Re-imagined Underwear

July 6th, 2012

I must have particularly bony knees, or kneel more than I realize; within the past six months, nearly all of my jeans have developed holes. Rather than buying another round of denim, I’ve decided to take the opportunity to make a drastic change in my wardrobe.

As any aspiring fashion historian knows, it’s the undergarments that make the clothes. So I will begin by re-imagining my underwear.

Underwear Pattern

Ankle-length skirts will definitely be a staple of my new wardrobe, so I’ll need a petticoat or two to give them shape. And speaking of support, I’m even more anxious to abandon my brassieres than I am to ditch my jeans. So I decided on a bodiced petticoat to offer exterior support below and interior support above. The inset bust cup is cut on the bias and lightly pleated across the top. It’s surprisingly effective.

Bias Strips

While the blush-colored cotton for my first petticoat tumbles around the dryer, I cut bias strips from an old cotton shirt. I’ll use them to bind the bodice and straps, and perhaps to pipe the seam under the bust.

Irresistible Deal

May 27th, 2012

Alas, Walmart wins again. I had a sudden craving for poly-chiffon and decided to check the fabric counter at the local Walmart before traveling 15 miles to the nearest independent fabric store. I wasn’t expecting much. Our Walmart seems to specialize in loudly-patterned quilting cotton and bolts of scratchy stuff labeled “made in China: undetermined fabric content.”

A first glance through the modest double row of bolts seemed to confirm my suspicion. The only sheer fabric in sight was very stiff and hideously iridescent. A once-over of the sale fabrics piled on a table behind the shelved bolts yielded a lonely remnant of corn-colored poly-chiffon for $1.50 per yard. Definitely not the color I’d envisioned, but it was an exciting find none-the-less. Clutching my treasure, I walked towards the cutting table past the other side of the sale pile. And then I saw them. Three bolts of deliciously sheer, drapey poly-chiffon, in chocolate, claret, as well as the original corn I’d already found. And THESE bolts were $1 per yard.


I bought every inch they had. It’s in my washer now.

Outfit Inspiration

April 17th, 2012

While gradually gathering my sewing supplies from a series of vaguely marked boxes (my own fault for labeling them as “stuff”) I have been focusing my energy on dreaming rather than doing. Edwardian and Art Nouveau figure largely into my planned projects, with a healthy dose of the eccentric and absurd.

Costume & Construction posted this beauty a few weeks ago and I have been scheming ever since:

Edwardian Fencer

I’m also very taken with the 19-teens styles, as the Edwardian silhouette began to soften into the 20th century. It seems like an aesthetic that could even be worn today without occasioning too many odd looks.

An aside:

Let’s face it, there’s simply no way to look normal while wearing a hoop skirt to the grocery store. And I detest being the center of attention because of how I am dressed. Perhaps that’s an unfortunate quirk of character given my penchant for unusual and untimely clothing. But if I may paraphrase Emily Post, one should always strive to be unremarkably dressed. If you are going to wear something that will make people stare, be VERY sure that the stares are admiring.

Back to our regularly scheduled program:

In addition to expanding my wardrobe (and possibly designing some garments to share with the world — more on that soon), I’ve also been thinking about costumes for upcoming events, both public and private. For years I’ve wanted to host a “Caesar & Cleopatra” dinner. Inspired by the immortal Shavian play, we’d lounge on cushions, feasting on roasted fowl and dates soaked in rosewater under the evening sky. We’d stop just before the murder of Pothinas…

A key point to establishing the atmosphere for such an evening would be getting all the men to dress as Romans and all the women as Egyptians. Since my inspiration is Shaw’s play, not actual historical events, I’d rather choose a costume intended by the 19th century to evoke ancient Egypt instead of attempting an accurate version of a late Ptolemaic ensemble.

Cleopatra & Caesar by Jean-Leon Gerome

This 1866 painting of Cleopatra confronting Caesar by Jean-Léon Gérôme, for example.

Swing Your Partner

April 16th, 2012

Do any of you remember the Amazon Drygoods catalogue? Now they’ve got a website of course, but I’ve got such fond memories of poring through their pink-paper-bound booklets, dreaming about all the historic and ethnic costumes I’d make.

I did end up buying quite a few patterns through them, including my first forays into Ms. Altman’s excellent Past Patterns. Among the patterns that my mother firmly discouraged however were the square dance dresses. She realized, as I was not then able, that I would have absolutely no use for a square dance dress in northern Delaware. Looking back, I can see that she was probably right. But I always carried a secret regret.

So you can imagine my joy when I found a whole pile of the very same patterns at the local thrift store. For 90 cents a piece!

Square Dance Patterns

Which of course begs the question, what on earth am I going to do with a square dance dress on the central coast of California?

Hmm, that reminds me — gingham is on sale at Walmart…

(18)50s Fabric Relapse

April 14th, 2012

Now that I can’t pop up to 38th street (in NYC’s Fashion District) whenever I need some fabric, I am gradually getting reacquainted with the way most of the country shops for sewing supplies. One of my very favorite blogs, Romantic History, had a recent post about finding bargains on fabric at Walmart, which inspired me to drop by their crafts counter this afternoon. And indeed, there were a couple of not-so-awful cotton prints to be had at very fair prices.

1850s Dress Fabric

Actually, they’re pretty awful. But in a delicious 1850s kind of way. In fact, the second this caught my eye, I was head over heels for the mid-19th century again. So much for my valiant resolutions to ignore the decade and devote myself to Poiret. Not that I intend to resume my myopic ways. But I can’t quite give up the 50s completely. And as if to prove it, 9 yards (all that was left on the bolt) of this stuff are now waiting patiently to be made into a new dress.

Given my druthers, I’d probably have bought it in this colorway:

1850s Fabric

I am that fond of purple. But there was only 1 and a half yards left. I took it anyways. Perhaps an apron? A late Edwardian blouse? A sunbonnet?

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