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Inspiration

Why Don’t You . . . ? Create Brilliant Garments with Upholstery Fabric

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For today’s challenge, we’re drawing inspiration for brilliant garments from the home, and Diana Vreeland’s interior decorating advice:

Why Don’t You . . . ? Have a woven straw bed—crochet the cover in squares of black and white. Include in this room: the carpet—brilliant needlework flowers or animals on a black background; the walls—scattered with brackets holding Victorian bouquets.

Now, I’ll bust out the staple gun and re-cover a sofa if need be. But I’ve never been a home decorating sewist. All those straight lines just aren’t my jam. Neither am I a crocheter. Or a needleworker, for that matter. However, I love a good upholstery fabric in a garment, and I’m happy to decorate the landscape of my body in homage to Ms. Vreeland’s interior vision.

Why don’t we . . . use upholstery fabric to make ourselves into an homage to this brilliantly described room?

The tree house

Outdoor decorating provided by nature: A dogwood in bloom in a front yard

When I first took up sewing, I lived in a tree house—a two-story, 1940s Hollywood apartment building centered around a rambling garden. It was run-down, it was drafty in the winter, but the windows to this hideaway were engulfed by flowering trees. After years of living with two fourteen-story brick buildings for a view, it was a delight for my husband and me.

We had just moved to Los Angeles from New York, at the behest of our agents, who were rabid to see how we’d fare in the film and TV world. It was flattering, but it was also expensive. We brought with us a condensed version of our home in New York, just the essentials: three cats, clothing, computers, and an armload of newly acquired sewing supplies. A little birdie by the name of (award-winning actor) Judith Light had told us that a hobby outside of “the business” was essential to surviving Hollywood—and where navigating the business is concerned, Dame Light is most definitely the boss.

When you trek cross country in hope of work, you learn to pinch your pennies. To be honest, as an actor, you learn to pinch your pennies even when you’re flush with work. Everyone’s heard a sob story of an actor who had it all, only to lose it all. Feast or famine, we’ve learned to be frugal. That meant my newly found hobby, which was quickly escalating into a full-fledged passion, needed to be accomplished on the cheap.

Necessities in sewing

Enter the Michael Levine Loft, an offshoot of Michael Levine Fabrics in LA’s garment district (both stores are now closed). When I heard tell of a magical, second-floor space that held refrigerator-sized cardboard boxes of remnants sold by the pound, I didn’t even bother with the main store. I took myself straight to that loft and plunged headfirst into every box they had, most taller than me, and held my breath as the cashier weighed my treasures at the princely sum of $1 a pound. Did I ever score some fabrics, just not really ever enough of one fabric to make a full garment—save for the occasional three yards of polyester drapery.

Necessity is what got me into print mixing. That, and a healthy dose of stubbornness. As a matter of fact, print mixing is what gets me to the finish line on most of my sewing projects. The sewing friends I’d meet online would exclaim at my penchant and skill for print mixing, when really, I just didn’t have any  choice.

Feasts and famines have happened, as they will for any actor, in the dozen years since I taught myself to sew. But now, older and wiser, whatever the weather, we’re sensible enough to grant ourselves the important things: good health, good food, and good fabric. That means yardage enough to make a complete dress. On our return home, I found Manhattan’s Garment District, a mecca for a deal. I could have as many yards as I wanted if I was willing to do the digging, and I was (See refrigerator box diving above).

It has made me a little soft, if I’m honest. I haven’t mixed it up in a while, and Miss Vreeland’s description of that wildly printed room was the perfect opportunity for some print play.

A room of her own

In homage to that tree house where I taught myself to sew, I have the perfect outdoor room: the front yard of our southern home away from home. It has been a room to my husband and me as much as any indoor space in our little getaway. We have in this room:

A simple, self-drafted, princess-seamed bodice in an outdoor upholstery animal print . . .

Brilliant decorating: Marcy Harriell standing in front of a blooming dogwood tree wearing a colorful dress

Brilliant decorating: Marcy Harriell looking skyward as she stands in front of a bloom dogwood wearing a colorful dress of her design.

. . . a woven straw hat with a little black-and-white grosgrain accent . . .

Brilliant decorating: Close-up of Marcy Harriell wearing a straw cowboy hat adorned with a blue striped grosgrain ribbon

. . . and real-life “needlework flowers and Victorian bouquets” in bloom, just waiting for their glamour shot.

Close-up of dogwood flower

I hope Ms. Vreeland doesn’t mind, but I threw in some oranges (by way of printed outdoor upholstery fabric), in the sweep of this half-circle skirt . . .

Back view of Marcy Harriell wearing colorful strapless dress and a straw hat

. . . and in the pom-pom trim. Why put that trim on a pillow for the outdoor room when there’s a neckline handy?

The lacy zipper gave me a tablecloth vibe, so into the “room” it went. In its original pale blue shade, it gave me the look of doilies. But a black Sharpie and an orange fabric marker cured that aesthetic.

Close-up of exposed zipper with lacy edges sewn to back bodice of strapless dress

This return to my sewing roots was fun and a reminder that inspiration is everywhere. Maybe you’ve got a mood board of Pinterest-worthy rooms (indoors or outdoors), a descriptive paragraph from a favorite book, or a painting that can be the catalyst for your next sewing project. I’m thinking that The Dessert: Harmony in Red by Henri Matisse would make for a stunning gown. Bonus: That photo shoot would include dessert.

Here’s wishing you good health, good food, good fabric, and brilliant garments.


Photos by Rob Harriell.

Editor’s note: See all of Marcy Harriell’s “Why Don’t You . . . ?” posts here.

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  1. SingleMom56 | | #1

    Pretty but nothing earth shattering . . . did this when I was in college in mid-70s. Still do it today.

    1. User avater
      marcyharriell | | #2

      Then we’re well met 👍🏽

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