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I’m glad you like it
But no, I won’t make you one.
Learn how to sew, duh. 

There’s a bit of a rivalry going on in my closet. I can’t help it- I love knee-length dresses from Burda Modemagazin, I love grey wool menswear fabrics, and I love a sharp detail on a bodice. Consider these two dresses I made, the first from the 10.2007 issue of Burda, the the second from the 10.2009 issue of Burda. Both have pleated bodices with the pleats stitched flat through the hip and then released, and I chose to render both in heather grey wool, the first in flannel, and the second in a substantial suiting.

Burda 10.2007 dress 105 in wool flannel…

grey-dress-2

grey-dress-3

And Burda 10.2009 dress 119 in wool suiting:

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The thing is, it’s not like i just forgot I had the first one when I made the second one. In fact, when I wanted to make the second one, I thought long and hard about using a different color.  But it was just calling out for grey, and if I had made it instead in maroon, black, cream, navy, olive, etc., I just couldn’t see myself wanting to wear it that much. Anyway, what do you think?


prlogo1It’s no secret that I have a vintage pattern addiction. While I have only been sewing properly (meaning real clothing and at least attempting to use correct technique as opposed to little crafty projects) since 2007, I’ve been collecting vintage patterns, mostly 1950s formalwear, for much longer. (In her younger days, the Selfish Seamstress always assumed that when she grew up, she would become Grace Kelly. Surprisingly it didn’t happen, but she seems to have amassed quite a stack of patterns for Grace’s wardrobe under that mistaken assumption.)

Yesterday I happened upon this rather fascinating website called Pattern Rescue, which seeks to preserve and restore vintage patterns. And better still, they want to help you get access to the patterns you want, all for free. (I think this is what is referred to as ‘altruism,’ a concept I can’t quite get my head around.)

Among the free services provided by Pattern Rescue are:

Really, what a great idea is that? I haven’t used any of their services so I can’t vouch for how well it all works, but it’s quite a wonderful concept.

Fortunately all of the patterns in the Selfish Seamstress’s collection are complete, but she might dig through her big box of vintage treasures to see if there are any she doesn’t need anymore and send them over. But obviously just to free up space for more patterns that I want. All selfish, all the time!

Okay, I need a big “NEW BLOGGER” sign, kind of like the “NEW DRIVER” signs people put in their cars right after they get their drivers licenses. See that nifty photo gallery below? I don’t even remember publishing this gallery. I do remember playing around with a draft of an entry and trying to figure out why the gallery wouldn’t show up. And I’m pretty sure this gallery wasn’t live when I went to bed last night. And now it has magically appeared (spooky ghost blogger shows up just in time for Halloween??), so apparently I’m showing you a photo gallery of some of my past projects. Sure, that’s cool.

By the way, if you want your own nifty free embedded gallery for your blog or web page, click the link underneath the gallery- a clever friend of mine developed FotoViewr and I think it’s just cool.

 

lbd-back

Get your own.

There are two possible ways of interpreting the title of this blog entry.  The first way is something like this:

    YOU: Hey, I like your Audrey-inspired dress!

    THE SELFISH SEAMSTRESS:  Thanks!  Because I’m so generous, I’ve posted the pattern so that you can make your own Audrey-inspired dress!

The second way to interpret it is something like this:

    YOU: I like your Audrey-inspired dress.  Can you make one for me?

    THE SELFISH SEAMSTRESS: Are you insane?? Do you think I have nothing better to do than sew for you?  Whatever.  Make your own (damn) Audrey-inspired dress! 

I’ll leave you to guess which meaning The Selfish Seamstress intends. (Hint: Generosity is a concept entirely foreign to the Selfish Seamstress.)

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, check out the downloads page. I’ve posted the (free) pattern for my Audrey Hepburn/Givenchy-inspired little black dress!  It’s only in my size for the time being, which corresponds roughly to a petite Burda size 32. The pattern is pretty basic, but there aren’t any  instructions yet, so I’d recommend this for the sewer with some experience in assembling a dress with lining.

If you make one, let me know- I want to see!  It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the Selfish Seamstress just loves to be flattered.

The Selfish Seamstress is feeling pretty smug because she’s come up with a foolproof way to do perfectly symmetrical plaid (and stripe) matching.  She has searched the web and a couple of sewing books for instructions on how to match plaids, and has yet to see this method. She’s therefore convinced that she came up with it herself, even though it’s so obvious that people have surely done this before. As you may know, I like to take credit even where no credit is due.

Plaid matching at seams can be one of the more frustrating aspects of sewing.  It’s no fun finding out that the two legs of your pants don’t match because you aligned something incorrectly. My little trick applies to situations when you want to cut two mirrored pieces, for example two pant fronts, two skirt side panels, two identical halves of a waistband. Essentially any situation when you want two identical pieces, with one of them flipped over. 

There seem to be two primary schools of thought on how to match plaids. The first school is to fold the fabric *very* carefully in half, making sure that the top layer and bottom layer are perfectly matched, then put your pattern piece on top and cut through the double thickness as usual.  I think this is really the worst way you can do it.  Even if you’re really careful, it is just too easy to have it slightly off somewhere.  And if you’re cutting a big piece, say two pant fronts, good luck being completely sure that your layers are aligned the whole way through. Once the fabric is folded in half, there’s really no good way to look at the bottom layer.

The second school of thought is to open the fabric out in a single layer, lay down your pattern piece, cut it out, and then flip the pattern piece over and find another spot on the fabric where you can match the notches to their location on the first piece you cut out. This method is conventionally accepted as the “right” way to do it, and this is what I had mostly been doing all along. This can, however, still lead to some imprecision. Particularly if you’re working with a large plaid in which small inaccuracies can be ridiculously noticeable.  Think about a Burberry type plaid.  You might estimate that a notch falls about 1/3 of the way between two stripes, but if you’re even just a couple of millimeters off, it’s going to be noticeable in the end.

And then I figured out this neat trick:

The Selfish Seamstress Method of Plaid (and Stripe) Matching

(Note: I will continue to take full credit for this until someone (probably soon) points me to a bunch of other folks that recommend doing this. The Selfish Seamstress needs to pat herself on the back a lot.)

I made a little “toy” skirt back pattern and am using a remnant to illustrate.

P1050720P1050722

First cut out your pattern piece and lay it on your fabric as desired:

P1050723

Cut out your piece as you normally would…

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Okay.  This is the point at which conventional wisdom would have you flip the pattern piece over and try to match the notches to the piece you just cut, like so:

P1050725

You can already see this is not so easy to do. It’s even harder if you don’t have that nice skirt-shaped hole to look at. AND it’s even harder still if you’re working on the bias.  Are those notches in the same place?  Close enough?  I’m getting an ulcer just thinking about it.

The Selfish Seamstress Method recommends that instead of using the pattern piece to cut the second skirt back, you instead use the skirt piece you just cut, remembering to flip it over for mirror symmetry, and match it to the plaid in the fabric:

P1050726

Oh my goodness, you can probably barely even see it. That’s because it’s SO MATCHED.  Don’t worry, it’s easier to see when you do it in real life.  Just use plenty of light. Here- maybe it’s easier to see once it’s pinned in place:

P1050729

Or maybe not.  But you should get the idea.  You can totally tell if your plaid is matching or not, and it’s easy to line up because you’re not just relying on the notches, you’re using the whole plaid as a grid you can match.  Now cut around the first piece, being careful not to cut into the first piece, and also being careful not to cut the second piece larger than the first piece. Snip snip snip and flip…

P1050730

Voila! Perfectly symmetrical left skirt back and right skirt back!  There’s no way that won’t match when you sew the center seam.

Of course, this isn’t the complete solution to all of your plaid and stripe matching woes. You’ll still need to match notches for other seams, such as matching the skirt front to the skirt back. But at least this way you’ll know that your right and left sides are the same. And that’s it!

Another goodie in my recent sewing CARE package from Khai was McCall 5523:

M5523

I’ve been wanting this concept of skirt since seeing the movie Charlie Wilson’s War about a year ago or so.  If you’re in the mood for a good movie, I don’t recommend it.  However, if you are in the mood for a good skirt, there is one excellent skirt in the movie.  It doesn’t have that big a role.  It makes a couple of brief appearances on a character named “Jailbait.”  Yes, that is what they call her.  She’s one of Tom Hanks’s sexy secretaries. The skirt is a slim grey pencil skirt with a graceful flared panel in the back. It covers everything but it’s still hot. I can’t find a picture of her in the skirt online, sorry!

Here’s how mine is going so far:

P1050718

P1050719

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First, the good points:

  • I salvaged this lovely plaid wool flannel fabric from a dress I never finished and was never going to finish because I messed up the plaid matching on it. (The fabric doesn’t look so good because of the flash photograph, but trust me, it’s nice. It has no sheen to it at all.) So, the fabric didn’t go to waste, and that’s one less guilt-inducing half-finished project lying around.
  • I’d say the plaid matching is going pretty well this time around! I figured out a new trick for doing perfectly symmetrical plaid matching.  You might already know it, but it’s new to me.

Now, the bad. When I say I’ve been wanting this “concept” of skirt, I guess what I mean is that McCall 5525 View A just isn’t turning out the way I wish it would. McCall 5523 View A isn’t really a slim pencil skirt with a flared back. It’s more of a boxy skirt with  flared back.  More dowdy librarian than sexy secretary. The Selfish Seamstress has no patience for dowdy. I’m going to try to reshape it to give it a little more come-hither.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

patrones285_portada

Ahhh, Patrones.  I remember the first time I saw you.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  There you were, just hanging out against the wall at the magazine shop in the train station like it was no big deal.  I picked you up.  I looked you over.  I may have wiped a tiny dribble of drool of my chin.  I took you home with me that night. I had to have you all to myself.

It was lust at first sight.  More than a hundred designer patterns inside for a mere 9 euros, begging to be traced and stitched. You dazzled me with names like Lagerfeld, Gucci, Prada, Calvin Klein.  I was overwhelmed, swept off of my feet. I trolled every bookstore in town to find you, couldn’t wait until the next month in hopes of finding you tucked in the foreign language corner, new, and shiny and full of potential wardrobe candy.  I stalked you on ebay and German online sewing stores. Finally, I took the plunge, I made the commitment, I simply subscribed.

We had that fantastic six-month honeymoon period.  And then something happened.  Subtle at first, but a woman notices.  She feels the change coming even when she can’t put her finger on what it is. Little by little.  First a hundred patterns, then 60, then 35.  First Miu Miu, then Benetton, then H&M, then C&A, and eventually the labels stopped coming altogether, and it was merely “blue blouse” and “short jacket.” It was as though you no longer wanted to impress me.  And then I noticed others sneaking into our relationship… the kids’ patterns, the maternity clothes… suddenly they weren’t special issues anymore, but with us all the time, leaving so few pages, so few patterns just for the two of us.  And we eroded. I realized we’d been together for a year, and I hadn’t sewn a single pattern of yours. Neither of us had anything left for each other. And when I thought about it, I noticed what I should have noticed long ago– your patterns never really fit me all that well.  It’s funny the things we ignore when we are blinded by adoration.

One day you showed up in my mailbox, and I realized … I just didn’t care anymore. I felt nothing. You were just another expensive magazine from Spain.

And so, I guess this is it.  The end of the subscription, and I’m not going to fight it.  Maybe we’ll meet again in another train station in another part of the world.  Maybe we’ll have the occasional fling.  But I know now that we won’t be spending the rest of our lives together.  I’m sorry, but I think it’s for the best. We’ll always have our precious memories and back issues. I wish you well, Patrones. Goodbye.

- The Selfish Seamstress

coffee-date-dress-sittingcoffee-date-dress-detail

I’ve added a downloads page to The Selfish Seamstress.  That means free patterns for you! Right now it’s just the Coffee Date Dress patterns, which I’ve already posted on BurdaStyle, but keep your eyes peeled for more in the future.

Now, before anyone chides me for being unselfish (*shudder*) with my patterns, I should explain that there is nothing unselfish about it at all.  The Selfish Seamstress needs her ego fed regularly and amply, and nothing is more satisfying than knowing that you covet what I wear.  So, download!  Print!  Sew! Then report back to me.

It seems that just about every sewing blogger and her mom has gone gaga over this Michael Kors dress from his Fall 2008 collection, and I am no exception.  Styled in rich menswear fabrics, or the most ladylike of floral prints, the dress is a prime example of sophisticated va-va-voom:

00240mNMB0VT4_mfMichaelKorsDress 

And of course, the exciting thing for those of us who are in possession of a pocketful of sewing skills is that this dress is available as a pattern in the form of Vogue 1117:

1117

Hrmm.  To be honest, I really don’t like how the dress looks on the Vogue envelope. If not for the fact that I’ve seen the dress in other incarnations, I doubt I’d have looked twice at the pattern. What is going on here?  Granted, the model for the Vogue dress does not have a willowy runway model figure, but her figure is lovely nonetheless. I’ve seen the dress photographed on actress Kristin Davis, who is probably closer in size and shape to the envelope model than to the runway model, and it looks lovely on her as well.  Could it be that the model’s boyish haircut is not working with the dress? Is it because the dress isn’t shown with a belt? Or is it that the draft of the Vogue pattern is somehow more conservative?  I hope it’s not that, because I ordered it anyway. I’m counting on the belt to be the solution.

So, onto another question.  It was my first instinct to get a tweed or other such menswear fabric and make this as a dress for work.  But I’m realizing that I am in possession of a whole lot of classy little knee-length dresses for work, both purchased and made.  And then I discovered this Vera Wang Lavender Label floral brocade from Fabric.com:

vw-lavender-label

What do you think?  I found some pictures of the actual Vera Wang Lavender Label dress for which this fabric was used, and the fabric really begs to be pleated and ruched. In that sense, the fabric might be a good fit for that pattern. But I’m still not sure… given that the Vogue pattern looks considerably less “fierce” than the Michael Kors original, and given that I’m not very va-va-voom anatomically to start with, will this floral frock look frumpy and grammy-ish (no offense to grammies!), or will it look sophisticated?  

In other words, will it be Mad Men floral dress:

madmen_hammjones_gallery_primary

or Queen mum floral dress?

queen_mother_small

What’s your advice?  Yay or nay on the print with the Vogue 1117 pattern?

Oh goodness.  I didn’t realize that when I wrote “Visit my new blog!” on my recent BurdaStyle and Pattern Review postings that anyone actually would. Now I feel a little embarrassed at the half-baked state of this blog.  It’s sort of like when you tell someone, “Oh, stop by anytime,” and then they actually do and you’ve got dirty socks on the living room floor, a sink full of dishes, no snacks in the house, and you’re wearing a t-shirt you’ve had since 1991 that’s advertising co-ed naked something or other. Only it wasn’t one person, but a couple of hundred. Hello, visitors, and yikes!

If you came hoping for brilliant sewing tips, glorious photos of works-in-progress, and stunning finished objects, sorry- my bad! I hope that someday that stuff will be here. In the meantime, lest you mistakenly figure me for a sewing guru and find yourselves disappointed, let me be up front with you about some of my inadequacies as a hobby seamstress:

  • I have never sewn a bound buttonhole
  • I have never sewn a vent of any kind.  Not on a sleeve, not a skirt, not on a jacket, nothing.
  • I do not own a serger and have never used one (it’s on my wishlist)
  • I have zero tailoring skills and have never padstitched anything
  • I only own one sewing reference book that I use, Burda’s “Nähen leicht gemacht” (“Sewing Made Easy”).  For everything else, I just troll the web
  • I don’t own a proper ironing board.  I have one of those little ones that sits about 3 inches off the floor.  You know, the kind that college students have
  • I still need to consult references when I install a lapped fly or all-in-one-bodice facing to make sure I don’t screw them up
  • I’ve only owned a proper sewing machine for about eight months.  Almost everything I made prior to that was sewn on a machine I bought for 50 euros at Plus, a German discount grocery store.  Seriously, I made winter coats on that hamster-powered toy
  • I don’t have a proper sewing table so I lay everything out on the carpet and do most of my work sitting on the floor.  I leave trails of fabric scraps, thread, and pins throughout my apartment, to Dan’s chagrin (especially regarding the pins, which have a particular affinity for him)
  • I borrowed a dress form from my sewing teacher for a few months but had to return it to him when I moved and now I don’t have one.  Since then I rely altogether too much on the “guess and test” method of fitting, highly unprofessional and imprecise.  (Anyone know where to get just a regular, unadjustable, cloth covered styrofoam form with an 83 cm bust?  Because that’s what I really want, not a fancy schmancy one and not a creepy duct tape twin that leaves my pins gummy.)
  • Corollary to the previous: I often sew in my underwear because I’m too lazy to keep changing in and out of my clothes when I’m fitting things
  • I’ve never seen a single episode of Project Runway
  • For every two garments I’ve made that I wear, there is a horrible unworn mutant in the closet or sitting unfinished in a pile on a shelf. I’m looking at you, georgette blouse from the 8/2009 issue of Burda.

Anyway, there are more ugly sewing confessions, but some secrets are just too horrible to share.  The ones above are at least things that I think could be fixed. As you can see, I’m far from hardcore, and my skills are still pretty far from advanced. I’m working on it though!

Pattern Review is running a Little Black Dress contest, and it just so happened that I’d had an idea for one a while ago that I hadn’t gotten around to making. In fact, now that I think about it, I’ve never made a black dress before, little or otherwise. I’m pretty excited about it; it had never even occurred to me to enter a sewing contest before.

Actually, the dress has been done for a about a week now, but there hasn’t been a good time to photograph it. It’s dark when we leave for work in the morning, and it’s dark when we get home. And the lighting in the apartment really isn’t good for photographing, and the mess doesn’t help either :) So that pretty much leaves this weekend. Since we’re planning an all-day hike tomorrow, it left today. And it so happens that it’s been snowing all day here! So, all of these photos were taken in sub-freezing temperatures. Excuse me if I look grumpy; my butt has turned to ice in most of the photos.

Dan kindly took 60+ photos and put up with me running around to switch up accessories and querying why this or that photo made my back look so fat :)

I’m pasting in the “review” (can you really review your own pattern?) I posted on Pattern Review, but I’ll show you all the photos first so you don’t have to bother clicking on all the links.

 

Dress from the front

Dress from the front...

... from the back ...

... from the back...

... gussied up for the office...

... gussied up for the office...

... or for shopping ...

... or for shopping ...

... dressed down for lunch ...

... dressed down for lunch ...

... and fancied up with fake fur and a guy.

... and fancied up with fake fur and a guy. For the sake of full disclosure, The Selfish Seamstress did indeed make Dan's shirt. Sorry to disappoint my dear readers so early in the game.

 

Inspiration:
Coco Chanel may be the mother of the LBD, but when I hear the words “little black dress,” I always think of Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’m sure I’m not alone in this My below-the-knee length slim sheath is inspired by the floor length, gathered waist Hubert de Givenchy gown she wears in the film. One of my online sewing heros, BurdaStyle veteran Myk made an adorable babydoll style dress inspired by the same gown, and after seeing hers, I began to dream about that iconic back bodice applied to a simple slim sheath. The LBD contest finally gave me the kick in the pants to get around to drafting it!

A whole bunch of photos:
**The dress by itself shown from the front, the three-quarters view, the full length back view, and a back close up.
**LBD gets dressed up for a day at the office with a cashmere cardigan (to cover up the open back and bare shoulders!), and patent leather wedges, belt, and bag
**LBD goes shopping with a matching black belt, tall boots, tote bag, and leopard trench coat (Schnittvision pattern)
**LBD meets friends for a casual lunch with a wool sweater coat and some comfy heeled oxfords
** And finally, LBD goes out to dinner with a fake fur stole, patent leather pumps, and some seamed fishnet stockings. Really this outfit wants some black opera gloves and a satin clutch, but since I don’t have those accessories, I supplemented the outfit with Dan, the loveliest thing I could find at home.

About the design:
I drafted the pattern for this dress using some pieces from the lining pattern of Burda WoF 5-2008 dress 125 as a block. I had made the Burda dress previously and knew it had the kind of slim fit I was looking for (I’ll review this pattern soon- it’s fantastic).

The front has a slightly lowered waist seam and the bodice has armhole princess seams. The skirt front has two darts. The back has no waist seam, and just two long darts from the high bust line to the hip. The entire dress is lined with black lightweight taffeta lining, except for the cresent-shaped back neck piece, which is self lined. I used an invisible side zip to make sure that the back (sort of the whole point of the dress) was as uninterrupted as possible.

The neckline took a couple of tries to get right, not because it was hard to draft but because I kept underestimating the amount of structure it needed. In the end, I ended up using fusible interfacing on both of the neckline pieces AND using sew-in interfacing as well. I also applied sew-in interfacing to the top of the back bodice (the pointed piece) for stability.

To make sure that this dress had the kind of day-to-night versatility, I used a very simple, classic fabric- some deep black wool suiting that I had stashed to make pants and never gotten around to using. The fabric is smooth but matte so it’s appropriate for daytime wear but still dressy enough for evening. I also cut it slightly below the knee to give it a little extra formality. For most daytime wear, it requires a cardigan or jacket (I wish I had a little black 60′s inspired one to go with it!) to cover the shoulders and exposed back, but the front is very conservative, so it won’t raise an eyebrow at work.

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out- it’s something I’ve been wanting to make for a while and it was pretty simple to draft and sew.

I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but all of a sudden I’ve developed an obsession with envelope patterns.  Whereas before I was content to draft my own patterns or wait patiently for by Burda or Patrones magazines to arrive for painstaking tracing, in the last month or two I’ve become quite fixated on envelope patterns.  Yes, they’re convenient, but there must be more to it than that– convenience has never really been that much of a motivation for me when sewing.  Is it just me, or are envelope patterns becoming chic in a way that they haven’t been for the last few decades?

A few examples for your consideration, which my dear friend Khai was kind enough to pick up for me at the most recent Hancock’s sale:



Simplicity 2724
Simplicity 2497

Lovely, no? I drooled over these for quite a while, and now they have finally arrived, in a padded mailer full of joy.  The Cynthia Rowley on the right is quite popular right now; I’ve ordered some teal silk and cotton blend poplin for it.  The Project Runway on the left has a lot of appealing options, but I’m most taken with the leftmost pink taffeta rendition.  Pink taffeta is not my thing though.  I’m thinking navy cotton lawn, which would make it nice for work with a belt and sweater jacket.

Another recent acquisition (also a Simplicity Project Runway pattern) is this:

Simplicity 2473

My plan is to use the slim version and draft a fitted sleeve, contrast collar, and cuff to create a dress inspired by L’Wren Scott’s headmistress dress, as worn here by Nicole Kidman:

headmistress-dress

I’m going to need to put a leash on it soon because the discrepancy between the number of patterns I have waiting to be sewn and the amount of free time I actually have for sewing is getting a bit ridiculous.  

And anyway, I need to finish up my dress for Pattern Review’s Little Black Dress contest first.

About this blog

The Selfish Seamstress loves to design and sew garments, but only if she gets to keep them. I'm Elaine, known in the online sewing world as elainemay, and welcome to my selfish sewing blog.

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