Thursday 28 April 2011

Me-Made-June '11: Join Me!!!

Here we go people!!!!!!!!!!!!! Time for the latest me-made/self-stitched challenge invented by yours truly and open to anyone who wishes to play along! Many thanks for those who helped me figure out what to call the damn thing. With that decision dealt with, I was able to undertake the most important of tasks: choosing the right font to make the logo. Ta daaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!:

You like? Good. Honestly though, I don't choose the font: the font chooses me. My role is more dowsing than anything. Anyways, onto the challenge itself...

What is Me-Made-June '11?

In the same vein as Me-Made May (2010), Self-Stitched-September (2010) and Me-Made-March '11 before it, MMJune '11 is an opportunity to pledge to wear your handmade creations more than you usually would during the month of June 2011. By 'handmade creations', I mean anything sewn, knitted, crochetted, refashioned, upcycled, re-made, etc. by your own fair hands.

Why should I take part?

(I cannot improve on my explanation of Me-Made-March '11, so if this paragraph looks familiar, don't worry, you're not going crazy.) The purpose of Me-Made-June '11 is to encourage those of us who make and/or refashion clothes to actually wear them our their everyday lives. Rather than spend hours on projects that then languish unworn and unloved in the bottom of a drawer, I believe we should be proud of our achievements and creations. Let's show ourselves as well as everyyone else, that our efforts are more than just a pastime, that we have been slowly developing valueable skills that we can use to actually clothe ourselves, damn it! Let's learn to love our creations, to look past any flaws we can see in them (that probably no-one else would even notice). Why not take an opportunity to learn about what garments work best for our bodies and lifestyles so we can make more informed choices when sewing/knitting/refashioning etc. in the future? Participating in Me-Made-June '11 can do all of these things and more!

How does MMJune '11 work?

All you have to do is copy the pledge below and post it in the comments section of this post adapted to include your details and the personal specification of your challenge. For example, you could challenge yourself to wearing one self-stitched/refashioned garment a day, or if you have been sewing/knitting/etc. for a long time, you may decide to challenge yourself to two self-stitched/refashioned garment a day, or even more! Maybe you wish to only include refashions in this challenge: no problem! Perhaps you wish to include jewellery and accessories you have made: equally, no problem! This is YOUR challenge, write the script any way you want, just remember: IT IS A CHALLENGE. If you already wear a lot of self-stitched/refashioned items, think how you can up the ante. If you are fairly new to garment creating and/or re-working, make this a challenge, but don't make it impossible for yourself. If you are confused and could do with some pointers, you could check out the pledged in the comments section of MMMar '11 sign-up post to see what others have pledged in the past.

'I, (insert name here and blog address if you have one), sign up as a participant of Me-Made-June '11. I endeavour to wear
......................................................... each day for the duration of June 2011'

If you have a blog, re-post your pledge so your readers and followers can see what you are up to. Please include a link to this post so other can also sign-up if they are interested. If there's one thing I've learnt from these challenges, the more people involved, the bigger the party!

Closer to the start of June I will create a MMJune '11 Flickr group for those who wish to to post their daily outfits consisting of or including self-stitched/self-refashioned garments. What out for the announcement. Please note: participation in the Flickr group is entirely optional. If you wish to participate in MMJune '11 but don't want to be involved in the Flickr group and/or you don't have a blog, or you don't wish to take daily photos, that's absolutely fine!!! The point of this is to challenge yourself and have fun, hopefully learning something from the process. How you chose to participate is as individual as you are.

Coming very soon will be a blog button/widget of the MMMJune '11 logo that you can add to your blog!

Happy challenging! xxx

Tuesday 26 April 2011

So Long, Ceylon

Never the quickest off the mark, I'd had the Colette Patterns Ceylon dress pattern in my collection for about a year before I got round to giving it a go. To be fair, I had been waiting for the right fabric to appear, which it did in the form of a pair of spotty navy cotton sateen curtains I found in a charity in Maldon (holler, Miss P!) Autumn just gone. Maybe you aren't aware of how I feel about cotton sateen? Strongly. Anyways, I'm getting off track.

I ordered the Ceylon pattern along with the Macaron when 'Santa' (AKA, my mate Anna) perceptively bought me a Colette Patterns voucher a couple of Christmases ago. I'd fallen pretty hard for the Ceylon design when it first came out and not long after some nice versions seemed to be appearing out there in sewing-blogland (Sølvi's being my favourite to date). So when the spotty navy sateen came into my life providing sufficient fabric for this fairly fabric-hungry project for a mere £4, I felt it was time to finally crack open the Ceylon. I think I began prepping the pattern last December, and it's taken me until April to finish. This was not a quick project.

Why did it take so long? Because this dress is so damn involved and problematic and I lost momentum. It has approximately 3 squillion pieces, with heaps of gathering and top stitching, all of which meant it was always going to be pretty time consuming. But I think most of my motivation wained when I found some flaws in this pattern which needed some time to tackle. I found that the front yokes married up poorly with the front panel below at the sides seam area. Also, in my opinion, there are a couple of problems with the way the sleeve pattern piece was drafted, like it was not possible to hem properly because no allowance for the sleeve seam angle had been made, and the gathering of the sleevehead would not have been even if you matched up the shoulder point notches. One of the back sections puffed out quite a bit, which needed unpicking and repositioning (in a similar vein to my Macaron, as it goes). I also think the skirt shaping at the side seams was somewhat bizarre, so I took that in to prevent it sticking out oddly. These last two issues were definately emphasised, but certainly not caused, by my fabric, which is fairly thick.

The final issue I had with the fit of this dress is probably not the fault of the pattern, however. The wide waist panel in this design means that the skirt flares out from quite a low point. I have a naturally high waist which means that the bottom of that waist panel hits me firmly on my hips and close to my widest point. I tried to counter this to some extent in the very beginning by cutting out one size for the top and graduating out to the next size up at the waist, but this only helped so far. I would, of course, have found this out had I made a toile/muslin of this dress before cutting my final version. But with all those panel pieces, you'd have to be something of a sadist of possess the patience of a buddist monk to make a dry-run of this style! So the waist doesn't doesn't fit fantastically, which I think is a shame considering the rest of the garments looks pretty good. Hopefully, with so much going on with this style, there is too much detail to draw the eye to notice the ill-fitting waist area.

So, what IS good about this dress? Well, the fabric is lovely. Such a lovely quality and slightly weightiness of the fabric feels really nice and special to wear. The red satin piping I added to the yoke area, although a bit of a nightmare to apply (sharp angles + piping + lots of layers of fabric at certain points = extensive headache) really emphasises, what is, to me the best feature of this style. The red buttons (self-covered using scraps of the lining of my winter coat) were time consuming to make, but complement the piping well and make the dress pop.

I wore this dress for the first time to the Handmade Brighton shop's birthday party and it received lots of compliments, possibly more than any other garment on its debut, so maybe it's actually fine, and it's just that the rawness of the troubles is still too fresh for me to have a balanced view. I am planning on a second outting in it this weekend coming, so I'm hoping me and my Ceylon will be able to put our troubles behind us and become close friends afterall.

Sunday 24 April 2011

June Challenge: Named!!!

Thanks everyone who contributed to yesterday's debate on what the hell to call the next Me-Made/Self-Stitched challenge coming up in June. It soon became clear, however, that there isn't a single name that everyone prefers and that, as with everything in life, I'm not going to be able to please everyone!

This weekend is a beautiful sunny bank holiday here in UK. Yesterday I was out and about, doing this and that and making the most of the lovely weather. I have one of those smart phones which (sometimes, when I feels like it) delivers me my emails so I was able to read your comments as they came in. So many opinions, so many convincing arguements! I was all, ''Ooh yes, good point', then 'Ah yes, that makes sense, then 'Indeed, I hear you'.

Initially, 'Just-Sew-June' seemed like the strongest contender, but others began to echo my concerns that it may feel excluding to crocheters and knitters. Plus, and this is my biggest concern with 'Just-Sew-June', I may suggest that this challenge is about spending most of June hunched over your sewing machine churning out garments for the sake of it. These challenges are about encouraging everyone to wear and enjoy the existing fruits of their labour; if they want to spend some time adding to their self-stitched arsenal for their own personal enjoyment, then go for gold, but it's not a specific criteria. Other potentials came up, like 'Just-Stitch-June', 'Self-Made-June', 'Handmade-June', 'Own-Sewn-June' and my personal favourite of the new contenders: 'J'ai créé ce, June'! But I can't help but think we are going a bit off-piste (plus most accessible fonts don't have the accents needed for 'créé'!).

So, I'm taking it back Old-School style and running with Me-Made-June '11. Apparantly my main concern with that was, to quote myself, 'It abandones all alliteration'. Umm, was I suffering from sun-stroke?! What's Me-Made then?! Plus, the most recent comment on yesterday's post, AKA the Last Word on this matter, was by KC Sheehan (the creator of the popular 'Just-Sew-June' variant) who stated that she prefers Me-Made-June anyhow. Little point in arguing with that, is there?!

I'll create a sign up pledge so everyone can begin pledging to participate by the end of the week, and make a blog widget/button available. So those who were racking their brains to come up with a name, stand down! Enjoy your weekend peops!


Saturday 23 April 2011

Me-Made/Self-Stitched Challenges 2011: Update!!!

Hi peops! Time for a bit of housekeeping. With Me-Made-March '11 in the bag, I realise it's high time I officially disclosed my plans for the rest of the year regarding the organisation of more Me-Made/Self-Stitched challenges.

Lots of lovely peops have been commenting that they would like to take part in further challenges this year and have been asking if I will be hosting Me-Made-May '11. As discussed on the MMMar '11 Flickr group, it has generally been agreed that May is too close to the recently completed March challenge; that there will not be enough time to implement the lessons learnt from MMMar '11 by those who participated and wish to do so again. Afterall, there seems to be little point in simply recreating March, same garments, same outfits, same photos. I think everyone who got involved in the previous challenges will want to sense some progress and development if they chose to partipate again. So, I'm going to organise another challenge in June.

June should provide significantly different weather than March for most parts of the globe, I'd imagine, which should give the next challenge a different flavour to the last. The problem is: what to call it?! As fond as I clearly am of alliteration, there just isn't anything as catchy as Me-Made-March/May or Self -Stitched-September. So I need your help people. I've got three options so far, and would love to hear your thoughts on them or any other suggestions you can come up with:

Me-Made-June: Abandones all alliteration, but it 'does what it says on the tin' (do you have to be from the UK to get that cultural reference, I wonder?). By which I mean, everyone already aquainted with these challenges will know what it's about at a glance.

Just-By-Me-June: This name, IMO, would lend itself very well to a more hardcore version of these challenges, i.e, the participants only wear stuff made by them. But I don't want this challenge in any way to exclude those who plan on challenging themselves to wearing one self-stitched garment per day.

Just-Sew-June: As suggested by MMMar '11 participant KC Sheehan. I like this one a lot but I was concerned it might imply that knitted/crochetted or any other form of me-mades aren't welcome. Am I over-analysising this?!

So, your thoughts are clearly very necessary on this naming matter. Please comment to help me get the ball rolling for the next challenge. I have the very important job coming up of choosing the right font for the task!

FYI, I also plan to do this again in September, so relax, I've got that name covered!

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Knitwear Refashion #3

May I present to you the next installment of my knitwear refashioning series. I made this last week and have managed to squeeze in a couple of wears so far and I have to say, I love it! I love that it took me little more than one lunch time to complete it; I love that I have been able to create a 1940's inspired knitwear silhouette without having to learn how to knit; I love that it has nautical overtones; AND I love that is cost me absolutely nada.

Just like my knitwear refashion #2, this project began life as an unloved second-hand mens Marks and Spencer fine knit wool jumper. The original garment was bizarre (and rare) in that it showed absolutely no signs of wear in any form aside from thinning on one of the elbows, and a totally busted out hole for the seond elbow! What on earth has this dude been doing in his jumper?! I can't imagine....

Anyways, this suited my purposes just fine because I had decided I wanted a 1940's inspired little jumper with short slightly puffed sleeves, so I could harvest the rest of the good quality garment and cut away the ratty parts of the sleeves.

Unlike my knitwear refashion #2 which I cut to include the ribbed hem section, this time I decided to cut the new garment keeping the original neckhole intact. The original garment had the right type of neck for what I was aiming for, plus had a nice shoulder yoke panel that would look cool incorporated into my new garment's design.

Because my pattern pieces were placed high up on the original garment to retain the neck, I had to reattach the ribbing section but cutting it carefully away and overlocking it back on to the hem of the front and back. Similarly, when I cut the sleeves out of the top part of the orginial sleeves, I also harvested the original cuff ribbing which were overlocked to bottom of my new sleeves. The sleeve heads are slightly gathered to get that 1940's shoulder-centric kind of look. Plus, because the cuff ribbing was shorter than the bottom of my newly cut sleeve pieces, I had to stretch the ribbng as I overlocked it onto the sleeves so this naturally emphasised the 'puffiness' of the new sleeves. (Note: I am wearing my stripey long sleeved T-shirt underneath, this jumper does not have mad, contrasting sleeves attached!)

After finding it in a bag of donated knitwear at work, I actually had the original jumper sitting on the shelve close to my work station for a week or so, waiting for inspiration to strike. I knew such a plain garment would need some sort of embellishment, but because the majority of the garment was in such good nick, there didn't seem any point in replacing sections of it or messing with it too much. But without some kind of embellishment planned, I just wasn't inspired to begin refashioning it!

At any rate, I came up with the idea to make a little fake pocket flap (I'd recently made some shorts for work that had fake pocket flaps in self-fabric) made from some scraps of an old mens shirt. The colour of the blue stripe in the shirt is more or less the same as the jumper, and the stripes give it a nautical vibe, which I'm clearly not going to reject!

As is so often the case, I find my sewing mojo to be slightly out of season. Right now we have lovely warm weather here in Blightly, but I seem to be most vibed by creating myself a range of knitwear! Still, these knit tops will be doubt come into their own in the Autumn, or if we get some colder spells before Summer kicks in. I've got some more summery creations coming up next, but I still have one or two knitwear refashions planned before my mojo flips again.

Monday 18 April 2011

Social Sewing

Hi peops, hope you had a creative weekend. I must admit mine was spent pretty much neck-deep in creative individuals. A very pleasant situation in which to be. Let me illuminate...

Saturday: Oh, looky here! Some gorgeous sewing ladies who have come out to play! On Saturday I was lucky enough to spend a lovely day hanging with these hotties right here in B-town.

Left to Right we have Shivani, Stevie, Jane and Karen. I've only experienced it a few times previously, but I find it both strange and thrilling meeting people in the flesh that I've e-met beforehand. Of course, we all have one massive hobby (read: obsession) in common, but that's not a guarantee that you will get on. But I can honestly say these are some seriously nice people and really lovely to be around.

Shhhh! Sewers in their natural territory...

There isn't much point in me giving a full account of the day's proceedings, because Karen has already written the perfect summary in her post here. But as Gin O'Clock was fast approaching, I was sad that the London-based ladies had to high-tail it back to the big smoke. All I can say is that I'm super-vibed about the next meet-up, Karen is rapidly becoming the Pied Piper of sewers!

Sunday: Patty, Lisa (my Colleague in Craft and fellow Craftaganza organiser) and I hit up the 1st Birthday celebrations of Handmade Brighton, a very awesome shop which sells and supports local creative talent. I've recently become one of the sellers myself, but I'll expand on this fantastic enterprise in the near future because it really does warrant its own post.

A lovely time was spent supping cava, nomming cake and chit-chatting with heaps of interesting local designer/makers and their lovely plus-ones in the newly refurbished basement of the shop. Evidently I was too busy with the aforementioned activities to remember to document the event, so only managed to grab this one pic (of Lisa and myself above) as everyone was being hurded out into the night towards the next venue. Which turned out to be a great Blues night (although it was actually pretty green):

This weekend was the perfect counter-balance to a working week spent in studio with just one other person generally focussed on the physical activity of sewing. Personally, I need near-isolation to be at my most productive, but spending time with people who regularly engage in creating is such a boast to my own drive to create. If I worked in a big busy studio with colleagues flitting here and there involved in different tasks, I wonder how much (or, I suspect, little) I would get done. But the time I spend in the company of other makers is so valueable to me, I realise I must make more of a conscious effort to make these connections. It's akin to cake. I'm not sure I'm eating enough home-made cake either (enter 'food for thought' pun here).

Sunday 17 April 2011

New-Old Bag

Today you may expect nothing as intense as Wednesday's blog post. I will not be attempting to uncover the truths of our modern day dilemmas. I will merely be showing you my new bag.

I didn't even make this bag, my boss did. We'd been working pretty damn hard for a few weeks in a row and she decided that we deserved something for ourselves (that, and I suspect she was fed up with seeing my mangy shoulder bag about the place) so whilst whipping up a batch of Lola bags for the range, she made an extra two.

I was allowed to pick my own fabric, so I found the remnant of red/white/blue tweed that was leftover from my highwaisted shorts, my thoughts being that the fabric would look awesome with the blue and red in my Winter coat and fit generally with my nautical colour scheme. The leather sections were harvested from an unwanted 80's brown leather coat. The other elements of these bags, the twill lining, the plasticised fabric interlining and even the zips, were also all donated from either individuals or companies. Basically the glue was the only thing that was bought new to create these bags, and possibly the belt buckle hardware which attaches the long straps to the sides of the bags, but I forgot to ask about those.

I'm massively in love with my new bag. Considering how many years I clung on to my last ratty shoulder bag before it was finally surpassed, I imagine I'll be rocking this for a very long time to come. It just feels so 'meaty', you know? Weighty and secure. Plus, I love the zip closer which means I no longer need to be quite so consciously paranoid about my possessions on public transport or in crowds. It's cool to be able to wear it either over my shoulder or across my body, which should be better for my ailing upper-back/shoulders.

I would love to be able to offer this creation up as something that most sewers and refashionistas could attempt themselves. But alas, I wouldn't recommend trying to stitch all these tough elements at home. My boss uses an industrial sewing machine which she's pimped so it can accommodate all but the thickest types of leather. I tried using it (this and this are the fruits of my swear-riddled attempts) and it was a pretty unpleasant and scary experience! Soft, thin leather can usually go through domestic machines (you made need some silicon spray or something to help the machine foot actually grip the leather), but I wouldn't recommend the heart-stopping clunks of breaking needles that you'll be inviting if attempting the thicker varieties!

Wednesday 13 April 2011

The Death of the High Street?

Of course, that is a deliberately inflammatory title. I am neither reporting nor predicting the end of consumption. But my thoughts have been particularly drawn to this area recently, sparked by a brief news report I heard on the radio a couple of days ago. I can’t remember the exact details but it was an announcement that last month retail spending in the UK was the lowest since the records began 16 years ago. The head of some group representing the interests of retail companies gave some predictable quote, which was duly reported in the doom-filled tone in which it was no doubt delivered.

The report offered little more than that before the next item was presented, no explanations of why this might be, or what the implications are. We are left to presume that non-essential spending is down for reasons like recent job losses and welfare reductions related to government spending cuts, as well as the prospect of higher interest rates, but do these factors account for the whole picture?

As with most subjects, there seems to be a real paradox in the messages we receive through the media about consumerism and sustainability. On the one hand, we hear/see/read things such as the radio report I just mentioned which give off the distinct impression that a slump in consumption is BAD for the economy and society in general. Yet on the other hand, we can hardly flick through a newspaper or magazine or switch on the TV without seeing something advising us to ‘Make Do and Mend’, for example, offering us top tips to revamp our wardrobes and homes by reusing what we have with minimal cost and a bit of elbow grease. It would seem that tightening our purse strings is simultaneously both dangerous AND advisable, depending on what you’re listening to.

I admit I really enjoy reading articles and seeing the programmes that are attempting to encourage people to use what they already have and cut down on buying new stuff. I like them despite the often irrelevance of the advice being offered and occasionally being presented by individuals who come across as though they personally invented ‘not buying stuff you don’t need’. In fact, one of my favourite things to watch at the moment is Super Scrimpers (please let me know if you are able to view this outside the UK or not) which has offered me nothing that I can apply to my own life so far, but is full of fascinating and shocking facts and positive tactics that I hope will have an effect on some viewers. So ARE these programmes and articles having an effect? Are their messages seeping into the national psyche? Have a fraction of the population been turned off buying so much unnecessary stuff? Is there a possibility that this could account for albeit a tiny part of this recent drop in retail activity?

I would argue that in this nation, and in fact all the English-speaking nations I have visited, the main stream media projects the notion that we must keep spending in the shops to support our economy, and to a greater or lesser degree has done so since the 1950s if not before. The idea that a dip in the strength of our High Street spells doom. If the population stopped using retail as a major leisure activity, I am inclined to think that the effect on our economy wouldn’t bring the ‘end of days’, but our economy would need to adapt.

If less stuff is getting bought at H&M and Topshop et al, presumably the High Street retailers would ‘have to’ react by cutting jobs to protect their reduced profits. In essence it’s similar to the argument that we shouldn’t stop purchasing sweatshop produced ‘disposable’ clothing because it helps exploited textile workers to support their families. Of course I don’t want to see workers, in developing nations or at home, to suffer through loss of income. However, the status quo will not improve if it is not questioned and challenged.

We cannot continue to consume products which are damaging to the environment through the extraction of their raw materials, production processes, transportation and disposal in the unrestrained quantities that we have been just because no-one’s sorted out a way to support people who are directly and indirectly employed in these industries. I think that is an area that wayyyyyyyy more energy should be spent: how can we alter our current economic structure so that we can lessen our physical impact on the planet without causing suffering to those whose livelihoods rely on these industries? Without solving this conundrum, the irony is we are bringing a whole heap more suffering as our climate changes irreversibly. I don’t want to have to explain to my grandkids about why whole seas were allowed to dry up for the cotton industry (which they already have) because nobody got round to figuring out how to support workers in the textile industry to find alternative and more sustainable ways to provide for themselves, etc.

Yet, I don’t know about you, but I see very little discussion on this tricky topic going on in the media. It amazes and frustrates me that these ‘Make do and mend for the 21st Century’ type programmes and articles don’t ever take their arguments and investigations a step further. Because surely if you are encouraging people to scour car boot sales for furniture to renovate, or showing how homemade jam makes a great gift, logically you are encouraging people to slow down their consuming? Why is no-one asking, ‘What effects will these making-do activities have?’ or ‘What are the broader implications of this mindset?’ Those are the programmes I would really like to watch...

Obviously, you can expect more from me in the future on these subjects as I wade through my own thoughts, explorations and research into these issues. And equally obviously, I would be fascinated to hear your thoughts on them too...

Sunday 10 April 2011

Knitwear Refashion #2

Ok, so maybe you remember just before MMMar '11 kicked off, I made an unnecessarily long explanation about why I was including knit and sweat refashions into my personal challenge rules. This was in contrast to my previous me-made/self-stitched challenges in which I pledged to (and succeeded in) only wearing stuff I'd made from scratch. You may also remember that for MMMar '11, I only got round to refashioning one piece of knitwear, the ubiquitous green cardi (which I am wearing right this second in fact, thus confirming its ubiquity!). Well, last week I finally got round to refashioning/remaking a second. Just in time for it to get really hot. Genial, no?!

Anyways, I'm pretty pleased with myself nonetheless. It's not like chilly windy weather isn't likely to return at any point. In fact, I would say that this garment IS pretty genius in that it is can be worn as it is when the weather's Spring or Autumn-like, but can accommodate either a vest underneath and/or cardi over the top when it's colder. I fear I may have made a practical garment here folks...

'But how did you make that garment, Zo', I hear you cry? Well, I started off with a large secondhand mens Marks and Spencer 100% wool jumper that had a distinctive moth hole and food stain embellishment on the front, and a secondhand womens stripey sleeveless knit top that had stretched and bobbled in a particularly unattractive manner. First I hand-stitched the mens jumper's moth hole up, and disected the garment along the side seams, neck seams and around the arm hole. I used a basic knitwear pattern (that I developed some time last year by cutting up and tracing off another secondhand womens jumper that I liked to fit of) and laid the pattern pieces for the front and back parts so the jumper's bottom ribbed edge would be encorporated into my remade garment, thus alleviating the need for me to worry about how to finish off the bottom edge. I made sure what had been the front of the mens jumper became the back of my reworked version, so if the food stain didn't come out in the wash, it was no biggie unless I got involved in a random back-inspection!

In a similar vein to the hem-ribbing scenerio, when I re-cut the sleeves, I simply moved my pattern so the cuffs would hit the 3/4 point on my new sleeves so I didn't need to fiddle with the sleeve hem either (are you catching my effort-saving drift here?). I didn't even cut and open up the original sleeves to recut them, I retained the sleeve hem as it was and cut them still folded in half. If the cuffs of the original jumper had been worn and/or saggy, I wouldn't have used this approach.

For the contrast shoulder yoke panels, I simply drew a nice shape on the pattern, traced that part off and made a little shoulder yoke pattern piece. I used this to cut away the shoulder part from the front body piece, reatining 0.5 cms seam allowance to attach the new pieces. The yoke pattern piece was then used to cut new shoulder yokes from the stripey jumper, equally adding 0.5 cms seam allowance to attached them to the body.

(sneaky inside peek)

Now I began construction. First I attached the new contrast should yokes to the main body using an overlocker (serger). I then attached the front and back pieces on ONE shoulder seam only. Next, I cut off the original neck band from the stripey sleeveless jumper (which was in good condition and would be longer than needed for my new neckhole) and while being careful not to stretch the out the currently-unfinished neckline, I measure the length of my new neckhole and cut the recycled neck band the same length minus 4 cms. (Making the neckband smaller than the neckhole stops the neckline becoming floppy and keeps its shape better.) I then overlocked this neckband to the neckhole, pinning them together at the beginning and end of the seam I was about to stitch and at strategic points along the two edges so that the ease would be spread evenly.

With the neckband in attached, the second should seam and side seams could be stitched up. Then the sleeves were stitched into the armholes (lots of pins at strategic points are advised, particularly at the underarm point and shoulder point!). I 'turned' all the loose threads, by which I mean I threaded all the loose ends, or tails, of overlocking threads that were hanging about back into the overlocking seam which traps them in and stops them unravelling.

This jumper took me half of one lunch break to cut out and half of the next day's lunch break to stitch together, such a pleasingly rapid creation. It is possible that I might receive the question: could I do this without an overlocker? To be honest, I wouldn't want to but I'm sure you could, but you'd have to take care that the edges didn't stretch whilst using your flat-lock machine to stitch the seams together, and I'd use a zigzag stitch. I mainly wouldn't want to because I'm lazy and I like the internal neatness an overlocker creates, but I certainly wouldn't want anyone to be put off from cut-and-sew knit creations such as this. If you've got one or two unwanted pieces of knitwear lying about or salvaged from a charity shop, if it doesn't work out, you've lost little and learnt some sewing lessons. Happy refashioning lovely peops!

Wednesday 6 April 2011

An Interview With DIY Couture!

Today's blog post has been in the pipeline for a little while but today I am thrilled to be able to share it with you. I am incredibly lucky that the brains and creative talent behind DIY Couture, Rosie Martin, agreed to let me interview her.

Put briefly, DIY Couture wishes to demystify the often-confusing nature of sewing patterns and techincal garment making manuals which may be off-putting to those who would otherwise love to give making their own clothes a whirl. DIY Couture succeeds in this by producing and selling beautifully designed books with simple visual instructions which encourage the reader to begin creating garments that they will hopefully treasure.

Could you please briefly outline the history of DIY Couture? How did it come about?

The light bulb flash came when I bought a sewing pattern back in 2007 and opened it up to discover a practically impenetrable wall of coded language and strange indecipherable diagrams. I was practically flummoxed, but after some patient reading I realised they were trying to explain something very simple. At that point I was a fairly competent DIY seamstress, as I had been making and wearing my own clothes for about 8 years, though I had abandoned patterns a long time ago. People often asked me where I got my clothes and when I told them I made them they would often react something along the lines of “I wish I could do that.” I was always adamant that they certainly could do it! I did not have any special skill and I knew that many sewing projects were actually very simple. I really wanted to be able to show people just how easy it was to put good looking clothes together and so I thought using pictures would be the way to do it.

What are DIY Couture's aims and ethos?

As the name suggests, DIYcouture is about mashing up the ‘high’-end and the ‘low’-end of fashion. DIYcouture aims to help democratize personally tailored clothing, making unique garments accessible to anyone – so we no longer have to merely gaze at the catwalks as if they are a high end art exhibition. The books show people that self-sewn clothing does not have to have a ‘home-made’ look. DIYcouture aims to provide a real alternative to high-street fashion, to give people the choice to make rather than to buy. DIYcouture is all about making, which helps us all to be active rather than passive.

DIYcouture aims: -
  • To stimulate widespread enthusiasm for sewing in generations x, y and z.
  • To empower people to create for themselves to a high-standard, enabling them to opt out of buying into brand culture.
  • To enable people to access affordable clothing that has not been produced using sweatshop labour.
  • To build empathy with the thousands of invisible pairs of hands around the world that spend their time skilfully creating the clothes we wear.
  • To inspire people to slow down- to take the time to make a garment that is precious and long-lasting, rather than comfort-shop for disposable items which add to the worlds increasing piles of landfill.

I bought one of your books for a friend for Christmas. She is the kind of person who is bursting with creativity and the desire to make her own clothes, but who is put off by and scared of commercial sewing patterns. Would you say that is more or less typical of your customer?

I’m really not very good at that business practice that everyone says is so important – profiling my customer! The DIYcouture customer base is extremely diverse but I think on the whole this must be what unites them - a desire to sew but a lack of an easy route in, or a belief that it is something that requires special knowledge. Not only is sewing something that ANYONE can do, it is primarily a visual activity - it is basically joining big flat blocks of colour together to make something 3D - and therefore it should be explained visually. Sewing patterns are on the whole quite visually off-putting to the novice but a DIYcouture book is pretty easy on the eye - it is simple, colourful and spacious and you can see what it is explaining when you glance at it.

You say that you envision home sewing as an alternative to creating more need on sweatshop produced garments. Is ecological sustainability also a drive behind what you do?

Yes. Making a garment requires some planning and some patience - it meets none of the desires that seek satisfaction through ‘retail therapy.’ DIYcouture hopes in a small way to slow down the process of consumption, helping people to produce long-lasting garments that are precious, rather than disposable. Fashion implicitly retains its obsession with what is new and what is next. As time does pass, an obsession with the new inevitably creates the unfashionable, which becomes waste. DIYcouture hopes to help build a physical antithesis of fast-fashion. How did you learn to sew and what inspired you to start making your own clothes?

I studied 'textiles' at school just until I was 16 and my teacher there taught me to use a sewing machine. I always had very strong ideas about what I wanted to wear as a teenager - usually something pretty disgusting – and I would be unable to find it on the high street. I wanted to wear bright colours and strange as it sounds now these weren't always available on the high street. Sewing was a way of me being able to wear what I wanted, rather than what I could get.

Do you self-publish your books and are they available anywhere other than your website?

I have self-published the first three that are now available. These three are, I'm happy to say, available in a great many physical places. You can get them in Sheffield, Glasgow, Lowestoft, Bath, Bristol, Brighton, Frome, London and via the website of course (which offers international shipping). Book printing is very expensive (something that didn't fully strike home when I had all these plans) and those three are all I have been able to afford so far. I am now working on a mega book for Laurence King (an arts and fashion publisher in London) which will contain ten sets of DIYcouture instructions. I can't wait to see it in print. In the mean time I will be releasing e-books of the next three sets of DIYC instructions over the summer/autumn period.

If you have a friend who regularly murmurs that they wish they could sew their own clothes, but doesn't know where to start, I would heartily recommend getting them one (or several) of these books. Each book features one type of garment, but included inside are ideas and instructions on how to make various variations of that garment, which should spark the creative juices still further. Also included is some really helpful tips on what you might be looking for when you walk into a fabric shop. Even the most experienced of seamstresses can find themselves thrown off track when confronted with hundreds of rolls of different types of fabric. The instructions within help make sense of this confusing area. But the best thing about these books, in my opinion, is the sense of empowerment that they provide the reader. That by getting to grips with your desire to make your own clothes, you are actively responding to the issues of ecologically damaging manufacturing processes, sweatshop labour, waste and brand proliferation and domination.

I would like to thank Rosie Martin for taking the time to answer my almost endless stream of questions. I could have asked her so much more, but I keep an eye on her website and hope that she will inform me of any DIYC activities as they unfold! The whole concept as well as the products themselves really chime with how I am increasingly feeling about DIY and its place within our society, and I wish her every success in the future.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Here's Some I Made Earlier...

I hope everyone is having a rocking weekend and those who participated in MMMar '11 are still feeling pleasure from not having to take a photo of your outfit every day! Remembering to take and upload those daily photos is for me, like everyone else who particpated/s from what I can tell, the most taxing part of these me-made/self-stitched challenges. There is also the concern that I am boring other partcipants and readers to tears with seeing the same garments that I wear again and again.

I have no problem with the garment repetition in the sense that it was an accurate reflection of what I was wearing. I see little point in offering a false images of myself in amazing unique daily looks if that's not how I really dress. The point of MMM's and SSS is to show that we can live our normal lives in clothing that we made ourselves. But of course it would be nice to offer as much inspiration as possible to other sewers through an exciting array of self-stitched/refashioned clothes. So, whilst I didn't get much time to sew for myself in MMMar' 11, I did make lots of clothes at work which are now on the website which I can offer for your delectation. I hope that they may give you an idea or two.

Denim halter dress:

For this dress I used a panelled strapless dress pattern. I cut the panels from the legs of donated unwanted jeans. I tried to pick jeans that were a similar tone, but I like the slight shade difference between them. I didn't bother with a facing on the top edge because I figured denim is ridgid enough so I bound the top edge with a scrap of contrast cherry print fabric instead.

High-waisted denim shorts:These shorts are made from donated denim, but I made a panelled version from unwanted jeans as well. Tracing off and splitting sewing patterns into panels means that you can often squeeze the pieces out of more awkward existing garments. The tabs on these shorts were a bit time consuming to construct but make an otherwise plain garment a bit more special. If you have a smaller garment you want to reuse or fabric scraps, using it to make contrast tabs, facings, collars etc. can be a nice way to use them up.

Remade shirt-blouse: For quite a while now I've been pretty obsessed with the 'Make Do and Mend' movement that existed in Britain in the Second World War, and specifically the ways the Government employed 'sewing experts' advised women to refashion old unwearable garments into new ones. Those information leaflets often proffered recutting large mens skirts into womens' blouses. I've chatted on about this before and probably will do again, so I won't go massively into this creation right now. In fact, if there's any interest I may do a 'How To' create a women's blouse from men's shirts. Nothing anybody couldn't figure out for themselves, but I know a couple of time saving techniques that might be of use.

Refashioned sweatshirt:FYI, this sweatshirt is probably in my top three of garments I've made at work. It's been cut from an unwanted men's hoodie using a very basic jumper pattern (you could use the ones in the Sew U: Home Stretch book, for example). I cut the front and back pieces with the ribbing still attached along the bottom so I didn't need to deal with making/applying something for the hem. The sleeves are 3/4 length to make the whole thing a bit more feminine and the cuffs are thick stretch jersey folded in half and overlocked (serged) to the bottom of the sleeve pieces. The neck hole is bound using the same contrast jersey fabric cut in a bias strip. I made some covered buttons (this is a lie now I think about it, my boss made them because I am rubbish at making covered buttons) from the same contrast to make it more interesting. This has been made from a hoodie so has the front pocket but of course you could use a normal sweatshirt for a cleaner look. Once again, if anyone is interested, I could do a 'How To' for this style.

Sweater dress:
This casual dress is made from two unwanted sweatshirts and one knit jumper, so not a very good ratio of new garments for old, but if they are going to go to waste otherwise, why not?! I can't remember quite how I developed this pattern, but you could figure out something similar, probably with the assistance of the Sew U: Home Stretch patterns again maybe. The knit jumper that I used was probably stained or moth eaten on the front (that's the general state of the garments we receive to work with), but the back panel was fine so I used that part. As with the sweatshirt above, here I kept the ribbing band of the sweatshirt intact to keep a neat finish.

I hope this post didn't come across as too 'Look! I made this!', I just feel that I am in a position to share some ideas that we've (my boss and I) spent a long time developing that I hope might encourage DIY activities. BTW, I'm LOVING the new(ish) Refashion Co-op blog. So many creative, genius and varied approaches going on over there...
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