Sunday, 13 April 2014

Seeking Occupants of Interplanetary Craft at Earthship Brighton

Earthship Brighton

It's been a beautiful sunny week in Sussex, a fine start to the school holidays and a complete contrast to last year's bitter Easter holiday weather. On Wednesday we travelled by train to Stanmer Park, a nature reserve with open downland and woods on the edge of Brighton. Our event horizon was Earthship Brighton a sustainable 'green' building constructed using waste car tyres, wine bottles and recycled materials. It's the first Earthship to be built in England and has been designed to provide its own heat, electricity, water and food. Our walk there took us through wide open spaces, blossom heavy orchards and through the grounds of Stanmer Manor where we stopped for a picnic. Continuing uphill we passed allotments, a forest of roughly carved wooden faces (with eyes that followed us) and getting warmer, reached Stanmer Community Farm.

Brighton Earthship, green building
Earthship Brighton

The Earthship was closed but we explored the outside of this intriguing building and its grounds which resemble a glorious eco-friendly Teletubby Land. Heading back downhill we sensibly took a detour to Stanmer Park Tearooms and refuelled with tea and cake before hiking back to Falmer Station.

Stanmer Park Community Farm

Blossoming Stanmer Park
Reflections on the Earthship

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Make Mine a Cappuccino - the new improved Lisette Portfolio dress

Cappuccino dress, Lisette Portfolio's little sister

The Lisette Portfolio Dress and Tunic (Simplicity 2245) is an internet sensation. Like many other dressmakers I discovered it via Pinterest long after it had been taken out of print. Of course knowing it was not available made me want to sew it even more but I baulked at the £45 (or more) prices second hand copies were fetching on eBay. I wrote to Simplicity beseeching them to reprint it or sell me an old tattered copy, but to no avail. Then I wrote to Oliver + S (creators of Lisette sewing patterns) who said they were in the process of remaking and improving the pattern and would add me to the mailing list announcing when the new version was available.

     Happily a new re-drafted version, the Cappuccino Dress is now released by Oliver + S as a Liesl + Co digital download and will (fingers crossed) be published as a paper pattern in the autumn. Of course I couldn't wait until then, so bought the PDF and slowly printed out all 59 pages then carefully cellotaped the sewing pattern together and cut out all the pieces. Cursing as I worked (my printer had jumbled up the pages) I'm relieved to let you know it really was worth going to all the time and trouble it took to assemble and cut out this pattern.

Super bright roller skate, electric fan fabric

With warmer days approaching I decided to use a bright red, orange and pink African wax print cotton fabric bought on eBay in the depths of winter (which I'd been saving for a very special sewing pattern). It's the boldest fabric I've worked with for some time (the antidote to that beige Temperance dress) and is printed with outsize roller skates, huge electric fans, sphinxes, geometric patterns and eyes. 

Liesl & Co Cappuccino dress by Ivy Arch
Cappuccino dress has tapered kimono style sleeves

The Cappuccino dress is a joy to make. The sewing pattern download comes with detailed written instructions and clear diagrams. The sizing is American but full measurements are listed, so I cut mine out in a combination of US size 6 for the top half widening out to a US size 10 at the waist and hips. There had been some concern among fellow small-chested sewers that the new V-neck version of this dress wouldn't be as flattering on us as the higher scoop-necked Portfolio dress. While I can't compare it to a Portolio (not having made one) I can report that the Cappuccino's V-front sits fairly high, is modest and pretty with no cleavage (or lack of) bared and the dress fits well across my tiny shoulders. I love the kimono-like sleeves and the curved front pockets. The Cappuccino is a hit!

Even better than the Lisette Portfolio!

Monday, 31 March 2014

A Victorian costume drama for The Just Cause

Victorian costume for Worthing Community Play

Making this outfit has taken up most of my evenings for the past three weeks. It's my costume for Worthing's Community Play, The Just Cause. The play is a Victorian romance in which the town's famous large-scale Skeleton Army riot of the 1880s is re-enacted. Exciting stuff! The Just Cause has been two years in development with a team of historians and genealogists researching lives of people who lived in 1880s Worthing. The cast comprises over 100 locals of all ages and from all walks of life and most of us are making or adapting and customising shop-bought clothing into our Victorian costumes.

Simplicity ESP 6073: Victorian jacket and skirt, 1980s
I have the part of a Temperance Woman – these were usually 'upper' working class people motivated to improve the welfare of ordinary working women, many of whom were victims of domestic violence fuelled by drink. As a working class woman my clothes should be plain, in dull, natural looking fabrics and worn without jewellery or fancy embellishments. With this in mind I bought ten metres of seersucker beige fabric with a narrow blue and grey stripe from Worthing market's fabric stall and 7 meters of lining material. The fabric was cheap at £2 a metre and seemed the right weight and colour for a Victorian summer outfit (the play takes place in June). Searching for sewing patterns on Etsy, I found Simplicity E.S.P. 6073 – a 1980s Victorian style skirt and jacket. The jacket looked about the right cut and I've added an extension panel to the lower back so that it fits over a bustle. I made the skirt longer than the sewing pattern with more gathering in the back. 

Victorian bustle, homemade!The weirdest part of making the costume was constructing the bustle. Using Kristina Meister's guide as a starting point, I made mine from a cushion insert attached to a piece of elastic. I've added a sliding fastener to the front for a bit of extendable comfort! It's surprisingly light to wear but does feel like a strange appendage. I then made an over-skirt to cover the bustle by draping fabric around my tailor's mannequin and tacking it in place by hand. Both skirt and overskirt have a simple elasticated waist – hoping all that elastic won't get too itchy on a summer's day.
I'm not sure that the jacket's sleeve is 100% accurate for 1880s England as I think the puff-effect sleeve came in a decade later (before becoming a full-blown leg-of-mutton affair) but am hoping the play's costume designer allows me to get away with this! Don't think I can face unpicking and redoing the sleeve - too many hours spent sewing beige already.
Victorian Costume: The Just Cause, Worthing Community Play 2014

Historically accurate or not, I'm amazed by how well it's turned out. Next I have to finish my daughter's costume (she plays the part of a thief) and work out how to make a Victorian hat for myself. However, may just have to run up another colourful summer dress for light relief first...

The Just Cause: costume for Worthing Community Play

Performances of The Just Cause take place at Christ Church, Worthing on 14th, 21st and 28th June 2014. Visit Worthing Community Play for more information and follow us on twitter.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Foliate Heads and Art in Ruins: John Piper's textiles

Foliate Head printed textile by John Piper

Artist Textiles at London's Fashion and Textile Museum is an essential exhibition for any vintage fabric addict. Over 200 textile designs for fashion and home furnishings are on display, including pieces by Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. There are exquisite illustrated fabrics by Saul Steinberg, colour pop prints by Zandra Rhodes, an angular line doodled fabric by Henry Moore and some stunning fabrics and furnishings by Eduardo Paolozzi and Nigel Henderson.
     There is so much to see that one visit really isn't enough to take it all in, and there's much too much to cover in a single blog post, so I'm sharing with you the work that excited me the most: John Piper's painterly screenprints.

John Piper's Foliate Head fabric

Foliate Head fabric by John Piper, produced by David Whitehead Ltd in 1954.  
This is based on Piper's stained glass window design of the folkloric figure The Green Man

John Egerton Christmas Piper was a 20th century painter of architecture, landscape and abstract compositions. He is famous for his work as war artist (for his paintings of bombed buildings and ruins). He was also a writer, prolific photographer, etcher, printmaker, a designer for theatre and of stained-glass windows and in later years began making ceramics. 
     In the mid 1950s Piper designed a series of screen-printed textiles for David Whitehead & Sons Ltd, a company renowned for producing contemporary printed fabrics for the mass-market. In 1960 British fabric and wallpaper manufacturer Arthur Sanderson & Sons commissioned Piper to produce five textile designs as part of their 1960 centenary celebrations.
     Piper's fabrics have all the detail and tone of his paintings and really glow with life. To see so many great examples of his textiles at this show was simply thrilling! 

Chiesa De La Salute by John Piper
Chiesa De La Salute - screen printed fabric panel by John Piper, 1960
Northern Cathedral screenprint by John Piper
Northern Cathedral by John Piper - screen print circa 1960

Fawley screenprinted fabric, John Piper
Fawley by John Piper

ARTIST TEXTILES: Picasso to Warhol is at The Fashion and Textile Museum until 17th May 2014. Following record demand for tickets the museum will open on Sundays from 6 April. Visit their website for information.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Cobbler Controversy: Straight Stitch Apron Dress Book

Yoshiko Tsukiori Straight Stitch Apron Dress

For some time I've been searching for the perfect apron dress sewing pattern, so when I saw that fellow Etsyan Pomadour24 was selling copies of a Yoshiko Tsukiori sewing book full of apron dresses the fact that it's only available in Japanese didn't put me off. 

Straight Stitch Apron Dresses by Yoshiko Tsukiori

The book includes 28 designs to sew. There are bib aprons, pinafores dresses, cobbler aprons and tabards, some bungalow aprons (these have sleeves cut in one piece with the body of the dress, a bit like a t-shirt). There's even a design for a loose cropped 'smock' blouse. 

Jumper Skirt Apron dress

I would wear every garment in this book but the standout design was No. 5: Jumper Skirt Apron. That's 'jumper' as in the American word for pinafore not a sweater dress (Wikipedia explain all here). However, I'd describe this dress as a cobbler because it fastens with ties – I challenge you to correct me!

Apron dress pattern No. 5

The book has no actual sewing patterns enclosed, you have to draft up your own pattern from diagrams, just like in Tsukiori's Easy Cute Straight Stitch Sewing. It's so liberating to work in this way and the diagrams are super easy to follow with numbers indicating which seam to sew next. 

Tie at the front or back?

As it was my first attempt with this sewing pattern I used a budget black and white checked material bought for a song from the fabric stall at Worthing market. It's very light and drapey so this is definitely going to be a summer apron dress. 

Yoshiko Tsukiori: Straight Stitch Apron Dress No. 5

I really love the rectangular shape of the garment and the way it drapes when tied – it feels like wearing origami. I've bought some heavier weight fabric to make another one of these, though I also have designs on No. 24: Wrapping One-Piece Dress...

Friday, 21 February 2014

Flowers in the Rain: Gudrun Sjödén Kamelia raincoat

Kamelia raincoat: flowers in the rain

Last Saturday I headed for the wonderfully colourful Gudrun Sjödén Monmouth Street store, excited to get to see the new Spring 2014 collection in person. Sjödén's spring collection is strong on print design and a must-see for any fellow fashion fabric addict. There are graphic and naïve pattern motifs inspired by Nordic artists Tove Jansson, Vera Nilsson and Siri Derkert; Pre-Raphaelite organic floral patterns embellished with embroidery and smock stitching; bold colourful earthy prints inspired by women pioneers and the rich colours of Sub-Saharan Africa. These fantastic fabrics have been cut into beautiful, functional and wearable designs – don't take my word for it, go and see them yourself! Perhaps the most perfectly practical of all Gudrun's garments this season (and essential given the current wet weather) is the Kamelia raincoat. As brand ambassador I'm lucky enough to get to road test this garment and am keen to share my findings.

Gudrun Sjödén Kamelia raincoat
Gudrun Sjödén Kamelia raincoat and Chilli eco-cotton shawl

The Kamelia raincoat features a floral print on a soft organic cotton fabric – it has a smooth 'brushed' to the touch texture which is backed on the inside with a water-repellent material in a deep orange colour. It's a lightweight garment with a generous hood secured by drawstring and toggles, has a popper fastening centre front and two generous front pockets. It's available in three colourways. 

Happy hoodie

Deciding which colour to pick took me a good half hour of trying them all on and much musing. At first my eye was drawn to the 'dala red' but I eventually to decided leave my Schiaparelli pink hued comfort zone and venture into 'neutral' territory. There aren't many fashion designers that could get me to look twice at what is essentially a beige mac, but then Gudrun Sjödén does neutrals like no-one else. The 'dark neutral' has a burst of citrus light, bright orange in the trailing flower design with a dot of magenta that completely transforms the surface of the garment. I decided that the colour tones were a good match for my greying brown hair and the coat felt simply sumptuous to wear.

Gudrun Sjödén Kamelia raincoat

I've worn the Kamelia raincoat every day for the past six days and it has kept me dry in cold pouring rain, cool in warm windy drizzle, has endured a two and a half hour train journey on a packed train (from which it emerged uncrumpled) and today was christened by a seagull on Brighton beach (easily dab cleaned with water and a tissue)! The hood stays up and keeps my ears warm in strong winds but importantly still gives good visibility when turning my head to cross the road. The medium sized coat is roomy enough to wear with two jumpers underneath but with its A-line shape also hangs beautifully if I wear it over a dress. It's a coat that's too good to keep just for rainy days. 

Gudrun Sjödén London store

Friday, 14 February 2014

With Patience and Love: Yoko Saito Log Cabin Bag

Yoko Saito Log Cabin quilted bag

Japanese Quilting Piece by Piece is an enchanting book of quilt artist Yoko Saito's patchwork designs for bags, pouches, cushions and more. It explores traditional patchwork techniques of log cabin, hexagons, baskets and stars and the exquisite projects in this book all look like love-worn heirlooms passed down through generations. There's a wealth of information and techniques to try but the outstanding project for me was the cover design log cabin bag – I had to make one!

Japanese Quilting Piece by Piece

Saito's colour palette is muted – Japanese neutrals that draw you in and invite you to examine nuances of colour and texture. She suggests using the wrong side of a piece of material to tone down the strength of colour or pattern. I struggled with this part. I decided to use a selection of offcuts of some Japanese printed cottons. I love the prints and textures of these fabrics and intended to use them on their reverse side but couldn't quite bring myself to embrace taupe, so instead turned them mainly to their right sides, with a few slices of reversed pieces and some tiny squares of jewel-bright 1960s cotton. However, the beauty of this book is that it encourages you to experiment with each project, to improvise and make the bag your own, so artistic licence with the colour palette excused...

200 rectangles cut out and assembled into blocks

This was my first piece of improv quilting and I found making the bag a slow and meditative process. First I cut out 200 rectangles to assemble the patchwork blocks needed, then spent blissful hours sewing the shapes together. The process for making the rest of the bag was familiar as I've made many quilted, padded gig bags before but assembling and constructing my fabric in this way was new to me and something I want to do more of.

Improv quilting by Ivy Arch

quilted lines

My finished bag lacks the precision and refinement of Saito's own, but I absolutely love what I've produced. The bag is small but sturdy, incredibly tactile and seems to have a spirit and character of its own. 

Yoko Saito log cabin quilted bag details
Yoko Saito Log Cabin Bag - with colour!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Perfectly Pear Shaped: Simplicity 1800 - Amazing Fit Dress

Simplicity 1800 Amazing Fit dress

This one was a challenge. My Christmas present of an adjustable tailor's dummy got me thinking I should have a go at making something a bit more fitted than usual. So, inspired by Laura Fisher's beautiful version of this dress, I took a chance on Simplicity's 1800 pattern from their Amazing Fit range. 

Simplicity 1800 Amazing Fit sewing pattern
Promises to fit all shapes and sizes

I'm so glad I thoroughly Googled this one before starting out and am eternally grateful to the clever blogging women (at Lizzy House, Binenstich, Pretty Grievances and of course Behind The Hedgerow) who'd already tried and tested this pattern and divulged what did and didn't work. I therefore dispensed with some of the instructions regarding initially sewing it inside out and went straight into sewing the finished dress. I also (as usual) decided to cut the back panel as one piece without a zip.

Fabric choice: a superb piece of Dutch wax print cotton – an Ebay win!

My first cause for alarm was discovering that according to Simplicity's measurements my bust should be cut out in size 10 pattern pieces, my waist in size 12 and my hips a generous size 16! I didn't have confidence that cobbling these three sizes together would produce a fitting garment but noting that the design allows for 10cm ease in the hips, lopped that 10cm off my hip measurement and decided to cut out the hips and waist in a size 12, keep the bust at size 10 (an easier configuration to fit together) while crossing my fingers that my real hips would fit into the skirt.

Adjustable dressmakers dummy
Meet the mannequin: My adjusted dressmakers dummy - now with hips and paunch

When fitting the garment to my pear-shaped mannequin I had to take a further 5cms out from the bust area. This means that the curved lines running through the bust seam and down through the edge of the pocket finishing on the hip don't perfectly match up. At this point I'm past caring.

Front seam, wonky.
Seam discrepancy. Ouch

I'm left to conclude that while promising to fit all shapes and sizes, this dress isn't really designed for the pear shaped woman. Constructing it to fit my figure was so fiddly and the written instructions were so confusing that I kept losing momentum and abandoning the project. Only the desire not to waste this gorgeous fabric kept me going...

Simplicity 1800: Amazing Fit dress
Simplicity 1800: not a bad fit after all

Incredibly all the effort paid off and yes, I am amazed to find that the finished dress fits. My only reservation with the frock's appearance is that the wide open and deep neckline leaves me feeling too exposed – I prefer to be more covered up.  Other than that, I think in the pictures at least it looks quite good... but I'm not quite sure I'll be rushing to make another.

Simplicity 1800 Amazing Fit dress
Simplicity 1800
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