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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
When it came to selecting our next make for the Simple Sew blog there were two new ‘mystery’ patterns on the list as well as all the existing ones. One was a dress and the other was the Cocoon Jacket. As my next blog would be appearing at the beginning of autumn it seemed an idea to take a chance on the jacket-I already know the Cocoon dress which has been incredibly popular and is a very simple and stylish make so I figured the coat would be very similar.
I was so happy when the pattern arrived because it’s exactly that-simple and stylish! The obvious fabric choice would be a nice woollen cloth-it suggests a boiled wool and this indeed would be perfect but, because I didn’t know just what the pattern was like until it arrived, I hadn’t chosen any fabric from one of our generous providers so I needed to get my own. For some reason it occurred to me that denim would an interesting choice and ideal for the autumn too. Luckily I live very near a branch of John Lewis so in I went and managed to buy 2.5m of a nice quality rigid denim in a fairly dark blue. The first thing I did when I got it home was put it through the wash twice to get out as much excess dye as possible and deal with any possible shrinkage before I started cutting out.
The pattern pieces are an intriguing shape, the back and the sleeve come as one large piece plus a front, a pocket and neck facings. What this means is that every piece ideally needs to be cut on the single which shouldn’t be a problem, it just takes longer and you need to be very careful not to cut two the same of the large pieces. If you want to use a cloth with a large check you may need to allow more fabric for good matching too. A stripe would look interesting as well.
Initially I opted to make my usual size 14 and I could already see from the pieces that this was likely to be too large. Before anything else I tissue-fitted the pattern. This is when you pin the tissue or paper pieces together accurately as though they are sewn and try it on carefully either on yourself or your dress stand if you have one. From this I could tell that the sleeves would be really long so for the toile I reduced them by about 8-10cms by folding out carefully about halfway down the sleeve. I cut and sewed the jacket then in some grey suiting fabric from my stash so that I could assess the size. I’m so glad I did this because it was HUGE, not just comfortably roomy, actually ginormous! I’m not sure why it needs to be so oversized but that wasn’t how I wanted to wear it so I chose to come down two whole sizes and make a 10. As you’ll see later it’s still plenty big enough. [I’ll recut and make up the grey one at some point so it won’t go to waste.]
The instructions tell you to overlock all the edges before starting but I made all the darts first (which aren’t indicated in the line drawing-why not?) and then overlocked. If you’re using boiled wool, or decide to line it, then I wouldn’t bother overlocking unless your fabric frays a lot. Denim does fray a bit because it’s a twill weave but it wasn’t really a problem here. As the overlocking on my coat was going to be visible I picked a mix of three fun colours, fuchsia, orange and teal. I used a jeans needle throughout too although a sturdier size (90 or 100) of a regular needle would do if you haven’t got one.
Because I’m using denim I wanted to use topstitching to highlight the seams. I was going to buy some specific topstitching thread but I couldn’t settle on a colour so instead I tried out a few colours in regular thread I already had and then used the triple straight stitch on my machine, which looks like topstitching. [You may not even know your machine has this stitch, it looks like three rows of straight stitch close together in the diagram so have a look to see if it’s there-it’s also known as saddle stitch] In addition to sewing on the patch pockets with like this I highlighted the darts at the back neck, elbow and hem, as well as all the seams and outer edges. Be aware that the triple straight stitch uses a lot of thread though.
This jacket goes together so quickly! You simply make up each half and then join them down the centre back. [Since writing this it’s been brought to my attention that the instructions for attaching the front to the back at the raglan seam are currently wrong! I’ve realised that I probably disregarded the drawing because I couldn’t make sense of it and did it intuitively which isn’t helpful to you! The illustration shows the front piece attaching to the back the wrong way up, in so doing it means the neck edge won’t form a curve and the underarm sleeve seams don’t come together, below is the instruction as it currently stands, together with my drawing of how it should be]
The sleeve seam falls to the front as a raglan and there’s the darts in the back and elbow/underarm to give a little shaping but that’s it. I would urge you if you’re using a boiled wool or other fabric which looks the same on both sides to mark them in some way so that you don’t make up the two halves the same not a pair! If you use boiled wool there’s no need to finish the edges unless you want to, or use the facings. You’ll need to use plenty of steam to press those seams open too.
I used facings cut in denim but you could easily cut them in a contrast if you like. I didn’t bother with interfacing because my jacket is meant to be very soft and slouchy and denim is already quite firm without adding more weight. At the lower hem don’t forget to trim away the excess fabric at the corners so that they turn better to make a sharper corner. When you’re sewing at a point like this always start from the fold or seam (marked with the pointer in my photo) and sew towards the open edge so that you don’t get a wrinkle or lump forming, it pushes any excess fabric away flat as you sew with this method.
Once both halves are made and joined there’s only the hems to turn up and the fastenings-if you’re using any- to sew on. I bought a pair of HUGE metal press studs in John Lewis, the pattern suggests magnetic fastenings or bold decorative buttons would be fun too.
Considering I didn’t know anything about the pattern before it arrived I’m really delighted with how it’s turned out. I reckon this will be a very popular pattern this winter as it’s so quick to sew, just be very careful about your sizing though, at the very least do a tissue fit before cutting your fabric. It’s going to be a great casual cover up, for me it’s a variation on the denim jacket, but it’s still generous enough to get woollies underneath.
It would be easy to fully line as well, simply cut all the pieces in a lining fabric too and make up the same. Attach it at the neck and front edges and then add the facings is one way to do this but there are others. Alternatively, you could use ‘Hong Kong’ finish on the seams, this is to bind all the seams with bias- or seam binding, it makes the inside of the coat look lovely although it’s time-consuming. What about using a heavy drill fabric, or a waterproof one even? Add a hood? In-seam pockets? Fleece-lined sweatshirting? So many possibilities!
The jacket will gradually soften and scuff as time passes which is exactly what I want and I think I’ll get a lot of use from it. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of versions of the Cocoon Jacket appearing over the autumn/winter months ahead, I wore it to the recent Sewing Weekender in Cambridge organised by The Foldline and English Girl at Home and it got a fair number of very positive comments. You’ve only got to wait until the November issue of Sew Now magazine when the pattern will be the free gift with it, unless Simple Sew can be persuaded to release it sooner than that…
I could hardly believe it when I got an email out of the blue from Love Sewing editor Amy Thomas a couple of months back. She was inviting me to make and review the two patterns which were going to be the free gifts with upcoming issue 46. They were two separate patterns, Butterick 6461 trousers in two lengths with top-stitched seam details and a stretch waist, and McCalls 7322 a simple top with several variations for neck and sleeves.
Once I’d agreed to the challenge (I didn’t need any persuading!) Amy suggested which companies I could select fabric from so I browsed their websites for quite some time until I found what I was looking for. The trousers called for a fabric with some stretch and eventually I chose from Danish company Stoff and Stil their stretch 10 1/2oz denim in dark blue [Amy had advised me that black doesn’t photograph well and, although I would have liked a printed stretch cotton, I couldn’t find anything suitable or to my taste] The top could be made with either a jersey or drapey woven fabrics and I chose a really pretty crepe with watercolour flowers in gorgeous inky shades of plum and blue. Stoff and Stil are breaking into the UK market and have an extensive range of fabrics and patterns, wool and haberdashery available on their website. Their delivery charge however is quite high and I wouldn’t suggest them if you’re impatient or in a tearing hurry as delivery is usually 5-7 days.
While I waited for these to arrive (a slightly nerve-wracking wait because I was up against time to get the patterns made up by a tight deadline) I decided to make a wearable toile of them both to check the fit and any other idiosyncrasies they might throw up.
I had a colourful cotton sateen in my stash which I hadn’t found a use for yet so I made the trousers up in that. I cut a size 16 according to my measurements although I suspected (hoped) that would be a bit big. [You should always go by your own measurements before anything else if you’re making a fitted style because the sizing bears no relationship to shop-bought clothing and will almost certainly be too small if you ignore it. Just because you’re a 10 or a 16 or whatever in the shops doesn’t mean you’ll be the same in paper patterns-that’s the voice of bitter experience talking!!]
In spite of all I’ve just said I soon discovered they were miles too big though the legs and were an unflattering baggy shape that looked nothing like the shape in the photo. The inseams are sewn up first so, to remove some width, I skimmed at least 2cms off each outer or side seam.
This was an improvement but still quite generous in the legs-as a result though I knew I would need to cut at least one, if not 2, sizes smaller when I made the actual trousers. The waistband wasn’t very successful either-I didn’t like the way they told you to put the elastic in, I did it as instructed although I changed the toile later and did the denim version my own way (more of that later)
I’d opted to make Style B which are cropped length with turn-ups.
Once I’d toile-d the trousers I turned my attention to the top. I decided on the longer sleeve version with a bateau neckline, Style F. I fancied style C or D with a neckband initially but I got cold feet!! I’ve been sewing on and off for over 40 years and I just thought “If I mess this up it will be there in the magazine for everyone to see!!” Nightmare!
I made a very quick toile in a rather boring viscose, again from my stash, and the result was a rather boring top!! Ok, what to do?
Fortunately the fabric order arrived and the printed crepe was really lovely, much nicer colours than it’s photo online suggested so I decided I’d use it’s drapiness and work the current sleeve-detail trend by making a floaty gathered cuff instead. Crepe is a fabric which often has a slightly rough, matt feel and has a nice inherent drape which is caused by the way the yarn is twisted and then woven into fabric. It works well for bias cut skirts, dresses or blouses and anything slightly ‘flippy’.
One thing that the toile had thrown up was that the neck was slightly too wide and my bra straps showed so I increased the width of the pattern pieces.
Because the crepe is 150cms wide it meant that I could fold the selvedges into the centre line and then the front and back pattern pieces are side by side. This matters because any pattern of the print which runs across the fabric will run in a pleasing line around the body.
Another alteration I chose to make to the top was to add a little more fullness at the hem level. The toile was a tiny bit snug at hip level so to increase at that point I pinned the neck edge against the fold but pivoted the hem level away from the fold by about 1.5cms.
For the sleeve-hack I used the short sleeve and then cut 2 rectangles that were 50cms x 30cms (50cms is approximately 1.5x the bottom width of the short sleeve) You can make them as full as you want but if they’re too wide they can get a bit annoying catching on things or dripping in the washing up!!
One of the things I liked about the pattern was it’s explanations of various techniques used during the making up. If you’re a complete beginner it isn’t always obvious what a ‘back-tack’ is or how wide the seam allowances are for example and the instructions with many patterns expect you to know things like that already.
So I made up the top again (you could use French seams if you haven’t got an overlocker or your fabric frays badly) I joined the shoulder seams and then attached the neck facings because you can have the whole thing open fairly flat which makes it a bit easier. Self- or contrast bias binding would look nice as an alternative but take care not to stretch the neck edge as you do it because it would be all droopy-dangle…
Now sew up the side seams, try it on to check for fit and make any necessary adjustments then it’s ready for sleeves.
This time I made up the short sleeves then made 2 tubes of the rectangles for the floaty bits. Around the top edge of each tube I ran two parallel rows of gathering stitches within the 1.5cms seam allowance. I always back-tack at one end and leave the other loose to pull up.
I neatened the bottom edges of the tubes at this point too by making a ‘pin hem’.
Repeat for the second sleeve then neaten the edges of the joins by your chosen method.
When I’m setting in sleeves I always start by matching the underarm seams, then the shoulder seam balance mark followed by the front and back armhole notches. Next I pull up the ease stitching gently until the sleeve fits into the armhole, this may take a little while to get a pleasing fit so don’t rush it. Once you’re happy with the fit stitch the sleeves in (there’s nothing wrong with tacking them in first if it helps) Try the top on to make sure the sleeves look OK and then neaten the armhole seam by your chosen method.
Finally I made another pin hem on the hem itself. Although the top looked lovely as it was I like to add little details to make a garment really original so I rummaged through my vast collection of buttons and found a selection in various sizes and colours which I grouped on both the gathered sleeve seams.
So that’s the top, now for the trousers.
I washed and tumble-dried the denim as soon as it arrived because there will always be excess dye in denim and some shrinkage will occur too. I used a denim needle to sew with and I had specific top-stitch thread ready for the seaming details although you could use regular thread, I used regular thread to sew them together. A denim needle is also not essential but it deals with the extra thicknesses involved much better, a sturdy-sized universal needle would be ok if not.
Because I’d made the toile I cut the denim version out making them two sizes smaller. One little change I made was to raise the centre back waist a bit higher because I felt they drooped down at the back.
Sewing them together was straightforward after that, I used a slightly contrasting blue top-stitch thread for the seam details.
Then I got to joining the legs up and, even though I’d cut two sizes smaller, they were still too baggy! I skimmed yet more off the side seams to slim them down some more. It might have been more sensible to measure my thighs and compare that figure to the paper pattern!
I put the elastic in according to the instructions again but it was a disaster! By sewing through the elastic as directed all that did was sew in a stretched position and it couldn’t retract back so it was all baggy and horrid around my waist! I unpicked all of that and sewed it instead into a channel using my zipper foot to sew close to the edge of the elastic under the fabric without catching it (hopefully)
If you’re not confident sewing it this way then you can also sew a channel and then pull the elastic through separately using a bodkin or a strong safety pin.
All that remained was to sew the turn ups as before and they’re complete!
They’re still a bit baggier than I wanted and I might even bring them in some more although better that than make them too tight in the first place, they have hint of maternity trouser to them at the moment although useful if I’ve eaten a big dinner!!
On September 28th I travelled to Stockport with my makes for a photoshoot that many of you will by now have seen in issue 46 of Love Sewing magazine. It was so much fun and it was a real treat to have my make up done by professional Nina Rochford and and be photographed by Renata Stonyte. Along with Editor Amy they really put me at my ease and, whilst I’m not a natural model, they managed to get some nice pictures. It’s been a real thrill to feature in the magazine and to have the opportunity to share my hints and tips with readers. I do hope they have been of some use or help to you, you can email me at email@example.com if you want to ask a specific question, or advice.
I’ve loved writing for Love Sewing and I’m more than happy to do it again! I’m not saying I’m an expert on everything sewingwise-far from it-but I’ve made a ton of different garments over the years, and made a ton of mistakes over the years too!
Whilst I was invited to write the pattern review, and provided with the fabric by Love Sewing, all opinions expressed and advice offered are my own and I hope you might find them helpful if you’re making up the patterns in the future.
Creative Sanctuary asked me if I could teach a class for some kind of kimono jacket that used one of the gorgeous Liberty Tana lawns that they stock. I agreed but first I had to come up with a design!
We decided I’d limit it to just 1.5m of fabric partly because of the cost, but also because it’s quite wide anyway. Laura at the shop gave me a few of her own criteria if she were to make a kimono and I used them while I planned the design.
First of all I made a wearable toile version in some fabric I already had because I didn’t want to risk cutting up the lovely lawn and then it didn’t work very well. This worked to an extent but the sleeves were a bit too long and also a bit too wide, all flappy and annoying!
Other than that I was happy with it so I went ahead and cut it out in the Tana lawn, and altered the sizing of the sleeve when I did so.
The size of rectangles needed for the back and two fronts was length 80cms x width 35cms each, one being on the fold [because the fabric is 140cms wide, anything less than this means you might not get fronts and back out side by side depending on your dress size] as well as two sleeves and the pieces needed for the collar. Because this fabric has a distinctive one way design the collar became a complex arrangement of sewing the 3 strips together in to one long piece and then cutting the strip exactly in half, rotating one piece, sewing it back together so that the 2 halves both had the design facing the correct way, rather than one side being upside down. From the 1m 50 of fabric I allowed 80cms for the jacket parts and 70cms for the sleeves and collar parts. The sleeves were cut singly and measure 70cms x 25cms each (the 25cms will vary depending on how long you want the sleeves) The 3 collar sections are 70cms x 12cms each on this sample, you could use the remaining fabric for patch pockets if you wish.
The two front pieces of the jacket need to have a small triangle cut out at the neck edge so that it is shaped better when the collar gets applied to it.
I made a triangle that’s 40cms down from the top edge, and 10cms in. If you’re using a one-way design for goodness sake make sure you cut the triangle from the top edge and not the hem!
Firstly I joined the shoulders using French seams. [place the fabric WRONG SIDES together and stitch close the edge, approx 5 mm away. Trim if necessary. Turn so that the fabric is now RIGHT SIDES together, press the seam flat and stitch again 1cm from the folded edge.]
You don’t have to use a French seam though, if you have an overlocker use that, or zig zag the edges, you can even use pinking sheers if you have any.
The neck looked a slightly awkward shape at this point so I trimmed a small semi-circle away from the back neck.
The collar goes on now so start by pinning it first at the centre back neck then all the way to the bottom on both sides. Sew carefully in place.
I turned and stitched the hem first and then the remaining gaps I’d left earlier at the bottom.
If this process is too tricky for you then you can always slip stitch it down by hand.
Next I attached the sleeves. If you’re using a fabric that has a distinctive one way design with this method you must make sure that the front part of the sleeves are the same as the kimono front. It therefore follows that the back of the sleeve will be up side down but that’s unavoidable unless you have a shoulder seam on the sleeve. Fold each sleeve in half and match this point to the shoulder seams, pin and stitch in place. It should look like this. At this point, if not before, you can fold and press up the hem for the bottom of the sleeve, it’s a bit easier whilst it’s flat before stitching it up later, you can see the pressing lines in this photo.Sew up the underarm seams like the photo above, and neaten by your chosen method. You can turn and stitch the cuffs now too, I turned them once by 2.5cm and then again by 2.5cms.
So that’s pretty much it!
I’m not sure if my instructions have been as clear as I’d like them to be, hopefully the photos offer some assistance. It’s a simple garment and not perfect by any means-the underarm seam isn’t particularly smooth but it’s just that, under the arm, so it’s hardly seen! You can simplify it further by not using a collar band if you wish and just hemming the neck edge.
Sadly you may have heard that Creative Sanctuary will be closing at the end of September but before then all their Liberty Tana Lawn is reduced to £15.50 per metre which is a considerable saving on the full price. If you’re in the Hertford area before September 30th you could do worse than pop over and bag yourself a bargain.
On the subject of Liberty, I wrote a previous blog about their history and an exhibition at the Fashion & Textiles museum that I visited, you can read it here