I recently finished reading A.S.Byatt's The Children's Book, a novel that may interest you, my internet friends. Not only is it an engrossing novel in itself, but it has various hooks for stitchers and craftsters. Set in the late Victorian to Edwardian period, some of the characters are part of the Arts and Crafts movement. The V&A is the setting for the opening scene and is integral to the plot. It also has wonderful descriptions of the characters' clothing - thought you might like to read a few snippets (I love that word):
"She came with little skimming steps across the grass and across the gravel path, very slow, very rhythmic. Unlike her daughters she paid a lot of attention to her dress. She wore white muslin decorated with violets, and a violet shawl. The muslin flowed from a high yoke: she was uncorseted, with a simple violet sash. Her gleaming hair was coiled on her head, and pinned with silk violets."
"She herself was also dressed in clothes constructed from altered hand-downs, covered with faded golden lilies and birds and pomegranates. What she wanted was a sleek, dark, business-like skirt and a fresh while shirt with a collar, that would show off her narrow waist."
"She was handsome and golden: her hat had English meadow flowers on brown linen, a pale coffee-brown linen dress was trimmed with creamy lace. She had a pointed belt not unlike Elsie's, and a row of little bright silk flowers round the neck of her dress."
"Violet said she would make Dorothy a dress ... It should be deep rose, perhaps, or dark blue, maybe in shot taffeta with a glow in it. Dark blue like the midnight sky, said Violet, and insisted on taking Dorothy on an excursion to London, for if she was to have a grown-up dress she must have some sort of shaping bodice. Everything this year, in the magazines, was lacy. She had the idea of making a lacy jacket - not in bright white, in some silvery thread - with short sleeves and a collar that would stand up when Dorothy had put her hair up."
A stand-up collar!
And check out the clothing at this wedding in a cold church on 27th December:
"Florence had a very smart slate-coloured grosgrain long coat over a blue-crocus-coloured dress; her hat was severe crocus-grey tulle, to match... Pomona was the only bridesmaid, in a dark-grey velvet gown, decorated with violets. The same flowers were round the brim of her hat... Seraphita was wrapped in a feather-edged robe in a kind of thick complicated tapestry, purple with grey and silver, edged with dyed swansdown and ostrich plumes... Imogen Fludd laid down the stone hot-water bottle she had been clutching, picked up her sheaf of hothouse lilies and walked through the church. She was wearing shimmering silvery velvet, very plain, with a high white fur collar, and big white fur cuffs."
This bow belt will add a gorgeous finishing touch to your homemade dresses and skirts. Make it in matching or contrast fabric - it's a great way to use up leftover material.
You will need:
- fabric (the amount you need will vary depending on the measurements of your pattern, below)
- matching thread
- iron-on interfacing (similar weight to your fabric)
- two sets of hooks and eyes
- sewing machine and tools
To make the belt, start by drawing the pattern pieces on some paper to the following measurements:
Belt: length is half of your waist size, plus 5cm (2in) (cut on fold), by width of 11cm (4 3/8in)
Bow: 30 x 12cm (12 x 4 3/4in)
Knot: 8 x 8cm (3 x 3in)
1. Cut one of each piece in your fabric, cutting your belt on the fold so it ends up double the length. Cut iron-on interfacing to the length and half the width of the belt pattern, and apply it to the wrong side of the bottom half of the belt.
2. Fold the belt in half lengthways, right sides together, and press. Pin, then sew along the long side and one of the short sides, leaving one short side unsewn. Snip the corner, trim the seams and press them open.
3. Turn the belt right sides out so the interfacing is on the inside. I find a chopstick (or similar) helps here. Hold the smooth end of the chopstick against the stitched short end of the belt, then gradually smooth the wrong side of the belt over it. It'll bunch up more and more, and feel like a bit of a chore for a while, but eventually you'll see the end of the belt emerge out of the top of the tube. Grab this end, discard the stick, and gently pull it through (don't yank it too hard!) so the belt turns right side out.
4. Right now the belt looks a little like a deflated snake. Let's sharpen it up. First we need to make the corners look a bit more like corners - use a pin to gently coax out the point. Now give the belt a good press, rolling the seam line a tiny bit to the non-interfaced side of belt. Fold the seam allowance of the unsewn edge inside the belt, and either topstitch or slip stitch the end closed.
5. Fold the bow in half lengthways, right sides together, and sew along the long edge. Trim the seams and press them open. Turn the bow right sides out and press, with the seam line in the centre of the piece. Place the short ends of the bow together and topstitch them together to form a loop (the ends won't be on show). Position these topstitched ends in the centre of the loop and press the bow flat.
Make up the knot in the same way, but don't sew the ends together.
6. Pinch the centre of the bow into a concertina shape. Wrap the knot tightly around the bow and pin the ends of the knot together to hold the bow in place. Sew the ends of the knot together, either by machine or hand, trimming off any excess fabric if need be.
7. Hand sew the bow onto the front of the right-hand end of the belt, catching the bow and knot pieces with the stitches. Hand-sew two hooks onto the underside of the right-hand end of the belt. Try the belt on, mark the positions for the corresponding eyes on the front of the left-hand end, then hand sew them on.
This is an updated version of a tutorial which appears in Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes (Quadrille, 2014) - you can order a signed copy from Tilly's shop or regular one from Amazon
My first blogger meet up! I'm in Edinburgh for the film festival so took the opportunity to meet up with the lovely Debi from My Happy Sewing Place. I was somewhat apprehensive walking into the rendez vous (would it be awkward? would we get on?), but the nerves evaporated the second we spotted each other across the cafe and burst into fits of giggles, shrieking and pointing at Debi's dress (she wore her dress! of course I was going to spot her!), to the bemusement of the rest of the clientele.
We bought up nearly the whole of Edinburgh Fabrics. Debi picked out some lovely blue cotton for her next very exciting, top secret project. It was great to find out more about Debi (although in a way it felt like I'd known her for years). And it was so much fun talking about sewing IRL!
I spent a fortune (blame Debi) but am proud to say I can match up all the fabric I bought with patterns I've been meaning to crack open, so expect to see some new finished projects soon. And I couldn't resist these buttons (above). They made me shriek in a very high pitched voice. I won't show you all the other stuff I bought as I'm a bit embarrassed about just how much of it there is! It was all really good value though, particularly the candy striped bed sheet I found in a charity shop for £1.29 that's going to become a Summer skirt (finds like that don't exist in London).
Afterwards went to Anteaques, a gorgeous antiques-and-tea shop (can you see what they did there?) where we ate scones and drank hazelnut tea (Debi) and verbena infusion (me), surrounded by historical gems. The owner came to take our order just as we were reviewing our purchases, and it turned out that he's obsessed with fabrics too! We had a nice time chatting to him, explaining how we met each other through blogging (I felt like such a nerd), and he rummaged around under some boxes to bring out a vintage Singer machine to show us.
I had such a fantastic afternoon! Hope to see you again soon, Debi!
Finished! Woop woop! The pattern is McCalls 6120, but I don't know what date it's from as I can't find it on the Vintage Sewing Pattern Wiki - any ideas? 1960 maybe? I'm calling it The Birthday Party Dress - it's not my birthday and I'm not having a party, but for some reason wearing it makes me feel like a precocious girl itching to get to the party and do the mashed potato.
Man, it feels so great to have another vintage sewing project under my belt. And a red bow belt at that! Made from leftover fabric from my Ceylon dress.
The project came together pretty easily, up until the point when I came to insert the zip in the back and noticed a freak 2 inch discrepancy on each side between the centre back of the bodice and the centre back of the skirt - see above. I couldn't understand this as I'd folded the pleats quite accurately. Maybe it's a feature of inserting a lapped zip? But it didn't make any sense to me, so I had to perform some jiggery pokery on the pleats to pull the skirt edge in to meet the bodice. And after that I couldn't face the pressure and confusion of the lapped zip instructions with all its references to laps, flaps and semi-flaps, so I stuck to what I knew and went with a centred zip. I know, I know, living on the edge!
I learnt how to make pleats! The toil involved in these babies made me feel extremely guilty about the fact that, when I was at secondary school, my mum used to tack - yes, tack - the pleats of my school uniform skirt up every Sunday night before ironing them. Sheesh! She really shouldn't have bothered, particularly because as a teenager experimenting with ways to attract boys I'd roll my skirt half way up my thighs anyway, thus ruining the pleats and my mum's hard work. Oops.
I particularly like the bow belt and am planning on making another one in the yellow floral fabric leftover from my first dress to give it another look.
Today was the inaugural Craft Club (name tbc), an afternoon of crafting and cake with friends and friends of friends, which I hope will eventually grow into a regular public event with a listing in Time Out and t-shirts and screenings and... and... But for today a small group of us played with Fimo, making tiny pendants, earrings and buttons. We went about half an hour without saying a word to each other or noticing that the CD had stopped, it took so much concentration. By 6 o'clock we were all exhausted, like when you used to go swimming as a child and would be really tired and quiet for the rest of the day - a good way to guarantee a deep sleep on a school night. We've got lots of ideas for future group crafting activities, so maybe I'll post up more pictures and maybe even a tutorial or two in the future...
Carys of La Ville Inconnue - one of my favourite blogs (which I try to resist commenting on too much in case I look like a crazed old stalker) - tagged me in a game of eight questions, which is just the excuse I need for a blog post while I don't yet have a finished dress to show you. So here goes...
1. What never fails to cheer you up?
Ordering a Firezza and stuffing it in my face while rewatching favourite episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm with my boyfriend. Nom nom nom!
2. If you could live one day of your life over again, what would it be? Hmm... maybe one of those days when you can't stop giggling over stupid stuff... probably one of the crackers days we spent on holiday in Croatia.
3. What do you like best about yourself? The workings of my genius mind and my superhuman ability to guess the forthcoming plot developments and twists of all movies and TV shows, much to the frustration of the lad.
4. What would you change about yourself? My life would be easier if I stopped worrying and feeling guilty all the time.
5. What have you enjoyed best about blogging?
Reading blogs is what inspired me to try out sewing in the first place and writing a blog - and receiving comments from you, my dear internet friends - has kept me at it. And both blogging and sewing have freed me from the shackles of shopping.
6. Who/what is your ultimate source of inspiration?
Fashion inspiration? The early movies of Jean-Luc Godard, bien sûr...
7. If you could be anywhere in the world by now, where would you be?
I've been slightly obsessed with the idea of going to Tokyo for a while now but other trips and financial outgoings keep getting in the way. Apparently the toilets have buttons that you press to play music, emit fragrances and lord only knows what else. Cripes!
8. Who would you invite to your ideal dinner party?
Larry David, Agnes Varda, Elvis, Nigel Slater, Barack Obama, French and Saunders. We'd have a hoot!
Now I'm supposed to tag eight people - The Chosen Ones are:
Amelia, the other half of La Ville Inconnue, so she doesn't feel left out (athough she really should be revising)
I got my sewing mojo back! Hurrah! Prompted by the Summer Essentials Sew-along, I finally made a start on a project which will hopefully end up looking something like this. I approach vintage patterns with trepidation, fearful of potential disappointment if I find that a pattern piece is missing. Luckily this one was all present and correct. Once I get started there's something so deeply satisfying about the initial process of ironing delicate old pattern pieces to make them look as good as new, before systematically tracing all their lines and markings.
And just look at the beauty of the white chalk on that navy blue cotton... sigh... [Soundtrack: 'Ooh La La' by The Faces]
I've been suffering from productivity issues and haven't been able to start a new sewing project for a few weeks now. Admittedly I have been quite busy, but I think it's also due to my disintegrating relationship with my To Do List. I have always been a list-maker - I can be mega efficient and also, dare I say it, just a teensy bit anal - and subscribe to the David Allen GTD school of productivity which recommends writing down everything you need to do to get it out of your head so you can relax in the knowledge that it's all captured into a system. But recently my to do list has become a never ending behemoth and has turned projects which initially felt exciting when I first thought of them into tired chores when written down and reviewed on the list as yet more things I haven't done. So today I've taken the bold and frightening step of taking everything off my to do list that was originally supposed to be fun (eg. start sewing project) and limiting items on the list to those tasks that really are chores (eg. buy toothpaste, go to post office). Hopefully this will mean that I'll feel less pressure to tick things off the list and will enable me to take pleasure in those projects which are supposed to be fun and relaxing. Right, where am I going with this? Oh yeah, so, I've been tempted to join one of the various sew-alongs that have been popping up on the blogosphere recently, but the rigid timetables have put me off because of everything I've just outlined above. But then I read about Ali from The Wardrobe Reimagined's Summer Essentials Sew Along, which takes a much more laid back approach. Behold Ali's instructions:
"...the Summer Essentials Sew-Along asks participants to sew five(-ish) warm-weather friendly pieces by August(-ish), ‘cause wouldn’t you rather spend August looking fabulous in your homemade threads? The goal: Stock your closet with quality summer basics. The benefit: A group of sewers who will encourage and inspire you..."
Sounds good, eh? I get the feeling I won't be told off if I don't manage to make five things, but it might just provide gentle encouragement and reopen "the way" (cf. Zoe's boyfriend Patty - or is it Matty? I can never remember which is which). Anyhoo, so here is my suitably vague list of five Summer pieces I might just make if the mood takes me:
1) Everyday dress with a massive skirt that I can wear to work and pretend I'm in Mad Men (without the misogyny) - I'm thinking of cracking open McCall's 6120 above and making it in a gorgeous navy textured navy cotton from my stash, with a bow at the waist. 2) Denim smock - I've been coveting one of these for ages but my Wardrobe Refashion pledge means I won't be able to buy one this Summer, so maybe I can make one instead. Any suggestions for where to source a soft, lightish denim fabric, either in London or on the interweb?
3) Pedal pushers - just because. 4) Blouse that I can wear with the above or with jeans when I'm feeling lazy but still want to look vaguely like a grown up. Possibly this pattern.
5) Some kind of skirt. I've got Colette Patterns' Beignet on order, or I've also got McCalls 5631 in my stash.
Ali's set up a Flickr group that you can join here if you want. Be there or be square! [Soundtrack: 'When I Grow Up' by Fever Ray]
I can't quite seem to get my act together to start on a new sewing project, but I can quite easily spend hours on my laptop looking at pretty things, such as these fabrics that would make amazing Summer skirts and sundresses.
The first three are part of Cloud 9's swoonsome new collection, 'Beyond the Sea', and the others are part of Anna Maria Horner's Little Folks collection of voiles.
I really can't justify spending any more money on fabric until I've worked my way through some of my existing stash, but by alerting you lot to these beauties I hope to vicariously shop through you! Sorry! [Soundtrack: 'Good Intentions Paving Company' by Joanna Newsom - I just can't seem to get enough of this song!]