Vivienne Westwood at Danson House

1 sleeveA small but important collection of Vivienne Westwood designs, on loan from the V&A, can be seen at Danson House in Bexleyheath until 31 October.  Danson House is a beautiful Georgian villa sitting grandly atop of a very scenic park on the south-eastern edge of Greater London.  It’s a stone’s throw from Red House, the home of the ‘Arts & Crafts’ founder William Morris and both of these relatively little-known gems can be explored in a day.  However, when my friend and I visited Danson House, its setting and the summer weather pretty much stole the show so we spent hours lingering on the sunny terrace of the tea-room with a view of the boating lake and despite the distant tear of traffic, we felt transported to a different time…  Jo wondered who would’ve been lucky enough to live in such splendour.  An information tour of the house answered her question: this was the home of the owner of a plantation in St Kitts. Like much of this country’s Georgian heritage, the elegance was sponsored by slavery.  But it belongs to the people of Bexley now.  Tickets are £8, half price for National Trust and English Heritage members.

1 bubble skirt1 granny maxiThe Georgian period has been a very inspiring one for Westwood who shares its dedication to opulence, elegance and a fetish-like dedication to honouring the female form.  I admit I found the foil and jersey maxi dress that you see here a touch granny-ish, but was nevertheless charmed by the simplicity of some of these items typical of VW’s 1990s output.

The most impressive piece in my opinion was the green gown inspired by Rococo painters and by the typical French mid-century design of a type of dress named ‘le sac’ which has pleats of fabric at the back of the neckline falling to the floor.  Westwood never simply copies; she subverts which is evident in the lack of symmetry.  The gown is romantic and retrospective on the right side – with that unexpectedly unusual sleeve I so long to copy!  But the left side is modern, bold, confrontational even.  This dress was once worn by Linda Evangelista, the cruellest-looking of the supermodels!

1 robe a la francais

‘Le Sac’ or Watteau Gown, Back View, Mid-18th Century, France

1 gown

Westwood ‘Watteau Evening Dress’ Les Femmes Collection, 1996

1 Marge n' Jo

A Wrap at Last

1 Lea Wrap Dress by Stylearc Patterns The wrap dress appeared on my radar some ten years ago when Boden started making them in their beautifully-coloured print jerseys.  I’d have bought one but they were expensive.  Besides, I was wary of the style clinging to my mummy tummy – in fact, friends wore such dresses over pull-all-in jeans for the same reason.  I instead picked a sewing pattern for a faux-wrap that most closely resembled the style but was rather underwhelmed by the results.

As the years went by, my mummy tummy went while many not-quite-it sewing patterns for wrap dresses became available as something of a revival ensued.  I discovered that the designer who’d popularized the dress in the 1970s, Diane Von Furstenberg, had once produced a sewing pattern for her iconic creation in collaboration with Vogue. Lea Stylearc Pattern envelopeThese are much sought-after and crop up on Ebay from time to time: once again, out of my price range.  Then Stylearc Lea came along: so slinky, simple, sexy.  And so affordable!  £8, plus £6 for the 2 metres of fabric.  And so quick to make, and that’s including the time for the pattern to be flown over from Australia!!  Finally!

Stylearc Lea Side and Back

Fabric: Goth-friendly, tye-dye lightweight jersey from Simply Fabrics with a 30% stretch, meaning a 10cm square will stretch to 13cm.  But it doesn’t give easily.  My guess is it’s all cotton.

1 InstructionsLikes: a very easy make, cut from a few pattern pieces.  Two of the strip-like pieces you see on the right are meant for paper only, not fabric: they’re a sizing guide for the neckline so that you can check if it’s stretched out of shape in handling.  But my biggest like is the 70s vibe of this, with the big collar and hip-skimming silhouette.1 Collar

Size: If you’re unfamiliar with Stylearc patterns, they come in one size only, the size you order.  Which means you can’t make this for your mama, your papa and your sister too (and they will all want one).  I bought a 10.  The fit is just right; with none of that ease I’ve come to expect from other patterns.

1 cutting cuffsModifications: I added cuffs  Their finished height is 7cm but I now see that 5-6cm would be more in proportion.  If you need a turnback cuff tutorial, I’ve written one here for a woven fabric which should give you an idea of how to attach; for a jersey cuff, use 4cm binding strips folded to 2cm instead of facing.  Also, I shortened one of the ties to 75cm (from 100cm).

Dislikes: to admit to any dislikes would just be ungrateful, wouldn’t it?  Let’s just call them…. reservations:

Well, firstly, buy a bit more fabric than advised on the envelope if you have pattern-matching, just to be on the safe side.

1 Tie attachmentThe ties are a good inch higher than my natural waist which makes the dress feel small.  But to lower position of the ties would also lower the line of the v and be more exposing.  Wrap dresses are notorious for being revealing which is why in all of these big pictures, I’m wearing a pin.  Except this one: Lea, Without pin

I guess this style just isn’t for shrinking violets.

Finally, the small seam allowances.  0.6cm doesn’t give you any leeway if the dress is too small in places and it meant I couldn’t use my Elna overlock stitch as the fabric disappeared into the throat plate.  Instead I used a straight stitch with zigzag to finish/reinforce and it worked just fine.

I have yet to wear this out but my loved ones harshest critics have given it a thumbs up so provided this skimpy number manages to contain me, it might even make it into my all-time top 10!

Lea Stylearc in Tye Dye Jersey

Making Cushion Covers

1 Cushion coversA client asked me to make her a bunch of cushion covers.  OK, so it’s not the kind of exciting design/couture work I seek to attract 🙄  🙂 but it’s more of a challenge than hemming jeans and good experience for getting the hang of pricing which should reflects the time taken and skill involved.  Two kinds of fabric were supplied and my brief was simple; no piping and no trims, just squares of 60cm and rectangles of 40cm x 60cm.  All with concealed zips at the bottom.  Without thinking too deeply, I quoted £10 per cushion.

1 velvetHm, perhaps not enough.  Next time, I’ll take into account the fabrics used. On this occasion, I had messy velvet (but beautifully thick velvet, just like the short nap of Blogstalker’s forehead.  In fact, I should have paid the client for allowing me to sew it!).  1 blogstalker's browThe striped fabric took caution too, not only in matching the design at the side seams but, prior to that, in cutting, as the position of the stripes had to be the same if you laid out all the cushions side by side on a sofa.

The first cushion always takes the longest as you work out a method and discard a few false steps.  I’ve laid out a how-to-sew in case it helps someone else but also to help me next time, if I forget after a while.  Also, my research came up with a simple solution to the saggy corners problem which I’ve outlined below in the how-to-cut Tutorial 2.

(If, on the other hand, you’re after a fun cushion cover, for example for a teenager’s bedroom or den, here’s a tutorial from the archives for a zip-free cushion cover.)

Tutorial 1: Sewing a Cushion Cover with a Concealed Zip along the bottom

The advantages of having zip on a cushion cover are many.  You can take out the pad occasionally and bash it into shape – or top up with filling.  If your fabric permits is, the covers can be laundered. And unlike with a cover that has an opening at the back, both sides of the cushion can be on display.

When buying zips, choose a colour which most matches the fabric at the point where the zip will be placed (e.g. with my client’s stripy fabric, I had to choose between beige or grey).  You need not buy the most expensive zip; unlike with a garment, these zips will not get frequent use.

Size matters: zips need not be quite as wide as the  cushion; a few centimetres shorter is fine (and cheaper, as zips go up in price with length).  In fact, it’s easier to open and close the zip when there’s some fabric at the ends to hold on to as you pull the tab.

A paper pattern is a good idea: size of cushion pad plus 1.5 seam allowances all around.  Make sure you use a set square, or equivalent, to ensure you draw right angles.

1 attach concealed zipper leaving spaces at each end

1 – Begin by finishing the bottom seam allowances of the fabric pieces; that is, the sides which will take the zip. I used an overlock-style stitch, keeping to the 1cm seam guide but you can zigzag. Press to embed stitches if your fabric permits it but don’t trim – that will come later. Then, using the invisible zipper foot, attach zip to the middle of the two fabric pieces leaving each end of the fabric pieces unsewn for 3cm -4cm.

 

1 Sew to ends with zipper foot

2 Change to an ordinary zipper foot. Sew the remaining 3-4cm, to the end of each side, keeping to the 1.5cm seam allowance. Move zipper tape out of the way to get as close to the zipper stitches as possible.

 

1 bracing seam as for sewing velvet

3 – Sew the sides, first one then the other, from the zip downwards, keeping the fabric pieces flat. Before sewing the opposite side, measure against the first stitching line to make you’re retained the dimensions of the cushion; especially if your fabric is moving about a lot. To stop velvet pieces from sliding against each other, I pinned on both sides of the stitching line. Finally, sew the side opposite the zip, first measuring from the zip AND OPENING THE ZIP SO AS NOT TO SEW THE COVER CLOSED! 🙂

1 attach zipper tape ends to cushion seam allowances

4 – Attach ends of zipper tape to seam allowances. Hand-sewing is fine: I used a machine, with zipper foot. Trim seam allowances.

Tutorial 2: Cutting the Fabric to Create Plumper Effect

1 DG Asolo Moss Cushions

These are my own cushions, made from very expensive Designer’s Guild fabric and really cheap IKEA cushion pads!  They get sat on, squashed and generally abused.  As you can see, the corners look rather ’empty’.  I made a third cushion after following this method of reducing the amount of fabric in the corners so they fill better.

1 Fold pattern in 4

1 – Fold your pattern into 4. Mark a half-way point from each folded side to opposite cut side. On the corner with the four cut edges, mark a square of 1cm (for a larger cushion, increase to a larger square, eg. 1.5cm for a 50cm cushion, or 2 cm for a 60cm)

1 Clip

2 – Cut in a straight line from half-way marks to the inner corner of the square

1 New pattern

3 – The new pattern has a subtly curved shape. Use this to cut your fabric and sew by the method in Tutorial 1

The cushion looks no different from a square one, but there’s a subtle improvement in shape.

1 Corner reductionWow, that was traumatizingly square!  I might need to make something sirenish and for myself, to recover.

PDQ PDF

Printing patterns in PDF (Portable Document Format) is seen by many as something of a PITA (Pain in the Ass)!  I quite enjoy it; it’s like putting together a not-too-taxing floor puzzle.  Both Burda and Colette suggest using sticky tape in their guides on “how to put together PDF patterns” but a glue stick is pretty darn quicker since you cut (or fold back) half the margins.  Let me demonstrate.

1 cut marginTake two sheets that fit together, left to right.  Cut off the right side margin of the sheet on left.  1 trim right hand side margin, cover left hand side margin liberally with glue

Rub a streak of glue on the margin of the corresponding sheet.

1 stick

Stick the trimmed sheet to sticky margin.

If you’re unhappy with the placement, you have a few seconds before the glue dries to remove the sheet and re-apply.

Once you have completed a row, trim off the bottom margin of the entire row and stick to the top margin of the row below.

Work systematically, completing the assembly row by row as you would with tape.  Be  consistent, always cutting for example the right-hand-side margins and the bottom ones.  This Colette Aster, Version, 1 took me under 20 minutes to assemble.  As you can see, there’s a page missing.  By using Print Preview, I realised one of the pages didn’t have any part of the pattern on it so it didn’t get printed.  This may not have saved time, just paper!1 aster pdf in under 20 minsAnother advantage of using a glue stick is that you don’t get the gaps in between strips of tape.  Oh yeah, and you can run an iron over without melting anything!

Do you use the glue method or do you prefer Sellotape or Scotch Tape?  If so, why?