The Sewist

I sew, knit and crochet hats. (Not all at the same time. Whaddaya think I am - a machine?)

Friday, September 29, 2006

17 Christian Dior

Ever since I read a story about the Chicago History Museum's Christian Dior exhibit in yesterday's Chicago Tribune, I've been trying to get my head wrapped around the idea of owning 17 dresses designed by the most well-known haute couture designer in the post World War II era. Dior is responsible for introducing what's known as the "New Look" with teeny waists, full skirts, enormous hats, in another words, a full-scale rebellion of the lean look during the war. Apparently, the museum has more than a dozen dresses from 1947-1957 that were owned by choreographer Ruth Page. "At the time she was purchasing them, 17 Dior dresses were an enormous investment because each cost as much as a new car," the museum's costume curator he told the Tribune. Quite honestly, buying more than two weeks' worth of frocks from one designer seems extravagant even by today's standards, although surely they don't each equal the expense of a brand-new automobile now. Somehow, I'm trying to picture where Page wore all these dresses: the opening of The Nutcracker at the Arie Crown Theater, dinner at the Italian Village, a welcoming party for Rudolf Nureyev after he defected from the U.S.S.R, to the grocery store to buy a 1/2 pound of sliced ham for a luncheon sandwich at home, a day in the office going over book-keeping with the accountant. Where else? I'm trying to picture day-to-day life in post-war Chicago. Ok, maybe to Marshall Field's to buy more dresses? I've run out of ideas. Where would I wear these dresses? I honestly don't know. These frocks would probably spend more time in my closet gossiping with each other than on my body. What about you?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Slippery Slope

Over here in this corner of our vintage "Undergarments of the 20th Century" we have a slip, which is defined by the Webster's Dictionary as a "loose garment worn under a woman's dress." This undergarment was commonly worn by women, teenage girls, and any female of the human species of old enough to wear a dress or a skirt."
I'm being somewhat facetious talking about the slip as part of a museum exhibition. It's already been done, as a cursory Google search has indicated. Unfortunately, my young nieces and nephews would bored with such a show. My young niece, age 6, wrinkled her little nose when I suggested that she could wear a slip under a crocheted skirt I was thinking of making her. She was thinking of wearing a pair of shorts instead. Somehow shorts under a see-through lacy skirt makes me think of Madonna in her permed hair days. I must shake that thought!
This is a long-winded way of launching a discussing of my survey results on slips. Last week I asked you all how often you wore slips. Nearly 28 percent of you (and there were 46 of you who cared enough about this topic to respond) checked "I despise slips. I don't own a single one" box. Another 13 percent tell me you'll don one once a month. Approximately 48 percent told me exactly how you feel about this sometimes sticky undergarments. Here are my favorite answers:
  • I don't actualy (sp) own any slips but lately I am wearing more skirts and dresses and thinking that slips would be wonderful. I may buy one. (As an aside, eBay is a great source of slips. You can also find a plentiful supply at the thrift stores. Go on a Monday and get them for half-price. A half-slip for half-price. Hee hee.)
  • I would wear them more often if I could find ones I like! I need several lengths and colors but are hard to find. My one awsome 50s red vintage slip I wear maybe 4-5 times a year. (I didn't correct the spelling here. It should be awesome with two ees. Notice I have an old ruby slip pictured above which is up for auction on the aforementioned eBay. What's the attraction to these things? I saw one recently at Viva Vintage with a black poodle applique. It was so cute!)
  • This is one male knitter who doesn't wear slips. (Thankfully! Although I've wondered about Mel Gibson when he wears a kilt. That wool can be awfully scratchy.)
  • Whenever I'm wearing a skirt that's not lined. The ghost of my grandma would haunt me if I didn't wear a slip under a skirt. Any skirt! (Amen, sister. My mother who is very much alive bugs me when I don't wear one.)
That's it for now. Until the next post, you might want to check out this Freudian slip.
I actually believe this would be a great Halloween costume (a tad chilly unless you're at a party where there are lots of people and alcohol. You could even make your own version of this slip. Add a man's silk robe and a stethoscope; buy a pair of pincenez from an antique store. Be sure to tell everyone you can analyze their dreams. For a price, of course!)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Lisa W. loved having front passenger seat of her HHR SUV all to herself. As the mother of three children under the age of five, it really was the only place she could call her own. The closet that she converted into a sewing nook when she first got married to Howard had since been overtaken by a tribe of My Little Pony dolls and a shelf overflowing (and I mean overflowing) with thin little books that only appeal to the toddler set. So all of her fabric, which had been neatly rolled up like little towelettes and arranged by color, was now sitting in a "Pet Gold Plus Cat Litter'' plastic tub on a top shelf in the aforementioned closet. Lisa also used to have the back-porch as an exercise centre: she had a stationary bike there with a calendar tacked to the wood wall. There she tracked her minutes on the bike. Now, five years after the fact, the bike is used a rack for drying bathing suits and towels year-round (the kiddies have swimming lessons in the fall and the winter). And the calendar dated 2003 is somewhere on the floor covered with fall leaves that somehow meandered into the porch.
Anyhow, Lisa was happy to have the front passenger-seat to herself. She figured the law required it! After all, children weren't allowed to sit there, they had to be belted into the back into their mandated seats. So that passenger seat became her craft center: six swatches from Emmaonesock were carefully draped so she could gaze at them during traffic stops, the ribbing from a sweater in another seat quadrant. Oh yes, a few jazz CDs from the Barrington Library were in another neat little stack (until the next close-call with another SUV, of course). Oh, Daren, Layla and Mia hated when Ella Fitzgerald started to warble, but sometimes it was the only thing to calm them when the highway home from the pediatrician's office morphed into the dreaded Dominick's parking lot. Besides, it was a chance for Lisa to pick up the swatches, particularly that lovely soft, stretch-corduroy brown/gold/mulberry striped fabric. She could see that as a cute jumper for Layla if she only had the time....

Monday, September 25, 2006

What If the Hat
Doesn't Fit?

This hat is my favorite out of the 63 entries on the If the Hat Fits
web site. I've been checking for what has felt like seemingly weeks to see when they would upload the latest virtual exhibit. This week, I see they finally have the August 2006 show up and rolling. Yahoo! This is a site that's most definitely worth bookmarking if you dig hats as I do. You've got folks from all over the world (but not the universe) knitting, crocheting and molding straw and felt to make the most incredibly unique chapeaux. What's so refreshing is how unserious the hats are. Some are downright silly, the kind of thing you might slap on for a bobsled ride or to buy a gallon of 2 percent milk at the corner bodega. But this hat by Rhonda Sharkie (pictured above) had me right from the hearty HELLO it practically bellowed at me from the computer screen. I just want to study that honey-mustard yellow straw and the matching swoops of feathers like they're sculptures in a museum. And that flower? I must ZOOM in like there's no tomorrow to see the detail on this bloom. It looks like the petals are crafted from starched bits of multi-colored silk. Clever! Now would you wear this cocktail hat even though you *know* that the feathers are going to flirt with the ceilings, doorway jambs, and any tall man that dares to stand behind you? Can you stand to have a hat that's kissing behind your back? I'll bet those feathers won't pose a problem for a certain buyer, who's certain to fall deeply in love with this chapeau from the moment he or she sees it.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Dress A Day? Maybe.
See the poll results.

Sixty of you participated in my poll on dresses. I asked how often you wear dresses. Most of you (43.3 percent) opted to tell exactly what you think of frocks. The answers were riveting, and definitely perked me up on this rather kitchen-spoon grey day. A couple of you said dresses are an everyday affair; on the opposite end, a few of you only wear dresses when the occasion demands it at a funeral or a wedding. Another told me that she's a housewife and hasn't worn a dress in eight years. Still another respondent says the only dress she owns is a Civil War reproduction, and she doesn't even own a skirt. My favorite response? "I wear them 3 or 4 times in a month although I love dresses, my problem is I can't find a well fitting dress, my buttom, my waist and my breasts being 3 different sizes. So I wear skirts on an everyday basis." Now there's a bonafide excuse if you ever needed one! But then again you could choose a free-flowing dress that fits at the bust and ignore those two other measurements down south. What about dresses and I? I adore mostly looking at them - I have very few in my closet. I mostly wear jeans or skirts. But I often daydream about sewing or crocheting a dress. I just don't want to deal with the hem if I stitch up one on my sewing machine. Making sure it hangs evenly is just one really BIG nightmare in my mind. By the way, the empire-waist dress pictured above? It was snapped a few weeks ago near Water Tower in Chicago. The wearer tells me she bought it in Chicago. Would you wear something like this?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

This short-sleeve knit dress, believe it or not, is from the 1960s or 70s, this gal tells me. It's hard to believe. It looks so contemporary, maybe something Missoni would have done on the fly for its lower-priced bridge line. And the zipper! I love zippers from 20-30 years ago. They're nice and hefty,very substantial. This vintage frock cost a mere $30 at a vintage shop in the Bucktown area. While this gal wore her dress with a pair of Mary Janes at the previously mentioned fundraiser event, it's kind of outfit that you could dress down. I could see it with a flaming red-leather jacket and matching boots. For a less attention-getting route, you could opt for brown leather boots and a fitted stressed-denim jacket.
What do you have in your closet from two or three decades ago that you could wear now and people would say, "Omigod-where-did-you-get-that-I-want-one-too."? (This is said really fast like it's one word, by the way). I saw a college graduate the other wearing a pair of rouge leather cowboy boots that her aunt wore in the 1980s that look like they could have been bought at Nordstrom's last week save for the really worn heels. I tried on what I now call my "Dynasty" dress the other day and it still fits, although it's more snug across the hips than when I wore regularly to friends' weddings. But with the refrigerator-wall thick shoulder pads, and a peplum that exaggerates my backside, plus the aforementioned fit on the south end of my bod, I'm not going to wear it anywear just now. Back to my question, what are you wearing now from the era when Madonna Ciccone tossed her last name out of the window and arched her Brooke Shields-thick eyebrows and sang, "Like a Virgin?"

Friday, September 22, 2006

In Praise of
White Eyelet

I snapped this photo at last week's fundraiser. I just adored this white eyelet top that this gal was wearing. It's clearly meant for blazing hot weather, but this gal simply layered it over a white t-shirt for a little more coverage and warmth. That's something I would do just to get more wear out of my favorite fabric. I like the aprony style of this halter top (I think it's from the Gap, where I almost never shop anymore); it's reminiscent of those 1930s apron patterns you often see on Ebay. Instead of being made up in one of those practical Depression-era kitchen prints, this apron is all about impracticality: a white cover-up that practically begs for a splash of ketchup or a squirt of mustard (I swear eyelet practically invite stains - I once ate a tamale tightly wadded up in a napkin and I still got a tiny stain on the neckline of my Anne Klein eyelet blouse). Anyhow, I'm all about living the summer-life (homemade pesto sauce, sandals, sunglasses) until it snows. How about you?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Mystery Poster

You cannot believe where I saw this incredible vintage poster. In the women's bathroom, of all places, at the aforementioned
event at a loft not too far from Oprah Winfrey's Harpo studios. Yes, this piece of artwork which looks it harks from the 1920s or 1930s, was perched over the loo in the ladies' room. I was so enchanted by it that I had to take more than one photo of it. This was actually the best thing about the event - and there was plenty of eye-candy clothing and complimentary appetizers to go around. I just wasn't that jazzed by the participants in the silent auction that night: Vika Brown, Kim Duff, Orlando Espinoza, Evil Kitty (I love that name), Maria Pinto, Breathe, Habit, Koros, Michelle Tan, and Samantha Chicago. Their dresses were nice, but nothing to write an email home about save for this Hart, Schaffner & Marx poster. It was full of mystery, unlike the designer frocks, which had tags listing their price, origin, and just about everything you wanted to know about the person who dreamed up this ensemble. Not the artwork. Not a note of provenance to be found. Where was it discovered? How old is it exactly? Why is it in the bathroom with other old prints? If I email Hart, Schafferer & Mark the images could they tell more about the handsome men in it? Such is the stuff that keeps me awake at night, long after I've tucked my fabric swatches under my pillow for sweeter dreams. Do you have any interesting vintage posters that intrigue you?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What About Fashion Genius?

If you haven't been reading the newspaper or wasting your time on the Internet lately, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded 25 no-strings-attached $500,000 grants to individuals all across the U.S. In case you get the wrong idea about these gifts, here's what the foundation's president, Jonathan Fanton, had to say about this year's honorees:
"These awards are about more than money. They carry an affirmation not only of individual creativity but also are a mark of respect for a whole field of endeavor," he said. "These are activities that society doesn't always give proper due or comment to."
He must be referring to the physician who's seeking to cure Amish children afflicted with genetic diseases, the turtle expert, the book illustrator and the glass blower.

But what about creative types in the fashion field? They are not honored with these grants, and from what I've read to date, they never have. In the past, past recipients have been playwrights and book authors not people who design apparel, shoes and clothing. I don't understand why not. My friend Eia designs incredible hats. She sews them all by hand - you couldn't get her near a sewing machine if you tried. I think she's worthy of a grant or two or three - but if history is any indication, the MacArthur Foundation won't be giving her or any of her peers any cash to move forward in their lives, expand their business or even just pay some outstanding debts. That's just incredibly unfair and sad.
(By the way if you're wondering about the dress pictured above, it's a Nieves Lavi Baby Doll from Breathe Boutique. It was sold at a Fashionista's Tastemakers and Trendsetters show last week.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Vintage Deluxe

I first heard about these shoes when I entered the Midwest Vintage Clothing, Textile Jewelry Show and Sale (isn't that name too long? It's like your tongue is going to trip over itself saying it) in Elgin on Sept. 8. I was talking to a dealer about my penchant for vintage 1940s platform shoes in my size and price range. "Oh, they're some nice ones in larger sizes downstairs, but they're car-payment shoes," she said. Now it's been a while since I've forked over a whole wad of cash on a monthly basis to pay off a loan on an automobile, so I'm thinking these vintage shoes that the dealer's talking about are in the $200 to $300 range. Out of my affordability ballpark, but not unreasonbly for a minty pair of heels worthy of a World War II starlet.
So after spending too much time upstairs looking at clothing trim and dresses when I'm in the market for SHOES (did I say that earlier?) I mosey downstairs. I immediately spy a pair of tomato red baby doll slingbacks with white piping. They look Andrews Sisters from the get-go. So I ask the silvery-haired guy (naturally wearing the male dealer uniform outfit: a two-tone button-up shirt and a pair of jeans) manning the booth if I can try them on. "Sure, but I think my wife's holding them for another customer," he says. I slip them on anyhow. They fit better than a glove. I admire them in the mirror, pulling up my white floral-print cotton pants for a better look. They look great. Another dealer, my friend Jeannie tells me, "You have nice legs." You bet I do and they look best with these shoes! What's more, these lovely togs are in my price range - $28! I ask the dealer to consider me if the other customer decides she doesn't want these pumps. (At that point, I'm convinced one of the ladies from the Red Hat Society at the show has reserved my shoes.) I wander off and finally find the car-payment shoes (pictured above) at the Vintage Martini booth. When I see the $700+ pricetag, I realize these are the heels that the woman upstairs was talking about. I remember her saying, "He must not really want to sell them." She's right on the money. I got the distinct impression from the dealer upstairs that they're were more of these over-priced shoes, so I'm thinking who had the bulging wallet big enough to pay for others that are MIA? I see no other pricey platforms. Anyhow, I'm admiring these green babies when the Vintage Martini dealer comes over and asks, "Can I help you?" Sure, he can scratch a number or two on that pricetag and I might consider buying part of his stock that's intended for woman with big feet.
My silver-hair friend with pale blue eyes (too bad he was married. Darn!) later found me as I was looking at wares in another booth. He told me the other person came and bought the shoes. Sigh. That's a long-winded way of telling you I didn't buy a thing at the show. Not a slip, not a pattern, not a belt. Nothing!
For what it's worth, there are vintage platform shoes out there that won't cost you a finger, an eye or a nose. I personally haven't spent more than $70 on a pair ever. How do you get those prices? You have to make friends with the dealers. Send them birthday cards. Visit them in their actual storefronts. DO NOT buy your shoes off eBay. They're a rip-off! Besides, I personally like to try them on for size. Are they comfortable? Will a blister form before I even walk down the stairs? Is the heel so shaky that it will tumble faster than a Lincoln-log high-rise when I put some pressure on it? Is the strap more fragile than a brown-manila paper envelope? Important stuff...that you wouldn't begin to know if you bought your dancing shoes off the Internet.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Get Your Crochet On!

I recently asked y'all how often you crochet. I was hoping to a few crankster voters who told me how much they HATE crochet, they wish all the crochet hooks in the world would just simply disappear.

But that wasn't the case at all. But what do you expect when you post a survey on Craftster, Crochetville and other hobby-related blogs? Of course, they're going to tell me how much they adore this pastime. Interestingly enough, not one of the 57 respondents in my survey dissed knitting. Not one. Of course, too often crochet 'tis necessary for knitting, and vice versa. When asked how often do you crochet? Most of you (68.4 percent) checked off "Other" answer on my poll to tell me exactly how often you use the limited time you have on this planet known as Earth to create fabric with a hook and some yarn! Some of the answers I loved: "Every free minute I have :)" (That sounds like me), "I crochet almost every day usually when I set down to watch TV" and "I always have at least 2 projects in the works" (again, that's me, thinking about my next project). A lot of you wrote "Everyday!!" Yes, with exclamation points. I'm almost at that mark myself, since I carry around a bulging bag with my skirt-in-progress onto to buses and trains. Am I becoming an addict? Yikes! Anyhow, see the image in the upper left corner? That's a new book. I think it's one of the better books on crochet on the market for fall. And there are lots of hats in it. Extremely hip! I'm definitely going to get this book. For those of you who have it already, please let me know what you think.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hats On Or Off
Depending On How You Feel

These hats were spied in the window of Hats Plus near the Portage Park Theater, home of the Silent Film Society. This is where I saw the supremely funny "Sally of the Sawdust" starring W.C. Fields. Anyhow, back to Hats Plus...this is a small shop on a busy intersection. Easy to miss, since it's in the shadow of the behemmoth Sears building. But it's filled with all manner of chapeaux, especially for men. There were many more hats in the storefront window, these two were the best photos I snapped. I've written about Hats Plus in the past, while they don't have the prestige of Optimo Hats on Western Ave, there's a good supply of affordable toppers. Your guy has to be able to find something here he likes here even if it's an inexpensive Bagger Vance style cap. Heck, Hats Plus is on the way to the highway, near a gargantuan parking lot. You have no excuse. Here's the exact address: 4706 W. Irving Park Road.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Seen On The Streets...
Roger Park

These pictures have been sitting in my Kodak EasyShare C530 digital camera for a couple of weeks now. Every once in a while I would turn it on and admire these two photos. This woman was on her way to the bus. I was actually on the opposite of the street when I saw her. I thought, "I've got to get a photo of her!" and I ran across the road, my purse and bags bouncing all over the place. I asked her about her outfit. Here's the scoop: the top is from H&M and the skirt is a thrift-store find. You'd think the three different patterns on the scarf, skirt and top would be too busy, but it actually works. It actually made me want to dig out a 1940s floral long skirt that I have sitting in my closet and try the same thing! I think it's hard to pull off wearing a skirt that grazes the ground during the day, but by golly, I think this girl did it. I wonder where she was going.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What Type of Hat Am I Thinking of?

It's angular with a short brim, a typical hat silhouette in the 1930s. It kind of looks like something Robin Hood would have worn. What do you call this type of chapeau? It's bugging me badly because this is the topper that would look best with this dress/coat ensemble I saw last week at the Midwest Vintage Clothing sale in Elgin. Something that picks up what appears to be cranberry-colored trim on those gargantuan self-buttons on the dress. It even looks like there might have been a matching hat originally. That's how it was back then - everything was so matchy-matchy. You could buy a hat, purse, and shoes all made with the same fabric! Anyhow, someone help me with the name of the hat for this outfit. I will search the Internet and beyond for an answer. To think I've got a hat like this in black velvet sitting in a box in my closet and I still cannot find the drawer in my brain labeled "Names - Hats." Help!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Marilyn Dress

Hi. My name is Marilyn. I feel kind of funny on this mannequin. I don't usually get this kind of attention. But it's the Midwest Vintage Clothing, Textile, Jewelry Show and Sale. And I'm doing this for my owners, Lynnae Finseth and Karen Parks at Embraceable You. I really prefer to be on the coat rack with the rest of my dress friends who don't have names like I do.

Lynnae and Karen named me Marilyn as soon as they saw me at an estate sale stuffed in the back of a closet last year. Honestly, I don't like the name Marilyn. I rather have another name. Marilyn is kind of old-fashioned. Lynnae and Karen say I resemble the dress that actress Marilyn Monroe wore in "Some Like It Hot" hence the name. I've never seen that movie, so I don't know. My previous owner, Mary Jane, never gave me a name. She wore me to prom in 1954, then a couple of house-warming parties when she first got engaged to Norbert. But after those two got married, she never wore me again. She said she was too fat! Besides, then it was the 1960s, and I was out of style. So into the closet I went for many, many years.

As soon as this sale is over (and no one buys me!) it's back on the racks at Embraceable You I go. Back with my friends. I really like hanging next to "1930s broderie anglais dress, bust34, $150" and "1950s red taffeta wrap-dress, as is, $34." They keep me laughing all day long! Especially some of those customers that come in. We''ll never forget the 15-year-old girl who came in looking for a wedding dress to wear for Halloween. She wanted to dress up as a ghost bride. "You've got to be kidding!" Lynnae said, shooing this teenager outside and directing her to the nearest Salvation Army.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Three Different Hats, Two Separate Occasions

The woman in the cool fedora was dining at Pauline's restaurant in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood about two weeks. She looked top-notch from head to toe from that hat down to her cropped pants and stiletto shoes. Her boyfriend/partner looked equally stylish in his retro two-tone black and white shirt. I should have had her pose with the two macaws that were visiting the restaurant with their owner, who had them parked atop a shopping cart near his patio table!

The second woman was at the Midwest Vintage Clothing, Jewelry, Textile Show and Sale in Elgin. She was trying on both of these vintage chapeaux when I spied her. "I have to get a picture of you!" I said as pulled out my Kodak EasyShare 530 digital camera. Click, click, click. The black and green hat for the Kentucky Derby. She takes that and puts on the feathered version which would look at home on Audrey Hepburn's head. Three more snaps. "I should be really be at my booth," this woman, apparently a vendor, says as she guiltily peers in the mirror. She quickly walks away. "But I think I'm going to get these." I hope she did, because she looked great in both. She certainly had the make-up for these two toppers - you simply cannot forgo lipstick, mascara, and a big swoosh of blush when you don these what I call "stop sign" hats. In other words, people will stop their cars to look at you in these hats even if there's no big red STOP sign in sight.