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I've been looking around a bit for patterns that I think would be easier, if not easy, for beginners. Being a beginner at sewing is a delicate thing: you want to make something that won't frustrate you beyond the bounds of human tolerance, but at the same time, you want to make something that you actually WANT to wear. As I said, delicate.

This is one of those patterns that I think would be good for a beginner (it's up right now at Miss Helene's.) It's interesting without being complicated.

Here are some of my criteria for an "easy" pattern:

— no set-in sleeves
— simple darts (and not too many of 'em)
— full skirt (to obviate hip/butt fitting issues; also, full skirts are more fun and harder to buy in stores)
— pockets (duh)

If I were a beginning sewist making this for the first time, I'd do it in a big wild floral; that would make it easier to hide any bobbles in that front skirt seam. (A very textured fabric, like piqué, might work for that, too.) If I were feeling brave, I'd do a contrasting/coordinating yoke and pockets, as seen here. Maybe I'd do the yoke in black or white, if I were worried about the possibility of a bright unflattering color near my face (which, obviously, I never am, but I hear tell some people are).

Now the only thing that makes this pattern NOT ideal for beginners is that it's an unprinted pattern — your only guidance to what piece is what would be teeny perforations on the pattern tissue. If I were starting out with this, if possible, I'd either find someone who has sewn A LOT to help me pin the pattern and cut it out, or I'd spend a good solid two hours checking and double-checking my layout to make sure I had it right. Two hours spent at the beginning often saves triple that at the end. (And prevents the project from being a "wadder" — something you wad up and throw in the trash!)

What other criteria would you suggest for "beginner" vintage patterns?

More Stunt Dressing: Crossword Dress #2

The ACPT (otherwise known as the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament) was held a few weeks ago in Brooklyn. You all might remember that I made & wore a crossword-puzzle themed dress for last year's tournament; this year I resolved to do the same. (It was much easier — and much, much more likely — than resolving to win!)

Unfortunately, though, my Quasi-Evil Plan to have some crossword themed custom fabric printed went awry (through lack of planning on my part — I didn't leave enough time to get both the fabric AND the dress made). So, I wondered, what else could I do?

I did this:

2008 crossword dress

I can't remember what pattern I used — some vintage 1960s Simplicity thing — I can dig up the number if anyone's interested.

The black and white fabrics are both quilting cottons (which, in part, explains how rumpled and mussed it looks — that stuff is a pain to iron!). The black lines are black bias tape.

What I did was cut out all the dress pieces and do about half the construction — darts, the major seams of the skirt — and then put on the black squares, which are secured to the white fabric by the bias tape.

I did NOT do a good job of matching the blocks across seams, as you can see above, where the waist blocks don't meet the skirt blocks very well (darn pleats!) and here, on the back:

2008 crossword dress

I would have tried harder on the back, but I was still finishing it very late the night before we left, and the only zipper that was right length was an invisible one, and nothing on earth will make me take out an invisible zipper once I have it (mostly) in. My rationalization was "It's Brooklyn in February; I'll be wearing a cardigan over it anyway."

I was also going to use the embroidery function on my machine to do numbers in all the appropriate boxes but it got really boring watching my machine embroider numbers, and again, late at night, so I quit after about three:

2008 crossword dress

In spite of the construction bobbles and my laziness, I think this dress was a qualified success … although it was just slightly too subtle, especially when compared to some of the other crossword-themed clothing at the tournament. (Although it was nice to feel tasteful in a stunt dress, for once.)

Any ideas for what I should do next year?

Is it time to post about shoes again?

Report Hali

I just took these back yesterday (Macy's online had the best price, better than Zappo's, and *returning* things to the Macy's-that-was-Marshall-Field's doesn't violate my still-in-place boycott). I wanted them to work, badly, but they were too narrow across the ball of the foot, and the last thing you want in a low-cut shoe is overflow. Also, I don't like peep-toes where you only see one toe; it feels too "my talon, let me show you it," to me.

Other than that they were lovely. (And they come in this gorgeous blue, too.)

I'm still completely obsessed with these loafers, to the point of buying the gold-colored ones online in the hopes of dying or painting them black. Also, I'm toying with the idea of having a pair custom-made, although I'm holding back because it's 1) insanely expensive and 2) probably a guarantee that I'll lose my fascination for them immediately upon receiving said very expensive, custom-made pair. (That's what happened to my desire for pepperoncini once I bought the Giant Bottle of them from Costco.)

But summer is coming and perhaps I can distract myself from The Quest for Loafers by trying something like this:

Report Hali

I think they'd be really cute with (wait for it …) shirtdresses. What do you think?

There's also these flats, and also these, too …

Of course, it's still entirely possible we could get more snow here in Chicago. I have plenty of time to think about sandals and summer shoes … what shoes are you thinking about for summer?


Yeah! I Made It Myself

First off is Yeah! I Made It Myself, by Eithne Farry, which has been languishing under a pile of language-related books I have to review for I don't know how long. Since I came back from London, at the very least. Which is a shame, because it's a charming book.

I fell into immediate sympathy with the author, who declares (in the first fifty pages) her love for bias tape, sewing with furnishing fabric, and bright colo[u]rs.

But, be aware this is much more of a punk-rock, you-go-girlfriend-type book than a Martha Stewart "here are my 105 downloadable templates" type book. Most of the measurements given are approximate; the "diagrams" are done in what looks like magic marker. If you need constant reassurance that you are "doing it right", this is not the book for you; if you want to feel as if any way you do it is right (within reason), jump right in.

This book would be a perfect present for a teen friend who wants to sew but is put off by the embellished-quilted-vest crowd you see on a lot "traditional" sewing books … just keep an eye on your curtains.

99 Ways ... Scarf

The other book that's up for review today is 99 Ways To Cut, Sew, Tie & Rock Your Scarf I was really looking forward to this one, because I'm always interested in ways to make clothing-type stuff from things that aren't necessarily fabric (although of course with scarves it's changing one clothing-type thing into another clothing-type thing, or, in this case, 99 other clothing-type things).

All of the 99 versions in this book have women's names, and, believe it or not, my copy fell open to "Erin" … which is a balloon skirt. Not an auspicious start, although your opinion of balloon skirts may differ from mine. (My opinion is I hate 'em.) I think this was a sign that I'm not the intended audience for this book: first off, I don't really ever "rock" anything I'm wearing — I prefer to "power-pop" my clothing, the choruses are better — also I'm not a big fan of the halter top, versions of which I would estimate take up a good quarter of the "99 ways". One other reason why I figured I wasn't the audience for this book: none of the illustrated models are wearing eyeglasses! (Sunglasses don't count.)

However, if you are a halter-top fan, and you have been looking for a good quick balloon-skirt pattern, this book is totally for you. The instructions are clear and easy to follow and there's a great glossary of terms at the end. And even if you don't want 47 scarf-based tops that you can't wear a bra under, the "Jolene" kimono-style jacket is really lovely.

Again, though, this is a sewing book for non-sewers: almost every project can be made without a machine, and the emphasis is heavily on "find the scarf (preferably in a thrift store) today, wear it out tonight."

I actually got two copies of this, so if you want one, here's how to get it: be the first person to tell me where I can buy two more yards of this cotton poplin camouflage fabric:

green camo fabric

I had just enough for a skirt … I thought. Then I saw that I'd dropped the center-back pattern piece on the floor. D'oh! So help me out, and get a free book! Email or comments are both fine ways to enter. If you leave a comment, though, make sure I can reach you to get an address for the sending of your prize!

Linktastic Friday No. 4

Vogue 5161

Candy at Contentment Farm has a bunch of patterns up on eBay right now, including the one above. Don't you love the soft pleats on the skirt?

Eirlys sends dice-shaped tape measures, guaranteed to make sewing more of a crapshoot than it already is.

Totally make-you-want-to-learn-to-knit vintage patterns for short-sleeved cardigans at Little Grey Bungalow. [from Sewretro List]

Paper wedding dresses that look as if you can actually dance in them (instead of standing very very still so as not to spill dress-melting champagne on oneself). [From Lisa at Miss Helene's, who also reminded me about the Duck Tape Prom Dress contest.]

And speaking of paper dresses, Theresa found a link to a paper Warhol soup-can dress. It's long sold, but the lovely folks at Memphis Vintage left the image up for us to wonder at. Thanks!

If you're not signed up for the Museum at FIT's email notifications, you might want to … they have some really interesting exhibitions (Madame Grés!) coming up.

I hate (and I mean HATE) St. Patrick's Day (when your name is Erin you hate St. Patrick's Day — damn it, I'm Scots, doesn't that count for anything? Keep your green-beery hands to yourself!) but Mary Beth (of The Lazy Milliner) sent this, which is both St. Patrick's-Day themed and Obama-related. Just don't spill beer on it, okay?

Brenda (at Cast On, A Podcast for Knitters) sends this link to an exhibition on homemaking at Cornell. She points out the boggling fact that the Home Ec department used to RENT ORPHANS for the students to "practice" mothering. Rent-an-orphan. The world is always weirder than you think it is.

While you're thanking your lucky stars you're not a rentable orphan, check out this 1930s video about the fashions of the year 2000, sent by Leia. Weirdly enough, there's no mention of Prada OR Marc Jacobs.

I know nothing about this; I haven't even visited the link. But it was pitched to me as the "First Fashion Blog in Uzbekistan", and I'm afraid that if I visit it, it will turn out to be a parody site, and I want to Believe. Let it be Uzbekistan: fashion forward! (And not a bunch of bored college kids auditioning for The Onion.)

Marion sent a link to Spoonflower, which had a survey up (closed now, I'm sorry!) about what kind of on-demand fabric printing you might want, at what price. Needless to say, this URL is on my watchlist. If any of you feel so inclined, you might want to email them and tell 'em you want it too!

Jen (at MOMSpatterns) sent this vintage-patterns-themed bracelet (from Etsy seller The Other Sister).

I know I've mentioned REMO t-shirts before, but now they have this offer where you can get a free t-shirt!

REMO General Store

You DO still have to pay shipping (from AUSTRALIA) but their t-shirts are so wonderful; they have really good women's sizes, and they wash beautifully … I'm even wearing one right now!

And one last thing before I forget, this has nothing to do with dresses, but it's the funniest thing I've read all week: Paul Ford does six-word reviews of ALL 763 SXSW mp3s. And I mean "laugh-out-loud" funny. (See how linktastic Friday lets me thwart the constraints of this medium?)

And that's all for this linktastic Friday. If you're going to send me a link (which I encourage!) and you want me to link your name to a site, make sure to include your URL … if you're sending me a link to Your Own Stuff, that's fine, but make sure you tell me that. Also, I (and my inbox) greatly prefer LINKS to large images, rather than the images themselves …

Enjoy your weekend …

Aye, Kalumba!

Liberty Kalumba

Ebay seller laluthan has, by some arcane process, not only managed to turn up tons of the (discontinued) Liberty twill, but also has some of my favorite, favorite patterns available right now, including the "Kalumba" print, above.

So far, I've bought this in orange (twice), green/lavender (once), blue (in silk! I can't bear to cut into it!), and now, the brown/teal here.

The first time I bought some Kalumba (orange #1) I made it into a very simple and comfortable A-line skirt. Unfortunately, I endowed it with insufficient pockets, which FILLS me with remorse every time I pull it out of the closet. (I was so young then, so unworldly! I thought all I needed was my ID, twenty bucks, and a lip balm!) Now that I'm older and wiser and carry too many personal electronic devices, I need more pockets, so I plan to make MORE Kalumba skirts. Maybe I'll even make one in each colorway, and wear them all the time, like Diana Vreeland wearing the same Balenciaga shift dress (but in different fabrics) every day.

I recommend laluthan highly — her stuff is gorgeous, comes quickly, and she's very good about shipping overseas (fast, too!). And last time I ordered from her she threw in a little scrap of blue twill Kalumba, just because … which is going to make a perfect waistband facing on one of these skirts.

And thank you all, so much, for your sympathetic comments on yesterday's post. Dad never did quite figure out exactly what "that blog thing" was for, but now I think he probably gets it. Obviously, the blog is "for" proving how kind people on the internet can be; I consider it now established beyond all doubt.

the first dress and the last dress

first dress

This probably wasn't the first dress I ever wore — I was more than a year old here, at my brother's christening — but it's the first dress I remember, in that weird kind of remembering that is nine-tenths composed of other people telling you what you should remember.

My grandmother made that dress, and I couldn't tell you if she knitted it or crocheted it. (My money's on crochet, though.) It has green velvet ribbons, which you can't see in the picture, and it's upstairs right now, in a box. I have a niece coming in August; maybe a year and a bit from now she'll wear it.


This is the last dress I made. Once Dad told me he liked a red bandanna skirt I had made, so I felt as if he would have approved of the black bandanna fabric. I was glad I had the fabric already; I hated the thought of going out and buying fabric for this last dress. Nothing would have been right; how could it have been? Besides, it was the just right weight for Florida in March, and when I lost it during "Be Not Afraid," the drops just beaded up and rolled off.

I used this pattern, for the first time. I went slow, much slower than usual for a first-time-through. I'd measure something and forget the number before I even put the ruler down. I had to move the little speed slider on my sewing machine from "jackrabbit" back down to "turtle." I kept sticking myself with pins.

I even tore the fabric of the bodice, ripping out stitches at the waist seam, but for once I didn't swear and throw it onto the "fix someday" pile; I just dug out some fusible interfacing and reinforced the tear. A little zig-zag stitching and a bit of cheating up when I redid that seam, and no one could have possibly spotted it, not even Dad, who could see a smudge or a nick or a speck of dirt from a hundred yards out.

As always, I made some changes to the pattern. I changed the front and back gathers on the bodice for darts, so as not to have to wear a belt (a blousy bodice looks awful without a belt, and my Good Black Belt is AWOL, as usual). I added deep pockets to the front seams — deeper than usual, as I wanted to be able to carry a full pack of tissues, maybe even two. I didn't want to have to carry a shoulder bag and then have it keep bumping into people when I hugged them. Dad had five sisters; I'm one of fifteen cousins; and friends were coming from all over: there was going to be a lot of hugging.

I know I'll wear this again — Dad was most emphatically NOT in favor of things that you could only use once — but I hope it's a long time before I need to wear it again. I might still want to have two packs of tissues in my pockets for a while, though. Just in case.

I'm going to miss you, Dad.


Thomas Albert McKean, 1944-2008.