Friday, March 24, 2017

Pattern Review: Advance 4779 (1949 shirtdress)

My latest project is a vintage pattern, Advance 4779, a 1940's shirtdress.  I loved the snazzy pocket detailing and had to make one of my own. 
Naturally, this shirtdress lends itself to some film noir styling.
Look!  I'm a wanted criminal!
I made this dress out of brown handkerchief linen and lined it with black silk habotai.
The back is more or less unremarkable.

I predictably ran into a lot of problems fitting the bodice, since the pattern is for a 36" bust and I'm more like a 32" bust with shoulders proportioned for a 34" bust.  I had to take in an inch and a half at both of the side seams.  Predictably, this did crazy things to the armholes and I had a creative time getting the sleeves in.
Speaking of sleeves and shoulders, I decided to add shoulder pads.  The pattern called for them, and while I'm normally not a fan of such things, they subtly improved the look of the dress.  I made shoulder pads out of halfmoons of cotton batting covered in lining fabric.  I then tacked the shoulder pads to the lining of the dress.
I used vintage mother-of-pearl buttons and a vintage mother-of-pearl belt buckle.  Originally, I was hoping for dark buttons, maybe with some art deco styling, but I had these on hand so I used them. 
I love this buckle and think it fits perfectly with the aesthetic of the dress.
In retrospect, I think the light colored buttons bring out the lines of the dress, especially in the low key photos I was taking.
I made bound buttonholes in the shape of diamonds.  In retrospect, this was a bad idea, because I couldn't get the size and shape consistent.
On the other hand, it's not like you can tell unless you're inspecting the dress up close.
All the bound buttonholes took forever and put me off the entire idea of shirtdresses.  But, now that it's done, I like it so much I might have to pull out some of my other vintage shirtdress patterns.  Must....resist....!
Happy sewing!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Pattern Review: EvaDress C20-6681, 1929 Coat

I loved this coat from first sight and knew that I had to have it.  Oh my god, those pintucks!
And, now I DO have it!  It's just as awesome as I imagined!

I used pink wool crepe for the shell, leftover purple silk velvet from this dress for the contrast, and silk charmeuse for the lining.
I picked an appropriately Art Deco button for the closure, but I might try to find a replacement in darker purple at some point.  The pattern didn't call for any closure other than that one button, but I found that I needed four 1" snaps in order for the coat to stay closed if I was sitting or leaning over.

This coat was such an ordeal.  I added a few inches at the hips so that the coat would fit me.  This threw off the way the coat hung, so I had to design inserts for the shoulder seams so that the front of the coat would hang right.  This then threw off the armscye, so I had to do a really creative job of setting in the sleeves.  By this point, there was no way the scarf collar piece would fit, so I ended up designing an entirely new collar following the general aesthetic of other 1920's coat designs (see for example, this, this, and this.)  It was crazy.  I spent so much time drafting and fitting and refitting for this coat.

And that's not even counting...those pintucks.  Backstitching to secure the thread tails would have been ugly, so the thread tails had to be threaded through a needle and tied off on the wrong side of the fabric.  It took forever.
Didn't do such a great job on these.  Oh well.

Anyway, the moral of the story should be ALWAYS MAKE A MUSLIN, but I'm not sure I feel that way here.  I didn't want to make a muslin because I didn't want to do all those pintucks twice, and I figured that 1920's garments are generally shapeless enough that it wouldn't matter so much, but, nope.  Still plenty of adjustments to be made.  On the other hand, if I had made a muslin, I would have redrafted the coat front instead of adding that trapezoid of material, and I really like the extra bit of creative seaming that it added.  I also would never have invented that collar, and I like it way better than the original collar.  I prefer the look, and plus, gathered velvet around the neck is nice and toasty warm!

Another note:  Truly, my K-3 is the honey badger of camera bodies.  I took these photos at a windswept schoolyard.  There was a high wind advisory in effect.  As I was posing for these photos, the wind blew my tripod over, and the camera went smack against the ground.  Camera don't care!  Camera don't give a sh*t, it just takes what photos it wants.  I'm going to have to bend the hotshoe bracket back into position, but that's really no big deal. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sidebar: 1920's makeup vs. 1920's photography

For a photoshoot for an upcoming 1929 coat, I thought it would be fun to do authentic 1920's makeup and photography.  Naturally, I researched the heck out of both these things.

It turns out that the goth makeup we associate with the 1920's-- heavy eye makeup and dark, almost black, lipstick-- aren't period-accurate.  Instead, most color magazines and makeup guides of the time show bright red lips, lots of rouge, and pale eyeshadow in blue, green, violet, and brown.  The look I was going for was Ms. Shaping The Brows here.

Out-of-camera JPEG
Things get interesting when we bring photography into the picture.  Film from the early 1920's (orthochromatic film) was sensitive to blue light, but relatively insensitive to reds, oranges, and yellows.  We humans tend to have pink and peachy tones in our faces, which made for some very creative stage makeup in an effort to make the actors to look normal on film. 

I made a Lightroom preset off of the color wheel provided at the link (see bottom of post for details).  Applied to my photo above, we get the photo below. 
Orthochromatic film simulation, ca. early 1920's
Holy wow, do I look terrible!  No wonder they needed special UV lights and stage makeup for anyone to look halfway decent.

In the mid-1920's, a new type of film came into effect (panchromatic film), which was sensitive to the entire spectrum.  I made another Lightroom preset off the provided color wheel, and here again is what my portrait looks like.
Panchromatic film simulation, ca. late 1920's
You can see why studios had to radically alter the way they did stage makeup-- panchromatic film is worlds different (and better) at representing skin tones than orthochromatic film. 

 It still looks a little flat, though, so here's my own B&W version of the image, postprocessed in Lightroom.
Postprocessing in Lightroom

There are several points to be made here.  First, we generally assume that photography necessarily gives an accurate representation of the world around us.  This is not the case.  Photography is always governed by the technical capabilities of the recording medium.  This is no less true today.  For instance, this is the RAW file of my portrait with no postprocessing applied-- this is what my camera sensor saw.
No postprocessing applied to the RAW file
Even though this is the version of the photo with the least processing applied, it's clearly not an accurate representation of the real world. 

Let's be a little generous and say that the camera got the white balance wrong.  Here's what Lightroom thinks the white balance should be:
RAW file with white balance fixed
Now, here's the out-of-camera JPEG.  This is the result of the postprocessing my camera did using the default settings. 
Out-of-camera JPEG
It's a lot better, but the colors are still a little too cool.  Is it objective reality?  Well, probably not.  There's a surprising amount of variation in the JPEG output of camera brands.  Take this test carried out by The Camera Store TV.  If cameras' JPEG engines were capturing reality, we would expect the results to be identical.  They're not.

Maybe we can't expect a cold, hard machine to nail something as complex as JPEG processing.  Maybe we need a human touch, an artist's touch.  Here's the image postprocessed by me in Lightroom:
Postprocessed by me in Lightroom
The colors are warmer, which is good.  You might think I overdid it on the saturation, but I really did rouge my cheeks that much (back to 1920's sensibilities being different from our own).  And yeah, I got rid of the blemishes on my chin.  This is the sort of thing people complain about when they denounce photoshopping.  Is it vanity?  Partly, sure.  This is the sort of thing people try to hide with makeup, after all.  I thought about hitting it with concealer, but for me, it's just easier to deal with in post.  But, it's also an artistic decision.  I was going for a Tamara de Lempicka effect with this portrait-- the glamour, the defiant gaze.  Was the blemish on my chin adding to that effect, or detracting from it?  Detracting.  So, it had to go. 

Forget the question of whether a photo depicts reality or not.  Instead-- do you like the art?  Do you like the message the art conveys?  If not, why not?  And, if you don't like the message, criticize the people making the artistic decisions, not the tools.  The tools will always be a necessary part of the mechanics of photography.  Photoshop is just a smokescreen distracting from the larger issue. 


Orthochromatic film simulation in Lightroom:
Red -96
Orange -89
Yellow -91
Green -93
Aqua -80
Blue -31
Purple +53
Magenta +58

Panchromatic film simulation in Lightroom:
Red -10
Orange -19
Yellow -11
Green -69
Aqua -76
Blue -100
Purple +15
Magenta +3

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Movie Review: The Devil is a Woman (1935)

The Movie:  0 (on a scale of -10 to 10).  In Spain, a woman who is skilled at manipulating men and playing them off each other manipulates men and plays them off each other.  This movie was a giant meh for me.  On the one hand, Marlene Dietrich is solid, the set and costume design is extravant, and the cinematography is competent, but on the other hand, you always knew exactly where this was going to go, neither the woman nor the men she manipulates are compelling, and the movie didn't have a very insightful take on its subject material. 

The Fashions:  6 (on a scale of 1 to 10).  The clothing was pretty extravagant and elaborate, but in most cases felt more like costumes than clothing.

In short:  If you want to see some exciting Spanish (or faux Spanish) clothing, it's worth watching, but otherwise, probably not.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Movie Review: Blonde Venus (1932)

The Movie:  10 (on a scale of -10 to 10).  A husband and wife live out the consequences of the way she earned money to pay for his life-saving medical treatment.  Marlene Dietrich is amazing as always, the cinematography is stellar, and the story is well-told.  Such a brilliant exploration of how shortsighted and destructive masculine pride can be. 

The Fashions:  8 (on a scale of 1 to 10).  Marlene Dietrich sure has some amazing stage costumes.  Genius.

Movie Review: Morocco (1930)

The Movie:  7 (on a scale of -10 to 10). A jaded lounge singer meets a jaded legionary at a godforsaken outpost in Morocco, and they have to decide whether they love each other and how far they're willing to go for it.  The movie was slow and spare by modern standards-- can you imagine how this would look if it were a war romance made today?-- but Marlene Dietrich is mesmerizing and the cinematography is really good for what they had to work with.  At the time, this movie was infamous.  A woman wearing a coat and tails?  A woman kissing another woman?  SCANDAL. 

The Fashions:  10 (on a scale of 1 to 10).  I'm already partial to early 30's fashions, but here they are elevated to the sublime.  You could wear anything Marlene Dietrich wore (maybe with the exception of the coat and tails), and it would still be considered the height of elegance and class today.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Movie Review: East Side, West Side (1949)

The Movie:  7 (on a scale of -10 to 10).  A self-absorbed loser has to come to terms with being a self-absorbed loser as his friends and family gradually stop making excuses for him.  A little slow, but overall a good depiction of mature people handling this sort of situation well-- thinking long and hard to give the self-absorbed loser a fair shake, but ultimately coming the the conclusion that he's just not worth it.  Carolyn Hax and Captain Awkward would be proud.

The Clothes:  8 (on a scale of 1 to 10).  The wife gets some awesome suits, the femme fatales get some awesome evening dresses, and there's a scene with live modeling in a department store (department store?). It's great to see late 40's dresses, ones that have started to become more structured, but before skirt volume got completely out of hand.  It also gave me perspective on what strapless sheath dresses with tulle overlays looked like in action.  On pattern envelopes, they look incredibly lame, but in motion, they look amazingly sexy. 

Movie Review: My Reputation (1946)

The Movie: 5 (on a scale of -10 to 10).  A thirties-ish widow gets pushback from her family and friends when she goes on the dating market again.  Admittedly, I'm not the target audience of this sort of movie, but my feeling about the whole thing was...meh.  It didn't feel like real characters so much as a loose agglomeration of people doing either the right thing or the wrong thing as the plot required.  The mother was a particularly egregious example, but the boyfriend was also pretty bland.

The Fashions:  5 (on a scale of 1 to 10).  Some nice tailored suits, a few evenign dresses, but nothing I felt I had to immediately go out and replicate.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Movie Review: Baby Face (1933)

The Movie:  9 (on a scale of -10 to 10).  A young woman rises from poverty by getting an entry-level job at a bank and sleeping her way to the top.  This was a deeper and more thought-provoking movie than it had any right to be.  It would have been easy for the movie to present the protagonist as a one-sided evil and manipulative woman, but the movie consistently underscores her intelligence, her competence, and the fragility of her financial situation.  She clearly could have succeeded in the boardroom purely on the virtue of her own merits, but if the only way for her to get there was to be the partner of a member of the bad was the system, if you can't be both ethical and ambitious?

The Fashions:  10 (on a scale of 1 to 10).  Once the protagonist becomes moderately successful, the men around her shower her with money and she starts to wear some really interesting outfits.  Some of them are outrageous and frilly, but there are some really fabulous evening gowns.  I also love the inventiveness of 1930's sleeve designs, and I wish we could get some of that back in today's modern world.

Movie Review: Touch of Evil (1958)

Another review of an old movie for both the fashions and the movie.

The Movie:  7 (on a scale of -10 to 10).  A murder along the US/Mexico border inflames relations between the two countries as both American and Mexican officers work to solve the crime.  The plot was good, but didn't engage me as much as it should have because I'm generally not terribly interested in murder mysteries.  I was also preoccupied thinking about my favorite border town, and how everyone there must be terrified right now.  In any case, the cinematography was exceptionally good, especially the opening shot. 

The Fashions:  6 (on a scale of 1 to 10).  Generally I don't find 1950's fashions as interesting as the 30's or 40's.  But, in this case, there was one pleated pencil skirt that would have looked completely unremarkable on a pattern envelope or in a fashion photo, but it looked amazing as it moved. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Movie Review: Criss Cross (1949)

The Movie:  7 (on a scale of -10 to 10).  A man gets involved in a heist in order to win back his ex-wife.  The story was told well, the cinematography was brilliant in places, and in general, it was very enjoyable.  In a refreshing turn of events, this was a movie that went for the right ending, not the comfortable ending.

The Fashions:  9 (on a scale of 1 to 10).  The femme fatale wears some really cute outfits, even by modern standards.  One of the dresses basically looks like Vogue 8812.

In Short:  Highly recommended on both the movie and fashion fronts.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Pattern Review: Self-drafted silk dupioni evening dress

I had long been a fan of a certain 1930's or 1940's velvet evening dress I saw in a book once.  I don't remember the designer, and the book is at my parents' house, but the lines were something like the dress in this photo from Vintage Textile.  I had ordered some silk dupioni from Denver Fabrics, and when it arrived, I thought the color was really ugly.  Since I didn't care if I ruined the fabric, I figured I might as well use it to try to replicate the dress in my memories.  And this is the result:
Well.  I think that worked out!  Here's the back:
And here's the front and back of the dress flat on the ground:
The construction was remarkably straightforward.  I took my favorite slip pattern, cut it off at the hips to give it a dropped waist, and added gathered rectangles of fabric for the skirt. 
I added decorative bands of fabric at the waist and neckline.  They are cut perpendicular to the grain of the bodice and skirt, and so they stand out from each other by having a different sheen, not that it shows with the diffuse overhead lighting I used to take these photos.
I used grosgrain ribbon as stays to secure the gathers, which just barely shows on the inside.
The dress is lined in black silk habotai.  The skirt lining was gathered together with the skirt fabric, but it took me forever to figure out how to line the bodice.  In the end, I had to make the bodice lining several inches longer than the dress bodice, and stitch it onto the grosgrain ribbon stays by hand.  Time-consuming, but this way the lining isn't too short and doesn't cause the dress to pull weirdly.
I experimented with several different strap designs, and ended up going with these, which are gathered in a couple different places.
Overall, the drafting was relatively easy, but construction was difficult due to top-stitching all those tiny points in the contrast bands.  Still, I consider it a success, and this is one of my favorite dresses to have photographed.
Thanks to my beloved local rock climbing gym, Brooklyn Boulders Somerville, for letting me do the photography there!
I think this is the best photo I took.  It reminds me of A Wizard of Earthsea, and the story of how the wizard Geb was pursued by a shadow, only to ultimately realize that it was a part of himself.
The black and white version is good, too, but I think I prefer the pop of the color one.
Anyway, happy sewing!

Movie Review: The Big Clock (1948)

Watching more old movies for the fashions.

The Movie:  5 (on a scale of -10 to 10).  We get to watch George Stroud's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day as he wrecks his marriage, loses his job, and gets framed for murder.  This could have been a much better movie than it was.  We watch a weak-willed man move through life doing the bidding of whoever's applying the most pressure at the moment (alternately, his boss, his wife, and some random woman who shows up.)  Since he has no real sense of agency, and no coherent plan for managing his relationships and balancing his responsibilities, he gets used by those around him (only to be discarded when someone new and more forceful comes along), and as a result, makes the perfect fall guy for murder.  If the movie had ended with him being convicted and the murderer getting away with it, this would have been an interesting movie with a strong message.  Instead, people rally around him, the real killer is caught, and The Character Who Was Supposed To Be The Comic Relief, But Was Really Just Annoying gets the final line.  The only reason I'm not rating this movie lower is that it does a great job of showcasing Art Deco architecture.

The Fashions:  2 (on a scale of 1 to 10).  Nothing horrible, but nothing noteworthy, either.

In short:  Unless you really like Art Deco architecture, I'd pass.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Movie Review: The Killers (1946)

Another old movie I watched for the fashions.

Movie:  7 (on a scale of -10 to 10).  Based on a short story by Ernest Hemmingway.  Starts out as a murder mystery, then becomes a heist mystery (is that a thing?) when it becomes clear that the murder victim was mixed up with some unsavory people.  The film was interesting and done well, and there were some really good shots. 

Fashions:  8 (on a scale of 1 to 10).  There's only one really notable dress, worn by Ava Gardner at a fancy party, but wow is it a showstopper, a black satin strapless-ish number with interesting draping around the bust. 

In short:  This one was actually pretty good and is definitely worth watching.

Movie Review: Black Angel (1946)

I've been watching old movies to see the fashions.

Movie:  4 (on a scale of -10 to 10).  A man is wrongfully convicted of murder, and his wife and the victim's husband team up and make a lounge singer/pianist act to clear his name.  It has a stronger start than The Blue Dahlia, but the ending is incredibly lame.  It's interesting to see movies from the past that are basically fantasy wish fulfillment vehicles-- a housewife becomes a sexy lounge singer working with a desirable (?) man while still retaining her wifely virtue!

Clothes:  4 (on a scale of 1 to 10).  The murder victim, also a lounge singer, has some nice eveningwear at the beginning.  The housewife wears really frumpy clothes at the start of the movie, but has some good stuff once she becomes a lounge singer.  Still, nothing really stood out in my mind.

In short:  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't really memorable.  There are better choices in this category.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Pattern Review: Self-Drafted Dirndl Skirt

This is pretty much the easiest skirt I ever made.
I loosely followed the directions from Gertie.  It's basically a dirndl skirt, just two gathered rectangles of fabric.  The fabric is by Carrie Bloomston--I really liked the newspaper strips print.

I figured out the length of skirt I wanted, and cut two rectangles the width of the fabric.  I measured myself to figure out the circumference of the waistband, and stitched the gathered rectangles to grosgrain ribbon stays of the appropriate length.  I cut a waistband of the appropriate length and interfaced it, then assembled the skirt in the usual way.
Overall, a very quick and easy project.  Highly recommended!