Italian cloth and hacking a ‘vintage’ pattern

First a bit of preamble, because the origins of the fabric I used for this top were important. In June 2022 me and Mr Y were finally able to return to mainland Europe again for a four day stay in Florence, one of my favourite cities. We knew it would probably be very busy with visitors during the summer but frankly I didn’t care about this, I was just so happy to be able to see all those magnificent buildings and beautiful art again.

In between looking at the art and strolling the ancient streets I indulged in a little window shopping at the stores where I can afford literally nothing, including Alexander McQueen, Missoni and Gucci.

I could get a closer look at the details in the Gucci store that is based in the Gucci exhibition (worth a visit)
Missoni….obviously, look at that extraordinary panelled dress
Alexander McQueen…be still my beating heart

Amongst all these shops though I *may* have come across a fabric emporium….In truth, there are quite a number of fabric shops in Florence, what with this being Italy and home of fabulous quality textiles.

I failed to make a note of the name of this particular shop but it was very close to the Duomo and the Baptistry. I didn’t go in (thankfully it was shut at the time!) but they clearly specialised in very high-end alta moda fabrics which were nowhere near my budget!
Stunning beaded silk cloth

I had, however, been given the name of another more accessible shop by a kind Instagram follower so we set off to find it with only the vaguest idea where it was. Bacci Tessuti is quite close to the Medici Chapel and San Lorenzo and, with a little help from Google Maps, we found it eventually.

The air-conditioned shop was a very welcome haven from the extreme heat Florence was experiencing during our visit and I was not disappointed by what I found, there is a wonderful selection of lovely cloth to browse.

The choices in a beautiful store like this can be quite overwhelming so I had a sort-of plan to buy something which felt ‘Italian’ to me. I set out looking at their fine linen, personally I would call it handkerchief linen and it’s much lighter and softer than most of the heavier and more durable linens I’ve seen on sale in the UK. I homed in on one with a large design in blue, red and pink flowers (I love a floral fabric but I don’t often wear it) but this one ’spoke’ to me. So that was great but then the helpful shop manager, who spoke excellent English, pointed out the Liberty Tana lawn he had at a very good price! I would have resisted but my husband wanted to buy some for me so who am I to turn him down!

These were going to be my total purchases but when I went over to the counter the manager told me that the linen cloth was by the textile designer for well-known Italian brand, Pucci. At this point he produced from under the counter several short length pieces of some beautiful Italian designer fabrics including Dolce and Gabbana! They were all very lovely (and still expensive) but I wouldn’t have a use for them. The one I did fall for though was a small piece of silk/cotton cloth from Pucci with their trademark psychedelic design in delicate ice cream shades. It still wasn’t cheap but it was just a bit different and there was enough to make a top of some kind. So of course it came home with me…

it’s a bit crumpled from the wash after I got it home
The linen is on the left, plus the two pieces of Tana lawn bought by my husband, and that was my view from the hotel in the background, straight over the Arno with the Ponte Vecchio just to the left.

With my purchases safely stowed away we got on with enjoying the rest of our holiday (although I spent a fair bit of time planning in my head what I was going to make when we got home!)

Initially I was going to use this ‘vintage’ Style pattern as is (I bought it new in 1988 so it’s a little upsetting to think of it as vintage!) I used it several times back in the day, and I’ve sewn it again a couple of times in the last few years. The back buttons are the feature I like, the rest is basically a woven T-shirt.

As I said earlier, I had no more than 1m30 of fabric to play with and I still wanted to do a decent job of matching the print as best I could. The basic pattern fitted on the fabric, it’s only a front, back, sleeves and facings, but I thought it might look a bit meh, and there would still be some wastage. After a bit of a rethink, by shortening the body and making two deep ruffles across the width of the fabric I knew I would get a much more interesting design and have very little wastage in the end.

Basically it was a case of working out how long I could afford to make the top section and still get ruffles that were a balanced length [I had the Merchant and Mills Florence top in my head as inspiration] I took a line horizontally straight across to the centre front/back from the side seam approximately 15cms down from the bottom of the arm scye of both the front and back. What I should have done if I had stopped to think about it was make the centre front longer, I didn’t though and as a result the front hem lifts up because of my bust. The back is fine though.

The first dashed line is roughly where I folded out the pattern to make the horizontal seam, the curved dashed line on the front is how I should have shaped it.

I was able to cut the front and back pieces side by side on the folded cloth which meant the design ran smoothly around the garment. From the remaining fabric I calculated how deep two full widths of the fabric could be (approximately 28cms each strip) and still have enough to get two sleeves and the neck facings out too.

Once I had all the pieces it was just a case of assembling. First I did my usual scavenge through my button boxes to find enough suitable colours in matching sizes. After joining the shoulder seams and attaching the neck and back facings I sewed all the buttonholes at this stage, by doing this first it meant I wasn’t fighting the bulky seam of the gathered ‘skirt’ later.

My usual mash-up of various buttons down the back
By sewing the buttonholes at an early stage meant I didn’t have to struggle getting the bottom one under the buttonhole foot with the gathering in the way.
All finished. I know I’m just being fussy but you can probably see what I mean about the top rising up at the front slightly. There is no bust dart on the pattern which would have made a difference.
I’m pleased with how the top uses almost all the fabric and shows off the print to good effect, I didn’t want to chop it up unnecessarily and there weren’t many options with the small quantity I had anyway. I had to use a very narrow pin hem on the ruffle to maximise the length, the sleeves had their normal hem allowance on them. If you want a few more ideas for finishing hems I wrote this blog a couple of years ago which you might find useful.
I opted to have the ruffle run straight across the back rather than have an opening (this was because I was being lazy and didn’t want to make a facing and sew more buttonholes!!)
The top is shorter than I’ve worn in the recent past but I like the look, especially with the flat-fronted Eve pants by Merchant and Mills
Out in the wild at Africa Fashion which is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London until 16/4/23

As for the other Italian fabrics, I have plans to make a shirt dress with the beautiful linen, I have a design I’ve drafted and sewn a couple of versions of but there’s probably still a few tweaks I want to make to it before making it in the ‘real thing’. The Liberty lawn is waiting for the right project to present itself too, no need to rush these things. I’m all for sewing the good stuff but it’s really upsetting if you sew a dud with it!

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Tips for sewing with linen jersey, a new Lamazi post

Did you know that linen jersey was even a thing? It’s an unusual fabric which you don’t see often, we all know knits are available in most other fibre types-cotton, wool, silk or man-mades for example- but I’ve never worked with it before so when Liana invited me to sew my next Lamazi project using it, and to pass on any hints and tips for sewing it, I was up for the challenge. 

This 100% linen jersey comes from Mind the Maker in a range of colours and I picked the Dry Mustard shade which is a lovely vibrant ochre. The fabric has a beautiful lustrous sheen on the right side, the reverse is duller so it makes it much easier to tell the difference between the two. It has lovely light drapey quality too and is slightly sheer.

Linen fabric is not a textile known for its inherent stretch qualities and this jersey does feel slightly different from other knits because it has only a small amount of stretch along its length and quite a lot of stretch across the width but it has very little recovery so once it’s been stretched out it will stay like that at least until it’s washed again. During construction the application of plenty of steam will encourage some of this accidental stretching to be eased back into position so, coupled with its sheerness, this means that you need to think carefully about what garment to sew with it. 

Plenty of steam will help remove most unwanted bagginess like this

The properties of linen fabric itself [cool in warm weather, warm in cold weather] mean that it would be ideal for loose-fitting leisure or exercise wear, for yoga or Pilates for example. I would definitely say it’s better to avoid anything that is particularly close fitting because areas like the elbows or wrists would become stretched or baggy with little recovery. However the fabric has a lovely drape and its fine gauge allows it to be gathered up successfully so these properties could be exploited instead.

Bearing all these factors in mind I decided to make (another) Sewing Revival Heron dress which I would hack into a blouse. The pattern has a neckline which is gathered using elastic along with raglan sleeves with deep elasticated cuffs. To mix it up further I decided to pull the hemline in onto elastic rather than have a wide smock silhouette.

First things first, I washed the fabric by hand to remove any risk of excessive shrinkage or twisting in the machine. If you want to wash it in the machine then it might be an idea to overlock the cut ends together first to form a long loop and place it into a large washing bag to protect it further. Alternatively you could press it on your ironing board with plenty of steam instead. If at all possible it is better to dry the fabric flat, and certainly don’t wring or twist it. All of this might sound off-putting, and it is clearly not as straightforward as chucking a nice stable cotton into the machine but this is a luxurious fabric and deserves to be treated and handled carefully in the preparation. When it comes to cutting out your pattern pieces lay the fabric as flat as possible, handle it gently and don’t pull it about too much, especially if you decide to fold it. I made a whole back pattern piece for my top so that I could cut it flat, another appeal of the Heron pattern for me is that it has just three pieces so it’s a relatively quick sew usually. 

After cutting all the pieces the first thing I did was stabilise all the raglan shoulder seams using some iron-on seam tape, I did this to prevent any unwanted stretching before I sewed the sleeves in later on. I added small squares of iron-on interfacing to reinforce the bottom of the opening on the centre front seam too. I also decided to press all the folded parts of the casings/ruffles for the neckline, sleeves and hem before sewing anything together, just so that I was handling the cut-out pieces as little as possible, again to prevent unwanted stretching before they got joined together. I also tacked these folded parts into position temporarily. All this might sound excessive but I wasn’t in a rush, and I found the slow and considered processes very soothing at quite a difficult time. 

iron-on stay tape to prevent unwanted stretching of the raglan seams
I pressed and tacked casing/ruffles before joining the sections together later on
reinforcing the bottom of the neck opening with small squares of iron-on interfacing.

Something else I did before commencing was check on fabric scraps which needle and stitch-type would give me the best results. A ballpoint needle suitable for stretch/knits/jersey is essential to prevent snagging which could lead to laddering of this delicate fabric, and I found a short straight stitch was better than a narrow zigzag but you must do what works best on your own machine. You could sew a garment together entirely on an overlocker but be aware of the lack of rebound this fabric has so if it gets stretched or misshapen while it’s being sewn then it’s probably like that permanently. I also tested the overlocker finish before diving in for the same reasons. If you don’t have an overlocker this fabric is fine enough that where possible you could probably sew self-neatening French seams, or a wide zigzag might work but just be careful it doesn’t chew up the edges. If you have an overlock stitch option on your sewing machine and/or a special foot to sew an overlock-style stitch then definitely use them. Test all options before making your choice, the time taken could save you upsets later on. I slipped some folded strips of paper underneath the seam allowances when I pressed them to minimise any chance of the seam showing through on the front

testing stitches and overlocking
I popped two strips of folded paper under the centre front seam while I pressed it so that there was no show-through or unwanted shininess on the right side.

If you have a walking foot for your machine this is definitely a fabric worth using it for, even if you don’t it’s a good idea to use plenty of pins. I’m not a fan of mini-clips because I think they are too heavy and get in the way, this fabric is lightweight and I think mini-clips could distort it while you’re sewing but it’s up to you. Tacking seams is always an option too of course, any technique that prevents the fabric shifting while you sew basically.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll know I’ve made a few Herons before so the construction was straightforward, the only area I did differently was to create the ruffled hem with a wide elastic casing. I couldn’t decide between my planned 2cms or 1cm wide elastic initially so I tested with the two widths to see which I preferred-I chose to stay with the 2cms width as planned. 

testing which elastic width I preferred for the hem, this was the narrow one (the fabric scrap is wrong side out!)
and this is wider width, it’s the one I used at the hem in the end.
using a bodkin to insert the narrow elastic in the neck casing.
checking the gathered neckline on the stand
I used this quilting attachment on my machine so that I sewed an accurate parallel width for the elastic casing
close up of the elasticated hem casing

To sum up, I’m really pleased with how my first experience of sewing with linen jersey has gone, I’ll admit I was a little nervous because Liana was putting her trust in me with an expensive fabric but taking the time to plan and test, and use my existing knowledge of working with knits definitely helped. Because of the sheerness of the fabric Lamazi also provided me with a metre of Atelier Brunette crepe viscose in Ochre to make a camisole to wear underneath, I used the Simone camisole and trousers pattern by Maven which is a very quick make and a very useful garment to wear on its own or underneath other garments. The crepe viscose is a beautiful quality fabric with lovely handle and drape but be aware that there’s a disappointing amount of creasing, you might want to take that into account when planning, for example if you’re making something you’ll spend a lot of time sitting in.

all finished

As always, I hope you find my hints and tips helpful if you choose this lovely fabric, I wouldn’t recommend it to a novice sewer because some experience of sewing with other similar fabrics is definitely an advantage, plus it would be shame to end up with a costly mistake, but if you’re looking for a new challenge to add to your repertoire this could be a good start. I’ll launder the finished garment either by hand or in a wash bag on a gentle cycle in the machine. I’ll dry it flat too and store it that way, I don’t want a coat hanger to make it misshapen. If you’re a person who prefers not to worry too much about their clothes or their maintenance then this might strike you as overkill, and that’s fair enough, but I don’t think it hurts to have a few special things in our wardrobes which were worth the effort to make for ourselves. 

I’m looking forward to wearing this top as autumn is fast approaching (did summer ever arrive!?) thank you to Lamazi for providing me with the fabric to review.

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue

1980’s College Days refound!

Did you keep any of your old college course work? I am by nature something of a hoarder but even I was surprised when an unpromising cardboard folder came to light recently while we were having a grand clear out. It said “Russia 1980” on the outside so I was excited to think that it contained some memorabilia from my school trip of that year [The trip caused some local controversy at the time because that year the USSR had invaded Afghanistan just a matter of weeks earlier and some people felt we should no longer go. Our Head Mistress, the doughty Miss Pagan, was having none of it so we went regardless! Many countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics later that year in protest…about the invasion, not because my school trip went ahead]

I digress, upon opening the folder I found it contained nothing of that trip at all but it did contain many of the sketches and designs I produced whilst at London College of Fashion between 1983-85 including the final project when I produced two ‘mass market’ bridal outfits. Well what a trip down memory lane they proved to be! It was a period of my life when I was so happy with what I was doing, I’d finally found the right course for me (technical garment construction and not just design) I had a great bunch of college mates, I loved it.

I’m sharing the sketches partly because then I’ve documented everything for my own reference and enjoyment, but also because I hope there might be things of interest to others as well. Fashion-wise the early eighties were a time of puffball skirts and massive ruffles, enormous sleeves and ra-ra skirts, wide collars and even wider shoulder pads! Princess Diana was the style darling of the fashion magazines and whatever she wore became a trend. Last year I shared lots of press clippings and photos from my early working career which you can still read here.

The earliest image is from before my college days and it’s the dress I made for my school friend’s 21st birthday in October 1982. It was entirely self-drafted because I hadn’t formally learnt pattern cutting yet at this point. I can remember it clearly and the notes on the sketch are very thorough. It was a great party too!

What follows are the design and development sheets for an evening wear module [you can see now why it’s my first love when it comes to making] We had to design variations of similar dresses and gowns to illustrate how a garment could be adapted and simplified to cater for it’s appropriate market.

This was the high-end dress as a starting point, it still has fabric swatches attached. I will have trawled the fabric suppliers around the college in London’s West End and been one of those annoying students who would ask for swatches of expensive fabrics which they had no possibility of ever buying! Most of the shops and showrooms were amazingly tolerant of us. It’s such a typical 80s dress with ruffles and bows a-plenty.
This was the middle market version so the fabric would have been less costly and the ruffle quota was much reduced, it was similar but simplified. There would have been fewer hand-sewn elements but the silhouette is still recognisable.
This is the mass market dress and I made notes to the side as well. It is still recognisable as the coming from the same silhouette but costs were further reduced by using inexpensive fabric and much less of it. I wonder if I made a conscious decision to use felt tip for the sketch as well?
Variations for the high-end dress (I obviously preferred this market as the drawings are better!)
more development ideas
Crikey, getting very carried away with the felt pens here, I think there’s a hint of Antony Price and Thierry Mugler creeping in
I remember starting to make this one up but I don’t think it was ever finished, I wonder what happened to it? It’s probably in a box in my parents’ loft!
lots of detailed annotations
yet more variations
Blimey!
What I find interesting about all of these sketches is the similarity to the designs I would actually go on to work on at David Fielden after I left college. At this point I had no real idea that bridal and evening wear was the direction I would eventually take, I just knew that I really enjoyed it.
And this is where my bridal career effectively began, it was the optional bridalwear module in the second year of the course. I still had a hankering for theatrical costume so this was a perfect outlet for those ideas. I cut and made this dress, eventually I disassembled it and I know I still have the buttons at least in my ‘collection’.
Sleeves were clearly a ‘thing’ for me!
I don’t remember what these were related to, just general evening wear I guess
woaah, more enormous sleeves, and rosettes too

For my final project I opted to make two bridal outfits, I’m guessing they were mid-range and the jacket and skirt was probably intended as a register office outfit whilst the ‘Laura Ashley” dress and jacket was probably for a simple church wedding or registry office. I had a real client for the suit which was my then-boyfriend’s sister. This was handy because she paid for the fabrics for it, the jacket and skirt were white crepe-back satin and the blouse underneath was a soft green georgette. I think my ‘brand’ was possibly Jacques Verts who specialised in smart workwear for the modern working woman (definitely power shoulder pads with everything) or mother-of-the-bride type outfits with matching everything, dresses, jackets, hats, bags, shoes, the lot.

Quite a bit of Eighties power shoulders going on in these

Laura Ashley were hugely popular in the Eighties with their feminine and floral styles, they also produced a range of dresses for brides and bridesmaids at reasonable prices so that will be why I picked them as my brand for this project.

I remember those box pleats being the very devil to work on, I think I made things very complex for myself with them. I bought a pretty white cotton damask fabric from Laura Ashley to make my sample from (like tablecloth fabric but softer) I’m pretty sure there’s still a bit of it knocking about in one of my fabric boxes…I wonder what happened to the dress and jacket though?

Well, there we are, another wander back into the past for some Eighties fashion extravagance. You’ll see why I probably won’t embrace the current trend for wide collars because I did them the last time around (although fabulous sleeves will always hold an attraction for me) we were all busy being New Romantics but that Steve Strange eye make-up was difficult to pull off with glasses!

rocking my Eighties mullet (specs sponsored by Everest double glazing…)

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue