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!).

1 dinner

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.

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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 🙂