The Refashioners 2017…suits you!

In 2016 I took part in Portia Lawrie’s Refashioners competition for the first time when I made a jacket from two pairs of Mr Y’s old jeans, you can read about that one here. I was jolly pleased with it and wear it a lot and obviously I didn’t win although I did get a mention in despatches so I was chuffed with that.

For Refashioners 2017 Portia announced it would be SUITS! Eek, I thought, I’m not sure about that…anyway, nothing daunted, I started thinking about what I might be able to do if I tracked down the right suit. I knew I didn’t want anything too dark or work-a-day so I hoped to find something in a check perhaps. Funnily enough it didn’t really occur to me that it could be something like linen or suede, or a woman’s suit so when the inspirational Blog Tour throughout September started and it featured some of alternative fabrics I did think “oh, why didn’t I do that?” Hey ho…

When it came to inspiration however there was only one person whose tailoring I was interested in and that was Alexander McQueen. The retrospective of his work ‘Savage Beauty’ at London’s V&A museum in 2015 was absolutely mind-blowing-I went 8 times! [I bought annual membership to the museum so that I could go as often as I wanted, it’s fair to say I got full value for my money. I’ve kept up that membership ever since and use it regularly] Whilst I’ve no hope of ever acquiring or wearing McQueen (apart from my treasured silk scarf which Mr Y bought for me at the end of the exhibition) I greatly admire his meticulous tailoring, originality, attention to detail and craftsmanship which has been ably continued since his death by Sarah Burton. [I didn’t blog about Savage Beauty at the time but I wrote one about a fascinating parallel exhibition that was at Tate Britain, you can read that here]

Portia had set up a Pinterest page of inspiration too so I had a look there as well as internet searches of my own and the book which accompanied the exhibition and is full of wonderful images. So many clever ideas but there would be serious fabric constraints as I only wanted to use one suit, once I’d tracked it down, which meant some things like dresses with elaborate details would be impossible. If I was going to invest quite a lot of time into this it needed to fit me and I’m not a stick insect so I have to be realistic!

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McQ black gold blazer

I collected ideas and images although some of them were unlikely contenders, for reasons of practicality, quantity of fabric and my own skill level. [I went on a tailoring course at Morley college in London last year and picked up loads of useful skills and the confidence to tackle this head-on, have a look at their prospectus because they offer some great courses] I liked the idea of combining different fabrics and techniques, particularly over or near the shoulders.

I scoured all our local charity shops but didn’t find anything I liked, Mr Y and my Dad didn’t have anything in their wardrobes either. Then, when we were visiting Salisbury in Wiltshire at the end of August, we tried a couple of shops when I spied a black and white checked jacket. It seemed to have trousers with it which didn’t match but these were Prince of Wales check! Looking further along the rail we discovered the right jacket for the trousers was on another hanger-yippee, success! a matching suit in the perfect fabric. It was £25 which was a bit more than I had hoped to pay but the money would go to a good cause so it was a win/win situation really. Even better was the fact it was 100% pure wool and it was a Daks suit from Simpsons of Piccadilly which would have been pretty expensive originally-I definitely lucked out with this one. At £25 though it did mean I would only use one suit rather than buy possibly 2 to mix together. No matter.

So now that I had the suit I needed to come up with a design. I also set myself the rule that I wouldn’t buy anything else so everything had to come from supplies I already had in my workroom. I tried to be a bit ambitious-and different from last year-and initially came up with a few dress designs where I thought I might be able to utilise the trouser legs to make panels and a feature-zip detail.

Before I went too much further though I needed to disassemble the suit to see exactly how much fabric I had. I got out the snips and unpicker and set to (not without trepidation because it was a lovely suit)

The beauty of pure wool is that it presses like a dream and so almost every original crease in the suit disappeared once I’d broken it down into all the parts. Needless to say there was less fabric than I’d hoped for my big plans so I had to modify them a lot. Out went the dress and in came [another] jacket. I’d been looking through my not inconsiderable pattern stash for inspiration and I’d found a dress pattern from 1973 which was amongst a huge number gifted to me last year by a friend. They had belonged to her Mum who was a fabulous dressmaker at Cresta Silks in her youth. Even though it was a dress I was attracted to its striking style lines with a long bust dart that ran parallel to a diagonal under-bust seam, and because it had a centre front seam I thought it was easily adaptable to a jacket. One of the features of McQueen’s work is his unusual seaming and style-lines so I decided to make a toile and see how it went.

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The original collar opened at the back for the zip so I made a new pattern so that it opened at the front instead. I also had to change the front and back ‘skirts’ by dividing them evenly in half because the pieces would be too large for the fabric quantity I had. I also wanted to be able to cut various pieces on the bias to make it more interesting so they had to be smaller to achieve this.fullsizeoutput_1ecd

By using an open-ended zip I minimised the amount of fabric needed for the front opening, there was no need for an overlap and there’d be barely enough anyway. I also knew that if I could use the original sleeves I would be be able to use all other available fabric for my design.

Amazingly I was happy with the toile and decided to press ahead with the design as it was. I could get the new front panels out of the original, and even managed to include the breast pocket and all the under-linings. However I couldn’t work out a way of satisfactorily utilising the pockets and flaps so they got left out. In the end I couldn’t use the back as per the toile, which had darts and the pattern piece was too large to fit as it was, so I turned the darts into princess seams instead and then those pieces came out of the original back after all. There was a tiny hole in the back but I repaired it with iron-on interfacing and no one would be any the wiser. I’d wanted all the peplum pieces to be on the bias but in order for them to be a reasonable match some had to be on the straight instead.

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I’d removed the buttons and facing so that it was as flat as possible. it did mean that the original darts would now be part of the new front though.
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Instead of using the paper pattern I laid the first cut piece on top of the opposite side so I that I had perfect placement on the checks. Luckily the buttonhole [which I could do nothing about] got absorbed into the seam allowance and didn’t show in the end.

 I won’t pretend that every seam has perfectly matching checks but given the fabric constraints I’m really pleased with the outcome. I carefully made the jacket up, a very enjoyable process, and because it was being fully lined I didn’t need to neaten any of the seams inside, they could just be pressed open. I remembered my tutor Daniel at Morley saying “steam is your friend” and wasn’t afraid to use it often, in conjunction with my tailor’s ham and a pressing cloth.

The trickiest part of the construction was making the original sleeves a little shorter for my arms and to fit into the new armholes. I roughly measured the sleeve head and compared it to the armhole. There was a fair difference so I needed to reduce the sleeve width by sewing up some of the under-arm seams to about elbow level (they are two-part sleeves) I tacked one sleeve in and tried it out. It looked pretty satisfactory without any further adjustment so I did the same to the other one as well. I tried to ensure that the checks matched as best I could too. Again I tried the jacket on to make sure I could move my arms and that I was happy with their length. After I’d machined them both in I reused the pieces of canvas and domette which I’d taken out of the original sleeve heads. These are part of tailoring construction which help give a good rounded shape to the sleeve head and are basted in place by hand onto the jacket seam allowance itself. I also planned to reuse the original shoulder pads later on.

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sewing the original canvas and domette back into the sleeve head.

Once the sleeves were in I could think more about the decoration I wanted to add. One of the recurring features I like about McQueen’s tailoring is his use of lace appliqué and embroidery. Amongst my stash of fabrics I have some beautiful black Guipure lace which was left over originally from the bridal shop where I used to work creating and making the most beautiful wedding and evening gowns. I’d used some of it on my elder daughter’s Prom dress 10 years ago but there’s still some left over so I had a little play. I put the jacket on Doris and draped pieces of lace over the shoulders to see what looked best. Part of the beauty of Guipure is that you can trim it into shape without it fraying or falling to bits so once I’d positioned it where I wanted I could trim it to neaten the shape. I love the swirls!

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I wanted the front to have a small glimpse to the lace…
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…but the surprise is at the back….
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…with the lace extending up the collar, over the sleeve head and down the back.

Looking at these photos you can see the other decorative technique I decided to use, embroidery.

I’d seen a very recent McQueen design which had red lacing on and I wanted to incorporate something similar probably in the form of hand embroidery instead, particularly because the fabric has a fine red stripe running through it.

McQ embroidered

I had a few practices first at simple running stitch, sashiko-style, and I tried a sort-of feather stitch but it looked pretty rubbish and uneven as I couldn’t get it right or consistent so I tried a couple of stitches of the many that my  25-year-old Elna 7000 machine offers.

I liked the feather stitch but decided it would be over-doing it so in the end I settled on the saddle stitch which would normally be used to top stitch but I was going to run it along some of the red stripes in the fabric for emphasis. [If you’re not sure which stitch this is on your machine it’s the one where the picture looks like 3 rows of stitches side by side. It’s actually 3 stitches on top of one another when it sews thus making an effective top stitch]

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stripes from the inside, including the repair to the hole I mentioned.

I decided to follow a few of the red stripes on the front and back, the front ones all run vertically and the back ones are just on one side in a cross formation. I considered putting them elsewhere too but decided there was enough.

Once I’d finished all the decoration I put the shoulder pads and the ‘plastron’ back in (this is a piece of heavy canvas which is part of the underlinings of tailored jackets and which helps give it a smooth line over the chest) The plastron needed to be trimmed slightly to fit inside since it had come from a man’s jacket. Finally I’d managed to salvage just enough fabric in one long strip to make a very narrow facing inside the zip. I turned up the hem first basting it in position and then herringbone stitching it by hand.

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basted and herringbone-stitched hem

I’d found some black lining fabric in my stash so cut out the jacket lining (excluding sleeves because they had their own original lining in) and sewed it together. Red lining would have been nice but I didn’t have anything suitable and I’d have broken my own rules to buy some. Because the facing strip was so narrow I wanted to smarten up it up a bit so I dug out some black braid which I stitched down the edge of it-it looks much better now if the jacket is open.

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Inside the jacket facing

Next I hand stitched all the linings in position at the hem and around the armholes so that everything was enclosed. The final thing I decided to do was change a couple of the cuff buttons so I swapped one on each wrist to red ones.

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idiosyncratic buttons!

And that’s all there is to it…..

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I’m afraid I’ll never make much of a model and the backdrop was a choice of either a brick wall or a flower bed! The photos aren’t by Testino (Katie actually) but I hope you’ll get an idea of how the jacket looks, it’s a distinctive but wearable one-off.

I’m so chuffed with my finished jacket and, better than that, I really enjoyed the planning and making very much. I felt I got back in touch with lots of the skills I’ve acquired over many years of sewing, some of which helped me to plan it carefully within the constraints set both by Portia and the ones I set myself, and others meant I could stretch my making skills further than they tend to get stretched these days which is no bad thing.

Initially I wasn’t sure if this would be a refashioning challenge I could rise to but I’ve surprised myself with the outcome. I’ve now got a jacket which I’ll be really happy to wear and I shall enjoy telling anyone who cares to listen exactly how it came about. I don’t know the story of the suit before I bought it but I feel like I’ve given it a new narrative now by reinventing it in a new form….and that might even be something McQueen himself would have applauded.

As ever many pictures are my own but the rest are sourced from the internet.

Have you made a suit refashion this year? I’d love to hear about it, or tell me your thoughts about mine…(risky hehe)

Happy Sewing

Sue

Refashioning-from old jeans to a new jacket 2016

This is an edited version of the original post from 4 years ago. Not all the pictures are here but I hope you get the gist of the jacket refashion. Sue

I’ve never been a great one for up-cycling really, I guess as a former sample cutter I always enjoy the challenge of cutting something new out of fresh fabric in an economic or inventive way. I think that’s probably the same reason I’ve never bothered with quilting or patchwork-cutting fabric into small pieces and then reassembling it in a different order-not for me I fear. Mind you, back in the day we were less concerned about ‘reduce reuse recycle’ than we’ve since, thankfully, become.

Anyway, at the beginning of August, Portia Lawrie announced that her Refashioners 2016 competition for this year would be to turn jeans into…something else, anything you like! Last year’s theme was shirts and I saw plenty of imaginative ideas where mens shirts became dresses, skirts, different shirts and the winning entry was trousers!

Anyway, I was pondering vaguely on the theme (almost entirely driven by the amazing prize-package that was on offer, the prospect of fabric/patterns/sewing books is enough to stir me into action) and thinking that I didn’t actually have any old jeans in the house to cut up-my girls wear way too many stretchy skinny jeggings to be useful and Mr Y is a keen believer in wearing things to infinity and beyond!

However, as luck would have it, Mr Y was having a rare ‘turn out’ and what should I find but TWO pairs of almost identical jeans…except they weren’t denim jeans, they were corded drill (looks like corduroy but not fluffy) Would they do? a quick email to Portia who said she thought they would. Excellent-green for go!

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The next issue was that they weren’t even blue, they were very similar, very well washed shades of stone/sand/beige…you get the picture? Then I remembered I had a packet of unused Dylon machine dye in indigo-score!

So I set about unpicking the offending trousers…this took rather a long time to be truthful and made a huge mess with all the threads everywhere on the carpet in my workroom, Threadquarters.

I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to make but I knew that the more useable fabric I could harvest the better. Once I’d taken everything apart I had four legs with side seams still intact, two waistbands with pockets attached and two zips removed. I popped the whole lot in the washing machine with the dye and 500grams of salt, you run the hottest cycle and then, when it’s complete, you run the whole cycle again with detergent. This is to remove any excess dye and also wash the machine out too (although the next proper wash I did was a dark one just to be on the safe side) I was pretty pleased with the outcome. The two pairs were by and large virtually the same colour now, interestingly the top stitching on both hadn’t dyed as the thread must have been synthetic, and the zips hadn’t either. That was a pity because I thought I might have been able to use them but they were just different shades of brown now-yuck.

After a lot more thinking, and sketching, I settled on a jacket for myself because I took the view that if I was going to spend such a lot of time on this with not a lot of realistic hope of winning I wanted to at least have something I’m happy to wear!

To work! I had a rummage in my-ahem-extensive collection of patterns to see what I had that might be basis to use. Most jackets I’ve made were years ago so they’re all a bit 80’s tailored but then I came upon a pattern from the 1970’s that my neighbour had given me when she was having a turn out (more recycling?) The jacket in itself wasn’t something I’d wear but I loved the curved bust dart in the front, it was collarless and edge to edge and the back was in two pieces.

All this meant that it could be a go-er. I spent a while fiddling with the pattern pieces and the trouser legs to see what was going to go where. Because I wanted a shorter length jacket that helped, the front would fit on to include the original side seams and the back would go above that with a modification, and the sleeves would come out of the other legs. They were all mostly on grain which pleased me a lot. (When things aren’t cut on the grain or on the bias they can go very wobbly when sewn up)

I forgot to mention that I decided to trace off a new spot and cross copy of the original as it was quite tatty, and I was shortening it anyway.

Because the back wouldn’t fit on without overlapping the front I chose to add a panel in the back so that it became four panels. This isn’t difficult, I just drew on the new seam line where I wanted it, added seam allowance of 1.5cms and a balance mark to the back panel section and cut it off. The remaining new side panel then needs the 1.5 cms added back on plus another 1.5cms for its own seam allowance. The photo should clarify this a little.

Once I’d got the panels sorted I could pin them onto the fabric.

I tried as much as possible to keep things on a proper grain line so that they behaved when I started sewing them together. Out of the other legs I cut the sleeves which I positioned so that the original seams ran straight down them. One of the things I liked about the pattern was the little elbow darts which would give them a cheeky feature.

Another rummage in my stash found me an open-ended zip in blue, I’d decided to tidy up the inside-and make it a bit more individual-with pretty bias binding. I managed to cut front and back neck facings out of what I’d got left from the sleeve leg.

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Sewing the jacket together was very straightforward after that. I top stitched most of the main seams in part to match them to the originals and to link it all together, this meant I had to put the sleeves in on the flat rather than set-in but they look ok.80754ED9-5190-4641-A097-A74608863C759CC3A98E-A35F-4DBD-84F2-B5D5227BB492C121A135-9D89-4F06-A3D4-90D8E6A9CDCB_1_201_a6388B67D-74AA-46F6-B415-74128E157638

Because the zip was too long it gives an interesting finish to the neckline where there’s a section at the top that doesn’t do up, which I like. I wanted to use the pockets too but I didn’t want them spoiling the outside clean lines so I devised a way of having them on the inside.

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The lower facings (cut from more scraps) fold up to neaten the bottom edge of the jacket.

I ran out of the red binding but I found about a metre left of the binding I made to go on my favourite dress so I used that instead. I understitched the lower edge in a fluoro-pink thread (just because) and then slip stitched the facing in place by hand so that it didn’t show through on the front. [I put binding on the cuff edges too so if I turn them up it’ll be visible]

I think the internal pockets might be quite useful if I ever go poaching!!

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The only bits I didn’t find a use for in the end were the waistbands. I thought I might have used them on the lower edge but in the end I decided I didn’t really want the band on it and I wasn’t sure poor my machine could cope with the number of layers that it would have to sew through.

So there you have it, my entry to The Refashioners 2016. I’m really pleased with the outcome, it’s a tad big but that’s fine and it’s totally wearable. I used jeans that were headed to the charity shop (or even the bin), a gifted vintage pattern, binding I already had and a zip from my stash, a win all round I think. Needless to say I didn’t win the big prize but I did get an honourable mention in dispatches. 

The jacket got its first outing in the wild, on the way to the first Sewing Weekender in late August 2016. I’m very happy with it and I’ve had loads of wear out of it. I think it achieved my aim of not looking too much like a thing that’s been made from something else and being not very good in the process. I’ve never really aspired to being designer so I know there will be far more original ideas than this but I want a garment that is wearable and useful to me and no one else. I hope you agree…although you probably wouldn’t say if you don’t!

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If you’re reading this in 2020 (and what a very strange year this has been!) you might have seen me wearing the jacket for my first trip back to the V&A museum in almost 6 months, the wearing of face masks being compulsory. I’m wearing it with a linen Trend Patterns Bias T-shirt dress which I included in a review here. The exhibition is Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk which I also reviewed earlier in year. My hair has grown quite a bit too!

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Again, apologies for the gaps in the original photos but I hope you get the general idea of this refashion. 

There are a quite number of blogs and websites out there that can give you ideas and inspiration for this kind of project and Portia’s own is as good a starting place as any, she’s a great advocate of refashioning with so many clever ideas and in 2020 this is still very much the case.

Happy Sewing

Sue xx

 

 

Revisiting a ‘vintage’ blouse pattern

I know many of us often sew patterns multiple times because we like them but I’ve taken this to a new extreme recently. I last sewed this blouse pattern Simplicity 8704 when I was around 16 or 17 years old, the date on the back is 1978 so I must have made it while I was still at school! I remember I used a burgundy-coloured viscose (or similar) with a floral print on it and it was definitely one of my favourites as I wore it a lot, probably swanning about in the Sixth Form common room!

There have been several times when I’ve been tempted to revisit it but for one reason or another I’ve put it back in the box for another day but this time I kept it out and went in search of fabric in the stash. Initially I was going to use a really pretty pastel pink lightweight checked cotton I got from Sew Me Sunshine (I can’t see it on the website now though) but when I realised I was going to have to pattern match the deceptively tricky check I thought better of it. I wasn’t in the mood for taking an age over that so I continued to rummage until my eyes fell upon the (also) pale pink linen I acquired from the local Scraps Store last year. I found it in a container full of various unwanted fabrics and there was nearly 5 metres of it so, for a donation, it came home with me! I laundered it at the time but put it away. I thought I might make a dress with it originally but, because it’s such a pale pink, I didn’t want to end up looking like a blob so I left it for another time.

A plain linen blouse appealed to me though and I didn’t have to fiddle about pattern matching so away I went and it was cut out in no time. Even though the pattern was a single size-this is how most patterns were sold until multi-size patterns were introduced-and my size has fluctuated to say the least over the years, amazingly it was still going to be the right size with no alterations.

There’s not much else to say about making it up except I remembered that an @SewOver50 stalwart, Lisa, had shared on her grid the day before that she had used a wing needle to decorate a plain linen tunic she was making which reminded me that I’d intended to find a use for the same effect at some point but forgotten all about it-Thank You Lisa!

The wing needle (I’ve also seen it called an ‘heirloom’ needle recently too) is like a regular needle except it has fine metal ‘fins’ to each side of the shaft which creates a little hole like a tiny eyelet in the centre of the stitch as it forms. A stitch which looks like a little star works best for this effect but you could try experimenting to see if any others look nice

I made a little video of my machine in action.

It’s worth bearing in mind a couple of important points if you’re going to use this decoration. Firstly, you can’t easily pivot at a corner with the needle down in the work-I sewed the collar in three separate moves, secondly you won’t be able to use the automatic threader if your machine has one and thirdly (thank you Lisa for telling me this because I don’t have this feature) you can’t use your automatic thread cutter if you have one.

As well as the collar I embroidered the cuffs, the front raglan seams and down the button placket, although I did this last one after I’d hemmed the bottom and sewn the buttonholes so that it was the exact distance from the edge and the buttonholes.

I love the way the blouse gathers into the collar, which is a two part construction incidentally, the raglan sleeves are straightforward but the gathered cuffs add a nice touch. I found a selection of Mother of Pearl buttons amongst my tidied-up button boxes to add another of my usual quirky details but otherwise that’s it. It’s a reasonably quick make but it was lovely to sew the details of collar construction and the cuffs, there’s an elegant simplicity to it I think. I will either wear it loose over the top of trousers or tucked in, or underneath a pinafore dress maybe?

It might sound strange but it feels a bit like an old friend has come back to visit, and I might even make the placket front version now too!

Until next time, keep sewing!

Sue

Balenciaga at the V&A

I finally managed to get to this gorgeous exhibition the other day and it was frustrating to think it was both ‘worth the wait’ and ‘why did I wait so long!’  Whatever the answer I really glad I did.

I’ve loved the V&A since I was about 14 or 15 when I was studying for O-level Needlework (!!) and I used to visit to draw the clothes that were on display in what was then known as the Costume Court. I would sit patiently in front of the cabinets to sketch the details of historical garments, it’s definitely where my love and fascination for the construction of garments began.

Amazingly I found some of my original sketches from that time (although if you look carefully one of them seems to have been tampered with by a small child!) They were drawn on graph paper donated by my Dad. At that time I’d decided I wanted to be a costume designer, although through a few educational twists and turns I finished up doing bridal and evening wear instead which was the next best thing. Fortunately since then the fashion galleries have moved on a fair bit in the way they display things now, more rotation of garments from the collections and less dusty mannequins. That said, a few of my favourite garments from that era are still on display so I can still get my nostalgia-fix.

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one of my favourites, a magenta crinoline

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This is another of my favourites, it’s from 1937 designed by Charles James and made in a silk chiffon with a print by Jean Cocteau…I’d wear it now given the chance!

Nowadays they utilise the central downstairs area to host changing exhibitions along with the upstairs gallery. [This is was an inspired move in my opinion because all that the upstairs area used to contain was ancient dusty stringed instruments and, as far as I could tell, no one ever went up there!!]

And so to Balenciaga…he was a Spaniard born into a humble background in 1895 who eventually worked for almost all of his illustrious career in Paris and came to be hugely respected and influential amongst the pantheon of great designers.IMG_3077

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He developed innovative ways of handling fabric to create extraordinary shapes and styles, many of them had hidden foundations which enabled them to hold their shape. Fabric was all, it was always his starting point and the design came from there, not the other way around. He was extremely proficient in all aspects of the design process, he understood fabric and its capabilities, so he could drape and cut the fabrics into his chosen shapes, he was an expert tailor, pattern cutter and could sew too. Not every designer is capable of all this and many rely on the expertise of others to realise their visions. I have great respect for designers like this.

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Cristobal Balenciaga at work in his atelier, a calm and quiet place where he always wore his customary white overall.

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One thing that is different about this exhibition to most others I’ve been to at the V&A is being allowed to take photos-I can only assume this because they’ve given up trying to stop people, or they don’t need to protect anyone’s copyright or intellectual property??

The dress in the foreground here was, apparently, adored by fashion editors of the time and much photographed. Only a few were sold though because it was nearly impossible to go to the loo whilst wearing it!!

The exhibition has a several displays at the beginning which illustrate Balenciaga’s use of fabric and his swatch system and the designs that stemmed from it.

His Spanish heritage was often a source of inspiration too, boleros being typical of this but also the use of lace and flamenco-influenced ruffles and flounces.

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a bolero jacket…sorry, not a good photo…

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The whole of the downstairs part of the show is given over to Balenciaga’s own designs for both his couture collections and the ready to wear line that he also developed. There are evening gowns, coats, day dresses, tailoring and pant suits. There’s an opportunity to try on mock-ups of a garments for yourself, and there are also a number of toiles that have been recreated in calico by MA students from UAL including Claire-Louise Hardie who blogs as The Thrifty Stitcher and who was the sewing producer on the Great British Sewing Bee series.

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Claire-Louise Hardie’s toile

There are several exquisite beaded coats and gowns as well as a fascinating accompanying video showing exactly how the beading is done-don’t miss it, it’s enthralling. IMG_3102IMG_3103IMG_3104

I adore this dress, my photo doesn’t do it justice as it’s a vibrant fuchsia pink in reality. On the wall behind is one of several specially commissioned x-ray photos taken by Nick Veasey and showing the secret interior construction of the dress.

This is a strapless gown that has been turned inside out so that you can see all the details that mean the dress won’t fall down! My previous blog from a visit to the FTM also tells you about my ‘hands on’ experience looking inside beautiful couture clothing, read it here. 

Upstairs there are lots more clothes created by many contemporary designers who acknowledge the debt that their designs owe to Balenciaga’s influence. These include Roksanda Illincic,  Erdem and Nicholas Ghesquiere, who became chief designer in 1997 when the Balenciaga brand was reinvigorated for the 21st century.

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Roksanda Illincic-love this!!

 

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Erdem

 

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Nicholas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga

There’s so much more to see than I can show here so I’d urge you to go along to the V&A if you love finding out about the history and development of fashion design. This exhibition is on until February next year so there’s plenty of time at the moment. Make sure you look around the rest of the fashion exhibits that are on display in the surrounding gallery too-there are so many interesting garments, often dating back centuries, and you can see the influence and development that they’ve had on clothing over that time.

I’ve been a member of the V&A for 3 years now so I can go as often I like to their exhibitions but, as ever, all opinions here are my own! I hope you enjoy this show as much as I did and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Sue

a busy year in sewing 2016

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I thought I’d take a look at everything I’ve made over the course of the last 12 months and it makes, for me at least, interesting viewing. There’s a variety of garments, styles, shapes and silhouettes. Some have been more successful than others for various reasons, some are self-drafted, others were new patterns free with magazines, some were hacked from patterns I already have and some were indie patterns and PDFs. There have been garments thrown together in very little time and with very little fabric, and there have been a few things that I’ve taken a huge amount of time and care over. There have been a growing number of refashions in the mix too. Not everything I’ve made ended up being photographed so I don’t think this is an exhaustive list but most of it’s here, wherever possible I’ll give pattern and fabric details but I think it will be a photo-tour through my sewing year 2016.

 

So here goes…

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Ha ha, trying to master the art of a decent selfie! This has been one of my favourite dresses all year, it’s New Look 6340 which was free with Sew magazine and it’s made in a lovely maroony/brown crepe with little pink stars from Man Outside Sainsbury’s in Walthamstow. It’s very swingy and I’ve worn it layered up on cool days or sleeveless in the summer. I keep planning another but it hasn’t quite happened yet. Silver shoes from Clarks

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This was my first foray into Burda Style trace-off patterns. The front and sleeves are scuba with crepe de chine on the back. I’ve worn it a few times although the fabric combination isn’t the best.

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The stripes on this one annoyed me as I hadn’t bought enough fabric so I couldn’t match them properly-turned out it was excellent for doing Pilates in though!

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This was my first refashion of the year. I made this bag using 2 old pairs of jeans to carry all my kit to and from college in London.

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I love this dress! it’s the Wisewood from MIY Wendy Ward. I like to think it looks a little ‘Vivienne Westwood’. Instead of cutting away the excess fabric at the centre front I pulled it across to sit over my hip and stitched it in place. It’s so comfy! The fabric came from a local market and cost me next-to-nothing.

I made 2 of this dress during the year, the blue chambray was first and the pale green was made during the Sewing weekender in August.  I blogged about them both and I love wearing them both. I’m particularly happy with the exposed zip on the green.

Quite different garments but both new to me-the stripes was a copy of a top I already had and the shirt is a refashion of one belonging to my husband, read about them here and here.

I made an evening dress for myself in March using Simple Sew‘s Floating Bodice pattern (for reasons I won’t go into it became known as the Flying Buttress dress) I’ve never blogged this one, maybe I’ll get round to it because I’ve used some interesting techniques on it.

I did a bit of pattern-making of my own for the next dress.

This was my own self-drafted pattern for the skirt with pleats and a false wrap over, and an existing bodice from years ago. Overall I’m pleased with it, the skirt works really well but the bodice needed some tweaking-the shoulders were too broad and the bodice too long so I altered it the next time I made it-sleeveless this time, in gorgeous cotton/linen mix from Ditto fabrics in Brighton.

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This was a free Burda pattern 6914, again with Sew magazine. I added pockets to the side seam and gave it longer sleeves with darts around the cuffs to echo the neckline and hem. It’s bright red and black houndstooth check wool mix and a really comfy dress for cooler days. I made it again in a stripe later in the year.

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I cut the short sleeves on the bias to give them an interesting effect although they’re a bit tight on me for some reason so I’ve only worn it once so far. I love the binding around the neck though!

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This one was an absolute pleasure to make, it’s a’graduation’ gown for a little boy with dwarfism-he looked brilliant it in and his little face was a joy to see-that’s when I love what I do.

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I loved this fabric so much but stupidly didn’t buy enough so it’s tight around my hips and snug over the bust, I wore it anyway. The pattern is adapted from Simplicity 1620

This gorgeous fabric came from Faberwood and although I only had 1.5m I got two tops out of it! On the left is New Look 6230 (free from Sew magazine!) On the right is a top from a hacked pattern I’ve used at least 5 times in various versions either as a top or a dress.

Still with me…?

Next up was an Alder from Grainline patterns, the summer version was a cotton poplin from Backstitch and the red is more recent and I’ve added long sleeves . Both have had plenty of wear.

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This is the simplest top ever! It’s quite literally two rectangles of silk crepe de chine joined at the shoulders and two side seams.

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Another holiday pic, this is Simplicity 1665 and another freebie. In fact the fabric was gifted too!

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This dress was custom-made for Liz’s eldest son’s wedding, you can read how I created it here 

 

This top has been one of my absolute favourites over the summer, it’s my version of a RTW  top from last year and was an early blog post. The skirt was a wonky bolt-end of jersey I turned into a super-comfy skirt, even the elastic in the waist came from something else.

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gorgeous bridesmaids, what else can I say. Old-school petticoats and Cath Kidston styling-lovely.

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Pyjama shorts for Mr Y-they have steam trains on!

This was another extreme labour of love. It’s a jacket made for Portia Lawrie‘s The Refashioners project 2016. It didn’t win but I got a mention in despatches and I’ve had a lot of use out of it. The dress underneath is from last year and is one of my absolute favourites-I’ve had random strangers on public transport compliment me about it!

I love this waxed cotton dress, I got the pattern (Simplicity 2444) from the swap at the Weekender in August (and the button was in the goody bag) and the fabric is from a shop in Walthamstow.

This was my first Tilly and the Buttons pattern and also my first properly inserted exposed zip. I blogged about it here. Then came a pattern-testing opportunity for Megan Nielsen patterns, her new Karri dress to be precise. You can read the blog for that here.img_0111

Next was a bit of fun with this swooshy cape, I’ve blogged that on here, the lovely fabric came from Fabrics Galore when I visited the London Knitting and Stitching Show in October.

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While I was working on many of these things I was slowly beavering away on possibly my favourite dress ever-it’s the gorgeous evening dress I created for our special Ladies Night in November.

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I felt so glamorous and pretty in it.

Nearly there…

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This was more of a wearable toile from a PDF in Love Sewing Magazine by Thrifty Stitcher Claire-Louise Hardie. I really like the clever front folds with integral pockets, it’s quite short for me so it’s strictly a thick tights dress!

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Self-drafted trousers with welt pockets, in a lovely ponte from Ditto. They finished up a little big for some reason which is strange as I’ve made 3 other pairs and they’ve been fine-oh well.

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I love this top so much! I’m wearing it right now and when I find the right fabric I’ll be making more, possibly with long sleeves and roll-back cuffs.

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Obviously this isn’t a dress at all, this is Doris being a Christmas cracker at our Christmas Tree Festival in December. Twinkly fabric from Goldhawk Road.

Almost finally, this is version 1 of the Zoe dress from Sew Now magazine, in a lovely printed denim from Ditto

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…and this is the final (probably) completed project of the year. It’s version 2 of Zoe by Simple Sew which was free with new magazine Sew Now. The printed cord came from Goldhawk Rd in West London.

There was one last dress I made recently which wasn’t so successful not because the pattern wasn’t good but because the fabric didn’t work well for the style. I have worn it but there’s no photo, I intend making it again because I really like the pattern but I’ll be more careful with fabric choice this time. I’ll write a review when I’m happier with it, it was me not the pattern!

So there we have it, well done for sticking with me all the way through this trawl of the last 12 sewing months. In between all the making I completed a large number of bridal and other alterations, which are much less fun frankly. I’ve taught lots of lovely people new things too either individually or in weekly classes. It’s been so much fun. I’ve really enjoyed meeting lots of sewers and dressmakers in the flesh this year too and I hope there’ll be more opportunities for meet ups and Weekenders next year, I like nothing better than to get together with other people to talk sewing/patterns/fabrics until the cows come home…

There’ll be one last blog for 2016 which will be a review of the two shirts I’ve just made Mr Y for Christmas, but I haven’t written that yet….

Thank you for reading my blog and I really like to receive your comments. I hope there’ll be a lot more sewing fun in 2017. I’ll still be pushing myself to try new techniques and methods and patterns, I’m every bit as keen to learn new things as any beginner-I love learning from newbies just as much as I’m happy to share what I know with you. Just because I’ve been doing this forever is irrelevant, we’re never too old to learn something new, or another way of doing it.

Don’t forget that, if you don’t already, you can find my page on Facebook at Susan Young Sewing and also on Instagram (susanyoungsewing) that’s usually where I post lots of pictures of what I’ve been sewing, galleries and museums I’ve visited and what my cats are up to!!

Merry Christmas, a healthy and prosperous 2017, and lots more sewing of course,

Sue xx

a vintage-inspired posh party frock

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So party frocks are a thing I like to make but, like most people, I’m not a red-carpet celebrity and I don’t often get a chance to wear them.

This time though I had a reason because back in the spring we set the date of November 5th for a dinner-dance to celebrate Mr Y’s year in the Chair at his Lodge (don’t ask, I’m not going to try to explain) It’s an excuse to get gussied up and put on your best bib and tucker and as I am the President’s Lady (like Michelle but not as cooool) I have to look pretty darn good.

I didn’t have any clear idea at that time of what I might want to make but on a trip to Brighton in May which inevitably included a visit to Ditto I spotted the most gorgeous striped and printed organza. It was love at first sight! I like to think I know my fabrics and I honestly expected it would cost in the region of £20-£25 per metre. When Gill told me it was just £8 per metre I was astonished!! The thing is, the first roll of fabric I saw was pale orange flowers on a black background. I would happily have bought this if Gill hadn’t then said she’d got it with pink flowers! so now a dilemma…which to choose? It looked for a while as if there wasn’t going to be a choice to be made because the pink version couldn’t be found. This didn’t put Gill off (despite it being a busy Saturday in the shop) so while we tootled off to spend time in town she searched for, and eventually located, the pink. What a star she is!!

I’d formulated an idea in my head by now which was basically the skirt shape of Dior’s 1947 New Look. The stiffness of the fabric lent itself to it so I fancied a straightforward dirndl pleated into the waistline ought to look good. DiorDior New LookIMG_0003
I bought 2.5 metres which was roughly 2 skirt ‘drops’ and a bit extra. Happy days!!

The next part of the jigsaw was to decide what form the bodice should take, and what colour, because the background for the pink colour-way was an olive green not black. I didn’t mind this because I don’t wear much black anyway. As I’ve said on more than one occasion I rarely throw a decent bit of fabric away and amongst my pile of ‘things that might be useful one day’ was a panne velvet skirt which I’d never worn much but loved the fabric. Guess what? it was a perfect match!! would it be enough though? IMG_0026fullsizeoutput_119

The answer, thankfully, was yes, although I couldn’t be sure about sleeves at that stage…cross that bridge when I get to it!

So I motored on now with constructing the bodice using one from Simplicity Project Runway K2444 [originally free with Sew magazine] which I’d snapped up from the swaps table at The Sewing Weekender in August and had used once already for my waxed cotton dress.

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Wearing the waxed-cotton dress with my first refashions jacket (outside Buckingham Palace in 2016)

Another reason for using it was because it had darts and not separate panels thereby saving valuable fabric.

Panne velvet is very slippery and unstable so I mounted the pieces first onto a more stable fabric, in this case some ordinary black poly/cotton that I had. If you’re going really ‘high-end’ you’d use something like silk organza. You do this by laying everything carefully together matching the cut edges but taking care not to have the velvet misshapen and then, keeping it all flat on the table, tack around the edges by hand. On a fabric like this it just isn’t enough to pin and hope for the best. I did this for the darts too before machining them. By tacking carefully it helps to stop the velvet creeping in different directions under the machine foot. I don’t possess a walking foot but I found I’d got a roller foot so I used that satisfactorily instead. To help prevent the side seams wrinkling too much in wear I put in some boning, directly onto the seam allowances.

Alongside this I had to decide what to line the skirt with as it’s a sheer fabric. I mocked up a couple of colours on Doris to see the different effects.

I settled for dark but with pale pink net under that to echo the roses. While I was at the Knitting and Stitching show in early October I found a lovely quality Italian lining at just £2 per metre in a ‘shot’ red/green colour. I wasn’t totally sure if it would be right and, as I said to the guy on the stall “it will either be a triumph or a total disaster!” At £4 for 2 metres it wouldn’t be the end of the world anyway.

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I mocked up the whole thing from time to time on Doris just to make sure it would become a unified whole and not lots of segments that didn’t really work.

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trying out the pleats

Getting the pleats to fit the waist was a bit of a trial but with some patience and lots of tacking I got it to the right length to fit. I’ve made many dresses like these over the years (although rarely for me) and it’s best to keep all the parts separate for as long as practical so you can work on each of them more easily and then join them together at the last possible moment-that way you’re not wrestling with a huge amount of fabric/net etc for any longer than necessary.

Amazingly I managed to getting a pair of short sleeves out of the remaining fabric which I was delighted by.

I cut the bias-cut collar in organza twice as wide as the original so that it would roll over prettily.

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On the hem of the skirt I decide to use crin (just like in Strictly Come Dancing!) to finish the edge neatly and invisibly and to give it some ‘bounce’. After machining it on along one edge I turned it and stitched by hand.

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The under-lining was a straightforward flared skirt although I cut it on the bias to allow the waist to have some ‘give’ if it needed it. I’d decided on rose-pink net underneath that so that the overall effect of the dress wasn’t too dark, I used two different shades together in the end. Again, I’ve made masses of these in the past and they aren’t difficult (when you know how)

For example, you can get a pretty decent amount of zjoosh (is that even a word?!) from just 3 metres of dress net (140cms wide)

  • keeping the net folded in half lengthways, cut one piece your desired finished length e.g.. 70cms [If you want a fuller petticoat you can cut two of these and join them at the narrow ends to form a longer strip, you’ll more net for the next part though]
  • now cut 2 or 3 widths of net that are the same or slightly shorter than the first one, e.g. 60-70cms. These need to be joined at their narrow edges to form a long strip. Fold this in half LENGTHWAYS. It will now be a strip that is half as wide as the first piece, and very long. Now stitch close to the cut edges with the longest gathering stitches your machine will sew [if you have a gathering foot or your overlocker gathers effectively you can use those to do the gathering for you] Pull up the threads until the long strip fits onto the original single cut length. Matching the folded edge of the ruffle against the bottom edge of the single piece, pin and stitch in position. This part can be a bit tricky because of all the fabric involved but be patient.
  • Now cut another 2 or 3 widths of net approximately 50cms each (or evenly divide into 2-3 whatever you’ve got left) Repeat the step above, you’ll have another even narrower strip which you’ll sew in position UNDER the first one but again with all the hems level at the bottom. It should be looking like a net petticoat by this stage.
  • The fuller you want it to be the more layers you can add although there comes a point where it will just collapse in too much again your legs without something like a hoop or a very firm lining under it.
  • You’ll need to join the two narrow ends together so that it now forms a tube-shape. This is your basic petticoat which you can put a lining inside to stop it being itchy, you can either insert it straight into the dress or, a better method, attach it to a narrow strip of lining or ‘basque’ and join that to the garment, it’s less bulky.

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I didn’t want there to be a seam in the back of the organza to spoil the stripes so I made a small slit-opening and then carefully bound the edge with a bias-strip of lining. Once I’d joined the bodice and skirt together I sewed the zip through to the lining. Putting the zip in was a bit tricky and even though I tacked it, didn’t go right first time. I had to take one side back out and try again-the zip moved because of the pile of the velvet causing it to shift as I sewed.

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Once the dress was all together (I hadn’t needed to refit anything as I went which was very good news-all I’d done was narrow the shoulders slightly when I cut it out because I knew they were too wide for me from the waxed cotton version) I wanted something to finish off the waist seam. I had a slightly sparkly belt which looked nice except the buckle wasn’t right. I hit upon the idea of making a temporary bow in organza, on elastic, that would sit over the top of it.IMG_0242

I’d decided a while ago that rose-gold shoes were what I wanted to finish the ensemble off but of course I couldn’t find any that were right! In the end dear Mr Y found a perfect unworn pair of L.K.Bennett courts on Ebay! Result!!

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So there it is, that’s how simple it is to make a New Look-inspired fancy party frock!

Actually I really enjoyed making it because I only had myself to please and I didn’t have to make fitting appointments or worry about weight loss or gain (much) changes of mind etc etc. Because I started in plenty of time I was never in too much of a rush and I have the advantage of knowing what I’m doing. I LOVED wearing it on the night and I had so many lovely comments about it. I’ve been both touched and staggered by the response on Instagram and Facebook too.

I’d love to think I might have inspired some of you to have a go at something like this if you get the opportunity, or the right occasion.

When Amy Thomas invited me to write my pattern review for Love Sewing last year she suggested I brought along my dress so that we could get some nice photos, this is one of the results.

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With Love Sewing editor Amy Thomas in September

For some strange reason, since I originally wrote this blog, lots of the photos disappeared from it. I had a problem with my laptop a couple of times so it may have happened then. I’ve recently replaced most of them although I’m not sure they are all the same as the originals. Never mind, you’ll get the gist of it.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue xx

a trip to Backstitch

Now normally my Thursday classes take place in the same venue at the same time each week. I have a lovely group of loyal sewers and we have great fun whilst they work and, allegedly, learn new skills. I often tell them of the many and various fabric emporia that I’ve visited and eventually they grew fed up with this and asked, nay, demanded an outing of their own!

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our normal working environment…

In February I’d visited Backstitch at Burwash Manor near Cambridge for the first time for an Instagram meet-up organised by Gingerthread Girl, Jen. As well as having a lovely time chatting about sewing and dressmaking with some like-minded ladies (and eating cake!) I was very impressed with the wide range of fabrics, equipment and indie patterns that they stocked. I bought a couple of nice pieces of jersey as well as a butterfly-printed denim and 3 new patterns (all of which are still in the works as more pressing jobs have intervened) Anyway I thought my ladies might enjoy a trip there because, although it’s a 45 minute drive for us Backstitch is within a really pretty collection of ‘lifestyle’ shops around an old manor house in the Cambridgeshire countryside, so we could have a spot of lunch and a browse while we were there.

Sadly Jan wasn’t able to join us this time but Sue, Jane, Ann and Julie piled into my car and off we went! Because we were going straight after class finished at noon we were in need of lunch first. There’s a jolly nice tea room at Burwash Manor so once we’d had some sustenance, we toddled over to Backstitch.

It’s fair to say they were like kids in a sweet shop! So many lovely fabrics and so many projects to plan! where to start?! I’d suggested that they bring along any patterns they were keen to make (as luck would have it they are all just finishing current projects so they’re ready to move on to something new….and more challenging!)

You can see in the photo just a small part of the selection of cottons available with many plains alongside all the prints, there’s also a great choice of plain linen-types in lovely colours as well as denims and lots of jerseys.

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Julie’s got her patterns handy and she’s on a mission!

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we’re not sure  what this is, what could you do with it?

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Look at all that concentration!!

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browsing the patterns and fat-quarters now…

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…and finally, the purchasing begins…

After about an hour of rifling through everything, creating bigger and bigger piles of fabrics and quizzing me on what was suitable for which project everyone came away with bags full of varying quantities of fabric (including me, but I was more restrained with just one item) It’s fair to say that Jane had got the most carried-away and she’s going to be busy for quite a while…

After all that activity more tea was needed so we adjourned back to the tea room for a scone before heading home again, we’d run out of time to browse the other shops!

Backstitch is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area and it’s open 7 days a week. I’m impressed by the quality of what they sell and their prices are very fair (they have an online shop too although personally I prefer to feel fabric before I buy)

I’ve not been asked by Backstitch to write this and all views are my own. I’ve included a few web addresses below too which might be of interest to you.

http://www.backstitch.co.uk

http://www.gingerthreadgirl.co.uk

http://www.burwashmanor.com

Happy Sewing

Sue xx

Nifty shirt refashion

I’m not a great one for refashions-I don’t think I’m very good at being creative with old garments although I’m getting better at it. T had a nice Gap chambray shirt which he’d loved to the point where the collar was almost falling off and the underarms were a bit….crispy…so I wouldn’t let him wear it anymore. There was still enough useable fabric however to make something else but not a complete ‘something’. My stash is full of bits of fabric left over from other projects, usually half a metre or less, so I rummaged around and found a cotton poplin with a bird print which I thought went pretty well with the pale blue chambray.

I started by cutting off the collar and back yoke section as they were unusable. I boobed slightly when I tore across the back under the yoke seam because it suddenly tore at a right angle half way across, near the centre back!! Arrgh! [why was I tearing it? Because this would give me a straight grain to work with] I didn’t know if there’d be quite enough fabric at this stage so it meant one of the first things I’d need to do would be a repair on the split-oh dear.

I’d recently been given a modest stash of old patterns by someone and there was a lovely little shirt pattern circa 1966 amongst them which I thought would be interesting to try and it was the right size.IMG_3351

I had enough fabric to make the sleeves, cuffs and collar and there was enough chambray (after I’d done the repair with careful use of Vilene and a zigzag stitch) to get the front and back out.

So far, sew good!

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You can see the split I made at the top of this photo. By folding the remains of the shirt in half up the centre back I could get the back on and after perfectly aligning the button stands and placing the pattern directly over the buttons (see photo) I could get the front out too. I also measured the new side seams so that they were going to come out the same length. By utilising the original closures it meant I didn’t need to cut any new plackets-I’m not that bothered about my shirt doing up the ‘mans way’ instead of the women’s.

I pinned the sleeves,cuffs and collar on to the birds next, they were an excellent fit, and then I cut everything out.

As I wanted to ‘pretty it up’ slightly so that it didn’t look much like a man’s shirt I cut a bit of bias binding in the bird fabric and found some Broderie Anglais which I sandwiched into the shoulder seam (which is positioned slightly forward)

The repair falls at the back neck which is a pity because it’s visible (I have short hair too!) Never mind. I made up the collar and attached it and then neatened the inside edge with some bias binding I’d made last year from another of T’s old work shirts-there’s a pattern forming here isn’t there?IMG_3353

You can also see that I did two rows of top stitching around the edge of the collar. Then I joined the side seams. Next I made up the sleeves-I used more of the striped bias to finish the edge of the slit openings. The sleeves are set into the armholes rather than a shirt sleeve which has a slightly flatter sleeve head and are inserted on the flat before the underarm seams sewn up.

Because I had been able to use the original hems and centre fronts all that remained to do was put buttons and buttonholes on the cuffs and one more below the original bottom button so that I didn’t expose my tummy-never a good look…

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I know it’s bit of a hybrid but I think it’s fun-the original patch pocket is perhaps a bit high but hey who’s fussing about that-if I’d taken it off there would have been holes which would look worse.

It’s used up two pieces of fabric that weren’t big enough on their own to do much with and it was fun to use a vintage pattern as well-thanks Phyllis, wherever you are…your 3/6d was well spent!

Hope you like it,

Happy sewing,

Sue xx