Friday, August 28, 2015

A Schiparellian Outfit

The story of the recent sewing project that this post is nominally about began over five years ago when I decided to make myself one of the most iconic knitwear patterns out there: the Schiaparelli bowknot sweater, as pictured above.

Of course, I had to put my own stamp on it. I don't wear black, nor pink, so the original black or shocking pink colourways this sweater was made in were out. I considered brown, but that seemed too dull. I browsed around Romni Wool looking for inspiration and found some skeins in Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool, in a burnt orange. It had a tweedy look to it, which would lend the sweater the flecked look it has in the original while sparing me from having to knit the sweater in the stranded method the pattern called for. For the intarsia bowknot, I chose Sublime Yarns Cashmere Merino Silk DK in cream. I am very far from having the boyish figure that was considered ideal in the 1920s and for which this sweater was designed, so I reshaped the design to suit me, widening and shortening it, adding waist shaping, and lowering the neckline. I also crocheted around the neckline, bottom hem, and cuffs to make them look more finished. The result was still very recognizably a Schiparelli bowknot sweater.

But then it turned out I never wore the sweater because I didn't have anything to wear with it. The Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool is a rather offbeat shade of orange, and moreover, the proportions of any potential coordinating pieces never looked right. These days I try to be better about planning ahead and making sure that whenever I make anything, I will be able to pair it with other existing items from my wardrobe to make at least one outfit, and preferably several. In this case, since I failed to think about such considerations in advance, the planning had to take place after the fact. Last winter I decided it was time I bought or made something to go with the sweater so that I could wear it.

I was at a loss to figure out what kind of bottom pieces would go with the sweater, so I did some online research to see how other people were styling their bowknot sweaters. I ended up concluding that other bowknot sweater knitters had also been less than successful at outfit planning. Some were putting their black bowknot sweaters over jeans, which looked okay, but I didn't think mine, being orange, would look right. The only outfit I found that really worked was in this old 1920s photo, and from it I got the idea that I should make a pleated skirt, as a sweater with such plain lines needed something with width and interest at the bottom for balance.

Off I went to the Vogue Pattern website, where I looked for a pleated skirt design. I didn't find one, as pleated skirts are not in at present, but I did find the pieced, full-skirted, bias-cut V9031, pictured above, which I decided would pair very well with the bowknot sweater. The next step was to find the right fabric. I took the bowknot sweater to Fabricland and carried it around comparing it to the fabrics for sale in an effort to find something that went. I found a brown plaid with the same burnt orange colour in it that went admirably. It was on sale, and I had a $5 coupon I'd printed offline, so I wound up buying the fabric and the zipper for $3. Score.

But then it came time to make the skirt, and it turned out that making a skirt that called for thirteen pattern pieces out of such a bold plaid is not a particularly good idea. WHO KNEW. I'd never worked much with plaid. I think the only plaid things I ever sewed were either things like plaid flannel bathrobes and pajama bottoms (that no one bothers to match), and very subtle plaids (that don't need to be matched). And now I was having my first experience of plaid matching on project that required ninja level plaid matching skills. I soon realized that I was going to have to pick my battles: I wasn't going to get a perfect match on the front or back pieces but was going to have to settle for creating a visual through line of that bold central stripe, and I wasn't going to be able to match the sides at all. Accomplishing even this much was difficult. A skirt that I would ordinarily have been able to knock off in an afternoon took several months, as I kept getting frustrated with it and abandoning it. The only things that saved this project from ruin were that I had enough fabric to be able to cut out a couple of pieces a few times each, and that this was a very tough fabric that stood up to many repeated stitchings and rippings without ever showing wear and tear. Eventually the skirt got done, and I'm pretty pleased with the result. This is a rather smart skirt that I will be able to wear with quite a few other items from my closet.

This skirt was designed to be left unhemmed, but I hemmed it. My mother did not raise me to go around with my hems undone.

And here's the completed outfit. It works, but I'm not sure I'm done with it yet. Looking at my Schiaparelli sweater, I am wishing I had taken the modifications steps further to make the sweater more appealing by contemporary standards.

I may at some point reknit the sweater to make it look more like this (crocheted) one, but we'll see.

Update: I did indeed reknit my Schiaparelli sweater with a new design. You can read all about it here.

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