Summing up where sewing has taken me in 2018

I thought in this blog I’d take a look back at some of the things I’ve been up to over the last twelve months and it’s made me realise what a wonderful varied collection they are. As well as sewing multiple garments from numerous patterns (which I’ll look at in a separate blog) there have been several meet-ups including the Stitchroom Sewcial in June and the now-famous Sewing Weekender in August, plus one I organised myself in November. I’ve visited quite a few exhibitions, some of them more than once, read lots of books and written reviews of several of them in case anyone out there was interested in knowing more if they fancy a visit or a read for themselves. I’ve been back to the Knitting & Stitching show, and The Handmade Fair for the first time too.

In January I made my first coat in decades, the Butterick 6423 and was pretty pleased with the outcome overall.

My first meet-up of the year in February was a return visit to Balenciaga at the V&A organised by Alex (Sewrendipity) where I met a number of lovely fellow dressmakers in the flesh for the first time. It was so nice to go to an exhibition with like-minded people and then we all went for lunch together afterwards-very civilised!

Also in February Gabby Young invited me to become one of the Simple Sew bloggers so I embarked on a year of wrangling their patterns into submission, they are nice designs but aren’t always faultlessly accurate in their drafting or instructions. I took on the role on the understanding that I’d be honest (although never rude) but informative and constructive. I’ll leave you to be the judge of whether I achieved that.

I had the opportunity to visit the Fashion Technology Academy in April which was such an inspiring place. You can study many of the technical aspects of clothing production there and we also had the chance to try out a taster session of TR pattern cutting with the supremely gifted Claudette Joseph while we were there too. If you, or someone you know, wants to go down the technical route into garment manufacture then this place in North London could be a good place to start looking.

Also in April I returned to the Fashion and Textiles Museum in Bermondsey, London to attend their fascinating ‘Inside couture’ afternoon. I’ve been once before but it’s so enjoyable, and such a treat to get the your hands on real couture clothes (with white gloves on, natch). I highly recommend a visit if you’re in London but you do need to book for these particular events, the museum itself is open most days.

The first London Stitchers meet-up was held at the beginning of May and although I’m not technically ‘London’, as has become obvious, I go up a lot. These are organised by Ana Cocowawacrafts and Georgia One Stitch Forward and they vary in their locations between north, south and central London. Anyone is welcome and it’s a great way to meet new people and know that you all have at least one shared interest! It’s like speed-dating for dressmakers!!

Me Made May was also happening on Instagram and for the first time in ages I managed to post every single day for a month-long challenge even though I was out of the country for some of it. Lots of garments I shared weren’t new and box-fresh, in fact quite a few of them were old favourites, which is as it should be. We made a trip to Assisi in Italy during this time so that made my backdrops a bit more interesting for a few days!

I tried something a bit different in May by going on a course to learn how to make and print my own etchings. I’d done this once a million years ago when I did my Foundation Course at college and have always found the medium fascinating and beautiful. [Go and check out Rembrandt’s work in particular if you aren’t sure what they are] I’d met a lovely lady called Chrissy Norman on the first Sewing Weekender two years ago and it turns out that not only does she sew and knit, she’s a super-talented printmaker too. She has a separate IG account for her prints and I admired a print she posted on it early in the year. It transpires that she teaches courses a few times a year at Sudbourne Park Printmakers workshops. Long story short, I signed up and joined her in Suffolk in mid-May. It was soooo interesting and fun, plus I made some pretty respectable prints based on a photo I had taken of the Maggi Hambling sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

The summer saw the first of several visits to the Frida Kahlo exhibition and Fashioned from Nature at the V&A museum. I also loved the retrospective of the work of Azzedine Alaia at the Design Museum, I didn’t write a review though because by the time I went there wasn’t much left of the run sadly. It was spectacular though and I’m very glad I made the effort. That same day we went to see the musical Hamilton which was absolutely stupendous, Mr Y normally doesn’t go for that style of music but even he has raved about it ever since-highly recommended!

In June I was one of the lucky attendees of the first Stitchroom Sewcial event organised by Anne ‘New Vintage Sewing’ and Lucy ‘Sew Essential’ at Anne’s workplace in the University of Loughborough. They had excelled themselves with activities for us all to try including visiting the print and weaving workshops, computerised machine embroidery, an individual photoshoot AND time to sew and use the industrial machines Anne has in her classroom. I really hope I’m lucky enough to go again in 2019…

I took a road trip with my ‘local’ sewing friends Alana and Helen to visit Sewisfaction on their first Big Summer Stitch-up which was great fun, even though it was a steaming hot day.

At the end of July and beginning of August I posted two blogs which seemed to light the blue touch paper that rapidly became Sew Over 50. When I wrote them I thought no one would read them, much less agree with me, so I was stunned by the response to say the least. My now-friend Judith was amongst those who read them and was feeling the same way so she went one step further and created a new Instagram account called @SewOver50 and everything went a bit nuts from there on. As I write this post the account has gained over 5,300 followers since mid-August which is phenomenal. It’s become a place of inspiration and encouragement for thousands of women (and the occasional man) who sew but felt they, we, are being overlooked or dismissed by the burgeoning home-dressmaking market because of our age.

One thing that some people misunderstood about the whole idea wasn’t that we wanted to be separate from any other age group, like some kind of exclusive club, not at all, we just felt that some people-magazines, pattern companies-were overlooking the opportunity to tap into a market and a group who had cash to spend, had styling ideas, skills and experience to share, originality, fun, empathy, quirkiness, style. For a lot of the people who started following the account they had very little experience of using social media to broaden their horizons in sewing terms, and for connecting with like-minded people around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, as well as Europe. Suddenly there was an identifiable hashtag to follow which took you straight to the heart of this community. In fact it isn’t only sewing that members are supportive with, many face health challenges, a changing body with the menopause, dealing with elderly parents or caring for grandchildren so there have already been lots of conversations that have strayed away from sewing completely, and that’s OK too.

It’s been gratifying to see that a number of sources are making a big effort to be more diverse in who they feature in articles or as models. There is still a long way to go though because we’re conscious it might appear that it’s mostly white middle-aged women who sew, but we know this isn’t the case because there are many women of colour who sew too, maybe they don’t engage as much with Instagram or other social media though? I don’t know the answer to this one except to say that all are welcome because that’s the whole point. It makes me very happy when much younger dressmakers comment to me that they also follow us to get inspiration and advice, which is also the reason that follow younger sewers myself!

Onwards, there was another amazing Sewing Weekender in August which was quickly followed by SewPhotoHop on Instagram in September organised by Rachel ‘House of Pinheiro‘. I didn’t keep up with this one so much and dipped in and out a bit [the same happened with Sewvember as well] but it’s a good way to find new people to follow and be inspired by if all this is new to you. I’ve just remembered there was MIYMarch (Make it Yourself) but that passed me by completely this year.

In September I became a Minerva Crafts blogger so I’m provided with fabric by them to make up into my own choice of garment and then write a comprehensive review for their own website. I’m enjoying this and it’s another string to my bow.

October saw me return to Birmingham for the SewBrum event which is magnificently organised by Charlotte ‘English Girl at Home’. It’s a chance for dressmakers from all over the place to come together in Birmingham, shop for fabric, visit Guthrie & Ghani and generally hang out together.

I was really chuffed to be invited by Amy Thomas, editor of Love Sewing magazine to contribute an article about the Fashioned from Nature exhibition to the magazine in November. It was a really big deal for me to write something specifically to appear in print. I’ve been lucky enough to write pattern reviews for Love Sewing and Sew Now in the past but this was a new departure. I’d love to do more like this in the future. There’s definitely a little something coming up early in the new year but I can’t talk about that yet…..

My name in print!

I organised my own meet-up at Walthamstow Market in east London in mid-November which fortunately was a beautiful day as it was well attended and we nearly all went for lunch afterwards, to continue chatting! It was the first meet-up for quite a number of the attendees but I think everyone enjoyed themselves and were delighted to get the chance to chat together in real life and not just in a comments box!

Loving all the fabrics in Saeed’s, Walthamstow

Hasan, better known as the Man Outside Sainsbury’s!

There was a lovely pre-Christmas sewing day in Cambridge called SewCam organised by Jen Walker ‘The Gingerthread Girl’ which was a delightful antidote to festive fever, and a final London Stitcher’s meet up the following weekend to round everything off nicely!

getting started at SewCam in December

When I look back at everything in this way it makes me so happy to realise the sheer quantity of wonderful opportunities that my love of dressmaking has brought me this year in particular. I continue to teach my lovely group of ladies locally-they think all this Instagram nonsense is ridiculous in a good way! I’ve met so many awesome and inspiring women in real life for the first time and I’ve deepened some of the friendships that started last year, or longer, ago. Many people think that ‘friends’ on Insta aren’t real but that just isn’t true. Of course there are those people you should give a wide berth to and we are continually plagued by nut-jobs who think women who sew will be interested in their guns, or love of God, or whatever but if we all continue to report them then so much the better.

Wherever you are in your sewing ‘journey’ I hope you find it relaxing, fulfilling, inspiring, empowering, distracting, whatever you need it to be. I’ll never stop learning and being creative is so good for us ( we knew this all along but science is finally realising it too!)

I’ve already got some ideas for next year but, to be honest, much of 2018 just unfolded one thing at a time without too much planning in advance. I’d like to expand my own skills in 2019 and not necessarily in dressmaking terms, I have always enjoyed art so perhaps I should get my pencils and paints back out again.

There’s always an element of me hoping you enjoy what I write and find the reviews helpful or informative although, in truth, I’d write them anyway as a record. Thank you for joining me on the journey and Happy New Year, and here’s to lots more sewing adventures, maybe we’ll meet ‘in real life’ in 2019?!

Happy sewing,

Sue

Isca dress by Marilla Walker

You’ll know if you’ve read my recent blog about pattern companies that I have a ‘mixed’ opinion shall we say of indie patterns. Some of them are great with interesting, original and well-drafted patterns, others are too simplistic, lacking in instructions and poorly drafted. I happen to think that Marilla’s patterns definitely fall into the first category.

I first met Marilla nearly 3 years ago when she organised, via Instagram, a meet up at Walthamstow market in London. It was my first sewing meet up and I was more than a little nervous because it was such an alien idea in principle-turning up in a part of London I’d never visited before to meet a bunch of people I’d never met before! It was like a sewing blind date but I needn’t have worried because everyone (of course) was lovely. I’m slightly embarrassed now that I think about it that it’s actually taken me this long to try one of Marilla’s patterns out, anyway, I’ve broken my duck and I want to tell you all about the Isca dress.

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You actually get two quite different dresses for the price of one with just a few similarities. I got mine as a PDF but you can also buy them as paper patterns which Marilla hand-prints and packs herself-what a lovely touch.

I was particularly intrigued by the draped wrap-over front so this was the one I printed off and happily the PDF all went together well. I’m getting better at them now I think because I found them quite tricky to start with. I don’t always print off the making instructions because they can be quite lengthy but I did print these in ‘booklet’ format so now I don’t need to lug the laptop out to the workroom. Although I didn’t encounter any problems Marilla does give lots of useful advice in the instruction booklet about all sorts of details so if this is all new to you either read them first on a screen or print off the booklet before you do anything else.

The pattern has been out for a little while now so there are quite a few to look at for fabric inspiration but I think this striped version by Takaka is particularly lovely, if you search with the hashtag ‘iscashirtdress’ on Instagram you’ll find more for both styles.

I’d found a lovely soft chambray at Hitchin market which was perfect because it had sufficient structure but with drapiness. You could also choose a washed linen, a printed medium-weight crepe could look nice too, nothing with a lot of stretch though because of the neck-band feature-it could be a nightmare of stretchiness to sew then.

Because my fabric was plain it’s a breeze to cut out, yay, no matching!

The sizing isn’t the traditional 10/12/14 etc, take your body measurements and compare them to the chart [in inches or centimetres] and then pick the size nearest your measurements. There’s also a chart of finished garment measurements which will help you decide the sort of final fit you want. I’m really happy with the fit personally, it’s a close fit to the bust and shoulders becoming looser over the waist. One really useful thing Marilla has included, although I personally don’t have to use it, is instructions for a full or small bust adjustment. This would be particularly helpful because the strange shapes of the front bodice pieces could make this a bit of a head-scratcher otherwise.

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FBA and SBA instructions

Although I’m a very experienced dressmaker there is some very helpful guidance if this a more advanced construction to you. Marilla is very thorough about where to trim seams, which direction to press them and how to make lapped or French seams if you want to use them. I didn’t top stitch any of the seams but you could do this if you wanted faux lapped seams for example.

I found topstitching the narrow band at the neck the trickiest part to sew, it had a tendency to twist and I had to unpick and re-sew a couple of sections. It would be well worth tacking this whole area if you’re in any doubt at all, it might save you time and frustration in the long run.

I really like the unusual details in this dress such as the raglan shoulder seam at the back, and of course the draping front section with it’s narrow band.

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The raglan shoulder seam at the back. It has a small yoke piece on the inside too, to stabilise the shoulder which is another construction detail I like.

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The back has darts and a waist seam which give it a very smooth, fitted shape in contrast to the front.

The pattern pieces for the front may look slightly curious shapes initially but the reason will become clear when they are joined together. There is bust shaping which results in the dress sitting smoothly over the bust and armhole area. This is a very well drafted pattern and a lot of time, care and attention has gone into it. This is the sort of indie pattern worth investing in! A single designer has put so much into this pattern for it to be the best it can be and I really respect that.

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I love the way it ties across to the side seam.

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Indoor Doris is a bit skinnier than me so the dress looks a bit droopy on her. Also, it’s crumpled because I took these photos after I’d worn it for the day!

When I finished the dress all it needed was a button-fortunately Marilla points out that unless you need the dress to open up for nursing then this can be purely decorative. I had a rummage and found a single beautiful vintage button so I used that, it would have been too big otherwise. IMG_8012I finished the dress in time to wear at the Sewing Weekender in Cambridge and it got lots of very nice compliments which is down to the pattern not me being model material!

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pockets on a slant!

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The other pocket is under the ‘flap’

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The hem dips at the front and isn’t intended to be level all the way round.

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I’ll definitely make another version of this style of Isca before too long but the shirt-dress version won’t be very far down my autumn sewing list either. Plain or patterned, this is a stylish and unusual dress, in many ways it sums up why I love to sew my own clothes than a more ‘conventional’ style pattern might. You’d be very hard-pushed to find a dress like this in the shops and even if you did it would almost certainly come with a designer price tag! It could be sleeveless for summer in a cotton, or a really soft babycord with a sweater under for cooler weather. There’s room to eat a big lunch as well!!

Marilla has created a number of other patterns, including the Roberts collection dungarees which have been incredibly popular so check out her website to see them all. She’s an amazingly crafty and creative woman and if you want to hear her talking more about her background you can listen to her on the Stitcher’s Brew podcast here. Oh, and she makes her own shoes too…and bras…and soap…in fact I don’t think there’s anything she wouldn’t have a go at making!!

So normal blog service has been resumed and I’ve returned to writing about dressmaking and not just getting uppity about sewing stuff that bothers me….although judging by all the responses I’ve had, much of it bothers you too.

Until next time,

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

Inside Couture at the Fashion & Textiles Museum, London.

I’ve been to this event once before, which you can read about here, and I found it so fascinating that when I heard there was another one coming up I booked myself onto it. That date should have been in March…then the snows came! No one could get there so it got postponed to April 20th, what we couldn’t have predicted was that from snow we went to it being the hottest April day since Domesday or something…

Fortunately Amy and Teresa could both get there too, and Claire-Louise who I hadn’t met before so I was really looking forward to it. Non-Londoner Amy got a bit lost coming out of the station (London Bridge is in the midst of major refurbishments so follow the exit for the Shard if you decide to go to the FTM then turn left at the base of the Shard and follow the signs) but only missed a minute or two.

When you book an event at the FTM the price includes entrance to their current exhibition which this time is the evolution of the T-shirt as a communicative tool. This finishes on May 6th though, the next show will be the designs of Orla Kiely which should also be very interesting.

 

 

Because I’ve been once before some of the dresses I’d seen previously but no matter because curator Dennis Nothdruft kindly made sure there were quite a number that were different. The FTM has a collection of couture garments in it’s archive, many of which were donated by one lady and cover a period of 30-40 years. What is interesting to see is how the garments were altered over time so that she could continue to wear them. Couture garments generally have wider seam allowances so that they can be let out, or taken in, as required. Hems were often raised or lowered too as fashion, or age, dictated.  It’s also interesting that the insides of many of the garments pre-1960’s aren’t lined, the seams are all whip stitched by hand instead. Teresa worked at David and Elizabeth Emmanuel early in her career and the clientele actually expected to see the insides of the clothes so that they knew they were all hand-made and finished. Nowadays we expect quality clothing, especially high-end, to be lined and all boning, zips etc to be invisible. This is because if you’re not going to pay skilled staff to hand-finish every seam then they need to be covered up instead, hence the linings. Thank you Teresa, that’s something I had never realised or considered before.

 

This beautiful striped organza dress was made by Christian Dior exclusively for the Elizabeth Arden boutique in New York.

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Vintage Chanel

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These two little ‘flaps’ are actually weights which tuck inside the wearers bra to hold the V neck securely but invisibly in place-very clever!

 

 

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Love the beautiful draped back with integral rose on this chic crepe cocktail dress by Guy Laroche, that’s a horizontal bust dart you can see in the lining and it’s not something we see often these days.

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The rouleau bow detail is padded, a simple detail to copy.

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There was a zip in the lining AND a zip in the outer dress so that both fitted properly to give the desired effect to the deeply draped back.

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finely-pleated Sybil Connolly Irish linen gown

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All the edges are neatly bound

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The cuffs have short zips so that they fit snugly to the wrist.

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Internal stitching holding all the pleats in position.

This unusual dress by Irish designer Sybil Connolly. She was renowned for her use of Irish textiles and this dress is a particularly good example of her signature finely pleated handkerchief linen. It is made of many metres of fabric all folded into tiny pleats which are then securely stitched onto a backing fabric so that they can’t move.

 

This acid-yellow coat is by Bellville Sassoon from 1972, it’s probably intended as an evening coat and personally I think it’s more like a costume….The Mikado perhaps?

 

This Belville Sassoon number from the late Eighties reminded me so much of the dresses I used to make when I worked at David Fielden straight out of college. Lots of ruched fabric and fluffy tulle skirts. This is a very pretty warp-printed silk taffeta, I wish I’d had a £ for every huge bow I cut during that era, I’d have a enough for a holiday in the sun!!

 

This short dress is much more recent and is by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin. It’s an extremely ‘deconstructed’ dress with a unevenly pleated silk tulle front and a fine wool jersey back. The whole thing is encircled by ties which actually hold all the pleats in position-I went to ‘sort out’ those side pleats on the right but they were all sewn like that!

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This daring dress is by Christian Lacroix who no longer produces couture garments. There are lots of different elements going on and undoubtedly it looks far better on a body than the hanger.

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Alec Wek in the dress from the Autumn 2000 collection

 

This confection of chiffon and beaded embroidery could only be Versace! It’s the ultimate patchwork project that’s for sure.

This is just a selection of the outfits we saw, there were probably over a dozen in all. It’s so interesting to see how couture and high end garments have changed over the decades. We all expect clothing to be lined for example and lots of these weren’t, they were beautifully hand finished undoubtedly but there was no sign of an overlocker! In fact, on one organza cocktail dress the seam edges were left raw because that was actually the least visible finish, and these dresses would never go in the washing machine anyway, the tiny hems on organza and chiffon were all minutely hand-rolled. There were SO many hooks and eyes too but if you can afford couture then you can definitely afford a ladies maid to do them all up for you.

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Teresa, Claire-Louise, Amy and me

So, definitely a fun thing to do, especially with sewing friends as there is lots to look at and techniques to store away in a corner of your brain that might come in handy one day. I expect the next one will be in the Autumn so check the website for details. Incidentally Teresa will be teaching how to drape and model on the stand at FTM in June so if that’s something you’re interested in the trying she’s a fantastic person to learn from.

….and to round off the afternoon we went to the pub! Lot’s more sewing talk and gossip over a cheeky Aperol Spritz before we headed our separate ways. Such a lovely day, thank you ladies.

Happy Sewing,

Sue

 

 

a visit to the Fashion Technology Academy, London.

I hadn’t heard of the Fashion Technology Academy before they started following me on Instagram last year but I’m so glad I had the opportunity recently to visit and see first-hand what they can offer. Tree of Stitchless.TV tagged me in post to alert me to the next blogger event they were holding, one quick email later and I had myself an invite.

The premises for Fashion Enter are in Finsbury Park, north London and it was very straightforward to get there by public transport and a short walk. I arrived a bit early and for a while I thought I’d got the wrong day but then 3 fellow-bloggers who I already know Alex (Sewrendipity), Kathy (Sew Dainty) and Emily (Self-assembly Required) burst through the door which was huge relief! Shortly after that two other lovely ladies, Amy and Nicki of Sewalicious arrived too.

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no self-respecting sewer can walk away from fabric when it’s right there in front of them!

Director Jenni Sutton gave us a run-down of everything that’s possible within the 4 elements of Fashion Enter which is a “not for profit social enterprise that strives to be a centre of excellence for sampling, grading, production and for learning and development of skills within the fashion and textiles industry” This is currently the only place of it’s kind in the UK but there are plans for one to open in Leicester in the near future.

Fashion Capital is aimed at fashion students, emerging brands and established designers and offers advice and talk about ethical manufacturing and I found it’s aims very impressive. I’d urge you have a look at their own website for fully correct information as it was a lot for us to take in and I fear I’m confusing things a bit here!

The Fashion Technology Academy is all about training, the courses on offer, student testimonials and success stories.

Finally there is also FCFabric studio which sells fabric!

They have backing from the DWP (Dept of Work & Pensions) as well as industry including ASOS, M&S, and Finery amongst others. The factory, which was first established in 2010, opened in these premises in 2015 and manufactures around 8000 garments per week with capacity for up to 10,000, the staff are all highly trained with excellent working conditions in factory terms. It is clean and safe, everyone has proper breaks or rest periods and no night working, no one is paid cash-in-hand and it’s all fully audited.

What this means is that they are able to use the factory as a benchmark demonstrating to other clothing companies and retailers how ethical manufacture can be in this country as opposed to sweatshops overseas. Many companies come in to see this in action and and take advice how to make it possible with their own operations.

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This may look dauntingly busy but I’m sure we’ve all seen horrific images of sweatshops and this is nothing like them.

As well as large-scale manufacturing there is The Fashion Studio which can create patterns, make toiles, grade and produce small-scale production. This was first set up in 2008 and can produce anything from a single garment up to 300 units. It can work with new business start-ups as well as established high street brands. This can be a real advantage for emerging designers who might have no real clue how to actually get their clothes into production. There are professional and highly trained pattern cutters and graders who use the latest softwear to digitise and grade patterns and make ‘markers’ for the most efficient and cost-effective use of fabric, and highly-skilled machinists with years of experience make the garments.

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These ladies are highly experienced sample machinists, their level of skill is awesome! They can make any garment in (almost) any fabric and do it at a speed the rest of us can only dream of!!

It’s against this background that the Fashion Technology Academy can teach any area within the ‘garment life cycle’ including pattern making, fabric inspection, laying and cutting, quality control, machine maintenance and stitching from accredited Level 1 to Level 5.

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Up-to-date, quality machines

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Alvaform provide all the mannequins. I wasn’t familiar with the brand but I’ve had look at their website and there’s a fascinating short video showing how the forms are made.

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Everyone knows where they stand…

I spotted these signs in a couple of places and I could do with following their advice myself…IMG_5175IMG_5214

There was such a lot to take in but I know we were all so impressed with what we saw.

Personally, when I started out I knew I didn’t want to be a fashion designer but it was incredibly difficult to find out where to learn the technical skills I needed in order to be able to work in the actual making of clothing, the development and construction after the design stage through to going into production. I was fortunate that I eventually got into the London College of Fashion and studied Clothing Technology but the Fashion Technology Academy, which didn’t open until 2016, would have been a real alternative for me. Not everyone wants to be a fashion designer but still has a huge interest in clothing and I think university courses don’t cater so much for the practical element, many designers leave college with little real knowledge of how to make the clothing they visualise and they need the help of expert technicians to bring them to reality. Po-faced academics etc can sniff all they like about ‘inconsequential’ fashion being of no importance but have you ever seen any of them going about their daily lives stark naked!? The fact remains that the fashion and clothing industry in the UK generates a VAST amount of income on which we all depend.

I think the concept of Fashion Enter seems like proper joined-up thinking, it can give students a realistic chance of building themselves a career in the fashion industry without the pressure of getting a degree, it’s practical hands-on training with industry links and excellent job prospects. In addition to accredited courses and apprenticeships they also offer part-time courses in several subject areas including TR [transformational reconstruction] pattern cutting. These are often at weekends and anyone can attend them, subject to meeting the right criteria.

Jenni also told us that they’ve recently had confirmation that they will be moving into the next-door premises soon and will offer tailoring courses and factory production so the operation is continuing to grow all the time.

I’ll tell you more about how we got on with our taster session of TR in the next blog (clue: it was loads of fun) I really think this model could be copied elsewhere in the UK and give thousands of potential students who may not want to do an academic subject the chance to do something more practical and creative instead. If you’re within a reasonable distance of the London area and thinking of studying clothing production, or you have a child who is struggling to know where to go for courses of this type then this could be the place to go, it’s certainly worth investigating more closely. Obviously I’ve only scratched the surface so I urge you to contact them directly for information.

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With our goody bags! Rachel Pinheiro of House of Pinheiro had joined us later, photo credit to Kath (Sew Dainty)

As always all opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own but I’m grateful for the chance to visit the FTA and see it at first-hand. Thank you, I really enjoyed it!

Happy Sewing

Sue