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

Sureau II: The Pumpkin

2 mjI know what you’re thinking: “What has she been eating?!?”  But it’s not me, it’s this dress!  In it I feel immediately transformed into a member of a strict religious sect.  Hiding a pregnancy.1 Sureau Pattern Envelope

Deer & Doe Sureau with added collar

1 Sureau placket with self-covered shank buttonsThis version of Deer & Doe’s Sureau is a size smaller than the one I made before: 36 in the bodice and 38 in the skirt.  It fits very well.  To avoid the Maoist simplicity of the original pattern, I once again added cuffs to the sleeves and a collar but this time with pointed tips.  I also reinforced the back of the button placket with another layer so the shank buttons are sewn into proper buttonholes and don’t ‘sag’.  I think this was a good upgrade which adds a bit of couture to a basic design.  For the collar, I’d award myself the mark 3/5 as it doesn’t quite sit flat.  I’d have persevered and cut it again to perfection had I more fabric and if the design was more flattering.  But the only way I’m gonna wear this dress is if all my other clothes and dressing gown get burnt in a fire.

1 batikPart of the problem was that I had so little fabric and this dictated the length of the skirt.  Look how it cuts across the legs with the knees at their thickest.  The fabric is beautiful: a rust-coloured cotton batik with cream-gold and black.  It comes from a collection my mother acquired when living in Indonesia some years back and I’m very grateful that she entrusted me with it.  Earth tones don’t suit me generally but I thought with the remains of a summer tan and some reddish tints in my hair (Sun damage?  Chlorine?  Not sure.) that I might be able to get  away with it.

5 mjAfter these photos were taken, I changed back into my normal colours and felt a genuine sense of relief that I was myself again.  This might however work as a giveaway!  If you know of any pale, over-attractive blondes, redheads or dark-skinned girls with a 28″ waist approx who need to play it down with a bit of pumpkin frock, send them to me!

P.S.  Have you read the Colour Analysis posts on Fit and Flare blog?  Kate is a great help if you’re after some virtual research into what colours may suit you and why.

autumn leaves in Shortlands

The GB Sewing Bee Challenge Reveal

Feeling inspired by the projects of the second series and in need of an adrenaline rush, I challenged you to join me in some Bee-style sewing to see what we could produce in a week.  So how bad did I feel at putting you through it?  A bit.

megan3Especially on seeing Megan displaying her (ahem, sleeveless!) wrap dress, made in just 3 hours with pins holding the waist seam together.  Do read Meggipeg’s hilarious post as to how her part in this experiment went: it’s haunted by the ghosts of Patrick and May’s passing stark judgement!

Luckily, a few extra hours and the project developed into this.  Megan, it looks fantastic. You both do!

Megan 1 and 2EConnolly coatOur second submission came from an interesting case…  Elizabeth took up sewing only a year ago after being inspired by the first series of the Sewing Bee.  Her first project was  pyjamas made with fabric from  Guthrie and Ghani (Lauren Guthrie was a contestant in Series 1) and she has made 80 garments since. Having got fed up with badly suited RTW, Elizabeth has been seeking an evermore perfect fit in her makes.  This coat, inspired by the vintage projects  in Episode 6, is proof of how much can be achieved if you push at it and focus.  EConnolly coat liningI’m no Patrick or May but I’m sure they’d tell Elizabeth that the fit is excellent and the plaid perfectly matched.  Bonus points too for the pink elephants lining.

Apparently, it took 2 bobbins to feed all those quilting stitches.  Elizabeth also points out this would’ve been impossible with the GBSB time restrictions.  If you want to make a similar coat but feel daunted by a lack of experience, Elizabeth recommends this book.

Can we have Elizabeth in the next series please!

1 Penny Before ShirtOne of my favourite tasks of Series 2 was deconstructing two men’s shirts to make something new (you can see it in Episode 2, starting at 25 minutes).  I tried a similar project two years ago, cutting up my husband’s work shirts to make my daughter some pyjamas (he was pretty upset the following Monday morning when looking for something to wear to work!) and found that even a small person’s garment uses more fabric than you’d think, which in turn limits creativity.

Penny Librarian chose a beautifully coloured shirt with small checks to guide the cutting and the stitching but even so found the task hard under the time constraints.  She produced this top in 4 hours.

GBSB Challenge from PennyIt looks great, Penny.  And you were certainly not a wimp to break for lunch!! Thanks for taking part and for all the useful tips you detailed in your blog post.

The next entry came from my friend Jo who I’m often hassling to sew more, on top of her busy enough life.  Jo was inspired by the prom dress task (Episode 4, 38 minutes) to challenge herself into making a dress for a black-tie do.  She did this last Friday – the day of the actual event!  To add to the pressure, she knew her time was going to be up at 3pm when her three children returned from school hyped up on end-of-term excitement.  Luckily, Jo knows her pattern very well having made Anna a few times before.  On this occasion though, she varied the thigh split to knee length as the evening do was at an army barracks!  🙂1 Jo 1

Jo, you look great and thanks so much for the photo.  Hope you had a fab time!

Finally, me.  For ages, I’ve wanted to refashion a tailored garment but rifling through men’s suits in charity shops has always been a slightly stomach-turning process for me.  “I wonder who wore this?  An undertaker?” I always imagine.

1 channelling John Major1 Inside Jacket-horzAfter the Make-Do-And-Mend task in Episode 6 (25 mins into the show) I looked around charity shops again and found a 100% wool  jacket with paisley lining and lots of interesting details inside.  It looked new too – though I later discovered a crushed Quality Street wrapper in one of the many, beautifully tailored inner pockets.

BlessingUgh, but yes, it could have been worse 😯

In the show, Chinelo’s execution of this task was a triumphantly gorgeous dress.  What I wanted though was a pencil skirt with braces: more like Lynda’s creation.  But my jacket didn’t come with trousers and it soon became apparent that all I was going to eke out of the fabric was a low-waist mini!  The length of this actually came from the sleeves with the cuff buttons ending on front hips.1 Skirt

1 Skirt backI think I spent as much time thinking this through and planning as I did sewing and tried to get as many of the original features as possible into the final cut.

My favourite part is the back of the waistband where I covered the zip with a pocket flap.

And I hope that having lining will make this more wearable.

But you ask how long it took?


1 Paisley LiningYeah, that!

TIMES (x) 4!! 

If I have one criticism of the series, it’s that it’s made sewing seem easier than it is in reality.

Now, for the draw of the book.  I wish I had 4 copies to give to all the entrants as not only is it a fab souvenir of an unforgettable series (complete with a surprise ending) but also because  I feel sure that each of you would have made very creative use of the patterns included.

But the one winner has been drawn (by her again) and it is:

1 Draw winnerELIZABETH!

Thanks all for taking part, giving me your time and for letting me use your photos.  For those with blogs, I’ve tried to include links to your work wherever possible.  I hope you found it an interesting experiment and that it made some of the excitement of the show rub off on you!

Mxxx   🙂

“You Have One Week” The GBSB Challenge

Sewers, you have a week to make a garment inspired by the current series of

The Great British Sewing Bee.”

may pat claWhat, do you think one week is a bit mean?  Well of course it is but how do you think those poor contestants must have felt when told to make a silk nightgown to fit a model in 5 hours?!  I was hiding behind the sofa at that point.

Sew Your Own Wardrobe by Tessa EveleghLuckily, no judges will be allowed to scrutinise and pick apart the efforts of this challenge.  In fact, all who submit a picture of their creation by the final of the GBSB next Tuesday will be entered into a draw to win a copy of the book The Great British Sewing Bee: Sew Your Own Wardrobe by Tessa Evelegh, kindly donated by Quadrille Publishing.  After the deadline, I will prepare a blog post of your entries and publish it on Wednesday 9th April alongside the name of the winner of the draw.

The Rules

1 Make a garment inspired by one of the tasks on the show.

2  Email me a photo of the garment, preferably being worn by either yourself, whoever you made it for, or on a dummy (no hangers).  The deadline is Tuesday 8th April 9pm GMT.  Multiple entries ok, and I’d be particularly be happy to see Before and After pictures if you’re refashioning.

3 Make sure you include any text you would like me to publish with your photo, e.g. why you chose that particular task or who you most want to win the series.  If you have a blog, make sure you include the link.  I’ll email you back to confirm I’ve received your entry.

4 If you have a blog, you may like to display this button to show you’re taking part.  Just copy the text below into your widget area.


That’s it.

If you like, leave a comment below telling us you’re joining in.  Or what tasks during this series have most inspired you to have a go?

Now, much to my delight, the second series of the GB Sewing Bee has been longer than the first, with many more projects.  So your memories of the early shows may be a bit hazy.  I know mine are – or maybe it was hiding behind the sofa that made me miss parts.  Luckily, all the episodes are available to view on iPlayer till April 15th.  So if you need a little reminder of the story so far, here are the links (available to all in the UK):

Episode 1 where we meet the contestants, a boring wool skirt is revamped and a silk nightgown is made.

Episode 2 where the contestants are tested on their ability to match patterns.  Do you pleats match?  Can you cut up two shirts to make a new one?

Episode 3 jersey T-shirt refashion, leggings and a wrap dress (gulp!).

Episode 4 sewing for little people plus a prom dress.  Can you make a fancy dress costume out of a pillowcase, a sweatshirt and jogging bottoms?

Episode 5 anorak and velvet trousers.

Tamara's blouseEpisode 6 Vintage heaven.  The beautiful blouse with collar and smocking that we all plan to make some day.  Well, it’s time 🙂

Episode 7 The Semi Final.  Make a garment copy and the dart-it, pleat-it, tuck it, drape-it dress.

All episodes can apparently be viewed outside the UK via Media Hint – a free download that works with Chrome and Firefox.

Good luck!

And sewers?  Try not to have too many tea breaks.  I find it trebles project time!


You can download sewing patterns for many of the makes in the show from here.

So Zo’s review of Sew Your Own Wardrobe can be found here.

GBSB Judge May Martin’s How To Tutorials which could give you ideas can be found here.

In Series 1, the task that most inspired me to do a copycat was this skirt.


Don’t you just hate those people who buy a present for someone then think: “Mm, this is nice! I’ll keep it.”  I’m not at all like those people.


😳 I’m a little bit like those people.

Having decided that the bundle of Prima Patterns was not for me, I then became increasingly enamoured of the Peplum Dress.  So I made it!  Not bad, huh? 3 prima patterns peplum dress 1 The winner is JanLuckily for our giveaway winner – picked out of the Cossack hat by my lovely, little assistant Connie – the pattern is perfectly intact and soon to be dispatched, along with the others, to Jan in the Netherlands. Congratulations, Jan!  I’ve emailed you for your postal address.

1 prima pattern pieceI was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this: my first Prima pattern.  The nine pattern pieces were generously spaced and blissfully easy to trace – nothing like the Burda magazine or Akiko Mano eye-smarting nightmare of a dozen intersecting designs on the same sheet.  The paper is fairly robust too.  Next time at the newsagent, I shall look out for Prima magazine.

As for the making of the dress, it was a straight-forward size 12 with a lot of the upper back taken in.  I also shortened the bodice, being a few centimetres below the 168cm height that the dress is designed for.  I would have liked to have seen finished garment measurements: the only one provided was the back dress length.

The fabric is a spring-friendly linen from the stash.  The checked lines gave me some pause for thought (never again will I race into something like this!) and I took the decision to turn the peplum on the bias as I thought vertical stripes might have looked a bit apron-like.

Not perfect but I like and will wear a lot.

1 Peplum dress

Prima Patterns Giveaway

1 Lot 2

Up for grabs is this small batch (7 in all)  of sewing patterns which came with Prima Magazine.  A friend very kindly gave them to me as she didn’t think she’d ever gather the courage to give them a go (Gill, I’ll deal with you later!).  The styles are a bit basic for me but would suit a beginner or someone looking to build up a pattern library.  They are sized 10-20 (UK).  They include a stylish peplum dress, a shift dress with tucks on the side, a beach cover-up or basic separates.

1 lot 1

If you’re interested, leave a comment below and I’ll pick one winner in a week.  Post anywhere 🙂1 blouse and jacket

1 peplum

Curtain Training

You’ve heard of lion-taming, right?  And you must have heard of dragon-slaying.  But have you heard of curtain training!  I’m not lying: the man in the John Lewis curtain department told me that’s what you have to do for weeks after hanging up your new curtains.  Every time you open them, fold into identical pleats then tie them gently together.  In time they should assume this shape automatically.

Curtain training!  Honestly… It’s a good job there was a pile of rugs in the John Lewis furnishings department so I didn’t have to roll on the floor laughing.

But apart from the ludicrous name, I confess that’s what I did every morning for at least a week after making these curtains for my daughter’s room. I lovingly 😯 pressed the plump folds into a concertina-like position(tying them seemed a step too far.).  These picture show what they look like after  I abandoned the regime and went back to my usual routine of a rushing thug.  What can I say:  life takes over.

In making them, I followed all the good advice you gave me after I posted pictures of my bicycle curtains:

  • I cut off the selvedges.  Also I pulled at lengths of thread, both crosswise and vertically, to establish the true grain of fabric.  Last time I sewed patterned curtains, I relied on the graphics instead and it didn’t produce a good enough hang.
  • I forked out for a walking (even feed) foot.  This really saved me time when matching up the pattern horizontally.  I still had to use my seam ripper when I made vertical mismatches.  With a pattern like this, a millimetre off the seam line and I risked the curtain opening out to reveal mutant three-eyed kitties!
  • I used bump.  Actually, I used Synthetic Interlining.  Bump is a word I like the correct term for expensive cotton interlining.  But even so, these curtains feel very luxurious and are actually a pleasure to be near!  My best curtains so far and I don’t think these photos do them justice but it’s a small bay window that I can’t stand in front of because of a high sleeper bunk in the way!


A chance to get one leftover Fat Quarter (18″ by 22″) with one Regular Quarter (9″ by 44″) of the fabric: a lovely cream cotton called ‘Cocoland Musical’.  It’s a  Kokka Japan  bought from Frumble.  (Not sure what a FQ is?  All explained here.)  It won’t get you curtains but plenty for a peg bag,  a pencil case or a  door stop.  To go into the draw, leave me a silly comment below and one winner will be drawn on Friday 30th.  Make sure you can be contacted.  

So, tell me about your curtain taming!   Er, training!  

Me-Made-May & Giveaway

“I,  Marianna of Sew2Pro, hereby pledge allegiance to the worthy cause that is Me-Made-May.  Each day in the month of May ’13, I shall wear at least one garment made by myself.  And should the skies curse us with the same cold and ceaseless rain as we bore almost every day of May ’12 (grits teeth), I shall be covered; for I shall finally sew replacement lining for my old RTW coats and one leather jacket.  It’s my most procrastinated project ever!”

To kick off M-M-M, I’m wearing the latest Laurel (review here) with which I’ve entered the Laurel Contest.  Have you seen how many entries there are!?  They’re an imaginative, creative bunch, these sewists who favour independent patterns.  In other words, I don’t stand a chance of winning!  But I love my new dress.  The fabric, Zen Charmer from Alexander Henry, is from 2008, a stash treasure, and I hope I do it justice even as I currently wear it with flip-flops, horrendously neglected winter feet and leggings 😯 …. 

Are you taking part in Me-Made-May ’13?  Others’ outfits can be seen on this Flickr page.

But you’re here for the Giveaway!  Wow, that one was complicated.  Here are the results:

Laurel: Patty

Lily: Janey

Jasmine: Caroline

Clover: Sophie

Guys, I’m emailing you for your addresses.  Everybody else who commented on my previous post, thanks.  I’ve never had so many compliments. 

Oh, and if anyone has any good tips or links for sewing lining replacements, please pass ’em on!

Laurel Giveaway

Ever fallen in love with someone who at first sight didn’t appeal at all?  Well, that’s the story of me and Laurel!  A month ago when the pattern was released, I was decidedly underwhelmed.  “Hang on, that’s not a pattern, that’s a block!” I thought.  But of course, Sarai, who thinks of everything, had foreseen the reaction of sceptics such as myself and produced not only a booklet with tempting ideas on how to vary the design, she’d also thrown in a challenge in the form of a competition to see who can come up with yet more creative interpretations.  Which got me thinking along the lines of: “but it looks like it’d be really quick!”  And: “those sleeves are so feminine.”  And: “I could do with a dress that’s practical… where’s that credit card?”  🙄 🙂

Having already garnered a few compliments IRL on my muslin, I can now safely declare Laurel to be my feelgood dress of the summer.  And I want to share it with (one of) you.  For a chance to win my used but respectfully preserved pattern, leave a comment below.  Worldwide commentators welcome! 

I’ll also be drawing for three other Colette patterns from the stash:

–  the Clover, which I sadly made into porkBut you’d be luckier!

– the Sophia Lauren-inspired Lily, and

– the versatile Jasmine.


You may specify which draw you would, or wouldn’t, like to be entered into.  If you don’t, I’ll enter you into all 4.  The draw is on May the 1st.


The Laurel Muslin Review

I used a 1.5m of a full-width, light cotton to make Version 3 with the following adjustments/modifications:

1. French Seam: as my fabric is perforated and I didn’t want the seams to show, I used a French seam throughout, including in the sleeves.  

2. I shortened the length by 5cm (or 2″ in Colette-speak) so as to wear as a tunic or to the beach.

3. I widened and lowered the neckline.  Since these photos were taken, I’ve lowered it again by another 1cm so as to cut out the hook and eye at the back (I didn’t like how this sat).  The new lower front also works better with  this lapis lazuli necklace brought back by my mum from her travels in Chile.  

4. I made bias binding twice the  specified width

5. The waist seam: narrowed and made more vertical  than out-curving.

Time taken: most of a day, not including the reworking of the neck.  Would have been quicker if it wasn’t for the French seams.

Next time: I feel a slight pull towards the back so on my pattern copy I’ve moved the shoulder seam forward 0.5cm at the neck and 1cm at the shoulder.

And, oh look what indigo beauty I found browsing round Hobbs!  My version cost £20: pattern, fabric an’ all.

Viscy V1247

Sew2Pro’s 1st birthday came and went and I didn’t even blog – what a committment-phobe?!  Remember the Giveaway?  Without further ado, let me apologetically and belatedly announce that the winners of the Hollywood Costume Exhibition prizes are: Magical Effects of Thinking (of Colorado, USA), Jane (of near me in South London) and Sophie (in France).  Nice to think that the exhibition is thus getting a bit more travel, but the real thing, costumes and all, are currently making their way to Melbourne for an April opening at the ACMI. Leave me a comment if you’re able to go and see it: I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

The Mystery Costume (i.e. the dude with the big calculator) belongs to Darth Vader, of course.  Regretfully, his Lordship couldn’t visit this blog post personally but if you’d like to familiarize yourself with him more, watch this delightful Lego animation video of a typical lunch hour on the Death Star (as imagined by Eddie Izzard).  But put the kids to bed first as Darth likes his language spicy, like his pasta!



A Non-Hollywood Remake

On another note, here’s a second attempt at the V1247 top, this time in a soft, drapey viscose.

This time, I followed the advice to use fabric with a drape and bought a softly-falling viscose from A-One Fabrics, 50 Goldhawk Road.  At £6.50 a metre, it wasn’t exactly a bargain but I love viscose and had a hard time finding it in acceptable colours, hence the boring black.  Soon as I sewed the pleats, (which, incidentally, remind me of Darth’s gills though I’m not sure that’s how he breathes…) I had a feeling that my perseverance with this pattern was paying off but I’ve taken many pictures of my wearing this top and can’t say one of them make me think “wow, this looks great!”  Maybe more sunshine needed!


Pattern alterations

I narrowed the neckline and raised the front by an inch, grading to the original at centre back.  I could have done with another inch frankly, as I’m constantly fiddling to check if the bra straps are contained!

Overall verdict

No doubt I’ll wear this a lot on the school run, yet I remain wary of the V1247 top.  The French seam construction that creates a tidy inside of garment is a nightmare when it comes to perfectly lining up the 6 separate segments that make up the centre front.  Furthermore, it’s impossible to hem this top neatly with the tiny seam allowance given, as the French seams create bulk and even if your machine is obedient enough to pass over the bumps, the result is a nubbly edge.  I like my garments perfect on the outside before all; next time, I’ll leave out the French seams.

Here are version One and Two on the lovely Anne.  See how the drape creates a more elegant, flattering effect.