Whimsy Through Chic Embellishments: Guest Post by Cation Designs

From Steph: Cindy writes about sewing, design and the Adventures of Walnut over at her blog- Cation Designs.  I love everything Cindy makes, the sheet dresses, the corduroy corsets, cloaks, 1912 ensembles, qipaos and more recently I’ve been really loving her Remaking and Replacing RTW project. She even made a free downloadable Dolman Sleeve Top pattern for cool weather sewing!  Cindy does great work and I love her taste.  She was so kind to write a post for Frosting Fortnight and how she learned to work whimsy into her everyday wardrobe.  Enjoy!  I’ll be back in a few days with some turbo-exciting posts on Mending, Blending and Ending.

…she had me at “qipao”… Click for source!

Friends, by now you are probably very familiar with the terms frosting and cake. Ever since Tasia’s post, they have become sewing blogosphere shorthand for garments that are too whimsical, frothy, and impractical for everyday wear, and practical workhorse garments that go with multiple items in one’s wardrobe, respectively. While some may bristle at the idea of cake being a daily food item, I am personally a fan of the idea of enjoying something sweet every day. But regardless of whether you make dessert a part of every meal, I think we can all agree that having frosting every day (all the butter! all the cream! all the sugar!) is probably not the best nutritional choice. And even if it were, I think I would get sick of it after a while! But I digress. Let’s not belabor the analogy, eh?

For the first year after I started sewing seriously, all I did was make frosting, and boy was it fun! I was all about the froofy dresses and quirky prints — things that either got worn once at a wedding and then disappeared into the back of the closet, or dresses that 1) made my husband want to walk two paces behind me, so as not to be associated with the lady in the hippo dress, or 2) difficult for me to be taken seriously as an adult. And you know what? For the most part, that’s fine with me. But for the times when I need to pretend to be normal…ahhh, that’s the trouble. I want to still feel like me, that is, unique and somewhat whimsical and weird. So the question became, how do I work that whimsy into everyday wear?

I was fortunate enough to come across The Bishop Method of Clothing Construction at a thrift store this summer, and besides having helpful sewing tips, it includes a chapter at the end titled “Details on clothes for simple elegance in fashion.” Well golly, if that isn’t exactly what I need! Here are some of the details that the Bishop Method suggests for livening up your everyday wear, almost all of which are based off of knowing how to make your own bias tubing.

These bows are all made from bias trim. The book stresses that the bows should be handsewn as inconspicuously as possible, “such that it hardly seems to exist.”
This bias trim detailing at the neckline is pressed to fit the curve of the neckline, and then two lengths of cording are rolled up to make the flowers at the side.
More scrollwork made from rolled-up cording on the left; bias trim with tassels on the right.

The rest of the chapter is full of other charming details such as interesting buttons, the clever use of fringe, self-fabric flowers, cut-outs, and appliques, but there are some more…errr, unfortunate suggestions as well:

Those tassels over self-fabric covered buttons right below the neckline are just…well…oh dear.

Most interesting for me, though, was this chart about just how many details one is allowed in a single outfit. The Bishop Method assigns points to each aspect of a well-dressed woman’s outfit; keep in mind that this book was written in 1959!

Most of my odder outfits don’t exceed the 9-point “daytime wear” limit only because I don’t wear a hat or gloves. Heaven help me if it’s raining and I have to carry an umbrella!

I think we’re much less concerned about some arbitrary point-value these days, but the bottom line still remains: add some whimsy, yes, but don’t go overboard. Even if one is making the cakiest of cakes, there are still options for adding a fun focal point — some funfetti, if you will — to the cake, while still keeping it from turning into frosting. For me, that means adding details to the basic tops I need to go along with all my RTW bottoms. I’ve been churning out tees the last few weeks, but using some of the Bishop Method’s tips to add interest:

An oversized bow almost looks like a contrast collar!
Fun buttons at the shoulder and bright colors keep this from being just another ho-hum t-shirt.
And if it absolutely has to be just a neutral color t-shirt without extra trim, you can add graphics with fabric paint or markers like here on the Battle of Yavin Top.
Alternately, instead of adding stuff to a top, try making it in different fabrics, like this baseball tee I made with sheer net raglan sleeves.

I’ll be honest with you, I had almost as much fun sewing these tops as I did my most outrageous dresses. Knowing that I’ll have an eminently wearable top that still has personality makes up for the lack of animals or superheroes! Anyway, I hope that between the Bishop Method and my own recent makes, you’ve got some ideas for injecting a dose of whimsy into your everyday wear. Think of it like cutting open a boring looking cake, only to find that it’s funfetti inside!

What do you think about the “points system”?  How about those chest tassels?  And wow- I’m dying to make a sheer baseball tee.  Thanks, Cindy!

Check out Mari’s most recent Frosting Fortnight posts, including laundry tips, over at Disparate Disciplines!


  1. LOVING THIS!! What an interesting book. You did the bow idea so well! I already stole your button idea and am planning on making a raglan sleeve top in contrasting fabrics too. Hurrah for replacing RTW with more interesting things!

  2. I love reading Cindy’s blog and this guest post just further explains why! These embellishment ideas are great – I may have to hunt out this book myself. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks Steph for having Cindy as a guest for frosting week!

    Cindy I love your button idea – such a simple but effective method. Had to giggle at the tassled buttons – I don’t think they will be a strategy I employ. The use of bias looks fabulous and I can see some experiments coming up in this house!

    As to the points system – it actually appeals to me but then I do like to have things “neat and tidy” lol. OK so the muff and gloves will never work as I’m in Brisbane near Steph – the weather here is way too hot! On the flip side a hat is an essential everyday item.

    thanks again :)

  4. The points system of dressing is something I could totally get behind. So many women in London just pile stuff on regardless, and even then all of it is embroidered/studded/tasseled. Saying that, I do struggle between being too plain and too patterned and finding a happy medium.
    I really like those triangular buttonholes. Does anyone know how that could be done? It has to be a variation of bound buttonholes, right?

    Great post, despite the nipple tassels.

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  7. I think I’m adopting the point system for work-wear! Yes, I’m 30 and I think I’m still learning to dress like a grown up. I need to learn to make embellishments like these that let me have pretty things without shocking my very conservative colleagues. That seems like an awesome compromise.

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  9. Oh, I bet a current women’s magazine would not shy away from a point system at all! If you want to reach as many people as you can, and still sound simple, you reach for such devices…

    Though I like taking inspiration from pictures better. I love your sheer sleeved baseball tee, and I love all those cording details from the book – especially that neckline with “flowers”.

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  11. Hahaha, I just plugged one of my favorite everyday work outfits into this point system, and it hit 18 pretty quickly, not even taking into account that my hair is bright pink and usually covered in barrettes. My coworkers are very quirky themselves though, and usually my most outragious outfits are the most complimented. I think weather or not you are overdressed really depends on the enironment you spend most of your time in.

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