{DIY} Meet an FOF who makes her own clothes

There are “strokes of genius” and then there are “stitches of genius.” Karen Oliver has the latter. This FOF sews and crafts nearly her entire wardrobe, hundreds of gorgeous garments and jewelry that look like a million bucks but sometimes end up costing as little as $14 dollars.

Karen taught herself to sew at the age of 13. “I wanted nice clothes, but my parents didn’t have a lot of money to buy them for me,” says Karen. “The beauty of sewing is you can say, ‘I want that skirt in that green,’ and chances are you’ll be able to make what you’re thinking about.”

Once a week, Karen hits up her favorite fabric and bead stores in the Garment District, including Mood Designer Fabrics and M&J Trimming. (One time, she scored a yard of luxe Loro Piana cashmere for just $19 dollars!)  Sometimes she goes to buy fabric with an idea in mind, other times it’s not until she sees a fabric that the inspiration takes place. “My philosophy is, ‘how hard can it be’?'” says Karen.

Nearly every evening, Karen takes out her portable Bernina sewing machine and gets to work on the dining room table of her 1000 square-foot apartment. Sometimes she sews or beads through the wee hours of the night. One time, she stayed up the entire evening helping her friend, an editor at People magazine, sew something to wear for a gala. “The mark of loving something is you’re never tired while doing it,” says Karen. “I’m never tired when I’m creating.”

Take a look at Karen’s hand-crafted outfits below. Do you have a favorite?

Skirt,  jacket and belt: Made by Karen in a french silk faille from B&J Fabrics.
Blouse: Milly from Bloomingdales.”I would have made it myself but I ran out of time.”
Earrings: “They’re from a little shop in Paris. I’ve had them for 35 years.”
Necklace: “It’s vintage. My mother got it at an antique shop in Carmel, California.


Tunic and wrap: Made by Karen. “The tunic cost me $14 to make and took about 3 hours.”
Choker: “I bought it in Cannes.”
Necklace (middle): “I got it in Mexico.”
Chain-link necklace: Made by Karen
Greek-key belt: Made by Karen


Vest: Made by Karen with French-lace detailing
Made by Karen in cashmere. “I make this same skirt in every color. It fits just right.”
Blouse: Yves Saint Laurent
Necklaces: Vintage Chanel. “Yeah, I have Chanel pieces. But, I do them with my own twist.”


Coat: Made by Karen. “It’s a knock off of a coat I found from Zara.
Yves Saint Laurent
Skirt: Made by Karen. “It’s the same skirt [as in outfit 3 above], just in a different fabric.”
Scarf: Hermès

{Read the entire interview with Karen, here}

{DIY} High-Design DIY

For many, “crafting” conjures images of kitten sweaters, macrame plant holders and cross-stitch samplers. But a new generation of DIY-ers has created an online crafting Renaissance, of sorts, with sophisticated, high-design patterns and projects. Why check your style at the knitting-store door?  You don’t have to…. Here, our FOF knitting & sewing gurus recommend the websites that will inspire you to make something FOFantastic.

1. Deborah Purtell Coaster Squares. FOF Deborah Purtell designs delightfully preppy needlepoint canvases for beach totes, belts, glasses cases and more. Your family will be shocked when you DIY your own Lilly Pulitzer look-alikes.

2. Hazelwood by Robin Melanson Pattern and Budding Apple Shawl, (9). This nifty nautical sweater looks like J.Crew’s fall favorite but it’s actually a knitting pattern from Twist Collective, a carefully curated online magazine created in partnership with top knit designers and photographers. –Recommended by FOF Guru Diannerj

3 Purl Soho Color Change Scarf & (7) Purl Soho Pillow Purlsoho.com is the web home of Purl shop, a crafting mecca in Manhattan launched by two former Martha Stewart editors. The site is a beautifully organized archive of knitting, sewing and needlework ideas inspired by vintage clothing, folk art, modern art, Asian art, and of course, Martha.

4. Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Back, Henri Matisse, $8. Put down that “Home Sweet Home” cross-stitch sampler, and take a tip from FOF Guru Corky. “I love counted cross stitch, but most kits are mawkish. The Art of Stitching offers something totally different: fine art transferred onto cross-stitch canvass. The level of craftsmanship needed to create many of these masterpieces is very high. The results from some of the stitchers rival the finest Renaissance tapestries and anyone would be proud to display these works in their homes.”

5. Loom Knitting Bangles, free pattern. “I enjoy the work of Purling Sprite…a blog that includes lots of info on loom knitting (one of my passions!)” says FOF guru Dmhsny.

6. Penguin & Fish blog is a site filled with wonderfully quirky needlepoint canvasses designed by children’s book illustrator Alyson Thomas. Don’t miss her children’s alphabet series.

8. Brighton Bag from Knitty.com, FOF Amy Singer launched Knitty.com over ten years ago to showcase the gorgeous knit designs of amateur crafters across the country. As curator, Amy offers a discerning eye–and lots of fab free patterns. —Recommended by FOF Guru Diannerj

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{What do you think of this look?} Crafty? couture? (or crazy?)

Some FOFs are just cut from a different cloth. This FOF ditched the usual Dior, DVF and Donna Karan duds in favor of hand-stitching her own Fashion Week getup. Was this a fashion risk worthy of reward? Read what our FOF style gurus think. Then you weigh in. Tell us, is this look: Crafty? Couture? (Or crazy?)

FOF Susan Grant: “This certainly doesn’t flatter her nor have any attractive qualities on it’s own. The coat is too voluminous and garishly adorned with flowers and mismatched buttons. Her outfit screams ‘look at me,’ or actually, ‘look away!’”

Susan Grant is merchandise manager for Muse, a full-service jewelry showroom.


FOF Sherrie Mathieson: “This outfit has a ‘crafty,’ home-sewn look. It’s girly with a potholder motif. I’d never confuse this with couture. Was she wearing this long ensemble during daytime? If so, add ‘inappropriate’ to my less-than-enthused reaction.”

Sherrie Mathieson is a leading style expert and Random House author of Steal this Style and Forever Cool.


FOF Lovey Dash: “It is very crafty but not very couture. She could improve this look with black boots, leggings and a black top. She’d be better off without the dress entirely, it’s too glam with the casual coat.”

Lovey Dash is a Beverly Hills-based stylist. She was formerly in VIP sales for Louis Vuitton on Rodeo Drive.


FOF Sandra Soich: “Oh my! She’s dating herself with too much fabric for a mature woman. Something with cleaner, moving lines would be a better choice. This ensemble says, ‘matron.’”

Sandra Soich is wardrobe stylist to the stars and founder of YourFashionTherapist.com.


FOF Terry Gibralter: “I salute this FOF’s attempt to express herself through fashion, but it really looks like a home ec project gone astray. I don’t like the muddy-color palette paired with the badly appliqued pink flowers. Then there’s the striped, chain bag piped in red… Yikes! If you want to wear something this bold it must be impeccably tailored and well thought out.”

Terry Gibralter is the founder of Bespoke Custom Shopping Tours, carefully-crafted shopping “vacations” and a self-proclaimed, “fashion-obsessed” FOF.


FOF Susan Hersh: “This is definitely NOT couture. It looks more like a costume you’d see at Disney World. You could get lost in all that fabric, and even if not, it adds an extra ten pounds to your figure.  I cannot think of one place or event a woman could wear this.”

Susan Hersh is a Ford model and the host and executive producer of Meet The Experts.


FOF Linda Cohen:She obviously has her own point of view–I give her credit for that. She may be making a statement using recycled and vintage materials, but there is nothing appealing about this outfit at all for any FOF women. In the fashion world we used to call these home-economic  project looks ‘loving hands at home.'”

Linda Cohen owns her own consulting business specializing in retail merchandising.


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