Wedding! Dresses! Sparkly!

When I started planning my wedding (less than 2 months away now!), the first thing I decided was that my bridesmaids would wear the most awesome shifts I could make. You guys know me, I am not going to buy 4 boring dresses from J. Crew and call it a day -- no, I want color and sparkliness and lots of it, please! So, I chose 4 non-matching but color-coordinated brocades/sparkly vintage fabrics to match my 4 non-matching but totally lovely bridesmaids, in my favorite blue/green colorway.

This week we'll be taking measurements and making muslins to perfect the fit ... I'm almost as excited about dressing my besties as I am about dressing myself! Eeeeep!

Reading, Wine, and Real Talk

Last Thursday night, I read a few chapters from my book to a couple dozen dazzling people at Gypsy Tattoo Parlor. Of course I had to make a new dress and wear my favorite shoes and then dance around weirdly after it was all over.

When you start talking about body image, there is always the potential for things to quickly devolve into fat talk or diet plan discussion or exercise tips, and I was a little afraid that might happen, but it totally didn't! Instead, we had a really honest and hilarious conversation that I enjoyed so much.

Seriously. If I could find a way to assemble such a lovely group of people and talk with them about deep shit every single night of my life, I would totally do it.

Yay! Thank you to everyone who came! And for those who weren't there, we did record the talk and will be putting it up on the interwebz soon.

And big thanks to Michelle and Mere for hosting, to Jolene and Matty for taking pics, and to Rich for recording! Let's take this show on the road!


They're Making Patterns For Clothes, But Not For Me: Another Tiny Rant

A few months ago, I got this patternmaking book that allegedly walks you through the process of drafting a sloper, or a master pattern. When I got home, I went immediately to my drafting table and started working through it -- I was so excited to walk through the process as laid out by fashion masters! For I am a pattern-making padawan with much to learn!

As I looked through the steps, though, I started to get confused. Why is the book giving me a list of measurements to use, rather than telling me which measurements I need to gather from my subject? And why does it tell me to draw the dart 2" wide and the bust point 10.5" from the shoulder seam when I know darn well my dart needs to be much wider and my bust point needs to be much lower?

Vexed, I looked for another patternmaking book, one that described how to draft a sloper using actual measurements rather than assumptions … but I couldn't find one. I asked Google, my patternmaking coach, and some sewing-oriented friends -- none of them knew of such a book either. If such a book exists, I know not where. (If you do, please speak up!)

And I saw, again, that what seems like simple common sense to me -- using actual measurements to build a pattern that will work for a particular human body -- is not what fashion processes are built for. In fact, the entire design and manufacturing process of clothing is built on a set of assumptions that apply to almost no one.

This is a subtle distinction, but kind of an important one, I think. Because, if each and every fashion-school-trained patternmaker learns to build patterns with a 2" dart and 10.5" shoulder-to-bust-point measurement, then that is what's "normal." And those of us who need 1" or 4" darts, or have 9" or 15" shoulder-to-bust point measurements, or somesuch, are anomalies, outside the standard workflow and in need of adjustments to make the clothes fit our imperfect bodies.

Training designers to design specifically for one narrow range of body types leads to an inherent bias against everything that falls outside of that range. Kind of like when you work at McDonald's and someone wants a Big Mac with no special sauce -- it's far enough outside the normal procedure that it's annoying to deal with.

This bias shows up on the hanger, where plus size women's choices are so limited, so poorly-made, and so heinously ugly that sometimes in my more paranoid moments it seems they must actually be motivated by unconscious malice on the part of fashion industry professionals.

You see the bias on TV, too, like every season on Project Runway when they have to do a "real woman" challenge and everyone loses their shit. (None of them hate fat chicks of course, it's just against their design aesthetic to create clothes for girls who don't look like models.)

Or on All On The Line when Joe Zee asks Kara Janx to use a plus size model (a size 8 "plus size" model!) to show one of her kimono dresses and she gets shirty about it.

I guess I get that designers want to communicate their artistic vision via fashion, and it's not as interesting to them to work on engineering problems like how to accommodate a DDDD bustline, or how to change the rise of a pair of pants to be comfy on a big belly and/or bodacious booty.

But maybe if they were trained to build clothes for ACTUAL bodies, instead of NON-EXISTENT PLATONIC IDEAL bodies, that would change ...

image courtesy of kennedyrox

Fri-DIY-Day: Embellish A Hem With A Ribbon

Today's DIY came about because I accidentally made my last shift a bit too short. I loved the fit and really wanted to wear it with tights, so I came up with the idea of extending the length of the dress with some sort of wide band or trim at the bottom. At first I thought I would put velcro around the hem and make a few interchangeable options to extend the length of the dress.

But the velcro proved way too bulky ... so instead I decided to attach a wide velveteen ribbon to the hem, offset a bit from the edge to hang down and add just an inch or so of length.

I started by trimming the hem's raw edge to make it perfectly symmetrical. Then I serged it, which is good to do, but optional -- pinking works, too. Or you can even leave the edge raw if it's a knit -- I won't tell anyone.

Then I took my time and carefully positioned the ribbon and pinned the heck out of it.

Then I put a Beyonce/Jay-Z playlist on the computer, got out my hand needle, and slip-stitched the ribbon onto the dress. I knotted every few inches to keep the whole ribbon from falling off should I one day pop a stitch. You could do it by machine, too, if your ribbon will allow it (mine wouldn't). I only stitched along the top of the ribbon, since the bottom was overhanging the dress. But in general you'll want to stitch both sides of the ribbon if you can.

This is a very basic embellishment, but whoa! The impact is huge. This simple knit dress looks so much classier with the ribbon to set it off! Just one little mod touch makes it like a hundred times more special.

And it's a trick that can save a dress! For instance, I massacred the hem on this shift trying to master the blind hem stitch on my machine. But I put a ribbon right over top of the crime scene, and now you'd never know.

So many possibilities! What about a rose-colored shift with something like this around the bottom ... or a yellow shift with green gingham ... or something like this eyelet trim around the bottom edge of a floral dress?


It Has Sleeves!

I made a dress with sleeves! And it was fun!

I followed a tutorial written by our pal Julie from Handmade Mess, which I'm going to augment with some more pictures and explanations and post on Friday, so you can put sleeves on your own DIY custom shift!

Grass The Cat seems pretty excited, too, right?

I was tempted to wear these shoes in the snow today ... but I did not. Having already broken my foot once wearing silly shoes in slippy weather, and I am now more dedicated to remaining upright than I am to fashion. So I wore the snow boots for life, but the fun shoes for you. Because I care. :)

Stay warm, dry, and vertical, loves!

Sewing and Wearing So Many Shifts: A Guest Post from Beta Tester Extraordinaire Julie

Julie lives in Philadelphia, possesses glorious red curls, and, as far as I know, has sewn more shifts than any other civilian! For 2013, she's challenging herself to make all her own clothes and accessories and is blogging about her project at Handmade Mess. Today, she takes us on a tour of the many shifts she's made using her custom Wear the Shift sewing pattern as a jumping off point. So many pretty ideas! Thanks Julie!

(And, my lovelies, everyone can get their own custom pattern starting tomorrow! Stay tuned!)

Each of these dresses was made using the same pattern: my Wear the Shift custom-fit shift dress pattern. What I’ve discovered while working with this is that once you have a basic, well-fitting dress pattern, the variations to customize that basic shape are pretty much endless. I feel like I’m only just scratching the surface of possibilities.

The basic shift design is a sleeveless, scoop-necked dress shaped with darts at the bust and back. Shown at the far left, above (and here), it’s great for a summer weight dress, a shell for layering, or as a jumper.  I liked it so much, I wanted to wear a shift in all seasons, so I quickly made another, raising the back neckline and adding short sleeves. (Julie's tutorial on how to do this is coming soon! -ed.)

From there, it seemed that every fabric lurking in my stash was another potential shift dress, each one lending different characteristics to the pattern.  A thick, stretchy bouclé fabric turned the design into a snuggly sweater dress. The neckline was raised for a more conservative shape to offset a flashy red wool. I removed pockets from the side for a smoother line, only to add them back later in the form of curved patch pockets as a design feature.

Along the way, the fit changed a bit, as well. I learned that even with the same pattern, the weights, thicknesses, and drapes of different fabrics required slight alterations to the basic shape. To dresses in thicker cloth, I added a small vertical dart to the front panels, under the bust, to create a waistline. I removed the side zipper, then later added a center back zipper on a version with a closer neckline, to make getting in and out easier.

I found it simple enough to make changes to the basic pattern, patching in new necklines, pockets, etc., using newspaper to add or fill, and marking other changes right on the original pattern, so that I could follow my notes in subsequent versions, if I wished.

And then, I started playing with the idea of a collar, creating a removable piece that could snap into the dress’s neckline, and then be removed for a different look on the same dress.

I still have more to figure out.  I’m still studying the art of darts, in particular. I know objectively that a basic “sloper” or dress form should have a bust point and static depth and length for proper shaping of a dart, yet I find that in practice, the length, in particular, varies with the weight of the fabric I’m working with, and I often end up adjusting darts a bit after the shoulders and sides have been seamed.

This photo shows the wide variation in dart positioning I’ve made, plus the vertical bust dart that I added to my basic front, whenever I’m working with thicker stiffer material, to keep the dress drapey and shapely.

The good thing is that I know the basic dress pattern -- my original shift -- fits properly, to my own unique measurements, so as I embark on creative variations on my own, I always have a strong foundation to return to. When in doubt, I can throw out my markings and alterations and go back to the original. In this way, sewing with my own custom-fit pattern has allowed me to be more adventurous in my sewing than I’ve ever dared to be with commercial patterns built to an idealized form. With those, I never knew if it was the pattern that was wrong (or just wrongly fitted to my body) or if it was I who had messed it up along the way.

I’m having quite a bit of fun learning in the classroom of my own home workroom, and testing my experiments in the form of fun, wearable dresses, out in the street.  If Wear the Shift ever expands to other garments (maybe slacks and jackets,?) I’d love to follow along.


The Shift in the Wild: Sweet Charity

Sweet Charity is one of the happiest and saddest movies I have ever seen. This 1969 film -- the first directed by Bob Fosse, and starring my favorite, Shirley MacLaine -- tells the story of Charity Hope Valentine, a dance hall hostess who is super sweet and crazy about love ... almost to the point of dumbness. In the first scene, she's so busy singing her dude a love song that she doesn't even notice when he steals her purse and dumps her into a lake! But honestly, you don't watch this movie to ponder the female conditioning that causes Charity to make unworkable life choices -- you watch it for the dancing! The interior design! The young Ricardo Montalban!

And, oh my gosh, the outfits! There are shifts EVERYWHERE in this movie. Here's Shirley MacLaine, Chita Rivera, and Paula Kelly wearing cute short shifts in the movie poster:

In fact, Charity spends most of the movie in that little black shift, except when she's wearing this one at the dance hall (sorry for the not that clear screen cap -- she was running around a lot in this dress):

Legendary designer Edith Head built the costumes for this movie, and nowhere are they more fabulous than in Fosse's classic dance sequences. The ladies in "Big Spender"?

The dancers in "Rich Man's Frug?"

I cannot even believe those sparkly hat/wig things with the crazy square-armhole shifts:

If you should decide to watch this movie, I should warn you that the ending may make you cry. It may also make you want to give Charity a wee throttle and a Come-to-Jesus talk about trust and relationships and not obsessing about getting married to SOMEONE DEAR GOD ANYONE. Even if a cute wedding shift catches your eye.

But, regardless of her weaknesses, Charity is pretty darn lovable overall. Even when I want to throttle her, I also admire her zany, hopeful resilience.

AND her ability to work a black shift literally every day.

One Shift, Three Looks: Hiya Houndstooth

Ever since I made this shift about a year ago, it has been among my very favorites. I love wearing it because the colors look great with so many other shades, but it's not at all boring -- it kind of reminds me of Olivia, which is in the shop right now. Check out 3 different looks I put together using this dress.

Look 1: Daytime funtimes

For this look -- which screams BRUNCH to me -- I paired the shift with jeggings (awful word for an amazing garment), my favorite red boots, and a lightweight coat I scored last month at Re-Dress NYC. Sadly, their brick and mortar shop is closing in a few weeks ... but their online shop is expanding and features another amazing garment with a terrible name, teggings.

Look 2: Sparkly night times

This look is a little nutty, but I love it for a night out on the town. Purple tights, a satin jacket, little gray booties, and my workhorse shift. Sparkly accessories take it over the top in the most delightful way. The only thing I'm missing is Rick James -- it's a celebration!

Look 3: Staying warm at work times

It's cold in the office where I work. Hell, it is just generally cold in the world right now and it's only getting colder. I layered my trusty shift with wooly gray tights, a drapey raspberry cardigan, and tall brown boots, another amazing secondhand find from my recent trip to New York. Gotta stay warm and keep moving -- no time to hibernate!

Which look is your favorite?

Black and White on a Gray Day

Hey kids! It's sort of gray in Pittsburgh today, but not too cold. I woke up wanting to wear this skirt, paired with a pop of bright color.

So, this is our Here and There skirt matched up with these comfy rad sandals from Jambu, a long cobalt blue tank from Target, and a sweet little jacket from Svoboda. I adore this jacket, and have a bell-sleeved version that I will be living in once it gets super cold.

I have to give a shout out to Svoboda, because they are probably my favorite plus-size designer. Their jeans are the best, cut beautifully for both comfort and hottness, though they are seriously not cheap. For several years I was able to pick up samples and overstock on ebay at a huge discount, but they don't appear to be selling there anymore. Bummer.

Fun fact: these pics were taken in front of the Electric Garage, where gross old cars are transformed into shiny electric cars by super smart folks from ChargeCar (part of the CREATE lab at CMU, where my honey works). This building used to be an Exxon station, and I worked here one veeeeeery long winter when I was in school. Good times?

First Day of Fall Outfit

Yesterday felt like the first day of fall in Pittsburgh -- drizzly and chilly and gray. The upside? I got to wear lots of layers and bust out some boots to boot!


This is an older prototype shift -- you can tell by the neckline -- and I haven't worn it for a while. I think the weather made me want to wear something lavender and blue-ish. I'm also wearing jeggings from Svoboda, boots from Blowfish, and a corduroy blazer I got at the thrift store. Had to get that side shot because I am in love with this bag! My fella gave it to me on my last birthday and there are thistles inside!

Who else is excited for cold-weather fashion?

Skirt beta! Here we go!!

Creating new stuff is our favorite thing to do, and launching it is our second favorite, so you can imagine that we are beyond psyched to invite you to our Skirt Beta today! Here's what some of our alpha testers have to say about their skirts.

Our beta test has one major goal: to get some skirts onto some ladies and hear what said ladies think about said skirts. This kind of feedback is incredibly valuable to any company but especially to us ... and we are willing to offer you a great deal in order to get it:

In exchange for your feedback, you will get two custom-made skirts for the price of one!

Here's how it will work.

1) You purchase a skirt from our Beta Skirt shopping page (link is below). Put in your measurements within a week, please -- all we need is your waist measurement, your hip measurement, and your height.

2) We will ask for your feedback within a week of receiving your skirt. This will include filling out a questionnaire and sending us a few pictures of you in your skirt.

3) Once we get your feedback, we will send you a coupon code for $49 so you can get a free 2nd skirt! Or you can apply it to anything else on the site, too.

Please note: In order for you to get your coupon code, we must receive your completed questionnaire and pictures within a week.

If this sounds fun to you

... and you're not the type to get a lot of library fines, then sign up by grabbing the fabric of your choice HERE.

If this sounds like a lot of rules to you

... or you don't have easy access to a camera to take pics of yourself, or you're a bit of an anarchist, we still love you! But you should prolly wait till we launch skirts live -- it won't be long now!

Thanks so much -- we are excited and hope you are, too. Now go pick your fabric and let's get this beta started! (Please note that the Skirt Beta is closed now.)

One shift, Three looks

OK, so I have been rocking this Rebel Girl shift for a while now, and it seems like every time I wear it, I do a little something different with the styling.

On the left is me pretending to be demure in my shift, some capri leggings, little black flats, a cardigan, and some pearls. I could totally pass for Jackie Kennedy here RIGHT??!?!

In the middle is my favorite look -- the shift paired with crazy blue tights, my favorite blue/green/black oxfords, and a black tunic over top. I like the tunic over the shift with insane tights because it gives the eye a little rest and draws your eyes like whoa to the leggal region. Blue legs, people!! The 21st century is amazing.

The look on the right is for going out and shaking a tail feather. (I am doing the "What Have You Done For Me Lately?" move here in case you can't tell.) Orange and gray heels with (pegged!) black jeans, a black satin blazer, bright red lipstick, and, of course, the shift.

You may have noticed that my shoes do not "match" my dress. However, they do somehow "go" -- but I would never have known that if I hadn't tried them on. Moral of the story: color mixing is mysterious and worth experimenting with. Hole yourself up in your bedroom some Tuesday night with a few glasses of wine and see what you can come up with.

So there you have it -- 3 different ways to style the same humble electric blue and lime green shift. Which one is your favorite? Leave a comment and let us know!

Before and After

It's hard to believe that it's been half a year since we first put Wear the Shift out there into the world. We have come such a long way! Today we'd like to show you the progress we've made in our pattern algorithm. Here's a before and after of my very lovely mom, Kris:

On the left is one of our early beta dresses, and on the right is a dress produced just a few weeks ago. My mom looks kinda gorgeous in everything she puts on, but it's obvious that dress on the right has a much better fit. What's changed?

  • Side Shaping We've started shaping closer to the body on the sides through the bust and waist, to give a more fitted profile.
  • Lowered Neckline We like to see your décolletage. We don't know you? We don't care...we still like it. It's pretty and it opens up your face.
  • Narrowed Shoulder Straps This helps keep the dress modern.
  • Enhanced A-line Isn't an A-line the cutest? We're going a little wider with our As nowadays.
  • Back Darts Most recently, we've started adding back darts, which help define the waist and booty, especially for you hourglass-y girls.

Altogether, I'm really proud of where our pattern is, and thankful for the support and feedback of our beta testers for helping us arrive at the fit we're currently achieving.

How I learned to stop hating my body and rock these awesome pins

Last week, Kelly sent me this article on The Hairpin, and I about fell over. Lindsay Miller writes of her evolving relationship with her "Breasts That Can Be Seen From Orbit," and it seems almost 200 commenters agree with me that her journey makes a pretty good stand-in for ours.

It seems like most of us have something about ourselves that makes us different ... and that we kinda hate. Here's a brief selection of scourged body parts I've heard about since starting work on Wear the Shift: knees, legs, ankles (actually, "cankles"), arms, shoulders, tummy, butt, thighs.  Pretty exhaustive list -- anyone hate their thumbs?

This makes me sad.  We are entirely too critical of ourselves.

As the years unfold and the wisdom builds, Lindsay goes from being weirded out by her breasts to being proud and, well, attached to them: "I've realized that my breasts are a huge (I'm sorry) part of my self-image ... My breasts are kind of like this awesome visual metaphor for my personality: too big, too sexual, taking up too much space."

One critical moment in her story takes place in a dressing room while shopping for a dress to wear to her best friend's wedding. Growing weary of her mother's criticisms and offers of paid-for breast reduction, she snaps: "Can we please stop talking about fixing me? The dress doesn't fit! That's not my fault!"

This, my friends, is the way we all need to think. Because, I bet Lindsay was pretty cute when she tried on her dress and everyone took issue with her for not fitting in it. And I was still cute that time I broke down in tears trying on dozens of pairs of horrifying jeans at Target. And you were cute, too, even when you found yourself slipping down the body shame spiral in that awful, terrible dressing room.

We are all pretty cute, especially when we wear comfy clothes that fit us well. This is why Wear the Shift exists!

(And also why, when you try on something at a store and it is ghastly, you must immediately move on. Like online dating, trying on clothes is more a series of short experiments than anything fraught or meaningful. Department store fashion is not something to take personally ... there’s nothing personable about it. Be a clothes-trying-on robot, and move forward without regrets or second thoughts.)

Returning to Lindsay, when she gets to the advice-y wrap up I nod slowly and thoughtfully, then go all <3s in my eyes:

"Don't bother dressing to create an optical illusion that your body is shaped differently than it is. It won't work, and it's boring. Do you."

Damn straight, on both points. It IS boring, and it DOESN'T work. Putting a big black belt across my tummy doesn't magically give me a tiny waist. All it does is give me a sweaty tummy and extra bulges beyond the ones I already have. Blerg!

I am done walking around uncomfortable in my clothes just because everyone's supposed to look one particular way or be one particular shape. I have no time for it!  I got these gams to rock!

Anyway ... what do you think? How do you handle body image craziness when shopping? Leave a comment and tell us how you deal with the emotions that come up in the dressing room.

This week: Skype with us about your shift!

We've heard from a few customers that, although they love the idea of what we're doing, they are a little overwhelmed when it comes to picking a fabric, taking measurements, etc. It's true that this is not a typical shopping experience! And although we think it's much better than trial and error in a poorly lit dressing room, we know that we want to get better at guiding you through our process.

So this week, we're experimenting with something new. Any items purchased this week will come with a Skype chat with one of us, so we can talk you through the process. We will help you:

* choose a fabric that works with your body shape * take your measurements accurately for a great fit * come up with some styling ideas to use your shift in your wardrobe

Go ahead and pick any fabric you like -- if you decide to switch it when we talk, we can take care of that for you. Once we receive your order, we will contact you to schedule a time to chat.

Fun right? Let us know what you think!

Ethics and Fashion: Where do you draw your lines?

Last week, I started playing with Polyvore, a super fun site that lets you clip clothes and accessories from around the web and combine them in collections to share with others.

I clipped several dresses from our shop and had a ball combining them with different accessories. Turquoise chucks and a yellow belt with a navy pinstripe dress? Shiny Target shoes combined with a $1,500 clutch? Yes please! I could do this all day.

I didn't even think about the implications of what I was clipping until Kelly brought it up: "Maybe we should stick to custom / organic / ethically made stuff?"

Of course we should! But how? These decisions are made in so many shades of gray.

It's similar to the questions many of us ask ourselves when we buy food. Spendy fair trade coffee to brew at home, or a quick cheap cup on the run? Big bag of conventional apples that will give me healthy snacks for a week, or one perfect box of beautiful organic blueberries? There are so many variables!

It's wonderful to be thoughtful, and I'm grateful to know about the supply chains that support my life. But at the same time, I can easily drive myself crazy weighing priorities and debating issues.

Our Criteria

So, to avoid rehashing the same pros and cons list every time we decide to clip (or buy!) something, we decided on some threshold criteria. Anything on this list is fair game:

1) Custom garments, especially those made from vintage or eco-friendly fabrics (of course!)

2) Handmade items created from carefully chosen materials

3) Mass-produced garments made from eco-friendly textiles in an ethical way, and available in a large range of sizes

4) Vintage items

Attitude Adjustment

Applying ethical questions to fashion decisions is brand new for me. For most of my life, I’ve been starving for cute things to wear, so I've been willing to buy anything that looked reasonably good on me, regardless of its provenance.

But that's kind of a crappy attitude to have! There are so many options these days -- custom jeans, handmade organic leggings, our little company -- that there's really no reason to settle. Instead of going through racks of stuff in stores, I want to put my effort into finding exactly what I want online.

Admittedly, many of these choices cost more than their Target counterparts. As in other parts of my life where I've made the switch from price-based shopping to value-based shopping, I find I love the items more and it takes fewer of them to meet my needs.

An Unforeseen Benefit of Buying Ethically

Something we've has noticed is, with these standards in place, shopping actually gets easier! Organic and eco-friendly materials don't have a huge adoption rate (especially in plus sizes), so it becomes simple to exclude a lot of junk and just focus on a smaller set of better quality items.

Of course, this is all a work in progress. We're eager to learn more, and we're curious – what thoughts go through your head when you are contemplating a purchase? Do you consider the ethics of what you wear? What’s most important to you: labor conditions, materials, or something else?

Structured vs. Drapey fabrics revisited

We got a great picture from one of our beta testers this week -- hey Zelda! -- and when we saw it, we knew we wanted to share it with you. We've talked before about how a dress made from a structured fabric will look compared to a drapey dress ... now we can show you the difference.

Structured: Zelda

Zelda's dress is made from Space Mum, a heavy and slightly stiff cotton canvas -- one of the most structured we have offered. You can see how the fabric holds the A-line shape of the dress. I for one love this, because it skims the overall shape of my body without broadcasting the details of every curve. If there's not a huge difference between the width of your shoulders and your hips, then this kind of fabric will work great for you.

Drapey: Sarah

Sarah, who we've featured before, is wearing a shift made from the very drapey S'il Vous Plaid. You can see how it is more pliable, and falls in a straight line down from the fullest part of her body. This kind of fabric works really well for folks with wider hips/more junk the in trunk, because it doesn't add any additional width to the lower body. If your hips are a good bit wider than your shoulders, look for a drapey fabric.