Friday, March 27, 2015

Print Obsessed

As soon as I saw this pattern, I knew I wanted to add it to my collection.  

Of course, the weather was still a bit cold for a summer dress.  So I planned to make a modified version using the bodice pieces and some wool yardage.  Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately!) the weather turned, and all I had accomplished was a mock up of the bodice.  So there was a change of plans.

This pattern is drafted with multiple views - one is an off-the-shoulder design and the second includes sleeves and a yoke, but the bodice pieces remain the same.  The thing is, a strapless or off-the-shoulder dress bodice should be treated differently than one with sleeves that hang from the shoulders.

I ended up using the sleeves from the yoked version, and eliminated the yoke pieces.  A covered length of elastic keeps the sleeves in place.  The strapless version includes instruction for  ¼” elastic, but I substituted ¾” elastic and ended up shortening the elastic guide provided by approximately 1.5”.

I also added a few pieces of boning.  I suppose I could have fused some interfacing to all of the bodice pieces (this is mentioned in the directions), but that would make the dress rather stiff.  Instead, the boning keeps the back bodice from collapsing.  The neckline was also stayed with a length of seam binding.

A waist stay was added to the waistline.  And I just realized I am going to have to add a couple of ribbon hangers before I can call this dress finished!  But I am so, so close!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Change of Plans

My Alabama Chanin adventures continue . . .

I have a pink wool coating that I keep meaning to put to use.  The pattern changes from year to year, but this time around it was the BurdaStyle Shawl Collar Fit and Flare Coat.  I loved the design as soon as I saw it, and when Beth mentioned the very same pattern at a get together last year, I purchased a copy for myself.

I began working on a muslin, but the fit was not going to be right for the thick wool fabric, and I put it aside and was soon distracted by other projects and fabrics.  By the time I picked it up again, the weather made working with wool rather ridiculous.  Whoops.  There goes another winter season with no new coat.

But I did need a matching garment for my Alabama Chanin skirt, and this seemed like a possibility.  So I swapped out a single piece sleeve for the original, and got to work.

My main issue with the jacket construction what to do with the section of bodice front that is turned and becomes part of the collar.  I did not want the green side of the work to be visible for such a small portion of the piece because I was afraid it would look like a mistake.

I ended up adding an extra layer of blue jersey to the folded section.

My least favorite part of this process is the second line of stitching necessary to complete the felled seamlines.  There is a fair amount of bulk to contend with, which is not nearly as much fun as the appliqué.  But I do love the way it looks, so I am sticking with it!

And eventually, I will have a brand new outfit!

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Cost of Hand Sewing

I am still working away on my Alabama Chanin outfit.  Most days, this is the project that I am drawn to.  I find hand sewing to be very relaxing, and the cotton jersey seems to be extra kind to my fingertips.  I have no needle wounds on the pads of my fingers, even with daily sewing.  The skirt is finished, except for the waistband.  I did find a fold-over elastic that is a decent match to the sapphire blue cotton . . . now I just have to decided if I want to replicate the waistband of my first attempt, or go for the elastic.

I have also been contemplating Over-dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

I confess, I had a hard time reading large chunks of this book at a single sitting.  Normally, I devour books, but the subject matter was so disheartening to me, I could not manage to read more than one chapter at a time.  I finished reading it weeks ago, but I have yet to return the book to the library.  I feel very unsettled, and keep hoping to find some answer if I stare at the cover long enough.

What is clear is that ethical clothing made by workers earning a living (not minimum) wage is expensive.  Too expensive for anything except a niche market, catering to those who not only have the funds, but appreciate the effort and skill that goes into making them.  Throwing a designer name into the mix will certainly sell garments, but just because a Dior or Chanel tag is stitched to the back of a skirt does not make it haute couture, or even high quality.  So many consumers seem to be more interested in who they are wearing than what they are wearing these days.  What’s in a name?  I am much more interested in quality.  Which probably explains why I enjoy making my own clothing.

So I thought I would play a game with myself and try to figure out what this skirt I have made might actually cost in a shop . . . or rather, what it should cost. 

Alabama Chanin garments are sourced and made in the United States, are extremely labor intensive, the company compensates their artists with a living wage, and seemed like an interesting choice for this exercise.  I am also knocking off their skirt, so it was a rather obvious place to start!

My skirt requires approximately 3 yards of cotton, dye, a whole lot of heavy duty thread, a stencil, and many, many hours of labor.  Alabama Chanin has fabric, a means of dying their fabric so it is certainly more cost effective than their $26/yard price tag, thread, stencils, and a method of spraying the design directly on cotton a lot more efficiently than me.

I am not finding an exact match to my 31” long reverse appliquéd skirt for sale, but similarly embellished pieces are available on their site from $2,500 - $3,000.  That sounds like a lot of money for a cotton skirt, right?! 

If we say that a mid-length skirt will require approximately three yards of fabric and four spools of thread, Alabama Chanin sells these items for around $80.  That cost obviously factors in a profit, so I am going to guess the actual cost is around $20 or $30.  I am going to ignore the cost of the stencil.  So, if we are talking about a $2,000 garment, the supply cost seems rather negligible.  Clearly, the main cost is the skilled labor (as it should be!).

I started work on my skirt in early January.  Dying the fabric took most of a day.  Tracing my pattern pieces and cutting the fabric also took a chunk of time.  Making and cutting my stencil also adds a few hours to the total.  This process is obvious more streamlined for a company that is set up for it – I started from scratch, and am at the beginning of the learning curve. 

I was not keeping track of my sewing time, but for most of January I spent at least one hour a day with a needle in hand for this project.  Some days I spent considerably more time, and some days I had other things that took precedence and did not pick up the project at all.  I also made a few test swatches for myself to make sure I liked the result which added to my time.  So let’s call it forty hours, just for laughs.    

In California (where I live), minimum wage is $9/hour.  I am confident a “living wage” in Alabama is significantly higher than the mandated $7.25/hour minimum wage.  If I more than double that number and pay myself $15/hour for my 40 hours, that means I would be paid $600 for the piece.  Then, the $30 supply cost needs to be added.  That brings the total up to $630 with no profit of any kind.  If we multiply by four, that gets us to $2,520 – right around the cost of an original Alabama Chanin skirt. 

Most people would never dream of paying $2,000 for a cotton skirt, even if they could afford it.  But once you have created a well made or highly embellished garment that takes thirty or forty hours to produce, that number begins to sound reasonable. 

Much of this process, of course, would be more time efficient in the Alabama Chanin Factory.  I wish I knew how quickly one of the real Alabama Chanin skirts are stitched together.  But I simply cannot imagine that from start to finish, the highly embellished versions could take less than twenty or thirty hours of time.

I am not at all familiar with the way MSRP is calculated.  However, I am very familiar with the sale price insanity that pervades the U.S. retail industry, which so many of us have come to expect.  Every day I receive email notices of 25, 30, sometimes even 50% off retail prices.  With all of those 50% off sales, it is not hard to believe that manufacturers are selling their wares at four times the rate of cost to the manufacturer, or a 200% markup on top of the manufacturing costs.  I think (or like to think) that Alabama Chanin is paying more to their skilled workers, and using less of a mark-up, but I have no way of knowing that.

Personally, I do not consider my time when I make clothing for myself.  I love the process as a creative outlet, and can’t image not sewing.  To me, the "cost" of one of my hand made dresses is the money I spend on patterns, fabric, and notions.  But I would most certainly expect to be compensated for my time if I was to sell one of them.

Most of my new wardrobe pieces are hand-made, and have been for quite a few years now.  It has made me re-evaluate the retail world.  Last year I purchased two Old Navy cotton cardigan sweaters.  The price was low, but I cannot imagine how low the cost of labor must be in order to sell a garment for so little money.  It boggles my mind.  

I know this topic has been discussed ad nauseam.  Unfortunately, the demand for more and more clothing reflecting the latest trends each and every week means companies have an incentive to continue to produce fast fashion.

I doubt the seamstresses and tailors working on those glorious Worth gowns from the turn of the century were making good wages, but instead of fifty t-shirts, they were toiling over a single gown.  That is no longer feasible (and never was for the majority of the population to fill their closets).  Where can we find a balance?  

What would you pay yourself as an hourly wage for your hand work to feel sufficiently compensated?  What do you think is reasonable for a consumer to expect to pay?

It is upsetting that so very few artisans are paid according to their talent and skills.  Will this ever change?  I have to wonder what the men and women in the haute couture ateliers are currently paid.  

I am not really sure where I am going with this, but I just had to spell it out for myself. 

And as cliché as it sounds, they certainly don’t make things like they used to.  But I can, and will!

[This post is just a theoretical exercise.  I have no way of confirming any of my assumptions, other than the prices listed on the Alabama Chanin website and using a search engine to find out the minimum wage in Alabama.  I also think Natalie Chanin understands the fact that many people will never be able to afford her pieces, and I appreciate the fact that she has shared so much of her process through her books and classes.]

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fairy Tales

A few months ago, images of Disney’s Cinderella began surfacing.  Fifteen years ago, I would have been all about Cinderella’s pretty, pretty princess dresses.  And they are gorgeous - which is no real surprise.  Sandy Powell is responsible for some amazing costumes . . . Far From Heaven, The Wings of the DoveShakespeare in Love (except for the fact that I cannot get over that Oscar ridiculousness - Cate Blanchett was ROBBED!).

Speaking of Cate Blanchett - look at these dresses!!  Hello, Ceil Chapman!  I want/need to play dress up in this world.  

There is definitely a 1940s and 1950s flavor thrown into the mix, which I love - shocker, I know!

I rarely go to the movies, but I may just have to see this visual feast on the big screen. 

And I have to admit that the stepsisters costumes are pretty great, too.  How did they make those cage crinolines?!

I just love all of the color coordination for individual characters.

Thank you, glorious costumes, for the jolt of creative inspiration.  

These pieces are pure fantasy.  And the colors are brilliant!  Why do I suddenly feel the need to go watch some old Technicolor movies?  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Anyone need a napkin?

This blouse is my first foray into McCall’s Archive Collection.  And I know some people think that neck-tie designs have a tendency to look like you are wearing a napkin . . . but I love them!  I suppose slurping tomato soup might present some problems while wearing this particular blouse, but I can work around that.

The description of this pattern includes the phrase “loose-fitting.”  

It may have something to do with my fabric choice (not very drapey) or perhaps the underbust seamline, but I was unable to get the garment on my collapsible shoulder dress form (which is smaller than me).  This was rather distressing.  Thankfully, I can get it on my own body without any issue.  Strangely enough, the sleeves are a bit loose, which may be a first for me.  

But that is what a muslin is for!

I wonder how popular these Archive patterns are since there are no new designs included in the latest catalog release.  What do you think of the newest reproduction collection?

I think McCalls made a mistake not including the original illustrations.  Perhaps they are trying to appeal to a wider audience (although the model photos on the envelope are clearly styled with a retro flair), but the vintage drawing are so pretty . . . why not use them?

Has anyone come across the original 1933 pattern?  I have not been able to find the original online.

But in any event, I am very pleased with the way my wearable muslin turned out, and I definitely plan on making this again.  And in the interest of more readily available 1930s blouse designs, I hope the Archive Collection continues.

Blouse:  Made by me, McCalls 7053
Skirt:  Made by me, McCalls 2698
Shoes:  Oh Deer
Brooch:  Monet

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Something Simple

In desperate need of a quick and easy project after this dress and this outfit, I pulled out McCalls 7053.

And I had the perfect fabric for a wearable muslin - just over two yards of a striped fabric I picked up during a fabric swap.

No underlining, closures, or alterations to contend with.

Of course, I ended up hand rolling the hem of the front ties, and binding the raw edges with seam binding, so perhaps this was not the quickest project in the world, but still a whole lot less labor intensive than my last!  Which was exactly what I needed!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Two Piece

No bikinis here . . . just my new outfit.  This one is going to get a lot of wear, thanks in part, of course, to the fact that it is two pieces!

I am so glad I had enough fabric to make the combo.  I would have been happy with just the skirt, but now there are so many more possibilities.

Perhaps this means 2015 will be the year of separates.  I have plans for lots of skirts and blouses . . . we shall see how that goes!  The lure of so many pretty dress patterns may stop me in my tracks.  

The bodice lining wants to peak out at the back neck opening, so I am going to add a line of pick-stitches to keep everything in place.  A neckline obviously needs under-stitching, but I completely forgot about the center back slit.

The other change I might make, if I get around to it, is to weight the hem of the top.  The wool is rather lightweight, even with the addition of a silk organza underlining.  It has a habit of “catching” on the wool of the skirt waistband.

My main concern with the skirt was that a lack of a center back vent might make it difficult to wear.  The good news is that a godet works nicely in place of a back slit or vent.  If I try to take a really large step I start to feel a bit of restriction, but not enough to make the skirt uncomfortable.  I foresee more of this alteration in my skirt-making future!

Top:  Made by me, Vogue 4203 (altered)
Skirt:  Made by me, McCall 2698
Shoes:  Miss L Fire, “Rosita
Earrings & Brooch:  Gift from mom