The Silk Tank, or How to Stay Away from Plastic Flip-flops

It took me a long time to adjust, both physically and psychologically, to the intense heat and sun of the Texas summer. I’m a native midwesterner and before Austin we moved around northern Europe, so the perfect wardrobe in my imagination was a very constructed urban sophisticated look better suited to Londoners. I never had more than one pair of sandals, and snuffed plastic flip-flops, which are standard Austin uniform. I had to let my ideals go and embrace a looser and freer style.

Now Austin is infamously laid back. Sartorial for men here is an occasional button-down to go with one’s shorts. But I have to find a way to stay theatrical and even glamorous-feeling–that’s the challenge. It’s too easy to “dude it” here.

I’ve always loved silk but used to consider it somewhat of a luxury. A couple of summers ago, I bought a few silk pieces, like a sleeveless lightweight crepe dress (which I’m wearing here under the jacket), a flowy charmeuse wrap skirt, and a crepe jumpsuit–and ended up nearly wearing them out. Now I go out of my way to wear silk in the summer. Sure, cotton is great and rayon/viscose can be silk-like, but there’s something about silk… it’s feels so weightless and cool on the skin.

So I’m on a mission to make a few basic tops in silk–my red charmeuse tank is a good excuse not to reach for one of my raggedy Old Navy ones. I should really throw those away….

The fabric was left over from a recent lining and wanted something really simple and breezy, in a kind of a-line shape. Kwik Sew 3795 was a good place to start. I liked the a-line of the pattern but it was very low cut so I had to raise the armholes about 2 inches. You can’t see it here, but the original armhole falls below the bustline. I’m still not sure about the neckline–I think I like a narrower u-shape, and will fiddle with this line before I make another.

The pattern also calls for bias binding on the armholes and neckline but I wanted something dressier and wondered if there was a way to work out a simple facing and googled around. Of course, it seems like I keep finding my sewing solutions over at Sherry’s blog, which has the exact tutorial I needed: sewing an all-in-one facing for neckline and armhole.

Thank goodness for easy projects. Overall, from re-drawing the pattern to cutting and sewing, it took about 4-5 hours. That’s fast for me.

The truth is, most days I just feel like throwing on a tank and some kind of loose trousers. I just want weightlessness–not a lot of straps, no binding clothes or shoes. I can barely handle a neck scarf, no matter how light it is.

I got the idea to pair red and coral from a recent Lucky mag. I’m pretty obsessed with coral in all its shades–it’s turned out to me the perfect summer color for me and when I saw these silk crepe Sonia Rykiel trousers I leapt at them. I’m still trying to figure out if I can wear the carrot pant style; these are so high-waisted and billowy and have massive belt loops. Obviously one has not found the right belt yet because they are falling down!

I’m sure some of you find seasonal dressing pretty natural and would love to hear stories from others who’ve made major climate-moves. I’d wear knee-high lace-up suede boots year round if I could–I’m like a Celt in the desert.


The White Jacket: Finished

Yay! White Jacket is done. Actually, it’s been done for over a week but I wanted to take it to the cleaners for one last press and to clean some of the grub that’d occurred while handling and sewing.

White Silk Jacket | Cloth Habit

And you know what? The dang cleaners pressed a different roll line. What’s up with that? When I picked it up, the lapels were flipping up and folded onto themselves inside the cleaner bag.

White Silk Jacket | Cloth Habit

And the lapels were so perfectly rolled before the cleaners. Hmph. Hopefully I’ll be able press some of this out when I get a chance. After my last post, I ended up taking apart the entire lapel and shaving off some of the extra allowance from the facing. It was work to do all that, but I quite enjoyed it, like a little science experiment in deconstruction. I could see how the lapel wasn’t lying parallel with the collar. Shaving some off solved both the dimpled and ripple-y lapel (but the cleaners somehow managed to press even more ripples).

Okay, so lesson learned about the cleaners. Has anyone else had their tailoring undone by a cleaner?

The chain was one last detail I needed to make it more like my original inspiration. (More jacket details in my last post.)

Jacket Chain Hanger | Cloth Habit

If I were to make this pattern again, I would do one more adjustment in the bust area, something like this:

Jacket Lapel Adjustment | Cloth Habit

Actually, I think that should’ve been my first adjustment, and I’m figuring I will have to do it in most patterns with a lapel. I cut and overlapped almost two inches in the Lady Grey coat. I have broad shoulders but am rather tiny around the rib cage and bust, so having things very fitted-looking there is important to me. I’d also narrow the lapels even more than I did. Fat lapels come in and out of fashion but at the moment I much prefer the long and narrow lapel. Other than all these refinements, for anyone still balking at Marfy, I have to say I really liked working with the pattern. It was drafted well, made a great block to start from, and the lack of directions freed me to follow the sew-along.

White Silk Jacket | Cloth Habit

In other news, we hit our first 100° (38C) day yesterday. This pool hides in an apartment courtyard near us and some of our friends sneak in at night. We were taking photos at a nearby park and then D said, that dress really wants to be near a pool. I almost jumped in. Seriously. I’ll still have use for light coats from this point on, mostly to wear indoors as Texans love their air conditioning. Movie theaters are infamously refrigerator cold.

White Silk Jacket | Cloth Habit

I really want to give a big thanks to Sherry for all her amazing work in the RTW Tailoring Sew-along. She’s added a huge, invaluable resource to online sewers–and in my humble opinion probably deserves to get paid for all her teaching work and commitment in answering our questions!

My next project will be a few simple tank tops, as I mentioned before. I’ve already got a silk one cut out, and am fixing up another pattern for knits, based on the Lydia.

White Silk Jacket | Cloth Habit


Sneak Preview: The White Jacket

I am a slowwwww sewer. And I actually have time to sew, but I move at such a contemplative pace.

A friend of ours recently quoted something he read, “The first 40 years of your life you’re trying to beat death. The second 40 you’re embracing it.” It wasn’t a cynical observation at all, if you knew him–it sounded like a 90-year-old wise old oak rocking on his front porch.

I’ve been thinking about his little proverb nugget ever since, especially in regard to creativity and productivity. While finishing my jacket I kept hearing Feist in my head, crooning, “Take it slow, take it easy on me”.

I’m being a bit selfish here in showing some detail pics, because I want some advice before I sew the buttonholes, close up the sleeve lining and model it. And well, press it, because I haven’t really done much of that yet.

First the good:

I love how the sleeves came out. I was very nervous about this, despite the fact that I didn’t have to wrestle large amounts of sleeve ease. This fabric easily puckers. And I wanted a very strong shoulder, so I ended up hand-sewing in a a stiff and contoured shoulder pad, rather than machine sewing it to the allowance. I didn’t want in any way to crush the lift!

My pattern didn’t include vents on either the sleeves or back, but the original jacket I was knocking off did, so I drafted those. I used Sherry’s sleeve vent tutorial for the sleeves.

I searched high and low for true white buttons, but apparently button-sellers like calling ivory “white”. I ended up with a bunch of buttons I didn’t want and then decided on mother-of-pearl–if I’m going to go ivory, might as well go pearly.

Pockets turned out alright, the flaps a bit short for the welts, but I’m happy.

For the back vent, I followed Fashion Incubator’s tutorial on facing & lining junctions (here and here). Unlike my sleeves, the back vent also has a vented lining and needs to be drafted differently.

I drafted the vent a little too long in the end and had to hand-tack part of it down so it doesn’t start swinging open near my waistline.

I love how the lining came out. I sewed the entire thing in two passes, following the sew-along except at the facing hem, where I again used the tutorial at Fashion Incubator.

Now the bad:

The collar disappointed me a bit. It’s got a little bubble where the lapel meets the collar. Any advice on this?

You can see how this particular lapel also has a wavy doohickey going across the point. Don’t know what to do about that either.

The lapel itself looks wavy on the edges. I suspect this has to do with the seam allowances–the outer edge is actually longer than the seam and by squeezing itself in there might be causing the waviness?

Would a smaller (maybe 1/4″) seam allowance prevent this, or is this the nature of my fabric?

Ok, enough of lapel talk. The only other thing that is driving me mad is just occupational hazard. White really does dirty up quickly if you are working on it for long. I washed my hands quite frequently but that didn’t stop it from getting a little dulled. I may have to take it to the cleaners already–which might give me a great final press, too. What do you think?

I really dislike having silk dry-cleaned frequently. It starts to dull after awhile. But I do spill and am not especially neat. Hand-washing is out of the question for this jacket so it will have to be handled with kid gloves.

Edit: I corrected this entry to give proper credit to the “Unnamed Tutorial” series at by Kathleen Fasanella. This series includes a technique of drafting a pattern so that a jacket’s lining and facing are entirely sewn by machine resulting in a very clean finish.

I had previously included links to a sewing blog demonstrating this technique–which I found from yet another sewing blog. I mention this only because I feel it is important bloggers track down their sources properly. Original tutorials with photos are proprietary information belonging to the author/publisher, whether from a blog or a book. I take these issues seriously, and apologize for not crediting properly the first time.


Black and White and Patti Smith

For a very, very short while, I was in a band. Well, actually I was in two, but the second never made it out of the garage (or, in this case, the attic). The first one, fronted by a fabulous piano-playing bombshell friend of mine, needed a backup singer. They asked me if I played anything. Um, flute? “Okay, maybe we can use that. How about tambourine?”

“Sure.” So I became a tambourine-playing backup singing girl for about six months. This band had the bizarrest mixture of influences, from George Clinton to Blue Oyster Cult to Tori Amos to Bauhaus. (This is what happens to classically-trained rocker aspirants. Many of us become armchair musicologists. Or tour with Peter Gabriel.) I was somewhat of an innocent bystander in it all, but there was one thing I loved performing–and passionately–Patti Smith’s “Frederick”.

It was her love song to her beau Fred Sonic Smith and something of a farewell to rock–for the time being–as she went off to start a family in Detroit.

I got to thinking about her recently after browsing through this month’s Elle, a wonderful issue showcasing some surprisingly understated choices of women in music. Of course, I got stuck on the mesmerizing portrait of Feist, in a (wouldn’t you guess, it taunts me) white Stella McCartney blazer and an unmistakeable nod to Patti Smith. So angular and striking, with that punk deshabille cool.

{Photo credit: Elle}

I love Feist. I love Patti Smith. I never would’ve put them in the same place in my head but now that I’m thinking about it–why not.

I’ve been reading, on and off for the last year, Patti’s memoir about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, as both of them were emerging as young explorers and artists, and up to the time of his death. I’ve always thought of Patti as a performance artist above all–more than a musician or writer–but this book really changed my mind. It’s a writerly story, full of great characters and graceful emotion. And she has told the story that was in her to tell, I think.

I loved how she approached her own youth with a kind of tender mercy and not an overhwhelming sentimentality or nostalgia that I often feel in memoirs. Mapplethorpe comes out as being neither a god nor a tragic hero. There are no icons, just people. I could even go so far as to say reading it helped me forgive and love my younger self–neither idolizing or chastising it.

I’ve always loved Mapplethorpe’s photos of Patti Smith. He had a way of capturing her grace:

This photo is from a recent Time essay in which Patti writes on her life in front of cameras. Must see…Patti Smith: Photographer’s Muse.

{Edited: my original post included an image inspired by Patti Smith but not in fact her! I kept looking at it going, it *looks* like the photo I was looking for, but this woman looks remarkably like Alexa Chung. Turns out the photo was from a New York Times Magazine fashion article inspired by Ms. Smith. Most people re-posting it are mistakenly crediting it, me included. Lesson learned on the woes of fair use.}


Super 70s Summer Dreaming

The White Jacket is almost finished. I went on a couple of sewing marathons last week to get caught up with the RTW Jacket Sew-along–having others interested in your progress really encourages things along, right? I just need to get the buttons in and fix a couple of wonky things. (As far as progress photos, my sewing room-studio is terribly lit and I have just about given up trying to photograph white details in badly lit situations, so pictures will have to wait until this thing sees the light of day.)

In the meantime, I’m trying to plot out my summer sewing ideas. I’d love to go for this Groovy Bellbottom challenge, but I think I need a wee breather from challenges & sew-alongs. It caught my eye because I’m kind of a sucker for 70s patterns and have a few I’m thinking of making this summer. I put these in my inspiration notebook a couple of months ago:

{from Salvatore Ferragamo and Marc Jacobs, Spring 2011}

I don’t normally go for peasant-y styles but there’s something about the “I’m traipsing around Assisi in my bare feet” look on the left that gives me hope for summer. I have a 70s pattern for the top and some lovely butterscotch-colored poplin that will be perfect. I’ll probably cut the sleeves down to a 3/4 length for summer:

Anyone have any pattern ideas for the skirt, vintage or new?

Last summer, I really wanted a couple of pairs of breezy linen trousers and they are still on my endless to-sew list. I lost confidence in sewing pants sometime around 1995 and need to find a way back in. I so love high-waisted trousers–I went for the crazy super-high-waisted jeans a couple years ago and I’m hooked.

This pattern floats everywhere on Etsy and eBay, taunting me, and at the moment seemingly only in 46-inch hip sizes.

{I here do solemnly swear that I will never wear a pair of patchwork-printed bellbottoms. They looked better on me when I was in kindergarten.}

Or perhaps I’ll try something more in a 40s direction. I really dug Steph’s Weimar-inspired Smooth Sailing pants and I’d love to try out the pattern with some pretty black linen I stashed last year.

And there has to be a maxi dress in my summer somewhere. Does anyone ever notice how maxis (both rtw and patterns) almost always have empire waists? There must be some kind of design-consensus about how to wear them, but I personally like when they hit my actual waist. These were among a few rare non-empired dresses that caught my eye:


Just looking at their colors cools me off. The left has a great 70s Jean Muir-ish vibe. The nude dress is “oooh, pretty”–so simple but fun with that sheer peekaboo panel. I’ve been hunting maxi dress patterns for a couple of years but haven’t found any I really love. I guess I could always Frankenpattern a dress.

This is a UFO maxi shirtdress I started last summer, but um, it was in white cotton and I think I need to chill on white, no? And I’m thinking the long sleeves might haunt me in our weather. But I’m a sucker for 70s fly collars.

But first, I really need to sew a couple of breezy tank tops. I am going to have to be very, very tactical this summer to keep cool. Texas is in the middle of a terrible drought, and my part of town has had no rain for almost four months. (Wildfires have ravaged over 2 million acres of Texas in the last month, including parts of Austin.) So–we completely bypassed spring and went straight to summer and are looking forward to 100-degree averages in May. Ugh.


Homage to McQueen

I am probably the last person in blogland to comment on the Royal Wedding festivities, but seeing the bride in chez Alexander McQueen made me sigh. A sigh both beautiful and sad, because I really feel the loss of his light. I confess that McQueen was my favorite designer of the last decade.

He made me proud. McQueen seemed like the first major fashion designer of my generation to use fashion as high art. He had commercial and design intelligence but artistic ambition. Many have commented on his whimsy and fantasy but I think he often tapped into something very deep and spiritual.

[from his final collection in 2010}

People who love fashion often feel guilty for saying so. I overheard a conversation recently in which someone was saying “yeah I know it’s silly but I really, really like fashion!” Again, I was reminded of this after watching The September Issue. From the first scene there is a bit of “yes, I know my family thinks this isn’t a serious career but I’m smart, dammit, and I think it’s really important” kind of discussion–i.e., concern about being some kind of Zoolander caricature. Personally, I don’t even understand how people could dismiss fashion in the first place. We human beings have all manner of expression available to us, but fashion and body expression, cultural dress, jewelry, cosmetics–are ON us. We are wearing what we think about ourselves. It doesn’t get any closer than that.

McQueen was a refreshing conversation free of the guilt. And when I say he tapped into something spiritual, he reminded us of our warrior selves, our regal selves, our religious or mystical selves.

Sometimes I didn’t get it. And sometimes I disagreed with his fantasies of woman. The feminist in me reacted to a few things. But the fact that I would at times vehemently disagree with his art made me admire him even more.

Sooo… this whole meditation started with Kate Middleton’s dress. I love that Sarah Burton is carrying on his legacy with grace and femininity, architecture and romance. (And personally hope she doesn’t get carried off to another designer, because the McQueen house is important in its own right.) It is fitting that she designed undoubtedly the most famous bridal gown of our time. I loved its simplicity and timelessness.

And since I’m all black and white lately, I can’t help but include one of my favorite looks of his, from spring 2007. Love, love the bowler hat: