Beautiful People: a new show at the Fashion and Textiles Museum, London

I haven’t shared a museum or gallery visit with you in such a long time (for sadly obvious reasons) but, at last, I’ve been to one that is probably worthwhile to write about because you may have time to visit it for yourself if you’re within reach of London!

Beautiful People: the boutique in 1960’s counterculture’ is the latest exhibition to open at the Fashion and Textiles Museum in Bermondsey, London. I went a few days after it opened and there was a lovely ‘buzz’ to it because a good number of people were there (but not too crowded by any means) and a great backing track of familiar Sixties music to accompany it.

The map at the start shows the locations in and around London of all the boutiques featured in the show, some of them were remarkably short-lived whilst others opened more than one branch, at least for a time.

Boutiques were an entirely new concept at the start of the Sixties, before then young people were pretty much obliged to dress exactly like their parents and shopping for clothes, if you didn’t sew your own, was a very dull affair in traditional gents outfitters or snooty ladies dress shops. All of that began to change when Mary Quant opened Bazaar, her first London boutique and many others soon began to follow suit (pardon the pun!) Clothes shopping became a fun and sociable activity, trendy boutiques with exciting interiors, pumping music tracks and fast-changing, attractive merchandise became more commonplace.

Both young women and men started to break away from the constraints of very formal fashions prior to the early Sixties and young men in particular embraced much less starchy ‘masculine’ designs with many bright colours and shapes and new fabrics coming into their wardrobes. Women of course were already embracing miniskirts with wild enthusiasm.

Beatle George Harrison wearing a formal tailored jacket made using William Morris’ Golden Lilies fabric.
Jimi Hendrix lived in London for 9 months 1968-69 and fully embraced the vibrant lifestyle, including clothes like this ruffled crepe-de-chine shirt. (I can recommend a visit to the Handel Hendrix Museum in Mayfair if you have half a day to spare in London)
The use of floral designs on men’s clothing from the mid sixties onwards demonstrates how gender-fluid fashions were becoming over this period. The shirts were often reminiscent in style of Eighteenth century shirts worn by men with ruffles and frills but such exuberant prints were a new departure.
In 1966 a young Mick Jagger bought an authentic late nineteenth century Grenadier Guardsman’s jacket for approximately £4 from a King’s Road boutique to wear on TV music show Ready Steady Go. After his appearance, the shop promptly sold out of everything they had in stock!
The club UFO was a favourite amongst the hip young ‘set’ and their artwork shows a mixture of Art Nouveau influences and psychedelia.
The print on this shirt is typical of the new designs gaining popularity, this features a montage of images taken from Nineteenth century fairground and circus posters.

Moving on through to the main part of the exhibition, it is set out with examples of garments from a number of the boutiques which were most notable during the Sixties. Often they are in high-cost areas of London such as Chelsea or Knightsbridge, and were owned and run (with varying degrees of financial competence and success) by the wealthy offspring of British landed gentry. The information notes made me laugh because they describe how dark, noisy and shambolic a lot of these shops were, with stock all over the place, inconsistent supply and poor quality of the stock, they weren’t intended to be welcoming if you were the ‘wrong sort’ of shopper! Some were barely shops at all, just a space to hang out with your friends that had a few clothes draped around it (like a teenager’s bedroom…) If Daddy was underwriting the venture it didn’t much matter how successful it was!!

Granny Takes a Trip was one of the best known of these boutiques and traded for a good length of time compared to most. Eventually, during the Seventies, Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood took over the premises and it went through a number of incarnations before becoming her flagship World’s End store.
Hung on You, dapper suits for men
Androgynous men’s wear at Mr Fish
The Beatles even got involved with their Apple boutique.
Of course Biba is the name most synonymous with Sixties boutiques, I overheard several show visitors reminiscing about shopping there and it sounds like a chaotic experience…I can’t stand shopping in Primark because of all the mess, Biba sounds like a Stygian nightmare!
Quorum was another popular hangout
Many of the clothes were not especially well constructed or made using good quality fabrics. They were experimental with new textile developments embracing the likes of Nylon, Lurex, Crimplene and the now-derided Polyester. Of course, at the time, these were terrifically exciting new innovations so it’s easy for us to be sniffy about them now but it released millions from the drudgery of labour-intensive laundry or buying expensive-but-dull clothes which had to last.
Biba and Quorum displays

Moving upstairs there are even more examples of the fashions from the decade, it was interesting to see the more fluid shapes here with possibly 1930s and 40s influences, certainly different from Mary Quant’s simple colour-blocked shapes at the same time.

Men’s tailoring, including green panne velvet.
There’s more than a hint of Glam Rock creeping into these outfits with Lurex and lame a-plenty.
The zigzag design on this dress pre-dated Bowie using it as a part of his Ziggy Stardust persona.
From the late Sixties into the early 1970s many Boho, patchwork, ‘ethnic’ and ‘gypsy’ styles enjoyed huge popularity. They were often pieced together scraps of Indian cottons and silks, this in an era when sustainability had little to do with everyday life and protection of the planet was seen by many as the preserve of slightly cranky individuals…
The Fashion and Textiles Museum was originally the brainchild of legendary British designer Zandra Rhodes so it is only fitting that there are few examples of her own work upstairs to finish.
There are also dresses by other iconic designers of the era including Bill Gibb, and Ossie Clark and his wife, textile designer Celia Birtwell. These designer outfits are much higher quality than many in the show, they are beautifully made using gorgeous fabrics with exquisite details and my photos can’t do them justice.

To sum up, this is a show that any generation can enjoy because there are so many great clothes on show. I’m not old enough to remember much of the Sixties but that didn’t matter-I enjoyed overhearing some of the women chatting who clearly were there though! The show is on now until March 13th, booking is recommended although I didn’t and took a chance on the day. FTM is a small independent museum and I always enjoy a visit there, White Cube art gallery is a few minutes walk further down the road plus there is a glass blowing studio nearby which is open to watch the artisans at work so there’s much to enjoy in the area. It’s so close to the river too which is a bonus.

How’s this for an iconic view of London? You’re welcome!

It’s wonderful that museums and galleries are now reopening and they need our support if we can offer it as we emerge from the pandemic. The ones I’ve visited so far have felt safe and not too crowded, numbers are limited and booking is definitely advisable if you’re making a special trip, and the opening days may be more limited too so check their websites.

Thanks for reading, until next time,

Sue

Summing up the Sew Over 50 sustainable sewing challenge.

I’ve been an absolute fraud when it’s come to writing any Sew Over 50 blogs for ages and ages which I feel very guilty about. I’ll hold my hands up and say that the community has been an absolute lifeline during the last awful 18 months that we’ve all been going through-the support, friendship, inspiration, encouragement and camaraderie that I’ve found through the account has been personally so important but my writing and blogging has really tailed off along with my mood in general. Judith and Sandy do an absolutely awe-inspiring job of running the account for us, along with fantastic guest editors to keep us all coming back time after time-thank you thank you THANK YOU!!! The sheer variety of topics covered has been incredible but I thought I’d dip my toe back into the @SewOver50 blogging waters by writing a round-up of the August 2021 challenge #So50SustainableSewing

If you follow Judith’s personal account @judithrosalind you’ll already know she has been increasingly sewing in a more mindful and sustainable way for some time now and has wanted to launch a challenge on the account so that we can all join in with this in some way.

We all know that ’the most sustainable garment is the one already in our wardrobe’ and that is true but it doesn’t allow for the important creative outlets that our sewing and garment making gives us. So, if we are to continue sewing for ourselves or others, how can we approach it?

Judith’s idea for the challenge is a simple one-we use only fabric which is already ‘in the system’, especially if it’s already sitting on our shelves. In other words, we source it in a variety of inventive ways and these fabrics could include… 

  • remnants or scraps
  • charity or thrift shop finds-fabrics or garments
  • vintage textiles
  • textile manufacturing waste
  • fabric swaps in person or online
  • de-stashes
  • discarded garments, table cloths, bed linen, curtains etc 

This isn’t a definitive list of course and over the whole month of August several guest editors shared their brilliant insights to inspire us. 

The month kicked off with Judith making a guest appearance on the Sew Organised Style podcast chatting with Maria Theoharous about her idea and lots of ways for us to get involved. Maria always has Sew Over 50 Thursdays too which feature guests from our community who share their sewing stories, techniques and inspiration so it is definitely worth having a listen while you’re sewing, or walking the dog!.

Throughout August there was a great line-up of guest editors including Jen Hogg @jenerates who is so overflowing with ideas that she had 4 separate posts! Her first post encouraged us to ‘shop our stash’ if you have one…I know I do! Like her, some of my fabrics are relatively recent purchases, occasionally on impulse although not always by any means, whilst others are fabrics I’ve acquired over a long period of time and from various different sources. Jen sees it as part of her creative process, to have the choice amongst her stash, to inspire her ideas for making. Jen is a multi-talented woman who not only sews but knits, embroiders, makes jewellery, works leather….in the UK you are probably familiar with her from being a contestant on the Great British Sewing Bee, plus you can also listen to her chatting on Sew Organised Style too! 

Some of the guest editors including Jen Hogg, Sue Stoney, Irene Lundell and Tricia Morris

Next was Sue Stoney @suestoney in Australia who shared her love of collecting all sorts of vintage items for later use including beautiful table linen and haberdashery. Many of us probably have buttons, zips, hooks and eyes, threads, elastic (doesn’t last indefinitely though so check it hasn’t perished before you sew it into something you don’t want to fall down around your ankles!) which came to us via our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, neighbours etc etc. I know I love to rummage amongst the hundreds of buttons I have to something special and individual, and I can’t recall the last time I actually bought hooks and eyes or press studs!

just a few of Sue Stoney’s treasured vintage haberdashery finds

Whilst the challenge is intended to encourage us to get creative and inventive for the pleasure of it alone there were also prizes to be awarded so the post on August 8th shared the generous sponsors for these. They included @criswoodsews whose zero-waste Parasol dress pattern has proved extremely popular especially during this challenge. @lizhaywood3754 is also an advocate for zero-waste sewing and has published two books on the topic. @thatwendyward has a recently published book on sewing more sustainably (she chats with Maria about it on the podcast too!) Wendy has long been mindful on the topic after years of working in the RTW industry, as well as producing her own patterns, teaching and writing several other sewing books all of which feature older models! There were also prizes from small businesses @greyfriarsandgrace who create paper patterns which guide the user to sew clothes using recycled textiles, and @craftandthrift who sell thrifted fabrics and kits. 

Jen returned with her second post sharing her use of ‘found’ fabrics, including a beautiful blouse made from a sheer vintage embroidered table cloth. Found fabrics can make you a lot more creative because you feel less constrained by what to make with them, do you find the cost of brand new fabric can stifle your creative instincts because of the fear of making costly errors? 

this blouse using a sheer vintage embroidered table cloth is so pretty

One garment that offered massive chances to use up multiple fabrics was the ubiquitous tiered and ruffled dress-a buffet dress in current parlance! Followers have certainly embraced this style and the account shared just a small selection of them on August 11th.

Robyn @robbynu42 was one of many to create some fabulous tiered and ruffled dresses using repurposed fabrics.

Next up was Marcia @MarciaLoisRiddington who adores #GrannyChic and is a wonderful exponent of using vintage fabrics to great advantage and her combinations of colours and patterns is absolutely masterful (mistressful?) 

Marcia is always so colourful, her combinations of vintage textiles are so original and fun.

Then @irenelundell from Sweden urged us to think about ‘circular’ sewing, buy from charity or thrift shops when you see it because not only does it support a good cause but it gives the textile or garment the chance of a new or extended life. 

Irene wearing her thrifted and dyed with iron and tea denim jacket! It has rusty nail marks to add to it’s charm

Tricia @morrissews who followed is a fine exponent of refashion, remake, remodel, recycle and repair…and try as much as possible to not replace. She shared her @Elbe_textiles (another prize sponsor) Sorrento bucket hat which couldn’t be more suitable for using up lots of small fabric scraps to make something really useful and wearable. 

Tricia wearing her denim scraps Sorrento bucket hat by Elbe

Jen’s third post demonstrated the times she’s used multiple garments to make a single new one, such as the three shirt shirt! Casual jackets which are made up of small pattern pieces are also ideal for a patchwork approach, there are even small businesses now making these commercially and every garment is different, some even manage to use 100% recycled components. 

Jen’s 3 shirt shirt!

She talks too about the 90 minute transformation challenge on GBSB was actually a very liberating experience because there was no time to be overly precious with what they were given to use, it forced her to think outside the box very quickly and not have time for self-doubt.

There was another Jen up next, @jenlegg_teescreatives who told us how she has used textiles belonging to dear and much-missed friend and how, when she wears the jacket she’s sewn, it feels like a hug from her friend Emma. There are many other ways you can honour or remember a friend or loved one in this way too by sewing articles like soft toys, cushions, patchwork quilts or rugs for example using garments that once belonged to them. 

Jen Legg wearing an absolutely beautiful jacket with a really touching story behind it.

Jen Hogg made her final return to tell us about using factory surplus in her making. She’s fortunate to live near a number of textile mills in Scotland and has been working closely with them to find inventive ways of using their ‘waste’ products. By using cashmere off-cuts, including something called ‘slitter’ which is a by-product of making cashmere scarves, so far Jen has knitted or crocheted rugs and blankets, and woven and stitched the strips together to make whole pieces of textile big enough to make into jackets, dresses or coats. Are there any textiles manufacturers or processors near you? Do they sell off any of their excess or by-products? It might be worth investigating. Another way of using up scraps which has been around for many many years is rag rugging (also known as proggy rugging) and @raggedlife has loads of ideas for this technique.

Jen’s beautiful jacket made with cashmere ‘slitter’ tape, all carefully pieced to make usable sized pieces big enough to sew into a garment.

As the month was drawing to a close Raquel in Taipei @raquel_sewing_knitting_in_asia (who is an absolute Queen of refashioning!) showed us how she takes inspiration from high-end fashion and clothing all around her but then recreated the looks using multiple end-of-line garments and thrifted clothes. Not only that, she would wear them a few times but if they aren’t quite right she isn’t afraid to take them apart again and reconfigure them into a new garment more to her liking! Sometimes more than once! I’m always too precious with things I’ve made to do that even if I don’t much like the end result, instead they tend to sit on the naughty step while I sulk about what went wrong with them, I should just tackle it head on and take up that unpicker! 

Raquel in one of her remade remakes!

The final guest editor for the sewing sustainably month was Judy @judywillimentross whose speciality is refashioning mens suits into another wearable garment. She buys them in charity shops but one of her own rules is not a purchase a suit which might still be of use to someone less fortunate and not in a position to buy new. [This could also be something to be mindful of when purchasing any very inexpensive garment, should we consider whether it would be of use to another person as it is before we buy it to cut up. Or do we take the view that the money we pay for it is a donation to a charity in need of the cash, especially if it’s going to end up in landfill otherwise?] Judy carefully uses ever-smaller fabric scraps to piece together into patchwork. 

Judy in one of her carefully pieced garments using men’s suit fabrics

So there you have it, loads of creativity to inspire us with our sewing projects in the future. By the time you read this the randomly-chosen winners of prizes will have been announced but the hashtag #so50SustainableSewing will continue to be used so the ideas bank will be constantly refreshed. 

I’ve added links throughout so you should be able to see and read for yourselves what the guest editors had to say. 

Judith and Sandy constantly add to the saved Highlights on the account too, particularly any one of the many worldwide challenges you might like to participate in, plus using some the dozens of hashtags unique to us will give you unlimited ideas for your own future projects.

I created this collage of a few of my projects made using thrifted, salvaged, reused, donated or repurposed fabrics at the start of August but I never posted it.

For this post I’ve concentrated entirely on the sustainable sewing challenge and so I’ve not added many thoughts of my own. In truth, I wasn’t in the headspace to participate while it was going on but it did cause me to think about some of the projects I’ve completed in recent years which went some way to being ‘sustainable’.There are so many ways we can all do a little, or a lot, to contribute to reducing the problem of waste and over-consumption. We should be mindful that whatever is right and possible for one person though is not necessarily going to be achievable for another. For example, many of us can practice visible mending because we like that it gives longevity to a garment and can look attractive, but others will see it as a reminder of hard times or embarrassment. Our community is nothing if not supportive so we need to be mindful of others at times.

Until next time, 

Happy sewing 

Sue

1980’s 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 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

A Simple Sew Cocoon dress hack

I had made two Simple Sew Cocoon dresses without alteration when the pattern was first released a couple of years back, and you probably know that I love a bit of a pattern hack so I decided that the style would be good for an adaptation. I’d drawn a few sketches of ideas and had a rummage in the stash for some suitable fabric when a funny thing happened…

I found I had already cut out a hacked Cocoon in the past!! I realised I must have done it easily two summers ago but then abandoned it because I decided it would be too short. I remember it was a limited amount of fabric, probably 2 metres, but I put it to one side and forgot about it. 

Fast forward to now, I wanted to make it up but I needed to lengthen it in a way I was happy with. I had truncated the bodice at Empire line just below the bust and then the skirt was two widths of the fabric, a simple dirndl. I’d cut the facings too but there was literally nothing else left except small scraps.

There’s a centre front seam in the bodice, I cut the dress horizontally under the bust at about Empire line

I went through various options including adding extra frill layers but to do that you gradually increase the amount of fullness needed for each layer, in other words, layer 1 would be 1.5x the waist measurement, layer 2 could be 2x the length of layer 1, and layer 3 could be 3x the length of layer 2. In simple terms this means longer and longer strips of fabric are needed to form each frill to be sewn to the previous one, and the longer the length of the dress the more layers you might need. Basically I couldn’t make the skirt any longer with what I had because it was already cut, and because of the lockdown I couldn’t go out to look for a suitable plain cotton. I returned to the stash and eventually found 50cms of cotton poplin which I know I bought at the same time as the original, I must have intended it as a contrast but never used it.

By cutting the 50cms piece across the width into two 25cms pieces I could join them at the side seams to form a loop and then fold them in half to create a 12.5cms deep band which I would sew to the hem of the dress! Simple! 

Once I’d worked all this out I sewed up the bodice, rather than hemming the cap sleeves I used some binding from my stash so that I could maximise their length. I planned to twin needle some top stitching in various places and I used two different coordinating threads for this. 

Bias binding sewn onto the sleeve then understitched
bias binding turned back
The completed sleeve with twin needle topstitching

I did the same around the V neck once the facing was sewn on, in order to get a pristine join at the point I carefully unpicked a couple of stitches and secured them on the reverse.  

I wanted side seam pockets (of course) so I had to cut them out of some plain cotton scraps, each piece was added to the side seam and then the side seams sewn up. 

The new band was initially slightly wider than the lower edge of the skirt so I restitched it until the two were the same width and matched exactly at both side seams. I used the overlocker with four threads to join and neaten the band in one step, I pressed the seam upwards and then twin-needle topstitched it to decorate. 

the band folded and pinned to the lower edge of the skirt

The final step was to run two rows of gathering stitches at the top of the skirt then sew it onto the bottom of the bodice, matching at the side seams. I pressed this upwards too and topstitched it as well.

For a dress which had languished with not much hope for two years I’m really happy with it!! I loved the fabric (which was from John Lewis originally I think about 4-5 years ago!) and I was so cross I’d cut something which I couldn’t imagine I’d wear if I sewed it up. By adding the deep band the skirt now has weight as well as length. It’s been so comfortable in the hot weather, why did I wait so long?!

we were heading out for our exercise hence the unsexy shoes!
we have a Henry Moore sculpture on loan for the duration of the centenary year of our town, maybe we can keep it for an extra year now that all the summer celebrations are cancelled?
Coronation Fountain
yes I have got water coming out of the top of my head!

Lockdown is easing in the UK since I originally finished this dress but I hope, as always, this hack has given you an idea of how simple it can be to take a section of a pattern you already have and give it a twist to become a different garment. I had very limited fabric with a print which still needed to match everywhere, by adding the hem band I’ve given it the look I was after…it just took a couple of years to think of it!

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue

New Trend pattern TPC26 plus tips for handling a tricky fabric.

Firstly, I probably need to give you a quick explanation of why I’m making a fancy frock during the lockdown because it must seem rather incongruous.

This is my first post as a Lamazi Fabrics blogger and before the Covid-19 pandemic reared it’s ugly head I had offered to make an outfit using a slightly ‘tricky’ fabric in order to share a few hints and tips for sewing with it. I selected the beautiful Tencel/Cupro ‘Bark’ fabric in Lavender because we were going to a wedding in late May which would be the perfect chance to make a something using this special fabric. Very sadly that wedding is now postponed indefinitely but I’m making the dress because I’ll still need something to wear when it’s rescheduled. 

The fabric has a lovely weight and handle which makes it drape really well. It’s has a bark-like finish and is different on each side, you could use this to your advantage if you want to create an interesting visual effect by having some pieces with one side out and some using the reverse side. 

I made life harder for myself by choosing the new Bias T-shirt Dress by Trend patterns (generously gifted to me by them) in which EVERY piece except the sleeves are singles and strange shapes which means you cut everything out on a single layer of fabric right side up (RSU). Unlike most patterns, when you are cutting pairs of parts you can usually flip a piece without too much difficulty, however if you do that for a piece which must be cut RSU you would have completely reversed the print/design to the wrong side when you try to sew it up. This Tencel/Cupro has a nice look whichever side you use but my advice is to be really careful on printed fabrics before reversing any piece labelled RSU. 

Next, when cutting slippery or fluid fabrics (unless you have a lovely big cutting table) you’ll need to handle them as little as possible (by which I mean pulling them about to get them into position) which might be easier said than done. I know that cutting out is most people’s least favourite part of sewing but it’s so important to take time and care at this stage. If you’re cutting out on a table with straight sides use the edges as a visual marker to get the end of your cloth at a right angle to start with, ensure the weft (across the fabric) is nice and straight as well as the warp, pull a few threads to find the grain if necessary. If you have more cloth than will fit on the table in one go you could try having the excess rolled on a cardboard tube if you have one to keep it under control rather than sliding off the table all the time. 

Because my pattern has large awkward-shaped pieces cut from a single layer I had no option but to cut out on the floor! This can be physically quite tiring so you might want to get help if you need to. This is slippy slidey fabric so an extra pair of hands could help you lay it up nice and straight, again, rolling the fabric onto a long cardboard tube would also help keep the fabric taut and straight as you lay it out on the floor. This is not a fabric to use weights and a rotary cutter on unless the whole lot fits onto a cutting board without disturbing the fabric, if you’re spending time laying up the fabric carefully so that the grain lines are straight in both (warp and weft) directions you can’t then mess it about shifting a cutting mat underneath it and the pattern pieces need to be secured in place with pins. Cut out carefully moving the pieces as little as possible and try to keep them flat after cutting until you’re ready to sew. All of this will help minimise the pieces stretching out of shape, especially as a lot of this pattern has seams running on a diagonal. 

I felt that the length of the dress would probably be too long for me so I took some of the length out of the skirt pieces before I cut them out in fabric.
I calculated that approximately 5 cms would be sufficient to take out of the length so first I drew a line at a right angle to the grainline, then a second line 5cms from the first.
I pinned each piece to it’s ‘partner’ so that I could see if it would still align correctly after I folded out the 5cms.
It was really just educated guesswork but, eventually, by folding out the 5cms horizontally from each panel I was reasonably confident it would be pretty close.
Why didn’t I just take it off the hem at the end? You could easily do that but because I had just 2.5m of fabric, which may not have been quite sufficient, I could not take that risk so I did it this way instead. It took longer but removed the element of uncertainty.
This is almost everything laid up on the floor, I cut a linen version at the same time which is what you can see on the top. Whilst a single layer is often a very economic way of cutting fabric it’s usually more time-consuming to cut out so I did the two at the same time which was slightly risky but it worked out.

Once I’ve finished cutting out it’s vital to transfer all notches and mark darts and a couple of pivot points so I use old-fashioned tailor’s tacks (obviously you can use a textile marker pen if you prefer, I often do but it’s a pale fabric and I didn’t want to risk any marks being left) It’s a habit of mine to keep all the pattern pieces attached by just a couple of pins to the fabric until I need it, so that I don’t them get muddled. These are curious-shaped pieces so the chance of having them the wrong way round could be quite high! Next I stay-stitched all the neck edges on the machine 5mm in, if you have a very loose weave fabric it would probably be sensible to stay-stitch the bottom edge of the front bodice piece to prevent stretching. If you’re using a particularly fine fabric like chiffon you should stabilise the neck, and any other seams which could stretch, by hand-stitching very narrow cotton tape or ribbon over the seam line on the wrong side of the fabric. When I worked for bridal designer David Fielden many years ago we would cut the selvedges off the silk habutai linings for the seamstresses to use on necklines.

There is just a little fraying on the cut edges which I overlocked singly as I went along, as per the pattern instructions. Whether you’re sewing or overlocking the fabric I strongly suggest you have the whole piece supported on the table in front of the machine rather than feeding up from your lap. This is to prevent the piece becoming stretched as you’re sewing and possibly causing it to become misshapen.

If you find, as I did, that there’s a slight discrepancy between two seams (assuming that it isn’t an error in cutting or adjustment of the pattern) then pin it with the excess on the underside so that when you sew the feed dogs will take up the ease.

You can see the lower layer is a little longer than the top one and by sewing it with this on the underside means the feed dogs should take up the excess.
After sewing but before pressing it looked like this.

My photos should make it clearer, a good press will help steam out some of the excess too. Also, to minimise the risk of making a shiny patch on the fabric make sure you use a pressing cloth, you can often buy silk organza ones although I have a piece of plain fine pure cotton lawn which I’ve overlocked around the edge. I use this when I’m pressing darts or turning points or corners out too.

To sew an invisible zip into the diagonal seam across the back I machined the seam closed but I used a long basting stitch just for the section where the zip will go. This stitching will be removed later.

Line up the teeth with the basted part of the seam, this has been lightly pressed open already.
Pin the zip tape to the seam allowance with the seam and teeth matching.
I prefer to tack the tape to the seam allowance at this point but you could use Wonder Tape if you have it.
Now I removed the basting stitches and sewed the zip in using an invisible zipper foot. The zip I was using was longer than I needed.
Make a new stopper for the zip by carefully sewing backwards and forwards a few times over the teeth, cut off the excess then secure each side of the tape to the seam allowance using a regular zip foot.

Once the zip was in and side seams sewn up I checked the fit on myself. I cut a UK 16 and overall I’m happy with the fit and apart from the length I made no alterations to the bodice. Because I made the linen version first I already knew that the shoulders were a bit too broad for me and the sleeves dangled too much off the crown of my arm. I calculated that I needed to remove approximately 3cms to lift them up to a slightly better position. I found I didn’t need to alter the sleeve head though, fortunately it still fitted into the armhole. Another thing I did decide at this point was that the sleeve needed ’something’ else so I mocked up some small pleats and pinned the sleeve into the armhole to try out the effect.

I mocked up some small pleats with the sleeve pinned into the armhole.
I drew some markings so that I could then transfer the pleats equally to both sleeves.
More old-fashioned tailor tacks to mark the pleats.
The pleats are equally divided across the centre line of the sleeve.

After making the pleats in the sleeves and sewing up the underarm seam I used a ‘pin hem’ to finish the edge. This is similar to a simple rolled hem but even narrower. Begin by stitching a turning of approx 1cm very close to the edge, trim this carefully  

Sewing a pin hem, this is useful technique well worth mastering because if you haven’t got a rolled hem foot which could do the job, this gives a beautiful hem finish to fine or delicate fabrics.
Finished pin hem on the sleeve
Because I’d made the pattern alterations to the skirt length I wasn’t surprised to find there was a slight discrepancy in levels at the hem. Using a long ruler I averaged out a new straight line and then pin-hemmed it.

I love the 1930s/40s vibe of this dress, the drapey qualities of the fabric enhance the bias lines of the skirt in particular. I really enjoyed the challenge of putting the dress together, there are no particularly difficult techniques as such but it’s an interesting puzzle which you’ll need to spend a little time concentrating on, you’ll be rewarded with a striking but really wearable dress.

Thank you to Trend Patterns for gifting me the pattern, there was no expectation to write a review. You can read my previous review of the Square Dress pattern here. The fabric was provided by Lamazi Fabrics in return for a review which is also published on their own website.

I hope you find some tips and advice in here that might be of use to you if you’re thinking of using a fabric that needs a bit more forward planning than you’re used to. Trend have created another beautiful pattern with stunning and unusual details but the pieces cleverly work with the grain of the fabric so that working with the bias cut is a lot easier than it usually is. They have been gradually increasing their size range too so the TPC26 comes in UK sizes 6-22.

Quite a long blog this time so thank you for reading this far and, until next time,

Happy Sewing

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 advice for newbies from the Sew Over 50 hive mind.

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 Sew while 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.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

Visiting DSI London, costume makers for Strictly Come Dancing

It’s funny how sometimes, when life dishes up lemons, it can take quite a while to get that lemonade made.

What on earth am I talking about…? well, when I left my job in a secondary school five years ago in a manner not of my choosing I had no idea what could happen next. If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while now you’ll know that I’ve carved out a life that involves sewing for my own pleasure, sewing for others, visiting interesting galleries, museums and exhibitions and, best of all, forming new friendships through those sewing activities. This post is really a result of the last one…

Two years ago Mr Y and I went on a cruise to the Baltic at a time no longer during school holidays, which turned out to be a Strictly Come Dancing-themed cruise. It was during this that I met Theresa Hewlett and without whom no costumes for the TV show would get made. She is the pattern cutter and alterations manager for the show, and designer Vicky Gill’s right hand woman. I didn’t know any of this when we first met on the ship, many of the costumes from the most recent series were on display around the ship and T was there giving us all very insightful guided tours of the dresses with tales of how each garment was constructed. As you can imagine I absolutely lapped it up [you can read my two blog posts from that trip here and here] and I was even more pleased to discover we’d both attended London College of Fashion within a year of each other.

That was that until several months later when I decided to give Twitter a try and somehow came across Theresa, on there, During the duration of the show she regularly tweets updates on progress of the costumes and little behind-the-scenes nuggets (she certainly never gives away big secrets though!)

Joanne Clifton’s show dance dress from the SCD Final 2016

DSI-London are based in Croydon, south of London so I travelled there by train and tram and found them based in a very unassuming building in a quiet residential road. I’d be lying if I told you that inside all was super-glamorous sparkles, feathers and sequins because that wouldn’t be true. Up the stairs you enter the showroom where customers can shop from the RTW items of essential ballroom and Latin dance-wear such as practice clothes, shoes of all styles, spray tan and eyelashes. It is also in this area that fittings on bespoke outfits take place. Later on in my visit I was privileged to sit in on fittings for two custom-made dresses for a young dancer who had flown over especially from Ireland and was flying back again that evening. It was fascinating to watch T tweak and measure and pin (always safety pins, regular pins would fall out straight away-I’m going to remember that one when I’m pinning wedding dress skirts in future!) T’s colleague Nina sits in as well to make notes of the customers requirements and record measurements, photos are often taken too, especially as the client is unlikely to be able to come for many fittings.

just a few of the made-to-measure couture dresses
a selection of styles available
all the fringing…
a man’s ballroom outfit
a ‘body’ so that the shirt doesn’t come untucked
all the colours in all the fabrics (actually this isn’t anywhere near all the fabrics but it’s a start!)
custom-beaded ballroom shoes
choose your stones here
perfect for a wedding too?

T gave me a tour through all the different departments within the company, they don’t only produce the Strictly costumes but also Dancing On Ice, as well as costumes for cruise ships and many other shows around the world. The ready to wear garments for these orders are cut and made in a separate workroom on the same floor. The cutting room for men’s wear is downstairs, as are the bulk of the fabric, haberdashery and trim supplies, and the laundry room.

The designs are created by Vicky Gill (who sadly I didn’t get to meet during my visit) and then T makes the made-to-measure patterns which are in turn are passed to a highly-skilled cutter who cuts all the fabrics and they go on to the machinists who sew the garments together, each person generally makes the whole garment and any alterations go back to that machinist too.

Once the dress is put together a fitting like the one I witnessed takes place to check fit and skirt length. The dress goes back to the machinist for any changes to be carried out and then it goes on to the stoning department for embellishment, which might include feather trim too.

Ash, the king of stoning, was on holiday when I visited so I didn’t meet him either.
there were lots of mannequins with beading in progress-bodies all over the place!
Boas might be trimmed and the feathers glued into very small bunches by hand, ready to be stitched onto bodices and skirts, or the boa is left whole if it’s going on hems, or sleeves and necklines for example.
a design in progress, before its embellishments are added
the colours of stoning on this bodice were simply beautiful

Scattered all around the studio are mannequins in various states of undress and with different quantities of padding. The machinists use these all the time to be able to assess the dress as they progress, for the placement fringing or embellishment for example. [Incidentally, every dress is built on a leotard base so whenever there’s a ‘no knickers under her dress!’ scandal after the TV show it’s nonsense]

This client wants a longer skirt than usual, although this will be shortened a bit at the fitting. The fabric is gorgeous with huge ‘pailettes’

DSI often has dresses come back to them for alterations, fashions change, children grow, bodies alter. New skirts can be added, sleeves removed or added, stoning added to. It’s worth mentioning that the dresses (apart from ones with feathers on) can go in the washing machine, a fact I found amazing! In another part of the building there is a laundry with dresses drip-drying on a rail. Everything is sewn together on industrial zigzag machines along with rolled hem machines and overlockers. Theresa told me it’s very challenging at times to keep the machines working happily because they have to sew through so many layers of difficult fabrics at once, frequently including feathers and crin, and sometimes stoning if an alteration has to be carried out after completion. (they use heavy duty domestic machines to carry out repairs or alterations at the TV studios whilst the program is going out)

Many of the dresses from the TV show are hired by other productions of SCD around the world, they are all for sale on the company website so you could buy yourself a little piece of Strictly. DSI-London sell a wide range of specialist fabrics and trims too so if you ever need/want to have a go at making costumes or dancewear then have a look at their website.

T at work! would you look at all those zips too!

I so enjoyed my visit to DSI-London and thank you so much to Theresa and all the staff who were so friendly and made me very welcome. I absolutely loved being back in a workroom environment again, it’s been a very long time since I was part of a creative team like this and it made me realise how much I miss it-everyone has a part to play in the making of these garments whether it’s wedding dresses in my case, or dance dresses. Obviously it isn’t glamorous in the slightest, it’s hard work in a hot room, and the pressure is immense when there’s a live TV programme at the end of every week for three months…and then Dancing on Ice after that.

It’s possible to for you to visit DSI-London too as they offer tours around the premises at different times of the year, have a look at their website to see when they are next taking place. I know they have proved popular though so there may be a bit of a wait.

It won’t too long now until the new series of Strictly starts again and the relatively peaceful atmosphere of the workrooms will be replaced with frenetic activity, I’ll be thinking of the people I met during my visit as they produce dozens of beautiful garments every week to dazzle us on our TVs on Saturday evenings during the autumn. And if you want regular updates on costume progress during the week, follow Theresa on Twitter.

Until next time,

Sue

Testing the Regatta dress from Alice & Co

Alice & Co are a pattern company run by the mother-and-daughter team of designer, pattern cutter and sewing teacher Alice, and Lilia, who is a museum textile conservator for her ‘day job’. I saw they were requesting new testers for one of their latest patterns and, as I generally enjoy the process of testing and I’m happy to give my time to assist small indie companies when possible, I was pleased to be invited to help.

The Regatta is a summer dress featuring a neckline which pulls up with ribbon to tie on the shoulders, a gathered or pleated waist, patch pockets and a button-back closure.

I had some printed viscose fabric in my stash which my good friend Claire had given me a few months back and I was sure it would be ideal for this test version of Regatta. I think the dress will be great made in a wide variety of fabrics including chambray, cotton poplin, madras cotton check, seersucker or shirting, as well as eyelet or broderie anglaise, washed linen…I could go on!

This is a PDF pattern but unlike many which provide you with ALL the pattern pieces you might require, because of the simplicity of the skirt it only gives you pieces for front and back bodice plus a patch pocket. It needs a total of 8 pages printed in colour rather a selection of dotted/dashed lines. The skirt is merely three rectangles (front and two backs) so rather than waste paper it gives you guidelines to follow for cutting the skirt pieces ‘freehand’. This isn’t as daunting as it might sound, I used the full width of the fabric cut to my chosen length PLUS a hem and a top seam allowance and then the same again but cut into two equal pieces to form the backs.

The instruction booklet is written in a nice friendly chatty style which feels both informative and encouraging, I think the illustrations are well-drawn and clear too. I printed mine out in booklet format which is a good option if your printer will allow it, 3 pages printed on both sides which fold neatly into A5.

I opted to cut a size 16 according to my measurements from the chart but I would definitely come down at least a size for the next one. As the bodice needs to be lined anyway you could make up the lining as a toile to see if you need to make any adjustments and then use it in the dress. Depending on your fabric you could self-line it or, as I did, use a plain cotton. I also decided at this stage that I would line the skirt because my fabric is a bit sheer, plus it’s a floaty skirt so I don’t want any knicker-revealing moments on windy days!! [I made a simple A-line lining, not the full pleated skirt which would have been awfully bulky]

The bodice construction is simple [if you don’t like darts you won’t be a fan though, you’ll need to make 8!]

Follow the instructions carefully for the ribbon channel openings, the diagrams will help if you’re not sure. Take care inserting the ribbons pieces at the back-cut the ribbon into one long piece for the front and two shorter pieces for the backs. You could possibly use wide elastic for this element instead if you want a different look, or make a self-fabric strip or what about using a vintage scarf even?

Once you’ve joined the outer fabric and linings together along the neck edges and armholes you’ll also need to understitch here as much as possible, to give it a nice crisp edge and stop it rolling. Just go carefully so as not to catch the fabric accidentally-you won’t be able to sew everything because it will be inaccessible in places. 

Next, when you sew the actual channels that the ribbons sit in, it might be wise to tack in position first, certainly mark the lines in some way-chalk, pencil, erasable marker-or if you have a quilting guide attachment for your machine use that. It looks like a piece of bent metal which slots in behind the foot of your machine. You can see it better in the photo although this was a different project. This enables you to follow a stitching line which is considerably further away than your usual seam allowance markings on the needle plate will allow. You’ll need to be most careful sewing the back channels because the ribbon is already in position so don’t sew through it by accident, it won’t gather up. Slot the ribbon through the front when you’ve sewn the front channel, or leave it until you’re ready to try the dress on and adjust the bows to your taste at the end.

using the quilting guide attachment to follow a wider width [this was on the Heron dress]

Making up the skirt is simple enough, don’t forget to interface the button-stand areas for stability. The pockets are positioned over the side seams but they could go directly on the front if you prefer.

I opted to use pleats on the skirt because I prefer how they look on me to gathers. I don’t have any sage advice or foolproof mathematical equation for working this out I’m afraid, I just pinned the skirt to the bodice at the side seams, CF and CB button-stand and then fiddled until I was happy with the pleats before stitching it on. There were lots of pins involved!  

lots of pins holding the pleats in position ready to sew.

If you aren’t lining the skirt then you can simply slip stitch the lining in place by hand as per the instructions. As I was lining the skirt too I cut, sewed and hemmed a simple A-line shape in plain cotton which I stitched to the bottom of the bodice lining, obviously it must have the gap at the back for the button opening. I simply caught this down behind the button-stand with a few hand stitches so it doesn’t flap about. So that it doesn’t ride up inside the dress I hand-sewed a few stitches at the side seams and CF where the seams meet to anchor them together loosely.

The lining looks like this inside, it doesn’t need to be the full length of the skirt although it could be if you want.

I used a nice deep hem of 5cms to give the skirt weight. I overlocked the edge and then used the blindhem stitch and foot to sew it up. As the hem is straight you could face it instead with bias binding or ribbon, or a contrast fabric for a different look, either machine top stitch or slip-hem in place by hand. The photos show the blindhem for my machine but most machine manuals will show you how to sew this-definitely practice to get it right as there is a knack to it.

I used 4 buttons on the bodice section and then 6 buttons on the skirt, evenly spaced so that there’s still a nice ‘split’ at the bottom. I have a ‘thing’ about button opening on skirts where the bottom button is too close to the hem, don’t ask me why, I just don’t find it aesthetically pleasing. For a novel detail I used red and blue thread to sew on the bodice buttons and ivory on the skirt. I also added a small hook and eye at the waist seam to take any strain off the button at this point. 

All that remains is to pop your dress on and pull up the ribbons to your desired amount and tie in a bow, trim the ends into neat Vs to stop them fraying. Once you’ve adjusted the gathers to your liking then pin and stitch in a few places as per the instructions to hold them in place evenly.  

I used green Grosgrain ribbon as a contrast to the otherwise nautical colours of my Regatta dress.

I just need to find a nice wide belt to finish it off I think although it works perfectly well without. My Regatta dress has already had two wears since I finished it and it’s quirky details make it stand out. It isn’t an ultra-quick make compared to some styles but it’s worth the effort and makes a charming and feminine summer dress. It would even work in more ’special’ type fabrics too, like panne velvet, Chantilly lace or crepe de chine for an evening or party dress.

Once again it’s been an interesting process to help test a pattern and Alice & Co were quick to respond to queries. Another reason I was keen to assist is because as a brand they are very supportive of the Sew Over 50 cause by reposting images shared by older makers using their patterns, and have generously provided prizes in our previous challenges.

So while the sun is out here in the UK this could be a nice addition to your summer/holiday wardrobe.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue