What Are They Wearing Wednesday: Long Time No Post

It’s been months, I know…between getting this business going, traveling to meets with the pop-up shop, and trying to get new PDF patterns online, I haven’t had time to breathe.

Anyway, here’s a quickie — just finished last week, a derby half-time show dress for a former (not “old!”) artistic skater and her husband.  Though they never skated together competitively, they’re now doing a ton of touring and showing.  She provided the inspiration, I provided the dress, and it worked out perfectly!13012684_10209146334406377_7935865105215429282_n 13006570_10209146330966291_7980582120146414941_n 13001306_10209146337726460_3011998439975147128_n 12987072_10209146329846263_368874875983559320_n 12974537_10209146331646308_1349025510355417653_n 12931081_10209146332126320_8350457954872323954_n 12472713_10209146330366276_8024765418736258938_n

What Are They Wearing Wednesday: Formation Team Dresses

So many sequins, so little time to vacuum them up…

Actually, this project wasn’t so bad. The team wasn’t exactly sure what they wanted, just that the five dresses needed to be “a little slutty, like Chicago-slutty, but also ballroom-appropriate.” Total opposites, of course.  We decided on black with either emerald green or indigo blue, with red being a distant third because of the cheap-predictable-tango-iness of it all. And stones were totally out of the budget. Gulp.

so I set off for my usual two Los Angeles garment district vendors. My favorite guy, Avi, was busy with an annoying ice skater non-sewing mom and her horrid child (really, who lets a 10-year-old run on top of bolts of spandex fabric in dirty shoes and then scolds the shop owner when he politely tries to coax her down? And then wants several yards of fabric free, saying, “Well, I don’t know if I’m going to like this, so I don’t want to pay for it if I’m just going to throw it away.” I told him I’d be back when the nuisance had disappeared, so I went to my second favorite vendor. He’s only my second favorite because his dad, who doesn’t speak English, always, always, always, always tries to sell me on every single bolt in the place, even when his son tells him forcefully in Egyptian Arabic to just freaking leave me alone. But the guy is so sweet, and I just can’t ignore an 80-year-old smiling man trying to load my arms with yards of sequins and rhinestones, so I usually stop by Avi’s place first just so I don’t have to keep saying no.

Anyway, I digress as usual. So on this particular day I was in search of something already sparkly, since the girls didn’t want to spend what it would normally cost to bling out a dance dress with stones. After much consultation via text and photos, and after several visits to see that Nasty Ice Mom was still bothering Avi, I finally settled on a really terrific mesh bedecked in flat, densely spaced green and black sequins in a feather motif — they couldn’t afford enough of that fabric, but I figured I could cut each and every feather out of the fabric and arrange them Chicago-flapper-style on much, much cheaper mesh, thus turning 5 yards into 20. I picked up 20 yards of black velvet and some miscellaneous things before heading back to a bedraggled Avi, where I picked up another 20 yards of black mesh before crawling back to the car with the worst cold I’d had in years.

Back in the hotel room I watched Chicago three times (since the cold medicine made sure I wasn’t going to sleep at all anyway) and decided on a form-fitting, black velvet faux-corset front with a gathered mesh braform over a sheer, see-through skirt (that seemed pretty Chicago-racy, while the length still made it a legit ballroom dress), with a black velvet hem that was 18 feet in circumference.  Yes, 18 FEET.  Do you have any idea how long it takes just to hem five 18-foot circumference skirts? Three hours, that’s how long.

The dresses went together fairly easily; they were basically a skating dress with a ridiculously long skirt. I made the patterns (she says offhandedly, like it was nothing. I honestly don’t even know how I pulled five corseted, princess-seamed, six-paneled bodice patterns totally out of my rear, but I did, somehow), put together the bodices, added the gathered mesh braform (why do I do this?  Over and over again, I voluntarily opt for the gathered mesh, a serious pain in the rear?) and added the sequin-less skirts in just a matter of a few days. I kept putting off the sequin thing, because I wasn’t looking forward to all the fray-checking it would involve.  I just assumed the sequins were sewn on in one loooooong strand, and cutting that strand would automatically mean the rest of the strand would eventually fall off if I didn’t glue/burn/sew every single edge.

Well, I was wrong.  I gathered my wits and a glass of wine, and sat down to the nasty task…just to discover that this fabric that my favorite Egyptian grandpa sold to me was hand knotted.  EVERY. SINGLE. SEQUIN. I could cut it into tiny pieces and only lose the sequins that I actually cut in half and the ones directly adjacent to my cut…nothing else.  No fraying, no spraying sequins all over, nothing. I went to town, cutting 5 yards of small green feathers into long, awesome strips, saving every tiny piece to use later.

Amazing "Chloe" sequined fabric

Amazing “Chloe” sequined fabric

Getting there. Five dresses in progress, one strand of sequin feathers at a time...

Getting there. Five dresses in progress, one strand of sequin feathers at a time…

But while rows and rows of sequins did NOT fall onto the floor, every sequin I cut through did, and every sequin on each side of my cut did. And there were lots of them…lots, and lots, and lots of them. We’re still finding these tiny sequins all over the house, and I never even brought the fabric in here. There was one on the floor of my shower yesterday, and I don’t even want to think about where it’s been/what path it’s taken/why it ended up there.

Anyway, each feather was then glued to the skirt, a process that took about 50 hours to complete. Then, the anal retentive side of my brain decided that none of the feathers should have any unfinished edges anywhere, so I hand applied hundreds more sequins to every single cut edge. Once they were glued, it was time to drive back to LA to deliver them. I knew I had some more work to do on them…I’d decided to donate some rhinestones to the project (I spent so much time on these things and they NEEDED stones, desperately), and in the three weeks that had passed the dancers had also decided they needed jewelry and hair pieces, so I knew another visit to the garment district was in order. I planned to drive to Anaheim on a Thursday by way of the garment district, take the dresses to them that evening, do a quick fitting, spend a few hours that night in the hotel room making adjustments, trimming the edges of the sequined pieces, trimming threads, adding hooks, basically finishing things up, and making their jewelry pieces, and then deliver everything to the dancers Friday evening. Super easy.

Well…trimming tiny pieces of mesh from around hundreds of sequined appliques takes longer than you may think. Much longer. Like 10 times longer than I’d anticipated. And while two of the dresses fit perfectly (yay!), three needed slight altering, which took a couple of additional hours. It was time to check out of the hotel and I still had a lot to do…so I figured I’d find a nice park somewhere near the campus and finish my trimming and stoning there. No problem.

Then it started raining. Hard. And I had more stoning to do than I’d anticipated. And it’s really hard to cut/sew/glue/stone in a Prius, especially when each dress weighs a ton and is 20 feet around at the bottom.

After seven hours cramped in the Prius (with the windows closed because of the rain, so everything smelled like E6000…and of course, there are green sequins all over my husband’s car now) I finished the stoning and the jewelry, but I ended up handing over a care package of my tiny LED light, ridiculously sharp scissors, needles, thread, backup glue, heavy duty coat hooks, extra sequin pieces, and extra stones along with the dresses, hair pieces and jewelry, with the question, “Can at least one of you sew?!” They had a 3-hour drive ahead of them to get to their competition, so I figured someone would be able to sew on the coat hooks. I was on pins and needles, no pun intended, all weekend, scouring social media to see if they actually wore the dresses or if their Chicago number ended up quite a bit racier than planned.

It was a crazy, insane process, but here’s the result.  I’m hoping for a still shot of the dresses eventually — after this performance in the video below, I ended up sewing 8 snaps to each dress so they can start out bustled up super short before the dancers unsnap them to let all 18 feet fly free.  The girls were SUCH a tremendous joy to work with, despite the sequin drama and the Prius workroom nightmare. Watch at 2:17, how the skirts twirl, and at 2:56, when you can almost see the full back of the skirts. And though you can’t tell in the video, every dress is identical…the feathers aren’t placed randomly at all.  I know that probably only matters to me, but still, those are the things I see when I watch this video.

What are They Wearing Wednesday: Latin Ballroom Dress

Here it is — our Latin ballroom dress, the “Rose.”

This isn’t quite finished — with only 14 gross stones on it so far (yes, I did write “only”), it still has a few gross to go…but this thing included two techniques I’ve never used before:

1. Scraping.  What I call “scraping” probably has a more elegant term, but it involved carefully cutting open the braform, scraping the excess pushup padding away, and then hand sewing it back together. I could have used a standard braform, but amazingly enough I stumbled upon this particular one, which happened to be made out of the exact — and I mean exact — bolt end fabric that I also stumbled upon 11 months prior on a trip to the garment district in Los Angeles. It’s no secret that many of the fabric sellers there are really just unloading bolt ends that they picked up from various garment manufacturers nearby, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I somehow managed to find both the bolt end and the braform, already covered in this exact fabric, twisted and boned and underwires  and EVERYTHING, already done. So of course I was willing to spend the few hours it took to carefully scrape away the excess padding.  Totally worth it.

2. One fitting only. Not my ideal situation, but it worked. Fortunately this dress belongs to someone who could easily have been the model for one of my mannequins, because their measurements were practically identical. So Marie the headless mannequin, as she is affectionately called around here, accompanied me to Los Angeles to make finishing and stoning the dress easier.  Such a nice traveling companion she was, didn’t ask for potty breaks or beg for food, though it would have been nice in LA traffic to have been able to use her for the carpool lanes.

So here she is, almost finished:

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What Are They Wearing Wednesday: All About the Access

20141015_114848OK, quick disclaimer — I couldn’t get this dress onto the mannequin because the straps are too tight to go over Peg’s hips…so this is What’s Hangin’ Wednesday instead.

This is a super-quick dress that’s leaving the shop this afternoon. Quick, not because I rushed through it, but because I think I’m finally getting to the point where it’s rare that I make the kind of mistakes that cause me to have to rip out seams and waste so much time. Plus, now I think my machine and I have come to an understanding: it doesn’t freak out when I pull fabric or elastic through it, and I don’t curse and throw things at it. Makes everything go much, much faster.

I love this thing — made of a really great, deeply saturated red slinky remnant I found in LA (and I’ve already used the very last piece of it on a competition dress for the Pan American Championship of Clubs for Emma in January), with an inset midriff panel of black mesh, and a very geometric rectangle of black spandex on the chest, which contrasts nicely to the fluid line of the red fabric. The skirt is also black spandex and the back is open, with three (really really really hard to do) perfectly straight, tiny horizontal straps, and two asymmetric diagonal straps, also black and very thin.

The best part about this dress is the access — which is always an issue with freestyle dresses because I hate to use non-permanent strap attachments (meaning using things like hooks or buttons or snaps…too much can go wrong and I don’t like even the slightest chance that a strap might come unhooked). However, you have to get into the dress somehow, and I think I finally stumbled upon the perfect solution: bra extenders.

bra extendersThis nifty little thing solves several problems at once: 1, the underside is a very soft, very strong, very sturdy knit that protects the wearer from the sharp edges of hooks and clasps.  2, the hooks are sewn so well into the extender — much more permanently than can be done with a needle and thread by hand. 3, if the skater grows, as they annoyingly do, there’s already a built-in way to make the dress stretch an inch or so, which is usually enough to get through to the end of a season — which is important because it’s a serious pain in the rear to alter dresses that have already been stoned. And finally 4, it gives extra stability and strength to the part of the dress that usually bears the most stress — especially when your hooks need to be attached to very fine fabric like mesh or lace.

I first cut the extender in half, and removed one set of loops (so that I didn’t risk breaking any machine needles when sewing the extender to the dress). I then sewed the hook end to the nude mesh shoulder of the dress, flipped it over, and sewed the loop end to the other side…and it’s done. Those hooks aren’t coming undone, no matter how many double flips she throws or how many times she lands on her rear end (sorry Sabrina, just sayin’)…


What Are They Wearing Wednesday: Upcycled and Awesome

Today’s What Are They Wearing post is a little different — it’s not what’s on my mannequins, but what’s on my shop floor:

This beauty is the creation of my husband.  It’s huge — 4 feet by 5 feet — but its utility is far outweighed by the sheer awesomeness of the chartreuse green paint we picked out.


What started as an old hand-me-down table, missing its leaf, and obviously a mistake of short-lived 1970’s trendy interior design, is now a cutting table and ironing surface.  Inside a matching chartreuse metal tin is my too-hot applique iron, my too-convenient portable heat shield pad, and my too-fun pair of electric scissors.  The self-healing cutting surface is not quite 4 feet wide, so the remaining tabletop is covered with another mistake — this time mine — a 12″x60″ piece of fabric printed by Spoonflower with my shop logo and website address, which was supposed to be used to make garment tags, but the logos ended up being much, much too large.

In his usual way, he finished it with matching chartreuse molding (see?  I’m not the only perfectionist in the house).  It looks much better than it ever did as a dining room table, a true achievement for any upcycle project.

Why chartreuse, when I could have chosen from thousands of colors (see my post on color obsession here)?  Because in my former life I worked for a huge advertising firm, where I learned quite a bit about branding (between laying off people in waves…1992 in an advertising HR department was one of the worst places to be); so all our marketing/business materials and nearly everything in the shop is natural wood/burlap, shiny metallic black and chartreuse, and what doesn’t already fit into this little box will — as soon as I can afford to convert it.  But in the meantime, my chunky chartreuse cutting table will keep me happy for a very, very long time.

What Are They Wearing Wednesday: February 12, 2014

So I missed a Wednesday, because I was exploring the textile district of Los Angeles, the largest in the world.  And to make matters worse, my sewing machine is in the shop for three weeks for a tune-up and lube job.

However, there is a little something on Peg today:

O. M. G.

O. M. G.

This is an extraordinary piece I discovered at a recent textile convention in San Francisco.  They’re designed and imported by DeBeers, the diamond folks, and handmade in India.  The photo doesn’t do it justice — it’s exquisite, it’s huge, and I managed to get my hands on two of them.  The retail price is completely unaffordable, but thankfully I don’t have to worry about that anymore.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do with them (thus their position on Peg at the moment, attempting to inspire the decision making process), but I know I’m using them for kid #4 and I’m not selling them.  They’ll go on white, but I haven’t yet figured out all the design details.  In the meantime, I’m just enjoying gazing at them as often as possible.

What Are They Wearing Wednesday: January 29, 2014

I’m starting a new tradition here today — every Wednesday I’ll post a photo of what happens to be on one of the mannequins in the shop. Sometimes it will be a finished project, sometimes a work in progress. The goal is twofold: first, it will give you a look at various stages of garment construction, but mostly it’s a personal motivator to keep things moving because I’d be so embarrassed if the mannequins in the shop don’t show any progress for an entire week.

What Are They Wearing -- January 29, 2014

What Are They Wearing — January 29, 2014

This week I have a nearly-finished custom practice dress on Peg (the adjustable female dressform in the shop). The bodice is made of a lightweight and amazingly soft black jersey, a fabric we don’t usually use, but it’s perfect for a practice dress where comfort and ability to breathe is more valuable and necessary than sparkle, shine and show. The top has a glittered sheer fabric overlay, which can be tricky because the glittered fabric is extremely itchy so it cannot be turned under or placed anywhere it may touch bare skin. The belt is a scrap of the best green stretch velvet I’ve ever found, with a took-way-too-long-to-arrive special order crystal belt buckle. The belt hits just below the bustline of a great young lady who has recently lost quite a bit of weight, so the goal was to emphasize the tiniest part of her still-changing body. There are four straps in back which come together with a dress ring (more on these miracle little pieces in a future post), and the low scoop back hits about an inch below the waistline. The whole dang thing can be thrown in the washing machine, a necessity when deciding on practice outfit fabric and construction. All that’s left to do is attach the inset bra, and trim the skirt.