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Spot the Pattern in Dolin O'Shea's Little Black Dress Book

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Dolin O'Shea, a Bay Area patternmaker who spent years at Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, has a new book for all you fashion lovers and DIY enthusiasts. Famous Frocks: The Little Black Dress ($29.95, Chronicle Books) features a famous LBD from each decade, including Coco Chanel's jersey dress in the 20s and Kate Moss's sexy lace mini-dress of the millennium. (And yes, you'll find Audrey in the middle.)

Unlike the usual fashion tome, Dolin's book comes with step-by-step instructions and sewing patterns to make the looks she features. We had a chance to chat with Dolin, so we quizzed her on everything you want to know about her new book, vintage shopping, and tips on buying clothes that fit.

Tell us more about the projects in your book, Famous Frocks. How good of a sewer do we need to be to make the dresses?

Most of the LBD projects in the book are fit for an intermediate sewer, but there are a few really good beginning sewing projects. The boat neck A-line dress featuring Princess Diana is the easiest one to sew and a classic shape. The next easy project is the knit fabric wrap dress as worn by Liza Minnelli. Three of the variation projects are separates and would be great for a beginner: Joan Crawford's A-line skirt, Grace Kelly's pencil skirt, and the Anjelica Huston bias cut blouse.

What are your favorite old movies?

I love all of the Thin Man movies which have great dialogue and gorgeous 1930's fashions. Of course I have to mention just about all of Audrey Hepburn films, but Sabrina and Funny Face are two of my favorites. Another 1930's gem is The Women. For some of my favorite elegantly simple 1950's style, I would love to have the entire wardrobe of Kim Novak's character in Bell, Book and Candle.

What are some of your favorite vintage pieces you have collected over the years?

I love collecting vintage 60's coats. On a visit to Port Townsend, Washington, I found a small vintage store that looked interesting. I was browsing through the racks and spotted this amazing turquoise/green/blue plaid fabric. I pulled out the garment to get a closer look, then spotted those recognizable brass toggle closures. I looked inside for a label and there it was "A Bonnie Cashin Design." Sigh! That by far has been my favorite score and I always get compliments on that coat.

Where are you favorite places to shop vintage in the Bay Area?

I'm making a lot of my own clothes lately and I love vintage shopping for inspiration. Here are some places I frequent:
1. The Alameda Antiques Faire: This happens on the first Sunday of each month. There is a bit of everything there, so if you are in the market for more than vintage clothes, this would be the place to go.
2. The Vintage Fashion Expo: This event happens twice each season (spring and fall) in SF. It is so fun while at the same time a bit overwhelming because of the amount of amazing clothing and accessories. My favorite is to drool over the vintage Chanel. Talk about eye candy!
3. Black and Brown: This is a vintage and consignment shop in San Jose, that I like to browse in. I have found some great pieces of clothing here.
4. Mercy Vintage Now: I have only been to this place once, but am dying to go back again the next time I am in Oakland. They have a great selection of high-quality clothes and accessories.

These days it seems like vanity sizing has gone into overdrive. You have spent 20+ years as a patternmaker, what is a tip that most of us need to know while shopping for clothes?

Buy what fits the biggest part of you best. For example, buy a shirt or jacket that easily closes over your bust. If it is too big at your waist or too long, you can get it altered. We are all guilty of letting our ego get in the way, but try not to shop by a specific size or number. Those sizing numbers don't mean a whole lot since there is no standardized sizing in the US. You can be many different sizes in all the different brands. This is even more important when you are taking the time and money to sew garments for yourself. You will have much more success with finished projects if you use your actual body measurements of the pattern you are making, rather than the number of the size. Just remember, you can always take a garment in if it's too big, but you can't always let a garment out if it is too small. Natalie Zee Drieu
· Famous Frocks [Chronicle Books]
· All One on One posts [Racked]