Something Fishy About Them Florals

It should be a familiar story at this point.  I see a garment online/in a store/on Man Repeller.  It’s beautiful.  I want to be the sort of person who wears whatever that is.  But HOLY FUDGING SKIT-BALLS BATMAN IS THAT THE PRICE??!!  HAHAHAHAHA!  NOPE.  Cannot afford.  Nooooooo.

This time, the garment in question was a little sun-dress from The Reformation.  Now I am usually vehemently Not A Dress Person.  I often have places to be via foot or bus or train with multiple bags of bricks to carry (you know how heavy bags sneakily make your dress ride up at the back until everyone on the train platform gets some accidental fan-service?).   I also hate being the person clutching their skirt with grim determination in a 24 knot gust, wishing they had more hands to hold the damn thing down.  The rest of the time I hate how I suddenly look 12, or I associate dresses with auditions and get jumpy, or they just feel… unfinished.  But this time…. ?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s the slightly grungy insouciance with which they’ve styled their models?  Maybe it’s the fact that they were wearing white Converses and I too (I know, surprising!) own a (very scuffed) pair of (used to be) white Converses.  Maybe it’s how El Niño took so long to bugger off that Sydney was still 20+ degrees in the middle of freaking May. Maybe I’ve been watching too much anime and have been coming to terms with the fact that looking cute is, well, cute.  Whatever it was, a cute little mini-sundress suddenly looked a lot more appealing than its ilk has in years.

Sadly I can’t say my take on it is as environmentally sound as The Reformation’s.  My fabric is a synthetic (viscose/rayon, I think?) from Darn Cheap Fabrics which created God-knows-how-much carbon dioxide and waste water (and also I’ve heard rayon’s very bad for you long-term), but they let you order online now and they often have a good range of unusual prints.  I know.  Synthetic.  I hate it.  But it’s the only way I’m not going to be precious about it and actually wear it in casual situations. The best thing about it is the print.  It looks like a floral from a distance, but get up close and:

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THEY AREN’T FLOWERS AT ALL! (APART FROM THE BITS THAT ARE)  THEY’RE GOLDFISH!

So down to the nitty.  While I wanted my dress to look close to the original, there were also a few things I wanted to change.

  1. I wanted a slightly more flared skirt because a true quarter circle skirt (as I suspect theirs is close to, just cut in panels) ends up needing shaping to fit both my hips and my waist, and I’d rather flare the skirt more than have to shape it at the top.  I ended up taking the pattern from the horsey mini and adding flare.
  2.  Pockets.  One of the things I hate about dresses is automatically going to hook your hand into a pocket and then realising with great sadness, after pawing in at the side of your hip for five minutes, that there are no pockets.  And then where do you put your hands?  Because it’s awkward now. You fold your arms.  You unfold them.  You put your hands on your hips, but that’s wrong too. Pretty soon you’d give your kingdom for a pocket.

Mostly it was trouble-free to pattern and put together.  Apart from the bit where I need to re-do the back of my bodice block because it’s always a bit tight across the shoulders, and in my attempt to correct this on the fly I introduced about 2cm too much excess fullness across the bust which needed to be taken out at the end.  Fortunately I’d included a CF seam, and strangely enough my shape likes a bit of CF seam shaping.  The sleeves were a total fluke, patterned from my French sleeve block, but again with extra fullness added into the top on the fly.  The innards are all finished with pinking shears, because this stuff doesn’t seem to fray easily (win!).

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I apologise for the blurriness of that photo.  I dropped my phone shortly after I took the other photos and the camera is no longer what it was.  But you can see all the adjustments I ended up making to the basic pattern in all the taped-in bits of tissue paper, as well as the tiny fold I ended up taking out of the back because I still can’t seem to get the fit right. Damn my prominent shoulder-blades.

And next up in What Strange Hemming Method Will She Try Now? is tying 18th Century costume garters around your legs and pinning your hem to match them.  I didn’t take a photo because I was too frustrated at the time.  The manga-stack method I used for my PANTS gets a bit unwieldily once you get above the knee.

Then it was just stick-an-invisible-zip-in-the-back time, and done!

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And behold!  It pairs well with gold Supergas and over-the-knee socks in my opinion.  And stupid poses.Photo on 26-05-2016 at 2.37 PM

The setting of the zip could be better, but I only have a normal zipper foot, so all things considered it’s pretty good.  You can’t tell in a blurry photo anyway so why am I even telling you?  Geez Belinda, shut up!

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And tbh who even cares about zip setting when there are pockets and goldfish, and the fit is good.  Honestly I put on a RTW skirt this morning and almost died at how appallingly it fit, so I think next up will be making some more skirts.  Maybe.  You know how scatty I am.

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Any Excuse Will Do…

As in pretty much any excuse is good enough for me to make a dress.  And a very, very long post, so schedule loo breaks now, ladies and gentlemen.  This is an actual transcript of the conversation that happened between Logic Brain and Soprano Brain:

Logic Brain: Liederfest is coming up.

Soprano Brain: So it is!  QUICK!  TO THE SEWING MACHINE!

Logic Brain: Errr……. shouldn’t that be ‘to the practice room?’

Soprano Brain: Oh poor foolish Logic Brain.  Surely you realise that there’s no point in practicing for a competition if I have nothing to wear.

Logic Brain: But you do have things to wear.  Why not wear that dress you wore last year?

Soprano Brain: Because I wore it LAST YEAR, duh.  How passé!  The reek of bad technique clings to it like the stench of burning rubber to a smoke-tainted wine.

Logic Brain: Stop it.  You’re getting carried away.

Soprano Brain: This year’s dress shall be bold!

Logic Brain: Are you even listening to me?

Soprano Brain:  It will necessitate an extravagant trip to the Fabric Store!

Logic Brain: You can’t really aff-

Soprano Brain: IT WILL BE LIKE THE ARMOUR OF A VICTORIOUS KNIGHT AND SHINE AS A TESTAMENT TO MY AWESOMENESS!

Logic Brain: Fine, whatever, I’m not talking to you when you’re like this.

Now really, I’m sort of on Logic Brain’s side here. I only have nine days to whip this thing up in, and I will not be sacrificing practice time to do it (seeing it’s Liederfest, not Seamstressfest).  I have other dresses I could wear.  The main problem is that I made a massive rookie error on my break at work the other day and spent most of it drooling over the Christopher Esber website, oogling masterfully-cut, ridiculously beautiful garments I will never be able to afford.  I also rummaged through my wardrobe with a friend deciding on clothes for photoshoots the other day, and was palpably disappointed at the lack of badassness therein.  Everything’s a bit frumpy, or a bit dainty, or a bit vintage, or just too… safe.  Which I know is what adjudicators-of-a-certain-age/the Opera Police* tend to go for, but it’s not how I want to represent myself, and I want to have the sort of stage wardrobe where I feel like I can grab anything that’s weather-appropriate and just feel right in it, Opera Police be damned.  If you don’t feel like you’re offering up yourself on stage, you can’t expect the audience to feel a genuine connection with you.

So I had a think.

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Le Fou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking…

I examined my current daytime performance dresses with a critical eye. There’s a grey cuoprene/silk Alpha 60 dress for summer, a black Viktoria Maine for winter and a rust-coloured Victoria Maine for in-between.  The rust one’s pretty stained and gaps badly at the CB neckline (also I feel about 40 in it, which isn’t how 24 year olds generally want to feel), the black one is nice to wear but a bit underwhelming, and the Alpha 60 one requires tape (which isn’t great when you go to put it on and then realise you can’t find the tape, and then have to rush around madly in the 40 minutes before your Masters recital trying to find something else that you can wear to perform in 35 degree heat without flashing anybody.  True story).

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Classic case of party at the back. Super-deep-cut armscyes, ergo tape.  With a slip it looks suspiciously like some kind of dressing gown.

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This is the one I wore last year.  It’s inoffensive enough.

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I used to like this one.  Now I think it’s boring.

What I gathered from this sartorial navel-gazing were these lessons:

-No boob-tape-dependency.

-No more frumpy/underwhelming.

-Fit is paramount.

When proper designers design things (I imagine, at least…) they think things through carefully.  In each collection, there’s almost a character in their mind; their girl; their muse.  Who are my muses?  What qualities and features and traits do I like?  Who is my girl these days?  I had a look back through my sketch folder at my recent fan sketches, looked at my bookshelf, at my favourite movies and shows – in short: what I’m interested in because I actually like it, not because I feel like I should, or to prove a point – and I noticed a trend.

Basically it boils down to this: my muses are almost invariably Fierce Armed Ladies (and gentlemen).  Buffy.  Anita Blake.   Katniss Everdeen. Shaun Mason from Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy (fights zombies, busts conspiracies) Sabriel, from the eponymous book by Garth Nix (has magic bells). Nimona, from the eponymous web comic by Noelle Stevenson (turns into things, including a SHARK.).  Mr Virgil Tibbs, from the 1967 film In the Heat of the Night (not just a fearsome dude, but also possibly the biggest crush I’ve ever had).  Pretty much every character from Norihiro Yagi’s manga Claymore (the basic plot is: genetically-altered ladies hit monsters with swords whilst questioning their humanity).  Even the characters I invented in highschool to indulge the rather niche combo of rococo fashion and dragons now help to fuel my love of rococo fashion… and zombies.  The dragons got dropped at about year 10.

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Princess Sharianne slays zombies now.  My boss thought I was a tad disturbed for drawing this on my break.  And now, dear internet friends, you have the opportunity to find me disturbing too!

Hell, even the singers I like best have an element of steel to them: Billie Holiday is still my favourite singer ever, and she was one fierce lady.  There’s no amount of Edda Mosers singing die Hölle rache that will ever replace Billie for me.

So the dress must reflect these influences whilst still being appropriate stagewear and not tremendously offensive to the Opera Police.  So the list of direct influences had to be narrowed down a bit, and mixed in with some proper fashion.  The final cut was:

– Christopher Esber, for this shape:  It’s like a rococo waistcoat and yet somehow armour-like.

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From his AW13 collection.

-Dion Lee for the futurism, and how his designs remind me a lot of the wetsuits from Catching Fire; there’s a sort of action/functional look to them (even though body-con dresses are never really very functional).

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Also via the website. Watch out, the homepage makes noises.

-The suits from Claymore.  I’m nicking the CF and CB seams, because they’re quite distinctive and not often used in these sorts of dresses, and also the colour scheme.  I want my dress in grey/white/silver.  Plus a bit of emphasis on my gigantic man-shoulders probably wouldn’t go astray.

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From my very own copy of Vol. 4.

This is the design I arrived at:

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After a bit of sleeve editing and fiddling, I got the toile to the following stage, over a RTW pencil skirt (the skirt’s going to be the easy part, I say flippantly now, probably to my later regret).  It looks very wrinkly and wonky mostly because I had to pin myself into it with great difficulty.  In the real deal there’ll be a CB invisible zipper, which I can do now because I FOUND MY ZIPPER FOOT!!! HOORAH!!! As far as actual flaws go, the collar needs more building up, the ‘shoulder protectors’ need reshaping (it’s my first attempt at a raglan sleeve; once again I’m trying to run before I can walk), and so do the front and back waistcoat tails, and the bust darts need moving.  But hey, it’s a toile.  Corrections are what they’re for, right?

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I’m also very proud of my new shoes.  They’re pointy.  And taxi-coloured.

*Opera Police: a friend of a friend recently used this term to refer to the stuffy, usually middle-aged and older self-appointed gatekeepers of operatic validity, taste and propriety.

Clothes for the Recital that I’m So Glad is Over.

Do excuse my recent lack of postage.

I FINALLY did my first Masters recital; the evil one; the one that got postponed last year because I had a month’s worth of the flu and pharyngitis; the one that I’m so so so glad is finally over, despite the fact that I had a cold and had to keep dashing off stage to blow my nose, much in the manner that more normal sopranos might dash off to swig from glasses of water.  I thought putting the tissues on the piano would be a bad idea, though it was mighty tempting.  Then maybe my level of professionalism would be on par with the con’s; they managed to bugger up my program notes, which I had given to them formatted to a tee after adhering to all their pernickety editing suggestions.  Fancy that… a red squiggle.  Wordpress doesn’t think pernickety is a word.  It keeps suggesting ‘pumpernickel’. Which is a great word too, don’t get me wrong, but not so relevant in the context.

And I actually managed to finish my skirt and top ensemble.  At 12:15am the night before, admittedly, but yes.  Finished.  Now I have things to wear when performing in winter.

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Ta-daaaa! A blurry photo.  Excuse the general mess.

The skirt took about a week, partially because I was working around loads of practice and trying to maintain some semblance of contact with other humans, but mostly because my Janome is to the lovely Fabric Store silk as hot wax strips are to Wolverine: not exactly as Kryptonite to Superman, but it’s still not a fun combination, and the result doesn’t look very attractive.  I should’ve known, because I’ve used this particular kind of silk before when I made my lace crop-top back in the mists of time (*cough* last year *cough*) and my machine has horrible memories of needle-breakage associated with it.  But in the lead-up to my recital, soprano-brain was a bit of an issue and I figured that last time I’d been trying to flat-fell chunky seams and use bias binding (ie: more layers), so if I used a brand-new, sharp-as-a-psycho’s-scalpel, small-as-I-could-get needle and set the thread tension very very carefully, what problem could a mere two layers possibly pose?  (OH THE STUPIDITY)

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Exhibit A: Nasty buckly seam.  In centre-front of all places.  😡

Doesn’t seem to matter how fine a needle I use or how few layers I have or what my thread tension’s set as, I end up with a buckly seam.  So I thought, stuff you Janome, and hand-stitched the rest of it.  What can I say?  I’m a control freak who likes to watch things while I sew.  Many, many episodes of Buffy later, I have a rather nice skirt.  The buckly seam thankfully hangs in a fold, hiding its shameful buckly nature from the eyes of good citizens.  Then I just stitched the silk over the top of the foundation layer of the waistband with backstitch so you have these little lines of topstitching, which the silk will eventually fade around so it’ll look a bit interesting.

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Pinned and ready to go.

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Little backstitches are prettier than buckly machine mess, anyway.

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Then it was slipstitched over the pleats.  Hot-damn I’m proud of that neat curve.

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Okay, so the inside’s all messy.  But it’s secure and there’s no chance of fray-age and I could not give fewer damns.

The skirt ended up being a circle skirt cut to twice the length of the waistband and then pleated on (haphazardly).  The zipper was set in with a pick-stitch, because I HATE sewing zips on the machine.  Hate hate hate, like stompy eye-pokey-outy hate.  Only on the morning did I notice that on me the lining hung more crooked than it did on the dressform, and so I had to emergency-tack it up a bit, but it’ll be an easy fix for The Weekend That Never Comes.

The top was my first foray into jersey-land (aka Mordor.  Stretch fabric is clearly the work of Sauron), negotiating the perils of Twin Needles and Clear Elastic Stay Tape of Doom.

MordorHere dwell the dreaded jersey fabrics.

via lotr.wikia.com

I cut the pattern off a skivvy I had that fitted nicely (though I ought to have gone a little roomier because my jersey didn’t stretch quite as much as I thought), and it sewed up relatively quickly.  I couldn’t figure out how to do a drapey bit at the front, so I improvised one on after and covered the joins with some bows cut from the remnants of my silk.  With a singlet under it, it was *just* warm enough in Melba Hall.  A friend of mine the Best Baritone I Know nearly froze to death in his exam the other week, so I thought it’d pay to be cautious.  Boy did it ever.  My poor accompanists… it seriously looked like a scene out of Dickens backstage with them huddled there in their coats with their hands under their arms.

Now, Clegs doesn’t normally hold much fascination for me with the Fabric Store to compare it to, but when I went down there the other day to pick up the twin needle and the elastic, they were having a remnant sale.  Remnant sales are very dangerous.  I had to be prudent, but when they’re getting rid of just enough of just what you’re after for about 1/4 of the normal price per metre, you must strike, strike like the bargain-cobra.   Now I have enough silk crepe satin to cover my stays when I finish them (I would use it for something else it’s so nice, but that colour really doesn’t suit me unless I’m fancy dressing as a zombie.  My skin cells wouldn’t know what melanin was if some came along and bit them on the endoplasmic reticulum), and half a metre of the most airy and delicious silk georgette which is going to be a nasty beast to sew, but I’m not intending to make anything super fancy from it… maybe just a fichu for my as yet hypothetical georgian costume…???????????????????????????????

So pretty!  It’s like if soufflé could be a fabric.

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Guaranteed to make me look about 5 days dead.

And then there’s sissy-poo’s kitty-shaped hot water bottle cover.  The toile (do you call it a toile when it’s clothes for a hot water bottle?) is assembled, but I’m still trying to work out if the vaguely 3D face is going to work in practice when darts aren’t meant to be a thing you do with faux fur.  I guess the pile’s not too deep, I figure I’m going to treat it pretty much like velvet and see how it goes, unless somebody warns me off it in the next 24 hours.  There’s enough faux fur that I could probably make two or three attempts before I throw in the towel.???????????????????????????????

There will also be legs and a tail but I didn’t bother to pattern them.  I’m not sure how I’ll do the nose and eyes yet, but at any rate, this is the look I’m going for:

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Via au.catsadoptions.com.  KITTY WITH NO FACE NAWWWWWWWW!!!!

It beats doing tax.

Dido the Dressform Gets a Boob Job

I’ve decided to keep Dido.  I found a nasty memory foam pillow from IKEA that my Mum got one time she was visiting because she has a bad neck and had forgotten her normal pillow, and then left it behind because it was no good.  It’s perfect stuffing for Dido though, because it naturally wants to spring back into a rectangular shape, so it holds the cover in a flatter-front-to-back-than-side-to-side shape that’s a closer match to me, and it’s really good to stick pins in.  I added some extra, stiffer padding in the shoulders in the form of wadded-up cotton remnants (and I think I’ll add more), but she was still somehow lacking.  Behold:

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Dido stuffed with a memory-foam pillow.

She was actually more flat-chested than I am.  I didn’t think it was possible, but there you go.  So I stuffed a natty old pair of socks with some old shredded-up linen:

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Dido’s boobies.

She looks way better now, and finally we have matching bust measurements! After I’ve re-stuffed her shoulders, I’ll sew down the tucks I’ve made in the cover to keep them in the correct spot.

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Post-op Dido.  It’s not a massive difference, but at least she looks like a girl now.

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Tucks to lift and separate.  Mostly separate.

I also decided to jump the gun and decorate her a bit.  She has a bow on top, a ribbon to mark the waistline and some fairly hideous nylon lace around the bottom to hide the stripy shirting I’ve used to keep the pillow in the bottom.  It’s all only pinned on at the moment, because I still have some padding to do.  But she looks very pretty and might even turn out to be functional!

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So pretty!

She’s already been really helpful in making some much-needed adjustments to the toile of my stays. I tried them on again this afternoon after pinning out all the bits that needed pinning out on Dido rather than having to sit and measure and measure again, and I didn’t take any photos because they were effective to the point of indecency.  I have instead done a small cartoon:

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It’s a bit hard to read.  Sorry.

Dido the Dressform is Halfway Done

Remember that dressform I said I might get around to making?  Well I started.

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I used my snuggest princess seam block.

 

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As usual, my patterns look like bacon.


I might be jumping the gun here, but I’ve decided to call her Dido.  As in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. It’s an in-joke.  She’s really just a test… she’s made from some upholstery fabric I got at the UMSU Theatre garage sale, and stuffed with a pillow.  I’ll find something better to stuff her with once I’ve made some adjustments (mostly she should have my concave chest, and preferably some kind of neck.  I probably won’t ever be able to get her to do the funny flat-front-to-back thing that my ribs do… unless I make her some coat-hanger-wire ribs or something…  now there’s an idea… a dressform with a skeleton!).  For the moment if I need to use her I’ll stick her in a bra and it’ll go a ways to fixing the rather homogeneous shape of her chest.

 

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Front-side view (not like anyone could tell)

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Back view

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Side view.  Again, it’s hard to see where the front is. 

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She looks very pretty in my stays toile though.

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Hooray!  I have a (sort of) body double!  Maybe I can send her to Postgrad Seminar and teach her how to sign my name off for me…

Fabric Joy

Ah the Fabric Store… if I wasn’t a poor student I’d probably be there all the time, buying all of the delicious fabric.  As it is I have to content myself with occasional *small* splurges, carefully whittled down after frolicking madly around the shop fondling all of the fabric like a crazy lady patting other people’s cats and then making the excruciating decision as to what one I’m going to permit myself to take home. (I don’t do that with other people’s cats, for the record.  I mean, yes I pat them, but no I don’t take them home.)

Yesterday’s frolics yielded:

Yummy silk!  For a pretty summer dress, the likes of which I stopped wearing years ago:

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It’s all soft and drapey and has a beautiful ikat-like print in a mixture of soft shades.  The dress I’ve been drooling over (which belongs to a friend of mine), is all floral and pink, but I look supremely stupid in floral and/or pink, so this is my substitute to still look vaguely feminine without looking like a hat-stand with a manky curtain draped over it.  Unfortunately it was pricey.  But there was no other pattern that was so perfect, and I knew if I got a floral I wouldn’t end up wearing the end result.

The next win was a remnant-bin find:

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The photo doesn’t do it any justice.  It’s a lovely granny smith apple-green linen, light and crisp at the same time (geddit, crisp?).  I’ve got some Anthropologie-based skirt inspiration going on, namely, a take on a peplum skirt that doesn’t go LOOK AT ME I’M A FREAKING PEPLUM ERMEHGERD AREN’T I JUST SO FASHIONABLE.  I never liked the trend when it started, and I have the strongest feeling that it is to be Over very soon.  All ye who continue down the path of peplum consider yourselves warned.  However, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of irony, except when you’re a Hipster and nothing you do say or wear can be taken seriously.  So perhaps the two evils of Peplum and Hipster Irony can be combined in token amounts and some kind of good Ironic Peplum will come of their union?  Or am I sounding a bit much like Dr Frankenstein?

The last bit of joy is this:

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WOW!  Foil covered linen?  THE FUTURE IS HERE!  Space-age and breathable!  Fished from the remnant bin, my first thought was ‘Shiny Awesome Stays of Non-Historically-Accurate-Shininess yet Vaguely-Historically-Accurate-Fibre?  That is so far up my alley it’s practically about to get mugged by my alley-thug!’  Then I remembered a post from the Dreamstress with a sinking heart…  Apparently this stuff can be warpy and isn’t particularly iron-friendly, and I’ll take the professional’s word for it and proceed with extreme caution!  I’ll do a quick test iron on a corner and some experimental pulling to see what happens.  How do you tell if fabric is warpy or not anyway?  I thought it was kind of eerie because I wanted mine to be front-and-back lacing too…  though my pattern is more 1780s/90s than 1750s and I’m one of those weirdos who likes binding eyelets (phew?).

Anyway.  No sewing will happen until this heatwave ends.  Apparently it’s been the longest consecutive number of days over 30°C in Melbourne since 1911 or something.  I don’t care how long it’s been, I would just like it to stop please so I can stop dribbling on my fabric and actually make something.