Thursday, 31 December 2015

Saying goodbye to 2015...

'Woman' by Willi Soukop R.A.
London, December 2015.

If there's one thing I've learnt about being in my 20s, it's that life is constantly characterised by being in a state of flux. The past two years were meant to be about staying in one place, trying to put down some roots. But restlessness is striking once more and the biggest news of 2016 is that I'm going to be moving to Stockholm for half a year. 

2015 has been a good year. I partied in Berlin with Francis, experienced rainy Midsomer in Gothenburg, made too many hats, and started a second degree. I played loads of gigs with my band, rediscovered my love of sewing,  got an awesome bike and developed very muscular legs. These are some of the good things; there have been tantrums and tears along the way, and at the moment I'm so broke it's not even funny!

I'm always making plans that I never seem to be able to entirely pull off: I get too distracted by the myriad of things to do, that I never quite seem to manage to finish. I stopped making new year's resolutions a few years ago; it seemed like just another to-do list that I wouldn't be able to finish. Life's a work-in-progress. 

One thing I loved about going back to university was the fact that my life got some structure and sense of purpose back. So some things that I know I will accomplish in 2016 are easy: get my Masters degree, live in another country, and learn another language. 

Instead of resolutions, I just want to implement some changes - things that I've chosen to do for once. 
My 2016 plans are:

+ To get up earlier

+ To stop wearing red and purple together

+ To get my Masters!

Right, back to my essay...

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Crochet blanket: candy, unicorn, rainbows...

Another home-made Christmas gift is this blanket, which I've been working on for several months. It started, like all my crochet projects, as a stash-busting exercise. However, as usual, I could only get so far with my leftovers, after using up every last scrap of DK weight, pastel-ish coloured yarns.  I also used doubled-up sock yarn and even some heavier aran weight yarns too, to try to push the scraps as far as possible. And as you can see, some of the colours aren't quite pastel either!

I decided quite early on that this wouldn't be a perfectly planned, Cath Kidson-esque blanket; but a far more home made feeling one, which much more character. So, although the majority of the yarns used are fuzzy wool blends, there is the odd (green) round of shiny cotton. Also many of the stripes are not perfect pairs (two rounds per colour, like in the centre); and even the rounds are not completed in only one colour, but are interrupted partway through. This is solely down to running out of yarn, and picking the closest I had available to the shade.

The blanket got fairly large before I had to admit defeat and buy some new balls of yarn to finish it. I wanted it to be an actual usable size for an adult, not just a tiny lap or child-sized blanket. Unfortunately due to fluorescent lighting in the shop, the yarns I chose turned out to be quite a bit darker and stronger-coloured in real light/life. You can notice this in the blue section on the outside. As Christmas by this point was fast-approaching, I didn't have any time to exchange them in the shop; and cranked out the rest of the blanket with a week's commuting on the tube.

I finished it off with a wavy shell edging, but as I was so last-minute this year there was no time to block it and get it dry. I do regret not being able to wet block it, as this would have made the blanket look much better. Nonetheless, my sister was very pleased with it, and the family very impressed.


My teenage sister is currently demonstrating conflicts between super-girly-cute-rainbow-unicorn-pastel-glitter-candy love, and emo-goth-indie-everything-black-and-grey-and-lots-of-eyeliner. Obviously this blanket is a nod to the former. It's OK to subscribe to more than one style though, and the teen years are prime for experimentation in looks. Now she can be all cosy, too.


Sunday, 27 December 2015

Christmas makes for toddlers

Hello & Merry Christmas! Hope that everyone has managed to have a relaxing, food-filled festive season.

Normally I am one of those people who gets all the Christmas presents in November and wraps them up in the week before Christmas. I prefer it that way - it means I'm organised, don't have to keep thinking about it, and managed to avoid all the Christmas shopping rush and stress at the end. But for one reason or another, this year didn't turn out like that at all, and everything was super last-minute. My partner and I only bought a Christmas tree on the 23rd, and I was actually finishing off a final present on Christmas day!

I made quite a few things this Christmas (and just about managed to take a few photos along the way...) including a couple of things for two toddlers in the family. These were planned-but-badly-timed last-minute projects, made from my stash. Thank goodness children are small!

These adorable shorts were made from a 1970s sewing pattern that I don't know how appeared in my stash. The fabric is really lovely, almost like deckchair fabric but much lighter. I bought it when I was 17 or so (7 years ago!) to make a 1950s sun suit; however I didn't buy enough fabric so it's been hoarded in my stash ever since.

Isn't the pattern just too darling?! I was actually hoping to make the trousers, but again didn't really have enough fabric. So, the shorts it was! The braces are attached with buttons, and I sewed extra ones on so that they can be lengthened in the future. No wedgies for Baby.

The shorts were quick to make, just zipping down the seams on my overlocker and doing rolled hems for the waistband and leg hems. I used a really lovely, heavy grey twill tape from my stash for the button loops and brace stabiliser. Even though you never see it, it just gives such a nice effect when contrasted with that lovely red stripe. It's finished with a hanging loop of gingham ribbon to mark the back.

I celebrated Christmas with my family on the 24th, and spent the whole dinner jumping up and down, excited for the Baby (not really a baby any more...) to open the present and wear them! Luckily he's not yet at the age of being self-conscious and cool, and was more than happy to prance around all evening in his cotton 'lederhosen', tee hee!  Above, he is eating a chicken drumstick with his mum & dad there.

I was paranoid that the braces would be too short but they were actually a smidge long, and kept falling off his shoulders. This is good though, it means that he'll be able to wear them in the summer. (Although at 14 °C lately, it's hardly winter weather!)

I also made this striped T-shirt for another toddler in the family - who thanks to this handy chart I just worked out is my third cousin! (My grandmother's cousin's grandson). It's made from the leftovers of my penitentiary pyjamas. It's trimmed in vintage red plastic buttons and poppers open at the shoulder.  No pictures of him wearing it unfortunately as I met with my extended family on the 20th, so no presents were opened. You'll just have to have more of the Christmas Boy instead!



Tuesday, 8 December 2015

knickers x 3 - and tips for beginning sewing underwear!

After spending quite a long time amassing the vast range of materials required, I've been making some first forays into lingerie sewing. Continuing to make good on my ambitions to sew items that I need and use in daily life, here are my first three attempts at sewing everyday knickers...

1. The experiment.

Very quickly knocked up out of viscose jersey and some really pretty lingerie elastic that had been hanging around in my stash for ages. The pattern is a free pdf from So, Zo.

These knickers are very bad, as you can see - I didn't really have the hang of how to stretch the elastic as I sewed it in. Additionally, I found that the pattern came up very large. I was pretty ecstatic about sewing my very own pair of knickers though, so I wore them all day - and they didn't fall down! I called it success.

2. Pretty in lace.

I wasn't overly sold on the cut of the So, Zo knicker pattern as it was more of a 'shortie' kind of style, and a bit clunky on me. This pair was made from the bikini pattern included in the Watson bra pdf (not free). I made this pair from stretch lace and much-less-luxurious picot elastic from Barnet & Lawson. The elastic was of poorer quality, but I had a much better hand at stitching/stretching in the elastic this time round.

I liked the cut much better, though these knickers really are brief! More improvements were needed though, as the elastic stretch wasn't distributed symmetrically enough for me.

3. Secretly scarlet.


My third pair was yet another experiment. I had a red cotton T-shirt hanging around from who-knows-where and decided to utilise it for sewing. I had the idea of sewing pretty, scanty knickers but with a red gusset. Ladies, is there not an understanding of keeping a few pairs of 'period pants' in your underwear drawer? Namely, those old, worn out, ugly but (debatably) comfortable knickers for the 'time of the month'. Well, I really hate owning ugly things, especially lingerie. Periods are uncomfortable and an inconvenience - why make things worse by giving yourself depressing underwear? The red gusset is invisible when worn because the knickers are so skimpy that the gusset tucks completely between your legs. It's there 'in case of emergency', so that you don't risk totally ruining a beautiful pair of undies.

I was looking to further improve on my elastic sewing skills here. I'd been following the mostly-lingerie-sewing blog Madalynne, where she staunchly advocates sewing the elastics in flat rather than stretching them. I'd also read some advice online from an experienced costume maker who specialised in stretch costumes. She said to stretch the elastic more over the bum than on the front of the leg. This makes complete sense: your legs move forwards more, so the back leg-hole will need to stretch to cling to the body and accommodate movement. So, I decided to try to combine these two approaches on this knicker.

The result? Not that successful! Perhaps I should be taking larger seam allowances at the side seams, but without stretching the elastic, these knickers are far too loose on me. They're not falling down, but nor are they clinging properly to my body! I think that stretching more over the bum is a good idea, and my handling of the elastic was improved yet again - the stretch was distributed nicely and evenly. But I believe that you do need to stretch the elastic when sewing it in. 

A big difference between the knickers: the ones which I sewed the elastic in flat are 2" larger!
Think about it: you're using stretch fabric, so you can pull the garment up and over your body, no fastenings needed. But it needs to stay on! The elastic both seals the fabric up, preventing it from stretching out; and holds the garment up! Negative ease is necessary.

Conclusion: advice for knicker sewing beginners 
  • Work out how to sandwich and flip the gusset so that you end up with two neat, completely enclosed seams.
  • Try on the knickers quickly before sewing in the elastic, to check if they are too loose or fit fine. This varies greatly with the fabric that you're using.
  • Sewing in the elastic does take practice. Your first pairs of knickers will inevitably have sections where you've pulled too tight or too loose. Don't give up!
  • Try to stretch the elastic more over the back leg holes, and 'just enough' over the front leg holes.
  • Lastly, don't forget to stretch a little around the waist - that's what's holding the knickers up!

The white knickers make a set with my first bra! But that's a subject for another post...

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Sewing routines and regular life

I've been reading about people's routines recently, and how they fit time for making into their daily lives. It's amazing how varied people's suggestions are! Tilly Walnes advocates sewing for 15 minutes every morning, before you start the rest of your day. Rachel Pinheiro says that she does everything in bulk: prepping patterns, cutting out, and sewing several different garments at once. Katie mentions that she puts everything away entirely between sewing sessions.

Something that really stuck with me recently was reading an Instagram comment, where a sewist said something along the lines of: I'm going try to stop checking my phone so much and spend that time sewing! It's so easy to be distracted, especially when the Internet is full of a never-ending stream of beautiful projects that inspire you onto your next project. Of course, unfortunately, I seem to spend a lot more time admiring and planning than actually working on projects! I've currently got quite a big backlog of things that I want to make, and time is as usual running out.

What I've always struggled with is wanting to do too many things at once, and not having a routine. I've tried getting up at 8am every day, but it just doesn't work for me because I don't have a set bedtime. Sometimes I get home from uni or work at 6.30pm, sometimes at 11pm. I'm a night owl by nature, but doing careful sewing in artificial light isn't great.

Commuting routines have always been successful for me. Recently it's been raining so I've been taking public transport, which has given me much more time for knitting. Sewing has relied more on bursts of inspiration; but I think that if I try to stop myself mindlessly scrolling, I might be able to make some progress on my huge project pile.

Do you have a regular time set aside for hobbies, or do you make when inspiration strikes?

Monday, 16 November 2015

Signs of resistance

Near Holborn, London, November 2015

London has changed a lot in the last 5 years. This is nowhere more obvious than on the street, the intersection of city structures and city dwellers. Cycling into, across and around central London provides an overview of the city that cannot be glimpsed through the subway tunnels alone; nor in the newspapers or news broadcasts. On backstreets and main roads, more and more small businesses are boarded up, having been forced out by rising rents and competition from national chains.

But people won't be silenced, and I'm starting to see more and more signs of resistance emerging. Last week, protests took place in London on two consecutive days. On the afternoon of the student protests, police swarmed the streets and enforced road blocks. It was eerily quiet. But on a side street in Holborn, close to many university campuses, I spied this encouraging message:

"It is the power of the mind to be UNCONQUERABLE."

In September, this poster was attached to the window of an empty building, which had previously housed an independent catering business that sold Malaysian food:

"Think Locally - Fuck Globally"
High Holborn, London, September 2015

This notice has since been removed, whilst the homogenous national sandwich chains (Pret, Eat and the like) are thriving. They offer 'Malaysian-inspired' soups every now again, which are not very tasty. 

These are graffiti messages from strangers to strangers. They'll be taken down, scrubbed clean, papered over. But people will continue to make their mark, and graffiti will always be subversive. This is neither a name tag declaring ownership of the street; nor pretty, colourful pictures subverting connotations of anarchy; but messages inspiring resistance. It's nice to know that I'm not alone; and you're not alone either. 

It's especially needed when the establishment only offer us signals praising those who conform. Like this:

"The joy of NORMAL"
Shepherd's Bush underground station, London, September 2015

and this:

Metro newspaper tube advert campaign. Central line, London, September 2015.
This ad campaign openly mocked commuters' typical 'antisocial' behaviour, and encouraged them to instead read this free newspaper instead. (i.e. don't do what you want to do on your journey; don't have an independent mind; read this commercial paper funded by advertising instead! It's much better!)

We need to keep thinking, keep questioning; keep talking and writing out. They're trying their best in Brixton:

"CAUTION. Cleansing in process."
Brixton, London, September 2015.

We need to keep working, separately and together, to show that we're not alone. 

Friday, 13 November 2015

Liberate Your Legs

I don't have a television, don't take public transport every day, and don't read many magazines. I manage to bypass a lot of advertising that reaches people through the traditional channels of regular ad breaks on TV, and posters and billboards on the tube. There's a huge amount of advertising online though, which I can't escape on my computer and phone. I try to skim over a lot of it, but naturally some of it still stands out.

I was pretty surprised to see a 'suggested post' on Facebook this evening that advertised a razor marketed at women with the slogan 'Liberate Your Legs' and accompanied by the hashtag slogan 'Ditch Your Tights'. I haven't experienced hair removal adverts since I stopped watching TV 6 years ago, so I found it very weird that their copywriting and overall approach hasn't changed much over the last 10 years.

Although the razor in question was now blue, it was still photographed on a glossy, bubblegum pink background. The brand's subdivision is called 'Wilkinson Sword Women', together with its slogan 'Liberate' and sub-site '' lending connotations of strength and power. Free yourself! Be a strong Female, and join with us other sword-wielding Women!

The 'Hydro Silk' subtext further underlines the glossiness of this ad campaign. 'Ditch Your Tights' I find pretty horrid because it immediately suggests that you should only be going bare-legged if you've shaved.  It's also pretty weird when you consider that November in the Northern Hemisphere is not really the  ideal climate for bare legs. So where are you going around with bare legs? Probably in intimate situations; but why should you feel ashamed?

Well, it's in the interest of companies like Wilkinson Sword to promote positive associations of hair removal so that they can sell razors. Smoothness and silkiness transfer from the imagery of the advert to the skin on your body. This ad offers a free sample razor, but obviously the promotional campaign aims at future brand loyalty. It's free, so what's stopping you? Get smooth legs! You'll never be able to take your tights off otherwise!

Facebook treats its ads like a public forum, so naturally I had to reply to them. (See the image above.)

Of course, I have no idea why Facebook thought that this was an appropriate post to 'suggest' to me. I know that the site monitors its users, so how could it have failed to miss all of the LGBTQ-friendly, gender-queer empowering, pro-feminist (etc) events that I've shown interest in as of late?

Luckily, unlike with adverts on the TV, public transport, and newspapers/magazines, Facebook actually allow you to respond to their choice of adverts. Though Facebook is definitely not an unproblematic phenomenon,  I honestly do appreciate the level of interactivity that it still offers.

Hopefully this will allow me to continue living in my own little bubble of liberation for sometime longer, unplagued by ignorant and brain-washing adverts. And of course, the true liberation is both not being offended by my own body hair; and not allowing huge corporations to profit from giving me a negative self image. Power to that!

Penitentiary Pyjamas

My latest make…Penitentiary Pyjamas!

Although there is a Lightnin' Hopkins song called Penitentiary Blues, I keep getting the much catchier tune of the St James Infirmary blues in my head instead whenever I think about these Penitentiary Pyjamas. 

Are you listening to it? Great! 

I'm so excited to share this project with you. Recently, I was browsing in one of my favourite fabric shops for lining fabric, when I instead came across this lovely black and white striped knit. I knew straight away that I'd like to make another Hemlock T-shirt with it, so it came home with me. The fabric is ponte di Roma, which I'd never used before. 

This time I just used the Hemlock pattern straight up, as it's offered online - no fiddling around with length. The fabric was great to work with - really easy to cut and sew, hardly creases, and doesn't even really need finishing. I overlocked the T-shirt together in a flash, then added a contrast pocket for fun. I'd wanted to cut the neckband the other way (to have fun vertical stripes going around the neckline), however ponte di roma is a fabric which only has a little horizontal stretch and no vertical stretch at all, so this wasn't feasible. 

The sleeves again ended up a bit of a weird length for me. I overlocked bands onto the edge, as I prefer this finishing method for knits; but still the bracelet length sleeve is slightly impractical for this boxy, oversized sweater. I tried it on and had a brainwave: it wanted to be pyjamas!

The next day I dug out the pattern that I'd previously devised for leggings. I then traced around a pair of my favourite pair of old leggings, and amalgamated the two different patterns. I did lots of measuring, added ease, and then did the sensible thing of cutting the leggings out with 1" seam allowance all around. (I should really have done this before, to avoid leggings-gate.) To my surprise, they seemed to fit! I added more ease to accommodate my muscular calves, and took them in more around the hips to avoid the saggy crutch look. Then, I overlocked them together.

The leggings are still a little tight around the calves, which makes them ride up at the ankles and knees as you can see. But overall, this is my most successful pair of leggings yet! Fine-tuning the pattern along the contours of the leg will help achieve a better fit, but I'm really happy to finally have a better starting-point for those tricky knits with no vertical stretch. 

I've slept in them all week and they're very cosy and snuggly. Although I normally tend to try to avoid more synthetic fabrics (this ponte de Roma is a viscose and polyester blend), the fabric is quite soft and it's insulating without getting too hot. 

 I may make another pair with more ease, as looser pyjamas are more comfortable. And my boy-friend came home from work to find me in this jailbird look and requested the same for himself! So this won't be the last you see of what's surely the ultimate in stripes.

Project details:
Penitentiary Pyjamas
Pattern: Grainline Studio's Hemlock T-shirt // My own leggings pattern
Notes: Be aware of the sleeve length!
Fabric: 2.5m stripe ponte di Roma, viscose/polyester blend, from Classic Textiles, Goldhawk Road
Cost: £12 for the fabric; threads and patterns in my stash!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy of Arts

I was very happy to be able to see Ai Weiwei's exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. I have a bit of an ambiguous relationship with installations and abstract art, but I've always had great respect and admiration of Ai's drive and determination in face of China's system of government, both as an artist and a citizen. Ai's politics are central to this show, with the exhibition overall focussing on his relationship with China. The works on display are often hugely tactile, large, and emotional in their literal embodiment of government corruption. Within the exhibition, and the treatment of Ai Weiwei in the British Press, Ai's studio becomes symbolic of resistance to China's regime.

After a crowd funding campaign, the trees can be experienced for free in the RA courtyard. These trees were created from pieces of trees which died naturally, which were subsequently sold in pieces in markets. People looking for innovative ways to make some money, or the commodification of the natural world? Ai created the trees from the pieces that he bought. They were very imposing on the gloomy November morning.

A couch beneath allows people to sit and look up at the branches; but a lady was contributing to the installation by applying a full face of make-up.

According to the Guardian, Ai describes the process of creating these trees as "just trying to imagine what the tree looked like”. To me, the simplicity in this statement calls into question our preoccupation with validation and the creation of value, specifically regarding the art world and celebrity.

The exhibition describes his work as being influenced by Dada. This was very helpful for me as a gallery visitor, for the simple association with a movement and art philosophy helped me situate Ai's work and understand it in a broader context.  Ideas and objects are as important as the overall messages intrinsic in the work. Sometimes subtle, sometimes very obvious, Ai's art works to challenge preconceived normals, and what is considered of importance and value in society.

Ai Weiwei's show at the Royal Academy: amongst Trees, selfies, tourist portraits, and the union jack flag.

This is an important exhibition. Situated at the Royal Academy of Arts, this is no trendy, edgy, fleeting show; it has weight and significance. We must not ignore the injustices which the Chinese government exert on its citizens, even though our economy is dependent on said government. The British establishment has made its loyalties clear in the recent treatment of those protesting the Chinese government in London. Ai Weiwei's show makes it clear, however, that government corruption is real; and that people resisting it are right in doing so.

I won't go into detail on the specifics of the exhibition, as you can find that in the broadsheets' arts columns if you wish to. Or, go with an interest in the work but allow yourself to be surprised by what's on offer. You cannot fail to be moved.

Ai Weiwei
Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly
Until December 13
Click here for information on tickets