Thursday, 13 December 2012

The 'Less Haste, More Speed' Dress

 'Less haste, more speed' - I never really understood that saying until I made this dress. I don't know what was wrong with me when I cut this dress out (maybe I was in a post-flu medication haze), but for some reason I looked at the measurements on the back of the packet and assumed they would work for me.

I made version B, on the left
 How wrong I was...

The finished product's not bad, but it's full of little faults and mistakes the distract me when I wear it.

Here I am in my festive dining room - NOT! It's a recreation of a Georgian room at the Victoria and Albert Museum
I think this pattern was cut for a person with no curves and a lot less height than me. There's no room at all in the bust, so much so that leaving the waist dart in gave me a really unattractive 'squashed' effect in the chest area. So I left it out altogether. As for the height issue, the waist seems to sit much higher then it should. All of these issues could have been avoided if I had just done a few measurements and a few easy adjustments. Lesson learned!

On top of this, the pattern seems to have been drafted a bit strangely. Now I'm no couture seamstress and I've been known to cut corners, but I ain't bad at sewing even if I say so myself. But there were some things on this dress I just couldn't make happen. For example, the sleeve:
Frustrating, unwanted gathers!
 Try as I might, I couldn't avoid a few tiny gathers at the sleeve head. It just wouldn't fit! AAARRRGGGHHH!

Next, the collar and the facing:

Pleat at center back - sheer laziness on my part
No amount of clipping, stretching, easing, and all the other sewing tricks I was aware of would make them go together easily. It was as if they were cut for an enirely different size, or another dress altogether. In the end, I was really lazy and just added a pleat at the center back of the collar - it doesn't look too bad, does it?

I approach every project as a learning experience, and I always finish them knowing there are little bits and pieces I would like to change, or that could have worked out better. Then I take these bits of knowledge to the next project, and hopefully improve on them. But with this one, I think I was momentarily crazy and just went at it like a looney seamstress, and without any of my usual care. And you know what - it's actually not bad! Every time I wear it some of the faults kind of bother me, but several people have commented on it positively, and Mr Needles says it's one of his favourite dresses on me. 

Maybe I just need to relax with all the perfection stuff. 

See you soon!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Fever Induced Knitting and Sewing

The last 2 weeks of my life have mostly consisted of this:

Get me, mixing my medications - living on the edge!

 Yup, as is so often the case at this time of year, I have succumbed to flu, like 90% of the rest of the nation. Hacking cough, aches and pains, exhaustion, sweating alternating with shivering - the whole gamut of general illness. I've generally felt like this:

Resting on my deathbed...

Besides watching re-runs of 'Poirot' and 'Murder She Wrote', the only thing I've been able to manage is knitting. I've started on this project from an American copy of The Vogue Knitting Book from Autumn/Winter 1951:

With all this time on my hands recuperating, I've wizzed through this - only the sleeves left to do!

I've also started this:

Le-Roy Pattern, early 1970's (I think...)
I've always loved the 1940's via the 1970's - I love the way they've styled it with wedges and a hair snood. And the black and pink floral cotton sateen I pulled out of my stash is just perfect for view B.

Anyway, I think the worst of my illness has gone, so normal service is about to be resumed!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Hola! Happy Halloween!

 I decided to go back to my Mexican-American roots this year and do a Day of the Dead look for Halloween this year.

I'm off to a special screening of 'The Lost Boys' in an old Victorian chapel - hope I don't get too spooked!


Sunday, 28 October 2012

A Look Inside Dior Couture at the V&A

Working with mass produced clothes on a daily basis, as I do, can give you a somewhat altered idea of what a sewn garment should look like, and can affect the standards you apply to your own home made pieces. There are some good ideas about construction and technique to take away; there are also some things to avoid (not enough stuff is lined, as far as I'm concerned, and too many pieces have elastic waists, therefore avoiding the need for tailoring and fitting). Though the styles may not always be to my liking, I have to admit that the basic construction standards are usually good. Most things are slick and sharp inside and out, but there is no evidence of any human hand being involved in the construction - everything is correctly placed, seams are all overlocked, etc.

It was therefore very refreshing to see this when I visited the newly re-opened Costume Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum:

Inside detail of the bodice section of the Zemire ensemble by Christian Dior, 1954-55
 Here's a close up:

I love it! Notched seams, massive seam allowances, tiny hand stitching which a modern chain store customer would turn their nose up at, and no overlocking. You can see the 'hand' of the  person, or people, involved in making this piece.

Here's what it should look like when worn:

The bodice was part of this ensemble, consisting of jacket, skirt, petticoat, and bodice (source)

The ensemble has an interesting back story, which you can read about in detail here. The piece on display in the V&A was originally made for Lady Agota Sekers, who was wife to Miki Sekers, a British fabric manufacturer. This ensemble was comissioned from Dior and made out of cellulose acetate satin made at the Sekers mills who supplied not only Dior, but Balenciaga, Givenchy and others. Apparently it was common for Lady Sekers to comission designs by top couturiers to promote her husband's product. She sounds like a hoot - she often abandoned fitting sessions in order to go sight seeing around Paris! The Sekers company is still going - it celebrated it's 70th birthday in 2008. Read about it here and here.

Anyway, back to my main point - seeing the inside of this piece made me smile. I've never really got on with overlocking/serging, and I don't really mind if there are slight imperfections in any of my finished pieces. I see it all as a learning process, and any so-called mistakes just give each piece a bit of added character. And I'm so glad the V&A has thought to show the insides of not just this, but several pieces in their collection. I find it frustrating that so many non-sewers have no idea of the work that goes into the clothes on their backs; hopefully this tiny gesture will make an impression on a few visitors. That beautiful clothes can have personality inside and out, and that perfection isn't necessary for an item to have aa lasting impression.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A Second Chance - the Ally Pally Stitching and Knitting Show

Last year, I attended the Stitching and Knitting Show at Alexandra Palace which I blogged about here. At the time, I didn't give it a glowing review because in my opinion it focused far too much on whimsical crafts and luxury products, and very little on fashion and practicality - a bit too much of the 'Mollie Makes' apple warmers and not enough for those of us wanting to build a handmade practical wardrobe.

I decided to give it another go when I read that the UK  Hand Knitting Association needed volunteers for their Sweetie Shop project at the show. I've been toying with the idea for a while of teaching crafts, or trying to get involved with a craft group, but I wasn't sure if I would like it, or if I could even do it - I'm not always the most patient of people! This seemed like a good way to find out.

It was great!

A knitted sweeties shop!
Denise and the other members from UKHKA kitted out an area of the Palm Court to look like an old fashioned sweet shop, with jars full of needles, wool, ribbons, and other bits and pieces. As a volunteer, it was my job to encourage visitiors to join in, ask questions, have a go at knitting or crocheting, and ultimately make a small sweet to pin to the centrepieces on each table.

Mollie, Nina and Yorke having fun knitting!
It was such a lovely experience! I taught people new to knitting (a little boy of 6 was the youngest) as well as spending time with much more experienced knitters, who showed me a few new things. The sweet shop theme was really attractive - no matter what your experience, you could complete something in a short time, and leave feeling you'd achieved something.

2 more satisfied customers
A crocheted toffee, and some little sweets made out of magic loops

I had 2 really fab days volunteering, so much that I'm going to organise something of my own - watch this space... And a big 'thank you' to the UKHKA for organising everything - do look at heir website if you have a chance.

See you soon!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Routemaster Tribute Capelet!

Living in London, you are incredibly reliant on public transport. Londoners talk about transport almost as much as they talk about the weather, and any changes that are made to it are analysed and discussed at length.

Several years ago, our esteemed city elders decided to replace this beloved design:
Classic Routemaster
With this fire prone, cumbersome piece of s***:
 I hated these buses so much, I even resorted to making my own 'I HATE BENDY BUSES' badges and leaving them on buses and in public places - my own little stab at art terrorism/protest. I was unbelievably pleased when it was decided to take them off the road, and replace them with an all new Routemaster. Transport in this city is still over priced and unreliable, but this new bus just makes me smile, and I'm so pleased to see government taking a chance on a piece of public design which is stylish and takes risks with a classic:
Thomas Heatherwick's new Routemaster design. Read more about it here

 The back view, with the open 'hop on, hop off' platform restored

By coincidence, I made a jacket that is nearly the same shade - my Routemaster Tribute Capelet!


This was a stashbuster made from some cheapo red polyester that I bought locally. It was intended for trousers, but when I got it home I realised it reminded me too much of an air stewardess uniform, ie scratchy and synthetic. It languished on the stash pile until a couple of weeks ago. And I've been wearing it almost constantly - I love it!

Here are some details:

I wanted to keep the cost down, so I lined it with a £1.50/m poly cotton black and red polka dot:

I wanted it to be a quick project, and keep hand sewing to a minimum. But there were some things that couldn't be avoided, like the little chain that attaches the cuff to the body of the coat:

This fabric frayed and unravelled like nobody's business,involving loads of trimming with the pinking shears. In the end, I approached it the way you do when you're tidying up your home and shove everything into a cupboard or drawer - the 'out of sight, out of mind' method. I put the lining in quickly and attached it loosely with a catch stitch to the hem of the jacket:

 This is my new favourite way to do my nails - I've been watching a lot of Lana del Rey on Youtube

And to end, some more photos of the jacket in front of a double decker bus - it's not a Routemaster, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up!

                        Mr Needles says that this hairdo looks better with a 'haughty' expression...

That's it! See you soon!

Friday, 28 September 2012

A Visit to Laboratoire Needles

I buy a lot of my fabrics from stalls, remnant bins, etc, and often have to guess at what they're made up of. It's never been a problem - no cleaning disasters so far! - but the fabrics I've used in a few recent projects have made me curious about finding out more.

Then I remembered the burn tests we did on fabrics in my 'A' Level (equivalent to High School) Fashion and Textiles classes. Basically, a burn test consisted of setting a small swatch of fabric alight, then observing how it burnt and analysing the residue or ash left behind to determine the composition of the fabric. Yup - we were allowed to set stuff on fire in the name of education!

After consulting a few websites, such as Fabric University and Fiber Images, I felt confident enough to open up Laboratoire Needles and burn stuff!

These are the basic tools you need:

Tin foil, tweezers, a jar for catching residue/extinguishing flame, and fabric swatches
I pulled a few strands from the first swatch, and holding them with the tweezers, I held them over the stove bunsen burner, then watched them smoulder, drip, spark, and go up in flame:

This is what we wear at Laboratoire Needles...

...freshly set hair, red lipstick, lots of jewellery, and no safety gear whatsoever!
And these were my findings:

The scratchy red fabric

The swatch at the top, and the results of the burn test below - hard black beads
I knew this fabric was most likely man-made, but I wasn't sure what. When it was burnt, it melted, smelled pretty strong and plastic-y, and the melted bits hardened to little black beads. According to the Fiber Images website, this is most likely Polyester.

The cheap polka dot

This one was a bit puzzling; I thought it was probably rayon or viscose, but it melted a bit like the polyester, and was a bit ashy when it cooled. Maybe a cotton polyester mix?

The jersey fabric

This one hardly burned at all, just smouldered with no ash, and it left a sort of greasy smear on the foil. According to the Fabric University, this is probably rayon.

The printed fabric

This was the only one that turned out as predicted. I assumed it was cotton; it burned like paper, and left a grey ash. So, pretty sure that's cotton!

It was getting a bit too crazy and experimental in the Lab at this point, so I closed it for the evening and went back to watching telly and drinking tea - I mean, researching future tests. But I hope that my cutting edge scientific research was of some help. The next time you buy a fabric of unknown origin and you want to know what it is, SET IT ON FIRE!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Style 4782 - It Reminds Me of Something...

Style 4782, from 1974

I made version 3 of the pattern above several weeks ago, but I've been enjoying wearing it so much I didn't find time to blog about it. Here it is:

I love this little dress! I wanted something I could just throw on at any time, so I didn't use any lining, just a facing on the bodice out of a light poly-cotton. I used run-and-fell and French seams, so that they didn't have to be finished inside, and I tried to keep the hand sewing to a minimum, only using it on the hem and to put in the zip.

Here are some details:

-There are 2 little pockets on the front, which are machine stitched directly on:

They're not much use, except for maybe holding a phone or small camera, but I thought the dress was a bit plain without them.

-The neckline is a wide squared off shape, and the seam under the bust dips into a point:

After several times wearing this outfit, it suddenly dawned on me that it resembled something:


Yep, except for the white buttons, this dress is pretty similar to the one Hello Kitty wears! Have I inadvertenly become one of those child-women who spends her time dressing like cartoon characters? I hope not...

I'll leave you with a more grown-up version of the dress, under some beautiful vines in Lisbon.

 Take care!