Dress Decision 2016

After polling all my coworkers, some key friends, and the fine folks following me on this blog and over at Instagram (@stephani.miller), I have decided on the design I will sew for my friend’s afternoon, outdoor/barn, September wedding. *trumpetssound*

Here’s the winner:


The indigo (I’ve decided it’s indigo, not royal or cornflower; maybe I’m wrong) silk shantung in the Cashmerette Upton dress, pleated skirt with V neck, not the scoop neck I was originally thinking of. A coworker pointed out to me that scoop necks seem a bit more casual, and I would usually choose the V neck anyway. But for the other Upton dresses that are to come, I will most likely make the scoop neck version.

Anyway, I’m going to use the shattered lace printing effect that I love so much, so I’ll try to blog about that process here. I’m expecting the Jacquard Lumiere and Textile Paints I ordered to arrive early next week. I love Jacquard’s textile paints and dyes! They’re so easy to use. I’ve selected some lace scraps and will try out the printing process on other fabric scraps once the paints arrive to make sure I like the effect.

To print the shantung for the dress, I plan to either outline the pattern shapes on the fabric first, or just go ahead and cut the fabric before printing so I don’t waste paint and can be more strategic in the print placement and composition.

The fabric may get a vinegar/water bath before printing just to super-extra-fix the dye job.

Time to clean off my dining room table so I can use it for the printing! But even before that, I need to muslin the Upton’s bodice to make sure of my size and any adjustments.

What to make for a friend’s wedding??

What to make for a friend’s wedding??

I just realized it’s August. Funny how that happens. The months roll by, you think you have enough time for all the projects on your plate, and BOOM! It’s all gone.

This finally hit me today because in just a bit over a month, a friend of mine is getting married and I can’t decide what to make to wear. I’ve got a 2-year-old UFO that’s all underlined and pleated and ready to be sewn together that I could finish. The fabric is a beautiful mulberry-colored metallic jacquard I picked up from the Haberman Fabrics booth at American Sewing Expo three or four years ago. The pattern is from an issue of BurdaStyle magazine from 2011. I still love the fabric, I still love the dress, and as it’s ready for assembly it would be easy to finish. But I’m not sure it hits the right note for an early September wedding and reception in a rustic barn in Connecticut at 3 p.m.

I could change plans pretty easily at this point and instead make the Cashmerette Upton dress with the full pleated skirt option. If past experience with Cashmerette’s patterns carries through to this one, most of my pattern alterations are already included in the pattern’s draft. I’d have to do a muslin, of course, and I’d have to pick a fabric. I have lots in my stash to choose from, but half my stash is now at my parents’ house 8 hours away, as I’m prepping for a move. What I do have on-hand is mostly casual, or intended for historical costume, or fancier but not enough yardage.

Here’s what I have that could make a just-fancy-enough-but-not-too-fancy Upton for my friend’s wedding:

A beautiful fuchsia jacquard-weave linen, which I’ve already planned to make into this dress anyway. I’ve got a solid 4 yards of this. The color looks a little hot in this photo, but it’s not far off the real color. There’s a large Art Nouveau-ish design woven into the fabric, and the linen has a beautiful hand, stiff body, and full drape, plus that lovely linen luminescence. I’d wash this by dunking it a few times in warm water and letting it air dry before pressing to preserve some of its crispness and the fiber’s natural glow.


A silk shantung that started out periwinkle, but which I dyed to what I’ll call royal purple. Or maybe cornflower. It came out a tad splotchy in areas, but one more spin through the wash cleared most of that up. Still, the subtle sheen of shantung was diminished by the hot dye bath and washing it afterward. It definitely has a sand-washed appearance now. I have 3 yards of this 59-inch-wide fabric, which should be JUST enough for an Upton dress. I’d like to try a bit of painting on this one to disguise any remaining splotches, with black and gold paints. It would be semi-fancy, original, and just challenging and creative enough to keep my attention on it.


Then there’s the 7+ yards of rose-gold silk dupioni that I bought for a Regency gown, but then decided it would be too stiff even after washing. It is very highly slubbed and medium weight. It would probably look great after a gentle wash with baby shampoo. Despite the texture and pretty color and nice sheen, it would be a rather plain dress. So I’d probably do some painting on it to give the dress more interest.


What do you do when you’re faced with several good options and can’t decide which would be best? If there wasn’t a deadline involved I’d say: I’ll make them all and it doesn’t matter which one comes first. But since this is sewing for a goal, a dress to wear to a friend’s wedding, deciding is kind of important.

Here’s what I do when I can’t decide: sketch. I either free-hand draw the design, then color it in to get the full effect, or I use the pattern flats. Since the Upton is a very simple design and the flats are already nicely proportioned for my kind of figure, I decided to use them as the basis for my sketches.

Here’s option 1, from the linen jacquard:

Sketch 3-A

Here’s option 2, from the royal/cornflower shantung. I would apply a painted design that I call “shattered lace,” which is done by dabbing fabric paint or spraying liquid dye onto the fabric through scraps of lace. I love this technique because it’s so interesting. I’d use black and gold and scatter the patterns around the fabric randomly.

Sketch 1

And option 3, which is hard to get an accurate sketch for because the color is hard to reproduce with marker (I did some color saturation adjustment). For this option, I’d also apply a shattered lace effect, but in gold and bronze color paints, and probably only concentrated around the dress’s hemline. I tried to mimic the dupioni texture with metallic gold pen, but the color adjustment reduced its effect.

Sketch 2-ab copy

I really like all of these options, and making a decision is going to be tough. All the colors would look good with my complexion, I think. The linen is a fancy fabric, despite being made from a humble fiber, and it’s in one of my favorite colors. And it would require no additional embellishment.

The royal/cornflower shantung offers a real creative opportunity and could be a very unique, beautiful dress.

But the rose-gold dupioni also offers creativity, although it would be a more subtle paint-job. And the fabric is a bit fancier because of its sheen, maybe too fancy for the wedding time.

I’m leaning towards the royal/cornflower shantung, because I like to make things hard on myself, apparently. But it wouldn’t take much time to accomplish the painting. However, I have a lot of projects on my plate at the moment: I’m helping another friend with her wedding dress (for October), I’m supposed to be whipping up my fitting muslin for the Chanel jacket to contribute to a project at work (in September), and I’m trying to get some blouses made AND pack my belongings.

What would you do? Which would you wear to a 3 p.m. early September (read: potentially hot) wedding in a barn?

I know there aren’t a lot of followers of this blog out there, and it’s not often I ask for opinions because I usually have pretty firm ones of my own–but if you would like to share yours, please do! Help me out, folks!

The best laid plans…

LOL! Yeah, so about those plans to avoid impulse sewing and focus on anything but historical costuming. Totally didn’t work out. I caved at the first opportunity and have spent the past three months at least focused on creating an 18th century ensemble for a recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to see an exhibition of 18th century paintings by Elisabeth Louise Vigee le Brun. And I didn’t even get that ensemble totally finished!

Sigh. Well, over the years, I’ve learned the fastest way to get me to do exactly the opposite of what I know I should do is to make a plan to do what I know I should do (get the logic there?).

In any case, the unfinished 18th century ensemble is put away for now, waiting for some essential fixes. You can read all about it on my other blog, Belle Mode Belle Histoire, if you’re curious. If not, know that I really really really WILL be starting real-life, modern sewing projects very soon. Because I need clothes to wear to work.

In fact, I have a fourth True Bias Sutton Blouse all cut out and waiting for me on my work table. It’s been there since January. And I have a slew of other blouse and pants patterns I want to tackle before summer really gets underway. And I have a cocktail dress to finish so I can wear it to a friend’s wedding in September (that will make 2 full years since it was cut out and basted to its underlining–that’s how long it’s been sitting in my admittedly small UFO pile).

So, back to it. It will begin this weekend. What did I say just three paragraphs ago about making a plan…? No, no, this time I WILL stick to it. I have no more reasons to take up a historical costume project for several months. Stay tuned.

Don’t laugh–I’m serious!

Impulse sewing, planned sewing, and New Year’s resolutions

Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that I’m an impulse sewer. I have lists and lists and sub-lists, and addendum lists, of projects that I’ve been wanting to start, with the fabric waiting patiently in my stash, but I usually don’t get to the big ones or the ones that have been in planning for a long time. Why is this? Is it because I don’t really want them? Don’t want to do the work? They don’t fit my everyday, practical life? Well, in some cases the last one is true. (A lot of the things I’ve planned to sew have a distinctly “professional” flavor, and honestly, I spend most of my days at work in jean leggings, creative tops, and sometimes blazers; it is after all a creative, casual environment.) But in most cases, I’d wear the garments happily. Is it the work? Maybe. Many of them will take longer to suss out fitting details at least.

In looking back over my sewing habits during 2015, I find that most of what I’ve sewn has been the result of impulse–an “I want that in my closet NOW” feeling. And that’s fine to a certain point, but I feel like most of what I sew should be things that I’ve been planning, and purchasing fabric for, and actually do want in my closet, even though thinking about them doesn’t give me a rush of excitement.

Nothing can easily beat that rush of starting a project one week and wearing it the next, but there is a deeper satisfaction that comes from completing a carefully planned and carefully sewn project. And in 2016, I want to feel more of that deep satisfaction. Some of those impulse projects turned out well and are garments that I will wear the heck out of and be sad when they wear out. And they certainly beef up my wardrobe quickly. But a couple didn’t work out so great. Some of them have been historical costumes and have limited use.

I’ve been feeling for about a year that the beautiful fabrics in my stash need to be seen and worn: the gorgeous, quality woolens I’ve picked up here and there; the stunning silks I’ve had stashed away for years. They all have projects loosely planned for them. I suppose I’ve also been afraid of cutting into them and of the possibility of failure. But that’s the whole point of this blog, isn’t it? Plough through the fear, or shove it to one side and tell it to get the hell out of the way, because I’m ready to grab my scissors (or rotary cutter) and go to town on that fabric.

I’m not very big on New Year’s resolutions, but this year, I feel the need for a couple, in sewing and in other areas of my life. So, here’s my sewing resolution for 2016: sew less based on impulse, and more based on planning. Tick a few of those long-awaited projects off my list finally. I guess that Facebook quiz that took my name and told me the word that would guide me through 2016 was right: Change. It can be tough, but it can be very good and lead to better things. In this case, I hope this little change, this shift in mindset, will lead to greater satisfaction and a more useful wardrobe. And isn’t that one of the major reasons we sew?

Yes; yes it is. 😉

Happy New Year! (and may you stick to your resolutions, whatever they are)

A jacket in the style of Chanel

I work at a magazine about sewing. We love garment sewing and patterns and fabric. And we get kind of crazy sometimes. Like, let’s-all-make-our-own-Chanel-style-jackets-by-December crazy. With all the projects that were already in my Fall lineup, I wasn’t really anticipating taking on something that was a “someday” kind of project, but here I am, getting ready to cut the muslin for my very first Chanel-style cardigan jacket.

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, 1960, wearing one of her iconic cardigan suits.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, 1960, wearing one of her iconic cardigan suits.

I’ll be using the newest Claire Shaeffer pattern from Vogue, #8991, a white-flecked black wool/nylon blend (mostly wool) boucle-type fabric from Hancock Fabrics, charcoal grey silk charmeuse for the lining, and gorgeous pewter and black enamel buttons. It’ll be fun, right? (Right??) Luckily, we’ve formed a support group to help us get through the challenge; it’ll meet bi-weekly.

Pewter and black enamel buttons from Treasure Cast.

Pewter and black enamel buttons from Treasure Cast.

White-flecked black boucle in a wool blend (mostly wool), and charcoal-grey silk charmeuse for the lining.

White-flecked black boucle in a wool blend (mostly wool), and charcoal-grey silk charmeuse for the lining.

Vogue 8991, a Claire Shaeffer-designed pattern.

Vogue 8991, a Claire Shaeffer-designed pattern.

So far I’ve focused on planning and picking my fabrics and details, which is how I roll with sewing projects–get all the major decisions out of the way up front and have a clear design concept. Recently I cut the pattern pieces apart, and I’ll start tracing and adjusting them soon.

My primary inspiration is this black boucle jacket. My fabric is a bit smoother, has white flecks in the black, and is not sequined.

My primary inspiration is this black boucle Chanel jacket. My fabric is a bit smoother, has white flecks in the black, and is not sequined.

My goal is to make something sleek and modern and minimalist compared to the crazy overwrought fringe-fests of many Chanel jackets. I just don’t like a lot of fringe, although it works on many of the design house’s pieces. I don’t need to add bulk to my frame, and I prefer clean edges. So my design plan is to make this jacket without any additional trims, zero fringe, but to have the charcoal-grey charmeuse lining extend beyond the outer fabric’s edges, folding back to the garment edge to create a kind of frame effect. This is a trim alternative frequently used by Chanel.

My design sketch.

My design sketch. Note that I’ve placed the pockets at the hip instead of just below the bust. Seriously, the pattern envelope model’s breasts look like they’re blinking.

This pattern is a bit odd, as it has a princess seam that terminates in the NECK, not the more-typical shoulder or armscye. I’m just not sure how to do the necessary full bust adjustment on it. It’s probably going to take actually making a muslin of the pattern as-is and cutting/slashing the mock-up on my body to figure out how to make that adjustment. We’ll see…

Dirndls, dirndls everywhere…. especially in my head

First things first: Happy Birthday to me! Now, what can I sew as a kind of birthday present to myself? Hmmm…

Bam! A great Burda Style dirndl pattern. The perfect base for my very own dirndl.

Bam! A great Burda Style dirndl pattern. The perfect base for my very own dirndl.

Lately, all I can think about sewing is a dirndl. Probably because the weather promises to become fall-like very soon now, and the trees are already turning here in Connecticut. But it’s probably also because October is really right around the corner and that means Oktoberfest! Beer! Brats! Polka!

I’ve always loved dirndls, and I’ve been wanting to make one for a few years now. I have the pattern and the requisite Dirndl-centric Pinterest board and everything. Even the fabric: suit-weight black linen bought on sale, and a lovely black silk twill for the lining.

What’s not to love about dirndls? They’re cute, folkloric, feminine, and really quite versatile if they’re not covered in brightly colored embroidery and heavy ribbon trims–not that there’s anything wrong with a little embellishment. A dirndl looks fabulous with a cardigan or a nipped-waist blazer.

I want a dirndl to wear outside of the local Oktoberfest celebration, as well as inside, so it has to be a bit plainer for greater versatility. Sure, I want to do a dirndl that’s all-out embroidered and bedecked with channel stitching and those fabulous pewter hooks with chains looped around them, too–but to start, I’ll make a simple one that can go anywhere, with anything (an all-rounder, if you will).

The blouse is a conundrum. Most of the dirndl blouses out there are poofy sleeved and very peasanty in style. If I wore a poofy-sleeved, lace-ruffled, peasant-type blouse to work, my coworkers would think I’d regressed to the age of 6. Luckily I managed to find a BurdaStyle downloadable pattern for a dirndl blouse that’s pretty sleek; no poof in sight. And in a pinch, a button-front shirt would do, perhaps even in a striped shirting.

So despite the fact that the ladies at work have formed a Chanel Jacket Club, and that I’m participating in it and am behind already on my Chanel-style jacket, I’m going to make my first dirndl. Hopefully it won’t be the only dirndl I make. It all starts this weekend.

I’d love to post some inspiration images, but they’re from all over the web, and none of them belong to me. So you’ll just have to peruse the aforementioned Pinterest board. Here we go!

New name, new focus, a new start

Just a few of the projects I've sewn in the past couple of years that I'll be posting more about soon.

Just a few of the projects I’ve sewn in the past couple of years that I’ll be posting more about soon.

For some reason it’s taken me a long time to really decide how I wanted to approach this here blog. It’s had a few different names, but none of them really stuck. And I think that’s because I didn’t really know why I was blogging, aside from having some kind of digital record of my sewing and the thought processes surrounding the projects. First I tried to combine my historical and everyday (from here on out referred to as “real-life” or “RL”) sewing. But it seemed at cross-purposes. Very different types of sewing, very different approaches to fitting, different sewing methods, and vastly different results.

I wanted to separate and consolidate the two sewing types. So after a long while neglecting my blog–although not my sewing–I created another blog, Belle Mode Belle Histoire, where all my historical sewing will be recorded. Periodically, anyway. I can’t even promise myself that I’ll update it regularly, because after working on a computer all day at the office, and the hard work that is sewing, often the last thing I want to do is then sit in front of a computer and rehash things. Maybe I’m not really well suited to blogging. But dammit I’m gonna try.

Because I want to share, and yes, I want to show off a little bit; but I also want to connect to the sewing community through my own space, rather than a larger group site (although they have great value, and I participate actively on them).

So where was I? Oh yeah. Separating my sewing blogs. The historical stuff has a home. The RL sewing needed a home. I decided to keep the original blog, but rename and restyle it. And it took a while. Because a blog’s name should in some way reflect the intentions and purpose of its content, shouldn’t it? I think so anyway.

So I thought about what I really want to say, to other sewers and to myself. And that boiled down to: don’t be afraid. Be fearless. Fear holds you back. Sidestepping the fear, while it seems really hard, is actually pretty easy. What fear? The fear of cutting that gorgeous, expensive fabric; of making mistakes; of being less than perfect. Those are pretty common and understandable things to be afraid of.

But look. That gorgeous expensive fabric isn’t doing any good sitting in a stash. Unless it’s just waiting for the right project–I have some stuff like that. But if you know what you want to make, then don’t hold back. Make it! Then you can WEAR that gorgeous expensive fabric and see it and pet it and look fabulous in it. I love silk. I buy a lot of it. And I want to wear it. So there’s no point in letting it just sit in my stash. Given the right conditions, it will actually rot there. It’s better to make it into something.

Making mistakes? We all make ’em. Mistakes are an important part of the learning process. And that’s all we’re really doing in this life, in my opinion: learning–if at all possible, constantly. Many mistakes can be corrected. And then you’ll a) know how to avoid the mistake in future and b) know how to fix it if you make the same mistake again anyway. I’ve made lots of mistakes, some of them multiple times. And it teaches me something every time. Usually the lesson is: pay attention, dammit.

Being less than perfect? Well, perfect doesn’t exist anyway. Do you know anyone who is truly perfect? Any item that on close inspection doesn’t reveal small flaws? Perfection is a unicorn: a myth. It’s an admirable thing to strive for–within limits. We’re human, not unicorns–therefore nothing about us is perfect, and the things we make will always have some kind of imperfection about them, even if it’s just the fact that they won’t last forever. So, strive for almost perfect. Or even just good enough. Lowering the bar of expectations slightly can actually be a good thing, because then when that “perfect dress” turns out to be not quite perfect, you’ll still be satisfied and happy to wear it. I’ve made plenty of awesome things that I love to wear, but none of them are truly perfect, even if they might look like it at first.

So, my sewing motto has become: Be fearless and just cut the damn fabric. (But make a damn muslin first!) Get out of your own way and make something you’ll love and be proud of. See, I’m a tough love kind of person.

That covers the blog change. Frequency of posting may be sporadic. I have a lot of stuff I can post about at the moment, since for the past year and a half I’ve been concentrating on sewing garments for real life, rather than buying RTW. There’s nothing I really want to buy in the stores anyway, and 98 percent of it won’t fit correctly either. Sewing isn’t less expensive, but it is more satisfying, and you get a much more unique and personalized wardrobe out of it. This doesn’t mean I haven’t bought anything at all; I’ve bought a few things. Things I wouldn’t sew, at least not yet. I can’t sew more than one thing a week, if that. And that takes up most of my free time. Occasionally I need to get out of the house, you know?

So the first order of business will be to post about each of my projects from the past year or so.

A few more fun little projects I made. Knits. I'd never really sewn them before. But now I'm having fun and I'm not quite so afraid of them anymore.

A few more fun little projects I made. Knits. I’d never really sewn them before. But now I’m having fun and I’m not quite so afraid of them anymore.