Friday, December 05, 2008

Using a Dressmaker to SAVE money?

If you are like most people, at some point in your life, you've imagined yourself in some outrageous red-carpet worthy custom-made confection. I'm sure it comes as no surprise - custom clothing is NOT inexpensive. It takes time, skill, patience, and quality materials to achieve. You will, no doubt, spend less at your local retailer, where you will likely find something... acceptable or adequate, if not great.

Or, if you are creative, you'll find something beautiful at an auction, a vintage store, or anywhere else. Then you'll find a dressmaker willing to refashion it into something perfect for you...

I redesigned this 1890's dress, bought at an auction, to fit my client for her wedding this fall. This garment would have been outrageously expensive, had I created it from scratch. All told, it was still less expensive than buying a new designer gown in a boutique.

When a look is otherwise unattainable, it could be due to size, shape, color, materials, support requirements, commissioning a dressmaker can be well worth your while. But, beyond your most important occasions, there are plenty of other situations to consider.

Have you gained or lost weight?

Give you a more professional or neater appearance, by making your clothing fit. The bride pictured above, needed her gown altered following a weight reduction surgery.

Do you love something that is out of style, wrong for your body, or too memorable to wear again?
Have a dressmaker "redesign" it to make a fresh statement.

Do you a garment that is damaged, torn or stained, and needs a creative solution?
Many dressmakers have really seen it all, and have solutions you have never dreamed of!

Are you having an informal, unique, or unconventional wedding?
Bridal shops do not offer enough variety to please every category of bride. You might want to add more embellishment to a simple gown, or wear something that appeals to your taste specifically. The bride pictured above, wanted a bold pearl trim on a halter-style gown. In her case, as in many others, this was less expensive than the bridal shop alternative for which she would have had to settle. (I know that's formal, but I just can't end my sentence with a preposition!!!!)

How do you know what's possible? You go to and ask a professional.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Neuroplasticity and Issey Miyake

Well, it seems eveything always comes full circle. I am now working with a client, making custom kimonos for a kibuki theater project. And, whoa, what a learning experience... Not only that, but learning to make a kimono gives some insight into Miyake's design ideas and shapes. The following post, which I wrote last year, fits into this moment in my work as well.

A recent article in the New York Times, entitled "A Pointy-headed Piano", was so beautifully inspirational and well written, that I have kept the clipping near me, waiting for an opportunity to use it somehow...

Dr. Norman Doidge, the author of a book studying the experiences of scientists, doctors and patients in the field of neuroplasticity (a new way of looking at the brain as a more malleable and renewable structure than the traditional) is featured in this article, describing his beloved Heintzman piano. The article uses the piano as a metaphor for the brain's ability to adapt.

In a nutshell, this rare transposable piano, made in 1895, allows a musician to slide its keyboard left or right, two or three keys in either direction. This, in his words, "eliminates the need to play the entirely different configuration that switching to another key requires." This is much like the brain's ability, when it hits a wrong "key", to transpose to a new one, after a stroke, learning disability, or emotional trauma. As the parent of an autistic child, I have become acutely aware of what an amazingly complex instrument the brain is, and how wonderful it can be, discovering which "keys" to play.

While the author mentions that the goal of the adaptive brain is to perform repetitive tasks, personally, I love breaking out of that mold, and embracing the constant challenge of "new thinking", which brings me to one of my favorite artists/designers... the one and only Issey Miyake.

I made my first Miyake when I was in high school. I used a striped, tightly-woven wool fabric from Art Max fabrics in Manhattan's garment district. How I loved that store... (sigh) It had an assymmetrical, sculptural skirt and a cowl-necked shirt with dangling "straps", for lack of a better description.

So, I have had the following Miyakes for quite some time, and hope to make them soon (the coats first!), but I always find that I am far more inspired by the flats than the photos,

since the models never look anything like me, and the fabrics chosen are always wildly different than anything I would ever choose.

So, here they are...

These patterns, if you are unfamiliar with them, are as close to "fabric oragami" as one can get. Once you have learned to create garments, you have a general understanding of what shape a collar should be, where it should attach, where the armholes should be... well, Miyake patterns challenge all of that, and require that you surrender to the instructions and embark on the adventure.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Needle-Craft Magazine, Summer 1922

As I am endlessly fascinated by old sewing publications, which, I suppose are really a link to the world of women in those days. So, I can't help but share these odd finds with you...

I happened upon an article with the above title, and, just as my jaw dropped to the floor, I noticed that it was an early "advertorial" -- a cleverly disguised advertisment, aimed at the naive reader... hoping she'll take the bait!

I'm sure the modern reader will see the humor in it. Only the original text can really do this advertisement justice. Read and enjoy...

The caption can't be missed. Lovers of romance-novels, look out! It reads,

"You've come back to me, Mary," he said slowly. "You've come back - the Mary of the sweetheart days. You've never looked so wonderful as you do tonight."

The rest of the article continues below... (click to enlarge)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Atonement dress

This post was orinally published in December of 2007.

Saw a lovely article in The New York Post (which I don't normally read) about this dress (above), made for Keira Knightley's character in "Atonement". Make sure you read on to page two of the article, where the costume designer's (Jacqueline Durran) inspiration is explained.

I adore this article, because, unlike so many others, they don't make it seem that anyone just "whipped up" a little number for her. The article really lets you know that specificity, specialness and art take a considerable amount of time, expense, and experimentation.

At this summer's visit to the Cameron Art Museum in North Carolina, I learned that this simple looking dress, made by William Ivey Long for the show "Contact"...

took EIGHT tries to make.

EIGHT tries!

This means seven dresses, wadded up and tossed aside before getting to this one, which moved with the dancer like absolute magic.

So when you have to trash something on your way to achieving your vision, think of the effort involved in really creating something special.

Encouraging, isn't it?

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

What the dressmaker and her client need to know...

You may already know that I am the owner of the site, a labor of love, which is very fulfilling to run.

My bird’s eye view of the custom sewing and dressmaking industry (mostly in the US) has taught me so much about the potential of this profession, and the type of women (we are mostly women, after all) who choose it.

Word of mouth is powerful. Negative or positive, word of mouth will bring attention to your business. While word of mouth is a great way to get new business, even the best dressmaker can find herself with less (or more!) business than she wants at any given moment. Scheduling a proper workload is difficult for dressmakers. The flow of clients can be unpredictable, and the variables are many…

The main market for dressmakers (like it or not!), is bridal. Dressmaking is very specific, careful, skilled work… and to navigate the bridal market, a dressmaker has to be able to deal with the emotional roller coaster that comes along with doing this type of work. I’m not just talking about the bride. There is the mother of the bride, mother of the groom, flower girls, bridesmaids, and the coordination of all of those people in their various locations, challenges (and temperaments) to handle. Some people are just lovely. Some people know exactly what they want. Some people have a positive body image. Some people are completely reasonable, puctual, and friendly. Some are none of these things. A dressmaker has to be prepared for any combination of problems, including her own variables. If one wants to do this type of work, she has to be sure to keep an ample supply Tums, Pepto and Advil…

Having said that, the general rule of thumb regarding what a bride should be spending, is 10% of her wedding budget on the gown. Anyone may choose to spend considerably more or less, but it would be best to know what she is really expecting, since, if she wants her gown custom-made, she is buying an invisible product. The woman who wants a knock-off of the $6000 gown she loves for $1000 is almost guaranteed to be disappointed. The dressmaker has to make sure she knows that it will likely require a significant downgrade in materials and labor to fit her budget.

Lastly, make sure she knows her options. The web is full of sites which will help her plan and budget her event. It can be hard to distinguish good ones from poor quality ones...there is such an information overload these days.

It has been a long time since I have updated this blog. No longer feeling the need to document my every move, and feeling much more in the flow of life since both of my children started school again last week, I can now focus on my business again. It has been a long,hard summer, fraught with all sorts of challenges and complete exhaustion, but I am coming out of it now. (Thank God!)

So, I will now be pulling in information from old posts, writing new ones, and updating the blog to reflect where I am now. For a little while, I will be cleaning up some projects, resolving unfinished business, and generally resuming my professional life. Deep breath... full steam ahead!

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Monday, April 21, 2008

"Bob the Builder" and projects...

I wondered aloud to my husband about why "Bob the Builder" and "Thomas the Tank" encourage such endless business, "busyness", pressures and deadlines for our children, whose lives should be carefree.

I suggested that there should be a Seinfeld-inspired kids show. A kids' show "about nothing", so to speak...

You know, one kid would say, "What's the deal with sippy cups? How many different styles and colors does a kid need anyway?"

But, seriously, my kids are watching me constantly battling self-imposed deadlines, rushing to get things done, making complicated plans... I know it all goes along with life, but perhaps I should make an effort to keep an open-ended plan every now and then. I'm gonna try to be More "loosey-goosey".

But... today's plan does include one mad dash to the fabric store...

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There is no "C" in Gucci

Yesterday, I set out for my "Mommy's day off" in Manhattan. Walking along Madison Avenue, I gazed into the windows of Herve Leger, Armani, Valentino, Chanel, and "Gu ci"...? What happened there? It seems someone has stolen one of the "C"s from the smaller "Gucci's" on the facade (not the big one, pictured). It seems like there are always people watching in that area. How could that happen?

In this very ritzy section of Madison Avenue, I thought petty vandalism was non-existent. Guess not.

Well, anyway, as I walked along, and looked at the creations in the windows, I saw many things that were beautiful and special... and I saw many things that were not. It really inspired me to sew, since the real skill is in being able to sell all of that merchandise at such outrageous prices. Yes, the fabrics are often superior, and the workmanship superb, but I can turn out some pretty fabulous stuff myself. I felt inspired.

Another thing I noticed were the apparently wealthy people who were strolling along Madison as well. What is going on with these womens' lips these days? The botox and fillers have gotten out of hand. I don't understand it. If God meant for us to look like that, he would have made us ducks, wouldn't He?

So, after a lovely lunch with a friend, more strolling, and an unreasonably long wait for my subway home, I sat down to play the "Beautiful game" on the train. (My own invention) The goal is to examine a stranger without him/her noticing, and to find one beautiful thing about them. Amazingly enough, there is always SOMETHING beautiful. I saw the most gorgeous head of hair, the color of a new penny... I saw these adorable cupid's bow lips on one woman... a very cool textural treatment on a man's jeans... a wildly creative collection of dirt spots on an old bag...

It was a nice break from "Bob The Builder", the laundry, cooking and cleaning, and the endless energy of my kids. Whew. Now we're in overdrive for a week, while my kids experience their New York City vacation. We are pretending to be on vacation where we live this week, so we will go to tourist attractions and events. Should be fun...and tiring.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pant fitting.... or, "Things to Know..." Part 10

So, I had TWO WHOLE HOURS to myself yesterday. How long has it been since that happened? My husband took the kids to the park, and I had to make the hard decision about whether to nap or sew. I decided to sew. I'm making a straight pair of vibrant red pants, using a very basic pant pattern, and the sewing machine was just beckoning to me, so I put on some music and sewed. It felt great. I carefully thread-traced and sewed my darts, stitched each leg, got ready to sew the crotch seam...and... guess what?

I don't know why, but....

I had made two right legs. One, wrong sides together... one, right sides together. Rookie mistake.

I should have napped. Clearly, I needed it.

Anyway, here are the basic alterations I had to make to the pattern for my figure. I don't differ too much from the body measurements of the size I was sewing, so, there wasn't much to do.

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I'm probably too old for these things, but...

I love these sneakers... and I want them. No, I will not buy them, since, I know that in a few months, when Spring Fever has worn off, I will wonder if I've lost my mind...

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Everywhere a foreigner...

It seems everywhere I go, I am asked, "Where are you from?" But somehow, I know this means I am an outsider everywhere.

Often called an "out of the box" thinker, I can no longer find the box. I'll need to be okay with that, since, apparently, it isn't going to change. It isn't something I learned, chose, or decided to become. It just is what it is.

I haven't worn a watch in over a decade. It has been so long now, that I no longer consider that unusual. My reasoning is, while it is often important to know what time it is, it is almost never necessary to know exactly what minute or second it is. When I need that kind of precision, I refer to a stopwatch or a wall clock with more hands. I see no reason to be constantly tethered to a timekeeper. If I leave for a destination on time, barring circumstances beyond my control, I will arrive on time. Checking my watch frequently won't help me to get anywhere faster, or change anything at all. I found it liberating when I first began, and never saw a reason to go back to wearing one again.

My son is afraid of his new shirt. Really afraid. Like, he runs and screams at the site of it. I can laugh about it, but it kinda sucks after the time investment. Somehow, it doesn't look like his other shirts, and he finds that disturbing. My daughter had a great suggestion, though... She thinks I should show him some cartoons with the Droopy character, so that he can get used to, and possibly start to like the idea of the shirt. We'll see.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Creative "auras"

It is said that some people experience an "aura" before a seizure. Maybe a smell, a sensation, a frantic, fidgety feeling...

I have creative "auras". When I feel a wave of sewing or artistic fever coming on, I suddenly go into a frenzy, much like before I gave birth. I clean and organize excessively, store cooked meals so I won't need to prepare new meals for a bit, make all of my calls, clean out my to-do list, and fire up the machine... It bubbles up in me, and feels something like the above jellyfish aquarium shot I took in San Francisco.

This morning, I heard the sweetest words ever. This time from my daughter...

"Mommy, will you make me some clothes?"

So now, I'm in it. You'll see more when I have something to show!

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I quit!

I must admit, I don't just blog for the greater good.

I write because I want to be heard, I want my point of view affirmed and confirmed, and I enjoy it and want to do it, while showing that I am also "listening". I know that there are plenty of people who read and don't comment, who find some kernel of meaning or something of value in what I say, and who feel a kinship through this weird form of communication.

Having said that, I also have my moments when I want to give up, feel badly about a poor choice of words or possibly offending someone, or question if I am putting too much of myself on the web. I sometimes wonder if I am wasting too much time on this, and if my time should be spent, say, cleaning the kitchen... ? Again?

So I had a saved post entitled "I quit!", in case the day ever came that I felt I needed to abandon the blog. Today, I erased and wrote new text for this post, and you will see, I have come to a different conclusion.

When tempted to throw in the towel, I am often reminded that the enormous intellectual generosity showed by great artists, musicians, scientists, craftspeople and "average joes" have given us all so much. And sometimes you can't dig up the gems until you have a whole pile of work from which to harvest the best products. So I keep going... blogging... designing... working... mothering...wifeing... friending.

It took me three tries to make this loaf of bread this weekend. (Don't ask.) And it was soooo worth the trouble. I was rebelling against the gluten-free options we had been trying for my son's benefit. Had I not attempted so many times, I would have just had a disappointing experience to share with you now.

You may already know I am a Metropolitan Museum of Art maniac. When I went to see Jasper Johns 50 gray canvases a few weeks ago, I was reminded that everything is worth doing well. Now, one can become a fanatic, of course, but, from this vast sea of gray, I could see these sparkling pieces of genius, that would have never existed, if not for his endless attempts at conveying his messages with the use of such a non-color. So, it wasn't a exhibit for everyone, but I felt there was a special message in it for me.

Keep going. Keep trying. Persevere. It may not all be worth it, but some of it will be, and you'll never know unless you try...

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Vintage... there are no straight lines on the body...

I am still wiping the drool from my chin after seeing this pretty post from on vintage dresses. I have included one of her pictures (above) to give you a taste of what you'll find there, since the highlighted word "post" on its own doesn't really inspire exploration of another blog, right?

I love that dress... that architectural, straight look. My body is far from straight, though, and I don't think the dream would live up to the reality if I really tried to make such a garment.

We are a combination of curves, bulges, valleys and protrusions. In both good and bad ways, depending your point of view. Nothing brings this whole curve idea into sharper focus than making swimsuits. You body will just defy its constraints, and let you know that any stretch garment is just a mere coating for the your figure, and that all the structural tricks underneath are where the magic happens.

One thing that I notice about my own sewing, is that there is one area where I almost always, without fail, deviate from a printed commercial pattern. I am sure that due to the complications grading the markings would present, darts are just simple angles. (see below)

My darts are never just straight, and I usually have to change the length of them to suit my figure. I like my bust darts to end 1 1/2' away from the apex, and I like a gentler taper than most darts are designed to have. I guess this is one part of my draping and patternmaking education I have never been able to skimp on.

I am full of ideas and I have VERY little personal time. In keeping with my "no apologies" mantra, I aim to just complete my personal projects as I complete them, with no feelings of guilt over how long it takes me to finish, where we are in the season, or how many "do-overs" I have to endure to get the right look and fit.


For those of you following my son's progress, I must share the sentence I heard this morning. After putting on his small Crayola backpack full of crayons, Aaron marched toward the front door and said "Aaron wants school today" Aaaaaugh! It made me want to cry (for joy)! He has been on school visits with me, and he actually sees the possibility of going to school, and is looking forward to it! Not only that, he is just 2 years and 9 months old, so it is completely age-appropriate for him to start thinking that way. Autism, schmautism, I say!

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Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated...

I do have a monster cold, though.

I hope to post my many mostly-written posts today... but, in the maentime, here's some NYC subway humor.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I've been underground for a bit...

I'm revamping the site. Making some improvements, learning some new code, and generally making things work better. It is tedious, but worth every bit of the effort. Some of my dressmaker friends get almost ALL of their business from the site now. How cool is that?

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I'm giving a talk on fashion...

On April 28th, I'll be giving a talk to a group of girls, ages 12-17... and I must admit, I have an AGENDA. I'm very excited about it.

Let's face it, I'm getting older (more mature?) and I am seeing the way adolescent and teen girls dress nowadays, and I just want to do my best to let them know that clothing is personal expression, communication, and that it is POWERFUL. It can set or remove boundaries, help identify you as part of a group, or NOT part of one. It can show your own artistic flair, flatter your figure, protect you, restrict you, or make you feel cozy, comfortable, or athletic. I want them to know that expensive doesn't mean "better" (although it can), but your pocketbook doesn't limit how creative you can be. I want to show them that dressmaking and alterations are great skills to learn for their personal wardrobes, and that celebrities can be inspiration, as long as you understand that clothing also needs to be practical for your own life.

I wish I could also hold a bonfire for some of the more popular items I wish would just go away... but maybe that's taking things a bit too far.

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