Thursday 29 October 2009

The Return of the Crazy-Child Fabric

Now Autumn is firmly making her presence felt, it may appear strange to engage in hot weather garment sewing. But whilst I'm trying to remember where I stored my jumpers, my best mate Vic is planning her year-long adventure to Australia, which will commence right at the height of the Southern Hemisphere's Summer. Having spent July to September here in Bcn wondering if it is possible that I will ever feel cold again (answer: yes), I decided I needed to help Vic prepare for life in a hotter (than UK) climate. Since she can't wear the Chicken Dress every day, although when she sees it, I think she's going to want to, I have made her an alternative. Ta da!!!!!!:

It's ANOTHER Simplicity #4589 interpretation made from the remnants of the crazy child's bedsheet left over from my Anda dress. I didn't have enough of the border left, so it's just the striped section on the back. I used a contrast plain turquoise cotton for the neck band.

Despite the sheer insanity of the depiction of infants on this fabric, I felt the outcome was a little dull. So I went on a hunt for some self cover buttons and made these little face 'badges' to stitch on the neck band for a little interest. I think they give the overall garm a lift. I guess that would be a face lift! Anyways......

Friday 23 October 2009

Digital Developments in Printed Fabric

Here's a little article I wrote about the new flock (not sure of the correct collective noun) of DIY digitally printed fabric companies. If you're not interested in such things (can you believe that there are some people out there who aren't!), then look away NOW!:

Exciting developments are afoot in the world of printed fabric, which are set to have major potential knock-on effects for emerging fashion designers. It comes in the form of four new companies, the oldest of which is less than 18 months old. Fabric on Demand, Spoonflower, Eye Candey and Karma Kraft offer affordable digital fabric printing over the internet. Anybody can upload an image file, either that they have created themselves, or from public domain materials, and get it printed on a range of base fabrics.

This is made possible due to developments in the word of digital printing, which is changing the face of the textile industry. Digital textile printing is radically different from traditional printing: designs are not limited to the circumference of the mill’s print rollers, nor are they limited to the one-color-per-roller constraints and the associated costs (the more colors, the more it costs to print). Ordering your own designs is nearly impossible for independent and small designers using traditional printing methods because the mills are mostly overseas and require huge minimum orders (usually 3,000 yards, sometimes more). It’s just not worth it for those printing plants to print short runs.

But, to quote from (currently the only blog devoted purely to fabric), ‘digital textile printing — like mp3 technology and digital photography — is a major democratizing force’. Until recently, digital printing on fabric was prohibitively expensive ($50-75 per yard) which was only practical for higher-end interior and fashion designers. I’m assuming the cost of the printers has come down, or simply that the new companies are willing to enjoy less of a profit, but now achieving your own design is possible for as little as $16.75 a yard. What’s more, none of the four companies require a minimum quantity.

From the tiniest repeat print, to a photograph or design that spans two or three yards; an independent designer’s wildest dreams are now attainable. And perhaps more importantly, they are attainable whilst retaining the possibility of making a profit on the finished garment. There are a variety of types and weights of base fabrics, and with swatches easily available, designers are able to manage the outcome of their vision to an impressive degree. Unlimited re-ordering of designs also allows a designer to capitalise should a particular garment prove a great success. Similarly in this vein, experimentation into new directions is possible by the ability to order small quantities of printed fabric.

At present, the technical aspects, like dpi file sizes and colour accuracy, of these services could be quite confusing to some. As with all new businesses, there have been reported flaws that are duly being ironed out. But these companies are all competing to produce the easiest and most satisfactory service and end products. I can see the range of types of fabrics available (including organic options) increasing, and inevitably prices lowering.

Karma Kraft also offers, for additional costs, a cut and sew service to make your fabric into products such as cushions, tablecloths and bags. Imagine the ability for clothing designers to offer a range of garment styles and link to these sites. Then a customer could design their own fabric, pick a clothing designer and garment style, have their fabric sent to that designer/maker, and instead of receiving a bolt of fabric, you receive a finished one-of-a-kind item of clothing!

With these sites offering the ability for individual users to share their designs and admire those of others, this is also an exciting advancement for budding textile designers to create a name for themselves. Spoonflower even hosts Fabric of the Week contests, perhaps for many would-be professional print designers, these sites will stand as an online CV or resume. Also, some of these services either host an online store, or have links (eg, to through which you can sell your amazing self-designed fabric. Potentially you could launch a career as a self-employed textile designer/seller.

Increasingly we’ll be able to see the result the services provided by this new breed of companies is having on, what I believe to be, the most exciting and innovative end of the fashion industry. With so many barriers seemingly being pulled down at once, in terms of the possibilities in raw material and links to custom, these developments should prove to be the most significant to effect new design talent in recent times.

Friday 16 October 2009

When I Grow Up........

One day, when I grow up, I'm going to spend my weekends a bit differently from how I spend them now. I'm not going to drink so much on Friday evenings, so on Saturdays I'm going to get up maybe at something like 9am! (maybe).

I'm going to have a beautiful, if tatty, bike that I may call a cute name. And I'm going to cycle to a super cosy café and have a tasty coffee and pastry that will cure any vague lingerings of hangover, whilst nattering with my boy and/or amazing friends. (The cafe will have rotating exhibits of interesting locally produced art and photography, BTW.)

Then we'll hop back on our bikes and head over to the farmers' market and buy some amazing things for dinner. Maybe some special goat's cheese, some delicious fancy sausages, oh! and some of those little red peppers that are stuffed with soft cheese and marinated in oil.

Then there will be just enough time to stop by the flea market (I'll probably score a fabulous original 1940's fashion plate print for my sewing room!) before cycling home along the seafront. Then we will scoff the goats cheese with seedy bread and do a bit of gardening, before preparing said tasty dinner for friends/family who will bring lots more wine.

But what will I be wearing throughout this action-packed Saturday? THIS!!!!!:

Whilst trying to describe to someone the latest garment I was making, my powers of language fell somewhat short. Not really a jacket, not really a shirt, but simply saying 'top' seemed a bit lacking. But thanks to the pattern description, I have discovered that actually what I have made is called a jiffy! Now on those future Saturdays, when my mate calls me up from the café to warn me I'd better be quick coz they only have one pain au chocolat left, I won't be lying when I reply 'I'll be there in a jiffy!'.

I think this pattern was a charity shop score, and it dated 1977. (Doesn't the model in red look like a young Condeleeza Rice?! Also, I'm very tempted to crank out a shower proof version, like the yellow one!). I thought it could do with an addition to make it a little more feminine, and after a couple of failed experiments, I came up with the gingham piping.

I pretty much followed the instructions to the letter, which involved doing something I hate: hand-basting in sleeves. In fact I hate doing hand-basting in general so much, if instructions suggest it, I usually feel personally afronted. I kind of think, if thousands of garments are made per day in factories and workrooms without hand-basting, why the hell should I waste my sewing time doing so? Anyway, the pattern's sleevehead ease was so massive in this instance, that I had little choice unless a wanted two ugly-ass sleeves. Seeing as I was being all 'slowly slowly wins the race', I even added a sneaky bit of contrast inside gingham when the pattern called for binding the sleeve hem (something I would normally have overlocked).

So all I have to do now, is grow up!

Friday 9 October 2009

Second Hand and Vintage in Spain

Here's a little article I wrote about my observations (and assumptions!) on the Spanish attitude towards second hand and vintage things, in particular, clothing. Of course, you may not want to trawl through such a topic, feel free to just look at the pictures, like I do when I look at most magazines! These paps are of another of the charity shop finds that I scored back in UK in August. I wasn't sure about this dress at first as I'm not into the 80's revival, but my mum insisted I try it on, and to my surprise it looked awesome! I've decided the only bits of 80's style I'm into, are the initial early 80's New York Graffiti/Hip Hop scene looks that are argueably hangovers from the late 70's, or when the 80's does the 50's, like this!

Anyways, onto the main business at hand:

Having recently spent some time this summer re-immersing myself in contemporary culture in the UK, when I hit the streets upon my return to Spain, I was struck by some glaring differences I had previously not considered. This time around, my attention was really drawn to the differing approaches towards vintage and second hand clothing.

The UK is the proven home of fast-fashion, as the advertising agency JWT recently discovered by asking young people in the UK, America, Brazil, Canada and Australia which items they would never cut back on, no matter how tight their finances. Brits ranked “buying new clothes” higher than any other nation in the poll. Despite this apparent obsession with new clothing, young style conscious consumers also embrace vintage and second hand clothing as ammunition in the war against bland or outdated appearance.

This is evident in the wardrobes of the individuals regularly touted as today’s UK style icons, the most prominent examples being Kate Moss and Alexa Chung. How many times have UK newspapers and magazines sited that a mix of high-street, designer pieces and vintage finds is the ideal combination to create a unique and dazzling look? Vintage has become a by-word for unique, brave and innovative fashion statements.

However, the reverence and respect shown in the UK towards an amazing vintage dress, is less likely to be shared by their Spanish counterparts. As is evident through a comparative lack of charity/thrift stores and second hand emporiums, Spanish perceptions towards all things old, not just of the wearable kind, is markedly different.
Since the end of Franco’s fascist dictatorship in 1975, Spaniards have rushed to modernise their society and ‘catch up’ with the rest of the west. This has resulted in a struggle to distance themselves from an unsavoury past and a visual identity that had more or less been put on hold for decades. These days ‘old’ and ‘used’ are more often than not associated with ‘dirty’ and ‘tired’, to be discarded and replaced.

In Spain, standing out of the crowd and using clothing as a form of individual self expression until 1975 was not a desirable or advisable practise (and even potentially dangerous), so perhaps a subsequent actual lack of mid-20th century Spanish vintage also contributes to the dearth of present-day second hand. Today, Spanish youth are as quick as the next countries’ to use clothes and accessories to express how the perceive themselves and society, also, they will more commonly do so in clothing created by Spanish-based brands (Bershka, Pull & Bear, Zara, Mango, Desigual etc.). However, the products must be new and box-fresh. Used garments are what you leave out for the rubbish collection, or to be picked through by members of society who cannot afford new garments (but due to the low price points of Bershka, Pull & Bear et al, includes very few young Spanish natives).

Which is not to say vintage clothing shops, here in Barcelona for example, do not exist. There are some very fine ones. However, they stock, almost exclusively, US and other nations’ imported clothing. I would argue that they are frequented on the whole by the odd ‘alternative’ Spaniard looking to create a more international look, or by the many foreign students and tourists. It is no coincidence that the vintage and second hand clothing shops in Barcelona are all located in the Raval, an area close to the main tourist drag which is also home to the main university, art galleries and student-friendly rented accommodation.

In conclusion, I would most definitely encourage any shopping-hungry visitors to Barcelona to hunt down the vintage contingency on offer. However, do not expect to be met with a slice of trendy Spanish culture, either from the past, present, or foreseeable future.

Saturday 3 October 2009

Getting back on the Horse

The next pictures I should be showing are meant to be of a fantastic pair of black capri pants. You should be looking at detailed shots of cute patch pockets on the front, neatly executed mock-pocket flaps on the back and well fitted side zip. Maybe I'd throw in a shot of the three super-cute, if surreal, contrast buttons featuring the faces of different breeds of dog, two on the pocket flaps and one on the waistband. That would be fun wouldn't it?! But, no. That is not what you are looking at because that project proved a disaster and had to be aborted. The details of which are presently too raw to go into, maybe one day we can talk about it, but instead I will offer you this:

My personal method for lifting myself out of a failed-project-induced funk, is to whip up a tried and tested garment from a pattern that I KNOW is going to work out well, and holds no nasty surprises. It always amazes me how using different fabrics can make garments from the same pattern look like utterly different items. That's how many clothing ranges bash out so many apparantly new styles season after season, so I'm applying a little of the same shizzle to my sewing escapades.

The pattern for this top's first in carnation was Built By Wendy #3835. I have made four previous manifestations of that pattern preceeding this creation, each time making pattern alterations, which lead me to this, my most successful to date. For this one, I used the full sleeve variation I had previously devised, but perfected it by making the sleeve hit just right, avoiding the awkward and uncomfortable 'sleeve sitting in the crook of elbow' phenomena of manifestation number #4. I added (to my mind) delicately proportioned bias-cut sleeve bands to finish them off.

Aside from the well fitting pattern, I think the majority of props must go to the lovely fabric. It's more from the ex-Springfield stash I wrote about here. This is a light cotton in a fairly subdued (for me) mid grey with metallic threads running through. Now I'll be the first to admit that The Smock is not the sexiest of garment shapes, but I think the slight sheer quality of this fabric, combined with the back keyhole detail I added, injects enough raunch to steer me clear of Frumpsville. Similarly, I think the metallic fibres exude enough sparkle to make it special enough for bar wear (midweek, say), but not too much to make it inappropriately 'disco' for daytime biz.

The second time I wore this was in in Birmingham, UK. I was medicating a particularly viscious post-wedding hangover with a satisfyingly greasy pasty, and got a massive grease stain down the front of it! So it goes.

Thursday 1 October 2009

Further Tales from the Stretch Fabric Frontline

After my previous successes in the field of stretch, as reported in my last post, I was riding high! Two wearable endeavours were making me feel like I had made solid progress towards stretch domination. Here’s the boat neck version I was wearing yesterday paired with my birdy appliqué skirt (BTW, I’m pissed off with Christmas having the monopoly over the colour combo red/green, I’m trying to take it back for the masses). With a bit of time before I had to start back at work, and my overlocker sitting there all threaded up and looking at me, I looked around for some ideas to inspire another quick stretch garm.

At this point I must admit I’ve massively fallen in love the Macaron dress pattern by Colette patterns, pictured above. It’s just so cute and sexy in a really wearable way. I especially love the kind of bustier line, that is neatly and subtly emphasised by using contrast fabrics. I am on the brink of ordering it, but am holding back to see the new Autumn collection, so I can make a bulk order and reduce my, umm, carbon footprint or something. However, seeing more and more people’s interpretations of this pattern has set thoughts of potential colour and fabric combos whizzing round my brain.

Then I saw the amazing creation above by alisondahl on Burdastyle. I realised it’s a way to recreate the sexy bustier line of the Macaron dress but in comfy stretch. I decided to, well let’s not beat around the bush, more or less copy it. I think that’s fine if you just say it out loud! So using my newly tried and tested stretch top pattern I set to work tracing a bustier line to the front and back. Using some of the remains of the blue and white stripe slinky stretch fabric from my last project fabric for the bottom section, and some plain white T-shirt fabric my flatmate had knocking around for the top pieces, I eagerly began construction.

Now, little did I realise that the normal T-shirt fabric would behave quite differently to the slinkier stuff I had previously been dealing with. The joining of the pieces over the bust line curve was a bit of a nightmare, creating little annoying tucks on the join on the white fabric. But the real disaster occurred when I tried to self bind the neckline. It looked disastrous! It stretched the neckline hideously, and no amount of steaming could encourage it to shrink back to something wearable.

After feeling thoroughly disheartened and confused, I carefully unpicked the offending binding, trying not to stretch the neckline any further than it already had been. I resolved the situation by applying the technique I used on the blue and white striped top, which was to zigzag stitch thin elastic close to the edge on the wrong side of the neck line, to kind of ping it back into some sort of reasonable shape. Whereas the blue and white striped top’s neckline sat pretty flat, with this normal T-shirt fabric, the effect ended up kind of gathered. This is because I had to pull harder at the elastic when zigzagging it into place to utilise more of its elastic properties to stop the neckline from gapping. I’m pissed off that I didn’t see this coming, but I’m not unhappy with the final result, so I can swallow the gathered effect and attempt to pass it off as deliberate!

Now in hindsight I’m guessing the difference in fabric behaviours is to do with the fabric content. I’m thinking that the slinkier striped fabrics I used for the first two stretch tops had an elastane content which helped keep the neckline (and on the second top, the curve of the bust line on the stripey lower half) in shape when the fabric was cut. I am also thinking, that the normal T-shirt fabric’s stretchability come purely from the knitted ‘weave’ of good ol’ cotton, without the ‘help’ of any stretchy elastane type fibres, which is why all hell broke loose when I cut it and tried to mould it into fancy curvy shapes. If anyone knows ANYTHING about what the hell is going on here, PLEASE leave a comment. And any suggestions for how to deal with the necklines of normal T-shirt fabric tops would be most grateful. Phew! At least the frikkin’ thing is wearable:

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