Did you know it's made of "Technofur"?)

Goodbye, Mr. Smiley, and thank you.

green satin dinner suit

Julia N. sent me a link to this, which is part of an auction being held in late October. An auction which includes, among other things, Jim Smiley's collection.

I guess I thought Mr. Smiley would always be there, and one day when I had some mad money, or achieved that twenty-six-inch waist, or otherwise reached some never-never moment of unattainable perfection, I would venture back to his shop and choose one perfect, lovely dress. Not that he only had one, mind you — he had plenty. But I suppose I delayed making my choice too long, and now it's too late, as he's retiring, closing his store, and auctioning his collection. (Yes, I know I could do phone or online bidding, but it's not the same as being in his shop.)

I never made it to his New York shop, although it seemed to me that I was always walking past his windows late at night, standing in the street making tissue-paper resolutions to visit on my next trip. I did manage to visit the store he had in New Orleans, back in 1999. I was just an (embargoed, need-to-know-only) eleven weeks pregnant at the time; it was hot and humid and August and I had run out of excuses (other than "generalized bitchiness") as to why I was sleeping so much and why I needed cold drinks every seven minutes, on average. Considering my crankiness was at Defcon Three, possibly Two, my traveling companions considered a quick trip to a vintage store a minor and easily-made appeasement.

Given that I could have spent several hours there, standing with my eyes closed just BREATHING DEEPLY in that atmosphere of dress heaven, the forty-five minutes or so I managed to grab was on the "quick" side. I didn't buy a Dior, or a Ceil Chapman, or a Claire McCardell, or anything like that — I bought two 1950s maternity smocks, from the decidedly un-couture house of Sears, in red bandanna and blue plaid. But I loved them and I wore them constantly, and they were some of the only maternity clothes I could look upon without revulsion after my forty-TWO weeks of pregancy were over.

Who knows — maybe someday the planets could have aligned and I would have gone in and bought something very like this, or maybe I would have the same paralysis I have had on every trip to (Smiley's polar opposite) Topshop, where I always end up wandering around aimlessly trying to find the One Perfect Thing and walk out empty-handed, or (worse) with a white plastic headband, or a yellow patent belt, or something similarly totemic and unwearable. Now we'll never know. But the next time I think "someday …" I'll stop and ask myself, "why not today?"

Some Commonly-Held Misconceptions about A Dress A Day

I thought it might be a good idea to answer some of the questions that have come up about me & this blog …

  • Q: Do you really make a dress every day?
  • A: Sadly, no. I try to (when moving house or traveling doesn't get in the way) post something about a dress or dresses every day. I wouldn't mind making a dress every day, I think. For a limited time, say, a month. In my other, purely theoretical, life as a conceptual artist, it would be wonderful to do a project that involved making a dress every day, and then exhibiting them all … interested gallery owners are encouraged to email me.

  • Q: I like to wear pants. I even wear jeans, sometimes. Do you hate me?

    A: No! I am not anti-pants. I do not hate pants. (Okay, I hate ugly pants, but doesn't everyone? And that hatred doesn't spill over onto ugly-pants WEARERS — that would be adding insult to injury). I personally prefer dresses, and I would like (Sam-I-Am stylee) to encourage people to TRY wearing dresses. "You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may, I say." If you try dresses and decide they are not for you, no big deal. Hey, it was worth a shot. I personally despise bananas, but I eat one about once a year just to make sure I still can't stand them. What if all of a sudden I started loving bananas, and missed out on years of banana-eating joy? It's worth a couple of bites of disgusting banana-flesh every once in a while, just to make sure.

    Seriously — if you're wearing something that makes you happy — because when you wear it you feel 100%, absolutely, totally YOU — that makes me happy, too. (If you need someone on the Internet to be happy about what you're wearing.)

  • Q: Are you trying to get people to wear dresses for JESUS? Bless you sister!

    A: I'm very sorry, but — no. I have received absolutely no directives from any higher power asking me to convince people to wear dresses, for "modesty's sake" or any other reason. I like dresses because they make me happy. I figure that I'll get to wear dresses in heaven (if there is any such place) but I don't believe wearing them is a requirement for getting there.

  • Q: You post all these retro styles! Do you really think that the 1950s were a golden age? The repression! The patriarchy! Do you think women should just be barefoot and pregnant?

    A: Whoa! I do believe it is possible to separate the aesthetic of a particular time from its philosophy or underlying cultural assumptions. People who enjoy Doric columns aren't necessarily advocating a return to the city-state, are they? In fact, I think that that more you wear a retro style in a modern way, the easier it becomes to unmoor it from its original setting. I'm also a big believer in rescuing traditional femininity from second-class status. If you wear clothes made for women and shaped for women, it can be a way to assert that you don't feel the need to conform to the male norm. If you do it proudly, unapologetically, in a put-up-or-shut-up manner, I think it's more of a poke in the eye to patriarchal assumptions than otherwise. But that's just my (convenient) opinion, and of course it's impossible to say where the influence of patriarchal culture begins and ends. But (short answer) no: I'm not an advocate for what passes for "traditional" family structure of male breadwinner/female housewife. If it works for you, fine, but I'm not holding it up as a norm, even though some people associate that with the kinds of dresses I like.

  • Q: You haven't answered my comment/email/telepathic communication!

    A: I'm so sorry! Try again. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and have to declare an email DMZ. If you think I've forgotten you, I haven't. Probably. I just haven't gotten back to you yet. Feel free to nag. I respond well to nagging. I respond well to nagging and guilt. I respond well to nagging, guilt, and offers of patterns and fabric.

  • Q: Weren't you in a touring company of Starlight Express?

    A: No — I don't know where these rumors get started. I certainly like to roller-skate, but not professionally.

  • Q: Will you make me a wedding dress/prom dress/ren-faire costume/a dress exactly like the one you posted today?

    A: I wish I could, but I can't. Sewing isn't my job; it's my hobby, and nothing kills a hobby faster than doing it for money. Not to mention that every time I've sewn for someone else it's ended in tears, if not just short of bitter recriminations. Trying to make a flat piece of fabric fit two people's imaginations is beyond me. I can barely do one!
    That said, lots of people do happily do custom sewing, and you can find a few of them here. (If you do custom sewing and want to be put on my referral list, please email me. Be sure to let me know WHERE you are, and if you also do work remotely/online/through the mail.)

  • Q: Isn't this list getting really long? Where's my lovely dress picture for today?

    A: Here you go:

    ebay item 180030147959

    Mmmm, autumn roses! Click on the image to go to the eBay auction. (Thanks, Lisa!)

… and we're back. With a Duro.

Beijing silk Duro
Isn't this just lovely? Ashley sent it to me. She bought the fabric in Beijing, and as you all know I heartily recommend buying fabric in China. I like the black banding, too, and I'm very glad to see it working so well as I've pretty much/nearly/more or less determined (subject to change) that the next Duro I make will have black banding, as well.

I was hoping to have a long meaty post today (or, rather, yesterday) but:

— I still have no internet access at the new place, although the lovely, lovely Garrett at has moved heaven and earth and the local telco to get it for me on Wednesday. We hope. Also, I have twenty-three unpacked boxes just marked "FILES" which makes me alternately want to dig right in for an exhilarating sorting session, or, conversely, just set them all on fire.

— I'm currently in a hotel in Ann Arbor, for reasons too banal to explain. (Thus the internetting.)

— I have the kind of head cold where you seriously consider DIY decapitation, because, really, higher brain function is overrated if it comes with a runny nose as well.

I think we might be up to full posting speed here at A Dress A Day by Thursday, maybe. Depends on how long it takes to get the turbines up again, the trajectory of the head cold and the availability of the sweet, sweet Internet, and whether the people in the next room over EVER TURN OFF THE TV, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.