Sunday 29 November 2009

In the Navy

Winter has come a’ knocking and I could do with some comfy layers pronto; time to get my stretch on! After the relative successes of my summer stretch-capades (see what I did there?), I was ready to get back in the ring.
First up is a navy long sleeved T-shirt with gathered sleeve heads. The pattern was an adaption of my striped version, but made longer to prevent unpleasant midriff drafts, and the sides shaped to skim over my hips without being too clingy. I created a ruffle inspired by the Coffee Date dress, which worked out really well. I finished the neck hole in the same way as the striped one, zigzag stitching thin elastic to the raw edge to provide both the ability to stretch and easily recover its initial shape.

For the record, I frikkin love this t-shirt. I have worn it heaps since its creation last week. The win spurred me on to immediately attack this next navy blue project.

I bought 3m of this thick knit fabric in the sale for €3 a metre, but it’s ridiculously narrow width (60cms! Why?) prevented it from being any good for my initial dress making scheme. Adapting the pattern further against an existing nice fitting jumper, it has set in sleeves and (another) ruffle detail idea that I stole from a beautiful jumper my mate Anna recently bought. For this neck hole, I zigzagged sewing tape to the raw edge to keep the shape. I have to say that this top looked nice before I washed it, it’s gone a bit fuzzy, but I need to fabric condition the itchiness out of it before its debut.

It’s a pretty plain style, which was proven by the fact that I wore it a whole day without my boy noticing it as something new. BUT that’s a GOOD thing! It means I’ve made something normal!
There is a further significance. With my whole ‘not buying new clothes’ thing, and my present inability to knit, making these cut and sew knitted garments means I am no longer solely reliant on existing items in my wardrobe (which are frankly getting pretty tatty) or what the charity shop gods provide to keep me toasty from here on out! Halleluiah!

Friday 27 November 2009


To be honest, I have some politico-philosophical work to do. As damaging and negligent as ‘fast fashion’ is, I do see fashion trends as the relevant social and cultural barometers that they are. Innovators and creative peops who act as conduits to the zeitgeist play, and have always played, an important role in teaching us about our times, and some of these do so through the medium of clothing. Inevitably, this gets replicated, filtered and digested by clothing manufacturers who mass produce some of these resultant looks for anyone who wishes to partake. The speed and low price points at which the high street versions appear can be dizzying.

I guess my personal crux lies thus: I enjoy checking out the magazines, and hitting up Oxford Street when I’m back in London. I want to know what is happening in the society that I am a product of, even if I choose to opt out of some of it’s ‘trappings’, and desire to see it’s values significantly altered. But I can’t abide the route that these trends take to get to the magazines and high street stores. I know how I can experience new and current flavours, trends and styles (mainly by heading to Brick Lane on a Sunday) and how people could purchase more responsibly the manifestations of these trends (buying from ‘edgy’ independant designer/makers through market stalls, etsy, etc.) but I can’t see how the ‘trickle down’ effect to the high street, with it’s emphasis on turnover and profit, is anything but inevitable. Plus, aside from it's phenomenonaly rapid and cheap turnover, the high street is sometimes also capable of interpreting and developing some really interesting and desireable items. I hate myself for saying it, but sometimes I find the high street a real source of inspiration. Personal contradictions abound. If anyone has anything to contribute to these concerns, my moral wellfare would be very grateful for any input.

All of which is my funny way of introducing a recent creation: the jeggings! As you may know, I’m a fan of loose tops, smocks and tunics. They are cute, super-comfy and permit a big dinner! But to balance this silhouette out, I feel skinnier leg wear must be deployed. Tight jeans can feel restrictive, especially if you are wearing them all day. I’m not much of a fan of leggings since my involvement with them as an under-ten year old. Please enter the third option: Jeggings!

I spent a long time researching jeggings in shops and on the internet. There seem to be many varieties within this sub-section of bottoms. Some are effectively just leggings, with no fastening, elasticated waistbands and fake topstitched pockets and fly fronts. Others work much like jeans, with functioning fly fronts and pockets, but have been fashioned from extra stretchy fabric. Oh, and fear not, I have waited way long enough to jump on this trend band wagon to be in fear of actually being trendy, as this pair I found in the children’s section of Zara proves!

I decided to use some more of the navy stretch fabric I used for my first version of Ruby shorts (I really can’t remember how or why I ended up with so much of this particular fabric), and apply massive amounts of jeans-style topstitching to evoke a denimwear feel. I based the pattern on an existing one I traced at a clothing company I used to work for, but graded it up a size due to the sad outcome the last time I attempted to make this pattern. I was too lazy to attempt a fly front, but was sceptical that the fabric had enough stretch accommodate a simple elasticated waistband, so I opted for a concealed side zip with a fabric panel behind to prevent the zip rubbing against my skin.

They have patch pockets for the back, non-functioning fake front pockets, and a fly front ‘ruse’ created simply by topstitching the fly shape. I also made a fake lap-seam effect on the outside leg with yet more topstitching, which didn’t go well near the concealed zip (who would have thought) and I ended up breaking two needles and holding up proceedings until more could be purchased.

The half-time fitting showed that they were inexplicably too big and required taking in. I also spent approximately a thousand hours altering and re-altering the leg shape to get the desired skinny look but without the constricting feeling that would prevent all day wear.
Then end result is marred only by the cheapness of the fabric, and its inability to retain the garment’s shape for more than one wear. But in general I’m happy, and thankful I mustered up enough patience to mark all the alterations I made onto the pattern, so I have a good basic tight trouser pattern to work from in the future. I may not be any closer to the answers, but at least now I have some new trousers in which to ponder my philosophical quandaries.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

At Colette Patterns this week: 'Sew and Save!!!'

Sewing can get pretty expensive at times, what with nice patterns, gorgeous fabric, pretty buttons and all the less exciting things like mock-up fabric, thread, lining, zips blah blah blah that usually go into our creations. So, is sewing a passtime only to be indulged in when you’re feeling flush? HELL NO it isn't!!! If you're looking for ideas of how to keep your costs down, then you'd do worse than to check out my post this week over at Colette Patterns.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Make Do and Shift

Although this blog largely provides evidence to the contrary, I am actually aware that there are other people out there who make and do interesting things. There are so many awesome sites, blogs and bloggers out there who are committed to discovering and reporting on them in intelligent and humorous ways who catch on a thousand times quicker than I do, that generally I let them get on with it.

However, one such person who makes and does interesting things that I really would like to discuss is Vancouver based Natalie Purschwitz: designer/maker of a small clothing line called Hunt & Gather, and more importantly for the purposes of this post, the creator of a quite frankly fascinating project called Makeshift, which is best described in her own words:

"MakeShift is an art and research project that examines the relationships between 'making', 'clothing' and 'living'. The basic premise for the project is that for a period of one year starting on September 1st, 2009, I will only wear things that I have made myself. Initially this may seem like a reasonable task, but it will include all of my clothes, socks, shoes, underwear, coats, jackets, hats, bathing suits, accessories and anything else I might need to protect my body from the elements while trying to lead a fulfilling life."

Arguably it could be viewed as ‘I see your Wardrobe Refashion pledge, match it and raise you actually making EVERYTHING from scratch’! But where the Makeshift project differs from WR, is that it seems to be grounded in an art based investigation of culture and personal development. She explains “I hope to gain some understanding of the limitations of clothing and how they affect the development of ideology. Ultimately, I would like to examine the role of clothing as a form of cultural production”.

It is not a community project like WR, Makeshift is a personal “attempt to take responsibility for one of the three basic human needs - food, clothing and shelter”, but I’ll be very surprised if she doesn’t inspire others to attempt something similar. WR’s focus is largely to reuse what has already been produced, thus keeping it out of the landfill AND not adding to the demand for more environmentally damaging (and often sweatshop produced) clothing. Although reusing materials is not Makeshift’s primary concern, she does address the issue thus:

“I am trying to use materials that I already have (I have a lot) as well as re-purposed materials, found materials and materials that people have given to me (my favourite). I am conscientious about my materials and am considering where they come from as part of my larger agenda of critically questioning the roles of clothing and being clothed. I hope you will also view this as valid approach to materials”

AMEN! For ages now I’ve struggled with whether it’s ok or not to buy new fabric and I think her approach is the most balanced and a good manifesto for home sewing.
Natalie decided to do the Makeshift project in first place since “I noticed that I was often wearing at least one thing that I'd made myself. It made me wonder....hmmmm.... Could I??? Would I???”. As time passes and my wardrobe’s mass manufactured garments slowly become replaced with handmade items, like Natalie I too increasingly find myself out and about in homemade togs. So the natural question is: could I personally follow such rules as she? I must admit the challenge and ‘extremity’ does appeal. It would be such a massive learning curve in terms of skill acquisition. The production of underwear, knitwear, outerwear and in particular footwear interests, thrills and terrifies me, but these are achievements and discoveries I want to take my time over. Also, putting aside mass-manufactured garments I already own from ‘before’ seems a little pointless if attempting to adopt these rules for anything more than an experiment existing within a limited time frame.

I am enthralled to hear Natalie’s further thoughts and revelations as she continues this experiment. Already she has begun to consider her wardrobe almost like a survival kit, and as she determines new requirements and produces them, her 'kit' continues to grow. Makeshift highlights so many thoughts, contemplations and debates for everyone disposed to questioning their consumption, and in further ways, for those who choose to produce or make additions to their wardrobe using their own fair hands. For me, one of the most interesting elements of this experiment is how her thoughts and practices will have altered, or not, once the year is up, and I do hope she continues to record these online to contribute further to these debates.

Friday 20 November 2009

Ignoring Lessons

Do you remember when you were young and you were anxiously trying to get your important (probably only to you) point across, and the (usually older) person you were speaking to interjected with something really profound and apparently wise, to which you nodded politely but glossed over because you were so desperate to say what was on your mind? And then later, possibly even years later, you go through heaps of hassle and annoyance by creating a load of mistakes that really could have been avoided if you’d actually heeded what it was that that person was trying to tell you after all?

OR, maybe you have acquired yourself an honestly earned set of experiences that become relevant when faced with a new situation, that you gut is urging you consider but you doubt them and forge ahead with the course that you are being instructed to take anyway?

OR, you know that you really should investigate and begin to apply methods that have been deployed by many generations before you, but in the heat of passion that fuels the initiation of a new project, you can’t bring yourself to hit the pause button and get yourself learned, to the detriment of your project? A bit like sticking your fingers in your ears and saying ‘La la laaaaa’ loudly, hoping all will be well anyway?

Well, who knew that taking on this vintage shift dress pattern would touch upon all (and more) of the above of life’s anomalies?! Not I! And yet....

Something that I’m pretty sure I have heard roughly 347 times before via my mum and other wise dressmaker owls, but that I had to discover for myself, the more simple a garment appears, the more difficult it is to create a good fit. When a style has pleats and tucks and frufru all over the shop to distract the eye, the less important it is to create a well balanced garment. I thought this pattern, of unknown date (though I’m guessing maybe 1973?), which I scored for very little from ebay would be a doddle to run up. Despite this, I managed to stave off boldly attacking my fabric and rustled up enough patience to lay the pattern out before hand and compare it to both my beloved Simplicty 3835 AND my own personal bust measurement. I gleaned the comparative information and then promptly threw it out of the window, perhaps in the odd belief that the pattern makers working approximately four decades ago knew more about my body shape and desired fit than me. I guess I find it hard to trust my own, limited but relevant, experience.

To cut a long story short, a fair amount of unpicking, recutting and restitching occurred, resulting in this flawed but wearable outcome. I love the fabric which I pounced on when I saw it. It’s some type of synthetic blend that my mumma got me when she came to visit. It was nice to work with, and has a certain amount of stretch which I think was a mixed blessing. Aside from the general shape, I think the main flaw is the sleeve, as they don’t sit in the armholes very cleanly. Now I reckon this could either be due to A) the fabric having more ‘give’ in it than most wovens, B) something strange I did either setting in the sleeve or when recutting the armholes closer in to improve the garment fit, C) the sleeve pattern includes too much ease, or D) the instructions which tell you to ease in the excess between the front sleeve head notch to back sleeve head notch, rather than from two points much closer like I’ve come to expect. Or a combination of the above. Answers on a postcard. On both the front and back of the sleeves, strange pulls or bulges are visible, but seeing as I’m not sure what the fault lies, I can’t approach correcting them, so tend to squint when looking at those bits. I find squinting makes things less visible. Sometimes they pretty much disappear altogether. Try it sometime.

On the plus side, the shape of the sleeves is a departure for me and is pretty cute. The awesome (vintage?) buttons were a recent birthday gift from my amazing homegirl Silvia, which I applied to create a mock bib effect, and I think they add a really cute and unexpected element to the dress. The dress itself is very comfy (I wore it all day last Sunday. I cannot ABIDE wearing anything on a Sunday that doesn’t have a high level of comfort). Plus, it is plain enough to be rocked with any of my gradually expanding range of colourful opaque tights.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

At Colette Patterns this week: 'Get the Notions'

My second post for the Colette Patterns blog is a sneaky peek at the fascinating and often antiquated Haberdashers here in Barcelona. My experience of the these simultaneously intimidating and alluring establishments can be read here, should you fancy a gander.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

At Colette Patterns last week: ‘Martí’s Method’: Pattern Making in 1929

My first post for the Colette Patterns blog was published last week. The post features a fantastic pattern cutting book which was published in Barcelona in 1929, that had been saved from the jaws of death. We also listen to what the self-appointed pattern guru/author has to tell us about the pattern cutting's state of play in the late 1920's, and have a squiz at some of the beautiful illustrations. Just so you know.

Monday 16 November 2009

Zoe ♥'s Colette

I know I've previously mentioned how much I love the independent dress pattern company Colette Patterns, but in case you forgot, I love it masses. It’s not only because they produce patterns for beautiful garment styles that exude a subtle vintage feel. Or simply because the booklets and patterns themselves have been painstakingly created from scratch by a real person who’s clearly put their heart into each step of the process. Or that the whole shebang perpetuates the concept of an anti-corporation based economy (well it does to me). Or because they have a stunning website that is crafted and maintained by the creator of the actual patterns, which makes the whole thing really personal (unlike the monolithic faceless and unapproachable pattern companies we are used to dealing with). Or EVEN because the website has a fabulous blog which oozes inspiration through posts related to sewing, fabric and style. It is a combination of the above.

Ok, so now that that’s clarified, let me tell you about two of my favourite elements of the blog. Firstly I really like the posts where they show real sewers’ interpretations of the Colette patterns. It’s so interesting to see people’s different visions that result in such different looking garments which are essentially the same style. My version of the Beignet skirt was featured in this post. I also love this version of the Macaron dress, and this version of the Parfait dress.

Secondly, I really like that I am now a guest blogger on the Colette Patterns blog! Yes indeed, I will be contributing one post a week. I’ll add a link from my blog here each week to keep anyone who’s interested up to speed. I really like my introduction here which I may adopt as my personal mission statement/manifesto!

Sunday 15 November 2009

Brokeback Balcony

Just because I haven’t touched upon the subject yet here on my blog, don’t go thinking I don’t have much of stance on men’s style. Personally, I generally prefer guys in casual attire. As a rule I am left untouched (so to speak!) by your stereotypically appealing men in uniforms, or the suited and booted types. One of the looks I really like for guys is Western shirts, of the type modelled above by the boys from the band Calexio. Thanks guys, lookin’ good there!

With my then forth coming Pin-up/50’s Rockabilly birthday party planned, I decided to extend my sewing reach into menswear and make my boy a Western inspired shirt. I love this black shirt with white contrasting topstitching combo featured in the picture above. I used the Jakob men’s shirt pattern on Burdastyle as a base, encouraged by some of the fantastic variations made by other members, particularly the short sleeved interpretations. Matching up one of his existing shirts, I decided to make the smallest size of the pattern.

I drafted a new Western style yoke piece with the obligatory points on the back and front. Altered patch pockets with pointy pocket flaps were also the order of the day. Then basically it was topstitch-ageddon! Luckily my vintage button stash provided me with some pearl effect buttons which, although not actual authentic Western-style poppers/snaps, look damn near the same and really brought the whole garment together.

Result: the fit was pretty good but still ended up a little bigger than I intended. I’d like to make a closer fitting version in the future. Also, the sleeves could have been a little smaller. I’ll try and address that next time too. But I was really pleased with the overall outcome and will definitely make some more versions of this pattern in the future. My boy loved it and looked awesome with his matching handle bar moustache, his inner Rockabilly sufficiently outted!

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Hairpins and Pin-up Hair!

One of the best parts of the day/evening of my birthday party was (as is so often the case) the getting ready session with my ladies Ez and Vic. To create suitably pin-up hairstyles, we turned to the wonders of YouTube for some tutorials and advice. In case you’re interested in adding a dose of Pin-up into your own style; allow me to share with you some of the best videos we uncovered.

First up, for creating a mean-ass ‘Pompadour’, check out this girl. (Worthy of note: the confession that she hasn’t washed her hair for two or three weeks! Allegedly this is in an attempt to preserve her hair colour. Last time I checked, hair dye really wasn’t that expensive.)

This Liv Tyler look alike creates a similar look, but is very keen to emphasise how simple the process can be, by only actually using her fingers. (Worthy of note: the voiceover has been added after, and her self-critical ‘Yeah, I really should have done that again’ which she repeated over and over really made me laugh.)

Now for a more 40’s/early 50’s interpretation of the ‘Pomp’. (Worthy of note: if you can bring yourself to watch this video without having to mute the annoying soundtrack, you’ll catch her more-than-slightly sinister threat to ‘Track you down and kill you’ if you succeed in creating this hairstyle during your first attempt!).

I liked this video as it addressed the issue of creating a Pin-up hair style if you already possess a rather dashing fringe (bangs, as US peops would prefer). (Worthy of note: her strange obsession with the quality of daylight, and the rose hair slide that keeps hanging down comically.)

Our hairstyling session went like this: (Worthy of note: the gin and tonic on the side, which was the first of many which culminated in me vowing (and so far actuating) a month-long self-imposed drinking ban).

The results:

Once you’ve uncovered your Pin-up alter ego, I think you’ll be hooked. Or should that be pinned?

Monday 9 November 2009

Happy Birthday to Me !!!!!!!!!!

At the end of October I found myself in the unavoidable circumstance of turning thirty. The week and a half long celebrations culminated in a shebang that, never one to turn down the opportunity of a dressing up sesh, I decided to have a Pin-up girl/50’s Rockabilly themed dress code. Inspired by some incredible looking ladies I saw at the tattoo convention I recently attended, a good ol’ internet search helped with the further development of this theme.

Although not an obligatory dress code, most of my crew made a massive effort and looked AMAZING! Personally, I was pleased to sport a largely handmade outfit. I wore my blue and white stripe stretch top and Ruby red shorts, with the addition of a red belt purchased that day, tights and seriously ‘Pin-up’ heels.

So much fun was had through the entirety of Birthweek-and-a-half, and I’d like to thank everyone who made my entry into this new decade so memorable. I’d like to show my thanks to them, and to y’all who have taken the time to read by blog, by offering up for your enjoyment the funniest photo of me ever taken. Enjoy!

Friday 6 November 2009

A Tale of Two Items

Let me tell you about this little couplet. This top is ANOTHER version that has its origins in the Built by Wendy/Simplicity 3835. The pattern is the same as my grey version, but I omitted the key-hole back and added some cute little pockets to make it more of a ‘day’ garm. For a while I’d been mulling over the possibility of accentuating the raglan sleeve detail with contrasting fabric. These pieces of cotton were from my Springfield stash, and were too small to make a full garment from each anyway, so the dye was cast!

Now, onto the bag. A couple of months ago, when it was still blisteringly hot, I braved leaving the relative coolness of our flat to go and pick up some supplies. As an apparent gift for my efforts, I found this bag on the street on my way to the shop. It was in almost brand new condition. Such Asian kitsch is so up my street that when it goes on holiday, I water its plants, so I was very excited and have used it heaps since that fortuitous day.

However, predictably, it hadn’t been exposed to the highest quality level of manufacture, and one of the straps started to fray and come loose. So I trimmed it and stitched it back on, then adjusted the other to match, and wondered if this particular bag was the only one from its batch to have been repaired rather than thrown away when the first signs of wear began to show. If I had possessed this bag when I was in my teens or early twenties, I don’t think it would have crossed my mind to fix it rather than discard it when it broke. And that’s coming from me, who even back in the day always had a sewing needle within arm’s reach. I think that largely in Western culture, manufactured items that cost little receive the disrespect that a more expensive item would not generally be granted. I guess it’s a question of relative and perceived value.

I can’t blame malodious social values entirely for my formative wastefulness. Obviously, these days I possess a personal set of values that questions and prohibits such wastefulness, the development of which has been inspired by, and reflected in, changes in mood and discourse of certain groups and sections of society. But I think that a portion of the blame needs to be heaped on youth in general. When I was younger, I almost welcomed the ‘death’ of a garment or accessory because it justified the acquiring of a replacement. This meant getting something new and exciting, through which I could experiment with my style and the trends of the time. But now I’m a bit older, I have a far more solid sense of my own style and how it relates to ‘fashion’, thus I can confidently say ‘Yes I like this bag, it agrees with certain elements of my desired aesthetic, it is broken, subsequently I will fix it to elongate it’s lifespan as far as possible’. Job done.
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