Wednesday, June 3, 2009

deconstructing dresses past

I have been sewing for Lavender's Green for over ten years now. In the past decade so very much has changed both in my knowledge of historic sewing techniques and in my life that it is sometimes difficult to recognize myself in my own memories. Ten years ago I had just moved to Portland and still had kids in diapers. I was a disappointed housewife who brought in a little bit of extra cash by sewing and working at a local fabric store. There was no way that I could have known then where I would be now, or how important the friends I had just met would one day become.

There was a week when I was given several dresses to construct in preparation for sale at an event; it was summer of course but I don't recall which month. I do recall sitting in my living room with Mel watching Titanic on DVD and doing hand-sewing work. I also recall that I didn't get many of the dresses complete but rather 'almost done just need a few bits'.

One of the dresses made that week has stayed with me, both in memory and in reality. I am very particular about plaids; they just have to match up or it bothers me. This dress is a large plaid cotton which was being made into a day bodice and skirt. I was having so much trouble wrapping my head around making that plaid line up in a pleated repeat that I asked Mel to pleat it for me. It is very heavy and was a bit of a chore to feed through the machine.

Over the years, this dress has hung on display in the tent at many events. It has been remade and reshaped, shortened and let out. Somewhere along the way a bright red cord was added to the sleeves and center back. It has been tried on, marked down, and lent out but it has not sold. I, too, have been remade and reshaped. My then-new friends have become a family to me and I could not imagine a more loving circle of women. They have seen me through years of debate followed by divorce; they have rejoiced with me in times of triumph. No longer a disappointed housewife, I have learned that I have strength within myself to stand on my own and alongside a loving partner. And that dress is still there.

Last year, it was declared that the dress needed to go away. It had outstayed its welcome and clearly was not going to leave of its own accord. There was talk of it being donated to a lending closet or even left at a charity shop. Instead, it landed in my sewing room with the intent of one more remaking. There it has sat all winter long while I debate whether it is worth the effort. Tonight, I decided that it is time for this dress, these decade-old intentions, to come to a conclusion.

Inspired by talk of remaking day dresses into wrappers, I set about taking the bodice apart one more time. I removed the trim then ripped off the piping at the bottom. I opened up the lining to remove the plastic boning at the front and cut away the XXL tag from the side seam. Next went the pagoda sleeves and the waistband off the skirt. Next up will be remaking the sleeves and choosing a front contrast panel fabric.

Suddenly I am excited to have something new, something made so long ago in such a different world. Because where I am is a result of where I've been and this wrapper will remind me of that each morning as it protects me from the chill and dew.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Finishing Up

It's been a fun few months of "swap"ing, and I am very pleased with the results. I am wearing these garments often, and getting many compliments. My favorite has got to be "really? you made it? like, from scratch?" to me, 'from scratch' involves flour and eggs by why not sewing?

My average week is very eclectic, but I would say a typical week is this:

Weekdays are taken up with studio time, meeting with clients, picking up and dropping off contract sewing, and scouring local shops for materials.
Fridays are often at the winery, moving inventory around and getting ready for the weekend in addition to pouring tastings.
Weekends are usually split between working and a day off. On the days off, we like to have eat out or have a few friends over for supper and games. On the winery days, I spend the day serving wine, listening to jazz, and talking about Oregon.

Black Knit Top paired with Corduroy Trousers. Perfect for days in the studio, these are comfortable and throw on easily. One down side? I forgot about the corduroy swoosh when I walk.
Blue Sheer Blouse paired with Corduroy Trousers. A little dressier than the knit tops, this blouse has seen a lot of wear. I love the collar which reminds me of the convertible collars in the teens, it feels like a classic. And the costar in the corner is Spike, trying to get down to the studio
Orange Hemp Top paired with Tan Poplin Trousers. I love these trousers, which are both comfortable and slimming. The crispness makes them feel dressy and they go with everything. The buttons are from my grandmother's stash which makes them even more fun to wear.
Green Cotton Blouse paired with Tan Poplin Trousers. This is the outfit that inspired the 'from scratch' comment. I was a little unsure at first about the fullness of the sleeves, but the flared leg on the trousers balances it out. So does the cat behind my feet.
Striped Knit Top paired with Green Twill Skirt. This was the outfit I wore on Easter, and it went nicely from services to dinner to sitting around watching a movie.
Print Silk Top paired with Green Twill Skirt. When the weather warms, I am certain this will be a favorite pairing. I love the geometrics of the top, and the two greens compliment each other nicely. I do have to find a pair of closed-toe shoes to wear with it for work.
Print Silk Top Paired with Print Jumper. One of my favorite combinations, this outfit just makes me feel classy. The print was a complete upset to the plan but I am thrilled with it.
Blue Sheer Blouse paired with Print Jumper. The last two fabrics I selected just had to be photographed together. I wear this to work with much more sensible shoes.
Print Silk Blouse, Denim Jacket, and Corduroy Trousers. I love it when fabrics match. It just makes me all happy inside.
Striped Knit Top, Denim Jacket, and Corduroy Trousers. The only downside to my jacket is that it hides most of my tops. I left it open to show my top, and like the wide lapel effect it creates.
Silk Print Top, Print Jumper, and Denim Jacket. I know it's underexposed, but I just really liked this photo.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Green Cookie Stamp Pleated Skirt

There really is nothing quite like changing directions in the final stretch, which is what I have done with my swap. The due date is this coming weekend which means I have four days to finish up. But since I do everything at the last minute, it didn't seem so odd to throw in one more project. Because really, as much as I love it, my print linen skirt simply doesn't go with the rest of my plan. Sure, black and white go with everything, but sometimes it's a stretch. Besides, I found some really cool fabric for $3/yard and couldn't pass it up.

This is a cotton stretch vertical stripe herringbone, a texture that has always reminded me of the underside of store-bought cookies. I have seen this weave a lot in coatings, but was pleased to see it in a light bottomweight. The green is a nice bright grass color, which of course reminds me of spring (should it ever truly arrive). To tie it in with my jacket, and just because I'm stubborn, I used the yellow cotton thread purchased for the Dress that Wasn't for construction and topstitching.

I used a pattern which I had purchased several years ago and finally made up for last Thanksgiving, but decided this time to make the shorter length. I really liked the idea of making this a pleated skirt since the body of the fabric was begging to be structured. Looking at the line drawing for the pattern, what really drew me to it in the first place was the interesting belt detail so I decided to do that instead of the tabs and purchased belt shown with the pleated version. (I will get a scan of the pattern when I am able so you can see what I mean)

Since I was spending the day running around Portland on Tuesday, we stopped in to Josephine's Dry Goods (go there if you can!) as I was looking for a small buckle for my belt. I didn't find one I wanted, although I did find a YKK invisible zipper (again with the invisibles) and a few patterns. While we were walking back to the car, I was trying to put together in my head how a skirt with a side zipper could have a double-wrap belt that closed at the front. This would mean taking the belt completely off every time it was worn, and of course the cool crossed detail in the back would shift around while wearing. So I got to thinking, like ya do, about ways to make this work.

The first thing about the pattern's intent is that it wants the belt to be made of a purchased ribbon. Ribbon is (generally) on the straight of grain, and won't make the nifty curves pictured on the envelope. Sneaky, huh? Second, this is a distinctive shade and I knew better than to think I could match it with ribbon. Heck, I was using a yellow zipper in a green skirt (better to miss by a mile than try to match and fail). Using self-fabric bias would solve both of these issues, but that left the question of anchoring the belt in a way that wouldn't interfere with the zipper.

My end solution was to make this not a belt at all, but instead to apply the bias as a faux belt. My intention all along was to topstitch the edges, defining the lines and mimicking the stitching on the jacket, so I chose to simply topstitch the 'belt' to the yoke of the skirt. This added an hour or so to the construction time, but it gave to desired look without the headaches of the original design. To further mimic the look of a belt, I included an overlap with a button and used the belt loop details which also provided a vertical line to break up the horizontals at the hip. At the side closure, just extended the trim to overlap and secure them with two small snaps.

While the pattern called for a narrow facing along the waist edge, I chose to line the yoke as well as bring it up to natural waist. To be sure the trim was even along the top, I applied the yoke lining before the trim, waiting to slipstitch it into place until all of the detail was stitched down. To keep the look of the belt crossing itself and going under the beltloops, I broke the stitching on the underlaps. After the belt was stitched down, I topstitched the belt carriers down.

I was able to wear this for Easter with the striped tangerine top, and got many compliments. With this done, along with all three knit tops, the only things remaining are the tan trousers and the green and chambray blouses. I just may get this done!PICT0011