First Prize!

Liberty Duro

So, I forgot (again) to tell you (or at least the Chicagoland-area you) that I would be on Chicago Tonight on WTTW last night. (I was only talking about txt-messaging abbreviations, LOL.)

But, I figured, I might as well wear a Duro. (A Duro, as some of you have asked recently, is a kimono-style dress with contrast banding, as popularized by the designer Duro Olowu. That makes 'Duro', like 'cardigan', an eponym.)

The Duro worked fine on TV (as far as I can tell, being no expert on production values, and only being able to watch myself for a few minutes post-show, before it was time to put the little boy to bed). I'm sure someone helpful will tell me if it didn't …

The only problem with wearing dresses on TV is that the mic guy doesn't have a super-convenient place to put the mic. With a Duro, though, you hang the box on the back sash, and run the cord & mic through the wide sleeve to the front vee. Works fine! (Occasionally when I've worn dresses to speak they have to hang the mic box from my back bra strap. Not ideal.)

The print fabric here is Liberty, a pattern called "First Prize". Here's a non-flashy photo:

Liberty Duro

The banding is quilting cotton. It's a little rough next to the fine lawn, but I haven't been able to find good colors in cotton lawn, unfortunately. And it's probably one of those things that I'm the only one who notices, too. I'm also convinced that either my mannequin has a decided list to one side (or maybe I do?), or the floor of my sewing room is slanted. (Or maybe I just can't hold a camera straight? My worldview is skewed? Something's going on.)

I'm also showing it here with the tank I usually wear under this one; a plain milk-chocolatey one from H&M. (I don't think you can tell here, but it matches a brown tone in the center of the First Prize rosettes.) Lots of you have commented about how deep the Duro necklines are, and I wanted to show you how I manage to wear them without being, in the classic words of somebody-or-other, a "cleavage-y slutbomb." (Not that I think cleavage is necessarily slutty, and of course it's the patriarchy that defines sluttiness anyway, always with an eye to perpetuating itself and controlling uppity women, but I just really like the word slutbomb. ) I also like having a chance to throw another color into the Duro mix with various tanks. Not to mention being far too lazy to alter the pattern to have a higher neckline.

I can't remember if I posted this one before, or not! (Do I repeat myself? Very well then, I repeat myself.) If I have posted it before, I'm sure someone helpful will post it in the comments.

Now y'all are starting to scare me …

ebay item 270093200908

Now, I know that I have posted a LOT here, and that I have, um, distinctive (not to say eccentric) tastes, but — damn — it's a little scary when random strangers (Mojogeno in this case) on the internet can pinpoint my reaction with such accuracy! Don't you agree?

(Do food bloggers have people tell them "you'll really love the duck-fat fries at place X?" Do music bloggers have people send them great new bands? And more to the point: are they right? Inquiring minds, etc.)

Anyway, this dress (not Mojogeno's, by the way, but from seller Bebop-a-Diva) is B36 and has a starting bid of about $35 (but there is a reserve).

Here's a closeup of the bodice, just because it is gorgeous:

ebay item 270093200908

I suppose I really don't have to worry until y'all can predict what I am having for breakfast (although, since pretty much every cold day I have the breakfast of champions — organic maple oatmeal and Diet Coke — that's not too hard)!

No, Luke. I am your Duro …

Darth Vader Duro

So, here, finally, is the Darth Vader fabric Duro. It's not really pressed, and until I uploaded the picture I didn't realize it wasn't straight on my mannequin, but, nevertheless, here it is.

I showed it to Mr. Dress A Day last night, and his reaction was, "Well, the houndstooth certainly distracts from the Darth Vader heads." (Mr. Dress A Day sometimes has a hard time ginning up the appropriate amount of enthusiasm for my sartorial flights of fancy.)

I am very pleased with the houndstooth, because the background isn't white — it's gray, like the Darth Vader heads, as you can almost/maybe see here:

Darth Vader Duro

I like that I could use this fabric in a Duro, because what I'm really hoping for is the double-take. That it just looks like an abstract print at first, and then suddenly there's the realization, that no, it's not abstract, it's DARTH VADER. (And then they find an excuse to move away from the obviously unbalanced woman in the Star-Wars-themed dress.)

If I were really ambitious (or really a lot more geeky than I am right now) I'd find one of those Darth Vader-breathing chips that were in the magazine ads for the re-release of the first trilogy, and keep it my pocket to jolt that realization, for people slow on the uptake. But I won't. Or, at least, I probably won't.

Here's a closeup of the bodice, just because:

Darth Vader Duro

And, yes, I know, that in the movie Vader really says "No, I am your father," with no "Luke" in there at all. How do I know this? I looked it up.

Oh, my.

Rozae Nichols dress

Lisa sent me a link to this designer, Rozae Nichols, and, frankly, Ms. Nichols had me at this dress. So pretty, without being too girlish. (Not sure how I feel about the knee socks and platform mary jane shoes, but I have almost perfected my technique of being able to ignore all the accessories sent down the runway, and concentrate solely on The Dress.)

I love the dotted fabric, and the fact that it's lined. Personally, I'd like shorter sleeves, but this is for Fall 2007, so perhaps a more summery version would hit above the elbow. I think a summer version with flutter sleeves would be lovely.

Of course, the only fly in the ointment is that her site is hugely flash-heavy. Why is it that designers feel they have to make their sites into largely unnavigable mini-movies? Is it a control issue? Do they all have family members in the employ of Adobe? Do they just not spend very much time using a computer? What is it?

She also seems to have three other lines: the drapey rnconvertible, the more youthful A Common Thread, and the as-yet linkless Aquarius line, which is supposedly more vintage-inspired. I also liked the Common Thread clothes, although they're a little too Williamsburg for me, if you know what I mean. I can't rock that "long hair and short baggy dress with floppy neck bow" aesthetic, although I think it's lovely on other people … worth checking out, though, because what I saw had gorgeous details.

Thanks, Lisa!

Giant Post about Possible Oscar Dresses

Msbelle and Pamela sent me a ton of possibles for this year's Oscars, so if any prominent Hollywood stylists are reading this blog, here's all your work done for you, by them.

Pamela points out that this dress has already been purchased by Angelina Jolie. Whether she wears it to the Oscars or not (haven't seen a lot of short dresses lately), I'm sure we can all agree that this is one hell of a dress:

Carol Robins

Click on the image to check out the front, which is just as stunning.

Pamela also suggests this Ceil Chapman dress, perhaps for Renée Zellweger?

Ceil Chapman

Msbelle likes this one, and I do too:

Edwardian evening dress

I see this on someone a bit edgier, maybe Cate Blanchett? Although this is only 55" shoulder to front hem, so perhaps you don't have to be a total glamazon to wear it.

This one (also suggested by msbelle) is 100% Jennifer Garner. Don't you agree?

grecian sheath dress

Where *this* one is J.Lo:

Giorgio dress

I can't even express how much I love this Elie Saab one msbelle sent. The gray! The bands!

elie saab dress

This one is really gorgeous, too, but I can't imagine who would wear it. Nicole Kidman? I think she had her fill of this color a few years ago.

elie saab dress

Got a vintage dress to match with a celebrity? Or a celebrity to match with a vintage dress? Play along in the comments!

The Culture of Sewing, edited by Barbara Burman

In my prowls through the library I came across this title, and I have to say I learned an enormous number of things from it, including:

  • Vogue, Butterick, and McCalls produced more than 600 patterns a year each in the 1930s and early 1940s, dropping to an average of 500 patterns a year thereafter. (And when you put it that way, I hardly have any patterns at all! Let's see, the 10 years of the 1950s times three pattern companies times 500 … and that doesn't even count Advance or the newspaper pattern companies … or modern patterns … )
  • McCalls were the first printed patterns, patenting them in 1919. When the patent expired in 1938, most of the other pattern companies started using them, except for Vogue, which continued to use hand-cut patterns until 1956. McCalls was also the first company to produce patterns that were licensed copies of Paris designs.
  • The price of a Singer sewing machine in the 1860s was $100 — $50 if you were the wife of a minister (which should tickle the writer of this funny and useful blog; thanks to Sendhil for the link!).

The Culture of Sewing also led me to this book (which I'll have to try to get from interlibrary loan), and this one, which I can't believe I didn't have, and will now have to buy.

All in all a successful read … although some of the essays (it's a collection) were much too theoretical for my enjoyment, most of them were very good reads. One even had a word I can't find anything else about: humby, in this context:

Household duties — worried over new poplin dress, bought last winter which is a perfect humby — looking as if it were rough dried. Pressed it.

This is from the diary of a Susan McManus, in Philadelphia, in 1869. There was an actress named Humby about that time (it's a commonish surname) but I can't make any links or find evidence of other uses like this. Yet.

Is there anything more pleasurable than reading a good book about a subject you're fascinated by? (If there is, don't tell me, I have enough trouble keeping up with all I have to do already.)

[No cover image, as it's NSFW. It's an arresting and beautiful image, but I have to say that one of the New Laws of the Internet should be that if you want people to blog about your book, it helps to not put nekkid people on the cover.]

I. Love. Stripes.

Anthropologie white gloves dress

Seriously. I *love* stripes. Especially ones done like these, on this dress from Anthropologie. (Summerset sent me the link.) Click on the image to get a bigger picture; it's absolutely worth your time.

Don't you just love how the chevrons really accent the waist? I might even violate my own "no sleeveless" rule to wear this …

Of course, the best thing about this dress?

Anthropologie white gloves dress

Look how nicely the pocket welts are set into the stripe. Just wonderful. I would have been lazy and done side-panel pockets, myself.

It's $168 at Anthropologie, and this is one of those times that I think that more than $100 for a dress is probably worth it. I know I'd spend more than $100 in aggravation trying to get this made so nicely!

And after all that talk about how I want to concentrate on yellow, gray, green, and baby blue for this spring/summer, red keeps sneaking into my sewing plans. I really love the red & light blue combo here, and I'm now obsessed with making a deep teal and black Duro with red piping … watch this space!

HOW TO: make a three-panel skirt have pockets

Okay, I've been putting off doing a HOWTO here because, frankly, I'm not really a great seamstress. I've never taken a formal class, and every time I read an issue of Threads I say to myself "Huh! That *would* be a better way to do that." But I figured I'd post this one, for a couple reasons. First of all, even though I'm not that great at it (nothing like Summerset, for one, or Rostitchery, for another!) I really do enjoy sewing, and so at least I can reassure people than even if you aren't couture-caliber you can make stuff that fits and have fun doing it. Secondly, I figured if I post this people will tell me what I did wrong, and that way next time I can do it faster/better/more attractively. And finally, I just HATE PATTERNS THAT DON'T HAVE POCKETS. So by posting this I can rescue one more pattern from the evils of pocketlessness.

Anyway. There it is.

So, what will you need to do this project?

  • a sewing machine
  • an iron and ironing board
  • flat space to work
  • scissors, tape measure, ruler, pencil or marking implement, etc. etc.
  • Diet Coke or similar beverage
  • music with a good beat but off-kilter or oddly nihilistic lyrics (I like Soul Coughing, They Might Be Giants, Magnetic Fields, etc.)
  • fabric (about two yards of 45" wide for the pattern shown here, 1 3/4 yards if it's 60" wide)
  • a suitable pattern (see below)

Simplicity 3961

(Okay, okay, OKAY. I know that pattern has gauchos. Ignore them. Pretend they aren't there. It's okay, we won't even be TOUCHING those pieces. Don't worry. Would I lead you into gauchos? I would not. You can trust me.)

Now, pretty much any skirt pattern with a center panel and two side panels will work for this project. I chose this Simplicity pattern because 1) I like contour waistbands and 2) it was $1 at JoAnn's on Saturday, so I could buy two. Why two? Because I'm lazy, and part of this project involves doubling a pattern piece. This way I could just use another part from the second pattern, and not have to trace it. $1 is cheap for not having to trace!

For this project I decided to use view B of this pattern, which is the blue skirt in the illustration. A, B, and C are basically the same, just differing lengths. The first thing I had to figure out is what size to make, so I could pull those pattern pieces and put them aside.

Now, I have a small waist in proportion to my hips (or a big butt in proportion to my waist, calling Sir Mix-A-Lot) so I checked those measurements, and sure enough, the size that was right in the hips would be too big in the waist. (Also, this pattern is made to be worn 1" below the waist, which I Don't Do.)

Now, I've made a lot of Simplicity skirts lately, including another one with a yoke, and so I grabbed the yoke pattern I knew fit me and laid it over the yoke pattern for this skirt. That confirmed for me that I needed a size 12 waistband but a size 14 skirt. What to do?

waistband pocket how-to

Well, I took the pieces for the size 12 waistband and cut them on the 12 line at the top edge, but at the 14 at the bottom edge, fudging between them at the sides, so that it would fit at the waist but still be able to be attached to the size 14 skirt. Then I cut out the rest of the pattern pieces from the pattern sheets, making sure to have *two* side front pieces, one from one pattern and one from the other.

That done, the next thing I had to do was to get rid of the pleats in that side front piece, cute as they are, because I thought they would interfere with putting in pockets. Now, I looked to hell and gone all over the Internet for the "right" way to do this, but I couldn't find any instructions, so this is just my usual half-assery: I took the pattern pieces and taped the pleats shut, tapering all the way down to the edge.

But this made me worry that taking that pleat out would make the hips too narrow, so I decided to measure the hips just to make sure. To do this, I put the pattern pieces together, overlapping the seam allowances, and marked where my hip is (about 9" below my waist, you can see a black mark on the center front piece where I measured this). Then I measured across to make sure there would be enough room for my hips (whew! there was).

hip measurement pocket how-to

That done, it was time to figure out where to place the pocket on the side front piece. I held up the pattern to myself, making sure to place the top of it lower than the waist (because the pattern has a waistband). Then I let my hand fall to where I would want a pocket, and marked that.

Then I cut three of the side front piece, out of a scrap I had lying around:

pocket how-to

Why three? Because the pocket in the panel has three parts. There's the part of the skirt above the pocket opening (which also includes the 'back' of the pocket), the part of the skirt below the pocket opening, and the part, not visible, that is the 'inside' of the pocket (which is like a facing on the part of the skirt below the pocket opening).

So I took these three pieces and laid them out. Unfortunately, none of these pictures turned out, and OF COURSE it's the most difficult part of making this. Ugh.

Anyway here are the three pattern pieces you end up with (the skirt, the top and underpocket, and the pocket facing). I cut the facing out of a piece of pattern tissue that I had lying around (literally, it was on the floor). You can use any kind of paper. Do write which is which on the facing piece, though, it saves a lot of heartache later. I don't know how many pocket facings I've made and then thrown away by accident!

waistband pocket how-to

So how did I get from three of the same piece to three different pieces? Well, you're cutting the bottom off the bottommost piece of the pocket sandwich (everything below the bottom of the inside pocket seam). You're cutting the top off the topmost piece of the pocket sandwich (everything above the top edge of the pattern — but DON'T FORGET to leave a seam allowance, or your pocket will be 5/8ths of a inch lower on your body than you expected). Then you cut the same top and bottom off the pocket facing (the middle part of the pocket sandwich) to make the pocket facing.

waistband pocket how-to

The darker blue is the bottommost layer, towards t
he top of the skirt. You can see how deep the pocket will be (the pin) and the black line shows the added seam allowance for the bottom pocket seam (yes I draw on fabric with china markers).

Here's me making sure the pocket is exactly where I want it (the floral thing there is my keychain clipped to the pocket of the skirt I'm actually wearing, as opposed to the one I'm making):

waistband pocket how-to

(This is from my point-of-view, e.g., leaning over and upside-down.)

I was happy with this, so then I figured I could make a "real" (that is, wearable) skirt! Yay! But I still didn't want to use great fabric, so I used a piece of lightweight denim I had hanging around. Here's the three back pieces all sewn together:

waistband pocket how-to

(I left the pleats in at the back.)

But the plain denim fabric seemed a little boring to me. How could I spice it up? I know! Zippers! Yellow zippers!

waistband pocket how-to

You see, when you make this kind of pocket, the top edge can be all wiggly and pulled out of shape, unless you reinforce it with twill tape. Zippers have built-in twill tape, and they make a nice design element.

So get a plastic separating zipper (like the kind that you use to make jackets with). Cut away the teeth of the zipper that would go in the seam allowance (about 1/2 inch on either side, as in the photo above) — you do NOT want the sewing machine needle to hit a zipper tooth!

Of course, the picture of sewing the zipper trim on to the skirt piece didn't come out, either, but what I did was: sew the zipper to the skirt piece, teeth facing down towards the hem. Sew the pocket facing to the skirt piece, right sides together. Then turn and topstitch, like so:

waistband pocket how-to

When you're done, it will look like this:

waistband pocket how-to

Then, to assemble, you want to attach the underpocket to the pocket facing piece, like so:

waistband pocket how-to

I seamed the bottom (this picture is fuzzy) and then double-zigzagged the edges, because this fabric is a bit ravelly.

waistband pocket how-to

Then you baste the whole sandwich together. (When you're sewing over the zipper part, even though you trimmed away the teeth in the seam allowance, you probably want to hand-crank the machine. Hitting zipper teeth at speed is Not Fun.)

waistband pocket how-to

This is what it looks like when you're done:

waistband pocket how-to

See how the stitching down the side is within the seam allowance? I used to baste at the seamline and then had to pick out the bits that showed. I'm marginally smarter now.

Then you do it all again for the other side. Here's the front assembled:

waistband pocket how-to

NOTE: Do not let your iron run over the plastic zipper teeth. They WILL melt!

Then you keep going and assemble the rest of the skirt. Here's the waistband going on — why did I sew a line of stitching around the bottom of the waistband facing?

waistband pocket how-to

This is why — it makes a nice guideline for turning it under!

waistband pocket how-to

Now, time to baste in the zipper. If I'd been thinking, I would have bought a bright yellow zipper for the side zip, too, but I wasn't thinking (and in fact the other zippers were bought more than a year ago for another project), so blue it is.

waistband pocket how-to

And actually, my first try at sewing in the zipper was completely crappy, but I offer it here to you to show you how bad a sewer I can be:

waistband pocket how-to

So I took it out and redid it (and I re-threaded the machine in blue, because no sense in drawing attention to the zipper!). But this is getting really long, so here's where we skip to the end:

waistband pocket how-to

The pockets aren't really uneven: I'm just standing funny. And the skirt is a bit too long; I think I'll shorten it by about two inches next time I make this. It's a bit dowdy at this length.

The whole process (not counting the time it took me to find & buy the pattern) was about three and a half hours. Two hours to do the measuring, planning, preliminary cutting, and prototyping, and one and a half hours to make up the whole skirt (including cutting out the new fabric and re-doing the side zipper). The skirt is hemmed with yellow bias tape, applied by machine.

I didn't prewash the plastic zipper I used for the pocket trim, because it is made of pure polyester. If I were going to use a vintage zipper (or an upholstery zipper) with metal teeth and a cotton tape, I definitely would have prewashed the zipper. If you had long enough zippers (or were okay with lapping them) you could have also inserted zippers into the long front seams between the panels. You could also use piping, braid, or rickrack to trim the pocket edges.

Okay, that's ONE WAY to make front pockets on a panel skirt. If you have a different way, do leave it in the comments! If I left out an important step (as I am wont to do), ask for clarification in the com
ments! (The plant to my right in the picture (your left) is lavender, so you don't have to ask about it in the comments, and my tights are from H&M, last year. Everything else, ask about it in the comments!)

What do you get if you don't use a thimble? A "D". And this dress.

1930s dot dress

Jody (from Couture Allure Vintage) sent me this link to one of her auctions, and it's adorable. Even better is the backstory — check it out!

1930s dot dress

That's right. Some horrible sewing instructor gave poor Dorrice a "D" on this gorgeous dress, all because she didn't use a thimble. Come on! This is an "A" dress, no question.

This kind of thing (nonsensical rules-for-rules'-sake thinking) really gets on my nerves. Sure, you can, as a teacher, make students prove they know how to use a thimble. But that should be a ten-minute observation, at best, not a whole dress! (I have never used a thimble for dressmaking — quilting, sure, but not dressmaking. If I want to stab my finger repeatedly with a needle, that's my right as an American.)

When you demand that everyone do something one way and one way only, you completely stifle innovation, AND you instill a knee-jerk distaste for the methods you're teaching. If your way is really the right way (or, more rarely, the ONLY way) then people will naturally gravitate to it, but you have to give them the chance to do things their own half-assed way. What is obligatory is usually disdained.

You can certainly say "I've always done X this way, and it works for me," but unless you're teaching your clone army to sew, other people are going to have different techniques: some from random chance, some from sheer pigheadedness, and some from outright brilliance. People who gave out "D"s for lack of a thimble probably never got to see the outright brilliance. Good thing the dress survived, so we could!

Are you reading FI? You should be reading FI.

welt pocket

La Bella Donna recently pointed out to me that I haven't linked to Fashion Incubator, which astonished me, but I checked, and she was right, I haven't! But I'm doing it with a vengeance now, because I read that site all the time, and I think everyone else should, too …. well, anyone who's interested in clothing production, because FI (run by the incredibly knowledgeable Kathleen) talks about how commercial, retail clothes really get made.

There's this huge gap in the fashion press that FI fills in. Usually you hear about the Designer-with-a-capital-D, who dreams up the clothes, and maybe there's an arty, floaty sketch or two … and then there's a picture of the actual item (on a clothes-hanger model, of course). Sometimes, MAYBE, there will be a mention of some handwork being done; embroidery, or pleating, or whatnot, but otherwise, there's just a big void: nothing about the patternmaking, the construction sewing, the fabric sourcing … you could just as easily assume the Brownies showed up overnight and sewed everything up for a bowl of milk. And that's the amount of attention paid to high-end stuff; lower-end stuff's production gets NO attention, unless someone finds out it's done in a sweatshop somewhere overseas.

But if you read Fashion Incubator, you learn all the gritty details. What makes a good commercial pattern? How do you source fabric? How do you find the people you need to work with, and how do you judge their work? How do you get your clothes into stores, and when? Fashion is, after all, a business, and FI is the trade blog of the production side of that business.

Personally, I *love* trade magazines, and I always have. When I had a not-so-great job working in a dry cleaners in high school, the best part was reading American Drycleaner magazine. (The next best part was folding starched men's dress shirts … you see, there was this special machine … but I digress.) It was like Christmas when our mail carrier misdelivered a copy of a welding journal to our old apartment. Heck, I used to read Folio, which is the trade magazine of magazine publishing, just for the oh-so-meta frisson of it! So as soon as my next Google Adsense check comes in (thanks for clicking on those ads, by the way!) I'm buying Kathleen's book (I'm going to buy it from the link on FI, but I'm linking here to Amazon so you can read the great reviews it got). I'm never going to be a fashion designer — I'm not suited for it — so reading her book will just be pure geeky pleasure.

Oh, and the picture above? It's from a series where she shows how welt pockets are done in industrial sewing and gives instruction on how you can make a jig to do something similar (if not exactly the same) yourself. Awesome.