Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Simple Gathered Skirt Sewing Project

I bought the Silver Diva Cowl Lamé Dress pattern way back in December, ruminated for a few months about what fabric to use for it, spent several days later February scouring local fabric stores for the perfect fabric, then an ungodly amount of time looking at fabric online when I couldn't find exactly what I wanted. I finally bought the fabric in early March and didn't finish it until late March. It took a lot of mental energy in the planning and execution (mind you, I hadn't really sewn with knits before), so about midway through the project, I also began work on a simple gathered skirt. Here's an in progress photo on Instagram from both the dress and the skirt:

It's a blindingly simple dirndl/ gathered skirt. It's about the easiest thing you can make with a zipper, and it was a nice, simple project that reaffirmed my belief in my abilities to sew. Contrary to the Instagram caption, I didn't hem it with horsehair, just some hem lace.

The fabric is a remnant from Sew Lo in Cambridge. It's a strange store with a weird mix of fabrics, quite disorganized, and with ~4 different radios scattered about the store and each on a different channel. God help the soul browsing in the middle of 2 radio sections. But you can sometimes find some excellent fabrics for excellent prices. They have a lot of 2-3 yard remnants of mostly home decorator fabric, and I think the fabric of the skirt is a home decorator cotton blend of some sort. It has a nice weave like a quilting cotton, but it's not soft, and, most conveniently, doesn't wrinkle like a quilting cotton! It was a bit sheer, so I underlined it with white muslin.

I drafted the skirt roughly according to the instructions in Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing, which is also posted on Gertie's Blog for Better Sewing (instructions part 1 and part 2). It's the sort of thing that I didn't really need a pattern for, but it's handy to have a guide. I tried out her method for gathering where you zig zag around a cord instead of sewing 2 gathering stitches. I really like this method as someone who frequently breaks one of the stitches in a row of gathers, and I will probably use this technique in the future.

I asked my friend Amanda to take a couple pictures of me. Somebody give this dame an Art Director job,  as once again, it turned into a glam photo shoot.

We went to Nahant, a little island on the North Shore of Massachusetts. We went about an hour before sunset, so it's gets a bit moody.

I bought a huge thing of ginger snaps from Trader Joe's and got a little hungry while there...

Of course I shared with the photographer.

Quick note, since a lot of people seem to ask recently: the trench coat in many of the photos is from Old Navy from 2005. It's traveled through 3 continents, most of high school, all of college, and going on strong through adulthood. It has some spots showing its age at the edge of the sleeves, but that's really the only sign of aging. The shirt is also from Old Navy from last summer, and it is already deteriorating faster than the 10 year old trench coat. Such a change in quality in RTW is among the reasons I sew...

As the sun set, I went into contemplative Disney Princess mode with the Boston skyline in the background.

Twas a fun afternoon and evening of exploring!

It's nice to sew something simple that goes easily and looks like you want it to. On to more complicated projects again!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Haturday: Tia Frankie's Cream, Pleated, Befeathered Hat, and Other Inherited Accoutrement

Growing up, we frequently visited my dad's Aunt Frankie, or, as we called her, Tia. When my older brother first started speaking as a toddler, his attempt at pronouncing "Frankie" sounded a bit too much like an impolite word starting with the letter F, so she instead became "Tia" to him and later to me as well. Tia was a brash, funny, sarcastic, and highly opinionated lady whose catchphrase was "whatever." Tia never had children of her own, although she always wanted them. She had a soft side, always made cookies for the neighborhood kids (and us whenever we came over), and was just really fun to be around. Towards the end of her life, she started to suffer from dementia, which was hard for everyone to see. She passed away in mid-2009 when I was a freshman at college in the middle of finals, and I regret that I didn't get to see her more in her last year.

A few years before she died, she gave me a large number of hats, I think because I was in a play or something. Since then, I have endeavored to wear them when I can. Some of them are in less than stellar shape, but most of the wear and tear is fixable. There's a lot of veiling that needs to be replaced. I have all but one of the hats here with me, and the only one I don't have looks like a bird's nest of blue and green strips of fabric that remind me of a Pokemon called Tangela.

Fashion of the 60s

Generally speaking, Tia had excellent taste, though. Check out this photo of her, probably from the 60s, with a dress lined with some mod geometric fabric:

Tia lookin' fly

For today's installment of Haturday, I'd like to show you one of the most elegant hats from Tia's collection. It's a small cream velvet hat that's about the size of a pillbox, but the front extends out and down like a cap.  The base is buckram and has a bit of buckling on the sides. The damage to the structure isn't visible, though, because the outside fabric is pleated and completely hides any structural aging; a giant lovely grey/cream feather poof to one side serves to distract from any imperfections as well.

The inside label says "Original Roberta Bernays."

There seem to be a number of Roberta Bernays hats available on the internet, and there's one in the Met's hat collection here. If anyone has any info on Roberta Bernays, I'd love to hear more! I'm planning on posting at the Vintage Fashion Guild, since there was a post about identifying another Roberta Bernays. According to the Met, she was an American, and I've seen hats from the 30s to the 60s on the internet with Roberta Bernays. I've fallen down a rabbit hole of newpaper ads from the 50s and 60s with wonderful copy. My favorite are from the Lion Store ads in the Toledo Blade. Exhibit A:

New And Startling! Peacock Blue!
your most-noticed
fall hats!
Shock color of the season, Peacock! The most vivid blue that ever caught an eye. Let a hat of Peacock Blue highlight your darktone costumes...and lend a special gayety to you. [note: the ellipsis is original, I didn't add it. I'm not sure why it's there.] We have all manner of new styles—in felts and velours by our most exclusive designers—any you may choose from many prices.
Our plume-trimmed profile hat set with glitter, rich velour, a Roberta Bernays 12.98
Rhinestone and feather-crowned pillbox with black velvet cuffs; passementerie-lit veil...a Roberta Bernays [why the ellipsis again?] 10.00

or this one:
admired at Easter
you in our exclusive
Roberta Bernays hats
chic of silhouette
breath-taking of trim

"chic of silhouette, breath-taking of trim" sounds like an overly literal Latin translation I would have made in AP Latin in high school.

Here's my Tia Frankie Roberta Bernays in action. It may not be Easter more, but I'm pretty chic of silhouette if I do say so myself:

I've styled it with a silk scarf and snakeskin earrings I inherited from my Great Grandma Gilbert. She died when I was quite young, and no one else appeared to want some of her kitschier costume jewelry pieces, so I got them. These snakeskin (or other unidentified reptile skin) earrings are my favorite. You can't tell they're reptilian unless you look at them up close.

The silk scarf is an Adrienne Vittadini scarf with giant roses on a striped background with lilac border. One edge looks like my Grandmother repaired the hem, and another edge looks like I should repair it since it's come undone. I suspect both the earrings and scarf are from the 80s or 90s, so not terribly vintage, but they're not necessarily styles you see as much now.

I'm so happy to have a small collection of vintage accessories and clothes from family members. It's wonderful to have a reminder of them as you go about your daily life. I hope I can keep them in wearable shape to pass them on to another generation many years from now.

I have lots of other hats to share soon. I'm also making a hat now at a class, and you can follow my progress on it on Instagram. I also finished a skirt recently, so I'll be posting those pics soon as well.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pattern Review: McCall's 7047 Diva Cowl Silver Lamé Knit Dress

A photo posted by ashley (@akastrophe) on
Every year I go to a formal event hosted by the same college G&S group I talked about in my Modern Major Milliner post. It's part formal, part alumni reunion, and it's a great chance to catch up with friends and drunkenly regale current student attendees about your glory days. Did I mention there's an open wine bar? And cheese and chocolate mousse galore?

And dancing and after-parties with greasy Chinese food, so it's basically one of the best evenings of the year. Plus I never moved away from the city where I went to college, so it's also not prohibitively expensive for me to go every year: I just jump on the bus or two subway lines.

Because of the food and the movement and everything, it's really important for me to be comfortable. Scratch that, it's important for me to be comfortable all the time. I have terrible feet and walk about 5 miles every day and have generally well-managed acid reflux and can't wear really tight clothes, so it's actually about health. OK, consuming an obscene quantity of wine and dairy is probably not the healthiest thing, but at least it doesn't make your feet hurt.

With these things in mind, I planned my ensemble for this year. I have roughly intermediate level garment sewing skills but have done a fair amount of easy tailoring (like hems), quilting, accessory-making, etc. I learned how to sew at a fairly young age, but I haven't really been proficient in pattern-reading and fitting until the last year or so. I wanted something that was fabulous, not the most difficult, but still a challenge. I picked the McCall's 7047 pattern because:
  1. OMG the cowl. Isn't it perfect?!?!
  3. It's a knit! I hadn't sewn many knits before, but they're comfy, though kind of challenging.
I spent an absurd amount of time evaluating my sewing-with-a-sequin-knit plan, tried to find something locally that I liked, and looked at variou$ $equin fabric$ online that just seemed like a lot of money to spend on a dress I wasn't sure would be a ringing success. I wound up buying this lovely silver knit lamé-ish fabric from Vogue Fabrics. I really liked it; it was neither the hardest nor the easiest fabric to sew with. Of course, a week into sewing the dress, I found some sequin fabric locally that I liked.

The main sewing challenge involved my choice of lining fabric. It was considerably more stretchy than the main fabric, so it did create some problems, albeit entirely fixable ones. I don't think you can see such problems when you look at it, so I think it turned out ok, or at least I figured out eventually how and where best to hide problem matching areas.

While I generally found that the pattern made sense, I wasn't fond of the instructions for the skirt lining (again, the lining!). For the long skirt variations, you're supposed to cut out the short skirt pattern pieces for the lining. I kept worrying that the lining wasn't laying flat, even though I tacked it to the outer skirt. If I did it again, I'd either line it all the way down or skip it altogether. The fabric I had was a bit sheer so it did need to be lined, though.

The other thing about the lining that I wasn't crazy about had to do with the skirt length alteration. I am quite short and have proportionally short legs compared to my torso and height. When I altered the lining piece, I altered it the same amount as the outer skirt. I think that may have been the problem with the lining. My butt is not insubstantial, and I think it moved the shortened skirt lining up even more. Looking at photos, I don't think it was actually a problem, but it did annoy me.

I really loved wearing this dress, loved how comfy it was, loved how it caught the light, loved the drama of the back. For now I can't see a reason to sew from this pattern again. I'm not a peplum person and I'm not sure I'll be sewing a long formal gown or a dress with a dramatic dive cowl pattern for some time. But I would recommend it to others.

I didn't get a great photo of just the dress at the event, but my friend Amanda volunteered to take some photos yesterday at her fancy apartment. Many of the backgrounds make it look like I'm in some übermodern art complex.

Here's a nice shot of the back with the cowl draping:

And lastly, here's a picture from in front of some random curtain of silver beads in the lobby of Amanda's apartment. I feel like I'm in some publicity still from some Regietheater opera production.

Look not on me.

Many thanks to Amanda; I just wanted a few pictures to show how pretty the dress was, and she wound up directing a glamorous photoshoot.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Haturday: I am the very model of a Modern Major Milliner

I have a rather large collection of hats that I have acquired over the years, and I intend to share them  every few Saturdays, henceforth entitled "Haturdays." Let's dive right with Volume 1 with the second hat I made.

I don't have the first hat I ever made; it is lost to the sands of time, a victim of one of the many college dorm move-outs I endured during undergrad. I have a picture of it and will post it in a future Haturday. But this second hat here below was a prize-winning thing of beauty:

The circumstances of this hat and the previous one are the same but a year apart; I was in a Gilbert & Sullivan group in college, and every spring we had a tea party with a ladies' hat contest. I did not win the first year with my hastily made hat, but I did win an Honourable Mention, which is still losing. But I started to dream, and figured that a hat that took an hour took home an Honorauble Mention, so a hat that took many hours would likely take home the top honour.

I am only now really learning how to make hats completely from scratch (I'll share some other less successful examples of past attempts), and this one was a fairly straightforward project that was less designing and more refurbishing. I bought a somewhat boring polka dot hat from a TJ Maxx, took it a part, traced the pieces, and then went to work to recover it with my own fabric. I used some cream poly-brocade that my mom had in her stash, probably from some high school play of mine she helped costume, and then pleated some white and yellow tulle. I do love the combo of the layers of tulle even looking at it now.

The pink satin lining is glorious and makes me smile every time I see it, and I also love the giant peonies that adorn the hat. The only thing I'm not crazy about is the binding. I swiped some blanket trim from my mom (thanks Mom!) and used it kind of like a bias tape. I think it looks bad, but no one else seems to notice. The binding photographs quite well I suppose. Perhaps you, Gentle Reader, wouldn't have even noticed it, but I mention it now to advise any would-be milliners not to use a satin blanket binding for your hats lest you get judgy as I do. Gentle Milliner, you've been warned.

It was a hat much beloved, and that year it was the victor in the Ladies' Hat Competition.

What a saucy Queen of the Tea.

In our next installment of Haturday, I'll introduce you to the late, great dame who gave me a bulk of the hats in my collection: Great Aunt Frankie. Rest in peace, I'll go drink some whiskey in your honor.


Welcome to my new home for blogging about my sewing and millinery exploits. Stay tuned for some posts ahead, including some rapturous millinery.