Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Daily outfit: blue, cream, brown and chartreuse

After being off work sick since Wednesday last week, this was my hooray-for-being-back Monday outfit. Sadly, it lasted all of three hours before my boss told me to go to the doctor, and the doctor has put me off work for another week! Sigh. Even so, I really like this coordinate - the dress has quite a high neckline so I wasn't sure whether a blouse would work, but I think this cream silk pussy-bow blouse does nicely (bonus: I got it new-with-tags for $14 including shipping when the tag price was $140), and the chartreuse wool capelet added a pop of bright colour and warmth for when I was outside.

Details (click picture for larger version): Blue 60s-style dress, Cue. Cream silk chiffon pussy-bow blouse, Max via Trademe. Brown peep-toe wedge heels, Isabella Anselmi via Overland Shoes. Brown faux-leather belt, Pagani. Green wool capelet, Surge via Frutti. Red enamel 'head girl' brooch, Vessel. Silver prefect's brooch, vintage, via my high school.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A quest for coat

Given that Wellington weather has recently descended into its annual eight-month period of Cold and Wet, with the early-March predictable-but-always-bastardly Baby Wellington's My First Cold Snap, this seemed like a good time for me to start shopping for a coat. Added to this was my desire to have an Awesome, Beautiful, Grown-Up Coat which could hopefully be worn for years to come; up until February, I was a student, and the combination of a student salary and the wear and tear of constantly carrying a heavy leather satchel meant that my coats thus far had been chosen more for wearability and warmth than for awesomeness. Now, however, my coat from last winter had wear patches on the shoulder and hip from the strap of my schoolbag, was generally a little shabby despite a drycleaning, and while attractive in a fairly basic way, was not really Fashion with a capital F. It was New Coat Time.

This, however, proved easier said than done, even given that I knew vaguely what kind of coat I was after. What kind of coat was that? I've always adored trench styling and semi-military detail such as epaulettes, I wanted something in either camel or grey, and ideally the skirt would be flared enough to at least allow for petticoated skirts, even if it didn't button over them. Camel is in fashion this season, and trench styling is so classic that it really never disappears, so, I hopefully reasoned, there should be many versions of such a coat.

There WERE many versions of such a coat, but as I quickly discovered, feeling increasingly like Goldilocks, none were just right. Three weekends ago, some friends and I had a brunch-and-gallery-and-MAC date of a Sunday morning (three weekends ago? Seriously? God time disappears). Since we're walking down to MAC, I asked, would they be keen to pop into a couple of stores along the way and scope out coat potential? Of course. So off we traipsed, fortified with eggs montreal (them), vegetarian breakfast (me) and hollandaise sauce (EVERYONE BECAUSE IT IS DELICIOUS), into a day featuring Howling Southerly and I Can't Believe It's Not July (refrain: Why Is It So Cold). Would Kate Sylvester, handily right next door to our cafe, have any coats? No, although I did (WHOOPS) manage to impulse-buy a bunny-print t-shirt dress.

Karen Walker, down the road, did have coats - both heavy drill cotton trenches in dark grey and a lovely tan, which would be perfect for that month or two before winter when it's not really cold enough for a proper winter coat (and the four months when winter's supposed to have ended but it's still a bit chilly), and heavier wool coats in the pictured textured houndstooth or a simple grey flannel. The only problem here was the price - at $700 for a cotton trench, or $1100 for wool flannel, my only defence for my wallet was to avoid even trying them on (because falling in love with an eleven hundred dollar coat would be horrendous and unrequited forever). 

Further down, we ducked into Marcs, because the ad for this trench had been pulled out of my autumn Fashion Quarterly and was pinned up on my season inspiration board - why not go straight to the source? Sadly, the colour was closer to beige than the rich camel I was hoping for, and the double-breasted style just did not work. Hourglass figure + a penchant for wearing full skirts do not play well with this kind of coat, apparently. The more you know...  A bit downhearted, I demanded that we detour into Ricochet since I thought my best friend would quite like their style, and came out with her having layby-ed an amazing deep blue chiffon dress despite claims that she really shouldn't be spending the money (she NEEDED this dress in her life, it was simply beautiful). Having flicked through their autumn/winter lookbook, I fell in love with a) the styling, b) the model, and c) the Guard blouse. Seriously, go have a look at the collection, it is very goth-meets-vintage-military in the best of ways, and I suspect that I might have to start adding a few of their things to my wishlist. Everyone's wardrobe needs a bit of goth, anyway. 

Jacqui E was also lacking entirely in coats (apparently we were shopping too early, but winter has a habit of creeping up all too quickly, so really, end of Feb/beginning of March should be prime Coat Shopping Time) so we trucked further on down to Glassons, who DID have a coat which fit better than Marcs but which very clearly reflected its $80 vs $300 pricetag in that it was cheaply cut, with too-long sleeves and bad finishing. Cue had nothing of note except a horrifically pushy salesgirl. Ugh. Thoroughly downhearted by this point, we gave up and went to MAC to look at the Wonder Woman collection, where I bought a super-pretty Marquise D' lipstick and frosted pink shadow (Peacocky Mega Metal shadow in Top of the Posh) and decided that coat shopping could go sod itself because makeup was way more fun.

Then a couple of days later, my best friend emailed me to say she'd seen a coat in the window of Witchery that I might like, which was peacoat length, dark camel, single-breasted, with epaulettes and an interesting collar. She emailed me the picture, which was intriguing in a this-could-be-it kind of way, and as my bus home takes me past the store, I eyed it up every evening thinking "I should really go and try that on."

Today I went and tried it on, finally, and while it's not EVERYTHING that I want in a coat (the back skirt panel isn't lined, it's only 70% wool, and it's made in China which I don't really like to support), everything else about it was good enough that it was clear that this was The Coat. The single-breasted style is super-flattering, as is the collar (I can fold down the top button for a lapel, or wear it buttoned as in the picture with a scarf for extra warmth) and because it finishes buttoning at the waist, it flares nicely over a full skirt without looking tight or mean. The colour is much richer than some of the beige I've seen masquerading as camel and the cut is lovely. My quest for coat was complete! I layby-ed that sumbitch and cannot wait to rock the camel-coat-and-pencil-skirt-and-red-lipstick this winter. Now all I need to complete my winter wardrobe Necessities List (rather different from my OH GOSH THIS IS PRETTY AND I WANT IT list) is a good pair of black boots, but I suspect that much like a coat, finding the right pair (for less than a million billon dollars) will be rather more difficult than deciding I need them.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Tuesday Tutorial: heart rosette brooch

I've been wanting more sweet accessories, especially brooches and hair accessories, and since receiving a rosette at work (my team won the trivia quiz and got a shiny yellow rosette AND a trophy!) I've been a wee bit obsessed with rosette-style brooches. While this is on a brooch pin backing, I suspect I'm also going to play with pinning it into my hair (maybe on a headband).

This tutorial is aimed at those who have around a beginner to intermediate sewing level. You might find some fiddly things like gathering lace a bit tough if you're 100% new to sewing, but other than that it's a fairly straightforward project. If you don't have a machine, you could probably even sew the whole thing by hand, but I don't really recommend it because your wrists might break. (I used to do a lot of hand sewing, and I now struggle with wrist pain. It's really not good for you.) Protip: you can also use the 'making a lace-trimmed heart' side of this to make slightly larger hearts for a heart-pocket skirt like this. (Oy, that's a lot of sweet right there.)

As always, click the pictures for a larger view!

Things you will need: fabric, ribbon, lace, iron-on interfacing, trimmy bits (that's a jug full of glass pearls in varying sizes), a sew-on brooch pin backing, and a heart template. I do have a pattern envelope of them, yes :D I also have an iron-on applique left over from other projects. Not shown: thread and an iron, because you can't iron-on anything without one.

Draw yourself up a heart template and cut out your fabric (two pieces, one for the front and one for the back). Remember to include seam allowance when making your template! It's a good idea if using a patterned fabric to try and get the pattern centered prettily, though the back isn't as important. Those heart templates are actually slightly larger than the one I used here - they're for the aforementioned heart pockets.

Cut out the same again in iron-on interfacing and iron it onto the back of your fabric pieces.

Put a gathering/basting stitch along your lace (it has a raw edge because it was pre-gathered onto a wider band which I cut off since I wanted it a bit narrower). You'll need a strip of lace about twice the length of your heart outline.

Gather your lace, then pin, baste and press it along the edge of the front heart piece, with the right side of the lace facing down and in towards the heart. This is a bloody fiddly bit, especially if you're machine-basting, so you might want to hand-baste it instead since you have a bit more control that way.

Pin the back heart piece to the front piece, then sew them together using your lace basting stitches as a sewing guide. Leave a wee gap along one of the straight sides so you can turn it right-side-out in a few minutes.

Trim the edge, notching around the curves. Notching into the curve is really important to get a smooth curve, so remember to use it whenever you're sewing a curve (such as on a scalloped hem). Make sure not to snip into your stitching, because I've done it before and it's a fucking hassle to fix.

Turn it right-side-out and wrangle it into shape (a bit of pressing and tugging to make the heart sit correctly is always useful here). Top-stitch around the edge of the fabric to sew up the hole on the side. Cut two pieces of ribbon to length (I didn't really measure, just held it up and decided how long I wanted them to be), clip the ends by folding the ribbon in half and then cutting diagonally, and pin them in place on the back of the heart. It's best if you fold over the edge of the ribbon a couple of times to avoid fraying edges. Sew in place.

Sew your brooch backing pin onto the back, then add any embellishments on the front such as glass pearls or crystals. If I had tiny pink Swarovski crystals I probably would have added them for a bit of glitter, but pearls are pretty too.

Now your rosette is done! Pin to a pretty sweater or cardigan, or add to a plain blouse for a bit of lolita sweetness. My flatmate's a bit meh over super-sweet accessories like this, but she said that it "looks like you've been given the Prize for Cute!" 

This is another rosette without lace, using my leftover iron-on applique. I have plans for a grey wool houndstooth blazer and pencil skirt, and I think that pinning it to the lapel will give a very pleasantly twee lolita-school-uniform vibe. Ribbon rosette <3.

Daily outfit: another IW shoppes-print coordinate

Gasp, it's the same skirt as last Tuesday! This is a more relaxed coordinate using an oversized chiffon t-shirt, since we've a week of casual dress as a charity fundraiser for Japan (people in my office seem to be fairly willing to pay for the privilege of wearing jeans, whereas my 'casual' generally just means I'll wear flats instead of heels). It was super-cold and rainy today, so I actually wound up swapping these little black ballet flats for vintage-style brown cowboy boots as otherwise my feet would have been wet and cold and sad.

Details (click picture for larger version): Black oversized chiffon t-shirt, Glassons. Cream high-waisted shoppes-print skirt, Innocent World, via my alteration. Black tights, stolen from my flatmate's sock drawer. Black embroidered-lace ballet flats, Number One Shoe Warehouse. Black jet bead necklace, stolen from my flatmate. Cream grosgrain ribbon bow, Baby the Stars Shine Bright. Pink faux leather jacket, Dotti. Cream chunky-knit scarf, Jayjays.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Daily outfit: grey floral with a prep school twist

This blouse comes with black grosgrain ribbon ties sewn into the collar, which is totally adorable, but black was a bit harsh for this outfit especially as I was wearing brown wedges and pink knee-high socks (not shown because I managed to cut my feet off in every shot, herp derp, but they're the same shoes as worn here). So instead I tucked the ties inside the dress and added a wee chartreuse velvet ribbon bow for a pop of colour. I love this dress, it's incredibly comfortable and the rose print is exactly my style.

Details (click picture for larger version): White elbow-sleeve collared blouse, Sylvester via Kate Sylvester. Grey floral knit-cotton dress, Kate Sylvester. Green velvet ribbon, sewing trim store. (Not in picture: Brown peep-toe wedge heels, Isabella Anselmi via Overland Shoes, and dusky pink lace-knit knee-socks, via EGL sales community.)

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Things I Love Thursday

I’ve been contemplating doing a ‘my favourite things’ Monday, because an injection of pretty things on Monday mornings might possibly be the only way to face down a work week. However, this TILT post is unashamedly stolen from galadarling because it is a grand idea to come up with things we love today in order to get us through one more day before Friday and the weekend, especially this week (which feels like it has gone on FOREVER, yesterday I actually thought it WAS Friday and was super-sad when I realised it was only Wednesday). ANYWAY. Thursday. Yes. Things I’m in love with this week:
  • The beginning of autumn. Yes, I realise up north all y’all are beginning to consider the possibility of putting away winter coats, but down here, summer is coming to an end and I get to eye up warm knits, pull out my ultra-comfortable loose brown boots and consider the possibility of a new winter coat. Being a pale redhead who freckles and burns rather than tans, summer’s really not my thing (plus it’s so super-hot you can’t layer anything, which is really my major issue with summer fashion). Autumn means snuggly woollens, pretty tights, maybe a bit of fur (vintage or faux only, please!) and perhaps another fluffy duvet on the bed for extra warmth on chilly, rainy nights. Rugging up? YES PLEASE.
  • MAC Wonder Woman Marquise D’ lipstick. This lipstick practically deserves a post of its own, since it is quite possibly the most versatile lipstick IN THE WORLD. It works on me, aforementioned pale redhead, plus a brunette friend with Middle-Eastern olive colouring, AND another friend who’s the epitome of an English rose. It’s like the lipstick has super powers of colour matching. For me, it’s a perfect gold-shimmery pink neutral, and the Wonder Woman packaging is also pretty awesome.
  • Coffee. I don’t drink a LOT of coffee daily, but like a lot of Wellingtonians I really do appreciate a good coffee. True story: One of my favourite bands, The Books, toured New Zealand recently, and in their Wellington show a member said that he’d had three coffees in Wellington and “all of them made him cry”. There was a brief, worried silence, and then someone piped up uncertainly, “In a good way, right?” In the best possible way, he assured us, and for me that really is what Wellington coffee ought to be. This morning before work I had breakfast with a friend, and catching up over a soy latte and apple-cinnamon brioche was the best possible way to start a slightly grey and rainy Thursday.
  • Madame Fancy Pants and their gold charm pendants. My sister gave me a wee gold acorn on a long chain for my birthday last year, and they’ve just released an envelope necklace which is truly adorable. 
  • Heidi plaits! Back when I had super-long hair (down to my hips) I used to wear my hair in twin plaits wrapped across the crown of my head. Once I cut it short last year, I thought I could no longer rock the Heidi plaits, but I've just discovered that it's just long enough to manage, if not quite as elaborate.
  • Lace everything. I popped in to Kate Sylvester this morning (yes, I do have a bit of a problem in that I ADORE EVERYTHING SHE DOES, sigh) and tried on a lace pencil skirt which might well become an integral part of my work wardrobe.
  • Family visits. My dad is coming down to Wellington this weekend, so it'll be really nice to have a catch-up with him and my little sister. <3 to them both.

So, my lovelies, what are your things keeping you going this Thursday? 

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Daily outfit: cream and black and a print

I could hardly alter a skirt and not wear it out! This is a really good example of my non-lolita lolita outfits. Most of the elements are still there (demure blouse, lolita print skirt and petticoat, dainty shoes and a hair accessory) but they're not quite what you'd find in a usual lolita coordinate.

Details (click picture for larger version): Black silk chiffon blouse, Sylvester, via Kate Sylvester. Cream high-waisted shoppes-print skirt, Innocent World, via my alteration. Black/cream peep-toe heels, Magnini, via Ultra Shoes. Brooch, vintage, gifted. Cream chiffon rosette headband, Glassons.

Tuesday Tutorial: dress to skirt alteration

This marks the first of what will hopefully be a regular series: Tuesday Tutorial. Not all posts will be as huge and in-depth as this one, and it probably won't be every Tuesday because a lot of what I make takes a bit longer to make, but I'd like to start posting regular tutorials showcasing various sewing techniques for a variety of skills. AND doing a regular tutorial encourages me to actually keep sewing regularly, which is always a bonus.

Over the weekend I pulled out this Innocent World dress which I'd begun altering last year before moving house. I've started preferring skirts to dresses, since they're a bit more versatile and easier to dress up for work, so since I love the print of this dress, I'd decided to turn it into a skirt with a wide waistband for a bit of a high-waist effect. I probably could have sold the dress and bought the IW skirt instead, but given that it's not super rare, I like the cream colourway and I had the dress in my seam-ripper-happy hands, there was no reason for me not to alter it. Plus I've taken photos so y'all get to see shot-by-shot details of how to do something similar! 

This tutorial is aimed at those who have around an intermediate sewing level. You don't have to be super-amazing, but you should be pretty confident with making gathered-waist skirts on flat waistbands, using a seam ripper, and with using limited fabric supplies to construct things like a new waistband. If you're not hugely confident with these skills, I've tried to make instructions as clear as possible, but you might find things a little tougher. Protip: you can also use this tutorial to resize a skirt, although I intend to post another photo tutorial with details on resizing a waistband using waist ties or a new piece of fabric.

As always, click the pictures for a larger view!

What you will need! On the top is iron-on interfacing, pins, matching thread, buttons (or hook and slide-bar fastenings), a seam ripper, large and small sewing scissors (you can just have a large pair but I keep a small pair next to my machine for snipping threads), a tape measure, and a dress to alter. Plus a bonus cat tail, but this is actually neither necessary nor useful, my cat just likes to be included. Below is an ironing board and iron; this is SUPER necessary as you'll need to press your unpicked pieces and iron on the interfacing, and pressing as you go is one of my most recommended ways to keep your sewing looking good. Plus a bonus background of my teeny fabric/patterns storage and inspiration board. I recently moved house into a much smaller bedroom (honestly about half the size) and while setting up my sewing area was tricky, I'm quite pleased with the amount of usable room I've wound up with.

The first step: unpick the skirt from the bodice along the waist seam. This might take a wee while depending on how the dress is constructed and how many seams there are, but generally take care with what you're doing and avoid ripping the raw edge of the skirt, as unless you specifically want to shorten the skirt, the top edge needs to be kept nice and tidy for re-gathering onto the waistband later. When you reach the zip, use your scissors to snip it across even with the top of the skirt raw edge, and put a pin in to stop yourself pulling the zipper up and off the tape (I have done this before, and it is fucking irritating as getting the thing back on is basically impossible and part of the joy of this alteration is not having to put in your own zip).

Press the top of the skirt flat to get rid of the old gather creases. Using a basting stitch, sew a seam inside the seam allowance (I usually line up the edge of the fabric with the edge of my foot), sewing the lining to the skirt outer if the skirt is lined. Stop sewing, pull out a good end of thread and snip when you reach the side seam, then sew the same again. This basting stitch will act as your gathering thread, and I find it's easier to gather the front and back of the skirt separately so I leave a long thread in the middle ready to pull.

You should now have a wide, flat tube of skirt, plus a bodice unpicked at the waist. Set aside the skirt for now, because we're going to unpick the bodice and that's a bit of a bitch.

Now we have a pile of bodice pieces, plus some trim. I'm a bit of a hoarder when it comes to nice things, so I unpicked all of the trims really carefully and put them aside to use as I could.

Cut out pieces to put together the waistband, and don't forget that you need about an inch extra at one end to provide the overlap for a button or hook/slide fastening. In constructing the waistband, it gets a bit tricky because how you construct it really does depend on the shape of the pieces of your specific bodice. If you've got a lot of long, narrow bits you might have to play around a bit with Frankensteining them together. I was super lucky because the bows on the front of the dress unfolded into really nice large rectangles of fabric, which combined with the large (originally shirred) back panel of the dress was enough to do a wide waistband which folded over to provide the backing, rather than needing a seam at the top. 

If you have waist ties that you don't mind using, they will be SUPER EXCELLENT as they're a long, wide piece of fabric from which it should be fairly easy to cut out a waistband; I'm usually a bit 'meh' over waist ties and don't mind using them at all, but the ones that come with this dress are gorgeous and have a lovely scalloped edge, so I couldn't bring myself to cut them up (though halfway through unpicking the bodice, which was patterned and put together incredibly well, thanks IW, but golly it was a pain to unpick... I did wind up looking wistfully at the long expanse of waist tie and calculating whether I could use them and still save the scallops). If you're using waist ties, I'd probably recommend ignoring unpicking the bodice unless you want to nick the trim for later use or you want extra fabric for accessories like hairbows.

Trim your waistband strip evenly along all edges, then add iron-on interfacing to the reverse side. If you want a particularly stiff waistband (good if you're making a high-waisted style) and your fabric's a bit floppy/lightweight, you might want to use a heavier-weight interfacing. This fabric is naturally quite stiff (hurr hurr) which I was pleased by as it holds up well to a wide waistband without creasing.

Using pins, mark the centre front, side and centre back of your waistband. In this picture you can also see how I've Frankensteined my panels of fabric together for a waistband. In general, if you're working with panels of fabric that need sewing together to make a whole strip, try as much as possible to place your seams symmetrically and in places that won't look too odd, and if you have trim, try using it in the seams to make them look a bit more intentional. This scalloped lace was taken from the top neckline, and this is the entire piece I had - it looks odd at the moment because it finishes halfway up, but once the waistband is folded over it all works out.

GATHERING TIME. Check out those goddamn gathers. This is something I also can't really teach via tutorial - learning how to gather fabric quickly and evenly is something that you'll pick up with experience. But try to line up the edge of the gathers with the edge of the waistband, and use as many pins as you need to keep the gathers wrangled in place. Then when you're sewing, go slowly and carefully and FINGERS CROSSED avoid stabbing yourself with pins. Sewing in gathers is always when I seem to do it and it fucking hurts. Plus then you run the risk of bleeding all over your fabric, and that's generally unpleasant and irritating. So yes. Slow and careful is the motto.

Look, it's beginning to look like a skirt! This is post-gathering but pre-folding-down-the-waistband. Press your waistband up and the gathering seam up towards the waistband too, so that when you fold down the back, you can enclose the raw edge inside the band. Here you can see my front lace detailing a bit more, plus just how wide the unfolded waistband really is (around 6" unfolded).

Fold in the seam allowance along the remaining raw edge of the waistband, then fold the whole thing down and pin/sew the inside in place along the gathered edge (just like you would when constructing a skirt normally). I forgot to take a photo of it pinned in place, but this is post-sewing. You can either stitch 'in the ditch' between the waistband and the gathered skirt, or top-stitch along the edge of the waistband. I prefer to top-stitch both along the bottom edge and the top fold, since it gives the top edge some extra structure and also makes it look a bit more professional. I've also added a line of rose galloon lace along the bottom edge of the waistband for some extra detail and interest, and because I'm a bit of a perfectionist I sewed back in the Innocent World tag before sewing down the waistband.

Add your fastenings - I've used two cream buttons since I had them, but if you prefer you can sew in a hook and slide or two. If you're going to keep using your waist ties, sew back on the buttons on each side of the waistband (I am actually SUPER LAZY and haven't done this yet; I probably won't until I actually want a bow which might be some time away). Tie and trim off any loose threads, and you're FINISHED. WOO HOO.


Monday, 14 March 2011

The non-lolita lolita

This is not a lolita fashion blog. It might be strange to say, given that I’m discussing brands and prints and wear lolita skirts on a regular basis, but I don’t consider my style to be lolita – at least not lolita in its purest form and which follows all the rules. Lolita-influenced? Definitely. Lolita-derived? Sure. But if you saw me on the street, you’d probably be more likely to say “Hey, isn’t that an Emily Temple Cute skirt?” than “Hey, a loli!” (If you’re a purist about the fashion, you might also be tempted to ask what the fuck I’m doing with my brand coordinates, so be warned now: anyone who thinks lolita should be worn as lolita and nothing else is probably not in the right place.)

Up until about a year ago, I was wholeheartedly into lolita fashion. I had a veritable rainbow of pastel shoes, headbands with bows on and sweet print dresses. I started in lolita in late 2006, when old-school sweet was still predominate, and the most coveted pieces were things like BtSSB fairytale embroidery, platform wood heels and pretty, delicate vintage-style jewellery. My approach to lolita was ‘Victorian girl’s Sunday best’, meaning florals, pretty lace and pintucks (this skirt is probably a good example). I threw myself into the fashion, sewing for myself and others and eventually starting to moderate both the main livejournal communities.

But as I got older, apart from meet-ups or weekend outings with friends, I wasn’t wearing my frills super-often. I’d sometimes wear a casual outfit involving a print skirt and a pretty cardigan to work or to school, but even that often felt too sweet and little-girly. I’m 24, have just finished a law degree, and work as a public servant for the government; while I don’t think there’s an age limit for lolita if you’re still comfortable wearing it, I was bored and awkward with all the pastels and flat shoes. Add to that my irritation with Angelic Pretty print overload and new-school OTT-sweet, and I felt like I was done with lolita. Pastel wigs? Unicorns? Plastic sweets jewellery, glitter and 80s-themed accessories covering every square inch? AP clones clad head-to-toe in the coordinate exactly as released by the brand, from the hairbow to the bag to the jewellery to the socks to the colour-matched tea party shoes and two-inch stick-on nails bedazzled with gemstones, sweets and whipped cream? It was pretty, sure, but where the fuck had my pretty, girlish Sunday best gone?

Then I started selling off my stuff, because OH MY GOD I had found and fallen in love with Kate Sylvester, a New Zealand designer who does really lovely things. And while I felt a pang over selling things like Wonder Party (tea cups! And gold detailing! And a really lovely halter-neck cut!) I was happy enough to when I could use the money for buying other beautiful things. But when it came to selling simple print skirts, a voice piped up: I could wear this. I could wear a lovely silk blouse, a skirt and high heels, and it would be a perfect, pretty outfit to wear to work without feeling like I was dressing too sweet or too young.

Six months later, and this is still how I’m developing my style. Often, what I’ll wear sounds like it should be a lolita outfit. Today, for example, I’m wearing a black top with a print of roses and bunnies, black floral-lace-and-roses print skirt with a soft, fluffy petticoat, a bow belt, a gold acorn charm necklace and shoes with bows on. On the other hand, the skirt is a circle skirt whose hem reaches just below my knee, my shoes are cream and black peep-toe high heels, and my top is an oversized, draped Kate Sylvester t-shirt dress. And I have bare legs, with not a knee-sock in sight. The HORROR. There’s probably enough to discuss about the focus in lolita on clothing being “modest” and therefore better than “mainstream style” for a post all of its own, but suffice it to say that a) bare legs, with a knee-length skirt, are certainly not slapper-worthy, and b) anyone talking about modesty should look at how short AP dresses are getting. A bunch of those are practically mid-thigh. Just saying.

My post-lolita look is a mish-mash of 50s and 60s patterning (circle skirts, they are fantastic and fun to wear, and so are wiggle dresses), lolita prints and details, preppy styling and awesome high heels. I’m probably wearing my remaining brand items more than I ever did when I followed lolita fashion ‘properly’, and four days out of five I’ll have a petticoat on. Lolita definitely taught me a lot about coordination skills, although I find myself battling the matchy-matchy syndrome a bit. I very regularly follow the guidelines of lolita: a bell-shaped skirt or frock (in fact I wear a fifties-style petti which is more A-line than a sweet-lolita cupcake), a pretty blouse with some collar detailing and perhaps a few ruffles or lace, a cardigan, some sweet accessories (but sweet as in a vintage floral brooch pin, not a whipped-cream waffle on a brooch backing) and maybe even a bow clipped into my hair. It’s lolita without being lolita, and it is awesome.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Daily outfit: fifties satin and a cardi

Full confession: This isn't today's daily outfit, but one from a few days ago. Sorry! I played with curling my hair, which resulted in amusing bounce for all of half an hour and then the curls fell out. My hair, it does not really like to hold a curl. Sigh. 

In any case, this is a 50s-style party frock made from a vintage Vogue pattern and period vintage 50s floral-print satin. I adore it but it's a bit much to wear during the day as a work outfit all on its own, so adding a little belted cardigan over the top helps to tone down the PARTY SATIN aspect. The hem band of the dress is a silk/cotton blend and is the result of me having about half a metre too little fabric, but I actually love the contrasting detail it adds to the skirt (which is SUPER HUGE and floofy and fantastic).

Details (click picture for larger version): 50s floral-print satin dress, handmade, from a vintage pattern and fabric. Black cropped cardigan, Dotti. Cream cotton belt, vintage. Black/cream peep-toe heels, Magnini, via Ultra Shoes. 

In search of quality - part 3

Part 1 and Part 2 of this post discuss fabric and construction, so read them first!

Trim and detailing - woo hoo, lace!

One of the things I love most about BtSSB is their lace; apparently the factory is next to a lace factory, and it shows. Lolita focuses hugely on details, and it’s made me super-fussy about the trim on all my clothing even outside Lolita. Unless lace is soft cotton, and ribbon is good-quality satin or grosgrain, I'm a bit iffy about it.

Good lace is one of the mainstays of Lolita fashion, and lace-monster dresses trimmed with metres of scratchy polyester lace are the thing of nightmares. There are various types of lovely lace, the most common being cluny, embroidered cotton eyelet or broderie anglais, embroidered net, raschel and guipure. What to look for regarding quality varies depending on the different types, but cluny should be detailed and well-woven with no loose threads, while embroidered cotton eyelet should have a nice cotton base and thick embroidery threads with a minimum of raw edges where the details have been cut away. Despite its bad reputation in the lolita community, raschel lace can be quite pretty – Metamorphose sometimes uses lovely soft cotton raschel which is a far cry from its polyester cousin.

BtSSB is quite famous for their fairytale embroidery series, and despite leaving Lolita in general, I still wear my Red Riding Hood skirt all the time (I’m wearing it right now!) The embroidery on this is tightly sewn, with appliqué fabrics making up the solid patches of colour, and is an example of a really nice quality detail.

Colour matching: 
I’m kind of in love with this Twenty Seven Names blazer, but one of the dealbreakers is the embroidered patch detailing. While the blazer is in a cream/blue colourway, the patch is embroidered in a very stark white, creating an unpleasant contrast. It might be a tiny detail, but for $480, it should be perfectly matched! Consider this when evaluating lace and other trims.

Manufacturing origin

Whether or not you think it's ethically important to support local industry and avoid sweatshopped labour, it's unquestionable that manufacturing origin has an impact on quality. Something made by a seamstress earning a few cents an hour in China or Bangladesh is never going to have as much attention paid to it as something made in a factory with more intensive labour laws and by someone paid more for their work. Garments made in countries like Japan, the USA, Australia or New Zealand also tend to be sewn in smaller releases than those churned out by the thousands in huge factories producing garments for high-street stores, which tends to mean higher quality and better workmanship (as well as exclusivity, which might or might not interest you). 

While it's not a lolita brand, I adore Cue as it's ethically made in Australia (and has some great fifties-style silhouettes which I love wearing to work). If buying online, it can be difficult to work out the manufacturing origin, but again most garment labels will include this information.

A lot of lolita is made in Japan, but some brands are moving to China for manufacture, especially for things like shoes. In my opinion most (sweet) brand shoes are about on par quality-wise with replicas such as Secret Shop, although buying replicas comes with its own set of ethical issues. I prefer in general to wear a pair of nice high heels, so if you're into classic or gothic lolita it may be easier to find high-quality shoes in a local shoe shop than via lolita-brand websites.

With all of these considerations to keep in mind, it seems pretty clear that the idea 'brand = quality' isn't as simple as it sounds. Since starting to buy non-lolita designer clothing, I've really begun to appreciate quality and design which doesn't rely on a pretty print for popularity, and conversely to notice the lack of quality in a lot of high-street clothing sold cheaply and en masse. I'm certainly not saying that brand prints aren't worth it, nor that all prints are badly made, but when shopping for your next skirt or dress, it might be worth looking at the non-print items. Without a print to excite interest, a dress needs more technical work for interest, such as ruffles, pintucks or interesting tailoring, and is often made out of higher quality fabric. Similarly, if you're considering a new blouse and don't want to order online from a lolita brand store, don't just go to Forever 21 – try going to a local designer with a price-point similar to Japanese brand, as what you find might be of much higher quality and work nicely with a brand skirt for a classy coordinate.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Daily outfit: florals and linen and tan

After a really cold snap over the weekend, I'm reveling in what will probably be the last bit of sunshine for the next eight months. PEEP TOES AND BARE LEGS AHOY. A belted short-sleeved jacket over a pencil skirt feels very 40s to me, and is a nice pulled-together outfit for a late-summer workday.

Details (click picture for larger version): Japanese-floral dobby-cotton jacket, DeVol Clothing via Frutti. Grey linen pencil dress, handmade, from two vintage patterns. Brown faux-leather belt, Pagani. Brown peep-toe wedge heels, Isabella Anselmi via Overland Shoes. Pink natural/unshaped pearl necklace, gifted.

In search of quality - part 2

In Part 1 of this discussion, I talked about how to evaluate fabric quality and choose the perfect fabric. The next aspect of quality is all about how it's made - whether it's cut well, put together with care and precision, and finished correctly inside and out.

Construction - putting it all together

A well-sewn garment is one of the best indications of quality there is. A plain cotton fabric sewn well by someone skilled will make a far lovelier dress than the best silk cut and sewn haphazardly or badly. What are indications of good construction?

Pattern and cut: 
A good pattern and well-cut garment can be difficult to determine at first, but look at the shape and fit of the item. Compare, for example, a brand blouse to a similar blouse from Forever 21 or Glassons – does it sit nicely on the body, with the shoulder seams at the right point, the sleeves the right length and the bust dart or shaping giving the correct volume to the bodice? Does it strain at the buttons even though it’s meant to fit according to the measurements? Does it have the right shape, or are there odd puckers, twisted seams, strained areas or gaping bits where the fabric is haphazardly cut and shaped? A well-cut garment ought to sit smoothly and easily on the body, with shaping at the right points, no seams in odd positions, and no areas such as armholes being too high or too low. Seams on each side ought to be even and symmetrical unless deliberately designed asymmetrically, as should the hem, cuffs and collar.

Interior finishing and lining: 
I am a huge fan of lining on everything except blouses. Linings make garments much more pleasant to wear, since all raw seams and sewing details are hidden inside the two layers. A lined dress will sit better on the body, as the lining acts as its own slip and gives the garment extra structure and shape, while if the fabric is light or slightly see-through, a lining will mean you might not have to wear an additional slip underneath (and can make things a bit warmer in winter). A skirt lining will also help a skirt sit nicely over a petticoat (especially if you’re wearing quite a light skirt over a very full petticoat which could create odd bumps and make people wonder if you have weird tumours), helps prevent wind-related embarrassment (a big consideration here in Wellington, where skirts have occasionally blown above my head – thanks, wind), and just feels nicer to wear.

Most commercial garments are lined with a slippery polyester lining; I often prefer to use poplin cotton on dresses and skirts, since it’s more breathable, but poly is useful on tighter pencil skirts since it slides over the body more easily, and the same is true for jackets and coats for the same reason. For outerwear, a patterned lining can be a really nice detail especially if it coordinates or contrasts with the outer fabric; for example, I’ve used a narrow red/white striped satin on a red velveteen jacket, which was much more interesting than a plain lining would have been.

Where items aren’t lined, seams should always be finished appropriately to prevent ravelling. For the majority of commercial clothing, this is done through overlocking (serging), and this is perfectly acceptable, but French or flat-fell seams can be a higher-quality method of finishing without an overlocker. I’ve been sewing for years and years and tend to finish most of my clothes with French seams or overcasting (similar to overlocking but done with a sewing machine zig-zag stitch) as I’ve never owned an overlocker – at this point I think it's really just sheer boneheaded stubbornness (plus a teeny room with no space for an overlocker, oh yeah. My flatmate just suggested I could hang it from the ceiling). French seams are especially good for fine or delicate fabrics like chiffon or lace, as they enclose the raw edge completely inside another seam.

One of the final indications I use for interior finishing quality is the size of the stitches and seams. If stitches are too large, seams can pucker open and look unsightly; it’s also not as strong as smaller stitches. In general if sewing at home I’ll use a stitch length of around 2.5. High-street clothing often uses very small seam allowance, which is a cost-cutting method – reducing your seams down to 0.25” might not seem to save much fabric on one garment, but once thousands are cut out, they might be saving a considerable amount. In some cases this is fine, but smaller seams are less sturdy and if under pressure, could break open more easily. Additionally, a larger seam allowance means that if you need to slightly alter something to give a better fit, you have the leeway to do so.

Outer finishing: 
Outer finishing is one of the easier ways to evaluate quality. Is any visible top-stitching straight and even? Are buttons or trim sewn on correctly and sturdily, and do buttons line up with buttonholes? Are there threads left untrimmed, or embroidery/beading etc left loose? Even if something is well-constructed, sloppy finishing can make it look a lot lower quality and will reduce the integrity of the garment. Plus, nobody wants to wear something with crooked seams, it's just sad.

In the final part of this discussion, I'll cover trim, detailing, and manufacturing origin, and look at summing up whether brand = quality is as true as we think.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

In search of quality - part 1

Both in and out of lolita, quality of garments is something that matters a lot to me, so in starting a new blog about lolita/non-lolita fashion, it makes sense to me to begin with a discussion about quality. As a seamstress I’ve heard people say that my sewing is ‘better than brand’ but on the other hand, the lolita community seems fairly obsessed with Japanese brand being somehow magical quality (protip: it's not actually sewn by virgin nuns in the vampire romance moonlight OR imbued with the sparkling powers of unicorn dust and Rococo fairies, sorry to say. It'd be a lot more badass if it was). Part of this is to do with image; lolita fashion is incredibly details-focused, and if you’re going to dress in lace-festooned dresses, you want it to be the most delicately pretty lace money can buy. With the price of brand-name lolita being quite a bit higher than the average high-street retailer, you’d also expect it to be of much higher quality. But is all lolita worth the price? How does it measure up against non-lolita designer garb or home-sewn work? And how can you tell the difference, anyway?

Fabric - the base of fashion

This is one of the most important aspects of quality, since no matter how pretty a design is, if it's made in crappy polyester satin it'll look ugly as sin. Learning to evaluate fabric quality is one of the great side-effects of learning to sew, but you can pick it up without hunching over a sewing machine too. There’s a lot to consider with fabric – is it cotton, lace, wool or synthetic? Does it have a nice hand, a good weave, and is the thickness appropriate for the garment? In all honesty, evaluating fabrics is a lot easier when you’re shopping in-store rather than over the internet; you can study how the fabric drapes, hangs and crumples, how it feels against the skin and check its thickness. But even if you’re browsing online, all is not lost – there are still some ways to tell whether what you’re buying is worth the price.

Natural fibres versus synthetics: 
One of the easiest ways to evaluate fabric quality is to check the composition. This is usually listed on the label sewn into one of the seams, and most online stores also list composition. In general, I’m a big fan of natural fibres. Is silk chiffon always nicer than polyester? I’d love to say YES, but the truth is “not always” – good poly chiffon is easier to care for as you can hand-wash it rather than dry-cleaning and it’s a bit sturdier too. That said, if I’m shopping for a chiffon blouse I’d far prefer silk to polyester – synthetics are best used in garments like layered or gathered skirts or dresses, where the fullness and drape is more important than the simple fairy-gossamer beauty of the fabric.

For items like jumpers (sweaters), cardigans, jackets and coats, wool is best; merino knit wool is excellent for winter as it’s warm but breathable, and stays warm even if you get wet (am now imagining a sopping wet lolita looking as furious as a cat in a bathtub) while angora or cashmere in a jumper or cardigan promises super-softness. One of my favourite cardigans is a wool/silk blend, and is warm, soft and wonderfully breathable. Cotton knits are also excellent, and a bit of lycra blended into cotton can be excellent for shaping and fit, as otherwise pure cotton can stretch over time and go a bit baggy and nobody likes baggy knitwear, it's just a bit droopy and sad.

Cotton weaves are probably the most basic and versatile of fabrics, and can be found in a huge variety of lovely prints or solids. In summer, I love linen, but it doesn’t always work with the Lolita aesthetic – that said, a pretty cream or eggshell-blue linen skirt could work very nicely in a country/mori-esque coordinate along with an embroidered lace blouse and straw hat.

Can synthetics be used well? Of course. For some people, using synthetic fabric rather than wool and silk is an ethical way of avoiding animal products, while for others the cost of buying all-natural is simply prohibitive. I’d love to wear a petticoat made entirely of layers of silk chiffon, but not being Marie Antoinette, it’s hardly likely to happen (imagine how AMAZING it would be, like wearing a gossamer cloud). And while I have my own views on fur (I own a couple of vintage furs, but since going vegetarian I’m very unlikely to buy more and am utterly against fur farming), faux fur is often very good quality, far less expensive and used as a trim can look lovely. Silk satin is beautiful but super-expensive, so unless you’re making a wedding dress, nice polyester satin (not godawful costume satin, but thick, semi-matte satin) will do perfectly well. With new technology, both synthetics and natural fibres are being made into some super-amazing fabric – tencel, hemp and bamboo springing to mind (although imagining a hemp lolita coordinate is kind of breaking my brain).

Weave, texture and thickness: 
A while back, I bought some houndstooth polyester, since it was soft, cheap and I wanted a houndstooth circle skirt. Unfortunately, what I didn’t consider was the weave – being cheap, the threads were so loosely woven that when hung as a garment, the weight warped the fabric along the bias so the hem became hugely assymetrical (all was not lost as my flatmate loved it). In general, fabric ought to have a tight, even weave with no imperfections or looseness of threads. Some fabrics, like raw silk, are an exception to this rule – the imperfections in the weave are part of what makes the fabric so lovely. Fabric also ought to have a pleasant texture or “hand”; if it feels sandpapery and rough against your fingers, imagine how it’ll feel on your skin. For outerwear this is less important since a coat will usually be lined and layered over other clothes, but still consider the feel of the fabric if you can. Finally, look at the thickness of the fabric. Unless it’s meant to be thin or sheer, it shouldn’t be see-through. While it can be mitigated with lining, a fabric that’s too light won’t wear well and can’t be expected to last as long as something thicker.

Is the print crisp, properly aligned and well laid out on the garment? We’ve all heard horror stories about prints bleeding, and it happened to me with the BtSSB Parfait print – this is ridiculous to me given the cost and apparent quality of Lolita items. If fabric is dyed it should be even and not faded (unless it’s deliberately patterned), while prints ought ideally to match at the seams or at least be sewn to avoid clear mismatching.

Lolita brands usually use some form of cotton broadcloth, with occasional forays into velveteen, satin or chiffon (nearly always polyester). I’d love a silk chiffon lolita blouse, but I doubt it’s going to happen – in the meantime, you can find silk blouses from other non-lolita brands. Moitie uses a lot of poly chiffon, and classic brands such as Mary Magdalene often use cotton sateen, which is lovely – a thick cotton fabric made in a satin weave for a subtle shine. 

Lolita knits are usually cotton or cotton/polyester with the occasional wool-blend item, while coats tend to be either polyester or wool (I used to own a BtSSB Little Princess coat, which was thick, warm wool and was lovely but did make me feel a bit like I was wearing a seven-year-old's dressing gown). I love some of the textured cottons used, like the slightly dobby cotton used for Yumemiru Macaron, but in general I think lolita brands are a bit unimaginative with their fabrics and rely on prints for interest instead – this has gotten worse over the years, with some hugely sought-after prints like Sugary Carnival being super-thin broadcloth which really isn’t the greatest quality. 

If you're after quality fabric in lolita, try finding prints done on a textured fabric (Alice and the Pirates often use a textured cotton which is really lovely, as do Innocent World and occasionally Angelic Pretty) or a non-print item in wool or velveteen for winter, or chiffon or karami (a type of lightweight textured cotton) in summer. Otherwise try making your own with quality fabric - you could wind up with something really interesting and lovely.