Saturday, September 26, 2020

Designer DIY returns!!

I know many of you, like I, have been bereft since the New York Times pulled the plug on its weekly Designer D.I.Y. feature.  Without it, how could we get ideas for how to produce sloppy, ramshackle low-tech craft items to adorn our bodies and homes?  If so, you will be happy to learn that D.I.Y is back in this week's issue, and it's every bit up to its previous standards.

This week's designer is Batsheva Hay, known for her "post-male-gaze prairie dress, an aesthetic that could perhaps be best described as ironic Amish."  I'm not sure what that means, but here's an example:

You will note that this dress is not one you would whip out on the sewing machine in a half hour.  It appears to be carefully made with standard garment-sewing techniques, which you would probably expect from a $400 outfit.  Hold that thought while we go to this week's project.

You're going to make yourself a dress out of your stash of "vintage Laura Ashley and Ralph Lauren pillowcases."  Batsheva explains that as a kid, she was showed by mom how to cut up old pillowcases that got holes in them.  

(I will pause for a minute to ask you how many pillowcases you have ever owned that got holes in them.  Sheets, yes, at the pressure points of toes and hands-grasping-below-the-chin, but pillowcases?  Perhaps her household was different.)

So assuming you have an old pillowcase lying around, you can turn it into a top.  It's easy -- and needle and thread are optional!

First make sure your pillowcase is wide enough to go around your torso.  I would recommend a tape measure, not a mirror.  I say this after more than one garment that looked like it fit in the store but didn't.  If it isn't big enough, get a second pillowcase, slice them both open on a side seam and sew them together "to your desired fit."

Now spread the case out on the table and "with the scissors, cut a neckline at the center of the closed end that's large enough to fit your head through.  Cut lines at the top of the left and right sides of the pillowcase large enough for your arms."

The second drawing shows how to hold a scissors, which may be helpful for some readers.

What do you want to bet that some people following these "directions" will (a) cut the neck hole too big, (b) cut the neck hole too small, (c) cut the front neckline too high or the back neckline too low, (d) cut the armholes to different lengths, and/or (e) not have the slightest idea how to get shoulder seams into the two-pillowcase combo that anybody with hip measurement more than 36" had to make?

If you didn't do any of the above, good news, "The top is basically finished."  But wait, if you want you can "sew the neck and arm holes neatly with a needle and thread or leave them raw, because that looks good, too."  Not sure exactly what you're doing when sewing the holes neatly -- overcasting? hemming? embroidering? but I'm sure people will figure out something.  (At least one person will probably sew the holes shut and then wonder why she can't put the top on.)

Hey, you can also add embellishments like buttons or trim!  

If that hasn't fulfilled your fashion wishes, Batsheva has another good idea -- add a skirt.  You can take another pillowcase, slit open the entire top end, step into it and pull it "up to where you would like it to rest, near your waist."  The designer, we're told parenthetically, "likes the skirt positioned a bit askew."  I think her wish will be amply fulfilled by the readers who get this far.

All drawings and photos from New York Times

"Using several safety pins, attach the two pillowcases together at the waist, adding a safety pin every inch or so, pinning all the way around."  

Do you worry that perhaps this "dress" will develop a few more holes the first time you try to sit down?  Especially since the safety pins aren't even positioned horizontally to get two pierces of the fabric instead of one?

Or perhaps you worry that if you wear this dress in public you will look like a 1930s urchin straight out of a cabin up the holler? 

The gauzy watercolor illustration of the dress looks pretty classy.  I suspect the actual dress, not so much.

Personally, I'd rather keep those vintage pillowcases as pillowcases, especially since you'll never be able to buy such good quality linens again at ten times what you paid for them back in the day.


  1. And just to add a special level of difficulty, let's use right-handed scissors with our left hand! Wow! You sure make this awful column entertaining!

  2. I noted the left hander using right hand scissors too. Not sure if it's good that lefty was shown, or bad that they think showing lefty how to use right hand scissors was necessary. I mean it's not like they haven't been doing that since kindergarten.

    The top instructions were a waste of paper and ink, but safety pinning a skirt on sent it straight to the dumpster. And lit on fire. The only good thing was your commentary on it's badness.

  3. Kathy, you are a riot! I love reading your critiques of these articles. Can there really be an editor that approves of these?

  4. One of my pillowcases does have a hole in it. As I loath mending and am the queen of procrastination, it has been getting bigger. Perhaps I won't need to cut a new hole to make my dress. Your critiques of these articles are priceless!

  5. Thank you so much for posting this!! I'm on a news fast this weekend, the news is so miserable, and this is a perfect antidote. Funny! Do you think anyone really makes these things?

  6. My parents were Amish as children, and I can tell you, that ain’t Amish, ironic or not. Pillowcase dresses are for 3-5 yr olds, not grown women. Once again, thanks for the laughs!!

  7. Thoroughly enjoyed your critique. First gut-busting laugh this year. Would be fun to see photos from NYT readers modeling their pillowcase creations....

  8. This is a good way to make clothes when you are under 9 and haven't figured out how to use the sewing machine yet. I am still trying to figure out "ironic". My nephew took my old tv for his dorm room because he said it was ironic.

  9. I just love reading your blog because you are so funny. Not sure how the gauzy watercolor relates to the green prairie dress...quite ironic that the gauzy pillowcase is long enough to reach the model's ankles.

    1. Donna, the green dress is what the designer sells for $400. The watercolor is a highly optimistic rendering of what is supposed to come out of the pillowcase project.

  10. There are so many more awaiting your critiques...I cannot wait: