Thursday, March 22, 2012

Illustration Friday - Shades


It's my intention to participate in Illustration Friday at least once per month, so here is my March entry.  I especially like topics that have multiple interpretations; "shades" could be (according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary): the shadows that gather as darkness comes on; disembodied spirits or ghosts; things that intercept or shelter from light, sun or heat; color with some black in it; and, of course, sunglasses.  So, yes, I picked a relatively easy meaning to illustrate.

The woman's head is a free stock photo from stock.xchng.  Using Photoshop, I extracted her from the background and made three additional copies  which I filtered:  Crosshatch set to Linear Dodge blend mode, Find edges set to Overlay, and  Poster Edges set to Normal, each also with a layer mask to remove various details.  Both the orange and the yellow background are brushes from Dover Publications Chinese Stencil Designs.  The yellow background has an inner glow layer effect using a lighter yellow as the glow color.

This is an alternative version; the four copies of the woman's head were flattened which resulted in a very subtle loss of detail.  I then very lightly tinted her skin.  The watercolor background is from Deviant Art, recolored with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

I posted the 460th link to this topic on Illustration Friday.  Be sure to take a look at some of the others.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Take a trip with Sarah Vowell

Go along on her Assassination Vacation.  But definitely don't if you're hyper-religious, ultraconservative, or in general easily offended by irreverence.  However, if you escape all of those categories, get ready for a lot of laughs, snorts, giggles and concordant head-nodding as you read about the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley.  No, it's not the assassinations themselves that are funny; the humor is in Vowell's views on American culture then and now.  In addition to being amused, you'll learn some interesting things. 

I had a chance to hear her speak at one of Dallas' annual Arts & Letters Live events yesterday evening, and she certainly passed my authors test as someone with whom I would sit down to lunch.  I have to confess that I don't listen to NPR, so I was not familiar with This American Life to which she contributes.  I have now remedied that online, and I'm looking forward to reading her latest book, Unfamiliar Fishes, about the Americanization of Hawaii.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Adele P. Margolis

Here I was thinking these two sewing books by Adele P. Margolis were my own personal discovery and little-known secret when they have been heralded on quite a few sewing blogs and reviewed on Pattern Review.  I'll have my own say about them in a moment, but first, and perhaps even more interesting, is the author herself who died at age 100 in 2009.  Be sure to read this moving tribute by Ellen Steinbaum, the niece of her lifelong best friend, but let me just mention some salient facts from her reminiscence.

Despite wishing to be an artist, Adele trained as a teacher and taught elementary school from 1930 to 1945.  She gave her future husband, Nathan, also a teacher, a set of paints, and he went on to become a recognized artist. His circa 1950 lithograph, Vogue Says, probably depicts Adele.  During the Depression, she began to sew her own clothes and in her 40s started to teach fashion sewing at an adult education school in Philadelphia.  From there her "sewing guru" career took off, with the sewing books beginning in 1959. The photograph of her below is scanned in from the dust jacket of one of my books.  In her 80s she began writing poetry and published a collection of poems as well as wrote her final (unpublished) sewing book on creating and altering patterns for the older figure.

Reading her books makes me wish I could have known her and taken classes from her.  From her breezy yet no-nonsense style, I imagine a warm and encouraging teacher, but one who wouldn't listen to excuses, who would insist on you going beyond your comfort zone, and doing it well.  Here's her voice on the subject of draping: "To do draping you must have the courage to cut.  If you're apprehensive about cutting, then draping is not for you.  Better stick to pattern making.  Of course, you're fearful you'll make a mistake. Cutting is so final!  Just remember it's only fabric.  If you ruin it, there are miles and miles more of the stuff.  It's the release from fear of making a mistake you need most of all."  

Design Your Own Dress Patterns consists of Part I – Principles of Pattern Construction covering shaping by dart control, refining a pattern, use of multiple darts, shaping by seams, and adding fullness with pleats, gathers, gores, etc.  Part II is all about styling: necklines, collars, closures, pockets, sleeves.  The final chapter touches on draping, pattern grading, and creating a garment from design to pattern to muslin to determining a layout on your fashion fabric. If you're simply interested in producing a garment or reproducing exactly what you see on the pattern envelope, this book will probably seem tedious.  However, if you want to look beneath the hood, so to speak, to understand the whys of what you're sewing and be able to make changes if you so desire, then you'll treasure this tome.  Going through each chapter, doing all the exercises (using the quarter-scale models she instructs you to use), you would surely be knowledgeable, proficient and confident by the end.  In fact, when I first acquired this book, that's what I intended to do, but, alas, that's still a far-off future project.  I have used it on several occasions to add a detail, such as a collar, or redesign a bodice front. Her directions are clear and easy to follow, the line drawings explicit and just looking at them will give you lots of inspiration.

I've used How to Make Clothes that Fit and Flatter less because when I'm trying to solve a fit problem I look for something specific, more like a modern recipe—move this a certain amount here, fold that in a certain way there, whereas this book is more like a pioneer recipe—add a spoonful of this, a handful of that.  Once again, I think this book would be most useful if you were to use it like a textbook and proceed through it as if taking a course.  The copyright in my book is 1969, and some of what she has to say certainly reflects another era: "There's absolutely no mystery about it any more!  Those old-time unmentionables are today's common knowledge—thanks to present-day advertising.  And small wonder—they're so photogenic!  So attractive and so comfortable are they also that there really is no excuse for anyone no longer very young or very slender for not wearing what she needs to show off her clothes to best advantage."  However, I find that part of the charm of this book, and most of the information she imparts is valid for any time or style.

You can find her out-of-print books readily online, but Dover Publications has also reissued the first book as Make Your Own Dress Patterns with the original line drawings by her husband.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fantasy with panther

It's probably not what you were thinking (whatever that was).  But you won't know unless you look: L'Odyssée de Cartier.  Worth five minutes of your time, n'est pas?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Getting fit

The fit I'm talking about here is not about your body, but about what you put on your body, about making clothes that fit and flatter. There was a time when I simply pulled the pattern pieces out of the envelope, cut out my garment and sewed it up.  Most of the time those garments fit, at least fairly well.  That was called Youth.  What we have here now is Maturity.  Look, even la belle Catherine Deneuve (who is 68!) isn't the sylph she used to be.  But, in addition to Maturity, what we also have now is Discernment, that is: recognizing, appreciating and insisting on an excellent fit in the garments we sew.  It was only in the past decade, perhaps when I first encountered Peggy Sagers of Silhouette Patterns at Martha's Sewing Market, that I began to focus on fit.  What Peggy says is the we home sewers were really never taught to fit, to sew, yes, perhaps even beautifully, but not to fit.  And that was certainly true in my case.

So where to start? Sewing books. No particular recommendations here, but among the books in my own sewing library I have Singer Reference Library The Perfect Fit, Palmer/Pletsch Fit for Real People, Nancy Zieman's Fitting Finesse, Bodymapping by Kathy Illian and Shortcuts to a Perfect Sewing Pattern by Rusty Bensussen.  The last two are more about creating slopers but are still useful for fitting help.  Obviously, there's a wealth of information on the Internet.  On the Silhouette Patterns site you'll find an article on Understanding Fit as well as several webcasts.  Go to Pattern Review and search their knowledge base or their boards.  Subscribe to Threads, buy their archive, check them out online.  Just some of the more obvious suggestions.  Most of all I think I really profited from attending sewing shows, both Martha's Sewing Market in Arlington, Texas, and the ETA here in Dallas.  You'd be amazed at how much you'll learn from a 30-minute class, given by excellent instructors such as Peggy, Cynthia Guffey, or Connie Crawford, just to name three whom I found really helpful.  If there's a sewing show you can get to, go.  You'll find it informative, inspiring and lots of fun.

McCall's 4309McCall's 4309 black jacket This simple jacket is a good example of the importance of fit.  It doesn't have darts, or princess seams, or any other of the obvious facilitators of fit.  When I first made a muslin of this out-of-print  McCall's pattern quite some time ago, it was so shapeless and unflattering that I wondered what I'd been thinking of and put the whole thing away.  Then some years later I acquired this fabric with its predominate woven-in pattern which I didn't want to break up or have to subject to tricky matching, and, searching my very large collection of patterns for something appropriate, I settled on this.  But not, of course, as it came out of the package.  I narrowed the upper back and shoulders, raised the armscye, replaced the sleeve with a closer-fitting one, and reshaped the collar. Voilà...a jacket that's easy but not baggy and which has become one of those go-to garments that always feels right when I wear it.

For those of you interested in more specific aspects of how I refined this pattern, and photos thereof, please continue.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On the Bridge

On Saturday we availed ourselves of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk on the pristine new Margaret Hunt Hill bridge, even caught a glimpse of its designer, Santiago Calatrava.  In fact, we spent several hours walking on the bridge as volunteers for the Trinity Trust during the bridge celebration street fair.

There's been a whole lotta hoopla here in Dallas about the intended-to-be-iconic bridge and what it will do for the city, specifically opening up and revitalizing West Dallas (a defined area just across the river from downtown).  All very interesting.

But what is even more interesting to us is the area underneath the bridge, where flows the neglected and much-maligned Trinity River. (That's it, off to the far right of the picture below, with the banks and levees freshly carpeted in spring greenery.)

The plan is to transform all that idle floodplain, 20 miles of it snaking through the city, into a natural and recreational showpiece, with lakes, a promenade, plaza, amphitheaters, recreational fields, hike and bike trails, wetlands.  (Oh yes, and a toll road. We'll just ignore that for the moment.)  Those idyllic landscape renderings of things to come certainly elicit enthusiasm.  Could this really be Dallas, with a waterfront
We're waiting.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fashion, Style, Clothes

I often wonder, why do I like clothes so much?  For myself, I see the appeal as having two main aspects: how clothes enhance (hopefully) one's appearance, and then the beauty of the garments themselves (although probably a plain t-shirt and jeans don't rate very highly in the later category). Because I sew, there is also the creative pleasure that begins with an irresistible fabric and culminates in a style of my own choosing, contrived by my own hands.

So, as someone in whose life clothes occupy a prominent place, I was eager to read The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant which I discovered via an older post in Biblioblog.  (Make sure you read her – ahem – thoughtful review.)  And it is a thought-provoking book which I recommend, whether you consider your own interest in clothes highly developed or extremely minimal.  In fact, I would especially recommend it for the fashion-averse, who might come away with a better perception of how and why clothes matter, why clothes are lusted for and loved by so many of us.

Not that I always agreed with everything in the book.  Certainly, this Englishwoman and daughter of immigrant parents is going to have a different experience of dress than I have had and therefore some very different ideas.  But it seems to me that at least part of the point of this book is to create a dialog in the reader's mind about clothes, about fashion, about style.  Along the way she imparts some fashion history and uses the personal story of a Holocaust survivor to illustrate her thesis about the importance of personal adornment.  Occasionally I did find the book somewhat repetitive and felt that it showed its genesis in an eponymous blog (which was active from 2007 to 2010 and is interesting in its own right).  Nevertheless, I think it is worthwhile reading.