Monday, 29 November 2010

Melanie Daniels lives (dies) again

A month ago I did something for the first time that many US sewers probably do annually: I made a Halloween costume! It's not so much of a big deal in the UK, I myself haven't worn a Halloween costume since my 11th birthday party. But my mate Anna and her husband wangled themselves invites to Seal and Heidi Klume's star-studded Halloween shindig in New York (honestly, I couldn't make this stuff up even if I wanted to). With only a week left to sort out her costume after an ebay search proved fruitless, she turned to me to assist. Luckily (?) I was between jobs, impatiently waiting to hear if I got my current job, so had the time to take on this commission.

After a lengthly debate, she settled on going as Tippi Hedren's character Melanie Daniels in Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds'. I, of course, have my own thoughts on Melanie Daniels, but admired Anna's kitsch but classy choice nevertheless. An internet search furnished her with a couple of different types of fake bird (one of which was produced in the US so she got them delivered straight to her NY hotel instead of to London!), so it was just down to me to make the dress and jacket.

Thankfully, I already had this pattern pictured above in my collection (thus neatly justifying my obsessive vintage pattern buying habit) on which to base this project and got to work with the fabric Anna had bought. 18 hours later (I timed it) I came up for air and the suit was finished with just enough time to get it to her before her flight. Unfortunately, we didn't have time for a fitting and it came out a bit big and long, but her handy local tailors rectified the length issue minutes before she had to set off for the airport.

I hadn't used this pattern before and the whole project certainly took way more time than I expected it to be. I had to make adjustments to the pattern because Anna is very tall and has different proportions to a 1960's lady (who doesn't?!) Also, upon request I lined the skirt section as the main fabric was a little thin. The pattern includes facings AND binding at the neck and sleeve opennings, both of which I faithfully included for fear of a poor finish. There was a lot of hand stitching involved to get the facings to lie nicely and the get the bindings to trap in all that fabric. If I were to make it again, I'd probably omit either the facings or the binding. The jacket, however, came out really nicely in my opinion, a really clean finish. I also made a self belt, like Melanie's but buckle-less.

I think you'll agree, Anna looks amazing and makes an awesome Melanie Daniels. Hmm, I wonder how I'd look as Annie Hayworth! Maybes this won't be the last Halloween outfit I make!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

If You've Got It..... may as well put it in some high waisted shorts and get on with your day. That's my new saying. Catchy, don't you think?!

Actually, I'm not sure if I'm: A) confident enough to wear these in public, or B) it'll ever be warm enough again to wear them outside. I always feel like that about seasons though, in the Winter I forget having ever been hot and in the Summer I can not remember what it feels like to be cold.

So how did these crazy shorts come about? Well, I bought this vintage trousers/shorts pattern pictured above from ebay with the intention of making some capri pants next Spring. I got the pattern delivered to my work because I don't trust packages in the communal post situation at home. Well, I was conjuring up garment ideas that I quite fancied trying to make to pitch to my boss, and high waisted shorts sprung to mind. I recently made some skirts using a high waisted skirt pattern that came out really well. She was fine with me making some so I developed a pattern combining the vintage trousers/shorts pattern for the rise and hip curve and the skirt pattern for the high-waist part.

Then I hunted the fabric stash for options and came across this mental vintagey wool check. I'm absolutely obsessed right now with red and blue (and all things nautical, in case you haven't noticed) and gushed over it so hard that she suggested I cut myself out a pair whilst making the ones for the range. Which is why I now have some. WIN!

As for the confidence issue, I kind of find them too funny not to wear at some point, if you get what I mean. I don't really have an appropriate top to wear with them at the moment, so I plan to make a stretchy red thing to go with them. If anyone has any thoughts on what they'd wear these shorts with, I'd love to hear. However, I have got the leg wear covered. HAVE YOU NOTICED MY NEW TIGHTS?!!!!!! They are AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! These shorts show off their full incredibleness, so that's reason alone to get the shorts on.

But back to the tights. They were a gift from Michelle, one of the loveliest and most thoughtful ladies in the universe. She came down to Brighton from the Big Smoke to hang with me out on Saturday. Whilst looking around the shops we saw these tights and she insisted on buying them for me as she thought I had to have them! We are talking seriously lovely lady here.

They are hand printed with old school tattoo designs, and if you are desparate for some too and have a spare £46, you can get a black ink version here. (Fear not, mine were in the sale, but were still a very considerable price for tights, thanks again Michelle!.) I can't wait to try them with my red Beignet skirt and red side Ruby shorts (both of which you can see here, if you care to). However they are seriously making me want more and bigger tattoos on my arms to balance things out a bit, the rest of me looks too bare now! Gertie or Coralene could rock these hard!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Les boutons et plus

WARNING: Picture heavy post.

I don't know why I added that warning actually, I don't think an excess of images ever caused health problems of any description. Nevermind. It's a few months ago now, but I thought I'd share with you how I went from Barcelona to UK through France back in August this year. I tend to keep this 'ere blog fairly sewing/creation/sustainability/inspiration specific, so don't tend to share holiday paps and the like (in no way criticising those who choose to do so, I LOVE to live varicariously and cyber-travel to places that I haven't been to via other peoples' blogs, particularly Cheap Opulance and Christine's) but as Michelle so eloquently noted, trips can often be catalysts for great bursts inspiration, both during and afterwards.

So here we go (note the sizable chunk of possessions we lugged with us, that big case I'm leaning on could have housed a small family) in Estació de França train station patiently waiting for the delayed train:

Three trains and some crazy border crossing action later, we hit the super-cool city of Lyon! Oh, at this point I should mention that all these photos were taken by my boyfriend who kindly let me steal them, which would explain why I'm in a high percentage of them (he likes to use me as 'foreground' apparantly).

Now, in terms of fueling my sewing obsession, Lyon wasn't directly very useful. The only haberdashers I found was closed for the WHOLE OF AUGUST. Seriously. They thought no-one might need some elastic or a zip for an entire month. But I forgive Lyon for this oversight because I did provide us with one of the most exciting phenomena I've ever experienced: TRABOULES! Secret doors, passageways and internal courtyards to be discovered that you are kind of allowed to snoop around? Hell YES please!!!! I could write whole posts on how interesting these things are, the fascinating history of them and our two-day adventure entering secret doors and coming out in entirely different streets. But I won't. Yet.

In short, Lyon was awesome. If someone told me I had to live there for a year, I certainly wouldn't be pissed off (plus it might mean I'd actually get to the see the inside of that haberdashers!). So, can you guess where we went next? Here's a clue:

I visited Paris briefly once when I was a moody teenager for a college trip, and was dying to explore it as a (considerably less moody) adult. So, culture blah blah blah, art blah blah blah, history blah blah blah blah, architecture blah blah, food blah blah blah blah. Can I talk about sewing now?

There are numerous well written, helpful and informative blog posts already out there about where's hot and where's not to buy fabric and haberdashery in Paris (I know, I read a lot of them before my trip) so I'm not going to try and make another, other than to say, head to the Montmartre area. If you can't see a million fabric shops, walk about a bit until you do. They helpfully clumped them all together. After doing the obligatory walk up to the basilica and squinting my eyes to try and picture what the area looked like when Toulouse Lautrec was wandering about, I hit this shop above. Umm, an eccentric but shoddy and over-priced buttons shop, boo. And then I went into another haberdashers.....

BLAM! Amazingness. I (unhelpfully) can't remember what this shop was called, but I'm pretty sure the French for haberdashers, which I think is 'mercerie', is in massive letters on the facade. This shop had so much of everything. ''Everything', you say?' Yes. 'Even ribbon with baby squirrels on it? Surely not'. Wrong sucker!

Despite only coming away with a couple of metre of bias binding with anchors on (predictable? Moi?!) I left that shop hyped. Check the unconcealable excitement on my face as I approach the jewel in the area's fabric-selling crown:

I'd read awesome things about this epic multi-floored fabric and haberdashery shop. Somehow, despite rolls of fabric numbered in the 1000's, I didn't see any that floated my boat particularly, finding the selection generally conservative. The strange child sized mannequins that I'd been promised however certainly lived up to my expectations:

But heading up to the haberdashery floor certainly didn't disappoint. One word: Boutons.

The last few weeks of life in Barcelona flew by in a rapid whirl of work, destashing and goodbye shindigs and we really didn't spend much time researching Paris and Lyon for our six days in France. But the one thing I didn't fail to figure out in advance was where to shop for sewing stuff. Like a kid on Christmas eve, I had been badly concealing my excitement and impatience for the part of our trip, on the final day, that had been allocated for me to indulge in this activity. I had been subjected to countless linguistic facts about things like 'how many cognates there are between French and English' and 'how to conjugate French -re ending verbs in the Present Tense' for days and days, and I was just itching to get to the pretty buttons. Which is why, when we got to the sewing shops area and my boyfriend begun to feel really strange, light-headed and nauceous, he didn't feel he could tell me until I was done and we had retreated to a bar. He didn't want to risk the mood I would be in if I had to cut this shopping trip short. So the poor boy simply tried to keep his shit together in claustrophobic and busy shop after claustrophobic and busy shop, whilst I inspected every last button Paris had to offer, none the wiser to his situation, with him even mustering up the strength to take these awesome pics (from a batch of many more) to document this day. Thanks Patty! I will endure every language acquisition fact you can throw at me! Promise xxx

Thursday, 18 November 2010

New Labour, New Danger

(N.B. I’m afraid you’ll probably only get my witty post title if you were in the UK and vaguely politically aware during the election campaign of 1997. Anyways...)

I GOT A JOB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! To be more precise, I got another job. As you may already know, my first job after moving back to UK was in a patisserie. When it became obvious that it was terrible and I wouldn’t be sticking round for long, I did a cursory internet search and found advertised the job of my dreams happily based just 20mins walk from my flat. I was involved in the interview process when I wrote my Ladies in Waiting post, not knowing if the potential job would pan out or if I would be shortly rejoining the ranks of my waitressing sisters. Well, at the end of the process, 15 candidates became one employee, and thank the God of fabric, that was me! I have been there for two whole weeks tomorrow and feel safe enough now to divulge....

Ok, I haven’t mentioned the best bit, it’s a sewing job!!!!!!!! An ethical sewing job! Yes, really. I now work for the charity TRAID which run a chain of charity shops around London. The shops sell second hand clothing donated by the public collected in donation banks across the. The garments which can’t be sold for whatever reason, and also donated lengths of fabric and seconds stuff donated from the retail clothing industry, get sent down to a workshop (where I work) to be sorted and then recreated and refashioned into new garments which are on sale in the flagship Camden branch under the label TraidRemade. Some special pieces are also available on this site. Everything that isn’t appropriate to be refashioned, plus all scraps generated from the creation process, then get sold on as rag to be reused in other forms or pulped and made into products like fleece and sofa fillings etc.

I work with a lovely creative lady and a small dog called Piglet to produce garments which will hopefully get sold therefore giving unwanted garments a new life and generating funds to help combat poverty. Did I mention I get to sew? All day? With creative imput too? SO exciting.

‘So where’s the danger, Zo?’, I hear you ask. Umm, are you mental?! I spend all day with easy access to refashionable garments and lengths of donated fabric, a lot of which could be mine for a small donation to the ‘Karma tin’ which goes to the charity. Plus the refashioning ideas that are being batted about and put into covetable effect have already resulted in ‘Oh, I’ll just cut one for me too....’, which is how this top came to pass. I have already gained two big bags full of clothing and fabric that is now mine, and this is only Week Two.

You may be all, ‘Ah! So that’s why Zoe is back on the refashioning tip!’ I can’t deny that my new employment has brought the value in refashioning and its endless possibilities firmly back to the forefront of my mind. I’m so excited to learn new sewing methods and construction tips. But I’m going to have to enact some serious self discipline to avoid a tidal wave of new garments and fabric pieces drowning us in our tiny flat.

Back to the top seen here. The pattern was based on one I drafted for myself yonks ago from a well-fitting T-shirt and the gathered sleeve head pattern piece from the Sew U: Home Stretch book. For my own version, I used a men’s sweatshirt instead of the T-shirts used for the ones I made for the range to keep me warmer. The collar is the same however, and used to be men’s shirts. The two buttons I bought in San Francisco a few years ago and I think they bring a touch more femininity to what is basically a sweatshirt.

I don’t think I am allowed to show you what I create at work for the range, but any useful tips and tricks I glean and variations I create for myself will definitely be shared. Happy refashioning people.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Stash Amnestied

This week, I am honoured to be the subject of Tilly's monthly Stash Amnesty feature (which can be read here). Tilly's genius concept basically provides the subject a non-judgmental arena in which to display their hoards, which can be quite a touchy subject. I doubt there's a sewer out there whose been at it for more than a couple of years who isn't a bit embarrassed about the scale of their stash, which can result in defensive behaviour when questioned (well, it does round these parts). Tilly's Stash Amnesty neatly side steps that and instead offers an interesting insight into the sewing space and thoughts of the individual through her cleverly devised questions.

To be honest, my current sewing mise en place isn't the most inspiring or photogenic I've had over the years. After all, I'm living in one of the most afluent areas in this poky little country where space is at a premium, so the natural-light-flooded space with adequate storage and cutting tables etc. that I dream of is currently just that, a dream. In fact, if we are talking about dream spaces, check out this recent post by Cheap Opulance which basically sums up my ideal sewing space.

As I explained in Tilly's post, the majority of my fabric stash is currently shoved under my the bed in my folks' spare bedroom in Essex, so sadly no shots of piles of neatly folded luscious fabrics from me I'm afraid. However I was able to share the fruits of my main weakness: vintage sewing patterns. But once again, what I have with me here in Brighton is only a fraction of the true scale of the problem.

I think it's fascinating getting a glimpse into the stash and space that other sewers create with. Whether it's the corner of a kitchen counter or a refurbed warehouse, stacks of vintage charity shop fabric finds or handmedown notions from your mother-in-law, the situation is always as individual as the, um, individual. Tilly's Stash Amnesty is certainly an interesting opportunity to snoop about that we wouldn't usually have access to (albeit an edited version; you think my sewing table usually looks this clear?!) and I for one am hooked on these monthly installments to indulge in that opportunity. Thanks Tilly!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Revisting Refashioning

Despite having signed up to the Wardrobe Refashion pledge for life, I actually do hardly any refashioning of existing garments per se. The last time I made a garment that started out life as a different garment (as opposed to a flat piece of fabric), was back in June when I made a top out of a crazy blouse I found lying on the street next to a bin. Even then I'm not sure that counted as a refashion as I almost completely deconstructed that original blouse before cutting the new pattern pieces, using only the buttonholes and hem when making the new garment.

Over the last year and a half, I've been attempting to make an increasing variety of garments, particularly since getting over my fear of using stretch fabric. My initial Me-Made-March challenge, in which I attempted to get through an entire month wearing only things I had made myself (excluding bras, socks, tights and shoes) proved a massive catalyst in this process. To complete this challenge, I quickly realised I would have to get to grips with making all kinds of previously unattempted items (like a coat and underwear) if I was to succeed without freezing or being excessively uncomfortable. Well, I succeeded, if you can call rotating between two tops for a whole month a success, and was spurred on to repeating the challenge (Me-Made-May). So I hit the sewing machine to create a wider variety of garments so virtually no outfit repetition would ensue during May and I'd enjoy the challenge more.

I guess I kind of got hooked on the challenge of pushing myself further and further, relying on the fruits of my sewing more and more, to the point where now I have created the vast majority of my wardrobe. I'll admit, have been toying with the concept that if I can't make it, maybe I shouldn't be allowed to wear it. But I've recently started to question that potentially overly evangelical approach. Perhaps it's because Winter is well on its way and I still haven't really mastered knitwear and I'm getting really cold that a more pragmatic approach is starting to seem more appropriate. I'm starting to think that it may be better to have had a hand in forming every garment I own rather than having made every damn item completely from scratch, and allowing more refashioning projects back into my life and wardrobe.

Aside from the desire to avoid freezing my arse off and going back to a two-top rotation, I have recently been (re-)reminded that refashioning has some significant benefits over making all garments from fabric off the roll. For me, the main benefit is that by using a previously loved garment, it is possible you are extending that original garment's lifespan, possibly even preventing it from ending up in a landfill. Also, by not using new fabric from a fabric shop for your project, you are not creating a need for and directly supporting the production of more new fabric, which we all know by now can be a frighteningly destructive process, environmentally speaking. By refashioning, you can be one in a chain of individuals to have used and enjoyed a garment, the thought of which may gross many people out but which I personally love. Also, if the project allows, you can often retain necklines, fastenings, seams, hems or a combination of the above from the original garment, therefore removing some of the sewing processes and speeding on your creation no end. Who doesn't like a quick-fix, wear-it-that-evening sewing project from time to time?

Don't get me wrong, I'm still thoroughly committed to making my own wardrobe and encouraging others to do so. I am more so than ever, but basically I have got off my high horse about feeling the need to have stitched every single damn stitch I'm wearing at any given moment. I'm just relaxing a little and taking the opportunity to mix my stitching up a bit. The creativity required to turn an old hideous garment into a wearable thing of beauty is, after all, a slightly different set of talents compared to those needed to concieve of something and make it from scratch. It's time I flexed some of those muscles, before they lose their strength all together!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Book Launch Shirt

Well looky here! An actual finished garment from ‘Le Maison Zo’. Such an occurrence is a rare event these days, what with The Coat Project currently taking as much time and attention as a room full of naughty three-year-olds. All this talk of menswear sewing around here recently must have motivated me into finished this project which has been languishing for way too long.
Happily, I was able to get this shirt finished for my boyfriend with but minutes to spare before we headed up to London on Thursday to attend a launch party. We were celebrating the ‘launch’ of Beauty in Decay, a book about Urban Exploration, the copy (AKA, the words) of which having been written by my aforementioned boyfriend. Although it was the compiler of the images who got his name on the spine, my boy was required to sign a mountain of copies along with some of the photographic contributors who were also present.

I’m embarrassed to say that this shirt for my boyfriend was planned back in May after I got a bit spendy one day in Ribes i Casals, a fabric shop in Barcelona. It is based on the Jakob pattern available from Burdastyle which also formed the base of the only other thing I’ve made for him to date: the short sleeved western shirt. Whereas with the western shirt I drafted a new yoke pattern and new pocket detailing, this time I used the original pieces. He’s quite a slender chap and even the smallest size came out a bit too wide for him last time round, so this time made some alterations so that the sizing would be better around the chest.

Obviously I made this version short sleeved but created mock turn-ups instead of simply turning the sleeve edges under. Forgive my rudeness, but can you believe Burdastyle included a full length sleeve version and a sleeveless version but omitted a short sleeved version?! How many guys do you know would choose the sleeveless version if you offered to make them a Jakob? Anyways.....

All in all, I’m really pleased with how this shirt came out. The fit is much better than the first and the beautiful cotton fabric was so nice to work with, it was easy to create a nice clean finish to this garment. Obviously this version didn’t have all the fancy topstitching of the first, so after all the prevarication, it actually only took a couple of sewing stints to get it finished. After the excessive wait, hopefully it will prove to be a good, wearable garment that he will enjoy wearing as much as he has the first.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

If I Were a Boy.....

Today I want to talk about an issue that I spend a disproportionate amount of time considering: what I would wear if I were a boy. I say disproportionate because the likelihood of me ever becoming a boy, or even being ask what I would wear if I was a boy, is so tiny in comparison to how much thought I’ve given this over the years.

Of course, how I’ve answered this has usually been in relation to which men in popular culture I fancied the most at the time. Subsquently my answers in the past would have included reference to Kurt Cobain, Beck, Daniel Johns, Q Tip, Lenny Kravitz, MCA and Ad Rock (sorry Mike D), to name but a tiny fraction. Equally unsurprisingly, how I imagine I would dress as guy has always been a kind of male version of the tip I’m on at that time in real life, eg, when I was rocking an eclectic charity shopped look, that’s how I imagined I would source my clothing as a guy, and when I was more into a hiphop influence and street ware, similarly I pictured myself as a little English Beastie.

Naturally, my answer to the question today will also reflect both the points made above. These days I’d like to think I can form an opinion on a guy’s style without being so hormone driven, but it’s interesting to me to find that many of my male celeb inspirations haven’t changed too much.

If I were a 31 year old boy (had my birthday last week, more relaxed and less hangover-inducing than last year’s) in 2010, I don’t know if I would be into sewing my own wardrobe (see?! All you needed to do was wait and I’d bring my blog back round to sewing eventually). Presumably, I’d be exposed to similar experiences and social factors in I was a guy to the ones I’ve experienced as a girl, plus I’d be subject to the same creative yet practical genetics passed on from my folks, but as many sociologists such as Beyonce have pointed out, life’s just not the same for a boy, so who can say? I would however, put money on ‘Boy-me’ giving a crap about what he wears, and if he wasn’t making his own stuff, he’d probably have a cool sewing mate whipping up stuff on his behalf. Let’s see what I’d make/get made if I were a boy:

Beck would still be one of my main boy-style role models. In each of his style manifestations from his Loser days to today, I’ve been behind him saying ‘Yes!’ and ‘Damn!’ where appropriate. Even after I found out he was a Scientologist. That’s how strong his style is. I’d probably get this kitsch-y western shirt (pattern recently acquired by myself from ebay) made up as an ‘ode’ to Beck (see what I did there?!):

Another, more recently acquired, style inspiration whom I’m sure would appreciate the western shirt above are the boys from Calexico:
It’s difficult not to let hormones to effect this study, but Tang! The latin-flavoured Americana they bring overlaps with another source of inspiration: QOTSA’s Josh Homme. He in turn brings a much needed dirty rockabilly element to this style stew.

To reflect that, I’d get a rockabilly shirt going on possibly based on this incredible pattern my boyfriend’s sister found me in a charity shop:

Do you see it?
I’d imagine I could achieve much of Michael Cera’s and Dave Grohl’s looks from charity shopping, but maybe I’d get some of the Burdastyle Jochen trousers made too:

These days, as a girl, I don’t rock as many streetwear elements as I used to, but a little piece of my heart will always be devoted to the Beastie Boys. For some casual comfort, I’d probably try and procure a zip through as awesome as this one (created by the deeply talented Burdastyle member fordelis):

And of course, let’s not forget how the Beastie’s rock a suit:

Not dissimilar to Mark Ronson’s sleek retro inspired vibe:

Or Jason Schwartzman’s:
Or even, to bring this full circle, to our beloved Beck’s. If I were a boy, I’d probably pick up an incredible vintage suit that would suffice for smart occasions, but I’d probably give it a twist with a club collar shirt like Peter’s.

So there you have it, more or less what I would wear if I were a boy. As this is unlikely to become a reality, I guess I'll live out these ideas by making them for my boyfriend. So, what would you wear if you were a boy (presuming you aren't one)? Whose style do you admire? Have you sewn much for guys? What inspired your creations?
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