Indie patterns vs ‘the Big 4’-discuss

Well, I seem to have set the cat amongst the pigeons a little with my previous post reviewing Vogue 9251. In it I mentioned how I chose this particular pattern over a Sew Over It one. I didn’t say anything detrimental about their Eve dress, I simply chose the Vogue one.

When I posted on Instagram about the new blog I simply commented, “don’t dismiss ‘big 4’ patterns because Vogue have some fantastic designs which fit well and are often fashion-forward”. What I didn’t expect was the number and variety of responses which that provoked. I’d like to try and explore a little more some of those comments here.

When I first learned to dress-make at secondary school the only patterns generally available to me were the big brands, Butterick, Vogue, Simplicity etc. Burda were there too but they were much more challenging because very often you had to trace them off (I’ve never been a tracer, always a cutter-outer) and remember to add your seam allowances. They were frequently more fashion-forward but I think because they are a German brand their styles were ‘a bit weird’ and it wasn’t often to my taste at the time. Their printed patterns now include seam allowance but the magazine still has large sheets which you trace and add the SA to. The designs have improved somewhat too. Vogue patterns were always very much the ‘Rolls Royce’ of the pattern brands and it was always a big deal for me to spend so much money on one (even now I try to buy them when they are on a half price offer) They were often where innovative designs first appeared and then an adapted version would appear later on in Butterick or Simplicity instead. Now a Vogue pattern almost seems cheap compared to indies!

Another source of patterns were free ones provided by post by women’s magazines and newspapers, you’d save up printed vouchers which you posted off and they would then post the pattern back to you. A slow process but actually it didn’t matter much because we weren’t all about instant gratification back then, we were happy to wait because we were getting something for nothing! Some of these patterns were OK, some not so much.

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I found this one in my collection, it doesn’t have a date on it but it’s probably from about 1983-4

In the early 80’s Prima magazine started giving free patterns included with the magazine. They were the template type we still get today which came on two-sided sheets that you had to trace off and, as a result, they were quite simple designs but they were popular. I was attempting my own pattern cutting by this time before I went to college so these patterns were a springboard to getting me started.

Then dressmaking seemed to fall out of favour and the curriculum all seemed to change at school. There were always a few of us who kept it up, it was how I earned a modest living while my children were small but it became harder and harder to buy nice fabrics at reasonable prices, or haberdashery, and nobody seemed to think it was a worthwhile pastime.

Then, in 2013, the Great British Sewing Bee happened and everything changed. There was always the core of us that had carried on sewing but now a new group were being introduced to it as a hobby and as a means to make the sorts of clothes they wanted to wear. The big pattern companies were still there but for the women who hadn’t been taught dressmaking they were a bit daunting and also a little dull. [I know there are men who sew but, let’s face it, they are the tiny minority] The packaging looked a bit dated and the layout of the instruction sheets inside hasn’t changed in decades. This isn’t a bad thing for those of us who know what we’re doing but to the unfamiliar they can be very confusing and a bit scary. They generally always assume a good level of sewing knowledge before you start so beyond telling you the order of making they don’t always tell you the exact technique or method. The pattern books don’t help themselves because they can look uninspiring with strange fabric choices and not many up-to-date or trend-led styles, or by making it difficult to spot them amongst the dull ones!

I’m not aware there was any such thing as an ‘independent pattern maker’ before about 5 years ago, and if there was then they were well below the radar, but people like Tilly Walnes, who appeared on the first GBSB series and is Tilly & the Buttons, and Lisa Comfort of Sew Over It both started developing their own patterns and began marketing them. Tilly created wearable, simple modern shapes which were beautifully presented and the instructions came in the form of photographs rather than with illustrations. Sew Over It’s aesthetic is vintage-inspired with tea dresses and floaty skirts being more prevalent. Lisa seems to have diversified into a whole lifestyle-thing which I’m quite glad I’m no longer a young mum trying to emulate.

Fast-forward to today and we have masses of new ‘indie’ patterns flooding the market all the time. It seems that everyone who fancies themselves as a designer can have a go at it and create new patterns and clearly some will be considerably better than others. Initially I didn’t go down the indie route because they were usually in the region of £12-£15 or more for a printed pattern, and besides I have a monstrous collection of paper patterns which I’ve acquired over about 40 years! I wasn’t attracted to the new patterns because they were either too simplistic and I could make my own quite frankly, or they were vintage-style which I’m not that into.

I’ve noticed too since making a few indie brand patterns that with some of them if you don’t fit into a certain age or body type then you never get a ‘like’ or a mention if you tag the company in your IG feed. Frankly, if I, my makes and my photos don’t suit your design ideal or aesthetic then I won’t be bothering to tag in future, you need the customers more than they need you and no one likes to feel ignored.

So, where does that leave us today?

The big companies have carried on very largely unchanged for decades and you can usually be sure of a well-drafted product with good instructions (although if you are able to follow them is sometimes an entirely separate issue) The fit of some of these styles isn’t always so good but there’s always going to be some variation according to the style and I’m not saying they are always wrong or right. Let’s face it, we’re dealing with the human body here with all it’s quirks and variations as well as personal taste and style.

I wonder if the fact that, almost without exception, indie pattern styles have names rather than numbers which instantly makes them more memorable? Also, having now succumbed and bought a number of indie patterns I see there’s a wide variety in the form they take and their packaging is definitely part of the appeal. They come in nice packages and they might feature lovely sketches on the cover or fashion shoot-style photos, many come printed on heavy, quality paper and others are on ‘greaseproof’ type paper or even brown wrapping paper, each is trying be unique in what is becoming a crowded market. If you can get yourself in with The Fold Line and an attractive young blogger who will sing your praises then so much the better, guaranteed advertising.

I think that the single biggest difference that the indies have is the availability of downloadable PDFs. We’ve arrived at that very modern phenomenon ‘instant gratification’. You can purchase, download, print, cut, stick, cut out and sew all in one evening if that is what works for you. The PDF is generally a little cheaper [there are free ones too] so you can buy direct from a pattern maker who may live on the other side of the planet if you want to. It’s possible to get them printed at the local print shop too, or by online printers but I’m wondering if that doesn’t defeat the object of not buying a printed version if there is one in the first place? Indies often have a wealth of online tutorials and support which was never possible before. That said, never dismiss a good old text book-the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (first published in 1978 I think) is an absolute goldmine of information.

In the 4 years or so that I’ve been part of the ‘online’ sewing community I’ve noticed a trend amongst some dressmakers who only appear to use indie patterns and to sing their praises. Is this an inverted form of snobbery? I don’t know but that’s just fine if they are the styles you want make, of course it is, we’re a free country, but a lot of the new styles from some brands are starting to look incredibly ’samey’ and are bringing nothing new to the design table. If you want truly original new styles it seems to me that the Europeans are doing it better, such as Named, Deer and Doe or The Assembly Line.

Some indie patterns are so overly simplistic in the designs they offer that I do wonder why dressmakers are shelling out so much cash for the pattern when they don’t have to. Do they genuinely not realise that there are other, cheaper alternatives?

Don’t get me wrong, there are brands which produce well-drafted, original designs with clear instructions and the designer has worked very hard to put out an excellent quality product but none of the printed versions of these patterns are terribly cheap, many are £20 a pop now (and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be because of course there is a lot of time and effort involved) but, as I return to my original point, don’t dismiss the big companies out of hand because they do still have something to offer, relative cheapness for basics being one of them.

I was particularly saddened, and annoyed, to hear Heather-Lou of Closet Case Patterns say on the Stitchers Brew podcast recently that she thought “you don’t need to take a pattern cutting class” because there are “very few things in life you need to go to school for”. Well thanks a bunch!! I’m so glad that myself and thousands like me took the time to go college to follow our dream and learn how to be pattern cutters because it was obviously a big old waste of time as anyone can do it! In the next breath she says that she now has a professional do her pattern drafting because “she (the pattern cutter) went to school and trained to do it” WTF! I’d enjoyed listening to what she had to say up until that point but that’s plain insensitive and insulting. I know there are some brands, like Maven patterns and The Maker’s Atelier, which have been created by women with years of experience and expertise in the fashion industry but there are other’s who don’t have that.

I could wang on for ages about the benefits and downsides of both types of pattern and in all honesty they will coexist side by side from now on. The big companies have certainly got to stay on their toes and possibly find new and engaging ways to present themselves to be appealing to the burgeoning younger market, but I hate to see newer dressmakers parting with lots of cash for some patterns which are really just a new version of the wheel, the spokes or the tyre may be different but it’s still a wheel none the less.

Part of what we all love about dressmaking is making original, creative clothes that fit and supporting one another in our endeavours, long may that continue. It’s just that we are the customer and always have a choice where we spend our hard-earned money.

All views expressed are my own of course and I dare say many of you won’t agree with me but I know from comments on my IG post that I’m echoing thoughts of others too. I’m not sponsored by any of the brands I’ve mentioned either! I’d be really interested to know what you think about the whole subject too so do please leave a comment.

Happy Sewing

Sue

 

 

 

 

Vogue 9251 wrap-over dress

 

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Wedding outfits are always a dilemma and sewing your own is no exception to this! When my elder daughter’s best friend made the happy announcement she was getting married in the summer I started planning (in my head) straight away!

As I mentioned in my previous Simple Sew blog, by about May it was going to be the Lizzie pattern in a particular fabric but then the supplier was no longer going to provide us with said fabric so it was back to the drawing board.

I made a trip to Goldhawk Road in London in early June and Classic Textiles came up trumps with a silky crepe de chine in several lovely botanical prints which necessitated a game of eeny, meeny, miny, mo to choose between them (very scientific!) I settled on a silvery grey background with a variety of flowers on and I bought some very soft slipper satin lining to go under it.IMG_7148

I didn’t want to use the Lizzie after all because it would break up the design into too many pieces so I opted, after quite a bit of research using The Foldline’s pattern database, on Vogue 9251. I chose it over the Eve from Sew Over It because I liked the front and back darts on the bodice instead of gathering and I preferred the flutter sleeves too-I couldn’t quite work out on the SOI one whether the sleeves dipped oddly at the back or not. Anyway, I didn’t want to do it just because everyone else was and Vogue have always been extremely good patterns. By using a very simple wrap over style it would show off the print nicely, not all ‘chopped up’. It has a full-length version too with simple short sleeves.

I chose to make a test version in stash fabric first just to be sure about fit and whether the style suited me. It’s a Vogue “Easy” pattern and it’s very straight forward-cutting out the toile wasn’t too tricky but I did have to spend a long time cutting the crepe de Chine later because it’s soooo slippery and having a one way design meant I wanted to get the flowers matching horizontally on each piece as much as possible. I wouldn’t advise a total novice using this fabric, I had a lot of fun and games with it and I’ve sewn forever!

I chose the size according to my measurements increasing slightly at the waist and I’m really happy with the fit. Obviously a wrap-over is pretty forgiving size-wise but you don’t want it much too big because it will be all gapey at the front which is never flattering. IMG_7169IMG_7162IMG_7161IMG_7159

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Help was at hand as you see!

There’s a lot of hemming to do around the skirt and flutter sleeves so I used my new rolled hem foot for my Pfaff but I really struggled with it. I just couldn’t seem to get the knack of it. I persevered and it’s just about acceptable if you don’t look too closely, I don’t know if it was too much of a curve or not enough but I must practice more! I just wasn’t happy with it on the crepe de Chine so in the end I reverted to making a pin-hem which was long winded and still not as good as I’d like but there’s an element of me being uber-critical as time was running out. [I did a test of the rolled hem finish on my overlocker too but decided it wasn’t smart enough on this particular fabric] As I’ve mentioned, cutting out the slippery fabric probably meant it had shifted a bit on the table in the process-it’s always going to be difficult if you have to use your dining table and not one specifically for the purpose.

You might find the side seams droop down a little so if this bothers you, and you’re not up against the clock like I was, then leave the dress to hang for a day or two and then level the bottom off before hemming it. You could do this on your dress stand (dummy) if you have one, or measure consistently from the waist down using a tape measure.

The pattern calls for the neck edge to be finished with bias-binding, which is what I did on the first version although I made my own from the fabric rather than buy ready made. The crepe de chine is very thin and quite sheer so I’d bought slipper satin to line it with. I cut the bodice exactly the same and bagged it out, then under-stitched the edge-take great care not to stretch this edge because it will go baggy, stay stitch the edge first or use iron-on tape if the fabric is sturdy enough. The skirt was the same except much shorter, about knee length as you can see in the photo. IMG_7659

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This is the finished dress turned inside out so that you can see how I lined it.

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For extra security I used a clear press stud at the wrap-over point and made lingerie straps on the shoulders too, using narrow ribbon and press studs.
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So that the lining didn’t flap about and show I slip-stitched the edge of it to the top layer some of the way down.

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All ready for the off! I got the hat less than a week before the wedding (half price in John Lewis) the shoes and bag I already had.

After all the boiling hot weather we’ve had in the UK over the last few weeks it changed and was a bit cooler and really blustery on the day of the wedding. I was a bit concerned that I’d lose my hat and my skirt would blow up around my neck but that didn’t happen thankfully! A hat pin helps!

I really like this pattern, it’s really comfortable to wear and the wrap-over covers well although a press stud always helps. I think I’ll make more of this style as it’s a fairly quick make and is quite beginner friendly if you don’t use a super-slippy fabric like I did, just something with a bit of drape. The sleeve shape is very pretty, and did I mention it has pockets?

Don’t overlook the ‘big four’ pattern companies when you’re choosing a pattern because Vogue in particular have always offered fashion-forward styles, often by top designers, and you don’t necessarily need to be a very experienced sewer to get a good result. [Even better if they’re on a half-price offer!]

Happy Sewing,

Sue

Simple Sew Lizzie dress

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I originally chose the Lizzie pattern because I wanted to make it for a wedding at the end of July but then, because I had to change my fabric choice, I opted to make it as a smart summer dress instead in a lovely cotton lawn from Doughtys Online fabrics. It’s a classic shaped sleeveless dress with Princess seams, a pretty notched neckline  and box pleats in the skirt which means it’s an ideal blank canvas for showing off lovely fabrics or adding embellishments too.

I decided to make a toile of the bodice first because I wanted to get a nice fit of the Princess seams. I’m glad I did because I was slightly surprised to find the bodice came up quite short. I’m a very average 5’5” tall and not long-waisted but I needed to add 3.5cms to bring it to my natural waistline. I traced off the bodice pattern on spot and cross paper between 2 sizes according to my own body measurements and the ‘finished garment’ measurements on the packet and then I marked horizontal lines across all 4 pattern pieces, all at a similar level to each other. [These lines must be at a right angle to the grainline too]

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The horizontal lines are where I need to add the extra.

You’ll need some spare spot and cross because then, one at a time or you’ll lose track of which piece is which, cut the horizontal line straight across the pattern [many big brand patterns have these lines already marked with ’lengthen or shorten here’] Stick the spare s&c paper behind one part and draw a parallel line on it that’s the amount you need to add-I added 3.5cms. Keeping the original grainline in vertical alignment, place the other part of the original pattern on the new line.

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Extra s&c added behind and then each piece is moved down keeping the grain in alignment.

Make sure you do this for all the pattern pieces and that it’s the same amount added into each-unless you have a sway back  when you’ll need to decree the amount as you get nearer your spine. Draw on the new seams but don’t cut them out until you’ve done them all. Check them against one another to make sure they line up properly particularly the side seams-pin these together and then cut them out.

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I pin the side panels together so that the new side seam is identical when I cut them.

Cotton lawn is quite a fine fabric so I chose to line the dress rather than use the facing pattern. It’s easy to line simple styles like this because you just cut the same pieces again, I used a plain cotton lawn I had in my stash.

The fabric allowance for the pattern is quite generous so I lengthened the skirt by 12cms for a change. I didn’t need to stick spare paper on for this as there’s plenty of excess on the actual sheet so I drew it straight on to the bottom of both pieces. I didn’t shape the hem turn-up though, I continued the side seams straight down by 12cms and then, making sure it’s a right angle (V important) drew the new hem level on.

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Make sure the new corner at the bottom of the side seam is a right angle, you’ll get a strange point where your seams join if not.

One other detail I wanted to try out was using my new piping foot attachment for my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2 so I cut a few bias strips of fabric for that. This works by folding a slim piping cord sandwiched inside the bias strips and then it runs in the groove under the foot so that you can stitch really close to the cord. Once you’ve sandwiched the cord in this way you place it wherever you want on the garment (or soft furnishings) and sew it on still using the foot. [You can achieve this without a special foot just by using your zipper foot but sometimes you can’t get the stitching quite as close] From the toile I felt the armhole was going to be a little snug for me so I made it a tiny bit bigger at the underarm area, not much.

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I just used the enclosed piping cord around the armholes to give them a nice crisp and professional finish.IMG_7101

I added some pockets into the side seams too (of course!) I made a new pattern piece for this, it’s just a fairly standard curved piece that’s roughly hand-shaped.

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One other thing I did differently to the instructions was I didn’t make the pleats in the skirt before attaching it to the bodice. Because I’d altered the waist size for me, and to save lots of fiddly measuring, I just snipped the centre notch on each pleat then, matching the side seams and centre back skirt to bodice first, I put the pleat marking against the bodice seam and then folded the fabric into a box pleat until they were correct. This ensures the pleats are all in perfect alignment with the bodice. It still takes a little while so be patient. After careful pinning I machine basted them in position first so that they didn’t move about and then re-stitched to secure.

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box pleats sewn down.

After I inserted the zip and joined the CB seam I made a simple A-line skirt lining because there’s no need to make a whole pleated lining, it’s a waste of fabric and can add unflattering bulk at the waist too.

Finally, I chose to finish the hem with bias binding which I made in the plain cotton lawn. I pressed over one edge then attached the un-pressed edge to the hem. Stitch in position then understitch close to the join through all seam allowances. This gives a lovely crisp finish to the hem, if you’ve read my blogs before you’ll know I do this quite often. Finally, I hand-stitched the binding up in position, it took a while but it’s very satisfying!

 

So it wasn’t the wedding guest dress I had in mind but I’m really pleased with how my Lizzie has turned out-you’ll never know what great plans I had for it in the other fabric. Aside from the points I’ve mentioned the Lizzie is a nice basic dress which would be pretty quick to knock up, the first version of any new pattern always takes a bit longer because you’re not sure what you’re doing and I lined it which also took longer for example. I like the narrower shoulder seam and the fit at the neckline is very good, I’m glad I made it longer too, it makes a change amongst my mostly knee-length dresses. It’s one of those styles where it can be more about the fabric, if you’ve got something with a fun print for example, I’d intended to make it in a floaty georgette with a pretty coloured lining but that wasn’t to be this time. Thank you Doughty’s for coming to the rescue with this lovely fabric, it was so nice to work with.

Lizzie would also look lovely in a brocade or duchess satin for a special occasion dress too, or a velvet or sequinned bodice and a contrast skirt perhaps.

 

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Happy Sewing

Sue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the Stitch Room Sewcial 2018

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When I chucked in my last job 4 years ago I had no idea what the future held…4 years on, the Stitch Room Sewcial is the sort of wonderful opportunity that has come my way and I couldn’t be happier.

Back in March Anne ( New Vintage Sewing) emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in an event she and Lucy (Sew Essential) were organising at Anne’s place of work-the Textiles department at Loughborough University. The bare bones of it sounded great and fortunately the timing was perfect, exactly between other things in the diary-the stars were in alignment! I found out that several of my sewing friends were also going, as well a number of ladies I hadn’t met before but was really  looking forward to having that opportunity. However, sadly, I noticed there were a few snippy comments on Instagram from one or two people who hadn’t been able to get one of the tickets that were put on open sale. Due to the size of the room and the activities planned it was limited to just 16 people and the accusations of ‘elitism’ were uncalled for-frankly if Anne and Lucy were putting all this effort into organising a 2 day event then they can invite whoever they jolly well like!! The sewing community is generally so supportive and inclusive and I was shocked, and sad, to see these types of comments published.

There was lots planned over the 2 days of the Sewcial  including some actual sewing! I decided to cut out a soft linen version of the Moana dress by Papercut patterns because I wanted a easy-to-wear dress for my upcoming holiday. I put in a couple of other pieces of fabric and suitable patterns in case I finished it and had time to spare (hah!) fullsizeoutput_259e

I set off early on Friday morning with my sewing kit and a suitcase of me-mades to wear. We’d already been told that one of the things laid on for us was a photo shoot in the professional studio in the Faculty when we could have photos taken wearing our own makes.

I thought, just for once, I was going to be a bit early arriving but the Sat Nav had other ideas! I found the venue eventually and spotted my friends Clare (Sew Incidentally) and Kara arriving at the same moment-phew.

After coffee and hellos we were taken upstairs to the fantastically equipped room that is Anne’s domain. There was a domestic sewing machine for each of us to use and I didn’t get off to the best start with mine…I’ve used many different machines over the years but this computerised one flummoxed us completely, we couldn’t work out how to fill a bobbin!! After 15 minutes of trying, which included Lucy phoning the Sew Essential office for advice, consulting the instruction book (!) and randomly hitting buttons, I was eventually able to start sewing [it turned out to be the touch screen that was showing a pretty but unhelpful video] Then it was time for lunch!!!

Before any of this palarver though we split into 2 groups and some of us were shown around the printed textiles workshops and then the weaving workshops while the others were with Anne getting demos on all the machinery.

We were shown where the screens are produced in giant darkrooms, the huge quantities of different types of dye in every colour imaginable and the ‘kitchen’ the students learn to mix it all up in.

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The giant dough mixer they use to mix up batches of dye.

Salva and Rebecca ( Red W Sews) had a go at screen printing.

On next to the weaving workshops where there were an impressive number of looms of all types available for students to weave their own designs. It’s all quiet now as their work is finished and on display (more on that later) it must be really noisy when it’s full of students working.

We had a demonstration of how the looms work and were told you need to swap legs every now and again otherwise you’ll get one super-muscly leg!! Each push down opens the warp threads for the shuttle with the weft yarn to pass through thus eventually forming the design.

This is the digital jacquard loom weaving a complex pineapple design, it’s noisy but amazingly fast. The hand loom in the previous picture uses a series of pegs through a small board to raise and lower the correct warp threads in order for the weft thread to go between them, this loom does all that for the weaver.

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After our studio visit we swapped to return to Anne’s room where she showed us all the various, and impressive, industrial machines she has and which we can use as appropriate over the next two days.

Many years ago I went to college and then worked in industry for a few years so I was aware of some of these types of machines but most of my lovely friends have only been home sewers and they were bowled over by the speed and efficiency of them. Each machine performs a specific task, unlike domestic machines, there were machines for putting on bias binding in moments, rolled hem edging, and so quiet compared to industrial machines that I remember. There were also 3 and 4 thread domestic overlockers for us to use, and a cover stitch machine…sewing heaven really.

Time for a break after all that activity and information so we trotted off to the breakout room for lunch where we were greeted by this most wonderful surprise. It’s the sewing cake of dreams! Made by a former student of Anne’s, Becca @calicoandcake (who now makes ballet tutus and sculpted body suits as well as amazing cakes)

It has Anne and Lucy on the top! There were tape measures and scissors, patterns, buttons, pins, you name it. We were astonished and swooning over it [it tasted great too]

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We’d been told there would be a fabric and pattern swap and, once everything was neatly on the table, we descended! I got a couple of nice bits of fabric and some bag patterns which might be useful if I have any beginner students.

Before we returned upstairs Lucy and Anne handed out our personally labelled goodie bags….OMG they were terrific. There were several lovely, and useful, patterns as well as 2 metres of fabric and loads of kit like marker pens, machine needles, a box of thread, a fat quarter, an unpicker! loads of things. So generous of the various sponsors of the Sewcial-thank you so much.

Eventually we returned back upstairs to get down to some sewing and going to have our photos taken. Salva and I went together-she’s much more of a natural than me I have to say, the practice I’d had for Love Sewing magazine last Autumn wasn’t a lot of help! I wore my linen Farrow dress I’d made recently and also the coat I made earlier in the year. [I didn’t get any photos of this activity so you’ll have to take my word for it happening] We spent the remainder of the afternoon sewing.

Those of us that didn’t live in the area were staying up the road at a hotel so we headed back there to freshen up before going out to a local restaurant for a lovely meal. Because our number wasn’t huge, and we were spread over just 3 tables, it meant we could actually have conversations with some of our fellow-sewers. It was a lovely way to finish the day.

Saturday morning was set aside to visit the student shows which were taking place as part of the College Open Days for outside visitors.

I was absolutely blown away by all the wonderful work on display. There was so much originality, beautiful colour, innovative designing and covetable products, here a just a few of the many photos I took to give you some idea.

 

I WANT that rucksack!…and those cushions too…oh, and the handbags….

A few months ago Anne had contacted me to ask if I was willing and able to make up a garment for one of her students. Heather was a textiles student and she would print, embroider and embellish  fabric and then send it to me to sew up into a kimono for her. I was happy to do this and the parcel duly arrived. She’d marked out the placement of the main pieces so it wasn’t guesswork, I pinned the pattern on in the usual way and cut it out. She’d chosen the Kochi Kimono pattern by Papercut patterns and wanted it lined with silk noil. It all went together beautifully and looked stunning. I posted it back and thought no more about it.

I finally got to see it along with Heather’s other work, and by complete chance she was there with some friends so I actually got to meet to her and chat about it.

The original concept involved essential oils and using them and their effects on and in fabrics-hence the kimono embedded in a planter with mint plants!

I ‘nearly’ made this cape for another student but the loom broke down and then the timing didn’t work out so someone else made it-it looks lovely and the buttons were fabulous.

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I want this chair-the design is printed on velvet.

Look at this fabulous neckpiece! The bead work must have taken hours and hours.

After seeing all this inspiring work it was back to sewing our own work. In spite of my ‘issues’ with the sewing machine I was making good progress with my dress. Having the use of amazing industrial steam irons (Anne had given us a H&S talk about it the day before-basically, it’s nothing like our steam irons at home!!) really helped the process and I even used the industrial rolled hem machine on the edge of the ruffle. It was speedy, quiet and gave a beautiful finish, the version my domestic overlocker does will never compare now, sadly.

After lunch Salva and I had our session on the A-MAZE-ING embroidery machines. The lovely Bea, who was endlessly patient and enthusiastic with us all weekend helped us to choose and create an embroidery to take home. Some girls had made things specifically like jeans pockets but I’m going to put mine in an embroidery hoop in Threadquarters when I get home.

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Sewing friends are the best

These machines are serious pieces of kit-there are 3 of them-and there’s a vast number of threads to choose from too. As I have magpie tendencies of course I chose metallic threads!IMG_6877

I settled on the mantra of every home-sewer…IMG_6876fullsizeoutput_25b1

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Of course it is!!

There wasn’t much time left after this but I managed to finish my dress and have a quick try on-I didn’t actually expect to have a finished garment to take on bearing in mind how many activities we’d packed into 2 days. IMG_6895IMG_6896IMG_6897

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I took these photos on Doris after I got home, look at that beautiful rolled hem…

And finally it was time for goodbyes…we all agreed how much we had enjoyed our 2 days and Lucy and Anne had created an wonderful event for us. I hope they’ve had a well-earned rest now! If they decide to do it all again next year I really hope I’ll be invited, the small number meant we all chatted at some point with every other person there, something which doesn’t, or can’t, always happen at bigger events.

I can’t thank Anne and Lucy enough for creating such a lovely event and for inviting me to attend it. Thank you too to all the generous sponsors for their gifts and support. Roll on next year….

Happy Sewing

Sue

 

 

Fashioned from Nature at the V&A museum

This is one of the most recent exhibitions to open at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and it’s a very thought-provoking one exploring the relationship between man, fashion and the natural world. It’s divided into the now familiar format of the historic element downstairs with the larger more modern and forward-looking section upstairs.

This works well because there are displays containing beautifully conserved clothing and accessories dating as far back as the 1600s alongside helpful and fascinating short films and information about the origins and manufacture of textiles using both traditional sources such as cotton, flax, silk and wool but also the more unusual such as pineapple fibre.

The items chosen for display demonstrate both the influence of natural subjects in the design-primarily plants and animals, and the effects of textile production on society as a whole. Cotton and wool for example were a huge part of the success of the UK for hundreds of years and made fortunes for a relatively few people but at vast human suffering for many in the form of slavery, overwork, terrible working conditions and resultant illness. Added to this was the decimation of animal and bird populations to supply the demands of the burgeoning fashion industry with feathers, fur, tortoiseshell, whalebone etc and you have a some uncomfortable viewing.

The origins of the RSPB in the UK started towards the end of the 19th Century when Governments around Europe became concerned for the welfare of bird populations brought to the point of extinction in places.

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This albatross was destined to become a muff to keep a fashionable lady’s hands warm.

Ostrich feathers were extremely popular on evening gowns and fans, this little hat is labelled as being the ‘improved starling’ hat with it’s printed feather decoration, the natural beauty of the feathers not being quite good enough presumably?

Seal populations were hugely reduced by the desire for seal fur to make or line coats, muffs and hats, as were whales for their flexible bones which were used in corsets, amongst other things. And then there’s ivory for buttons, umbrella handles and hair decorations, the list goes on…

New resources such as rubber found uses for footwear and to give elasticity to things like stockings and mens braces.

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These natty rubber-soled boots are actually for a man (Oscar Wilde I’m thinking…)
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Mother of pearl and seashells have long been popular for decorating objects as well as practical items like buttons.

Not everything is doom and gloom in the exhibition, there are some stunning pieces of embroidery and garments which are a visual delight. One of my favourites was an Eighteenth century man’s waistcoat embroidered with Macaque monkeys.

Floral motifs are a perennial favourite both as woven cloth and as embroidered fabric.

I was surprised to discover that using pineapple fibre to make fabric has been around for a couple of hundred years, especially given they were such expensive fruit in their own right.

This evening gown uses pineapple fibre fabric, and the handkerchief is cotton embroidered with pineapple-fibre thread.

Moving upstairs you will discover garments by designers keen to explore and embrace new textiles and technology. Stella McCartney is a well-known exponent of these with her refusal to use any animal-based product and there are some interesting examples of faux leather being made from the waste by-products of the winemaking industry, and ‘leather’ made from a type of mushroom protein! [Incidentally the episode of Desert Island Discs featuring Stella McCartney is very enjoyable and she talks about her use of ethical fabrics and textiles during it] Extraordinary stuff and virtually indistinguishable from real leather. These are ‘designer’ products though so I have no idea of the cost but like any new technology it has to start somewhere and will hopefully filter down eventually to be more affordable.

There were other examples of flora and fauna in the textile design including my favourite Alexander McQueen with a reptile-inspired dress from his Plato’s Atlantis collection.fullsizeoutput_258bfullsizeoutput_258a

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An ‘under the sea’ evening gown by Zac Posen
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Not fur but bugle beads!
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This ‘leopard’ is made entirely from beads by Jean-Paul Gaultier

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Another beautiful evening gown, this time by Giles Deacon, this one features a gorgeous fabric printed with birds eggs
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A heavily embroidered skirt by Christopher Kane with the reproductive parts of plants!

There is plenty of information and several films which go into greater depth about the effects not only of over-consumption of textiles but also the damage it’s production does to the planet and the workers. Denim, and therefore jeans, for example if the most water-wasteful and polluting of any fabric being produced, we have to address this fact and soon. I’ll be honest and say that I was flagging a little by this time, absolutely not through boredom, far from it, but from information overload. If this is your primary interest in visiting this exhibition then go straight upstairs because there’s so much fascinating, often shocking, but ultimately encouraging information to explore.

Also, did you know that Velcro got invented because a Swiss scientist Georges de Mestral noticed while walking in the Jura during the 1940’s that burrs from plants were clinging to his clothes and his dog’s fur so he investigated further and found they were tiny little hooks. Eventually this discovery became the basis for the product we know today!

Up-cycling is another area that’s looked into, reusing textiles be it unwanted clothes or end-of-line products like ribbon to make new products. Refashioning is not new but it fell out of favour, now it’s making a return.

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This outfit is made from maps printed on silk for wartime use but was actually only made in 2017.

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This collar is made from leftover rolls of ribbon.

I could go on, adding more photos of everything but I urge you, if you get the opportunity, to go for yourself and see this exhibition. If you’re interested in fashion and clothing it will really open your eyes to some of the facts about it’s production which you might not be aware of and make you think about how we can improve the situation by our own consumption of goods.

Vivienne Westwood is a leading advocate of choosing fashion wisely, her motto being Buy Less and Buy Well, in other words buy the best you can afford because it’s more likely to have been ethically made from better materials and will last you longer. I know personally I can’t always manage this but by making my own clothes most of the time and wearing them frequently is making a start.

Fashioned from Nature is on at the V&A until next January 27th 2019. I’ve not been sponsored to write this piece, I have my own membership which I use frequently!

Happy sewing, and visiting!

Sue

Rounding off Me Made May

Did you take part in Me Made May? At the outset I pledged to try and wear at least one self-made garment every day during May and, by and large I achieved that. I say ‘by and large’ because although I definitely wore a me-made item of clothing every day there was the odd occasion when I failed-or couldn’t be bothered-to take a decent photo!

The first few I managed by balancing my phone on top of a loudspeaker and setting it on a 3 second timer. This proved imperfect and the novelty quickly wore off when it fell to the floor for the umpteenth time!

Anyway, here goes…

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May 1st was a mash-up pattern, bodice of one, skirt of another, in Queue for the Zoo Liberty Tana lawn worn with a Jigsaw sparkly cardigan.
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Day 2 was a Burdastyle magazine top made in a floral scuba fabric and the back in crepe-back satin. I made it at least 2 years ago but haven’t worn it much as the cuffs were a bit flappy.  By the time I wore it to the first London Stitchers meet up that evening I’d taken them in considerably and I was a lot happier with the fit of the sleeves. The jeans are the Ash pattern from Megan Nielsen which I’d had the pleasure of testing and I’m a huge fan of them.

Day 3 is the first newly made garment and it’s the Farrow dress from Grainline which I wrote a review for in Sew Now magazine 18 months ago. I made this version in navy and burgundy linen with short sleeves.

 

Neither of the next garments were new either, the red broderie anglaise was amongst some fabric I was gifted and was already cut out, I just sewed it together. The blue and white was self-drafted 2 or 3 years ago in a cotton/linen mix fabric and it’s a summer favourite of mine.

 

The georgette kaftan is new and was the try-out version of my most recent Simple Sew make for their blog.

The stripes is also the same Burdastyle top but in a striped jersey and with short sleeves. I’d didn’t like it much as a regular T-shirt but it’s been great as exercise wear!

 

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Dragon dirndl, no pattern just pleated into a narrow waistband.

Awesome dragon pattern-matching and zip insertion even if I do say so myself! Bias binding and hand-sewn hem too.

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Colette patterns Moneta in striped jersey with a dodgy waist (should have put a belt over that!)
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One of my favourite tops, Imogen by Sew Me Something and the trousers are Butterick 6461 which I reviewed in Love Sewing magazine last autumn.
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Striped Camber Set from Merchant & Mills worn with a refashioned skirt that used to be jeans.
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More refashioning with a silk top made from a vintage dressing gown and a hoodie using a vintage 60’s pattern in jersey and cotton fabric harvested from a charity shop dress.
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A blouse made using a vintage 70’s dress pattern in ‘Gallymoggers’, an Alice in Wonderland Liberty Tana lawn. This is a couple of years old too.
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Surprised this one still fitted me! Cotton poplin from Ditto fabrics, Butterick 6026 Katharine Tilton pattern and vintage buttons. Refashioned denim skirt again.
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One of my favourites, African waxed cotton with crazy diagonal stripes Simplicity Project Runway pattern 2444, all fully lined.
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Love the button on the back of the neck too, it was a single one of this design in a Sewing Weekender goody bag.
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Packing for our trip to Assisi, all self-made except the cardigan.
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With my new car! Trusty Holiday shirt from The Maker’s Atelier in Swiss Dot and newly made checked linen trousers New Look 6351-I’m so pleased with these, they’re perfect in warm weather if your legs are still pasty like mine. (Awesome pattern-matching too but you can’t see that)
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The new Farrow got to go to Italy.
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Linen trousers again and the Holiday shirt in Liberty cotton voile, outside Santa Chiara, Assisi. Loving my holiday chapeau too, from Monsoon
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Camber Set hack in beautiful Roberto Cavalli cotton lawn and new for the Assisi trip(RTW trousers this time)

This top was drafted from a RTW one and I extended the shoulders to form sleeves. It’s sheer georgette with a slightly sparkly stripe which I get from a market and worn with a RTW camisole underneath. I made it 3 years ago but it’s been a real favourite.

The next ‘make’ is a big old cheat because it’s the etchings I made not the clothes! I loved my visit to Sudbourne Printmakers in Suffolk, and the sewing connection was meeting Chrissy Norman the tutor at the first Sewing Weekender two years ago. take a look at her work, it’s beautiful.

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One of my finished prints…I’m rather proud of it…
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Linen Imogen again with a jacket refashioned from 2 pairs of Mr Y’s trousers!

 

This is only half new-I made a top from this lovely broderie Anglais I bought at Walthamstow market last year but I hadn’t bought enough and it was too snug around the hips. Luckily I managed to get a bit more so I unpicked and started again. This time I used the top half of my favourite Holiday shirt and used wide elastic in a casing under the bust to give it some shape. There was just enough for sleeves this time. I used a ‘daisy’ bias-binding to finish the neck edge and opening.

Not everything I’ve made has been an unqualified success and this teal blue dress is definitely one of the disappointments! It looked lovely on the packet but the back is ridiculous because the zip bulged out giving me a strange hump so I took it out again and inserted it in the side seam instead. Frankly it’s not much better. The top is far too wide and the V neck flaps about undecided whether it’s a V or a fold-back revere. The fabric was super-cheap from Walthamstow again but it’s the amount of time I spent which makes me grumpy. I might turn it into a skirt…

And so to the last outfit of the month…

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The top for my last outfit of the month was originally a dress but, even though I’d made one previously for winter, this version just wasn’t right. The length wasn’t flattering and the sleeves, which had decorative darts, were too tight. After a bit of a refashion which removed most of the skirt, put short splits in the side seams at the hem and took the darts out of the sleeves making them a bit more floaty it was much more wearable. There were pockets in the side seams which I wanted to keep so this governed the length overall. I wore it with my trusty Ash jeans which I’ve absolutely loved since making them last autumn.

So to sum up, Me Made May encouraged me to really look in my wardrobe and get out some of the things which get worn less often, as well as the favourites. The weather has ranged from freezing cold to boiling hot and I realised that my summery dresses are rather lacking when it’s warm, and cooler plain bottom halves are needed to go with my many patterned tops. I know I’ve been prolific in the last 3 years or so compared to a long fallow period for years before that and that makes me very happy. Looking through the clothes I’ve worn during May the vast percentage are things that were made more than a year ago, a lot are more than 2 years old and some older than that. Even when I used to buy more clothes if there was a garment I really liked I kept it for a long time, I think probably because if I’d taken the time to choose it then I wanted good use from it-££ per wear and all that. The same is now true of my makes, I’ve invested my own time into making them so I want to enjoy wearing them (although it’s frustrating when they aren’t a success, but I’ll often refashion them if I can)

Did you join in with Me Made May and did it encourage you to to make more use of your self-made clothes?

Happy Sewing

Sue

Camber Set from Merchant & Mills

 

IMG_5923The Camber Set from Merchant & Mills has definitely become one of my go-to patterns for tops-I’ve made 4 now! I picked up the pattern early last year at a swap/meet up (it was the same meet up that I got the Maker’s Atelier Holiday top pattern too which has become another favourite, I’ve made 3 of those and blogged reviews of them here and here)

The first was a navy and white striped one in a linen-look viscose if I remember correctly- I bought it at least 20 years ago to make my Mum a dress but life intervened! What I’ve come to love about this pattern is the clean and stylish finish to the neckline. The front neck uses a strip of bias binding which is applied to the reverse and then brought over to the right side and top stitched.

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the scissors necklace was from the V&A museum in London.

Next there’s a yoke at the back which is stitched in such a way that it neatens the back neck and encloses the shoulder seams all in one go. The instructions and diagrams are very clear but you do need to concentrate the first time because it seems a bit alien but trust me, it’s worth it. I had the bias on incorrectly initially because I assumed that it was turning in the usual way to the inside (it wouldn’t matter if you did it like that though, it’s just you wouldn’t then have the effect of the binding as decoration)

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the stripes make yours eyes go a bit swizzy

I chose to contrast top-stitch some of the seams and the bust darts too for some visual interest.IMG_1353

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I cut the top yoke on the bias simply because I had enough fabric to do so.

I cut a straight size 14 based on my measurements and it’s just right, roomy enough to be comfortable without being too baggy.  I would say that it’s an afternoon’s work if you make it exactly as the pattern.

The second one I made in more of a hurry to take to the second Sewing Weekender last August. This time I made it in some coral crepe-de-chine from my stash and made the bias and yoke in a contrasting butterfly crepe-de-chine which had been supplied by Adam Ross fabrics in the goody bags at the first Sewing Weekender! I mixed it up a bit by adding a small inverted box-pleat to the back.

The third version is a very straightforward plain ivory crepe (from Hitchin market I think) with no alterations. I love a patterned fabric and plain tops are not something I have loads of, I used to wear RTW T-shirts but I just don’t anymore so they need replacing with alternatives. I got cocky though and did the binding the wrong way round so it’s a bit narrower than it should be.

My most recent version of the Camber is a bit special IMHO. Recently I went with my friend Janet to Goldhawk Road to look for fabric for me to make her daughter a dress to wear to Janet’s son’s wedding (with me so far…?) Naturally I had a look at a few things myself but then in Misan I had some kind of out-of-body experience because I spent an ABSOLUTE BOMB on some Roberto Cavalli printed cotton lawn! I’m not even going to tell you how much it was, I’ve never paid that much per metre for any other fabric before, there was just something about the vibrancy of the colours and the prettiness of the design, plus Janet made me do it, she never even tried to stop me!! It’s a pity the photos don’t do it full justice though. [Misan also has 2 fabulous shops in Soho if you really want to blow the budget]

I bought 1m20 with a plan to make a Camber. With some really careful cutting (annoyingly there were two fairly wide unprinted white strips along each selvedge) I managed to get everything out so that the colours ran in ‘stripes’ around the body and on the sleeves too-this always pleases me immensely when I can achieve it-I was also able to add ruffles to the sleeves this time.

The although the fabric is 100% cotton it has a fair bit of inherent stretch which meant it had got a bit wonky from where I’d hung it on the washing line-a good steamy press largely sorted this out though. Basically I did everything the same as usual (except I really concentrated on the neck binding!) Instead of sink stitching the back yoke facing (that’s ‘stitch in the ditch’ in old money) I used one of the embroidery stitches that my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 offers. I chose one that’s fairly similar to the print on the cloth to complement it and used lemon yellow thread. I also added some small pleats to the back below the yoke.

I made the sleeves a fraction longer and added the ruffles, which I hemmed using the rolled hem finish on my overlocker. I’ve been trying to use this feature on suitable fabrics more often recently because it’s pretty and makes a change from a regular hem edge.

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rolled hem finish

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there are added small pleats in the back

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I can’t wait to wear this, we’re off to Italy very soon and I’m going to wear it with white linen trousers (RTW ones sadly, I bought them when time ran out for making last summer) The photos don’t do the fabric and the colour justice at all but I think it’s going to be a summer favourite, it isn’t even my usual colour choice either!

This is the only M&M pattern I have, their aesthetic is very pared-back and utilitarian and not necessarily my thing but as you can see a variety of fabrics can make a simple style look very different-I don’t think I’m done with this pattern yet, I haven’t even made a dress version yet!

Happy sewing

Sue