Book Review: Just Make Them Beautiful

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Apparently, this last week was the anniversary of Grace Kelley’s 1965 wedding to Prince Ranier of Monaco. I thought it was high time I let you know that I *finally* read her wedding dress designer’s book, ‘Just Make Them Beautiful’. The book was published in 1976 and was limited edition at that time. There are few copies floating around and those for sale are in the $100s of dollar range. My wonderful, Japanese reading and writing Cornell University-attending intern not only orders Japanese sewing supplies for me. She also borrowed the book through Cornell’s library over winter break.

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Helen Rose’s book is a true delight. I’ve wanted to read it for at least a decade.  Through her own words you get a glimpse into life as a costume designer. She started off as an art student in Chicago in the late 20s and stumbled into costume design. She began sewing for stage productions and eventually came to California and went to MGM. She herself didn’t sew. She would draw wonderful pictures and a team of seamstresses would bring it to life.

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Her book is filled with such luscious descriptions of designs and fabric that you are transported back to the heydey of Hollywood and the studio machine. She has personal annectodtes of stories of the stars she worked with including 19 year old Grace Kelly, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Elizabeth Taylor, Esther Williams, Joan Crawford and more.

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The book includes photos of the designer working and water colors of her design ideas. My photos are blurry as the binding was too fragile to scan and the flash bounced off the pages. Plus, when I got the book it was December, so too cold for outside. But, at the bottoms is a youtube video with clear pictures.

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Even better, you can see some of the watercolors and how they came to life with fabric and needle. I also recognized some of the costumes from movies I’ve adored over the years including High Society and A Designing Woman. There are a few dresses from a Designing Woman that I’ve obsessed over. Especially, this red one.

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Some of the dresses are very familiar including costumes from High Society, Butterfield 8 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Immediately after reading the book, I started trying to figure out how to make the Maggie the Cat dress for myself!

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Roses’ designs were so well loved and oft-imitated, that she started her own retail line where she sold the Maggie the Cat dress (in a far simplified version) among other lines. I’ve never seen any of her designs in vintage stores, but would snatch one up in a heartbeat if I did.

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If you can find a copy of this book and are into old Hollywood glamour, I recommend you check this one out. It’s a visual eyecandy.

Here’s a wonderful slide show on YouTube of the photos from the book.

I Finally Read “Over-Dressed”

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap FashionAnd, I felt kind of depressed. And have spent the weekend obsessively cleaning out my closets, drawers and basement. I live alone in a three bedroom house and there is stuff in each of those rooms. I want to get down to the things I need. Not just the stuff I want. And, less stuff.

Instead of reviewing the book (there are many many good reviews out there) I’d like to share a slightly related anecdote. My Goodreads ‘review’ is posted at the end.

As people moved away from making their own clothes, general public knowledge of garment construction faded. Though the connection is not entirely direct, the loss of sewing skills happened in tandem with the public accepting simpler and simpler fashions, until today — where we have collectively accepted the two-panel knit creation that is aT-shirt as fashion. — Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline

I share this qoute because I once had a first date. We were meeting for coffee at a popular brunch spot in fashionable neighborhood in downtown Baltimore on a Sunday morning. He came wearing a tee-shirt, cargo shorts and flip flops. Full disclosure — I generally don’t like flip flops. They aren’t shoes. But, it was the T-shirt that stuck with me. We dated for a few months and I eventually brought up the fact that he wore a T-shirt on our first date. His reasoning was it had a (chest) pocket, therefore it was a shirt. Plus, it was a casual morning first date. I’ll abstain from drawing correlations between the effort he put into dressing for our date and the effort he put in to the relationship. But, I submit to you that a T-shirt is not a first date  ‘outfit’!

“That men walk around in T-shirts and elastic waistband pants has very definitely impacted the notion of what fashion is and contributed to the race to the bottom.”  – Anthony Lilore, a 30 year vet of the fashion industry.

Hear, Hear!!

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t even know where to begin. I remember looking at two friend’s closets a few years ago and being shocked speechless over the insane number of clothes they had. Especially considering I saw them in the same clothes over and over and the vast majority spalid on the floor had never been worn. Throw on top that I find most of the clothes I see on people I know wearing to look patently inexpensive(thin, faded, pilled and pulled). This book explained to me how this came to be and how consumer culture changed when it comes to shopping.

I made a melton wool grey trench coat a few years ago. It’s double breasted, down to my ankles and lined with flannel back satin. It’s the warmest, best fitting garment I’ve ever made. It cost me $150. My good friend was shocked I would pay that much to make something when I could have bought a coat for less money and zero time. This coat, easily would have cost over $500 on *sale*. But, a poly / wool / acrylic coat for $90 made much more sense to her.

We live in a culture where we’ve forgotten that good quality items cost a lot of money. Period.

When I grew up, we shopped seasonally and for special occasions. In my 1930s home, the closets are the size of an outhouse. This book lays out how the expectations on the cost for clothes has changed and how the stores have catered to this. Now, people shop for entertainment and the clothes are inexpensive enough that we don’t think twice about buying it. Add on top of this the loss of shame over having ‘cheap’ clothes and we have a society that has more clothes than ever. This has changed the way our homes are built, the way we shop and the quality we expect.

This book is eye opening and I will never shop the same way again. Ever. I want my clothes to have value and meaning. I don’t want to contribute to this consumer culture where we spend more on a meal out than we will on a blouse! A blouse should last for years!

Sigh. I realize this isn’t a review, LOL. Read this book. It will change your thinking and they way you live. I’m only not giving it four out of five stars because the author talks about how we need to learn to identify good quality clothing. But, never really goes in to what the average consumer should look out for.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Sewing Lingerie from the Singer Sewing Reference Library

Guys, I’m so busy these days between work (larger projects, running a Fellowship program) and extra curricular activities (election season). I don’t want to tell you I’m on a hiatus from blogging since I may have a whim (like now). But, I will be posting very little until the end of September. I can only *dream* of new projects! Heh. Not all that different than the last month really :) But, I do plan to write a few book reviews over the next month — mostly my Singer Sewing Reference Library.  I was lucky enough to buy the bulk of them for less than $20 a few years ago.


Trena and I are engaged in 15 minutes of cleaning challenge. Each day we have to spend 15 minutes cleaning a room in our respective abodes. She’s been actually scrubbing / cleaning. I’ve been putting things away / sorting. For each day we don’t, we put $2.50 into a pool. I think we’re doing this for three months. At the end of the three months to the victor goes the spoils. Hopefully, we will both have new habits in place.

Last week  I cleaned out my bedroom drawers. What I found were a lot of sorry tee shirts that I sleep in and absolutely nothing ‘nice’. Nothing at all attractive or cute to walk around the house in. When I was dogsitting Frida, I also noticed I had very little ‘walk the dog’ ‘run out the street’ clothes. I’ve focused hard on work outfits because that is where I spend most of my time. Yet, I had to buy a whole new top from H&M two weeks ago for a morning brunch date! I’ve been increasingly more interested in sewing sleepwear and lingerie. I’m not a person who hates slips and pantyhose. I rather like them! In fact, I started looking for slip material last year when I finally admitted my three high school era slips no longer fit (they are going to Trena).

Enter, Sewing Lingerie.

I was most interested in the slips portion and ways to embellish with lace.

The book also covers making dartless FBAs for chemise tops and slips

The intimate apparel section covered garments that I didn’t quite understand

But, I emailed Lindsay T and she explained the point of a teddy. Yes, I didn’t know what a teddy was for! If you think about it, when they were popular I was in Converse and undershirts.

Tap pants! They seemed so silly when I started looking through the book. Now, I think they are super cute.

Luckily, Burda also has a sleep set pattern that I can adopt perfectly for the outfit below.

The book also covers laying out pattern pieces to use the lace best and gain the most stretch

Even better, some great tips on making those itty bitty, teeny tiny, skinny minnie straps

Overall, I recommend this book if you’re interested in basic intimate apparel. The book doesn’t cover firm foundation garments like bras.

But, if you want to make slips, chemises, pajamas, sleep sets and work with lace I think this one is worth the find. Plus, at its age and availability it’s fairly inexpensive.

Book Review: Singer Sewing Reference Library: Sewing Activewear

I’m at least two projects or more from tackling my athletic wear (I sew by the color on the serger). But, I thought you might be interested in a great resource on sewing athletic wear.

I managed to purchase most of the Singer Sewing Reference Library in one fell swoop a couple years ago. One of the books is Sewing Activewear.

I’ve used it only a handful of times as it has great directions on sewing knit bindings. But, I thought I might give it a better review here for you. Well, and for me.

The book is chockfull of information. Before my hunt for supplex, it would have told me the different qualities of cotton/polyester/spandex knits. It would have told me which is softer those or nylon/spandex. I would have read which are more durable, absorbent and which are good for cold weather. Who knew, right?

There’s even information on inserting a padded / sculpted shelf bra! I don’t even bother with these in my leotard. But, I may attempt one now that I know I can have some shape instead of bring smooshed flat!

The book is split into five categories.

Getting Started. This is a primer on material, notions, supplies, sizing, cutting. The basics.

Actionwear. Leotards and swimsuits, making tights, how to make padded biker shorts, make bike shirts and inserting zippers into knit. I was all set to joke the tacky pointy pink 80s nails then saw I was wearing green nail polish. As I am living in a glass house, I shall not throw stones.

Comfortwear. Sweatsuits, making casings, making cuffs, binding shorts, making a rugby placket and pockets

Outerwear: waistbands, zippers, zipper pockets, making garment storing pockets, drafting a rain poncho, sewing polar fleece and working with Thinsulate / insulated outerwear.

Personal Style. Umm, kind of gross. It’s the 80s so it cover making chevrons and nonsense with your piping.

If you can live with the awful unitard and bright primary colors, this is a great way to get a grasp on athletic wear, how to alter patterns to be active wear and to give you some confidence that you can achieve RTW details at home.

Oh. It’s also like 0.01 cents on Amazon. There’s even one in Spanish.

Bunka Garment Design Textbooks Are Amazing.

I am not selling my books nor do I have access to the discounted price I originally paid. If you are interested in buying these books, please use Amazon Japan. The books are about $40 each plus shipping. If you email asking where to buy the books or asking to purchase mine, I will not respond.

Thank you


You may have gathered from this blog that I have a love of all things international. Through much hard work and calculation, I have struck up a unique relationship with my counterpart in Japan. So unique, that when Trena went to Tokyo, my counterpart actually took her shopping — and we’ve never met!

At anyrate, when this week’s delegation came to Baltimore for three days, with them came four of the five English languageBunka Fashion College textbooks. Ginevra first tipped me off that they were coming and Christina let me know they were out. Oh, BTW, Bunka is pronounce Boon-ka. These look small in the photo, but they are 8×11 size (really A4, but whatev).

I am going to do my best not to gush too hard here. But, I am BEYOND excited about these books. Mostly, because they only cost me $100 for the four. They are selling in the states for $44 each. These are definitely text books. But, what I like about them as textbooks is that they, wait for it, ACTUALLY TEACH SEWING. See that below? Those are directions on how to sew a skirt, where to add lining, how to sew lining, how to cut it out, ways to pretreat, suggested fabrics for garments, places for interfacing, etc.

Yes, home sewers have sewing books that teach you this, but I can tell you that my garment design textbook (which cost $100) DOES NOT tell you *how* to sew.

There is a GREAT deal of information on fit and drafting. Ways to alter your sloper (including for bust)  and EXTENSIVE instructions on drafting one. There is a four page glossary on the little symbols and markings that are used on the Mrs. Stylebook / Japanese drafting patterns

I’m also enjoying reading about the history of garments

And this is all just in ONE BOOK.

Of course, there are things I don’t like. First, according to their charts I’m like the LARGEST size possible. After spending four days with six Japanese women, I would agree. I am huge.

But, what’s interesting about their sizing charts, is they take AGE into consideration. Now, call me crazy, but I suspect I won’t age like a Japanese woman. But, I do like to know that they take that into consideration in their drafts.

The other thing I don’t like, so many new products for me to track down! Mostly a few rulers like the D-curve (which looks like my #6), the reduction ruler, thier sleeve pressing ham (I like that it’s shaped more like an arm than my sleeve roll), and pressing horse.

I am resisting their pressing ham, pressing board, handy mat, crossarm and Yukiwari — our tailoring board. Hmm, but I cannot resist the needle board. It might be good I can’t find it on their website. Or this bobbin holder.

Someone I know is going back to Japan in March. My plan is to save up, do a huge order and pay the $50 extra luggaage fee on Al Nippon Air!

So, to sum up, if you can find at least the first book, Fundamentals of Garment Design, I think it it well worth the money if you are interested in fit and working with the Japanese patterns. If you are interested in drafting on your own, then I would get the remainder. The last, Coats and Capes, comes out in December. And, if you are thinking of ordering from Amazon.com Japan and saving some money. shipping is almost $50 for the four.

Things Calm Down

It’s been a crazy busy month on this side of the world.  But, my reward came early! Remember when I bought the Singer 221 Featherweight? Well, one came without a case. The woman selling said her mom had the case and accessories and she’d let me know when she got it from her mom.

Well, this morning I went and picked up the case. It was in perfect condition. I noticed it was crazy heavy and I figured there must be a buttonholer inside.

Which there was….

And this zig zagger!

And this great book!

And these singer sewing lessons! Complete with samples from the class!

And a complete box of accessories!

And a random tucker!

An instruction manual, two keys and a can of oil!

Awesomeness


If I owe you an email, package or phone call — I’m working on it this week. Thanks for your patience! I slept a full 12 hours Monday and Tuesday after three solid weeks of work. I’ve never appreciated a day off so much :) I’m having a party this weekend — and you know how much time that takes! I have hopes (ha!) of making something for the party. But, I doubt it’ll happen :)

 

Book Review: 500 Quick and Easy Decorating Projects and Ideas

Country Living 500 Quick & Easy Decorating Projects & Ideas

This book was a delightful and generous gift from LindsayT who picked up on my love of the now defunct Cottage Living and Domino Magazine. I’ve always called my personal decorating style Urban Cottage and this book will easily help develop it. Country Living is also where my favorite bake-at-home cake recipe is from.

Despite being a total city girl, I’m in love with cottage / country decor. What I love about the country / cottage looks is the extreme use of fabric. What appeals to me about this book is that the aren’t trying to tell you that you can do anything when you can’t. Rather, they just want to show you the possibilities. This is not a book of how-tos, but rather photos with short descriptions of the how the color, fabric, flowers, etc. work for that room.

There is minimum text and beautiful photos straight from the pages of Country Living magazine. It covers Entries and Hallways, Kitchens, Bathrooms, Living Rooms, Dining Rooms, family and Great Rooms, Bedrooms, Kids’ Rooms, Home Offices, Small Rooms, Laundry Rooms, Porches and Outdoor Spaces, and Seasonal Decorating. But, some of the sections like Outdoor Spaces are all of two pages long.

What it will also do is make me crave:

Pink kitchens. Seriously. I think I petted this page.

More quilts and a long banister. I love the use of quilts to decorate.

Lots of layers, white and frills. If I made my bed, this would be so pretty.

and a pink typewriter. Which has nothing to do with this book. I just want a pink typewriter. Bad.

Book Review: Fitting and Pattern Alteration (A Multi-Method Approach)

Fitting & Pattern Alteration: A Multi-Method Approach Fitting & Pattern Alteration: A Multi-Method Approach by Elizabeth L. Liechty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘A swayed back will be evident by the forward tilt of the pelvis; a prominent abdomen and protruding buttocks. … Other probable figure variations include shortened upper back length in between waist and hip, and an increased length of the buttocks to crotch’ — pg. 38

So, I read this standing in Christina’s computer room when visiting her in Seattle and was sold immediately. Right there in front of me for the first time, in one place, was a description of the. very. pattern. alteration. I needed to make. Remember my final project dress and how I shortened the back by about three inches out of the back? Every pants that dipped at the back waist because my crotch line wasn’t long enough? It’s because of my swayback! I put an alert on Half.com and the book was mine for under $20 in less than one month.

I am figure 3-8 and getting the shoulders of figure 3-7!

All I can tell you is that this is the most thorough book on fitting I have ever come across. I like that they acknowledge there is more than one way to solve a problem and give you at least three different methods to do so.

In addition to the multi-method approach, they show an alteration on several garments. So, if you have a swayback, they show you on pants, they show you on a blouse and they show you on a skirt the ways to fix it.  I also like that there is a discussion on what your body is doing to make the garment hang or fall the way that you don’t want.

*All* my pants do this

Oh, and I also so clearly have large thighs on the inside. Kind of excited about trying this alteration!

Excellent resource. It’s possibly too complicated for those who haven’t tried simpler adjustments first.

Book Review and Fabric Giveaway: Material Obsession (Modern Quilts with Traditional Roots)

Material Obsession: Modern Quilts with Traditional Roots Material Obsession: Modern Quilts with Traditional Roots by Kathy Doughty

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I first found this book on Kathleen’s “Little Hunting Creek’ blog. Then I saw it written up in the Spring 2009 Stitch magazine. With two ringing endorsements, I made the purchase. And, considering I rarely buy sewing books full price and haven’t bought a quilting book in aeons, that’s saying a lot.

What a pleasure this book was to both read and thumb through! I primarily sew clothing, but I have always loved quilts. This book, in my mind, marries them both. The quilts are arranged from easiest to hardest and use the most extraordinary contemporary fabrics. Using these fun fabrics, the quilts don’t look like what your grandmother would make or what you see in most homes. Instead, you have dresden plates with graphic prints and applique with modern figures. I would recommend this book to someone with much experience or very little. The book will serve you well as your skill set grows.

In addition to great patterns, they have an always useful ‘how to’ at the back. So, it also makes a great reference book for the shelves.

I ordered my copy from Little Hunting Creek. Between her great customer service and being just one state over, I was curled up in bed reading this one less than 48 hours after hitting ‘send payment’.


I’m sure you’re now super inspired to give quilting a whirl, right? If so, check out this fabric giveway on FabricWorm’s blog. She’s opened her first retail store and is celebrating the one year anniversary of the online shop.  She’s giving away three fabric prizes!

  • 1st Prize: 1/2 Yard Set of Patty Young’s Mezzanine Collection (15 prints total, 2 of the prints have not arrived yet)
  • 2nd Prize: A Collection of Holiday Fat Quarters, including Michael Miller’s Funky Christmas and the New Alexander Henry Christmas prints (17 Fat Quarters in all)
  • 3rd Place: A large selection of Heather Ross Mendocino Scraps, (4 Yards by weight)

So, go to her blog to enter to win. Make sure you t ell her I sent you :) And, with the money you saved in the win, you can order this book!

Book Review: Bringing Home the Birkin

I picked the following book for bookclub. We usually only read ‘serious’ books. But, each summer we pick a beach book. I thought this was a good summer read. Especially for those who like fashion and celebrity (umm, me). It comes out in paperback this July.
Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Handbag by Michael Tonello

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
$25,000 for a bag? Not so crazy in the circle that author Tonello travels in. How can Hermes claim to only make 100 bags a year and put people on a waiting list? The author was able to buy five at a time and spent years traveling the world lookng for new Hermes stores to buy from. All his wares ended up on eBay or sold otherwise online. What is ingenious is how Hermes built their name and the mystique surrounding them by totally faking exclusivity. The BEST chapter IMHO is when one of his bags is taken hostage. The rest of the book felt like filler to that point.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to read something easy and light. And, this was read start to finish on a Friday evening after work. It is *not* high lit, but would be great for a marketing class.

I was impressed with the ingenuity of the author and the thrill he gained from working the system. But, to read how ravenous others were for a handbag boggled my mind.

The writing was *ok*. I did feel like the publishers asked him to throw in more about his romance and backstory to flesh out the book. I was also uncomfortable with him talking about his parent’s wealth, seemed to have little to do with the story.

I think if you’re not interested in fashion and retail, this book will annoy you. If you are interested, you will be amused.

View all my reviews.