Category Archives: Inspiration

Jean Paul Gaultier at the de Young!

The de Young Museum in San Francisco is hosting The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk through Aug. 19. (Full details at the end of the post.) If you live close enough, see it in person! If not, read on.

I am fortunate enough to live about 90 minutes from San Francisco (very handy for attending Giants games and world-class museum exhibits). For those of you for whom such a journey is not possible, I am sharing my view of the show, along with a photos of a few of the most inspiring pieces from my seamstress perspective.

First, a disclaimer:

Photography is not normally allowed at special exhibits at the de Young, but non-flash photography was indeed allowed at the Gaultier exhibit. Since the de Young website did not note any restrictions on where photos could be published, I called visitor services the day before to check whether I could post photos on my blog. I was told that I could. The woman I talked to there was quite lovely about it, in fact, and enthusiastically wished me an enjoyable visit. Don’t you love good customer service?

Now, on to the show …

The de Young could have shown these garments on a bunch of dime-store mannequins and called it a day, and the experience still would have been thrilling. However, the design of the exhibit was in itself a work of art and enhanced the experience tremendously.

The lighting design, in particular, was ingenious. You’ll see what I mean with this set of three photos from the first full room of designs.

Sequence of three mannequin faces

The mannequin’s face is moving! This was accomplished with a subtly camouflaged projector that hung from the ceiling and was pointed at the mannequin’s head, which was devoid of features save for the nose and ears.

There were 30 of these mannequins. Some were just blinking and looking around. (They reminded me of the birds in the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland.) Some were singing. And Jean Paul Gaultier himself was speaking, welcoming everyone to the exhibit in his heavy French accent. He seemed quite charming.

Look at this engaging Leopard dress.

Leopard design dress

While leopard print is ubiquitous these days, there’s more here than meets the eye. See the detail photo below.

Leopard detail

The entire pattern is executed in beads. Gorgeous, exquisite, time-consuming.

The most wearable items were on an electronic oval track that served as a runway. I loved the details on this:

Button dress

The contrast design on this dress is entirely made of buttons.

Button dress detail

Look at the button detail. We all know buttons can make a great decorative statement, but clearly, I’m not using them to their full potential.

Here is another garment from the runway:

Eiffel Tower dress

I am IN LOVE with this Eiffel Tower dress.

I think we’ve all seen placemats and maybe even pillows made entirely of ribbons, but have you considered an entire dress?

Ribbon dress

Ribbon can be so much more than trim.

Have you ever turned a fabric tube over a cotton cord? Can you imagine what kind of effort created this lace dress?

Fabric tube dress

These are stuffed fabric tubes. Can you see that the tubes vary in width? The placement must have been planned in advance and the tubes sewn and stuffed accordingly.

These are just the garments that I found particularly inspiring and a small fraction of what was on display. There is so much more to see, including trompe l’oeil pieces that make the wearer appear to be naked and costumes from Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour (cone bras and all). The vast majority of the garments are more statements and art pieces than something most people would have an occasion to wear, but they do serve as wonderful inspiration. In fact, since most of the pieces were not behind glass, I could lean in for a good look (but not touch!). It was reassuring and even comforting to catch a glimpse of good old machine stitches and familiar hooks and eyes. Many of the garment descriptions noted the number of hours required for construction.

The exhibit was an entertaining reminder to push the boundaries of our sewing to unexpected places. But, alas, even my Fancy Damn Sewing Machine cannot construct a metal corset.

I encourage anyone within a reasonable drive of San Francisco to view this amazing exhibit.

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk
Through Aug. 19
de Young Museum San Francisco
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118

Note for parents: The exhibit has adult themes. I would rate it PG-13.

Vintage shopping therapy

I needed a little vintage shopping therapy, and since I missed the most recent Sacramento Antique Faire, off to the antique mall I went. I don’t go often, so I’m very thorough when I do. I carefully examine every stall in my quest for hidden treasure. And I got quite a lucky haul this time:

This is the majority of the goodies I found.

The gloves were the first things I spied. I’ve been obsessed with finding a pair of crochet lace gloves since seeing a vintage-styled photo of Amy Adams wearing a pair.

I’ve had no luck tracking down any gloves on the Internet, so once I determined they fit (being 5 foot 9½ comes with long fingers), I knew they had to be mine. As for the buttons, two sets are for using, while the third is all about the button card. Here’s the title page of the book since you can’t tell anything from the outside:

This gem is copyright 1943 and was less than $6. I found it in the very last stall.

Here’s a peek inside:

How dreamy are these pages?

I also found these three patterns:

The Advance pattern looks like I just pulled it out of the drawer at the fabric store.

I love the collar and neck pleats of the Advance pattern (not so much the puff sleeves). The middle pattern has a belt that is sewn on most of the way around. I would love to use a vintage buckle on it. The one on the right turned out to be a maternity pattern! But it looks easy to take out the special features that make it adjustable, and I LOVE the neckline. It could make a great blouse.

But I think the find of the day was this book:

A 1951 Girl Scout Brownie Handbook.

And inside were these:

Girl Scout membership cards from 1954 through 1957. How awesome is that?

If you’ve read my “About me” page, you’ve seen that I’m a Girl Scout volunteer. To be a volunteer, you must register, which means I’m a Girl Scout. That’s not something I had the opportunity to be when I was a kid, so I appreciate being involved now. My daughter has been a Girl Scout for nine years, and I’ve been one for about six. Did you know Girl Scouts USA turns 100 this year? I’m going to a 100th Anniversary Gala at the California Museum in Sacramento on Friday.

Obviously, today’s shopping excursion was meant to be. I’ll be curling up with the 1943 sewing book in bed tonight, to help inspire my next project. The skirt is almost finished, and it’s time to start thinking about a blouse.

Gemini note (because sewing isn’t everything): I’m a Giants baseball fan by marriage, so my husband pulled me away from my computer Wednesday night to watch the ninth inning of Matt Cain’s perfect game, one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen in baseball!

Poem of the day: “Magic”

As I headed to my sewing machine today, I suddenly thought: “Sewing is magic.”

Then the last two lines of the following poem popped into my head:


Sandra’s seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins’ gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I’ve had to make myself.

Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends


88 years old and still sewing strong

A delightful work colleague and friend wanted to give her grandmother’s old sewing machine a good home. She had no idea what it was but offered it to me. It was in a locked case whose key was long lost. I was thrilled to take it, sight unseen. But when I managed to open the lock with a random desk key (a letter opener works even better), what a discovery! I am grateful beyond belief. This is the machine in question:

Beautiful, no? Look at all the goodies it came with.

The surprise machine turned out to be a Singer 99, built in February 1924. It operates with a knee lever, has an attached light and is one of the earliest models of electric sewing machines made. Check out that bentwood cover. Gorgeous! Here’s a closer look at all the accessories it came with:

This was all hidden inside. Can you believe there's a ruffler attachment? A clip inside the bentwood case holds the green accessory box. The little green book is the instruction manual. It was found under the machine, which tilts up from the wooden base, revealing storage underneath.

My friend had no idea what model and year it is, but it’s amazing what you can find on the Internet. Here are the resources that helped me identify my new machine.

I used this site to determine that it is a Singer 99:

You simply look at the features and styling of your machine and answer the questions until you narrow down what model it is.

Here’s the Singer resource for looking up the serial number to determine date of manufacture:

The Singer 99 sewing machine is a three-quarter-size machine that reviews say is an excellent piece of equipment. I put some Gütermann on top (the bobbin was already in place) and used the instruction book to see how to thread it.

Darn if the thing doesn’t work perfectly! It’s straight stitch only, but what a treasure! Even the light works. I’d never used a knee pedal before, but it’s convenient and easy to operate.

One of the things I love about sewing is that it is a very old craft form. The process of sewing — how a dress is made, how a mechanical stitch is made, the need for hand sewing — hasn’t changed much at all since sewing machines were invented. New machines have a number of bells and whistles for convenience (and I love my Viking for them), but a seamstress from 1924 would recognize what I do today. And I’d recognize what she did. Especially if she were doing it on a brand new (to her) Singer 99 sewing machine.

Yes, My Friend, your grandmother’s sewing machine has found a good and appreciative home. Thank you so very much for thinking of me.


%d bloggers like this: