Ranunculus Neckline Dress

Lately when I try to make things easier they get harder. It’s not really a knack that endears me to me, but it does make for extra delight when plans trundle past intended mileposts instead of making sharp U-turns into oncoming traffic.

So let me keep this short and fairly sweet….

First, I met some fabric. Then, I met a woman intrigued by my desire to merge a simple wool jersey dress with a dramatic collar. I mentioned “1940s” and “draped” and “rouched.” From there the Affable Experimenter came up with an interpretation that reminds me of the gorgeous Persian buttercup (aka ranunculus asiaticus):

After much patient experimentation, a local dressmaker succeeded in topping a wool jersey dress with a ranunculus-like neckline

Although I certainly see a connection to the soft swoops of fabric so prevalent in vintage clothing. And to dimensional dresses worn by not-so-vintage sirens.

With the help of my creative collaborator, I’d say I ended up with a dress that’s 1 part 40s Vogue : 1 part Katy Perry

While my Contrarian Classicist side influenced the design from start to finish, adding a few shiny accessories makes it simple to get buy-off from my Minimalist Magpie side. When the dress is worn on its own, all it takes is a little patent:

Long sleeves and a staid length meet up with patent platform peeptoe heels…

and also pair with highly walkable boots that have their own take on platform + patent (via a tough-to-see shiny heel)

But adding a matching jersey tube that lightly cinches the waist and upper hip area makes the perfect backdrop for an off-the-clock chain belt:

A removable tube of matching wool jersey lets me create more waist definition (and provides a handy backdrop for a chain belt once I’m off the clock)

As with most of my custom projects, the Affable Experimenter and I had to do some problem-solving here and there; overall, though, the whole process was so smooth I may be in withdrawal from “complicated.” Could that be why the highly impractical cape below seems so appealing?

A 1955 cover line touts bulk against slimness—and makes it mighty tempting to add another charcoal item to my closet

Parade of Peacock Feathers Dress

Having apparently squashed the rose-colored glasses I keep around to help offset personal and global downers, I’m extra-bummed that anytime I fall in love with something beautiful there’s always a least a little darkness attached.

Take silk: though I felt called to start budgeting for my Periwinkle Silk Goes Goddess-y Blouse the moment I saw it—and vowed to have a less poufy, more printed version created in dress form—knowing the very very tough life that captive silkworms lead definitely cast a cloud over my greed.

Because even I, with my “Let them eat mulberry leaves!” perspective, feel a bit guilty about how ole silkworms feast, molt, mate, lay eggs, and die soon after. Author Dana Thomas, observer of modern silk production, leaves no room for one to have happy fantasies about silkworm eggs going on to live happy caterpillar/silkmoth lives, either; she notes that (hopefully unexploited) workers steam the critters in their cocoons before unwinding the cocoons onto reeling machines and getting down to a process where “the work is swift, the water filthy, smelly, and very hot.”

Kind of grim, right? By the time I’d done two months of off-and-on searching for silk fabric I was worn down with liberal guilt.

[But then that’s part of the reason Thomas’ excellent book is titled Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster and not Consumption: Enjoy It Mindlessly.]

Naturally I could have reassessed my wants, abandoned my quest for a silk print, and turned to bamboo jersey. Once I stumbled upon a fabric with the right colors, design, and sheen for my purposes, however, I’m afraid the plight of the silkworms was mentally filed under D for Denial and cross-referenced under H for Hypocrisy.

As a bonus, the madcap print—varying sizes of peacock feathers sprawled over a 2-foot repeat—reminded me of one of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever seen, James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room.

I’m discovering that my custom peacock feather print silk dress (worn V-neck/halter style) loves a good breeze

Though a mere dewy-eyed girl when I first encountered Whistler’s beautiful deep aqua and gilt creation, I’d still move in today. Especially as the room boasts a mural that captures the seemingly eternal battle between those who create art for money and those who hold the proverbial purse strings.

My childhood love: James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room — loved even more now for its mural (Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room)

But back to the dress, close sibling to my voluminous periwinkle purchase.

As documented earlier with the blouse, the style is a mix between a simple Greek chiton and a peasant blouse. A drawstring neckline and a detached belt let the wearer transform it from two sewn-together rectangles to a dress/tunic that can be worn in a variety of styles.

In my case all the “variety of styles” involve feathers on poitrine and posterior, but when one is channeling a peacock, shyness isn’t an option. I’m actually hoping a wild print plus under-engineered clothing shape = loud and clear sign of midlife crisis.


L, 3 yards of silk Haute Hippie peacock print fabric await transformation; R, pale silver sandals meet up with meandering peacock feathers

However, as a fan of structured clothing, I’m naturally clinging to my creation’s drawstring for dear life. It’s my gateway to texture and shape, and although the string and channel construction is underappreciated in my household (“It looks…Amish,” quoth my beloved), I stand by my belief that a gathered neckline or sleeve has timeless charm.

If the style was good enough for the innovative Madeleine Vionnet, by gum, it’s good enough for me!

Speaking of art and money: As one of the master’s of the goddess-y gown, Vionnet’s mix of technical and artistic skills centered around ease of movement and letting the inherent qualities of a fabric shine (L, detail of a 1936 pleated neckline; R, shoulder detail from a 1938 gown — both c. the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Lately it’s been good enough for those hired to carry on Vionnet’s work, too.

During her long career, Madeleine Vionnet expanded industry horizons; today Vionnet SpA reinterprets her vision (Spring 2011)

In fact, I’m somewhat mourning my tradeoff of fewer pleats for less width/more manageability—but since I’m busy trying to figure out how and where to put necklines, hemlines, and volume I don’t have much time to dwell on my decision.

I’ve pretty much decided I can do false-advertising-in-action demure…

A short + straight waist means I rarely belt, but the crazy print of Peacock (keyhole in back/high neck variation) does keep the eye moving…hopefully away from slatternly slip straps

fear I need to draw the line at front-pleated skirts…am safe with the split shoulder, V-neck halter style better modeled with the Periwinkle Pouf…

A multi-way dress has many challenges, and while my sewist conquered print placement I’m testing necklines, hem lengths, and volume distribution

…and may have broken something trying to be trendy via tunic, cuffed skinny jeans, and vaguely cage sandals.

Technically, my Peacock dress can become a Peacock tunic…so I’ve thrown my staid basics aside in order to experiment with about 10 (aging) trends at once

Luckily for me and my styling efforts, the peacock symbolizes renewal. Here’s to having such a vividly colored reminder that every failure marks another opportunity for success!

PSA 1 and 2: Learn as Betty Kirke, costume historian and author of the classic Madeleine Vionnet, shares her knowledge about Vionnet’s revolutionary construction techniques—or get a glimpse of the Vionnet retrospective at the Museum of Decorative Arts (redirects to YouTube):

PSA 3: Get a look inside the jewel box known as the Peacock Room, currently housed in the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, and read up on the artist-patron feud that inspired the room’s famous mural

Eileen exorcises her wardrobe demons [pt 3]

My pal Eileen’s decision to rid her closet of aging, nondescript clothes and complete her hey-I’m-40 style reassessment has boosted her swagger AND her sashay. During her efforts we’ve talked color palette and style loves (opulent, rugged, and boho). And we’ve talked body shape, body size, and (new) closet pairings. But what about post-transformation feeeeeelings?

Though my ability to capture Eileen’s style transformation took a severe nosedive as she racked up the outfit changes, I was determined to push on. For one thing, my Persnickety Bohemian side would never forgive me if I failed to post Ms E in all her boho diva glory:

Eileen, in the midst of directing reflector use, lets her boho diva side fly in a tunic that’s easily converted to a shorter top

Clearly it was time to check in on how she felt about her recent experiments.

Q: Despite your fondness for black crewneck Tshirts, I said earlier that I gave you credit for always mixing in color and pattern—something I’ve only recently started to do.

“Your new picks include plenty of solid neutrals; however, you weren’t shy about adding lots of bold prints that are getting you raves out in the real world. Do you feel like you’ve upgraded that element of your style?”

A:“I do. I was too stuck in REI land. I liked their low maintenance options, the detailed fabrics and colors. Maybe I thought more about the clothes and how much I liked them vs how they really made me look.”

Eileen’s new version of jeans plus tunic is sleeker than her former take…and great for her casual workplace

Q: Before you shopped, you read my attempt to summarize stylist Bridgette Raes’ advice for choosing prints, including her rather wild suggestion to chose prints that mimic the way one’s facial features move. Helpful? Constricting?”

A: “Surprisingly helpful. I do think I gravitate to organic, flowing lines on my own (her tips seem to suggest that for me).

“The brown and blue, 70s-era striped tunic with the big sleeves is something I would have traditionally avoided trying on but actually it’s more ‘me’ than past choices. It’s also just as easy to wear and travel with as my old clothes. I’m glad it came home with me. I love it!”

Q: “I know it’s early days, but since I’ve been so slow to write this you’ve had about a month to road test your new duds. What’s the verdict?”

A: “I’ve watched makeover shows, but I wasn’t expecting to feel such an improvement in how I feel about myself. I thought I felt more OK about my body! I think I’m hiding less. Apologizing for less.”

Q: “Hurrah!”

A: “On a practical note, my goal was to create outfits that would be worn weekly. I like how most of the pieces I got can be interchanged. Bringing everything new along when we went looking for more things worked!”

On a couldn’t help but notice note, I enjoyed how Eileen seemed a lot more comfortable playing up her Hourglass curves—aka inadvertently torturing straight-waisted, belt-envying companions such as myself—than she had in her “before” days.

Exhibit A: The dance-a-jig-worthy wrap dress she had the Mellow Glamazon whip up to fit her proportions:

Dim lighting doesn’t defeat our Eileen-in-the-wild shot, as she picks up her new customized wrap dress and puts it through a few paces (or something)

Exhibit B: A simple cotton knit dress paired with utilitarian boots but cinched with her arresting belt:

Utilitarian, fleece-lined boots and a travel dress get a bit of glam with a deco-tastic belt

Q: Have others responded to you differently?”

A: “Yes; I’ve had strangers, co-workers, and acquaintances compliment the clothing and how it looks on me. (Not in a weird way.) The clothing is almost like an ice-breaker or conversation starter. It’s turning out to be a great way to meet new people.

“I also think that I get a little more attention, especially when wearing the items that seem a bit more tailored and refined and maybe express a bit of attitude.”

Q: “Should I intervene if your new motto becomes ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’ and you start using the word ‘fierce!’ to describe anything you like or do, from food to pillows to hikes? Because that could be pretty entertaining.”

A: “Now you’ve got me thinking….”

L, With glasses temporarily off, Eileen’s gorgeous blue-grey/green-grey eyes are more on display; R, my two curly-headed pals require different purples to glow

Q: Best part of all this?”

A: “Lots of best parts. But I love buying goods directly from their creators, so getting a locally-made wrap dress and denim pencil skirt that were customized to fit *me* was up there.

“We already talked about fit issues and how I come from a family of women who were sewing geniuses. You would think I would sew (I don’t) or be big on alterations (I haven’t been).

I know if I don’t pay attention to the starting place I can look bad in custom or altered clothes, too. It’s a cliché but I’ve wasted so much time feeling bad about not fitting the clothing that was out there. (Too big in the waist, too small in the shoulders, too tight in other places. Depending on the style.)

“Now I’m heading back to my roots, when I watched clothing be fit to the woman.”

Q: “Good to hear. Thanks for being the center of attention for this interview. I know it doesn’t come naturally—or DIDN’T come naturally!”

Don’t you turn my brown eyes blue(berry, blackberry, raspberry…)

While it’s well beyond time for my 2nd Annual “Have you hugged an Oregon berrry today?” PSA, it’s not as if it’s the wrong time for such a thing: the upside of this year’s even colder, even wetter summer is an extended-dance-version berry season.

Which is why Mr Vix and I were able to traipse off to the U-pick fields in late July and come home with FIVE delicious, nutritious varieties of berry:

O say can you see/An Oregon rasp-, blue-, straw-, marion-, and blackberry?

Now last June I detailed the plight of the Oregon strawberry, and did my part to support it with loads o’ picking. This past weekend, however, our timing was right for a few end-of-season strawberries plus wee Meeker raspberries, medium-size blueberries, and enormous blackberries—plus that tasty raspberry/blackberry mix, the marionberry.

[For some tragic reason Mr Vix has never had a marionberry in its wonderfully raw state, so we got in amongst the thorns and started picking.]

Though they’re certainly incredibly delicious I feel compelled to mention that marionberries, in addition to presenting themselves on the aforementioned thorny canes, are a bit…hairy…and rather messy to separate from their homes. I actually thought Mr Vix would be grumpy about their PITA quotient.

Wayward and thorny, marionberry canes guard their jewels

But NOOOOOO: he fell in love with their large-scale, juicy, sweet/tart nature. So much so that he happily posed with them:

Mr Vix demonstrates that a ready-to-eat marionberry or 10 in the hand is worth a million underripe red ones on the bush

It just goes to show that humans are unpredictable creatures. Although just like last year, we found the downside of being out under beautifully blue skies picking berries for a lark vs a living is that we went a mite overboard. [It helps that $30 gives one a lot of bang for the berry buck.] Luckily—just like last year—our friends A&T agreed to have us over for brunch in order to save us from ourselves.

It’s lovely when unpredictable humans turn out to be predictable when it matters!

Journey of a $30 berry medley: From farm to deck to friend's table, with many MANY left over at home

Unsurprisingly the brunch was exceedingly, indescribably wonderful—but we were somehow left with a hell of a lot of berries to either use, freeze, or continue to share. Thus far we’ve tossed our colorful little pals into muffin batter, yogurt, salads, blenders, and bowls filled with angel food cake…but still they crowd the refrigerator.

And apparently it’s GAME ON with Mr Vix, because he has been grilling me like a cheese sandwich about my berry consumption.

Him: So, have you had berries today?”

Me: “Yes, I had an ENORMOUS bowl for breakfast.”

Him: “Oh, I had them for breakfast AND I had a berry shake when I got home.”

Me: “Did I mention I’m planning on adding at LEAST a pint and a half to our dinner salad again?”

Him: “Well, I’m going to make another batch of muffins later. Actually probably 2 batches.”

Me: “Oh, that’s nice. I’m looking up jam recipes for this weekend.” [Editor’s note: I do not make jam unsupervised, so this was a blatant lie.]

Don’t tell him, but I’m silently crying UNCLE UNCLE. Though somehow I think even the losers come out winners in this battle….

PSA update to my 2010 PSA: Oregon bottles lots of its berries for syrups, jams and jellies, and other tasty creations; last year, I provided links to just a few manufacturers. My 2011 update? The Willamette Valley Fruit Company brings flash-frozen berries, berry desserts, and the usual jams/preserves to your doorstep. Don’t say I didn’t try to share the love, people.

My what big beams you have

These days I’m apparently scoring quite low on the thoughtfulness spectrum and can’t seem to scrounge up a fun suggestion for the life of me. Mr Vix, however, is generally knocking it out of the park in terms of small gestures and interesting ideas.

Truthfully I’m not sure which is worse: having TWO idea-free, preoccupied people banging along together or looking so terribly lazy in comparison to the do-gooder.

So while I’d like to say that I recently invited him to a vaguely cultural consumerist happening in a beautiful former industrial space, he gets full credit for investigative initiative.

I was willing to give him extra points for helping me get through the brawny, off-limits steel doors we saw peppered amongst the gargantuan wood beams—but sadly my Bluebeard’s wife tendencies went unsatiated.

Doors and beams speak to a building's industrial past, while vendors' products blend old and new

Despite being confined with the masses, however, there was certainly plenty to see.

Like the coffee table that reminded me how lucky I was to spend many a roasting summer day in nothing more than a bathing suit and a metal-tagged bungee cord bracelet while my clothes languished in a basket:

Why do I need this coffee table? Because when I was a kid, swim clubs used these baskets to hold one's clothes!

Or the pairing of clean-limbed furniture and blowsy local flowers:

Handmade chairs and Oregon-grown flowers

As I’d started off the day in a semi-cultivated setting and barely boho splendor, I kept reminding myself to think “ascetic” not “aesthetic” every time I spotted the venue’s beautiful $25 arrangements. Because damn if the lupine and peonies wouldn’t have made a stunning accessory as I strolled around in my purple nightgown/maxidress.

With warm temps and no rain, this weekend called out for a maxidress

[My Persnickety Bohemian side runs around smug as smug can be when boho goes mainstream enough to tempt me away from my usual much-more-more staid looks.]

The more Mr Vix and I wandered and peered and chatted about wares, though, the more I started to fill something stirring. Something besides greed, I mean.

When we got to the slab and block tree tables I figured out what it was: fear.

Old wood meets spendy tree tables crafted in mid-century modern mode

Because we’ve fallen in love with spendy things before, then tried to get the proverbial “look for less” via DIY projects that end up being ever so much more complicated and/or time-consuming than one’s pre-project calculations.

Exhibit A: our $135 dining room table and buffet in their sad before state.

In the Vix household, we appreciate 50s-60s furniture with nice lines, but our price point means things come in a little more...rugged state

It didn’t seem as if it would take me forever to sand the poor old hard-loved things down and do layer after layer of dark Danish oil—the better to tie them into Mr Vix’s prized possession, a waaaaaaaay oversized tree/coffee table—but it actually kind of did.

So in 2005, I refinished a $135 table + buffet to better tie in with Mr Vix's massive tree/coffee table in the adjoining living room...

And once the dining room looked a little better, I decided I couldn’t take another minute of the living room door. Mr Vix took it off so I could sand and tung oil the dried-out wood before getting a couple of tiny panels of glass in the top.

So THAT inescapable project dragged on.

...which led to me lightening the door I hated (and having a bit of glass put in)...

Now I have no regrets about the time or mess from the other side of it, and enjoy my pauper’s version of the beautiful furniture we see in showrooms and events:

...which led me to avoid refinishing projects for the last several years (but I love my final, imperfect results)

But our seemingly innocent weekend jaunt led to renewed talks about the settee currently sitting in a (scary) basement corner, piled high with camping gear. The one we’ve been planning to recover for 8 or so years, but haven’t QUITE gotten around to yet. The one that surely will require more work and/or money than estimated.

Hmmm: instead of re-igniting the planning stage, maybe I should just create a “DO NOT ENTER sign of my own….