Friday, 31 July 2015

Going Through Shirt Therapy, New Look 6232

For quite a long time I have not bought or worn a tailored shirt.  I like seeing them on other people when they've been styled well, and I like the idea of wearing them, but I never do.  Until this week that is when I wore my first handmade shirt to a meeting in London.  It's been dull and rainy here this week so I really needed some sunshine in my threads - yellow and blue to replace the missing sunshine and clear skies!

There are two reasons I haven't worn a proper tailored shirt for a long time.  The first one is that I appear to be the wrong body shape for most standard 'fashion' shirt or blouse cuts, that is I have a broad back around the shoulder area and a slightly swayed back (curvy spine) lower down.  This translates into shirts that gape at the front buttons around the bust and bunch up around the waist, which is both annoying and uncomfortable as I'm constantly pulling the front together, or pulling the whole thing down all the time.  There is another, more subliminal reason though, that I think might have put me off trying harder to find a shirt that fits properly.  That reason is that for many, many years I had to wear suits to work, and this has resulted in suit and shirt fatigue.  

I work in a field currently that doesn't require a dress code and is extremely relaxed.  I mean like horizontal.  For a start I often work from home.  But also you could probably walk straight into my office from a weekend in Glastonbury and nobody would turn a hair.  While I'm not suggesting this look is actively encouraged in our office, there is absolutely no dress code whatsoever and I revel in the fact that I can wear exactly what I feel like, when I feel like it.  However in my previous job, there was a very strict dress code that was enforced with vigour.  Suit or smart, tailored coordinates, muted colours, modest cut.  Nary so much as a footless tight crossed the threshold without questions being asked or comments being made and even the smallest amount of creativity in ones attire was looked upon with a certain amount of suspicion.  My favoured look at the time was a tailored trouser suit and usually a shirt from Thomas Pink (whose shirts seem to be one of the few styles that fit me).  The result of this is that it has taken me quite a long time to be able to wear a suit or shirt ensemble again without feeling like I might explode with pent up frustration and burst out of it in a tearing rage, like the incredible hulk.

Of course there are still professions and organisations that are strict about what staff and those representing the company wear when they are 'at work'.  I mean apart from actual uniform that is, which is another thing altogether.  I'm thinking about where you have a certain amount of freedom to choose your office or work attire, but are bound by rules or codes (either explicit or implicit) and there is often a fine line to tread, where being creative can be a trial and error thing.  I'm not sure this gets any easier as you get older either, because although I feel more confident in what I choose to put on these days and am also less likely to care so much about negative comments (or at least less likely to look outwardly like I care), I am also aware that people can impose expectations about what women of a certain age can and can't wear.  Also you only have to look in the media to see that how a woman should present herself, professionally or otherwise, is a constant source of public debate that only amplifies with age.

So anyway, making a shirt is a fairly big step for me in revisiting this look.  It is a chance to make one that fits properly to my proportions and is going to stretch my sewing skills a bit, what with having to be neat and tidy with those collars and cuffs and rows of buttonholes. It also might be therapy and bring me 'shirt-closure' on those years of being all buttoned up at work.  

This pattern is New Look 6232 and is a unisex pattern that gives a lot of options for cut and style, which is great.  The fabric is the lovely grey cotton lawn bought from Lincoln (see this post) and has pale pink, yellow and blue within the design.  Piecing together the pattern was fairly straightforward and, having done a quick measurement of the pattern pieces and my own body and putting a few adjustments in place, I went straight in without doing a toile.  I was fairly confident I could further adjust the seams and darts as I went along too, as it's quite a relaxed fitting pattern.  A tailor's ham came into its own here, where the seam line around the armhole could be pressed on the curve very nicely. I have shaved about an inch off the width off each sleeve seam allowance, as personally I like a slimmer fit on the arm than the cut offered by the pattern.  This was easy to do as the armholes didn't need adjusting, I just shaved the desired amount off the seam after the sleeves were attached to the body.  I'll adjust the paper pattern now that I know how much to safely cut away.

Despite being a bit nervous about the cutting and sewing of immaculate cuffs and collars, I've taken my time and slowed right down on the top stitching in particular for accuracy.  I'm pretty pleased with the results.  I added one contrasting button in pink to the front to break up the line a little and the rest of the buttons I already had in my button box.  I have a good stash of buttons, including those I have cut off old clothes before they are thrown away.  I've a feeling these ones came from an old shirt discarded years ago.  I nearly did the buttonholes themselves in the same grey cotton as the topstitching, but in the end I chose white cotton thread.  I decided not to make such a feature of them and have them blend into the background, which I think was the right decision even though they actually came out surprisingly neatly in the end considering I haven't done so many in quite a long time.

Sewing a shirt has not been a speedy project for me and this has taken some concentrated effort over the last few evenings, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  There is something satisfying about making crisp, clean lines and turning out perfectly pointy corners.  Concentrating on a good finish is a discipline that sometimes evades me in the mad race to get something completed so I can wear it asap, but patience paid off in this case.  The inside collar stand is in a contrasting blue to add interest and colour to the neckline.  This was a bit of an after thought and I just swapped over the piece I'd already cut for another piece made from a scrap of cotton from another project.  You only need a very small piece of fabric to make this inside collar piece and it's a great way of customising a shirt with a bit of contrast.  I will definitely keep my cotton scraps to do this again.

This is one garment that you can't afford not to press as you go along and after each stage, but seeing each section come neatly together and then press seamlessly into place is quite therapeutic in a way.  I wore it with cropped sky blue trousers and loafers in the first photo above (selfie taken while I was standing at the bus stop on my way to catch the train!) but I've put this together with skinny jeans here too.

A really fun, bright yellow coat that picks up on the yellow in the fabric also works well.  I love the relaxed feel of the shirt when it's styled with denim and this quirky, off the shoulder jacket with huge pockets that keeps things playful and unstructured.  The jacket sleeves also show a bit of cuff from underneath. 

So have I achieved closure during this shirt therapy?  I'd like to think so. I'd also like to think that perhaps things are moving on a little more though in many company cultures. Talking to friends in the corporate world it seems that those who work for more emotionally intelligent companies are moving more to an ethos where individuals and their personalities can be expressed through such things as clothing and personal style.  As long as the work is done, delivered satisfactorily and nobody scares the horses in the process.

Shirt in grey cotton lawn, made by me
Jeans from H&M
Jacket in yellow from Primark
White platform shoes by New Look
Yellow leather bag is Weekend at John Lewis
Belt in tan woven leather from charity shop
(Top photo shows cropped blue trousers from Primark and blue loafers from Topshop)

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Alexander McQueen Meets Elvis

As posthumous party guests, these two would definitely be on my list!  I partied with both of them last weekend, but one was in the form of a dress and the other a cover band lookalike, and what a great party it was!  My lovely friend was celebrating his 40th and we marked the occasion in style by dancing and rocking along to Elvis with his family, his amazing wife and fabulous friends.  The dress I wore is silver grey and black silk and is by Alexander McQueen, simple but beautifully shaped and with an interesting, asymmetric fishtail detail at the side.  Like many of the McQueen designs, it's uniqueness is in the way it is cut and this is what brings the dress to life when on the body. 

I put it together with sparkling silver greys in the form of a spiked and studded necklace from New Look and matching suede clutch.

The metallic, bow shaped clutch bag was found in a charity bargain bin where everything was £1, raided by me last week (along with my blogged Festival 8 attire!).  It has no label, but was a great find, being a lovely soft, silver-on-black suede, nestling among the plastic 'pleather' bags.  I added a bit of drama with tangerine coloured shoes from Office and nails in Rimmel 060 Hot & Spicy.  The spiked black bangle is from Topshop.  The black biker jacket is from Reiss.

So this dress has a back story (don't they all!) and was a completely accidental and unintentional purchase until fate stepped in.  That's my explanation anyway and if anyone asks, I'm sticking to it.  

The story is, I went to see the McQueen show 'Savage Beauty' recently at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and Wow! What an exhibition.  There are lots of reviews on the web about the show and if you want a really good idea of what it looks like go here for Tinie Tempah's brilliant private view tour on iplayer (he might be another guest on my party list by the way ... swoon!).  Tinie is well known as a sharp dresser and all round stylish dude of course, but he's also the British Fashion Council's ambassador for menswear and therefore also knows his onions about British fashion design icons.  Anyway, to cut to the chase the show blew my mind and I honestly felt as though my brain couldn't take in the level of detail, design, creativity and daring that McQueen put into his creations, increasing with each collection as they unfolded over the years.  It was poignant and sad and a little bit haunting, but at the same time an unashamed and dazzling celebration of a life full of vitality and genius.  I felt as I walked around that I couldn't open my eyes wide enough, couldn't stare long enough, couldn't capture the dazzling exhibits in my mind's eye vividly enough.  

My friend Nat would say that clothes are like people, they have their own experiences and memories and they are imbued with auras and evoke feelings independent of the wearer.  I agree with her and often when wearing a garment or outfit, I am reminded of past experiences when I was wearing the same thing.  Mostly these are good memories and feelings of happy times (though not always - Paul Smith sheath dress I'm looking at you! A story for another day, I think.  Prosecco may have been involved, enough said).  For me clothes evoke memory as vividly as scent or perfume and when a piece of clothing has an association with a special event or a memorable day or person, that feeling stays in the very warp and weft of the cloth somehow.  I wondered as I looked around some of the McQueen collection about the hours of concentration, dedication and frustration that may have shaped and created them.  Where those finished dresses and coats had been in their lives, who had worn them and what parties and backstage dramas they had taken part in.   

I stayed at the show for quite a long time, partly because of the sheer volume of people making their way around as they sketched, studied and stared, but also partly because I too wanted to pore over every hem and seam and cutting line.  There was also sculptured body jewellery, incredible hats, shoes and other fantastical accessories. As a result by the time I came out, with my head full of glitter and glamour, and headed for the tube station to make my way home, I realised I needed the loo quite urgently.  Damn!  Should have gone to the V&A ones.  Never mind, I thought, here is Harrods right here and it's sure to have toilets I can nip into quickly.  Much relieved, I made my way back through the maze of departments towards the escalators and I notice that I've walked slap bang into the middle of the Alexander McQueen  collection and, there in front of me is a solitary sale rail.  Now in my defence (honest m'lud!) I had NO idea that Harrods sale was in full flow, nor did I have any knowledge of where the McQueen section was, but there was absolutely NO WAY I was going to walk past that rail. One solitary dress left in my size.  An 80% reduction on the price tag (what?!)  It fitted like a glove.  I also had the birthday party invitation in the back of my mind and a perfect opportunity to dress up.

The rest, as they say, is history.  Serendipity?  Perhaps.  A twist of fate?  Surely.  

So it's Happy Birthday to you Woody!  Some fabulous memories of a fun night with you and Elvis, some slightly blurrier than others!

One amazing show, and one rocking night with gorgeous friends, together make all the right ingredients I need for a dress to remember.

Dress in silver and black silk by Alexander McQueen
Metallic suede clutch, unnamed from charity shop
Suede shoes in tangerine from Office
Necklace in pewter with spikes and studs from New Look
Spiked black bangle by Topshop
Leather biker jacket by Reiss

Savage Beauty is at the V&A London until 2 August 2015.  Iplayer private view is available from March 2015 for 7 months.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Charity 80's Chic @ Festival 8

We're not long back from the Lincolnshire Wolds and a weekend camping with a gang of mates and our kids at Festival 8.  It was fun, silly, windy and brilliant!  The festival is small (or 'boutique' as described by the organisers), family friendly and a perfect introduction to tots and toddlers to festival camping.  It was also the very first ever night in a tent for some of the grown ups too!  Those of us who were organised had snaffled their pitches a few days before to ensure our family of tents could snuggle close together in the designated family area.  Those of us who were less organised (ahem!) rolled up late, grappled with their tent in a gale of wind and then discovered there were no mugs for a brew (whose responsibility were mugs?!  Not mine!  They were on YOUR packing list!).  But the home made bunting was eventually raised, the beer was opened and the sun shone down perfectly for our first evening around the barbecue.  

Lincolnshire is known for being flat, apart from one limestone ridge that runs across it like a single ripple in the landscape, the whole county is pretty much hill-free.  It was a surprise then to find that the camping field was actually on quite a steep little slope.  This meant fabulous clear views over the fields and woodland festival site below... and also quite a lot of wind.  Here's our bell tent straining at the guy ropes and clearly wishing it could spend the day being a hot air balloon for a change.

The festival site is nestled in a quiet setting among farmland, woods and meadows and has an ethos of being healthy, wholesome and environmentally friendly in its approach.  There are bands, kids stuff along with circus, theatre and mud wrestling in a dedicated and gigantic mud pit (the kids were first in) but there are also holistic therapies, a lovely bistro selling home made food and even a luxurious hot tub complete with wood burner inside. A fully stocked bar-in-a-barn complete with stage and massive leather sofas was a bonus as the evening drew in and a few of the smaller members of the party started to curl up under piles of coats and call it a day.  Oh and, because I know you'll be wondering, the loos were non-stinky and actually quite nice for a festival. 

Now as you will know I'm sure, there is a tradition at this type of gig to wear your glamorous, boho glad-rags with a pair of wellies and boy can my gorgeous girlfriends rock this look!  Hot-pants and Hunters with about an acre of tanned, toned leg in between was the sartorial choice for these ladies, along with some particularly eye-catching hats to top it off (purchased from the 'Hat Man' at his vintage apparel stall.  More from him later).  Truly fabulous they looked too and proved that even if you've survived a cold, windy night under nylon with virtually no sleep, there is absolutely no excuse for not totally styling it out the next day.

I am well aware however, that if I sported my very own, muddy wellies along with a higher hemline shorts ensemble, I would look as though I was off down to the allotment to dig leeks and had accidentally ripped my trousers off on the way.  Not a good party look.  These are what my Aigle's look like even after they've been cleaned off a bit.  Practical yes, but boho-beautiful no.  Don't get me wrong, I can totally work the 'digging leeks' look, but I probably wouldn't want to take it outside of the allotment and into the wider world.

I had though, chanced upon a charity shop £1 rail during the week before, from which this crazy 1980's print t-shirt sparked some ideas for a relaxed, revival look.  I'm not into re-living a whole era or even a whole trend in one outfit, but I love picking a few key pieces or designs to give a flavour.  I paired this bright T with straight leg boyfriend jeans, a row of plastic bangles and a vintage necklace.  

I think there is a saying in the fashion world that you should never try to wear a trend twice around.  As I say though, you can wear what you like when you like (especially if like me you've kept and been given clothes going back decades) and anyway I'm doing 'flavour', not the whole feast here.  Looking at this print, I seem to remember that back in the day this sort of thing covered wallpaper, curtains carpets and bedding and sometimes all at the same time so you couldn't see where one ended and the other began! 

There was also this classic 80's anorak to keep off the odd shower whilst channeling the same decade.  I'm pretty sure this is an original from the era and is from that stalwart department store of the time, C&A.  Again, this was remaindered to the same charity £1 rail.   

There were a number of stalls selling crafts, vintage clothes and bric-a-brac around the festival and of course the ladies couldn't resist a bit of a retail diversion.  Hat Man provided lots of entertainment for the whole gang with a suitcase full of vintage caps, berets, panamas and straw boaters.  No head in our party was left uncovered by the end of the afternoon and Hat Man's suitcase was left considerably depleted.  However, he also had an enviable collection of eyewear and enthusiastically took me on a tour of 'Sunglasses Through the Decades'.  After trying on a few, he ducked behind his van into a pile of boxes and carefully brought out a prized pair of 1980's Versace shades.  Complete with a pair of truly massive gold medusa-head logos on either side and huge black frames, these were the real deal.  An original 1980's Italian designer accessory from the absolute King of the House of Bling!  Not for me on this occasion though and I declined Gianni Versace's magnificent golden goggles, but I did come away with these, a retro pair of Bruce Oldfield sunglasses with a nice case for a reasonable £4.  Because as I have said before, you can never have too many.

After our final afternoon dance to a brilliant samba band and a last wander among the sun dappled trees, we were all a little bit sad to leave our patch of fairyland and return to the big bad city. All in all a Gr'8 weekend with M8's at Festival8!

T shirt unlabelled from charity shop
Blue anorak by C&A from charity shop
Straight leg jeans from New Look
1980's plastic bangles from charity shop
Necklace with square marble beads from vintage jewellery stall
Belt in brown leather with sparkle studs from charity shop
Sunglasses, vintage Bruce Oldfield from 'Hat Man', Festival8

Monday, 20 July 2015

Vogue V8911 Cropped Trousers

Swingy cream trousers for summer!  We are in the hey days of summertime now, it's been dry and warm here in the midlands and nothing shouts 'there are no muddy puddles on the way to work!' like a pair of cream trousers.  Oh the times I have been proved wrong though, by that little hidden reservoir of dirty water waiting for me underneath that wobbly bit of paving.  But not today!

This cream coloured, light wool mix fabric has been waiting for a pair of trousers to inspire a project, and this pattern is Vogue V8911.  You can also choose to make shorts, a simple stretch vest top in jersey, or an open, kaftan style jacket from this pattern. These trousers are a high waisted, flat fronted style, which I think give a flattering line through the waist and hips.  I have altered the pattern slightly to make these more cropped rather than regular length, which I think suits the wider cut better than having lots of fabric flapping around at the bottom.  Incidentally, the picture on the front of the pattern looks like quite a peg shaped pair of trousers, which isn't quite what you get.  There's a fair bit of width to these and I did cut some of it away to make them a bit less voluminous.

The way the fly is worked out in the pattern is clever and is a great finish, with the zip tucked neatly behind a nice flat front.  The fastening at the top is a flat hook and eye, but you could tweak this and use a button instead.  I actually made the waistband a tiny bit shorter than it should have been, and then had to use some of the selvedge around the edge to extend it a bit.  You can probably just see some of the coloured stitches from the selvedge edge on the front band if you look hard enough!  I'll remember to check I've marked the right sized waistband next time as there isn't a lot of room for error (especially if you're like me and tend to expand an inch around the middle after a large lunch!).

I decided to iron a crease down the front of these to give some shape and definition but you could just as easily leave the legs as they are.  There is dart shaping at the back and front with pockets in the side seams.

The fit was pretty good straight away around the top half, with very little alteration and so now I have a trouser pattern that I know fits well and I can play with it.  One of the things most people who sew find daunting about making well-fitting trousers is that there are so many dimensions and seams and inside/outside/crotch lengths to potentially alter and get right.  I'm tempted to stick with these for a while and make them up in cotton with perhaps a narrower leg. The great thing about the high waisted style and the coverage it gives is that these trousers look great with a higher hemline top, asymmetric or cropped style.  This cropped top is from Topshop.

When making trousers using a pale coloured fabric, always check you have enough opacity to give bum-coverage - unless you've got strategically placed pockets, or you're looking for a cheeky, sheer rear!

Trousers Vogue pattern V8911
Blue, scalloped edged crop top from Topshop
Studded sunglasses from New Look
Tassel and bead neck chain from Oliver Bonas

Friday, 17 July 2015

Cynthia Rowley 2406 Dress

Vintage markets are the source of some very good fabric finds I think.  Usually the nic-nacs and bric-a-brac take centre stage, whereas the beautiful printed and embroidered cottons and linens are folded and stacked away in a basket or piled up on the floor waiting to be rummaged through.  Hidden under a table in a box of table cloths and pillow cases was this 4 metres of fabric for £4.  A steal surely. I'm not sure if this is truly vintage though, it's probably 1970's or even 1980's, but the retro design, like a sort of intergalactic fireball explosion, is quite appealing.  Also, well hey, 4 whole pounds sterling means I can take a risk and experiment with this project!

Enter the Cynthia Rowley pattern, Simplicity 2406, which I've been holding onto until the right fabric presented itself.  I'm never sure whether a dress that is basically shaped by the addition of a tie belt is just going to look like a sack on me, and I usually avoid them, but I'm trying it out as I like the sleeves on this design and also the split back ads a bit of 'va va voom'.  

I'm really pleased with the result.  The dress is wearable with or without the tie belt depending on the look I want to go with and the dress shape has enough interest with the sleeves, neckline and back detail to stop any unflattering sacky-ness creeping in.  Constructing the sleeves was an interesting puzzle and took me a while to work through, but it's a clever idea and the resulting bare shoulder and dropped sleeve hem is unusual.  

The split back has a facing on the inside so it looks neat even when billowing out slightly - no unsightly seam edges. The seams inside the armholes are finished with black satin bias binding.  I chose a vintage black faceted button for the back neck fastening and a small piece of satin ribbon for the loop.

This fabric has a whole lot going on, with psychedelic colours and geometric designs fighting it out against an embossed surface that is also patterned, to produce a shimmering matt/gloss effect.  I'm pretty sure it's a man made fibre (note to self, stay away from naked flames).  Although it has a really fluid weight and drape that flows beautifully over the body, it was a nail-biting nightmare to sew with! It slipped and slid all over the cutting mat, resisted pins and took ages to cut. It also hated the iron and wouldn't let me press the seams.  And it frayed lots. On the whole this sulky, psychedelic diva refused to play nicely with me and had to be wheedled and cajoled at every stage of the game.  Fortunately both the design of the dress and the colours of the fabric are both quite forgiving of tiny errors in lining up the pattern pieces.

But the finished garment was worth the effort I think and it's a dress I'm going to love wearing from summer into autumn, with bare legs for now or tights and boots later in the year.  I've found wearing a bandeau underneath it works well, so that no bra fastenings are visible at the back.  Wearing it over a vest top might also work well in colder weather.  I like the idea of making another one of these dresses in a fabric with more structure and body, so that the shapes become more exaggerated and less soft and flowing.  The 'shed shots' here look a bit washed out because of the bright midday sunlight and rushed camera work, but you get the idea of the shape.

I still have nearly 2 metres of this fabric left, so there's plenty to make something else, but it might be a while before I consider grappling with it again.  I think one difficult diva dress is enough for now.  Grey ankle boots from Mint Velvet, sunglasses unnamed from bargain rack, Boyes.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Charity Jacket goes to Lincoln

Ok there has been a lot of high intensity colour on here for the last few posts and, although I do revel in brights, sometimes it's nice to cool off and wear something easier on the eye. I was lucky enough to find this absolutely pristine, safari style jacket from Reiss in a charity shop for less than £5 and I already know it is likely to be a staple for the rest of summer. 

The soft, mid grey is easy to coordinate with absolutely anything really, smart or casual, and the design details as well as the structured tailoring keep things looking well put together. Grey is a great choice to combine with colour instead of black and keeps things light and summery.  I think this would look fantastic styled with jeans and yellow or orange accessories for a bright ray of sunshine.

I wore this on a visit to Lincoln where I had a meeting and it couldn't have been easier to move into wearing neutrals that morning, throwing on a simple white t shirt, jeans and this jacket and being out of the door for a speedy exit! The necklace I wore to add some visual interest is made of grey, matt steel by a graduate jewellery artist, Natalie Lee.  I bought it at Lustre craft showcase in Nottingham back in November, where a number of very talented graduates from all around the UK were showing and selling their work.

I love the 3D contemporary architectural style, worn against a simple white t or vest. 


A trip to Lincoln always means the opportunity to drop into one of my favourite haberdashery departments, tucked away in the corner at Boyes.  It's right near the station, which means I can usually dive in there while I wait for my train and do some bargain hunting. 

Great for basic coloured cottons and linings, sewing supplies and occasionally some more interesting fabric finds. Also they have some sewing patterns from a couple of the larger pattern companies. I picked up a shirt pattern, New Look 6232.  A shirt is something I would like to have a  go at making and this might be the next thing I tackle. I also added to the basket some grey cotton poly and some lovely grey cotton lawn with a tiny abstract print.

Aaaaaand ..... wait for it .... some very bright, big floral print! You knew it wouldn't last, right? See, I can't stay away for long. Even when I'm wearing neutral my brain is otherwise engaged in a bright, colour carnival. 

This is a cotton sateen with a little bit of stretch for movement. The acid yellow in the print is also a bit of a recurring choice for me in terms of colour. Maybe this is destined for Capri pants? Or a shorts/skort and top summer twinset? Or it would make a fantastic trench coat to style with that deep cerise or grey accessories for early autumn.  Hmmm, such possibilities. To round off my little retail detour I also picked up these bargain sunglasses in both black stripes and white.  Because you can never have too many.

This then caused the sun to immediately disappear and the arrival of a short but purposeful thunderstorm. And wet feet.  Time to get the train home and thank goodness for the jacket!

Jacket by Reiss, from charity shop
White t shirt by Kin at John Lewis
Glasses unlabelled from bargain store
Jeans H&M
Necklace by Natalie Lee
Neon stitched High Tops by New Look