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.

Aug 22, 2014

What Did We Learn From Project Runway This Week? Season 13, Episode 5

Project Runway needs to plan its airdates a little better because going into this week's challenge — which was to design a dress for Heidi to wear at the Creative Arts Emmys — I already knew the winner. After all, the Creative Arts Emmys took place last Sunday, so there was no suspense if you had already seen her red carpet look:

Thanks, Lifetime

Of course this week's episode was not about suspense. It was about how stressful it is to shop at Mood — and how nobody should have to design and sew a red carpet gown in a single day. Seriously, don't hate the player, hate the game.

I suspect most of you feel the same way: I would rather the challenges on Project Runway be designed to encourage success — not force an an ill-fitting fug fest due to arbitrary time restrictions. But that's what we got this week on Project Runway. By my count, there were only four dresses that were red carpet-worthy. In order below, Fade, Sean, Kini and Sandyha:

In addition to the lowest scoring gowns, which we will get into in more detail when we talk lessons, there were a couple other dresses I thought were so bad it begs discussing:

Emily's dress (far left) is so short, and yet it had a slit. A slit! In a miniskirt! A slit!! You could catch an STI if you sat down in this thing! How did they not call her out on that? It's also rumpled and so sad. Like a stewardess on Blade Runner Air. Meanwhile, Alexander's dress (center) with its many stitched-down folds was so stiff it looked like it was made from an emergency rescue blanket. Next!

Amanda, of course, was actually in the top 3 with this Cleopatra costume. And in this small picture I admit it actually looks better than I thought it did up close. Still: stripes? On the red carpet? I believe there was actually rickrack in her design:

Rickrack! Moving on.

Lesson 1: Mood can make you or break you

Now, I don't sew for clients so I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty certain that if you were custom-making a special event gown you would OK your fabric first before purchasing, cutting and sewing, right?

Of course, the designers on Project Runway don't have that luxury and instead have to shop on a hunch and a hope — and all in just 30 minutes at Mood. I've said it before and I will say it again: I've shopped Mood many times, but I don't believe I've ever made it in and out in under 30 minutes. It would take me that much time to choose a plain white shirting at Mood. There are just that many choices — and that many distractions. I completely sympathize with the designers who couldn't find the right fabrics.

Still, if your client hates your green fabric and you are given a second chance at fabric shopping, would you buy MORE green fabric like Korina did? Because truly, the two fabrics were not all that different:

That choice made in the harried aisles of Mood was the design world equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot (stabbing yourself with your own scissors?). But somehow she still dodged a bullet, thanks to Kristine and Mitchell's red looks:

Droopy, ill-proportioned, and committing multiple crimes against cleavage, there's not much to learn from these two dresses — other than the fact that a single day is just not enough time to create a red carpet-ready gown. I felt really bad for both designers.

Sandyha, meanwhile, made the most of her second trip to the fabric store by hustling her way around the workroom to gather the remaining Mood money from those few designers who were happy with their initial purchases. She ended up spending a whopping $432 dollars — most of it on a $120/yard black lace, which she overlaid on yellow to great effect.

Of course, the other designers were sour grapes about Sandhya's sneaky dealings, but all's fair in fashion and fabric shopping. I was most surprised that the others neglected to shake down their fellow designers for extra

Lesson 2:  Fringe is in?

How many challenges have been won on a fringe dress this season on Project Runway? This many:

Make it stop.

What did you learn this week watching Project Runway? Who was your fave? And will you be sewing fringe this Fall?

Aug 15, 2014

What Did We Learn From Project Runway This Week? Season 13, Episode 4

There was a lot of misplaced anxiety on Project Runway this week as the designers faced off over a tacky suit challenge that was somehow meant to evoke sponsor Red Robin's "designer hamburgers." (But really, these suits: don't they just make you think of B.O. and grease stains? Not what I would want associated with my family friendly fast food chain):

But all the worry wasn't just over how they would rework a couple yards of red velveteen or mustard corduroy as the case may be. They were also worried about Amanda. So much screen time spent worrying about Amanda.

Oh, Amanda. What kind of contract do you have with the producers of Project Runway that you somehow managed to win another challenge with yet another fringe dress? I know a little about how my reality TV sausage is made, and it looks like this:  

Looking ahead, the big question is: what will Sandyha do next week when she doesn't have immunity? And will the judges love it? (Or hate it — which could bring the Tim Gunn Save (TM) into play!) Sigh. Moving on to the lessons:

Lesson 1: Vinyl is not fabric

It's not uncommon on Project Runway for the designers to lay blame on their fabric. And those of us who sew definitely know that feeling you get when you realize you've been trying to force something stiff into a drapey design (or vice-versa). 

So what do you do when given a couple yards of suiting? I don't know exactly... though I do know what you DON'T do: stitch it to something intended for upholstery, like Hernan did:

V for vinyl...or very long vulva

You didn't even have to see Hernan's look to know just how bad it was. Just look at these faces:

He did a lot of complaining about the coat he was assigned, though in off-white it hardly seemed as significant a challenge as some of the other suits. 

That didn't stop that lying liar from telling lies about his fabric. Quoth Hernan: "My jacket was very, very old, so every time I sewed something it was like (makes cracking sound)." 

He should know better than to bullshit Zac Posen about fabric. Upon closer inspection (I LOVE how they do that now!), Zac declared Hernan's poly "strong enough to withstand a nuclear disaster." 

So why the vinyl? No one really knows — least of all Hernan. But he'll have lots of time to think about it. Bye bye.

Lesson 2: Flesh mesh is not the besh-t

Sean, the Kiwi who narrowly escaped elimination last week for his horrid Mary Poppins-meets-the-new-millenium getup, was the unlucky recipient of the aforementioned mustard corduroy suit. He hacked it and stitched it in strips to the lining, some coordinated silk and beige power mesh (thank you, Zac Posen for pointing out that Sean essentially chose something most commonly used in bras for his main fabric):

This is the face Zac made when Nina said the multi-layered bandage-colored top made the model look like she just had breast surgery:

At least the styling was good? I'm hoping Sean can dig deep for the next challenge and prove us all wrong. Otherwise, his days are numbered; three strikes usually means you're out on Project Runway.

Lesson 3: Good pants take time

I don't know about the rest of you, but the only pants I could make in two hours would have an elastic waist and a rolled hem. 

So I don't blame Kristine for choking when it came to drafting and sewing a pair of pants in a single morning:

Seeing how poorly these fit — and how the exposed zipper ran down the center back, ugh! — made me feel a little better. Drafting and sewing pants takes me a week. Meanwhile, those organza calf covers....I don't even. No. What? I just. Hmmm.

So what did you think of this week's episode of Project Runway? Whose look did you love? And did you learn anything?

Aug 8, 2014

What Did We Learn From Project Runway This Week? Season 13, Episode 3

Watching last night's episode of Project Runway, I appreciated more than ever that I can make my own clothes. Because the contestants were tasked with creating a look that could walk the runway in 2034 (the tie-in was Marie Claire's 20th anniversary), and if future fashion really is that much of a snore....I won't be buying it.

But before we get into it, one of my favorite parts of the episode was seeing TBT (that's throw-back Thursday, for the Facebook-uninitiated) pics of each judge and Tim Gunn, circa 1994:

Zac Posen is adorable (that hair!) and I love that Nina has her eyes closed in her 1994 photo — a testament to the fact that just 20 years ago we weren't documenting every day as if we were in a "celebs are just like us" photo spread (and also we used film, so we couldn't delete such imperfect pics!). This probably was the only pic she had from 1994. (In fact, I think half the photos of myself from 1994 feature me with my eyes closed.)

Anyway, on to the lessons!

Lesson 1: Grainline is next to godliness

I used to dislike Zac Posen because of what he wasn't: Michael Kors, may he rest in peace (I know he's not dead but after two seasons without him, HE MAY AS WELL BE).

But more and more I appreciate Zac for the fact that he knows his craft — and he can appreciate other points of view. Plus, he's the only judge who will call out a designer on grainline mishaps. It's something the lay-person Project Runway fan wouldn't understand, but we all know how cutting off-grain can ruin a garment.

Alexander had that issue last night, though I'm not sure staying on grain would have helped him any. It's not terrible, but sad, drab, and ... um, what else rhymes with sad?

Of course, he threw this look together quickly after his model's B-cup "chichis" (ugh!) didn't fit the pieced leather top he was creating. (Always blaming the boobs on Project Runway.... I have an idea: if you can't design for a human with breasts, MAYBE YOU SHOULD MAKE MEN'S WEAR. End rant).  

Anyway, don't cut on the fold if you want to get your grainline just right. Trace your pattern into a mirror image so that you can cut the whole thing flat, ALEXANDER.

Lesson 2: Fabric choice will make you — or break you

I think about fabric a lot. Like, every time my mind wanders, I'm thinking about fabric — what type should be used with what pattern, what construction techniques to use with a particular fabric, where can I buy more of it...

So I'm always surprised when Project Runway contestants make it onto the show and then make bad fabric choices.

My six-year-old thought Sean's look was so terrible, she told me she "couldn't even stand to look at it any longer." That's a tough critique from a kindergartener who sits on the 1 train and whispers to me all the reasons why she thinks every woman on our subway car is beautiful. (Pretty shoes, pretty hair, fancy nails, bejeweled phone case, and so on; you are all lovely in my child's eyes).

She kept looking at it though and then uttered, "Darkish....criminalish..."

Aside from the Mary Poppins hat and black turtleneck dress (which Sean justified by saying that he remembered having to wear turtlenecks a lot 20 years ago — WHEN HE WAS 4), there's this blue coat. While inspecting it closely, Zac Posen said it was the hardest fabric to sew — and that Sean probably won't touch it ever again.

Meanwhile, one of the strongest looks smartly made use of two fabrics that didn't need any finishing: neoprene and leather.

This was my favorite look (though it was not the winner but we will get to that soon enough). Zac Posen praised Kristine's choice of fabric, calling it smart and effective. Imagine finishing the raw edges of each of those cuffs? (Note to self: start sewing with neoprene!).

Lesson 3: Practical clothes won't win you any prizes

For real my friends, I just got SO distracted searching for blazers online, which proves the point I am about to make: we all need practical clothes. We just do. We have job interviews. Or court appearances...  

But when Angela said she "just likes making practical clothes" I knew she wasn't long for this world. Isn't designing practical clothes something you do to pay the bills? (Or something you do after failing at trying to design spectacular clothes?) 

And, the thing is, this isn't even practical:

Too short and sleeveless, what business exec is going to wear this — even 20 years into the future (perhaps in the future offices won't be overly air-conditioned?). 

A couple times Angela said she'd never been criticized so much as she was on Project Runway. She does work on Wall Street — and we all know how little scrutiny those people face. So maybe a little criticism would be helpful. 
Moving on, I want to know what you all think of Sandhya's winning look. My daughter said it looked like Attack of the Slinkeys. 

I thought it looked like ducting for a self-cooling system. I did, however, like Sandhya's explanation (that in the future women's wear won't have to reference men's wear to evoke a powerful image). Girlfriend knows how to make a pitch — and throw a little shade on Angela's look. Well played, Sandhya.

As for Amanda, who had immunity last night, I really missed Michael Kors' simile-packed zingers. What would he have said about this ensemble? That it looks like a goth yoga teacher at a midsummer sex party?

What do you think Michael Kors would have said about Amanda's look? What other lessons did you learn this week? Who's your current fave designer? Are the judges just trying to drive Korine crazy by giving Sandhya the win a second time?

Aug 1, 2014

What Did We Learn From Project Runway This Week? Season 13, Episode 2

You know what I wish I had? A hotline that could connect me to Tim Gunn, for self-confidence emergencies. 

I need it too, like, every Wednesday afternoon, when I realize I haven’t accomplished enough of what I had hoped that week to feel good about myself. That’s when I am most susceptible to feeling defeated. 

Or, as my semi-drunk husband said last night while watching Episode 2 of Project Runway Season 13, I could use a positivity shooter called the “Tim Gunn” (Patent pending). 

Or maybe just a video loop of Tim Gunn sincerely saying kind, supportive things, like he did with Sandhya last night when she sought him out after being bullied by her teammates in the unconventional materials challenge. (I believe this was the first time Project Runway contestants had to use unconventional materials while also in a team — a double whammy of difficulty to be sure).

"I believe in your work 1000 per cent," he said to Sandhya. "You could win this entire season." It was what she needed in that moment, and I said to my husband: "If Tim Gunn talked to me like that, I would feel like I could do anything."

So I really thought she would shake off the icky experience of being bossed by Hernan and create something super cool. But boy, is it ever hard to stand up to a man who reckons he's the boss. That brings us to our first lesson:

Lesson No. 1: Never let a man who calls you “baby” tell you what to do

Half-way into the challenge Hernan (who has shown at NYC Fashion Week twice already SO WHY DOES HE NEED PROJECT RUNWAY?) decided their theme was "The gold era of Hollywood — we have film. We have gold. We have everything!"

My husband, who was working his way through a growler of IPA I brought home to turn a bad week around, voiced some doubt: “I don’t know if that’s a concept — that’s just a list of things.

Anyway, Sandhya had immunity this week so she just fell in line behind Hernan, who told her and Carrie they had to use his film treatment. I guess his reasoning was if they used the same materials, they would have cohesion.  

They may not have had cohesion, but the judges were unanimous in hating that their team's three dresses looked so similar. I thought the brownish red sheen of the film strips looked like cockroach casings (shiver). Sandhya's indeed was the worst of all — not surprising considering how she must have felt in those few hours she had to create this look.

Nina said they looked like three girls out of a music video and Heidi asked: “At no point did anyone think, ‘dude they all look the same!'?" (I love it when Heidi talks American!).

While the judges inspected the garments more closely, Tim dished on the team's power dynamic: “He was so intractable, that they just decided if you can’t beat him join him,” to which Heidi replied,  “We can always get rid of both of them!” (At this point, my husband and I started chanting, "DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!")

Meanwhile, backstage after their rough ride on the runway, Sandhya's teammates trashed her work yet again. Tapping into her super special Tim Gunn powers, Sandhya turned the other cheek — which I think will go a long way toward earning her the Tim Gunn Save (TM). I'm calling this one. 

So the lesson here? Be gracious. And nobody puts baby in the corner.

Lesson 2: More is more

The winning team used a whole lot of materials: bold lettering held together with zip ties, several kinds of tape, film, cording, straws...I'm missing at least six things. And though each look incorporated materials used in another, all of them were totally unique:

Nina applauded their mini-collection for the fact that it contained three different shapes: A-line, flapper, and body con.

Also, it just shows that if you throw enough stuff up on the wall, some of it will stick.

Speaking of throwing stuff up on the wall:

Angela dodged a bullet with her crumpled up snowflake dress thanks to this cool Cruella Deville-inspired number made entirely from straws:

My personal favorite was Samantha's garment made from DVDs and film strips:

 I know, I know. I'm not offering up anything instructive for those of us who create our own clothing. It's hard with the unconventional materials challenge to find truly useful tips. Other than the importance of taking a step back to see how your garment looks from across the room, I'm not sure there's much that's helpful here for home sewers.

What do you think? What was your favorite look? Did you learn anything this week from Project Runway?


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