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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
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!
So I left all you readers with math swirling around in your heads. I hope Part 1 wasn’t too technical or too much of a cliffhanger!
Now I bet you’re eager to see how my experiment worked when I applied the math. =)
First, I copied my pattern in the bust 34 size at 91% on my printer and taped the pieces together. (As always, photos enlarge when clicked.)
I used some of my favorite pattern tracing paper to trace the other two copies of my pattern at the same size they came in – one bust 34 and one bust 31 size.
Because my traced patterns were on such sheer paper, I could do a good comparison of the shrunken 34 under the actual 31 to see the minor differences.
The differences were subtle but interesting. Here are a few closeups:
To me, the most fascinating part of the pattern comparison was the keyhole detail at the neck. When patterns are graded by the manufacturer, many of the details are not proportionally scaled, meaning that some details remain the same size no matter what size a pattern is drafted to be.
This means that on a smaller version of the dress, the keyholes are relatively larger. Likewise they are smaller on the larger versions. This does not always make for the most aesthetically pleasing details on the far ends of the grade.
After all, a pattern designer designs a pattern to have the correct detail proportions for that prototype size. I think it is somewhat lazy for the pattern companies to then grade without changing all the proportions accordingly.
My shrinking/enlarging method using a ratio solves this grading proportion problem.
Okay, so are you ready to see how the mockup experiment works on a real person?
Here they are on me:
Obviously, the actual bust 34 size is too big for me:
When you zoom in to look at dart placement and where the armhole hits at the shoulder joint, you can really see which fits best.
All three had necklines that were a little too high for comfort. And both the 31 and the shrunken 34 had armholes that were a bit small (typical on vintage patterns). In the above photo, I have cut directly on the stitchline for all the armholes, but I have reshaped and cut on the corrected underarm curve for the shrunken 34.
Obviously, you can see that I have chosen to fit the shrunken 34 because of all the safety pins and drawn lines on the mockup. It had the least amount of alterations needed.
I took in the side seams slightly, and pinned a test hem. I decided it needed a little more flare for the A-line skirt, which I added to the paper pattern when I transferred my pin markings to the pattern.
(Here’s an example of how I transferred fitting marks from another mockup to the paper pattern.)
So what are your thoughts and ideas about my pattern scaling method? I would love to know if this works for others too! Please comment or send me photos or links if you try your own version of my experiment!
And in case you’re curious, here’s the geeky fabric I plan to use to make the real version of my dress.
Happy Memorial Day, everyone!
In honor of all the brave Americans who have died in service to our country to pay the high price of freedom, I wore my navy 1940s style dress to church yesterday. It’s perfectly patriotic and I wanted to get some detail shots for the blog that I didn’t get before.
I decided to pair it with the same red heels and self-made fabric belt as I did the first time, but instead of the retro style felt hat, I wore a red headband.
I’m surprised how much use I’ve gotten out of this dress that I originally made as a quick costume in the matter of a couple of day’s time. Nothing about its construction is really couture – I just stitched it up straight from Butterick 5281 and amazingly didn’t need any alterations!
It would be simple to change the look with different accessories, yet I find myself wearing it most often with the red heels, belt, and headband. I love the navy & red combination because it is subtly patriotic yet easy to wear at anytime.
As usual, my sensitivity to the bright outdoor light (even with an overcast sky!) resulted in most of the photos including closed eyes or squinty-angry-glare expressions. But a couple of the outtakes weren’t completely bad:
So there’s how I make my retro dress work without being too costumey for modern day.
May all my fellow Americans enjoy the day of grilling out and family time while remembering those who have sacrificed to make the holiday possible! And a big THANK YOU to all our men and women currently serving in the Armed Forces!
For Easter in 1963, Jackie Kennedy wore an Oleg Cassini dress made in pale pink linen. Fifty years later, the simple style of her dress is still beautiful, and I’ve wanted to copy it for myself for years.
This Easter I finally did.
I first fell in love with her dress when I purchased the book Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years, which I was lucky to find at my local Half Price Books for only $10. It is full of wonderful photos specifically of her fabulous clothes.
While I love everything about her dress, I knew I would not look good wearing such a pale pink. I look better in warm colors, and let’s face it, I am the opposite of tanned. (I’m bordering on vampire pale.)
I already had a large stash of 100% linen in an ivory color left over from a wedding dress I once made for a client. So I decided to dye some in a color I can wear.
It took me at least 6 attempts to get the final color. I almost stopped at this shade of orange, which was just a little too yellow:
Thankfully, one of my coworkers at the time is a dye expert, and she was able to tell me what color to over-dye my linen to make it a better shade of orange. (Thanks, Susan!) I also dyed my white cotton/poly underlining fabric a similar color to prevent seams from showing through. (I checked the linen with the undyed white, and there definitely would have been some color difference around the seams had I left it white.)
After studying the photographs of the Cassini dress closely, I chose McCall’s 7158 from 1963 because the style lines were the most similar. (I didn’t even realize the pattern date was the same as the Cassini dress until just now when I checked!)
The pattern needed a lot of tweaking. You can see how I fit the mockup in this post.
Once I had made the appropriate pattern alterations, I cut and assembled the lining first so I could double check the fit. Then I cut my linen and underlining fabric and basted them together.
I also made matching linen bias for the “quatrefoil motif” and to finish the arm and neck edges. (I generally dislike facings and try to eliminate them whenever possible.)
My favorite part of this build was creating the single decorative detail near the neckline of the dress.
My least favorite part of this build was making the bust darts cooperate – I almost gave up and threw the dress in the trash because of them. When stitched in the linen, they wanted to be extra pointy and I really wanted to avoid an Anne Hathaway dart dilemma.
Had I not wanted a new Easter dress so badly, and if so many people (online and in real life) had not known about me making it, I doubt I would have been so determined to finish it. (And yes, I did have to remind myself of the advice in this old post.)
I fought those stupid, hateful darts for at least 2 nights after work. I ended up shaping them slightly and stitching them by hand because it was easier to do the minor changes by hand.
Ultimately, I found the biggest improvement to the pointiness was stitching the dart fold down to the underlining to control them. (In hindsight, I probably should have reduced the length of the darts on the pattern before I cut the linen.)
They still aren’t perfect, and they really bug me because that’s all I see when I look at the dress. I’m hoping that by the time next spring comes around, I will have had enough distance from the dress for the darts not to bother me as much.
Somehow, I can make nearly perfect things for others, but when I try to make something couture for myself, it’s never quite right. I know part of the problem is that fitting and seeing the design elements on your own body is nearly as hard as cutting your own hair – it’s hard to back up and see the full picture.
So during two short breaks and part of my lunch break every day for a couple weeks, I did as much as I could to build my dress during my time at the opera. Then I continued working on it at night when I came home. But I managed to complete it in time for Easter Sunday.
Here’s the abbreviated summary of the build, through photos (as usual, click to enlarge):
Easter morning was quite chilly where I live, but since my dress was three layers, I was rather warm even without sleeves.
Since we got out of church before the rest of my family, I ended up taking most of the photos by myself using the camera’s self-timer while I warmed up the food for lunch at my parents’ house (my husband went back at our house to attend to other things).
It was so stinking bright outside, I could hardly keep my eyes open and I was almost crying. I captured lots of photos of myself with my eyes closed or really weird expressions. I did manage to take a few decent shots though.
I had hoped to take some better pictures with my husband’s help later, but nothing turned out any better. He did take a photo of the back (something I had forgotten to do):
And I shall end with a close up of my favorite part – the simple decoration:
Bits and bobs seemed like an appropriate title for a post about miscellaneous things. (It is a favorite expression of my Scottish-born costumer friend Rona, so I always hear it in my head the cute Glaswegian way she says it.) Bits & pieces (the American version) just isn’t quite as colorful to me.
Currently, I am helping build the costumes for The Dallas Shakespeare Festival’s summer productions of Twelfth Night and Coriolanus. Costumes for both shows are designed by Leila Heise, who I have enjoyed having as a co-worker on many occasions, but this is the first time I have had the pleasure of sewing her designs.
This production of Twelfth Night is styled in a historic setting with turbans and such a-la-Spartacus. For the last couple of days, I have been embellishing the Duke’s fancy coat using pieces of beautiful hand-embroidered and sequined net fabric – it’s so bee-U-tee-full it cost $92 a yard! (Good thing Leila only needed one yard for her design!)
I still have at least one more day of hand-sewing the fanciness (it will be mirrored on the other side). Here’s a close-up of the ornate fabric:
Besides the coat, I’ve had a blast sewing things like capes and harem pants, and just generally enjoying the company of my fellow costumers in the shop. We have way too much fun talking and laughing as we work! =)
Speaking of good company, a few weeks ago, I was bestowed the honor of the “Versatile Blogger Award” by fellow blogger A Girl in Winter. She is very sweet to think I deserve such a thing, and I am touched that she finds me interesting. =) I have enjoyed following her first sewing adventures and seeing the wonderful fabrics she chooses for her projects.
I’ve seen the Versatile Blogger Award on other people’s blogs in the past, yet it never seems to have the same “rules”. So I hope no one will be terribly offended that I have decided not to pass it on (I’m not very fond of chain-letters either – I always break them!). The rules that come with the award remind me a little of the “telephone game” where a friend whispers a phrase and it gets passed on so that everyone can laugh at how badly the original phrase gets distorted at the end.
Speaking of rules, Cindy of Cation Designs recently wrote a post about getting a prom “do-over” with her husband and how much more stylish she was the second time. (Luh-kee!)
I left her a comment about my own thrifted senior-year homecoming dress that I didn’t think was all that bad (considering all the dress-code rules we had to follow) but my husband (who met me a little over a year later) thinks it was awful. He deadpans his Napoleon Dynamite impression every time he sees a photo of me in that dress – “I like your sleeves. They’re real big.”
(Things are about to get embarrassing…)
So, Cindy, since you asked to see it, here’s the photo!
I absolutely HATED my hair that night. My mom took me to have it done at a salon, and the hair-stylist didn’t really listen to what I wanted in an up-do. I wanted it to be a softer and looser style, but I got a tight French-twist and crunchy hair-sprayed curls instead. (This is the main reason I did my own hair on my wedding day!)
Later that school year, I had an opportunity to have a better photo taken in the same homecoming dress (with my normal hairstyle) for Senior portraits. I didn’t use this formal look for my official yearbook photo, but I liked it in black & white and it’s currently hanging in my hallway among other family photos.
Speaking of red dresses, today was the Festival of Pentecost (celebrating the birthday of the Christian Church) and red is the color associated with Pentecost. So I wore my slightly retro 50’s-style dress and coordinated with red heels and red headband this morning.
These days, I have a variety of looks when I dress up, but overall, I would say that my style is slightly retro, ranging from the 40’s to the 70’s, without being too costumey. I promise my style sense has greatly improved since the restrictive dress-code days of private high school! I wish we’d simply had uniforms!
Speaking of uniforms, I hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day!
This past Sunday night, I finally got the text I’ve been waiting to receive since I started this blog…
Just two words – “found em”. The CDs of my little sister’s wedding photos had been found! (They had been missing for nearly eight years! Turns out my parents had them and they had been buried in a bag inside a desk.)
So the last couple of days have been spent sorting through all 1200+ pictures from that day back in 2004. Since there is so much to cover, I have decided to divide the wedding into 3 separate posts: The Bridesmaids, The Bride & Flower-girl, and The Retro Details.
Let me explain the back-story – no, there is too much. Let me sum up.
When my sister got engaged, I had promised to design and build the following items around a 1930s theme:
All this was going to be my wedding gift to my sister – she just had to pay for the materials.
My sister and her fiancé decided to move up their wedding date when they learned that the perfect location for their Art Deco style wedding was available much sooner than expected.
I got the bashful phone call from my sister: “Can you still make all the dresses for my wedding…in 2 months?”
Only for my sister.
Looking back, I honestly have no idea how I managed to do everything in such a short timeframe. We had (luckily) already purchased the fabric for all the dresses before the date changed.
I think the only thing I was truly disappointed with was the fact that the wedding photographers didn’t really take any full-length photographs of the dresses – they were too focused on capturing faces. I was able to crop a few things out of crowd shots and use some pictures that my uncle took (specifically for me) to supplement a few really wonderful shots by the photographers. (Word of advice to future brides: make sure you ask your photographer to zoom out and worry about framing & cropping things later!)
Aside from a few minor details not being completely accurate for the time-period, it all turned out rather well in the end. (Of course, every good wedding has a flaw or two.)
Ester’s dress was the easiest to produce. I used a reprinted 1930s pattern that was available in stores at the time. So I was able to buy the pattern in her size and fit a mock-up a couple days later.
Caroline was the youngest bridesmaid. (I believe she was 10 at the time.) Her dress was a combination of 3 different modern patterns that had the elements I was looking for to create a Thirties style dress that would be age appropriate. The godets at the hem were so pretty when she moved.
Courtney’s dress was the most challenging because she did not live in the same state. Amazingly, it all worked out because she came for a weekend visit prior to the wedding, and I was able to fit a mock-up on her. Her dress was a combination of 2 modern patterns – a blouse and a skirt. I kept the patterns as separates to make it easier and mailed the skirt to her un-hemmed. That way, she was able to have it hemmed to the perfect length after she had purchased her shoes but before she came back for the wedding.
Then there’s my dress. Like Ester’s dress, mine was also a reprinted vintage pattern available in stores at the time. Although it wasn’t my first choice in a design for myself, the double-train attached to the back of the skirt made it unique. It was the last dress I made for the wedding, and it was never completely finished on the inside (but at least you can’t tell!).
More to come about the bridal gown and flower-girl’s dress…
A Retro Headpiece for a 1930s Themed Wedding
Well, it’s a new year and I can’t say I’m sad to see 2011 go. 2012 is looking brighter. =)
My in-laws surprised me with a wonderful Christmas present that will add to my arsenal of sewing tools: a set of 3 miniature dressforms that were on my wish list! I thought I would eventually buy them for myself when I had the extra money, but now I don’t have to! The set includes three to-scale forms: a half-scale, a third-scale, & a quarter-scale.
You may remember that I already have a half-size dressform, but Minnie is a different dress size than the set is – so now I can drape & make patterns in 2 different sizes. Of course this also means that my new dressforms need names…
Being 3 different scales, I didn’t want to name them as if they were triplets – they are more like sisters of various ages. So I tried to think of any movie or classic literature that was about 3 sisters. It seemed like everything I was remembering was about 2, 4 or 5 sisters.
But then after a couple of days of tossing some ideas around in the back of my mind, it just came to me: My new dressforms are Mary, Edith, and Sybil – the Crawley sisters from the British series “Downton Abbey”!
They are the perfect names for my little dressforms because I’ve been eagerly awaiting Season 2 of “Downton Abbey”, which starts airing here in the States this coming Sunday. It is a period drama that begins in 1912 with the news of the RMS Titanic’s sinking, and Season 2 picks up with Britain entering World War I. It is also very fitting because I have been planning to make some dresses from the 1910’s time period, and I’ll be able to use my new little dressforms for draping them.
Coincidentally, in some completely unrelated websurfing yesterday, I happened upon an interesting endeavor on The Vintage Pattern Lending Library’s blog called The 1912 Project – which is in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic tragedy. (I hadn’t even thought about 2012 being the hundredth anniversary!)
The project is a group effort to recreate & test all the clothing patterns (men’s, women’s & children’s) from a French magazine published in 1912 in order to digitize & preserve a piece of sewing & fashion history. The only requirements to join the undertaking are the ability to sew a mock-up of whatever pattern you are sent each month (which have little to no assembly instructions), and the promise of at least one blog entry (including some photos) about your experiences with the patterns every month.
Seemed simple enough. So I’m going to join the effort and make few mock-ups and document my accomplishments here on my blog.
I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions, but I am at least setting a few business goals for Custom Style this year. One being to continue with a minimum of two blog entries every month. (That shouldn’t be too hard and now I will have at least one regularly featured topic with The 1912 Project.)
Another goal (and probably the biggest one I have) is to get my Etsy shop up and running. I know a few of you readers have been asking about it, and I’m still working on all the details and building some items for inventory. I plan to offer a variety of things from dresses to accessories to collectibles. I promise to write a blog post all about the “Grand Opening” of my shop – so bookmark or subscribe to my blog (button above in the right-hand column of this page) to make sure you don’t miss it.
Besides a couple of other small goals, I also plan to redo my banner & avatar, which requires me to find some time to sew something for myself. Ever heard it said that the cobbler’s kids have no shoes? Yeah, well, same goes for the seamstress – always sewing for everyone but herself. I have a retro dress design and the fabric all ready to go… I just need to start.
Here’s hoping for motivation and persistence in 2012!