Story N˚ 25: Vintage for Easter

When I started thinking of my array of floral dresses that I choose from for Easter Sunday, I remembered a dress I haven’t worn in years.  In fact, I couldn’t remember if I still had it, and if I had altered it or not.  Sometimes, I start chopping up a dress to make into a skirt or top, and then get distracted and find it mangled years later.  And I usually can’t remember what I was going to make it into.  I know I have thought of how to alter this particular dress many times.  When I went to look for it, I couldn’t remember if it had gotten chopped or not.  I was a little worried.

This dress is the first truly vintage piece I ever bought.  I was in high school, late 1980’s. One summer when we were visiting family in Salt Lake City, my sister and I who were already thrift shoppers, found ourselves in a vintage shop.  I’m sure I didn’t understand the difference back then between thrift and vintage except for price; all I knew was we were surrounded by great clothing.  This green and white floral print must be rayon, and I think the tag read circa 1930’s, maybe early ’40’s.  It looks handmade, although the buttonholes and buttons look commercial.  I honestly don’t know how it has lasted this long in my rambunctious wardrobe.  It is worn out and yellowed in some places, but the rayon is strong and still drapes beautifully.

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Note the grosgrain ribbon running through the crenellated tabs and on the buttons.
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Do you look inside of clothing to examine the stitching?  I do.

I wore it constantly in Florida where dresses are great for the heat.  I remember my high school art history teacher, Dr. Earles, complemented me on it.  My first year of college, I wore it with no socks and men’s dress shoes. I’m talking early-grunge, so this was ultra feminine. I remember one late summer evening I went to visit a guy in his dorm.  I had a new haircut, my vintage dress and no shoes on. I knew he liked green, and was hoping he liked the dress, that is, liked me in the dress. The kiss didn’t happen till later that semester, but I’d like to think the dress had something to do with it.

I would also wear it to the university’s performing arts center, where I volunteered as an usher with my best friend so we could see the play or opera or symphony for free.  This was an easy dress for such occasions.

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I realize I haven’t worn this dress for decades. The dress does have a homely, hausfrau look to it from here. I don’t remember it that way. Maybe that’s why I didn’t wear it for so long. I found it at the bottom of a pile of clothes (one I keep for sentimental reasons); it wasn’t cut up at all!  I’m glad my past self had the sense not to change it.  But I want to freshen it some way, maybe wear it again this summer.  For now, it will be my Easter dress, maybe with a shorter skirt and cap sleeves.

Happy Easter

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Story N˚ 22: Autumn’s Summer’s Day

As I write, this warm day ends beautifully in shell-pink light.  But it’s one week into October in New York City.  Since summer seems to be outstaying its welcome, I took the liberty of wearing a pair of white pants and sandals out on a date last night.  The beauty of it is not that it’s warm enough to wear such clothes.  In fact, I’m craving the crisp air that makes me want to cozy up to a hot bowl of soup.  (I cooked three such soups today, but the cat and I just sweat through it uncomfortably.  I will squirrel them away for cooler days.) 

No, the joy of these pants is that they fit me!  I have held on to them for at least 6 years, have worn them a total of once in that time.  I confess to hoarding more than a few items in my closet for that future day when I can wear them.  Happily, those future days are becoming today for all the right reasons- exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep, and giving up (gulp) sugar.  There is no secret formula, no magic ingredient.  Me doing the work is the magic, the key, the secret. And a half marathon challenge around the corner is really helping out.

Back to these pants:  I used to work at Sea World in the Costume Shop.  We provided wardrobe for the various performers, except Shamu.  One of the venues was the pearl diver area where you could see sexy male and female swimmers dive gracefully into the water to collect oysters from the sandy bottom.  We outfitted all of them in black speedos, and had a cast of hostesses waterside to guide people from the viewing area to the gift shop, because, of course, beautiful women help sell merchandise, such as pearls in the setting of your choice.  The hostesses had a summer outfit and a different winter outfit, but both were in cream and white to fit the idea of dressing for a Grecian coastal landscape.  We prepped and maintained all the costumes for these lovely and talented women.  As I remember, at one point there was a huge change in costuming or in cast sizing (I’m not sure if the pearl diving is still a feature) and we still had lots of used and new inventory:  sweaters, pants, etc.  As too often happens, good quality clothing was going to get thrown out, or boxed away in storage to be thrown out eventually.  So in the changes, I scored a pair of almost-new creamy white trousers.  All I had to do was take in the waist and take up the hem, the usual alterations for my physique. 

I think I try these pants on each year and then pack them away again.  This year, even though the season is supposed to be over, and there’s that breakable rule: no white after Labor Day; I’m happy to rock these, even if my date didn’t feel the need to dress up (another story altogether…)

Story N˚20: Use It Up, Wear It Out

…Make it do or do without.  This saying, popular during the struggles of the Great Depression, is one I learned growing up in a large family.  Along with “waste not, want not,” I associate these expressions with my maternal grandparents.  They both lived through the Depression and knew how to live off the land and to prepare and preserve their own food.  From farming and gardening, to baking and canning, carpentry and sewing, they were self-sufficient, hard workers.  My grandfather always set up a compost wherever he went, my grandma taught us to sew and crochet when she visited, and her great grandmother made a certain quilt out of any scrap of fabric she could put together in pioneer times.

In my sustainable living and as an active environmentalist, I challenge myself to use and care for things in a conscientious way.  I scrape every last bit of peanut butter out of the jar before recycling it, for example.  The same with shampoos, etc.  I am aware of how much waste I generate all by myself- it’s a lot.

Applying this to my clothesmaking, I found a fabric a few years ago that hits all the marks for me:  a chambray of hemp blended with recycled polyester.  I ordered a few yards to test out and love the drape, texture and color ( a blue-grey denim wash).  The first thing I made was a pair of pants from a Marcy Tildon pattern that I altered to suit me.  The wide legs balloon out on either side and then taper smartly above the ankle.  I created a waistband and pockets for wearability.  These pants have gotten so many compliments, and I get as many from men as I do women; they may need to go to market…

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The perfect baggy pant

The fabric has held up well, except for the crotch, because of my bicycle seat and all the biking I do.  I had extra fabric to patch it, because I want them to last forever!  And then even more to make a skirt with…

For the skirt, I took the full width of the fabric (about 50″/127 cm), and pleated and gathered it until it fit my waist.  At the center back the two selvedge edges meet.  This time I added beesom pockets (cut right into the fabric and finished with jetting, incorrectly known as welt pockets).  The pocket linings were cut from a sari my sister brought from South Africa.  The turquoise silk peeks through the pocket slit.  Again a waistband, and this time a facing around the hem line.  The silhouette is a puffy column that inspired the name- the Suffragette skirt.  Maybe a matching-era sportscoat will appear…

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The Suffragette skirt

Even after a pant and skirt, there is still fabric left.  I put a panel of it in a skirt that I cut from a man’s dress shirt.  A bright polyester herringbone knit, circa 1970?  The story behind that find:  an old friend of mine was searching Craigslist for deals while he was out of work. He would often find giveaways, especially the belongings of deceased persons.  The daughter of an elderly man who had passed was giving away all of his old clothes, which I now have an ample stash of.  What can I say, there were many inspirational pieces in the pile…

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hemp + herringbone
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Details: crotch patch, beesom pocket, inset panel

For the chambray, I have almost used it up, I’m definitely wearing it out, am making it do and do, and haven’t had to buy anything in a while.  I love this.

 

Story N˚18: A Dress in 3 Acts

Act 1:  2008. Woman in her mid thirties visits NYC with her husband. She enters a bohemian boutique in Manhattan and finds a subtle, well-draped dress in a watery Japanese print.  It’s on the sale rack, so it’s worth a try in the fitting room.  A little snug through the shoulders, but it’s so different, so beautifully grey and blue, and affordably priced.  She takes it back to Florida where it gets compliments and stains in the armpits because of the heat, and the fact that it’s snug through the shoulders.

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Act 2:  2010, Florida. Woman wears the beautiful dress to her estranged husband’s BFA  show at the university they both attend.  She wants to look good.  Her hair hangs long down her back. She puts on orange peep-toe platforms to create some pop with the grey tones of the dress.  She is feeling confident and happy.  Her husband really wants her to be there, so he said.  All of their friends, her in-laws and classmates are there to support him in his exhibition, including a professor they both took classes with.  The professor looks very dressed up in make up, an open-back dress and heels. Her hair is also hanging long down her back.  The Woman notices the professor looks nervous. 

Act 3:  2012, New York City, a rented room.  It is only a few months since her divorce. The Woman found out that the professor and her husband were sleeping together.  The Woman found out that she and her husband want different things in life.  She is feeling lonely and sorry for herself, and decides to go out.  She puts on that grey dress and a little make up.  She runs her hand over her head that is now a cropped lawn of hair.  She shaved her head in mourning after the divorce, and as a way to start anew.  The Woman goes to an open gallery night in the Lower East Side.  She looks at art and boutique goods; she sees beautiful things.  She sees people struggling on the streets.  She eats a slice of pizza and watches people go by.  She knows she has it good; she goes home contented and ready for her new life alone…

-Emily

Story N˚17: Sweater Weather

…Which officially began a few months ago in these climes, has been eluding us.  Even today in Manhattan, I saw a teenager in shorts and flip flops as I marched by in tall boots, sweater, scarf and raincoat.  Despite being dressed for the rainy grey day, I wouldn’t call it cold or even chilly.  My sweaters are ready to go, but on many days they feel too heavy and uncomfortably warm.  Here’s hoping temperatures will drop, so I can bundle up properly.

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My sweater stack is a tidy group of mostly shopped pieces. As a Floridian, I wasn’t in the habit of acquiring sweaters.  Since moving to New York, I’m happy to boast a few Indigenous cotton sweaters ethically made in Peru and a charcoal grey alpaca sweater by Zady that I’m getting a lot of mileage out of.  But the sweater that has the most history with me is a hand-knitted pumpkin spice sweater that keeps me cozy warm.  It came into my life in 2005 on a return trip to Argentina.  As I’ve mentioned before, Argentina is a great place for yarns and knitting.  My friend, Silvia, was working away on this sweater.  She said it was for herself but when finished, she realized that it was way too big for her small figure and gave it to me as a gift.  I thought it was too big for me as well, but didn’t want to refuse it.  I made room in my suitcase somehow- this thing is really bulky!  And it lived in clothes storage for many years before I moved North.  I think the oversized slouchiness really works now, although the color isn’t my favorite and I prefer natural fibers.  On the coldest days, this sweater has found itself stuffed inside my down fill coat. A tight fit, but no complaint of chill.  And I can always use a scarf to offset the color.  This sweater has become a lounge staple.  Best of all, I love that it is handmade by a friend…

 

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Story N˚15: Yellow September

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A few years ago, I worked at a boutique that carries ethical fashion. The owner said she had to often avoid buying yellow colors when selecting styles. Even if the clothes looked really good, she had trouble selling them. Perhaps many women don’t think they look good in yellow.

I don’t know if I look good in yellow, but I enjoy wearing it. I also notice that yellow really catches my eye when I see someone else wearing it. It’s brave to wear such a bold, attractive color. The yellow may be ochre or soft; I still think it’s bold and beautiful to wear.

This time of year is a yellow color for me- this transition from summer to autumn. The light has softened from bright white to yellow. The tree-top greens become yellowed, then golden. Some of the first leaves to change are bright yellow. The tulip tree and silver linden. (I notice that Spring happens the same way: one of the first colors to pop is yellow- forsythia, daffodils, etc.)

I like to pull out a certain outfit around this time of year. A pale ochre dress I bought at the above mentioned shop. It was designed and made here in NYC by two artists who created a line (recently put to rest) called Feral Childe. I love everything they designed, because each piece spoke to the dreamer in me. I pair this dress with an Afghani cotton scarf I got from a friend who was stationed there in the military. I think the patterns look so good together.

I hope you’ll look for and enjoy all the yellow…

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Feral Childe dress from 2013 with Afghani cotton scarf

Story N˚ 12: A Dress for Valentine’s Day

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Today’s dress comes from my fabric stash, rather than my closet.  I have yards of fabric that I’ve collected over the years.  Every time I went into a fabric store (which was often),  I would leave with something in hand and an idea of what to make with it.  Almost always, it would go on the “some-day project” pile, which gradually became the fabric stash.  I got so good at this, that I eventually organized my fabrics by season or craft.  So, I have a box for fall/winter designs, a box for spring/summer designs, and a few boxes for craft ideas and scraps.  The scraps box is the most prolific.  I’m careful not to keep adding to my fabric stash, but I have a very hard time throwing away scrap fabric. I will use it one day, I tell myself…

I decided to make a Valentine’s Day dress to celebrate today, and to challenge myself to design and use up my fabric stash. Even though I am single and not dating, I still love Valentine’s Day.  I enjoy the treats and love wishes that are shared.  And luckily, V Day fell on Sunday, so I had all of Saturday to create this. 

Design, pattern and finished dress by Yours Truly with love!