Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Yellow Culottes and Sunshine

So it's been hot these last few days, time for some proper summer work clothes.  These are hands down, one hundred percent, no contest the most favourite item in my spring wardrobe just now.  Yellow culottes.  Totally indispensable and I can't imagine having ever lived without a pair.  Also, you know when you get something new and it just goes magically with loads of other stuff you already have and revitalises umpteen new outfits?  Well these are that thing. 

Here they are with a long sleeved breton top.  And again with a striped wrap blouse and blazer. Mix, match and mix again.

Here we are with a cropped top and leather jacket. In fact I knew this was going to be the case before I'd even finished them.  As I tried them on with pins still in the waistband and no fastenings or finished hem, I had this 'yes!' moment.  And, because I'm impatient and wanted them to move straight from the sewing machine to being on my actual person instantly, I was in a mad rush to finish hemming and button sewing.  

So much so, that I was still sewing on the back button at the same time as feeding the small persons in the family their breakfast and getting ready to catch a train for meetings.  Small wonder then, that as soon as I sat down on said train, the button popped off!  I spend the rest of the day praying the zip was sturdy enough to keep my lovely culottes from submitting to gravity and heading to the floor.  I also resolved to finish things properly before I skip off to a meeting two hours away from home.  Or take a portable sewing kit with me for on the move repairs.  

The pattern is Butterick B6178 and was free with last months Love Sewing mag and it really is so easy I managed to throw them together in a few hours (throw being the word here, see above reference to them falling apart!) and there are very few pattern pieces to cut.  The shape is flattering being high cut with a wide waistband and no fuss around the front or rear except for a couple of shaping darts (there are other versions on the same pattern pack for a more pleated pair for extra volume).  Here they are on Friday with a  scoop neck powder blue tee shirt and a little vintage jacket.  The jacket is a Louis Feraud picked up in a charity shop a couple of years ago, I love the cornflower blue colour with this butter yellow.

I did make a couple of minor changes to the pattern recommendations, one being replacing the hook and eye closure with a button and loop.  I just didn't happen to have a suitable hook and eye about the place and I don't mind the extra detail of a back button closure here.

The only thing I would consider changing in the future with this particular design is the back zip closure.   I think an invisible zip would look much neater and although I'm happy to wear this version, as the pattern described a basic zip technique, I would always usually do an invisible zip or a completely exposed one.  As it happened these culottes were a quick weekend make using stash fabric and a zip I already had lying around, which is fine as a 'wearable toile, as they owe me nothing. 

But that colour!  Pale sunshine, mustard or maybe butter yellow.  The colour is slightly brighter than the photos here show, my phone camera has washed out the colour as the sunshine was beaming so brightly in the garden last week.  The fabric is actually some mystery viscose type that has been languishing in my stash for about 10 years and was given to me by someone who probably had it for quite a while before that even.  It's practically vintage.  I did wash it first, so hopefully sorted out any potential shrinkage or colour run, and it behaved beautifully when being cut and sewn up.  It does fray madly though, so I did have to be careful how much I handled it before finishing the edges.  

And so off they went around the country for three days in their first week after being made as I practically refused to take them off.   That's why they are looking a bit creased in this photo, which was taken after I returned from a whole day wearing them at work. This weekend they were wheeled out again but dressed down with a black swing vest top and flip flops.  I can see them with khaki, white, even sugar pink would be clashy but totally doable. 

So for a quick make and a fun relaxed spring garment, on duty and off duty, these are the business.  

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Customising and Embellishing - Ribbons and Pom Poms and Studs Oh My!

A couple of weeks ago I spend a few days away on an early summer getaway to Mallorca and had an amazing time exploring beautiful Alcudia.  We stayed in a lovely spa hotel, overlooking beautiful Alcudia Port and enjoyed three days of gorgeous sunshine, delicious food and total relaxation. 

I only took hand luggage with me and if you read my last post here you can see what I made to take along.  It occurred to me though, when I was considering what other essentials to pack, that there are plenty of ways to take a few simple holiday bits and bobs and customise them to make them unique and truly your own.  I like to mix up hand-sewn items with high street  or thrift items generally and I also like to combine them, by embellishing or altering ready made garments to create a bit more interest.  Or I like taking inspiration from something I've seen someone else wear, or in a shop, and then improvise creating my own version.

I thought I'd show you a couple of customised pieces that I spent a few happy hours stitching, gluing and embellishing, specifically to go with my holiday outfits.

Firstly a very quick fix and a look that is currently very popular, an embroidered patch for my old denim shorts.  For me cut off denim shorts are an absolute summer basic and despite their humble appearance, this particular pair are about as customised as they get!  They were once favourite jeans, which after being downgraded from everyday wear to allotment attire, became so dishevelled they didn't even pass the deliberately 'worn in' look and just became downright unsightly.  I cut them off, stitched the seam rips along the (ahem) crotch area (I'm blaming that barbed wire fence that looked lower than it actually turned out to be!) and then when the zip eventually broke I unpicked and replaced it.  So far so customised.  

For this season's brand new look for these old bruisers, I added an embroidered heart to the back pocket.  This is just cotton embroidery thread, some cord and the whole thing has a denim backing that I've then hand applied with slip stitching to the shorts.  Much love to you my old amigos, I will get another season out of you yet.

Next I specifically wanted some shoes to go with a particular outfit for evening.  They needed to be black, not too high for strolling into the local town or down to the beach bar, but with a bit of interest.  Getting black strappy sandals with a mid heel and a bit of pizazz about them is a challenge this season apparently (limited black sandals to be found anywhere) and on a strict budget proved nigh on impossible.  So with a plan in my head (plans are always brilliant when they're in my mind's eye) here is what I purchased instead.. ... 

Basic sandals, some black grosgrain ribbon, pom poms and some mini-pom trim.  The piece of black leather is from my stash, but I could have bought a small piece of fake pleather very cheaply if needed.

I had a vision, inspired by some rather expensive high-end high street beauties, that pom-poms and leather tassels would take these rather workaday sandals up a step from 'meh' to 'ooh la la'.  Here's what I did.  

The mini-pom trim was first machine stitched onto the grosgrain along one edge of the ribbon and then each ribbon section cut to slightly longer than the sandal toe-strap.  I turned each cut edge under and stitched across.  This was applied to the toe strap with fabric glue - I used the type of glue that will bond securely to leather.  Then apply stationery to secure.

Once this was in place I used three larger pom poms on the top edge of the ribbon, glueing them in place and used more mini-pom trim across the ankle strap, using fray stop on either end to make sure no stray threads were going to unravel.  I used the fabric glue to apply it to the strap.  You have to use a bit of testing here to make sure your little mini poms can go all the way up to the buckle, but won't get snagged in the fastening itself when you put the shoes on.  You have to bear in mind the ankle strap needs to go through the buckle and you don't want to be hauling those cute little poms through there when you're trying to take your shoes off at the end of the night!  I tried them on to see which buckle hole I need to use, and trimmed off a couple of poms accordingly. Everything needed to be held together securely for the glue to bind properly, and so my shoes ended up bristling with more bulldog clips and, when I'd run out of those, wooden clothes pegs.

Lastly I made a leather tassel, in the same way I've shown on on the blog previously.  Those of you who look at my instagram will know how much I like a tassel and having already be-tasseled everything from key rings to my ears, it was only a matter of time before my footwear were to receive the same treatment.

This was looped over the buckle at the side and the tassel is large enough for a statement, but not long enough to drag along the ground.  Done!  Fabulous one-off footwear for an absolute fraction of the cost of a designer purchase.  Boom!  I could of course happily begin with sandals in a bright colour, and apply more coloured trim for a really funky pair.  The world is your pom pom.

Safe to say I got the bug after bedecking these specimens and couldn't resist having a go at another pair of shoes, but something for everyday.  In this case I found a simple and cheap pair of denim pool slides, perfectly functional and I'd have been happy to wear them just as they were actually.  But I thought, how much more fabulous to Gucci them up a little?!  In this case, the inspiration came from Gucci's recent collection of sandals and wedges boasting pearls, studs and rope embellishments (which for the real deal would go north of £650).  Here are my slides, before and after their treatment.  

I added red rope, red sequins, gold studs and seed pearl trim by stitching each strip in a band along the denim.  The great thing about fabric shoes is you can stitch anything you like to them.  I could have used patches, embroidery, even machine stitching on these.  I used a tiny bit of fray stop on the edge of the rope, to stop the strands parting company and then used hand stitches to secure it firmly at either end and along its length.  These studs are amazing, purchased from the wonderful 'Kleins' in Soho, London.  They come in a wide band and you can just cut them in strips however you like.  These are antique gold and have a fabulously detailed, textured surface.

The seed pearls are on a secure strand and so are easy to apply with stitches in between every other bead.  These little slides were just brilliant on holiday and happily took me from poolside to beach and then from bar to dinner.

There is a slightly addictive quality to customising though, which I think comes from the sheer speed at which you can change the look of things and get a satisfying result.  It's definitely much quicker than making from scratch and you can apply a bit of personality to any garment, shoes, bag or other accessories.  However I think the less is more approach pays off here and having one or two embellished items at a time is plenty.  Lest I risk looking as though I've been dipped in fabric glue and thrown in the bargain bin at V V Reuleaux.  Having said that, I can think of worse fates for a custom-addict. 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Sewing for Sunshine - A May Mallorca Getaway

I was lucky enough to have a quick getaway to Alcudia in Mallorca last weekend for a flying birthday-treat visit, with two fabulous friends.  Perfect bliss!  

And of course I couldn't leave without packing a couple of new makes to wear.  26 degrees, turquoise seas and pearly white Balearic beaches gave me the perfect opportunity to indulge in sewing up a couple of cool summer garments, even before the temperature gauge has reached double figures in the UK.  Summer wardrobe staples, hot off the machine, and I am ahead of the game.

For the last couple of weeks though I've been pretty focused on getting my work finished before taking a couple of days away, so I needed patterns that were tried and tested, that I could whip up with minimum fuss and in double quick time over a couple of evenings.  For example, I already know that the blue Bardot style top from Cynthia Rowley doesn't require any fitting as it's a very loose style, and having solved the wayward neckline issue a couple of weeks ago (see that post here for how, which I am still very chuffed about) I felt another one of these would fit the bill for a cool and floaty top.  This crisp cotton was already in my fabric stash and its coastal blue and white anchor print was just calling out for a beach themed garment.

Yes I know it's a bit 'coals to Newcastle' taking a nautical print to a seaside port, but I think it's really fresh and fun looking.  And I love the way I can have the sleeves on this either longer or shove them upwards for a poofy, shorter look. Is there a technical word for that sort of sleeve?

Now, the blue top that I already made from this pattern is purposely swingy and has a lot of volume going on.  It's great with skimpy shorts or some sort of tapered bottom half, but I had the idea of creating some means of reining a little of that excess in for this new version.  I thought about creating another channel for elastic at the waist, or at the hemline for a cocoon shape, but after a bit of experimentation I came up with this.

The two very small loops inserted at each side seam at the waist, accommodate a length of cotton tape, which when pulled in at the back, creates gathers that fold inwards.  From the front it looks a little slenderer and creates a bit of interest at the back. Ideally I would have used white or navy grosgrain ribbon for this waist tie, or even introduced a colour (yellow?) but I used this white tape from my stash as there was no time to shop for bespoke notions pre-flight!

The next garment to hit the machine was a pair of shorts to compliment the top.  This blue cotton, on the right of the anchor print, is very like lightweight denim, with an interesting finish on one side that appears exactly like the reflections of light on water.  The back of the fabric is solid blue.  

It was a scrap I salvaged, along with some other miscellaneous pieces, from a pile of cloth remnants left in a box outside a house on my street.  The box had a notice on the front offering the material to anyone who wanted it, with a request that any donations posted through the letterbox in return, would be directed to the local cats home!  I love fabric bargains, and I quite like cats, so double happiness right there.

There was just enough of this fabric for a pair of shorts and the pattern is taken from one that I have re-used many times before and has become a bit of a wardrobe staple for me.  Simplicity 1430.  None of these designs are going to set the world of sewing on fire, but actually I have made quite a few of each of the tops, trousers and shorts and they have been reliable bread-and-butter basics.

These shorts are a really flattering cut, with front pockets, a neat fly, a wide waistband and double button closure.  I've tweaked the pattern in the past so I know it is tried and true.  I also know that I can make these out of fabric fumes if I am running on only remnants, using contrasting fabric for the inside waistband and pocket yokes if necessary.  In this case, there was just enough blue cloth to complete the whole thing.

The great bonus about both of these makes, apart from the fact they go perfectly together and with lots of other things, is that they are so soft they pack away to nothing.

Obviously this means lots of room to pack a TON of other clothes into my carry-on case that I just didn't need and didn't wear at all!  Never mind.  Part of the fun of holiday packing for me is second guessing every possible eventuality that might occur and making sure I have it covered.  Minimalist I am not.  I can vacuum pack 27 outfits into Ryanair size-conforming hand luggage with a selection of shoes to match, and still have room for souvenirs on the way back.  

Also included in the flight bag for evenings that I must mention, was this top, made last year and again from charity shop remnants.  

I made this from a scrap of beautiful silk-satin moire found in a trunk of old linens, along with some black lace and black grosgrain ribbon.  I love this Burda bustier top pattern, even though it is very cropped (and my abs have unfortunately taken early retirement).  I haven't worn it very much here in the UK for that reason (I can perform a reasonably impressive 'plank' if forced to, which would suggest I do have some core muscles somewhere within, but lord knows where).  I added a little more coverage at the waist using black lace along the bottom hem and paired it here with a high waisted black skirt with a wide waistband, found at New Look.  This gives the whole look the desired cropped-top effect combined with a comfortable amount of coverage.  

I couldn't resist making up some tassel earrings in black leather to go with this too.  Ready for cocktail o'clock and a couple of Moscow Mules, beach-side.

And so a fabulous three days in Alcudia, Mallorca was had by all and my Vitamin D levels have had a much needed boost.  I'll be hanging on to these memories as long as I can.  

Friday, 5 May 2017

Blue Cold Shoulder Top - How to Sort Out Sleeve Slippage!

Welcome back to the wardrobe, blue Bardot style beauty!  Saved from the scrap heap, I'm back in love with this off the shoulder top again after a rather stormy start.  

This was created in late August 2016 as a last minute summer make to wear on those balmy early autumn days.  Due to a technical issue with fit, i.e. not being able to do so much as lift a glass of prosecco halfway to my lips without the top pinging upwards in an alarming fashion, I gave it the cold shoulder treatment and never wore it.  This morning I decided to look at it again, and voila!  I'm smitten.  Problem solved.  For that reason I thought I'd let you know how I sorted out the fit, as it's something I think many of these types of garments have as an issue, and it might be useful to share.

So let's go back a beat. The pattern is a Cynthia Rowley one and I won't bore you with the detail of the original make again.  If you look here you can see the process in my first blog post about this make (and you can read the grumbling too).  

At the end of last year I saw so many cold shoulder, Bardot style tops around and decided to make this one.  Made it. Loved it. Wore it.  Hated it.  Basically, the top itself looked great on, the fabric was lovely and the colour right up my street.  But I just couldn't get it to stay on - or rather off - my shoulders.  Every time I moved my arm higher than waist level, the elastic would pull in and whoosh!  Up it popped in a desperate attempt to contract to its unstretched state, only to slap me in the ear and come to rest at a rather odd angle.  The issue of course was that, in order to magically stay in place at that golden spot on the top of my arm, the elastic must remain tight enough to stay up above the bust (major wardrobe mishap waiting to happen if it was too slack here, as I don't have that much up front to hold anything aloft for long), but relaxed enough not to want to zoom upwards.  For this reason, it was never worn and I ended up flinging it back on my fabric pile to be reused again as scrap.  

Lately I've been eyeing up some other similar tops on the high street and thinking, hmmm I do still really like those, maybe I could just buy one?  And after flirting with a couple of them last week in the changing rooms, I had to stop and give myself a good talking to.  What on earth am I doing purchasing the EXACT SAME style top, with the EXACT SAME issues?  I am a maker.  So what I should be doing is going back to the original and using my knowledge of making to sort it out.  And so I did.  This is what it took.

This highly complex and sophisticated structure, also known as five inches of elastic, is my solution.  Yes it really did take that much investment, along with 25 minutes of sewing time, to totally solve the problem.  Genius.  This little piece of elastic, covered in a tube of the same fabric, goes inside the top, attached to front and back of the sleeve, and sits just around the very top of my upper arm. 

Here it is in situ.  I have attached it in place inside the top, along the front and back seam lines, stitching in the ditch so that the fixing is invisible from the outside.  It is snug against my underarm, but not tight, and there is plenty of room for moving around without it being restrictive in any way.

So I have essentially created a loop, and I put my arm through this, and then into the sleeve itself. This comfortably keeps the top neckline elastic in place and makes it impossible for it to creep upwards.  

And it's back in the game!  In fact I can, after rigorous testing confidently report that even 180 degree arm swinging is now perfectly possible and the top will return to exactly where it is supposed to be.  Top shelf cereal packets?  No problem!  Tying laces?  No problem!  Adjusting sunglasses?  Just watch me! No wriggling around, no hoiking it back down, no more mini robot-arm movements with my elbows glued to my sides.  I'll be celebrating by drinking a glass of something chilled in the garden this Friday evening and demonstrating, with expansive arm movements, how my superior engineering skills saved Bardot from the bin.

It makes me wonder why I didn't just spend a bit of time thinking about this in the first place, before getting into a huff with it and throwing it in a heap.  Well I guess that's a lesson learned really, to spend a a little bit less time huffing and puffing and a little bit more time applying myself to finding a solution.  Lessons for life and sewing. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Spring! Navy Embroidered Trench Coat

I love a trench coat.  Practical, stylish and they never EVER go out of fashion.  So although trends come and go you can always rely on a classic trench to have staying power.  I have already made one of these coats here, the very loud and lovely cream one covered in yellow, grey and pink roses (subtle, moi?), which I've worn and worn well into the autumn last year.  I've been eyeing up this same McCalls pattern (McCalls 5525 now out of print) ever since, with the idea of making another identical version in a dark blue cotton for the Spring.  And here it is.

Made from a lovely cotton twill-type fabric in deep navy blue, from a wide, 3 metre piece I purchased from John Lewis, Birmingham back in November last year.  I actually bought it from the furnishing fabric section as it was exactly the colour, weight and quality I really wanted and I just could not find elsewhere.  I also had a gift voucher burning a hole in my purse and as the fabric was quite expensive (well, not huge amounts but definitely more than I usually shell out, being more likely to get fabric in the sales), it brought the cost down a bit.  It has really good structure and body, but is still nice and soft to the touch and was lovely to work with.  

All my coats have to be hard working garments and ready for all sorts of action.  It is rare that I'm not toting around large bags, pockets full of bits the kids have collected, armfuls of coats, hats and gloves as the kids shed them, and usually with a dog in tow.  They get chucked in the back of the car without much care.  Out we march in smart boots for lunch and shopping, then afterwards smart boots get swapped for wellies and off we go again for a beach walk and a paddle.  If you can't multi task, then you don't get a place in my wardrobe!

I wanted a navy coat as I often wear blues, clarets and plum colours and wanted a change from black when a dark coloured outer layer is needed. I also have a  navy blue leather jacket which, despite being at least 20 years old, still gets wheeled out as it goes with absolutely everything.  But it's not warm, or practical really. It is also, dare I say it, a tiny bit scruffy due to its decrepit old age!  To give this new coat a unique twist I decided to put a bright cerise lining inside, which is only visible occasionally through the back vent.  This was taken when I was attaching the lining to the front facings, but you get the idea of the hidden colour underneath.  Punchy!  It's a reasonably good weight too, so provides another layer of warmth, as I'm a bit of a delicate flower when it comes to spring weather and need a wind proof layer to brave the elements until at least June.

I wanted some embroidery, to bring the coat up to date and also because I love an embellishment somewhere about.  It is very rare for me to make something 'plain' without adding a personal twist, and in this case it is a nod to the wonderful MacQueen embroidery used in his Fall 2016 collection, featuring flowers and insects. The high street has really jumped on this trend and you can see embroidered jackets, jeans, blouses and even boots everywhere just now. In my case I have two moths and a rather bold stag beetle to the collar, back and sleeve.  I might be tempted to add more yet.  You can see the cerise coloured topstitching here too, which was a bit of a challenge on my new machine!  I'm quite pleased with it overall and the colour is great against the navy.

The embroidered insects are actually done on separate pieces of material, using embroidering cottons and a ring to the keep the area stable. Then I used a little bit of fabric glue (something like fray check) around the outside, cut as close to the stitches as I dare and hand stitched the piece to the coat itself.  This way I can then remove them, replace them or add and take away as I wish, without having to unpick the whole design from the coat.  There are some very nice ready-sewn patches in the shops and online too, which would be much less time consuming and easy to apply if you fancied jazzing something up in double-quick time!

The dress form pictures didn't come out well as my poor old phone was battling to accommodate a dark navy thing against a white background, without exploding with the effort to focus.  Here's one of the back, where you can see the really nice shape as well as a moth and more top stitching around the back flap, collar and belt.

And the front.  Why have I taken this at such an odd angle?  I was clearly multi tasking while photographing, this and failed at this job.  Either that or the dress form has had a sneaky wine or three. Anyway you can see the double breasted, button front.  Also I was experimenting with embroidering the cuff bands too at this point, and then decided against it.  The coat design has cuff bands, shoulder tabs and a collar tab to close the coat right up at the neck.  Practical and functional and also provides some nice elements to sew.  The buttons are very plain, matt navy ones.  Personally I like coat buttons to disappear, as an overly characterful button can be too overpowering for my liking.  Never thought I'd call an embellishment 'too overpowering' as usually I'm all for a design twist or decoration, but I usually drawn the line at shouty buttons.

It's a really great pattern and I can thoroughly recommend looking out for a second hand (eBay?) copy.  This coat's first outing on the beach was a complete success and it has since come back home to the City for some equally successful urban trips.  So bring on the Spring!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Last of the Summer Sewing! Blue Off (Then On Again) Shoulder Top

Well who can resist sneaking out in another summer garment?  As the mercury nudges 26 degrees this week suddenly Autumn mist and chill mornings seem very distant still.  Just as I'm gearing up for some light layers, coats and cover-ups (a new mac, long line 'coatigan' pattern and some lightweight wool tweed are all currently out of the cupboard and onto the project pile) we're all back to shorts, floaty tops and summer dresses, hurray!

I made this back in late August actually, but have just around to writing about it.  This is because I photographed it and then promptly took some of it apart again and re-jigged it.  More on that shortly.

This is a Cynthia Rowley pattern, a very simple design and easy to sew up.  I liked the deliberately expansive shape of the top and sleeves, combined with lots of bare shoulder for interest.  The shape is really lovely I think, especially when combined with little shorts, skinny jeans or something equally slim fitting on the bottom half.  The fabric I chose is a cotton poplin in blue, a little like a lightweight chambray, and has just enough structure to hold the shape nicely whilst still being soft.

Now, confession time.  I DO think this top looks good on.  I DO NOT like wearing it.  Such a shame!  It is basically the most impractical top ever.  In order to move around in it, you have to remain rigidly upright with arms by your sides, as it restricts the use of ones arms to such an extent that even raising them to waist hight causes the elastic to rise up and off the shoulders.  Absolutely any raising of the arms at all means the neckline pings upwards.  I had thought that this garment could be reserved for activities that require the bare minimum of animation, like sitting in a bar drinking wine.  But no!  Even putting an elbow on the table, or raising a glass to my lips, has the immediate effect of releasing the elastic from its stretched position around my upper arm, to its preferred position somewhere around my neck.  So very irritating.  This is basically my upward-arm-swing limit.

That's why it ended up being taken apart and re-sewn, as I thought it might require the elastic loosening a little to make it sit in place.  I unpicked the casing around the neckline and added some extra few inches o the length to the elastic, basting it back together and adjusting a few times to see if it improved things.  It didn't.  That neckline remains coiled and ready to spring at any moment.  Unless I basically made it so loose that it would risk going the other way, i.e. downwards (and thus an even more major wardrobe malfunction), there really is no hope for it.

I'm keeping it in my wardrobe for now, incase I think of anything else I can do to resolve the issue.  I might make the elastic super-loose and add two small shoulder straps.  Would that work?  Maybe.  As we can surely be only days away now from the cold snap of Autumn to arrive, then this top's days are numbered in any event.  In the meantime, I love this time of year and am enjoying these few extra days of warmth.  The garden is blooming, the tomato crops are bountiful and the apples are especially delicious when freshly gathered, still warm and scented from the sunshine.  Now if I could just reach up far enough to pick one ...