Category Archives: By Hand London

The Cuando Estas En El Caribe Romper

Guys, guys, I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself, but I think I might have become a sewing hypocrite. The things I say I’m never going to do become my NEXT THING TO SEW. The looks I judge, the things I disdain, end up on my sewing machine sooner or later, and I live in a combined cycle of excitement and shame. Maxi dresses, crop tops, wide-legged pants, I just keep on contradicting myself! It must be exhausting for you guys, or entertaining, I’m not sure which one. But as my clothing backlog grows, and grows, and grows, I have decided to pick the most interesting things I’ve been making to share, which of course end up being the most different ones, because if I share every plantain, archer, tiny pocket tank, scout tee and pleated skirt I made I would….never stop sharing them.

Does this happen to any of you? I’ve been blogging for a while now, sewing for over five years, and a lot of the stuff I make, while useful and fantastic and I’m happy to have it, doesn’t really seem all that, I don’t know, blog worthy. I am sure that sounds insanely silly, the idea of some things being blog worthy and some things not being blog worthy but I guess I feel like some of the things I make work out well, so I make them over and over again, and some of them turn out just okay, so I wear them or give them away, and not everything therefore makes the blog-cut. I know, the curation here is epic, it’s basically a Soho gallery it’s so specialized…

So here we are, in this strange new world where everything is awful, and I’ve made a romper. So I might be contributing to the negativity of the world, I don’t know. I DON’T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE. At what point did the romper normalize for me? I’ve been dismissive of it from the start, disdainful even, sure I would never don something so silly, let alone sew it. Although, I have realized that I’m far more adventurous when I’m making something, rather than in the days when I used to buy things. I guess sewing feels like an experiment of sorts, which is why in a blog post soon I will totally be displaying a pair of wide-legged culottes as part of my trying-new-things-that-probably-look-terrible-on-me series.

But before I show you this, let’s investigate why, perhaps, I’ve always been so anti-romper. I mean, what’s the problem, really? Part of my prejudice might have come from my association with the romper, as a garment I was first aware of in the 1980’s and 90’s. These were, I believe, dark times for the romper, or jumpsuit, whichever you prefer. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

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OH boy. Am I right? If this is what you grew up thinking when you thought romper, wouldn’t you hate them too?

I would much prefer to have a vintage understanding of the romper, in fact, I would rather just call it a playsuit. Although maybe that’s the problem right there, really, beyond horrors of the 80’s and 90’s. A romper doesn’t really feel like a mature person’s garment. Oh, I know it is, that they can be formal now, I totally get that, but some part of me has always resisted the idea of the romper as anything more than imitating a child. So really, I suppose my disdain was my own headache, and nothing to do with the garment itself. It’s like how no matter how many times I see them, or no matter how many magazines tell me it’s a thing, I don’t ACTUALLY believe in the idea of “formal shorts”.

But childlike or not, I decided to make a romper. In fact, I’ve made two now, one as a wearable muslin I made for my birthday celebration, and this one, which fits better, so that’s the one you will get to see.

I have also, through this blog post, come to a revelation about By Hand London patterns. I love the idea of By Hand London, and maybe I’m not the right body type or who they draft for, but I have in fact never been fully satisfied by any of the four patterns I’ve made from the company. I really like them, I do, but I have had consistent fit issues with their patterns, which I always chalked up to my own errors as a seamstress, because the designs are so cute, and everyone loves them so much, myself included. But with the Holly Jumpsuit, the basis for this romper, I think I finally came to the realization that maybe this drafting isn’t for me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s bad, but maybe just not for my body type. That being said, it’s an awful cute pattern, and if it turned the tide of the jumpsuit/romper/playsuit/whatever you want to call it in my mind, that’s probably worth the price of the pattern, right?

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So here you go, my very tropical romper! You might recognize the fabric from my Sleeping in the Tropics Pajamas, and I have a dress out of the same fabric too, so you can see I’m pretty into it.

img_20161127_124221So, this pattern. Sigh. It’s super super cute in theory, it really is. In practice, I found a few things that didn’t quite add up to the ideal romper of my dreams, something that I didn’t even know existed, but OH well. First of all, the girth of the pattern, that is, the measurement around the body from crotch to shoulder, (thank you costume shop for teaching me about this measurement!) is off, at least, for me. This might be because the rise of the crotch is too high, so there is that oh-so-comfortable feeling of fabric rising up your posterior. Fun. It’s mostly fine, but keeping the fabric from bunching means there is a lot of bosom on display here, as you can see, and there are still some crotch wrinkles that show you it’s not 100% magnificent, fit-wise.

Then there is the bodice. I cut a US size 14/UK Size 18, tapering down to a US 10/UK 14 in the waist. It’s a bit big all around the waist and back, and yet somehow also snug right along the bust line, I don’t know. I can’t imagine how big the waist would have felt if I hadn’t tapered it down, and yet the shorts on the first version, which I cut at the largest side, a US 16, were snug the first time around, so I added two inches all around. The pattern shows them to be wide legged, but the first time I made them the legs were a slimmish fit. I will say that By Hand London’s sizing is NOT great for my ego or sense of self, but that’s okay, if sewing teaches us anything it’s that sizing is totally arbitrary, although I’m kind of amazed that their’s is so off from other pattern companies. Now that I think about it, I’ve had similar issues with the Elisalex dress and the Anna dress in terms of bodice sizing being off and weird, soooooo, cool. I guess I will blame it on my boobs? Sure. Let’s go with that.

Man, that show is just the literal best.

Okay, more photos!img_20161127_124434

The tropical setting of these photos (taken on a recent trip to Puerto Rico while I was in the US last month, this outfit is NOT really India friendly, I will say….) reminds me of the kind of outfit I was sort of basing this romper on. I was vaguely inspired by the Esther Williams movie, On An Island With You, which features her, dreamy Peter Lawford, dreamy Ricardo Montalban, and amazing Cyd Charisse with much lighter hair than usual.

 

July 1947, Florida, USA --- Original caption: Esther Williams, movie actress, at Biscayne Key, south of Miami, Fla., while on location. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Man, she looked good in every damn thing under the sun, didn’t she? I love Esther Williams. Her movies are always dumb on some essential level but I would watch them forever. In this one she’s a movie star who entertained troops during the war, and this pilot she had met long ago, Peter Lawford and has forgotten is helping out with her latest movie but he’s in love with her, and he totally kidnaps her but it’s supposed to be charming, not a crime, and this is 100% #rapeculture but the dancing is great. And the costumes. Mmmmmmm.

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How is her hair always so great? Love all this 1940’s tropical print! Kind of channeling it here, right?

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….without the perfect hair. You can see the pulling at the crotch in this photo, sigh.

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I think it’s okay from the back, although again, I do tend to feel it riding up. I suppose I could lower the crotch seam next time, if I wanted to make this again, or maybe just as a pair of pants, but I don’t know if it’s worth it. I have a lot of pants patterns, I feel like maybe I should try one of those out…but I don’t know. I don’t love giving up on things, and this pattern is so cute in theory! Check out the line drawing:

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Ah, well. We are all imperfect, I suppose, and it got me over my romper-block, so here we are, in this brave new world. that has such clothing in it.

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It fits the landscape, at least! Before you ask, I’ve left this in San Juan, for the next time I’m down there. Hey, I said I had tried a romper, I didn’t say I’m going to make a habit of them or anything….

 

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The Subtlety is Overrated Dress

Much as it pains me to admit it sometimes, life is not a play by Henrik Ibsen. If it was, I would be dressed a lot better and I would have much pithier dialogue on a daily basis that concerned secrets from my past and euphemisms for sexually transmitted diseases. I would be constantly fighting the subtle ways that injustice works in human relationships and I would probably have at least one suicide attempt under my belt, and I would be pale and interesting and troubled in some way, but not Tennessee Williams heroine kind of way, more in a European flavored way, with restraint and depth and unnamed manias. Sigh. Yes, it would be a grand way to live, surrounded by subtext and Scandinavian foods. But I don’t live that way, no one does, anymore, except maybe the cast of Downton Abbey, and so I must accept that mine is a more direct kind of life.

And perhaps that is a consequence of being a New Worlder. Ours is not a world of quiet revelations, but rather, of loud and clear confrontations. No one encounters a new continent a little at a time. From the very beginning, it was all about the obvious. So who can blame me for not being the most subtle person around? We are, on some small level at least, a product of our environments.

Perhaps this is why for this Thanksgiving, I made the most specific and least subtle garment possible. I could have done many things with my Thanksgiving outfit, many subtle shades of fall leaves, but instead, I decided to wear ALL of them. Because….why not?

SIOR1You will have to forgive the wrinkled nature of this dress, this happens when you take photos AFTER the meal, instead of before.

SIOR4This is another Elisalex dress from By Hand London. I did a full bust adjustment this time on the bodice, but I might have over-adjusted, as it’s a little big, which is fine, more room for turkey!

SIOR5I did a hand-picked zipper, and I realized I should not have put my hands in this position in all my photos, but ohhhhh welllllll. I also hand stitched the hem and lined the bodice, but not the skirt. The fabric is pretty stiff, so it holds the pleats neatly.

SIOR7My lovely mother took these photos, as exhausted as we both were from cooking (Although Mr. Struggle DID contribute an Indian dish, Butter Chicken, because there just WASN’T enough poultry on the table with that 13 pound turkey, you know?). She took the side view and made a face, like, why do you make so many pouffy dresses? Because I can, Mom. Because I can.

SIOR2Look, I love this dress. I also have no idea when I could or would ever wear it again. I mean, it’s hardly adaptable to other seasons…..but from September to November I guess it can be my loud and proud autumn loving go-to!

SIOR6See, I’m trying to look coy but the fabric JUST WONT LET ME. I bought this online over a year ago and didn’t know what do to with it. It was on sale, and I guess we all know why, because not everyone embraces their total lack of subtlety the way I do!

SIOR3At least it’s good fall forest camouflage, right?

I hope you all had wonderful happy and safe Thanksgivings, and welcome to unending Christmas carols that make me want to put my head through a plate glass windows, er, that is, holiday season!

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The Least Laboreous Labor Day Dress

I’m not going to lie to you, gentle readers, as I write this I’m suffering from a really painful stomach ache so if some of that bile starts to seep into my writing Middle Ages Medicine style, I apologize, because this post is about an awesome dress (I truly believe it to be awesome) for a beyond awesome event so I’m hoping that all that positivity heals my stomach as I sip seltzer and wince. Hopefully the heat of my computer is relaxing my stomach muscles or something.

Ah, Labor Day, you sly minx of a holiday. As lovely as it is to get the Monday holiday, it also marks the unofficial end of summer, the return to school for many, but not me, sadly, sigh, sob! I miss school….aw, well, one must become an adult sometime. I have no idea when that will happen to me, but the point is, I graduated, so I can’t go back or its creepy. But luckily, so very kind and thoughtful friends like my friends Joe and Kira knew that I might feel a little ambivalent about my post-graduate school Fall, and they very thoughtfully planned their wedding around Labor Day weekend. I know, I know, aren’t they wonderful? I think so. Imagine, doing all that JUST for me! The coordination, the family stuff, the rabbi, the dress, they made it all come together just to cheer me up. Those people are the best.

I joke, of course, I had no part in any of their decisions, which does not mean that I didn’t love and enjoy the end result! Joe and Kira had a beautiful wedding and getting to celebrate with them literally on the heels of another wedding of close friends, featured here, was really amazing. Did I mention that this wedding was ALSO in Brooklyn? So I literally didn’t have to leave Brooklyn for days? I love when that happens. The happy event took place in an event space right next to Gowanus Canal, a less than ideal view that nevertheless has been featured in countless deeply hipster instagram accounts. My mother, in fact, to whom I sent a photo after the wedding, told me she liked the dress, but not the background. What can you do? I believe Brooklyn has plans for Gowanus but for now, it is what it is, and I have a good deal of affection for the area, even if I don’t go there often. So not only did I get to celebrate Joe and Kira’s gorgeous wedding and happy happy union, but I enjoyed the ugly if interesting views of the canal while I did so.

And, to the dress. I wanted to make something interesting and different this time, to combat my last fiasco, and also because why do I buy all these patterns if I’m only doing to use the same five over and over again? So I branched out, and I just adored it! It surprised me in every way, because I really didn’t think this would be my style, but you know what? It works. No labor required.

LLLDED1This is a By Hand London Anna Dress, which I cannot believe I am so late to the party on. I was not late to the wedding, but I was late to this awesome shindig because this dress is a marvelous pattern. I love this design, and I really had no idea that I would. The bodice is flattering and fits me well with literally no adjustment. The only thing I did was grade from a 10 in the bodice to an 8 in the skirt, and easy peasy lemon squeezie, this thing was a hit. I chose the v-neck option and against my better judgement adhered to the original instructions and used the facing. This actually was not the disaster I’d been fearing. It did not pop out as so many facing had on me in the past. I did not have to stop mid-dance to push a flapping facing out of my face. I did not hate this situation at all!

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Well done, By Hand London, well done. The pleats in the bodice are just lovely, and the kimono sleeves were comfortable and look great. I even enjoyed the maxi-option of this dress, which is not my normal thing, because I’m so damn short.

Maxi Dress

But between the slit and the wedges I had planned to wear (also a rare move, I am really not a heels person as I’m sure you’ve intimated from the history of this blog) I think I don’t look too “swimming in fabric” but more “swimming in the canal”. No, I’m kidding, that’s disgusting, it’s not nice in there.

LLLDED2My lovely husband Mr. Struggle took these photos. I knew there was a reason to marry him! Permanent photographer when all others fail. Lovely.

LLLDED5A little back view for you. I used a contrasting zipper. I would love to say that was a fashion statement but it was all I had. I pinked the hell out of everything, and I used a $1.99 a yard fabric I got from fabric.com. I know that french seams would be great on this if I had had more time, but I seem to have fallen into the nasty habit of last-minute stitching for these kinds of events. Bad Leah. That being said, the zipper is fine. I did try to press this but it literally melted the fabric the first time I tried and I had to sort of pinch the hole left behind and stitch it into a tiny unsuggested dart. Luckily it’s in the back. so NO ONE HAS TO KNOW. Except you. Because I just told you.

Still, I do love this fabric, it’s just really fun and different. I only managed to get a rather blurry photo of it but hopefully you can see it:

LLLDED7You see, this little man is going up and down the bannister of these stairs. I just love it! The stairs are much more orange in real life, just so you know.

LLLDED6A romantic gaze out onto the canal.

LLLDED3And there it is. My dress for the wedding that ended the summer and marked the first year of my new life as a writer on my own. Well, not quite on my own….

Congratulations Joe and Kira, and welcome to the Fall, people! I can’t wait to sew for it!

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The Commencement Means Beginning Dress

Graduations are awfully strange affairs. After an intense education experience, a glorious glass bubble of learning and work and effort and delight (I…love school….) the bubble suddenly pops from a champagne cork right through the heart of the glass, covering you and people who apparently went to school with you although they are perfect strangers, with painful shards while relatives snap photos and you sweat in polyester robes. Or, more simply put, the experience of graduation never seems to have anything to do with the experience of education. They just don’t seem to relate in any way, normally. My undergraduate graduation was a three-day affair of strange traditions ripped from early Anglophilic American settlers who were too good for/not good enough for British universities. But, I got to meet this dog! 4711_572279200734_400281_n

So it was kind of the best day ever. God, I miss him. I MISS HIM SO MUCH! But honestly, as interesting as it all was, my graduation, it literally had nothing to do with my day-to-day college life. Which, maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe graduations are so different because they mark a new chapter of life. However, my most recent commencement, from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, was a disasterously disorganized affair. Which…actually is exactly reflective of my Art School experience. Wow! Look at that. Well, I mean, come on, do you really trust creative people to plan anything? Like an administration? Though you would think that given that this was basically a production, they would have figured it out more….but whatever. Martin Scorsese waved his little Italian hands at us and described his recent dreams. Undergraduates did a medley from Ragtime. I nearly strangled myself with my brown velvet masters hood. It was pretty special. No dogs, though….

But I made THIS dress, unlike last time! What a difference 5 years makes…

CMB4.jpgAnd obviously, I went on theme. NYU’s school color is a deep violet. I just HAPPENED to have this in my stash from my exchange with the lovely and talented Amity of Lolita Patterns, and I thought, well, let’s do this thing. What’s-his-face’s father asked me if I was still wearing my robes, so I like to think I succeeded!

CMB7.jpgThe pattern is By Hand London’s Elisalex pattern. After the last time I made it I was itching to try it again. I want to make more, but I think I need to adjust the bust and arms. It fits beautifully everywhere but in the bust, where I feel like I’m wearing a corset. And a breast binding. And armor. Breathing became a challenge. CMD2.jpgEh, what can you do. I still love this dress and will wear it again. And breathe lightly.

CMB5.jpgThe back is just so good. I love it.

CMB8.jpgFor the skirt, I just gathered two rectangles. I wanted it to be really full and I wasn’t disappointed. This pattern is really quite easy to put together, honestly, especially because I’ve done it before. I like princess seams, they are flattering and nice and I think they will be easy to adjust. 1500.jpg

The bodice came out a little short. It looked okay, and it looks fine here, but I would also lengthen the bodice pieces next time, because the empire look isn’t a good one on me.

CMB6.jpgThat lovely gold necklace was a gift. The pearl one came from pearls my friend Lisa got me in China. My neck was overflowing with love! I lined the bodice with white fabric but left the skirt unlined, which shocked my roommate Emily, who took the photos. I figured the gathering would take care of it, and hey, man, it totally did.

CMB9.jpgTake a look at the eyelet! Amity has splendid taste. So cute, right?

CMB10.jpgI used it for the skirt as well. Eyelet makes everything easier, I tell you, no hemming!

CMB1.jpgOne final full body shot. You can totally see the shadow of Emily haunting these photos. Thanks, Emily!

Massive massive congratulations to the NYU Class of 2014, and to all graduates! You guys better have themed your outfits, too. Come on, get into it! It’s fun!

Now that school is over, let’s see if my clothing production and blog output resumes its normal pace, shall we? Of course, I’m looking for a job in writing, so, you know, I might just be having daily nervous breakdowns instead. Who can say?

In other news, I’m selling vintage patterns in my Etsy shop! Check them out here:

StruggleSews

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The I left my heart in London Dress

Sometimes you just know you are going to love something long before you ever set eyes on it, long before it even exists, perhaps. Something in the air, something in the wind, it guides you, sweeps you into a feeling of love and contentment, gives you a sense that something is right. Am I talking about a person? A relationship? Oh, goodness, no, of course not. I’m talking about a dress. Duh. Obviously. People are whatever, dresses? Dresses are forever. I’m only half joking.

I know I might be alone in this, but I actively adore Valentine’s Day. I think it’s kind of great, actually, and I love red, and love chocolate, and I love flowers, and I love people taking the time to tell the people in their lives how much they mean to them. Should they do it every day without an excuse? Of course. But it’s nice, and besides, my dad always used to give me something when I was a kid, and I always used to give my parents something, it was kind of a group event in some way. I think it’s nice, and I love celebrating it, which might seem odd, as I wouldn’t say I’m a romantic person in any way. For example, I have never seen the end of Titanic. I saw the first half when I was 13, hated it, knew the boat sank, was out of there. Jack? Rose? Come on. That relationship was never going to work. But I’m also a big advocate of telling the people in your life what they mean to you, and if this is a day that can happen freely, then I love it. So I  went to The Lady Eve with my friend Victoria and enjoyed the hell out of all the hearts and flowers and sugar. And obviously I made some time for my Valentine…

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Oh! And I made a new dress. A dress I knew I would love long before I even started making it. A dress I knew could be mine. A dress a girl could lose her heart to, if she wasn’t careful…

LMHIL 2And I wasn’t careful at all, because I love this! Yes, folks, I finally made a By Hand London Elisalex dress! And we just couldn’t be happier together, really, I think we are both just so happy we’ve found each other after all this time. Sometimes it just takes a while to find the one, doesn’t it? And yet, wrapped up in this thing, I couldn’t feel safer, or more daring. This must be love, mustn’t it?

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This dress is awesome.  Having seen so very many incarnations of this all over the internets, I just had to finally buy it. But once I bought it I was a little afraid to make it. What if I couldn’t make this relationship work? What if I wasn’t good enough? What if all the anticipation wasn’t worth it? My doubts assailed me, my concerns swamped my hopes. I felt despair. What if love wasn’t enough? Well, spoiler alert, it was!

LMHIL 1Oy, a little bit of wrinkling there. Okay, it’s not the dress’s fault, don’t blame the dress! I do so love this creation. It’s fairly easy to put together, but I cut the sleeves two sizes two small accidentally, and just sort of went with it, but I would appreciate a bit more ease in the future, so I would enlarge those next time. I might also lengthen the bodice just an inch, I like it a lot but it hits just above where I like it to. That being said, little knit-picky things aside, this is awesome. I love the shape, I love the neckline, I love the back…

LMHIL 6Cute, right? You want a close up? I’m on it:

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Isn’t that nice! I realized all day that I felt a bit exposed, even though I don’t think it’s revealing, it’s just that the back and shoulder exposure is a little new for me. But I like it! What else, the princess seams were easy enough, as was the skirt. I lined the bodice with a white cotton-poly blend, which I understitched at the neckline so it doesn’t show. I hand-stitched the sleeve hems to the lining, and traded the exposed zipper for a hand-picked one, really only because I didn’t have a zipper that long. And I hand stitched the hem after shortening it quite a bit, because that original pattern is LONG, guys, and I am short. Such tragedies are a part of life.

LMHIL 4The shape of the skirt is, as all people have said, a bit exaggerated, but honestly, I think that’s kind of adorable. I like the box pleats, although this wool crepe fabric might be a touch too drapey for them. Wouldn’t this be great in a taffeta or a brocade? I have a few friends getting married this summer, maybe I could make it work…or even a double knit? I have so many thoughts, so many feelings, I’m overwhelmed and euphoric!

LMHIL 8See? A little drapey. But I got compliments on this all day, so it can’t be that bad.

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Seriously, this dress just works for me. I knew it would, on some level, and maybe that’s why I waited to make it, until I was ready for this addiction. Love comes when you aren’t looking, right?

LMHIL 10Ah, love. Complicated as it is, isn’t it worth it?

I hope you all had the best Valentine’s day! As a gift, here is one of my current favorite songs, appropriate for the occasion:

 

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