Wednesday, April 26, 2017

RTW vs Sew It Yourself?

How do you decide what to sew for yourself and what to buy?  I admire the people out there who make the "no RTW" vow because their sewing skills must be quite diverse, their fabric resource centers or availability greater than mine....and their patience for fitting even more so.  Me, I'm a dilettante in many things and master of not many so I have to contemplate my willingness to tackle a project plus its deadline with a realistic assessment of my ambition, skills and past history.  Long introduction to say that my next sewing projects will have a mix of RTW, alterations and brand new garments.  

What prompted this reverie is that Mr. Lucky and I will be heading back to South Carolina for a fabulous family wedding weekend next month.  I've mentioned before that we have a very small immediate family....even smaller than we anticipated when we got together over thirty years ago.  My loving, sweet and delightful first cousins have been including us as part of their extended families and we are so grateful for their kindness and thoughtfulness.  So we were thrilled to be included in the next special event, the wedding of their son to a lovely young woman.  

Now, here's my guilty secret confession, but as sewing peeps I thought you'd understand that my first thought when I got the "save the date" notice was...what a lovely picture of the couple, what a generous family to include us, "what will I wear?"  But the "save the date" came last fall and I didn't do anything about it except put it on the calendar until this winter.  Sarah Veblen had helped me fit two dresses last year.  The full swingy Vogue 8997 one had been so much fun to wear while dancing during our Florida vacation....but it is too casual for this wedding.  I considered making some changes to take down the flare and add sleeves....but would I have time to really do that before the wedding?  Sarah also fit me in Burda 3247 sleeveless sheath dress which could be adapted for a wedding...if I could commit to color and fabric in time to get it done.

I am the most fortunate person on the planet to have that winter tropical time renting a place in Florida... but being away from my fabric resource center and/or New York was frustrating while I contemplated this project. I also knew that the time frame was going to be a real crunch since we would not be back in Baltimore until the first week in April and I had numerous other commitments that would take up precious planning and sewing time. While in Florida I did take myself out to my favorite department store, Dillards, to do snoop shopping.  I tried on maybe twenty dresses in their wedding and evening wear dept.  It was interesting to try styles I would never consider but it would have been so discouraging if I felt the pressure to buy one of them.  I'm in an entirely different clothing demographic these days.  I want something that covers my upper a time in fashion when every woman is supposed to have Michelle Obama arm definition. I want  knee length dress...not three inches above my aged knees.  Thank goodness I sew!  

I took crappy cell phone pictures just to remind me of some of the things I liked during this process and to remind me to incorporate some details in future dresses.
Snoop shopping details: nice sheer top with sweetheart dress neckline  Too tight but not bad silhouette actually.
Hmmm, all stretch lace might work in a the color.  Way too short and boring neckline
Ignore the bra straps...interesting embroidered sleeves and neckline that feel open and lighter
Now here's the surprise part of this experience.  I did find a dress that would fit most of my requirements...dressy enough for this evening wedding reception, comfortable enough for dancing, some color since this is a May wedding, covered upper arms...but still 1 1/2 inches too short. 
Dillards dress
The style is so immensely practical that I want to make several versions for future needs....this could be my dressy version TNT pattern.  My first thought was hey, I'll have time back in Baltimore for a NYC trip to find a similar sequin lace in some colors I like and some nice solid stretch knit for the sheath underneath...easy, flattering, comfortable and dressy enough, jackpot.  

I was explaining all of this to one of my Florida sewing friends when we got together.  She  kept encouraging me to find a way to just add length to the Dillards dress.  I said adding to the hem would just look like I was ten years old and my mother had to add fabric to the bottom of a dress because I was growing so fast.  Then she said, how about making it as a band several inches above the hem?  I vetoed that because a new fabric had no relation to the top of the dress with its lace and coordinated band....but that gave me an idea.  All I needed was another 1 1/2 inches in length.  I certainly have dark navy knit fabric in my resource center....and I could just cut the dress further up my torso underneath that sequin overlay and add the band.  It will be visible to us as sewists but virtually invisible visually to anyone else.  
Voila, that's my plan and here's how it is shaping up in my sewing room.  First, the RTW dress on my dress form...sequins are hard to photograph.

The sheerness of the sequined lace
Underneath the overlay, nothing but a side darted knit sheath dress
With a center back seam so it feels shapely
I don't think of altering RTW which is why my friend's ideas were so enlightening.  She's more likely to buy something and alter it herself and I'm more likely to figure out what the next item is that I want to make for my wardrobe.  Once again, listening to someone else with experience in an area that is not your specialty can be so helpful.  

To tackle this small alteration project I decided to channel the wonderful Mrs Mole who does those astonishing wedding garment re-makes/revisions/miracles.  Mrs Mole at Fit for a Queen blog  Truly, she is the queen in this area.
So I searched the fabric resource center and came up with two possibilities.  One is a dark navy ITY which would be adequate although the fabric itself is thinner, not as dark, and would have to be interfaced.  But then I came across this perfect navy stretch satin silk.  I'm fairly sure it is from Fabric Mart because I have a lot of it although I only need four inches to make this plan work.  I'm using the dull, "wrong" side and I think it's almost perfect:
Wrong side of stretch satin on top of actual dress
Next I used yarn and pinned the yarn in place where the lowest part of that extra 1 1/2' band that I need will be sewn.  I wanted to make sure that it was well enough under the shortest part of the lace overlay and hooray, it is.  So even if the seam and band are visible as Mr. Lucky twirls me around the dance floor. I don't think the band will look glaringly obvious.
Everything looks good so far but I'm not going to get to the actual marking, cutting and sewing this week. We are busy getting ready for our church auction offering, our fourth "Downton Abbey- inspired" tea for ten this weekend.  I've been printing out recipes, some old and tried, several new and delicious sounding, all of them taking time and effort in addition to the house cleaning and table setting.  Here's part of the savory selection in and citrus salmon curing in the refrigerator, an Emeril Legasse recipe Vodka and citrus cured salmon  

Wrapped up for curing in the refrigerator
Do you alter RTW for yourself?  Or do you decide that sewing it would be easier?  Whatever you do, I hope sewing something is bringing you satisfaction and pleasure.



  1. Ok I don't know which I want twirl around in that beautiful dress (what. a. good. idea!!) or if I JUST WANT TO EAT ALLLL THAT SALMON! :-) Thank you for all this inspiration, it has my wheels going today!

    1. How kind, La Vonda. The salmon will be wonderful and soon easy that it's almost embarrassing to take credit for it. My Danish friend was the one who inspired me since she features two versions at her annual Christmas party. It's now "cured" and ready to party this weekend.

  2. What a clever save! Look forward to seeing the finished look!!

    1. Yes, my friend's persistence really saved this project and gave me some extra time this month. Of course, I don't know where that extra time has gone?!

  3. I can't believe how well your stash alteration fabric matches the dress. The altered dress will look fab and the sequins will twinkle as you dance. I buy RTW with the intention of altering it. Problem is, I actually do it about 50% of the time. I have a Zara blouse/bodysuit on the dress form now that needs an extra 1.5 inch in length to wear comfortably. Don't ask how long it has been there.

    1. It's almost embarrassing to have a stash so big that I could find something that matched so well. Of course, like any random reinforcement scheme this just encouraged my fabric collecting habit.

  4. I buy RTW, both new and thrifted and I overdue things as well as altering them. I sew too of course. I like the face that I have all those options available to me.

    1. Over dye things that should have said.

    2. I'm going to try the over dyeing thing one of these days. I have some jeans that I would like to over dye to a dark brown.

  5. I thoroughly dislike both RTW shopping and alterations so avoid both whenever possible. However your blue dress is gorgeous and the alteration you did is quite brilliant!


Love your comments, opinions, advice and questions. I just ask that we all "play nice."