I made a hat. And went on a march. And before that I made a skirt.

I haven't really been sure how to write this post. I absolutely want to tell all the lovely people who relate when I say sewing keeps me sane, and come here to read about fabric and stitching about the sumptuous velvet skirt I made (see details below). But, also, given that the majority of lovely people who do come here are women, I have to mention the stunningly powerful thing women all around the world did last weekend. The Women's March.

I knit a Pussy Hat and I got on caravan of buses and I went to DC. To show that I am not prepared to accept the archaic, bigoted and dangerous policies of the new administration. To show solidarity. To stand with the millions of other women, and men, who feel that basic human rights and equality are at stake.

I have always seen myself as a well-informed, liberal person who is not afraid to stand up to defend myself when required. But mostly, as a white middle-class woman, there aren't so many times that is required. I protest vehemently on Facebook (to other mostly white, middle-class people), I've marched a couple of times for things that matter to me and I always exercise my right to vote, but I've never actually "needed" to be politically active. 

And then I went to DC and I realised that whether I need things or not, is not the point. I am a woman, so I should help defend the rights of all women. I am an immigrant, a privileged, white immigrant, so I should be helping defend the rights of all immigrants, especially those who don't have the "benefit" of my skin colour or background. I have never had an abortion but I know many women who have and I should defend their right to do with their body what they choose with the same ferocity I defend my own right to choose what happens to my body. I have children who I was lucky enough to carry and give birth to in a country where pre-natal care is free, non-judgmental and available to all (that being the UK not the US). So I should speak up so that others have that right no matter where they live or who they are. 

Somebody enabled me to have all of those things. They didn't just happen. People, women, protested, sacrificed and were well aware that the changes they achieved might not happen in their lifetime; but they did it because it was right. 

For the first time in my life I understand that it's not enough to just nod and agree and talk. If I believe in true equality for everyone; believe in the fact that a human being can not be illegal; believe in keeping others' minds and hands off my and my daughter's bodies, then I have to DO something.

And so I'll be doing. And when I'm not I'll be sewing. (Because I'm a woman and we can do and be anything and everything.)

Here's the pretty skirt (details at the bottom):

The Sewing Stuff:

  • Top is a modified Named Clothing Inari Tee - I used the V neckline from Papercut Patterns Sway dress as the template for the neck. I made a facing to correspond to that and omitted the sleeve cuffs.
  • The sandy black silk charmeuse is from Mood Fabrics.
  • The absolutely beautiful fluid, shiny, mushroom grey silk velvet for the skirt is from Chic Fabrics, which I believe is sadly closing. It was only $15 / yard.
  • The pattern is adapted from a 1970s shirt dress pattern (Vogue French Boutique 1860 from the Renata line) that was my mums and I also used for the skirt of this dress.
  • I added a 1 inch elastic waistband, stretching and serging the elastic to the waistband and skirt fabric, before folding the waistband in on itself to create even gathers.
  • The pockets are lined with dark grey cotton voile.
  • I finger pressed all the seams and steamed them with the iron and catch stitched the hem.

I hope my political enlightenment wasn't too much for a sewing blog and to see you soon. xx

 

Happy New Year Helmut!

New year, new me, new resolutions, new positivity ... really? Happy New Year!

Do you break yourself in gently to the new year? Do you take time to recover from the previous year, wrap yourself up and slowly put your head above the parapet of the new year to see what might be out there?

Or are you an all guns blazing, let's grab this year by the balls and start as we mean to go on type; resolutions, new projects already underway, clear action list, the previous year dusted off your shoulders like dandruff and a bright shiny face looking to all the possibility that awaits over the next 12 months?

I am keen to be in the latter camp, but find myself firmly in the former. By mid-way through December I'm usually desperate for a new year, to feel energised and find a new productivity. I'm trying very hard, but the shocks of 2016 linger and as I can't and don't want to break the continual loop of 'Listen without Prejudice' on Spotify, it's proving a little hard to be all go for 2017.

I haven't sewn a stitch in 2017 so far, but that's ok, I'm trying not to give myself a hard time but instead to enjoy the fruits of my pre-Christmas sewing extravaganza and slowly working up the energy to get sewing the things I planned in the autumn.

I may also have fallen down a huge Gilmore Girls rabbit hole. All seven seasons in six weeks. In my defense there were a few days of flu-induced all day TV sessions in there but I still think it merits some kind of sad medal. Now I have overcome that addiction I can move on and embrace 2017.

Anyway let's get to the sewing. This coat is my favourite item from the Pre-Christmas Sewing Bonanza. It's my take on a $1,200 Helmut Lang pale pink cashmere coat that I tried on in Saks a while ago; wryly smiling when the assistant asked if she should put it on hold for me; brain jumping straight to pattern and fabric options to recreate it.

It took a while to hunt down some fabric but I eventually saw Lauren from Guthrie & Ghani's Clare Coat made in the perfect not quite blush, not quite pink, not brown wool melton and after an agonizing (because fabric of course induces such intense emotions) wait to see if they could source any more - they had sold out by the time I got round to checking out their site - I was the proud owner of two large remnants for a tenth of the cost of the Helmut Lang beauty. Not cheap but coats aren't and wool shouldn't be. 

As an aside, I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Suzann, and this post about how her clothes are priced and the pricing of clothing in general is 100% on point.

I used The Maker's Atelier Raw Edged Unlined Coat pattern as the base for Helmut, adding a total of 8 inches width across the back by slashing and spreading from shoulder seam to hem. I added an inch to the collar depth, 4 inches to the sleeve width at the cuff (I could definitely have added more - although as it is I keep getting the sleeves caught on door handles ... ) and then taking the five inches off the hem that I added to my previous iteration to balance out the volume. I also made larger pockets, using the pattern piece from my beloved Burda coatigan affairs and contrast topstitching finished it off.

It was an easy make from a lovely and very adaptable pattern. I absolutely love the result and feel beyond stylish wearing it.

Annoyingly, my timing as always is rubbish as clearly it is now far too cold in NYC to wear an unlined coat, but over Christmas in a milder England, it was perfect. I took to wearing a RTW scuba bomber jacket underneath it which definitely helps make it more wearable in the cold. I have plans to recreate the stunning petrol blue velvet bomber I saw on The Maker's Atelier Instagram feed to wear under it as well. The colour combination would make my heart so happy.

This is about the fifth coat or jacket I've made in the last year or so. I have at least two more planned. I'm not really sure why. I have a ridiculous amount of coats, but there is something so satisfying about making them - not least I think due to the lack of detailed fitting involved and the sheer amount of wear they get. 

But the ultimate coat I want to make needs to be a beast as NYC for the next few months will be perishing. I have sub-standard circulation and get super cold which I hate, but I also hate the ubiquitous black quilted down jacket that I have taken to wearing. Why when it's this cold does style have to go out of the window? Is it possible to create a coat with the warmth and practicality of the dowdy down affair but with the style created by coats such as Helmut?

I have a dream of a notched collared, furry woolen, dark blue teal, just-above-ankle length coat that is secretly underlined with down and lined with fake fur. Or something.

We shall see.

In the meantime, I will be loving on Helmut at every above-freezing opportunity.

I hope the start to 2017 has been good for you, more productive than mine and that the year brings much happiness.

See you soon x

Outfit (admittedly an amalgamation of the mass production of US and UK stores - which I'm not über-thrilled about):

  • Jeans: Gap
  • Shirt: Cos
  • Boots: M&S

 

The Big Easy Top

Need a quick sewing fix? Like, the quickest sewing fix? That doesn’t involve pesky stretch fabrics?

Can I make a suggestion?

Get yourself The Big Easy Top pattern from The Makers’ Atelier and some boiled wool.

Better yet, get yourself the kit, then you don’t even have to think about fabric, or thread. It just all arrives at your door and approximately half an hour later you have a warm, chic, beautifully drafted sweater to add to your winter wardrobe. And you won't have to knit it!

In my case it was a year and half an hour, because despite the fact this is the quickest and most satisfying make ever, it sat at the bottom of my sewing list last winter and then it was Spring and who wants to sew wool in the Spring.

(This is the second item I have made from this line of patterns - the first being this coat.)

Normally I’m not that bothered by how quickly I can sew something, but when my sewjo is on the wane, I need something quick and satisfying to enable me to tackle those dungarees I’ve had loitering for a few weeks. 

So, I made up the funnel neck version. This involves two shoulder seams and two side / underarm seams, a couple of tacks to hold the collar in place and sewing in a label so I don’t wear it backwards. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

The wool is beautiful quality, its not scratchy although not as soft as I’d prefer, but I think that goes with the territory with boiled wool.

I made a couple of minor alterations; a forward shoulder adjustment and I stitched down my seam allowances, because I like the detail and I wasn’t sure how the wool would react to my iron. Oh and my iron has gone the route of the three irons I’ve had in the last three years. That is to say the automatic turn off gets fed up with my reliance on it and turns the thing off permanently. So I couldn’t iron it even if I had wanted to.

Whether you iron it or not, this glorious pattern is smart, is warm and is oh so quick.

See you soon x

(ps: nothing going on here other than I’m a huge fan of the patterns by The Makers Atelier and feel I should spread the word about their hugely wearable chic simplicity.)

Wedding Season

I claim here and in other conversations that I only really got back into sewing three years ago. However, I was thinking the other day about making wedding guest attire and realised that even when I wasn't doing a lot of sewing, I did pretty much always make outfits for the weddings and other 'gala' events I attended.  Note: I have never attended a gala.

Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, the photos of these creations are three and a half thousand miles away, so instead I will describe the highlights to you.  Exciting stuff huh?

1997: There was the chocolate brown satin evening gown I made from Vogue 1367 for my final year ball at university. Including diamanté trim under the bust and a laboriously hand-stitched rolled hem on the fishtail done on the train to and from my parents' house one weekend. I remember absolutely nothing about that event.

c. 1999: There was the electric blue shot silk full length fitted skirt and matching blue sequined incredibly low cut top I made for my second work christmas black tie affair. This was decidedly more dignified than the previous year when my friend had a dance floor halter-neck jumpsuit malfunction and I covered the chairman in glitter.

Also c. 1999: There was the fitted empire line dress (a bit like BHL's Georgia) made out of fabric that should only have been used for ugly cushions, accompanied by an horrific reversible fake suede shrug as well as a fake fur hat that looked like I had a cat sitting on my head. This I wore to a wedding in a winery in the Czech Republic in freezing February where I was forced to drink Slivovitz.

2002: There was the scarlet, funnel neck, zip front, cotton, knee length jacket I made to wear with a white linen dress and a red Phillip Treacy hat to the very good weddings of very good friends. When I thought I was rich.

c. 2003: There was the pale blue chiffon halter neck affair I wrestled with and eventually in a fit of pique handed over to my mum to help me, that I wore to one of my best friend's weddings with awesome silver satin ballet style stilettos (really they were gorgeous) and a silver and blue trilby - much more fabulous than it sounds.

2003: There were the black crepe trousers with zip up the back, off which I left the waistband so they were almost indecently low cut, I wore with a beaded grey cami from Whistles and the same silver shoes mentioned above to a Christmas wedding. Doing Gene Kelly-inspired side kicks in said heels was sadly the end of them.

2010: There's the strapless, boned, fit and flare, cotton, orange, pink and yellow monstrosity I wore to the Mehndi of friends who got married in Goa. I then also wore it a few months later to another wedding - pouring myself into it as I was newly voluminously pregnant. To ward off first trimester enquiries I pretended to be as drunk as everyone else. By doing cossack dancing.

And then more recently there has been this and this and this and this. And now this:

It seems I have a long, potted history of sewing 'occasion wear' to varying degrees of comfort and second-wearability.

Wedding attire isn't usually measured on comfort, wearability and usefulness outside wedding season, but it seems so wasteful to have a significant section of my limited wardrobe space given over to dresses I have worn maybe twice at most. Yet, I can't get past the 'must have something new for the new wedding' mindset. So for the very good weddings of more very good friends and family this year, I wanted to be chic, carefree, comfortable but also consider a longer term future for my hard grafted over apparel.

I saw the inspiration for this combo of stretch, fitted off-the-shoulder top with ankle length full drapey skirt on Pinterest a while ago and loved the elegance and simplicity. I thought separates might also make the pieces more wearable. The top, for example, would look great with this skirt.

I can't remember why I chose this colour, but I know that I saw the soft spotty tulle that I used for the overlay on Mood's Instagram feed (dangerous dangerous feed to follow) and desperately wanted to incorporate it. So I think the choices stemmed from there.

The top is made in a thick rayon ponte and I think is exactly the same as that used for this. I found a vintage (is 1991 really vintage?!?!) pattern on Etsy, Simplicity 7228 that was so simple to make. To be honest I never got around to hemming the top (obviously I left the whole thing till the very last minute and was hemming the skirt by hand in the dark in my in-laws south west London garden the night before the wedding) and now I justify it as it will always be tucked in and by not being hemmed it creates less obvious bulk under the thin fabric of the skirt.

I've been wanting to join in on the whole off-the-shoulder trend for a while, I adore this for example, but every single peasanty RTW one I've tried on (I often try on RTW versions of styles i'm not sure of before I commit fabric and time to making something) looks horrendous on me. However, I think because this is more form fitting and less boho it suits me much better. 

The skirt is a Sewaholic Gabriola which I adore. I love that it is fitted over the hips and then has all these beautiful panels that create such gorgeous movement. I chose a maroon silk as the underlayer and the spotty tulle over the top and I adore the swish and swirl it creates. I french seamed every single last one of the 85 seams.

And because I was rushing to get it finished the night before I jumped on a plane, I obviously cut a hole in the fabric outside one of the seams I was trimming.  And then.

And then I decided to use wonder tape to hold the invisible zip in place whilst I stitched it because of the slippery nature of the silk. Big mistake. HUGE. Humungous mistake. Having never used wonder tape before, I failed to realise that stuff is sticky, really sticky and when you use it to hold an invisible zip in place it gets in the zip teeth and then you can't actually move the zip because you've essentially glued it shut. Aaagggggghhhhhhhhhhh!

At midnight I had to rinse my half made silk skirt to get the glue out of the zip before I could attach the overlay and the waistband. Which meant I had to let it dry, which meant I had to get up at 5am the following morning to finish it. Seriously, why do I do this shit?

Moving on. I haven't sewn an overlay type affair before, so I took a combination of guidance from the utterly amazing wedding dress Morgan made for her sister and some sage advice from my mum.

I wanted the overlay to be a little fuller than the skirt so it had additional movement but I didn't want it to be too gathered. My mum suggested using the fully constructed front and back of the skirt (before joining them) as a template from which to cut the tulle - rather than creating a tube which would restrict the movement of the bottom of the underlayer. I added a couple of inches to the width of the top to create a little extra fullness without needing lots of gathering and a couple of inches to the hem so that there was some distinction between the layers. I then sewed two side seams, the back seam up to the bottom of the zip, leaving above the zip open and raw edged, and then treated it as one skirt to attach the waistband. And I was absolutely delighted that it all worked out. 

For some reason, I was really nervous about wearing this. I think the combination of off-the-shoulder, separates and a long skirt seemed a bit out-there for a wedding - which is very strange as I really don't usually feel self conscious in my clothes at all. But in the end I felt fabulous and pretty chic and it is by far the most comfortable wedding season attire I have ever made. 

The weddings, by the way, were awesome; romantic, impeccably organised, full of love and joy and perfectly English.  I totally lost my voice after both of them, am in the process of losing a toe nail as a result of questionable dancing in fabulous but poorly fitting shoes and my mystery finger injury has just about healed. My clothing choices may have matured but my behaviour at 'gala events' does not seem to be showing any signs of improving.

See you soon x

ps: I've been wanting to write about this for ages, and had grand plans of photos being taken in a striking location, but that would have taken about three years to happen so I have these not so great photos instead. The one above, however, I love and is from the first wedding I wore it to. I promise Ben's matching tie is a total coincidence.