Friday, February 25, 2011

Nesting Instinct

It's snowing like crazy outside, and to remind me that Spring will come, (it always does, right?), I was drawn to a charming blog on the right column of a charming blog. I was visiting one of my favorites: Fabric, Paper, Thread, and amidst drooling over her "high tea" tablescape, my eye was caught by her blog list, which had a pic of a darling purse needlebook. So I clicked and found myself intrigued by the Spring publication of Amy Powers' "inspired ideas" magazine. There are so many adorable little projects! There must be a half dozen of them that I am itching to try! Probably the first I will try is the one above, Nesting Instinct. I have experienced real nesting tendencies, and perhaps that's why I, like so many people am enchanted by birds' nests. Heck, I am just enchanted by birds, aren't you? I should try photo'ing the 2 natural nests I have. And the aforementioned purse needlebook is nothing less than darling. I love the idea of a pretty little needlebook, but I don't have one, nor have I ever made one, but it's definitely on the list-in-my-head. That and a biscornu. What's on your fantasy list?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Figuratively Speaking, Part 2

Despite my desire to wear retro-inspired clothing, I know that much of the styles won't flatter my particular figure. Since my goal is to dress attractively, working with my figure and not against it, one of the first types of garments I'll be making is tunic-length knit tops, chosen to fit and flatter! In my next post, I'll feature some of the fabrics and patterns I've purchased. I am approaching my initial attempts as experimental. I'll be trying to work out the patterns, techniques and fabrics which work best for me.
In the meantime, I will show you a little bit from my first attempt, as well as my first unsuccessful try at purchasing a dressform.

The first top I tried is a Vogue Pattern, #8469. It claims to be "Very Easy", and for the most part it is. This pattern features an adjustable bust according to your cup size. Perfect for me! Most patterns are proportioned for a B-cup bustline. This is defined by taking two measurements: one at your upper chest, above your breasts, just under your arms and the other at the fullest part of your bust. If you have a 2" difference, that is a B-cup, 3" is a C-cup , etc. To give you a window into my world of fit issues, my measurement difference is 9". That's right, 9 inches. Makes my upper back ache just thinking about it.
TMI? Anyhoo .... with this pattern, each cup size has its own pattern piece and so I laid the c-cup pattern piece over the D-cup pattern piece, and saw where and how much the increases were and using the D-cup pattern piece, I cut out pieces that were enlarged a little in the right places. If I had taken pictures, I could show you where and how much, but for now you'll just have to take my word, that I lengthened the bodice piece about 1" from the shoulder down over the bust point, and graded that in to about 1/2" at the center front and down to zero at the side seam. I also increase the width of the bodice front by 1/2" at each side.
This pattern is a good choice for me, in that it fits close in under the bust, instead of the letting the girth of my bust define how wide I look all the way down. It also has a dolman/kimono sleeve, which also helps. Not that I am inclined to make this up in a striped fabric, but if I did, I think I would place the stripes horizontally on the bodice/sleeve pattern pieces and vertically on the torso/skirt pieces. The pattern even shows this made up color-blocked, which would be especially good for someone who wanted to accentuate a smaller bust (lighter color), and minimize a fuller waist (darker color). I bought this fabric @ in mid-January. It only needs a yard and a half to make this top, so this custom-fit top cost me a whopping $8.97. That's not counting the pkg of bias tape used to face the neckline, the cost of thread. Shipping was free because my total purchase came over $35.00.
Now, about the dressform. Yes, she looks lovely modeling my new top. BUT, she's headed back to Atlanta. I just got her on Friday, and I've been considering her deficiencies and I have decided that I can't live with them. I bought her at Atlanta Thread Supply, online, when they had a free shipping day. She is a Dritz, "My Double", size Medium. On paper, the Medium will dial up to my measurements. By on paper, I mean the measurements given in the catalog and online. However, when she arrived and I tried to adjust her to "double"me, I discovered that the label on the outside of the box, gave different measurement ranges (slightly smaller), but smaller enough not to work for me. (The next size up is too big, at least on paper, there is very little overlap in sizes.) As it was, she would be too small in the bust, but I figured she could wear one of my bras, stuffed. (Oh My!)
You have to dial until the ruler guide reveals the measurement you are aiming for -- you do this gradually on all 4 sides, tedious. Then you discover that it gets very difficult to turn the wheel and that the ruler guide does not have markings all the way up to the measurements that are printed on the box! The final insult came when the plastic threaded rod in the middle of the upper back gave way and stripped itself, causing the back left side to collapse back in to the starting point. It wouldn't even hold in place at a measurement well within the box-indicated range. I will be returning this dress-form to ATS, and the question in my mind is should I try to use the next size up? What is stopping me, is that the next size up, which is referred to as "Plus-Size" has a minimum waist-and-hip measurement that is slightly larger than I am. But on the other hand, maybe the listing in the catalog and online is incorrect for that size too.
Since I am very focused on fit, and cannot count on cutting out a pattern as printed and sewing it up without alterations, I am continuing to consider my options. I haven't abandoned the idea of making one of those duct-tape dummies. Have you ever done that? How did it work out for you?

Fly-by Posting

If you were at all interested in my post a few days ago about the lovely movie star designs of the mid-20th century, you must read this post on the Colette Patterns blog.....

Monday, February 21, 2011

Developing the Rules of the Game

In wardrobing myself, I have a lot of things to think about:
1. My age
2. My size
3. My figure type
4. My lifestyle
5. Our climate
6. My budget
7. My tastes

In considering my age, at 48 years old, there are definitely styles out there, which are too "young". And sadly, as much as I could let my imagination run away with me, and completely make-myself-over into a 1940's Hollywood starlet, I have to accept that the only ones who can really get away with that are urban twenty-somethings. This is where fashions described with terms like: "interpretation" and "influenced by" can come in. And frankly, that takes more work, more judgment. I can't rely on a direct-copy approach, like I'm creating a costume. I must carefully decide which elements of the era are the ones which hold the greatest appeal, and work those into the here and now. For instance, I like the sweet, feminine shapes of the 1940's, but I don't have the tiny waistline that makes everything from that era look its best. Every blouse, every "jumper" (sweater), nipped in at the waist. With separates, every top was tucked into the bottom, revealing the slimness of the waistline, and most dresses were tailored in at the waist, and often, belted. I can borrow the necklines and sleeve and collar details, but I am more likely to put them on tops which are long, almost tunic-length, so as not to emphasize my large mid-section. No belts or tucking in at the waistband for me. I can borrow color palettes, even repro prints. I have a large bosom, and so high, small collars (of which we see a lot of in the 1950's) don't work for me. I do best to borrow from the 1920's and 1930's when you saw more deep vees and scooped or square necklines. Part of what I like so much about dressing in 1st half of the 20th century, was the femininity of the lingerie and accessories. To be sure, it was certainly more fussy, but I have to admit, there are things I like about taking that kind of care, and I do like to be ladylike. The careful choice of foundation undergarments, pretty lacy slips, embroidered handkerchiefs. As a very young child in the late 1960's, I had a blue linen lined Easter coat, matched to my dress. I wore it with little white gloves and a white straw hat with a blue ribbon. I had little white nylon ankle socks and black patent-leather Mary Janes. So prim!
Considering my size now, once again, I find myself betwixt-and-between. I am taller-than-average, but shorter-than-tall. Much of my height is in my torso, and not so much in the length of my arms and legs. Much of my "Plus-size"d-ness resides in my bosom and torso, and not so much in my hips. I am an "apple" and not a "pear". I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the majority of plus-sized ladies are pears and carry their excess in the hips and thighs, and I definitely find this to be how most plus-sized clothing is proportioned.
Which brings me to my figure-type. When looking at pattern recommendations, I am definitely the inverted triangle. I look best in roomy tops and trim, lean bottoms. A dolman sleeve top, covering the waist and high-hip area, and a pencil skirt, will show off my legs, and cover the upper bulk. I look best with darker colors on top and paler/brighter on the bottom, to visually balance my proportions. I can use large prints to break up the large expanse on top visually.
This presents a little challenge for my complexion as I am very fair in coloring and look best in pastels. And so, I do best to have pastel details around the neckline of a dark fabric. Like a layered collar, or a scarf tied at the neck. I look best with a long line down the middle, like a rectangular scarf, tied once low on my upper chest, mimicking the shape of a deep vee-neck. Likewise, if I wear a pendant necklace, it should be rather bold and on a long, bold chain.
My lifestyle: I work full-time in an office with mostly guys (engineering-types), and with minimal contact with the public, so I don't have an external expectation of dressing attractively. But I've worked there long enough to realize that I need to dress nicely for myself, and that it cheers me up in my lonely little cubicle. In my free time, I try to dress for church on Sundays (although there is a wide range of acceptable dress there). Most of my other public appearances are in the grocery store and going to hockey games (just try expressing your fashion aesthetic in the bleachers of a cold, dark smelly hockey rink!), from November to sometime in March, and baseball and lacrosse games in the Springtime, football games in the Fall. Now mind you, I use the term "Springtime" loosely. Here in Maine, we have had to delay Little League Opening Day, because there was still a foot of snow on the ballfield. Most years, the kids have had their pre-season practices on paved parking-lot surfaces, because the fields were either still under snow, or the recently-melted snow had left mud not yet dried. Even if the fields are bare, the temperatures often require sweaters and/or jackets until well into June. I admit to a rather barren cultural life. While raising children, my husband and I have rarely gone out to dinner or concerts, or theater. And children, or no children, we rarely go to the movies, as my husband is freakishly tall, and can hardly sit in most movie-theater seats -- no place to put his knees! So, considering climate concerns, I usually have to dress warm! And during the transitions of Spring and Fall, here in Maine, we dress more like Winter. So I need sweaters, and I wear layers and turtlenecks and tights and boots....
In this economy, need I really comment on the budgetary constraints on my wardrobe? I don't mind too much really, because I have never been one who is interested in having the latest fashions, I never buy any expensive designs, and even if I were inclined to, it would be a huge challenge to find things in my size! Also, part of my admiration for the 1940's is an interest in the impact of WWII and how people had to ration and do without. (Maybe that's why they had such slim waistlines!) I like the idea of being frugal; it just seems to be more responsible not to be wasteful with the blessings we have been given.
And finally, my tastes, I like "classics", and feminine frills, good fabrics, silk scarves and pearl necklaces. I like hand-knit sweaters, crocheted edging and lavender cologne. I try to stand with good posture and walk gracefully. I like an outfit to be well-coordinated, and suited to the activity.
So, given allllll the above considerations, I have my work cut out for me. What about you? How do you deal with the problem of clothing yourself?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Figuratively Speaking, Part 1

Once upon a time, there was a young lady with a lovely figure. She was blessed with an ample bosom, a trim waist and slender hips. She was tallish, though, and always complained that shopping for clothing was frustrating because frequently the garments sized for her girth were too short for her. She had no patience for her friends complaining of having to take up hems, because that was far easier to accomodate than trying to squeeze out an extra inch or more from stingy hems. Fortunately for her, her mother taught her to sew, and she rather enjoyed poring over pattern books and perusing through bolts of fabric for just the right colors and weights. She made blouses, slacks, skirts, prom dresses, and eventually a few bridesmaid dresses. Her father gave her a sewing machine one year, and she took it with her to college, where she found very little sewing time, but she hauled it out for mending, simple alterations, and the occasional creation for a costume party. In the years that followed, her figure, ahem, filled out a little, and now her proportions were more suited to off-the-rack garments. Her sewing machine went with her everywhere, but saw very little action until she needed it for simple home dec projects and her children needed Halloween costumes.
As the years went by, the lady would catch glimpses of herself in mirrors, and frown at her aging and spreading figure, and how her attire appeared frumpy, tired, and utterly defeated. She gradually admitted to herself that her vanity was affronted by the images looking back at her in mirrors. Determined to improve her appearance, she undertook various inadequate efforts to lose weight and tone her shape. She reasoned that regardless of the figure she was dressing, her wardrobe needed not only updating, but curating. Her first directed forays shopping for appropriate garments were entirely discouraging. To her dismay, her quest for elegant, well-fitted clothes forced her to face that the figure she had been camouflaging in her husband's jeans and stetchy knits was no longer proportional. She had come to demand a standard of fit which simply could not be met by the clothing found on store racks. Her eye now sought clean lines and would no longer tolerate bags, wrinkles, or uncomfortable binding. No doubt, she could no longer afford the garments such accomodation, given the bags and wrinkles and gray hairs that already sacrificed the starting canvas. From now on, the garments, mustn't merely cover and keep warm. They could not be indifferent to their station. They must perform! They must flatter! They must delight the eye! Every quality would now be under scrutiny. They would be judged for their fabric, and how the cut suited her figure. They must drape beautifully, and hold up to laundering without shrinking or fading. She began to disdain shoddy construction techniques, uninspired shapes, and indiscriminate finishing details. For a long time, she was discouraged. but gradually came to consider the possibility of making her own things again.
And this is where we find her now. At the edge of a new adventure, no longer discouraged, nor disgusted with the overweight and aging body she had to clothe. Her creativity had been awakened. She got out her old sewing machine, learned how to clean and oil it, and reviewed the stitches it could perform. She also set up the serger she had bought on an impulse years ago, but had never used, had never even learned how to use it.
And certainly, dear reader, you have long since figured out that our heroine is none other than myself! And as today's title post implies, there will be more installments to come detailing my progress. This is a bit of an imposing commitment for me (not the doing, but the posting), as I am, as I have previously suggested a bit shy about posting pictures of myself. I am overweight, and vain about my appearance, but my desire to enjoy this process all the further by documenting it will likely triumph over my embarassment! That, and again, reminding myself that there only 2 categories of people who will read this blog: 1) People who know me and therefore already know what I look like; and 2) People who don't know me and don't really care what I look like. And still when you add the totals of the 2 categories together, it may not even be in the double digits!
So, stay tuned....

Friday, February 18, 2011

Something exciting happened today....

I was at work and some pictures were needed of a machine part that had damage. Nobody could get a good shot, and it came to my turn to try. I needed to take a close-up of something, showing good detail. Oh yeah, and it was in low light. The dig cam available was a Nikon CoolPix - basically the same one I use at home. Now, anyone who peruses my blog will see that I have not mastered my camera. Long have I tucked my users manual in my bag when I think I might have some time to look through it and learn what my cam can do. Hah. Have read almost nothing. Today, however, someone was depending on me to take the time to figure it out and get some good shots. And I did! It felt sooooo good!
So now, I wish I were at home this afternoon and could test my new photo skills in the lovely afternoon sunshine.
There are certain obstacles to blogging, many of which I am sure are obvious: Lack of time, lack of inspiration, and in my case, lack of photos. Blogging is such a sharing activity and the type of people who might read what I have to say are likely to be visual-crafty types. I know the blogs I return to are invariably well-photo'd. (Now that I consider that assertion, I realize that isn't entirely true...if a blog is really well-written, it doesn't have pictures every single time, and I will still come back over and over.) But when you are trying to share a project you've done, it is way more interesting if you have attempted a little photo-journalism. I often have had a blog post idea, but didn't buckle down to it, because of the daunting photo task it deserved. And really, have you tried uploading photos on blogger. Very challenging. I keep thinking that I must being doing it in a naive, cumbersome way, and that bloggers who are more techno-savvy than I must be doing something really cool and snappy that I don't know about. Then I remember, that I have run across bloggers who have left blogger b/c the picture capabilities are so inadequate. Hmmm....should I research this more?
I have new things I want to show off: I have dusted off my sewing machine, set-up the never-used serger that I have had for years, and finally sort-of learned how to use it, bought way too much fabric and a few patterns, and a dressform, whom I have named in true blogging sewist fashion. (In case you're not familiar, there is a movement afoot among people who sew to refer to oneself as a "sewist" as opposed to a "sewer", as "sewer" (pronounced "sow-er") is after all spelled the same as "sewer" (pronounced "soo-er"), and I think you'll agree with me when I opine, "Ick!".
Another obstacle to my photojournalism however is sheer vanity. I am shy about posting pictures of myself (say, modelling a new garment), not because of a fear of revealing any identifying characteristics, just vain and perturbed by looking merely mortal and not young and fresh and like a super-model. (I mean, after all, what if I have a bad hair day? Or the lighting is unflattering, or I look as big as I really am? I just have to channel Jamie Lee Curtis' honesty and courage!) Any shots I come up with will be humbling, no doubt. But I've been giving myself a pep-talk and will be overcoming this reticence. Then I have to remember how few people actually read this blog, and get over myself already.
But since I have no fresh eye candy yet to share with you, I have harvested a little crop around the internet, reflecting back to my last post.
First of all, let's review my references to beautiful fashions in classic film in my last post.
1. Claudette Colbert's wedding gown in "It Happened One Night."
The 1930's movie stars had the loveliest bias-cut silk gowns. The beauty was in the shimmer and shapeliness. (I have a photo of Jean Harlow I'll post another time. Stunning.)
2. Still looking for a good photo of Joan Fountaine in her sensible tweeds in the Alfred Hitchcock film "Suspicion" with Cary Grant. You know how Al loved to have his blonde leading ladies well-dressed. (Oooh! That reminds me -- maybe I can get a shot of Grace Kelly in the red lace number in "Dial M for Murder"!) I have "Suspicion" on DVD. I think for my next trick I shall learn to capture screenshots from my DVDs.....
3. Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy as "Sabrina"
Hum "Isn't It Romantic?", close your eyes and consider swaying in William Holden's arms wearing this gown. An intoxicating image, non? No champagne necessary.....
4. Rita Hayworth as "Gilda" alludes to a striptease, but doesn't do one while singing "Blame it on Mame". What a performance....
5. Marilyn Monroe sings "Diamond's are a Girl's Best Friend" in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes".
A direct descendant from Rita Hayworth's Gilda? I think it's indisputable.
6. Marilyn again, this time in beaded silk as the showgirl, opposite Laurence Olivier (!) in "The Prince and the Showgirl".7. Grace Kelly: This little montage is from Hitchcock's "Rear Window", in which she co-starred with James (Jimmy) Stewart. And this barely scratches the surface.....Somehow, she even looks chic lounging in cuffed-up jeans, a big-shirt and loafers -- wish I did!
And now for the musicals, The Musicals!!!!
8.Here is Deborah Kerr, looking simultaneously demure and alluring, all decolletage and hair-down, in an informal pose....(As Anna in "The King and I")
Just a simple daygown, looks like it might be handkerchief-weight linen with appliqued floral motifs.And here is the gorgeous, opulent ballgown.9. Next is Audrey Hepburn, as Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady". I wrote about her before and showed her beautiful Josephine-esque ballgown. More to my liking is this "simple" little number Eliza wore the morning after the ball (I think). For my coloring, I would wear it in a pale Tiffany blue, or apricot blush....More famous is the snappy little number she introduced, turning heads, at the Ascot Races.10. The lovely Leslie Caron, breathtaking as "Gigi". I so covet this ultrafeminine lace shirtwaist. And you really must have your hair up, with slightly mussed ringlets....Before her tutelage as a courtesan, when just an "awkward" schoolgirl. (I should be so awkward.....)And the duckling emerges as a swan.... (Which reminds me to find a pic of Grace Kelly playing a princess in "The Swan")11. Judy Garland, in "Meet Me in St. Louis" Wonderful Gibson Girl style costumes, with vibrant colors -- no doubt carefully approved by Vincente Minelli's artistic eye.
12. And Judy in "The Harvey Girls"
I looked, but didn't find a pic of the stiffly-starched white aprons of the Harvey Girls' service uniforms.
And I looked but didn't find Betty Grable in "Mother Wore Tights", so here's a shot of Betty with MM and Lauren Bacall, whom I have yet to mention, but really you know I want to show her in her New-Look style wasp-waisted houndstooth check suit she wore in "To Have and Have Not."

That's all for now, folks.....I didn't even touch on Gone With the Wind, mainly because everyone knows Scarlett's wardrobe had some of the best movie costumes ever, and can call them to mind effortlessly. But seriously, wasn't her most gorgeous the deep red one she wore to Melanie's party when gossip had scandalized her reputation, and Rhett was furious with her and made her go alone? Vivian Leigh defined something in that dress, and I'd be scared to name it!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Vintage? Repro? Retro?

I have to confess that I have an interest (just shy of an obsession) in vintage fashion. A tour around blogs on the internet tells me that I am not alone! There are blogs and more blogs featuring fashions from the 20th century. It seems that the show "Mad Men" (which I have never seen), has fueled an interest in fashions from the early 1960's (think June Cleaver meets Jackie O). And there seems to be a thriving lifestyle in the UK, harking back to wartime England, and ranging into the world of pin-ups and burlesque queens. You can read all about people who live "authentically", using consumer goods from their chosen era, or following beauty practices, and replicating wardrobes, right down to seamed stockings, waist-cinchers and bullet bras. And then there are theatrical wardrobe professionals or historic re-enactors, who re-create period-correct costumes and study textiles and construction techniques, from corsets to bustles and bonnets.
My interest is quite a bit more subtle. I just like nice clothes. But far from being a fashionista, I'm kind of an old-fashioned girl. I always think the latest fashions are strange and impossibly unflattering on the average woman. I like the tried-and-true shapes and styles. I admit that my preferences are heavily influenced by the Silver Screen, from Claudette Colbert's bias-cut silk wedding gown in "It Happened One Night" to Joan Fountaine's sensible tweed suits in "Suspicion". Who can forget Audrey Hepburn's Paris gown (Givenchy, I think?) in Sabrina? Or Rita Hayworth's alluring number when singing "Blame it on Mame" in "Gilda" Am I the only who thinks the show-stopping pink gown Marilyn Monroe wore in "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" when singing the title song, was insprired by Rita's ? And while we're at it, how about Marilyn. I can recall so many of the costumes that she wore - she did have a way of filling them. Like the beaded gown in "The Prince and the Showgirl". Or how about anything Grace Kelly ever wore. (With the exception of her role in "The Country Girl" I really didn't care for the slouchy cardigan and loafers look - at least, not on Grace - it didn't do her justice!) I am a sucker for the over-the-top colorful and frilly costumes in Technicolor musicals. Think Deborah Kerr in "The King and I". (I would dance all night in that ball gown too, and with Yul Brynner!) Or Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady", Leslie Caron in "Gigi", or Judy Garland in "Meet Me St. Louis" or "The Harvey Girls". As I type this, I'm watching Betty Grable (now there's a girl who can rock a costume) and Dan Dailey in "Mother Wore Tights".
I know my fashion tastes are out of step with current sensibilities. I like matchy-matchy. I want to be a Little Miss Revlon doll from the 1950's with a trunk full of outfits that complete a trousseau. I want every outfit to look like it belongs in an old-fashioned dress-shop window, with a complete set of coordinating acessories. (Notice I didn't say matching...)
And that brings me to the subject of dresses. Dresses are experiencing somewhat of a revival. I don't know how long it will last, though. I must admit that I am skeptical of this trend's staying power. Pants are still the default look. I have precious few dresses, and when I think back over the last year, I can think of only 2 occasions when I wore a dress. In June, I wore a dress to my son's HS graduation, and on 12/30, we attended a wonderful 50th Wedding Anniversary (my in-laws) held at a Country Club.
In my next post, I will continue on with my new approach to a lady's wardrobe in 2011. And in case you haven't figured it out from my last post, it involves sewing.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day

No one reading this should be too surprised that I am home for a snow day. I live on southern coast of Maine, and it is national news that we are getting the same massive snow storm that has swept over much of the rest of the country. The boys are home from school. We had waffles for a late breakfast . Now everyone is lazing around and trying to figure out what to do with the day.
As usual, I have no trouble thinking of things that will more than fill the available time. First on the list are repairs to Evan's ski parka. Brand new ski parka. The one he had for less than 24 hours before tearing it to shreds. Last Sat., we bought the ever-growing 17yo a new parka. Size Mens xl. On Sunday morning, he left on the bus with the Ski Club for a day at Sunday River. Sunday evening, he came with some major damage to New Parka. I can repair. Will take at least an hour. Involves patching and reinforcing torn fabric, and then re-assembling and sewing torn seams. We'll see.
I have many new sewing projects I want to blog about. Soon.