Friday, October 2, 2020

Hummingbird Blue: Assembling an Elegant Outfit from Awkward Pieces


Tragically, my city no longer has a fabric store. Here's how I get over that hurdle when I need coordinating material to make an outfit. Instead of buying new fabric yardage, when I shop for an outfit at a secondhand store, I source fabric from other garments on the rack.

I look for one main piece in a fabric or colour I like. Any adult size will do, usually the larger the better. Next I look for other garments in fabric that will coordinate with my first piece. I then rearrange the fabric from these garments to create one outfit or dress.

Hummingbird Blue

When I spotted this hummingbird fabric, I immediately loved it and longed to wear it. Given that it was assembled as a spliced and skimpy jumpsuit, it would take some creativity to make it modest and wearable. But I was willing to try, because I loved the fabric so much.

Now I knew I was looking for blue. I hunted around the racks and to my delight found a floor-length taffeta skirt in a shade that matched the hummingbird beautifully. The skirt was far to big for me, but this made me even happier - I had more fabric to work with.

Then I found a chiffon tunic with a knit camisole attached to it. The tunic was too big and too revealing to wear as it was, but I really liked the drape of it and it was in a shade that toned with the other items.

Concerned about cool evenings in a sleeveless dress, I was happy to find an elegant cardigan, although this too had a fit issue.

Now I had my ensemble, but they needed assembling!

Deconstruct the Skirt

Step 1. Unpick the skirt waistband and zipper. Sew up the seam where the zipper was.

Reconstruct the Skirt

Step 2. Detach the camisole from the tunic. Sew the skirt waist to the camisole, creating a tank dress. (Before stitching them together, I added a short skirt lining using a remnant from my stash - lined skirts feel so comfortable to wear!)

Reconstruct the Jumpsuit

Step 3. Unpick the leg/crotch seam of the hummingbird jumper suit and cut away the scoop of the crotch extension, leaving a straight edge down the back and front. Unpick the hem a little on each side of the raw edges to give you room to work. Sew the fronts together and the backs together, then rehem the bottom edge. Now the jumpsuit is a tunic.

Fix Fit Issues

Step 4. The hummingbird tunic still had some gaping areas with keyholes front and back, and low armholes. These were easily fixed with some pinch and stitch action.

Step 5. The fitted chiffon tunic sat too low on my bosom, making puckers in odd places and allowing for more movement than felt safe for my modesty. The armholes were also too large. Because the fabric was so light, I was able to pinch the shoulder seam up without creating too much bulk. This improved the fit at the bust and front neckline, and reduced the armholes. I arranged the sleeve gathers to please me, then handstitched them in place at the shoulder.

Step 6. The knit viscose cardigan was designed for a lady with longer arm scye and more bosom than I have (this is also why the chiffon tunic didn't fit me). I gathered the extra fabric into a series of pleats and stitched them by hand, turning them into a style feature that encourages me to wear my hair up so they can be seen.

Styling Choices

An alternative might have been to make a long dress by sewing the hummingbird tunic to the taffeta skirt, but this way the soft drape of the delicate tunic is retained, and the outfit is more flexible. I can change the look by changing the style of tunic. I can also wear a tunic over a different dress or with wide-leg trousers.

I hope you've seen something beautiful and inspiring here today.

Look out for more Boutique Narelle posts detailing liberating modest fashion techniques.

Fiat lux!

Friday, September 4, 2020

Facing Unsolvable Clothing Problems: Searching Out the Benefits of Admitting Fashion Failure

I've resisted writing this. I'm the person who thinks up do-it-yourself solutions for everybody else's fashion troubles. It's humbling to admit I get desperately stuck in the wilderness of dressing well. To add that it happens periodically feels downright shameful.

But a mentor recently reminded me that his most raw and honest story produced the strongest connection with his audience, and the most uplifting outcome. So I will gird up the loins of my courage and share with you where I fail.

There is a fashion challenge that brings me into a state of frustration and despair, burdening me with a sense of depression I try to ignore but cannot shake for months at a time.

HELP! I've Got Nothing To Wear (That I Like)

It starts when my available modest clothing choices become saggy, stained, torn, or too small. I run out of repair or upgrade options, I don't have the time and energy available to make new garments, and shops don't stock the kind of modest clothing that I want or in my price range.

This leaves me with a sense of panic and much wasted time browsing my closet when I'm dressing to go out. It also leaves me with a sense of miserable disinterest in getting dressed for the day when I'm not going out.

Plan Something To Wear *That I Like*

I've learned to prioritize two things.

A) Prepare one smart outfit and reserve it for outing occassions. Keep it clean and looking nice.

B) Prepare one practical at-home outfit that I love to look at and that makes me happy when I get dressed. Wear it every day.

This might sound simple, but this year I couldn't even stay in control of these two solutions.

In the southern winter of 2019, while I spent hours on the couch recovering from a sprained and broken ankle, I planned one all-occasions dress for the following winter, to make me cosy and presentable whether I was visiting friends or convening a meeting.

As I regained my mobility in the spring, I got the fabric cut out...and came back to sew it towards the end of a super-hot summer. Feeling victorious, I hung it untested in my closet to await cold weather. 

Mistake Academy

When chill airs arrived, I realized that some of my newly enjoyed plumpness had departed. I'd measured the dress for a bigger me, and because it was lined, it would be a mission to resize it. I was too disheartened and too busy to fix it. The empty bodice felt demoralizing, but I had to wear it anyway.

Then I discovered I'd made three other mistakes.

The layering I'd planned for the dress didn't work as well as my mind had imagined. The drapey stretch polyester dress clung close enough to my waist to show the lumpy outline of large jeans pinched smaller. The merino top, which I'd bought specially so I had ONE without moth hole repairs, turned out to have a neckline too low to hide my cheap cotton/spandex tee (NZ $9, which after just three months' wear become saggy and off-colour). Even if I'm wearing a fresh tee shirt, the shifting tide of the different layers seems disorderly and I do not feel well-groomed.

After a winter of wearing my embarrassing Priority A outfit, I still feel frustrated at myself for not planning better. I have not yet found a solution that makes me feel good wearing it. Maybe by next winter I will have.

However, a few weeks ago I had a BREAKTHROUGH DISCOVERY with my Priority B outfit.

Happiness Versus Cosiness

Practical and comfortable for at-home, Priority B is the denim Yoked Tunic Dress featured in a previous Boutique Narelle post.

I realized I was feeling repelled by the delicate viscose bodice becoming unsightly with pilling and pulled threads. A tidy-up with a snag needle soon had that resolved.

Those cheap white tee shirts did not make this outfit look beautiful either, but a navy polycotton tee with a smarter rib neckline made me feel gloomy with all the dark fabric. 

A royal blue merino top was an improvement, but my *Bingo!* of delight came when I tried my aqua cashmere top with it. Merino is warmer than cashmere, but I decided to put up with less cosiness because of what the colour of this cashmere does for me when I look at it. It makes me feel HAPPY.

I haven't totally neglected the cosiness factor, because, surprising though it may seem, in southern winter temperatures, happiness won't keep you warm for long. I can say this cheerfully, because I found an aqua replacement for the warm but inky fleece I was wearing over the dress.

At NZ$9, it looked overpriced for a slightly pilly, slightly grubby secondhand fleece hoodie, but I really wanted the colour, so I took a risk. A warm soapy wash did wonders.

Thence followed a loose-thread-snipping and de-pilling session, then cottonbud application of isopropyl alcohol to stubborn stains. I've been comfortable, cosy, and happy ever since.

What I've Learned From This Process

It helps a lot to...

  • admit that clothing impacts my state of mind;
  • acknowledge how my closet challenges are making me feel;
  • identify one simple solution to pursue;
  • be patient with myself while I'm searching for that solution;
  • be humble in admitting my failures;
  • be kind to myself, remembering that failures are natural, acceptable, and valuable;
  • encourage myself that through openness, creativity, and persistence, there is hope for success;
  • take photos of the problem and discuss it with someone -- I might see it differently and discover a solution!

I hope you've seen something beautiful and inspiring here today.

Fiat lux!

Friday, August 7, 2020

Eleven Ways to Keep Your Legs Warm in Winter

How to Stop the Cold Air from Breezing Up Your Skirt

Let's talk about cold legs. Actually, no. If you suffer from cold legs, you don't need to know about cold legs. What you need is solutions. Let's talk about ways to keep your legs warm.
I made this dress for an inland valley region of New Zealand which can experience lows of 8°C during the day and -2°C at night. Typically we only heated a couple of rooms in the house. Wearing layers was key for comfort.

Long Hems, Warm Fabric, and Linings

This dress is made of medium denier cotton corduroy. The skirt is lined with premium cotton flannelette. The bodice is lined with smooth cotton gingham for that helpful slippery effect when pulling one garment over top of another. I added a hem extension of doubled cotton sateen, stitched to the lining, so the dress reached the top of my sheepskin slippers (Snugglefeet from Classic Sheepskins).

Wool, Multiple Pairs of Socks, and Leg Warmers

In that climate, I would wear a mid-calf length brushed knit chemise (BN design) underneath the dress, merino wool socks, and chunky knitted wool leg warmers bunched around my ankles.

When I moved two hours north to a Mediterranean seaside climate (lows of 11°C to 1°C, but typically 5° warmer than my hometown), the hem extension was excess to ankle warmth requirements, so I removed it, which also made my more active life easier.

A short, store-bought chemise is sufficient now, but I still wear merino socks, and the leg warmers if it's a very cold day.

I don't need the sheepskin slippers now (which is a relief, because the wool was wearing thin and the price had risen by NZ$100). A second pair of socks is sufficient indoors.
There are three places I typically wear this dress.

It's great on a beach excursion, for which I wear two pairs of socks inside my aerated crosstrainers, or rubber boots if I'm planning to get damp feet. The hem is weighty enough that I'm not worried about the wind blowing it up around my waist.

The same garb works for a visit to my neighbours in their unheated, uninsulated house, where I sit on the floor to play with their young children. The dress hem is full enough that it doesn't impede my movements. With my shoes off, I'm very grateful for the wool leg warmers.

The dress is a flexible style. I also wear it to meetings. It's easy to elevate it from casual to smart by changing the jacket and the footwear, and adding some pretty accessories.

Further Layering Tips

Five other ways to keep your legs warm

  • wool or thick denier nylon stockings
  • wool or cotton knit leggings (footless tights)
  • thermal leggings (long underwear)
  • wool or cotton knee-length socks
  • fleece track pants

Now you know eleven ways to keep your lower limbs more comfortable in winter.

Look out for more Boutique Narelle posts detailing liberating modest fashion techniques.

Fiat lux!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Nifty Navy Chop: Smart Fashion Tricks for Modest Women on a Budget

Dress Upcycling Technique #5

This summer I've been reminded of a key to dressing well on a small budget:

As long as fabric endures in good health, it holds possibility as wearable and a potential money saver. 

If you're interested in limiting your waste footprint and reducing your financial expenditure, take a second look at the old clothing you've been thinking is past its usefulness. Your favourites may gift you another life of wear after all.

You may have seen how I achieved that with the yellow beach skirt. For my next project, I assessed a favourite polyester rayon shirtdress that I bought new for NZ$2, fourteen years ago at a Red Cross sale.

This dress introduced me to the delights of the classic shirtdress, a style that has been reinvented decade after decade for over a century because of its flexibility, comfort, and practicality. 

What I most love about this one is the back ties allowing easy fit, and the lightweight but opaque fabric allowing cool summer modesty.

When I bought the dress, I needed an ankle length hem. Adding a coordinating strip at the base achieved this. I also needed to trust that the narrow button placket wouldn't gape, so I handstitched closed the edge of the placket from hem to crotch, and added invisible domes (snap fasteners) between the buttons at the bust.

My current need is for knee-length dresses that I can wear with trousers underneath, so I decided  it was time for the chop. It was a quick job to shorten the dress. I took time to use the discarded length to create four patch pockets, the upper two for modesty, the lower two for practical use.

Extra Style Tip

The dress designer made pearly shell buttons a feature down the front of the dress. I didn't like the contrast of white buttons on dark navy, so I turned them all upside down. The sandy brown underside of the shell has an uneven texture I really like on this dress.

In these photos, I'm wearing the dress as a costume for the Napier Art Deco Festival, celebrating the Depression-era resilience and creativity of the survivors of the 1931 Napier earthquake, who rebuilt the city into the architectural splendour it is today.

Now you know a quick trick for upcycling an old dress into a new one for very little cost.

Look out for more Boutique Narelle posts detailing liberating modest fashion techniques.

Fiat lux!