30 May 2012

Pretend This Is a Hilarious Pun About Candy

Hey, folks, guess what? I'm going to stop talking about Cry-Baby for a whole, like, seventeen seconds...because I finished my Licorice dress for Sew Colette!

Lenora's First Law of Picture-Taking: the carpet never seems especially dirty/cluttered until you photograph yourself standing on it.

I'm pretty proud of how this dress came together; I really managed to nail the fit, I think. Especially in the far right photo there (the side view)--between my boobs and my belly and my super (worryingly?) curvy spine, I am super three-dimensional in the abdomen, and sometimes I have a ton of trouble with fitting. Like, things will look fine head-on, but at any other angle there gets to be a "ye Gods" factor...does this happen to anyone else?

Part of the reason the fit was great was that I took the time to make a muslin--which was of course worth it either way, but then I also made some of that time back by taking the shortcut of making my lining out of my muslin! I was considering playing it off like I premeditated this as an efficiency measure but in fact I just sort of...decided my muslin was close enough to my final fit and I was too lazy to cut and sew up another lining? The lining I had put aside would have been a poppier color contrast, but the teal coordinates okay, and why not conserve the fabric (and therefore the $7 or whatever it cost) for the next one?

My style alterations in the end were as follows: I shortened (and neglected to gather) the sleeves, used three contrasting fabrics for the skirt, bodice and details, made the tie belt a sewn-on, faux-button belt, and did an exposed zipper. I suppose technically I altered the skirt length too, but that was really an alteration through inaction--I just never bothered to lengthen the skirt like I needed to (I am five nine, guys, patterns are too short!)

 The blue fabric is somewhere between these shades, but closer to the color on the right. It's so bright! I love bright!

I had a bunch of wild ideas as I went through, like making a set of detachable contrast collars and cuffs in different styles, or creating skirt interest using the scallop detail from the Meringue skirt (as an inset, not a hemline!), but in the end they all seemed waaay too much/busy/ambitious. Besides, I wanted to keep the look of the dress baaasically as designed. It wasn't my favorite pattern when I first got the book (I don't really wear A-liney skirts, and those sleeves! Gah!), so I really consider part of the sewalong challenge to have been making it my own without making it unrecognizable, if that makes sense. And I do like how it turned out quite a lot!

28 May 2012

TSC #1: the "Bad Girl Beauty Makeover" Top

 Hey, girls, what do you think? Let's give Allison here a bad girl beauty makeover.

In spite of my lining debacle, I finally finished up on my first That's So Cinematic piece! I made my own version of this top Allison wears at the Jukebox Jamboree:

K calls this Allison's "pirate outfit" because of the britches-and-swashbuckle vibe she gets off the capris and scarf drape, so in conversation we've been referring to it as the "pirate shirt." I have elected not to name my version that, and since my non-pants-wearing ways* mean I don't have any capris, I wore it differently too!

*Seriously, I very rarely wear pants anymore. I think I own two pairs. Both of which, now that I think about it, I've photographed myself in for this blog...a shocking overrepresentation.

(That exercise ball is...not mine. Belt is waistcoaty bit from a vintage shirtdress)

To make the top, I modified and lengthened the bodice section of Vogue 8184 (God but I love that pattern...will be using parts of it for my second garment too, get excited) and the bust detailing from Simplicity 2442, which is this really sort of awful bridesmaid-dress pattern, but the way the bust section went together fit well with Allison's top! I drafted the collar-detail bits (or, what are those folded-over bits called?) myself and popped 'em on.

I ended up with a two-tone lining because of my cutting difficulties; the main lining is yellow and the top chunk in back is the same green as the shell of the top.

I could only manage one close shot of the top that wasn't a super  intense cleavage shot (and, dear Internet, we are not close enough friends for that yet!), so here it is, and a closer look at the front of the bust:

I still don't have the fit exactly right around the midriff, but I'm telling myself that's all right, because neither does Allison:

Cry-Baby Cover Story: "Sh-Boom"

Okay, so I was planning for tonight's post to be about my first garment for That's Sew Cinematic. But, uh, I was cutting out the lining pieces a little too late the other night and cut a whole section of them out backwards! Which means I am a little behind.

But I think it's about time for another Cover Story! In keeping with my Cry-Baby theme, let's look at a song from the film: "Sh-Boom," performed here by Baldwin and his Whiffles:

This scene is part of a sequence taking place at the charm school talent show that sets up the social sphere of Baltimore's squares as the first foray through Turkey Point establishes the world of the drapes, contrasting their socially respectable, somewhat cheesy diversions with the drapes' wildness (everyone's listening to rock 'n roll! Toe-Joe's taking pinup shots in the parking lot! Ramona's fencing car parts! And then of course that one girl in the flowery bathing cap is actually smoking a cigarette while treading water). Given that context, the song couldn't be more perfect. Everything about the scene, from the goofy suits to the insipid singing to the super-awkward dance moves--even the haircut-based band name--is a clear play on this 1954 recording by the Crew Cuts:

It's not just any imitation of a silly pop song, though. The Crew Cuts hit number one with "Sh-Boom," and have since earned their notoriety in the annals of rock history, by totally biting a black doo-wop group called the Chords:

The Chords also hit number one with "Sh-Boom" (in the same year, in fact!), but the Crew Cuts massively outsold them, and were able to more widely perform and promote their version of the single, because of their race; in addition, the Crew Cuts' more traditional arrangement (slower-paced, orchestra-backed, pitched to appeal to the white pop audience) went down more easily with an American public maybe not quite ready to accept the musical advances that would set the stage for rock 'n roll and bring "race music" into the mainstream.

The Crew Cuts were but an early example of a wider and longer-running trend of white pop singers picking up singles by black artists and toning them down for the mainstream airwaves. It's part of the phenomenon referred to in the phrase "black root, white fruit," the notion that from ragtime and jazz through rock 'n roll and beyond, musical developments made by black artists have historically been better embraced by mainstream audiences when imitative white renditions popped up--and zoomed up the charts, and made all the money. Music historians have argued about the effect these mainstream white "takes" on early rock songs really had. Was Pat Boone's cover of "Tutti Frutti," for example--which toned down Little Richard's original in both lyrical content and performance style and beat it on Billboard by 16 spots--a criminal ripoff of an innovative track in a brand-new type of music, or a key bridge between the nascent genre of rock 'n roll and a public still not quite ready to hear about "good booty" on the radio?

I know what my answer is, and while it has something to do with how embarrassing I find the Whiffles' waistcoats (and Pat Boone's existence), it has more to do with the fact that most of America's racial legacy is gross. On a brighter note, this article, which I found by Googling "black root, white fruit" and which has a decent list of examples of Crew Cut-esque white ripoff covers of black artists, takes the point further to say some interesting things about black-on-black/black-on-white pop covers and musical revivalism!

24 May 2012

TSC Spotlight On: Allison and Good & Bad Girl Fashion

No, she's a scrape--part square, part drape. I think she's pretty.

One major element at play in the world of Cry-Baby is the drape vs. square social divide among Baltimore's teens. As I'm sewing along to the film, I thought I'd take a minute to explore how that division is expressed in the wardrobe department (just in girls' clothes for now--I'll be taking a look at mens' fashion a little later).

One way of looking at the differences between the two social groups' wardrobe parameters would be a contrast and comparison of the outfits Allison wears at different points of her journey from princess of the charm school to Queen Cry-Baby. After all, to take a character we've been guided into seeing one way and completely upend our perception of her, you've got to really nail it, right?


Allison's two informal performing outfits--worn at the theme park opening and the Jukebox Jamboree--show us some of the clearest differences between square and drape styles:

The two costumes do have some similarities. First, Allison is wearing green in both scenes, tying the two outfits together--this is the same girl, just in two very different worlds. And then there are the Fifties mainstays--red lipstick, cat eyes. But the makeup is a lot heavier in drapeland, and where Square Allison wears a very feminine full skirt and crinolines, has her hair pulled firmly back above a demure neckline, her Post-Drape Makeover look is all curves and decolletage and loose, flowing curls--and capris, which are an especially apt marker of cultural chasm only scenes after her grandmother has dismissed slacks on women as "hysterectomy pants"!

The two outfits she wears between these two, in the "Naughty Lady From Shady Lane"/morning-after scene, show pretty much the same contrasts:

Allison starts the scene in pants and a fairly close-fitting blouse, hair down and tousled, red lipstick heavily applied; after hearing the radio report Cry-Baby's (fake) engagement to Lenora, she dives into her closet and comes out with a high-necked, full-skirted sundress, then pulls her hair back and wipes the lipstick furiously off.

The color similarity here is lacking, with implications for character development rather than clothing style particularly. Allison changes clothes specifically as an emblem of her changed social adherence in the wake of Cry-Baby's presumed betrayal.


The other two stage looks we see on Allison, at the charm school talent show and the chicken race, are more formal. Again we have the more vs. less heavyhanded makeup, the hair up vs. down; on the clothing count, though, where the casual outfits show a dramatic difference in style, the gowns display more of a difference in tone:

The talent show dress is pretty much the archetypical Fifties prom dress: mountains of pouf and petticoat, floral appliques and embellishment at the bodice. The chicken race number is slinky, formfitting, glamorous--built to house a femme fatale instead of the other's teen sweetheart. And the white/black contrast and its symbolism are clear. The white is a dress for a sweet, innocent young girl--the black is a gown for a bold, sexy, grown-ass woman.


Allison's last two ensembles don't fit into quite as neat a pair as the others seem to; both the nature of the dresses--plain shirtdress vs. bombshell sarong--and the circumstances of their wearing--a polio vaccination drive and an attempted jailbreak, respectively--diverge wildly. But what they do offer is the extreme example of each type--the squarest square and the drapiest drape:

Relative weights of makeup? Check. Hair up/hair down? Check (this may in fact be the most consistent element of Allison's warring identities). The square dress is full-skirted, muted, demure--the drape frock tight, bright and shiny.

Plus, bringing the sarong dress into the conversation means I have an excuse to post this hilarious screencap of Cry-Baby and Allison in the juvie visiting booth:

22 May 2012

Repetition Time

Tops: painted by me!, from Halloween 2010 Tank Girl costume -- not really sure -- clothing swap 
Shorts/skirt: an Advance pattern I left the house without checking but I very much like this -- Colette Beignet -- shorts again!

Life has gotten a little repetitive the past couple days on the outfit front, I'm afraid! Yesterday and Saturday were all about those purple shorts, and though I don't think I've worn this skirt yet I most certainly had this blouse on the other day. Sunday I forgot to take a photo but I just wore this dress again.

Boston is having rainventures today but I hope the rest of y'all have a beautiful Tuesday morning...and afternoon &c I guess...

21 May 2012

That's Sew Cinematic: Turkey Point Edition

I have a crazy new announcement to make: I am joining another sewalong! And in true Lenora style, I am joining another sewalong seriously, grievously late in the game!

Y'all may or may not have noticed the new button gracing the left toolbar on my blog. I popped it up there about a week ago when I made the decision to join, but I didn't want to post about it 'til I'd figured all my stuff out. That's right, I'm signing on to That's Sew Cinematic...with six weeks left to complete the six garments involved.

It's okay though! Because I have a plan! I have a theme! I picked a film, and I'm sewing specifically from it. That film is...

John Waters' CRY-BABY: the Pope of Trash Does Grease, his first properly shot studio picture, one of my favorite films.



Oh, this is the best film my sewalong could ever have! 

Words cannot express how much I love this movie, really. Even taken on its own, outside of my general love of John Waters. It's funny, it's touching, it's too clever to be corny and too sentimental and cheesy to take itself overly seriously. Plus it's about a time period and a music genre I love, and it both stars a young Johnny Depp AND features Iggy Pop. OH, and it's a musical. What more could one want?

Cry-Baby is a story of Baltimore in 1954, when teenagers were divided into drapes (greasers) and squares (self-explanatory), with the clothes--sweet and demure vs. fitted and dramatic--and music--ooey gooey crooners vs. rockabilly hollering--to match. The two groups have their own hangouts, their own social scenes, and, importantly, their own rival gangs.

Allison Vernon-Williams is the ultimate square: the granddaughter of the head of the charm school, going steady with Baldwin, the leader of square gang the Whiffles. When she takes a shine to drape ringleader Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker and the two are drawn together through music, the resulting chaos ends up enveloping not only their friends, not only the teenagers in town, but the whole population and even the local courts and the state Department of Corrections.

Along the way, we meet a wide range of crazy characters, including (but not limited to!) the Cry-Baby Girls, a gang of rockabilly chicks with tight skirts and an even tighter bond of friendship; Ramona and Belvedere Ricketts, Cry-Baby's wild grandmother and step-grandfather, who run the drape hangout at Turkey Point; Toe-Joe, the Sketchy Pin-up Photographer; Inga, the Swedish exchange student; and a maniacal juvie warden played by Willem Dafoe, who leads his charges in hilariously grudging bedtime prayers. And of course there are the requisite "John Waters moments" of ridiculous:

I recommend this movie so, so, so hard to anyone who hasn't yet seen it. It's an hour and a half of hilarity and delight! Besides, I'm going to be talking about it a heck of a lot until June 30th, so you'll understand me better if you do...



I got some new rules, sewists.

I am forever making things unnecessarily difficult for myself. I like to pretend that's because I thrive on a challenge, but in all honesty it's always the same old flaw of character: my eyes are, intellectually speaking, bigger than my brainpan. I get carried away on conceptual flights of fancy with which I find it difficult to follow through. My whole goal this spring and summer--the reason why I'm trying to recommit to blogging, and why I've been so unreasonably excited every time I finish a stage on the Licorice dress I'm working on for Sew Colette--is to develop an ability to commit to projects and finish them as well and consistently as I started. One key element of this is only committing to what I think I can finish.

So when I originally decided to join this sewalong, I decided two things. First, that I needed to develop a comprehensive plan of what I was going to do, and how, and roughly when; second, that my original concept, which was a more holistic review of costumes from John Waters' oeuvre, where the six garments would span six separate films and all that accompanied them, etc. etc., was simply TOO DAMN BIG an idea. I've narrowed things down slightly, and I'm pleased with the scale I've chosen.

BUT! Because I do, in fact, enjoy a challenge, I'm going to be tying this into my attempt to blog more consistently by not just sewing and blogging my six garments, but also writing and posting some Cultural-Studies-and-history-nerd discussions of different elements of the film, its musical elements, and the historical and social background of the plot--as well as spotlight posts on film fashion I'm not sewing (there are simply too many good outfits in this movie. Too many). I guess the way I feel about it is: I'm excited enough about this that I'd just as soon commit whole hog. And if I don't finish or fall behind, well, I'll know for next time that I need to take it slower.

Six garments by June 30th, with all those extras, means one piece of clothing and three posts weekly. Wish me luck?

20 May 2012

Tales From the Stacks

So I've been promising y'all an archive tour for several weeks now, and Friday I finally got around to taking photos!

I spend two days a week puttering about the attic archives at the historical society in my hometown, a small town on Boston's South Shore. It is now a white-collar bedroom community for Boston commuters but was settled in the early 1630s as one of the southern outposts of the Massachusetts Bay colony; like everywhere around here, it's got a long history. However, we've been more assiduous/anal retentive than some in preserving and propogating it, so the historical society has a relatively strong collection of artifacts and documents, as well as a dedicated headquarters in a historic building right in the town square.


My world basically consists of the workroom above, where reference books are kept and there's table space for work and a computer that houses the archive's electronic catalog and accessions database, and the archive room itself, where all the fun stuff is kept:

I am currently inventorying and examining a (for us) large pamphlet collection that has been mouldering on the shelves for a while with no real categorization or curation (there's another full shelf above these two):

I am responsible for examining the pamphlets, entering them into a database, and then determining whether they're of interest to the historical society. Do they mention or refer to our town in some significant way?

Are they written by or about anyone from town?

Are they related to the historical society and its development?

Are they important in the overall context of American history, such that they can provide a context for our town-specific materials?

It's a whole new challenge for me, as I've spent a lot of my education working on British and medieval European history. Connecting up all the dots of the pre-twentieth century American picture--especially on such a local, non-Big Story Big Picture level--has been strange, but invigorating. I love doing this. Every Wednesday and Friday I wake up knowing I'm going to spend the day in the archives and I just get excited all over again.

So uh, that's my story, and happy weekend, folks! I hope you all do stuff that makes you this happy. And when it comes to the other thing that makes me excited, I'm making some progress too:

Check out that shell-of-Licorice! Everything's fitted properly, lining is cut and darted but not fully assembled. I am getting there, I am getting there. I am going to do this on time...

18 May 2012

More Clothing!

Top: oh God, who knows -- clothing swap, from either A or E -- Colette Taffy
Dress/Skirt: Recon of ancient H&M skirt, bodice some weird 80s prom pattern, skirt Butterick 5316 -- self-drafted dirndl skirt using instructions from one of my grandmother's sewing books -- Advance 8881

I remembered to bring my camera to work today, too, so there are Archive Photo Funtimes on the horizon, too! More on that later, though. For now, time to inventory old crumbly paper! I'm psyched.

15 May 2012

Licor-icor-icorice! and More Photos of Me Smiling Sheepishly

Blouse: Free box in university residence forever ago
Cardigan: Dollar-A-Pound, the Garment District 
Skirt: vaaaguely based on Butterick 5032, only I added a waistband and made the pleats into darts and lengthened it slightly and...well, changed pretty much everything
Heels: Payless, in honestly like 2004 or something
Hair: my own creation, but putting in bobby pins at your desk without a mirror while not having brushed it this morning is a key point of technique

This is the skirt fabric, since it's not super clear in the photo above: 

It's got a little bit of stretch to it and the skirt is wicked comfortable. The blue pinstripes are plenty subtle themselves, but give me an excuse to wear my blue heels--and to have put in a bright blue zip and button, which I love.

As for my Licorice muslin, I hope someday we can be friends! But at the moment:

Those are different measurements. I have a long shoulder to bust point measurement AND a long torso. What fun! On many patterns I can get away without adjusting the former, because crazy-ease makes up for it, but this guy isn't going to let me cut that corner, I guess. And if I'm dealing with that I may as well also adjust the waistline properly (I am almost used to buckling belts at my lowest ribs by now, but I know that's not really so good). Onward and fit-ward, though, I suppose...

14 May 2012

New Shoes, Recent Blouse, Tardy Muslin

My mother made fun of this blouse before I made it, because she thought the fabric looked like a Laura Ingalls nightgown. But she was wrong! It looks nice! (I think, at least.)

I retook this picture because I was scowling, but then it somehow looked better than the one where I was actually smiling. Maybe I should glare more often?
Blouse: Style Patterns 2769
Skirt: junk store in Montreal
Shoes: Kohl's

I bought new shoes, guys! They are hugely tall, and were hugely cheap, and make me feel hugely great!

I've been working on my muslin for the Licorice sewalong, but after an unproductive week I'm in the piled-up-fabric-with-random-pins-on-the-ironing-board stage:

I'mma plop down and do some constructing on this muslin when I'm off the internet, so hopefully that'll help with a little of my behinditude. I've picked my fabric for the dress though:

13 May 2012

My Mama Took These Photos

...and when I'm done posting them, I'mma go buy food for Mother's Day dinner.

Yesterday I just bummed around the house, so I just lived in sundressville--and finally wore the dress I was reconning the other day:

Gross messy floor/room is gross! So is gross hair I didn't brush. Whoops.
Dress: Gift, reconstructed
Sandals: Marshall's at the Cape Cod Mall, 2010

This dress came to me a little over a year ago as part of a moment of great Craigslist serendipity, but  it was pretty unwearable. The hem was crooked and bound in what looked like satin blanket binding, and the shoulders were held together with these weird, mismatched buttons, as were the red tabs on the side panels, one of which was missing a button and flapping in the breeze.
I replaced that missing button and even wore it out once or twice, but it stayed bunched up in a pile nevertheless. So the other day I pulled it out, unbound and rehemmed the bottom edge, pulled off the shoulder buttons, and used navy bias binding (to match the side panels) on the whole neck-and-armhole opening before tacking the straps back together again. It's not a refashion in the sense that I made something totally new, but I certainly put a previously unwearable garment back in my closet, so: I'm counting it!
(I put the shoes on just for the photo, I'll admit.)

Today, though, I went to church with mi madre to help with the Sunday School preschool class, so I had to look like a real person:

Cardigan: Dollar-A-Pound at the Garment District, January
Skirt: Value Village? I think? In...2008? 
Shoes: Zellers

This photo was supposed to show the pleating at the top of my sleeve but I guess it...didn't? It's just one inverted pleat right at the shoulderline, which is pulled back because of the way I'm standing. I tend to prefer that to gathering if I want a little bit of fullness at the shoulder. Either way, hey! My blouse has sleeves, errybody. 

Happy Mother's Day, world wide web! Go appreciate a mother. Preferably yours, but all of them need love. Mine is pretty awesome, so I'd recommend her, but she's taken. By me.

11 May 2012

Clothes I May'd (ugh, sorry!) and Another Cover Story

Well, I didn't bring my camera to work, so no Tales From the Archive for now, folks. But I did get a photo sesh in.

Lookit that toothy grin! Apparently I am happy. And there are holes in the lawn?
Dress: Frankenpatterned, Vogue 8184/Butterick 5316
Cardigan: J. Crew, clothing-swapped from the lovely A
Shoes: Payless a kajillion years ago

And because I am definitely grown-up, obviously, no doubt: more plastic jewelery!

This dress was sort of a ridiculous sewing project, actually; I made it last fall, in about five hours on Halloween weekend, taking tiny frantic snatches of time away from my costume crafting because I had, for reasons now lost to the mists, decided I needed a new dress for the Slackers show I saw that Saturday night. I finished about ten minutes before I had to head out to the show, and finished tacking down the shoulder strap and the tuck at the neckline by hand while the dress was already on me.

You may notice, however, that there is no tuck at the neckline--at least, not anymore! By the time the show was over, my hand stitches had started giving out in a couple places, as well as one not-so-well secured section of the zipper placket. I had actually danced myself (partway!) out of my dress.
I'm not sure whether this is a story about how shoddy a seamstress I am or about how intensely I love dancing/the Slackers...but HEY my love of music is a great segue to our other piece of business for the post: Cover Story volume...seven at this point, I think?

Today we're hearing from the incomparable Angels, because I can never get enough Brill building girlpop:

They're being covered by the Raveonettes. Apparently this song was in the Vampire Diaries? Say my Youtube search results. I did not even know that was a show until just now:

Enjoy your weekend, Internet! I will too. Probably I will be on you again before it's out.