Monday, June 3, 2013

Worst. Pattern. Ever.

It all started with this dress on Pinterest:

Pretty, right?  I fell in love with the navy blue and emerald green combo - a look I know looks great with my coloring.  I have 2 weddings to attend this summer and right away I knew I wanted to try and recreate this dress to wear to both.

That's where this dress came into play, and where things took a horrible turn:
Colette Patterns "Mararon"
The "Mararon" from Colette Patterns was another dress I was dying to make, and I could see how to transform it into the navy & green beauty pictured above.  I would use the bodice as-is, making the top part in navy blue lace, and adding a fuller skirt to the bottom with some more navy blue lace trim around the hem.  Easy-peasy.  Since it was a new pattern and I'd be working with some relatively expensive fabrics (read: not found on the $1.99 table at Vogue Fabrics) I decided to make a muslin mock-up of the bodice to make sure I had a good fit before I cut into the good stuff.  Thank goodness I did, or I'd be writing this with an empty bottle of wine and a box of tissues next to me right now.  Also, thank goodness I had more fabric than I needed - I'll explain later.

When I tried on my first muslin, it was what the kids today would call a "hot mess".  The bodice was way too short, ending a good 4" above my waistline; and the bust darts were too high, making it look like I had the saggiest boobs ever.  Grrrrr.  Pattern make Hulk mad.

Now let me explain something - I'm tall, but not THAT tall.  I'm 5'9" which is technically 4" above the average US height of 5'5", but I know a few women that are even taller than me, and 5'9" isn't really that unheard of for a woman these days.  I also have a longer than average torso - 18" from my neck to waist instead of the 15-16" which most people have.  But I know this, and I know how to fix it on patterns.  I always add 1.5" to the bodice length on everything I make, and it usually fits just fine.  Which is what I did on the Macaron.  And it was STILL 4" too short!!!  

At this point I was getting a bit frustrated.  But I took a look at the problems, figured out what I should do to get closer to fixing them, and made another muslin with the changes in place.  I also made it a size larger because I'm a DD cup instead of the C cup this pattern was made for and I figured some extra space to work with in those crazy bust darts would help.  (Side note - most commercial patterns are made for a B cup, which drives me crazy.  Women with B cups can just buy clothes off the rack, they're not worried about making clothes because they can't buy anything that fits.)  I took my new muslin to a friend to help me pin it half to death to get it fitted properly, and skipped home with the confidence that my dress was going to fit now, and look awesome.

You can see where this is going now, can't you?

I cut out my fancy fabric using the properly fitted muslin as my new pattern.  I made a very slight change to the shape of the neckline because it looked like it was going to be just a smidge too low-cut in the front, so I added some length to the top of the sweetheart shape to make sure I'd be covered up properly.  Wedding rule #1 - never show more cleavage than the bride.  I'll just make this part short and say that I put a lot of work into my final product - flat lining to give the bodice fabric some extra weight, boning for some nice vintage-looking support, etc. etc.  Then came the moment where all the pieces were put together and I tried my bodice on to see how it looked.

It was a disaster.

I'm having trouble even coming up with words to explain how horrible it was.

Even though the fit itself was decent you could see almost all of my bra above and around the sweetheart neckline.  The neckline that I raised to avoid this very problem.  Sigh.

THIS is where I stopped composing my blog post yesterday, with plans to re-do the muslin and back the lace fabric with the green taffeta used for the rest of the dress - which I decided was okay because it would really look closer to the original pattern.  I hoped to follow up with another post next week about how triumphant I was in overcoming the dreaded Macaron pattern and how cute and modern-retro my new navy blue and green dress was.  Dude - I had even planned how I was going to do my hair and accessories to wear with my awesome new dress that would be the envy of everyone at the weddings I'm going to attend.

Once again, you can see where this is going.  Admit it though, you can't look away.  It's like a car crash on the highway with lots of flashing lights and someone being rolled away on a gurney.

I got that damn bodice fixed, darts in the right place, adjusted for my full bust and long torso, with pretty green fabric behind the navy lace to cover "the girls".  It was beautiful.  Even my husband was impressed.  Until I put it on, that is.  Funny how something that fits can still look so horribly wrong.  It was just so unflattering.  And I felt like a giant taffeta-wrapped stuffed sausage.  Just how you want to feel at a family wedding where you know everyone will be judging you, amiright?  After that fitting I didn't even bother attaching the skirt.  The dress will be an official UFO (unfinished object), and I may pull it out in cooler weather but right now I'm surfing the interwebs looking for a dress I can buy before June 15th. 

On the positive side, I did learn (or re-learn) 2 things:

1)  High necklines are not my friend.  Scoop neck and V-neck are the way to go.  Bonus points for a cross-over V-neck.  The lower necklines seem to show off my long neck and distract from the fact that I'm super-tall on top.  With high necklines I'm just all torso with midget legs.

2)  Princess seams are a MUST!  I strongly believe big part of my fit problems came from the fact that this bodice had a traditional waist & bust dart configuration, and that just doesn't fly with a full bust.  Princess seams are easier to adjust and more flattering.

This lesson also means my dreams of making more Macaron dresses have been squashed.  C'est la vie.  Anyone want to buy a lightly used pattern?


Friday, May 31, 2013

A Serious Moment

If you're visiting this page because of a Facebook or Twitter announcement, welcome!  I hope you take the time to read my other posts while you're here :)

From June 1st-30th I'll be donating 50% of the profits from my Etsy shop to the Lupus foundation of America's Walk for Lupus.  Here's why:

A few years ago, my brother was diagnosed with Lupus.  I had no idea what the disease was when we found out - thanks to Aldous Huxley I thought it was something that made your lips blue (read "Brave New World" and you'll understand).  A quick web search proved me wrong, but I learned that the actual symptoms of Lupus are pretty varied and they "flare", meaning that a person with Lupus can be perfectly fine one day and suddenly be very ill the next.  Extreme fatigue is the most common symptom but the nature of the disease can cause more dangerous problems. 

Lupus is an auto-immune disease, which means that your body's natural immune defenses can't tell the difference between healthy tissue and foreign invaders.  The antibodies the immune system creates can cause fatigue, inflammation, and damage to the body's system.  The medical community currently doesn't know what causes lupus, although it seems to be a hereditary disease (it's more common in some ethnic groups, and your chances of having lupus are greater if your family has a history of other auto-immune disorders.)

That's where The Lupus Foundation of America comes in.  According to the LFA's website, this non-profit is the "only national force devoted to solving the mystery of lupus, one of the world’s cruelest, most unpredictable, and devastating diseases, while giving caring support to those who suffer from its brutal impact. Through a comprehensive program of research, education, and advocacy, we lead the fight to improve the quality of life for all people affected by lupus."  My brother is participating in their Walk to End Lupus Now event in August to raise money for Lupus research - his goal is $300 and he's about halfway to his goal right now.  I'm hoping that through my Etsy shop I can help him meet his goal!

It's estimated that 1.5 million people in America, and 5 million people worldwide have a form of lupus, and like all serious diseases it also affects the families of those afflicted.  It's pretty scary to hear your little brother is in the hospital because his pericardium (the membrane around your heart) is inflamed - that's not normal for a 25 year old.  If you make a purchase in my Etsy shop 50% of my profits will go towards his fundraising efforts.  If you want to donate directly you can do so at his Walk to End Lupus Now donation page here.  If you want to learn more about lupus the LFA website is a great tool.

One way or the other, I hope you'll consider helping this cause.  Right now lupus is a mystery disease, but with more research we can solve this mystery and make a difference in millions of lives - and one that's very important to me.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I made the front page of Etsy!

If you're a regular Etsy shopper, then you've probably noticed the really pretty treasuries that get featured on the front page.  Well guess what - one of my items was up there sometime yesterday!  You don't get an email or anything when it happens, I was just checking my shop traffic and saw that I got close to 100 views and 41 "likes" already today, which is totally not normal for me.  (But it would be awesome if it were!)  With a little bit of research I was able to find the treasury on  Here it is, my first front page feature!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Big Plans...

So let me just start by saying the big news that has consumed my life for the past couple of months: I was accepted to Indie Wed

"Huh?" you say.

Trust me, this is huge.  I applied pretty much on a whim, spent a month waiting for the application deadline to pass, and then another 3 weeks biting my nails waiting to hear back.  And I DID it!  This is a pretty sizable wedding event in Chicago that puts me in front of brides that want a handmade and unique wedding experience.  My hope is that if all goes well, I can do a few of these events per year (there's 2 seasonal events in Chicago and one in Milwaukee) and really build up my custom bridesmaid orders.

Does this mean I'm going to stop doing costume design?  No, at least not yet.  I'm sure there will be some point when I have to make that decision, but for now I love the work I do and don't want to stop.  It does possibly mean that my business model will shift from the one-of-a-kind handbags I started with to one that focuses just on the wedding industry.  Which I'm really okay with, but I'm going to let that evolve at its own pace for now.

A conversation with a colleague yesterday led me to a great quote from Daniel Burnham (who is totally awesome and if you don't know who he is go to Wikipedia RIGHT NOW!)

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.
This is going on my list of favorite sayings right up there with "Fortune favors the brave", and it's so appropriate right now.  I'm going to carry this with me going forward - no little plans.  Think big.  I can do it.

artwork via

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tom Petty Was Right...

...The waiting really is the hardest part.  Right now I'm waiting for my business application to be approved by the state.  I don't see any reason why it wouldn't, but what I'm truly nervous about is what comes after it's approved.  

I've been running my Etsy business on the side for the past 2 years, and and my sales slowly climbed I started to realize that I could actually make this a viable source of income, not just a few extra bucks to spend on clothes (okay, more like fabric).  The biggest bump in business came last year when I started to offer custom bridesmaid clutches in my shop, and that aspect of my business is the one I've chosen to really focus on and get it to grow even more by looking into advertising and renting space at bridal expos.

It's the latter that forced prompted me to stop flying under the radar and register as a sole-proprietorship.  In order to apply as a vendor for most shows you have to be legally licensed in the state your business is based in.  So if I want to play with the big boys, I have to be a good citizen and stop flying under the radar.  Which is nerve-racking.  I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I'm not afraid of Big Brother, I don't have anything to hide... but honestly living in Crook Cook County, IL has made me wary of anything involving local government.  (We had a really bad experience with our property taxes the year after we bought our house that took a full year to resolve and the general attitude of the county was "tough luck".)  I just have this dread that even if I do everything the correct way with my business, the county will pop up with some asinine rule that wasn't listed anywhere and I will owe thousands of dollars I can't afford to pay.  

Oh, the joys of living in Chicago...

But if I want my business to grow I have to suck it up, push those butterflies out of my stomach, and start treating this LIKE AN ACTUAL BUSINESS.  And that means in just a few days, in the eyes of the state of Illinois, I will officially be a small business owner.

Lord help me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Jungle Book: Production Photos

For a few weeks this past January I was close to pulling my hair out as I juggled two productions back to back at NSCDS.  Normally I have about a month between each show in the Upper and Middle schools, which is the average amount of time to complete a production from the initial design to tech.  This time I had a WEEK between shows, which meant I was working on them simultaneously - 60 costumes (give or take), and two wildly different styles.

First up was an adaptation of "Snow White", but I don't have photos from that yet.  We tried to go with a cute and simple Grimm fairy tale style so it wouldn't look too similar to "Into the Woods", which I'm currently working on and opens next month.

The second show was another adaptation of a classic story, "The Jungle Book".  Instead of making the costumes literal representations of the different animals, the set designer and I collaborated on using large over-sized masks that would sit on the actors' heads and still allow them to use their facial expressions, coupled with traditional Indian clothing that captured the spirit of each animal.  We were both inspired by the Broadway version of "The Lion King" (and I've always loved Julie Taymor's style, excluding "Spiderman", of course).

So with the costumes I came up with a distinctive style for each type of animal, using clues from the script and masks, which were painted in a highly stylized manner.  The wolf pack were simple and earthy, made with rough textured fabrics in browns and golds.  The tiger (Shere Khan), jackal, panther, and bear (Baloo) also used simple fabrics, but with more decoration and pattern than the wolves.  The monkeys were bright and flashy, in purple, orange, and green with lots of traditional beading and sparkle.  The kites (a type of falcon) were held by actors in blue and gold to represent the sky.  And my favorite, the snake Kaa, was dressed in elaborate red and green encrusted with beading and embroidery to give the impression of shimmery scales.

I don't have too many photos right now, just what I was able to take with my phone during the last rehearsal.  I hope to get better quality photos soon!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sewing for ME!!!

One of my goals this year is to make more everyday wardrobe items for myself.  Even though I have the luxury of 2 full weekdays to sew, they're usually filled with projects for either my theatre clients or Etsy shop.  The result is that I haven't sewn something for myself since I made a reception dress for my wedding almost 4 years ago.
Last month I found a really great blog article through Pinterest that showed how to use 14 basic wardrobe pieces to make 30 different outfits, and I'm incorporating this idea into my sewing goal to make my own wardrobe challenge!  One of my rules is that I have to make or thrift everything, no ready-made items unless I already own them.  (I'm also trying to go on a fabric buying fast, but that really hasn't happened yet...)
So my first item in this great quest is this cute little blouse based on the Sorbetto from Collette patterns!  The fabric is a very thick poly/rayon with a matte finish.  Almost feels like it could be a peachskin fabric, but not quite.  It's light but substantial enough that I don't feel like I'm naked.  The original pattern is sleeveless, but I found a sleeve pattern online and it works perfectly.  I wasn't sure what the boxy shape would look like on my body type, but I made a muslin version first and did some alterations on that to get the shape just right before cutting my fashion fabric.
I'm not sure yet how this will work into my 14 piece wardrobe, but I know it will get used regularly.  I'm already thinking of more variations on this pattern to make again soon!