Borgen Blouse

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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…

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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?)

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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 🙄

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.

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

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