Thursday, 29 September 2011

A very modern notepad

I've thought a lot recently about the way that technology is beginning to take the place of my much-loved notepads. Invariably I have noted things down on paper, but then forgotten the details of the accompanying image that compelled me to record the name or phone number of something; or sketched drawings of design details that I've seen, but failed to capture the true loveliness of the original garment and have been left pondering over what it might actually have looked like. The other problem that has arisen is that I work my way through notepads at an alarming rate and always feel as though I am throwing away so many potential avenues of ideas and inspiration when I file a filled book onto a shelf or consign it to a drawer, knowing that I will rarely revisit the pages.

But in the last year or so, since purchasing an iPhone, I've increasingly used the inbuilt camera to record snapshots of dresses from magazines, to preserve recipes from newspapers, to capture design details from clothes that I've tried on in changing rooms and to memorise potential choices when shopping for materials or wallpapers.

I'm an indecisive purchaser, so it's also been a way of remembering an item of clothing that I've liked but been unsure of. Having fallen in love with the fabric, but not the style, I later bought this top, unpicked the shirring and turned it into a loose fitting vest for summer...I recently saw this top on someone else and regretted unpicking the shirring a little though...but at least I still have a photo of what I could have had if I'd kept my sewing shears in their drawer.

When the cut of a piece of clothing has been unflattering or just not quite right, I've consoled myself by taking a quick photo of it and promising myself that at some point I will work a favourite element of its design into one of my own clothing patterns at a later date. This was the purpose of the below photo of this shirt from White Stuff which was just a bit too big all over - I loved the soft material and the way the pintucks fell away to nothing. I was just about to link to it for you (just in case you like this detail too) and saw that they've introduced a size 6 to their range! This shirt may be mine after all! Unfortunately their shoe range still doesn't include a size 3.....

My photo roll has become my own reference library for when I'm out an about, an offline version of Pinterest.

It's liberating and makes for a lighter handbag to no longer need to preserve pages torn from magazines read during train journeys bearing an image of a dress or the name of a shop I'd like to investigate. And oddly, sometimes just having recorded an image of something you like is enough...the need to actually own it lessens. Surely a good thing.

How have you unexpectedly integrated new technology into your life? Do you use any fantastic apps for ordering all this information?

Modern notepadding aside, this week has been a busy one - I'm just finishing writing a new pattern, which should appear early next week. I've also been using a bolster and hammer to split bricks in half (don't worry, this activity bears no relation to the forthcoming sewing pattern)...such fun that I almost wondered whether I should swap my sewing tools for building ones. Until I remembered that the weather is about to turn cooler. And that really I don't actually like getting my hands dirty.

Florence x

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Pattern cutting books

Last Friday afternoon a review copy of Dennic Chunman Lo's Pattern Cutting landed on my doormat. In the early hours of Saturday morning I could be found sitting under a blanket, highlighter pen in my hand, brain (possibly visibly) whirring, devouring its pages while the rest of the house had already slept soundly for several hours. I finally decided it was time to go to bed at 3.30am. Some books are like that.

From Dennic Lo's Pattern Cutting
'Pattern Cutting' is essentially a text book concerning the drafting of patterns. But it artfully bridges the gap between being a dry dusty tome of a text book and one that is so commercial that it's left with little of substance to impart for fear of alienating its potential readership. It breaths visible air and life into the subject of pattern cutting with its pages of fresh, minimalist photographs, clear diagrams and occasional catwalk images from the recent seasons' collections to illustrate a point.

From Dennic Lo's Pattern Cutting
Chunman teaches at London College of Fashion (as well as having his own fashion label, Lo & Cabon) and his expertise and authority flow calmly through the pages, leaving you feeling well-guided and inspired. He hands out welcome opinion tit-bits in amongst in depth technicalities. For example, when he talks you through the options open to you when it comes to drafting tools, he also shares his own preferences (because you really want someone to explain how a Pattern Master works, but also to tell you that a grading ruler is still probably a simpler and more accurate way of adding in seam allowances, even on a curve). The pages aren't overstuffed, so even on the most technical-heavy pages, you are left with lots of clear space around the diagrams and plenty of room to think. There wasn't a single page that I turned to and felt overwhelmed by on first sight - this is something that feels really important when trying to learn something new.

From Dennic Lo's Pattern Cutting
Much of the book concerns the drafting of the basic blocks which you will use as a basis for your own designs. The basic blocks consists of a bodice, sleeve, skirt, dress and trouser. The theory is that once you have a block for each that fits perfectly, you should then be able to go on to manipulate the relevant block(s) into whatever design you might be imagining, by moving darts, taking them away, adding them in or introducing design features such as pleats, tucks and gathers. This section is so well explained that by the end of it I felt utterly enlightened about so many things that had previously puzzled me. Throughout the book you are reminded to think about and understand the way that the body moves and how this impacts on the clothing being worn. Consequently you  begin to see the purpose for so many of the pattern cutting decisions that Chunman is suggesting you make.

From Dennic Lo's Pattern Cutting
My only complaint would be that each block is constructed around the measurements of a standard manufacturing size 12. My guess is that it was demonstrated in this way to be most useful to college students who will be designing for a mannequin or generic size, rather than themselves. However, as a home dressmaker, my preference would always be for the block construction examples to be illustrated with the expectation that you will be using your own custom measurements in which case the formula would be laid out with letters that you can easily impose your own number onto (ie. A+B=C). Instead, you're left trying to impose your numbers over those relating to a size 12 through all the different block making exercises and the whole thing becomes more complicated. While it's not at all impossible to unpick the formula for drafting these blocks using your own measurements, it's not as instantly achievable.

This book might not cover the subject as comprehensively as some of the drier, weightier past tomes, but its modern feel makes it seem as though much of what Chunman has to say will be relevant to today's pattern cutting aspirations. For those just diving into the subject, unguided by a college course, sometimes it can feel overwhelming to try and ascertain what's really relevant when the gems of information are hidden in amongst pages of fashions circa 1980, so this fresh, crisp book is very welcome indeed. It seems the perfect follow-on reading material to Cal Patch's much-loved Design-It-Yourself Clothes.

From Hilary Campbell's 'Designing Patterns'
I should say that this review is couched from a place of having recently ordered two of the more traditional texts on the subject from Amazon.  The first was Designing Patterns - A Fresh Approach to Pattern Cutting (Hilary Campbell, 1980). This book is really a series of largely unannotated diagrams. It's hugely useful in being able to see the shapes involved in manipulating the basic blocks into a multitude of different sleeve, collar and bodice designs. I don't just mean a little useful, I mean really useful. If you've ever pondered over the initial pattern piece needed to create a cowl neck or some other feature then you'll find the answer here). The stripped down graphics really appeal to my very visual way of learning. However, while this book might help me design different styles of garment, and comprehend what must be done to achieve the outcome I want, it offers little explanation as to the reasons for doing things (so while Hilary Campbell's book leaves me clear on how I'd change a rather unfashionable shoulder dart into a back yoke feature, it's Dennic Lo's book that leaves me understanding why when I eliminate a dart I may choose to add a seam in its place and create a yoke). So Hilary Campbell's book is a perfect reference tool that will be keeping a place on my bookshelf, but it's not an ideal stand alone book for me.

From Shoben & Ward's  Pattern Cutting and Making Up
The second book on my little Amazon spree was Pattern Cutting and Making Up: The Professional Approach (Shoben & Ward, 1987). It's had fantastic reviews at various different places and I chose it because I like the premis of one book combining thinking about how the finished garment will be made up with cutting the actual pattern. However, it's not a book that sings to me (I may be making an error expecting that all text books should sing to me, but I think that when it's concerning a subject that you're truly interested in this should be a possibility...and if it doesn't sing it should at least hum a tune).

From Shoben & Ward's Pattern Cutting and Making Up
It may only be those similarly interested in cutting their own patterns that have made it through this far, but I know that so many of you bought Cal Patch's wonderful book - which has opened up an exciting new world of pattern design for many a home dressmaker - and to me, Chunman's book, Pattern Cutting, seems the perfect follow-on to this as it delves into the subject further, but keeps the same friendly, accessible tone throughout. It's a book that I'll be dipping into many times over. It's published in October by Laurence King and, if you're interested, you can pre-order a copy here).

I'd love to know which book you turn to for reference.
Florence x

Monday, 26 September 2011

A Gryffindor robe for a bear

It's my daughter's birthday this week and in amongst the very grown-up items that appeared on her birthday wish list (such as books, white bed linen, and clothes from Zara), there was also a mention of a handmade Gryffindor Hogwarts robe for her bear. For those unfamiliar with this, Gryffindor is one of the house names at the Hogwarts school that features in the Harry Potter books. As a house they wear a black robe, with a purplish hood and a Gryffindor crest at the chest (you can see one here).

I worried over how I could be expected to make one of these when the Gryffindor crest is an essential element of the robe. But late last week I suddenly remembered the paper that I'd been sent by Photo Paper Direct the previous year (you might remember that I tried these out when I designed a tortoise, which I transferred onto a t-shirt). At that time I'd only tried out the papers that allowed you to transfer printer images onto light coloured fabrics and I have to admit that I'd remained slightly mystified by how the transfer would show up on darker fabrics, but last week, using the dark papers designed for such a thing, I tried it and was amazed at the result and how the colours show up on the black background, while the image seems to simultaneously become part of the fabric. Clever indeed.

My second stumbling point was what to make the robe out the end I decided to go for a stretchy jersey, even though this might be more troublesome to sew with, as I thought this may be more forgiving of my designing the pattern for Bear's robe with very little time. My drawers seemed to be the source of endless Very Useful Things for this project and I was delighted to find that the wonderful bamboo stretch knit fabric from Ray-Stitch, from which I'd made this dress and this top, was also the perfect colour for lining the hood with.

In theory making clothing for bears and dolls should be easier because of their small size, but actually it's so fiddly that it makes my fingers itch. A friend agreed and then pondered over who it is who's making the clothing for the very miniature Sylvannian Families' creatures. That was enough to make me feel as though I'd been let off very lightly. Fiddliness aside, this is one of the things that I've most enjoyed making, simply because perfecting the details that would make it resemble the real Hogwarts gowns was so much fun as I knew that my daughter would notice and be delighted with each one of them.

I showed it to my husband on Friday night and we decided that he should make a wand for Bear to go with it (our children and five of their friends also have their own wooden wands that he's made for them). And he did make this very sweet bear-sized wand to go with it. I forgot to ask whether he too found it more difficult to work in miniature.

Sorry if these pictures look fuzzy and awful by the way...they're fine on my laptop, but the upload process to both here and Flickr seems to make them look a little odd.

Florence x

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The top in the mirror

Let us pretend for a moment that my mirror is not covered in flecks of toothpaste dispensed during my children's enthusiastic tooth brushing this morning and focus instead on the top in the background. You might remember that I made a dress from this fabric during the summer. It's a bamboo stretch knit fabric that Ray-Stitch very kindly sent me. I'd thought during August that it was the perfect summer-weight jersey - it's light and slips through your fingers in a lovely, drapey way. However, when I tried the finished top on yesterday (a rather chilly September day) I was delighted to find that, used for this closer-fitting garment, it has transformed into something that feels quite snugly and cosy without any unwanted bulk.

If you also recall that this top looks startlingly like another that I made nearly two years ago, then I'd say that you have a memory like a stealthy fox, but for everyone else, I used this pattern that I drafted with the help of Cal's book and it's based on one of my favourite tops from Gap...although that top doesn't have the weird ruffly bit...that's from my very own imagination! (Looking at these photos I'm not sure whether that should be encouraged or stifled).

While I like this top I don't feel that my pattern for it is yet perfect - it still needs some work as there's some odd pulling going on at the shoulders (it's not especially visible in these photos) that I need to try and remedy, but I have a plan for that. Also I could practice my pattern grading skills by scaling my pattern up to accommodate the all-over body size increase that seems to have occurred since I first drafted it. Or I could just do some exercise...I'm not sure which is the more tiring option. I have actually been doing some kick boxing-taekwondo practice of sorts, but when I demonstrated a particularly complex sequence of moves for some friends a few weekends ago they were left almost crying with laughter. Apparently I'm missing some of the fundamental elements to carry this off...such as aggression or even an ability to screw my fingers up into a proper fist (It was a revelation at 34 to learn that one doesn't attempt to make impact - feigned or otherwise - with the middle of one's clenched fingers, but rather the knuckles).

This top took only an hour or two to sew together as jersey fabrics tend to lend themselves well to speed sewing. Soon after I'd finished sewing I saw a really super tutorial for sewing knit (that's stretch and jersey too) fabrics on a regular sewing machine. I tend to use an overlocker for dressmaking, but I love reading in depth geekiness like this - it's full of wonderful tips and tricks and is well worth reading.

I would love to end this post by saying that I'm off to polish the toothpasty mirror...but that wouldn't be true. I'm actually going to bed.

Florence x

Monday, 19 September 2011

Drinking yoghurt through a straw

When I posted my review of the new Liberty book yesterday, I didn't mention that while I wrote, Sunday lunch was being made by my children. They requested that I entertain myself while they concocted an entire meal; aware that at some point I must trust them to use the bread knife unwatched, I left them to it. They called me to the table half an hour later and I was surprised by their sweet healthy lunch choices. They had chopped a bowl full of vegetables to dip in hummus and made sandwiches filled with their own eccentric flavour combinations.

My Sandwich Surprise contained lashings of Laughing Cow, peppered with quartered black olives. It's not a marriage of ingredients that would have occurred to me, but it proved to be utterly delicious.

They unearthed these beautiful forgotten paper napkins from the cupboard and used them as place mats. We made polite grown-up conversation and I took a photo of them with their table to text to my husband who, unusually, was working nearly all weekend to try and finish a project.  

Afterwards they brought in cups of thick Greek yoghurt to be sucked up with a straw, each decorated with a strawberry. It tasted of happiness and being cared for and I decided to write about it here so that none of the details will be allowed to trickle away and escape through the holes of the memory sieve.

What lovely things have you been trying to sellotape into the memory bank recently?

Florence x

Postscript: They enjoyed it so much that they spent the rest of the day designing menus and when my husband eventually arrived home they ushered us to the dining table and served up three courses of our choosing. We sat and chatted for an hour and it was truly relaxing, the food was delicious and the service attentive, but not overbearing. To the surprise of our waiter and waitress we asked for a bill at the end of our meal and happily gave them £3. It was worth every penny.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A review: The Liberty Book of Home Sewing

Last week I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of The Liberty Book of Home Sewing, due for release next month, published by Quadrille. As you'd expect from Liberty, it's utterly beautiful. Everything from the cloth front cover to the floral end papers make this a book worthy of coffee table status. It's a book that you'll want to pick up and look through repeatedly to feast on the smorgasbord of deliciously photographed and styled Tana lawn fabric prints (and yes, you can find out in the introduction why Liberty cotton lawns have taken on the Tana name).

The project images are in keeping with the imitable Liberty style making it a perfect fit for the shop as a whole, not just their fabric range. The finished items are shown against a backdrop of sumptuous soft furnishings; an eclectic array of jugs and vases, books and wall hangings; and elegant room sets that ooze with seemingly effortless √©lan. This artful styling demonstrates how you might work the handmade into your home without the finished effect feeling homemade.

Many of the projects give options for creating the most basic versions of the item and then go on to elaborate with ways of taking the project further - for example, a cushion cover can be made with an open-ended button closure in its simplest form or created with an envelope back for a more professional finish that requires more effort effort and skill on the sewer's part. Not only does this serve in offering options for differing skill levels, but it also demonstrates how much can be achieved simply by working with the finest materials - an open-ended cushion cover could easily appear rather half-finished and inelegant (it's certainly not an option I'd ever considered), yet shown in Liberty's beautiful lawn prints, offset with minimalist solids and co-ordinated with self-covered buttons, this basic sewing project is elevated to covetable status.

Projects are predominantly home-furnishing related, ranging from roman blinds to assorted designs of cushion; to hexagon quilts and appliqued throws.

The book's limitation comes in the fact that it teams relatively simple projects with an expectation that the maker will feel inclined to put in the effort of transferring patterns to pattern paper or enlarging the few templates given on a photocopier.

As illustrated above, most patterns are shown in miniature on a grid where each square represents a centimetre (although in some patterns a square will represent 2cm or 2.5cm, making things a little more complicated). The expectation is that you will buy some dressmaking pattern paper and scale up the pattern as you transfer the measurements onto the pattern paper. It's a technique I like myself as I have plenty of pattern paper to hand and so it seems preferable to being asked to leave the house to enlarge the patterns on a photocopier as is the case with many books, but my worry is that this technique could kill off a beginner's enthusiasm at the first hurdle. For projects such as a large floor beanbag, it instructs you to create a 42cm circle for the top on dressmaker's pattern paper...having played with drawing circles beyond the realms of a compass when creating my own beanbag pattern to work from a few years ago, I know from experience that it's not the easiest of things to do.

Liberty have a flair for style, print and colour that make this a book worthy of drooling over for any of us who aspire to incorporate a little of their magic into our sewing projects. It's not a book of ground-breaking new sewing patterns, nor is it a one-stop definitive guide to sewing. What it is though, is a compendium of sewing inspiration; a pictorial testament to why it's worth stretching your budget a little further to buy fabric that will elevate your sewing project from the work-a-day to the utterly delicious; an unwritten education in ways to combine colour and pattern that are both surprising and delightful. I'm hoping that the latter is something that can be sucked up by osmosis just by leafing through the pages on a regular basis. You can pre-order a helping of this goodness on Amazon here. Enjoy.

Florence x

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Finally: seasonally appropriate

There's something about the inconstancy of an English summer that puts me so on edge that the crisp autumnal days where bluster and rain can be relied upon, no matter how unwelcome they might be, seem altogether more relaxing now that they have finally arrived. I'm happier now that I can stop grasping for the good in Summer and get on with thoroughly enjoying Autumn and all its leafy goodness. This enjoyment manifests itself in the wearing of multiple layers, closed-toe shoes and pashminas. I have to admit to wearing all three of these during summer at times too, but was chastised for doing so and it was suggested that I was seasonally inappropriate. Perhaps then it is being able to dress in a way that maintains a body temperature that doesn't cause the hairs on my arms to stand on end in a futile attempt at retaining heat without having to defend my sartorial position that is most liberating.

To celebrate September I have pulled from the cupboard some beautiful navy-coloured wool coating fabric that I bought on a whim last year - it's soft, beautiful quality and isn't unpleasantly thick or bulky. I'm undecided on how much I like the lively blue lining that I've picked out to go with it, but for now it is a part of my plan. It was a choice between this, petrol blue and blue. You can see that with this shortlist, I have the seized the boldest option: yes, I am fearless in the face of colour. A chartreuse green did cross my mind, but then quickly left it again.

Are you launching into new sewing projects or clothing purchases inspired by the change of seasons?

Florence x

Thursday, 8 September 2011

A smock for a gargoyle

This is yet another of the pintuck smocks that I made this summer. It's slightly less successful than the previous two for various reasons. This voile (part of Anna Maria Horner's Innocent Crush range) is actually one of my favourite fabric prints ever so when my mother bought this little stack for me as a birthday gift (from Ray-Stitch, I believe) back in March I was delighted.

However, once I'd made it and tried it on, my husband broke it to me that I take on the look of a gargoyle with such a busy pink print close to my face. I think I already knew this as when I presented myself to him I probably I had that lip-bitey look on my face that said something akin to: this is horrid, isn't it?

So you might think this top, which makes me look like a gargoyle, wouldn't have had too many outings, but strangely it's had lots. By the end of every summer holiday I've always added at least half a stone's worth of ice-creamy hedonistic fun to my frame (and, tiresomely, I begin every autumn by working to shed this same half stone) during those last days of summer this top provided welcome tent-like cover and felt like a perfect lazy-Sunday smock...sort of like wearing socially acceptable daytime pyjamas. And oddly, my husband forgot his original words and one day when I appeared downstairs wearing it (not wearing any face in particular, but perhaps most importantly not wearing the 'it's-horrid-isn't-it?' face) he said: what a beautiful top, you look lovely, as though he'd never seen it before. When I reminded him it was the Gargoyle Top he said that he had no memory of such a garment, making me think that in future I must always take care to arrange my face to suggest positivity as he's obviously swayed by such things. I'm unsure of what my 'yay!-I-look-like-such-a-fox' face would look like, but that's what I shall be aiming for.

Twitter friends tell me that I'd love a pintucking foot, rather than creating all these tucks by hand. Do you have one? Does it make pintucking so much easier than measuring them all out by hand? Or do you still have to measure them out before tucking? Do you know of any super tutorials to demonstrate the difference or how it's done?

The other area in which I don't think this print works with this top is that all those carefully tucked pintucks are lost in the busy pattern. You can see the difference below as the dobby fabric seems a much better canvas for them.

I now think I'd love one of these smocks in a fine needle cord for Autumn.

In case you're wondering, this is what I wish I had done with this fabric - the perfect style for the print and it would have kept the fabric far enough away from my face to leave me looking, if not foxy, at least just like myself rather than a ghoul on a fountain. This print is still one of my favourites, by the way. I feel as though I have unfinished business with it.

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.