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Once again, work has gotten to be so hectic that time for everything else has just about dried up. I tried at first to buy some extra minutes by eliminating unnecessary words and phrases from utterance, such as “please,” “thank you,” “are you going to eat that?” and “you don’t mind if I cut ahead of you, right?” And although I found myself at the front of queues much sooner after implementing these changes, I still found myself short on time, which meant no sewing for weeks on end. I finally squeezed a few hours this weekend to finish up a stagnating project (most likely at the expense of lectures that needed prepping or students that needed help- suckas!) – a dress inspired by the Kate Spade “Jillian” polka dot dress. Here’s the original:

Sooooooo pretty, right?? This dress has been drooled over by many a seamstress, including Kerry, who took a much smarter and more efficient approach to satisfying her covet. Not so for the Selfish Seamstress, who had to do things the slow way. (Kerry, incidentally, is so similar to Selfish in proportions that Selfish occasionally dreams of annexing Kerry, installing her in the sewing room, and using her as some sort of feisty, live-action dress form. Oh, what fun we would have, and what a precise fit!)

I don’t know on what blog or website I first saw the dress, but I am sure that the picture above is the first one I saw, and the one I fell for.  I don’t think I would have gotten quite so excited over it if I had only seen the modeled dress. Subsequent research on the dress revealed a slightly more sedate, less flared skirt than I had expected as well as a rather polka-dot-disruptive back seamed skirt that I wanted to avoid (as I had done before when knocking off other polka dot garments).

And so I set off to improve upon the original to make it more to my liking.  Yes, you read that correctly- a crankpot nobody sewing blogger with average sewing skills, no fashion design training, and paltry creative vision of her own actually claimed she was going to improve upon KATE SPADE. Improve. Kate Spade. Hubrisalicious!

Planned improvement #1: more flare in the skirt.  Planned improvement #2: side zip instead of back zip to ditch the back seam. Planned improvement #3: COTTON. Online retailers described the original polka dot Jillian dress as being done in “heavy silk organza.” Really?  Looks like taffeta to me.  Whatever weave it is, it’s strictly a party dress in sheeny, stiff silk. And Selfish never gets invited to parties on account of her tendency to ruin everyone else’s evening, so she was aiming for a little more versatility- something she could wear to ruin general everyday events for people.

Improvement #3 turned out to be a rather tall order, as it was hard to find the right navy and white polka dot cotton fabric. I didn’t want to wuss out with some rinky-dink mid-scale 1/2″ polka dot. I wanted a proper, robust, intentionally large, unashamed dot. Plus I wanted a regular dot pattern, like Kate’s, and not an irregular, scattered dot. See this?  Unacceptable:

After much scouring of the internet, I found this perfectly patterned navy and and white cotton on Denver Fabrics, with just the right size dot (slightly less dense than the original, but not a problem) and a smooth, sateen-like weave, for the just-right price of $5.50 . (Of course, I was so desperate to have the dress that I paid the $40 international shipping to procure 2.5 yards of it.  Oh, Selfish, there you go again.) The dots are perfectly circular in real life- they just look a little eccentric in the picture.

The fabric arrived and although it’s not lightweight, it’s softer and drapier than I was expecting- it feels like the high thread count cotton Royal Sateen bedsheets that my mom loves, after they’ve been through the wash a couple of times. So, rather limp and prone to wrinkling- better suited to a softer, looser style of dress than the crisp fit and flare silhouette that I had envisioned. But I was determined and certainly wasn’t going to find a better print so I pressed on.

I was going to draft the dress from scratch, and then I remembered that I had a custom-drafted pattern with just the right bodice for it that I could use as a block- my good old Coffee Date Dress (download the pattern and instructions for free here!). I slashed-and-spread the skirt in several places to give it a little more flare for good measure (the original Coffee Date Dress draft has a rather modest flare) and added a 4″  inverted box pleat in the center front à la Kate. I omitted the Coffee Date Dress’s back zip in favor of a side invisible zip to avoid the dreaded polka dot disruption:

The side seam polka-dot disruption is much less jarring since the side seam of the skirt is on the bias and no strong vertical elements to get interrupted:

And of course, I drafted the fun midriff drape and the bow (the tails of my bow are a little longer than in the original. Somehow I thought the little bow looked rather twee, but with this style of dress that’s kind of like further splitting hairs that have already been split.) The bow droops a bit due to the softness of the fabric so I may open it up again and line or interface it.

Because the fabric was so soft, I opted to do a full lining instead of facings to give it a little more body. I used a champagne taffeta lining from my stash- probably an acetate and rayon blend, but possibly full acetate. It has a bit more stiffness than Bemberg (a good thing for the soft fashion fabric) and the champagne color softens the sparkling whiteness of the polka dot fabric a little (also a good thing, in my opinion.)

I don’t regret adding in the extra flare to the skirt – this dress looks pretty much like what I imagined in my head. But the volume of the skirt does cause the front box pleat to get a little bit lost in the shuffle. And I always forget how short I drafted the original Coffee Date Dress- I’ve got about a 3/4″ hem only because I didn’t want to go any shorter with this style.

There you have it- inspired by the Kate Spade polka dot Jillian dress, knocked off and “improved” by the Selfish Seamstress on the cheap, ready to wear to any number of places and activities where you can fully expect that I will ruin your day and that of everyone around you. Oh, by the way, are you going to eat that? Thanks.

Don’t get me wrong, Readers, I love a good scandal, a bit of intrigue, and playing the victim while snickering maliciously under my breath all the while. But for the record, I should probably state this: I *don’t* think that clothing designers and RTW manufacturers are ripping me off.

I’ve received several emails from readers in the last few months (thank you!) pointing out dresses that bear a resemblance to my Coffee Date Dress design and suggesting that perhaps the dear Selfish Seamstress’s ideas are being swiped. The emails range from joking-wink-wink to seriously conspiratorial in tone. I do adore that you readers are noticing these things- it makes me feel like I have a little International Army of Selfish Spies looking out for the well being of me, the Selfish Spy Commander. But at the same time, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that major mass market retailer Ann Taylor:

famed Aussie designer Alannah Hill:

or the indomitable McCall’s:

are really trolling my blog for new designs :) Though I do love the idea of calling up an Ann Taylor branch and yelling, “Put me on the phone with Ann this instant, you inept, glorified cashier! I need to put a stop to this blatant poaching of my intellectual property right now! What do you mean, ‘Ann who?’ Ann TAYLOR, you imbecile!” to whomever picks up.

I myself did not “copy” the Coffee Date Dress design from anything I saw either. In fact, the Coffee Date Dress, which I designed in February 2009, was originally an attempt to reproduce a dress I saw on ModCloth that had a single ruffle that went all the way around the neckline. But after gathering the long strip of fabric for the ruffle, I started playing around with it on the dress, and ended up liking the zigzag ruffled jabot variation so much that I decided to veer from the original plan. I don’t recall having seen it before that, but the fact that it looked “right” to me probably means that I had seen something similar that had slipped into my subconscious, or else that the time was just right for that particular detail to look nifty. I’m guessing that’s also why it felt “right” to the folks who designed the garments pictured above. In any case, I don’t think I can take any credit for breaking new ground, nor do I believe that my little design has influenced designer or mass market fashion in any way.

But before you go pointing fingers and saying cruel words like “modesty” and “humility,” I would like to point out that I am STILL SO AWESOME. And so are you, my precious little spies!

I know I don’t usually post big lists of links on my blog, but there have been a lot of nifty sewing-related things popping up lately that I thought might interest you. Because, you know, I assume if it’s interesting to me, it must be interesting to everybody. Or at least it should be.

First up:

Nancy found the Burda archives!  Not the paltry ones on the German site that don’t go back nearly far enough or link to enough images, but the ones from the English language site dating back to 2006. I know lots of Burda fans (me included) were disappointed with all the great stuff about the magazine that disappeared along with the English language site when they redirected it to BurdaStyle (also a great site, but not the same content!), and in particular the super valuable archives. Great sleuthing, Nancy! To be honest, I think these will get blown away eventually once they’re done transitioning everything and we’ll lose access to them, but hooray for now!

Inkstain, Denise, and CarmencitaB (thanks, guys!) pointed out that my original dress pattern, the Coffee Date Dress (shown above are two versions I made for my friends Lindsey and Teresa in exchange for their modeling services) was mentioned in the Guardian’s online article “How to Make the Perfect Dress.” How flattering- you know how your Selfish Seamstress adores a good ego-boosting shout-out and a little international press. I actually love the Guardian’s DIY article series and even once managed to snag a free copy of an Alice Temperley pattern from them. (I haven’t made it yet- the pattern is kind of… inscrutable.)

Photo by Andrea Mohin/NY Times

As a huge fan of the New York City Ballet and its legendary costume designer, the late Barbara Karinska (I immediately recognized that tutu as her design for Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, that’s how much I adore her costumes), I found this New York Times article about refurbishing the company’s ballet costumes to be both fascinating and sad. As hobby sewers, the NYC Garment District is practically an infinite buffet of goodies for our sewing addictions, but sources and resources are disappearing irretrievably for the costumers, which means they’re losing their ability to reconstruct the costumes exactly as the original designers intended.

I know that everyone and their mom has been blogging about Jessie Steele aprons since they were featured in the new Sex and the City movie (no, I haven’t seen it, and no, I don’t plan to.) But they’re so delightful and dainty and whimsical I just had to show them to you in case you missed them. I’ve never owned an apron, and haven’t made one since the age of 6 (Would you believe I made it as a present for my sister? My Selfish skills were so poorly developed back then!) because there are always so many other real clothes that I want to sew more. But don’t they just make you want one? If you like that polka dot one, you’re in luck because Butterick 4945 includes a variation that’s almost identical.

And finally…

Yay! Arielle is back to blogging! She’s lived through a nightmare but now she’s received all of your generous sewing goodies, thanks to the wonderful Cidell and her beloved Nigel. Now it’s time to help Arielle get her sewing mojo back- pop on over to Fashion Maté and welcome her back with a hug!

You all know by now that the #1 rule of Selfish Seamstressing is, “Don’t sew for others, only for yourself.” If you aspire to be a Selfish Seamstress and have managed to achieve this perfect equilibrium in which every item that passes under your presser foot goes straight into your closet, you should pat yourself on the back- you have reached an extremely high degree of proficiency in Selfish Seamstressing.

Of course, sewing only for oneself is often easier said than done. Perhaps you don’t want to make an enemy of the gossipy lady at work who really wants a pencil skirt “just like yours.” Maybe you don’t want to look like the b who can sew but is still too selfish too make something cute for her neighbor’s toddler, about whom you are SICK OF HEARING ALREADY. Or maybe you think your mom is the kind of person you don’t want to turn against you. For those of you who are still working on your Selfish Seamstressing skills, you might like to refer to my handy guide “Selfish Seamstressing for Beginners,” which I put together a few months ago, to help the novice avoid the most frustrating and hair-pulling-out experiences of sewing for others.

Today, however, for those of you with very high Selfish aspirations, or those who have mastered the art of sewing for oneself and are ready to move on, I offer up this guide to Selfish Seamstressing for Experts! What more is there when you’ve gotten to the point where everything you sew goes to you and you alone, and people know not to ask for fear of the eye daggers you will shoot them? It’s quite simple:

You can use sewing to exploit your friends to get stuff you want.

Oh yes.  Advanced Selfish Seamstressing moves beyond sewing things that you want to using sewing as a weapon to manipulate the people around you to do your bidding. Any hobby seamstress has been approached with a request like, “If you make me such-and-such, I will pay you back for the fabric,” or “If you sew some new pants for me, I’ll cook you dinner!” And any seamstress worth her salt knows that these are unfair trades through which she would undoubtedly get the shorter end of the stick unless the friend in question is Thomas Keller. And when faced with such a request, the natural response is annoyance. (Check out Carolyn’s brilliant and eloquent post on this topic!) But the truly truly selfish seamstress should regard this as an opportunity. After all, only the very feeble minded would assume that paying someone back for the fabric is somehow a square deal, right? And when you’re an expert Selfish Seamstress, the question should not be, “How do I get this person off of my back?” but rather, “How can I exploit this friend to my best advantage?

The secret is choosing the right friends. Like with fabric, patterns, tools, etc., if you can’t use them, lose them. Think of them as objects in your strategy to use sewing for world domination. Case in point:  my adorable friend Nienh:

Nienh is fantastic in her own right, no question. She’s smart and fun, always up for doing stuff, and has a brilliant sense of snark which puts the Selfish Seamstress to shame. She drinks tea with her dog, which is kind of awesome. But, more importantly, she serves as an excellent case study from which to draw lessons about picking your friends for selfish seamstressing purposes.

1) Choose friends who have excellent taste and really nice stuff. You’ll notice in the photo above that Nienh is wearing a Coffee Date Dress, sewn by yours truly. Now, before you gasp that the Selfish Seamstress actually sewed a whole dress for someone else, allow her to show you what Nienh gave her in return:

Oh yes. Nienh gave me those in return for a Coffee Date Dress, which at this point I can pretty much sew in my sleep. $10 worth of ivory stretch cotton sateen from Vogue and a couple of hours of easy sewing parlayed into a gorgeous pair of black patent Nine West wedges. Needless to say, Nienh has great taste. A win for the Selfish Seamstress!

2) Choose talented friends who can do awesome stuff for you. In exchange for the Coffee Date Dress, I got more than just shoes.  (Negotiation skills are crucial!  Who said trades have to be one-for-one? Always aim for at least two-for-one!) Nienh also painted me this cityscape of my favorite bridge in Chicago:

That’s right!  Shoes and a beautiful piece of original artwork, custom made for me! Are you starting to see the advantages of advanced selfish seamstressing? With a few more years of practice, I’m thinking I can easily parlay a half dozen basic sheath dresses into a chateau in the French countryside and a beach house in East Hampton.

3) Whenever possible, choose friends who are a convenient size. Sounds weird, right?  It’s not.  Advanced selfish seamstressing is all about minimizing your effort and maximizing your reward. Choose friends whose proportions don’t deviate from the back of the envelope or who are perfectly symmetrical or otherwise easy to fit. Case in point: Nienh is just about the same size as the Selfish Seamstress which means no tedious fitting! The Selfish Seamstress made up that Coffee Date Dress in her own size, handed it off to Nienh as is, and claimed her prizes. Easy! Another advantage of choosing friends who are exactly the same size as you?  If you make something for yourself and you don’t like it, you can pretend you made it for them and use that as yet another opportunity to wheedle shoes out of them.

See? It’s as simple as that. And with a little practice, you too can use your sewing skills to turn the tables and take advantage of the people around you.

As a final story to inspire you to reach ever higher in your Selfish Seamstressing aspirations, I’d like to share a tidbit from my recent surprise trip to Montreal in which I pulled off perhaps the greatest selfish seamstressing coup of my career. Dan arranged the surprise trip to celebrate four years together, Montreal being the city where he first told me he had a crush on me (aww!) back in 2006. In light of this anniversary, I had undertaken a simple S.W.A.G. project for Dan, using the secret fabric I alluded to buying at Whipstitch. Here is the fabric itself:

Sock monkeys and bananas! And here is the S.W.A.G. present, modeled by Dan himself, sporting a little bedhead on account of me dragging him out for a photo right after waking:

Super simple drawstring pajama pants! I sneaked a couple of early morning stitching sessions, and he was none the wiser.

And now you are probably nodding along in full understanding of these advanced concepts. After all, the Selfish Seamstress sewed up a quickie pair of jammy pants (which she has yet to hem), and in return was whisked off on a romantic surprise weekend trip to a beautiful city, put up in a beautiful hotel suite with a whirlpool tub, treated to dinner at a lovely French restaurant, and patiently accompanied to more than a few fabric stores in Montreal. Great deal, right?  She milked that boy for all he’s worth!

Except he had one more thing up his sleeve during that trip (remember what I told you about aiming for at least two-for-one?):

You know you’ve mastered Selfish Seamstressing when you manage to exchange a pair of sock monkey print pajama pants for a promise of lifetime commitment. That’s a pretty sweet deal.

Photo snatched from Grosgrain

I just randomly discovered that Grosgrain just completed a Coffee Date Dress sew-along, which ended with dozens and dozens of lovely versions of the dress! It’s quite a clever idea- they break the steps down over five days and everyone completes it in synch in a very manageable fashion. I’m a little bummed that they didn’t credit me for the design and drafting of the pattern (is that petty of me?), but oh well, I guess that’s just what happens when you put stuff out there for free on the interwebs.Maybe I’ll email them and ask nicely if they’d add a little credit. Basic as it is, I’m pretty proud of that pattern. [UPDATE: Just got email from Kathleen of Grosgrain and wow, is she nice! Getting credited :) Yay!  Oh, how the Selfish Seamstress loves a good ego pat.] You can download it and others for free off of my downloads page.

Lots of photos of beautiful finished pieces here and here, the original sew-along concept here, and if you go here, you can work backward through the five days to see the process broken down and illustrated step by step. Pretty cool. Now don’t you want to make your own in just five days?

Okay, not really famous.  But!  My pattern for the Coffee Date Dress (available for free download)  is featured in Kate MacKay and Di Jennings’s new book on DIY fashion, Recycling is Chic! This wonderful project from Alchemy Arts offers lots of great projects for reusing materials to create really beautiful garments, and Di Jennings’s photography is lovely:

Doesn’t that illustrated dress have you reaching for your Sharpie right now? That hula costume is made of shredded grocery bags!

I have to say, I love the concept of the book.  The Selfish Seamstress is a big fan of reusing and reappropriating materials, and this book does that with great results. The following image is not from the book, but did you know that the Selfish Seamstress does some of her very best work in bubble wrap?

Hahaha. Ok.  It’s not exactly up to the authors’ standards for chic. I guess that’s why they are the authors of a book about DIY fashion and I am not! :)

I should be getting a copy of the book from the publisher soon, but I just had to share it now because it looks so pretty! Want your own?  Get it here!

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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