Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Butterick 9765: The progression of fit.

Butterick 9765
Misses & Women's Shallow Necked Dress
Size 44 * Bust 46

Description: Dress with softly tucked shoulders, shallow neck, set in short sleeves, front pleated flared skirt, self belt. Suggested
Fabrics: Silky Cottons, Soft Crepes, Pongees, Jersey, Silk Surahs, Silk Shantungs.

The "shallow neck" is what I would describe as a boat neck. It is long and wide and follows the collar bone. The softly tucked shoulders have what I would describe as a pleat on each shoulder, creating a nice gather of fabric that expands to cover the bust. The front pleated flared skirt is in other words sort of a full A-Line, with of course pleats at the waist to create fullness. And I do not know what they mean about a self belt, because there are no belt pattern pieces OR instructions in the pamphlet.

I am drawn to the pattern for two reasons, first because it is one of the few and rare dress patterns I have ever found in my size. I would purchase and sew almost any decent pattern in a 46 or 48 bust (so long as it is not a tent dress or something from the 70's), simply because I am semi-complacent due to limited options. Secondly, my guess is that the "soft tucks" at the shoulders are a good way to accommodate a large bust with minimal skill, and I have both of those things! This might be the perfect dress for me.

I conducted my first full bust adjustment on this garment, to semi successful results. I am feeling mighty empowered, and motivated to move on with further pattern alterations to reach a perfect fit. In addition to a full bust, I also have a very wide waist, so I am making tweaks here and there to accommodate my rotund figure. Diagrams to come as the fitting progresses.

For now, just enjoy the lovely pattern photo and imagine me in a blue polka-dot dress, with a bodice and skirt in perfect proportion to my figure.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Singer esta MUERTA!

My Singer Stylemate 347 is dead. I can hardly believe it's true. A few weeks ago it was humming along nicely, as stable and constant as always. Then a few weeks ago, poof, it started skipping stitches. I took it to one repair shop, they kept it a week, performed a $60 tune up, and returned it saying "it's fixed." I took it home, sewed for a few minutes and then the stitches started skipping again. So I took it back, and the shop sent it out to their "Singer specialist" who last night returned it, declaring it "better." Well, on the first stitch the machine made a grinding noise, the thread knotted into a ball under the fabric, and I jumped with terror. I spent an hour playing with her, trying to adjust the tension, re-thread, change needles, anything to make her sew. But the problems only got worse, include the dreaded skipped stitches (again!). The verdict of my sewing instructor is that my Singer esta MUERTA.

I smell foul play. At least I small careless repairs. Or is that smell the scent of my Singer's burning motor and my crushed hopes for a long life of happy sewing? I refuse to believe my good ol' Singer actually bit the bullet on her own. How could she go into the shop *almost* functional and come out a complete mess? I think something was tweaked incorrectly, or something still needs repaired. I am going to try one more repairman, totally unrelated to the first two, for an opportunity at resurrection.

In the meantime, if you have a sewing machine recommendation, send it my way. I am researching new replacement machines. Lovely Singer 347, RIP my friend.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My name is Kate, and I'm a wrap-a-holic.

Hi, my name is Kate, and I am an addict. I am addicted to wrap tops, almost uncontrollably. I became addicted so long ago that I am not sure I even remember a time when I haven't been addicted. Ever since that first wrap, well, I have not been able to stop. I seek them out in dresses, skirts, and tops. I seek them out in knits, in cotton, in silk, and sometimes, when the urge is too strong, I even seek them out in synthetics! There is not a wrap out there that I wouldn't try. I have done things for wrap tops that I am not proud to admit. I have pawed through sale racks, disregarding the clothing that slipped to the floor as I tried to find my size in the chaos. I have driven across town to multiple stores in a vain attempt to find a wrap in my color and size. I have even - insert embarrassing pause - tried to squeeze into unflattering styles of wraps under the guise that a wrap is flexible, and fits everyone. But I haven't done that in a long time. All of these behaviors are a product of my addiction, and my addiction is rearing its wrap-loving head and calling for another wrap. "Feed me," it says, and I am almost powerless to resist the call of the wrap.

This beautiful 1930's wrap top is available on eBay right now, and I am jonesin' to buy it. Just look at the beautiful cream and green example, with the Art Deco geometry and the flattering neckline. But I am trying to restrain for many reasons. One, my husband is tired of me buying patterns, and I want to make him happy. Two, I have already sewn two wrap tops this year - a floral wrap and a pale yellow wrap - and I don't really need to sew another. But the urge to do it is so strong, I don't know if I can hold out.

While the siren call is strong, there is one major problem with this wrap, the sizing. It is the thing keeping me from feeding my addiction immediately. This is a size 20, bust 38. But me, I am a size 24, bust 46. So, the question is, how hard will it be to size this pattern up by about 10 inches total? It's only five pieces, so it couldn't be that difficult, could it? I mean, I want it, I really really want it. In fact I think I need it. The urge is taking over my good senses...

That's it, I am placing a bid.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My foray into pillowcase dress sales.

NOTE: Many of these dresses are still for sale. Visit the sale dresses here and here for specifics, sizing, and prices.

This month I became a one-woman sweatshop. I cranked out simple little girls dresses as fast as I could make them, sacrificing bathroom breaks, meals, and even the comfort of my own finger tips in order to finishes twelve, yes twelve, adorable little girls dresses. I made them for two reasons. One, because I developed a serious obsession with purchasing vintage linens, and I needed a way to use up my purchases. Two, because Trinity's alumni weekend included an "Artisan's Fair" and I wanted to be a part of it. So I sewed dresses with vigor with the intention of selling them.

This was my first foray into the world of making handmade goods with the intention of selling them, and I think I approached the fair with the naive bliss of a newcomer. I truly thought my product would fly off the table into the hands of loving owners, and that I might make a million bucks in one go-around. Sadly, I only sold one dress. Yes, ONE. I can hardly believe it. The dresses are so darn cute that before the fair I was joking that I may have to send them to a Sotheby's auction because they would be so popular. I was afraid of the fair crowd resorting to riot in order to secure their own pillowcase dress. I was sure my dresses would be the most popular items at the fair. Turns out they were well admired, but not hot sellers.

Regardless of their selling-power, I am still very pleased with the final produc
t. They are truly so adorable that I am tempted to keep them all for myself, but alas I have no children (yet!) and I am certain that if I start hoarding little girl’s clothing I will guarantee myself a family of all boys!

For those of you interested in making your own dresses, there are many links online with instructions, like this photo tutorial, this tutorialtemplate pattern pieces, and this tutorial with graphics.

Making the dresses is a piece of cake:
Step 1) Hit the thrift stores and second hand shops for pillowcases. Be stringent in your standards and purchase nothing with drool marks, thinning fibers, or sub-par patterns. Also, focus on natural figers and no synthetics. Do take home anything that would make you gush if you saw it on a little girl running barefoot in the grass.
Step 2) Soak and launder everything... in hot water... with Oxiclean. Remember, these pillowcases (from strangers!) will end up on some beautiful little girl's body. Make it pristine.
Step 3) Gather your sewing machine, scissors, biased tape, and pretty trims. Grab a drink and go to the bathroom now, as there will be no time to stop for breaks once the sweat shop work begins.
Step 4) Follow the instructions from tutorials above. If you want a long dress, trim very little off the top. If you want a short dress, trim a lot off the top. The more you trim, the more material you will have to make ties later(see step 5).
Step 5) I used the fabric trimmed from the top of each pillowcase to create matching ties, rather than using ribbon as many of the tutorials suggest. This is becuase I found the ribbon options at my local JoAnn's too cheap, too synthetic, and too stiff to do justice to the cute little dresses. If you have extra nice ribbon, use it. Otherwise, just create a tube of fabric with your scraps, flip it inside out, iron into a strap, and sew onto your elastic. The matching ties look super cute and in my opinion more special than just ribbon.
Step 6) Finally, if desired, add trim, ruffles, and embellishments to your dresses. Dress up your own little girl and get ready for the compliments to come pouring in!

The white dress with green and yellow daisies in the far left of the image is the only pillowcase dress I sold at the fair. I made it out of a Vera pillowcase, and I loved it because it looked so utterly vintage and totally original.

This little "under the sea" themed dressed pictured below is perhaps the cutest thing I have ever made... EVER! I bet it is even cuter than the finger painting I made when I was four, or the pretty vintage inspired clothing I make for myself today. To make this adorable dress, I used a pillowcase with different images on each side. One side has a full blown coral reef scene with brightly colored clown fish and plants. The other side is cream with a smattering of miniature sea creatures swimming across the fabric. I created ties with the same corresponding fabrics. Truly, I just gush when I see it, "Oh, isn't it darling?" and "Don't you just love it?" I say to anybody who will listen (my poor husband had been subjected to the gushing every night for about two weeks now). But just look at it. Isn't is too cute...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

FOR SALE: more Vintage Pillowcase Dresses

One-of-a-Kind Vintage Pillowcase Dresses
by Sincerely Yours, Kate

Every sun dress is handmade with care using a one-of-a-kind vintage pillowcase. The vintage linens have been soaked and laundered, and because of their age they are soft and gentle on the skin. The sun dress style is versatile for growing girls, with a loose body and adjustable straps. The dresses look just as cute with a turtleneck and leggings in the cool weather as they look on their own with bare feet in the summer. And when your little girl grows big enough, she can wear the dress as a top with shorts or a skirt!

To order, please email me at sincerelyyourskate@gmail.com with your dress preferences. Don't forget to look at the second listing of dresses posted yesterday for additional dresses.

Antiqued Garden Roses
Size M, ages 3T-5T
* This dress is one of my personal favorite dresses, because the pinks are so vibrant and the floral pattern is utterly vintage and innocent.

Pastel Climbing Tendrils
Size M, ages 3T-5T

Fall Foliage
Size L, ages 6-8 years+
* This little dress is perfect for the Fall season, paired with a crisp white turtleneck, some maroon tights, and a pair of brown Mary Janes. Send her to school with an apple for the teacher and she will be the cutest thing in the classroom!

Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice
Size S, ages 24m-2T

Cherry Blossoms
Size M, ages 3T-5T

Monday, October 13, 2008

FOR SALE: Adorable Vintage Pillowcase Dresses.

One-of-a-Kind Vintage Pillowcase Dresses
by Sincerely Yours, Kate

Every dress is handmade with care using a one-of-a-kind vintage pillowcase. The vintage linens have been soaked and laundered, and because of their age they are soft and gentle on the skin. The sun dress style is versatile for growing girls, with a loose body and adjustable straps. The dresses look just as cute with a turtleneck and leggings in the cool weather as they look on their own with bare feet in the summer. And when your little girl grows big enough, she can wear the dress as a top with shorts or a skirt!

To order, please email me at sincerelyyourskate@gmail.com with your dress preferences. Don't forget to look at the second listing of dresses posting tomorrow for additional dresses.

Grecian Goddess
Size L, age 6-8 years

Pastel Garden
Size L, age 6-8 years

Pictures in the Clouds
Size L, age 6-8 years

Daisy Chain

Size XS, age 9m-24m

Little Petunia
Size L, age 6-8 years

Thursday, October 9, 2008

More Claire McCardell goodness.

Now that I am "beta testing" a re-graded, and did I mention AMAZING, Claire McCardell pattern, I am intrigued by the designer. While I enjoy fashion, watching Project Runway, sewing dresses, perusing vintage style, and of course shopping, I cannot claim to be well educated on fashion history or the art theory behind clothing. Thus I was delighted and amazed when a quick Google search on Claire McCardell resulted in the story of an incredibly talented designer who made significant strides in fashion that still resonate today.

Here is an excellent article on Claire McCardell that starts with the delightful line "It was the end of April, and as the soft air turned the land green, American women were suddenly aware of a truth that bursts upon them every spring: Summer was at hand, and they did not have a thing to wear." I know the feeling.

Today we credit Claire McCardell for pioneering the "American Look," a fashion and style coming out of American designers unique to the United States and our national attitude for comfort, leisure, and casual style. McCardell's designs exist with two understandings, 1) clothes should be made to be worn in comfort, and 2) only with comfort can a woman have sensible style. As the article explains, "But in the U.S., the meaning of elegance has changed as much as the meaning of leisure. It is a leisure of action—barbecue parties in the backyard, motor trips along country roads and across the country, weekend golf and water skiing. From America's lively leisure has evolved a new, home-grown fashion, as different from Paris fashion as apple pie from crepes suzette... the French still design for Veblenesque leisure. Their clothes compliment the designer, whereas America's are made to compliment the wearer."

And get this, so many of McCardell's fashion forward thinking from the 40's and 50's lives on today, like the prolific popularity of the ballet flat, "and in 1942 she started the craze for ballet slippers. Necessity mothered that invention: unable because of wartime shortages to get the proper shoes for her showroom models, McCardell put them all in fabric Capezio ballet slippers. The fad caught on, and she still suggests designs for many Capezio shoes." McCardell advocated wearing ballet flats with pedal pushers, and viola the elegant glamor of Audrey Hepburn was realized many years later, and lives on today (remember that the Gap used Audrey Hepburn in pedal pushes a few years ago in their ads?)!

I found the following beautiful images and descriptions of McCardell's work online at a special section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website. The website is a fabulous resource for researching different designer's work, as it includes an index of featured fashion designers, images of their work in the collection, and the best part is a description of each garment using intelligent, artistic language and sharing insight into what makes the design relevant. The blurbs below are from the site.

I just love these dresses, and I am utterly convinced that my own Claire McCardell dress, when complete, will do wonders for my figure, my sense of style, and my self confidence. At least that is what these images and descriptions would suggest.

Evening dress, 1950
Claire McCardell (American, 1905–1958)
Red silk damask

McCardell's enthusiasm and acumen for European fashion history is well documented, but her interests extended East as well. This evening dress suggests Chinese roots in its textile, pleating, and color, but also evokes Japanese origins in its wide, obi-like sash and columnar silhouette. In a global eclecticism, the dress is cut like a poncho, with its top crisscrossed over the bodice to create the kimono-like surplice neckline.

Evening gown, late 1940s–early 1950s
Claire McCardell (American, 1905–1958)
Black-and-red silk plush

A bravura swag of drapery cuts across the chest with the elegance of a Madame Grès bodice and the implicit protocol of a sash or banner. Applying the same principles of wrapping that animated her daywear, McCardell also wrapped for evening, letting the ease of a plush evening gown define the body with a gentle boldness.

Evening gown, 1939
Claire McCardell (American, 1905–1958)
Brown-and-white striped silk satin

Only a magician with a quick twisting, snapping, enveloping legerdemain could make this McCardell dress. On the hanger, it is limp, amorphous, and trailing; on the body, it traces the voluptuous peregrination of a Madame Grès bodice, but not one that is fixed into position or held forever for the couture client. Rather, the McCardell is ready-to-wear and adaptable to a myriad of body types and proportions. The striped silk reinforces the curlicues and corkscrews of the bodice and accentuates the columnar skirt. The crisscrossed bodice is accomplished by two pieces of fabric, contingent on the body but with the effect of a perfectly contrived origami.

"Popover" dress, 1942
Claire McCardell (American, 1905–1958)
Blue linen

Sally Kirkland, in All-American: A Sportwear Tradition, reported that McCardell's "Popover" dress "sold in the thousands (its low price [$6.95] was because it was classified as a 'utility garment' and Claire's manufacturer, Adolf Klein, of Townley, was able to make a special deal with labor). But some form of a wraparound dress around $25 or $30 was always in Claire's collection thereafter, and she liked denim so much she made coats and suits of it for townwear completed with the workman's double topstitching as a form of decoration. … Norman Norell once told me that Claire could take five dollars worth of common cotton calico and make a dress a smart woman could wear anywhere." In utility achieved with ingenuity, McCardell found a synergy. The modern woman could both be chic and do the cooking. In a photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, the model wearing the "Popover" has one hand in an oven mitt and the other in her capacious pocket.

Sundress, ca. 1956
Claire McCardell (American, 1905–1958)
Red, blue, yellow, and plaid cotton

On the hanger, this McCardell dress is nothing but a huge tentlike A-line dress with a modicum of gathering in the back. Its form is wholly assumed on the body, when the belting causes the fullness of the skirt to be realized and the dimensions of waist to shoulders and the projection of the bust give silhouette to the halter top. Once again, the grid discipline of the cotton plaid complements the fluffy, amorphous contingency of the dress. McCardell designed for herself, but the truth is that the transformative possibilities of her clothing allow for one modern woman and thereby for every modern woman.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Everybody's Favorite Claire McCardell

I am a dress beta tester! Yes indeed, the fine Xandra at Evadress asked me to give her newest dress, set to launch in November, a trial run in muslin. I am excited. Actually, that is an understatement. I am honored and a bit overwhelmed at being ask to participate, however minimally, in the relaunching of such an amazing dress design. The dress... well, it is none other than "everybody's favorite Claire McCardell" as Xandra puts it. And I can see why it is everbody's favorite. First, the style is immaculate. The dress is simple and clean with bold details. The silhouette is immensely flattering with a defined waist, deep v neckline, and that great bustle of a bow in the back. And that wrap around sash, well what can I say, that sash is to die for. It simultaneously creates a waist illusion on a figure like mine, and hides any pouch or purge in the mid region.

Plus, Xandra has graded the pattern into multiple sizes! I am going to sew the largest, a bust size 46", but I believe it goes down into the wee sizes of the lower 30's as well. This is great news allowing for an easier customized fit on this great design. If you are small on top and larger on bottom, it will be a snap to make the dress in two sizes, already graded for your shape and needs in each area. I just feel such a gratitude for the many entrepreneurs out there like EvaDress and Decades of Style who take the initiative to open up design for some many shapes and sizes.

This opportunity is really my first introduction to the great designer Claire McCardell. McCardell, according to many, was the LEADING force behind America's ready-to-wear fashion industry in the 1940's and 1950's. I cannot believe I did not know who she was, given the amount of ready to wear I consume, and given my newfound passion for vintage dresses. She designed clothing that was at the same time functional and fashionable, durable yet stylish, and she designed it all to excel within the confines of the mass produced market. She was amazing.

Her work led the way in releasing America's fashion aesthetic from French dominance. Forget freedom fries here, we are talking about freedom FASHION. Bah humbug to the French couture (Just kidding, but in these times of politics I can't help but assert my patriotic spirit sometimes)!

I am cutting the fabric tomorrow, and will begin sewing as soon as my machine is out of the shop. Stay tuned, because construction on my favorite Claire McCardell pattern is about to be revealed on this blog, and the pattern is sure to become your favorite too! It is one of DressADay's favorites too, see!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Oh no. My sewing machine is broken.

Oh no. My sewing machine is under the weather and misbehaving today. I feel absolutely frustrated. I have a secret project I am working on with a deadline of next Saturday, as well as another dress I am mocking up in muslin for a designer. All in all, I really needed my machine to sew this weekend.

Alas, my poor vintage Singer is skipping the vital task of picking up the bobbin thread at random intervals. It will sew perfectly for a few inches, then whoops, all of a sudden it misses hooking the bobbin thread. Sometimes the needle, thread, and bobbin realign and the needle starts picking up the bobbin thread after a few missed stitches. But sometimes the missed stitching continues to error until the fabric bunches up in gathers under the presser foot. I have changed the needle in case it was too dull and causing the error. I have changed the bobbin in case the old one was warped. I have adjusted every tension dial I could find. Alas, the problem continues.

In light of all that could go wrong in my life, I know I am lucky that an uncaught bobbin thread is my biggest cause for tears today. However, since it is my biggest cause for tears, it is still upsetting. Grrrrrrrrrr. Frustration ensues.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The gift of cake.

Don't you agree that a layered coconut cake just embodies retro charm? I think so. That is why for my birthday yesterday I gave myself the gift of baking. And I baked a coconut cake. Growing up it was always the birthday girl's choice of birthday cake flavors on her special day, and I always chose chocolate. My mom makes mean chocolate cake, and an even meaner chocolate frosting, all from scratch. However my childhood tradition of chocolate birthday cakes came head to head with my desire to bake a coconut cake this year, which is why I originally wanted two cakes, a chocolate and also a coconut cake. I have been waiting and waiting for the chance to try a Martha Stewart coconut cake recipe, and what better opportunity than to bake it as a birthday cake?

But I came to my senses, realizing that alone Sam and I could not consume two entire cakes. As much as I like cake, even I cannot each four pieces of cake a day without exploding. So I made a tough decision and deviated from tradition to try something new, albeit new with an old-school retro charm. It was a good decision. This coconut cake is heavenly.

I will say that part of what made my cake delicious was the frosting. I skipped the light, fluffy, egg-white based frosting of the original recipe and went with the always delicious buttercream. No matter how many cakes I eat, I always prefer the cakes with buttercream over whip, fondant, or meringue frosting. I also skipped the step where I purchase a whole coconut, demolish it with and ice pick, and peel individual curls to roast in the oven. That just seemed too violent and time consuming for birthday baking.

And of course I displayed the cake on my vintage milk glass cake plate, my favorite piece of serving ware in my kitchen. The combo of a good cake, a better frosting, and the best cake plate made me a very happy birthday girl.

Coconut Cake
from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook.

This cake was fabulous, absolutely fabulous. It had an almost pound cake-esque buttery richness, and it was dense, but still very cakey. I deviated from the recipe and toasted the coconut before I pulsed it into a powder to blend with the flour. This may or may not have resulted in a drier cake. Regardless, the cake remained very moist and rich, a real birthday keeper.

3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup packed sweetened, shredded coconut
2 2/3 cups sugar
4 large whole eggs, plus 4 large egg whites
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
Buttercream frosting
Coconut curls, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9x9 inch cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter parchment, and dust with flour, tapping out the excess, set aside. Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pulse shredded coconut in a food processor until finely chopped. Stir chopped coconut int the flour mixture until combined; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the whole eggs, egg whites, and vanilla; beat until fully incorporated. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in two parts, alternating with the coconut milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined after each addition.

Divide batter between prepared pans, and smooth with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 30 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack; peel off the parchment. Reinvert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.

Using a serrated knife, trim the tops of the cake layers to make level. Place one layer on a cake plate, and spread top with frosting. Place other cake layer on top. Spread remaining frosting over entire cake, swirling to cover in a decorative fashion. Spring entire cake with toasted, sweetened coconut. Cake can be kept in the refrigerator, cover with a cake dome, for up to 3 days.

Buttercream Frosting
This is a memorized, taste-as-you-go recipe that works on almost anything. I say just mix the butter, sugar, and flour until you like the flavor, and add the milk until you reach the consistency you prefer. We added a pinch of salt to cut the sweetness, and it was good. If I was very clever, I would have saved some of the leftover coconut milk from the cake recipe and subbed it for the milk in the frosting.

2-2 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
5 - 6 cups powdered sugar
2-3 tsp. vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons milk or cream, or coconut milk

Cream butter and half of the sugar. Add remaining sugar, vanilla, and half the milk. Add additional milk as needed until you reach desired consistency.