Beginner's Sewing Blog: My Style

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I was born in the wrong decade. I should have been around in the late 40s and early 50s. Between my broad shoulders, bust, hips and general aesthetic (see above), that’s when I fit in. But, alas, I am around now and though I love the majority of today’s fashions, they are made for the complete opposite body type. Walk through the streets of New York, look at the satorialist, or flip through the fashion magazines you will see somewhat waifish girls (small hips, small bust, small shoulders) rocking the latest fashions and trends. I long to wear many of these trends, but I also know that with my particular body type and height (I’m 5’ 11”) that they A) wouldn’t fit, and B) if I were to wear something that had no waist definition or certain kinds of empire waists I would look like

Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress

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There are days, when you really don’t feel like working. Either, the sun and the sky are too bright to sit inside; or you are newly in love and you cannot think about anything but whoever you are in love with; or you are reading a book that you simply cannot put away… I am hooked on Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress written by Dai Sijie. It is definitely not a new book having been published in 2000, and maybe a lot of you have read it already, but for those of you who haven’t, it really is exceptional in its sensitivity and wit.

Let me just take you to the beginning of the story: it takes us to Communist China, and two city boys who have hardly finished primary school, are being sent to the Mountains of Phoenix under the re-education programme of Mao’s cultural revolution. They arrive at a village so remote that a violin and an alarm clock that the two boys bring along are novelties for the farmers. And so the book opens with the arrival of the two boys and the peasants’ discovery of the violin. It is beyond the villagers’ imagination that this could be a musical instrument, so the narrator has to prove it to them. What is he going to play? – A Mozart sonata. But what on earth is a Mozart sonata? And, isn’t Mozart, like so many other Western artists and writers banned in Communist China? The two boys quickly rename the classical piece into something more politically correct: “Mozart is thinking of Chairman Mao” to the delight of the peasants.

The encounter between the farmers and the two city boys is setting the scene for what follows. But the real story starts when the two meet the little seamstress. Daughter of the tailor who is revered almost like a king in the mountain villages, she sits at home sewing on her sewing machine from Shanghai. She may not be able to read but there is something refined about her that attracts the attention of the two boys. She is different than the rest of the people in the villages….. and this is where the story really begins. I close here to return to my book and hopefully leave you enticed to read it yourself.

Amuse Me

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The images above are photographs of a few of fashion’s extremely influential women. Beneath each photo are a few examples of how these iconic women’s styles have seeped into modern fashion consciousness. These women are certainly not your typical role models- they stood out for their idiosyncratic fashion style and legendary eccentricities; one paraded around Venice with a pair of leashed cheetahs while wearing live snakes as jewellery, one single-handedly pioneered the modern woman’s new look, one became a muse to some of the 20th century’s most distinguished writers and artists, including Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Tristan Tzara, Ezra Pound, and Louis Aragon.

Do you know who they are? Whose fashion sense do you admire? Who (or what) is your muse?

Featured Member: ZickZack

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1. Where are you from and/or where do you live?

I am from Germany and live in Cologne where I am studying, but I’d like to get to know some other places and countries and hope I’ll get the chance to study abroad for one year.

2. What was the 1st thing you made? How did you start sewing?

My mum used to make a lot of clothes herself when I was a child and she has continued making costumes for carnival for me. I told her what I wanted and she told me what was possible. After that we went shopping for a pattern and some fabric and I always got a costume I liked better than the other people’s. So my mum must be one reason why I got interested in sewing. She also helps me when there is a problem I can’t solve myself.
I guess the first thing I ever made was a small and very simple teddy we made in class at school; I must have been about 6 or 7 years old. The next things I made I am conscious about were some bags. I couldn’t find the ones I wanted in a shop, so I got some fabric and tried to make some myself. After that I wanted to try something more challenging and ended up making my hippo skirt. For some reason I didn’t make anything for a while after having finished that project. I really got started when someone told me about this website. Since then I haven’t been able to stop sewing and my mum has not seen her sewing machine again…

I Want to Say One Word to You. Just One Word...Plastics!

Mike Nichols’s The Graduate is a true cinema classic. I have always loved this movie, but now it has special significance for me because as of June 6th, I, too, am a graduate! I know I’m just graduating from high school, but I can relate to the scrutiny and pressure Dustin Hoffman’s character feels at the beginning of the movie. All the big questions start coming up in conversation (especially with adults) – What are your career plans? Anyone special in your life? How are you going to set yourself apart from “the competition”? Yeesh!

Well, at least I can answer that last question! All the grads had to wear these huge green gowns that made us all look the same, but I came up with ways to spiff up my look and stand out. I wore a really cool gem necklace plus sparkly flower-gem earrings and a green gem ring. My mom gave me a pearl bracelet that my grandmother had given to her for her graduation. And under all of this, I wore a tie dress my sister made on Jane’s Sew & So.

Chanel rummaged through thrift stores and found a bunch of beautiful men’s silk ties. She unfolded the ties and sewed them together to make the base of the dress and the straps. The top of the dress is a gorgeous red silk remnant. As my mom says, “Stop shopping and start sewing” – the whole dress cost about 8 bucks to make. And, while graduation was a sea of green, I alone was wearing a secret explosion of color underneath the whole time.



After we all threw our caps in the air, I unzipped my gown and was instantly ready to party. I added green sparkles to my hair and the silver shoes I wore to prom then hit all the grad parties. I got tons of compliments on my dress. People said they’d had seen tie vests and skirts but a tie dress was a really original idea. Oh, and remember the Simon and Garfunkel tune, “The Sounds of Silence?” from The Graduate?

. Check out this music video I made using the same song. It won a bunch of student film awards – yep, that’s my career plan!

Prints Please

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I want some of my pieces to look like watercolors. One of my favorite things to do is draw and watercolor. I also like to cut out pieces of different colored paper and make collages (like the flowers pictured in the collage; top right). Recently I have been planning my first print to go into production, a task that is as daunting as it is glorious. I love a very hand-drawn look so I am trying to find a balance between color separation & blended tones…I often muse over how people relate to artwork when it is printed onto fabric. As much as I am obsessed with prints, Erdem! Lacriox! please take a bow, it is tricky to gauge what people will be drawn to from season to season, like florals, Aztec zig-zags and geometric designs which have recently taken over the runways. I have used many prints in the past; Liberty of London and rare surplus vintage gems, but this is my first time printing yardage. When I ask boys about wearing a print they seem a bit unsure- for the Dahl & Dane collection we are going to keep the boy’s prints pretty subtle, like a vague glimpse of texture. But ladies! Tell me, what do you think about prints and how far do you go?

Top Ten Summer Dress Patterns

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The full heat of summer has yet to hit us here in New York, which is why we are bringing you the top 10 summer dress patterns on BurdaStyle. Perfect for the sultry month of August and early September these dresses will carry you through the remainder of the hot summer days.


  1. Azalea

  2. Maryy

  3. Mila

  4. Dots Invasion Dress by AnaJan

  5. Sabrina

  6. Kristen

  7. Coffee Date Dress by Elainemay

  8. Paola

  9. Ulla-Maaria

  10. African Dress by AnaJan

Awesome Bag Making Event

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This past weekend’s Bags for the People/Etsy/303Grand event went wonderfully! Participants were very creative and resourceful whether they knew how to sew or learned at the event. There was an abundance of bags made that were given out on Sunday at the Rooftop Farms market and will be given out at the Union Square Farmers Market. Check out photos from the event here and here. Thank you to everyone who helped organize and attended this event. For more information check out Bags for the People

Fall Fashion Forecast 2009

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With pattern companies already releasing fall styles, it means that it’s time to start planning for a new wardrobe. Before you start sewing your next project for autumn, be sure to check out Pantone’s Fall Color Forecast which will help keep your new designs fashionable for the season. What’s hot for Fall\Winter 2009? Soft, muted colors such as cream, gray, and light reds will dominate the season leaving the jewel tones of seasons past out in the cold. After checking Pantone’s report, be sure to check out this article by the Textile Digest which not only covers color trends, but prints as well.

Win a Weekend Knitting Retreat!

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The amazing Clara Parkes of Knitter’s Review and STC Craft are teaming up for a very special giveaway to celebrate the release of Weekend Knitting in paperback and the beauty of taking time off to knit and learn new knitting skills with friends.

Clara has been hosting an annual knitter’s retreat every fall for the last eight years, and this year’s gathering, which will take place November 20, 2009-November 22, 2009, in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Now, here’s the exciting part. STC Craft has one retreat package to give away. That means that one lucky winner will have his or her retreat expenses covered: to be specific, the cost of all classes and activities, two nights’ lodging in a private room, all meals from Friday dinner through Sunday breakfast, snacks and beverages throughout the weekend, plus all taxes and gratuities, will be covered. In addition, the winner will receive a copy of the new Weekend Knitting paperback in a gift basket in his or her room. The cost of transportation to/from the event is NOT covered.

To enter or for more information, go to Melanie Falick Books.

Volunteers Needed!

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I need volunteers to help me out at the Sydney Stitches and Craft Show.

::Wednesday August the 19th, Thursday the 20th and Friday the 21st.
::10am til 4 or 5pm.
::Willing to work between the Wardrobe Refashion Reconstruction Zone and the BurdaStyle stand.
::Must be able to use a sewing machine and know how to thread one.
::You will be helping people with their creations, keeping the area tidy and giving out information about BurdaStyle.

If you think you can help me out please email me at nikkishell@burdastyle.com. In return for your time you will receive a small thankyou gift. I hope you can join me, it will be heaps of fun!

BurdaStyle Sewing Club Update: BSC Melbourne CBD, AUS!

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With 12 members and growing, the BSC of Melbourne, Australia is certainly a sewing super-group from Down Under!

Led by the talented and fabulous Nikkishell, this BSC is sure to have an inspiring and creative time at each meeting. For there next one, they plan to host a Sewing Swap, where members can bring in fabric, patterns or fun books to trade with each other. They are also going to dive into the world of fabrics and learn about different types, their histories and the type of fabrics that are best for specific garments. If that isn’t enough, a fun quiz will be given at the end where members can compete for awesome prizes!

The next meeting will be held at July 23rd at 6:30 p.m., and will be hosted at Tessuti, one of Australia’s best fabric stores! Participants are encouraged to bring completed projects to show everyone, a sewing machine (if available), and a desire to have lots of fun! For more information, check out their Ning page.

For comprehensive listing of all the current BSCs, check out our Directory. Interested in starting your own? Send us an e-mail at team[at]burdastyle[dot]com.

Have a great weekend!

- David
BSC Coordinator

The T-Shirt: How do you style it?

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How many t-shirts do you own? Lately, and I don’t know if this is only in New York (nevermind- I think Tokyo wins), I have noticed more t-shirts on girls & boys than ever before. Perhaps it is a reflection of the economy- resorting back to our old faves and personalizing them, or we’ve become more laid back in our fashion sense- and what is a better blank canvas for self-expression than the t-shirt? Or perhaps I ignored the countless band & “expression” tees. I’ve never been one to wear many t-shirts (I think I own maybe 5). Being a designer, I wanted to make knit tops, edgy tops, kooky tops- anything but a t-shirt, but now I seem to have a growing appreciation for the basic or iconic statement a t-shirt can make, which, depending upon how it is styled, worn or adorned, is full of room for interpretation.

How do you wear your t-shirt, I would LOVE to see pictures! What images or statements have you seen on t-shirts that resonated with you? Which ones do you want to disappear?

Credits: Style.com, Street Peeper, LOOKBOOK.nu

Handmade Tire Sandals

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In Germany there is a saying that only in months without an R in it, (May-August) is it warm enough to walk around barefooted. But some people do not have a choice to wear shoes, irrespective of the name of the months or the temperature of the day. Yet, as commonly known, necessity is the mother of invention. In Germany many years ago, boys who were herding cattle in the rural areas warmed their bare feet standing in fresh cow droppings during cold mornings. In other parts of the world, people have been more practical, crafting sandals out of old car tires.

In principle, all you need is a piece of old tire (as big as your foot) which can be found even in remote rural areas in Africa and a few pieces of material to tie this tire-sole onto your foot. Leather will do, or some fabric, or simply string. The number of variations and uses are almost unimaginable: or could you imagine running a marathon in tire sandals?

While probably most of us can’t imagine running a marathon even in normal running shoes, in 2008, six Maasai men came from Northern Tanzania to run the London Marathon to raise money to provide their village with clean water. They ran in their full traditional Maasai dress, including spears and tire sandals. They may not have won but they easily raised enough money to finance the much needed infrastructure.

Lots of tourists traveling to Africa are fascinated by those sandals. A couple from Britain was so intrigued that they even opened an online store, Jambo Jambo, that sells tire sandals in various designs, made by men and women who live in Kibera the biggest slum in Sub-Saharan Africa. If you watch the film the Constant Gardener you get a bit of a romanticized idea of Kibera (it was actually partly filmed there).

But you don’t find tire sandals just in Africa. You will find them in Latin America, Asia and at least some decades ago, you would even find them in the US (check out the comments).

Curious? If you want to make your own tire sandals, maybe you can use schickchick’s flip flop creation as pattern.

Photo © Binh Giang

Featured Member: Ashchaser

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1. Where are you from and/or where do you live?

I have lived in a suburb of Nashville Tennessee for all but one year of my life and have finally begun to appreciate this region for its craftiness and thrift stores. It can get pretty country out here in a city only known for music, but if you know the right places to go for a drink or or a craftacular you will definitely survive.

2. What was the 1st thing you made? How did you start sewing?

I can’t be sure of the first thing I made but I can take a good guess that it was a macaroni necklace, or something else with pasta. There have always been projects to work on for as long as I can remember, which set a good foundation for craftiness later in me. It wasn’t until high school that I began to investigate the DIY way of doing things, but I was really into thrifting and eventually taught myself to sew so that I could rearrange the old pieces and band t-shirts to fit in a decent way. Soon after I became a knitter and have spend the last 4 years learning more.

3. What role does sewing play in your life?

As an knitter and apparel design student sewing plays a huge part of my life now. Not only has it vastly improved my Etsy shop, but now I can create any piece of clothing I am inspired to, be able to sell it, and sincerely enjoy what I am doing. It always surprises people to meet a 21 year old that is so into knitting and sewing, but I love it and haven’t looked back since learning! The past few years have been devoted to learning and creating my shop, Ravelry page, my blog Kerseymere, and my account here on BurdaStyle.

4. What is your favorite and what is your least favorite thing about sewing?

The best part of any project for me has to be when you get to take lots of pictures of the finished product, which is something I love to do anyway. As for the worst it would have to be cutting out the pieces, because I always seem to get really bored during that step.

5. If you could make something for anyone who would it be and what would you make?

Hmm…lets see, if I could make absolutely anything it would have to be some kind of couture dress, but a cross between something that Christian Joy would make and something Miss Van would paint. Once this amazing piece is real I’m not sure what I would do with it, maybe keep it on permanent display for inspiration or something.

6. What are you looking for on our site? What do you think should be improved and what do you really like?

I absolutely love this site and have seen it grow tremendously over the last year! I do love that there are free patterns and am very happy that the site kept them, yet would love a few more baby items as well as knits. Also I like that we are able to have friends, but wish we could interact a bit more somehow. As for the beta site, I really like the photos, especially the "best of " months, and that there is a wall now. I cannot wait until it is ready to be the main site, and will continue to use it often to try it out.

7. What is your motto?

“I could make that!” is something that comes out of my mouth often, especially when in places like American Apparel or some cute boutique that specializes in simple clothing I cannot afford.

Ashchaser has some awesome creations. Take a look at some of her inspiration and don’t forget to take a look at her store and her blog

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