The Sealwoman’s Gift

Do you wonder how people live in places which are very cold where winters last for months? I – a chilly mortal who resents having to rifle through the freezer for food – certainly balk at the idea. How do people pass the time when there’s barely daylight for weeks? How did they pass the time before central heating or television, when poverty meant even candlewax had to be conserved (so no chance to knit and sew), a time when there were few or no books?

Sally Magnusson’s novel gives some insight and the answer is – well, of course – they told each other stories: sagas that spun over many evenings. Set in the seventeenth century, The Sealwoman’s Gift starts off in Iceland on the island of Heimaey and centers around Ásta who delights in hearing of heroines who are feisty yet fallible and elves, God’s other children, whose depiction borders on the blasphemous.  Some stories feature heroes so handsome that they inspire the odd daydream during hours of drudgery at the weaving loom or during ‘the backbreaking plucking of a thousand feathers’ as food stocks for winter need to be prepared.  Asta herself has the makings of a heroine of an epic: she is observant, passionate, outspoken. But The Sealwoman’s Gift takes her on a journey in a very different direction.  One summer’s day as Asta is about to give birth to her fourth child, a pirate raid sees her captured along with several hundred other islanders, her husband and children among them. They’re stowed away and taken three thousand miles to Algiers then sold into slavery. If this seems far-fetched, preposterous even, it’ll surprise you to hear it actually happened: Magnusson’s novel is a kind of companion piece to the much-earlier account of his experiences written by Asta’s husband, Lutheran priest Ólafur Egilsson.

After a dramatic sea journey, Asta disembarks in a city that is like a different world. This is my kind of climate (I lived for a year in Algiers and didn’t wish to leave), with an abundance of fresh food and the scent of spices and flowers in the sea breeze. But Algiers of 1627 sees Asta become the property of a Moor Ali Pitterling Cilleby. Once she learns the language, a kind of affinity develops between Asta and her master who is himself a product of two cultures.  Their discussions give Magnusson the opportunity to broach topics that still trouble and fascinate centuries later: the condition of being a slave, the differences between Christianity and Islam, the fate of faith itself after it’s most severely tested.

I’ve now read this well-researched and very moving novel twice and will do so again. It’s worth it just for the portrayal of Asta and Olafur’s marriage in its many stages. Olafur, Asta observes, is like one of the puffins that populate Heimaey every year in their thousands: from the back sober and serious yet colourful and comical in revealing a side.  But there are many other characters woven into this book as well as themes I don’t wish to reveal.  My gift to you is to point you towards finding out for yourself!  If you’re new to Icelandic places and names, the start may be a little confusing but there’s a helpful character list as well as maps to refer to (for this reason, the book format might work better than an e-book). And don’t be put off thinking it’s about seals!

Have you read The Sealwoman’s Gift? What did you think? Have you been to Algiers or Iceland?  Could you make them your home?

Return to Beachy Head

Can you spot the second profile?

Beachy Head marathon 2009

In 2009 I went to Eastbourne so I could take part in the Beachy Head Marathon. I took the family but the experience taught me that sometimes it’s best to leave the kids at home! The race is a 26 mile round trip starting in Eastbourne in East Sussex, heading up into the South Downs for a scenic meander before turning to the coast with a stretch of 6 miles over the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and back to Eastbourne. It was my first off-road race. I set off too fast and scaled the hills till my legs burned with lactic acid. After a couple of hours like this in the rain, I was exhausted and still not at the half-way mark. Worst of all, the views of the National Park and the sea, which I’d hoped would take the edge off any discomfort, were almost entirely hidden by a fog worthy of a most clichéd Hammer Horror film. By the time I shuffled to the finish, Damon had taken the kids back to the BnB. They were soaked and worried what had happened to me. Only my mum was there. She’d taken dozens of photos, some showing runners falling down the mud-covered slope which marked the end of the race.

We liked Eastbourne enough to come back in 2013 for the annual Airshow (I blogged this in Planes!) and last week a smaller family entourage (Damon, my daughter and I) returned so I could run the marathon again. This time I had much more experience of cross-country and hillier training routes in my repertoire. But I now also have mild sciatica on the left side and on my right foot, in the base of the big toe, there’s a stiff lump which looks like an onion and is actually a bunion! In the days before the race the question that kept plaguing me was could this dilapidating body beat that of the fresh (ok, naïve) 39 year old that I was?

It did!

Much of it thanks to having plenty of energy: I’d tanked myself up the previous days with plenty of carbs – pizza for lunch, pasta for dinner, Greek yoghurt with banana for breakfast and home-baked cake for pudding and between meals! Much of it was due to good training and setting off at a sensible pace. But also because the sun came out. Runners are almost always complaining that some aspect of the weather in a race isn’t to our liking: it’s always too hot, too cold, too wet and if it’s windy you can bet it’s blowing from the wrong direction. Don’t ever give sympathy!  A sunny race now and then makes up for all others. As we were climbing one of the Seven Sisters, a runners shouted: “look behind you, not just forward!” We turned and saw the white cliffs, the grass deep with colour, the sea a soft blue and green and a warm ochre from the waves advancing to the shore stirring the shingle and sand.  I’d had my most enjoyable marathon ever and finished to cheers from Damon and Connie as well as friends from my running club who’d come to support a whole gang of us were taking part.

Connie and the Alpaca in our groovy hotel room

We didn’t rush back home but stayed for the weekend. After a dinner during which I consumed as many calories as I’d expended and more – a common indulgence amongst those who exercise known as ‘overcompensating’ – we walked to the Eastbourne pier and the arcade where Connie wanted to spend her pocket-money. But they were closing up: although it was Saturday night, it was windy and cold.  Everyone had stayed ashore. Except for an older man chatting to one of the arcade workers. When he saw Connie looking dreamily at cuddly-toy alpacas trapped inside a claw machine, he asked the worker to open the glass and handed one to her. She was speechless! The man turned out to be Abid Gulzar, the owner of the pier. He’d bought it after the fire in 2014 which destroyed the roof (this is now restored with the domed roofs painted gold which picks up the sunshine nicely). He told us he doesn’t at all miss Clapham where he lived happily for decades. He now lives in a suite at his hotel and starts the days looking out of the window at the beach and the sea.  We followed this up with a film at the Eastbourne Curzon, which has an old-style ticket machine, slender red velvet seats, a worn patterned carpet and a time travel feel to it.

The next day (still sunny), we walked along the beach at nearby Birling Gap. You may know that Beachy Head is a notorious suicide spot and dangerous too since all the chalk cliffs are eroding, their edges occasionally dropping off in chunks.  You can’t help wondering when you’re there if there aren’t easier, less terrifyingly brutal ways to die.

Marathon elevation profile with height in metres against my running time. The Seven Sisters are the little peaks two-thirds of the way.

I’m not writing this to persuade you to run Beachy Head – to do that you’d have to be self-driven!  But if you get a chance, do visit Eastbourne and walk along some of the race route, including the South Downs, the Seven Sisters and the silky ribbon of river Cuckmere where it winds to the sea. I can’t wait to go back as there’s still more to see and old favourites to revisit.

Photo credits: Sussex Photography, Gordana Johnson and (below) Connie

 

Used to be a tablecloth…

And now, finally, it’s a dress.

It’s a summer dress but I got lucky! Just as the late spring and summer of this year were unforgettably generous to a London sun-worshipper like me, giving what seemed like weeks of uninterrupted dream weather, so did this autumn bless us with several days when I could wear the dress.

I wore it to work with a denim jacket and fashion trainers (white, as all fashion trainers seemed to be this year).

This dress would look great with medium heel sandals, but that’s something to try next year.  It is now suddenly very cold.

I hope to find other interesting cotton or linen tablecloths languishing in charity shops to cut up, especially since your comments in the last post pretty much sanctioned this barbarity (as Alys said, not everything is a museum piece).  What do you think of harem pants with this kind of lace lattice-work about the calves and knees?

I would like to wean myself of using chemical dyes though.  Once again washing machine Dylon worked beautifully but I’ve come to rely too much on this process that pollutes the water supply, and Dylon’s recent switch from cardboard to plastic ‘pod’ packaging is disappointingly backward suggesting a complete environmental indifference.  Do you share my concerns?  Or do you think all efforts of a single seamstress amount to a drop in the ocean?

However, my favourite new colour discovery is turmeric.  Maybe that’s not the official name for the variant of the very autumnal dark yellow you will surely have noticed everywhere in RTW this season, but it’s the colour of Haldi which certainly stains my teeth when I put it in curry so it should work on dyeing natural fibres too.  But how do I fix it? Time for some desk research, and experimentation.  Do please share the benefits of your experience if you’ve dabbled in natural dyes.

Used to be a tablecloth…

but now it’s a dress.

Well, almost. There are two steps more until it’s finished.

The recap

Some believe that to take a finely crafted tablecloth and cut it up is sacrilege!  Etemi – who sparked off my wicked ways when she organised a “used to be a tablecloth sewing challenge” – made me laugh when she reported her mother as saying, and I paraphrase slightly but listen anyway: ‘just let that beautiful thing BE!’  I agree that it’d be regrettable to cut up some heirloom once made by granny for her trousseau.  But lesser tablecloths can be found in abundance in charity shops and giving them the light of day by turning them into unique garments not only helps the charities but it’s a great ‘up yours’ to the peddlers of polyester who would swathe you, I and the entire planet in their tat.

And after all, who still uses tablecloths? My daughter had a fit when she saw one on holiday.  “Not wipeable?  What’s the point of that?!”

Dress 1

Two years ago I bought this large “drawn thread work” piece and turned it into an amazing dress.  It wasn’t a quick make.  I wanted to use as many of the lace motifs as possible without the holes in the cotton being too misplaced.  The tablecloth was white but once sewn, the dress was dyed indigo.   I don’t have any photos of what it looks like when worn in late summer against tanned skin but it’s an interesting Moroccan lantern effect and very sultry. It is also totally NSFW – not suitable for work! – so I decided to make another dress using the remainder of the tablecloth (I still had a big piece, though somewhat shredded-looking) aiming for something….  warmer.

Used to be a tablecloth – Dress 1

The now

Once again, I’ve worked with the fabric in the original white.  My husband who hasn’t yet caught on to my cleverness warned I’ll end up with a giant doily!  But fear not.  The whole thing will be immersed in dark dye, hence the black stitching and the black zip.

For the bodice I used this vintage pattern which I have always longed to try but I’m always held back by the voluminous skirts and concerns that I can’t pull off the willowy cover-babes look.

When I designed the blue dress I had lengths of fabric at my disposal and it made sense to use the original lace edging for the hem.  This time there wasn’t enough left to do the same though it was clear that the hem would have to be cut somewhere on the lace.  But how do you hem lace?  After some head-scratching I realised I just had to embrace the suck and spend ages mimicking lace by zigzagging scallops along the bottom then cutting to the stitching.  I practiced on scraps, trying to get the stitching to look similar to the drawn thread work.

Don’t you think that a lot of these things us dressmakers do in order to get it right take a very long time – you wouldn’t ever take up sewing if you knew how long!  But it is a fraction of the time we will spend wearing the garment, and worth it for those moments of appreciation, be it our own (especially our own) or from others.

I thought the solution was so effective I decided to turn the remaining scraps into sleeve cuffs, strategically using as much lace as I could, and therefore again having to sew scallops.    So yeah, just the cuffs to attach, then the dye job.  I think it’s going to be a stunner.  Just gimme a week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little and strange

Firstly I want to apologise for neglecting this blog for so long. Not only had I failed to write posts but I hadn’t checked in to see if all was ok, not until I got word that the site had been hi-jacked by pirates who’d replaced content with a porn site. I am sorry if you visited during this disruption to service, especially if you did so by following a link from another sewing blog. I trust the sordid discovery didn’t lead you astray!

Do you get excited when a novel you much love gets made into a film? Or maybe you dread it, in case they haven’t made a good enough job?
Tomorrow sees the UK release of The Little Stranger, a ghost story based on a Sarah Waters novel of the same name. At the time the book was published I was living in a flat in Blackheath on the edges of Greenwich Park. We were renting the ground floor of what had once been an impressive (but not imposing) four-storey residence, one of many ‘Captains’ Houses’ once linked to the military personnel of the barracks in nearby Woolwich. It’s likely that the aristocratic family who lived in Hundreds Hall, the crumbling mansion at the heart of The Little Stranger, would have looked down on the kind of family that occupied Captain’s House, an attitude that is explored in the novel. But my Captain’s House outlived the dilapidating fate of Hundreds Hall, because once the austerity measures of the 1930s kicked in and families were no longer able to retain numerous servants required for the upkeep of such large homes, the houses in Blackheath were divided into spacious and bright flats and they’re very popular with young families like mine, couples and singletons of every age. Some rent for a few years before moving on, reluctantly so, because in comparison any other home seems rather ordinary.

Back of the house, Lemmy in the foreground left. Our flat was the one with the blue curtains, which I later made into dungarees!

One evening in the flat I hosted the monthly book club I’d recently joined, and we discussed The Little Stranger (my choice). It was fun. Despite drinking lots of wine I remember the evening well. Barbara was there. We laughed a lot, though that was not unusual. We rounded off the discussion by turning to one of my favourites themes: experiences of the supernatural. I have always struggled to believe in the supernatural yet nothing fascinates me more. Barbara and her husband Martin recounted a funny story of what had happened to them in a small hotel in France, when they encountered a mystery creature part ghost, part rat – their landlady refused to acknowledge the latter!

Barbara died in 2013. I’d assumed our friendship would grow over decades, in instalments, on the first Tuesday of the month but it now feels I knew her for but a fraction of my life. I knew that like me she loved Anne Tyler, Barbara Pym and cats who she treated like companions.

Martin arranged for Barbara’s memorial service to be in a church where she’d worked as a volunteer. A pale stone building in the City I had overlooked a hundred times as I’d rushed past it to and from work. It was Valentine’s Day, cold and stormy. When I returned home, I discovered Lemmy, my very old black cat, had suddenly become incapacitated. Lemmy had been with me for eighteen years, ever since I’d adopted him from CPL. He was forgiving of my having two children and so gentle with them that I’d named him jokingly Chief Babysitter. He died later that night. But the next time I passed Barbara’s church, something caught my eye that made me stop in my tracks. A picture of a cat had appeared, drawn in black on the church stone, small but defined, at my eye level. I felt instantly Barbara had sent me a mischievous message.

Of course I don’t really believe Barbara graffitied on a Grade 1 listed building, not even from the after life! It is more likely to be a coincidence. But every time I pass the church (the drawing is still there) I think of her, and of Lemmy and feel a kind of certainty that the three of us are infinitely linked.

If you watch the film, tell me what you think.

Sweet Santa

I’ve been naughty lately: neither blogging nor sewing much and seeking instant gratification with RTW purchases which “afterwards left me feeling empty and unfulfilled….”   Also I left it until quite late to sort out and post my Stitching Santa parcel.  So when in the lead up to Christmas nothing arrived in the post for me, I sort of shrugged and started to mull over the idea of karma.

1-pressie-from-stitching-santaThen, on super-busy Christmas Eve Eve as we were all getting down to doing some wrapping of presents, my kids – who’ve very cleverly done some of their Christmas shopping online by getting their dad to pay – came running down the stairs: “Mum, this was with the other ones, we didn’t realise it was for you!”  My present from Stitching Santa had been in their room for several days, behind other jiffy bags all held together with a rubber band….  Not one but several gifts emerged!

miy-stitching-santa-gifts

I opened them during a quiet moment on Christmas day.

The first gift revealed a cute belt buckle and immediately brought me to recall two RTW garments with self-fabric belts I’d saved on my Pinterest board with the intention of copying them someday.  Well, I consider this a prompt!

The orange item is rather intriguing….

The MIY (Make it Yourself) sewing tool has a range of seam allowances, a sharp point for turning out collar tips and a guide for sewing circles (useful for marking buttons).  1-stocking

Then this cutest mini Christmas stocking appeared!  It would make a lovely decoration but I also think on future Christmases Blogstalker could hang it up, as the children do their stockings, and Petshop Santa will treat him to a few Dreamies.

And the generosity didn’t stop there. I was also given a sweet Apples and Owls sewing needle book (I didn’t have one till now), beautifully made with awesomely 1-needle-bookprecise stitching.

Finally, just as I was feeling totally undeserving, out came two vintage sewing patterns.  I love the styling of the envelopes.  Both dress designs have a Mad Men vibe and are right up my street. Did I tell you I’ve become obsessed by the idea of growing a killer work wardrobe?!

And my kind benefactor?  After getting totally the wrong end of the stick and ascribing this generosity to the wrong person, whom I thanked on her blog, I have been told by Sheila that may Santa was in fact………..

Trisha of the Small Sewing Room!

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Thank you so much Trisha.

And thank you to Sheila (Sewchet) for organising  (and thinking up) Stitching Santa.  A real gift to the sewing community!

P.S. Have you heard of Leavers Lace?  No, me neither till now. To find out more go here1-british-leavers-lace

2016

1-gucci-fur-slippers2016.  The year which local readers may forever associate with United Kingdom’s decision to distance itself away from Europe like a small raft with a superiority complex and which will be remembered globally for United States’ election of a president so bizarre-looking, with behaviour so obnoxious, that surely we will be told soon it was Bill Murray all along, giving the performance of a lifetime. Just Hollywood’s little gift to the world, for the next April Fools….

Well I liked 2016! 1-liberty-wearable-muslin

Magenta Dress

It began slowly though.  This time last year I was in the doldrums, getting no work and rarely even receiving acknowledgement for the jobs I was applying for.  When my bid to be a pattern tester for By Hand London resulted in an offer, I jumped at the chance.  It made a change to be wanted for something that I didn’t care if I was virtually paying for the privilege with my own money and time.  Then I sold my second Magenta dress to one more US reader wishing to dress up as a character in the Rocky Horror Show.

I made a bit of money doing alterations and sewing cushion covers.  But it didn’t take me long to work out that my kids were earning more than I was in the pocket money I was giving them.

Meanwhile, the job hunting continued with my setting the bar lower and lower till I was applying for jobs that I’d have hated if I’d got them, in freezing, warehouse-like spaces.  Turned out they didn’t want me either.

mdA lot of the time it didn’t matter.  I was having fun as a Newsletter Editor for my Athletics Club and writing elsewhere, then in my fourteenth year of running, I started getting a bit faster – not bad considering most runners plateau after a while or have to stop due to injuries.

In May I got married!  1-the-dress

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With Stephanie

We went to Canada on holiday and despite having to drag around two grumpy, sniping children (this is why you should have kids after your honeymoon!) we had a brilliant time.  We selected a small patch of this vast, beautiful country to do a bit of travelling in.  It felt like a real adventure. We were looked after splendidly by my very dear uncle and aunt who’d always been a stable background in my life, though we rarely see each other.

1-canadaAnother thing that made the year special is that while in Ottawa I met Stephaniewhile back home the friendships I’d made with other sewing bloggers were growing nicely. In fact it felt like my life was developing in another dimension, completely unexpectedly.   It wasn’t what I imagined would happen when I started this blog in 2012.  I’d hoped that it would lead to a return to employment of some kind, something more ambitious than what I’d done since having children.  Although the effort seemed in many ways futile (it didn’t take me long to realise that my contribution to the world of sewing blogs was negligible compared to more polished and dedicated offerings), it forced me to start writing again and overcome a reluctance “to engage with social media”, an activity which I’d always regarded as something of a security risk!  I’ve become much less guarded and reserved as a result, and I’ve had fun.

the-blouseIn August, I got a brilliant though (again) unpaid ‘job’ as Volunteer Coordinator of one of the largest parkruns in the country. Again, this has led to unexpected challenges, learning and a certain amount of unexpected satisfaction. And then an unexpected blessing.  In September this blog did indirectly lead to a temporary job – which is why I’ve kind of been absent lately – for which I’m very grateful. I’m still there now (in fact, I can hardly wait to go back after the holidays just to make sure I hadn’t dreamt it).  But I’m working at the other end of town and due to the long commute and my aforementioned finger in the tasty pie of parkrun, I haven’t the time to sew nor to blog, much.  My disappointment with the offerings of RTW is as great as ever though!  Not one new purchase I’ve made with my newly earned money has been entirely gratifying.  And because where I work I’m surrounded by young people, bastards who look good in anything by virtue of being young, my need for clothes that flatter in high-quality fabrics is greater than ever.  I can’t actually afford to buy the quality I seek, but I can make it!  So stick with me sewists, we’re going places!

Wishing you much health and happiness in 2017.

Marijana

 

By Hand London Alix

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By Hand London ‘Alix’ is a dress pattern in three length variations to be released shortly.  I made the pattern-test version which is going to be amended once all the testers report their findings.

mr-and-mrs-clark-and-percy

The dress was originally conceived as a maxi and according to its designer, Elisalex, it was inspired by the David Hockney painting “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy” (1971).  The woman in the painting was and still is a designer, the celebrated Celia Birtwell (somewhere in my stash is a rather rare fabric of hers I bought many years ago).  The design attempts to capture an early seventies vibe.  1-tech-drawing

The blurb reads: Inspired by the dreamy glamour of the 70s, Alix will take you effortlessly from a hazy summer festival to an elegant soiree in town.  A high-waisted prairie dress with a V-neck yoke, inset waistband, tie back belt and a full skirt, pleated at centre front and back.  And best of all, no zipper.  With long, billowing raglan sleeves secured at the wrist with a delicate elasticated cuff and three skirt length option (& everything in between!) Alix can be just as at home worn with a pair of beat up old jeans as she is swooshing down the red carpet…!

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1-muslinUsing some old bedlinen I first made a muslin to familiarize with the instructions (there are usually a few mistakes at the pattern-testing stage which is one of the main reasons why some pattern companies ask for testers; and why it’s helpful for the testers themselves to have experience of using commercial patterns). I also wanted to check how plunging that V-neckline is.  I think the depth is pretty good but after exposing myself liberally all summer, I wanted a warmer garment so in the grey version the front yoke is 3cm higher.

Adjusted pattern piece

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Raising centre front by 3cm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1-side-alixI’ve made four other changes.  I lengthened the hem by 16cm (as with the raising of the décolletage, I am fully committed to a process of nunnification of this dress).  I have added piping to the waist ties, waistband and the yoke/neck – in fact I made over 6 metres of piping which gave me a lot of satisfaction as I was able to use up one of a hundred pieces of black fabric remnants lying about that I am unable to throw away out of deep loyalty to the two tribes to which I belong: Goth and ‘Green’.  I have lined/underlined the back and skirt (only the front bodice and the sleeves are not lined).  Finally, I thought ‘the delicate elasticated sleeve’ wasn’t ambitious enough and so trimmed the last 3cm off the length then gathered the sleeves into cuffs, which are also piped.  The finished cuff is 3cm tall and 24cm wide all around which is quite a lot more than my wrist measurement but just enough for me to be able to put my hand through without feeling like an escapologist!  Oh, and I interfaced the yoke, back of neck and waistband.

Inside front

Inside front, showing skirt lining.

 

Inside back, showing underlining

Inside back, showing underlining

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1-frontWhat I like about this pattern is that it’s nicely constructed (pretty on the inside) and it gives scope to being creative. At first I imagined a mostly black, slinky maxi in viscose, preferably printed with cats or something eccentric and a turquoise waistband, ties, neckline for creating contrast and drama.  But you go to the shops and vision is compromised by the fabrics available. This fabric may appear grey and possibly drab, but I promise that if you 1-fabriclook closely it has sparkle, a sprinkle of a silver metallic. It has a feel of both viscose and wool and was a bargain from Simply Fabrics (which really impressed me with their range this time).  It was the end of a roll so I am going to think very carefully how I will use up the last 0.75 metre I have left.

Family critics like the dress but commented on the unusual appearance of the bust, which is shaped by a small inverted pleat.  It will be difficult to adjust this by changing the pleats to gathers at this stage: those particular pattern pieces are sandwiched between the inner and outer waistband (and indeed, the piping) but it’s worth bearing in mind if you intend to make it yourself.  (*Nipple tweak update: see last photo)1-alix-bhlI hope everything else, like the lovely yoke, will detract, though I may just fix.

Many thanks to the frightening woodland creature who took my pics!

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NIPPLE TWEAK UPDATE: I’ve replaced the pleats with darts, sewing them without unpicking the waistband pieces.  The dart points are machine stitched and from about half way the wider ends are ladder-stitched.  It’s not an ideal way of sewing the dart but I think it’s enough for the unknowing eye to be detracted by all the other detail…  Better?1-nipple-tweak-update

Superstyle me!

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1 v1285 cover pattern envelopeWhat kind of a beast* is this?  No, not him – I mean the dress I’m wearing.

Django can be unpredictable (which is why I look a bit wary here).  Once with his claws he accidentally shredded a dress I was wearing.  But this dress is safe.  The denim’s pretty thick.  In fact the dress holds me up when I sit in it.

1-creaseThis pattern, V1285, was a gift from Lesley, a kind of reciprocal pattern exchange we tried.  She’d told me she was going to send me a pattern from her stash that she thought would suit me and when it arrived I was delighted.  I had an immediate vision of the dress I’d make and went straight to trouble, firstly buying this kind of dark blue-grey stretch denim with a surface sheen redolent of what some of you might call “market jeans”….   (I really believed stretch denim would work as well as the recommended “two-way stretch knits only:” Rayon, Spandex, Cotton Spandex….  )Then I did weird stuff, topstitching everything…  No way was I going to  tolerate those perverse ‘external darts’.  I was like Harrison Ford’s character in Mosquito Coast,  blinded by a ruthless determination… I was so driven to recreate the look of a heartbreakingly expensive Hobbs dress I’d seen years ago, it took me right to the end to admit I was painstakingly recreating the kind of look you get on …. market jeans.  Luckily the tension on home-made topstitching it pretty rubbish so all that expensive topstitching thread is really easy to unpick.  The dress now looks darker and subtler, but those flapping darts are not served well by long periods of sitting down.

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Target: Hobbs NW3 Denim Dress

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Capture: market denim topstitch thang

 

 

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But the worst part was the mistake in the instructions on what is my favourite part of this pattern, the notched neckline band (step 6).  I’m struggling to understand why no review pointed this out….

This is a close up of the notch, on the right side and inside:

The right side looks fine, the inside is a bit unattractive.  But that’s my second bodice.  If you follow the instructions which suggest you attach the neck band to the inside first, you’ll end up with the mess on the right side of the garment.  Really Vogue?  That is perverse.

I think my finished dress looks better off than on.  The A-line skirt is not flattering to my short shape but the notched neckline is fabulous and it’s a good transition garment (to autumn), with lots of coverage if made in a warm fabric.  There’s the option of making a slip and camisole too which I may attempt if I make this again (I’m on the lookout for some shimmering stretch velvet).

How to style it though?  It’s not good enough to stand alone.

A one-inch wide Belt in tan, the same colour as Django?

Or an Animal-print belt?

Tights and heels?  And maybe a silk scarf.

A more colourful vest underneath (something has to be worn underneath as the neckline is low cut and stands out rigidly?)

It seems neither smart enough for an office, nor soft enough for a fun day out!   In what setting does this belong?  A charity shop?!1 vogue 1285 pattern envelope

Should I just remake it, next time avoiding the self-inflicted wounds of attempt no. 1.?

Please advise.

* The number of the beast: V1285 (pattern envelope description) ‘Lined, mock wrap dress has collar, close-fitting bodice with bands, hook and eye, fitted skirt, overlay with mock band, belt loops, sleeve bands and invisible left side zipper. Darts are stitched on the right side of fabric. Lining forms attached slip with shoulder and lingerie straps.  Purchased belt.)1-django-the-pup

Invisible Mending

1-two-holesI dug out of the wardrobe my Jigsaw suit – which I haven’t seen for a few years! – and immediately spotted two little holes on the back of the right shoulder.  ‘Moths!’ I thought, ‘Aargh!!!’  But wait a minute.  If it was moths, why hadn’t they gone for my much tastier wool skirts and cashmere cardies, which I check often and they’re always fine?  In fact the holes looked very much like those I get on my T-shirts, always over the navel area and made, I suspect,1-satchel-strap-buckle by the buckle of my belt.

I think these holes were made by the buckle on the adjustable strap of my bag which I carry on my right.

I needed the suit almost pronto and didn’t have much time to do thorough research on how to repair it but a quick look on YouTube with the search term ‘invisible mending’ was mostly disappointing.  So I improvised a little repair job.  Tell me what you think.

1-taking-parts

  • I opened up the lining to get to the inside.  I cut off a small rectangle of fabric from the seam allowance after staystitching it half way to stop fraying.

1-stick-over-hole

  • I cut this rectangle in half and after dabbing some Pritt Stick (don’t scream!) on the affected area of jacket, I stuck the squares over the holes.

1-seal

  • I cut a piece of fusible interfacing.  On the inside, I placed it over both patches and pressed with iron to seal all three in place.  I used a piece of silk organza when pressing the right side to stop the garment from getting shine.  No, I really did remember to do this, eventually!

 

1-after-repairNow the right side looked like this.  It was enough to stop light getting through but still those little sunken circles, like a vampire bite in Hammer Horror, bothered me.  I remembered one of my many chats with the dry-cleaner (a bit of a mate of mine these days), who told me the Invisible Mender comes every Thursday to do his thing.  I popped by to ask about the service but the dry cleaner shook his head.  ‘He died!’ he said.  My jaw dropped…  He wouldn’t be recruiting another.  The repairs were costing £50 and people were unwilling to pay, preferring to buy another suit.  ‘But how did he do it?’ I asked.  ‘What did he use?  A machine?!’

‘No, he would ‘weave’, he said.  He shrugged, ‘He’d take thread from the inside…’

A ha !

1-taking-threads

  • I went back to the seam allowance that keeps on giving and pulled off some threads.  They were too kinky and very short but luckily I had some thread conditioner.  What I didn’t have, and it would have been most helpful, is a needle threader (where did they all go?!)

 

1-weaving

  • I had to push the needle in before I could thread it, but eventually I got a little darning system going, trying to incorporate the patches beneath into the weave layer. It really helps when the ‘thread’ is exactly the same colour as the garment.  I kept pressing regularly: it made it all look much better!

 

1-finishedThis is the result, a close up.  I hope you don’t think it looks worse!  The area is bigger than the holes but I hope less noticeable.  It’s more of a ‘graze’ now and if I wear my hair down it will be in a shadow.

Have you ever used an invisible mending service or done it yourself?  Was the repair really invisible?

I leave you with a clip from Lead Balloon, where Jack Dee and Omid Djalili (playing a dry cleaner) have an argument on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Eci0OJbJw