Made famous by Diane von Fürstenberg in the 1970’s, the wrap dress has always been a favorite of mine for its balance of polished professionalism and flattering femininity. Whether for a meeting or a casual luncheon with friends, the possibilities for wearing the classic silhouette are almost endless. Many patterns exist on the web. However, when I came across the Untitled Thoughts Mathilde Wrap Dress sewing pattern, I felt a greater appeal and so ventured to sew my first real wrap dress.
The sewing was easy; the pattern was full of well-explained instructions and tips. Would the fabric fare the same ? When I first beheld the demure swatch of garden rose double brushed poly knit in one of my issues of Julie’s Picks swatch club, I barely noticed it. It was, after all, a “hot” polyester. But when my mother insisted that the color palate was a terrific match for my complexion, how was I to pass it up ? Mother knows best !
And she was right ! Despite my warranted hesitations about wearing polyester in the sweltering Florida heat and humidity, the fabric was a breeze to sew and wasn’t that warm, especially with the flutter sleeve option.
I call this my “Compliments Dress” since every time I wear it out, at least one person tells me how much they like its overall look. Perfectly paired with pearls and a blush of the cheek, I felt like a paragon of femininity. And that is a very good way to feel.
But I wasn’t done !
To me, it is important for a wrap dress to feature svelte ¾ length sleeves. Since my Compliments Dress was geared for spring and summer weather, I kept the sleeves short and free. I had other plans for the longer sleeve…
One of the most valuable aspects of the Mathilde Wrap Dress is that it comes in three different styles, including a very chic peplum top. With yet another fabric from an issue of the swatch club (this time a nautical rayon knit !), I envisioned a preppy “boat dock” look that would be well suited to an elegant dinner followed by an evening walk along the beach… or for sitting out by the pool !
The description of the pattern confides that it feels like “secret pajamas.” After wearing each style, I can testify to the truth of that statement. A flattering design, a beginner’s level of sewing, and comfort for days─ what could be better ? The Mathilde Wrap is a winner !
Over the years, I have found that the more I am exposed to Wagner, the more I love it. It’s complex, lush, and completely absorbing if given the right circumstances. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who harbors a cultish hankering for Wagnerian music. And so, off to Chris’s we go for another Met Stars Live in Concert series !
Broadcast live from the Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, Germany, the grand foyer proved to be one of the most gorgeous settings for a concert with the lighting shifting to fit the mood of each song. Although the program was not entirely Wagnerian (a thimbleful of R. Strauss was thrown into the mix), the quartet of Elza van den Heever, Christine Goerke, Andreas Schager, and Michael Volle made the most of the arias and duets… and the staircases ! There was a choreographed sequence of how the singers would enter and exit to avoid cutting into the next performance all while capitalizing on the thespian potential of the Neo-Baroque architecture.
The greatest (and most accurate) of these tableaux came during the penultimate number with Elza van den Heever and Christine Goerke acting out the duet from Act II of Lohengrin, complete with balcony betrayal. Juicy !
Our afterparty fare was a European hodgepodge of Gruyère and Bleu, open faced canapés, sauerkraut salad (similar to Korean kimchi), Riesling, and… banana bread. Well, it was almost European.
The recipe for the banana bread is an adapted version of Cookie and Kate’s Whole Wheat Banana Bread with maple syrup as the sweetener (and butter in place of the oil). For years it has been one of my go-to staples for a “No White Flour, No White Sugar” treat. Thanks, Kate !
In thinking of a Wagnerian-inspired outfit, several elements came to mind: 1) Medieval gowns with long, wide sleeves 2) Knights in chainmail 3) Leather, lots of leather
Each of these characteristics can usually be observed during a typical Wagnerian opera. However, I wanted to create a more modern look and sought to avoid the following fashion pitfalls insomuch as looking like a: 1) Gothic punk 2) Biker 3) Cosplayer
A challenge, indeed. Leaving the angel sleeves behind, the rest of my outfit gave me just the right combination of Wagnerian features with a completely modern appeal.
The outfit and the concert were a terrific celebration and reminder of why I enjoy Wagner so much: drama and beauty intertwined as the complete work of art.
Have you ever come across an object that so uncannily embodies the persona of someone you know that you almost have to do a double take ? This is exactly what occurred as I was thumbing through an issue of “Julie’s Picks” swatch club one summer afternoon.
There it was: a royal blue burnout velvet that had me screaming inside my head, “Faith !!!!”
Faith has an affinity for blue (and royal blue in particular) the way I have an alliteration affinity (and am an absolutely ardent advocate about appropriate and ample application !). When I spotted an additional royal purple colorway listed on the page, the wheels in my head began to cycle at rapid RPMs. Matching dresses !
Was I being irrational ? After all, I have never met Faith in person and trying to do a fitting online seemed impossible. But that didn’t matter… it was destiny and as soon as the fabrics became available, I snatched up several yards of each.
Originally, I envisioned this duo of dresses for Christmas, but with no opera outfits to conjure, my schedule was left wide open. Since Faith and I share September birthdays that are 6 days apart, it seemed like an appropriate deadline and perfect birthday present. Birthday dresses, it is !
Now came the tricky part: choosing a pattern style that would suit two completely different figures ! Because of the low cost, I turned to Lekala patterns since I knew that they offered customized PDF patterns based on individual measurements for a bargain. Velvet begs for the opportunity to be draped and ruched so the faux wrap style of #4078 was my top choice. The V-neck and triangular inset promised a slimmer appearance, which is desired by all.
Agreeing to the style and process, Faith sent her measurements and I began to work… but first, a detour. Since the almost-neon purple ITY knit I ordered for the lining of my dress was ill-matched to the deep plum of the purple velvet, I decided to use the ITY knit for a mock-up, which I wore to Jonas Kaufmann’s concert in July.
The mock-up proved two things: 1) the dress needed to be looser in the bust and upper arms, and 2) the hem could be lengthened just a smidge to cover the knee, as per Faith’s request. This was done for the real deal. Taking precautions, I cut out the patterns with extra seam allowances, but sewed at only a ¼” seam. Just a tip: cut your stretch velvets with the right sides facing each other… it’s too slippery the other way !
So was the grand plan pulled off without a hitch ? Yes ! Cutting it close, I mailed Faith her dress just days before her birthday, holding my breath to learn of its fit or misfit. It was a gamble, but I heaved a mighty sigh when I received word of its perfection. Whew !
Faith chose to style her dress casually with leggings and boots and with coordinating accessories. As for me, I had the professional modes in mind and added gold jewelry and stockings to complement a dressed up business look.
This was an accomplishment I will always remember: sewing my first fitted project for someone, virtually. The moment was all the more relished by the satisfactory result and the shared bond of two friends with matching birthday dresses.
“The dynamic husband-and-wife duo of tenor Roberto Alagna and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak give a concert of arias and duets, accompanied by string quintet, from an outdoor terrace in Èze, France, with a spectacular view of the Mediterranean.”
Two for the price of one ? A string quintet ? A château on the French Riviera ? Count me in ! If the description for the third installment of the Met Stars Live in Concert initiative wasn’t appealing already, the set list for Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna’s concert was the icing on the cake. Favorites from Puccini and Verdi seamlessly mixed with adorable folk songs from Mexico and Italy, all richly accompanied by the Vienna Morphing Quintet. Below is an abbreviated video of highlights from the concert:
Aside from being a technical feat, the vistas overlooking the pelagic Mediterranean Sea were arresting. Several times during the concert, I found my eyes floating over the floral garlanded railing to espy sleek motor yachts and nearby barrier islands as Aleksandra and Roberto charmed me with their singing and effortless chemistry. Their intuitive camaraderie led to dynamic and touching duets, which also included an overflowing dose of mirth. In what is rapidly becoming the duo’s calling card, the hilarious “love potion” duet from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore involved a clever prop and crafty English ad libs ─ I was rollicking with laughter watching the two perform !
There were more serious moments as well with Aleksandra singing Desdemona’s “Ave Maria” followed by a melting rendition of the love duet from Otello, in which the darkening sky serendipitously played a role in one of the final lines. Singing “The Pleiades are low in the heavens”, the pair turned to face the azure sky and motioned to the stars just as they were beginning to illuminate. Chills !!!!
The concert locale, above all else, provided the best (and most straightforward) watch party theme: Rolling on the Riviera. Provence, with its uniqueness of sights and senses was the central inspiration behind our small gathering at Chris’s home. Each of us chipped in to make the get-together unforgettable. Jayne knew of a terrific French sparkling rosé wine while I was elated to try out Ina Garten’s Provençal Potato Salad, which was chocked full of Provençal ingredients: black olives, capers, haricot verts, cherry tomatoes, scallions, red onion, lots of fresh herbs, flaked tuna, hard cooked eggs, and anchovies. The freshness was equivalent to lounging on a sun-soaked beach chair with the sea mist brushing across your face. In the words of Ina Garten, “How bad can that be ?” The salad is so gorgeous that it was featured as the cover image on the original Barefoot Contessa cookbook from 1999.
I highly recommend the wine and the niçoise-inspired potato salad for an instant summer getaway.
Anne sure knows how to arrange a cheese platter ! Roquefort, Boursin, and Brie, oh my ! And of course, my favorite prosciutto…
Even Chris, our gracious hostess, made blackberry sorbet to be accompanied with chocolate covered French cookies. Bon appétit !
Imagine partaking in a leisurely promenade along one of the coastal towns of the Riviera… what would you wear ? For me, the answer was obvious: beach pajamas !
Made popular in the 1930’s, beach pajamas (or pyjamas) were all the rage on the Riviera where the rich and famous would rendezvous. Women would wear flowy fabrics with grace, oftentimes to dressier occasions spanning into the evening hour. Casual and comfortable, while still oh-so chic, I knew I wanted to sew a set of these beloved beach clothes.
Seeking a two piece style, I contemplated designing my own set until I came across a FREE pattern online from Gertie’s Charm Patterns brand. With a complete sew-a-long tutorial on YouTube showing the details of making the pajamas, the pattern was just right for my needs. With this being my very first “Gertie” pattern, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but found that the pattern was accurately sized with differing cup sizes for an even better fit.
Using a soft rayon challis I bought in June from Julie’s Picks swatch club mailer, I paired it with an equally sumptuous berry-colored material from Fabric Mart’s gorgeous selection of rayon/nylon shimmer satins. Softness and style united as one.
I loved wearing my 1930’s beach pajamas to what transpired as a joyous afternoon in Provence. From the cliffs of Èze to the rolling hills of central Florida, the pleasures of the French Riviera were abundant ─ an uplifting concert, delicious food, and lively conversation… what could be finer ?
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits:
Met Stars Live in Concert: Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna Château de la Chèvre d’Or Èze, France Live broadcast date: August 16, 2020 (Date seen: August 20, 2020)
Aleksandra Kurzak ─ soprano Roberto Alagna ─ tenor
Is there anyone who doesn’t love Jonas Kaufmann ? He’s handsome, personable, full of charisma, and one of the greatest tenors to date. When it was announced that Jonas would be headlining the Met’s new concert initiative, how could I resist the opportunity to see the spectacular tenor perform ? For the cost of $20, one could be treated to an intimate and breathtaking performance with the craveable comforts of home. It was to my delight when my dear friend, Chris, invited me over to view the event on her mega screen TV, fully equipped with augmented surround sound.
Broadcast live from the historic Polling Abbey in the tenor’s native region of Bavaria, the recital was stunning, as was the sacred setting. With songs ranging from popular Puccini favorites to more obscure operatic selections (like Ponchielli), Kaufmann dazzled with his attention to vocal detail and tempered interpretation of the music. Particularly moving was piano accompanist Helmut Deutsch’s rendition of the Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut and the engaging aria “Un dì all’azzuro spazio” from Andrea Chénier. Of course, my favorite has been and will always be “Nessun dorma”, which never ceases to thrill me.
If I could have changed anything about the format of the concert, I would have preferred to have heard more songs and less “filler” that was injected into the program after every couple of numbers ─ it’s not difficult to find and watch snippets of Jonas’s past Met Opera performances on YouTube ! Personally, it would have been more meaningful to me if there had been a series of short, sit down interviews with Kaufmann and Deutsch that had been previously recorded specifically for this concert, giving insight into the songs, the challenges (if any) of performing without an audience, etc. This addition would have made the pay-per-view price well worth the cost in terms of value.
Given the opportunity to dress up, I will take it ! And since I was going to attend a concert for the esteemed Jonas Kaufmann, why shouldn’t I look my best ? Nothing in my closets tickled my fancy and I was coincidentally distraught that a lining material I had ordered for another project was regrettably unusable for its purpose. However, I had an idea. Instead of hording the unfit fabric in a closet for years, crossing my fingers that I would eventually find a use for it at some indeterminable point down the road, I decided to make a “mock-up” dress of the untested pattern for which I originally bought the too-bright lining material.
Pressed for time, I completed the dress in a weekend. Although there were minor fitting issues with the pattern, I was pleased with the final result ! Styled in classy and chic fashion, I paired my new ruched dress with monochromatic stockings and heels and accented the look with gold jewelry. Don’t be deceived by the pictures─ neither the purple material nor the vanda orchid are nearly as blue toned as in the photos.
A new dress for the event was only the start. Chris planned to serve wine and cheese for the gathering and I wanted to bring some “themed” food for the festivities. Since Kaufmann is from Bavaria and the concert was taking place in Bavaria, what better dessert to bring than my great-grandmother’s beloved Bavarian Apple Torte ?
Shingled with sliced almonds to shelter the cinnamon apples and cream cheese filling cohabiting beneath, the torte was a hit ! Another supplement of mine, a chilled bottle of Riesling wine which had been awaiting its moment of glory for many years in the refrigerator, was supple and sweet.
The sliced salami, prosciutto, and capicola were right up my alley ! I’ll never reject dry-aged salted meats !
All that was needed was a smattering of brie on a tangy sourdough rye cracker…
…and the sharing of laughter among friends. Who said classical music was stuffy ? Take me at my word: when Jonas Kaufmann is the subject of conversation and critique, there’s plenty to discuss !
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits
Met Stars Live in Concert: Jonas Kaufmann Polling Abbey Polling, Bavaria Live broadcast date: July 18, 2020 (Date seen: July 27, 2020)
I was touched ─ I really was ─ when I was invited with a handful of others to a private concert being given at the clubhouse of a quaint little neighborhood community nearby. While different from my usual opera outings, I figured it would be a welcome change to expand my musical horizons. And for $15, it was a fair deal. Consisting of a husband and wife duo, Acoustic Eidolon blends classicism with the folkloric adding a healthy smattering of rousing blues and lyric verses. Hannah, with her “chocolate” cello, played with both tenderness and gusto while at times accompanying the pieces with her angelic voice ─ sometimes in French. Hypnotic and melodic, she could justly be described as a siren without the impending danger. Joe, simultaneously picking and strumming his inventive “guitjo” (a double-necked guitar with banjo capabilities), was the pragmatist ─ the frank one ─ of the two. Often times he would provide the punch line at the culmination of one of Hannah’s soulful stories such as the time when her cello was severely damaged during airport baggage handling. “United [Airlines],” Joe sneered with mock surprise. “But you probably knew that before I said it.” Snickers bubbled from the audience. Their set list was unique. Joining covers of Simon and Garfunkel’s eerie “The Sound of Silence” and Queen’s stupendous “Bohemian Rhapsody” (their “opera piece”, Joe claimed) were original compositions from the couple’s various albums over the years including some with global flavors. In particular, my favorite of these was “One Ol’ Wreck”, a bustling bluesy tribute to Joe’s love of cars complete with Hannah’s uncannily realistic “honks” manufactured by the skill of her bow. It had my skinny stiletto tapping in time on the floor. Vroom, vroom !
Any event, no matter how small or informal, is an excuse to dress up for me. And that’s just what I did. During my opera off-season the previous year, I had made a handkerchief hem skirt using Vogue 7766.
Initially, I intended to use this pattern for my Valkyrie skirt, but aborted the idea in favor of an alternative approach. While the plan was jettisoned, the pattern was not and I was elated to have a chance to put it to good use, proudly outfitted in a bold striped sateen from Fabric Mart Fabrics. It mingled well as a dressier look: sheer gloves, glitter stilettos, and my mother’s classic Robert Scott sweater from the 70’s/80’s all coordinated in a chic statement.
Meeting Hannah and Joe after the concert was a treat ! They were personable and Hannah especially remarked on how much she appreciated my effort and style in fashion: “When I saw you walk into the room, I said to myself, ‘Now there’s a woman after my own heart ─ the shoes, the skirt, the gloves, the matching purse… !'” How could I not blush ? I was flattered.