Girls Rule!

new-vintage little girl's dress

If you aren't saying 'awwwwww' right now, your awww-er is broken, and you should seek medical attention. Seriously, isn't this cute as a whole button-factory's worth of buttons? Missy (who sells on eBay as Spring*Bean) made this … that's her youngest (I think) modeling.

You know who else makes incredibly adorable girls' dresses? With the smocking, and the bows, and everything? Retro Grace. I've become addicted to her blog … but who can blame me when she features things like this?

new-vintage little girl's dress

or this?

new-vintage little girl's dress

I think it's probably lucky that I have a little boy, because if I had a little girl I would be doing nothing but making her dresses like these, and (knowing the way the universe likes to have its little joke) she would probably hate them, and want to dress like a Bratz doll. And besides, it's a lot faster to make the kind of thing my son likes (namely, silly CafePress t-shirts).

Does This Make Me Look Crazy?


I was recently packing for yet another trip, this one complicated by trying to decide what, from my limited collection of camera-ready clothes ("camera-ready," in this case, meaning 'having a pattern that doesn't induce seizures in any eventual watchers and is not white or black') would be suitable for both a taped interviewy thing and a taped rock concert, and as I was trying stuff on, I found myself asking the eternal question:

"Does this make me look fat?"

Luckily, I was only asking myself, not pestering my long-suffering husband. (He likes to make himself scarce while I'm packing; he doesn't need to increase his store of profanity.) We have a deal: I don't ask him if I'm fat, and he doesn't ask me where his wallet and keys are. (We break this deal, like glass, in cases of emergency.)

At the moment of asking, though, I stopped for a minute. Why is "fat" automatically the one thing that must be avoided? I'm not talking "need to be airlifted from house for medical attention," fat, I'm talking "fifteen extra pounds from a crappy winter" fat. (Not that the degree really matters.) Why, of all the aesthetic choices that can be made, is "slim" the one that has to be prioritized? Why am I not asking myself, first and foremost, "Does this make me look unhappy?" or "Does this make me look boring?" or "Does this make me look fashion-victimy?" or "Does this make me look like a visiting space alien, and not in the sexy lamé-bikini-and-boots way?"

So I stopped asking the "fat" question, and started asking the "unhappy" one, and this is one of the things where the answer was "No, it doesn't make you look unhappy. Quite the reverse!" But: does it make me look TOO HAPPY, aka crazy? (I already know that it doesn't make me look slimmer, and that's okay.)

Here's a close-up:

It's a skirt that used to be a plain circle, without a waistband, and recently I got tired of skirts without waistbands, so I took it apart and added one. (With quite a bit of cursing and muttering, I might add.) The fabric is from Ikea; someday I'm going to walk into someone's house wearing this and match all their couch cushions. Then it WILL make me look crazy, but I'll be happy, so I don't care.

I'm NOT quite sure this is actually camera-ready (stripes might be bad, right?) but if it does end up airing (and yes yes I will give you all details when I know them) I'm sure they'll post some kind of warning.

In Soviet Russia, Bow Wears YOU!

80s bow dress

(Does anyone even remember those jokes?)

Nancy sent me the link to this when it was still gloriously for sale on eBay (from seller The Olive Shoppe). Whoever grabbed this is going to wang chung tonight, that's for sure.

I kid, I kid, but only because I love. Or rather, I used to love. I'm sure I would have been all over this (or it would have been all over me) when it originally came out. Although I'm sure I would have preferred the bow to be fluorescent yellow, and I would have accessorized with an armful of rubber bracelets, no doubt. Not to mention playing Sade's "Diamond Life" or The Fixx at full blast while getting dressed. I'm not sure I could wear something like this with a straight face now. (Of course, when do I wear ANYTHING with a straight face?)

But this dress, more than all the hot pink & black electroclash fashions of the past few years, has let me know that I'm finally at the point where I can be the person who ruefully says that she can't see wearing the retread of anything she actually wore the first time it was popular! It's a milestone I'm happy to reach, in fact. Now if only my hair would hurry up and go all the way gray. Gravitas, it's all about the gravitas …

Gorgeous Ugly Fabric

gorgeous ugly alpha fabric

Isn't this great ugly fabric? I mean, I think it's very attractive, in a charmingly grotesque way. I have no idea why the pattern designer thought only the letters a-e-g-i-s-v were needed (is it supposed to spell 'visage' and if so, why?) and I don't know why there's some kind of craquelure behind those letters, but I don't care. I like it. Which is why I now have four yards of it. (And it wasn't even on sale–I liked it that much!)

As you all know by now, I'm a huge fan of the unconventionally pretty, which is not to say, in so many words, the downright ugly. I like things to have a hard edge, sometimes, and to make you work to see how beautiful they are. The easy beauty of pink roses and sunsets is one thing; the difficult, ornery, belligerent beauty of rough concrete and sheets of rain is another.

This fabric wants to be a narrow 'secretary' dress with a round collar, midriff band, and contrast piping (and, thanks to Lydia, I actually HAVE this pattern right now) but I don't know when I'll get a chance to make it. I'm pretty overwhelmed with Actual Work at the moment. Making a new dress is starting to feel as far away as some of my other nebulous goals, like "lose fifteen pounds" and "answer all my email" and "live on Moon colony before I die," and having "make new dress" slip into that category is a bit depressing.

But, I'm sure things will lighten up around here eventually, says the woman who is traveling three out of the next four weeks …

That was fast!

Singing By the Plum Garden

So, I posted something about the westernization of clothing in Japan at what, sixish last night? And already, Karen (of Periodic Elements of Style) has sent me this image (“Illustration of Singing by the Plum Garden” by Toyohara Chikanobu, 1887), with this commentary:

I've attached an 1887 print of Japanese women wearing
Western-style dresses, but you can see (particularly on the women in
green and in black) how they used Japanese fabrics and traditional
Heian-era color pairings to suit their tastes. In the Heian era,
women of the imperial court would layer on up to twelve kimonos at a
time, choosing colors to evoke nature…particular favorites were the
plum blossom (pinks, purples, whites, and yellows), cherry blossom,
and morning glories.

Karen (who knows about all this because she studied Japanese fashion
history at Japan Women's University) also declared her love for the Tenth Doctor. (Like that's not the *default*, right? I mean, Chris Eccleston was absolutely great, but Tennant … )

Click on the image to visit a larger version at the website of Professor John Dower of MIT, who also has more about the Japan of this era.

Guaranteed Satisfaction

ebay item 8305987417

I've been a bit under the weather the last few days — fighting off a cold, nothing that Dayquil wasn't specially engineered by NASA to handle (wait, am I thinking of TANG? Oh, well, they're both orange) — and have been casting about a bit to make sure that I meet or exceed my recommended daily allowance of happiness. (Happiness is even MORE effective than Dayquil in fighting cold symptoms. Have not yet done the head-to-head of happiness vs. TANG.)

Anyway, some things just WORK, happiness-wise. Like, David Tennant as Dr Who. Like, gratuitous, yet sensitive, use of the synthesizer. Like, imagining, even for ONE MINUTE, that at some point, your email inbox will be empty.

But, more than any of those things (although, depending on the episode, David Tennant as Dr Who is hard to beat) happiness is browsing random keywords on Google Book Search.

Look at this gem, found by looking for "famous" and "dresses":

From 1873 to 1887, especially in the last three years of that period, the adoption of European dress progressed rapidly amongst the upper classes. It had been made compulsory for officials when on duty in 1873, and had steadily gained ground amongst students, bankers, merchants, and others coming, more or less directly, under foreign influence.
The wave of German influence that swept over Japan from 1885 to 1887 carried the innovation to a still more dangerous point. The beautiful costume of the women of Japan so absolutely becoming to its wears that one can hardly imagine them clad in any other way, was threatened, and sad to relate, the ladies of the Court began to order dresses from—Paris? No—the pen almost refuses to chronicle the appalling fact—from Berlin! In the nick of time, the reaction against a Slavish imitation of Occidental customs unsuited to the country came to the rescue.

[from Japan as Seen and Described by Famous Writers, by Esther Singleton (1904).]

Did you get that "Slavish" imitation bit? I wish my pen would almost refuse to write when I try to make bad puns like that.

Anyway, if you're feeling a bit low, start playing with Google Book Search (for maximum enjoyment, I suggest limiting your search to "full text" books only — under "Advanced Search").

The picture here, by the way, comes from Fenwick's Career. If it makes you want to read the rest of the book, click on the image …

Oh, and a hearty Dress a Day welcome to our newest advertiser, over there on the right: Michelle Lee's Patterns from the Past! Go check out her site, if you will.

Documentary Proof

first dresses

I didn't think I had a picture of the first dress I ever made, but I do. The only thing is, I'm not wearing it.

That's me, on the right, in full nerd ectasy, clutching the ribbons I won at the NJCL Forum in 1986. I don't know if that was the year I got a first in Phrases and Mottoes, or if that was the year I got eighth in Latin Grammar by christmas-treeing the ScanTron bubbles, or if that was the year I got eighth in girls' shotput by the simple expedient of there being only eight competitors in the girls' shotput, but it really doesn't matter: I was very happy to be there. Can't you tell?

I'm wearing the dress my mom made for me (while I watched her do it, so I could learn how to sew). It was very long, almost ankle-length, and made of baby cotton with pink rosebuds on it, and I had never loved a dress in my life the way I loved that dress. Even Keith Morgan (who made homeroom "interesting") announcing that it made me look pregnant (and asking me, repeatedly, who the father was) couldn't kill my love for that dress.

My friend N. is wearing the dress I made. She hadn't packed a dress for the dance, so I lent her mine. It was almost the same pattern as the rosebud dress, but with more scooped neckline, and shorter. Why I didn't lend her the longer one, as she was so much taller than I was, I don't know. I'm sure I had a good reason at the time.

It's weird to see the embryonic Erin-style in this photo, to see what's the same and what's different. I always wear my glasses now (I always wore contacts then). I no longer have braces, thankfully, and I haven't been that tan since I stopped living in Florida. I still wear hoop earrings (smaller ones). I'm still obsessed with Swatch watches, and I still have that paisley one. I think if I could find that fine baby rosebud-print cotton again, I'd probably make another dress out of it.

And, in case you're wondering, we had a great time at the dance.

Saturday Night Hat

Saturday Night Hat

Caroline was nice enough to send me a copy of Saturday Night Hat by Eugenia Kim, and I *really* like it.

First of all, and I know this is the kind of thing only an editor would notice or appreciate, but one Joanne Paek is given credit, right on the cover, for technical writing. That's awesome, because, well, technical pattern writing is HARD. And no matter how good you are at the doing, the writing of the doing is a completely different skill. I really admire Kim (and her publisher, Potter Craft) for not only hiring a technical writer, but giving her prominent credit. That's a sign of a generous spirit and consideration for the readers.

And that generous spirit continues through the book. Kim outlines half-a-dozen classic hats with as many variations each. I'm not especially a hat person (okay, I love hats, but that thing you do when you look in the mirror and take one thing off before you leave the house? What usually comes off, in my case, is the hat) but I'm definitely going to make her beret, and probably the cloche and the fedora as well, if I can figure out a way to keep the latter two from fighting with my glasses. Some of her hats are worth wearing contact lenses for, and that's saying something.

One last thing: isn't that bib dress on the cover adorable! I love it with the fedora (although I also believe that cowboy boots are fashion-victimy nine times out of ten. Of course, every time I see that tenth woman on whom cowboy boots are *perfect*, I change my mind …)

Thank you, Caroline! What a great book!

A Day Late, More Than A Few Dollars Short

blackbird dress

Carol (of Dandelion Vintage) sent me the link to this auction, which I missed. Completely whiffed. Got behind on my email from being away (>800 real, that is, non-spam, messages) and flat-out didn't get to it in time.

Which is a shame, because LOOK!

blackbird dress

Yep, those are little blackbirds spelling out letters of the alphabet. Why? I don't know, but I don't much care, either. I just love it.

Of course, it's probably a good thing that I didn't bid, because I don't know if I would have gone up to $141, which is where the auction ended. And of course I haven't really been wearing my vintage stuff all that much lately, so perhaps I would have spent the $$ and then let it languish in my closet. Better for it to have a good home, with someone who will wear it in the sunshine. Or, you know, a smoky bar. Wherever. As long as it's worn.

However, I have absolutely put these pics in my file labeled "For the Glorious Day When I Have My Own Fabric Mill," because I really want blackbird-alphabet fabric. I also want hedgehog alphabet fabric, too … just in case you see any of that around.

That's Better. I Think.

Advance 7890

I'm a bit cranky today, so I'm glad to be able to show this dress, which is listed by Chez Cemetarian.

You know that cranky feeling you get when you've tried to talk someone out of doing something stupid, something that might well backfire on them, and they go and do it anyway? That's the cranky I have today, matched up with a little bit of a head cold. Somehow looking at this dress makes it slightly better.

I really like the completely superfluous straps. I think this would be a great dress for a gangster moll in a movie, because you KNOW, at some point, the Bad Man She Loves In A Hopeless Way will grab her by those straps. And you will have known that the Bad Man will do that from the first moment of seeing her in this dress, but no matter HOW MUCH you yell at the screen, she will never stop loving the Bad Man.

The two-tone version is pretty great, too, and of course, the jacket. But it's the moll in red who first caught my attention. Why won't she realize that the Bad Man is wrong for her, and that she should rat him out to the handsome G-Man instead? Because you can't talk people out of doing stupid things, that's why.

The pattern's B34 and has an opening bid of $5.99, with no bids right now. It ends in three days, so get cracking …