Wednesday 31 August 2011

Samuel's Baby Quilt!

Honestly, I never thought this blog would be the kind to feature regular baby quilt projects, but if two can be considered 'regular', then I'm going to need to accept that maybe this is that type of blog! Maybe I should make a few more cocktail dresses and get drunk in them to balance things out! Anyways, as long as my crew keep pumping out those little 'uns, Auntie Zo will be whipping up quilts to put them on/over them, rest assured.

This second quilting endeavour belongs to baby Samuel, who sadly I have not yet had the privaledge of meeting as he resides in Essex, and I'm currently too skint to afford the train fare. But in the meantime I hope the love and special thoughts that got infused into this quilt as I sewed it are making themselves felt.

After good reviews from my first quilt attempt for baby Surayya, I decided to stick to the same dimensions and construction method. I even used the same teal sateen as the main solid tone in the patchwork. The colour scheme for this quilt was meant to be colours of the sea (blues, greens, teals, turquoises) but it ended up too intense with too many different patterns, so I narrowed the selection of fabrics and colours to tone the whole thing down a touch. A lot of the squares in this quilt are scraps from men's shirts, which are a perfect weight and softness for a baby patchwork affair. In fact, I was tempted to make the whole thing out of old shirts, but I feared that would look too formal and adult. I hope I've struck a decent balance in the end.

My favourite part of this quilt is the large blue and white check because those scraps came from the leftovers of this shirt I made for Pat (AKA, Mr 'So, Zo...'). I like how the scale of that check looks giant when contrasted against the smaller scaled checks I also used.

The main difference between this quilt and the first, aside from the fabrics used, is that I got this one finished before Samuel was born and was able to give it to his mum at her baby shower, whereas the first quilt had to be produced after the baby shower as it was made from fabrics brought by the baby shower attendees. Under what circumstances my third baby quilt attempt will be produced is as yet unknown!

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Commune Living

There are, of course, a squillion films and documentaries I've enjoyed and found inspirational for a variety of reasons. But one I saw last night specifically specifically brought my mind to some issues that I keep coming back to. These issues resonate throught my life and interests, which is why I feel this film in particular is worth flagging up here on my little ol' blog. The film was called 'Commune', a documentary released in 2005 about a real group of people who decided to experiment living together on a ranch in 1968. Black Bear ranch is situated in what was (I'm assuming still is?) effectively the wilderness north of San Francisco, and is still used for that purpose today. The documentary looks at a range of individuals who founded and/or lived there, their reasons for doing so, their experiences of it and the paths their lives have taken in the thirty-odd years since they left. I found it fascinating viewing and would recommend it if the subject of communes in anyway grabs you.

I can't fully explain why, but I've had an interest in communes, and in particular the 1960s/70s alternative lifestyles since I was a young teenager. My dad has an awesome pamplet he picked up in the 1960s advertising one, I'll take some photos of it one day and share it on here. I've always been fully fascinated by it, even before I really developed any understanding of issues like consumerism and sustainability. I guess it's in part a reflection of my desire to investigate alternatives to the dull and largely lifeless middle class suburban town I grew up in (sorry folks). But as I grew up and began to investigate the politics and social climate of the West during the twentieth century (particularly post-Second World War), I began to sense much of the frustrations and anger that lead so many to react against the governments and establishment. Obviously, I really respect people who protested against the injustices and concerns of the era, but I hold an even deeper respect for the individuals, groups, couples and families who chose to actually attempt to develop a whole new way of living, one that was largely as kind to the earth as it was meant to be toward each other.

The alternative societies of the 60s/70s communes were in many ways a logical development from an earlier counter-culture group: the Beats. Another firm fascination of mine, the Beat generation/Beatniks also explored and expressed different ideologies to that of the mainstream, but did so laregly through intellectual and artistic development and expression. From what I understand, the founders of the communes shared much of the Beats' frustration towards social repression and mainstream expectations, but channelled that frustration into more practical, physical responses. Experimenting with how to live, how to interact with each other and how to provide for ones own needs seems to me to really be the natural conclusion to the widespread dissatisfaction felt by dissatisfied free and alternative thinkers.

To be honest, there are some aspects to the Black Bear commune experience that hold little interest for me, the spirituality aspect being one. And there are clearly many ways in which those early communal living attempts failed. With hindsight, as awesome and valueable as it clearly was, Black Bear and the other communes didn't really create an imitable blue print for modern living. But Black Bear ranch and other communes are still in existance today, albeit without quite the freshness and 'journey into the unknown' that fuelled the founders. Many of the current occupants of Black Bear and other contemporary communal living experiments are, I'd imagine, drawn to that way of life for similar reasons to those early pioneers. Argueably, many of the repressive and damaging aspects of mainstream society are still present and just as abhorent, if not more so. Maybe the current occupants are just as idealistic and optimistic about the effect their endeavours can have on the future. If anything, the effects rabid globalisation, mass production and consumption have had on the ecological health of planet and the mental health of its inhabitants provide even more reasons for finding alternative ways to live which are lighter on the land and ourselves.

Personally, I couldn't see myself swapping my current living situation to move into a commune like Black Bear. Maybe that is because I am too much a product of my culture, or because really deep down I am as comfortable, normal and unimaginative as my current living situation. But I value my privacy, personal space, freedom for self-directed personal development and aesthetic life too much. It is possible that the value I place on those commodities is a product of my conditioning as a member of western society and that I could learn to reassess their value when confronted with the possibility of attaining different shared experiences. I don't know. I have researched alternative and shared living options around the area I live, but although many of them seem to have some really interest aspects, none really appeal in the fundamental way I would require them to.

I will continue to look into alternative ways of living. But if pressed, currently I think I'd prefer to share my direct homelife with friends and family rather than a wider community of individuals. However, there are definately some specific aspects of the 'Commune' model that I would like to adopt and/or develop in my life:
  • The loss of 'community' is something that many modern day UK dwellers lament, and like many I welcome the creation and nurture of a new sense of community. With a nation of transient, nomadic flat-renters, developing community with neighbours can be tricky so a reassessment of the term may be required. Personally I have been putting my time and energy into the creative/crafting community, both the international online one, and my local in-the-flesh one.

  • There is no doubt that modern life, in particular the never ending cycle of product consumption and status acquisition, has dramatic negative effects on mental health. The communes are a fascinating, if extreme, experiment in creating a new focus of importance to living. I've written about consumerism before, and my journey towards changing my relationship to the things I own and how I acquire them, but I need to do more research into this area (particularly into economics) to develop my knowledge and thoughts further.

  • Finding ways to live happily whilst easing the strain our planet is currently under is certainly something I feel everybody should devote more time and brain-space to. The self-sufficiency endeavours and skills-pooling part of living on communes is possibily the most interesting aspect as far as I'm concerned. Linked to this, the recent resurgence of interest in 'homesteading' shows lots of people must currently be following this train of thought. I certainly plan to grow more of my own food in the future and would love to try things like preserving and home-brewing.
Your thoughts, as always, are most welcome...

Sunday 28 August 2011

Self-Stitched-September '11: Facebook Page!!!!

I would like to announce a new addition to the me-made/self-stitched challenge format: a facebook page!!! The Self-Stitched-Sept '11 facebook page has been created as an additional 'location' for participants of this latest handmade challenge to hang out, should they so wish. My intention for it is to be less structured than the SSS '11 Flickr group, more of a place to pop by and say hi in your lunch break or something!

As with the Flickr group, involvement in the facebook page is obviously entirely voluntary, I really don't want participants to feel overloaded with a wealth of blogs, groups and pages to keep up with. I just thought it'd be fun to experiment with an alternative platform for the handmade challenge community to interact through during the SSS '11 experience. One day I may even try twitter, but right now that's a bridge too far for me! However, if someone does rig up some sort of SSS '11 twitter presence, please let me know, I'd love to know that that is going on.

In the meantime, I hope to see at least one other participant over at the new facebook page, otherwise it's going to just me and some tumble weeds!

Thursday 25 August 2011

Ice Cream Seller Top

Today's offering is a top I made a few weeks back from a couple of unwanted men's T-shirts and a secondhand men's stripey work shirt. I developed this style for the range at work but I really couldn't resist making myself one, considering the inspiration point behind this design is one that is very close to my heart: diner waitresses!!!

The aim was to make a fun and wearable interpretation of the look, so I concentrated on a couple of details to get the vibe across on a semi-fitted jersey shape. One key detail that comes up often in traditional diner waitress uniforms is a pointed or curved contrast turned back cuff on the sleeves. I noticed the Tammy Doll Polka dress by Rockabilly clothing company Collectif also seems to riff on this particular vintage detail.

But the cuff detail alone on a white T-shirt looked a bit random so I added a little fake pocket flap with matching button. It's not the first time I've used this pocket flap detail, and I doubt it'll be the last! It's such a simple addition and really can make an otherwise boring garment pop. Or make it unnecessarily kitsch, whatever your take on it!

The T-shirt itself was created by cutting the front and back pieces from one men's T-shirt, and the sleeves from the other. I lined up the bottom edges of the front and back pattern pieces with the existing hem of the T-shirt so that I wouldn't need to bother to hem my final garment. The T-shirt that had the sleeves cut from it also had the hem section harvested for overlocking to the neckhole to finish that raw edge. This is the same neck-finishing technique I described in my Bustier line T-shirt tutorial (find Part 1 & Part 2).

Although my initial inspiration was the diner waitress uniform, this version I made with a candy striped man's shirt engenders the final garment with more of an ice cream seller effect I believe! I view the traditional ice cream palor employee as a sub-division of the diner waitress genre, so it's a happy outcome as far as I'm concerned!

Monday 22 August 2011

SSS '11 Flickr Group!!!!!!

The SSS '11 Flickr group is fresh out of the oven, come and get it kids!!!!!! Don't burn yourself, mind, as it's likely to be HOT!

Here's some pointers and guidelines about the group:
  • This group has been created for participants of the Self-Stitched-Sept '11 challenge to post images of their outfits/garments that were worn during September 2011. However, if you wish to visit the group page, view the images and read the discussions even if you are not participating in this challenge (or are participating in the challenge but don't want to be part of the Flickr group), you are both able and welcome, however you will not be able to add images of your own or add to the discussions without being a member.

  • To be involved in this Flickr group, you need to go to the group's page and request membership. I will then receive your request and will 'let you in' within a couple of days and you will then be able to post images, respond to discussions and start your own.

  • Please do not use this Flickr group to display your creations, unless THEY WERE ACTUALLY WORN IN SEPTEMBER 2011.

  • Linked to the point above, for obvious reasons, please do not post before Sept 1st 2011.

  • If members do not feel comfortable appearing in photos on a public forum such as this, they are more than welcome to choose an alternative way to display and represent the outfit/garments/accessories worn during this challenge.

  • Please limit your photo uploads to 2 images per day of September.

  • If you are participating in this challenge and are interested in being involved in this Flickr group but maybe do not feel you have the time or inclination to spend a lot of time messing around with images etc., please note that it is in no way compulsory to upload photos everyday. Or even to particpate in this Flickr group at all, of course. Participants are welcome to contribute photos to this group as often or infrequently as they like. If participants don't wish to document every day of the challenge, that is totally fine. You may prefer to only upload your favourite outfit of the week, for example.
This Flickr group is not where the SSS '11 'party is at'. The SSS '11 party is wherever you are if you are participating! The Flickr group is, however, where a group of participants will chose to hang out together and celebrate their trials and tribulations. Hope to see you over there!!!

Sunday 21 August 2011

The Shop Stock Tee-Top!!!

Please don't be thinking that all my civilian sewing (i.e. stuff I do outside of work) is only spent making stuff for myself and my friends. From time to time, I also go through phases of making stuff to sell. I'm pleased to report that my skirt range and shoulder bags have been generally well received in the Handmade Co-op shop, here in Brighton, so I've been working on some more stuff to stock there.

I developed this new design specifically to sell at Handmade. I've called it the Tee-top because it's effectively a woven fabric T-shirt, fastening-free that just gets pulled on over your head. It's a loose, slightly cropped, boxy shape with a cute Peter Pan collar. It doesn't use much fabric which is perfect for stash bustin' some of the lovely small lengths of printed cottons that I've been hoarding. So far I've only made one size, but the style seems to cover a variety of sizes: it fits me ok-ish (a UK size 12-14) and down to a UK size 6, like Kirstin (organiser of Handmade) pictured below:

Although the fit is ok, this style doesn't suit my curvy frame particularly, so I doubt I'll be keeping any for myself, although I am tempted by the soft African wax fabric version pictured below. I've really enjoyed making them because I love to see what each piece of fabric looks like when transformed into a garment. So far, I haven't made any doubles so each creation has been a surprise and is unique.

As you may know, I'm fairly committed to only using secondhand, upcycled or stashed fabric for my personal creations, and that now extends to the products I make to sell. I couldn't justify purchasing new fabric for garments to sell when I've already pledged to myself to not buying new for my own stuff. Plus, I'm likely to make more profit by using fabric that I already have or is picked up secondhand pretty cheaply (though these Tee-tops are pretty reasonable anyhow).

Currently, they are being displayed in the shop with garments from a variety of local designer/makers. I still have some of my skirts on sale, plus a couple of pairs of high-waisted shorts I also recently whipped up from stash fabric (see below). I really like how the dark forest green of the shorts look with that apple green wax fabric Tee-top, and I think the styles would work well if worn together also.

The playing cards hanging down are my swing tags, in case you were wondering what was going on there. Now I know, having written this post, I'm going to sound intensely biased, but if you happen to find yourself in Brighton at any point, I would definately recommend popping down to Kemptown and having a look around the Handmade Co-op shop. It's one of the most innovative and inspirational establishments I've been to that actively supports local art, design and craft.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

'I, Zoe, sign up for SSS '11...'

It’s awesome to watch as more and more people sign up for Self-Stitched-Sept ‘11. I can see some repeat participants, as well as many very welcome first-timers are pledging. If I don’t want to miss out on all the fun, I’d best sign up myself…

'I, Zoe of ‘So, Zo…' blog sign up as a participant of Self-Stitched-Sept '11. I endeavour to wear only self-stitched and refashioned clothing each day for the duration of September 2011'

To qualify my pledge:

  • I am allowing myself to include thifted cardigans this time, but at present I only have one so it’s not a great change to how I have participated in the previous me-made/self-stitched challenges. As I’ve explained in the past, knitwear/warm layers is the main area I find myself struggling with both during these challenges and during the rest of the year. I can’t really knit, but even if I could I don’t think I could justify doing so as I am pretty committed to creating with second hand and reclaimed materials. I know I could unravel old jumpers and such, but if I’m thrifting for second hand jumpers, I may as well just thrift for second hand cardigans that are already fine or need a little refashioning.

  • As usual, I am excluding bras, socks and hosiery in the pledge, but am including handmade knickers and pyjamas.

  • For Me-Made-June ‘11, I decided to allow myself to wear non-handmade jogging wear, and seeing as I have more or less kept up this recent stint of keep-fitness, this me-made omission will stand for SSS’11 also. However, I do plan to up the ante by making myself at least one handmade jogging garment and have given it a trial run by the end of September.

  • I will also be upping the ante by trying not to repeat any outfits for the whole month. Now, in itself I see no logic in this aim, and it worries me when I get a vibe that some participants may think that no outfit-repeats is a pre-requisite to this challenge. It couldn‘t be further from the truth. The aim of this challenge is not to entertain us with as vast a variety of outfits as possible, but to integrate your handmades/refashions into your everyday life. And everyday life means often repeating the outfits we wear. The problem is, I personally tend to repeat what I wear to a degree where I bore the socks off myself (and probably those who have to see me every day). I want to use SSS’11 to push myself to find new ways to combine the handmade and refashioned clothing in my wardrobe. To be honest, the vast majority of my wardrobe now consists of handmade clothing, so pledging to wear me-made clothes isn’t really a challenge. So adding this element to SSS’11, for me, is challenging and will hopefully teach me some new tricks to help me feel prouder of my appearance throughout September and beyond.
If you are a repeat participant, how are you planning on upping the ante this time round?

Monday 15 August 2011

Tie Collar Shirt-Blouse

Here's another installment of my unofficial 'what the hell can I do with an old dude's shirt' series. This blouse is a version of a batch I made at work. But my one reuses two, yes two, unwanted mens shirts, unlike the work ones that used new fabric for the collar part. Here's one of the ratty unloved shirts:

Actually, both of the shirts I used were really nice quality cotton. Initially I wanted to use the shirt pictured above for the main part with some plain fabric for the collar, but on closer inspection I found one of the lower button holes was ripped so I couldn't use it afterall as functioning button holes are kind of the point of using a shirt in the first place. So I squeezed the collar pieces out of that one instead and found another that would work ok for the body.

I can't remember what pattern I used to develop the body shape, but it's very simple and easily imitable with bust darts and subtley curved side seams for its only shaping. I did my usual and made it a touch too wide. It seems I have contracted some form of 'fit-blindness': I nearly always make tops and bodices too big and trousers a bit too small. Anyway. I used one of the collar patterns from New Look 6808.

The collar doesn't actually tie at the front. You create a loop of fabric which the ends are threaded through. Pretty genius, as you can adjust it to create an effect you are most happy with, and leave it in that position. In case you were wondering, to get in and out of this blouse, you have to undo the buttons then pull the neck hole over your head, the collar stays closed. This was another reason to avoid adding too much shaping in the body, for ease when getting in and out.

The batch of these tops I made for work had a more basic (and therefore less time consuming) armhole finishing, but for mine I wanted a neater look, so I made bias strips from the sleeves of the shirt and bound the armholes before stitching up the side seams. I really like the way the stripe appears diagonally on the binding. I could have used some of the collar fabric to bind the armholes as an additional contrast feature, but I didn't really want to draw more attention to my underarm area than was actually necessary!

Sorry for the rubbish picture below, I was trying to show you how the collar looks from the back. It's quite a substantial collar, I'm really happy with the proportions (probably because an expert pattern cutter at New look figured that bit out for us already!).

Any better at showing the full collar? No, not really!:

So there you go. I'm not done finding things to do with unwanted mens shirts. As I mentioned before, mens shirts are so ubiquitous in charity shops (and in the studio at my work) and often made from such lovely fabric, I'm determined to find ever more useful and desirable projects for the refashioning community to get their teeth into!

Saturday 13 August 2011

Zen and the Art of Sewing Machine Maintenance

(N.B. I am aware I am not the first person to use this title for a blog post, but it was too good to walk away from.) Now, I'm so far from being technically minded it's ridiculous but I'm a firm believer that knowledge is power, so I've been attempting to learn more about sewing machines, how they work and how to look after them. So when Richard, the sewing machine service and repair man, dropped by work yesterday, I took the opportunity to quiz him on a few things machine-related. (Sneaky Richard pap:)

I imagine I'm not alone in being less than technically minded, and who wants to spend a chunk of their window of sewing opportunity fannying around with a misbehaving sewing machine? So I thought I'd share the few bits I learnt in the hope that at some point it may save you some time and hassle.

Last week I got Richard to service my domestic sewing machine and overlocker and I received a verbal slap on the wrist for leaving it so long and allowing them to get so fuzzed up and dry. He suggests that you get your machine serviced once a year if you use it a lot, but I guess you could get away with longer if you remember to oil it regularly.

(the machine I use most at work)

Richard reckons that the most common problem, or root of problems he deals with is people using the wrong sized needle for the task they are undertaking. I know I'm guilty of this, it's sheer laziness, but I'm trying to be better at selecting the right needle every time I change fabric type. Not doing so often results in broken or bended needles, which can cause damage to the machine's inner workings, most often to the hook pick up point (literally a hook which catches the top thread and makes it over lap with the bobbin thread to create the chain of interlocked threads that is a row of stitches). A broken needle can easily burr the tip of this hook which in turn can catch the thread, create snags or loops of threads.

He also regularly gets contacted by people complaining about all manner of machine and stitch malfunctions which have actually been caused by either having their needle fitted in the wrong way, or the thread threaded through in the wrong direction. He went through a lengthy set of amusing annecdotes of people travelling miles to bring him their problematic machine, in horrendous weather conditions when facing impending deadlines, wasting hours in the process, simply for him to take one glance and have to break the news that their needle is in the wrong way round. Guess none of them will be making that mistake again!

Another common complaint is of course 'birds nesting': when your thread gets in a crazy mess at the beginning of, during, or at the end of a row of stitching that takes forever to unpick. Generally this is caused by top tension issues. Commonly the thread will be under an incorrect amount of tension because the machine hasn't been threaded up properly and the top thread isn't going through the tension disks correctly. This often happens when people thread their machine up whilst the sewing machine foot is down. If you are having birds nesting issues, re-thread your machine making sure the foot is up and that the thread runs inbetween the disks. Still problems? Then try adjusting the top tension.

Slipped stitches are something I recently experienced. That's when you notice that some stitches in a row haven't 'caught' correctly, so you get some random long ones in what would otherwise be an even row. This is usually caused by (once again) using a needle which isn't the right size for the thickness of fabric you are using, or (as was the case with me) your needle is a bit blunt and therefore sometimes bouncing off the fabric rather than piercing it.

But it's not just the needle that you may need to change when using a variety of thicknesses of fabric. Something I totally didn't realise is that you may need to increase the foot pressure when using thinner fabric. On my machine, this is a small screw on the top which needs twisting one way or another.

One more point he made (which I think I had actually figured out for myself over the years), is that you should only take your work out from the machine when the take-up is at it's highest position. The take-up is the loop that your thread runs through at the front of the machine (see pic above). Now on my domestic sewing machine at home, the take-up is hidden behind the plastic facade so you can't see when it is at the top or whatever, but I have kind of got used to sensing when it is in this position. This is the right stage of a stitch to extract your work.

My favourite tip that Richard imparted to me yesterday was regarding when you want to sew a row of stitching that involves making an angle at a corner, like if you are hemming a tablecloth, or top stitching a collar or patch pocket. This is done by taking your foot off the peddle mid row of stitching, and lifting the foot up when the needle is still down (piercing the fabric), then pivoting the fabric so you are re-starting sewing in a new direction, lowering the foot and carrying on with your stitching. I remember my mum teaching me this and encourageing me to practice sewing triangles from a continuous row of stitching when I was about nine or ten. Sometimes when I try and do that, I get a stitch at the corner that doesn't seem to 'catch', and is diagonal, spoiling my neat angle I'm trying to create. Richard explained that my mistake here that I'm pivoting my fabric and restarting my row of stitching at the wrong point of a stitch. Before I raise the the foot and pivot my fabric etc., I should turn the wheel by hand so that the needle is in a position when it has gone all the way down to it's lowest point and started to come up again to the point that it is almost out of the fabric again. At this point the stitch has definately 'caught' and so can't 'pop' out like I'd been experiencing.

Finally, not that this will probably apply to most of the sewing readers of my blog, but if your machine is going to be unused for a period of time, do not store it anywhere too cold (like a garage) or too hot (like a loft). Machines are happiest at normal room temperature, where they are less likely to dry out.

I'm sure most of this is common sense and telling y'all is like teaching you to suck eggs, but I thought it worth while to pass it on anyhow. Happy successful stitching lovelies!

Thursday 11 August 2011

Nautical Sundress

It's probably silly calling this garment my 'nautical sundress'. Let's be honest, it's unlikely this will be the last creation of mine that could be referred to as such. But currently it is the only one and I can't think of a witty name or blog title, so I'm just going to crack on with telling you about it.

This was a project that needed little consideration. The pattern, fabric and notions all seemed to come together at a point when I had a window of spare sewing time and a BBQ invitation to spur me on towards a rapid completion. This dress is based on Simplicity 4930 (pictured above). Actually, the pattern pictured above isn't my copy. I can't find mine at the minute, and anyway the front cover of my copy is all ripped, which is probably why my ebay bid went uncontested. The picture above came from a vintage sewing pattern wiki.

Anyway, I digress. We decided to make a dress design at work based on my copy of this pattern (accept I added a lace panel in the front neck scoop for the work ones) so after I made some, I tried on the version that I assumed would be the closest to my size. OMG! This pattern is meant for ladies rocking serious girdles. That or it's meant for women who don't eat yet possess full busts. Let's just say the ratio between bust and waist was somewhat extreme. What I did love though, is that it has a lovely deep scoop back, but your bra is still completely covered. When I decided to make my own version, I redrafted the bodice to allow a touch more space in the bust and a hellofalot more space around the waist. I also pinched a tiny bit out of the shoulder straps so they wouldn't slip down my shoulders.

I've been sitting on this fabric for about six months now (not literally). It's some Laura Ashley stuff that was probably produced for curtaining or soft furnishing, it's a medium to medium/heavy weight cotton with a little chain style repeat print running along the grainline. I've nearly deployed this fabric so many times with different sewing patterns, but I'm really glad I had to sense to wait until the project felt 'right' to bust it from my fabric stash. I was hoping to do something clever with the direction of the chain print, maybe horizontal across the bodice and straight down on the skirt, or vice versa. But I didn't have enough fabric to mess with the grainlines like that unless I added a deep contrast band along the hem. With no suitable contrast fabric availing itself to me, I decided to have both sections on the cross-grain with the skirt a bit less full than I would usually go for.

I decided it was thick enough to not bother with neck or armhole facings and planned to do some sort of invisible binding finish instead to avoid all the bulkiness (and let's face it, effort) that facings would mean. Then I have a look in my notions stash and rediscovered four or five metres of this incredible anchor bias binding which I got in Paris, you know, when I dragged Pat who was feeling ill (though I didn't know) round every fabric and haberdashery shop in Paris for an entire afternoon and walked away with just this binding. Well, it just looked amazing with the blue and white fabric, so I trimmed away the seam allowance around the neck and armholes and applied it carefully. Then I realised I had just enough to edge the hem too, which was a total score as I hadn't left myself much hem allowance.

What you can't really tell from these pictures is that, despite my deadline, the finish on this dress is actually pretty good, if I do say so myself. I hand picked the zip and it's my best attempt at that yet. The bias binding is generally very even. The frikkin chains even meet at the side seams on the skirt.

Which is not to say this dress is perfect. Sadly, despite having tried on a version and made the small pattern adjustments that I felt were required, the fit of the bodice isn't spot on. By adding only about 2cms in total round the bust, it's somehow made it a bit too loose and it doesn't fit as snuggly at the shoulders as I'd hoped (despite the shortening of the straps at the shoulders, damn it!). My bra straps are slightly visible at times. The tightness of the initial work version I tried on had prevented, and therefore I didn't foresee would be an issue in my own version. The waist adjustment was well judged however, and eating almost my own body weight in amazing food at this BBQ was the test that proved I'd allowed enough extra.

My one other issue is the skirt can, at times, sit out a little strangely. I'd say that was due to the stiffness of the fabric combined with either too much or too little fullness in the skirt. But I'm not that bothered by that as a quick smooth down when I get up and it seems to sit ok.

On balance, although a little disappointed, I am really pleased with my nautical sundress. And the sun really doesn't shine that much in the UK to not require a cardigan most of the year. I recently snapped up a little red low necked cardigan from a charity shop in Leigh, Essex, to go with my Summer Holiday dress which also looks fantastic with this sundress, so that kind of deals with the bodice fit issue whenever it's not blazing sunshine.

So there we have it. The latest garment to spring from my nautical obsession. Don't think that's the end of it, there are plans for more....

Monday 8 August 2011

Self-Stitched-Sept '11: Blog Widget/Button

Ok peops, maybes you've seen the latest me-made/self-stitched challenge I'm hosting, maybes you haven't. Basically, we've got about three weeks before the start of Self-Stitched-Sept '11, and I for one and really excited to e-meet the people who will be taking part this time round, and see all the delicious and inspirational handmade things they will be wearing.

If you have signed up, plan to sign up or are thinking of signing up and have a blog, I would like to share with you the HTML code for the widget/button of the SSS'11 logo pictured above. When the the widget/button is installed on your blog and the logo is clicked on, the clicker will be pinged to the original Self-Stitched-Sept '11 sign-up post. This cheeky little blog addition serves a few purposes:

  • It announces to the readers of your blog what you are up to and how you plan to challenge yourself in a feet of daring adventure!
  • The ping back effect means you needn't explain in depth what you are up to as they can read the original challenge outline for themselves.
  • It reminds yourself that you are an intrepid explorer investigating the possibilities of handmade/DIY culture, and ultimately flying the flag for all creative individuals (phew!).
  • Other SSS'11 participants who may happen to drop by your blog can see, at a glance, that you are also taking part and will know doubt be interested to see how you are getting on.
  • It will most likely encourage others to participate, which will most likely benefit them (I've never heard anyone who actually participated in a me-made/self-stitched challenge comment that they hadn't found it an enriching experience in some way) AND the rest of the community of participants by providing more peops to 'play' with.

So, if you would like one, follow these steps:

1# Copy the following HTML code:
href="" target="_blank"> <img border="0" alt="Photobucket" src="" /> </a>

2# (This is for blogger). Click on 'Customise' on your own blog;

3# click on 'Layout';

4# click on 'Add Gadget';

5# choose HTML/Javascript;

6# paste the code in;

7# click on 'save changes'; ta da!!!!

When your beautiful new widget/button goes live, it will start simulataneously explaining what the whole thing is about as well as aiding the passage of more potential signees. Win-Win!!!

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Self-Stitched-Sept '11: Join Me!!!!!!!!!

That's right people! Another me-made/self-stitched challenge is born. In fact this will be the last challenge I will be hosting this year, so if you are in any way tempted, you'd best come out to play!!!

You probably think it's easy to come up with a new logo each time, you'd be wrong! I spend ages trying to decide which font has the right feel for the upcoming challenge. So onto the challenge itself. If you have read my blog before, or have been hanging with the online sewing crew for any length of time, it is very possible you are already aware of the concept and purpose behind these challenges. If you do not, I will explain.

What is Self-Stitched-Sept '11?:

Those who will sign up to Self-Stitched-Sept '11 wish to challenge themselves to wear their lovely handmade creations more than they currently tend to for the duration of September 2011. The signee decides the specifics of their own challenge, e.g, what constitutes 'self-stitched', how many self-stitched garments they plan to wear each day, and so on. It is then up to them to try and stick to this throughout the month as best they can. It is not a competition, it doesn't matter if a participant isn't able to fulfill their pledge, life has a habit of getting in the way of good intentions!

Why should I take part?

Good question. People choose to do so for lots of reasons. Most participants find the results of their sewing/crochetting/knitting/upcycling/refashioning all too often ends up left in their wardrobe as, for whatever reason, they choose to wear their 'safe' clothing instead. Some participants in these challenges want to discover the 'holes' in their wardrobe so in the future they are able to focus their precious garment-creating time towards making things that will be more useful. Others feel what they tend to wear, day-to-day, doesn't really suit them or represent who they are particularly, and want to spend a month focussing on getting out of their rut. Some participants enjoy the push this challenge gives them to finish off lingering unfinished projects to add some more self-stitched weapons to their garment-arsenal. And others (myself included) get a rush when complimented whilst wearing a self-stitched garment, and want to spend a month increasingly the likelihood of receiving more!!! If the previous four challenges are anything to go by, there is also guaranteed to be a lovely online community of fellow participants to give support, advice and inspiration. More on that bit later.

How does SSS '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. This is YOUR challenge, write the script any way you want, just remember: IT IS A CHALLENGE. For example, you could challenge yourself to wearing one self-stitched/refashioned garment a day, or if you have been making clothing for a long time, you may decide to challenge yourself to two self-stitched/refashioned garments a day, or even more! If you are fairly new to garment creating and/or re-working, make this a challenge, but don't make it impossible for yourself. 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! If you already wear a lot of self-stitched/refashioned items, think how you can up the ante.

'I, (insert name here and blog address if you have one), sign up as a participant of Self-Stitched-Sept '11. I endeavour to wear......................................................... each day for the duration of September 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 others can also sign-up if they are interested. If there's one thing I've learnt from these challenges, the more people involved, the better the party!

Documentation and Photos:

'So what's with all the daily pictures people have on their blogs, do I have to do that?'. No. 'What's with the Flickr group? I'm not on Flickr, do I have to sign up?', not if you don't want to. Documenting these challenges seems to be the area that puts people off and definately the area I get the most (although comparatively tiny amount of) negative feedback about, so let me address this area.

Many people who have a blog choose to share their challenge with their readers by taking and posting daily outfit photos as they go along. It is not in any way compulsory to do this if you don't want to, or even to have a blog at all. Personally, I do take daily photos and post them, as I find looking at these images helps me analysise what outfits/garments are working and what aren't, and reflecting on these photos in the form of commentary on my blog helps me put those reactions and feelings into something more cohesive. Personally, I tend to lump several days worth of images together into one post, but some post daily whilst others do a weekly summary, or just post their favourite outfit days.

There will be a Flickr group created for this challenge, as I've found it to be a great format for everyone to share their outfit photos, comment on and ask questions about other peoples' creations, and have discussions on whatever springs to mind throughout the duration of the month. I've always been blown away by the positivity and sense of enjoyment and fun that spreads from the challenge Flickr groups. I wish so much that there was some way for everyone who participates could get together in the flesh and meet and chat, but the Flickr group really does provide the next best thing. However, if you as a participant chose not to join or post on the SSS '11 Flickr group, that is totally fine. This challenge can be a solitary or community based as you wish! If you don't join, the group is still open for you to come and see what's going on. You won't be able to post photos or join in discussions, but all will be visible and you will be most welcome to stop by.

New for SSS '11: there will be a Facebook group!!!! This will be announced, as with the Flickr group, a little closer to the start of the challenge (i.e. when I get round to making it!). It will be another avenue to interact with other participants, should you wish to.

So, come on people!!!!!!! It's time to stand up and be counted as part of the handmade revolution. Let's show ourselves as well as others that we are capable of making incredible and functional things to wear, and damn proud of it too!


Tuesday 2 August 2011

The Final Pants

In precisely the same vein as my post on my 'final' skirt creation, I don't for one moment really believe that these are the last pants I'll make myself. But my pant-making addiction has to be curbed because my undies draw is fit to bursting and won't close properly (TMI?).

Making pants is so satisfying. They need very little fabric and can be made from the fabric left-overs of other projects or from old stretch garments which are no longer wanted in their original form. Not only is pant-making cheap, it's also quick. Start to finish I reckon I could have a new pair whipped up in half an hour, including cutting out. Though making a few pairs in a production line is also very satifying and more efficient. Also, it doesn't matter if the finish isn't so great, as they are (most likely) safe from the critical eyes of the public. You can have a good old experiment with different fabrics, elastics, construction techniques, embellishment, much of which might not go quite as you wished, but you'll still most likely have something you can actually wear.

I've done heaps of experimenting since I first tried making my own undies about a year and a half ago. I've learnt that, personally, I prefer to make my pants from jersey fabric that has an elastic content to it, rather than a fabric that relies solely on being knitted rather than woven for any degree of stretch, (i.e. I don't like using normal T-shirt fabric). These black pants are made from the stretch scraps left over from making a T-shirt. The fabric is really soft and very stretchy, yet not too 'floppy/drapey': ideal for making pants. And who couldn't use a couple of pairs of plain black knicks? I had yet to try out this black frilly elastic that I'd bought on ebay ages ago. It was easy to apply though not the highest quality, so I think the end result is pretty humourous rather than glamourous!

Speaking of glamour:

I pulled out all the stops and made the trashiest undies I'm capable of! Sheer leopard print and red frills; tell me you don't want some! Which is not to say they aren't wearable. I lined the gusset in some flesh coloured stretchy stuff. I actually haven't worn these yet, I'm a little intimidated by them! Oh wait, I just remembered my dad has recently figured out how to use the internet and where to find my blog. Ah well, I can shield my folks no longer, there are surely more damaging things you might find on the internet, no?!

To summarise: I am trying to prevent myself from spending my sewing time making items I have in abundance, but don't let that stop you! If you haven't, heartily recommend giving pant-making a whirl (remember, you can find my how-to/tutorial on constructing pants here). If you have, please leave a link in the comments section to your pant-creations if you've blogged about them, I'd love to see. I'll show you mine if you show me yours! We know each other well enough now to show each other our undies, right?!

Monday 1 August 2011

Halter Neck Shirt

Today I have a bona fide garment refashion for your perusal. Normally I make stuff from scratch, using pieces of fabric and patterns. But I'm a massive advocate of refashioning and upcycling existing garments for a variety of reasons that I've already discussed at length (and am, no doubt, about to expand upon still further). I just don't tend to do much of it myself. At work, my boss and I tend to play to our strengths, and for the majority of the time I work with donated pieces of fabric and curtains and make them into garments in the 'usual' way because my work is clean and precise. My boss, who is far more talented than me design-wise, is usually the one who creates inventive things out of unlikely existing garments.

However, sometimes I just gotta get involved in some upcycling, and when I do it's usually with unwanted T-shirts, sweatshirts, or men's shirts, like here. If I recall, I think the original inspiration was a dress or top on ModCloth that had a collar detail that kind of looked like it had been taken from an existing shirt (sorry, can't find the image anymore). It's not a massive leap in creativity to then design a top that has a collar detail that is actually from an existing shirt! From that starting point morphed this simple halter top style from a re-cut old shirt.

The existing hem, buttons and button stand were retained, and rows of shirring elastic created in the back to make it stay up and removable. I trimmed off the original collar and reattached it along the top and used some embroidery anglais edging stuff for neck ties. I made a squillion of these from different men's shirts for our range (plus one for me and one for my boss! shhh...), and if the original shirt has a pocket, I just kept it on for an extra feature and made the bust dart through it if necessary. My favourite shirts to use were the type that have little buttons at the points of the collar. I carefully harvested those little buttons and reattached them when the collars were in the new position. Sadly, by the time I had decided I wanted to make myself one, there were none of those shirts left. I made another batch of these halter tops last week using donated chambray and denim shirts, the result of which had a crazy new-school cowgirl vide about them.

The first weekend after I made these tops was happily really warm, almost Spain-warm, and I basically didn't take this off all weekend. In the day, as these pictures prove, I rocked it with my high-waisted denim shorts, and went out in the evening wearing it with black skinny jeans. It does have the annoying effect of exposing the back of my strapless bra at times, which results in me yanking it up at the back at regular intervals. However, if I had had this when I lived in Barcelona, I wouldn't have taken it off from June til September, guaranteed. I don't think it's the most flattering garment on me, as it kind of exaggerates my widest part and hides my smallest part and curves, but the crisp, light cotton is a joy to wear on a hot day.

It is pretty shocking how many men's work shirts like this our charity gets donated, and I'd say at least three quarters are in perfectly wearble condition. Some have a tear, rip or stain, but most are fine. Our part of the charity gets lots as there just isn't demand for that many in the normal charity shops part of Traid. I don't see why men (or their partners?) are so quick to dispose of their work shirts when all but the most extreme styles aren't really capable of going out of fashion. Do the dudes get fat and no longer fit them? Do they get bored and want a change (even though most are fairly innocuous?) I can't believe most guys would feel everyone in the office was judging them for wearing the same normal shirt regularly for a while. Lots of the shirts we get are expensive brands like Hawes & Curtis (who my great aunt Kit was a machinest for, FYI), Pink, Paul Smith etc. and made from quality fabric. What is up with that?

It not only baffles me, but also angers and annoys me how disposible these things apparantly are to most people. I'm reading a book about life during and immediately after the Second World War at the moment, and the mentally towards garments and possessions in general was so phenomenally different just two generations ago. But today, I'm pleased to come up with some designs to potentially give new life to some of these unwanted garments, but it feels like such a tiny drop in the ocean that my job (and hobby) can feel futile and depressing at times. But I hope that by coming up with and spreading new designs and ideas, that it adds weight to the arguement and action towards change in the way we consume.

ANYWAY. I have discussed these topics before, and hope to do so more thoroughly and eloquently in the future. I just wanted to show you my new top! Happy Monday.
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