Monday, June 19, 2017

Antonio Marras (presentation and sewn garment)

I recently returned from Italy. (I still have jet lag.) Ten days of my 2+ week visit was part of a History of Italian Fashion class, offered by Cañada College's fashion department. (More about this class on their blog.)

Italy was splendiferous!

I posted some pics of my trip on Instagram and Facebook, but I haven't posted the pics in this post.

One of the assignments for the class was to prepare (in the U.S.) and present (in Florence) a brief talk chosen from a list of suggested topics, including a number Italian designers. I chose designer Antonio Marras because a) I had never heard of him, b) he's actively designing, and c) his aesthetic excited me. I very much enjoyed researching Marras, though much of the available information and interviews are in Italian, so it was also a bit of a challenge.

What follows are the slides from my presentation, with notes of my talking points. You'll also see a garment that I sewed based on one of Marras' designs. It was a failure, but at least it gave the class a giggle!

Slide 1: Antonio Marras
(Note: It took more than 10 minutes)

Slide 2: Who IS Antonio Marras?

Who IS Antonio Marras?

  • Short answer: he is a fashion designer, but that is almost accidental.
  • Mostly, he is a brilliant, creative artist who happens to design clothes for a living.
  • His wife calls him “schizophrenic.”
  • His sons would likely call him an amazing, hands on, father.
  • “Boredom is my personal monster.” —Antonio Marras

Slides 3: Sardinian Son

Sardinian Son

  • Antonio was born and raised on the island of Sardinia in 1961, the middle of 5 children.
  • He continues to live and work in Alghero, Sardinia, away from the fashion world, which contributes to the notion that he’s a bit of a fashion outsider.
  • He grew up in and around his father’s fabric store where he developed a “mania” (his word) for fabric, and where he learned to sew. (He had no formal training in design, sewing, or art.)
  • He later converted his father’s fabric store in Alghero to a boutique featuring his clothing.
  • He has created a workshop at his home in Alghero that he calls the Laboratorio (translation: Workshop) where he does most of his work, and all of his experimenting. Every collection includes some work from the Laboratorio. These hand-work-intensive garments, made with artisanal techniques, are designed, created, and produced locally. “My Laboratorio collection, all sewn and embroidered in Sardinia, is a project that only a madman would take on.” —Antonio Marras

Slide 4: In his Laboratorio (“Workshop”) at his home on Sardinia

Slide 5: The Antonio Marras boutique in Alghero, Sardinia

Slide 6: The Antonio Marras boutique in Alghero
(Very hands on, he’s on the ladder in the right pic.)

Slide 7: With his wife Patrizia. On the right, his eldest son, Efisio.
(Not pictured: his younger son, Leonardo)

Family Man

  • He’s extremely family oriented.
  • His father passed away in the ‘70s.
  • Like many Italian men (according to reports), he worships his mother.
  • He married Patrizia Sardo, also from Sardinia, who became his muse, business partner, and the CEO of his company. They have 2 sons, ages 27 and 18 (as of this report in 2017): Efisio and Leonardo.
  • His eldest, Efisio (named for Antonio’s father), studied fashion at the Parson’s School of Design in Paris, Central St Martin’s in London, and graduated in 2015 from Photography and Liberal Arts in Paris. Efisio is now designing for I’m Isola Marras—Antonio’s lower-priced, contemporary line launched in 2007.
  • Antonio goes to bed early, rises early to jog, and spends his free time with his family.

Slide 8: Collage/sketch (left), and Antonio creating (right)


  • Though untrained as an artist or designer, he creates art every day, particularly drawings, but he also paints, sculpts, collages, and enjoys photography.
  • “Beauty can come from ugly things. This intrigues me, and gives me the most satisfaction.” —Antonio Marras
  • He originally studied to be an accountant, as his father wanted, but he ended up managing the family's fabric shop when his father died in the 1970s.
  • If he hadn’t become a fashion designer, he wanted to either direct movies (film is an important source of design inspiration), or dance.
  • He was invited to mount a solo exhibit representing 20 years of his artwork at Milan’s Triennale Museum from Oct 2016 to Jan 2017. He is the only fashion designer ever invited to do so. (You can see a video of the exhibit here.)
  • “Walking the length of the space, which covers 12,960 square feet in a room that has an expansive curved wall, is like taking a peek into the designer’s soul as the exhibit is a clear reflection of his passions and personality.” —A reviewer

Slide 9: More of his artwork. A sketch (left), and a painting (right)

Slide 10: From his Milan Triennale exhibit in 2016/2017

Slide 11: Also from his exhibit at the Milan Triennale Museum

Slide 12: Examples of his designs (Plus a great pic of he and Patrizia!)

Fashion Designer

  • In the ‘80s, one of his fabric suppliers suggested that he try his hand at designing a fashion line. His wife agreed (and evidently applied some pressure), and his first line was launched in 1987. It was named “Piano Piano Dolce Carlotta”, or “Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, after the 1964 Bette Davis film.
  • A commercial success, he continued producing that line for 10 years.
  • He was invited to show his work in Rome in 1996, so he finally launched his namesake fashion line, Antonio Marras.
  • In 2003, he gained international recognition when chosen as the designer for Kenzo, a well known Japanese design house. He left Kenzo in 2011 to focus on his own lines.
  • He launched his lower-priced, contemporary line “I’m Isola Marras” in 2007. His son, Efisio, designs this line since graduating college in 2015.
  • He opened his high-concept store in Milan in 2012. His wife suggested the name, referencing his early resistance: Nonostante Marras, or “In spite of Marras.” The shop was created in an old factory/workshop, and sells not only clothing, but also ceramics, flowers, vintage furniture, vintage artworks, antiquarian and art books. The store contains a library, and (sometimes) a coffee bar and café that offers Sardinian delicacies. He often exhibits art in his shop, particularly during Milan’s Design Week, held in April.
  • “The most important aspect of my work is the mixing and matching of different materials, different fabrics, different prints,” Marras says, summing up his ideal customer as the woman unafraid to do just that. “I prefer eccentricity over normalcy,” he adds. “Normalcy is very boring to me.”

Slide 13: More examples of his designs
(Note: The blue dress, second from the left, is one of my favorites)

Slide 14: His high-concept store in Milan

Slide 15: Another pic from NonostanteMarras
Note the similarity between these light fixtures and the pieces from the Milan Triennale exhibit (slide 10)

Slide 16: Examples of his fashion sketches. The middle sketch is from his tenure at Kenzo.

His Process

  • Not surprisingly, he starts by identifying ideas that inspire him, that he wants to mix together.
  • He collages, sketches, and paints ideas for his designs. These are later displayed backstage at his runway shows and are featured in his LookBook. He also works them into the invitation for the runway show, which are museum-quality pieces themselves.
  • He collages not only images, but ideas.
  • He likes his runway show to tell a story.

Slide 17: Pre Fall 2107

Pre Fall 2017

Here is an example of his "densely multilayered concepts" (to my mind, he collages disparate ideas when creating his collections—he is a natural-born collager) from Pre-Fall 2017:

  • He took inspiration from Lady Chatterley's Lover, the erotic novel by D.H. Lawrence published in '28.
  • He added a surreal twist of cinematic glamour, referencing David Lynch's Twin Peaks - his son captured the arcane spooky atmosphere in the photos he took for the LookBook.
  • Finally, he added reference images of Vita Sackville-West strolling in the lush Sissinghurst Castle garment, and of the late actress Sylvia Kristel languidly reclining in the '70s soft-porn movie Emmanuelle.

Designers typically don't hold a live runway show for pre-fall, but you can see the looks on

Slide 18: Fall 2014

Fall 2014

The common threads for his Fall 2014 collection were the wolf and the moon, and he included these specific references:

  • The journey to India of swiss writter Annemarie Schwarzenbach, lesbian siren of the Weimar Republic, as captured in the movie ‘The Journey to Kafiristan‘, based on the novel written by Annmarie’s travel companion Ella Maillart.
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Three Little Pigs
  • Joseph Beuys, a German Fluxus, happening, and performance artist from the 1960s as well as a sculptor, installation artist, graphic artist, art theorist, and pedagogue.
  • Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf
  • ‘Night Song of a Wandering Shepherd in Asia‘ by Giacomo Leopardi
The models were done up like Rachael, the replicant in Blade Runner. “There are no wolves in Sardinia,” Mr. Marras acknowledged. “But you can dream.”

Slide 20: My Inspiration

My Inspiration

  • I loved the drape on this dress from his Fall 2017 collection.
  • I thought it would be great made as a summer dress for Florence.
  • Note that he often uses one or two older models in his runway show. The woman on the left is a particular favorite of his.
  • He regularly styles his models with short socks and heels.

Slide 20: My Failure

My Failure

  • Oy vey.
  • My apologies to Mr Marras! This was a failure in fabric choice, as well as a few other things.
  • If I make this again, I'll tweak the neckline and use a fabric for the collar/sleeve drape that looks good from both sides. Possibly lengthen and slightly flare the dress.
  • Also, accessorize differently.
  • Finally, use a fabric that is less heinous!

At least the class was amused. ;)

(Note: I was embarrassed to wear this outside to take pictures. Even though it was 7am on a Sunday—Mother's Day, in fact—I had to screw up my courage!)

When I left for Florence, my slide show ended here. I then spent 3 days in Milan and had a chance to visit Nonostante Marras. TWICE. Afterwards, I added the following slides:

Slide 21: My Visit to Nonostante Marras
Looking out onto the lush courtyard

My Visit to Nonostante Marras

It was such a delight to visit this shop! Located in a mostly residential part of Milan (not far from the Armani Museum), Nonostante Marras is hidden behind a gated entrance. Upon entering, you see a lush courtyard. This shop is a high concept shop, meaning that it's more than just a store that sells items. A high concept shop allows a designer to express his or her vision in a unique way. In this case, Nonostante Marras is a living room, a library, an art gallery and, yes, a clothing boutique. Once a year in April, the store is entirely changed for Milan's Design Week when they also bring in chefs to create food for a popup cafe. In fact, the New York Times listed Nonostante Marras under item #1 for things you should do if you have only 36 Hours in Milan.

Slide 22: My Visit to Nonostante Marras
The livingroom and library areas.
Martina and I sat here and enjoyed an espresso

Slide 23: My Visit to Nonostante Marras
The walls feature art. The large designs, created by Antonio, are actually wallpaper that you can purchase of his designs. The framed images showcase a guest artist.

Slide 24: My Visit to Nonostante Marras
On the left, wallpaper featuring Marras' art provides a background for guest art.
On the right, Francesca and Martina (store manager) staff the store. Both women grew up in Sardinia where Marras lives.

Slide 25: My Visit to Nonostante Marras
Yes, that is me with a shopping bag! I don't yet have pics of my purchases, so that will have to wait for another post.

Thanks to Vera for these photos, taken as I gave my talk!

Here are a few bonus pics that I didn't put in the slide show.

Francesca and Martina. Their tee shirts feature his artwork

Even the bathroom is interesting!

Another livingroom shot (you can see my shopping bag in the lower left)

The lovely courtyard

Another courtyard shot

Selfie in the mirror.
Look at that cool sculptural piece below the mirror. This shop is full of interesting things to look at

Antonio Marras has three Instagram feeds and I follow them all!

  • antoniomarras_personal—His personal IG feed. When I posted pics from his shop in Milan on Instagram, he personally liked them. :) I double checked with Martina that it was really him. Martina told me that after my first visit, she had talked to him about me, so he knows he has a fan in San Francisco.
  • antoniomarrasofficial—The official IG account for his collections.
  • antoniomarras_alghero—The IG account for his shop in Alghero, Sardinia.


That's it for now. I will take pics (later) of the two garments I purchased at Nonostante Marras. On Sunday morning, I dressed up in one of them to go to the grocery store at 7:30am. We're in a heat wave here, so I can't wear either garment until it cools off a bit.

I'll soon be off for a short work trip to Seattle and, in a couple of weeks, to NYC. After that I should be settled for awhile.

I might even sew!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Knit Harem Pants, Style 17, and more


Knit Harem Pants

Hey, it's another project made from a beautiful Britex fabric!

For this project, my assignment was to choose a fabric from the Knits category. I quickly settled on this lightweight jersey featuring a bold, modern print.

Designer Sunshine and Clouds Viscose Knit Jersey
(Click the image to see this fabric on the Britex site)

I used Vogue 1355, Sandra Betzina's version of a harem pant. The beauty of this pattern is that it features a fairly high crotch and all the fullness falls between the legs, so there is no added hip bulk. It's universally flattering on most women. (Many of my local sewing peeps have made this pattern multiple times and it looks great on every one of them!)

Vogue 1355

This lightweight, drapey knit is perfect for a flowing, warm weather harem pant, or a summery top. I think it would pack beautifully!

Some sewists are nervous about sewing jersey knits, but I had no problems with it. It's a perfect candidate for sewing with a serger, but you can also use a regular sewing machine, as I did.

It was such a quick, easy sew, that I don't have much to say about the process! Wait, I will say one thing. This pattern features a waist yoke with no elastic. Given my unique shape with narrow hips and a short crotch, I omitted the waist yoke (for a perfect crotch length!) and I added an elastic casing. When your hip and waist measurements are about the same, failing to use elastic can result in an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction. ;)

Thanks to Britex for providing the fabric!

Style 17

I blogged about Style 17 some weeks back. It was so much fun! What a great opportunity to meet artists, and fans of artists who want to wear their work. I didn't buy a lot, but I did pick up this amazing silk poncho, made by Ellen Brook.

Ellen starts with plain off-white silk organza, and paints and dyes her masterpieces. You will be seeing more of this poncho, as I plan to take it to Florence!

I also ran into Michelle Paganini of Paganoonoo Patterns, who mentioned that we should take a selfie.

What a great show! If you can possibly make it to Style '18 next year, I recommend it. In the meantime, don't forget to put Artistry in Fashion, another favorite show, on your calendar for Sept 23rd.

Luanne's Bag

I have a friend who has more creativity in her pinkie than I have in my whole brain. She retired from Adobe a year ago where, as Creative Director, she did incredibly creative things in the digital space (really, check out some of her projects), but I've always known Luanne as a quilter, garment sewer, and photographer with a truly unique point of view. I also took two classes from her at FabMo years ago—one on making zippered bags and another on tote bags. (Yes, I blogged about both.) I was sad she quit teaching before I could take her third class on collaging fabric scraps.

She is now focusing full time on fiber arts (aside from family and travel). I was at a get together recently where she showed two of her quilted tote bags. I absolutely fell in love with one of them (which she makes primarily from reclaimed materials), but it was too small for my laptop, so I commissioned a larger one.

She came by work in Mountain View a couple weeks ago for lunch and to drop it off.

I love it!!!

Each side is different and I love both!

You can find Luanne in her Etsy shop, Luanne Seymour Designs, and I love the video she made about her process which you can find when you scroll down on this page. You can also see some in-process pics of my bag (as well as a lot of other great pics) on her Instagram feed.

Thanks so much, Luanne!

Oh, after I posted the pic of me sitting in a chair holding Luanne's bag, some folks wondered about my outfit, so I actually took my first bathroom selfie!

I made the linen overshirt under the jacket!

You'll be seeing a lot of this white jacket, too, as it's also going to Florence. I purchased it from Bella, and she's now offering the black version on her website, Simply Bella. (Shhhh, I loved the white one so much, I went back and bought the black one.) In fact, several items from her shop are coming to Florence!

Mother's Day

DD1 was in Oregon on Mother's Day weekend, so we delayed our little get together. This afternoon, we had high tea at one of my favorite special places in San Francisco, Lovejoy's Tea Room.

DD2 (on the left) came directly from work and was still wearing her uniform

I love the mix-and-match, British themed, decor!

The Queen's tea!

The Queen's tea includes a petit four or truffle

Their decor includes a light fixture made from tea cups


I have been busy busy, but not doing a lot of sewing. This morning I spent a couple hours trying on outfits for my upcoming trip to Florence. I have a couple things to buy (not clothes), but I am mostly ready!

A certain dude keeping me company while packing

I had a (work) deadline for Google I/O last week, which kept me busy. I also spent two days attending/working at the show—I am glad that it's behind me! (Oh, in related news, I was recently promoted!)

As I walk to and from the bus in recent days, I was enjoying a huge gorgeous purple potato vine that was hanging over the sidewalk, so I snapped this quick pic one afternoon on my way home from work.

Just a few days after I took this, the neighbor chopped it back so that it no longer overhangs the sidewalk. I let him know how much I miss it. This pic, popular on my Instagram feed, had several people asking me about that necklace. I purchased this Hmong piece in Nevada City on a recent sewing retreat.

Oh, I did draft and sew one garment for Florence, inspired by Antonio Marras, which was an amusing failure. (Well, it amused me.) I'll share those pics, but not until later.

I don't expect to blog again before leaving for Florence, and I don't know if I will blog while in Florence, but I will be posting to Instagram. With the questionable status of taking laptops on flights, I'm leaving mine at home and bringing my new Pixel C tablet. (Yes, a tablet's status is also questionable, but I'm hoping it won't be an issue.) So we'll see how it goes. I spent quite awhile configuring my Pixel C yesterday and, so far, I'm loving it!

Please join me on Patti's Visible Monday. Have a great few weeks!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Style 17 Giveaway Winner!

Hey gang!

Laura is the winner for a pair of tickets to Style '17! Here was your entry:

Laura    April 10, 2017 at 9:46 AM
I hadn't heard about that show yet, thanks for the heads-up. I'd love to be entered into the drawing.

Please email me (my email address is listed at the top of this page), so I can connect you up with your eTickets!

And don't forget that you can still get 40% off the ticket price with the code SHAMS40. For more information about this event, see my post on Style 17.

I had so much fun this weekend! I spent all of Saturday in a History of Italian Fashion class. I spent all day Sunday researching the designer that I'm giving a presentation on in Florence. I had planned to spend the day preparing for another sewing retreat, but I realized that I'm pretty much ready from the prep I did for my last retreat!

Have a great week!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Angel-Wing Chambray-and-Lace Top & GIVEAWAY!!!


Angel-Wing Chambray-and-Lace Top

A few months ago Mood Fabrics seduced me in that way they do. I had purchased some denim and they sent me one of those "you may also like..." emails. It featured this Denim and Ivory Novelty Cotton Lace, and I was smitten.

This fabric is a bit misnamed: it is not denim. It is a cotton chambray, but it is denim colored. :)

I purchased 2 yards. I rarely buy or wear lace, but I have been focusing on hot-weather clothing (for Florence and NYC this summer) and this was!

I played with the fabric and quickly decided that I wanted to use the lace vertically, rather than horizontally. (I posted these pics to Instagram and Facebook and most people thought I should use the fabric horizontally, but I didn't like it as well when held up to my body.)

I quickly decided I wanted a simple angel-wing-style top. I didn't bother with a pattern, so I started with a tape measure. The fabric is 60" from selvedge to selvedge, or 58" if you ignore the lace peaks. I measured from wrist to wrist and my wingspan is 52".

What... you don't tape your tape measure to your body?

That means I needed to remove at least 6" from the width. I didn't want to cut the lace, or mess with the lace at all, so I had to remove the extra fabric from the section between the lace. That section is 16" wide. To complicate matters, I didn't want to remove width in the area where I would have a neck opening, and I needed about 10" for the neck hole, so I had to remove 3" on each side of the neck opening (or 6" total). I sewed the tucks so that they would end above the bust—they release above the bust, providing my full bust adjustment (FBA).

Sheesh, I didn't have a lot of room because, as it was, I had only 3" on each side of the neck opening. So I decided to take 1/2" tucks, directly on top of each other, at each side of the neck opening. This required careful marking, sewing, pressing, and topstitching.

Next, I drew a standard round neckline opening, but it was too small for my head. I added a slit. It now went over my head, but I didn't want a slit, so I turned the slit into a v-neck. (A boat neck would have been easier, but I avoid boat necks - I don't like them on my frame and, anyway, I didn't have enough width for a boat neck once the tucks were sewn in.)

I used a scrap of fabric to make a neckline facing.

I wanted to place the hem on a lace "valley". The valleys occur every 4-1/4", so I experimented pinning the hem at different lengths, but always landing on one of the valleys. I even tried a hi-low hem, but I ended up choosing a longer hem that was the same front and back. I thread basted the hem.

Thread basting

I hemmed the chambray portions by machine and the lace portions by hand

I finished the top by strategically tacking the front to the back at the side bust and side waist. I also tacked a pleat into the front, below the bust, to control the volume a bit.


This top was made from a rectangle and has no shoulder or side seams. I used a 60" by 69" rectangle, plus some tucks and tacks for shaping and taming the fullness.

Do I like this top? I think so. I made it specifically for hot weather and wore it over a cream tank top for these pics at 7am this morning. I was freezing, so I take that as a good sign, as far as hot weather goes. I wore it over a sweater for a local arts festival today and it is fun to wear with those lacy wings. I can't wear a sweater or jacket over it, and I put my cross-body purse under it, which maybe wasn't the best look, but I didn't want to carry a satchel. I doubt I'll take it to Florence, because the cotton has a tendency to wrinkle, but I think it will be a cool and fun wear on a hot day!

Style '17 & Giveaway

Last year I blogged about Style '16. The Style show provides a great opportunity to buy gorgeous wearable art and jewelry directly from the artists. I love events like this! I made sure to get Style '17 on my calendar many months ago—April 29th and 30th. This year the event will be held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View—walking distance from where I work one or two days each week.

Then, last week, one of the co-producers of Style '17 kindly reached out and offered me two free tickets. I bought my ticket months ago, so I asked if I could offer the tickets to my blog readers. She agreed, so, if you would like two free tickets to this fabulous event, please leave a comment indicating your interest! I will post the winner next weekend, so you have until Friday to enter.

For those who don't win, you can still save! They offered my blog readers 40% off the ticket price, so it will cost $6 instead of $10. (To be honest, I don't mind paying full price for this event because it benefits Art in Action, a national non-profit that provides visual arts curriculum to 75,000 students each year, including children in 185 Bay Area schools.)

To get the ticket discount, enter SHAMS40 on the last page of the checkout. If you do come and you see me, please say hi! In short... a fun day at the Computer Museum, great shopping, benefitting arts programs—it's a win-win-win!

(By the way, two of my artist-friends have booths at this event. Winnie of Eccentric Designs jewelry, and wearable artist Carol Lee Shanks, who sometimes teaches at Design Outside the Lines.)

Can you believe it's April already? My weekend calendar is becoming uncomfortably full. Things are heating in my History of Italian Fashion class. In fact, we are each giving a presentation while in Italy and I've selected my subject. I am giving a short preso on designer Antonio Marras. Mr Marras has been designing for Kenzo since 2005 and he also has his own line—his designs are quite compelling. I plan to visit his high-concept store while in Milan this summer. I hadn't heard his name before, but it was instant love when I googled his designs. You might check out his Fall 2017 line.

I've just washed the fabric for my next Britex project, and I've selected a pattern, so that's my activity for next weekend.

Please join me on Patti's Visible Monday. I hope you have a great week!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Shams' Emails

It's the middle of the night, and I've been answering some emails. I don't always have time to respond to emails, or I might respond after many months. I ignore some of my blog emails, mostly those from folks who want me to hawk their wares. Seriously, I get some ridiculous requests that show they've never ever read my blog. For example, I once received a request to advertise prom tuxedos! Most recently I was asked to post my 2017 bucket list experiences for an event website.

I recently received a few emails that I want to share. I'm sharing these now because they contain useful information, and it's been awhile since I talked about fitting. Because I didn't ask permission, I won't include the original emails or names, but I'll summarize them. My responses have also been edited, 'cause that's how I roll. ;)

But first, I want your opinion on two tops.


Which Looks Better?

I was recently shopping in one of my favorite San Francisco boutiques, Simply Bella. Bella, the owner, knows me quite well and we had a friendly argument on my last visit. I purchased an Alembika top from her—an Israeli designer that I like very much. Bella noticed how flattering this top was on my figure and, in particular, how it minimizes my bust. This top is similar to the Presto, which I've made many times. Her opinion is that the Alembika is more flattering, because it's more fitted through the bust and more roomy through the hips. It has more of a swing shape, though the Presto has hip flare. The Alembika also has a curved hem and 3/4-length sleeves. It would be easy to alter the Presto to fit more like the Alembika, but I don't really want a top that is so fitted through the bust, and I think a swing shape can overwhelm my much-smaller hips.

I don't usually ask your opinion (because I typically trust my instincts), but I am today! When I visited her store, I was wearing one of my printed Prestos but, to make the comparison more fair, I'm wearing a dark solid teal Presto in this photo. (Sorry it's a bit wrinkled, but I wore it Friday and pulled it from the hamper.)

Which do you think fits better?

Left: Presto, right: Alembika

If you are in San Francisco, consider visiting Bella's store! It is small, but she has a great eye, and shops carefully. I bought four items when I visited recently, including a white mesh jacket by Alembika that I will probably take to Florence, and a pair of Spring Step shoes. The store is open 7 days a week, but Bella is usually there in person from Monday through Saturday, unless she's traveling.

Edited to add (4/2/2017 @ 11:40pm):

Wow, I appreciate your opinions! I have read each comment and am glad to see that I wasn't totally off base. I can make the black Alembika work when properly accessorized and layered. ;) Thanks again!

Email from N from Chicago: Having Trouble with a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA)

N, who lives in Chicago, had some questions about FBAs. She followed the Palmer Pletsch directions for an FBA and still ended up with a tent. She also asked how it's possible to ease 1-1/2" into the side seam, which I've described in this post. What might she be doing wrong? Finally, she asked which pattern I used for my green, Tried 'n True (TnT) sheath dress.

My edited response:

Hi N!

I'm sorry to hear you've been having trouble adjusting for your bust! It can be tricky until you learn what you need to do, then you can just do the same thing on most of your patterns.

The easing that you describe is only used for knit fabrics when I do a vertical-only FBA. It's quite easy to ease 1-1/2" in a knit fabric. It would not work for wovens.

I'm pretty sure that the green TnT dress shown in this post started from the Style Arc Adele, modified to a tee-shirt dress. It's a great pattern—I like how the neckline uses facings, rather than binding. Note that Style Arc patterns tend to fit in the chest/shoulder area more naturally than American patterns, so consult their chart when choosing patterns, but expect less ease.

Are you familiar with the "best patterns of 20xx" articles on Pattern Review? Written by Diane E (a friend of mine) each year, this year's article includes a McCalls pattern that people are loving. McCalls 6886, a sheath dress very similar to my TnT pattern, currently has 150 reviews on PR.

While I'm thinking about it, I also love the Sewaholic Renfrew, also mentioned in that article, and another TnT for me.

On my blog you said:

I purchased Palmer/Pletsch Bust Fitting DVD and other classes you recommended, studied your post, but still made a tent like tunic.

I'm not sure what is going wrong, but I suspect that you are starting with a too-large pattern. American patterns are known to be overly large in the upper chest/shoulder area, even though they are designed for a B-cup bust. So you need to measure above the bust to find your size. My upper bust is 40", so I start with a size 18. My full bust is 47" so I add approximately 7" at the bustline in my FBA, though I might add less if the pattern includes more finished ease than I need through the bust.

For most patterns, I do the FBA after cutting the bottom of the pattern off, because I don't want to widen the pattern at the waist or hip. After the FBA, I add the bottom back, and then merge the side seams together. In the classic approach, you leave the pattern intact, perform the FBA, and then remove the extra fabric below the bust using fisheye darts. I am not a huge fan of the front fisheye dart because I have a belly, but it might work well for you. (I do like fisheye darts in the back of some garments!)

If you continue to have problems with pattern alterations, do you live near a community college that offers Fashion or Home Ec classes? You can learn a lot about fitting that way and you don't have to get an AA degree. You mention living in Chicago. Are you aware of the Haute Couture Club? I know several women in that club who are amazing sewers! There is Cennetta and Rhonda, for example, but I know of others, too. I bet if you join you can find help, or at least pointers to help.

Finally, the Selfish Seamstress (who no longer blogs) highly recommends Tchad, a Chicago-based sewing teacher. She credits much of her skill to Tchad's classes. He seems to teach drafting patterns from scratch, rather than pattern alterations, but this is a wonderful skill to learn.

Good luck! I have no doubt you can figure this out, but my suspicion is that you are starting with the wrong size pattern.


Email from T: Do You Have a Custom Dressform?

T sent me a recent email, asking if I have a custom dressform. She has a challenging figure (she describes having a large bust and a bootie) and wonders how I fit my clothes as well as I do. I actually sent her several replies, mushed together here.

My edited response:

Hi T!

No, I don't have a custom dressform. It would be handy, but I have never had any interest. For one thing, my figure changes too frequently. For another, it would be too unsettling. I inherited my mother's dressform after she passed, and I sometimes use it as a 3D hangar, but never for fitting as it's much too small and features a high, perky bust.

I often sew in my underwear because it's easier to try a garment on over and over, as I tweak the fit. I apologize if that's TMI. :)

I learned sewing from a very young age (my mother was an amazing seamstress), so I made lovely clothes that rarely fit me. I learned fitting when I took classes at Cañada College in Redwood City, CA. I highly recommend taking Fashion or Home Ec classes at a local community college, if you have one nearby. I don't think you'll learn as much if you take, say, a Craftsy class, or a quick class from someone, because fitting can require iteration under expert guidance. The semester long classes I took really gave me a chance to learn how to fit my body. For example, I was shocked back in 1985 to learn that I need to narrow the shoulders on my garments.almost.every.time.

Since you read my blog, you know that I am busty, but I have a flat butt and don't need to alter for a small waist or sway back (many women with a bootie need both of those alterations). These are my normal alterations:

  • Forward shoulder (common on older women)
  • Widen back (I don't yet alter for a round back, but that may be coming)
  • FBA (I do my own version of an FBA where I don't widen the garment from bust to hem
  • Narrow shoulder
  • Narrow hip/remove hip curve (when appropriate)
  • Shorten sleeves (my mother had to always lengthen sleeves, but she was also an A cup with a long torso and small waist)

I do get tired of all the alterations I must do, but I often use a pattern over and over, just changing the details. This makes it much easier to sew if I don't have to do all those alterations over and over. It lets me get right to the fun part.

I was just shopping for patterns on the BMV site (they are having a pattern and shipping sale that ends at the end of Sunday) and I just bought this pant, Vogue 9155.

I think it would be good for someone with a bootie because of all the back seams. You could use those seams to take larger darts at the back waist. Most women with a bootie need more darting at the back waist. At least I think so—it's never been a body type I've sewn for. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if sewing for a bootie might be similar to sewing for a big bust. Not the same, but it seems like a similar issue. You need more fabric to go over and around the butt, but not more fabric at the back waist. Many women with a bootie have a small waist which increases the need for a back yoke or extra darting.

Good luck! Once you learn to fit yourself, sewing is SO much fun!


By the way, T actually described herself as "very petite and curvy (big boobs and big butt) :)", but I found that it was hard for me to say "big butt" in my response, as it felt so judgmental! Clearly, that's my issue! I don't mind saying "big boobs", since I have them, too. In fact, I usually describe mine as "uber boobs". ;) )

Email from The Doctor's Show: Want to be on our show?

This email arrived in December, 2016. Normally I ignore this sort of thing, but I checked it out and it was legit.


My name is <redacted> and I work with The Doctors TV Show. I stumbled across your blog,, and thought you might be perfect for an upcoming beauty segment I’m working on! Are you located in the LA area? I’d love to schedule a call or meeting with you.

If you’re not familiar with our show, please feel free to browse our website and get to know us!


My response:

Hey, <redacted>!

Thanks for your interest, and you actually look legit (I get lots of spam requests), but I politely decline. :)

All the best!


Not gonna happen. No way. No how.