But Lose the Issy

1 Stylearc Issy

Sophisticated figure-hugging folds redolent of a classical statue, or a dog’s dinner?

Yeah…  1 issy pattern envelope

About that….

I’d had this Stylearc Issy Knit Top on the top of my to-do list for so long that I forgot it was given to me.  This meant that I made the mistake of assuming it was a size 10 like the other Stylearc patterns that I’ve bought (for those uninitiated to this company, the pattern comes in the one size you order).  In fact, it’s a 12.  Even so, and despite my taking it in at all seams, this is huge and the ruching which pools below the waist bears little resemblance to the drawing on the envelope.

A previous review warned that the asymmetric neckline (i.e. the diagonal slant at centre front) is difficult to finish and the underneath tends to flip to the right side.  To prevent this, I decided to trace the top section of the pattern to the bust and make a facing.  This worked fine.  I also found it easy to construct the ‘clever’ and ‘distinctive’ neckline formed by folding back the inner wings of the pattern towards the shoulders.  It’s certainly a style unlike any I’ve tried before and the instructions were thorough.1 issy front pattern1 mournful shroudBut the result is this cowled look which I’ve been seeing on womenswear for a few years now.  At first it seemed an elegant alternative to the simple jersey top but I’ve come to the party too late and it’s all a bit hackneyed.

I’d be happy to post this pattern to anyone up for the challenge of making a better job.  You need to be a UK size 12-14, though there might be less ease if your jersey is tight or thicker than my drapey viscose.  Leave me a message and if there’s more than one ‘applicant’, I’ll do a draw.  The paper is only in an OK condition: it has the inevitable pin marks plus a rip and a scratch where Blogstalker loyally savaged the pattern on my behalf!

Stylearc Issy: Back View with diagonal hem

Stylearc Issy: Back View with diagonal hem

Keep the Faith

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Pin-tucks: there's something very satisfying about sweeping these aside with a hot iron to set shape

Pin-tucks: there’s something very satisfying about sweeping these aside with a hot iron

StyleArc’s Faith Woven Top is graded as medium in difficulty.  This means that those same features that make it a great project for a beginner wishing to learn new tricks might prove the undoing of the more experienced sewist looking to do a fine job – maybe even show off a little –  by trying out couture techniques or testing fitting skills!

Neckline guides - pattern pieces cut from paper only

Neckline guides – pattern pieces cut from paper only

The pattern has five pin-tucks at each side of the centre front, though there’s also the option of gathers.  The back is gathered at the neckline, below the simple mandarin collar.

I’ve noticed StyleArc often provide pattern pieces to be used as guides for checking the finished width of gathers or pin-tucks: something I’ve not noticed with other pattern companies and I nearly forgot to use them but they’re useful for spotting discrepancies before attaching the collar.

1 faith stylearc side viewThe raglan sleeves are easy to sew too, fitted to the shoulder by, in my view, over-simplistic darts. There are no closures; instead there’s a centre front split as well as side seam splits below the waist.

My frustrations, which tended to be slight, came from the simplicity of the pattern.  Take the splits: I like to use French Seams for a clean finish but I haven’t worked out how to do so neatly where the seam breaks into a split (or a pocket, for that matter). Similarly, the raglan sleeves and the flat, upturned collar: the result is somewhat lacking in sophistication. I might have avoided the peasant look by using a light, silky fabric with drape instead of lawn; it would have ensured the fabric skims the figure like on the pattern envelope drawing.  But I doubt then the pintucks would have been easy.

1 button

Crude topstitching (well it was a bit dark!)

Sizing

As with previous StyleArc projects, the ease was spot on. If you require a reference, I bought size 8 and it fits perfectly my 34”/86cm bust and 10”/25cm upper arm.  Though it’s a bit long for my height.

Changes made to the pattern

1 trim into waist–   Interfaced the sleeve tabs lightly.

–   Shortened the sleeves and the hem by 2 cm.

–   After an SPR Reviewer suggested this pattern suffers from a lack of shaping, I trimmed off 1cm from the waist, i.e. the waist is reduced by 4cm all round.  Not sure it helped.

 

Must try harder

I kind of like this: it brings nostalgic memories of mummies at the school gates in the early 1980s… who were probably dressed like this ’cause they were pregnant.   But it needs to be done better.  Next time I’ll:

  •  Use silk (I paid a visit to Simply Fabric last week looking for more Umbrellas in the Rain, but there was no sign of it and the stock was so low so that for the first time I left without buying anything.)
  • Sew 8 narrow pin-tucks on each side, rather than 5 wide ones. I’ll need to stabilise the fabric somehow so please let me know if you have any recommendations.
  • Put in 4-5 small covered buttons at one side of the centre front split with loops on the other
  • Make the sleeves fuller and gathered into cuffs

 

My current project is another Stylearc top. On the evidence of several PR reviews I’ve seen, no one appears to have made a decent job of it. Gulp.

Previous StyleArc Projects

Lea Jersey Wrap Dress

Mara Shirt Dress

Pencil Skirt with Fish Tail

1 fishtail1 3 fishtailFor Christmas my husband gave me Winifred Aldrich’s ‘Metric Pattern Cutting For Women’s Wear’.  (Fantastic!  How did he know?!)  I made the ‘Natural Waist’ Basic Skirt Block from Part One: Form Cutting.  The fit is really good.  The only adjustment needed was not to curve out 0.5cm from waist to hip but to keep the line almost straight.  Also I narrowed the side-to-hem by 3.5cm rather than the 2.5cm  suggested for the pencil skirt adjustment.  2 close up

But a skirt this narrow has to give, or else there’d be hobbling, which is why there’s interesting stuff at the back…  I transferred the outer of the two back darts to a diagonal line on the centre back seam in a process outlined a year ago (the Simple Dart Throw post).  I cut away a section and inserted a fish tail which is made up of a quarter-circle shape folded twice, concertina style.  It took a bit of playing around to get the half-decent result I’d hoped for (ok, so there was a bit of bodging!). 1 pattern-horz

Next time I’ll do the sewing in a different order, with the dart done last,  the side seam first and the horizontal seam second at which point the two back pieces are joined at the centre back.

Drape and Hem Considerations1 side fish

I need to give some thought to materials.  For this first draft, I used some wool from the stash.  I’d love to redo this in chambray – or anything you may suggest tha would mean the folds fall nicely.  But what about the hem?  A pencil skirt looks best with a deep hem allowance, yet the fishtail extension needs a very small seam allowance (here I kind of graded from 2cm to 1cm as you can see below in the inside out picture).

Or, can you see this in a combination of fabric?!  Denim and jersey or something that doesn’t need hemming?  I wonder if it’d matter that both the wrong and the right sides of the fabric show in the folds.  Let me know what you’d do.

1 inside out

Sun-snatching

What a treat to have a bit of sunshine these last few days (even if it’s cold), not least because the colours in everything stand out.  I think I’m being ‘courted’ by some robins because every time I approach the back windows, two or three appear on the fences, puffing out their russety chests!

I took these pictures after a quick run in the sun (and shower) so excuse the ratty hair.  Because this skirt definitely deserves dedicated styling to pull off a femme fatale look.  Which I’m not sure is my thing, but imagine pairing this with seamed stockings and killer heels.  You’d be known by the trail of dead!  1.2

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

1 ho ho ho1 bamboo shoot dressRight now you’re probably so busy that you’d rather jump off a cliff than see another ‘happy holiday’ message which might require a reply. But in case you read this, whenever that may be, I’d like to wish you a merry Christmas, if you’re having one, and a contented end to the year.

The time coming up to Christmas seems to make me less not more merry. The sewing space usurped by the Christmas tree…. My routine – usually a source of certainly and contentment – hi-jacked!  And the shopping queues and bodies crammed in non-moving traffic chugging out smoke, and the landfill of unwanted tat… It’s just not green enough for my liking.  But to talk of these things only throws up accusations of ‘Scrooge!,’ and the pointing out that I have so much to be thankful for.  Which I do.

IMG_2948So hey, let’s look at the bright side: at least I didn’t have to join in with the manic search for things to wear. I’ve been around long enough to know what suits me and how to make it. And how long it’ll take to make! So for this Pattern Magic Bamboo Shoot dress, which I made in time for my Christmas party, I even enjoyed the little luxury of an adrenaline rush which I threw in by finishing the dress just before it was needed, sewing the lining to the zip half an hour before I was due to leave the house (not that I didn’t have Blue Velvet as back-up!).

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And here’s some other things to be grateful for and to enjoy:

Tomorrow will be my first Christmas Day with mum and brother since 1990!

A long phone call with my uncle who lives in Canada, and a shorter one with my dad in Croatia – short because he’s notoriously taciturn though what he does say is often very funny!

Going to see the Amazing World of Escher at the Dulwich Picture Gallery with the also amazing D.  We might even find the sense to leave the kids at home!

TV, especially who-dunnits, no-internet time, and jigsaw puzzles (thanks for the reminder, Kate!).

Eating through the mountain of food I’ve been lugging home and squirreling away.

A week of lie-ins with the Blogstalker snoozing between my feet.Blogstalker Snoozing

Making Stollen (me) and Bolognese a la Marcella Hazan (D).

And to stop me going stir-crazy after all those calories… long runs on the soft (read: ‘muddy’) edges of South London, some on my own, some with friends.

As for the clothes sales at Twixmas…  Let’s just say if you spot someone who looks like me delving into binfuls of bargains…  it’s really not me!

Hope you get the chance to enjoy some of what life has shown you is good for you.  And thanks for reading the blog and keeping me going!

Love, M

Bad Dress Rescue

1-horzYou just don’t know where inspiration will hit you.  I was walking past Laura Ashley – a shop from which I’ve never bought anything – when in the window I saw a dress very much like the one I made a year ago, lying crushed at the bottom of the mend pile.

1 Velvet Laura Ashley DressThe Laura Ashley velvet dress (reduced to £84) is dark blue with beads on the front arranged like flowers.  A  band of sheer (not that it shows here) fabric at the hem, double-sided, is a great solution if the dress you make is a bit short, though you may need to hunt around for the perfect match.  When I unpicked the hem that I’d hand sewn quite messily, I found enough length not to bother with a sheer panel.  Instead, I did as suggested in the original Blue Velvet post and used a bias strip of organza to hem the dress which required only 1cm off the dress’ length (the strip is turned under and catch-stitched).

Organza bias strip hem

Organza bias strip hem

I took me a couple of hours to add the beads, and that’s including a bit of practice on some scraps.  But my bead placement is different from the inspiration.  I put the dress on and looking in the mirror decided where to place the flowers, avoiding, ahem, ‘areas of controversy.’

Another improvement came via Kate who suggested not to molly-coddle the velvet but to allow it to age – and go boho.  I washed the dress and thinking ‘what have I got to lose?’ tumble dried it.  This fluffed up the nap and as a side-effect, the blue colour has deepened, i.e. not being as flat, it’s not as silvery and reflective.  Having said that, it’s all quite subtle and this is a difficult fabric to photograph!

1 dark blue

1 bveBut the best decision was to ditch the collar.  Initially, I’d fixated on the idea of making a velvet dress with a lace collar and, having got what I wanted, couldn’t admit it wasn’t working.  I’m sure you know the feeling, be it with dresses or relationships!  It made me feel prissy.  And also a little bit like a Jacobean gentleman 😯  I  could always see the collar ‘in me peripherals’ and it was giving me bad vibes.

But the collar is saved and will look nice on a T-shirty blouse, some day.

1t guido

Dark blue Organza: from Unique Fabrics, Goldhawk Road (which is where the original velvet was from).  I only bought 0.25m, as you can guess from the seam in the bias strip!

Dark blue beads from Beadworks, Covent Garden.

1 cluster

The Fabric of India at the V&A

Muslin border decorated with beetle wings (click image for source)
Muslin border decorated with beetle wings (click image for source)

A very dear friend got V&A Museum membership for Christmas and I was delighted  that she wanted to cash her present in early by suggesting we go to The Fabric of India exhibition.

I love saris. In TV programmes about India, I’m always struck by the beauty of the women who wear them: even girls from the disadvantaged sections of Indian society tend to have a kind of flawless delicacy that’s offset not just by swathes of the rich colour but also the cropped blouses worn underneath which expose the back and the narrow, short sleeves which flatter the arms. The V&A exhibition is not about the sari though. Some garments are for babies and men, princes and grooms. There are floor and wall coverings featuring the poppy and other flowers, themes from a variety of religions (there’s a very Indian-looking Jesus!) while the noble elephant – the nation’s undervalued beast of burden – is appliqued or printed in several of the designs.

This exhibition has given me a very necessary remedy for my lack of knowledge about fabric, beginning with information on how silks and cottons are woven, coloured and decorated. Embroidery and block printing are explained, and displayed are some very intricate pieces invested with centuries of traditional methods and hundreds if not thousands of hours of work. I used to dabble heavily in tye-dye; in fact for most of my late teens (i.e. the Fat Years) I’d be dressed in Indian dresses bought in ‘head shops’ which I’d tye-dye (along with half the kitchen) but the colours rarely survived much washing so I find it hard to believe that the use of wax and dye-fixers is so effective, but it clearly is, as most of the exhibits date back to the mid-19th century and some are centuries older.

The short videos were very helpful. I was mesmerised by the story of the rearing of silk caterpillars.  After spending their early days indoors, they are taken outside and become the foie gras of the fabric world, feasting non-stop and growing up to 12 times their initial size in a month (I know it’s Christmas, but don’t get any ideas!).  When all the leaves of a tree are munched bare, their human masters gently transport the caterpillars to trees new!

I particularly liked a film clip of a man producing (at quite a speed) the chain stitch, both hands working on each side of the fabric which is stretched taught over a frame. The hooking action of the bottom hand reminded me very much of the movement of the bobbin case in the modern sewing machine (you can see a similar demo in this video on YouTube). I also enjoyed the film about the growing cotton boll, pretty as a magnolia flower.

Next year I’ll be making some garments from saris for a client who’s had them passed down to her by her mum. When she showed them to me, I surprised by their variety in weight and designs – there are lots of possibilities for giving them a new life. I was very curious what the modern day collection of Indian garments at the V&A would offer but I didn’t see any refashioned saris.  Instead I found this delicate chambray-like khadi.  Isn’t it lovely?

Rashmi Varma, 2015. This natural-dyed 'Khadi' has the traditional look of a sari but the convenience of a fitted-garment: the pleats are sewn in and there's a side zipper.

Rashmi Varma, 2015. This natural-dyed ‘Khadi’ has the traditional look of a sari but the convenience of a fitted-garment: the pleats are sewn in and there’s a side zipper.

After the exhibition when I got home, I began working with raw silk for the first time.  The colour is Christmas tree beetle-wing green.  So far it’s been one of the easiest, most forgiving fabrics, for a brute like me. It stays put while cut, the stitches sink in and become invisible (though they’re easy to remove when discovering a mistake). But the best bit is that the rough layers grip each other so there’s no need for a walking foot or for those adjustments you make when the top fabric runs ahead of itself.

WIP: Raw Silk Bamboo Shoot Dress

WIP: Raw Silk Bamboo Shoot Dress

The Fabric of India exhibition is until 10 January.

With thanks to Jo :-)

Borgen Blouse

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1 DSCN6961
Mirror image

Last month I arranged a meet-up with Ruth while she was briefly in London.  We recognised each other immediately.  Well, I have been a follower of her blog Core Couture for several years!  I examined her Merchant and Mills coat and ‘Vivienne Westwooddress at close quarters and can confirm the standard of said garments was impressively high, even better in light of day than the photos suggest  :-)  As for the vivacious blonde that I expected, she was there alright, complete with a melodic Irish accent but somehow more petite than I’d imagined.  Which I told her!  1 ruth liberty

Rick Owens Shearling Peplum Jacket, Liberty London.

Rick Owens Shearling Peplum Jacket, Liberty London.

This is something that’s been remarked upon before: sewing bloggers look smaller IRL than we do on screen.  Why do you think that is (or, do you agree)?  Maybe in the pictures taken in our living rooms and gardens, we ‘fill’ the frame, whereas in real life we’re surrounded by big spaces?

Our rendezvous was Liberty’s.  We had a look at some of the designer wear on the first floor and felt thankful that we were skilled enough to be able to recreate many (though not all – see left) of these garments at a fraction of their RTW price – if we wanted to.  Ruth’s dress was a perfect example of this.  I felt happy that I’d played a small part in prompting her to make it.

I got a present!  A bundle of sewing patterns wrapped in a length of fabric.  It’s wool, possibly a blend, with a nice amount of drape for it to rest against the skin cosily – great for right now while winter and autumn are battling it out.  I love the muted colours. 1 ice The warm tones I’ve overlooked over the years but the rest – black, ‘envelope blue’ and green – are totally my palette. In fact, I was hunting for a zip for a green dress I was making so Ruth and I walked over to the new MacCulloch and Wallis premises for a bit of habby shopping before checking out the stores on Berwick Street.  As the afternoon darkened, I got the feeling we were walking against the tide: workers rushing to tube stations for their Friday night getaway, pushing into pubs, not to mention the semi-manic shoppers stlll jostling about.  I hope we get a chance to meet again, soon :-)

1 sketchI mulled over what to make with my new fabric then by chance I found a sketch in  my old notebook that I drew while  watching ‘Borgen‘ (the Castle) years ago.  This was a really good Danish series about a fictional female Prime Minister who’s not only a consummate politician but so attractive that my husband pretended to watch the series with me!  The ‘slash with side bow’ blouse was worn by the another character, the young political journalist.  It was black which created a stunning contrast against Katrine’s blond hair and pale skin.  If I make this again, I’ll  go for a block colour and try a big, more confrontational bow!  1 inside

I drafted the slash and bow blouse pretty quickly from my bodice block, cutting at the upper bust line then playing with strips of paper till I worked out the two lengths of the bow on the side.  The big sleeves are Colette Aster Flutter Sleeves.  Here’s the view of the slash on the inside, showing the facing.  The bow section is double sided.

Anyway, I seem to recall Ruth is also a fan of Scandi Drama.  She once made jeans like the brown leather ones worn by Saga in the Bridge.  Now that’s daring!

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Asymmetric Skirt

1 Asymmetry1 sportsmax green leather skirtThis style of faux-wrap, double-fronted design has been on my radar for a while, ever since  I snapped a Sportmax green leather number in a waiting-room magazine (in November 13, the camera roll suggests).  Imagine that buttersoft, slippery leather (and the colour is a feast for the eyes)!  But so expensive!  My version – made of a polyester/viscose blend with a kind of shiny, tarry finish – cost £6, plus thread and zip.  :-)

I’m keeping it real.

Hence the washing on the line…

1 interrogation suits

I haven’t had to dip into my winter wardrobe much as the weather has been mild.  However, last month while getting ready for an evening at Kate’s, I opened my ‘drawer of black tights’ and found so many imperfect-but-not-quite-destroyed pairs that I decided some short skirts might be necessary in order to retire (to borrow the term from Blade Runner) each pair till it’s bin-ready.  This is a practical style, almost perfect for my needs (see end).  It’s short but not obviously so due to the varying hem length (which you can adapt to taste).  Construction’s easy too, the basic skirt block or a pencil skirt pattern being the starting point (with a centre back zip and waist facing).  The split front enables walking ease without the need for lining so making it is quick.

Drafting

1 Begin with the basic skirt block but narrow your pattern pieces towards the hem.

1 Begin with the basic skirt block but narrow your pattern pieces towards the hem (see first note below).

2 Copy skirt front. With darts closed, restyle your inner front, being as daring as you like.

2 Copy skirt front. With darts closed, restyle your inner front, being as daring as you like.

3 Copy the front again and restyle outer front to complement the inner front. You don't have to create a dipped hem but its very fashionable you know!

3 Copy the front again and restyle outer front to complement the inner front. You don’t have to create a dipped hem but it’s very fashionable, you know!  NB See last note regarding grainline placement.

Notes:

  • Redraw the sides of your basic block to hug the figure as closely as possible  i.e. narrow the block towards the hem.  You’ll still be able to walk due to the front split.  However, if you keep the vertical side seams of the basic block, the result with be a more flared, A-line silhouette like on my skirt.
  • Do decide whether to hem the back and the two fronts before attaching them to each other, or to leave the hemming till the end in which case the hem allowances will have to drafted equally all the way around  (i.e. if the skirt back has a 3cm hem allowance, you’ll have to draw this for the dipping hem too.
  • .I have deliberately made this to look like the front is dipping down.  You can exaggerate this more (be bold) or change to a straight hem like in the leather skirt.
Grainline options: from barmy (blue) to boring (green)
Grainline options: from barmy (blue) to boring (green)

 

  • It would be a shame to place a dipped pattern piece on the straight grain (green arrow).  Use a patterned fabric or napped fabric and play around.  I think the desired effect is meant to look a bit like a kilt left open or a tea-towel tucked into the waistband that’s slipping off!
  • Remember to stay-stitch diagonal lines to prevent stretching (why not chalk a line and staystitch before cutting from your fabric?)

1 with two peas ina pod

The only thing I’m not happy about is the itchy waist: my tights have an annoying tendency to slip down.  Hopefully, once I start wearing more layers I can tuck something in, to shield me from £6 a metre mock wool!

Or I might attempt this again in neoprene or scuba which I’ve never sewn before: do let me know if you have any experience of sewing or wearing these fabrics.  December update: neoprene and scuba won’t work for this (see comments below).

Berliner, für eine Woche

Ich bin ein Berliner

Mein Sohn, im Reichstag

Mein Sohn, im Reichstag

a break in the in-fightingRarely do I travel somewhere new and Berlin had been on my hit list for a long time. This autumn was the last chance for D and I to take our son there with the intention of getting him to speak some German: a bit of practice ahead of his GSCE Exam. It was an ambition at which we failed epically. As he was chaperoned from one awesomely symbolic site to another, the juvenile ingrate hardly opened his mouth, except to say – in English – that he’d rather be at home doing his shit :roll:

Oh he didn’t mean it!

Mrs Anthony and Form 3 Orange, last day FSSG

Frau Anthony and Schulklasse 3 Orange

I speak a little (crumbling) German which I studied for two years while living in Sierra Leone in the 80s. As a ‘new girl’ from then-Yugoslavia, I’d just joined Form 2 of Freetown Secondary School for Girls and was still struggling to understand the accent of the girls in my class (and they mine) when in walked the new German teacher: young, lovely, dressed in an Indian skirt (I loved hippies!) and, well, German! The class was stunned – though it didn’t take long for the rowdier elements to judge every aspect of Frau Decker a source of absolute hilarity… The lessons would be frequently sabotaged by explosions of mass laughter. Frau Decker would try to remain relentlessly cheerful, for whenever she got upset or angry (she could have resorted to the cane, but was one of the few teachers who didn’t), the mood difference would only result in even more laughter. I felt kindred spirits with her and an affinity for the language, liking its amusingly harsh consonants, unambiguous vowels and even the three genders – masculine, feminine, neuter – which occur also in Croatian, my mother tongue. We were sad when at the end of that school year Frau Decker left, but I felt relief too.  Her successor was also a foreigner, this time from Jamaica.  Form 2 was followed by a year of relative calm because the rowdier elements flunked while I lost my own novelty value and made friends. But then, aged fourteen, I came to England where I wasn’t able to continue with German though I later sat a GCSE and scraped through with a C.

map reading skilzIt’s disorienting to land in a country where the language is strange. Each street around Alexanderplatz – where we spilled out, hungry and dazzled by sunlight – seemed to have a similar-sounding twin. My ageing eyes struggled to read the tiny maps in my pocket guide book. At dusk that first evening, while we searched for our apartment, we pressed the map to our noses, phone torches ablaze!

'Die Brücke'

‘Die Brücke’

On Torstrasse however, I did glance up to see a lit up shop window with a display of corsets – yes, a modern day corsetiere – and I remembered reading how at the turn of the twentieth century, one of the artists of Die Brücke movement approved the young model he’d been sent, saying her figure hadn’t been ‘deformed’ by the wearing of fashion corsets.

'Fallen Leaves', Jüdisches Museum

‘Fallen Leaves’, Jüdisches Museum

This is a wandering post, with no demonstration of any sewing activity whatsoever, inspired by the very enjoyable writings of  a ‘lapsed sewist’  😉  (no less interesting for that) Stephanie.  I didn’t even come across a fabric shop during my daily treks across Berlin, yet fabric is  woven into the story of every big city: in the clothes worn by its people, their occupations, their art.  Particularly poignant was an exhibit in the Jewish Museum: a finely-beaded bag given in lieu of payment to a seamstress who’d repaired the coats of a family about to attempt their escape from the a city turned hostile. africa chair bauhaus archiv In the Bauhaus Museum, the towering throne that is the Africa Chair, built by designer and architect Marcel Breuer but ‘softened’ and made vibrant by the textile artist Gunta Stölzl who produced the seat and back.  (By the way, we might not have liked ‘Herr Bauhaus’ Walter Gropius much; how he seemed to resent women artists, filling up valuable space with their looms!)

The floor of the Bauhaus Archiv

The floor of the Bauhaus Archiv

About a year ago, I heard a Radio 4 programme about Barlach’s Angel, and wanted to discover more about the artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) so we visited her museum  in the south-west part of the city.  Charlottenburg is elegant (think Kensington) but Kollwitz lived and worked in the deprived east, where her husband was a doctor and of whose patients she made an admiring study.  The ground floor of the museum contains startling photographs of Berlin in Kollwitz’ time.  There are images of dead or wounded World War One soldiers which shock as much as the more familiar images of the horrors of the Second World War.  But I was struck by a photograph of a seamstress in a tiny and dark attic, surrounded by her piecemeal work, her children sitting about in a mixture of decorum and apathy.  I realise there are parts of the world where this is going on now, in the more industrialised setting of the factory floor and catering to an insatiable world-wide demand.  I was gutted when on the way back from the museum we emerged into the swish shopping area of Kurfürstendamm and, instigated by my daughter, stepped into one of those international clothing stores that caters to the young female.  I tried at first to find a bargain but I’d never seen some many rails of different garments, each rivalling its neighbour in cheapness of material and ugliness of style.

Ein 'Selfie'

Ein ‘Selfie’

Kollwitz’ son joined the War as a volunteer and was killed soon after, which largely explains the artist’s resulting pacifism and her persistent portrayal of motherhood.   My great-grandfather fought on the same side as Peter Kollwitz, having been an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army.  He was killed weeks after getting married.  His son (whom he never met) took the photograph below while his widow, my great-grandmother, is sitting on the left of the picture (I do believe I look more like her the older I get).  My father is on the right, on the lap of my grandmother Karmela.  Karmela was an English teacher (as is my mother – hence my tendency to empathise with the teaching profession!).  She too saw great deprivation in her early years of life in the cities of Zagreb and Sarajevo and was grateful to the Communist government of post-war Yugoslavia for endeavouring to promote unity and egalitarianism.

Soon after this picture was taken, my father’s parents divorced  in tragic, heart-breaking circumstances.

Das Urbany Familie

Das Urbany Familie

 

Our apartment was in Choriner Strasse.   That first evening we were met by our landlord. ‘This is my first time in Germany,’ I told him. ‘Berlin is not Germany!’, he said.  I  laughed, thinking I knew what he meant, because isn’t this what we say about London too; that it’s not England, or Britain?  The next morning after lots of sleep, I was much less lost and the more I discovered of Berlin, the more I felt I was finding all my old homes.

1 choriner-horz

Choriner Strasse, before and now.  With thanks to Roger Schlinke

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Scarlett O’Mara

1 Style arc Mara Shirt Dress1 mara shirt dressIf Style Arc was a parent rather than a pattern company, the kind of parent it would be is the kind that teaches its kid to swim by throwing it into a lake off a jetty.

There ain’t much handholding in the Mara Shirt Dress instructions.

1 Pocket with Flap Style Arc MaraExhibit one: constructing the shirt pocket.  “Fold the pocket in half and stitch as marked on the pattern to create a box pleat.”  But fold in half which way?  Right sides together or wrong sides?  I went with right, which was wrong.  An inch of ink could have explained.  Instead I hear voices:  ‘But Marianna mate, it’s so obvious, how could you have been so …. stupid?!’

1 shirt cuffExhibit two: here’s the shirt cuff.  And amongst the following sentences are the instructions on how to achieve it: “with right sides facing sew the top sleeve to the under sleeve. Follow the notches.  Sew the under sleeve seam and the back seam to down to the sleeve opening.  Sew the outer cuff edge to the sleeve opening, pin the inner cuff to the sleeve seam and sink stitch.”

Yeah,  😕   I’m gonna need some diagrams….1 Stylearc Mara  pocket and short sleeveNotice my sleeves are a lot shorter than on the pattern illustration.  That’s right, there’ve been … amputations.

My choice of fabric – a sheer linen from Simply Fabrics (£6) and redder than these pinkish pictures suggest – compromised the project somewhat as the seam finishes would have been visible from the right side.  So to achieve a less unkempt look, I had to choose French and flat-felled seams; both annoying to alter. Also, I had to omit the side pockets as they showed through and just looked floppy like elephant ears.

1 Style arc Mara Shirt Dress Back view

But despite being traumatised by evidence of my incompetence and amateurism, I enjoyed making this and I think it’s a great-looking dress.  The collar is elegant, the button fly-front looks very professional (and that part was easy) while the sleeves are narrow-fitting and feminine.  During the project, which was drawn out and marked by many interruptions, each morning I’d enter the room where the dress draped over the dummy by the window and I’d be overwhelmed by the gorgeous colour, all walls awash in a shade of blood.

I’m not sure what to wear under it yet.  My jeans are a bit heavy.  Maybe a black leotard and a mini (sooo 1993)?

I’m sewing another vibrant-coloured version of this for my mum but she’s not around for a fitting so I’m off to make something from Colette Patterns now.  Colette’s a helicopter parent.  The kind that reminds you that after sewing the left sleeve to do the other side!  :-)1 S o M