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

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

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

Refashioning a wedding dress into a Christening gown.

I think this used to be a much more popular thing to do years ago, probably because wedding dresses were home-made more often and the fabric would have been quite a costly part of the finished article. I’ve made a couple of Christening gowns in the past (although sadly for complicated reasons not for my own girls) but this is the first time I can recall cutting up an existing dress for a refashion.

I got a message early one Sunday morning just two days after we got back from holiday recently asking if such a thing were possible and also I’d have less than three weeks to do it in! Fortunately the client was able to come the next day so we got cracking very quickly. She had an idea of what she had in mind so she showed me a photo and we went from there.

Although the dress was from five years earlier it hadn’t been cleaned so the skirt, and the hem in particular, was very soiled. I took the whole skirt off the bodice, and also the skirt lining, plus the embroidered lace appliqué panels which came off the bodice and skirt. I was able to wash the lining but I couldn’t risk washing the Duchesse satin of the dress so I had to separate the front skirt panel (which was asymmetric) from the backs and then work out where the straight grain was so that I could cut a new front skirt piece from the cleanest area. To work out where the grain is you can tell to some extent by pulling gently in each direction on the fabric. If there’s some degree of stretch (in a non-stretch fabric) then it probably means you’re not on the straight grain yet but if there’s little or no stretch then you’re probably pretty much on it. To double-check after doing this I cut along the edge of the piece on what I’d calculated to be the grain and then pulled a few loose threads away until eventually I could see exactly where the grain was. I could then place the pattern piece onto the fabric with a good degree of certainty.

As I never throw a pattern away I have a number of children’s patterns which I used when my own girls were small so I simply used bodice pieces from one of these. The client wanted an over-long skirt so I merely created a flared A-line shape to the length needed. She wanted small ruffles at the shoulders instead of sleeves and these are very simple to draft. I drew a line on the bias (a 45 degree angle) and then a curved line which measured approximately twice as long as the sleeve opening it was going into. The curved edge is the one which you then run your gathering stitches along to pull it up, the straight edge is the one which gets neatened, or in this case had new narrow lace added to it.

This pattern was from 1989!
The ruffles drawn directly onto the fabric at a 45 degree angle, the curved edge will be gathered and the straight edge gets neatened. The pieces don’t have to be on the bias but it gives the finished ruffle a nice fluidity.
I added new narrow lace to the edge of the ruffle.

After our initial discussions and sketches it wasn’t practical for the client to keep coming backwards and forwards constantly so we conducted the rest of our consultations via WhatsApp because it was a good way for me to send her photos of ideas for her approval.

The appliqué was too much for the tiny bodice, the baby is only ten months old, so I tried it on the skirt instead.

I suggested that the appliqué should be towards the hem because then it would show better in photos if the baby was being cradled or sitting on a lap. Once we’d settled on the position the lace had to be sewn on by hand.

I wanted a deep hem on the skirt rather than a narrow rolled hem because a rolled hem would have had a tendency to curl up on this fabric and not look nice. Because of the curve of the hem I couldn’t just turn up a hem of 4cms because there would be too much bulk that would look very clunky and no possibility on this fabric of steaming it away. Because of these factors I opted to make some 8cms wide bias binding from the Duchesse which, after I’d joined it into suitable length strips, I folded in half lengthways and pressed. I placed the cut edges against the hem of the skirt and sewed it in position. Next I pushed the seam allowances towards the binding and understitched it about 1mm away from the seam.

The bias is pinned in position ready to sew close to the edge. I did the front and the back separately and then joined the side seams later.
This is how the hem eventually looked when I’d slip-hemmed it into position.
The finished hem looks like this on the right side.

It was a then a case of putting all the pieces together, along with fully lining the gown. We went with two rouleau strips across the front, which I secured into the side seams, along with the loops for the back which would tie into a simple bow. The skirt was gathered into the waist seam and an invisible zip inserted into the back. I finished the neck edge with a simple bias binding, to keep it very soft and simple around the baby’s neck.

One final detail the client had asked for was her baby’s name and the baptism date embroidered inside. Fortunately my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has a range of script options so I did a couple of test runs. I stabilised a piece of the satin and then embroidered the words onto it. I added some more of the narrow lace around the edge and finally satin-stitched it inside the skirt lining. Maybe one day there will be other names alongside it, that would be nice to think.

I really enjoyed this project as it was so creative and was real contrast to most projects I undertake. The client was absolutely delighted, and not a little emotional, when she came to collect the gown. You have to put a lot of trust into a dressmaker, especially when you’re handing over a garment which is itself has precious memories. I’m looking forward to seeing photos of little Poppy in her gown eventually, I hope she doesn’t disgrace herself!

I decided with about 45 minutes before the client arrived to collect the gown that I needed to make a matching padded hanger covered in the satin and trimmed with leftover lace.
As you can see, I needed the washing line and Mr Y to help display the gown in the April sunshine. (I should have pressed that crease out before I photographed it!)

Designing by WhatsApp might be unorthodox and have its limitations but it worked a treat this time. Have you ever had to refashion a wedding dress into a Christening gown? Maybe you’ve done it yourself?

Until next time,

Happy Sewing

Sue

Dior: Designer of Dreams at the V&A

The last few weeks on the blog have been very much about Sew Over 50 which has all been very exciting but that has meant that I haven’t had as much time to write about the other things which interest me a lot.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m really interested in the history of fashion and so visiting exhibitions of clothing from across the decades, or even centuries, is something I love to do. Living where I do I’m fortunate to be well placed to get into central London in less than an hour making most galleries and museums very accessible.

London’s blockbuster fashion exhibition this spring is Dior: Designer of Dreams which opened at the beginning of February in the V&A in South Kensington and it is such a beautiful show with literally hundreds of outfits on display. It’s being staged in their newest space, the Sainsbury Wing, which is underground but doesn’t feel remotely subterranean when you’re in it. Each room is different and begins with the single most famous outfit of all, the Bar suit from the first ‘New Look’ collection of February 1947. Nearby are other interpretations of it by the designers who followed Dior himself as head of the house which he created.

Bar suit February 1947

The show is thematic rather than chronological which personally I think makes it more coherent, not less. Whilst each designer has brought their own aesthetic to the label there is an element of timelessness about many of the creations. [It’s quite a fun game to see if you can work out which era a gown comes from, I was wrong a number of times, sometimes I went modern and they were from the 50’s and other times the opposite was true] The show takes you through a series of rooms which contain gowns of every shape and hue. Early on you come across the gown created for Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday ball in 1951. She and her mother continued to be Dior fans even after Princess Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, she herself has only ever worn British designers since.

The rooms are cleverly arranged because you move from one to the next and they all feel quite spacious and different to the previous one, some have dark backgrounds whilst others are light and airy. Some gowns are behind glass but many are not so you can get a good view of the exquisite workmanship and skills that have gone into each of them.

When he was alive Christian Dior made full use of the allure of Hollywood film stars to promote his collections and he dressed many leading ladies including Rita Hayworth and Jane Russell, their shapely figures were perfect for showing off his womanly designs. In fact Coco Chanel was very critical of his New Look because she saw it as a step backwards for women in terms of having to wear restrictive garments like corsets again, this coming after the relative freedom she had created with her boyish shapes in the pre-war years.

The pastel colours in the next room are beautifully lit and there are gowns by many of the designers who have come after Christian himself including the 21 year old prodigy Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. I loved this room…

Moving on from this room to the next there is a marked contrast with the gowns or ensembles being influenced by or referencing travel around the world. Several of John Galliano’s most fantastical creations are here alongside more wearable dresses by the other designers.

At various points there are also smaller cabinets and display cases containing other items of interest including beautiful perfume bottles, and photographs from Christian Dior’s beloved garden.

It might not look like it but this is dress is only about 30cms high
a perfect miniature dress embellished with flowers
A Raf Simons gown in front of a Christian Dior original
the setting in this room is stunning with thousands of papercut flowers and petals cascading from the ceiling
Lily of the Valley were one of Christian Dior’s favourite flowers and they featured regularly in his collections.

I actually wish that perfume had been wafted into this room to enhance the beautiful ambience…a hint of Miss Dior perhaps (named for his sister Catherine) or the scent of lily of the valley from Diorissimo?

The talents of all the Creative Directors are show-cased in the next room starting with Yves Saint Laurent’s brief tenure (he left to do his National Service in the army) Marc Bohan who served for the longest time and is still alive at the age of 93. After him came Italian Gianfranco Ferre followed by the notorious and flamboyant Gibraltarian John Galliano. When his reign ended abruptly under a cloud he was eventually followed by Belgian Raf Simons, and finally the first woman to hold the role, Italian Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Raf Simons
I love this pleated skirt by Raf Simons
This could only be John Galliano in his pomp
Maria Grazia Chiuri’s ‘Tarot’ coat looks as if it has been made from pieces of Medieval ecclesiastical embroidery

The next room is of particular interest to keen dressmakers because it is entirely filled with toiles of gowns, jackets and ensembles. It’s snowy whiteness is a stark contrast to all the bright colours and embellishment in the previous rooms and it heightens the drama of the superlative cutting and construction skills of the all-too-often unsung atelier staff or ‘petit mains’ as they are usually known. These are where the ideas are tried out, where the unusual cut of a sleeve is experimented with, or a dart on a collar attempted. It doesn’t waste costly and precious fabric and it helps visualise unusual proportions or new concepts. These toiles are about way more than just checking the fit on a garment.

Moving next through a narrow space displaying hundreds of magazine covers over the decades featuring Dior fashions old and new on one side, and a glass cabinet on the other side containing many shoes, bags, scarves, jewellery and other accessories and miniature versions of gowns and ensembles perfect in every detail like the full-size originals.

And finally you arrive at the best room of all. I had no idea what was coming so to round the corner and emerge into a huge ballroom space with lighting, music and special effects was breathtaking to say the least. There are literally dozens of gowns to look at, including three iterations of the J’Adore gowns worn by Charlize Theron in the perfume adverts.

J’Adore gowns
gowns worn by Lupito Nyong’o and Nicole Kidman.

You need to spend as long as you can in this room to fully experience it, there are places to sit too so you can rest and take it all in.

There’s only one more gown to see before you leave and it’s set between mirrors so you get the sense that there are many dresses, not just one.

The final gown was created by Maria Grazia Chiuri and it harks back to Christian Dior right at the beginning. It is soft and feminine and it references the New Look with its full pleated skirt and elegant lines. It could be from 1947 but it is very much of the now.

I absolutely love this exhibition! I’ve been able to go twice so far, as well as attend a talk between exhibition curator Oriale Cullen and Harper’s Bazaar editor Justine Picardie. As I keep mentioning in other posts, I’ve had such good value from my Membership of the V&A and this year will be no different. In April a retrospective of the work of Mary Quant also opens too. I purchased my own membership and all views expressed here are entirely my own.

You have until July 14th to see this exhibition and if you have any chance of being in London I urge you to try and get a ticket. I believe there are 500 additional tickets available every day but they sell out very quickly, check the website for updates would be my suggestion. I hope I’ve been able to give those of you who can’t get to London a small taste of the show, and for those of you who hope to get here my photos in no way do it justice and you’ve definitely got a lot to look forward to!

Until next time,

Sue

Balenciaga at the V&A

I finally managed to get to this gorgeous exhibition the other day and it was frustrating to think it was both ‘worth the wait’ and ‘why did I wait so long!’  Whatever the answer I really glad I did.

I’ve loved the V&A since I was about 14 or 15 when I was studying for O-level Needlework (!!) and I used to visit to draw the clothes that were on display in what was then known as the Costume Court. I would sit patiently in front of the cabinets to sketch the details of historical garments, it’s definitely where my love and fascination for the construction of garments began.

Amazingly I found some of my original sketches from that time (although if you look carefully one of them seems to have been tampered with by a small child!) They were drawn on graph paper donated by my Dad. At that time I’d decided I wanted to be a costume designer, although through a few educational twists and turns I finished up doing bridal and evening wear instead which was the next best thing. Fortunately since then the fashion galleries have moved on a fair bit in the way they display things now, more rotation of garments from the collections and less dusty mannequins. That said, a few of my favourite garments from that era are still on display so I can still get my nostalgia-fix.

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one of my favourites, a magenta crinoline

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This is another of my favourites, it’s from 1937 designed by Charles James and made in a silk chiffon with a print by Jean Cocteau…I’d wear it now given the chance!

Nowadays they utilise the central downstairs area to host changing exhibitions along with the upstairs gallery. [This is was an inspired move in my opinion because all that the upstairs area used to contain was ancient dusty stringed instruments and, as far as I could tell, no one ever went up there!!]

And so to Balenciaga…he was a Spaniard born into a humble background in 1895 who eventually worked for almost all of his illustrious career in Paris and came to be hugely respected and influential amongst the pantheon of great designers.IMG_3077

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He developed innovative ways of handling fabric to create extraordinary shapes and styles, many of them had hidden foundations which enabled them to hold their shape. Fabric was all, it was always his starting point and the design came from there, not the other way around. He was extremely proficient in all aspects of the design process, he understood fabric and its capabilities, so he could drape and cut the fabrics into his chosen shapes, he was an expert tailor, pattern cutter and could sew too. Not every designer is capable of all this and many rely on the expertise of others to realise their visions. I have great respect for designers like this.

Balenciaga at work
Cristobal Balenciaga at work in his atelier, a calm and quiet place where he always wore his customary white overall.

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One thing that is different about this exhibition to most others I’ve been to at the V&A is being allowed to take photos-I can only assume this because they’ve given up trying to stop people, or they don’t need to protect anyone’s copyright or intellectual property??

The dress in the foreground here was, apparently, adored by fashion editors of the time and much photographed. Only a few were sold though because it was nearly impossible to go to the loo whilst wearing it!!

The exhibition has a several displays at the beginning which illustrate Balenciaga’s use of fabric and his swatch system and the designs that stemmed from it.

His Spanish heritage was often a source of inspiration too, boleros being typical of this but also the use of lace and flamenco-influenced ruffles and flounces.

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a bolero jacket…sorry, not a good photo…

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The whole of the downstairs part of the show is given over to Balenciaga’s own designs for both his couture collections and the ready to wear line that he also developed. There are evening gowns, coats, day dresses, tailoring and pant suits. There’s an opportunity to try on mock-ups of a garments for yourself, and there are also a number of toiles that have been recreated in calico by MA students from UAL including Claire-Louise Hardie who blogs as The Thrifty Stitcher and who was the sewing producer on the Great British Sewing Bee series.

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Claire-Louise Hardie’s toile

There are several exquisite beaded coats and gowns as well as a fascinating accompanying video showing exactly how the beading is done-don’t miss it, it’s enthralling. IMG_3102IMG_3103IMG_3104

I adore this dress, my photo doesn’t do it justice as it’s a vibrant fuchsia pink in reality. On the wall behind is one of several specially commissioned x-ray photos taken by Nick Veasey and showing the secret interior construction of the dress.

This is a strapless gown that has been turned inside out so that you can see all the details that mean the dress won’t fall down! My previous blog from a visit to the FTM also tells you about my ‘hands on’ experience looking inside beautiful couture clothing, read it here. 

Upstairs there are lots more clothes created by many contemporary designers who acknowledge the debt that their designs owe to Balenciaga’s influence. These include Roksanda Illincic,  Erdem and Nicholas Ghesquiere, who became chief designer in 1997 when the Balenciaga brand was reinvigorated for the 21st century.

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Roksanda Illincic-love this!!

 

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Erdem

 

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Nicholas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga

There’s so much more to see than I can show here so I’d urge you to go along to the V&A if you love finding out about the history and development of fashion design. This exhibition is on until February next year so there’s plenty of time at the moment. Make sure you look around the rest of the fashion exhibits that are on display in the surrounding gallery too-there are so many interesting garments, often dating back centuries, and you can see the influence and development that they’ve had on clothing over that time.

I’ve been a member of the V&A for 3 years now so I can go as often I like to their exhibitions but, as ever, all opinions here are my own! I hope you enjoy this show as much as I did and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Sue

Strictly dresses part 2!

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

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

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

Claudia F
Claudia’s skirt is an example of the use of ‘crin’ around the hem to make it stand out. It’s used in different widths, usually 1″, 3″ or 6″

Claudia F blue
Theresa told us how this skirt changed shortly before the actual show from being a peach underskirt with navy organza and satin overlay to having a navy tulle overskirt. This was because Vicky decided it was too shiny under the lights in the studio.

 

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

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

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

Katya 2

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

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

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

Daisy daisy
It had an unusual cowl back too.

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Tameka Empson’s Charleston costume was probably one of the least expensive outfits to create in plain navy fabric and very few sparkles. Theresa told us the red trim was an example of a costume getting altered after the dress run because the front was too low and revealing, especially for an active Charleston!

Tameka Charleston
I loved this dance, it’s a shame Tameka didn’t get further in the competition.

Tameka green dress

 

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

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

Strictly Come Dancing 2016

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

Ore Singin' in the rain
This lovely canary yellow ‘raincoat’ wasn’t out on display to see close up but it did feature in the fashion show and was modelled by two members of the crew!

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The dress featuring in the fashion show on board.

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

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

Ore showdance
Old school Hollywood glamour for the Final

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So simple yet so lovely, sheer navy over a nude base.

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Feathers, multiple godets and crystals-gorgeous!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I, for one, cannot wait!

Keeeeeep Dancing!

Sue

close up with the Strictly Come Dancing costumes

I haven’t written a blog for absolutely ages because I’ve either been super-busy with sewing, teaching and alteration commitments, or I was away from home, and now two blogs come along in quick succession…

In early May I went with my good friend (and sewing student) Sue to south west France to walk a section of the Camino de Santiango between Cahors and Moissac. After taking Eurostar and the TGV all the way to Cahors we walked from one destination to the next every day, carrying all our belongings with us in our rucksacks. It was challenging at times but a positive one. We had little contact with home, no TV or news (lovely!), no make up, simple accommodation and delicious home-cooked meals. It also meant I couldn’t worry about anything back home so it was very liberating in that respect. One of the things I didn’t have to think about was sewing and, much as I love it, I didn’t particularly miss it!

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all of my belongings for a week were in this bag…it was quite heavy

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spotted in the window of a French dry-cleaners….seems all the world needs things fixing!

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best foot forward….

After my French sojourn I had a couple of weeks in which to start/continue/finish as many projects as possible before heading off on a cruise around the Baltic. What we didn’t realise when we booked it months ago was that it would be a Strictly Come Dancing themed one and not only would judge Craig Revel Horwood be on board (with his Mum Bev and his sister Di!) along with dancers Aljaz, Janette, Giovanni, Oti, Oksana and her husband Jonathan, but LOTS of the costumes would be on display too!

We were sailing on the P&O Cruises ship Britannia from Southampton and once we were on board we set about exploring straight away…actually that’s not quite true because we had some lunch first!

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3 of the dresses on display in the atrium of the ship.

I discovered that the costumes were on show in the central atrium area of the ship so we generally had to go past them most of the time if we were walking elsewhere, which wasn’t a problem as far as I was concerned. They were all displayed on mannequins and you could get right up close and have a good look at them. This was thrilling enough, and I would have been happy with that, but then I discovered that there was going to be a guided tour of the dresses so we could find out more about each of them in detail. Fab-u-lous.

So my husband (bless ‘im) put my name down on the list [we were first and second hehe] so on the second sea day we rocked up nice and early for the ‘tour’.

So the first thing I learned is that all the costumes (men as well as women) are made for the BBC by a company called DSI London based in Croydon. If you ever watch It Takes Two in the week during the run of Strictly you’ll see designer Vicky Gill talking about the dresses for Saturday night’s show. Although she wasn’t on the cruise her production manager and indispensable right-hand woman, Theresa Hewlett, was. What might seem like a dream job she described as hectic, stressful, fun, very long hours, pressurised, sparkly, rewarding and exciting.

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Theresa…oops, eyes shut 😉

Theresa walked us through the various dresses on display, many of which were from the most recent series of Strictly [I bet you didn’t know that you can buy the actual dresses as worn on the show? They go onto the DSI website on the Monday morning so you too could own a piece of telly memorabilia…although it doesn’t come cheap]

Over the course of the series they will have to design and create in the region of 350-400 dresses and outfits! That’s a lot of crystals, ruffles and godets! Incidentally DSI are also responsible for the male judges outfits but not Tess, Claudia or Darcey-they have to sort themselves out-although they quite often have to shorten Claudia’s frocks as she’s so diddy.

This is a selection of the dresses I saw and wherever possible I’ve accompanied them with a picture of the celebrity wearing it in the series.

Anastasia wasn’t in the series for that long but several of her dresses featured and they are interesting because they were made from ready made basques which were bought on the high street and then customised. She liked a slinkier silhouette so they had lots of fringing and were heavily embellished with crystals by Ash who does most of the stoning and you’ll hear Vicky singing his praises on SCD ITT on a Thursday night regularly.

This black Guipure lace with baby pink lining was worn by Laura Whitmore, it was such a pretty combination. Theresa told us that Vicky gets sent samples of all sorts of fabrics and last season there was a lot of heavy laces which aren’t traditionally used in ballroom dresses. The dress worn by Oksana dancing with Judge Rinder was also lace although it was a more ‘fun’ dress. Because lace doesn’t stretch like the other fabrics used it would often have to be cut in small segments for the fitted bodices and pieced back together over body curves.

I loved this pretty dress Oksana wore in a peachy shade with heavily-crystalled bodice and neckline. We were lucky enough to see her wearing this dress for real in the second week because she and her husband came on board. It’s an example of a bodice and skirt which Vicky uses quite often because of the flexibility it offers by being adaptable and getting a good fit in double-quick time.

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Oksana in her ‘Prom’ dress in the on-board fashion. show

Judge R Flintstones
The white Flintstones dress was interesting close up, it was lots of feather-shaped pieces sewn on singly to strips of elastic which, in turn, were stitched to a white leotard.

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The ‘feathers’ look really effective but were, apparently, a real pain in the neck to sew on.

Theresa told us how all the dresses start out on the base of a leotard, everything is made from scratch so they have a huge range of colours and fabrics at their disposal, almost all of them stretchy to allow full movement. They have bra-cups in them when needed, or made in such a way that the dancer or celebrity can wear their own bra under it,  invisible straps or flesh-coloured mesh. The celebrities usually start out quite shy and want to be covered up but as they progress, and often slim down a little, they become happier to expose more flesh.

Louise Rednapp was a good example of this. She didn’t want anything figure-hugging at the beginning (even though she has an enviable figure!) but by the Final she was much more confident about herself and her abilities and her outfits got more revealing.

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Louise’s Argentine Tango dress

Louise Argentine Tango

This is Louise’s show dance dress from the final in a lovely grey and pink combination. You can also see that it’s been the victim of a mishap at some point because the front decoration has been damaged. The dresses frequently go overseas on loan to other versions of SCD and, although they shouldn’t, they often fiddle with or alter the dresses.  This particular dress got sold to a passenger on the cruise so the front will be rectified before she takes delivery. Louise showdance

Because the dresses are so stretchy they will fit anyone from a size 6/8 up to about a 14 which can be useful during the run of the show. Dresses which are heavily embellished are extremely costly both in terms of crystals used and the man hours making them so one garment could cost as much as £2000! These dresses (if they don’t get sold) are frequently recycled in later series by using the bodice and/or skirt on a new outfit. Unless you’re very eagle-eyed though I doubt we’d recognise it. I was fascinated to learn that the dresses will all go into the washing machine! on a gentle cycle mind you, and not the ones with feathers on, they get carefully hand washed.

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Natalie Lowes and Greg Rutherford dancing a Samba

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Close up of the stoning on one of Natalie’s outfits

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these are strings of bugle beads which are glued in position. It’s used to give a lovely feathery or swishy effect but is pretty time-consuming.

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The outfit in action, it was memorable because Natalie managed to finish up with the skirt up around her waist by the end of the dance!!

Natalie’s dress from Movies week when she and Greg danced to the theme from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.Natalie Robin Hood

Theresa told us that Natalie always likes a belt or sash to emphasise her waist.

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This dress is one which featured in the group dance at Blackpool so it’s one of about 12 the same or very similar! It’s a lovely example of stoning too, as is the dress below .

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More fringe beading on Oti’s show dance dress, it was amazingly heavy!

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Oti Mabuse and Danny dancing in the Final.

This is an example of a dress which will be reused sometime in the future because of the the amount of work in it, even though it is essentially a tube of stretch fabric. When Oti came on board during the second week she brought with her another of her dresses from the Final.

This one was also extremely heavily stoned, probably one or two days work alone!Oti showdance

The crystals are applied by picking each one up individually on a small stick which has a blob of bees wax on the end and then glued on. Ash has several people who help him but it still takes HOURS.

When Oti and Danny danced their jive (I think…) she wore this heavily-stoned two piece in green, a colour that she wasn’t very keen on. It was green because the dance had a snooker hall theme so it was the colour of the baize. Another factor that Vicky Gill must take into account every week is that each couple has a different colour from one another so that there shouldn’t be two shades the same or too similar, to give a balanced look to the show. It’s one of those things that the audience wouldn’t even think about probably.

I’ve got loads more pictures and interesting info to share so I’ll finish this blog here and write up a second one, that way you don’t get Strictly overload! I’ve got lots more insider facts to come yet…

All the information I’ve shared here is as I understood it from the guided walks and fashion shows that I was fortunate to take part in. If you know any of it is incorrect or misleading in any way please let me know so that I can rectify that.

Most photos are my own, others were sourced from Google images,

Until next time,

Sue

Sam McKnight and Burberry capes

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This isn’t exactly a blog, more of a sharing of the photos I took when I visited the hairdresser Sam McKnight retrospective at Somerset House recently, and the Burberry Maker’s House exhibit in Soho.

Obviously I’m not a hairdresser but I knew that the show featured McKnight’s collaborations with designers, as well as fashion magazines and publications over the last 3 decades. I felt though that the show, whilst interesting and well put together was a little lacking in very much substance. Lots of photos and hair-pieces, part of McKnight’s travelling ‘salon’ kit (a massive number of brushes, rollers, driers, straighteners, hairspray and general hairdressing paraphernalia) The opening section where a number of work stations are set up allows the viewer to feel they are backstage at fashion shows during the build-up which is interesting. This moves through to a section featuring McKnight’s collaborations with Vivienne Westwood over the last 20 years. It’s a good excuse to display a number of her outfits from previous collections.

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Vivienne Westwood

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Then there are lots more photos, large and small, and Vogue magazine covers. Sam McKnight is well-known as Princess Diana’s hairdresser, it was he who first cut her hair very short and created the ‘wet-look’ style that divided the press and public opinion. He accompanied her on a number of Royal overseas tours and was instrumental in the ‘reinvention’ of her look after her divorce from Prince Charles. diana

The next section revolves around McNight’s collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel.

The best bit of the show, for me, was the continuous showing of recent Chanel Haute Couture shows, being shown in their entirety. Each one runs for about 15 minutes and I watched 4!! So that was an hour spent watching exquisite dresses and suits on the runway-the hairstyles weren’t my particular focus though….

I don’t want to sound like I’m dissing the show and I’m really not because there was quite a bit that I enjoyed, and Sam McKnight is clearly a very nice bloke who’s very well-regarded in his field and influential in styling terms but it could just as easily have been a show about Westwood or Chanel.

The show is still running until March 12th if you want to go and I’ve shared the link above, or here

From Somerset House I took myself to the last day of Burberry Makers House which displayed their collaboration with the Henry Moore Foundation. I’d seen a number of people share images from it on Instagram so I wanted to see it for myself and I’m SO glad I made the effort to go.As I arrived there was the opportunity for a guided tour (it was a totally free-entry event anyway) which really enhanced my appreciation and understanding of what I was seeing. I couldn’t understand beforehand how a dead sculptor could be linked with a fashion house (albeit a long-established one) There were a number of Moore’s sculptures on display, as well as many of his tools, maquettes and sketches, most of which had never left Perry Green before. [If you’ve never been to Perry Green and you have the opportunity to visit I’d recommend going. It’s in a lovely rural spot and many of Moore’s most monumental sculptures are there in the settings that he intended for them, with the sheep still wandering happily between them keeping the grass down!]

The tour guide pointed out many of the inspirations and cross-pollination of ideas that Christopher Bailey created for the new season collection. I particularly enjoyed seeing the ideas boards and fabric samples. Ideas such as the elongated arms on the sculptures, the striped apron Henry Moore always wore in his studio, and the sheep that continue to wander around the site at Perry Green where Moore lived and worked for many many years, all found a place in the garments that were presented on the runway in the form of over-long sleeves and cuffs, blue-striped matelot T-shirts embellished with lace and beautiful asymmetric cable knitwear.

There were some wonderful ideas which any dressmaker could easily ‘interpret’ in her own way. I particularly liked the layering of stripes and sweatshirts, and evening dress-shirts with lovely details like pin tucks and bobbin lace, and delicate lace over-dresses. I’m hatching plans with a few ideas around these so watch this space.

The capes were the most extraordinary things! They weren’t capes in the useful, Sherlock Holmes sense, they were more like grand shoulder embellishments. There were 78 of them and there was so much variety between them all.  I’ll just share my photos here with the odd comment by way of explanation….img_1199img_1152img_1153

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GIANT cable knit

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Lace was pressed into clay to form a ‘relief’ pattern, and then wired together.

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beaded and sequined feathers

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More giant cable knit and ceramic designs.

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This one reminded me of an exquisite Edwardian evening cape.

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The cape was made up of multiple layers of silk georgette which was then hand embroidered with Japanese-style ‘sashiko’ stitching. As you can see, the edges have been left unfinished. It took over 400 HUNDRED hours to complete!

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Sea shells!

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Discs of fabric looking like scales or sequins.

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Eye-glasses!

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Trimmed feathers and tiny beading around the neck.

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Lace, tulle and feathers

So that’s it. One exhibition you can still go to if you’re quick and one that was somewhat ephemeral and all the more special because of it.

It would be lovely to hope that when the capes come back from their travels they could be displayed again somewhere for people to enjoy. It would be a real pity if such beautiful workmanship representing thousands of hours of work couldn’t be appreciated once more.

Meanwhile I’ll be having a go at my own take on some of the RTW collection (I don’t think the capes would to be that wearable on a day to day basis!)

Happy Sewing

Sue xx

a busy year in sewing 2016

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I thought I’d take a look at everything I’ve made over the course of the last 12 months and it makes, for me at least, interesting viewing. There’s a variety of garments, styles, shapes and silhouettes. Some have been more successful than others for various reasons, some are self-drafted, others were new patterns free with magazines, some were hacked from patterns I already have and some were indie patterns and PDFs. There have been garments thrown together in very little time and with very little fabric, and there have been a few things that I’ve taken a huge amount of time and care over. There have been a growing number of refashions in the mix too. Not everything I’ve made ended up being photographed so I don’t think this is an exhaustive list but most of it’s here, wherever possible I’ll give pattern and fabric details but I think it will be a photo-tour through my sewing year 2016.

 

So here goes…

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Ha ha, trying to master the art of a decent selfie! This has been one of my favourite dresses all year, it’s New Look 6340 which was free with Sew magazine and it’s made in a lovely maroony/brown crepe with little pink stars from Man Outside Sainsbury’s in Walthamstow. It’s very swingy and I’ve worn it layered up on cool days or sleeveless in the summer. I keep planning another but it hasn’t quite happened yet. Silver shoes from Clarks

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This was my first foray into Burda Style trace-off patterns. The front and sleeves are scuba with crepe de chine on the back. I’ve worn it a few times although the fabric combination isn’t the best.

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The stripes on this one annoyed me as I hadn’t bought enough fabric so I couldn’t match them properly-turned out it was excellent for doing Pilates in though!

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This was my first refashion of the year. I made this bag using 2 old pairs of jeans to carry all my kit to and from college in London.

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I love this dress! it’s the Wisewood from MIY Wendy Ward. I like to think it looks a little ‘Vivienne Westwood’. Instead of cutting away the excess fabric at the centre front I pulled it across to sit over my hip and stitched it in place. It’s so comfy! The fabric came from a local market and cost me next-to-nothing.

I made 2 of this dress during the year, the blue chambray was first and the pale green was made during the Sewing weekender in August.  I blogged about them both and I love wearing them both. I’m particularly happy with the exposed zip on the green.

Quite different garments but both new to me-the stripes was a copy of a top I already had and the shirt is a refashion of one belonging to my husband, read about them here and here.

I made an evening dress for myself in March using Simple Sew‘s Floating Bodice pattern (for reasons I won’t go into it became known as the Flying Buttress dress) I’ve never blogged this one, maybe I’ll get round to it because I’ve used some interesting techniques on it.

I did a bit of pattern-making of my own for the next dress.

This was my own self-drafted pattern for the skirt with pleats and a false wrap over, and an existing bodice from years ago. Overall I’m pleased with it, the skirt works really well but the bodice needed some tweaking-the shoulders were too broad and the bodice too long so I altered it the next time I made it-sleeveless this time, in gorgeous cotton/linen mix from Ditto fabrics in Brighton.

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This was a free Burda pattern 6914, again with Sew magazine. I added pockets to the side seam and gave it longer sleeves with darts around the cuffs to echo the neckline and hem. It’s bright red and black houndstooth check wool mix and a really comfy dress for cooler days. I made it again in a stripe later in the year.

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I cut the short sleeves on the bias to give them an interesting effect although they’re a bit tight on me for some reason so I’ve only worn it once so far. I love the binding around the neck though!

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This one was an absolute pleasure to make, it’s a’graduation’ gown for a little boy with dwarfism-he looked brilliant it in and his little face was a joy to see-that’s when I love what I do.

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I loved this fabric so much but stupidly didn’t buy enough so it’s tight around my hips and snug over the bust, I wore it anyway. The pattern is adapted from Simplicity 1620

This gorgeous fabric came from Faberwood and although I only had 1.5m I got two tops out of it! On the left is New Look 6230 (free from Sew magazine!) On the right is a top from a hacked pattern I’ve used at least 5 times in various versions either as a top or a dress.

Still with me…?

Next up was an Alder from Grainline patterns, the summer version was a cotton poplin from Backstitch and the red is more recent and I’ve added long sleeves . Both have had plenty of wear.

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This is the simplest top ever! It’s quite literally two rectangles of silk crepe de chine joined at the shoulders and two side seams.

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Another holiday pic, this is Simplicity 1665 and another freebie. In fact the fabric was gifted too!

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This dress was custom-made for Liz’s eldest son’s wedding, you can read how I created it here 

 

This top has been one of my absolute favourites over the summer, it’s my version of a RTW  top from last year and was an early blog post. The skirt was a wonky bolt-end of jersey I turned into a super-comfy skirt, even the elastic in the waist came from something else.

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gorgeous bridesmaids, what else can I say. Old-school petticoats and Cath Kidston styling-lovely.

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Pyjama shorts for Mr Y-they have steam trains on!

This was another extreme labour of love. It’s a jacket made for Portia Lawrie‘s The Refashioners project 2016. It didn’t win but I got a mention in despatches and I’ve had a lot of use out of it. The dress underneath is from last year and is one of my absolute favourites-I’ve had random strangers on public transport compliment me about it!

I love this waxed cotton dress, I got the pattern (Simplicity 2444) from the swap at the Weekender in August (and the button was in the goody bag) and the fabric is from a shop in Walthamstow.

This was my first Tilly and the Buttons pattern and also my first properly inserted exposed zip. I blogged about it here. Then came a pattern-testing opportunity for Megan Nielsen patterns, her new Karri dress to be precise. You can read the blog for that here.img_0111

Next was a bit of fun with this swooshy cape, I’ve blogged that on here, the lovely fabric came from Fabrics Galore when I visited the London Knitting and Stitching Show in October.

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While I was working on many of these things I was slowly beavering away on possibly my favourite dress ever-it’s the gorgeous evening dress I created for our special Ladies Night in November.

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I felt so glamorous and pretty in it.

Nearly there…

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This was more of a wearable toile from a PDF in Love Sewing Magazine by Thrifty Stitcher Claire-Louise Hardie. I really like the clever front folds with integral pockets, it’s quite short for me so it’s strictly a thick tights dress!

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Self-drafted trousers with welt pockets, in a lovely ponte from Ditto. They finished up a little big for some reason which is strange as I’ve made 3 other pairs and they’ve been fine-oh well.

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I love this top so much! I’m wearing it right now and when I find the right fabric I’ll be making more, possibly with long sleeves and roll-back cuffs.

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Obviously this isn’t a dress at all, this is Doris being a Christmas cracker at our Christmas Tree Festival in December. Twinkly fabric from Goldhawk Road.

Almost finally, this is version 1 of the Zoe dress from Sew Now magazine, in a lovely printed denim from Ditto

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…and this is the final (probably) completed project of the year. It’s version 2 of Zoe by Simple Sew which was free with new magazine Sew Now. The printed cord came from Goldhawk Rd in West London.

There was one last dress I made recently which wasn’t so successful not because the pattern wasn’t good but because the fabric didn’t work well for the style. I have worn it but there’s no photo, I intend making it again because I really like the pattern but I’ll be more careful with fabric choice this time. I’ll write a review when I’m happier with it, it was me not the pattern!

So there we have it, well done for sticking with me all the way through this trawl of the last 12 sewing months. In between all the making I completed a large number of bridal and other alterations, which are much less fun frankly. I’ve taught lots of lovely people new things too either individually or in weekly classes. It’s been so much fun. I’ve really enjoyed meeting lots of sewers and dressmakers in the flesh this year too and I hope there’ll be more opportunities for meet ups and Weekenders next year, I like nothing better than to get together with other people to talk sewing/patterns/fabrics until the cows come home…

There’ll be one last blog for 2016 which will be a review of the two shirts I’ve just made Mr Y for Christmas, but I haven’t written that yet….

Thank you for reading my blog and I really like to receive your comments. I hope there’ll be a lot more sewing fun in 2017. I’ll still be pushing myself to try new techniques and methods and patterns, I’m every bit as keen to learn new things as any beginner-I love learning from newbies just as much as I’m happy to share what I know with you. Just because I’ve been doing this forever is irrelevant, we’re never too old to learn something new, or another way of doing it.

Don’t forget that, if you don’t already, you can find my page on Facebook at Susan Young Sewing and also on Instagram (susanyoungsewing) that’s usually where I post lots of pictures of what I’ve been sewing, galleries and museums I’ve visited and what my cats are up to!!

Merry Christmas, a healthy and prosperous 2017, and lots more sewing of course,

Sue xx