Friday, May 30, 2014

Birds of a Feather

There's nothing like feathers for adding a dash of old fashion glamor to an outfit. Who could ever forget Ginger Rogers's white feathered dress in the movie, "Top Hat." The other day, my friend Richard sent me a photo of a crimson red feather dress from the Alexander McQueen exhibition with a note asking if I could duplicate it for the doll. My short answer was NO, much too complicated! But it did get me thinking....

You could always buy a feather boa and toss it over the shoulders of your could make a dreamy feather dress like one of those creations that occasionally float down a catwalk or across a red carpet!

Many craft stored sell small packets of feathers just like the ones I've used for this project. I begin with the basic foundation (or sheath dress). Design the neckline you want and chose your fabric. To make it easy to attach the feathers, I chose a felt for my foundations. I wanted only the flat part of this feather, so I clipped away the fluff.

Note: I find it better to stitch the feathers while the doll is in the dress to ensure it doesn't "shrink" due to the stitches.

Start by deciding on a start point as well as a direction of a pattern to lay your feathers. For this dress, I began on the side at the waist. Stitch each feather to the foundation using a whip stitch along the center vein. Place one feather over the other until the entire dress is covered. If your stitches are showing, you can always glue a last feather on top.

Working with marabou was a bit tricky. The individual feathers are longer and because the manufacturer has assembled them into clumps, the stems can be a tad bit thick. I began by sewing each feather to the foundation with a whip stitch, however, I tried to pierce the stem to ensure the feather would not slip away. Since this is a two-toned dress, I placed the orange feathers first in a pattern where half point upwards and the other points down.

When I began the second layer, I tried to tuck the stems under the first layer to hide them as you see in my close-up photo.

After everything is in place, I use a few single feathers with fine stems to cover any other visible stems.

Of course, you are not obliged to make a full dress.

A corset worn over a full skirt is just as nice!

As I mentioned earlier, feathers are also sold by the yard. A contrasting color added to the hem of an evening dress adds a dramatic touch.

Or, you can cut rows of marabou to create a feather jacket or coat. This is a basic straight jacket with about 3 rows of feathers stitched onto the bodice and sleeves. It's the same principle we used in creating the fur jacket last December.

One final note. It doesn't take many feathers to create any of these garments. For the pink spotted dress, I used about 25 feathers and for the jacket, a single yard (meter). Moreover, each took only about 1/2 day to stitch on the feathers! Quick, easy, AND glamorous!

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dries Van Noten: "Inspirations" (expo)

For anyone who has ever wondered where designers get their ideas, the current exhibition, "Inspirations," at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris is the perfect place to start. On until August 31, the work of Belgian fashion designer is on display. More so than a good selection of clothing from the designer's 30 year career, this is a show that provides a rare, behind-the-scenes peak at the early design concept stage faced by the designer.

For this exhibition, Dries Van Noten assembled all of the many elements that served as the point of departure for his women's and menswear collections. Those references include a kaleidoscope of film clips and floral patterns, music and models, classic couture and it's iconic couturiers, fabrics, foreign travel, historical figures, paintings, photos and pop culture. Within each setting-dispersed over two floors, the visitor sees how the original elements are transformed into contemporary fashion.

The reinterpreted dolly look is a simple vest with " rows of ruffled, ripped silk chiffon worn over a simple sarong skirt.

Dries Van Noten was part of Belgium's avant-garde movement of the 1990's. The "Belgian-Six" also included Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, and Walter Von Beirendonck, all of whom are graduates of the famous, Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp. Van Noten first launched his brand with a menswear collection in 1986. Within a few years, he became known for the exotic mix of cultures infused in his womenswear shows.

The visitor's "voyage" begins at the entrance where block letters over the walls spell out his environmental influences and lead to the first display chocked with a summary of major trends of the 1980's. A few steps away, Christian Dior's New Look suit stands center stage and is surrounded by Van Noten's own version: a man's jacket with tucks tossed over a full shirt. Each setting is punctuated with a small screen showing the catwalk show from the original season.

Trompe l'oeil and 60s graphics serve as the basic of this collection.

From one setting to another, you slip into the designer's skin, impacted by works rich in imagery, history, attitude, texture and color. The energy of Picasso's Taurus is transformed into a heavily embroidery cotton top over trousers or even a short bolero worn with a photo print skirt for the Summer '12 collection. As a former educator, it was impressive to see this exercise in "Design Concepts" at it's best. Clearly, Van Noten was a passionate student of Costume History and a mighty fine researcher as well!

Africa adds to the mix in this collection.

I was also pleasantly surprised to discover his exploration of textile Surface Treatments beginning with vests embellished with ruffled, ripped chiffon that resembled feathers from afar, floral prints that peak from under broad brush strokes of transparent color, trompe l'oeil patterns or a mix of florals and metallic brocades in the same fabric.

Dresses from Christian Dior, Balenciaga and others serve as inspiration.

The exhibition represents a close collaboration between Dries Van Noten and the museum where, for his 2014 collections, he was inspired by several 19tg century prints. In addition to a sumptuous wardrobe of the designer's work, there is a fine art feast that includes masterpieces from Bronzino, Kees Van Dongen, Yves Klein, Francis Bacon, and Damien Hirst; film clips from Stanley Kubrick's "Clockwork Orange" and Jane Campion's "The Piano;" and dresses from Haute Couture masters Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Elsa Schiaparelli.

The vistor is taken on a journey to many lands throughout this exhibition.

For the doll enthusiast, this show represents a treasure trove of textile ideas from a simple blending of prints to the ripped chiffon vests cut from the same fabric as the dress.

We love the idea of painting over an existing floral with transparent dye.

Coming to Paris this summer? Consult the museum's website for more info.

A melting pot of cultures, colors and textures. Photo © DR courtesy of Musee des Arts Decoratifs.

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Monday, May 19, 2014


Fashion, fashion everywhere, but all over the streets of Paris we only see people dressed in....JEANS!!!!

It's unescapable. Jeans are part of society's collective wardrobe and won't be disappearing anytime soon. Like the little black dress, jeans go everywhere. Perhaps it's popularity stems from the nature of this fabric. The origins of denim come from Nimes France in the 17th century. Its unique weave keeps us cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Though used by Levi Strauss in San Francisco for work clothes in the late 19th century, denim as a fashion staple did not invade the world until the 1960's "flower power" children wore them en masse. Ever since, the quintessential jean trousers, biker jacket and skirt variation have remained popular with everyone from two to eighty-two all over the globe, no matter their culture, socio-economic standing or race.

I wanted to make a set of "real" jeanswear for my dolls. With this project, however, I soon discovered why Mattel and others prefer to make basic trousers then simply topstitch a jeans "look." I, on the other hand, attempted to do it the hard way. It took, what seemed to be an eternity to complete these pieces. And though it was a bit tedious for the 16" doll, I did suffer a bit when making these clothes for my Barbies.

This is an exercise in straight pattern drafting. Making the pattern is not difficult. The pain lies in the garment assembly and the fabric. There are many small pattern pieces. You must label them well, fully remembering which side is up. The choice of denim is also crucial.

I made the first jeans jacket for my 16" doll using fabric from an old pair of my father's pants. No problem. But when I used the same fabric for my 11 1/2" Barbie, that's when my troubles began. The fabric was too thick and frayed too easily. The garment came apart at the seams. Quite frankly, the waistbands are also quite thick. I went ahead with this for reason of time constraints. But I would have had more success if I had used a chambray (a light blue cotton used in men's shirts). One last this writing, I am in Paris where I do not have access to a sewing machine. Given the smallness of the pattern pieces, this is probably the easiest way to put these garment together. However when it comes to top stitching, doing this by hand will fall short of the look you expect.

So for that reason, I included photos of the 16" doll whose jacket I made prior to this trip and is the way you will want your jeanswear to look.

Jeans Jacket

1. Trace off the basic front bodice. Design your yoke. It can be any shape or dimension you want. Mine is rather basic, falling 1/2-inch down from the CF (about 1/2 down the armhole on the other side) and straight across. From the top point of the dart apex, draw a vertical line to the horizontal yoke line. Now, extend the center front by 1/4-inch.

2. Cut the pieces apart along the sides of the dart. You now have a front yoke, a center front and a side front. Add seam allowance.

3. For the placard, make a mirror image to the right side.

4. It will now be double in width. Add seam allowance to all edges.

5. Trace off back sloper. Design your yoke. Create a vertical line perpendicular to the horizontal of the yoke.

6. Cut apart, along the dart legs. You now have a back yoke, center back and side back.

7. Trace one side of the yoke to the other side of the center back line to create a full back yoke.

8. Take the sleeve sloper and measure 1/4-inch from the bottom which you will use for the cuff.

9. Trace the cuff to double in length. The cuff will fold over itself.

10. Assemble the front bodice pieces. Topstitch. Then assemble the back pieces. Topstitch. Stitch together at the shoulder.

11. Stitch cuff to sleeve. Be sure to fold up cuff over itself. Glue, then topstitch. Stitch sleeve into armhole and down each side of jacket.

12. Flatten jacket then measure width of bottom edge for waistband. Add 1/4-inch plus seam allowance for width and 1-inch for length (that includes the necessary seam allowance).

13. Stitch in place, folding lower edge over itself.

14. Top stitch

15. Collar is a rectangle equal to the measurement of front and back neckline + 1/4" + seam allowance. Turn all but bottom edges down and glue in place. Attach to jacket, wrong side to wrong side, folding right side over the neckline to the right side of garment.

You can add pockets to front of jacket under the yoke, if desired.

Yes, she can really slide her hands in the pockets.

Jeans Skirt

1. Lower the waistline of the basic skirt pattern. I've cut it down 1/2-inch from the CF (lower red line) which falls just at the lower tip of the waist dart. The area falling 1/4-inch above will be used to form the waistband.

2. From about half-way on the waist to about 1/2-inch on the side, draw a curved line (blue).

3. At the top of the skirt's CF, draw the "fly front" with a line over by 3/8" and down by 3/4".

4. Return to step 2 where you drew the curved line (green). Trace this small curved piece, adding 1/4-inch to right and bottom of the curve. Add seam allowance to top and side.

5. Trace off back skirt sloper. Lower back waist the same amount as you did to the front (about 1/2-inch). (Blue line)

6. From that line, lower 1/2" (green line). The area between the blue and green lines will be the yoke. The area 1/4-inch above (red line) is the back waistband.

7. You can either cut the yoke in two pieces or as one piece. For my skirt, I've cut it as one.

8. For the waistband, fold out the dart and retrace into a single piece. I have joined the front with the back at the side seams before adding seam allowance + 3/8-inch (to cover the extension).

9. Turn under the pocket curve on the front skirt and glue. Then top stitch. Place front skirt over front yoke until everything lines up. Tack in place where I've placed the pins. Stitch the front skirt down the CF from near the bottom of the "fly" to the hem. Press. Top stitch the front seams. On the right side fly, stitch a J shape.

10. On the back, sew down the center back. Topstitch. Attach the back yoke. The widest part of the yoke is seen to the top of the skirt. Top stitch.

11. Stitch the skirt front to the skirt back at the sides.

12. Sew waistband together at back seam. Stitch waistband to skirt. Widest edge will be attached to top of skirt. I stitched a small length of tulle to the waistband edge and turned it under to finish the edge. Use hook & eye for front closure.

Add back pockets if desired.

Jeans (trousers)

I had fewer problems handling the fabric because I used a stretch denim for my pants. It was still a little thick for my taste, but better than the fabric used for the skirt and jacket.

Using pattern for pants with side seams (see video tutorial), follow same procedure as for the skirt. The only thing I changed was to cut the back yoke as two pieces instead of one. You might want to cut the back yoke so that it it 1/4-inch instead of 1/2-inch.

Note: since we are not including the inner pockets at the front of the front skirt and pants, there will be a hole inside the garment. You can tack it closed with a bit of glue or leave it be.

Don't forget to customize the jeans with tiny appiques, studs or rhinestones! I used rhinestone stickers for the buttons on my Barbie's jeans jacket and gold bead caps for those on the Tonner doll's gear. And...don't think you have to stick to using denim. Any canvas will do including scraps left over from upholstery fabric, for example!!!!

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Barbie Retro Chic


When I learned La Musée de la Poupée was hosting a special exhibition on Barbie, quite naturally, I couldn't wait to return to Paris to see it. Whether you like Barbies or not, the 12-inch diva represents ground zero of doll collecting.



La Musée de la Poupée has maintained a relationship with Barbie since its 20 years of existence. Since1994, there have been seven thematic exhibitions devoted to the international icon. Moreover, it is a show that never gets old!!!

The one that's on until September 13, features Barbie and her friends elegantly dressed in their extensive wardrobe dating back largely from the first decade of their existence. Even Carol Spencer, Ann Marie Crivelli, and (since 1994) Robert Best, the designers of the years that followed, continued to be inspired by the early 1960's fashions.


One highlight (and real treat) of the show, features the work of Magia2000, the Italian design duet, Mario Paglino et Gianni Grossi. These two men are doll design geniuses specializing in true Haute Couture for Barbie. Inspired by the couture houses of Milan and Paris, they produce red-carpet worthy dresses, impeccably constructed, finished and hand embroidered. In a class of its own, the work is so delicate, one wonders how they are able to manipulate such minuscule beads and sequins. Magia2000 were responsible for creating a special souvenir doll for Barbie's 50th anniversary in 2009. In addition to their own made to order business, they are also official designers for Barbie events in Europe.




I have tried to identify as many of their creations as possible but frankly, the photos don't do their clothes justice. Alas, you should consult their leur site web for a better look at their artwork.


Robert Best is also well represented here. By the richness of the garments' fabrics, I imagine these must be original prototypes from the Silkstone Barbie Fashion Model line. Due to the quantity of photos in this post, I have left out photos of dolls you're likely to see at a store near you.



And of course, there are the vintage dolls dressed in their finest. About 50 Barbies were chosen to tell their story. They are part of the vast collections of Sylvia Dantec et Eric Chaletlon (also author of "Barbie en France), presented throughout 24 settings.



If you are in Paris in time to see this expo, leave the kids in the park, so you have the time to spend as much time as possible to drool over these miniature marvels. But for those of you who cannot make it here, I have posted as many photos as I thought Blogger would allow.


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