Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: The End of Fashion by Teri Agins

I read "The End of Fashion" so you don't have to.  If you have it on your to-read you should probably take it off.  I found it mildly interesting as a piece of fashion history, but it was hard to get through.  Agins covers, among other things, Paris as the center of the fashion universe, the story of designer/movie star synergy, and the (temporary) reprieve Marshall Field's bought itself as a strictly high-end merchandiser.

I had to google "Hilfiger Vintage" to find this.
Writing in 1998 or so (the book was published in 1999), Agins argues that fashion is dead.  Forever.  When you read the book you remember why this would be easy to believe:  this was the height of Tommy Hilfiger Hegemony, as covered in a chapter of the book.  Those hideous oversized color-blocked sweatshirts were all over the damn place.  Less facetiously, there was also the perpetual issue of couture being a huge money-loser, and fashion people making very bad business people (the chapter on Donna Karan is a great illustration of this principle).

However, the title has more to do with timing than absolute truth.  This quote encapsulates the era Agins recounts:  "Glamorous as they are, fashion shows are fairly low-voltage to the general public, who will probably never see a tape of an Armani runway show." (p 152).  Thank you for that prediction, Professor Trelawney.

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Agins was writing in the dead zone between the easing of American economic protectionism that began to allow cheap clothes from Asia to flood the market (the Multi-Fiber Arrangement was phased out by 2005) and the rise of the fashion blogger.  In those dead zone years, fashion was pretty grim.  Think of those heinous jeans the 90210 crowd wore(and don't miss this horrendous pair on Shannen Doherty).
With the rise of the Internet, the top-down model Agins writes about no longer became the only paradigm.  Designers, department stores, and fashion magazines have by no means lost their influence on fashion (as evidenced by the awesome "cerulean" monologue in The Devil Wears Prada).  But what used to be "street fashion," which certainly had some influence in the past--though mainly as it was coopted by movie costume designers and the fashion industry--became fashion blogging, and far surpassed the IRL version in terms of influence.

As fashion became democratized, couture became no longer the stuffy province of the ultra-rich old money and ordinary people could get excited about and participate in fashion in a way that has not been possible at any other time in history.  Someone with a strong point of view could go from being a random teenager in the midwest to seated in the front row at a runway show (or so we like to imagine).

In addition, business people started to take over the business end of fashion.  Whether LVMH's ownership of a huge swathe of the luxury fashion brands is a good or a bad thing, it has meant that fashion houses have managed to stay afloat and continue to offer couture eye candy.

Of course, nothing is static.  The new fashion hegemony seems to be that fashion bloggers are sponsored and branded and all strive to be sponsored by (and feature) the same clothes, so there is less of a richness of fashion point-of-view and the designers/marketers are back on top in deciding the Next Big Thing.  However, I'm not going to go as far as Teri Agins and predict the end of fashion.  Humans will always have a keen interest in adorning themselves, regardless of how low the trough seems to have dipped.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Burda 08-2014-116, Open-Back High-Low Dress


I have been enjoying the cutout trend and so when I saw Burda 08-2014-116 I instantly fell in love and had to make it.

I just happened to have a trip to New York planned, so finding the perfect fabric for it was on my list.  This lightweight rayon was exactly what I was looking for--I love all the colors in the print, I like that it's a dot and not a floral (I love floral, but have a LOT of it), and it has the perfect floaty factor.

Back Alterations-BBA and Neckline
For the back bodice, I did a Broad Back Adjustment and also took a HUGE tuck out of the back neckline, which was really, really wide.

The bust dart on the front bodice is actually pretty small as drafted so I did not do any alteration for SBA.  I think if you are larger than an A cup, you'll want to do a FBA even if you don't normally need to.  The front neckline is a wee bit wide; I wish I had taken a little bit of width out of it at the pattern alteration stage.

The pattern is drafted as a boatneck, which is difficult for me to wear given that I am short.  I lowered the front neckline 2 1/2 inches (!) from where it was drafted, and it is still reasonably high.  So keep that in mind if you are at all chokey from high necks as I am.

Shorten Skirt

For once, I didn't need to do a swayback adjustment to the pattern because the cutout is basically at the swayback.

The skirt was too long as drafted, so I folded out 1 1/2 inches on each piece before cutting.

The pattern as drafted is lined in the bodice, but not in the skirt.  This fabric was too sheer not to line the skirt.  I'm *not* into the trend of having a short lining under a long sheer skirt (the 20somethings in DC are ALL OVER this look--like 50% of them on a Saturday night will be wearing this), so I thought a contrast lining was the way to go.  I immediately thought of the gorgeous green silk/cotton I got during Martha Pullen's epic silk/cotton sale, but didn't want to waste the vast expanse of it needed to fully line the skirt.  After agonizing over it way too much, I finally realized that duh, I could use cheap ordinary lining for most of the skirt and then add the silk/cotton at the bottom where it would show.

Lining Contrast Hem Extension

I lined up the center front and back skirt patterns and marked where the center front hit the center back.  I later realized that the back skirt dips down below the front skirt at the waist, but luckily I gave myself a good 2 1/2 inch cushion and only the decorative lining shows.  I then drew in the line for the decorative lining, making it about 2 1/2" wide in the front.

Contrast Lining

Lining Extension

It all worked according to plan.  I got my pretty contrast lining without "wasting" an acreage of lovely fabric.

Because there is no front or back center seam I couldn't do my usual all-machine clean finish.  I would normally use this method in that instance, but I was intrigued in reading Burda's instructions for finishing; yes, the Wooden Spoon Method.

I have seen the Wooden Spoon illustration many times.  I imagine that every month someone walks into Dagmar Bily's office and is like, "Disaster!  There is too much white space on the instruction sheet!"  and she pulls her best Miranda Priestly and is like, "Have you used the Wooden Spoon yet?  Seriously, do I have to think of everything myself?"  and they're like, "Of course!  The Wooden Spoon!  The Wooden Spoon will save us!"  Seriously, I think it's in every issue.  But the illustration has always made zero sense to me.  Until now.

The Wooden Spoon Method:

As with my normal clean finish technique, I started by trimming 1/8" inch off the neckline and armscye edges of the lining.

Front Right Side Out, Back Inside Out

Sew the bodice pieces together with their respective linings along the neckline and armscyes to within about an inch of the shoulder.  Finish/trim the seam allowances (I do it in one with the serger).  Finish the unsewn shoulder edges by serging, zigzagging, or your choice.

Turn the front bodice right side out.  (I actually turned both bodices right side out and did the required pressing, since I figured it would be easier to do with the pieces separate than together.  Then I turned the back bodice inside out again.)

Front Pulled Inside Back

Slide the front bodice inside the back bodice/lining, with the fashion fabric right sides together and the lining right sides together.  Match up the shoulders of the fashion and lining fabrics, and then pin.  You now have four shoulder seams to sew: fashion fabric right, lining right, fashion fabric left, and lining left.

Sew the shoulder seams.

Insert Wooden Spoon

Now for the famous Wooden Spoon:  Pull the front, which is inside the back, further through the back more toward the outside so the shoulder seams are no longer at the edge.  Slide the wooden spoon into the holes where you did not sew all the way up to the shoulder at the armscye and neckline.

The Infamous Wooden Spoon

Position the shoulder seam over the wooden spoon, and use it as a "ham" to press open the seam.  Frankly, I was pretty disappointed in the wooden spoon, which did not really make it easy to press open the seam.  I should have grabbed my wooden spoon that has a flat handle, but now that I live in a two story house such frivolous trips back and forth to the kitchen are more carefully considered.

Pull Front Through To Complete Seam

Once your shoulder seams are pressed, keep the front pulled through, match up shoulder seams of the fashion fabric and lining (which are right sides together), and pin the little hole you left through which the wooden spoon was threaded.  Again, you have four shoulder edges to do. Sew. 

Pull the front out the bottom to turn right side out.

I have to say, I am impressed with this method.  My alternate method requires a few inches of hand sewing, but this method is all machine.  Well done, Burda and your Wooden Spoon.

Interface Drawstring Opening

I sewed the side seams of the fashion fabric and lining of the skirt separately so they would hang free, and then basted them together at the waistline to be treated as one.  I interfaced both pieces where the buttonholes for the drawstring would go, and then did the buttonholes through both layers as one.

Stitch Skirt to Bodice at Front

The dress is pretty straightforward to put together.  Once the bodice is completely lined, the bodice and lining are treated as one at the waist.  I basted the two layers together to avoid shifting.  Sew the bodice to the skirt up to where the back skirt dips into its hole.

Thread Elastic in Front Casing

Use the seam allowance to make a casing and thread elastic in.  Burda has a misprint in the instructions, which tell you to "sew the ends together."  Unless you have a 17" waist and are looking for a figure 8 in the back, you want to sew the ends into each end of the casing.  The join of the skirt/bodice/casing is a little ugly, but it gets covered up by your finishing--I used bias tape as described below.

Turn Under Bias Tape for Casing

Burda has you make a facing for the back cutout.  I really don't know why you'd use a big unwieldy fabric-hoggy facing instead of bias tape.  I used self bias tape, stitching it right sides together all the way around the hole then turning it to the inside to form a casing.  Make your ties and join them with elastic in the middle, then thread through the casing.


Love this dress!  It was also pretty simple--it might be a fun 3rd or 4th project for a dedicated beginner.  I may someday straighten out the hem, but the high-low thing is still going on and my other iteration, last year's birthday dress, was totally disappointing due to the poorly drafted pattern.


The cutout is just perfect, and I like the cut of the bodice with the wider shoulders.  I'm considering drafting the cutout right out of it for a simple summer dress pattern--I feel like I'm seeing a lot of the simple dress with elastic waist (like this and this) this year and this one has well-balanced building blocks.

All photos are here and the pattern review is here.  I'm still working on a photo location.  Standing at the top of the stairs has more even lighting from the skylight--directly overhead instead of over one shoulder--than standing along the side wall, but then you get the gaping maw of the downstairs look, which is a little weird.  Also, I'm afraid of accidentally getting too close to the stairs and falling backward down them.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Butterick 5780, Fold Neck Dress

B5780 Thumbnail

I sewed!  Pattern Review is having its stash contest this month.  I am not a contender, but it did help me focus in deciding what to make now that I can finally sew.  I decided on Butterick 5780, a pattern that surprisingly has not taken the blogosphere by storm.  It's a flattering, interesting sheath dress with nice design lines.  It's a copy of the Reiss Taruca Sculptured Dress, which was $340 according to this blog post.  I think the issue with the pattern that has held it back is its suggested fabric:  ponte.

Let's talk about ponte. I think I have fallen out of love.  One the one hand, it is a miracle fabric.  A knit with all the easy-to-sew, easy-to-fit, easy-to-wear qualities we love, but that skims over all the lumps and bumps and is universally flattering.  What's not to love?

One word: pilling.  For the love of all that is holy, the pilling.  While I've found a few gems of quality ponte, almost everything I make out of it is garbage after the second wear.  Ugh!  What a waste.

The other issue is that ponte is a rather thick fabric.  This dress is necessarily constructed with a side front bodice stay/lining, and the pattern (and original dress) call for it to be fully lined.  With the fold in the side front piece and all the seam intersections, every review on PR complains about the bulk.

I never had any intention of making this dress in ponte--it begs to be more structured--so I used a very stretchy cotton twill I got from Fabric Mart last July for $7.99/yd (they called it sateen, but I would call it twill).

Given the Ease of Doom characteristic of all Big 4 patterns (yes, even Vogue), I figured it wouldn't be a big deal to make it in a very stretchy woven rather than a ponte, especially as several reviewers mentioned that it ran large.  They also mentioned, as I found to my chagrin, that there are no finished garment measurements anywhere--not on the envelope or the tissue.  Seriously, Butterick.

Bodice Side Front and Full Stay/Lining

Luckily, my awesome brother and sister-in-law gave me an Etsy gift certificate for the holidays, which I used to buy 5/8" SA Curve rulers.  I traced off the pieces, and used the rulers to mark the 5/8" seam allowances and was able to get my own finished pattern measurements.  Which, as expected, were pretty close to right for a woven.  I added to the waist--but ended up taking all that and more off when the actual dress was constructed.

The other thing reviewers complained about was the grody half-lining for the bodice.  As drafted, the bodice lining only goes to about halfway down, right at boob level.  The reviewers said you could see the line of the bottom of the facing/lining.  Again I say:  Seriously, Butterick.  The center front bodice and back bodice were easy--just use the same piece for the fashion fabric and lining.  The side front stay/lining just required lining up the armscye with the side front bodice, and completing the stay/lining from the boobs down.

I did a slight SBA by shaving a little bit off the curve of the center front bodice at the bust.  The fit on the bust is not enormous, and the fold does a little bit of subtle bust-building for a flattering finished result.

Swayback and Broad Back

I also did a broad back adjustment on the bodice back, and split the swayback adjustment between the bodice and skirt.  In addition to folding out length for the swayback, I also made the flat back seam into a curve over my swayback.

The instructions for construction are good but not great.  There's a little bit of origami involved and there are some things that aren't covered, like which direction the strap flaps are to be sewn on the underside of the side front (I did one right and one wrong--and I still can't tell you what's right.  I think you fold the strap toward the center--here's a look inside the fold).

You start by sewing the center front and its lining together at the neckline to finish it.  I raised the neckline by 1/2", I don't really know why.  It's neither too high nor too low at the raised level, but I'll probably cut it as drafted next time.  As I sewed it, I realized that unless your fabric needs lining, only the side front stay/lining is necessary.  You can finish the center front neck and bodice back armscye with bias tape.  Oh well, it looks nice on the inside.

Next, you pin the bodice side front to the bodice center front at the princess seam.  Easy enough.

Bodice Side Front Stay/Lining

Now it's time to attach the bodice to the side front stay/lining.  Start by pinning the side fronts together at the armscye to get a clean finish on the armscye.

Burrito Fold for Bodice Side Front

Then you burrito roll the side front and the center front together, and encase them in the stay pinned over the already-sewn princess seam.  You can only do one side at a time, obviously, but once you do one side the other side is not any more complicated (you don't have to do any finagling with the already sewn side).

This is the part where the reviewers seemed to have trouble.  I actually had more difficulty puzzling out how to attach the front to the back.  It's not difficult and I've done plenty of projects with the same design of having a back "collar" extend from the front to the CB neck (including a self-drafted one), but somehow this one took me a minute to find all the match points.  Maybe because it had been so long since I'd sewn.  It was only a few months, but I felt so rusty on this project!

Pin Skirt to Bodice, Not Catching Lining

Because the bodice center front and lining were sewn as one to the bodice side front, the lining could not hang entirely free at the waist (with fashion skirt sewn to fashion bodice and skirt lining sewn to bodice lining).  I prefer to have the lining separate from the fashion fabric to avoid weird bunching and twisting, so I sewed the skirt and lining to the bodice separately everywhere except at the bodice center front.

Lining Hangs Free at Waist to CF

You can see my hand in there illustrating that the lining is hanging free past the bodice center front.

I never know what to line stretch wovens with.  Here I used a stretch mesh purchased as swimwear lining, which is fine for this dress.  It didn't need much opacity added to the fabric, and I don't anticipate wearing tights with it.  If anyone has suggestions for a good stretch woven lining, I am all ears!

Zipper Starts Below Back Collar

As drafted, the entire center back seam is open and the zipper installed.  I don't have great success getting super-square corners at the top of a zipper, and I really didn't want a weird zipper at the top of the collar.  So I sewed the collar and one inch below closed, and then installed the zipper below that.

Burrito to Machine Stitch Lining to Zipper

Because of that, it was a little tricky machine-sewing the lining to the zipper tape (using this method). The first time I tried to pin the lining to the zip I ended up with a water weenie that couldn't be unfolded.  Good thing I tried before actually sewing it!

I realized I was going to have to burrito it again, folding the entire dress to the inside and wrapping the lining around.  It worked!  And sewing the second side was no harder than the first.

Zipper Inside

I ended up with a nice clean finish on the inside, no hand sewing involved.

Double Fold Hem

I did a double-fold machine blind hem.  At the back slit, turned the slit allowance toward the right side and then accidentally stitched along the first fold, rather than the second.  Fortuitously, this resulted in a nicer looking hem than if I had sewn the second fold, as I intended.  I will have to remember that for the future.


Along with the new sewing room (which is totally makeshift at this point, just barely unpacked enough to sew) I have to figure out a new photo location!  I thought the spot at the top of the stairs would be good because there's a skylight, but the skylight is over the stairs, not the landing, and the lighting is uneven--a little too artsy shadowy.  The photo from the thumbnail was taken without flash and you can see that all the light is coming from the (viewer's) right.  With post-production, though, maybe that's ok.  Using the fill flash (this photo) results in harsh colors and a flat photo.  I'll figure it out!

And to make this post even longer and whinier, I lost all of my photos.  Again.  My hard drive died and my iPhoto library had never backed up in Time Machine.  Again.  (Everything else was backed up.)  Tears were shed, and unblogged projects were lost (having learned from bitter experience, I usually don't delete from my camera until the photos have been uploaded to flickr, but wading through thousands of pictures will take many, many hours I don't have).  And because Apple cannot currently generate codes for iPhoto credit in the App store (really?), I am having to learn new software.  It's only $14.99, but on principle I absolutely will not buy iPhoto myself.  (I'm told the issue is that in the old version I have the iPhoto library won't back up if iPhoto is open.  Which it always is.  So I need the new version.)  Blogging will continue to be slow!

And then there's the photographic challenge of shared space: the self-timer photobomber!

Front Closeup-Full

Meanwhile, however, whining aside, I am thrilled with this dress!  It is super flattering, fits well, and was untraumatic to sew.  An excellent entree back into the field.

It's well-drafted, and the fit alterations are almost there.  I should have rounded out the center back skirt seam as I have a teensy bit of shark fin at the CB hem, and the shoulders are a smidge too tall.

The pleats on the skirt feel like they stick out weird when I look down at them, and maybe they do, but it's a weird I can live with (I prefer it to a tummy pooch).

I will definitely be making this again for winter with sleeves, though I will trim the armscye to a shorter/normal length, as a dropped sleeve isn't flattering to me.

All photos are here and the pattern review is here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Burda 7519, Copper Cowl Carapace Dress

Burda 7519 Thumbnail

I didn't mean to be gone for so long!  Sadly, no sewing here since early May--which is really a record.  First there was packing at the old place, then there was moving, and then I was in a dilemma with my sewing room:  I can't set it up because the roof hatch is in there, and we need some work done in the crawlspace on our roof beam and to insulate the crawlspace.  So I don't want to unpack my sewing room until that's done because everything will get all dusty (and I don't know how much floorspace they need as a staging area).  I did finally get more shelves and moved all the boxes around for the millionth time--I can at least walk in there now!

I have a couple old projects I haven't blogged but there's a reason for that--you're definitely getting the B-Roll here, folks.

Here's a dress from Burda 7519.  I made this before (the top in the thumbnail) and I think I'm done.  It's more interesting than flattering, especially for the amount of fabric it takes.

Back Neckline Finish

When I made this the first time, I fully lined the top and used the back lining to finish the neckline.  This substantial fabric didn't need lining, so I made some self bias tape to finish the back neckline before sewing the shoulder seams.

Pocket Facings

I found this gorgeous copper silk on G Street's $7.97/yd (now $8.97) silk table.  I bought the whole piece and managed to get this dress and a t-shirt out of it, with no scraps to spare.  I had to use a pocket facing because I didn't have enough of the fabric for the entire back pocket pieces, but didn't want the pocket lining fabric to show.

Use Differential Feed on Serger to Gather Up Edge

The sleeve hem is very long and very round, which is a pretty deadly combination for getting a nice flat hem.  I experimented with the differential feed on my serger until I got a nice 3 thread gather to take up some of the volume at the hem.

Press Sleeve Hem Under

Then I pressed under the serged edge, and folded it over again on itself before stitching.  I got a nice flat narrow hem in a tricky fabric on a tricky shape using this method and was quite pleased with myself.


I got pretty good drape on the sleeves, but still not the three nice waterfalls you're supposed to get according to the line drawing.  Maybe I'll try this sleeve again on a plainer, more fitted body.  It certainly adds interest.


I was fairly disappointed in the dress when I finally put it on.  It was my first project for Fall and it does look like a Fall dress--but more in a Pilgrim-y sort of way than a chic sort of way.  Belting it helps, as does the shorter length, but it's much more dowdy than I expected.  The volume just doesn't work on me.  Which I already knew from the first time I made it.  I don't know why I made it again.

I do like that it has pockets, though!  And the accidental shirttail hem is a detail I also like.  I guess with that much volume, when you add a belt it distorts the hemline.  Another reason to avoid this style.

All photos are here and the pattern review is here.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

DC Area: Want some patterns? Or, please take my stuff

Replace all these rooms with "Sewing Room"

Sorry for the long silence, which will continue a bit longer because...I just got back from my closing and I'm moving!  Next week!  Just 5 blocks, but it takes the same amount of work as moving 1200 miles (as I did when I moved from Texas to DC).  I have been in my condo 10 years.  Ten.years. worth of accumulation.  Before that I had moved every year or 1.5 years after moving out of the house for college.  So I was somewhat lean--but even only somewhat lean then.  In the intervening 10 years my worldly possessions have grown to become what could politely be described as "portly."

Obviously, the sewing room, along with everything else, is going through a serious culling.  I always thought my sewing room in my condo was small.  Well, I didn't know from small compared to the sewing room in the new place.  But at least there is a sewing room.

There is so much more to come, but I need to start moving things out of my place to make room for packed boxes.  I am going to list a huge number of things on Freecycle, but I figured I'd give you all first crack.

If you want any of the below items, let me know by leaving a comment telling me what you want with your email address so I can get in touch and we can set up a pickup time.   I've set the comments on this post to be screened, so your email address won't be published.

Also, because I need to move this stuff out, if you want something you have to take the whole set of whatever it is (all the patterns, all the picture frames, etc.).  What you do with the stuff you don't want I am willfully blind to.

So far I have:
-Kitchen garbage bag full of patterns
-A small box of random craft supplies and stationery,
-mosaic supplies (grout, a million glass jewels, mirrors to mosaic onto, and grout sponges),
-many many gorgeous costumes I've sewn,
-half my coat closet,
-a lot of size 6-6 1/2 shoes and boots,
-a big box of picture frames from small snapshot size to very large wall frames (about a dozen large and a dozen small),
-two Ikea floating shelves (white),
-a long, low white Ikea shelf like this one,
-two sets of plastic drawers,
-a 4 drawer lightweight wooden dresser about 4 feet tall (must be anchored to wall if used around children)
-Random kitchenware, mostly decorative (e.g., plates and platters)
-Grocery bag of jewelry
-a LOT of makeup, including a million eyeshadow colors (great for a girls' dress up party) and other grooming products

I am also hoping to sell a few things:
-Full size mattress and box spring along with utilitarian frame.  Mattress is firm and very comfortable, and I am sad to give it up.  If you'd like, I will throw in a "wrought iron" look canopyless bed frame (something like this) and matching floor mirror. 
-Beige microfiber sofa somewhat similar to this but only two cushions wide.  Very comfortable and nice for a small space. 

I haven't started the fabric packing, but obviously there will be some of that too eventually, and clothes, and probably more kitchenware.

I'll be at home Friday evening and Saturday during the day, and some time Sunday for pickup in the Shaw area--unfortunately, I can't deliver or meet you anywhere.