Friday, 21 November 2014

Made by a Pro!

The growing online sewing community is so full of talent and everyone likes to share their work in different ways. But how often do you get to not just look at something someone has made, but to actually wear it?

I was very excited to do exactly that when a few weeks ago a dress arrived through my door free, gratis and for nothing, from the splendid Marianna from Sew to Pro. And she does sew like a pro as you will see here.

Halloween was still weeks away when Marianna posted about a dress she called the Pumpkin. (Here it is). She disliked the colour and fit on her, and quite casually offered it up for adoption. I saw Orange and my hand was up.

Want to see my happy face?

Me and my little sister. 

Made from the Sureau pattern from hep French company deer-and-doe this dress is full of rather delightful features, all beautifully executed by Marianna and much better than I could do.

I love how this dress has been put together. Marianna's French seam finishes are a treat, something I never do as I line everything out of habit. When a print is this good it's nice to not have a contrast on the inside, and linings can get in the way and add bulk. Definitely a technique to try out.

A fancy Pixlr trick for a fancy dress. A family meal at a restaurant where the tables are tiny and the steaks are huge.

Along with pinks, reds and purples, I think orange is one of my best colours. This burnt orange and the fine Batik print are both tiki-esque but without the face slappin' kitsch factor. Gotta love a showy exotic print that is pretty enough for a family dinner. 

Blurred oranges and greys, a Halloween dress that wasn't.

After abandoning my initial plan to wear this on Halloween weekend (thanks to a poorly foot) it seems to have taken an age to wear and photograph this beauty.

Of course the best thing is telling everyone about my good fortune and watching their eyes widen with amazement. So Marianna a big big thank you, I am not sure how you can give way something made with so much care. You sew like a pro and it's something I can at least aspire to. I am still digging around to see what I can send to you in return. 

Friday, 19 September 2014

That Wim Wenders effect

We headed out to Mersea Island, hoping for an Indian summer type shoot on their lovely beaches. We left our house in blazing sunshine, and arrived all of 10 minutes later enveloped in spectacular mists. 

I love being in Mersea in mist and fog. Sounds are amplified, colours pop against the muted grey, everything slows down to the pace of some art-house film circa 1987. I had a good lollop (you couldn't call it running) in the sand and then we downed some posh snacks from the deli before heading off for a walk.

Grey is good background for my coral red cashmere cardigan.
The dress is one I made earlier in the summer and have worn a lot. The vintage fabric is a fantastic mid-century linen which makes me think of Irish tea-towels. It's soft and sturdy and comfy to wear, washes like a dream and it cost a whopping £2.99 from a charity shop in Harrow! At only 44" wide and 2 yards long I was fearing that it would never amount to a dress, but that was before Christine Haynes came along with her Emery pattern. Thank you Christine.

Long back zipper and crazy wind blown hair.

I changed the invisible zip to a hand-sewn lapped standard one, which worked ok until I realised I couldn't do the "clean" finish lining as instructed. I worked out a way but it was messy. I love "hand picking" a zipper. A pick-stitch is incredibly strong, it's quick, and you have so much control over what you are doing. It's seen as slow, but you are not ripping the thing out three or four times to try and get it right.

The zip finish is one thing, the actual existence of a long back zip is another. Now who invented that? And why are they so ubiquitous? I get them done up to my shoulder then struggle and wriggle the dress up, grabbing the zipper from over my head. What a faff. I am going to have to avoid them from now on. That's what home sewing is all about, you do it all and you do it your way.

I am liking my hair after my latest Henna and Indigo session. That stuff is smelly, messy and takes AGES but my hair is now less stressed than it was with chemical dying. It's not quite covering my grey, as in the grey is a funny brown, but I am going to keep on going with it for now. 

We had the beach mostly to ourselves and after a short walk my hair was dripping with damp. The blurred pics are not just the mist but camera issues with resolution. Strangely apt results, a bit like those pre-digital soft grainy film cameras which are so fashionable again.

I am now properly in the mood for a bit of Autumn outdoor-ness. Time is flying and I have foraging to do and hot chocolate to drink.

Adios for now.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

A slippery vintage fix

When it comes to sewing I am a cotton girl. Even though silk chiffon is the stuff of my dreams, it just gives me nightmares. It's a bit trixy, slippery, sheer and fragile. Add draping and that's a whole month of hair ripping. So when I saw lovely chiffon dress in need of alteration, I fancied it as a good introduction to working with slippery fabrics.

This beauty of a mid to late 1960s dress in turquoise silk chiffon is by Blanes. Here she is fixed up and ready to sashay off my tailor's dummy towards some posh bar replete with blue cocktails.

It's all about Elizabeth Taylor.

But when I got it that midriff was a mess. I mean, what is happening here? It looked like someone had tried to alter it.

 Midriff madness

I opened up the lining to have a look. I couldn't tell if someone had in fact altered it but I was not going to wear that baggy mess.

The doings:

First I tried it on and pinched out the excess, then pushed it through to the inside securing with pins. Then I marked out my new seam on the outside using tailor's tack stitches. These stitches are short and open ended so they whip out easily rather than get bunched up under the seam. I did one side in black the other in orange. 

On the inside my marking stitches are visible but I still have room to adjust. Because of the all the folds in the midriff I needed to do some fiddling to get all the fabric to sit right.

Before sewing and trimming it, I re-enforced the new seam with a strip from my precious half a metre of silk organza.

Major surgery

Silk Organza; the queen of fabrics

Quick word about silk organza; this stuff is so good every sewer should have a piece. It's light yet strong, very versatile and widely available. It comes in different weights, mine has a bit of body but it isn't the really crispy kind. It would make a good lining fabric for a really posh dress, or used in place of tape or interfacing when working with a lighter fabric. I am planning a voile dress with a sweet heart neckline and I will probably use a strip to help the neckline sit properly and prevent gaping.

When I read that people use it as a pressing cloth I though it was bit extravagant! Then I tried it. The sheerness prevents you from putting creases where you don't want them, and its got a great heat tolerance so you don't ruin your lovely garments. I use smallish patch for pressing but it does the job. That and it's myriad other uses make it well worth a ten quid note.

Anyway, happy hour is here. Chin Chin everyone!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Push comes to shove...

My dear mother has been in a home for a year and in the past few weeks her condition has deteriorated. She is being pushed further and further by her degenerative condition. We know she isn't in pain, we know she is being cared for but this is bad time for her and all the family, some of who are half way around the world.

After a few stressful weeks, last weekend we headed out to enjoy the sun in our old camper. It's not hard to find somewhere pretty to spend a few days in our part of the world. The first night we stayed a night in a car park near this lovely beach!

A muddy beach, south of Ipswich. I dyed my hair with some Henna and Indigo. More on that another time.

Home made 50s dress with cute faux pockets and book print. 

  Perfect scene, virtually empty campsite and very sunny!
The second day we had a very pleasant day and night on a sweet little campsite near Cambridge, we headed into town for a bit of day out, and bang! No clutch or gear box. We waited for half the day to be carted home, for the princely sum of £250. Our inferior pirate rip-off version of rescue cover had a clause which meant we get recovery but only within a 10 mile radius! We were 70 miles away. Be warned people. Stick with The AA or check your cover. Anyway, it's an old van but we love having it, so even though it will cost a fortune I really can't see us scraping it yet.

Waiting for repair (hopefully).

On a bright note, I just collected my sewing course portfolio from college. The course finished in January but we didn't get marked until last week which was rather tedious. My favourite tutor comment on my rather madcap final project was that I seemed to be "pushing out in all directions". Yes, what a perfect way to put it. For some reason my idea was to print my own fabric and then make something out of it. It wasn't exactly hard but it took ages with lots of mind changing and experimenting throughout. The design, the colours, the fabric, the construction, the pattern, closures, basically everything! Well, why not.

A printed sun top with printed band and self drafted peplum.
Anyway after all that time and effort the good thing is I do still really like it. The bodice is Hazel by Colette, which I didn't have to do any adjustments to as they draft everything for a C cup. I was using a thick cotton (which works better for the printing) so I didn't want a gathered skirt. I drafted an A-line skirt but couldn't get the fit right so I used the top part of the skirt as a peplum. Well, it certainly is unique.

The print goes around the band which was originally the facing from the pattern.
I have to be quite nifty about getting into it as it doesn't have a zip. I do up the buttons all the way up the front and swivel it round and pop my arms through the straps. I am so pleased it still fits me even though i have put on a half stone since I finished it. Hope it stays hot so I can get it out and used!

My mother was my first sewing teacher and excelled at everything, sewing, knitting, home making and as a nurse. She encouraged us her children to be our true selves and she was quietly but unrelentingly supportive. She would have looked at this top with some amusement but made some kind remarks while not quite hiding her puzzlement - it's really not her kind of thing. She is the source and biggest influence in my character, and even though at such a low point she is still my greatest source of strength.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Hot hot Moulage 

It's not sewing weather at all, but I had a two day course booked this week which fell on the two hottest days of the year so far. Luckily the process I learned was pretty darned hot too, well I think so.

Moulage is something I have wanted to learn for a long time. It's usually hard to find a course and if you find it, it can be pricey.

First let me say since starting sewing courses last April my output has been quite poor. The past year and a bit has been all been about input not output - learning but not producing much. That could feel like I was wasting my time, but quite the opposite. Spending two days learning to design the way designers do feels pretty amazing. Moulage is designing with fabric, it's a great process and having tried it I am slightly awed by it.

Advantages: It's actually quite a simple idea. Get some fabric, pins and a model and dive into a liberatingly creative process. In Moulage you work in 3D. You can pull and manipulate your fabric in ways that a 2D patterns would be hard pressed to match. When people think Moulage they think drape.

But Moulage can be used to make all manner of garments simple or complex. And you don't have to stop at the design stage, you can even sew the dress together directly on the model! If your design is really complicated and covered in pleats that would really make sense.

A good knowledge of sewing is useful but one of the girls on my course had only been sewing a few months and she did good. You don't have to know a great deal but you do need to understand something about patterns, matching up your seams, grain lines etc. The thing that really puts people off is that you do need an accurate model of yourself to work on. But again, that is not an impossible obstacle. You can pick up a tailor's dummy second hand and adapt it as needed. I have done it and will post about my dummy double another time.

Here's a brief description of the Moulage process I did in my class.

I was one of two people in the class to work in calico! The other students were all working in their final fashion fabric (a different process described at the end). Using calico makes it simpler to experiment with shapes, but you don't necessarily get the same drape you would from your final fabric, which is something I found frustrating. Anyway, I did a calico draft, turned that into a paper pattern, refined it and then transferred from paper back to cloth to make a toile for fitting.

Stage One: Draft design

Designing directly in 3D on a dress form, using a bit of tape as a guide.

The model or dummy is adjusted to size. After pinning some tape for guides (best in a dark colour but we had white) to mark the waist, the hips and shoulder lines, I cut the calico to size and got to work with the pins! You can work with one large piece of fabric or smaller pieces. I used a few rectangles of varied sizes, three for a gathered bodice front and midriff and two pieces on the back.

Stage Two: Marking up

Mark out your stitch lines using a pen

I used a pen to trace where the stitching would be. For this project I marked only one half, as both sides of the bodice are the same. Mark along all seams and along the centre fold of the midriff and all the pleats and other details. Use balance marks (seen here on the pleats) to make sure you can match things up. I worked with all my pieces on the straight grain, but if you are off grain remember to mark up your grain lines.

Stage Three: Flat pattern

Transfer the markings onto paper and draw out the pattern.

I took the fabric off the dummy and created a flat pattern from it. On this pic you can see the back bodice, and how it looks after being folded and pinned and marked on the dummy. It's basically just a sketch done in 3D, and a messy looking one at that. After tracing it out onto paper using a tracing wheel, I drew over the lines with a pen and added an inch seam allowance. The idea is to produce nice clear lines (especially stitching lines) which are important later when making final fitting adjustments.

Stage Four: Creating a fitting toile

Pin the pattern to new calico and trace around your stitch lines.
I used the paper pattern to make a test garment for sewing up, tracing off the paper pattern onto some new fabric. See that lethal tracing wheel? It is the MOTHER of all wheels, I swear it would trace through steel. Look carefully you will see the neat holes it makes through two layers of calico fabric, it's a dream and I NEED one of my own (this was borrowed).

After drawing you can use pins to match up the stitch lines on your toile.

Finally I drew over all my stitch lines and pinned and matched them all to ensure they were accurately meeting up before sewing.

Five: Finished toile!

All sewn together ready to adjust on an actual person.

All that drawing is well worth it, they make stitching together easier and I can see where I need to make changes. I like the pleat design a lot, it would work well in some cotton voile I think. I need to think about the whole arm area, perhaps I will  cut off more fabric and go sleeveless, it's a bit unbalanced. Anyway, after all that this garment needs to be re-pinned on my own model to make it the right size for me, and it needs quite a lot more work design wise. But as a first attempt I am really happy with it.

Most of my fellow students worked using fashion fabric. As you can see below you don't even need to cut the fabric at all! The arm holes are marked with pins. They just wrapped the whole length of fabric around the dummy and pinned it into shape with side seams, darts and all. Then rather than using a pen to mark out your darts and seams, use a series of long tacking stitches. The tacking stitches are all you have to go by when you take it off the dummy, so you need lots of them along all the stitch lines (a bit of a pain if you hate tacking). Using different colours for different stitching lines is useful. You can transfer the design to a paper pattern if you like, to refine it or to copy it for future use - some people did, some didn't. Once you are happy cut out the fabric version, and stitch it up using your tacking as a guide!

Sue made a sheath dress which had long french darts and shoulder darts. After she got over the hours of tacking she was really amazed by the whole process, and her dress was incredibly wearable and of course fitted her perfectly (her dummy is very close to her size as you can see).

Sharon made a dress in pretty pink linen with a gathered boat neck line and lovely long tuck pleats to the front. It's a really elegant and classic design don't you think? That's Sharon all over!

And there you have it, the wonderful world of Moulage. 
Now I need to have a break from all this learning and actually go and make something. 

When the sunshine has gone again that is.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

It's a Fishy Friday in Frinton.

With only a few days until mid summer, and school break-up around the corner my favourite seaside towns are soon going to be choked with holiday makers. So last week we took the beloved camper and ourselves down to Frinton-on-Sea, where the signs should read "Welcome to 1957".

This is Miss Marple meets Poirot middle England, where they take pride in maintaining that post war village feel, with a bit of Deco-by-the-Sea thrown in for good measure.

There are plenty of tea rooms but they only got their first pub a few years ago. They do some decent beers and samosas in the local deli though, so after a quick tour of the charity shops we packed a picnic and headed off to the green.

Vintage dress ebay. Jacket, belt and scarf and earrings all second hand. Shoes Office.

The never ending green at Frinton on Sea.
Get a load of the green - it's probably half a mile long. On a windy day it's perfect for a nice spot of kite-boarding.

 Windy happening hair...
This rose festooned white cotton dress cost £25 from ebay - cheap for a 50s dress. When it arrived it turned out to be handmade, and the armholes were too small for any adult. I had to reshape them and the facings too.

I have decided to stop buying vintage and make more clothes myself. It's hard though, I have had a couple of relapses. I love vintage clothes but I do tend to be a bit precious about wearing them. It's not good to have a wardrobe full of clothes that don't get used, but they are quite old and mostly one-offs.

I have enough vintage, for now, what I need is to do is wear it all this year so I can sell it on and buy some more next year. Anyways, for now I prefer making stuff and that takes up all the time I used to spend on buying and caring for my vintage pieces.

A thin tissue is all that is protecting my vintage frock from greasy spills.

Felstar Lightburst, bitter and refreshing, highly recommended with fish and chips.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Pink and green should always be seen.

Following my tasteful cool blue post, here's some hot pink and acid green - especially fitting for a nice summer dress.

Simplicity 5124 shirtdress
Vintage shirt dress Simplicity 5124 

I like vintage prints but ditzy florals are not usually my thing. My friend spotted these two prints in our local fabric shop, and it was love at first sight. The dotty fabric is for contrasting collar, cuffs and belt the other fabric is for the main body. I am planning lurid green button holes. I don't want anyone thinking this is not a handmade dress.

My couture class has recently covered collars. I have quite big issues with collars. Everyone has one area of sewing that they dread tackling and collars are, or rather were, mine.

Above are examples one done before the class and one after. I am sure you can spot the difference...

Right BEFORE - Absolutely shocking. It's horrible and that sludge green is not helping.

Left - happily ever AFTER!  Clean, crisp and properly pointy shaped. Although I can't work out which side the interfacing should be on: my teacher says top, some books say bottom, I just read something on a website that said you can do it either way or both! Anyway I will stick with putting it on the top, use good quality stuff and just hope it doesn't go lumpy in the wash.

My lovely teacher Amy studied menswear, which is quite unusual. Her techniques for collars are quite unusual too. A very mysterious, meticulous process and one she partly made up herself. I wrote it all down and tried it at home where I could concentrate properly, it was fiddly but it all worked.

I feel I have suddenly been allowed into the magic circle of people who can make things properly. I have learned so much on this course and we are only half way through.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Blue summer outfit & vintage charity shops

Blue summer outfit & vintage charity shops

I am reliably told the colour of this 1950s Chrysler is "Sea foam".

I do like an arresting blue. I recently found this very charming vintage umbrella in a local charity shop. I used it as a parasol last weekend at Hedingham Castle vintage fair. That handle and contrast lining alone are worth the £15 price tag. I love the way the colour really pops in the sunshine.

Classy handle with sparkly sapphire stones.
The charity shop I bought it in recently relaunched as a Vintage shop. It's right in the middle town and the prices are reasonable so it's proving quite popular. They do have some advantage over other vintage sellers, with free stock and an army of volunteers. There are now half a dozen sellers, as well as pop-up shops and fairs in our little town, so competition is tough but I suppose there must be enough customers to go around.

A bamboo grove at Hedingham

The dress was from ebay in 2012, one of the first in my 'new' vintage wardrobe. I sold all my vintage dresses about 10 years ago because they were too small for me and I needed the money. Silly me.

The dress turned out to be Marcel Fenez, it is nylon and quite sheer so I found a frilly petticoat to wear with it at the same shop as the umbrella. It has pink bows too! I didn't plan it but the whole outfit (umbrella and bag included) is from the mid 60s.

And finally a bit of blue from about a month ago. A view of bluebell woods on the Essex / Suffolk border. Blue doesn't get more delightful than this.

A spectacular view over ancient bluebells in West Bergholt. I think that's Suffolk over there.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Distractions and learning to sew properly

Distractions and learning to sew properly...

So, it's May again. This time last year I tried to make this shirtdress.

It was my first ever attempt at a shirt style garment and it stalled at the toile stage. Like many sewers I have quite a few half finished projects lurking, sometimes just because it's really easy to be distracted by new ideas... (parasols anyone?)

This May I am most excited be doing a short couture course. I know completing Simplicity 5124 for this would teach me loads (see the list below). It is a lovely dress and I will wear it. But still something is pulling me towards this girly Vogue 9260.

It has a big collar, button front and a full skirt, but it's less of a challenge. And I know exactly what the big draw is - just look at those sweet pink and purple dahlias on the vintage fabric I am planning to use for it! I am dying to make it up and I have enough of it for a full skirted dress.

Whatever I end up making, I cannot recommend going to sewing classes enough. I am used to reading books, blogs, watching craftsy etc. but finding a good teacher and going to regular lessons has been amazing. Sewing with a group is a treat; you get less done but chatting and learning from other each other more than makes up for it.

For this 10 week course we will cover some interesting stuff which will fit with either of my dresses:
  • Collars and cuffs
  • Bound button holes
  • Patch pockets
  • Top stitching and seam finishes
  • Arrowhead trims
I am off to give myself a good talking to and hopefully produce something nice to wear at the end of all this. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

All matchy matchy for my first blog post!

How fabulous is this print? I loved it the minute I saw it in my local fabric shop.
I bought this in January and it has waited for the Sew Dolly Clackett challenge and the lovely Emery pattern to come along to liberate it from my stash. When Roisin and Nic decided to marry I bet they didn't count on unleashing the tide of fun and madness that has been Sarah's Sew Dolly Clackett challenge. It's a feast for the eyes and the heart.

Sew Dolly Clackett Kimono Dress & Parasol.
Not only is this the best fitting dress I have made so far, it has a matching upcycled parasol! I love it to bits. I am planning the next "set" now, I want to make the whole outfit from some vintage fabric.

Back to this dress. The print is covered in kimono clad lovelies strolling through a springtime garden. So I thought I would take the pictures in a downtown beauty spot (aka. a little patch of green hidden behind a car park) where a pear tree was covered with the fluffiest fattest blossoms I have ever seen.

The pear tree which must be 100 years old,  in full glorious blossom.

Upcycled Parasol:  Perhaps it was the print itself that suggested the idea of a parasol - there's dozens of them on there. The matching dress and parasol set idea was probably last 'big' in the 1950s, as seen in this McCalls pattern for a border print  dress.

I love those old umbrellas with their curvy handles, pointy ends, beautiful fabrics and matching covers. They are so impractical but so cute. This parasol started off as a faded 60s umbrella. I removed and used the original cover as a guide pattern for the new one, following some online instructions on the Threads site.

It was fairly straight forward, I cut it out in the most frugal way I could without matching anything up. I did a really thin fell stitch with a zig zag for strength. I finished it and then realised it was UPSIDE DOWN! So I did another, and used the upside down one as a lining. So much for frugal.

I don't normally use invisible zips but for this print I had to, and hurray it worked! See note below.
The Emery pattern:  Emery is really good for full on prints like this, and as everyone says the fit is very easy to perfect. I took an inch altogether off at the waist, I also increased the shoulder darts quite a bit, but that was it. The BEST thing about Emery for me is that it takes up very little fabric. I can get a full skirted dress for not much more than 2 metres (depending on the fabric width). I think I did some matching on the sleeves and the back (and the bigger the print the more fabric you need to pattern match) so I probably did use more than like 2.5 metres on this one.

This is a quilting cotton but I didn't wash it before I made it up, and it has shrunk a bit after its first wash. Hey ho, it's still lovely.

That invisible zip bit: I really don't use invisible zips, but with this print it seemed a good idea. I did one before (in a class) and learned enough online to know invisible zips are easier on stabilised openings. I used a couple of strips of very lightweight fusible interfacing, a woven type so it has some give. And once it was stable I was able to match the pattern perfectly as I put the zip in.

I confess, I went back and bought more of this fabric. I really want to make another dress with it but I have promised I would to make a shirt (front panels only with this print) for my partner. His and hers matching outfits were big in the 50s too. The visual effect of two people wearing this print may be a tiny bit too much, but I won't let that put me off.

When Sew Dolly Clackett was announced two months ago I thought it was a nice idea, but seeing all the love and effort spent on these dresses really is life affirming (for us sewing obsessives, for normal people it probably just looks mad). Well done to everyone involved and best wishes to Roisin and Nic for their wedding!