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Hello Everyone. I know it’s been awhile since I last posted, but I’m still here! My friends sometimes call me a turtle. Not only because I tend to work slow and steady, but also because I have been known to retreat into my shell. A close friend who used to live next door to me would joke that there were periods of time when all he would see of me was my forearm pushing the door open to get my pizza delivery. Funny and true.

I have a very good reason for retreating lately. I’ve been nurturing an idea. I don’t know about you, but when I have a creative project that is newly born, it needs lots of protection and care. So I’ve just been quietly doing my thing over here.

And like many creative adventures, there’s a steep learning curve. It’s kind of tough to push yourself to the next level because it requires leaving behind your proficiency and coming to terms with the fact that there are a lot of mistakes and missteps in your future. But what else are you are going to do? If you don’t take that step, you just stay stuck.

I’ve been doing a lot of lying awake at night, designing clothes in my head. The trick is to be able to get those ideas down on paper before the self-sabotaging thoughts get in the way. It’s all fine at 2 am but by morning I start to tighten up.

The best way to get good at something is to practice, practice, practice. The more you flex the muscle the stronger it gets. So I just play a little head game and tell myself when I sit down to sketch that I only have to come up with five bad designs. It is so much easier to get started when all I have to do is make bad drawings. The pressure is off and no matter what I come up with I’ve met my goal. Regardless of the result, I feel good.

This top is a product of one of my “bad” designs. And I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. I wanted to create something that had a modern Victorian feel. The seaming and the hem are reminiscent of a corset. The collar comes up higher on the neck. In some ways it’s a modest top as it covers up a lot of the body, but the close fit and the peek-a-boo at the back lend it a bit of sexiness.

Don’t even ask how many times I tweaked the muslin to get it right. My pattern making skills are a work in progress. But I’m getting there! Slow but sure. (I told you I am a turtle.) All of the ups and downs were totally worth it because I have a top that is exactly what I want it to be. The first time I wore it, I had someone ask me where they could buy one. I was so proud to tell her that I designed it and made it myself. And bless her, she said that I need to hurry up and start making more to sell. Who knows? That may be in my future.

Pattern, Designed and Drafted by Me

Fabric, Liberty Lawn, B&J Fabrics

Photography by Santiago Vanegas

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Hi guys!  Welcome back!  The kids are back in school and I can get my head together just enough to sit down and compose this blog post.  Wahoo!

Today I want to talk about a good friend of mine.  We’ve known each other now for a long time and this is how our friendship began.  On our very first coffee get-together, she told a story on herself that I will never forget.  She said that she had recently had a morning that she woke up full of confidence.  She looked in the mirror and decided that she was having a “cute day”.  You know what she means—it’s one of those rare days when you look good and you know it.  So she put on her special vintage swimsuit and took her kids to the pool.  While she was there, she noticed a young couple who were looking at her.  And she thought, “Yep, I knew it.  I AM having a cute day.  Even the twenty-somethings are looking at me.”  She had one of the best days at the pool ever.  It was only after she got home that she realized that her tampon string was hanging out of her bathing suit.

I knew right then that we were going to be very very good friends.  For me, there is no better quality to possess than the ability to laugh at yourself.  It’s a trait that a number of my friends have, which is no surprise, because I find it so endearing and attractive.  I wish I could say I’m drawn to people like my friend because I’m like that too.  But the truth is I’m attracted to people who don’t mind embarrassment because I’m the exact opposite.  I mind it A LOT.

I have been actively working on cultivating the ability to laugh at myself for years and my thoughts on the subject kind of clicked into place this summer when our family was on vacation.  The kids decided they wanted to try water-skiing.  Before they went out, my mom and I both tried to tell them that it takes a lot of practice to get up on water skis and it may not happen on your first time out.  The oldest of my nephews brushed it off.  He’s a natural athlete and wasn’t worried.  But when he came back, he announced decisively that he would NEVER water ski ever again.  Oh man, this child is so much like me.

I worked so hard without much success to convince him to try again.  I told him the story of how I learned to get up on skis.  My grandfather wanted to give us some practice before we got out on the lake.  So my sister and I put on our skis in the swimming pool and he got out the ski rope.  Then he ran poolside holding the ski rope and pulled us on top of the water, which worked fine until we let go of the rope.  At that moment, he would go careening face first into the lawn.  And we would all crack up laughing.  His willingness to risk not only embarrassment but life and limb to teach us to ski will always make me smile.

The truth is that most creative pursuits (or athletic or academic ones) will eventually lead you out of your comfort zone.  And if you are so worried about embarrassing yourself that you stay in safe territory, you will end up cutting yourself off from a multitude of opportunities and experiences that can really open up your world.  I speak from experience.  It’s too bad that I wasn’t wiser when I was young.  It’s only after many years of practicing tolerance of embarrassment that I learned to do things that have become deeply satisfying to me.  

Creating this blog is surely an example of this.  When I started to build my website, I called tech support often.  As I listened to the recording “This may be recorded for quality assurance purposes”, I’d think, “Yeah, you may just want to record this to play for your friends so you can share a good laugh!”  But hey, I got through it with my ego only slightly bruised.  I’m more proud that I stuck with it than I am worried about how the tech support guy must have found my lack of knowledge hilarious.  There’s some personal growth for you!

And just to really drive the point home, I’ll tell you another story.  That same friend who is impervious to embarrassment mentioned to me that I had a chin hair that I may want to pluck.  Good God, y’all!!   This thing had gotten so long, I swear it curled like a pig’s tail!  There!  See??  It’s just like my mom says, “I’m living proof that you can’t die of embarrassment.”

Pattern, Panel Tank, Alabama Chanin

Fabric, Organic Cotton Jersey in Peacock

Details, Featherstitching in Button Craft Thread in Dogwood

Photography by Tracey Hogan and Santiago Vanegas

Video by Santiago Vanegas

Location, Inspire Health

Okay, time for some details about my top.  The panel tank is part of Alabama Chanin’s Build a Wardrobe 2018.  I stitched the seams to the outside, opened up the seam allowances, and then featherstitched on top.  (About time I showed some featherstitiching on Featherstitch Avenue!)  I used the stitching template from The Geometry of Sewing to get my stitching nice and uniform.

In keeping with the theme of this post, I had to overcome a little embarrassment to pull off this photo shoot.  The best Pilates studio in Atlanta, Inspire Health very generously allowed Santiago and I to use one of their workout rooms.  We both work out there.  Our photo concept required me to ham it up in front of Inspire’s big mirror while snapping the photos myself with a cable release button.  That’s what I’m holding in my hand in case you didn’t know.  So, here I am, acting like a goofball in front of the mirror while the other clients are walking by, giving me very strange looks.  These are people that I see regularly, so I can’t even console myself by saying that I’ll never see these people again.

And lastly, given how I put myself out there, Santiago decided he would too.  What you have here is his debut as a composer and performer!!  The music score of the video is a Santiago original.  And just so you know, you can see more of Santiago’s videos on his You Tube Channel.  Please check it out!

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When you hear “the Oscar dress”, you think red carpet.  In this case, I’m talking about a different Oscar.  I’ve named my dress for Oscar Wilde and stitched my favorite Wilde quote around the hem of the dress.  To understand why, I’ve got to tell you a story.  I must warn you that some of this post is dark, but if I’ve done my job, hopefully it will make some sense when you get to the end.

Many years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to study at Trinity College in Dublin.  Having already earned my BA in psychology, I was at Trinity to do some graduate work.  I had this incredible tutor who not only taught me, but also allowed me to shadow him at his job at a children’s clinic.  He was working with families who had significant challenges, like a four year old girl who had a metabolic condition that was so severe that if her food intake was not managed to the finest detail, she could die.  She was a really smart girl who had learned how to use this situation to her advantage and had become a tyrant worse than Veruca Salt.  She cursed like a sailor too!

But by far, my tutor’s favorite client was a nine year old boy named Graeme.  He was a sweetheart who had some developmental delays that his family was trying to come to terms with.  One afternoon, Graeme’s family dropped him off at a video game arcade.  It breaks my heart to tell you that he was taken from the arcade into an alley by a pedophile and molested.  Here’s the part where words fail me.  How can I possibly describe the utter devastation that followed.  After many re-writes, I’ve decided not to even try.  For Graeme and his family, their lives became permanently bisected into “before” and “after”.  My tutor, well, he was so distraught that he couldn’t even teach me anymore and pretty much told me to stop showing up.

For reasons that are too personal and too complicated to explain here, the whole thing was more than I could handle at the time.  And although I didn’t realize it fully then, that event was the end of my pursuit of a career in psychology.  I looked for an escape and found it in a literature class that focused on Oscar Wilde.  We read everything by Wilde—his novel, his plays, his essays.  It was while reading Lady Windermere’s Fan that I encountered one of Wilde’s more famous lines, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.  And like all universal truths, when you hear it, it resonates.

I could write pages and pages on what Lord Darlington was thinking and feeling when he said that line, but the truth is that you don’t need to know the story to understand the sentiment.  We are all in this beautiful mess that we call life.  And it gets really ugly sometimes.  But, we can aspire to be better.  We can look outside of ourselves to find answers or to seek solace.  We can change our perspective.  One of my favorite pieces of advice to give to new parents is this—if your baby keeps crying after you fed them, burped them, and changed their diaper, then change rooms.  Or go outside.  Most of the time, that is all it takes.  

In a way that’s exactly what I did when I stopped studying psychology and jumped into that literature class.  I was still grappling with life issues, it’s just that I was doing it through a different lens.  Oscar Wilde was certainly no stranger to tragedy and some of the themes we covered were difficult emotional territory.  But for whatever reason, I could process what happened to Graeme and what happened to me through the study of literature.  So, at a time when I was in a foreign country away from the support of family and friends, it was Oscar Wilde who held me and comforted me.  To this day, my favorite photograph of him hangs in my home.  And now my favorite quote is stitched on my dress.  It’s a reminder that even in the darkest times, I can always look up and be guided by the light of the stars.

Pattern, Alabama Chanin Wrap Dress, Build a Wardrobe 2017

Fabric, Alabama Chanin Medium Weight Organic Cotton Jersey

Photography by Santiago Vanegas

As you can see, we took these photographs in Ireland.  We had an amazing time and it was so great to be back there after all this time.  The dress is a pattern from Alabama Chanin’s Build a Wardrobe 2017 collection.  I had been wanting to stitch the Oscar Wilde quote for quite some time, but needed to find the right garment to do it on.  It took a bit of planning to get the scale of the words right, but I’m happy with how it turned out.  I used embroidery floss to chain-stitch the words and I used bugle beads, chop beads, and sequins to make the stars.  I also stitched smaller stars along the sleeve hem.  And as in all Alabama Chanin garments I’ve made, the entire dress is hand sewn.

Next up will be the first garment that I’m making in a little mini-collection that I’ve envisioned.  Most of the patterns are going to be drafted by me, so it may take me awhile!  Until then, be well everyone!

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I’m a parent of two kids and like a lot of other parents, I’ve read my fair share of parenting books.  We parents want to raise healthy, confident children. And to do that, many of us have been heaping praise on our developing kids to ensure that they will feel good about themselves. So it’s no surprise that reading the chapter in the book Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman called The Inverse Power of Praise hit me like a ton of bricks. Basically it says this: if you are always telling your children how smart they are, it can have a unexpected negative effect on them. Children who internalize that they are smart (or talented or whatever adjective you are using to praise them) find that the next time they are presented with a challenge they are less likely to try.  Why is this? Well, it’s because now the stakes of failure have become too high.  If they don’t succeed, it must mean that they aren’t smart at all.  It might mean that they will lose their parents approval and the stream of steady praise that they have become addicted to will dry up.

Let that really sink in. These so-called “smart” kids think they have to get it right on their first try! How crazy is that?!  I think it goes without saying that I immediately began to re-think how I was praising my kids. But I also began to wonder how much we adults may have absorbed this kind of thinking.  I wouldn’t say that I was brought up in an era that praise was as prolific as it is now. But I do have to admit that for whatever reason, I have unreasonable expectations of myself.  As a kid, I was naturally good at school and athletics but as I got older and my world expanded, things got much harder. I couldn’t rely on natural abilities. If I couldn’t do something well pretty early in the process, I would actually feel embarrassment and humiliation, and would be reluctant to try it in the future.

But here’s the good news for the kids being raised in this praise-heavy world and for grown-ups that are hard on the themselves.  The study goes on to say that kids that are praised for effort, not innate abilities, are much better at taking on new challenges. If you are praising the specific work or focus they are bringing to the task then what is communicated to them is that they have some control over the result. They learn that if they keep trying that they can succeed. They learn that the brain is a muscle and with consistent workouts, it gets better and better. And they learn that failure is not a declaration that they are dumb. Mistakes are simply what happens on the way to mastering something new.

Over the years, I have been complimented on my sense of style. So when I took up sewing a few years ago, I figured that I would be making garments that were my style and creating things that I would love to wear right out of the starting gate. I could not have been more wrong! At the end of sewing project after sewing project, I would be left with something that didn’t feel like me at all. The temptation was to think, “I suck at making clothes”, but the thing was (and is) that I LOVE to sew. Because I enjoyed the process so much, I kept going in spite of the fear that I would never make anything that was any good.

Luckily for me, the passion for sewing was able to override those crazy internalized expectations that I’d be good at it right away.  And with each project, I’ve gotten better. And I’ve gotten better because I’ve put in a lot of time and energy. I’ve set challenges and failed miserably. It’s because of that effort that I feel particularly proud of this jacket. Not because I’m some natural born Alexander McQueen (which, duh, I’m not), but because this jacket represents persistence. According to Bronson and Merryman, “People with this trait, persistence, rebound well and can sustain their motivation through long periods of delayed gratification.” If this jacket doesn’t represent delayed gratification, then I don’t know what does! It took years to get here.

So here’s the takeaway. If you are beating yourself up for being no good at something, try re-parenting your inner child. Give yourself a big pat on the back for showing up and making an effort. Be persistent, and know that gratification is coming, even if it is delayed.

Pattern, Ziggi Jacket, Style Arc

Top Layer Fabric, Embroidered Lace, Dolce and Gabbana, Mendel Goldberg Fabrics

Bottom Layer Fabric, Reversible Wool Satin Faille, B&J Fabrics

Lining, Silk Crepe de Chine in Blush, Mood Fabrics

Riri Zippers, Pacific Trimming

Photographs and Video by Santiago Vanegas

Let’s get in to the details of the jacket.  The pattern is the Ziggi Jacket by Style Arc.  I’ve been wanting to try this pattern for a long time and have seen some really amazing makes that others have done.  My favorite is Leisa’s.  I was in Susan Khalje’s workshop with her when she started her Ziggi and I was so impressed with her version that I wanted to throw away what I was working on and make my own Ziggi right then.  Instead it took me a couple of years to get around to making my own.  Sometimes the right fabric and interpretation just take awhile to find you.

The next thing that I did right was start this jacket with Susan Khalje.  We fiddled with it until I had the perfect fit which meant re-drawing the armscye a bit.  Most patterns don’t accomodate my broad shoulders.  I had done my research on motorcycle jackets and spent time looking at jackets by Belstaff and Matchless and knew that I wanted to incorporate a few details I had come across.  Instead of using the crossed diagonal quilting on the upper arm and shoulder, I made my quilting horizontal lines.  There are two layers of quilt batting crammed in there to give it that puffed up quilting effect.  I also decided to quilt the bottom pattern section of the center back and to leave it as a flap instead of sewing it closed.  I love the triangular effect of the quilted pieces and think it makes for a flattering silhouette.

Laying out the lace was a blast!  This was where it really got fun creatively.  I knew I wanted the largest embroidery motif on the back.  Once I placed that, I had to survey what I had left and come up with a plan.  I decided to go for a heavily embroidered collar and then have the flowers be more randomly and sparsely placed as you move down the jacket.  And as for having enough lace to cover the jacket, I just squeaked by!

The jacket has 5 zippers!  The long zipper to close the jacket, two pocket zippers, and two lower sleeve zippers were all sewn in by hand with pick stitches.  I used grosgrain ribbon to face the pocket which is what you see when the pocket is unzipped.  And of course, it is packed with couture stitches galore.  All the seam allowances are catch-stitched.  The lining was machine sewn then sewn into the jacket by hand.  I used fell stitches along the neckline, facings, and zippers then created jump pleats at the hem and sleeve hem.

I’m over the moon with how it turned out!  So Santiago and I decided maybe we had better go to the “moon” to photograph the jacket.  Arabia Mountain is pretty close.

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Hello Everybody! Long time, no see. When I was trying to figure out what to write, I was thinking about all the reasons that I could list that would explain the big gap since my last post. I started to mentally scroll through my excuses, and almost immediately I thought of a long-time family friend who once commissioned my sister for a painting. When he called to check in about her progress, she proceeded to tell him why the painting wasn’t finished, to which he replied, “I don’t want to hear about your problems. This is business.” What is lost in reading this, is that this man is one of the funniest people I know, and his delivery of this line was made with the most perfect comedic precision. It’s a line that we imitate and repeat frequently in our family, indicating, yeah, we’ve all got problems, now get on with it. And we always laugh when we say it.

Thinking about our family friend calls to mind the many times that we attended New Orleans Saints football games in his Superdome suite. Many of those games were during the “Aints” era when we couldn’t win a game to save our life! In the midst of our collective depression about our repeated failures, our group would be zinging some of the most hilarious lines anyone has ever heard.

Now I know losing a football game is not the end of the world. But humor has helped me to process bigger tragedies as well. A few years ago, my grandfather passed away and it was a particularly difficult loss for me. But I can’t think about his funeral and how hard that day was without also thinking about my brother’s eulogy which was so funny that it actually elicited whoops from the congregation.

Like Truvy says in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion”. There’s something about the contrast between those feelings that sharpens them both and somehow makes them even more meaningful. Life is complicated and I know I’m going to feel bad some of the time. The only way to get through it is to go ahead and feel it completely. But when I can also laugh in the middle of it, what a great gift that is.

Pattern, Tessuti Sadie Slip Dress

Fabric, Silk Chiffon, B&J Fabric

Photography by Santiago Vanegas

Now let’s talk about this dress. One of my goals of 2017 was to make a garment out of silk chiffon. Nothing like trying chiffon for the first time and cutting on the bias. The good news was that I could use the stripes of the print to stay on grain. The bad news is that I would need to match the side seams and create a perfect chevron shape with the meeting of those stripes. I did a pretty decent job with the matching, but I’ve got one side seam that is ripply (is that a word?) and one side that’s smooth. Learning curve! The dress pattern is the Tessuti Sadie Slip Dress and I am in love with this pattern. I made a size small with no adjustments except for fiddling with the length of the straps. Just to jazz things up, I added the ruffle at the bottom. The ruffle strip has a stay stitch at the bottom, hidden in the print pattern, and left unhemmed so the fabric will unravel a bit the more I wear it. I left the top part of the ruffle with a raw edge as well for a deconstructed look.

In closing, my heart goes out to those who are dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes, earthquakes, or fires. It’s been an intense season of natural disasters and a particularly difficult time for many people. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

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As I sit down to write this post, my daughter is on my mind. First of all, I have to tell you that she is the one who made these amazing photos. Didn’t she do a great job? I’m proud of my girl. But I’m thinking about her for another reason as well. You see, not only is Sienna a great photographer, she is also a wonderful writer. Not too long ago, she started a story about a dog named Bacon and his sidekick, a cat called Tuna. You have to believe me when I tell you that this story is off-the-chart brilliant. I know, I’m biased. But it really is just so darn good!

Halfway through the work, Sienna found out that she would not be able to use her story to complete an assignment, so the writing has been left unfinished. I’m doing what I can to encourage her to tell the rest of the story, mostly because I’m dying to find out what happens! But also because there is such value in seeing a project all the way through to the end.

I don’t know why many of us start things we don’t finish, but there’s definitely some psychology behind this phenomenon that I am sure somebody has studied somewhere. I have been creating art and sewing garments long enough to recognize some very distinct patterns in my process of making. In the beginning, I’m filled with enthusiasm and the potential for greatness. By the time I reach the middle of the project, I know for sure that it sucks.

Fortunately for me, I’ve managed to push myself to finish enough times that I have also experienced the reward of getting it done. Sometimes I’m happy with the result and sometimes not so much, but I’m always satisfied that I saw it all the way through. It’s so important to know my creative rhythm because when I hit that point when I’m convinced that what I’m working on is an abomination, I know that I’ve got to ride that wave.  I’ve been in that place before.  I can’t stop those feelings from coming but I can let myself be carried right on through those sabotaging thoughts and hopefully arrive on more solid footing.

So, now’s the time that I confess that this dress sat unfinished for about two years. I reached a certain point and put it away. I don’t even really know why. I think I convinced myself that the dress didn’t suit me. Or it was going to look bad on me. Or who knows what nonsense I was telling myself at the time. But I hung it up, with an unfinished lining and an unfinished hem. And there it sat, getting completely ignored.

If it weren’t for a beach vacation on the horizon, it may not have ever gotten finished. But I didn’t want to pass up the chance to photograph one of my garments on the beach and I did not have anything close enough to being done. Then I remembered this dress. It took me an afternoon to finish. Can you believe I gave up so close to the finish line? And I do not know what my problem was with this sweet little dress! I like it just fine.

I may or may not convince my daughter to continue writing her adventures of Bacon and Tuna. I’m going to give it my best shot. But maybe someone who is out there reading this will be motivated to dust off that UFO (unfinished object) you’ve got stashed away somewhere and let it see the light of day, so that the rest of us can enjoy it too.

Pattern, Sunny Day Dress by Jamie Christina

Fabric, Liberty Lawn

Photography by Sienna Vanegas

Image by Santiago Vanegas
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I’ve become really addicted to podcasts! For me, there’s nothing better than listening to one while I’m sewing. One of my favorites is an episode of Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell that focuses on creativity. It’s called Hallelujah. The way the episode unfolds is so beautifully done that I’m reluctant to even attempt to summarize it for fear of ruining it. So, I’m going to urge you to listen to it because there’s no way that I’ll do it justice. But I have a post to write, so here goes…

Throughout the course of the episode, Malcolm covers all sorts of creative territory by examining the music of Elvis Costello and the song Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. But he starts by illustrating the concept of two differing types of genius. The conceptual artist and the experimental artist. And he uses Picasso and Cezanne to make his point. Picasso was a conceptual artist. He had an idea in his head, then set about to create what he visualized. Cezanne was an experimental artist. He painted and painted, trying to hit on what he liked. Kind of “I’ll know it when I see it” approach.

I’m pretty obsessed with the process of creativity and love to hear how other people make their work. I would also count Hallelujah as one of my favorite songs ever. So you can imagine that I’ve been telling all my friends about this podcast. Now I can’t really control whether they will decide to listen to it or not, but with my husband Santiago, I put it on while we were in the car so he had no choice but to listen. (I didn’t really have to twist his arm. He was a willing participant.) After the podcast was over, he asked what kind of artist I think I am and what kind I think he is. Please don’t misunderstand, neither one of us think we are geniuses. But we are artists, and we do have a clear creative process. We didn’t have to think too hard about who we are like. Santiago is Picasso. I’m Cezanne.

This post is a case in point. The idea for these images was fully baked before we started shooting. Santiago laid it out—this is what we are going to do and this is what it’s going to look like. His plan—Photograph me with film. Arrange a still life using the negatives and photograph it. Then reverse the image digitally so that the negative reads as a positive image, but the objects placed within the still life would now read negative. I was skeptical, but pretty much, these images match his vision. Exactly.

For me, I have been chasing this idea of Everyday Couture. What that means to me is thoughtfully creating something special that can be worn on any normal day in my life. How do I fit together my love of fine fabrics and couture sewing techniques with my jeans and t-shirt lifestyle? If you have read some of my past posts, you will recognize this as a common theme. Well, I can tell you, the only way that I’ve been able to achieve this balance (WHEN I’ve achieved this balance!) is through a lot of experimentation. And I can also tell you that my misses outnumber my hits. But with each endeavor, I swear I’m getting closer to manifesting this goal.

So, here’s my two cent advice for the day. Don’t worry if you’ve tried and failed. You’re just Cezanne. You just need more time to experiment some. Get back in the game and make a beautiful mess! You may just accidentally hit on something fantastic.

Pattern, Merchant and Mills, The Dress Shirt

Fabric, Liberty Lawn, B&J Fabric

Trim, Lace from my stash, Ribbon, Britex Fabric

Photography by Santiago Vanegas and Tracey Hogan

Okay, for those of you who want more details (Cissie, this is for you!), here’s the deep dive into couture! I used the Merchant and Mills Dress Shirt pattern. The pattern is actually a dress length, which I shortened into a shirt. I combined a Liberty lawn with lace trim from my stash. (To read about my special laces, go here.) I was so excited about the sleeves that I made them first. I tried out a method for making pleats that has been all over Instagram. You’ve probably seen it, where you use a fork to grab and twist the trim as you are sewing it down to give you perfectly uniform pleats. I basted the lace pleats on first, then made another pass to attach the grosgrain ribbon. I used a smaller width lace trim around the bib, pleating that too. Although with the pleats around the bib, I didn’t use the fork. I just eyeballed it. I basted the lace pleats first, then stitched the bib to the body of the shirt. (I wish that I did a better job sewing this part.  In the photos, all I can see are the places where the fabric is not really laying smoothly.  It doesn’t look as bad in real life, so I may or may not fix it.)  I made a bib lining that I sewed in by hand to cover the interior seams. Then I used french seams throughout the rest of the shirt for a nice clean inside.

That’s it for now. Currently, I’m working on creating a self-draped shirt and there’s a lot that I’m trying to figure out, so I can’t promise that you’ll see me soon. But hopefully the wait will be worth it. Have a great summer everyone!

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Last summer, I met up in New York with my friend Leisa from A Challenging Sew. We had the most fabulous day shopping in our favorite garment district places and discussing future sewing projects. While we were in B&J Fabrics, we both gravitated to this beautiful cream and black embroidered lace. This is always a dilemma. What do you do when two people like the same thing? Does one defer so that the other can have it exclusively? I was totally ready to say, “No, no, you should have it” when Leisa suggested that we create our own sewing challenge. What if we bought the same amount of the same fabric and then see what we came up with?

Well, I was thrilled that I dodged the whole “who’s gonna get it?” problem and immediately jumped on her suggestion. Yes! Let’s both work with the lace! We quickly hashed out some parameters—three yards of lace and an agreed upon date to simultaneously post our lace garments unique to our own aesthetic. Done! But then it started to dawn on me that I may have had a major lapse in judgment. Did I really just invite a comparison with someone who has the word “challenging” in the name of her blog? If you read Leisa’s blog, you know that she only shows up with her A-game. I was really going to need to apply all my skills to come up with something that would measure up.

When I got home, I tried not to sweat it too much. No ideas were coming to mind (I would be a disaster on Project Runway!), but I figured that I would eventually come up with something to make. Damn, it sure did take awhile. The lace is so pretty, but it felt really fancy and high end which is SO not me. Don’t get me wrong. I love working with fine fabrics, but my personal spin is always to figure out how to take something high end and bring it down to my casual lifestyle. Working with contrasts is my favorite way to dress. Pretty with tough or expensive with distressed. It’s got to be high-low. But here’s the problem. This lace does not want to go low. It’s pretty. Period. No “tough” to be seen. Add to that the fact that I felt pressure to make something GOOD, and I was one stuck girl.

Then, I thought of something my dad used to say. Whenever he would get angry at a driver in front of him, he would yell, “Just do something, even if it’s wrong!” Okay, time to do just that! Something! Anything! So that’s what I did. I had been wanting to try a Marfy slip dress pattern that’s a bit unusual with overlapping bust pieces, an empire waist seam, AND a drop waist. The pattern has kind of a 1920s lingerie look. I didn’t have any real confidence that this would work with the lace, but I decided to jump in anyway.

Working with the lace was a huge challenge for me. The black embroidery is thick and very stiff and resisted most of my attempts to manipulate it. I just had to get really strategic in how I cut it and pieced it together. The whole time I was working on the dress, there wasn’t a moment when I didn’t think, “yeah, this is gonna suck.” It wasn’t until I was completely finished that I took a step back and realized I LOVE IT! I mean, come on! That semi-handkerchief hem is absolutely to die for! And once I threw on my boots and my belt, there it was, that elusive tough quality I was lamenting it would never have. And while I didn’t necessarily envision my dress as “skate park appropriate”, I actually wasn’t too uncomfortable in that dress in that environment. It kinda worked.

But my dress is only half of the story! To see the rest, you have to head over to A Challenging Sew and see what Leisa has been up to. I can guarantee it’s going to be very very good!!  (I post mornings, she posts afternoons.  If it’s not up yet, definitely check back.  It’ll be worth it.)

Pattern, Marfy 3915

Fabric, Cream and Black Embroidered Lace, B&J Fabrics

Lining, Silk Crepe de Chine in Moonstruck, Mood Fabrics

Photography by Santiago Vanegas

Okay, for you couture geeks, here’s some dress details.  The cross-over bust definitely makes the construction a little trickier when it comes to lining.  This is the third garment I’ve made with a cross over and it’s always a puzzle to solve when it comes to covering the seams.  With this dress, the lace is underlined and lined.  I had to attach the lining on the bust before it was sewn together.  I covered the seam allowance by hand fell stitching the lower bodice lining piece at the empire waist.  The lace on the skirt was not underlined, but does have a lining which is strategically tacked at the hem point and a few points throughout so that the pointed portion of the hem lining stays underneath the lace.  There is a side zipper put in by hand using a pick stitch.  I deviated from the original pattern and created a double spaghetti strap instead of a wide strap.  And as for the lace hem, I placed the pattern piece so that I could take advantage of the gorgeous decorative edge of the lace.  Once the skirt turns the corner at the squared off hem, obviously you’re in the heart of the lace and there’s no longer the lace selvedge.  So for continuity sake, I carefully cut away a section of the decorative border and hand appliquéd it on the other side of the hem point, placing the lace pattern so that it turned the corner seamlessly.

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Carolina Herrera, Gray and Ivory Coup De Velours, Clair de Lune gowns, Fall 1981

Hello Everyone!  I’m busy at work finishing up a garment that I CANNOT wait to show you!  You’ll have to stay tuned.  In the meantime, I thought I would introduce you to a fantastic fashion space in Atlanta that you may not know about yet.  Those of you who live in New York, London or Paris are so fortunate to have your pick of museums to visit to see amazing fashion exhibits.  And honestly, nothing really compares to the shows I’ve seen at the Met, the V&A, or the Palais Galliera.  But if I can’t jump on a plane, I can go down the street to SCAD FASH, a truly gorgeous museum space at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Carolina Herrera, Cotton Voile Pink and White Toile Print Gown (Spring 2007) and Pale Blue Twill Gown with Cowl Neckline and Candy Stripe Strap (Resort 2003) Carolina Herrera, White and Black Pinstripe Taffeta Gown with Orange Gazar Strap Detail (Spring 2004) and Rust Dress with Crocodile Macramé Halter Top (Spring 2004)

It’s important to know that the museum is not visible from Peachtree Street.  To get there, you’ve got to pull in the driveway passing the main building and enter the parking deck at the back.  At the rear of the parking garage, there are elevators lit up with neon signs announcing that you have found SCAD FASH.  I tell you all this because I have heard that some potential visitors were confused about where to go or were intimidated and left without going in.  Don’t be nervous, guys!  Park and get on that elevator!

A Collection of Carolina Herrera Wedding Gowns Carolina Herrera, Ivory Sleeveless Dress with Smocked Georgette Bodice Embellished with Multicolored Beads (Spring 2008) and Porcelain Viscose Panama Top with Matching Pencil Pant (Spring 2014)

When the elevator doors open, you are welcomed into a lovely lobby with staff (SCAD students) who are decked out in white smocks as if they were employed in an atelier.  And let me just praise the museum staff for just a moment.  These students are very well informed and incredibly friendly.  They make a point to let you know that they are available to answer any questions you may have.  Each time I have visited, I’ve had informative conversations that enriched my experience.  For the Carolina Herrera show (pictured above), the staff carried iPads with photographs of the celebrities who wore the garments.

Threads of History, Two Hundred Years of Fashion

I have been so impressed with the choices that the museum has made in displaying the garments.  The Carolina Herrera show was in a clean, white space with interesting poses while the Threads of History exhibit was complete with sets straight out of a period drama.  I really appreciate the creativity and the attention to detail.

Floral Dress, Courtesy of the Raffaella Piraino Collection Dress designed by House of Wirth in Black Silk Tulle with Lace Appliqué (Circa 1903) and High Necked Gown in Woven Black Silk Damask and Black Silk Chiffon with Black Sequin Florettes (Circa 1905)

I think that the Threads of History show just recently came down.  The last time I visited, I begged the staff to share with me what was up next and I’m told that it’s going to be a good one.  Shoes: Pleasure and Pain!!!!!  It opens mid-April and I can’t wait!

Threads of History, Two Hundred Years of Fashion SCAD FASH Bookstore and Salon Outdoor Seating and the Atlanta Skyline at SCAD FASH

If you are interested in visiting, you can find them at 1600 Peachtree Street in Atlanta, (404) 253-3132.

Have a great week!  I’ll see you soon!

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And the Oscar goes to……..well, definitely not me! (Or LaLa Land either apparently. Oops!!) This dress would decidedly not win any awards. It’s a garment I made a few years ago. Have I worn it? Not once. Do I like it? Not really. Do I consider it a success? YES, without a doubt.

I’m starting to realize that all of us are a little screwed up when it comes to measuring our success. Too many times, we are looking for external approval. And the world definitely supports this approach to evaluating our accomplishments. There are awards, promotions at work, likes, followers, on and on. I think it’s gotten out of hand. The other day I was reading a really touching, almost heartbreaking post written by a woman lamenting that Instagram must not be her community. She just wasn’t feeling the love. I happen to really enjoy her posts so I wondered if it was just me. I checked her followers and found that she has almost 40,000!! And she’s not feeling the love?! What?! That’s not enough?!

What are we Creatives to do if the measure of our success is all about the numbers? Frankly, I wouldn’t be able to make anything if the standard that I’m going to judge the work by is how many people like it. I also would have a lot of trouble creating anything if it had to be considered a work of genius setting the fashion world on fire. Last time I checked, I’m not Iris Van Herpen. And what a freeing idea that is! I can remove that burden from my shoulders and focus more on the happiness that comes from an artistic endeavor.

It helps me to move past my mental blocks if I define what it is that I’m trying to do. For this dress, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I wanted to make my first garment made out of silk charmeuse. Did I experience a lot of frustration? Yes. Did I want to toss it in the trash frequently? Oh, yeah, did I ever! Did I have a sense of undeniable joy that I persisted? Absolutely. And did I learn some new skills, but even more importantly learn something about myself? I sure did.  Did I want to show everyone what I made?  No!  Honestly, I’m so hard on myself that it’s just plain ridiculous.  But I meet a lot of people just like me in this regard and I think it’s time we let ourselves off the hook and learn how to appreciate our accomplishments and enjoy ourselves and our talents much more.

Sometimes, it’s what’s on the inside, not the outside, that really counts.

Pattern, Marfy 2168

Fabric, Silk Charmeuse in Toasted, Mood Fabrics

Photography by Santiago Vanegas

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