Sunday 31 October 2010

Warehouse Dreamin'

I would like to share with you today a long held fantasy of mine: living and working in a warehouse space. Basically, a big industrial or ex-industrial space, all brick and concrete, with lots of light and air in which to spread out to live and create. Big areas to share with my boy and other invited ‘creatives’ in which we would work and generate ideas and hang out and relax.

I lust after potential sites for this dream lifestyle. My face is always stuck to the window of a train when it goes through an industrial area, taking mental snapshots. When I lived in Barcelona, my favourite jogging route wasn’t through one of the beautiful parks or along the Mediterranean seafront but through, you guessed it, the industrial area. I would take my mind off being a painful panting sweaty mess by playing my usual ‘That one, no, THAT one!’ game amongst the warehouses. Maybe it was watching ‘Heart Break High’ at an impressionable age (can someone corroborate that some of the characters did indeed live in a warehouse please? Did I imagine it?), but this fixation started a long time ago and seems to only have grown stronger. Hence already having a folder of images on my laptop full of pictures of inspirational warehouse spaces handily available to illustrate this post!

Because I would never want, not that I could EVER afford, a sanitised, pre-converted trendy warehouse pad with its token ‘original’ exposed brick work wall and fancy lampshades installations, nor would I want to live in something that resembled a filthy crack pipe-filled location of a scummy East London squat party: the not so tiny matter of making such a space habitable would come be a major issue. Adequate bathroom and kitchen facilities are not exactly standard in such a space, not to mention trying to keep warm in a space with such high ceilings made from such unsympathetic building materials. Having to make somewhere such as this habitable would undeniably be an exciting challenge (creating bed mezzanines, partitions between work and living areas, inventive storage solutions, open-plan kitchens, clothing rails which hang down from the ceiling), but not one I can realistically see me taking on.

With great sadness, I am slowly coming to realise that my fantasy will probably always remain just that for the following reasons. Firstly, acquiring a warehouse space is not something I am up to. I could never afford to rent such a space, and even if I was able to somehow locate one with a low enough rent, the legalities of actually living in a space meant for industrial means would most likely be entirely preventative. Secondly, if I was to consider taking the other, less legal road and found such a space unoccupied and apparently neglected, I’m just not gritty enough to attempt a squatting lifestyle. The risk of being kicked out and forced to move at the drop of a hat (been there!), abandoning all you’d created, would be too unpleasant and unstable. As would the increased risk of being burgled: imagine leaving my lovely sewing machines at home, not knowing if they’d be there when I returned. I’m just not strong enough for that! From what I understand, successful squats have someone physically there 24 hours a day, which would either make me something of a prisoner, or it would mean the need for flatmates, the lack of which has been the main benefit of our current digs and not something we are willing to surrender. Once again, I’m just too bohemian for the squares, but too square for the bohemians!

So, does anyone else harbour similar habitation desires? Has anyone actually lived in a space similar to these? If so, how did it come tp pass? Are there any other types of buildings that were not originally meant for living in, that take your fancy? Do you have anything to share that might give me cause to not give up on this dream? Does anyone know of any available and cheap warehouse spaces available in the Brighton area?!

Saturday 23 October 2010

Ladies in Waiting

They can be found in high class restaurants, organic vegan cafes, greasy diners and every kind of establishment in between; today’s post is a shout-out to all my waitressin’ sistas out there. Often underpaid and undervalued, I would argue that waitresses (and waiters, but this post is about the laydeez in particular) play an important role in society. Social interaction and, in particular, celebration have been conducted around food for millennia, and a good server can make that experience all the more enjoyable.

That said, waitresses are a varied as the menu. Some are attentive, pleasant and helpful, others rude, obnoxious or vacant. Some are professional multi-tasking divas while others are, umm, basically useless. Yet it could be hard to deny that the Waitress, at least in the West, is something of a cultural icon. Just think how many films there are featuring a waitress.

My first stint as a waitress was in a horrendously busy fish and chip restaurant at the seaside when I was sixteen which I had nightmares about for years later. Despite that, waitressing is a role I’ve come back to time and time again throughout my subsequent working life. My most recent waitressing position ended today (LONG story, but basically I quit due to issues I had with the management. Again.). My next job may be sewing related (I don’t want to say too much in case it doesn’t come to pass), but if not it may indeed be another waiting stint. I would be lying if I said the second outcome fills me with excitement, but it certainly doesn’t fill me with fear because #1) there are elements of waitressing I really like, and #2) if I say so myself, I’m really good at it.

Being a waitress gives you the opportunity to observe up close and converse with a wider variety of people than your normal day-to-day life usually permits. There’s also the feeling that you are directly contributing to someone’s enjoyment of one of the best bits of their day. Oh, and there’s the free food.

Probably the most iconic variety of waitress in Western visual culture is the US diner waitress. Their distinctive uniform styles, most notably from the 1950’s, have become synonymous with mid-century American popular culture. Key stylistic features often include contrast colour blocks, gingham, piping, wide collars, turned up short sleeves, aprons, accessible pockets and centre-front button or zip closures. As a fan of mid-century retro flavoured style, I have harboured a mild obsession for these uniforms and design elements for years. I know I’m not alone in this passion (hello frk.bustad?), many designers have used these visual cues for fashion rather than workwear intended garments in the past.

I plan to make a diner waitress inspired dress in the future, and by doing so I will be honouring the fact that, by serving coffee and witty banter in equal quantities, your waitress basically has the power to make your day better.

Saturday 16 October 2010

Cunning Coat Planning Strategy

Right. I am all business today. My most recent project was the last relatively quick fix before embarking on something way more involved: a winter coat! Oh yes. Having had to jettison my old warm coat in Spain before 'Mission Repatriation' brought me back to UK, the leopard coat will no doubt shortly be insufficient as Winter gets intimidatingly close. Recently, the coastal winds have got frikkin' nippy as I walk to work in the mornings, which has sharpened my focus towards getting in this project underway.

I don't usually post about upcoming projects, preferring to blog about completed ones instead. I guess I want to avoid any feeling of expectation in case I decide to go off on a tangent and do something different instead. But for reasons stated above, this project could do with a catalyst and maybe announcing my plans will provide that. So let me divulge. My intention is to use the vintage Vogue pattern pictured above that featured in my Recent Acquisitions post. Incidentally, if anyone knows of a site that can date undated vintage patterns, I'd be very grateful if you could leave a comment. In that post I mentioned a desire to basically recreate View E, the green version. However, after a trawl of Brighton's limited range of fabric shops, a lack of suitable green fabric resulted in me coming home with some lovely midnight blue wool instead. Ok, so squint and try to invision this in midnight blue:

Nice? Let's hope so. However, I find keeping the momentum to continue through a major project very difficult to sustain, and it's easy for such a project to become a drag rather than a pleasure. The aforementioned leopard coat, for example, had me going crazy after weeks of staring at the same unfinished garment, the progress of which appeared to move at the pace of a snail. So, to keep myself plugging forward I'm going to treat each stage of planning and construction of this coat as a series of little goals. And to help me to this, I am going to deploy a new piece of technology that my boyfriend recently discovered: Todobedobedo. This beta site was actually developed in Hove, just down the road from where I am currently typing. It allows you to create lists of tasks that you can 'tick off' as you complete them, and you receive encouraging little missives for your trouble. In no way does this offer you more you could achieve with a pen and paper and a little self-congratulation, but for me the process of seeing each planned task on a computer screen somehow make it feel more official and, therefore, me more accountable!

So, I thought out the first chunk of steps required for my coat project and created a new list (careful not to add too many steps in advance that may make the project appear too intimidating) and so far it looks like this:

I'll update you on this method as a way to structure a scary sewing project. In the meantime, if anyone has any other tips on how they passify themselves in the face of a massive project or ideas on how to break down and structure the construction tasks, please share!

Thursday 14 October 2010

Wooly and Wearable

September was rubbish in the sense that, although I actually got a few garments sewn (black sailor trousers, black stretch T-shirt top, black Port Elizabeth top, black Simplicity 3835 top AND denim sailor trousers), I was forced to unveil them on this blog as part of the mash-up of SSS documentation posts. This was due to having little time and no internets at home for the duration of that month. However, all is now well. I have a new self-stitched garment plus a little time and a lots of internets, so normal show and tell may commence.

Today's offering is an incredible simple A-line skirt last I finished last night. It's made using a small length of wool blend that's been in my stash for, ummm, about a squillion years that I 'appropriated' from the sample pile of a clothing company I used to work for. The fabric has all the appearance of wool but so much synthetic content that washing and ironning it are no problem. I've been biding my time using it up but now I have a job that requires me to wear black and what with winter on it's way, now seemed good time to deploy it.

The pattern used was a self drafted A-line that earlier this year I spent some time improving to fulfill my personal requirements (better darting to accommodate my round bum, longer length, waistline sittin on the upper hip). Although I did those alterations way back when I lived in bcn (oooh, whole months ago!), I hadn't got round to actually using the pattern, but I'm pretty pleased with the improved fit in this skirt.

Because making a basic A-line skirt isn't a massive challenge for me these days, I used this project as an opportunity to try something new and used this method of lining compared to my usual method. For those who can't be bothered to read the whole article right now, I'll explain that it's a method that treats the lining and facing as one. In fact, I took it a step further and omitted the facing altogether and tried an option the article gave which involved cutting the facing pieces from fusible interfacing and fusing them to the top of the wrong side of the lining to give more support. This avoided any itchy wool facing close to the skin or having to buy a scrap if alternative fabric just for the frikkin' facing as I didn't have anything suitable knocking around.

To make the skirt even vaguely interesting, I added a pair big patch pockets. I managed to find a pair of big shiny buttons in my huge collection of predominantly odd buttons and applied them which actually makes the pockets non-functioning. If I had left them as functioning pockets, I would have subconsciously spent too much time wandering round with my hands shoved in them which would pull at the skirt and eventually ruin its generally clean finish.

This skirt may be one of the more boring items you'll see knocking around blogland at the moment, but I don't care. I'm currently trying to create well fitting, useful and functional pieces that will get a lot of wear. And let's also not forget that, as previously mentioned, I didn't pay for the fabric. The zip, thread, fusing and buttons were also from my stash and the lining was a small piece of poly/cotton I recently picked up from a charity shop for about 50p. Subsequently, this skirt weighs in a total cost of very little, aside from my time that I probably would have wasted watching ANTM or playing Hearts anyway, so I've come away with a handmade garment that argueably actually worked out cheaper than buying the equivalent from a shop. A rare feat these days! Happy stitching (if applicable).

Monday 11 October 2010

Homage to the Wiggle Dress

If you’re looking for some deeply insightful commentary from the frontline of the self-stitched revolution, then I’m going to have to disappoint you today. Sorry bout that. Instead, today’s post is about a sartorial obsession of mine: the wiggle dress.

Presumable it was named as such because of the way in which the wearer of the dress might walk due to the tightness of its pencil skirt. This style became very popular during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and offered an arguably sexier and more sophisticated style option than the very full-skirted dresses that have become synonymous stylistically with most of the 1950’s. Earlier in the decade, many designers experimented with a variety of alternative dress silhouettes, such as the trapeze, but it wasn’t really until the very tail end of the 1950’s that the wiggle dress, AKA the sheath dress, really found its way into the wardrobes of many ‘normal’ women.

As sewers interested in mid-century vintage patterns will no doubt have already noticed, many home sewing patterns from the era in question (late 1950’s to early 1960’s) actually included the pattern pieces for both full skirt and slim skirt options, either of which could be paired with the same bodice pieces to created two wildly differing looks (see above and at the very bottom of this post). In a way, the wiggle version shares the same purpose as the full skirted version: emphasising an hour glass silhouette. However, the wiggle version has the added bonus (?) of leaving less to the imagination. Yet I would argue that the tasteful hemline and often demure neckline means a wiggle dress ALWAYS falls on the correct side of the classy/trashy divide.

Mid-century fashion geeks such as myself may get a buzz from tracing the emergence of the wiggle dress and then seeing its continued evolution as it morphed into the shapes that became the shift dresses and A-lines which defined the latter part of the 1960’s. Towards the mid sixties, the trend for undefined waists gained ground in popular consciousness. The wiggle dress started to adopt a straighter line, either by omitting all of the darts and side seam shaping and relying solely on belts to create waist definition (many pattern envelope illustrations began to show these less hourglass versions both belted and unbelted (eg. See above)), OR by gradually easing the severity of the darts and merely hinting at rather than screaming about the existence of the wearer’s waist (see below).

The wiggle or sheath dress is, in my humble opinion, a genius addition to any retro lover’s wardrobe. If fitted well, the right dress or pattern can boast womanly curves using contoured side seams and darting. In addition, a waist seam and possibly even a belt draw the eye to a defined waist. The right wiggle dress or sewing pattern can make the most out of little natural curves OR work by translating all that pre-existing curvy goodness into a sassy shaped garment with the just enough of a touch of class (see Joan in Mad Men, picture below, should you have even the slightest vaguest doubt).

Despite the relative ubiquity of this style of vintage dress pattern, I love the variety that you can find through the different bodice treatments, for example Butterick 6582 (pictured below), or, for that matter, the McCalls 6732 and Simplicity 3038 which featured in my last post. And have you seen Casey’s recent incredible green wiggle dress creation? Or Sew Red Hot's blue floral printed sheath? Both leave me lost for words. Other than ‘want’ of course.

I've been a fan of this style for some time, but didn't approach actually sewing or wearing such a garment myself until earlier this year when I made my coral dress and then later my leopard and black Rockabilly version. I rarely put my 'upper assets' on display, so was drawn to the sophisticated neckline. Similarly, I'm not sure a mini skirt hemline would look very good these days either so the knee-length style also appealed. But once I made and wore these dresses I soon discovered that the neat fitting and figure hugging qualities of this style made me feel more sexy in a dress than I had previously thought possible.

Contemporary fashion, for a number of years, seems to have been focussed on silhouettes that suit relatively boyish and very slender women (well, girls). Tunic tops/smocks, skinny jeans, front-pleated or harem trousers and cropped T-shirts, I feel, generally look better on the teenage 'clothes hanger' frame than on a full grown woman in possession of undeniable curves. Since university I been experimenting with silhouette, contemporary as well as a variety of vintage ones. I would hesitate to conclude that the wiggle dress era makes the most of the positive elements of my kind of body shape, whilst glossing over the less positive ones. That said, I don't think it's the most comfortable style to wear all day every day. I'm no Joan Holloway and wouldn't welcome the feelings of having my shape so on display permantly. But for certain events and going out of an evening, I think I've found the style for me.

Monday 4 October 2010

Recent Acquisitions

Ok, I've been pretty bad, I must admit. A couple of months back I had a mini-fundraiser in which I sold off some of my vintage pattern collection, the proceeds of which went towards enabling my move back to UK. That did happen, but so did something else: a lot more sewing pattern buying, particularly of the vintage variety. Personally, I find it difficult to justify having lots of patterns, especially if they never get used: having things just for the sake of it. Plus, my desire and need to limit my possessions precludes it. Perhaps you will allow me to confess and hopefully absolve my sins:

Burda 8488, the only new 'un of the bunch. This purchase has actually been justified by having already used it twice, once in black predominantly for work and later in denim for off-duty duties. These two pairs currently form the entirety of my trouser selection.

Somehow I am generally able to justify buying and owning vintage patterns easier than new ones. I guess my logic is that they are small pieces of history that I can pick up for relatively little and can be used to recreate styles that might have been worn by my fore-mothers but in a way that suits my own style, thus creating a bridge between the past and the present (or future depending when I'll get round to making and wearing these pieces). That, and I'm basically a dirty addict.

However, this fantastic Simplicity coat pattern above which I bought from The Wilted Magnolia, who was selling off some of her collection which inspired my own sale, should be pretty justifiable on the grounds that I haven't got a winter coat and cold weather is rapidly drawing close. Seeing as I already have a fairly outlandish lighter coat (the imfamous leopard coat), I aim to make this pattern in a more subdued plain black or navy. But don't hold me to that!

The dress pattern part is also quite intriguing. I think it would look pretty awesome with the front panel in a horizontal navy and white stripe and the sides and sleeves in solid navy. Or red. Or red and navy. Or navy with red piping. Or red with navy piping. You catch my drift.

Because the Wilted Magnolia is such a generous character, she sent me some surprise patterns along with the Simplicity one I bought including this awesome Vogue one pictured above. How frikkin' nice is this pattern?! I LOVE the green version with the gold buttons and would be tempted to try and recreate this exactly. I'm also envisioning a blue and red check wool version as a homage to a GSUS Industries one I saw a while back.

Hmm, sensible and seasonal (and therefore justifiable) sewing starts to go out the window at this point. What I do not need is light-ish fabric short sleeved dresses. Oh. This McCalls pattern is just so nice though isn't it?! I think I scored if off ebay. I love both skirt versions and have vague plans to use it for some incredible African wax fabric my mate bought me from Ghana. It could also be very cool made with a different fabric for the top part so that creates a kind of trompe l'oeil blouse and skirt effect.

Too. Frikkin'. Good. I was hunting for the perfect Rockabilly style blouse pattern and had the incredible fortune to find three in one envelope! Found on Etsy, it cost more than I usually pay for patterns, which considering I don't tend to go over £2 isn't exactly hard, but I think this one is worth it. I want to make all three styles ten times each. One may have to be gingham. I plan to use my recently aquired patience to spend some time making a toile to get a really good fit for future variations.

Also on a Rockabilly tip, I bought the Simplicity pattern above as it is almost identical in style to some fantastic kitschy sailor dresses I've been oggling online. The contrast collar is a winner for me. I can't get beyond the desire to make this in navy with a white collar, perhaps with a navy stripe along the edge of the collar. It's going to be such a strong look if done right.

Yep, ANOTHER early sixties wiggle dress pattern. This one has mid-century kimono sleeves which is a debilitating weakness of mine. The neck and sleeve edges are bound using bias binding, which could be a great opportunity for all sorts of contrast high-jinks.

A pattern which cost just 50p from a charity shops needs no justification at all actually, but thought I'd show you this anyway. This would have been useful for Me-Made-March and Me-Made-May when I determindly went both months without using a dressing gown at all (aside from dressing gown-gate) despite really missing one because I hadn't made one. I must confess that I did actually wear a non-self-stitched dressing gown on occassion during SSS. I just didn't have the opportunity to make one beforehand and since I already have one warm one, didn't really see the point in making another until that one 'dies'. I'd like to use this pattern to make light weight summer one (for the two days a year that that will be useful now I'm back living in UK) with some lilac slinky satin stuff I have lurking in my stash.
Ok, confession over. Guilt subdued.

Friday 1 October 2010

Self-Stitched-September: Days 29 & 30

Now I clearly didn't balance the documentation of SSS very well, what with the last post covering a whole week's worth of outfits (and debacles) and this one only two days. Thus is the nature of irregular internet access I'm afraid. Anywho...

Day 29:

Worky worky work work work. Black Jenny skirt and Port Elizabeth top (and self-stitched pants, Saint Cardigan and yellow curtain jacket where appropriate) were once again deployed for the purpose of supervising a patisserie that may or may not be able to look after itself if I wasn't there.

Day 30:

A happier day came to pass with a day off which nicely coincided with the final day of Self-Stitched-September. And what better way to celebrate such a feat than with a new garment?! Having planned them some weeks ago, the final processes were delivered on the eve of Day 29 so that Day 30 could commence in new denim sailor trousers (and bustier T-shirt, Saint Cardigan, yellow curtain jacket and pants). The trousers were created using Burda 8488, the same pattern as my black sailor trousers which debuted on Day 9 and have formed a significant part in my working wardrobe ever since. The denim version were clearly much quicker to make as I knew the modifications and adaptions that would need to be made to the pattern ahead of time. The denim is a lovely, almost silky, broken twill weave (if you look on the reverse side, the threads make zigzags rather than the usual diagonal effect you'd expect from a standard twill weave) in a lovely mid-blue. I'm a sucker for a broken twill weave denim, which is why Wrangler jeans will always be closer to my heart than any other mass manufacturer of denim wear because they have used broken twill denim in many of their products in the past. The buttons came from the car boot sale by Wimbledon dog track that I visited a couple of weeks ago.

After visiting Shabitat (pictured above), the warehouse/shop section of a Brighton based recycling group, for pre-loved homewares for our little home, I took the train to London to meet:

Michelle! One of the lovliest stitchers out there. I met this beautiful lady a few years ago through the London-based sewing group I used to organise. If you need proof of her stitching genius, you need look no further than her gorgeous and quirky etsy shop. It was so nice to see her and indulge in deep, prolonged conversation of the crafty kind!

So there you have it. SSS is complete. As with Me-Made-March and Me-Made-May before it, I've learnt a few things from this challenge that I hope will inform my sewing and consumption from here on out. The specifics of these lessons learnt will, I'm sure, be divulged as normal broadcasting is resumed here at 'So, Zo'. I need some time to fully digest and process the events, thoughts and feelings of September. In many ways it's been a very hard month personally, a real rollercoaster. I've regretted not being able to have participated in and supported the SSS Flickr group as much as I would have liked due to physically moving around alot and not having regular internet access. But it is a testiment to the awesome and inspiring members of that group that it has been such a vibrant place of documentation of this challenge. The Me-Made-May Flickr group was a real surprise in that I never expected to be able to create something that could form the basis of such a genuinely supportive community. The SSS version didn't disappoint, and sustained a similar sense of community and then ran with it resulting in a seriously weighty volume of awesome images that I'm looking forward to sitting down and fully digesting now that I have reliable internets.

I really hope that those who were part of the challenge and Flickr group choose to share their personal thoughts and conclusions on the discussion board. Anyone who was part of the challenge and writes a blog post (if you have a blog) that includes any thoughts or summaries, please leave me a link, I would hate to miss it but with so many participants it's tricky to keep track. So thanks everyone who participated and/or commented along the way. See you next time (hint: March).
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