ReMake: Chambray Summer Dress

After moving from California back to my home state of Texas, I've had summer dresses on my mind.  I'm trying to build my business (and pay off my business credit cards) so my shopping budget is basically zero right now.  But it's hot here, and I need some comfortable, cute clothing for hot weather.

Here's what I'm looking for in a summer dress:

  • comfortable
  • versatile
  • sustainable
  • made from natural fibers
  • unique
  • affordable

I haven't found much at the thrift shops.  There is so much polyester in modern fashion, because it's cheap to make/manufacture with, but it doesn't BREATHE.  I don't understand how people can wear so much polyester, let alone in 90+ degree weather.  It just makes your sweat stinky. I like to wear my own homemade natural deoderant, and natural fibers (cotton, linen, etc.) allow you to sweat a little without causing stinkiness.

Last week I found this light cotton chambray tunic at the thrift shop for $3.99, and despite it being a size XL, I knew I could turn it into something cute. 

I like to work quickly without a pattern. I don't actually have any pattern-making education, I just make it up as I go along. To do this:

  • have a pretty clear picture of the finished product in your head (or on paper)
  • baste first until you get your lines/sizing right, then stitch
  • be prepared to try on the garment multiple times
  • a dress form is helpful for pinning & planning, or you can do it on your own body

The process is a repetition of plan, mark, pin, baste, try on, adjust, stitch.  (I put on a full slip so that I could take the dress on and off without having to change clothes.)

I started by taking in the sides.  You can put the dress on inside out, pin it, then take it off and measure it equally before basting.

Every dress should have pockets, so I improvised quick pockets.  I didn't have enough leftover fabric to make full pockets, so I used some cotton tamale bags we were going to donate.  A quick way to make pockets is to trace around your hand. I didn't want the tamale fabric to show, so I sewed about an inch of the chambray onto the edge of the pocket. I've made enough pockets by following patterns that I understand how they're made, but I'm always a little confused as to which side matches with which seam -- so I follow the cardinal rule of PIN & BASTE FIRST!

Planning the sleeves was a bit trickier. I knew I wanted something basically sleeveless because that's good for hot weather, but I always like a little teeny bit of sleeve. I clipped off the original cuff and flipped it over to reuse it. I planned the design by putting on the dress and pinning one side/sleeve until I liked it, basting and adjusting until it looked right. This took a few tries, but once I got one side right, I just copied that same plan on the other side. The way I copy is to fold the garment in half, then use a fabric marker to mark the lines on the other side.  It's not the most precise method but it works!

To make the dress truly unique, I finished it off with some bleach (a small bottle cost $1.99).  

This dress will go with boots or sandals, heels or flats, & can be dressed up or dressed down. This dress also checks off all my requirements: comfortable, versatile, sustainable, made of natural fibers, unique, and very affordable at a grand total cost of $5.98.  

Talk to me: What do you think? Would you wear a dress like this?  Sewists, do you ever sew without a pattern?

    "This Is Something"

    Last year one of my dearest friends Dave Doobinin flew from his home in New York to my house in California to stay with me while he was doing some work.  While he was there, he made a short film about Featherweight. Actually he said he was going to make a film, and I figured he wouldn't have the time so I didn't prepare, or clean, or even think about it until the morning he said "OK let's do this." Normally I would never have wanted to be on camera, but I trust and love Dave so I went for it.

    I think Dave is wonderfully talented, but after nearly a year I have been too mortified to share the film publicly. It's really hard to look at myself and hear myself talk, and I've honestly been embarrassed that my studio didn't look like the spacious, spartan, gleaming white studio spaces you see on Instagram. But now that I don't have studio space anymore, I miss my old messy studio (and it was really dark because he told me to turn the lights off!)

    I've been thinking a lot lately about how far I've come with my own creative confidence -- basically from zero confidence to a little bit of confidence -- and how much inner work I had to do to get this far.  It hasn't been easy but it has been so worthwhile, not in what I've made or sold but in how it has helped me increase my self-worth, how much more centered I sometimes feel inside myself. After a lifetime of self-doubt, finding even a little confidence has been an enormous relief.  If I could ever help anyone else feel a little better inside themselves then this might be worth sharing. 

    After nearly a year, without further ado "This Is Something":

    P.S. Dave is amazing, please hire him to photograph you or make a short film about something important to you.  And if you want to talk about creative confidence, talk to me because I have a lot of thoughts on the subject!

    Upcycled & Re-Styled Vintage Victorian Lace Dress

    Today is the start of Me Made May 2017, an annual event encouraging people who sew/knit/crochet/refashion/upcycle garments for themselves to wear and love them more.

    In honor of the event, I'd like to tell you about a vintage Victorian lace dress that I upcycled & redesigned.

    I absolutely love upcycling & remaking because:

    • it requires problem solving (which I love)
    • I can find superior materials & natural fibers (much harder to find new)
    • it costs more time than money (perfect on an artist's budget)
    • it's sustainable and eco-friendly
    • I never have to worry about someone else wearing my same outfit

    A few years ago while shopping at the Alameda Antique Fair, I found a wad of beautiful old lace at the bottom of a pile.  I can't remember how much I paid for it, but I'm positive it was less than $20 because that's how I roll.  After I got home, I realized it was a dress, stained and damaged but with beautiful eyelet and lace, and probably dating from the early 1900s.

    Last year, while thinking about what to wear to the inaugural Ohana Festival, I decided I'd like a lightweight lace dress to stay cool in the heat, so I set about re-designing the vintage dress.  Here's what I started with:

    For this project, my design challenges were:

    • the waistline was miniscule
    • the silhouette was outdated
    • the lace was damaged and stained in a few places
    • the lace and cotton is extremely delicate so it won't withstand any pressure or pulling

    I believe the original front of the dress was the V-neck, but to be honest I'm not sure.  I wanted to showcase the lace in the front, so I chose to make the V-neck the back of the bodice. I also chose to keep the long sleeves, which worked for a summer dress due to the sheerness of the cotton and lace.

    After I surveyed the damage and stains, I decided on a cropped, somewhat loose silhouette which would allow me to wear the dress without being in constant fear of ripping it.  Again, the material is so light and airy that it drapes well enough for a loose silhouette.

    When I re-design a dress, I start with a basic idea of the silhouette I want, then tackle one area at a time, stopping to try the dress on after each basting or stitching. I do a lot of pinning on the dress form, then stepping back to observe and make design decisions. I don't make or use a pattern and I don't really measure too much, I just go slow and see what looks good and allow the garment to guide the design as I go.

    The neckline needed reshaping, the shoulders needed repair and reinforcement, and I needed to repair the lace in a few other areas.  I was able to leave the sleeves as is, long and with closed cuffs, only because I have really small hands and wrists (our ancestors were tiny humans).  After I reversed the bodice, I noticed that part of the skirt had a continuation of the same lace so I oriented the skirt to match the lace at the top. I created an empire waist that is just wide enough for me to slip the dress over my head (and bustline).

    (Forgive the color differences, I took these photos under very different lighting conditions.)

    I'm really happy with the way the dress turned out, and it's managed to survive long active days at two different music festivals. I wore it this weekend to Stagecoach, styled with a black vintage slip, vintage jewelry and my Heritage boots.

    With my gorgeous girlfriends Kime & SueBee in Yucca Valley, CA.

    With my gorgeous girlfriends Kime & SueBee in Yucca Valley, CA.

    As I said, the dress has survived two long and active music festivals, but at the very end of the night, when we were almost home from the Stagecoach festival, I bent forward in the passenger seat of the car and heard a rip, which happened in the back of the skirt. One of the many things I've learned from Exene Cervenka is that ripped clothing has soul, so I'll repair it and wear it again.

    Featherweight Trunk Shows in Oakland & Los Angeles!

    Join me at Crown Nine for a trunk show!

    I'll have brand new T-shirt designs, plus a batch of fresh new one-of-a-kind upcycled jackets.  Soft warm wools; hand-painted metallics; appliqued vintage textiles; the perfect pieces to stand out from the crowd & wear your individuality on your sleeve.  BONUS: this upcycled style is sustainable, so you can love the earth and look good too.

    And if you're in LOS ANGELES, you can shop my jackets at these events:

    DEC 3rd:  A Current Affair  Cooper Design Space Penthouse (860 South Los Angeles St, 11th Floor) **Look for Kime Buzzelli's booth (The End Yucca Valley)

    DEC 10th: Bitchcraft Winter Faire  Kinship Studios (5612 N. Figueroa ST.)  **Look for Kime Buzzelli's booth (The End Yucca Valley)

    DEC 17th: Goldmine Holiday Party 5-9pm @ 4225 San Fernando Rd Glendale CA 91204 ** I'll be there in person, come by & say hi!