Friday 31 December 2010

February Burda...Basics dressed up as "looks"

I'm so behind!! The Russians and Germans never let us down, (at least not so far in this century) and here they come already with the February Burda preview! I'm still working on my holiday clothes, and nabbed some great black silk charmeuse for the underdress of the Vogue B-M outfit, and some royal blue silk charmeuse for a Burda ruffled blouse traced out from the ancient issue of...uh...this month. If I finish it in the next three hours, I'll be right on time to trace something new from the now-ageing issue this.January and then get right on the coming new clothes as posted here. Have a look: February Burda Preview.

Personally, I'm a little let down by the safari section. As many of you know, I happily anticipate a lot of jungle outings each spring and always do one of the Burda safari numbers. As far as I can see, however, they came up with only one genuine safari look this year, which is basically a shirt with some kind of cargo pocket over a straight skirt my cat could have drafted.

And what kind of "safari" look is this? That's just a pair of brown pants with some kind of beigey chiffony thingie which would last about five minutes on trek. So Burda, don't think that you can add sandals and a pseudo African collar to anything veldt-coloured and call it "safari!" I've been tolerating your confusion of "trench" with "safari," for some years, but this is just brown cotton, tout court.

Now for their other stand-by, the spring "marine" look. Here they do a bit better by giving us a variation on the blue and white stripes by doing it in red and black. Wow, I bet that idea took you guys weeks. And then they roll up the cuffs of some pretty ordinary "brown cotton safari pants" (now in black cotton) and call it "marine." I don't see what's so special about that T-shirt pattern, and only a red coat above, saves the day. We'll have to see if that red coat is any more special than the one I made last autumn and just wore out on a snowy day with great cheer in my heart. And there's no way I would wear my red coat with sarouel pants like hers. Actually, there's no way I would wear sarouel pants at all, unless I was in one of the two age groups requiring diapers.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

If I get a chance before Christmas, my next project is ready to go...

I couldn't resist picking up a black chiffon covered in self-fabric rosettes for the top of this design. You have to see past the garish print chosen by Badgley Mischka to see that this top has great bones with umpteen possibilities:

Saturday 11 December 2010

The January Burda

I've been away for a week, watching one kid conduct his first full concert— of Beethoven, Shostakovich and Schubert— at Cambridge Univ.  (For those of you who read A Visit From Voltaire, this is the grown-up Theo who as a little kid plays violin on New Year's Eve to soothe the fractious Party from Hell.) For over a week I wondered what the mother of the maestro should wear and whether I should sew something special. The answer is humbling: don't worry, nobody cares at a university about the mother of the maestro unless you import chocolate for the whole orchestra in your suitcase, and if you do, I realize, they're too busy munching to worry what the lady with the chocolate shipment wore. Instead of tending to my wardrobe, I spent the morning of his debut ironing the maestro's black ensemble on a broken ironing board and a low heat "safety" iron in the basement of student housing.  This was cosmic payback for a quip I made a decade ago watching Maxim Vengerov solo in a crumpled tuxedo jacket, saying, "Doesn't that kid have a mother who can iron?"
And it was so cold that I left my "MaxMara knockoff" camel coat on the whole time. It was worth it, even if it took two planes instead of one to get me to Luton and it took two days of unexpected flight cancellations including an unexpected night in a Paris hotel next to the Gare du Lyon to reach Geneva and home by TGV.
Easyjet is getting suckier by the day and it seems, even a Swiss airport can't cope with a blizzard these days. At any rate, what else would a sewer choose when offered a week's wait for a seat to Geneva, or a substitute ticket to either Warsaw, Marseille or Paris? Paris was, as I remembered it from long ago, permanently perfect. Would you believe it's back on a plane tomorrow with daughter for a college entrance interview on Monday in the UK?  Lord, let the skies be blue.

Back to sewing. Although I didn't like the preview, I'm definitely more inclined now to give the January Burda a more thorough look once the holiday madness is over. I like romantic blouses, so I'll trace the one above, and also a jacket and coat in the same late 30's mood. I'll skip the (literally) dippy skirt and unless you're built like a gazelle, I'd advise you do, too.

There's also a slinky dress that looks easy and depending on the fabric, could be partyish or just chic or in a sweatshirt flannel, very comfy. So after the first shock of the Carnival costumes, and the quick flip through the lounge lizard section that features every January, there are a few nice things here if you're in a retro mood.

P.S. I know my black leather pants were sinister-looking, but would the person using the site and then being "referred" to my blog please explain the connection? The CIA shows up in my "referral sites."Maybe I'm the preferred expert on sewing for the fashionable spy? Cool.

Sunday 21 November 2010

In praise of straight skirts and my basic "leopard" fur skirt

An Italian silk manufacturer visiting Hong Kong once told me that to start a grown-up wardrobe, every woman should have a Black Skirt. Note, he didn't say a Little Black Dress. He then started to weave visions of all the things you could put on top of that black skirt. The variety was dazzling. Eugenia at World of Eugenia just posted about a great black Vogue skirt she made with a gathered insert at the back. Elegant and versatile. Everybody should have a favourite straight skirt pattern and start with a black skirt. That's the one you learn to sew on, you know you can do in a day, you even know you can do with your eyes closed.

I think the same is true of long black trousers. During my extended illness in 2009,  I pulled on the same Vogue basic black trousers (from an OOP Wardrobe pattern) every other day to go to the clinic, varying the tops with a very limited enthusiasm, but still the doctor said, "I appreciate it that you dress so nicely." I think that was his shorthand for "not jeans."
But once you have the black skirt, it's time to play.

My daughter's first try at sewing was a Chanel-buttoned knock-off in a lovely deep blue satin using this BurdaEasy pattern. I then made the same skirt in grey stretch cotton and then in brown pleather embossed with bronze roses shown in my original posting below about "What I've sewn." Using a Vogue so OOP, it's more like Out of the Universe,  I've made two daytime skirts in tobacco brown and a khaki, both in wool gabardine, and, now, my new favourite, the leopard fur, here on the right:

Would you believe that for me, this leopard fur skirt has become a Wardrobe Basic? You'd think that it's as un-basic as they come. Yet somehow, these days, whenever I'm facing a dark, grey day, have to pick up a loved one at the hospital, or get myself out of the hospital, which is alarmingly frequent of late!, this is a pick-me-up garment. Its so soft! It goes from day to night with a sort of Donatella panache and fits right in with this season's faux fur thing. Along with the black trousers, a black skirt, grey skirt etc., and a wardrobe of turtlenecks and matching tights, the daily "what to wear" for a home office is done for me, and I can concentrate on evening wear and fun-fashion projects.

Which reminds me... it might be time to replace my original black straight skirt....


Sunday 14 November 2010

The pleather "test" pants, but do I lead a Balmain life?

Of course, these are supposed to be styled with high heels, a shiny jacket and an evening blouse, to approximate the Balmain look. Not something one wears in my village to pick up a copy of the NZZ and croissants. For the moment, however, let's talk sewing, not style. I avoided the thin vinyl that Burda lately uses, and went for a thicker pleather that worked about as easily in the hand as car seat upholstery. I'm sure, however, that these babies will love the snow and rain of a Swiss winter. They certainly are warm enough.

To pad the signature "motard" knees, I used remnants of my cashmere camel coat, and instead of stiffening glue, as instructed, I top-stitched four layers of wool to the inside of the pad on the second line from the outside, and then trimmed the wool way down, so it wouldn't peek out of the finished knee, then applied the pads using the rest of the top-stitching lines. I also trimmed as close as I dared around the outline with manicure scissors. Marking this stuff is a trial, but a ballpoint pen leaves enough of a dent and no colour, so I went with that, measuring the distance between the lines, just to make sure I'd transferred them correctly. There's no forgiving using this stuff if you sew something "wrong."
The wrinkles at the back are a little bit of a bummer but this stuff isn't the stretchiest, so that's what happens when you have a 38 waist and 42 hips. I decided to get fancy, too, and my pride dictated that even though this was a Burda Easy, I'd add top-stitching to the side and back seams in the middle of the leg, too, so it would be hard to correct the fit.

As for the leg length, I lengthened these a total of 9 cm, five at the calf and another 4 at the hem. Just right, unless I want to go for the cropped look. (I have a 33+ inch inseam.)

I also moved the invisible zipper to the back. When I say "invisible," I mean it! Why have it bungling up the hip line?

Of course, if I wanted to do the real Balmain look, I'd need more of a low-waisted jean cut, with pockets, and front zip, but I think that might be too much bulk for my silhouette. Kate Moss I'm not. These come to just about an inch below the true waist, not hiphuggers, but not Mom jeans, either.

Now, I'm wondering whether I should order the real leather from Mr. Fauck, or run these around the block for a few weeks, to see just how much of a Balmain life I'm leading...

Thursday 4 November 2010

Burda for December preview

I can only come to the conclusion, that like some strange empire on their own Byzantine, imperial, or otherwise Putin-ordered Secret Schedule, the Russians among us sew to a different calendar.

Hence, we have, and I do love getting it!  the December preview of Burda available on the Russian site which mysteriously bounced me to the German preview, click here when for months the French site has been whiffing around just trying to get up to speed on the shift from October when they were dead in L'Eau, to November.

I cannot in any way begin to match the wit and lovely bile of the Selfish Seamstress in ripping/shredding the Burda previews to delightful ridicule, but she is making curtains, (wouldjabelieve?) so let's have a sane, mature, considered look behind her busy back:

 What is that? A birdie costume? I can't wait to see how we're supposed to fend off the European cold by gluing feathers to our sleeves. Meanwhile, here they go again with weird pants. I have very long legs, but a short waist. Burda wants me to make that disproportion super, super painfully obvious to everyone with these "pull them up to your nose" pants. Do you think these will ever look normal? I've heard of carrot pants, but these strike me as turnips. I think these would look great on C.J. Cregg of West Wing, and nobody else.

But there's one thing they do every year, along with the regularity of my favourite safari issue, the over- the-top-evening-gown issue, (although I loved their "smoking" tribute to YSL this month) and the under-peopled-summer-wedding-I-wouldn't-want-to-attend-issue, and that is YES, it's the Swiss fantasy chalet feature!

Which looks ludicrous if you live all year in Switzerland as we do. I can't tell you how fast I'll be flipping the pages of these kitschy, gemütlich scenes out of Heidi. Somebody make me a martini and fast.

Thank you. Now there are three intriguing items that did catch my eye, fashion wise.
I could see borrowing these interesting sleeve designs and putting them on better items, like a real jacket or a dress that didn't fly apart as soon as you crossed your legs. Save those sleeves. And this interesting ruffled blouse, not frilly but nicely dramatic. I'd use something besides grey cotton.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Spot the Lanvin ringer....

Apparently sometime between this November 20 and 24, we're all supposed to be taking pencil sharpeners to our elbows preparing to gouge each other in a mano-a-mano for the limited new Albert Elbaz/Lanvin's exclusive, not-to-be-restocked collection for H&M. Now, I was a huge fan of the first such guest collection, done by Karl Lagerfeld, and I still wear his jackets (four) I bought in some kind of post-book-publication indulgence from that season. Never before or since have I worshipped so generously at the altar of the Swedish emporium. But, here's a preview of Albert's drool-ready party dresses, in this rather bizarre video, the Lanvin video from the Huff Post, which left me with one impression. We sewists can do an Albert, without a sweat. Just watch...

Okay, it's not hard to spot the ringer in blue. It's one I knocked up today from some silk in my stash (purchased in Hong Kong in 1980, for God's sake!) lined in bemberg, and belted, then put it on my daughter when she got home from school. She is a good sport. I hope this inspires all of you to knock up your own "Albert" in a day!
We've got patterns for these on our shelves from the wicked seers of Burda (April and June issues, 2010).  I used the "Latino" dress from April, but perhaps the June blouse has the better ruffles. Your call. You can simply double up and widen the ruffle quotient in stiffer organza silk or go for a silk crepe print, as I did. Albert's rose version would mean laying on ruffles bottom as well as top, which is way too much frosting on my personal cake, while the yellow version doubles the width of the ruffle, and the printed version means wearing the whole thing below your armpits.
On the April Burda cover (French edition) they pulled the dress off one shoulder, while on the bed photo, below, it's more sedate. But any way you cut it, I don't think its worth blinding your fellow shopper over in a catfight. Sorry, Al.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

If you're a U.S. citizen,cast your ballot! Imagine how angry you'd be if someone stole your voting rights. But if you don't vote, you gave them away. Our great grandmothers fought for your voice. Don't let those brave ladies down.

Monday 1 November 2010

My "insider," darling goddaughter

Okay, I confess, I have the advantage over all you other sewists because I have an inside track on the fashion industry. Kind of. My darling English goddaughter, known to the family as "H," and disguised in my novel, "A Visit From Voltaire" as a daughter of the "Worthy family" was tapped on the street by Elite Models in London about a year ago, and before you knew it, was on the catwalks in Amsterdam, Istanbul, Paris and London last year and this. Whew! Here she is visiting me with her Mum in Switzerland a little more than a decade ago.

and here she is on this autumn making heads turn as a beautiful woman. We are all so proud of her, and her Mum and I are riveted to the internet pages of the shows, trying to spot her in all her fashion guises. H. says modestly that the magic is  all in the makeup box, but let's face it, it helps to be 5'10", with her fabulous figure. When I run a fashion idea by her, like the Maxmara Camel Coat idea, I know I'll get a straight answer. Here she is in this season's Christopher Kane show. She did eight shows in Paris for the AW 2010 collections— a fantastic start for someone so new on the scene. And when I was in hospital last year for the Dire Worst, who was the first to "text" Auntie D. her support? Watch out for her!

Saturday 30 October 2010

Planning the Balmain "leather" skinnies

This morning's Guardian weekly fashion video How to Wear Leather video link is all about leather: dresses, trousers, pleated skirt and even shorts! So this is a leather winter, but unlike last winter, it's NOT about motorcycle jackets, although no one could tear me away from my dark red leather jacket right now. But onward...I guess until we hit the leather underwear dilemma.

 I had a pair of leather trousers I loved, back in 1983, made of dark brown calf which I'd bought very cheap in a Hong Kong outlet that supplied me with all my discounted designer items. I recall wearing them out into Hong Kong's New Territories the day I produced a team radio piece for NPR on Chinese clans. Funny how "what I wore" moments really stick. My colleague went on to greater fame and fortune at ABC News, but where did those trousers go? Anyway, here we are, full circle, back at a leather trousers moment. But do you like your ankles sticking out of your trousers? I think it would just look dumb on me.

Gemma Arterton, whom I take to be some kind of celeb, wearing the short kind of leather trousers..

Burda has been showing us variations of leather trousers for a while, like this one from the BurdaEasy AutumnWinter 2010, and BurdaStyle August 2010
Frankly, my inspiration was neither a moth-eaten T-shirt look, nor what Selfish Seamstress calls "Clown Love, but rather, the designer Balmain, as in these:

I've bought some rather convincing pleather which I intend to use for my test pair before contacting Mr. Fauck at Leather Heaven up in Berlin for the real thing. (He supplied me with the gorgeous kingfisher blue suede for last spring's Burda dress. see PR Review.) 

Of these two design choices, neither is ideal. The main problem is that my inseam is 33.5 inches and I like my full leg length to run about 108-110 cm, while the Easy Burdas at the top are only 99 cm and the Clown trousers slightly more. So, if I want the dribbly-hemmed Balmain look, we're in for some major lengthening.

Second problem, as Dingyadi and Bubblegum4breakfast, and I have found out, Burda "slims" require a lot of taking in.  The Burda Easy's have three leg seams which promise more in the way of fitting possibilities than the BurdaStyle clown and have a rather nifty padded motorcycle knee. On the other hand, the clown versions have that crucial seam at the knee which I'll need if I transfer my results to real leather. 

I think a muslin for the muslin may be required. How boring. I wish Selfish would finish with her damn curtains and give me some advice.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Vogue's Donna Karan sleeveless black dress

EM agreed to go with Mom and Dad to an evening "house concert" in Geneva, probably because it gave her a chance to wear her Burda lace shift again. (review in PatternReview)  I'm wearing the Donna Karan sleeveless version of the twist knit dress, Vogue Designer 1159. If you tilt your computer screen a little forward, it might be easier to make out the drape in the black.

First off, Vogue's photo on the pattern envelope is awful, with the model wearing a version made up in a cheesy knit print that does nothing for her, nor for the wonderful design. I was, however persuaded by the beautiful version made up by Allison C in Hong Kong's DK dress in maroon in a plain knit.

Those who've sewn this dress will join me in saying that the design is not so much dressmaking as fabric origami. It helps to hang the dress on your dress form or a cooperative friend, and chalk up as many meeting points as you need before assemblage, which then is surprisingly quick. I'm not sure, by the end, whether I got it right— particularly the neat bit at the centre front waist where you're supposed to sew the lining together with the pleated under-part of the skirt. Once I saw on my dress form that such things didn't matter, I just scrunched it all up as neatly as I could, and ran it under the machine, knowing my sins would be covered by the drape. On the other hand, this design was not going to cover the defects of my decolletage, so I had to add some tacking stitches for the cross-drape at the critical juncture.

But thanks Allison! for warning me about the weird dip at the back of the underarms where she designed an artistic insert. I tested this at the drafting stage and can report that the dress is very forgiving if you simply stitch higher up on both sides, closing the armhole to a comfortable spot. I also tried the dress on for drape issues and indeedy, I'm not fulsome enough in front for the size 12 so I hiked it up tighter at the shoulders by as much as an inch.

Finally, I had to lengthen the very weird hem pieces; crossing my fingers, I just cut a size 18 hem for a 12-14 dress. I'm very happy with the result.

All this took two days, too late for the LBD contest, but I'd highly recommend it in any plain or lightly sequinned fabric. I'd stay away from the busy, flashy or distracting prints. What a waste to camouflage wonderful design in all that busyness.

Thanks Moushka for reading my Voltaire comedy. I cherish you, dear reader. (I'm assuming that's the one you read of the three, because the black humour of Under Their Skin or my Hong Kong murder mystery doesn't usually prompt thanks for chuckles) Copies shouldn't be that hard to find! In the UK, used or as-good-as- new's can be had for one penny on amazon. Pass one on! Cheaper than flowers or wine!

Speaking of savings, this DK designer dress cost me Sf 36. The two-way stretch black jersey is a very soft and workable viscose that breathes nicely.

Monday 25 October 2010

The Red Coat Came...

Here's a photo of my cat Frisbee moleing, without much success, or if you like, the Last Rose of Summer over there on the right, or me setting off in my new red coat, Vogue's OOP classic trenchcoat 2449, to see the Metropolitan Opera's live HD broadcast of Boris Godunov last Saturday. The funny thing was, all the bad guys guarding the Russian Czar were dressed in—this very coat! In the last scene, everybody wearing a red coat was dragged in front of the peasant mob and beaten to a pulp. Live in HD. And my favourite bass, Rene Pape, was in top form for it all. The whole production was styled in red and gold. Anytime you fear you're overdressing, go to a lavish opera. There were 600 costumes, according to the intermission interviewer. Keep sewing til you'll still never catch up with the MET costume department.

Now to sewing. The toughest part of this coat was sewing the welt pockets, an important feature of my target MaxMara design, below. Like many people, I hate welts and took my time. I actually didn't quite follow the lower placed cutting lines as I wasn't sure the welt would actually cover the cut once flipped to the back. I was cautious, and right to be so. Do watch how you cut that corner at the lower back, and test the welt position to make sure you don't have an ugly bit of lining and cutting showing.

As this was an old Vogue pattern, the two collar pieces were designed to be cut separately, so that turning and steaming the collar into shape over the collar stand was more Vogue's achievement than mine. I'm not sure I'm confident enough to reshape the upper collar piece myself, Burda style, over a ham or my hand.
Here's a better view of the welt pockets. Because the trench style asked for double top-stitching and I didn't want that effect, I ended up topstitching the pocket welt once, and then stitching it down to the coat body again, stitch-in-the-ditch style at the upper and lower ends.
Unlike the camel coat, this coat wasn't interlined.  In the end, the camel coat, with its chambray muslin underlining, stands up to the darkest Swiss snowy nights, but weighs a ton.


Sunday 24 October 2010

Figuring out the Red Devil MaxMara Weekend coat

As I sewed MaxMara's long camel coat last autumn (see below) and wore it to death, I was looking to add a shorter and more casual coat for this season. And suddenly, after years of hiding my red lipsticks and sweaters, it felt like a Red Moment was hurtling back into focus. Then the Guardian fashion gurus confirmed it in yesterday's video, linked below. I went back to MaxMara and found what I loved in their "Weekend" line. Isn't it snappy? It was just the right length for my new, flat-heeled motorcycle boots. The problem was that, here I was with three years of Burdas neatly collected, with their line drawing pages all catalogued, and a fifteen minute riff through their offerings couldn't find this combination of pocket, collar, fitted shoulder and wrap effect! I was stunned. I had the impression I'd been awash in Burda options.
In the end, I had to resort to my dog-eared collection of Vogues—more on that treasure trove in coming posts. At the bottom of a ten-year-old box, look at what I found—in the place I least expected it. See that sneaky little red devil lurking in the corner? I was so traumatized by the adventures I had with the classic trench in the middle, (see review on PatternReview, under member Inkstain.)  I never noticed the chic lady on the right with her Dalmatian bag.  Only a few adaptations were required. I didn't want the tabs on the MaxMara lady as I inherited some real fur from my great aunt and might want to add some fur cuff trim later, and obviously I didn't want the buttons on the Vogue lady. But the collar (finally!) had been found. I also had to lengthen the belt of the trench, virtually doubling it from a buckled number to a bathrobe tie.
Next stop was the fabric store, where I found some lovely red wool/cashmere blend. The MaxMara coat, made of what we do not know, ran Sf530 online, not counting the shipping/handling. My materials came to Sf145 and I know what my coat is made of. As Erika B says on her blog, you look at the rack and say I could make that! But could I?
At any rate, the Little Red Devil was born!

Saturday 23 October 2010

The Red Coats are Coming!

I'm going to launch my "new collection" with a photo of my latest project, the Red Coat soon, but first I'll whet your appetite with a little preview; this link to a video from the Guardian's fashion editors this morning about how important red is going to be as "the colour" of this season. I notice that another blog is crying out for an OOP Donna Karan pattern featuring a red coat, but aha! mine is finished and just waiting for the cameras. Having been way ahead of the game last autumn by keeping my eyes peeled for the signature coat in the MaxMara line, which was camel, I've returned to their house for more inspiration and you'll soon see what I mean...
In the meantime, here's the video: How to Dress RedJess Cartner-Morley: red dress

What I've Sewn Over the last few years...all reviewed on PatternReview