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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
I’m sorting through photos for a couple more Christmas costuming posts, which I’m hoping to have up before New Year’s, but in the meantime, I have to share this wonderful video!
The same friend & coworker who sent me the link to the amazing Dior video also sent me this one a few weeks ago. (Thank you, Matt!)
The undergarments required for a proper period silhouette are often a bit unfamiliar to us in modern times. So many layers! And if you’ve ever wondered what pregnancy fashions looked like in the 1800s, there are a couple examples.
I hope you enjoy this beautifully simple film about historic dresses and all the layers beneath!
There was a little blood (on the white fur, of course! but easy to fix), a lot of sweat (heavy upholstery fabric is hard to wrangle!), but thankfully, no tears for this build!
I ended up having to sort through 415 photos for this post! Needless to say, I have reduced that number down a little bit. (Click photos to enlarge.)
Back at the end of September, I was hired to build dresses for two identical mannequins for a revamped outdoor Christmas display in Wichita Falls. The request was for something that resembled the red satin dresses with white fur trim seen at the end of the 1954 movie White Christmas.
One of the mannequins was brought to my house.
I called her Keira. She was about the same dress size as I am – but 6 feet tall! A GIANT Barbie.
Her old outfit was sad and her wig was scraggly. So I threw away her clothes and let her borrow some of mine after a bit of a spa day.
I ordered a swatch of the Sunbrella brand red outdoor upholstery velvet. It ended up being the perfect color and had a decent drape, so I ordered 16 yards (but it seems to be sold out at the moment – not sure if they will restock it, but I hope they do!).
I bought some rip-stop nylon for lining and some white acrylic fur with an olefin backing at my local Hancock Fabrics. I also purchased outdoor upholstery thread, acrylic rhinestones (JoAnn Fabrics), and fabric glitter glue (Hobby Lobby).
I ordered hoop skirt petticoats from Petticoat Junction and the client ordered ice skates for shoes. I bought some red “parade gloves” at a Halloween store (perfect timing of a project!).
My really good friend Marlene, who is a professional film & television makeup artist, was tasked with finding and styling some appropriate wigs that could stand up to the elements.
Wensley did not like Keira and hated it when I touched her or moved her around. I think she bothered him because she wouldn’t look at him, hehe. (My dress forms don’t have faces so he just ignores them.)
There was growling and barking for many days after she arrived. Just when he had gotten a little used to Keira visiting, the big roll of velvet fabric arrived and he greeted that with the same suspicious “intruder alert!” and I caught it on video:
My husband and our brother-in-law helped me rig a stand for her, and then I was able to start working on a mockup.
My starting point for both bodices was Vogue 2979 that looks like a reproduction of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress (pictured in this old post). But the sleeve caps as drafted were too short and caused all kinds of fit issues until I popped the seam open at the shoulder. (I tried the bodice on myself and had similar problems with the fit, so beware if you are trying to use this pattern straight from the envelope.) I also lowered the underarm curve a slightly like I usually need to do for myself.
Therefore, I drafted my own sleeve from scratch and made it a two-piece sleeve while I was at it. This allowed me to include better elbow ease for Keira’s perpetually bent arms. It also made it so much easier to dress her.
My friend used glossy red model paint to repaint Keira’s outdated ‘80s lips (check out that unbelievably sharp line!) and Keira got her lovely new hair. So much better!
The skirts were just basic full circles (but huge! because she’s so tall!) and I draped & drew the cape pattern on Keira. I was really surprised that the upholstery velvet cooperated and did what I wanted it to do for the most part.
I didn’t have enough fur (I bought all there was at the store) to double fold it like I wanted to on the capelet and skirts, so I lined it with some white polyester utility fabric and did a lot of picking to pull the fur out of the seams.
If you have questions or would like to know about specific details, ask me in the comments. =)
Overall, I probably spent about 3 weeks total on this project but the work was spread out over about 6 weeks. It was a huge build to complete on my own and I was so glad when it was finished! So was Wensley.
Merry Christmas to all, and my all your Christmases be white!
I have so many things to share! This is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge post.
Some of you may already know from talking to me directly or seeing it on Twitter, I no longer work part-time at Fabrique Fabrics. It was fun for the year and a half it lasted and I’ll miss my coworkers, but since it was never really my “career” I’m not really upset about it. (I think everyone who knows the details is more upset about it than I am.) The short explanation is my boss decided to reduce my hours to “none” to save some money, so I’m moving on to other things instead of waiting around.
On to more exciting things (and LOTS of links)…
And here’s a teaser video of this year’s show, in which you can see some of the costumes in motion:
Hopefully, I will have more photos of both the opera and the parade to share later. (I’m crossing my fingers that someone will post a video of the parade on YouTube at some point!) Update: Post about the parade.
Recent freelancing has suddenly gone from “absolutely nothing” to “I’m booked into the beginning of next year!” Such is my career.
And just because I’ve been looking for a place to share a couple of great costuming videos, I’m going to include them here.
I found the first video because of the second one. It is a really nice overview of what it’s like in any professional costume shop – whether it’s opera, theatre, dance, or film – when there are costumes to construct and fit. “Recreating a Tutu” at the New York City Ballet:
And if you have the time to watch (it’s over 26 minutes long), the following is a truly fascinating video on how a ballet pointe shoe is made (teaser-not-quite-spoiler: inside out!). If you don’t have time to watch it now, come back and watch it later when you do! I promise you will enjoy it.
They use some cool sewing machines and do an amazing amount of the work by hand. And to think that all shoes used to be made this well! “What’s in a Ballet Shoe”:
** What my husband/editor read at first glance: “An elaborate collection of life-size Vulcan gizmos filled with charred costumed characters made famous by the beloved Christmas carrots” ??
So over the course of a week, I made myself three pairs of skinny pants.
Way back in… APRIL!
(I am so far behind in blogging!)
I needed some more work pants for my part-time job at the fabric store and I decided I’d make some because 1) I hate pants shopping and 2) pants are easy to sew once you have a well-fitting pattern.
I’ve never really bothered to draft myself a custom pants sloper because I’ve always been able to find jeans that fit me if I search long enough in stores.
My biggest problem with ready-to-wear (RTW) trousers is the fit of the waistband. Most waistbands seem to be cut like funnels – hips and crotch curve might be perfect but the back waistband majorly gaps on me. (I have, however, found a couple of brands and specific style numbers in those brands that actually fit well, even in the waistband.)
So I pulled out Butterick pattern 5682, traced it in my size according to the size chart, and then compared it to two pairs (different brands) of store-bought skinny jeans that fit me really well.
I don’t remember all the exact changes I made, but the main differences between the RTW and paper pattern were the leg width, the height of the waistband (especially in the front), the back pocket size, and the crotch curve.
I needed to trim down the crotch curve – more noticeably at center back than front. If you can get the crotch curve right, that’s half the battle for fitting a pair of trousers!
The pattern only included one pocket size, which meant that it was proportionally wrong for most of the sizes in the envelope. Proper pocket proportion and placement is important! (Afterall, you don’t want “gateway mom jeans” because of “dinosauric pockets”.)
So I reduced the pocket size to match my RTW skinnies and referred to the factory placement when making my own.
With my pattern corrected well enough on paper, I pulled out some black metallic stretch denim I had. There was enough yardage to re-cut if I needed any major alterations, but I was fairly certain the fit would be close enough to the RTW jeans I like.
I decided to use some fun cotton fabric to line the front pockets. No one will ever see it but I know it’s there! =)
After a quick assembly and matching the details on my RTW pairs, I had a pretty good first pair.
I ended up adding half an inch to the hem length on the pattern but the black pair is just long enough. I also curved the waistband a little more to prevent my next pairs from having the slight gap at center back that the black pair has.
Knowing that I never tuck my shirts in, especially when wearing skinny pants, I called the metallic black pair “good enough”…
…and moved on to a second pair – this time in a floral print stretch jacquard:
I carefully cut the fabric so the stripey-ness of the floral print would match across the legs and then broke up the print on my tush with intentionally unmatched pockets – something that will hardly ever be seen because of that untucked shirt thing, but still.
I still had one 3-inch metal fly zipper left, so I decided to make a third pair of skinny pants out of some textured stretch jacquard. (I love love love this fabric! You will be seeing it again because I bought it in 4 different colors.)
I didn’t do anything fun for the pockets on my floral print pants because the pants themselves where fun enough. I decided the teal pants needed interesting pockets though.
I had three good options in my cotton print stash – Tube map, tiny turtles, and bigger happy turtles. So I turned to Instagram/Twitter for a vote.
My first try-on and I think I finally got the waistband curve exactly right! Third time’s a charm and all that. This pair of pants is definitely the most comfortable.
I did more topstitching detail on my teal pants than I did on the other two pairs. I also cut them out one layer of fabric at a time in order to keep the textured design evenly horizontal across each piece – typical making-things-overly-complicated-just-because-I-can mode of operation.
Here’s a back view of the finished teal pants. (After all the picture sorting and editing, I’m reeeally tired of looking at my butt!)
Pair number four will be perfect – if I ever decide I need to make myself another! I went ahead and corrected the pattern just in case.
I chose to mimic the look of the buttonholes on my RTW jeans. I made the loop by tracing around the shank of the jeans tack button and bringing it to a point. I used some embroidery/cross-stitch thread and just zig-zag stitched over it following the line I drew.
I’ve been wearing all three pairs of skinny pants a lot for my retail job at the fabric store. The metallic black pair is a little too warm in the summer (all that metal retains body-heat and reflects it back) but it’s a nice basic without being boring because of the sparkle. The floral pair is just plain fun & trendy. And the teal pair is super comfortable and probably my favorite.
So anyway, I made some pants. Trousers. Whatever.
And it took me so long to blog them, that it seems everyone else in the online sewing community has now made and blogged their own in the meantime! Ahead, but behind all at the same time.
And Happy Geek Pride Day!
Today I’m spending the afternoon working at the little local fabric store and wearing my newly made Star Trek comic print skirt.
I didn’t use a pattern for my skirt. It’s just a basic petticoat-style skirt with an elastic waistband, which I made with rectangles of fabric. (More details in a minute.)
I still have plans to remake a better fitting knit Dandelion top a la TOS style, but I haven’t gotten to that point in my sewing queue.
So I’m just wearing an old store-bought polo I’ve had in my closet for years with my new skirt. The polo’s a bit too long for the skirt, but it’ll do for now.
I’ve had this fabric for months knowing I wanted a geeky skirt out of it. I was even able to print-match across the seams without losing too many inches!
Here’s a simplified how-to diagram to explain making the elastic-waistband skirt (detailed instructions following):
Mine finished about 19½-inches long (knee-length worn a couple inches below waist) using the following measurements & steps:
Here are a couple of sewing tricks I like to use:
This skirt works really well with a petticoat underneath so I pulled out my ‘50s style petticoat (it’s an XL kid’s size so it’s shorter than the period appropriate length).
My husband hates the petticoat look but I love it!
It required spinning.
We will see how many fabric store customers notice my geekiness at work today or even know what today is. By the way, I always keep a towel in my car – but my dog gets more use out of it than I do.
Speaking of the dog, you might be wondering “where’s Wensley?” because he usually likes to photo bomb. Believe me, he tried but there was a door in his way this time:
And I leave you with this silly picture, because I still like the skirt best with the petticoat underneath:
One to beam out. So long, and thanks for all the fish!
I’m still alive* and sewing, I promise!
Most recently (aka last week), I made myself a Sewaholic Cambie Dress.
I know that anyone who has read sewing blogs for the past few years has probably seen one or fifty versions of this dress. Honestly, I’ve seen so many – and while I’ve always liked them – I just sort of filed the information away thinking that maybe someday I’d try the pattern for myself.
Well, that “someday” finally came and I ordered a couple of patterns from Sewaholic Patterns to see how they fit my body. Here’s my Cambie:
I made it in a brightly colored large-weave cotton with 2% spandex piqué fabric. I love textured fabrics, especially when they are a solid color!
The color of this fabric is incredibly hard to photograph! It really messes with the white balance on cameras. I’ve discovered that digital cameras want to read anything with a mix of green and blue as bright turquoise with all the green removed. (Must be that whole Orion slave girl makeup issue on film.) The fabric is definitely green but it has a drop of blue in it – a color somewhere in the zomp and Persian green range in this article about the color spring green on Wikipedia.
Anyway, I think I’ve come pretty close to color-correcting these photos to match real life.
I made a mockup of only the bodice to check the fit. (I knew both skirt options would fit just fine without adjustments.)
The only changes I made to the pattern were so minimal they’re almost not worth mentioning. I scooped out the underarm a little (it was awfully high and straight), smoothed the neckline curves slightly, and shortened the front shoulder straps by a full inch (apparently a commonly needed alteration for this pattern), as you can see in the mockup photo above.
I also decided to make a neckline facing instead of fully lining the dress. I chose to do this because my fabric was rather thick & didn’t need one, and I didn’t want to lose the comfort of its slight stretch.
Speaking of hard to photograph colors, this fabric is also hard to color-match with thread! I never did find a perfect match. Good thing there’s no topstitching needed with this design! I ended up using emerald green (too green!) thread on my serger and a teal (too blue!) thread to stitch everything together.
I made View A with the A-line skirt. I really like the full gathered skirt version too and will probably make one in View B at some point.
All the above photos show how I wore my new dress to church on Sunday. I went with neutral wedges and a simple necklace to make it all about the dress the first time. But I know I’m going to have lots of fun pairing it with other accessories later!
I particularly like it with the yellow shoes and narrow belt:
In the end, I was surprised how dressy this fabric actually is. (I probably shouldn’t be, considering piqué has long been associated with white tie.) I’ve always thought of piqué as somewhat casual because it’s cotton and usually used for summer dresses. But this larger weave has a shimmer to it as the light hits the texture.
You may have noticed that Wensley likes to photo bomb my blog pictures. So to conclude, here’s a goofy shot of me imitating him jumping at the back door during the shoot:
* After a bunch of costuming jobs, I came back to find that WordPress had messed with some of the settings for inserting photographs, making their newest “upgrade” more of a downgrade. Incredibly frustrating and un-motivating when it comes to blogging! So while I waited for them to get their act straightened out, I spent my time sewing a lot of things for myself. And now I have a backlog of things to blog.
Back in October, I was a pattern tester for Lolita Patterns and got to test the pattern for the new Spearmint coat.
I’m not sure I would have originally chosen to make myself a coat in this style, had I only seen the pattern for sale. After all, I already have 4 (store-bought) fancy coats to wear when I’m dressed up and I wasn’t sure I could justify a fifth.
But the collar was interesting, and the more I considered it, the more I could see myself finding a way to make it my own. Plus, pattern testing for a designer is always a fun challenge because it forces me to try styles I may have passed over otherwise. (How can you grow if you won’t step outside your comfort zone?)
I’m intrigued by Lolita Patterns for two basic reasons:
One, they are based on the Japanese style of dress called Lolita fashion that is both girly and conservative, meaning you get the cute anime look without the sleazy, Halloween-costume vibe. (Lolita fashion. Now I finally have a term for that style!)
And two, the pattern sizing is based on two separate blocks and has very little design ease. Technically, my measurements were not on the chart, so I was hoping that the “very little ease” part would work in my favor.
Disclaimer: My version of the Spearmint coat is based on the test pattern I was given. The test pattern needed more work than Amity originally anticipated, and the final pattern being sold has been corrected, but I’m not sure exactly how my end results compare to the finalized pattern.
Also keep in mind that this is being labeled as a “top coat” for a “California winter,” or a “transitional coat” for more extreme climates, and some of my alterations were done to allow me the option of wearing thicker layers with mine. (I plan to wear mine most during Spring and Autumn.)
I chose to make the shorter version of the coat, which is actually 6 inches shorter than the final pattern – it’s now drafted to hit more at the knee.
I went digging through my fabric stash and came up with 2 yards of heavy weight 100% cotton blue denim (I bought it 5 or 6 years ago because it was only $2/yard). I also had 2 yards of an amazing dress form print quilting cotton that I thought would make a fun lining.
The pattern called for 3 yards of each, but I am “The Queen of Eking” and I was determined to eke it out of something I had.
No matter how much I wanted to like the shade of the denim’s blue, I just wasn’t feeling it. It was a bit mom-jean blue or something. It might have worked well if I distressed it after making the coat, but since I couldn’t be sure, I didn’t want to take the chance.
So I pondered my options while I made my two mockups and preshrunk my fabric a total of 3 times (washed in hot and heat dried). I didn’t have any fabric to spare, so there was no room for error.
Ultimately, I deliberately decided to use the wrong-side of the denim as the right-side. It has a slightly heathered grey-blue look from a distance but it’s definitely a twill weave up close.
I simply liked the wrong-side color more, and it even coordinated better with the lining print. And, as you would expect, no two pairs of jeans in my closet are the same shade of blue, so I knew a coat this more neutral color would go with all of them. Besides, the head-to-toe matching denim look is a total fashion no-no for me anyway. My personal rule of thumb is: make whatever you wear look intentionally styled. If someone has to wonder if you meant to do something, you didn’t make the contrast obvious enough.
As I mentioned before, two mockups were made, and this was so I could be sure my alterations were satisfactory. I only tested the outer layer, and didn’t bother with the pockets for my mockups (Not bothering with things like lining or under collar saves time and muslin too, but I did make corrections to all the paper pattern pieces for the lining as I went.)
Main changes made to the pattern, based on my first mockup:
The second mockup turned out to be unnecessary because my alterations were good, but I’m glad I took the time to be sure and didn’t jump right to the real fabric.
These are perfect examples of why mockups are necessary! And don’t feel like you have to make a completed item! I didn’t do a lining, pockets, buttonhole, or true hems (I just folded edges once and basted down to check finished length).
So it was finally on to the real fabric!
Sure enough, I managed to eke everything out of the 2 yards of fabric. It helped that I had reduced some of the collar width and that the pattern has only 3/8 inch seam allowance. (Note: you may want to add to the seam allowance if you make a Spearmint with fabric that frays easily.) Astonishingly, I only had to piece two pieces!
I put a seam in the center back of the neck facing, which I then topstitched and mostly covered with a tag.
And I creatively pieced one side of the under collar, which no one will ever see unless I lift the back of the collar to show them.
For the most part, I followed the written instructions just as they were. I did, however, make a few exceptions based on personal preferences:
After joining the coat to the lining and adding one large button, I had a completed Spearmint!
And here are a few more photos of some of the details:
Overall, this is a great pattern! The pieces fit together very nicely and I love the separately drafted lining and finishing details. The instructions may be a little brief for a beginner, but with the extra tutorials and sewalongs on the Lolita Patterns blog, most sewists of any level should have no trouble making this lovely coat for themselves.
You can buy the Spearmint coat pattern (#5013) from Lolita Patterns in either paper copy or instant PDF download.
As payment for being a pattern tester, I was given one copy of the paper pattern.
Obviously, I do not need another copy since I have already altered and adjusted the test pattern to my liking. So it’s Giveaway time!
If you would like a chance to win a copy of this pattern in its beautiful packaging, just follow these simple rules:
Giveaway is open to all locations. Winner will be chosen at random.
Deadline for entry is closed
at 11:59pm on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 United States Central Time (GMT -6). I’ll announce the winner in a post on the following day. Winner announced in this post.
Good luck and Happy New Year!
And now if you’ll excuse me, Wensley sees that I am wearing a coat and thinks we’re going for a walk…