Saturday, December 24, 2011

Movies You Ought To See: The Thin Man Films

William Powell and Myrna Loy drink like fish, solve mysteries, and banter with the sort of affectionate gender animosity that passed for a happy marriage in the 1930s.  The movies are charming, funny, and (sexism, racism, and alcoholism aside) have a surprisingly modern sensibility.  The series spans my favorite period of history (first film 1934, last film 1947), and the clothes are straight-up gorgeous.  This is what Nick and Nora wear to get a midnight snack of scrambled eggs and toast:

Let's see that again from another angle:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lace-Up Trousers

Mission accomplished!

Lace-up trousers: high-waisted straight-leg trousers in plaid wool flannel, with notched waistband, belt loops, front pocket, and laces!

They came out looking distinctly more seventies than I expected, but I love 'em anyway.  I've really said most of what I have to say about these trousers--they were a pain in the ass, but I finished them anyway, in a mad burst of speed less than an hour before the Christmas party I wanted to wear them to.  Their dominant feature is probably the laces:

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Do I Do With This Wool Suiting?


It's 60" wide and I have two and a half yards--wiggle dress?  Circle skirt and short drapey jacket?  It drapes oh so nice and has mild-to-moderate fray.  I have the opposite problem from many sewing bloggers in that I have a small but growing wardrobe of practical separates (you can never have enough) and zero me-made dress outfits, so as resistant as I am to sewing special-occasion garments, that's probably the direction I should go here.

Any pattern suggestions (I draft my own, but I often use vintage patterns as a model)?  Y'all know how I love vintage silhouettes.  Hit me with your best shot.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pants: The Anger

Pants, why do you fail me so?  I spent ages drafting this pattern from my original sailor pants pattern--narrowing the leg, mainly, and I'll get into where I went wrong there--then sewed it up in a lovely plaid wool flannel (being careful to match the plaids even though the print is tiny and unobtrusive!)--and what do I get?  Chaos.  Side seams that won't meet, much less lap over a zipper.  Lines where the fabric pulls over my (nice and round) tummy.  A seat so tight the stitches pop when I sit down.

At this point, I've made a million adjustments (probably more like five) and I'm just tired of stitching and restitching the same stupid seams.  I started out carefully basting but by the third time 'round I was just stitching recklessly with no thought for the future.

The problems may be many, but I don't want to just ditch these guys--too much work has gone into them.  I think the plan now is to make them into lace-up pants--stitch a modesty panel behind the side seam opening, throw some facings on the seam edges, put in a couple of impromptu eyelets, and lace up the side.  Yes?  No?  I just can't face throwing them away.  I will find a way to make this work.  And then I will add some ease over the hip, as I think I accidentally pared away too much when I was narrowing the leg.  The more you know!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Status Report: Quite Accomplished

Life developments of the nuptial variety have been absorbing much of my time lately (not to mention the usual slog of writing/reading/teaching[/eating/sleeping], week in and week out), but never fear: I'm still sewing!  The ever-encroaching Syracuse winter is a strong motivator to supplement my winter wardrobe.  With my wardrobe gaps in mind, as well as the adaptations necessary to turn my fall wardrobe into a winter one, I've created this outfit:

Refashioned sweater vest!:  I bought this sweater at the Salvation Army because it was all-wool (originally from Banana Republic) and a gorgeous color red, but when I tried it on it was definitely too tight at the armscye (and besides, three-quarter-sleeve tight crewneck sweaters are not my style).  I cut off the arms, deepened the sleeve openings a little, and finished them with the same bias tape from my chemise dress for a white accent that barely shows when I move my arms.  The sleeves were the perfect length to use as-is for leg warmers (a little droopy, but super warm!)  You can see both in the video above, which Dear Fianc√©e made to test her new iPhone.

I've got a petticoat sewn up and awaiting a waistband and hem--an adjusted trouser pattern in progress, in plaid wool flannel--an A-line skirt pattern to cut out in same--and the glimmerings of a plan for a back-button blouse in army-green wool jersey (Claire McCardell and I agree on the eternal appropriateness of wool jersey).  My sewing room is a mess, but I sleep easy in the knowledge that I will have no shortage of projects for the winter break.

Coming up: Pants issues, and how; also, I have some lightweight wool suiting and I have no idea what to do with it--I'll be asking your advice!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chemise Dress, Take Two

The stars aligned--my omens were propitious--I needed something clean to sleep in--so I sewed another chemise!

It's a bit see-through, so I'll let Dottie model it (that immodest slattern):

Chemise: Cotton muslin, made with this pattern, only I made it a little wider at the sleeves and hem (for comfy sleeping) and a few inches shorter (for lack of material).

Friday, November 11, 2011

I'm Obsessed With:

...these British Pathé short films.

Just search for "fashion" and set the decade for the 1940s, and it's a wonderful historical resource and source of inspiration.  For instance, check out this May 1945 video (I wish I could embed it, but the technology won't bend to my will).

The narrator implies that rationing will soon be over, but in fact it would be in force for another four years.  Sorry, girls--those frills and fripperies will have to wait.

(Thanks to CargoCultCraft for the link; I never would have found this amazing resource on my own!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Autumnal Whole Wheat Pancakes, Or, Joy For Your Belly

I know it's been a while since I put up a recipe here--that's because I've been too busy to do much baking!  Teaching can really eat your life if you're not careful.  Anyway, we've been eating these pancakes at least three times a week lately.  The whole wheat gives them an excellent, chewy, dense texture, and makes them really stick to your ribs, and the apple cider lends a slight appley flavor without being overwhelming.  Give it a shot.  (This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman's "Everyday Pancakes" recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, my food bible.)

Autumnal Whole Wheat Pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup buttermilk (plus up to 1/4 cup extra if needed)
1/2 cup apple cider
2 eggs
splash vanilla extract
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

extra butter for the skillet

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients thoroughly.  In a small bowl (or four-cup liquid measure), combine the buttermilk and cider.  Beat in the eggs, then add the vanilla and butter.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir until mostly combined (a few lumps are okay).  You should be able to pour it thickly--if it won't pour, add a little more buttermilk.

Now, put a large skillet over medium heat.  This batter can handle tiny silver-dollar pancakes or giant ones as big as your head--just cook them until the bubbles that form in the center leave little craters.  In my house, we bang the spatula against the edge of the pan every so often to pop the bubbles and see if it's ready.  When they start to get all craterfacey, flip 'em and brown the other side.  Serve hot with butter (apple butter is also a great choice), syrup, and a large glass of cold milk.


Side note: I used homemade butter and buttermilk for this recipe, and boy howdy did it make a difference.  I found this tutorial easy to follow, and it barely took five or six minutes of shaking before the butter magically appeared!  I added a teaspoon or so of apple cider vinegar to my buttermilk, since the real stuff tastes more like skim milk than the cultured stuff from the store.  Give it a shot--you will not regret it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I Just Keep On Amazing Myself, Sweater Edition

Dear readers, despite my previous frustration, I do seem to be making some progress on my wardrobe gaps. First off, I picked up a men's extra-large wool sweater at the Salvation Army, cut it apart, and reassembled to make this cute little number:

Sweater: men's wool sweater repurposed into a forties-style women's sweater.
Skirt: see here (I wasn't kidding when I said I wore it all the time).

Monday, October 31, 2011

Winter in the Snowiest City in New York State: A Preparatory Guide

Winter in Syracuse is cold.  It is awfully, awfully cold, and awfully, awfully snowy, and if you measure the season by "first snow to last snow" it's about five months long here.  My wardrobe has adapted appropriately: I own a pair of snow boots, and a knee-length down coat, and a warm hat with earflaps, and gloves, and a variety of scarves, and a clear zippered container full of sweater tights.

Here's a typical late-fall, early-winter outfit, not counting under-underthings (bra and panties and so forth):

Winter Wardrobe

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wardrobe Planning--It's a Pain in the Ass

Inspired by The Wardrobe Reimagined, I've been thinking a lot about my closet this week.  My wardrobe is fairly small, as a matter of necessity--I've moved eight times in the past five years--and my everyday wardrobe is even smaller than that.  However, there are still things I can and will get rid of, and some things I very badly need and don't have--particularly in my winter wardrobe.

Here are the things I wear at least once a week, often more (fall and winter edition):

Tops: I have a bottomless wardrobe of stretched-out Old Navy v-neck t-shirts.  I also frequently wear this dress under skirts and sweaters, so it works as a top sort of.  I also borrow Dear Partner's extensive wardrobe of plaid flannel button-up shirts.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This Lining is Not Bagged But Is Instead Something-Elsed: A Tutorial.

Readers, I have probably not really invented a new method of lining a jacket, but I'm sure you will excuse me for wanting to claim that distinction.  I have read literally four million tutorials on how to insert a jacket lining (not really).  Not one of them made any sense to me.  As a concept, lining a jacket is even less intuitive than rolling a men's dress shirt up into a giant sausage and stitching the yokes together!

So here's what I did, for a collarless jacket with contrast lapels.  Take it with a grain of salt, because as usual I'm making it up as I go along, but hopefully this will be helpful to at least one other person!

First, assemble the lining, sleeves and all.  Press the seams open, so they lie flat against one another when the jacket and lining are sewn together, but don't bother to finish them unless you're a completist like that.  It should look like this:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fall Essentials Sew-Along

My relationship with the rest of the sewing-blog-o-sphere is a complicated one.  I'm always stumbling across challenges or sew-alongs and thinking "wow, I'd love to do that!" and then realizing the post I'm reading is from February of 2009.  Well, this time I'm only a month and a half late, so I thought I might as well sign up anyway!  And I realized, glancing over my handy-dandy sewing spreadsheet, that I've basically already been participating (click to enlarge):

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reading List Part Three: So You Want to Learn to Sew Historically

You, too, could embroider napkins
with your four identical friends.
Step one: acquire a historical sewing manual!  I'm lucky enough to have access to a university library of some size, with a large textile arts section, so I've found most of my favorites by just browsing the TT 500's.  I've also tracked down some gems by requesting an inter-library loan at my local public library, so that's an option if you know what you're looking for.

Here are a couple of my discoveries:

Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques--more accurately titled Authentic Edwardian Dressmaking Techniques--is a reprint of a Butterick pamphlet from 1905, and oh how times have not changed.  Sleeve cap ease?  Check.  FBAs?  Check.  There are even pictures of a pleasant-looking woman with very big hair having her measurements taken, from which we modern readers may learn that the 'bust' measure at that time was actually what we'd call 'high bust' or 'chest'--good to know, if you're sewing from a very old pattern.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What I Am Now Calling "The Dustbowl Skirt"

 Front view:

and back view:

 Skirt: tea-length full skirt in charcoal wool flannel, with narrow waistband, side zip, and two-button closure (worn layered over this dress/slip/nightgown hybrid).

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Dressing-Gown You've All Been Waiting For

Isn't it glam?

Dressing-gown: plaid cotton flannel with long sleeves, turnback lapels, patch pockets, and a wrap-style button waist.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Bet You're Feeling a Little Neglected Right About Now

Lovely readers--

I haven't abandoned you!  I've been sewing like mad this last month or so, but between teaching and my coursework and working on a novel (eek) I haven't had time to blog.  I especially haven't had time to do photo shoots--unless you'd all like to see poorly lit flash photos of me with dirty hair against the backdrop of my messy, messy apartment.  Maybe you would.  I shouldn't judge.

Anyway!  I'd like to get the camera out this week and snap some photos of my recent projects, which include:

  • That apron for Dear Partner that I mentioned like two months ago and just finished recently even though it's a three-hour project at best.  I am forgiven, though--she loves it and wears it all the time to wash dishes in.
  • A flannel dressing gown!  It's brilliant!  I like to swirl around in it like Sherlock in this video:

    but without the gun obviously.  It's like--think these lapels with this button waist style and these voluminous sleeves.  You'll love it, I promise.
  • And lastly, a full wool flannel skirt that I'm stalled on.  I had originally planned it with a skinny waistband, but wool flannel is bulky and every time I try it on I look-- waistless.  So maybe a wider contour waistband would work better?  Or I could just slap a wide belt on that shit and call it a day.  That's honestly sounding more and more appealing.

Of course, I've got more projects in the works, because I don't have enough to do in my life.  I'm planning a wiggle dress in this wool suiting I got in a small blue plaid, and then there's a bolero with the same wool flannel from the skirt lined in cream polka-dot cotton, and another dress/slip/nightgown in bleached muslin,  and a hat with earflaps for Dear Partner... and so it continues.

Stay classy, y'all.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Some Things That Have Brought Unsuspecting Google Users to My Blog Recently

"adding that extra room"

"what are some things that are manufactured in kentucky"

"bad darts"

More Self-Stitched September

Even More Outfits (under the jump!)

But before we get to that--things I'm planning!  The apron for Dear Partner is done--just need to photograph it--and tragically hip if I do say so myself.  I've got some cotton flannel for a nightgown, and two kinds of wool coming in the mail for a winter skirt and jumper, and cotton pique print (also coming in the mail) which will probably become a shirtdress!  Exciting things are in the air here.

Without further ado:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Maroon Forties Blouse, Cloche Hat, & One From the Vaults

It feels like I've made this blouse a million times, but really it's only been three.  The first is blogged here; the second I haven't gotten around to photographing properly yet; and behold the third:

(Forgive the picture; I think Dear Partner said something funny and then the camera went off halfway into my laugh.)

But that's not all that's new.  To whit:

Blouse: long-sleeved button up with saddle yoke, convertible collar, winged lapels (that's what I'm calling them anyway), and moderate bishop sleeves.

Hat: wool cloche hat, lined in cotton lawn, with vintage lace trim.

Skirt: five-gored skirt in wool, with godets at the hem and a back zip.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Eras and Styles

If you follow this blog at all you have probably noticed that my go-to era is the early forties.  I have a slightly more complicated relationship to the period than some other sewing bloggers because I draft my own patterns--but then again, none of us can manage complete period accuracy in any case, not when we're using modern fabrics, modern techniques, and our modern sense of what looks "right."  When I'm drafting a new pattern, I usually flip through the vintage patterns wiki and search around on Pinterest for inspiration, but I never stick with any one pattern; I take the neckline on one, the waist detailing on another, and draft up a version that works for my body and tastes.

That said, I've noticed that I take different things from different periods.  In the forties, I'm drawn to a very practical, war-work sensibility--slacks, overalls, square shoulders and straight skirts:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Self-Stitched September: Week 1 plus a bit

September 1 - a long, long, terrible, interminable, harrowing day of teaching and attending classes.  At least I looked good:

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Bowling Shirt, Vintage Style

I lied--it's not really a bowling shirt.  I ran out of fabric due to my own short-sightedness, then decided to go for a contrast yoke a la New Vintage Lady.  It looks awesome.

Blouse: short-sleeved casual button-up with convertible collar, six-button front, and contrast saddle yoke.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Self-Stitched September

Expect this face in my outfit photos.
Guess what: I'm participating in Self-Stitched September.

I'm going to shoot for daily outfit pics, but they are not going to be photo-shoot-worthy and may feature weary, haggard expressions.  (I have two twelve-hour days this semester--my teaching schedule is all out of whack.)  We'll see how many I decide to post, but I'd like to document my outfits for myself at least.  The idea of having a month's worth of pictures of myself to reference five or ten or twenty years in the future is very appealing.

I figure I've got three skirts, two tops, one pair of pants, two pairs of shorts (if you count cut-offs I made myself!), and two dresses in regular rotation, plus a couple more of these 40s shirts in various stages of construction.  I can totally do this.  But just in case, I'm counting my me-made nightgown (previously this dress, but too comfy not to sleep in) and apron.  Everybody needs a loophole, right?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shirt Progress

It's a shirt!  I have spent so long on this project just trusting the books--"yes, David Page Coffin's Shirtmaking, of course a yoke should extend no further than the fullness of the shoulderblade; yes, Dress Pattern Designing, unquestionably that is what a collar ought to look like"--that to see it actually come together is just heartwarming.  It's like that moment when a baby's cute useless legs become functional walking machines.  Or something like that.

(As you can see, my shoebox system is still in play.)

Doesn't Dottie look handsome?

Also, I baked this peach cobbler the other day.  Super easy: four chopped large peaches, half a cup of sugar, a splash of sherry, and a nice cakey cobbler topping, 375-degree oven for forty-five minutes.  I do not peel my peaches because I think they are better this way.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Back On the Horse!

Oh, sewing setbacks.  You might recall that I ran out of fabric for this blouse; well, I went back to Joann's to grab an extra half yard and they'd sold out of it.  Sigh.  (Also, I need to just suck it up and buy online--yes, the delayed gratification is killer, and paying for shipping always makes me sad, but I am so sick of choosing between the same five shirting cottons.  Plus their seersucker is all coarse and unpleasant lately.  Joann's, you are now notions only as far as I'm concerned.  We are breaking up.)

Because I am excellent at rolling with the punches, I picked up some similar-weight cotton for future shirts (which makes me sound much more confident in this pattern than I actually am) and decided to do a contrast yoke for the current one.  New Vintage Lady does it all the time!  It is a totally valid choice, and very period accurate!  This is what I am telling myself.  Anyway, what I've got looks like this:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shirtmaking--It's More Difficult Than You Might Imagine--& Some Gender Thoughts

I have a full pattern for what I am calling The 40s Blouse (for lack of a better name)!  Do you know how many pieces go into a men's-style tailored shirt?  A lot!  Is the answer!  I've got a back body, front body, collar, facing, yoke, and sleeve.  (I hit a bit of a roadblock when I ran out of fabric for the outer yoke--whoops--next time I will definitely buy more than a yard and a half!)

The thing is, I started this project without any real idea how a women's tailored blouse is put together.  The RTW shirts that Dear Partner and I own haven't been very helpful, since we shop at the decidedly low end of the spectrum and our clothes take all kinds of labor-saving shortcuts that (David Page Coffin claims) are big no-nos in bespoke tailoring.  I decided to construct mine much like a men's casual shirt--without a collar stand--which my Reader's Digest guide says is done with a facing.  What?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Some Things I Am Doing This Week

  • Drafting a blouse!  I'm thinking saddle yoke, notched collar, buttons up the front and a slightly longer version of the sleeves on my Sweetheart Dress--all in all something much like the blouse to the right.  I've got David Page Coffin's Shirtmaking and I'm not afraid to use it!  I picked up some cheap purple gingham in the quilting cotton section, so I'm thinking my first try will be sort of a wearable-muslin--I won't be too awfully disappointed if it's not perfect.
  • Making an apron for (with) Dear Partner!  Neon bikes on one side, adorable owls on the other.  It's all happening.
  • Failing abysmally on what should have been a relatively simple six-gored skirt!  Everything that could go wrong has.  First off, I picked exactly the wrong fabric--an incredibly loose, ravelly wool-silk basketweave that would have been much better suited to a pattern with fewer seams.  You live, you learn.  The waistband wound up uncomfortably tight, which wasn't the end of the world--I figured I'd just construct it with less overlap than planned.  Then, I somehow made the zipper opening a full inch and a half longer on one side than the other.  What?  To top it all off, even with a very narrow zig-zag finish, the seams still look awful and are dropping threads all over the place.  Six-gored skirt, you are banished to the Box of Shame.
  • Aaaaaand teaching high schoolers how to read and write short stories.  It's harder than you'd think, guys.  I keep looking wistfully into my sewing room, wishing for the time or energy to just test out this new yoke pattern--but it is not to be.  I'll be back with y'all next week, I promise.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Sweetheart Dress

Oof, this took me forever to write.  I've been TA-ing a creative writing camp for high schoolers, and it's more exhausting than I expected.  I'm lucky to have such talented kids, though.  I'm learning a thing or two for sure.  In any case, here's that long-awaited Sweetheart Dress:

Dress:  A short-sleeved, full-skirted dress with a sweetheart neckline and a lapped back zip.  Did you notice how it has sleeves?  Yes!  For real!  They're darted, even, or sort of pleated (can't tell the different with sleeves), which I find much easier and more attractive than gathering the sleevecap.  It's my new favorite technique.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Best Apron Ever

I'm running a little late on a full outfit post for this dress, but in the meantime, check out this story in pictures:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Reading List Part Two: So You Want to Learn Some History

Tiny babies with giant bread!
These are the sources I turn to in my quest to learn more about domestic history.  This is an incredibly incomplete list and contains no truly academic writings, journals, theoretical texts, etc.  There are even some TV shows.  I know, I know, they should take my grad student card away.


Susannah at CargoCultCraft spent a year on her Fashion on the Ration project, buying and making clothes within the constraints that British families faced in 1941.  She's collected both the original government restrictions and information on how home seamstresses managed, from paring down patterns to take up less fabric to remaking worn-out men's clothes into women's.  This is one of those things that I was terribly curious about and elated to find out that someone else had already done the research (literally!)!

Shelley at New Vintage Lady makes vintage garments with a focus on drafting or altering plus-size patterns!  Her blog has lots of tutorials, and the 'foundation garments' and 'sleepwear' sections of her website contain some very useful information on making these overlooked items (not to mention her blog, which is a veritable wealth of inspiration for the "stout" figure).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reading List Part One: So You Want to Learn to Sew

Oh, Natalie, my Russian taskmistress.

Here are some books to get you started.  (Note: these books will skew toward the pattern drafting side of things, since that's my primary interest, and also not terribly easy to just pick up on your own.)  We'll start useful and move on to the more "historical" texts in Part Three.  Most everything here is in the intermediate range; I sewed amateurishly for almost six years before finally getting serious about it, so it's been quite a while since I looked at the books for absolute beginners--though The Sew Everything Workshop looks like a good all-around start, if you're at the what-is-this-dial-on-my-sewing-machine stage of things.  If you're a bit farther along, try these books:

Modern Sewing Texts:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Renaming Blog "Some Things I Have Won"

I'm pleased to say that Charlotte from Sew Far Sew Good has tagged me for the One Lovely Blog Award!  Thank you, dear.  She has a lovely blog with an emphasis on deliberate sewing--making what you really need, when you really need it.

The done thing seems to be to post five facts about oneself and then tag someone else, so here goes:

  1. One of my undergraduate degrees is in ancient languages.  My Egyptian is still pretty good but my Sumerian and Akkadian are fading fast!  If you ever watch The Mummy with me, be prepared for a lot of critical commentary about everything they got wrong (backwards hieroglyphs, improbable geography, at least one completely anachronistic codex, etc.)
  2. I love showtunes and often put on musicals or their soundtracks (Hair, Gypsy, Cabaret, Jesus Christ Superstar) while I sew.  (I also sing--not always on key.  I should probably apologize to my downstairs neighbors.)
  3. My favorite part of making biscuits and pie crusts is rubbing the butter and flour between my fingers to make a crumb.  It's like mud pies, seriously, getting to dig your hands right into a bowl full of food.  Just wash them first, obviously.
  4. Dear Partner and I live on the third floor of a Victorian house, in what was once servant's quarters.  There are all these tiny hobbit doors that open onto cabinets, and a regular-person door next to the fridge that opens out onto air.  I believe this is called "charm."  Oh, and the bedroom has an elaborate Oriental rug painted onto the floor--very cool.
  5. I am taller than Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and Rita Hayworth.

And I'd like to pass this along to Unsung Sewing Patterns, one of my favorite blogs ever; and Medieval Threads, which I just discovered but have been busily reading.  I love sewing blogs with a historical focus--they combine my two favorite things!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Drafting The Sweetheart Dress: in Pictures

The first step--the one not pictured here--is drafting the pattern itself.  I use Dress Pattern Designing by Natalie Bray (which you'll hear more about in coming days I'm sure), along with a tall stack of newspaper, a sharp pencil, felt-tip pen, measuring tape, and a battered green ruler.  This system has always served me well.

Next: a muslin!  I leave the seam allowances off the pattern, trace each piece onto the fabric (an old polyester sheet from the Salvation Army) in black pen, and then cut an inch outside the tracing.  That way I have a neat seam-line when I go to assemble the muslin (as Tasia recommends but less work).

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tutorial: Drafting a Pencil Skirt, Part Four

Are you sure you want to proceed, knowing the
poor orphaned patterns you'll leave in your wake?
This is Part Four of a four-part series on drafting your own pencil skirt pattern.  (See Parts One, Two, and Three.)

Phew, the home stretch.  From here, you've got a finished pattern--the rest is just formalities.

Step Seven: Seams Require Allowances

Seam allowances!  Most commercial patterns call for five eighths of an inch (or so I am told); this is what I use, because all the books say to.  I hear that some extraordinarily confident people use half, or even a quarter of an inch; and when working with a brand new (un-muslin-ed) pattern that might need adjusting, it's smart to go for a full inch.  You decide.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What I've Been Up To Lately

In no particular order:

  • Drafting a dress with long sleeves, sweetheart neckline, and six-gored skirt.  Dress Pattern Designing by Natalie Bray is never far from my elbow.  I've just finished the muslin, and it's amazing in the back, neckline, and shoulders, but has a few problems in the lower armscye.  You know how Victorian and Edwardian women needed special garments to do their hair, because the sleeves of their dresses were so tight they couldn't raise their arms above their heads?  This dress has that problem.  I'm taking pictures of the drafting process, so I'll throw them up next week to show you how I solve it.
  • Making an apron.  So incidentally, I had no idea my local Joann's carried quilting cottons--I mean, I knew they must, I'd just never seen them--until I wandered into a secluded corner and discovered a rainbow of colors.  It's easy to see how they could seduce newcomers to sewing.  I certainly bought a few back in college when I had no idea what I was doing.  Anyway, I didn't see anything garment suitable (not least because I'm not a fan of busy prints) but I picked up the perfect fabric for a double-sided apron: one side robots, one side skulls.  It's going to be so awesome.
  • I've also got an old cotton sheet from the Salvation Army that I'm planning to turn into winter underthings: a chemise dress, and a pair of pettipants (bloomers?) if there's any left over.  It is cold in upstate New York; I need to get ready for winter.
  • Making another Summerberry Crumble Pie!  This time with peaches and blueberries.  Also, if we're going to get prosaic about it, cleaning my kitchen.  I have written poems to the weird smells in my kitchen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tutorial: Drafting a Pencil Skirt, Part Three

Just leave this pattern on the shelf--
lonely, heartsick, its purpose unfulfilled.
This is Part Three of a four-part series on drafting your own pencil skirt pattern.  (See Parts OneTwo, and Four.)

Step Five: Waistband?

When it comes to the waistband, you've got options.  If you have a tried-and-true waistband from another pattern, just throw a seam allowance along the top edge of your skirt and use that.  If, like me, you are too cheap to buy patterns when you can just draw a rectangle, you can draft your own waistband.  I constantly refer to the waistbands chapter of this book, which describes several very useful ways of making and attaching a waistband.  I won't go into too much detail about it, but here's what my waistband pattern looks like:

Monday, July 18, 2011

In Which, Having Invented Sleeves, I Impersonate A Flamingo

Note to self: do not wear black in hundred-degree Kentucky weather.

(If you can't see the sweat beading up on my neck, it's not because it isn't there.)

Dress: A simple black chemise dress in cotton lawn with short sleeves, slightly gathered portrait neckline, and self-sash.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tutorial: Drafting a Pencil Skirt, Part Two

This pattern will be so sad that you
don't need it any more. :(
This is Part Two of a four-part series on drafting your own pencil skirt pattern.  (See Parts One, Three, and Four.)

Step Four: Goodness Gracious Darts

Fabric grain is a pain in the ass.  If your waist and hip measurements are within a few inches of each other, you don't need to worry about this; but if the difference is any greater, the waist-to-hip section of your skirt pattern is going to start to look pretty diagonal.  And diagonal is bad.  Diagonal means bias, and bias means stretch, and stretch means the side seams of your skirt are going to be unstable.  Unstable is bad!  Unstable looks like this:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tutorial: Drafting a Pencil Skirt, Part One

You don't need this anymore!
Don't you feel independent?
This is Part One of a four-part series on drafting your own pencil skirt pattern. (See Parts Two, Three, and Four.)

It's not that hard! Really. While a circle or A-line four-gore skirt may be simpler to fit, the classic pencil skirt is just as easy to construct, especially when you know it inside and out because you've drafted the pattern yourself. Furthermore, it's a great one to make yourself because it's so fitted--why wrestle with a pattern made for somebody else's smaller hips and bigger butt when you can take careful measurements and make one that fits you perfectly?

This pattern is unlined--I just wear a slip with mine and wash the slip instead, which means I can make my skirts out of whatever fabric I like and I never have to dry-clean (score!). I love them in any kind of wool, heavy linens, cottons, or cotton-linen blends, anything that stays where you put it and is fairly thick and opaque. I've never attached this skirt to a bodice, but I imagine it would work quite well as the bottom half of a wiggle dress, Joan Holloway style. I put a zipper up the back seam of mine--metal looks especially vintage--but you can move the zipper to the side or insert a button placket instead (though that's a bit too complicated for this tutorial).

Note: Don't worry about seam allowances until the very end, when we'll add them to all seam lines.

Step Zero: Gather Your Materials

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sailor Shorts: Kentucky Edition

HELLO EVERYONE.  I'm in Kentucky visiting my family, so today's photos are from a (relatively) exotic locale: my dad's garden!

I found Queen Anne's Lace!  It is my favorite flower because it sounds fancy but is kind of a weed.

Shorts: adapted from my Sailor Pants pattern--high waisted, with five belt loops and a button placket down the left side.  That's right.  I invented buttons for these shorts.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Movies You Ought To See: His Girl Friday (& some thoughts on history)

His Girl Friday (1940).  Rosalind Russell attempts to escape the newspaper business by marrying a sweet but simple insurance salesman, played by Ralph Bellamy, but her ex-husband (and ex-boss) Cary Grant isn't about to let that happen.

The really wonderful thing about His Girl Friday is that, appearances to the contrary, it is not a love story about Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant: it's a love story about Rosalind Russell and the newspaper business.  For the middle hour of the movie, Grant is offscreen trying to get Bellamy thrown in jail.  That's a whole hour where all we see is the fast-talking and talented Ms. Russell quipping with hardened newspapermen, interviewing murderers, comforting maligned and helpless women, and tackling police wardens for a story (literally tackling, it's brilliant).  No wonder that at the end of the movie she finds she can't give it up, even for the love of a good man.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I Cleaned My Sewing Room You Guys

For the first time ever, the floor is not covered in fabric scraps and trailing bits of thread, my feet are not printed with textile dust, and I can see where everything is!  It's amazing!  It's a pretty nice little space, too--we had originally planned to use it as an office (hence the vestigial printer) but since I write best stretched out on a couch and dear partner likes her little desk in the living room better, it has slowly morphed into a sewing room.  It has its charms--good light in the afternoon and evening, a couch (not pictured) to sit on while I do handwork, the Door Into Nowhere (one of several in our weird Victorian-servants-quarters apartment).  And, of course, the fact of having an entire dedicated room for my sewing is still a wonderful novelty.

It also has its little quirks: the rickety makeshift desk; the very hard, very cold floor; the door that blows closed and sticks in the jamb whenever there's the slightest draft so that on at least one memorable occasion I have had to shout for dear partner to come and let me out.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dress Your Best, in Seersucker

I made this dress about a month ago, and it's taken me this long to get it photographed!  I thought it would be perfect for Dress Your Best, since it shows off all my favorite parts of my body.

Dress: Blue stripe seersucker.  The bodice fullness is taken out with four large darts at the front waist, and the back bodice has waistline and shoulder darts.  The skirt is gathered, dirndl-style.  It is mad comfortable.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Son of Bride of the Triumphant Victory of the Epic Tale of Pants, Redux

My biggest irritation with sewing manuals of the past is that they don't start telling you how to make pants until the seventies. There are loads of mid-century pants patterns (my favorites have a Rosie the Riveter utilitarian vibe, like these), but pick up a contemporary text for advice on how to assemble them and you'll get nothing. Now, most of the books I've read don't tell you how to sew men's or children's clothes, either, though surely women sewed for their families as much as they did for themselves. Am I missing something? Were these just supposed to be natural-born female abilities, like using those eyelash torture devices or not breaking your ankle in heels? It's not like pants are easy or obvious, either--they're a lot harder to construct and fit than the A-line four-gore skirts my 1940 sewing book loves to describe. Actually, pants suck, and putting them together requires mental gymnastics of the highest order.

This is all to say that I drafted the pattern for these slacks with just my own ingenuity (and Pamela Stringer, bless her, and the incomparable Reader's Digest guide) and I think they came out all right! I'm calling them Sailor Pants for no reason whatsoever, and I love them dearly. (I'm currently in the middle of constructing the sequel, Sailor Shorts, which I think sounds like an awfully dirty insult.)

I'm smiling in this picture because I have just crushed the mewling, lifeless corpse of pants beneath my conquering flat sneaker:

Pants: wide-legged linen trousers with a high waist, belt loops, and a side zip/hook and eye finish.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I Think I Bought a Sweater at Sears Once; It Was Not This Stylish

I discovered last week that my university's library includes a fair-sized collection of restricted access art books. I checked out the textiles and fashion section, on a hunch, and hit the goldmine--tons of books about vintage clothes! Interestingly, the most useful turned out to be Everyday Fashions of the Thirties As Pictured in Sears Catalogs (which is only ten bucks, and can't be checked out of the library for more than two hours, so I'm seriously considering just buying it). It's such a jackpot because it features A) actual outfits of the period, unfiltered by modern sensibilities, with B) vintage styling and C) fairly detailed descriptions of fabric, notions, and construction details, all topped off by D) the original pricing! I love being able to see how much the clothes I'm making would have been worth to the average middle-class woman of 1938.

The other super-fun thing about this book is the clear progression of the design; in 1930 or '31, it's all drawn in the Art Deco style of the twenties, but by 1939 the photography style dates the catalog very clearly to the WWII period. Some of the late-thirties outfits are even more "forties" than those from the sequel, Everyday Fashions of the Forties etc.

Some highlights:

The decade was full of these tea-length or slightly shorter skirts with the fullness controlled by several released pleats. I love them. So much. I have some wool/silk blend coming in the mail, so if it has the right hand for it I'm going to whip up something like the skirt on the right:

This sweater advertisement is very clearly competing with home knitters--it's interesting that by the mid-thirties, a mainstream mid-priced company like Sears could make this claim:

My grandfather lives in these all-in-one khaki work suits--I asked my grandmother why once, and she said his father wore them when he was a kid. My grandfather was born in 1931; this advertisement ran in 1939:

By the late thirties, pants were acceptable casual wear for women and many outfits are offered with skirt and trouser options. The two models, standing side by side, sometimes look a lot like a butch/femme couple. For example, these ladies:

By the way, the text at the top of the picture reads "Hollywood says: suit the woman in mannish flannels!" Girl on the left is rocking those mannish flannels and casually bumping elbows with girl on the right, who thinks her trouser creases are sexy.

I've got a whole sketch in my head for these two:

Jacket Girl: "Your hair looks really shiny today."
Blouse Girl: "Oh, really?"
Jacket Girl: "Yeah. And you're really pulling off those button-flap pants."
Blouse Girl: "Oh. Thanks!"
Jacket Girl: "Usually those are ugly and impractical, but they look kind of okay on you."
Blouse Girl: "Uh."
Jacket Girl: "As we seem to be on a boat, how would you like me to take you for a ride?"
Jacket Girl: "I have a nautical-themed pashmina afghan."