Saturday, August 11, 2012

Are You a Snoop?

I am a snoop.  Yes, I am a snoop shopper and proud of it.  This past week I just spent the most marvelous day snoop shopping with a gracious, patient, encouraging sewing friend.  You see, I've signed up for the Susan Khalje Little Black Dress class on Craftsy (that 4th of July sale suckered me in, how about you?) and I wanted to consider different dress styles.  Now, I have no current place in mind to wear a casually sophisticated dress but I'm giving myself the winter to work on this project.  This isn't mother of the bride or some dressy society affair garment that I have planned nor a dress to go dancing in.  No, I want something that I could wear to a high school reunion (never mind that I've been twice and am done with them) or an anniversary dinner and theater night with Mr. Lucky.   
So rather than just look through pattern books and online pattern offerings, how about going out and trying on dresses of every shape in a few really good stores.  What can I learn from this experience?

1.First thing I learned is take a friend and have her make you try things on, no matter what your opinion is of the dress on the hanger.  Hey, I know this theme, being a dedicated "What Not to Wear" viewer and it was hard for me to do.  You're not there to spend the money but to discover silhouettes, colors, dress details that you are going to translate into making your couture dress.  I haven't been buying RTW, except maybe separates, for well over a decade.  Yes, I too am plenty self-conscious about the loss of my girlish figure....actually I'm more self-conscious about the flabbiness of my skin and body since I never did have a "girlish figure."  But this was a fun day just exploring possibilities.

2.  Forget those self-critical examinations of particular body parts and try the darn dress on.  I was so very surprised that the first one I tried with a waist line and full pleats looked fun and girly on me.  I never would have picked it up on my own.  

3.  Notice the dress details that you can translate into your own final pattern.  In high end RTW the princess seams are broken up into smaller darts that become accent opportunities and can create all sorts of illusions.  Very instructive to see these on my body.  I noticed that there were very few facings, that most dresses, even stable knit ones, were lined to the edge of the neck and/or armhole.  Sometimes they were pick stitched to keep the lining from rolling outward.  The few unlined dresses had small bias facings that were also commonly pick stitched to stay flat inside the garment.

4.  Fabrics were most generally flat, not light reflecting.  That made a huge difference in minimizing the size of my body and instead accenting the shape and silhouette.  Makes me regret selling and donating a lot of wool crepe over recent years.  But I still have some and also some wonderful stable double knits in my collection.  A few of the dresses were stretch wovens and those had nice lightweight stretch linings, just what I do for my stretch woven pencil skirts and stretch woven summer sheath dresses.

5.  Remember, you are probably not buying anything and even if you are, don't buy it on your first visit....these stores will hold that dress for a day or so.  Almost every single dress I tried on would have needed some alteration done so don't expect the dress to fit perfectly....and don't forget to learn something from the ones you like the ones you don't. I thought I would need more of an empire waist to be flattering on my shape.  Ain't necessarily so.  Sometimes a high waist, but not empire, was absolutely the most flattering.  

I took cell phone pictures, mostly to jog my memory, of my favorites so I can look at more the details online later.  I will also admit that one of these dresses looked so fabulous on me (a total surprise based on its hanger appal) that I looked seriously at the price tag.  Yikes, not in my league at full price.  But I will definitely watch this one carefully since it would be an investment piece....but guess what,  I still would have to do a shoulder upper chest petite alteration.  Oh, I am glad that I can sew.

Want to see my favorite contenders?  Here they are:
Kate Spade in the middle and on the right, Kay Unger on the left
Great extended shoulder look, can't recall the designer
A favorite designer of mine, even before this shopping trip: Lafayette 148
I don't have a specific dress pattern in mind yet for Susan's online class but this trip opened up several more possibilities for me.  I will share one more funny story about the day.  I certainly didn't overdress for this little excursion....after all it is August in the northeast USA and slow and hot days are the norm.  So I packed one of my knit dresses and a pair of comfy but attractive but very inexpensive sandals to inexpensive that I bought two pairs a few summers ago.  As I dressed that morning I pulled the sandals out of my suitcase and you guessed it....I have two left feet! Too, too funny.  So I had to wear my little black leather flats from the previous day, felt frumpy but sales people were delightful, the day was fun and I recommend that sewists take the time to do this every so often.  There are sewing lessons in these stores, I promise.
Kay Unger dress: good color, good neckline, a little dumpy otherwise....but at least left and right shoes:-)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hot Weather, Hot Dress, New Top

I'm calling this my "Hot, Hot, Hot Dress," not because I'm so very hot and spicy (more like medium hot and saucy) but because this is our very hot summer here in the US.  I cut this dress out after the June 29 storm when we lost power for four days.  My sewing room was hot, hot, hot as well since it's the top floor of our 60 year old house.  But I admit that no Internet or electronic entertainment meant that I got a lot of cutting out of projects done even if I couldn't sew right away.
Simplicity 3678, view C, with narrowed sleeves
The fabric is an ITY knit from  For once I didn't let this one age too long. 
Droopy rayon knit failure

 I did try this scoop neck view C in a wearable muslin as a top first.  I did a "cheater's" full bust adjustment by adding an inch in width at center front which was simply eased into extra gathering, and 3/4 in extra length on the front bodice piece which I also eased when sewing it to the back pattern piece.  But the wearable muslin was unwearable.  I stitched it up from some of the rayon knit fabric that Fabric Mart had last summer and it drooped and grew the moment I tried it on.  Shucks, I love the colors in the remaining fabrics in my collection.  I think they might work as more closely fitted knit tops, perhaps as my favorite Jalie knit top.  But the full bottom was too heavy and kept pulling this top downward.  Ah well, that's why we make a sample mock up, right?

What do you do when you have a sewing disappointment?  Pull out a guaranteed success and get back in the saddle.
Simplicity 2364
This is another version of an OOP pattern that I have made several times before, as a top and as some dresses.  I like the scoop neck of view C on the pattern and already have a few more in the works.  Once again, I love a TNT pattern and the options it gives me to expand my wardrobe quickly and easily.
Speaking of TNT, here's another of that Simplicity 2364 where I've combined some stretch lace and slinky from my collection.  Next time I'm going to try a knee length dress.
Speaking of the hot weather, much of the US has been suffering from heat and drought conditions this summer.  That was also the theme behind this thoroughly enjoyable Australian mini-series, Rain Shadow, that we rented from Netflix last month.  The beautiful Rachel Ward is a farming vet who hires a new city vet as an assistant....after 6 others have left her employment in the last year or so.  The six episodes are excellent character studies of the locals, the struggles of farming in an era of climate change and we thoroughly enjoyed this one.  How nice that Netflix, like blogging, lets us better understand the interests and challenges of people around the world.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Living Room Pillows

 My sewing room makeover almost two weeks ago did not keep me from doing some actual sewing along the way.  One of the things I like about blogging is that it does challenge me to keep good records so these next few posts will catch up with completed sewing projects from the previous month.

I've had on my home improvement list to add some more throw pillows to our living room sofa here in Baltimore.  This first one is a 12" by 16" accent pillow from some "free fabric."  Robb and Stuckey was an upscale home furnishing store in FL until they went bankrupt after the financial meltdown.  There's some new version but what I always enjoyed was picking up remnants that they generously donated to our Ft. Myers sewing guild.  This is a woven faux leather with a fusible backing already applied.  I bet it wouldn't be too bad to sew on an industrial machine but it gave my Viking 770 a little workout.  
I used a large leather needle which punctured the fabric and backing but the machine had a little power surge (the light would dim) all the way around the pillow.  

It was a bear to turn inside out as well.  I couldn't pin it shut to hand stitch the final seam so I used these binder clips.  
I sat outside on our deck and used what I think was a leather needle (although not marked that way) to sew that bottom seam.  But sort of cute on either the chair or sofa.  

Next I used some extra fabric from this chair and made a toss pillow with some brown tweedy cotton velvet for piping, a sample piece from Fabric Mart that I've been saving.  The pillow form is a down and feather 16" by 20" form from  They have great feather pillow prices.

Again, I'm pleased with some more color and texture on this plain microfiber sectional and have a few more pillows in mind for the future.  As always, home dec sewing isn't my favorite but there is a lot of bang for the buck.