A Lesson from Lilly

Have you ever purchased a piece of fabric on a whim – and then regretted it? That’s exactly what happened to me, here in the midst of July. I saw this piece of Lilly Pulitzer silk fabric offered on eBay, and without giving it too much thought, I bought two yards.

I have always loved most of the Lilly prints and color combinations, and something about this silk just looked fresh and summery to me. I have long wanted to make the pattern pictured below again, and with its Asian flare, I thought the multi-colored, abstract printed Lilly silk would pair well with it.

The date on this pattern is 1958. I made the blouse/tunic a few years ago and still enjoy wearing it. I would like to make view B sometime…

I had several scraps of solid green silk, one of which I thought would be good as a contrast fabric for the button details on the front of the blouse. (The pattern calls it a tunic, but it looks more like a blouse to me.) As it turned out, I used a scrap of green silk out of which I had made a blouse to go with a purchased Lilly skirt way back in the 1970s! I still have the skirt, but not the blouse…

Anyway, I am digressing. When the fabric arrived – in an itsy-bitsy package that weighed about an ounce – I knew I had made a mistake. Yes, it was silk, but it was so flimsy and slippery I wasn’t very sure it could be sewn with any sort of finesse. (Now I know that assessment was correct.) I contemplated saving it for a lining for something sometime, although truly, it would make a flopsy lining.  Deep down, I knew if I didn’t make it right now, I would never, ever use it. And that would be a waste of money for sure.

Well, now I am going to digress. I find that if I purchase a piece of fabric of impeccable quality, I can hold onto to it for months or even years without ever fearing it will never be used. In fact, the better quality the fabric is, sometimes the longer I wait to use it. That allows me time to think about and search for the perfect pattern, time to explore possible dressmaker details for it, and time to savor its beauty. When it comes to silk in particular, I have found that high quality, fine silk, even very lightweight silk, has a substance to it and a hand to it that makes sewing with it a pleasure.

Let me tell you, this was not a pleasure. I slipped and slid the whole way through the construction of this tunic/blouse. My pins would not stay in place, falling out willy-nilly. Clipping and trimming was a nightmare, as the fabric kept sliding in the way of my scissors. I contemplated spraying the entire thing with hairspray to stabilize it! Then, once I had enough of the tunic/blouse sewn that I was able to visualize my green silk accent strips on it, I realized that the green buttons I had planned to use were going to look – awful.

The green of this button is too deep for the colors of this fabric.

Happily, my luck changed just a bit. I went to my button box and found this card of four buttons.

One button was missing, but that was okay, as I only needed four.

They had been a “bonus” addition in an order of buttons from an Etsy shop, and I really thought I would never have any use for them. But guess what? They were just right for this tunic/blouse. At least this one thing was easy!

The blue of the button seems to work well with the solid green.

As you can see, I persevered and finished this monster.

I made an Obi-style sash to wear with it, which I think improves its appearance.

The back of this blouse has a center seam, which allows for some really nice shaping. I haven’t had a chance to get any self-modeled photos made yet, for which I apologize.

Here it is without the sash. In order to keep the slippery sleeves folded up, I had to add a snap on the inside seam of each sleeve.

I haven’t worn it anywhere yet. We shall see if I get any favorable comments; if I do, then perhaps I will eventually enjoy wearing it. At the least, it will stand as a lesson to me – never, ever again to buy any fabric on a whim.


Filed under Asian-inspired dress designs, Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

30 responses to “A Lesson from Lilly

  1. Gayle

    It is a beautiful fabric and the belt really adds to it. Congratulations for finishing it.

  2. Andrea Birkan

    I love Lilly! It’s gorgeous!

  3. The colors and print of the fabric is very pretty. I think it would look stunning on you with a pair of white pants.

  4. Cathy Bachmann

    Your patience paid off. It’s beautiful. That kind of fabric drives me crazy, I would’ve thrown it and wrote it off. Good for you!

  5. In spite of the slipping and sliding it looks good on the manikin! I hope it feels great in, so you do enjoy it!

  6. Lyrique

    It’s a shame it tormented you so, because it really is a very lovely print for a very nice pattern.

  7. Mery

    Yes, waste not, want not. There’s a good deal of truth in that. I too enjoy the challenge of being frugal and take pride in my successes. Nevertheless, there are other rules too. Decades ago one of my lifelong best friends couldn’t join us because he was working on a bid for his young construction company. When he didn’t get the job someone asked if he felt bad about it after he’d put so much time and effort into the bidding process. He said not because a wise old friend’s advice was that if he was getting more than 5/8ths of his bids, then he was bidding too low. His company grew and shrank with the economy but thrived until it is quite rich by any standards. Had he gotten it right every time those first few bids he wouldn’t have had the reserves to stay in business at all. Worse than the financial failure his would would have been in jeopardy of envying those who succeeded at what he really wanted to do. I’ve noticed that same pi formula holds true for many endeavors. I’m not suggesting you get it wrong 3/8ths of the time. Rather, if you don’t go so far out on a limb that you scare yourself that this might not work, and completely forgive yourself a mistake now and then, then your creativity will dull. Even if you hadn’t made this scarf weight candy colored silk into a strikingly lovely top, locking down and never risking any failure would still perhaps not be the best rule to follow.

    • Mery

      I thought I proofread that. Blasted spell check. It’s his soul that would’ve been in jeopardy of envy. Also, please forgive me if I’ve told this story before.
      Speaking of dull, I thought about one of your sewing endeavors today. Some weekends I help at the farmers market. After working in a city office it gives me the chance to get outside and see local friends. It hasn’t been very hot this summer, never 120 Fahrenheit (if I leave this page to confirm that’s about 49 Celsius I’ll lose my typing), not even 108, and we won’t have 100 days of 100 degrees, but several days have been, like today, 100 degrees and 99 percent humidity with no rain. I often wear a cotton shirt and wet the collar. It works like an evaporative cooler and the wet isn’t noticeable. Today’s was a cotton polo shirt, white with tiny pink and green dots. It works, it’s presentable, but it’s dull, dull, dull, and I’m tired of my casual wear being dull. Ever since you made that flowered silk cocktail dress with the double ruffle I’ve thought about how cute that would be as a sundress and how much my wardrobe needs a nice cotton sundress. I haven’t had one in years and I need to give it higher priority. A dropped waist is coolest (that’s the link to your cocktail dress). It doesn’t have to have a double ruffle, but if I had fitted such a pattern I’d use it. Anything to let the air circulate. Then adapt the top for wide straps. When it’s 100 I can lightly dampen the front facing. No more dull!

      • That was a great story, Mery. Thank you for sharing it (and no, you haven’t told it before!) I think part of the problem is that I have become so used to sewing with really, really fine quality fabrics (not a bad problem to have at all!), that when I have one that isn’t so great, I really notice the difference. Which gets me back to the lesson I learned – and another one, too – which is I need to pay attention to my gut feeling about things. When I bought this fabric, a little voice was whispering “This isn’t a good idea.” Intuition is a powerful thing if it’s used properly, don’t you think?

        You need a sundress! 100 degrees and higher? You need several sundresses!

      • Donna

        I learned the art of dressing cool when I was stationed in Hawaii for two years. No a/c or heat in my tiny apt, too expensive. A shirt and shorts were too hot. You have to wear a mumu, bra totally optional, flip flops and a large open weave straw hat. The mumu hides a multitude of sins and because nothing really touches you, you stay cool. And you look good,

      • Mery

        You are so right…loose, optional, lovely bright prints, yes.

  8. I am always totally in awe of your beautiful makes and always look forward to reading your blog. I wonder if I could impose upon you for some advice. I have just purchased some very expensive silk chiffon in a moment of madness from Joel and Sons (the British equivalent of your Mendel Goldberg) and am now very nervous of sewing it. Not being a very proficient or confident sewer I thought I would just make a plain shift dress. Could you please advise me whether I should see the lining and fabric as one or treat them separately? Any help would be massively appreciated. Many, many thanks.
    Carole Porteous

    • Hi Carole! Your silk chiffon sounds glorious. (A trip to Joel and Sons is on my wish list!) I am not an expert in sewing with chiffon, as I’ve only done a little bit. In one of the Couture Sewing Classes I took with Susan Khalji, one of the students was working on a chiffon dress for her daughter. I watched her all week, and there are certainly tricks and know-how involved. I have always thought that the beauty of chiffon is that it is such a gossamer fabric, shown at its best when it is on its own (obviously over a base garment). Hmmm, If you made a shift dress with a distinct waistline, you could sew the top with the two layers together, then sew the skirt with the layers separate, so that the chiffon would float over the more narrow skirt. No matter what you decide, I would recommend that you look into some online (or in person, if possible) guidance. I believe Craftsy has an online class on sewing with sheers, which might be a good place to start.

      I wish you the best of luck with it – hopefully you will let me know how it all works out!

      • Thank you so much for your response. I will certainly check out the Craftsy website but I do rather like your suggestion of a straight skirt with a floaty overskirt.
        Again many thanks for taking the time to reply.
        Regards. Carole.

  9. On the mannequin it looks great. The thinness of the fabric doesn’t show in the photos. Underlining might have given the fabric more body? I hope it works out to be wearable and your choice of buttons and fabric trim are wonderful. I have another EBay story to show how careful you must be. I was searching for silk tulle and found a listing for “silk tulle” priced at about $1.00 per yard. Way too good to be true! Silk tulle sells for $50-$100 per yard and can go even higher. Reading through the reviews I saw a negative comment from an angry buyer that she got nylon tulle. The merchant replied that “silk” referred to the color, not the fiber. Deceptive advertising, don’t you think? What color is silk? Better luck next time. Your fabric purchases are always stunning.

    • Buying fabric online, especially from eBay or Etsy can be challenging, as often swatches are not available and some sellers don’t take returns (as was the case with the seller of this silk.) If I am buying a brand-name I know (as in my recent purchase of Lesur wool), I feel a bit more confident. It’s always a good idea to read those reviews, as you know from the experience you mentioned. Fortunately, I have had many more successes than failures in finding fabrics online, so this experience won’t keep me from future purchases!

  10. Marianne

    How could you have known? I find it really hard to buy fabric online. Judging the scale of prints, the fabric weight, not to mention the colour that is influenced by both the seller’s photography skills and your own screen. I bought a few pieces online that I certainly would not have bought if I ‘d seen and touched them in a bricks & mortar shop. Your blouse looks pretty on the dress form, hope you’ll love wearing it.

    • I agree it is really a trick to buy fabrics online, especially without a swatch. It takes a bit of daring (!) and as we all know, daring sometimes works out and sometimes it doesn’t! The really irritating thing in this case was that I really didn’t NEED any more fabric, and the hours spent on this kept me from working on a more rewarding project. Oh, well, we live and learn, don’t we?

  11. Jaenice Palmer

    Oh, I feel for you, I do. I’m not sure I would done any better–and I would have thought long and hard before buying that print! Hope it turns out for the best.

  12. Oh, what a bother 😦 The dangers of buying fabric online – you can’t get a true feel for the weight of it! I’m not so sure I would have been as gallant about it as you… it would have gone to the bottom of the pile, if not passed over at a fabric swap! I’ve had a few good luck stories from purchases of Etsy lately – I’m due for a blooper…

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