Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Shirt-making, Style, Stylish Books, Tailoring

Designing and Sewing in 2020: Do I Dare to Look Back?

What a year 2020 has been! Has it been a whole year since we first heard a minor news story about a virus in Wuhan, China? Could it possibly be that we had no idea what the year would bring? Yes, and yes. So, here we are in January 2021, and what have I accomplished this past year? What did I have to miss? What can I pick up for the coming year?

In February, just before all hell broke loose, my husband and I did a driving trip through Florida to visit places we wouldn’t usually go. No offence to anyone from Florida, but we don’t usually spend our winter vacation there, preferring more exotic (to us) locales like Hawaii or Antigua in the Caribbean, a South Pacific cruise―well, you see where that’s going! But we loved finding new places in the great state of Florida. We rented a car at the airport in Fort Lauderdale then hit the road.  We visited Key Largo, Naples, Sarasota, Orlando, St. Augustine and ended up back in our old haunt, Fort Lauderdale.

Along the way, I wore a few of my own DIY wardrobe pieces…well, maybe just one. And I have to say that Key Largo is the only place in the world I’ve ever chosen to go to dinner in shorts! It was that kind of place.

This was Simplicity #8601, the only Simplicity pattern I’ve used since I was in university – and that’s more than a few years ago!

…and I found a fantastic fabric store in Naples where I bought the silk charmeuse for what would become my major project of the year: the great tailored blazer project!

Then we returned to Toronto, where we immediately cancelled our Northern Europe and Scandinavia cruise scheduled for the fall―and I stopped all consideration of the capsule travel wardrobe I planned to design and make for it.

Then we had to hunker down for the duration, and out came what I have begun to refer to as my “Covid collection” sewing. These are those pieces that are comfortable and serve me well when lounging around home!

I also just had to work on my shirt-making skills. I finally now have bespoke shirt patterns for my husband and my son― and me.

These began with commercial patterns but quickly morphed into GG’s own because of all the style changes I made: simple European front plackets, one-piece sleeves, fancier cuff plackets etc. It was interesting to make shirts from the same base for two so different men―my wonderful husband, a retired physician, and our fantastic son, a ballet dancer who now teaches at Canada’s National Ballet School.

My husband prefers a buttoned-down collar, my son does not. It was interesting to learn how to redesign a collar for these purposes and how redesigning a collar can make all the difference in terms of style.

And I worked on perfecting my own personal bespoke shirt pattern…

Of course, then the pièce de resistance was the time I devoted to learning all I could about traditional tailoring. The final product was finished just before Christmas, and I’m so happy about it.

Oh, I nearly forgot (not kidding, I almost published without this) – one of my favourite “makes” of 2020…

Now, what about 2021? I plan to work on fitting pants (dear god, not again?) with a Jalie pattern, a brand I’ve never worked with before (I received the pattern for Christmas).

Then I plan to create a small collection for spring and summer, hoping that I’ll have somewhere to wear it!

And…sometime in 2021, you’ll see another thing I’ve been working on…the prequel to “The Year I Made 12 Dresses.” It all begins in 1965…

Posted in Fashion Design, Style, Stylish Travel

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

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

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

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

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Washed, dried and ready to cut. 

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

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

sunny day dress

 

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in fabrics, Style, Stylish Travel

In praise of luxurious fabrics: Alpaca

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My favourite shot of our tour up into the Andes. All the places alpacas love!

What’s in your closet? In terms of fabrics, I mean. Do you have more natural fibres represented, or are you a synthetics lover? Do you even know the precise fabric content of every piece of clothing? If you fabricate your own clothes, do you always ask about the fibre content if it isn’t clearly indicated on the bolt? I’ve always been interested in fabrics and never buy a piece of clothing without checking the label. Of course, one reason to check is to see how to care for it. Dry clean only? Hand wash? Machine wash and dry? It makes quite a difference. But for me there’s much more to it than that.

When it comes to sewing my own clothes, I am always working at improving my ability to figure out which fabrics work well with which designs. Does it drape? Wrinkle? Stretch? Should it drape, wrinkle or stretch? But there’s another important factor: I’m interested in how a fabric feels next to my skin; this has always been important to me, but even more so as I get older. From a style perspective, feeling good in one’s clothes is almost as important as a flattering colour or a perfect fit in my view. When I’m uncomfortable, I fidget with my clothes, and I wager that you do, too. That’s why when I have an opportunity to examine a new-to-me kind of fabric, I’m there: feeling, scrunching, gently pulling. You know, just what you do.

It’s not that long ago that learned about cupro (I know, I’m late to the party), and most recently I made it a point to learn about alpaca. My husband and I have just returned home from a trip that took us through the Panama Canal and down the west coast of South America, spending a week or more in Peru and ending up with eight days in Chile. Before we left, I had already done some research on alpaca because I knew that in all the world, Peru is the hot-spot for alpaca fibre and clothing.

For years I have coveted alpaca outerwear…

[A Max Mara alpaca coat on the left; a Sentaler – a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge – on the right]

The drape and softness of alpaca and alpaca-blend fabrics make for some of the most luxurious coats on the planet as far as I’m concerned. And there’s that warmth-without-weight that is so welcome in those cold Toronto winters.

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A close-up of a Robert Allen blend of 80% alpaca and 20% wool

In the case of fabrics for coats, alpaca is almost always blended with virgin wool (100% alpaca fabric is very expensive – see below!). Where I’ve often seen 100% alpaca is in knitwear, and when we headed to Peru, it was knitwear that was on my mind. I wasn’t disappointed.

While we were in Lima, we had the pleasure of having a private guide (if you want to read about our experience more fully, you can click here and you’ll find yourself smack in the middle of the travel blog I keep with my husband). One of the great advantages of private guides is that the tour you get is a bespoke one based on your interests and desires. One of my desires was to see if I could find an alpaca scarf and/or sweater in a high-end shop. The reason I stipulated high-end is that there is alpaca of a wide variety of qualities on offer in Peru. You can buy a sweater from a kiosk on the street (or the cruise ship pier) where, at best, you might find a design that will forever remind you of your Peruvian adventure (while you scratch yourself vigorously), or you can plan to pay more and find a baby alpaca sweater, hat or scarf that is a dream to wear forever. I am firmly in the latter camp.

Anyway, on that day in Lima, our guide deposited us at the end of the day at Kuna, one of best known alpaca purveyors in Peru, Chile and beyond – they have an online shop that I had spent some time perusing long before I ended up in Lima. That day, however, as nice as the shop was, I didn’t find the right piece in the right size.

I did find a wonderful baby alpaca scarf (60% baby alpaca, 30% pima cotton, 10% nylon), though, at a converted mansion filled to the brim with artisanal, hand-woven baby alpaca among many other beautiful things.

 

But we still had almost two weeks in Peru and Chile and I knew there would be other opportunities. Then I found myself in Arequipa.

Some 7700 feet above sea level in the Andes mountains, Arequipa is a city that you can reach only after a two-hour drive inland from the coast through the Atacama Desert. Our first stop was Sol Mundo.

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We visited a few alpacas and lamas, the origin of the fibres, then we learned about the sorting and combing process. Like sheep, alpacas are sheared yearly and their wool obviously replenishes itself – a renewable resource if ever there was one! Baby alpaca wool is the finest of all, so soft to the touch.

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Here I am feeling the raw alpaca wool! So soft…

 

Then we found ourselves in their shop. What a beautiful feeling to be surrounded by garments crafted of some of the finest alpaca wool in the world. I was on the hunt for a cardigan (I know, that makes me sound old, but cardigans are the next best thing to soft, tailored jackets. Just ask Chanel!).

I was trying on my usual plain black and navy in the midst of a riot of colours when my husband, one of the best shopping companions in the world – I think I could make a lot of money pimping him out as a shopping companion/consultant – beckoned my over to the opposite side of the shop. He had found what he thought was the perfect compromise for me – a compromise between my penchant for plain neutrals and the riotous colours on offer. He was right.

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Fabricated of the softest baby alpaca, the sweater displayed muted shades of grey and black in a print reminiscent of the sweater’s Andean provenance. The fact that it has interesting design details, too, was cause for celebration. There were details of grey, felted baby alpaca down the front button placket, in triangles on the cuffs and as elbow patches. We had a winner! And they threw in a hand-crafted baby alpaca scarf in my choice of colours – of course I chose neutral beige!

I won’t lie: I’m still hankering to find some lengths of alpaca or alpaca-blend fabric to make a coat. Yes, there are online places I can get it (Mood offers a 100% alpaca coating for $99.99 a yard! Also a 65% wool and 35% alpaca blend for $35.00 a yard). But that’s a project for next year. This winter I’m gong to try to take apart my husband’s old tuxedo and refashion it for me. Yeah, really.

Sol Alpaca: https://www.solalpaca.com/store/