Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire

mourning crape Met exhibitThe current fashion exhibition at the Met Museum in NYC covers the mourning clothes for (ostensibly rich) women between 1815-1915. It even includes mourning outfits from Queen Victoria [she never did quite got over the death of old Bertie…].


I’m going with some friends to check it out, and it should be rather lovely. From the looks of it the space is all high fashion stark white with the intention of adding drama to the mourning crapes and silks.

There’s nothing like saying to the world “Look at me, filled with all the respectable tristesse, and don’t I look fabulous whilst doing it” [insert veil swish]

A bit of history on the old Victorian mourning traditions [as I have come to understand it]:

  • It’s spelt ‘crape’ with a ‘a’ to infer clothes for mourning, though any other time you’d be correct in spelling it ‘crepe’.
  • You want your clothes and accessories BLACK, crimped and you want them DULL. No shiny show-off, stuff thank you very much.
  • You’re going to stay like that for 2.5 years… if you’re a widow, well for the 1st year at least, then over the period of the final 1.5yrs you were expected to s-l-o-w-l-y transition back into colourful society. BRING ON THE SHINY JET BUTTONS. However, feel free to stick to it for life…

I’ve searched around to see why crepe became the go-to option, but came up empty beyond the Georgian era using crape. If you know write in the comments to let me know! I’m imagining some marketing racket from jobbers who needed to get rid of a boatload and made it fashionable to sell.

As for the fabric itself, crepe gets it’s distinctive texture from how it’s woven. Traditionally made from tightly spun weft yarns wound alternately in an ‘S’ and ‘Z’ formation, when it’s released from the loom the fabric springs back as the yarns attempt to relax. It is this high-tensile structure that creates the spongy texture that is found in crepe. It can also be created by playing around with the warp/weft tension during looming, when released the fabric relaxes and the yarns are pushed out in a bubbled texture (think seersucker). The third style of crepe I know of is using chemical processes, which creates the rippled fabric that reminds me of crepe paper: they take a gauze, cover it in setting liquid, pop it in a cylinder or some kind of embossed template and bake it with a super high heat – much like permanent pleated is still done today.

There is a fourth method I found whilst fact checking the above, but personally it sounds more like boucle, and as I’m the author of this post I’m going to be a nay-sayer and discount it [FYI it’s created with uneven slubbed yarns that are loosely woven to create the texture].

I’m quite partial to a traditional wool crepe, myself. I like the way the texture gives depth to the colour. Unfortunately due to it’s texture I also look like a yeti made of cat hair.

The exhibition runs through the Winter until February 1st 2015.

Update! Christine of Thread Cult podcasts has interviewed co-curator, Jessica Regan, & it’s a fabulous interview that gives context behind the exhibit.mourners

Petit Theatre Dior

I have a soft spot for Dior. More precisely mostly what came out of the house prior to the latest designer… still trying to warm to his style and take on the label. Whilst I try and find a place in my heart for Raf Simons, you should check out their site which released two gorgeous ‘making of’ videos on their latest exhibition in China (back in June, I’m so late to the party that everyone has already gone home…).



All Haute Couture replicas of classic Dior gowns from throughout the century that were crafted at 1/3 size of their original counterparts. Doll collectors, hold yourselves steady!

All hand crafted, down to the itty bitty little flowers. It comes across as a very meditative process, however I’m sure the atelier see’s it’s fair share of nightmarish hours during collection time.

Personal favourite of the videos is the ‘Mexique’ from A/W 1951.

Oh to be at that exhibition in China…. sigh.


P.S Thank you to my cousin Katherine, for sending me the link to these videos!


Duathlon Kittens

I made some Fehr Trade Duathlon leggings and I really like them. Kapow!


The side-panel-pocket is a nifty bit of engineering that reeled me in and you can play around with it using different prints or colours. It took 3 [wearable] muslins to nail the fit to my liking, which is fine as it was a worthwhile exercise [pun intended]. So here’s my mini adventure [in which I only learn my lesson in pair number 3].

Pair number 1:

I did the full capri length and usually go with a straight size on any first attempt to get a gauge of the cut of the pattern, but for some reason I messed about with it straight away. I graded from a small at the waist to a large on the hip and leg, also increased out the back rise length on the inner thigh. I thought I had supplex but I’m pretty sure it’s milliskin matte.

The results: A general loose feeling. The shaping for the knees hit much lower on my legs [mostly because I have stumps for legs]; front rise had excess fabric; too baggy around the outer thighs] fabric pooling under the buttocks; straining on the lower part of my cheeks; centre back waistline pulling down by a couple of inches. I have a full droopy bottom in comparison to my front rise.

It droops quite significantly. You could lose pencils under those cheeks.

red leggings 1

The general loose feeling wasn’t too surprising as the fabric tested with more stretch than the pattern was developed for – I know better but I never take heed. To make them more wearable post muslin, I evened out the waistline, ran them through my serger and lopped off a good 1.5cm’s off the inseam, followed by redoing the crotch line, scooping at my bottom for good measure, which is what you can see in the photos above. Job done. Good enough.

Pair number 2:

I took it down a size to a medium; moved the knee line up by a few inches; added height to both the front and back rise so that they would finish up just below my natural waist as pair #1 sat unevenly on me. For the crotch shape I pulled out a pair of RTW leggings that fit [reasonable] well and compared the shape and messed about with the front, scooping the back crotch to accommodate said buttock droop.

I will admit I was over zealous with the measurements in my changes for #2. I remember feeling rather gung-ho about it all by that point. Out came my kitten print fabric [they were practically neglected by this point and I’m sure the ASPCA we’re about to knock my door down because of it] and went to work.

I even put a little kitten piping on the side and waist for extra jazzyness.

kitten leggingsCreepy kitten eyes staring out at you.

Pair #2 turned out good, but I knew it could be better. I annotated the pattern with further changes, stood back and saw I had frankensteined it beyond recognition. I do like to go all around the houses with some things. So I put it away.

At this point I had done the first few of my Zombies, Run! 5K sessions in the red pair so I already knew the pattern was worth revisiting. Just. One. More. Time. The side pocket feature meant I no longer get my arms tangled in my earphone cables, or get chub rub from wearing an armband! [sad face for the chub rub].

Pair number 3:

A few days ago I picked up my mess of a pattern whilst wearing the kittens and drank some tea. The logic I should have stuck to from the start: the fuller the persons’ bottom the more the back leg pattern needs to slant towards the out-seam to accommodate the body shape the fabric has to cover, rather than just increasing the pattern upwards in a vertical fashion. So I kept the additional length on the crotch rise but took it back to near its original point on the side seam and smoothed it out. Cut down to a size small all over to accommodate the stretchier fabric, and calmed the voice of reason wagging its index finger at me.

Whatever finger wagger. Check theez out.

leggings 3

Making this last pair I still messed about with the pattern, but hear me out! Whilst wearing #1 I noticed is that the width of the pocket is perfect for my phone, but I would get a little nervous about it just slightly poking out of the top of the slot if I was too energetic. Enter the idea of a small overlap!


Whilst cutting out #3 I added an extra 3/4″ to the length of the upper side panel with the idea of folding it back over the opening of the slot pocket. Then I got all silly and decided to use some power-net I have for just the pocket area so my skin can breathe more and not get my phone damp.

The story of the sports bra is for another time.


Queue for the zoo summer PJ’s

Queue for the zoo ruffleEnough of the doom and gloom of the last post, let’s go to another extreme of the emotional spectrum: unexplained excitement and enthusiasm for a presser foot I am not likely to ever use again!

I’m used to the gentle temperate weather of good ol’ Blighty, where you can get away with a year-round feather duvet in bed. However East Coast USA is not quite as forgiving and I find myself sweltering at night because I insist on wearing PJ’s all year round. My favourite lightweight ones had finally died an embarrassing death [irreparable rip up the backside!]. Sad face.I used what I had to hand: McCalls 5992 PJ bottoms, Simplicity 1693 for the top, and Liberty lawn fabric. Nice and simple, but once I finished it I thought it needed a little something extra.

I pulled out the Gathering foot for my overlocker to play with it & settled on a ruffle at the hem of the top. If you already knew about this presser foot you can stop here and go have a cup of tea/martini and chill out until the next time I post.

Here’s the official AMAZING tutorial from Brother on how to set it up [it’s all in the first minute] the music just makes it:

If you don’t want to watch it the machine setting changes I made for the Brother 1034D model are as follows:

Pop in the Gathering foot [it came with the machine when I bought it years ago]. FYI press the button at the back of the foot holder to make sure the foot clicks into place.

Knobs and button settings as follows:

Differential feed: 2

Stitch length: 3 – 4

Stitch width: 4 [between the R & 5].

Needle thread tension: 4

Looper threads tension: 4 and 6

You may want to lessen the presser foot tension it a little – turn the knob anti-clockwise a turn or two. The blade will still be up to trim the edge before it gets sewn together.

Fabric placement: the fabric that gets gathered goes on the bottom, the fabric you want to attach it to goes into the middle slot in the presser foot. Hold them in place and then get stitching! It will feed through and gather as you go, be careful not to pull the bottom fabric.


If you leave enough tail threads you can loosen the gathers by gently pulling them out, just like you would in any form of gathering.

Play around with the looper tension to increase or decrease the amount it gathers.

The ratio is technically 1:2, of gather to flat fabric, However it will according to the weight of the fabric you use, so just be careful before you go and use this for a pattern pieces that join together as it may not gather to the correct length!




Review: PM171 Pattern Grading Misses’ and Womenswear

A review of PM171 Pattern Grading Class, the one in which the mind boggles.

Class Description: “Introduction to manual pattern grading and marker-layout techniques. The students learn how to apply grade measurements proportionally to all the pieces within a pattern.”


Now I have ummed and ahh’d over writing this post for many reasons, the main one being that this review is not of the most positive light. Those of you who follow me on twitter certainly read about it every Thursday evening and have an idea of where I’m about to go with this.

I have been ‘nervous’ about writing a frank and honest review. I’ve re-written this post several times, editing it down each time. It’s been a nice form of therapy and to ensure this is not a character assassination. By the time I press publish it will most likely have gone from emotional ranting into a more constructive review.

I want to point out that I was actually very excited to get some more formal training on grading from an industry perspective. Maybe not the sexiest subject for some, but I like it.

What was covered on grading (only grading 2 sizes up and down from the pattern piece given):

  • Basic women’s bodice: waist dart, side seam dart, French dart, princess seam.
  • Short sleeve kimono bodice
  • Straight skirt (like pencil skirt) and princess seam skirt
  • Basic Sleeve, 1 piece sleeve
  • Mens’ back pant/short [it’s a womenswear course & apparently there’s a difference]
  • Shirt front & placket and marking to match stripes
  • Marker making for bison pocket (welt pocket)
  • Examples of cutting layout & how to prep for a cutting layout

This list may look extensive, but it isn’t nearly as intense as it seems, especially when you consider each class is 4 hours long, for 15 weeks.

I can say with confidence that the sum of what was relevant to grading patterns and went towards the final exam could have been taught in 5 weeks. Max. Instead it was a 15 week onslaught of sitting through 3-4 hour ‘lectures’ that barely scratched the surface of grading and left a whole class of frustrated and perplexed students.


We were told that we have to understand how the body grows in order to understand how and why the patterns grade as they do [makes sense]. However the professor then failed to follow through and explain those principles to us. It was like being left with a cliff-hanger, only there’s no season 2 to round off the story.

A few students dropped out entirely from the class. Some barely turned up, not that it mattered, homework wasn’t graded beyond the 2nd class, nor was registration taken until the Professor gave out the final exam. I could have easily not attended most of the classes and still have the same knowledge and spared myself the torture. That really sucks.

It was so bad that not long into the semester I would look around the class and see fellow students – who clearly did want to learn something- resorting to reading or watching movies on their tablets.

I would say this: the professor clearly has a lifetime of experience that is invaluable, but either lacks the ability to teach or has lost his vim to impart knowledge. We were given stories and anecdotes from his life, not always relevant to the fashion industry. Students were keen enough to try and steer the content back towards grading with useful questions, however it would fail at every attempt. In one example, he did his best to avoid answering how to grade a basic raglan sleeve, for no apparent reason.


It is frustrating, to say the least, to spend nigh on $600, and sit through 60 hours only to come out at the end realising there was only relevant value to ⅓ of the classes. There’s been a definite bell curve of emotions from yours truly, I can tell you. I can’t even begin to think how livid I would be if I were an out-of-state student [they pay full price].

Now I hear some of you say – why didn’t you say anything? Some students did, within 3 weeks of class starting, however we were reminded not only by the professor but also by the school that he is faculty, he has been there for decades and he is also on the board… ’nuff said there, I can read between the lines.

I got to the point where I really questioned the validity of the certificate program and whether my desire for that piece of paper really even mattered. I’m not a novice at patternmaking, I have been doing this for a few years, and I’m taking these courses as validation of my skills and to pick up some more industry techniques whilst I’m able to study at FIT. It’s also not like i’m training to be a medical practitioner who would have peoples lives in my hands (now there’s a scary thought,  Mwoa ha ha!).


Why was it so bad? A distinct lack of relevant content. An abundance of anecdotes that have little to no bearing on educating the students on the topic at hand. A person who clearly knows a lot and has decades of experience, but is not a capable teacher in any capacity and even on occasions would withhold the valuable information that would make this class worthwhile.

I’ve been pointed towards a couple of books in the FIT library that provides all the information that the class covered and more, so I headed there before my Spring pass expired and did some hardcore note-taking. Heck, I would rather have spent the course fee on 1 book rather than what I experienced in this class.

I know of a different Professor, who is to quote another student ‘some hot-shot from Theory’, that teaches every now and then and gets good feedback, so keep an eye out for that one. Or you could temporarily move and take Jen from Grainline Studio‘s class at Columbia College, Chicago.

p.s I am in email conversation with the department, imparting my thoughts and attempting to be as constructive in my criticism as possible, because I love educational institutions and I love attending classes!

Review: PM233 Womenswear 3

My review of PM233 a continuation from PM122.

FIT Description: “Utilizing the basic slopers, students develop additional patterns for style variations using the slopers developed in PM 121. Patterns are developed for bodice, torso, and sleeves. A variety of skirt slopers are developed. Pattern corrections are made according to fit, balance, and specification measurements. Final patterns and fabric samples acceptable for mass production are created.”


A number of fellow students from previous classes were there, which gave a nice camaraderie, also Grace, from the blogosphere [fyi, she has some serious quilting skillz]!IMG_0520

Luckily for me we were taught in the same room as PM122, so I was reunited with my form. That saved me a lot of work, as students from other classrooms had to play catch up and get a fitted basic sloper from a new form whilst also working on their weekly projects.


Right, back to course content! It’s a full semester of 15 or so weeks covering: basic bodice, straight skirt, wrap skirt, skirt with ‘swirly’ yokes, flared skirt, godet skirt, torso sloper, dartless sloper, shirt and blouse variations, vest, finally trousers and drafting jumpsuits!

Which is funny because I’d already completed some jumpsuit variations for a client in January. Jumpsuits are all de rigeuer for Summer ’14.


At first it does feel a little repetitive, but you do gain new insights and different styles of working on patterns from different professors. It also moved at a faster pace.


The grand finale was a mystery project. There were 5 or 6 styles that were stuffed into envelopes and then we picked at random. I got a pair of cargo style trousers reminiscent of the 90s.

In the words of Kath & Kim:

Each element in the final project had been covered in a previous projects so it was just a matter of piecing elements together. It was nice to see this progression from the previous classes, where students were spoon fed the steps to complete the exam.


The professor was again, like the others I’ve met at FIT, knowledgable and experienced. She has a no-nonsense approach to getting the work done, but also a sense of humour. Importantly she had a great manner when assessing homework; providing insight and open to answering additional questions, so you got the opportunity to learn from any mistakes.

Overall I enjoyed this class, but I have to remind myself that I totally nerd out on this stuff. If this were part of a hobby, I would probably be peeved with the amount of homework that has to be produced [each project was not only drafted but also sewn up as a full sample] on a weekly basis. If you want to get more of glance into industry methods this adds another small step – I swear they only give you a tiny peep into it each class.