Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ode To The Sewing Machine

Evolutionary processes of mechanical items
hold great fascination for me. I am especially intrigued with the sewing machine. I have sewn on many different manifestations of this amazing device over the last 4 decades, all of which have offered the same basic function of permanently connecting fabric to fabric.

My first experience with a sewing machine was on my mother's home machine. I no longer remember the brand but it was a nice all-metal sage green machine which could be folded down into the lovely wood cabinet. I played with it enough to figure out I would like to learn to sew which led me to my next machine which was a portable unit at the Singer Sewing Center where I took lessons. That one was a shiny white number with plastic bobbins and a plastic housing if I recall correctly.

A year later I was in junior high and was sewing in home ec class on a machine nearly identical to what I had used during my lessons. It was during that time that I figured out I was pretty good at the craft but wished the machines could sew faster. They poked along much too slow for me.

We moved the following summer and I found myself in a new school district, and another home ec class where I was sewing on the same generic, white, too-slow-for-my-liking sewing machines. But I continued to hone my sewing skills making everything from slippers to aprons to wearables.

Then when I was 14 my parents went out to run errands one day and came home with a very unexpected gift for me! A brand new Sears Kenmore portable machine. Complete with a buttonholer and a cam system for executing machine embroidery. I was floored! It was totally unexpected but very appreciated. My mother's old machine did not make the move with us so I hadn't been doing any sewing at home. What is incredible about that machine is that I still use it! It was made for longevity with its all metal housing and bobbin system. I have replaced the motor 3 times through the years but it keeps on working. Now I mainly use it for the buttonhole feature but it has been a reliable workhorse for many decades.

My next step in my journey with the sewing machine was taken in the late 80's. I took a job in a tailor shop and was introduced to the industrial sewing machine. Finally! A machine that would sew fast enough for me! *At top speed it ran at 3000 stitches a minute!* 'My' machine at the shop was a Columbia Union Special. The industrial machines are made for HEAVY use, with all metal parts and gearings as well as a 3/4 horsepower motor. They will sew through just about everything and I put it to the test at that job. I liked the machine so much I bought an identical one to sew with at home. I put a lot of miles on it before replacing with a similar model Juki machine. It has been a wonderful machine and I plan to use this one until either the machine or I wear out, which ever comes first.

As I have had the opportunity to use a number of different machines through the years I have witnessed a small slice of sewing machine evolution but the beginnings of that evolution goes back a long way. The first patents for sewing machines were given in the 1830's but the quest to invent a machine that could successfully and quickly stitch had been going on for several years prior. Those first machines were spare and primitive. The ancient machine above was my grandmother's. I do not know when she got it but it is the only sewing machine I ever saw at her house. I never saw it in use but I would go look at it in her attic while visiting as I thought it was beautiful in a sculptural sort of fashion. I am so happy to have ended up with it. I am also happy that I don't have to sew with it. I would much rather sit at my high-speed, super-stitch, 3/4 horsepower motored wonder machine any day than to sit and gently rock the treadle back and forth on Grandma's antique number. I doubt I would be creating my original handmade clothing and accessories for my website if it were so. Some say "Speed kills" but I say in this case, "It gets me where I'm goin'!" :)

Want to see what I have been making on my wonder machine? Drop by my website and pay a visit. I design and create casual, comfortable, one of a kind ladies clothing and accessories. Everything is "Unique! Like You!!"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

And Speaking Of Clothing....

My love for sewing began when I was a kid. I got my official start in garment construction way back in the 60's while still in grade school. I can still remember being at the Singer Sewing Center where my lessons were held. I was literally mesmerized by the aisles of fabric and the drawers of patterns. That first lesson opened my world to the endless combination of fabric and patterns. I am able after all these years to remember my amazement as I considered the possibilities and that there was virtually no end to the items that could be created. I still feel that way. I am still mesmerized by it all.

I design my own patterns now but I have a collection of manufactured patterns that I have held onto through the years. I have downsized my pattern stash for the sake of space but have retained the ones that are favorites. I have antique patterns that are true treasures. My oldest belonged to my grandmother and is from the late 1800s/early 1900s. It is the gem of my collection. Additionally I have at least one pattern from each decade from the first half of the 1900s and many from the 60s and up. I don't use them at this point but it is still fun to look to them for inspiration and for laughs (The 70s! What Were we thinking!).

If you sew &/or just love to look at patterns like I do, pay a visit to my friend Sheila's website It is an adventure through fashion history. She has THOUSANDS of vintage sewing patterns from every era and her site is just plain fun. She has categorized them several ways which enhances the thrill of the hunt. And if you are looking to buy, she has the best prices on the web as well as wonderful customer service.

This week I am sewing patterns of my own design. I am working on 3 of my empire tops. One in a luscious denim blue micro-suede, one in a speckled gray/black knit and the last in a soft drapey aubergine rayon blend corduroy. Also on the table is a textured black knit mandarin jacket and lastly, a dramatic shift jacket in a bold black-and-white reversible wool weave. I am torn on that one as to which side of the fabric to use for the outside. A hard decision as both sides are so gorgeous. I suspect that will be the last one to get sewn up.....

If you are interested in seeing similar items to these prior to me getting them completed and listed in my e-store, stop in and visit my website and check out the other items I have that are made with these same patterns in different fabrics. Remember that all my items are one-of-a-kind and no pattern is ever paired with the same fabric twice. My designs are all handmade originals created by me right here in my studio.

Don't forget to drop in on Sheila and peruse her patterns. Even if you don't sew, it is an interesting way to spend a bit of time. You might even see a pattern or style from your past. And I guarantee you a few LOL moments as you read her commentary on some of the patterns. :) Enjoy!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What's Your Style?

When it comes to designing my handmade original clothing I find I am inspired my many things. While it usually starts with fabrics I find, there are many other things that fire my creative imagination. Many times I will see an article of clothing hanging in a shop or on a person in the street or in a magazine and these are often jumping off points for me that get me thinking "Hmmmm, I like but that but I would change this and add that....." or something to that effect.

When I find something in a magazine or other publication I cut it out and stick it to one of my many inspiration boards. Sometimes I am inspired by a basic design or outline, sometimes it is the fabric but most often it is a single detail. Every time I look at my boards I am amazed at the diversity of styles represented there. Some are tailored and classic, some are romantic and Bohemian, others are edgy and punk and so on. I have appreciation for every type of style out there and would love to wear them all. Clothing should be fun and we all have the freedom to experiment with style. But I got to wondering about how to DEFINE different styles. I set out to do this and realized it was going to be harder than I thought. So I bought a book. "The Lucky Guide To Mastering Any Style". This has been a fun read. This book breaks style down into 11 categories. What I like about it is that while the book defines these different styles, it doesn't promote hard and fast rules about them. The book is a guide, a jumping off point and a reference from which we can 'locate' our style favorites.

According to "Lucky" these are the labels and definitions of the different styles. The labels are Lucky's, the definitions are my condensed version.

1. Euro Chic- These are the women for whom the word "chic" was invented. The ones who make all the fashion editors take notice and bow to perfection. There's a sense of selectiveness and couture to everything they wear- expensive or not- and how they wear it. Euro Chic is effortless and sophisticated. It is eclectic high fashion. Examples of this style: Catherine Deneuve, Bianca Jagger

2. California Casual- This is a look grounded in time and place that may have never existed outside of our imaginations: the tawny golden Malibu of the 70s. A combination of dreamy sexuality and surfer girl vitality that makes this look so distinct. California Casual is distinctly American. If there were a style of dress for which the word 'breezy' applied, this is it. Farrah Fawcett, Cameron Diaz

3. Rock & Roll- The essentials of rock style are no big mystery; jeans and leather pants, a boyish biker jacket, some wicked looking boots. But it's a matter of combining these with lots of slink and style and balancing the tough with the ethereal, the strict with the sensuous. Patti Smith, Debbie Harry

4. Posh Eclectic- In this category we find madcap glamor made up of equal parts country-estate frump and the black-sheep aristocrat's disregard for what's acceptable. But there is a genuine chemistry when it all comes together. eg: fearless layering of decades--40s librarian with 70s punk with 30s socialite with turn of the century gothic-- finished with vintage touches. Sophie Dahl, Daphne Guinness

5. Mod- This bold category was inspired by a subway slogan. "Brave New London". Mary Quant, the originator of Mod, used this as a directive for her new designs. They were boldly black and white, zippered, geometric and shiny. They went far beyond new and were considered futuristic. Mod still feels like the future- not the future as it happened but the era's happy, optimistic and flirty version of it. The look is still sexy and stylish, but this time around with a wink. Twiggy, Selma Blair

6. American Classic- The most timeless- and certainly most trendproof- of looks, this style is one that gets right at the heart of our fixation on the northeastern-elite lifestyle. Today that means something that's part equestrian, Ivy league and Jackie O. Ladylike with a bit of urban knowingness thrown in. The look can be menswear inspired without being unfeminine. Grace Kelly, Katherine Hepburn

7. Bombshell- Sophia Loren once said, "Sex appeal is 50% what you've got and 50% what they think you've got." Bombshell might be the most labor intensive look of all. These women work hard to get glamorous. They take care to slip on stockings so the seam goes straight up the back; to cinch their waist way in; to wear coordinated lingerie sets, complicated corsets and high heels- to the market. They take us out of time, away from trends and practicality. Primarily 40s and 50s influenced- but not strictly vintage- the core elements remain the same. It's about shape and polish with a dose of sparkle. Marilyn Monroe, Ann-Margaret

8. Arty Slick- In its purist form this fearlessly stylish look will forever be ahead of its time. Full of structured, asymmetrical jackets and dresses, layered tops and boldly sculptural jewelry, this is both avant-garde flair and minimalist cool. Almost everything is black and has some twist to it; swingy draping, a collar with shape or volume, a V-neck that doesn't quite V. Still, for all its drama Arty Slick isn't all or nothing; you can prove your point with slouchy trousers, a skinny tank and a bright necklace. The key is to let go of any desire to blend in with the pack. Isabella Rossellini, Bjork

9. Bohemian- This style is eclectic, with a high-low mesh of earthy and flashy. It's about wearing rich pieces capriciously- frayed jeans and ornate jewelry, rough-hewn sandals and a delicate dress. The effect is sophisticated and amazingly cool. Stevie Nicks, Ali MacGraw

10. Gamine- This in an intercontinental mix of clean American lines and French indifference. The wardrobe couldn't be more simple or timeless- cotton cardigans; cool, lovely floral dresses; old-school espadrilles; boatneck sweaters in navy and red- but put together in an offhand, pedaling-to-the-market kind of way. Audrey Hepburn, Audrey Tatou

11. Mix and Match- Naturally most people can't be categorized into a single iconic look. Personal style is a fun ever-changing thing and we are all about being creative and mixing it up a bit - some Posh Eclectic flash with a bit of American Classic neatness; Euro Chic layered with Mod; and so on.

Examples of this Mix and Match style? The rest of us. It is fun to consider the iconic looks of these different styles, but in regard to most of the people I know including myself, we wear a blend of many of these defined styles. Our mode of dress for everyday life is typically an amalgamation of many different looks. There are no rules here. We can all choose our own style, styles or lack of any which is still a style. The thing I like to see is people wearing what they like and feel good in. I like that sense of personal choice and individualism. Yes, clothing is functional in that it protects us but since it is a requirement we may as well make it a personal form of self expression.

Did you find yourself picking a favorite from the list above? I found I favored them all! Guess that makes my own personal style truly eclectic. That probably explains why I design the way I do. My work certainly does not fall into any single style category. I can see that my original ladies wear and accessories fall into many of the categories, if not all of them. Want to see for yourself? Drop into my
shop and check out my eclectic designs. This week I am in the studio creating wraps and warm tops. Watch for those new designs the end of the week. You may find something that suits your style.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Wonderful World of Fabrics

I sew because of my appreciation of textiles. I find it hard to resist the colors, textures, patterns and feel of most fabric. To me there is nothing quite as inspiring as walking through a fabric store perusing the bolts. The "onslaught" of all that color and texture gets my creative juices flowing and causes me to want to run home and get sewing one of my handmade original designs.

In honor of all things fabric I thought I would list some of my favorites and define them. We often hear the names of different types but don't always know what a particular fabric actually is. I hope this quick tutorial will be of benefit to you. This information comes from a reference book I got way way way back in 1969.

Batiste- A soft, sheer fabric of plain weave available in cotton, cotton poly blend, silk and synthetics. (Often used for christening gowns.)

Boucle'- A medium weight fabric woven or knitted of irregularly twisted yarns. Distinguished by small spaced loops on fabric surface, boucle' is available in natural and synthetic fabrics. (Boucle' is a wonderful fabric for jackets. The weave has 'body' and texture which makes it look rich.)

Brocade- A Jacquard weave, often of floral design and multi-colored, recognized by its raised design. It is made of natural and synthetic fibers. (Brocade is usually satiny. The design is woven in. Fancy!)

Challis- A soft, lightweight fabric made with a plain or twill weave of natural or synthetic fiber. (I find this most often in rayon. It is drapey and soft. Great for flowing skirts!)

Chiffon- A very sheer, transparent, gauzy plain weave fabric made of highly twisted yarns in wool, silk and synthetic fibers. (Chiffon is elegant and beautiful, especially when done in silk.)

Damask- A Jacquard weave of one color with a characteristic flat design in a satin finish with a dull background. It is reversible. Made of natural and synthetic fibers. (Another fabric with the design woven in. Tablecloths are often made this way.)

Lawn- A sheer, fine cotton or linen fabric made in a plain weave. It is crisper than voile, less crisp that organdy. (Ideal for summery garments.)

Linen- This plain weave fabric of naturally slubbed yarns, spun from flax fibers, is available in weights from lightweight sheers to heavy coatings. Linen-like cloth is available in silk and synthetics. (One of my 3 most favorite fabrics! Anything made from linen get softer and drapier with wearing and washing.)

Melton- This smooth, heavy fabric has a felted, napped surface. Made in wool and wool blends. Is is usually used for outerwear. (The perfect wool for a jacket or coat. Another of my 3 favorite fabrics.)

Organdy- This sheer, stiff, transparent cloth, made in a plain weave, is available in cotton and silk. (Another fabric used for christening gowns. A classic fabric for summery tops.)

Tussah- A fabric made of rough, irregular silk produced by uncultivated silkworms. Often referred to as raw silk, the yarns are thick and tough. (This is another of my 3 most favorite fabrics, although I am a fan of ALL silks. Tussah has a substantial texture and is really beautiful.)

Velvet- A pile fabric woven of silk or synthetic fibers. The pile may be cut, uncut or both cut and uncut. If a design has been cut into the pile it is called cut velvet. If the pile has been pressed (or 'crushed') it is called panne' velvet. (Velvet creates a rich and dramatic look!)

Voile- A crisp, sheer lightweight fabric made with a plain weave, may be plain or printed. Although similar to lawn and organdy, it is less crisp. It is available in cotton and synthetics. (Another great summery fabric.)

This is a very limited list of the fabrics that are available but it does cover the ones I love to work with most. I am especially drawn towards the natural fibers but there are some beautiful manmade ones out there as well that are hard to resist. Have you seen the movie "Field of Dreams"? If so you will recall the line 'If you build it, he will come.' I have reworded that line in regard to my fabric addiction: 'If they weave it, I will buy'. And buy and buy and buy. And that is why I sew and sew and sew.

Please drop by my website and check out my creations. This week I am working with some winter heavyweights. One is a beautiful piece of brown and black wool done in a chunky weave. The texture is striking, the colors are earthy, the result..... well, that has yet to be determined but I am thinking of a cape or jacket. Either way it will be gorgeous as the fabric is wonderful.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

So What IS Haute Couture?

Think about your all time most favorite article of clothing. Was it a favorite because of the fabric, the way it fit, the color, how it made you feel when you wore it.... just what was it that made it special to the point that you are glad you own it or wish you still did?

Considering the volume of clothing we wear in the course of a lifetime, it says a lot about a favorite if we recall it even after we no longer own it. But often even our favorites get forgotten. Recently I was looking at old photos with my daughter and upon seeing my 17 year old self I exclaimed, "I forgot about that shirt! I really liked it!". That reminded me of how transient our clothing actually is and how fleeting our relationship is when it comes to what we wear.

So what is it that makes certain items more special than others? My favorites these days tend to be items that hit all the marks. The fabric has to be of good quality, the color has to be a fave, the fit needs to be perfect and I need to feel great when I wear it. For me the favorites are few and far between these days as self employment requires only casual wear. This is perfectly fine by me. If I want a new favorite, I can design and make it. This is one of the perks to being a clothing designer and seamstress. But what about those that want the ultimate in favorite clothing? Enter Haute Couture.

This topic holds much fascination for me. My interest in one of a kind clothing goes back to my first hearing about this process. Most of this type of work is done through the big name design houses in Paris and there is a long history to go along with it. To define, Haute Couture is French for high fashion. Specifically, Haute means high or elegant. Couture refers to the creative aspects of construction such as sewing, dressmaking etc. To clarify, these garments are handmade (as well as hand SEWN) originals and often one of a kind, that are perfectly fitted to the buyer. They are usually structured and lined in ways that allow for comfort and to give the garment a long life. The start-to-finish process can take anywhere from 100 hours for a simple design to over 1000 hours for an evening or bridal gown. Those hours can multiply with the addition of bead work and embroidery.

So, you want to invest in a bit of Haute Couture? The process is amazing. First you set an appointment with the design house of your choosing. You want to make sure that their current sample designs are not on tour somewhere else. Plus, they want to know you are a serious buyer since you will be paying thousands of dollars for one item. After perusing the samples you choose a design, get measured and work with your sales person, called a vendeuse. She is in essence your personal clerk and will usher you through submitting your order, all your fittings and delivery of your item. Once measured, you can plan on a minimum of 3 fittings. Initially a muslin will be created. This is a proto-type of your garment that is altered to fit you more and more perfectly after each of your fittings. Eventually the muslin is perfect for your form. With all its markings and notes for the placement of each detail such as buttons, vents etc, the muslin is then recreated in your chosen fabric. Here is where the real work begins. Each piece is cut and hand stitched together. Hand stitching creates ease in the garment which allows for a better flow on the body as well as a more precise manipulation of the fabric which also creates better detail and fit. Linings and underlinings and all the details are added. It's no wonder it can take hundreds of hours to complete a single item. Each tiny detail is attended to with great care and precision. Nothing is overlooked. And did I mention that your garment will be created by just one seamstress? From start to finish only one person will be working on your design. Once completed you will head back to Paris for a final fit and to pick it up. You also get to pay for it. How much? Based on my latest research you are looking at anywhere from $15,000 up to $65,000 and more. And often the design houses LOSE money on Haute Couture. (The trade off being that they make up for the losses through their ready to wear lines.) These days only the elite can afford this type of clothing. It is hard to fathom purchasing a single item of clothing that costs half as much as my house but for those that can it is probably a very fun and exciting process. Think of all those trips to Paris! Tres Bien!

Now that I have officially defined Haute Couture I realize my designs while NOT Haute, ARE Couture. They are all one of a kind clothing. All are handmade. (just not hand sewn) My patterns are all original. I use great fabrics and take great care when constructing them. I love the details and I even create muslins when creating a new design. And I offer all this without the inconvenience or expense of going to Paris. Plus, you don't have to pay $15,000 to $65,000 for one of my creations.
You can get a handmade original design that is truly one of a kind simply by visiting my website at So pour yourself a cup of French roast coffee or have a croissant and pretend you are in the City of Light while you peruse my Couture. Each item is Tres Bien!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Psychology of Color

I have always found the psychology of color and how it affects us to be very fascinating. Isn't it interesting how we can wear or be surrounded by certain colors and actually experience a visceral response as a result? Some colors promote feelings of calm while others stimulate our emotions. Some colors enable confidence and others encourage action. I suspect color has a much bigger impact on our lives that we ever thought.

I have spent the last few days researching this most interesting phenomenon. Based on what I have studied I will list the colors and their attributes for your consideration. Consider your favorite color(s) and see what you think.

BLACK- Authoritative, powerful, classic, timeless, mysterious, sophisticated, slimming. (I like the whole slimming thing!)

WHITE- Purity, innocence, peaceful, neutral, cool, protective (the good guys wear white),calming.

RED- Stimulating, color of love, noticeable, encourages action, stimulates conversation.

PINK- Romantic, soothes feelings, calms aggression, charming, playful.

BLUE- Soothing, peaceful, promotes tranquility, symbolizes loyalty, promotes productivity, wisdom, confidence, stability, unity.

GREEN- Calming, refreshing, relaxing, harmonious, stabilizes emotions, reminds us of nature.

YELLOW- Attention getter, optimistic, enhances concentration, promotes creativity, cheerful.

PURPLE- Royal, romantic, sophisticated, implies wealth.

ORANGE- Energetic, warm, promotes ambition and new ideas, encourages socialization, friendly, promotes conversation.

BROWN- Reliable, down to earth, implies genuineness, orderliness.

GRAY- Practicality, timelessness, sophistication. Silvery GRAY implies strength of character.

So there you have it. A quick study in the way color potentially works/plays in our lives. I have no idea if there is a standard for all this but I do know that I am affected by the colors I wear and am surrounded by. Some of what I researched hits home with me and makes a lot of sense. Some I question but it doesn't matter. Color is a wonderful part of our lives and I would hate to think of life without it.

When I create my original handmade clothing, most pieces start with the fabric. I typically purchase the fabrics I use just because I like them, without knowing what they will become. (That decision is made at a later date.) This is a great way to choose fabrics. I like almost every color and try to buy a wide variety of colors, patterns and fabric types.

I recently asked my Facebook friends to list their favorite colors for clothing. Every color was submitted which told me that no person's favorite is the same. That was freeing for me as a clothing designer. It gives me the liberty to work with the fabrics I love, with no rules as to color and it tells me someone will like it. I keep my e-store filled with many different colors of clothing. Stop by and visit and maybe you will find an item that causes you to feel calm or happy or powerful or social. Click HERE to see all my colors and one of a kind designs.

Want to visit my Facebook page? I post fun and informative tidings there too. Click HERE and become a fan.

I wish for you a GREEN day with some ORANGE mixed in for conversation! :)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Clothing Quotes Just For Fun

I love quotes. I am always interested in the comments of others in regard to just about any subject. Today I did a search for clothing quotes. Here are a few that I found:

Adornment is never anything except a reflection of the heart. Coco Chanel

Know first who you are and then adorn yourself accordingly. Epictetus

I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn't itch. Gild Radner

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. Mark Twain

What do nudists wear on casual Fridays? A.J. Esther

Sweater,n: garment worn by a child when its mother is feeling chilly. Ambrose Bierce

Never wear anything that panics the cat. P.J. O'Rourke

You're never fully dressed without a smile. Little Orphan Annie

Your Business clothes are naturally attracted to staining liquids. This attraction is strongest just before an important meeting. Scott Adams

Although largely unspoken I think most people have some kind of opinion or thought about clothing. I am a bit of a rebel when it comes to the subject of what to wear. A long time ago when I was a child, I remember the first time I heard that it was 'wrong' to wear white after Labor Day. "Why?!", was my response. I remember watching to see if people obeyed that rule and sure enough when autumn rolled around people gravitated towards darker clothing. That was my first awareness of fashion rules. And I have never understood them. Clothing is a personal thing. A basic form of self expression. I see no reason for there to be any form of fashion pressure or expectation to be placed on what we wear for daily life. Certainly there is a place for uniforms whether literal or assumed in regard to different industries etc, but what I am talking about is everyday wear and our own personal fashion sense.

I was a teen in the late 60s and early 70s. That era was a sea of change in every realm of life and it revealed itself nowhere more clearly than in the area of clothing. Skirt length had gotten shorter as well as longer. Don't all us mid-century kids recall the whole fashion labeling thing? 'Mini'. 'Midi'. 'Maxi'. 'Mod'. The neat tailored-ness of the 50s stepped aside for the fashion explosion of the 60s. Colors and patterns were brighter, bigger, bolder, louder. Just like the era itself.

With all the liberating that was going on at that time I was glad to see a lot of fashion rules broken for good. I never planned to follow any of them anyway. I have always worn white after Labor Day. I like different skirt lengths. I have worn clothing that wasn't perfect for my shape just because I like the garment. These rebellious attitudes have contributed so much to the designs I create. I am not moved by trends or rules. My original handmade clothing is made to be easy wearing, comfortable and classic in the most freeing sense of the word. They are timeless because they follow neither rules nor current fashion dictates. Want to see for yourself? Visit my website MLOriginals and check out my one of a kind ladies clothing and accessories. And remember; to quote Annie again, "You're never fully dressed without a smile."