The Refashioners 2017…suits you!

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

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

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

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

McQ embroidered shoulder
McQ black gold blazer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McQ embroidered

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

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

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

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

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

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basted and herringbone-stitched hem

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

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Inside the jacket facing

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

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idiosyncratic buttons!

And that’s all there is to it…..

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sewing

Sue

Kimono:Kyoto to Catwalk

I hadn’t really planned to write anything about the Kimono:Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition at the V&A because (obviously) I am not an expert and in no way qualified to authoritatively discuss the historic and cultural influences of Japan and the kimono, but then Covid 19 reared its ugly head and now the museum is closed for the foreseeable future, and at the time of writing this we are confined to our homes. Based on this I have decided to put the photos I took into some sort of album so that anyone who had hoped to go to the show can take a look, along with occasional comments based on the information I gleaned from the show and also from a lovely book “Fashioning Kimono” which I was given by a friend recently. I really hope that the current crisis eventually abates to allow this fascinating and lovely exhibition to reopen its doors to the public.

Because I’m a V&A member I had a ticket to a preview day which I nearly didn’t go to but I’m so glad now that I did. The show is set out largely chronologically, visitors are greeted initially by examples of an early nineteenth century kimono alongside a modern example by a Japanese designer and one with Japanese-influence by John Galliano for Christian Dior.

Kimono (meaning ’thing to wear’) is the national dress of Japan and is worn by both men and women. It is a one-piece front-wrapping garment which has changed little for millennia. Traditionally it is made by using the minimum number of cuts from a bolt of fabric around 12 metres long and 40 centimetres wide so that all the fabric is used. Kimono is now more commonly used as a name which covers several styles which, in Japan, would each have their own name to distinguish them, usually by the style of sleeve they have. The fabrics are made from a variety of fibres, most notably silk of course but also cotton or other plant fibres including ramie and hemp.

Moving into the next room there are numerous examples of exquisite historic kimono, alongside pattern books featuring beautiful line drawings of designs which clients could choose from.

A variety of different techniques were used to decorate the kimono including various methods of dyeing such as variations of tie-dye using shibori embroidery, and a form of warp (or weft) printing which, simply put, is when the warp threads are printed before the fabric is then woven. This gives the finished design an attractive fuzzy-edged quality, you may know it as Ikat. [Please excuse my vague descriptions as I didn’t make any written notes.] The red kimono below is a very fine example of kanoko shibori, a labour-intensive, and very expensive, method of tie-dyeing.

This is a beautiful example of a whole narrative running up and across the kimono.

The next spectacular garment, which is part of the V&A’s permanent collection, was made for and worn by a concubine who would parade in it for all to see. The quality of the embellishment is mind-boggling, there is masses of gold thread, applique, some of the creatures have ‘whiskers’ and ‘hair’. The shoes are modern reproductions of the sort of elevated footwear these women would have worn, one imagines they had attendants accompanying them to prevent a mishap?!

The garment underneath is a modern reproduction.

The exhibition explores the complex relationship between Japan and the West and the influences that had over the fashions of each nation. Once trade routes between Japan and the West started opening up a thirst for the beautiful silk fabrics and kimono-style garments began to develop. From the seventeenth century onwards merchants would take return with these items and they were soon adopted by fashionable high society. Japan responded to this demand by manufacturing textiles and garments specifically for the western export market.

This garment is slightly unusual because the silk fabric was woven in Europe and was then taken to Japan where it was made into this traditional garment, the process was more often the other way around.
This garment was made in Indian woven cotton, a popular fabric in Japan, and was worn as a type of undergarment beneath the richer silk garments, or informally in the home.
This is an example of a Japanese-influenced garment made from Indian manufactured textiles, probably cotton, specifically for the export market. Fashionable European society like to wear them informally at home. There were also padded variations of garments too which were traditionally used for sleeping in in Japan and they became the precursor to the dressing gown as we now know it in the west.
‘Lord and Lady Clapham’ two slightly sinister eighteenth century dolls with real hair wearing Japanese-influenced outfits.
This beautiful mid-nineteenth century ensemble was made from beautiful Japanese silk but in the fashionable mode of the day.
This elegant Victorian lady is wearing an exquisitely embroidered kimono, the actual garment was displayed nearby.
and this gauze gown is the actual garment featured in the beautiful Victorian portrait above.
The colours are still so fresh and vibrant.

From this point on the exhibition demonstrates the two-way process of influences between Japan and the west. Japan had developed a huge export market of textiles and apparel specifically for the west, and western styles of attire and textile design can be seen entering Japanese design, away from the previous traditional norms.

The print on this mens kimono is interesting because it features motifs of the Russo-Japanese war 1904-1905
a mantle designed by Paul Poiret in about 1913. The early twentieth century saw many fashion designers including Paul Poiret and Callot Seours being heavily influenced by Japanese style. This was in part because it offered a new freedom to the women who had been restricted by corsets and other encumbrances for centuries.
This early twentieth-century robe was created using beautiful embroidered cloth made for the export market. It’s a ‘modernised’ version of traditional floral designs.
Even Cartier got involved, this is a pair of stunning Japanese-influenced diamond brooches, and two smaller ones.
A late nineteenth century kimono which is a mix of traditional floral design overlaid with a geometric design. If you look closely at the centre back seam you can see how the pieces of the garment were embroidered separately and then sewn together because they aren’t quite a perfect match.
This beautiful design is from the early twentieth century for a young girl.
The influence of Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh can clearly be seen in this robe from around 1912-1926
These kimono, and those in the photo below are largely from the early twentieth century and demonstrate a variety of printing techniques

The final space is the most spectacular simply because of the dazzling array of beautiful garments and the high-ceilinged space they are displayed in.

The daily wearing of kimono gradually fell out of fashion for most Japanese people during the last century when western styles of dressing were adopted. There has been a move back to them for significant events including marriage, or certain birthdays.
Two modern kimono belonging to a young woman and a seven-year-old child
There are a mixture of ensembles from both Japanese and western designers, including Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.
a 21st century wedding ensemble made from exquisite jacquard-woven silk cloth but very much in the ancient traditional style
This fabulous garment is also for a wedding, the embroidery is absolutely breathtaking.
a close-up of the embroidery, cranes are auspicious and a symbol of longevity.
the neon colours of the right-hand kimono are very striking, the print features various undersea creatures such as jellyfish but also, at the bottom left, a aircraft which has crashed into the sea!
How is this for awesome pattern matching?
This ensemble is from 2009
the short coat to the left is by Nigerian-born and London-based designer Duro Olowo from his Autumn/Winter 2015 collection and it mixes both Japanese and Nigerian influences.
Kimono-inspired garments from Star Wars films, the outfit on the left was worn by Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi.
This section of the exhibition looks at the influences of Japanese attire in films and also music videos.
On the left is a very luxe housecoat that belonged to Freddie Mercury and the red outfit was designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier for Madonna.
Icelandic singer Bjork photographed in this Alexander McQueen-designed outfit
It can only be John Galliano for Christian Dior!
pose like the model??
hand-painted and appliquéd lace with scattered bugle beads
This final spectacular garment was made especially for the exhibition

In conclusion, I hope you enjoyed a brief skip through an exhibition which had so much to offer. It’s visually stunning and has many thoughtful, and helpful, explanations of the links between Japanese and Western fashion and style. I am indebted to the book “Fashioning Kimono” for a few technical explanations which I’ve transcribed in my own words here but I do not seek to go in depth, I hope you understand.

It would be such a pity if more people can’t, eventually, get to see this lovely show but only time will tell how the current world situation works out. I have recently found this YouTube series of short films with the V&A curator guiding you around the show so you might enjoy watching it.

In the meantime, keep washing those hands!

Sue

Roses-the latest Alexander McQueen exhibit in London

This isn’t so much a blog as a photo album. I know lots of you appreciate seeing images from the beautiful exhibitions that I often go to so I thought I’d share the pictures I took when I visited the Alexander McQueen shop in Old Bond St, London recently.

If you go up to the second floor of the flagship store you will find a stunning collection of brand new as well as archive garments on display. Whilst you’re not allowed to touch, nothing is behind glass and you are free to take your time, wander around between the clothes and see everything close up and great detail.

The overarching theme this time is ‘roses’ and as well as items from the new collection there are several gowns from past ones including the Sarabande collection from 2007, and The Girl Who lived in the Tree from 2008. McQueen used many natural forms and ‘textiles’ within his collections including shells and bones as well as wood and metal, he never shied away from experimentation.

I adored seeing this dress fairly close up in Savage Beauty but I really wanted to see what happened at the back (I always do when I go to exhibitions!)
Fortunately now I can see exactly what’s happening, it’s beautiful voluptuous folds of rich duchesse satin.

Close by are the most gorgeous, extravagant gowns made from metres and metres of Italian silk taffeta, constructed to specifications which will enhance its qualities of stiffness and pliability. We were told that each gown contains none of the usual stiffeners or interfacings such as crin or horsehair, a small amount of boning is used in the Elizabethan-style collar of the red dress but that’s it.

You can see all the teeny tiny pleats which are so precisely worked in order to flow over the torso.
There is a short video to watch nearby which shows in fascinating detail how these shapes were arrived at, they are carefully built up onto supporting boned bodices and underskirts to carry the weight. The red ‘Elizabethan’ collar dress took approximately 3 weeks to construct.
The skill of manipulating the fabric into cohesive, recognisable forms is breathtaking.
On the walls nearby are photos of the gowns at various stages of construction and trying out lots of ideas, also accessorising them in different ways too.

These photos are well worth taking the time to look at because it gives you some idea of the working process as well as the starting point for ideas. There are images, for example, from Vita Sackville West’s beautiful gardens at Sissinghurst Castle in Sussex (well worth a visit too!)

What appears at first sight to be feathers is in fact finely pleated and shredded silk organza.

What I find so memorable about the show space is the sheer amount of visual information and it’s there for all to see, there’s nothing secretive or precious about the process. Although it’s aimed at students primarily anyone with an interest is welcome too, and the assistants are happy to tell you everything they know, and to point out things which may be of interest. I wonder if other designers would be as happy to open up in this way? The Sarabande Foundation was set up by Lee Alexander McQueen as a way of promoting and supporting visionary creative talent which still continues.

So, what loves a rose possibly most of all? Bees of course! Just take a look at this beautiful gown, it’s so simple in its silhouette and yet the details are stunning.

We didn’t notice the honeycomb design within the fabric initially, and it’s only as I’ve looked again at this photo that I realised there are bees woven into it too!
Can you see the bees in the weave? And some of the hexagons are in a different weave too! So much attention to detail.
Nearby are the test samples for various forms of the embroidery.
…and by complete chance I’m wearing my bee dress!
the two dresses side by side put me in mind of Swan Lake and Odette/Odile, what do you think?
This is the Queen Bee dress which had extraordinary embroidery, it’s all enclosed within a hooped ‘hive’

Just a few more photos! There are also examples of dresses nearby made from beautiful needlepoint, and one riffing on a similar theme of deconstructed corsets similar to the previous exhibition.

I couldn’t resist another selfie with those beautiful dresses (do you like my McQueen-esque boots?)
This is from our visit to the previous show earlier in the summer
McQueeeeeen! I always have great visits with Claire, Kara and Camilla

So to sum up, if you are in London in the Mayfair area I’d urge you to take a visit to the second floor of the McQueen shop. Even if you only have 30 minutes it’s a good way to spend the time and don’t worry, the doorman is friendly, tell him I sent you!!

Until next time,

Sue

At the risk of boring you….

I’m sorry to harp on about it but this is a really big deal for me.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Facebook will have seen that I’ve just had my first ‘serious’ article published in Love Sewing magazine in the UK. I’ve done pattern reviews in magazines a couple of times before, as well as having the occasional photo featured in the ‘readers make’ pages but this is a new departure for me.IMG_8433

Understandably not everyone will want to, or be able to, buy the magazine but I thought those of you that are new to my blog in the last couple of months may be interested to read the original post which the article came about from. You can find it here, along with more photos and information.

If you’re visiting London and have an interest in how our clothing has developed over the centuries, and what the future may hold for the textile and fashion industries then this is a good way to spend a couple of hours. The exhibition is on at the V&A museum until almost the end of January 2019.

Whilst I was paid by Love Sewing to write the article I haven’t been sponsored in any way by the V&A and all views expressed are very much my own.

Anyway, until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

Fashioned from Nature at the V&A museum

This is one of the most recent exhibitions to open at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and it’s a very thought-provoking one exploring the relationship between man, fashion and the natural world. It’s divided into the now familiar format of the historic element downstairs with the larger more modern and forward-looking section upstairs.

This works well because there are displays containing beautifully conserved clothing and accessories dating as far back as the 1600s alongside helpful and fascinating short films and information about the origins and manufacture of textiles using both traditional sources such as cotton, flax, silk and wool but also the more unusual such as pineapple fibre.

The items chosen for display demonstrate both the influence of natural subjects in the design-primarily plants and animals, and the effects of textile production on society as a whole. Cotton and wool for example were a huge part of the success of the UK for hundreds of years and made fortunes for a relatively few people but at vast human suffering for many in the form of slavery, overwork, terrible working conditions and resultant illness. Added to this was the decimation of animal and bird populations to supply the demands of the burgeoning fashion industry with feathers, fur, tortoiseshell, whalebone etc and you have a some uncomfortable viewing.

The origins of the RSPB in the UK started towards the end of the 19th Century when Governments around Europe became concerned for the welfare of bird populations brought to the point of extinction in places.

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This albatross was destined to become a muff to keep a fashionable lady’s hands warm.

Ostrich feathers were extremely popular on evening gowns and fans, this little hat is labelled as being the ‘improved starling’ hat with it’s printed feather decoration, the natural beauty of the feathers not being quite good enough presumably?

Seal populations were hugely reduced by the desire for seal fur to make or line coats, muffs and hats, as were whales for their flexible bones which were used in corsets, amongst other things. And then there’s ivory for buttons, umbrella handles and hair decorations, the list goes on…

New resources such as rubber found uses for footwear and to give elasticity to things like stockings and mens braces.

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These natty rubber-soled boots are actually for a man (Oscar Wilde I’m thinking…)

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Mother of pearl and seashells have long been popular for decorating objects as well as practical items like buttons.

Not everything is doom and gloom in the exhibition, there are some stunning pieces of embroidery and garments which are a visual delight. One of my favourites was an Eighteenth century man’s waistcoat embroidered with Macaque monkeys.

Floral motifs are a perennial favourite both as woven cloth and as embroidered fabric.

I was surprised to discover that using pineapple fibre to make fabric has been around for a couple of hundred years, especially given they were such expensive fruit in their own right.

This evening gown uses pineapple fibre fabric, and the handkerchief is cotton embroidered with pineapple-fibre thread.

Moving upstairs you will discover garments by designers keen to explore and embrace new textiles and technology. Stella McCartney is a well-known exponent of these with her refusal to use any animal-based product and there are some interesting examples of faux leather being made from the waste by-products of the winemaking industry, and ‘leather’ made from a type of mushroom protein! [Incidentally the episode of Desert Island Discs featuring Stella McCartney is very enjoyable and she talks about her use of ethical fabrics and textiles during it] Extraordinary stuff and virtually indistinguishable from real leather. These are ‘designer’ products though so I have no idea of the cost but like any new technology it has to start somewhere and will hopefully filter down eventually to be more affordable.

There were other examples of flora and fauna in the textile design including my favourite Alexander McQueen with a reptile-inspired dress from his Plato’s Atlantis collection.fullsizeoutput_258bfullsizeoutput_258a

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An ‘under the sea’ evening gown by Zac Posen

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Not fur but bugle beads!

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This ‘leopard’ is made entirely from beads by Jean-Paul Gaultier

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Another beautiful evening gown, this time by Giles Deacon, this one features a gorgeous fabric printed with birds eggs

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A heavily embroidered skirt by Christopher Kane with the reproductive parts of plants!

There is plenty of information and several films which go into greater depth about the effects not only of over-consumption of textiles but also the damage it’s production does to the planet and the workers. Denim, and therefore jeans, for example if the most water-wasteful and polluting of any fabric being produced, we have to address this fact and soon. I’ll be honest and say that I was flagging a little by this time, absolutely not through boredom, far from it, but from information overload. If this is your primary interest in visiting this exhibition then go straight upstairs because there’s so much fascinating, often shocking, but ultimately encouraging information to explore.

Also, did you know that Velcro got invented because a Swiss scientist Georges de Mestral noticed while walking in the Jura during the 1940’s that burrs from plants were clinging to his clothes and his dog’s fur so he investigated further and found they were tiny little hooks. Eventually this discovery became the basis for the product we know today!

Up-cycling is another area that’s looked into, reusing textiles be it unwanted clothes or end-of-line products like ribbon to make new products. Refashioning is not new but it fell out of favour, now it’s making a return.

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This outfit is made from maps printed on silk for wartime use but was actually only made in 2017.

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This collar is made from leftover rolls of ribbon.

I could go on, adding more photos of everything but I urge you, if you get the opportunity, to go for yourself and see this exhibition. If you’re interested in fashion and clothing it will really open your eyes to some of the facts about it’s production which you might not be aware of and make you think about how we can improve the situation by our own consumption of goods.

Vivienne Westwood is a leading advocate of choosing fashion wisely, her motto being Buy Less and Buy Well, in other words buy the best you can afford because it’s more likely to have been ethically made from better materials and will last you longer. I know personally I can’t always manage this but by making my own clothes most of the time and wearing them frequently is making a start.

Fashioned from Nature is on at the V&A until next January 27th 2019. I’ve not been sponsored to write this piece, I have my own membership which I use frequently!

Happy sewing, and visiting!

Sue

Rounding off Me Made May

Did you take part in Me Made May? At the outset I pledged to try and wear at least one self-made garment every day during May and, by and large I achieved that. I say ‘by and large’ because although I definitely wore a me-made item of clothing every day there was the odd occasion when I failed-or couldn’t be bothered-to take a decent photo!

The first few I managed by balancing my phone on top of a loudspeaker and setting it on a 3 second timer. This proved imperfect and the novelty quickly wore off when it fell to the floor for the umpteenth time!

Anyway, here goes…

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May 1st was a mash-up pattern, bodice of one, skirt of another, in Queue for the Zoo Liberty Tana lawn worn with a Jigsaw sparkly cardigan.

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Day 2 was a Burdastyle magazine top made in a floral scuba fabric and the back in crepe-back satin. I made it at least 2 years ago but haven’t worn it much as the cuffs were a bit flappy.  By the time I wore it to the first London Stitchers meet up that evening I’d taken them in considerably and I was a lot happier with the fit of the sleeves. The jeans are the Ash pattern from Megan Nielsen which I’d had the pleasure of testing and I’m a huge fan of them.

Day 3 is the first newly made garment and it’s the Farrow dress from Grainline which I wrote a review for in Sew Now magazine 18 months ago. I made this version in navy and burgundy linen with short sleeves.

 

Neither of the next garments were new either, the red broderie anglaise was amongst some fabric I was gifted and was already cut out, I just sewed it together. The blue and white was self-drafted 2 or 3 years ago in a cotton/linen mix fabric and it’s a summer favourite of mine.

 

The georgette kaftan is new and was the try-out version of my most recent Simple Sew make for their blog.

The stripes is also the same Burdastyle top but in a striped jersey and with short sleeves. I’d didn’t like it much as a regular T-shirt but it’s been great as exercise wear!

 

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Dragon dirndl, no pattern just pleated into a narrow waistband.

Awesome dragon pattern-matching and zip insertion even if I do say so myself! Bias binding and hand-sewn hem too.

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Colette patterns Moneta in striped jersey with a dodgy waist (should have put a belt over that!)

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One of my favourite tops, Imogen by Sew Me Something and the trousers are Butterick 6461 which I reviewed in Love Sewing magazine last autumn.

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Striped Camber Set from Merchant & Mills worn with a refashioned skirt that used to be jeans.

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More refashioning with a silk top made from a vintage dressing gown and a hoodie using a vintage 60’s pattern in jersey and cotton fabric harvested from a charity shop dress.

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A blouse made using a vintage 70’s dress pattern in ‘Gallymoggers’, an Alice in Wonderland Liberty Tana lawn. This is a couple of years old too.

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Surprised this one still fitted me! Cotton poplin from Ditto fabrics, Butterick 6026 Katharine Tilton pattern and vintage buttons. Refashioned denim skirt again.

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One of my favourites, African waxed cotton with crazy diagonal stripes Simplicity Project Runway pattern 2444, all fully lined.

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Love the button on the back of the neck too, it was a single one of this design in a Sewing Weekender goody bag.

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Packing for our trip to Assisi, all self-made except the cardigan.

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With my new car! Trusty Holiday shirt from The Maker’s Atelier in Swiss Dot and newly made checked linen trousers New Look 6351-I’m so pleased with these, they’re perfect in warm weather if your legs are still pasty like mine. (Awesome pattern-matching too but you can’t see that)

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The new Farrow got to go to Italy.

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Linen trousers again and the Holiday shirt in Liberty cotton voile, outside Santa Chiara, Assisi. Loving my holiday chapeau too, from Monsoon

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Camber Set hack in beautiful Roberto Cavalli cotton lawn and new for the Assisi trip(RTW trousers this time)

This top was drafted from a RTW one and I extended the shoulders to form sleeves. It’s sheer georgette with a slightly sparkly stripe which I get from a market and worn with a RTW camisole underneath. I made it 3 years ago but it’s been a real favourite.

The next ‘make’ is a big old cheat because it’s the etchings I made not the clothes! I loved my visit to Sudbourne Printmakers in Suffolk, and the sewing connection was meeting Chrissy Norman the tutor at the first Sewing Weekender two years ago. take a look at her work, it’s beautiful.

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One of my finished prints…I’m rather proud of it…

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Linen Imogen again with a jacket refashioned from 2 pairs of Mr Y’s trousers!

 

This is only half new-I made a top from this lovely broderie Anglais I bought at Walthamstow market last year but I hadn’t bought enough and it was too snug around the hips. Luckily I managed to get a bit more so I unpicked and started again. This time I used the top half of my favourite Holiday shirt and used wide elastic in a casing under the bust to give it some shape. There was just enough for sleeves this time. I used a ‘daisy’ bias-binding to finish the neck edge and opening.

Not everything I’ve made has been an unqualified success and this teal blue dress is definitely one of the disappointments! It looked lovely on the packet but the back is ridiculous because the zip bulged out giving me a strange hump so I took it out again and inserted it in the side seam instead. Frankly it’s not much better. The top is far too wide and the V neck flaps about undecided whether it’s a V or a fold-back revere. The fabric was super-cheap from Walthamstow again but it’s the amount of time I spent which makes me grumpy. I might turn it into a skirt…

And so to the last outfit of the month…

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The top for my last outfit of the month was originally a dress but, even though I’d made one previously for winter, this version just wasn’t right. The length wasn’t flattering and the sleeves, which had decorative darts, were too tight. After a bit of a refashion which removed most of the skirt, put short splits in the side seams at the hem and took the darts out of the sleeves making them a bit more floaty it was much more wearable. There were pockets in the side seams which I wanted to keep so this governed the length overall. I wore it with my trusty Ash jeans which I’ve absolutely loved since making them last autumn.

So to sum up, Me Made May encouraged me to really look in my wardrobe and get out some of the things which get worn less often, as well as the favourites. The weather has ranged from freezing cold to boiling hot and I realised that my summery dresses are rather lacking when it’s warm, and cooler plain bottom halves are needed to go with my many patterned tops. I know I’ve been prolific in the last 3 years or so compared to a long fallow period for years before that and that makes me very happy. Looking through the clothes I’ve worn during May the vast percentage are things that were made more than a year ago, a lot are more than 2 years old and some older than that. Even when I used to buy more clothes if there was a garment I really liked I kept it for a long time, I think probably because if I’d taken the time to choose it then I wanted good use from it-££ per wear and all that. The same is now true of my makes, I’ve invested my own time into making them so I want to enjoy wearing them (although it’s frustrating when they aren’t a success, but I’ll often refashion them if I can)

Did you join in with Me Made May and did it encourage you to to make more use of your self-made clothes?

Happy Sewing

Sue

Camber Set from Merchant & Mills

 

IMG_5923The Camber Set from Merchant & Mills has definitely become one of my go-to patterns for tops-I’ve made 4 now! I picked up the pattern early last year at a swap/meet up (it was the same meet up that I got the Maker’s Atelier Holiday top pattern too which has become another favourite, I’ve made 3 of those and blogged reviews of them here and here)

The first was a navy and white striped one in a linen-look viscose if I remember correctly- I bought it at least 20 years ago to make my Mum a dress but life intervened! What I’ve come to love about this pattern is the clean and stylish finish to the neckline. The front neck uses a strip of bias binding which is applied to the reverse and then brought over to the right side and top stitched.

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the scissors necklace was from the V&A museum in London.

Next there’s a yoke at the back which is stitched in such a way that it neatens the back neck and encloses the shoulder seams all in one go. The instructions and diagrams are very clear but you do need to concentrate the first time because it seems a bit alien but trust me, it’s worth it. I had the bias on incorrectly initially because I assumed that it was turning in the usual way to the inside (it wouldn’t matter if you did it like that though, it’s just you wouldn’t then have the effect of the binding as decoration)

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the stripes make yours eyes go a bit swizzy

I chose to contrast top-stitch some of the seams and the bust darts too for some visual interest.IMG_1353

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I cut the top yoke on the bias simply because I had enough fabric to do so.

I cut a straight size 14 based on my measurements and it’s just right, roomy enough to be comfortable without being too baggy.  I would say that it’s an afternoon’s work if you make it exactly as the pattern.

The second one I made in more of a hurry to take to the second Sewing Weekender last August. This time I made it in some coral crepe-de-chine from my stash and made the bias and yoke in a contrasting butterfly crepe-de-chine which had been supplied by Adam Ross fabrics in the goody bags at the first Sewing Weekender! I mixed it up a bit by adding a small inverted box-pleat to the back.

The third version is a very straightforward plain ivory crepe (from Hitchin market I think) with no alterations. I love a patterned fabric and plain tops are not something I have loads of, I used to wear RTW T-shirts but I just don’t anymore so they need replacing with alternatives. I got cocky though and did the binding the wrong way round so it’s a bit narrower than it should be.

My most recent version of the Camber is a bit special IMHO. Recently I went with my friend Janet to Goldhawk Road to look for fabric for me to make her daughter a dress to wear to Janet’s son’s wedding (with me so far…?) Naturally I had a look at a few things myself but then in Misan I had some kind of out-of-body experience because I spent an ABSOLUTE BOMB on some Roberto Cavalli printed cotton lawn! I’m not even going to tell you how much it was, I’ve never paid that much per metre for any other fabric before, there was just something about the vibrancy of the colours and the prettiness of the design, plus Janet made me do it, she never even tried to stop me!! It’s a pity the photos don’t do it full justice though. [Misan also has 2 fabulous shops in Soho if you really want to blow the budget]

I bought 1m20 with a plan to make a Camber. With some really careful cutting (annoyingly there were two fairly wide unprinted white strips along each selvedge) I managed to get everything out so that the colours ran in ‘stripes’ around the body and on the sleeves too-this always pleases me immensely when I can achieve it-I was also able to add ruffles to the sleeves this time.

The although the fabric is 100% cotton it has a fair bit of inherent stretch which meant it had got a bit wonky from where I’d hung it on the washing line-a good steamy press largely sorted this out though. Basically I did everything the same as usual (except I really concentrated on the neck binding!) Instead of sink stitching the back yoke facing (that’s ‘stitch in the ditch’ in old money) I used one of the embroidery stitches that my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 offers. I chose one that’s fairly similar to the print on the cloth to complement it and used lemon yellow thread. I also added some small pleats to the back below the yoke.

I made the sleeves a fraction longer and added the ruffles, which I hemmed using the rolled hem finish on my overlocker. I’ve been trying to use this feature on suitable fabrics more often recently because it’s pretty and makes a change from a regular hem edge.

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rolled hem finish

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there are added small pleats in the back

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I can’t wait to wear this, we’re off to Italy very soon and I’m going to wear it with white linen trousers (RTW ones sadly, I bought them when time ran out for making last summer) The photos don’t do the fabric and the colour justice at all but I think it’s going to be a summer favourite, it isn’t even my usual colour choice either!

This is the only M&M pattern I have, their aesthetic is very pared-back and utilitarian and not necessarily my thing but as you can see a variety of fabrics can make a simple style look very different-I don’t think I’m done with this pattern yet, I haven’t even made a dress version yet!

Happy sewing

Sue

Inside Couture at the Fashion & Textiles Museum, London.

I’ve been to this event once before, which you can read about here, and I found it so fascinating that when I heard there was another one coming up I booked myself onto it. That date should have been in March…then the snows came! No one could get there so it got postponed to April 20th, what we couldn’t have predicted was that from snow we went to it being the hottest April day since Domesday or something…

Fortunately Amy and Teresa could both get there too, and Claire-Louise who I hadn’t met before so I was really looking forward to it. Non-Londoner Amy got a bit lost coming out of the station (London Bridge is in the midst of major refurbishments so follow the exit for the Shard if you decide to go to the FTM then turn left at the base of the Shard and follow the signs) but only missed a minute or two.

When you book an event at the FTM the price includes entrance to their current exhibition which this time is the evolution of the T-shirt as a communicative tool. This finishes on May 6th though, the next show will be the designs of Orla Kiely which should also be very interesting.

 

 

Because I’ve been once before some of the dresses I’d seen previously but no matter because curator Dennis Nothdruft kindly made sure there were quite a number that were different. The FTM has a collection of couture garments in it’s archive, many of which were donated by one lady and cover a period of 30-40 years. What is interesting to see is how the garments were altered over time so that she could continue to wear them. Couture garments generally have wider seam allowances so that they can be let out, or taken in, as required. Hems were often raised or lowered too as fashion, or age, dictated.  It’s also interesting that the insides of many of the garments pre-1960’s aren’t lined, the seams are all whip stitched by hand instead. Teresa worked at David and Elizabeth Emmanuel early in her career and the clientele actually expected to see the insides of the clothes so that they knew they were all hand-made and finished. Nowadays we expect quality clothing, especially high-end, to be lined and all boning, zips etc to be invisible. This is because if you’re not going to pay skilled staff to hand-finish every seam then they need to be covered up instead, hence the linings. Thank you Teresa, that’s something I had never realised or considered before.

 

This beautiful striped organza dress was made by Christian Dior exclusively for the Elizabeth Arden boutique in New York.

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Vintage Chanel

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These two little ‘flaps’ are actually weights which tuck inside the wearers bra to hold the V neck securely but invisibly in place-very clever!

 

 

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Love the beautiful draped back with integral rose on this chic crepe cocktail dress by Guy Laroche, that’s a horizontal bust dart you can see in the lining and it’s not something we see often these days.

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The rouleau bow detail is padded, a simple detail to copy.

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There was a zip in the lining AND a zip in the outer dress so that both fitted properly to give the desired effect to the deeply draped back.

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finely-pleated Sybil Connolly Irish linen gown

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All the edges are neatly bound

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The cuffs have short zips so that they fit snugly to the wrist.

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Internal stitching holding all the pleats in position.

This unusual dress by Irish designer Sybil Connolly. She was renowned for her use of Irish textiles and this dress is a particularly good example of her signature finely pleated handkerchief linen. It is made of many metres of fabric all folded into tiny pleats which are then securely stitched onto a backing fabric so that they can’t move.

 

This acid-yellow coat is by Bellville Sassoon from 1972, it’s probably intended as an evening coat and personally I think it’s more like a costume….The Mikado perhaps?

 

This Belville Sassoon number from the late Eighties reminded me so much of the dresses I used to make when I worked at David Fielden straight out of college. Lots of ruched fabric and fluffy tulle skirts. This is a very pretty warp-printed silk taffeta, I wish I’d had a £ for every huge bow I cut during that era, I’d have a enough for a holiday in the sun!!

 

This short dress is much more recent and is by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin. It’s an extremely ‘deconstructed’ dress with a unevenly pleated silk tulle front and a fine wool jersey back. The whole thing is encircled by ties which actually hold all the pleats in position-I went to ‘sort out’ those side pleats on the right but they were all sewn like that!

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This daring dress is by Christian Lacroix who no longer produces couture garments. There are lots of different elements going on and undoubtedly it looks far better on a body than the hanger.

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Alec Wek in the dress from the Autumn 2000 collection

 

This confection of chiffon and beaded embroidery could only be Versace! It’s the ultimate patchwork project that’s for sure.

This is just a selection of the outfits we saw, there were probably over a dozen in all. It’s so interesting to see how couture and high end garments have changed over the decades. We all expect clothing to be lined for example and lots of these weren’t, they were beautifully hand finished undoubtedly but there was no sign of an overlocker! In fact, on one organza cocktail dress the seam edges were left raw because that was actually the least visible finish, and these dresses would never go in the washing machine anyway, the tiny hems on organza and chiffon were all minutely hand-rolled. There were SO many hooks and eyes too but if you can afford couture then you can definitely afford a ladies maid to do them all up for you.

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Teresa, Claire-Louise, Amy and me

So, definitely a fun thing to do, especially with sewing friends as there is lots to look at and techniques to store away in a corner of your brain that might come in handy one day. I expect the next one will be in the Autumn so check the website for details. Incidentally Teresa will be teaching how to drape and model on the stand at FTM in June so if that’s something you’re interested in the trying she’s a fantastic person to learn from.

….and to round off the afternoon we went to the pub! Lot’s more sewing talk and gossip over a cheeky Aperol Spritz before we headed our separate ways. Such a lovely day, thank you ladies.

Happy Sewing,

Sue