Monday, August 31, 2015

Corset Style Top

I made a little top. Long time readers (hugs all round!) have heard me complain incessantly about the travails of looking stylish and feeling comfortable in temperatures above 90F. Follow this link to my second post ever on exactly this topic. Living on the border between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Great Valley, temperatures this hot may show up a good six months of the year.

Around the time I started The Dashing Eccentric I started to make a few little 'cami tops'. Sleeveless, cotton or linen, with styling bringing to mind the corset covers of the Victorian and Edwardian era, my cami tops made up using little fabric and time whilst broadcasting my own personal style no matter how high the mercury climbed.

I've never been without these style essentials since. However, this spring I had to admit that this part of my wardrobe needed a serious overhaul. My remaining cami-tops were threadbare in places where an artful applique or embroidered fillip would only be appropriate in certain Vegas venues. What's more, I hankered for a more modern, sophisticated take on this garment.

Designing a wardrobe workhorse garment which one hopes to become a TNT can be a long process. First, I had to determine my criteria - what functional and stylistic characteristics would I prioritize?

I settled on sleeveless, moderate neckline/armscye, style lines/decorative possibilities hearkening back to the corset-cover inspiration, seamlines offering exacting fit around the bust and shoulders, and clean finish of interior and edges. Based on this list I decided to go with princess seams and a yoke.

I liked the idea of a yoke for three reasons. It allowed seaming which mocked the top of a corset and allowed for closer fitting through the high bust and shoulders. This seaming could be done traditionally, seam allowances turned to the inside and very subtle, or could be accented with tone-on-tone or contrasting trims. In this instance i used self made bias binding in a low-contrast print.

Interior view
The third reason I chose to go with a yoke was so I could encase all of the yoke's edges and seam allowances. Above you can see that i sewed the necklines and armscyes of the yoke to a facing, then turned it inside. On the inside of the garment, I pressed up the facing's seam allowances along the bottom edge of the yoke and hand stitched it to the interior seam allowances to finish. You can see it makes for a very clean interior - comfortable as well.

Given this decision, I looked at the commercial patterns available to see if I could find one from a well-reviewed designer with similar lines. I chose Lisette's 6183 design for Butterick. The fit was nice and the pieces went together well, and the pattern includes separate pieces for A-D cup sizes - a very nice feature in any bodice. The design lines weren't so far away from my vision so as to make drafting onerous, though I did make substantial changes. I developed completely different construction methods.

For this garment I chose to use silk organza for the yoke facing. This linen is a bit sheer, so two layers of the linen would have made the yoke appear more opaque than the 'corset' area of the top. This seemed opposite of the effect I wanted of a more substantial 'corset' with flimsier 'yoke'. Since the organza didn't add any visual weight I went with that instead of the linen.

As much as I love silk organza, it is a pest to work with! Long, strong threads grabbing everything, everywhere! Fortunately my choice worked very well for the visual effect and it is nice on the skin as well. The end product was worth the effort. If I'd done all that fussing and it hadn't turned out well, I am sure you would have heard my cussing around the world!

Using bias bindings along the seamlines had more than a decorative purpose. I stitched the vertical seams wrong sides together, pressed and trimmed the seam allowances to about 1/4". I then applied the bias strips on the right side of the garment, topstitching on both edges of the bias strips, thus encasing the raw edges.

Figuring out the order of construction on this garment, and then working with the silk organza facing was certainly fiddly!   However, the end effect is wonderful. I will be looking for more opportunities to use the technique for seam finishes in future. I am scheming another make of this top in black with a white with black cotton ribbon instead of the bias binding (the curves are gentle enough that it should work without the flexibility of the bias). Using the same color but with a different texture - say, satin bias on linen - would yield a subtle, luxe result.

In order to break up the neckline a bit and allow increased ventilation, I put a split in the yoke at the top center front instead of continuing buttons all the way up. I used a combination of dark grey and clear buttons from the stash. Inside, I used one at the center back of the yoke instead of a label, with a bit of the bias binding underneath clipped like a ribbon.

I put a lot of thinking, scheming, testing, and flat out futzing into developing this top - and it was worth it! I look forward to making up more of these tops in neutrals as well as one floral which is drawing my attention in this direction...and I am excited to lengthen this top into a dress as well. Making this design in a dark, clear blue with ivory polka dots in a swingy silk crepe de chine, hitting a bit below mid calf would create a dress embodying easy French chic.

How did you come to your own TNTs? Did it involve lots of planning and experimenting or did it fall into your lap? Let us know!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Calder" Cirque Dress - Marcy Tilton for Vogue 9112

Ladies, if you have scrumptious gams this dress (at original length) is for YOU!

I made this Cirque dress before the one I showed you back in spring, but wanted to get pictures which showed it to full advantage before sharing it with you here. A couple of weeks ago i ran across this fantastic mural in an out of the way, industrial-type area of Berkeley. I thought the cerulean blues would be fantastic against the burnt oranges in this print, but the location didn't lend itself to my usual self-portraiture. Happily my dad agreed to take some pictures of me with his DSLR camera and here we are!

I bought this fabric from Marcy Tilton's online store around 18 months ago. As soon as i saw it i loved it - the style recalls a dear artist friend of mine and the warm colors are my favorites to wear. I had no firm plans for what to DO with it, and this fabric languished in stash until i saw Vogue 9112. Instantly i loved that dress and i knew what i was waiting for on this fabric!

But I had a couple of aspects I wanted to think through to make this dress fantastic. I am 5'5", 5;6" with an Hourglass/Inverted Triangle figure. This dress has a high collar - in fact the collar is lots of what attracts me to this design - but with no design lines breaking up the upper bodice area. So I was a little leery about looking overly formidable. 

the lovely and formidable Margaret Dumont courtesy jimbolist 
I could have taken the 'traditional' approach and altered this dress to create a closure up the center front - but this would destroy the wonderful collar, and i really loved the simplicity and ease of the pop-it-on design. That ease of dressing is especially appealing in the heat of summer. So I decided to take a closer look at the design and all the techniques I've learned to tone down a pair of big square shoulders and large bust to see if I could make it work.

As it happens, the design is more IT friendly than one would think at first glance - the wide, open neckline and multiple vertical/diagonal lines of the collar help to break up a wide shoulder line. The shoulder seams are again quite nicely designed - wide enough for modesty and covering a bra, but slim enough to again break up any linebacker shoulders.

You may stand the collar up or fold it down. Allowing it to crumple a bit softens the lines around the shoulders. And you can create the classic vee neckline used to break up a generous bust by wearing a longer necklace or two.

I edged the collar with topstitched self-made bias tape to show more of the print

When it came to constructing the dress, I chose a drapey cotton lawn and cut enough ease at the bust so that the dress would drape over the individual breasts instead of pulling taught across the bust (i am wearing a silk camisole under the dress here, without which the drape is more pronounced). I've found this helps to 'break up' the upper body. I placed the print asymmetrically across the bust for the same reason - that sequence of yellow and orange circles at center front would have been a target! 

Continuing this approach, I placed the print asymmetrically over the dress as a whole. As my aesthetic generally is more low-contrast and delicate, with many curvy lines in face and hair I placed the more delicate, low contrast areas of the print in the upper third of the dress, closer to my face.

I concentrated the bolder, darker, higher contrast, 'heavier' areas of the print near the hem to anchor the dress visually and to get the impact of these parts of the print without feeling like I was being overwhelmed.

You'll notice that I relied on several different techniques to break up what could have been a formidable bodice - color and light/dark placement in the bodice as well as the overall garment, varying the weight of the lines used in the print over the garment, styling with necklaces, and last but not least Marcy Tilton's masterful use of subtly flattering lines in the original dress design.

I find that using several techniques, each applied with a light hand, creates a more effective and flattering end result when trying to direct attention towards or away from a particular aspect of one's physical being. Wearing a figure-hugging black dress with a dramatic decolletage will also break up the bust, but is not appropriate for everyday and can get a bit boring.  

I am very glad I chose to ignore 'traditional flattery' rules and tackle this design! Not only do i have two great summer dresses (with more to come) but I put myself through my paces creating visual balance in these garments. This experience clarified the process for me, and I hope this knowledge will be useful to my readers as well.

eagle-eyes will spot a high-heeled shoe, cassette audio tape, flaming binocular, old school teevee aerial....
This view shows the wonderful, asymmetrical swoop of the hem which makes this dress so whimsical and fun to wear. As I wanted to wear this piece as a dress, not so much as a tunic, I added 4" at the hem. This alteration is simple to do, and accents the indentation on the lower side hem.

Believe it or not, this dress is a big sentimental piece for me. I have a dear friend of many years who is an artist often working in the graffiti style. We spent many wonderful hours visiting museums together. One of his favorite artists is Alexander Calder, and we saw Calder's circus (made for his daughter) at the Berkeley Art Museum a few times together. So between the graffiti, the color palette, and the 'cirques' of this dress, it reminds me so much of my wonderful friend Shawn. I realize when you hear 'sentimental dressing' one expects old fashioned Victorian frills - this goes to show you just never know!

What are your most unexpected sentimental garments? Let us know in the comments!

Photography by Marvin Quick. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Blouse for Charming Hummingbirds - B4985

I made this blouse a couple of months ago, but it has been harder to photograph than the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot combined! Poor lighting conditions, gadget failure, even buttoning up the blouse wrong all plagued your humble photographess. I've finally managed some decent pictures, which makes me very happy as i really love this blouse and want to share it with you.

continuing the bird theme, worn with cuckoo clock pendant
I've made this pattern up several times before. The addition of princess seams below an empire waist seamline makes fitting a large bust/smaller ribcage and waist really easy and the many small pieces offer a nice canvas to showcase this gorgeous border print cotton lawn from Marcy Tilton.

Hummingbird Blouse layered over Tina Givens' Briare slip and self-drafted petticoat
With no sleeves and a fine but very breathable cotton fabric, this blouse is perfect for wearing in the heat. The bright colors and incredibly detailed floral print charm just about everyone. Finding just the right buttons for this blouse could have been a problem, but i used real shell ones i cut off of a old men's dress shirt. I turned them around, revealing the varied shell patterns.

Eileen Fisher has been creating a useful resource at their site on how to take care of your clothes for the long haul. This project is part of their philosophy of being respectful of the resources used to make their clothing. I enjoyed this video on how to sew on a button and used the same technique on this blouse. The little thread shanks give the buttons a bit of dangling movement.

I used french seams all through, enclosed the button plackets, and applied bias binding on the armscyes. The more i sew and wear my own garments, the more i appreciate a beautiful interior finish. The experience of wearing a nicely finished item is so much more comfortable, luxurious and sensual than floppy, scratchy ready to wear.

Combined with beautiful fabric and your desired fit, this type of finish really changes the way you live in your clothes. It can't compare to even the best of ready to wear because RTW manufacturers will not fit so exactly to your unique figure and do not regularly use the same quality of fabric and such time-consuming techniques. This level of luxury lies behind the passion of many seamsters.

A pattern which one knows inside and out, using it many times, is called a TNT - for "Tried N True". While you see the acronym pretty frequently in the online sewing world , you don't see much practical demonstration of the ways in which you can really stretch a TNT and put it through its paces in creating your wardrobe.

Erin of Seamstress Erin released a well-reviewed swimming pattern this summer. In conjunction, she has published a number of articles on ways to use this one pattern to make your own undiescreate a tankini, hack a high waist swim bottom or undies, how to add a little skirt, and how to add a high waist with twists. Whew! What i especially like about this series is how it shows what you can do beyond just changing out the sleeves or leaving off a collar by using some simple drafting skills and your creative vision. Really worth checking out for inspiration - and to see the gorgeous fabrics she uses.

Do any of you have TNT patterns? Or, even more important, what are the pieces in your wardrobe which are delightful enough to charm a hummingbird? Let us know in the comments!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ancestress of Style - Lauren McIntosh

We all have our own style icons. While some of them are constantly at front of mind - Isak Dinesen, Amelia Earhardt - others work their magic in our subconscious for decades until one day they decide to stroll out into the spotlight and take a bow.

Most of you are quite familiar with my love affair with beige. Beige - the perfect low contrast neutral to go with my low contrast coloring, beige keeps me from feeling overwhelmed when i pile on the details or play with an outsized silhouette.

Which is why i felt perplexed at my choice of daily uniform. The last six months have seen me ever more reliant on uniform dressing. Nine days out of ten I'm in a dress or a full skirt and white linen blouse. Even better if it is a full, black skirt. With a white blouse.

Black and white. While this combo indeed comprises neutrals, it is the quintessential high contrast look. Why did i love wearing it so much, why did it feel so me? I knew not why, but continued sporting this combo in hopes it would trigger some insight.

It didn't. What did was a post by Marcy Tilton, sharing with her facebook readers her love of designer Carolyn Quartermaine via a little video. While the focus of the video was Carolyn Quartermaine's promotion of toile de jouy, the calligraphy Ms. Quartermaine favored reminded me of Lauren McIntosh's own artwork. Lauren McIntosh co-owns Berkeley boutique Tail of the Yak with fellow artist Alice Erb. I of course remarked that Lauren McIntosh's personal style was also something to behold.

Lauren McIntosh with her artwork via hat designer Momoca's blog
While searching for a picture or two with which to illustrate my  point, my abiding love of the ensemble black and white stared me square in the face. The pictures of Ms. McIntosh i found online, while scarce, solved the mystery of my black and white love affair in an instant.

If you walked into Tail of the Yak today, you would be awed by the exquisite taste in everything from water glasses, to Victorian-era mourning jewelry, to hand-cut garlands and 1920’s era French ribbons by the yard. But you would not be shocked with a through the looking glass punch to the gut – because Tail of the Yak has been so influential and copied through the decades.

Not so in the early 1980’s. I grew up in Castro Valley, half an hour south of Berkeley to which we’d go on the weekends. I found being so out of place at ‘home’, then 'just another weirdo' a few miles distant to be more comforting than strange.  And in Tail of the Yak, I got a glimpse of people living the type of life in which my talents and preferences would at least be accepted, maybe even admired.

The idea of living with people who didn’t actively scorn me was arresting enough, but what I really loved about Tail of the Yak was looking at everything. I loved the taste and aesthetic and thirstily drank it in.

from Remodelista: Lauren McIntosh, Artist Doyenne of  Berkeley
On the best visits Lauren McIntosh would be working in the shop. She’s strikingly beautiful, but more than that I loved her outfits. When first I haunted the store, she wore crisp, full black cotton skirts with white cotton petticoats, black leather booties, and white or black cotton blouse. She braided her long black hair and sometimes topped it all off with a straw hat painted black. 

jewelry influenced by Tail of the Yak and Ms. MacIntosh herself
This stark ensemble created the perfect setting to showcase her incredible collection of antique (not vintage – antique) European and Mexican jewelry. Pearls! Cameos! Rose cut diamonds! Antique paste! Earrings from the Mexican jewelers who sold to Frida Khalo, in business since the days of Spanish colonialism (I have a pair myself – thank you mom)!

photo from the Real Isabelle Allende's blog
I haven't the words to convey the atmosphere of Tail of the Yak. I did find a few pictures which may give you a taste of it - here is Isabelle Allende sprucing up Ms. Erb and McIntosh's macquillage for a photoshoot, later published in American Craft magazine. That's Tail of the Yak in a nutshell.

"6 places to check out in the Elmwood" from sfgate
Intoxicating, and it seemed at the time, utterly beyond my reach. I didn’t have the budget of the target customer, so never got to know anyone with the store (aside from a few conversations with the ethereally delightful Alice Erb, partner in Tail of the Yak and the gentlest, sweetest of souls). So I consciously put aside the idea of being influenced by that milieu.

Happily, my unconscious was having none of that! I find it so wonderful that our subrosa selves can take inspiration from people and places no matter what 'we' make up our 'minds' to do or not. In this instance certainly my subconscious had very strict and correct views on the matter, and i am grateful to it for showing more common sense than 'me' up here in the brain!

I made this double-layered skirt as part of a Lagenlook Sew Along organized by Garden Girl (Rene) on the Stitcher's Guild sewing forum. These sew alongs started in January and have been quite active - check out the threads for a ton of eye candy, inspiration, and helpful advice. For this double-layered skirt i chose 100% cotton lawn, embroidered in a kind of eyelet/wallpaper stripe. It is easy to sew and very comfortable to wear. (Click here to see some photos showing the skirt details more clearly.)

I bought the fabric at Stone Mountain and Daughter - at $9 a 54" wide yard, an excellent value. Even more as it has been wearing quite well, no pilling on the embroidery, twisting, etc. I had been kicking myself for not buying more, when last Saturday i went upstairs at Stone Mountain to find the same fabric on sale for half off - I snapped up four yards to make a dress. Thank you fabric fairies!

Do any of you want to take a guess at what style icons lurk in your own subconscious, working patiently while awaiting the right moment to burst upon your awareness? Maybe you've had a similar realization? Please share!