Thursday, July 30, 2015

Self-Drafted Dress with Pockets: My Failiest Success Yet!

Behold!  A successful dress!
I'm not calling this my failiest dress ever without cause, though.  Read on to hear everything that went wrong!

The fabric is a delightful Japanese cotton that I bought on my trip to Japan.  It's medium-weight and has a somewhat nubby texture.
My original plan was to use this fabric to make the reissued Vintage Vogue pattern 1137.  I thought it would be nice to cut the bodice so that the stripes would form a V pattern, like this.
Unfortunately, the bodice did not fit. At all.  You can read all about my failure here.   

Luckily, I had enough fabric to cut a completely different bodice.  I used my standard pattern for a bodice with darts.  But, I figured I would jazz it up some, and add bands of white fabric along the top of the bodice, the tops of the pockets, and for the belt.  I thought I'd add some matching buttons where the straps would meet the bodice and in place of a belt buckle.

Of course, everything went wrong with the bands of white fabric.  The fabric itself would wrinkle with the slightest provocation, and the interfacing I used was too stiff to do bound buttonholes and to turn the belt inside out.  Oops.  So I abandoned that idea.

The one idea that I did keep, and that was successful, was the pockets.  I wanted a dress with large pockets, so I could carry all my stuff around and not have to bring a purse, or at least have a place to stash my lens cap.  I lined the pockets with self fabric, and then topstitched the pockets on the skirt so that the pattern on the skirt matches the pattern on the dress.  Now I have wonderful pockets!  They're not quite big enough to hold my DSLR with its smallest lens, but still, they're pretty great.

I was also very pleased with the belt and the belt buckle.  It's a vintage buckle, and it happened to be just the right color, the right size, and the right shape for this dress.  I've long since given up on buying every vintage button that comes my way, even the cool ones, but it's still worthwhile to buy every vintage buckle you see because they're so hard to find if you need one for a specific project.
I had also originally planned to do two straps over the shoulders, but when I tried the dress on, I really couldn't come up with any way to position the straps that didn't look bad.  So, I ended up using one of those straps as a halter strap.  However, this introduced another opportunity for failure.  The first time around I made the straps too long, and any weight in the pockets would pull the dress down further, which just led to a bad situation.  I had to rip out the stitching for the straps and sew them in by hand all over again.

Anyway, at the end of all that, I did produce a dress that I am very happy with!  Here's the front view again:
And here's the back view.
I don't know if there's any moral to this story, but if I had to come up with something, I'd quote Galaxy Quest:  "Never give up!  Never surrender!"

Happy sewing!

Monday, July 20, 2015

The 1935 Vionnet Dress goes to Hollywood

I've spent the last week or so in Los Angeles for work, and I've been staying with a friend of mine who lives in Hollywood.  I used to live in Los Angeles, and it's good to be back. 
My friend lives a couple of blocks away from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Grauman's Chinese Theater, which seems fantastic and exotic until you become a local and all the tourists crowding the sidewalks get a little old, and Batman and Spiderman keep hassling you.
This Hollywood business all sounds shockingly glamorous, but surprisingly enough, this is one of the few areas of the city which isn't too sketchy but where the rent is still somewhat affordable.  The same goes for some parts of Beverly Hills.  The LA rental market is a strange beast.

Anyway, her apartment building has a rooftop pool with an amazing view of the LA skyline, everything from downtown to the cluster of skyscrapers around Wilshire and Westwood.  What better place for a photo shoot with the four-ply silk crepe 1935 Vionnet dress?  You can read the construction details here; this post is just photos of the completed project.
I really love how the raking light shows off the gathering of the bodice.
Here I am, with downtown LA in the background.  I had my friend try on the dress-- she's the same size as me, but has a completely different build, with a large bust and small hips, whereas I have a small bust and large hips.  This dress looked comically awful on her-- it completely overemphasized her bust.  Obviously I do not have any pictures to post here.
It was a very windy night, which worked in my favor because the the wind kept causing the skirt to billow dramatically.  Also, notice how the shape of the dress is formed almost exclusively by pulling some material from each of the two sides and fastening it at the front.
It was also a very humid night, and it was actually raining lightly, which is why my hair is a little silly in this picture.  I just love how the tension in the strap keeps the back bodice of the dress gathered in a semicircle.
The off-camera flash didn't fire in this picture, and this was the best I could do in Adobe Lightroom.  It has an over-PP'ed look to it, because I did have to apply too much postprocessing in order to get anything presentable, but I like it anyway.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures, and if I haven't said it enough already, this pattern is both fantastic and easy to make, and definitely a lot of fun to wear.  I highly recommend it.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

How to Buy Cowboy Boots

I love cowboy boots.  They're flat and they don't require a close fit in the heel, which suits my bad feet, and they're flamboyant and hard-wearing, which suits my personality.  At this point, I have eleven twelve pairs of cowboy boots.  Awesome.  So, I thought I'd share some of my strategies for buying cowboy boots.

(1)  Shop for Used Boots

I always shop for used cowboy boots.  Cowboy boots stand up to wear very well, and can last decades if properly cared for.  A pair of new quality cowboy boots can cost $200-300 or far more.  I generally don't pay more than $150 for a pair of used cowboy boots, and I've found boots in excellent condition for as little as $25.

Where should you look?  In general, there's a tradeoff between price and the amount of time you spend hunting for boots.  You'll tend to find the lowest prices at flea markets and antique fairs, but you'll also have to spend a lot of time hunting through everything else that's for sale.  Antique malls and small-town antique stores tend to have mid-range prices.  Vintage stores generally tend to be the most expensive, though, again, we're talking $70-200.  These prices are just general trends-- I've found exorbitantly overpriced boots at flea markets, and bargains at vintage stores.

A pair of boots at my favorite antique mall.
(2)  Check for Condition Issues
I'm assuming you want to wear the boots, instead of just use them for decoration, so you'll need to check that they're in good condition.  Check the leather upper.  Creases are OK, but don't buy a pair of boots if the leather is cracked.  Check the soles to make sure that they're not worn through and don't have holes.  At this point, you're looking for reasons to reject the boots.  Do not be fooled by prices.  I've seen used boots for $250 that were in terrible condition, with the leather cracked through, and used boots for $25 that were in pristine condition.
Don't buy these-- cracked leather.
Don't buy these, either-- the leather is worn through.
And don't buy these-- there's a hole in the sole.

(3)  Bring Lots of Socks
You want to bring a variety of socks with different thicknesses.  Why?  You're shopping for used boots, and this allows you to wear a larger range of sizes.  Depending on the socks I wear, I can generally wear boots between sizes 7 and 9.  Here's the assortment of socks I bring with me.  I even layer socks on top of other socks.  Some of my favorite cowboy boots require me to wear two pairs of socks, but I don't mind, because that means extra cushioning for my feet.
Left to right:  thick synthetic socks, thick wool socks, thick cotton socks, thin cotton socks.
(4)  Check the Fit
Cowboy boots don't fit like other shoes.  They're supposed to fit snugly around the instep, but be a little loose around the heel.  You should have to tug them a little to get them on or off.  This comes from their origin as riding boots-- if you fell out of the saddle and got your foot caught in the stirrup, you wanted your foot to be able to pull out of the shoe so that you weren't dragged along the ground. 

(5)  Walk Around In Them
This part goes without saying.  How do you know how well they fit if you don't try them out?

(6)  Use Leather Conditioner
Once you've bought the boots, you want to keep them in good shape, right?  So, you should use leather conditioner periodically to keep the leather supple and hydrated.  Exotic leathers, like reptile leather and ostrich leather, require different types of leather conditioner than cow leather.  I don't have any particular advice on which leather conditioners to use; I just take the new pair of boots to Allen Boots and get their opinion.

I hope that helps!  Enjoy your hunt for an awesome pair of cowboy boots!
Couldn't have a post on cowboy boots without some cows, could we?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Pattern Review: Vogue 2239, reissued 1950's pattern

In an earlier post, I wrote a tutorial on my method of inserting a hand-picked side zipper.  I wanted to share the result!
The dress in question is Vogue 2239, an out-of-print reissued 1950's pattern.  I wanted a dress with a full full-length, dramatic, swishy skirt, and this pattern delivered. 
In fact, ever since I saw the pattern, I wanted to have a dress like Miss Pattern Envelope B's, with the large floral print.  So, I bought some Valori Wells cotton voile in an awesome giant blue-and-white chrysanthemum print.  I thought about making a solid-colored bodice, but I couldn't find the right shade of blue, and it just didn't feel right with this print. 
As it happened, I only used the skirt from the pattern, not the bodice.  For some reason I bought the pattern in a size 10, when I'm a size 6.  So, I substituted the bodice from another dress pattern, one of my tried and true patterns.  I decided to make the shoulder straps tie at the shoulders, because I thought that would be cute.
The skirt is fantastic.  It's a half circle in the back and a quarter circle in the front.  It gives the skirt an elegant shape, but keeps the fullness in the front from getting completely out of hand.  I hemmed the skirt and the skirt lining using 2" wide horsehair braid. 
Anyway, if you want a dress with a full, swishy skirt, I highly recommend this pattern.  It's a lot of fun to wear.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Behind the Construction of the 1935 Vionnet Evening Dress

In my review of the 1935 Vionnet Evening Dress, I mentioned that I'd write up a full set of instructions when I made the final dress.  I completed construction of the final dress this past weekend, and all that's left to do is the hem.  So, here are the instructions!
First, a reminder of what that dress looks like.  Front...

...and back.
These instructions should be very useful if you're trying to sew the dress yourself, since I found the instructions in both the Kirke book and the Japanese pattern book to be inadequate.  This discussion should also be interesting if you're curious how this dress was constructed.  Even though the dress looks pretty standard, it has a rather counterintuitive design.  

First, some basics.

The pattern in the Japanese pattern book comes in only one size, which was not specified, at least not in English.  There were no instructions in English about how to resize the pattern.  On the other hand, the pattern fit me fine right out of the gate.  My measurements are 32-27-39 and I'm 5'5".  In Vogue Patterns sizing, that's very close to a size 6.  In RTW dresses I'm generally XS or S.

Fabric Choice:
This pattern works best with a medium weight drapey silk.  Looking at photos of a version of the dress made by Vionnet herself, I'm pretty sure she used silk charmeuse.   I've now constructed versions of the dress in silk crepe de chine, silk charmeuse, and 4 ply silk crepe, and of those choices, I think that the charmeuse and the 4 ply silk crepe are by far the best options.  This design relies on the weight of the fabric to shape the center front skirt, and I don't think the crepe de chine was quite heavy enough.

I would strongly advise against using stretch fabric for this design.  It relies on the tension in the fabric to form the folds in the waist area of the dress.  I made an earlier test version of the dress in stretch silk crepe de chine, and the difference between the folds in the stretch and non-stretch versions is obvious-- the non-stretch version is far superior.  (No pictures yet, unfortunately.)   

This version of the dress whose construction is shown in this post--the white version--is 4 ply silk crepe lined with silk charmeuse.  Originally, I wasn't planning to line the dress, but the 4 ply silk crepe was too translucent to wear without a lining.  I debated whether use charmeuse or habotai as the lining, but decided to go with charmeuse because its weight was more similar to the weight of the 4 ply silk crepe.

Yardage requirements:
I don't believe either the Kirke book or the Japanese pattern book gave yardage requirements, but I found that four yards of 45" wide fabric was about right.  You might be able to do it with three.

Pattern pieces:
There are only three pattern pieces, not counting the strap-- the main dress and two gussets.  The Main Dress pattern piece was too wide for my 45" wide fabric, so I had to piece it together.

It takes a bit of thinking to wrap your head around the Main Dress pattern piece.  The middle of the pattern piece, what looks like it should be the center front, is actually the center back.  The two edges that look like they should be the side seams are actually the center front.  The two large rectangular sections form the bodice.  The gussets are inserted on either side of the small trapezoidal part in the center. To describe the construction in brief, we'll insert the gussets and then sew up this single pattern piece to form a tube.
(1)  Insert the gussets
The gussets are inserted in the location and orientation that the following picture shows.  Note that the gusset pieces are not symmetrical top to bottom; the long side of the trapezoid, the broader point, and the side adjacent to the broader point are the sides of the gusset which are stitched to the Main Dress pattern piece.  I inserted the gussets using my topstitched gusset method (with no interfacing this time) because it was easiest for me; use whatever method works well for you.
(2)  Stitch up the skirt front
Stitch the skirt front together such that the Main Dress pattern piece forms a tube.  Note that, in the photo below, only the angled part is the skirt; the rectangular part, in the upper right hand corner of the photo, is the bodice.  Stitch only as far as the angle where the skirt and the bodice meet.  The center front bodice remains open in the final dress; it is not stitched together.  The tension on the strap and the weight of the skirt holds the bodice closed in practice.
Here's what the result looks like, front and back.
(3)  Finish the edges of the bodice/sew the dress to the lining
If you're not lining the dress, you should finish the edges of the bodice at this point.  I would recommend a narrow hem.  However, I lined the dress, so it was at this point that I sewed the dress and bodice together at the opening edges of the bodice.  Here's the outcome, front and back.
(4)  Sew the casing for the strap
There are three places to sew the casing for the strap:  the two sections at the top of the bodice, and then the bodice back, from the corner of one gusset to the other.  It's a little hard to describe, but you should be able to see what I'm talking about if you enlarge the second photo below-- the casing does not go as far as the seam where the gusset meets the Main Dress pattern piece.
(5)  Make the strap and thread it through the casing
The strap is threaded through the casings so that the strap crosses at the back (see the photo of the back of the completed dress above).  I recommend by threading the strap through the back casing first.  Then, to create the crossover in the strap, thread the end of the strap coming out the back right through the left front bodice, and the end of the strap coming out the back left through the front right bodice.  Connect the two ends at center front.  The finished result looks like this, even though it's not too helpful.  I really wish I'd taken pictures of the threading process, but I didn't. At this point, you can try on the dress.
(6)  Pull together the fullness in the center front waist parts and stitch
I wish I'd taken pictures of this, too, but I forgot.  I don't have good words for this, other than that you're going to have to put the dress on and then try grabbing handfuls of fabric around your waist and pulling them together to the center until the gathers look right and the skirt falls about right.  The pattern calls for you to join the sections of fabric together at the center front with a buckle.  However, I hand-sewed the fabric together in maybe a 2" to 3" section at the center front, since I didn't have a buckle and wanted the dress to be machine washable.  If you were much bustier than me, you'd probably have to use a buckle so that you could get the dress on and off over your head.  
(7)  Let the dress hang for a couple of days
You want the bias to stretch out as much as it's going to before you attempt to hem it.  Otherwise, the hem will eventually go crooked, and you'll have to do it all over again.

(8)  Hem the skirt.
Nothing complicated here.  I'd recommend either a hand-rolled hem or a narrow hem.   I plan to use a narrow hem.'re done.  It really does go together fast.  You could probably handle the entire construction in an afternoon.  I think I'll have to build a whole army of these dresses for myself!