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!

Magical Salvation Army Haul!

Last weekend when I was cavorting on The High Line, my friends Katie and Christa were at the Salvation Army Ladies Auxiliary Fabric Fair, throwing elbows and filling bags on Wear the Shift's behalf. Behold the glory!

The blue/green one in the middle is corduroy!!

And that burgundy one with the little pink flowers? Ugh! I die!

And the red houndstooth! And the blue Celtic design! And those tiny black and white flowers??!

This is just the tip of the new fabric iceberg. Prepare yourself, my loves!

And Christa and Katie, thank you so much! You done good!!

Vintage Fabrics 101

I look at, touch, and buy lots of vintage textiles for Wear the Shift ... and folks always ask where I get 'em and how I decide what to buy ... so I thought it might be fun to share some of my hard-earned knowledge with you on the blog today!

Where to buy

Ebay, of course, has some great deals and a lot of stuff to choose from. Of course, much of it is poorly photographed / poorly described / crappy, so make sure you ask lots of questions, request additional photos, or whatever you need to do to make sure you're buying what you think you're buying. All that being said, I have found many amazing fabrics on Ebay for fantastic prices ... so be cautious but not scared!

Etsy also has a great selection of vintage fabrics. Both prices and quality are a bit higher, and the customer service of the vast majority of Etsy sellers has been great. I also appreciate the fact that most Etsy sellers are not just selling whatever they find -- they are curating stuff that they think is cool. As you look around, you will find sellers whose editorial eye meshes with your own tastes -- bookmark them and watch their new listings.

Thrift stores are incredibly hit or miss, but I have found some of my very favorite fabrics there, like Peak Experience which I'm making for myself this week! (The cobbler is finally getting some new shoes! Woo hoo!) I don't have a lot of spare time to hit the thrifts regularly right now, but I do end up stopping in to my favorite shop a couple times a month, and I find something I like more often than not. The prices also tend to be insanely good.

Word of mouth has gotten me some great fabrics, too. Wear the Shift was actually started using a huge stash of double-knits and wool blends that I was given by my friend Sarah's mom -- thanks, Ruth!

I also picked up several bags of sweet stuff from an awesome lady I met at a the Geek Arts/Green Innovators conference. Once people know you are looking for vintage fabric, you'll be surprised at who has some rad cuts that they want to get rid of! Put it out on Facebook and see what fate and your friends bring you.

It's also worth doing a search on Craigslist every now and then to see if anyone's getting rid of their stash. Like thrift shops, Craigslist can be very hit or miss, but it's easy to check out, and estate sales can be great fun!

What to buy

OK, so now you know where to look for deals. What are you likely to find, and what should you buy?

Part of it, of course, depends on what you like. Some people (like me!) adore a funky polyester double-knit, and others can't abide synthetic fabrics at all. Take a minute to think about and identify what you're looking for -- every preference you can use to limit the selection is only going to make your search easier. Here's a little more detail about the vintage textiles I look for in particular.

Double-knit polyester

There is a LOT of double-knit in the world, and it varies greatly in how nice it is. Fortunately, it is also fairly cheap, so you can afford to take some risks with your purchases. Watch out for lightweight DKP in pale colors, as they are extremely hard to wear without an arsenal of crazy undergarments. Closeup shots can be really helpful in figuring out how a fabric will feel, especially when you can't actually touch it, so don't be afraid to ask an online seller for extra photos if you need them.

Cotton

Many of the fabrics you shop for online will be called "cotton" when really they are not -- just something to be aware of. Also, remember that crisp cotton dresses will probably need to be ironed before you wear them. I actually enjoy ironing (this is how I know I'm getting old) ... but not everyone does, so do what works for you.

Also, lots of vintage cottons are pretty narrow, only 35 or 36 inches wide. Make sure you double check that you will have enough fabric to complete your pattern, as most commercial patterns are designed for 46-60" wide fabrics.

Vintage drapes

Drapery is a category I always try to check out online and especially in person at thrift stores. There are many drapes out there that you will want nowhere near your skin -- fiberglass!! blerg!! -- but there are some super beautiful nice-feeling ones, too. Look for fabrics that are described as soft, drapey, or cotton -- though very few vintage drapes are actually all cotton, that's usually a signifier that it at least feels like cotton.

A special note on barkcloth drapes: Be aware, especially when buying online, that not all barkcloths are created equal. Some feel not very nice, and in fact many of the items sold as barkcloth are not really barkcloth. And folks tend to jack the prices up since barkcloth is so hot right now.

Also, when buying drapes to use in garment-making, keep an eye on the scale of the pattern of the fabric. If the scale is super huge, you may very well end up looking like you are wearing drapes. Again, if you can't tell what's going on from the pictures, ask the seller.

Acrylics

Acrylics can range from lightweight and barkcloth-y to heavy and upholstery-ish. Both can be lovely ... but I've also bought some pieces that ended up being so splitty and annoying that I elected to chuck them rather than destroy my sanity by continuing to work with them. Watch out for acrylics described as having a "loose weave" -- the kiss of death! On the upside, most acrylic blends tend to be very soft against the skin.

What else can I tell you about vintage fabrics? Got any questions or listings you have your eye on that you'd like to help me decode? Or any favorite places for finding awesome old stuff? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

(Thanks for the photo, marywasadj!)

A few new wearable fabrics for Spring!

Hi folks, happy Friday! We have a few new fabrics on the site that we think are great staples for your Spring wardrobe. We focused on wearable colors and easy-care fabrics this week.

Coral Reef is a beautiful peachy-coral color criss-crossed with white diamonds. It's so cheery it makes us smile every time we see it, and it should put a little glow into your complexion.
Olivia is covered in sweet olive-green diamonds in varying shades. It's a very simple fabric, with a not-so-basic twist.
Jardin des Tuileries is so sweet and evocative of the early 1960s. It's not quite as versatile as our other offerings this week, but it's such a gorgeous fabric for Spring that we hope someone will make it their wardrobe staple.
Roadtrip is funky and classic all at the same time. It's easy and breezy...and harkens to the fun sunny days ahead of us.

This week we started taking photos on the dressmaker's dummy to give you a better sense of the drape of the various fabrics. If there are any fabrics currently listed that you'd like to see presented this way, tell us in the comments and we'll snap the pics! Have a great weekend, everyone!

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.

Hey there, it's Robin!

We're pleased to welcome Robin to our eco-friendly offerings! Robin is a sumptuous herringbone twill, woven from a blend of 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton. She is sturdy and drapey (and soft!), and will wear really well on every body type. We think that she has a more refined finish than Rosie, our hemp-tencel blend, making her perfect for work or weekend. We have two options for Robin. She comes in an amazing black, which is polished and professional. She also comes in a smoky steel gray-blue that's going to be as versatile as your favorite pair of jeans.

In either case, we really, really love this fabric – it's so sturdy and good. We really hope you do too.

Busy week! Fabric, press, and deep thoughts ...

This has been such a fun week! It started Saturday at the Salvation Army Ladies' Auxiliary annual fabric sale, where we scored bags and bags of amazing vintage fabrics to play with and share with you. Some of them will be showing up on the site soon ... stay tuned.

Then, on Tuesday, we were featured in the Post-Gazette -- thanks so much to Clutch: Get a Hold of Style author Sarah Sudar for doing a fantastic job telling our story! This girl really hustles to connect the threads here in Pittsburgh.

Yesterday, we were stoked to see that the always inspiring Pop City decided to write about us, too. I just love Pop City -- I always feel so happy about our town and what's going on here whenever I read it. And Innovation Editor Deb Smit, who wrote about us, totally gets it!

We've also been working on beefing up our website this week to include more photos, more information, and more fun. We added a video to the front page and new sections describing our shifts and slips in detail.

As we worked on drafts of this text, I remembered a piece written by Sci-fi author and Viridian Design visionary Bruce Sterling. We quoted a bit of it on our shift page, but I think the whole quote (and the whole piece) is worth reading and thinking about:

It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.

Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It’s melting the North Pole. So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.

The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects.

I thought about this again as I tidied up my closet last night. I have sooo many clothes in there! Many of them were bought on sale or at thrift stores -- bargains, sure, except for the fact that I hardly ever wear them. Instead, almost every day, I find myself reaching for a shift.

For me, the shift has become the monarch of all outfits, replacing dozens of not-quite-right "great deals." And my attitude toward shopping has changed, too -- I no longer salivate when I find myself in a freshly restocked Target, because I know that, no matter how many things I try on, none of them will compare to my lovely comfy shifts.

And I can't help but wonder -- what would the world look like if a bunch of us got used to and refused to settle for less than the highest possible quality? How much waste could we avoid? And how would it feel?

I propose that we find out together. :)

New Slip Trims

We received a shipment of fun new lace, strap materials and metal findings for our slips. We'll put "add trim suggestions to the site" on our to-do list – but in the meantime, tell us what you'd like in your order notes, or let us choose for you!

New dresses! For $99! O happy day!

We scored some amazing deals on fabric over the last week or so, and so today we are pleased to present our first collection of $99 dresses!

Rad Plaid is a bright beautiful double-knit poly that looks amazing against pale/pink complexions. If you are the Jo March/goofy schoolgirl type, or if you are (like Madge) a cobalt blue-aholic, jump on this one immediately.
Camelia is Beth to Rad Plaid's Jo – quietly intelligent, subdued, hard-working. Soft taupe and baby blue diamonds form a pretty-yet-neutral print that will work with tons of other items in your wardrobe.
Roll the Dice is what Amy March would wear if she were time-travelling to Vegas. Modern, fun, and totally wearable, this double-knit will take you through every part of your life – from visiting your aunt in Europe to burning your sister's unfinished novel – in an artsy and stylish way.
Iris is Meg, through and through: beautiful, feminine, and practical. This hemp/silk blend was hand-dyed (by Kelly!) and has a soft sheen. We love this fabric and plan to make more of it available in more colors in the near future. (Speaking of which, what colors would you like to see? Deep red? Saturated teal? Bright blue?). This fabric costs a pretty penny, so we can't sustain this price forever...grab it now for a song!

We also marked down a few other fabrics to make room for new ones. So today is the day to stock up!

New Fabrics for the Beta Test Home Stretch

Well, we've got just another week or so in beta, so this will most likely be our last update of fabrics before we go live for everyone! We are thinking of spring with this batch ...

Ciel is a dreamy sky-blue double-knit poly. It's medium weight, and has a basketweave texture, which makes a solid color knit much more interesting to wear. The texture also gives the fabric a nice body, so the shift will hold its shape when it's on you. The color is fun and versatile -- imagine it with a red cardigan or a purple blazer or gray tights.
Look Around You is a mid-weight cotton woven in a modern navy, white, and red print of circles filled with parts of circles. Is it just me, or does this remind you of owl eyes? Anyway, the cotton is nice and soft and not clingy, so it'll be nice for warm weather.
Punk As Heck is a lightweight knit poly that screams both prepster and punk. Purple and brown tweed patterns are blown out of proportion, ripped apart, and jammed back together in a new, more crazy/awesome pattern that could go upscale or wild, depending on your accessories. Have you ever seen anything like it? Me neither!
Gwen is a soft mid-weight cotton with sprays of orange, white, and periwinkle blossoms on a spring green background. The colors are lovely, and the fabric is super comfy to wear. Bees will buzz around you all summer!
Frequency is mental and I LOVE IT! This light to medium weight polyester blend has giant squiggles on it -- lime, olive, and kelly green -- that travel on a diagonal line. In addition to being insane, this kind of pattern is insanely flattering, especially to folks like me who aren't super hour-glassy.
Zig is a medium weight polyester knit, with zig zags of navy, yellow, and red running up and down it. It's a smaller scale pattern, great for shorter folks, and neutral enough even in its zagginess to be worn a lot. Accessorize with red wedges and a turquoise cardy, or flip flops and a corn dog.

A Few New Fabrics

We have some cute new fabrics this week that we'd like to introduce you to:

First up is this beauty, Spring Posies.  It has a nice weight and drape to it, and is going to make an adorable and flattering dress. Here in Pittsburgh we're sitting in the cold and snow...but those of you in warmer climates who are uncouth enough to wear white before Memorial Day (or is late-January after Labor Day?) should consider this adorable border print.
Ah, 1981. Much of my childhood looked like this... the End of Analog is a charming soft twill with a dotty diagonal plaid.
It's a party in here...a 1920s party! It Got Crowded in Here will be such a great slip: you could easily wear it under a lightweight light-colored dress, but it looks just as adorable on its own as a nightgown. Plus...the mustachios!
Cheery CherriesOn the other end of the subdued spectrum is Cheery Cherries. It's a delightfully wabi sabi fabric...it isn't perfect, but we can't help but love it. You won't be able to wear it under your featherweight white shift...but under something heavier, it'll keep your tights from sticking to your skirt (and you'll look adorable in the process).

There are a few additional fabrics up in the shop, too. Let us know what you like! And if you don't see what you like — let us know that too!

Say Hi to Hempcel: Soft and Strong

We've been testing a variety of organic fabrics, and it's been a challenge to find something with the right balance of economy, environmental footprint, and overall cuteness... One of our first good finds is this Hempcel®. It's a blend of 55 percent hemp and 45 percent lyocell. It's made in China by workers who are paid a living wage and it's dyed with low-impact dyes.

Other reasons to like this fabric include:

  • Hemp is an easy-to-grow fiber that requires little processing — and it's tough as nails. If hemp was a woman, she'd be Rosie the Riveter.
  • Lyocell adds a softness and drape that's really flattering. Lyocell is made from beech trees in a closed-loop rayon process, which means the chemicals used in processing are recycled and reused, rather than discarded.

Together they make a fabric that's like your favorite pair of jeans — rugged, chic and effortless.

We have this in olive green and black. As a ginger person, the olive is my favorite — everything I own matches this dress, and I expect it to last forever.

---

(My dress is really short — we only ordered a yard for initial testing...it's also one of my absolute favorites and makes any casual outfit a little bit cuter. Your dress will be proportionately longer.)

Tips on choosing your fabric

We try to describe our fabrics well, but anyone who's bought textiles online knows that it's hard to look at pictures on a screen and understand the way a fabric feels and how it will drape. In making dozens of shifts over the last several months, we've learned a bit about which kind of fabrics make which kinds of shifts. None of our advice is hard and fast -- order what you love! -- just intended to give you more information to make your decision.

In general, a stiffer/heavier/more textured fabric results in a dress that holds its own shape better. As an apple shaped lady, I prefer these fabrics -- weighty knits, cotton canvas, blends with a bit of texture -- because they highlight the overall shape of my body without broadcasting the detail of every curve.

Midweight and lightweight cottons can work quite well, too, because they are crisp enough to keep their shape. You can iron and even starch them if you want.

Drapey lightweight knits are clingier, which doesn't work as well for me. But they work great for those with more junk in the trunk as the knit drapes to, then falls prettily from, the largest part of your body.

Again, take this or leave this. Any fabric you order will fit you and be cute -- we just want to give you all info we have to help you decide.

Happy hunting!

Let’s hear it for double knit!

When I was 5, I had the most magical dress. It was turquoise, with a ruffle around the neck, and when I wore it, I was a lacy aqua enchantress; capable of great feats of book-reading, mirror-singing, and mermaid-pretending. Since it was the 1970s, my perfect dress was, of course, made from double-knit polyester.   And my aqua dress held up admirably to the many beatings inflicted upon it... until the fateful day when it would no longer zip up.  I still miss that dress.

And I continue to love this indestructible and colorful fabric. No doubt there's some nostalgia baked into that, but there's also the fact that it's just fantastic stuff. Here's why:

  • It's livable and forgiving, with a wondrous combination of stretch and structure. Wash it out and hang it to dry and wear it just a few hours later. Colors stay true; lines stay strong; most stains come right out.
  • Textile manufacturers of the 1970s era were, shall we say, less inhibited in their design and color offerings. Consequently, we have found some amazing / crazy / beautiful / hilarious stuff to make shifts from. There are lots of interesting-yet-wearable neutrals, too.
  • It's more comfortable than you think. There are some nasty-feeling ones for sure, but we would never use those. The DKPs we offer on our site are soft and cute and comfy.
  • It cannot be destroyed, unless you set out deliberately to do so.  In that case, you'll need to bring a flamethrower and a cross-cut shredder.
  • There is a lot of it out there! Which means that, even though it's not "natural," it's still an abundant and eco-friendly resource: the greenest fabric is one that is already manufactured.

I outgrew my magic aqua dress, but I still have great feats of book-reading, mirror-singing, and company-starting to perform, and DKP shifts are perfect for all that.