Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Considering the Flirty Fedora in Wool Felt

There are days when I tell people I'm a hat-maker just to be silly. There are even months even I pretend I'm a milliner with hats so beautiful that they are snatched out of the window display within minutes of their debut. There are even years when I contemplate filling out the occupation section on my income tax forms with that word: hat designer. Some decades (I've been living a while, it just doesn't readily show) I even dream of pitching it all (the residence, the family and the clothes) and just moving somewhere like Australia or England where hats are a Way of Life, not just something amusing like they are here.

Which is a sort of a long way of saying that I think that I've arrived, at least in the town of my birth (Evanston, Ill.). My first hat-making class on February 1 is nearly full. To date, no one is interested in learning how to make a poodle skirt, a tie or even an apron. But a hat? Bring it on, shut down the business office and get me signed up! I've got seven milliners-in-the-making on the list for the first workshop, another two signed up for the one on the 22nd.

Now the hat I really wanted to work on was Vogue 8175, but wouldn't you know not only is now out-of-print, it's unavailable on the Vogue Patterns web site. Views E and F - which have that 1930s tyrolean theme going - are extraordinarily easy to make. However, if it's not available to the masses, I can't use it to instruct my students. To my great (about the size of the Grand Canyon) disappointment I cannot use Vogue 8175 - although if any of my students finds it, he/she is more than welcome to use it.

So...I have to use another pattern. I'm reluctantly selecting the Flirty Fedora. My biggest reservation is that it doesn't call for wool felt, the fabric of choice for Vogue 8175. But I'm going to use the high-quality wool fiber (which differs significantly from craft felt, friends) for the fedora. It will be an experiment of the Tim Gunn "Make It Work" school of thought, but I'm really confident wool felt will be more than up to the task.

Since the wool felt is so firm, I don't think I need to do all that stitching on the brim. I don't consider the top stitching on the crown essential either. Now the profile of the fedora vs. Vogue's rendition looks a little more 1960s Twiggy or Babe Paley ready to hit the social circuits and less Katharine Hepburn or Ginger Rogers headed to the local dance club for a little jitterbug, but that's ok. But I'm cool with that alternative silhouette if my students are.

Now I might purchase the Flirty Fedora to try it on for size (where did that expression come from anyhow?), and so I can converse knowledgeably with my workshop participants. I can also have a completed project for show-and-tell, which helps all those who are visual learners. Ideally, I should have both the Vogue 8175 (it sounds like I'm talking about a product, and not some unique work of art) and the Flirty Fedora, so the two will be on hand on the first of the month. What would be nifty is if I made both hats in the same fabric, and embellished each differently. But who needs two hats in the same color, fabric? Not me. Boring!

Anyhow, part of me is hankering to make a hat in bright raincoat-yellow, something that would be a huge jolt of color in our bleak Chicago landscape. I could see that with a small brown feather, worn with a smart black and white houndstooth jacket. Shoulder pads mandatory! (That's me, although you might disagree fervently.) Vogue Fabrics only has the wool felt in black and white in the Evanston store. Rogie Sussman tells me there will be some hat-worthy felt online. For something really unique, I'd try felting - buy an ounce or two of the roving that's near the sewing machine department. Cut the hat parts, felt, sew to make a conversation piece that will start on the street and end with you getting a free drink somewhere! What do you think?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Go-To Cold Weather Scarf*

I've nothing particularly important to say, but I just that I admire a good flame-stitch pattern. So I naturally gravitate to it like a moth in search of wool to munch on wherever I see it. I own at least three different iterations of this scarf (all fabric is from Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, Ill.), it's not especially warm but it looks good against the white background of my jacket, and I adore the color segues, much like this skirt, which I plan to make one day, using a swatch from one of my fabrics.
* Here's one novelty knit fabric I don't have, but it's on sale for about $3.99 a yard in the Evanston store.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Embellishing the Hippeastrum* for Vogue 1020, the dress

This fabric floral, believe or not, is the centerpiece of a panel of one-way stretch jersey (?) that I bought the other day at Vogue Fabrics. Each panel has one massive flower for the entire length. There's actually a really long brown stalk and leaves that you don't see here that's on the backside of the dress version of Vogue 1020. It pained me greatly to separate the flower and the leaves and actually leave the flower off the back of my dress. One of these big beauties on a dress is enough and I just remembered the signature Sarah Jessica Parker dress from the movie version of "Sex in the City." One is enough, two is overkill, three makes for the beginning of a garden if you know the dress I'm talking about. Anyhow, I don't have a mint green thumb, so I'm not entirely confident that the flower above is a Hippeastrum, but it looks like the one on this Wiki page. Am I wrong or am I right? I was totally tempted to call this an Amaryllis, but I understand Amaryllis is often confused with Hippeastrum, and I'd like to get the correct name of the plant if it's going front and center on the garment I'm sewing. Any flower experts out there?
* I decorated the center of the flower with glitzy blue dot Hot Fix transfers also on sale at Vogue Fabrics. It was $1.29 a yard. I bought a 1/4 of a yard, plenty for my purposes!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

From the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey School of Amazing Feats: the Felt Hat

Both views of this hat are from out-of-print Vogue 8175. That said, I'm gravitating like a magnetized pair of scissors to the one on on top. That's the one I need to wear today to detract any attention from my cold-ravaged pink nose and for a jolt of color on this dreary, overcast Saturday morning. I'm not even sure what coat I'd team up either one of the beauties with, but I'm just in love with how retro these hats are...just the thing that either Katharine Hepburn or Ginger Rogers would wear in any one of their movies from the 1930s or 1940s, paired with some ultra-padded coat or jacket just like the model in the above photos.

If you do happen to take my class (and I urge you to do so because there's a contest. If you wear what I consider the best hat to class, you will a prize and your picture will end up on the Vogue Fabrics web site), you will find this hat extraordinarily easy to make. Since it's completely made up of felt, you don't have to finish the edges. None at all. There are no also wires involved in the making of this topper for you techno-phobes. Zilch, making this hat even easier than making a Play-Doh dinosaur. If you can operate a sewing machine, you can sew this pattern (we're talking about the hat itself, not the envelope and the instructions, ok?). The felt is stiffer than day-old Wonder bread so at it doesn't need any interfacing or wiring for the brim to stand up. How's that an amazing trick worthy of Ringley Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus? There's a good chance that you'll make it in the correct size from the get-go. Most women have heads that measure about 22 inches around, I've found, give or a fraction of an inch or so. Doesn't matter what shape, length or width the rest of your body conforms to. Most of us ladyfolk really do have noggins about the same circumference. However, even if the entire class uses the exact same cuts even fabric (this is what's Vogue is selling in the way of 100 percent wool felt) there's still a good chance our creations will still appear unalike in the end. Here's why: we'll embellish them in our own way. Some of us will opt for a buckle, others a feather, others for something even completely unique.
I can imagine a group photo afterwards. I'd imagine it'd look like a head shot of a group of Rockettes with all our hats, contrasting but the same. For those of you who don't live anywhere near Evanston, Ill., how would you make this hat? Felt or something else?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Only One Organizer for Now

Organizing fabrics. It's the kind of task you might reserve on a day when you're snowed in, your social life has hit a temporary lull or you're just feeling too darn lazy to even touch the sewing machine. My attempt to get organized comes courtesy of the latest issue of Threads Magazine, which sent my nimble fingers flying to my laptop keyboard. Electrons firing, I quickly found this site, where I promptly all three files on my desktop. Naturally, ink levels were low at the moment of creativity so organizational output was limited to the number of sheets that could be printed with minimal fading. A few hours of printing, writing and snipping swatches later, I'd like to say I felt a sense of peace and order, but no, the bedroom is a mess since I refuse to put away what jerseys, vintage cottons and whatever else I have until it's all down on paper. To make this exercise worthwhile and enjoyable, I recommend the following:

1. Keep it fun. If you just keep writing 2 yards, 60 inches wide, and where you bought the yardage, you will quickly fall asleep. I'm telling you. Fabric is soft, and comfortable. Surrounded by the stuff, you will quickly slumber. So write some funny stuff: "I saw Tim Gunn on my way to Mood Fabrics when I bought this!" or even "This would be perfect for that Mad Men dress pattern Simplicity has now!" Anything, besides the nonsensical notes that perhaps only a librarian could appreciate. Remember, she too might hit the books (with her head) if you don't keep it interesting. I know, what librarian will read this? You never know. Your binder could end up in a university collection somewhere, somehow. Your niece might even read it. Who knows?

2. Actually plonk the pages in a binder. I haven't done this yet. All pages to date are in their plastic sleeves, eagerly awaiting new life with three rings. If you don't do this part, your information will remain in a folder, useless.

3. Put the binder with your collection. This is the hardest part, because the temptation is to position it on a shelf nearby. Resist with all your will! Park the binder with your stash. Create a little pocket on your bin if you must. Sew a slot. Stick all the pages on one big ring, slide that onto the wire rim of your bin, as I might do. Please Put your scribbles and notes where they're most useful. Besides, if there's an emergency you can pull that first, then figure out what's most worthy of a rescue.

4. Forget divvying up fabric types. Just document, document, document! You're gonna get tired of doing this before you even finish. So you just do what you can. I've cotton, jersey, and wool swatches sharing a single page. They're happy together, so am I just as long as I can find these gems when I need to later.

5. Don't feel bad if you abandon this project. If I do, I'll report back to you. We'll commiserate.

6. Sell and donate what you don't like. You'll just be making room for better stuff.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why You Really Need to Make An Apron This Year*

Notice I didn't say buy an apron or even excavate one from the kitchen drawer. No. I distinctly stated, "make." Now, you can do this many ways, but probably the easiest and most straightforward way to create the cooking/baking cover-all is to sew. And do it on your sewing machine, or borrow one if you must. Or you can even take my class at Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, Ill.* Now for those of you have already have mastered the art of stitching cotton fabric without creating lumpy loops of thread underneath your work, you do not need my workshop. That said, here's another reason why you might want to consider registering (I never say should - I think it's a dirty word.). My workshop is all about the experience, the getting ready. I've asked my students to dress up in 1950s vintage. The best-dressed receives a prize and picture on the aforementioned store's web site. Use of retro-style fabrics is especially encouraged. Now, when was the last time any of you wore high heels to go to a sewing class? Personally, I can't. It must have been in a previous life when I didn't have any bunions. So you get the triple the fun. 1. Picking out the prettiest cotton print for your work of art. 2. Thinking about what you're going to wear on your Big Day. (For those of you who think a Big Day can only be a graduation or a wedding, well, I recommend you start thinking differently if only so you can enjoy life more! 3. The tremendous fun wearing what you've chosen to the store (all the employees will ooh and aah your entire ensemble, I promise), plus the pure pleasure of sewing in the company of likeminded hobbyists! Finally, you'll have everlasting pictures of this special time in your life that you can share with others for days, weeks, months and years afterwards. All that for $45 isn't too Shabby Chic.

Even if you don't sign up, I highly recommend making an apron this year. Along with losing weight and firing up your crockpot (two goals which seem contradictory, actually), this one would be a great add-on to your to-do list. Making an apron is wearable, practical art. So few other garments in a person's wardrobe is as decorative as this one. It can be embellished and personalized in so many different ways. It's kind of like all casino bets are off when it comes to creating something to wear in the kitchen. You can be a kid. Want a dollop of rick-rack? Slap it on. Lace? Try using a wing-needle and heirloom lace. Crochet? Add it on by hand afterward. A monogram just like Laverne's? Go to it. Stitching an apron is appealing because the construction is so simple. One size truly fits all. No zippers, buttons or D-rings unless you want to add them. It's hard to screw up an apron, really. You could even glue it together if you were so inspired.

The best part? You choose any fabric you like. Cotton is the most durable, and the most likely to hold up when you spill the olive oil or soy sauce. And there's so much out there. Vogue Fabrics has shelves upon shelves (unlike the other fabrics which is sorted on tables) of quilting fabrics. You can also shop online (Inauguration Garden intrigues me. Is this intended for Jan. 20?) IN the actual store, my favorite cottons right now are the bandana prints in an array of colors. Each time I look at those I think the Bedazzler. I don't know why, and I don't particularly want to put crystals on my apron. Going in another direction, you can't go wrong with the delightful prints here. I like Road Trip, to remind me of family vacations gone awry. Or what about Playground Playmate (it sounds like an adult game)? If you're a typeface aficionado, American Style is grand too. Of course, you can always, always raid your stash for your apronry adventure. In fact, I'd recommend starting there, and add something blue, then something new, just like something you brides might do. Leave links to your preferred prints in the links. Thanks!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Making a 1960s Neck Tie Scares Me

On New Year's Day my mother and I braved the cold to see West Side Story at the Music Box Theater in Chicago. We saw the restored 70 mm film, viewing it just as it was shown in 1961 or thereabout. I badly wanted Rita Moreno's lavender dress (ruffled with lace on the inside of her swishy skirt), figuring it could be just the thing I need for landing more dance partners here in the Windy City. Aside from that, I admired the "Cool Boy" ties on the guys. I wanted to study them more, but you can't freeze-frame a movie under the twinkling skies at this 1929 theatre. It just isn't done, nor would it be advisable to take a picture unless you want to incur the wrath of fellow movie-goers. Anyhow, the one that particularly struck me (and I can't find an image of it online) was a skinny slip of a burgundy tie with these abstract gold cross-bars. Truly mod.

Now, I'm teaching a 1960s tie-making class (my knees are already shaking in a Cowardly Lion sort-of-way because I really feel like I don't know what I'm doing yet), so this particular man's accessory would intrigue me, especially now as I'm putting together yet another supply list. So I was at Vogue Fabrics today, scribbling out a list, checking it thrice to find it I'm naughty or nice. And I find, I'm actually quite delightful. I picked Vogue 7104 or 8048. I reckon I can narrow the tie in either to make it "Mad Men" wide. Ok, the pattern calls for one yard of fabric, you can pick charmeuse, crepe de chine, gabardine, jacquard and something else I can't quite decipher. Both patterns call for sew-in interfacing, but Rogie at Vogue Fabrics tells me the store actually has an interfacing specifically for ties. I'm putting that in. You need thread to match, Schmetz sewing needles suited for silks, and 5/8 of a yard of lining. Am I missing anything? I've communicated with Cidell, who has been obsessed with making ties. I wish I could share that passion, it would certainly help me get over my fear of ties. I've bookmarked her mitered corners, is there anything else I should before I jump into the neck-tie abyss?

It's funny but I don't fear stitching bow-ties in the same way. They just seem...mistake-proof? Maybe I'm not intimidated because they look inherently like you shouldn't take them too seriously? I'm so looking forward to making bow-ties. In fact, I would be triply-thrilled if all my students said, "We want to make bow-ties!" I would like bow down, sobbing tears of joy, thankful that they saved me from making a neck-tie. The only difference with a bow-tie is that you need a bow-tie set. Now this isn't something you can likely find at Walmart, but you can get it at Vogue Fabrics, although I'm not sure which department. Would you believe that these Vogue patterns actually call for fusible interfacing for the bow-tie? Does that just seem like soooo uncouture? Cheap? Unworthy of the guy you're actually making the tie for (or perhaps you're making it for yourself. I would to wear it with the New Look vest reviewed in Threads magazine this month.)

Skinny tie or bow tie, I'll master it all. I firmly believe it's all about the journey. I'm learning lots already and I haven't taken a set of shears to a piece of silk. And the class itself? That should totally be a hoot and half. I'm asking all students to wear vintage, especially the early 1960s. The best outfit wins a prize (most likely a goody bag with sewing stuff) and a picture on the Vogue Fabrics web site. Now that doesn't making sewing in a group sound so much more fun? Really. It makes the trip at the sewing machine (and it's really is trip - you've got your foot to the pedal, and with the proper gadget you could probably track your stitching miles) much more fun. I'm also convinced that getting decked out will take the pressure off of perfection. This workshop is more of a party (cocktails are the only items missing although I'm sure we could go out as a group afterwards if we were so inclined) and less of a lesson. If you make a great tie, wonderful. If you don't, hopefully you still laughed a lot and soaked up something even if it's only how to lift the presser foot.

If you make a tie of either variety, you'll be "on trend" as they say in Lucky Magazine. For more, read this article. If you're feeling thrifty, print out this Burda Style pattern. I'm toying with the idea of doing a comparison between the Burda and the Vogue patterns, just for the heck of it. The Burda one actually looks easy. Just print it out on your computer versus snipping out the tissue paper in the Vogue version. Ugh. Am I being a bad sport or what?

If you were to sew a tie today, who would you make it for? Yourself, a significant other or a stylish sibling? What kind of fabric would you use? For any other more experienced sewers reading this, can you tell me what kind of Schmetz needle is best for sewing silks? I need Sandra Betzina's Fabric Savvy but I don't have it handy (it's in the Vogue Fabrics classroom). One other thing: how wide is a 1960s tie? What fabric would make it look really retro? Would you guy wear a vintage-style tie to work or would he rather be arrested? One inquiring mind in freezing Chicago wants to know. Now I've just clicked on Bowtie Bill's blog, who knew his kind still existed in Vermont? I thought it was all just the Von Trapps and downhill skiing.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The 1952 Poodle Skirt - Making A List, Checking It Twice

For a piece of apparel so closely tied to the 1950s, it's sure been hard to find an original photo of a poodle skirt from that era through a Google images search. I've found plenty from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, but nearly none from the heyday of this circle skirt, which was typically made up in wool felt and embellished with the leggy, poofy poodle. What you see above is from a Simplicity ad from that time, a bit of a disappointment since I'm really interested in seeing the different iterations of this skirt as rendered by thousands of Americans. Besides, I'm teaching a class on how to make this classic item.

Honestly, I've never owned or made a poodle skirt in the short amount of time I've spent on Earth, but I like its straightforwardness - it strikes me as a fail-proof project since it's made completely out of felt. Raw edges don't need to be finished, and any mistakes can be covered with more fabric. Probably the trickiest part of this sewing adventure would be inserting a zipper. Other than that, this project is microwave-oven-easy. The best part? The applique. Gosh, you could go utterly bumper-car beserk. Scotties and daschunds besides the abovementioned canine were all the rage back in the doo-wop era, sewers also embellished their works of arts with palm trees and decks of cards. Steph McGrath over at Columbia College's study collection just received an original felt skirt decorated with carousel ponies. Some were also adorned with silvery telephones and vinyl records surrounded by the words "See ya later, alligator, " according to this site.

These custom skirts never caught on with the adult crowd
, but it looks like in the revival, it's been trendy with all groups, even toddlers. Heck, now it's even a go-to Halloween costume, of course, associated with the neck scarf, bobby socks, a pair of black-and-white saddle shoes, a pony tail, a blouse with your initial, a wad of gum in the mouth, a saucy attitude worthy of an Ed Debevic's waitress. It seems to me the first revival came with Olivia Newton John in "Grease" and then again with "Happy Days," the television show.

For those of you who've made a poodle skirt, what's been the secret to your success beyond having a huge table to cut out more than 4 yards of felt? Here's the supply list I have thus far created for making this classic skirt on a Viking Husqvarna sewing machine (the machine of choice in the Vogue Fabrics classroom) and sewing patterns available at the store.
-- Butterick 4113 or 4114 (I'm slightly annoyed that the web site doesn't give yardage information, which means I will have to actually look at the patterns. Right now, I'm extrapolating necessaries supplies from Simplicity 3706, which I own.)
- 4 5/8 yards of 54" to 72" inches of felt (I'm going with the largest measurement in the event that students miscut or have wider-than-usual waistlines. By the way, did you know that companies used to offer poodle skirt kits? Did you know that one way to identify an original skirt is by the fabric? Sewers then were lucky to have access to large swaths of 100 percent wool felt; now, most sewers use a wool/poly blend.*)
- 1 1/4 yard of 22" to 25" lightweigh fusible interfacing
- pair of scissors or rotary cutter
- pins
- 90/14 Schmetz needles
-Gutterman or Mettler thread (I personally prefer these since they hold up better than their counterparts, I've found).
- 3/4 yard of 54" to 72" inch felt or one 9" x 12" piece of felt and 1/4 yard of 1/4" wide ribbon for dogs' collars)

Any other thoughts on what my students might need for this workshop besides a lot of gumption? Who do you think my class will appeal to, mostly teens just like it back in 1952? I'm asking all participants to dress up in vintage clothes for a contest. Best-dressed gets a prize (a bag of sewing goodies, drawn from my own stash) and a picture posted on the Vogue Fabrics site. I'm going to decked out too, so I hope people sign up. It should be a ton and half of fun. If you live in the Chicago area (the workshop is at the Evanston store), sign up for a few hours of fun on a Sunday afternoon. By the way, if you've made a poodle skirt and you want to show it off, feel free to leave a link to a photo in the comments.
* Here are some online sources for 100 percent wool felt, suitable for hat-making and other small projects, but not quite enough for a poodle skirt!