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?

Summer Dahlia

Colette Dahlia Version 21 Colette D1 Colette Dahlia Pattern EnvelopeI was worried that Version 2 of the Dahlia would be too inappropriately revealing for my advancing years but the black dress on the Colette website must have been made of something slinky for it to drape so attractively.  My cotton lawn recreation had bit after bit trimmed off the bodice and still it looks kind of … frumpy.

1 Uh Oh, back of Dahlia V2 in the mirrorThe first sign of this not being the quick project I’d imagined came after the neckline bias was partially applied when I checked the back view in the mirror.  1 Trim 7cm off the neckline backThe bra straps and the dress straps were so far from each other!  Ugh, racer back!  In a previous project – my much worn Frida dress – I saved the situation with bra keepers but that was clearly not going to work here where the fabric and the straps were thin.  Instead, I measured the disparity and trimmed the neckline down by 7cm which seemed to do just the trick. Colette Dahlia Back ViewFront neckline trimThe front presented a similar problem so I cut 3.5cm from each side (grading to the middle of which I only lost 1cm) to bring the dress straps in line with those of the bra.  This gave me the chance to fix something else I noticed looked wrong with the bodice front: the instructions specify gathering fabric only at the centre of the neckline but this just makes the boobies look too far apart from each other 😯  I re-sewed the gathering stitches and distributed the fullness across the entire front neckline.  Much better.

1 Armscye acheFinally, the armscye was too high and really cut in.  I trimmed it down by 1cm and the dress was no more comfortable so I did it again, this time cutting another 2cm.  That’s some change!  If you ever have to do this alteration, don’t begrudge the time this takes as it’s quick and makes all the difference between the outfit getting worn or sitting in your wardrobe.

Oh yeah, and the zipper…  Because the waistband has a facing, there’s rather a lot of fabric going on in the seams at either side of the zip and I struggle to get it pulled up and down in the waistband region – a problem I also have with my winter Dahlia.  I thoroughly suggest you avoid this by handstitching the waistband facing to the zip fabric, which would also enable you to interface it for more structure.

1 MitraljezAfter Nicky recommended a trip to Shoreham-by-Sea to see the houseboats, I pushed the kids into the car for a mini adventure mid-half term and that’s where these photos were taken.  My son soon spotted his dream home!1 Ideal home exhibition

The day was warm and sunny with a gentle breeze that, alas, seemed to fill up my skirt from below and make it rise around me like a lifebelt!  Not that I want to put you off Dahlia, but be prepared to make some adjustments if this is going to be something better than a casual summer dress you can buy in a shop for a song.  I’m so making this again out of some slinky black fabric so I can swing my way through summer 😉

1 mumm

Shoreham Houseboat Grand Entrance

1 cat botherer1 summer dahlia plus cardie

Cowgirl, Restructured

Levi 921 Restyled into Jean Jacket

Back View Jean Jacket Levi 921The idea of making a jacket out of jeans came from a picture found on Pinterest. I had a very worn pair of Levis, kept in case I needed to paint the walls (or something), so I thought I’d use them to see if it could be done. And yes, it can.  Though for full-length sleeves, you will need to start off with longer legs!  Alternatively, you can leave out or use less fabric in the ruffle.  1 Jumbo Topstitching

Levi  921 were my favourite ever jeans.  My jaw virtually dropped when I first saw them (in 2002 or 2003).  They had so-called ‘jumbo stitching’ and were a very deep blue (though later faded); the waist curved in and the rise wasn’t too low.  They felt great too.  The denim was proper cowgirl stuff, pulling the saddlebags in tightly (‘saddlebags’, if you don’t know, are the plump bits that look like hips but are lower than the bones and are actually formed from buttock overspill! :-)  )  jumbo stitchingThe style wasn’t available for long unfortunately.  For the best part of the decade, boot-cut, stretch denim reigned, followed by the leggings-like skinny jeans we mostly wear today.  But I still buy a nearly new pair of Levi 921’s on Ebay sometimes.

Have you ever fallen in love with a design, or a product, only to find it discontinued?

Making a Jacket out of Jeans.

These notes are a supplement to the original instructions (follow the Pinterest link).

Ancient Pair of Levi 921If you want to give this a go, measure the waist of the jeans and your ribcage to make sure the waist will fit yours when the jeans are upside down.  Having said that, wearing this buttoned up (as in the last picture) just makes me feel a bit corseted so I prefer it like a bolero.

I made my first cut by measuring my waist to armhole length then cutting this from the waist down to the hips of the jeans, after first adding a seam allowance.  I put in bust darts but they weren’t necessary; in fact, the less done here, the better as you’ll preserve the rough-hewn denim effect.  For making the sleeves, I took a narrow-fitting sleeve from a dress pattern in the stash and cut them by working upwards from the hem of the jeans.

Most of the construction seams were done with matching blue thread.  Yellow topstitching was applied afterwards for decorative effect.

Step 1 The rear part will be stretched, bagging outwards so unpick the centre back seam and restitch to a flatter shape

The Beginning – The rear part will be stretched, bagging outwards so unpick the centre back seam and restitch to a flatter shape

Step 2 - Stich front pockets closed and cut away pocket bags

Don’t flap – Stich front pockets closed and cut away pocket bags

The Finetuning – Decide how much fabric to use in the collar and where to apply it. I experimented with some packing paper.

What do you think? I would like to try this again, with a different style of jeans and a neckline/hemline not so dictated by the original seams.

By the way, Happy Birthday to Moonchild Blogstalker who turns 10 tomorrow!It's the Blogstalker's Birthday

Cowgirl, Restructured

Familiar Faces

Three years ago when I started blogging, it seemed a futile business.  By sharing knowledge, I wanted to contribute something to the internet – after years of take – but most posts would take hours to produce, especially tutorials, and I rarely knew whether anyone read them.  I began to think each post a message in a bottle tossed into the ocean, fingers crossed.

Kate DaviesKate of Fabrickated, who’s been blogging pretty much daily for just over a year, must have felt like that too but she quickly gained a readership of those who, like me, appreciate her well-informed and all-encompassing advice on style.  I like to see Kate’s creative output too, as it’s varied and bold.  I mean, discharge pasteSilver-leaf beetles!?  Well, last Friday I made my way to Kings Cross to meet her.  Though her PA led me straight to her office, I’d have recognized Kate very easily if I’d have had to pick her out in a busy crowd at the station.  She looks just like in her blog!  Not only that, she was wearing her painted silk camisole in colours I’ve come to associate with her.  (Kate on the other hand realised I was a bit of a tich!)  Although we knew quite a bit about each other, meeting in real life helped fill up lot of non-sewing gaps.  Kate very kindly took me for lunch by Regent’s Canal – a former running haunt of mine but much changed after development.  We were a couple of doors away from Central Saint Martins so afterwards we popped in to see some of the students’ exhibits.  Most of it was decidedly zany like the fuzzy gloves, each studded with painted red screws, which we tried on.  Kate and I both love, and feel very lucky to live in, London.  I’ve a lot of admiration for the work she does in enabling the city to be a home to so many.  I went home feeling like I’d been on a bit of an adventure.  It was an unexpected high and evidence of how through blogging my world has grown.

Elna 6200 Decorator's TouchBack at home, Elna was waiting, fresh from her two weeks’ recuperation at World of Sewing.  Here’s a list of the treatments she received, with apologies for the jargon:

Remove ‘play’ from bobbin race and gears

Reset tension

Fit new bobbin hook cover

Check timing and hook and needle clearance

Delinting, degreasing, oil and lubricate

Stitch test, Clean down

[And finally… ] Electrical safety test.

In the 8 years I’ve had this machine, I’ve ignored some warning signs and the work was well overdue.  It cost £148.56 with a guarantee of 6 months.

She now sews with a creamy purr, whereas previously she had a tendency to squeak and whine.  Alas, despite my surge of creativity, my task this weekend was to put Elna to a most basic drawstring-bag job.  This is to replace the tent poles bag belonging to his school which son lost on a camping trip and for which he’d otherwise be charged some deposit money if not replaced.  Luckily, the job was a quick one as I had the ideal instructions: my first ever blog post, Nosebag!

Elna and Maxine

elna maxine

mullet free zone signThe dress on the left belongs to a client who bought it for £5 at an H&M sale (why, oh why wasn’t I at this sale?).  The original hem was all one length – a bit nunny – which didn’t do justice to the rather sensual upper half of the dress so the client asked me to convert it to a fishtail.  Some of you would call this kind of hem a mullet but I absolutely refuse to work with that term!  I haven’t seen the dress actually worn by the client yet.  In the photo it’s a bit wind-blown but otherwise I think it looks great and I enjoyed my little job.

a back viewI’d love to copy this design and make it for myself in some interesting drapey fabric as everything about it appeals to me.  The centre front panel is stretch mesh; the arrangement of the spaghetti straps is beautiful and the back isn’t overlooked either.  Elements of the design would translate well into a swimming costume or a jumpsuit too.  But where to start?  Do you have any recommendations for software that would convert a drawing into a technical one or what to use to make a paper pattern into a PDF?

Soon as I was asked to do this, my Elna stopped working.  As my client mentioned she sews too (but didn’t fancy tackling a curved hem), I asked if I could use her machine.  She messaged me to say yes but that her ‘Maxine’ is a very basic one.  I thought,  “Uh oh, what kind of a budget make is Maxine?”  but this turned out to be a mobile phone auto-correct for Janome.  Phew!

Barista cuffsTo familiarise with Maxine before tackling the fishtail, I spent a few hours fixing a dress of my own.  This is something I made 2 years ago by hacking into the Anna pattern.  My dress was originally ochre with brown cuffs which, I discovered, looked exactly like the Costa uniform – it’s clear that subconsciously I want to work there and live off Flat Whites and Carrot Cake…   close up of anna dartsAfter I dyed it brown, the dress became one of the most wearable things I’d ever made (blogged here) but I soon splashed bleach on it while cleaning the toilet.  I was so upset.  I needed to go darker to disguise the mess so black it had to be.  This meant the brown zip had to be replaced and all the stitching had to be redone a millimetre or so inside the original construction seams and also on the hem and the neckline.  Otherwise, any strain on the seams and the brown stitching would show  just like when someone with brown or red hair dyes it black and a few weeks later they get ‘hot roots.’ 

a close up of 3 stitchingsIn this photo you can see three colours of stitching on one of the waist darts, right to left: ochre, brown and black.  This may seem rather a lot of work for rather an unremarkable-looking dress but I love it for so many reasons.  It’s warm (pincord) and therefore perfect for those days at either side of summer.  Its softness makes me very huggable when I wear it (apparently) and as it’s so simple, it’s great for showing off any jewellery.  And for getting a bit of sun on my arms.

But yes, it would have been quicker to make a new one.  Do you think it’s worth doing jobs like this or is it simpler to start anew?

The Most Expensive Curtain Ever

 

mascaras de pelea fabric by alexander henryLucha libre curtainsLast year we completely renovated our son’s bedroom – it’s the room with the blue-tiled hearth I use as a backdrop in some photo-shoots.   However, I never got round to making curtains for its semi-circular bay window.  My son insists he doesn’t need curtains as he likes to lie in bed looking at the sky and the plane trees in the distance and yes, I take his point, but what about the electricity cable and the streetlights…?  As we had a very important visitor coming to stay in that room, the impending arrival gave me the kick to make the room a bit more homelike.

Firstly, the newly plastered ceiling needed a curtain track affixed to it.  In order to save the £230 track-fitting fee, we did the job ourselves.  It was horrible, fiddly work with much planning and marking and it blew all the daytime hours of Damon’s entire weekend and some of mine too.  It was the first time I had to make sense of tiny diagrams in the instructions by using a magnifying glass.  Shame on you, Swish 👿  Cutting curtain lengths on floorboardsNext, while Damon moved to the task of renovating the bathroom only to unearth plumbing horrors, I set about estimating the fabric amount required and ordering samples.  The curved window, typical of British 1930s’ suburban houses, was wider than it looked: 4 metres.  This meant the required width of the curtain would be between 6 and 8 metres.  Taking into account the pattern repeat and the  ‘drop,’ I’d need about 16 metres.  I wanted cheerful fabric rather than something grown-up so I opted for quilting cotton (which comes with a tremendous choice of colours and patterns).  At £12 a metre from Frumble, a bolt of 16 metres cost £192.  Which isn’t why this is the most expensive curtain ever.

mascaras de pelea fabric curtains alexander henryThe lining fabric came from the local curtain supplies store.  It’s crisp, white and since it’s cotton-rich, I hope it won’t be prone to mould spots come winter and condensation on the glass.  The lining and 10 curtains weights came to another £70.  Which isn’t why this is the most expensive curtain ever….

mascaras de pelea curtain makingCurtain-making isn’t my forte.  All that I know – which, apparently, is called the ‘bag-method’ – I learnt from Readers Digest Complete Guide to DIY.  The fact that my work will undoubtedly be subject to scrutiny makes it all the more nerve-racking.  But it’s dynamic work too.  The cutting up of the panels, the measuring and the marking  required so much getting down to the floor and up again that after three days I felt like I’d been to a yoga retreat!  There’s something rewarding too in all that flat geometry.  I love the point at which the lining and fabric are turned right side out and the side edges get a hot press: the lovely smell of steamy, printed poplin.  And hand-hemming more than 6 metres, though time consuming, really means you’re quite quick and neat by the end.

mascarasI did run into big trouble getting my panels to match up, both horizontally and vertically.  Unlike during the previous curtain-making occasion, my walking foot (even feed foot) simply wasn’t up to the job.  Something was wrong.  Normally, I’d slow right down, sewing centimetre by centimetre and checking for accuracy but there just wasn’t time… we had a very important visitor coming… So I kept going, sometimes with luck on my side, often not, but a passable effort.  If anyone points out the misalignments such as these, I’ll wrestle them to the floor I think.

NicoThe curtains were finished the evening before our important visitor arrived… which meant that a strapping 16-year-old exchange student from Munich (to the right of the picture) got to sleep soundly underneath the most barmy curtain he’ll see in his whole life, probably.   It was when the excitement was over that I realized the machine’s stitches weren’t forming properly.  I’ve taken Elna in for a repair which will cost £150.  Which still isn’t why this is the most expensive curtain ever…

No.  You see, my son wasn’t sure if he liked this choice of fabric quite as much as he liked Star Wars: Imperial Storm Trooper .  But I couldn’t bear those dull colours.  So, in order to sway his decision I said “If you choose Mascaras de Pelea, I’ll take you and the whole family on a holiday tour of Mexico!”

:roll:   Anyways…

nacho libre

 

Ariel

 

1 Before and After1 beetleI found this top crammed into a sales rail at Dorothy Perkins some rainy day back in January or February.  At size 18, it was far too big but I decided to restyle it, which for £7 seemed a risk worth taking.  I was quite taken by its green beetle shimmer!  The original plan was to create something fabulous, inventive even, but during the cold weeks that followed, as I watched it swamping the dummy, the fabric took on an uninspiring sheen.  Here’s a picture of it looking like cellophane on me  :-(   I realised when seeing this picture that no matter what I made, it would be so clingy that I’d only be able to wear it with perfectly fitting bras – of which I don’t have many.1 Wipeout1 aSo I decided to do away with as much surplus fabric as possible.  In no time at all (an hour really) with the help of my Renfrew pattern, and by keeping the original neckline, I turned it into a sleek, sun-loving staple.  The colour and texture remind me of Ariel the Mermaid’s tail; in fact, I’m longing for a mane of red hair to set this off!

If you’re considering a project of this nature but are reluctant to start, remember that sewing stretchy jersey is not an exact science.  You can get away with some approximation.  Similarly, I’ve noticed that a couple of my favourite RTW T-Shirts don’t lie flat properly – the side seams twist around – yet the garments still look good and feel comfortable.  In other words, go for it.

1 ariel back

A tutorial (of sorts):

Notes:

  • I’ve kept the original neckline as I didn’t think it could be improved.
  • I’ve kept the original sleeve hem but the shirt body has been shortened.
  • Being without a serger, I used a long, narrow zigzag stitch, then trimmed the seams closely.
  • I used my Renfrew, possibly the world’s most boring pattern, which has more than earned its keep: I’ve pirated it a couple of times before (for a Pattern Magic project and on another baggy-to-sleek restyle).  But you can use any T-shirt you like (or vest) as your template.  If two seams don’t fit, stretch reasonably evenly till they do!
  • You can use offcuts for bindings if you like.  As my fabric is metallic, I used offcuts under my iron to see if I could press new seams.
Step 1 Lay top flat, find centre and align pattern onto it, shoulder seams matching

Step 1 Lay top flat, find centre and align pattern onto it, shoulder seams matching

Step 2: Separate the sleeves and side seams then draw the back pattern onto top

Step 2: Separate the sleeves and side seams then draw the back pattern onto top. Sew the side seams, finish and press.

Step 3: Decide on desired sleeve length.  I decided to keep original sleeve hem.  Fold sleeve pattern in half; it should be symmetrical

Step 3: Decide on desired sleeve length. I decided to keep original sleeve hem. Fold sleeve pattern in half; with a jersey sleeve, the pattern should be symmetrical.

Step 4: Cut sleeve

Step 4: Cut sleeve

Step 5: notch the sleeve, then pin to armhole, notch to shoulder seam and underarm to side seam.

Step 5: notch the top of sleeve, then pin sleeve to armhole, notch to shoulder seam and underarm to side seam. Stitch and trim.

And finally…

No, I haven’t forgotten the Savage Beauty postcard giveaway?  Sorry it took so long.  The winner is Fabrickated.  Thanks to all who entered  :-)

McCalls 5766

1.1 Marianna in M57661 Sleeve improvisation McCalls 5766The sun came out today, if rather shyly, which made it ideal weather for giving my McCall’s 5766 its virgin outing. When I finished it some 10 days ago, it was very cold and as I tried the coat on indoors, I could feel a breeze around my legs! Though it’s woollen, this isn’t a warm garment. It even feels light when I pick it up.

I remember once reading how Swedes, or maybe Scandinavians, tend to own four coats: one for the winter, one for autumn, a spring one and – poor souls – a summer one.  Well, this is my April, May and October coat. I apologise for how awfully I’ve styled it (black doesn’t go at all) but I was in a rush to get to Down House with the kids (visiting Charles Darwin’s home has become an Easter tradition as they do a great Egg Hunt).  A dress and high heeled boots or my blue dancing shoes would do this better justice. Also, I’m having a rather enjoyable search for some ballet flats that would go with.

mccalls 5766 times 3

Are you familiar with the concept of “treats” from the book Couture Sewing Techniques? A treat is a finishing touch that makes the handmade garment a pleasure to put on and take off, like a private reminder that your piece is unique.  Well, let me introduce you to the opposite concept in couture: the clanger. This is the shaming mistake, or act of omission, you’d be wise to cover up as anyone in the know will otherwise mark you out as a hopeless amateur.  I’d rather not list all of my clangers as  I’ve rather come round to thinking they don’t matter. The marathon-effort that was McCalls 5766, begun with Shrek in January, is  wearable. I have passed.  Thanks for sticking with me, for your brilliant comments and insights!

1 Coat and Blogstalker

But there are the two main areas in which I’d do things differently the next time:

1. I’d borrow a trick from speed tailoring and back the entire fabric with fusible weft interfacing (discovered herebefore cutting. Not only would it save time finishing the seams, it’ll make the coat warmer too.  And unless I was making a summer coat, I’d probably go for a thicker lining such as satin.

Do you know of any professional place that applies the fusible weft for you in London or thereabouts?  The service is I believe called block fusing but that may be a non-UK term.

2.  I’d do a proper job of tailoring the collar, using collar canvas, pad stitching and lots of steam power.  I just stuck to interfacing as per instructions which was lazy but I was nervous that I’d make a hash job of the notch, having never done that to satisfaction before.  In the end, careful marking and slow sewing ensured the notch worked out fine, but the collar is a bit of a pancake to be honest.

Here’s Gertie’s tutorial on making a proper collar.

Also on the subject of collars, let me share this interesting tip I found in the Morplan’s Tailoring book.  It’s to help ensure that collar doesn’t roll in:

1 Step 1 pin and markBefore you join the garment to the lining and facing, pin them wrong sides together. Pin at the neckhole seam and at the shoulder seams.  Put the coat on your dummy.  If the collar and undercollar are exactly the same size, fine.  If however the undercollar protrudes, mark the edge of the collar with a line of pins.  Now, pin your garment and lining right sides together but match the raw edge of the collar with the line of pins before you sew.1 Bloggie speaks

 

Delia Grinstead

 

1 Pencil mummy“She noticed she walked differently now, not with her usual bouncy gait but more levelly, because of her slim skirt.”

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler

March’s been rough.  Slight but cutting professional disappointments, rubbish progress with my running, gloomy weather, mess from renovating work and, inevitably, finishing my coat to a standard that doesn’t satisfy.  March is always a month I  struggle with because my birthday is at the end and in the run-up I tend to evaluate my achievements of the past year and find them underwhelming.  Which is why it was absolutely wonderful to have been treated to a novel by one of my favourite authors, Anne Tyler, serialised on Radio 4, in 10 episodes that I was able to “rewind” whenever I missed anything because I was running the sewing machine too noisily (Anne Tyler is my literary equivalent of chicken soup).  1 Pencil sideI read ‘Ladder of Years’ when it was published  in the 1990s and again more recently so there were no surprises in the plot but, oh my, the first half of this story never fails to amaze.  It goes like this: while doing the family shop, Delia Grinstead is asked a favour by a handsome stranger.  He’d like Delia to impersonate his girlfriend so that his glamorous ex – who happens to be in the supermarket shopping with her new partner – is made jealous.  Delia complies, her life gains a bit of momentum and the next thing you know, she walks out on her family and starts a new life as a secretary in a different town!

Both the narrator and the actress reading Delia have wonderful voices which I could hear in my head as, for the purposes of this photo-shoot, I minced in my new pencil skirt imaging myself an efficient, unapproachable secretary on her coffee break.  I occasionally think of “doing a Delia” myself, i.e. taking a long walk to a new life.  No way am I going to.  It’s just a revenge fantasy I pull out when I’m having a bad day :-) But I’d like to know: is this normal amongst women who disappear into family life and Anne Tyler just picked up on it, or did the author plant the idea in my head!?

Another case of pencil

I couldn’t resist making this skirt out of my coat wool and lining.  Just when I thought there were no further observations I could make about this pattern, a few cropped up during the making so here they are in case you’re making a pencil yourself.

Drafting

  • To create the siren silhouette, use your basic skirt block but narrow the hem by a total of about 8cm compared to the widest part (the hip).  This difference is easier to achieve if the skirt is long.  Here’s a chart of measurements for a RTW version: Boden pencil skirt.  You can see how the hem and hip circumferences vary and also depend on whether you choose the long (L) or regular (R) length.1 Pencil skirt, inside out
  • Of course, a skirt that’s narrow at the hem will be hard to walk in so you will need a slit or a kick pleat.  Here’s my lined kick pleat tutorial if you’re making a skirt with lining.  Inside out, the final result looks like this:
  • Another way to lengthen the distance from waist to hem is to raise the top with a grown-on waist.  It’s a flattering option for those with a high waist but I’m wary of this for myself on account of the widest part of my hips being 30cm lower than my waist.  I’d look high-waisted but stumpy.  On the other hand, with a heart-shape-hipped figure, it would emphasise long legs.  Which hip shape are you?
click on pic for source

click on pic for source

 

Waistband

If your wool skirt has a waistband, I recommend using Petersham ribbon.  Wool next to skin can be scratchy as I found on my previous make when I kept pulling up my tights so skin and skirt wouldn’t be in contact.

Pattern placement

If you’re using large scale checks like these, consider their placement tactically according to body parts you wish to emphasise or hide.

  • dark bands of colour should go across the widest part if you want your hips to appear narrower, and vice versa.
  • consider at which part of the squares your hem line will lie.  I find that cutting a square in half creates an impression of shortness.  The ideal is three quarters down a pale block.  Unless your legs are really long and you don’t like that (who are you?!)

P. S. I love drinking from this mug my friend gave me.  Not just ’cause of the buttons but the china is lovely too.1 Mug

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

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1 romantic naturalism

1 romantic nationalism