Taking a Lemonade Stand

lemonade dress

Mary Beth tipped me off to this dress, by NotAMermaid, which was featured on SewRetro (which I do read, but am behind on … I seem to have inadvertently invented a time machine, as I am always living about two days behind everyone else).

Isn't it lovely? I'm so glad to know that someone else is so desperate for summer that they're making lemonade-themed dresses. It makes me want to schedule a impatient-for-summer meetup; I'll wear my popsicle dress and she can wear her lemonade dress and then we'll have a picnic in the park. Wouldn't that be great? Unless, of course, it snows. (Sometimes it snows in April.)

I've never met NotAMermaid in person (as far as I know!), but I'm pretty sure we'd have a lot in common, based solely on this (midriff band!) dress. It's pretty much perfect, I think the only thing I would have done differently is pipe the midriff band in green (although I admit that could be read as being a bit over-the-top) …

What are some other summer-themed dresses we could throw out there, as a challenge for other summer-anticipators? Something with a bathing-suit print of course (SO much easier to wear a bathing-suit print than an actual bathing suit); mint juleps and/or iced tea (not literally; I'm thinking a light brown dress with green banding); that great picnic-tablecloth fabric with the little ants printed on it (I've always wanted to make a circle skirt out of that); a dress in wide tiered multicolored stripes (like a beach ball) … so many options, so many, many long and somewhat chilly weeks until summer.

Oh, I turned off moderation … too many people's comments were getting lost and those thrice-damn├ęd spammers (shhh! don't draw their attention!) seem to have found other blogs to bother. Unless the spammers come back in force I probably won't turn it back on.

The Long-Expected Maternity Dress

vogue 9800

First off: I am not pregnant. Just figured I should get that out there before the comments fill up with congratulations and my mom calls.

But, I have been pregnant (my son is now almost seven!), and many of you dear readers who are pregnant now or anticipate being pregnant at some not-so-far-off date have emailed me asking for a link to a good maternity dress pattern.

I only ended up making this one maternity dress (I got so big, so fast, that it seemed impractical to make something I'd burst out of, Hulk-like, before it was even hemmed). It's a great pattern (and I made it in an even better fabric: gorgeous Nicole Miller silk with lycra, a deep green with an abstract celery-green pattern of what looked like tangled webs).

And that, my friends, is what I consider the key to maternity sewing: love your fabric. While pregnant, you will be wearing so much of it, so often, for so long, that if you have even the slightest doubt about your love for a particular fabric, don't buy it.

Whereas in the normal course of events my wardrobe choices have a fairly close one-to-one correspondence with the days of the year, I think I had only about five maternity tops, all in bright colors. I'd rotate through the week masquerading as the Fruit of the Loom guys. First I'd be a giant red strawberry, then an obviously mutant raspberry, followed by a blueberry with a glandular problem, then an outsize yellow banana, until finishing up as The Great Pumpkin in my favorite, which was bright orange. (I had a ten-pound baby: you could see me coming from SPACE.)

If you feel guilty about buying nice fabric for something you will only wear a few months, remember that this dress takes SO much fabric that you can take it apart later and make it into something else. At least a blouse, if not a skirt. (Not that I've done that to mine, since I figure, in my superstitious way, that taking apart the only maternity dress I could stand is the #1 way with a bullet to become enceinte again.)

This pattern is $5.99 from Lanetz Living (and check in the upper right corner for your discount!). It's sized up to B38, but I remember it as being very generous — so much so, that because my fabric had a bit of stretch, I was able to eliminate the back zipper. It was very easy to sew.

And, by the way, if you are pregnant, congratulations!

Back in the Saddle

Simplicity 966

Okay. Whew. I'm back from my overwhelming conference (click here for a picture of the dress I spoke in) and ready to think about dresses again.

(Okay, to be fair, I never really STOP thinking about dresses — that's why it's called an 'obsession' — but now I can think coherently, or as coherently as I ever do, about them.)

Like this one, from eBay seller ElegantlyDelightful. Oh, how I wish it were in a larger size … this one is a B32. Surplice top, midriff band, full or slim skirt … what's not to love? And you could easily put nice pockets in those front skirt seams.

This would be gorgeous in a pale butter-yellow with gray grosgrain ribbon trim; very pretty in pale blue with white, and downright sophisticated in gray and white. (Of course it would be very nice in black, but no one ever really needs a push to imagine a dress in plain black, so I don't usually bring it up.)

Sorry about the spotty posting lately — I have some posts in the queue, so it should be a steady flow of dress-related content this week. (There might also be a new "Secret Lives" in the next day or two …)

I missed blogging against sexism!

Plan 59.com doors55

Luckily (?) sexism is not a one-day-a-year thing so I guess I'm safe to blog a day late. The rest of the carnival-whatever is here.

Of course, I've had an exceptionally lucky and privileged life when it comes to feeling the effects of overt sexism. (I think the only time I was knowingly denied a job for being female was when I had a short-lived desire to be an altar server in the fifth grade.) Nobody's ever told me to my face that I couldn't do something I really wanted to because of my gender. That's not because sexism doesn't exist — that's because I'm lucky (and quite possibly too obtuse to pick up on subtle hints).

But there's one thing that bugs me — more a peeve, really. Especially now that I've become such a dress advocate. What is it? It's when guys come up to me and say "I like it when women wear dresses."


Come again?

Now, you might think this is a quibble, because, hey, I like it when women wear dresses. Actually, no — I like it when a woman — one specific woman, one at a time — comes up to me and tells me she ENJOYS wearing dresses. That is, I like it when I meet someone who shares my love of wearing dresses. I like it that someone else is enjoying something I think is enjoyable, not that an ENTIRE GENDER is conforming to my aesthetic ideal.

You might also say, "Hey, Erin, aren't there things that guys wear that you like?" And sure, I'd say. I love Jack Purcells so I know if I meet a guy wearing those that I will probably admire his taste. I know if a guy has a kickass messenger bag we could probably have an incredibly geeky gadget-stowing conversation (one that will probably last much longer than necessary), and I also enjoy the occasional ironic t-shirt. (I also have a strange attraction to Adidas Sambas, but that's just a leftover from having gone to high school in the 1980s.) But all these things are about making a connection with an individual based on mutual appreciation for an object.

But there's something about "I like it when women wear dresses" that completely irks me. Who knows, maybe it's the hangover from thousands of years of patriarchy, or a reminder that wearing dresses used to be an obligation, not a choice, but it just gives me the sneaking suspicion that maybe, just maybe, this is someone who might not see women as 100% belonging to the human race. Maybe it's because substituting almost anything else for the "wear dresses" part of the "I like it when women wear dresses" statement seems hinky. (Try it yourself. The only one I felt okay with was "I like it when women run for public office," and even that one felt weird.)

I am almost certainly overthinking this, I know. But just to be safe, if you're tempted to say something like this (for the ten guys who read this blog) how about substituting "I really like your dresses." Or "That's a great dress!" But not, under any circumstances "I wish my [wife/girlfriend/significant other/mother] wore dresses." (That one's really creepy.)

And this is certainly not a pressing ill that must be remedied before women can achieve full equality, but hey, this is a dress blog and I have to stay on topic!

This picture is from the marvelous Plan59. Go visit!

A good workwoman praises her tools

sewing kit

I travel with an old French sewing kit my friend Thora gave me.

Which, on the face of it, is ridiculous. I love this kit (antique! French! useful!) and would be heartbroken if it were lost. Even though I don't pack it in my carry on, all it would take would be one overzealous or light-fingered TSA agent to decide it was dangerous contraband (small red box full of sharp things?) and it would be Gone Forever.

Here's the inside:

sewing kit

See the cunning little scissors and the darling awl? And the thimble, which I never use? Why on earth would I risk losing this to satisfy the government's desire for Security Theater?

I bring this kit with me for two reasons: first, because I do more sewing in hotel rooms than I have previously cared to admit. (The way it goes is, Erin decides to make new skirt at last minute. Erin does not have time to do hand-hemming of said skirt before packing it. Erin throws appropriate bobbin into sewing kit, stays up way too late in destination city hemming said skirt and watching what is always available on every hotel TV in the land: reruns of Law and Order. Limit one per trip.)

Also, if I left this kit in a drawer at home, I'd probably never use it. I have multiple pairs of new, sharp, ultimately disposable scissors scattered around the house. Ditto seam rippers. (And we all know I don't use thimbles.) The box would sit in a drawer, being kept "safe" (next to all the jewelry I never wear) and that would be tragic. Tools are meant to be used, and every time I use these I am another woman in a line that probably goes back more than a hundred years. Every time I use these little scissors I think fondly of my friend Thora, who is a remarkable person.

Most importantly, every time I use these I enjoy using them. Their beauty somehow improves the mundane work of hemming — it seems to go faster with this little box open beside me. So much of sewing is about enjoying the process (if you don't enjoy the process, it's not worth doing), and this box makes what could be incredibly annoying (hemming a skirt in a hotel room in poor light with the TV blaring — most hotel rooms have two volume settings: mime and football stadium) a small and quiet pleasure.

Here are the scissors and awl out of the box:

sewing kit

If you have a chance, do something with your favorite tools today — write something with your favorite pen. Cook something in your favorite pan. Take a minute to acknowledge the pleasure of good tools …

HOWTO: Buy Fabric

ebay item 8305987417

[Above: Fabric purchased on one day in July, 2006]

Margo left a comment recently asking me how I bought fabric. I thought replying just "Like a drunken sailor on shore leave, if drunken sailors bought fabric" probably wasn't helpful, so I thought I would lay out some rules for buying fabric that have served me well over the last few decades.

1. You never have enough fabric. If you tell yourself "I have enough fabric," you jinx yourself and will immediately need more fabric (except now that you've angered the fabric gods, everything will be horribly polyester and $15/yard). You ALWAYS need more fabric.

2. If offered an opportunity to shop for fabric, take it. You never know when you're going to need more fabric (oh, wait — yes you do know, and the answer is "all the time" — remember rule one: "You always need more fabric"?). So take advantage of every opportunity to shop for fabric.

3. If it is $1/yard and not aggressively hideous, buy three yards. If it's $1/yard and acceptable, buy five yards. If it's $1/yard and, if the fabric were a man [or woman] you would agree to meet him [or her] for coffee (but not a dinner date) buy ten yards. Any liking over that requires a fifteen- to twenty-yard purchase.

4. The basic unit of fabric purchase is four yards of 45" or three of 60" wide. Any less than that and you won't be able to get a fullish skirt out of it. If it has a large repeat (the amount of space it takes to repeat the pattern) or is a border print, or has stripes, or really, anything out of the ordinary, buy five yards. Don't bother carrying yardage for specific patterns with you: if you do buy exactly enough for a particular pattern, you will then cut out one piece wrong and when you go back out to buy more it will be all gone.

5. If you really, really, really love it, buy it right then. Otherwise it will sell out in less than 24 hours. (The corollary to this rule is that fabric you hate will clot the tables and racks at the fabric store until the place goes out of business or burns to the ground.)

6. If the fabric is too expensive to buy at least two yards, or is less than 40" wide, you can still buy it, but only as an objet d'art. You will never make a garment out of it. As long as you accept this up front, you'll be fine. (I have a one-yard piece of Matisse-print "Jazz" silk that I just pick up and look at every once in a while. It was $10/yard when that was astronomically expensive for me.)

6a. If you regularly wear halter tops rule 6 does not apply to you. But you will be making a LOT of halter tops. (Note: conversion from non-halter-top-wearing to halter-top-wearing just to use up your stash is not recommended.)

7. The proper ratio of prints to solids in your fabric purchasing is 10:1. The rationale for this is that good prints are fleeting but solids are always available. In fact, you should never actually have any black fabric in your stash. That is because keeping black fabric in your stash means you won't have a reason to go to the fabric store when you need black fabric, which would contravene rule 2.

8. If you make theatrical costumes, or participate in historical reenactments, or have ever thought "Someday I am going to make the Kinsale Cloak" you may only buy velvet in 20-yard increments.

9. Always make time to buy fabric when traveling. Global Economy, Schmobal Economy. They got different stuff there, wherever "there" is. Pack an extra bag, if you have to.

10. If you think, while looking at fabric, "I'd have no place to wear this, even IF I made it into anything," close your eyes and envision yourself in tears of rage and disappointment, having been invited at the last minute [but with enough time to sew something] to JUST the perfect place to wear something made of that fabric. The most horrible thing in the world is regret: protect yourself from it by buying fabric. And besides, how dumb will you feel when you're freezing to death in the coming nuclear winter/ecological catastrophe, if you don't buy five yards of that wool now?

11. Fabric bought online doesn't "count" against any self-imposed quotas (quotas which violate rules 1 and 2 anyway). Fabric purchased on eBay DOUBLE doesn't count.

Further thoughts: if you have small children, raise them in the belief that the fabric store is the best place in the world to go, ahead of Disney and Chuck E. Cheese. Resort to bribery if necessary. (Also teach them the "one finger rule": they can touch ANYTHING in the store that adults are allowed to touch, if they do so with only one finger. [Check that the finger is clean!] First violation is a warning. Second violation, they must clasp their hands on top of their head for the remainder of the visit.)

Know to the minute how long it takes you to get to each fabric store in your area. This will allow you to plan quick anonymous stops between other errands.

It is better to go to the fabric store without a particular fabric in mind. When the buyer is ready, the true fabric will appear.

So Margo, I hope this helps you, but I'm afraid I cannot be held liable for the size of the stash that will come from following any of these rules. Obey at your own risk.

Again with the Summer

Butterick 5248

I know, I know, there's still snow outside (at least there is in Chicago) and I'm jumping ahead again to the summer dresses. What is wrong with me? Can't I live in the now? Stay in the moment?

Well, no, not when the weather in the now sucks so badly. In general, too, I much prefer the future to the past, but vintage sewing gives me the best of both worlds. I can rummage around in the so-called dustbin of history for aesthetic flotsam like sewing patterns, and then wear them in front of my computer. I can't imagine that the makers of this pattern, for instance, ever even touched a computer. Maybe they never even saw a punch card! And yet the only way I could really find their work now is through one. It kind of gives you hope for all sorts of other things assumed to be ephemeral. Perhaps our work will live on in ways we never intended or imagined?

I love the brown version here — I love brown for summer, especially brown and yellow — although the border print is really cute, too. Although right now, with the snow and the cold and the having to wait yet one more week for Daylight Savings, I'd probably like anything that promised summer!

As you can see from the image, it's B32. Click on the image to visit the eBay auction … I think this is at about $12 right now.

if you're as tickled by this as I am …

ebay item 140087788663

Holly has this lovely feather-print dress up for sale, and it's really adorable. It almost made me forget that it's snowing outside, thinking of wearing this in the summer with little blue or yellow flats and a yellow raffia or canvas bag.

There's really something to be said for a summer wardrobe of full-skirted novelty-print dresses and little flats, isn't there? It's so easy and fun and light-hearted, after a winter of heavy wools and dull fabrics (okay, maybe not in my closet, but, you know, in general).

Lately I'm so desperate for green that I've either bought fabric for (or miracle of miracles, sewn out of my fabric stash) three green skirts! (One plain, one bandana-print, and one a shades-of-grass-green camo print.) All I can say is, there better be some crocuses around here soon, or I might start painting myself green …

This dress is B42 … a nice size, in pristine condition, with a BIN of $74.99! Here's a closeup of the fabric (but you should click on the picture to see the back view, which is really pretty):

ebay item 140087788663

[Oh, and just a reminder: you guys know that all the images I show here (unless they're of my own dresses or patterns) are clickable, right? You click on them, and you go to the source site: ebay, the seller, a museum, what-have-you? You do? Good!]

A Biased Opinion

Simplicity 2230

Laura and I are in accord: this is one of the most gorgeous patterns we've ever seen.

It's at Vintage Martini, for a not-unreasonable $45.

I love the tulip sleeve, and if I were, oh, five inches taller I would be buying this and making it. Or maybe it would make me LOOK five inches taller?

Don't miss the pocket — see, there, on the right?

If I had seen this in time I would have definitely put this in the Oscar-dress lineup. I liked Gwyneth Paltrow's dress this year fine, but this one would have been even better.

I think you could get a really interesting effect by doing the gathered parts in an ombre fabric — it would be difficult, but really beautiful. Maybe in shades of blue, for a brunette?

In a very dull, matte black, with an updo, this would be a great dress to show off a pair of spectacular (borrowed) earrings, although I wouldn't do much more jewelry than that.

How would you make and/or style this dress?