Anna Sui and Vera Neumann at the Museum of Art and Design

Aspirational brands….

Sometimes I love to daydream about having a closet filled with couture. And sometimes I am just glad to have a piece of something special by a more approachable visionary.

That sums up my feelings about two new shows at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York: The World of Anna Sui and Vera Paints a Scarf.

To begin with the daydream:

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Welcome to the world of Anna Sui

More like a fever dream of color, shape, texture and print.

The exhibit explores Anna Sui’s couture through the personas she’s created to tell her stories. We want to try on some personas more than others – literally and figuratively. While many dresses are pretty and wearable, I am drawn more to the rocker and grunge personas nowadays.

It was fun to pore over her Mood boards – check out the colors and textures:

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Anna Sui mood board

And the croquis from her early days:

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The craftsmanship was undeniable too:

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I often feel that fashion passed me by – Anna Sui, Betsey Johnson, Alexander McQueen. When I was young and might be able to wear these styles, I was too poor to buy them. Now that I have the money, I am too old and don’t have the body for them anymore. Sigh.

So let’s look at something everyone can own a piece of:

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Vera Neumann paintings and inspirations

My husband’s grandmother introduced me to Vera Neumann when she gave me a few napkins of Vera’s design. Over the years, I have sought her works out at antique shops, eBay and thrift stores.

I was thrilled to see this display:

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Vera Neumann at MAD

Because look what I have in my dining room linen drawer:

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My little napkin and tablecloth Vera Neumann collection

I guess I can say I own a museum piece after all!

(And I really need to press these things – sorry._

And I have this scarf – not in colors I wear much but it’s pretty and I use it as a belt once in a while:

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Vera Neumann scarf

Vera’s designs are worth seeking out – you can find something fun and useful at any price range.

 

Notes on Camp – Distaff Edition (and Apologies to Susan Sontag)

Camp. Hard to define, but like pornography, you know it when you see it.

How you do define “camp?”

A) It’s so bad, it’s good.

B) Failed seriousness.

C) A sincere effort at artistic expression that falls flat on its face.

D) You’re not making fun of it, you’re making fun out of it.

E) All of the above.

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CAMP – BITCHES!

Camp was the theme of the Met Gala this year. Some guests, such as Katy Perry (above) delivered. What makes this campy? Ultimately, it’s not the idea or the execution – it’s the fact that it both the idea and execution almost fell apart on the Red Carpet that gives her outfit the tang of Camp.

Here’s another example – Tiffany Haddish doing pimp drag:

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Again – it’s not the style or the execution. What you can’t see makes this camp – in her clutch she’s carrying a Ziploc bag full of chicken that she said she cooked herself and brought to the Met Gala because “there’s never enough food at these things.”

Which brings me to me. I am attending a sewing retreat at a YMCA camp this fall. We’re having a fashion show, “Camp at Camp, ” in homage to the Met Gala. People are encouraged to bring or make a campy outfit for the party. This idea has mystified some retreat attendees. They don’t get it, or they don’t want to get it (I don’t know which). But I get it. And I get why I get it. That’s because to years ago I sewed an outfit that could slide into camp easily.:

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CAMP … almost

This dress, made from New Look 6498, was a sincere effort at creativity that, for the most part, fails.

It has its sincere moments. I made this out of a sari I bought In Hyderabad, India.

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Washed sari drying in the sun

I saw many beautiful saris, but I chose this one because it’s the kind of sari made for selling to tourists. Few Indian women would wear such a thing, I was told by my Indian colleagues who helped me pick it out. For one thing, adult Indian women don’t go in for depictions of Indian motifs such as peacocks or elephants in such a juvenile cartoony way, I was told. (Of course, tasteful motifs are always in.) Also, the mixed motifs – peacocks, paisleys, the overall color scheme, were all “a bit much.” The sari itself was a bit campy.

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Campy sari?

I was told, as a western woman, if I wanted to cut it up to make something out of it, or to use as home dec or something, have at it. (I am expressing the opinions of some trusted colleagues and friends. I am sorry if you disagree.)

If you want to read about how I adapted this sari to make the dress, see my old blogs: Refashioning a Sari and Sari Refashion Completed!

I wore this dress once – when I was at a fancy dinner on vacation in Costa Rica. People stared at me. I realized that I looked ridiculous. So I never wore it again. It wasn’t campy, exactly, but it wasn’t “right” either.

To slide into camp, I needed two things. One – real peacock feathers, arrived from eBay this week:

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Actual peacock feathers… can you smell the camp yet?

I intend to make these into a headdress. I think I sense some quality time with Pinterest in my future.

Also, I need some campy-ass shoes. I was thinking gold platform heels. I need to find some. I guess a trawl of Zappos couldn’t hurt?

 

Peek-a-Boo Pleats

My “sew edgy” looks include high-contrast color schemes, so I have been itching to try a project using both sides of this lightweight denim:

I love the idea of these Thom Browne skirts with the contrast in the pleats (but not the preppy AF textiles). Could I do something similar?

Thom Browne skirts

Thanks for the advice on the McCall’s shirtdress. I decided the skirts were not for me, but you gave me a great idea to mash up the top with another skirt that wasn’t so full or so fitted. I found this vintage Butterick in my pattern stash – and I think it will work!

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Butterick pleated skirts, vintage pattern from 1991

The pattern is copyrighted 1991. What do you suppose the models are saying to each other?

View A: In this sexy mid-calf red skirt, I will audition for a role on Murphy Brown!

View B: Forget it, View A, you slut! A black pleated skirt is what Murphy likes!

View C: If I swap out this pendant for a crucifix and put on some rubber bracelets, I could wear my skirt to a Madonna concert!

You get the idea…

Anyway… I think I will try View D because it has fewer pleats and I think the center-front panel will flatter my bod better than pleats all around. The skirt has two pattern pieces and a waistband. The weird-looking giant notches are for sewing down the pleats. The front and back are cut on the fold, and then there’s a side panel to give the skirt some shape.

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Two pieces, plus a waistband. Easy!

I will need to cut the pattern pieces on the foldlines of the pleats and add seam allowances. I pleated the tissue pattern and marked the different sections.

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Skirt tissue mock-up

This seems easy, but the issue, of course, is the grainline. The pleats don’t follow the grainline, but they’re close. See the grainline on the left and follow the pleats – you can see through the tissue to the grid cutting mat.

I marked each colored section as black or white and marked the grainline for each. Some of the pieces will be cut a little bit on the bias. That will be a fun challenge. I assume I need to follow the grainline of the original layout, right? If anyone knows better, please speak up!

Anyway, I am going to make a muslin to see if this is even worthwhile. My mother-in-law gave me this ugly lovely duvet and sheet set several years ago – the contrast will make the perfect muslin material.

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Muslin worthy duvet set, ready for the scissors!

Assuming this all works, I will need to figure out how to attach the skirt to the top of the dress from McCall’s 6696. First things first…

 

Which View to Choose?

I’m trying to make a big decision about my next sewing project, McCall’s 6696 – a very popular shirt dress pattern:

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Here’s the line drawing:

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Do you think I should do the full skirt or the straight skirt?

Here’s the thing. I have two RTW shirtdresses in the closet. Both are favorite garments. They both have full skirts, but the fullness is achieved with gores – they are not pleated. Because of my small waist to full hip, thigh and rear ratio, the silhouette happens naturally and probably doesn’t need pleats to help it along. The whole effect could veer a bit girly on me. I could, of course, reduce or eliminate some pleats.

The shape of View C and D seems sophisticated and sleek. I could wear this to work. But does it really suit me? I have no dresses like this, because anything sheath-like tends to make me look more pear-shaped. Of course, since I am making this to measure, I can do whatever I want! I would make the 3/4 sleeves of View D to help balance things out.

I have picked out some gorgeous lightweight denim for this dress. I am thinking about using the light “wrong side” creatively on the placket or something.

Finally, I have a dozen cool metal buttons to continue the “sew edgy” look.

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Suggestions and opinions welcome! Thanks!

The Joy and Heartbreak of Apple Trees

I planted two apple trees 10 years ago. Each year, I faithfully watered, fertilized, pruned and cleaned up around the trees. I even tried sprays to control for insects and blights.

And I got no apples.

Deer invaded our yard and ate the new growth. We put up a fence. One tree died after five years when some rodent chewed up the tender graft point. The other tree lived but never thrived. It didn’t take root properly and blew over in a hurricane. I rerooted and staked it. I kept up the orchard husbandry. I got a few apples, but most of them were lost to squirrels, birds, and bugs.

Two years ago, I said the heck with it and left the tree to its own devices.

This year I got a ton of apples.

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Only took 10 years to get these apples

OK, not a ton, but a good basketful and more on the tree to harvest soon.

Joy at finally having my work pay off? Yes. Heartbreak that the apples are malformed, shot full of bugs and not that tasty? Again, yes.

Out of the whole basket, only these three apples look “good enough” to maybe pass for supermarket apples:

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Winner, runner-up and third place in my backyard-grown apple beauty contest

Who am I kidding? If most people saw these apples at the store, they’d pass them by. The next time you buy apples at the market, think of how much human intervention is required to get something picture-perfect.

If you have ever been apple-picking, you’ve noticed that commercial orchards keep their trees pruned to the point of being stunted, for easier harvests and bigger yields. My grandparents pruned their trees annually and still had to use a homemade apple-picker made out of an old broomstick and a twisted wire coat hanger to pick some fruit.

Because I have not pruned the tree in a few years, it’s even harder to harvest. I had to buy one of these telescoping fruit-picking gizmos.

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Long arm of the fruit tree cultivator

From the ground, looking up into the branches, lots of great fruit seems within reach. I finagle the fruit-picker under a tasty-looking apple, pluck it, and pop it into the basket. It looks pretty good:

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Right side

Then I flip it over:

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Wrong side

Yuck. Damn birds.

I mean, I love birds and I don’t mind sharing a few apples with them. But they prefer to peck at many apples instead of just eating one. Hey bird – if you’re going to start an apple, finish it before you go onto the next one!

Many pecked-up apples rot on the tree, Those that fall get a second life as a meal for raccoons and squirrels. This windfall encourages the raccoons and squirrels to visit again and again. I try to vigilantly pick up any fallen apples right away, but every morning some more lie on the grass, chewed and brown and yucky.

I took the basket of “good” apples inside, washed them, then got to work prepping them. These are Cortland apples, meant for cooking not eating. They’re good for pies, sauces and things like that. I figured I’d made an apple crisp. I mixed the apple pieces with the juice of a lemon, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoons of nutmeg and cinnamon. The crisp topping is made from 1/4 cup each of butter, flour, brown sugar and chopped toasted pecans.

An hour of coring, peeling and slicing, and an hour of baking later:

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Apple crisp

It was pretty tasty – the apples are pretty tart, which I like. I feel a great sense of joy at this too. And then I think of all that work just for one apple crisp, to be enjoyed for a couple of meals when I could buy something similar for a few bucks. Heartbreak again!

Citizen Science for the Love of Trees

I love ginkgo trees so much that for my birthday one year, I asked my husband for a tree. It’s been growing steadily for four years, and now it’s going to contribute to climate science!

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My little ginkgo – ready for action!

I joined up on the National Science Foundation’s “Fossil Atmospheres” project, which combines contributions from citizens and scientists from the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center to conduct climate change research. The project needs citizens around the US to send leaves and photos of ginkgo and to enter data about the tree into a database. (See Fossil Atmospheres for more info.)

Ginkgo are native to China and are the among most ancient trees on earth, little changed from the days when dinosaurs munched on their leaves. Because they are so ancient, they provide a great fossil record for comparison with modern trees.

You’d know a ginkgo if you ever saw one – they are the only tree on earth with a leaf that remotely looks like this (and yes, I have read a whole book about ginkgo).

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It’s hard for even the most callow citizen scientist to misidentify one. If you do, some ginkgo in public gardens and parks will have labels, like this one, on another ginkgo in a park near my house:

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I wanted to send in at least two samples, so I sampled my little tree and also a very large, older tree that sits on the grounds of the public library near my house.

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Grandma ginkgo

I love looking at this tree – which I call “Grandma Ginkgo” and imagining what my little tree might look like in 100 years.

The project requires you to take a few samples, photos and observations. You need to take one cluster of at least six leaves off each tree to be sampled. You must cushion the leaves inside a few sheets of newspaper and then reinforce the bundle with cardboard, so the samples don’t get damaged in the mail.

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Leaf samples ready for mailing

You also need to note the sex of the tree. Yes – ginkgo are male or female. Most trees you see around are male, because people usually don’t want to deal with female trees’ stinky fruit. The fruit covers a nut that some people find delicious. I have never tried it but I promise to this year (it involves a lot of prep work and can be toxic in large doses, so there are other issues besides the smell). Here’s what a developing fruit looks like (courtesy of Grandma Ginkgo). It turns golden yellow when ripe:

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You also need to note what side of the tree the sample came from (north, south, east or west) so the scientists can adjust for sun exposure. And you note the approximate height of the tree – 10-30 feet or 30+ feet.

Here are some other fun facts about ginkgo:

  • The oldest specimens are over 2,500 years old, making them among the oldest living things on earth
  • In the fall, the leaves turn a lemony yellow color. All the leaves drop in one day.
  • The first European visitors to China took home ginkgo seeds to plant in the UK, the Netherlands, France, and Germany
  • They’re among the most popular street trees in Manhattan – accounting for about 10% of all trees there
  • The leaves and nuts have many medicinal properties

And here are some gratuitous photos of some of the ginkgo motif items in my own home. What can I say? I am a nut for ginkgo!

If you want to participate in this project, follow the directions at Fossil Atmospheres and get your samples in by September 1!

Body Doubles

Have you met my friend, Ruby?

Here she is, dressed in a fine me-made outfit:

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Simplicity 8058 Skirt, New Look 6330 top, and Muse “Jenna” Cardigan

She’s a cheap imitation of me, but I don’t mind. (I assume she doesn’t either.)

Recently, though, I have been looking at these “body double” types of dressforms, and I have started to wonder if it’s worth the investment.

While I enjoy using Ruby to hold projects in progress or finished, I don’t really use her to tailor garments to fit me. While I have adjusted her dials to approximate my size at the neck, bust, waist and hips, as well as my height, she’s not really the same. My bust isn’t that high, for one thing, and hasn’t been since I was 25. For another, I am not symmetrical. Nor am I all smooth and fatless.

I wondered if I could adapt Ruby to mimic me a bit more accurately. I started by double-checking that all the dials were the right size. The neck, bust and waist were all fine, but the hips were too small, even on the widest setting. I scrounged through my scraps and found a few long, narrow pieces of leftover jersey that I could wind around Ruby’s hips a few times to approximate my hips. Here’s a side view of Ruby’s spare tire.

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Tummy tire

I also used twill tape to mark the widest point of the back and the bustline, for reference later. Mark these lines with something with enough dimension that you can feel them under a garment, and make sure they run parallel with the floor.

Next it was time to tackle my shoulders. One is quite a bit lower than the other. I can’t lower a shoulder on Ruby, but I can raise a shoulder. I hoped this would have a similar effect. I used two shoulder pads I’d cut out of an old RTW sweater and pinned them in place.

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Uneven shoulder compensation

Finally, I covered the whole thing with an old tank top.

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Ruby is now more my shape. We’ll see if this makes any difference.