How to teach yourself patience, resilience and improvisation – aka the Mirrorball Dress*

Dear ladies and gents,

It’s such a pleasure to be here. You’ll find a tad more about me in the bio, but the bottom line is I’m new and really excited! I’m in amazing company on the Simple Sew blog and my biggest hope is quite honestly to be able to keep up…

As the days quickly tick away and the Dressmakers Ball draws closer and closer I’ve marvelled at what everyone has been making for the occasion (by the way, did you know the tickets are still on sale for a couple of days? Go grab one!). The brief from Gabby was really simple: make it stunning, make it yours. There you have it, go and be awesome!

No pressure, people – none at all. First thing first I settled on a pattern… I’m not a ballgown lady, and I was looking for something sleek, shapely and with a little flair. It took me all of 45 seconds to settle for the Lucille Dress, with it’s pleated bodice and high waist fitted my bill perfectly.

Then I had to decide on fabric, and here is where things started to get marvellously wrong.

  1. Chapter one – Resilience

First, I had settled on a green and black mounted lace full skirted idea, working from a lovely emerald green cotton and a large pois black lace I had spotted on Fcfabrics. I had made an incredibly tight schedule, planning on the arrival of the fabric on weekend xx so that I had yyy hours to work on it after toiling. Of course between impromptu visits from relatives over Easter, long working hours, and generally life being life – I was late. Also, I realised I was picking oopsy daisies when putting my fabric order through so it was now not coming in time. What I did then is look into my stash which, in all honesty, is not a place brimming with fancy prom-suitable fabrics. However, guess what? The root of the word “creativity” is to create, which reads on the dictionary: ”to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes.” Therefore, trying very much to think outside the box and to keep the morale up, I dug deep and unearthed a long-forgotten piece of upholstery fabric donated to me by one of my favourite aunties.

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It’s a large print heavy brocade, in ivory and silver. I have never managed to make anything with it. The ivory side is a bit flat and the shiny silver side definitely overwhelming. I sat there, surrounded by discarded fabric, contemplating this sparkly piece. I almost immediately put it on the side thinking that never on earth I could wear a dress that would make me look sheathed in mirror-like fabric. Or…

Perhaps…

Actually…

WHY NOT? I was lucky enough to have just a little less than the recommended amount, but sacrificing the full skirt and cutting on one layer was going to solve that problem for me (sorry pattern matching lovers, you will see close to none here).

Please, everybody welcome the Mirrorball Dress

         2 . Chapter two – patience

This dress required two toiles. The first one was cut in the wrong size. A sizeable amount of 100% italian swearing occurred. I stomped, I puffed like an old kettle and went to fix myself some chocolate.

The next day I started over with a size 12, very quickly this time as I knew what I was doing. There were a number of fitting issues, mainly determined by very long waist. The length proportions were wrong. I had the choice of lengthening the bodice, but the midriff yoke, being already quite high, would have looked strange. Also, the new size was definitely big at the waist (however fitting nicely at the back and at the hips) so I widened the darts to take in width, and lengthened them a whopping 2 inches to reshape the volume of the skirt, accommodating my interminable waist. I have also pinched the shoulders in a bit to remove some gaping at the neckline and shaved about a cm out of the underarm to make the upper bodice piece fit snuggly. Last adjustment I made to the skirt, basically lowering the hip curve, by pinning the excess out where needed.

In this most flattering picture you can see the excess pinched out at the darts, shoulders and hip. I was ready to cut!

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         3. Chapter three – Improvising!

This, my dears, is the time that sees me crying and banging my head on the desk. After having meticulously arranged the pattern on one layer, avoiding awkward placement of the flower bursts, and trying to establish some sort of balance in the print, I realised I didn’t flip one of the pleated bodice pieces, meaning I had one ivory bosom and one silvery one.

I seriously wanted to cry. I was about to press send on a miserable text to Gabby explaining I was too much of an idiot to be part of the network, and if she could please forgive me for screwing it up. Then something kicked back in my head and I decided that there was still time to give up (insert insightful moral here).

THANK GOODNESS this is brocade, meaning both sides are usually pretty. I took all my pieces and started looking at ways to getting some color blocking going. I started flipping pieces around to see what was working and after quickly talking myself out of having half backside in ivory and half in silver, I decided to flip the yoke. To give it some balance I wanted some ivory in the back too, so I scavenged the leftover fabric to cut a back yoke that matched the front. Et voilà, Mesdames et Messieurs, find below a few self-indulgent shots of the finished results.

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All in all, I’m really very pleased with the results. I have learnt to be a bit more patient with myself, had some fitting practice and turned a series of unfortunate events in a really fun dress.

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The above is a picture taken in artificial light, where I believe this dress truly shines (pun very much intended!). Imagine what could happen under strobe lights! I so very much hope we are going to have some!!

I am, all considered, very pleased with the finished result. Now I just have to muster the confidence to wear this in public. I’m sure that a pair of matching shoes will help!

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*as featured on the Simple Sew Blog

True Colours

 

Since I was a teenager the mediterranean shade of my skin has troubled me in winter. Summer is for me a season of physical rebirth, sunshine makes my skin blush with radiance where fairer skin grow red and troubled, my hair shines darker and my nails grow smoother. I am a summer being and winter leaves me drained and colourless. It’s in days like these that I grab my favourite jumper or scarf, knowing I need a little bit of a boost. Then there is people that never seem to need it, people who always look radiant and harmonious and I often accepted it was just the way it’s supposed to be. Good colours and bad colours – tough luck.

Apparently though, this is very much not the case!

I have very recently treated myself to a full colour consultation with Kate, an incredible friend and prolific blogger met at a pattern-cutting course last year. K. has had professional training at First Impressions in Colour Analysis and has been one of my first interlocutors about colours, back when I started to get interested in the topic. Her attention and knowledge of colour is very generously shared on her blog fabrikated.com, and here you will find several examples of colour analysis she has done for friends and family.

The most fulfilling part of having my colours done with K, has been that not only she has helped me discover “my best palette” but also that gain a much deeper understanding of colour; of what properties colour has and how I can use them to identify what colurs make me look rested, fresh, radiant.

I haven’t taken any pictures on the day as I am quite camera shy and as I said K is a friend and I wanted to enjoy our time together without being distracted by my own phone (even though I felt it was great material to report on). The consultation was focussed mostly on colour theory, rather than stylistic advice.

First things first we spent some time in natural light draping seven sets of colours ( blue, green, purple, red, pink, yellow and neutrals) around my neck to see how they worked. These colour swatches come in different nuances, divided in opposite pairs of deep/light, cool/warm and bright/muted. Despite liking all colours, seeing them framing my face and having a cut-off comparison really helped me recognise which shades suited me best.

To tell you a little bit more behind the science of this colouring method I can report what I learnt through K:

  • deep/light: this has to do with the intensity of the colour. If you poured it straight from an ink bottle that would be at its deepest. The more water you add to it, it is diluted becoming lighter
  • cool/warm: has to do with the predominance of respectively blue or yellow in it. This can compliment or contrast your skin undertone. We didn’t touch much skin undertones and we did not talk much about what my skin was, but she showed me how some colours set off the pink/reds in my lips, or the deep tones of my brown eyes – while others will snuff them off like a candle in the rain.
  • bright/mutes: dependent on the percentage of grey in the colour. I have little to say about this one as it seemed to be the less significant in my particular case. We talked much more about the deeps and the cool/warms.

The key of the consultation is that you are draped in a specific sequence:  by colours (all the blues, all the reds etc etc) and dichotomy (first deep vs light, then warm vs soft etch etc). The comparison and the logic on which the pairs are made is what makes the consultation truly valuable! The method was very much looking at all of them, studying the effects and taking notes on the emerging pattern. The aim was to find the combination of three options (one for each dichotomy) that best defined my most flattering colours.

Warm Palette

Cool Palette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

credits to colourpalettes.net and their artists!

Firstly for instance, we realised that Deeps are my thing. Not one deep colour looked bad on me and some like the deep purples and the deep greens made me go from oww to wow in a second. Cool and Warms were a bit harder to figure out, as some colours suited me in warm and some in cool – which was interesting in itself as we realised that the warm colours that were ok on me were of the cool family anyway (blues, greens and purples), and that only very cool yellows and reds worked on me. This seemed to guide our choice in establishing I was Deep&Cool rather than Deep&Warm.

Lastly we had to work out if I was bright or muted and this one puzzled us for a bit, to the point we had to go inside and have a cup of tea. The second step of the colour consultation was to pick of all 7 colours the shades that had worked best and decide on the dominant notes, and also helped us establish that Muted was my third note – even if K. admitted it wasn’t particularly determinant given the results so far.

In the end, K.’s wide table was covered in a rainbow of fabrics that had my name written all over it (figuratively) and it was great to see how well they all harmonised with each other. As part of the last step of the analysis, K draped combinations of my colours together showing me how colour, together with shape, could determine the feel of an outfit: authoritative, elegant, fresh, casual – the list goes on!

I have also left with a very precious sheet with my colours outlined, that I can use for reference while I learn to train my eye to recognise them. Needless to say I have spent the rest of the day looking at people running colour scans in my head and quizzing myself on the notes of colours all around me.

I am really very appreciative of the experience, and I feel that I am very far from done with my study of colour. Learning about this method though, free of all seasonal nonsense, helped me understand not simply what my palette is, but why my palette is. I know I have strong blues in me now, that I should not look at black with all that skepticism, and that -sadly- I should be very careful with yellows and mustards.

If you feel like you could be a Deep, head over to Kate’s blog post on Suggestions for people with Deep colouring, which takes our consultation as an example and shows some of the colour combinations.

 

Now I can’t wait to make myself a bottle green or a dark purple dress, to take out on the days I need some extra confidence!

A knitting Dud!

Oh well.

I’m not sure why I’m blogging about this, if not perhaps for some obsessive-compulsive need to tell myself off.

Enter the Agora Cardigan:

I was looking for a non-vintage looking cardi to go with my high waist selection of skirts and the Agora Cardigan was a lovely find on Ravelry. Also, back view:

I particularly liked how the ribbing is used to create an interesting detail in a way that won’t scare off a beginner. Fit wise, I’m almost satisfied. A bit on the short side, but definitely wearable considering the use I want to make of it. I could easily lengthen it but you will soon see why I won’t.

My face says it all, I believe!

This project embodies a series of “never again” or better but, lessons learnt.

  1. Take time to knit a sizable tension square.

Of course, I knit a tension sample. I was over the moon when I realized it matched exactly my patter, which meant I didn’t have to grapple with odd calculations to keep the ratio but I could simply quietly follow my instructions.However, getting the hang of knitting again my hands relaxed and my tension loosened up. Which leads up to the next lesson…

2. Check fit as you go

This all went well until I pretty much finished the cardigan, and had to acknowledge it was one full size too big. It looked really baggy and clumsy and I knew there and then I would have never worn it like that. As it’s seamlessly knit top to bottom I couldn’t take it in, I could only start over. I wasn’t beaten though, I still liked it and had plenty of this yarn to spare, as it was originally bought for an entirely different project and a good friend of mine liked it and tried it on. When we saw it was a perfect fit, I happily handed it over and started again. However:

3. Do today what you know you won’t be bothered to do tomorrow.

Did I mention all this happened in December 2015? In knitting take#2 my enthusiasm quickly extinguished. I had started work again and sewing as much as I could so I ended up missing the cold season and knitting this cardi to keep my hands busy while watching movies. I was slowly but inexorably falling out of love, also because…

4. Know your yarn.

I grew up in a very warm country with incredibly apprehensive adults who thought cold air drafts are silent killers. Any souther european will probably know the feeling: in balmy winters with averages around 12 degrees we children were covered in layers of wool (and absolutely forbidden to sweat, as sweat is silent killer #2 apparently). I was always, always itchy. As in my inexperienced mind all wools were itchy I jumped at the idea of having a 100% polyester yarn that would never make me itch. I was so sure it was a good idea that I ignored the squeaky feeling it gave me while knitting it.

5. The fit? Check it properly.

I know, it almost sounds like I’m repeating myself – but there isn’t enough stressing of this point. However this is a paramount task when making your own clothes. One that, stupidly enough, I often (too often) overlook. Carried away as I am by something I am making I throw it on as I go, look at all the good bits, ignore all the iffy areas and tell myself they’ll sort themselves out. You will have noticed in picture 2 how the button band pulls apart in between the buttons. The pattern did call for a lot of ease (5 to 10cm), which I promptly ignored in my second take, considering how bit my first one came out. As a result now I’m constantly tugging them close. I will try to sort them out with poppers or perhaps with ribbon, but I am extremely displeased with myself.

Last but not least, and I wont’t even number it because it’s a life lesson I should have learnt a long time before starting this project:

Listen to Mom.

Mom told me all this would happen: the poor yarn choice, the delay, the fitting issues… and I stubbornly marched ahead. Well, that’s how children learn it’s said… making their own mistakes.

Do you have anything you had to learn the hard way?

 

A Saturday ramble on Creativity

I wasn’t planning on writing today, but then I read Stephanie’s post on her My Vintage Inspiration blog on Individualization. I didn’t know then how much her words would drill into me, stirring thoughts neatly packed away in my head. I am most grateful of her being so generous with her thoughts, spreading and sharing bravely very intimate perceptions. Thank you Stephanie!

So strong was my reaction that I quickly headed here, to jot down a few things I wanted to expand upon. Mostly for my benefit as I am starting to realize that about 40% of my posts drafts see the the light of day, whereas the most part sits quietly in my unpublished/unfinished pile. This post doesn’t really stand on its own, so I would recommend reading Stephanie’s first, but just to give hurried readers an inkling of where I’m coming from: Individualization questions today’s need for instant gratification, discussing how this has to do with a general lack of personalization effort in favor of a more comfortable and safer approach to creativity, that is copying/working form pre-made designs.

I was so drawn into this post because I simultaneously strongly agreed and strongly disagreed to the observations raised. How fascinating! This speaks to me of a very, very clever observation that piques my clichés and forces me to reconsider what I think of myself. Without making this post a tiresome and pedantic comment of someone else’s work, I would only say that it forced me to ask myself yet again “why do you create?” and “what is Creativity?”, of course within the much mundane boundaries of dressmaking. I leave the Very Big Questions to braver minds (my comment to Stephanie’s great post is in the comment section of the same if you’re curious).

 

So finally, after this long preamble, allow me to ramble some more about what I think of Creativity.

Creativity is a boundless force, mostly two sided. It exists as an imaginific, or visionary, exertion* which I will call of the mind, and a physical transformative force here roughly described as of the hands. These are never mutually exclusive and rarely neatly separated… in a vast expanse of one you will always find a hint of the other. A bit like the Chinese Dao, with the Yin and Yang moving and dissolving into each other.

 

I don’t personally value one above the other, but I can see why it’s easy to do so. The Creativity of the Hands is the bread to our brioches; is all about the hearty, uncomplicated pleasure of Making. It’s a close cause-effect reaction that is most of all external rather than internal. The power of creation is instead the biggest mystery of mankind, the one thing that keeps us all wrapped in layers and layers of awe and mysticism since the down of time. Also, quite coarsely, the Creativity of the Mind is arguably what distinguishes Art from Craft.

Looking back to my childhood I have always been more crafty than arty, with a very vibrant, albeit shy imagination. This has lots to do with personality and there is a reason if artists are often considered rebels: it takes guts to let your Art run free and expose yourself to judgment rather than secure praise. Any deviation from normal is an adventure into unknown territory and  too much fantasy books taught me that adventure is much safer when experienced by proxy! Not very brave, is it? However, one of the beautiful things of age is that it brings understanding. At times of reflection I look back at who I am through who I have been and learn to love the limitations that now offer me so many challenges.

Since embracing dressmaking, one challenge has been to give more free reign to my mind-creativity, offering it the security of a decent execution through reliable hand-skills. It’s a slow process, one I feel I want to go through slowly and very gently. I want to ease myself into a new vision of where my imagination can take me, more like a marathon than a sprint. I’ve set my brain on slow cooker mode, where it collects intel and inspiration and it lets it simmer lovingly, quietly bubbling away in the back of my mind. Some days I smell interesting fragrances in my own head and go lift the lid, where I find a new idea ready to be born. That gives me guidance on the hand-skills I need to learn to support my mind-vision, which for me is a perfect cycle.

What feels more you, Creativity of the Mind or Creativity of the Hands?

 

*in the etymological sense of the latin exserere, to thrust out.

Snow Leopard dress: aka hello thirties!

 

I have never, ever own an animal print garment. After much thinking the reason is probably this:

To me it felt aggressive, not very original and often tacky.

Then I must have hit middle age because all of a sudden I started to see beauty in it. It started subtly, with more abstract animal prints, often in non-natural colours. Then I found myself eyeing up fabrics in more and more realistic versions of it until one day, window shopping on e-bay after missing a gorgeous ponte roma on the fabric godmother website, I run into this:

I would have never thought. Honestly. I tried to dissuade myself… but somehow the damage was done. Not only I had noticed the fabric, I had already decided what I was going to make with it. Please enter the Snow Leopard dress!

The pattern used is from Fashion with Fabrics, one of the Great British Sewing Bee series, which I bought second hand off Amazon for a few pounds. The patterns folder was missing, but these are downloadable from the publisher’s website for free so no drama.

This is a pattern I have had in mind of trying for a very, very long time. I really like how it looks like and I have been intrigued by it’s construction since even before owning a sewing machine. I have held myself off it for ages thinking it was going to be incredibly tricky to put together, and I wasn’t quite sure I was going to be able to tame knits yet. Of course, I was wrong. This pattern is incredibly easy to put together and stable knits such as this one are a pleasure to work with. Also, being such a puzzle of a pattern, it was incredibly fun to work through and provided lots of food for thought for future pattern designs bubbling away in my head.

This is definitely the best part of using a pre-made pattern, I get to learn LOADS if you look at it carefully enough. Recently I focus a lot on how to make a pattern easily readable by others, which markers make for an easy assembly of a pdf pattern, line thickness and so on. Besides style, of course. With regards to this one for instance, I have seen bette designed pdfs, but no errors that I could see. As for the style I noticed something really strange with the sleeves. Is there any points in putting ease in the sleeves of a dolman/kimono dress? The sleeve piece  here had several cm of ease, which made for a really strange effect once these were attached to the main bodice, considering that that seam is pretty much halfway through my bicep. Also there is no indication this should be gathered so I was a bit perplexed. I gave it a try by easing some of the excess in while pinning and shaving the rest off (about 3/4 cm), but on a future version I would simply amend the sleeve piece so that all ease is removed as I can see no sense in it being there – and it makes for a messy end result.

Also, reading around in preparation for this make, I have noticed that lots of people, me included, have the pleat going the opposite side than the picture showed in the book. I think that depends on how you cut your pattern pieces: since the front pieces are all cut on a single layer, depending on whether one cuts on the right or wrong side of the fabric the pleat will slant one way or the other. I cut wrong side up, which is the way I usually cut.

Speaking of which: cutting is definitely the hardest part of making this dress. There isn’t one straight line and there are lots of narrow angles which make using a rotary cutter impossible to me. I used scissors and was ok, but with a softer fabric I would have struggled.

In terms of fitting I have shortened the dress as I thought the knee length version wouldn’t have suited me much. I used the “shorten here” line on the pattern (which sits roughly at the hips)  which sounded like a good idea to retain the cocoon effect. In reality it wasn’t as the hem opening was so narrow I could barely walk. Kind of obvious in hindsight, as I have fairly fleshy thighs – much wider half way through than around the knee. You, slender doe with long, willowy limbs? You needn’t worry about this. I will remember to shorten from the hem next time, but for this sassy number I have simply tapered the side seams from hips to hem to a minimum and it worked just fine.

Oh, did you notice the clear lack of right hand in the pic above? It’s because this baby’s got pockets. MASSIVE pockets. Awesome pockets. I have already decided I am going to wear this for Christmas eve so that I can walk around the house stealing all the candies and none will be the wiser.

The back of the dress is much uneventful after the dazzling front full of imaginary treats, but I thought that might be useful for some to know so here you have my b side:

(Can you see the bulky seams at the sleeve joints? Because I can and it’s irritating me.)

Moving on… the fabric was purchase by an e-bay vendor called Cheapest Fabrics UK, who was kind enough to send me a free sample beforehand to help me make up my mind. The delivery of both sample and fabric was incredibly swift and, considering it was indeed cheap, I would be very happy to make business with them again. For future versions, for instance, I wouldn’t mind doing a sleeveless colour block version with blue, black and some pretty print on a white background.

Now it’s really time for me to move on to my velour skirt, which has started to terrify me. I know I can’t mess it up and I’m holding back until I have the perfect solution to all possible issues but we all know that is never going to happen. In order to avoid being honest with myself I have been telling me that is definitely fine to draft the same pattern on three different design softwares because it counts as research for a new post. But me is now starting to argue back…

HELP! Handling ombré velour

In a desperate attempt to mix socialising with exercise I have recently started attending Swing dancing classes. This is also a good excuse to do something semi-fancy with my better half, as we share a similar geeky, introvert nature that keeps us often inside enjoying each other company.

The atmosphere is very relaxed, and definitely casual, with a hint of retro style. Also, with dozens of people jumping around you can imagine the room get hot very quickly, not to mention how hot I get with all the twirling. I would be happy to go there in summer clothes if it wasn’t that the 20 min walk to get there would freeze me inside out.

This is the reasoning that led me to imagine an outfit made of a swirly skirt in a medium weight fabric, paired with a short/strap top and a cardi. For some reason I got stuck thinking about velvet and started browsing online shops, but nothing really struck me.

Other things then got in the way, mainly guilt for an overflowing stash that I should really take in higher account when my hands feel restless, and I forgot about it.

This, until a recent trip to Serbia to visit relatives. We were in an little town area so close to Belgrade is now considered by many part of the main city, but it’s in fact called Zemun. I will say more about this in a side post, but suffice to say I counted at least 7 sewing shops in a 15 min walk. I was intrigued! Tough, knowing myself to stick to window shopping until the very last day, when time constraints meant I couldn’t really go wild. I picked one shop I really wanted to check out and dived in:

Bombaj Textile, Zemun

The shop was a sight to behold. Gorgeous laces in many different shades, a sublime collection of plaid, an incredible range of solid crepes, lovely silks and much more. Patterns were perhaps a bit dated, like I often find in Italy, but apart from that I would have opened purse there and then and got one of everything.

The price, however, stopped me. This was no Walthamstow Market. Also, I marched in determined to leave the shop with purchases that fit my immediate needs: a new blouse that would go with black and perhaps velvet for the swing skirt. Of course, I don’t speak much Serbian (yet!) so it was with great relief that I discover my shopping assistant spoke english! She was also knowledgeable and practical and took me for a tour around the shop. We had much fun when I asked for velvet and because she didn’t remember what it meant we went on a little hunt around the shop. Thanks for teaching me that velvet is pliš in serbian!

As a result I left the shop with a pretty silk and -oh la la!- a stunning ombré velour.

However, whereas the silk is a sensible choice, the other is a bit of lunge into the unknown. I’m not usually a fan of ombré, but this looked absolutely stunning and I thought that the added wow factor could suit the extravagant environment of the dance classes, and would also make a nice little piece for date nights. Besides.. it’s soft and incredibly snuggly and the stretch would guarantee a nice level of comfort.

For my swing dancing project I was initially thinking of a circle skirt, but I’m not convinced.. the fabric is pink in the middle and changes into almost black with plum undertones at both salvages making it a surprisingly directional fabric.

I have been playing around with it today and thought that I can use the contrast horizontally or vertically, and I’m sort of set onto a rather simple gathered skirt. With inspiration from the box pleat skirt from Lisa Comfort’s book Sew Over It Vintage, I was thinking of a flat panel at the front with gathers all around, making sure to a. have the darker shade within hip length (way too low in picture below) or b. have a dark panel at the front and back. I think this might look quite pretty when twirling, as the pink would stand out massively.

I’m also conscious I should look at the stretch factor, which goes crossgrain rather than on grain (on pic on the left the stretch is on the length, on the right instead is on the width). There is a smaller amount of stretch on the grain, but I have been warned against putting most stretch on the length.

Also, should I factor in a zip? and what about the waistband, should I interface it? Considering that I can’t iron this I have to rule out fusible options.

As I speak I’m also thinking of a skater minidress with a cowl neck, but the heat factor would rule it out for dancing.

In short, what do you think? I’m in need of advice!

 

Digital vs Analog pattern cutting: the final countdown (?)

Earlier today I was working on my latest sewing project (which I was hoping to share with you later today) when I run out of thread -insert dramatic soundtrack-.

Running out of thread mid project is definitely a sewist bane (right after discovering you don’t have enough fabric for your chosen pattern, after of course having cut out half of the pieces already), and to recover from the shock I resolved to pick up my work with my Olivia dress, aka the Oliver Bonas wrap dress knock off.

This prompted me to a reflection that I am very glad to throw to the internet and see what comes back.

Enter the contestants: Digital VS Analog (the dressmaker version)

There are very few things that give my brain the satisfaction of pattern cutting. From squaring your pattern paper to carefully applying the measurements to the cutting and pasting of the adjustments and variations, every single aspect of it gives me great pleasure. Drawing a strong, straight line with the pencil obediently following the ruler, or the care and loving of carefully truing a curve, not to mention the investigative work that it takes translating an imaginary 3D shape into a series for 2D slashes and curves that allow you to materialise that mental image into its tangible expression. It’s trilling, it’s exciting and even attempting it makes me feel incredibly clever (oh, I am easily pleased).

However.

This, is what I would like analog pattern cutting (aka pattern drafting, aka pattern making) to look like:

Whereas this is what pattern drafting ends up looking like:

In my mind (image #1) I am sitting at a desk, all my resources at hand, book open for instructions.

In reality I and up on all fours with a whole room covered in: set of different rulers, appropriate body blocks, glue, sellotape, scissors, scraps of paper for adjustments, meters and meters of pattern paper, a cutting mat to be able to draw lines without poking the paper on the carpet, an array of objects to keep the paper from uncurling (glasses, shoes, gym weights..) and pen and rubber.

The picture above is a very civilised version of this reality, where everythign is still pretty much in order as I’m just starting and -quite crucially- I miss from the picture. Usually I would be sprawled across Spiderman style trying not to cumble paper, distort lines and at the same time breathe. It is, without any shadow of doubt, harder than advanced yoga.

This instead, is what digital pattern cutting looks like:

Apologies for the blurred picture. I wanted to re-take it but I had already eaten the brownies and I think they make a valid point.

In this case the only difference between fantasy and reality is the closed book, which in truth I have open all the time with many sticky bookmarks to help me flip between chapters. All you need for digital pattern cutting is: patience, a computer with appropriate software, patience, a notebook to keep track of the changes and mental notes, tea and yummies to keep the sugar level spiking. More patience.

With digital pattern drafting I can do without back aches, scraps of paper flying everywhere  (I swear I usually end up finding some downstairs, don’t ask me how), and well, I can do it on the sofa if I can be honest with you. This, together with brownies, kind of closes the argument. But I appreciate you might beg to differ so I’m going to try and be more thorough in my analysis.

As many of you might be familiar with pattern drafting (even FBAs count!), some might not know much, or anythign at all, about its digital cousin. The latter uses a vector-based software (such as Illustrator) to create a pattern that you can then print off and put togetherand it’s easily shared with others, like your regular pdf digital patterns. Vector drawing software is a fancy way to say it’s not freehand (you don’t drag the mouse around creating lines), and that it feels much more like a technical drawing lesson than an art class.

For the novice -like myself- it’s unnerving. It’s complex, unintuitive and downright frustrating. You have to learn a whole new set of rules and deal with an extra level of abstraction since what you are looking at is a zoomed out version of what you are really doing. I am sure it gets easier with time, because it is getting easier for me, but do not go gentle into that new skill without a hefty amount of commitment, and tea.

Also, the software can be expensive, however there are many open source or free versions of it available and with a bit of trial and error you can find what works for you. As a benefit, apart from the space requirements, moving darts is 10 sec job, you can put your draft on the kitchen counter and work on it while you’re cooking ragù (a notoriously long cooking sauce from Naples) and you don’t use any paper until you’re finished and ready to print.

I am sure that with the appropriate space, such I had during my recent pattern cutting course, like a raised table to stand and move freely around your pattern, about 2 sq feet of surface to work on per person, all the pattern paper I could possibly dream of… I would stick with paper drafting all the time. It’s immediately rewarding and keeps my eyes away from an evil back-lit screen, but it’s not practical in my current living arrangements so I resort to do either digital or analog depending on the project. For a small adjustment or a quick project is paper without doubt, but for complex, long-term project such as the above mentioned dress it will most likely be digital.

For me then, it’s not a countdown to paper extinction and it’s most definitely not final. but what is your experience? Ever tried digital pattern cutting or would you ever?

 

Blouse: good first take!

Oh hello hello!

It’s been a while since I finished this but first I got sick, then I got inspired… then I decided it deserved some proper attention and that I wanted to take my time with the post, to make sure I had worn it a couple of times to give it a good review.

This being my first blouse ever, I resolved to use a pattern rather than embark in a drafting adventure. I was also craving a finished garment, rather than sheer experimentation and the choice went on something I knew was easy, looked good and I had enough fabric for.

Please enter the Pussy Bow Blouse!

This pattern has a gazillion of reviews from London to Melbourne, and most people were happy with it so I felt quite confident tackling the project.

The fabric is from a lucky find at the textile centre in Walthamstow. I am pretty sure it was less than £1 per metre and, apart from the vintagey print, it’s also deliciously soft.

The construction is fairly straightfoward, but managed to add a series of “firsts” to my collection: first french seamed armholes, first roulou loops, first covered buttons.

As I said, I wanted to wear it for a couple of days before writing my review to make sure it passed the comfy test. I have worn it on one of my longest days of the week and when home late at night I was still happy to wear it. The v neck is perfectly placed to allow me to have a thermic layer under it (making it a good garment for fall/spring UK weather) and hoever blousy it tucks itself very nicely in a high waist skirt.

The only fault I can find is in the back piece. I knew it might give me trouble, but considering this was supposed to be a toile, I chanced it. The thing is, readers, that I have a full back meaning that my underarm line is longer than in most patterns. The blouse fits and is comfy enough, but I can feel it pulling when I take my elbows close to the front and in making it again I would make sure to make a broad back adjustment before cutting the fabric.

Incidentally I wore this fabric for the first time at th Handmade Fair, when I stumbled into the Sew Over It stand and the designer herself, and couldn’t resist!

I asked Lisa what she made of the pulling at my back and the first thing she did was looking at my shoulders. She explained that the shoulder seam of this pattern should ideally sit a bit lower than it usually does, so she advised cutting a size up.

In all honesty the advice makes sense, and will probably avoid any tampering with the pattern but, apart from my love of tampering, I am a bit self conscious of my narrow shoulders and not a fan of slouchy seams in that area. I will probably give her advice a go too, at some point , but I am too stubborn to let go of my broad back adjustment idea.

What do you think, readers, should I go a size up?

On inspiration, change and feminism

Dear readers, where do you find your inspiration?

My creativity, after decades of being left to its own poor devices and starved by a life of pre-set pathways, needs a little jogging. Like a blocked pipe.

I have never had the habit of buying magazines and I am a modrate fan of pinterest, but I personaly find my strongest inspiration coming from live objects: people watching, window shopping, movies.

Oliver Bonas is one shop that helps me the most in this respect. Every single season I find myself lured through the door by the fesh and intriguing colour palette, to find the racks packed with interesting clothes. Clothes I never buy.

The reason is mostly price, but also the smell of a good challenge. Can I make this myself? Can I carefully select the right fabric, cut the appropriate pattern and fit it to my very special little self?

Perhaps…I say to myself. This is usually when I fly into a fitting room to take an avalanche of pictures. I am awfully sorry for the designers whose ideas I copy or adapt, but also not. It’s a strange ethical paradox I haven’t yet resolved.

And here I go off topic. My dear readers you are warned.

Isn’t it incredible when pieces of life suddenly come together? When experiences apparently unconnected suddenly draw themselves together like pieces of a shattered magical jigsaw?

First, and closest chronologically, the sudden realisation that my current wardrobe doesn’t fit me anymore. It fits my size, but doesn’t agree with whom I have grown into. I wear good quality garments that I suddenly find plain, uninteresting, voiceless. I wear them and I find the image reflected in the mirros just as plain, just as boring – and yet I love myself more now than when I bought those clothes, so what is it?

Second – 2 years ago. I was kindly invited to attend the reharse of a women lead and women focussed leadership workshop by a company I used to work for. I packed my bag for what I did not yet know was going to be an incredibly emotionally charged, revealing, powerful experience. The workshop aim is to prove women with the tools to survive the experience of leadership in a man-centered working environment, without giving into misshaping their gender to suit the sexually charged role they are called to fill.

Are you still there reader? I hope so, because everything does tie in, in the end.

The heart of this workshop was a book: “Life’s Daughter, Death’s Bride: Inner Transformation Through the Goddess Demeter/Persephone” by Kathie Carlson. This book draws lessons on womanhood from the myth of Demetra and Persephone – which is perhpas the most famous of the many tellings of women rites of passage: from maid to mother and from mother to crone. It’s a book that I loved and disliked at the same time, because it was teaching me about the complexity of  womanhood, while depicting manhood with one simple, broad bursh stroke. I am a convinced feminist, but I cannot stand by the picture which describes men as inexcusable holders of some sort of original sin, making them inevitably ruthless, selfish creatures. Although gender inequity and injustice is still very much present here and now, I do not believe this is exclusively men’s fabrication. Not anymore. And while some would want men to stand up and own their responsaibiltiy for centuries of shameless sexism, this should be our fight: ours to own and cherish.

During this workshop we were to re-live our maidenhood, find the pivoting point in which we moved into our mother selves and prepare to welcome and nurture the Crone in our hearts for such time as when the next passage will take place. One of the things that personally struck me, was that I was seriously struggling with finding my Mother-moment. It’s only with the support ot the facilitators and the other participants that I realised it was because it had very recently happened, so recenlty I was still half into my maiden cocoon.

Here is where I tie my pretty bow, readers, as promised.

The two experiences suddenly came together today when, pensively walking home with the groceries, my mind dropped memories like breadcrumbs. I followed them to this shiny new idea waiting to be found in the pleats of my awareness: the cocoon is finally shed, the wings spread wide to dry. No wonder I have been struggling wearing mini skirts and bodycon dresses! No wonder outfits put together even only a couple of years ago were not doing it enaymore… I was blaming my poor, clueless body when it was my taste that hadn’t evolved fast enough. That hadn’t picked up and the change and was not ready to reflect my new nature.

This explains so much! It explains the desire to purge my closet and the hesitation to fill it back in; the crave to plan, study, research style and coulour; the difficulty to trust my own instinct when buying clothes, fabric or patterns. I was becoming uneasy, distrusting of my choices, following others’s… always with the same question in mind: what the hell is going on here?

Now I know. Now I am perfectly happy with being unsure and tentative and dubios – because I am also curious and excited. I am no longer lost, I am changed.

Which brings us to this beauty:

I saw it, I loved it. I took it with me to the fitting room and I loved it more for what I could have made of the concept, and less and less for what it was. I loved the wrap style, I loved the dolman sleeves, I adored the pockets and the skirt shape. Now take out the Easter egg bow and replace it with a leather belt, make the sleeves 3/4 because let’s be honest those sleeves will not keep you toasty, make it fit properly so that the waist sits where it mosts flatters you and the backside is properly shaped. (Insert Eye of the Tiger by Survivors here)

Here and there I knew I was right. Took pictures of the details and now straight to my block. Fabric suggestions anyone? This label said wool-viscose blend and it was incredibly soft and snuggly, but I am open to suggestions.

 

Wallet Buster

It was bound to happen. I don’t even know why I am surprised.

Today, out of a fortuitous planet alignment, I managed to get myself to the Handmade Fair. I was incredibly excited knowing that the likes of Tilly and the Buttons and Sew Over It were exhibiting… but I also couldn’t wait to immerse myself in the world of Handmade for a few hours.

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There were rules though. One, at least: I could only buy resources to make stuff. As I soon learned, the fair was split pretty much fifty-fifty between resources stands and  handmade prettiness. There was plenty of both and I am glad I gave myself some boundaries.

This said, perhaps I went to the fair with too large of a dressmaker hat on. I expected to find tailoring tools and much, much more dressmaking fabric than there was (although there was more quilting cotton than you can shake a stick at), more notions… Perhaps what I was expecting was a super-heberdashery, whereas I found more of a DYI party.

There were coloured paper and calligraphy tools, various painting and stencil options, decorations of all sorts, handmade dresses and accessories for sale, posters and print to hang, felted butterfly wings and dino tails for the little ones and… traditional southern Italy ceramics from the Amalfy coast!

img_0071The aforementioned Amalfitani stand

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Pretty leather clutches

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Fancy calligraphy inks

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A sparkly collection of Christmas baubles

As I said, I had given myself boundaries and was not going to budge. And I didn’t! Still, I managed to come home with a little, much cherished bundle. I can’t say I needed all I bought but, lifting my eyes from my knitting on the train home, I could see most people’s bags were larger and fuller than mine. Therefore I feel I can tell myself I behaved well – comparatively at least!

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I had the pleasure of meeting two of the managers of Girl Charlee FABRICS (whose jersey selection is gorgeous – you can see samples in the pic above) and the sweet, sweet owner of the newly born Cloth&Candy, who feels to me like a fresh breeze in the realm of quilting cotton.  Her selection is edgy, yet very delicate and tasteful. I don’t quilt myself butI have a nice idea on how to use my sparkly fat quarter.

Of course I visited both Tilly and Sew Over It at their respective stands and couldn’t help myself – I  had wanted those patterns since before even purchasing a sewing machine. The one you see on the right handside instead was a lucky find and it introduced me to a Liesl & C0. I bet there will be more to come!

All in all it was a lovely experience. The fair felt half like an exhibit and half like a festival, with a big field with food vans and people sitting at tables or laying on picnic blankets.

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Tips for next time?

  • Go on the last day (again). Firstly, you’ll skip the crowd. Seconldy, exhibitors might be tired, but still stocked to their eyelids and I bet a few smiling and smoothing will get you good discounts.
  • Set a spending target. We’re talking about sewing disneyland people, hold on to your wallets.
  • Bring friends! Turn the shopping spree into a leisurely stroll. Bring food, drinks and a blanket, do some handsweing or maybe knitting spraweld on the green. It will make for such a great day out!

That’s all from me folks. What did you think of the fair? Did I miss on any bargains?