I think it’s safe to say that the part I like best about recreating ready-to-wear is the pattern drafting step. When I was in high school, I loved geometry, and what’s more, I was good at it. I also loved analytical trigonometry and got a mark of over 90% in grade twelve. Just as a reminder, trigonometry is “… a branch of mathematics that studies relationships between the sides and angles of triangles…” Flat pattern drafting requires all that on top of the creative aspect. I suppose all those angles and calculations are right up my alley!
In any case, as I move into part 2 of my recreation of a low-quality-but-interesting-design shirt, I am moving from design copying to pattern drafting to fabric cutting and beyond.
When we last talked (okay, I did most of the talking), I had slapped a few grainlines on the pattern pieces, trued up the seams and began to think about the fabric.
The original (cheap) shirt was made from polyester, as is the usual fabrication for Light-in-the-Box online offerings. Although it looks relatively good at the outset, these knit polyester garments quickly develop those little pills that we all hate so much. In truth, taking out that battery-operated lint remover that our son likes to call a “sweater muncher” and applying yourself to the removal of said pills, can be rather meditative. And who doesn’t like the finished product? The problem is that with these cheap fabrics, the pills just keep coming back.
Then add on the problem of breathability, or in the case of the top in question, lack of breathability. What you are left with is an interesting, summer-worthy top that I can’t even consider wearing here in Toronto. It’s been over 27 Celsius (80 for the Fahrenheit people among us) for weeks and is only getting hotter, where it will stay until late September or thereabouts. The goal, then, is to reproduce the design in a better fabric.
Forced into online fabric shopping by the virus-that-shall-not-be-named, earlier in the season, I ordered a length of a linen-blend jersey in a cosmetically-enhancing pale peachy-pink.
I had this project in mind for it, and when it arrived, I was a bit hesitant because of how thin it is compared to its original version, although I realized that if I tweaked the sizing downward, it just might work. This, of course, is my main objection f online fabric shopping. I do it, but I always recognize its limitations. I would always prefer to take a walk downtown to the fabric district than shop online, but I’m happy I have the option of online!
As a result of the fabric’s weight and stretch factor, I decided that it was best to cut it out in a single layer.
I know so many people who sew avoid this like the plague, but it is truly the only way to come close to staying on grain with these kinds of fabrics. And I’m sure we’ve all experienced a cheap T-shirt or two that went all wonky after a wash or two. This is usually because it wasn’t cut on the straight of grain.
After cutting and marking, I had the good sense to stabilize the entire dropped shoulder seam with knit-n-stable tape. I also stabilized the portion of the side seams where the ties would be enclosed.
I whipped on my favourite sewing machine piece – my trusty walking foot – and got started. The original had serge—and-turned hems. I decided to take it up a notch and double turn all the hems. I didn’t go all the way to double-fabric-turned ties, though. In a future project, however, I might go the extra mile.
Well, she’s finished now. It had its first outing yesterday as we wound our way through downtown and the University of Toronto campus on our daily 5-7 km walk.
I think it worked out well – at least well enough that I created a final pattern to keep among my collection of GG originals!
This is the second such piece I’ve recreated, and I’ll probably do it again. How about you? Any design copying in your future? Stay safe!
One of the most attractive aspects of making some of my own clothes has always been the opportunity to copy fabulous couture pieces at a fraction of the cost. This was my thought when I embarked on the creation of my first Little French Jacket (LFJ). I loved being able to select some bouclé fabric and silk charmeuse lining, then create a reasonable facsimile of a Chanel-style jacket that cost so much less than an investment in an original.
I loved this process so much that I did it again.
And even Chanel herself was in favour of people copying her pieces.
That being said, there’s another reason for copying ready-to-wear: creating a similar design that I love in a higher-quality fabric. And finding the right technique for creating the pattern is the first challenge. Let me back up for a minute, thought to let you on a dirty little secret.
I actually enjoy browsing on the Light in the Box (LITB) web site and even making a purchase from time to time. Not familiar with LITB? Oh, let me help you with that.
LITB is a Chinese-based web site that sells all manner of objects including thousands upon thousands of pieces of clothing. Think of it as Asian Amazon on steroids with scads of merchandise pieces of often questionable quality. Headquartered in Beijing, it was formed in 2007 and now has web sites in 26 languages and delivers to over 200 countries. So it’s a major player in online retailing.
When we asked our 30-year-old son if he’d ever heard of it (he hadn’t) he spent a bit of (quality?) time on the site after which he said, “I felt as if I’d fallen down a rabbit hole…” That about covers it. If you’re bored and want to lose a bit of time, scroll on over and see how long it takes for you to be swallowed up! Anyway, if you do that, you’ll see why I noticed a few pieces that looked interesting.
Here are a few that I found interesting this year…
Anyway, last year, I actually ordered a piece. Since the site is Chinese, the sizing is a bit different from what I’m familiar with and, in fact, the sizing varies from one piece to another depending on the manufacturer. You really do have to look at the size chart for every piece. But what rarely varies, is the fact that most of the pieces – especially the ones that are so very cheap, which is most of them – are made from polyester. Now, I respect polyester as much as the next person for the characteristics that make it useful – doesn’t wrinkle, endlessly versatile, can have a nice drapey hand, cheap (I did mention cheap, didn’t I?), blah blah blah. And when it’s mixed with other fibres, it can add some value. However, one of the characteristics it decidedly is not is breathable. And this kind of breathability in my wardrobe is essential in summer clothing. So, when I received the top I’d fallen for, I was not at all surprised by its quality. I was surprised that I could have ordered a smaller size. And I especially loved its clever design. So, I decided I’d make a pattern from it and recreate it in a higher-quality fabric.
First up: what technique would I use to copy the pattern?
Last year when I first copied a favourite ready-to-wear piece, the tank top was past its best-by date so I was able to cut it apart and use the fabric as the basis for the pattern.
This time, despite the fabric, I still liked it and wasn’t prepared to cut it apart. Enter the pin approach.
I saw someone do this on a video somewhere along the line but had never tried it. Now was my chance. I took out my old straight-pins that I rarely ever use these days preferring longer pins with ball heads, some banner paper I use for pattern-making and got started.
I laid the top out flat on the paper and began the somewhat laborious task of putting pins in all around the edge of what would constitute the bodice front. These pins went through the edge of the fabric, through the paper, and into the cardboard cutting mat below. You need to have something for the pins to stick into to stay upright. Once I had that piece “pinned”, I took the pins out and was left with the pinholes that formed the basis of the pattern pieces’ edges (without seam allowances of course).
Then it was a matter of connecting the dots and moving on to the next piece.
Fortunately, I selected a design that has only four pattern pieces. This is what I’d recommend you start with if you descried to do this.
Once I had the pattern pieces, I slapped on a grainline and any markings I thought I’d need on them, trued up the seams and was ready to find some fabric. I decided on a linen-blend jersey that I’ll show you in part 2. Stay well!
Let’s get one thing straight up front: I wear pants almost every day of my life. I didn’t always. I, however, love the idea of wearing dresses. And I love to wear a dress to a cocktail party, a wedding (although I have been known to wear a beautiful ivory crepe pantsuit with a silk blouse), and on a hot summer day.
The fact remains that the dresses I have in my closet – of which there are probably too many – don’t get nearly enough wear except when we’re on a cruise somewhere wonderful. I love the freedom of pants. Why then, do I not make them? I make dresses but I don’t make pants. The answer can be summed up in one word: fit.
As far as I’m concerned, pants (trousers for anyone in the UK) like all other pieces of clothing, should fit well. No gaping waistbands, no baggy seats, no draglines. After years of trial and error, I’ve discovered several brands that fit me well. And the idea of making my own jeans? Not ever going to happen. I have found my jean heaven.
Paige jeans fit me very well and although they’re expensive, I’m sticking with them. However, I do like the idea of adding a few pairs of well-fitting pants to my personally-designed and sewn wardrobe. I’d like to take a crack at designing some interesting pant styles. With this in mind, I decided to do some research on different pant styles for women over the years. And those years don’t go back as far as you might think. Women haven’t always worn pants.
Even as recently as 2019, a school in North Carolina (USA) declared that their female students would no longer be permitted to wear pants citing “traditional values” as the reason. Apart from how obnoxious this is on so many levels, it does point our the fact that the wearing of pants by women and girls hasn’t always been acceptable – and still isn’t in some cultures. Historically, pants have been male attire and evolved to meet a need for simple practicality: horse-back riding, ease of movement, warmth in cold weather. These, of course, are all reasons that women wanted to wear pants as well. And let’s not forget comfort and how terrific they can look when they fit well.
You might recall how the Greeks and Romans have always been portrayed in terms of their dress. Everyone, men and women, wore some version of a tunic, or a toga. These were simple garments from a construction perspective: usually swaths of cloth wrapped artfully around the body or in the case of a tunic, a square-shaped piece of cloth with an opening for the head that fell between the waist and the thighs. Sewing would have been so simple in those days! (If it had existed at all.)
The first historical evidence of pants emerging tells us that they were initially developed in China around 3000 years ago to make it less cumbersome to ride a horse. We have to jump almost 3000 years to the nineteenth century to find women wearing pants. Rebellious women in both Europe and North America would take to wearing trousers when they could get away with it, however, it was illegal to do so. And it has to be said that the men made the laws at that time.
The fight for pant-wearing started in earnest in the 1850s – not that long ago. In the 1930s Marlene Dietrich sported pantsuits and got away with it although she was occasionally denied a restaurant table because of her attire. The second World War made pants a practical alternative to skirts in many occupational fields that women had to take up at the time.
Pants didn’t really ever appear on fashion runways until French couturier Paul Poiret designed what we would now call harem pants in 1911. Although that predated Dietrich and the second world war, only very bold fashionistas wore them.
When Christian Dior pioneered his “New Look” in the 1950s, pants lost their new-found prominence that had emerged during the war. He set pant-wearing among women back several decades.
It was the rebellious 1960s when pants came to the fore and we never really looked back (save for those cavemen running the aforementioned school in North Carolina and others like them).
These days, most of us couldn’t function in our daily lives without them, not to mention having the choice to do so. Which brings me to my current project. The perfect pant block upon which to base some future well-fitting designs.
Two years ago, I thought I’d developed one. There were one or two details I was never really happy with but since I’d used the traditional approach to developing it and put the work in, I kept it. But never used it.
Since then, I’ve wanted to copy a pair of comfortable Eileen Fisher pants that I wore to death and are long since gone from my closet as a result. So, I thought I’d revisit the pant block. This time I started with a simple commercial pants pattern that I thought I could adapt.
So, I did some initial tissue fitting then cut them out from a left-over piece of rayon-blend ponte fabric from a dress (another dress) I had recently made. I started by sewing them together completely with a 5 mm stitch in red thread – my all-over machine basting. After the first try-on, it was clear that they were miles too big everywhere but this is where the fun began.
I then started taking them in, one seam at a time starting with the crotch line. Then I tried them on again. Another tweak, this time with a different colour of machine basting until they were darn near perfect. Of course, by this time I had really wide seam allowances which I left in place until I took out the machine basting.
I did the permanent stitching along the final basting lines. Before I removed the basting lines, I transferred all the seam lines to the pattern I had traced out. These seam lines would be the dimensions of the sloper. Of course, I then removed the basting, serged the seams, lowered the waistline (which I then transferred to the pattern) and added a wide, inside elastic band to finish them I generally dislike anything with an elastic waistline but this is wide and subtle and after all, these are really yoga pants. As far as I’m concerned, they’re still a bit wide for ponte knit but this width should work well in a woven. I can always remake the pattern for a narrower stretch fit.
The final step was to transfer the pattern (without seam allowances) to poster board. I then measured for the high hip, low hip, thigh, knee and centre front and back, measurements I’ll need in future pattern-making. When I compared this block to the one I created using the more conventional measurement-to-math-to-pattern approach I learned two years ago, it was close. This time, though, I had corrected the issues I’d had with the original one.
I was anxious to make them up in leftover woven material to check the fit and tweak the back darts but the piece I planned to use wasn’t big enough. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I can pick up a piece of fabric from one of my favourite fabric stores. I just hope they’re still in business when all this COVID stuff is over. Not long now!
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.
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.
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.]
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.”
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:
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.
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!
It’s the dog days of summer here in Toronto. The humidity is high and the temperatures soaring. I’ve just returned from a two-week road trip to the east coast where it was cooler for at least part of the trip. It was a great trip, but now it’s back to writing (a new book is underway) and designing. In the meantime, I’ve just finished a few pieces that once again forced me to move from a commercial pattern to a personal design. It all started – as it does – with a sketch, and a piece of fabric.
I really like the look of knit tops that have some kind of waist definition – it elevates them just a bit, n’est-ce pas? So, I started toying with the idea of a belted T, but let’s face it, who wants a belt around the waist in the height of summer on what is supposed to be a comfortable piece of clothing? And there are lots of design alternatives.
There are half belt ties. There are darts (but not so much in knits). There is side-seam and centre-back-seam waist shaping. Then there are faux ties. This idea I like.
So, I made a sketch of a top that would not require a constricting belt, but would still provide some kind of drape and definition at the waist…
…and contemplated the fabric I had picked up. The fabric is cotton jersey with a foil design, so it occurred to me that it could be a bit dressy. Then when I happened upon Butterick’s pattern #6628 and saw the rendering of it’s view A, I thought I could skip the pattern design part of my process and move right on to cutting and sewing. Well, not so fast.
First, though, I didn’t love the neckline, so that would have to change. I widened it slightly and went ahead with the pattern pretty much as is. The outcome was okay, but it didn’t have the kind of sleek style I love. Those sleeves were a bit annoying, but at least since they aren’t full-length, they don’t drag in your dinner! The real problem, however, is the drape of the fabric. It doesn’t have much.
But it is comfortable for summer wear and it does fit.
So, I reworked the pattern, made a trip down to Queen Street West here in Toronto and picked up a piece of bamboo jersey with more drape and a lovely hand. I’ve written about bamboo fabric before, so if you’ve been reading along, you know that I prefer higher-quality fabrics and a luxurious feel. This piece of bamboo has it all.
Then I went back to my original sketch and created a new pattern that is very similar to the Butterick design, but has a wider neckline and sleek sleeves. As I usually do with this kind of fabric, I cut it out single-layer, and it came together nicely.
Bamboo is a wonderful breathable fabric, and I wore this with white jeans out to dinner while we were away. (For the life of me I cannot understand why I didn’t ask my husband to take a photo of me wearing it, but that will have to wait. Trust me it fits really well!).
As much as I hate to admit it, the time for thinking about a fall collection is upon me and as I get back to recording my escapades, I’ll be sharing my design inspiration in the next week or two. *Sigh* summer will come to an end soon – but let’s not wish it away just yet (here in the northern hemisphere!).
There’s always more than one way to do something, I always say. And there is nothing more satisfying than learning something new. So, put those two elements together, and I’m looking at a new tool for designing patterns.
When I begin a new design, I always begin with a sketch. New tool or not, that isn’t likely to change. That sketched idea can be inspired by any number of elements like a 1960’s sewing pattern I love, an outfit I saw in a film, a piece of fabric that I just can’t get out of my head. Regardless of its provenance, that sketch is the start. However, up until now, I have only had one approach to getting that sketch off the paper and onto Gloria junior (my fitting mannequin, in case you haven’t met her yet.)
That tool has been flat pattern making. I have a longing to learn draping, and I’ll get to that eventually, but I love the geometry of creating that flat pattern on paper from a variety of numbers and lines (I was that nerd who loved analytical trigonometry in high school and topped the class). Back in January of this year when I shared with you some of the design and sewing-related presents I’d been lucky enough to find under the Christmas tree, I was excited to tell you that I had received Cochenille’s Garment Designer, and this would be my first foray into using computer-assisted design software. Well, I have now finished my first project with this software. Let me begin by saying that understanding flat pattern making makes this particular software far more accessible, and provides you with far more design options. You’ll see why.
One of the things I liked about this program (and the reason I suggested it to my husband as a terrific Christmas present for me), is that the designer’s web site has some very good videos to help me along with getting to know what it can do. I’m not ready for Adobe Illustrator – nor am I prepared to pay the price for it at this point. I just wanted to dip my toe into the water, and this program is a good way to do that. But it does have its limitations. Stay with me here.
This is what I wanted to create a pattern for:
So, after inserting the USB key which is necessary to actually open the program on every occasion that you use it (keep it in a safe and handy place), I began with inputting my own measurements for a personalized sloper.
The program comes with standard sizes programmed in, but what’s the point in a custom design if it isn’t a custom size? I found that creating the simple sloper was just that, simple. I took my basic measurements and plugged them into the program. The more accurate one, which has far more specific body measurements, I have not yet been able to master. However, since my first design is for a knit twin set, the simple, personal sloper would do.
I started with the simple tank that pops under the cropped cowl neck. That was fairly easy to produce a pattern for after I got the hang of their terminology and figured out how to move lines and points for a more custom fit. You can see on the pattern below that I kept the sloper lines visible at all times so I could get to know the amount of ease they have included for various fits: fitted, versus semi-fitted, versus very fitted, for example. The manual does provide this information, but I’m a visual learner and prefer to see it. That way I can tweak it as I like. You can turn that off so you don’t see the sloper (or the grid lines for that matter) but for me, they are very helpful.
Once I had the simple pattern created, I added seam allowances (you can make them any width you like), rendered it as a final pattern (it automatically adds notches etc. at this point) then set it up as a full-size document and printed it like you would a regular pdf pattern – tiled and in need of being taped together.
I had a lot less luck with using this program for my cowl neck. I was able to create a pattern for the cropped main body, with all of the correct measurements, and the raglan sleeves, but I could not find a way to use the program to create the cowl. I could have used their funnel neck, but I wanted the cowl to be a separate piece. If there’s a way to do this with the program I don’t know what it is yet. More to learn, I guess. Anyway, here’s where my flat pattern-making skills came into play. I created the cowl the old-fashioned way.
Here are the things I learned about this program on this first go around:
Their definition of “very fitted” is quite different from my definition of “very fitted.” When I chose this silhouette, I found that they had 4 ½ inches of ease at the waist and 5 ½ inches of ease at the underarm. This is far too much for my conception of “very fitted.” Duly noted.
Their definition of a “wide” neckline is very different from mine. It’s not nearly as wide as I would like so this needs alteration. Obviously, this is all within my control (as is the amount off ease – see #1).
The hems of narrow sleeves are not trued. If I didn’t know anything about pattern making, I would have had sleeves that were too narrow at the bottom to turn up. I simply trued them up and added little bits of paper where needed.
When you create the final pattern here, the sleeve notches are the same on the front and the back. And they are not in the standard location (3’ and 3 ¼’). I had to add them.
Although I also received two plug-in design packages that are extra with the software, I still don’t have access to a large enough variety of necklines. Okay, I can create them, but I did hope that separate turtles and cowls would be inclusions. If they’re there, I can’t find them. Yet.
The program is actually very fun to work with. I enjoyed noodling around with a few other designs and have found them to be a very good fit. The program’s designer mounts webinars every so often, and I think that this little program can do a great deal more than I have figured out yet. I plan to take a few of the courses (they are $25 each it seems and come up periodically – you need to be on their email list).
So, at this point, I will continue to play around with it (in fact I already have a mock-up of a princess-seamed, zipper-front jacket which I’ll show you at some point) to see how much more it can do than I have figured out yet. But I still love my flat pattern-making!
It’s the dead of winter, and there is nothing more quintessentially a part of urban Canada’s landscape than the unrelenting black uniform of the downtown residents and workers. Sometimes it just eases in during November, but it was never more apparent to me than last year when my husband and I spent a wonderful month or so travelling in South America, returning in November. When we left Toronto it had been autumn and there were flutterings of winter clothing beginning to appear. But when we returned! I remember standing on the corner of Bloor and Church Streets that morning looking at the sea of black winter gear that moved across the street en mass. Of course, I was a part of it. Black is my go-to winter colour. And in all of this darkness, I am delightedly still designing and making my cruise collection. Forgive me, but black is part of it this time around! A sleeveless tunic seemed like a good addition to a cruise collection. I did some sketching and it took me to…
Designs in which each side of an item of apparel is different in structure than the other side. In a symmetrical design, both sides are the same. Asymmetry may be seen in areas such as collars, necklines, closings or hemlines.
Evidently one of the hottest trends last year (oh, am I already out of style? No matter!) was asymmetry. According to Keren Brown, writing last year in Medium, humans are drawn to asymmetry. I actually don’t think this is true, and she didn’t have any sources to back her up – I’ll get back to that. She also said, “…it’s edgy, bold, and says one thing loud and clear: ‘I don’t need to be like everyone else.’” She also said that it is gender neutral and a sign of experience? Really??
In a piece about asymmetry on the fashion blog Fashionipa, she suggests that humans have a strong preference for symmetry, which is what I remember from my psychology classes back in the day. However, she suggests rather more believable reasons for the popularity of asymmetrical fashions these days. 
Asymmetry is largely unexpected, you can use asymmetrical lines for covering parts of your anatomy you’d rather have covered (uneven hems, anyone?), these lines can be bold and dramatic, an asymmetric line elevates a basic style (think asymmetrical necklines on simple T-shirts), and these lines can be sexy (not so sure there is any evidence for this, but I like it).
Anyway, I could have created a basic tunic, but it is true that it would have been boring. Here’s where that sketching took me…
So, I had a piece of crepe-like fabric in my selection of fabrics for this collection, and given its drape qualities, it lent itself to something with a bit of flow. Sometimes you need a bit of something flowy over a pair of skinny white jeans on a Caribbean cruise – think of the evening breeze on deck!
Before I drafted the pattern, I took a close look at the pattern on the fabric. Did it suggest running horizontally or vertically? I draped it over Gloria Junior and contemplated it. In my view, the vertical looked peculiar. So, horizontal it would be. I love this designing thing!
I did begin with a draft pattern and then created a muslin. I find that a test garment is really the only way to ensure that I like the contour and most especially the length of these kinds of pieces. Every single one of us has a perfect tunic length, and it is not the same for all.
I then had to decide how I’d finish the neckline. I cut a piece of bias self fabric to see if the pattern on it would look funky or not – I kind of liked it, so that became the neckline finish. Given the patterned fabric (and you know that I almost always dislike a pattern on me), I thought that the rest of the styling ought to be quiet.
So, it’s ready to roll on to Puerto Rico and beyond next month – at which time there will be photos of the piece in action. Stay warm!
I have to tell the truth: I am not a skirt kind of woman. That isn’t to say that I have any problem with my legs. I fact, I am very lucky to have inherited my mother’s legs – although mine are much longer than hers. She’s about 5 feet tall (5’4” if you count her hair), while I am 5 ft. 7 in. (okay, I’m 5 ft 6 ½ inches at this point in my life *sigh*). Anyway, I have no fundamental objection to bare legs even on older women (unless said legs are shown from the crotch down without benefit of shorts. My blog, my views.)
[In Sint Maarten a few years ago]
That all being said, when I started planning this cruise collection, it occurred to me that I ought to include a skirt. I have found over the past few years in the Caribbean, Tahiti, Hawaii etc. and even (perhaps even especially) in Toronto in the summer, that those well-loved white jeans that I could not live without, are a tad too warm for a 5-7 k walk in the city on a day where the humidex soars. I have recently acquired a few summer dresses (not “sundresses” as I mentioned in my last post) that I truly love. You can’t beat them for practicality and they do elevate a city walk just a tad. Anyway, I really felt that this cruise collection needed a skirt. Just think of all the combinations of T’s and other tops that could pair with one (or two).
It is at this juncture that I need to convey another important rationale for a skirt for this collection. And it is an opinion that might offend some women of a certain age because they seem to have clutched onto a certain type of garment like a drowning woman clutches that life preserver just thrown overboard by a husband puzzled as to how she got there off the side of the cruise ship. I’m talking about the proliferation of – well, I’m not just sure what they are called in fashion parlance, although I have to believe that real fashionistas would not even have a word to describe these abominations – abominations that cause no end of visual blight on cruise ships. I’m talking about the widish-legged, pedal-pusher sort-of length pants that flap around the leg, cutting the leg at its most unattractive spot.
[…and the ones on the left are newly offered for this season by Eddie Bauer! Ugg!]
And as far as I’m concerned, it ought to be illegal to sell them. If women cannot stop themselves from buying and then wearing them, they just cannot be sold any more. And if you are reading this, feeling slightly insulted, then you know who you are. Don’t tell me you don’t care what other people think of what you wear and you’ll wear whatever you want. Blah-blah-blah. I know you will. But I’ll bet you do care. And I’m here to tell you that no one, NO ONE looks good in these atrocities. They make even the sveltest among us look dumpy. And with all the discussion online in Facebook sewing and design groups about clothes that “flatter” I’m here to suggest that you reconsider your adamance about this garment. [Don’t bother commenting that you like them or are insulted. I’m okay with you liking them.]
With that off my chest, I do have to come clean: I actually owned a pair for a while. I wore them hiking and zip-lining in Costa Rica a few years back. The photos are – you guessed it – cringe-worthy.
So, if I’m not going to wear these eyesores on a cruise, what will take their place? Enter the skirt.
I don’t actually own a single skirt at this point in my life. I used to own skirts. When I met my husband 32 years ago, my closet was full of skirt suits – blazer-type jackets and matching skirts mostly by Simon Chang and Alfred Sung. It was an era – and I had that kind of job. But as my career evolved, so did styles and I found that pants suited my life better. These days, I never wear skirts as I have indicated. I wear pants, jeans, cocktail dresses and gowns. That’s my life – one extreme or the other! So, now as I contemplate a skirt design, I have to acknowledge my preferred style. And it is pretty narrow (no pun intended – well, maybe a bit).
I love pencil skirts. I hate billowy, wide, circular, gathered, pleated, and/or A-line skirts. I sometimes think they look nice on others, but not that often. It takes a certain woman, with a certain style, with a certain physique to pull those babies off. My style is tailored, sleek and narrow, but I’m not so sure that a typical pencil skirt style is really what I’m after for this kind of casual, vacation-ready collection.
A few patterns (some out of print) that I actually think are attractive:
Oh, and did I mention that it will be in the same fabric as my sunny day dress? No? Well, it will be grey and white striped seersucker, so I have that to add to the design considerations.
So, I did a few sketches…
…then made a pattern for the one on the far right.
And finally settled on one that seems to tick all the boxes: narrow, slightly below the waist, no waist-band, just above the knee, pockets, back slit and back zipper.
The pockets on the bias just seem to add another element of flattery, drawing the eye in – or at least that’s what I’m hoping.
FYI: The history of the skirt is fascinating. It is one of the oldest garments in history and, of course, was originally a piece worn by both men and women. Here are two terrific posts that I enjoyed:
I’m not really a sundress kind of woman. I know this about myself. All those flowy, floaty, cottony printed dresses with strappy bodices are simply not my style. With that off my chest, I can concede, though, that there is nothing quite as cool and comfortable, not to mention pulled-together, than a well-fitting “sunny day” dress. That I could get into – as long as it fulfils a number of important GG criteria. But before I get to that, what about all those sundresses out there?
Let’s start with a definition (forgive me: I’m a former Professor and this is where we always begin).
Dictionary.com (what would we do without those online dictionaries? Open a book perhaps?) defines a sundress as follows…
a dress with a bodice styled to expose the arms, shoulders, and back, for wear during hot weather.
Well, isn’t that interesting. Not a thing about flowy, floaty, cottony prints! Just a lot of exposure. Interesting. But then, there’s the Urbandictionary.com definition (Don’t blame me; I’m not endorsing anyone’s definition. I’m just sharing what they say for the sake of discussion…)
A one piece dress with a to-the-knee or lower hemline, usually worn by clingy, slutty, chunky-looking women during the summer, often accented by clogs, flip-flops, and the absence of panties…
Geesh! Duly noted…but I’m a bit old for the last element! Well, I guess everyone is an expert these days. And if you didn’t know there were other descriptions out there, maybe it’s a good thing to be educated! In any case, that’s not how I see them. In any event, this definition doesn’t seem to mention that flowy, floaty, cottony thing either. So, I’m on firmer ground than I thought by establishing my own criteria for the perfect sundress.
In general, I think we can all agree with that all-knowing authority we call Wikipedia, that it is a “dress intended to be worn in warm weather…” This is a suitably vague definition that has endless design possibilities. I have seen references to American designer and socialite Lily Pulitzer as leader in making the sundress a must-have summer garment choice in North America in the twentieth century. Her tropical coloured prints, so reminiscent of Palm Beach where she lived, became my reference point for Florida- style hot-weather dressing, and it never did suit my aesthetic. But it was everywhere. So, you can see where I got my notion that sun dresses are printed!
…Although I have to say that I would wear a few from the current collection that even has black *gasp* and other non-print colours.(These are dresses from the current collection…Lily herself died in 2013.)
The brand really took off in 1962 when Jackie O. (then Jackie Kennedy) was photographed with her husband and children wearing an LP dress. As you already know, Jackie O.’s Mediterranean style is one of my design muses for this little cruise-worthy collection.
So, then, what are the attributes that I look for in a cool summer dress that is at the centre of my cruise wear day-time wardrobe?
The dress should be in a natural fibre – or at least a natural blend.
The dress should be in a light colour. I do love a black dress (no kidding), but have you worn a black T-shirt or top out walking in the sun? Not good.
The dress should be a sheath. In other words, it should not, as the original definitions of the sundress suggest, be a bodice with an attached skirt. That’s not as cool as a well-fitting sheath in my view.
The dress should be sleeveless, exposing arms: it should not expose the back. Have you ever walked a distance in the Caribbean sun in a backless garment? Not good at all. I don’t want to be nursing a sunburn for three weeks.
The dress should have a tailored vibe. Yes, that’s right. T-a-i-l-o-r-e-d. That’s who I am.
So, when I put all of these together, it’s little wonder that I was inspired by an old sewing pattern image I stumbled upon when collecting ideas for this collection.
I did a few sketches and decided that this was the one I’d go with.
It’s really a shirt dress style, but I love the fact that the collar goes right to the edges of the cross-over at the front rather than to the centre front. If I were to actually close it over (which I nave no intention of ever doing) it would actually create a kind of stand-up collar, a look I might be inclined to use in a winter dress or top. I love the intentionality of the popped collar on this one.
I began with drafting a pattern from my sloper…
…and sewed up a muslin…
After a few tweaks, I was ready to select a fabric from my cruise fabric selections. I chose the striped seersucker.
I did learn one new skill with this piece. Don’t laugh: I learned to use the machine button foot. Not the button-hole foot – I already use that – I mean the one that sews on buttons. I have to credit my husband for goading me into it. I always hand-sew buttons on a garment, but he, a master of gadgets, asked why I don’t use the machine foot designed for this purpose. I always thought it would be more trouble than it was worth. I was so wrong!
I have created a dress that will be an important part of day-time dressing on the cruise and during our pre-cruise week in Puerto Rico and post cruise couple of days in Fort Lauderdale. (Keep in mind that a Silversea ship isn’t exactly a sloppy T and cargo shorts kind of venue).
It may not be what you call a sundress, but it’s my “sunny day” dress! Photos of it in action will have to wait until the cruise!
Every project has to begin somewhere. When you think of vacationing in the Caribbean and what you’ll be wearing, you might very well begin with an image of a beach and a palm tree and a cool cocktail. You might be wearing a dreamy, floaty swim cover-up, or a fluttery tank top and shorts, or even a sun dress. Well, I’ll get there eventually, but let’s face it – my cruise collection really is for a cruise. And a luxury cruise at that. What this means is a major requirement for cocktail attire, so that’s where I’m starting. My perfect LBCD.
I spent a lot of time last year on my Little Black Dress project, during which I completed four test garments using three commercial patterns and ending up with my own design. But during that process I did find a silhouette that I thought I might translate into one of my own pieces.
For this collection, I’m inspired by Jackie O. and Audrey Hepburn on the Mediterranean. Much of what that conjures up for me relates to daytime sand, sun, surf and shopping in Monte Carlo. But for evening, I need to look no further than their iconic cocktail style to be inspired to create a dress that will be the centerpiece of this evening cruise collection.
It will be a simple, boat-necked, princess-seamed black dress that fits to perfection and can be changed up by accessories and all manner of little jackets. That way, a cruiser like me need only take one or two cocktail dresses and never look the same twice.
The fabric is black with textural striped detail and lovely drape which lends itself to the long, lean line of this princess-seamed dress. Although this fabric feels wonderful on its own (and is washable and packable to boot), I am lining it for a more sophisticated feel – and it finishes off the neckline and armholes beautifully.
It is so simple: boat-neck, sleeveless, lined, invisible back zipper, centre-back slit. Perfect fit. That’s it.
Next I’ll need to draft a few jackets to accompany it!
Perhaps in a coordinating fabric? We’ll see.
[BTW: No final views of the pieces in action – i.e. on me – until we hit the Caribbean!]