Posted in fabrics, Fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

In search of a wearable print: Sewing prints and looking like a sofa

Prints have been on my mind lately. Suddenly it’s summer here, and everywhere I look, I see prints in the windows. Just two blocks from where I live, the Gucci shop has a window display full of them. Dior’s windows are the same.

Here’s a new Gucci[1] print for the season. I can truly not think of a single person I’d like to see wearing this dress, especially not me. (And with a price tag of $6500, I could buy an awful lot of Eileen Fisher black tunics!).

And then there’s this Dior.[2]

Seriously, doesn’t this just say grama’s living room sofa to you? It does to me. (Dior doesn’t put their prices online. Wonder why. Hmmm.)

The truth is that I don’t see many of the fashion-forward women on the streets around here wearing them (maybe they’re for nightclubbing, although they don’t really scream or even whisper evening attire to me). Here in Toronto, the tendency on the street is more toward neutrals―unrelenting black in the winter and some mixture of beige and beige with a bit of white thrown in for contrast in the summer. Perhaps when the stores open and lockdown is over (maybe in ten days!), the prints will make their way out of window displays and onto the street. I’d enjoy seeing that. What I don’t so much enjoy seeing is prints on me.

Some people can carry them off so well, and I love to see them, especially on young women in summer dresses. But for me? NO.

I’ve tried them in the past. From first-year university to two years ago, every once in a while I’ll think it’s a good idea. Ireally loved that gown on me with all that hair , and the Lopi sweater – that counts, doesnt’ it? (That was my knitting period). And how about that red floral on black at a friend’s birthday party a year or two ago? I did feel a bit like upholstered furniture.

The spring and summer runways this year were full of them. And so many of them are florals, or so it seems to someone as print-challenges as I am. I mean, just take a look at my closet.

My winter closet (on the right) is devoid of all but the tiniest nod to print fabrics (see that Brook’s Brother’s shirt with the white collar? I like to wear it with a plain black cashmere sweater over it so you can see only the white collar and a hint of the print at the bottom. You know what I mean?). Now that I take a close look at my summer closet, I do seem to be getting a bit adventurous with prints, don’t you think? Okay, most of them are stripes (stripes do count), but there are a few others there. Generally, though, if the print is geometric in design, I might try it.

So, I thought I’d give geometric prints another try this year. I began with a vintage pattern for a sheath dress, my absolute favourite silhouette. I’d wanted to try out this pattern, McCall’s 2401 from 1999, and although I love the plain sheath, I thought it might work in a border-pattern rayon knit I happened to have bought recently.

I love the V-neck version and the long sleeves, but I love boat necks even better and had been figuring out my perfect boat neck. Add onto that the fact that I really only wear dresses when we’re on vacation in the winter (at least I expect to be in the Caribbean next winter, the pandemic gods willing) and what I’m left with is selecting the boat neck with the short sleeves and I’m off to the races.

It was interesting to be reminded of aspects of older patterns. The pattern paper is slightly stronger and the design a bit different. Of course, I had to shorten it to a length that flatters me better, but I also noticed something funky about the set-in sleeves. They had too much ease. I didn’t think about this before I cut it out (shame on me, I didn’t make a muslin first), so I had to work very hard to avoid puckers when I set in the sleeves. If course, I used a stable knit and the pattern was designed for a woven fabric. It would likely not have been a problem if I’d used wool crepe since it’s more malleable. Before I make it again I will reduce the ease in the sleeve head in any case.

Of course, the dress was easy to fit and sew, with the border print placed along the hemline and the sleeve hems. But can we talk about the print itself?

Take a look―take a close look. What does this conjure up for you? Well, my husband laughed his head off when he saw it. Then, when our son came for dinner last week, my husband said to him, “Go in and look at your mother’s new sewing project,” which Gloria junior (my mannequin) was proudly sporting. Our son emerged back into the dining room, laughing his head off as well.

“It’s a QR code,” he said through his gales of laughter. My husband completely agreed. Well, I did have to admit the resemblance. They both then wondered what would happen if someone pointed their phone camera or QR code reader at it. Enough already!

What do you think? (You can try the QR code and see where it takes you!)

So, it’s a pattern. Will I wear it? It is a flattering style on me, and I do love the neckline and the sleeve length. I will certainly make this dress again (in a plain fabric), but wear it? Perhaps I’ll roll it up in a ball and tuck it in my suitcase next February when I get on the plane bound for Barbados. I’ll take a few pics of it in action if I dare to appear in public in it!


[1] https://www.gucci.com/ca/en/pr/women/ready-to-wear-for-women/dresses-for-women/long-dresses-midi-dresses-for-women/one-of-a-kind-ken-scott-silk-dress-p-643432ZAGH35334

[2] https://www.dior.com/en_int/products/couture-121R45A7664_X1884-short-dress-beige-linen-with-dior-jardin-motif

Posted in fabrics, Fashion, Style, Tailoring

The Great Tailored Blazer Project: My fabulous fabric (and other things I need)

What better day to talk about great fabrics for my tailoring project than the first day of autumn? Although, in years past, whenever I thought about tailored jackets I also thought about matching pants or skirts (can you say suit?), these days the thought of a tailored jacket is more likely to have me thinking about jeans and great sneakers. That’s more my style these days. Anyway, my last post saw me rationalizing why I need to do this project and how I will begin to learn about the tailoring process. I have my pattern (along with all 12 pages of instructions it included). So, now I’m ready to talk fabrics.

I love fabrics. In fact, one of my favourite sewing-related books is The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory.

One of my sewing bibles.

Call me a sewing nerd if you like, but I love to read about sewing and know a bit more about what I’m doing than simply how to do it. I need to know why. When I considered choosing my fabric for this project, I knew that I wanted it to be a bit tweedier, or bouclé-ish than flat or worsted wool that you see in men’s suits. I knew it would need some texture and I didn’t want another black jacket. I am the first person to say that a black jacket is golden – and is, in fact, the urban Toronto uniform from Labour Day until the long weekend in May – but god knows I have enough black. First, what else should I consider other than colour?

Well, I have another new book. This one’s on tailoring and it arrived yesterday. What could be more perfect for me right now than The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket?

It has 400 well-shot photos that I’m sure I’ll refer to as I move through the project. Today, I was focusing on what the authors had to say about choosing fabrics to tailor, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience. Well, that would be me.

This book identifies five characteristics to consider when selecting tailoring fabrics.

Interestingly, among them is, in fact, colour! Yes, colour is important because, and I actually knew this going in, medium or darker colours hide inner construction better than light-coloured ones. Also, just think about how a white fabric might look after all the handling you have to do when you tailor a jacket.

The book also says that I should consider fibre content. This should have been obvious to me, as well. Natural fibres can be shaped far more easily than synthetics. Since tailoring requires lots of pressing and manipulating into shapes, this is important.

The next important characteristic is the fabric’s weight. It also makes a lot of sense when you think about it. A fabric that is too light will get over-pressed very quickly. On the other hand, I’ll never be able to get a crisp corner (or anything else crisp) with a really heavy fabric.

Next is texture. I learned this when I made my first Little French Jacket. Those jackets are lined by machine-quilting the lining to the fabric. The stitches are, therefore, visible on the outside. However, with enough texture, the stitching is all but invisible. Just take a look at an authentic Chanel jacket in a consignment store sometime. They are machine-quilted. So, in this kind of tailoring I’m doing now, there will be some little hand-stitches that might otherwise show on a smooth fabric. Textured it is, then.

Finally, there is a question of the weave. A medium weave is easily pressed and will hold its shape. I would have to fight with a tight weave, while a loose weave will stretch.

Well, four out of five ain’t bad! My fabric choice may have a weave issue, but I’ll deal with it. I’ve used loose-ish weaves before.

I think it’s fair to say that most people choose a fashion fabric first, then they choose the lining. I did this a bit backwards since I had a piece of silk charmeuse I loved that I bought when we were on vacation (pre-COVID) earlier this year. I loved the muted pastels even though I rarely wear them. I also love the feel of authentic silk charmeuse against my body, so I always thought it would make a great lining. I then had to find a fabric that would sort of “go” with it.

Beautiful silk charmeuse!

I found the fabric on Queen Street West here in Toronto at a little fabric store I mentioned n an earlier post. It’s a silk-cotton blend in a peachy tweed weave the incorporates yellow, green and cream. I loved the fabric and I’m going to make it work.

Then, what about what goes inside the jacket…the tailoring stuff?

I needed hair canvas (more about this in a later post). Two weeks ago, my husband and I had a weekday, weekend away in Niagara-on-the-Lake (here’s a video we made if you need a bit of armchair travel in these peculiar times). On the way, I stopped in Fabricland (Canada’s answer to Joann’s but up a notch or two) in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. I asked a lovely saleswoman if they had any hair canvas. She thought for a moment then managed to find a bolt stuffed away under the cutting counter.

“You know,” she said, “I’ve worked here twelve years and this is the first time I’ve ever sold any of this.” This was corroborated by another sales clerk who had never sold any either. So, it was a good day for them. At $22 a metre, it wasn’t cheap (and it’s only 20 inches wide).

I also found the stay tape I’ll need for the interior edges and some buttons that will work.

I’m excited to get on with cutting the pieces all out. There are so many of them I’ll need a database to keep track! Talk soon.

Posted in Fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

In Love with Knit Jackets (not hand-knit!)

When I was a little girl (so many years ago!) I remember the popularity of “knit” jackets. Jackets that someone actually knit. With a pair of knitting needles. Knit jackets were a ‘thing’ back then.

The ones I remember most, though, seem to be men’s hand-knit jackets (and machine-knit jackets were the same). I remember them as being heavy, chunky, usually with a very large pattern of some sort on them, and they almost always had zippers. How times have changed!

These are the knit jackets I remember! This one is from the 1960s. Hand-knit.

There was a time in my life (back in my twenties if you can believe that) when I, too, succumbed to the lure of the hand-knit sweater. Yes, it was the years of the Lopi sweater craze.

This was the first of many Lopi sweaters that I hand-knit back in the day. Then, as quickly as the desire to make them came over me, it disappeared and I haven’t picked up a set of knitting needles in years. Perhaps that’s because my style changed.

In the years that followed grad school, I was the proud owner of a closet full of suits. Canadian designers Alfred Sung and Simon Chang, along with American designer Calvin Klein, all shared closet space with dozens of pairs of shoes. I loved the tailored style and that has evolved to be the way I prefer to dress.

Simon Chang featured in the Canadian fashion magazine Flare in the 1980s. He was a bit funkier. I think I owned the one in the centre!

But now I find that I have little use for finely tailored jackets. I have a couple that I wear regularly – my black cashmere, silk-lined Brooks Brothers one is a favourite – with jeans or when I have to give a presentation (*sigh* I still find myself behind a podium from time to time). A tailored blazer is a fantastic piece for any wardrobe (and I have a whole design and sewing project on them planned for later this year – stay tuned). The reality, though, is that a softer version of the tailored jacket actually works better for me these days. But does that mean I really want sweaters? I think not!

So, what’s the difference between a sweater and a jacket? They are both designed as garments that are worn on the upper part of the body. Sweaters can be either pull-overs or can open down the front (or even the back for that matter).

Jackets, by definition always have an opening down the front. Given the design freedom we have these days to create anything we desire and call it anything we choose, the traditional main difference between a jacket and a sweater is a function of the materials it is made of. Sweaters are made from knits while jackets are made from wovens. Or, at least they used to be. Enter the “swacket” an odd moniker if ever there was one.

I haven’t been able to find out who actually first started using this stupid word, but a “swacket” does seem to be a thing now. In 2016 the clothing company Under Armour first marketed something they called a swacket.

Just looks like a jacket with a zipper to me.

It looks just like any other athletic jacket to me. Evidently, it feels soft and lightweight (like a sweater) but looks like a jacket. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s a soft, lightweight jacket. What am I missing here? Anyway, I do love a soft, lightweight jacket and that, to me, means a knit jacket – as opposed to a heavy, hand-knit jacket.

I’m talking about a jacket that is sewn together from loomed knit fabric. Obviously, it’s not likely to be made from something flimsy because a jacket by its very nature seems to need some structure. Having said that, remember Coco Chanel, the originator of knitwear for women? Here she is in one that really does look like it might be the jersey fabric that she introduced to women’s fashions around the time of the first World War.

Anyway, since my lifestyle doesn’t require Alfred Sung or Simon Chang in it anymore, knit jackets seem like a no-brainer for me.

Recently I made two – one of which doesn’t really have any sore of tailored look while the other does. They are both incredibly soft and comfortable, just what you want in a knit jacket. I used commercial patterns for both.

The first, quite unstructured piece is fully lined with stretch lining, something I’d never used before. I also added a small chain inside along the hem to help it to hang better.

I used McCall’s pattern #7332 and added flat piping to the angled waist seam. This is really the only design feature of this easy-to-create piece. I found that the open front was a bit of a problem. It just kind of hangs there, which, of course, is a function of the knit fabric itself. So, I surfed over to eBay and found myself a source for interesting closures. Naturally, that source was in China so I waited two months for them to arrive, but arrive they did!

This is such a comfortable piece – feels exactly like a sweater. But I have to say that it has been hanging in my closet for some time now and I haven’t found any occasion to wear it! Enter the second knit jacket.

I really loved the look of McCall’s pattern #7254 with its shawl collar and sleek peplum.

I liked that it’s very fitted and a bit short. I found a piece of shadow-striped ponte and combined that with plain black then added a button from my collection (this one found at a Fabricville store that I only get to visit when we are on a road trip to smaller towns outside the big smoke).

Despite the fact that these knit jackets are intended to be softer than their more tailored cousins, I loved the fact that I interfaced the shawl collar for a crisper look. This piece is still very comfortable and the truth is I’ve worn it a lot. Even on an airplane, it gives me a bit of an elevated look while still wearing comfortable knits.

All in all, I’d have to say that I’d design and make a few more if I had any use for dozens of similar wardrobe pieces. But I don’t, so I’m moving on to my perfect shirt project. Talk soon!

(As an aside, I had to look up the past participle of the verb “to knit” to discover that ‘knit’ is the traditional past tense but ‘knitted’ is also in use these days. Sorry, I’m a grammar nerd!)

Posted in fabrics, Fashion Design, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

The Festive Season is Coming: Finding the right party look

It feels a lot like winter today here in Toronto. In fact, when I raised the blinds this morning, there was some of that “white” stuff” on the rooftops some stories below. Thankfully, there wasn’t actually any of it on the streets or sidewalks. It’s too early for that! What this always means to me – and in spite of the fact that the calendar says it’s nowhere near winter yet – it’s time to consider what I’ll be wearing to those inevitable Christmas get-togethers whether I like it or not. When I started planning this season’s little collection, I was inspired, at least partially, by a couple of fabrics that I bought on my early fall pilgrimage down to the fabric district along Queen St. West here in the city.

Fabric shopping in that district always has to be planned in my view. First, it has to be just off the high tourist season. Queen Street West is a zoo during tourist season in the summer. Second, I always walk. That’s non-negotiable. But since it’s a good forty-five-minute walk, the day has to be just right. It can’t be raining or, god forbid, snowing. Then, I always take along my fabric-buying assistant (also known as my husband) who is a great scout if I give him a few guidelines suggesting what I might be looking for. On the early September day we chose, the walk was particularly nice and I actually came home with a few pieces of fabric that were inspired by my fall/winter mood board.

I hadn’t been looking for special-occasion fabrics specifically, but that’s what I came home with. I had been thinking about textures and colours for my inspiration…here are two that inspired me this year…

Two of the fabrics I bought as inspired by my original texture samples.

Another texture that inspired me was a pair of SJP shoes that I actually happen to own. There’s just something about a pair of sparkly shoes that dresses up even a pair of skinny jeans…but I digress.

Here are those shoes in action…

I am no slave to fashion trends, always preferring timeless classics (except clearly in shoes), but I do like to be modern. So, I love to see what the industry is suggesting might be the in thing to wear to festive parties this season.

According to Vogue magazine, arbiter of all things fashionable (arguably, I’m sure), “fabulous dresses and practical bags” are the way to go. I suppose in some world this dress might work…

…but in my world of Christmas parties, I can’t quite see this as I prepare the ham for a family Boxing Day dinner, or for drinks with the neighbours in our condo building. Not going to happen. Good Housekeeping (god love them) on the other hand is suggesting dowdy…

…and dowdier.

I find that this length they’re all suggesting this year is one of the most unflattering ones for just about any woman. There is a way to avoid that conundrum, though, wear pants. They are my go-to. And the truth is, these days, anything goes. So, what can we do to dress up a pair of pants (other than adding a pair of sparkly SJP shoes, of course)?

I’m often inspired by old movies with those fabulous costumes. Some months ago, my husband and I happened to watch the1956 film “Written on the Wind” starring the incomparable Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone. Oh the costumes! In one scene the two of them are drinking and arguing, and Dorothy Malone is wearing an Asian-inspired blue silk jacquard jacket, which would probably be called a smoking jacket if it were on a man.

Isn’t this fabulous?

I have no desire to recreate their pieces, but I do think that using them as design inspiration can often meld the old with the contemporary aesthetic. So, I began sketching and my design ended up a bit like this…

So, I began to create the pattern and put together a muslin.

Work was going well, so I bought some velvet to make a contrast collar. I thought that the silver and black fabric would be wonderful. This is where I ran into my first problem. The fabric was all wrong for this design. It was not wrong from an aesthetic point of view, but it was so wrong when it came to fabric properties – especially drape. It had too much. I loved the fact that this was a bit like liquid silver, but the design I envisioned begged for something like silk jacquard, something stiffer. It occurred to me (after discussion with my dear husband and style consultant) that a bomber-style jacket might work.

I scoured the commercial pattern offerings and found Butterick 6181 that also had a version with buttons rather than a zipper which seemed a better party design for me. I did some pattern fitting and found that the design had just a bit too much “blousiness” in both the body and the sleeves. I had to take out 2 inches of volume in the sleeves or I would have drowned in fabric. I also removed some from the body.

I thought I might use the velvet I had bought to make a contrast collar. That was an unmitigated disaster. Note to self: learn how to mix wovens with knits (did I mention that the silver and black fabric is a knit?) so that you can avoid the mess I ended up with. My trusty surgical-steel seam ripper came to the rescue.

My next design decision was about buttons. I had a set of funky silver buttons that I had in mind. However, when I compared them with a self-covered button, it was no contest. The covered buttons were much classier. So, I did something I hadn’t done in some forty years: I did that fiddly button-covering thing.

Finally, I have a party jacket for the season, but I also have a pattern for a more form-fitting one that I will not give up on. I’d love to make that one but I have one question: how many party jackets does a girl need? 

On to the next project…


Sources:

https://www.vogue.com/vogueworld/article/valentino-fall-trend-holiday-dressing-ideas

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/uk/fashion-beauty/g538763/christmas-party-dresses/?slide=1

Posted in Fashion, Fashion Design, Fashion Journalism, Style

Fall/Winter Wardrobe Planning: Design inspiration and a few trends

It happens every season: fashion pundits cobble together the trends, tips and colours of the season so that the rest of us might fall into line and get behind those trends. Personally, I do enjoy seeing the new trends and figuring out which of them (if any) might actually work in a real life in general, and in my real life in particular. Add on to that a serious consideration of whether or not I really NEED any new pieces of clothing, and you find me mulling over my fantasy fall/winter 2019-20 design inspiration. It’s partly fantasy because I don’t really need many new pieces and because I prefer style classics, but it’s also partly reality since I will, indeed, use it to figure out what I will design, make and buy for the season.

When I say that I don’t really need any new pieces, I really mean that. Since it’s the beginning of October and the fall chill is beginning to put the run to summer weight wardrobe pieces and bare ankles (so sad to see them go, but I do have two new pairs of boots that I look forward to wearing), I took advantage of some time over this past weekend to begin the changeover from summer to winter clothing. Of course, there’s a bit of crossover at this point in the the year. One day last week hit 27 degrees Celsius (something like 80 degrees Fahrenheit for the centigrade-challenged), so those cashmere sweaters just don’t cut it.

Anyway, during the great-closet-turnover of the fall season, I discovered that I have plenty of clothes. In fact, if I went on one of those year-long clothing-buying boycotts, I’d be okay. I wouldn’t have to leave the house unclothed. But I would really enjoy a few new pieces. I just have to be judicious about what I buy. For example, I’d love to have three new coats, but I cannot justify this on several levels.

First, I’d need more closet space – not going to happen. Second, I’d need to look beyond black, other wise what’s the point? This isn’t going to happen either because I live in Toronto and black is de rigeur for the winter. Just take a walk down Bloor Street past D & G, Holt Renfrew, Louis Vuitton and the like and you will see a sea of black. Even down on Bay Street among the financial towers. Black. Yup, everyone is in black. Oh, wait. Do I see a rust-coloured parka? Well, yes, I do. Rust is fine these days, but still an oddity.

Anyway, this is where I begin my rumination about this year’s wardrobe.

My second stop before beginning my own process is to take a look at those fashion pundits and their narrative about what we will all be wearing this year. I love to start at the colours.

As usual, Pantone (the paint people of all things) seems to lead the way on this front. Or so they’d like to think. Evidently, this season’s colours include the following…

…as well as a few more that are grossly orangey and/or the colour of guacamole. They are too putrid to even consider on me.

According to Harper’s Bazaar, we should all save our black ensembles for next year in favour of…

Yes, pistachio, shades of purple, bright orange, shocking pink (fuchsia to me) and neon. First, I have to say that in my view only one of these colours could actually be worn from one season to the next. There is only one that wouldn’t cause me to feel slightly nauseated every time I passed a mirror. That colour is fuchsia. It’s a cosmetically-flattering colour and I think it can be worn by lots of people, especially those of us who have embraced our natural silver and platinum locks. So, I think that could be a keeper. My palette this year, then, reflects only a few of the so-called on-trend colours…

… and I’m planning to use a hearty dose of black and grey to ground the collection. Because that’s who I am. And it has to be said that Chanel presented a lot of black and white this season. Love it!

So, I considered the style trends as well. According to Elle magazine, the 90s are back as are the 70s and 80s. Dear god, do those of us who lived through this the first time have to be subjected to another dose of Dynasty shoulders and bell-bottomed pants? In a word, NO! There is an old saying that if you lived through a fashion trend once and it comes back again, just step away. It’s not for you. I don’t’ know who said that, but I’m sticking with it. There will be no bell-bottoms entering my closet. I think that older women are so much more sophisticated than that.

An what about that “lavender trend” that they talk about? Think about older women, then think about lavender. What does it conjure up in your mind? Arsenic and old lace? Lavender-scented, dark, musty rooms? Hankies? Not happening here in my household.

And what about capes?

The prom cape! Oh, and all that hair!

(I actually think the model on the right is wearing a blanket from her grandmother’s sofa, but I digress.)

The last time I wore a cape was to accompany my prom dress when I graduated from high school. I was sixteen, made both the dress and the matching (*gag*) cape, thought I was something else, and will never wear a cape again. It’s just not me.

I do, however, like that suiting is back. I love tailored jackets and suits. It’s just that my lifestyle doesn’t’ really require much in the line of suits these days. I suppose I could wear one when we go out for dinner.  

As usual, I’m inspired by Audrey Hepburn and the 1960s style but interpreted in a more modern, grown-up way. So, here is my design board for this season. I’m working on pattern design at this stage and will be using a combination of commercial and personally-designed patterns as I move toward figuring gout what to do with the three or four pieces of fabric I’ve that have inspired me this season. Net time: the fabrics and shapes of the designs.

What are you wearing this winter?

Photo sources:

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/trends/g28787858/fall-color-2019-fashion/

https://www.elle.com/fashion/trend-reports/a26147021/fall-fashion-trends-2019/

Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, Style

In praise of the bateau (boat) neck!

I am so easily distracted these days. So many projects, so little time! My usual approach to life is to streamline my projects so that I have two to three (at the most) major projects ongoing at the same time. These days, however, I am finishing a publishing project, working on two books simultaneously (not so uncommon for me – I write both nonfiction and fiction and do like to have one of each going on to balance off against one another), and I have a number of design/sewing-related projects that are edging ever closer to the front of my mind. I have plans to move forward with my fall-winter wardrobe blueprint, yet I find myself with a few left-overs from the summer to complete.

Recently I seem to be stuck on tops with waist definition (as I discussed in my last post), and have finished another one in a woven rayon fabric. (I picked up a Simplicity pattern when we were on our summer road trip in upstate New York. Can’t get them any longer in Canada.)

 

 

I do love how it drapes, and I will pick up some silk twill this fall (I hope when we visit New York) to add to that unfinished design board, and perhaps make it again. But, what about that neckline? I’ll have to do something about that.

It’s something of a “bleh” neckline, n’est ce pas? It’s more than a crew neck, but not quite that true bateau neckline that is my favourite.

Two summers ago, I spent months perfecting my “perfect boat-neck” T-shirt pattern. (This was before anyone had even an inkling that Meghan Markle would choose this neckline for her wedding dress.) It wasn’t that the T-shirt was a challenge: the challenges was getting that boat neck to be precisely the right width and depth for my personal fit and style preferences. Why, oh why, do I seem to be wanting to make everything with a boat neck these days? I thought it might be useful (and fun) to have a look at the history of this oh-so-appealing design feature. Then I’ll tell you why getting the pattern just right is a matter of both mathematics and squinting. Anyway…

Boat neck. Bateau neck. Sabrina neck. Are they all the same? Well, it seems that there are a few differences. (Well, bateau is French for boat in case you’re a bit French-challenged!) But it all officially started back in 1958 in France when the now ubiquitous white and navy striped shirt became an official part of a French sailor’s uniform.

french sailors
French sailors back in the day…

Rumour has it that the stripes were supposed to make a man-overboard easier to see in the water. As time went on, the so-called French sailor shirt – or Breton shirt – became a wardrobe staple made even more famous by iconic American actress Jean Seberg who spent half her life in France, artist Pablo Picasso and the likes of Jean-Paul Gaultier.

jean seberg
Jean Seberg does it right.

Not to mention Jackie O. and Coco herself. But it was all about the stripes in the early days. What about that neckline? (Jackie’s boat necks helped it to move along past the stripes.) 

 

 

If you examine the original design on the French sailors closely, you can see that the neckline was widened slightly. When you see an homage to the Breton shirt on Jean Seberg above, you can see the allure of the widened neckline exposing much more of the collarbone.

Then, of course, there is my personal muse, Audrey Hepburn. According to legend, Audrey didn’t love her neck or décolletage. So, many of her necklines were high and wide, exposing just that touch of collar-bone that is so sexy on almost every woman. However, when she was doing the film Sabrina, the boat neckline came up even slightly higher, thus creating a new kind of boat neck now and for all eternity to be called the Sabrina neckline. It isn’t clear whether Givenchy (who designed many if not most of Hepburn’s film wardrobes) or Edith Head (personally my favourite costume designer) who actually designed it since they both worked on the film. [The Sabrina neckline, higher and straighter than the others is on Audrey in the upper left photo below. On the lower right photo of Jackie, hers is almost a Sabrina.]

Jacki & Audrey

Anyway, stylish women have been picking it up ever since. *bats eyelashes*

I learned about drafting boat necks from the pattern-making course I took online from Suzy Furrer. What haunts me most about them ever since is trying to ensure that the back neckline is taken up just enough to ensure that the front of the neckline doesn’t gape. She has a rules she calls the “wide neckline adjustment rule.”

Inkedsuzy furer_LI
Original neckline at high neck point on the left. Newly drawn boat neck on right exposes the shoulder. As much as the designer chooses.

According to what I learned, if the front and back of the boat neck are the same measurement, the front will gape. And the truth is, I have noticed this on some of the ready-to-wear pieces I have picked up over the years. It’s usually a small bit of gaping, but gaping nonetheless. And if I am going to design and make my own pieces, they have to fit perfectly. So, I learn the rule.

Here is an example:

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When I altered the original neckline of this pattern I made (I didn’t like the shape of depth of the original), I decided that it would be better if it were 1/2″ wider on each side in the front (I also brought it up 2″ but that doesn’t affect the shoulder adjustment). So, after I made this change on the front neckline, of course I had to true up the shoulder seam by making the back neckline 1/2″ wider as well giving me a 2 1/2″ shoulder seam which I like with a boat neck. But, as  you can see in the photo below, I also shortened the length of the back neck by 1/8″ by lowering the high neck point.

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If I create a boat neck from my original sloper where the neckline is right at the high neck point, and I want my perfect boat neck which gives me that 2-2 1/2″ shoulder seam, I generally have to shorten the back by as much as 5/8″. In the case of the above example, the point I moved was already a distance from the high neck point (hope this makes sense!).

The point is that the farther out the neckline is from the high shoulder point, the shorter the back needs to be to prevent that gaping – up to about a maximum of 3/4″. Now, I always check these measurements on commercial patterns with boat necks, too.

 

 

[Two of the designs from the GG Collection basics from last year when I was perfecting my perfect boat neck!]

As I doodle toward my fall designs, I’m noting that this neckline keeps popping up there too. Good thing it works in many fabrics in all seasons. So, now I’m back to my design board. Talk soon!

The patterns…

 

 

Posted in Fashion Design, Style, Stylish Travel

The cruise collection in action: Days at sea, days ashore

Consider what comes to your mind when I say “Caribbean cruise.” If you’re anything like me, you probably have visions of open decks caressed by gentle, warm ocean breezes. Perhaps you can feel yourself sitting on a lounge chair gazing meditatively out at sea just as a sliver of a sand-ringed island comes into view. Then maybe you can see yourself walking along a powder sand beach in the shade of waving palm trees. Yes, this is a Caribbean cruise to me. So, what about that wardrobe for these laid-back days? In my last post I brought you up to date on how the evening little black cocktail dress design worked out. This time, it’s the day-time looks, that were inspired by a length of grey and white-striped seersucker.

I realized early on that what I called a “sunny day dress” would be at the centre of the daytime wardrobe. I can’t call it a sundress, because if you have read any of my past posts on my personal style, you’ll know that anything flouncy, flowered or otherwise flirty is so removed from my style as to be ridiculous. I’m one of those women who resembles nothing less than a reupholstered sofa whenever I make the mistake of wearing prints – especially floral ones which seem to be the mainstay of ready-to-wear sundresses. Anyway, my foray into print is always geometric or striped, and the fewer colours the better. So…seersucker.

There was a time for me when choosing the fabric came only after the design selection or creation. These days, I sometimes find a length of fabric that inspires the style. This was one of those situations. So, with a few metres of seersucker, and my inspiration/mood board in mind, I went to work on a couple of styles.

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Washed, dried and ready to cut. 

I was guided in my daytime dress design by a number of considerations (e.g. the fabric should be a natural fibre, light colour, sheath style because that’s who I am, sleeveless with a full back and it had to be tailored). This last consideration was the starting point for the design. I love a tailored dress. So this is where my sketching started…

GG-CC019-03 alone

How did the design work out in the reality of a Caribbean cruise?  Well, here it is.

sunny day dress

 

Then, I used the same fabric for the little skirt that was so comfortable and useful during those hot days touring ashore – especially on Grand Cayman.

seersucker skirt
Add a T and a pair of trusty Cole Haan tennis sneakers in pink…

One other piece that I designed for casual evenings or lunches in the dining room was the asymmetrical top. This is the kind of print that I will agree to wear from time to time – geometric, with few colours. I love how it worked with white jeans with or without the Joseph Ribkoff shrug that comes with me on every vacation.

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Notice how I matched the decor at Indochine one evening when I wore it to a casual dinner?

So, the cruise came to an end with a few days in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where we always enjoy a bit of beach and shopping time before flying home to the Great White North. As I write this, the calendar says it’s spring, but no one here in Toronto is buying that. So, it does seem fitting that I still have a few winter-like projects to complete before I can take my seasonal pilgrimage down to the Queen Street West fabric district just in time to make clothes for…you guessed it…next fall and winter! Until next time…Cheers!

Posted in Fashion Design, Little Black Dress, Style

The cruise collection in action: The versatility of the LBCD (little black cocktail dress)

There is nothing quite like an evening at sea on a luxury cruise ship! The only down-side is making decisions about how many dresses to take when you’d really like to minimize the weight of your suitcase! So, when I began thinking about the evening portion of the Cruise Collection, it was clear to me that I’d be needing a versatile LBD – or LBCD in this specific case. Let me back up for a moment to talk about travel style.

I think it’s safe to say that in this twenty-first century, travel has become much more casual than it was in years gone by. Remember the days when people actually dressed up to board an airplane? When flying was a pleasure?

[CNN Travel has a great story Vintage air travel: Photos from golden age of flying at https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/vintage-airplane-photos-golden-jet-age/index.html. These photos are from there.]

Well, I think that most people would agree that, for the most part, things have changed. Nowadays, you’re more likely to find Youtubers with all manner of advice on how to wear the next best thing to pajamas while schlepping a moisturizing mask on your face while flying just about anywhere. Can you imagine sitting beside that person as she removes various facial paraphernalia from the depths of her enormous tote bag, preps the gooey mess and slaps it on her face? But I digress… Let’s talk about cruise fashion for a moment.

Historically, cruise fashion has paralleled the increasing casualness of our day-to-day career and leisure wardrobes.

Whenever I look at pictures of the cruise wardrobes from the 1940’s to the 1960’s like the ones above, for example, I experience a kind of wistfulness that speaks of an appreciation for what has gone by (and what I missed because of the era of my birth), and yet I don’t really wish for us to dress “the same” as they did back in the day.

Muse 2 Jackie O
Jackie O. was a particular muse for this collection. 

When I started this creative thought process for designing a little cruise collection, it was imbued by the sensibility of the 1960’s, and yet I never want to dress in a retro way that duplicates that era – only a style that is influenced by it.

One influence I did not want on this collection – or my wardrobe in general for that matter – was the current careless attitude that many cruisers seem to have when they post about cruise line dress codes online. It’s that “I’ll wear whatever a damn well please” attitude – and make no mistake what they “damn well want to wear” is not a cocktail dress. Different strokes for different folks, I say. The good news is that not all cruise lines are the same. There’s something for everyone.

For example, the dress code for Norwegian Cruise Line, one of the large, mainstream cruise lines is as follows:

Cruise Casual: The Freedom of Freestyle Cruising

Dress cruise casual anytime during the day, in the buffet and in most specialty restaurants. For women, it includes summer and casual dresses, skirts, regular or capri pants, shorts, jeans and tops. Khakis, jeans, shorts and casual shirts are fine for men. Swimwear is acceptable at the buffet and outdoor restaurant, but a shirt or a cover-up and footwear are required.

All Decked-out: Smart Casual

Dress smart casual in our more formal dining room or in our more upscale specialty restaurants. For women, it includes slacks or jeans, dresses, skirts and tops. For men, it’s jeans or slacks with a collared shirt and closed-toed shoes. Kids 12 and under are welcome to wear nice shorts in all our restaurants. [Source: https://www.ncl.com/ca/en/freestyle-cruise/prepare-for-your-cruise/what-to-pack#whattobring]

Notice that “all decked out” to these cruisers includes jeans with nary a mention of a tie or cocktail dress.

Silversea Cruises, on the other hand, (one of our favourites and the line we have been on three times in the last 18 months) says this about their dress code:

Shipboard attire ranges from casual to formal. Casual wear is appropriate for daytime aboard ship or ashore and consists of standard sports outfits as worn at five-star resorts. Shoes should be flat or low heeled for deck activities. Evening attire falls into three categories: casual, informal and formal. On casual evenings, pants, blouses, skirts and casual dresses for ladies; open-neck shirts and slacks for gentlemen are appropriate. On informal evenings, ladies usually wear dresses or pantsuits; gentlemen wear jackets (tie optional). Appropriate formal evening wear for ladies is an evening gown or cocktail dress; gentlemen wear tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits. Tie is required.

On formal nights, guests may dine in La Terrazza and choose to dress informal; dresses or pantsuits for ladies, jackets for gentlemen (tie optional). This option also applies to Seishin and Stars on board Silver Spirit. Dining at The Grill is optional casual all nights. Following dinner, all guests are free to take advantage of any or all public spaces, however, jacket is required. Sailings of 9 days or less typically feature 1 formal night, while longer voyages usually have 2-3 formal nights. Details will be provided in your final cruise documents, but the chart below provides a basic guideline to assist in packing the proper attire. [Source: https://www.silversea.com/travel-informations/general-information.html]

Note the references to “five-star resorts”, dresses, jackets and ties. So, when it came to planning a collection, obviously a cocktail dress would be at the heart of the evening wear, since there are more informal evenings than any other type.

My plan was to create a Little Black Cocktail dress that I could style a variety of ways so that I could have a slightly different look on four different evenings without taking four dresses. I think I succeeded.

Here’s where it started…

Here is the dress styled only with a statement necklace for its first outing…

 

I then added a lace topper I already owned…

LBD 3

…and a drapey, bolero that I created within the collection…

 

What do you think? A win for this one?

Next up…the daytime attire…

Posted in Fashion Design, Little Black Dress, Style

The cruise collection in action: Before we begin the review

IMG_0285There is nothing quite like a three-week break from the Great White North in the middle of February and beyond…but when you return – well, let’s just say being able to tell some stories about your adventure seems to prolong the warmth. I’m just back from debuting the cruise collection that has taken up so much of my design and create time over the past few months, a debut which actually did take place on a cruise.

I refused to show the pieces on an actual person (GG herself) until they were in the right setting, and as I do the laundry and generally get back to normal, I just thought it might be nice to get the story started with a brief glimpse of what’s to come over the next few blog posts.

We cruised aboard the Silversea line’s Silver Spirit, a 600-passenger luxury vessel, beginning in Puerto Rico (where we spent 6 days before the cruise started), cruising the Caribbean visiting Grand Cayman, the cultural and historical cities of Santiago, Cienfuegos and Havana in Cuba, the island (really a sand bar) Bimini in the Bahamas, then ending in Fort Lauderdale in Florida where we spent the last few days of our vacation.

Remember the day dress project and the LBCD dress project? Just a glimpse…

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Until next week when I have more time – and more photos to show.

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style, Stylish Travel

Cruise collection complete: Let the packing begin!

It’s Valentine’s Day and for so many people out there it seems like this is such an important day, although to tell you the truth, I cannot really remember anything special about Valentine’s Days gone by. We used to do something like go out for a lovely dinner, and that was nice, but when you get to a certain point you realize that every day is a day to celebrate love. So that’s what we do. And in so many recent years, we have found ourselves on vacation anyway – which is pretty special in itself. This year, as it happens, we are still a couple of sleeps away from sunshine, palm trees and a cruise ship. But my cruise collection is finished and I’ll be packing it up momentarily. So, here’s the wrap-up.

Since we last “spoke” I actually added a few more pieces – some hits, some misses.

I added a second skirt. It’s based on the original design sans pockets, with a side zipper and a front seam. I went looking for the fabric at King Textiles in the Toronto fabric district because I wanted something particular, and came home with what is supposedly rip-stop, but it has an oddly shiny interior which has design possibilities, but I fear it may stick to me. Never mind: I plan to take it and wear it in the 28-degree Celsius weather and I’ll report back.

I also wanted two more, cool tops. Based on the design of the little black dress that will be the basis for many a cocktail evening coming up, I created a princess-line top from the seersucker that is at the heart of this collection. It fits me well, and is comfortable, but there is something about it…

It has a bit of a funky, broad-front look about it despite my careful selection of the placement of the stripes. We’ll see.

I added a tank made from the patterned (you know I rarely wear patterns) textural material as I work on creating my perfect tank. This one isn’t exactly what I’m going for on a long-term basis – the pattern still needs work – but it’s going to be great on the cruise.

 

I also wanted to make a floaty tunic top from some Indian cotton I bought for the project last summer while we were in Portsmouth, Hew Hampshire. I designed a tunic with short sleeves, and know I will wear it, but it looks more like a bathing suit cover-up than a top that should be worn on the street. It is such a heavenly comfortable fabric, though. Beach walk here it comes.

I started this project back in September. September?! Wow, that’s a long time. I wanted to enjoy the whole process from concept, through design and then execution. And I have done that.

I started by researching a capsule versus a collection. So many people online seem to create, through either shopping ready-to-wear or making it themselves, what they are calling a capsule collection. That wasn’t exactly what I was going for, so I decided to design a collection.

I created a “mood board” for lack of a better term so that I could visualize where I was headed. It was a very creative exercise that I will probably repeat  seasonally. It forced me to really consider my personal aesthetic, which included colours, textures and eventually fabrics I loved.

GG-CC019 Inspiration Board copy

But for a cruise collection that will actually cruise, there is more to it than aesthetics – there is also functionality.

We will be spending almost a week in San Juan, Puerto Rico where we expect the daily temperatures to be around 28 C with a humidex of 31C or so. We do love San Juan. We’ve been there several times, but this is the longest stay for us. We stay in an area called the Condado, named for the miles-long beach it borders. It’s about 5 km from old San Juan in a lovely, upscale residential neighbourhood. We’re staying in a new hotel for us, but the area is familiar. Then we’ll board the Silver Spirit, a 604-passenger Silversea Cruises ship – a bit large for our taste, but Silversea provides a wonderful experience. This will be our fourth Silversea cruise. This one is doing a historical-cultural tour of Cuba and a few other islands, ending in Fort Lauderdale.

 

[Some images from our last visit to San Juan]

Silversea has interesting wardrobe expectations. We will have two formal nights on this one (I will wear a gown and my dear husband will take his tux – not so many opportunities to gear up for a formal occasion these days, so we have to get some mileage out of the wardrobe). Not everyone aboard will go long-dress-and-tuxedo, but they will be dressed up. Even on the informal nights, most will be in cocktail dresses, and I will be wearing the LBD from my collection. There are only three casual nights on this cruise where I’ll be attired in white jeans, beautiful tops and appropriate sandals. This is not a T-shirt and ball-cap kind of cruise. And there are generally no children so that’s great, too, at this point in our lives.

Anyway, the new cruise collection, in concert with my favourite ready-to-wear pieces, is about to get its work-out. There will be photos.

Stay warm!

Silver Spirit here we come!

[photo from http://www.silversea.com]

silver spirit