Posted in sewing patterns, Style

Finding the perfect summer dress: a wild-goose chase?

It’s almost the middle of July, and in my little corner of the world, it’s high summer. At least it usually is. The past week has been cool and drizzly except for the few days of scorching heat. It’s this scorching heat that we typically get this time of year―day after day. So, over the past few years since we moved from the cool-summer Atlantic coast where I always needed a sweater or light jacket close by, I’ve had to adapt my wardrobe to deal with more consistent heat. I’ve found myself searching for perfect summer dresses that I can wear during the day in an urban, big-city place. When you consider my personal aesthetic, that’s no easy task.

Let’s just look at the dresses being touted as the best dresses of the season for this summer in the northern hemisphere.

When I did a Pinterest search, this is the representation of what I found.

Then, that arbiter of all things fashion, Vogue magazine, offers the following monstrosities (sorry if you like them, but they just make me gag).

Then, horrors of all horrors are these gems that Vogue considers appropriate attire for grown women in 2021.

As an aside: These styles got me thinking about Dr. Jean Kilbourne, an American professor who has spent years researching how women are depicted in advertising and how infantilization is a problem (all ads created by men). Well, I won’t go all professorial on you, but I cannot imagine choosing to look infantile. If you haven’t seen her video lectures Killing Us Softly, I highly recommend them. They’re a real eye-opener. As cool as thee dresses might be (and by cool, I don’t mean cool), they send out a message of the little girl who at best needs to be protected (from something, I’m not sure what) or, at worst, is as dumb as a bag of hammers. *sigh* Rant over.

Perhaps I can just be polite and say that they are simply not my style. So, where does that put someone whose personal style is more streamlined and tailored? Well, thank you for asking. It puts me (and maybe you) right there in front of your sewing machine. Thank goodness for our sewing skills!

Over the past few years, I’ve searched for styles and fabrics that represent who I am and have come up with several approaches that work for me. And maybe they’ll work for you.

I started with a little black dress that’s not appropriate for daytime wear (and isn’t cool enough anyway, given that it’s lined!), but it’s a style I can work with.

Then, I designed a shirt-style dress for a cruise that works well for summer in the city. I selected seersucker for it for obvious reasons―it’s light and cool. And, if you’ve ever read anything on my blog before, you know I’m not a print fan (*gags slightly*), but I can do a stripe. It’s my kind of print.

Remember the QR code dress from a month or so ago? It’s a style I’ll certainly make again but in a different fabric. And, no, I haven’t worn it yet. ☹

Finally, my current project. I’m drawn to dresses that are just a bit more than bags, even for hot summer days. So, a simple T-shirt dress with a half-belt tie immediately appealed to me. I bought some striped ottoman fabric (my print!) and embarked on this one, New Look 6650.

I’m not a fan of midi dresses these days. I guess it’s because I lived through it the first time around, and I don’t see the point of a longer dress in the summer. Probably even more important, though, is that I still have good legs and find the hemline just above the knees to be more flattering for me (and for most other women, in my view.) But I do like those short sleeves rather than the elbow-length ones. I also made the hem deeper since that tends to make a light dress hang better.

The fabric is a bit heavier and a bit less stretchy than the pattern is created for (it’s made for drapey jersey), so I cut it just a tad bigger.

I haven’t had a chance to wear it yet (remember the cool drizzle I mentioned earlier), but I will. My husband and I are headed out of the city for the first time in almost a year to a country inn and spa next week. I think I might just take it with me. It might be just the thing for dinner on the patio!

Posted in fabrics, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

Trendy and Stylish: Sewing Bamboo into Stripes

Coco Chanel said it: “Fashion changes―style remains.” I’ve always hoped that I’ve been able to develop a kind of style that is ageless and timeless at this point in my life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love some of the new trends, does it? Well, let’s figure it out.

What’s in style for spring and summer 2021?

First, there are florals. Then there are wide-legged jeans. And oversized shirts.

Well, I think it’s safe to say I look like I’m wearing a 1970s-era sofa if I wear florals. As for wide-legged jeans? Not happening in my world. And as a tailored style woman who loves a tailored shirt, I am offended by the idea that I would even consider wearing those enormous bags that the fashionistas are trying to pass off as somehow flattering. Not. But then there are stripes.

A runway version of 2021 stripes

There are some “trends” that never leave us, which is what puts them in the style category. One of those is stripes. Yes, stripes are in this year.

This season, I decided to add a striped jersey top to my spring wardrobe. I landed on the perfect style for me with Burda 6427. Now all I needed was some fabric.

I’m a lover of natural fabrics, and I’m especially in love with bamboo. I ordered this lovely blend from Fabricville online, and it didn’t disappoint. So luxuriously soft and fine (66% rayon from bamboo, 28% organic cotton, 6% spandex).

I love working with bamboo (I’ve written about this before), but it can be tricky if it’s lightweight. First, the consensus is that you shouldn’t wash bamboo jersey vigorously―that is, in a machine. In my experience, though, it can be washed and dried as usual but holds its shape better if it’s washed in the machine and laid flat to dry. I cut two 4-inch samples and did my laundry test.

The pictures don’t lie. One sample was machine-dried. The other wasn’t. There was no contest! I decided I’d prepare the fabric length by washing and hanging it to dry. It came out beautifully. Now it was time to cut it out.

Cutting out this fine jersey begs to be done in a single layer. I’d recommend this for two reasons. First, getting two halves of the fabric on the straight of grain is a challenge. Second, it’s easier to control the stretch as you cut if it’s single-layer. However, as usual, the main bodice pattern pieces are only halves. I created mirror images of each and taped them together for a complete front and back. I simply re-laid the sleeve, flipping it over for the second sleeve.

Single-layer requires a bit more work, but it’s worth it.

As with jerseys in general, this fabric has a definite right and wrong side. When stretched, the fabric curls to the right side. To make it even easier, it has stripes that look slightly different on the wrong side.

Many sewists use a rotary cutter for fabrics like this knit, but I’m not a fan, so I used my finest shears, and it worked very well.

Working with this bamboo is a dream. With a new stretch needle, polyester thread and my trusty walking foot, this pattern was a breeze to create. I did shorten the ties by an inch-and-a-half since I didn’t like the proportion of the overly long ties. I finished all the interior seam allowances on the serger.

[insert photo 4 – grid 1]

The fabric is perfect for any pattern with a drapey feature, like side shirring or, as in this case, a tie that pulls the fabric to one side. As for wearing comfort: it cannot be beaten!

And just so you can see that stripes belong near the water…(well, we can dream!)

[A version of this post appeared on the spring 2021 Fabricville blog.]

Posted in fabrics, sewing, Style

The Joy of Sleeves: Especially when you find the best length for you

Could there be any more distinguishing feature of just about any kind of top than its sleeves? Think about it. When you go shopping for ready-to-wear for the upper half of your body, unless you’re just browsing aimlessly, you probably have a general idea of one aspect of the top you’re seeking – the sleeves, in particular, their length.

Sleeve Length

Let’s face it: you can cut your sleeve at any place along the full length of your arm, but you might not like how it looks – or works. In the worlds of style and fashion, there are some specific lengths that have been discovered to be most flattering.

From sizechart.com

If you’re shopping for a winter coat, clearly, you’d be a fool not to look for long sleeves (notwithstanding fashion designers’ attempts to get us to think that three-quarter sleeves with gloves would be a reasonable substitute). If you’re looking for a cool, summer top, you probably aren’t looking for long sleeves, however, you might not be sure whether you want cap sleeves, short sleeves (and what length) or elbow-length. And it’s exactly the same when we create our own clothes. I think sleeve length, in particular, is one of the most crucial parts of a flattering and useful piece of clothing. And not every length works best for everyone, although a commercial pattern with a short sleeve view will be very specific. Be brave! Be adventurous! Throw caution to the wind! Cut the sleeves whatever length you want! Back up a bit with me: I’m interested in sleeves.

Sleeve functionality

Let’s start small. Sleeves are arm coverings. Let’s face it: sleeves are largely functional. Unless you live close to the equator, you likely feel the need for an arm covering from time to time. Of course, you could throw a wrap around you but think about it. Isn’t a sleeve a lot more functional? Consider getting into and out of your car with your keys, wallet, umbrella, child who has to be wrestled out of one of those booster seat contraptions – oh, and let’s not forget that you have to put on your mask in 2020. Oops, you forgot? Get back in the car, put everything down and start again. Then consider having to keep a wrap around you at the same time.

A vintage sleeve pattern – you could add a different style and/or length to any bodice.

Well, for my money, I’d prefer to have sleeves attached to my bodice. So, apart from strapless and one-shoulder evening gowns (oh, yes, I love strapless and one-shoulder evening gowns, or at least I used to) and summer tank tops (which I’m wearing less and less as I get older), the sleeve consideration is a big one when I’m shopping ready-to-wear or sewing for myself. And since I do sew, I can decide what sleeve would be best.

A blast from the past – the one-shoulder dress! Who needs sleeves when you’re in the Caribbean on a cruise?

Over the past few years, we’ve been subjected to all kinds of impractical sleeves. That’s the kindest way I can put it. If I’m being honest, I really think that hideous sleeves are being hoisted on us by designers every time we turn around.

Need I say more about the hideous-sleeve trend?

Don’t they know that a well-proportioned, simple sleeve will serve us best in the long-term? *sigh* Well, I just make my tops these days. So, when I got into my most recent one (and the last summer one for this year, I hope), the sleeves became an instant quandary.

Finding a Flattering Length

Not every sleeve length is as flattering as the next one – and not every sleeve length works for every woman. It’s a matter of proportion. And there are so many choices.

This reared its head recently – you may remember this recent shirt project. The pattern, Butterick 6324 offers a sleeve length that’s somewhere between an elbow length and a short sleeve. I opted to cut it according to the pattern and roll twice. Much better on me.

I’ve also found that I like a three-quarter sleeve on me when it works for functionality. There’s something very flattering about this length on most women. In fact, whenever I’m wearing a long-sleeved, collared shirt, I like the look of a turned-back sleeve even better than the sleeve left long. I even like this look on a man. It’s just my personal aesthetic.

I had a length of rayon knit that is very soft and has a lovely drape. I’d been looking forward to working with it since I’ve recently been making shirts which is great but different. When I started this most recent one, I had already made the pattern with long sleeves, so I knew that I liked it in general.

This time, I wanted short sleeves. And I know from having created my own bodice and sleeve sloper, that I have a few lengths that work for me. The short-sleeve length included in most commercial patterns is not it.

The good news is that my most flattering length is usually shorter than the one provided, so, I can always cut it as designed, then I can shorten to the perfect length. I’ve also taken to shortening RTW short sleeves lately.

The difference between lengths is often subtle, but when you find the right length, I think it can make all the difference. when you sew your own tops, you can experiment. I do every time I make something.

Sewing Sleeves In

And of course, sleeves have to be set in well. My personal sleeve-setting journey started back in sewing classes in junior high school where I learned to properly set-in a sleeve. As a result, that’s the method I’ve adhered to for all my sewing life – until recently.

Although I did sew with “knits” when I was very young, those knits were not like the knits of today. They were, in fact, more like stable knits of today. Remember crimplene? (If not, I wrote about it back a while ago). I mention this because you can use the traditional set-in sleeve method with these kinds of fabrics. Anyone who sews with today’s jerseys etc. with a stretch factor of something like 35% knows that this is next to impossible. So, I’ve had to learn to sew in sleeves (they are not really “set-in” in the true sense) before sewing up the side seams. And I’ve had to force myself to use this method when sewing shirts. Of course, sleeves in shirts are quite different from sleeves in jackets. A sleeve head in a jacket is so important. In a shirt, not so much.

Anyway, here we are in August and I’m just finishing up summer sewing. I think it might be time to move onto fall planning – I just hope the fall isn’t as unpredictable as the spring and summer of 2020 have been! (And I don’t mean the weather!)

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

COVID Couture: Designs for Lockdown Life

At this very moment, I should be writing about a project I’ve been looking forward to for some time. I should be sharing with you the colour palette and design inspiration for my Fall 2020 European Travel Capsule – a plan I have for a tightly edited group of travel-worthy clothing (including both ready-to-wear and my own design-sew plans) for an upcoming adventure to Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Sadly, however, the moment we arrived home from our winter getaway, we saw the handwriting on the wall and cancelled the fall holiday. I’m not going to be needing that capsule this year. Maybe next year. So, where did that leave my project plans?

[Yes, that’s Ines de la Fressange, my inspiration for the European capsule!]

Well, I could begin my tailoring adventure. There are two problems with the timing of this project: first, I don’t want to buy the fabric for my new blazer without actually seeing and feeling it so that’s out of the question at the moment (truthfully though, I might relent here at some point in the next two months if things don’t change); second, I have absolutely no place to wear a bespoke blazer at this time.

Taking into consideration the events that fill my days at present and the places I’m going (or to be more accurate places I’m not going) I need to rethink the whole design and sew aspect of my life. That’s where COVID Couture comes in. Let me start by reminding myself of what, exactly the term couture means.

Although the term might conjure images of models sauntering down runways in the latest Dior, Chanel and Dolce and Gabbana, it really is simpler than that. The term couture should not be confused with haute couture, the word that you would, in fact, use to describe the aforementioned Dior etc. Couture is a French word that translates into English as “sewing” in its most literal sense. Haute couture translates literally as “high sewing” and that’s what they do in those fashion houses (although the term haute couture can be legally applied to only a handful of houses that have achieved that designation).

The online dictionary defines the word couture as “…the design and manufacture of fashionable clothes to a client’s specific requirements and measurements…fashionable made-to-measure clothes…” Okay, that’s what I do. I design and create made-to-measure clothes for myself. And the fact that we are in the middle of a COVID pandemic and require different kinds of clothes at this point in our lives, any clothes I make for use in the short term are, by definition, COVID couture. So, here’s how I’m going to define COVID Couture:

…the design and creation of fashionable, made-to-measure clothing that makes the wearer feel comfortable, relaxed and calm while still being presentable enough for a Zoom meeting…

Enter the perfect fabric. It so happened that I had bought two lengths of complementary striped bamboo knit with a brushed back. What could be more comfortable and relaxing than the softest bamboo fabric you could imagine? I wish you could reach out and feel this fabric. Then all I needed were two or three patterns to choose from.

I first created a tunic with a wide cowl neckline from Kwik Sew 4189. I liked the cowl neckline and the tunic length.


The fabric is quite fine and very stretchy so I had to first, cut it out in a single layer, and second, be very careful about not stretching it even more as I sewed. I ended up stabilizing the side seams with Knit-n-Stable™ tape which was a great decision. Putting it in the hemline might not have been such a good idea as you can see from the photos – it remains a bit wavy. In my defence, the stretchy fabric with a bias hemline is a recipe for waves under any circumstances!

I used the two different stripes for what I think is an interesting effect. The piece is beyond comfortable to wear, but now that the spring has arrived, the cowl neckline doesn’t seem right to me.

So, I looked to another pattern for a piece I can wear under a little jacket on cool spring days and at home.

I had picked up McCalls 7975 a few months ago because I liked the front twist and the sleeve variations. I thought it had possibilities. Again, I had to cut it out in a single layer which wasn’t really a stretch (sorry about the pun) in this pattern since the whole front is one piece anyway.

Leftover fabric!

Because I was using leftover material, I knew I wouldn’t have enough of either stripe to do the whole thing but not to worry: I simply put the variation on the back. I do like how it turned out.

This time, I stabilized only the shoulder seams. And rather than serge the hem before turning it, I turned it twice and this seemed to give the hem more stability. Overall, the fit is generous – I had to take in the side seams twice and probably could have done more. That being said, this is another wonderfully comfortable piece that I will certainly wear on Zoom for my next board meeting.

I also took another piece of bamboo knit – this time French terry – and made myself a new bathrobe. I think this qualifies as COVID Couture as well!

Okay, time to get serious – I only need so many comfy tops and robes (what I really need is a silk robe). I’ll have to start thinking about re-entry into a more normal life. Or at least something I can wear to the grocery store on a summery day! Stay safe out there!

Posted in Fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just looks like a jacket with a zipper to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Fashion, sewing

Sewing with knits: Moving into the 21st century

Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the planet who remembers wearing (and sewing with) crimplene. Yes, that’s how you spell crimplene. Trademarked in the 1950’s (long before I started wearing the stuff), this was a fabric that really came into its own in the late 1960’s, remained a mainstay of fashion and sewing for a few years, then disappeared into the mists of sewing history.

According to most online sources, crimplene was the trade name of both the yarn and the fabric made from it. Polyester in origin, this was a go-to fabric for all kinds of projects and will go down in my own fashion sewing history as the first knit I ever sewed with. It occasionally appeared as a woven fabric, but most of it was a textured double knit that we used for shift dresses, pant suits (yes, matching tunic tops and pants which, BTW might make a great come-back for the over-50 set with the right silhouette in my view), men’s leisure suits (please god no more leisure-suit come-backs), and even shirtwaists. I loved it.

purple crimplene
This great 60’s dress was for sale recently online – although I suspect that it was from the early 70’s. See that texture? Crimplene!

 

Crimplene had all the characteristics that we were looking for at the time:

  • It was forgiving (unlike many of the woven fabrics of the day).
  • It was totally unwrinkleable (likely not a real word, but you know what I mean).
  • It was machine washable, dryable and unshrinkable (which accounts for why I never learned to prepare fabric before sewing since crimplene needed no prep).
  • It came in every colour and texture you could imagine (and couldn’t fade even if you left it in the sun for years).
  • It was indestructible (and crimplene clothing is probably still stacked in our land-fills to this day).
  • And it never frayed (so those of us on the fast fashion sewing track which we have finally recovered from never had to finish a seam allowance *shudder*).

So, when I returned to sewing in the twenty-first century I wanted to learn the techniques for modern knits, of course. I decided to enroll in another Craftsy course (actually it was the first one I ever stumbled upon) on sewing with knits, took out the walking foot that came with my new digital sewing machine and figured out how to install it on the machine. I have to admit I had never seen such a contraption before – never even heard of it. But once I learned how to use that sucker, I cannot live without it.

As I made my way through the course, I found myself two lots of knit fabric whose weight I really liked and proceeded to make some modern knit tops. What I noticed, although it didn’t really strike me at the time I bought the fabric, was the extent to which it resembled – you guessed it – crimplene. Fashioned from cotton blends in this century, both lengths of fabric I chose were eerily like the crimplene I had known and loved in the last century.

See that texture? (Front on left; back on right) Not crimplene, but twenty-first century cotton knit!

Sometimes I wonder if our sewing DNA is a kind of blueprint for what we’ll evolve to as we age – but perhaps like a fine wine, we do get better with age. I’d like to think I’m a bit more discerning and that this discernment has evolved along with the increasing size of my pocket book that was thin, indeed, back in my undergrad years at university.

Anyway, as I examine closely the fabric of the cross-over top I made during that Craftsy course, I can see definite remnants of my former penchant for crimplene. Now I’m longing to have a length of that old stuff to see if it really is as terrible and unbreathable as I think it was.

This new century has taught me that knits should probably not be indestructible, nor should they be designed only for fast sewing. They should take beautiful seam finishes, and should feel divine when worn. Feeling and looking divine: that’s what I’m after!

 [If you need more about crimplene, here is a great post on a Sixties Style Blog that you’ll just love – and lots of photos! A Brief History of Crimplene http://stylesixties.blogspot.ca/2013/04/a-brief-history-of-crimplene.html]