Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays!!

Well, this year is starting to wind down and none too soon for me.

I am breathlessly waiting for 2011.

My goals for the last few days of 2010 are to finish some unfinished (argggh!) sewing projects and write a few more blog posts that I'll launch in the new year. I also have more fashion designer profiles to write for the Colette blog, including quartets on the great houses of couture, Hollywood costume designers, American female designers, and the designers that epitomized the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Well, I have some holiday baking to do tonight and some driving to do tomorrow. So, please be careful, be patient, and arrive safely to your destinations and have a happy holiday with your family and loved ones!! No fighting!
See ya in the New Year!

Check Out Chuck At Colette's

The architectural master of fashion, Charles James is profiled on the Colette Patterns blog today. Please enjoy!

Charles James - Architectural Engineer

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Charles James (1905-1978) American 

Photo by Cecil Beaton, 1941.

Charles James is known for creating three-dimensional, structured dresses made of flowing, luxurious materials. The clothes were heavily manufactured with pads, horsehair canvas, interfacing, boning, and wired cloth to create an inner structure despite the outside illusion of lightness and grace.

 "Petal" gown, 1951.

Comfort was something that James held second to the construction in his clothing. Halston referred to him as the Leonardo da Vinci of fashion — he was more concerned in the construction than what was seen on the surface. He was a sculptor of fabric and his designs depended on intricate cutting and precise seaming rather than outside ornamentation. His gowns were embedded with a pre-determined structure intended to shape and form the body within, hiding numerous figure flaws, if needed. However, the gowns, some requiring 25 yards of fabric and weighing up to 18 pounds, could not have been the most comfortable to wear. In fact, the observer would seem to enjoy the garments more than the actual wearer because of this rigid construction.

 "Butterfly" gown, 1955.

Rear view of "Butterfly" gown.

James often placed his design ideals before practical concerns, which was a factor in his company’s short existence. His success was hampered by the fact that he had no grasp of the costs required in ready-to wear manufacturing. He ignored wartime fabric rationing guidelines, deadlines,  and shipping orders, which resulted in accumulated fees. He was more concerned with using only the best materials and fulfilling his own perfectionist requirements for handcrafted work, in turn increasing cost, time, and labor. This eventually led to bankruptcy and years later to his death at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. 

The American Weekly 3896

Home Sewing Connection: This is an example of a Charles James sewing pattern put out by The American Weekly.

Evening dress, 1952.

His style, innovations, and influence on fashion:
  • The batwing, oval cape coat, bouffant ball gown, and asymmetrical shapes were his design hallmarks.
 "Pneumatic" satin coat, 1937.
  • His unique down-lined white satin “Pneumatic” evening coat was pictured on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1937.
  • The names for his dresses would include the “Pouff,” “Butterfly,” “Sylphide,” “Petal,” and “Four-leaf clover” gowns.
 "Four-leaf clover" gown

 The same gown worn.
  • He believed that his Four-leaf clover dress was the culmination of his career with its unique skirt of four lobes formed by an understructure that created eights sides to the skirt.
  • In his later years, James was hired by the designer Halston as a consultant for his company.
  • Since his work focused on custom designed and fitted garments for individual women, his house only created about 1,000 different designs and few of these dresses exist today.
Images: Arizona Costume Institute, Phoenix Art Museum; Brooklyn Museum; Chicago History Museum, Historic Costume & Textiles Collection at The Ohio State University.

Sources: The Genius of Charles James (1984) Elizabeth Ann Colman; Icons of Fashion: The 20th Century, Gerda Buxbaum; Fashion(2003) Christopher Breward; 100 Dresses (2010) Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Who’s Who in Fashion(2008) Anne Stegemeyer; The World’s Most Influential Fashion Designers(2010) Noel Palomo-Lovinski.

Text by Lisa/lsaspacey

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Get Your Holiday Cheer On!

How about doing it in a new dress you made yourself? Here are some lovelies available at the Dragonfly- Metamorphpursuit shop on Etsy. Why not try one of these?

Vogue 1110 SOLD
An Emanuel Ungaro design

Style 2005 $4

Vogue 2065 $5
A Badgley Mischka design

And here is a two-for-one deal, two patterns for only $8:

Vogue 1285
A Scaasi design

Vogue 9971

Robin, Robin, Come Back!

Years ago I used to buy all my clothing zippers from one fabric store. At the time, I think it was either Hancocks or Minnesota Fabrics that carried a smaller brand called Robin. I preferred this brand (still do) to Coats and Clarks, whose zippers are heavier and very stiff in comparison. The Robin's can be wrapped around your little finger, they're so flexible. However, from what I could find on the internet I don't think they're still in business. :(

Luckily, in my stash I have a few left. At some point I must have been into buying in bulk because I was able to find two zippers perfect for my two upcoming dresses and what I have left are some assorted colors in 7-inch lengths for pants and skirts. Which means in the not too far future Coats & Clarks will loom over my future projects.

There may be salvation, in close-ups on the web, the Ziplon coil zippers by YKK look pretty similar to the Robin brand. If I can find them in a store, I'll try them out. It seems you can order them on both the Hancock and Jo-Ann websites but my local stores do not seem to carry them. Do any of you use YKK zippers and how do you like them?

Also, does anyone know why Coats & Clark seem to have a monopoly in Hancock and Jo-Ann?! Why don't they sell a variety of zippers from multiple companies?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Madame Gres - Draper Extraordinaire

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Madame (Alix) Grès (1903 -1994) French  

Cloque pique dress, 1954.

Born Germaine Emilie Krebs in Paris, she worked under the name Alix Barton for years, later changing to Madame Grès. She studied sculpture and this showed in her draping, which many times resembled the marble togas on classic Grecian and Roman sculptures. Her work skimmed and flowed around the female form, celebrating but never exploiting it for the sake of fashion. Her clothes were never vulgar and always dignified.

Silk evening dress, 1974-75.

She opened her own house in 1934 under the name Alix and reopened in 1942 under the name Grès when she adopted the name of Madame Grès. During WWI, the house of Grès was allowed to remain open during the Nazi occupation of Paris. However, she then refused to dress the wives of the Nazi officers and also created controversial nationalistic collections featuring the three colors of the French flag. Not surprisingly, her salon was soon closed.

Silk gown, 1969.

Madame Grès was known to have inspired Cristobal Balenciaga to open his own house in Paris. She had refused to hire him when approached as she thought him too talented to work for someone else.

Silk jersey dress, 1965.

She created her designs by draping them instead of sketching them beforehand and was a fan of chiffon and fine silk jersey for her luxurious and diaphanous gowns. Along with Chanel, Grès advocated the use of matte silk and wool jersey as suitable fabrics for garments and also brought back the use of old stand-by fabrics like faille, taffeta, and linen.

Silk brocade evening coat, 1950.

Hollywood connection: She worked in Hollywood from 1934-1941.

Vogue 1004.

Home sewing connection: Created a series of elegant patterns for the McCall’s and Vogue sewing pattern companies.

Evening dress, late 1960s.

Her style, innovations, and influence on fashion:
  • She was known for her generous asymmetric draping atop a firm bodice structure.
  • Her goal was to use a minimum number of seams, despite sometimes using 20 yards of fabric to construct a gown.
Silk ensemble, 1970-75.
  • Grès created gowns in her favorite colors of cream, lacquer red, and a particular honey-colored jersey. Grès had a daring eye for colors, especially when creating her evening gowns in two colors.
  • In 1970, she was elected president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, the highest rank in French fashion.
Images: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. For more images view the FIT Grès Exhibition of 2008 here.

Sources: Dressmakers of France (1956) Mary Brooks Pickens, Dora Loues Miller; Secrets of the Couturiers (1984) Frances Kennett; Fashion (2003) Christopher Breward; Icons of Fashion: The 20th Century, Gerda Buxbaum, editor; 100 Dresses (2010) Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Who’s Who in Fashion, (2008) Anne Stegemeyer; The World’s Most Influential Fashion Designers (2010) Noel Palomo-Lovinski; her obituary, (1994) The Independent UK.

Madame Gres at Colette

Prepare yourself for a treat!
The fantastic and unique designs of Madame Alix Gres are examined at the Colette Patterns blog today. I hope you enjoy, as she is now one of my favorite designers.
Images: Turandot, 1967 and silk gown, 1984.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


Over the next few weeks I am going to try to load up my Etsy shop, Dragonfly, with all of the patterns that I have to sell. There will be even more as I am going to ruthlessly go through my personal pattern stash and sell the ones that I would never see myself wearing EVEN if I could afford to pay someone to make them for me. See? That's the real test. If that garment is not appealing to me at no effort on my part, then why keep it around?!

Not that there's anything wrong with them, it's just that I probably bought them so long ago that they don't fit my image of myself now.

So check out Dragonfly-Metamorphpursuit throughout the holiday season. There will be seasonal patterns, patterns for the warmer months, designer, non-designer, older 1980-era patterns, and ones from the last few years. All at lower than average Internet pattern prices too.

Happy Holidays!!!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Mariano Fortuny - The Inventor

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949) Italian

Lillian Gish in Fortuny.

Though not a true couturier, by developing a hand-made dress that would never go out of style or impede a woman’s natural figure, Mariano Fortuny made a memorable name in fashion. A renaissance man of sorts, Fortuny was a painter, inventor, sculptor, architect, and theater technician. It was this last talent that led him to working with fabric. He started his career in fashion by designing costumes for theater productions. In one, he designed his Knossos scarf of silk, rectangular in shape, and printed with asymmetrical diagrams and patterns which could be manipulated around and on the body. This was where his fashion career began.

Silk velvet gown, jacket, and Delphos dress, 1930s.

In 1907, he designed his Delphos gowns, robes whose unique fabric modification of mushroom pleating was patented in 1909. In all, he applied and registered twenty-two patents related to his many interests such as theater lightning and garment printing processes.

Fortuny detail and label, 1920.

He created these silk dresses in rich and subtle colors, simple columns of mushroom pleating in one or two-piece tunics that slipped over the head and tied at the waist with thin twisted silk cords. Because of the elasticity created by the pleating process, the hems of his garments and their sleeves were weighted with hand-blown Venetian or Murano glass beads attached to silk cords. These not only served their function but also served as embellishment.

Though the basic silhouette and design of these timeless dresses rarely varied, it was his talent in painting and the specific dying and surface manipulations applied to the original fabric that made each dress or robe unique. In addition, the variety of the fabrics he used was multiplied by the fact that he invented processes for printing color and metallic inks on fabrics that could achieve the effect of either brocade, velvet, or tapestries.

Hollywood Connection: His gowns were owned and worn by dancer Isadora Duncan and actresses Dorothy and Lillian Gish. More recently one could see Fortuny gowns in the 1997 film, The Wings of the Dove, with Helena Bonham-Carter, and styled by Sandy Powell.

Silk dress, 1920s.

His style, innovations, and influence on fashion:
  • Fortuny’s secretive patented mushroom pleating of silk pongee or silk satin was a radical discovery in the freedom of movement allowed his models.
  • His stenciled velvet fabric could resemble elaborate antique tapestries.
  • Instead of the aniline dyes in use at that time his colors were created with overlaid vegetable dyes.
  • His influences ranged from Greek and Venetian to all things Arabic and Asian inspired.
Sources: 100 Dresses, (2010) Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Who’s Who in Fashion(2009) Anne Stegemeyer; The World’s Most Influential Fashion Designers(2010) Noel Palomo-Lovinski.

Book Review: Little Green Dresses

The book is called Little Green Dresses: 50 Original Patterns for Repurposed Dresses, Tops, Skirts, and More* by Tina Sparkles.

Not only is it about repurposing old items of clothing it is also about taking a pre-existing garment, calculating a pattern, and using it to cut a new shape into the item. And when I say a "pattern" I'm not kidding. From pencil skirts to shift dresses to haltered full skirted dresses these are real patterns you are creating by using your own measurements (always a plus!) and then modify to create other options. It is the nitty-gritty way to learning how to draft patterns. That way every pattern in the book comes in your size! Who could want more?

Why this book has not received more hard copy, Internet, and blog press I really don't know? I discovered it by chance in a big box bookstore and wanted to read the whole thing right there. From beginner to intermediate sewists, definitely check this out when you have a chance! While the styling is definitely geared towards the 1980's (uber-trendy with loudly colored, patterned fabric choices, and glitter makeup) you can still see how the instructions taken on their own could be used to make more subtle designs.

A review complete with a look at some of the pages is at Whipup.
Author Tina Sparkles' own website

And, no, I did not receive a free reviewer copy...I wish! I have still only looked at this book (though pretty extensively) in the store but hopefully after the holidays this little publication will finally come home with me!

*Published by Taunton Press, publisher of Threads and Sew Stylish.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Good & Plenty Twist Top - Butterick 5429

Pattern: Butterick 5429 (2009)

Pattern Description: Sleeveless close-fitting top with front neckline twist, dropped shoulders, and stitched hem. (Note the nipped-in waist in the pattern illustration at left.)

Pattern Sizing: It came in (8-10-12-14) and I made a size 12.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Not really, as it was not as fitted as the illustration would have you believe.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes, very.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I was intrigued by the twist detail at the center front. I liked the idea of a very simple top but with interest.

Fabric Used: A lovely knit gifted from Kyle that reminds me of Good-&-Plenty candies. I think it is a nylon and spandex blend meant for swimsuits. However, it was fine for this and I used it before to make this dress.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: At first, I made no alterations. There was a construction change because of the fabric I used. Machine stitching was difficult, my machine kept skipping stitches. I ended up going over every stitching line twice, I couldn't even risk doing a zig-zag stitch. Because of this difficulty, all raw edges (neckline, sleeves and hem) were hand stitched in narrow 5/8 " hems.

If I altered the side seams it would look like the sketch.

After wearing this top for a while I realized that it was just too big and shapeless. The illustrations on the pattern were very deceptive, this top came out an almost perfect square (as seen here). There was no waist shaping like in the drawings so I decided to scoop in the side seams for more shape.

Would you sew it again? I think so, but in a smaller size and in a woven or a sturdy knit. I will still hand sew the neckline edges because it's neater and they do show at some points during the day. Also on knits I would be afraid of those edges stretching and causing ripples.

Would you recommend it to others? Yes, with those easy alterations mentioned above. This could be quite interesting with a different color, a sheer fabric, or a similar but different sized print in the upper bodice/sleeve area only.

Conclusion: An easy but interesting top.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Sewing Plans This Weekend

  • Hold a photo shoot for my latest two projects, Butterick 5429 and vintage Butterick 2564.

  • Make up the McCall's 5686 bodice muslin in a larger size.

  • Make up a muslin of the Vogue 8701 bodice. Yes, I'm buying it tonight, I couldn't help it. The pattern is still on sale and I just can't stop thinking about that dress . Also, wouldn't it be better for the gray plaid since it has darts instead of princess seams?

  • Make a pair of flannel pajama pants. Why put those off just because they're easy?!

That's it. I'm not going to push my luck. See ya next week and happy sewing!

By the way, the Colette Patterns blog posts for December are focusing on four of the great fashion innovators of the 1930s and 1940s, so don't forget to check those out every Wednesday.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Ahh, The Bodice Muslins And Some Cheating

First Try at the Muslins:

McCall's 5686

I can't show you the "real" first try because it would be scandalous because it just wouldn't fit! I had cut this one out as a size 10 at top and tapered out to a size 12 towards the waist. In order to get these pictures, I had to remove the waist darts completely and shorten the neckline darts just to close the back. You can see it is still too small because of the strained direction of the neckline tucks which should be almost vertical. Oh, and also the fact that I can raise my arms only so high...

As far as they will go...

I still like this neckline and the general idea of what this could look like, so I will be attempting a size 12 muslin of this same pattern before jumping off to use something completely different like the lovely Vogue 8701.

McCall's 4052

Here's the only decent photo of the first McCall's 4052 muslin, also in a size 10 tapering down to a 12 at the waist. Between the time I made this muslin (and it fit perfectly!) and when I posed for this picture, I had gained some weight, which is evident in the horizontal stretch marks and mono-boob situation. I also do not remember that much gaping in the neckline before.

Therefore, because of my frustration with both muslins, I then moved along to two other projects during Thanksgiving weekend. I will probably also work on a third top or bottom before returning to these dresses. Hopefully, in that time, I will get answers for this bizarre weight thing.*

How I cheated: I didn't want to trace the pattern again or paste paper to the tissue pattern to regain the size 12 seam allowances that I had cut off making a size 10. So, I used a regular office copier. Voila! Instant white borders around the pattern pieces that I could use my curved design ruler on. I will be using this technique from now on for any small pattern pieces.

*No, I did not gain the weight during the holiday weekend, but before it happened. Weird, right? I've since lost some of it by walking more.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Elsa Schiaparelli - Eccentric Chic

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) Italian

Wallis Simpson by Cecil Beaton.

Elsa Schiaparelli created simple wearable clothing with elaborate or eccentric trimmings and details. She was known for unusual, sometimes trompe l’oeil effects. In fact, her first design was for a black pullover depicting a white bow as if tied around the neck.* Once disparagingly called “the Italian artist who makes dresses” by Coco Chanel, the description was accurate. The art of her clothes was the focus, not trend-making style. She was one of the first designers to link fashion with the fine arts.

*As a bonus, a pattern for the sweater that started it all is available here.

Silk blouse, 1938-39.

Most famously known for naming a hot pink color Shocking Pink and her collaborations with Salvador Dali (“Lobster” dress, “shoe” hat) and Jean Cocteau, the great workmanship in her clothes has somewhat faded to the background. However, she left a legacy of clothes that combined elegance and immaculate tailoring. She was not afraid to be imaginative with textiles. She had no qualms using mattress ticking as a couture fabric along with new manufactured fabrics consisting of rayon, new configurations of cellophane, and a glass fiber-infused fabric called Phodophane that was used to construct her glass tunics.

Jacket, 1938-39.

As always, she produced items with a great sense of humor and fantasy. Even her perfume, Shocking, was packaged in a dressmaking dummy shaped bottle modeled on Mae West’s famous measurements.

Musical evening dress, 1939.
Bug necklace, 1938.

Her garment embellishments ranged from depictions of body parts embroidered or appliquéd on garments to illustrative and decorative pockets, labels, and highly stylized buttons as fasteners. In fact, she bolstered the button industry with her penchant for fanciful, decorative, themed buttons such as 6 to 7-inch long hand mirrors and buttons resembling various insects and circus aerialists.

Vogue 1098.

Home sewing connection: She created Vogue Paris Original Model patterns during the 1940-50s that incorporated details such as clever hidden pockets and dramatic collars and necklines.

Dinner dress, 1940.

Hollywood connection: During her work in Hollywood, she designed Mae West’s costumes for Every Day’s a Holiday (1937) and she designed costumes for Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1952’s Moulin Rouge.

Gown, 1948.
Evening ensemble, 1939.

Her style, innovations, and influence on fashion:

The "Lobster" dress, 
  • Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali designed fabric prints that she used in her clothing such as her Salvador Dali collaboration on a white evening dress emblazoned with a large red lobster for Wallis Simpson.
  • For her retail business, she created traffic-stopping window displays.
  • Her surrealistic motif of three-dimensional hands clutching the chest of a garment has been reinterpreted by many designers, most recently, Comme des Garcons in 2007 and Hussein Chalayan in 2010.
  • She was the first couturier to highlight functional zippers as part of the design. Even though they were dyed to match the fabric, they were meant to be seen.
  • First designer to delve into merchandising, she created her own line of accessories, trimmings, handbags, hats, and jewelry.
  • In 1954, she authored her autobiography, Shocking Life.

Images: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Sources: Dressmakers of France, (1956) Mary Brooks Pickens, Dora Loues Miller; Secrets of the Couturiers, (1984) Frances Kennett; Fashion (2003) Christopher Breward; 100 Dresses, (2010) Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; The World’s Most Influential Fashion Designers (2010) Noel Palomo-Lovinski.