My sister, rolling her eyes: “You don’t say.”
I found these pretty linens at a grade school yard sale a few weeks ago. Some are embroidered, some are crocheted, and I got the entire assortment of table runners, tea towels, napkins and doilies for less than $10.
They aren’t in the best condition—there are holes, tears or stains on most of the pieces—but they all have salvageable sections. Perfect for a little upcycling.
Inspired by a top that I saw at Anthropologie, I made my mom an embellished t-shirt for Mother’s Day.
I started with a blue and white lace table runner and a generic, basic white t:
First thing’s first: I cut off the uncomfortable crew neck, creating a wider, boatneck shape. Then I cut a panel out of the top back section of the tee and replaced it with a segment of the table runner. I placed the finished edge of the table runner along the neckline—the scallops look lovely, and it was nice and easy not to have to worry about additional finishing!
And I used blue single-fold bias tape to finish the front of the neckline.
That’s all there was to it! Easy peasy!
The Mad Men series finale was Sunday night—I loved it, but I’m also in mourning for the show’s passing. My brilliant plan (as of about two weeks ago) was to create a 60s or 70s-style garment from scratch, using a vintage pattern and vintage fabric, by the time the finale aired. Not only did I not finish, I did not even begin. Not only did I not even begin, I picked out neither pattern nor fabric. I will get it done! Later this summer I will get it done. I hope.
I did, however, hit up the Vintage Garage flea market here in Chicago on Sunday, where the theme of the day was Midcentury Modern. Very fitting!
My sister snagged this amazing dress from the 60s:
Even pulled on over her clothes, it looks both chic and cheery.
Can’t you picture sassy 1970s Peggy Olson wearing this?
We did a little bit of research once we got home and discovered that the name on the label—Jean Louis—is that of a renowned and prolific twentieth-century costume designer. A thirteen-time Academy Award nominee, Jean Louis Berthault dressed dozens of starlets, from Katharine Hepburn to Judy Garland. Perhaps his most famous (or infamous) designs are the barely-there gowns of Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe, including Monroe’s slinky “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” number. The Naked-Except-For-Strategically-Placed-Sparkes Look continues to be relevant today. Unfortunately. Looking at you, Beyonce, Kardashian and Lopez.
On a less dramatic note, Jean Louis started his own ready-to-wear label in 1961. We are guessing that my sister’s dress is from one of those collections. Most of what we could find online was evening and cocktail wear, so this day dress seems like kind of an anomaly. Read more about Jean Louis here.
So. Last weekend was the Kentucky Derby. While many consider it the most exciting two minutes in sports, I love it because it is the only occasion all year when it is socially acceptable to wear a fancy hat. And not just a fancy hat—a ridiculously, outrageously dramatic, fancy hat. In real life. Not a costume. Not a joke. Not a lost bet.
One should take advantage of it.
I did not go to the actual derby, but I was invited to an incredibly lovely gathering to watch it on tv—a gathering complete with themed decor, mint juleps, bourbon truffles, derby pie, the works. It was a party the likes of which Pinterest hostesses only dream.
AND there was a contest for best hat. Now, I don’t usually think of myself as a competitive person. But there is a very small part of me that is still five years old, that can still taste the sweet, sweet victory of winning my Kindergarten class’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle drawing contest. (Chucky Cheese Pizza. That victory tasted like Chucky Cheese pizza.) And this hat contest roused that sleeping, hangry child within.
I had a goal. So where to begin? I started by perusing photos of she who is the most chic sporter of the hat: the Duchess of Cambridge. Obvi.
Source | All photos are from eonline: Kate Middleton’s Hats and Fascinators
So many beautiful, sculptural examples! I know that derby hats traditionally have very wide brims, but I really liked the idea of doing a more unusual, asymmetrical shape. And apparently, European customs and fashions have always been a source of inspiration for Kentucky Derby attire.
Finding an interestingly-shaped hat within my meager budget proved to be a challenge. It took some intense interneting, but I finally found this frame at Theatre House, an aptly named online theatrical supply shop, for $12.95.
Theatre House actually recommends that you buy two of the same hat—that way you can take one apart and use it to make a pattern. However, I chose not to cover or even paint my hat frame (as was probably intended). Instead, I glued thin white ribbon over any obvious seaming.
In order to keep the hat from falling off of my head, I made two tiny loops out of very thin brown ribbon that roughly matched my hair color. I sewed one loop on each side of the hat, where the inside of the hatband rested on my head. I could then use bobby pins to pin the loops to my hair, holding the hat in place.
Now what? I GUESS I could go to Michael’s and pick out some silk flowers.
OR I COULD MAKE MY OWN.
By taking the basic rose tutorial instructions and varying the shape and number of the petals, I was able to create a few different styles of flowers. I primarily used quilting squares of 100% cotton, but the pale pink roses are actually made of silk scraps leftover from my cocktail dress re-fashion last Fall. Once the flowers were finished, I simply used hot glue to affix them to the hat.
And then, my favorite part. I added A GIANT-A$$ BOW to the back! Also with hot glue.
Now, what’s this I hear about some horses?
Springtime in Chicago tends to be a long, steep climb, with lots of switchbacks and speed bumps and ruts along the way. It’s hard to overcome winter—either mentally or sartorially—when you have a stiff wind in your face.
But—praise to the powers that be—we’ve had a very mild spring so far. Consequently, this post feels horribly out of season right about now. My apologies.
I completed this skirt about a month ago, partially to cheer myself through potential April snow showers, and partially to overcome the rut I’ve found myself in lately. I’m not sure whether it’s an attention thing or what, but I have about a half a dozen projects in progress right now and seemingly zero intention of finishing any of them.
To try to snap myself out of it, I decided to go back to something very basic: Simplicity 2906.
This is about as simple as it gets: two pieces of fabric, a zipper, a strip of twill tape and a hook and eye.
So, to compensate for the overall yawniness of this post, I thought I’d share what was on the back of my mind while I was making this: The Cape.
I bought a glorious, vintage, Made-In-Austria, wool cape at a charity consignment sale last fall for a mere $5. It’s beautiful—and I didn’t wear it once all winter.
Basically every movie and TV show I’ve ever seen affirms that ladies in capes embrace living on a grand scale. They go to masquerade balls and have their own couturiers and sing in the streets and leave home to have adventures only to discover that happiness was in front of them the whole time. No demure and shrinking wallflowers they—they are confident, brassy and never afraid to speak their minds.
That’s a lot of pressure.
As I was finishing up this skirt, it occurred to me that it might be a great match for my cape—and perhaps the impetus I needed to actually leave my apartment in it.
Alas—The final proportions are a little more matronly than I would like. I should probably pair the skirt either with a calf-length trench, or with a jacket that’s cropped at the waist. Likewise, I would wear a shorter skirt with the cape—maybe channeling the Blair Waldorf look and adding fishnets.
Hopefully by the time cape season rolls around in the Fall, I’ll have it all worked out, with capeworthy confidence to boot. Perhaps it doesn’t take a certain type of person to pull off a cape—perhaps the wearer draws her powers from the cape itself?
What do you think? Aside from a Sound of Music sing-along, is there such a thing as a cape-appropriate occasion in real life?
Aren’t these crepe paper veggies from Terrain adorable?
My family always has crackers/poppers at Christmas—you know, the kind with paper crowns inside (we all not-so-secretly wish we were British)—and this seems like the perfect Easter equivalent. I was really excited when I saw that 6 prizes were only $16—what a great value!
THEN I came to the realization that “6 prizes” refers to the 6 items within a single vegetable—essentially one vegetable party favor is $16. That seems way steep for what amounts to a wad of crepe paper and—if I’m interpreting the product photo correctly—a single pack of smartees, a bunny sticker, a stick-on moustache, some kind of tiny plastic critter, a fortune and a joke. I can think of several better uses for the $80 that it would have cost to buy enough favors for my immediate family.
So then I wondered—how hard would it be to make something like this myself?
I turned to pinterest and etsy for ideas, but when I found this tutorial for mini easter egg piñatas, I got completely sidetracked. Vegetables, shmegetables. These little guys were just too pretty and springtimey for me to resist.
Once I’d found my concept/inspiration, I ordered rolls and rolls and rolls of crepe paper streamers. Then I went to World Market and bought some legit favors, picking out a few items for each member of my family.
What would you rather have: a joke printed on a strip of copy paper, or a spicy beef summer sausage? That’s what I thought.
I sorted my favors, then rolled each person’s items into a crepe paper ball—er, egg. I started with the larger items, rolling and adding smaller items, then some more rolling, trying to balance the prizes’ positions so that the final crepe paper mass somewhat resembled an egg. Kind of. I secured the end of the streamer with tape.
Moving on: I took lengths of different colored streamers and cut them into thirds, creating long narrow strips. Then I cut fringe along one side of each strip.
As in the piñata tutorial, I glued the strips around the crepe paper egg, overlapping each row.
And that was really all there was to it.
The piñata tutorial calls for using balloons and papier-mâché to create a true egg shape. I skipped that step, because 1) I’m lazy and it seemed like kind of a big mess, and 2) I was still approaching this as more of a crepe paper surprise ball and less of an actual piñata.
I wasn’t thrilled with the result—it was hard to achieve the egg shape, and they ended up kind of lumpy.
My family didn’t seem to notice, though. I had envisioned a lot of satisfying ripping and unraveling—the joy inherent in a moment of harmless destruction being one of the anticipated delights of this format. Instead there was a lot of meticulous and painstakingly slow cutting—”Oh, but it’s so pretty, I don’t want to ruin it!” And some seriously cringe-worthy birth analogies, from which I will spare you. My mom insisted on keeping the crepe paper shells, ripped though they were, claiming that she will use them as “decorations” next year (my quotes).
Mom, seriously. It’s garbage.
A few notes for next time, if there ever is a next time:
. Suck it up and try the papier-mâché—it might help with getting the egg shape just right.
. Keep prizes smaller. Ok, so there’s a reason that the vegetable prizes were so lame and tiny.
. Write my own fortunes—an opportunity for funny personalization.
. Try to create something a bit more sculptural, like the original vegetables.
What do you think? Would it be worth attempting again?
I think I will leave you with the work of Anandamayi Arnold—an artist and true master of the crepe paper surprise ball. Incredible!
I just finished making this stuffed turtle for my cousin’s new baby boy. Isn’t he the sweetest? The turtle, I mean (although the kid IS actually the sweetest). I used a PDF pattern from RainingSugar’s etsy shop which you can purchase and download here. It was by far the cutest turtle option I found—he’s simple and sleek, but still manages to have a personality. He seems wise, perhaps lost in existential meditations.
What are you thinking, Sea Turtle?
The instructions were relatively straightforward—the step-by-step photos really helped—and I think anyone with fairly basic sewing skills (like me!) could pull this off. It took me a couple of days to finish, but with some focus and determination, it could be completed in an afternoon.
I used black felt for the eyes, green fleece for the back, gray fleece for the belly, and a very very soft, fuzzy fabric for the shell. Yep, I just looked it up and Joann literally calls it Soft N Fluffy Fabric. Very descriptive.
It kind of seems like I woke up one day and everyone and their brother was pregnant. Suddenly I foresaw many, many baby showers in my future. I know I have ranted obnoxiously in the past about my general denunciation of gift registries. But baby registries are different. Babies have expensive needs. Babies have a demanding lifestyle. Eschew the precious, the impractical and the quickly outgrown: the baby clothes. Frothy lace-and-ruffle confections for girls; earnest, dapper duds for boys. Resist! Thou shalt honor the gift registry.
I was able to purchase all of the materials for this project for less than $20—and I probably have enough supplies left over to make a half a dozen more turtles. Throw in the cost of the pattern, and it’s still less that $5 per turtle. So I can spend the bulk of my gift budget on registry items, but I can still afford to include a homemade, personal toy. I think it’s a nice compromise.
I adore trompe l’oeil (despite having to look up the spelling and/or pronunciation every time I use the term), so this bow sweater with detachable collar is right up my two-dimensional alley. Its whimsy weirdly suits the polar personalities of both Parks and Rec‘s April and New Girl‘s Jess, and I think it would suit me too. Unfortunately, some quick internet-ing tells me that this is an Alice and Olivia sweater, and that it’s sold out universally. Even when it was in stock, it retailed for a few hundred bucks—which far exceeds my financial allocation for Eccentric Sweater Purchases. And it’s almost certainly beyond the means of both April and Jess, but that’s a diatribe for another day.
Inspired by the Alice and Oliva version, I decided to take a stab at my own trompe l’oeil effect using a homemade stencil and a sweater that I bought at Salvation Army for $5. Huzzah for projects in which there is very little to lose even if I totally screw them up! If you’re interested in trying this project yourself, you can download my template below.
MAKING THE STENCIL
a) Stencil Paper, available at art supply stores. Honestly, you could probably get away with using contact paper instead.
b) Cutting mat
c) Stainless steel straightedge
d) Your chosen design. You can download the collar and bow-tie template that I created for this project here. Alternately, you might want to add just a bow, rather than the whole collar; in that case you can wear a button-down underneath your sweater and the final result will be closer to the original inspiration piece. Here are a couple of bows by themselves, if that floats your boat.
e) X-Acto knives and blades. I used standard #11 blades for straight lines, and the X-Acto Econo Swivel Knife for cutting curves.
f) Removable double-stick tape
1) Print your chosen design. I roughly trimmed out my template, just to get the excess paper out of the way.
2) Use double-stick tape to apply the template to the stencil paper, avoiding placing the tape directly behind the outlines of the design.
3) Carefully, using the X-Acto knives and straightedge, trim out the black shapes. Only cut against a cutting mat.
4) Remove the paper template. Your stencil is finished!
STENCILING THE SWEATER
a) Removable double-stick tape
b) Stencil brush(es)
d) Paint tray
e) Fabric paint
g) A piece of cardboard or an old magazine to protect the back of the sweater from paint bleeding through
1) Make sure the sweater has been washed and is completely dry before proceeding. Place the piece of cardboard inside the sweater.
2) Using liberal amounts of double-stick tape, position the stencil in place.
3) Use the stencil brush to dab paint in the design area. Be sure to use only a straight up-and-down motion. It may help to hold the stencil down with your fingers as you work. Pay particular attention to the edges.of the design.
4) Once the entire area has been filled in, carefully remove the stencil. You may want to go back in with a fine paintbrush and clean up any problem areas.
I grew up in a homogenous suburban bubble on the edge of a mid-sized, historically industrial city, and then I went to school in a homogenous collegiate bubble on the edge of a mid-sized, historically industrial city. So when I spent the spring semester of my junior year studying in London, my field of view widened drastically—particularly artistically.
In addition to visiting countless museums and seeing plays of all scales and scopes, I saw the Royal Ballet twice: Frederick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée, and Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet.
I loved both.
Last weekend, I went to a magical Barnes and Noble that has a cheap used book section (yes, really!), and I found this 1981 compendium: The Royal Ballet: The First Fifty Years by Alexander Bland. I had to have it. Yes, it has a lot of dense copy about company/production history which I will never read, and comprehensive indices with lists of dancers and repertory, as well as moderately interesting production photos. But the best part? It includes beautiful full-color sketches and illustrations of costumes and set design.
Fascinating and inspiring, no? Such diverse ideas and illustration styles.
Top Left: Giselle (Bathilde) 1968, costume design by Peter Farmer.
Top Right: The Sleeping Beauty (a courtier) 1973, costume design by Peter Farmer.
Bottom Row: Mayerling 1978, Costume designs by Nicholas Georgiadis.