Friday, 11 July 2014

Fabric shopping utopia

Today was meant to be a day dedicate to updating the DIYcouture website. It's drizzling outside, with gusty London winds pushing around a kind of gloomy polluted mist. It really couldn't be more encouraging weather for staying indoors and getting deep into some html.

However, I needed some soya milk and I thought I might go looking for vegetarian sausages at a supermarket I don't usually go to. Then I remembered hearing tales of a mystical fabric warehouse, located in the vicinity of that very supermarket and I was compelled as if by a higher power to seek it out.

It doesn't look like much but believe me, it is much.

I locked up my bicycle and pushed my way in through some plastic flappy things. This is what I beheld:

The incredible scale and the slight air of chaos reminded me of fabric shops I visited whilst in Canada, but I've never come across such a shop in Britain, where space is at a premium. Still, here it is, a ginormous fabric utopia, right under my nose, just a few streets away from where I live.

Even more exciting, it is not full of loads of crappy fabrics with the odd gem buried amongst the rubble. It is all killer no filler (well, some filler, but lots of killer). And it's cheap. Here is what seems to be their slippery animal print and psychedelic-yet-tasteful-pattern department.

There are some really cool animal prints there, but it's not all animal print, it's just I really like animal print, so I'm over representing. I was so excited by this point I got a bit of camera shake.

I'm including a picture of my feet so when I wake up tomorrow I will know that is wasn't all a dream.

Skull print jersey anyone? This is one of many patterned jerseys. Check out those tropical palm leaves right next to it! There is also an area dedicated to plain jerseys too.

Here is the tartan department (again, blurriness caused by ecstatic hand wobbling).

And way back in a musty corner I found this sexy little collection of giant houndstooth and zig zag stripes. Hoooooooly fabric! This stuff has a weird texture. It's sort of like jersey but foamier. I would love to know what it is.

Seeing as I am 'not fabric shopping at the moment,' I left the shop empty handed Ha ha ha who am I kidding? If my back pack was a bit bigger I would have bought every one of those rolls of foamy jersey! As it is, I limited myself to four fabrics, two of them costing £2 a metre and two of them (the houndstooth) £5 a metre.

Not bad for a trip to the supermarket to buy some milk and sausages!

If you are dying to go to Woolcrest, their address is 6 Well Street, London, E9 7PX.

Alright, now back to my html!

Rosie xx

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Bloomin' marvellous

When The People's Print and Bags Of Love all-over floral print T Shirt competition popped up in my Facebook feed I wanted to enter immediately. I've been playing with making repeat patterns for fabric recently, but repeats can feel quite regimented and restraint. There is something gloriously free and endless about an all over print.

This competition is inspired by a Paul Smith floral shirt, but more widely by the sublime impulse of nature to bloom. Tis' the season when green, green foliage suddenly erupts with pinks, oranges, lilacs and reds. As I'm pushed for time at the moment, I thought I'd just take a few sneaky photos of the flowers I saw in other people's front gardens as I went about my business in my local area.

This gorgeous tub is parked right outside my nearest Marks & Spencer.

I hadn't really opened my eyes to the floral glory of Hackney's front yards until I started flower spotting. Flowers, brick walls, cats and discarded cans of Nourishment drink must be the top four material objects most present in any square metre of my London borough.

When I sat down and read the tutorial for the competition properly I realised I needed a different plan. It asks you to cut holes in coloured paper and thread the stalk of your flowers through. I definitely was not prepared to walk round Hackney with a pair of scissors stealing flowers from other people (Though I know this thing sort of thing happens in Waltham Forrest - my boss has had a whole lemon tree stolen from her front garden).

I've been collecting a bag of fake flowers that have been rejected from my place of work, Bag Books. We use red and pink ones to make a smell page (scented with rose oil) to represent Hyde Park but reject ones that aren't voluptuous enough ,or are an unusual colour.

They may be fake, they may be rejects, but they are still beautiful!

My first idea involved using a colour gradient for a background. I wanted to design a dip-dye style T shirt. But I realised quickly that my beautiful, chunky flowers were going to totally cover the background anyway.

Instead, I cranked up the brightness and lightness of some of my flower images, creating a subtle (maybe a bit too subtle!) ombre effect with the flowers themselves.

The design template on the Bags Of Love site allows you to add text so I thought I would experiment with the tools available and add the word 'fauna,' intending to create the impression of flora and fauna together, one represented by pictures, the other by words.

I love the way my design came out. When I have more time, I'm thinking of creating a matching one, with a collage of animals and the word 'flora.'

This is my winner's fantasy (please note my huge biceps, real of course).

You can see my design and all the other entries by looking at the competition page. There is also still time to enter as the competition closes on June 9th.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Clothes made by humans

It's been a long time since I blogged and I point my finger-of-blame squarely at time. I blame not lack of time, but time itself. There just isn't enough of it. I moved to a new flat in January, which seemed to fill every corner of time in the run up and the aftermath. In amongst it all though, I have been creating occassions to sew clothes, which - as everyone who sews knows - is a time consuming hobby. In a round about way, the time it takes to make clothes is what has brought me to blog-world today.

This Thursday, April 24th, will mark exactly one year since a building collapsed on 3,122 people in Savar, Bangladesh. The people inside were garment workers, making clothing that would be sold on high streets around the world. On April 23rd, inspectors found cracks in the building and recommended evacuation and immediate closure. However, the garment manufacturers were ordered back to work the next day, with the threat of one months wages being withheld if they didn't attend. 1,129 people died in the collapse.

For Carry Somers, director of a fair trade accessories brand, this disaster was horrifying, unsurprising and most importantly a call to arms. She decided to create Fashion Revolution day, with the intention of "turning fashion into a force for good."

"Fashion Revolution Day says enough is enough."

This year, they are focussing on the question "Who made your clothes?" and asking people to wear one item of clothing inside out. The purpose of this is to raise awareness of the day with friends and colleagues, and to Tweet at companies asking them if they know the full story of their production chains.

In this post, I expose the inside of my clothing in honour of Fashion Revolution Day.

For someone that sews her own clothes, "Who made your clothes?" is an easy question to answer. She knows she was the one who cut the fabric and painstakingly joined the pieces together one by one until they built a whole. The seamstress is in charge of almost the whole chain of production.

The Fashion Revolution website states "At the moment of purchase, most of us are unaware of the processes and impacts involved in the creation of a garment." This is of course not true for the seamstress. She know intimately the processes that made a garment. Sometimes they are frustrating processes, as she wades her way through elusively illustrated instructions. Sometimes they are wholly satisfying processes, through which she learns something new. She knows the impacts of the creation of her garments. Most probably, a neglected social life!

My outfit here (worn inside out) is almost fully homemade. The leopard print sweater is self-drafted, the candy stripe top is made from a sewing pattern (Sinbad & Sailor's brilliant Dove Fitted T pattern) and the trousers are a sort of Frankenstein's monster that evolved through a fraught and laborious construction process.

So here is the story of my outfit, which I believe I know inside out. I made this sweater up as I wanted to experiment with raglan sleeves. I based it on a very old Uni Qlo jumper I already have, which I love the shape of even though it's three sizes too big for me.

I actually made it without the help of my silent friend here, but she likes to have her photo taken.

I bought the fabric for the trousers in one of those Liberty-print packets you find in a lot of fabric shops in Shepherd's Bush. I liked the snakeskin design so much I didn't actually feel the fabric, assuming it would be a sort of medium to light weight cotton. When I unpacked it at home, it was so flimsy and thin you could see through it - totally unsuitable for slim fitting trousers.

Unwilling to give up on my snakeskin-trouser-vision, I spent a few hours with a hot, steaming iron applying fusable interfacing. This is why the inside of my trousers is black! The interfacing is 100% cotton so has a lovely soft feel and has really transformed the properties of the original fabric. 

The candy stripe top is made from a fabric that cost me just £1.50 a metre from Ridley Road market in Dalston. This leads me to the first reason why I am not the self-satisfied seamstress as described above, who can answer the question "Who made your clothes?" with a wonderful inner glow. One of the three recommendations made by Fashion Revolution Day is:


Who made the fabric with which I make my clothes? This must have been woven by someone, somewhere in the world (though actually it is so synthetic feeling I imagine it being created by someone with a big spatula spreading out thin layers of molten plastic like a  pancake then peeling them up and winding them onto the roll). Of course, cheap doesn't necessarily mean that someone was exploited to make this - it could be a manufacturers cast off - but without any sort of label, how am I supposed to know?

It is easy to fall in love with fabric. Despite its plasticky texture, I love this fabric so much I laid a piece of it out in my boyfriend's orange velvet lined keyboard case, and just admired it sitting there, like a fabric shrine.

Of all the fabric I own though, I only know the origins of two pieces, as they came to me through Offset Warehouse, the only fabric shop I know of that believes in supplying ethical fabric.

It's amazing that most of us do forget that the clothes we wear are made by humans, not machinery. 

One of the lovely things about homemade clothes is the process of error and recovery that is evident in the finished piece. I make mistakes when I'm sewing all the time, often because what I'm making is a one off and I'm learning how to make it as I go.

If you look closely at my top, you can see a raised rectangular patch at the bottom corner of one of the openings. The iron I was using at the time, which I do consider evil, melted all the way through the fabric so I had to mend my garment before it was even finished.

The level of frustration I felt at this mistake was but a gentle raindrop compared with the storm of vexation that I was about to face. The trouser pattern I began with was fairly detailed, with built in front pockets, double welt pockets at the back and a fly. This is the beautiful fly I constructed.

When I got to the fitting stage, the trousers were so big at the waist no amount of pleats or darts, or extra deep side seams could reduce them enough in size to stay on my body. The only way forward was to unpick everything. This basically felt like getting a big axe and chopping down a house I had just finished building, but without the satisfaction of swinging a big axe.

I was very much not up for repeating all the toil, so I decided to salvage what I could of the pieces and plough ahead with simple pocketless, flyless trousers. This caused some weird issues with my crotch area, which I shared with the good people of the internet, who offered me advice on what to do!

I am pretty proud of that exposed zip. I followed this excellent Pattern Runway tutorial as I'd never done one before.

 But finally... the result of all that fiddling. Not a perfect crotch area..... but good enough to satisfy me!

Time.... time... time. All this sewing took a lot of time! I reckon it probably took me around 30 hours to make these three pieces of clothing. This is the second reason I can't answer smugly the question "Who made your clothes?" I can't fully opt out of the fashion industry.  Not only do I not have the time but I don't have the skills. I love a good jumper, but if you gave me a pair of knitting needles I would probably try and use them to play the drums.

The time it takes to make clothes is truly why I believe sewing is an important part of the ethical fashion movement. Through sewing garments for ourselves, we come to appreciate - really appreciate - that building something from scratch takes time. When I first started DIYcouture, I articulated this in my head as 'method acting for solidarity.' Maybe that is cheesy, maybe it sounds like bulls*!&t, but I do feel that by going through the process of making clothing step by step, I can never forget that when I buy a piece of clothing, someone else - or maybe many people - have been through this too.

It is my choice to make clothes. I love my sewing machine, I love creating a wearable garment from an untouched swathe of fabric, I love problem solving to make a project work. This is my choice.

I'll proudly be wearing my clothes inside out on Fashion Revolution day. Maybe I'll wear something homemade, or maybe I'll wear something from a high street brand and use the opportunity to ask them if they know the story of their own production line. In a way, sewing clothing is an act of removing oneself from the international chains that create and market clothing,  an act of non-participation. I can't remove myself completely, but perhaps as a consumer I can contribute to positive change.

"We need to reconnect through a positive narrative, to understand that we aren't just purchasing a garment or accessory, but a whole chain of value and relationships."

Here is my homemade outfit the right way round. Just as the sun went in, I got a visitor!

This is my neighbour's cat Polly, short for Polydactyly as she has an extra toe on all four of her paws!

If you would like to know the story behind a piece of clothing you own, wear it inside out on Thursday April 24th and Tweet a picture of yourself to the company who manufactured it, with the hashtag #insideout

 To find out about more ways to get involved with Fashion Revolution Day, check out their website.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Fabric free-for-all for Londoners

I'm planning a big fabric give away session as I need to cut down on my embarrassingly large fabric collection. This will be a physical give away happening in the 3D real world, and probably a bit of a social session too.

Stitchers of London! If you are interested do email me on diycouture [@] for the details.

This is all that needs to go. I would love it to go to good homes where it can fulfil its destiny.

Rosie xx

Sewing reflection; a year of personal projects

I began this year with a lot of fabric and a lot of ideas about what I would like to make for myself. Trying to maintain an element of realism, I wrote out what I thought was a moderate list of sewing projects I would be able to complete in 2013.

The year has truly flown by. I have been buried in a massive freelance project for the last four months (hence the lack of blog posts) and was in denial about Christmas right up until it happened. At the beginning of December I read Kathryn's post about her impressive year in sewing and started to feel a little glum that my accomplishments were so few.

Since then, I've been gathering mental evidence of the things I have made this year and realised that they do in fact add up to a list, even if it doesn't quite match the one I initially wrote down when 2013 was shiny, fresh and new. Inspired by Karen's post about her shirt achievement, I decided to record here the things I've made this year, as a sort of visual reminder.

My major sewing resolution for 2013 was to make and wear a dress, which I ticked off quite early in the year in honour of my sister's wedding ceremony. More about that here.

My sister also had a separate wedding party, for which of course I felt I must make a whole new outfit. I self-drafted a shirt from some beautifully crazy fabric I got in Walthamstow. I was so proud of myself for calculating extra fabric for the front overlap, so that the pattern would match, but I forgot to add extra to the collar stand. The results of this error are clearly shown in this photo - wonky collar alert!

This photo can also be found under the encyclopaedia entry, "The face of a vegetarian when surprisingly confronted with a roasted animal."

Later that spring, I spent more time making this cloak than I have ever spent on any other handmade garment. And look! I haven't finished it! I felt quite disappointed with my lack of pattern matching, so lost the heart to add buttons. Looking at the cloak now I don't think it's so bad. Adding buttons will go on my 2014 list of things to do.

With the weather still fairly cold, I whipped up a sort of long sleeved vest, based on a body suit I have. I do wear this every now and then but still haven't finished the neckline as I was a little baffled about how to do so. I think I'm going to make some bias binding from the same fabric. Any suggestions from those of you experienced in the ways of stretch would be most welcome.

When the hot weather struck I discovered I had no appropriate clothing and got into making shorts. As well as the two pairs documented here, I made this plain ol' black pair, which I wore almost every day on holiday in Portugal.

Having developed a small obsession with the colour lime green, I started a fourth pair of shorts in this zingy shade, but sadly they remain unfinished. Another project for my 2014 list.

In summer I also made a dress for my colleague Patricia. We sit next to each other in the Bag Books workshop, usually wearing dirty jeans and oversized t-shirts with our hair covered in sawdust, though it is not unusual for Patricia to accompany this look with a pair of six inch stilettos.

She sketched out a picture of her fantasy dress - which she envisioned in red - and I decided to take up the challenge and make it for her.

I exercised my artistic license along the way and it emerged without a spot of red to be seen. The dress is a Dr Frankenstein mash-up of the By Hand London 'Charlotte Skirt' pattern and Vogue V8240 with a self-drafted mega peplum for good measure.

Patricia and I have very different tastes and ways of dressing and it was a lot of fun to make something to suit her style rather than my own.

I Autumn, my friend Alastair got married and I decided to knuckle down and make a dress for the occasion. I had no spare time so made this tiny, seasonally inappropriate number on my lunch breaks at work.

When the wedding date arrived it was a cold, dark, windy London night and wearing an exotic mini-dress seemed nothing but absurd, so I opted for trousers. Hopefully this will come in handy in the Indian summer of 2014 that I predict we will have!

In summer, I promised Offset Warehouse that I would make a top using some of their beautiful African fabric. This is one of the many projects that I struggled to find time for and have only just completed it. There will be a tutorial for this simple summery piece on their blog soon.

I made the trousers earlier this year, also using fabric from Offset Warehouse, so I'm pleased to say this outfit is 100% ethical and 100% homemade.

With Christmas undeniably looming into view I got to work on presents. I made this pair of trousers for my sister from a vintage pattern. They came out absolutely enormous at first so I had to take off a lot of fabric at the side seams. I plan to make these for myself but need to spend a bit of time working on sizing before hand.

I also downloaded Tilly's 'Mathilde Blouse' pattern and made it for my Mum. Though I have the Sinbad & Sailor 'Dove Fitted T' pattern sitting on my computer, this is the first time I've got together the gumption to actually go ahead and use a Pdf sewing pattern. I must say, I really enjoyed the experience.

This is what it looked like at the beginning...

... and this is what it emerged as in the end : ) What a lovely Christmas fairy! I turned the tucks into pleats instead and also used binding to finish off the bell shaped sleeves, rather than gathering them into more traditional blouse cuffs.

I'm happy to say my Mum felt right at home in the top. Thank you Tilly!

Finally, the project to end all projects; my winter coat. I can't even remember when I started working on this it is so long ago, but slowly, slowly, the monster is rising up from a leopard print swamp.

I'm aiming to make this a super warm beast that fairly cooks me alive it is so warm, so I have added an interlining made of micro fleece. It's almost too much for my poor little machine to handle, but together we are just about managing to push onwards. I hoped to have this finished by the stroke of midnight tonight, but I still have a full lining and button holes to go. Hopefully, this will be the first project I complete in the new year.

 So, thank you for inspiring me to reflect Karen and Kathryn. It is so easy to charge onwards without a lingering backwards glance, but with all this retrospection, I am now actually rewarding myself with a pat on the back rather than castigating myself for not achieving my goals!

I already have a mental list of sewing projects to complete in 2014, and I look forward to ticking some of them off as well as making things that right now I have yet to imagine.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

An adventure in DIY fashion

 A couple of years ago it came to my attention that Basso & Brooke, the super cool clothing brand famous for their bold and brilliant prints, were running a dressmaking workshop. The workshop involved a champagne breakfast, a morning spent designing a digital print and the afternoon spent sewing the printed fabric into a dress. How exciting, I thought, a catwalk brand opening up their processes and inviting people to make their own 'versions' of the brand's signature garment, truly from scratch. How ambitious, I thought too, to fit all this into a day, after consuming champagne for breakfast!

Most full-day sewing workshops in London cost somewhere around the £100 mark, but when I looked at the price of the Basso & Brooke workshop, I did a double take. It cost £3,800.  In a roundabout way, that moment spawned the fabric design competition that I ran with The People's Print earlier this year, and blogged about here. The idea was to conduct a vast experiment into totally bespoke, totally accessible clothing.

Lou Davis - Indian Adventure
Amelie Regrepsillik - Adventures can be found everywhere
Rachel St - Deep Sea Mountian Goat
This experiment has been an adventure from start to finish. We were overwhelmed by the number of people who made dazzlingly creative patterns and entered them into the competition. I hope everyone that contributed enjoyed their own adventures in collage. You can see all the entries here. Above are three designs that I personally loved. I would love to make a shirt in any of these fabrics.

After much deliberation, we picked three designs that we felt best met our original brief.

I was hoping that I could tie the three fairly disparate digital prints together with styling and accessories. A key inspiration was Mat Maitland's animation for Kenzo, where animal prints mix with psychedelically coloured patterns. If you haven't seen this video, watch it now, you won't regret it.

So I could decide on the appropriate fabrics to get printed and exactly how much of each to order, I dropped the designs into illustrations then sent the files off to be printed at Be Fab BeCreative.
It was very exciting to receive the package of fabrics. The designs looked so much more lively on beautiful, bouncing woven fibres as opposed to a back lit computer screen.

The first fabric I cut into was the 'Underworld Discovery' print, drawn and collaged by Momoko Fukuhara. I did my very best to match the patterns. I like to think that May Martin, judge of The Great British Sewing Bee, would be proud of me!

Spot the pleated skirt! This is the 'Wild Pink Desert' design by Clemence Riviere.

I made leopard print bias binding for the neckline of the grecian dress.

The collection was slowly coming together.

I introduced some Kenzo-esque elements to the clothes by endowing the cropped cape with tiger print innards...

...and the hoody with a zebra print lining.

This is the wildest of the three designs as you can see. It is called 'I have no fear of heights' and was made by Kerrie Curzon, who is actually a friend of mine from school. I have to say, I didn't influence the choosing of this design at all as I was conscious of my connection with Kerrie. I let Melanie and Emma at The People's Print choose their top designs first and this came up in all their selections. What a corker!

The bright, almost lime-tinged yellow really influenced my styling for the shoot. Right after I took this picture the world grew dark, the sky rumbled and the heavens opened to tip rain upon London. Surely this is proof of the awesome power of design.

I jazzed up a few props for the photo shoot. This chair cost £5 from a cake shop on my road that very sadly closed it's doors and needed to offload all it's candy pink furniture.

I used heavy duty paint to give it some zebra stripes.

My sewing room became something of a prop cupboard for a short time. 

To push the theme of adventure that we had given our collage competition, I had decided to create three worlds in which to set the shoot; desert, jungle and sky. I made clouds for the sky scene using pillow stuffing and foam board.

Here are the fluffy white clouds in my back yard.

Who wants white clouds when you can have pink clouds?

I can't claim any kind of artistic originality for making these clouds. I actually got the idea from my place of work, Bag Books. The workshop manager there, Sophie, has a very creative sculptor's brain and invented a candyfloss page for our story about a trip to the fairground. We paint the stick with a candyfloss scented oil for a truly olfactory experience. 

I also made a cactus with a little help from Bag Books. I used the ban saw there to cut out a shape from forex, which is a sort of thick plastic sheeting.

I made the spikes out of black cardboard and stuck them on with double sided tape.

And finally; shoot day. I pinned fabrics to the wall and floor to create a pattern overload. My model is Charlie George, a dancer who I spotted whilst she was blindfold drawing at a zine fair. If you are curious about this event, click here! I must say it is much easier to ogle potential models when they are blindfolded, though whether this is ethical I'm not sure!

Once again, Bag Books influenced the shoot. I love the fabric we use to make giraffe necks for our story about the zoo, so bought some of my own online. When it arrived it was a lot smaller than I imagined it would be!

I took some of the pictures myself and some (the better ones) were taken by Hailey Ford, who's lovely photography you can see here.

Searching for a drop of water in the desert.

Below, Charlie is posing like a cactus whilst wearing the DIYC tulip skirt and shrug (instructions for the shrug will be available online one of these days, when I find the time to tidy them up).

This shrug looks quite good I think, but it's made of a hideous fabric, entirely covered in beads that are glued onto the base textile. This was extremely hard to sew and left tiny beads all over my house. I don't usually bitch about fabric, but I've seen this stuff on sale in a few fabric shops in London and would like to warn off anyone who is tempted. The remnants of this beast have been banished to my basement.

We conducted a white-wall shoot alongside the 'scenes' shoot to get some nice clean images of the fabric designs. It feels good to pose like a cactus!

Clemence's 'Wild Pink Desert' collage includes an image of her sister, looking though a huge pair of binoculars.

I wanted to include some binoculars in the shoot but couldn't find any, so made some out of cardboard, sticky back plastic and a black and white picture of a desert.

I also painted a white pattern onto these wedges in an effort to leave no surface un-decorated. If Charlie would have let me tattoo leopard print onto her skin I probably would have done it.

Sadly, I didn't make this transparent raincoat, I got it on eBay from China!

So the adventure concluded, with the DIY prints incorporated into DIY outfits up on the DIYcouture website to serve as DIY inspiration.

For anyone keen to design their own fabric, the great tutorial by The People's Print is up online and free to download. Spoonflower and BeFab are both accessible printing companies, working their hardest to provide short-run fabric printing services to individuals. Making 100% bespoke clothing is a great adventure.

And just for fun...