Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How to signal absolute unavailability

I received an odd question over at Traditional Christianity - how to signal that one is absolutely unavailable for gentlemanly companionship without being sloppy?

Actually, come to think of it, it's rather a nice question.  We, as a culture, are pretty obsessed with always being attractive to the opposite sex.  To have decided that one is not interested in the least, and commit to that... that's impressive.

Feminine dress is built on a certain fragility.  It is touchable, it is brightly colored (mostly), it emphasizes the difference between a man and a woman.

Sloppy dress says, "I don't care about myself" -  and that's about all it says.  There are some in this world who deliberately target those who don't care about themselves, and regardless of your position on attention from the opposite sex, you don't want that attention.

The impression you want to give is that a) you are sufficient unto yourself  b) you care for yourself  c) that you are untouchable.  Inspiration?  Nuns, when they are not in their habits - they dress quite plainly.  You might also look to the past, when spinsters had a certain way of dressing.  Think of a headmistress of a strict girls' school, perhaps?

So.  You want to de-emphasize your hip-to-waist ratio.  You want to cut or bind your hair.  Wrists, ankles, the back of your neck... these things should be covered or deemphasized.  Makeup should be minimal and monotone at most.  (You might choose to wear makeup, but if so, it should be about balancing your complexion, not adding color).  Your clothes should be practical and neat in the extreme.  Straight lines, neutral colors... and you may wish to wear a shade duller or darker than really suits you.  White shirts, high necklines, low heels (or flats).  If you wear pants, they should be loosish - straight leg trousers, and jeans only if you're doing work that merits denim.  If you are wearing jeans, think Levi 501 straight legs, and a bit baggy.

And all of that could be terrifically fashionable if you made it a bit zippy - but you don't want to make it zippy.  You might indulge your whimsy by adding odd brooches or large watches - nothing delicate. 

Above all - neat.  Neat.Neat.Neat.  Every button buttoned, every hair in place, shoes polished, shirt ironed.  Inaccessible.  The drawbridge to this castle is up, and the moat is full of alligators.

Nothing is perfect, of course - but this is a good method.

Ah, an excellent example:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Quick Sewing Notes

Collars and facings went on the jacket today.

Also, I exceeded the number of layers that my sewing machine will eat.  It laughed.  And pointed.  And laughed.  So I did a little hand stitching to join the upper and lower collar layers.  Fortunately they are individually machine stitched to the facings/back and my handstitching isn't the only thing holding it up. 

Next, we make the windows for the inside of the bound buttonholes, and then after that, it's on to hemming and then doing the lining.  I can't believe it!  After all this time, the homestretch is in sight.  :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Classic Outfit

Today I decided to be classic casual.  This still fits with my personal style of "romantic/natural" - but overall you get the "classic" vibe.  That's because color is incredibly powerful!  Let's dissect what I wore today.

(I didn't like my hair or lack-of-makeup in the picture so I cut off my head).
Denim on the bottom.  I'm wearing a denim skirt - but denim on the bottom is as American classic casual as it comes.
White on the top.  A white tshirt this is not - no, this is a light ivory (much better for my skin tone).  It's not knit, it's a princess seamed fitted shell.  So it's a tad more formal - and looks much better on me.
Striped overshirt:  If those of you with a bit extra on top, or a bit extra all-together don't know about the overshirt trick, now is the time to learn.  An overshirt with an open front will take off pounds and distract from a full bustline without adding much bulk. 
Color palette:  Blue & White & Green.  Blue and white together - so clean and crisp.  A color combination that hits hard on "classic, classic, classic".   Adding green to blue adds a bit of nature - in this case I think it's evocative of "ocean".  And green and blue are similar enough to one another to make a fairly uninterrupted line.
Accessories (which mostly you can't see): I wore a few stone bracelets (natural), my cork mary janes (natural/feminine), carried my caramel tooled leather purse (natural/feminine) and have my hair covered/pulled back with my overused big wooden elastic comb.  (What do you call those things with the pair of combs held together with elastic, with beads or whatnot strung on the elastic?).  A white and green stone pendant on a black cord again hits the "natural" chord.
Me-made:  I made the skirt and the white shirt, which is why they fit.  My skirt is ankle length, and has some nice topstitching details.  I think that topstitching is mandatory with denim in order to make it not look homemade.  Because this is my default, tried-and-true skirt - it's very flattering.  Long full skirts are somewhat feminine by nature, of course - although this one is meant to fade into the background and I wear it as my "jeans". 
Modesty:  Yep.  Pretty darn modest.  Without making you notice the outfit as a whole as a "modest outfit".  Which is more modest, IMO - it doesn't draw attention.
And that's what I wanted today.  An outfit that looked good, looked pulled together, was flattering - and didn't draw attention.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Quick Update on the Jacket

I didn't think I'd do any sewing at all today, but found myself at my machine regardless... and now I have sleeves!  They look great, btw - thank you Lord.  (I had a lot of help and guidance, believe me - my sleeve caps are not normally this good.  If you doubt, go look at the ones I slapped on for my 8yo).

This is such a slow, slow project... I am ready to be done, honestly.  Maybe I'll get some more work in tonight.  I'd like to finish this up soon and go on to different things.

As for "how now, brown cow"... I am seriously wondering about the width.  I added a bit at the side seams, but I can't alter the front seams at this point in the game.   Bound buttonholes go in before anything else does - and while these look uneven from this angle, I assure you that they are each exactly 1.25" inches in from the edge of the jacket.  The proportions are beyond perfect, but holy cow is this jacket TIGHT right now.  :(  Then again I really cannot tell at all until things are fully assembled.  Fit.  It makes me want to stab myself with my ginghers.

Guess I'd best hope that the diet starts working soonest!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sea Turtles

I saw this fabric a couple of months ago when I was last at the semi-independent fabric store in my area and fell in love.  I didn't buy any then, but I needed to get out of the house a bit today and it came home with me. 

Then I saw this very pretty eyelet.  I *love* delicate fabrics - and I know I need to get some blouse supplies, because that's a big missing piece in my wardrobe.  With Gertie's Book for Better Sewing, there's a portrait blouse that is loose and basic and - well, I think this will be amazing.  I may line this with some cotton batiste, in fact I don't think I can get away with not doing so, even if I do wear a tank top underneath.  I don't want to over-line though, I don't want to lose the drape, and frankly it's warm here most of the time.  I have a few too many me-made blouses that are too warm to wear when it heats up around here!

Spent some quality time inventorying my fabric stash and making sketches... then I got tired before I hit the drawers of smaller scraps. 

My fabric stash might be a teensy bit scary.  It might.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sewing for my daughter: The thought process

A more philosophical post to go with yesterday's skirt reveal.

Why make clothes for my daughter in the first place:  I don't like RTW clothes for children.  Ask any mom-of-a-daughter about girls' clothes and you're likely to get an earful - at least if Daughter is past wearing little-girl clothing (which is adorable).  It's immodest, it's cheaply made (or ridiculously expensive - or both), it fits oddly... just a list of reasons.

My daughter, however, prefers the ease of RTW leggings and tshirts to endless sundresses.  -sigh-  She does like the very casual scrap dresses that I make for her occasionally, but that tends to be around-the-house wear. 

And this year we were hit with a cold snap, so even though I cranked out a pile of sundresses for my daughter to wear to school, when it got cold, that didn't work out so well. 

Further, my daughter is not thin, and apparently she is going to follow my husband's family figure.  This is fine, but it makes it murderously difficult to find a pair of jeans that fit in the children's department.
So I thought I'd go with my daughter's preferences (nothing more annoying than making something beautiful and having it hang in the closet because she doesn't want to wear it very often) and do separates.  I sewed up a bunch of knits this fall... that didn't go very well, frankly.  It took a long time, it was boring, and ... well, I don't have the touch.  Wearing ease that you plan for wovens looks sloppy on knits.  It was bad.  Better than what she bought at the store, but still bad.
So, this skirt is my attempt at making something that I can remake endlessly in different fabrics and fill her closet with. 
  • This skirt has an elastic waistband - comfortable.  
  • It's slim through the tummy, made to wear with a tshirt pulled over the top.
  • Ruffles from hip to knee - fun, childlike, flattering.  (We did find out while fitting the underskirt that daughter will look amazing in straight skirts.  But eight is not the time for that.  Fortunately she complained the whole time about it being too tight.  The underskirt got hemmed up 3" so she'd have movement room). 
  • It's simple to sew and not a total fabric pig, even with the ruffles. 
Wearability will have to be tested - she wore it to church last night over a pair of leggings, and it slipped while she was dancing.  I'll get in and tighten the elastic (again!) today.  I'll wait a while to see if this is something that she chooses to wear or if it's all about humoring the mama.
Certainly I can just tell her what to wear.  I did that last week, with the cold snap, because I had to.  But she's a child, not a doll.  She follows basic rules of fit and modesty - and after that?  Sometimes I really don't like what she comes up with, but she does.  And that's what's important in the end. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fluffy Little Skirts & Jacket Progress

I made a fluffy little denim skirt for my daughter.  This will probably end up being a TNT (tried-n-true) pattern for her.  I worked off the inspiration from the tiered skirt pattern that came with her jacket... except that while that skirt has a zipper and is below the waist (which would be deadly on 8yo) I made it an elastic waist and just started the ruffles at about the same spot on her body. 

I topstitched the hems in pink to match the butterflies.  My mom got the fabric for her.  Yes, my mom is totally a sewing enabler.
She got a little tired of having me try it on and off of her to check the elastic (love the corny face).  It ended up being a little loose yet, so I will take it in again tomorrow. 
I think this is a nice casual look for her though.  Very flattering, very comfortable.
In suit jacket news, I finished the hand tailoring (FINALLY) and sewed the front to the back.  I think I should let the center back seam out ... since I can't let it out anywhere else at this point.  Muslins when you're adding a ton of extra fabric?  Sigh.  It's always a surprise!
But I think that means my next step is sewing the collar to the body ... then we go sleeves, then we can call ourselves close to the end.  And I am sewing some pretty dresses that finish in less than a month!!!!!!!!  And then I guess I have this overcoat to make... lol. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Proportion Play

I was asked an excellent question in the comments yesterday:  Do I have a skirt length philosophy for myself?
Yes, and so should you.  Not carved into stone, but you should have a general idea of what hemlines look best on you. 
Things to take into consideration:  Your legs.  Everyone has a "best hemline" for her legs.  Usually she has two - one for knee and one for ankle.  You might also have a best thigh hemline, if your age and weight suit a miniskirt.  (My "knee" and "thigh" hemlines are about the same place).
Modesty and Function:  Are you going to be running after toddlers on a playground?  Go long.  Not so long that you trip over the hem, but more than long (and full) enough that you can touch your toes at a moment's notice without a wardrobe malfunction. 
Overall proportion:  Just because a hemline looks good on your knee, doesn't mean that a knee length skirt looks good on your body.  I took the following picture a few years ago.  I made the modifications with the picture program that came with my computer - a few properly colored rectangles.  But take a look at the difference just a few inches can make!
In the first picture you can see that the skirt could maybe use an inch to look better on my leg, but the overall effect of a calf-length skirt on me is very dowdy.  Likewise, a dropped yoke is only making my full tummy and lack-of-waist more apparent.  (And take this time to think about fabric - adorable as the rainbow flowered denim is, it's certainly making this look *very* homemade).
In the second picture I've dropped my neckline by perhaps an inch - certainly nothing extreme or immodest.  More importantly, I've widened it and squared it off, which gives the illusion of a slimmer neck.
The skirt's "waistband" has been raised and trued to my waist.  Also, I dropped the hem to high ankle length.  Result?  Visually losing about 5lb overall.  I have not changed this picture except for the colored boxes!  Taller, slimmer, dressier - with very minor changes in proportion.
And this is when I stopped sewing calf-length skirts and went to ankle-length. 

And this is a great shot of overall body proportions.  Here I have gone with my best silhouette in both pictures.  In the first, I have a different colored skirt and top.  I am visually chopped in thirds (because you can also see my leg from the knee down).  On someone 5'2" and wide?  Not great!
The second shot is my favorite dress.  Same hemlength.  Same style.  But all one color - and again, you can see how I am visually losing weight, even though my waist isn't substantially reduced from one picture to the next. 
The commentor said that she's tall.  If you have more real-estate to work with, you might do very well with two colors or a knee-length skirt.   Tea-length is a *gorgeous* length on many women... I can't wear it, but I wish that I could!
Take some pictures of what you already have and play with them.  It's easy and fun - and will give you a lot of ideas for your next shopping trek.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Successful Outfit Day

It was a good outfit day.  8yo layered up and didn't quite freeze (she said her face was cold, not much to be done about that!).  I wore a tone-on-tone monochromatic look and got lots of positive feedback.

Here's how that purple jacket is getting worn:

(The dress she's wearing is one of the four I made a few months back.  It's made out of quilting cotton.  While I don't think quilting cottons are great on adults... they are amazing for dresses for little girls!!)

We cut 8yo's hair this weekend too.  I think the shoulder length bob suits her very well.  She's a Summer, so the soft purple and cold aquas/blues look great on her.  She looks so grown in this picture!

I wore this skirt:

With a jade green tank top and cardigan - about the same color as the embroidery.  Fitted on top and poofy on the bottom and the same color all over... I think I have a winning silhouette, people.  I wear long, long skirts most of the time, I feel crazy immodest showing off my knees.  *laughs*

I really should have snapped a pic - accessorized with some green and pearl jewelry it made a very romantic yet practical look.    A long scarf in my hair, left long and pulled back softly from my face. 

Yes, it was a good outfit day.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Operation: Baby, it's cold outside!

My journey through learning to tailor took a bit of a break (and is continuing to take a bit of a break) as the mercury drops here in Southern California. 

I have never - literally - seen it this cold here, and I have lived here all my life.  Moreover, while it occasionally gets to freezing at night, I can't remember the last time we had a month where the 30s became the new nighttime normal temperatures. 

This is not a problem for me, because 1) I like wool, 2) I like silk 3) I have the option to stay inside most of the time if it suits me.

My eight-year-old daughter, however, goes to a public school.  I'm not sure about the schools where you live, but schools here are just buildings outside.  No hallways.  And the kids are expected to mill around outdoors unless they're actually in class.  Normally, this is all good.  When I am dropping my daughter off at school and it's 40 degrees?  Not so good... at least not so good with her current, "summer all the time" wardrobe.  (If you have one or two weeks of proper cold per year, and you are a growing child, a sweatshirt, a few pair of pants, and a rain jacket is all the weather gear you need.  Remember the sundresses I made her a few months ago?  Yeah, me too).

We had a bit of a discussion last week about her sartorial choices.  She wanted to wear a very snug sweatshirt that she'd gotten for Christmas, I didn't really want her to wear that out of the house.  She pointed out that her casual sweater was too chilly - even in the classroom - and the big puffy grey jacket was too warm in the classroom (the doors get opened often). 

What's a mother to do?  Well, this mother has a mother whose best friend lives not far from the Pendleton wool outlet, and had some mauve wool in stash for her daughter.  But who makes a wool jacket for an 8yo? 

That would be me.  With pink sparkly trim and a bright lining, to appeal to an 8yo's eyes (and match her bright pink wardrobe).

There was also an emergency trip to the store, to buy as many layering items as possible. 

I don't mind the cold at all, I just wish it had had the decency to give me a six-month warning, so I could sew up a weather appropriate wardrobe for both of us without rushing.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Neutral basics in the life of a non-office dweller

If you work in an office environment, the clothes that  you wear – the mood, let us say, of your clothing – is determined by that office.   You can notch your clothing up a squidge, perhaps by dressing like your boss or your boss’s boss, but you don’t go completely against the grain… at least if you want to be promoted.

If you don’t work in an office, if you are a housewife or self-employed, you have to do a bit more thinking about the mood that you want to convey. 

Mood is *always* conveyed by your clothing, and if you mix too many moods at once, you’re just going to look confused and clashy, even if you’re wearing a monochromatic outfit. 

I think that determining the mood of your clothing is the trickiest thing that we do in this modern world, where the fashion trends encourage mood-mixing.   We have very few one-mood outfits these days.  You don’t see feminine tailored suits at church or out to lunch with the ladies.   You *might* see a feminine tailored skirt with a crisp buttondown, or a tailored jacket with a pair of jeans. 

First figure out what mood you want to convey, then figure you figure out how to do that.  Yes, you’re going to mix moods – but if you mix more than two, you’ll look odd.  Trust me, I manage to clash this way more than any other. 

What will you be doing, most of the time?  How will you be presenting yourself?  With whom will you be interacting? 

If I am the mother of toddlers and I am going to spend at least an hour on the playground chasing my children, then I will look most appropriate in something with a casual (or sporty) edge to it.    If I’m going to be meeting clients of any stripe, I will want to convey a certain professionalism.  If I’m going to be staying at home with a good book,  I can indulge my softest side and go cozy.  Am I on a date with my husband?  I’m probably dressing in something feminine and tactile.

Who are you, and what style suits you best?  I spent a lot of time on pinterest figuring this out.  I run feminine-natural/sporty most of the time.   I can go quite feminine – but if I lose the natural edge, I look a bit costumey.   Likewise, if I don’t temper the natural items I like with feminine style, I get a bit lost. 

I convey that message through the fabrics that I wear, the colors that I choose, and the lines of my clothing.  Long A-line skirts are certainly feminine – but the A-line is much more natural than a tulip skirt would be!  My bubblegum pink skirt isn’t very natural, and my denim skirt isn’t terribly feminine. 

But back to neutrals.  If I’m trying to convey “feminine and natural” – probably my neutral of choice isn’t going to be a navy wool blazer.  How about a soft ivory or camel?  Maybe some denim?  Your second mood determiner is the fabric and weave.  Satin is always ultra feminine and/or sexy – it’s certainly not sporty!  Fabric choice is also determined by lifestyle and where you live.  I might adore wool (and I do) but very little of my wardrobe can consist of wool, because I live in a very warm climate.   Linen and cotton are more my speed.  I do a lot of cooking and cleaning and very little sitting around chatting – so my clothing tends to be quite washable. 

Where does that leave you?  Pick something and work with it!  You want to have forgettable pieces that you can mix with interesting pieces, just like the office dweller – it’s only that you have more choices in the base.  Will that be a few pair of great jeans?  Maybe khaki skirts?  Even shirtdresses can be mix and match basics, with a little finagling. 

Figure out your life.  Figure out what makes you tick and happy.  Figure out what you want to tell the world about yourself.  Figure out your colors.  And then get to work creating a wardrobe based on basics that you can wear into absolute shreds with no one the wiser.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The purpose of neutrals in your interchangable wardrobe

Neutrals are the invisible foundation upon which  your outfit is built.  A really great neutral isn't "seen" at all, and can thus be reworn two or three times in a week without registering its presence.

You pick your neutrals from what looks best on you - black or white or brown or navy or grey - or some combination of those colors.  The reason that the color seasons all A) give you a few neutrals and B) tell you exactly which colors those are is that you want the neutrals to match as well as is possible.  When you're first building a wardrobe, you want to pick a couple of neutrals and go.  Sure, someone with a lot of closet space, a lot of money, or decades spent working on the project can have a variety of neutrals to go-to, but that person doesn't need to read this blog.

I started out by saying that neutrals are invisible.  This is true because that's what you use them for - to build your outfit - and it is not-true, because they shape the mood of what you're wearing.   Let's take black pants for example.  My mom, an executive for twenty years, has any number of pair of black wool slacks.  Unless I'm comparing them, I really can't tell the difference at a glance.  Why?  Because minor style differences aside, they're all about the same quality - and she wears the same basic style all the time (it's the one that's the most flattering to her figure). 

If, instead of her wool slacks, she were to throw on some black cotton leggings - would you notice?  Of course.  And those leggings - no matter how new - would not be appropriate for an executive to wear to the office.  Likewise, if she traded in the wool slacks for some black jeans, she's going to look sporty, regardless of what else she wears.  Quality also matters - she gets good quality black slacks that she *can* wear a couple of times/week without pilling, sagging, or bagging.  They aren't couture (and yes, you'd notice a really sharp pair just as you would low-quality gear) but they're right for her.  When she has that big meeting, you can bet she's breaking out the best she has. 

Were she to radically change up the style of the black pants - say, to wear a very obvious wide-leg trouser, or maybe some bell-bottoms... the added style makes the pant instantly less invisible.  This is good when you're choosing your second or third pair of black slacks... not so good when they're your only pair. 

The "classic" shape is determined by what has been worn for the last decade more than it is determined by your body shape.  This is a pity, but there you are.  If I were to go to work in an office, I wouldn't wear my long A-line skirts, because the voluminous profile is not at all invisible in this fashion moment.  There are subtle variations in the classic line of office wear skirts and pants, but they change slowly enough that  you have to be a decade out of style to be obvious. 

Neutral basics are where every style book in the world will tell you to put your pennies.  Because while neutrals are invisible, they speak straight to the subconscious.  A sharp pair of classic slacks in a great fabric with good details vs. something that doesn't quite fit and is a little shiny in places where it oughtn't... instant status changer.  

So, you have your neutral blouse, your neutral shoes, your neutral pants and your neutral jacket.  If you've been careful they all match and you can make a monochromatic look or you can start adding in your secondary neutrals (classic colors in classic silhouettes that aren't neutrals) for basic looks that can be accessorized to suit. 

I've been using office wear as an example, because office dwellers have the biggest need to have a certain "look" all the time. Next up, neutrals for those outside the corporate jungle.

Personal notes:
Last night I went tonal monochromatic - I wore a green skirt with a green sweater and a green tank.  (Yes, upgrading "tank" to "blouse" is worthwhile ... but I haven't done it yet - put it on that list of mine, k?)  With that outfit (secondary colors) I could have thrown on a strand of pearls and put my hair in a bun for a classic look - but I wanted to have a bit of fun.  So I wore a faux rose in my hair, put red earrings in, and wore a rose bracelet.  The greeter at church asked me if I was a flower garden!  (Since that was the point of the outfit, I was pleased).  Trading the accessories around, or trading in one part of that outfit for another would have made a totally different effect, a totally different mood - and *that* is the point of using neutrals to best effect.

I seem to have managed a wardrobe of ivory and navy neutrals with green as my secondary color.  That surprises me a bit, I'm more of a blue person in my head... or turquoise.  But it's so hard to find blues that match really well, and just forget turquoise unless it's from the same dye lot.  (Worse than navy for that.  You've heard - navy matches anything... except navy.  Same goes for turquoise).