Sunday, 9 November 2014

Lifelong leopard print coat

I bought this vintage coat pattern many moons ago from Etsy. It sat inside my file labelled 'Sewing Patterns' for a few moons more, along with at least three other coat patterns I've acquired.


Then one day the sewing planets seemed to fall into alignmnent; it was as if a light on a switchboard next to this pattern and another next to a rusty leopard print fabric in my stash started flashing at the same time indicating the perfect match. So the plan to make this coat seemed to almost come into being without me and suddenly it was action stations.



As this was my chance to make a coat exactly the way I wanted it, I altered the pattern a little, changing the length and sketching out the position for zipped welt pockets.


This all happened so long ago I don't know where those socks are anymore.



You can see clearly in this photo that the leopard print fabric I'm using is actually corduroy, even though it feels more like a sort of super short fur or brushed suede on the outside.

I love vintage sewing pattern instructions. I find them more condensed but more comprehensive than in most modern big-label sewing patterns.


I transferred my markings for the pockets and followed Gertie's excellent video tutorial explaining how to construct a pocket with an exposed zipper. 

I added a layer of thick white fusible interfacing all over the coat for extra warmth. I also drafted very big pocket bags!


I actually messed up the sizing of the welt through total maths-brain-fail, so transformed it into a sort of double welt opening. My only regret is that I used white fabric as a facing which shows slightly at the edges. Doh!


As my leopard fabric was quite thin, I bought some microfleece from Plush Addict (bright pink - why not?) to act as a super warm interlining. On the coldest of winter days I wanted to feel like I was safely cocooned inside a Season 4 sleeping bag.

All these layers meant the seams were becoming pretty chunky and the furry corduroy had a tendency to melt when ironed at a high temperature, so I decided to double top stitch all my seams to force them to lie flat.


And for a while, that is as far as I got. The seasons changed, the end of the year arrived and I packed up and moved house with the coat unfinished.


Completing the coat was one of my priorities as soon as we landed in our new flat. If you look carefully here you can see the suggestion that I am sewing the lining in amidst unpacked boxes.


Since I knotted off the final painstaking hand stitch, my coat and I have had a whirlwind romance. We have been to the British seaside together in the middle of windy springtime storms.


 We ventured into the sea together, specifically so we could text my Mum and show her that we were in imminent danger of being plucked from the safety of land by lethal currents, though I'm pretty sure had this occurred my coat would have kept me alive. (NB For some reason Blogger is making the sky look really blue in this photo. It is actually a very British wintery grey!)


We have had many a pattern clashing adventure on London's extensive bus network.



We have scaled this city's walls (well, one really small wall that made me feel like I was standing on top of The Shard without a safety harness)


And even stumbled upon one humongous letter of the alphabet, tastefully decorated as if it were the inside of a girl's loo in a nightclub.


I am pretty happy with my coat. It seemed to take an age to make and as usual I tossed aside the notion of a toile long before I even opened the pattern envelope. Looking back, for a project as time consuming and built-to-last as this, making a toile would have been sensible. The darts that extend from the shoulder seam down towards the bust are definitely intended to accommodate a chest much larger than mine and I would have reduced these and moved them further towards the centre if I had experimented with fit first.

I am most happy with the enormous pockets. They are so large I can fit my wallet, keys and phone in one pocket and a book in the other, meaning I am hands free to climb walls/grapple with giant letters of the alphabet.


In fact the pockets are so big each one can comfortably carry a bottle of wine. This is a happy design accident!


I love the pleats at the neck line on the back of the coat.


And I'm pleased with how the collar sits at the front, though it is a bit twisted at the back and I had to hand sew the lower parts of the front lapel down as they were so bulky.


The back yard at my last flat was completely secluded. I guess I'm going to have to get used to taking photos with at least 20 neighbours overlooking my activities, though I am not especially comfortable with that!


Though my coat isn't shop-bought perfect, I foresee us spending many happy rotations of the earth around the sun together. I get so much pleasure from wearing it and am especially satisfied by the extras I added; the microfleece lining and the über deep pockets. I also learned a lot through making it and whenever I next embark on a coat project - hopefully in the far distant future - I will bring these valuable lessons to the project. All-in-all I think that a homemade coat = jacketsfaction guaranteed : )


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Pastel paddling pool party (without a paddling pool)

I've made a tonne of clothing for DIYcouture over the past few years, lots of it in pastel candy tones. I thought it would be fun to gather a bunch of friends together in the height of summer to create a balmy, soft-hued photo shoot. I had wanted to work with local photographer Victoria Siddle for a while, and when I showed her my mood board for the shoot she kindly agreed to be my lady behind the lense.

We looked at pictures together to try to form an idea of the images we wanted to create. We were hoping for something of the fun of this...


... the psychedelicness of this...

Image: David James. Clothing/styling: Ella Barton Buchanan

... and the dreamy, deep summer vibrations of this.

Image: Goodhood
First on my list of things to do was to create the right environment. I decided to hold the shoot in my back yard, which was pretty much a big dirty box made of bricks, lazily whitewashed probably more than a decade ago.

Still, it's rare to have outdoor space in London and the yard seemed to be crying out to be put to good use. I bought the biggest brush I could find...


...cycled to B&Q to buy paints and set about transforming this...


... into this.


Not far into the transformation process however, nature put everything on hold.

My boyfriend and I had been scattering birdseed in our yard for a few months, hoping to attract some local feathered wildife. In true London style, what we got was pigeons. A regular gang of five or six would wait expectantly on the wall to be fed every morning. One cold day, we spotted a little fluffy shape hunched up on the floor on the corner of the yard. It was a baby pigeon, probably just fledged, and we named him Humpy.

Humpy became a regular visitor and though he was small he had a huge personality. Namely, he was 'daft as a brush' as my aunt would say. He walked into other pigeons, he tripped on bits of vegetation, he sat in strange places where cats could easily get him and he seemed to prefer walking to flying. One day we noticed he had lost one of his eyes. Humpy did not seem to have the survival instincts that most wild animals are blessed with.

I had got about this far...



... when Humpy landed in the yard for a stroll. As I turned to replenish my paintbrush, he did a sudden burst of low flying and plopped himself right into my tub of yellow paint. I gasped. He flapped in the pot, dragged himself drunkenly from the tub, left a short burst of yellow footprints on the concrete, then sprayed the yard with paint speckles as he flew up to the wall.

Oh, Humpy!


This was quite distressing. I worried that he would dry and become trapped in his yellow coating, like a strawberry that's been dipped in chocolate. He tried to clean himself but really only managed to make his beak yellow.


Humpy stuck around for a while, weirdly close to the yellow bit of wall, as though he felt he could blend in there. I tried to catch him, thinking I could rub him down with a towel, but he hopped away, then he flew up to the top of a tall building next door and settled down on a ledge, his yellow breast conspicuous amongst the grey.

There was nothing I could do but keep painting.


Mmmm, delicious cyan.


I also had outfits to plan...


... and I couldn't resist the compulsion to make just a few more clothes. For the next couple of weeks, my floor mostly looked like this.


Until I had a full rack of clothing in pretty pastel shades.


I bought a trolley load of pineapples to add a tropical dimension to the scene.


I hadn't seen Humpy since the fateful paint-dipping day and was fearing the worst - I doubted nature would be kind to an eccentric misfit -  but just as I was putting the finishing touches to the pink panel...


...a familiar character returned. As you can see, Humpy had not learned much from his previous experience. He trundled right up to the pink paint pot with a look of curious longing in his eye. Luckily I had learned to nevermore leave a tub of paint without a lid.

I have never been happier to see a pigeon.


I borrowed a whale-shaped paddling pool as I was planning for everyone to get a bit wet, but it never made it into the shoot as we couldn't attach a hosepipe to our kitchen taps.

Actually there were quite a few things that didn't make it into the shoot - an inflatable purple dolphin, a homemade raspberry cake with white Maltesers on top and a bunch of peacock feathers. In typical fashion, I over-prepared just a bit!


Finally, a bit of serious pre-shoot ironing...


... an assignation of shoes...


... then the girls arrived and we were off. Here's Vicky, whipping things into shape in the first chaotic few minutes of the shoot.


It was a really hot day. I had bought an industrial sized canister of helium and filled eight horse shaped balloons, but within the first five minutes of them floating in the sunshine, to my horror they started to pop. It was a race against time to capture them.


Lauren - who manages The Papered Parlour studio - is wearing a pastel pink version of the tulip skirt. The waist edge is finished with bias binding, rather than an additional waistband as is described in the instructions.


I experimented with adding darts rather than pleats at the back of this skirt, to take away some of the fullness at the hips and create a lovely smooth curvaceous shape. I free-styled three darts on each side of the skirt


Here are the girls taking a break and looking at me as I demonstrate how I would like them to arrange themselves.


And here they are in position. It was much harder for them to pose on those narrow ledges in high heels than it was for me in flats.


Angela is wearing a version of the DIYcouture goddess dress, and she does naturally have something of the goddess about her. Instructions for making this simple dress are in the DIYcouture mega book.


Emma is wearing the DIYcouture grecian dress (instructions also in the mega book) with three rows of shirring elastic at the waist and a cheeky lace panel at the bottom. This is a super simple design that is very comfy to wear.


And here's Vicky trying to capture a moment with Chrissie. Vicky faced a lot of challenges in this shoot - working in a small space with strong shadows cast by the high walls, dealing with extreme heat,  and trying to arrange four people who are not used to modelling. At some points she was shooting from the top of the ladder with a towel over her head. I salute you Vicky.

I salute Chrissie too. It is harder to balance a pineapple on your head than you might imagine.


We did a quick outfit change and everyone applied suntan lotion. Emma is wearing a chiffon shirt made using Vogue 2634 as well as the DIYcouture skater skirt.


This version of the skirt has two layers, to add a bit of rah-rah flounce, and each edge is finished with a thick pastel coloured bias binding.


You can see the double layers of the skirt on the left here, though the star of the show is of course Angela in the gathered dress.


Here Lauren is wearing a skimpier version of the goddess dress.


How great is Lauren's hair?


Great!

As the sun finally started to wane, it was time for a final outfit change and a round of cocktails.


I did a bit of pineapple and furniture arranging. My knees bend in strange directions!

In this picture you can see a very cool cap kindly given to me by Zoe from Craft Candy. This is yet another thing that didn't make it into the shoot as it didn't seem to fit with all the dreamy pastel tones.


With the girls arranged just so by Vicky, who should make an appearance but the famous yellow pigeon! Angela gave Humpy a spontaneous respectful wave as he did a lap of honour over the yard.


Angela is not posing here, this is just a naturally graceful pose that Vicky happened to catch. Oh to possess such natural aplomb! She is wearing the wrap top, which will be a new set of free sewing instructions from DIYcouture. 

I've had some wonderful feedback from a group of great pattern testers and am working hard on the instructions at the moment, so fingers crossed they will be available before the summer is out.


A lovely moment of true giggles.


And one last group shot before the day was out.


Lauren is wearing a dip dye chiffon version of the pleated skirt. It has lots of little pleats to create a really full skirt.

Emma is wearing a full length jumpsuit, instructions for which are included in 'DIY Couture; create your own fashion collection.' Vicky liked this jumpsuit so much she took it home with her after the shoot.


All that fiddling and standing around was worth it for this shot, though I am kicking myself for not noticing that Chrissie's skirt needed ironing.


Chrissie is wearing a variation of the DIYcouture cape (instructions available in an individual booklet, or as part of the big book.) I experimented with the design by cutting both the front segments in half vertically and leaving part of the joining seam open, to make a hole for the arms to come through.

I also added sort of cheat rouleau loops (they're just skinny strips of fabric with the sides folded in and sewn down).


I sewed them to the right side of the fabric before I joined the outer to the lining, making a pretty, neat fastening.


We tried to get a shot of Chrissie spinning delicately in the cape but it wasn't happening. Spinning and looking composed is a skill I doubt many people have mastered.


It was much easier to get a composed shot of her by the wall.


So the day was over, everyone had places to be - most importantly Emma had to go and play a gig down the road with her band Witching Waves - so I got to decompress in the prettiest mess I could hope to be in.


I got so taken with some of the abandoned objects in the yard I did a little still life photo shoot myself.



A few months down the line, I've moved to a new flat that also has a back yard with huge potential...


... and one of our images has made it into the current issue of Mollie Makes magazine.


When we moved, we obviously had to say goodbye to our flock of wild pigeons, including Humpy. I like to think Humpy continues to flourish in his native environment, the pastel coloured yard.


We will always love you Humpy!