Monday, September 29, 2008

Vintage Patterns....And Why They Dont Turn out

I subscribe and sometimes comment on Sew Retro. I think its a fabulous blog because its all about people using and making things out of vintage/retro patterns. And I think its fascinating how these garments turn out.

Long ago, in a Galaxy far, far away, I recall racks and racks of vintage house dresses in every conceivable size and style. I remember when the vintage stores on Broadway had little stores with walls draped with vintage velvet and lace dresses. I remember going to my favorite long gone boutique and buying a burgundy rayon velvet dress from the 40's for $40. That was a lot of money back then - but it was for a first date kind of thing with my future ex husband.

That wouldn't happen today. The closest you could come to would be Torso Vintage around these parts. And the prices are phenomenally high. And Ive never seen a dress there that beat the one I purchased long ago.

But I digress. What I wanted to talk about is how I see a lot of postings about how the dresses/skirts/suits........don't turn out like the illustrations on the pattern packages.

What made me think back on all the dresses I used to find so easily is that many of them were handmade and probably looked like shit on the wearer. Women sewed a hellofalot more back in the day before mass production in China, and probably were a lot poorer - think the FIRST depression - or had home ec training. (does anyone even know what that is anymore?)

My favorite late 80's - early 90's look was a vintage house dress and army boots. That's kinda still around, and coming back strong soon, but instead of the vintage knock off dresses, I was wearing the crumbling vintage dresses with that great jersey and aged cotton that is hard to find anymore. And the dresses were all handmade and ill fitting.

Part of the reason that outfits don't look like the pattern illustration is of course, the artists rendering of the style. Their job is to make the pattern sellable. Often the illustration is an exaggeration. And just like today, the body proportions are not correct.

Also, we forget that these garments were meant to be worn with the undergarments of the day. Those full skirts in the pattern need a crinoline or two and a girdle. Maybe a cone bra. They wont look the same without them.

Also, the pattern often has to be manipulated to look like the illustration. If you are not a size 0 like the pattern shows, you have to somehow turn that pattern into a size whatever you are and make it look right. Sleeves might have to be made wider or lengthened. Skirt fullness added, darts moved, bodices lengthened.

And all this requires a little skill that many a new modern sewer doesn't have.

So people get disappointed and give up. And that's a shame. But it takes patience to learn skills. And time. Mock ups should be made of the pattern first.

Right now, I'm making some vintage suit mock ups for a friend and then we will work out the details and the fit problems first. It takes time. Time = money. This is why it isn't cheap to make good clothes. But if you take your time to think things through and learn from the mistakes made along the way and take risks and do your historical research of the garment style you are making.......success will eventually be yours.

Sewing isn't easy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Love Of My Life

No, not my ex husband who used to be the owner of this tv. But this tv. I love it. This and my son were the best things to come out of a bad union. And in February, all will be lost. My old life will die along with my 1970's portable black and white tv.

Sure, I could fork out the dough for the converter that will become just more useless trash one day and keep her going for a few more years. I might do it. But it would almost be like putting your loved one on life support when they could go at any minute anyway. Tough decision.

End of an era.
Black and white.
I don't even really like watching tv in color.
I guess I don't care about it, really.
I love all the shades of gray
I love the subtle hues
I love the shadows
I love that I can only get a few channels
I prefer M*sh in b&w.
Friends is so much more tolerable in B&W
I don't need to see the color of George Kastanza's bald head
The news is more surreal

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sam and Oscar Got Hitched

Well, Sam and Oscar got hitched this Saturday and I was so sad that I couldn't be there. But I was there in spirit. The plane fares were just too prohibitive and I had another wedding to finish and orders to get out. I heard it was quite the party, though and I know I missed a wonderful day!

I made her a steampunk themed outfit inspired by Gaultier's pirate show last season. I took her measurements while she was here in town last. Then I made a mock up of the jacket and corset top, sent it to England where she could try it on and have her mother make notes and pin where there were changes/alterations to be made. They sent it back and I relied on my judgement and the good opinions of my friends and assistants who know her to get the outfit made up for the big day.

Along with the jacket and corset blouse, I made her a striped bustlie skirt with a blue and gray tulle petticoat underneath to coordinate with her blue silk shantung jacket. The corset blouse was of a soft striped silk. The jacket was wrapped at the waist and fastened with two huge brass buckles that I had been saving for something just like this!

I know she had to have some alterations done, but I didnt think they were extensive - and to be expected with no fittings whatsoever. In fact, I tried it on my assistant Molly who was fortunately about the same size. As the photo shows, she was gorgeous and glowing and looks amazing!


She ordered her hat from Topsy Turvy Design. I ADORE her hats!!!!!!!!!!!!

What is haute couture

Here is an article that I found today.

What is haute couture?

Literally translating as 'high' or even (in the OED) 'exalted' dressmaking, Haute Couture is a protected name that can be used only by firms meeting certain well-defined standards set by the Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Paris. However, over time the term has also acquired a looser meaning which describes all high-fashion custom-fitted clothing.

Where did it start?

Despite haute couture's association with France, it was actually an Englishman, Charles Worth, born in humble Lincolnshire who was the 'father of haute couture'. He rose to fame in the 1860s when he relocated to Paris and started making rather fabulous outfits for Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III.

In the post-war period haute couture flourished again with the immensely popular appeal of Christian Dior's "New Look" in 1947. After years of sartorial scarcity, Dior's new designs featured rounded shoulders, a tiny cinched waist, and very full skirt celebrating ultra-femininity and opulence in women's fashion.

What's so special about it?

Superior fabrics, dyes and trimmings go hand-in-hand with exquisite workmanship to realise a designer's dream. A whole team of people will work on one garment, cutting, sewing and hand stitching details. Haute couture's offering of distinction in design and technique remains a compelling force, one even more potent when in many areas of the industry, quality has atrophied.

In our 'wear it once, throw it away' society, buying haute couture might be seen by the super-rich as an investment, akin with buying great art. It remains completely unaccountable to cost, but it's target audience hardly needs to reach for the price tag. There is also a veil of mystery surrounding haute couture: The women who regularly buy it do not advertise themselves, while the fashion houses will not reveal their client lists.

So who does buy it?

Traditionally, only wealthy private clients were able gain an audience with the fashion houses, never mind afford the clothes. Not everyone can fund their fashion addiction when the cost of dresses would bankrupt a small nation. Simply put, wearing haute couture is an aspirational symbol of power and prestige reserved for those for whom money is no object. The strange thing is that the some of the people buying to wear, as opposed to borrowing for public appearances (see Carla Bruni and any number of actresses on the red carpet), are the wives of Saudi Arabian billionaires whom no-one's ever heard of.

More significantly, the notoriety and prestige of haute couture fashion is actually part of a carefully executed business strategy. They have the unique ability to generate tremendous publicity for a design house - and that almost always leads to higher sales in the designer's ready-to-wear collections, which can often include simplified, more affordable versions of couture pieces. The more outrageous the piece, the more likely the front page newspaper splash. The luxury kudos also filters down to their cheaper products like cosmetics or perfume which are then sold to the masses, bringing in enormous piles of lovely cash. Which is the whole point really isn't it?

Le Sigh

I have not had much time to watch the NYC and London Fashion Weeks this time around. My last wedding dress for the year walked out the door this week and will soon be walking down the aisle. Hopefully I'll be able to catch up with all the pictures that will be floating around and get some inspiration. Here is one from Luella Barley from London Week. So far what I have seen has been still the 80's rehash, scallops, ruffles, severe sophistication, and sheer fabrics. Stella McCartney made some cute gym wear. W magazine is full of arm warmers and lacie arm wear.

Now the crunch is on to finish my other orders and get all purchases out the door by Saturday. I actually think I'll be able to accomplish this! Fingers crossed.

Everyone everywhere is screaming recession and so everyone everywhere is buying into it. What we are told is believed and so it creates reality. Everyone becomes fearful. If everyone is fearful we are easier to control. That's not rocket science. This sometimes makes me very sad of course, as I am affected. But creating will never go away and there will always be pretty things to lift our spirits. I hope I am always a part of that in some way.

I didn't wait for New Year's Day to make new resolutions this year. I just went ahead and jumped into going to the gym more now, which of course always gives me more energy and thus more ideas. My dear Friend Erling is going with me and that is keeping me motivated. I want to make some fun gym wear for myself so that I will be more inspired to go. Its all about the clothes, you know. And as I was soooooooooo disappointed by what is available in all the sports stores that I visited this summer, I want to show that you don't have to be ugly in the process. And why oh why is nothing cute to work out in made in larger sizes? I'm not huge, yet nothing looked good. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Did I say Nothing?

A crippled little Mexican man came up to me the other day and asked me if I was German. Against my better judgement, I said "no". He asked where I'm from. I said "here". He said "you an awfully big lady!"

I wanted to kick him, but his cane was supporting his twisted frame. Obviously he wasn't brought up right and had no proper sense of boundaries, so I forgave him.

Le Sigh.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Jasminas Wedding In Maui

Tribe was down for an unusually long time, so I thought the party was over and I was going to lose track of all my friends!

Imagine my delight when tribe went back up and I found these photos at kathleencrowleycostumecouture!

Jasmina and her boyfriend had me commission this dress a couple years ago when I met them at Tribal Fest 06.
Little did I know that this would be a wedding dress! I dont think they planned it that way, but Im so happy that they did!

The bride was stunning!
The dress is fabulous
if I do say so myself and can be ordered at:

For some reason, people like being naked under this dress!
I love it!
Of course, I can make you a beautiful little bias slip to wear under and you can then wear it in a church if you like!

Photo: Kinga

The Bridesmaids were Drag Queens

At least some of them were.
Too bad this photo is so small.
Its the only one I got.
And it was too long ago to get one from the bride now.
The Groom was
Iggy Pops' drummer
Or sumpthin like that.
The old Enrique gang.
You know those music men.......
Hope everyone's happy now!

Hot Pink Silk Shantung
And Jaina the Maid of Honor wore a tutu!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

vintage reconstruction

Megan Strahm was married this summer in a vintage gown that she purchased at Retrofit. The dress was a bit too big in the bodice. The underskirt full of holes at the hem. The outer skirt of tulle was ripped to shreds in one part, but the rest of the dress was perfect.

I took in the bodice about 2" and was able to do this with impecable hand sewing rather than take the zipper out and put it back in. Logic says that taking out the zipper might be the better solution for such an alteration, and on many a garment that may be so..... but the old fabric and lace could easily have been comprimised. They used little teeny tiny stitches back in the day. Unlike todays sloppy mass production and longer stitch lengths. It had several layers in the bodice, so with some deft stitchery I was able to keep it looking like I hadnt done a thing to it.

I cut off the lining along the bottom and hemmed it a little shorter thus losing the rips and tears.

And then I searched around town and even went to Lacis in Berkeley to see if I could find some vintage tulle to replace the tattered parts of the outer skirt. Couldnt find the right stuff at all and so where did I find the perfect solution? Some tulle at Darlenes on Mission st. It wasnt vintage, but it was close enough and nobody knew the difference.

We toyed with the idea of just ditching the skirt altogether and making a new one. But I and some friends who saw the dress figured that the old designers really knew how to enhance a woman's figure - and the line of the lace made the wearer look taller and leaner. I love saving these garments. Im glad we saved this one.

So her dress turned out perfect. It turned out that a friend of hers had just been at a wedding of the woman who's dress I had made from a family heirloom tablecloth and napkins. Im hoping to get a photo of that dress soon as it looked spectacular on the bride!

Well, dont they all look spectacular, but it does my heart proud to see these ladies beaming in things Ive made or made to fit.

Congratulations Megan!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Half Moon Bay
Years ago now
Spooky Crafts and
Halloween bonfires
On the beach
Parties and dressup
Ditching the neighbors
At the Witching Hour
For hours of glee
And Mayhem


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Autumn Colors

I saw this on ebay today and I almost swooned. These old gowns are spectacular! This pagoda style sleeve and the whole silhouette has been speaking to me of late. The colors of the dress say to me that summer is just about over. I guess I may actually attend Dicken's Faire this year as I am bound and determined to finish my costume finally after all these years. I am the classic example of the term "the cobblers children have no shoes". I get busier and busier and find less and less time for myself. But this must change. If there is a Dickens Faire this year, that is! Im so out of the loop! I'll finish it and wear it regardless!

Changes are a brewing though, I can tell....fall is almost here. We have finally been having our summer, but I see the fog rolling in over the city today and I am relieved. It was too hot. If we had a chance to get used to it, I'm sure it would be great. But with temperature drops on and off, it wipes us out.

Last month was very bizarre. Water, water everywhere flooding my business and making things hard and frustrating for the homeowner. Intense stuff all about. Water symbolizes the emotions and everything seemed out of hand. That's getting fixed.

I'm still loving all the lace and frills abounding in my life. It takes the edge off the hardness of modern life. Its all symbolic to me.

So with the cooler weather approaching and the need to escape modern life, I will concentrate on finishing the ever undone Dicken's outfit. And hopefully, my little southern civil war school marm dress will materialize as well. Part of the problem has been that my corsets don't fit me any longer and I need some new ones. So that has to be done first, and fortunately, I am so in the mood for some corset building!

These sleeves are so gorgeous! The cotton netting that I never see anymore. I have not really searched for it for a while and maybe Britex has it - I would love to make so many things out of it. I think sheers will be popular soon. And that will make me happy!