Thursday, 29 March 2012

The fruits of my indecision

While covetable quilting fabric is available in abundance, finding beautiful dressmaking fabrics presents more of a challenge. Where quilting fabric generally comes in a standard weight and drape, dress fabrics vary so widely that sometimes it can feel a risk to buy it over the internet without obtaining samples first.

When making a quilt, the first thing I look at is the print; conversely, this is pretty much the last thing I take into account with dress fabrics. Through previous errors, I've learnt that my first consideration should always the drape, which I've found can make or break a garment; second, is the weight - I love lightweight fabrics that whisper through my fingers as I pick them up but retain enough opacity to forgo lining; third, is the feel of a fabric; and finally the pattern or colour - the latter will be the deciding factor, but not the first consideration. Often if the drape is right, I'll go for a pattern that I wouldn't normally be drawn to, because finding a material that marries a perfect drape with a perfect pattern is a hard thing to find. And I am always on the look out for plain fabrics - it's these that dominate my wardrobe of shop bought items and so I try to remind myself of this when buying material for handmade items.

Anyway, last week when I was on my pattern cutting course in London I was aware that I would be just a minute's walk from a road renowned to be overflowing with dress fabric shops - the mecca that is Goldhawk Road. These shops are literally full to bursting with crepes, silks, linens, velvets, corduroys,'s mind-boggling lovely, but for someone who is terminally indecisive, I also anticipated that it may be the source of some anguish. Due to all the problems outlined with finding suitable dress fabrics at the start of this post, I promised myself that I would stock up without reserve, especially as the prices are unbeatable. I determined to bring a little home each day so that by the end of the week I had a wonderful stash of dressmaking fabrics from which to draw on (for if you're going to go on a pattern cutting course, it stands to reason that you need fabric to make those patterns up with).

However, by Thursday the total sum of my week's fabric expenditure came to a paltry £3.99. I resolved that on Friday I really would go wild. But, reader, I was overwhelmed. I weaved in and out of the fabric shops making mental notes of possible purchases as I had done on all the other days with increasing frustration at my own winnetyness. I very nearly decided it was all too much and went home with nothing, but knowing how disappointed I'd be in myself later, I chose four small cuts of fabric (and I mean no more than 1.5 metres of each!Arg!).

I had hoped to seize upon the more economically-priced fabrics, but in the end chose quality over any kind of quantity. The patterned fabric is a beautiful Liberty print silk crepe, which sings to me in every way - drape, feel, pattern - it's perfection all rolled up into one crepey bolt of goodness.

I then chose a slate-coloured washed silk crepe, which is opaque, soft, buttery and with a huge amount of depth to the colour. I also chose a very small cut of the same washed silk crepe in mustardy-gold, as I thought it may be nice for contrast bindings or even a Peter Pan collar. Finally, I bought a floaty wisp of silk in silvery-grey.

These three fabrics above will mix and match together easily, although that wasn't my intention when I chose them, but I suppose if you follow what you love, it will often have its roots within the same colour palette.

I am now very much wishing I'd bought a greater quantity of all four of these I shall return at some point in the future, but I may need to be quick. Sadly, developers are requesting permission to give compulsory purchase orders to shop owners along this stretch of Goldhawk Road so that they can build flats in their place. I was shocked when a shop owner told me this - it's obvious that the shops along there are vibrant, successful family businesses around which several generations base their lives and a whole community prospers. Despite the large number of fabric shops, which theoretically may make you think business would be hard, all the shops have a constant stream of visitors even in the week and appeared to be doing far brisker trade than any fabric shop I've ever visited. Even if you don't live in London, if you wish to support a fabric-rich part of London from ceasing to be, you can visit the shopkeepers' campaign against demolition on Facebook here.

Florence x

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A linkful list

I'd said in my last post that I had some lovely links to share with you, and several are full of Liberty goodness. Last week, Nova emailed me and asked if I'd like to be involved in a Liberty Scrap Challenge whereby Jo of the Organic Stitch Company  would send me some Liberty scraps from which I could design a tutorial to share with you. Hurrah!

Liberty fabrics are so beautiful that they tend to speak for themselves (I feel you could almost just arrange them in a picture frame and you'd have an incomparable work of art), so the tutorial that I have planned in my head is relatively simple, but I'm so excited about it. I'll be sharing my offering with you in May. In the meantime, you can see the wonderful Liberty-inspired tutorials that have already been posted  for January, February and March, and join the Flickr group if you wish to play along or see what's being made.

I think I've mentioned Jo's lovely Etsy shop on here a few times already, but if you've missed it, then you'll find what always feels to me like an heirloom trunk full of nostalgia-filled Liberty prints, charm packs and even pre-cut binding. It's all delicious and it's all Liberty. Do go for a rummage.

Keeping with the Liberty theme, my mother-in-law recently gave me the book shown above about the history of the Liberty shop during the fifties and sixties. It's a beautiful book, full of glorious photographs and I've been enjoying reading it at bedtime. It's definitely worth investing in if you love Liberty, although, certainly the first half of the book, feels disappointingly written in some ways: slightly disjointed, offering up a sudden piece of slightly unnecessary minutiae in amongst a very general history that leaves you wishing for more detail. I'm guessing this isn't the fault of the author, but rather a lack of records from the period on which to draw upon in any other way. I'm yet to finish the book, but I'm hoping it improves as it travels into an era better documented.

However, one of my favourite aspects have been the brief historical references to the Silver Studio and their role in designing some of the fabric prints for Liberty during the first half of the 20th century.

My interest in the Silver Studio comes from the exhibition that the Museum of Domestic Architecture were showing at the Knitting and Stitching show last year. I've written at length about the exhibition here, but to precis, it displayed the artwork created for the studio by women in their own homes, due to their not being an accepted presence within the male-dominated confines of the studio itself. I was delighted to find when I checked recently that a book relating to this exhibition is now available.

It's a thin book, beautifully presented with snippets of information and some copies of the original records to accompany the artists' illustrations. It's a book that I've read as I've dried my hair each morning to facilitate reading it in tandem with the Liberty book. It's published by Middlesex University and you can find it here for £7.50. I think it's worth every penny.

Finally, some non-Liberty themed linkage! You may remember that I'd mentioned the Wiksten Tova pattern being made available as a downloadable PDF recently. I'm delighted to share with you, if you haven't already discovered for yourself, that Kerry of Very Kerry Berry is running a sew-along for the pattern, which would be super for anyone new to sewing who would like some hand-holding at every step of Tova-creation from fabric selection to sewing each seam! There is also now a Wiksten Flickr group so that you may oggle at all the beautiful Tovas that have already been's obviously a super pattern as every single one of them looks wonderful.

Dorset Cereals little awards

I'm delighted that my blog has been nominated for a Dorset Cereal Little Blog Award. This is particularly lovely as I am a big fan of their cereals and the matt cardboard boxes they're packaged in, which, on an embarrassingly superficial level, make me feel happy purely because they make my cupboard shelves so pleasing to look at. Happily, my children love the contents of the boxes. If you enjoy reading my blog and you'd like to vote for me then you can click the icon above (and if you do, thank you, I'm really flattered and grateful).

To end, I'll leave you with a few quick links which speak for themselves:

A truism from Sew Tessuti; a suggested follow if you're on Twitter - it's totally un-sewing related, but every single tweet that @EasyLivingMag seem to put out there has something in it that I want to look at or that makes me want to reply (I refrain for much of the time for fear of seeming as though I have a tweet-crush on them); you know how I love a little pleaty-gathery goodness and so, naturally, I love this dress that Novita recently made; I've been enjoying using Lanolips 101 ointment this month after reading about it everywhere. I use the plain one, but my mother recently bought me the tinted version in Apples, which is also delicious!

I love it when people handpick links (often with amazing precision - a reader recently wrote to me with a list of freakily well chosen songs she thought I might like after reading that we were enjoying the Felice Brothers), so if you have any that you think I may enjoy then please do leave them in the comments!

Wishing you a happy Tuesday,
Florence x

Sunday, 25 March 2012

A week of learning

The reason for my absence hasn't actually been that I've still been ruing all that I didn't know when making the 'What I Wish I'd Known' skirt, but that I've spent the week on a pattern cutting course at the London College of Fashion. Despite having been drafting my own clothing patterns for a few years now, my techniques were a mixture of what I'd gleaned from various books and my own instincts as to how things should be done, so I'd always felt that my methods may be far from technical and wanted to do something to remedy this.

It's very odd going back to learn something in a formal setting after so many years away. When I was at university as a teenager, there were several mature students on my degree course (I studied Sociology, just in case you're interested). I always wondered at how eager they were: their keen punctuality; their earnest questions; and their rampant note-taking during lectures. What curious creatures they seemed. When I spoke to my father mid-week and told him about the course, I was struck with the realisation that I now was this archetypal mature student that I had felt vaguely bemused by so many years earlier. Having left my children behind at 7.20am each day and stolen away, missing out on school runs and the flurry of activity and homework that takes place every day, my endeavours to understand pattern cutting were actually costing and affecting my whole family and it's amazing how much more you appreciate the opportunity to learn something formally when the you realise how fleeting and precious the times in your life to do that will be.

And the pattern cutting? It's even more technical than I'd ever imagined, but the building bricks are now at least in my possession. On the last day, our lovely teacher said as we left the workroom: use it or lose it, girls! There's a lot of truth in her statement, for at the moment what I've learnt feels like it's precariously rolling around in my brain like stray marbles, ready to fall away down the marble run if I move my head excessively or turn my attention to other things. However, I have a large roll of drafting paper, 6 metres of calico in my drawer and a wardrobe waiting to welcome new garments...I plan to use 'it' until the techniques are more firmly welded to my brain.

These were the random thoughts that occurred to me during my week-long commute of people-watching (these thoughts are possibly an insight as to why I studied sociology at university - the wish to analyse and observe people as a population never really leaves):

  • In the context of public transport, chivalry is dead. While rows and rows of be-suited business men sat comfortably in their seats on the train, most days I sat on the floor of the carriage reading through my notes. I spoke of my surprise over this to my husband one evening and he argued that we (i.e. women) had done this: that this is the culture that feminism has created. He said that when he was commuting, having a seat when a woman didn't was something that always made him feel uncomfortable, but he never offered it up to her for fear of being publicly humiliated by a torrent of abuse over why he thought a woman would be in need of a seat more than him. I could see his point entirely (and yes, I can see the point of the raging feminist too), but for one who rather likes a little Jane Austen in her life, I found it depressing.
  • On the underground, there is a marked difference in the size of those who stand on the escalator on the right-hand side and those who walk up it on the left. The choice to walk up the stairs or to be carried up them is emblematic of an attitude to fitness in general.
  • Modern technology means that no-one will notice your laughter. Once I'd finished reading through the course notes, I passed the commute (which amounted to about four and a half hours each day) by listening to podcasts downloaded from Radio 4's Desert Island Discs archive. A few of the people interviewed were very funny and one day I found myself laughing aloud uncontrollably on the tube as Richard Madeley described a choking incident that had nearly killed him...without the prop of a book to justify this laughter and with my earphones largely hidden by the scarf I realised with horror that I would look utterly insane to my fellow passengers. However, it then dawned on me that nearly every fellow passenger was also locked away in their own private be-ear-phoned world and was most unlikely to have actually heard.
  • People seem generally happier. Ten years ago when I'd lived in London I remember people looking rather stony-faced on the tube. Perhaps it was the sudden burst of Spring weather, but people looked more cheerful than I remember as they rushed around the underground.

My next post, I think, will be a rather link-filled one - I have so many good things to share with you. The photos throughout this post are some of the ones that I came across in my lunchtime forays into the fabric shops near the college. The upper photo shows bolts of silk, while the latter two are Liberty print fabrics which I thought would make wonderful summer tops (unfortunately, the shop which sold them had marked them up so highly that I left them behind).

Florence x

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The 'What I Wish I'd Known' skirt

Last week I started work on this skirt by McCalls  (pattern number: M6439) after happening upon it by chance and deciding that I needed one immediately. I love how the pleats come in from every angle to give it a slightly sculptural feel - it feels like a grown-up bubble skirt.

As you may know, I loathe working from envelope patterns, finding it preferable to use a Japanese pattern where in three simple, wordless diagrams everything that one needs to know in order to be able to construct the garment is conveyed. By contrast, it feels as though envelope patterns spend two sides of A3 using the smallest font available trying to wilfully mislead me. The one redeeming feature of this skirt pattern was that it wasn't produced by Simplicity: a name which I always find particularly galling when struggling through their instructions.

Anyway, the actual pattern pieces are beautifully cut and produce a skirt that's really lovely, even if the instructions are the things of nightmares. Knowing that envelope patterns always seem to run very large, I ignored the measurement chart and chose the smallest size, however, the waistband was still several inches too big. Bodies are so different that one expects that a certain amount of jiggery-pokery may be needed to get the fit of a garment just right (and sometimes even accept that a particular pattern will just never fit and flatter one's particular body in the way that one might hope). However, a skirt waistband intended to sit on the waist feels as though it should be the least ambiguous of fitting issues. The smallest size on the McCalls pattern chart is intended to fit someone with a 23.5" waist (remember I'd picked the smallest size because I know envelope patterns run waist is actually a little bigger than that) but I then had to take a further 3 inches out of the of the skirt to get it to fit...which would mean that theoretically I should have a 20.5" waist. An internet search revealed that the need to remove several inches is common with this skirt...if only I'd thought to look first.

Because this skirt is made from two overlapping front pieces of heavily sculpted material, it was almost impossible to assess fit until right near the end of making the pattern up - by which point the excess material could only be taken from the central back seam of the skirt, as the front pieces have pleats to each side as well as along the top. Taking all the excess from the back obviously produces front and back pieces of unequal widths, which is why the skirt looks like this from the back (see below). Had I altered the pattern pieces prior to making it, I'm sure you wouldn't be able to see the bulk of the pleats to either side when looking at the skirt from behind. It distorts the silhouette and makes me feel self-conscious about how inexpertly made the skirt is. Arg!

It's a pattern for which a toile is almost essential, which is why I feel so annoyed with myself that in my enthusiasm I decided to dispense with that and instead chose to cut straight into some very expensive silk crepe. In theory, making your own clothes meant to be the thriftier, more environmentally-friendly option, but I think this only holds true for seamstresses who aren't spirited away on flights of fancy that this-one-will-probably-be-fit-first-time leading them to foolishly delve straight into the drawer mentally marked 'very special fabrics'.

I've decided to share this skirt with you anyway though, because I really think it's a super pattern if you're forearmed with some knowledge that the sizing is completely off and will most definitely require a toile. If, like me, you find the idea of matching up over a dozen pleat points intensely satisfying you will love making this skirt. For those tempted, I'd also make the following changes if I were to make it again: I'd put the concealed zip in the side seam rather than at the back to give a smoother, less secretarial look and cut the back panel as one piece; once I'd created the many pleats, I'd throw the instructions away and install a self-drafted waistband as the instructions in this area are particularly dire for what should be a very simple sewing task; I'd know that the skirt is fully lined, so there's no need to spend time on any special seam finishes; the skirt worked well in a silk crepe with a really good drape - I'm unsure how successful it would have been in a less fluid material; I woudn't buy the downloadable PDF version as that involves sticking 61 pages of A4 paper together: it will make you want to cry. It will also make you want to abandon the sellotape nightmare by page 26 and buy a hard copy from a shop instead. Double environmental and thrifty fail! Damn.

Florence x

ps. I've just discovered that McCalls obviously thought it looked better without the zip inserted centrally at the back's either been airbrushed away or they gave up following their own instructions too.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Ahem. I have won an award.

You may remember that a few months ago I told you that Company magazine had written to tell me that I'd been nominated for one of their Style Blogger 2012 Awards. It was a lovely surprise for me personally, as well as making me feel rather delighted that the perception of sewing and craft in general has shifted to such an extent that it would now merit a category within a very fashion-focused magazine's awards pertaining to style.

This month's issue features Florence and the Machine (of the Florence Welch variety: machine unspecified) also has a little picture of me in it (my own machine isn't pictured, but is a Pfaff Classic Homestyle 1529 sewing machine) as I was lucky enough to win my category: Best Blog for Crafty Girls. Last week I went to the awards ceremony in London. It was very odd to be out of my computer in blogger capacity (I do venture out from it often, but normally only in mummy/wife/friend/daughter/me-just-being-me capacity) and even odder still to land at some style awards where the other bloggers were all there because they genuinely do blog about style and fashion (rather than about sewing). It was interesting seeing the way people were dressed, the adorable plaited hairstyles, how beautifully their faces were made up and how smoothly they worked a camera - suddenly positioning faces and legs to be at just the right angle for a flattering photo. I'd anticipated that I may feel a little out-of-place and quite old. And I did. But here I am grinning like a loon and I've realised only in retrospect that grinning is so not what one is meant to do when faced with a camera at such an event, even if it's your own sister pointing it at you. Note the award in my hands: it is actually satisfyingly weighty and made my arms ache carrying it.

Thank you to everyone who voted for me - I really appreciate it. And thank you to the girls at Company magazine, who seemed such a friendly and genuinely lovely group of people and who made me feel most welcome.

Florence x

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Thoughts from around the display

Yesterday was my 35th birthday. It's an odd age because it puts you at exactly the same distance from 40 as it does from being 30, so is perhaps more of a mental leap than some of the other 30-something birthdays that come before it. I'm not sure that I currently have any worry over ageing (I think that's a thing that tends to come in phases arriving by stealth in a flurry of freshly grey hairs) - when I say that it's a mental leap, it's more that I mean that there's a sudden awareness that time really is actually moving on...because how did I get to this place where I am only five years away from being forty? It's an odd sensation, isn't it?

When we were growing up and would receive birthday or Christmas gifts my mother would always encourage us to make a little display of them on a shelf or beneath the tree. My love of doing this has stayed with me: it's nice to have a few days of coming back to stop and admire all the lovely new things before they're absorbed into the house in their new places.

I had so many wonderful books this year: I've photographed them above, in case any are of interest to you. From the top: a collection of poems by the wonderful Lemn Sissay entitled Morning Breaks in the Elevator sent from my sister; When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbitby Judith Kerr - this had been added to my wish list after hearing Judith, author of the much-loved Mog books, on Desert Island Discs. Her life story is amazing and this is a work of fiction that seems to be drawn heavily from it; The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt chosen for me by my husband; Travelling Light by Tove Jansson given to me by a dear friend; a pattern for the beautiful, bias-cut Colette Jasmine top from my mother; The Synonym Finder which has been on my Amazon wish list for a long time and I hadn't realised it would be quite so enormous - but double excitement that it is. It was a gift from my parents and my mother has declared it better than any thesaurus she's ever seen and is now ordering a copy for herself; Dressmaker's Handbook of Couture Sewing Techniques by Lynda Maynard - the photographs are unusually contemporary for this type of book and it was my choice of birthday bedtime reading last night; The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957, published by the V&A which I'm looking forward to dipping into soon.

My husband made me a compilation CD and created a cover from a Liberty print fabric this year - he often makes a CD for my birthday. There are some songs that appear over and over (such as Daughter by Loudon Wainwright III or Lookin' Out My Back Door by Creedence Clearwater Revival - a song which we've both loved since discovering it when he was asked to learn and play it for a friend's wedding party several years ago, along with anything by Josh Ritter) or which reappear from our past after years of neglect (like Pulp's Babies or Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl) and then new ones which we're listening to over and over at the moment (such as Frankie's Gun by The Felice Brothers...a crazily good song in which the story of a Mafia killing unfolds. Bob Dylan fans will either love it or hate it).

This antique printer's stamp of a Singer sewing machine was one of my most surprising and delightful gifts. I'm almost sure that my sister will have bought it from Portobello market. I wasted no time in pressing it onto a golden ink pad!

Several years ago my husband bought me some large fabric-covered magnets as a Christmas gift. This year he found these beautiful Liberty print magnets on Etsy and they've joined the others on my pin board. Much as I love Pinterest, it's nice to have a real pinboard too where special photos and notes can be treasured for a while before being squirrelled away into a drawer. You can see a scrap of paper on the board - it's a note that my little boy left for me to find in the washing basket, it reads: work is hard, so do you want me to do it, written neatly in his sweet, idiosyncratic spelling. I have to admit to weeping and laughing over the washing waiting to be put away when I found it. Beneath it there's also a scrap of silk that I was given a sample of last year...I'm still considering adding it to my stash, although keep thinking better of it as turquoisey blues aren't colours that suit my skin colouring.

My husband also found this beautiful hand-printed tea towel on Etsy from Lulu & Luca.

And all of his gifts came with these stunning gift tags...which because of the golden stitching on them are just as beautiful from the back as they are from the front, but in a different way.

This morning I was reading some of the poems from Lemn Sissay's collection and came across an old favourite entitled Invisible Kisses (my sister actually included this especially for me in her cloth-bound poetry anthology, Poems for Love, which she edited for Penguin a few years ago). I love this poem as it reminds me of my husband and how he makes me feel so cared for. It ends with the lines:

All I can send is love
In all that this is
A poem and a necklace
Of invisible kisses

Isn't the idea of walking around wearing a necklace of invisible kisses a deliciously lovely one! Reading the poem this morning made me laugh though, as one of the verses reads:

If there was ever one
Who when you are cold
Will summon warm air
For your hands to hold;
Who would make peace
In pouring pain,
Make laughter fall
In falling rain.

The reason why this made me laugh is because I'm always cold and my husband decided last week that this is because I don't move about enough each day. So rather than allowing me to buy the electric heater I was requesting (in addition to the central heating), he forced me into my running gear and drove me off for a woodland run. It was very muddy, but not entirely unenjoyable, although once I'd cooled down I felt no noticeable increase in warmth, other than bathing in the sunny glow of virtue...which isn't quite as effective as a blow heater.

Florence x

Monday, 5 March 2012

On clothing patterns waiting to be sewn...

These are the supplies I've been gathering to make a pair of Clover trousers. It's odd though: when it comes to clothing I think that my main reference points seem to come from overseas through many of the blogs that I in my head this garment is rapidly becoming 'pants' and not 'trousers'. I'm being curiously de-anglicised without even leaving the country...or even my desk.

I've chosen some thick black 100% cotton chino fabric - a 'chino' makes me think of men walking the smart-casual line at weekend gatherings wearing shirts very neatly tucked in....we'll have to see if the outcome is determined by the fabric name or vice-versa. I'm hoping for the latter. The pattern says that a fabric with 3% stretch is preferable, but then Sarai made these beauties, which she told me had very little stretch in I'm hoping it will end happily. Or I could be the girl bursting the seams of her chino pants as she sits down at a weekend gathering. Don't worry - if there's a risk, I'll wear these as Standing Pants Only. (My lovely mother - thank you, Mama! - bought me this pattern as a Christmas gift from here, for those looking for a stockist on English shores).

There was much blogging silence last week and I was left looking like a human petal for far longer than I would have wished - we were waiting for an engineer to come and make our internet work for more than a few minutes at a time and while I waited I threw myself into some more dressmaking (although I was diverted from re-drafting the petal collar by making a skirt that demanded a place in my wardrobe immediately) - it's amazing how much you can achieve when the internet isn't available. I'll show you it later in the week when I've finished the top that I'm working on.

So for the moment I have several clothing patterns lined up in my head to be worked on...I'm imagining them in a holding pattern circling London waiting to land from the sky like a delayed aeroplane. The Clover trousers could be up there for some time, but I'm so looking forward to getting started on them.

Added to the holding pattern only this morning, is the much coveted Tova top by Wiksten. Yes, almost too exciting! I've never been able to justify the cost and postage from overseas involved in owning this pattern, but, what luck, Jenny has now released it as a downloadable PDF pattern! If you've fallen in love with it too then you can now buy a copy here. (Thank you so much to Kerry for letting me know about 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.