2020-Sewing in a Time of Pandemic

Well what a year 2020 turned out to be!

It’s been such a tough time for so many and being a part of the wider sewing community has been a very real lifeline for many people. Those of us that enjoy making our own clothes already realise the obvious benefits this can give us; total freedom to choose types, colours and patterns of fabrics as we wish, the ability to emulate high-end or high street fashion at the price-point we can afford and the skill to make clothes fit our own particular body type, to name but a few. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that the wider world, whilst searching for activities to entertain and occupy them during the long weeks and months of lockdown, discovered (or rediscovered) that home sewing can be creative, absorbing and rewarding which is a VERY GOOD THING! Who knew there was a link between doing a creative activity and a more balanced sense of well-being??

To be honest it doesn’t matter what that activity is, or whether you’re really any good at it, the fact that it can take your mind away to other less stressful places for a time is what matters.

But at the start of the year none of that was of much interest to most. I was extremely fortunate in January to go on a cruise to the Caribbean so I made a couple of new things to fills ‘gaps’ but mostly I took old favourites…cue multiple photos of 3 versions of The Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt on heavy rotation! One new item was the Trend Square dress I made in fabric given to me by Dibs from Selvedges and Bolts the previous year, I got a lot more wear later on in the summer.

Within a couple of weeks of getting back, Judith Staley and I hosted the very first Sew Over 50 meet-up in London. We very much hoped, and expected, that it would be the start of many more such meet-ups between followers of the @SewOver50 account all over the world but it wasn’t to be…not yet anyway.

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while you’ll know that as well as meeting up for sewcials with fellow sewers I really enjoy my visits to exhibitions and galleries. At the end of February I caught up with Janet Poole who is a fellow Lamazi blogger at the Stitch Festival in London, I had such a lovely day shopping and chatting with her, and her friend Great British Sewing Bee winner Juliet too. We didn’t realise it then but we were very fortunate to be able to attend the event at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if others who went didn’t catch the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named because it was so crowded.

About a week after this I was able to go to the stunning new Kimono show at the V&A and, although we didn’t know it at the time, that was to be the final outing for several months…

I wore the new Homer & Howells Cissy dress (and failed to remove my coat from shot which I chucked on the floor!)

So then we entered the first long lockdown and that’s when sewing (and some baking) became my primary occupation. During this time I had some blogging commitments for Simple Sew Patterns and Lamazi fabrics to complete. For my first Lamazi post I made a Trend patterns Bias T-shirt dress which was a tough make, not because the pattern was difficult but because I was making the dress for a wedding that never took place. And worse than that, I was making the Bride’s gown too so I still have an almost-finished dress waiting for the day that the wedding can happen.

In all honesty I hated how I looked in this dress because I had piled on weight and felt very self-conscious in a fitted dress. It was a lovely pattern made in beautiful fabric but I felt I was doing both a disservice. Eventually I did wear it in September by which time I had lost weight and it was a delight to wear! I’m sure I’m not the only one whose state of mind has fluctuated wildly this year and my self-confidence was rockbottom when this picture was taken.

I know I’m very blessed in that I have little to actually complain about in my life but that does not mean that these months of lockdown didn’t take their toll mentally so, when the call to help make scrubs came, it was something I could actually do! Eventually I made 10 sets, I believe they were headed to a maternity department in a London hospital.

I continued to keep busy by doing a few refashioning projects because the desire to make new things that weren’t going to be worn outside the house was just too depressing. I love the act of making clothes, the planning, the cutting out, the sewing, because that was taking my mind off what was happening in the real world but how could I justify making new clothes that I had little use for? Even dressmaking was starting to become a negative because I felt guilty about it. By doing some refashioning projects using things I already had, other than new fabric, I made a few items including pyjamas for my final Simple Sew post and another pair using the PJ pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee book written by Alex and Caroline of Selkie patterns and for which I had made a couple of samples. I used 4 old work shirts of my husband’s which were very well worn! I also made (eventually) two pouffes as well which took care of loads of scraps and off-cut furnishing fabrics and were extremely satisfying! I also refashioned a very old and redundant heavyweight cotton curtain into a Dawson coatigan by Thrifty Stitcher.

Early on in lockdown I had the pleasure of talking to Maria Theoharous for her Sew Organised Style podcast on a couple of occasions. I’ve set up a separate page so you can access this to be able to listen to her inspiring SewOver50 guests every week. One of our chats revolved around how we each arrive at our fabric choices for specific purposes or projects, I wrote this topic up as a post which you can read here, and I also wrote a further post which came from when I was guest editor on the @SewOver50 account and we talked about our cutting out processes-did we cut and make one thing at a time, or cut several things and have multiple projects on the go? Scissors or rotary cutter? Pins or weights? It was wide ranging and fascinating with so many excellent ideas and practices. I hosted another discussion about a variety of hem finishes later in the year and you can read that one here. Incidentally, by the end of this year @SewOver50 has reached an incredible 25,600 followers!!

One of my stranger tasks this year was to carry out a socially-distanced dress fitting on a doorstep! Before lockdown started I had been commissioned to make a dress for a work colleague of my daughter Katie. Thankfully I’d opted to make a toile of the bodice which I’d fitted just before lockdown kicked off so I managed to get the dress to a good stage of completion. However, I got to a point where I definitely needed her to try it on because even if she couldn’t wear it for the event she had hoped to, it would be nice for her to take delivery and wear it around the house!! So I went to their place of work and handed the dress over at arms length to Tracey to put on in the staff toilet, then she came out onto the porch where Katie, under my direction, pinned the dress for me. I took a few photos for reference too. From that I was able to finish and deliver the dress and my client was delighted with it…phew

One of the regular sewing highlights of the last 4 years for me has been the Sewing Weekender which generally takes place in Cambridge, UK in August. The organisers took the bold decision to put the whole event online instead which meant that many more people could ‘attend’ from all over the world. Myself and Judith Staley were delighted to be asked to contribute a video message each which was very nerve-racking but it turned out alright in the end. I published a transcript of mine here, along with the original video (you’ll notice that I had abandoned my signature pink hair by this time because, quite frankly, what was the point of bothering!) The Online Weekender also raised a significant amount of money which was divided between 4 charities. 

As lockdown started to ease in the summer I was able to get out and about a couple of times. I joined an al fresco rag-rugging workshop in Hertfordshire run by Elspeth Jackson of Ragged Life which was so enjoyable, and I visited a couple of exhibitions in London including the Kimono show again, plus Andy Warhol at Tate Modern and Tricia Guild at the Fashion and Textiles museum both on the same day. Since then though things have been shut down then reopened, then shut down again. My heart goes out to everyone who is trying to run a business or an organisation that relies on visitors through their doors to make them viable, their future is very uncertain.

I’ve made a few other garments during the autumn which I’ve been really pleased with including the Prada-inspired shirt dress and a pair of Utility pants by Trend Patterns (not blogged yet) but I feel I’ve run out of steam with my sewing right now and I never thought I’d say that. My own teaching classes restarted for a total of 5 weeks in October but they’ve stopped again. I know some have adapted by using Zoom or other platforms but it just wouldn’t work for me, I feel dressmaking is too hands-on and needs real assistance for tricky bits, holding things up to the camera isn’t good enough sometimes. And being part of a group and all that shared enjoyment is a huge part of it too. I’ve had fairly regular online catch-ups with some of my lovely sewing friends and that has been a joy, albeit not as good as seeing them in the flesh.

Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few handmade garments too during 2020 when I made him another two Kwik Sew 3422 shirts, and not one but two Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirts! I’m happy to say he’s delighted with all of them and I’ve got plans for another sweatshirt for him in the new year.

I’m working on my own pattern which I’ve self-drafted so hopefully that will be something positive for the new year but I need occasional assistance from more expert friends and that’s making it a drawn-out process which would have been so much more fun person-to-person.

One final project I was commissioned by a friend to make was a Christmas chasuble for her to wear as she presides over her Christmas services in church. A chasuble is essentially a fancy poncho which the priest wears over their other vestments and Wendy wanted me to create one with a Nativity scene on it. She sourced the base fabric with my advice, and a printed quilting cotton Nativity which was sent from the US. This was square so I carefully cut it into approximate thirds with the central third featuring the stable scene and the star for the front, another third with Bethlehem for the back and the remaining third I cut into two parts to use on the stole, which is the long scarf priests wear around their necks. All of these I attached by appliquéing around the black outlines (I was literally making it up as I went along!) Wendy is delighted with the finished result (thankfully) and I’m sure she will enjoy using them during the Christmas season.

As I finish writing this (2 days before Christmas) we have no idea what lies ahead…some countries seem to be slowly recovering whilst the UK as a whole seems to be sliding further and further into disaster, or maybe not? I should try to think more positively as scientists have worked tirelessly to make a vaccine which will gradually be rolled out. Personally I’m a long way down the list for it but that’s absolutely fine, we must protect the most vulnerable first.

I’m making an effort to look cheerful in this most recent Lamazi blog make, but the wine was slightly off watered down Rosé from my daughter’s fridge and it was 10.30 in the morning! I’m genuinely pleased with the dress though and in spite of everything I’ll wear it on Christmas Day because there’s plenty of room for expansion!!

This has probably ended up not being a-not-entirely-coherent post but that’s kind-of appropriate I reckon! Wherever you are and whatever the new year brings for all of us I’d like to thank so many of you for reading my posts, sending me lovely or encouraging messages. Being a part of the online sewing community and Sew Over 50 in particular has been an absolute joy and a lifeline at times. We need to lift each other up more often, call out injustices when we see them but not to the extent that it becomes bullying of individuals, that isn’t right either. 2020 has been a year of huge upheaval, I plan to restart 2021 with fresh sewing plans to help me to feel more positive about it…it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Until next time, stay safe!

Sue

A few hem finish suggestions-a Sew Over 50 topic

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

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

I’m beginning here with a faced hem…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside the hem the corners are mitred.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, Happy Sewing

Sue

Sewing puffballs in the 80s!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sewing

Sue