Saturday 30 March 2013

Dramatic Change in Sewing Tack...(Plus, does anyone have this pattern?!)

Dear reader, it is time to disclose one of the 'mystery projects' I alluded to in my recent self-employment update post. So here's the thing: basically I have a bun in the oven. As I type I have 14 weeks-worth of baby inside me. Last week we had the first scan and saw our baby. I was very much expecting it to look like a weird alien but instead what was presented to us on the screen was quite firmly baby-shaped, and moving about. Crazy. Exciting. And very moving.

This blog of mine being what it is, (i.e. a sewing-related one) I am of course going to use it to document the clothing/sewing side of this whole insane new life development. My body is currently making the transition from looking a bit bloated to being distinctly pregnant. A woman I've only met once before told me yesterday she wasn't sure if I'd had a big meal or was pregnant! As with every damn thing in my life, I plan to deal with being pregnant in a DIY fashion where at all possible, so that means sewing, sewing and some more sewing to accommodate my changing shape. I can just about squeeze into most of my clothing at the moment, but it's not going to be long before most of it has to be set aside and I'm going to be mighty cold if I don't get busy.

The thing I've only just started to realise about this whole changing shape thing is this: there's no point ignoring it. I fear that sounds like I'm not exciting about being pregnant, which I totally am. This baby was planned and is very much wanted, but hoping to be pregnant and actually being pregnant, I'm finding, are two very different states of head-space. What I'm beginning to acknowledge is that being pregnant isn't like putting on weight. When I've noticed I've been getting bigger in the past, I've just swapped to the larger, roomier garments in my wardrobe and addressed my naughty-food-and-drink intake and after a while things have balanced out again. This time, the change is only going to go in one direction for quite a long time, so I've got to get dealing with it.

I've always hoped that one day I'd have a child, so have had a fair few abstract thoughts over the years about what I'd do maternity clothing-wise. But I'm finding it a bit surreal and strange because it's actually happening, like NOW. My body is changing at a surprising rate so expect a fair bit of panic-sewing over the next month or so.

From my incredibly unscientific research (= casually observing pregnant friends, family and colleagues), there doesn't seem to be any kind of 'set amount' of weight you can expect to put on. Some have ballooned alarmingly, whilst some seemed only to have a basket-ball shoved up their top and from the back looked no different. Because I have no idea what's going to happen to me in the later months of my pregnancy, I'm kind of thinking of maternity clothing in two distinct stages: the period of small-to-medium bump and the period of medium-to-big bump. I'm still very much getting my head around all this, so I'll get back to you soon when I have had more time to think about what that is going to mean, sewing-wise. Don't even mention baby-sewing yet!!!!

Friday 29 March 2013

Refashion Friday: March's Rework Your Wardrobe Triumphs!

As you may or may not know, IRL I teach a monthly Rework You Wardrobe session at Super+Super HQ in Brighton where I help attendees breathe new life into their unloved garments. April's session will take place on Tuesday 16th April, but today I'd like to share with you a couple of the great garment reworks that we completed on Sunday at the March Rework Your Wardrobe session. 

First up is a classic but really enjoyable remake project: jeans-to-denim skirt! Meg had a pair of jeans that she loved but had become worn and ripped around the inner thigh area, thus making them unwearable (pictured above). 

With some crafty cutting, pinning, harvesting and stitching, the outcome you see above is a fabulous and wearable knee-length jeans skirt. The sections of legs that got cut off were reused to form a triangle of fabric to 'fill in' the missing section of front skirt. I really like the way the grain of the denim runs crossways at this point.  

It was decided to leave the back triangle open so Meg could actually walk about, so she pinned and stitched the centre back seam (having reinforced the worn inner thigh area for stability) to form a sexy wiggle skirt vibe).

Another awesome reworking that took place was converting a 'meh' blouse belonging to Mya into something a bit more feminine and less baggy. In particular, she wasn't a fan of the way the turn-back sleeves were sitting. So we unpicked the sleeves and repined the under sleeve seams and side seams and she stitched along to make a nicer silhouette. 

The sleeves now have a prettier and more delicate look and the fit of the garment body is more flattering whilst still being 'big-dinner-friendly'!

Thanks to all the lovely ladies who attended on Sunday, it was a great and productive session. Happy refashioning one and all. 

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Self-Employment Update: Six Months in...

Umm, where did six whole months go?! There I was last August, ploughing head-first into a schedule-less void of panic, then by November I'd scrabbled together a group of activities that I could collectively call 'work' and was vaguely financially keeping me afloat. Now I'm six months into self-employment and it feels like a good time to have another review and check the lay of the land. I was slightly reticent to continue posting about this subject as it feels a little self-indulgent and somewhat off-topic from sewing, sustainably or style, but the last self-employment update post received so many lovely comments from people who found it interesting and/or they could relate to my experiences so I've decided I'm going to continue to do so. If you want to pass on this one, come back on Monday when I'll be writing about something else, no doubt!

So what am I doing these days:


This activity has gone to the top of the list this time because the amount of classes I'm teaching has increased a lot since November and therefore it has become a more significant activity financially:
  • I have been teaching quite a few sewing and pattern cutting classes at Sew Over It in Clapham, South London as well as helping them prep and test patterns and instructions (for example the new Tulip Skirt class, pictured above). It's such a nice place to work. Everyone I've come into contact with through that place, both staff members and customers, I've found to range from 'really nice' to 'freakin' awesome'! As you may have noticed in the right-hand side column of this blog, they are now one of my sponsors. This is a reflection of how supportive the owner Lisa is of her staff. However, that's not to say that it is easy-peasy work, obviously it differs from class to class but I put A LOT of energy into those classes. Helping six or seven people through a complex garment project all day, keeping momentum and positivity and dealing with sporadic technical difficulties whilst not letting anyone fall behind definitely feels a bit like keeping plates spinning whilst on stage (I'd imagine)! 
  • I also have a monthly 'Rework Your Wardrobe' class which takes place at Super+Super HQ in Brighton. These classes are really fun and it's wonderful to see some previously unwearable garments brought back to life. It's great to share the skills, techniques and approaches that a lot of us who have been sewing/refashioning for yonks may have started to take for granted. I also have another 'Intro to Commercial Sewing Patterns' class coming up at Super+Super. Amy and Claire who own and run this lovely space are very open to trying new classes and workshops, so I may rig up some others before the year is out. I love the freedom I have working with Super+Super, but the downside of teaching classes there is that I have to do quite a bit of organising and promoting. I'm totally spoilt by Sew Over It, where I just need to turn up and not worry about getting bums on seats!

Brighton Craftaganza

My baby contemporary craft market is a baby no more! It is now in its third year. How quickly they grow... Since becoming self-employed, I've definitely been able to devote more brain-space to how I want it to develop and grow. Interestingly, when I very first became self-employed I really tried to put a rocket under it and even researched options for making it monthly rather than quarterly, but I kept hitting brick walls. A few months on I think that was totally for the best and I now feel its strength lies in being less frequent and therefore a more special 'event'. I may have misinterpreted feedback, but it appears to be getting a rep as one of the better, more interesting craft/handmade fairs/markets in the UK. Hurrah for that! 
  • My main Craftaganza tasks are still organising the actual events themselves. This year we are doing more events than previous years, so as soon as one market has taken place, I have perhaps a few weeks before I need to start it up all over again. Each event takes about three months of fairly intense part-time work, even though to the lay-man who doesn't know me, it may look like all I do is rock on up to the actual event and put some tables out and tell Pat where to hang the bunting! If only they knew... I'm not entirely sure Craftaganza is financially worth all the time and effort I put into it, but I do think we are doing good things for the local and perhaps national handmade/craft scene and by spreading the word that handmade is more special and valuable than mass-produced (which I guess is kind of what I try to do in regards to clothing with my other activities). 
  • I'm still firmly involved in co-promoting and co-hosting our new Craftaganza Live free creative meet-ups. These are monthly events to provide opportunities for local creative types, very often designer-makers, to meet, have a drink and a chat. Each event starts with a talk by a member or members of the crafty/handmade scene about their work, business and inspiration. Last month's speaker was the amazing Eleanor Callaghan, designer of Etsy and Pinterest favourite label 'Dig for Victory' (one of her beautiful creations is pictured below). She's just opened a bricks-and-mortar shop and her whole story was totally fascinating. Tonight's Craftaganza Live will be featuring, umm, me! I'll be talking about my experience of starting up and running a craft market and hopefully imparting some helpful hints to sellers/potential sellers. Wish me luck, I'm really nervous!!!

Sewing and Blogging

The fact that I spend a fair bit of time sewing and blogging probably won't come as a surprise to you! But the reason that I'm adding it to my list of activities these days is because (in the very best sense) I now take blogging more seriously and no longer feel it's an indulgence to spend hours taking/editing photos and writing blog posts. My husband Pat helped me realise that I should be considering it one of my main activities, rather than just a hobby, because this blog is my calling card of sorts. It speaks entirely of my passions, skills and interests and has opened lots of doors for me. For example, I probably wouldn't be teaching at Sew Over It if I didn't have a blog that got me an invite to Lisa's book launch and a chance to put to her the possibility of teaching at her sewing cafe. Also, as mentioned above, I now have a small number of selected sewing-related sponsors that bring in an (albeit tiny) income.  

Mystery Projects

I apologise for the guarded nature of this section, but it is currently too soon to disclose the details of a couple of exciting projects I've got on the go. Maybe they won't pan out, maybe they will. Maybe they will flop, maybe they will be game-changing. All I can currently say is that both are taking a fair bit of my time and brain-space. 

One notable absence and lessons learnt...

If you have been paying close attention, you may have noticed that hat-making or any kind of sewing-for-money is no longer on this list of activities. I shall explain... The run up to Christmas was totally stressful. I know it is for most people, but I felt properly snowed under (excuse the pun) with organising the Christmas Brighton Craftaganza market, organising and teaching classes, rigging up some 'Sales For People Who Hate Selling' talks, making stock for some craft fairs I took part in, co-organising and promoting 'Miniclick-aganza' which was a combined photography and craft Christmas party (don't ask, surprisingly it was carnage!) and doing extra shifts at the hat-making job. I knew it was going to be a stressful time, which always has detrimental effects to my sleep, but I thought I saw an end in sight.

I took a couple of weeks off over Christmas to visit friends and family, although I was still sleeping very little. I thought that things would start to balance out in the new year, but they didn't. I had to immediately start organising the Spring Brighton Craftaganza, and the number of classes I was scheduled to teach amped up. For some reason, orders kept flying in at the hat-making business so things didn't let up there. I was struggling to spend time doing the things I love (like sewing and blogging) and I was becoming a physical mess. I actually have a draft of half a blog post saved I tried to write at that time (it was written at 3am or something when I was going through a phase of insomnia). It's such a pathetic mess of garbled thoughts, it helped me realise something had to give. 

I think if you are self-employed or freelance, there is a compulsion to 'make hay whilse the sunshines' and push yourself to do as much work/take on as many projects as you possibly can for fear that there will be a dry period just round the corner and you'll be thankful you made as much money as you could when you had the chance. Although dropping one of my income streams was going to make things tricky financially-speaking, I had to take one thing off the pile of activities if I was to get some sleep and leave some brain space for the other things I want to achieve this year (including the mystery projects). So I chose the hat-making as the thing to let go. It wasn't an easy decision to make because my boss is really lovely. But I kind of got to the point where it wasn't much of a challenge anymore and as the one thing that wasn't self-directed, I didn't feel as invested in it. Plus it involves working longer hours for less money than teaching does!

So apologies if this post has gone on a bit long! I'm going to publish a kind of 'Part 2' to this post next Wednesday that will be more directly useful if you are thinking about becoming self-employed/free-lance yourself. Not that I'm any kind of expert, or have even done a particularly good job of being self-employed in the last six months, but I think sharing my experience and some extra info may be beneficial to others.   

Monday 25 March 2013

Mustard Marinière Trousers

AT LAST!!! I gathered some inspiration, learnt some stylistic lessons and finally did something about it! By trawling the depths of La Marinière tumblr and Pinterest, I learnt how good two of my style obsessions, Breton tops and mustard-yellow, could work when put together. 

Source: via Zoe on Pinterest

I created my 'Outstanding Outfits' Pinterest board to help me figure out how to work nice garments into interesting outfits, something I've never felt very skilled at. I have to say that pinning outfit pics that my instinct says are successful, then making myself analyse the components has been really useful in getting an idea of how my own wardrobe orphans and potential future makes could work. This board was filling up with variations of this Breton/mustard-yellow combination.

There comes a point when the quantity of the same damn image really needs to be acted upon! I even had some lovely mustard stretch twill-type fabric in my stash that I bought at the tail end of last year. As I've discussed at numerous points on this blog, I basically try to sew solely from my stash of second-hand fabric, but when visiting a certain fabric shop in Brighton to pick up a zip I saw this fabric and knew I had to make a couple of metres of it mine.

So after the semi-success of my Ultimate cropped trousers, I knew I finally had a good starting point to entrust my precious mustard fabric to. As stated in that blog post, I had to make a further couple of changes to the pattern: raising the front rise as the waistline dipped down at the front, adding 1 cm to each side seam and lengthening the legs to full length. I also drafted a little faux pocket flap for a bit of extra detail. The pocket flat is stitched down at the top with the point trapped down by stitching the button on top.

So what are my thoughts on these, what could be my ideal trousers? My thoughts are they are damned close to perfect. The overall fit came out looser and more casual than I was aiming for. Before these pics were taken I actually pinched 1 cm out from the inside leg which improved things a lot. I think this is because, whilst the grey version were too tight, this mustard fabric has more stretch in it than the grey so the extra width I added to the side seams might not have been necessary after all. But I do like the casual fit, they are so comfy and I've already worn them several times in less than a week! So they might not be the slick, sexy mustard skinnies I was aiming for, but they have already proven to be very wearable, and you really can't ask more than that from a garment can you?!

The other 'flaw', for want of a better word, is that this version inexplicable gapes a little at the waistline at the centre back. This is something I'll address when making another version. And I'm positive there will be other versions. As I wrote when blogging about the grey cropped version, I really think I have found the most successful starting point for trousers for me. That's one giant leap for me-made kind! 

So to put things in terms of The Jar, (and what other terms are there, ultimately?) I can happily say that I have created not only another wearable garment, but one that has been on my mind and my Pinterest board for way too long! So I make that four wearable garments so far this year, and seeing as it's still March, that kind of puts me a garment ahead, month-wise. Therefore now I'm going to spend some time giving thanks to and appeasing the sewing gods by completing some mending and repairs and embarking on a selfless sewing project.

Friday 22 March 2013

Refashion Friday: Interview with Sally AKA Charity Shop Chic

(all images sourced from Charity Shop Chic except where stated)

Oh you lucky peops!!! It's time to read another interview with one of the interweb's most inspirational and talented Refashionistas! After the warm reception Miss P's interview received I put a call out for suggestions for other refashioners you'd like to see interviewed for Refashion Friday, and by far the most called for potential interviewee was Sally from Charity Shop Chic. I believe firmly in democracy! Read on... 

1) Refashioning, up cycling, remaking, reworking.... How would you describe what you do and/or what term do you use? 

I prefer the word ‘refashioning’ because it’s got ‘fashion’ in it! There are elements of recycling and remaking in there too. I am happy with ‘dressmaking’ or ‘sewing’ as well – I think that drawing a line between sewists that work with new materials and those of us that recycle is a bit artificial. We all use sewing machines and most of the same techniques to make new clothes. Probably the only word I don’t like is ‘upcycling’. It has connotations of working with furniture or household objects, and I like that ‘refashioning’ is specifically for clothes.

2) What proportion of your sewing projects are refashions compared to projects that start with a piece of fabric? 

These days, about 85%. It may surprise you to learn that I sew with new fabric at all! I don’t blog about it because when I first started, I didn’t think it was that interesting to write about just tracing something from Burda and making it up out of fabric – I didn’t feel I had much to say about it. I read hundreds of sewing blogs, a lot of them are excellent, and I guess I felt like that area was already pretty well covered.

3) What appeals to you about refashioning and can you remember how you begun? 

It’s a combination of several things. I love a good rummage in charity shops because I like finding fabrics and garments that are a bit more interesting or unusual to work with. I also like the idea of recycling old or ugly clothes into something I want to wear; the transformations can be pretty dramatic and that’s very satisfying. There’s an element of feeling good about donating to charity in there as well, as well as creating a stylish wardrobe on a budget. Because I’m often working completely ‘freestyle’ (ie. making it up as I go along), to me it feels like a more creative way to sew than following someone else’s instructions in a list. I also love to make my own patterns (I guess it appeals to the mathematical side of my brain) and combining this with those interesting or unusual raw materials just seemed to be an avenue I wanted to explore further.

I can’t really remember how I started refashioning – I have been cutting things up since I was a teenager! Refashioning old clothes was a great way to get into sewing – you can reuse parts of the garment that are difficult to sew like collars and buttonholes. I started blogging after reading a lot of sewing and refashioning blogs and realising I had something to add to the blogosphere that was different to what others were doing. Once I started to get some positive feedback my output accelerated and I’ve never looked back.

4) Where do you source your 'raw materials' and what do you look for when selecting a garment to refashion? 

Charity shops are my number one destination for raw materials! I find my best weird and wonderful stuff in ‘old school’ charity shops in less-well-to-do parts of London – shops in the better areas are often a bit too sanitised. Shops supporting local charities like hospices often have weirder and more interesting stuff. I also look out for charity shops that support various ethnic groups locally since they tend to carry some interesting ethnic garments you don’t see elsewhere. Outside London, well, I’m from Yorkshire originally and whenever I’m up there I like to scour the charity shops for bargains. My home town is a particular goldmine as it has about 12 charity shops on its 3 shopping streets.

In fact, whenever I’m in a new town, especially up North, I try to find out where the charity shops are so I can unearth any hidden gems. I’m lucky enough to travel fairly frequently for work (and holiday) and my favourite destination for buying raw materials is the US, where ‘thrift’ shops are plentiful and really, really cheap. My number one favourite is Thrift Town in San Francisco where I bought a suitcase full on my last two trips; it’s as big as a warehouse. US thrift stores often have more weird and wonderful garments, like rack upon rack of Hawaiian shirts, and it’s easier to find larger sizes to work with, too. And everything is $5 or less. I’d go so far as to say my dream holiday would be a thrift store tour of the US, with unlimited airline baggage allowance. I guess that makes me pretty strange!

I like vintage shops but they’re often too expensive for my purposes. I’ve yet to buy anything from a car boot sale or jumble sale but am not ruling it out. I rarely remake things from my own wardrobe, I prefer to donate that stuff directly to charity if it’s good enough to sell.

I’ve often thought about opening it up so that readers can ‘challenge’ me by sending me horrible garments and the challenge would be for me to turn it into something wearable. Watch this space. 

There’s no one thing I look for in a garment to refashion other than ‘I like it’. If I like it, I buy it! I lean towards interesting fabrics/prints or those with interesting style details or buttons, and ugly garments that need TLC. It helps if the material is in good condition (not stained/bobbly/worn out/ stinky), and a large size, but anything goes really.

5) Talk me through a typical visit to a charity shop, where do you head first, etc.? 

I always head straight to the back to see if there is a rail of sheets and curtains. I use old sheets to make toiles – I don’t make toiles very often, but when I do, sheets are ideal – or make shirts out of them if they’re good enough. Curtains are great to use as a source of heavy fabrics, but not a lot of charity shops carry them. When I’m working with curtains I like to think of myself as more of a Scarlett O’Hara rather than Maria von Trapp. I would love to do a project on making a lace dress out of a net curtain, which you’d think would be easy enough to find, but to this date I’ve never come across one…

I then hit the rails of dresses starting at the end with the largest sizes, followed by a good rummage of all the womenswear. It really annoys me when things are grouped solely by colour! So hard to find anything as it’s totally random. I always check the menswear as well, especially if there’s something specific I’m looking for like jeans, T-shirts or jackets. Menswear is larger, so there’s more fabric to work with, but it’s often more worn, so it pays to check the condition carefully. My personal style has elements of tailoring and menswear influenced stuff in it, so menswear is useful from that point of view too.

I guess it goes without saying that life is too short to try anything on in charity shops, especially with the amount I buy. Mostly I adjust the sizes anyway. It’s rare that I’ve been caught out by something that was too small – maybe once or twice – if that happens I just re-donate them.

When paying, these days I ask about gift aid. It’s a great way for charities to get more money on top of what you spend. You may have to sign up at the till but I think it’s worth it. I then gently rebut any well-meaning questions about whether the item I’m purchasing will fit me and head to the next shop.

6) Some of your projects are quick and simple, like taking in the sides of your apple green blouse (pictured above), yet some of your projects involve complex draping and pattern drafting. How do you approach a refashioning project? 

Tough question! It really depends on the project; there’s a very wide spectrum between making a blouse fit and drafting a complicated pattern from scratch or draping a toile before I start working on a garment. Sometimes the garment inspires the idea but sometimes I’m looking for something to refashion with an idea already in mind. It really depends!

If it’s a ‘quick fix’ project I’ll always start by trying it on and pinning in front of the mirror to see how much to cut and where. There’s hours of fun to be had just pinning things into different looks!

For simple projects where I’m using a pattern, I’ll often trace something from Burda magazine as a starting point and adapt it from there. I love Burda!

(check out Sally's amazing Union Jack top!)

For the more complex drafting and draping projects, I’ll start with the idea for the garment and use whichever method gets me there the quickest, often a combination of the two. My methods are sometimes a bit ‘guerrilla’ including a lot of rub-offs (where you draw around the original garment or part of it) and even crazy things like pinning tracing paper to my dress form (not recommended for accuracy but it is a lot of fun!). I like to combine drafting and draping for the quickest results, but sometimes one will make more sense than the other. I am usually literally making it up as I go along – that’s the fun part!

7) it seems to me that a lot of your inspiration comes from current fashion trends and high fashion garments, would you say that's true? Where do you find your style inspiration? 

Yes, I’d say that’s true. I’m a red carpet junkie and love critiquing the outfits – I get a lot of inspiration from the red carpets and from fashion magazines. (Check out Sally's amazing Stella McCartney inspired jacket refashion, the inspiration pictured above, outcome pictured below.) I love the idea that I can make something for a few quid that would cost hundreds or thousands in the shops. I do love to see what designers are coming up with for the same reason. Of course designer garments are out of my reach, but I can make my own versions to emulate the trends I like and still get the look.

I also get a lot of inspiration from reading other people’s blogs. I read a lot of sewing and fashion blogs and often will see something that will spark an idea for a project. The sewing community in particular is so creative and so generous with sharing everything, blogs are a great resource for ideas and inspiration!

8) What would you say are your favourite refashions you've completed? 

 My all-time favourite is probably my Stella McCartney-style dress made from old t-shirts, with my Grace Kelly-inspired circle bodice dress coming in second place. Old favourites include this dress with a keyhole cut out because of the fantastic print, and the red dress I added a peplum to, both of which are still worn regularly. And then there are my Carrie Bradshaw inspired projects... don’t get me started on those ;-)

9) Can you share with us some of your favourite refashions by other people? 

I am a fan of Geneva at A Pair and a Sparethis cut out dress was inspiring, very ‘high fashion’ and so simple! 

This trouser refashion (pictured below) from Cotton & Curls proves that sometimes a small tweak plus some great styling can make a lot of difference.

Also, I loved Jillian’s refashion of what would have been her wedding dress after her circumstances changed. Very emotional!

(image source: Cotton & Curls)

10) Do you have any dream charity shop finds/projects that you hope to fulfil someday? 

Of course! Far too many to list here. For example:

  • I’d love to make a lace dress out of a net curtain, but have yet to find one, so that’s pretty high on the list. 
  • I’d love to make a coat or jacket out of a woollen blanket – the kind with fringing down the side, using a waterfall cardigan pattern, with the fringing down the front, and wear it belted as a coat. Those blankets seem to be pretty tough to come by though.  
  • I’d love to try shoe refashioning – adding charity-shopped clip on earrings as shoe clips to a blue or green court shoe to look like Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolos from the SATC movie would be awesome. Finding shoes in the right colour that fit is nigh on impossible but I am keeping my eyes peeled! 
  • I’d love to learn embroidery and use that on a garment. I love Erdem’s flower embroidery on smart dresses. 
  • Ditto knitting. I’d like to unravel a charity shop jumper and knit it into something else. Maybe even cutting some beyond-repair garments into thin strips and knitting or crocheting those into something. Sadly I don’t think I am cut out for knitting; I haven’t got the patience! 
  • Anything ballgown-y. I live in hope! 
Massive thanks to Sally for taking the time to answer the squillion questions I wanted to put to her! You are a total star and a huge inspiration. Good luck finding that blanket and ball gown!

Tuesday 19 March 2013

It's Shoesday!

I've been meaning to right this post for two and a half years now. A couple of days ago I read this thought-provoking and inspirational post by Morgan from Crab & Bee in which she lamented forgetting to write about her aims to live a more sustainable life (of which sewing forms a part) in favour of almost exclusively blogging about sewing in recent times. I realised I have been doing the exact same thing. 

So I want to go back to a topic that is close to many women's hearts: shoes. When I took the Wardrobe Refashion pledge (remember that?!) in about 2007 to stop buying new clothes in favour of buying second-hand, making or refashioning them instead, I kind of feared my previously entrenched retail purchasing habits would be transferred from cheap mass-produced clothing on to shoes and accessories instead. Thankfully, that didn't turn out to be the case. I think the lessons I learnt through acting out that pledge, about how I didn't need to purchase mass-produced stuff to communicate who I am to those around me actually extended to include footwear and accessories, although I didn't stop buying them entirely like I did clothing. 

A few years later in 2010, enough time to be able to assess my behaviour, shopping habits and thoughts and feelings on both, I decided I wanted to extend my efforts and reduce my reliance on mass-produced products even more and declared I would not be buying any new shoes for a year until July 2011 (as documented in this post). 

Well, July 2011 rolled around, no new shoes had been purchased and I realised I hadn't missed shopping for shoes at all and my existing footwear was still going strong so I continued onwards. I've kind of being doing it ever since with two notable exceptions (which I'll get to shortly). To clarify, I do allow myself second-hand shoe purchases. If I see some I like in my size in a charity shop, I'll get them (often sending them back there when they don't actually get worn!) and if I really have a craving for something particular (like my green vans), I'll hunt some second-hand ones down on eBay. 

Now I know the thought of second-hand footwear creeps some people out, in a way that second-hand clothing doesn't tend to as much. I guess that's because they aren't as easily washed as a thrifted dress or  skirt. But I only buy second-shoes that show very little signs of wear (our society's 'disposable' attitude to cheap mass-produced goods means it's easy to find unworn or virtually-unworn footwear out there these days) and I always put new innersoles in all my footwear so I have a 'barrier' if you like. I would never buy a pair of second-hand shoes if they had begun to take on the shape of the former owners feet! Bleurgh! I also understand that second-hand shoes aren't for some because they have awkward shaped feet, or bunions or other conditions that make buying footwear tricky at the best of times. I'm lucky (toca madera) that my feet are a fairly standard shape and size.  

So not allowing yourself to buy new shoes (or other products too I guess) for a period of time is a really good way to find what you do and don't actually use and need. Over a couple of years of not adding to your collection of shoes and boots, you can really see which ones get worn down and will need replacing, and which ones (embarrassingly) just collate dust and continue to look box-fresh. With this knowledge I'm pretty sure I've figured out more or less what items of footwear I'll probably ever need. The footwear in these photos (plus a pair of skanky running trainers that I didn't want you to see and a couple of pairs of Winter boots that are I couldn't get a decent photo of) is more than I actually need. All of them were either bought pre-my 2010 'no new shoes' pledge and I've attempted to look after them well, or they have been purchased second-hand (aside from my nautical sandals pictured bottom left which I MADE MYSELF!!!). I could probably live without a few of thee pairs as well, but seeing as I am happy with their acquisition, it would be silly to get rid of them on principle. 

So now I need to confess about the exceptions. I've bought two pairs of new shoes since I have been trying not to do so. The first was the black ballet pumps I got to wear at my wedding reception when my heels inevitably started to hurt (I wore my black heels for my wedding, no new shoes for me there). The second pair was the white adidas trainers I got this January a few days before going to Iceland once I realised that none of my current footwear selection had both grip and were waterproof. If I'd thought about such things in advance of both my wedding and the trip to Iceland I probably could have sourced some suitable second-hand options for both occasions. However, I had a lot on my mind before both and had to rely on shop-bought shoes instead. You may it a little mental of me, but I feel a bit guilty about those purchases. 

But in general I'm really happy with my relationship to footwear in a way I wasn't before. Not buying new shoes has helped me learn the following:
  • I NEVER wear heels in the daytime unless I'm at a wedding. 
  • Heels have to have a round toe if I have a hope in hell of keeping them on for longer than an hour.
  • I hate ankle straps.
  • If I find pair of UK size 7 emerald second-hand shoes, they will be MINE! Whether I 'need' them or not. 

What about you? Has altering your clothes shopping impacted other areas of your retail habits? Does the thought of second-hand footwear gross you out?! Have you made a conscious decision recently to slow down or sep buying anything? How do you feel about it?

Friday 15 March 2013

Refashion Friday: The Refashioners Return...

With much excitement, today I can announce that Portia (AKA Miss P) is hosting and organising another round of 'The Refashioners'. As she discussed in the recent interview she undertook on this here little blog, Portia explains that the aim of The Refashioners challenge is to encourage sewers to use  existing garments as the basis of some of their projects, and to look at refashioning in a new light. 

Kicking off on her blog on 3rd June, over two weeks we'll be seeing the results of the selected sewing bloggers Miss P has charged with injecting wearability into unloved garments. 'So who are these sewing bloggers Miss P has gathered for the 2013 round of The Refashioners?', you may ask... 

Karen - Did You Make That 
Dixie - Dixie DIY 
Portia - Miss P 
Marie - A Stitching Odyssey 
Joanne - Stitch and Witter 
Lauren - Lladybird
Tasha - By Gum By Golly
Elisalex - Stitch me Softly and By Hand - London
Sally - Charity Shop Chic
Liz - Cotton & Curls 
Zoe (AKA me) - 'So, Zo...' 

I think Portia has done an awesome job in approaching sewers that create a real variety of personal styles and sewing approaches. I'm positive that the results will be as equally varied, with those two weeks providing a healthy dollop of inspiration whatever floats your own stylistic boat.

Shortly we will all be sent our raw materials to get making. I feel a little intimidated about creating something fabulous but wearable whilst in such talented company! Especially because I feel a bit out of practice having not worked for TRAIDremade for six months now. I can only flex the refashioning muscles my mumma gave me I guess!

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Leopard Mathilde Blouse

Unless you've been surfing the online sewing community with your eyes closed for the last month or so (you mentalist!), you've no doubt come across the first downloadable pattern, the Matilde Blouse, designed and released by the super-talented Tilly of Tilly and the Buttons blog. Aside from Tilly's own of course, there are some truly fabulous versions of this pattern popping up all over blogville, many of which can be seen on Tilly's maker gallery. Go and see for yourself if you don't believe me...

I was asked by Tilly to one on of her army of testers for this pattern and its instructions. As someone who has developed and released my own sewing patterns, I was thoroughly impressed by the amount of work and attention to detail Tilly put into making the pattern, instructions and everything else that went along with releasing it as flawlessly and user-friendly as humanly possible. IMO, she has seriously put some of the well-known sewing pattern companies to shame in these regards! Everything about Tilly's approach to the process, including garment design, graphics, detailed blog posts, community involvement and so on has been amazing, in my book. 

So ta da!!! Here's my version of this blouse pattern. As Tilly admitted herself, she wasn't sure if the style of this blouse was particularly 'Zo-esque', but we both agreed the final garment is plenty 'Zo', not least thanks to the injection of leopard print! This fabric was a gift from the lovely Karen, and has been languishing in my stash for a year or so. When the Mathilde blouse called for something light-weight with a bit of drape, I knew it was time to get this fabric deployed! I had bought a pack of red vintage plastic buttons for the back fastening but when I opened the pack one of them was a different design to the others, and there wasn't enough of the predominant style. That would annoy me so I opted for a complete set of metallic silver ones from my stash instead. 

The reason I have taken longer than everyone else involved in the testing to get my version out there is that I had to remake my sleeves, and packing up and moving flats last week put sewing to the back burner for a while (don't you hate it when that happens?!). A combo of a printer scaling error on my part and the initial pattern being a little short in the sleeve length for the non-petite meant my initial sleeves finished at a slightly annoying point around my elbow. Finding these things out was of course the point of having testers in the first place! Having finally got my new sewing room set up into some sort of useable state last weekend I was able to return to this blouse and I'm dead pleased with the fit of the final sleeve version. 

Even thought the sleeves are very voluminous, I was able to wear my reversible bolero shrug over this blouse today with no trouble or discomfort at all. So, aside from it being too damn cold for light-weight blouses at the moment, I declare this a 'wearable garment' that I predict will definitely see wardrobe rotation, therefore I count this as the third in my sewlution of twelve wearable garments made by me this year! BOOM!!!!

Monday 11 March 2013

An Ode to Mustard-Yellow and Old Gold

Source: via Zoe on Pinterest

I'm writing this post to distract myself from the fact that it's frikkin' snowing outside. This Winter is really starting to take the piss. So let's dream of days when clothing decisions can be based on stylistic whims rather than purely the practical consideration of 'how many layers can I get on my body and still squeeze my coat on over the top?'.

Source: via Zoe on Pinterest

As with my previous 'Ode to Emerald and Jade' post, I'd like to show some love to another group of awesome tones. Mustard-yellow, old gold or whatever else you wish to call these colour, has been a firm favourite of mine for a while, and IMO it rocks hard with navy, black and white. As well as Breton stripes, as previously discovered!

Currently, I only have a few things in my wardrobe belonging to this colour bracket. There's my me-made sunshine jacket (pictured below) and a second-hand cardigan and heels (both seen in this post). But I've got plans to shoe-horn in some more, oh how I have plans....

So here's some mustard-yellow/old gold inspiration direct from the depths of my beloved Pinterest boards. Is this a colour that appeals to you? What ways have you successfully incorporated it into your outfits? Do you think it looks better as certain garments rather than others (e.g, does it look better on the lower half of the body away from the face)?

Source: via Zoe on Pinterest

Source: via Zoe on Pinterest

Source: via Zoe on Pinterest

Saturday 9 March 2013

My Fabric Stash: The Whole Truth

Oh my goodness. I barely know where to start. Ok, no I do know where to start: by explaining what is happening in these pictures. This week Patty and I moved into a lovely bigger flat that has, wait for it..., a small sewing room! If I were the type to 'squee', I would be 'squee-ing' now. But because the new flat is also more expensive, I have sadly had to leave my lovely desk space at Super+Super HQ. Fear not, I'm still firmly up in their business, they can't shake me that easily. 

But what these things have led to, is the regrouping of all my sewing and pattern cutting equipment, including sewing patterns, notions and fabric all in one place for the first time since, umm, 2007 or something. Jeez there's a lot of it. AND I had a big clear out recently. Anyways. Whilst the rest of the room isn't quite sorted yet or ready for photos, my fabric stash has been collated and organised. Fancy a look? Firstly, for some reference, I must explain that this set of shelves is the same height as me. 

Starting from the bottom shelf (pictured above), on the left there we have all the double-knit, most of which is synthetic. The majority of it consists of solid shade pieces: navy, black, red and maroon. There's also some navy/white and black/white striped pieces. On the right there is a pile of garments which are lined up either for refashioning or for the fabric to be harvested. 

Second from the bottom (pictured above) is the jersey shelf! Oh my there's a lot there isn't there?! LOTS of lovely prints (including anchors, birds, floral and leopard), lots of stripes and a few bits of solid shades. There's quite a mixture of qualities too, from weighty pieces with heavy elastane content, to lighter more drapey pieces probably destined for batwing tops.

Next up is the most over-populated shelf (pictured above): wovens. There are a few pieces of trouser-weigth pieces on here, but most of it is lighter top and blouse weight pieces. Very few of them are big enough to get a dress out of, unfortunately, and as you can see there are SO. MANY. PRINTS. This shelf kind of gives me a headache to look at!

Last but not least is the 'top shelf material'! Hahahaha! I'm so funny. The above picture is my vintage fabric stash. This section has been curated pretty carefully, it's all thriller no filler. There are a few curtains plus some nice bits of cotton big enough for blouses, but also lots of smaller pieces that are perhaps destined to be bags or cushion covers. The lace on the right isn't vintage, but I ran out of space on the other shelves. 

'Very nice, Zoe', you may be thinking, 'Looks pretty neat and tidy, if a bit excessive'. But wait, I did promise the whole truth: 

This is what currently lurks round the corner behind the door! The bit of the lovely workroom that never gets on Pinterest! Yep, these bags contain more garments for refashioning, old knitwear for making into mittens, scraps of jersey only big enough for making pants, scraps of pretty woven stuff too small for garment projects, interfacing and Craftaganza supplies. AGH! Tell me everyone has a corner like this? Tell me this is the reality of craft!

It is frustrating that a lot of my fabric (having been sourced second hand) is in smaller pieces, thus limiting it's use. But seriously, I clearly have A LOT of it, in fact I have all the damn fabric I should ever need! Now I can see it all in one place together, I am more committed than ever to my Stash Bustin' pledge. How many years do you think it would take to sew through all this? And what about YOU? How does the size of your stash compare? 
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