Blue Phantom of the Opera Masquerade Gown (film version)

Years back, I made this blue version of the film version if the Masquerade gown from Phantom of the Opera.  While the original was pink, this one was changed to royal blue with poinsettias for the Dickens Festival in San Francisco.

This gown is in three pieces, not counting the purchased small hoopskirt.

The bodice is moderately boned and laces in the back.  The top is decorated with a combination of silver laces and red and metallic gold ribbons with red and clear crystals.   The tussy mussy (pictured pinned to the bodice on the right) uses the same ribbons with a poinsettia.

The skirt is a bustled cascade of satin with tulle over it.  The swags of red poinsettias seem to pop out and draw the eye.

More photos are available in this gown’s Facebook album.

Thursday dress

One Thursday morning, I realized I had nothing to wear for an event two days later. At that time, I had available what was in a suitcase.  So off to some local fabric stores for me!  I perused a pattern book for ideas, and based this off of a vintage Butterick.  

I used a teal and bronze shot silk shantung.  This results in the color changing depending on the angle.  Shot fabric is awesome.  I also built in a navy blue petticoat.

The raised waistband is decorated with a pretty little button.

More photos are in this Facebook album.


Dresses and trims workshop package, part 1

Madame Nora pondering a pattern alteration for Miss Ruth

Nora of A Baronet’s Daughter Designs and I are co-teaching a workshop on regency dresses and trims.  Today we held part 1, headed by Nora, focusing on construction.  I will head part 2 on February 4th, focusing on some popular trim methods.  We scheduled this workshop a few months ago, and as luck would have it, there were many marches going on and several people who were interested were unable to make it.  All the power to them!

If you missed today’s workshop, you are still welcome to part 2.  Bring a dress you’d like to trim, or just come to learn how to do folded Van Dyke points, shark tooth trim, and more!   Please contact me for a supplies list that is customized according to your interests.

Me taking a brief selfie-break while Miss Mary sews in the background

Please see this page for more information.  We’d love to have you with us on February 4th!  There is a modest per-student fee to cover the rental of the space.  Nora’s and my time is donated.

Today’s event was held at a charming shop in Portland, Pioneer Quilts, as will part 2.  This is the sort of shop that welcomes you with a crock pot of hot cocoa and marshmallows when you walk in from the cold winter air, with a knowledgable, kind staff, and the feeling of a grandmother’s house.  It’s comforting and warm, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that they have a beautiful selection of French General and Moda fabrics!

So as expected, we did have a small turn-out, as might be expected.  However, we still consider to be a success.  Our two students traveled a few hours from Seattle to join us, and quite a bit was accomplished.

Miss Mary tracing out a pattern

Through modifying a custom pattern to fit their measurements, and making muslin testers, and then back to the drawing board, Miss Mary and Miss Ruth, whose pictures are used with consent to being online, learned a good deal about armcythes and fitting busts.  Both of these points are easy to overlook when making gowns inspired by the regency era.  At the end of today’s workshop, each had a custom pattern to take home (this alone is worth the fee) so that they can make more gowns as their leisure.

Also many shenanigans were to be had.  What that entails…well…what happens in workshops stays in workshops.  It involved New Kids on the Block and other bands taking us back to the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Sometimes girls just wanna have fun. 😉

Miss Ruth pinning a couple pieces together

I must comment on Miss Ruth’s machine.  She brought in a beautiful vintage Necchi machine.  Once upon a time, these machines we the “It” machine for couturiers to use.  Everyone from Coco Chanel to Christian Dior used these graceful, beautiful workhorses.  But alas, like so many other well-known brands, the good ol’ days are behind us, and we are left with not even a ghost of the greatness we once had.  Avoid modern Necchi machines, but if you get the chance to get one of the vintage ones, snap it up!  They’re not easy to find, but are highly desirable.

We do hope you’re consider joining us for part 2 of this fun workshop series.  If you missed part 1, don’t fret.  We are planning another for sometime in the spring.  Be sure to subscribe to this blog in the footer of this page to get notifications when that workshop and others are planned.

Madame Nora…being Madame Nora


Working “for exposure”

Every professional artist I know, defined as people who bring in most of their income from their good, whether that’s dress-making, makeup, or painting, has been asked to work “for exposure.”  I’m frequently asked to make things for sorority girls to wear to parties, payment being exposure, and their friends will see and want my stuff.  I’ve been asked to make things for magazine concept shoots, payment being exposure, where credit is alway in tiny, faint print in the very middle, where it’s obvious we aren’t actually supposed to see it.  I’ve been asked to make things for kids’ birthdays, payment being exposure, because “Little Darling’s friends will want it and beg their parents for it” (these parties aren’t in the same group as parties for children who aren’t going to see their next birthday–I  absolutely will do what I can for terminally ill children).  I’ve been asked can I pretty please make this elaborate costume for a Halloween party, payment being exposure, since everyone will see it?  The bonus kick there was the time I was asked if I could make something that could be tossed in the washer in case someone got too drunk and threw up on it.  Um…I won’t share the thoughts I had.

Exposure doesn’t pay the costs of fabrics, and in fact, it’s one of the worst insults an artist can receive.  It’s not an honor to be asked to work for free, especially when that free also includes expecting us to foot the bills.  It’s worse than…

That’s a popular meme in the sewing world, but it’s a step up from being asked to work for exposure.  See, when artists are asked to make things for exposure, we are told that what we make isn’t even worth the cost of the supplies.

Now, like my post about the cost of fabrics and having to weed out which suppliers lie, something very public spurred me to write about this touchy topic.  Donald Trump’s ex-wife and still-friend, Marla Maples, is trying to get cosmetology services for herself and their daughter, Tiffany, for free, “for exposure.”  Now this is par for the course for Trump himself, with his record of not paying bills and stiffing those he owed.  But what makes Marla and Tiffany’s brazen attempt at “paying” in “exposure” is that they aren’t even pretending to be interested in paying.  They aren’t ordering something under the guise of payment, then not following through.  They’re doing what so many others do and are openly saying that services aren’t worth anything.   Expecting services or good for free is entitlement of the highest order.  Stylist Tricia Kelly received a veiled threat to her business for refusing.

This is one dark side of being in any artistic field.  If artistic people give in, our reputation as someone who doesn’t value our work enough to charge spreads, and if we don’t, we are sometimes told that others will hear about how mean and selfish we are.  For the sake of professionalism, we are expected to stay quiet about it.  After all, divulging information about personal conversations is a major no-no in any industry.  Confidentiality in conversations is taken as a given.

At least Veruca Salt expected someone to pay. When Veruca Salt is a step up, you’re doing something wrong.

I’m not sure why people see wealthy people are worthy of being paid.  No one would think of asking a celebrity to appear at an event or give a performance for free, on their own dime, “for the exposure.”  So why do so many people think that we small-timers should expect to do things for free?  We are the ones less likely to have the funds to buy supplies like that.  No, it doesn’t work to say that we have the free time, so may as well get exposure.

For one, we aren’t sitting around staring at the wall wishing to be making things for free.  We have family and friends we spend time with, maybe some good books, or we’re using that time honing our skills.  Working, whether for pay or for free, takes away from those things.

Second, unless someone is a personal friend, that person doesn’t know how much time we have available.  I personally usually have a little time to be online during the day because I’m often up until 6am working.  So being able to reach me at 4pm doesn’t mean I’m doing nothing.  Chance are you caught me taking a brief break from homeschooling my daughter, doing some house cleaning, or maybe I’m actually standing in line at the grocery store or am behind the wheel at a red light.  Right now, I’m eating a very late lunch while typing, and then I need to go get my sewing room in order to continue working.

And third, saying we may as well work for exposure than sit there twiddling our thumbs completely glosses over how we’re being asked not only to work for free, but to dig into our pockets to buy what’s needed to do what you want.

Sometimes we’ll work for the cost of supplies if the proposed item is something we really want to add to our portfolios, or if it involves skills we’d like to get to work at on someone else’s dime (i.e. someone else paying for the supplies for us to hone new skills), but this needs to be our offer to make.  We’re the ones who know what will bolster our portfolios, or what we’d like to work on doing better.

Now I know there’s this idea that something costing a lot of money means we’re…

The reality is that a lot of what’s charged goes to supplies.  People in some artistic fields do tend to make decent livings pretty easily.  The seamstresses I know who make the most make a lot of costume-quality things because they need to turn things out fast enough to make $200 for a dress worth their time.  A lot of seamstresses have other sources of income or a spouse who covers most of the household bills (like me).  Cosmetology does tend to be one of the more reliable fields, but that doesn’t mean it’s right to ask for them, or any of us, to give and do things “for exposure.”  There are still supplies to be bought, taxes to be paid, time away from our families and friends.

Asking us to work for exposure is like someone asking you to do whatever it is you do for work for, say, a positive Yelp review.  That’s exposure.  But is it going to pay your bills?  How likely is it going to bring in business you wouldn’t have otherwise had?  Let’s say there’s a chance you might get one new person paying you for business six months down the road since that review tipped the scales.  Is that going to be worth the free goods and services you provided?  Unless you are sincerely willing to work for 100% free, please, don’t ask artists of any kind to work “for exposure.”

We love what we do.  Every artistic person is in it first and foremost for the love of it, but we can’t keep doing what we do when payment is “exposure.”  We simply can’t, just as you can’t work for the “exposure” of Yelp reviews.

Aside from the insult and our pockets rarely being deep enough, we know that exposure is likely to be to others who also want things for free, and they now have a lead on someone who will give things away.  If you still decide to ask someone to make something “for the exposure,” don’t be surprised to receive a curt response, or no response.  We work hard at what we do, and that’s worth at least…

…at least that $50.

RENT Angel’s “I’ll Cover You” ensemble

Oh yes, 80’s color-blocking! This was for a Chicago-area production of RENT. In the scene in which this ensemble is worn Angel also wears a red jacket. Somehow the actor playing this role managed to find a spot-on CAD rendering of the skirt and sweater that was very helpful in making this ensemble. The skirt is a A-line in the front with pleats in the back. It closes on the right side with a button above a seam-set “invisible” zipper. While other versions of this skirt for other RENT productions have used general flower prints or appliquéd random flowers on, I decided to hand-paint them to match the original as close as possible. Considering the character of Angel, this felt more appropriate and truer to the character.

Because this is for a stage production, and it is incredibly hot under the lights, I used a lighter twill than I would have for a non-stage skirt and left it unlined to lessen the amount of heat it will trap. The stage lights will reflect off the white so that a slip won’t be needed. The top is made from a light ribbed knit fabric, again light due to the stage lights. I bought it in white so I could dye it to the colors I wanted, especially the sleeve that is right at the point of being either orange or red. The sleeves will be shorter on, as is the nature of knit fabrics. It closes up the front with a darker zipper, as is shown in the CAD rendering.

I tucked the top in for these pics to show the skirt better. The ruff, which shows a little fluffier in stills, is separate, and has elastic to pull on over the head. In the film stills it’s a bit smaller, though in stage productions it tends to be fuller so it can be seen from the audience. Subtle details are lost once you’re several rows back. Since this is for stage, I went with a fuller ruff. The actor has secured tights for the role.

More photos are available in this Facebook album.

A word or 1,257 about pricing fabric

On occasion, I have people who decide to try to verify my pricing by doing layperson google searches for fabric.  I have long discouraged this not for any nefarious reason on my part, but because of how many websites, both small and large, misrepresent what they’re selling.  Something I spend a lot of time doing is checking various public and wholesale websites and ordering swatches to verify what they’re selling.  In 2016, I ordered eight lengths of fabric that were supposed to be silk that all ended up being polyester.   I had a feeling they might, but how amazing would it be to find embroidered silk velvet for $16/yd?  Unfortunately, it was indeed too good to be true.  But those false listings make my pricing appear artificially high.
Now there is a reason I am writing about this right now, the that reason is the currently-live Joann Fabrics listing for Simple Luxuries-100% Silk Yoryu Black & White Packed Dot Fabric (note September 16, 2017: Joann Fabrics finally removed the link.  It’s a good thing, then, that I had it archived.) It’s a lovely-looking black silk dotted fabric, also known as dotted swiss. Now silk dotted swiss isn’t a cheap fabric.  I got some on clearance for $45 per yard.  Ah, now it seems like I overpaid when that listing on one of the nation’s largest fabric store’s website says it’s $30.  Right?

No, I did not.  There are two things to keep in mind.

First, the quality of fabrics varies tremendously.  I’ve seen silk duchess satins what would make you weep for the sheer luxury of them, and I’ve seen some that would make you cry for feeling ripped off by the shameful quality.  I’ve seen sandwashed silk charmeuse that would make you want to get naked and rub that gloriousness all over your skin, and some that’s an insult to silk.  This affects price.  Sometimes the lower quality stuff has a use.  The Goblin Queen gown I’m working on is one such time when a lower quality silk is the better one to use.  The ultra-slubbiness of the silk dupioni is perfect for this, and it was still $24 per yard.  But more often than not, a better quality is desired, and that means a higher cost.

The second reason is this.  Look back at that listing.  Here, I’ll show it to you:

Ah, nice!  Yes, yes!  100% silk, just $30 a yard!  What a savings, especially when that’s the regular price and I paid $45 on sale!  But…BUT!  Let’s scroll on down.

Do you see what I see?  Look again.  Read it all.  Don’t be blinded by the sequins in your eyes (Chicago-reference FTW) on that bargain price of $30 for silk dotted fabric.  Brush it out and look closer.  Here:

Do you see it yet?

Bingo.  For a brief moment, I was excited to think I may have found a new source for silk dotted fabric, but it’s my job to look closer, and there, the catch.  That 100% silk is really 100% polyester.  Now you can see how that $45 I paid on sale per yard isn’t a rip-off.  I got silk.  $30 for that polyester. Joann’s, at least, bothered to mention it somewhere.  Many websites claiming to sell silk aren’t selling silk.  Some do sell real silk.  I don’t deny that at all.  Some absolutely are selling what they claim.  But many aren’t.  My job includes figuring out which is which.  When I give pricing, I give that pricing with the experience of someone who makes it my business to know what sites are honest, and which are lying in their titles and burying the truth further down the page, if they bother disclosing the truth at all.

Another issue with silk is all the art silk saris out of India.  Lovely things, all that art silk.  Perfect for artists!  It wouldn’t be art silk if it wasn’t intended for artists, right?  Too bad there should be a period.  It’s art. silk.  Suddenly it looks different.  Hm, what is it, if not artistic silks for artists?  Artificial.  It’s artificial silk.  It’s usually polyester.  Disappointingly, those $20-silk saris are usually polyester.  Silk saris, REAL silk saris, can easily cost $80-$150 or more.  Each.  Even the vintage ones.  There’s a large market around the world for real silk saris, even at $150.  For real, zardosi silk, that’s a bargain since more saris are about five yards.  $30 a yard for that silk.  That’s an incredible deal.

Since I want my clients to get what they pay for, I don’t play the plausible deniability game that I see go on on Etsy.  I’ve seen gowns made from Joann Fabric’s Silky Solid Silkessence (it even says “silk” in the title, twice!) being passed off as silk.  The sellers either don’t know the difference, of they’re going to claim that, well, the end of the bolt called it “silk essence” (it’s often written as two words on the bolt), so it MUST be silk.  Their low prices are quite often based on what they think is unbelievably cheap silk, when it’s really anything from polyester to rayon to acetate.  By comparison, my prices can seem high, but my prices aren’t artificially high.  My prices accurately reflect real, true, genuine silk.

To make sure you get what you order, I spend a lot of money throughout the year, that I do NOT work into my pricing for my clients, buying fabrics from suppliers around the entire world, on every continent but Antarctica, searching and buying and verifying, then, when I find good silk, checking again later to make sure the quality is consistent.  I call this fabric-hunting.  Fabric-shopping is when I place an order with a trusted supplier.  Sometimes the hunt turns up something great, and sometimes…

…sometimes that silk/cotton blend ends up being…

…polyester.  That is a burn-test to check the fiber content.  $16/yd for embroidered cotton/silk velvet was indeed too good to be true.  I know this because I’ve laid out the money to research.  Eight times in 2016 alone I got something other than silk.  This is part of my job, and I take it seriously to make sure that you are getting real silk, real wool, real cotton, and if you want a synthetic, the best of the synthetics.  I’ve got 18 years of experience doing this as a business.

So this is why I prefer my clients to not try to verify my fabric pricing.  There are too many fraudulent listings out there (again, Joann Fabrics, one of the largest fabric stores in the world, has one such listing live on their website as of this very moment, but then admits the truth further down than most people will read), and too much tricky language.  No one cringes at the price of fabric more than I do. I’m the one who has to break it to people that that dream gown will take $1500 in just fabrics when th budget is $1200.  I’m the one who risks people thinking I’m making it up.  Quite often, I personally eat some of the cost because I feel bad that good fabric costs so much, but I want to add that gown to my portfolio, or someone is so sweet that I really want to make it happen.  I often worry about who will think I’m making up fabric pricing, which more and more often has resulted in me making nothing for my labor by the time all is said and done.

Too bad the ones making things up are far more likely to be the fabric-sellers themselves, from small operations out of China to large stores in America.  Let the buyer beware, but let this buyer–me–be the one to take the risks.

An addition to this post:

Just to make some of you choke, here is what I paid for 100% mulberry silk velvet, at the only place I was able to find the right shade of green that wasn’t too olive, too emerald, or too bright.  I bought 15 yards.  $2,550 for just the velvet for the outside of a McGonagall robe.  Most silk velvets online are actually blends with as little as 10% silk, and many velvets claiming to be 100% silk have a 100% silk ground (the back), but a rayon pile, making their actual silk content closer to 30% total.  All I can figure for why that’s done so much, aside from charging more for the claim of 100% silk, is that they’re measuring the part that’s silk, so maybe that justifies calling it 100% silk to them?  This bottle-green passed the burn test for silk, and comes from a store I trust, one that has since drastically shrunk its silk section.  The pile is silk as well, and that price is actually a great price for mulberry silk.

RENT Angel’s Santa top and belt

This Santa top and belt are for the character of Angel in a Chicago-area production of RENT that is opening soon (link in first comment). I used a wonderfully soft velvet and fur that’s hard to not cuddle up with. Because this is intended to be danced in on stage, I used some different techniques with its creation, such as not Frenching the seams, which can stiffen them, and the fur around the neckline and front edge is sewn only on one side so that, when being danced in, it can move freer and flow like the one in the film. The underarms have gussets – squares of fabric – to give a little bonus room to move. Martial artist pants (and the jeans worn by actors such as Chuck Norris – insert joke of your choice) have gussets in the crotch so the seams don’t split. The coat closes at the waist with a heavy-duty hook and eye and is left open from there on down. The fur used for this isn’t your standard crafting-quality fur. It is a high-quality, expensive fur intended to mimic not only the look of fur from a distance, but the look up close and the texture and movement. I also use a little trick in cutting so that fur, whether real or faux, that I use keeps that soft look to the bottom edges instead of being blunt. The belt is a wide elastic with hand-drawn zebra-inspired pattern with a hidden word (can you find it?) and symbolic imagery. It closes in the back with a heavy brass buckle with four slot options for sizing, though being elastic, it will be comfortable on any of them. I used elastic so it will be fitted, yet not hinder movement.

More photos are in my Facebook album dedicated to this coat and belt.

Arwen-inspired garden elf wedding gown

This interesting spin on Arwen’s “blood red” gown (the difference between this and the requiem is the lower sleeve shape) was for a garden party wedding.

As usual, the main body of the outer gown is velvet with a long train, but in a creamy white with blue trim instead of brocade.

The undergown trim is like a bed of petals over the shoulders and around the arms, with strands of sequins wrapped in for a little sparkle.  I used brocade for the upper sleeves, and a textured crepe for the lower sleeves.


More photos are in this Facebook album.




“Princess Diaries 2” Coronation gown, my wedding version

My brother and I were laughing our way down the aisle because…well, read the description!

This was my wedding gown.  10 yards of silk duchess satin, almost as many yards of pintucked silk dupioni, and 5,000 Swarovski crystals. Yes, 5,000.

As of two weeks before my wedding, the crystals hadn’t arrived.  Cue a frantic drive down to Los Angeles with my mother-in-law to track down as any as I needed, which I had to buy at retail (it’s more painful than it sounds).  Finally, with a mere thirteen nights left, I frantically started to make this gown.  No pressure!  Well, except that our caterer backed out for a more lucrative gig (and kept our deposit…), leaving us in a lurch and having to re-plan the entire reception, including location.  Oh, and I was also making the cake.  Thank goodness I don’t need sleep…. 

I made this gown in three pieces.  The first is the bodice, which is lightly boned and zips up the back.  There is more fabric over the shoulders than I’d otherwise have liked, but, since this fabric has no stretch, I needed that excess so I could nurse my baby as she needed.  That was my most important priority that day, no matter what anyone thought about it.

Under that is a longline corset.  The unadorned fabric visible in the neckline of these photos is the top of the corset.  The boning stops underbust to facilitate in nursing.

The last is, of course, the skirt.  This part obviously took the longest due to all that beading!  I made a French bustle to contain the length.  It was almost nine feet from my waist!

On the day of the wedding,  I was down a flight of stairs about 150 yards down a hall when the ceremony started.  No one at all thought to tell me that it was starting.  I’m so chronically on time for everything that it as just assumed that I’d be there.  Since I thought it was strange that no one called for me, my ladies and I snuck closer to find out what was going on, and heard the music.  We rushed up the stairs, I tore my skirt, and we got there literally at the moment my maid of honor was to start walking down the aisle.  We couldn’t have cut it closer.  What a tiring day!!

For credit where credit is due, the lovely Carmen, my “Don Juan”/”Think of Me” bride, was our makeup and hair artist that day!

See this Facebook album for more photos.