Sureau I

1 Sureau 31 Sureau sideI’ve been given 2 narrow metres of an interesting Indonesian batik which is virtually vintage (well, from the 1990s anyway).  Before cutting into it to make my Sureau, I’ve  made this muslin to check the sizing and assess if I can get away with a small amount of fabric.

Sureau (which means “elderberry”) is a beginner-friendly pattern from the French indie company Deer & Doe.  It should be a very quick make; however, the addition of a piped collar needed quite a few hours to make it fit after the neckline stretched through not being staystitched 🙄

The original pattern has a collarless neckline.  According to my pattern-cutting guru Adele Margolis, this is “for the young and the beautiful only”.  A collarless neckline, I quote: “calls for a firm chin, a smooth and slender neck, and a good set to the shoulders …  This leaves the majority of us out.  For us, the severity of the collarless neckline needs to be sotftened with a gay scarf [this book was published in 1959], our faithfull pearls [like I said, this was published in …. ], or a pleasing collar“.  Now usually when someone tells me I can’t wear something, I call them “the bleedin’ Taliban” but I have to admit that I find Sureau in its original somehow … raw.  It really is a pattern that requires an experienced sewist to employ some imagination.1 Sureau Pattern Envelope

1 Sureau close upThe original neckline shape is tending toward the V so I ‘scooped’ it by widening from the CF (and before drafting the collar).  The other change I made was to pleat the skirt rather than gather it.  I eyeballed this: I pinned the folds to be more or less symmetrical from the centres but I didn’t measure much.  I also shortened the sleeves to just above the elbow, then added bands. These, like the piping on the collar and the fabric of the covered buttons, are silver, which will hopefully be more dirt-friendly than white.

A word of warning about the sizing.  According to the pattern envelope measurements, I’m a size 40.  Having read some reviews of Sureau, I decided to make size 38 bust, shoulders and sleeves with size 40 waist and hips.  It’s still very roomy!

Black dresses with contrast collars and cuffs are a bit of a fetish of mine (as I’ve explained here.)  They’ve been quite popular in RTW recently; here’s a current cutie from Phase Eight.  What I love about my creation is that it goes perfectly with the ‘fangs’ necklace my son made me at school. The main fabric is fine needlecord from Rashid and perfect for those not-so-warm summer days.  In the autumn, I’ll wear it with tights, boots and a thermal vest.  And a gay scarf.

My OH pulled a face when I first wore this and said it “hangs off”: one of those double-edged comments that manages to wound both the woman and the seamstress in one.  Of course, ever since he made the remark  I’ve been cutting his meals with catfood!

Then again, having looked at these photos, I suspect I could possibly cut a size 36 bodice.  Time for making Version II.

1 Sureau

We Don’t Know the Maker’s Name

Imagine what the high street looked like several hundred years ago?  Each of the shops would have had some kind of a sign but the levels of literacy were low so instead of writing, a statue at the front often indicated what kind of business could be found within.  Some dozen such decorative statues greet the arrivals to the British Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain, displayed opposite the entrance on a mustard-coloured wall, like enormous Monopoly tokens.  An ornate key indicating a locksmith; a roll of tobacco; a cobbler’s giant boot.  But what kind of business would have been advertised by a bear (the statue is wombat-sized but nevertheless a beast with bared teeth)?  The answer: a barber’s, because bear fat was sold as a pomade to shine hair.

1 Crimean Quilt, Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art GalleryI wouldn’t write about an art gallery exhibition on a sewing blog were it not for the fact that  some glorious quilts share the space with the paintings and the corn dollies, pub signs and ship figureheads.  The Crimean Quilt (right) is as colourful as a Turkish rug but rather than woven, it was patchworked by recuperating soldiers who used some ten thousand pieces of felted wool, mostly salvaged from uniforms (facings n’ all) and pieced using the “inlay method” so that the stitching is invisible.  It’s believed that these hours of careful craft helped soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress and served as a diversion from gambling and drink.  Kind of why I sew too 🙂

One of my favourites exhibits is the Bellamy Quilt on loan from Carrow House Museum, Norwich.  On a background of shimmery velvet, it is appliqued and embroidered with dozens of motifs such as of a Norfolk seal and a spotted, blue-eyed cat that must have been of some significance to its two makers.  In this case, we do know the makers’ names.  They were Herbert Bellamy and Charlotte Springall.  A year after the quilt was made (1891), they married.  It’s a story I’d love to know more of.

There’s a lot here that is interesting, but beware: much of it won’t be the sort of thing you’d exactly covet.  I mean, a picture made of hair?!  I walked away from that one pretty quickly.

Though thinking back, it was probably baby hair, not… you know…

Another sewing-related discovery was the term “cabbage”.  This describes the small leftover fabric pieces which a tailor was entitled to keep after his job’s done.  George Smart used cabbage to make little cloth statues as well as collage pictures such as the one below and this earned him a certain level of fame.

1 Goosewoman by George Smart, paper and fabric collage

James William, Patchwork Bedcover, C19

James William, Patchwork Bedcover, C19

If folk art seems like the inferior cousin of art proper, then its charm is that it’s often approachable and does delight.  I could have done with two more rooms of British Folk Art.  I wonder how many pieces may have been binned for not fitting in with fashions of the present day and market forces.

So it might be worth a look in your lofts or asking the gran: got any pictures made of hair?

The Reveal: Vivienne Westwood Challenge

Button1My apologies for posting the results of the Challenge weeks after I said I would!  Especially to Kate and Ruth who submitted their entries promptly. I was hoping that a few more entries might feed through by now.  If anyone is still working on their VW project, please do email me when you finish and I can update this post with your entry.

Kate embraced the challenge very bravely by making a version of a Vivienne Westwood jacket that she has from a self-drafted pattern.  The original is characterized by soft ‘waterfall’ lapels.  Kate’s own version is a gorgeous splash of blue (is it azure or cyan?!) which shows off the design better, I think, than had she used a busy check.  Kate’s design and construction details are in this post (including a picture Kate wearing the very lovely original jacket).  The finished jacket and pictures of are in this post.  Kate, you’re a mistress of skill and style!  Thanks for taking part.

1 Kate

And here’s the always-amazing Ruth.  Ruth chose to make a dress that incorporated favourite elements of different Vivienne Westwood dresses.  She too drafted her own pattern and used the challenge as an opportunity to learn from Draping: the Complete Course (this book has such good reviews – I reckon I know where my challenge is coming from!)   As if this wasn’t enough, she has made a very versatile dress that can be worn in different ways, including off- shoulder.  Clever and gorgeous, you bet!

1 Ruth

1 Ruth, back

Ruth has written several posts about her project: make sure you read the comments too and you’ll get to find out where to get some dangerously cute shoes 🙂

2 RuthThe back story and design experimentation blogged here.

Pictures of the different ways the dress can be worn: here.

Construction details and close-ups: here.

Thanks so much for taking part, Ruth.  You always embrace a challenge with such enthusiasm.

Now, for a little diversion: I found this thesis written by a designer who has worked as an intern for Vivienne Westwood – he describes his experiences in chapter 2.  It’s an enlightening read which might make you feel better if you’ve struggled with your own pattern drafting.  My conclusion is that talent or experience gets you so far but a team of experts, a living model at your disposal and the opportunity to create multiple drafts also play their part in the designers studios.

For my part in the challenge, I slightly changed a Burda Magazine Crossover Blazer pattern (06/2012/#121), aiming for an early 80s Pirate Collection look.  I struggled to find a tartan in the right colour as I cannot bear wearing red (nor orange nor yellow for some reason), whereas blue or green tartan looks great but it also looks like the local girl school kilt… so I ended up with a check, almost identical to Ruth’s, from Unique Fabrics (28 Goldhawk Road).  The inside is of  superfine pincord from Rashid.

Burda Crossover Blazer 06 2012 121 buttoned up 2

Burda Crossover Blazer 06 2012 121  4

This is my first ever jacket, buttonholes n’ all,  which I haven’t been able to wear as result of the freakishly warm weather we’ve been having for weeks 🙂  (Honestly, I’ve seen so much sun already this year that almost all the cellulite off my ass has melted away!)  So, you’re the first people to see this, if you don’t count the various kids that pass through the living room space I daren’t call “my studio”.  What do you think?  Personally I think it’s fine, but the collar is … lazy.  I shall post a dedicated pattern review soon though.Burda Crossover Blazer 06 2012 121  Sleeve buttonhole detailThanks so much for reading, for your helpful suggestions and for taking part.  As Ruth said, it was a difficult challenge, but I hope it’s pushed our skills up a notch and inspired us to try more!