Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Shirt-making, Style

Coastal Grandmothers, Camp Shirts and Sewing a Style

I’m sure you’ve heard all about the “trending” style. A certain TikTok “influencer” has dubbed it “coastal grandmother,” but I’m here to tell you that many of us have embraced the style for years―or at least since those of us of a certain age fell in love with the movie Something’s Gotta Give. Remember that one? What woman of a certain age didn’t want to identify with Diane Keaton’s character―an older woman holed up in a sumptuous coastal mansion somewhere on the Atlantic coast of the northeastern US, writing a screenplay, having an affair with an aging Jack Nicholson (who had formerly been sleeping with her daughter), but in the end winning the handsome much younger man, Keanu Reeves. And she did all of this wearing her signature white on white on cream wardrobe. Or maybe it’s just me! In any case, we didn’t need a 26-year-old TikTokker to tell us what a great vibe Diane had going.

If you have yet to be introduced to the coastal grandmother style, first, you have to know that you don’t need to be a grandmother (thank heavens!), nor do you need to live on the coast (I used to until my husband and I heeded the siren call to the urban jungle which we love). What you do need is a serious affection for effortless style, a desire for just a touch of comfort in everything you wear and an eye for sophistication that manifests in a love of neutrals. And you don’t have to love everything about the style. Well, that’s how I see it anyway.

First, let’s get the negative out of the way. What do I not love about the aesthetic? I don’t love bucket hats (in fact, I really don’t love them). I don’t love flowy scarves (they get in the way of living). Also not a major fan of flowy pants.

Now, what do I love about the aesthetic? I love the neutral colour scheme and how effortless it is to put these elements together. I love the fact that there isn’t a too-tight T-shirt in sight (the white T’s are forgiving and worn under sweaters). I love that it feels classy.  I love the neutral sweaters and the soft, expensive-looking fabrics. I love the diamond studs (thank you, my darling husband). And I really love the shirts.

All those breezy buttoned shirts―lots of gauzy long sleeves in white and light blue as well as short-sleeved camp shirts for those hot, humid days on the coast (or in the city. The Atlantic coast was never all that hot in my experience!)

Two years ago, I wrote about how I used three metres of striped shirting fabric. Of course, I made my husband a bespoke shirt (*bats eyes*). I also made myself what I can only describe as a camp shirt.

Little did I know at the time that a blue-and-white-striped camp shirt would be the epitome of style within the coastal grandmother aesthetic. As I said, the shirts are what I love best about the CG style. So, that shirt is my stepping-off point for seeing if I can create a few more pieces that fit within the aesthetic. And if you’re not convinced that these shirts are on-trend at the moment, just have a look at these ones I pulled from the designer site at Hudson’s Bay. (There’s Etro, Moschino, The Kooples etc.)

Then there is the lower-priced version from this year’s Uniqlo offerings.

Can you pick out the camp collars?

Then there is one of my personal favourite brands, Kit and Ace, which offers several options in this style for this year.

Let’s start by talking about the camp shirt style

According to Thread, a camp shirt is “a shirt with a relaxed collar that sits flat against your skin.”[1] . It’s that camp collar that’s important to the design. I have also discovered that this camp collar is sometimes referred to as a Cuban collar. It also buttons lower on the chest and has almost a mini lapel (keep this in mind as I explore patterns). A camp shirt is designed to sit out from the body to create more airflow for those hot days. For my money, it also has the singular advantage of being on trend this year―coastal grandmother…if it’s in the right colour!

Take a look at Butterick 6842. I have to say the design element that drew me to this pattern initially was the cut-in armholes that result in a flattering sleeveless blouse. But take a close look at that collar.

It’s a great example of a camp collar―which, of course, is even easier to sew than a collar on a stand. And it’s cooler to wear. What this pattern lacks when it comes to camp shirt style is the easy, breezy lines that incorporate slightly more ease. The blouse has eight (yes, eight) waistline darts, resulting in a blouse that’s more fitted than a camp shirt. But I do like a fitted blouse, too, so I went ahead and made a muslin (or two, as it turned out).

I didn’t like the fit of this one. Next.

I used yet more leftover shirting from a shirt I’d done for my son. I chose another pattern with a camp collar―New Look 6598. This pattern, too, has a camp collar, but the shirt itself is fitted, making it more of a blouse than a shirt. This time, though, there aren’t nearly as many darts, so it’s easier to get the fit right. But I still long for that camp look.

Re-enter Butterick 6324. I can’t lie. Initially, when I made this one (I showed it to you above), I didn’t think I’d be going back for more―but I did. I made this camp shirt to take on vacation this past winter, and I’ll make it again.

But what about a new project? I trolled the Lekala site once again (I challenge you to go to the site and not fall down a rabbit hole!) because I love the idea of made-to-measure sewing patterns. I found a design I liked, plugged my measurements into the website, paid $4.00, and a pdf pattern arrived. I know, I know.

I’ve waxed on about how much I hate pdf patterns in the past, and here I go again. But this is a little number with a yoke that suggests a well-fitted upper bodice and that tiny hint of a collar with a mini lapel. So, how did my recent foray into online, made-to-measure pdf patterns go? I’ll tell you all about the project in the next post!


[1] What is a camp collar shirt? https://www.thread.com/us/tips/men/shirts/what-camp-collar-shirt/#:~:text=Unlike%20the%20collar%20of%20an,you%20get%20even%20more%20airflow.

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style, Stylish Books

Sew Your Colours (and find new ones to love!)

Remember back in the 1970s and 80s? Well, maybe you’re too young, but that was when everyone seemed obsessed with colours. Did anyone ever ask you, “Have you had your colours done?” I used to roll my eyes and think: Just look at me. I don’t need someone to tell me I’m a winter―because I knew from owning the “fashion colour bible” that I was a winter.

In 1973 author Carole Jackson published the original edition of her book Color Me Beautiful: Discover Your Natural Beauty Through the Colors That Make You Look Great and Feel Fabulous. Carole Jackson’s opinion was that any woman can wear any colour well if she just finds the right shade. Jackson wasn’t the first to say this, but she was the first one to write what became a wildly popular book on the subject.

This is the edition I owned back in the day.

At the time, she suggested that there were four colour groups into which every woman would fit (or any man for that matter, I suppose). Of course, they were spring, summer, autumn and winter. Well, I’m not so sure about these seemingly arbitrary groupings. However, people have been riding on Jackson’s coat strings ever since. Recently there seems to have been a resurgence in interest.

These days, there are twelve groups. Does that make it more accurate? I don’t know about that either, but I do know that this colour stuff is great fun. And I also know that selecting fabric colour is as important a step as choosing a style for those of us who sew. Carole Jackson says that colour is magic. Well, maybe it is.

Fashion moguls have been opining on colour forever. Lilly Pulitzer―of the neon print Florida-esque design―says, “Anything is possible with sunshine and a little pink.” Of course, she does.

Diana Vreeland, late of Vogue Magazine, once said. “All my life, I’ve pursued the perfect red,” a position that Audrey Hepburn seemed to have echoed when she said (no doubt before Diana said anything), “There is a shade of red for every woman.” Audrey seemed to be predicting Carole Jackson’s approach. (And Vreeland lived her pursuit. Her New York apartment was even red!)

For me, the arbiter of colour had to be Coco Chanel, though. She had a lot to say about colour in her life, and she designed clothing of many colours for many individual women. But she always returned to her basics―black, white, beige and red. Coco once said, “Women think of all colours except the absence of colour. I have said that black has it all. White, too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”

Anyway, I decided to go online and figure out my current best colours. As we age, our skin tone changes, as does our hair colour―if we let it. So, I went on colourwise.me[1] and did a little consultation. Here’s what happened.

Step One: Upload a headshot.

Step Two: Use the sample wand on the photo to determine your skin, hair and eye colour.

Step Three: Voila! Your colours.

My colours. No surprise here!

If I look at this colour selection, I see clear colours that I know look good on me. I also see my favourite: black. But if I want to go a bit outside my comfort zone this year, I might pick something like…

So, when Fabricville asked me to write a blog post for their spring 2022 newsletter, I went to their site to select a fabric.

When it arrived, I realized it was almost exactly this year’s Pantone colour of the year, which I had dissed when I saw it. I swore it was not a colour that attracted me. Dear god, I thought, I’m going to sew something in periwinkle! I reminded myself to keep an open mind.

The bamboo jersey fabric is to die for―soft, soft, soft. Did I mention soft? It’s also uber-drapeable and begged for a design with a bit of…you guessed it! Drape.

I selected McCall’s 7975. I’d made this one before in a fabric with a similar hand, so I knew it would work. The last time I used it, though, I found it a bit too balloon-shaped for my taste, so this time I nipped it in at the waist.

I had a little thread-matching problem, as you can see below. What to do? I tried out a bit of contrast stitching but, in the end, decided to make the off-colour purple thread look as if I had intended it that way with a bit of an embroidery stitch. Problem solved!

So, how do I like periwinkle on me? To be honest, I actually do. And it looks really great under my black cashmere blazer!!

I guess I have to give Coco Chanel the last word…


[1] https://colorwise.me/

Posted in fabrics, sewing patterns, Style

The pleasures of a cozy cardigan: Sewing up comfort

What a fall season this has been! So much has been going on in our lives that I have had much less time to create my winter wardrobe than I had planned! We just returned from a holiday to the east coast to visit family (including my 98-year-old mother), whom we had not seen since before the pandemic hit. It was a whirlwind of visiting family and friends, not to mention our first foray onto an airplane in almost two years. That’s so hard for us to believe―my husband and I used to be on a plane going somewhere every six weeks!

But I have all that cozy fabric and patterns chosen, so it’s time to get back at it. First up (second really, but who’s counting!) is a cardigan. If you’ll recall from a previous story about my visit to Montreal (by train) earlier this fall, I found a fantastic piece of beautiful blue, Italian fine wool jersey.

After much thought, I figured it might make a lovely little cardigan. You know, the kind you can wear all day for warmth without feeling all bulked up. Well, my decision may have to be reconsidered. Here’s my story.

What comes to mind when you think about cardigans? Do you think about Mr. Rogers and your grandfather? Or does it conjure an image of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) in Scandal, sipping red wine in her massively expensive Ralph Lauren cable knit sweater on her ivory couch while contemplating how to save the world?

I prefer the second image, thank you very much! But Olivia’s sweaters might be a tad too bulky for my taste, so I had to find a design that works in a finer fabric. That exercise was easier said than done―but I’m getting ahead of myself. Cardigans can be workhorses in a winter wardrobe. But beware! As we get older, cardigans can also be a minefield of dowdiness if done wrong, which is part of the reason it was so difficult to find the right style. Before we get to that, you know I’m a writer, and I love a great story, so let’s start with the story of the cardigan.

A cardigan is “a knitted sweater with a buttoned or zipped front, with a V or round neck, with or without a collar.” Or so says Leimomi Oakes, a textile and fashion historian in her excellent blog The Dreamstress.[1] Basically, cardigans are knitted garments that open down the front. Well, already you can see my problem: I’m not planning to knit anything (dear god, I haven’t held knitting needles since back in the 1980s when Lopi sweaters were all the rage. Yes, I knitted my share of sweaters.) Yes, that’s me and I made that sweater in the 1980s!

I might have to expand that definition slightly to include being sewn from machine-created knit fabric. See? I fixed it already. But I digress from the cardigan’s specific story.

Cardigans have been with us since the nineteenth century, based as they are on the knitted worsted wool waistcoats of British Army officers during the Crimean War, which lasted from 1853 to 1856. According to most sources, James Thomas Brudenell, the seventh Earl of Cardigan, wore such a garment, and you can see where it got its name. So, the first thing to know about cardigans is that they were originally garments for men (weren’t all comfortable clothes? But let’s not go there today.)

Cardigans were then first worn as warming layers for working-class people and sailors. Until recently, I had thought that knit clothing for women didn’t become popular until after Coco Chanel developed her first jersey clothing in the early twentieth century, but it seems that hand-knit sweaters were part of fashionable women’s garments long before that for wearing when bicycling, playing tennis and other such athletic pursuits that were considered suitable for women back in the day.

In the 1920s, Coco Chanel began to show cardigans in her collection as she began experimenting with using jersey fabrics that had, until then, been used only for men’s clothing. Evidently, she didn’t like having to pull sweaters over her hair, this messing up her ‘do. The early cardigans were cardigan-jackets shown with matching skirts.

In the US, by the 1940s, college women began to bristle at the thought of having to wear corsets and other restrictive clothing that was deemed lady-like and began rebelling by doffing their corsets and starting to wear oversized, sloppy cardigans to class.[2] I love the idea that wearing a cardigan might well be a feminist statement!

These days, the cardigan is almost an essential part of any wardrobe for a climate that has winter. Even in warmer weather, a light cardigan can be oh so useful for those cool evenings. But as we get older, finding cardigans that work in terms of both form and function (being both useful and stylish) is a bit more complicated. So I began to search for an appropriate pattern.

I combed through patterns from the regular so-called “big four (or five) companies. Then moved on to the indies. Most patterns were nothing styles―no interesting detail, just bags, a must-to-avoid for older women in my view. I finally examined Stylearc and Jalie, the companies I hate the least of the indies. I finally settled on the Jalie “Charlotte” model(because it’s named after my main character, Charlotte “Charlie” Hudson, I introduced in The Year I Made 12 Dresses (LOL), and it has a bit of design detail.

Since I don’t want to make a mistake in my choice of style for my expensive fabric, I pulled out the cheaper fabric I bought in Montreal and decided to make a black, cropped cardi.

Well, as usual with indie patterns, the first thing I’m faced with is 26 sizes in one pattern. *sigh*

So, I dutifully find the size I’m looking for, cut it out (I’m never using this sucker for any other size in the future, that’s for sure) and trace out a pattern I can use. Now that I’m cross-eyed, I think I’ll go have a drink.

Next time, I’ll tell you how it worked out.

In case you’re interested:

40 free cardigan sewing patterns (in case you find one here you like): https://so-sew-easy.com/40-free-cardigan-sewing-patterns-staying-warm/


[1] https://thedreamstress.com/2016/04/terminology-the-history-of-the-cardigan/

[2] https://theweek.com/articles/878112/feminist-history-cardigan

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, wardrobe planning

Choosing fabrics for a fall wardrobe (there may have been a trip to Montréal involved!)

Who among us hasn’t longed for a wee bit of a travel escape over the past eighteen months? Sure, staying close to home has afforded those of us who sew some extra time to escape into that happy place we call our sewing space, but if you love to travel, a little getaway sounds nice, n’est ce pas?

Montreal begins to look like autumn.

If you’ve been following my fashion, sewing and creativity journey for a while, you’ll know that my husband and I enjoy travel so much that we’ve been sharing our travels on our travel blog for years (www.thediscerningtravelers.com). Since we returned from our winter getaway in March 2020, that’s been on hold. But last week, ooh-la-la, we went to Montréal. Why Montréal, you may ask? Two reasons: it’s a reasonable distance for a three-night trip, and it has a fabric/garment district that I’d been longing to visit.

So, last week, we hopped on a ViaRail Canada train at Union Station in Downtown Toronto. Five hours later, we were in downtown Montréal checking into the Chateau Champlain Marriott Hotel. The fact that we could eat indoors (after showing our vaccine certificates, of course), have someone else pour our drinks and wander in Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) was such a treat. Then we took an Uber to St. Hubert Street, and I was in heaven.

As you may recall, my fall wardrobe sewing/shopping plans include a blue-grey-black-red colour scheme, soft fabrics and lots of comfortable tops that I can wear with jeans, an approach to dressing that suits my current lifestyle―I walk 5-7 kms a day and sit in front of a computer writing books.

My F/W 2021-22 colour scheme

Another thing I’ve learned through this pandemic, though, is related to the quantity and quality of the clothes I wear.

For months last year, we were in lockdown, and I couldn’t shop for clothing. Yes, I know there is always online shopping (and I did a minimum amount of that), but I couldn’t feel the fabrics and try on the clothing without the hassle of having to send things back. So, I waited. And when I was finally able to shop again, I found myself wanting less but wanting better. This is now my overall approach. Just this past weekend, we took three large garbage bags stuffed full of clothing we rarely (if ever) wear any longer to our local donation bin. And it feels so good to have that space around us in our closets. I had this in mind when I opened the door at Tissus St. Hubert in Montreal and stepped into a world filled with high-quality Italian fabrics. I thought I’d died and gone to fabric heaven. (FYI, tissus means fabric in French.)

Unlike many downtown fabric stores, this one was well-organized, bright and airy―yet it was chock full of beautiful fabrics, primarily silks and wools. There wasn’t a synthetic to be seen!

When I walked in, I was immediately drawn to a piece of blue fabric that looked and felt like a wool jersey. But I moved on to the silks lest I miss anything. When I found a few pieces of silk that I thought looked interesting, the young man (obviously one of the proprietors) came to help.

I liked these beautiful silks, but they weren’t really what I was looking for.

He was only too happy to open each bolt that interested me so I could get the full effect. It’s really the only way to see what you’re buying. He was so helpful and even said that high-quality fabrics (with high-end prices) required high-quality service. I got that and more.

I considered several pieces of silk and settled on one that is reminiscent of animal print but in a more subtle way.

It feels magnificent, and I can’t wait to work with it. Note the colour fits into my current palette (although I may well make this blouse (Butterick 6765), view C with the short sleeves to take on our winter holiday (that’s winter clothing, isn’t it??).

I then circled back to the blue fabric that had caught my eye, and just like my husband always used to say about choosing Christmas trees: you always buy the first one you looked at (I did the same thing with my wedding gown! I’m reminded of this because our anniversary is next weekend!).

The young man told me that it was, in fact, a fine wool jersey. Since he had recently bought up the stock from another well-known Montreal fabric store whose proprietor was retiring, he did a burn test to assure us―and himself―that the fabric content was indeed correct. My husband was fascinated with this, and the young proprietor was very knowledgeable.

I found these terrific charts on Domestic Geek Girl[1] , and if you’re interested in more detail on how to check your own fabrics for content, the link at the bottom takes you to the excellent article on it.

Anyway, it was pure wool jersey, so I naturally bought what he had left on the bolt. (BTW, the price on the bold was $189.00 a metre!! He sold it to me for $60.00 a metre, which is more like it!). Then it was on to Goodman’s down the street to peruse the cheaper contributions.

Goodman’s was more like the crowded shops I frequent in Toronto.

I bought a lovely, soft synthetic (black, of course―the best colour for synthetics. I’ll use it to test out the pattern I plan to use for that blue wool jersey. I’m looking at the Jalie “Charlotte” cardigan. It seems appropriate since it’s named after my favourite heroine Charlotte “Charlie” Hudson! (From all three of my most recent books). This design will be a great layering piece.

I also did a bit of shopping at a small shop called Ultratext, which is packed to the brim with sewing notions. Then it was time to get back downtown for dinner.

While I was in Montréal, I also bought a few RTW pieces that I’ll need. This included a terrific pair of Frank Lyman black jeans with a bit of embellishment. I think my new tops will be perfect with these. (I also bought a St. James Breton shirt since they’re not so easy to find, and I’ve wanted one for a long time.)

This is the one I bought, although they didn’t have stock in, and I’m still waiting for it to arrive from Montréal. (Note the red heart-shaped patches on the sleeves that make it part of my colour scheme. Well…)

Back in Toronto, I found myself still needing a bit of red to add to the mix, so I went to Chu Shing Textiles―my current favourite shop―on Queen St. West and found the perfect, medium-weight bamboo jersey. It’s the perfect red for me and the ideal addition to my greys and blacks.

I haven’t completely worked out which fabrics I will make into which of the designs, but I’m getting there.


[1] https://domesticgeekgirl.com/uncategorized/fabric-burn-test-identify-fabric-pyro-way/

Posted in sewing patterns, Style, wardrobe planning

Fall wardrobe planning 2021: What to buy, what to sew

I can hardly believe it’s August already. Where does the summer go? At least this year, now that the shops are starting their back-to-school campaigns, there really is going to be school here where I live in Toronto. The COVID thing isn’t gone yet, but we’re approaching something normal. Anyway, Mother Nature doesn’t stop for pandemics or anything else, and fall is on the horizon here in the Northern Hemisphere. And that means I begin to think about wardrobe planning.

I usually start with a colour palette, and I’ll get to that, but this year, I have to say that I am more inspired by a feeling rather than colour after the past eighteen months. That feeling is hygge.

I began with the feeling that being cozy was what I most want for this upcoming season. When that thought cemented itself, I realized I was really thinking about hygge. Have you heard of it? Well, in case you’re not that familiar with it, hygge is the Danish and Norwegian word for―you guessed it―cozy, but it’s more than that. In Scandinavia, hygge means comfort and well-being. It means creating an atmosphere of warmth and contentment. Now, who couldn’t use a bit more of those feelings right about now?

This feeling made me think about soft throws and candles and a quiet evening at home with a good book and a glass of wine or Armagnac. Now that I have that image in mind, what would I need to be wearing to feel comfortable, content―and stylish. Of course, stylish. Just because I want to feel cozy doesn’t mean I want to be a slob. Now that I’ve established my overall aesthetic, it’s on to colours.

When the fall looms, other people begin to think about pumpkins and cinnamon―the autumnal colours of the changing leaves. I think about them, but only insofar as they are something seasonal to look at―not something to wear. It seems to me that, over the years, whenever I’ve perused the September issues of the fashion magazines (the biggest issues of the year, by the way), so many of the clothes were brown, orange and yellow. 

Nope, not me. I’m not an orange kind of person. Not my style. Not my colour palette. I have to admit, though, I always gravitate toward black (of course―I do live in the North American capital of black-all-winter, so I beg forgiveness). This year, though, I’m thinking about blues (and greys and blacks) with a smattering of red because red looks good on me.

This colour palette is a winner for me for this season.

I guess, in a way, you could think of red as a fall colour. After all, look at these gorgeous trees we snapped on a trip to Muskoka two years ago (pre-pandemic!).

Now that I have a sense of an overall feeling and a colour scheme, I need to think about textures and lines.

Textures might be easy for this collection since I have already taken to the hygge feeling. I’m thinking softly textured fabrics of natural fibres like brushed cotton and bamboo. Think feathers and downy kittens.  Perhaps I’ll even include a bit of soft rayon for something flowy.

And what about a muse? Every design scheme needs a muse, n’est ce pas? I’m inspired by Kerry Washington’s portrayal of Olivia Pope in the TV show Scandal. Her wardrobe was one of the reasons to watch that show, and her at-home wardrobe is what I’m going for: undulating lines in cozy sweaters (of course, she always held a glass of red wine and never looked happy, but that’s just her!).

Now it’s time for me to put all of this together with some of the patterns I’m contemplating and some of the pieces I might buy ready to wear.  Anyway, here are a few patterns I’m considering―I’ll get into how they’ll come together with some fabric choices in my next post. There may be a mood board involved!

And here’s a book I just love, and you might too.

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion Design, Little Black Dress, Style, Style Influencers

In search of the perfect LBD: My new project begins

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s a cliché that seems to transcend time. They say every woman needs the perfect “little black dress” – LBD for short – and I agree, but the search for that perfection seems to go on and on. Enter the sewing talent that we possess!

Over the years I’ve had any number of what would be labeled “little black dresses.” They have all been eminently useful in their own ways.

In recent years my LBD wearing is frequently confined to travel: we often take cruises on those kind of high-end cruise lines where those informal nights really require cocktail dressing. That means that a LBD that is also packable is a must. On a recent cruise down the west coast of South America, my Joseph Ribkoff black dresses were a godsend. Both the short cocktail dress and the gown (it’s actually a strapless worn a plethora of different jackets to change it ups) in the photos above are Ribkoff’s I wore on our recent cruise down the west coast of South America on Silversea’s Silver Muse.

And yet I still search for the holy grail of LBD’s. So, what are my criteria for LBD perfection?

  1. First and foremost, it should be black! While this seems like a no-brainer, we are forever bombarded by asinine pronouncements from the style police that “red is the new black” or recently “white is the new black.” Okay, I know what they’re getting at, but black is the only thing that is black. If you want a LRD or a LWD, that’s great, but I’m talking about a LBD and it naturally has to be black.
  2. Second, the perfect LBD needs to fit perfectly. The beauty of the Rikoff dresses is in the fabrics – they are knits and are a bit forgiving. This means that even a not-so-perfect fit is perfect enough. What I’m searching for is a LBD that doesn’t have to be a knit to fit perfectly. It is made for me. It follows the curves of my body and no one else’s.
  3. My perfect LBD is a sheath. I often see LBD’s that are any number of silhouettes, but somewhere in my mind’s eye, I see a real LBD as a sheath. And since that’s the silhouette that suits me best and I love the most, that’s what it has to be.
  4. My perfect LBD is simple. It is simple enough that if I choose to wear different jackets or jewelry with it, that works and changes the look. The perfect LBD is versatile in my view. I need to be able to dress it up or dress it down. Which brings me back to silhouette: many of the complicated silhouettes on offer these days – flounces, ruffles, big skirts, peplums, “statement sleeves” – all of these distract from the simplicity of the perfect LBD. I’m going for clean lines.

I don’t know yet if my perfect LBD is sleeveless, has long sleeves or short sleeves or anything else in between. I’m not sure yet if the neckline is round, square or boat-shaped. I’m unsure of the fabric – this will be dictated by many of the design factors. But I do expect perfection to be lined in silk – silk charmeuse if I have my way and since I’m making it, I think I do. But anything can change at this stage.

So, how do I find the perfect dress? As I do in my other life, I begin with research. First, I want to understand the history of this oh-so-indispensable article of clothing and find inspiration from that.

chanel first lbd 1926 vogue
The October 1926 Vogue magazine sketch of Chanel’snew LBD

Coco Chanel is often touted as the creator of the LBD – or at least the notion of what a LBD means. In October, 1926 Vogue magazine published a picture of a simple, elegant sheath in black crêpe de chine that was shown with a simple string of pearls. It seemed to start a kind of trend – or what today we might call a meme. It is true that in the early part of the twentieth century and before that, women wore black to indicate that they were in mourning. Remember Queen Victoria? After Prince Albert, the love of her life died at a fairly early age, she wore black for the rest of her life. Anyway, black transformed from the colour of death to the colour of simple elegance. Chanel wanted a piece of clothing that could be available to everyone. And Chanel’s idea influenced many a designer from that day until now.

Hepburn_little_black_dressMy second icon of the LBD that I look to for inspiration is Audrey Hepburn. She wore them, but she didn’t design them. She had a long working relationship with Givenchy who designed many of her LBD’s including the most incredible one – at least for me – the gown she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s although to be sure, there were other LBD’s even in that film. I especially love the lines of that dress.

In a continuing search for inspiration, last week I visited the Dior exhibit currently stationed in the Royal Ontario Museum. A mere 10-minute walk from my home in Toronto, the ROM provides a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon – and that’s just what I did.

I’m not a big fan of Dior’s “New Look” which was featured prominently – it was a 1947, post-war look that Chanel dispatched unceremoniously in 1954 with her LBJ style – but I do find close examination of designer fashions, especially historical ones, to be educational and inspiring.

I did find a number of Dior’s take on the LBD like these ones…

…and find myself inspired by the workmanship and the fabrications. The one on the left is the only one who’s silhouette is right for me, though. So, I’m off to search for the pattern or patterns I’ll try out on my way to finding just the right one. In the meantime, here are some of the other confections I took in last week at the ROM…

…I do find the above gown oddly compelling. I think I could actually wear it…

…and red is a great colour if you don’t want black. In fact, it’s my favourite colour (I don’t think black, grey, white and taupe really count although they are truly my favourite garment colours! It’s all in how you mix them in my view.).

And finally, one extraordinary gown, worn once by a Toronto socialite’s daughter for her debutante afternoon tea dance in the 1950’s. Those were the days *sigh*

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Up next, the pattern options for my own LBD. Stay tuned!

Posted in Fashion, Fashion Design, Style, Style Influencers

Inspiration for designing my wardrobe

ideaI love the idea of having a collection of clothes designed and fitted specifically for me – clothes that suit my lifestyle and my aesthetic, and fit me to perfection. The only way that this is happening is if I do it myself. First and foremost, though, I know that everything starts with an idea. And in spite of the fact that I think I know what I want, when it comes to putting pencil to paper and creating that first series of sketches, I’m not so sure that what comes out in the end will be any different than what hangs on the ready-to-wear racks. Or maybe it will. I just need to give some thought to how this creative process plays out.

Some years ago I developed and taught an undergraduate university course in creativity as applied to corporate communications. It was such fun and my students absolutely loved it. We spent a summer school semester exploring how that creative process works and what it means to be a creative person. I created for them a complete workbook for the course (maybe I should publish it!) which guided all of us through various ways of looking at creativity and processes for tapping into our potential. Here is what the introduction to the workbook said:

“You should have figured out by now that before you can “create” anything – whether it is a brochure, an academic paper, or a new recipe for frittata — something happens in your mind first. So, you need to start thinking about what Freud said: “Insanity is continuing to do the same things and expecting different results.” Put those two ideas together and you may begin to understand that you first have to change the way you think about things if you expect to come up with new, imaginative and creative approaches to anything – whether it is solving a client’s PR problem, writing a song or choreographing a new dance.”

And in the margin I had placed the following quote from Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way (a book I highly recommend):the artists way cover

No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too silly to work on your creativity.

…so now it seems that I need to take my own advice. I started by considering how some of my favourite designers (Diane Von Furstenberg, Eileen Fisher, Karl Lagerfeld, Erdem & Smythe – an eclectic collection to be sure!), might approach the process. My research led me to the following conclusions:

  1. Fashion designers are inspired continually by the world around them.
  2. There is nothing magical about their creative processes.

I happened upon a video – a TED talk – that designer Isaac Mizrahi gave a few years back where he describes his own process. One of the ways he is inspired is what I call creative cross-training. He doesn’t’ call it that, but I always called it that for my students and myself. Here’s what he said…

For me, creative cross training means pursuing different creative pursuits and allowing them to feed one another. Just last year I wrote a guest blog post called Finding Writing Inspiration in Creative Cross-Training for a writer friend (I think I might just have outed myself in my other life and persona!). As I describe in the post, I stumbled on the idea when I signed up for a sketching course many years ago with the idea that I could improve my observational skills. I hoped that these would contribute to my writing. Well, they did, but I also discovered that I was actually finding not only improved observational skills, but also inspirational ideas. So, Isaac performs and designs and does other creative things. I write (various things), design, sew and do a bit of sketching. So, back to how other designers get their ideas.

As I surfed through various articles about where individual designers find inspiration, a number of themes emerged. Here is a list of places that were mentioned again and again…

  • books
  • movies
  • on the street
  • observing people
  • doing research
  • just sketching
  • listening to music
  • reliving lost personal memories
  • travel
  • architecture
  • interior design
  • nature
  • history
  • art
  • historical figures

…and for me, I’m inspired by my own lifestyle. In fact, the first completely-me-created design that I have been writing about for the past few posts, seemed to be completely the result of wanting a nice piece that would withstand a day of walking in the heat of summer in the city.

As of today, I have cut out and begun sewing the final garment. But here’s a bit of a refresher about how it evolved…

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I’m going to start being more observant and keep journals for design the way I have been doing for years for my writing. I’m excited to see where it takes me!

Here are some of the online places I visited for my research.

 

The Secret Journey of a Fashion Piece — Part 1: Creativity & Design https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/secret-journey-fashion-piece-part-1-creativity-design

Isaac Mizrahi: Fashion & Creativity. TED Talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/isaac_mizrahi_on_fashion_and_creativity#t-832215 a bit about creative cross-training…although he doesn’t call it that. A bit about how fashion designers have to be a bit bored.

Where Some Designers Get Their Ideas. Time online. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1534892,00.html

33 Things That Inspired Fashion Designers and Their Collections http://www.instyle.com/awards-events/fashion-week/new-york/fall-2017-designer-inspiration

Posted in sewing, Style

Commercial or self-drafted pattern duel: We have a winner!

I can’t remember exactly when it was I decided that I wanted – no, needed – to learn to draft my own patterns. In my past sewing experiences, I confined my own designing to making changes in commercial patterns. You know: you change a sleeve, or tweak a collar, you make creative fabric selection, or ditch a zipper. In the end you believe it is truly yours. Well, that’s okay, but it does limit creative expression, and when I found myself continually having to tweak commercial patterns for fit, that’s when I realized I really needed to create my own patterns. So I started the courses to learn.

After a year of following several courses, creating a personal bodice sloper from a personal moulage, then learned a thing or two about operations necessary for creating patterns from that sloper, I finally created my first pattern. By the end of my last post I had completed the final muslin for my first totally self-designed pattern, and was ready to embark on creating a muslin for the commercial pattern that was also in contention for a particularly nice piece of shirting fabric. Here’s how that process went.

When I first clapped eyes on McCall’s 7546 earlier this spring, it was the sash that drew me to it. I like the idea of tailored shirts with body-conscious shaping. My own design this spring incorporates that idea, but does it differently.

First, my own design has princess seams.

first pattern

Although 7546 looks as if it has princess seams, it really has slashed darts from the armholes that end some distance above the hem in both front and back.

line art

The sashes are also different. The one I designed is sewn into the side seams leaving the back unencumbered. The McCall’s pattern has a wider sash that originates in the back seam resulting in a bit of a bulge – at least it was in unbleached cotton. I could only hope that it would be smoother in a smooth shirting fabric.

The necklines are also quite different as you can see. My own design has a mandarin collar – a design I love. The commercial pattern has an open collar with a collar stand. And of course, the sleeves in the dueling designs are so very different: my own is sleeveless, while the McCall’s has full-length sleeves with a cuff – one version with a so-called cold shoulder, the other without.

chicos cold shoulder
My ready-to-wear cold-shoulder…

It was not in any way the cold-shoulder sleeves that attracted me to this pattern. This design feature is certainly ubiquitous in spring/summer 2017 ready-to-wear, and I have to say its popularity puzzles me a bit. Maybe it’s the Toronto weather: too cold in winter for cold-shoulders, too hot in summer for any sleeves at all. Anyway, I did buy one this year, but I’m not really sure where I’ll wear it other than on a cruise through the Panama Canal this fall. I never wear prints, and on pain of death avoid the “boho” look. Wonder what got into me? Anyway, I decided that I’d make up one of those sleeves when I created the muslin. Hmm. That was interesting.

 

So many sleeves, so little fabric! I decided that in the interests of making a decision, and the fact that I was unconvinced about the cold-shoulder, I should cut and sew two different sleeves for this test garment.

I first cut and sewed the cold-shoulder with the cuff, then drafted up a three-quarter length sleeve using the armscye of the pattern and my own sleeve sloper – since the sleeve from the pattern seemed a tad wide for my arms in any case. So here’s what I got on the first try.

The cold-shoulder sleeve was hideously large, gaping even more than the photos show. My own ¾ sleeve, on the other hand, wasn’t so bad. But it didn’t seem quite finished. So I unpicked them both and cut the commercial sleeve without the cold shoulder. I also re-drafted my own slightly shorter and a tad wider to accommodate an external facing. Here’s what these two looked like.

 

So here I am, having to make a decision before cutting into the Mood fabric. I really loved my own design – the look and the fit. But I realized that the fabric might not be the best for it. So the winner is: the commercial pattern. But I’m making it with my second three-quarter length sleeve. So, I guess it’s my own design? Not so much.

IMG_1935

I have cut it out and begun to sew, but I’m off to the Toronto garment district this week to find the perfect fabric for my own design!

Posted in sewing, Style

In praise of (sewing) button-front shirts

If I had to describe my personal fashion style in one word, I’ve always immediately jumped to “tailored.” When I met my husband just over 30 years ago, he commented on the number of suits hanging in my closet (with shoes in labeled shoe boxes lining the upper shelf). In fact, he had the audacity to remark that they all looked the same. The nerve! I of course pointed out that they were indeed all quite different. Several, however, were from the same two designer – Montreal designer Simon Chang and Alfred Sung to be specific – so, I suppose to the style challenged they must indeed have all looked very similar.

As my career evolved, and dress codes changed, sadly I wore fewer and fewer suits. But what never changed was my attraction to sleek lines, button-front, collared shirts, blazers and great shoes. Even today, with my current casual lifestyle, I wear a blazer with jeans and I have a favourite Brooks Brothers cashmere one that is one of those pieces that transcends fashion and trends. It will always be in style!

All of this got me thinking about the sewing patterns and styles that I’m drawn to these days. Why is it that I so often create for myself those soft knit pieces? Of course they, too, have a place in my life, but there is little doubt that they are a bit less complicated to fit and sew. This from the woman who delights in those couture sewing techniques that require so much time and attention. I think I always hesitated to tackle a real “shirt” for example, because I so love. Brooks Brothers shirts where the workmanship is without equal for the price point. Not cheap, but certainly not the most expensive you can buy. I love that attention to quality and my question to myself is would I be able to produce something I’d be prepared to wear. Well, this is my year and I’ve just finished the first of at least two shirt type garments that I have planned.

Before I reveal my latest project, though, I was interested to find out when and where we actually started wearing this particular style that seems to transcend fashion. Where did these collared shirt designs originate and, even more interesting, when did women begin to embrace them – because to be sure, they did begin as men’s fashion. So, I did a bit of digging.

DSC05153First, I need to clarify a bit of terminology. My well-dressed son who loves his Armani tux (which he bought on sale ten years ago and still wears) as much as he loves his jeans and sneakers, loves a button-front shirt. However, he and his friends all call them “button-down” shirts. This had always bugged me since my understanding was that only shirts whose collars actually button down were correctly called this. It turns out that I am, indeed, right. So much for the millennials and their terminology!

It seems that collared shirts have been a part of men’s wardrobes for centuries. In fact, the terms “white collar” and “blue collar” actually do originate in the difference between the colours of the collars worn by men who worked in more clerical, office-type and executive-type positions versus those who toiled as laborers. As you may be aware, before the early 1900’s men’s shirt collars were not, in fact, attached to the shirts at all. It was only after laundry became more accessible and clothing manufacturing became more sophisticated that different fabrics and colours and attached collars became a fashion item for men.[1]

mens collars

The actual button-down collar has an equally interesting history. In 1896 Brooks Brothers started producing soft button-down collar shirts inspired by the shirts worn by polo players at the time. These days we tend to think of the polo shirt as having a collar that flops around, but it seems that polo players back at the end of the nineteenth century didn’t’ like those floppy collars and began buttoning them down. Still these days the buttoned-down collar is considered to be more casual than one that is not: a button-down is likely to be considered to be a sports shirt while the non-buttoned collar may be on a dress shirt – but as you know, everything is changing in our casual world!

So, when did women start wearing this style? Just last week I received a catalogue from Brooks Brothers. It seems that in 1949 they began to notice that the smaller sizes of their famous button front shirts were selling much faster than the larger sizes. When they tracked down the cause of this they found that women were buying them! It was that year they introduced what is now their iconic button-front shirt for women and so many others have followed suit. So, what am I going to make?

IMG_1772
Butterick 6376 and my fabric from Mood Fabrics LA. I’m making view B

I happened on Butterick 6376 before I landed at Mood Fabrics in LA in February. While I was there, I swooned over their array of shirting fabrics and found a winning combination for me: black and white stripes and black contrast. I then scoured the Toronto garment district for buttons when I got home and plunged in.

 

What I liked about this particular pattern was that it’s not a simple white (or even coloured) shirt, rather it’s a tunic with interesting sleeves. I know that in my distant sewing past I constructed a variety of collars, but I could not remember ever making a collar with a stand. It looked a bit daunting, but it turns out it’s so easy.

The fabric was so easy to work with, but I wanted it to look great on the inside so decided to flat fell as many of the seams as it would work for and I do love the interior finish.

I haven’t had a chance to wear it yet – still not quite warm enough – but I do know that I need to make another button-front shirt. I have an idea of what’s next, and this time it includes a design of my own that I’ve been working on and all that entails: making the pattern is up first. I’ll let you know what’s happening next!

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[1] A Brief History of Men’s Dress Shirts. https://www.pacificissue.com/the-blog/a-brief-history-of-mens-dress-shirts

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion, sewing, Style

In the ‘Mood’ for Inspiration: A fabric store mecca and other sewing muses

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

I’ve just returned from a three-week sojourn that took us from cold Toronto to sunny Los Angeles and onward to San Diego, Yuma, Tucson, Phoenix, Scottsdale and finally Vegas. The minute we determined that we’d begin in LA this year, I began thinking about Mood Fabrics and wondering how I could wangle a solitary hour there. Well, I did. And I came away inspired. Before I left, however, I had to figure out how I’d best use my hour alone in fabric heaven.

First, if you’ve come along with me on any of my previous sewing adventures, you know that I don’t “stash” fabric (how I hate that very idea), rather I concentrate on quality over quantity and really dislike the idea of hording cheap fabrics. (No judgment here: it’s just not for me.) I love the idea of choosing quality fabrics and taking my time to complete projects in a way that ensures a garment I’ll love for a very long time. Mood Fabrics is just such a store to find those treasures. So, I first thought I’d take my list of planned 2017 projects and focus on finding just the perfect fabrics. Then I thought if I do that, I’ll miss seeing everything else. So I took Proust’s advice and stepped away from the seeking just to look.

mood fabrics la
The Mood Fabrics first view is of bolt after bolt of bridal silks, satins & laces!

 

As I walked in the store I thought I’d died and gone to fabric heaven. I was immediately surrounded by quality silks, linens, shirting, tweeds – in short all the fabrics I love to work with and wear. It was a bit like stepping into my own favourite Toronto garment district fabric store, but on steroids. No vestiges of the chain-store fabrics anywhere in sight. I loved it. So I meditatively walked all the aisles looking, feeling, enjoying.

Once I had navigated the store this way, I then decided to take out my notebook and go back to a couple of aisles that had really caught my imagination. [Anyone who knows me realizes that I’m a digital person for most of what I do, but Moleskine notebooks are part of my life all the time!] The first stop was the silk aisles where I bought some beautiful silk organza to underline a couture dress project in an as-yet-unselected fabric (I’m going to take Susan Khalje’s course).

[My little Moleskine notebook was ready to serve!]

Then I went back to the cotton shirting aisle where the choices were almost overwhelming. I knew I needed two fabrics that could go together, and that I wanted black and white. I also hate most prints unless they are geometric, so zeroed in on stripes. In addition, I wanted a tone-on-tone white cotton shirting for a new spring project. I came away delighted with my purchases (I also picked up a new awl for my pattern-making and a bias tape maker because I’ve always wanted to use one!).

Later on the trip my husband and I wandered into the Phoenix Art Museum (like you do) without especially high hopes only to discover a true treasure: the most fascinating contemporary art collection we had ever found, the world’s largest collection of extraordinary southwestern American art (as you would expect), and an unexpected treasure: the last day of a fashion exhibit. I was so excited.

“Eye on Fashion: The Kelly Ellman Collection” was a room full of extraordinary vintage clothing donated to the Museum’s archives by collector and museum supporter Kelly Ellman. There were over 600 pieces representing many eras of twentieth-century fashion from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel to World War II fashions with a bit of the 1960’s in between (including a display of those notorious paper dresses from the 60’s).

I find these kinds of exhibits truly inspiring. I look at the overall design – what I like about it, what I don’t – then move in to see details of design and construction, always considering how I might incorporate these into future projects.

[Details, details!]

A few years ago I attended a Valentino retrospective at Somerset House, a small museum near the Thames in London. At the end of the runway portion there was a video exhibit of a variety of couture techniques employed in the couture house and that was really an eye-opener.

valentino

[The Valentino exhibit. Of course, I didn’t take it. We weren’t permitted to take photos 😦  Photo credit: http://www.ella-lapetiteanglaise.com/valentino-master-of-couture-at-somerset-house/%5D

Well, now that I’m truly inspired, it’s time to get back to my two unfinished projects (including completing my sleeve sloper). Won’t be cutting into the new fabric for a while yet! Is that a stash? Yikes!