Tuesday 31 August 2010


Maybes or maybes not you remember last month I announced that I've started writing for Mixtapezine as a regular contributor. Well, with a piece of irony that hasn't escaped me, that was shortly followed by the sad sad news that mixtapezine will in fact fold at the end of this year. The majorly awesome, and indeed zeitgeist-detecting, editor and creator Justine has an expanding family and no-doubt a squillion other commitments. Having achieved more than she ever dreamed of when setting out, she has made the decision to knock the zine on the head, but promises more from the mixtape brand in 2011. I wish her all the best and I'll be waiting (not so) patiently to see what she has up her sleeve for the future.

So...... more reason than ever to get hold of the penultimate printed issue of mixtapezine. Issue 13, the 'All Around The World' issue, plus various back issues are available here. And remember, there will only be one more printed issue released in the future (on October 18th) and the final issue will be available as a PDF only on December 6th. Mixtapezine has made such a significant and vibrant contribution to the international crafting, DIY and eco-minded communities over the last three years, it will be sorely missed.

So with the aim of providing a taster for Issue 13, here's my current contribution to the zine entitled 'FreeKEA', based upon a phenomenon I wrote about on this very blog a squillion years ago:

Moving to another country, particularly a country whose native language is inconveniently not your own, was never going to be a doddle. But language barriers aside, alternative culture and practices that make your day-to-day habitual life turn on its head also contribute to feelings of separation.

However, sometimes the discovery of these differences leads to something very magical. Occasionally, these new alien customs and practices turn out to be BETTER than the ones you have left behind!

I found myself in such a situation last year when I moved from UK to Barcelona with little money and few belongings. I quickly found a room in a flat, and required some furniture and other things to make my life easier and prettier. I couldn’t follow the suggestions from most of the people with whom I discussed my situation, which was to head down to IKEA. I couldn’t shake the image of streets and landfills filled with broken, cheap, unethically-made furniture remnants. When refurnishing a flat in the UK, usually I would head to a charity shop, and hunt down some suitable pre-loved pieces. Having swiftly learnt of the almost total lack of charity shops in Spain, I drew a blank. On the other side of the same coin, what do people in Barcelona do with their unwanted furniture?

In the past in Spain, it was the Catholic Church, with its greater involvement in society, which took on the responsibility for the (re)distribution of unwanted items. And yet, today here in Barcelona (and maybe the rest of Spain) there is a distinct lack, or less involvement in, organisations such as charity shops, EBay and Freecycle projects. These organisations facilitate the recycling and reusing of perfectly good furniture and items in other parts of the globe. However, from the ashes of the decline in influence of the Catholic Church, a new culture of structured sharing and disposal has risen.

Unaware of an official term for this phenomenon, I’ve come to know it as ‘Free Furniture Day’. Every area of the city has a day of the week when you can put out onto the street any unwanted/broken pieces or furniture, or indeed anything else, for the council to come and collect. Naturally the more thrifty individuals choose these days to go ‘stuff-hunting’, before the council trucks sweep away the remnants.

Upon learning of this, the thrifty reusing and recycling fan inside me became very excited. So excited in fact, that when my flatmate told me that it was our barrio’s ‘Free Furniture’ night, I went straight out, literally eight hours too early (10pm is the optimum hour in that hood), on the off-chance that the early bird does indeed catch the worm. It didn’t. But nine months, and three flats later I have definitely learnt to capitalise on these days. A chest of drawers, a decorative birdcage, half-full candles discarded by the cathedral, chairs, a vintage 1950’s Spanish board game: these are but a few of the items I have acquired (quite legally!) with no money and a bit of persistence. Obviously, unlike heading to IKEA, you can’t hit the streets with a shopping list for a wardrobe, sofa, lamp and so on. And although I’m sure, on the whole, ‘Free Furniture Days’ do little to dissuade most of the public from buying new, cheap and ultimately disposable furniture, they do provide something of an alternative for those who are willing to put the hours in to go ‘hunting’. Just remember to hunt in packs, in case that amazing find is too big to take home on your own!

Thursday 26 August 2010

Self-Stitched-September: Participants List!

(Self-Stitched) September is obviously drawing very close, and as promised, here is a comprehensive list of all the fabulous people who have signed up to the challenge. You may remember that when I sent out the call to join me in this challenge, I declared that my hope was to get 100 participants, a step up from the 80-odd participants of Me-Made-May. Well, I am delighted to declare that we have busted through that target and are currently standing at double the participants of MMM with a list of participants in excess of 160!

If you have signed up but I misinterpreted your comment and haven't included you, or I've listed you but you would prefer to be known as something else, OR your link doesn't work OR your link is missing or incorrect, I'm very sorry. Please leave me a comment on this post and I'll rectify the situation. If you've been thinking about signing up but haven't got round to it, please do so by August 31st (for obvious reasons).

I hope any preparations you may have been doing are going well. Don't forget the Self-Stitched-September Flickr group, as well as the fabulous blogs listed below to see what everyone else has been up to. Enjoy!

Venus de Hilo

Friday 20 August 2010

Colour Conclusions

If you already had the dubious pleasure of reading my recent post over at the Colette Patterns blog, you’ll know my brain space has been partly occupied by considerations of colour. This is a facet of my proposed new more grown-up approach to sewing in which I theoretically think things through before leaping into a project with the aim of producing more successful and wearable garments. I’m planning on making guidelines, rather than inflexible rules, on what colour fabrics to head for so that some cohesion reins and each garment suits my complexion and colouring.

Having identified myself as a ‘Woman of Winter’ (!), I was interested to learn that apparently the types of colours that allegedly suit me best are generally the ones I gravitate towards anyhow. (Sometimes it nice to receive affirmation that you were right all along!.) Bright, clear and strong colours apparently complement the contrast of my fair skin (with blue undertones) and dark brown hair and muted tones (which I developed a mild aversion to some years ago), for reasons deeper than my present understanding, do nothing for this contrast.

Using the knowledge I’ve gleaned from hanging out with myself for thirty years I have concluded that the following colours should be firmly represented in my wardrobe:

  • Black. I currently have only a couple of black items and feel I could do with some more of the cool and adaptable qualities it can bring to the party.

  • Navy. An argument could be made that navy beats black for the title of ‘most versatile and classy basic’ and I doubt I’d be one of the objectors (can you imagine how such a tussle would be staged?!). Pre-garment cull I had a considerable dose of navy in my wardrobe and I would like to re-administer this over time.

  • Red. At the tender age of 19, two mates and I (all with very different colouring) tried on the same red dress that we all fell in love with, but none of us could afford. We all looked pretty good, but even though I was arguably the less attractive of the bunch, I believe I rocked that dress the hardest due to my colouring. In a similar vein to Gertie (another ‘Winter’, I believe) red has since become one of ‘my colours’. However, in recent times I’ve inexplicably kept it below the belt, which is something of a missed opportunity upon reflection. By 'red' I mean from ruby shades through to tomato red/orangey shades, even perhaps going over to the coral side of the street: they're all welcome.

  • Turquoise (or whatever you prefer to call this colour). Fashioned into potentially world’s most amazing shoes as seen in the picture below (actually, I’m pretty sure the MOST amazing shoes in the world would probably feature little anchors somewhere), this colour can be devastatingly awesome when paired with red (see above).

  • In no way will my future creations be limited to these colours alone, but these will be the backbone of my wardrobe. In fact I’m becoming increasingly fascinated by people’s relationships with colour. How do you decide what colour fabrics to sew? Is it purely an instinctual thing, or have you had to sit yourself down at any point, have a good think about it and make some decisions?

    Tuesday 17 August 2010

    Cull Aftermath

    In my last post I outlined the extent to which I had to abruptly reduce the number of garments I own. The current number is approximately one third of the total from a week before. On one hand, this could be viewed as a problem due to my participation in my own brainchild Self-Stitched-September which looms close (sadly my handmade creations were far from immune during the recent cull). A crazy stitch-up session to repopulate my wardrobe before the onset of September is off the cards as my sewing stuffs and I are separated indefinitely until accommodation is found in my new adoptive city. In short, expect a lot of repeated outfits during September!

    On the other hand, I believe the situation I have found myself in is actually pretty positive. Not only does it test my commitment to my aims to become as unconnected to mainstream clothing consumerism as possible, but it also sticks a rocket under the implementation of my more considered approach to sewing. Thanks to the interesting and ingenious comments left on my Stuff and Things post in which I asked for peops advice on how they decide what is worth sewing, I think I’ve got a clearer idea of how to avoid making garments that won’t see very much action.

    It’s interesting to me that my recent decision to go a year without buying new footwear was shortly followed by my need to give 6 or 7 pairs of shoes away. This has somewhat forced my hand in coming to terms with how many possessions (in this case, footwear) I can actually get by with (or without). There will now be less ‘shopping’ within my own previously excessive shoe collection, which might have somewhat alleviated the symptoms of desire for new shoes. I’m predicting this will make me take better care of the shoes that I already have, keeping them cleaner and adding innersoles to pairs that would benefit from them, and encouraging me to experiment more with introducing them into outfit combos.

    I’m hoping the next couple of months with a comparably limited wardrobe will confirm to me that I can dress sufficiently well that I don’t need to need to make clothes like the rabid sewist I was before. When I do get my little sewing factory set up again, I’m determined to slow my output down and spend more of the time I would be producing garments on the aspects I often tend to rush through (thinking about what would be most useful, planning outfits, altering existing garments, perfecting the fit including toiling a style before rushing into ‘best’ fabric etc.). Hopefully the revised approach will result in clothes that follow my style objectives (posts on this subject are due), fit my body well, are constructed to a high level and don’t result in many types of the same garment (eg, heaps of A-line skirts and short-sleeved blouses but no trousers or long-sleeved tops).

    And if I need to get that fix from creating a garment super-quick with next to no thought required, I’ll turn to my new toy: origami fashion! A genius going away gift from my friends Lee and Isi, I was able to create a shirt, tie and entire suit whilst travelling through France by train. That or create more pants of course, because I’m not sure you can have too many of them!

    Wednesday 11 August 2010

    The Great Wardrobe Cull of 2010

    So, in the last post I left you with the difficult news that I had been forced to part with a fair chunk of my wardrobe (including some handmade items). Well now I must report that after writing that last post the packing clothes situation got significantly more brutal. BRUTAL I tell you! The discovery that the previous clothes culling had not been sufficient came at quite an advanced stage of the packing/moving process. In fact the knowledge that we literally would not be able to carry at the same time all we needed to take through France and UK came very late indeed, later than the final opportunity to give Correos (the post office) yet more of my holiday-cocktail fund to send some of it on ahead. Not wanting to burden our friends with the awkward and time consuming task of sending the excess stuff on our behalf (the pain we are inflicting by our relocation is probably tough enough!) the only option left was more possession-culling brutality. It’s not all bad, my mate Jen (the recipient of the majority of these belongings) doesn’t need to buy any clothes or shoes for at least six years now. Yay for reducing consumerism?!

    I fear I am not being sufficiently explicit in my attempts to convey what has happened so in order to do so more fully, and indeed to help myself absorb the full extent of the situation, I have prepared some stats. Let’s look at the figures for couple of different garments groups:


    Last week I possessed: 1 pair of jeans, 4 pairs of trousers, 1 pair of Capri pants and 2 pairs of shorts.
    Now: 2 pairs of shorts


    Last week I possessed: 2 coats, 4 jackets and 1 big woolly cardigan.
    Now: 1 coat and 1 jacket


    Last week I possessed: 18 items for all seasons (ok, I admit some thinning out in this area may have already been overdue!)
    Now: 8 items.


    Last week I possessed: loads
    Now: not so many.

    At risk of blinding you with all this science, I’ll conclude thus:

    In a manner similar to an amputee who still ghost twinges in the missing limb, the reality hasn’t kicked in yet! However, I am not attempting to elicit any particular emotional response from you, dear readers (my capacity for self-pity should be sufficient), I am simply laying down some heavy facts which directly affect the major themes of this blog: consumption and sewing stuff.

    Wednesday 4 August 2010

    Stuff and Things

    See that? That's all my clothes in one pile. All of them except for a few bits that were hiding in the laundry and the garments I was standing in. That's what I dealt with yesterday.

    Finally it got to the clothing stage in my packing to move back to UK. Until yesterday, I had the naive idea that I could whittle my clothing down to fill just one medium sized suitcase and maybe one smallish box to be sent via post to UK. Ummmm, No! Totally No, seriously No and a million times, No! I have come to realise that my initial aim only would have been possible if I were living (or about to live) in a temperate climate that was generally very warm with very little weather fluctuation of any kind. I don't know where such a place would be, but it certainly isn't my current reality. The truth is, whilst I'm wearing my smallest shorts, skirts and summer tops right now, jumpers and coats are to be fixtures of my near future.

    The pile of garments that remain post-sorting is now about half the size of the pile in the image above, but even after the mass-culling, I'm going to have to buy a bigger suitcase. Sorting through clothes is so difficult! So many memories and attachments exist between both self-stitched and long-harboured shop-bought items. The ties between a sewer and their handmade wares are clearly complex and multi-faceted. But having not bought any new clothes for about four years, many of my shop-bought things have achieved an elevated level of preciousness as well, which was pretty much the point of signing up to the Wardrobe Refashion pledge in the first place: to live an alternative to the standard lifestyle where clothing is disposable.

    But it couldn't all come with me and I had to be ruthless. A lack of charity shops here in Spain makes chucking out unwanted things more of a guilt-inducing activity than it might otherwise be if I was currently living somewhere where the culture of second hand were different. Thankfully, I have a friend living here whose hoarding instinct I have been able to exploit so I know the majority of the items I have had to discard are going on to a new life! But with so many 'old friends'and handmade 'babies', the criteria I needed to employ to figure out the what would stay and what would go had to be pretty tough.

    'Slow-fashion' forces you to evaluate more fully what you need and want from a garment than shopping for garments does, because (if you're anything like me) you know that rushing in to an ill-considered project often results in an unwearable garment, and with the extra time and effort invested in it's aquisition, that can be pretty crushing! My sewing outup has escalated somewhat over the last year and it's really helped me focus on what kind of styles I'm interested in and suit me. There's been quite a few creations this year that occurred largely because I wanted to get something finished rather than because I was creating something well-suited to my tastes, body shape and lifestyle. This clothing clear-out gave me the opportunity to acknowledge that and let them go.

    So now that my wardrobe consists only of items that are currently (or shortly will be) seeing a lot of action and the garments that I feel accurately reflect the direction my personal style seems to be heading, I feel I'll be in a better situation to get back into sewing when I find myself ensconced in our next abode. In a vein similar to Mena from Sew Weekly's approach, I hope to only make additions to my wardrobe that are well made, well fitting and well considered in terms of reflecting my personal style and lifestyle needs. In short, I've got to stop spewing quick-fix garments from my sewing machine that end up languishing in my cupboard. I'm most likely one of the last home-sewers out there to have come to this conclusion, but if anyone out there has any tips on how to implement this more considered (and, dare I say, mature) approach to sewing and how to keep yourself on the straight and narrow, I would very grateful to read them!

    Monday 2 August 2010

    How to Construct Undies with a Serger and FOE

    Here we go people, the very thing that you've been asking for and I've been promising to deliver: a how-to on pants/knickers/panties/undies construction. After a fair bit of examining my shop-bought pants, I did some experimentation with different construction methods and types of underwear elastic (a lot of which has been previously documented on this blog) to work out how best to make my own. This is my favourite technique for creating great-looking and comfy pants!


    • Pants pattern. Either make a pattern by tracing or deconstructing an existing pair or download my hipster pants pattern (to be uploaded to Burdastyle in the near future and available for free download). Make sure there are three pieces: front, back and gusset
    • Knit fabric. You can upcycle old T-shirts or use any piece of pants-appropriate knit fabric. Remember, standard crew-neck T-shirt fabric tends to have less stretch quality than a lot of knit fabric (particularly those with an elastane content), so you may want to add an extra 0.5 - 1 cm at each side seam if you want to use the less-stretchy type to give yourself an extra 2 - 4 cms in total for comfort.
    • FOE (fold-over elastic). You can use any type of elastic you please, but seeing as I prefer FOE for it's ease of use and clean finish, that's what I'm using for this tutorial. It is available in some haberdashers, and many ebay sellers stock it in a variety of colours and finishes.
    • Serger/Overlocker
    • Standard flatlock sewing machine that can make a three-step zigzag stitch or normal zigzag stitch.
    • Thread
    • Large handstitching needle

    Step 1:

    Serge/overlock the top edge of the gusset to create a neat finish.

    Step 2:
    To create the main gusset seam lay your pattern pieces on top of each other as follows:
    Lay the front piece right side up. Lay the back piece on top with the wrong side up. Lay the gusset piece on top with the wrong side up.

    Step 3:
    When the edges are lined up, pin the layers together.

    Step 4:

    Serge/overlock them together making sure you catch all three layers in.

    Step 5:

    Open out the pieces so the front and back pieces are lying wrong side up and the gusset is positioned towards the front with the right side up. The seam will be hidden inside.

    Step 6:

    Pin the sides of gusset to the front piece.

    Step 7:

    With the right side up, start at the side seam and apply FOE around each leg hole. The FOE folds in half and traps/sandwiches the fabric edge inside it. Using a three-step zigzag (or a normal zigzag if your machine doesn’t have the three-step) topstitch along the FOE. I usually use a 90-gauge sewing machine needle and haven’t had any problems before.

    I would recommend practicing with the FOE and scraps of your fabric until you feel comfortable with this process. It can be a good idea to very gently pull the elastic as you are stitching to create snug-fitting pants. The sides of the gusset will get sandwiched in between the FOE as you stitch (don’t forget to remove the pins as you go!).

    Step 8:

    You should now have two elastic bound leg holes!

    Step 9:

    With the right sides together, serge/overlock one of the side seams together. Don’t forget to leave tails of thread, you can stitch these in later to create a neat finish without the risk of unravelling.

    Step 10:

    Now it’s time to apply FOE along the waist edge of your pants. Just as you did with the leg holes, start at one end with the right side up and sandwich the edge inside your FOE, topstitching with a zigzag stitch as you go.

    Step 11:

    With the right sides together, serge/overlock the final side seam together.

    Step 12:

    You should have three tails of thread hanging loose, one at the bottom of one side seam, and two at the other side seam (one at the top, one at the bottom). With a large handstitching needle, like a wool needle, thread the tails of thread back inside the seam overlocking so that the ends cannot be pulled out.

    Ta da!!!!! Finished pants! Don’t forget, you can add anything, for example, lace, ribbon, small buttons, appliqu├ęs, bows, ruffles, embroidery, ricrac etc. to make your pants super-special!

    If you need any stage of this how-to clarified, please leave a comment on this post and I'll try to demystify my meaning! If you don't have a serger/overlocker, don't fancy making or downloading a full pants pattern or don't feel like acquiring FOE, I would recommend Cal Patch's Make Your Own Underwear how-to for a slightly different approach to the one detailed above. Good luck and happy undies making!

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