Travel Card Holders

 

When I carefully positioned my handmade travel card holders around the wooden clock, I couldn’t help thinking how fitting this arrangement was. Paris in 1921 suddenly reminded me of the movie Midnight in Paris and the concept of travelling back in time to the Roaring 20’s. I sometimes feel a pang of nostalgia for those old black & white movies and the endearing crackling background noise of jazz recordings. In fact, Paris 1928 was recently the subject of a very interesting programme on BBC4 called Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: A Tale of Three Cities. This was the year when the surrealists Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel brought their vision to the general public with the release of Un Chien Andalou, and writers and musicians such as Ernest Hemingway and George Gershwin came to Paris looking for inspiration. I doubt their transatlantic cruise tickets would have fitted in my travel card holders though. But that was never the intention; nostalgia isn’t on the cards for today and the theme of these handmade travel wallets is very much anchored around designs and colours that truly inspire me.

 

Vintage Cherry

I’ve already used this fabric before when I made Clorinda’s shirt. I really like the combination of deep red, black dots, and a touch of green leaves.

 

Pink Delight

Pink is like marmite to me: you either love it or hate it and for a long time I thought I belonged to the latter group. Elle Woods in Legally Blonde anyone? She was fun but the whole candy pink look was a tad too much in my opinion. I wanted to challenge myself and make pink pretty, girly but visually interesting. I’m so stupidly proud of the result even though you’ll never see me travelling with one of them!

 

Bonbon Blue

I’ve made this design before but I just like it so much that I made some more. I must credit my friend Regina for the name. She commented on the blog one day and said they looked like bonbons. I thought that was just the word!

 

Ride-in-Style

I think I’ve ranted before about the cheap piece of blue plastic and ubiquitous underground logo that all of us Londoners take out of our pockets to pass through the ticket gates. Consider this version as my unofficial update on the tawdry TFL design. I’ve made others around the Baker St, Waterloo, and Hyde Park station logos.

 

I think Ride-in-Style is my favourite! Which one is yours?

 

Musings on Technology and Online Fabric Woes

My online shopping experience is sparse and mainly confined to buying second-hand books on Amazon. They cost absolutely nothing if you exclude the slightly inflated postage fee. I sometimes question my ethical behaviour but as a book lover, that’s how I manage to stretch my discretionary spending throughout the month. Now you’re probably thinking I’m making a poor case for myself, if only I were to look into the future of reading as a cost-effective solution? Oh yes, the Kindle or the E-reader; I remember the day when my friend turned up with one of those. I poked it gingerly before turning questioning eyes on its owner. When he turned it on and put it through its paces, he looked as happy as a kid in a candy store while I recoiled slightly in my chair. I gave it a fair go but I was missing the smell of old paperback and the sensation of my fingers turning pages. Still, when I explain that I’m unwilling to spend fifty pounds or more on a gadget, I’m made to feel like I’m letting someone or something down. Perhaps progress itself? I know of a few people who find the idea of paying for music, films and books preposterous but who would unquestionably part with large sums of money for technology. It’s debatable; perhaps I like to hold onto traditions, perhaps I would miss that “sensory offload” if I were to substitute the gradual unfolding of paper for an electronic device.

That may explain why I enjoy sewing where the visual-tactile interaction plays an important part in selecting the right fabric. The tactile experience is no longer present when you buy online and colour distortion can be an issue on computer screens. But there are ways to go around it and I found that a few online stores will let you order swatches for free or a nominal charge. Then, of course, there’s the convenience of choosing from a huge range of fabrics in the comfort of your own home. Have you tried doing this on eBay before? It’s daunting! Even when using the search categories, you’re still likely to scroll through hundreds if not thousands of fabrics. You can’t beat the variety of choices but you can’t always predict how the fabric will behave or drape in person.

Buying fabrics online is a great convenience that will never replace the satisfaction of shopping in a well-stocked fabric store. Still, that didn’t stop me from taking the plunge last week and ordering that gorgeous Italian shirting fabric on eBay.

 

But what did I receive instead? This…

 

Now if that’s not a major let-down, I don’t know what else is. I’ve since contacted the seller who assured me I wasn’t a case of optical delusion and the correct order was now safely on its way. I was also told to keep those 2 metres of fabric as a gesture of apology. I certainly wouldn’t call it a lottery prize but if I could find a use to it, I’d be pretty sold on the unsung perks on online shopping!

 

Impossible Catwalk Shows

 

The name alone was a surefire way to drag me out of my cocoon nest and kick my imagination into overdrive, a name strong enough to subtly hint that I should spruce myself up for the occasion. But what could be so impossible about Catwalk Shows?  Footage of RuPaul walking effortlessly in 10 inch stiletto heels clicking sharply on a giant rotating platform? A dress entirely covered with sewn on Lipton tea bags and lightning bolts emanating from an electric cord around the waist? A heart-wrenching moment when two hollow-eyed fashion martyrs trade blows on the catwalk or Lady Gaga undergoing another incubation in a giant egg before emerging as Kermit the Frog?

Surely I could at least expect something beyond the mere parade of fashion models with dour faces, painted purple lips and dilated pupils? (Apparently a tell-tale sign that they’re high on, ahem, hairspray fumes). Well, definitely! But I quickly realised I was completely off the mark when I first arrived and hungrily scanned the medium-sized exhibition room for a hint of scandal. Not a trace – as Simon Costin, renowned for his work with Tim Walker and Alexander McQueen, has clearly approached the subject matter of catwalk shows on a much “smaller-scale” with various model sets aiming to challenge our formalised ways of viewing garments.

 

Costin is truly an ingenious set designer and he has chosen a set of real and imagined spaces such as a reproduction of a nuclear power station, a cardboard forest and a sanatorium. Now what could be the link between the clothes and a place treating long-term illnesses or a plant generating nuclear power and electricity? Your guess is as good as mine and the exhibition certainly asks more questions than it answers. In a way, I found it strangely refreshing not to be spoon-fed, something we’ve grown so accustomed to and even expect nowadays. Nothing during the course of the exhibition is overtly obvious; the model sets take central stage while the garments – which are barely present – only play second fiddle to the setting, forcing you to reassess and imagine the relationship between the set designs and the clothes. This wasn’t about beauty, drama and glamour and it went beyond the fickle frippery of mainstream fashion where cutesy narratives, inspirational backdrops and dramatic lightning often compensate for a lack of interest in the clothes. I’m not saying this is wrong, I’m just saying this has now become a common and widespread marketing strategy to appeal to the mass market in a bid to generate sales and Costin has shown in the past that he is certainly very skilled in that area.

Deconstruction was also on the agenda in the shape of a dome-like structure through which you could peer at 16 lifesize lenticular lenses representing isolated parts of a same garment. Frankly the concept completely lost me…

 

The pictures I took of the sanatorium reproduction showed a space filled with dyed garments suspended on hangers above miniature steel baths. I was unsure about the true meaning behind this idea but the visual impact was strong and the unusual setting didn’t detract from the clothes. In fact it reminded me of a scene from a little-known movie called Giorgino.

Scene from Giorgino

 

The exhibition is clearly a low-budget affair but where Simon Costin succeeds, in my opinion, is in showing a different and less indulgent side of fashion. Here he drops the glitzy and glamorous décors in favour of more controversial environments where clothes may elicit an emotional and intellectual response away from the traditional catwalk. He provides interesting questions and answers about the future of the fashion show. Costin’s vision may come to life one day but it would undoubtedly be – if you’d excuse my scepticism – as part of a marketing ploy devised by the fashion industry for which a designer’s imagination is only worth exploiting if it goes hand in hand with a high profit margin; a timely reminder that when fashion forgets its disruptive, probing and uncompromising roots, it just becomes mainstream and forgettable.

 ***

I could not take pictures of the nuclear plant model set which was protected by a cardboard structure but I’ve got plenty of mood boards for you verging a little on the weird side…

Back to Blogging

You may have noticed that I’ve taken an extended break from sewing and blogging: six weeks exactly, that’s the equivalent of a zillion weeks’ desertion in the blogosphere where information is traded at the speed of light and new blogs are popping up left, right and centre. I suddenly felt like one of those tiny novae undergoing a cataclysmic nuclear explosion in the social media night sky but hey, I’m still alive and shining, even if only dimly at times.

I’d love to tell you how busy I was doing this and that but actually, it was quite the contrary. I lost a major teaching contract and I suddenly found myself with lots of free time. Yikes! That sucked! And the thing is I wasn’t very good filling it; I procrastinate way too much! I guess I should have regarded this as an opportunity to indulge in a bit – even a lot – of sewing but no, I haven’t touched my sewing machine for six weeks. A. WHOLE. SIX. WEEKS! I can feel this cold blanket of guilt enveloping me, fine beads of sweat appearing on my forehead everytime I get near my Bernina. It’s badgering me some days, cajoling me others but I have yet to surrender to the call of the machine exerting a momentous pressure on my fragile state of mind and taking on all sorts of sounds, shapes and forms in my head (I know, I just scared myself re-reading that last sentence…and thinking that the world at large has remained blissfully unaware of my deep emotional bond with my Bernina – until now that is.) So, unsurprisingly, the Burda short pants, a project I mentioned back in July, never made it past the cutting and grading process. It’s too cold and too late now so it’s been shelved until 2015.

So what did I do with my free time? August wasn’t a very warm month but I still went to the beach…

 

I’v entered a new decade in my life and my friends and brother spoiled me for my birthday. I also got a wonderful present from my boyfriend in the shape of a concert ticket to see Kate Bush. Her performance was sensational, her voice magisterial, the staging wonderful, dramatic and unlike anything I’ve seen before in a live performance. This was pure magic and for anyone who loves her, I urge you to get hold of the live DVD when it comes out!

 

My little brother, Alex, came to visit me and we had such a great time together, lots of fun and laughs…

 

I read a lot, watched a few silly movies and, with so much spare time on my hands –obviously – I haven’t trimmed my beard for more than four weeks. I’ll spare you the pictures for now but the distant prospect of a photoshoot would undoubtedly coerce me into trimming the excess facial hair before I look like a clone of Karl Marx. Nothing like a bushy beard for raising a little flutter online I guess…

 

A trip down to the fabric store(s) is first de rigueur before I sink my teeth into a new sewing project. What should I go for? And which pattern? I still don’t have a clue! I can only hope that the Sewing Gods will be right behind my back and nudge me in the right direction to pick the pattern and fabric that will prove a match made in heaven. Otherwise those bloodthirsty suckers may well demand a human sacrifice and I don’t want the recriminating finger of fate to be pointing at me. Sewing is serious business in my world – obviously.

In more light-hearted news, there is an interesting fashion exhibition starting this week which I’m quite curious about. I’ll tell you all about it next week. Until then, have a lovely week everybody!

 

Retro Cherry Shirt

 

If ever there was a fabric that brought an instant smile to my face, this white cotton with black dots, red cherries and green stems would be it.  It looks so summery, so fresh, bursting with colour and life and a perfect illustration of the beautiful summer we’re currently enjoying in South-East England.  But it wasn’t me who bought this fabric; my friend Clorinda did hoping that I would make her a summer shirt. The opportunity to work with such an interesting fabric was too good to miss and besides, I knew Clorinda had that face that could pull off anything retro or vintage beautifully (I genuinely hope it sounds like a compliment…) .

 

The shirt is a simple design but the challenge for me was to draw the pattern from scratch and do a decent fitting obviously. The former took me a while to get my head around it but it was the latter which turned out to be the real challenge and it took me a couple of fittings to achieve that semi-fitted look Clorinda was after. I also drew the collar by hand and went for pleated sleeves to get that retro feel.

 

The rest of the shirt went without a hitch and I particularly like the glossy red buttons which I found in my local market.

Can you spot the button among the cherries?

 

I took some pictures on my mannequin Melissa first but asked Clorinda to send me a picture of herself wearing the shirt and yes, she really does look gorgeous in this shirt.

 

To finish with this post’s retro theme, I should add I’m getting a bit more “vintage” myself as today is my birthday. So here’s hoping that I’ll master the art of ageing gracefully just like a fine wine because the older I get, the better I like it.

Funny wine quote: “I’m trying a new wine diet…so far I’ve lost 3 days!” 

 

 

Shorts: New Project & Repairs Dilemma

I’m glad I got my mojo back about sewing lately. Clorinda’s shirt is ready for a first fitting and I’m about to start work on a couple of shorts.

Last week I bought Burda 7381 to make a new pair of shorts for this summer.

 

I visited Cloth House in Central London and completely fell in love with this fabric.

 

Those of you who are familiar with Cloth House may know that none of their fabrics are cheap but this 100% handmade organic cotton fabric is so soft it makes it irresistible to touch. This will be my first foray into chevrons and this promises to be a different and somewhat more complicated affair from good old plaids matching so I’d better look up for a good tutorial.

 

The second project revolves around my favourite pair of shorts which I purchased a couple of years ago and they certainly got their fair share of wear – and tear.

 

That’s what happened a couple of weeks ago when I wore them for my Body Pump class – those poor babies were undoubtedly unable to withstand the strain of my bending buttocks when performing squats.

I’m usually not one for alterations or repairs but I desperately want to rescue them. I stupidly fooled myself that a few hand stitches here and there would do the trick but that didn’t look good and that didn’t last more than a week either.

 

I sent yesterday a picture to my friend Rita who suggested 2 solutions to me:

1)      Remove the pocket – Patch the hole with a piece of fabric interfacing – relocate and resew the pocket so that it covers the patch, which means doing the same job for the left pocket so it doesn’t look wonky, which also implies removing the shorts’ lining from the waistband so that I can sew it all properly. In short, I would need to allocate a substantial amount of time to this project but it should look good in the end.

2)      A much simpler way would be patching the area with a nice piece of fabric. I normally like this kind of solution: it’s fun & fast but as much as I’m one to experiment with quirky ideas, I’m not sure any fabric could enliven a pair of gingham shorts without looking odd; none that I have in my fabric stash anyway.

 

So this is my dilemma for this week!  Should I fix or ditch? Should I repair or replace with the yet to be made Burda shorts?  And do you occasionally do repairs for some of your favourites clothes?

 

Enjoy the sunshine wherever you are!

 

A Trousers Refashion Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a grumpy boy who fell out of love with his very first pair of handmade trousers. Its fall from grace was steep and swift: yesterday the cream of the closet, today forced into servitude to fulfil night-time duties as a pair of pyjamas. The grumpy boy took a selfie dressed in those unflattering culprits and looked even more grumpy and miserable than usual.

 

The blue jersey trousers were so plain, hanging loose off his waist and the hook and bar were only holding by a thread.

 

He thought to himself “What a drab-looking piece of s***, if I only I had my very own Fairy Godmother!”

Suddenly a strange metallic creature appeared in front of him and uttered the magic words: “My child, my name is Bernina 850, I’m your Fairy Godsewer.”

For his readers’ sake and sight, the grumpy boy eventually relented casting himself as the Fairy Godmother to avoid looking like a cross between a peroxide blonde senorita and recent Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst.

 

-“I need a serious trousers makeover Fairy Godsewer. Can you work a little miracle for me please?

– “Have faith in your own skills, my child”

Grumpy boy, rolling his eyes, “Gee, where’s the magic?”

-“You’re the magic, my child. Your troubles will soon be gone if you sit your lazy ass down in that chair and get on with it.” And with a wave of her magic clutch, two intriguing black silhouettes appeared in front of him.

 

-“What are they for?”

-“They are your very own little friends. They’ll make your trousers fancy if you use them wisely. Be practical and remember, use your own imagination! Good luck, my child!” And with that last piece of advice, the voice of the fairy Godsewer disappeared and the sewing machine switched itself on.

Grumpy boy got rid of the hook and bar and replaced them with a practical blue button and buttonhole. The waistband, which had lost some of its shape, was given a quick makeover with some belt loops.

 

He then shortened his trousers and unified the look with brand new hems made from black linen fabric…

 

To his delight, the black silhouettes were appliqués that just needed a medium setting of iron heat to stick onto the trousers fabric…

 

Et voilà! The drab trousers were given a new lease of life as a cool and comfy pair of summer shorts.

 

Grumpy boy was now a very Happy boy jumping with joy…

 

Moral of the story? Refashioning a garment can be as much fun as making a new one. Don’t expect a miracle, use your imagination and make it happen!

Red & Green Plaids Shirt

 

It’s official, I’m a plaids lover! Although it’s my first shirt made out of the stuff, I’ve already used tartan fabric on three pairs of trousers, one coat and a flat cap. There’s no stopping me in my subconscious quest to create a full wardrobe made out of plaids. What’s next? A notch collar vest would be cool, don’t you think?

As mentioned last time , I used McCall’s 6044 to make this Red & Green plaids shirt as I’d already altered the pattern to fit my body shape. Tartan is easy to work with although this one was quite loosely woven meaning I couldn’t flat-fell the seams as it would have unravelled too much and opted instead to overlock them. I was happy with that as it was less work and I wasn’t sure the look of flat-felled seams would suit a plaids shirt anyway.

I’ve had one main issue which was the buttonholes. The reason I guess was when I cut the front band on the bias, I only used a light piece of interfacing behind and it didn’t provide enough stability for my Bernina to make those buttonholes. Actually it was a bit painful; I wouldn’t say I botched them but four of these buttonholes are a bit dodgy-looking before I eventually managed to get a grip over that mess for the last two. A second issue, although minor, is I need to be more careful when I handle pockets cut on the bias. One is good, the other one is a tiny bit distorted which I put down to me overpressing the fabric. This aside, the rest went off without a hitch.

Plaids were carefully matched at the front…

 

…and on the side.

 

Funky back saddle yoke…

 

…similar yoke design for the front

 

I’ve thought long and hard about the cuffs before deciding to go for a contrast fabric on the outside. I’m happy with that decision: It provides a bit of interest and the colour is a pretty good match with the red of the tartan.

 

Verdict: I don’t like it, I love it! I reckon this is one of the best garments I’ve made in terms of fit and fabric/colour choice. Mind you, I’m not that difficult; I’m one of those who think that everyone – man or woman – looks great in a plaids shirt. This one will definitely be worn in the weeks to come.

 

“Here’s Johnny!” Releasing my inner Jack Nicholson lumberjack…

 

Shirts Update

About time really! I promised a plaids shirt on April 1st and I bet you all thought that was an April fool’s joke by now. I nearly believed it too until I finally got started last week and the shirt’s project is now well and truly underway.

I’ve matched plaids before – with trousers– but the process is quite similar for shirts. I’ve actually followed Lauren’s tutorial which was really straightforward. Yes, that makes the cutting process a bit of a chore but difficult it isn’t. I’ve cut my front bands, pockets, pocket flaps, front and back yokes on the bias to break up the lines. No eccentric Design Closeup combinations on this project, I’m sticking to a good-old fashioned plaids shirt. This is what I intend to do anyway although you never what might happen between now and the end of this project. I’ve still got to sew the collar and collar band, front bands, sleeves, cuffs and all the usual finishing touches but I’ve got quite a bit of spare time for the rest of this week so I’m confident I’ll be able to reveal the full shirt sometime next week.

 

 

Here are the buttons I’ve chosen for this project…

#

 

I’m having a dilemma about the sleeves. Should I go for three-quarter sleeves instead? (Why do I have this idea in my head? By the way I’m working on McCall’s 6044 for this shirt which explains why you see a sleeve front and a sleeve back on the picture below.)

 

Now I’d really like to do a proper summer shirt for myself very soon but before I get to do that, here is a glimpse of the fabric I’ll soon be working with for my friend Clorinda…

 

I love the retro feel of this cotton fabric. The shirt will have puffed sleeves and a Peter Pan collar and I will also draw my own pattern to design Clorinda’s shirt. I’ve done it before for a couple of shirts of mine but time to stretch myself and see if I can do a good job for someone else.

Have a great week everyone!

The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014

 

Another month, another fashion exhibition! I was particularly fond of this one, held at the Victoria & Albert Museum, as it deals with a couple of underlying themes close to my heart – history and cinema – reminding us that the evolution of Italian fashion is closely related to its political, social and cinematographic context.

The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014 examines the impact of the many Hollywood films that were shot on location in Italy during the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, stars like Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday) and Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra) became style ambassadors for Italian fashion, fuelling a keen international appetite for luxurious clothing made in Italy.

Memories suddenly come flooding back in my head when thinking of the Cinecittà studios in Rome…that scene when Anita Ekberg emerged from the Fontana di Trevi in La Dolce Vita, the birth of Italian neorealism in Rome, Open City or, perhaps more famously, for hosting the sets of Cleopatra where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton met on set. Burton apparently said that “The only word Liz knows in Italian is Bulgari”. She didn’t need to enlarge her vocabulary when she spoke the “magic” word as Burton treated her with a massive Bulgari necklace set in platinum with diamonds and emeralds as part of her engagement gift. That piece was displayed at the V&A as part of the exhibition and was certainly very impressive to look at.

 

The Glamour of Italian Fashion focuses on the defining factors unique to the Italian fashion industry – the use of luxurious materials; expert textile production; specialist, regional manufacturing; and its strength as a source of both dynamic menswear and glamorous womenswear.

On display are around 120 ensembles and accessories by leading Italian fashion houses including Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Fendi, Gianfranco Ferré, Gucci, Missoni, Prada, Pucci and Versace, through to the next generation of talent including couture by Giambattista Valli, bold ready-to-wear from Fausto Puglisi and work from Valentino’s designer duo Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli. It also highlights the creativity of influential but less remembered figures such as post-war couturiers Sorelle Fontana (Fontana sisters) and Mila Schön and design innovators such as Walter Albini.

The exhibition is still showing in London until July 27th.

 

 

 

 

All above pictures are courtesy of the V&A Museum