Tuesday 31 January 2012

Who wants to help me design a wedding dress then?

Ok peops, hope you're sitting down for this one. See that pic above? That's a ring with a little silver bird wearing a gold crown with black diamond eyes. He's proof that someone has made the questionable decision that they want to marry me!!! I know! I told you that you should have been sitting down.

Pat (AKA Patty), who I often refer to as 'Mr So Zo', must actually like that idea because just before Christmas, out of the blue, he proposed me up. It's taken me about a month to get my head round the thought that I am going to be married, and equally long for us to develop some opinions on what the actual event should be like.

The most frequent question I've been asked all month is 'Are you going to make your own wedding dress?'. Umm, well I make my own coats, jeans, pyjamas, T-shirts, knickers; let me think... YES!!!!! Of course I'm going to be making my wedding dress! And my best mate's bridesmaid dress for that matter. Except, whilst I've been slowly developing an idea of how all the rest of this wedding should look, my vision of the dresses remains a bit of a blur. Which is why I need your help......

Let's take a look at the facts:
  • I'm going to get married in late September this year
  • It's going to be a fairly quick, non-religious ceremony in Brighton Town Hall
  • The reception will involve music, dancing and cava (and therefore merriment
So far, I'm thinking the bride's dress will be red and the bridesmaid's dress will be black. The general theme for the whole wedding will be mid-20th century vintage glamour (think cocktails and casinos rather than fairy princesses) and both dresses will be cocktail length (just below the knee). My dress should flatter my hourglass-y silhouette, and could, but not necessarily, be a variation of my beloved wiggle dress. I want to be able to wear a normal bra rather than a strapless contraption so I needn't spend all evening yanking at my bodice. I'm not a fan of sewing with, or wearing, super-slippery or very drapey fabrics. Actually, written down like this I can see that I've figured out more than I thought I had, but still I'm really vague on any actual design details like overall silhouette, skirt shape, bodice detailing, necklines, sleeves (if any) etc.

Oh, and I am going to buy new fabric for these dresses rather than relying on second hand flotsam and jetsam as usual with my sewing projects!

So please help!!! If you have any ideas for any element for either of the dresses, please share them with me! If you have an awesome image saved on your computer, or saw a great vintage dress on ebay, or watched a great inspirational old film, or have seen a great sewing pattern for sale or basically ANYTHING that could inspire the design for these dresses, please let me know. If you have a link to something on the interwebs, please leave it in the comments section. If you have an image file to show me, please email it to me at sozoblog (at) gmail (dot) com. I'm casting the net wide at this stage so any inspiration or starting point you care to throw into that net will be most gratefully received.

Thanks everyone! xxx

Friday 27 January 2012

Introducing the Hem-isphere Project!!!

I am very excited to present to you a new project I'm involved in this year, which hinted at in my plans for 2012 post before the details were finalised. Well, now they are; Every other month throughout 2012, I will be exchanging packages with lovely sewing blogger Cecile from Sewing and so on. The packages will contain surprise starting points to inspire sewing creations. Cecile lives in sunny La Reunion in the Southern Hemisphere, I live in the soggy UK in the Northern Hemisphere and we are both fans of a good sewing pun, hence we came up with the title 'Hem-isphere project'!

As you can see from these four images, Cecile (pictured above) is an incredibly impressive sewer. Everything she makes is seriously beautiful, fits her extremely well and is thoroughly wearable.

She also has an excellent eye for lovely fabric, kitsch but subtle prints and flawless finishing. Maybe it's something to do with the fact that she's French. And despite the noticeable lack of leopard print and anchors in her creations, I'd be happy to desert the contents of my wardrobe and shack up with the contents of Cecile's instead! Except I don't think all those wonderful light-weight cotton, sleeveless creations would serve me very well in the UK.

Anyways, I'm very thankful that Cecile is a fan of my Clothing & Poetry Project. Once the idea was floated, we both jumped at the chance to work on a project together. Having never seen each other in the flesh, we agreed it would be difficult to create well-fitting garments for each other, so instead we decided to swap things that would act as starting points for our own sewing projects.

Each package will contain two, three or so elements that the recipient can choose to use as they please. For example, a package may contain a piece of fabric, set of buttons and a sewing pattern. It is up to the recipient to decide which item, or combination of items will be used in the project. The first packages that we sent each other earlier this month were an open theme, but the following packages will have a common theme decided upon in advance alternately by Cecile and myself.

Would you like to see the contents of those first packages? Of course you do! You've read this far, after all!

My package to Cecile:

Two sewing patterns. An early 1960s dress with gathered shoulder yoke detail and tie collar (which I used here) and a 1970s smock pattern with pleated front panel and front button fastening (which I used here). I deliberately chose patterns that I'd already made so that I knew the would be likely to give Cecile a good result if she decided to work with either of them.

Check cotton fabric. This fabric length is long enough for Cecile to complete either of the above sewing patterns, if she chooses to. It is also light-weight enough for her to wear during La Reunion's tropical Summer, which being in the Southern Hemisphere, she is experiencing now. I had this fabric sitting in my stash for at least six months gathering. We just don't get enough of a sustained summer for me get much use from a garment made from this lovely light-weight fabric. If I still lived in Barcelona, then it would be a different matter... I can't wait to see what she makes!

Cecile's package to me:

Awesome 1950s blouse pattern, pretty beige lace edging, vintage belt buckle and sequin anchor. I'm really excited about the contents of this package. She's clearly spent quite some time considering my style and preferences, which I really appreciate.

A closer look at the smaller contents. Now, I'm not going to give away how I plan to use these things, but expect an update blog post with completed creation before March!

Monday 23 January 2012

Simplified Stash-Bustin' Sencha

Now it's safe to say that I have something of a pattern-crush on the Sencha blouse from Colette Patterns. Pictured above is my latest version which will soon be heading for a new life in my best mate's wardrobe (with regular outtings I hope!). It's made from some beautiful vintage crepe fabric. It's previous incarnation was as a large second hand handmade skirt that had been dwelling in my stash for at least six months. The colours in some of these photos have gone a bit screwy, but the above photo is the most accurate depiction. I've got some really lovely pieces of fabric in my stash, and I'm really trying to focus on turning them into wearable garments that will make someone happy, rather than languishing for years in a dark cupboard.

Well, I haven't seen a version of the Sencha blouse on the tinter-webs that hasn't made me feel want-y. But you know me, I just can't leave a pattern alone! Since my first (Sailor) endeavour, I've made quite a few Senchas for my boss and other ladies at Traid. I've continued to tweak the pattern and streamline the construction method so that, combined with the practice I've got from making them all, I can make six in a day (including cutting out) without, IMO, compromising the look of the original blouse style.

I'm betting there probably aren't many sewers out there who are interested in making six Senchas in one sitting. But I thought I'd share the bigger changes I've made in case it helps someone get more out of their limited sewing time. Of course, making these changes to the pattern will take some extra time in the first place, but if you plan to make several versions of this blouse, I think the changes'll pay off in the long run. Anyways, here's what I did:

1) Remove half of the seam allowance from the neckline on the front and back pattern pieces and completely ignore the neck facings. Then once you've attached the front and back pieces at the shoulder seams and neatened the shoulder seam allowance, overlock round the raw edges. Then fold the overlocking to the inside and stitch neatly down. Press the neckline with the iron and you should have a pleasingly neat finished neckline (see above) without the faff of a flapping facing.

2) Similarly, remove most of the sleeve facings leaving about 1cm (3/8") seam allowance. Overlock around the edge, fold the 1cm back and neatly stitch down. Press, and all will be well! (See above.)

3) The most major of the changes is to ignore the whole back button fastening thing, cut away the most of the back facing and insert a zip instead. Now, this would have been much easier to do if the Centre Back was marked on the original Sencha back pattern piece (which, inexplicably, it isn't) but it's easy to make an educated guess where the CB should be by seeing where the button/buttonhole indications are and just having a stab. You can always err on the side of caution and not cut too much away, then try the garment on before inserting the zip to decide if more needs to come off. I used a 1.5cm seam allowance and inserted a long closed ended zip (see above).

4) A general way to speed up the construction of garment is to, where possible, make closed seams rather than open ones. Basically, this means that after stitching your seam, you finish the edges of the seam allowances together rather than separately. With a closed seam, the seam allowances are pressed together in one direction, rather than pressing the seam allowances apart which makes an open seam.

I've spoken to a couple of clothing designers and pattern cutters about open seams V.s closed seams, and in situations where either are possible, and the consensus seems to be that the main benefits of closed seams is that they save time and overlocking thread. If you press your seams neatly during construction, from the outside both types of seam should look the same. If you were into making a couture-style garments, you'd probably opt for an open seam. I'm not. I'm into making neatly finished, nice looking garments that don't require an investment of months of precious sewing time to construct.

Anyways, as a fan of the mid-century kimono sleeve (AKA grown-on sleeve, Dolman sleeve, etc), I've long been seeking the neatest method of finishing the underarm seam at the curve to not create too much bulk. Having inspected lots of vintage garments with this type of sleeve, most seem to have had the seam allowance trimmed away at that curve and left with a raw or pinked edge. That can create a fraying issue, and the long term life span of a garment with raw edges concerns me. Therefore I've concluded that my favourite method for finishing this bit is to first make the whole of the side seam a closed seam. I flat-stitch as usual, then when I use my overlocker to neated the edges of the seam allowance, I basically cut away the seam allowance (overlockers, AKA sergers, have a blade in them that trims the fabric away as you sew) as close to my first stitching line as I dare. I then turn the garment through so the right-side is out and press the garment flat so the curve sits as it should do.

I hope any of those ideas/techniques come in handy to someone at some point. Happy Sencha (or any other kind of) sewing!

Friday 20 January 2012

Christmas Creations Round-Up

Ok, this is the final round-up of the self-made Christmas creations I gave to my loved ones this year. I've already documented most of the clothing I made for friends, but there's still a bunch of accessories and other things I'd like to lay down in blog-post form. There's quite a few so I'd best just get on with it!

The bag pictured above is one of my favourite gifts I gave this year. Mainly because it is for my mum and I don't think I make her enough stuff, though she'd probably appreciate Zoe-made things more than anyone else. It's a fairly simple tote bag made from grey wool with a leather base and lined with furnishing fabric with a waterproof layer. I made it for Mum to take up to London when she goes there to work a couple of days a week. She often has heaps of files, a diary and her lunch that won't fit into her other bag. I deliberately made it quite plain, she has some bright coloured coats and this should go with pretty much anything she's likely to wear. The leather for the bottom section came from an old leather coat, which meant I had to get over my fear of the industrial leather machine at work. The leather should mean she is able to happily dump it on the floor of dirty trains and underground carriages without a second thought.

I made the mittens above for my friend Umi. It can be tricky when you don't see someone regularly to know what kind of gift they would like or are currently into, so I opted to make some mittens from recycled cashmere jumpers that I hope she will find useful.

The crazy square of fabric pictured above is actually a snood made using the technique I explained in my cowl neck scarf tutorial. I made it for my extremely stylish friend Silvia who is known for her sharp eye for accessories. Making something for such a woman was a bit daunting, but she seemed to love it and said that a new scarf is like getting a new dress, because you can dress up plain clothes into entirely new outfits. I should make a note to myself about that one, I must be such a failure to Silvia when it comes to accessorising!

As you may know, I'm a recovering pants-making addict. The methods I've developed have assisted me in making my own undies draw so stuffed it's difficult to close. So until my own pants start to disintegrate and I can justify making more for myself, I must get my pants-making fix by making them for friends (close friends like Michelle who don't think it's wierd that I make them pants!).

Next up are two shoulder bags made from African Wax fabric, one for my boyfriend's mum and the other for one of his sisters. Hopefully the laydeez will get some use from them come summer time. I developed this bag pattern years ago and have made so many that I could probably whip one up in my sleep, but I love seeing what the pattern looks like in a new, different fabric so I still really enjoy making them.

Last but not least: a couple of pairs of oven mitts for a couple of couples (Anna and Marcus, and Ben and Sophie). I used this pattern from Burdastyle but had to buy it after losing the original copy I downloaded for free years ago.

Thanks for your patience in letting me whisk through the rest of my creations. I find it a little wierd toiling away for literally months to create a hefty pile of presents, and then within a couple of weeks, they've all disappeared! Of course, I loved giving them to my friends and relatives, but still it's nice to have the results of my time and effort documented in one place. When I look back at all the clothing, accessories and home things I made for everyone this year, it makes me feel a bit exhausting. As is the thought of doing it all again next year. But giving homemade stuff that's filled with good juju will always be my first choice where appropriate. Plus, the total cost of all the things I made to give this Christmas was £000!!!! Everything came from my stash (excluding a couple of bits of fabric that I 'appropriated' from work). There's no way I could afford to give gifts to all the people I did if I had to go shopping and buy every single gift. I'm just glad next Christmas is quite far away!

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Cleaning Up The Fashion Industry

A few months ago I was contacted by a lady named Sarah (pictured above) and asked if she could interview me as part of the research she is employed to undertake in the field of sustainable fashion. Sarah, originally from the USA and presently living in Copenhagen, is currently employed as part of a large team funded by a Swedish company named Mistra who are apparantly researching lots of different angles related to sustainable fashion over a number of years. The aim is to discover ways to transform the global clothing industry into something significantly less damaging, both socially and environmentally. I don't know about you, but I was really heartened to know that there's an organisation putting serious time, money and effort into such an endeavour.

Sarah interviewed me as part of her 'early adopters' section of research. It took a couple of hours, and basically gave me carte blanche to witter away about how I feel about clothing and sustainability and what lead me to feel that way. Sarah, who has a personal interest in this field of studies, later agreed to permit me to interview her, as I really wanted to find out more about the her and her work and share it with my lovely readers.

Sarah: I work with the Mistra Future Fashion project. Mistra is a a Swedish foundation that focuses on environmental research [which] recently put forth
funding for an interdisciplinary research program concerning sustainable fashion called "Mistra Future Fashion." The research project consists of an international collaboration of researchers looking at all areas of the fashion system - from business models to textile production, to policy making and consumption: to better understand how we can push forward a competitive sustainable fashion model. My individual research project is looking at the consumption of fashion - with a focus right now on those who are early adopters of sustainable practices in their fashion consumption. My hope is that by learning from those who have taken a proactive stance, we can push the mainstream audience into more sustainable behavior. It has been a fascinating journey so far and I have met so many inspirational and interesting people who make me more conscious of my own behavior.

I should also say that Mistra has their own press department, etc - so nothing I say should be taken as official statements from them. This is just my opinions, beliefs, etc.

Zoe: How did you get involved with Mistra Future Fashion and how long have you worked for them? How long is this project expected to run for?

Sarah: I started working for Mistra this summer (2011) - and the project goes on for approximately 4 more years and my plans are to stay with it as long as there is research for me to do! I got involved because it related to my graduate research project - and moreover fulfilled a personal interest of improving the fashion industry's current practices.

Zoe: What was your background before working for them?

Sarah: My background includes a buying job in the retail sector (children's and junior shoes), Public Relations work with an advertising agency, general communications work with an art/design/retail firm and a break in between to complete my Master's in user centered innovation. The general "red thread" sewn through all of this is that I have a lot of background thinking about consumers: what they want, how they think, what motivates them. And Mistra allows me to use my power for "good", coming up with ways to motivate consumers to make more responsible decisions for the earth, for society and for themselves.

Zoe: You have a really interesting employment background, I can see why you must have made the perfect candidate for your current role! Your description of using your 'power for good' really made me laugh! At what point did you realise you were working for 'evil'?!

Sarah: In regards to the particular time that I realized I wanted to change paths - I have to say that it wasn't a cathartic moment as much as a general notion that I could not continue putting lipstick on pigs. And by this I mean, attempting to use the role of communications and branding to lift brands that don't necessarily deserve lifting. I had some clients when I worked in the agency that were truly honorable - making great products, humbly and modestly telling their story and working on continual environmental and social improvements. I had others however, that were so blinded by the need for "sales" in the short run that they couldn't really look beyond this, they just knew "green was in" and they wanted on that train without putting in the hard work, dedication and risk it requires. If I were, however, to cite the moment I knew change was needed it might have been when I was working on a processed food product called "stuffed and breaded chicken breasts" that should say enough I think.:)

Zoe: What do Mistra plan to do with the research that yourself and the other researchers are compiling?

Sarah: The general plan is to pave way for a more sustainable fashion industry - both in Sweden and beyond. The multi-disciplinary approach allows the project to attack the issue from multiple viewpoints as there are many stakeholders whose participation is required to make sustainable fashion a long-term possibility. The government, consumers, industry - all play an important role.

Zoe: Why do you think Mistra chose now to under go this research?

Sarah: I cannot offer an an answer to why Mistra made this decision, but can
offer my general viewpoint on the matter. First, I think (and this refers to your next question), Scandinavia takes a progressive approach to all areas of sustainability. Given that the region (particularly Sweden) has a thriving fashion industry, it makes sense to push forward a better standard for the region. Moreover, while sustainability in food, transportation and housing have made great strides in many Western countries, fashion seems to a bit slower on
the uptake - at least from the viewpoint of mainstream consumption. It is time to put more focus and resources on this matter, as the industry contributes to many ills that must be addressed, and consumers need to be aware and conscious of their decisions. Moreover, those companies that are taking a proactive approach deserve to be rewarded for their behavior.

Zoe: Do you feel Scandanavia is more forward thinking than other Western countries when it comes to sustainability issues and practice?

Sarah: I admittedly take a rosy view when I look at Scandinavia - often giving
the region a lot of credit for being more willing to take on progressive change than most. Having lived here for a little over 3 years (Copenhagen and Norway), it is my belief that the average citizen lives a more sustainable life than elsewhere (particularly my home country of America). It is done in a somewhat quiet manner - with everyday life consisting of public transportation, small living spaces, and systematic, government implemented sustainability initiatives for energy, food sources, etc.

I see a more high profile, individualistic approach to sustainability when I look at the UK or United States. Increased vegetarianism, off the grid lifestyles, hybrid cars - there tends to be more outward, individually expressed behaviors but perhaps the average citizen contributes less to the movement. But this is just my sense, I have little data to back it up:)

Zoe: I totally agree about the high-profile actions of the UK/US. I feel the UK makes lots of noise about sustainability with questionable amounts of action actually taking place. Even the UK's biggest offenders for stocking sweatshop-produced and environmentally damaging garments sell tote bags with random 'ethical' messages stamped on them. As if printing a bag saying 'Live Green' or something is sufficient.

I'm very fascinated by your point about how you view the different approaches of Scandinavia and UK/US, and in my view it was totally on the money. Not that I've ever visited Scandinavia, but I can really see that, from what I understand, the vaguely opposing approaches (collective, goverment-led V.s the responsibility on the individual) could represent the mindsets of those nations in general, broadly speaking. What particularly concerns me about the UK/US approach in regards to sustainability and ethical practices, is that it can seemingly absolve industry from responsibility, like industry has a right to say 'Well, we wouldn't create cheap sweat-shirt manufactured T-shirts if the consumer didn't buy them'.

What drew you to live in Scandinavia? And do you think the UK/US could, or indeed should, adopt a more Scandinavian approach in certain areas?

Sarah: It is funny you ask that. My husband's impetus for deciding to do his graduate work here was that he has hoped to use the Scandinavian approach to help companies in the US better facilitate CSR (corporate social responsibility). In that way, I think he is on to something. I don't think the cultures of the US or UK could ever shift drastically to model that of the Scandinavian countries. And if you asked people here in Scandinavia, they would reticently say that they feel their consumer and business culture has started to resemble the Anglo model a bit too much. That said, companies and organisations are little microcosms of culture that can absolutely be contrary to that of the country they do business in. And with that in mind, if companies were to adopt more collaborative and cooperative ways of managing their business, I think real change can occur.

But...then you have the issue of publicly traded companies with quarterly financial expectations. And that short term mentality is ultimately, at least in my mind, at the root of a lot of our ills.

One thing at a time though!:)

Zoe: You say that your research so far has allowed you contact with some inspirational individuals that have had an effect on your own behaviour, in what ways have your thoughts and how you live your life changed of the back of your contact with them?

Sarah: I have gotten more in touch with my own consumption. I think a lot
more about what I purchase, why I am purchasing it, and of course - where it really comes from. I find myself really trying to minimize the excess and feel joy in doing so.

I would like to thank Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions, and for doing so so thoroughly and thoughtfully. I, for one, cannot wait for the research being undertaken by Mistra and its army of researchers to begin making waves in the clothing industry. Thanks for reading!

Saturday 14 January 2012

Christmas Clothing Creations

I've got some creation house-keeping to catch up on. There's still quite a few things I made as Christmas gifts which I have yet to document on this little blog. Today's batch are all the garments that I have made for some of my nearest and dearest, aside from Patty's Rockabilly bowling shirt and the baby togs that I've previously documented.

This skirt above was made for my best friend using some Autumnal toned vintage fabric that has been in my stash for longer than I can remember. Suffice to say, that fabric finally got busted right out of there! Having previously used this pattern to make a skirt for Vic, I knew that the shape and fit were a success. Making people garments, particularly to a deadline, is stressful enough. A tried and tested pattern made in a different fabric with a different hem length may feel like a vague cheat, but is likely to assuage the seasonal stress a little!

Next up are some cheeky high waisted pin-up shorts made for my pal Kirstin. She is a petite little lady and that combined with the fact that these shorts take very little fabric anyway, meant I was able to make them from a small piece of soft tweedy fabric that was leftover at work. The most time consuming part about making these shorts was grading my original pattern down from a size 14 to a size 6-8. It was a good exercise in grade rules, and in developing patience, but remind me not to try that kind of thing again in a hurry!

I'm sad to say that these shorts weren't exactly a surprise. I had to ask her to try them on in Novemeber so I could adjust them and give them back to her all wrapped up at Christmas time! I needed to take them in a fair bit over the hips and taper in the side seam towards the hem as the original pattern is best suited to particularly curvy girls, i.e. those with a significant different between their natural waist and hip measurements. But I'm glad I took the time to then transfer those alterations back onto the pattern, so now I have a good template for more shorts for Kirstin in the future.

The last garment I have to show you today is another version of the batwing dresses and tops I've been into making recently. This gift went to my mate Rehanon, who is making waves in the online sewing community herself these days with her inimitable sense of style and fun. Check out her alter-ego, Miss Demeanour's, new blog. Although relatively new to this old sewing game, she has been relentlessly producing wonderful and oft-fabulously kitsch garments at a frankly alarming rate!

Anyways, this dress is a combination of the patterns for the batwing dress and the collar batwing top. The main part is made from a weightly slinky black jersey which has lurex flecks. The contrast collar is made from polka dot cotton. I always find it tricky when creating the first garment for someone, as you have yet to gleen feedback from previous creations in order to get a (non pervy) feel for their proportions. Having been made in jersey, you could say that making this dress was a safe bet. But I know that Rehanon is more than capable of adding her unique stylistic flourishes to make this wholely her own!

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Leopard Print Lovelies

Image source

Recently leopard print fabric has really been growing in my esteem. I have a history with leopard though, yeah we go way back. It's popped up in my wardrobe on and off for years. I remember a red and black leopard print sleeveless top from back when I was 18 and attempting to create a kind of punk/grunge Debbie Harry Vs. Courtney Love look and I wore it with a black slip. There was also a turquoise blue and black leopard print pencil skirt with black lace round the hem which was the first garment I made myself when I got to university. In more recent years my creations have included the leopard coat, leopard Rockabilly dress and the leopard print batwing top. Yep, me and leopard print are pretty tight.

At risk of stating the obvious, in recent years I've also been increasingly drawn to a Rockabilly style of dress as well. I'm not sure if it is this that has reignited my flame for leopard print. They are so aethetically intertwined.

So how did leopard print become synonymous with Rockabilly (or vice versa) anyhow? Rockabilly is ostensibly a retro look. It references elements of the era from the mid 1950s through to the early 1960s and co-opts, exaggerates and blends them to create something reappropriated and somewhat separate from the more general retro/vintage style. More specifically, it references the bad-girl (or boy) elements of that era. These vintage garments (skirt and coat both pictured above) show leopard print being used in that era, but not in the way that animal skins have often been used to display wealth and status. These leopard print garment fabrics are clearly fake and therefore would have sent a different message: one of faux-luxe attitude. A sneer with a suggestive cheeky wink, if you will. At least these are my interpretations.

Every retro/Rockabilly clothing company has a leopard print offering these days and some are most definately more tasteful than others. Tara Starlet's leopard pedal pushers (pictured above) look totally stunning. Other leopard print variants? Not so much. Just type 'Rockabilly' and 'leopard print' into Google images and you'll see what I mean!

So, with the style stakes stacked so precariously high, how should a girl apply leopard print to look more like Imelda May (pictured above) than a tacky porno actress?! Well, of course it's an entirely subjective issue but personally I think some versions of leopard print design just look better than others. I'd also avoid a fabric with a leopard print that was glaringly synthetic and definately not velvety. I'd argue this top (pictured below) looks great all styled up on this fantastic Bettie Page-esque model, but in real life it'd probably be on the bordeline of a good/bad leopard print garment.

Image source

I've read in a few sources that leopard print is effectively a neutral tone, akin to black, white, beige and navy. Whilst I cannot really agree with that, I totally love the concept! I've never been brave enough to attempt to wear it with anything other than black. In theory it should work with red, but the results of that 'Rockabilly' and 'leopard print' Google search are still burnt into my retinas! All that aside, I recently came across a couple of pieces of leopard print jersey, one stretchy and one drapey, that felt like just the ticket to inject some Rockabilly sensibility into my Winter wardrobe (pretending I have a separate wardrobe for Winter, that is).

This creation used the stretchier of the jerseys. It was donated, along with a ton of other less appealing animal printed sample fabric, to the charity I work for by a digital fabric printing company. Thus this fabric fulfills the 'secondhand/unwanted' requirement I place on fabric I use to make garments with. I used a tried and tested pattern I developed yonks ago that is fairly fitted in the body with a scoop neck, 1/2 sleeves and gathered sleeve heads. I would love to have a photo of myself wearing this top to show you. I would be all styled up in my black Jenny pencil skirt with black high heels and red lipstick, but alas I haven't had an opportunity to rock a look that sharp in recent times. Hopefully such an occassion will arise during Me-Made-May '12.

My second jersey leopard print offering is made using some wonderful drapey jersey which was a very kind gift from Claire (who salvaged it from a bin I believe, good work Claire!!!). It's sooooo nice. The only thing I could think to do with a drapey jersey was apply another tried and tested pattern from the batwing family that I've been using a lot recently. It's bascially a slightly more refined version of the Poker top, but this fabric is far more stable. It feels so nice to wear, and I envisage wearing it with my black Jenny pencil skirt or some killer black capri pants whenever I get round to making some. In the meantime, you can see me wearing it to work with my 'uniform' of denim sailor trousers:

What are your thoughts? How have you seen leopard print worn well? Any ideas on what to avoid? Can it be a daytime look or is it best saved for gin o'clock?

Sunday 8 January 2012

Brighton De-Stash Meet-Up!!!!!

I'm very excited to announce that Claire from Sew, Incidentally and myself are co-organising a sewing meet-up and swap! It is to be held in my fair city of Brighton at the beginning of February. Following from the success of the swap/meet-up I organised last June, if this one turns out to be half as fun as the last one, it promises to be a very good day indeed.


The beginning of a new year is a great time to have a look at what we have and be honest with ourselves about what we don't really want (i.e. time to do some Stash Bustin'!). This swap meet-up will be a great opportunity to pass on any fabric/notions/patterns/sewing resources that've been lurking in your stash forever to someone who will find new inspiration in it. Similarly, you'll be able to get something new-to-you to kick start a new project without spending any money, who isn't interested in that in these cash-strapped times?!

Where & When:

We will meet at Brighton train station at 11.30am on Saturday 4th February, 2012. The station isn't enormous, but we'll aim to be outside the WHSmiths to avoid confusion (and all the stag and hen parties that make Brighton their destination at the weekends!). Mine and Claire's mobile phone numbers will be distributed to those who plan to attend in case anyone gets held up, lost etc.

We will aim to leave the station around 12pm and head to a cafe/bar (exact venue to be confirmed). There we will have the swap, eat lunch, have a couple of drinks if you wish, chat and make friends. When we are finished, those who wish to can then head to the lovely sewing shops and flea markets in Brighton for shopping/inspiration hunting.

(Image source)


Anyone who enjoys sewing or wants to start sewing! You don't have to participate in the de-stash to attend, your company will be more than enough. Hopefully this meet-up will attract some sewing meet-up regulars and new faces alike.

(Image source)


To be more specific about what the swap entails: if you wish to actively participate in the de-stash swap part of the meet-up, please bring some unwanted sewing stuff with you. 'Stuff' translates as fabric, sewing patterns, sewing magazines, sewing/pattern-making equipment, sewing/pattern-making books, buttons, zips, other notions: basically anything that you no longer want/need that someone else might be inspired by or could make use of.

The swap will be structured fairly so that the more de-stash things you bring, the more opportunities you will have to pick something that another sewer has de-stashed. But no matter what or how much you bring, it is unlikely anyone will go home empty handed!


If you wish to attend the Brighton De-Stash Meet-up on 4th February, please send me an email with the subject 'Brighton Meet-up' to my blog email address which is sozoblog (at) gmail (dot) com. This will give me a clear indication of how many people plan to attend so I can book the table at the cafe/bar. Closer to the date Claire and I will then email the attendees with further info about the meet-up and our contact details.

Claire and I really hope to see you there!!!!

Thursday 5 January 2012

Attack on the WAGs: Explained

Just before Christmas I wrote a blog post which began by linguistically attacking ‘WAGs’. The reason for this was to dissect and discredit their social position because they personify values, concerns and ideals that many, myself included, believe are damaging to the mental health of young women. (Actually, there have been numerous studies which have proven that these ideals actually are damaging to mental health and social cohesion, but more on that later.) In the post I then went on to explain that in UK society today, where WAGs are accepted role models for women and adolescents, these values and ideals are damaging and degrade the interests of feminism. I then asked the readers of the post to highlight experiences or topics that have been alarming to their own sense of equality (which I termed ‘bullshit’).

That post received an interesting and varied collection of comments. The vast majority of the commenters clearly related to the sentiments in the post and shared their own thoughts and concerns regarding feminism and equality. However, there were a few that expressed unhappiness at the tone, content or assumptions (or all three) of my post. And although it really doesn’t bother me if not everyone sees my point of view or agrees with what I write, I do think that it is worth while exploring these conflicts of opinion whilst expanding upon my feelings on this topic

As I mentioned in my previous post, WAGs are now household names and their glamourous lifestyles, time consuming appearances and expensive possessions are splashed on the pages of the tabloid press, fashion press, gossip press and entertainment press. Increasingly they are becoming icons and role models for young women (and blueprints for young men on what they should expect a wife/girlfriend to be). Why is this dangerous and why do I feel it is necessary to attack them?

First up, I’m not attacking them in the tabloid sense of highlighting their cellulite or a whether they’ve had a bad hair day. I am attacking them for the values that they help perpetuate. And let’s remind ourselves they are not hapless figure-heads, thrust into the lime-light against their will. Of course the attention they attract from the media must be unpleasant a lot of the time, but as individuals they courted the media and embraced fame. The Queen of the WAGs herself, Victoria Beckham, wrote in her 2001 autobiography, ‘Right from the beginning, I said I wanted to be more famous than Persil Automatic’.

So many young girls these days respond to the question of what do you want to do with ‘be a WAG’. That’s a pretty sad state of affairs as far as feminism goes. I thought we (women) had more or less reached a point in history where it is generally accepted that your marital status is a part of your life, and no longer as description of life or your career. Being notable mainly for whom your husband is seems like a 1950s rather than 2010s reality to me.
The WAG lifestyle is showing young women that marrying a footballer or becoming a reality TV star will fast-track you to fame, wealth and wealth: that needing to try hard at school is probably only for the unattractive because their famous footballer-prince will whisk them away to go and shop at Gucci.

But of course, as I mentioned in that original post, most of the WAGs have careers aside from the fame that their unions brought them. And a couple of the commenters wished to remind me that the main three WAGs (Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole and Coleen Rooney, the latter pictured above) are ‘successful in their own right’: the assumption being that fame and the acquisition of wealth equates success. I would argue that wealth and fame don’t necessarily translate to success, and they certainly don’t breed happiness or emotional security either. There is enough research out there that has proven that the pursuit of material wealth (above the level required to provide yourself and your family with essentials) and celebrity is detrimental for mental health. ‘Affluenza’ is a fascinating book on this subject, and ‘The Spirit Level’ proves how income inequality (i.e. there being really wealthy and really poor people within the same society) is damaging to the mental and physical health of everyone in that society. The high wage bracket and celebrity as typified by a WAG lifestyle are just not healthy aspirations. And more broadly I would argue that promoting any lifestyle that is not attainable for more than 0.1% of the world’s population is not going to provide satisfaction either (but it will keep us consuming, of course).

I would also argue that the culture in which they function restricts their ‘successes’ to permitted spheres. The WAGs and the other females who live in their culture have their endeavours pretty much limited to involvement in fashion/appearance and entertainment. Whether they have no interest in life outside these areas or societal pressure is such that they are discouraged from pursuing them, the images presented to adolescent girls is worryingly restrictive in range.

Anyways, in the aforementioned comments, I was reminded that Victoria Beckham has a successful fashion brand (see above). Indeed she does, a friend of mine is employed as a pattern cutter there in fact. But we need to think realistically about what a celebrity’s role in the fashion brand actually is. They do not go into the office 9am-6pm five days a week for months on end to sit and design every garment and work with alongside the technical team to actualise each style, silhouette and detail. With little or no training or experience in the industry, these celebrities are mostly figure heads/brands on which to focus the marketing. Their involvement in the design process is, at best, that of a creative consultant’s. Not to say that Victoria Beckham doesn’t have excellent taste to apply to choosing options presented to her, but let’s not forget that anyone with enough money can (and frequently does) set up a clothing label.

I was also reminded in the comments that Cheryl Cole similarly had a very successful singing career in Girls Aloud, and as a solo artist. I’ll be the first to say that she is a talented singer, beautiful and probably a very sweet. But I struggle with the term ‘artist’: she won her position in the manufactured pop group, Girls Aloud, by auditioning for a reality TV show. An army of stylists, make-up and hair experts, managers, song writers and publicists were deployed to create the formula that required them to dance, sing and smile when told to.

Speaking of Cheryl Cole, over the Christmas holiday I found myself reading a copy of Grazia magazine. There was a long-ish article about her and the range of footwear she has ‘designed’ recently. Obviously this was accompanied with a photo of Cheryl styled as if she was about to present an Oscar gazing at some swatches of leather as if making her final selection for the shoes that were clearly already available to buy in-store. But aside from the make-believe fashion designing, far more disturbed me about the article. Having provided a summary of Cheryl’s ‘terrible and humiliating year’ they then attest to the fact that she must be in a more positive place, because she’s put on a few pounds. This simply perpetuates the idea that a woman’s mental well-being is firmly indicated by her appearance. Also, they applauded her on what this article insinuated was one of her most notable achievements: her ability to wear really high heels! Not only are the WAGs and WAG-a-likes at the very centre of an appearance-fixated culture, but they are praised for repeatedly, professionally even, putting comfort aside and sacrifice the risk of bunions in the name of fashion. Any young and impressionable adolescent reading that article because she likes Cheryl Cole is going to come away from it with some worrying messages.

On New Year’s Day, I watched a few episodes of a horrendous TV show called ‘Pushy and Proud’. It’s an intentionally provocative but ultimately representational fly-on-the-wall style documentary which follows women who push their daughters into celebrity culture-approved modes of (alarming) conduct. The most disturbing protagonist of the many I had to choose from was a woman who worked as a beauty therapist, Jools Willis (pictured above). She existed firmly within the type of culture that iconises the WAGs and judges women on their appearance almost exclusively. In doing so, she had exposed her ten year old daughter to this culture. That very normal-looking little girl had become so concerned with her own pre-adolescent appearance that her self-esteem had corroded to the point that she experienced real anxiety. To assuage her daughter’s anxiety, the mother did not attempt to explain that she was lovely the way she was and then help her daughter enjoy a less appearance-obsessed childhood. No, she gave her daughter a spray tan, manicure and eyebrow tint, thus instilling in her that appearance modification is a short cut to emotional happiness. These actions and values also help to perpetuate the myth that young women’s greatest accomplishments will be achieved within the sphere of how you look and how many people are looking at you.

It is disturbing how increasingly young those being exposed to and affected by an appearance-obsessed society are. But the media is teaching us at all ages through the perpetuation of these ideals to value good looks as a reflection of our self-esteem. It helps to perpetuate the myth that women’s greatest accomplishments are achieved within the sphere of how you look and how many people are looking at you. And whilst WAGs continue to be held up as the icons at the centre of these damaging values that provide a blue-print for young women’s (and now children’s) ideals, I will continue to attack the WAG lifestyle.
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