Striped Seersucker Shirtdress

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…

McCall’s 6891 Shirtdress

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.

Nadine Sierra in Die Zauberflöte (Opéra National de Paris)

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 !

“Julie’s Picks” July 2021 issue, Page 3

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.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Mathilde Wrap Dress: Two Ways

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.

Untitled Thoughts Mathilde 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 !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha


Birthday Blues (and Purples, too !) ─ Matching Birthday Dresses

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.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Met Stars Live in Concert: Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja

“Viva Italia !” my friends and I exclaimed when we heard that the location of the upcoming concert for Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja had been moved from exotic seaside Malta to the Palazzo Reale in Caserta, Italy. On record as the world’s largest royal residence, the grand venue was ideal for the cinematic transmission of the latest Met Stars Live in Concert series.

The Palatine Chapel in the Royal Palace of Caserta, Italy

The combination of Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja was a bit odd, especially when considering their “polar opposites” repertoire. The normally floating trills of the German soprano felt strained during the heavy Tosca numbers (“Vissi d’arte” was downright painful), which were salvaged by the charming apropos acting in a literal libretto location.

Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja singing excerpts from Tosca in the Met Stars Live in Concert series

Calleja’s hearty voice squelched Damrau’s on more than one occasion, but most notably during the finale duet of “Ave Maria” where they each took turns with versed lines. In the past, I have always enjoyed Diana Damrau due to her ability to make me feel her characters with a voice of sweetly scented femininity. However, it was during this last selection that I wished she would just stand silent and let Calleja fill the cavernous chapel with his rich tone.

Joseph Calleja and Diana Damrau singing “Ave Maria” / Metropolitan Opera

The best part about the concert was guessing which wrap Diana would wear next ! For each musical number, she would emerge from the wings of the palace chapel with a new accessory to play off her strapless black velvet gown.

Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja in the Met Stars Live in Concert series from Caserta, Italy

The Cuisine

Let’s talk about the food ! While we all struggled with the idea of Maltese cuisine (rabbit, anyone ?), the Italian switcheroo rendered the culinary preparation a breeze. Since the palace in Caserta was part of the Campania region (think Naples), Chris volunteered to make Neapolitan meatballs…

…and I was assigned the classic Caprese salad.

Anne brought the antipasti platter…

…and Jayne provided the Prosecco !

Our feast was complete… and delicious, too. We cleaned our plates !

The Clothes

When I first saw this concert on the lineup, I knew EXACTLY what I would wear, even after the location change. Years ago, I remembering thumbing through a catalog for Soft Surroundings and “oohing” and “ahhing” at the vibrant colors and relaxed refinery of the clothes. One dress, although simple, always jumped out at me along with the styling of the photo:

Santiago Boatneck Dress / Soft Surroundings

Something about the floor length knit dress in the earthy colors with the rustic jewelry just seemed so casually elegant. Coincidentally, I had several long necklaces that would look perfect with the dress. But when I checked the Soft Surroundings website, it appeared the boatneck style of dress had been discontinued. Even though I wanted to make my own dress, it would have been helpful to have more detailed pictures of what the website could offer. Nevertheless, I searched for knit maxi dress patterns and found a promising one from Hallå Patterns.

Agnes knit dress from Hallå Patterns

With a “just right” paprika colored French Terry knit, which was found in my October 2020 edition of Julie’s Picks swatch club, I sewed the pattern with the one tweak of lengthening the hem by 1½ inches, just in case. It was a perfect adjustment, but I do believe I would have allowed more width in the shoulders.

The dress was just what I desired ─ fall color, Old World jewelry, and casual stateliness for my imagined Neapolitan holiday. Best of all, I didn’t have to pay upwards of $100 ! It was a win-win-win !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits

Met Stars Live in Concert: Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja
Cappella Palatina of the Royal Palace of Caserta
Caserta, Italy
Live broadcast date: October 24, 2020

Diana Damrau ─ soprano
Joseph Calleja ─ tenor
Roberto Moreschi ─ piano

Agrippina

The opera that catapulted Handel to stardom in 1709 certainly didn’t appear to possess any of the typical semblances of its Ancient Rome setting. TV news reporters, business suits, smartphones, and rather raunchy physical comedy could all be taken in during the Live in HD performance of Sir David McVicar’s staging of Agrippina.

So why did I decide to attend ? After all, I don’t like modern productions… or do I ?

A scene from Agrippina / Metropolitan Opera

A course taken on 18th-Century Opera from edX the previous summer softened my ossified resolve on the idea of attending a Baroque opera in a Y2K setting. It was worth a shot… and that shot was fired with poignant accuracy─ I laughed harder than I have ever laughed at any opera, nearly falling out of my seat on innumerable occasions ! The antics were well-timed, especially from Joyce DiDonato’s saucy Agrippina and her hellion son, Nerone, played to utmost perfection by a tattooed, skinny jean wearing, cocaine snorting Kate Lindsey in a trouser role.

Kate Lindsey as Nerone and Joyce DiDonato as Agrippina / Metropolitan Opera

As a scintillating counterpart to the opera’s R-rated comedy, the singing was sublime. With many scenes being accompanied only by the deft strings of maestro Harry Bicket’s harpsichord, the singers were exploited for their talent and technique alone, which was all the more appreciated after the insightful edX course.

The question remains to be asked: was the radical redux of the Met’s oldest opera in the repertoire worthy of my stalwart traditionalism ? Resoundingly, yes ! Call it sacrilege if you please, but if Agrippina had been staged in its original setting of the infancy of A.D. history, I think it would have been an absolute snoozefest ! Sorry, Handel.

Joyce DiDonato and Matthew Rose in Agrippina / Metropolitan Opera

Realizing the modern-dress style of the opera could very well lead into a fashionable sewing project, I envisioned a specific mode ─ an overall perceived attitude ─ for the styling of my outfit: Italian couture. Fittingly, Agrippina is centralized in Rome and while Ancient Rome is a completely different entity from the country of Italy in existence today, I still couldn’t resist aligning the two nations in my quest for haute couture.
Perusing pictures and watching video clips from previous renditions of the same McVicar production (extant since 2000), I chose to model my outfit after the Agrippina standing on the stairs in the picture below.

Sarah Connolly as Agrippina, circa 2009 / Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona

Up close, the blazer was not just one solid color; it was subtlety patterned in a diamond motif. Satin first popped into my mind until I spotted the perfect fabric, which arrived in one of my monthly swatch club mailers from Fabric Mart Fabrics.

Taking the plunge: Wool, Dry Clean Only, $20/yard… Agrippina pushed my boundaries in more ways than one !

To sew my very first blazer, I used a PDF pattern from Lekala. Although not without flaws, I learned in strides how coat construction comes together. Styled with a “business bun”, Whiting and Davis purse (my mother’s), cat eye sunglasses, and gobstopper pearls (thank you, Aunt Countess !), I was poised to take on the world in sleek, corporate couture fashion.

The classic, Chanel-esque cocktail dress, which employed pattern and alteration techniques from the Corset Academy, was the perfect base garment for my “cutthroat corporate” ideal. Here was my inspiration dress:

Circa 1995 Chanel silk slip dress / via 1stdibs.com

The ponte knit dress was customized with a mesh upper lining and built-in underwire bra…

Did I mention this was an Italian couture outfit ? Everything, from the damask weave crepe challis wool of the blazer to the black ponte knit of the cocktail dress, was sourced from Italy.

Even the gold shank button was from The Boot !

Italian couture and a ruthless Roman matriarch… a match made in heaven ? You be the judge ! The taste for high-end fashion and the delicious vocalities of Handel’s breakout opera left me as hungry as the titular Empress herself, salivating over her next scheme.

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Cast and Credits:

Agrippina ─ George Frideric Handel (1709)
Live in HD air date: February 29, 2020

Cast:
Agrippina ─ Joyce DiDonato
Nerone ─ Kate Lindsey
Poppea ─ Brenda Rae
Ottone ─ Iestyn Davies
Pallante ─ Ducan Rock
Claudio ─ Matthew Rose

Credits:
Conductor ─ Harry Bicket
Production ─ Sir David McVicar
Set and Costume Designer ─ John Macfarlane
Lighting Designer ─ Paule Constable
Choreographer ─ Andrew George
Live in HD Director ─ Gary Halvorson
Host ─ Deborah Voigt