Saturday, 27 May 2017

Candy Memphis Kalle

Spoonflower, the pioneering custom on-demand fabric printing website, are now shipping from a factory in Berlin. They got in touch to ask if I'd like to help them promote this, which meant I would get to use some of their fabric for free, and of course I said yes as I love fabric and I love Spoonflower. I've bought fabric 3 times from Spoonflower before, when they only shipped from the US. The drawbacks to the fabric travelling across the Atlantic were shipping cost, a lengthy wait for the fabric to arrive and uncertainty over whether a customs charge would be whacked on at the border, making your fairly costly but beautiful and unique fabric suddenly embarrassingly and bank breakingly expensive. Now they're shipping from Europe, custom charges are a thing of the past and shipping is swift and affordable. I am still wilfully ignoring the fact that the puny island I live on will soon be severed from the European collective. For now, I'll rejoice in Spoonflower's European base!

My boyfriend actually got me some Contrado vouchers for Christmas, and I'm mentally cooking up my own fabric designs to spend those on. What's great about Spoonflower is the huge bank of designs available through their site, as a million zillion people use it as a platform to create and sell fabric. I decided to dig into this world of user-generated creativity and pick something to print. I wanted to choose something subtle as I was thinking of making a work-suitable jumpsuit. Here are the final 9 I whittled it down to after about 5 hours (not an exaggeration) of research.

And yes, you may note that two of the designs are a lot less 'subtle' than the others, and that the one at the top right might be considered the very opposite of subtle. That one is called 'Candy Memphis' and it's a design by Season Of Victory. I couldn't resist including it - it almost feels like a waste picking subtle designs on Spoonflower - and everyone on Instagram seemed to love it too!

I thought it would be a bit over-the-top to make a jumpsuit out of it though. I'd probably feel more like a clown than usual, so I decided to make the Kalle Shirt Dress which Heather at Closet Case released around the time I was choosing my fabric. I bought the Pdf version so I'd have it instantaneously.

My cats love sewing, especially the pattern cutting part.

I ordered 2 yards of Spoonflower's Cotton Poplin Ultra, which was the amount the pattern advised I would need for my size, but as you lose a couple of inches either side as it's not printed on, it was touch and go as to whether I'd actually have enough. I cut the yoke and all the collar pieces on the cross grain as I didn't have enough width to cut them on the straight grain. I loved using every last bit of fabric, I'm usually an awful over-buyer so it felt really good to be left with only about 20cm square at the end of this project.

The construction of the Kalle shirt dress is brilliant. The only exposed seams are the two side seams, which I sewed with my overlocker. All the others are concealed, so I used my regular machine for the rest. The curve at the bottom hem is so dreamy. I actually would like to make this dress in a plain fabric now to really bring out the construction details.

I had some issues with the collar. I know that I prefer fairly skinny collars and I thought both the collar and the collar stand looked quite deep, so I sewed them with extra deep seam allowance to slim them down slightly.

Once I'd actually attached them and tried the dress on for the first time, even with my reductions in depth the collar sat so high up on my throat that my boyfriend suggested I looked like some kind of crazy art nun. I think this collar might be drafted high as you're meant to wear the top of the shirt open. I like to button mine all the way up though! I have really square shoulders and I think this definitely contributed to the position. I should probably do square shoulder adjustments on all shirts I make - my shoulders literally don't slope downwards at all which is not the model woman shape that patterns are drafted for - but who can be bothered with that!?

Anyway, I couldn't live with the position of the collar so I unpicked, cut the fronts of the neckline deeper and reattached. It did mean I had had hardly any ease as I'd made the neckline bigger through trimming, but you barely notice the little gathers that caused. Next time, I'm going to extend the width of the collar stand and cut the neckline much deeper. A simple hack.

I went out to wander round my neighbourhood and take pictures of the dress this morning. I was feeling quite awkward as there's nowhere near my house that isn't overlooked by at least 8 buildings.

As I stood uncomfortably in front of my tripod, a gentleman in double denim strolled by staring at me curiously and asked what I was doing. I explained that I'd made the dress and was going to blog about it, and I invited him to join me in a photo. His all-blue outfit perfectly matched the wall we were standing next to.. His name is Melbert, and here he is.

He cheered me up a lot and helped me throw caution to the wind, so thank you Melbert!

I made my dress with a popover placket, rather than a full placket. I love this design! The construction is really fun and explained very well in the instructions. I finished my placket with three pink plastic Prymm press studs. This is my new favourite fastening. I may never sew a button hole again.

Spoonflower's Cotton Poplin is nice and crisp but not too stiff. I didn't bother putting any interfacing in the collar or stand as I thought the fabric would hold it's shape well enough without it - and it did! It's perfect shirting fabric really, the only thing I hold against it is that wrinkles don't fall out of it, but that's the case with all cotton isn't it. Will I ever find a balance between fabric that doesn't wrinkle at all but feels like a carrier bag, and lovely natural fibres that wrinkle when you look at them? Oh my woes. Sigh.

Here you can see a good strong breeze whipping some folds into my Kalle.

The Kalle is great for strolling about it. I love the relaxed, billowy shape. It's super comfy and kind of feels like you're not wearing any clothes at all, which is my favourite kind of clothing.

House plant envy.

I'll have one of these flowers instead.

Hello weird grey wall, tell me your secrets. Here you can see the lovely broad box pleat at the back of the Kalle, which gives the dress the pleasing volume.

I love my dress, so big thanks to Spoonflower for existing and enabling me to get hold of this person's awesome, unique fabric design. In a moment of overwhelming Halle Berry-at-the-Oscars-like emotion I'd also like to extend my thanks to Tim Berners-Lee for inventing the world wide web without which Spoonflower could not exist. Thank you Tim. I'll be wearing this dress loads this summer and I hope to add more Kalle's to my wardrobe soon

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The most ethical sweater on the planet?

I made this sweater out of the most responsible fabric on the planet. It's amazing what fabric can be made from. It can be made from recycled wood chips, it can be made from spoilt milk, apparently it can be made from bananas, pineapples and coconuts. This fabric is made from plastic bottles that have been thrown away on on the streets of Haiti - which doesn't have a waste collection system - picked up, transformed into thread, then woven into a textile. 

This genius process has been conceived by Thread International, a Pittsburgh-based startup founded by Ian Rosenberger in the wake of the Haitian earthquake of 2010, and he states "I started Thread because I believe fabric can end poverty." Ian visited Hiati and facing mountains of discarded plastic bottles, wrote in his diary "Maybe this trash could be turned into something good." 

He also recognised that transparency was - as it still is - really hard to find in textile supply chains. I like this quote from Ian:

"When you buy a piece of clothing, way more people than you might think work very hard to get it to your door. A lot of attention is paid to the last mile of this process and making sure your stuff makes it to you quickly and accurately, but it’s the first mile of your clothes-where the materials for your goods are grown, collected, and sourced-that’s probably more important. These parts of supply chains have millions of people in them and they, for the most part, are still ignored by pretty much everybody."

As people that make our own clothes, I think we have a much greater awareness of the labour that goes into producing a garment. I personally pursued sewing with renewed fervour in around 2005 as I increased my knowledge of global supply chains and exploitative employment practices in major brands and decided that sewing my own was a way of opting out of spending money on companies that consciously practice injustice as a way of increasing profit. 

Thread state on their website, "Clothing isn't born in factories. It begins as a raw material sourced by real people." As sewists, we are confident that our clothing wasn't born in a factory. It was born through our own labour we believe, but of course, we aren't at the very start of the supply chain.

I love fabric shopping in London, and part of the enjoyment comes from the feeling that I am part of an old school industry. Measurement is sometimes done in yards, there are no electronic tills, instead sums are scribbled out in biro on pieces of thin paper. Nothing has a price, you have to ask and can then challenge the figure given. But it's unlike most other shopping I do (which is basically food shopping!) There is little to no labelling. Information is all verbal, and the kind of questions I ask are 'is this a cotton poly blend?' not 'where did this come from?' Let's face it, as a fabric buyer we don't have much knowledge of or control over where our fabric came from.

But I know exactly where this fabric came from.

It came from here.

I picked a plain black sweater fleece from Thread's swatch pack of beautifully soft jersey's, strong canvases and denims (check out their full fabric range here).

And this is one of the softest, warmest sweater fleeces I have ever come across. In fact it has an organic feel to it, the quality is so good, which is weird when you think that a plastic bottles must be one of the most inorganic objects on earth.

Unfortunately, in what I consider classic Rosie-style, I've moved into a phase of sewing plain black clothes at exactly the same time I have acquired two mostly-white cats.

I decided I wanted to make a cosy sweater with a dramatic sleeve. Something very much like this...

But with a hint of the Cape Sleeved Top from my book.

Here's my rough sketch of the intended outcome. Just a simple drop shoulder sweater with a big fat ruffle added on each side at the sleeve cap!

I decided to make the ruffles out of full circles for maximum, with the centres cut out to make donut shapes. I roughly traced round an old jumper to make the pattern, and I extended the shoulders so the 'drop' would be lower and the ruffle wouldn't sit too high up. To get the ruffle size I measured the full distance around the top edge of the sleeve after sewing it into a tube and found a bowl just a little bit bigger than that, which I used to mark out the central hole of my donuts.

The other cat decided to get involved at this point. I feel I must credit everyone who participated in the making of this sweater!

I think if I made the sweater agin I'd taper the ruffle, so the bit that hangs under the arm is shallower than the bit that hangs on the outside of the arm.

Having sewn a line of straight stitch all the way around each circle 1cm in from the edge to act as a pressing guide, I hemmed each circle with a simple single turned hem. I constructed the main body of the sweater, then sewed the donuts into place, gathering slightly, then I added the sleeves. If anyone wants me to draw diagrams to show the construction process do let me know!

I left the house to shoot my creation with the goal of getting to this patchy black wall, which I pass whenever I take the tube. There are some streets in London that seem perfectly angled to channel and amplify all wind in the vicinity, and this happens to be one. Not good for shooting enormous ruffled sleeves!

It was generally a windy morning, so there were a lot of wild shots with ruffles blown every which way. I like this one as I feel I express something of the spirit of Bjork milliseconds before she punched that journalist in the face. Only my enemy is the wind.

I call this one 'Goth Behind A Tree.'

I'm still new in my 'hood so I'm getting to know the streets. It's not the fanciest of the London boroughs, but there are some excellent walls and doors.

My jet black wings make me feel pretty witchy. Partly I think it's the dark art of transformation involved in sewing that makes it so compelling - that a flat fabric can be transformed into a wearable construct. We know how many hours, broken pins and swear words we put into that transmutation, but when the garment is complete it feels almost like we waved a wand.

And the transformation from discarded plastic container to a flexible, breathable fibre does feel like a kind of magic. I am wearing a drink container that was chucked away in Haiti. It's metamorphasised so many times since it was picked up off the street. It's been transformed by those that collected it from a rejected object into a valuable resource. It's been transformed by those that processed it from a hard plastic into a soft fibre and that fibre has helped transform the lives of all those involved in the process. Finally, I have cut up their product and turned into a piece of clothing that's being regularly worn.

Thread say on their website that they "take trash and turn it into jobs and useful stuff people love." I'm really glad I found Thread and got to make some useful stuff off the back of their wizadry. I hope they can spread their alchemy far and wide through the fashion and home sewing industries.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Hands of Horror

I finally turned my custom made fabric into a piece of clothing! And I love it! I posted about my trip to Contrado - the fabric printing factory in North London - last April. It only took me unttil November to cut into the fabric and 3 months more to show you the finished item. I would say 7 months sitting in the stash is actually a fairly quick turn around in my cycle of fabric purchasing and making. I've recently used a blue sweater jersey that I have no recollection of purchasing, which I think must mean it's been in the stash for more than 10 years. Crikey.

Anyway. I wanted to make a shirt as I had in mind replicating the position of the hands of this collar broach by Buried Diamond. I'd already used this 60s shirt pattern Simplicity 5284...

 ...redrafting the front pieces to include an extra 3 inches of fabric on each side, which I gathered where they were joined to the yoke. I found the bottom edge of the shirt a bit blunt and I wanted to lengthen it and add a curve rather than a squared off hem. 

But I only had 1.5m of fabric to work with, and that strip was only 1m wide! I also had a very distinct repeat print, and I wanted to do my best to make it match across the front. So, the pattern placement puzzle began.

I found I didn't have enough to add extra width - I actually didn't even have enough to add enough for seam allowance at the centre front  - but I had enough length to draft an extra scoop at the bottom.

I loved my fabric when I saw it come out of the printer and I loved it even more when I could see it cut into the pieces that would form a garment. Argh! I possibly love this more than all other fabric. Sorry all other fabric. This is my scratch sewing space that I threw together as a priority after moving to a new flat in September.

Here you can see my work around for not having enough fabric to hem the vertical front edges... I encased them in bias binding! I also chickened out of doing real button holes as I got the terror that I'd mess up. The fabric is actually quite thick and has a high poly content and my needles were already objecting. So I went with hand sewn press studs. And I really messed up some of the hand sewing! I've now made a promise to myself that this is the last time I use press studs instead of real buttons. Gotta up that professionalism and step out of my fastening comfort zone.

And here is the finished shirt, which I love, despite a few flaws in the making including some gathers in one of the sleeve caps. I'm calling it the Hands of Horror shirt as a colleague said "Did you know you have a pair of bloody hands creeping up towards your throat?" 

Warning; I look pretty somber in all these photos as I took them on my communal roof terrace at 7am on a Monday, there was zero sunshine, I'd been up since 5am and I was worried one of my neighbours would come up for a cigarette and see me prancing around in front of a camera. My serious expression does not reflect my feelings about my shirt.

I love that pleat at the back and it gives the shirt a nice fullness. Look how white the British winter sky is! I am starting to forget that the sky is blue behind that solid wall of cloud.

Though here I am pretending I'm sunbathing, just so I don't forget how to do it.

I wear my Hands of Horror shirt once a week to work now, and sometimes I wear it on the weekend too. Typically I wear it with these velvet leggings that I also whipped up late in 2017 using this  amazing tutorial to self draft by Miranda at Live Free Creative.

The icing on the homemade outfit-cake is this Simplicity 1108 cardigan, another recent make that has become a wardrobe staple. I bought the fabric from Abakhan when I was on a work trip to Stoke-On-Trent. It's a really thick wooly stretch fabric. 

Inspired by the fabric, I looked for a cocoon-like cardigan pattern and came across Simplicity 1108. It's actually meant to be a kimono top made from chiffon or any other thin floaty fabric, but I decided to have a go with my super-thick wool. I was persuaded to press the 'buy' button when I saw Sew My Time's amazing version. 

It's a very simple batwing shape really. In fact you can imagine you are indeed bat woman when wearing an all-black version and standing on a roof.

Here's the full triple homemade combo; shirt, cardigan and leggings. I feel really proud when I wear this as it's head-to-toe made by me and when I add my homemade coat and scarf I am practically crying about the fact that sewing is so awesome. The leggings are made from an absolutely beautiful velvet jersey from Fabric Godmother. I cannot recommend this fabric enough. It sews up beautifully - I sewed it using my bog standard Janome sewing machine, before Santa (my Mum and Dad) got me an overlocker for Christmas - it feels lovely on the inside and my legs are so strokable it's sometimes a toss up between stroking the cats and my own legs.

I see many more plain black fabrics with interesting textures in my sewing future, as well as more boldly printed fabrics as my boyfriend bought me a voucher to spend at Contrado for Christmas. Woo hoo!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

DIY bikini

In classic me style, I'm writing a blog post about a homemade bikini when the last of the crispy orange leaves are being blown from the trees by cold winds in London and the mornings start with breath visible in frosty air. I'm hoping at least one person from the Southern Hemisphere is reading this and feeling it is seasonally appropriate.

Anyway. I made a bikini! I made it back in May and I have worn it a lot. Here I am wearing it in Spain in September.

The lycra was one of those spur-of-the-moment purchases that totally reordered my to-sew list. I saw it buried in a busy shelf at Dalston Mill when I went to buy some buttons there and I had to have it. It's kind of a galaxy marble print and I am a big fan of rocks and outer space so it couldn't be left behind. I hadn't planned on making myself swimwear until that moment but suddenly a bikini was on the cards.

I looked around at bikini patterns but decided to base the top on my good old Marks & Spencers one that I've been wearing for at least 6 years! I consider it to be perfect for my flat chest as it has secret sewn in cups as well as some tiny pleats that add volume. I bought some cups online but when they arrived I um-ed and ah-ed about whether I should sew them in or not. They were a little on the stiff side and it felt quite strange to be building myself fake boobs.

I've been very self-conscious about having a flat chest since I was a teenager and basically didn't develop breasts when all other girls did. It affected my posture and the clothes I chose to wear. Throughout my teenage years I would wear mega padded bras and I even tried taking some herbal pills that were supposed to make boobs bigger (yeah, obviously a scam but you'll try anything when you're 18 and feel like your body isn't good enough)

Then in my early 20s I saw a documentary on TV which totally changed my outlook. The whole thing consisted of women being interviewed about their relationship with their chests. Topless. There were women of all ages, shapes and sizes all with wonderful, unique boobs, some big, some wonky and some tiny like mine! This made me ease up on my self-boob-criticism. I decided I'd look for none-sculpted bikini inspiration. I really liked this simple one from & Other Stories above and got stuck in to trying to draft something similar.

I made a toile in some scrap fabric. It was way to small so I added some extra shape to the cups.

I printed off the Seamwork Magazine Dakota bikini bottoms but made a few adjustments. I took a couple of inches of the height thanks to Beth from Sew DIYs recommendation, and I cut to a wider size at the leg as my bum is surprisingly big for a small person.

I also took away some of the shape at the leg hole on the back and after cutting them out scooped out a lot at the front too. So... yeah this is almost totally different from the pattern!

I don't have an overlocker so I finished most of my edges with elastic and zig zag stitch.

I wore it first of all on my family holiday in Britain in May. There was an unheated outdoor pool and I took the bikini for a swim every day. But it really came into it's own in Spain. If you haven't been to Spain I highly recommend it. It looks like this:

And the view from our pool looked like this:

And sometimes like this!

The day we did our bikini photo shoot was the only day of the holiday where the sun hid behind the clouds and it actually started to rain. So this is one of the only sunny moments. (I fell in love with that tree.)

And here's a close up.

Oooooh you want to see the bikini, not the tree!

And the back. Oo look at that view. 

But bikinis are not meant for dry land, they're meant for under the water, so take a deep breath...

I'm proud of 'going natural' on the top and feel like an unstoppable mermaid in my bikini. My first foray into sewing swimwear has made me want to make more.

What are your favourite swimwear patterns?

Rosie xx