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Shift dress summer 2013 copy

Is it hot where you live? I think I’ve discovered the trick of staying cool without baring too much skin: a simple shift dress made of fine cotton. You can search long and hard before you find one that allows you to move, yet doesn’t look sloppy. After years of searching, I finally resorted to making exactly what I wanted.

Shift fabricThree summers ago, I bought this Kwik Sew pattern and four beautiful cottons. (You know the motto: When you find something you like, buy it in every color.) I made two dresses, but the remaining yardage rested in a drawer, where it seemed destined to stay. (Who knows when I’ll have time to sew again?)

In a Use-It-Or-Lose-It whirlwind last spring, I ran across the unused fabric. I was too busy to make one myself, so I contacted Dianne Frewer, owner of A Fitting Creation. She’s done some wonderful pieces for me, and I knew this simple pattern would be a snap for her. She finished two dresses in May, and now I’m practically living in them. When I consider the cost per wear, having them made (versus buying off the rack) seems well worth the investment.

This isn’t my first rodeo with using an experienced seamstress, but if you’ve never done it before, here’s why you might consider asking someone like Dianne to help with your wardrobe.

Get a better fit. A professional seamstress measures your body from one end to the other to get your fit exactly right. They are trained to accentuate your every asset. Wearing clothes designed to fit YOUR body makes an amazing difference in your appearance. A skilled seamstress can be a game changer for anyone who does not have an off-the-rack body—and how many of us do? That’s what inspired Dianne’s tagline: “When ready to wear is not.”

Get a completely original look or dress for a special occasion. I have no problem showing up at an event in the same dress someone else is wearing. I’m more likely to compliment them on their great taste than to be embarrassed, but there are times when you may want to wear something profoundly different than the same black dress worn by the masses. My friend Jody DeFord loves the originality of custom work, so she enlisted Daniela Upshaw to design and make this amazing butterfly dress. See what I’m talking about?

Get clothes that are versatile and made to last. Go to a seamstress when you know you’ll wear something again and again—whether it’s something as common as a summer shift or something extraordinary, like the dress I had Dianne make for a special event. I bought the fabric when my mother-in-law took all the women in the family to New York a few years ago. (I’ll show you the dress in another post!) It’s formal enough to wear to a cocktail party, but subdued enough that I wore it to Jane’s memorial service in July.

Purple fabricTips for working with a seamstress

Always think a season or two ahead. That gives plenty of lead-time for your clothes to be made before you want to wear them. Although some sewing professionals can accommodate a quick turn, most good ones keep a busy schedule and appreciate plenty of notice so they can weave your work into their regular business.

Made-to-order clothing is more expensive, and it’s more time-consuming. There’s no way around that. It takes tremendous skill and a lot of time to make things meticulously. If you plan to have anything made, you’ll probably make more than one trip to be fitted—and that takes an investment of your time. When you love the fabric, and you get a perfect fit and style for your body, I think it’s worth the money.

If you find a good one, don’t be surprised if you make a lasting friend. How can you not love someone who is capable of shaving six inches off your hips?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.