Saturday, 30 October 2010

Fashionista bear

Firstly thank you so much for the wonderful book suggestions in the comments to my last post - I've so enjoyed finding out more about them on Amazon.

Above is a photo that I took of one of the cats and Zebra-girl's bear in fashionista-mode last week, during our Herbie-watching marathon. The cats loved our unfamiliar sedentary pace of life and happily lolled about on the sofas near us making themselves look as strokeable as possible.

Bear's dress is one that I forgot to blog about when I made it a month or so ago. She is wearing Anna Maria Horner voiles - pastry line dobby for the main dress, a floral print for the bib. It has bound arms and facings front and back...I loved making this on such a minute much quicker than clothes for grown-ups or even children.

On the day I made it I had been in the middle of cutting the binding for the armholes when the doorbell had rung. When I finally came back into the room it looked almost as if bear had been creating the dress herself and was even covered in thread just like I am when sewing. More recently I writing a piece of editorial for a magazine and so for a whole day my sewing machine was turned off and no fabric was cut and when, at the end of the day I stood up, I found that the room and myself were both threadless and looked just as we had several hours earlier. I realised that the constant mess and cotton debris is something that I do not relish, but which seem to be a permanent feature of my life. There could be many worse things though.

Oh, and the beautiful little yellow cardigan at the top of this is not my knitting, but that of my mother-in-law. We co-ordinated colours when making the components for this outfit...bear seems to have her own dedicated team of wardrobe mistresses - Zebra-girl was delighted.

Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Florence x

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Photos from my week

Half term week: I walked into the kitchen on Sunday morning and spotted these chillies on the windowsill - Mr Teacakes' latest harvest from his 31 home-grown chilli plants. He is not given to making aesthetically pleasing arrangements, so the moment I spotted their shiny green skins against the soft pink of the bowl, I knew that they had been wordlessly placed there especially to acquire my admiration.

The pinks and greens made me happy each time I went to the sink that day, until they were put into the fridge to preserve the freshness that will later be used to set people's mouths on fire.

One of my small ones has been poorly for the last couple of weeks...we finally decided that rather than continuing to plough on doing lots of things and hoping that she'd get better, we would instead go into hibernation to allow for complete rest. With the heating up high, and a box-set of Herbie films, we have spent a lot of time snuggling under blankets and generally lounging about. I have been itching to knit - such a sociable, portable, sofa-bound activity, but couldn't find any of the knitting needles or wool that I know I have squirrelled away somewhere. So I occupied my fingers with some hand-sewing, finally using the Sashiko threads that my husband bought me for my birthday several months ago.

It all became easier when it finally sank in that with sashiko one moves the fabric on to the needle and not the needle through the seems counter-intuitive, but it's amazing how much more this way of doing things regulates the stitches to become more even. However, it's somehow an activity that fails to feel completely absorbing to me...and I'm still wanting to have another attempt at knitting (this time armed with the Simple Knitting book that I reviewed back in June).

I shall be back soon, to share the sewing that I've been doing in the evenings, but for now we continue to enjoy being toasty indoors and working our way through a stack of Micheal Morpurgo books. Have you read any of his books? He writes stunning children's fiction - by far the best we've ever read - he has a huge back catalogue, but our favourites so far would be Why the Whales Came and Cool!. He writes about people, animals, tragedy and the way the world is with utter kindness and sensitivity, tackling subjects that one wouldn't immediately think it's possible to write about for a six and nine year old. When Mr Teacakes reads them aloud to us all every evening we both invariably end up blinking away tears, while the children are left pleading for just one more chapter.

I'd love any book recommendations that you might have (adults or children's) - it's such a treat to discover unfamiliar authors whose writing is so completely wonderful.

Wishing you a happy half-term,
Florence x

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Thank you!

I just wanted to say thank you so much to the great many of you who took the time to share your opinions on the poll that I put up on yesterday's post about sewing patterns (it's still running, if you want to add to it) - I'm so appreciative of your help. Thank you.

I've started remaking the skirt (and hopefully next week the dress) to try and crystallise which might be a best first pattern for me to write (the summer blouse was lagging far behind, so I've put that to one side for the moment) and to try and start pinning down the pattern a little more. As you can imagine, this is a trying and awful thing to have to do as it means that I will end up with more clothes. Oh no! I have reworked the details on the skirt pattern a little - taken some things out that weren't quite working for me and added in other things that I think would be nice things to include. This photo is of the inside of the skirt (doesn't the corduroy look horrible from this's really much more lovely on the outer side) - it's spending time on these details that really delights me and ones that I'd hope to include in a pattern. The skirt has bound seams and a hem faced inside with a thick band of colour: a geometric print from Joel Dewberry's Modern Meadow range - purchased from an online shop that's new to me - River Fabrics - they carry a relatively small selection of fabrics, but happily, stock colourways of the Modern Meadow range that I haven't been able to find anywhere else in the UK. Hurrah!

Florence x

* In answer to a couple of suggestions with sizing that were raised in the comments section of my last post: any pattern that I wrote would be available in a range of sizes and, I'm thinking, designed for a slightly more average height than I stand at, to avoid people making a belt rather than a skirt. When I originally designed both the dress and skirt I created them with darts at the bust or the waist to accommodate my curves and to improve the fit - these darts would increase in size proportionately over the sizing range to (hopefully) continue to offer a good fit for an increasingly curvy figure. After grading (the process of drafting a pattern in different sizes), I would then make some samples up to double check. Thank you so much for raising this - it's good to have things to keep in mind as I take my first steps in designing a clothing pattern. x

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Voting: your opinons on patterns

Following my post last week about my hopes to start (eventually) creating my own clothing patterns for sale I have a few questions that I wondered whether you might be happy to answer with your opinion.

The first is about seam allowances. Traditional envelope patterns from Vogue and Simplicity tend to have seam allowances built-in to their clothing patterns. This means that when you cut your pattern pieces out you don't have to add on any extra seam allowance. However, it also means that if the pattern dictates a 5/8" seam allowance that's what you have to use (which can be annoying if you're using an overlocker or if you want to give the garment a certain finish that requires a different seam allowance)...and it makes it more difficult to make any adjustments to the pattern as you have to allow for the built-in seam allowance in any changes that you attempt to make.

I've come to love the Japanese patterns that don't include a seam allowance - I find it's easier to think about which finishing technique suits me and it also makes it easier to make any adjustments to the pattern. When it comes to adding on the seam allowance, the pattern can be cut out and then the extra seam allowance easily added on as you trace the pattern onto your chosen fabric.

However, out of interest I'd really love to know which method other sewers prefer? So here's the first poll:

Do you like your dress patterns to have a built in seam allowance?

The second question I have for you were going to buy a dress pattern from me (fear not, this is hypothetical, so even non-sewers' opinions would be valued) which would you be most interested in. The three patterns I'm thinking of developing are shown below, but it would be really nice to know if there's a stand-out garment that would be far more popular than any of the others, as it's always nice to pick a good starting point.

Knit dress
A-line Skirt

Summer Blouse

Which sewing pattern would you be most likely to want to buy?

Thank you so much for your help.

Florence x

Friday, 15 October 2010

In homage to the Audrey dress

A couple of posts ago I mentioned having fallen in love with Johnnie Boden's Audrey Dress. Well, now I have my own sort-of-Audrey-dress made by me, that actually didn't end up looking very much like the original dress at all, apart from that it is a jersey dress.

Mine has full length arms to avoid chilly wrists, only one pocket to save me from looking like a school girl (it can be a problem when you find that your own school girl is only inches away from being the same height as you), a much shorter hemline and contrast binding on the pocket and at the neck. I bought this mustard knit last year on a day out with Lisa, Helen and Joanne and then promptly took it home and ruined it. It was my first real attempt at sewing with a very fine knit and I'm afraid my sewing machine ate parts of it, due to my not waiting until I'd bought some suitable needles or doing any preliminary reading around how one actually sews with knits. But a year on, it's pleasing to find that one's skills do improve with practice and this time around I wondered how I could have found it so troublesome as I used the strips of it that I'd salvaged (it was meant to have had a life as a waterfall cardigan, but actually, I think it may see even more fun as the binding on my Audrey dress).

I have been coveting the black jersey for a while as it is incredibly thick and beautiful quality, so when I was out with Ian's mama last last week I finally snapped it up when I saw that it had 20% off.

The dress, being black, has proved incredibly difficult to photograph, so here are a few blurry pictures. The mirror in the wardrobe is less than 10" wide and has odd distortions and age spots in it...but unfortunately it's the only full-length mirror in the house. I'm thinking of asking our local glaziers if they might make me a new one to go in it, as it would be so nice to get dressed without looking through the film of dust which somehow seems to be within the mirror.

It has darts at the bust...they look as though they're in the wrong place in this photo, but I think it's because of the angle my arm is at to hold the camera, as happily I think that they look fine in reality.

I'm actually really pleased with this dress: it feels comfortable, wearable and slips on over my head without any troublesome zips to do up. I would love to be able to write it up into a pattern (and actually several others) but I'm feeling a little stumped as to how one goes about it with such large pattern pieces - how to get them into the computer? I wonder if anyone has read any blog posts lately about how one might go about this? I have Adobe Illustrator on my computer which I (or Mr Teacakes when he eventually becomes too pained by my confusion) create my other pattern pieces in, but a whole dress feels beyond my capabilities and too much work to hand over to Mr TC, when he is so busy with other things. I've thought about the possibility of getting paper patterns printed, but then there's the problem of cost, distribution and whether the investment would pay off, as I've only ever sold PDF patterns so that feels like a big leap. Mmmm, lots of thoughts....

I'm so looking forward to the weekend: it includes extended family, babies and dinner with friends and the wearing of my new dress. All good things.

Wishing you a lovely weekend,
Florence x

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

An unleather bag

This is the bag that I made with the 1/2 metre of black unleather that I retrospect I should have bought a little more as I used every last bit of it and the amount that I had to work with did dictate the design of the bag a little. The black that I've used for the bag has a little more a sheen to it than the brown that I used for the iPod holder in the last post. I wish that I didn't know that this wasn't real leather as I'm completely unable to objectively decide whether it's doing a realistic leather impression or whether it is very obviously a piece of plastic impersonating pig's clothing. 

My mannequin is modelling the bag here...they are not my empty, floppy arms.
The material was much easier to work with than I expected - apparently one should use paper clips, rather than pins, to hold leather (or unleather) in place while sewing, but I found that the paperclips just became misshapen, so I kept the pieces in place using my hands. Other recommendations are to baste the pieces together using glue and to use a Teflon sewing foot, due to the material being a little more slippery than usual. I don't have a Teflon foot and my past history told me to avoid the glue if I wished for a modicum of success with this project - I am incapable of gluing neatly, and have long since given up attempting to use the beautiful purse frames that you glue to fabric. My inbuilt walking foot seemed to hold everything in place nicely and a leather needle punctured through the fabric in a way that left it unscathed.

I have a couple of small changes to the shape that I'd make, but I'm thinking of writing this bag pattern up as one of my paid-for-patterns. Perhaps also showing how it would look in wool suiting and a summer weight fabric. It's very simple and for my unleather version I even omitted any top stitching, as I like the minimalism of it that way, but I'd probably add some in for fabric bags.

Inside is a zippered pocket (yes, the grey zip colour is dubious, but it was frenzied sewing that didn't allow for a trip to the shops to purchase more zippage), as well as an open pocket. I lined it with some Hope Valley by Denyse Schmidt - I'd earmarked it for the facings of a corduroy skirt that's in the works, but ended up using it here as it felt like a suitable partner for the outer I must re-buy it for the skirt.

What do you think....should I refrain from buying any more unleather...or is it a viable alternative? It feels gorgeous...I'm less sure about whether it looks that way. Honest answers on a postcard...or just in the comments section.

Zebra girl took this picture of me and my bag before school this morning - I love that her silhouette standing on the bed is reflected on the wall behind me.

Wishing you a happy Tuesday,
Florence x

Monday, 11 October 2010

A moral dilemma

I never thought that sewing would bring quite such a moral dilemma for me as the one that has been circling round in my brain over the last month...but I think it's finally solved. It's 29 years since I've eaten meat (the last bite finally occurred aged 4, having previously spent a great many mealtimes weeping over a plate of sausages) and I rarely think of the ethics or health reasons behind this - it's as ingrained and unimportant to me now as the fact that I have brown eyes (and trying to convert people to vegetarianism would seem as odd to me as trying to persuade others to wear brown contact wouldn't happen).

As with recycling, self-sufficiency, how much television one's children watch or even how much fabric one should have in one's house, everyone draws one's line in different places...rarely a straight line, more a squiggly line that curves around to include some things and skirts around to exclude others. So while I don't eat meat or fish, I have always worn leather shoes and carried leather bags without thinking twice about it.

So at first when an all-consuming, tidal wave of an obsession about wanting to sew with leather came in and practically knocked me over I wasn't too concerned. I craved the soft, tactile feel of the fabric (because that's how I was seeing it - fabric, not a skin) and the sense of having left no material unturned (or unsewn). I desperately wanted to make leather bags and daydreamed almost exclusively of making plaited leather bag handles. I soon found myself investigating leather suppliers, where I discovered that they talk in a different (and to me, unsettling) language to fabric shops...things are not sold by the metre...but by the hide....and the skin is left shaped where it has been taken from the animal just above the legs and shoulders. I was still dreaming of plaited leather handles, but also feeling a little uncomfortable.

Somehow the idea of buying a ready-made leather handbag feels very different from having an entire animal skin shipped into my house. It felt like I might be about to go down a road that would ultimately make me feel BAD...and even though he said I should do whatever I felt was right for me, the fact that my husband stopped buying leather shoes over a year ago made me feel like it was a decision that was weighted. Would I look back on it and see it as the moment when our paths began to go in different directions?  Would the leather arrive and I'd suddenly realise that yes, indeed, it was the the skin of an entire beautiful piglet that I had on my work table...and just want to cry?

I think possibly yes, so it was with a heavy heart that I decided to start investigating that rather upsetting material that has become known as 'leatherette'. Just the term made me cringe...conjuring up images of nasty unstrokable plastic and thoughts of 1970s table search took an unfruitful week. I read of PU leather, that sounded amazing (polyurathane leather - and I realised that I already had a couple of shop-bought things made from it, that I had never realised weren't real leather), but my search for suppliers of PU leather only brought up wholesale options from China. And finally when I was about to give up I found that the very wonderful Cloth House had made a decision to stop stocking leather and so had scoured the world looking for the most realistic alternatives and now had some in stock.

When I finally got some of their choice selection in my paws I have to admit that my first reaction was utter disappointment and an overwhelming desire to cry. When I see fabric my instinct is always to take it between my thumb and forefinger and rub, which I did here. But the rubbing test felt all wrong: while the top side felt like leather, my forefinger was met with odd synthetic backing fabrics where soft suede should have been and so my mind wasn't able to believe that it was a good leather subsititute. I bought only the smallest quantity of a few colours - a token purchase to prove to myself that I had given this synthetic leather a chance and left the shop feeling glum. 

However, once home, Mr Teacakes said that he'd really like me to make him an iPod holder from it, as whatever I thought about it, he couldn't see how it differed from the real thing and would really like a more wintry cover.  And do you know, he's right. When the backing side is tucked safely away, stitched into a place that fingers can no longer reach, I am left with an ipod cover that feels...ummm.... like it's made from real leather. And not just any leather, but that lovely kind of leather that Penhaligon's used to make their slippers from...the kind that requires that you to sit and stroke your own slippered feet for the entire evening because it's so deliciously soft.

So with a little more confidence I set about making a 'leather' be continued...

Florence x

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Liberty jersey

It seems like such a long time since I first discovered that Liberty printed on jersey, so I can't believe that it has taken until now to see and feel it for myself in real life. It's actually even lovelier than I'd imagined: far thicker and more substantial than I'd expected, so although it would work beautifully for tops, it's almost more suited to dresses. I'm imagining that they produced it with the creation of Diane Von Furstenberg style wrap dresses in mind - although I always find wrap dresses hard to wear and, for me, they feel a little too eveningy for daytime wear. However, I'm excited about the idea of a jersey shift dress, which seems to be the garment that I reach for most often from my winter wardrobe each year.

And like buses, the Liberty Jersey is now appearing all at once: Leah of Sew Box (a website dedicated to dressmaking fabrics and patterns) recently started stocking a small selection too - you can find them here - where they are, curiously, almost half the price - the presence of the gorgeous wooden floor boards, hallowed halls and the deep purple bags seem to be an expensive accompaniment to a metre of fabric...I'm retrospectively shocked).

I am now going to try and sleep off the shock (she said dramatically, before falling into her bed in a swoon).

Florence x

Monday, 4 October 2010

Buttons and chairs

Firstly, the pattern book in the last post - I'd omitted to put a name or a title, because this book is entirely in Japanese (often the title is in English) and because the isbn number on the back doesn't bring up a single search result on Google. However, having trawled through my emails I've found that I bought it from Pomadour24 and that her translation for it is Nice Fall & Winter Clothes by Fabric Length. Megumi's customer service is completely wonderful, so I'd definitely recommend buying from her - and postage from Japan is oddly inexpensive. I think someone else asked if there were any coat patterns in the book - the two jackets that I photographed were the only ones in the book. If you're thinking of buying the book, do be aware that it feels a little like a magazine and lacks the very clean and simple styling that makes most Japanese pattern books so delicious to look through.

Now, back to the photo at the start of this post - last week I saw these lovely black buttons - I didn't know quite what I'd use them for, but I bought four because it makes me happy to think that at some point in the next decade I might make myself a garment that makes me feel a little bit Audrey Hepburn....or just like a Liquorice Allsort depending upon the success of the finished garment.

Audrey Hepburn has been on my mind ever since seeing the Audrey Dress on the Boden website. For a moment I considered buying it, but lately Mr Teacakes' words have been ringing in my ears: why would you even consider buying dresses or shirts when you can make them yourself? Mmm...normally I would consider this because the right dressmaking fabrics aren't always so easy to find....but in this case I've seen some lovely, incredibly thick jersey in my local fabric shop that I'm sure would be just right, so I shall take his advice and soon hopefully have my own unique slice of Audrey goodness.

At the weekend I learnt of the wonderfulness of Cif. Last week I went to an antiques fair with my parents and found these Chapel chairs (which my mother calls Sunday School chairs - either way, they have a little space on the back for your hymn book...and, it would seem, a stray piece of chewing gum!). They were insanely cheap perhaps because they were in rather a poor state with water marks covering both. I'm used to sanding down and polishing furniture, but the lady at the fair (who talked in authoritative tones - I love it when someone sounds like they know exactly what they're talking about) advised me to use Cif and a green pan scrubber. It has been quite a revelation to discover that the two used in combination are capable of stripping a chair in not very much time at all and with far less upper arm exhaustion and wood loss (for sometimes I worry that I will be left with just a wafer of wood) than sandpaper. In the photos above the chair on the left is how they originally looked, the chair on the right is the one that has been stripped with Cif (the dark patches are where it was still a little damp).

You can see the water splatters most obviously on the horizontal back piece on the middle on the left-hand chair (the chair on the right is oiled and finished). After I'd finished using the Cif, I gave it a couple of coats of Danish finishing oil - I usually use Rustin's, but lately have only been able to get hold of Liberon locally (I find Rustin's seems to sink in a little better. With Liberon too many coats can suddenly build up to look like a varnish giving the furniture the look of a yacht's decking...which isn't the look I want). The chair on the right is nearly finished, the chair on the left is how it looked to start with. 

It's odd how finding a new cleaning product can leave one feeling reinvigorated...after the chairs I went around the house experimenting with it, only stopping from time to time to wonder what noxious ingredient it is that enables it to work so incredibly effectively. The results were too fabulous to ponder on that for long it's obviously a substance that goes straight to one's head.

Florence x
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.