Savage Beauty

1 McQueen polished varnished clam shellsMy first opportunity to scrutinize Alexander McQueen designs came via the Isabella Blow Exhibition at Somerset House last year so I arrived at “Savage Beauty,” the Alexander McQueen retrospective at the V&A, keen to see more leather or wool (my favoured materials of late) and hoping to get inspired to take a more daring approach in my own pattern-cutting.

The exhibition intends to emphasise how McQueen took his influences from nature and there’s a lot of it in use: feathers, shell, wood, beaks, hair and horn.  We’re talking more than just trim: one whole coat seemed like a bubbling  eruption of dark hair coils which my friend dubbed “the Dr Who Monster”!  The other angle of interpretation is Romanticism.  Four rooms are named Romantic Exoticism, Romantic Horror, Romantic Nationalism (this would be of the Scottish kind) and Romantic Naturalism.  In the last, I spent a while admiring a hessian full skirt embroidered with straw flowers of the kind I haven’t seen since I was a child when they were a popular design on straw handbags.  There were dresses and bodysuits inspired by the kimono and sleeves of silks printed in the style of chinoiserie but updated to more vibrant palettes.  It’s a winner of a room, full of freshness and calm.

Not so Romantic Horror, a mostly black collection from McQueen’s days at Givenchy when he apparently imagined the creations of a disturbed surgeon who dismembers women and recreates them as animal hybrids.  Here the female form towers imposingly in her raven-plumed ball gown or in her leather-bandage dress with beak epaulettes.  She’s not so much frightening as dressed for defence, but from what?

If I entered the first room, or two, looking to learn from and to copy – a simple twist on tailoring can create an immediate swing from the traditional to the original – by room three, I abandoned such schemes.  My mind instead was shouting “who the hell has the balls to wear this stuff!?”

Of course, many of these are display pieces which made McQueen’s reputation without making it to a production line.  Nowhere is this more obvious than with the pair of wooden legs shaped like gnarled stiletto boots and carved extravagantly with grapes and vine.  They were made by a either a prosthetist or a wood carver (or both).  McQueen had a myriad of highly accomplished collaborators without whose skill he wouldn’t have been able to realize his visions so prolifically.

1 McQueen tailoringI got told off!  Apparently, I shouldn’t have been wearing my skinny leather rucksack on my back but in my hand like a bag in case I should bash into someone.  Later I did  notice a couple of men in the crowd carrying backpacks on their chests, like papooses, so as to comply with the regulations… go on London, just TAKE our dignity!  The guard who pounced upon me had all the charm of a Cold War James Bond villainess which put me in a nervously rebellious mood and so with shaking hands I took a couple of contraband phone pics of appalling quality (left, also the polished, varnished clam shell dress at the top).

If you can get to the V&A by August the 2nd but are reluctant to pay £17.50 for a ticket, think again!  Gone are the days of fashion exhibitions displaying static rows of frocks.  The game has upped somewhat.  Almost each room here is a built set and a couple are rather elaborate.  The music is wonderful too (and adds to the effect of this being a staged event).  Sarabande by Handel in the “Widows of Culloden” hall; while in the “Cabinet of Curiosities”, the largest of the rooms packed to the rafters with exhibits, we’re served the eerie lullaby sung by Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby (my favourite ‘pregnancy movie’ :-)  )  As for the ‘hologram video’ of a Widows of Culloden bride Kate Moss spinning slowly like a dust mote, it’s worth a quarter of the admission on its own…

1 kate mossThe postcard of Moss in the silk mille feuille wedding dress is one of four I picked from the selection in the seriously tempting Savage Beauty gift shop (those trying to rein in their expenditure are advised to wear blinkers as they pass!).  Also included is a postcard of the golden feather coat which reminds me of the opera The Magic Flute, then there’s  my perfect kilt dress and one from the Naturalism collection.  If you think these would be good on your mood board, leave me a comment below and I’ll draw in early April then post them to the winner.

Link: Cabinet of Curiosities Images

Link: Booking is essential so check availability here

                     Link: Woman’s Hour interview with ‘Lee’s’ sister and his biographer

1 papagena

1 romantic naturalism

1 romantic nationalism

Shoulder Pad Surprise

1 shoulder padsHere are two types of shoulder pad.  The one on the left – cheap as popcorn – is a slim slice of shaped foam, symmetrical about the middle.  On the right is the crescent which I’ve talked of before.  It has a flatter end which goes round the back and a  more meaty side which sits at the front, filling out the hollow of the shoulder.

Hobbs coat and Marianna, years ago in Dungeness

The Hobbs coat and Marianna in Dungeness, YEARS ago

In making my McCalls 5766 coat, I got to the stage where I tried it on after setting in the sleeves (but before making the lining) to determine which shoulder pad to use and where to place it.  The convention is for the straight edge to extend 1.5cm beyond the armscye.  But I couldn’t help noticing that with either of the pads, the  shoulders of my almost-finished coat were acquiring an edgy, Mafioso look!  It’s probably not something a casual observer would notice as their eyes skim over the garment as a whole but it sure would bug me, so I did some investigative work!  I took my seam ripper to the lining of a lovely, well-fitting and good quality RTW coat I own, which has been hibernating in my wardrobe waiting for fashion to call it back into the limelight.

I discovered the Hobbs shoulder pad wasn’t like the ones I’d bought.  There were other surprises too in the construction, more of which below, but here is the pad:

1 Hobbs coat shoulder pad1 Hobbs coat shoulder pad side viewIt’s roundish, like a flannel rosette, or more precisely, like a large raviolo with a light sponge filling.  Here’s the side view showing its attachment to the shoulder seam (I’d snipped the tacking off the armhole allowance).  Easy to copy, huh?

How to make a soft-edged shoulder pad

You will need: a small amount of a soft fabric like flannel or thin fleece (I used leftover curtain interlining), thin sponge or wadding, and preferably pinking shears.  A compass may be useful for drawing circles, plus needle and thread.

I have based the measurements on the pads in my coat which is a size 12.  If you’re making a larger garment, size up a couple of cm or more.  Don’t worry if your ovals aren’t perfect; our bodies are not geometry either and every pad will mould to your own shape eventually.

Step 1: Cut a flannel circle of 15cm (6") diameter.  Use pinking shears for a blurred edge

Step 1: Cut a flannel circle of 15cm (6″) diameter. Use pinking shears for a blurred edge

Step 2: Fold in half and trim some 1.25cm from each edge to create an oval

Step 2: Fold in half and trim some 1.25cm from each edge to create an oval

Step 3: repeat with a 12.5cm (5") circle

Step 3: repeat with a 12.5cm (5″) circle

Step 4: cut a 3cm x 7cm rectangle and sew it to the long middle of the oval

Step 4: cut a 3cm x 7cm rectangle and sew it to the long middle of the larger oval.

Step 5: cut a 10cm (4″) across piece of sponge or wadding with good recovery. The piece may be circular like in my RTW coat but I used the filling of the cheap shoulder pad.

Step 6: sandwich the layers together with tacking stitches making sure not to pull tight.  If possible, create shaping by holding the pieces in a 'lens' shape curving away from the strip as you sew.

Step 6: sandwich the layers together with tacking stitches making sure not to pull tight. If possible, cup the pieces in your hand into a ‘lens’ as you sew, curving away from the strip. This will create a desirable shaping to the pad.

Step 6: the reverse

Step 6: the reverse

Step 7: attach strip with loose tacking to the shoulder seam.  Don't pull tight: you're anchoring the pad but it shouldn't pull or alter the garment

Step 8: attach strip with loose tacking to the shoulder seam

1 attach short end

Step 7: attach the short end of the oval to the shoulder seam

 

Step 8: .... and at the other end, tack loosely to armscye SA, at front of sleeve and back

Step 8: …. and at the other end, tack loosely to armscye SA, at front of sleeve and back

Once your pad is in place, the soft layers should merge and flatten to your own shape.

Other investigative discoveries1 Hobbs coat lining

Finishing off seams takes time so I was surprised on opening the ‘perfect coat’ to find that the lining seams weren’t finished at all.  They have frayed, yes, but not dangerously, considering how much wear I got from this coat (we’re talking quite a few winters!).  This got me thinking: is this the reason why certain bloggers are able to produce garments at a rate with which I couldn’t possibly keep up; they don’t waste time on non-necessities.

Also, notice how the stitches are long.  That too is a time saver.

1 Hobbs coat fusingBut the biggest surprise is that the wrong side of the wool fabric is fused throughout with some kind of a weave.  It probably helped keep me warm but nevertheless I feel slightly disillusioned as the glue which was involved and the woven fabric weren’t specified on the label.

On the other hand, this machine-tailoring tactic ensures that there’s no need to finish the seams.  More time saved.

Here are a couple of links which got washed up in my research.  You may find them of interest:

a: Different shoulder pad shapes: in McCulloch and Wallis and on the catwalk

b: Detailed instructions on making the traditional crescent shoulder pad

Being new to making coats, I confess this is completely virgin territory to me.  If you’ve a shoulder pad story to share, please do! (Alexis Colby, if you’re reading this….)

Mender Be!

1 capris

1t hole in carDo you rush from one new sewing project to the next while turning your back on an ever growing pile of not-quite-wearable items that could be put right in an hour or so?  Do bits of your children’s uniforms go missing at school because you can’t be bothered to sew on name tapes  – it’s too boring?  And has your husband been asking for months when you’re going to stitch up that hole in the car flooring which you gouged out driving in killer heels?!

Ok, so that last one is a bit specific :-) but if the above ring true, then  you’re like me.  When you could be like Lesley, who first fixes something from the unglamorous pile.   In ‘Mending is Good for the Psyche’, Lesley says: the mending can be anything big or small, sometimes the thing I mend is very quick, it depends on how much time I have, but I feel justified in moving on to other more exciting projects having completed my ‘work’.  How sensible is that, not to mention virtuous!  I’m thinking of adopting Lesley’s strategy though it’ll take some discipline.

Here’s a quick embellishment project in which I mended a situation.  Last year, I bought some Primark jeans and I’ve been looking at them ever since.  Initially attracted by their colour and cheapness, I tried them on in the changing room and they seemed to adequately cover my backside – a rare treat in low-rise skinnies.  Unfortunately, within minutes of putting them on for wearing (i.e. walking and sitting down, rather than standing in a changing room) the fabric, which is a cotton and polyester mix with 1% Lycra, would stretch and stretch turning the jeans saggy and turning my mood instantly to drab.  It seemed cruel to pass them on to a charity shop for some other schmuck to buy, thinking she’d grabbed herself a bargain, so I eventually pressed them flat inside out and sewed 1cm into the outer seam, from the hip rivet to just below the knee.  So now they fit better, like slightly wrinkly running tights, but with spring in the air, I no longer needed tight jeans.  I needed something frivolous and summery, like these jeans cut into capris that I spotted on Pinterest (click on pic for tutorial): 1 original plan

I planned on using leather instead of bias binding (I hear you’re getting sick of my ever-giving bundle of leather.  Me too!).  Unfortunately – and I wonder how I didn’t foresee this – leather straps when folded like bias strips end up really thick and don’t tie so well…  So then I thought I’d do a button trick recently pulled by  Tialys, so I cut the ties, closed the keyhole and covered up raw edges with two buttons.  This looked well cute but now the leg openings were so tight around my calves, we had to call an ambulance!  1 Warts and all

Once I was cut free, the capris were shorter still, but I remade the keyholes further up and used straight 3cm leather ribbons as ties.

I just about got away with it.  I think!

 1 Side capris

The tutorial

- The optimal hem length for capris is below the widest part of your calf muscle.  For me, this would mean an inside leg length of 54.5cm (but my final version is above the calf muscle, on account of things going wrong…). Never cut at the widest part of the leg.

- This is a straight-forward hemming with bias binding procedure without finesse; you probably don’t need a tute at all, but if you’re a beginner and something’s not clear, just ask!

- To make denim bias binding for the keyhole, I used the leg cut offs.  I had to join two pieces to have sufficient length of binding for each keyhole.

- For the topstitching in the final step, I used tough upholstery thread and a new (sharp) leather needle.

- This would look charming with 3cm double-sided strips made of patterned lawn/poplin  or denim on the reverse.

Ok, here we go:

4cm denim bias binding made of cut offs

Step 1: make 1cm bias binding out of 4cm strips. Length required = length of keyhole plus 2cm, more if you can spare. One for each leg!

Draw a keyhole shape on bottom side seam.  Try on the jeans.  If the keyhole stretches too much, redraw.  Stich along line to staystich then cut close to the stitching line.

Step 2: Hem jeans to desired length *not shown, sorry * Draw a keyhole shape on bottom of side seam. Try on the jeans. If the keyhole stretches too wide once your jeans are on, redraw. Stich along line to staystich then cut close to the stitching line.

1 strips of leather or ribbon 3cm by 19cm approx

Step 3: Prepare strips or ribbons, 2 for each leg. These are leather: 3cm by 19cm each. Fabric strips can be shorter as the knots will be less thick.

1 pin leather with bias binding to keyhole

Step 4 a): Pin right side leather to right side garment. Pin bias binding to the wrong side, 1cm folded under

1 wrong side

Step 4 b); view on wrong side. Stitch along 1cm line. Before reaching opposite end of keyhole, arrange second leather strip right sides together as in Step 4 a) and fold bias strip under 1cm then stitch to end.

1 rightside, pinned for topstitching

Step 5: on right side, pin and topstitch the bias binding. Fold strips/ribbons back over the keyhole and topstitch. Use contrasting thread if you like.

1 leather ribbon capri embellishment detail

Finished: a bit rough-hewn but quick and effective.

I’ve another hardly worn pair of jeans – flares from Boden, in fact — that I’d like to restyle.  If you have any nice ideas, let me know!

Coat Progress

1 McCalls 5766 Half Done1 Front pleats and pattern matchingDuring the last couple of weeks, the shops have filled with light garments and accessories in the colours of bright skies, blue-tinged grass and lemon mousse.  In every palette is a reminder that Easter is on the way.

And here’s me sewing my woolly winter coat.  Oh well, it’ll be finished by next winter :-)

This is half of the sewing finished and most of the hard thinking over.  I wanted to show you pictures of the half-decent job I’ve done, in case it’s all doom and gloom later.

The bodice is interfaced throughout even though the instructions didn’t ask for it: very light fusible interfacing on the side bodice front and light calico at the back.  There’s a risk that this might make the finished garment a bit formal and stiff-looking.1 back view inside out

1 Trimming interfacing to slim down the seam allowances before catchstitchingAnother deviation from the instructions: I cut away the interfacing or calico from the seam allowances to reduce bulk then pressed the waist seam open (rather than up, as told) with a herringbone stitch locking the seams back.  So far all the seams have been finished like this using a grey silk thread which was a joy to discover – so light and never visible on right side of garment.  And I’ve developed a fetish for the herringbone, in fact: it’s rather good-looking for a hand stitch and I like going left to right for a change.1 Herrinbone stitch

Oh look, the roll line tape!  1 tape on roll line

I suspect it isn’t doing anything functional but it sounds good.

Remember how when I introduced you to this fabric and pattern (in Shrek), some of you wisely warned that I was heading for pattern-matching hell if I chose to go ahead with a check.  It did take a long time to decide, before cutting, where to position the squares and the lines in relation to the garment edges and stitching lines but to tell the truth, I enjoyed it in – much the same way I loved this 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle my kids got last Christmas :-)   1Check coats

The hardest decision was where to place pattern piece 1: the front bodice (with the lovely lapel) which was the first cut.  Horizontally there were options but the vertical placement was harder so while shopping, I looked at RTW coats and those worn in the street to see if there’s a convention as to where to place the vertical edges (typically button closure  fastening or zip).  If you look at the coats above, this line never seems to be on a box edge, but somewhere in the middle.  Only when I’m finished will I know if I did ok.1 McCalls 5766 Techncal Drawing

I’ve had to compromise in matching the pleats to the check design. I could make a match by folding in slightly more fabric on the front  but doing this to the back just never added up (you did warm…)  so I had to drop a pleat with now just two at the back instead of four (see techie drawing).  Let’s hope none one notices.

1 McCalls 5766 minus a back pleat

A tailor once told me that with wool being so expensive, if ever a cutting apprentice made a mistake and wasted any, he or she would be shamed and the cost would be deducted from the wages (is it any wonder they all want to work in graphic design and IT now!?).  Through a lack of concentration I did waste a couple of smaller bodice pieces which at £12 a meter I could laugh off but this better not happen when I come to cut the sleeves as the man from Bromley market has reached the end of his last bolt!  There’s plenty left of his other wools which are interesting but the colours are duller and more wintery, whereas mine looks like it loves the early spring sun.1 daffs

I might need a blouse in ‘daffodil’ next!

1 McCalls 5766 Finished Pocket

1 Marking checks on pattern piece

Blue Velvet

1 Silk velvet and applique lace collar

A few weeks ago I ran in a race where the ground was a variety of mud hitherto unknown to me.  Greased it seemed, this particular stretch of North Kent coastline.  Running felt like passing across rugs being swiped sideways from under me.  I made it to the finish but by then my mind had dismissed the whole experience as a bad dream.

Next year I’m gonna give this particular race another go, with spikes in my shoes!  And once the winter party season is here again, I’ll also give silk velvet the proper attention it deserves because, like with the run, getting to the end of this dress was achievable but at compromise to quality. Stitching lines drunkenly meandered left and right. Bust darts bore no resemblance to their name. And as for that uneven hem?  Not only shoddily sewn, I failed at cutting too: the hem truncates my legs exactly at that thickened point where the quad muscle and thigh fat gloopily combine.  Lovely.

The trouble is I had to rush.  Two parties loomed on the same weekend with two days of sewing available and I hadn’t a stitch appropriate to wear.  In the realm of the Great British Sewing Bee - a TV programme which should be rated 18+ for scenes of sustained peril –  two days might seem aplenty.  But when you feel the necessity for French seams and put in a lining, then have to clear your entire fluff-ridden work space to serve meals to a horde of ingrates….   Oh dear

1 Front collarPattern: the block, bodice and skirt. Waist darts changed to ease, shoulder dart moved to bust.

Neckline shaped to fit the lace collar (from Etsy.)

Fabric: silk-backed velvet (£12 a metre) from Unique Fabrics, Goldhawk Road.  You’ll find the silk velvets in a small corner of the basement which glows: amethyst, jade, tanzanite.  I went for sapphire this time.  The lining feels lovely and is either from Unique Fabrics or their sister shop two doors along.1 back collar1 Back collar and closure

Fastening: back opening, button and thread loop.  Excellent thread loop tutorial here.  This is my favourite bit and I wish I had a decent photo.  In the top one, I’ve raised one arm to pull up hair.  The light was gloomy for the second.

Clarks Chorus ThrillShoes: Clarks “Chorus”.  Gorgeous, sumptuous, comfy.  But heel height is all wrong for me.  I might send them to the Shoe Collection at Northampton Museum – every donation tells a story!

Links: Debra H has brilliant tips not for just sewing silk velvet but also washing it, pressing, marking, interfacing…. none of which I read before making my dog’s dinner.  Colette patterns published a tip yesterday about fabrics that drift.  Let me know if anything worked for you.  And of course, Prof. Pincushion.

Rescue package: The double hem is hand-sewn so it shouldn’t take long to unpick and redo after claiming some extra length.  As Debra suggests, I’ll use an organza bias strip to sew to the edge, then flip to the inside and catchstitch.  With a bit of luck, it’ll give this floppy, wayward fabric a soft but defined edge.

1 Jacobite GentlemanIs this a keeper, do you think?  If yes, what do you suggest I style it with (is the mad hair a bit much?  I can straighten it, you know!)?

Shrek!

1 Zany McCalls 5766

Muslin McCalls 5766 back and frontI can explain….

1 McCalls 5766 Pattern EnvelopeThis isn’t some garish costume I made for one of the courtiers in “Shrek, the Musical”.  What I’ve done is used old children’s room curtains – originally dyed  to match cheerful IKEA Mammut furniture – to make a muslin for McCall’s 5766.  This is an out of print coat pattern I first  came across when Anelise made it.  Hers is a fantastic version in red fur, no less!  I needed a winter coat and after reading some good reviews on SPR, I bought the pattern second hand (but unused) through Ebay.  Mine is the combination AX5 (sizes 4-12) and I made size 12.  This has a finished size of 38″ (97cm) in the bust, exactly the same as my RTW coat that I wear all the time and which is size 10.

1t zero maria cornejo lab coatThe shape is very different from the coats that have been all the rage the last season or two – which I call the Manta Ray because they bulge out in the middle.  Lovely as they are, Rays do my short arse (pardon my Yorkshire!) no favours.  McCall’s 5766 follows the empire line which I’m not sure is any better, to be honest.  There are several questions I have before I proceed and I’d very much appreciate your thoughts.

I think we can all safely agree that the biggest problem is the sleeves.  1 McCalls 5766 Techncal DrawingView C is the only full length in the pattern.  Shortening them would help (they’re 4cm too long and possibly too wide).  But my initial verdict trying on the balloon shape?  Zany.  It’s a look that can be offset by wearing dainty high heels but I’d like to be able to wear this coat with flat boots without looking, er, medieval.  Though I like Views A and B, coats that need to be worn with long gloves don’t suit my lifestyle much.

Do you think it would be a cop-out to make just plain old straight sleeves?  I’m worried that it would make the coat plain.  Is there any other full length sleeve shape that you suggest?  And those shoulder pads are too big, aren’t they?

1 Instructions McCalls 5766The instructions were easy to follow.  I didn’t use any interfacing but as there was plenty of curtain, I made the whole coat, including attaching the lining, to remind myself of what to do.  Since starting this blog, I’ve done a couple of tailoring courses (one blogged here, the other was here) but I have never utilized the lessons learnt by making an actual tailored garment.  This coat project was picked with the aim of adding tailoring techniques to improve on a basic.  The add-ons will be:

a) A sleeve head (or sleeve roll?).  This is a folded strip of flannel or domette attached to the top of the sleeve seamline to smooth out the outside appearance at the top of the sleeve.

b) A strip of interfacing fused to the hem to sharpen that bottom edge.

1 Pinned Roll Line on Muslin McCalls 5766c) Taping the roll line.  This inside strip is stretched over the roll line with the effect of making the front of the garment subtly concave, thereby following the hollowed shape below the shoulder.  The roll line on this pattern isn’t marked but I’m following the instructions in this Tailoring guide (from Morplan) to determine and mark its position.  Basically, you pin the roll line, press it, then copy its position onto the pattern.

Anything else you’d suggest?

1 Tailoring By Apple Press, 2005 Creating Publishing InternationalAs you can see, the facing of the coat has rolled outwards (See the first picture?   The facing’s yellow).  I notice my RTW coat suffers from this too. It’s something I’ll have to prevent when it comes to doing the real thing in wool.  Do you have any tips for making the outside of the garment roll inwards?

Finally, I’m not happy with the lower half of the armscye.  I think it’s too big and cuts too deeply into the bodice.  Should I extend the bodice into the sleeve and make the underarm higher?

1 Sleeve C and Armscye McCalls 5766

1 Blogstalker fabric-sittingI’m also including a picture of the fabrics I intend to use.  Yup, it’s gonna be a plaid-matching nightmare which is all the more reason why I needed a muslin – to show where the lines would lie.

But do you think there’s enough fur here for such a big collar?

I’m kidding.

Thanks for reading!

Achtung, Dahlia!

1 Colette Dahlia by Sew2pro1 Colette Dahlia Pattern EnvelopeI bought this pattern almost immediately upon its release and tested it with a muslin.  However, just as I was about to finish the real thing, the machine and I got turfed out of my sewing space to make space for a Christmas tree and associated clutter.

The photos on the Colette Patterns website show a Version 1 of the Dahlia in a rich green modelled by a dark-haired beauty bearing a resemblance to Nigella Lawson in her Italianate edition.  One day, if the occasion demands it, I will make a jewel-coloured Dahlia just like that and try to claim some of that La Dolce Vita glamour but it’s winter now and I want warmth – to compensate for a neckline so wide, it’s guaranteed to make the baps freeze!1 La Dolce Vita

Materials

1 Inside out Lined DahliaThis mock-wool (ok, polyester) at £8 a metre comes from A Crafty Needle in West Wickham.  The lining is black acetate.  I think lining is essential and makes the dress look more substantial than the rather droopy one on the pattern envelope.  This adds hours of sewing time and renders it more of an intermediate than a beginner project, particularly as I lined the kick-back pleat (using my tutorial).  For the black binding, I used leather (phwoar!) by cutting 4cm strips from a soft black offcut in my Wested Leather bundle.  It has a matt texture that goes perfectly with the grey and black in the fabric.  I wanted to keep as much length as I could so instead of hemming, I used home-made cotton bias tape which, though not visible from the outside, complements the neck and sleeve binding.

Pattern Matching

1 Zip side seamColette has produced a free how-to-match-plaid tutorial which you may find of use but with a more complicated plaid where there is a horizontal and vertical repeat and not necessarily a symmetry along the lines, you must proceed with caution before cutting (or else...!!).  I found it impossible to facilitate a match in the bodice and yoke seam  on the zip side, but I don’t think it shows (what do you think?  See right).  The match is almost spot on in all the more visible seams, i.e. in the skirt seams and the sleeves to bodice.

Yoke Bias

My only major dislike of this dress comes from the decision to cut the yoke on the bias, as suggested by Colette, with the yoke lining (same pattern piece as the yoke) cut on the straight grain.  In theory, on the outside, this adds interest to the layout of the plaid whereas the straight inner layer makes the waist sturdy without the thickness that may have come from interfacing.  In practice, when putting the yoke and the yoke lining together, I found they were no longer the same size!  I had to sew on an extra piece to the yoke lining  or it would have literally fallen short.  If you examine the photo, you may spot that the waist is bit bleurgh – it could be tighter.  If you’re after the interesting diagonals, I recommend applying some light interfacing before the yoke is cut.

 

Raglan Sleeves1 Another Dahlia

These were 2cm too wide at the neckline, the excess jutting up from the shoulders, but as this was discovered before the neckline binding was applied, the fix was very simple.  Sew 3 rows of gathering stitches onto and within the seam allowance then pull to fit.  This results in a nicely cupped shoulder line with no puckers or gathers visible.  If you’re square of shoulder, gather evenly across the shoulder piece.  If your shoulders are more rounded, concentrate the gathers onto the sleeve front.

Sizing

Instinct and research told me to sew down a size so I made a 4 (this being the U.S. size).  It fits perfectly so if it helps you to know, I’m 36-28-38.  Add an inch to the last two if it’s Christmas!1 Po Faced Dahlia

 Yeah, I know, I should cheer up!

 

Santa Pins

1 santa feetsI’ve always envied Santa his chunky, fur-trimmed booties :-)   Several years ago, I was asked if I’d take part in a Christmas Caper where in return for racing some 6km while dressed in festive gear, I’d be given a Christmas Pudding and a chance to share some mince pies and mulled wine on the way home.  What’s not to like?  I used this as an opportunity to convert some cheap Christmas stockings from the market into open-bottomed boots which cover up my trainers.  At the time, my sewing skills were really basic but the boots looked just as cute as Santa’s and were easy to run in.  After a rather muddy outing last year, they needed to be remade so I’ve turned the project into a tutorial for anyone who likes the idea.

There are many ‘Santa Runs’ taking place during the weekends this Christmas season: it’s a popular, fun way of fundraising and getting kids to try distances of 2km – 5km.   But the costumes fall short of suggesting creativity or a carnival atmosphere.  1 Peek SantaTypically, the choice consists of papery, disposable Santa or elf costumes (landfill fodder),  whereas for those wishing to be more feminine (including cross-dressers), it’s fairies or red camisoles trimmed with white marabou feathers.  Now I understand most people lead really hectic lives these days and are too busy to sew but, hey – you’d think they’d prioritize…!!

You will need:

Two stockings, ribbon, elastic,

Two stockings, ribbon, elastic,

2 Christmas Stockings – mine are from the 99p Stores

1.5m – 2m of red ribbon, 2.5cm wide (an inch) or red bias binding.  The cheap stuff from the market will suffice.

If using ribbon, press on gentle heat so the ribbon is folded in half.

1.5m of elastic, 2.5cm wide.

Optional: Extra ribbon and jingle bells for attaching at the back (my bells are from old musical instruments by the Early Learning Centre)

 Method

Step 1 -  Slice off bottoms of stockings so they're at their widest.  Stitch where the seam has been cut.

Step 1 – Slice off bottoms of stockings so they’re at their widest. Stitch where the seam has been cut. Sew ribbon around the base of boot, sealing raw edges. You don’t have to be too refined; this is not your showcase!

Step 2  -  Unpick approx. 2.5cm of stitching at top of boot.  Sew over broken seam then fold over to base of trim and sew to form casing.  Cut elastic to fit your calves.  Insert elastic into casing and sew edges of elastic together. Close casing.

Step 2 – Unpick approx. 2.5cm of stitching at top of boot. Sew over broken seam then fold top to the base of trim. Sew, forming casing. Cut elastic to fit your calves. Insert elastic into casing and sew edges of elastic together. Slipstitch casing closed.

Step 3 - measure two strips of elastic to fit the ball and heel of your trainers, pluas seam allowances.  Sew the elastic pieces to base of boot, along the ribbon seam

Step 3 – Measure two strips of elastic to fit the ball and heel of each shoe, plus seam allowances. Sew the elastic pieces to base of boot, along the ribbon seam.

Step 4 (optional) - Attach bells at the back. Having gone to the trouble of sewing your booties, you want to attract as much attention as possible while wearing them, not pad by silently!

Step 4 (optional) – Attach bells at the back. Having gone to the trouble of sewing your booties, you want to attract as much attention as possible while wearing them, not pad by silently!

If you run on pavements and roads rather than mud, you’ll get several wears out of these.  You won’t trip (honest!) but you won’t break any speed records either.  One secret reason why I really like them is because, as with traditional Doc Martens, their chunkiness makes the rest of the pins (legs) appear relatively slim.

Now, can someone please point me in the direction of a Santa beard tutorial? 1 Santa feet

Skin Traps

1 Embrace your inner evil

1 SleeveIn the last two weeks I’ve been busy with two projects, both picked on the spur of the moment and causing other plans to be put aside.  Both turned out to be epic fails.   The first –  a Renfrew hacked into a dress – I will go into on another occasion when I’ve dusted myself off the defeat and remade it.  The second is this self-drafted T-shirt with leather elements, initially inspired by this gem I found via Pinterest.  Of course, I had to experiment and make the design more complicated and that’s when things went wrong.  Twice (that is, in two places)!  But I’m glad I didn’t jettison the whole thing into the bin.

1 Wested Leather bundle of offcutsI don’t suppose you’ve ever wondered where Indiana Jones‘ brown leather jacket came from?  Well I’ll tell you anyway.  :-)  It was made by Wested Leather, a company and workshop near here, in Kent.  I bought online one of their £5 bundles of off-cuts.  I wasn’t sure what I’d get; I was told to expect a mixture of black and brown.  I ended up with this: the biggest piece being a half (front?) bodice in thick brown leather and the other pieces smaller and finer.

The industry that produces leather is a notorious pollutant and – being a hippyish type –  I take no pride in being mad for it.  But to me, there is no good-enough substitute: the shoes and boots that with wear adopt your shape; the feel, warmth and durability of a leather jacket or jeans.  The look of the grain; the softness of suede.  Most of all, I love how leather smells.  Is there anything more heady?  When I opened the package, my living room turned to nirvana and all the time I was working on this project, the cat (who stalks me) and I operated at a heightened level of exciement.    8O

1 Back viewFor the pattern I drafted a blouse from my block.  A bust dart provides shape and ease replaces the front waist dart.  The back has contour darts (the back looks a mess!)

I used my corner-pleat sleeve tutorial to draft the sleeves, then made another pattern with added style lines that would enable the insertion of some small leather pieces from the bundle.

But just as I thought I was done, I looked in the mirror and saw…. the love child of an American Football player and Darth Vader.  My shoulders were HUGE and not in a sexy Alexis Colby way either.  I sewed down some of the corners, thereby ruining the square geometry but just about getting away with a less conspicuous look: – the result you see here.

t 1 Floppus EpicusSewing the neckline caused more problems.  The needlecord and the leather wouldn’t fold under equally –  and it didn’t help that I could press the cloth but not the leather.  This is what the shirt looked like last week, when again I thought I was done.  Each photo accentuated the dog’s dinner of a neckline, with a pulling to the side.   I simply couldn’t take the risk of wearing it like this and having people say: “Did you make that yourself?” while wearing a disgusted expression.  But I couldn’t throw away, not after all that work.  Besides it still smelt good!  So I unpicked the neckline, exposing holes in the leather that would never heal. :roll:   I trimmed off some of the distortion (you may notice an unevenness in shoulder width) and made bias binding out of needlecord  as I didn’t have enough matching leather for the purpose.

1 sideIt was an adventure!

I’ll be wearing this next week to a gig, when one of my favourite bands rolls into town.  No one will see the imperfections – it’ll be too dark.  But boy, will those jutting shoulders smell good as I push through the crowd!

A Simple Dart Throw

1 Skirt back

1 Back on dummyIf you’re playing around with your basic skirt block and thinking of moving the back dart from the waist seam where it’s typically found, there aren’t that many places it can go.  This is why so often we make the dart just disappear into figure-hugging princess seams!  In making this pencil skirt, I moved the dart onto the centre back, halfway between the lapped zip and the kick pleat.  It’s very long and the angle is sharp: not a particularly attractive feature.  So why did I bother?

The answer is: this is a muslin and the first step towards something more difficult.

1 fishtailA couple of posts ago, I asked for your ideas on skirts and Ruth suggested I make a close-fitting pencil with a fish tail.  I went straight to Pinterest to look for mermaidy images and found one particular design that appealed, which you see on the left. Unfortunately I haven’t the original source for the picture.  My version will, I hope, be subtler with less fabric involved: more like what you see here in fact.  But first I needed to be satisfied that the simple elements work and give a good fit.

1 Pencil skirt1 Front darts

Hm, I might need to make it longer and more narrow at the knees but that’s easy enough.

This makes a useful addition to the wardrobe and cost nothing.  The zip was salvaged; the fabric a leftover (from Vogue 1247) and the lining fabric just appeared as I was trying to stuff some drawers shut!

Check this out: something weird happens when I put the skirt front down on the table. See how it refuses to lie flat? It’s like this skirt wants to turn into a wok!

1 Skirt back on tableI suspect this dart placement is  good choice if you want to hug a fashionably big bottom.

It’s all about that bass, I’m told.

How to:

If you’re not familiar with moving darts using the slash n’ spread method, you might benefit from this crude tutorial.  The process is really easy.  You do need 2 large lots of paper.

Step 1.  Make a copy of the skirt back.  Extend the waist dart so the dart point is at the base of your bottom.

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Step 2. Draw a line from the dart point to the centre back seam.  Cut along the new line, then cut along one of the original dart legs.

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Step 3. Close the waist dart.  The new dart will open.  To complete the pattern, pin in this position onto another paper layer.  Draw around.  Remove original.  On the new layer, fold the dart closed and pin in this position (I like to pin darts down).  Draw seam and hem allowances all around and cut out pattern.  Unpin dart.

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1 Got it

Links:  Excellent Lapped Zip Tutorial: Part 1 and Part 2.