A trip to Rye, East Sussex saw me heading straight for Merchant & Mills shop and headquarters. I had resisted buying their sewing patterns this far as to my mind their clean, simple designs look similar to many of the patterns I have previously made from Japanese sewing books. Their 'workwear' aesthetic also seemed a bit dour for my tastes and I was not wholly convinced would be flattering to my greying hair and middle aged pallor. However, I was prepared to be persuaded.
The shop itself is presented along the lines of a traditional drapers shop, or tailor's supply store circa the industrial revolution, with letterpress printed boxes of neatly packaged pins, needles, scissors and other sewing paraphernalia; heavy bolts of fabric in muted tones and natural fibres piled high on a wrought iron legged table in the centre of the shop; and cabinets full of tools, buckles and notions. The shop conveys an air of utilitarianism and serious craftsmanship, a romanticised ideal of authenticity being found in industrial mills, shades of greige and Shaker chic.
Fabrics stocked included some viscose and cotton jersey alongside the expected Irish linen, tweed, oilskin, denim and boiled wool in hues of blue, oatmeal, mushroom and grey. I also saw Indian block print cottons in subtle prints of indigo, grey and brown, as well as some brighter coloured linens. It took me a long time to choose a fabric that I felt I'd be able to wear with confidence back in my 21st century technicolour world but I eventually settled for a three-colour striped block print summer weight cotton.
The sewing pattern I chose was Top 64, a simple loose-fitting tunic based on a traditional fisherman's smock. I had been forewarned that the sizing of Merchant & Mills patterns runs large, so for a perfect (but still generous) fit I cut the pattern across three sizes with the top part in size 10 grading out to a 14 across the hips. I shortened the sleeves and lengthened the hem to make it into a dress and cut my fabric with the stripes running in opposite directions to create more visual interest. The pattern was easy to follow and the dress enjoyably quick to make.
The finished frock is beautiful! It fits well and is has proved one of my most popular makes with the Instagram crowd. I haven't worn it out yet as the hot weather has seen me reaching for my usual colourful clothes, however this will be perfect for formal wear and who knows, may herald the start of a more subtle approach to dressing. Perhaps.
The joy of sewing new dresses exceeds the routine of photographing and documenting them and so I have a small backlog of 3 new frocks which I shall endeavour to photograph and blog soon. Garments that don't make it to the blog usually still appear on my Dresses Made Pinterest page and often as a snapshot on Instagram, so do check in there if you want to see my latest concoctions.
This dress deserved more than a brief snapshot as I have used a most magnificent fabric! It's an Alexander Henry cotton print called La Strada. The internet tells me it's from their 2008 collection but it has just made its way to C&H fabrics in Chichester. With it I made my first Esme Kaftan - the long version of the Esme Dress and cover star of Lotta Jansdotter's Everyday Style sewing book.
The kaftan speaks loudly for itself. I intended to keep it to wear at a very special (and I think currently top secret) event at Sussex Ukulele Festival in September, but can't wait until then! Instead I shall enjoy wearing it this summer, thus creating another potential dressmaking opportunity for September's event.
Always on the look out for another novelty tree print fabric, this beauty called to me across the floor at Chichester's C&H Fabrics shop. It's a lightweight polycotton, not a fabric I'd usually chose as I've an aversion to the poly, however the print is simply stunning and the price was a steal at £4 a metre.
Trial and error with a contrasting patch pocket resulted in my unpicking a bold first attempt before settling on this camouflaged diagonal pocket, matching the trees as closely as I could.
The dress goes perfectly with my new green tree brooch from Etsy's fab You Make Me Design shop, a present to celebrate my 47th birthday!
In an attempt to buy less fabric I have rummaged through my wardrobe and sorted out a pile of dresses I no longer wear with the intention of cutting them up and reusing the fabric to make new clothes. The first remake in this project uses a blue African wax print cotton salvaged from a beautiful dress I wore 6 years ago but have now grown out of! While I would love to have been able to squeeze into the original dress again, this is not really a healthy or realistic goal, so thought it was time to give the fabric a new lease of life and make it into something I can wear today.
There was not quite enough useable material to run to a full length frock so inspired by this Lotta Jansdotter patchwork Esme dress, I used a contrasting band of African wax print fabric left over from making a pair of loud trousers 2 years ago, to patch the material to the right length.
The Esme was super quick to sew and I love the finished result with its clashing prints. The dress is also lovely and soft as the fabric has been well washed and worn. I will definitely be making more of these patched together garments from the discarded dress pile.
The stand-out piece from Gudrun Sjödén's Spring 2016 collection is her Murano knitted cardigan coat. The Murano is a sensation in all colourways but the lupine with its tones of blue and turquoise makes me want to jump for joy.
Gudrun's Spring collection is full of strong colours and prints so it was an unusual choice for me to choose a pair of Myller leggings in black. Black is not a colour I normally wear but the graphic surface print of flowers, dots and dashes in shades of grey and cream looks stunning. Of course I then had to buy the same leggings in cyclamen and china blue colours. They all work well with the Murano coat and give a lift to my old familiar handmade clothes too, refreshing my wardrobe in tune with spring.
In the Spring/Summer catalogue you can also see the results of the Gudrun Sjödén stripes photo shoot I took part in last July in Stockholm. It's a thrill to see these pictures published, a great reminder of a wonderful day spent with lovely people and an experience I'll never forget.
By the way, if you haven't already, you must see my friend Myf Tristram's ace sketch diary of our Stockholm trip, and I can't resist sharing Gudrun's video of the shoot below. Happy days for colourful women!
Tina Givens designs clothes fit for romanesque heroines inhabiting fictional landscapes. Her ethereal dresses, coats and blouses, available as sewing patterns, are also practical enough to transition into every day life with oversized easy silhouettes, large functional pockets and simple fastenings. These are garments designed to be easy to sew and intended to be worn layered.
This is her Peplone Jacket, which is actually more of a coat dress. I used a light airy floral block print Indian cotton (a bargain eBay win) as it seemed suitably romantic.
The Peplone jacket was very quick to make and I simply followed the picture instructions supplied alongside the more detailed written text on the PDF print out, working instinctively. Instead of pleating the skirt back and front I gathered it (as in Dress T from Stylish Dress Book).
I finished the jacket with hidden popper fastenings. I'm so pleased with the result that a second Peplone Jacket is now in the works...
This is a light, spring edition of the Marcy Tilton French House Dress made from a fine-gauge bird print cotton fabric bought last summer.
This is my third version of Tilton's Vogue 8813 and though the sewing pattern instructions recommend using lightweight jersey, I think the drape and architectural qualities of this design lend it well to all kinds of fabrics from filmy light cottons to heavier weight linens.
For an idea of the versatility of this design, I heartily recommend visiting Project Minima's wonderful dressmaking blog, where she has made several Marcy Tilton House Dresses in repurposed vintage linen table cloths to beautiful effect.
It's Wukulele tradition to take a break every January, so Sunday's jam was our first uke meet up of 2016. This was a packed event with standing room only for late-comers upstairs at Worthing Rowing Club. As always there was a jolly good mix of seasoned Wukulele jammers and new folk tentatively stepping out with their ukes for the very first time. Special guest was Portuguese rescue dog Sam who particularly enjoyed Harriet's kazoo solo.
On a grey rainy Saturday afternoon I impulse bought two metres of Bernatex cotton material with a painterly flaming sunset print in the sale at the local fabric shop. Can't think why no one else had snapped up this spectacularly kitsch fabric! I thought it would make another quick Esme dress to bring cheer to a dull day.
I then remembered the vintage Vogue 9554 sewing pattern bought last year which includes a wide sleeved edge-to-edge quilted jacket. The idea of a quilted sunset jacket was too good not to pursue, so dusting off the seam gauge I prepared my sewing machine for channel quilting.
I found a large enough piece of fruity floral print cotton in my stash to use as a lining for the inside of the jacket and had just enough thin soft wadding left over from the quilted ukulele bag making days. Sandwiching these layers together with the sunset fabric, I entered into the meditative state of bliss that is channel quilting long straight lines.
Once quilted, the jacket pieces were easy to assemble. I finished off all the edges and trimmed the big patch pockets with purple bias binding bought from Worthing market.
The finished jacket is a celestial sight to behold!