Monday, February 28, 2011

It Takes a Village

I don't know about you, but I definitely think that this:

is a significant improvement on this:

It may not be enough to render this thing wearable (I haven't yet had the nerve to try it on), but it's a step in the right direction.

I have to thank all of you who have spent the time and effort to give me your feedback. I took the advice - posed by many of you - to steam out the pleats to the best of my ability. I may still go a step further and take Debbie's advice about using a ham to reshape the pleats like darts...

This exercise would have been extremely difficult without the dress form, fyi. Yet another useful feature makes itself known!

I should also mention that this fabric looks much worse in photos than up close. The pulling you see in the shot is in no way observable to the naked eye. I know, I'm scrutinizing it all to hell. I do wonder why this is. Have any of you noticed a similar phenomenon with any of the fabrics you've photographed?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Take the Good with the Bad

Toronto in February is only slightly more hideous than Toronto in January. Glass half full people talk about the imminent bloom of spring. Those more pessimistic remind the glass half full idiots that we've been suffering in grey mediocrity for that much longer. And, who are we kidding, we have another month of this shit before anything starts to shift.

It's murder on the shoes. Nothing can withstand the days that go from freezing at 6 am, to snowy at 9, and then to melt by noon. The streets are filthy. The geography is ugly. There is not a hint of the rebirth of green. Bone-chilling cold/damp is the utter inverse of hot/humidity. Don't get sick. Don't get cold. Because coming back from it is epic.

But wait. Before you kill yourself, think of the reasons you live here. Like late-April to mid-November. Street patios. Kensington Market under a cloudless sky. Drinks at the Park Hyatt rooftop. The best, and most diverse, food you'll come across anywhere - and that includes NYC. The food here is best in class. OMG - is the only thing I care about food??

To wit, gotta love a town that offers up handmade cupcakes and unpasteurized cheese of the highest calibre, within a city block.

Red Velvet and Dulce de Leche... These are so moist, I almost wrecked them taking them out of the box. And, not an icing lover by nature, caramel and cream cheese totally flip my switch.

Brillat Savarin is like St. Andre but "not crappy" (says the decidedly snobby fromageriste) Honestly though, if your fromageriste can't be the ultimate snob, then what hope is there for your organic butcher?? And the cheddar isn't English applewood, it's Kintyre. Seriously, this stuff is the shit.

Of course, this little indiscretion tiramisu cost me $40.00. Wanna guess how long it's going to last, what with my tween who eats everything in sight and then says she's still hungry? (The one whose legs have outgrown the size 12 pants I bought her last month.)

They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Update: Scott kindly volunteered to walk up to the liquor store in the wretched damp, to get me a few bottles of wine. Alas, on his return, I reviewed my Visa slip to note that he'd spent $52.00 on one of them. Says he was talking to the cashier so he didn't note the bill - the one he signed off on using my card. Intriguingly, this is the bottle I was about to open 10 minutes ago, but something told me it was really cher. I don't know if it was the label (which I might have recognized subconsciously) or the fact that it simply seemed extra fine, but can you imagine?? That would have been one expensive Sunday afternoon snack.

Now begins the argument over who will return said bottle...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cherry Picking

In the beginning of December, still hobbled, when finally I had to go out and run some errands (which is to say, trundle into a series of cabs), I ensured that one of them would be all about me. I learned, from a fantastic Toronto creative entrepreneur i.e. clothing designer with very chic boutique, that she was stocking Manitobah moccasins:

They're Canadian made and insanely warm and cozy. Dare I risk offending the moccasins of other lands? Really, if you're gonna wear some suede/shearling/fur products they should come from Northern Canada. Note: I sleep in mine (along with jammies and a cashmere scarf). I know from cold feet. These days, particularly, I feel my feet deserve pampering!

At any rate, the reason I'm being coy about the locale is because, while at this great boutique, I had another awesome experience. The owner, I'll call her T, not only designs, but manufactures the clothing in her own studio - behind the retail space. Y'all know these days I am rather obsessed with fabric. And if there's one thing T ensures is best in class, it's gorgeous fabric. She buys in NYC a couple of times a year. She produces about 1000 pieces a season.

One of the most generous features of T is her willingness to share her professional experience with someone like me, admittedly, a long-time client - but in no sense an insider. I am so curious to know about fashion merchandising for some bizarre reason. Must be the Etsy wannabe in me :-) While chatting at length about the biz, I decided to be bold. I asked her about the likelihood of someone - ahem, such as myself - gaining access to the amazing fabrics she uses, by approaching the mills or vendors directly. The answer: Slim to none. As you'd imagine, volume dictates the cost and availability of fabric. Because T can buy in quantity, she can afford fabrics that would be completely beyond the price range of the average home seamstress. But I didn't stop there.

"T," I said, "Do you ever have fabric overage at the end of a season?" She advised in the affirmative. So I continued: "Do you ever sell it to nice home sewists such as myself?" In truth, that's not something she's done in the past, but incredibly graciously she opened her studio to me and her basket of archived swatches.

What a joy it was to be in a beautifully organized - but totally functional - industrial space. The machines were amazing. The cutting space, vast. Bolts of fabric cozied underneath the cutting table. As I chose from the swatches, mysteriously fabric would arrive and I'd get take the 2-yard ends, or a few metres. Let's just say I paid the most reasonable price for the most beautiful fabric. I won't go into detail but the discount was utterly thrilling.

Here's a sample of the fabric I chose:

This is the slate fabric I used to make the pleated skirt for my sister...

This is a flannel with a tiny bit of stretch. Totally gorgeous for pants.

This could make a nice dress or even a top - it's solid but with really good drape.

Now this is the pièce de résistance... An amazing silk that's shiny on one side...

And matte on the other. In CERISE!

Friday, February 25, 2011


The problem with sewing for someone else is that it's as likely to fail as it is when you sew for yourself. Only, now you've raised someone else's expectations and the failure (such as it may be) is squarely on you.

I suspect this skirt will fall into the wadder catgory, despite the fact that I have worked very carefully on it and it looks really nice from the front:

My label was sewn into the inner waistband before assembly, so it doesn't show from the outside. And while I don't love these labels - neither the name (which will not stick) nor the quality - I'm still pleased to have sewn it in in this fashion.

I really tried to make the inside lovely. I catch stitched the hem because I didn't want it to show from the front and because I want to have the latitude to change the length without ripping out a row of top stitches.

See the slip stitched inner waistband:

Alas, this is the craziness that persists in the back - despite the fact that I've re-reviewed the instructions 4 times, to confirm that I didn't misread them:

WTF??? I've decided to leave the garment on my dress form, to see if the pleat will settle. I also think that maybe I've been to literal in my pressing. Perhaps I should have let it fall on its own. I'm afraid to do any more pressing than I've already done. You can see how the fabric is getting close to overworked.

One other thing you probably won't be able to focus on in light of the pleat horror: I am so addicted to my snap setter and pearl snaps. They are so much more fun to insert than buttons. And I think they're sturdier.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Kind of Grey I Can Manage

This room is the embodiment of sexy:

Photos courtesy of Desire to Inspire - my go-to interiors blog...

In keeping with my theme, it appears to be English. Gotta say, I love orange and grey mashups.

So, whatcha think? Could you live here? Does this room envelope you with its manly elegance? Does it remind you of a vampire lair? Do tell...

Monday, February 21, 2011

In Which I Wonder Why I Don't Live In Britain

Bastayan Satin Front Dress - £195.00

Bastayan Laverna Embellished Dress - £250.00

The longer I love clothing, the more I sense I should be living in the UK. Don't misunderstand - I'm much more North American practical than British cool. But I do love the fashion over the pond. (Almost as much as I hate people who say "over the pond".)

Enter Bastyan. Just learned about this brand from Mrs. Trefusis, a blogger I've been skirting without actually reading, what seems like forevah. Glad I got my act together to check her out. She's erudite and hilarious though, regrettably, an infrequent poster.

And she turned me onto a new label I love. Alas - or maybe I should say gratefully - there appears to be no shipping out of the UK. Bastayan seems, from photos, to be walking the Isabella Oliver line (no pun intended), another great diffusion brand designed for real women who do things like go to jobs and care for grimy children. The colour palette is rich - but sensible - the cut is elegant (but with a bit of edge) and the prices are within the realm of doable. Especially if you review the sale page.

Don't be misled by the two cocktail dresses I've posted. They're part of the "fancy" complement, presumably for the women who enjoy professional glamour and don't deal with snotty kids.

Has anyone had any direct experience of this company? How is it that, despite it being "totally my thing", I've never heard of it before. Has Kate been mentioning it but I haven't been paying attention? Please discuss.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pleating the Fifth

This post is destined to have a multilayered quality i.e. schizophrenic for those of you looking for more qualification. It focuses on a new project I've been working on, not for myself, but for my sister - I know, it's like a miracle of generosity! - Vogue 8602.

The Goods:

Here's what it looks like on the pattern envelope:

And here's what it looks like in real life...

Not so fast. First you need to hear the full disclosure and click I Agree: The photos are crap. I don't know if iPhones take crap pics or if I just don't know how to use mine yet, but pls. be warned. I have no energy right now to sew, write about it and to ensure good pictures. Apologies. Oh, and another thing, this is a work in process. The waistband is being held together by pins - it's nowhere close to being done...

Now take a look and listen to the tale:

Let's pretend the overexposure is to help you see the details...

And that the fuzziness here is to distract you from the boobs part of the dress form. Note: I'm taking this pic from below so the proportions are distorted... Nonetheless, I feel strangely naked.

The part I'd ask you to pay particular attention to is the back of the skirt:

IMPORTANT: The drag lines here are artificial (see para below). Essentially, I've already pressed pleats that don't work, so I'm trying to find new ones that will work. Of course, once the pins are removed and the new line is pressed, the back of the skirt will be flowy like the front of it.

What you see here is my effort to redraw the pleat pressing line because the freakin' skirt pops out at the back like some crazy clown thing at the outer edge of each back pleat. I can't figure out the origin of that fitting weirdness because, on me, it's definitely too big in the hips and through the ass.

Actually, I think I get it. Back pleats are stupid and unnecessary and, to suit my dimensions, these should have been about an inch wider to take about 2 inches out of the back of the skirt. I know my sister has a different shape than me so it's kind of stupid to worry about this in the abstract, given that it might not be relevant on her body (see below), but I feel I have to resolve this issue to whatever extent I can. I don't imagine it will go away simply because her hips and derriere may be slightly broader. Emphasis on may be, given that I'm working from memory. I know, I know...

The Considerations:
  • The pleats should fall softly. I have them pinned to the skirt on the underside to get a sense of alignment.
  • This skirt is a size 14 made in a gorgeous wool suiting (has a fabulous pedigree that one day I'll get around to sharing with you) with a slight bit of crosswise stretch.
  • Ordinarily I'd grade this for my particular shape but I'm making this for my sister who has different proportions. What exact proportions I'd love to tell you, but she's yet to advise me. So, as indicated, I'm going from memory. She's just slightly taller, longer-waisted, larger-boned, flatter of stomach but larger of hip and leg. Practically me, but entirely different! I decided not to shave width from the 14, my usual practice, because I'm unsure how that will work for her in the hips and ass.
  • Interesting side note: Lest I imagine that there's no apple lurking beneath my hourglass shape, think I've finally figured out that I'm a Big Four size 14 in the waist only but a 12 in the hips/ass and a 10 in the legs. And a 12 in the top, with potential FBA-requirement. That's going to make it much easier to grade from paper next time I cut a pattern, rather than removing 3 inches of fabric from everywhere but the waist.
  • In true, Vogue doesn't show any kind of rhyme or reason when it comes to final length, I'll need to slice 4.5 inches (?!) off this to put it just above knee-height for her with a 1-inch hem. That will be its cutest, most youthful length IMO. But it's going to be a bitch given that I've already serged the bottom and the pleats are well ingrained. I think I'm going to have to chalk a new horizontal line with my ruler, go back to the serger, and hope for a steady hand. A wide hem will be too bulky, I think.
The Irony:

Not 2 days ago, I found myself waxing rhapsodic about my love of pleats with my talented friend, the uber designer Stacy Lomman. (No, I don't have any shame.) The lesson here is that you shouldn't brag to actual fashion designers about techniques you love as if you have any experience to speak of. Really, you shouldn't ever talk about enjoying any technique 5 minutes before undertaking it. It's just asking for trouble. Note, however: I really do love pleats. Sewing them is so fun.

The Questions:
  • Could I get away with a large hem, even given the pleating, which increases bulk?
  • What experience do y'all have of pleats? Has anyone encountered this challenge before? What did you do to resolve it?
  • What do you think that can I do to resolve the fall line on me? Yes, I know it isn't my skirt, but old habits... Or, to put a different way:
  • Do you think at a certain point, if I keep fussing, the fabric will stop taking new pleat lines and I'll have a wretched mess i.e. in the absence of my fit model, is less more?
  • I can barely find any info at all about this skirt. It appears to be really marginal, for some reason. Anyone reading made it? If yes, pls. share your story.
Thanks all for providing your great feedback.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

You Asked...

So here's a photo of the cape (and the gorgeous Sally and the also gorgeous Audi) taken by the gorgeous Peter. I mean, very handsome Peter:

I have paired it with my orange dress, arguably too formal for a flea market jaunt, but peeps I was out from morning till night. Like 14 hours straight... (That's probably why I've been lying on my bed with the flu for the last 3 days.)

Audi is wearing an awesome Mongolian lamb vest she bought the previous day at Sak's. It was on sale from over $300.00 to something like $170.00, which - trust me - was a steal. I totally wanted one but since I already have a fur vest (pictured) and I really should stop buying everything until I buy a larger house in which to store it all (not pictured). I feel I showed remarkable restraint :-)

On a side note: I've discovered that shoppers fall into 2 camps. There are the considered "save it for the right moment" purchasers i.e. Sally, and then there are the impulsive "Please rip the tags off for me cuz I'm wearing out of the store" purchasers.

Would you like to guess which camp I fall into? And while you're at it - what's your cash and carry modus operandi?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Caped Crusader

Here are a few shots of the cape I bought at Barneys:

I realize the photos are crap - I'm still trying to figure out the camera on my iPhone...

In some amazing twist of spring temperatures, I was able to comfortably wander around NYC wearing it. The waist is cinched with a tie (in that leather channel) so it manages to be voluminous, but also fitted.

At first, I was on the fence about this purchase - I'm not any more, mind you, I think I'll get lots of spring and fall wear out of it (esp. with my fur vest underneath) - because:
  • If I never buy another item of clothing over-garment ever again, it'll still be overkill. I have a remarkably full wardrobe these days. All of the sewing I'm doing - even though I re-purpose much of what I make - is leading to space issues. And I have so many store-bought things as well. Alas, editing will be difficult. I love all my nicely-fitted clothes - can't imagine giving them away - but how to wear them all given sheer volume?
  • It wasn't cheap. I mean, it wasn't expensive ($400.00 marked down to $239.00) for this scale of garment, but if you see the bullet above and consider that I ran the risk of not being able to fit it into a tiny suitcase, well you see the dilemma.
  • I could fairly easily make something like this. Mind you, every other cape I've ever tried on has looked as hideous as this one looked good, so I've never had the urge to give it a go. I assumed this was a look for a woman of a different shape. Goes to show that every garment can work on every woman, as long as the proportions are correct.
I was shopping with 3 other women: the famous Sally and Audi and the fantastic wardrobe refashioner / sweetie pie Sara, and each of them looked as great in this (if not better) than I did. So I feel it has a bit of magic behind it.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 17, 2011


The city is oppressively grand. Buildings tower over tiny people. Gargoyles poke out from parapets. Austerity and amplitude compete with slivers of sky. Ages of architecture cohabit on lofty and crumbling avenues alike. And so much of it is iconic. Whether you've been mesmerized by the holiday tree at Rockefeller Center, pulled up to Carnegie Hall in a yellow cab, peered through the wrought iron of the gated Gramercy Park... whether your memory of NY is from 1940s movies or Sex and the City, everything seems oddly familiar and still larger than life.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chelsea Morning

So y'all know that I'm more than just a sewing, fashion, lifestyle, interiors - write whatever the hell I feel like it-blogger. Indeed, sometimes I even cross the line into parenting blogger. Truthfully, some of the most fantastic blogs in the world fall into this category - though I don't love the term "mom-blogger". (What is it about angst-ridden, sleep-deprived mothers that makes for such fascinating reading?)

Amongst the best writers in the parenting genre is Marinka. You don't need to have a kid to appreciate her. I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I've laugh-snorted my coffee while reading her posts. You can just follow her on Twitter if you want the lite-experience. There's as much snorting to be had via that medium.

This weekend I had a chance to see her in real life. We went to a Chelsea coffee shop which had a rather "real NY 'hood vibe". It was also one of those cafes where you ask for your dry, extra-hot, skim, double shot cappuccino and you get a lecture. Seriously, if I'm irritating enough to ask for something that specific, dontcha think I've heard about how coffee needs to breathe at a certain temperature? I get it. Now make me a beverage that actually qualifies as warm.

(As a sidenote, Mardel and I had an in-depth conversation, later that day, about the relative crappiness of coffee in NYC. Please NY peeps - don't get mad. I love everything else about your city. But the coffee sucks. I tried it all - and everywhere - 6 dollar capps on the upper east side, designer coffee downtown. Little nondescript shops along Lexington. Saks?! It's actually fun to be all "our coffee is better than yours". I mean, I can't exactly say that about the architecture. But it sure does put Starbucks into perspective.)

Anyway, back to Marinka. She's as dry-witty in person as she is on her blog. I went on this total diatribe about my lone star-sighting: Meg Ryan at Balthazar. Ms. Ryan was with this well-groomed, bearded man wearing zillion dollar sunnies. Meg was the slimmest human I have seen in a long time - somehow baring her abdomen in February (WTF?), which happened to be flat by adolescent girl standards, never mind 50-year old mom standards. I was all animated and gesticular - describing the hair, the outfit, the "work".

And then Marinka has the nerve to tell me that that's not how Meg usually looks, like when they're picking their kids up at the same school?!? Man, that woman knows how to upstage with the arch of a brow.

Just wait till she comes to Toronto, and I orchestrate a run-in at the cheese shop with uber-celebrity Sarah Polley. Who'll have the last laugh then, I ask you?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Complex Geometries

I mentioned yesterday that I hung out with Peter at the Chelsea Flea Market. I was also with Audi and Sally - whom I highly recommend as travel companions.

Here's a fun fact about each:
  • Sally - who is as fabulous as I knew she would be - gets tipsy on half a glass of sangria, and it's totally adorable. (Does that make me sound like a hard-core drinker??) Oh, and she's crazily industrious. The reason her blog is amongst the best around is because she gives it all of her love and attention - she seriously cares about her readers and about what they gain from her site.
  • Peter knows the names and uses of numerous arcane flea shop items i.e. phonograph cylinders. He's also really into hats - most of which look great on him. Plus, I have it on good authority that Cathy should be getting out of jail soon. Oh, and did I mention he's sassily nonchalant about the famous friends??
  • Audi has ridiculously good luck with the sales read: $1100.00 of merch at Barney's for under $350.00. I thought I might have a nervous collapse after a day of experiencing the "additional markdown"-high that seems to follow her around.
But enough about them! Watcha think of my new scarf??

I got this for 5 bucks at a stall where the (admittedly) crappily displayed goods were reasonably pricey. Call me a thief but I didn't exactly draw attention to the label as I briefly held it up to ask about cost. If only I hadn't thrown it away (albeit briefly) the story would be flawless. BTW, I did a bit of sleuthing and I think this might sell for quite a bit of money. If any of y'all know about such things and can corroborate, I'd love the input. Not that I'm selling it!

Update: Rosesred sent me these fab Desses links - look at those patterns! And I love that M. Desses was part of the draping master set. Draping thrills me. In fact, that's my next sewing tackle. I'm getting me some books to work on this with my new form...

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Heart NY

I don't even know where to start. What an awesome weekend full of adventures large and small - many of which can only be described (11 year-old-style) as random.

Having walked and - literally - talked for 14 hours straight for three days, my brain is mush - I appear to be coming down with a cold that I'm still fighting it with all my might, though at this point it's pretty far gone. I can only hope my Emergen-C mainline will keep it it lite, as it were.

Who cares though? It goes without saying that New York is amongst the most phenomenal cities in the world. Add some mid-spring weather and amazing friends to the equation and it was otherworldly.

Let me leave you with a few spontaneous NYC travel snippets (to be explored in more detail soon):
  • No joke, all NY bloggers - and those who convened in the city from elsewhere with whom I met - are freakin' gorgeous. I don't mean to be shallow, but they're really fun to look at.
  • They also happen to be, in general, taller than you think they will be.
  • I met the venerable Kenneth King at the Chelsea Flea Market and was nervy enough to quote him back to himself (Paraphrase: "If you're not wrecking 10,000 yards of fabric, you're not learning how to sew.") Somehow Peter got me to undo my just-bought cape (Barney's) to show Kenneth my new handmade dress, heretofore known as the Chelsea dress, which I was wearing while shopping. You can only imagine my horror. But of course I complied. :-)
  • I found a ring I estimate to be worth in the thousands of dollars, that a woman accidentally left by the side of the bathroom sink, at Maialino. Needless to say I turned it in. Then, the next day, I stupidly forgot an amazing package of 55-dollar finds from the flea market on a table at Craft Bar and the server threw it out. Remarkably, I was able to retrieve a vintage Jean Desses scarf - which I'd just scored for 5 bucks!!!!? - and 2 pieces of beautiful, mod, 60s bakelite jewelry along with scraps of toast. And miraculously the scarf was unharmed. I like to think of it as the (stressful, urban) circle of karma.
  • The Gramercy Park Hotel is the sexiest spot in NYC. Seriously, I saw attractive people having sex in the lobby. Discreetly. But no so discreetly I didn't notice and observe, arguably for too long, in some gritty NY voyeur experience. I felt Lou Reed should have been sitting in the Jade Bar, waiting to regale me with stories of the Lower East Side proto-punk movement.
  • The Pod Hotel is not sexy. It's more cheap and cheerful - though sadly fails on both of those accounts. Avoid it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Empire State of Mind

I have a very exciting weekend planned in NYC (which I'm trying not to exploit too hideously by telling y'all about it every 3 seconds. I've left that joy for the people I work with. Really, they love me right now.) I'm very hopeful that everything will conspire to produce a fabulous travel experience full of fun, fashion and friends. Oooh, I'm down with those F's, people!

To commemorate the experience make things that much clearer, I bought an iPhone today. Yes, I've been considering it aimlessly for 2 years, but now it is done and I'm really quite enamored (like the other 2 billion of you). I also shelled for the hideously expensive roaming plan, so that I can communicate with everyone - far and wide - over the course of my travels. And download maps. Oh, and so I can blog, presumably.

Thing is, I don't know if I would be better to have one of those analogue holidays - the kind that you don't upload photos of on the spot, the kind where you sit at the bar and have fascinating conversations with strangers rather than typing between bites. Who can say?

What I do know is that I will regale you with stories on the flip-side - if not sooner. So check on by when you think about it. One thing you can bet on: I will be having a martini at the Jade Bar just for you. xo

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fashion for Professionals

Darlings: Please head on over to Sally's place (if by some bizarre chance you haven't already been there today) and check out her latest post. I'm one of the guest contributors and the topic is work wear. Let me know what you think!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Orange You Glad To See This?

I managed to fuck this up one more time - again with the serger (which really did not get along with the double knit fabric and its tight curves). Resulted in slicing through the upper sleeve and having to a) rip out all the serging on the shoulder, b) rip out the stitches (after having ripped out two rows of basting), and c) recut the sleeve, reattach/rehem/re-serge (but this time WITH NO BLADE).

Really, this project has been a joy from start to finish.

But this post is a 2 for 1. You get to see the final garment on my new dress form!! (Note: It's not yet adequately "me-like" but it will have to do.)

The wrinkle at the neckline doesn't occur on my body (though the facing isn't the best ever - remember, I drafted half of it myself?) Also, my hips don't really look like that - well, the right side approximates my shape better than the left, but it's almost impossible to get the same curves going on both sides of the dress form.

I'll have you know that it is similarly too-tight on me - that's the bitch of having to take 2 inches out of the left side seam (the one where all the folds apex, even worse!?) to cover up the chunk of double knit my serger sliced through on the front skirt.

I would say, on balance, that this pattern fits true to small. If you are curvy i.e. wide hips or large bust, I would cut a size up if you're on the cusp. Mind you, if I hadn't screwed up the fabric, it would have fit like a dream (with room to maneuver). I know. I basted it together before I fucked it up. Painful, really.

My thoughts:
  • I'm never making this again...
  • ...Which is too bad, because I bet it would be fantastic now that I've ironed out the kinks.
  • This is not a beginner pattern IMO. Way to much detail work and when you use double knit to make a wiggle-dress, it becomes difficult to work with - the curves are tight.
  • It is best for a short-ish, narrow, curvy person, IMO. I think the pattern is drafted with that shape in mind.
  • Even if you are 4'11", add 2 inches to the skirt length. I suspect you'll need it.
Some projects are just challenged from the get-go. I know, were I to make it again, all the misery I encountered, this time around, would be mitigated by my previous experience. Not to mention, most of the misery seemed pure random.

Seriously, by the time I wrecked the sleeve, I could barely get fussed. It was so par for the course.

But I do intend to wear this next weekend - when I'm going on a special adventure. More detail to come...

Saturday, February 5, 2011


This pattern is simply not playing along. I don't know how to explain it - nothing is tremendously difficult - but it's all going sideways at every turn. To wit:
  • It's too short. Now this isn't my fault - when it's 2 inches above the knee, pre-hem, and you're 5'3", there's someone else to blame. But everyone said it was short. Why didn't I cut an extra 2 inches at the end?
  • The topstitched folds (the curved lines you see on the front of the dress) are a dog's breakfast. Look, I'm not all high on me, but top stitching is one of my sewing strengths. As is sewing with knits. Why my seams look like a toddler helped me is beyond me.
  • Which brings me to my next point. For fuck's sake, start by making the back of the dress. Why the Vogue people don't advise this is beyond me. I was much less crappy (though not great) by the time I made it to the back stitching.
  • The way this works, you have to sew the darts under the folds. This is pretty impossible to explain unless you look at it - and unless you sew, really. That process is much less smooth than you'd imagine. In some of my folds, you can see the dart ends wonking out a millimetre from the right side. Can you say "screams amateur"??
  • Now we get to the real disaster - of serger proportions! I ended up cutting some of my fabric off (mangling it really) because - freakin' stupidly - I serged without lowering the presser foot. OMG. Thankfully, I did some mega-fixups which saved the day from the front (more or less). But it looks like botched plastic surgery on the inside. I loathe messy work.
  • No doubt, this is the messiest thing I've made in a year. If not ever.
Here's my stern warning. Do not go down a size. There isn't a lot of extra ease and if you end up having to take 2 inches off one side of your dress because you cut the skirt by horrible accident when serging, you're going to need it.

At this point I've just about made a sausage case.

But wait! I'm not even done with this thing - and I'm on hour 16! I estimate I have another 3 hours. I mean, there are sleeves and hemming (the kind where one somehow manages not to shorten the dress further). Oh, and somehow I will have to rip out half of the facing under stitches because I did a crap job there too.

The thing is, this could be a gorgeous dress. I can see it in the lines. It works awesomely with a curvy frame - and a narrow one, I might add.

I just don't think I care to wear it enough to go through the work of making it again. So let's hope I somehow pull a rabbit out of a hat. As long as you don't look inside.

Lighten Up

Just at the moment when you fear you may have to kill yourself or chuck it all and bum on a beach in Tahiti, the winter light starts to change (which is to say, reemerge). While Toronto winters of the last decade or two have been distinctly snow-lite, they are much more specifically light-lite. I'd hazard to say we live in one of the dreariest winter pockets in North America. Weeks can go by with only dull grey on the horizon. It looks like it may rain or snow, but does nothing. The pattern hovers seemingly endlessly. The sky is the colour of polluted, roadside slush.

Yes, if you live in Winnipeg or Ottawa you've got a shit-load of snow to contend with. Oh, and it's probably legitimately cold. But those regions have sun, where we have little to none. It's hard on the psyche.

But over the last couple of days there's been a little bit of sunshine here. And it starts before 8 a.m. (just slightly), so you don't feel like you're waking in darkness, walking in darkness, eating in darkness - you get the gist.

If I were a Shakespearean king, I'd take this as a really good omen. Only two more months still green things start to grow again.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Law of Averages

Occasionally people ask me whether Vogue "Average" patterns (that's one rank below Advanced, fyi) are that tricky. Or they want to know what makes a Vogue Advanced so intricate. At which point I turn around to make sure they are actually talking to me, cuz wtf do I know from Vogue Average. I suspect the sum of my experience is having accidentally bought some patterns in this category because "average" seemed easy enough when first I started sewing.

Amazingly, not too long ago, I did knowingly buy a Vogue Advanced. It's this Claire Schaeffer, and I have no regrets:

Concerns, maybe. But I don't need to make it till I'm ready, right? And I have heard that the instructions, while lengthy, are awesome.

I too wonder what separates the average from advanced or, for that matter, what separates Vogue Very Easy from regular Vogue "Easy". Is it prerequisite technique? Pattern pieces? Number of steps? Which brings me to the crux of this post:

See, I have spent 8 hours tracing, cutting and preparing fabric for Butterick 5559 - a Vogue family Easy pattern. I don't know about you, but even if the go-forward sewing is a breeze (and we know that's not something one should ever take for granted), I don't think that this process qualifies as easy.

In 8 hours, I have (thankfully) traced a pattern, now trashed because of all the crap I had to do to transfer markings, cut the fabric, tailor tacked the tuck lines and the darts onto the fabric, chalked the darts on both sides of the relevant pieces, drawn curved darts and pinned said darts.

Look, I'm not complaining. I don't expect gorgeous clothing that looks kind of complicated to be super easy, even if the pattern envelope tries to give me that impression. I'm just saying there should, perhaps, be a disclaimer, or a code, which advises purchasers that their particular easy pattern, for example, while it doesn't require the ability to sew zippers / any other closures or to do seam binding or other finishing techniques, does require the ability to transfer some pretty serious pattern markings in a way I don't think one can adequately accomplish without tailor tacking. I think there should be a pattern-specific skills required / techniques used matrix on the outer envelope is what I'm saying.

Till now, I should mention, I've never tried tailor tacking. You think I might have looked up how to do it (the pattern doesn't suggest or explain the method, I've just read about it before) and somehow I couldn't bring myself to. Why? Because I thought it might throw me over the edge to formalize the process. I opted to make it up from memory of blog posts and book chapters so that I wouldn't feel like it was too complicated. Of course, now I don't know if I've done it right, but that's not the point.

The point is: If I were some novice sewist (ok, I am, but go with my analogy) looking for a great dress that seems fancy but happens to be super easy, I might pop this in my cart with nary a thought, only to be traumatized by 8 hours of prep prior to being able to actually start actual sewing.

Note: This novice wasn't traumatized. Just irked because she hadn't expected a need for such intricacy at the outset. Really, I had more than enough resources to assist me. Oh, and so far, I absolutely like this pattern. It's fascinating. But I wouldn't recommend it if you haven't sewn a bunch of other dresses first. Let's tag it: Kristin "Moderately Challenging Pattern Prep, Advanced Beginner-Intermediate".

That totally rolls off the tongue.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Queue Jumper

Remember this new pattern? It arrived last week. I was wondering how I would ever get around to making it with the queue of (no joke) 60 other patterns - at least 15 of which are serious contenders.

I decided that the easiest course of action would be simply to make it now. Then I won't have to worry about where to slot it in!

The little niggle of interest infected me one day last week (around the same time as the stomach bug) and it's all I've been able to think about since.

The construction of the pattern fascinates me. Those fold tucks (sewn on the right side, by the looks of it) are carefully interspersed with darts (the only other shaping tool) that are sewn, naturally, on the wrong side. There are no closures (yay!). You can pull it on because it's made in a stable knit. Of course, you know one can't really make an accurate muslin with a knit. Well, one can, but one needs to use the same fabric (s)he intends to use for the finished product. Which means one's often just making a wearable muslin first time out.

I've heard conflicting reports about the fit of this dress. Some say it runs large. Others say there isn't much ease. I decided, on the information that Butterick seems to cut large, that I would initially review my paper pattern to determine the amount of built-in ease (by measuring each piece individually), then factor in my fabric ease (a stable knit, about 2 inches IMO) and compare those against my actual measurements. It's a sound strategy but this pattern is so asymmetric on paper and oddly formed that I don't know if I can trust the measurements against those indicated on the package for the finished product. The actual measurements, in as much as I could figure out where to take them from, are quite a bit larger than my own dimensions.

To add to the challenge - I bought the size 14 - 20, not the 8 - 12, because I felt it would be safest to make the 14 based on sizing indicated on the package. Having said this - almost every time I make a Big 4 stable stretch pattern, I end up having to make it smaller. (This is the reason I've decided to start measuring the actual patterns going forward.) I'm beginning to think I'm a 12, package info notwithstanding.

On a related note: It drives me nuts when they split the pattern between a 12 and 14 because I don't have the luxury of reviewing both sizes and choosing the closer one. I'm stuck with one that's likely too big, or another that may be too small, unless I want to buy both size packets. Yes, I know that's why alterations exist. But not all alterations are created equal and I like to choose the easier path.

Oh, and while I'm bitching, has anyone else noticed that there's an error in the size 14? There's no interfacing piece 5! They printed piece 5 in the size 16 twice and omitted the size 14. It's not a disaster - I'll just have to adjust the facing piece in the 16 to meet the dimensions of the neck line, but that is kind of irritating - esp. given the weirdness of this paper pattern. It took me an hour of running around like a chicken before I figured out what was going on.

Happily, I have a lovely fabric for this - a burnt orange (but still rather bright) double knit.

My next step will be to trace the multi-sized pieces (all but the facing) and then to cut the fabric. Marking the folds and the darts with accuracy is de rigeur here. I'm intrigued to see how this progresses.

More to come...