31 January, 2015

Humour in style

When I was young, my mother was a children's fashion designer in a big textile firm in my home city, which, btw, has a history of textile production of over 150 years.  She practiced her skills on her daughters, as do many of us here on our own younger generation.  Some of her creations I recall fondly;  others, like what were probably the very first mini skirts in the city, were so fashion forward that the merciless teasing I got from my schoolmates far outlived the garment itself:  oh yeah.

But despite - or maybe because of - that early exposure to the unusual in fashion, I love fashion shows.  I love the goofiness of them. The layers and layers of fabric.  The bizarre texture and colour combos.  The crazy hair and the over the top makeup - oh, the makeup!!!  The models strutting down the runway sporting terrific tops and nothing except their knickers below the waist.  My husband, when first exposed to this little cliché, went, wha-a-a.a..a...?  I had to explain to him that it's a common trick designed to focus the eye on the sole garment on the gal. Ya sure of that, he grinned.

Things are heating up on the Style.com fashion shows scene.  The spring '15 couture collections had their reveal last week.  I shall not belabour all of them;  there aren't many designers in the couture section, so you can click through them all in no time flat.  But do, do, do NOT miss these two:

1. Viktor & Rolf. I call it "Demeter vacations in Afghanistan"

By way of explanation, Demeter is the Greek goddess of the harvest, and Afghanistan is the world's prime cultivator of the opium poppy (and therefore heroin).  And these gals are shoulders deep in poppy blooms.  The tragic association aside (did V&R realize? no telling), I am enchanted by these whimsical outfits, the "skirt as top" approach, the over the top structure, the frothy petticoats, the way the flat fabric flowers transform into three dimensional blooms. Just fun, fun, fun.  And so easy to translate into a street worthy fifties-retro summer frock.

The second must-see is Jean Paul Gaultier.  Whereas most garments we wear are as symmetrical as a Rorschach inkblot, JPG went all out for "fashion isomer extreme".  Not all of his garments in this collection demonstrate this duality, but many do.  How clever, I thought:  you get to play with the jigsaw aspect of garment construction:  same bodice, different skirt treatments;  same shape, different structure, fabrics, details; etc., and you get to show twice as many ideas on half the budget and runway time.   How original, and how frugal of him.  It says, "I love what I do so much, I just NEED to show you more..."  I love this. 

Oh do look at the whole collection:  we can all learn so much from JPG's presentation.  

In closing, for stuff that's eminently wearable, I want to point you to the Copenhagen collections. I like them. Because they're aimed at people needing to bundle up for six months of the year and still look good?   You said it! 

24 January, 2015

Floral blouse, or: when fabric determines the pattern

Normally, I decide on a garment first, find a likely pattern, and only then seek the fabric for it.  In this instance, though, I looked at the fabric and thought, this can be made interesting.

I had 3 yds of this silk charmeuse, and used some of it to line a jacket.   This remnant - about 1.5 m - is just enough for a long sleeved blouse.
The print, as you see, has some peculiarities - I highlighted one of them with the two orange pins and the ruler. Also, there's only one flower-free border along the selvedge (shown): the chryssies are printed all the way to the selvedge on the other side.

The print has a nice small scale abstract as background. Since I'm not much of a florals type of person, I chose to highlight the flower-free edge in my blouse.  Two widths of the abstract-only edge  along the front, when worn under a jacket, would conceal the flowers completely.

Since the fabric demanded a pattern with a CF seam,  Burda 10-2011-128, which I'd used recently to make three blouses, was an obvious choice.  I'd already altered the Burda pattern at the shoulder and armscye from the dropped shoulder sleeve to a standard set in sleeve. To make this blouse a little different than the other three, I now altered the pattern further:

1. dropped the shoulder seam 4 cm towards the front 
2. added two pleats to the upper front panels at the above seam
3. converted the collar ties to a stand-up collar
4. finished the front neckline with a facing 
5. widened the sleeve and shortened it to bracelet length, finishing it with a 22.5 cm/9" circumference closed cuff (no buttonholes!!!)

Burda pattern at left, my alteration at right.  The green lines at the front and on the collar mark use of the flower-free selvedge. At 1.5 m, there was exactly enough of that selvedge for the two front panels and the collar. The collar is a simple rectangle, folded in half lengthways. 

I find it much easier to alter a successfully used pattern for small variations like these than to hunt for and test an entirely new one that's as likely as not to come with its own set of new size and fit issues.
Even though the fabric was narrow, I was able to lay out the pieces in such a way as to preserve a continuous strip along the floral selvedge.  I turned that into a scarf, of course!

And here's the result: a two-tone front...

...and a very chrysanthemum back:

The stand up collar, neck opening, and the chrysanthemums give it a faintly Japanese vibe, which I like a lot.

But under a jacket, we're very serious indeed:

...where the blooms only play peekaboo: 

that is, until you flash'em: 

Both blouse and jacket play nicely with the matching scarf:
Styled with chunky modern silverware to reassure myself that I haven't fallen into a Victorian time warp.

Are we done yet??? It's c-c-c-cold!

A moment like this, when I get to decide on one small item to fit in with my personal style, is what makes sewing so rewarding to me.  

21 January, 2015

Tradition: an appreciation of a personal antique

Today I'd like to highlight what is unquestionably the oldest article of clothing I possess.

It's called a "kożuszek góralski", and is a natural sheepskin shearling short coat, decorated in the tradition of  Poland's highlanders (górale), residents of Podhale, the High Tatra mountains of southern Poland.  My family really loved that part of the country, and we spent many holidays there.  I learned to ski in Zakopane, and hiked my little legs off around Morskie Oko, a very deep little lake whose name translates as Eye of the Sea - cue legend of a super-long underground tunnel connecting the lake to the sea - situated in one of the most picturesque valleys in the high mountains.

Here is yours truly and my beautiful young Mom, many, many years ago, at the Old Chalet in Morskie Oko.  It was early spring, and all the young people staying at the chalet, my parents included, used the roof  of the porch as their tanning bed, the men in nothing but their briefs (I rememer that oh so well).  That hooded plaid coat that I'm wearing in the photo was made from a thick wool blanket by Mom: I get my sewing fingers honestly ;)
Look at that! I found this recent pic of the Old Chalet on the web. Amazing, eh what?! The photo of Mom and me above encompasses the porch and the left window.  I have NO idea why the chalet is surrounded by this enormous madding crowd; the place was practically deserted when we were there. 
Poland, by the way, has a very rich traditional ethnic dress culture.  If I was to compare it to anything, I'd say the country's ethnic dress is almost as diverse and instantly informative as the tartan tradition of Scotland.  However, whereas tartans are for the most part reflective of family names, the Polish folk garb reflects regional divisions.  Just take a look, aren't these gorgeous? I love that the men's outfits are every bit as delightful and ornate as the ladies'.

I claim the łowicki style (second row from top, at right) by birth,
and the krakowski (third row from top, centre) by descent
But that's just the very basics;  the regions have their subdivisions, and there are gazillions of wonderfully diverse variations on the main regional themes.

An aside:  to fully appreciate those costumes, you really have to see them in motion.  If you scroll down to the end of this post, you'll find a few links to some really dynamic, professional performances of Polish folklore.

My kożuszek dates from 1969: a gift from my mother as we were leaving for Canada (thanks, Mom!)  Though not yet a teenager at the time, I stopped growing early and was almost fully grown by then, so its fit today is just about the same as when it was brand new.

In researching this subject on the internet, I was able to find just a single very tiny icon of a kożuszek that appeared - at least at its miniscule scale, at left below - very similar to mine, at right:

 I chased the link to discover that it was a "for sale" entry from five years ago, advertised as "antique, patterned on the style used for the Polish Olympic team in the 1960s". The date certainly fits! Unfortunately, the icon's link to a larger photo no longer exists, so I couldn't verify its similarity to mine in detail.

I dug around some more and discovered - aha! - that it was at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble when the Polish team's beautifully embroidered shearling coats made a fabulous impression on the world.  The Poles didn't bring home a single medal from that event, but damn, they must've been a stylish looking lot. Ironically, they didn't bring their kożuszki home either, but flogged them locally for the to-them-astronomical sum of $200 (think Iron Curtain economics).  Good for them, I say - free enterprise rocks.

My search for a photo or video of the team has yielded only this photo of the team's coach in a very nice shearling:

Although his coat does have traditional embroidery, the embroidery is utterly unlike mine, and with the huge hood on its back, the coat itself is very atypical.  So I feel that I'm still no closer to finding out what the coats of the '68 Olympians looked like, and whether mine is at all similar to them.  It would be nice to know, if only for the historical perspective.

My kożuszek is in far from perfect condition. Apart from the scuffing of its embroidery due to normal wear and tear (yes, I did wear it for the first couple of winters here, though it really isn't adequate as winter wear in Canada's severe climate), its fur has begun to separate from the leather.  Limited lifetime of the tanning process, I suppose.  At any rate, it's no longer wearable.

I'd like to preserve it somehow, as the original workmanship was really beautiful and it's unique. My internet search showed me that other examples from that period are practically nonexistent. There are similarly embroidered sleeveless shearling vests, serdaki (see serdak góralski) , but full on long sleeved embroidered coats are rare indeed.

I'm thinking of picking or cutting the garment apart and creating a series of framed pictures of the embroidered sections.

 Much of the cross stitch on the back and shoulder trim, and some of the stitching holding the leather appliqué have rubbed away so I'd have to undertake some repair work, but that strikes me as a relatively easy if painstaking task.  Because the fur is falling out, it could perhaps be removed entirely (?) and replaced by facsimile trim made of faux shearling. Or I could use felt or some similar wooly cloth to allude to the original fur in a somewhat more abstract way; a slavish recreation may not be necessary.

Anyway, I'm throwing this idea out there to see if any of you might be willing to voice your opinion and give me some advice on how to proceed.  It's a tricky thing - on the one hand I'd like to be respectful of the item - on the other, it offers no artistic benefit nor personal joy to me while hanging in a closet.  And really, curating it in its original form is not really an option, as it has already begun to disintegrate; a process that's bound to continue.

If you got this far, here is some fab folk dancing for you that show off the folk costumes as they ought to be seen:

It starts with a song medley, but about 1m 20s into the video they begin to dance, and at 2 minutes a different set of costumes of the same region (Krakow) enters the scene.

For a unique look, not to mention pure athleticism and boy on boy competitiveness, you can't beat the dances of Podhale:
Above, the real fun begins at 2m 50s.

And finally, a dance of the central region; it begins with a very beautiful, very lyrical duet:

Thanks for reading!

17 January, 2015

Stashbusting and RTW Fast - continuing in 2015

At the beginning of last year I joined the 2014 stashbusting sew along. Since I didn't want to throttle my possibilities completely, I committed only to use twice as much fabric as I bought during the year.
How did I do?  Far better than I'd hoped!  Even though I sewed very little for most of the year, I still used up 32.2 m of fabric and bought only 3.2 m (lining, interfacing, and notions are not included in the assessment).  That's a 10:1 ratio and a net outlay of 29 m:  far, far better than expected, and by an enormous margin too.

The challenge was a great boon to me.  It saved me a lot of cash (oh yes!), it let me browse my favourite online fabric stores while controlling the urge to compulsively buy every lovely piece of cloth that caught my eye (there's always more fabric, ladies!), and it forced me to browse through my stash when the inclination to make something hit me.

So I'm going to continue in this vein this year.  If all goes well, I'll be able to do more sewing than last year.  I have a lot - a lot, lot, lot - of very lovely fabrics.  Lots of potential for new wardrobe items.

Here's my pledge:  during 2015, I commit to using at least twice as much fashion fabric from my stash as any I buy. Any lining, interfacing, or notions needed to complete a stash-sourced project are not included in the pledge.

In a similar vein, my RTW fast - a commitment not to buy ready to wear clothing - was a rip-roaring success: I didn't buy any clothing at all. So I'll just carry on with that. 

In closing, a little silk and wool teaser for my current project:

13 January, 2015

Lace overlay skirt suit - finished!

Happy New Year, everyone!

I finished this two piece outfit some time ago, but got flummoxed by the weather:  I was waiting for a warm (hahahah!) day.  We did have some warm ones just after Christmas, and all the snow melted, so then the great outdoors looked terribly drab.... so I waited some more for a WARM day with SNOW (for a prettier backdrop).  Right, I need my head examined:  this is, after all, the coldest time of the year.  As a matter of fact, it went down to -29C (-20F) a few days ago.  For a warm day, I might as well wait till May. Today it went up to a balmy -17C, so I said, let's do it,  heck, threw on a turtleneck....
... and isn't it glorious and bright, with the bluest blue sky you ever did see?

So, the jacket is Style Arc Ziggi pattern, starting with size 8, modified as per my previous post, lined with bronze silk jacquard.  To reiterate and sum up, my modifications angled the main front and back body princess seaming, raised and slightly widened the peplum, and enlarged the collar and lapels.

The skirt is a princess seamed Vogue 7937, view A without the belt loops, lined with black bemberg, with an invisible side zipper. I started with size 12, then took it in a bit in the waist and added a bit of width over the hips.  I think I finally got smart about this - I didn't touch the side seams, but instead added all the extra width, about 1/4" per seam, just to the front and side princess seams:  i.e., over the butt and the thighs. Well, the skirt fits (and I think looks) better than any I've ever made before.  And it's a little shorter than I normally make them.  I like it, but - is it mutton posing as lamb???

Jacket back view:

Here is where I think I could've done better - the upper back is a little longer than it could be. I shortened the front and back side panels, pinching out to nothing at the front and back princess seam. Looking at the photo above I now think the CB panels could also have been shortened the same way.  In the front, the effect is a small FBA, which is perfect for me; but my back is "overerect" in tailoring parlance, i.e., shorter than the norm as it is.  Lesson for next time:  for optimal result do a petite alteration of sides and all of the back, but omit the front.

Jacket lining:  I have always loved how gold and its many shades plays with black and white:  it's a classic combo.  That's why I chose both the bronze lining and the bronze-gold trim to riff on the bronze zippers of the jacket.

Sleeve gussets:  I winged it, as the pattern had no such thing.  Basically I cut two large isoceles triangles taller than they were wide, hemmed their base, and attached these by machine to the zipper tapes of the unlined sleeve.  When making the sleeve lining I made sure the bottom 20 cm of this seamline was left open.  After bagging the lining and turning the sleeve hem, I hand sewed these lining edges to the gussets. Clear as mud?  

A side view of the skirt's back vents: I worried about how to correctly attach the lining to those pesky vents, but then, when I got down to it, there was no problem. Somehow, it all just fell into place.  Yes, Virginia, there IS such a thing as overthinking what you're doing.

In closing, a "Shakespearean" look:  very Sir Walter Raleigh, don't you think? 

Happy 2015 Sewing, everyone!!!