Friday, August 11, 2017

Deer Me: The Summer Edition

One of the sad facts of fashion is that "adorable" doesn't always equate to "wearable." Some of the most beloved items in my wardrobe basically sit around for years on end, because they're just so darn unique! One of the things I loved when I purchased, but found almost impossible to color coordinate, was this brown and orange deer skirt. Since I wore it the first time in March, it has come out of my closet numerous times, but always gotten put back in, because it goes with absolutely nothing! The orange isn't a pure orange, but more of that elusive "salmon" color, and the brown isn't really brown, but has a vaguely pinkish hue. You'd think the gold sequins would allow for a nice gold top, but do you know how hard it is to find a top that's gold? 

In stark contrast to the skirt, which I loved at first sight but soon learned to resent, the top that I'm wearing it with started out meh, and has become a regular wardrobe hero! I originally picked it up at the thrift store on a whim, not thinking much about it except that it was cheap, even new with tags, and orange, a color I needed more of. 
But it's proved its worth and more, being the only top I could find that looked remotely good with the deer skirt, the only top that looked remotely good with these crazy neon embroidered shorts I got over the winter (good enough to wear in public, but not good enough to warrant a blog post!), and the perfect top to pair with the floral shorts I got in the fall. I've already worn this top three times since I got it at the beginning of the season, and that's no small feat when you consider The Unfashionista hates to repeat herself! I might go so far as to dub this salmon top the breakout hit of the summer!

Now that I have wrung two outfits out of my recalcitrant deer skirt, I'll probably hang it up for good (euphemism for sell it), but I expect the orange top to live on through a couple more summers!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

No More Tiers

Last summer, I bought this polka-dotted dress on eBay. I was led by the photo to think it would be much longer and more flared than it actually was, and was disappointed by the reality—that it was actually a little too short for work, and had that unflattering "multiple tiers of ruffles" look that was all over skirts in 2010. Remember that look? I had one black skirt that matched the description, which I wore several times in my early Unfashionista days (unfortunately, those were also the days that I couldn't seem to get the hang of adequately lit photography), despite never liking its shape
The infamous "before" picture
Years later, when I acquired this particular dress, I had enough clothes and experience to know I didn't have to wear something I really didn't like. I wore it one time, just so I would have a "before" picture, and then set it aside for redemption.

The things about this dress that I really liked were the sweetheart neckline and the structured bodice (complete with real boning along the princess seams, a true mark of quality that often gets neglected in cheaper garments)—basically, the top half. 
So the first thing I tried to do is cut off the bottom two tiers of the skirt and convert the dress into a peplum top. Sadly, it never really worked for me. It was just slightly too short to look good with any of my pants or skirts. Nonetheless, I kept it around over the winter, deluding myself with the thought that, come spring, I'd find the perfect companion to this poorly proportioned top.

I never did. So finally, a year after getting it, I decided to improve upon the skirt and reattach it. The things about the skirt that I didn't like were the length (too short) and the silhouette. I've never been a fan of multiple tiers of ruffles. I guess the only skirt shape I ever really like is basically an A-line.

I figured that by detaching the ruffles and reattaching them end-to-end so they formed a continuous line rather than a cascade, I would get a shape I'm more comfortable with. So that's what I did.

Each tier was originally attached to the single, basically straight-up-and-down liner. My first step was to seam-rip out the second and third tiers.
Fortunately, each tier was already neatly overlocked on the top edge, so I didn't have to do anything further to prevent fraying. 

I laid the bottom hem of the top tier directly over the serged edge of the second tier and pinned them at four equidistant points, accounting for the slight differences in size between the two pieces. There were just enough creases remaining of the original gathers, that I could line them up neatly without any extra work. First I glued them with temporary fabric glue...
Then I sewed them together with a topstitch, trying to follow the line of the existing hem as closely as possible.  

I followed the same process to attach the bottom tier to the middle tier.

The outside of the skirt was now much improved, and I could have quit right there, but I decided it would add additional fluff and flounce if I also reattached the liner. 

When I'd originally removed the skirt, I'd simply cut the bottom part of the liner off at the level of the bottom of the first tier. 
To restore the two pieces, I put them back together at the cut edge, right sides facing, and sewed them back together with an overlock stitch.

I am much happier with this dress now that the skirt flares instead of cascades. The finished product has more of the "vintage lady" look I had hoped for, and as an added bonus, the skirt gained almost 2 inches in length, making it more office-appropriate. It only took a year—I can finally feel the way I imagined I would when I first bought the dress!

Before.... After!
I tried to take my "after" photo in the same pose and location as the original, but my memory wasn't that good after a whole year!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Millennial Pink

Back in April, I found a pastel pink velvet choker on eBay for 99¢. In terms of trends, chokers are on a downswing since their peak of popularity last summer. But by my calculations, that means I've got a good two years before they become so passé that I have to stash them away in my Save for Later Box, so I've been making the most of their market saturation by buying and wearing them every chance I get.

You know what else has been saturating the market as of late? Shoes with ballerina lacing, which I finally got a pair of early in January. They happened to be the same color as the choker, which is why I felt compelled to buy it.

The color in question? Rose quartz, a.k.a. blush, a.k.a millennial pink. I was unaware that this color was so trendy until I happened to read an article about it sometime after both my purchases. But apparently this powdery hue is quite the phenomenon among the millennial set (hence its name, of course!)

To celebrate my birthday, I decided that nothing could be more appropriate than wearing the trifecta of trends (pink, ballerina lacing, and chokers) from the year past. So I wore them all for my birthday brunch yesterday. Pastel pink got the place of honor in my outfit, not only dominating my jewelry and footwear, but also playing a leading role in the colors of my dress. I may be another year older, but I'll always be a Millennial!

My outfit "in the wild" at A-Town

Thursday, July 27, 2017

It's never just black and white

My boyfriend's parents traveled to Indonesia recently, and all they brought me was this lousy pair of culottes! I jest, of course. I'm actually delighted with these pants—with their summery length, unusual skirt-like overlay, and bold diagonal white stripe, they are unlike anything else I've ever had in my wardrobe...except my white-trimmed black vest, which has enjoyed surprising longevity since its first appearance in 2012. I've thought numerous times of getting rid of it, and every time, I'm glad that I didn't, because I love it to pieces (figurative, thankfully!) whenever I wear it! With its white trim angling gracefully downward, it looked like it was practically made for these pants!
Is it a skirt?
Surprise! It's pants!
 While you can never go wrong with black and white, for me, the color combo is an invitation to wear my most brightly colored accent pieces. Today's color pick was lime green, in the form of some heeled sandals I got for $3.50 at the thrift store, a similarly colored beaded bracelet, and a tiny peridot necklace that originally belonged to my grandmother

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The "Yes it's another open-shoulder top" top

Short-sleeved tops are probably the least-worn type of "basic item" in my clothing collection. When it's cold or just cool, I gravitate towards full sleeves (or at least 3/4!), and when it's hot, I shun any type of sleeves and head straight for the tank tops. But when the temperatures hover between, oh, 74 and 83, those are the days that short sleeves are my friends! Those days are only a few out of our total 365, but today happened to be one of them. So I took the opportunity to wear a short-sleeved shirt that I had refashioned in the past month. 

Here's how I DIYed an all-around-poofy blouse into a sleeker shirt I can feel comfortable in!

Originally it had an elasticized bottom hem. Nothing that bubbles out around my waistline has any place in my wardrobe, so I picked out all the elastic shirring with a seam ripper. I thought this was going to be a quick fix unworthy of a blog post, so I never bothered with a "before" picture.

I thought this alteration would be enough to make the shirt wearable, but nope! I was still unhappy with the very loose fit. And the fact that the front skewed inexplicably sideways. Besides that, the loops that held the buttons left a big old gap running right down the middle of my chest. I decided to solve three problems at once by converting the standard button front into a snug-fitting wrap-around front.

I picked off all the buttons and saved them for later. 

Then, in the mirror, I wrapped the two layers around my body and pinned the fabric in place. Shimmying out of this pin-laden straitjacket was a challenge, but all in the name of fashion!

I reattached the buttons in their new angled line using my sewing machine.

I had fixed the fit and the see-through button placket, but there was still the matter of the sleeves. They were puffed, in direct contradiction to every sensibility I have. I had to do something about them—and that something ended up being slicing them open for the cold-shoulder look I am loving so much!

First I just cut a slit down the center of each, from the shoulder seam to the cuff at the bottom, but that wasn't a dramatic enough hole. 

I then began paring off tiny slices of fabric from each shoulder hole until I had just the size opening I wanted!

At this point, I was unsure how to finish the openings I had created, knowing that the delicate woven fabric was going to unravel at lightning speed. Last time, I had just melted the raw edges to seal them, to disastrously itchy effect. This time, I was going to have to do better. I thought about trying to overlock them, but I knew that, at least in my machine, that would just make the edges frilly, which is not an effect I desired. Ultimately I decided to simply fold the raw edges under and then sew over them with a zigzag stitch to mitigate the inevitable fraying.

That's all there was to it. You wouldn't think that the difference between an open-shoulder and sleeveless top is so great that they would fall into entirely different temperature brackets, but somehow I am more or less comfortable in my cold-shoulder tops even when I'd be cold in a sleeveless one. Will wonders never cease?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Different DIY Cropped Flares

Cropped pants never really go out of style. While the overall silhouette is constantly in flux (wide-leg, skinny leg, flared, name it, it's had its moment!), every spring, like clockwork, you can count on a new crop of crops to crop up! The short pant is perfect for the office, when you're tired of wearing skirts but the weather is just too hot for slacks (and you're still not sold on workplace shorts).

The best thing about cropped pants? They're so easy to DIY! Start with any old pair of jeans, cut off a few inches (usually the inches that are already ragged from years of dragging on the ground), and voila! Instant crops! Already have a pair of cropped pants, but need to make them more modern? That can be done too!*

Take, for example, my light grey capris. I bought them mainly because they only cost a dollar, but it's been a struggle to find ways to wear them. They're kind of a dull color...kind of an unflattering shape...they're all right...they just don't have flair!

To add flair, sometimes all you need to do is add flare. At present, one of the most notable trends in cropped pants is the cropped kick flare. A kick flare distinguishes itself as being a particularly dramatic flare, as opposed to just a slight widening. Here's how to turn ordinary straight-legged cropped pants into flared ones! All in all, it's a simple process that will result in a completely new look!

Turn the pants inside out and put them on. Put a pin on either side of your knee. The knee area will be the narrowest part of the leg, but you must give yourself enough space that you can actually bend your leg!
When making this measurement, it helps to position the pants securely against your thigh while you are still standing up; otherwise they will slide down your leg as you bend over, impairing your accuracy.
If in doubt about the height at which to place the pin, I suggest putting it at or near the top portion of the knee. This will help keep the curves less dramatic, which should be more flattering to your hips.

Put another pin at your hip, wherever you want the pants leg to begin tapering.

Put another pin at the inner thigh wherever you want the pants to begin tapering on that side. Mine ended up being significantly higher up the leg than the pin in the outseam

Next, sew! Your goal when sewing is to create two smooth seams that curve gracefully from the pin at the thigh, in to meet the pin at the knee, and then back out to meet the original side seam by the bottom hem.
If you're not confident in your ability to sew a smooth curve on the fly, then you should probably mark it before you sew. I just wanted to get it done, so I skipped that step!

You'll want to end your curve as close to the bottom hem as possible, but in practice, you'll probably have to do this 1/4 to 1/2 inch above the bottom hem, to allow for the extra layers of fabric that already exist down there. Sewing over that mess probably won't produce clean results.

Obviously, you'll need to repeat the same process on the other leg. I just used the first leg as a template for the second to save myself more tedious pinning in the mirror.

Next, iron the seams.

Next, you're done! Well, except for the finishing touches. For my part, I found that the original side seam was slightly more rounded on the left leg than on the right, making my left hip look huge. I took the pants back to my sewing machine to level off that curve. Then, I was done! For real!

*One more (really low-effort) trick to modernizing your pants is to simply call them by the right name. Remember when I once mulled over the difference between "gauchos" and "culottes?" I ultimately came to the conclusion that they were the same thing, but that "culottes" is what they are calling them now, while "gauchos" is so 2005. So it is with another variety of cropped pants—the capri pant. I first learned about capri pants circa 1999. When they hit the scene, capris were skin-tight, but it wasn't long before I saw straight-legged and flared varieties, which became a beloved part of my wardrobe for several years after. But by ten years later, the idea had become stale—just in time to return under a different name. While "capri pants" is still used as a generic term for all short pants, when fashion writers describe the looks that are in style today, they usually use the more generic "cropped" pant. So, while I wore my various capri pants well into the 2010's, I always felt vaguely frumpy. But just by refraining from calling them "capris," and calling them "cropped pants" instead, I feel 10x more fashionable! It's that easy!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

DIY High-Waist Bikini

Over the past few years, when I've purchased swimwear, I've focused almost exclusively on bikinis. I have one distinctly athletic tank suit that I wear when I want to be, well, athletic, and not worry about my suit falling off. But for your average day spent poolside or a casual dip in the ocean, I almost always gravitate to a two-piece.

This year, though, growing bored with my selection of bikinis (I have a substantial amount of swimwear for someone who maybe goes swimming twice a year), I was delighted to read that one-piece swimsuits are becoming increasingly common. I decided to take advantage of their new popularity by finding one of my own. My only requirement was that it not be boring.

Eventually I found what I was looking for in a green-and-black striped suit with some flattering princess seams I couldn't pass up. There were several of the same suit available secondhand on eBay, so I waited until I found one under ten dollars, and then made my move. It was perfect. But only when I tried it on a second time, long after I could have conceivably returned it, I was disappointed to notice that it was too short for my torso (now I see why there were so many of them for sale)!  

No matter how I tugged it, either the bust would slide down to an unseemly level, or the leg openings would ride up to a height last seen on Baywatch. I've observed that high-cut swimsuit legs are currently coming back into fashion, but I've never found the style flattering, and I certainly didn't want to rock it myself!

However, the overall styling of the swimsuit was very similar to the retro/pinup/50's styles that continue to be a fringe fashion staple today. I decided I'd cut up my swimsuit and turn it from a one-piece to a high-waisted two-piece.

I have to say in advance that I did it wrong—so very wrong. I had no idea working with elastic fabric would be such a tribulation! While the finished product looks passable from a distance, I'm absolutely flustered by the disastrous nature of the work that got it there. But here, I'll let you judge for yourself!
I measured the spot where I ultimately wanted the waistband of the bottoms to lie, added an inch, and cut it.
I thought I was being smart by following the horizontal stripes, but as I finally got around to the other side, I learned that they hadn't been sewn perfectly straight—I'd lost almost an inch in height from one side of the front to the other. Mistake #1! 

Also, since the suit was made of two layers with a lot of gathers, I had cut the inside a lot lower than the outside, thus losing even more effective height. Mistake #2!

With nowhere to go but forward, I hemmed the waistband of the bottoms. I kind of wanted to put some sort of elastic band there, but in examining most of my other swimsuits, they didn't actually seem to have one, so I decided to do without it. Instead, I simply rolled the material under twice, then topstitched. Sadly, this was Mistake #3, as  some parts of the inner layer were too short to actually make it into the hem. Fortunately swimsuit knits don't unravel easily, so I haven't bothered to fix this mistake yet.

I started out with a stretch straight stitch on my machine, but that was taking forever, and seemed to be causing the material to pucker, so midway through, I switched to a three-step zigzag. As you can see, even in the few places where the zigzag itself turned out decent, it still made my suit waistband "do the wave."
When I tried the suit on after finishing the waist, I found that it had stretched quite a bit and now didn't hug my body. My solution was to open up about an inch of each of the seams in the front and then re-sew them a little tighter. The picture at left shows an inside view of this correction.

With the bottoms done (at least as done as I could stand to make them without crying!), I started on the top. By "started," I mean I stuffed it into the bottom of my Projects Box so I could "think" about the best way to finish it. Three months later, I could not procrastinate any more. I consulted the internet about ways to sew elastic material.

While some tips were totally useless to me (buy a walking foot? Sounds nifty! Costs almost as much as my entire sewing machine? Next!), one, which advised sewing over a piece of paper, sounded like it might actually work. Since I'd had trouble keeping all the material together when I sewed the bottoms, I also decided to glue the hems down prior to sewing (usually I just use pins). I was proud of myself for taking this extra step in the name of quality, but alas! It was Mistake #4—the glue (Aleene's No-Sew temporary fabric glue) wouldn't hold the material, so all I did was make it goopy and unworkable until it dried.
As you can see from the picture, I also glued a narrow strip of paper to the top of the piece. The paper may or may not have been Mistake #5. It certainly didn't seem to stop the fabric from puckering, but it did make quite a mess in terms of removal. I had to soak it in water until it dissolved in order to get all of it off, and I can still see bits of it stuck to the seam—even after a soak, a wash, and a swim in the Chesapeake Bay!

I can no longer remember if I had the bright idea to reduce my thread tension while sewing the top, but if that's what I did, it was certainly Mistake #6! For whatever reason, the topstitching on my bikini top is loose, erratic, and unraveling. It looks less like a triple-step zigzag and more like a seismograph during an earthquake!

Even after all these mistakes, I nonetheless thought I had a Minimum Viable Product that I could at least wear once to the beach before throwing it away in despair (or before all the seams come out and I'm left accidentally skinny-dipping!).

So I wore it to go stand-up paddleboarding on Sunday evening!

I am proud to say that at no point did I end up accidentally skinny dipping, and the suit looks much the same now as it did before I started. However, I think after I get it out of the laundry, I might undo all my work and have another go at making seams that don't look like I sewed them while riding a roller coaster!