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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.

Yup. The Carlos Miele sweater is getting bigger. Nope it’s still not finished. Nope, it’s still not terribly interesting to look at.

The BurdaMag that needs to get packed soon is shown for scale, and because I was flipping through it wistfully, reminiscing about my glorious sewing days (i.e. last week.) It’s dark times like these, as the needles click stitch by stitch, when I start to wonder whether you’re sorry yet that you told me to keep blogging about “whatever,” and whether the “It looks great so far!” comments are coming from other sewers who pity me in my sad knitting state. This is what it has come to. Pity and knitting. Perhaps I will put on some sweatpants. They’re more comfortable than yesterday’s cargo pants.

In the meantime, you’re best going off and finding something more interesting to read.  Maybe there’s some great stuff about sewing from Denise on The Blue Gardenia blog today. Oh wait, no, it’s just more about lame old me and my sad little sewing space which doesn’t even exist anymore. Definitely check out her fantastic blog for her previous posts about more awesome sewing spaces from more interesting bloggers though. Sigh. I think I’ll go mope more and bake some cakes for other people now.

It stands to reason that if knitting is slower than sewing, then blogging about knitting is going to be slower than blogging about sewing.  Granted, I’m making zippy progress with my Giant Yarn for Dummies and Tree Trunk Needles, but it’s still teeny steps compared with the zooooooooom! of the feed dogs on my increasingly dusty Husqvarna. I’m getting back into the rhythm of knitting now and starting to enjoy it, but it doesn’t change the fact that showing knitting progress seems a lot less interesting than showing sewing progress.  Case in point- a fair bit of progress was made yesterday during packing downtime on the Carlos Miele knockoff sweater.

Before:

And after:

As you can see, significant progress has been made, and yet it’s really no more interesting than it was yesterday.

To answer a couple of questions that came up before my mind starts to wander again, yes, the gauge is huge. I put my seam ripper on the work so you can get an idea of the scale.  Here’s a close up with a quarter to show you just how big those stitches are:

To answer a few more questions, I’m knitting on straight needles because the circular size 17 needle cost about $22. I love a good quality bamboo circular needle as much as the next Selfish Knitter, but the likelihood of me making future projects this tremendously chunky is very low, so I opted to make a smaller investment in the needles. The purple needles in the picture are the size 17.  The gold needle is a size 10 or 11 that I’m just using as a stitch holder. The interesting thing with working at this size is that you can grab just about anything in your vicinity to use as necessary.  I actually used a teaspoon as a cable needle yesterday because it just happened to be lying on the table before me. It was nice – the bowl of the spoon kept the stitches from slipping off while I worked my cable.

So. Yup. I guess that’s about it. Is this what knitting blogging is like? Is there anything more I should be telling you?

[UPDATE #2: Yikes, Für Sie has totally redone their website since I posted this over the weekend, and now I can't find any of their sewing or knitting instructions anymore! I'll keep hunting and post a new URL if I find them. Sorry!]

Well, seeing as how I’ve made zero progress on Burda 8.2009.128, I may as well just blather on about other sewing-related stuff to you, right?

I just discovered a couple more new cute freebie patterns for some easy, drapey garments for summer.  They are this darling little drawstring tank dress, a knockoff of a current season Tim Hamilton dress:

And a drapey wrap overblouse and tank combo, a knockoff of a current season Maurizio Pecararo outfit:

And now for the catches. Yes, once again the instructions are in German, put out by the magazine “Für Sie.” Hey it’s not my fault that German women’s magazines make an effort to give you lovely designer knockoff DIY projects and English language magazines don’t! But really, the patterns themselves look so simple (one or two pieces per garment!) and there are some illustrations to the instructions, so you can handle it, right?  Oh yeah, and you have the scale the patterns up as well because they’re not full size.

Hey, don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger.  And wouldn’t you rather I share my freebie findings with you than keep them to myself?  :D

The patterns and instructions (as well as instructions for a couple of other projects) are here in this pdf. Good luck! I’m off to go do some sewing.

UPDATE:  Okay, because Meredith P. asked, and Meredith P is a lovely faithful reader, I’ll help you out a little bit, even though helping goes against everything I believe in. The scale is a one square to 1 cm (apparently you can get pattern paper with a 1cm grid, though I’m not sure how readily available this would be in an American sewing store?)

For the Hamilton dress, you need 1.6 meters of ribbed silk (faille perhaps?), two large silver beads and two small silver beads, or two silver-toned “endpieces” for cording (basically something to put at the end of the drawstrings.) They suggest adding 2cm seam allowance and 5cm hem allowance. For the arm openings, you need 4 bias strips of 55 cm each, and for the neck opening you need 4 bias strips of 70 cm in length. For the four drawstring pieces, you need 3 x 60 cm bias strips.

For the Pecoraro ensemble you need .85 meters of light blue crepe de chine, and 1.2 meters of green crepe de chine for the overblouse, and two hooks and eyes. Same 1 square = 1 cm ratio. Seam allowances are 2 cm everywhere except on the arm and neck opening, which is 1 cm. For the tank, you need 2 bias strips of 4 x 50 cm, and 1 bias strip of 4 x 70cm.  For the wrap blouse you need 2 bias strips of 4 x 55 cm and one bias strip of 4 x 30 cm.

Many a hobby seamstress, me included, takes advantage of her skill to knock off something she covets but cannot afford. Currently this is not easy for me; it takes quite a lot of effort and trial and error, and the replica always ends up somewhat approximate, which is usually fine.  But it’s skill that I would like to become very good at because it’s something of a sewing superhero skill in my opinion, to be able to see something you want and then really just “make your own” like it’s no big deal. [Aside: Anyone who has just started to sew will find that when she tells her friends about her new hobby, they will immediately begin gathering up photos of designer clothes and asking if she can make this for them.  The answer should always be NO. Trust me on this one.  Unless you can make it look exactly like the Dior she wants, you're setting yourself up for a situation in which you hand the garment to your friend and you see her face fall in disappointment for a second before she brightly says, "Thank you!"]

In an interesting turn of events, I happened upon a picture of this capelet/vest/jacket thing and now I think I’d like to make one. (I’ve cooled on the Burda cape idea, which I’m taking as an indication that I probably wouldn’t wear it much either if I were to make it.)

I don’t remember where I first saw the picture, but as it turns out, this rather sophisticated garment is from that beloved Jank Mecca for teenyboppers, Forever 21! Granted, F21 puts out some cute stuff (and why shouldn’t they considering that they themselves are knockoff experts?) but I don’t think of them as my go-to place for chic office separates. They’re out of my size online, but then again, I’m not sure if I’d buy it even if they did have my size- too hit or miss with the fabric and quality. And it looks like it could be an fun draft and good practice. So now I guess I’m into knocking off cheap stuff too? I’d like to say I’m taking a design I like and making a better quality version, but truth be told, I don’t think my workmanship is really any better than F21’s yet.  Those little kids are pretty handy with a sewing machine and I’m no couturier.

In keeping with the F21 theme, I’ve got a fabric which seems like the right color and drape but somehow looks cheaper than I want it to :)  This Vera Wang Lavender Label that I bought during one of the Fabric.com sales was described as a wool and nylon twill, which it is, but somehow I was thinking it would be of a pant or suit weight when I ordered it. In actuality it’s somewhat spongier and fluffier, better for a light jacket, weird for pants.  And somehow the 20% nylon component is very noticeable- a plasticky sparkle like that of carpet or acrylic yarn. Hard to tell from the photo they had on the website:

In any case, it’s the only thing in my stash that is really suitable, and I don’t expect this will be a garment I’ll wear every day, so it’s not really worth buying any more fabric for it.

So, it’s come to this. The Selfish Seamstress is making knockoffs of cheap mall store garments. Wish me luck!

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?

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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