Busy, Day Dress (or Busy-Day Dress)

busy dress

Okay, so for the last day of this incarnation of fabric week, I thought I'd show something made up … I bought this fabric on eBay, I'm pretty sure, a decision based solely on that color green. I love that shade of green.

Of course, as with all fabric I bought in 2006, it was supposed to be part of a Duro dress. I could never find anything to match that raisin-y brown, though, and I thought matching the pink or the green would be too Lilly Pulitzer. So it sat in my fabric closet (which is not of Tardis-like proportions, despite rampant speculation in the comments, but is pretty darn close) for a while.

Then I needed some fabric to "test" a new pattern — this is in fact the bodice from one pattern and the skirt from another; I'd show the images but I can't find them, arrgh — and thought of this stuff. The idea was the pattern would be SO BUSY that any bobbles in the construction wouldn't show.

Of course, I wasn't able to match the large medallions right on the bodice:

busy dress

But the pockets turned out okay (they're curved!):

busy dress

Despite the many flaws of this dress (the facings like to turn out, despite practically supergluing them down, and for some reason I got a bad spool of thread so the seams are weak and constantly need repair) it's actually incredibly wearable. The pockets are just the right size and the bodice is very comfortable (it's the same bodice as this dress). In fact, I'm thinking of making this again but in red with white polka dots …

Fabric Week: Out of the Closet

I have found that one of the best ways to quell the desire to hit "Buy It Now" on an eBay fabric listing is to go upstairs and check out what's still patiently waiting for me in my fabric stash. Stuff like this, for instance:

pink stripe fabric

That's supposed to be a big 50s shirtdress. Someday. For now, it's waiting patiently in a big pile (which is why it's so wrinkly).

This, below, is also supposed to be a shirtdress. I have, as longtime readers of this blog will know, an almost pathological attachment to the color "hot dog mustard." (Good thing that there isn't that much hot-dog-mustard fabric made.) I bought this fabric in LA in January, I think:

yellow plaid

This fabric was going to be the border of a Duro that I haven't made yet. Not sure if I will make it, and now there's only about three yards of this:
scribble fabric

Same thing with this: parts of a Duro that has not yet come to be:

paisley fabric

I bought this fabric because it's a nice heavy weight and I thought it would make a good skirt. I should probably work this up this weekend, as it's a good pattern for summer:

more paisley fabric

This I *can't wait* to sew — I bought it at Joann's, of all places (nonUSians: JoAnn's is a giant chain store that lately has been more crafty than fabric-y). When I was having it cut (I bought everything left on the bolt, natch, about six yards) four people came up to me and asked me what I was going to make. "A *BIG* dress," I said. Of course, I am still trying to find the perfect "BIG DRESS" pattern for this. And deciding what to line it with. I want pale gray batiste, which I don't think exists (or at least, doesn't exist at a price I'm willing to pay, and I'm not going to dye white batiste, either).

yellow broderie anglaise

This last is probably my favorite of everything pictured here. I just can't figure out what it should be. I bought it thinking "skirt!" but now I think it really wants to be a dress. I don't have enough for a full-skirted dress, and I'm worried about matching those strong horizontal lines across a narrow paneled skirt. I think I'll have to do a wiggle dress, but then there's the knotty question of pockets … it's a nice sturdy fabric with good stretch, though, so if I just buckle down and DO IT, it will be amazingly wearable and summery …

green square fabric

So that's what's hanging out in my fabric stash, clamoring to be made … and keeping me from buying more fabric online!

Liberty: An Essential Part of Any Complete Fabric Week

Liberty Peter

This seems to be part of the new Liberty range for 2007; the auction for this colorway is over, but the seller, laluthan, has some in brown, still. (I've bought from her before; she's very nice!)

If I make it to the UK this year (hoping perhaps in September) I know what I'm buying. I only hope they have it in the twill as well as the lawn, so that I can make a nice heavy skirt out of it. And maybe a green colorway? Or an orange one? That would be perfect.

This one really reminds of my favorite Liberty print ever, the one with the stars and dots (I wish I remembered its name!) …

Don't mind me; I'll just be over here daydreaming about Liberty prints.

Bonus Post for Fabric Week: Jokes

Here are two terrible fabric jokes. Does anyone have any better ones?

What Did the Bolt of Fabric Tell His Daughter When She Threatened to Run Away to India?

"Go ahead … you'll be sari."

(From Defective Yeti, courtesy Annette … )

And this one, which turned up I-don't-know-how:

Walking up to a department store’s fabric counter, a pretty girl asked, “I want to buy this material for a new dress. How much does it cost?”

“Only one kiss per yard, ” replied the smirking male clerk.

“That’s fine,” replied the girl. “I’ll take ten yards.”

With expectation and anticipation written all over his face, the clerk hurriedly measured out and wrapped the cloth, then held it out teasingly.

The girl snapped up the package, pointed to a little old man standing beside her, smiled and said, “Grandpa pay the man.”

(That one must be ancient; when's the last time you saw a department store with a fabric counter? From here).

Please tell me some of you have better ones. You can leave 'em in the comments.

Fabric Week Exclusive

ebay item 8305987417

Y'all remember Stephanie, right? I did an interview with her way back when?

Most of my interview was basically lusting over her fabrics, which she designs herself and uses for her scarves and handbags and pillows and whatnot.

Well, she has a few yards of her "larch pinecone" print left over, and she's selling them on Etsy. (Click the image above to go to the listing.) It's expensive, but it's worth it — gorgeous, heavy silk, in a beautiful print. (And a matching handbag is available.)

What would you make with this fabric? It's so expensive that I think a full-skirted dress is out of the question … and, although it's heavy silk, I think a cheongsam might be a little obvious. I think I'd make a little bolero jacket to wear over a narrow wiggle dress of heavy ivory silk, piped in that same red … that would be a gorgeous second-wedding dress (although since I've not worn out my first wedding yet, I'd have to think of something else to wear it to!). Two yards would also make a great base for a Duro

As far as I know, Stephanie's only told A Dress A Day about this fabric, so consider this an exclusive (at least for the fifteen seconds or so it will take this post to be indexed)!

Good Intentions

blue gray silk fabric

I *absolutely* meant to post about the Etsy/Instructables contest, but the last few weeks have been pretty hectic, what the conferencing and the travel and the husband-gone-fishing-in-Canada-ness of it all. But right now I am looking at a week with very few conference calls in it, and only three or four deliverables, so isn't it good that they extended the deadline to July 16! That's a week from now, plenty of time for you all to enter and win a NEW SEWING MACHINE!

I also meant to post about the BurdaStyle contest … they extended their deadline, too, to July 15. That's plenty of time to design, sew, and mail, right? Right?

I think there's some other stuff I was going to post about, as well. Maybe I will catch up this week, stranger things have happened.

Oh, and someone in the comments a few days back asked for another fabric week, and well, seller atticcon has listed a ton of vintage fabric, including the blue silk up above. Blue-gray *textured* silk. Mmmmmm. Perhaps my good "I'm not buying any fabric until I go to Japan" intention is going to take a workout this week.

Anything else I've forgotten? Leave a comment or email me …

Dress or carapace?

weigels pattern

Crystal sent me a link to this pattern, which is listed on eBay Australia (click on the image to visit the listing), and all I can say is that I hope "fiberglass" is not listed in the "suitable fabrics" section. Doesn't this look more like a hard case for the top of your car than a dress?

Of course, saying that doesn't mean I don't like it. I'd love to have a completely rigid exoskeleton dress. (Exodress?) Stains would roll right off, yes? No one would crowd you on the subway. If someone pissed you off you could just walk slowly and menacingly toward them, they would realize you could simply crush them into a wall, and rethink their behavior.

So if this were an exodress, I would make it in shiny, shiny aluminum. Or perhaps Kevlar. Wouldn't you? And is it just me, or is the shoulder detail above actually the latches that hold it on? I think they are …

I can't believe I missed this one.

mail order pattern 4527

I can't believe I missed this one. I know I can't be everywhere at once, but this is the kind of thing that makes me want to write a PatternML language so that I can persuade all the vintage pattern sellers to make a single giant RSS feed which I could drink from, like some kind of immense vintage-sewing firehose. Wouldn't that be great? A simple tagging language that would let sellers mark their patterns consistently and upload them to some kind of Giant Awesome Database and then they'd all be out there, right where we wanted them. (I'll put it on the list, with the other kazillion projects I have going on right now.)

If I had been PAYING ATTENTION, like I should have, I would have seen this pattern at Out of the Ashes Collectibles and it would be mine. Now I just have to sit here alone with my bitter, bitter regret. (Ashes, indeed.)

But let me be a lesson to you, and go check out the site. There's some really cute stuff still around!

And while I'm wallowing in regret, it seems I let this incredible Alexander Henry fabric sell out while I wasn't looking. Anyone know who's still got, oh, four or five yards?

alexander henry bird seed yellow


Butterick 6015

A few things I wanted to post about, but haven't had time to work up into full-fledged posts:

Chez Cemetarian has the Butterick "Walk-Away" dress listed right now! It's B32, but even if that's not your size, click on the image above and go read up on the info she's tracked down about it.

This article from the LA Times talks about the rise in popularity of the dress. (Registration required; try bugmenot.com if you're not registered.) Best stat? "Market research firm NPD Group … recently reported that sales of dresses soared to $5 billion in the 12 months that ended April 30. Dress sales were up 30%, while sales for all women's apparel rose just 5%." Not that I'm taking any of the credit, mind you. (Thanks to Stacy for the link!)

I blogged about what I'm reading for the new site Writers Read — my entry is here.

And I don't usually post email folks send me (unless they ask me to), but lately I've been hearing from more and more men that they read this blog. They always say this sheepishly, as if they are the ONLY GUY IN THE WORLD to ever hit this URL. So, because I don't want them to feel alone, here's a recent email I received (posted with permission) from Joshua Ferguson:

Okay, so I’ll make it clear that I don’t really care about fashion.

First I’m a guy and as such I prefer function to fashion. I like cords, cargo pants and clothes that bring out the green/blue of my eyes and I prefer them all at the same time. That’s pretty much as deep as I go. If I can’t wear it with Vans shoes (unless in a formal setting) then it doesn’t need to be worn unless it has a specific function (read: hiking boots, gortex, et cetera).

Anyways, I was helping the girlfriend look for a dress to wear to her upcoming cosmetology graduation (something in a retro black/white polka-dot 50s style) that we could actually afford. I ran a Google Boolean search for [cute “black and white” “polka dot” god damn dress] and voila somehow I hit your site and landed squarely in the archives of October 2006 looking at a Chess Dress from way back when. It was awesome.

Awesome enough for me to read the description which was amusing enough for me to read more of the site. Finally I bookmarked it and have found myself reading about patterns and eyelets and whathaveyou and yet I don’t feel the need to renounce my manhood.

Truth be told I grew up around this stuff because my grandmother was a seamstress who worked for Chic Lingerie in Los Angeles but still. I find your site to be well written, fun and informative even if I have no intention of ever sewing another stitch in my life (it’s just not cost-effective to design my own clothes I reckon).

So, with all that said I end with a simple thank you. I have been amused and my scowl was turned upside down for the time being.

Cheers and keep it up as you would regardless of this email.

I have to say I enjoy the emails from people who say "I hate dresses, but I like your site," because that lets me know I'm not just preaching to the choir (note to choir: I love you guys, too). It's the same thing as when people come up to me and say "I thought a talk by a dictionary editor would be SO BORING, but I really enjoyed listening to you!" Hearts and minds, people, hearts and minds. Someday this will be a big ol' dictionary-usin', dress-wearin' world, and I can retire, my work done.

Moths in the Pocketbook [caution: long entry]

illustraton from The Woman's Book

Dress a Day reader Kathy writes:

After reading a few of your recent posts; notably your rant on airplane-riding gear, and your quote from Ruskin, which had me in great hopes that maybe this would be my lucky week when a good dressmaker, loyal to the dressmakers creed, would chase me and my ill-suited clothing down and "fix it" – I was left shaking my head (in the sideways direction), in my non-dressmaking ways of wondering how to dress myself better.

I mean, the only things currently stopping me right now are the facts that I don't sew, and get rather down-in-the-dumps very quickly while shopping, due to the moths flying out of the pocketbook. It's a difficult art to find appropriate clothing (for work and play and air travel and the like) on a tight budget, (ok, and devoting some of that budget to other passions, such as drumsticks) – and knowing that most of the clothing that is found on the budget is doomed to quickly fall apart, and in some ways is disposable. I wondered how your blog-readers tackle this issue – a few good well-made outfits? Sewing as much of their own clothing as possible (it doesn't seem a money saver with so much made-in-china out there). The thrift shops?

I'd like to thank Kathy for writing in and allowing me to dispense with the idea that it takes a great deal of money to be well-dressed. (It can take a great deal of money to be fashionably dressed, but fashion has never been the goal here on this blog, as you all probably know by now.) To dress attractively, in a way that makes you happy, does not take a lot of money. I pretty much *never* spend more than $100 on any one thing, and that includes coats and shoes. I usually spend less than $50.

The first, and hardest part, is to find out HOW you want to dress. What makes you feel capable, confident, attractive? What makes you happy? Sort out the clothes you own now and separate them into 'happy' and 'bleh' piles. What do the happy things have in common? Cut? Color? Fabric? Fit? Make lists of your happy and unhappy clothes and try to figure out where the gaps are. Feel like you 'need' black trousers, but every pair you own is on top of the 'bleh' pile? maybe the ones you have don't fit. Or are the wrong fabric (if they are that horrible poly-rayon, they are the wrong fabric). Or are the wrong cut (low-rise trousers that you have to keep tugging up, maybe)? Maybe you don't need black trousers. Would you prefer a nice knee-length black skirt? Check the congruence between your clothes and your Actual Life. Do you have a bunch of silk trousers but you spend all your time on the floor playing Legos? Work in a creative field but have nothing but navy-blue suits?

Once you have your 'wants' list, don't go shopping immediately. No, really, don't. You'll only convince the universe to remove all suitable garments from your immediate tri-state area. (The universe is a practical joker.) Live with only your happy clothes for a while. This will help flush out any 'bleh' clothes that are hiding among your happy ones. Try NOT to wear your bleh clothes at all. Not once. Put them in a box and tape it shut. Put something heavy and messy to move on top of the box (I recommend a half-built Lego project).

After wearing your happy clothes for a while, revisit your 'wants' list. Do you really need everything on it, or could you get by without a few of the things? Did you find yourself missing anything in the 'bleh' box?

Now it's time to shop. The best time to shop is when you don't need anything, but that's difficult when you're trying to build a wardrobe. The first thing to do is make a list of all your 'bleh' triggers. These are things you buy that go automatically into the 'bleh' pile. For me, a HUGE 'bleh' pitfall is the cardigan sweater that is too long from shoulder to hip. If I buy one, thinking "it'll be okay" or "I'll shrink it somehow", or "I'm sure I'm due for my 35-year-old growth spurt" it NEVER works. So on my DO NOT BUY list, right there at the top, with a big star next to it, is LONG CARDIGANS. Next to it is BUTTON-FRONT BLOUSES. I keep buying them and hardly ever wear them. Then there's the TOO-NARROW SHOES. (I have wide-ish feet, and no amount of pleading 'but those shoes are SO CUTE' ever persuades them to become narrower.) Your list will differ, but if your 'bleh' pile is full of low-rise pants or turtleneck sweaters, and there are NO low-rise pants or turtlenecks in your 'happy' pile, put low-rise pants and turtlenecks on your trigger list.

Then check your happy list and see what you wear to *death*. I love little cotton jackets with pockets, and I hate to buy them because they're always, even on sale, at the top of my price range. (I also hate to sew them, because I dislike sewing linings.) But once I find one I like, I wear it to death. So I remind myself to buy ONE little jacket instead of three BLEH, too-long sweaters.

I prefer to shop thrift stores, consignment stores, eBay, TJMaxx/Marshall's/Filene's/Nordstrom Rack, outlets, and sale racks. But in order to do this you have to have a body of knowledge about what fits you and what brands you like. To learn this, you need to go try a LOT of things on. Go to a big mall, and take a notebook! Try on *everything* that catches your eye, even if it's a line that you think is *way* too expensive for you, or in stores that are not quite your demographic (stores like Caché and The Limited come to mind — and remember, the sale racks in stores that aren't your demographic are more likely to have what you want, since their 'regular' customers didn't buy it).

Also: I need not mention that if you are trying on clothes that you are not wearing heavy makeup or perfume, or jewelry that would catch or snag anything, right? And that your underwear is clean and tidy and most of all PRESENT?

Make notes on how things fit. For instance, Ralph Lauren's "Lauren" line fits me nicely, but anything Calvin Klein usually does not fit me at ALL. Note what sizes you've tried on. Try on shoes, too. Make notes of styles you like, and brands. Try on three or four different styles in one brand of shoe, so you can see if they have a consistent last.

I would say "Don't buy anything on these fitting trips" but again, that's just taunting the universe. If you go in without credit cards the sale rack will be brimming with your holy grail items — for me, that would be short-sleeve cardigan sweaters — so I won't say that. But try not to buy things that aren't on your 'want' list. There are some exceptions: I will always buy incredible eveningwear pieces, especially if they are less than $40. (This is why I could go to a fancy party every night for two weeks and never repeat.) Eveningwear just EVAPORATES if you have to buy it at short notice, which is why you should always have several classic pieces in your closet. (I have tuxedo pants [they were only $35, but of course the last time I wore them it was to a drag-king show], a long black silk skirt [$30], several other long fancy skirts in bright colors [$10 each, Esprit outlet sale], a couple evening sweaters [$20 each], silver shoes and a silver bag [$15-20 each], and at least three cocktail dresses [thrift store finds].)

Once you know what fits you, then you can seriously shop. I usually start by prioritizing my list as to what I think
I will wear the most often (black cardigans and loafers). That's what I want to spend the most money on. Once I know that, I start searching, usually online. Online is faster and easier than physical stores, for me.

Ebay is a great place to start. This is where your size/fit book really comes in handy. Did those Dana Buchman pants at Nordstrom fit your body perfectly, but not your wallet? Search for them on eBay. You might even find them 'new-with-tags'. Want a pair of 9West flats but the department store didn't have your size? Look for them on eBay. You can also check Froogle, Amazon.com, Overstock.com, Sierra Trading Company … there are lots of places to shop online for stuff that's not full-price. I especially like Lands' End Outlet. (Beware, their sizes run large — if you're tiny, check out their girls' and boys' selections, though — they're even cheaper!) Their cardigan sweaters are a staple for me, and their business skirts, when on sale, are a great deal. And since you've tried on EVERYTHING, you know what will probably fit you. (And if it comes and doesn't fit you, turn around and resell it on eBay yourself.)

Don't forget to put up "saved searches" on eBay. That pair of shoes isn't online in your size right now? Save the search, and let eBay email you when they pop up again. (Another note on shoes: I mostly WEAR black shoes, but I BUY shoes in every color and let my shoe-repair guy dye them for me. Pretty much everything but patent will dye to black, and it costs about $25.)

Thrift stores are another good option if you have time to really rummage, but consignment stores are even better, in terms of the best signal-to-noise ratio. If you can, find a couple of stores and visit frequently. Or leave a note with the owner as to what you're looking for. Looking for a black pantsuit in a size 10? Tell them! It can't hurt, and both the consignment store owner and the consigner are hoping for a fast sale. Their thinking should be: if you come into the store, who knows what you might walk out with?

I go to TJMaxx/Filene's/Marshalls for things like tights, t-shirts, workout clothes, socks, and so forth. I hardly ever find super-nice jackets or skirts there (although Filene's and Nordstrom Rack are the best bets for that sort of thing).

A word about places like H&M: they're great for t-shirts (and tights, too) and sometimes jackets, but there are certainly quality issues. Also, H&M seems to buy their dyes from some kind of dye outlet store. Aside from white and black (and occasionally red) I never have much luck matching H&M colors to ANYTHING else.

I have to say, though, that in terms of best bang for your buck over time, sewing is at the top of the list. It's hard to argue with the $10 skirt — including zipper. There are, of course, a lot of sunk costs (machine, ironing board, iron, scissors, cutting table, pins and needles and whatnot) and a lot of invested time, but now I can make a silk dress for $50 that will last me for years, and is exactly what I want, as well as something no one else has. Sewing also lets you maintain clothes you bought elsewhere. Once you have the basics of a wardrobe bought from Conventional Sources, it's probably worth it to spend a little money learning to sew. It is *definitely* worth it if you have tastes that are unusual in any degree, an oddly shaped or sized body, or an allergy to designer branding & labels.

So I guess this whole long post (and pretty much every 'build a wardrobe' book I've ever read) boils down to these steps:

1. know what you like, and more importantly, what you don't like. Reject the 'bleh'!
2. arm yourself with information: lists, sizes, brand names, measurements (you should NEVER go shopping without a tape measure!)
3. prioritize your wants, and search for them (don't be afraid to shop online!)
4. lather, rinse, repeat — until you have a wardrobe you're happy with, and happy IN.