operatic cape


I like praise. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person in my neighbourhood who does, given that nobody I know ever gives any evidence of wanting any. I know all kinds of people of accomplishment, and they rarely broadcast their successes.

I, on the other hand, am tempted on every minor accomplishment to do that little dance male football players do when they’ve carried a ball across some goal line. That running on the spot thing, throwing fists in the air, yelling “yesssssssssssss”!

Whenever I’ve even begun some pale and tepid imitation of that, people have looked sideways at me and I know they’re thinking I’m weird. Singing the alto line note-perfect one Sunday morning in the church choir? “Yesssssssssssssssss”! Oops. Ahem. The other choristers glance at me and away again quickly.

When I first took up sewing again a few years ago, some friends complimented me on something I was wearing, asked if I’d made it, expressed admiration over the accomplishment, but after the first or second time, that was it. How much glory do I want?

Last week I was reading a novel, Still Life, by the British author A.S. Byatt, in which the narrator was contemplating exactly that thing. She had a mother and brother who were passive and virtually helpless, but a younger sister who had just received scholarship offers from both Cambridge and Oxford and was crowing about it — quite legitimately in my opinion, and in the narrator’s opinion too.

But, she says “Defeat communicates itself, is handed on. Unlike euphoria . . . It was odd how glory could not be shared. Frederica . . . would perhaps learn this.”

Call me Frederica I guess. A Frederica who hasn’t learned.

I sewed this cape as part of a costume for an opera role I was about to sing with the amateur opera company I sang with for a few years. When I showed up wearing it at dress rehearsal, I was met with more than enough admiration. It was great. And I know the reason was that my costume was going to help everyone else look good. We all admired and congratulated each other that evening because we knew the production as a whole would please audiences more because of all of our individual efforts. As a group we could all share in the glory, and there was plenty to go around.

But that was then, and this is now. I haven’t had any occasion to wear this cape since then, and I don’t see any occasion coming up. Where does one wear a gold-lined blue velvet cape, except on a stage? What do you do with clothes in your closet you’ve laboured over for one special occasion? It’s inconceivable to me to sell it or give it away. I guess I can pull it out every once in a while and enjoy the feel of it.

I got the fabric in a bin at a discount outlet. It’s the most fluid kind of velvet there is, so I think it’s silk. I got two other pieces at the same time, and they’re in my stash, waiting for the “perfect” pattern. I hope to make something I have more than one occasion to wear with them. I used a simplicity pattern, 5794. Looking at the pattern envelope just now, I’m thinking, hmmm, I could make another one with a hood, and longer 🙂 I may have to cultivate a different lifestyle to match my clothes …


It’s a real beauty, isn’t it? Isn’t it?


sleeveless shell

merinotshirtOne reason I stopped sewing years ago and didn’t take it up again until recently was that I couldn’t find fabrics I liked. There were very few fabric stores in Vancouver and they seemed to have a lot of cheap human-made fabrics in patterns and designs that didn’t match my idea of “woman” — way too “feminine” for me (we must have a talk about that label :)) Shiny floral polyester? Mmmm, not for me, no thanks.

Now that I am sewing, the one thing that tempts me to ready-made clothing is the fabric. And I’m still disappointed that the fabrics of these ready-made items are not available in local stores, although I suspect I’m finding some of that in the bits and ends bins at Dressew Fabrics and thrift shops. I probably use home decor fabric more often than I use dress fabric — and I feel better about that since I read that that was perfectly acceptable in a sewing magazine I was browsing at my local library. Not that I need a voice of authority telling me what’s acceptable, or anything. The article did suggest washing home decor fabric first to eliminate any finish put on it for home use.

Last week I dropped in at a newish clothing store on trendy Main Street in East Van to have a second chat with the owner, a Scots transplant named Isabelle Dunlop. I’d enjoyed a previous chat a month or so earlier so much that I thought I’d see if a repeat was available. (Also I really like some of her clothes and was looking for items I might like to, not copy exactly, but get ideas and inspiration from). This time, after a few brief introductory comments, I confessed that I made all my own clothing, leaving her to infer that I wouldn’t be buying any of her’s. She was delighted and we settled into a sewing conversation. I was telling her about my disappointment with the lack of interesting, quality fabric when I spotted a merino wool sleeveless shell hanging on her rack.

“Where did you get that fabric?” I demanded. Sort of. It was more an exclamation of disbelief.  I didn’t really expect her to reveal any of her supply secrets, but she told me she’d gotten it at an East Indian fabric and sari store further down the street among the curry houses, panwallas and vegetable shops.

So I went on my own scouting mission to Roko’s and I did indeed see a couple of rolls. I managed to buy a leftover  end for a discount of what already surely is a reasonable $20/yard. I’ve left the armholes unfinished because when they get in a new supply next month, I may go back for more and make sleeves. I’m definitely going to pick up one or two other colours.

I also made the top in a drapey white modal which I picked up at Roko’s at the same time. I finished the armholes, but don’t want to hem the bottom because I know it will inhibit the drape and flow of the fabric.

white top (1)

I modified an older see and sew pattern B5203 for this top. In the original the hemline is shorter at the front and back, and longer at the sides. I’ve made it in long sleeved and tank versions, longer and shorter. I really like this as a base pattern because it’s loose and comfortable, has a good fit and a nice neckline. Here are the longer versions.

green top

white top (2)