Sep 13, 2014

What Did We Learn From Project Runway This Week? Season 13, Episode 8

Sponsorships have always driven some of the challenges on Project Runway (think of the perennial HP design challenge, in which the designers use touchable tablets to create their own textile design; I always look forward to that challenge and covet the opportunity to easily make a tessellated print with a few finger swipes).

And in this episode of Project Runway the designers were tasked with creating a look to walk the "rainway" — a runway topped by a movie set-style rainmaking machine that soaks the models as they stomp the catwalk. The looks had to be avant-garde — which was somehow inspired by Samsung's new curved TV — a demand that matched the unusual runway experience they were about to create.

You want me to do WHAT?

Now, the avant garde challenge is always a toughie for Project Runway designers. Very few people seem to have a good idea of what "avant garde" actually means. It's artistic, not really wearable, forward-thinking, larger-than-life...

There are usually a number of stick-a-bunch-of-crap-on-it looks, like Char's:

And usually a number of designers interpret "forward thinking" as futuristic, such as Emily and Korina's not-very-successful looks:

Welcome to the planet Xanadu

Very few designers can actually create something truly exciting and wholly new, and I guess it's no surprise that Sean and Kini were the only designers not to get soaked by this two-day challenge (the Project Runway Fashion Week show took place this past week, and I kept myself off the Internet so I wouldn't ruin the surprise of seeing the collections. I think it's safe to say those two are in the top 3).

In his critique, Tim Gunn said Kini's look was "like Schiaparelli" — high praise that foreshadowed runway success:

Ma'am, your umbrella is dripping on the floor
Kini's look was perfection. Inspired (obviously) by an umbrella, it was also perfectly executed — those folds perfectly draping across the hip and tapering down into a point. Yes, it's literal, which the judges normally HATE. But in an avant-garde challenge, it worked. Plus, the dude made gloves. Gloves! Is there anything this guy can't do?

Sean, meanwhile, created a look that didn't just reference the rainway — it made use of the new medium in a specific, necessary way. It was, as my husband said, "some next-level shit."

Painstakingly sewing RIT dye into the seams of his white dress, he gambled on the rain activating the color as the model walked the runway. The judges were suitably blown away as his dress quickly changed from all-white to an ombre-effect pink and yellow (how did that model keep herself from looking down to check it out as she walked the runway?).

Sean didn't just sew a lovely dress. He created a theatrical experience — one that could only happen in this very specific environment. That's avant garde. Somebody better save this dress, because the Met is going to want it for their Sean Kelly retrospective in 2034:

It reminded me of this Alexander McQueen dress/runway experience, in which model Shalom Harlow spun on a turntable as two robot arms equipped with paint sprayers doused her dress:

Like Sean's rainway experiment, this McQueen moment was exceptional in its singularity and the "what the F$%^ is happening?" factor. Sean's look was perhaps even more interesting for the fact that no extra technology was needed to make it happen; the element of water provided the catalyst to transform his simple white dress into a work of art.

Kini and Sean shared the win, which was only fair considering how superlative both designers' work was. Can you tell I was excited by this week's episode?

Here's what I was not excited by:

Sandyha's big top jumpsuit topped by a pinwheel vest. Not only are her designs childlike, she's also unbelievably immature. After the judges' critique, in which a number of designers' work was compared to McQueen, she told them all she should win because she's the only true original in the group. She's lucky this is a particularly restrained bunch of Project Runway competitors. Nobody said a thing, though you can see their "bitch, please" looks on their faces:

Girl, you better sleep with one eye open tonight
Poor Fade. He seemed to get a little lost in this challenge. It was confusing: they were told to be inspired by the TV's technology. Everyone else knew to let that one slide. He put an actual play button on his bodice:

What was your favorite look this week? We're getting close to the end: any predictions?

Sep 6, 2014

What Did We Learn From Project Runway This Week? Season 13, Episode 7

Sometimes I love Project Runway so much I would probably let it put a baby in me.

And this week’s episode, with its Met Museum Charles James exhibit visit and Tim Gunn feelings, underlined all the reasons I adore this show: fashion, craft and heart.

The challenge was to create a gala look inspired by Chopard jewels. But before the designers could even get their pencils out to sketch, Tim Gunn made a surprising announcement: he would be using the Tim Gunn Save (TM) on Char —the last eliminated designer.

Tears were shed — at least as many by Tim as by Char. (He's more of a softie every season, isn't he?) I, for one, was very happy to see her return. Char is one awesome lady.

After that emotional moment, Tim took the designers to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they visited this summer's Costume Institute Exhibit on Charles James for inspiration (sorry friends; it has since closed). It's so cute how excited the designers were — like they couldn't just pay the donation/admission and see it themselves any time.

It really was an incredible exhibit though, particularly if you are interested in patternmaking and clothing construction. I took my six-year-old daughter in July. We took some photos of our favorite looks:

Yes, this IS meant to look like a vagina
And though their time was as constrained as it's been in recent weeks, nearly all of the designers created a look worthy of the jewels that inspired it. Even the worst looks of the week weren't terrible for a change, though there was one that caused me some confusion. Sean too:  

And that is Amanda's look, a strappy black jumpsuit topped with Betty Draper's organza bathrobe. The judges loved it, apparently, even though it was shockingly (or boringly?) similar to the Hot-For-Yoga-Teacher look she designed in Episode 3 (see below left):

I just....sigh...don't even. What? Are they all on crazy pills?

Moving on.

Lesson 1: Upholstery fabric — It ain't just for couches 

I don't know if this tie-in was intentional, but Mood NYC has a new upholstery store — which was perfectly highlighted in this challenge by the fact that Korina successfully used couch-weight furnishing fabric to create a beautiful structured coat. I'm not a huge fan of Korina the Person, but this week Korina the Designer did a pretty amazing job:

Quoth Korina’s model: “It’s so’s you.”

Cut to... Korina wearing a very similar coat:

She struggled with pattern-matching — as we all do. Tim Gunn had to ride her a little to take the front apart so that everything lined up properly. It was obviously a pain to do, but worth it in the end. Coincidentally, earlier this week I found a copy of  a "Sewing With Nancy" tips book on my building's free table (one of the big benefits of apartment living — since we've lived here we have taken in numerous books, a dollhouse, and even a wafflemaker from the free table). Skimming it, I found a great tip on pattern-matching: Cut one side at a time, and while you pin the first take a moment to trace the print onto the paper pattern piece. That way you can use it as a guide to perfectly line up the second piece you cut. A large-scale print like Korina's would have been easy to match with that method. (If she was using the flat-pattern method, of course).

Lesson # 2: Be judicious with the neoprene, people

One thing I've been loving this season of project Runway is the designers' use of neoprene as a fashion fabric. Here are two great examples from previous episodes that demonstrate how wetsuit fabric can be used for great effect:

As a structured shoulder detail
As a jacket with cool cutout sleeve bands

But this week Kini, a designer for whom I am totally rooting despite his giggly cattiness, attempted a bustier cut from neoprene, a highly structured fabric meant to insulate. He might have had better luck shaping a bra cup from a couple slices of stale bread:

The judges didn't totally hate it though because his overall design was at least interesting. Meanwhile, my six-year-old described Kini's dress this way: "Half is like a girl who's dressed and half is a girl who's naked." 

Since you're wondering, that wasn't her worst criticism of the week though. She described Fade's dress as "too bootyish":

Also bootyish,  Emily's dress:

And "too clumpy," inexplicable fan-favorite Alexander's molten lava dress:

What was your favorite look this week? Were you as satisfied as I was with this episode? Are Sandhya's smug looks driving you bonkers? Do you Fall sewing plans include upholstery fabric and neoprene?

Aug 29, 2014

What Did We Learn From Project Runway This Week? Season 13, Episode 6

Something is afoot on Project Runway. For one, Kini was once again denied a deserved win — for the third time, I think we can agree.

And two: when did each episode of Project Runway become an hour and a half long? (And how did I not notice that?)

Anyway, the challenge was to design two non-traditional bridal looks — one for the wedding and another for the reception. Featuring guest judge Dita Von Teese (whom my six-year-old daughter proclaimed "THE WHITEST PERSON SHE HAS EVER SEEN!"), the challenge allegedly had no rules.

It was another team challenge and the time constraints were again unfortunately tight. I say "unfortunately" because there's little room for ambitious design when you only have a day. But back to Kini for a moment:

Lesson 1: Being a team player doesn't always make you a winner

Truly, I think both Sean and Kini should have won for these two looks. They were the only team that managed to design and execute cohesive, beautiful and appropriate looks, each making the other stronger:  

Kini's design (left) was exceptional and Sean's winning look is fairly divine. Kini's quibble with Sean was the fact that he only sewed the pants (oh, those amazing pants!) while Kini picked up the slack and finished the white blouse for him. Kini is obviously a sewing superstar, banging out complicated, well-finished looks week after week (I would LOVE to take a closer look at his process, wouldn't you?) but as we've been told before: this is a show about design, not sewing. However, had Kini left Sean to finish the blouse on his own, perhaps the runway results would have been different. 

Lesson 2: Effort doesn't always equal elegance

Sandyha spent hours creating what she called "handmade French lace" in this bright yellow. She then sewed strips of it to her bodice (below left). Googling French lace I could find nothing that resembled Sandyha's handiwork. And to me it just looked like upholstery trimming. I'm all for handcrafting, but if the effect is the same as hotgluing bulkifying braided trim to a satin bodice...then why bother?

Of course, Sandyha was safe and Char went home. Her look (above right) was quite the mess and she seemed uncharacteristically lost in this challenge for some reason. But I was so sad to see her go. I was sure she'd make it at least near the end. Let's look back at some of her other, better looks over the past five episodes:

Lesson 3: Designing your own textile opens up a world of possibilities

Fade's look (below left) was not my favorite but I was interested in his technique. Using the same fabrics as Emily (below right) he layered and pieced together shapes to make this edgy textile. The effect is pretty cool — and definitely unique. And somehow it didn't end up bulky (or quilty) as I'd expected it would. 

I'm exhausting my kid's TV time — and the minutes in which I can devote to this (summer vacation is SO long), so I will leave it up to you readers to comment on Samantha and Alexander's looks: 

Aug 28, 2014

Finished Project: Simplicity 1314 Times TWO

When my sewing students told me they wanted to learn to make a dress, I knew finding a pattern would be a challenge. After all, they're a diverse bunch of ladies, each with her own style. How can you possibly pick a dress pattern to please more than one person? 

So first, we settled on some musts we could agree on: sleeves, a simple neckline (no collars or button plackets), and a zipper closure. I also wanted to include a few key techniques: how to sew princess seams and attach a separate bodice and skirt (Sorry, no shift dresses!). It also needed to be a Fall/Winter style. 

I searched and searched...and then one day I got an email: Simplicity had released a new Cynthia Rowley pattern — 1314, a Fall-friendly dress with elbow-length sleeves. It can be made in a woven or slightly stretchy knit like ponte (forgiving for the new sewer or the easily bloated!), and you can mix fabrics for a contrasting center front panel. It's simple, has slimming princess seams, and is classic — though you can make it really modern. I even love the styling on the pattern envelope. Look at her, she's wearing sneakers with a dress. I love sneakers with dresses. Always have. I also love faux leather:

I tested out the pattern twice — and I love it. LOVE. IT. I think it is so, so flattering. I love the neckline, wide-at-the-elbow sleeve and the cut of the skirt. I made it in black ponte (from Chic in NYC's Garment District):  

And in cream ponte (Metro Textiles) with quilted center front and center back panels:

The fabric I used for the contrast panel really is a thing of beauty. It's a cotton blend quilted sweatshirt fabric I found at Paron's on sale a few weeks ago. I may just go back and buy the rest of the bolt. Here's the detail shot you've been waiting for:


Of course, the great thing about a princess seam is the fact that you can achieve a great fit through the bust.

I had intended to cut the above black dress with a contrast faux leather center front panel just like the Cynthia Rowley sample, but it turned out the piece of faux I had in my stash was not enough. It worked out though — now I actually have a basic black dress in my wardrobe:

I didn't make many changes to the pattern. I graded out to a larger size at the hip and reduced the back neckline and armscye (which I usually do because I have the back of a 90-pound weakling and the hips of a mother of six). I also ended up taking out some ease at the side seam, though if I had sewn a woven, I probably would have left that in. I think for many women, this pattern would fit great straight out of the envelope. 

I also trimmed a couple inches off the length of the skirt because I am 5 foot 3 and wanted to maintain the right proportions. 

I chose pretty conservative fabrics for my two versions of Simplicity 1314, but I think there's so much room for working with color, texture, and even print with this pattern. 

What fabrics would you choose? And how would you style this dress?

Aug 25, 2014

Finished Project: Belated Oonapalooza Rainbow Floral Dress!

Do not adjust your monitors....

This dress, my much belated entry into the Ooonapalooza challenge, is really this bright — no Instagram filters needed to make it pop, thanks to this Michael Miller "Floralicious" printed cotton (available at Hart's Fabrics — you're welcome). It has, I believe, ALL the colors.


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