Tuesday, 19 July 2016

When Rain Stops Play, Cora App and Inspiration

What do you do when for quite a while, your sewing inspiration hasn't match the weather conditions?  When all you want to create are cool summer garments in airy silks and crisp cottons and yet the temperatures barely rise to the teens most days and we have had on rotation: sideways rain, torrential rain or squally, gusty wind containing heavy downpours of rain.  I was beginning to wonder, seriously July, was it even worth you turning up?  With such a miserable attitude you could have just stayed at home in bed and let October make an early entrance instead - at least we'd have known what to expect!  I kept dashing outside into the garden every time it stopped hurling down in torrents to gather up what was left of my poor battered flowers and bring them indoors.  Wearing summer clothes just didn't seem to be an option.

Trying to take photographs in actual daylight of me wearing anything I've made, without looking like I've been dragged through a hedge, has been something of a challenge too.  Maybe I should have sewn up a raincoat! What I have been doing is quite a lot of holiday planning instead, as we're off to Spain and so it is very likely to be warm and dry there.  Even so, I've been doing much less sewing than expected in the last few weeks and although things have been busy at work, including a few days trip to Liverpool Biennial and lots of travel generally that has eaten into my sewing time, I'm convinced that my mojo has been somewhat dented by the spectacularly unseasonal weather conditions here in the UK.  Whilst Liverpool and the Royal Liver Building still looked impressive from my hotel window, this had to be snapped quick before the view was obscured once again in grey mizzle.

There is no shortage of creative inspiration just now though. A trip to London last week saw the opportunity to see Duro Olowus' curated show 'Making and Unmaking' at Camden Arts Centre.  An eclectic mix of artists, all of whom have played a role in inspiring Duro's lusciously opulent, contemporary fashion designs.  A feast of inspiration from textiles, craft, painting, film and photography, it's on until September 2016 if you are down that way.

Back at home I have traced a lovely Burdastyle dress from the June magazine issue with some cotton floral/camouflage fabric waiting to go and have been seriously eyeing up the crisp, white Bermuda shorts from the July issue too.  I have four meters of floaty sunset-orange and black chiffon waiting to be turned into a billowing maxi dress.  I have a pattern for a cute pair of tailored shorts already cut and the khaki cotton to make them up with.  No, there is absolutely no shortage of delicious sewing fodder or ready-to-go projects in the pipeline that I really can't wait to stitch up and wear.  But when on earth am I going to wear them?  Answer is, on holiday and I'm counting down the days now.  Even some things made back in early summer, have rarely seen daylight when by now they should have been in regular circulation.  As the weather made a major turn for the better this week, I did seize the opportunity and loved wearing my palm print dress yesterday (made back in April).  This was snapped at the bus stop on my way to work and I was so happy to set off without a coat, brolly and sans socks!

So the answer to the question of what to do, was to hunker down, regroup and reorganise. While the rain stopped play, there is something to be said for having the time to just sort out my sewing space and organise it properly so that it's ready for action. Including holiday sewing plans and having the opportunity to re-appraise my boxes of stash fabric with my new friend, Cora.

I was reading the wonderful Oonaballoona's blog this week (such inspiration, style and colour when all around is grey and gloomy) and found out about the brand new app called Cora, launched a couple of weeks ago to catalogue and organise your stash fabric.  The creator of the app sews herself so its a very practical app, and the idea is that you can photograph your fabric, catalogue it by size of piece, colour, fabric type and so on and then whenever you need to check what you've got it's all there at your fingertips - great! You can try it for free with a limited number of fabric entries to see if you like the idea and then purchase the full version for unlimited fabric.  It took about a nanosecond messing around with the free version for me to purchase this, as it is really simple to use, and so very handy.  I can imagine the next time I'm standing in a fabric shop, all eyes and full of ideas thinking "Yes I probably do need to get some of this sunset coloured polyester chiffon for that maxi dress I'm planning to make" then I'll be able to stop, quickly check the app on my phone and discover that I have exactly the right amount of fabric already in my stash in the colour and pattern I require!  Thus saving money, time and not adding further to the stash mountain monster.  Genius.  It is also great for when you're stuck on a lengthy phone call and you need something to play with on your phone to pass the time.  

But also it has taught me, during my cataloguing session this evening, that impulse buying random stuff must stop if I don't have a pattern or use in mind.  I mean why did I purposely buy one meter of black snakeskin pleather last year?  Who knows, I don't.  But now it has been captured by Cora, I have organised the fake snake and it is in my sights and under my control.  No more impulse buying small amounts of simulated serpent skin for me, oh no.

Looking ahead in the sewing forecast, there is a heatwave around the corner, holidays are coming, yay!  Spain beckons and I've loved bringing together my new holiday wardrobe.  I even managed to creep into the garden during sunny evenings this week and do some hand stitching.  I've missed my garden this year.  These are the khaki shorts coming together, now complete with some fun hand stitched embellishments.

So here's hoping for more sunshine to come, in which case I may have to change into at least four different outfits every day just to to catch up!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

If You Like Pina Coladas, and Upcycled Lace Curtains.

"If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain" went the old 1970's tropical rock tune  (also revived in the first Shrek movie - name that tune folks!  Answer at the end).  Both of these, i.e. cocktails and inclement weather, have been a theme this last week.  Also the 1970's. As you will know there's nothing I like better than an excuse to dress up and go 'out out', especially if I'm in the company of friends who are also happy to jump on the dressing up bandwagon.  Also if there is the slightest whiff of a theme then I'm on it!  My friend 'A' very kindly invited a bunch of us for cocktails and dinner last week, with a footnote that she would be hosting as Margot from The Good Life.  Anyone who wanted to join in the general 1970's vibe was welcome to do so.  

One thing that's great about being able to sew and having access to a whole heap of 'interesting' stash fabric, is that a themed occasion or fancy dress invitation usually provides the opportunity to have some fun using up whatever has been lying around.  In this case, the theme of the evening was 1970's and the fabric waiting for its moment in the sunshine was... wait for it.... this! 

I have to admit, my first thought was perhaps to go as Barbara, wearing overalls, wellies and with one of my more obliging hens tucked under one arm.  But then I thought that Barbara would absolutely rise to the occasion if asked to dinner, and would probably come up with a fabulously Heath Robinson style outfit recycled from something that had been lying around.  Perhaps the curtains? 

When we moved into our current house several years ago, the previous owners' taste in decor was very 1980's rococo and it was beautifully preserved in all its decadent glory.  Bedrooms were festooned with brown and cream swagged wallpaper, extravagantly moulded ceiling plaster, gold and crystal cherub light fittings, gold carpet and every window draped in meters and meters of frothy cream lace.  Romantic eh?!  Actually the flying cherub chandelier lights are genuinely, completely fabulous and are here to stay.  I love them.  However the curtains were swiftly replaced, if not enterely jettisoned altogether, having found their way into my stash in the box reserved for 'potential fancy dress or craft supplies'.  I had thought they might reappear as Bride of Dracula one year, or some similar comedy use.  But with the current trend for lace everywhere on the high street, and a bit of a 1970's flashback occurring along the aisles of fashion stores this year, I thought I'd sew up something similar for the party and bring the curtains back to life.

I used the 'colour block tunic' pattern that I blogged about here, to make a basic top.  I used cream cotton lining fabric left over from a previous project (which now I think about it may also have been curtains!). The cream lace was layered over the cotton to make the top panel of the bodice.  This time I inserted the back zip in the normal way, not as an exposed one as I did previously.  Both the zip and button were oddments from my stash.

I didn't finish off the sleeve hem in the way prescribed, just turned it under and stitched around and then I attached huge cuffs made from a generously sized circular piece of lace.

These very exaggerated cuffs were fashioned out of a simple circle, cut from the lace using a dinner plate as a template.  I then cut out a smaller round hole in the lace circle, slightly off-centre, and pinned it to the inside of the sleeve hem, pinning it around in pleats and folds to ease the volume of fabric into the sleeve-hole with most of the gathering at the back.  Excuse the lack of photo's as I describe this bit, but I was rushing through.  The idea was to have the longer length of cuff at the back so that it draped nicely down, but leaving my hands and wrists free of froth.  Also the circle shape meant no seam needed.  I think I pretty much achieved the look I was after, although I think the positioning could have been slightly better (with the long edge more towards my elbow rather than inner arm as here).  I stitched the cuffs in place along the inside hem.

The edges of the cuffs are deliberately left un-hemmed and unfinished.  Partly this is because the lace fabric doesn't fray at all anyway, and partly because this project had to be made in one afternoon before the taxi arrived to whisk both me and my party outfit away. I was determined to minimise the steps needed to get it finished, pressed and ready to rock!  The finish on the sleeves where the lace is attached wasn't great though and looked awkward and obvious, as you can see above, with just a top stitched hem.  So in order to finish this neatly I cut out some of the lace motifs and hand stitched them in place to cover the join.  I left the scalloped edges loose, giving a slightly feathered effect on the edge going into the cuff.  

So here it is, finished in under 3 hours and in the style of every good Great British Sewing Bee remake challenge, the transformation is complete!  

And check out those strides!  These cream leather flares complete the 1970's ensemble and were a last minute Eureka moment when I remembered them in the depths of my wardrobe.  They are French Connection, butter soft leather, fully lined and with a split up the back!  Yeah Baby!  I got these gorgeous but completely bonkers flares from a French Connection sample sale back in the early 2000's in London.  It was one of those warehouse sales where everything is piled up on tables and spilling out of boxes.  There were no changing rooms and no mirrors and basically you had to grab a black bin liner and go round flinging in anything that looked vaguely wearable.  The key to a successful haul was to take along a trusted friend (and make sure your underwear had plenty of coverage), then both of you could strip off in the aisles to try on your bag of clothes, while shouting 'yep' or 'nope' at each other in turn.  Pretty much everything was super-cheap, and I remember we both grabbed a pair of these trousers (hers were bright pink though) but when we got to the point of paying, realised that they were a lot more expensive than we had expected.  We reluctantly decided to leave them at the till and paid for the rest of our haul. Outside in the car park, we were appraising what we'd got, rummaged into the bags and there they were!  The lovely man who had taken our money had seen our disappointment at being unable to afford them, obviously felt a bit sorry for us and had thrown in our leather trousers as a surprise!   

So I'm not sure this outfit is entirely channelling Barbara Good.  More Mark Bolan.  In fact my hair has definitely got some 70's T Rex frizz going on in all this damp weather.  

But it was great fun to make, even more hilarious to wear and totally free.  My friend hosted a truly rocking dinner party, helped along by some absolutely fabulous friends in their brilliant outfits, gallons of fizz and truly tropical cocktails.  Here's one in soft focus, which is obviously deliberate and in homage to the cinematography style of the era and absolutely nothing to do with the fact that at this point in the evening I could neither focus my eyes or my camera phone.

"Yes I like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain
I'm not much into health food, I am into champagne"

Answer to name that tune is Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes from 1979.