My Critical Eye??

I am beginning my list of style elements which work for me. I would like to identify styles which suit my figure type - the pear. All of the advice I read says that I should avoid halter styles and yet, I feel best and receive the most compliments in these three dresses.

So instead of consulting the style guides, I am going to start with direct feedback and my own critical eye. I have been taking pictures of the outfits I am wearing for a few months, now. One interesting thing I have found is that when I look at thumbnail sized images, I get a better idea of whether or not a particular silhouette works for me. I think I am going to start photographing the back view as well. In order to identify style elements which reflect the personality characteristics I would like to convey, I think I should look at fashion magazines and pattern catalogs with a new objective. Instead of looking at the clothes and whether or not I like them, I will look at the model and ask myself, do her clothes give the message I want to give? If yes, why? Does a top or blouse with a collar portray more authority than one without a collar. What about a jacket vs. a sweater? Ruffles vs. pleats? Print vs. solid? I think I need to retrain my critical eye...

A Little Talk With Myself

Yesterday, I had a little conversation with myself that went something like this:
You know the summer will be over before you finish embroidering this dress.

I don't want to rush it.

I'm just sayin... You could start on something else while this is progressing. All of your blog friends are making dresses. Wouldn't it be nice to complete something in the meantime?

Yes, but I can't decide what to make.

What's wrong with all those patterns you have?

Nothing. I just don't know how I want to dress anymore. I am having trouble with my objectives for dressing and it is stifling my sewing mojo. I don't want to go through all the trouble of fitting and sewing my beautiful fabric only to make another outfit for the mannequin. I want to look good and feel good and confident when I leave the house. I'm not sure the styles I wear are working for me. It may be time for a style overhaul.

After watching every episode of What Not To Wear and Tim Gunn's Guide To Style, what have you learned about wearing clothes? Anything you can use?

Fit, Proportion, and Style!!! I want my clothes to fit me well, accentuate the positive while minimizing the negative, and be suitable for my lifestyle and personality.

Okay, let's think about 'be suitable for my lifestyle and personality'. What does that mean?

I am struggling with that. Who am I? I want my clothes to be honest - except for the accentuate the positive while minimizing the negative part - then I don't mind being a little deceptive.

So, Who are you?

I am a 40 something wife, mother, career professional, sewing enthusiast, motorcycle rider...

So leather, fringe, metal studs, boots, these are style elements that reflect who you are?

No no no... forget the motorcycle stereotypes. I mean, I wouldn't rule out any of those style elements individually, but that "motorcycle look" is not me.

Why not? Who are you?

Hey this is deja vu. Didn't I already answer that?

So, jogging suits and comfortable clothes for shlepping the kids to and from soccer games in the minivan...

No no no - not me. I don't even have a minivan. I like comfortable clothes but I look like crap in a jogging suit. There is a woman on our street who can throw on a jogging suit and sunglasses and look fabulous. That is not me. I look dumpy and sloppy in a jogging suit. My body is all wrong for jogging suits.

Okay, so you do not define yourself by your passion for motorcycle riding or your role as a mother. Is that right?

Perhaps I do not want my appearance to be a stereotypical example of these things.

Maybe instead of asking you to describe who you are, I should be asking what you would like your appearance to communicate about you?

I am comfortable with my age, gender, relationships, and societal roles, but I do have an independent streak, and can be fun and even impulsive at times. I am detail oriented but not uptight. I am confident and secure, dependable and considerate, but not a push-over. I am intelligent and assertive. I am powerful yet protected. I have a social network and a place in society that is respectable. I am loved and respected by people who know me. I enjoy being a woman and celebrate my femininity. I am healthy and take care of my body. I prefer order over chaos. I like myself. You like me as well.

These are things I would like to communicate to the world on a subconscious level.

What types of clothing reflect these things?

I see where this is going!

Maybe it is a good idea to take some time and write down some style elements which you feel reflect the things you would like your clothing to communicate about yourself.

Yes yes yes, I will spend some time thinking about those things and make myself a list. I do like my lists....

Dear Readers, why has it taken me so long to have this little chat with myself? I have been choosing my own clothing for all these years and I never really thought of getting dressed as a form of communication - a kind of public speaking, if you will. Am I the last soul to figure this out? Do all of you know what your clothing says about you? Or are you like me and maybe never thought of anything more than "Does this fit? Can I afford it?" and "Does it hide my figure flaws" in the dressing room?

Defining a Personal Style

In my quest to look good, I have been thinking an awful lot about style lately. It seems that although I have always enjoyed sewing, I have had a love/hate relationship with the things I make. Over the years, I have tackled various challenges to increase the love part. At first, when my body was younger and able to fit easily into RTW clothes, I was disappointed with the quality of my sewing. The seams weren't straight enough. There was rippling and asymmetry where I didn't intend it. The drape was "off". Things looked homemade and I would have thought it a supreme compliment to be able to sew something that looked purchased and have someone comment that they were surprised to hear that I "made that". I focused my learning on technique and equipment. I upgraded to a computerized sewing machine and was amazed at how straight my seams became. I used better thread and learned about types of interfacing and linings and how they made a garment hold its shape. I learned about pressing and clipping. Eventually, my sewing began to look fabulous. I loved watching my creations come to life - only to try them on and hate the fit.

So my next frontier became fitting. I began to accept that altering a pattern was a necessary step in the sewing process. It took a long time to accept, because I never had to alter ready to wear garments. I expected the things I sewed to just fit like the things I brought into the dressing room. As I learned more about fit, I began to realize that the ready to wear things didn't always fit me. I began to understand the difference between wearing ease and style ease. I had been choosing styles with ease in the places I needed more room to fit. Meanwhile, my body is decades older. I have more fitting "uniqueness" and my standards for fit are next to impossible to satisfy. I still wear mostly RTW clothes, but I am less satisfied with the fit as I learn more. Project Runway introduced me to the concept of draping and my understanding of fit has undergone a quantum leap. Now, I never sew without making a mock up first to refine the fit. As my fitting skill improves, I am more satisfied with my sewing, but still not in a place of what I would call bliss. I find myself approaching another frontier. Style. What good are impeccably made, well fitting clothes that do not flatter the figure or suit the style of the wearer? I still have not made a single thing in all my years of sewing that I feel is amazing. I have been proud, but there is always something I wish I could have done better. I have been blaming my body, but I think that is akin to accepting defeat. I have been taking pictures of the outfits I wear in an attempt to figure out what looks good and what defines my personal style. My goal is to figure out what to sew. It is heartbreaking to work on a jacket for months only to love it on the dress form and not on me. I have posted many pictures of outfits I have worn for the last few months here. Some I like. Some I don't. I thought each was a good outfit at the time, but as I look through them I think I can do better. These make me cringe now. If you are reading this directly from my blog, you can click them and they will get bigger.

Also, I have included a critique which shows up when you click. Click again to make the images get small again. Sorry the script does not work in Google Reader.

Here are some of my favorites. Someone recently used the phrase a little bit of va-va-voom to describe my style. I hope it was meant to describe a subtle undertone. I would like to be thought of as less vamp-y and more classic or elegant with only the tiniest hint of sexuality. I wear these clothes to work. I am a semiconductor mask designer and most of my coworkers including my husband who works with me are male engineers. We are not required to dress up and jeans with polo shirts are the normal attire. I think I look terrible in pants - especially jeans. Based on my favorite outfits above, what do you think? Too much va-va-voom? Do I need to turn it down a notch?

Cast On Roses

Here is a better picture of the cast on rose stitch. I used a single strand of DMC six strand cotton floss. I am still not ready to jump in and start embroidering the panels just yet. Since the embroidery will be positioned at my waist, I want the detail to be visible from 5 feet away. The single strand stitch out may be too small. I want to see what it looks like using two strands. I also need to settle on the color scheme of the embroidery. I am thinking of adding yellow detached chain stitch daisies with fuschia and purple seed bead accents. I don't want to get too complicated with the design as I will be stitching it twice - once for each panel - and the designs will need to mirror each other. I do hope after all of this decision making that I will be happy with the final dress! I hate when I put so much work into a project only to be disappointed with the results. It's a good thing I enjoy the process so much. It really would be torture otherwise.
On a more personal note, I have great news! My daughter has agreed to let me make her prom dress! This is HUGE! For the last ten years, she has not been interested in wearing anything made by Mom. I shortened and hemmed a bridesmaid dress last year for her for her to wear to a dance, and she was pleased with the results. She said she never wanted to wear the things I would make because she didn't like the style of any of the clothes I made. She also said she didn't want to stress me out. (Okay, I *have* had my sewing tantrums...) I suspect she just lacks confidence in my sewing skill. She sees what I make and thinks, "UM... yeah... I would NEVER wear that..." I am hopeful that this will be a positive experience for both of us.
Here are before and after pictures of the dress I hemmed. I showed her the original hem after she closely inspected the shortened dress and she was impressed that my work was better. What is it about teenagers? Why do they think their parents cannot do anything right?

Embroidery Design

I tried separating the plies of the wool yarn, but there were a couple of problems. First, even a single twisted strand was too thick and the stitching looked sloppy, and second, without the support of the other plies, the fibers would just pull away and the strand kept coming apart. So, I experimented with some of the leftover DMC Medici wool that I used on the blanket and made some sample stitch-outs of the Palestrina stitch that I like so much. It looked a little anemic with one ply, so I tried it with two and I liked it a bit more. I went on line and ordered some Appleton wool in varying shades of purple. In the meantime, I thought it a good idea to practice with some DMC cotton floss to perfect my stitching. As I stitched,I began to wonder why I didn't want to use the floss originally. I think I rememeber making a cross stitch design on a romper for my daughter when she was a baby and the color bled in the wash. Since this dress will be lovingly hand washed in Eucalan, I tested the DMC floss for colorfastness by rinsing a sample in some cold water and setting it by my fireplace to dry. No bleeding - even after I rolled it in white paper towels while it was wet! I did not use the Eucalan, though. I hope it doesn't make a difference. Now that I am typing this, I am thinking I should do a test with the Eucalan just to be safe. I have to say I really like the cotton floss and as luck would have it, I have lots of it, too! I think I am going to use cotton floss instead of wool. It looks really nice and it stitches up like a dream. I took another look through my A to Z book and found a cast on rose that I wanted to play with, so I practiced it a bit. Then I began to doodle on a trace out of the pattern piece and I came up with a design for the embroidery that I think satisfies me.

My Pattern Stash

I have decided to start a catalog of my patterns which I can reference on line. Here are my first few entries. I will be adding more until I eventually get my complete stash on line. Now, I can whip out my iPhone and pull up my blog and hit the My Pattern Stash page link and see all of my patterns anytime I want. I love technology!

Overnight Inspiration

I have been stumped for a few days about how to embellish the side panels on this dress. It is on my mind as I fall asleep and still there when I wake up. This is not a bad thing. If I were not trying to resolve something sewing related, I would be focused on corporate level decisions which are beyond my level of authority at the company where I work, or federal politics or some other such issues over which I ultimately have minuscule or zero control, and I would be very frustrated and unhappy. For me, the return to sewing has been about focusing my attention on goals which I actually might achieve. It is very therapeutic to have something into which I can pour my loving energy and over which I alone have ultimate decision making power. So when I lie down to sleep at night, I wrap my thoughts around fabric and trims, fashion, style, fit, and design challenges related to making a dress I don't really need. It sounds trivial, but I need that triviality. If my current project turns out to be a disaster, nobody will die. I can roll over and get some sleep when I am tired of thinking about it. And the sleep is good sleep. Sometimes I wake up with a gift from my subconscious, an idea I had not thought of before.

Yesterday's gift was hand embroidery. If I use hand embroidery, I can use wool which is thick enough to show up on the raw silk fashion fabric. Also, it solves the problem of how to program the stitches to turn a non 90 degree corner. I can follow the outline of the panel on three sides instead of just one. But what stitch should I use? Can I still use beads? Will the beads I have picked out now be too small? Should I use floral motifs? Do you see how one little flash of inspiration leads to more decisions? I love it. Really, I do. It gives me some puzzle to figure out. I think I am only truly happy when I am solving puzzles.

Many years ago, I made this little wool lap blanket. All the embroidery was done by hand with strands of wool. I remember how satisfying it was to watch it progress. I had done cross stitch before and similarly enjoyed the process, but the wool blanket was more dimensional and the larger strands were more satisfying to work with as the design progressed faster. Plus, it used beads! The blanket was made with a kit from INSPIRATIONS magazine. If you have never seen this magazine, I caution you - you WILL want to take up hand needle work when you see the breathtakingly gorgeous photography of the stunning projects. There. Don't say I didn't warn you. Ever since I finished the blanket, I have wanted to do another wool embroidery project, but I wanted to design my own instead of following a kit. I got stalled and never figured out what I wanted to make. I think sometimes that good design is about managing limits. When I am faced with endless possibilities, I often feel my creativity is crippled by the lack of limits. I think the little side panels on this dress offer me the limits I need. I turned to my bookshelf to find a few examples of hand embroidered border stitches to use as inspiration. I found what I was looking for in one of my A to Z books. I love these books. They are spiral bound and full of well illustrated instructions. I almost don't even need to read the text.

I found my inspiration on page 81. While I like the motif, what inspires me is the stitches used. I like the rows of stem stitch and blanket stitch, and especially the Palestrina stitch worked around the outer edges of the petals. I think I want to experiment with a combination of these stitches to create a border. I hopped on my bike at lunch yesterday and rode to Michael's to have a look at what they offer for wool embroidery. The best I could do was skeins of wool/acrylic yarn. I am going to try to separate the plies and see how that works out for me. Maybe I will figure out a way to incorporate beads. That will be sweet.

I am tempted to start my next sewing project since the sewing part of making this dress is on hold until I embroider the side panels. I usually don't like to have more than one project going at a time. It makes my sewing room chaotic. But these hands gotta be sewing something or I get restless....

Marfy 2255 Beaded Embroidery Woes

This raw silk is driving me nuts! I made a sample stich out with the 30 weight thread and it disappeared in the weave of the fabric. Next I tried using two strands of rayon 40 weight thread in deep purple and gunmetal grey. That also seemed to disappear. So I tried using a topper - one that you remove with heat. I didn't want to chance getting my iron all gummed up, so I used a teflon press cloth. Bad idea! The topper melted and formed a sticky glue which stuck my fabric to the non stick press cloth. I laid the teflon back down, and pressed again, hoping by some stroke of magic that it would make a difference. Nope. If I worked quickly enough, I could remove the teflon before it stuck again, but I still had a melty mess. Then I was sticken with a flash of sheer stupidity. Somehow, I thought it would be a great idea to try appying the iron directly to the goo. Maybe it will just disintigrate into thin air. Maybe the teflon press cloth was the reason the topper didn't just disappear... Nope. The sticky goo shrunk into little bits of brown gunk. And my iron was smeared with it. And my fabric looked like crap. So, I tried to clean the iron with a damp sponge while it was still hot. Then I thought, maybe it needs to burn off. My sewing room began to have this smell... I got the iron good and hot and tried to rub all the goo off on some cotton drill cloth. Then I gave up and unplugged the iron. Later, I thought about the beaded embroidery and began to think it would be a good idea to make my own embroidered ribbon trim and use that instead of embroidering directly on the raw silk. I stitched out the design and painstakingly picked almost all of the stabilizer off the back side. Then before beading, I folded the "ribbon" in half and gave it a nice pressing. AAAaaaaargh! brown steaks on my rayon from the gunk still stuck to my iron!! Luckily, it is on the side that won't show. I hand beaded some of it, and the more I worked with it, the more I began to hate everything about it. Does this ever happen to you? I am losing my mojo on this project. It seems to happen a lot, lately. I remember I couldn't WAIT to be done with the suit dress. Why is it that my sewing can never live up to my standards????

Does anyone know of a good way to clean gunk off of an iron without scratching it?

Calf Hair Shoes All Fixed

You may remember that I was having a little shoe crisis recently. Well, I am happy to report that I received a package in the mail last week. The folks at Ann Taylor sent me a whole bunch of extra tap lifts for these shoes - enough for a lifetime! I am so happy to wear them once again!

MARFY 2255 color blocking - yay or nay?

So the next decision I have to make is whether or not to use a different color for the side panels. Here I played with GIMP and added color to my muslin. I am leaning toward using the same color and having only the embroidery to call attention to the side panels. What do you think? Color block - Yay or Nay?