Wednesday, July 31, 2019

McCall's 8498 (1983): The Jumpsuit Formerly Known as Diahann Carroll's Clamdiggers

When I first encountered McCall’s 8498, I was immediately drawn to the stare-down leveled at me by Diahann Carroll:

Beloved by Dynasty fans everywhere, Diahann Carroll played diva Dominique Deveraux from 1984-1987.  

On her first day on the Dynasty set she sat down for an interview between takes:

She tells the interviewer that Dominique is one of the most “unlikeable” characters she’s ever played, and that’s what she wanted.  Minority actors, she states, often feel required to play “nice” people and Diahann wanted to break out of that. With a smile, she says, “I wanted to be the first black bitch on television.”  Elsewhere, I read that she suggested the writers imagine her as a powerful white man when writing her lines. This combo of attitude and writing ensured that her inner bitch was operating on all cylinders for her first encounter as Dominique with Joan Collins’ Alexis Carrington Colby in Alexis’ penthouse:

Dominique socially knee-caps Alexis by stating that Alexis’ champagne “was obviously frozen in the bottle at some point” and therefore undrinkable.  The shame! Alexis tries to recover by offering caviar which Dominique turns down because she can tell (on sight) that it’s Ostetrova and she prefers Petrossian beluga.   Well, who doesn’t?

The moment before you find out your champagne is unacceptable

I first wanted to make View B of McCall’s 8498, which has the capri pants option.  I was going to make it with a white broadcloth on the top and this cotton fabric with a yellow/white/grey clamshell pattern for the bottom:

All three Dynasty Divas (Diahann Carroll, Joan Collins and Linda Evans who played Krystle Carrington) had their names on McCall’s patterns in the 1980s.   The pattern makers were capitalizing on the popularity of Dynasty and channelling the characters’ glamour.  

Never leave home without your fur.

I had planned to call the blog post "Diahann Carroll's Clamdiggers" because of the nifty alliteration, not to mention the clever allusion to the shell fabric. But soon, I realized that making this pattern in this fabric (from Wal-Mart no less!) and calling it clamdiggers would be a total abomination, like expecting the Queen of England to wear tie-dye. Once I realized how wrong it would be to even connect the name Diahann Carroll with the word Clamdiggers, I scrapped the Wal-Mart cotton and entertained more luxurious notions.

I had some silky satiny and scary Charmeuse fabric that I had planned to use for this pattern:

I can so see Blanche from the Golden Girls in this jacket, can't you?

Charmeuse has a glossy satin finish on one side, with a duller finish on the other.  Like a Diva, it is beautiful, swishy, often seen at balls or galas, and can be notoriously DIFFICULT to work with.  You could say that, sometimes, sewing charmeuse is a real bitch. 

In fact, I scrapped the plans I had for McCall’s 3167 because right off the bat, the fabric for the jacket back inset puckered and frayed when I tried to insert it, and there was no saving it.  

So I had some jacket fabric left over, in addition to another piece of charmeuse I had planned to use for the dress.   So I bravely switched gears and decided to use the charmeuse for McCall’s 8498.

But first, I had to test run this pattern in order to work out any bugs before starting to sew it in the charmeuse.   Don’t tell Dominique, but I used an old bedsheet as my muslin fabric!

This bedsheet is a green khaki color, and it actually looks pretty good.  There were no fitting issues to work out either. When the test piece comes out well, some call it a “wearable muslin” and into the closet it goes.

Tune in later this week to see McCall’s 8498 in a version that I can only hope will be Diva-worthy!

Hoping? You'll need to do better than that.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney (1984)

Upon its publication, Salon magazine wrote: “Bright Lights, Big City...succeeds in capturing, in fewer than 200 pages, an entire decade.”

With praise like that, how could I NOT read a book that “defined, and even determined the mood” of New York City in the 1980s (according to Vanity Fair)?  A book that, according to the New York Times Book Review, succeeded in being the “Manhattan novel” of its generation? 

The only mystery here is that it took me so long to pick it up.  As a teenager in the suburbs 35 years ago, I had heard of this book (or at least the 1988 movie of the same title starring Michael J. Fox).  

But I had never managed to read it. Fast forward a few decades and there I was, reading my library copy in the Big City itself. 

Even my non-bookish husband had taken a crack at it back in the day.  When he saw the book on my night-table he nodded and said, “Bolivian Marching Powder.”

What he was referring to was the book’s euphemism for that 80s drug of choice, cocaine.  

Right off the bat, we meet the main character at a NYC nightclub in the wee hours of the morning, yearning for a hit of the white stuff so he doesn’t just keel over.  The author employs an interesting method of bringing the reader close to this young man. He tells his story using “you” instead of in the first or third person, pulling the reader through the downward spiral of this guy’s life:  

“You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head.  The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder.”

And an excerpt from later on in the book:

“Down on the street, you clamp your sunglasses to your face and wonder where to go.  An old question, it seems to come up more and more frequently. You’ve lost whatever bravura you possessed a few minutes ago.  It’s just beginning to sink in that you have lost your job.”

 “You” is used throughout the entire book, without exception. I’m not sure what to call that literary technique, or even if it is a technique.  It was new to me and it gave the story immediacy and intimacy. It did not feel like a gimmick. And it seemed to be highly effective. It pulled me in so close that I never even saw the emotional gut-punch that, in retrospect, was so obviously coming.  You were (I was?) just trying to get through the story and lost sight of the big picture. You (I?) didn’t see the writing on the wall. Therefore it was very unexpected when you (yes, ME) felt your eyes tearing up while reading the final pages of Bright Lights, Big City on the subway.  

We never even get a name for this young guy who frequently takes the “Bolivian Local” to visit the rarified air of the metaphorical Andes.  But that doesn’t seem to be necessary.

I will stop here so as not to spoil this 80s classic for anyone who may not have read it.  I do recommend it. It’s hard to say if it is generation-defining. I’d be interested to hear others’ take on that.  

You could say that it captures a New York City that doesn’t exist anymore.  The city is, after all, always changing including the nightlife.  

For example, the Limelight was a nightclub famous in the 1980s and 1990s for its debauchery and even murder.  (It was ironically situated in what was a former Episcopalian church on the corner of 6th Avenue and 20th Street.) “Club Kid” Michael Alig, a frequent patron, was convicted in the 90s of the killing and dismemberment of a drug dealer well known in his circle.    

The Limelight closed down several years ago.  It then became a fancy marketplace where tourists could buy expensive chocolate and other high end treats.

Today, even chocolate is too indulgent for the Limelight.  Where lines of coke were once snorted, now people sweat out toxins after doing a wheatgrass shot.  

Here are pictures of “Limelight Fitness” taken by my husband a few months ago on a lovely spring day.  Yes, the Limelight is now a gym:

My guess is that the Bolivian Local does not make stops at the Limelight anymore.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Butterick 3977 (1986): Aqua on White Polka Dot Blouse with Elasticized Waist

Whilst poking around in Mom’s closet, a certain lovely lightweight top caught my attention.  I instantly recognized the 80s-ness of this garment, and brought it out for further explanation (and the vague hope that I could perhaps wrangle it into my own closet).

Turns out the top was made from a 1986 Butterick pattern that Mom had thrifted from her favorite consignment shop.  

Mom is a seamstress of a very high caliber.   While I’m not sure exactly when she first picked up a needle, perhaps her sewing journey truly began when Dad gave her a Singer Touch & Sew machine in 1966 before they even got married.  This machine has seen pretty much constant use from that moment forward. It is the ONLY sewing machine Mom has ever had and it has given her zero problems over the years. She confided that only this year did it need servicing.   

They don’t make things like they used to, do they?

Dad not only bought this machine for Mom...

...he took these pictures!  Thanks, Dad.

As mentioned in my previous post, Mom can sew ANYTHING.  She would have sewn us our house were that possible. Lingerie, bathing suits, bridesmaids dresses, pants, shirts for women and men, curtains, sundresses, hats to go with those sundresses.  Of course she made our prom dresses, thinking nothing of sewing my black strapless gown in satin and chiffon, notoriously “difficult” fabrics. NO PROBLEM.

And don’t get me started on the crafting!  From braided rugs to Ukrainan painted eggs (she is not Ukrainian but learned this wax-resist method of decorating eggs), from floral arranging and Japanese needlepoint….she’s done it and done it well.  And I’m only scratching the surface, here!

Obviously, it is ever so helpful to have a Mom like mine, in so many ways.  Naturally she advises me in my sewing and in my previous post, she styled the photo shoot.  This time, I’m posting about a top she made because it is just so cute and SO 1980s!

Mom told me she was attracted to the neckline of View B.  She also modified the pattern by essentially cropping the top where the black lines are on the line drawing:

She also added a one inch elastic at the bottom.

The fabric is lightweight, breathable, semi-opaque and some kind of cotton or cotton blend. The fabric and elasticized waist moves this garment into the "blouse" category for me. Although it is still a casual piece, it could easily be dressed up with a pencil skirt and heels.

Mom didn’t want to model it, so I did.  But sadly, it went back into HER closet after the photo shoot.  Guess I’ll just have to make my own someday!

The Maddie Hayes Look

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