Just a quick update of two exhibits which are in London at the moment in case you’re planning a visit to the capital.
At the Wallace Collection in Manchester Sq just behind Oxford St there are currently many beautiful examples of the shoes made by Manolo Blahnik over the course of his long career. He is a frequent visitor to the museum and over the years has used many of the rooms and their paintings and artefacts for inspiration. It’s easy to see this as you move around the upper rooms in this building which hosted many fashionable parties in its elegant salons. The shoes are displayed within beautiful glass domes and they have been placed in specific rooms and settings by Blahnik himself.
Even if you’re at the Wallace Collection primarily for the shoes don’t neglect the rooms themselves because there’s lots of varied and beautiful art to display including several Rembrandts, Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds portraits, and The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals (more of a smirk really…)
So, lots and lots of shoes, some-most-were very impractical, bought by women who don’t have to walk far or travel on public transport…This exhibition is on until September 1st and is free to enter which has to be a very good reason to go.
Also free is the exhibit on the second floor of the Alexander McQueen store in New Bond St, it’s intended for students but as a keen dressmaker I think that counts too.
We had attempted to visit here several weeks ago but it was closed because they were filming so do be aware there’s a possibility it might not be open for some reason. Check the shop opening hours too.
I was practically hyperventilating as we climbed the spiral staircase (with anticipation not lack of exercise!) I have been a long time admirer of Lee Alexander McQueen’s work and that of Sarah Burton since his untimely death in 2010 so to be so close to the garments, samples, inspirations and working processes is an extraordinary opportunity. I visited the Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A in 2015 a ridiculous eight times and I’m not ashamed of it!! Part of what I admire is that McQueen himself was the whole package-he designed incredible garments which pushed boundaries but he could also cut patterns, sew garments by hand or machine, he was a true visionary.
You’re not left to your own devices once in the exhibition space, there is a member of staff to show and explain anything. Maria was there when we visited and she explained that she works in the Atelier most of the time and at others she is at the exhibit to help visitors to understand and appreciate what they are seeing. Whoever is there if you visit make sure you ask questions to get the most from it.
On the rails are examples of vintage garments which were deconstructed to their bare bones, analysing the techniques underneath in order to create new and original garments.
For example the beautiful black embellished jacket and trousers were inspired by several vintage and antique mens frock coats and jackets, the exposed canvas, pad-stitching and quilting were reinterpreted with a modern twist, including beautiful jet-embellished lace applique. [Take a look at my previous post when I refashioned a two piece suit into a McQueen inspired jacket.]
Some of the inspiration for the fabrics came from an antique Jacquard fabric samples book found in a Parisian flea market.
As well as the black suit there is also a completely contrasting dress which has it’s origins in the John Everett Millais painting of Ophelia (in Tate Britain) the pioneering photography of Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian wedding dress and original Victorian corsets which, like the jackets, have been taken apart to analyse their construction.
In addition to the actual dress there is a full-size and several miniature versions made in printed paper which are like beautiful sculptures.
There is also an outfit with a hand-painted leather jacket and asymmetric knitted dress underneath, it turns out that our guide Maria was responsible for painting it (in gouache apparently)
In addition to the new garments there are a few from previous collections including the iconic high-collared corset made in 1997 by Mr Pearl.
If you’re interested in the ‘bones’ of garments and knowing some of the processes which lead to their creation then you’re bound to find this a fascinating exhibit to visit-I felt incredibly privileged to be able to see the garments so close and to have someone like Maria explain firsthand what we were seeing. As I said earlier, the exhibits will change regularly, this one is due to continue for a few more weeks and then a new one will be installed in September, we asked what it might be but Maria was sworn to secrecy!
Overall, two fascinating short term exhibitions which are worth a visit if you get the chance.
Finally I can talk about the day last November when a group of us travelled to Love Sewing magazine headquarters in Stockport to take part in a photoshoot for a Sew Over 50 article.
Sew Over 50 had begun in August and was gaining a huge following so when editor Amy asked if we could suggest possible models for an article Judith and I approached quite a large diverse group of women initially to see who might be willing or able to travel to Stockport. Not everyone could but eventually we had a group of 10 people.
It was amazing how far some were willing to travel, Corrie and Sara both came from Wales, Judith is usually in Edinburgh and myself, Ruth and Sue were all travelling from Hertfordshire. So the 3 of us decided it would be a good idea to drive to Milton Keynes first and then get the train the rest of the way. Simple? far from it! I checked before booking the train that there was a car park, not pre-bookable unfortunately, but it was a large car park so what could possibly go wrong….Well it turned out that the car park was completely full [and no sign or barrier telling you that before going in and driving all the way to the top floor and down again thus wasting 10 precious minutes] we spent another 15 fruitless minutes driving around and around trying to find ANY alternative until the only possible option was for me to drop Ruth off at the station with her train ticket (and Sue’s too because she wasn’t with us, we didn’t know where she was at that point, probably still driving around too!) Anyway, in the end I drove all the way to Stockport because I was bloody determined that after all the planning I wasn’t going to miss the event! Rant over.
By the time I got there everyone was chatting away happily, having make up applied, there was a rail full of everyone’s beautiful makes which they had carefully selected to bring. Amy was in the process of grouping the clothes into colour stories and you can see from the eventual photos that it was almost like we had planned it that way. A few of us have met before in real life but for others it was new experience-they had all had a bite of lunch together before I got there-but naturally chatting didn’t prove too difficult anyway. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a Love Sewing photoshoot before so I knew what to expect, this time it was so lovely to have company. Amy hasn’t had this number of ‘models’ to deal with before and I think it was a bit like herding cats at times haha.
Getting any of us to stand still or stop talking long enough to take photos was an achievement in itself, there were probably a few blurred ones, but we settled into it and I think Amy was happy with the results eventually. Incidentally, I’m wearing my Trend Patterns Asymmetric Dress which I reviewed here.
Eventually after we’d all done our group story shots we had a final altogether group when we all piled into the slightly wobbly set with Amy. It’s astonishing that there are any pictures with all of us looking in the right direction with eyes open and mouths shut!
So after all our fun and games the time came for us to head home again. Sadly for me this meant a really long drive but this was made much more bearable by the fact that Ruth came in the car with me so her company made 4 hours pass a lot quicker than the lonely journey up. We have a WhatsApp group with all of us in it and we’ve had many conversations since and we’ve been looking forward to the release of the magazine so that we can share it with everyone.
You’ll know by now too that it coincides with our first SewOver50 challenge so the article will give lots more exposure to that. [If you don’t know what I’m talking about, where have you been? To briefly recap, the aim is to make a garment using a pattern which features a model on the envelope who appears to be at least 45-50 years old. This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds so check my previous two posts here and here which has links to a wide selection that we’ve managed to find. There’s a very disappointing number of patterns from the major pattern companies and whilst the article names McCalls and Simplicity, in truth we could only find about 4 patterns from Simplicity and none from McCalls] Between us on the day we wore a very diverse selection of patterns, from mainstream and independent designers, made in all sorts of fabrics, colours and designs which illustrates the point that whilst we may be getting older we aren’t going to let age get in the way of our sartorial choices or be dictated to by what ’society’ expects us to wear. This is in spite of how pattern companies continue to portray us, their clientele, and until they address how diverse everyone actually is we still have to continue to look beyond the envelope.
Amy’s team looked after us so well and speaking personally I had so much fun being together with my fellow dressmakers Judith, Corrie, Sara, Sue, Sarah, Di, Ruth, Jeanette and Kate (even though it was shorter than I would have wanted!) Many of the informal photos you see here are my own but some belong to one or more of my fellow models so I am indebted to them for their use here.
The magazine arrives on subscribers doormats on February 16th and in the shops from February 21st. In the meantime, have you started your #so50Visible make yet…?
Incidentally, we received no payment for the article and the comments made in it were in response to questions we were asked. All views expressed in this post however are entirely my own.
I originally chose the Lizzie pattern because I wanted to make it for a wedding at the end of July but then, because I had to change my fabric choice, I opted to make it as a smart summer dress instead in a lovely cotton lawn from Doughtys Online fabrics.It’s a classic shaped sleeveless dress with Princess seams, a pretty notched neckline and box pleats in the skirt which means it’s an ideal blank canvas for showing off lovely fabrics or adding embellishments too.
I decided to make a toile of the bodice first because I wanted to get a nice fit of the Princess seams. I’m glad I did because I was slightly surprised to find the bodice came up quite short. I’m a very average 5’5” tall and not long-waisted but I needed to add 3.5cms to bring it to my natural waistline. I traced off the bodice pattern on spot and cross paper between 2 sizes according to my own body measurements and the ‘finished garment’ measurements on the packet and then I marked horizontal lines across all 4 pattern pieces, all at a similar level to each other. [These lines must be at a right angle to the grainline too]
You’ll need some spare spot and cross because then, one at a time or you’ll lose track of which piece is which, cut the horizontal line straight across the pattern [many big brand patterns have these lines already marked with ’lengthen or shorten here’] Stick the spare s&c paper behind one part and draw a parallel line on it that’s the amount you need to add-I added 3.5cms. Keeping the original grainline in vertical alignment, place the other part of the original pattern on the new line.
Make sure you do this for all the pattern pieces and that it’s the same amount added into each-unless you have a sway back when you’ll need to decree the amount as you get nearer your spine. Draw on the new seams but don’t cut them out until you’ve done them all. Check them against one another to make sure they line up properly particularly the side seams-pin these together and then cut them out.
Cotton lawn is quite a fine fabric so I chose to line the dress rather than use the facing pattern. It’s easy to line simple styles like this because you just cut the same pieces again, I used a plain cotton lawn I had in my stash.
The fabric allowance for the pattern is quite generous so I lengthened the skirt by 12cms for a change. I didn’t need to stick spare paper on for this as there’s plenty of excess on the actual sheet so I drew it straight on to the bottom of both pieces. I didn’t shape the hem turn-up though, I continued the side seams straight down by 12cms and then, making sure it’s a right angle (V important) drew the new hem level on.
One other detail I wanted to try out was using my new piping foot attachment for my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2 so I cut a few bias strips of fabric for that. This works by folding a slim piping cord sandwiched inside the bias strips and then it runs in the groove under the foot so that you can stitch really close to the cord. Once you’ve sandwiched the cord in this way you place it wherever you want on the garment (or soft furnishings) and sew it on still using the foot. [You can achieve this without a special foot just by using your zipper foot but sometimes you can’t get the stitching quite as close] From the toile I felt the armhole was going to be a little snug for me so I made it a tiny bit bigger at the underarm area, not much.
I just used the enclosed piping cord around the armholes to give them a nice crisp and professional finish.
I added some pockets into the side seams too (of course!) I made a new pattern piece for this, it’s just a fairly standard curved piece that’s roughly hand-shaped.
One other thing I did differently to the instructions was I didn’t make the pleats in the skirt before attaching it to the bodice. Because I’d altered the waist size for me, and to save lots of fiddly measuring, I just snipped the centre notch on each pleat then, matching the side seams and centre back skirt to bodice first, I put the pleat marking against the bodice seam and then folded the fabric into a box pleat until they were correct. This ensures the pleats are all in perfect alignment with the bodice. It still takes a little while so be patient. After careful pinning I machine basted them in position first so that they didn’t move about and then re-stitched to secure.
After I inserted the zip and joined the CB seam I made a simple A-line skirt lining because there’s no need to make a whole pleated lining, it’s a waste of fabric and can add unflattering bulk at the waist too.
Finally, I chose to finish the hem with bias binding which I made in the plain cotton lawn. I pressed over one edge then attached the un-pressed edge to the hem. Stitch in position then understitch close to the join through all seam allowances. This gives a lovely crisp finish to the hem, if you’ve read my blogs before you’ll know I do this quite often. Finally, I hand-stitched the binding up in position, it took a while but it’s very satisfying!
So it wasn’t the wedding guest dress I had in mind but I’m really pleased with how my Lizzie has turned out-you’ll never know what great plans I had for it in the other fabric. Aside from the points I’ve mentioned the Lizzie is a nice basic dress which would be pretty quick to knock up, the first version of any new pattern always takes a bit longer because you’re not sure what you’re doing and I lined it which also took longer for example. I like the narrower shoulder seam and the fit at the neckline is very good, I’m glad I made it longer too, it makes a change amongst my mostly knee-length dresses. It’s one of those styles where it can be more about the fabric, if you’ve got something with a fun print for example, I’d intended to make it in a floaty georgette with a pretty coloured lining but that wasn’t to be this time. Thank you Doughty’s for coming to the rescue with this lovely fabric, it was so nice to work with.
Lizzie would also look lovely in a brocade or duchess satin for a special occasion dress too, or a velvet or sequinned bodice and a contrast skirt perhaps.
Did you take part in Me Made May? At the outset I pledged to try and wear at least one self-made garment every day during May and, by and large I achieved that. I say ‘by and large’ because although I definitely wore a me-made item of clothing every day there was the odd occasion when I failed-or couldn’t be bothered-to take a decent photo!
The first few I managed by balancing my phone on top of a loudspeaker and setting it on a 3 second timer. This proved imperfect and the novelty quickly wore off when it fell to the floor for the umpteenth time!
Neither of the next garments were new either, the red broderie anglaise was amongst some fabric I was gifted and was already cut out, I just sewed it together. The blue and white was self-drafted 2 or 3 years ago in a cotton/linen mix fabric and it’s a summer favourite of mine.
The georgette kaftan is new and was the try-out version of my most recent Simple Sew make for their blog.
The stripes is also the same Burdastyle top but in a striped jersey and with short sleeves. I’d didn’t like it much as a regular T-shirt but it’s been great as exercise wear!
Awesome dragon pattern-matching and zip insertion even if I do say so myself! Bias binding and hand-sewn hem too.
This top was drafted from a RTW one and I extended the shoulders to form sleeves. It’s sheer georgette with a slightly sparkly stripe which I get from a market and worn with a RTW camisole underneath. I made it 3 years ago but it’s been a real favourite.
The next ‘make’ is a big old cheat because it’s the etchings I made not the clothes! I loved my visit to Sudbourne Printmakers in Suffolk, and the sewing connection was meeting Chrissy Norman the tutor at the first Sewing Weekender two years ago. take a look at her work, it’s beautiful.
This is only half new-I made a top from this lovely broderie Anglais I bought at Walthamstow market last year but I hadn’t bought enough and it was too snug around the hips. Luckily I managed to get a bit more so I unpicked and started again. This time I used the top half of my favourite Holiday shirt and used wide elastic in a casing under the bust to give it some shape. There was just enough for sleeves this time. I used a ‘daisy’ bias-binding to finish the neck edge and opening.
Not everything I’ve made has been an unqualified success and this teal blue dress is definitely one of the disappointments! It looked lovely on the packet but the back is ridiculous because the zip bulged out giving me a strange hump so I took it out again and inserted it in the side seam instead. Frankly it’s not much better. The top is far too wide and the V neck flaps about undecided whether it’s a V or a fold-back revere. The fabric was super-cheap from Walthamstow again but it’s the amount of time I spent which makes me grumpy. I might turn it into a skirt…
And so to the last outfit of the month…
The top for my last outfit of the month was originally a dress but, even though I’d made one previously for winter, this version just wasn’t right. The length wasn’t flattering and the sleeves, which had decorative darts, were too tight. After a bit of a refashion which removed most of the skirt, put short splits in the side seams at the hem and took the darts out of the sleeves making them a bit more floaty it was much more wearable. There were pockets in the side seams which I wanted to keep so this governed the length overall. I wore it with my trusty Ash jeans which I’ve absolutely loved since making them last autumn.
So to sum up, Me Made May encouraged me to really look in my wardrobe and get out some of the things which get worn less often, as well as the favourites. The weather has ranged from freezing cold to boiling hot and I realised that my summery dresses are rather lacking when it’s warm, and cooler plain bottom halves are needed to go with my many patterned tops. I know I’ve been prolific in the last 3 years or so compared to a long fallow period for years before that and that makes me very happy. Looking through the clothes I’ve worn during May the vast percentage are things that were made more than a year ago, a lot are more than 2 years old and some older than that. Even when I used to buy more clothes if there was a garment I really liked I kept it for a long time, I think probably because if I’d taken the time to choose it then I wanted good use from it-££ per wear and all that. The same is now true of my makes, I’ve invested my own time into making them so I want to enjoy wearing them (although it’s frustrating when they aren’t a success, but I’ll often refashion them if I can)
Did you join in with Me Made May and did it encourage you to to make more use of your self-made clothes?
2017 turned out to be a very busy sewing year for me. Not only did I make a loads of projects for myself and occasionally others but I wrote two articles for sewing magazines, and did a multitude of alterations (some very complex and time-consuming) to numerous wedding dresses, along with more mundane hems and sleeve-shortenings too.
This is a quick dash through many of the things I got up to although I’m not sure everything got photographed at the time. I’ve included a lot of links too if I’ve written blogs on some of the things I mention.
In February while I was having a week’s holiday in the Lake District I managed to squeeze in a visit to Abakhan fabrics in Manchester and bought fabric by weight for the first time in my life. I also went to a meet up organised by the lovely Emily of Self Assembly Required in a pub at King’s Cross station! I met loads of fellow-sewers there as well as picking up some new patterns and fabrics from the swap including the Holiday Top by The Maker’s Atelier which I’ve made twice over the summer.
Another February highlight was seeing the latest Burberry collection alongside the fabulous capes, each one of which was a stunning one-off! I wonder if there’ll be a similar show this season?
March saw the Moneta party (dress pattern by Colette) so I made my first which I altered to include full-length sleeves, a roll collar and a fake exposed zip (I made a short-sleeved one later in the summer too) I wore it when I went to the spring Knitting and Stitching show where once again I met up with a few fellow-sewers organised by Gabby Young (no relation!) from Gabberdashery vlog.
Collette patterns, ‘Moneta’
One of the new people I met was Juliene from Zierstoff Patterns who gave me the opportunity to try out several of their patterns during the course of the rest of the year.
Another new departure was a fundraising initiative with my weekly sewing group. We all spent an afternoon making little ‘pillowcase’ dresses which would eventually be sent off to a girl’s school in Africa.
Moving rapidly into April I visited the wonderful ‘Five Centuries of House Style’ exhibition at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, made another Holiday top utilising a few fancy stitches on my sewing machine, as well as a Sophie bolero by Zierstoff. Also during April I was approached to teach some dressmaking classes at a local craft shop so I made some sample garments for that including a dirndl skirt and a jersey tube skirt. I made the first of 3 Imogen tops using Sew Me Something’s pattern too, more about those later.
In May I went on my travels with my good friend Sue when we walked a section of the Camino di Santiago in France which was a fantastic empowering experience.
In June Mr Y and I went on a cruise to the Baltic and it happened to be a Strictly Come Dancing cruise! The company that make all the costumes, DSI-London, were on board along with many of the dresses so I was in seventh heaven being able to see them close up. I had to write 2 blogs about that just to be able to include all the pictures! you can read them here and here.
By July I was teaching in Hertford and one of the garments was a ‘no-pattern’ kimono which was popular and also the ‘pillowcase’ dress (nothing to do with pillowcases other than a child’s version could be made from one) It’s basically two rectangles of fabric sewn up each side, hemmed at the bottom and a channel at the top with ribbon through it.
Also in July I made my first visit to the fabulous Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A in London which was wonderful. I’ve actually been 3 times now, each time taking a different friend, I’ve had excellent value from my V&A membership and I’d urge anyone local enough and interested in the decorative arts to think about joining.
I had hoped to go to the second Sewing Weekender in August but I hadn’t been lucky enough to get a ticket….or so I thought! About 10 days before the event I got an email from Rachel at The Foldline telling me that sadly someone had had to drop out and would I like her ticket? Silly question! So off I went to Cambridge and had a wonderful time amongst so many fabulous sewing people, friends old and new. It was my birthday too! I made a simple top while I was there this time, one I’d made before so it was quick, meaning I’d have plenty of time for chatting…and taking on Elizabeth for a Ninja sewing challenge!
We each got given a copy of the same pattern and some stretch fabric off the swap table and away we went, with one hour to get it done. The results were ‘mixed’ shall we say, Elizabeth left out a section and didn’t notice until it was too late and I only cut one piece where I should have cut two so I had to go back and cut that. It was a lot of fun though, even if we looked like stuffed sofas!
I spent Septembermaking the top and trousers that I’d be modelling in Love Sewing magazine! This was certainly one of my sewing highlights in 2017, although there have been lots really.I made a third Imogen blouse from fabric I got off The Foldline’s swap table at the first Great British Sewing Bee.
Another favourite top this year was the Merchant & Mills Camber Set which I also got from the King’s Cross meet up in the spring. It’s been a really useful pattern and I love the neat way the binding and the neck yoke finish off the neck edges, it’s a really clever piece of construction.
I also made this top with 1 metre of fabric generously given to us in the Weekender goody bag by Stoff&Stil, it’s Burda 6914 which I’ve used 3 times now although this is the first time as a top. I really like the pleated neckline with a bias binding finish. There was just enough fabric to add slim ruffles to the sleeves which I neatened using the rolled hem finish on my overlocker.
I spent a lot of time during August and September making my entry to The Refashioners 2017, an Alexander McQueen-inspired jacket which I was extremely proud of when I finished it.
Into October and more fabric got purchased at the Autumn Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally (oops) I made my first pair of jeans this month but I can’t talk about them yet as they were a pattern test which still hasn’t been released-I’m really happy with them though so I’ll publish the blog as soon as it’s released into the wide world. (I think the designer needs to get on with it otherwise the whole world will think that Ginger jeans are the only pattern available!)
After literally months of dithering I finally bought a new mannequin, or ‘Doris’ as she’s known to me. Old Doris was falling to bits and only held together by the t-shirt that covered her, I’d had her for well over 30 years so I reckon I’d had good value out of her. I chose the ‘Catwalk’ model from Adjustoform which I bought from Sew Essential and I’ve been very pleased with it.
Also in October I went up to Birmingham for the SewBrum meet up organised by EnglishGirlatHome, Charlotte where I had a really fun day (apart from the sweary drunk woman on the train coming home!) catching up with chums and visiting Guthrie & Ghani for the first time. I took part in the fantastic raffle while I was there but was unsuccessful….or so I thought (again) About 6 weeks after the event I got a message from Charlotte asking if anyone had told me I’d won a brand new mannequin in the raffle!!! So now I have New Outdoor Doris who lives in Threadquarters and Indoor Doris who lives…indoors, and I use her to take photos on.
November saw another new departure for me when I volunteered to write some reviews of fabric shops in my area. This was for Alex of Sewrendipity as part of her plan to create an unbiased worldwide database of fabric retailers, available to everyone to use. It meant I visited some new places as well as some old favourites.
I made another entry for our annual church Christmas Tree festival. It was a refashion/upcycle of the fabric I used for the previous year and sadly it was Old Doris’s last outing before she heads for the tip! The net petticoat was a tube of fabric with the baubles and lights inside it.
I had also volunteered as a pattern reviewer for Jennifer Lauren Vintage so I made a really nice Mayberry dress and wrote a blog for that very recently. One other new pattern I tried out but haven’t blogged yet was the French dart shift by Maven Patterns. It’s a lovely flattering shift dress with a funnel neck and a variety of sleeve styles and no zip. I made it in a navy fabric of unknown origin and wore it on Christmas Day.
The biggest deal of the year in some ways was in December when I finally, finally, decided to buy a new sewing machine! This was such a big deal because I’ve had my beloved Elna 7000 for probably 27 years and it’s still going strong (only the occasional hiccough) and I have a strong emotional attachment to it. Thing is, technology moves on and whilst that really isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for me there are processes and functions that I would like in order to keep (even after all these years) on top of my sewing. In early November I went to a fun jeans refashioning workshop hosted by Portia Lawrie and Elisalex (By Hand London) and we were provided with gorgeous Pfaff sewing machines to use.
Anyway, I was thinking about it long and hard for a while because it’s an awful lot of money when I came upon a Black Friday (not even a real thing) deal where this model was virtually half-price. Sooooo, after a visit to Sew Essential a new Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has come home to live with me and we’re getting to know one another…
So that just about sums up my sewing year. It’s been a lot of fun at times, and hot and frustrating at others (sweltering under mountainous wedding dresses in the height of the summer is no fun) I’ve met some lovely new people and been reacquainted with lovely ‘old’ ones too! I’m looking forward to another busy year of sewing, blogging, teaching, chatting, tea drinking and generally feeling connected to sewers all over the world. It really feels like dressmaking is an activity that is worthwhile again and not just some strange little hobby that old biddies do, besides, it’s surprising what you could learn from an old biddy, she may just have made the same sewing mistakes as you have but 30 or 40 years earlier!
Have you ever found that just once in a while your off-spring are listening when you drop clanging great hints about what you’d like for Xmas?
I get the regular Tilly and the Buttons email updates and in early December received the one about Cleo kits, a complete fabric/pattern/thread/trims bundle at a reasonable price. My daughter happened to be lurking nearby so I casually mentioned this….
Anyway, I was quite startled when by chance the first gift I opened on Christmas morning was exactly that! whoop whoop! Of course I then thought there was no time until the New Year to start it but I remembered I’d bought a small quantity of peacock corduroy at the Rag Market in Birmingham when I went up for Sew Brum in October, I’d already pre-washed it so it was ready to go and a window of opportunity opened up so off I went.
In my opinion I’ve always found Tilly’s instruction booklets very clear and helpful, there’s lots of useful info if you’re a novice and the plan of making in the form of colour photos are excellent too. I decided that rather than use the bib-and-brace fixings for this one I’d use buttons and buttonholes instead.
This would also give me the chance to try out some of the features on my new toy…just before Christmas I finally invested (with my own hard-earned cash) in a Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 from Sew Essential. They had it as a Black Friday (not a real thing) offer and, after driving for 2 hours to visit them and try it out, I bought one! [thank you to Irena for being patient with me while I got to grips with it, I’d really recommend you try out any machine you’re thinking of buying and Sew Essential are happy for you to visit for a demonstration of the various models and makes that they sell]
Cleo takes not a lot of fabric (if you’re using corduroy do bear in mind that it has a ‘nap’ or pile so cut all your pieces going in one direction or it will shade) I decided that rather than make the patch pockets by turning the edges under I’d bag them out with some scraps of Liberty Tana lawn I had. This has the additional benefit of giving them lovely neat edges, and once I’d stitched them on I tried out the bar tack feature on my machine. It’s a good way of reinforcing pockets and other potential weak points, or attaching belt loops.
There was just enough Liberty fabric to make a hem facing too using 2 straight strips too so this was a good way of neatening the hem without it being bulky.
After I sewed up the side seams I under-stitched and pressed up the facing. Next I used the top-stitch to secure it.
It was lovely to be able to make the buttonholes using the one-step buttonhole feature too, my previous machine didn’t have this method. I tried out a couple of test ones but then the first buttonhole on the dress wasn’t so great because I touched the ‘stop’ lever accidentally as it was sewing so it reversed before it finished sewing the complete side-oops.
These are the most erratic colour photos, sorry about that, it’s a really tricky colour to photograph accurately.
Many of you reading this will probably already be familiar with the Cleo so I’ve concentrated on what I’ve done to make mine unique to me and not so much on the step-by-step aspect of making it. I’m happy with the fit of this first one so as soon as I’ve washed the burgundy I’ll get the ‘Christmas’ one made up too. I’ve made the shorter length version, I’m not sure if I like the longer version as much in truth but who knows, I might give it a go sometime.
Tilly often create these pattern/fabric bundles so check out their website to see what is currently available. The Cleo has been super-comfortable in this post-Christmas podgy period-or is that just me?-and I can see why it’s been so popular as a pattern, it’s quick, it’s simple and it’s fun and comfy to wear-what more could you want?
This is the third Zierstoff pattern I’ve made now, a Gina skirt this time, and I’m really pleased with it. The pattern is just two pieces-the skirt and the waistband, and it doesn’t take much fabric either. I chose to make it in a nice plain Ponte from Backstitch near Cambridge for a first version, there’s no stripe or pattern matching that way., sneaky eh?!
Because the fabric was plain I placed the pattern on the normal grain although if you have a stripe you could also position it on the the bias to get an interesting effect.
I’ve explained Zierstoff’s PDF method previously here and this one is no different. The one thing I’ve changed here is that the skirt is a half piece so you’re meant to ‘flip’ the pattern to get the other half. This is OK if you’re cutting the two pieces [front and back] on the fold but if not-and especially if you want it on the bias-I’d suggest you mirror it into a whole pattern either using spot-and-cross paper, tissue, Swedish Tracing paper or even newspaper.
There are only two pattern pieces for this skirt (skirt and yoke) so that’s very little printing, you’ll need to cut 2 skirts and 4 of the yoke pieces. At this point I refer to the online instructions which Zierstoff provide with written and photographic plans, I don’t bother printing them off too. I’ll be honest here because I think in a couple of places the instructions suffer a little from being translated from German to English because I found them a bit muddled but seeing as I can’t speak German anyway it isn’t the end of the world-the style is so simple you can probably work it out and the photos really help anyway.
This is a skirt you can put together in no time at all if you’re working in a plain fabric (or a non-taxing pattern) it took me a little longer in these jazzy stripes but not much. Don’t forget to use a jersey, ballpoint or stretch needle if you’re sewing a knit fabric.
Join the skirts together at the side seams and overlock the edges (or do it all on the overlocker if you prefer) You could hem at this point too if you wish using a twin needle if you have one. Mine isn’t great and I have to swap to a different machine to do it which is a bit disruptive but it does the job and a good press generally sorts it out.
The yoke pieces are first sewn together at the side seams 2 and 2 and then joined to each other at the waist seam forming a tube.
After I’d finished sewing in the elastic the basque is folded WS together and I machine basted it together along the bottom to hold the two layers together. Simply join the basque to the skirt then and finish the hem if you didn’t do it previously.
So there it is, a super-quick and REALLY comfortable jersey skirt. Although I like this length you could easily lengthen (or shorten) it and because the basque is flat over the tummy it’s very smooth and flattering and other close fitting tops would go over it too.
You could easily buy, print, stick together, cut out and sew this skirt in an evening if you put your mind to it so what are you waiting for? I was kindly provided with the pattern by Zierstoff but the fabric is my own. The opinions expressed are purely my own too. You might be interested to know the pattern comes in children’s sizes too.
At last year’s Sewing Weekender I picked up an interesting piece of fabric from the swap table. It was about 1m80 of printed cotton by Alexander Henry, a design called Tatsu and featuring Chinese-style dragons and printed in shades of grey and black with red. It’s not my usual colours or style but something about it appealed to me so I kept it. Thank you whoever donated it!
Initially I thought I’d make a kimono top with it but I realised that the placement of the dragons was such that I’d struggle to cut one out of the small quantity I had, not because there wasn’t enough but simply because I wouldn’t be able to get the dragons to match and look balanced-I didn’t want wonky dragons! So even though I’d washed it ready it languished in my stash for a year, although I did get it out several times to consider a dirndl skirt. Again it was the issue of having the dragons running around the skirt properly and not wonky. Incidentally, a dirndl is the name for a simple gathered or pleated skirt which is purely widths of fabric stitched together along the selvedges and sewn at the top to a waistband and hemmed at the bottom, it doesn’t have any shaping at all.
In the end I took the bull by the horns and worked out where the dragons would be on the front and, having bravely cut that piece, I was able to cut the back so that the two pieces matched at the side seams. In order for there to be a good pattern-match down each side seam there was a wider than usual seam allowance..
I needed to insert an invisible zip into the other side seam which taxed my brain and my sewing skills a bit but I was extremely pleased with the result-I didn’t even have to unpick anything, it was right first time!! Get in!
I made a fairly narrow waistband which I stiffened with iron-on interfacing and then pleated the skirt onto it. I wanted the fabric to lay fairly flat as I’ve got a bit of a tummy these days (sad face) and bulky gathers would be very unflattering. I didn’t use any particular mathematical calculations to achieve this, I just folded and fiddled until I was happy with the look.
Because some of the dragon’s faces are quite close to the bottom edge I decided to hem it with bias binding for a neat finish without losing any of the design.
So there it is, a simple dirndl skirt using just 2 widths of fabric. It’s one of the simplest sorts of skirt you can make and works well for any length. Depending on the type of fabric you may need more widths to make the skirt look good though. For example, if you want to use chiffon or georgette, which are quite fine, you’d almost certainly need 3, 4 or even more widths of fabric to make it look effective and not to ‘skimped’, Conversely, thicker fabrics will need less if they aren’t going to be unflatteringly bulky. I didn’t bother lining this skirt although I often do. If you don’t need to consider extreme pattern-matching this is a super-quick skirt to make and you can gussy it up with pockets, trims, exposed zips, whatever, to make it individual. Take a look at my previous blog with the tie waist here if you want another variation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve started working recently with The Creative Sanctuary sewing and knitting shop in Hertford and they asked me if I could run a class for a gathered skirt using the lovely border-print cotton they stock from Michael Miller fabrics. First I had to make a sample and this is how I did it.
Because the fabric has the border printed along one edge you should buy the quantity of fabric you want according to the fullness you’d like, for this particular version I used 2 metres which is quite full, but anything over 1m would be ok unless you have a large waist measurement (you don’t want it to look skimped so don’t be too stingy with the quantity)
First of all you need to decide how long you want the skirt to be when it’s finished and then add seam allowances top and bottom [for example 65cms plus 1.5cms plus 1.5cms =68cms] Because the print ran right to the selvedge I didn’t want to turn this up for the hem and lose some of it so I chose to add a facing instead. This facing is 6cms in length but you could make it longer or shorter as you wish.
Next, if you’re having a hem facing decide how deep it will be, plus seam allowances, and draw that immediately next to and parallel to the first line. Finally draw a third parallel line which will be the waist sash, this should be at least 12-14cms deep including the SA.
To begin with take the hem facing piece and press under 1cm all the way along one long edge then pin the unpressed edge to the bottom hem edge of the skirt, right sides together.
Now make the only side seam. Leave an opening at the top for the waist of between 15-20cms, topstitch around the edge of it to stop it unfurling.
Now, when I made the sample I made the tie ends on the sash first then attached it too the gathered up skirt section, and that’s the process the photos are of. However when I ran the class I did it differently and it was a bit simpler so I’ll use the photos because they are the only ones I have but describe both methods as best I can.
So that’s the tie ends if you make them first. When I ran the class I attached the waist band to the gathered up waist first and THEN made the ties in situ.
The gathers should now be pulled up to your own waist measurement plus a few centimetres for ease, you don’t want it too tight or the gap won’t close up nicely-there’s no zip after all and you don’t want your pants showing!
If you’re doing the waistband first, now you can make the ties using the method I’ve described above and then finish with the section below to enclose the waistband.
Nearly there…just the hem to do.
Turn up the hem facing along the seam which should turn quite crisply because you’ve already under stitched it [do that at this point if you didn’t do it earlier] Finally top stitch the hem facing in position. I chose a matching grey for the outside and a coral colour for the underside. Of course you could slip hem it by hand if you wish. To close up the side seam opening I used a few small press studs, I think they stay closed better than hooks and eyes.
I made this version using a border print fabric but you could just as easily make it in any suitable fabric, although you may need to cut it across the width of the fabric rather than along it depending on the print. You could add patch pockets as well if you like.
I’m leading the class again on Monday 17th July 1.30-4.30pm so what are you waiting for?! Full details of other classes I’ll be teaching are on Creative Sanctuary’s website now.
Very sadly, since I made the sample, the owners of the shop have made the incredibly hard decisison to close in September. This means yet another bricks-and-mortar fabric and knitting store will cease to exist. I’ve so enjoyed my brief time with them, and getting to know the lovely and talented ladies that work there, it’s a very sad thing that that’s happening.
I was provided with fabric to make the sample but the method is my own devising (faults and all!)