You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2009.

Hope you’re all having a Happy New Year’s Eve day!  I just wanted to remind everyone that I’m matching the royalties from all Selfish Seamstress Store products up until the end of the year (tonight!). If you’d like to buy Selfish Seamstress totes, mugs, or t-shirts, I’m donating 100% of the royalties I earn (15% in general, but 30% of your cost if you purchase after navigating to my store from a link on my blog) to the Atlanta Humane Society, and matching the donation myself. So, if you’ve been wanting Selfish Seamstress Haiku Stuff, order today and have a donation made to the organization in the amount of 60% of your cost!

Plus, all t-shirts and mugs are 20% off today on Zazzle with the code NEWYOUZAZZLE. Why not start the new year off with some Selfish stuff for yourself and a nice donation to help out some animals in need?

Happy New Year, everyone– see you in 2010!

With all of this recent talk of buying fabric for myself and buying more fabric for myself and buying yet more fabric for myself, it may seem to you that the Selfish Seamstress has lost sight of the true spirit of the holidays. But don’t you worry, dear readers, she is well aware of the fact that the holidays aren’t just about getting fabric, they’re also about GETTING OTHER STUFF. Oh yes, and I have certainly done that with the help of a couple of trips to Kinokuniya, the Japanese bookstore near Bryant Park that is a sewer and crafter’s dream come true.

They have a beautiful selection of Japanese and non-Japanese fashion books and publications (dare I say I found their selection more interesting than nearby fashion publication mecca Around the World?):

No matter what your fashion interest, they have a book on it.  Jeans? Check. Flowered dresses? Check. Kimono design? Check.Cynthia Rowley? Check. Judaism-themed shoes?

Check.

They even have two entire racks of Japanese men’s fashion magazines. Notice that unlike many American men’s “fashion” magazines, the covers actually feature (gasp!) men wearing (gasp!) clothes, rather than nearly naked women!  [Note to Rihanna: If you're reading this, the Selfish Seamstress is no Puritan, but did you really have to be that naked on the cover of this month's issue of GQ? Do you really think the readers of GQ deserve that much of your 21-year old goodies? And no, the unzipped hotpants do not qualify as "clothes." P.S. Thank you for reading my blog, Rihanna, I love "Umbrella"!]

(Oops, I think this was the point at which I realized that photos are not permitted in the Japanese bookstore. Sort of ironic, actually. Sorry, Kinokuniya- let me know if you want me to delete the photos!)

And of course the craft and sewing sections were enormous, with all of the usual suspects like the Pattern Magic and Bunka series, Mrs. Stylebook and Lady Boutique, as well as tons of pattern books:

Fortunately for my already-depleted wallet, I didn’t have too much trouble resisting the dozens of books full of dress, blouse, and skirt patterns. I do like Japanese pattern books in theory and the sizing certainly works for me. But I find that many of the mainstream clothes in Japanese pattern books have a gently relaxed, almost smock-like fit (dirndl or a-line skirts that hit below the knee, jumper-style dresses) that is cute but don’t do any favors for my decidedly little-girl-not-yet-a-woman figure. Doll-like is not the aesthetic I go for, and I much prefer the more sophisticated styles in Japanese pattern magazines like Mrs. Stylebook. Still, I thumbed through just about all of them with delight.

There were also a few fantastic men’s pattern books featuring wonderfully classic patterns and even (on the left) the Book of Aprons for Men. That’s right, a whole book full of apron patterns specifically for men. How great is that?

The book on the right is full of coat patterns for men- trenches and car coats, duffle coats and overcoats, each one perfectly classic with all the traditional details. I thought about getting this to make some coats for Dan (interestingly, Dan cooks without an apron and probably would be perfectly fine with a unisex one if the occasion called for it!) but decided that the Japanese sizing might not work so well on him. He flipped through it himself and didn’t get too excited over anything so we left it behind. And oh yeah, making coats for him would interfere with my busy schedule of sewing exclusively for myself.

I did snag a couple of books. First off, the delightful Drape Drape pattern book, which I have coveted ever since reading about it on The Slapdash Sewist. My assessment of the book is pretty much on par with hers (I covet dress number 5 and find most of the others wonderfully artistic but unwearable from a practical standpoint unless I get a job that requires the regular exposure of my bumcrack). Here’s dress number 5:

And because the Selfish Seamstress is incapable of being positive about something without getting in a jab or two, I’d like to point out that this book features some freaky thin models in some kooky childlike poses:

I also picked up a book of hat patterns, which I think will be a good way to use up some of my nice wool scraps and remnants. The patterns range from adorable and practical:

To wacky:

To flowerpot-shaped (i.e. also wacky):

Many of the photos make me excited to sew some cute accessories (which I rarely do), and all of them make me want to break out my curling iron.

On your next trip to the garment district, be sure to swing by Kinokuniya for more irresistible sewing and crafting treats. And even if you don’t pick up any pattern books or sewing magazines, you’ll have a hard time passing up the other adorable items like Totoro stuffed animals in every size imaginable. And fortunately again for my wallet, my 15″ laptop would not fit in this, otherwise Professor Elaine would be lugging her computer to lectures in a most childish and inappropriately cute Jetoy kitty cat case:

As you can see, the Selfish Seamstress knows that the holidays are more than about just getting fabric. Kinokuniya bless us, every one!

Dear Readers:

I’m writing this post from under the mountain of fabric that toppled on to me after I attempted to stack all of my recent acquisitions into a neat ceiling-high column. I fear the end may be drawing near for me, but  if I’m going to go, at least I can say that this is exactly the way I wanted to go. Crushed by dozens of yards of wool knit and sleek suiting.

Based on some of your warm recommendations, I decided to take a little trip to Metro Textiles with Dan in tow. I had already feasted heartily at Mood and Paron, so this was just icing. And readers had mentioned a lovely proprietor and bargain basement prices, so I figured I had nothing to lose. Well, both were certainly true. Kashi is a lovely person who is passionate about his business and genuinely wants to make his customers happy, and my goodness, the deals are better than internet prices!

Look at that smile!  Who wouldn’t want to get their fabric from this man?  And if you’re wondering what he’s holding, it’s three yards of luscious aubergine lining -100% rayon (the good stuff!) in a rare 60″ width, for $6 a yard! Good luck finding that on the internet! I can see why some people had said that the selection is hit or miss- Metro Textiles is a tiny little shop compared to nearby mammoths like B&J or Mood (you have to do some creative walking in some cramped corners to get to some of the stock) and can’t be as comprehensive. But there was a lovely selection of wool suiting, jacketing, and coating, which are my favorites. There were also lovely knit prints and solids, and some beautiful silks as well. If you go in looking for something very specific you might not find it, but there’s quite a lot of fabric crammed into the space and it looked like great quality to me. 

Having binged so much earlier, I managed to hold back a bit, even though the prices are certainly binge-friendly. I came away with the aforementioned rayon lining, a whole lot of lightweight fusible knit interfacing (also 60″ and crazy cheap! Is it just me or is 60″ interfacing something really special?), and a beautiful black and white houndstooth wool suiting that is too smooth to be true:

 

Here’s a closeup of the wool ($10!!):

Kashi had some interesting stories about how the garment district has changed in the ten years during which he’s been in business, and about how the fabric stores in the area have been disappearing at a pretty fast clip. I guess this makes sense, as manufacturing has been moving out of the area and gone overseas. It’s a shame considering what a wonderful area it is, with such great history and of course such beautiful fabric. I hope the industry doesn’t erode any further and people like Kashi can stay in business. (Call him if you need something- he ships!) Did I mention how nice this guy is?

While in the area, I also hit up the famed trim store M&J Trimming. Unlike many hobby seamstresses, I’m not a trim fanatic, so I didn’t go crazy in there (a good thing too, because I’m pretty sure the woman ahead of me in line paid $70 for a bag of what looked like 5/8″ polyester satin ribbon, but I could have been mistaken).  I just picked up a couple of belt buckles, but that’s not to say I wasn’t blown away by the beautiful store:

And that’s just a tiny part of it. Trim addicts could spend a whole day (and paycheck) in here, and then come back the following day for more.

Finally, because I was in the area and because a certain mulberry sweater knit had been chewing at the edges of my consciousness since I had left it behind at Mood, I headed back there again. As I had sort of expected, it was more beautiful in my memory than in real life (probably the reason I had left it there in the first place.) But it just happened to be next to another wool sweater knit in a lovely army green, which I did annex:

And that was probably what did it.  This last unnecessary bit of fabric gluttony is what pushed the sewing gods over the edge. As this soft, thick knit teetered high atop the stock of new stash I’ve acquired in NY, the sewing gods unleashed their fury and struck it down, which is how I ended up under the avalanche of beautiful fabric. 

I think I may be done with fabric shopping for this trip. Unless I can manage to get out from under all this stuff.

Hugs,
Elaine

 

Cape 111 from Burda 8/2009

 

For me, there’s a fine line between having something uniquely special and looking crafty-crazy in handmade garments. I certainly am not interested in making something so mundane and generic and unobjectionable that I could buy it at Old Navy for $15. And knocking off something fantastic that is well out of my budget is, of course, totally understandable. But what about the rest of it? The stuff where you start to take more artistic liberty and exercise your creativity? Is it better to make something that looks like it could have come from a nice store, or is it better to make something that you couldn’t possibly get it in a store because it is just that special and unusual? On one hand, it’s flattering when someone thinks your handiwork looks so professional and your choices so on-trend that they say, “That’s a great dress.  Is it Banana Republic?” But if you’re going to work hard on developing skills to make one-of-a-kind garments for your own one-of-a-kind self, is it special enough if it looks like commercial clothing you could buy at a chain store? And if it doesn’t look like the sort of thing that any store would sell, do you look a little crafty-crazy when you wear it? (Nothing wrong with looking uniquely artsy-craftsy, of course, but the Selfish Seamstress personally has more conservative taste, so it’s not her style.)

I’ve thought about it a fair bit, and have come up with a heuristic that suits me very well: If it’s not something I would want if I saw it hanging somewhere, then it’s not worth sewing to meGranted, you can’t know for sure how it will look when it’s done so there’s still some uncertainty. And I don’t think that this is a philosophy that would suit everyone, or that it’s the only way to approach garment sewing. But as a general rule of thumb, it works well for me. My general method for deciding whether to make something is this: Imagine the finished garment made up in the chosen fabric. Imagine that I am not the person who made it. Regardless of whether it’s something that would realistically be sold in a store or not, imagine seeing it hanging on a rack somewhere. Would I want it or not?  If it’s something to which I would say, “eh,” then it’s not worth it to me to make it. If it’s something that would set off my crafty-crazy alarm, then it’s also not worth it to me to make it. Don’t get me wrong. I love the process of sewing and that’s mainly why I do it. But I’m not so keen on applying my skills to making garments that I’m not excited about on their own aesthetic merit. And I don’t want to wear something if the only thing I like about it is the fact that I made it myself.

There are a lot of garment “types” that I think hobbyists and crafters make mainly because they appreciate the technique and construction involved, and because they allow them to engage in the process of making. I suspect that these aspects of the process may ultimately be more important to the makers than whether the end product is really the sort of garment that they drool over. Examples of such garments are patchwork vests made by quilters, or most non-lace crocheted sweaters for adults. And I mean no offense whatsoever to quilters or crocheters– I myself have been an avid crocheter for the last 26 years and know that there are some crocheted sweaters that are chic by fashion standards, not just in the crafting community. But let’s face it- most patchwork quilted vests and heavy sweaters of solid double crochet are garments you’re more likely to find hanging from the torsos of hobbyists than in stores, catalogues, (non-crafting) magazines, or anywhere else, and sometimes (not always!) they look a little crafty-crazy. And perhaps the creators of these garments do make them because they really love the aesthetic and this is exactly the sort of garment they want to wear, which is wonderful. Or perhaps they make them, as I hypothesized, mainly because they just want to engage in the making process. If so, more power to these folks- I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this even if it’s not my approach to deciding what to make for myself.

All that being said, I started to wonder: What are the garment projects that hobby sewers undertake because they want to engage in the making rather than because the end product itself is chic? What are the things we make that ultimately only another sewer would find cool? What is our version of the patchwork quilt vest?

[In case you're wondering where this rambling train of thought came from, it's because yesterday a couple of folks suggested making a cape or capelet from my sweet potato plaid wool. I've been drawn to cape 111 from the August 2009 issue of Burda (pictured up top) since I received the issue, and had actually thought of using the fabric for it. But I'm never sure if capes fall into the crazy-crafter category or whether they're actually chic (or at least respectable and legitimate) clothing in the real world. Do fashionable women really wear them in real life?  Or do hobby seamstresses just sew them and post photos on Pattern Review because we think that if it's in every other issue of Burda, people must be wearing them? Has the world of sewing penetrated my sense of aesthetics so deeply that I can no longer objectively judge whether certain pieces of clothing look crazy in the real world? If I make the cape, will I be stepping into the world of crafty-crazy that I try so hard to avoid in my wardrobe?]

Update:  Thanks for the comments so far! You might be right– plaid + cape might be too much. Here are some samples of plaid capes. Crazy or no?

]

I was foiled in my attempt to go get the mulberry sweater knit that I can’t stop thinking about since I left it on the bolt at Mood because as it turns out, Mood was closed on December 24th. (What!  Do they not realize how short my time in New York is??) Fortunately, on my way there, I bumped into the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya (more on that expensive and unexpected happening later) and Paron. Having filled up on basics already, I perused their extensive 50% off heaven/annex for things that caught my eye, and fixed on this nerdy-chic chocolate and burnt orange Banana Republic plaid wool:

It’s sort of a shetland weight that would make for a nice substantial pair of pants or fall jacket. My first thought was a high waisted pencil skirt of the sexy-librarian-shakes-out-hair-good-heavens-you’re-beautiful! variety.  (I don’t know why I always think I can pull that off when I haven’t got anything in the va-va-voom department.) In particular, I would pair said skirt with my new also nerdy-chic Sweet Pota-toe Heels from ModCloth (believe it or not, my first ever actual ModCloth purchase):

(If these are your style, I should let you know that they are a bargain at $39.99.  Grab them while they still have a few pairs left!  And I am the reason that they’re sold out of size 5.)

I asked for a yard and a half of the fabric (originally $24/yard, but $12 after the 50% off), but the woman unrolled everything that was left on the bolt and said she’d give me the whole piece for the price of two yards. In the interest of not accumulating too much stash I thought about wisely saying no.  After all, it’s not a super basic like black wool gabardine or white cotton poplin. But she was so nice and it was almost Christmas eve and she was really selling hard to the selfish in me. And there went another $6.

I took it home and measured it and found that the entire piece was actually four yards long. Plenty for a pencil skirt and something else (which I would not wear WITH the skirt because I do not want to dress like a crazy lady.)  What do you think?  Three-quarter length coat with chocolate brown faux fur trim?  Trench-style jacket?  Trousers? What does one do with so much sweet potato plaid?

Hope it was worth it
All that sewing for others.
Happy holidays!

It had not been my intention only to go to Mood.  I actually trekked down to the garment district with a Post-It with several addresses on it.  But once in Mood I found everything my selfish little heart could desire and more (plus more than my selfish little arms could carry, making further shopping impossible.) I skipped out on the silk organzas and velvets, the gorgeous silk and cotton jersey prints that would inevitably languish unused on the shelf were I to take them home with me, and headed straight for wool.

After so much guessing with wools purchased online (and they vary so much in hand and quality), it was a joy to wander through the aisles stacked up the the ceiling and pet every fabric picking only the softest. Here’s my haul of wool suitings up close.  A super soft heathered taupe flannel:

A chocolate-y tweed in a fine herringbone pattern, darker in real life than in the photo:

And a lightweight soft tweed in various shades of brown:

You may be looking at these and thinking that The Selfish Seamstress sure does have predictable taste.  A year ago I myself would probably have only picked one of these and then substituted the other two with something a little wilder. But I think this is just me maturing as a stasher, knowing that these are the kinds of fabric I wish I had when they’re missing from my collection, and knowing that these are the things that I ultimately want to sew and wear. Plus I’ve done a lot of grey wool in the last year or so, and good browns are often hard to find. And ohhhhhh the quality!  These wools are so soft and rich and fine, they could probably be worn right against the skin without any itching at all. But I’ll line them anyway because they deserve it!

Then I went to pick out some knits, which is a bit of a gamble since sewing knits is sort of new to me and building up a big stash right away might not be the safest of bets.  But at least all of these are earmarked for specific patterns, so that increases the chances that they’ll get used. First I found that most elusive of fabrics- black wool double knit.  They had so many different black wool knits and it was a luxury to pick out the softest and smoothest rather than settling for whatever I could find.  (No picture because it just looks like black fabric when I photograph it).  Then a lovely eggplant (or grape?) ponte double knit:

And the softest, silkiest bamboo jersey in French blue:

I’m not necessarily done with my fabric shopping in New York, and I’ve got quite a few more days in the city.  Thank goodness that I have status on United, which means that Dan and I can check a total of four suitcases on the trip back :) Dan plans to fill some with sporting equipment, but he may be mistaken in that assumption.

I left Mood with my wallet about $130* lighter, and yet I still can’t help but think about a particular mulberry sweater knit I passed up, and a wine-colored wool jersey. Fortunately, it just so happens that I have this afternoon blocked off in my datebook with the words, “Make you even MORE jealous.”  I’ll get right on that.

* This number is a lie.

The Selfish Seamstress loves to read other people’s sewing blogs.  She does this mainly in hopes of finding mentions of herself.  (Secondary reason: So she can steal your ideas.)  Recently she has noticed some bloggers making comments somewhat along the lines of, “I wish I could be more like the Selfish Seamstress!”  How tremendously flattering!  Are they jealous of my long flowing hair?  My remarkable intelligence?  My keen sense of style?  My intermediate sewing skills?  My adorable tuxedo cat?  Then it dawned on me:

People admire my outstanding ability to tell friends, family, and colleagues to bite me and die when they ask me to make them stuff.

Well, I can’t blame you. It’s quite the black art, and you can’t just develop these skills overnight, especially if you’ve spent years generously giving of your time and effort sewing stuff that leaves your hands never to return again. (Of course, the Selfish Seamstress was born without a capacity for generosity and compassion, and thus has quite the head start). If you’ve been sewing for others for a long time, it can be as hard to turn your back on unselfish seamstressing as it is to quit carbs. Because much like French fries and cookies, blood-sucking vultures are ubiquitous and hard to say no to. They often operate under innocuous-sounding code names like, “best friend,” and “granddaughter” to trick you into doing stuff for them.

As with many bad habits, quitting cold turkey often leads to relapse.  An alternate plan of action may be a gentle ramping down by prioritizing which unselfish sewing projects are the biggest waste of your time and cutting those out first. To help you out with this, I offer a handy set of general guidelines for those just getting started with Selfish Seamstressing:

The Selfish Seamstress’s Handy Beginnner’s Guide to Sewing for Others

Costumes for kids:
Rating: :(
Kids vary in the amount of gratitude they feel or express when you make them a present. They may be thankful or not, but by and large they are not going to feel  indebted. Many of them live in a dreamworld in which people give them stuff just because they’re kids.  This attitude buys you NOTHING.  On the other hand, if you’re going to make something for someone, it may as well be something that they really want and really get excited about, rather than something that’s going to hang unworn in a closet gathering dust and breeding resentment (on your part), so costumes are a good way to go. Plus, kids’ costumes are generally low-effort and use low-cost fabric (because why would you knock yourself out for something the kid will wear a couple of times and then promptly outgrow?) which means more time and money left for you to make something nice for yourself.

Mending and alteration:
Rating: :( :(
Yuck.  If ever there was a thankless job, it’s getting other people’s clothes to fit them.  It’s boring.  It’s uncreative.  People think it’s no big deal since, after all, you just love sewing, right? The only good thing that can really be said about mending and altering stuff for other people is that it often is a fairly quick job.  Hemming a pair of pants takes a relatively short amount of time compared to, say, making six bridesmaids dresses in different sizes for your friend’s niece’s wedding. The big con though: If you do it once, people will have no problem asking you do to it again. Hemming the pants quickly, but then not returning them for a couple of weeks because you’re “still working on them” may help prevent future requests.

Home decor sewing:
Rating: :( :(
I have to admit that I’m biased about this one because I find home dec sewing to be dull dull dull.  Mmmm…. sewing endless straight lines on heavy fabric. Just thinking about it bores me to the point that it makes quilting sound fun. (Haha, sorry quilters!) The upside of this one is that home dec sewing is the type of unselfish sewing for which you are most likely to get paid.  For some reason, people seem to think that making window treatments is a real job that warrants compensation, while fixing a torn skirt or sewing a dress from scratch is just a nice gesture from a buddy. All I can say is, if you must do it, milk it for all it’s worth and don’t fall asleep at the machine during one of those 72″ hems.

Clothing for men:
Rating: :( :( :(
Men are not unlike kids in that their degree of receptiveness and gratitude varies. From a technical standpoint, men’s clothing is the worst unselfish sewing you can undertake because it’s often so labor intensive. Men’s clothing is detailed, with cuffs, plackets, collars, welt pockets, lapels, etc. – all the good things you love to sew for yourself, for SOMEONE ELSE. It takes a long time and it can be fiddly. A lot of men also prefer clothing that is uncreative- often the kind of handmade clothing they would be happiest receiving is the kind that looks like it came from the Gap.  Tiny unique touches and details may just be the thing that makes a guy say, “That’s not really my style,” and relegate the garment to the back of the closet. And, as everyone knows, resentment varies in proportion to the amount of work put into an unworn garment. The more work you put in, the more you despise the recipient for not wearing it!

Clothing for women:
Rating: :( :(  to  :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(
Although sewing clothes for women could be relatively painless (a simple knit top with four pieces for your grandmother who loves it because you made it and wears it every time she sees you), it could go horribly, horribly awry.  You haven’t truly felt rage boiling in your veins until you stand in front of the mirror while the recipient tries on your hours and hours of labor and says, “It’s really nice. Ummmmm, I’m just curious, but if you wanted to, could you make the bodice spaghetti strap instead of short-sleeved? Not that it’s not totally fine like this, I’m just curious. Also, do you think maybe it should be a little shorter? And do you think we should have gone with that other red fabric instead?” Is your temperature rising yet?  Mine is just typing this :)

This list is not comprehensive, nor is it without its exceptions to the rules, but it should provide a decent jumping off point for those looking to build up their Selfish skills.  How about you?  Have you got any tips for S.W.A.G. sewing to avoid?

I like Fabric.com. I like their generous free shipping policy for orders over $35. I’ve gotten some lovely fabric from them in the past. Today in a fabric shop in NYC, I saw one of the same Vera Wang brocades that Fabric.com was selling for $3.79 last week going for $40 a yard. But I must take issue with the fact that the Vera Wang Lavender Label jacquard that I purchased from them was pictured on the website like this:

 

And when I took it out of the shipping box, I found it actually looks like this:

As you can see, this is more than just a small matter of monitors varying in how they display color.  The name of the fabric on the website is, “Designer Woven Jacquard Circles Navy.” Granted, I thought (based on the website picture) that the classification of the color as “navy” was a bit off, as I would sooner have called it “periwinkle” or “blue-violet” or something like that. But as it turns out, we were both wrong. The fabric is pretty much black.  There may be the ever slightest tinge of blue to it, but you’d have to know it was there to notice it.  My greatest concern when purchasing it was that I didn’t know how big the circles were going to be! Turns out there were other surprises in store.

The fabric itself isn’t horrible for what it is.  It’s stiff and synthetic-feeling, but if I saw it in a store, I wouldn’t think it was bad.  It was just that I was expecting something much more special- those nifty bull’s eyes in lovely graduated shades of violet. Ah well. Disappointing. But I got some pretty stuff in the brick and mortar stores today in which I will be rubbing your envious noses just as soon as I can get some nice photographs taken :)

 

Some people take joy
In sewing for their loved ones.
We call them, “suckas.”

I love “The Office.”  I can’t get enough of it.  As of this season, it has surpassed “30 Rock” as my favorite show on TV.  It’s hilarious, and the Selfish Seamstress just loves funny. Last week’s Christmas episode was no exception.

In the episode, Angela (notoriously prim, unsympathetic, judgmental, and uptight) is opening her Secret Santa gift, and exclaims:

“It’s fabric.  I really wanted this!”

To which her boss, Michael, replies sardonically:

“That’s fantastic.  You can make another dress that goes past your feet.”

Her reaction to this puritanical gift from a work colleague is supposed to be funny, and it is. Most of the millions of people who watch the show would agree– in normal society, it’s weird to give fabric as a gift and it’s dorky to get excited over a gift of fabric.  And yet, in the selfish seamstress world, who wouldn’t eagerly accept fabric over just about any other gift her friends or family would think to proffer?

I come from a family in which we didn’t ask for specific presents. You got what you got, and as a result, to this day I never ask for specific gifts. Odd for someone as selfish as I am, right? The truth is, once Christmas rolls around, there usually isn’t anything I want anyway.  In recent years, I’ve asked close family (the ones who wouldn’t be offended, like my sisters) not to give me presents as I have too much stuff already, and some make donations to charities instead, which works out great. But despite my desire to reduce the clutter… ahh, to receive a gift of fabric… Can you just imagine opening the package from your mom, and surprise!  It’s three yards of charcoal and white chalk-stripe wool flannel suiting!  Visions of perfectly cuffed trousers with front welt pockets are dancing in my head.

Tomorrow, (weather willing!) Dan and I will fly back to New York for the holidays, our home and native land.  And that means Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations, catching up with old friends, meeting the new babies, seeing loads of beloved relatives, eating all sorts of good things that you can only find all in one place in New York, museums, Central Park in the snow, and handing out the S.W.A.G. projects I have painstakingly sewn instead of making wonderful things for myself. Damn you, family, and your stupid unconditional love and support of the last 33 years!

But most of all, going home for the holidays means:

ONE NO-HOLDS-BARRED DAY IN THE NEW YORK CITY GARMENT DISTRICT REPLENISHING MY STASH.  

It’s a Very Selfish Seamstress Christmas, and I’m going to be on the prowl for:

  • Ever elusive wool and rayon jersey and wool double knit
  • Classic, high quality suitings in menswear solids, stripes, plaids, houndstooth, and herringbone
  • Lightweight wool tweeds and flannel for pants and skirts
  • Wool and silk boucle for jackets and sheaths
  • Poplin in rich colors for shirts and dresses
  • A perfect plaid wool coating
  • Sophisticated sweater knits

And whatever else happens to strike my selfish, selfish fancy. And after every acquisition, I plan to exclaim, “It’s fabric.  I really wanted this!” (But no more dressy fabrics.  My stash of classic wools has worn down to scraps, while my stack of embroidered georgette and and silk chiffon remains unchanged since last year.) 

So.  Shall we shop?  Mood, Paron, B&J…. what are your favorites?  Share!  The Selfish Seamstress will leave no bolt in New York unexamined!

The full preview of the new issue of Burda (formerly Burda Moden or Burda World of Fashion, now “burda style” all lowercase) is now online.  Or at least, I think it’s the full preview– it’s got more images than the sneak peek that went online last week, but some of the stuff that was in the sneak peek, such as the puffy ski jacket feature, don’t seem to be available for preview. In any case, there isn’t much in this issue that I’m excited about.  My favorite item is this (faux?) shearling coat, and it’s probably not something I’d wear. Come to think of it, I think it’s just the technical drawing that I like.

So, I’m guessing that it’ll be at least another month before I renew my subscription (wow, this is now 3 months I’ve gone without renewing!)  A lot of people have been grumbling about the seeming decline of BurdaMag (I’m going to call it that because it’s too confusing now with all the names).  But I’m not sure if it’s really gotten any worse, or if I just don’t happen to like anything that’s in them right now.  It’s certainly been the case in the past that a string of issues has gone by with little in them to tempt me. And the issues at the very end and very beginning of the year often don’t do much for me because I’m not so keen on making formal wear or cuddly lounge-y stuff. My preference tends to be for the sharper transitional garments in the September and October issues, and sometimes the spring dresses in the May issue. I thought the August 2009 issue, the first issue after some of the big changes, was pretty great too. So, in short, I’m not sure if my lack of interest in the recent issues is because of me or because of BurdaMag. I have faith that my beloved Burda will soon put out an issue with something I’m dying to make.

What *is* kind of disappointing to me is the new BurdaMag website.  To the best of my understanding, the magazine and the German website for the magazine are now called “burda style” – two words, all lowercase.  Whereas the New York-based online sewing community that puts out weekly patterns for (usually paid) download is called BurdaStyle – one word with camel hump capitalization. Ugh, confusing.  But also, all those pop-up ads that both sites have had for months sort of implied that the two websites were going to merge, and now it seems they haven’t.  Also confusing??

When I started exploring the new BurdaMag website, I found that some of my favorite features were hard to find.  Upon further probing, I found that they were missing entirely.  Most notably, the extensive collection of free patterns for download.  The German site always had more free patterns available than the English language site.  And Easy Fashion magazine has for the past couple of years featured patterns that were only available through the free download on the Burda website, and not included as paper patterns in the magazine. Now the formerly free patterns are available only as paid downloads, in a surprising and unexpected move reminiscent of when BurdaStyle (NY-based online sewing community) overnight started charging for patterns that had previously been free downloads. (Wow, does anyone remember the huge uproar over that??  I kept myself faaaaar away from that flame war.) Don’t get me wrong– everyone’s got to eat, times are tough, and a company certainly has the right to charge for the content it owns and distributes. But still, it’s hard not to be disappointed. The English language site (and, as I understand it, the French and Russian sites) are still in the old format, but it doesn’t look like they’re being updated- they don’t have any mention of the January issue yet, so I’m guessing they’re transitioning. They still have their free pattern downloads available, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they will disappear soon with an overhaul, so if you want it for free, probably best to grab it while it’s there!

The other thing that is missing is the archives of Burda WoF/Moden issues.  Well, the archives are still there technically, but you can’t flip through them- you can only see the titles of the features and the cover image.  This is rough because I rely on those quite a bit. I often purchase back issues of Burda when I need a pattern and I dig through those archives a lot when I’m searching for something. They’re still there on the English site, but they don’t go back as far as they did on the German one.

I checked out a thread on my favorite German online sewing forum, hobbyschneiderin.net, and the word on the street is that the archives will be coming back in full force as the website ramps up, but the days of free downloadable patterns are over at BurdaMag.  Well, it was fun while it lasted.  I guess I’ll have to put up more of my own  for download to take up some of the slack ;)

In happy news, after a bit of a mix-up, my Hamilton Beach Smart Lift iron arrived- the Pattern Review prize for my little black dress.  Whoo-hoo! Thanks, PR, and Hamilton Beach!

Remember back in the day when you could order a designer pattern in an envelope from Burda Moden, some from really well-known designers (e.g. Karl Lagerfeld)?  Actually, now that I think about it, the offer may have only been available in Germany. I was living in Germany when I decided to sew for real, and I became completely obsessed with this Orwell coat pattern, which was available for mail order from the September 2006 issue. I managed to get ahold of it even though the issue was by that time several months old. (The Selfish Seamstress can be very charming when she wants something.) And this coat became my second *real* sewing project, after a simple dress from the February 2007 issue. I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking, being pretty much a rank beginner, working on what was barely more than a toy sewing machine.  (I purchased it for 50 Euros at a grocery store and it had about as much power as a wind-up toy.) There were about 35 pattern pieces to the thing, and loads of topstitching by hand.  Perhaps it was a good thing that I was a beginner, because I didn’t fully realize just how much work it was.



(Though really, as much work as this was for me, it must have been ten times as much for Tany, who liked the Orwell coat so much that she recreated the coat without the original Orwell pattern!)

Since then, Burda has stopped offering designer patterns, as has Patrones.  But a little web trolling turns up some more resources for making your own designer knockoffs. Many of you are no doubt familiar with (and have already made) projects from SHOWstudio‘s designer downloads, like the very innovative Alexander McQueen kimono jacket among others.

But I’ve also dug up a few others where you might not have thought to look. The German magazine Für Sie regularly puts out designer knockoff knitting patterns, but occasionally does a sewing feature. The instructions are in German, but an experienced sewer can probably do without. One installment included (scaled) free patterns and instructions for lovely dresses from  (top to bottom) Stella McCartney, Jil Sander, and Yves St. Laurent, among others:

And another more recent one included free patterns and instructions for glamorous cocktail and eveningwear, such as these from Douglas Hannant, Reem Acra, Nicole Farhi, and Bottega Veneta:

And finally, the place that no one over the age of 20 probably ever thought to look for designer inspiration except the Selfish Seamstress because she refuses to leave any sewing-related stone on the web unturned: Teen Vogue.  Oh yes, Teen Vogue does regular D.I.Y. features with designers like Philip Lim, Tory Burch, Vena Cava, Zac Posen, Band of Outsiders, Rachel Roy, and others. They’re not all sewing projects, but many of them are better than a lot of the “D.I.Y. fashion” projects you’ll find on the web in that you can’t actually tell that they used to be an XXL men’s t-shirt! Here are a couple of my favorite Teen Vogue projects.  First, a ruffled tank from Doo.Ri:

Next, a painted party dress (no pattern, just painting instructions) from Jason Wu (yes, Michelle Obama’s inauguration gown designer Jason Wu!):

And finally, instructions for sewing this very hip, very simple Mulberry satchel:

How about you?  What are your favorite D.I.Y. designer resources?

Selfish Seamstress readers, you are AWESOME. So far, your purchases of Selfish Seamstress Haiku mugs have garnered $43.35 to be donated to the Atlanta Humane Society!  So, just in time for the holidays (especially if you’re like me and wait until the last minute to shop or have a tendancy to bail on actually sewing things for people), I’ve added Selfish Seamstress Haiku shirts and tote bags to the Selfish Seamstress Store! Head over there for all your favorite snarky sewing haikus on gifts for your favorite selfish seamstress (yourself, right?) or pick up some for your sewing buddies to make sure that THEY OWE YOU IN 2010. As always, ALL of the royalties I receive from sales will be donated to the Atlanta Humane Society.

IMPORTANT THING #1: Please navigate to the Selfish Seamstress Store by using one of the links on my blog, rather than from a bookmark or from Zazzle’s homepage.  The reason for this is that if you buy something after navigating from my link, Zazzle will double the royalty (your cost remains the same), meaning  30% of your purchase price will be donated to the Atlanta Humane Society, rather than 15%. (The remaining cost goes to Zazzle for producing the items and staying in business.)

IMPORTANT THING #2: You can get ANY haiku you want on ANY shirt/mug/tote.  That means that if you love the “Bite me, holidays” haiku, but want it on a tank top or long sleeve T instead of a short sleeved ringer baby T, you can have it!  Just click on the shirt with the haiku you want, and customize it!

IMPORTANT THING #3:  Your generosity to the sweet little animals in Atlanta has melted the Selfish Seamstress’s tiny-shard-of-ice-for-a-heart ever so slightly.  Therefore, I pledge to match all of the royalties earned from Selfish Seamstress products until the end of the year up to $200 in donations to the Atlanta Humane Society.  So, buy your stuff by clicking on a link on my blog; 30% of your purchase price will get donated, and I will match the amount and donate that too for a whopping 60%!

Also, Zazzle is having a deal for the next three days- if you purchase $50 worth of stuff, shipping is free.  So, in case you just need to have the entire set of mugs, postage is gratis :)  Be selfish and buy stuff for yourself!  Be unselfish and buy selfishness-themed gifts for someone else!  Do both and help puppies and kitties!  This is blowing my freakin’ mind.

The Selfish Seamstress has been blogging for a little less than two months now, but although she is new to blogging, and relatively new to seamstressing, she’s quite the seasoned expert at being selfish. It wasn’t too long after I began sewing in earnest that I noticed the pattern- things I sewed for myself got finished quickly, and things for anyone else dragged on a bit. Quite soon after I noticed this, I quipped to Dan that I was going to start two lines of clothing, one called “Selfish” that would include all the things I made for myself, and one much much smaller line called “UOMI” which would consist of the things I made for other people (Get it?  Get it?  Sound it out.)

Not long after, Dan surprised me with some adorable clothing labels that he designed:

Some of the spelling got lost in the translation, but cute, right?  Needless to say, I have far more of the YUOMI labels left than the Selfish ones :)

Of course, the last outstanding big piece of holiday S.W.A.G. is the brown cotton velvet sportcoat for Dan.  The one I started in 2007.  And when I say, “outstanding,” I don’t mean “spectacular” but rather, the last remaining project thing that will not die, as in “outstanding balance” or “outstanding debts.” And debt it is indeed.  This the price I pay for having a sweet-natured partner who surprises me with things like clothing labels he designed himself for no special occasion whatsoever.  He’s sneaky, that one.

The sportcoat and I have fallen into an uneasy, uncomfortable relationship. It’s like that person at work who gets on your nerves but you never talk about it.  Every interaction with the sportcoat is frustrating, and everything about it irritates the crap out of me.  I’m generally a pretty laid-back seamstress- usually nothing ruffles my feathers when I’m sewing. If I have to unpick something, I have to unpick it, no big deal.  But the sportcoat has found a way to push every one of my buttons.  NOTHING has gone right with this project. Tonight, I sat down grudgingly with it and tried once again to set in the sleeves:

On average, each sleeve has been set about 3-4 times.  I reshape the cap and trim.  I baste and pick and rotate and baste and pick and repeat.  I stitch and steam, and kick the walls and scream and yank them back out again. I swear at myself for not having opted a nice cooperative wool and blow loose velvet lint out of my respiratory tract.  And now, after having spent every last ounce of patience and a fair bit of impatience as well, I have decided that if I don’t settle for mediocrity, Dan will get a very unflattering baggy brown velvet sleeveless tunic.  So this is about as good as it’s going to get:

Sigh.  It’s puckery. It’s hard to press.  Here’s my rope and I’m at the end of it.  If anyone has any clever ideas about this (strangely enough, I have made cotton velvet jackets in the past for myself in which the sleeves settled in quite nicely on the first try – just goes to prove my point about sewing for others being a futile waste of time!), please feel free to share them.  I refuse to negotiate further with the brown velvet albatross, but I’m sure your tips and tricks will come in handy once I’ve gotten back to sewing things for my sweet, beloved ME.

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.

Little Black Dress Medium

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100% of sales proceeds are currently being donated to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Total donations to date:
$270.00 to the Atlanta Humane Society
$464.00 to the American Red Cross
$119.56 to Doctors Without Borders

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