Delia Grinstead

 

1 Pencil mummy“She noticed she walked differently now, not with her usual bouncy gait but more levelly, because of her slim skirt.”

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler

March’s been rough.  Slight but cutting professional disappointments, rubbish progress with my running, gloomy weather, mess from renovating work and, inevitably, finishing my coat to a standard that doesn’t satisfy.  March is always a month I  struggle with because my birthday is at the end and in the run-up I tend to evaluate my achievements of the past year and find them underwhelming.  Which is why it was absolutely wonderful to have been treated to a novel by one of my favourite authors, Anne Tyler, serialised on Radio 4, in 10 episodes that I was able to “rewind” whenever I missed anything because I was running the sewing machine too noisily (Anne Tyler is my literary equivalent of chicken soup).  1 Pencil sideI read ‘Ladder of Years’ when it was published  in the 1990s and again more recently so there were no surprises in the plot but, oh my, the first half of this story never fails to amaze.  It goes like this: while doing the family shop, Delia Grinstead is asked a favour by a handsome stranger.  He’d like Delia to impersonate his girlfriend so that his glamorous ex – who happens to be in the supermarket shopping with her new partner – is made jealous.  Delia complies, her life gains a bit of momentum and the next thing you know, she walks out on her family and starts a new life as a secretary in a different town!

Both the narrator and the actress reading Delia have wonderful voices which I could hear in my head as, for the purposes of this photo-shoot, I minced in my new pencil skirt imaging myself an efficient, unapproachable secretary on her coffee break.  I occasionally think of “doing a Delia” myself, i.e. taking a long walk to a new life.  No way am I going to.  It’s just a revenge fantasy I pull out when I’m having a bad day 🙂 But I’d like to know: is this normal amongst women who disappear into family life and Anne Tyler just picked up on it, or did the author plant the idea in my head!?

Another case of pencil

I couldn’t resist making this skirt out of my coat wool and lining.  Just when I thought there were no further observations I could make about this pattern, a few cropped up during the making so here they are in case you’re making a pencil yourself.

Drafting

  • To create the siren silhouette, use your basic skirt block but narrow the hem by a total of about 8cm compared to the widest part (the hip).  This difference is easier to achieve if the skirt is long.  Here’s a chart of measurements for a RTW version: Boden pencil skirt.  You can see how the hem and hip circumferences vary and also depend on whether you choose the long (L) or regular (R) length.1 Pencil skirt, inside out
  • Of course, a skirt that’s narrow at the hem will be hard to walk in so you will need a slit or a kick pleat.  Here’s my lined kick pleat tutorial if you’re making a skirt with lining.  Inside out, the final result looks like this:
  • Another way to lengthen the distance from waist to hem is to raise the top with a grown-on waist.  It’s a flattering option for those with a high waist but I’m wary of this for myself on account of the widest part of my hips being 30cm lower than my waist.  I’d look high-waisted but stumpy.  On the other hand, with a heart-shape-hipped figure, it would emphasise long legs.  Which hip shape are you?
click on pic for source

click on pic for source

 

Waistband

If your wool skirt has a waistband, I recommend using Petersham ribbon.  Wool next to skin can be scratchy as I found on my previous make when I kept pulling up my tights so skin and skirt wouldn’t be in contact.

Pattern placement

If you’re using large scale checks like these, consider their placement tactically according to body parts you wish to emphasise or hide.

  • dark bands of colour should go across the widest part if you want your hips to appear narrower, and vice versa.
  • consider at which part of the squares your hem line will lie.  I find that cutting a square in half creates an impression of shortness.  The ideal is three quarters down a pale block.  Unless your legs are really long and you don’t like that (who are you?!)

P. S. I love drinking from this mug my friend gave me.  Not just ’cause of the buttons but the china is lovely too.1 Mug

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!