50 fabulous years of Zandra Rhodes at FTM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Sue

Making a dirndl skirt with a sash belt…and no zip!

I’ve started working recently with The Creative Sanctuary sewing and knitting shop in Hertford and they asked me if I could run a class for a gathered skirt using the lovely border-print cotton they stock from Michael Miller fabrics. First I had to make a sample and this is how I did it.

Because the fabric has the border printed along one edge you should buy the quantity of fabric you want according to the fullness you’d like, for this particular version I used 2 metres which is quite full, but anything over 1m would be ok unless you have a large waist measurement (you don’t want it to look skimped so don’t be too stingy with the quantity)

First of all you need to decide how long you want the skirt to be when it’s finished and then add seam allowances top and bottom [for example 65cms plus 1.5cms plus 1.5cms =68cms] Because the print ran right to the selvedge I didn’t want to turn this up for the hem and lose some of it so I chose to add a facing instead. This facing is 6cms in length but you could make it longer or shorter as you wish.

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working out the length from the selvedge so the hem is to the left and the waist is to the right in this photo.

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draw a line parallel to the selvedge.

Next, if you’re having a hem facing decide how deep it will be, plus seam allowances, and draw that immediately next to and parallel to the first line. Finally draw a third parallel line which will be the waist sash, this should be at least 12-14cms deep including the SA.

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This shows the cut skirt, the sash and the hem facing.

To begin with take the hem facing piece and press under 1cm all the way along one long edge then pin the unpressed edge to the bottom hem edge of the skirt, right sides together.

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The hem facing pinned and ready to stitch in place.

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Facing being sewn into position.

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next I under-stitched the facing using a contrast colour. The fabric is still flat at this stage, the seam will come later.

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I overlocked the raw edges that would become the seam, and then ran two rows of gathering stitches all along the top edge of the skirt. These should be the longest straight stitch your machine will do, they should be 5mm and 1cm approx from the cut edge and parallel to it, within the seam allowance. I always do a backstitch at one end but not the other so that I have something to pull up against.

Now make the only side seam. Leave an opening at the top for the waist of between 15-20cms, topstitch around the edge of it to stop it unfurling.

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After this I applied some iron-on interfacing to the waistband sash but only on the middle section for the waist, not the tie ends.

Now, when I made the sample I made the tie ends on the sash first then attached it too the gathered up skirt section, and that’s the process the photos are of. However when I ran the class I did it differently and it was a bit simpler so I’ll use the photos because they are the only ones I have but describe both methods as best I can.

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To make the tie ends first place a piece of tape or ribbon or even piping cord along the centre line of the fabric and pin it at the narrow end. Make sure it’s well away from the edge you’ll be sewing because you don’t want to accidentally sew though it.

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Fold the tie in half wrong sides together as normal, enclosing the tape.

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Stitch up in the usual way checking occasionally that you’re not sewing through the tape.

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trim the corner neatly at an angle to reduce bulk. If the tie is quite narrow you might want to trim the seam allowance down a little.

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Now’s the good bit! gently pull the tape and the end of the tie will start to come through. You’ll need to wiggle the end a little bit to get the corners out but persevere

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keep pulling…!

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Eventually the end will pop out. Cut off the tape neatly, you may need to make good the ends by hand if there’s any gaps in the stitching.

So that’s the tie ends if you make them first. When I ran the class I attached the waist band to the gathered up waist first and THEN made the ties in situ.

The gathers should now be pulled up to your own waist measurement plus a few centimetres for ease, you don’t want it too tight or the gap won’t close up nicely-there’s no zip after all and you don’t want your pants showing!

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Pull up the gathering threads. You can see the neatened waist opening in this photo too.

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When you’ve pulled up enough wind the threads in a figure of 8 around a pin which is at a right angle to the stitching.

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Adjust the gathers so that they are evenly distributed.

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When you’re happy with the distribution stitch in position (remember to put your stitch length back to normal!) you might need to tweak the gathers a bit as you go so don’t rush.

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Fold the waistband in half, press. Then press under the open edge of the waistband by 1.5cms

If you’re doing the waistband first, now you can make the ties using the method I’ve described above and then finish with the section below to enclose the waistband.

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From the front, pin the waistband in position through the join.

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This is what the pinning should look like from the reverse-the idea is to sew it as closely as the this!! The reality might not be quite so accurate!

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I always knew this as ‘sink’ stitching because the stitches ‘sink’ into the seam but at some point it’s become known as ‘stitch in the ditch’…same thing though! Take your time and you’ll get good results.

Nearly there…just the hem to do.

Turn up the hem facing along the seam which should turn quite crisply because you’ve already under stitched it [do that at this point if you didn’t do it earlier] Finally top stitch the hem facing in position. I chose a matching grey for the outside and a coral colour for the underside. Of course you could slip hem it by hand if you wish. To close up the side seam opening I used a few small press studs, I think they stay closed better than hooks and eyes.

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One finished skirt! You can see that by using a facing the whole of the print runs right to the hem, those leaves would have been lost if I’d rolled the hem up instead. You don’t have to make the facing this deep though, the choice is yours.

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The ties are nice and long and make a lovely bow.

I made this version using a border print fabric but you could just as easily make it in any suitable fabric, although you may need to cut it across the width of the fabric rather than along it depending on the print. You could add patch pockets as well if you like.

I’m leading the class again on Monday 17th July 1.30-4.30pm so what are you waiting for?! Full details of other classes I’ll be teaching are on Creative Sanctuary’s website now.

Very sadly, since I made the sample, the owners of the shop have made the incredibly hard decisison to close in September. This means yet another bricks-and-mortar fabric and knitting store will cease to exist. I’ve so enjoyed my brief time with them, and getting to know the lovely and talented ladies that work there, it’s a very sad thing that that’s happening.

I was provided with fabric to make the sample but the method is my own devising (faults  and all!)

Happy Sewing!

Sue