Thursday, April 26, 2012

For my next challenge...

Now that the Smithson gala is behind me, it's time to focus on my next sewing and crafting challenge.

Once again, my daughter and I will be going to Otakon, the big anime convention in Baltimore. We had so much fun last year that we're doing it again! But we need new costumes. And this year, my son Ian is going to join us as well.
Diana made the suggestion that we choose a theme, and have costumes that fit the theme. Her first thought was "1980s kids cartoons", and thought that Ian would make a great "Inspector Gadget." But then we couldn't quite come up with good costume ideas for the two of us. I thought I could go as Velma from "Scooby Doo" since it was the only female character I could think of who wasn't built like Barbie.
After much back and forth, the three of us agreed on a theme and what we wanted to do for costumes. So I went to the web and started finding reference pictures:




Yep, we're going as Disney Villains!

The costumes will present some interesting challenges, not the least of which will be that Diana will be wearing a fur coat in the middle of summer. But I'm going to have fun with these! Luckily I have three months to pull them together. All the main patterns will be drafted with PMB, of course, which will be easy for Diana's Cruella costume, but doing Jafar and Maleficent will present more challenges.

Main issues:
  • Cruella's coat: making it fluffy without being stiflingly hot
  • Cruella's handbag: finding faux arctic fox tails that aren't too expensive
  • Jafar's headpiece: how to make it big and poufy without making it top-heavy
  • Jafar's staff: making the eyes glow (Ian says he and his dad will work on that!)
  • Jafar's shoulder pieces: making them stiff without being unwieldy
  • Maleficent's headpiece: shaping the horns
  • Maleficent's staff: making the glowing orb

As always, suggestions are welcomed, as are links to similar costumes so I can see how other people did the same thing!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Smithson Gala: The Report

Last night's gala was just amazing. Okay, they all are, but every year I'm blown away by how special the evening is. The reception started at 7:00 pm, and I didn't leave until well after 10:00 pm. They were in no hurry to rush us out, to make up for last year's gala, when they had to have everyone out of the building by 9:00 pm because of the threat of the government shutdown at midnight. Luckily there was no such pressure this year!

First of all, some observations.
  • There was quite a lot of "understated glitz" in the dresses. I spotted quite a lot of sequins, beads and sparkles, but nothing outrageous or flashy... it was all very elegant and composed.
  • At last, the men were getting in on the fun! Different colored ties, vests, cummerbunds... a few white jackets, too. Several men in military dress uniforms. And one in a kilt.
  • Monochromatic and tone-on-tone predominated. Very few prints. One or two "art to wear" jackets.
  • More shorter skirts (although long still prevailed).
  • More straight skirts and sheaths, with just a few A-line or wider skirts. Nothing poufy.
  • Lots of ruffles.
  • One or two very unfortunate outfits, including one that resembled a 1980s bridesmaid dress in moire fabric that did not flatter the wearer. Also, one young lady in a short-skirted ensemble, all very dark navy, including her tights... and with chartreuse pumps.
Now, on with the pictures!

By the way, I must apologize for the (lack of) quality of the pictures. The venue was quite dim, and I tried taking pictures without a flash to be unobtrusive. But many of my pictures were blurry, so I'm only sharing the ones that at least show some of the details.

The cover of the program.

 Me with my friend Margaret, who wore a lovely sheath of a deep red slinky knit. So very elegant!


There were several dresses with this tiered ruffle effect. Most were pretty flat ruffles, like this, but there were a few fluffier ruffles too.

One of the guests at my table, in his striking vest. He has worn other interesting outfits to previous galas: I think my favorite was the one year when he wore a Neoprene jacket.
On the right is Christine Mullen Kreamer, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the National Museum of African Art. She was the host at our table.



 Virginia Clark, Director of Advancement and Philanthropic Giving for the Smithsonian, in one of her beautifully tailored silk pantsuits.


Because Bob was unable to attend due to a business meeting in Chicago, I asked fellow sewing enthusiast Jennifer Georgia to be my guest for the evening. She made her outfit as well, pairing a mauve silk charmeuse with a burnout velvet shawl.



Heather is another Smithson member who makes her outfit every year. This year's was just lovely: a fully boned corset over a wide circle skirt. The fabric had a subtle ripple to it. She said she was inspired by the necklace she wore with the dress, a gift from her husband.


 The back of Heather's dress, showing the corset lacing. I'm now convinced I need to make a corset for myself.


This short sparkly dress is really as flashy as it got. There really were no truly "daring" gowns; a few low-cut or deep V fronts or backs, but nothing too risque.


I counted at least six solid red dresses, and there were probably more I didn't see. It certainly was the flashy color of the evening!




Red and ruffly!


I think this was the only tailcoat.


And this was the only kilt I saw. Oh, and see the gentleman just to his right? He was walking through the crowd, gently tapping on a handheld chime, to announce that it was time to head downstairs to dinner.

 The guests moving towards the dining venue: the central courtyard of the Portrait Gallery.

 Jennifer's outfit.


Jennifer and me at dinner. I'm wearing a necklace of chocolate pearls that Jennifer loaned me; it was the perfect complement to the dress! (And yes, I got lots of compliments on the dress!)

The Menu...


 One thing is for sure, the food at the Gala events is always top-notch and delicious. This time I remembered to take pictures of it, too!




 Dr. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian, speaking to the guests before dinner.

 The appetizer (it was prettier when it was served... I had already shuffled around the melon and taken a bite before remembering to take a picture!)


The main course. The green oval is the Asparagus Timbale; I'm going to have to figure out how to make it because it was just yummy.

 The desserts are always worth waiting for. This was one of three dessert buffet tables, and there were more treats being passed (including the cutest little baby ice cream cones... each one about two inches tall!).
 My dessert plate, which included a meringue lollipop, milk chocolate caramel, two macarons, a s'mores lollipop, a few different fudge confections, and a creme brulee.


One of the passed desserts: a lollipop consisting of a swirl of dark chocolate and a single raspberry.

Yeah, I was pretty much stuffed. But it was all soooooo good!!


My souvenir! I got to take home one of the centerpieces.

So that's another Smithson gala done with. Thanks so much for being a part of the fun! I love sharing the dressmaking process with you, and sharing the pictures from the event too. I know I'll be wearing my dress again in January, when Bob and I go to Las Vegas for the annual Home Inspectors conference, which means I'll need to make a tie and cummerbund for Bob out of the copper charmeuse, but I've got a few months to get that done!!


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Smithson Weekend, Part One

I'm taking a breather at home prior to getting ready for this evening's Gala, and figured I would post about the two events I've attended so far.
On Friday evening, I went to a reception at the National Postal Museum. For those of you who have never heard of it, it is not on the Mall with the other museums. Rather, it's next door to Union Station, in the basement of a former post office building. I've been there several times now and it's always fascinating. This time around I was able to see the exhibit "Fire and Ice: Hindenburg and Titanic." It is a wonderful exhibit about the role played by postal workers on both the Hindenburg and Titanic. There are a few artifacts, including some singed mail pieces from the Hindenburg. I also learned that out of 7 million pieces of mail carried on the Titanic, not one piece was recovered.
There was great food:
(This was one of at least six stations; all the food revolved around a Creole theme. Yummy.)

And there's just something special about wandering through a museum with a live string trio as your background music.
(Sorry for the blurry photos... my phone doesn't take the best pictures indoors)

There were some interesting outfits, but mostly it was "business casual".
This outfit was such a stunner; the workmanship on it was amazing. The picture doesn't show the gorgeous details in the fabric, nor can you see the amazing seaming on the sleeves. But I stood there for five minutes chatting with her and (with her permission) lifting up edges and corners and marveling at the construction. And her hat was amazing too.

Another blurry photo... sorry. These were my three favorite outfits from the evening. The dress on the left was much more vividly colored than this photo shows. The coral silk jacket with black edging and matching shell was just gorgeous. And the beige silk pantsuit had a lovely front detail.

The Saturday morning program took place at the National Zoo. We had breakfast (a buffet with all sorts of goodies, including fresh berries I could have eaten by the quart):

I'll say one thing for these Smithson events: they know how to put on a spread.

We then listened to National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly tell us about all the things that are going on at the zoo and its associated facility, the Conservation Center in Front Royal, VA:
Then it was off to see the animals! We started with the lions, and were lucky to see three of the lion cubs -- now "teenagers" -- playing in front of us!

The one on the right kept biting the one on the left and pulling his skin up; we were all waiting for the cub to growl or take a swipe at his brother, but for some reason he just acted like nothing was happening.
Then Daddy showed up to see what the boys were up to:

Part of what they do is "enrichment activities" -- this one involved an empty beer keg.




Of course we paid a visit to the pandas. This one (I think it's the male, but honestly, I can never tell them apart) was enjoying a treat made of fruit bits frozen into a ball.


We saw lots more animals, including the new little baby Howler Monkey, the Fishing Cat, and the elephants. But what elicited the most oohs and aahs and squeals?

A mama duck with her five little balls of duckling fluff, leading them out from a bush and across the path to a pond.

Now I've got a few hours to rest my feet and then it will be time to get ready for the gala! I'll be tweeting from the dinner (@welmoeds), and will also be posting pictures with Instagram, so follow me there as well (User name is "welmoeds"). Hopefully I'll get some good pictures tonight; I'm bringing both my phone and my camera to make sure!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Not Sewing, but still very cool

I've always been a bit of a Space Geek. When the Shuttle program started, I watched Nichelle Nichols (Uhura on the original "Star Trek") encourage me to "Fly the Enterprise!" I sent away for the information packet and was so discouraged to find out that my poor eyesight would eliminate me, and even if I could overcome that, it required an awful lot of math knowledge, which I also did not have. Oh well. Still, I watched with bated breath as the Enterprise took its first baby steps, separating from the 747 and gliding in for its first landing on August 12, 1977.

This morning, I headed for the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center, next to Dulles Airport, to get a front-row seat for the arrival of the shuttle Discovery. I had never been able to make it to a live launch, so I knew this would be my last chance to see a shuttle in the air!

Bob, Ian and I arrived at the center about half an hour after the gates opened, and found ourselves in one of the very last open spots. The place was packed! Because the museum wasn't open yet, everyone was outside. Luckily the weather was very pleasant.

Ian and Bob waiting for the second fly-by of the shuttle Discovery.

Every possible viewing spot was packed with people, including the tower:


I'm assuming these were employees and VIPs. I would have given my eyeteeth to be on top of that tower!!

We knew there would be two fly-bys visible from our vantage point. The 747 carrying the Discovery was due to make a "missed landing" at Dulles at around 10:30, and would then spend about 40 minutes buzzing around downtown DC before returning to Dulles to land.

Here's the first fly-by:


Once its sight-seeing tour of the National Mall was done with, it came back to Dulles:



It was supposed to land on this pass, but I guess the pilots were reluctant to end the trip, because it pulled up and circled around again! This turn took a good ten minutes... the plane's turning radius is not exactly tight. But finally it came round again, landing gear down, and touched down at Dulles.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Smithson Gown 2012 is Ready to Go!

The Smithson Gala is this coming Saturday the 21st, and much to my amazement my dress is already finished and ready for the ball! I think this is probably the fastest that I've ever finished a Smithson gown: I only bought the fabric a little under two weeks ago, during my one-day Fabric Buying Trip to New York.
I'm afraid details about the design and fitting process are a little slim this time around. I didn't even make a muslin, believe it or not. Originally, I was going to make an underdress out of a solid fabric (the copper charmeuse), with an overdress of lace, with long sleeves, a shawl neckline, and a full skirt.
Finding and buying the fabric forced a design change, mostly because I just couldn't afford more than three yards of the lace. My original design would have required at least five yards of lace, with a lot of waste due to the cut-on sleeve style known as the Kimono draft in PatternMaster Boutique. So it was time to come up with a new plan.
How about doing an over-sheath, with a straight skirt (I was really trying to reduce the number of seams I would have to sew in the beaded fabric)? Nope; the fabric wasn't wide enough to go from shoulder to floor in one piece. But perhaps an Empire waist...
I hadn't tried an Empire draft in a long, long time... For some reason I always thought of them as terribly unflattering on large bodies. But it was really the only option. So I drafted an Empire-waisted dress with no darts in the back and a waist dart in the front, with set-in short sleeves.
But could I get it on and off without a zipper?
I made a mad dash to the fabric store to pick up a yard of lace and test my idea. Originally I had planned to put a side zipper in the underdress, but found I could slip it on and off without a zipper. But the overdress... Could I wriggle my way into (and out of!) the lace without damaging it, or getting stuck? Fortunately, I could get it on and off by myself, so I took a deep breath and got started.
Have you ever cut into expensive fabric? I stood poised over that lace for about fifteen minutes, second-guessing myself, pondering the "what ifs", positioning and repositioning the pattern pieces, until I finally just took a deep breath and made that first cut. And once that was out of the way, the rest of the cutting proceeded pretty easily.
Mostly.
See, the fabric is heavily beaded in motifs:
It's a combination of sequins, glass tube beads, and round glass beads. Everything was sewn on by hand. And those beads are NOT kind to scissors. I crushed beads with pliers along the cut lines, and then had to go back and remove MORE beads from the seam allowance. Still, during the sewing process, I managed to break four Titanium needles on my industrial Juki. Yes, I was wearing safety glasses.
Anyway, the construction of the dress went pretty quickly, considering how difficult the fabric was to work with. And now, here is the result:
The lace overdress is about two inches longer than the solid copper underdress. I kind of wish the underdress was longer, and I might still go back and add a band at the bottom. The length of the overdress was dictated by the beading: I would have liked it to be about an inch or so shorter, but that would have meant cutting and sewing the waist seem right smack through the middle of the most heavily beaded sections of the fabric.
Here's the back view:
The waist sash was a suggestion made on Saturday by my good friend Jennifer, who also suggested that the underdress should have a square neckline (it was originally a scoop neck) with a facing. Her suggestions were spot on!!
The sleeve detail. You can see that I used French seams for the overdress. What may not be as obvious is that the upper armscye of the charmeuse underdress is tacked to the armscye seam of the overdress. This keeps the two dresses aligned and makes that shoulder seam on the overdress less obvious. This was a suggestion made by the PatternMaster Users Group at our meeting on Sunday. Thanks, ladies; you were right!
The neckline edging was another challenge that Jennifer helped me with. I really wasn't sure what I was going to do. She suggestion using the gold trim and sewing it onto the edge of the neckline, trimming away the extra netting underneath. So I carefully trimmed just the gold edging from the piece left over from when I cut the skirt, and hand-sewed it to the neckline edge, using gold embroidery thread.

Now, for a moment of total serendipity. When we first arrived in New York for our buying trip, my dear friend Sarah met us for lunch and presented me with a pair of earrings she had made, as a birthday gift. And, wouldn't you know, these earrings are the PERFECT complement to the dress!!
Now my only conundrum is what to wear as a necklace... if anything. I'm open to suggestions!!

All in all, I am very happy with the dress. It's totally different from anything I've made for past events! Thanks to everyone who sent me emails or commented with their suggestions. I'm looking forward to taking pictures at the gala and posting them on Sunday!

Friday, April 6, 2012

My whirlwind New York City fabric buying trip

On Wednesday, April 4, I left the house at about 6:00 a.m., bound for New York. Along the way I picked up two sewing friends (one of whom had never been to New York City before!), and we headed north to seek the Fabric Mecca known as New York City's Garment District.
We emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel at about 11:30 a.m. and, after parking the car, headed for Ben's Kosher Deli to meet up with two local sewing friends for lunch. Suitably fortified, we then struck out to seek our fabric fortunes. Luckily, we did have a map!
Many of the stores on this map were found via the excellent Shop the Garment District blog. I find it so much more useful to have at least something of a plan before heading to the garment district; otherwise you just go into total overwhelm at the multitude of possibilities.
Our first stop is, alas, not on this map, and I neglected to pick up a card. But it is affectionately known as "Kaballah Man" by my dear friend Sarah, and it's on 39th street between 7th & 8th. Just look for the poorly-spelled hand-written signs on paper in the window; you really can't miss it.
I picked up the copper charmeuse for my Smithson gown there, along with two other knits that will be made into tops:
The one on the left is a black and brown mottled slinky knit with sparkly glitter on it. After I laid it out on the table to take the above picture, I ended up having to use my lint roller to pick up the excess glitter. Needless to say, it got prewashed by itself, and I hope it won't continue to shed. If it does, I will not be using it.
(Note to myself: one of the biggest mistakes I made was in not picking up business cards from every store we went to, and noting which fabrics I got where. Since I paid in cash for everything, most places didn't give me a receipt.)
We were walking past Diana Fabrics and I happened to glance inside as the owner was rolling out some exquisite lace fabrics for a customer. So we went in to take a look. I showed her the copper charmeuse and she immediately grabbed a bolt to show us. It was an amazing hand-beaded French lace, very heavily embellished, that looked stunning with the copper. But it had two things going against it: since it was so extensively beaded, it was quite heavy, and I worried it would strain at the shoulders too much. And second, it was $95 a yard, far more than I was prepared to spend (although she did try to offer me a deal of $75 a yard). But we all agreed that we would keep looking, but come back if we didn't find anything more suitable.
The next stop was Spandex House, since one of our party was interested in printed knits. She found a few that she liked, and I picked up some for myself:
The "droplets" fabric just looked too fun to pass up (hey, I can make a "wet T-shirt"!), and we all agreed that a Home Inspector should have a shirt that looks like wood.

Next we headed for City Sewing, where I picked up some parts for my industrial machine:
I got a new Teflon foot, two bobbin cases and a dozen bobbins. One thing I really love about industrial machines is that the parts are so reasonably priced!!

By this point we were really starting to feel our feet, so just hit two more places: Around the World Fashion Magazines, and Metro Textiles. At Metro I picked up some blue bottom-weight cotton for pants, and a slate-blue chambray for some shirts. Kashi at Metro is wonderful to deal with; he has the ability to find exactly what you're looking for amid the masses of bolts stacked in his store.
I also picked up a piece of peacock-blue paisley knit at Metro that for some reason I forgot to photograph. But it will show up in a garment soon enough!

At quarter to six we headed for the car and started the trip back home. Even though we left at the height of rush hour, we only had a little slow traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel and the New Jersey Turnpike, but that lasted only a couple of miles before everything opened up. We listened to the Broadway Channel on Sirius XM and belted along with the showtunes during the drive home, and I was back home a little after 10:30pm.

I had so much fun doing this trip that I'm already thinking about when I can go back. I was worried that so much driving in one day would be too exhausting, but it was fine (especially since I had wonderful company!). With three people sharing the costs, it came out to just over $50 per person for gas, tolls and parking, which is only about $10 more than the bus would have cost. And driving gave us much more flexibility with the schedule.

Now that I'm stocked up on fabrics, I guess it's time to start turning them into clothes!

Note: we never made it to the stores on 35th or 36th streets; our packages were too heavy and our feet were too tired!! But next time I hit the city, I'll start South and move North.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Calling on the Collective Wisdom of my Readers...

Boy, am I late in getting started on this project. How late? Well, the Smithson gala is on April 21. That's right; just over two weeks away. And I have no idea what I'm going to make.
This year's gala will be at the Museum of American Art and Portrait Gallery, which is actually not on the mall. It's in the old U.S. Patent Office building, The gala was held there once before, in 2007. I wore this red dress.
I had a few ideas about what kind of dress to make for the upcoming gala, thanks to some discussions with my ASG friends and the members of my PMB users group. The basic idea was a sleeveless sheath dress in a solid copper, with an overdress of some kind of beaded or sequined sheer fabric with long sleeves and a shawl collar.
I had no luck at all finding fabrics locally, so I decided to take a quick one-day trip to New York City to scour the fabric district. I brought along two friends from Maryland, and met up with two more from New York, and together we tackled the mission of finding just the right fabrics for this dress.
Here's what we came up with:
The base fabric is a charmeuse that is probably polyester but is so luscious it feels like silk. The embellished lace is a French Lace that really appealed to me, although I nearly gagged at paying so much for it (after some haggling, it was just over $50 per yard). But it was just perfect, so I had to get it! My friends all agreed, luckily.
So, now I have the fabrics... but I'm not convinced about the design. What do you think? I'd love to get some input from my readers as to what design would look good on my and showcase the fabrics. I have four yards of the charmeuse and three yards of the lace.
Help me, Sewing Readers! You're my only hope!