Friday, July 29, 2011

Get The Most From Your Sewing Pattern Dollar: Part One

Recently reader Vildy left a comment that got me thinking, "What a great idea for a post!" Her thoughts: "... I haven't sewn anything from scratch for ages. Long ago enough to have eyes widen at pattern costs nowadays." Indeed! Sewing pattern prices have gone through the stratosphere! I remember Vogue Designer patterns as being pricey, but worth it at $12.50 a pop when i was in high school...nowadays they run $28.50 to $30.00. JUST the pattern. For * a * dress - no variations! This is the type of thing that takes home sewing from practical pasttime to showoff mega-consumption strategy. However, there are many ways to get more out of the patterns you do choose to buy as well as ways to get the same patterns on the cheap. Read on to find out, and be sure to fill us in on your own angles in the comments!

A major strategy for getting more for your pattern dollar is to buy patterns that you'll use over and over again. How to accomplish this? Do your research before you buy!!!!  To begin with, in order to pick a good multi-use pattern you need to identify your own wardrobe workhorses. Do a spreadsheet, turn your hangers around, keep a list of all your outfits for a month, take a picture of yourself everyday for a year- whatever works. It doesn't matter if the pattern shows a baker's dozen different variations on the package if they are all sundresses and you're a corporate lawyer in Chicago. I made the first blouse pictured from the same Butterick 4985 pattern as the striped linen one just above. I already have material for two to three more versions of this blouse waiting in my stash. I've known for a few months that small, cap-type sleeved, button down blouses are a wardrobe workhorse for me (especially in summer).  But i had the devil of the time finding an appropriate pattern until -

i saw Carolyn's buffet of blouses, all made from Butterick 4985, on her blog Handmade By Carolyn. The web is an excellent research tool for pattern research. But to get the most out of if you need to go beyond the pattern companies' online catalogs. Look at seamstesses' sewing blogs as well as pattern review sites to get a feel for the range of ways the pattern makes up, how it tends to look, how it flatters different figures (or not), the success of different style variations and fabric choices, and so on. is a great site and i so appreciate the people who write the reviews! I find it's really hard to navigate and search this site, but if i stick with it i its worth it. Don't forget to search for the pattern company and number with your favorite search engine - i've found some great blog reviews that way.

Finding a pattern that has a number of 'views' or contains a 'wardrobe' is the classic approach to getting the most out of a pattern. Again: sewer, know thyself! I know that the chances i will make up Butterick 4985 view D (a puffy, banded sleeve with purchased trim right on the puffiest part of the already puffy sleeve) are remote to none. However, i will make the plain band collar, the classic collar on the band, the band with applied trim collar, the long tie collar.....I've already made the blouse in black cotton jersey and a lightweight linen. I can see it in cotton swiss dot, cotton  or rayon jersey solid or print, cotton lawn or voile (solid or print), nylon or cotton lace........i've made it with a split set in sleeve and sleeveless. I'm contemplating a  set-in cap sleeve and gathered cap sleeve with and without band hem.

the seaming and piecing of this blouse make bust, waist, and torso length adjustments a snap

The point is to do so much research and brainstorming that you are confident in your ability to generate enough variations that will suit your wardrobe and your taste for variety. This will * ahem * 'vary' from person to person. Read the information on the pattern provided by the manufacturer to see if they recommend a wide range of fabrics or if it's only appropriate for specific materials (two way stretch, etc.). Evaluate what fabrics other sewists have used to make this or similar designs. Be honest with yourself about how much variety you want and enjoy in your clothing items. I enjoy having a bunch of versions of one basic item (cap-sleeved button down blouse). For me, keeping the bodice pretty standard but being able to make substantial changes in the collar and sleeves provides enough difference for me to want to purchase this pattern (while avoiding the hassle of making constant fit adjustments in the torso and bust). Other people would find this way too boring, and want more differences between their clothing items - they want a tank, a cap sleeve tee, a tunic, etc. For these people, finding a good 'wardrobe' pattern may be more their speed.

Regarding 'wardrobe' patterns, i've never purchased one. These patterns contain a selection of pieces designed to be worn together (some examples here). They tend to be career-wear focused, though i've seen the occasional 'resort wear', more casual wardrobe pattern. These type of patterns seem to pop up a lot in SWAP (Sew With A Plan) competitions. Again, evaluating your own wardrobe needs and researching other sewists's experiences will help you make a good decision . Making sketches, story boards or croquis with swatches can help you envision what a particular pattern can do for your wardrobe.

Another consideration is how much of your own creativity you will bring to the pattern in question. For the black version of this blouse i added a couple of more buttons than indicated in the directions and placed them closer together to highlight the booty i scavenged off another blouse. The standard sleeve opening on this blouse allows any number of different sleeves to be created or stolen wholesale from another pattern and applied to the bodice. Carolyn added adorable lace-trimmed pockets to one of her versions of this blouse. As a rule, patterns with a lot of complicated seaming and details or unusual silhouettes will be more difficult to make up in different version or 'graft' onto other patterns. Again - think it through before you buy and don't be afraid to sketch, swatch, etc.

After you've chosen a pattern that will be a wardrobe workhorse and you have a billion ideas for different ways to make it up, the next step is to get the best deal, money-wise, on your pattern. That's the topic of my next post. But in the meantime, here's a couple of videos from Trudy and Jeremy of Hot Patterns with a look at a few different ways you can make up their Sonia Rykiel-inspired Weekender Cabana T-Shirts. Trudy's patterns aren't outrageously priced, but they are not cheap, so she puts a lot of thought into her patterns so that you can get the most out of them in the ways i've outlined in this post. These videos are an example of that thoughtfulness and give you a feel for the type of thinking that will pay off in figuring out how to get more out of your sewing patterns. Enjoy, and comment with any of your own secrets!!!

Blouse: Butterick 4985
Skirt: own design
Sandals: Aerosoles

Friday, July 22, 2011

Further Explanation

 Whoops! Looks like a few of my delightful readers treated me with more gravitas than i merit and took my last post in all seriousness......which only makes me love you more! But i'd recommend that you read what i write with Morton's at the ready. I'll do anything for a laugh, especially when it's at myself. As i said to Gracey: "uh oh. frankly, this outfit didn't bother me at all - but when i thought about "this look + this blog" it occurred to me that i could play it for laughs...especially if any of my readers have seen "Eating Raoul". altho i do have to accept that there are certain looks which i am too poor to wear ;) ".  (and "OT" as they say - i can't imagine what Gracey is "too" "too" to wear - thoughtful? considerate? creative? but i can imagine plenty of precious metals being outshone by that 24 carat smile!)

The 'mutton dressed as lamb' style no-no doesn't cross my mind overmuch, possibly because i got all those crazy looks out of my system when i was younger. (woo hoo! i should dig up some pictures!) But i do harbor a strong aversion towards dressing in an infantile manner.  I didn't appreciate how i was treated when i was a child (the same as all children are in our culture) and wasn't about to encourage this treatment by dressing the part. I've continued to exhibit this tendency ever since. Cutesy prints of cuddly kittens on shapeless fuzzy sweatshirts, flannel 'pajama pants', footie onesie pajamas on 48 year old people, sweaters with sparkly little elves embroidered on them for Christmas, any garment in fuzzy shapeless pastel colors - it all drives me utterly out of my mind!!!!!  Something about adults wanting to dissolve boundaries and crawl back up in the womb - ??? - i don't know but i'm sure it's too 'psychologically deep' for a style blog.

i'll take some pictures which better capture the details
But it   seriously    creeps    me     out.   Which argues in favor of my comfort with and attraction to these type of looks - more grown up. As part of an ongoing rush (rash?) of inspiration from Carolyn, i acquired Butterick 4985 and went to work (scroll down, down, down - Carolyn's made about a dozen fabulous, unique versions of this blouse!). In this here iteration i was aiming for a modern, sleek blouse with a Gibson Girl vibe. I like the way it turned out - you get the feel of feminine frills and decadent ornamentation but the overall shape makes it completely wearable in a modern wardrobe. I used the 'window bleached' area of the same drapes i used to make the Rebecca Taylor dress (also inspired by you know who!).

Another similar outfit - grown up clothing items which emphasize the 'adult female' aspects of my figure - bust, waist hips - and not the lean, coltish long legged silhouette of an adolescent who has just come through a growth spurt.  I also like the shot of caramel orange of the purse.

Is this 'anti-infantile-dressing' fixarion a purely personal pet peeve (or neurosis)? Or does it resonate with any of you?  So much for 'light Friday fare' - ah well!

Ivory Blouse: Butterick 4985
"Geisha" Blouse: La Fred Europa Blouse Pattern
Skirts: own design
Top Sandals: Naturalizer
Bottom Sandals: Aerosoles

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rhetorical Question ***

Is this an outfit that a grown woman should wear?

 The hoary old admonition to wear decent underwear lest you shock the tender sensibilities of your local emergency workers came up recently on the You Look Fab forum.  A real, live Emergency Room Worker chimed in to say that tattered knickers were generally attributed to whatever chain of events landed the person in the ER. However, a woman who arrived sans any 'small clothes' whatsoever did cause more than a small amount of gossip.

What would these grizzled individuals have to say about a middle aged woman dressed like Minnie Mouse?

*** "... employed for rhetorical effect; especially : asked merely for effect with no answer expected: a rhetorical question" definition courtesy Merriam Webster Dictionary

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


 I wore this look on one of the first really hot days this summer (mid 90's F). My landlord complimented me on it, and asked what i was planning that day to get so dressed up. I let him know nothing special was on the calendar, i just like to look more put together on hot days to counteract how frazzled the weather makes me feel. He got a laugh out of it, but acknowledged the wisdom of it.

I've been a big fan of adding a touch of high contrast to outfits for decades. A monotone beige/ivory look gets a dark brown belt, an all black ensemble cries out for a strand of white pearls. But since Mr. E spotted these nude patent leather sandals for me, i've been spotted in low contrast nude on nude get ups frequently. I suspect it's especially fun as my body's aesthetic is low contrast to begin with, so the clothing seems to be just playing along. And it's reassuring to do something different, and see some evidence that i'm not completely in a rut.

I finally got a pair of sunglasses. But they aren't prescription, so i do the old lady thing and wear them over my correction spex. The sunglasses are big enough that it's not flamingly obvious right away. Or so i like to tell myself.

I made this little skirt out of the material left over from these cargo pants.  On first glance there was plenty of material to make a knee length, straight skirt. In the real world - i made like Piet and pieced like crazy! i'm very glad i stuck with it and eked it out. This skirt is comfy and especially great to wear on hot days, as it's cool feeling, doesn't bother my legs, and lends a 'pulled together' vibe to many tops. I can see it working well in my wardrobe in olive drab, dove to charcoal gray, black...this Hot Patterns design offers an opportunity to make something similar but with a cool slouchiness to it. I love it when all my plotting and scheming actually pays off!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

But At Least I've Been Sewing

 I wouldn't have noticed this pattern at all, except for i saw how the lovely Carolyn made it up in two very different, equally useful iterations. Taking my own advice, i stole her idea and ran with it.

This is the Scarlett O'Hara version (or 'wearable muslin'). The ever-thoughtful D. lets me take a look at the items donated to a local opportunity shop but considered not up to their standards. D. helps the ladies of the shop, and one of her duties is to take these rejects to the Goodwill - with, first, a stop next door to us. I found some great linen fabric and brought it home (all of ten feet!). This fabric had apparently spent a number of years in someone's window, as curtains, and had a couple of bleached-out, window-shaped areas to prove it.

Luckily, the unbleached areas were big enough to lay out this dress. I went to the RIT Dye website and chose an apple-green-y drab color and dyed the unbleached areas. For the trim/accent i used the remnants from this skirt (featured 19 times so far on this blog - i like to think this is some type of style-blogging record). The bleached areas were big enough to make a little blouse, so i bleached them even more and am almost finished with a new top.

I wore this dress for its first outing on the Fourth. We spent several hours wandering around San Francisco, mostly along the Embarcadero and in North Beach. The weather was perfect, sunny and mild....very rare in SF! How limpid to walk around the city in a little dress. But, as is its way, the wind started whipping up and blowing strongly, so after a long nap in the City Lights basement we returned to the East Bay.

Vogue designer patterns do a great job of staying true to the designer's vision, in this case including a rapidly plunging neckline.  Rather than change the designer's vision, i filled in the neckline with a scarf pinned to my bra. I love the shirttail hemline as well - i've been thinking of using different shirt hems for future versions. One would be the classic straight hem/straight slit, another would be the convex to the concave version of the convex shirt tail shown above (if that makes any sense....)

Enough geometry for one day!

Dress: Rebecca Taylor for Vogue Patterns 1152
Boots: Bass

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What Can I Say

 Real life got really lively....

Got a case of the heeby-jeebies about the 'avatar', 'is it real of Memorex?' issue.......

Didn't have anything style-related to say......

After about one and a half years of knuckling down on my wardrobe and my style, getting dressed became - just super easy. No thought, just grabbed 'the obvious' from the closet, threw it on and loved it. I'd reached a tipping point where all that thinkin' and plottin' paid off. 'The goal' is reached, resulting in not much to say!

But mom left a pitiful sounding comment, pining for the 'glory days' when i'd post OOTD looks several times weekly. Vildy has been putting some amazing thought into her wardrobe by using my outfit checklist (and referring it to web-friends as well!) I had a blogger meet-up with Ravina Sniper, an incredibly sincere and sweet lady who looks even more like a glam Sarah Jessica Parker in person.....

and then our Styling Fairy Godmother plunked her magic twanger in my direction (read to the end). I figured i better show up here soon, after all what can a quarter hour of blogging hurt, every now and then?

Only one way to find out!