In reply to Nancy and Two More Related Dresses

My friend Nancy is a frequent commenter on this blog. She also has her own sewing blog  I always appreciate hearing what she has to say. A few days back,this post elicited this comment.
Dear Sarah, I love the way you cook and sew! You just DO, I have to ponder, mull, change my mind about the fabric, read every step of the patterns....finally it gets done. Cooking, not so much. I just never know what to make, shall we get pizza? Eat the leftovers etc. More power to you! I'm too old to change but I do admire your work every day. Nancy
First of all, that is a very sweet thing to say. But I think explaining how I sew will show how I actually am not that big of a risk taker.

Like most people who are serious about sewing, I love beautiful fabric. I do know lots of folks who sew who collect lots of wonderful fabrics but are terrified to cut into any of it.
I will admit that there are some fabrics in my stash that I have been afraid to cut into . Most of my garment making stash is not expensive. I have acquired most of it from sales, bargain bins and messy piles of remnants.
The regular retail price for the fabric might actually be quite high, but I can usually made myself a dress for the cost of a round trip on the subway.  If I fail, I have lost very little. The low cost of the fabric I use means that I can hack and stitch and see failure as part of the cost of learning.

I often will sort of hack away at an idea..and mess up a bunch of times before I actually understand how to make it work.

A few months ago after a whole lot of mulling over I decided to attempt to make a garment inspired by the brilliant Julian Roberts. the dress I made was interesting, but was really unwearable.
julian roberts dress1

The fabric for the dress was free, given to me by one of my daughter’s employers.  The dress itself fit and looked OK ( sort of) but it wasn’t comfortable  to wear. I kept it around for a few months but then gave it to charity.  I made a second attempt at playing with Robert’s ideas. I made a dress that zigged and zagged.  I did however cut the dress too small.  It wasn’t just snug, It showed EVERY bulge.

So the other day, after keeping attempt #2 around for a few months, I added a strip of soft stretch denim to the front.
Below you see the dress with the addition of the stretch denim strip on the floor so you can see the shape of the dress.

Here is the dress on my dummy. I was on the fence about it. I wasn’t sure if it was a cool dress or just weird.

I wore it Friday night and it looked better on my actual body. The wide  neckline settled itself into a nice draped V and it’s a dress I would totally wear outside the house.  I think I had paid $7 for the patterned rayon knit. Here is a back view of the dress. The print reminds me of Russian constructivist art and some of the fashions influenced by it. This dress was a failure…but now it’s wearable  SAM_2205

Before I added the denim strip to the dress. I used the  the too small dress as my pattern to make a plain black dress out of a rayon/ cotton jersey. I had gotten ten yards of it a few years back  for I think $2/yard. I have already made several garments out of it.  At this point, it makes more sense to sew it up than to have it hanging around taking up space.

I cut the black dress bigger than the failed too small dress. This is what it looked like laid out on my floor. I know, it looks like it is a dress for a tall hunchback.

But I have been loving dresses by Helmut Lang and Ric Owens  that drape in the coolest ways.
This is what happens when the dress is on a body.
The tall hunchback dress turns into an asymmetrical dress with cool draping. I made the dress just before Passover and have worn it at least four times. The dress flatters my body and looks so cool.  When I plan to make another version of this sort of a dress I will use the black dress as my pattern.

So out of three attempts at making this dress, one was a complete failure. One began as a failure but was redeemed with a bit of rough surgery. The last dress is a winner. this has all come at a cost of about two hours of sewing time,  and about $14 of actual out of pocket fabric costs ( once you figure in ALL of the fabrics used for all three dresses).  This does not include the mulling time that took place over a period of a couple of years.
Often when I make garments it feels like I’m scratching an itch of an idea, sometimes I’m playing with how to add particular shapes to a garment, or how to do a particular technique. 
Because I’m not working with commercial patterns but am using a finished garment as a starting point, I don’t have to worry as much about someone else’s idea of how to do things. The failures are all mine, but they all have something to teach me.

Working with clients means that I have deadlines. I don’t have the luxury of creative paralysis.  If an idea does not work, I just have to keep trying until a solution emerges.  Like Tim Gunn says, I have to “make it work”. The bar or bat mitzvah has a set date, I need to be done.
I also have a great tolerance for the imperfect. While that means that my clothes often have loose threads peeking out of the armscye, it also means that I can figure out how to make the goofy disaster  work as an actual garment.


  1. Great post and wonderful dresses.

  2. Dear Sarah...a whole blog for me! I also read Nancy K's blog but I am another Nancy. I live on L.I. and my best fabric buys were "in the city". I got a parking ticket once on the lower east side, Sunday morning, from a cop who didn't like my explanation of parking in front of a Temple on Sunday. Love your blog! Nancy Bailey

  3. Sarah - love the hunchback dress! I would love to knock off your knock off. So-- How tall are you and how long is the dress? Where does the grainline fall? Thanks for the tute!


  4. I will do a post with the measurements today. hopefully i will answer all of your questions in the post.

  5. This is where you shine - I love the way your mind works and wish you could produce a pattern to sell. If you ever need help setting up a digital download, I'd love to help you (it's an easy process actually and sites like PayLoadz will let you do it at no cost to you (at least the last time I looked) until you reach a certain sales level.

    Your dress is amazing. I cut out your cowl dress and it worked. The style didn't flatter my body though and I pretty much have accepted that I can't wear dresses at my current weight. You are so cute in yours - you really rock those styles.

  6. Dear MaryMary86-

    THANKS!!! I would love to hear more about producing a pattern. be in touch.

    as for the dress shape not working for you..the thing to remember is that for the cowl to work the dress needs to grip your body at any point...On my dress it was at the hips. You could just as easily have the dress grip your body at the waist and make the skirt into an a-line or fuller skirt.Maybe after the weekend I will try to do another version with a full skirt and more fitted waist to demonstrate. I schlep around far more weight than I used to..I have given birth to three kids and my body shows it...just figure out the shapes that work for you.


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