2020-Sewing in a Time of Pandemic

Well what a year 2020 turned out to be!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, stay safe!

Sue

Prada-inspired shirt dress

This whole project all came about because I couldn’t resist some ex-Prada fabric I spotted on my friend Dibs’s website, Selvedge and Bolts! She specialises in sourcing gorgeous quality high-end and ex-designer fabrics from Italy and France. This one caught my eye because funnily enough it doesn’t scream ‘designer’ but I liked the graphic print which stands out amongst so many florals.

I ordered 2 metres although I didn’t have a plan for it, then it occurred to me that I should look at actual Prada designs to see if there were any that were at all wearable by someone like me (ie. not six feet tall or looking about 17 years of age!) Somewhat surprisingly there were some really lovely shirt-dresses in eye-catching fabrics.

This was just the springboard I needed so, after a bit of a search through my patterns, I found this McCalls 7470 which had originally been free with Love Sewing magazine at some point in the recent past. The Princess seam lines and shirt styling were exactly what I wanted except I would change the skirt to be a dropped waist dirndl to echo the original.

The #7470 is a Palmer Pletsch fitting method pattern which I’ve never attempted before. I’ve been thinking lately that many of the garments I’ve made in recents months have either been old favourites or very simple shapes with little use of interesting techniques or style lines. I needed to stretch my sewing muscles a bit more-use them or lose them-so I set about following the instructions to tissue fit the bodice first. By a combination of body measurements, knowing my body quirks, periodically trying on the pinned tissue and using my padded-out dress stand Doris I arrived at a fit that I was happy with.

I’m not going to claim it was particularly easy but there are a lot of written instructions on how to approach it on the accompanying sheets to help you, plus online tutorials too. I’d recommend making a toile (or even two) if you need to before using your fashion fabric to avoid expensive mistakes.

I knew fairly early on that my 2 metres of fabric wouldn’t be enough for what I had in mind, and I didn’t want to waste my lovely Prada fabric so I opted to make the pattern instead in a vibrant printed stretch cotton which I’d bought in Paris at last year’s Sewcial event.

I took my time sewing the dress, I wanted to enjoy each part of the process. There is a two-part collar for example, pleated patch pockets with flaps, and a band running right down the front. I had a few problems with insetting the sleeves though. I’d made a small alteration the back of the arm scye which resulted in it getting a little smaller so I expected there to be a discrepancy but it was much bigger than I anticipated, the sleeve head was far too large and wouldn’t fit without puckering and gathering. I looked at a few examples of #7470 on Instagram and many versions were either sleeveless or didn’t mention it as a problem. Anyway, after a lot of fiddling about in the end I dropped the arm scye down to make it larger so that the sleeve head fitted properly.

The skirt was simply 3 rectangles, two for the front and one for the back which I pleated onto the shirt top using a fork to make each pleat even.

I used some plain white cotton scraps to make a faced hem.
I joined them into a long strip, folded lengthwise to about 5cms in width.
It was sewn onto the hem, all raw edges together.
At the centre front I enclosed it within the band for a neater finish.
the turned centre front band
the final stitched hem-it needs a good steamy press here. You can read more about hem finishes in my recent post here.

So what started as a Prada-inspired dress for one fabric has still ended up as a Prada-inspired dress but made in a different fabric! I finished the whole thing off with these beautiful buttons from Textile Garden all the way down the front.

the buttons look great
I love the detailed pockets too.
the collar is nice and crisp
the sleeves are two-part with a deep cuff
Yup, I’m happy with that!
I would have added a self-fabric belt like the Prada original but there wasn’t enough fabric left, just scraps.

So that’s my Prada-inspired dress up to this point, just not made with actual Prada fabric. I have a plan for it though because there was another shirt-dress that caught my eye…

I love the idea of a completely different fabric for the sleeves and the back
The front isn’t as I’d want it but I really like how the sleeves are such a contrast.

I’m really pleased with the outcome and the way it fits, and because I took my time and didn’t rush, it was an enjoyable process. I’d fallen into the habit of making simple projects, I felt something more complex was needed.

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue