Friday, November 30, 2012

Lacemaking... and what we can learn from spiders

The art of making lace in one form or another has existed from the earliest ages. There are scriptural references to various web-like fabrics, which were made of rude construction, no doubt, but whose general characteristics were identical with those productions of modern skill which have for centuries been known as lace. Homer and other ancient writers constantly mention net-works of fancifully embroidered materials; gold thread-work was nown to thee Romans, and as Egyptian robes of state are depicted upon the tombs of the earlier dynasties as being fashioned from a looped net-work or crochet..."

-The Art of Modern Lace-Making (Butterick Publishing Company, 1891)

Lace and silk from Metro Textiles

Pictured above, is a fabric combo on its way to becoming  something unique for me, inspired by a dream I had, an unrealized idea from a client I had last year, and the "Spiders Alive!" exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.

In an old Greek story, Arachne (uh-rak-nee) loved to weave. Her weaving was so beautiful and perfect that the goddess Athena got jealous. To punish Arachne, the goddess turned Arachne into a spider. But Arachne still loved to weave, and continued to do so, as a spider...

So, here's my question for the day... if all spiders know how to spin webs (and I assume all do), why don't they consolidate their efforts, and some work on spinning webs, while others gather the prey? Why don't they work together?

A spider uses its own body measurements to make its web, using a very practical and ergonomic design process. The spider starts with the most difficult part of construction -- the first thread, and creates an extraordinary silken net, often as beautiful as it is functional. It is also abolutely unique and personal.

We work to create our own intricate handmade patterns, using yarn, strings or thread and fabric, and our own human hands. There is something very natural about this. Something very real and tactile... Individuality is important. Personal expression, the need to share beauty, and this sense of accomplishment are vital.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Various custom projects (part 2)

A beloved dad (Larry or "Lah", as he was called) passed away, and as a gift to each of his children, teddy bears were commissioned, using his old, beloved sweatshirts to create each one.

See more examples of my work here...

Wedding projects

*This is an ever-growing post.  I will just add more photos as time marches on.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

This is an organza bolero I made for a bride who was wearing a sleek, strapless dress for a southern wedding.

Above, a silk gauze dress with the bride's own hand-crocheted flowers, for an outdoor wedding.

Above, a RTW bridal gown I altered to fit, and then made the peplum zip-off for the reception. Two dresses in one!

And another zip-off peplum, for a dancer bride, below:

Before (above) and after (below) - just a hidden heavy-duty zipper separating the two parts!

Below, a hybrid dress, made for a client who wanted to use some elements of her Mom's 1960's gown (the skirt), plus a sari fabric wrap top, to marry her Sri Lankan groom.  An American fairytale.

Not everyone gets married in white these days (below)... and, as all true New Yorkers understand, there's no quicker way to get to your event than the subway!

This bride bought an 1890's ensemble at auction, and we turned it into a wedding ensemble that matched her personality!

This bride stood a mere 4'9", and needed a dress for her extremely petite frame (below).

See more projects in the next post...

Various custom projects

*This is an ever-growing post.  I will just add more photos as time marches on.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

Threadbare, permanently soiled and with dry rotting elastic, my client was faced with the prospect of having to lose a cherished piece of his youth forever. Above, this car enthusiast's beloved racing jacket from the 1960's. (Orginal)

I was able to recreate the jacket, after finding a color similar enough to that French racing blue he loved so much, in a fabric made for home decor use.  The jacket had a pretty unique closure, which I was able to duplicate. (Shots of my copy, above and below)

A duster, style jacket with a dramatic, feather collar, for a dinner club/restaurant owner.  A "ringmaster" type of garment, just right for her role as host!

Sometimes, for religious reasons, shoulders and arms need to be covered.  When you've got a strapless dress, you might have to get creative by adding other fabrics and creating more dress where there previously was just... skin.  For the bridesmaid on the left, I gave her (previously) strapless dress some coverage! See below:
For the more creative client, I sometimes work from a sketch...
I found the appropriate fabrics within the client's budget, and created it.

Below, a reception dress for a Manhattan bride who traveled to Utah for a wintertime wedding afterparty. (Note: Actual client is bigger than dress form, which accounts for droopiness at left waist.)

Sometimes, you just need to add some interest to something very plain.  An organza ruffle trim rolled into a rose gave this strapless bridesmaid dress a "lift" for future wear.

Below, a hand sewn (yup, no machine), bias chiffon bridesmaid dress, for a wedding in Bali.

And, speaking of sewing things together by hand, this sequined top, made for a wedding in Puerto Rico, was hand draped, and completely handmade for my client.

Sometimes a client wants a beloved dress copied in a new fabric.  There are no exact copies, since the fabric and machines and methods I use are never exactly the same, but here is the result.  Which one is the RTW original?  Which one is my copy? Hmmm... (I'm not sure I remember... seriously)

Continued in this post...

Personal projects

*This is an ever-growing post.  I will just add more photos as time marches on.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

My own skirt... for hot summer days.  There is a story behind this one.
Above, my own warm, wool/cashmere coat.  As close as one can get to wearing a blanket.
Above, my own shirt, affectionately named the ridicu-shirt.  No one else has to like it.  So there...

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Recent projects

Recently made a few tops for a performer, who needed some hot weather clothes for the stage, inspired by Emily, from "Metric"'s cool bias striped top, seen belown, I developed some others...
I love this color combo - really hard to do grey, black and gold together well, no? The trim makes it kinda rock n' roll...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It already exists...

Ever hear the expression "There is nothing new under the sun"? I often feel that way, but am also occasionally struck by the idea...


that, no matter what you conceive of, dream up, or create... it already existed before you created it. You are simply the vessel, the hands, the voice, or the tool that carries it out.

I was moved by a thought this morning, as I heard Steve Winwood's "Back in the High Life", followed by Coldplay's "Viva la Vida". I thought about how complicated and beautiful it all sounds, layers of instruments and voices... and then I thought about how it all existed in the head of the artist who communicated it to us. That person/group was the vessel. Every note has already been heard before, every instrument used before, just not in that combination.

And when we design, we are always finding new combinations of things we have already seen. So, when we make things, we are channeling this creative force. You can call it God or whatever you believe it to be, but it looks for minds, hearts and hands who are receptive to it. And frankly, what an honor that is.

For more exploration of this topic, see

God, NASA, and textile artists


If You Held the Microphone

As this endless double-helix of concepts I want to express on this blog wind tighter and tighter, I find that my posts explode from of one another, constantly expanding, yet simultaneously contracting into a narrower and narrower group of the same main ideas. I hope you are enjoying the ride.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


"The things we make have one supreme quality; they live longer than us. We perish, they survive. We have one life, they have many lives. And in each life, they can mean different things; which means that while we all have one biography, they have many."
-Niel MacGregor, Director of the British Museum

*For the complete talk, visit the TED website, where he presents a fascinating talk on one particular 2600 year old piece of art.

I invite you to chime in to tell me if I'm alone on this one, but I love to visit fashion and clothing exhibits here in New York City, and have spent many hours over the years, gazing at the lovely, carefully crafted creations of many designers and needle-smiths. One thing I have often wondered, especially when looking at something old and beautifully simple, is "How did the creator of this piece trust his/her own talent enough to know that they needed to work with such high quality materials?" I have often found myself paralyzed with fear before cutting into my never-find-anything-like-this-again fabrics, worrying that one wrong move can send hundreds of dollars worth of fabric to the back of my closet, or bottom of my trash can. How do you know it is worth the effort?

As I wander through exhibits, more often than not, the materials lists on the description placards include words like "silk tulle", or "silk velvet", fabrics with real staying power, and the ability to hold beautifully vibrant colors for years beyond the lifespan of the person for whom they were made. These fabrics are pricier than the rest.

Are they worth it? Well, they sure can be. Who cares? You do... and although I can't promise anyone else will value it as much, a lesser fabric will certainly shorten its lifespan.

Recent experiences with clients are telling me that there is a sincere appreciation for quality. In my dressmaking life, I am seeing more and more brides who want to redesign their own mothers' or grandmothers' gowns, based on the quality, age, and tactile experience of the fabric. Often sewn by hands you have neither met not heard of, these garments resonate, and they still hold a magic that reaches into the future.

So, I say all of this to say, there is enormous value in shopping at the stores where the staff is knowledgeable about the quality, origin and description of the goods they have to offer.

When the occasion is very special, and the budget permits, consider the following stores for wonderful quality...

B&J Fabrics (chiffons, silks, and so much more)

(a fabulous whisper-light metallic sequined fabric from B&J)

(and the top that fabric eventually became)

Rosen & Chadick (also, check out their 126" wide silk tulle! and many other wonderful specialty fabrics)

(a wonderful silk from Rosen and Chadick)

(silk organza from Rosen and Chadick - raw edges)

NY Elegant (silks)

(above fabric - lovely 4 ply silk from NY Elegant)

Lace Star (laces and more - see previous post)

Solstiss (French laces - by appointment only - only for the VERY serious...)

Now, I don't expect my pieces to end up in museums anywhere... but a girl can dream, can't she?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Call it maturity, laziness, or a heightened sense or practicality, but I no longer have patience for temporary garments. I'm tired of trends, and, now I hear only one drummer. My own.

Forgive me for saying this, but an animal print is a statement, not a trend. So are loud floral leggings. And maxi skirts. Some clothing shouts. But if everyone shouts, no one is heard.

I have recently committed to paring down my wardrobe. I use that term generously, since what I have consists mainly of well-loved t-shirts, jeans, and some fun shoes. I want versatile things. Things I feel good in. Things I can wear on fat days and skinny days. Banned are the heavy wool turtlenecks that are only eligible to be worn on one of the three or so terrifyingly cold days each year. Banned are the "dry clean only" two-hour, special occasion garments that get slipped on in a pinch, and languish in the pile of "worn gently, but no place to go" purgatory.

I've got a stash that could supply all my needs, if I could just find the time to turn it into garments.

I'm adding myself and my family to my client list. That means I'll have to say "no" to many potential clients in the upcoming months. But that's okay.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The dressmakers' dilemma... Scoliosis

A few weeks ago, I offered my own "Dressmaker's Serenity Prayer" on my Facebook page.

The dressmaker's serenity prayer/meditation:

Please grant me the serenity to refuse the garments I cannot sew/alter; courage to sew/alter the garments I can; and wisdom to know the difference...

By far, the greatest challenge I have had in dressmaking, is sewing for people with scoliosis. When the challenges are skeletal, postural, and anatomical, it makes any dressmaker seem completely inept. I have discovered that many who have been in the profession for many years, simply say "no" when asked to do this work.

The challenge, as I see it, is that the grainline on a curved body (depending on how it curves) will not simply hang straight where you put it. If you over-fit a garment, it becomes impossible to honor the grainline, and if you try to create any design line that is meant to look "straight", the question becomes "Relative to what?" Are we making a straight line down the center of the wearer's body, or is the line meant to be straight as it relates to the horizon? Do we "cheat", and create something between the two?

In the meantime, the process can frustrate a person to no end.

So, the solution, as I see it, for the person who is well-financed and maintains a stable enough weight to do so, is to get a custom made dress form, so endless fittings aren't needed. But, guess what... when you ask the custom form makers if they will do it, and explain the challenges, some of the very best companies will still tell you "no".

As I see it, the only true fitting solution, if you want to create complex designs, is to have a body cast made, using that to create a dress form. Well, that, or keep it simple, and relax your fitting standards a bit... (my recommendation).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Shop the Garment District

You will now find me blogging regularly at the blog, where I will share valuable information with you.  The more personal stories will still be found right here, but not on regular schedule - just when I have things to share.  Here's the deal: exciting things are afoot in my business life, but so much of it just isn't shareable.  The nature of my work these days requires me to be both discreet and professional, so I'll just share what i can when appropriate.  The best part of it all is that I am finding what I have always heard to be true.  Do what you love... and the money (well, debateable... or exciting opportunities, at least??? and some money, I guess) will follow!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Zelda Kaplan

The life of Zelda Kaplan, a New York artist, is an interesting one, detailed in the article I have linked to this post below (highlighted name "Zelda").

I have recently begun an amazing assignment, working as the "hands" of an extremely experienced French dressmaker/couturier, living in New York, who is just overflowing with creativity and ideas.  She is as talented as anyone can possibly be, and working with her is like being paid to take one of the best classes I have ever taken.  And what I am learning is not what one learns in design school... it is about the art of the craft, the philosophy of fashion, the amazing turn a dress can take when you turn a "V" shaped neckline into one that is squared off at the bottom.  The best part of all, is that I am in the right place in my life, professionally, and personally, to appreciate and absorb what she has to say.  While her clientele and friends are and have been names we all know, she is as personable, sweet, and grounded as any person can be.

Oh, Zelda.  I didn't know her personally, but this fashion-forward nonagenerian inspired so many, and will truly be missed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The things we make have one supreme quality; they live longer than us. We perish, they survive. We have one life, they have many lives. And in each life, they can mean different things - which means that while we all have one biography, they have many.
-Niel MacGregor, Director of the British Museum

I take fabric, cut it, shape it to fit an individual human being, sew it, tweak it, finish it, and send it on its way. I gave birth to it, and then it travels on to be with its owner.  I love being involved in the process.  The above quote sums it all up so well.  Some people make things because we simply must.  I can't control this desire to create.  I have long quiet periods of deep thought, but they are vital to the process.  I must have spent a full hour in silence this morning, imagining twists and folds and calculations... Let's see what today's work yields...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Oh that's right! I have a blog, don't I?

This has been an incredibly busy post-holiday season so far. Lots of meetings, appointments, an incredibly intense, and fast-paced fashion business crash course, and the beat goes on...

The Find a Dressmaker list is growing, and continuing to improve.  My client relationships/communication are better, and I am doing better work as a result.

Here are some things I've learned lately, that I must share with you...

In no particular order...

Where have you been all my life?

Why is it, that only now, I have discovered the Evernote app?  Everyone needs it.  Correct that.  Everyone with a busy, creative, frenetic life needs it.  The days of having a Palm PDA are long gone, although I often miss mine, and the way it really did a much better job as a PDA than my IPhone ever will... but with this app, I have rediscovered the beauty of those PDA functions I miss so much, and all is right with the world again!

The ripply zipper problem in bias cut garments....

I had the pleasure of being in a designer studio where some pretty awesome stuff is being created for Fashion Week. I looked at the beautiful construction of the garments, and was truly impressed.  So, while examining them, I noticed a few things that were unique, but among them...

When working on a bias garment with complicated seams, why not insert the zipper on the bias?  Of course!  A zipper that goes from underarm to lower back is entirely doable, and so much better looking!  Shaking my head over how obvious such a technically well-thought-out design detail this is.

How do designers get their designs in stores... Financially?

So, I often wonder how designers take the risk of getting things produced, and then waiting for the stores to pay, while hoping for reorders... the answer is a FACTOR.  Not a financial mystery or secret, and clearly explained on this very well respected factor's website.

Where do you designers find samplemakers for Fashion Week?

Everywhere.  And nowhere.  The power is in relationship building.  No one does it for the cash.  No one.  Many dressmakers are at retirement, post-retirement, and "leave me alone" age.  Especially the skilled ones.  Any professional service hesitates to have any kind of staffing conversation unless you have are handing them a check RIGHT NOW.  The pressure of this economy has reached a fever pitch, and no one wants to take the time to build relationships with people, which, I believe, is what you must do, if you want to get good work out of them.  Dressmakers with hand skills seem to know each other, and know OF each other.  It isn't really a competitive niche, because frankly, it is talent-based.  You can't fake it.  Either you can do it, or you can't.

Secrets of the garment district.... shhhhhhh....

And one of the biggest secrets of the garment district here in NYC?  The same stuff all of these little firms (who often have no website or email address, by the way) do for high-end designers, they will also do for you, as long as you pay for it.  And not even exorbitant sums... Need your fabric pleated?  Fused? Covered buttons?  Grommets placed? Buttonholes? Leather cut with intricate little patterns?  It can all be done... Good luck finding it, though.  Again, it is all about relationship building.