The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

There’s nothing more evident about the change in fashion that the inclusion of the dress in our wardrobe. It clearly shows the move toward a more feminine look, but not the feminine look of the 80s hourglass, extended shoulders or the feminine look of the 1950’s tiny waist and wide hips. For inspiration and encouragement, here are a lot of dresses that the first lady has been wearing this past summer. Obviously summertime is a perfect time for the cool swishiness of dresses, but the first lady offers a lot of ideas and they are worth taking note of.



Here’s a sparsely spaced geometric print so that there’s a lot of background white showing. This makes for a perfect light, airy and coolness in her dresses for summer.

There’s a lot that’s worth note here

First, her proportions are excellent, the length of the hem for her height is great. Now the first lady is tall, so this spot for her length is a lot larger and therefore a lot easier to hit than we shorter people, but that doesn’t mean that we shorties can’t wear this longer look. It means our sweet spot is a lot smaller and therefore we have to be very careful about where we place this. In the Resource Center I have a good explanation of this and a tool to use to help you get the sweet spot on your longer skirts even if you’re short.

The next thing is that she has a slightly raised waist. This is that perfect placement of the waist that I’ve been talking about for about 2 years. There’s a number of things this higher waist placement does that’s really remarkable. The #1 thing is that it makes for a much softer, gentler line from where the waist indents to the hip line. If we put that belt right exactly on the waist (between the lowest rib bone and the highest part of our side hip bone), then you will have an automatic muffin top look because that high hip bone will stick out. No matter how much dieting you do, it won’t disappear. Dieting doesn’t affect one’s bones. Raising the waist will literally make your hips look smaller by making that line from your waist to your hip at a softer angle.


The #3 thing this does is make her legs look extra long, which goes toward the more up and down lengthening of her look. Longer skirts always make us look more graceful and taller and accentuate that proportion more than short skirts, and it’s a quick and easy way to do that is with a longer skirt.

The #4 thing to notice here is that this is a fairly tailored look. You would think that a swishy skirt, the waist-type dress wouldn’t be all that tailored, but here’s a perfect look for someone who’s wanting to add a dress to her wardrobe without looking frou-frou. It’s not gathered, the collar is very tailored, the cuff is finished (and I love that it’s pushed up or rolled up). This is exactly the style to add to a more tailored look. This first lady is a serious lady and doesn’t wear a lot of frou-frou. That’s her style.



In France with a homage to Dior

This over-all floral pattern is so feminine, yet the style is contained and tailored looking. There’s obviously some backing or under petticoat to make the skirt flare out in a very flattering manner. There’s a lot of fabric in this skirt, which is another homage to the Dior look.

Below you can see more of the dress. It has a very flattering blue belt. This belt is one of the first lady’s most favorite looks and she wears it very well. It’s raised slightly making for that very flattering line of the dress.



This dress is sleeveless, which a lot of us can’t/won’t wear, but using this design, adding a short or three-quarter sleeve is not that hard. In the Resource Center, I have a complete resource on how to draft your own sleeve to whatever set-in armhole you have. So if you have a dress without a sleeve, no matter, cause you can draft your own.



The Classic Polka-dot

This fabric design is one of those classics that can allow you to include a print or strip or any number of different looks with it. Dotted designs are so classic that they go with anything.

In this case, it stands alone with the white background, makes for a very cool, and airy look for summer. To keep this from flowing all over the place, the first lady wears a beautiful belt, in the thicker width that she wears so well.

The first lady is tall, so that means she can wear a pretty wide belt well. She has more space between her true waistline and her underbust. I’m short and I don’t have that much space, so we short folks have to be a little more careful of how thick our belts get because suddenly it covers most of the space from the raised waist to just under the bust. That’s not the look we’re looking for here – that’s too contained and severe. So keep your proportions in mind when you selecting the belt width to go with your outfit.


Summertime Dressing with a Dress

Again, with a popped up collar, nice belt width for her height rolled-up sleeves, and classic white dress, the airy-coolness of this dress screams summer. Don’t discount the popped up collar. I like it as it totally frames the face and keeps a lot of detail around the face. This is where we always want all the attention to be. If you don’t like a popped-up collar like this, try something like a cowl or other collar that frames the face. This isn’t a must, it’s simply a feature I like to point out as being very flattering and bringing a lot of attention toward the face.

One thing you notice in almost all of the first lady’s dresses is that they don’t have many gathers. This is not her look. I like this on her as it speaks to the classic and serious, professional look that she wishes to impart. I love these looks because there are a lot of women out there who want to look feminine, but don’t want to go overboard and look too frilly or ornate in a way that wouldn’t reflect their professional persona. None of us wants to look overdone or too one way or another. These classic looks of these dresses are the epitome of looking sharp, comfortable yet authentic and certainly


Here are a few more dresses, to show the tailored and classic nature of the dresses that the first lady likes to wear.

White and light-colored dresses are hard to wear in that white is the most projecting and therefore largest looking color out there. At the same time, nothing looks more summertime and cool than these light-colored dresses. There are a lot of options to keep these dresses from looking too big:

1. Keep them contained – wearing a lot of frills and gathers can get too big very quickly, so the best way to keep them from looking too big is using pleats (preferably sewn-down pleats), flares, gores, and darts. All of these keep the dress closer to you. Having the hem flare and swishy is part of having the whole idea of a dress, but keeping the rest of the dress contained helps a lot

2. Using a belt is a great way to contain and focus a dress. OK – you don’t have a small waist, then use a thin belt, place it above your waist just a little to allow for that nice waist to hip angle. Remember the first lady’s figure is mostly rectangular, so she doesn’t have the classic hourglass figure that would look good with a belt, but she carries it off. She’s really a great study in how she does this. She’s very smart and judicious about how she wears her belts.  The first lady is tall and can get away with a wider waistband than most of us, so make sure your proportion is good.  (Need some help with that – check out my Proportion resource in the library.)

3. The first lady can get away with no sleeves, which means less white fabric. If you feel you can’t or don’t want to, keep the sleeve short, keep it tailored and close to you. If you have a long sleeve, roll up the sleeve to again keep it from becoming a huge white spot.  This is where the 3/4 sleeve length is really fabulous.  If you do want something a little airy and full in your sleeve, add a modified circular flare to the sleeve, but keep it contained and not too frilly.

Don’t be afraid of white and light colors, keeping them contained and using accessories like belts and a clear waistband in the dress can make them a lovely garment for summer. When they are classic, that makes it even better for summer after summer after summer. There’s a lot of thought that goes into making a white dress work, but the great news here is that a lot of the work is done for you using these dresses as inspiration.

Carolina Herrera for Japan

I really loved this dress which the first lady wore for the Japan trip. This is a Carolina Herrera and really not surprising because Herrera’s style is not only classic but always exceptionally beautiful.

The simplicity of this dress belies its gorgeous style. It’s basically a tee-shirt type top with a gently flared skirt at the bottom. The dress is fitted using fabulous princess seams, which means that no matter what shape you are, this will fit. And here’s the kicker on this dress is that it looks just like a Japanese garden!

It’s a dress where the floral ornaments start on the right shoulder and work their way diagonally down to the left thigh. These can be embroidered appliques ( is a great source for this, but I also found these on Amazon of all places), and cut them apart and arrange them how you like. In case you need some confirmation, help or inspiration as to how to place, them, that’s what this dress can provide.

Let’s examine this more closely.


Starting at the top, there are two main focal points – the big flowers which are also 3-D. These don’t have to be 3-D, however, they do have to be larger to make them focal points. Around the flowers are other little buds, leaves, stems and even some bugs like ladybugs, bees, and butterflies.

This is moving at a diagonal (from right shoulder to left thigh). This is more commonly known as a dexter stripe, referring to the stripe on men’s ties which is usually from right shoulder to left waist. From left shoulder to right waist is known as a sinister stripe. Both of these are Latin names for the stripes; dexter = right, sinister = left. FYI!

This is based on tradition, historically when a young warrior would wear his sword, it was hung with a sash that would go around his right shoulder, and attach and his left waist. This was easier to grab with the right hand over to the left waist, rather than the left shoulder and reach at the righ waist… it yourself. Reach with your right hand over to your left waist and remove the make-believe sword from its scabbard. Now reach under your right arm and try and get a grip on the sword handle and remove it from the scabbard. Believe me – it takes forever.

That tradition has remained today so that when you see the sash on men’s formal wear, it is from the right shoulder to the left and here are the flowers arranged this way following this long tradition. You don’t have to do it that way, but it’s nice to know what the tradition is and why it is this way.

Moving on with the floral decoration, following that line from the upper right to the lower left, leaves, and other ancillary decorations are behind the flower, but flow out from the main 2 flowers. They mostly flow in that diagonal direction that the whole design is following, with the longest piece, stem or branch flower toward the lower left. What’s fun here is to add and take away as you like. This arrangement certainly could have gone lower, or have stayed shorter. There really isn’t a right or wrong to this. You want to keep the arrangement balanced and have a good direction and adhering to all the Elements and Principals of Design. I have a great resource in the library for this that is the shortcut that all artists learn at art school AND use everyday in creating their work, so there’s no reason we can’t use it to help us with things like the arrangement of these flowers.


And now for the bottom. The same direction continues, but notice that it doesn’t go all the way to the hem. This doesn’t mean that you can’t take it all the way to the hem, but if you do, keep the design light and minimal. There’s a reason though, that Herrera kept this to the thigh and this is one of the things that we can learn from this dress. Either there was problem with the movement of the skirt, or it didn’t look right or something. Simply be aware of this when you are putting your appliques on, and don’t be surprised if the prettiest arrangement is within the parameters that Herrera has used.


So you have the complete look, the back of this Herrera dress is plain. I probably would have put some flowers on it too, but the original didn’t have any. The most likely reason Herrera didn’t put any on the back is it would have substantially increased the retail cost. As it was the dress ran around $5,000, and could have easily run into the $8,000 to $9,000 with more embroidery on the dress. Now, more embroidery for us might run as much as $50 extra and some more time, but would also add to the look of the dress. If I were to do this, I would start again at the right shoulder back, and work down to the left thigh possibly moving the design so that it would connect at the top and at the bottom.

Here’s how this works. This is on a much more formal format, but the idea is the same.


So this is a dress I did for a rehearsal dinner dress for a client. She brought me one of her favorite dresses from her prom days and I did the same dress only in a white silk peau de soie. I did a mock-up for her so that she could see what was going to happy with the dress. This is fun to do even for your own benefit to get an idea of how the flowers, leaves, and all the other parts are going to work together so that you’re not doing it cold.

These pieces aren’t pulled apart from the original netting as much as I did in the end for Emily, as we literally put them on the dress as she was wearing it so she cold see how the whole thing was going to look.

This is the fabric that I took the pieces from.



Having done this before, I know how this will all go together and I wasn’t surprised at all when it all came together for her. But doing the mockup helped so much.



From the first lady’s dress, as additional inspiration, I would most likely make the embroidery flowers (I have one of those embroidery machines) and then cut them out and appliqued them onto the dress. You can also purchase netting fabric/lace that has the flowers and cut them out. I also would be very tempted to make this dress out of a light-weight stable knit like double knit or ponte knit. Also white is a very difficult color to wear so I’d probably go to a light gray or a celadon green or some other neutral color.

Hopefully this will give you some inspiration for including more dresses and skirts in your wardrobe. Although dresses look like they might be more frilly, there’s nothing more freeing and wonderfully powerful that swishing down the street in a dress with a high sashay factor!

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1 Comment
  1. This is a wonderful post and so illustrative of the points you want to make, Claire, so very helpful. It is also so timely for me as I am planning a long garment with painting going on the diagonal. Now I know where to start and finish. Dexter!!!

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