Wednesday, February 3, 2016

An abundance of Lilly Pulitzer!

A new client called me about alterations a few months ago. She interviewed me at length, something that's quite unusual when I'm first contacted to sew for someone, unless the project is a custom garment. I got the impression that she's pretty particular about the sewing that is done on her clothing, and this was solidified by her statement that she had several vintage garments needing work.
I described the kind of sewing I prefer to do, stressing that unless there were cost restrictions, I always put back what I find, meaning the garment is reconstructed using the original techniques. She was comfortable enough with my answers that she arranged to bring me some items to work on.

When a customer comes into my studio for the first time carrying a basket full of clothing I'm usually very skeptical of the outcome of the visit. I've had people make an appointment to have one garment altered, which they've described in detail - then show up with all their mending as well, hoping I'll take that on too. This client walked in with a hamper full, but it turned out these were all Lilly Pulitzer dresses, skirts and pants. If you've never seen this designer's clothing, it will be hard to picture the burst of color I could see even before we started unfolding the items. Some were vintage, some current - and all in the brightest, flowery-est prints you've ever seen!

Just 4 of the prints that came into the studio

The client's mother had come with her to the appointment, and the two of them were having a debate about which of them owns the larger collection of Lilly, so love of these fabrics and prints may have a hereditary component. I remember going into the Lilly P shop with my mother, wherever she found one while on our family sailing trips to places like Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket (no, we weren't wealthy Boston Brahmin or anything like that, but we did spend my dad's 3-week summer vacation on our old sailboat. Dad had to indulge Mom with some excursions to compensate for keeping her confined on a small boat and cooking for our large family all that time!) I was fascinated, at 8 or 9 years old, with the soft and colorful cottons of those beautiful frocks. I never owned one myself, although I did eventually sew with a few prints that were clearly influenced by the designer.

Out of this basket K. pulled dress after dress - all of which needed hemming, some to be taken in; jeans in ice cream colors to be shortened; a couple of knit tops that needed minor repairs. 9 garments in all that first day, and not one of the dresses or skirts was a simple, straightforward job. Many of these garments had been purchased through vintage resellers, so she'd bought the size that was available - meaning they needed to be sized down to fit her. Most have embellishment of some sort: one sleeveless dress with a slim skirt is slit up both side seams and lined to the edge, and has beading on the neckband and over the shoulder where it needed to be taken up. An underlined skirt has heavy venise-type lace at both the hem and the waistline - taking in the sides and shortening the length involved removing and reattaching the lace border.

One dress had originally been worn to her prom, and now needed to be lengthened - but the cotton fabric shows a line at the pressed hemline that would never come out. Adding some border lace to the hem solved that problem.
Even after pressing, the hem crease shows.
Lengthened as far as can be, leaving the original hem lace in place. We just left the lining alone.

My client found two kinds of venise-type border lace to add to these hems.

She also requested that we come up with a new back closure on the strapless design - the back bodice consisted of tie ends that slipped down her back and loosened too much for comfort. Whatever I came up with, she wanted to bring me 2 more in the same design to restyle as well! After experimenting with the idea of shortening the backs to overlap and button, I felt this wouldn't feel a whole lot more secure to wear. I decided instead to leave them longer, connect the ends, then add elastic in a casing to hold the back bodice snug. The end result is long enough to pull over her head.

Tied bodice back on a strapless long dress.

Beaded sleeveless long dress. Notice all the linings are a fun contrast solid cotton!
I've always thought of these designer garments as something approaching couture, and expected to find very high end kind contruction techniques inside. The thing that surprised me most about working on these garments is that they were made using very basic sewing - technically good sewing, but nothing very fancy. The seam allowances and hem edges are all finished with a serger overlock. Lace seam binding is then used on the hem edges as well. Lace trims are attached by machine, one or two lines of stitching on the wider laces, with machine tacking at each point that extends upward or downward onto the garment. The beading I had to rework had all been applied by hand. Prints are lined with contrasting solid cotton, or those with a white background were underlined with white cotton batiste. There was a lot of fussy sewing, so a good deal of time involved in doing these alterations - but no new techniques to learn. The point is, I could certainly have made every one of these garments!

1 comment:

  1. How wonderful to have access to such beautiful garments! It sounds like kind of a pain - hope you are getting paid well.
    I have a black French silk dress embellished with gold embroidery, gold lace (tarnished with age) and over a hundred years old. It belonged to my grandmothers aunt (born in 1868) and it has a lot of fancy sewing and fitting details. She provided my christening dress which was made in France. She told my mother that "Every girl should have a Parisian dress and here is Kathi's". She lived to be 97 and up to the end had a bit of the dowager countess about her ☺️