Dress accessories: top & bottom

I will cut the muslin for the Crepe dress this long weekend. I WILL I WILL I WILL!!! 

I've written already about my ideas so far for The Dress' construction, stuff to go on the surface, and stuff to go underneath. The last batch of ideas I've been holding onto are for items to go on top and on the bottom.


I haven't decided yet if I want some sort of jacket or shawl or something to cover my shoulders and arm a bit more as part of my outfit. Originally I thought, if I make a separate piece to go along with the dress, then I can have each item contain some more formal looking elements that when put together elevate the overall look, but then could be worn separately afterwards and dressed down easily. I also generally don't like to be sleeveless when being photographed (ah, for the days when I played at least 2 hours of tennis every day...high school arms, I miss you!), and setting in sleeves while sewing garments is a pain, so I thought maybe handmade sleeveless dress + purchased jacket would solve those issues.

It's going to be hot in June, though, as hard as that is to imagine right now. Dan will be wearing his suit jacket during the ceremony and take it off afterwards, so I could probably also get through the ceremony with more clothing on, but decreasing sweatiness potential is a good goal to keep in mind. Also, I usually have difficulty finding jackets that fit well in the shoulders, aren't tight in the arms, have enough give to be able to move my arms backwards and forwards, and close up without gaping.

The bridal brigade and I went on an accessories trip to the mall on New Year's Day and while we were in H&M, I spotted this orangey-red lace cropped jacket that was surprisingly close to what I had been thinking of in my head previously:

Credit to my sister for sneakily snapping this cell phone photo. Though the H&M workers at our local Jersey mall probably wouldn't have actually cared all that much...

Pros: cheap, red, eyelet fabric, vertical lines are elongating
Cons: more of an orangey-red than a cherry red, sleeves are probably a tad too long, and no size available then that I could remotely squeeze into.

Tasia had posted this 50s bolero pattern previously in her own quest for a coverup for summer dresses that I thought was pretty cool-looking and figured would help increase the vintage vibe:

Vogue 7411

But she ended up not being too happy with how it turned out, and looking at it again, I don't know if the strong horizontal line made by the bottom of the bolero is a good idea with the waistline probably also making another horizontal line across the body.
I've looked at knitted shawl collar patterns too, like this one designed by Amanda Berke:

Knitted items are a lot more forgiving to fit, and this one looks like it has a pretty cool construction. The photos make it look like it ends up have cap sleeves, though, and with the way it's constructed, it could take me awhile to figure out how to make longer sleeves. Also, I'm a pretty slow knitter.

Etsy, as always, provides a gateway to really gorgeous items, like these wraps and boleros by the seller bonzie:

The Corsaged Silk Wrap, inspired by Victorian styles, made in dupioni raw silk ($79)

See, it really is a wrap, just ties in the back. No fitting worries!

The look I like best currently, though, is this vintage bolero sewn by Veronica Darling:

Apparently the pattern (Simplicity 3546, a 50s pattern) has just 2 pattern pieces and only took her an hour to sew up!

I'll be pondering this for awhile longer, what with the muslin cutting I will be doing this weekend.


For my shoes, I want to wear sturdy heels in the vicinity of 2-2.5", that I'll be able to keep on for at least most of the day, that are less than $200, and that I'll wear again, and often. Heels just looked much better in the photos, I think, with that extra lift (I'm 5'2" and Dan's 5'11"). Lately when I get bored, I just comb Zappos and Endless and Scarpasa and any other online shoe store with free shipping and returns and extensive search filters. The colors I'm looking at include bright red, yellow, light blue, and gold, but I haven't really found much so far. People at work make fun of how many pairs of shoes I order, get delivered, and return shortly thereafter.

A friend at work introduced me to this site, Shoes of Prey, which allows you to design your own shoe! They cost $230 for 2" heels made in leather and can be returned for a full refund if you're not fully satisfied (as stated in their FAQ). $230 seems like a pretty amazing deal for custom shoes, but a bit high considering I don't want anything that's actually that fancy in design, just well-constructed, comfortable, and an acceptable color.

If I find the perfect shoe in terms of color, fit, and heel height, but the heel is on the skinny side, meaning in danger of sinking into the grass if the weather's good enough to still have the ceremony outside but the ground is soft or muddy, this SoleMate product that Cara suggested could be quite helpful:

It basically widens the base of the shoe's heel to prevent sinking.

I'm not sure I'd be comfortable walking in shoes with heels that narrow, though. I wear Converse or other flat shoes most days.

If everything about the shoe is perfect except for the color, BurdaStyle has a tutorial on covering shoes with fabric:



I think they look surprisingly good, don't you?

That's all I've got for now. If you have any other ideas for me, please do share! I'd very much appreciate it, as instead of aimlessly browsing shoe stores, I will, of course, be cutting out my muslin.

Dress accessories: petticoats

Depending on whether the horsehair braid hem method gives sufficient poof to the skirt portion of the dress, I may need to wear a petticoat of some kind. From a particularly fluffy one I tried on at Re/Dress a few weeks ago, I know that it should at least have more fluff around the hips, to look more like a bell, rather than a triangle.

Sock Dreams sells a few different styles ranging in price from $16-$35, and they have free shipping. Many of their styles even come in red. The annoying thing is that for many of these, the product photos are arty but not that helpful to getting a straight on view of the petticoat's shape.

BurdaStyle has a tutorial for making a simple three-tiered petticoat:

I'm pretty certain this is the tutorial used in the Petticoat Sewing Class offered by M Avery Designs (the same sewing studio right in Hoboken that I mentioned has open lab hours). The class goes for 2 hours and costs $25 on top of the materials (including 9.5 yard of tulle. 9.5 yards!).

I've been spending a good amount of time lately updating my Ravelry account (social networking/project management site for knitters/crocheters, basically) because I've been on this whole organizing/labeling kick, and this knitted bloomer pattern is in my queue:

Hmm, they look a little ridiculous in that photo. Well, they probably are rather ridiculous in real life too, but! I have loads of red Tahki Cotton Classic yarn sitting around anyway, and it seems like a relatively easy knit, and if you're like me and have round thighs that rub (and therefore chafe) when it's really hot like, like it was all last summer, bloomers/pettipants are a godsend. Srsly.

Chinese wedding portraits

Awhile back, I was sent this Jezebel post on Foreign Policy photo essay "Beautiful Me!", about the business of wedding portraits in China.

Chinese wedding photography is a parade of excess and ambition, an elaborate and expensive rite of passage, and often more prized than the ceremony itself.
The whole production can cost from $450 to more than $15,000, a huge expense in a country where the average per capita income is roughly $3,000 (about $10,000 in Beijing). But it's increasingly seen as a must-have for China's image-conscious middle class, now some 430-million strong.
For those who can afford them, these tokens are a constant reminder that they've made it in modern China, and an affirmation of who they aspire to be.
"At popular wedding photo locations, such as this beach on Hainan Island, couples line up every several yards to pose for their romantic photographic keepsakes."

It's an interesting piece, but as with many controversial items on the internet (WSJ's "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" essay, anyone?), the comments start getting repetitive pretty quickly. People going back and forth judging the couples who do this, judging the author for judging these couples, making accusations of the pot calling the kettle black given the state of the American wedding industry as a whole (not just limited to photography), etc.

On the one hand, if you've ever opened an American wedding magazine at all, then yes, the following statements are a bit rich:
In China, unlike in the West, wedding photographs are often as important as the ceremony itself…Both bride and groom are caked with make-up; for any accidental blemishes, there's always Photoshop. The aspiration is not to document a real event, but to look perfect.
As Robin's Brides magazine by the numbers posts show, the American WIC begs to differ. You also have to keep in mind that most modern Chinese wedding celebrations consist of just throwing a big banquet dinner, no elaborate dinner/dancing/decorated venue kind of reception.

But, I do think there's slightly more to this than than just "WIC-induced fever spreads wherever there's an increase in the middle class." I think there's an element of modern Chinese culture that just cares about having a perfect image of things, rather than substance. My parents live in a town where the Asian population is pretty high, and sometimes they'll talk about how they've been to some of the other houses that look magnificent and enormous from the outside but only have plastic furniture inside. Or are empty.

Or, my mom will tell me after her trips back about how Shanghai has been developing so rapidly, where there is now a whole block of skyscrapers used to be just a field when she went to school there, but everything looks surprisingly old and worn for being so new. She says the Chinese can build and develop, sure, but they don't really bother with upkeep of existing structures, and she predicts that all the shiny new arenas they put together for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing will get gross unbelievably quickly.

Shrug. I don't really have a conclusion here. When I first saw that photo-essay, I indulged in a bit "oh man that's crazy!" but ultimately, just as with American wedding excess, my position is that if this what people really think they want, so it goes. Just don't expect me to help bail anyone out if they go into debt pursuing it.

Dress embellishment

In the category of, "probably only if May rolls around and I somehow find myself with oodles and oodles of free time," here are a couple interesting ideas for embellishing the dress:

As brought up by Gertie, the hand embellishment techniques used by Alabama Chanin have the potential to be adapted for different aesthetics.

I checked out a copy of Alabama Stitch Book to flip through and I don't think I would've paid much attention if it weren't for Gertie's post. In its Alabama Chanin form, it would be a little too...homespun-y for my taste, but check out what Gertie's done for one of her dresses:


Another method that may be slightly less time-consuming (but probably not by much) is this vintage-style surface cording tutorial from Colette Patterns:

Again, gorgeous.

One of the benefits to cording versus beading is that I might be more comfortable with machine washing it. I think that's a goal I want to have, for this dress to be machine washable, so that I'll wear it often afterwards as a summer dress. Any fancy bits will either have to be detachable or part of a separate piece.

Chinese family naming system

So, I just addressed the last of the save-the-date postcards this weekend. I went to my parents' place for Chinese New Year dinner and tried to pry a few more relatives' addresses out of them. I think about wedding guests in a very relational way, with associated responsibilities. For example, if it's through my dad's side that I am related to this person and are therefore inviting them, I expect my dad to help with procuring the necessary information.

We did the same thing in the first round with getting addresses for Dan's side of the guest list, but my parents have been less forthcoming. I think they're a bit of the attitude, "if you can't reach someone via email, why bother with mailing addresses, just use the phone." They played it off as giving me an opportunity to reach out to my cousins for their parents' addresses. Luckily, these cousins came through for me, and very quickly at that, too, so I looked up the last few kinship terms on this helpful chart and wrote them out in my likely worse than a Chinese kindergardener's writing. It's the thought that counts, yeah?

I'd mentioned briefly in the last post about the save-the-date postcards about how I had to look up then which were the right terms to use for different family members, based on how I'm related to them. This chart I found this time around, though, better visually describes the precision to which you can name a relationship in the Confucian system.

Really gives you a sense for a non-Western culture in which your relationship to other people and your relative ages are more important than your individuality, since at family gatherings, you wouldn't really address anyone outside of your own generation with their given names. Instead, you'd use the appropriate kinship term (after a hushed conference with your parents, generally) and respectfully greet everyone. "Hello, 3rd uncle older than my father, 3rd uncle's wife. Hello, 2nd aunt older than my father, 2nd aunt's husband."

It's a complicated system, but it mostly makes sense since it's all based around the principles of increasing respect with increasing age (and a bit of, more important to distinguish males than females, which sometimes sets my mom off on how Confusion culture is patriarchal, which I'm really amused by because she mostly lives a feminist life but doesn't usually go off on feminist rants). It makes more sense to me than the Western system with all the "once removed" or first/second/etc. business. I can mostly remember the Chinese kinship terms now, though it's nice to be to easily look them up now too (yay Internet!) but I can never remember the right designations in the Western system.

Anyway, just wanted to share a bit of Chinese culture there, since in general people seem to find it interesting that I often have no idea what my relatives' real full names are (in English or in Chinese), because I only know them by their numbered designation.

Dress construction

I keep meaning to start on the muslin for the Crepe dress sew-along, which is an easy-to-fit wrap dress from Colette Patterns with a sweetheart neckline:

I bought a bright green leaf print cotton to use for the sew-along, and then I realized that this might work for The Dress as well. So, my plan is to make and fit the bodice in musin, then make the whole dress out of the green fabric, and then if all goes well, make it one more time in a dressier red fabric.

I do also have this New Look pattern I ordered of eBay ages ago, that also has a sweetheart neckline but with princess seams and a zipper, as well as the dress sloper I made in the Perfect Dress class at Sew Fast Sew Easy, so I have a few backups for patterns.

The issue to getting started is that I still want to finish the skirts I made even before the dress class, and I just haven't gotten around to doing that. Also, I hate cutting out fabric at home, I clear off the kitchen table or the coffee table but it always takes ages because I can't lay everything out at once, the heights are uncomfortable, and I worry that things might slip and the cutting will be inaccurate.

I've discovered that there's a sewing studio right in Hoboken that hosts open lab hours for $10/hour. It might be worth that just to have sufficient space to cut everything out on, I could do all the sewing at home. I meant to go check it out this past weekend but decided that staying in my PJs and finishing up the chilling book Let the Right One In, and later finishing up my spice jar/soap dispensers reorganization with the newly arrived labeler I bought from Amazon was more appealing. I have pretty simple needs.

Anyway, a few more construction details/ideas I've been saving up:

Gertie's post of examples of vintage red dresses with lace overlay made me swoon, but I don't think I'd be up for making a whole dress with a lace layer. Maybe just a skirt overlay wouldn't be too bad, though? Also, here's Gertie's own finished red lace dress, which is lovely.

I really want to do everything right on the dress, even if it's simple. Putting a lace trim on the lining would be such a fun detail. Perhaps my something blue?

If I don't go with the wrap dress pattern, a waist stay seems to be in order if you want to do a proper full skirted dress ("hooks up around the waistline and helps to support this wonderfully full skirt...also reduces strain on the zipper, which is great on any fitted dress").

Finally, in my last skirt class, the teacher introduced us to the marvel of hem-marking tools, to be used while you're wearing all the right shoes and such to measure and mark consistent distances from the groun. She used this Dritz chalk hem marker in class and said it could be used by yourself, but I'm doubtful of my ability to do so and it seemed to required too much careful inching along and around to rope Dan into helping me with it. So this vintage hem marker tool from Singer seemed a lot more usable:

The method of placing the pins at the right height seems a little more foolproof on this one.

Standing at 5'2" since 8th grade, I do a lot of hand hemming on jeans, pants, and vintage cotton dresses (and send over to the tailor the knits, polyester, silk, and other slippery fabrics). For the most part, I just (try to) measure an equal distance from the bottom all the way around, iron, pin up, and hem by hand. The problem with this is that the dresses often end up being shorter than ideal in the back because how it falls over my rear end. On the denim skirt I need to finish, I dropped the back hem by about 0.5" which seems to have helped with that sufficiently. 

However, I've also messed up the measuring/pinning before and ended up taking the dress to the tailor to get it fixed, because fixing the curve on a full circle skirt seemed to be just asking for more trouble to me. With a handmade dress, measuring up from the bottom will also demand more accuracy from the piece cutting out phase. We'll see how it goes, it's usually a bit easier when you need to chop off less than my usual 6" all around. I may get my sewing-inclined friends to help with the pinning, or I might just throw it the tailor if that's the last thing that needs to be done.