Basic Black (in Colour): Tiered Over-blouse C

Basic Black by Sato Watanab

Basic Black is the soon-to-be-released English edition of Sato Watanabe's classic dressmaking book. As a person who loves Japanese clothing design but never wears black clothes I was intrigued when Tuttle kindly sent me an advance copy to review. I'm so happy they did as I may not have bought a copy myself otherwise. If you love colourful clothes, don't be discouraged by the title!

Basic Black

The designs in this book are beautifully constructed (or perhaps deconstructed) with elements of smart tailoring and great details including angular criss-cross darts, asymmetric hems and necklines, quilting, pleats, and hand embroidered panels. It includes patterns for A-line dresses, skirts, jackets, waistcoats, blouses, two fabulous coats and a gorgeous cheongsam. As the title suggests, they do all look stunning made up in shades of black but I think would also look good in brighter colours.

Tiered blouse and dress: Basic Black

I tried out design C, a tiered voluminous over-blouse with light tucks along the tiers. It was an easy pattern to trace out with only three pattern pieces – the tiers are measured and marked directly onto your fabric. 

Tiered blouse construction

I decided to use double-sided gauze with a small gingham check (another Worthing Market bargain) as it was the plainest piece of material in my fabric stash and I thought would best show off the concave and convex contrast effect created by the tucks. However it was a fast-fraying fabric to use and necessitated immediate vacuuming up of stray threads and fluff after sewing. I added an extra tier to the hem to make the blouse into a longer smock and shortened the sleeves to three quarter length. To finish I made bias binding from the fraying double gauze and bound the neckline, sleeves and hem with the contrast side of the fabric for further cheer.

Basic Black: dress C by Ivy Arch

I was going to use black and white photographs to show off my creation, but couldn't resist showing it in full colour! I'm now on the look out for some brightly printed fabric to make the cheongsam...

Sato Watanabe: Tiered dress

Basic Black: 26 Edgy Essentials for theModern Wardrobe is published by Tuttle Books on 8th July 2014. 

The Tortoise Zip-It Girls' Dress

Zip-It dress pockets

The cute curved pockets on Make It Perfect's Zip-It dress made it impossible to resist – two clicks and I'd purchased and downloaded a copy. I reasoned there was a very good chance my daughter would actually want to wear this dress as her front-zipped gingham summer dresses are currently her preferred items of school uniform.

Fabric Land's colourful tortoise print

As it's a child-sized sewing pattern, printing and assembling the download was a breeze. The fabric is a recent bargain acquisition from Brighton's Fabric Land. It's one of their own Hill-Berg brand designs and is a medium weight linen-feel sturdy cotton printed with bright multicoloured tortoises. It's available in three colourways and I'd bought a length in beige and a small amount of sage green without a sewing pattern in mind, so was relieved to have just enough to make this dress (though I had to add a sage green border to get the required length).

Zip-It dress with tortoises

It's a simple dress to make but I thought the written sewing instructions were a tad convoluted and seemed to be missing an instruction to turn the yoke back through to the right side when attaching it to the dress body. Perhaps more picture diagrams would have been helpful. No matter, I discarded the instructions and made up the dress as I thought best and am really happy with the end result. It's a gorgeous, retro-inspired design.

Zip-It dress details: curved collar and bound pockets

My daughter loves it too and for the past two days has changed out of her school uniform immediately after arriving home so that she can wear it!

Happiness is a tortoise print Zip-It

The year I stopped buying clothes and sewed myself a new wardrobe

A year ago I publicly pledged to give up buying clothes for a year, a move prompted by finding this article in a newspaper left on a train and by the Rana Plaza clothing factory disaster. My rule was no new clothes, shoes, underwear, hosiery and no 'new' second hand or vintage purchases. Basically to STOP buying! If I wanted new stuff then I had to make it myself.

Handmade clothes by Ivy Arch 16 May 2013 - 16 May 2014
The clothes I made between 16th May 2013 and 16th May 2014

The first few weeks were strange. Like most people if I'm told I can't do something I want to do it even more so I positively craved the smell of clothing shops and the thrill and discovery of trying on new (or second hand/new) clothes.

When passing clothes shops in town I felt a pang of longing. So much so that I started completely avoiding them and this included going to cafés near clothing shops. Saturdays had often been my day for a bike ride to a destination where I could browse shops and drink coffee. To adjust to not-clothes-buying I changed my routine so that I was just doing the bike ride part with the destination being a museum or gallery, or a remote spot outdoors. Then the dressmaking bug really set in and Saturday mornings are now set aside solely for sewing for myself and my daughter while listening to Sounds of The Sixties - afternoons we're currently rehearsing for Worthing Community Play.

Five months into the challenge Gudrun Sjödén invited me to become an ambassador for the brand, a role which would involve no obligation on my part but would give me the opportunity to sometimes try out their products. I mulled this over and consulted friends for their opinion as I wasn't sure if it was a conflict of interest with my 'no buying new clothes' declaration. As a long-time Gudrun Sjödén fan and an erstwhile customer with several of her designs in my wardrobe already, I found it impossible to say no. However, when I have been lucky enough to chose one of Gudrun's garments to write about and wear I've picked things I couldn't make myself (due to lack of skills and equipment) like this raincoat.

I can happily report that the experiment has been thoroughly habit-changing for me. A year on, the smell of clothes shops repels me and now that I'm free to spend my birthday money have found that nothing fits as well or looks as good as handmade. I can't see myself ever going back to buying dresses from the high street and pledge to try to only buy new clothing when my own clothes (knickers, socks) are beyond repair, and then only if I can't make it myself. The days of scooping up three cheap tops from Primark for an instant fashion fix are over.

An unexpected development in my year of giving up clothes shopping is that my wardrobe has GROWN! It's now full of beautiful, bright handmade clothes in fabrics I've chosen in combinations of my own design. I wear at least one garment I've sewn myself every single day and feel this is the ultimate form of self expression.

Sewing notions with Omi's mushroom pincushion

Pottery Print dress: Colette Peony

Colette Peony in pottery print fabric

You're only 45 once, so I thought the occasion merited a special birthday dress. The fabric came first, bought on holiday last month at Rainbows in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. It's from Michael Miller's Jug or Not? range and this design is called Retro Kryptonite.
Michael Miller pottery print fabric: Jug Or Not?

It's reminiscent of two iconic mid-century textile designs, Stig Lindberg's 1940s Pottery fabric (below left) and Sanderson's Hayward (below right). Hayward was originally designed in the 1950s but was reissued as part of Sanderson's Revival collection a few years ago. I made my first ever ukulele gig bag out of it! 
Stig Lindberg 'Pottery' fabricSanderson 'Hayward' fabric

My fabulous fabric suggested a 1950s or 60s style dress and was therefore a good excuse to try out Colette's Peony sewing pattern.

Ivy Arch pottery print Peony

Having Googled other people's Peony dress makes I wasn't sure how I'd get on with making the bodice which comprises four notorious darts. I sensibly made a toile of the top half of the dress and found the tight, darted bodice too stifling. Really I should have learnt my lesson from attempting Simplicity's 1800 Amazing Fit dress before choosing another fitted dress pattern. Realising that I'd be extremely unlikely to wear something so constricting (I burnt my bra decades ago), I minimised the front body darts to give myself room to breathe and slouch around. I found I could easily get into the bodice with the back seam sewn up, so cut the dress back in one piece (kinder to the fabric design) and dispensed with a zip. Finally I added a good five centimetres length to the skirt pattern piece, then cut into the precious Jug or Not? fabric.

Colette Peony by Ivy Arch

The Peony was easy to sew and I loved making the matching belt. It feels comfortably soft with a bit of ease, so doesn't strain at the seams even after eating large pieces of lemon drizzle birthday cake.

A Victorian Sailor Suit for The Just Cause

Sailor suit collar

With only five weeks to go until Worthing's Victorian Community Play The Just Cause opens, here are some photos of the sailor suit I made for my daughter to wear – she plays the part of a poor boy thief. Thankfully it was a much easier make than my own Temperance woman's costume and took just a few hours over a weekend to complete. 

Victorian boy's sailor suit costume
Boy's sailor suit costume for The Just Cause

My starting point was Pattern S, a pullover hooded top from Happy Homemade Sew Chic Kids but I redrafted the hood to fall into a rectangular sailor collar. Scathingly Brilliant has a good tutorial showing how to do this. I used a lightweight striped cotton (bought from Worthing Market's fabric stall) as her role involves a chase scene in the hot packed church, so heavier fabrics were out! The trim on the collar is a piece of velvet ribbon, and I cut up an old embroidered cotton belt (not worn for years) to make the tie.

Sailor suit sewn using modified sewing patterns from Happy Homemade Sew Chic Kids

The simple elasticated waist shorts with back pockets are also a design from Happy Homemade Sew Chic Kids –  Pattern M. The finished garment looked good but a bit too smart for the part, so I soaked the whole costume in a stew of tea bags for an hour to get a more 'vintage' and well worn look.

Sailor suit stewed in tea and hung out to dry
Sailor suit stewed in tea and hung out to dry

Here's a sneak preview of her in character wearing the sailor suit. For a better look and to experience our exciting and dramatic production be sure to come along and see The Just Cause in June!

Victorian child thief costume for The Just Cause

The cast of The Just Cause, Worthing's Community Play
Cast of The Just Cause, photograph © Steve Speller

Three performances of The Just Cause take place at Christ Church, Worthing on 14th, 21st and 28th June 2014. Entry is free but priority will be given to those in Victorian costume! Visit Worthing Community Play or follow us on twitter.

Postcard from the Isle of Wight

Shanklin, Isle of Wight

This drizzly day in Worthing seems an apt time to post a few pictures from the Isle of Wight. We traveled to the largest island of England two weeks ago (though it already seems much longer) by train and ferry. 
Ryde Pier, Isle of Wight

The journey took two and a half hours in total and couldn't have been smoother. There's a direct train from Worthing to Portsmouth where the ferry terminal is reached by walking down a ramp inside the train station. The ferry ride was an all too brief 20 minutes and an absolute joy on a bright sunny day – we felt like we were going abroad! From Ryde Pier Head we hopped onto the Island Line railway (comprising old stock London Underground trains) for a scenic route down the eastern side of the island to the Victorian seaside resort of Shanklin - our destination. 

Shanklin, view from the beach

At large on Isle of Wight in April 2014

A few days on the island transported us back to a 1970s vision of England. We walked along the under cliff from Shanklin to Sandown – a sleepy resort in April – had an excellent cup of tea at Harrigan's seafront café and gift shop where my daughter was dazzled by the plethora of figurines and trinkets on sale (and I succumbed to a souvenir tea towel) then trekked on past boarded up buildings and neglected playgrounds to Dinosaur Isle

Sweetshop in Ryde

A trip into Ryde showed us glimpses of previous Victorian splendour in a town mostly in decline, a complete contrast to lovely Ventnor with its dozens of restaurants and cafés, wealth of excellent second hand clothing and book shops and the wonderful Rainbows fabric and craft shop – haberdashery heaven.

Buildings on the Isle of Wight : from thatch to Victoriana to deco to 70s modernism
At Ventnor Haven we took a stunning coastal tour with Lucy and Sean Strevens of Cheetah Marine in a boat they'd impressively designed and built themselves. They kindly let my 9 year old drive the boat back at high speed – thrilling experience of a lifetime for her and a terrifying but amazing one for me! My favourite adventure of the holiday was a ramble up and around Shanklin Chine, resplendent with fabulous flora and waterfalls. We must return soon.

Shanklin Chine

Telephones and Clocks: new lavender bags in the Ivy Arch shop!

New retro telephone lavender bags by Ivy Arch

These printed retro telephone and clock lavender bags are on sale in the Ivy Arch shop! They're made using fabric from Kokka's Ruby Star collection (designed by Melody Miller) featuring telephones in shades of blue, green and pink, and clocks in olive green and rust. Handmade by me, I've backed them with polka dot cotton fabric and stuffed them with highly fragrant dried lavender flowers from Provence.

A trio of telephones by Ivy Arch
A congress of clocks by Ivy Arch

Clock print lavender bag by Ivy Arch

To buy or for more information visit the Ivy Arch Etsy shop.

Dinosaur Junior: Girls Style Book - dress H (modified)

Yoshiko Tsukiori Girls Style Book, dress H

Catching sight of my yellow Colette Laurel dress my daughter begged me to make one just the same for her. It's the first time she's expressed envy at a piece of clothing I've worn, and even more remarkable as her current preferred items of clothing are two long sleeved boys tops (one with a medley of dinosaurs, the other a sea monster theme) and two pairs of H&M knee length boys shorts (one orange, one beige, both with lots of 'useful' pockets). I figured then that I should seize the moment and quickly make her a similar dress. Mindful that it may well end up neglected on a hanger in the back of her wardrobe along with the other dresses, skirts and kimonos I've sewn for her, I chose a boldy printed Michael Miller Dino Roars fabric that I knew she'd love to wear, and teamed it with the Lecien folklore cotton left over from my Laurel dress to use for the trim.

Making this dress gave me the opportunity to try out one of the patterns in Yoshiko Tsukiori's Girls Style Book - a collection of 24 pretty sewing patterns for girls aged 2-10. Unfortunately my daughter at 9 is towards the end of the size range for this book and as mentioned isn't currently a fan of more traditional styles of girls clothing. However, the book would be an investment for a dressmaker with younger girls to sew for and includes many lovely easy-to-sew designs.

Looking for something like the Colette Laurel, Dress H caught my eye with its nice clean lines and gentle A-line shape so I traced off the pattern in child size 10 for my tall girl and lengthened the sleeves to make it look Laurel-like. I cut the back out of a single piece of fabric, omitting the centre back seam so that the dress goes on over the head - I measured her head circumference before doing this to ensure it would slip on easily.

Yoshiko Tsukiori Girls Style Book

To recreate the winning Laurel effect I added a single patch pocket to the front (the right size to hold a couple of plastic dinosaur figurines) and made a ruffle cuff to finish the sleeve. I had just enough Lecien folklore fabric to make bias binding to edge the neckline. When fitting the dress was a bit too wide for my daughter's narrow shoulders so I added shoulder darts for a better fit. The dress body and cuffs are lined with a dotty cotton (again left over from my Laurel).

Dinosaur details: patch pockets and Laurel ruffle
Dinosaur details: patch pocket, contrast bias binding, shoulder darts, ruffle cuff

The finished dress looks beautiful and is a real hit with my junior paleontologist! She wears it as a mini-dress with her green mock dinosaur skin socks, or as a tunic with leggings for playing in the park. It's a roomy easy fit which makes it perfect for climbing trees and swinging from monkey bars and hopefully will fit her through the next growth spurt and a beyond...