I’m moving!

February 18, 2011

Update your links! I am moving to Blogger (thanks, Cat, and others who gave advice)! My new blog will (hopefully) reflect the new approach I am taking to my quilting and sewing. Please join me at Stripes & Solids, where my first post is a Spiderweb block tutorial!

My turn on the MQG blog!

April 19, 2010

I was the guest contributor on the Modern Quilt Guild blog today. Check it out if you have a moment!

Go Modern Quilt Guild!

I have always loved shirtwaist dresses, and have been seeking the perfect vintage pattern for a long time. My vision for the essential shirtwaist dress corresponds very closely with the model on the right:

3/4 length sleeves, buttons all the way down the front, red floral fabric, and a bright red cummerbund.

During the process of looking at what I’m sure was every single 50s and early 60s shirtdress pattern out there, I learned a great deal about the garment itself, which I would love to share with all of you. I stumbled upon an article called “Tracing the Path of the 1950s Shirtwaist Dress” by Heather Vaughan on the in the online journal Clothesline, which led me to the website of Costume Institute at the Met (go check it out–you could spend hours printing inspiration photos here). Stay with me, y’all. I was an American studies major, after all, and I really enjoyed this foray into the world of the shirtwaist–I hope you will, too.

Vaughan’s basic thesis is this: “The shirtwaist itself encompasses the 1950s ideal of conformity and domesticity and a variety of media reinforced these notions over time.” She argues that magazines played the most significant role in perpetuating these ideals. Eek.  Now, I don’t need to be told that fashion and cultural ideals were tightly interwoven during that period (see Gertie’s post about the housedress), but I admit to being surprised about how much the ideal of the “perfect woman” was connected to the shirtwaist dress, one of my favorite silhouettes of all time (boo hoo).

Vaughan notes that The Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences called the shirtwaist dress “a simple, practical dress” that, “because of its trim simplicity and graceful dignity,” it had advantages in both the classroom and business (I know it’s disturbing how much this highlights the limited range of jobs available to women during the era, but let’s move on). Before you get offended (or just confused) by the name The Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, I’ll pause for a brief history of the organization.

It was founded by Mary Brooks Picken (1886-1981), who was considered an authority on textiles, sewing, and needlecrafts for decades. She published ninety-six books on a range of subjects (fashion, tailoring, patternmaking, millinery, etc.) between 1915 and 1957. She taught the economics of fashion at Columbia, was one of the five founding members of the Costume Institute at the Met, and was the first trustee of FIT. In short, she is awesome. Again, moving on.

Classic 1940s shirtwaist

The 1940s shirtwaist had as its basis the wartime, utilitarian appeal. It was considered a useful ensemble for most daily activities, eveningwear, and even participating in sporting events (take that, LuLu Lemon).  Supposedly, it also helped young women feel more adult. If you search for shirtwaist patterns online, many of them are geared toward teens, as seen here:

The role of Dior

The 1950s style shirtwaist (or the shirtwaist silhouette as I know it) was popularized by Christian Dior beginning in the late 40s. His “New Look” collection in 1947, according to Vaughan, “almost single-handedly defined the post-war silhouette.” Dior focused on the “nipped-in” waist and a full (often very) full skirt. The single dress widely recognized as the catalyst for the shirtwaist’s overwhelming popularity is called Cherie and is, luckily, on display at the Met and on the Costume Institute’s website.

photo copyright Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here it is, in all its glory. You can’t fully appreciate it without seeing a close-up of the skirt detail:


According to this page on the Met’s website:

“Chérie exemplifies the “New Look” in all its salient elements: sloped shoulder, raised bustline, narrowed waist, and a monumental volume of skirt falling away from a padded hipline to below the calf. The New Look arrived uncompromised and complete, not as a tentative suggestion or stage in evolution.”

Pleats were a central element of the shirtwaist during this era, as seen in this Vogue pattern:

Harper’s Bazaar called the Dior shirtwaist silhouette “the essence of femininity” and noted: “Bodices and jackets are fitted tightly to the body and buttoned from neck to wasp waist…skirts are tremendously full, and from ten to twelve inches off the ground. Yards and yards of material swing and swirl  because pleats are hand-pressed and flare to the hem.”

The Role of Good Housekeeping

Nancy White was the fashion director of Good Housekeeping in 1947 when Dior released his “New Look” collection. White followed the trends “from a distance,” according to Vaughan, and reported on them in a manner that was colored by the practicality for which the magazine was known. Good Housekeeping criticized the high price points of Dior and similar designers, but embraced the silhouette of the style and the values embodied therein. The essential components of Dior’s shirtwaist were all found in GH in the late 40s and early 50s, including the pleats and “wasp” waist.

Posture was also highly emphasized during this period, and GH encouraged its readers to do the following: “When you stand and walk, consciously tuck your buttocks under as if you were flinching from a spank.” I wonder how many 50s housewives were so accustomed to being spanked that they could incorporate it easily into their everyday movements…but I digress.

Pleating in the skirt was soon neglected in favor of a smoother silhouette, and was eventually discarded altogether:

Throughout the 50s, small alterations to the pattern helped retain its popularity. The most significant of these was the use of printed fabrics, particularly floral prints:

Throughout the mid- to late fifties, the concept of the dress as cultural icon was reinforced through popular television characters on shows like Leave it to Beaver, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Donna Reed Show. Troublingly, Vaughan notes that Donna Reed’s “character and unrealistic perfection helped to solidify the shirtwaist dress as an icon of female perfection.” By the mid-sixties, however, the shirtwaist dress had disappeared in favor of boxier, straighter silhouettes.

Vaughan’s article, though excellent, does not delve into detail about the different types of shirtwaist, a topic I will pick up on another day as I continue to share my quest for the perfect shirtwaist dress pattern. Stay tuned for part two of my miniseries!

I was cruising around on JCrew.com the other day and I saw this skirt in the final sale section:

Instant love. I went to add it to my shopping cart and noticed the price: $98. I vaguely remember expressing incredulity for a few seconds before beginning to mentally sew it with the Burdastyle Jenny pattern. Within a few days, of course, I was actually sewing it with the Jenny pattern.

Before I get to the FO shots, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on their styling of the skirt:

Moving on.

There’s not too much to be said here! After making the muslin last week, I had all the alterations to the master pattern and was content to go to work. The waist of the original was a bit large, so I cut it in in half, but I think that was the only pattern change. It came together very quickly this time.

While it’s obviously not exactly the same, it retains the things I liked about the original: a high-waisted, straight silhouette; a small waistband; and a floaty, watercolor-y floral pattern.

The only changes I made cannot really be called changes–they’re just personal construction preferences: a hand-sewn zipper (which took a while, since it’s 12″ long), muslin interfacing, and the like. The fabric is from Winmil, and I bought quite a bit of it, so I hope I still have enough to make a sleeveless dress. Aalthough I hate to harp on how much things cost, since I do spend quite a lot on fabric, I am proud to say that the grand total of this skirt was about $8.

As always, I have to tell you that I made this while watching a few episodes of Season 1 of Murder, She Wrote.

Happy sewing!

Signs of spring!

April 12, 2010

I have been so inspired by some of the beautiful tops in Spring Top Week, I really wanted to have something to enter. I know I could never win (have you looked at the tops!?!), but I thought I could challenge myself to contribute something. Here is what I came up with:

I used the main pieces of Butterick 5177, which is actually a dress pattern. I just used the top section of the three basic pattern pieces (front and backs) and modified the rest. I’m very happy with it.

I know I look sad, but I had just woken up and the light was good, so I had to run outside with my camera as quickly as possible!  The top came together very easily, and the part of the directions that I followed was clear. Other mods: no lining (necessary for a dress, not for a shirt), so I just catchstitched the armholes. Even as I was sewing it, I didn’t think it would get much wear, but now I’m rethinking that 🙂  It’s nice and flowy and work-appropriate…and fast! It came together completely during the two-part Masterpiece Theater version of Jane Eyre.

I’m relieved that Butterick patterns seem to fit me…previous experiments with Simplicity have failed, although I am getting much better at making alterations to the shoulder/ armscye/ bust area and am about to set to work on a vintage Simplicity blouse.

I made it extra long in the front because I like my tops to tuck in nicely and it’s a cute, blousey look. I had planned to tell you that this passed the “Would you wear it?” test, but not the “Would you buy it?” test, but that is untrue.  I’m actually wearing it today and have already been told by a colleague that she couldn’t stop looking at me because I looked so radiant in my top! Yay! How wonderful that feels.

I didn’t take a picture of the back, although you can tell that the bow is fairly large. Here is a detail shot of the front casing:

In the pattern, the casing is flat and lies underneath of the main body piece, but I chose to ruffle it up and put it on display. The fabric is a poly chiffon from Winmil. Y’all know I don’t like to use synthetic fabrics, but I loved how spring-y this one was–and it was unbeatable at $5 a yard, and I already had thread that matched, etc. etc. Serendipity.

Fabric close-up

There’s not much else to say about it! Sorry for the relatively boring post, but it was such a quick sew!

A truly wearable muslin

April 10, 2010

Look how happy I am!

I finally finished something I actually will wear and–gasp–would even buy! It’s the lovely and versatile Burdastyle Jenny skirt pattern. I made this as a test run, also called a wearable muslin, because I have a limited quantity of some lovely fabric I’m hoping to squeeze a dress and this skirt out of, and I wanted to see how much fabric it really uses.

Excuse the bizarre facial expressions and hand placements in these photographs, please! I find it so difficult to take pictures of myself.

I used a stretch cotton broadcloth from Gorgeous Fabrics, which was wonderful to work with.  I made the size 34, because the pattern said to go by your hip measurement, not your waist measurement…and it ended up being a bit tight for me in the waist. I don’t think you can tell in the photo, and I don’t think it actually looks tight, but I do prefer to wear my clothes a bit looser than most people.

Don't look at the bizarre hand placement!

I ended up having to do a fairly major alteration and take out about 2″ from the hips. Right before I sewed in the lining, I had the good sense to check the fit one last time, and I’m happy I did, because the hips were gaping in a very unattractive way. The alteration I made seems to change the silhouette of the skirt, which is supposed to be more rounded in the hip area…but it has to fit me, so a straight skirt it is! I was worried because my New Complete Guide says not to try such a large alteration in a skirt, but I had no choice, so I plowed forward.

I love the look and feel of the fabric. It was actually twice as expensive as the fabric I want to use, but I have a LOT of it. I actually don’t know what to do with the rest of it. I have more than two yards, and it’s fairly stiff, so I may make a spring coat!

All in all, I am just so pleased with this skirt. It is an A+ pattern in my mind, and it really is as versatile as they say. I am really enjoying making it a second time right now!

On buying clothes

April 8, 2010

This post is partly to assuage my massive guilt about a shopping spree I went on yesterday, and more importantly to ask a question about something that’s been on my mind for a while: How has making your own clothing changed your outlook on buying it?

I’ve reacted to it in several ways, spanning from the “I-can-make-that-for-$10” phenomenon (which we all know and love, and which I grew up hearing every single day about something or other) to a higher appreciation for subtle details of quality construction (or simply things I know I don’t have the skills to do yet, and may not for a while).

Case in point: Molly (a new blogger who has made some absolutely beautiful things lately–her lemon dress is one of my favorite things I’ve seen on a blog in a while) posted about this dress yesterday:

I would not buy this dress, not because the styling is an issue, but because it would be so simple for anyone to make (and I did–stay tuned for an FO post!), even as a first garment. Regardless of the quality of the fabric, I could not justify buying it any more. But I did buy the following things because I appreciated the construction for the price:

The detailing and construction are probably above my level, which justified the purchase to me. The same goes for this jacket, which I love but know I would struggle to make. If I tried it, it would look messy…here, it looks artful:

Another consideration for me is fabric cost. I bought this because it’s probably 2 yards worth of silk (at least), and has a nice button detail on the sleeve that I know I would have difficulty executing in such a slippery fabric:

It hurts me to spend money when I know I can make the exact same thing, and I envy the sewers that have committed to exclusively making their own clothes right now, like Mena of the Sew Weekly (who inspires me not just because of her commitment, but also because of her ability to make almost everything from a vintage pattern! She is amazing.).  But I have had to admit that my sewing skills don’t allow for that and also that it would be depressing and restricting for me. I would like to walk a line, however, and I don’t know what that is. Right now, I’m trying to just learn and enjoy sewing clothes, not obsess over creating as much as possible, just so I have something to wear!

It’s also made me less of a bargain-hunter and more willing to spend money on something I love and appreciate, rather than just what’s on sale and looks good enough on me or will be muted/simple enough to last. It’s made me embrace a personal style that revolves around what I really like and want to wear, not what’s at J. Crew or Ann Taylor right now, regardless of how much I actually like the garments.  My mother picked me up some new Vogue patterns I wanted in a $3.99 sale the other day and she said she felt my style was changing. I realized she was right. I see clothes as more of an art form and method of expression than ever before, and it’s much more important to me to wear what I really want to wear and what I feel good in.

The most surprising thing has been a newfound obsession with shoes. I’ve never been a Carrie Bradshaw-style shoe lover, because honestly, shoes are so expensive, but now that I know they’re basically the one thing I can’t make, I am willing to spend more money–a lot more money–than ever before.

I’ve always been hesitant to spend on shoes because I wear them out so quickly, which I suppose is what happens when you live in a city. I haven’t spent more than $60 on a pair of shoes (not boots) in…maybe ever, and am still wearing (and love) a pair of pumps that I received as a gift in 2002.  I bought my first pairs of colored shoes for the first time ever yesterday, if you can believe it!

So, tell me how making clothes has changed your outlook! I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while, and I really want to hear your thoughts!