My latest Simple Sew blog make is the fairly recently released Utility Dress, an easy-fitting style with elasticated back waist, drawstring front waist and kimono-shape sleeves. I would say that it’s suitable for softer woven fabrics like chambray, cotton lawn, washed linen or fluid viscose-types, or soft woollens for winter. Having said all of that I chose to make mine in a medium-weight jersey in a tan/black dogtooth check design from Doughty’s Online fabric store. It still works well but you just need to take care not to accidentally stretch some areas such as the neckline in particular and the shoulders. Because of the busy design on this fabric I left out the CF seam and cut the front on a fold instead, thus avoiding any difficult pattern matching down the seam.
I reinforced the neckline using narrow strips of iron-on interfacing I cut myself but you could use the readymade type, I did the same on the front shoulder seams too. You could even use up short lengths of ribbon here for a pretty effect inside.
As always I deviated from the method of construction a couple of times. After joining the front and back at the shoulders, instead of using ready made bias binding to neaten the neck edge I cut two narrow strips of the jersey which were slightly shorter than the neck edge [the amount will vary depending on how stretchy your fabric is. It’s usually about 85% of the neckline measurement]
Fold them in half lengthwise to form two narrow strips and then place one over the other at a right angle with the folded edges on the ‘inside’ of the V.
Then reinforce the V on the dress with a row of stitches just within the seam allowance, turning at the V, then carefully snip into the V up to the stitching line.
With right sides together pin the binding to the V section only initially [see the photo to clarify this] and stitch this V section in place by about 5cms either side of the V. Pivot and open the snip as you sew to allow the binding to sit neatly and flat on top of the neck edge. If you’re in any doubt then tack this section first to prevent it moving.
I pinned on the rest of the neck binding double-checking the length was short enough before sewing the join at the CB. Now you can stitch on the remainder of the band knowing that the V is already sewn accurately. [Thank you Melissa Fehr for this new technique, she uses it in her activewear patterns and I’ve found it gives a nice neat result] Trim and neaten the seam on the inside if required and then you can topstitch it down to prevent the binding rolling.
Next I ignored the method for putting the sleeves on. Instead of sewing the side seams up leave them open so that you can open the garment out flat and pin and sew the sleeve strips on more easily.
Now sew up the side seams including the sleeve bands. Fold the bands up towards the sleeves and either neaten/overlock the raw edge before stitching it down though the stitching line or turn the raw edge under and slip stitch in position.
Moving on to the skirt and putting in the hip pockets. I used scraps of matching fabric for the pocket lining as I was concerned that the pattern might show through skirt front. This can reduce bulk too if you’re using a heavier-weight fabric.
After the pocket bags are complete comes the waistband. I followed the instructions although I think there might be an easier way, I just haven’t worked it out on this version. Although it says there’s a chart to tell you what length to cut the elastic for the back waistband I couldn’t find it anywhere! In the end I decided to cut it half my waist measurement minus about another 6cms, to allow for the stretching and gathering up. I used a length of grosgrain ribbon to go in the front casing.
I used a zip foot when sewing the waistband to the top of the skirt because I felt it made it less likely that I’d sew accidentally through the ribbon and elastic.
After joining the top and skirt together all that remains is to hem the skirt. I used a twin needle to do this but you could just turn it up twice and stitch. If you do use jersey fabric for this dress it’s best to sew it with a ballpoint/stretch/jersey needle so that you don’t ladder the fabric as you sew.
This is a nice comfortable style which I’ll enjoy wearing. Disappointingly there are silly errors again in the instructions which is always so annoying, I hope this won’t be enough to put you off trying this Simple Sew style though which is a bit of a departure from their more usual vintage-style dresses.
It’s occurred to me that I’ve read a number of fashion-related books in the last couple of years which I found really enjoyable but the only two I’ve ever reviewed here was the autobiography of Vivienne Westwood, and a double biography of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano called Gods and Kings. You can still read the original posts here for the Westwood and likewise Gods and Kings although I must have fiddled with them in the past because I don’t think any of the photos now appear with them, sorry about that. I found both books well written, very readable and insightful into the lives and inspirations of all three protagonists.
I also enjoyed reading “Blow by Blow” which is a biography of the life and influence of stylist and patron of up-and-coming fashion designers, Isabella Blow. Written by her husband Detmar Blow after her sad death in 2007 it gives an insight into her passions and creative joie de vivre which saw her discover, promote and support Alexander McQueen and milliner Philip Treacy. Sadly, she and McQueen became somewhat estranged and her death affected him very badly. Philip Treacy, however, still speaks very warmly of her kindness, humour, and possibly her best known public quality, sartorial eccentricity. There was no hat or outfit which she deemed too ridiculous to wear out in public if it promoted her favourite young designers! In spite of coming from a wealthy background she was frequently hard up but was always generous and supportive of her protegees.
Next up is a biography of Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie. Again I found it well-written and readable (always the most important factor as far as I’m concerned, if it’s all as dry as dust and doesn’t bring it’s subject matter alive to me then it’s not going to hold my interest for long, no matter how many interesting photos there are) I discovered that Gabrielle Chanel had a sad childhood about which she was very cagey in later life and an often-colourful love life too. [Amusing fact-I knew that the film version of Dad’s Army from 2016 was factually inaccurate from having read this book! A woman discovered to be the spy at the end of the film was ‘exposed’ because she was wearing Chanel outfits direct form Paris-this was impossible because Chanel closed down her salon for the duration of the war!]
One of my most recent fashion-related reads has been former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman’s diary of the magazine’s centenary year in 2016, ‘Inside Vogue’. As you might expect from a woman with 25 years in the most influential position in British magazine publishing she offers interesting insights into how all the elements for the centenary edition, including the secret photo shoot with the Duchess of Cambridge, gradually came together. All this was happening alongside the regular monthly publications, plus the exhibition to be held at the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Vogue Festival with a wide variety of speakers and seminars, and a celebratory gala dinner. She finishes the book on the eve of the Brexit referendum vote….
My penultimate book is a ‘bust the budget’ one about milliner Philip Treacy. I went to an evening ‘in conversation’ with him at the V&A (not me, someone else was talking to him, we just listened!!) It was such an enjoyable evening, the audience were held in wrapt attention as he has the most beautiful soft Irish lilt and told such charming and engrossing stories of his life and career that we didn’t want him to stop [I recommend listening to him on Desert Island Discs if you can find it as a podcast, you’ll get a sense of what I mean] I queued 45 minutes to buy the book afterwards and then another 45 minutes to have him sign it for me. It was worth the wait as I now have a personal, and very individual, inscription in the front. It’s a hefty coffee table book that’s for sure but it’s a lovely one to be able to see just how many high-profile clients he has had since being ‘discovered’ by Isabella Blow. These have included Lady Gaga, members of the Royal family and Grace Jones amongst many others.
And finally, the most recently published book I’ve acquired is The Fashion Chronicles written by fashion historian Amber Butchart. This is a nice little book which you can dip in and out of to learn about the people she considers to be amongst the most influential in clothing and fashion throughout history. Some of her choices are quite surprising and definitely no predicable, it’s well written and well illustrated. I’d love there to be a second series of “A Stitch in Time” as it was as much about social history as the development of clothing in the past but sadly she doesn’t think there will be at the present time.
So that’s my not very comprehensive review of some books about fashion that I’ve enjoyed and which you might too. The links I’ve provided are generally to Amazon but I’m in no way affiliated to them, nor was I sponsored or paid to write about any of these books so all views expressed are my own.
Firstly, some context. My dear friend and culture-buddy, Jenny, is getting married in April next year and I want something nice to wear for the wedding! I had no preconceived idea of what I wanted except that it needs to go with the beautiful grey hat I bought for a family wedding in July this year. I’d visited the Knitting & Stitching Show in October and almost as we were leaving we passed the Trend Patterns stand. I’d had a look at their patterns last year and was really impressed by their high-end design-led styles but ultimately decided they probably were a bit too ‘out there’ for my everyday clothes (and, dare I say it, my age…) This time though, I spotted the asymmetric dress as a sample in black crepe on the rail and instantly thought it would be perfect for the wedding. Added to which, we’re going on a cruise in March so I could get extra use from the pattern with my posh frock requirements for that haha.
I like the quirky uneven hem and off-centre front seam, waistline and neck but it was all still the right side of wearable, for me.
I’d had some royal blue crepe from Hitchin market in my stash for quite a while so this is what I’ve made the first version in.
I started off by tracing off all the pieces, because of the asymmetry almost all the pieces are singles except the back bodice, the front skirt pieces are particularly large. If you decide to trace it’s vital that you transfer the grainline accurately and label all the parts correctly otherwise you could end up in a muddle.
The same goes for cutting out too. Don’t reverse or flip any of the pieces as this could mean they may end up not matching or piecing together correctly.
This style is sleeveless but I wanted to add sleeves to make it a winter dress. To do this, first I measured the armhole accurately and then I got really lazy and chose the sleeve from another pattern, in this case the Orla blouse by Tilly and the Buttons because it features a pleated sleeve-head which would allow for any differences in their measurements.
Because my fabric is plain the cutting out was straightforward enough although, that said, I had to lay it out on the floor because the fabric is a single layer, full-width so it was physically quite taxing. If your fabric has a right and wrong side be reallydiligent about keeping all the pattern pieces the correct way up, it’s not a dress to cut out if you’re tired or not concentrating.
As I was adding sleeves I decided not to do the facing to enclose the neck and armholes and to fully line the bodice instead, which would finish off the neck edge. I’d then overlock the armholes once the sleeves were in. Something worth remembering if you’re going to line this dress is that every piece except the backs should be reversed because of the asymmetry. IF the lining is the same on both sides this isn’t so important but if you’ve chosen something with a distinct right and wrong side then it’s vital if you want it to look nice inside as well as out. Don’t forget that the seam allowances are just 1cm, not the more usual 1.5cms for most patterns.
I have to say that although the dress is classified as ‘easy’ I really think this would tax a beginner a lot. As you probably know if you read my blogs regularly I’ve been sewing for years and I didn’t find all the explanations and methods terribly clear. I think this is possibly because the patterns are made by a lady who has worked in industry rather than home-sewing where methods can be quite different, and I do appreciate she is aiming to offer us patterns which are more fashion-led. It isn’t that I think the instructions are wrong, they aren’t particularly, it’s just that the wording isn’t very clear, there isn’t enough explanation and the accompanying photos are too small and a bit dark. I got there in the end but it’s something to be aware of. I’d suggest basting pieces together first if you’re in any doubt, trying it on and then continuing a stage at a time, and definitely don’t skip stay-stitching the neckline as you don’t want it stretched. I always try very hard not to outright criticise a pattern because I know it’s someone’s hard work but the description for zip insertion really needs looking at. Basically there isn’t any description, this is fine if you can wing it but to truly be an ‘easy’ pattern then there needs to be more description of what’s expected than this and also better photos or drawings.
The Orla sleeves went in perfectly and the shoulder pleat looked very in-keeping with the rest of the dress. I didn’t line the sleeves and, at the moment, I haven’t lined the skirt either, I’ll wear a slip under it. [The simple truth is I couldn’t get my head around how to reverse the skirt lining for the off-centre waist seam and to take out the overlap which isn’t needed in the lining! CBA for this version to be honest] I cut a 14 straight out of the packet and I’m very happy with the sizing, I feel it came up accurately to the measurements giving.
Ultimately I really like this dress and I’m looking forward to making another one, or possibly two, for the wedding and the cruise. It’s striking and unusual but also very wearable, and it makes a real change from some of the mimsy styles that can sometimes proliferate. It works beautifully in crepe but soft fabrics like georgette or crepe de Chine could look beautiful. Or if you look at Trend’s own website there is a fabulous structured brocade version which looks terrific. A stripe or a checked tweed could look really interesting too, there are loads of possibilities. Trend Patterns are at the higher end of indie pricing so they won’t be for everyone but if you want to try more challenging styles which are very much fashion forward then they are definitely worth considering.
Have you tried any trend patterns, or are you tempted to?
I wasn’t familiar with textile artist Anni Albers but when I saw that Charlotte (English Girl at Home) had made a visit from Birmingham I thought it must be worth a look.
I wasn’t disappointed either. You don’t need to have any previous idea of this artist’s work to enjoy and appreciate the quality of what you see before you in this exhibition at Tate Modern in London until January 27th, 2019.
To give you a little bit of background, Anneliese Fleichmann was born in Berlin, Germany in 1899, she was encouraged to study drawing and painting, becoming a student at the Bauhaus in 1922 where she met artist Josef Albers, marrying him in 1925. Not every class was available to women and she had been unable to get into glassmaking whilst at the Bauhaus [a renowned combined crafts and Fine Arts school from 1919 to 1933 before being closed by the Nazis] so she reluctantly attended textile weaving instead. She soon became fascinated by the whole process of weaving and gradually developed her distinctive geometric style.
She and her husband, who were both Jewish by birth although she herself was baptised a Protestant, eventually moved to the USA in 1933 where they taught at the experimental Black Mountain Academy in North Carolina, an art school with a kind of ’summer camp’ ethos of studies and farm and domestic work.
She continued to experiment and create throughout her long life although eventually she gave up weaving because of the physical strain it placed on her preferring, instead to create prints and monographs.
She was commissioned a number of times to create textiles for specific situations including domestic, hotels and student accommodation. These items included rugs and diaphanous hanging room dividers.
Here are just a few of my photographs, many don’t do full justice to the intricacies of the weave or the subtleties of the colours but hopefully they will give you a taste.
Sketches of design ideas.
Wall hangings and room-dividers.
Albers moved on to drawing and printmaking as she got older, often her subject was knots! Top right is a rug. She continued to explore textile-related areas though such as pattern, line, texture and knotting.
In the same room there are 3 huge screens showing the process of weaving in close up which was enthralling.
As I said earlier, you don’t need to know anything about Albers to enjoy this exhibition. My good friend Jenny (my culture buddy!) is a busy Vicar with no art or textiles experience but we always find much to enjoy on our visits to galleries even if they are outside our usual preferences or knowledge. The work on display here is beautiful and tactile (but don’t touch!) and could look very much at home in a domestic setting, not something I can always say about some art work we’ve seen!
Usually when I write a Simple Sew blog post it’s a garment for me but this time the finished article is for my friend Janet. We had a shopping trip to London’s Goldhawk Road a little while ago to choose fabric for a dress for Janet’s daughter to wear to a family wedding and while we were in Classic Textiles we got distracted and spotted this lovely pastel tweed. There wasn’t a lot left so she snapped it all up as well as some pretty matching lining, we didn’t have a pattern in mind but I knew I’d have something suitable at home.
The jacket got put on the back-burner for a few months because I had the dress for the wedding to make first, and then a last minute dress for Janet herself to wear too so it dropped down the priorities.
With the wedding out of the way in August I could revisit the project. Because there wasn’t a lot of fabric and there could be tricky pattern matching to do I didn’t want a pattern that was too complex with a lot of pieces so when I found the Notch Collar jacket I thought it would be perfect.
If you’re going to make this jacket yourself I would say it’s VITAL to make a toile first. In my opinion it’s quite narrow across the front and shoulders so if you’re fuller-busted you will probably need to do an FBA. With this in mind I was really pleased, and a bit surprised, when the toile fitted Janet perfectly with no alterations but then she is quite petite build.
If you read my pattern reviews regularly you’ll know that I’m not usually a ‘tracer’ but because Janet is so much smaller than me, and I may want to use the pattern again sometime, I opted to trace this one. If you’re short of fabric or if it’s going to be tricky pattern matching it can be really helpful to make pairs of any pieces that require 2 eg. Left front and right front, a pair of sleeves or the whole back rather than just place on a fold. In this case though I folded the fabric carefully in half and pinned in numerous places through the fabric so that I knew the checks were matching on the under layer.
Because of the wide width of the fabric I could easily place the front and back side by side so I knew that the check would match down the side seam as far as possible. Because of the dart it wouldn’t match near the underarm seam though, this is inevitable.
I didn’t cut out the sleeves in tweed at this stage. I cut everything out in lining too with the addition of a pleat of extra fabric in the back to allow for movement. I also cut facings which incidentally I’d made a lot wider than the originals-I think they are too narrow. [later on I discovered that there’s no lower back facing piece and very little hem allowed to turn it up either. I made my own by tracing the lower edge of the back pattern up to the same depth as my front facings-8cms-so that they match when joined at the side seams.]
To stabilise the tweed and give it some extra body I interlined the fronts and back with some calico and basted it to the tweed within the seam allowances around the edges. This is known as ‘mounting’ the fabric and is a very useful technique if you have a fabric that needs stabilising or a little more body for some reason.
I immediately disagreed with the instructions here because, after making the darts, the first thing I would do is make the pockets and sew them on. Because the fabric frays quite a bit I opted to use some lining as well as the facing to ‘bag out’ the pockets. This makes them more stable as well as neater. After matching the checks I top-stitched them on but that pushed everything out of alignment so I ripped that stitching out and hand-sewed them on instead. These aren’t pockets that will need to take a lot of weight so they should be plenty strong enough.
After joining the shoulders and side seams I pressed the seams open with plenty of steam over my tailor’s ham and gave them a good bashing with my wooden clapper to knock the steam out and flatten the the seams effectively. I used it on the darts too. If you don’t have a clapper you could use a wooden rolling pin if you have one.
Things got trickier after this because I had to match the sleeves to the checks of the jacket. Initially I did this by lining up the pattern piece again the jacket on the stand and drew some guide lines onto the pattern. I was reasonably sure this would work so I cut out a pair of sleeves…I was wrong. I’d placed the pattern piece onto the fabric but it was matched to the wrong set of stripes. Damn and blast! Fortunately, I still had enough fabric left for another pair of sleeves and I could cut the front facings out of the incorrect sleeves instead.
I tried a different approach to matching the sleeves. I took the whole piece of remaining fabric and offered it up to the jacket armhole on the stand where I pinned it in position. This seemed to work so I carefully thread traced the crown of the sleeve, removed the fabric again and then laid the pattern piece on top.
Obviously I needed a second sleeve so I had to cut the first one, remove the pattern, place it in the correct position for that sleeve to match and cut it out. If I got this one wrong there was no Plan C…. I’m extremely relieved to say that all was well-phew. One of the benefits of the tweed is that you can make the slightly loose weave work in your favour so I ran the usual two rows of ease stiches around the crown and tacked the sleeves into position.
One fitted perfectly first time and the other I had to reduce the amount of fullness over the crown to make it fit, and still have the checks matching. At this point Janet popped round for a fitting and we were both very relieved that it fitted really well-high fives all round.
One tip I’d give as a result of doing quite a few alterations on coats and jackets is to use a wide strip of iron-on interfacing at the cuff to give it a crisp edge.
iron on interfacing
cuffs tacked up in position
This is the sort of soft-tailored jacket which will benefit from a small shoulder pad. We aren’t talking ‘Dynasty’ or ‘Dallas’ 80’s shoulders here, just enough to give a little more definition to the shoulder-line. I didn’t have anything suitable so I made a pair with some medium thickness wadding and covered them in fine calico.
To line the jacket next, I interfaced the facings with iron-on Vilene and neatened the edges, then I stitched them wrong sides to right sides on the lining pieces.
I made up the lining as a complete unit-fronts/back/sleeves-which in hindsight wasn’t the right order because after I sewed the jacket and the lining together all the way around the outer edge it meant I couldn’t under-stitch any of it. I should have sewn the lining in without the sleeves attached, under-stitched the neck edge first then attached the sleeve linings afterwards. Instead, I pulled everything through right side out and gave the neck edges a jolly good steam and wallop with the clapper again. Then I ‘stab stitched’ the edges of the front and neck edge by hand, and also a few stitches directly through the lower section of each side seam to keep the two layers fixed together. Finally, I slip-hemmed the sleeve linings in place.
As I said before this is a ‘soft-tailored’ jacket rather than a very structured one, although I’ve used one or two techniques which I picked up on the tailoring course I did two and a half years ago.
The sparse making up instructions do have a few errors or anomalies which could trip you up. I set the sleeves in rather than on the flat which might not make any difference to the overall finish but the lack of lower back facing or sufficient turn up instead isn’t good, and it says there’s a turn up of 5mm on the cuffs when it’s actually 1.5cms, and in fact 4cms is what I used to give a better finish. I know some of the earlier Simple Sew patterns have a few technical errors and this is one of them but, with this in mind, don’t dismiss it because it’s an attractive little edge-to-edge jacket but make a toile first!
I relieved to say that Janet is very pleased with her jacket and hopefully will get a lot of wear from it.
I just wanted to let you know that my next Minerva blog is now live on their website so if you’d like to read more about this dress and the beautiful Art Gallery jersey fabric I made it from that’s where you’ll find all the details.
One of the details I liked about the style is the hip pockets
It’s a super comfy dress, especially in jersey, although I could probably come down a size next time.