Cheap Chic: 40th Anniversary Edition

Cheap Chic, the fashion classic, has been reprinted in a special 40th anniversary edition, with a foreword by Tim Gunn.

Cheap Chic, original edition cover

I don’t remember where I first read this book; it must have been in the 1980s, and I’m pretty sure it was a public library copy, the cover reinforced with whatever the library grade of Con-Tact paper is.

By that time I was already dressing much like the authors of the book, or as much like them as a high-school student in North Carolina could dress, so I read the entire thing as an exercise in confirmation bias. Of course I had olive drab army pants (several pair, including one I’d chopped off into shorts). I had multi-button wool sailors’ pants (too warm for the climate), men’s white t-shirts and oxfords, penny loafers, and (a significant find) a pair of incredibly beat-up (and uncomfortable) pair of boy’s cowboy boots, bought at a thrift store in Hickory, NC. I’d swiped my dad’s Levi’s jean jacket AND his Eisenhower jacket. I had good leather bags and belts (bought as seconds at the Coach outlet in town). I was certainly cheap; this book told me I was chic.

Re-reading Cheap Chic is half nostalgia, half discomfort. It’s difficult to read this now without noticing what I didn’t notice back in the eighties: the constant underscoring of the idea that the base requirement for chic is a “lean body” (and the assumption that everyone reading the book could easily fit into boy’s-size clothing and would be comfortable going braless in leotards). The regular and slightly thoughtless appropriation of clothing from different cultures and classes (“ethnic” and “worker’s” clothing), including the advice that you should “Tune into Soul Train when you’re running low on ideas!” And of course, so much fur!

The best reason to re-read Cheap Chic is for the interviews with designers, including Betsey Johnson, Rudi Gernreich, and (best of all) Diana Vreeland:

It’s hard to read Cheap Chic without thinking about the assumptions behind what made things cheap or chic: things were cheap because they were either made cheaply (by people you didn’t think much about otherwise), were the surplus of the militarization of the twentieth century, or because you had the resources to invest up-front in something well-made and expensive that would last a long time (Saint Laurent boots are mentioned often). Things were chic because they made you look young, cosmopolitan, well-traveled, thin, and rich.

I’d recommend reading Cheap Chic just to experience this discomfort, and to try to bring it forward into our lives now. What assumptions are we making today that will make our grandchildren cringe?

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September is National Sewing Month!

So I guess September is National Sewing Month? (In the US, at least?)

September is a pretty good month for it, if you had to choose just one: there’s still warm weather (again, in the US) but also the promise of cooler weather to come, so you can sew for both seasons. There’s back-to-school, which always seems to make people want new clothes (whether they are in school or not — and more time to sew if your kids just went back to school …). Plus there’s the annual goal of getting a jump start on any holiday sewing.

If I were going to set ambitious sewing goals for the month (which I’m not, but …) I’d try to make September a month to prepare me for better sewing for the rest of the year. I’d re-organize my patterns and fabric, I’d sort through (and blog about!) all the books in my sewing library, and I’d go get all my scissors sharpened and learn to use that last orphan presser foot that came with my machine. I’d toss all the old thread that I’ve moved eight times and will never use, and do something cool with all those vintage wooden spools that I keep hanging on to. And maybe (just maybe) I’d finally cut enough squares for a quilt.

That’s if I were going to set ambitious sewing goals for September, which I’m not, because I already have ambitious non-sewing goals for September, and well into October. (Watch this space!)

What are your National Sewing Month goals?

Gray Gardens

Hey, it’s another Simplicity 2389!
Simplicity 2389 Kokka

I think this fabric is called Flower Field (maybe?) and is Kokka Trefle? A few minutes’ desultory Googling hasn’t turned up a picture. It feels like Kokka’s linen/cotton mix and I know I bought it from Superbuzzy in 2013 (thanks to saving every fabric invoice in my inbox). Here’s the full front view:
Simplicity 2389 Flower Field

And here’s the center front, with an attempt at matching the pattern across the front seam:

Untitled

And of course the shoulder piping:

Simplicity 2389 Shoulder piping

The zipper/pocket (also with piping):

Untitled

And the back:

Simplicity 2389 Flower field back

I say “Simplicity 2389” but it’s really the Simplicity 2389 with the modified Heidi skirt, as usual. As you might imagine after seeing so many of these hybrids in a row, I really really like this dress. (And I have a few more coming to post.) It’s just so darn easy to make and wear, and I haven’t really run out of interesting (to me, at least) combinations of print and piping (even self.jpgping).

But last week I found myself thinking about a simple, V-neck bodice with a six-gore pocketed skirt, probably in  dark denim. I’d like it for rainy cold SF days (I’m betting/hoping that we may have more than a couple of those this winter), so perhaps the tide is turning?

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In Search Of … The Perfect San Francisco Coat

I’ve been working in the actual city of San Francisco for about a month and I’ve realized that I need a “San Francisco coat”.

What’s a “San Francisco coat”? It’s a coat that is:

    • lightweight but wind-resistant
    • water-resistant but not waterproof (waterproof coats are usually too warm, and it doesn’t really rain that much in SF)
    • full enough to go over full skirts
    • movement-friendly (sufficient shoulder ease)
    • HAS POCKETS (of course)
    • long enough to be another barrier between you and the seats on public transit (just in case)

So here’s the current candidate (found on Etsy from seller mbchills):

Simplicity5304

It’s possible to be a “San Francisco coat” without the buttons and collar, but I prefer buttons to zips in coats (zips are too binary; a coat is either zipped or it’s not unless you do one of those fancy zips that open from both the top and the bottom and even then that little section of the zipper gets too much stress and breaks).

I’m thinking of making this coat—the shorter length—in a lightweight gray denim, if I can find such a thing. (Sometimes I imagine fabrics that, while technically possible, do not actually exist.) I’m a little daunted by those welt pockets, but, hey, I read somewhere on Pinterest that what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger.

I have zero plans right now to line this darn thing, but we’ll see what happens when I actually start making it. I also have zero plans to do all that top-stitching, but I see some nice opportunities for piping. I’m pretty sure I’ll also shorten the sleeves a little; not all the way to three-quarters, but maybe to a length that is just shy of my watch.

I’ve never actually made a coat before — I’ve cut out TWO coats, neither of which ever made it to the “put it through the sewing machine” stage.

It was pretty warm for SF last week—cardigan weather, really—but you never know when you’re going to get another week of gray, 50, and windy, so I’m hoping to start this sooner, rather than later. Wish me luck!

I'm With the Bandana

Been a while since I posted a new dress, huh? Here’s one that’s been waiting patiently in pieces for ages:

Bandana Simplicity 2389 front

This is in some black bandana print so old that I can’t remember when or where I bought it. It is not great fabric — it’s pretty stiff and there were plenty of print faults and slubs. Not sure why I was all excited about sewing with it, but I think playing with the print motifs was part of it:

Simplicity 2389 bodice

Here’s a closer look at the bodice matching:

Simplicity 2389 bodice motif matching

Here’s the back — I was really interested in having the back bodice look as much like a standalone bandana as possible:

Matched the motif across the skirt panels too (this is the altered Burdastyle Heidi skirt, again again again, I really should do a separate post detailing all the changes I’ve put it through):

Bandana Simplicity 2389 motif matching

And the piped pocket and zipper:

Bandana Simplicity 2389 side zip and pocket

I bought a bunch of invisible zippers with very lightweight, almost knit tapes in Vancouver and they’re a bit trickier to sew with than I thought. As in, I’ve already broken two of them. I’m hoping it’s more “practice makes perfect” and not “you bought a bunch of lemons”. This one went it more or less okay, though. (Fingers crossed.)

I still have some orange bandana fabric yet to make up, probably the last piece of my epic 2008 Japan fabric binge.

(If you like odd bandanas you will almost certainly like the Calamityware Bad Bandana project.)

Oh, and if you missed it, I wrote about answering customer-service email on The Pastry Box! Very exciting, I know.

It's another shirt-shirtdress!

I finally found the right old shirt to complete this particular shirt-shirtdress: shirt-shirtdress

I’ve made this particular … can’t really call it a pattern; let’s call it an agglomeration, okay? twice before. (This one I blogged about.)

Here’s the back:
shirt-shirtdress back

I made the back panel wider this go-around, and used the same shirt for the back side and pocket panels (and you can see that there are three different sizes/shades of gray gingham here, and no, I didn’t match any of them):
shirt-shirtdress: I put pockets in my pockets

My favorite, favorite part of this dress is putting the front shirt pocket as the pocket panel. For some reason this just pleases me all out of proportion to how much use that little pocket will actually get. But EVEN MY POCKETS HAVE POCKETS, y’all.

I also like making sure the front center skirt piece has a pocket in it. I have put back otherwise lovely shirts at Goodwill if they lack this essential element:

shirt-shirtdress: lotsa pockets

The piping above isn’t made from shirts, it’s some bought-in-NYC Japanese piping I had left over from a gray chambray Simplicity 2389 that I don’t think I’ve posted about yet. Anyway, back to the matter at hand. The buttonholes didn’t really line up well at the center front (you can see here how one buttonhole is actually caught in the waist seam) so I just made a new one (that’s the second buttonhole down). No worries.

shirt-shirtdress rebuttonholing

My second-favorite bit of making these shirt-shirtdresses is unpicking the front pocket, sewing the darts, then sewing the pocket back down over the darts. Which you can’t really tell from this picture, but that’s what I did:
shirt-shirtdress dart and pocket

Matching the shirttail hem is also very satisfying — especially at the sides:
more shirt-shirtdress hem

And, of course, using some of the shirt fabric to make bias tape to finish the sleeves:
shirt-shirtdress sleeve

(The sleeve opening is actually a bit too wide here — next time I’m going to see if I can actually shorten the sleeve and gather it into the sleeve cuff from a different shirt. We’ll see if I can find some XXL shirt with big cuffs to go around my biceps …)

Fabric-wise, this dress took 2 extra-large, 1 large, and 1 medium shirt (for the bodice). The extra-large shirts really make it easier to match up the side panel hem curves without having to use part of the sleeve underarm (never the best part of a secondhand shirt!) at the top of the skirt side panels.

I have one more of these cut out (in different shades/sizes of *blue* gingham) and I hope to take some construction pictures to roll up into an eventual tutorial … these are really not hard to make. (The hardest part is finding the coordinating shirts.)