Tuesday 29 November 2011

Tutorial: How To Make a Cowl Neck Scarf

This tutorial may be of use to you if you A) have some spare jersey or knit fabric hanging about and you're not sure what to do with it, or B), you've got some people to make Christmas presents for and you are in a hurry! This cowl neck scarf is basically two tubes of fabric joined together. You can use jersey or knit fabric, or a couple of T-shirts, sweatshirts or knit jumpers (or a cunning combination of two of those things). In this tutorial I use an overlocker (serger) to construct it, but you can use a regular sewing machine. I would recommend that you test out stitching your intended fabric with whichever machine you plan to use before you begin. Here's how to make a cowl neck scarf...

Step 1:

This scarf basically consists of two rectangles of fabric (or four which you must stitch together to make two). The dimensions are totally up to you, but for the cowl neck scarves pictured in this post (there are a couple of knit versions pictured at the end) the initial rectangles measured 76 cms wide and 42 cms deep. For my version pictured above I used a light-weight drapey jersey, but thicker fabrics can also give a fantastic (and more snuggly) result. As you can see, I just drew my measurements straight onto the fabric, no pattern. Told you this is a quick project.

Step 2:

after cutting out, you will have two rectangles the same size. Make each rectangle into a tube by stitching the two shorter edges together, right sides together.

Step 3:

What did I tell you? Two tubes!!! (I know, this isn't really a step!). Remember, the right side of the fabric is currently inside the tubes. Keep it that way for a minute.

Step 4:

To make life easier for yourself when matching up the edges later, make little notches (no more than 0.5 cms) by snipping at the top and bottom of the raw edge at the other end from where the stitching is.

Step 5:

Now you have to join the two tubes together at one end of the cowl. Turn one of the tubes through so the right side of your fabric is on the outside. Put this turned through tube inside the other, matching up the stitching seams and the two little notches. Pin these together around the circle of raw edges.

Step 6:

Sew the tubes together as you just pinned them. Remember to take the pins out as you go before they reach the needle or blade!!

Step 7:

Now the two tubes are attached. Don't worry about trimming your loose ends too much, they are going to get hidden inside the final cowl neck scarf.

Step 8:

Now pull the tube out to make one long tube. Make sure you pull it out with the right side of the fabric inside the tube.

Step 9:

The next couple of steps may require a bit of a leap of faith, they may not make sense so you're going to have to trust me! Problem is, this bit is really tricky to describe. If the instructions don't make sense at first read, it is likely they will make far more sense when you read them with the half-made thing in your hands.

Hold both ends of the tube at the edge where the stitching lines finish. See where my boss is holding it in the picture above? Take hold of yours at these two points. Bring the two points you are holding closer together. They are going to meet up, but before you put them together, you need to fold the edges in a bit so that it is the right sides of the fabric that touch. (See picture below.)

Step 10:

Put them together to make those two points meet. It will help to use a pin to keep them together for a bit.

Step 11:

Now you have those two points together, with their edges tucked inside, all held together with a pin. Turn this area round so that you can see the raw edges (see picture below). Now put a second pin in to keep these raw edges together. Take out the first pin. The whole cowl neck scarf at this point will look all twisted and wrong. Don't worry, it's meant to be like that at this point. Where you have just put this new pin to hold those raw edges together, that's going to be the beginning of the next line of stitching. Matching your corresponding final two notches along the raw edge, you need to sew the last circle of raw edges together LEAVING AN OPENING FOR TURNING THROUGH (i.e. stop this sewing before you meet up with where you started this row of sewing!). This gap should be at least 10cms long.

Step 12:

Now the whole damn thing will look all screwy and twisted up, like the picture below. At the left you can see the seam edges I just stitched together in Step 11. The loose overlocking threads indicate where I left an opening.

Step 13:

Now the magic bit... Reach through the gap and pull it all through so that the right sides of your fabric are now on the outside and all your stitching is inside.

Step 14:

Pin the opening closed.

Step 15:

Stitch the opening closed neatly by hand, or quickly with a regular sewing machine like I did below:

Step 16:

Admire your handiwork!!!

As I mentioned before, this basic method can be applied to all sorts of stretchy (non woven) fabric. The scarf below was made with an old jumper for the outside and snakeskin printed jersey for the inside.

This cowl neck scarf was made using a few fine but very soft grey jumpers. The subtle differences in shade make a really nice effect. If you have some old knitwear, you could try combining two different ones for a toasty warm way to reuse unwanted garments.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions and/or you need me to clarify something. Happy making!!!

Friday 25 November 2011

How I Consume

Today I’d like to talk about how I consume stuff. I’m not talking about edible or drinkable stuff (which you could argue I do in slightly ill-advised quantities!), but all the other things in my home like the stuff I sit on, eat my dinner off and fill my wardrobe with.

My Magic Questions

When I figure out I need, or could do with (more on that distinction later) a product, my brain goes through these stages:

  1. Could I/we (me and my boyfriend) do without buying it? For example, I’m going on holiday but don’t have an ‘easyjet-sized’ suitcase. I could go and buy one, or I could borrow one from a friend and make sure I bring them back some chocolates to say thanks. Another example: we have friends coming over for dinner but don’t have enough chairs. Answer: use the garden furniture and make a joke out of it! Both these examples happen regularly round these parts.
  2. Could I make it? This applies mainly to clothing and accessories currently, but also soft-furnishings and gifts for other people. This is an area I hope to expand in the future.
  3. If it’s a bit fat ‘NO’ to the questions above, then it leads to: Could I get it second hand? And so often the answer is ‘yes, the thing I would like can be bought second hand’ by either hunter-gathering my way through charity shops or spending a bit of time trawling on eBay.
  4. If the answer to the above question is still ‘NO’, or we require the item quicker than the gods of charity shopping are willing to grant it to us, we buy the item new but the best quality we can afford so that it should last the longest amount of time before needing to be replaced.

I write endlessly on this blog about question number 2: making things. In this post I want to go into my thoughts on second hand, but really many of the reasons for me preferring to buy second hand are the same as why I choose to make rather than buy my own clothing.

So, as we’ve clarified, if I find I need or would like something new, I’ll usually see if I can get the thing second-hand before heading to the shops or amazon. Now, a LOT of people find second hand stuff to be a bit (or very) gross. The thought that someone else has owned and touched and used their thing before they had it makes them uncomfortable. I’m not judging anyone’s responses, but I feel it would be valuable to think about why that that response is their primary one.

'New' is a new concept

The first thing to take into account is the notion that all possessions must be ‘box-fresh’ straight from the shop or delivery depot is a relatively new one. When my grandparents were my age in the 1940’s, they were skint, working class Londoners, newly married, making their home and going about their business. During this time, and for all their lives leading up to that point, second hand was usually how you got most things. Furniture, clothing, shoes, pots and pans, etc. etc. all were bought second hand or acquired from members of their family; all those things had lives beyond the initial owner. Of course, the Second World War halted most domestic product manufacture and import, but many poorer people in the UK had been living this way for their whole lives even before war broke out. Obviously, I’m not idealising those horribly tough years, and I’m not necessarily saying that given the ability to do so, my young grandparents wouldn’t have chosen a new product over a second hand one, but I am saying that I see how they rubbed along and post-war, raised a family without Primark or Wilkinson’s (probably the UK equivalent to Wal-Mart) and that is what I aim to do also.

Kick-Starting Consumerism

After the Second World War ended, both the UK and US governments decided the best course for economic recovery was to kick-start the manufacturing industries. But the industry that needed to grow even more than car, washing machine or vacuum cleaning production to make this happen was the advertising industry to create and keep up the desire for these products. It was the advertising executives that constantly pedalled the idea than brand-spanking-new products would make you a happier, better person, and reflect your social standing as higher than those around you.

Quality or Quantity

Of course, the desire to be happy, better, and of higher status were not created by the advertising industry, they were always there. My grandparents wanted those things as much as the next person but, and here’s the crux of the thing, they always sought them through quality rather than simply newness. In fact, they held that notion their whole lives. I remember how my maternal grandmother, who had grown up in very poor conditions, in her later years would be absolutely thrilled with a gift of an expensive, high-quality, used coat from my paternal grandmother (who was wealthier and thoroughly middle class), infinitely more so than by a new, but evidently lower-quality, coat bought on a market stall.

The world of advertising had to almost drop the concept of quality from its list of concepts to pedal. Because if you market a product as the best quality within its field, with subsequent longevity, why would the consumer need to buy another from the same company for many years? Once the post-war homes of the US and UK had their TV, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, car etc. sales faltered and the advertising world had to find new desirable attributes to market to convince consumers to up-grade those tired old models they bought just a few years ago. Which is obviously why quality has also fallen off the list of priorities for most manufacturers: you’d probably need more than two hands to count the amount of times you’ve heard people say ‘they don’t make them like they used to’!

Advertising and Manipulation

When you see advertisements from the 1950’s today, they look relatively na├»ve, almost child-like in the simplicity of their messages. But as trying to create ‘need’ to consume already existing products got tougher, advertising got smarter. Advertising has used and manipulated the knowledge gleaned by psychology since the grandfather of modern advertising, Edward Bernays, deployed his uncle, Sigmund Freud’s, theories of psychoanalysis in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Obviously there are many excellent books and documentaries tracking the rise and development of advertising and its relationship with society, but it’ll suffice to say that it has got so clever and insidious that so much of it effects our choices and mind sets so we don’t really know what we genuinely want and/or need. The difference between 'want' and 'need' is also worth taking a look at.

'Want' and 'Need'

It serves the advertising and manufacturing industries to keep ‘need’ and ‘want’ blurred. Now, I know I am very fortunate having been born into a stable family in one of the first world nations, so I’m highly aware that this statement is extremely relative, but the course I have chosen for myself has always been, relative to my society and peers, low paid. Before I started to really think about these things around my mid-twenties, I used to get pissed off and feel aggrieved that I couldn’t afford all the things that I felt I ‘needed’ and ‘deserved’, like a new pair of black jeans or patent, cone-heeled mary janes from Topshop, etc. But I ‘had a word with myself’ and started to realise that I in fact just wanted those things, and then I began to look at how those notions of need/want got mixed up. Choosing to buy second hand not only saves me money (last year we kitted out an unfurnished one-bedroom flat for just £130 by only buying second hand furniture and accepting free items that were kindly offered to us, oh, and finding one clothing rail on the street) but also means I am somewhat out of the radar for all those advertising messages. Not watching much TV and no longer buying heavily advertisement-laden magazines also helps me with this.

Negative Impact on Esteem

Also, so much product advertising relies on exploiting and perpetuating our insecurities. It feels makes us feel bad about ourselves and our lives and then suggests the way to feel better is by purchasing this dress or sofa etc. But the key to happiness and fulfilment clearly doesn’t lie in buying those products because if it did, then we’d all be happy with what we’ve just bought and the whole thing would grind to a halt.

There is a horrendous series of advertisements on TV at the moment for an online department store called ‘Very’. One of the adverts shows a pretty girl wearing a 1970’s style jumpsuit telling us that we should buy it because it makes the wearer look ‘taller and slimmer’. Another in this series features the beautiful and naturally curvy TV presenter Holly Willoughby wearing a silver party dress. She confides with the camera/viewer that she loves the dress’s ruched waistband because it hides a ‘multitude of sins’. I nearly spat my coffee out when I saw that blatant example of exploitation of women’s negative body image. Now, I don’t want to go massively off-piste and discuss in-depth the feminist implications of these adverts, but I do want to highlight the negativity involved in advertising. I feel you can detach yourself from it to a certain extent by not being their ‘target customer’. I certainly don’t want to endorse that kind of message by buying their products and effectively funding the creation of those adverts. The time that ‘Very’ (.co.uk) assumes I spend, or would like me to spend, feeling insecure and rubbish about the size of my belly or my height, I would prefer to spend reading a funny book, looking for vintage sewing patterns on eBay, or stitching myself a new jacket. Sorry about that, ‘Very’.


One thing that is unarguably advantageous about buying new compared to second hand is choice and accessibility. Shopping for stuff today does give you a vast (some would say overwhelming) array of options. So how comes, having ascertained a want/need for a new pair of jeans for example, does the ensuing process of shopping for said item so often feel like going into battle? Shopping for new stuff despite of, if not because of, the amount of choice on offer to us is usually NOT an enjoyable experience. And let’s be honest, the idea that we have great choice of products available to us is pretty false when most of what a retailer has on offer is near-identical to the other retailers. I would argue that in some cases more variety can be found when looking for something second hand, because most retailers are afraid to invest in stocking products that don’t fit in to the prevailing current trends, be that sofas, shoes or TVs. There are also well-documented statistics which prove that people (AKA consumers) are less happy now than they were sixty years ago, despite this ‘utopia’ of products available to fulfil each wish and desire.

I would go as far as to argue that the choice of products we have available to us, and the process we go through to choose what to buy, provides a feeling of power. But it's a kind of false power when most of the places you can buy stuff are all owned by the same multinationals if you research far enough up the food chain. People often used to exercise power by involvement in local and national politics and issues, involvement in trade unions, community groups and other collectives. Involvement in those things has been marginalised, which is to our own societies detriment. What do we do with our time instead? Well, shop mostly.

Availability and Ease

Agreed, when you want to buy a certain product, a kettle say, by going to a retailer that sells new kettles, you are guaranteed to walk away with one and can usually be sitting at home with a cup of tea within the hour. Believe me, I am well aware that you can’t so easily walk into a second hand shop with a shopping list and expect to have all that ticked off by the end of the day. But we managed to kit out most of our kitchen with second hand equipment (I know some people are going to find that a bit icky!) with a bit of patience. There is certainly a hunter-gathering-related instinctive thrill to be got from a successful second hand shopping trip which is infinitely more of a buzz than I would achieve having walked out of Topshop or Urban Outiftters having made a purchase. When there is so much stuff freely available RIGHT NOW, there is always the feeling that ‘maybe I should have gone to a couple more shops to have found something a bit more suitable’. By comparison, a charity shop purchase makes you feel 'WIN!!!!!!'.

The Thrill of The New

What is ‘new’ and ‘fresh’ and ‘untouched’ anyhow? I’ve already discussed the fact that most of the garments, and any other products you can buy, have each been created by hundreds of pairs of hands. Yours is not the only pair of hands to have been on that thing. The idea that your ‘box-fresh’ item has been zapped into existence by a single machine just for you is so very far from the truth. That item came into being months, possibly even a year or more before you saw it. It has most likely been transported from half-way round the world via a series of cargo ships, trucks and warehouses, but having been caked in plastic to retain or create that ‘new’ smell we all so enjoy. And then when it is in the store, how many hands have picked it up, felt it, tried it and put it back down before you selected it? In particular, garments and shoes have probably been manhandled and dumped on the dressing room floor, and had sweaty bodies and feet squeezed into them multiple times before you decide to buy them. If that item had been previously purchased, used, washed and cared for (and often just purchased, put in the cupboard, then taken straight to the charity shop) then classed ‘second hand’, does that make it so completely different from a ‘new’ item? In my opinion, no.

Economy Vs. Ecology

The final issue I’m going to discuss today regarding ‘new’ Vs. ‘second hand’ can be also be framed ‘economy’ vs. ‘ecology’. The same reason that rabid consumerism was desirable in the immediate post-war period is still a prevalent one today: economics. Making, transporting, advertising and selling stuff creates jobs and therefore supports families. It also supports our governments and helps them achieve and maintain a position of international power which keeps poorer nations from developing to a position where their populations can support themselves, reach self-sufficiency and achieve a non-poverty standard of living, but that is a discussion for another day. Indeed everyone deserves to be able to support themselves and their families, but I find it a concern that the definition of that in the West seems to be ‘to a level where those workers are then able to freely purchase every item that is made, transported, advertised and sold’. I definitely don’t have a definitive answer, but I am aware that I cannot afford a lot of the new stuff many of my peers regularly consume, but then neither do I have to work the same excessive hours and worry about getting promotions like many of them do. I’ll come back to these topics in the future.

What I DO know, and what everyone who isn’t mental has acknowledged, is that this level of consumption we currently have in developed/Western/First-World nations is actively screwing up the planet. And the damage we are reaping won’t just effect us in the West, it’ll effect the entire globe including those who have almost no impact on the globe at all. Doesn’t seem fair does it? Not to mention all the children from every nation who has been, and will be, born into this mess. The public knows our consumerism is screwing the planet, the experts and scientists know this, the governments know this, the heads of corporations know this, but we cannot seem to make the leap: to jump off this economic merry-go-round to implement some of the measures that we know we need to to start seriously preventing and repairing some of the damage. Because profits will suffer, governments’ stability will suffer and indeed some first world families’ livelihoods will suffer. I don’t have the answers and even if I did I don’t know if too many people in positions of power would hear me or listen to me above their own agendas. But I will live my life the way I feel comfortable, and a lot of that is making do, making and modifying things and buying second hand.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Poetry and Clothing Project: October

The P&C project is now over half-way through and the garments I've been making for Harriet have started to reflect a nod to the colder weather. October's clothing side of the bargain comprised of two garments which could potentially be worn together as an outfit. The first is the Peter Pan collar leopard print top pictured above.

This is the first garment I've made for this project since June which actually started out as a different garment, rather than a flat piece of fabric, before I got my hands on it. This stretch fabric leopard print dress (pictured above and below) had a broken zip and had been returned to the famous high street shop that donates a lot of its seconds to the charity I work for. You would be correct in thinking that the fabric of this garment is totally up my street, and I must admit I did consider the possibility of resurrecting it for myself. However, it is a size 10 (and a very small one at that), and my dimensions most certainly aren't. I decided it would be a waste to hack it up just to harvest some fabric to use as contrast panels or something when I could use most of it by transforming it for Harriet instead who is a size or so smaller than me.

I started by carefully harvesting the Peter Pan collar before deconstructing the rest of the dress. Harriet is often smitten by a Peter Pan collar so I definately wanted that to still be the key feature of the final garment. Using a fairly fitted T-shirt block, I then re-cut the rest of the dress into a top by aligning the bottom edge of the pattern pieces with the existing dress hem. This meant the final top could be a bit larger than the tiny dress was initially.

I overlocked the centre back seam closed where the zip had been, then re-cut a back key-hole to allow for getting in and out of the final thing. I reattached the collar and stitched a little hook and eye closure. Bish bash bosh, job done.

The second garment is a full skirt with box pleats and a curved waistband. It is designed to sit snugly on the natural waistline and emphasise that part of the body. The fabric is charcoal suiting with a nice drape and slight stretch. I thought a plain coloured classic fabric like this would make the skirt more versatile for different occassions and easier to match with different tops.

This skirt design (the 'Camille'!) is one I developed for the range at work, and is sometimes available in various fabrics on the website here. I really enjoy making these Camille skirts because they look best when made in medium weight woven fabrics (my favourite to work with) and you can get a nice crisp finish to the garment if you use an iron to press each stage of construction.

I haven't made myself any of these skirts however, because my stupidly high natural waistline means the top of the skirt's waistband is basically touching my boobs! NOT a strong look. But is was a pleasure to make it for Harriet, and I've been informed it fits her perfectly and she's got heaps of wear from it so far. Can't ask for more than that!

So, enough of my garment-based warbling, 'Where's the poetry?! Damn it, that's what we've come here for', I hear you cry. Indeed. Today's poem, if you recall, is in reference to the slinky batwing jersey dress from September's installment if this project. It may interest you to know that Harriet teaches English in an international school in Spain.


The goat bells are ringing in a nearby field
one of the children looks up and smiles.
On the wall is a poster of similes
made by a Japanese boy who speaks next to no English.
By each simileis a picture
the last of them reads
It is as rough as a moth's wing
each word carefully unearthed from the dictionary
his face crumpled in disgust as he searches for
a picture of this creature he hates.
He probably still wonders how it is that gh
makes an f sound. I save it for later:
the question of how we defy phonetics -
how foggy and phoney our definitions can be.
The bells continue their ringing
(a vapid, unsatisfactory word)
and mingle with the slippery soft bat wings
against my arm and the side of my back.
Bat wings leave just enough room -
flexible, forgiving.
They hang the way that words ought to hang
brushing the skin gently
twisting the fibres of colour and sense.

Monday 21 November 2011

'How To Be a Woman' by Caitlin Moran

I'm harbouring a substantial girl-crush at the moment. The focus of this crush is the British author and journalist Caitlin Moran (pronounced Catlin) whose recently published book, entitled 'How To Be a Woman', attracted a lot of media interest over the summer. The flippant synopsis of this book is that she 'rewrites The Female Eunuch from a bar stool and demands to know why pants are getting smaller'. Actually, it's a timely re-evaluation of feminism as it stands today for women who maybe haven't given Germaine Greer much thought since their teens. It highlights a whole wealth of modern day experiences that warrant investigation whilst being openly and revealingly autobiographical and intensely funny.

I've found that, since my age has a good solid 3 at the front of it, I've been thinking more and more about how women are expected to behave and function within our society and have been re-analysising my past and present experiences. I think that generally speaking, there is a loose assumption that feminism has 'won'; that today, women get an equal and fair shot and that anyone still harping on about the 'f' word is a bitter, sexually frustrated bint who can't be arsed to shave. But as Moran reveals, it can be argued that in some respects a lot of the ground women gained through previous waves of feminism has since been lost again, particularly since the 1990's.

For the record, I don't whole-heartedly agree with everything Moran writes, just as she disagreed with her idol Greer from time to time. But I do think that if you have any interest in how society works and basically calling bullshit on heaps of stuff that makes womens' lives more hassle and unpleasant that they need to be, then I'd recommend getting hold of a copy for some catharsis and a chuckle.

There is much more I'd like to say about this book, even though I'm currently only two thirds the way through. In particular, her section on fashion and clothing naturally caught my eye and I'd like to explore her comments further on this blog, but I'll do that another day. Right, I'm off to bed now for a read so Caitlin and I can have a giggle whilst getting pissy about some inequality.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Joe's Jumper Trousers

Right. It took a few months, but I'm now armed with detailed reviews on my lunch-hour baby trousers from the mums of baby Joe (pictured below) and baby Surayya. Overall, the feedback has been positive, and all those initial attempts have apparantly seen a fair bit of action which I'm pleased about.

It would appear that the overall size and volume make them suitable for easily up to six months (despite the two months as stated on the initial pattern). Sophie, baby Joe's mum, requested some extra length for future pairs so they can be rolled down when he's in his carrier so his legs are well covered, and rolled up when he's chillin' having reached his destination (see above).

I also received an order for four pairs as Christmas presents, including a larger size so have had to develop an eighteen month version as well. Basically, it's been baby-trouser-athon round these parts having made eight pairs last month.

My favourite pair, although arguably the dullest to look at, are the pair pictured above and below. These trousers started out life as a lightweight jumper belonging to my dad. He look a dislike to it for some reason so it got passed on to Patty. However, it was way too big for Patty (not that such a triviality would have prevented him continuing to go to work in it until I insisted he took it off and wore something else that actually looked like it belonged to him!). By that afternoon the jumper in question had become a new pair of Winter trousers for baby Joe. I lined up the bottom edge of the trouser pattern pieces with the bottom edge of the jumper so its ribbing would be included and I wouldn't have to bother finishing the hems of the final trousers.

Agh! He's so cute I have to keep looking away so my eyes don't start watering! What I loved about making this particular pair of baby trousers above the others is that it is directly making use of an unwanted garment that has gone down a small chain of owners, all of whom are very special to me. The jumper is now being enjoyed in its new incarnation, which reminds me a lot of the way women had to creatively reinterpret unwanted adult garments to clothe their children when clothing and fabric were scarce and being rationed during the Second World War, and no-doubt in many difficult times before and since the 1940's. Making a garment in a similar vein makes me feel connected to that tradition and the women before me to whom this was a regular activity. Using sewing skills in this 'old-fashioned' way, i.e. to make essential clothing that will be regularly worn increasingly inspires and appeals to me above making another pretty dress that may see two or three wears a year.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

The Seamless Pledge and The Sound of 'So, Zo...'

I had the pleasure of e-meeting Elena Cresci when she participated in with one of the early Me-Made/Self-Stitched challenges to wear a self-created garment every day for a month. Aside from an interest in sewing and thifting, at that time we also shared the experience of being ex-pats as she was living in Germany and when I was in Spain. Well, now we are both firmly back on UK soil. Whilst currently studying for a postgraduate diploma in journalism in Cardiff, Elena is re-establishing her connection with her handmade and ethical life whilst making an interesting and significant contribution to those twin causes and communities.

''I want to explore the avenues outside of mass made clothing, whether that’s through sewing, knitting, trawling through charity shops, gawking at vintage wares or using good old eBay.''

Through her shiny-new and visually pleasing blog 'Seamless', Elena has created the Seamless Pledge to encourage others to join her in eschewing fast fashion in favour of handmade and thrifted clothing. The pledge-e is free to determine the length of time they wish to commit to the pledge and how they wish to clothe themselves for that period (self-stitched/knitted/up-cycled/thrifted/vintage/etc.). She has created a fantastically simple template for people to try and apply their convictions and interests over a period of time, the type of which has been missing from the online creative community since the Wardrobe Refashion pledge (RIP).

But before I over-complicate the situation with my explanation, let's just hear about it from the horse's mouth:

Speaking of horse's mouth, Elena interviewed me the other week for a blog post about my thoughts on sewing and sustainability, and the 'journey' to my current relationship with comsumerism and consumption. At the time I didn't realise that our telephone conversation would result in audio clips embedded into the resultant blog post, and although I have a near-pathological hatred of listening to recordings of my own voice, I have to say used in this context it's an effective device for getting points across. So head on over if you want to hear some of the content of that interview. And if you are signing up to the Seamless Pledge, good luck and enjoy!!!

Saturday 12 November 2011

School Boy Trousers

A few weeks ago, a tragic washing machine-based accident rendered my beloved black sailor trousers all shrunken, unwearable and basically dead. To be fair, they were getting really worn and faded from a lot of wear so I was ok about it. But the incident left me with only two pairs of trousers to my name (my denim sailor trousers and some secondhand Topshop black jeggings that had a rip that needed fixing to make them wearable). I spend about 80% or 90% of my time in trousers, particularly in Autumn/Winter and particularly at work, so I realised it was time to turn my attention away from making piles of baby trousers and make myself some damn trousers instead.

I carried the plan with me for a while, unsure of what direction to take. Then Ali's fantastic post chronicling her trouser-sewing endeavours not only gave me a kick up the butt by seeing all her effort, but it also reminded me that I, too, have the pattern pictured above! I'm a fan of the Built By Wendy/Simplicity patterns but had only got round to making one rushed project-fail from this pattern since I'd got it a few years ago. Time to have another bash.

I think the main thing that puts me off making lots of trousers, as Ali noted, is that it is so damn hard to achieve a successful fit without heaps of effort and toiles. And fly fronts, I avoid those like the plague usually. But the style of trouser from this pattern would look funny converted to a side zip, so I decided that if I was going to bite the bullet and make a fly front, I should at least make one toile (pictured above). Now, you rarely see pictured of toiles (muslins, mock-ups, etc.) on this blog, for two reasons: they aren't very interesting, AND I almost never make them anyway. So I've included the picture above as a testimonial to this rare occurrence.

I made a size 14, and thankfully my uncharacteristic toiling behaviour was rewarded as the overall fit came out really well. I made the toile without the pocket mouth so I could draw my own directly onto the toile where I liked it, from which I made my own pocket position pattern (why, I'm not entirely sure because the new one I created is more or less exactly the same as the pattern's original - I just can't leave things be!). From the toile I also decided to add a tiny bit of extra width to the thigh area, which I then removed again during construction when a mid-way fitting proved it unnecessary. Plus I added 1 cm extra to the front rise measurement.

I was super-intrigued to see how this pattern would look at the rear. I had my concerns because God (or whoever is responsible for these things) has been quite generous to me in that department, and the back pattern pieces have no back darts so I was concerned the shaping wouldn't be accommodating, but actually it looked fine.

As you may know, I try to sew exclusively from my stash, and this piece of synthetic blend grey stuff had been in there since I 'appropriated' it from a crappy clothing company job I had back in 2007. The fabric is pretty light weigth and really soft, and the synthetic quality means it doesn't really crease (win). I didn't quite have enough for the whole garment, so I've used some contrast floral cotton (Liberty I believe, if you happen to be one of those Liberty-print festishists) for the inside waistband and inside pocket bags. You can see the odd sneak of it when the pocket mouths crease open a bit, but I don't mind the odd flash of something being visible from the outside.

As for the finish, I have to say I created the kind of fly front that dreams are made of. Almost flawless. I bypassed the pattern's fly front instructions and instead followed the directions once given to me by a professional and incredibly experienced sample machinist. There's only one bit I don't understand in the notes I took, but I am unable to ask her to clarify as she worked at the same place I mentioned before where I got the fabric from back in 2007, and I no longer have any connection with that place. Anyways, I struggled to get a good pic so you'll have to trust me.

The overall fit is what I believe fashion lexicon would term 'boyfriend cut', by which I mean they are quite hipster-y and low slung. Though maybe not because the legs aren't particularly wide. I really like the fit of the legs actually, and the whole garment is really comfortable. Like, too comfortable. A couple of times during their maiden wearing, I panicked because it felt like I was still wearing my pyjamas! However, I don't think this will be a 'go-to' pattern for me. I may crack it open again in the Spring to make a capri version, but I probably won't make another long-legged version. I just don't think this style of trouser fits with my current style of dressing well enough that I would require more than one pair. But the main criteria of making a wearable, work-friendly pair of trousers has been fulfilled and the fact that they are actually comfy is a major bonus. I may even consider making another toile one day (though not any time soon!).

Thursday 10 November 2011

The Great Crochet Heist

So for ages now I've been planning on getting into crochet. In fact I had been declaring so to my boss repeatedly for months. At first she agreed with me as she also wanted to get back into it and got her mother-in-law to re-teach her the ropes. I, however, have been slower off the starting block.

I thought getting into crochet would be good for a few reasons. The main one being that I don't really have the ability to create knitwear for myself, and being that I don't buy new clothes, knitwear acquisition has been a problem for me for a few years as my old previously shop-bought knit items have slowly died and been decomissioned. A couple of years ago I got to grips with my overlocker and stretch and knit fabric bought on the roll and made myself a couple items (a cardigan and a jumper). But since then I have chosen to stop buying new fabric as well, so I've been trying to make knitwear by remaking and altering existing secondhand knitwear garments (like this, this and this) or sweatshirts (like this and this). For all other knitwear items I've been at the mercy of the charity shops.

But I thought that by learning to crochet (I'm not quite up to introducing knitting into my life) I'll be able to made some toasty-warm garments that have a different look and perform different wardrobe roles than my remakes currently are. I would be creating the very fabric of a creation too, rather than only a creation from fabric. Also, adding a new skill/activity to my life (other than sewing, drinking wine and planning adventures that I can't afford) might be fun. I thought it might an excellent Winter sofa-bound creative activity, or even one I could take to do elsewhere, maybe with friends.

The idea was to get super-good over the Winter, figure out how to get hold of secondhand wool so I don't have to compromise my 'not-buying-new-stuff' ethos, and eventually be cranking out incredible garments like the cardigan pictured above. So I procured some secondhand crochet hooks (thanks Mum and Sophie) in a variety of sizes. Next I guessed correctly that a knitting enthusiast would have a stash of unused wool akin to a sewer's stash of fabric, so cheekily asked my friend Michelle to flow me a ball or two to practice with before I launched myself in any further which she did willingly (thanks Michelle). I also joined Ravelry.com (which is where I found the cardigan pictured above), which I had heard on good authority was like a knitter's and crocheter's Burdastyle, to soak up some inspiration. Many of the creations on there are off the hook (pun intended). I also got hold of a print-out about different stitches from the Brighton Mini Maker Faire, which I have annoyingly temporarily mislaid.

Well, as you can imagine, all this garnering of items, inspiration and the like took a while. But just as I felt it was all falling into place, I came home one day to find that my exciting foray into crochet has been hijacked by Patty (Mr 'So, Zo...') before I've so much as made my first stitch! Can you BELIEVE the cheek of it?! I scarcely can. PLUS he's now developed an obsession for it: the kind of deep 'hours-slip-by-unnoticed' type of obsession that I believe men are far more susceptible to contracting than women (the latter being far more capable of participating in more than one activity at any one time). So, over the last week or so, whilst I've pottering around the living room doing some sewing and trying to discuss what we should have for dinner, Pat has been glued to Amigurumi pattern blogs and swearing at crochet-stitch You Tube videos for them to 'slow the f*^k down'. This is my new reality.

(Pictured above, Patty on a train journey coming back from London this weekend. In case you are wondering what is in his mouth, it's a safety pin that he had been using to hold his stitch, or something.) Don't get me wrong, I'm all for dudes getting involved in this kind of activity. I'm really happy that traditional gender stereotypes have not put him off developing a new skill and enjoying a new hobby. I'm also really glad that he is doing something that takes him away from a computer screen (some of the time). But what pisses me off is that A) I was really looking forward to becoming a crocheter and I feel that, now someone else in the room is already better than me, that there is an element of discovery tha now will not be there, and that B) I can now never find my thread cutters or wool needle (which I use for poking the loose tails of overlocking threads away to neaten my work). Oh, and C) he is making the wierdest, freakiest looking things you ever did see:

This thing spooks me out, especially when it stares at me with its little yellow eyes whilst I eat my breakfast.

Monday 7 November 2011

Nautical Diner Dress!

Yep, I did it. I crossed the beams. I created a garment that references two of my main stylistic obsessions: 'nautical' and diner waitress uniforms. Can't you believe it?! I barely can! Basically, it's a faux-shirt dress with three functioning front buttons but also a concealed side zip so you can get in and out of it. The skirt is made from two gathered rectangles. The sleeves are my favourite kimono/dolman/grown-on variety. The collar has contrast anchor print fabric on the revere. So now you're acquainted, let me tell you the whole shebang.

I think the most important thing you should know about this project is that is was a total arse-on. I blogged about the pattern on which it was based (pictured below) back in October 2010 but didn't start doing anything with it until about June/July this year. I finished this dress just a few weeks ago. EXACTLY. Five months on one dress. Not five solid months, obviously (there have been many other projects that got done inbetween), but even my epic Winter coat project took less than two months, all told. I just hit a brick wall that only the accumulation of time could provide the motivation to get back in the saddle and finish it off. 'So, what happened?' I hear you ask....

The keen-eyed amongst you will have noticed that my dress has a full skirt, yet the pattern pictured above has not. I was all for the pencil skirt variety as illustrated, and thought it might be fun to play with the contrast nautical colours and make the skirt part from some blue drill that I'd had in my stash for years. However, the skirt for the pattern didn't use darts to create the shaping, instead it was gathered into the waist. I couldn't see how that would be particularly flattering as it would kind of be adding bulk, and anyway would be totally inappropriate to do in this thick-ish drill. So, I used the basic pencil skirt that I used when frankensteining together the pattern for my Summer Holiday dress. The original dress pattern also had a kind of fly front, which I tried to incorporate back into my new version, and only just had enough fabric to squeeze the pieces out. I got fairly far with the construction then decided to try it on. TOTAL. FAIL. I cannot find words to describe how terrible it was looking.

By putting the offending half-made garment on the dress stand, you can see that the whole balance of the waist is off. The front it much higher and slants down towards the back. So obviously the normal straight waistline of the pencil skirt I'd added to the bodice was being pulled up at the front and was just all kinds of wrong. I was so disappointed having put so much love and (wo)man-hours into the project by this point, I just bundled it up and shoved it away until I felt strong enough to attempt a resurrection.

Up until that point, the whole thing had been time consuming but was going pretty well. This pattern taught me how to do underarm gussets, in the same way (and at more or less the same time) as Karen tackled her own for her fabulous retro floral dress, the only differences being that I used some interfacing to secure the area on mine, and then I added some top-stitching. And uncharacteristically, I was actually into adopting this new fiddly method and expanding my sewing repertiore. The revere collar malarky was also a bit tricky to get nice and neat, but I took my time and was really pleased with the outcome. I hemmed the sleeves by applying satin red bias binding that I hand-stitched in place to get a super-clean edge finish. And then the aforementioned skirt drama struck and it took the wind out of my project-sails (no pun intended but welcomed!).

Eventually, after a fair few successful projects, I came back to this UFO. I unpicked the blue skirt and tried the bodice on with no skirt attached. I got my boss to mark on it an even and straight waistline, which I then recut as the new bottom edge of the bodice. Unfortunately that meant the waistline is a tad too high, even for me and I have a naturally very high waistline but that couldn't be helped. I then unpicked the side seam on the left side so a zip could be inserted. I snaffled some more of the red fabric (from an enormous roll at work) and made the full skirt, inserted the zip and hand-stitched the skirt hem: job done.

So, final analysis: overall I'm happy with it. The waistline is a tiny bit too hight, but that can be disguised fairly well by adding a belt. Adding the belt also helps to overcome the fact that it is too wide in the waist area. When I was cutting out the bodice pieces out, I added a bit extra to the side seams at the waist because my waist measurement was bigger than the measurement written on the envelope. The eventual largeness in the final garment's waist may be due to the fact that I've lost a few pounds after a horrendous stomach bug I had a few weeks ago (silver linings and all that...) or the newly-raised waistline sitting somewhere slightly different than intended, or because the fabric has a bit of stretch in it; I'm really not sure. But I'm sure as hell not going to do any more unpicking of this dress so cinching in the waist with a belt is what is going to happen. One more quibble is that the fabric is a bit itchy (which I should have known because it's the same fabric I used for the skirt of my Frida Kahlo dress) so I'll make sure to wear it with a vest and tights. My trial run on Saturday went ok, but when I teamed this dress with my Captain jacket, I looked very Japanese school girl! Ah well, you win some...
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