Cheery and checked, gingham is a timeless fabric that offers many delights. From summer picnic tablecloths to baby rompers, it has an enduring appeal. During the summer that my new niece, Ruby, was to be born, an idea of stitching matching dresses for Hope, Grace, and Ruby all in classic red gingham check came to life.
It may be apparent by now that I am an alliteration advocate. As much as I try to suppress my affection, there’s just something about starting a succession of words with the same alphabetical letter that tickles my fancy. Inadvertently, my new summer creation was an alliterative delight: a striped seersucker shirtdress !
Here’s how it began…
Originally purchasing this pattern to sew for a new Met production of Die Zauberflöte (which was subsequently canceled), it sat shelved, along with the yards of white chambray linen I bought for the project, without a hope except for the fact that I did very much like the pattern.
The idea of sewing a shirtdress never strayed too far from my mind, but it wasn’t until an issue of “Julie’s Picks” swatch club popped in the mail that the romanticized idea rose to the forefront as a planned reality. Could it have been a coincidence that the pattern suggestion for a dandy red stripe cream seersucker be none other than the McCall’s (reprinted as Butterick) shirtdress pattern I bought for the scrapped Met project ? Whether you believe in coincidences or not, I had my sign: I was making the dress !
With this pattern being a Palmer and Pletsch design with extensive fitting instructions, I spent a good week perfecting the fit with the adjustment lines on the pattern tissue. My only substantial tweak was taking out ½ inch at the shoulder blade level to eliminate a gaping armhole in the back.
I wish there would have been more fitting tips besides the most common ones because I then needed to alter the sleeve pieces to compensate for the reduced armhole length. The attempt was in vain. As a result, my sleeve cap was gathered more than I had intentioned…
But, no matter !
The dress (a combination of Views C and D) turned out in tip top fashion and gave me the feel of a 1950’s waitress/housewife. I especially love the red “jelly” buttons that appear like hard candies on the peppermint stripe cotton.
I loved nearly everything about this dress: the American made fabric, the fit, the retro vibe, the color scheme… the list goes on. And while it wasn’t imperative that its descriptors start with the same letter, the fact that my striped seersucker shirtdress was an alliterative creation was just the icing on the cake.
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 !
Picture this: a clarion afternoon where the sun glimmers through the leaves of green, summer trees and a warm breeze whispers through the grass like a secret. There’s hardly a care and friends are supping during a picnic lunch, which wanes to a sleepy lull of harmless gossip.
Although this description may be too idealistic for a humdrum summer day, I feel it fitting for a dish such as Ina Garten’s idyllic Guacamole Salad. Below is the recipe…
1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and ½ inch diced 1 (15 oz) can of black beans, rinsed and drained ½ cup small-diced red onion 2 Tbs. minced jalapeño peppers, seeded (2 peppers)* ½ tsp. lime zest ¼ cup lime juice ¼ cup good olive oil 1 tsp. salt ½ tsp. pepper ½ tsp. minced garlic ¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper* 2 ripe avocados, seeded, peeled, and ½ inch diced* 1-2 cups fresh or frozen corn (optional)
*This recipe can easily be altered to your individual tastes and preferences. When I made this salad for the Lise Davidsen/Jonas Kaufmann Walküre concert, it was to be served to ladies of elegant deportment, and so, I significantly cut down on the spicy ingredients. Depending on availability, substitutions can be made with the bell peppers (any color will do) as well as the avocados. Ina Garten is an advocate for Hass avocados, but the large, green Florida ones work just as well in this recipe. I also like to add corn kernels to this salad for yet another dimension in texture, color, and flavor. Use what you like and can readily find in your area.
Place the tomatoes, yellow pepper, black beans, red onion, jalapeño peppers, (corn, if you are using), and lime zest in a large bowl. Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and cayenne pepper and pour over the vegetables and beans. Toss well.
Just before you’re ready to serve the salad, fold the avocados into the salad. Check the seasoning and serve at room temperature.
Whether for a quiet lunch or a fiery fiesta, this salad is a hit ! It can be doubled and served to a crowd (the original recipe indicates that it serves 6) and can also be made ahead of time.
Perhaps even more classic than chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin cookies have long been a staple in my life and are my dad’s undisputed favorite cookie. However, when I was no longer able to indulge in one of my favorite treats, innovation occurred, and a new mode of baking emerged.
1½ cups pecans 2 sticks (½ lb.) softened butter 1 cup coconut sugar 1 cup maple syrup 2 eggs 2 tsp. vanilla 2 cups whole wheat flour (I used Einkorn whole wheat) 1 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. cinnamon 1 tsp. salt 3 cups rolled oats 1½ cups raisins
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Chop pecans very coarsely and spread evenly on a sheet pan to bake for 5-10 minutes, until fragrant and lightly brown. Set aside to cool.
Cream the butter, coconut sugar, and maple syrup together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Don’t worry if it doesn’t go into solution ! If your maple syrup is cold, it will solidify the butter somewhat. Here’s what my batter looked like after mixing:
Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix.
Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt) and add to the bowl. Then add the oats, raisins, and pecans and mix until combined.
Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.
That’s it ! These cookies come out with a crisp outer edge and a softer inside. They will soften even more if left out overnight. Although devoid of the usual cane sugar and all-purpose flour, these cookies have the taste and texture of the original recipe and would fool even the most persnickety palate.
The singers, who were at the top of their game, gave a performance that was as riveting as it was raw. Never once did I espy a break from character and the visual display of the revved up orchestra was a treat on its own. While each participant was exceptional, the real sparkler was Lise Davidsen. By the end of the final duet, my friends and I erupted into living room applause with an uncontrollable flood of “Brava !” And who said opera was boring ?
A summer concert called for summer fare and I knew of the perfect dish: Ina Garten’s Guacamole Salad ! Years ago, my mother would make this recipe and add corn kernels to increase the color, texture, and flavor. The salad’s fresh ingredients are the key: avocadoes, bell peppers, grape tomatoes, red onion, and black beans all tossed in a zingy lime marinade. “How bad can that be ?“
Chris added to the table a plate of select cheeses and fruit and we all dove in with chips and crackers to our summer repast.
Of course, we couldn’t do without our sip of champagne…
Thinking of a classical music concert brought to mind the solid black attire worn by the orchestra. It’s traditional and very sophisticated. As it so happened, I knew just what I would wear and didn’t have to go any farther than my mother’s closet.
While the dress is beautiful and classy on its own, there’s a greater story behind its black crepe and cutout detail. In 1986, my mother wore this same dress to a Christmas party at a Country Club and for as long as I can remember the photo from the occasion has graced our walls.
It’s clear that my mother’s Christmas dress from the 80’s has stood the test of time. So has Wagnerian opera… and Jonas Kaufmann ! And if the performance at the Bayerische Staatsoper was any indication of future success, Lise Davidsen should be joining the ranks, after a storied career, as one of the great Wagnerians in history.
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits:
Die Walküre (Act I) concert production Richard Wagner Bayerische Staatsoper Munich, Germany Live broadcast date: May 13, 2021 (Date seen: June 14, 2021)
Asher Fisch ─ Conductor
Lise Davidsen ─ Sieglinde Jonas Kaufmann ─ Siegmund Georg Zeppenfeld ─ Hunding
My cousin, Rachel, is a beautiful redhead. She married Ted, also a redhead. When they announced that they were expecting a baby girl, it was natural to assume that she would be a towhead blond, right ? Ha ! Not even close…
Facetiousness aside, I had plans to sew something for little Lila, but Rachel had an unusual request in regards to dictates of dress: she did not want anything that was blatantly pink or blue and was planning on keeping things “gender neutral.” The challenge was accepted !
The concept of creating a girl outfit that was devoid of pink was more of a struggle than I imagined. Thankfully, an idea popped into my mind: Rachel and Ted had decorated Lila’s nursery in a nature theme. Yes ! I could easily fashion something that evoked the colors of nature ─ soft greens, creams, and maybe even a splash of burnt sienna. When I came across this printed cotton fabric, I knew I had my answer…
I fondly referred to this material as “peach squirrels” and knew it would be appropriate for Lila’s soon-to-be hair color. It checked all the boxes for my outfit. Now it was time to sew… Using the same children’s pattern that served as the bedrock for Hope’s baby clothes, I opted to sew a romper since they can be classified as unisex.
The bodice was cut from the peach squirrels fabric while the bottom bloomers fit perfectly onto a tranquil sage green print. Not only was the outfit to be neutral, but also on trend with color blocking.
Sweet details, like bow tie pockets and back closure, made for a fun experience. I especially enjoyed utilizing my serger to finish the seams cleanly.
Here’s what the inside looked like before stitching the bodice and pants together…
And then… voilà ! A nature themed romper !
Was the romper, with its bloomer pants and bow ties, really gender neutral ? That’s debatable. Nevertheless, I was pleased at my attempt and even more thrilled to finally behold Lila wearing the creation. Here she is during her 12-month-old photo shoot:
A one-year-old in a one-of-a-kind… What a cutie !
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Thank you to Rachel and Ted for allowing me to use these pictures of your sweet little girl !
When I began devising my plans for a complete “Wagnerian” outfit to wear to the Met concert celebrating the legendary German composer, I knew I wanted to include some sort of chainmail aspect to represent Medieval knights, which are so gallantly (and infamously) portrayed in many of Wagner’s operas. A showpiece necklace from Afghanistan was at the top of my list.
However, I struggled to devise the rest of the outfit due to the very specific nature of the necklace. And so, I looked beyond my closet and found a mesh fabric with matte silver sequin paillettes sewn onto its entire face for a reasonable price online.
Looking through historical fashion plates gave me the idea of imitating the drape of chainmail coifs (hooded headwear), but I didn’t want a full suit of armor. No, a simple, sleeveless cowl neck tunic was my intention…
After several knit mock-ups, I began what I thought would be a messy cutting process and prepped my work area with black garbage bags before tediously snipping around the sequins. Spoiler alert: hardly any sequins fell from the fabric !
The mesh selvedge was suitable enough for the facing so I placed the upper part of the front pattern piece on top of the mesh. What a time saver !
The sequins along the seamlines were promptly picked off to avoid getting caught under the sewing machine needle before I stitched the two sides together. Ta-da !
At this point, the tunic was too long. A bib hem seemed like the perfect solution to mimic the drape of the cowl neck…
Drafting a hem piece was easy enough, however, in hindsight, it would have been better to eliminate all the “place on fold” edges and create full sized pattern pieces; cutting was a one-side-at-a-time job and flipping the uncut sides distorted the shape of the pieces somewhat.
Helpful hint: to check how the lines/curves of a foldline piece will look when doubled, place a mirror next to the edge of the pattern piece and examine its full shape.
I paired my sequin tunic with faux leather pants using StyleArc’s Margaret pattern, a too-tight disaster that was salvaged by the longer hem of the tunic ! Whew !
And what would a Wagnerian-inspired outfit be without a Ring ? Although it wasn’t fashioned from the gold of the Rhine, this antique pearl ring belonged to a relative of mine.
While modern, my outfit gave me the right representation of Wagnerian interpretation. I also learned that pattern drafting wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. Hojotoho !
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.
Anna Netrebko is a bona fide diva. She has the pipes to blast the roof off a building, the meticulous technique and luster a good singer could only wish to achieve, and the histrionic ability that could put any Hollywood A-lister to shame. She’s also very beautiful. Aside talent and looks, one of the greatest semblances of a diva is a wardrobe of couture designer gowns and shoes. And Anna Netrebko is no exception !
As the concert for Anna Netrebko neared last summer, my mind was set on creating a true “diva” gown─ something that was as stunning as Anna herself. But where to begin ? Firstly, I browsed online and then on Anna Netrebko’s Instagram account in search of clues. Although she has worn many different styles of dresses, I noticed a reoccurrence of strapless gowns in bold colors and patterns.
Even for her wedding to Yusif Eyvazov in December 2015 Anna chose to wear a strapless gown…
Strapless it is.Now for the colors…
Interestingly, a post on Anna’s Instagram account pointed to the reasoning behind her selection of bright colors for concert and gala gowns: she rarely wears black on stage since it blends in with the orchestra’s attire and the audience wouldn’t be able to see her from afar. Brilliant ! As for me, I had a different motive for choosing colors. I wanted to use up a portion of my fabric “stash” and recalled the bright fuchsia satin I used for my Dalila gown in 2018. The remnants of the hot pink satin totaled to less than 2 yards. A sheath style with high thigh slit seemed inevitable. But what else ? Reaching for other fabrics in my stash, I tested different color combinations until I hit the mark: fuchsia and royal blue ! Since the duo made a mesmerizing pair, the idea of a dramatic lace overlay tickled my fancy. Grab your sunglasses before you read any further !
I purchased 2 yards of both lace and stretch charmeuse satin for the lining (yes, I wanted to use up my stash and not add to it, but sometimes it’s not always possible) and cut my patterns for the strapless sheath with not an inch to spare !
Constructing the lining was straightforward: I interfaced the pieces, sewed on Rigilene boning, added interior lacing panels for the corset, and padded the bust. Time for a fitting !
Enormous, just right, skin tight ─ the dress was a mess ! After all, what’s dressmaking without some mishaps along the way ? Alterations were made and the slit jettisoned: a new silhouette had to created to compensate for the unwalkable bottom half of the dress. A triangular gore was inserted into the back of the dress, but for the lining only ! The idea of a chiffon train floated in my mind…
After tweaking the bodice, it was time for the lace application. I pinned the zipperless gown on my dress form and began the process of manipulating the lace, especially in the bust dart area.
Sew far, sew good ! No, really ─ there was A LOT of sewing with this dress because of the lace. I spent days securing the majority of the motifs onto the pink satin, first “stitched in the ditch” along the princess seams and then elsewhere. Thankfully, I had a great slanted zigzag stitch to use on my Baby Lock machine. With the upper portion of the dress complete, I repeated the lace application on the lower half of the gown ─ more sewing…!
During the last stages of sewing and fitting, I realized the train was unrealistic. For one, I couldn’t squeeze myself into the dress during the final fitting and had to rework the back gore, slashing it into two. Fortunately, I was able to scrounge up enough fuchsia satin in the scrap bag to cut two identical gores. Once they were sewn onto the dress, the fit was better. However, the light and sheer chiffon just didn’t seem like a cohesive match when placed next to the adjacent sturdy and thick guipure lace; elegance is best personified in simplicity.
Despite the rescheduled concert date (February instead of October) the dress was perfectly suited for the mild weather and everything I had hoped for it to be, especially when accessorized with an abundance of pink organza. It was a diva’s dream !
I knew white rhinestones would be my accent color and the shoes were one of my main inspirations. They were last worn to the Pavarotti documentary in 2019. Bling, bling !
The lace was so pretty with its edges peeking above the neckline of the dress. Now, if I only had a big, sparkly diamond necklace to show off…
…like Anna !
Anna Netrebko is a muse for generations to come. And while I cannot compare myself to the caliber of a world-class soprano, my couture concert dress certainly gave me a taste of the fame and fashion of a true diva.