Lives of Dresses, Vol. 5


I think anyone can tell by looking at me that I'm a Tuesday dress, but that's okay. When I was new I didn't like being a Tuesday dress so much. It's not glamorous, like being a Saturday night dress. Sometimes a Saturday night dress would come home (late, they're always out late) and start whispering and giggling with the other Saturday dresses, and I would wonder how it would be, to go out at night, and to be around so many people, all at once. I used to try to ask them, you know, to tell me what it was like, and what they saw, and what a party was like, but they would just laugh at me, so I gave up. I'm not a great talker, anyway.

Now I'm pretty happy to be a Tuesday dress. The Saturday dresses, they don't last long — especially the night ones. They get worn hard, and they get so tired out. It's okay for a Tuesday dress to get a little worn, but not a Saturday dress. One day they just never come back to the closet, and then a little while later there's a new Saturday dress. The Sunday dresses, the ones that go out Sunday mornings; they last a long time because they don't get worn hard, but they keep themselves to themselves, and don't chat much. They sit a lot, I think, because of where the creases are when they come back. I don't like sitting so much; I like to be up and doing. And of course the suits, they get to go to the city, and ride trains, and have the best hats and even gloves, but they only get to do it every once in a while, so I wouldn't want to be a suit, either. I don't like to be cooped up.

I say I'm a Tuesday dress, but of course I get worn other days. It just seems like I see a lot of Tuesdays. I like Tuesdays. Tuesdays are new library book days, and George the butcher days (he always says how pretty we look, and I know he says it to all of us but I do like to think he means me especially), and carpool days. Lots of Tuesdays we go to old Mrs. Hewitt's, and see if she's doing okay, now that her daughter's married and moved away. Those Tuesdays we often bake in the morning, so we have something sweet to take to her. "Oh," we'll say, "These were left over from bridge group, and I thought you'd like some." I know it's a lie but I also know it's a nice lie. Mrs. Hewitt wouldn't feel right if she knew we baked just for her.

Tuesdays we're usually in a good mood. Sometimes we'll swing by the drugstore, give the kids a dime each for penny candy, and spend a while talking with the pharmacist. His wife died in the spring. We brought him a pie once, about a month or so after, but he cried and couldn't help it and it was awful. So we didn't do that again. But we'll go by and talk to him about the weather and how the high school team is doing and whether they're going to build the new town swimming pool finally this summer, while the kids decide how to spend their dimes.

Tuesdays our man usually comes home on the right train, too. I don't see him very often, because a little before that time we'll give ourselves a shake and say "Time for glad rags, girl!" and off I'll go into the laundry pile, and then a different dress, a dinner at home dress, will come out of the closet. If I do see our man it's not good, usually. It means that the repairman didn't come or the dinner burned or one of the kids did something terrible, like break a window or come home with a note from a teacher or jump off something high and have to see Dr. Michael, and so the whole day is out of whack and just wrong. So I don't really want to see him, if it means something like that has to happen.

So I don't mind being a Tuesday dress. I hope I'll be a Tuesday dress for a long time yet.

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Secret Lives of Dresses Update

Lately I've been getting a lot of very kind email saying nice things about the Secret Lives of Dresses series (, , , ) and asking me, with various levels of plaintiveness and expectation, whether I'm going to write any more of them.

Well, the answer is yes, I do want to write more of them. Thank you for asking! The problem is that I haven't been able to spend enough time looking for pictures of dresses that are itching to tell me their stories! My Real Job(TM) has been hectic, my Other Real Job(TM) is sadly neglected, and my family is thinking that in six more years they'll be able to declare me legally dead and collect the insurance.

So — if you come across a dress that you are SURE has a story woven into its fabric or clinging to its buttons, please send me a link. (Please don't send me pictures as attachments unless they are pictures you took of dresses you own; if the pictures are online please send me the URL.)

If I use your picture as the basis for a Secret Life I will credit you as the finder, of course!

I know there are lonely Ancient-Mariner dresses out there trying to tell us–bursting their seams to tell us–their stories. Won't you help me find them?

The goal is to do one every week or two, while supplies last.

An interview with Stephanie Waddell of AgnesandHoss.com


handbag agnes and hoss

Stephanie Waddell, of the website , designs fabrics that press my "instant covet" button, and turns them into pillows, handbags, and scarves that are perfect foils for the textiles. She agreed to answer five questions for MilitaryHumveeAuction …

agnes and hoss

1. How did you get into fabric design? Was there an "aha!" moment where you knew this was what you wanted to do?

Ten years ago I had no idea this is where I would end up. I graduated from college with a degree in studio arts, specifically painting and drawing, and moved to Chicago. For several years I worked in the Chicago gallery scene as an administrator while always taking classes of some sort (art history, languages, sewing) in the evenings to keep myself alert and stimulated beyond my job. Sewing was the one that really stuck with me and as my skill level increased I started experimenting with some of my own designs and patterns … and this led to the handbags. While still working other jobs full-time and then soon only part-time, I launched Lily Starr, a hand-made handbag line using printed and woven silks (at this point store bought). I was just completely drawn to silk because of the material's ability to receive a print and reflect color so well. Because I was hand-making this line I kept distribution down to about 3-4 stores, but it only took about 6 months of slaving away at my sewing machine before I realized that what I was really passionate about were the fabrics themselves, and not the making of a handbag. This, combined with a lifelong obsession with mixing color and pattern in both my clothing and my home, made me realize that I should really pursue the textile angle, which in turn could open doors to a enormous range or products and ideas … from clothing and accessories to rugs, wallpaper, lighting and so on. This felt so much more freeing to me and so I just dove into it head first. Fortunately I had an art background, which really comes in handy, but I had no textile design experience and just taught myself how to develop repeats, work with mills, etc., on my own. I really wanted my first line of fabrics (and likewise the first range of products … handbags, scarves, pillows and lighting) to be something special so I took my time developing them. I think in the end that paid off. I officially launched Agnes & Hoss at the New York International Gift Fair in January 2006.

handbag agnes and hoss

2. The patterns in your collection seem to straddle the line between abstraction and naturalism — did you find it hard to get to that "sweet spot"? Were you trying for that feeling?

I suppose I was trying for that feeling but hadn't thought about it in those exact words. I always respond to and am drawn to create natural and organic imagery, but also enjoy seeing the artist's hand in a design. I like that you don't necessarily see the imagery in my work right away for what it really is. For example, most people are not able to recognize my Seaweed as it actually is…they see trees or flowers. Likewise, upon first viewing the Starlings print, most people do not see the hundreds of little birds perched on the branches … they just see a jumble of branches or who knows what. And maybe that's all they ever see … it doesn't actually really matter to me … because it is what you want it to be. If you respond to the pattern you respond to it in your own way, like a Rorschach test, and that says something about you and how you see the world. But then there is a secret "truth" behind each design which always brings a smile to people's faces when they hear it. I always include a tag with each of my products telling the "story" of the corresponding print … what it actually is and how it came to be. It gives a little insight into the print as well as myself and what I'm inspired by.

agnes and hoss
3. What's your process from going from idea to finished fabric?

I spend a lot of time collecting natural material like shells, flowers, weeds, leaves, etc. I've trained my mind to be extremely alert to these things and particularly to unusual ones. I also look at a lot of books and online images. Often the images are a result of something I became interested in for completely inexplicable reasons … could be an article I read, a story someone told me, or something I found. The seaweed design, for example, is derived from a piece of seaweed I found on the beach in Cape Cod. On the beach, it was one of a million pieces of seaweed that had washed ashore, but for some unknown reason it just completely jumped out at me. There was something about its winding stem and flowery leaves (if that's what you call them) that seemed almost poetic. Then, once I really glom onto something (currently it's aerial images of river systems) I move into the pattern development phase by working on different drawings, bringing them into my computer and playing around with possible repeat systems, and color combinations. Once I've got the design nailed down, I send it off to one of a few domestic fabric companies I work with that farm the printing out to mills in China and Korea. The rest of the process takes about 8-10 weeks — 4 weeks to see and approve 1 yard strikeoffs from the mill, and another four weeks to make corrections and receive the production yardage. I'm very particular about color, so if a color isn't right the first time around and they have to adjust it, that could end up adding another 2-4 weeks onto the process.

agnes and hoss
4. Are there fibers or materials you'd like to work with but that aren't practical now? What's your dream fabric?

I would love to do a line of woven fabrics, where my designs are woven into the fabric. These could be used for upholstery or fashion. I would also love to do a line of rugs, made in Tibet or Nepal, because it supports the weavers and would also allow me to travel there! Regarding my dream fabric — I may already be working with it! Silk charmeuse (and I use a particuarly heavy weight charmeuse) will always seem special to me. I could invent a dream fabric, it would be a silk charmeuse that doesn't wrinkle.

agnes and hoss
5. What advice would you give the hobbyist or "prosumer" who wants to start out making fabric in smaller quantities?

If you want to start out making fabric in small quantities the best solution is to hand-print it yourself or hire a hand-printing studio to do it. If you work with a large print mill, as I do, you have to meet their minimums, which can occasionally be as low as 100-200 yards per design but are often much higher. This is a big upfront c
ost to take on. While I do love the look of hand-printed material and may eventually produce a line myself, I currently have my designs mill-printed overseas because I like the crispness they can achieve with line and repeats.

A One-Dress Play.

INT. ERIN'S SEWING ROOM. DAY.

The room has no windows, and an inadequate standing FAN oscillates arthritically. The walls are covered with half-a-dozen wire SHELVES, on which are piled stacks of messily folded FABRIC. Hanging from the ends of the shelves are several half-finished DRESSES on hangers. An IRONING BOARD and IRON are the to the right, and a green DESK LAMP shines on ERIN, sitting behind an old-fashioned SEWING MACHINE.

ERIN

(muttering) Where's my seam ripper? Dammit.

She rummages around beneath the table.

Got you!

Now I know why I don't sew more silk. Especially in July. Jeebus, it's hot.

THE PHONE RINGS.

ERIN

Good morning, sweetie! No, I don't know where your scuba-diving Batman is. Is Daddy awake? Did you check in the bathroom? Go check the bathroom. No, go check in the bathroom. Did you find him? Great! I'll see you in a little bit. Go wake up Daddy. Love you.

ERIN hangs up.

Arrgh, I cut the midriff upside down! I don't want to recut it. We'll just call it "wabi-sabi," if anyone even notices.

THE PHONE RINGS.

ERIN

This is she. No– no — NO, we are not interested in any toner. Please take us off your call list..

ERIN hangs up.

Now I know why they didn't extend the band to the back. I hate easing outside curves together. Feh.

Where's my seam ripper, dammit?

THE PHONE RINGS.

ERIN

Your new bag of coffee should be in the bottom bin of the freezer. BOTTOM bin. Do you see a bag of frozen blueberries? Behind that. No, behind that. Got it? Love you.

ERIN hangs up.

Bobbin, I will hurt you if you do not cooperate. I mean it. I have a hammer, and I will use it. Ah … that's better.

NEIGHBOR sticks head in doorway.

NEIGHBOR

Is that your load in the washing machine? What are you making?

ERIN

No, it's not my stuff in the washer. This is going to be a new dress, unless it kills me, in which case it's a shroud.

NEIGHBOR exits uneasily.

ERIN bends over the dress in her lap, her mouth full of pins. She guides a pile of fabric through the machine.

ERIN

Don't catch in the seam, don't catch in the seam, don't catch in the seam …

ERIN pulls fabric out, peers at seam.

Dammit. Where's my seam ripper?

One more time.

ERIN runs machine, finishes seam. Snips thread with tiny scissors.

THE PHONE RINGS.

ERIN

I'm just done — I'm on my way upstairs.

No, no, it's been a great morning! Wait until you see this one … see you in a minute!

ERIN turns off iron, light on sewing machine, and desk lamp. She disconnects an iPod from a tiny speaker and puts the iPod in her pocket. She leaves the room with the fabric, now revealed to be a DRESS, over her arm.

The FAN moves from side to side.

This is only a test.

Janet at has offered us a special Dress A Day discount at her excellent pattern site! 10% off; just enter "dressaday" in the coupon box.

Since I am a conscientious blogger I would never publicize a discount without trying it out first, thus, this pattern, now wending its way to me:

I am happy to report the discount works just as advertised. Couldn't be easier, especially when your fingers just naturally type "dressaday" without thinking.

This is a great pattern to test out the discount (cough) since I never have enough of these easy bodices. No darts, just gathers and tucks, a nice deep vee, and the front facing is actually in one piece with the bodice — it just folds under. Nothing could be simpler, really. I often take this kind of two.jpgece bodice and just slap it on whatever circle skirt pattern I'm using at the time … it's a lazy solution, as there are only two seams in a circle skirt, vs. six here. Just be sure you mark the center front and back of the circle for when you are attaching it to the bodice. (I do it with a tiny snip in the seam allowance.)

This makes up nicely with light cottons, especially voiles and lawns. And if you accidentally buy a little less fabric than you needed for a full circle, there's always those gores, just in case!

what? who? where?

Check out this dress, shot by the Sartorialist in Milan at the DSquared show.

Is it even necessary for me to say I want it? Well, I do. I'm assuming, since it was worn in the vicinity of a fashion show, that it costs eighty bazillion dollars and you had to sign up on a waiting list five months ago (probably in a stark white boutique somewhere) to get one. Well, I say "feh!" to that. Find me a better picture and I'll make one. Except mine will have a slightly fuller skirt. And will possibly be olive with paisley, instead of maroon.

So, anyone know anything about this dress? Other than how great it is, of course.

I also like how (unlike most people I see in fashion show photos) she doesn't seem to be someone who considers three cigarettes and ten minutes of sunshine "lunch".

Go on. You know you want to.

This dress is just so wrong it's right, like dumping a bag of peanut butter M&Ms into a bag of pretzels (try it, you'll see), or like Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," or like (That last link MOSTLY safe for work.) Like all of the above, I want it badly, but in the interests of NOT filling up my closets with dresses that I won't wear but will instead just haul out from time to time, try on, and leave in a heap on the bed (to the mounting irritation of Mr. Dress A Day), I'm posting it here, instead.

This is from Birdsong Vintage, a seller on the new collaborative listing site. (And I have to say … from what I saw, their prices are really really good. More of those folks with time machines! Why doesn't somebody hook me up? I won't !) I'm showing you the back because otherwise you can't really see the print; don't worry, if you click on the image you can also see the front.

Anyway — the lurid pink and green and the busy, busy print featuring geishas and what look like triffids (not that you could tell without invading the wearer's personal space) call to me … but the tight waist (it's B38, but W26) says "no, no!" (or maybe "cut down on the sweet potato fries!") Either way, it's not for me, but at $45, it might just be for you.