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

Strictly dresses part 2!

So here I am with another collection of photos and, I hope, interesting info about how the dresses come together on Strictly Come Dancing (Dancing with the Stars elsewhere but I guess you know that)

With the start of every new series Vicky Gill is given a set budget and from this she has to create every single costume. At the beginning that’s a LOT of outfits because initially there are 16 celebrities and their professional partners, there will be group dances every week on the main show and Sunday night, as well as other dances accompanying any guest acts. Theme weeks like Halloween, Movies or Musicals mean there might be other accessories too which wouldn’t usually be needed. The budget restrictions also means that each week some dancers will get more elaborate or expensive outfits whilst others are less costly. This usually results in a ’swap’ over the following weeks so that everyone gets something very special at some time or another…unless they are voted out early doors. As I said in my previous blog, some of the dresses can cost as much as £2000 so they will almost certainly be reused in subsequent series whenever possible or sold on the DSI website, or on the SCD cruises for that matter.

I mentioned how Vicky might have particular fabrics cropping up throughout a series and Claudia’s two piece featured here is another example of the lace or embroidered fabrics that she used in the last series. It’s also the sort of style that wouldn’t be seen in real Ballroom dancing competitions, they have their own trends going on and SCD doesn’t particularly reflect them, it’s often more fashion-led than competition clothes.

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Claudia’s skirt is an example of the use of ‘crin’ around the hem to make it stand out. It’s used in different widths, usually 1″, 3″ or 6″
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Theresa told us how this skirt changed shortly before the actual show from being a peach underskirt with navy organza and satin overlay to having a navy tulle overskirt. This was because Vicky decided it was too shiny under the lights in the studio.

 

The dress run takes place on Saturday afternoons and in the 2 hours between the end of that and the live show starting the team will often have to make changes to costumes for lots of different reasons-too long, too tight, too shiny, too daring etc etc. Vicky and Theresa are at the studio in Elstree from Friday evening and take a supply of fabrics so that skirts can be recut, repaired, whatever is needed. The dresses are made at DSI’s base in Croydon but they are then taken by car by a member of staff direct to Elstree on Thursday evening, this is because they can’t risk putting everything in a taxi or a van and then it ‘disappears’ en route-no costumes=no show!. Bearing in mind that the costume designs aren’t usually finalised and started until Tuesday morning that is an incredibly tight turnaround. The machinists are extremely skilled and adept at working with stretch and other tricky fabrics, it isn’t for the faint-hearted that’s for sure. Vicky often watches training footage too to ensure that her designs will work in conjunction with any tricky lifts for example-too much skirt or fancy details at the waist might make it really difficult.

Before the live show begins everyone is sewn into their outfits so that no disaaaasters like straps or hooks coming undone, ties flapping about in the male dancers faces and so on can happen. This is fine unless they need the loo, in which case it has to be redone after they’ve been!

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Ed the knight in shining armour swept new dancer Katya off her feet in this dress.

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This was an unusually sober dress although it did have some stoning on the polkadots

Ed Balls was a good example of a male celebrity who didn’t want any sparkle to start with but quickly embraced the whole ‘Strictly-fication’ of his outfits!

I loved this dress that Daisy Lowe wore to dance to the old music hall song “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do” with Aljaz. It was so understated with a simple daisy lace trim added to the neckline and crystals on the front. It’s a good example of a less costly dress too.

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It had an unusual cowl back too.
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Tameka Empson’s Charleston costume was probably one of the least expensive outfits to create in plain navy fabric and very few sparkles. Theresa told us the red trim was an example of a costume getting altered after the dress run because the front was too low and revealing, especially for an active Charleston!
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I loved this dance, it’s a shame Tameka didn’t get further in the competition.

Tameka green dress

 

Green, blue and pink was an unusual combination but it works beautifully. There are a lot of stones on this dress so it will reappear in a future show in a different guise. IMG_0510IMG_0511IMG_2635

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These are 2 of the most unusual costumes to feature on SCD. They were worn by Judge Rinder and Oksana when they danced the Paso Doble and the skirt and ‘moth wings’ were both hand-painted by an artist-friend of Vicky Gill. Theresa was telling us that the jacket didn’t have enough colour on it so they were daubing it with Dylon only hours before the show and drying it with a hairdryer!

Strictly Come Dancing 2016

Just a few more pictures now and they are some of my favourite costumes, all worn by Joanne Clifton, who won the competition dancing with Ore Oduba.

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This lovely canary yellow ‘raincoat’ wasn’t out on display to see close up but it did feature in the fashion show and was modelled by two members of the crew!
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The dress featuring in the fashion show on board.

A very different sort of dress, it featured shorts under a long georgette skirt (which wasn’t always georgette, it got changed late on) and a roll-neck top which was stoned. The striped fabric is more usually used for the men’s shirts.

This dress worn by Joanne for the Quickstep was one of the hardest to create because of the centre front seam between 3 different fabrics. It also featured heavyweight metal zips from the side and across the back as well as crystals, sequinned fabric and gemstones! The finished result looked amazing but took a long time to achieve.

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Old school Hollywood glamour for the Final
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So simple yet so lovely, sheer navy over a nude base.

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Feathers, multiple godets and crystals-gorgeous!

Lesley Joseph was the oldest person so far to compete in the main series of SCD and she looked stunning in this beautiful raspberry pink heavily beaded dress. Unusually it has a centre-front zip because of the beading details on the back.

I’ll finish up with two more hot pink outfits [because it’s my favourite colour] as worn by Breakfast television presenter Naga Munchetty and  professional dancer Karen Clifton.

Karen’s outfit for her dance with singer Will Young to Jai Ho! was made using sari fabric and embellished with Indian necklaces bought in a sari shop.  The gold belt was made using plaited elastic and, like the bodice, it was stoned to make it sparkle.

So that’s about it, I took masses of other photos of the Showcases which the professionals danced as well as the fashion shows but sadly many of them aren’t good enough quality to publish here.

I hope you’ve found it interesting because I certainly enjoyed finding out all about the creation of the outfits and all the back-stage stuff, there’s probably still masses more I could have learnt and I would have loved to chat more with Theresa [it turns out we both went to London College of Fashion at virtually the same time although she went on to work for the Emanuels…. and I didn’t]

As before, the information I’ve shared is as I remember it from the cruise so I hope none of it is incorrect or misleading, and I’ve received no payment either. If you think it is then do let me know so that I can rectify that. Most photos are my own but others were sourced from Google images.

It’s only a couple of months before the whole cycle starts again with lots of new celebrities and we can marvel at what Vicky Gill and her brilliant team create in almost no time at all.

I, for one, cannot wait!

Keeeeeep Dancing!

Sue

‘Sophie’ bolero PDF from Zierstoff patterns

After the success of my first Zierstoff PDF pattern (the Sue which you can read about here) I was keen, as soon as time allowed, to try another style. I opted for an intriguing-looking bolero called Sophie which has a lovely slouchy shape.

This time I didn’t have any trouble printing the pattern either, I simply checked I had it in the correct rotation by printing the first page off, it was right so I printed the rest of the pages. The Sophie pattern only needs 7 sheets of A4 too which is amazing! At £4.80 it’s very good value too. IMG_1706

As I described in the previous blog Zierstoff uses a system of rows and columns which is extremely simple to piece together. You might notice that a few of the lines aren’t quite in alignment but that’s more about my printer than their system I think. There are only TWO pieces to this pattern! The whole jacket and two sleeves (OK that’s three but it’s only 2 pattern pieces!)

I didn’t have any suitable fabric in the ol’ stash so, as I had a Saturday that didn’t feature any specific plans, I went up to Walthamstow to see if the fabled ‘Man Outside Sainsbury’s’ had anything suitable. I actually combined it with a visit to the William Morris Gallery which is a 10 minute walk from Walthamstow station and well worth the effort. It’s the house he lived in as a teenager, it’s surrounded, now, by a lovely public park and has some modest but very interesting and informative galleries about him and his life’s work.

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William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow, London

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Once I’d spent an hour or so absorbing culture I headed back up the road to the by now busy and vibrant market. Walthamstow has, over the years, become a very diverse and multi-ethnic area which means there are a wealth of varied and fascinating shops and stalls selling all manner of things. My primary interest though is the fabric and haberdashery shops and stalls, of which there are several. Karen at Did You Make That? blog has produced a downloadable map here which is helpful. Even though it isn’t that recent I believe most if not all the shops and stalls are still there.

I was quite restrained this time and only bought things I ‘needed’ including plain cotton lawn for lining at £2 per metre from TMOS and a patterned lightweight denim from him too. I got the double-knit jersey for the Sophie bolero from Saeed’s fabrics, and finally I got 5yds of teal polyester with a fan print on it from Classic Textiles for £1 per yard!! [they price in yards and metres, metres is dearer and I wanted a straightforward £5-worth…simple as that!]

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Teal polyester crepe, lightweight denim and the double-knit jersey with fine stripes on the reverse.

I got the last 2 metres of the jersey which was more than enough because the main body and sleeves of the bolero fit in a little over a metre (smaller sizes would take even less)IMG_1710

Because the fabric is double-faced I thought it might be a good idea to use a flat-fell seam which would mean that the bolero could be reversible.

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On the left, sew the seam on it’s correct seam allowance then trim down one side to approximately 4-5mm. Press the longer edge over the trimmed on folding the raw edge under to enclose it. On the right, stitch close to the folded edge to secure. This is traditionally the seams used on jeans. I used a very slight zigzag on my trial seam but I then used a straight stitch on the actual bolero.

You can only really use flat-felled seams in applications where you’ve got complete and easy access to where you’re positioning it because of the method of construction [if you look at the legs of a pair of jeans the flat-fell seam will be either on both outside legs OR both inside legs, not both]

Sewing the bolero together is a doddle because there are only 4 seams, 2 sleeves and 2 side seams so (even quicker if you’re not using flat-felled seams!) it goes together in no time. I chose to neaten the edges by turning the striped side over to the patterned side to give it a contrast.IMG_1727

I also added a little marker to the CB neck so that I know which way up to wear it! It’s a bit tricky to tell the difference otherwise…

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marker to show the top! ‘This way up’

So I’ve finished up with a super-quick, reversible bolero which will be really handy on holiday because it will roll up small and come out largely unscathed.IMG_1723IMG_1725IMG_1722

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Stripy side out

Have a look at the Zierstoff website if you’re a fan of sewing jersey because they have a variety of patterns as styles specifically for knits. I’ve been generously given this pattern to test but the opinions I’ve expressed are entirely my own-I always try to be honest about the patterns I try out because I think it’s not in anyone’s interests to make statements which I don’t believe in, aren’t instructive or could be misleading.

Happy sewing

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