Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Calder" Cirque Dress - Marcy Tilton for Vogue 9112

Ladies, if you have scrumptious gams this dress (at original length) is for YOU!

I made this Cirque dress before the one I showed you back in spring, but wanted to get pictures which showed it to full advantage before sharing it with you here. A couple of weeks ago i ran across this fantastic mural in an out of the way, industrial-type area of Berkeley. I thought the cerulean blues would be fantastic against the burnt oranges in this print, but the location didn't lend itself to my usual self-portraiture. Happily my dad agreed to take some pictures of me with his DSLR camera and here we are!


I bought this fabric from Marcy Tilton's online store around 18 months ago. As soon as i saw it i loved it - the style recalls a dear artist friend of mine and the warm colors are my favorites to wear. I had no firm plans for what to DO with it, and this fabric languished in stash until i saw Vogue 9112. Instantly i loved that dress and i knew what i was waiting for on this fabric!

But I had a couple of aspects I wanted to think through to make this dress fantastic. I am 5'5", 5;6" with an Hourglass/Inverted Triangle figure. This dress has a high collar - in fact the collar is lots of what attracts me to this design - but with no design lines breaking up the upper bodice area. So I was a little leery about looking overly formidable. 

the lovely and formidable Margaret Dumont courtesy jimbolist 
I could have taken the 'traditional' approach and altered this dress to create a closure up the center front - but this would destroy the wonderful collar, and i really loved the simplicity and ease of the pop-it-on design. That ease of dressing is especially appealing in the heat of summer. So I decided to take a closer look at the design and all the techniques I've learned to tone down a pair of big square shoulders and large bust to see if I could make it work.



As it happens, the design is more IT friendly than one would think at first glance - the wide, open neckline and multiple vertical/diagonal lines of the collar help to break up a wide shoulder line. The shoulder seams are again quite nicely designed - wide enough for modesty and covering a bra, but slim enough to again break up any linebacker shoulders.

You may stand the collar up or fold it down. Allowing it to crumple a bit softens the lines around the shoulders. And you can create the classic vee neckline used to break up a generous bust by wearing a longer necklace or two.

I edged the collar with topstitched self-made bias tape to show more of the print

When it came to constructing the dress, I chose a drapey cotton lawn and cut enough ease at the bust so that the dress would drape over the individual breasts instead of pulling taught across the bust (i am wearing a silk camisole under the dress here, without which the drape is more pronounced). I've found this helps to 'break up' the upper body. I placed the print asymmetrically across the bust for the same reason - that sequence of yellow and orange circles at center front would have been a target! 

Continuing this approach, I placed the print asymmetrically over the dress as a whole. As my aesthetic generally is more low-contrast and delicate, with many curvy lines in face and hair I placed the more delicate, low contrast areas of the print in the upper third of the dress, closer to my face.

I concentrated the bolder, darker, higher contrast, 'heavier' areas of the print near the hem to anchor the dress visually and to get the impact of these parts of the print without feeling like I was being overwhelmed.


You'll notice that I relied on several different techniques to break up what could have been a formidable bodice - color and light/dark placement in the bodice as well as the overall garment, varying the weight of the lines used in the print over the garment, styling with necklaces, and last but not least Marcy Tilton's masterful use of subtly flattering lines in the original dress design.

I find that using several techniques, each applied with a light hand, creates a more effective and flattering end result when trying to direct attention towards or away from a particular aspect of one's physical being. Wearing a figure-hugging black dress with a dramatic decolletage will also break up the bust, but is not appropriate for everyday and can get a bit boring.  

I am very glad I chose to ignore 'traditional flattery' rules and tackle this design! Not only do i have two great summer dresses (with more to come) but I put myself through my paces creating visual balance in these garments. This experience clarified the process for me, and I hope this knowledge will be useful to my readers as well.

eagle-eyes will spot a high-heeled shoe, cassette audio tape, flaming binocular, old school teevee aerial....
This view shows the wonderful, asymmetrical swoop of the hem which makes this dress so whimsical and fun to wear. As I wanted to wear this piece as a dress, not so much as a tunic, I added 4" at the hem. This alteration is simple to do, and accents the indentation on the lower side hem.

Believe it or not, this dress is a big sentimental piece for me. I have a dear friend of many years who is an artist often working in the graffiti style. We spent many wonderful hours visiting museums together. One of his favorite artists is Alexander Calder, and we saw Calder's circus (made for his daughter) at the Berkeley Art Museum a few times together. So between the graffiti, the color palette, and the 'cirques' of this dress, it reminds me so much of my wonderful friend Shawn. I realize when you hear 'sentimental dressing' one expects old fashioned Victorian frills - this goes to show you just never know!

What are your most unexpected sentimental garments? Let us know in the comments!

Photography by Marvin Quick. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Blouse for Charming Hummingbirds - B4985



I made this blouse a couple of months ago, but it has been harder to photograph than the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot combined! Poor lighting conditions, gadget failure, even buttoning up the blouse wrong all plagued your humble photographess. I've finally managed some decent pictures, which makes me very happy as i really love this blouse and want to share it with you.

continuing the bird theme, worn with cuckoo clock pendant
I've made this pattern up several times before. The addition of princess seams below an empire waist seamline makes fitting a large bust/smaller ribcage and waist really easy and the many small pieces offer a nice canvas to showcase this gorgeous border print cotton lawn from Marcy Tilton.

Hummingbird Blouse layered over Tina Givens' Briare slip and self-drafted petticoat
With no sleeves and a fine but very breathable cotton fabric, this blouse is perfect for wearing in the heat. The bright colors and incredibly detailed floral print charm just about everyone. Finding just the right buttons for this blouse could have been a problem, but i used real shell ones i cut off of a old men's dress shirt. I turned them around, revealing the varied shell patterns.


Eileen Fisher has been creating a useful resource at their site on how to take care of your clothes for the long haul. This project is part of their philosophy of being respectful of the resources used to make their clothing. I enjoyed this video on how to sew on a button and used the same technique on this blouse. The little thread shanks give the buttons a bit of dangling movement.


I used french seams all through, enclosed the button plackets, and applied bias binding on the armscyes. The more i sew and wear my own garments, the more i appreciate a beautiful interior finish. The experience of wearing a nicely finished item is so much more comfortable, luxurious and sensual than floppy, scratchy ready to wear.

Combined with beautiful fabric and your desired fit, this type of finish really changes the way you live in your clothes. It can't compare to even the best of ready to wear because RTW manufacturers will not fit so exactly to your unique figure and do not regularly use the same quality of fabric and such time-consuming techniques. This level of luxury lies behind the passion of many seamsters.


A pattern which one knows inside and out, using it many times, is called a TNT - for "Tried N True". While you see the acronym pretty frequently in the online sewing world , you don't see much practical demonstration of the ways in which you can really stretch a TNT and put it through its paces in creating your wardrobe.


Erin of Seamstress Erin released a well-reviewed swimming pattern this summer. In conjunction, she has published a number of articles on ways to use this one pattern to make your own undiescreate a tankini, hack a high waist swim bottom or undies, how to add a little skirt, and how to add a high waist with twists. Whew! What i especially like about this series is how it shows what you can do beyond just changing out the sleeves or leaving off a collar by using some simple drafting skills and your creative vision. Really worth checking out for inspiration - and to see the gorgeous fabrics she uses.

Do any of you have TNT patterns? Or, even more important, what are the pieces in your wardrobe which are delightful enough to charm a hummingbird? Let us know in the comments!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ancestress of Style - Lauren McIntosh


We all have our own style icons. While some of them are constantly at front of mind - Isak Dinesen, Amelia Earhardt - others work their magic in our subconscious for decades until one day they decide to stroll out into the spotlight and take a bow.

Most of you are quite familiar with my love affair with beige. Beige - the perfect low contrast neutral to go with my low contrast coloring, beige keeps me from feeling overwhelmed when i pile on the details or play with an outsized silhouette.


Which is why i felt perplexed at my choice of daily uniform. The last six months have seen me ever more reliant on uniform dressing. Nine days out of ten I'm in a dress or a full skirt and white linen blouse. Even better if it is a full, black skirt. With a white blouse.

Black and white. While this combo indeed comprises neutrals, it is the quintessential high contrast look. Why did i love wearing it so much, why did it feel so me? I knew not why, but continued sporting this combo in hopes it would trigger some insight.

It didn't. What did was a post by Marcy Tilton, sharing with her facebook readers her love of designer Carolyn Quartermaine via a little video. While the focus of the video was Carolyn Quartermaine's promotion of toile de jouy, the calligraphy Ms. Quartermaine favored reminded me of Lauren McIntosh's own artwork. Lauren McIntosh co-owns Berkeley boutique Tail of the Yak with fellow artist Alice Erb. I of course remarked that Lauren McIntosh's personal style was also something to behold.

Lauren McIntosh with her artwork via hat designer Momoca's blog
While searching for a picture or two with which to illustrate my  point, my abiding love of the ensemble black and white stared me square in the face. The pictures of Ms. McIntosh i found online, while scarce, solved the mystery of my black and white love affair in an instant.

If you walked into Tail of the Yak today, you would be awed by the exquisite taste in everything from water glasses, to Victorian-era mourning jewelry, to hand-cut garlands and 1920’s era French ribbons by the yard. But you would not be shocked with a through the looking glass punch to the gut – because Tail of the Yak has been so influential and copied through the decades.


Not so in the early 1980’s. I grew up in Castro Valley, half an hour south of Berkeley to which we’d go on the weekends. I found being so out of place at ‘home’, then 'just another weirdo' a few miles distant to be more comforting than strange.  And in Tail of the Yak, I got a glimpse of people living the type of life in which my talents and preferences would at least be accepted, maybe even admired.

The idea of living with people who didn’t actively scorn me was arresting enough, but what I really loved about Tail of the Yak was looking at everything. I loved the taste and aesthetic and thirstily drank it in.

from Remodelista: Lauren McIntosh, Artist Doyenne of  Berkeley
On the best visits Lauren McIntosh would be working in the shop. She’s strikingly beautiful, but more than that I loved her outfits. When first I haunted the store, she wore crisp, full black cotton skirts with white cotton petticoats, black leather booties, and white or black cotton blouse. She braided her long black hair and sometimes topped it all off with a straw hat painted black. 

jewelry influenced by Tail of the Yak and Ms. MacIntosh herself
This stark ensemble created the perfect setting to showcase her incredible collection of antique (not vintage – antique) European and Mexican jewelry. Pearls! Cameos! Rose cut diamonds! Antique paste! Earrings from the Mexican jewelers who sold to Frida Khalo, in business since the days of Spanish colonialism (I have a pair myself – thank you mom)!

photo from the Real Isabelle Allende's blog
I haven't the words to convey the atmosphere of Tail of the Yak. I did find a few pictures which may give you a taste of it - here is Isabelle Allende sprucing up Ms. Erb and McIntosh's macquillage for a photoshoot, later published in American Craft magazine. That's Tail of the Yak in a nutshell.

"6 places to check out in the Elmwood" from sfgate
Intoxicating, and it seemed at the time, utterly beyond my reach. I didn’t have the budget of the target customer, so never got to know anyone with the store (aside from a few conversations with the ethereally delightful Alice Erb, partner in Tail of the Yak and the gentlest, sweetest of souls). So I consciously put aside the idea of being influenced by that milieu.

Happily, my unconscious was having none of that! I find it so wonderful that our subrosa selves can take inspiration from people and places no matter what 'we' make up our 'minds' to do or not. In this instance certainly my subconscious had very strict and correct views on the matter, and i am grateful to it for showing more common sense than 'me' up here in the brain!


I made this double-layered skirt as part of a Lagenlook Sew Along organized by Garden Girl (Rene) on the Stitcher's Guild sewing forum. These sew alongs started in January and have been quite active - check out the threads for a ton of eye candy, inspiration, and helpful advice. For this double-layered skirt i chose 100% cotton lawn, embroidered in a kind of eyelet/wallpaper stripe. It is easy to sew and very comfortable to wear. (Click here to see some photos showing the skirt details more clearly.)


I bought the fabric at Stone Mountain and Daughter - at $9 a 54" wide yard, an excellent value. Even more as it has been wearing quite well, no pilling on the embroidery, twisting, etc. I had been kicking myself for not buying more, when last Saturday i went upstairs at Stone Mountain to find the same fabric on sale for half off - I snapped up four yards to make a dress. Thank you fabric fairies!

Do any of you want to take a guess at what style icons lurk in your own subconscious, working patiently while awaiting the right moment to burst upon your awareness? Maybe you've had a similar realization? Please share!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Tina Givens Zelda Slipdress - Luxe in Silk


This make of Tina Givens' Zelda Slip Dress embodies slow sewing.  To begin, I'd had the fabric for over a year and a half before i cut into it. I also decided to accent the dress with some lace. I found a beautiful lace, which only came in white.  I knew from experience that the lace's rayon/cotton blend takes dye beautifully, so I used RIT dye in navy to create something more in line with the look i had in mind.  Dyeing took some time, as did stabilizing the silk crepe de chine at hem, neck and arm openings with spray starch. Cutting my own bias trim (of the same stretch denim i used for my Marcy Tilton V8876 frock coat) took more labor than buying pre-made. Hand stitching the bias binding also added minutes and hours. As did arranging all those gathers on the ruffles.



But what really pushed this one over the slow sewing edge were the changes i made after the dress was nominally complete.

The wrap blouse is NoaNoa, a gift from gorgeously generous Sheila of Ephemera <3 a="">

As soon as i finished this dress i loved wearing it. I bought the fabric at Stone Mountain and Daughter and it is simply luscious. Heavy without feeling weighed down, delicious soft soft surface, incredible drape and it turns out it is virtually fray proof. Never leave that store without going upstairs to check out the silk on sale!  The sinuous motion of the hem mesmerized me while simply walking around the house. And it's so practical for my life - i can wear it as a nightgown, then toss on a jacket or cardigan and be perfectly presentable to drop Mr. E off at the transit center for his early morning commute.

fairly swank for a 'just rolled out of bed' look if i say so meself

However, as close as this dress was to perfect, i had a couple of thoughts on how to improve it. The whole line is so dramatic, but the color was 'meh'. I wanted to see it in an equally dramatic hue, and loved the navy of the lace. That was an easy choice. Dyeing - easy, but time-consuming.

the original shorter, less ruffly, lighter version

The other thing i didn't like was the length in front. My knees felt like they were kind of poking out at center front, and that is not a spot i like my hems to hit generally. (That's why i'm wearing leggings in the pre-navy pictures.) I had a fair amount of fabric left after the first round of slip-making. When i measured this remnant i had just enough to add another ruffle at 6 1/2", behind the original 3" ruffle.

So i set to. As this silk has a fairly 'bouncey' reaction to being gathered (it poofs out instead of falling straight down) i made random hand-pleats for the added ruffle, instead of running stitches and gathering as i did for the original row of ruffles. Seeing as i was there hand pleating already, i sewed the ruffle on by hand as well. It took about an hour, but i like this length so much better than the shorter version.



How much that three and a half inch increase affected my reaction to this dress struck me. It's such a small amount compared to the height of my body, yet made all the difference - like letting out a too-long held breath. I did a bit of calculating, of which accuracy i am not certain, and it looks like three inches is just under 2% of my height (five feet six inches).

Which leads me to posit that the difference between looking good and having fabulously killer style is that last two percent. Any thoughts?



The one part of this dress i'm not so hot on is the neckline. It is fine, just not as excellent as the hem. I'm mulling over converting the bodice part to a strappy cami type of affair, which would be less obtrusive under layering garments as well as cooler and more flattering to wear on it's own. This operation could be trickier than it would seem upon first glance as Tina Givens' wonderful hemlines derive their shapes in part from the length added by the trapeze-shaped side seams.

here you can get a feel for the shape of this dress
My favorite part of this dress is the hem. It's not at all complicated, a very flat curve along the back and an upside down "U" sweep in the front. Somehow, these lines and the way they intersect constantly surprise with new shapes. I'm particularly enamored of the squareish garland-bit which hangs off the corners. Great, original looks from every angle - not a common achievement! No wonder this dress is so popular - it also flatters curvy women outrageously.



Is going through so much fuss worth it when you end up with something so scandalously luxurious and practical? I always answer "Yes!!" which is why i remain on the slow sewing team.  Are you on team slow sewing, or would you rather watch us from the sidelines?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cirque Dress Vogue 9112



This is my second make of this Marcy Tilton for Vogue Patterns design. I had two lengths of fabric i'd been waiting on sewing up, not having seen the perfect design. This linen digital print i'd been holding for two years. As soon as i saw the Cirque dress i hauled those lengths out as fast as i could!

I will blog about the first dress in future, i made it up with no alterations save adding three inches at the hemline (i'm 5'5 1/2" and active so i prefer a bit more coverage). However, while making up the first dress i became utterly enamored of the 'cirques' (the curved, gathered inset pieces along the hem). I also love the hem of my Hot Patterns Lantern Skirt, with it's upside down grin. Why not duplicate the big cirque on the opposite side of the dress, instead of the original droopy point (which is also fabulous), and curve the hem like the HP Lantern?



I had to see how this idea would turn out. First i sketched out my envisioned design. I used tracing paper, so i could lay my version over the original to discern the differences. Then, i traced out all the pattern pieces (from the instructions sheet) and worked thru which needed no alteration, which did, and sketch out the look of the alterations.



With a map in place, i set to drafting. Fortunately i was able to 'hinge' the alterations onto the original pattern pieces, which was less work and fewer pieces to go back in the envelope.

Front Hem
Back Hem
I had some concerns about how the hem would come out in the front. As you can see here, the back hem is symmetrical but the front came out a bit asymmetrical. I could have trimmed it to make it even, but i like the way that it echoes the uneven hem of the original. So it stayed.



I also wanted to emphasize the look of the piecing in this dress through contrasting light and dark. This required a bit of fiddling with the layout, fortunately i managed to pull it off. In the picture above you can see the shape of one cirque clearly - though usually my arms are in the way, didn't think of that beforehand!



I don't have a lot more to say about this dress, except this.I finished it last Saturday, today is Thursday, and i've already worn it three days. It also mixes quite well. The way the colors work with this little jacket of overdyed linen kind of shocked me, in a "happy shocky" way. It also looks very cool with your basic denim jean jacket.

This dress is a slam dunk if you are a fan of Marcy Tilton's V8876, with a few added bonuses (bonii?). With no closures, this dress is faster and easier to make. And it requires about a yard less fabric; combined with the lack of closure you can make it for less money as well.



I bought he fabric from Marcy Tilton's online shop, though as i bought it two years ago it is long gone. It is the same fabric used in one of the dresses on the envelope picture for V8876. I fell so hard for that fabric, but at around $50 a yard it was way out of my price range. 


Happily for me, Ms. Tilton had a little online contest which i won. The prize was a gift certificate to her fabric store - there was never any doubt about what i would buy with that prize!

In these closer photos you can see the way that the print falls apart as you approach the fabric, as well as some of the incredibly flattering and unusual colors: deep blackberry, burnt raspberry, paled-out frosted blueberry, toasted juice of lemon. Using fabrics like this one is a big reason why i love love love to sew - and why i love love love to wear what i sew.



This dress design, while it had its detractors in the beginning, is getting Big Love in the sewing community. Maresea of Biblioblog was first across the line with her soignee take (check out her perfect hair!) and Marcy showcased her neighbor Carol's bubbly LBD, elastic neckline version on her blog. Liana Hanson sketched out her plans prior to sewing up an on-trend color blocked version, and Terri makes beetles elegant in the way no one else can. Karen Kline's white eyelet version has me seriously eyeing eyelet fabrics for my own.  Edited to add: Dragonthreads made this flabbergastingly glorious Cirque dress of various asian fabrics. Draw-jopping! (hmm, think i'll leave that typo). Scroll down to the bottom of the post to view. And check out another take on how elegant and beautiful this dress makes up in a solid color at Thanks! I Made Them! Sew Can You (best sewing blog name ever).

Edited Once Again: Eagle-eyed reader Kate set me straight on a fact - glorious Bianca has the first make here at two days prior to Mary. (Who knew this post would turn into a 'breaking news - this just in' style story?) However the two of them are tied in my book for letting the classy and dare-I-say ladylike side of this design shine. Thank you Kate! Readers may want to take a look at a wardrobe of classic Tilton Sister dresses Kate made for her 2013 summer - from stash, yet! 

Yes, of course i want to make at least two more Cirque dresses. Pronto!  Don't let all the volume scare you off - choose a fabric with some drape (lightweight linen and cotton lawn or voile are both easy choices), fit through the bust and go for it! We'll all be so admiring as you exude cool chic whilst we wilt in the heat.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Bruyere Blouse and Briare Slip



I have accomplished some sewing towards my 'hot days' wardrobe, which is alarmingly scanty this year.



The blouse is the Bruyere by Deer and Doe. It is the first pattern i've used by this company and the fit is quite nice on my figure. I added 1" of length to the bodice and made no other changes. I like the fit, i like the design, i like the idea of drafting to remove the waistband and trying different hems, even lengthening the whole shebang into a dress. Not to mention the possibilities of sleeves! The Bruyere very well could end up a being a TNT for me ("tried and true" pattern). 



I chose a linen/rayon fabric and embellished it using the same Alabama Chanin inspired technique which i used on the Riding Peplum. For this blouse i used the Paisley stencil.



Underneath is my first go at a Tina Givens design, the freebee Briare slip. Many ladies have commented on the voluminous drafting on Tina Givens's patterns, and some have compensated for this in various ways (such as substituting another bodice like the Sorbetto as twotoast has done here). But i wanted to try something different, thus i made this one up as drafted in a very airy cotton voile.



The neckline and armholes both are nicely modest. I really love the huge sweep of the hem, and this slip works beautifully with a lot of pieces i already have in my wardrobe which surprised me. 



I am now on the lookout for fabric i can use to make up some more of Ms. Givens' designs as they are not only fun to sew and wear but also very practical for the hot days in this area. They do require a lot of fabric so i am glad i sewed up a freebee using less expensive material on my first go. I'll feel more confident shelling out some real dough next time.



Did i say this voile was very very sheer? It is indeed! I will need to wear a slip under this slip to wear it as a dress!

This winter has been nasty with various colds and flus around here. I got a bug about three weeks ago which devolved into a sinus infection...thankfully i'm on antibiotics which are helping. I appreciated the ease of construction of the Briare slip, as my mental capacity was and is on the low end due to all this infection and it was a treat to be able to do something besides moaning around the house.

For anyone interested in these lagenlook designs, head on over to Stitcher's Guild Forum and check out the Lagelook Sewalongs which Garden Girl (Rene) is hosting. I made the Briare Slip as part of one of these sewalongs, it is great motivation and the members a tremendous source of knowledge.