1980’s College Days refound!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quite a bit of Eighties power shoulders going on in these

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

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

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

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

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Sewing with a sheer fabric

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months…six months to be exact, because that’s when I wore the dress at my dear friend Jenny’s wedding in April! I know it’s a spring/summer dress but I thought the way I’ve used the fabric might be of interest if you’re thinking of tackling a tricky fabric. I’ve used a couple of techniques which could be helpful.

I bought the fabric in Fancy Silks in Birmingham last autumn with the intention of making an Asymmetric Dress TPC2 by Trend Patterns for our cruise but eventually I made that in something else and, as Jenny had set the date for a spring wedding, I decided to use it for that event instead. It’s a challenging fabric which I would describe as being a satin-striped organza which has been overprinted with flowers. It’s exactly the same type of fabric that I used for my Dior-inspired evening gown three years ago. Part of the challenge is that it’s sheer so it needs to have some kind of lining, this could be a loose lining, or an alternative is to mount it onto another fabric first like I did and then make it up into the dress.

By an amazing piece of good fortune I had some very soft satin left from a pair of bridesmaid dresses I made about five years ago and it was a PERFECT match-unbelievable! Better still, I ordered some lining from Minerva based purely on the colour image on my screen and it was also a perfect match-it was obviously meant to be.

Clearly though I had to decide on a pattern, I didn’t want anything too flouncy and there was going to be some serious stripe-matching going on so it couldn’t be in a million pieces. I rummaged amongst my patterns and came upon Butterick 6244 by Lisette which must have been free with a magazine at some point. A couple of the lovely ladies who come to my class have made the coat with great success but, looking at reviews, I think the dress has been largely passed over. It appealed to me because the skirt was a very straightforward A-line and the bodice was Princess seams with a ‘Dior’ dart [this is where a short dart extends to the bust point from a Princess seam] There is also a small shoulder yoke at the front so that was perfect for rotating the stripe.

With the exception of the sleeves I had to cut all the pieces in three different fabrics, the satin and the lining I could cut together but the organza had to be cut separately to ensure the stripes matched properly. I altered the sleeve to make them longer and then I decided to add a pointed cuff to finish them off.

Once everything was cut out it’s a fairly slow process of ‘mounting’ each organza piece onto its satin backing. I began by laying each satin piece shiny side up flat on the table, placing the organza on top and pin the two together around the edges. Then, moving it as little as possible, I tacked each piece together within the seam allowances. This was another reason for keeping the number of pieces to a minimum because this process takes a fair amount of time. Once all the pieces have been mounted you simply construct the garment as normal. This has various advantages, it makes the see-through fabric opaque, it makes a flimsy fabric more stable and in this case it means the hem of the skirt will be invisible when sewn.

I used narrow piping on the neck edge and the waistband to give them some finesse, I had to cover the piping cord with both organza and lining because the cord showed through the organza alone. You can use a regular zip foot to sew on the piping, I have a specific piping foot for my Pfaff which is brilliant because it sews so close and holds it all firmly in position whilst sewing.

piping cord around the neckline.

So that’s pretty much it really because aside from matching lots of stripes it’s a normal dress. The beauty of the skirt meant that I could use self-made satin binding on the hem and then the hand-stitching won’t show on the right side, a truly invisible hem!

satin bias-binding on the hem, understitched and slip-hemmed in position.
the hem is then totally invisible on the outside.

The only sheer parts are the sleeves which I added pointy cuffs to and finished them off with pretty sparkly buttons. I mounted each cuff part onto plain organza before construction to give them more stability.

I cut the cuffs with the stripes running at right-angles to the sleeves.

I hope you might find some of these techniques helpful if you’re tackling trickier fabrics. Mounting one onto another is useful to add interest-you could have a contrast colour underneath lace for example, it gives opacity to flimsier fabrics, stability and support to fabrics like panne velvet and can enable seams and hems to ‘disappear’ with ease. I used french seams in the sleeves but otherwise they are all regular seams. I only overlocked those inside the skirt as there is a separate skirt lining, the bodice is fully lined and enclosed so there’s no need to overlock any of those seams. If you’re using chiffon or georgette which are more fluid fabrics than organza you you should back them or interface them with a similar weight of fabric, preferably plain in colour so as not to show through or deepen the colour of the top fabric too much. Plain chiffon or organza are frequently used in couture techniques for this purpose.

It turned out that April 22nd was a very warm day so maybe I should have dropped the neckline slightly but that’s British weather for you-somewhat unpredictable! It was a gorgeous, happy wedding…

did I mention it has pockets?

So as we head towards winter here in the UK I bring you a post featuring a summery dress! Anyway, you might find parts of it helpful.

Happy sewing

Sue

Trend Asymmetric Dress TPC2

Firstly, some context. My dear friend and culture-buddy, Jenny, is getting married in April next year and I want something nice to wear for the wedding! I had no preconceived idea of what I wanted except that it needs to go with the beautiful grey hat I bought for a family wedding in July this year. I’d visited the Knitting & Stitching Show in October and almost as we were leaving we passed the Trend Patterns stand. I’d had a look at their patterns last year and was really impressed by their high-end design-led styles but ultimately decided they probably were a bit too ‘out there’ for my everyday clothes (and, dare I say it, my age…) This time though, I spotted the asymmetric dress as a sample in black crepe on the rail and instantly thought it would be perfect for the wedding. Added to which, we’re going on a cruise in March so I could get extra use from the pattern with my posh frock requirements for that haha. 

I like the quirky uneven hem and off-centre front seam, waistline and neck but it was all still the right side of wearable, for me.

I’d had some royal blue crepe from Hitchin market in my stash for quite a while so this is what I’ve made the first version in.

I started off by tracing off all the pieces, because of the asymmetry almost all the pieces are singles except the back bodice, the front skirt pieces are particularly large. If you decide to trace it’s vital that you transfer the grainline accurately and label all the parts correctly otherwise you could end up in a muddle. 

The same goes for cutting out too. Don’t reverse or flip any of the pieces as this could mean they may end up not matching or piecing together correctly.

This style is sleeveless but I wanted to add sleeves to make it a winter dress. To do this, first I measured the armhole accurately and then I got really lazy and chose the sleeve from another pattern, in this case the Orla blouse by Tilly and the Buttons because it features a pleated sleeve-head which would allow for any differences in their measurements. 

Because my fabric is plain the cutting out was straightforward enough although, that said, I had to lay it out on the floor because the fabric is a single layer, full-width so it was physically quite taxing. If your fabric has a right and wrong side be reallydiligent about keeping all the pattern pieces the correct way up, it’s not a dress to cut out if you’re tired or not concentrating.

My ‘helpful’ assistant!

As I was adding sleeves I decided not to do the facing to enclose the neck and armholes and to fully line the bodice instead, which would finish off the neck edge. I’d then overlock the armholes once the sleeves were in. Something worth remembering if you’re going to line this dress is that every piece except the backs should be reversed because of the asymmetry. IF the lining is the same on both sides this isn’t so important but if you’ve chosen something with a distinct right and wrong side then it’s vital if you want it to look nice inside as well as out. Don’t forget that the seam allowances are just 1cm, not the more usual 1.5cms for most patterns.

I have to say that although the dress is classified as ‘easy’ I really think this would tax a beginner a lot. As you probably know if you read my blogs regularly I’ve been sewing for years and I didn’t find all the explanations and methods terribly clear. I think this is possibly because the patterns are made by a lady who has worked in industry rather than home-sewing where methods can be quite different, and I do appreciate she is aiming to offer us patterns which are more fashion-led. It isn’t that I think the instructions are wrong, they aren’t particularly, it’s just that the wording isn’t very clear, there isn’t enough explanation and the accompanying photos are too small and a bit dark. I got there in the end but it’s something to be aware of. I’d suggest basting pieces together first if you’re in any doubt, trying it on and then continuing a stage at a time, and definitely don’t skip stay-stitching the neckline as you don’t want it stretched. I always try very hard not to outright criticise a pattern because I know it’s someone’s hard work but the description for zip insertion really needs looking at. Basically there isn’t any description, this is fine if you can wing it but to truly be an ‘easy’ pattern then there needs to be more description of what’s expected than this and also better photos or drawings. 

Moan over!

The Orla sleeves went in perfectly and the shoulder pleat looked very in-keeping with the rest of the dress. I didn’t line the sleeves and, at the moment, I haven’t lined the skirt either, I’ll wear a slip under it. [The simple truth is I couldn’t get my head around how to reverse the skirt lining for the off-centre waist seam and to take out the overlap which isn’t needed in the lining! CBA for this version to be honest] I cut a 14 straight out of the packet and I’m very happy with the sizing, I feel it came up accurately to the measurements giving. 

Ultimately I really like this dress and I’m looking forward to making another one, or possibly two, for the wedding and the cruise. It’s striking and unusual but also very wearable, and it makes a real change from some of the mimsy styles that can sometimes proliferate. It works beautifully in crepe but soft fabrics like georgette or crepe de Chine could look beautiful. Or if you look at Trend’s own website there is a fabulous structured brocade version which looks terrific. A stripe or a checked tweed could look really interesting too, there are loads of possibilities. Trend Patterns are at the higher end of indie pricing so they won’t be for everyone but if you want to try more challenging styles which are very much fashion forward then they are definitely worth considering. 

nearly finished, just the sleeve hems to turn up.
The TATB Orla sleeves fitted into the armholes really well.
Heading out for my Mum’s birthday lunch

Have you tried any trend patterns, or are you tempted to?

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

Vogue 9251 wrap-over dress

 

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Wedding outfits are always a dilemma and sewing your own is no exception to this! When my elder daughter’s best friend made the happy announcement she was getting married in the summer I started planning (in my head) straight away!

As I mentioned in my previous Simple Sew blog, by about May it was going to be the Lizzie pattern in a particular fabric but then the supplier was no longer going to provide us with said fabric so it was back to the drawing board.

I made a trip to Goldhawk Road in London in early June and Classic Textiles came up trumps with a silky crepe de chine in several lovely botanical prints which necessitated a game of eeny, meeny, miny, mo to choose between them (very scientific!) I settled on a silvery grey background with a variety of flowers on and I bought some very soft slipper satin lining to go under it.IMG_7148

I didn’t want to use the Lizzie after all because it would break up the design into too many pieces so I opted, after quite a bit of research using The Foldline’s pattern database, on Vogue 9251. I chose it over the Eve from Sew Over It because I liked the front and back darts on the bodice instead of gathering and I preferred the flutter sleeves too-I couldn’t quite work out on the SOI one whether the sleeves dipped oddly at the back or not. Anyway, I didn’t want to do it just because everyone else was and Vogue have always been extremely good patterns. By using a very simple wrap over style it would show off the print nicely, not all ‘chopped up’. It has a full-length version too with simple short sleeves.

I chose to make a test version in stash fabric first just to be sure about fit and whether the style suited me. It’s a Vogue “Easy” pattern and it’s very straight forward-cutting out the toile wasn’t too tricky but I did have to spend a long time cutting the crepe de Chine later because it’s soooo slippery and having a one way design meant I wanted to get the flowers matching horizontally on each piece as much as possible. I wouldn’t advise a total novice using this fabric, I had a lot of fun and games with it and I’ve sewn forever!

I chose the size according to my measurements increasing slightly at the waist and I’m really happy with the fit. Obviously a wrap-over is pretty forgiving size-wise but you don’t want it much too big because it will be all gapey at the front which is never flattering. IMG_7169IMG_7162IMG_7161IMG_7159

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Help was at hand as you see!

There’s a lot of hemming to do around the skirt and flutter sleeves so I used my new rolled hem foot for my Pfaff but I really struggled with it. I just couldn’t seem to get the knack of it. I persevered and it’s just about acceptable if you don’t look too closely, I don’t know if it was too much of a curve or not enough but I must practice more! I just wasn’t happy with it on the crepe de Chine so in the end I reverted to making a pin-hem which was long winded and still not as good as I’d like but there’s an element of me being uber-critical as time was running out. [I did a test of the rolled hem finish on my overlocker too but decided it wasn’t smart enough on this particular fabric] As I’ve mentioned, cutting out the slippery fabric probably meant it had shifted a bit on the table in the process-it’s always going to be difficult if you have to use your dining table and not one specifically for the purpose.

You might find the side seams droop down a little so if this bothers you, and you’re not up against the clock like I was, then leave the dress to hang for a day or two and then level the bottom off before hemming it. You could do this on your dress stand (dummy) if you have one, or measure consistently from the waist down using a tape measure.

The pattern calls for the neck edge to be finished with bias-binding, which is what I did on the first version although I made my own from the fabric rather than buy ready made. The crepe de chine is very thin and quite sheer so I’d bought slipper satin to line it with. I cut the bodice exactly the same and bagged it out, then under-stitched the edge-take great care not to stretch this edge because it will go baggy, stay stitch the edge first or use iron-on tape if the fabric is sturdy enough. The skirt was the same except much shorter, about knee length as you can see in the photo. IMG_7659

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This is the finished dress turned inside out so that you can see how I lined it.

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For extra security I used a clear press stud at the wrap-over point and made lingerie straps on the shoulders too, using narrow ribbon and press studs.

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So that the lining didn’t flap about and show I slip-stitched the edge of it to the top layer some of the way down.

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All ready for the off! I got the hat less than a week before the wedding (half price in John Lewis) the shoes and bag I already had.

After all the boiling hot weather we’ve had in the UK over the last few weeks it changed and was a bit cooler and really blustery on the day of the wedding. I was a bit concerned that I’d lose my hat and my skirt would blow up around my neck but that didn’t happen thankfully! A hat pin helps!

I really like this pattern, it’s really comfortable to wear and the wrap-over covers well although a press stud always helps. I think I’ll make more of this style as it’s a fairly quick make and is quite beginner friendly if you don’t use a super-slippy fabric like I did, just something with a bit of drape. The sleeve shape is very pretty, and did I mention it has pockets?

Don’t overlook the ‘big four’ pattern companies when you’re choosing a pattern because Vogue in particular have always offered fashion-forward styles, often by top designers, and you don’t necessarily need to be a very experienced sewer to get a good result. [Even better if they’re on a half-price offer!]

Happy Sewing,

Sue