College Days refound!

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.

The earliest image is from before my college days and it’s the dress I made for my school friend’s 21st birthday in October 1982. It was entirely self-drafted because I hadn’t formally learnt pattern cutting yet at this point. I can remember it clearly and the notes on the sketch are very thorough. It was a great party too!

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.

This was the high-end dress as a starting point, it still has fabric swatches attached. I will have trawled the fabric suppliers around the college in London’s West End and been one of those annoying students who would ask for swatches of expensive fabrics which they had no possibility of ever buying! Most of the shops and showrooms were amazingly tolerant of us. It’s such a typical 80s dress with ruffles and bows a-plenty.
This was the middle market version so the fabric would have been less costly and the ruffle quota was much reduced, it was similar but simplified. There would have been fewer hand-sewn elements but the silhouette is still recognisable.
This is the mass market dress and I made notes to the side as well. It is still recognisable as the coming from the same silhouette but costs were further reduced by using inexpensive fabric and much less of it. I wonder if I made a conscious decision to use felt tip for the sketch as well?
Variations for the high-end dress (I obviously preferred this market as the drawings are better!)
more development ideas
Crikey, getting very carried away with the felt pens here, I think there’s a hint of Antony Price and Thierry Mugler creeping in
I remember starting to make this one up but I don’t think it was ever finished, I wonder what happened to it? It’s probably in a box in my parents’ loft!
lots of detailed annotations
yet more variations
Blimey!
What I find interesting about all of these sketches is the similarity to the designs I would actually go on to work on at David Fielden after I left college. At this point I had no real idea that bridal and evening wear was the direction I would eventually take, I just knew that I really enjoyed it.
And this is where my bridal career effectively began, it was the optional bridalwear module in the second year of the course. I still had a hankering for theatrical costume so this was a perfect outlet for those ideas. I cut and made this dress, eventually I disassembled it and I know I still have the buttons at least in my ‘collection’.
Sleeves were clearly a ‘thing’ for me!
I don’t remember what these were related to, just general evening wear I guess
woaah, more enormous sleeves, and rosettes too

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.

Quite a bit of Eighties power shoulders going on in these

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.

I remember those box pleats being the very devil to work on, I think I made things very complex for myself with them. I bought a pretty white cotton damask fabric from Laura Ashley to make my sample from (like tablecloth fabric but softer) I’m pretty sure there’s still a bit of it knocking about in one of my fabric boxes…I wonder what happened to the dress and jacket though?

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!

rocking my Eighties mullet (specs sponsored by Everest double glazing…)

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

a multitasking Festive outfit

The Festive season is often a reason to make, or buy, a special new outfit to wear for office parties or Christmas Day but this year’s Festive season things will be very different for most of us. I don’t want to be entirely negative though so, as part of the Lamazi blogger team, I thought I’d make something which is a little bit Christmassy but will double up as a ‘regular’ winter dress too. 

I’ve chosen the cord velvet from Danish Design in a gorgeous shade of aubergine-I’m always a sucker for purple-but it comes in several other beautiful rich shades including a sumptuous gold and a stunning teal too. I picked this fabric because it’s a medium weight stretch jersey and has soft pile which makes it lovely to the touch. I’ve made a dress but you could easily make tops or wide-legged pants in it, or babies and children’s clothes too because it’s washable and crease resistant. 

Whilst I love a complex make to really get my teeth into I felt this wasn’t a garment which warranted lots of time. Making a special Christmas once-worn garment wasn’t appropriate any longer so I wanted something quite simple but adaptable and for that reason I’ve picked the Somerset T-shirt by Maven Patterns. I’ve made a few of these now, the bones of it are beautifully simple, it has a self-neatened bateau neckline, a slightly fitted silhouette and four sleeve options. I’ve chosen the Bishop sleeve with a long cuff but I’ve hacked the sleeve to make it even fuller, and I’ll lengthen the body to create a dress finishing below the knee.

Another idea was to add a flared skirt which looks nice but didn’t think I would use it as much as the straight version.

The Somerset has excellent very full instructions with lots of tips and advice to get a good finish. There’s a useful sheet to write all your information including body measurements and fit alterations, and a fabric stretch gauge to check you have enough stretch for the pattern to fit properly. You can also list the needle type and size you’ve used, stitch type and length and anything else you might want to remember for another time. 

To increase the size of the sleeves I took the bishop sleeve pattern and drew 5 vertical lines from each of the notches from shoulder to hem. Each segment will become slightly wider as it gets nearer the bottom edge so make sure they are even in size.

Cut a piece of spot and cross or tracing paper bigger than the pattern as it is, mark a grainline running right down the paper and then lay the pattern piece on top of it, matching the grain on the pattern to the grain line you’ve just drawn. Next, I carefully cut up to the top of the marked lines taking care not to snip right through at the top, keep it attached by a tiny amount to act as a pivot point. [If you don’t want to cut your original pattern piece I suggest you trace off a new one to use instead] Then you splay the hem edge apart by a few centimetres each, I added 2.5cms between the each of the ‘side’ segments and 5cms to the central one. By doing this you’re adding fullness at the hem but not altering the sleeve head. You could put additional fullness to the sleeve head by opening the top edge too if you wanted. I lengthened the sleeve by 5cms too so that it would have plenty of blousy fullness into the cuff. 

Trace around the new shape using a tracing wheel or pencil and cut out the new piece transferring all markings. One final change I made was to add a bias grainline because I knew I wanted to play with the stripe direction of the rib on the fabric.

I had pre-washed my fabric and partly tumble dried it on ‘low’ before letting it dry completely on the clothes airer, it seemed to survive the experience just fine. 

I made an arbitrary choice of how long to make the dress by simply holding the tape measure at my shoulder and seeing where it came to at about mid-shin! I attached another piece of spot and cross to the bottom of the front and back pattern pieces and drew on the skirt length I wanted, plus a generous hem. I knew I would have to make some adjustments to the hip and thigh during the fitting stage, just make sure that the hip and thigh measurements are plenty big enough because you can always remove some, it’s much harder to add later! 

The ‘cord’ runs across the width of the fabric and I wanted the rib to run down the length of my dress which meant I had to fold the fabric across the width. Try not to twist the fabric if you have to fold this way, I marked a single rib by following it across the width with pins so that I can see it clearly. Fabrics like corduroy, velvet or velour have a pile or ‘nap’ which will shade so if you cut some pieces facing one way on the grain and some pieces running the other way then you will end up with a garment that looks like it’s been made with two different colour fabrics, even though you know that isn’t the case. If you’re unsure what quantity of this type of fabric to buy go with the ‘with nap’ amount on the pattern information and follow the one-way layplan to cut out.

I marked the rib across the fabric with pins so that I could be sure it was folded correctly and would not be twisted.

Once I’d cut all my pieces I followed the making instructions which are very comprehensive. If you have a walking foot for your machine I strongly recommend you use it because velour like this has a ‘pile’ and has a tendency to ‘creep’ as you sew so you might find that it starts off with all the edges matching but by the time you get to the other end the two fabrics are no longer matching. I also strongly recommend you tack any seams you are unsure about. You could use a million pins but by the time you’ve done all that you could have basted it in place which does the same job and usually more effectively. I was able to coverstitch the neck and the skirt hem on the Pfaff Coverlock 3.0 I have on loan as a brand ambassador but it works just as well by overlocking the raw edges and twin-needle stitching them down, or zigzag and twin-needle, or two rows sewn singly if you don’t have a twin needle. When it comes to pressing a fabric like this, if you don’t have a special needle board (and few of us do) then you should press on the reverse at all times. You could place a towel on your pressing surface and lay the fabric on top so that the pile of the cloth is against the pile of the towel which will help protect it. Use a pressing cloth as well. These tips will also apply to regular corduroy or any non-stretch fabrics with a pile too.

The bell of the sleeve is gathered using shirring elastic which helps to retain some of the stretch required for the cuff. 

Once the sleeves were in I sewed up one side seam directly on the overlocker and then pinned the other side seam to fit myself. This was because I didn’t know if I’d need a split at the hem to be able to walk in the dress and I didn’t want to end up with loads of unpicking!

First I tried it right side out to get an idea of how it was fitting initially, then I turned it inside out to pin.

I looked at the fit in the mirror first of all and the sewn side seam was quite wavy, this could be cured by either adjusting the differential feed on the overlocker so that it doesn’t happen, or you could stitch the seam on the sewing machine and then overlock the edges [This is what I opted to do because I could see I had to take a fair bit off the side seams anyway to achieve a fit I was happy with] Then I put the dress on inside out in front of the mirror and pinned out the excess. I turned it right side out and tried it on again to check the fit, then finally sewed both side seams on the sewing machine, I used a ‘stretch’ needle, a ballpoint or jersey needle performs the same task. Either use a short straight stitch or a straightened out zigzag, make some samples to see which works best for your particular fabric. 

Now I tried it on the dress inside out to adjust the seams
I pinned out a fair bit of the side seams to give more shape through the waist and hips.
still Inside out
Finally I put the pinned dress back on the right way around to check I was happy with the fit before making the adjustments.

Lastly, the cuffs go on and the skirt is hemmed. 

And that’s pretty much it, it pops straight over the head so no tricky closures, because of the stretch it didn’t need a split, and that means there’s room for Christmas lunch and it won’t look like a dish rag after spending the afternoon curled up on the sofa watching Christmas telly!

cheers!
I’ve dressed it down with an ancient knitted gilet plus a wide belt, long boots and my much loved Alexander McQueen scarf
I love a scarf to keep my neck warm!
It could be the strangest of Christmases but let’s raise a glass to a much better 2021

I have to say that I’m really happy with this dress because it ticks all the boxes I wanted it to. It’s comfortable but it looks Christmassy, it looks great with opaque tights, heels and jewellery, but also with boots, a chunky belt, a roll neck top underneath for extra warmth or a cosy scarf…and did I mention it’s comfortable! #secretpyjamas It also has the advantage of rolling up and going in the corner of a bag or suitcase and coming back out again not needing a press. Bonus!!

If you have a favourite T-shirt pattern you could try lengthening it into a dress, Tilly and the Buttons Tabitha from Make it Simple does that. You could browse the SewOver50 post I wrote listing loads of go-to T-shirt patterns for inspiration, or maybe copy a RTW one you already have?

At 160cms the fabric is very wide so a little will go a long way, and because it’s so soft it would be lovely for children’s wear too. It needs a little bit of careful handling but a lot of that is in the ground work. Make sure you lay it up and cut it accurately to minimise unnecessary stretching or distortion (try to keep it flat on the table or lay it up on the floor) pin or tack the seams so they don’t move about and press carefully as you go and you should be fine. 

It’s been an incredibly tough year for so many and I wouldn’t blame you for not feeling like making anything new to wear. However, if crafting and creating bring you joy and respite then you could view it as a gift to yourself, and when you choose to buy from small companies like Lamazi and Maven then you are helping them too.

Thank you to Lamazi for providing me with the fabric for me to write my review, and I hope you find it helpful. 

Until next time, Happy sewing

Sue

A few hem finish suggestions-a Sew Over 50 topic

Over on the @SewOver50 account recently I shared a few of my favourite ways to finish hems or raw edges, although course it is absolutely NOT a definitive list by any means. I thought I would expand a little here on the blog using more photos of projects I’ve made in recent years. They are in no particular order either and if I wrote a blog post about the whole garment then I’ve linked it so you can read more if you want to.

Obviously there are the usual hand-finished hems using slip hemming stitch or herringbone stitch for example, which I use a lot too, but I thought I’d share a few alternatives which you might not know, or haven’t used for a while.

I’m beginning here with a faced hem…

This was the hem of the first Refashioners project I attempted. It was a jacket made from two pairs of my husband’s old jeans and because I wanted to use as much of the reclaimed fabric as possible I cut shaped facings for the lower edge. As you can see I also finished the edge with bias binding I made from offcuts of dress fabric.
The inside of the finished jacket looked like this. I understitched the lower edge of the facing to help it roll better and also slip-stitched it in various places including the seams and pocket bags to secure the facing without the stitching showing on the front.
This is also a much more shaped facing on the hem of Tilly and the Buttons Orla blouse. This can be a beautifully neat finish on a curve, it gives some ‘weight’ and crispness to the hem too and makes it less likely to curl upwards on blouses for example.
This Orla blouse was from 4 years ago, I like the exposed zip in the back too (the instructions for putting it in were excellent if I remember correctly)

The next one is an interesting hem finish which is very useful especially if you want a quality finish on evening or bridal wear. It uses something called ‘crin’, crinoline or horsehair braid (it doesn’t involve actual horsehair any longer though!) I’ve used it here on an organza skirt for the Dior New Look-inspired evening dress I made 4 years ago. As well as a crisp finish I wanted the hem to have distinct body and wave to it so this was the ideal technique. Crin comes in various widths, this was 5cms, lots of colours too because it’s more commonly used these days to trim hats and fascinators.

Helpfully, my fabric had horizontal stripes, some opaque and some sheer so I started by placing the crin on the front of the fabric and lining it up with the bottom edge of an opaque stripe. It is stitched on very close to the edge being careful not to stretch the crin as I sew, it’s important it lies flat. By sewing the crin onto the right side of the fabric when you flip it to the inside the raw edge of your fabric is enclosed underneath. To be honest I was making up the method as I went along because my experience of this technique previously came from altering wedding dresses which used it so this isn’t foolproof. I would strongly advise you to try a few samples first so that you have the version which looks best for your particular garment. [the eagle eyed amongst you might notice in my photo that I’ve sewn the crin to the wrong side of the fabric! I obviously did it and photographed it before realising what I’d done. As this was four years ago I don’t have any other photo!]
Once the crin is turned up to the inside I slip-hemmed it by hand, it looks a bit messy on the inside because the black shows up but it’s absolutely fine on the right side.
the finished dress, it’s one of my favourites I’ve ever made, and it’s a partial-refashion too because the velvet bodice used to be a skirt!

If you’re making a wedding dress for example and mounting all the skirt pieces onto another fabric, when you use crin on the hem (or bias binding for that matter) by hand-sewing the hem all your stitches will be invisible because you can catch them just through the mounting fabric. This is a couture technique so if you look at red carpet dresses with no visible stitching at the hem this will be how they achieved it. You can apply it as appropriate to any garment that you’ve mounted to another fabric though.

The next couple of photos are where I’ve used bias binding to neaten a hem. I find this a really useful technique if you need the maximum amount of hem because you can sew a very small seam allowance. It’s good if you’re letting down hems to gain length too, on trousers or children’s clothing for example.

Sew the binding on very close to the raw edge, this was a Simple Sew Lizzie dress
Here I made my own binding which is first sewn on with a 5mm seam allowance and then understitched which is what you see here. I made this Grainline Farrow dress for a magazine review
The hem is turned up and I’ve slipstitched it in place by hand.
This is the same technique with ready-made bias binding.
the finished skirt.
My final example is the little christening gown I made from a wedding dress.

If you have fine fabric why not consider using your overlocker if you have one on the rolled hem setting? Refer to your manual for specific instructions how to adjust your machine and make samples first to ensure it’s going to be satisfactory for your particular fabric. You’ll frequently see it used on chiffon or georgette but I’ve used it successfully here on fine cotton lawn, jersey and a stretch velour. If you don’t have an overlocker you can probably achieve a similar finish on your sewing using a rolled hem foot ideally and a small zigzag stitch-as always I would urge you to experiment to see what is possible. Some of the simplest machines can still give you an interesting variety of finishes.

This is one of my variations on the Camber Set
I roll-hemmed a straight strip of fabric here which I then pleated onto the sleeve using a fork!
I roll-hemmed a straight strip top and bottom and gathered it onto the sleeve here.
An extended length sleeve on the River pattern from Megan Nielsen, roll-hemmed and elasticated

I find the next couture/tailoring technique very useful on sleeves as well as coat, jacket or dress hems. I’ve used it here on my Tilly and the Buttons tester-made Eden. I wasn’t taught this method as such, I discovered it for myself whilst doing alterations taking up sleeves for people. I haven’t ever encountered it in pattern making instructions but I think it’s an excellent way of stabilising the cuffs of coats and jackets.

Using strips of iron-on interfacing to stabilise the area where the cuffs fold up
This is felted-type woollen fabric where hand stitching is unlikely to show through but if you have a finer fabric I would make the interfacing strip wider so that I then caught the inter with my stitches and not the fabric itself. See the next photo to explain this better.
You can see the interfacing is above the hem line here and I’ve herringbone stitched it by hand. You can also see how I’ve created a chain link to anchor the lining to vent opening on the back of the skirt.
the hemming stitches aren’t visible from the outside using this technique.

For this next finish I’ve used a triple straight stitch to create the effect of top stitching on the hem, and several seams, of this Simple Sew Zoe hack I made last summer.

If you have the foot attachment and stitch capability for your sewing machine you can always try blind-hemming. I must admit I don’t use it that often, and only then on completely straight hems. There is a bit of a knack to it and I tend to only use it on a busy print which will disguise any botched bits (yes really!) or if I’m tight for time compared with any other method. It’s not quite the same quality of finish you will see on RTW clothes though which uses a specific machine to blind stitch the hem.

Personally I always think the stitches show a bit too much no matter how hard I try to get them really tiny. It’s very easy to catch a bit too much fabric, or none at all! In truth I probably don’t practice enough!!
This Regatta dress from Alice & Co was an ideal application because the skirt has a straight, unshaped hem.

I think it’s worth mentioning that I like to use bias binding to neaten necklines (and armholes) too. I particularly like this as a way of avoiding using a neck or armhole facing which can be notorious for constantly rolling into view or flapping about annoyingly. The version you can see in the following two applications is a strip which I’ve folded in half lengthways first, the raw edges are matched and sewn. The seam is trimmed slightly and snipped if necessary, then turned so that the edge is enclosed and finally topstitched close to the folded edge to secure. In both the following examples I have sewn the binding on the wrong side of the fabric so that the binding turns to the outside to be visible and decorative but you could just as easily sew it to the right side so that it turns to the inside of the finished garment.

the binding is sewn on the inside first
the binding then flips to the outside to become visible.
This dress was made for the Simplicity pattern hacking challenge last year
Instead of the usual hem on this dress I created a casing which I threaded elastic through.

I’ve have included another variation of binding on a hem to show you how it can be combined with other techniques to achieve a quality finish. I used it here on a sheer organza which was mounted onto a backing fabric of slipper satin. This meant that when I turned the hem up the hand-stitching was invisible from the outside because the stitches only went through the mounting fabric.

the hem from the inside
the finished hem from the outside.
the finished dress, I was off to a wedding!

The next technique is more usually the choice of the pattern designer than the dressmaker, although if you know a little about pattern cutting you might be able to do it for yourself. This is an example of a deep grown-on faced hem on the Trend Patterns Square dress which I’ve made twice. It works brilliantly on this dress because the hem edges are straight (square!) plus it gives real weight to the hem which is another satisfying detail.

Inside the hem the corners are mitred.

Pin hemming is a technique I’ve used for decades on fine fabrics. You can replicate it using a rolled hem foot attachment on your machine although it can be trial and error which size works best for you with variable results. I have two different sizes of foot, 2mm and 4mm and I can’t get on with either, I’ve since been told that 3mm is the optimum size for most fabrics but I’m not prepared to risk another mistake when I know I can achieve a good quality result this way instead.

Simply put, I turn over the raw edge by approximately 5mm and stitch very close to the folded edge. Carefully trim the excess close to the stitching line and give it a light press. Then turn again and stitch a second time on top of the first row of stitching. This particular example is from the Trend Bias T-shirt dress I made a few months ago.

turn stitch and trim
make another narrow hem, stitch a second time on top of the first line. Press. There will only be one row of stitching visible on the outside.

If you read about my pattern hack of the Simple Sew Cocoon dress you will see how this variation of hemming came about. I added a large chunk of fabric to give extra length to a dress that would have been too short without it. This method is probably best on a straight hem, you could use it on sleeves too.

attaching a band to the hem.
The finished dress (worn with walking shoes during lockdown!)

This next one is a very much trial and error. I used an edging stitch on my Pfaff sewing machine to hem this Broderie Anglaise blouse which I made recently.

I put a piece of Stitch and Tear behind the fabric as I sewed.
It looked like this after I finished
It will look like this on the reverse.
gently pull away the backing and then carefully snip off the excess fabric up to the stitching line.
Eventually the hem looked like this, the sleeves are trimmed with Broderie Anglaise

I’ve used a variation of a faced hem recently when, instead of bias binding, I used straight strips of fabric to turn up a straight hem on a dirndl skirt. There will be a blog of this particular garment coming soon…

I had some narrow strips of white cotton lawn lying around so I joined them to make a piece long enough to go around the whole hem.
I folded the strip lengthwise.
attach the strip to the hem, raw edges together.
I understitched it, plus there’s a band on the front which is what you can see folded over in order to enclose the facing eventually.
The band folds back to enclose the hem facing.
There’s a little bit of puckering on the reverse here but this is invisible from the front, a good press will sort that out.

To finish with is a very simple method of rolling a fairly narrow hem. Overlock the edge first using three (or even two) threads then carefully turn it once and then again so that the overlocking is enclosed inside. If the fabric is quite ‘bouncy’ and won’t stay in position you could press the edge over once first and then roll it the second time. Whilst the result is wider than pin hemming it is narrower, and possibly quicker and more accurate, than a simple turned hem.

Stitching the hem with the overlocked edge rolled to the inside.

This last suggestion is from a project which will be blogged very soon. I cut 6cms wide bias strips which I used to create a self-neatening hem on a pair of pyjama shorts.

the bias strips were applied right side to wrong side on the shorts hems.
the bias strip is on the inside at the moment
It is then turned up to the outside where I trimmed and stitched it with ricrac braid.

I hope you’ve found my suggestions useful or thought provoking, is there something here which you’ve never encountered before, or that’s made you think how you could use a technique you already know in a different way? The idea is to show you a few ways of finishing hems, or raw edges, in new and interesting ways. I’ve not included the usual hand stitching methods because there’s nothing new to think about, although please let me know if you use these methods in a more unusual application. Just because the pattern instructions tell you to finish the hem a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it that way…although think it through carefully just in case the really is a reason!

Until next time, Happy Sewing

Sue

Sewing puffballs in the 80s!

If you’ve ever read the ‘a bit about me’ page here on the blog you’ll see that in the mid 1980s I worked for a bridal and evening wear company in London called David Fielden. I left the London College of Fashion in the summer of 1985 and started working there on my 23rd birthday. Originally I’d wanted to be a costume designer but during my college course I realised that going into bridal or evening wear was a very good alternative. In those days you just sent letters and CVs out to companies you were interested in working for in the hope that they might like the sound of you and be desperate to add you to their payroll! As it happened my letter was passed to Caroline who was the production manager for David in the evening wear workroom and she had done the same course as me a year earlier so she had a fair idea of what I was potentially capable of.

‘trying on’ one of the dresses back in the day…that was fabulous gold-printed panne velvet but it shed everywhere and bits of gold fibre stuck to you! I’ve written on the back that it’s style 668D (the D denoted a dress) in April 1986

They took me on and I was going to be cutting samples rather than sewing which initially I was disappointed about. I soon learned that cutting was a huge responsibility in its own right. I was used to making my own clothes with inexpensive fabrics which I bought in my local market or fabric shops, now I was working with fabulous silk taffeta, dupion, Duchesse and slipper satins, velvet, beaded and embellished brocades, even the lining was always silk habutai, it was all a bit dazzling and quite scary to start with! I was provided with a massive pair of shears which soon gave me a callous on my finger joint, I still have a mark there to this day. We had two huge waist-high cutting tables with all the fabrics stored underneath. The pattern cutter would pass me the initial pattern to cut as a toile so that she and the designer could assess the shape and fit on the stand. When they were happy I would be given the pattern along with all the fabrics and instructions for the new sample. It was part of my job to get everything out of the fabric as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible so I always spent time working this out like pattern Tetris before going near it with the scissors! I kept sketches of the layplan for future reference too. No piece was ever cut on a fold, we always used a whole front or a whole back, sleeves, bodice pieces or skirt panels could be ‘flipped’ though to fit them in. The pattern cutter would make the pieces in card from the paper version and I would draw around them in chalk or marking pencil, the pattern pieces would be held down on the fabric with long heavy weights, this means the pattern lasts much much longer than a paper one would. The card patterns would be grouped in style number order onto large hooks a bit like safety pins, each size was on a different hook. Some styles got informal names which is what we identified them by in the workroom, for example there was the ‘Doris Day’ which was a pretty 50s-style gown with silk satin boned bodice and clouds of diamante-studded ankle length tulle skirts, it came in soft pastel colours, and the ‘Carmen Miranda’ which was a longer length figure-hugging silk bodice overlaid with sequin-embellished lace and extravagantly ruffled silk organza mermaid skirts. This was one of the best selling designs and came in a variety of colours including black and scarlet, or could be ordered in other colours and fabric combinations by special order. Just one outworker made this style because she became so skilled at it, every ruffle was edged using a rolled-hem foot and it was then sandwiched between diagonal skirt panels. Oh and there were net petticoats under all of that too! It was very popular for magazine shoots because of it’s ‘film star’ quality and we were regularly squashing dresses unceremoniously into boxes or into dress bags to be couriered on the back of motor bikes to Fleet Street! Some of those poor dresses really suffered and looked quite tired in the end.

Actress Stephanie Beacham wearing a gown similar to the Carmen Miranda in a women’s magazine
another version of the dress in an ad for a car (?)
Anita Dobson was a huge star in Eastenders on TV at this time
Actress Koo Stark, I remember this being an Ottoman jacket (a type of fabric with heavy ribbing) and separate spotted tulle skirt. The edge of the ruffles were finished with the plastic ‘wire’ stripped out of Rigilene boning and zigzagged onto the edge to make them stand out like this!
This is Kathy, who is Sir Ian Botham’s wife, modelling one of the most popular designs. It’s a pity you can’t see the back as it’s cut away to reveal the small of your back and shoulder blades. There’s a scrap of the fabrics pinned to the picture, it was silk chiffon covered in paillettes over a layer of silk satin and lining, all the edges were finished with bias binding so that the sequins didn’t cut the wearer to ribbons! The skirt is silk organza with a net underskirt.
the same dress worn by Bridget Nielsen, Sylvester Stallone’s then-wife
Same dress again, I think this was editorial in a magazine

Whilst the showroom was in the King’s Road, Chelsea at that time the evening wear workroom was set up across town in Farringdon around the corner from now-trendy Exmouth Market, it was definitely not glamorous and the Woolworth’s pick-n-mix counter was the only interesting eatery back then!!

As well as Caroline, who is still a friend all these years later, there was a designer (David didn’t design, he had no drawing or making skills, he employed others to do it for him) a highly-skilled pattern cutter, a sample machinist and a sample cutter (me) When I wasn’t cutting and costing samples and special orders, Caroline and I would cut production too which was all sewn by out-workers who came in regularly to drop off the garments they had made and to collect the next batch, they were paid an agreed piece rate per garment. Each one was a highly skilled, and fast, machinist who would make the whole garment from start to finish. They all had different capabilities so some would stick to simpler garments like skirts or bodices whilst others made the fantastic evening gowns and ball dresses which David Fielden had become known for. Some of them worked in their own homes and didn’t make a massive quantity of garments, and a couple had set up their own workrooms where they then employed a few extra machinists so they could make larger quantities, we are still only talking about several dozen garments per week though, not hundreds or thousands.

Twice a year the designer, Charlotte, would go with David and his business partner Walter to various fabric shows such as Premier Vision to select beautiful fabrics for the next collection. A lot of the fabrics such as silk taffeta, dupion or Duchesse satins would come from local London suppliers in very quick time, often the same day if the colour was in stock, but the premium fabrics from France or Italy would be ordered in sample lengths ranging from as little as 3 metres up to 10 or 20 metres in the new seasons colours. If those styles then went into production then larger orders would be placed at a later date.

Each new collection was often an evolution of the previous one with a few of the most popular styles being developed in new colours and fabrics, plus some completely new styles. It was always exciting to have the new fabrics starting to arrive from overseas, there were some exquisitely beautiful embellished laces and tulles, occasionally further down the line one or two would prove problematic because the supplier couldn’t produce them quickly enough, or in the quantities required. Each ‘piece’ of lace often came in a 5m length which didn’t go very far. My least favourite fabrics to cut were slipper satin or chiffon, they moved about like the very devil and often it was best to sandwich them between two sheets of spot and cross paper.

Short dress with a velvet bodice and ‘rolls’ of velvet on the shoulders, hip and hem (I wish I could remember what went inside the rolls, it could have been wadding)
It may not look it but this was the most expensive fabric I ever worked on costing around £125 per metre back then! It was a base fabric of lace which was embellished with sequins. THEN it was covered in another more open lace fabric and over-sprayed with gold so that it left a stencil-type design. It came in just 3m pieces if I remember rightly.

I would cut everything for each garment as required and then make a ‘bundle’ including all trims (covered buttons, zip, piping cord etc) and labels. All the cut pieces were folded neatly and layered up and then the whole bundle was carefully folded in several layers of tissue paper and tied up along with identifying sticky labels for the outworker to use when they returned it to us in plastic cover.

Once the new collection was underway Caroline would sew samples as well to speed the process up. Models would come in periodically for fittings and to assess a design on the body. As well as cutting the new samples I also cut one-offs and special orders which could be interesting. For example, we made the gown that Sarah Brightman wore to the party after the world premier of Phantom of the Opera [we memorably made another dress for her to wear for a Gala at the Royal Albert Hall, she had a fitting at the showroom and declared it should be taken in which we duly did at the workroom. It was delivered back to her but with only hours to spare she realised she now couldn’t inflate her lungs to actually sing in it!! Back to the workroom it came to be let out again!] I cut gowns for Daryl Hannah (star of Splash with Tom Hanks) allegedly for the Oscars but I never saw her in it, and I cut a dress for Aretha Franklin too but I never saw that one photographed either. Sadly we never got to meet any of the celebrity clientele, we would just get a set of measurements and fittings would usually take place at the shop. Some stars would borrow gowns for swish parties and premiers so nothing much changes does it? Vogue magazine especially commissioned a version of one dress for a shoot, it was a black taffeta column gown with a wide pale pink sash as I recall. When it returned to the workroom afterwards the hem was water-marked and full of sand! It had been photographed on a beach!!

Dame Joan Collins with her then-partner Bill Wiggins. The dress was a beautiful rose pink colour, I think it was the teensiest bit snug on her.
Dame Shirley Bassey, that ruched bodice and skirt took so much fabric!
a black and white studio shot of the same style that Joan Collins was wearing, this sample was made in beautiful French printed silk taffeta, there was a large puffed bow on the back.
and another version in shot silk taffeta
I remember cutting this little dress, it was made especially for the photo
I think style was being made when I first went to work at David Fielden.

There were times of stress and all-hands-on-deck but lots of laughs too. I have very positive memories of my 3 years at David Fielden, we were a good team and I learnt so much from my colleagues, they were all brilliant at their jobs with so much experience under their belts already. The company was growing fast during those three years and David took on catwalk shows at London Fashion Week (that was very stressful for everyone because of the workload and short lead times involved!) David and Walter travelled to many overseas shows to exhibit which garnered orders from prestige stores in the US such as Neimann Marcus and Bloomingdales among others, stores in Europe, and Harrods in London. [we could have cried though to see these beautiful dresses being crammed into boxes for despatch]

In the end I left after three years because I got fed up with commuting into London every day, I went to work in the dress fabrics department of our local John Lewis branch so that was more textiles and cloth knowledge to store away in my brain to come in handy another day. I’m sorry the quality of the pictures isn’t great, the cuttings were all torn from magazines and newspapers at the time so they are a little tatty in places.

David Fielden is still in business I believe although the premises have moved to Fulham now, I think they specialise entirely in bridal wear but I’m not sure. The website isn’t particularly up to date but you get an flavour.

This turned into quite a long post (I hope you had a coffee in hand?!) but there’s a few pictures to look at too!! I’ve really enjoyed thinking back to my early working days to tell you all about them and I guess I was very fortunate to work with such a variety of very beautiful fabrics, maybe now you can see why I’m always SO particular about cutting out at the start of any project! So until next time,

Sue

Kimono:Kyoto to Catwalk

I hadn’t really planned to write anything about the Kimono:Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition at the V&A because (obviously) I am not an expert and in no way qualified to authoritatively discuss the historic and cultural influences of Japan and the kimono, but then Covid 19 reared its ugly head and now the museum is closed for the foreseeable future, and at the time of writing this we are confined to our homes. Based on this I have decided to put the photos I took into some sort of album so that anyone who had hoped to go to the show can take a look, along with occasional comments based on the information I gleaned from the show and also from a lovely book “Fashioning Kimono” which I was given by a friend recently. I really hope that the current crisis eventually abates to allow this fascinating and lovely exhibition to reopen its doors to the public.

Because I’m a V&A member I had a ticket to a preview day which I nearly didn’t go to but I’m so glad now that I did. The show is set out largely chronologically, visitors are greeted initially by examples of an early nineteenth century kimono alongside a modern example by a Japanese designer and one with Japanese-influence by John Galliano for Christian Dior.

Kimono (meaning ’thing to wear’) is the national dress of Japan and is worn by both men and women. It is a one-piece front-wrapping garment which has changed little for millennia. Traditionally it is made by using the minimum number of cuts from a bolt of fabric around 12 metres long and 40 centimetres wide so that all the fabric is used. Kimono is now more commonly used as a name which covers several styles which, in Japan, would each have their own name to distinguish them, usually by the style of sleeve they have. The fabrics are made from a variety of fibres, most notably silk of course but also cotton or other plant fibres including ramie and hemp.

Moving into the next room there are numerous examples of exquisite historic kimono, alongside pattern books featuring beautiful line drawings of designs which clients could choose from.

A variety of different techniques were used to decorate the kimono including various methods of dyeing such as variations of tie-dye using shibori embroidery, and a form of warp (or weft) printing which, simply put, is when the warp threads are printed before the fabric is then woven. This gives the finished design an attractive fuzzy-edged quality, you may know it as Ikat. [Please excuse my vague descriptions as I didn’t make any written notes.] The red kimono below is a very fine example of kanoko shibori, a labour-intensive, and very expensive, method of tie-dyeing.

This is a beautiful example of a whole narrative running up and across the kimono.

The next spectacular garment, which is part of the V&A’s permanent collection, was made for and worn by a concubine who would parade in it for all to see. The quality of the embellishment is mind-boggling, there is masses of gold thread, applique, some of the creatures have ‘whiskers’ and ‘hair’. The shoes are modern reproductions of the sort of elevated footwear these women would have worn, one imagines they had attendants accompanying them to prevent a mishap?!

The garment underneath is a modern reproduction.

The exhibition explores the complex relationship between Japan and the West and the influences that had over the fashions of each nation. Once trade routes between Japan and the West started opening up a thirst for the beautiful silk fabrics and kimono-style garments began to develop. From the seventeenth century onwards merchants would take return with these items and they were soon adopted by fashionable high society. Japan responded to this demand by manufacturing textiles and garments specifically for the western export market.

This garment is slightly unusual because the silk fabric was woven in Europe and was then taken to Japan where it was made into this traditional garment, the process was more often the other way around.
This garment was made in Indian woven cotton, a popular fabric in Japan, and was worn as a type of undergarment beneath the richer silk garments, or informally in the home.
This is an example of a Japanese-influenced garment made from Indian manufactured textiles, probably cotton, specifically for the export market. Fashionable European society like to wear them informally at home. There were also padded variations of garments too which were traditionally used for sleeping in in Japan and they became the precursor to the dressing gown as we now know it in the west.
‘Lord and Lady Clapham’ two slightly sinister eighteenth century dolls with real hair wearing Japanese-influenced outfits.
This beautiful mid-nineteenth century ensemble was made from beautiful Japanese silk but in the fashionable mode of the day.
This elegant Victorian lady is wearing an exquisitely embroidered kimono, the actual garment was displayed nearby.
and this gauze gown is the actual garment featured in the beautiful Victorian portrait above.
The colours are still so fresh and vibrant.

From this point on the exhibition demonstrates the two-way process of influences between Japan and the west. Japan had developed a huge export market of textiles and apparel specifically for the west, and western styles of attire and textile design can be seen entering Japanese design, away from the previous traditional norms.

The print on this mens kimono is interesting because it features motifs of the Russo-Japanese war 1904-1905
a mantle designed by Paul Poiret in about 1913. The early twentieth century saw many fashion designers including Paul Poiret and Callot Seours being heavily influenced by Japanese style. This was in part because it offered a new freedom to the women who had been restricted by corsets and other encumbrances for centuries.
This early twentieth-century robe was created using beautiful embroidered cloth made for the export market. It’s a ‘modernised’ version of traditional floral designs.
Even Cartier got involved, this is a pair of stunning Japanese-influenced diamond brooches, and two smaller ones.
A late nineteenth century kimono which is a mix of traditional floral design overlaid with a geometric design. If you look closely at the centre back seam you can see how the pieces of the garment were embroidered separately and then sewn together because they aren’t quite a perfect match.
This beautiful design is from the early twentieth century for a young girl.
The influence of Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh can clearly be seen in this robe from around 1912-1926
These kimono, and those in the photo below are largely from the early twentieth century and demonstrate a variety of printing techniques

The final space is the most spectacular simply because of the dazzling array of beautiful garments and the high-ceilinged space they are displayed in.

The daily wearing of kimono gradually fell out of fashion for most Japanese people during the last century when western styles of dressing were adopted. There has been a move back to them for significant events including marriage, or certain birthdays.
Two modern kimono belonging to a young woman and a seven-year-old child
There are a mixture of ensembles from both Japanese and western designers, including Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.
a 21st century wedding ensemble made from exquisite jacquard-woven silk cloth but very much in the ancient traditional style
This fabulous garment is also for a wedding, the embroidery is absolutely breathtaking.
a close-up of the embroidery, cranes are auspicious and a symbol of longevity.
the neon colours of the right-hand kimono are very striking, the print features various undersea creatures such as jellyfish but also, at the bottom left, a aircraft which has crashed into the sea!
How is this for awesome pattern matching?
This ensemble is from 2009
the short coat to the left is by Nigerian-born and London-based designer Duro Olowo from his Autumn/Winter 2015 collection and it mixes both Japanese and Nigerian influences.
Kimono-inspired garments from Star Wars films, the outfit on the left was worn by Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi.
This section of the exhibition looks at the influences of Japanese attire in films and also music videos.
On the left is a very luxe housecoat that belonged to Freddie Mercury and the red outfit was designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier for Madonna.
Icelandic singer Bjork photographed in this Alexander McQueen-designed outfit
It can only be John Galliano for Christian Dior!
pose like the model??
hand-painted and appliquéd lace with scattered bugle beads
This final spectacular garment was made especially for the exhibition

In conclusion, I hope you enjoyed a brief skip through an exhibition which had so much to offer. It’s visually stunning and has many thoughtful, and helpful, explanations of the links between Japanese and Western fashion and style. I am indebted to the book “Fashioning Kimono” for a few technical explanations which I’ve transcribed in my own words here but I do not seek to go in depth, I hope you understand.

It would be such a pity if more people can’t, eventually, get to see this lovely show but only time will tell how the current world situation works out. I have recently found this YouTube series of short films with the V&A curator guiding you around the show so you might enjoy watching it.

In the meantime, keep washing those hands!

Sue

#so50visible challenge 2020

It’s back! After the success of the first #so50visible challenge in 2019 we thought you might like to do it again, especially the thousands of you who have discovered @sewover50 since last year and who might have missed joining in.

In early 2019 we set you a challenge to find a pattern which featured an older model (at least 45+) and make it. If you thought this would be easy then you would have been mistaken, because once we had started looking more closely we realised that this was going to be much harder than it sounded.

Rather than me reinvent the wheel again here I suggest you take a read through the extensive post I wrote at the time, and its follow-up, so that you have some understanding of the challenge we set and how the whole idea came about. There is also a VERY extensive list of as many patterns as we could source at that time.

Since last year I’m cautiously optimistic that the situation seems to have improved somewhat. Sandy and Judith have been diligently saving in Highlights over on the Instagram account many of the new patterns that have been released in the the last twelve months which feature older models-male as well as female. Some of these patterns are by companies which have been consistently good at using a variety of models of all ages whilst for others this is a first toe in the water, which is great to see.

It seems that a lot more companies are actively using older women amongst their choice of models now (although a few still think we all want to wear the frumpier selection of what’s on offer-very wrong!) For the most part though, of the pattern companies who are choosing older models, they realise that we can be stylish, creative, outspoken individuals who do not have a shampoo and set once a week, don’t want to be stereotyped and who have money to spend on quality products.

I’ll list as many of the new patterns as I can but, if you’re tempted to join in with the challenge, I would strongly urge you to take a look at those I’ve already listed because each website will include that brand’s new patterns anyway.

Among the new ones we know of are, in no particular order:

Cashmerette-Washington dress and Rivermont Top and Dress

The Maker’s Atelier-there is wide range of patterns to pick from including several new designs Shawl Collar Dress, Shawl Collar Coat, Over-sized shirt dress, Blazer and Wrap Dress

Style Arc-Sheryl stretch or woven pants, among others.

That Wendy Ward-brand new book ‘Sewing Basics for Every Body’, the Kim jumpsuit and the Dylan Peacoat particularly

Helen’s Closet-Donovan skirt

Rebecca Page-slim-fit Cargo pants

The Sewing Revival-the Fantail Top and the Stitchbird dress are the most recent but all their adult patterns qualify

Wardrobe by Me-Men’s overshirt

Sew Liberated-Lichen Duster coat

Grainline Studio-Uniform Tunic

Pattern Union-Lulu top

Tilly and the Buttons-new Make it Simple book various styles

Thread Theory-Newcastle Cardigan

Tessuti-Tamiko pants and Berlin jacket

Naughty Bobbin-Sizzler sundress

Colette Patterns-Ariel dress

Sinclair Patterns-Jessica bodycon dress

Simplicity and Butterick have improved considerably since last year and we have been told that they are actively including more mature models in their catalogues now, let’s hope this is the case. There are now a reasonable number of patterns to choose from (too many to list here individually) so browse their website or catalogues to see if there’s something that appeals.

Tuesday Stitches-Citrus leggings, amongst others

Seamwork Magazine-Lucy jumpsuit, there are bound to be others

I’m going to leave it there because I’ll never quite know where the end of this list should be! I would urge you to look through pattern company websites, books and catalogues for your inspiration if you’re keen to participate. I would also add that there are quite a number of small pattern companies who are hugely supportive and involved in our community but they either don’t use older models, or they use illustrations, so we can’t include them for this challenge. That said, we are very appreciative of every repost, share and use of the #sewover50 hashtag that any pattern company gives to a SewOver50er, they are always welcome and it helps to keep our little, occasionally slightly wrinkled, faces in the public eye to prove that we’re still here, and have no intention of keeping quiet.

We’ve got prizes again too so thank you to our list of sponsors (so far) who are offering a selection of patterns, and Wendy Ward is offering a copy of her new book too. Winners will be chosen at random after the challenge closes. You’re welcome to share works-in-progress but only completed garments shared with a photo of the original pattern after the closing date will be eligible to win a prize.

Stay in touch with the Instagram account while the challenge is on because that’s where you will find any new information as it crops up. Make sure you use the new #so50visible20 hashtag although the original #so50visible is OK too. If a pattern company reposts your outfit (which obviously we really hope they will!) use the #so50thanks hashtag too. Keep an eye on their Stories feed too because sometimes they forget to tag us, or the tag doesn’t work for some reason.

The #so50visible20 challenge begins on March 1st and runs for the whole of the month so what are you waiting for? Share a photo of your garment along with the source pattern, have a look in saved highlights on the IG account for various ideas how to do this, it doesn’t have to be a brand new garment this year but it should be a new photo of it, not one you’ve shared before. You could even use a flatlay this time, particularly if you don’t like putting yourself in the frame. Have a look at #so50flatlay for ideas on this. There is no limit to the number of entries you can put in either.

We can’t wait to see how SewOver50ers rise to the challenge, the more we keep this in the public eye then the more chance we have of seeing older faces featuring on pattern covers, in magazines, in sewing books. And part of the worldwide fun of this challenge is seeing makes for the opposite seasons to the one we might be living in because, let’s remember, we’re a global account, and that’s a really big deal!

Until next time,

Sue

Roses-the latest Alexander McQueen exhibit in London

This isn’t so much a blog as a photo album. I know lots of you appreciate seeing images from the beautiful exhibitions that I often go to so I thought I’d share the pictures I took when I visited the Alexander McQueen shop in Old Bond St, London recently.

If you go up to the second floor of the flagship store you will find a stunning collection of brand new as well as archive garments on display. Whilst you’re not allowed to touch, nothing is behind glass and you are free to take your time, wander around between the clothes and see everything close up and great detail.

The overarching theme this time is ‘roses’ and as well as items from the new collection there are several gowns from past ones including the Sarabande collection from 2007, and The Girl Who lived in the Tree from 2008. McQueen used many natural forms and ‘textiles’ within his collections including shells and bones as well as wood and metal, he never shied away from experimentation.

I adored seeing this dress fairly close up in Savage Beauty but I really wanted to see what happened at the back (I always do when I go to exhibitions!)
Fortunately now I can see exactly what’s happening, it’s beautiful voluptuous folds of rich duchesse satin.

Close by are the most gorgeous, extravagant gowns made from metres and metres of Italian silk taffeta, constructed to specifications which will enhance its qualities of stiffness and pliability. We were told that each gown contains none of the usual stiffeners or interfacings such as crin or horsehair, a small amount of boning is used in the Elizabethan-style collar of the red dress but that’s it.

You can see all the teeny tiny pleats which are so precisely worked in order to flow over the torso.
There is a short video to watch nearby which shows in fascinating detail how these shapes were arrived at, they are carefully built up onto supporting boned bodices and underskirts to carry the weight. The red ‘Elizabethan’ collar dress took approximately 3 weeks to construct.
The skill of manipulating the fabric into cohesive, recognisable forms is breathtaking.
On the walls nearby are photos of the gowns at various stages of construction and trying out lots of ideas, also accessorising them in different ways too.

These photos are well worth taking the time to look at because it gives you some idea of the working process as well as the starting point for ideas. There are images, for example, from Vita Sackville West’s beautiful gardens at Sissinghurst Castle in Sussex (well worth a visit too!)

What appears at first sight to be feathers is in fact finely pleated and shredded silk organza.

What I find so memorable about the show space is the sheer amount of visual information and it’s there for all to see, there’s nothing secretive or precious about the process. Although it’s aimed at students primarily anyone with an interest is welcome too, and the assistants are happy to tell you everything they know, and to point out things which may be of interest. I wonder if other designers would be as happy to open up in this way? The Sarabande Foundation was set up by Lee Alexander McQueen as a way of promoting and supporting visionary creative talent which still continues.

So, what loves a rose possibly most of all? Bees of course! Just take a look at this beautiful gown, it’s so simple in its silhouette and yet the details are stunning.

We didn’t notice the honeycomb design within the fabric initially, and it’s only as I’ve looked again at this photo that I realised there are bees woven into it too!
Can you see the bees in the weave? And some of the hexagons are in a different weave too! So much attention to detail.
Nearby are the test samples for various forms of the embroidery.
…and by complete chance I’m wearing my bee dress!
the two dresses side by side put me in mind of Swan Lake and Odette/Odile, what do you think?
This is the Queen Bee dress which had extraordinary embroidery, it’s all enclosed within a hooped ‘hive’

Just a few more photos! There are also examples of dresses nearby made from beautiful needlepoint, and one riffing on a similar theme of deconstructed corsets similar to the previous exhibition.

I couldn’t resist another selfie with those beautiful dresses (do you like my McQueen-esque boots?)
This is from our visit to the previous show earlier in the summer
McQueeeeeen! I always have great visits with Claire, Kara and Camilla

So to sum up, if you are in London in the Mayfair area I’d urge you to take a visit to the second floor of the McQueen shop. Even if you only have 30 minutes it’s a good way to spend the time and don’t worry, the doorman is friendly, tell him I sent you!!

Until next time,

Sue

Simple Sew Amelia tea dress hack.

The Amelia tea dress isn’t one I’ve sewn before but Jane who comes to my sewing class had made one last summer and I remember liking the shirred elastic midriff section. The brief for our makes this time was ‘festive’ (we usually don’t have a brief, it’s free-choice) Bearing this in mind Bobbins n Buttons had offered to provide me with fabric so I had a browse on their website and selected the Lady McElroy ‘beauty and the bees’ stretch velvet. 

The pattern isn’t intended for jersey but it is simple shapes and a bit of gathering which I knew would still work well, what you don’t want is a fabric that’s too thick or stiff though because the shirring won’t work properly. I planned to hack the pattern a bit so I decided to add long bishop sleeves as it’s winter, I also lengthened the skirt (more on that later) and of course I added pockets! 

Because of the distinctive large print I opted to remove the centre back seam and put the zip into the side seam instead, this was to save me the hassle of trying to pattern match the print across the zip. Because I’d removed the CB seam in the bodice I took it out of the skirt too, for the same reasons. If you’ve got a tricky print to match over a seam like this consider whether you can move the zip to the side, it’s not much different to put in and the opening can be a little shorter but still give you sufficient room. Now I could have a line of bees central down the back (and front of course) and just needed to get a good horizontal match too for me to be really happy.

As I said before I wanted the skirt as long as possible but there needs to be a compromise between length versus flare because of the width of the fabric. If you want the skirt to be longer you’ll need to reduce the amount of flare at the hem because you’ll be restricted by the fabric width. The wider the fabric then the more scope you have. I measured how long I could make the skirt before it would need reducing at the hem and decided it would be an acceptable length. I could add around 10cms to the hem making sure the new side seams were at a right angle to each other so that the hem will run in a smooth lineI traced around a few bees where they crossed the cutting line so that I could ensure the front and back matched as well as possible. 

In order to cut everything as efficiently as possible from the fabric I first cut the skirts against the main fold-don’t forget to exclude the CB seam or the piece will be bigger than your back bodice (if you’re excluding the zip) 

Then I refolded the fabric with the selvedges into the centre to cut the bodice pieces on the folds. This is vital to get those bees running down the centre. 

From the remaining fabric I cut a pair of long sleeves. I used the pattern from another design I’ve made a few times, I measured the armhole of the dress and compared it against the sleeve I have. It was a little smaller at the crown so I added a small amount to give it sufficient widthFinally, because it’s jersey, I chose to use a neck binding instead of the facings so I cut two narrow strips which were each the same length as the CF to CB measurement of the neck plus a couple of centimetres seam allowance. 

I increased the sleeve head by 2cms, moving it out by 1cm either side of the shoulder notch.
It’s important to keep the sleeve level when you add the extra width so draw a line at a right angle to the grainline, then move the pattern piece 1cm in each direction using the line as the axis.

Ok, so I mostly followed the instruction with a few minor changes because of my alterations. One thing I did first of all was to stabilise the back shoulder seams and the left side seams where the zip was going to go with iron-on interfacing because I don’t want them to stretch out of shape. I chose to leave the back darts in although I possibly could have eased them out as it’s a stretch fabric.

stabilised side seam before the zip goes in.

After joining the shoulder seams I added my neck binding. I folded the strips with RS out along the long edge-I didn’t join them to each other at this stage-then, starting at the V, I stitched just that section into place. This way you can sew just a small part, snip into the V and pivot at the corner more accurately. When I was happy with this I sewed the rest of the binding on leaving just the CB part unsewn, then I could join the two strips in the right place and finally attach it to the neckline. Finally I neatened the edge all the way around and then topstitched it down close to the seam to stop it rolling. 

The next part is the shirring which really isn’t difficult so don’t panic. First wind shirring elastic onto an empty bobbin BY HAND stretching it very slightly as you go, put it into the machine in the usual way (you may wish to check the manual if you have an older machine in case there is anywhere else you need to thread the elastic through) Use your matching colour thread on the top in the usual way and lengthen the stitch slightly, it doesn’t need to be zigzag or anything though. Definitely try out a test piece first and don’t forget to secure the start of each new row so that the stitching doesn’t come undone. I don’t secure the other end at this stage though in case I find I need to pull the threads up any more later. You should be able to sew 8 rows of stitching parallel to each other to complete the strip. The fabric will naturally pucker up pretty well but when you’re done stitching hover the iron with plenty of steam over it and you’ll find it gathers up some more as a result. Finally knot the ends of the threads to secure.

Then you need to attach the gathered band onto the lower part of the bodice making sure it’s evenly divided as you go.

Attaching the shirred waist section to the upper bodice.

Attach the skirts (I’d sewn the pocket bags on to each side seam before doing this. I just use my handy cardboard template which I made ages ago, I just trace around it directly onto the fabric and cut out.) 

Next the zip goes into the left side seam. I sew it here out of habit as I’m right-handed and find it easier to do up that way but put the zip in whichever side works for you. After neatening both side seams separately first I sewed up the top of the side seam by about 4cms from the armhole edge. I used an invisible zip and inserted it in the usual way, making sure the waist seams matched, and then joining the rest of the side seam once I was happy with the zip insertion. I sewed up the other side seam and I was ready to tackle the sleeves.

The sleeves are set-in so I made the elasticated cuffs on the flat first using straight strips of jersey the same length as the curved cuff edge. With the strip open and RS together I sewed it once. 

Then I folded the strip in half and sewed it on the overlocker to create a channel.

 This will turn downwards to form the cuff which I slotted wide elastic through, securing at both ends. 

Finally, I sewed the underarm seams to create the sleeves which are inserted into the dress as per the instructions. 

All that’s left to do is the hem which I sewed on the coverstitch machine which is on loan to me by Pfaff at the moment. 

I’m really pleased with how the dress has turned out, it’s very swishy and has a slightly 1940’s vibe to it. I like the extra length on the skirt and the sleeves look fab. I was a little alarmed when I saw the large scale of the print but actually I really rather like the bees now. One thing I’m not keen on (and this is down to the manufacturer and not the supplier) is that they have printed a black background design onto a white base cloth. Because the cloth has a pile it means that anywhere there are joins there is a slight hint of the white showing through which is not ideal. The velour isn’t too tricky to work with as the pile is a bit flatter than velvet but it does still ‘creep’ a bit in places so if you’re in any doubt that pins aren’t enough to keep it all in alignment make sure you tack (baste) seams together. If you have a walking foot I would definitely advise using it. 

Lots of pictures swishing about!

I hope this will help you to feel inspired and perhaps have a go at ‘hacking’ a pattern for yourself. This was a very simple one but if you look at my Simplicity blouse hack you can see just how carried away it’s possible to get!

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Sewing with a sheer fabric

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months…six months to be exact, because that’s when I wore the dress at my dear friend Jenny’s wedding in April! I know it’s a spring/summer dress but I thought the way I’ve used the fabric might be of interest if you’re thinking of tackling a tricky fabric. I’ve used a couple of techniques which could be helpful.

I bought the fabric in Fancy Silks in Birmingham last autumn with the intention of making an Asymmetric Dress TPC2 by Trend Patterns for our cruise but eventually I made that in something else and, as Jenny had set the date for a spring wedding, I decided to use it for that event instead. It’s a challenging fabric which I would describe as being a satin-striped organza which has been overprinted with flowers. It’s exactly the same type of fabric that I used for my Dior-inspired evening gown three years ago. Part of the challenge is that it’s sheer so it needs to have some kind of lining, this could be a loose lining, or an alternative is to mount it onto another fabric first like I did and then make it up into the dress.

By an amazing piece of good fortune I had some very soft satin left from a pair of bridesmaid dresses I made about five years ago and it was a PERFECT match-unbelievable! Better still, I ordered some lining from Minerva based purely on the colour image on my screen and it was also a perfect match-it was obviously meant to be.

Clearly though I had to decide on a pattern, I didn’t want anything too flouncy and there was going to be some serious stripe-matching going on so it couldn’t be in a million pieces. I rummaged amongst my patterns and came upon Butterick 6244 by Lisette which must have been free with a magazine at some point. A couple of the lovely ladies who come to my class have made the coat with great success but, looking at reviews, I think the dress has been largely passed over. It appealed to me because the skirt was a very straightforward A-line and the bodice was Princess seams with a ‘Dior’ dart [this is where a short dart extends to the bust point from a Princess seam] There is also a small shoulder yoke at the front so that was perfect for rotating the stripe.

With the exception of the sleeves I had to cut all the pieces in three different fabrics, the satin and the lining I could cut together but the organza had to be cut separately to ensure the stripes matched properly. I altered the sleeve to make them longer and then I decided to add a pointed cuff to finish them off.

Once everything was cut out it’s a fairly slow process of ‘mounting’ each organza piece onto its satin backing. I began by laying each satin piece shiny side up flat on the table, placing the organza on top and pin the two together around the edges. Then, moving it as little as possible, I tacked each piece together within the seam allowances. This was another reason for keeping the number of pieces to a minimum because this process takes a fair amount of time. Once all the pieces have been mounted you simply construct the garment as normal. This has various advantages, it makes the see-through fabric opaque, it makes a flimsy fabric more stable and in this case it means the hem of the skirt will be invisible when sewn.

I used narrow piping on the neck edge and the waistband to give them some finesse, I had to cover the piping cord with both organza and lining because the cord showed through the organza alone. You can use a regular zip foot to sew on the piping, I have a specific piping foot for my Pfaff which is brilliant because it sews so close and holds it all firmly in position whilst sewing.

piping cord around the neckline.

So that’s pretty much it really because aside from matching lots of stripes it’s a normal dress. The beauty of the skirt meant that I could use self-made satin binding on the hem and then the hand-stitching won’t show on the right side, a truly invisible hem!

satin bias-binding on the hem, understitched and slip-hemmed in position.
the hem is then totally invisible on the outside.

The only sheer parts are the sleeves which I added pointy cuffs to and finished them off with pretty sparkly buttons. I mounted each cuff part onto plain organza before construction to give them more stability.

I cut the cuffs with the stripes running at right-angles to the sleeves.

I hope you might find some of these techniques helpful if you’re tackling trickier fabrics. Mounting one onto another is useful to add interest-you could have a contrast colour underneath lace for example, it gives opacity to flimsier fabrics, stability and support to fabrics like panne velvet and can enable seams and hems to ‘disappear’ with ease. I used french seams in the sleeves but otherwise they are all regular seams. I only overlocked those inside the skirt as there is a separate skirt lining, the bodice is fully lined and enclosed so there’s no need to overlock any of those seams. If you’re using chiffon or georgette which are more fluid fabrics than organza you you should back them or interface them with a similar weight of fabric, preferably plain in colour so as not to show through or deepen the colour of the top fabric too much. Plain chiffon or organza are frequently used in couture techniques for this purpose.

It turned out that April 22nd was a very warm day so maybe I should have dropped the neckline slightly but that’s British weather for you-somewhat unpredictable! It was a gorgeous, happy wedding…

did I mention it has pockets?

So as we head towards winter here in the UK I bring you a post featuring a summery dress! Anyway, you might find parts of it helpful.

Happy sewing

Sue

50 fabulous years of Zandra Rhodes at FTM

I thought I’d write a quick review of a newly-opened show at the Fashion & Textiles Museum in London in case you’re thinking of paying a visit to the city.

Zandra Rhodes is something of a one-off in the fashion industry. She has always ploughed her own unique furrow by being primarily a textile designer who then uses her beautiful fabrics to create exotic garments. They are not for the faint-hearted because they are frequently bright colours and intricate patterns but over the decades they have been worn by many high-profile personalities including Princess Anne in her engagement photos, and Princess Diana wore gowns by Zandra Rhodes to many events. Actress Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Onassis were photographed wearing the gowns and, more recently, designers Anna Sui and Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino have commissioned her to design original textile prints for their own collections.

I was first aware of Zandra Rhodes while I was still at school when her punk-inspired collection of 1977 hit the headlines. Punk clothing was seen as something a bit scuzzy and tatty but her evening gowns were made in luxurious jersey fabrics adorned with rips and tears that were accessorised with chains and zips. Later on while I was a young student taking a one year art foundation course at college her use of striking colours really caught my eye.

The new exhibition features at least one look from every year of Zandra Rhodes’ fifty year career so there are many beautiful garments to see. One of the striking features of many of them is the embellishments. The signature dipped or pointed hems are frequently finished with tiny seed pearls or sequins, as are necklines or sleeves. A favourite fabric is silk chiffon which is notoriously difficult to work with, satin and velvet appear too.

a close up of the hand-embellishments used to trim hems
you’re greeted by a cavalcade of colourful gowns as you enter the main exhibition space, each outfit has its year of creation in front.
Early outfits already feature Zandra’s signature squiggles.

As I’ve said in other reviews before the FTM isn’t a huge space so you get the chance to see the exhibits at very close hand and often from different angles. I’ve shared lots of my photos here although they aren’t in chronological order.

Vibrant pinks and oranges are recurring colours although more subtle shades and blacks and blues do make regular appearances too
more recent dresses from the 2000s
‘sparkling sequin’ collection from 2008
this dress ‘Renaissance/Gold’ dress from 1981 was modelled by Diana Ross in a photo by Richard Avedon.

Because I’d bought a ticket for a meet-and-greet prior to the official opening of the exhibition we also had the chance to chat with Zandra Rhodes and get copies of the new book signed by her.

You might have noticed that I have pink hair (well, a pink fringe at any rate) I always admired Zandra’s pink hair but I always imagined there was someone (who?) or something (what?) that prevented me doing it. Eventually, about 4 years ago, I did it, and I’ve realised it was the subliminal influence of Zandra that had planted the idea. When I finally got the opportunity to chat to her I told her as much, which she seemed chuffed about, and we swapped pink-hair-dyeing tips!

Zandra seems entertained by my hair-dye story!
and of course she signed in bright pink marker pen
I can’t match the vibrancy of her shade of pink though
Elizabeth and I really enjoyed our encounter with Zandra and I so admire that even in her late seventies she still fully embraces and inhabits her own look.

Also, upstairs in the exhibition space, you can see how the printing process works. The designs are screen printed using huge frames and each colour in the design has its own screen. This means that each print run could have quite a few stages to the process depending on the number of colours.

The prints are meticulously placed on the fabric so as to utilise as much as possible and avoid unnecessary wastage too. There is film to watch too so you can see the exactly how carefully the prints are created by Zandra’s team. The finished fabrics are then passed to the atelier team of expert pattern cutters and sample makers who turn them into finished garments for each collection.

If you’re interested in seeing the work of a British fashion icon close up, and in the museum and gallery space which she herself originally founded incidentally, then get along there now. The show is on until January 26th (closed on Mondays) As a bonus, in a separate small gallery space, there is also a Norman Hartnell exhibition too with quite a few of his designs on display. If it’s a grey day in London it’s bound to cheer you up!

Until next time,

Sue