Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Little Things

Sometimes, beauty can be in the little things... an embroidery stitch used to seam-finish a gathered ruffle on a petticoat.  

It's not a petticoat meant to be seen, it's a good 3" too short for that - but I'll see it.  I'll see it in my closet, and I'll see it when I put it on.  I'll know it's there.  I'll enjoy the craftsmanship I put into making it.

And that - that knowing - will put just a tiny extra spring in my step.  And that will make me just a tiny bit lovelier.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Style Books

I hit an estate sale this weekend and added to my library of style books.  Oddly, most of the best seem to be written between '75-'87.  The ones before seem to try to cram you into a conformist block (white gloves, dahling!) and the ones after just give you lists of the au courant 'must haves' and no tools to determine what is or is not a good plan for your figure, coloring, and life.

I'm sure this list will change, but for now - here are my favorites:

Color Me Beautiful -  It's the best.  I know, it can get a wee bit hackneyed - any style guide 30 years old is bound to be a bit hackneyed.  Go with that and go forward, with your colors known and cherished.  Also this has the best "personal style" reference I've read, ever.  The other additional editions?  Useless!  Just the first one.  Only the first one.  1987.

Dressing Rich -  I'm a lower-middle-class SoCal gal, so pretty much everything I know about dressing in quality, I know from reading this book.  Extensive sections on various fabrics, and possibly the best section on neutrals, period.  Great discussion of "don'ts".  May (may!) drag this brightly colored flower into sophistication yet.  Or not.  ;)

Quality, Taste, and Style  The only modern style book on my list.  Tim Gunn gives some great advice on cleaning out the closet - mentally as well as physically.

Looking Terrific  Picked this up this weekend - this is going to stay on my shelves, for certain.  Has a really excellent - and long - discussion about clothing and its effect on emotions, in both directions. 

The Dress Doctor  Just for fun - the oldest style book in my collection.  An autobiography of Edith Head, fashionista to the stars.... worth it for the pictures of Grace Kelly if nothing else. 

As with any other subject matter, there is much to be studied, much to be learned, much to be understood.  One book doesn't do the full subject - any subject - justice. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Price of Everything, the Value of Nothing

One of the reasons that women have made their clothing themselves, classically, was to save money.  Back in the day where a dress commonly retailed for over $100 (adjusted for inflation), making something yourself was a wise and frugal choice. 

What has changed is that clothing is now mass-produced by extremely-low-wage-earning people, and is made with extremely low-quality fabric.  The "Wal-Mart-ization" of clothing isn't a small change, it's just that it's been so incremental that it's hardly been noticed.  I can remember spending $30 for a blouse... as a teenager.  What's odd is that I almost never spend that much as an adult, 20 years later.  That means that clothing prices haven't changed although everything else has.

Of course as a home sewer, until you're near-professional *and* have some very sweet fabric sources, you're never going to pop out a $5 tshirt.  I don't even bother trying - if I want a tshirt, I go buy one.  (I do have a tshirt pattern I'm meaning to try that's a bit nicer than usual... but that's certainly the exception to the rule!)  I might make a $15 shell someday.... but that's about as cheap as it's going to get unless I choose to recycle fabric from the thrift store (a decent option, if one lives by a decent thrift store).

Instead of comparing our home-made items to the items made by laborers in Burma, perhaps we might compare it to a dress from Anthropologie.  You'll here find a dress from Anthropologie with a source of pattern and cloth to replicate it.  $210?  I think  you could make that dress for a tenth of that!  A quarter, if you bought the pattern at full price.

Or one could compare one's home efforts with home efforts of the past - I had a very tempting moment this week when I found one of the vintage shops I source images from had a dress that had *my* measurements.  Homemade dress, used, vintage... $65. 

Five yards fabric, at $7/yard:  $35  (This will make me a dress with a full skirt, like Colette's Crepe dress, or the infamous '52 remake from McCalls). 
Notions, misc:  $10 (bias tape and interfacing, thread, whatever - this estimate is probably high)

Time to prep fabric/cut:  3 hours (have you ever ironed 5 yards of cotton? And yes, it has to be perfect).
Time to do basic sewing:  3 hours  (yes, if everything is going swimmingly, that's it).
Time to do finishing sewing:  3 hours (estimating high again, but who knows, I might have decided to hand-sew the hem).

I was tempted to calculate my time as a separate entry... and if I were selling my efforts, I would do so.  However, I'm a housewife, and primarily I'm at home to make sure that my husband walks in to a hot meal and my children are looked after, so sewing is my hobby.  It's not like I'd be working elsewhere if I weren't sewing.  Gracious, with the last couple of months and having hardly waved at my sewing machine, it's certainly not the center of my life. 

So, let's call it $50.  A cute dress for $50... well, that does sound less-than-frugal if you compare it with discount stores.  But very soon now, it's going to stop sounding quite so indulgent.  Why?

Oh, I was at Target two days ago, filling out the kids' wardrobes.  Target.  Hardly the most expensive place to pick out your pretties.  Do you want to know what they were asking for a girl's sundress?  $20.  Now, I can make a sundress for a good bit less than that!  (See my 'free' scrap dresses that my daughter lives in).  A few of their nicer things?  I'm looking at $30-40 price tags.  At Target?  I've bought clothes for myself there - I don't do it anymore because I prefer that my tshirts not require additional layers.

Same day, I walked through Joanne's.  They were running their standard 40% off sale - this time it was on their pre-smocked fabrics.  I stopped to take a look and realised that for the time it will take me to sew a seam, my daughter can have an instant skirt.  If I decide that the fabric is long enough, I'll add some ribbon straps and she'll have a dress instead.  This may take me all of half an hour, including ironing, setting up my sewing machine, and tracking down 8yo to hold the fabric up to her and decide on skirt vs. dress. 

This stuff is even gathered and hemmed already!  I *literally* only have to sew up the side seam.  Oh.  It was $12.50 after the discount.  If it ends up being a dress, I'm quite a good bit in the black.  If it's a skirt - I'm even.  :)
So.  The price of everything, the value of nothing... how do you decide what hand-crafting anything is worth?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Suit a la Gertie

I am very excited to say that my big summer/fall project is going to be sewing a suit!  I have signed up for tailoring lessons online, via Craftsy.  This is a huge step for your faithful correspondent - I've only made a few things out of wool, and I'm still working on nailing my fitting. 

But when I saw this suit on Gertie's Blog for Better Sewing, I fell madly in love.  It's perfect!  Feminine fit, not fussy in the details, and a full skirt.  Well.  It's *almost* perfect, because a full circle skirt out of wool is a wee bit much for me to carry off.

This is where knowing your body and what works and what doesn't fits in.  While my lack-of-hips is something that I generally work around with a full skirt, I don't want the bulk on my abdomen that a circle skirt provides.  What to do?  Well, I surfed around on the internet a bit, and realised that a six-gore skirt might be just the trick.  It can be made quite full on the bottom (I need balancing out) but remains flat over the upper belly.  (I have a pinterest board up for all my musings: which has pictures of the various items under discussion)

I'm going to be remaking a six-gore walking skirt that I have in my closet, so that should be a good trial for flattery, and I need some summer skirts in general, so between the two, I should *hopefully* get a solid idea of "will this look good" well before I touch scissors to wool.

Oh.  You want to see?  Yes.  Of course you do.  I found the most beautiful geranium-colored melton wool.

And no, no one touches the wool with anything until we're very very certain about what comes next. 

Off for a busy week... I hope to sew soon!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Seasonal Colors, Finding Yours (the crib notes)

Sis asked, "How do I know what season I am?" and I thought that deserved its own reply post.

First, start off on the sidebar -

Next:  If you don't want to buy the book (remember: the first version only, with four seasons, not 12), I'll give you the gist.   (The book is nice, if for no other reason than you get a full palette of 'your colors' - and there's a good chance at finding it at a used bookstore, since it dates from the early 80s).

Having gotten some bits of fabric in radically different colors and sorted things into "that looks nice" and "oh dear, am I coming down with something?" you then put the colors that work well into a general category.  Winters wear cold/clear colors - white, black, clear greys, jewel tones (ruby, emerald, sapphire).  Springs wear warm/clear colors - turquoise, coral, light navy.  Summers wear cool/muted colors - soft greys, navy, all the true pastels (pink, baby blue, baby yellow).  Autumns wear warm/muted colors - browns, forest greens, orange. 

There will be crossover!  I have very vivid coloring, and I've gotten tagged as both a Summer and a Winter, while I am actually a strong Spring.  How did I tell?  I pulled up lavender (Summer) and black&white in a stripe (Winter) and tried them... awful.   I would say that those would be great check-colors, and straight pumpkin orange (or Hershey brown) is a good check for Autumn.  For Spring?  Probably a greenish-super-bright-turquoise, which is just going to be a bit *much* on everyone else.  Springs can wear the most outlandish colors... even more so when they're young.  I used to actually look *good* in electric coral.  I know, scary stuff. 

When you're sniffing down the trail, a starting point can be your original skin and hair color.  Are you warm or cool toned?  You flip your arm over and look at your wrist - is it ivory or pinkish?  Is the palm of your hand corally/peach or more of a true pink?  That will help you aim for cool or warm.  Usually redheads are Autumns.  Sometimes you'll find a Spring who's a strawberry blonde or auburn au naturale, but the true redhead is an autumn.  Black hair, like a raven's wing?  Winter.  "Mousy" hair?  Probably a Summer.  (My 8yo's brown hair has a silvery-grey cast to it). 

Then you're looking at your natural self - are you high or low contrast?  Winters look great in high-contrast colors!  So do Springs - I love to rock blue and red or green and pink.  Instant makeup.  :)  Autumns and Summers, not so much - but they make quiet colors amazing.

Hope that gave you a start... 

Sometimes You Just Have to Try

Sorry for the lack of posting... busy season in my life right now.

Sometimes life gives you lemons, and you need to figure out how to make lemonade.  All of us would like to say that we swish around the house in our most glorious clothing all the day long - but it's not true.  Sometimes you have to go weed the garden, paint the house, clean the toilet... and sometimes  you're just not feeling all that great and you need the snuggly stuff.

The secret to looking halfway decent in these times is to pre-plan.   Find clothing that shows off some other bit of you than normal.  When I'm doing yard work, I tend to show off my muscles.  (Yes, I have muscles.  I didn't ask to be built like an Irish barmaid, but there you are).  I wear a short skort and boots and show off my calves.  Why?  Well, I'm working - so I want to look like I'm working.   Wearing colors that make your skin look good is always a plus.  Sure, you might be wearing something paint-splotched, but if it looked good on you before you dumped the paint on it, it still doesn't look *bad* on you... just  paint-y.  Instead of your normal hairdressing, braid yourself some pigtails and put on a jaunty bandanna.  Your hair will stay neat and out of your way (thousands of years of working women can't be wrong) and you'll look cute and intentional.

That's the whole point, really - look intentional.   You can look absolutely adorable in your work-wear, if you go all the way and work it.

When you're sick - well, no one looks good when they've got a cold.  I know that wasting away with tuberculosis was once somewhat in fashion, but those days are long gone.  I have a cold this weekend and I was thrilled to find that one of my sweaters that normally doesn't do that much for me is perfect for sloughing around the house braless.  I paired it with a cami-tank for modesty and a long skirt for proportion... and suddenly I didn't look too horrible.  (I still didn't look *good* - grey skin and a red nose are never in style - but I looked like I cared). 

Again, it comes down to pre-planning.  Is your big fluffy bathrobe in good shape?  Your snuggle sweats or flannel nightgown - are they in good repair?  New-ish, no stains?  It's easy to let the items that we wear once in a blue moon languish until charity shops wouldn't resell them, but it can be important for your morale - and that of your family - for you to look pulled together, even when you're just wandering out for some cold medicine and another cup of tea.

I have the worst problem when it comes to this... I came from a family that wore things until they were fit for the ragbag.  My standard, when I'm sorting, is "if I donated this to a charity - would they just throw it away?"  If charity doesn't want it... I shouldn't be wearing it.

Anyway.  Super busy month... I have a ton of sewing to do and am planning a big trip to the garment district in LA next week.  I will keep you posted, at least you should enjoy my fantasy sewing.  :)  The fitting shell languishes - I've been too busy with life to give it the mental and physical energy it will need to be nailed, and that's the point - nailing it - so I am not going to go with second best.  Not this time.  Also working up some ideas for my (almost) 8yo in regards to her wardrobe - as usual, she's going into summer having thrashed her school stuff nearly completely.   Little girls should be just as pretty as big girls!!

All the best.....