Karl Lagerfeld, late of the House of Chanel, once said, “One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a little black dress.” Amen to that. And amen to my LBD project. It is finally over.
After four muslins of four different dresses, much machinating over which one to choose, I have finally finished one.
Based on my own design, it’s a simple sheath – my favourite silhouette – with neckline darts that extend down to the hem giving it a kind of princess-seam-from-the-neckline look. It has short sleeves which are the only part of the garment that’s lined (the fabric didn’t scream for lining but the next one will be lined as a quality dress should be), a simple neckline to permit all manner of necklaces and scarves, a back vent and an invisible zipper. That’s about it. Simple.
Now that the dress is finished, of course, had to go shopping for some fabric for my next project. While perusing the extraordinary selection at King Textiles on Spadina in Toronto, I naturally stumbled on the perfect fabric for my next LBD. So…it’s not up next, but it’s coming!
How is it possible to work closely with someone for years, enjoy their company, respect their knowledge and experience and appreciate their collegiality yet not really know something this important about them? I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Barbara Emodi for years in my “other” life and wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear that she’d written a book. However, I expected that the book would be about political communication, a topic about which she’s something of an expert. Turns out I didn’t know her at all!
Expert though she may be in political communication and university teaching (which is where she and I intersected happily for some years), it seems that she’s equally expert in sewing. How did I not know this? Let me back up a bit.
About three years ago, after I had returned to sewing and had taken early retirement from my university career, I happened to be reading an article in an old Threads magazine on the topic of fitting. It was a terrific article, and as someone who also writes books and magazine articles from time to time, I glanced at the by-line, like you do. Many people don’t ever do this, but if you’re also a writer, you know what I mean. The author’s name was Barbara Emodi. Hmm…I thought, not a very common name in my view. So, I did a bit of exploring and found that Barbara had this whole other life all the time we were working together. It must be a testament to our single-minded focus on our work that we never discussed this mutual interest. It seemed that alongside of Barbara’s stellar work with me in my university department, she was writing magazine articles, teaching sewing, developing a seriously popular (and very entertaining/educational) blog, and generally becoming an internationally-renowned sewing expert. And she has written a book – about sewing.
Sew…The Garment-Making Book of Knowledge: Real-Life Lessons from a Serial Sewist is a seriously good book. With Barbara’s signature wry style, she presents a book that purports to be the sewing advice and lore you would received from your mother or grand-mother… well, it is if your mother or grand-mother happened to be a sewing expert with wildly well-developed communication and writing skills.
She begins the book with a rumination about “what sewing can do for you.” Her discussion goes beyond the usual – sewing is a creative outlet – to take in notions of improving your resourcefulness and making you see things about yourself and your life more clearly. You should really read it yourself. But suffice it to say that few sewing writers address this fundamental aspect of sewing – and she does it in such a clear and accessible way. The book doesn’t simply impart knowledge; it also makes you think. How often does that happen?
Although this book would be terrific for anyone who is just starting out on their sewing journey, it is also for those of us who have moved beyond the basics. She begins with finding the right pattern and moves on to fitting issues and altering flat patterns. I especially appreciated her discussion of what makes a great pattern to help everyone who has ever struggled with whether or not a particular pattern would work for them. She also talks about choosing and cutting fabric which is of particular interest to me.
One of my other favourite books that I reach for often is The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory by Gail Baugh because I adore fabric – not hoarding it (that goes against every principle I hold about having enough but not too much of anything) – but understanding it and figuring out how it will behave in specific applications. Barbara’s chapter isn’t exhaustive by any means, but it’s a great place to start.
Sew… is lavishly illustrated and is replete with extraordinarily well-conceived full-colour photos. It’s a wonderful addition to my own library and I think anyone interested in sewing would appreciate its wisdom and insight. And it’s entertaining, too.
In my own inimitable way, I have two minor bones to pick with the book: first, on page 39 she refers to the double-ended, fish-eye dart as a French dart. Nowhere I can find calls this a French dart. A French dart, as defined by Craftsy (and everyone else on the internet), is “…a type of elongated bust dart that start[s] at the side seam, down near the waistline, and end[s] up near the bust point…”
The second issue is on page 185 where it says “…Your machine needs oil.” End of story. In fact, some machines, mine included (Singer Quantum Stylist 9960) has specific instructions NOT to oil. I say follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Both of these are editorial issues, not author issues in my view.
Anyway, you should buy this book for yourself to add to your collection (or put it on your Christmas wish list) and buy a copy for your sewing friend.
All of this as a way to put off just a bit longer my final unveiling of my Little Black Dress and the end of that (very) long project!
And so, my *Little Black Dress project is finally (!) coming to a close. Well, maybe that’s rushing things a bit since I have three really well-fitting muslins for three different dresses all of which would make terrific little black dresses. [I actually did four but eliminated one fairly early on.] And yet, how many classic dresses does one really need? The whole point of the perfect LBD in my view is that it is so versatile it can be dressed up or down, so timeless that it never goes out of style, so comfortable you enjoy wearing it everywhere, and so well-fitting that you need only one. But…well, I’ll start with one.
Before I get to the current process, I just need to mention that my absence from my “atelier” is not because of any loss of interest in creating or writing, rather it’s because I’ve been to Asia. The trip was unimaginably fabulous! There were some style and fabric aspects (I had a custom silk jacket done for me to wear with my LBD and more), but mostly we just visited Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, The Great Wall of China, then Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo in Japan. But all of that’s for another blog space entirely. (FYI my husband and I blog about all things travel at www.thediscerningtravelers.com). Anyway, I’m back in the atelier and at the computer, designing, sewing, and writing blogs and books. So, the LBD.
I have decided in a fit of narcissism that I really liked my own design best, at least for the first dress. So, I have gone back to the muslin of LBD #4 to begin the process. Of course, this means that I actually have to create a pattern since it’s not a commercial one. The truth is a LOVE pattern-making.
My process begins with a final fitting to see where the pattern might need tweaking (my darn shoulder slope did need a bit of a tweak), then sitting at the cutting table to cut it apart. I remember the first time I cut apart a muslin (I was making my first Little French Jacket). It almost broke my heart – I had become quite fond of that ugly piece, because it fit me! Anyway, I’m a bit less emotional about the process at this stage of my design/sewing career, but I’m still just as careful. These pieces will be the foundation of my perfectly fitting LBD.
I then take those muslin pieces to the ironing board and go at them with both the iron and a lint brush. Then I’m ready to make the pattern.
I decide not to use couture techniques – rough butting directly from the muslin, thread-tracing seam lines etc. – mainly because of my fabric choice for this first dress. Did I mention the fabric choice dilemma?
I had thought I’d be using a high-end wool-blend fabric, underlining with silk organza and lining with silk charmeuse. However, I haven’t found that perfect fabric yet. I will, but in the meantime, I found a textured crepe knit that will provide me with a dress that can also travel well because, as you’ve probably figured out, I do a lot of that, too.
The fabric, as you can see, doesn’t actually beg for couture techniques. In fact, now that I’ve fallen in love with my serger (more about my former distaste for serged finishes in a future post), I’m going to use it for interior finishing. I know – I should be slapped. Bottom line: I’m making a paper pattern.
Since the last made-from-scratch pattern design I did, I’ve discovered a new gadget, a tool. I’m sure I’m late to the party but when I discovered the double tracing wheel, I thought: why haven’t I know about this? The truth is that I’ve seen them before on Amazon. You know when you buy something there they give you a list of related items others have bought? I had taken a passing look at it, but I just never figured out what I’d do with one – mainly because they show it flat in a package rather than in action with the wheels actually pointing in the direction they’re meant to go in. Anyway, I thought that this would be perfect for marking the cutting line outside my seam edges.
So, I trace my muslin seam lines onto paper and begin to use the double tracing wheel to mark cutting lines. The problem is that the tracing wheels themselves don’t have a serrated enough edge to transfer to the paper visibly. So, what to do? I pull out my large sheets of waxed tracing paper and mark the cutting line on the back of the pattern. Voila! I just cut the edges from the back-side markings and I have my pattern pieces ready! It has changed my life! No more going around the pattern with my ruler making little marks that I then join up to make a cutting line. Genius!
Now I just need to find a bit of time to cut the darn thing out, mark it and baste it together.