Friday, July 25, 2008

The Fashionable Squeeze

Louisa May Alcott depicted a scene in “Little Women” that many of us understand very well indeed, the fashionable pressure to fit in, thus forsaking our integrity and compromising our faith.

Coming from an upright family of reduced circumstances, Meg March was both excited and anxious about attending Sally Moffat's Coming Out party.

In the afternoon as all the girls gathered in Sally's dressing room, Meg was patronized by the wealthy society girls for her unfashionable appearance and opinions, so when society sweetheart Belle Gardner declared that tonight Miss March should have as many conquests as she liked, Meg surrendered to being turned into a fashion plate.

At the ball, hometown chum Theodore Lawrence came upon Meg in her immodest gown and improper conduct.
"Miss March," he said at her shoulder, interrupting her flirting with a quartet of young men. "I thought your family were temperance people."
"Laurie!" she gulped, choking on her champagne.
She allowed him to take her arm and lead her to a quieter spot, fingering her pearl necklace to hide her naked bosom.
"Don’t cover up," he said. "There may be one or two gentlemen who haven’t seen all of your charms. I did promise Jo I would show you off."
Meg declared, "The girls dressed me up and I rather like it."
He murmured facetiously, "Well, it reveals a whole new Meg," and fingered the lace at her breast.
She brushed his hand off and ran out of the room.

Soon afterward, Laurie found a repentant Meg hiding in an alcove behind a curtain.
"Meg, I'm sorry," he whispered, holding the curtain aside.
"Please don't tell my family how I've behaved," she begged, dabbing at her scarlet lips with a handkerchief.
"Course not. If you won't tell anyone how I've behaved."
Meg explained with a break in her voice, "I was only playing a part, to see how it felt to BE Belle Gardner with four proposals and twenty pairs of gloves."
"You're worth ten of those other girls."
She tugged self-consciously at the revealing neckline of her dress and tried to rise, but the voluminous skirts made it difficult. Laurie assisted her.
"This ridiculous dress," she said. "I've been tripping over it all night."
"Tie some of it around your neck," he suggested, "where it can do you some good."

The next night Meg sprawled on her bed with her mother and sister, reviewing her adventure.
"Why should anyone care what those people think?" said the staunch and original Jo as Marmee braided her hair.
"I do," confessed Meg. "It's nice to be praised and admired. I couldn't help but like it."
"Of course not," said Marmee. She turned from Jo to look into her eldest daughter's eyes. "I only care what you think of yourself. If you feel your value lies in merely being decorative, I fear that someday you might find yourself believing that's all you really are. Time erodes all such beauty. But what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind, your humour, your kindness, and your moral courage. These are the things I cherish so in you."

Mamas, sisters, mentors, and friends:
please, please remind us of this often!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Water Play

What does a self-respecting girl wear when the sun is hot and the water is wet?

Have a browse at They are an online resource for modest swimwear, specializing in solutions for buying swimsuits, sewing swimsuits, and fixing swimsuits.

ModestSwimm does not, however, list my best pick, which is

Buy ready-made suits, order suits to your specifications, or purchase pre-cut do-it-yourself kits.

Lining a Store-Bought Skirt

Many sheer skirts only require a lining to make them modest, and for ladies who think that skirts aren't warm enough to wear in winter, adding a cozy lining could be the solution they need.

I hit upon this idea a year ago and have now added a lining to 2 store-bought skirts and 2 Boutique Narelle skirts. I wish I'd thought of it years ago. This post is to show you how easy it is to do it yourself, following the instructions below. There will be images from the two store-bought skirts I 'improved'. Remember to click on the images to enlarge.

Apart from modesty and warmth, there are 2 other reasons why a lined skirt is better than an unlined skirt: it feels luscious, and it helps prevent the seat from sagging.

Illustration Skirt #1: plum polyester suede (listed as chamois-look raisin at Ballentynes)
Features: back zip; a complex series of bias-cut panels
Lining: pink cotton flannelette (Simply Fabrics, Dannevirke)

Illustration Skirt #2: teal stretch corduroy (Postie+)
Features: side zip; fly; fixed facing/waistband
Lining: black poly interlock (Spotlight)
Rest of outfit: zipped polar fleece jacket (Postie+); ruched merino turtleneck (The Warehouse).

You need:
  1. An unlined skirt
  2. Lining fabric. Flannelette is great for winter coziness (around NZ$6/m); poly interlock also works well (Spotlight sales tables offer this at NZ$3/m). Polyester lining (sometimes referred to as taffeta) or cotton lawn work for summer-weight skirts.
Step 1: Fold lining in half so the fold runs from selvedge to selvedge. Turn skirt inside out and lay it on top of the lining with the waistband 20mm from fold. Pin skirt to lining. Mark edges of skirt, then mark 15mm out from that for seam allowance. Place a few pins along the length to keep the two layers of the lining together.

3 NOTES ***:

*If skirt has a facing or inner yoke, measure downward from this, not forgetting to add seam allowance at the top.

*Don't worry if the lining fabric is shorter than the skirt (see illustration below). The lining's hem should be at least an inch shorter than the skirt's hem. If it is a straight skirt with a full flounce, or a very long skirt in a heavy fabric, you may only need the lining to come just below the knees.

The skirt hem is folded up so you can see the bottom of the lining fabric. The small-headed pin at the bottom of the side seam marking is where the skirt hem comes to. There wasn't enough lining to allow for an even hem at this length, so I raised it until it was even, meaning the lining would be 14cm shorter than the skirt.

*Don't worry if the skirt is wider than the lining fabric. Unless the skirt is a very straight style, the lining doesn't need to be as full as the skirt, but do ensure there is kick room.

Step 2: Mark the waistband edge but do not cut along it. Cut along the lining fold.

Step 3: Unpin the skirt and fold the lining in half lengthwise to check that the side seams you have marked are equal. One way to do this is to pin through all thicknesses along the lines you have drawn and mark the pin locations with tailor's chalk, comparing the pin locations with the cutting lines you have already drawn (see illustration below). While lining is folded, do the same along the waistline, checking that your pins are progressing along the line you marked. Make necessary adjustments.

Step 4: Unfold lining. Add 15mm seam allowance to waistband. Cut out lining.

Step 5: With pins, mark the length of the zip down the centre back.

Step 6: Stitch side seams and hem. Press seam allowance out.

Step 7: Cut centre back zip length.

Step 8: Pin lining to skirt facing, right side to right side, matching side seams. Stitch, running machine as close to the zip as you can.

Step 9: Turn under seam allowance on each side of zip opening, keeping lining clear of zipper teeth. Pin, and stitch securely by hand (see illustration below).

There, you're done! Doesn't it look cozy?

4th NOTE *:

*The top half of the maroon suede skirt was fitted, with fullness opening out at the knee allowing the wearer walking room without requiring a split. Rather than putting a split in the lining, I added fullness, but without creating the fancy inset panels which allowed the fullness in the skirt. This looked a wee bit odd after it was cut, and as it turned out, the lining didn't need as much kick room as the skirt offered, but it was no problem to remove this extra fabric once I'd tried wearing it. The illustration below shows where I realigned the seam and cut off the excess.

The photographs below show the progression of the lining process for the teal corduroy skirt.

The skirt is wider than the lining fabric. Because the skirt has plenty of fullness for active walking, it doesn't matter that the lining is a little less full. After all, nobody's going to see it!

Tailor's chalk was used to mark the garment edge, seam allowance, and position of the waistband facing. This image clearly shows the fly tab which prevents zip discomfort to the wearer.

The chalk marks here show the realignment of the side seam to cater for the lack of width in the lining fabric. The edge of the skirt was marked, then the skirt folded back to give a clear view of the line. I used a measuring tape to help me sketch a graceful line to the hem.

Using the side marks, I sketched the line of the facing.

The lining is cut out with 15mm seam allowance added at the waistline. The side seams are stitched (below), leaving the top open on the zip side.

Because the facing was top-stitched to the skirt, I hemmed the lining's seam allowance at the waistband (above) and hand-stitched this to the skirt facing (below). I added extra seam allowance (above) at the top of the lining on the zip side so I had room to fit the lining around the edge of the fly (below). As it turned out, I didn't need this, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

That's another cozy winter skirt! I launder it on a wool wash (medium spin cycle) so it doesn't need pressing. It dries on a clothes horse, first with the lining pulled out of the skirt, and when the length is dry, it's poked back inside to let the waistline finish drying.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Making Accessories Work for You

What makes this outfit work? Colour, contrast, and shape. The finishing touch, pulling the outfit together, is not the scarf or the bag, but the buttons. Never under-estimate the power in a button!

Karla Davis offers tips on how to make accessories work for you. Here are some excerpts from her article "How to Dress Classy with Little Cash."

"The best tip is to wear a great outfit with one or two accessories maximum that pop! My mother used to dress extremely well because she picked out accessories and clothing that looked great but cost next to nothing. This is because she looked in stores like K-Mart as she couldn't afford designer or even mall store prices. Put on a Blazer and jeans with a pair of cute flats and have one significant piece like a great necklace to really make your neckline pop. When hair is done up, this is the best time to show off shoulders and your neckline, so draw attention with some great earrings and necklace. Even a funky watch can jazz up an otherwise low-key outfit.

"Scarves are Your Best Friend! Scarves have so many uses that it is hard not to have any in your wardrobe. Scarves can act as a tie around your hair in a ponytail, tied around your neck, used as a belt around your waist or simply ties to the shoulder strap of your handbag for a sprightly look. It is good to have variety. Black and Red are my favorites however I have some softer colors such as pale pink and beige with light brown in full stripes, polka-dots are very in right now also. When you are bored with the pattern or color switch them up with your friend's for variety.

"Accessorize but don't overdo it! Classy women look classy because they don't overdo it. Wearing a great dress or outfit with a single ring, pair of small earrings and a small necklace is fine. Wearing a suit with a ring on every finger, watch, bracelet, heavy makeup, hair in an elaborate clip, a belt, a scarf around the neck and bright shoes is overkill. Nobody knows what to look at first! When you get ready to leave the house, look into a full length mirror with your entire outfit including a hat or handbag if included. You will often slowly start to strip a couple accessories away or tone down bold shoes and handbags.

Too much?

"Remember, simple is best. Add one or two killer pieces that will have you feeling great and getting compliments along the way.

"Don't be Afraid to Shop in Thrift Stores! I can't tell you how many things I've been able to snag there. The key is to go into an area that is more well-to-do or exclusive. Often people with a lot of money can discard things faster for new items such as great sweaters, blazers, handbags, you name it! My last purchase there was actually a set of hot rollers that retail at $70 that I picked up for $16! I bought an $80 pair of great brown boots that were never worn for $6!! I'll admit, you have to make some time to sift through a lot of duds till you find a few keepers, but it is well worth it. Buy items that have their original bold color, no fading! Make sure there are no holes or stains. If there is a small area that is inconspicuous, by all means grab the item if you can fix it. You can also find some fun handbags, belts, and jewelry."

Shannon McCarthy serves up all the trimmings of women's fashion accessories here. She covers hats, scarves and wraps, gloves, belts, and bags, and shopping options for each.

Our thanks to for the following three scarf-tying tips.

The Loop
The most popular, and one of the best scarf ties to keep you warm, is the Loop. Fold a long scarf in half and place it behind your head. Wrap it around your neck and slide the ends through the loop, making sure they’re almost even. Adjust the scarf until it’s snug.

The Ascot
The Ascot does double duty: it keeps your neck warm and looks chic. It also holds the title for the easiest scarf tie. Hold the scarf around your neck and tie it into a simple knot at the front.
Spread open the gathers and tuck into your coat or an open neckline. For an updated look, try it untucked.

The Long Tie
Drape a long scarf around your neck and tie a simple knot in one side of the scarf about half way down the length. Pull the other side of the scarf through the knot, adjust so it is well positioned, and tighten.

Christa Taylor's blog provides illustrated directions on 4 ways to decorate yourself with a scarf. Pictures courtesy of Greatestlooks.

The Crown. This style is an elegant-looking wrap and is a good choice for bad hair days. Scarf Style Needed: Rectangular (oblong) Scarf.

The Belt. Sometimes you need something to dress-up that simple little dress or skirt you’re wearing, but you don’t want (or don’t have) a regular belt that would be appropriate. Put that scarf to use. Scarf Style Needed: Rectangular (oblong) Scarf (80 cm long).

The Kelly. The method of wearing a scarf to protect the hair-style and still look glamorous while traveling is named after American actress-turned-Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly. Scarf Style Needed: Square Scarf.

The Neck Wrap. This style looks best with a blouse bearing a high collar and is a simple accent to any clean cut outfit. Scarf Style Needed: Rectangular (Oblong) Scarf (at least 80 cm long).

Rather than getting overwhelmed by so many variations, pick one or two styles you like, practice tying them until you can do it quickly without referring to the instructions, and plan which outfits you can wear them with. Then do it, and wear with confidence! = )

The first illustration in this post, and the three sets below, were cut from a 2007/2008 British knitting catalogue sent to me by a friend. I did what I do with every fashion picture that catches my eye -- added them to my Portfolio.

In these three images, the girls are wearing the same hat and the same colour jersey, but they get a completely different look from their outfit. Spot the changes?

Don't forget to click on the image to see all the detail. Find the differences. Clue: it's not the same flower.

Which pieces do you like? Why? Would you wear them? What with? Make a note of the kind of accessories that you find attractive and will work with the clothing you already have, and keep an eye out for them when you're shopping.

That little ribbon on the cap offers a world of coordinating alternatives. Again, see what buttons can do.

About 12 years ago I found a cashmere swing coat in a pile of secondhand clothing we'd been given, a coat with the most hideous brown buttons I've ever seen. The fabric was sound, other than a hole where a foraging moth had enjoyed a cook-up, so I beheaded the ugly buttons and replaced them with ones I liked. The 2008 season's high fashion must-haves include the colour gray, big buttons, and a coat, any sort of coat. This thing's got 'em all, eh bro?
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