inspiration - fitting it all in

As for my home life, I'm married but don't have kids. I imagine the "kid-free" part of the equation is what helps me pursue my hobbies more than anything else. I sleep about 7 hours a night. I absolutely don't do laundry! A grand thing about living in New York is that you can drop your wash off at the laundry in the morning, and pick it up, all clean and folded, on your way home. They charge by the pound and it's worth every penny. I wash my handmade dresses in a tupperware bin at home and let them line dry in the shower. I don't clean as much as I should and my husband does most of the cooking. (I wash the dishes.) I also don't go to the gym as much as I should.

The work week is pretty routine. I get home from work around 6:30 pm, and I usually have a little free time to relax. Usually this means sewing (or in the past week, painting a little), but sometimes it just means collapsing on the bed catatonically. After dinner, I get my second wind and that's when I get my real work done. I write a blog post for the next day and set it to go up at 7:00 am, a full hour before I even get up. I would say I work on my blog for 1-2.5 hours on the weekdays. If I have time left over after writing my post, I'll do something creative like work on a sewing project for a bit. Or sometimes Jeff and I put on a pot of tea, make some cookies, and watch sitcoms together. Then I shower and go to bed around midnight or so.

The weekend is when I get bigger projects done: working on my book, making a video tutorial, or just sewing for hours on end. I always sleep in. (People are generally worried about me being sleep deprived, but I'm really not!) I would say I put in a good 6-8 hours a day on the weekends working on various book, blog, and sewing projects. I break up my days into tasks I know I want to get done (i.e. finishing a chapter, hemming a dress, writing a post). Videos are quite time consuming, as you guessed. Even if they only take half an hour to shoot, the editing takes twice that usually. One thing that seems to fall by the wayside is answering reader's e-mails. (Sorry about that! I try; I really do.)

Those are the nuts and bolts of my schedule, if you will. But it's less robotic and much more intuitive and emotional than it sounds. My blog writing is generally about whatever I'm feeling most passionate about at the moment, whether it's shoes or bound buttonholes or silk painting. It's easy to be motivated when something is really speaking to you. I also keep pretty close tabs on how I'm feeling. Last week I got really overwhelmed (stressed, tired, and anxious), and that was what prompted me to take a week off blogging. I'm definitely ambitious, but I'm trying to learn when to back off and give myself a rest.

Simplicity 1309: 1940s Day Dress with Bow!

Pattern Description:
2-piece dress front with shoulder and waist gathers, straight skirt, back cut on fold. 2 bow options: back waist or front neckline. side zipper.

Pattern Sizing:
34B, which, as usual, was too triangular for me up top and just right at the waist and hips. after much trial and error, i got it down to a good size in the top.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?

Were the instructions easy to follow?
given that this is an old pattern, the instructions were sparse--and yet still helpful. the benefit of a super-simple dress with only 4 pieces, i suppose.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
mostly i liked the simplicity and the fact that it is from the 1940s. now that i understand how common this shape of dress is, i actually like it even more, because this type of bodice is so adaptable. also, i love waist gathers.

Fabric Used:
liberty of london tana lawn, "caesar B", purchased at B&J fabrics in NYC.

one of the reasons i gravitate to liberty cottons for these dresses almost instinctively, despite the debilitating effects on my bank account, is that a print like this just calls to me as a perfect combination of classic vintage and yet still somehow with a modern twist. as soon as i saw this fabric swatch in the shop, this pattern popped into my head as its palette. also, given the delightful simplicity of so many of these old dress patterns, it's become a great playground for me to try busier prints, something i promise you i tend to avoid in my real, non-handmade life.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
none, although i did decide to cut the facings and the bow in contrast pink cotton. per usual, i finished the inside edges and the cap sleeve hem with contrast bias tape and completed the hem with hot pink hem lace.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
i've already got another version cut. this is going to become one of my go-to 40s dresses along with my beloved advance 3929.

fun, fun, fun!

how we gonna pay?

"That latest strategy is not without potential pitfalls. Audiences are fickle; “Rent,” an early ’90s love-and-loss story inspired by “La Bohème,” might seem old hat — it has toured extensively and a movie version came out in 2005 — even though this will be a brand-new production by the original director, Michael Greif. (Open auditions for a new cast will be held on March 18 for the production, which will start previews on July 14 and open on Aug. 11.)"

the catch seems to be that rent, while at the time awesome and daring and groundbreaking in both its treatment of its subjects (AIDS, homosexuality) and its minimal staging and on-stage "rock" band, these very aspects are what make the show seem dated in 2011 (or in 2008, when it closed)...how does one update a new production for a newer time (no AZT, for example) without ruining what was great about the original?

i can't help but remember the revival i saw in london in 2004, which was a complete disaster--the new direction was poor, the new staging was too much, they had edited and/or removed several of the numbers, and there was no noticeable improvement in the choreography.


Vogue Paris Original 2738 Nina Ricci Coat Dress

Pattern Description:
Vogue 2738 Paris Original, 1972 Nina Ricci Coat Dress - Fitted A-line dress, mid-knee length, has asymmetrical front-buttoned closing, shaped collar, welt pocket and topstitch trim. (pattern purchased from Stitches & Loops)

Pattern Sizing:
sz 12/ 34B. i modified the front bust darts using the Sandra Betzina method outlined in "Fast Fit," i.e., slashing and overlapping the dart.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?
close enough that i was pleased. it certainly resembles the photo of the garment more than the fashion drawing (so what else is new) and i was slightly disappointed at how pronounced and low-cut the v-aspect ultimately looked. i could not, for example, wear this without something under it. ultimately, however, i was pleased.

Were the instructions easy to follow?
surprisingly for a vogue paris pattern, the instructions were largely good. other experience with these types of patterns has shown me that the patterns are gorgeous and, as far as i can tell, well-drafted, but that the instructions are overly complicated. in this case, the construction of the shell was straightforward and the only major deviation i took from the instructions was in the insertion of the skirt lining, which they would have you do by hand and i did as a sort of reversed facing.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
i liked the styling of the pattern as shown on the envelope--it had a simple and clean design with a vintage vibe that was not overwhelming. i liked the asymmetry and the rounded edges on the skirt and lapels.

Fabric Used:
white (off-white) wool gabardine from NY Elegant Fabrics, NYC
printed silk lining from Mood Fabrics, NYC

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
i got in way over my head on this pattern, which i attempted a mere months into my sewing career. that said, the only major design change is the hard corners of the lapels, which was a necessary change after i made some serious errors in the collar construction. i actually had to run home to mommy on that one, and we sat in front of the machine beating the collar and the facings into submission.

also, i eliminated the welt pocket. too scary!

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
would not sew again as it is so distinctive, so complicated, and there are other projects to be tackled. but i would not hesitate to recommend it to a fellow coat-dress addict like myself.

it's not an advanced pattern per se, but it did take more sewing chops than i had at the time. i ended up having to underline the gabardine, which i did inexpertly with muslin (it's more bunchy than i would prefer, although not in a way anyone that didn't make it would notice). i did teach myself some basic handstitching, like the catch-stitch, so that i could do some more advanced tailoring like taping the roll line by hand (thank you, roberta carr and smartflix!). i did use a fusible on the undercollar, which may have been a mistake.

positives: i piped the lining, always a favorite technique of mine, and these are the first sleeves in my sewing career that went in perfectly. i painstakingly gathered the ease in the cap and then steamed it over a tailor's ham to shrink the ease. voila! perfect sleeves.

overall i do enjoy this dress, flaws and all. in the few months i have been wearing it (although i finished it over the summer) it has become one of my go-to winter outfits on days i am looking for something warm, low-maintenance and yet still professional.

i think i learned a lot from this dress, and surprisingly, the most important lesson is that even though i was a beginning seamstress at the time, it was important for me to tackle this complicated project because i was passionate about it and it enabled me to learn a lot of things, not the least of which was perseverance!

eta: about an hour after this post i spilled hot chocolate all down the front of my dress!


Vogue 8615: my "one year later" dress

behold, the saga of V8615, the modern-yet-retro piece from recent vogue catalogs. it seems tame, dubbed "very easy" by the wise folks at vogue. and yet, and yet...

in cutting the pattern, the fabric is folded on the crosswise grain and then the pieces are cut on the lengthwise grain as per usual. only somehow i misread the pattern layout and ended up one skirt panel short. only somehow, NY Elegant Fabrics were out of this particular shade of blue wool crepe. ONLY SOMEHOW, they were unable to order more. tragedy! cue me in tears in the wool crepe section at NY elegant, desperately trying to match my inspiration piece (a rich purple scarf with colored butterflies, paired with the butterfly brooches seen on my dress bodice) to another piece of wool in a vain attempt to somehow fix this tragedy.

and then, somehow, a week later, i am wandering through NY elegant yet again and i find, stashed away, a small bolt of the last remnant of this exact color wool. there was barely a yard left. (and, by the way, they still charged me for the entire yard)

then, when i cut out the new skirt panel and assembled my dress, assembled my lining, did some finishing on the interior lining and seams, i try it on to find that it looks like i wandered in from the casting of big love or something, so long and frumpy is the skirt on this dress. the pattern clearly says it is a mid-knee dress...color me confused.

i thought my heartache was at an end until i decided that i wanted to finish the dress with an exposed zipper to give it a modern flourish. i used the technique outlined in sewstylish, except that i didn't want to use 3/4" seam allowances. mistake! i soon realized there is a reason for the over-generous seam allowances. more tears nearly ensued as i attempted to trim the edges of the fused fabric-lining combo in order to get the raw bit under the zipper tape. i cut an honest-to-goodness hole in my fashion fabric, nearly ruining the dress (more tears). i should have thrown it away, but wool crepe is not cheap and i knew i had to finish this dress.

enter the applique scissors. my goodness, these are an amazing tool. i got the raw edges trimmed and tucked under the zipper tape. i stitched the zipper to the dress. and in doing so, i shifted the waist on one size almost half and inch apart from the waist on the other side.

and yes, this dress took me a year to complete, start-to-finish.

Pattern Description:
Lined, below mid-knee or below mid-calf dresses A, B have fitted bodice, back neckline is lower than front and three-quarter or full length sleeves, flared skirt has side seam pockets and back zipper. Purchased petticoat and belt. Separate pattern pieces provided for A, B, C, D cup sizes.

Pattern Sizing:
size 12, a-cup piece

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?

Were the instructions easy to follow?
the lining instructions, especially with the sleeves, were strange. why would i want raw edges on my sleeves like that?

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
see above about the lining pattern. also, i am not sure if this was my error, the stretchiness of my wool crepe, or the way the pattern was drafted, but i was trying to cut the mid-knee dress and it went all the way to my ankles. not the retro chic vibe i was looking for!

but, when finished, the dress does have a nice retro chic vibe and a lot of ways to make it interesting. my main combo on this dress will be vintage brooches and scarves.

Fabric Used:
sapphire blue wool crepe - NY elegant fabrics, NYC
silver/gray rayon lining - truemart discount fabrics, NYC

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
i shortened the skirt so that it was actually mid-knee, and i finished the lining hem with 1/2" horsehair braid to give the skirt a chance to show off its fullness without going full-on crinoline. to modernize the look, i went for an exposed zipper, which caused me so much heartache i literally almost broke out in tears at one point, but which going forward i feel able to do more confidently. i added a lot of hand-stiched "embroidery" on the inside, sort of going for a vibe i used to see in the finishes on high-end RTW garments (think elie tahari about 5 years ago), and added a waist stay to help support the heavy wool skirt.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
i might actually sew it again--we shall see.

i LOVE vogue custom fit patterns. i am sure i am in a minority, but the A-cup french dart bodice pieces fit me so perfectly that they have become my go-to "sloper" when doing fitting changes on other french-dart patterns, especially vintage ones.


1940s Day Dress - McCall 3928

The Facts

Fabric: Cotton
McCall 3928, purchased at the NYC Pier Antiques Show
Year: 1940s
Notions: Metal zipper, 3 buttons
Time to complete:
4 hours
First worn:
February 2011
Wear again?

Pattern Description:
1940s day dress with gathered skirt, gathers at bust, waist and shoulders, button front convertible collar and waist ties. sleeves may be short, 3/4 or long. sleeve cap is darted for fullness.

Pattern Sizing:
14 - 32B
i made no changes! YES!

Were the instructions easy to follow?
the instructions were harmless. not the most useful, not the least useful. they guided me adequately through the dress.

Fabric Used:
liberty of london tana lawn, "akinobu," purchased at B&J in NYC

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
as usual, i finished the inside edges in contrast bias binding and finished the hem in a contrast lace. i understand that this can be a bit too crafty--or, as michael kors would say, "becky home-eck-y", but to me, it is a fun detail that reminds me that i made it myself, and it feels vintage, and i think it is sweet and cute, like wearing a pretty slip.

i ended up eliminating the ties because of a combination of laziness, confusion, and a determination that they weren't needed--but i still have the piece cut and may do that later. i also eliminated the upside-down pocket flaps (see above reasoning). also, i was tired. i didn't realize it at the time but i had a particularly bad case of mono, and this became the first of many garments i sewed in 10-minute to half-hour intervals during the 6 weeks i was sick.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
i'm torn on sewing it again. it was easy, and the gathers make for a great design detail, and i'd love to do a version in the 3/4 sleeve. on the other hand, when it comes to a TNT repeatable 40's day dress i think my heart is always going to be with advance 3929.


1950s Day Dress - Simplicity 1507

Pattern Description:
1950's sleeveless dress with lowered waistline, waistband and below-knee pleated skirt. bodice is fitted with bust and side darts. version 1 has a bit of neck trim.

jacket is cut boxy with a shoulder dart in the front and no shaping in the back. collar and facing are cut-in-one and 3/4-length sleeves have cuffs.

Pattern Sizing:
size 15/B33

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?
close enough for government work!

Were the instructions easy to follow?
yes. by the 50s, simplicity patterns seemed to be including more details with their instructions and better illustrations as well.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
the elongated waist immediately drew my eye because, as with many modern women, i've had a difficult time adjusting to the shorter waists of so many vintage styles. i loved the waistband and the change into a pleated skirt, and i was intrigued by the idea of doing two different orientations of stripes on the same patter, as depicted in the pattern drawing for view 1.

Fabric Used:
liberty of london tana lawn "purple chris", from purl soho in NYC
bemberg rayon lining, NY Elegant Fabrics

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
tucked out 1/2" on the bust darts and pulled in at the sides for a tighter fit. i wish i had altered the armscye as well, since it comes closer to the edge of my shoulder than anticipated and can be uncomfortable, almost like carrying a heavy bag, after all-day wearing. i may go back and re-fit this section.

i added interfacing to the bodice for greater stability against the tana lawn and lined the bodice with contrast bemberg, as well as adding a contrast waist stay and bias-binding the zipper with contrast tape, just for additional interest. i added a straight skirt lining, eliminating the pleats, and trimmed it with contrast lace hem.

i eliminated the neck trim because 1) the instructions didn't make enough sense and 2) with the busyness of my fabric, i felt i had enough going on.

i ended up hand-picking the zipper and adding beads because, well, i like the look, and it gave the back a bit of visual interest. also, the first time i tried inserting the zipper with my sewing machine i almost lost the garment.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
it's a great little dress and i can see myself doing it again, but right now i'd like to focus on completing the matching jacket. i had attempted one earlier this year but had a massive series of headaches, first with the incredible amount of wearing ease in the design (the jacket is truly *boxy!*) and then with construction errors (i may never attempt to "bag" a lining again!), but the dress really needs the jacket to complete it as a "look", especially if one wants to wear it at work, or in the winter.

i will grade the pattern slightly, adjust the sleeve and cap ease, and hand-attach the lining with some light tailoring according to kenneth d. king's techniques as outlined in his "tailored jacket" e-book.


Winter Outfit: Simplicity 2183 + Vogue 7131

Pattern Description:
Simplicity 2183 (View 1): 1947; Teen-Age Two-Piece Dress: The long torso top, styled with a back neck and side opening, has gathers at the front side seams and darts at the back waistline. The flared skirt features and inverted pleat at the center front and back and joins to a yoke. In Style I, the top is accented with a Dutch collar and a bias fold at the lower edge. The three-quarter sleeve is finished with a cuff. Style II has long fitted sleeve and a high rounded neckline.

Vogue 7131: below waist jerkin with jewel collar and buttons at shoulders and side

Pattern Sizing:
12 - 32B (V7131)
14 - 34B (S2183)

Were the instructions easy to follow?
V7131 was kind of a blur, but also fairly intuitive. S2183 i barely used the instructions at all on the top, which is why i sort of bollixed the collar application, but i found the skirt oddly fiddly and the instructions came in handy.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
i loved the easy look of S2183, very vintage and very wearable--young but not too junior (minus the book binding accessory, of course!). V7131 evolved as i wanted something to complete the ensemble, pick up the lavender flowers in the liberty pattern, and to disguise the fact that i bollixed the collar application. this turned out to be wise mostly because 1) it is incredibly cold in my office and 2) without the vest, the look is super-casual. the top of S2183 is comfortable and cute but also too casual to wear untucked in a work environment.

Fabric Used:

lilac/lavender woven cashmere, B&J fabrics, NYC (V7131)
mystery fabric twill crepe with amazing hand and sheen, Paron Annex, NYC (S2183)
liberty of london tana lawn "Pelagia", Tissus Reine, Paris (S2183)

almost the entirety of this outfit was constructed in 10-minute intervals while i recovered from mono between the US thanksgiving and new year. i had cut it months ago, over the summer, after acquiring the liberty print on a trip to europe. unfortunately, in my zeal to place the pattern pieces strategically over the print, i forgot to cut the sleeve and there wasn't enough to piece it properly. several months later the same Pelagia colorway finally arrived in stock at B&J and i was saved--although i still ended up piecing the sleeve.

sleeve: to keep the pieced sleeve from looking too unusual, i re-drafted the one-piece sleeve that was originally part of S2183, first removing 4" of cap ease from the top and then converting it into a two-piece sleeve. i have absolutely no drafting experience to speak of, so this involved modifying a tip from Pattern Review to shift the sleeve seam to the side and then use this altered one-piece sleeve to create an under sleeve piece.

i honestly have no idea how i managed this, but i muslined the sleeve and basted it into my garment. it fit and worked. i forged ahead.

bodice: S2183 is an interesting design because there are bust darts (which i altered, making a half-SBA following instructions in Sandra Betzina's "Fast Fit") but no waist darts. instead there are waist gathers. these are shockingly cute and comfortable and come really close to the waistline, accentuating the figure. i sort of love them.

collar: in working on the neckline and collar, i decided that i wanted to reverse the collar facing, so that the neck opening would be in the front instead of in the back, because i get very claustrophobic in jewel-neckline collars. however, in applying the collar to the neckline, i neglected to stretch the collar properly around the neckline, so there is a bit of an awkward gap for about 1" on either side of the CB seam. compounding this error, i attached, sewed and clipped the collar and facings in the wrong order so i ended up with a very awkward raw seam edge on part of the (now front) neck opening. i bound it with some hug snug, which i had also used decoratively on other parts of the garment, but it frayed rather depressingly right at the edge of the seam. hence the jerkin.

finishes: i completed all the seams on the top with flat fell finishes and used a cute metal zipper at the side placket. for the skirt, it was relatively straightforward: i finished all the inside seams with lavender hug snug, including the waistband finish. unusually for me, i left the skirt length where it was (below knee) which can often look a bit dowdy but on this skirt seemed both suitable and fun.

V7131 was very simple: three pieces joined to create the bodice, which has french darts. the muslin fit well and i liked the dart placement, although the final jerkin could have a bit less ease. i love the cashmere. i lined and piped the interior so that it would look like a complete outfit. i just hope it isn't *too* matchy-matchy.