Did you keep any of your old college course work? I am by nature something of a hoarder but even I was surprised when an unpromising cardboard folder came to light recently while we were having a grand clear out. It said “Russia 1980” on the outside so I was excited to think that it contained some memorabilia from my school trip of that year [The trip caused some local controversy at the time because that year the USSR had invaded Afghanistan just a matter of weeks earlier and some people felt we should no longer go. Our Head Mistress, the doughty Miss Pagan, was having none of it so we went regardless! Many countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics later that year in protest…about the invasion, not because my school trip went ahead]
I digress, upon opening the folder I found it contained nothing of that trip at all but it did contain many of the sketches and designs I produced whilst at London College of Fashion between 1983-85 including the final project when I produced two ‘mass market’ bridal outfits. Well what a trip down memory lane they proved to be! It was a period of my life when I was so happy with what I was doing, I’d finally found the right course for me (technical garment construction and not just design) I had a great bunch of college mates, I loved it.
I’m sharing the sketches partly because then I’ve documented everything for my own reference and enjoyment, but also because I hope there might be things of interest to others as well. Fashion-wise the early eighties were a time of puffball skirts and massive ruffles, enormous sleeves and ra-ra skirts, wide collars and even wider shoulder pads! Princess Diana was the style darling of the fashion magazines and whatever she wore became a trend. Last year I shared lots of press clippings and photos from my early working career which you can still read here.
What follows are the design and development sheets for an evening wear module [you can see now why it’s my first love when it comes to making] We had to design variations of similar dresses and gowns to illustrate how a garment could be adapted and simplified to cater for it’s appropriate market.
For my final project I opted to make two bridal outfits, I’m guessing they were mid-range and the jacket and skirt was probably intended as a register office outfit whilst the ‘Laura Ashley” dress and jacket was probably for a simple church wedding or registry office. I had a real client for the suit which was my then-boyfriend’s sister. This was handy because she paid for the fabrics for it, the jacket and skirt were white crepe-back satin and the blouse underneath was a soft green georgette. I think my ‘brand’ was possibly Jacques Verts who specialised in smart workwear for the modern working woman (definitely power shoulder pads with everything) or mother-of-the-bride type outfits with matching everything, dresses, jackets, hats, bags, shoes, the lot.
Laura Ashley were hugely popular in the Eighties with their feminine and floral styles, they also produced a range of dresses for brides and bridesmaids at reasonable prices so that will be why I picked them as my brand for this project.
Well, there we are, another wander back into the past for some Eighties fashion extravagance. You’ll see why I probably won’t embrace the current trend for wide collars because I did them the last time around (although fabulous sleeves will always hold an attraction for me) we were all busy being New Romantics but that Steve Strange eye make-up was difficult to pull off with glasses!
The @sewover50 account is nothing if not helpful. When Cathy messaged Judith and Sandy recently she said she was ‘nearly 60, keen as mustard, but where do I start?’ Well she picked a very good place to start…hold on, that’s the Sound of Music but you know what I mean.
So Judith and Sandy turned it over to you and you really didn’t let us down (as if you ever would…) I’ve trawled through all your comments and collated as best I can all the wise and helpful advice you’ve contributed here. I’m not sure how coherent it will be but here goes…
First up is simply get to know your machine-assuming you have one [choosing a machine is a whole other post] if possible have a lesson on it at the shop you bought it from, definitely look through the manual and watch the DVD; familiarise yourself with threading it and winding a bobbin; learn to change the needle; practice sewing straight parallel lines before moving on to curves and pivoting corners. You could draw lines onto paper and practice that way (don’t use the needle on fabric after that though, it will probably spoil your fabric by being blunt) one contributor said she taught her child by using dot-to-dot puzzles from a book-one page at a time presumably, not the whole book under the needle…. Learning to manipulate and manoeuvre fabric is something which comes in time with practice, you’ll get there and rushing won’t actually help…take your time.
Get used to ‘driving’ your machine, can you adjust the speed manually? Sometimes the foot pedal has a switch you can change. Have it on a slower setting if that’s possible, otherwise it’s all down to your foot control which again will come with practice. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably right in front of the work area so you have a clear view of what you’re sewing, do you need an extra light? a daylight lamp or a daylight bulb in an old one can be really helpful. If you have the option to leave your machine out so you can use it at any time this will allow you to sew whenever you get a chance and not have to keep getting it out and putting it away.
Gradually compile yourself a ‘stitch bible’ of what your machine can do, use pieces of plain fabric (two layers) old sheets or a duvet cover are perfect for this, then use a coloured thread so that everything shows up clearly. Even if your machine can only sew straight and zigzag it’s still possible to make buttonholes and neaten seams. If there are other feet or attachments what are they for? They might be useful as you progress, the zip foot will probably be an essential although they are usually the most basic type unless you’re buying a high-end machine. Learning a few seam finishes without an overlocker will help you make longer-lasting garments too. You might like to make examples of gathers or darts and other seam types to create your own reference resource which you can always go back to. It might sound ‘old-school’ but whatever works for you is fine.
Ready to think about what to sew? Things like tote bags, aprons or cushion covers are an excellent place to begin because they will enable you to practice sewing plenty of straight lines with a few corners and/or curves. You can include patch pockets, possibly a zip, add trims, embellishment or applique for interest. Everything will help you to become more confident using your machine. Having a bash at making costumes for kids is another great way of getting more confident, you don’t have to be so precious about the materials you use, the fit might not be spot-on but you’ll have fun exploring new ideas. Or what about accessories or clothes for dolls or toys? Kids clothes can be lovely to make but they can also be very fiddly if you’re making something tiny with little armholes for example. Stick to little T-shirts and leggings to begin with perhaps.
This brings me onto another area: you’ll find masses of free patterns online especially for simple things like bags and aprons, sewing magazines always feature these types of project along with well-photographed step-by-step guides. As you progress there are also free patterns for all sorts of other things including garments, many pattern companies will have one or two free ones which, if you’re happy with it, will hopefully encourage you to buy from them too. The Mandy Boat tee by Tessuti is only 3 pattern pieces and really simple to construct for example. With regards to fabric choices it’s probably sensible to stick to a woven fabric like cotton poplin or lawn, or a stable knit like Ponte Roma to begin with, they don’t wiggle about when you’re cutting or sewing, chiffon and slippery satin will have to wait just a bit longer. Another contributor suggested choose a pattern with no more than 5 pieces to start with, what about pyjama shorts or an elasticated waist skirt for example? A really simple dirndl skirt doesn’t need a pattern at all, just gather widths of fabric onto a waistband.
So you’ve got the machine and you’ve got the pattern and now you need to sew it. You don’t need masses of equipment to start off with but I would suggest that you invest in decent quality pins, scissors and a tape measure for starters [I’m set in my ways here because I never use rotary cutters or weights]
Look out for classes locally-is there a fabric shop nearby? what about a college offering part-time courses? There are so many online tutorials that you could learn entirely via the internet and never pay a penny. There are also specific online courses which you can pay for, these are probably of a higher quality and consistency as a result, whichever you opt for you can access them at any time wherever you are in the world. Many indie pattern companies create sewalongs for their patterns so you can follow at your own pace, Closet Case and Tilly and the Buttons are just two for example. Others like Sew Essential, Stitch Sisters and GuthrieGhani (all in the UK) have created easy to follow tutorials, often for specific techniques and processes which can be really helpful. That’s all online but there are plenty of excellent books to help, a really good one is the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing which has been in print for years but has such clear illustrations and instructions that it’s useful as ever. It covers SO many different techniques and examples of garment and fabric types, many that you’ve probably never even heard of! Seamwork magazine and Tilly’s book ‘Love at First Stitch’ were also suggested as excellent sources of clear, concise patterns with instructions, there will be many others which might be equally useful.
Other sources of support and advice (apart from SewOver50 obviously!) are Facebook groups-McCalls patterns have one which offers ‘massive global support for fellow sewists of all abilities’, there are area-specific ones too which you might prefer if they are more local. These forums could be especially helpful if you live miles from anyone else who sews. If quilting or patchwork are more what you want there many groups or guilds for these, I was also told about the American Sewing Guild and the Australian Sewing Guild.
If you like Instagram try using a specific hashtag for a pattern #lbpullover #wikstenhaori for example. You’ll get to see what it looks like on real people of all figure types which can be so helpful before you start. There are loads of SewOver50 ones too including #so50dresses, #so50tops or #so50visible for example. Or listening to a podcast like Love to Sewwhile you sew can be both entertaining and informative.
Another suggestion was to take a good look at the ready to wear clothes you would buy to see what the fabric is like, does it drape well or how has it been cut, or does the style even suit me? These days you can try things on and take sneaky photos in the changing rooms so that you’ve got a clearer idea when you’re planning your makes. It’s also a really good idea to make a ‘toile’ or ‘muslin’ so that you don’t spoil your ‘good’ fabric with errors that can’t be rectified, why not use a old duvet cover or sheets? It’s always a good idea to make a toile in a fabric which is similar to the fashion fabric you intend to use. This is because all fabrics behave differently with different properties which might not work appropriately. Make sure you read the pattern envelope carefully for fabric-type advice, or ask in the shop where you’re buying it; get a sample from online shops to avoid costly mistakes.
As you improve you could treat yourself to a complete sewing kit which include everything you need-pattern, fabric, trims, notions etc to make a project, or what about a subscription box?
What about trying refashioning? Take an old or unloved garment and reinvent it as something new. Or you could unpick a worn out garment to make a pattern from and recreate it in new fabric.
Don’t forget that sewing and fitting are two different things and there’s no quick and foolproof way to learn either, it just takes time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the size you buy in the shops is the size that you cut out-check your own measurements! Better to cut a little big and take it down than try to add extra (the voice of bitter experience!!) You will make mistakes but don’t beat yourself up over them, do a step at a time and don’t worry about step 7 or 11 or whatever until you get to it. By all means browse through the instructions before you start (especially before you cut anything out though!) to familiarise yourself, gather your favourite books or other information if you’re going to need clarification of a technique. Above all, enjoy the process, this is your time and you’re investing in yourself even if the project isn’t ultimately for you. Don’t be put off by those who finish projects quicker than you, they’ve probably been doing it for longer than you. Blanca of @Blakandblanca said “thoughtful making gets the best results” and I agree. Even those of us who have sewn for decades were beginners once and I certainly still make mistakes, to quote Einstein (approximately) “a person who never made a mistake never made anything” or something like that.
Thank you to every single person who contributed their thoughts and advice on the original post, I can’t possibly attribute each one I’ve used unfortunately but I hope everyone, especially nervous beginners, will find this post useful. If there’s anything else you’d like to add you can leave a comment at the end. Incidentally, I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago where I detailed a few starter thoughts when it comes to getting yourself ready preparing and cutting out your projects. I’m a stickler for accurate cutting because if that is correct to start with, and then something goes a bit wonky, you’ll have some idea if it’s your cutting or the pattern (and there’s been a lot of talk about accuracy or otherwise of pricy Indie patterns recently!)
I haven’t attempted to put too many links in here because you’re all over the world so what might be appropriate for the UK probably won’t be where you are. Hopefully you’ll get some generally helpful ideas as a springboard though.
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 I 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…..
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!
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!
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?!
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!)
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.
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.
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]
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.
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.
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!
I settled on the mantra of every home-sewer…
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.
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….
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.
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!
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.
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.
In my previous post I talked about my visit to the Fashion Technology Academy for their first ‘Behind the Seams’ blogger event and in this one I’m talking about the other part of our visit which was a taster session of TR (Transformational Reconstruction) pattern cutting with the brilliant Claudette Joseph.
TR is a technique that has been developed by Shingo Sato, a Japanese designer who at one time worked for the late Azzedine Alaia. He creates fantastical garments that are both extraordinary and beautiful tromp l’oeil. When I was at college this technique didn’t really exist, the only way to create similar garments with such dramatic elements was to ‘model’ it on the stand in fabric and then create flat patterns from that. Shingo has developed a way to make these patterns now using a 2D method and he travels the world teaching it at very in-demand workshops.
Claudette Joseph is a 5 times Master and the leading UK exponent of the technique so have a 2 hour session from her was a real privilege.
First of all she explained more about the technique and then she showed us some of her amazing samples, these are just a few of them and they are mind-blowing!
and a few more….
It doesn’t just have to be bodices either, these sleeves are typical too…
Claudette patiently showed us how to create a beautiful spiral-pleated effect on half a front bodice.
I enjoyed this part of our visit so much, it really got my creative juices flowing. It’s a technique that you have to concentrate fully on as there’s plenty of room for error, we all felt doubtful as we went along and were convinced it was all going wrong! In truth, you are only likely to see examples of TR on high end couture and bespoke garments, probably evening or wedding gowns in particular, but simplified versions of it would look beautiful on more affordable garments.
After I got home I cut my pattern in fabric and put it together to see how it might look.
I want to thank Claudette for her patience and for sharing her knowledge with us, I’d definitely like to do one of her 2 day workshops sometime later in the year. If you’re intrigued to try TR then you can check the website for details of future workshops.
Our day finally ended with us very generously being given 4m of fabric to take away, as well as a box of Moon threads from William Gee-thank you.
We all had a brilliant day and if you’re looking for somewhere to study the fashion industry this could be a great alternative to college or Uni.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I spotted these signs in a couple of places and I could do with following their advice myself…
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.
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!