Goodnight, Oscar

I woke up this morning to the news that Oscar de la Renta had died, and I’ve spent most of the morning thinking about his work. He’ll always be king of the ballgown in my mind. Gowns are tricky business because there’s so much fabric involved, and a woman can easily look overwhelmed by the dress. I think this is why most gowns are fitted through the bodice, strapless, and sleeveless — this helps reduce the impact of fabric to the feet. And solid colors dominate because that much printed fabric can really work against the woman wearing the dress.

But Oscar had the knack for breaking these typical rules and making it beautiful. Take, for example, this showstopper from Fall 2013.


The scale on the print suits the scale of the garment, and the end result is that the print is appealing rather than overwhelming. And that pink! What a gorgeous color. The first time I saw this dress, I thought of bright pink flowers climbing a weathered garden gate. The overall effect is gorgeous and sophisticated without being dull.

He did amazing things with florals, too. In my mind, he’ll always be the guy who could make a floral ballgown that didn’t look mumsy or silly. There was sophistication in the way he handled these prints. I was always partial to this one, Spring 2011.

oscar_de_la_renta spring 2011

Check out the matching gloves and the detail on the shoes. I’m not big on matchy-matchy looks, but this one feels fresh instead of labored. Love it.

Few of us have the occasion to wear these kinds of dresses, but even so, it was great entertainment to see these works of art come down the runway or red carpet. We lost one of the greats yesterday.



Speaking of jade…

On a recent fabric stash-dive for cotton prints to make pajama pants, I spotted a 2-yard cut of a simple cotton broadcloth with red flowers on a jade background. Out of curiosity, I pulled out my jade wrap cardigan to see how these might look together.

005I like that. I tend to be a little hesitant about mixing prints and textures, but I think that lace and that particular print read pretty well together.

Now, I have only to decide which shirt pattern to make from that cotton. Or should I make a sleeveless dress? Is that too much print for a dress? I recently picked up this Butterick 6066 pattern and could make this sleeveless dress:


If that print is too much for a dress, I might make this Simplicity 1590 retro shirt instead.


Decisions, decisions. One thing is for sure, though. I appear to like this particular jade green more than I was ever aware! Who knew!





McCall’s 6697 Shortening the pattern

mccalls6697backWhen I first saw McCall’s 6697, I knew I had to make it in black and white. It’s a striking design and would be perfect as a summer maxi for both my climate and my lifestyle. I love the way the stripes swirl around the body, and the fit — moderately close above the waist, full and fluid below the waist — would be cool and comfy. I picked up some white and black jersey with a bit of lycra, and as it prewashed, I studied the pattern to try to figure out how to shorten this thing.

I’m only 5’3″, and I have to shorten all my patterns. It’s second nature by now. But this pattern stumped me just a little. The pieces are cut in such a way that it was difficult for me to visualize the placement of the waistline, for example. This is not the pattern’s fault, but mine. I just couldn’t see how the pieces would lay on the body sufficiently well.

So I made a paper copy of all pattern pieces on sturdy tracing paper and pinned the pieces together along the seam lines. I like doing paper fittings like this from time to time because it’s a quick and dirty way to check fit before cutting the fabric. It’s not perfect and I don’t recommend it for close-fitting garments or things that require precise fitting, but it works well enough for general fitting checks.  In this case, I discovered right away that I would need to lose about 5 inches of length below the waist. Above the waist seemed more or less okay.

If you look at the pattern photo above, you’ll see that below the knee on the right, there is an inset gore. There are actually two of these gores, one on either side. These are the pieces that provide the flare and fluidity in the skirt, and I didn’t want to lose any of that motion and fullness. So I knew I didn’t want to lose much length at the hem, if I could avoid it. I decided to do the shortening right above the inset gore pieces. That gore piece measure 23″ from raw hem edge to tip. So, for all the full-length pattern pieces — that is, the ones that extended from bodice to hem — I measured 23″ from the hem along both seam edges and took the 5″ out from that point. (If you’re making this pattern, piece ten was the exception to the 23″ measure. If you look at piece 10, you’ll see why right away — its shape doesn’t follow the same general principle as the rest of the long pieces. For that one, I took five inches out from the spot where it would disrupt the seams the least.)

002Here’s what the pattern looks like when laid on the black jersey. The triangular piece is the gore, and I laid it beside one of the pattern pieces just for a visual reference. You can clearly see the blue grainline marking on that piece and see that it’s not laid on the grain! But it is laid next to the pattern piece where it would be seamed, something I did to check that I wasn’t approaching this incorrectly. On the long pattern piece, that bright white stripe to the right is the place where I overlaid the cut halves of the shortened pattern pieces to tape them back together. You can see that the white patch is above the point where the gore seam will end, which was my goal. I wanted to take the length out just above the gores. After I cut apart a pattern piece to shorten it, I used the grainline markings to keep everything straight while retaping. Then I regraded the side seams, which didn’t require much work because most of them only needed minor adjustments of around an eighth of an inch.

This turned out to be a pretty handy way to shorten a real puzzle of a pattern — I mean puzzle in the sense that the pieces all have to fit together just so, not puzzle in the sense that it’s confusing. If any of you were thinking about making this one but were unsure how to go about shortening it, maybe this will help you.