Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Finally Wearing the Family Jewels

Jenny and Ethel: the great-great aunts who shaped and absolutely ruled my mother's family. To do justice to their stories will be another post, but for now I'll say that this amber necklace was bequeathed most particularly to me by Aunt Ethel, on account of how well it suited my coloring, in her expert opinion. Aunt Ethel was a dressmaker, a chicken farmer, a flower gardener, a tyrant. She was a handsome and stately woman who kept her long straight hair colored honey-blond and idiosyncratically arranged in Heidi braids coiled on top of her head far into her eighties.

This necklace came to her by way of her youngest niece, my Aunt Polly (now herself in her eighties), a souvenir of Polly's unusual visit to the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. The amber is a spectacular color, and has always been much admired in my family for its beauty and exotic provenance. I knew I was to receive this necklace from my teens, and even then I wondered when and how I could ever possibly wear it.

For I, unlike Aunt Ethel, am neither stately nor handsome. On a good day I am rounded and curly and petite and modestly pretty, but as I progress into middle age it is becoming ever clearer that I will never be queenly in the manner of my formidable great-great aunts. It's not easy for me to stand up to this necklace.

But I think I've finally got a dress that can serve as a foil for the amber! Another variation on the New Look 6700 t-shirt dress theme.

If you too are destined from birth to be flattered by amber tones, FabricMart Fabrics still has some of this poly stretch velvet! If only it were actually warm to wear, this would be a perfect fabric to me. I have big plans for a silk jersey full slip to wear under this and other poly dresses this winter, so I hope to overcome this issue.

For this version of this dress, I was smart enough to use a center back seam. I shortened the skirt a total of nearly two inches at the center back (using a combination of a wedge swayback adjustment and a further reduction at the waistline seam), and the fit in the back is greatly improved from last week's version of this same dress. Last week's dress attempted to use darts to remove the excess fabric at the swayback, but it turns out I needed to reduce the length at that area rather than the width.

Originally I planned a high cowl or relaxed turtleneck finish for this dress, but it just didn't look right. The velvet did not drape nicely, so I removed the cowl and replaced it with a band.

I'm super-duper happy with this dress. I've worn it comfortably all day, through cleaning and cooking and sewing and driving, and now I'm getting ready to take it out dancing tonight! Minus the necklace, though--that would be a real hazard flying around!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Knit Dress + Tights = Comfort and Happiness

New goal: reduce the number of items congregating around my waist in winter clothing. On a cold day, a jeans-and-top type of outfit could include pants, long underwear, underwear, undershirt and shirt--and all of these would be stopping somewhere in the region around my middle.

Putting the issue of flattering a middle-aged figure aside for a moment, the process of keeping all these bits and pieces in the right position with relation to one another makes me crazy over the course of a day.

So I am exploring different outfit formulas that minimize the number of things that meet around my middle. Dress + tights (with the addition of scarves and a cardigan for warmth when needed) could be a great formula.

Simple as it is, I am still enjoying New Look 6700, an oldie but goody from the (guessing) late 80s or early 90s.

To eliminate the need for a separate half slip (another thing sitting at the waist!), I lined the skirt portion of the dress with knit tricot. This could work out really well. The tricot is almost weightless, inexpensive and it should eliminate any clinging to my tights or leggings. I must wait to see if static becomes a problem in the dry winter air.

The sleeves and flower are from a former tube dress, found at the Goodwill Outlet (locally known as "the bins"), where everything is sold by the pound. This piece of trash/treasure probably cost about 50 cents (it was one of several items, so I don't know exactly, but a tube dress is not heavy). Of course I should have taken a photo of the piece before cutting it up, but it was this type of dress:

I used the shirred portion of the bodice to make the lower edge of the sleeves. Although it was a little difficult to line up for cutting, it worked out great. I love a tight-fitting lower sleeve; it keeps me warmer and makes layering cardigans much easier.

Not a fan of this view, but I am committed to honest reporting and an honest self-image. I added some darts to the area of the lower back to reduce the excess fabric there.

Even though the colors are not the greatest on me, I know I will be reaching for this dress a lot this fall and winter: something easy to throw on, with less bulk around the middle.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Butterick 5727 Fur Collar

Here's a small project that nonetheless represents a fair amount of time and trouble. Just cleaning up the mess from any faux fur project takes time.

It is rather retro and romantic, for all that.

Even though it would in theory be easy to draw a collar shape and a tie shape, cut them out and sew them together, I used Butterick 5727, a current accessories pattern. The pattern does offer two small refinements: a center back seam, to make sure the nap is the same on both ends of the collar and a separate, slightly smaller undercollar piece to be cut from a lighter-weight fabric.

Even though I had plenty of doubts about the wisdom of their methodology for constructing the ties (finishing each edge with a double-fold narrow hem), I dutifully put it to the test because I didn't have enough of my preferred fabric to cut four tie pieces from. The narrow hemming was a bust; the edges were not perfectly straight and the wrong side of my crepe fabric had a different appearance from the front.

So I went with Plan B, which would have been Plan A if not for the fabric shortage. Cutting four tie sections (from a salvaged skirt lining from a thrifted Pendleton skirt that my mother cut up and hooked into a rug), I sewed each tie right sides together and turned it right side out. This of course worked fine. If I had even more fabric, I would have cut the ties on the bias for a more drape-y bow.

I'm not so sure about this collar with the very subdued color of the top I am wearing today; my red sweater dress might be a more appropriate foil. The face-framing effect is nice, though--I can envision more collars in more colors to add a touch of whimsy to any number of basic dresses.