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The Raspberry Swirl at tea

I loved the chance to get the Raspberry Swirl out for the Afternoon Tea talk at Premier House.  It’s had so few proper outings, and I still can’t decide if the evening bodice is actually ‘finished’ or not.

Does it need a bertha?  I’m beginning to think not.  As a cotton dress, an evening bodice is never going to be properly historical, and there are examples of plain evening bodices, sans berthas and much in the way of trimming, in the 1850s.

So then all I really need to do is actually make the day bodice that was always meant to go with this skirt!

Some of you may be wondering what a paisley evening gown has to do with afternoon tea.  It gave me a chance to talk about the continued links between England and India, and the cultural cross-pollination that characterised Victorian England.

It also gave me a chance to talk about the re-thinking of manners and mores in the mid-19th century.  In the 1850s Queen Victoria attended official day events in evening wear.  Why?  It was a carry over from standards of court dress set out by Louis XIV in 17th century France.  Talk about outdated!

Throughout the 19th century Victoria and Albert, and then Edward and Alexandra, with varying degrees of forethought, intent, and success, re-wrote the standards of behavior and dress at the British court and in British society.  British society was the society of the 19th century, so what they did, the rest of the world emulated.  In a convoluted and straightforward way this led to garments like the tea gown, that presented a sense of ease, but within strict societal restraints.

Anyway, I digress!  Here are some pretty, pretty pictures of the ever so sweet and appealing Raspberry Swirl.

And a final photo that really encapsulates how lovely and sweet and mid-Victorian this dress is:


Five for Friday: Universally flattering? I don’t agree

I’ve been thinking about body shapes and clothes and colours, and what is flattering recently.

It started with an offhand comment someone made about circle skirts, and how they are flattering on everybody.  Totally not true.  Circle skirts are one of my worst looks.  They emphasize my thick waist and short torso, make me look very pear-shaped rather than a tiny bit pear shaped, hide my awesome bottom (which I quite frankly love), and, in short, don’t look nearly as good as most other shapes do on me.

I’m not saying I look really bad in them: just that they bring the focus to all my least favourite bits and hide all my most favourite bits (ahem.  bottom.), so they aren’t flattering.

So, anyway, here are five things that are frequently held up to be universally flattering, but which I think look good one some people, and not on others, because hey, we all have different shapes and faces and skins and figures.  But that’s just my opinion.

  1. Black
    Black does not look good on everyone.  Sorry, it simply doesn’t.  In fact, I think that black is actually slightly unflattering on more people than it is flattering.  With that said, there are different shades of black, and different fabrics will reflect light differently, and it can change depending on whether the black is up around your face, or cut lower over your chest (which is a different skin tone).  Black tends to be particularly unflattering with pale winter skin and muted, dull, winter light.  And when does everyone wear black?  Winter! So bad!

    Black does, however, look awesome on me.  It’s one of my best colours.  This is something I really struggle with, because it feels so boring to just wear black all the time when there are all these amazing colours, but I also know that it makes my skin glow and turns my hair to gold and hey, I’m vain (well, is it really vanity if you want to look gorgeous all the time, but also want everyone else to look gorgeous, and don’t even mind if they look more gorgeous than you, as long as you look your best?) so I kinda do want to wear it all the time.

    Black is my colour

  2. Circle skirts
    Good on many figures.  Not the best look on slim waistless figures, or if one of your best assets is your…ummm…ass.

    50’s circle skirts & 1940s blouses.

  3. Wide belts
    Why, oh why, do all those ‘how to dress’ shows keep telling women how awesome these are?  What a great way to thicken your waist and cut your figure in half!  Some women do look great it them.  Just not all.  They are terrible on me.  I do love a good thick sash though (see the photo that goes with entry #1)!
  4. Wrap tops.
    So good on some women.  So very, very, very bad on me.  I just look no breast, all ribcage, and I see the same effect on lots of other women.

    Even a 1940s wrap dress probably isn’t a good idea on me

  5. Strapless.
    True story:  When I was wedding dress shopping (before I decided that time or no time, making a dress would be less of a headache) I asked to only try on non-strapless dresses.  This isn’t because I don’t look good in strapless dresses (I look great in them), but because I was stuck on being different (insert eyeroll here).  Anyway, one wedding dress consultant told me that “no one will know you are the bride if you don’t wear a strapless dress”.  (really?  Who else is planning to show up in a fancy white dress and might be confused with me, only their dress will have straps?).  Every other wedding dress consultant when on and on about how flattering they are.  It’s not that they are flattering: it’s just that that is what most manufacturers make.  And not only are strapless dresses not the best look on everyone, a badly fitted strapless dress is just about the worst look you can wear.  It makes me sad.

    The laurel dress as a strapless dress

So what do you think?  Have I just committed total fashion/sewing heresy?  What have I missed?  Do you like the way you look in these things, or not?

The ‘Subversive Hawaiianism’ pyjama pants

Felicity is suspicious of my red, swollen fingers

Dear Readers, this post is going to take a little prep on your part.  Open another tab and put on this song.  If it finishes and you are still reading and haven’t started crying from the sheer beauty of it, this one is nice.  So is this one.

Right, theme music in place, let’s talk about this post.

The theme on Sew Weekly this week is ‘vacation’ (I know, how very American!) and I found it very tricky.  It’s the middle of winter in NZ right now, and it’s cold, and horrible, and dark, and I have chilblains (really: you can see how red and swollen my pinkie is in the picture above).  My body is not suited to living in a cold, dark, climate, and neither is my temperament.  As you may know, I’m a child of warm weather: of sunny skies, white sand beaches and tropical fruit.  A child of the loveliest place in the world.  I’m from Hawai’i, and this time of year I miss it so much it hurts.

So when the theme came up, I had a little pity party and said “I don’t want to make vacation clothes!  I just want to go home and I don’t get to go home until August (but yay!  I’m going home in August) and right now it is cold and wet and dark and all I want to do is curl up in bed and try to stay warm”  Sniff, sniff, boo-hoo.

Then I dragged myself out of bed and realised that unless I was going to look like a scruffy rag-bag until August, I needed to make new pyjama pants.  So at least I could make new pyjamas for the challenge, and have a holiday in bed.

To cheer myself up, I picked the two happiest, brightest, home-y est fabrics in my stash (home is Hawai’i, and home is where the heart is) in my favourite Hawaiian blues & greens for pyjama bottoms.  They are totally not even remotely historical, and that is great.  Sometimes I need to be not historical!

Heart printed tabby-weave cotton in too-bright, too-bold tones

Unfortunately, the first one was a little too bright and happy.  Like Sheldon with his Star Wars sheets, I just didn’t think I could actually sleep with that print.  So I had a brainstorm, and sewed the fabric inside out.

I love sewing fabric inside out: the muted wrong side of prints is often so much more interesting than the bold ‘right’ side.  I can trace this obessesion directly back to Hawaii.  It’s traditional to sew Hawaiian business shirts (yes, there are formal Hawaiian shirts, business Hawaiian shirts, casual Hawaiian shirts, and then the Hawaiian shirts that only tourists wear – and anyone from Hawaii can tell you which is which at a glance) with the ‘wrong’ side of the fabric out.  The look dates back to the 1930s, when shirt manufacturers in Hawaii felt that the prints supplied by Mainland manufacturers were too bright and tacky, and needed to be toned down.

Pyjama pants #1 – reverse fabri 

I love this photo. It’s deliciously odalisque – only ridiculously modest!

So, I’d managed to slip a little Hawai’i into my first pair of pyjama pants.  How could I Hawai’ian up the 2nd pair, the heart-lattice waffle-knit?

For this one, I took my inspiration from the skirts that are worn to dance hula kahiko (old-style hula).  I was in a hula halau for my entire childhood, and made dozens of these skirts for various events and performances.  They are basic rectangles of fabric, gathered at the top, but made interesting by the multiple rows of elastic gathering at the waist.

Hula dancers, Moloka’i, HI, May 2009

I cut the pyjamas almost like the first pair, but omitted the side seams because of the ease of the knit fabric, and with a couple of extra upward inches at the waist.  Then I folded over the waistband for 5cm, and sewed four channels for 1cm wide elastic to run through (a little less than the 6 that is usually used in hula kahiko skirts, but more than you’d generally do for pyjama pants for sure).

Hearts & lattices waffle-knit cotton with 4-row waistband

Felicity and I and my newest machine – Nana’s 1940s Singer in its wooden table

Threading the elastic through I was suddenly overwhelmed with memories of how much I had loathed sewing hula skirts.  Those multiple elastic channels suck!  Trying to keep the elastic from twisting, making every length the same, evenly distributing the gathers.  Gah!  I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore!

Multiple rows of elastic

For the photoshoot I simply bribed Mr D into taking a bunch of pictures of me before bed.  To set the mood I put on some Iz and Hapa and Kealii Reichel, got out my copy of Armine von Tempski’s Born in Paradise (my very favourite book in the word), settled in for a good read and tried to get Felicity to cooperate and pose with me.

Clearly she likes you, dear readers, and isn’t so hot on the Sew Weekly crowd.  She poses beautifully for photoshoots that I intend for this blog, but every time I try to do a Sew Weekly photoshoot with her she tries to bite me.

Attack cat

They may be simple, but I’ll loving my warm, comfy, practical pyjama pants, and I particularly love the bits of subversive Hawaii’ianism I slipped in. I usually go for subversive historicism, but this may be even better!

Best book ever

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric: 1.5m heart print plain tabby-weave cotton ($3m), 1.2m heart-lattice print waffle-knit cotton ($1.50 for the lot at an op-shop).

Pattern: My own, based on cutting apart my old worn out pyjama bottoms and using them as a pattern

Year: modern

Notions: thread, elastic from Nana’s stash

Hours: 1.5 hours each

First worn?: Sat 16 June, to sleep in, and Sun, 17 June, to sleep in (very boring, I know!)

Wear again?: Yep. Almost daily (or nightly, to be more precise)

Make again?: Yep.  Every time I need more pyjama pants!

Total cost: $4.50

And the insides?  The first pair, the tabby-weave, are fully finished with French seams, the waffle-knit is finished with my overlocker.

The red book is ‘The Wilders of Waikiki’ – a great memoir