Friday, 21 August 2015

Some place I call home

Trafalgar Square, January 2014. Photography: Francis Botu.

I have lived in my north-western London flat for 1 year and 5 months now, and I don't know whether to call this part of town my home. London is a sprawling mass of buildings; it grew so far outwards that now all that's left is to build up. Within its many dark corners are pocketed villages with close-knit communities; families you'd never be part of even if you noticed them. Yet it's ever-shifting; it's always changing; indeed, it has changed and so much over the past 5 years. With still more people constantly passing through, staying for a day a week a decade or more, who can really call it home when its identity is some constant kind of flux? And who are you to think you'll always stay, when the ground beneath you is different from one day to the next?  

The London now is not the London that so many of us Londoners grew up with. You catch the edge of your shoe in a paving slab, stumble and trip, look up at your surroundings as your head snaps backwards in the fall and see grey and glass glinting, glass where previously there was only space.

I grew up in a north-eastern suburbia, where most of the houses were still actually houses, not chopped up into flats. The parks there still had trees, not tower blocks; and there was only one tube line to choose from. The house was my home; but the area a mere dwelling place. I made my stomping-ground in Soho, or down the Southbank; I went to the Tate Modern every weekend, worked in the West End, shopped in Spitalfields. All these places have changed because they've been made clean. Curfewed, modernised, gentrified. Where to turn to?

Now, in my NW-something flat, in my twenty-something years, I don't know what place should claim me. I fear that something real may get lost in this big old mess of a city.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

12 months of textiles :: and, anti-consumerist thoughts….

When you begin making things, and start getting quite good at it, it quickly becomes an obsession. You're constantly thinking about what to make next, for gifts and yourself, and soon your home gets taken over by this exciting & fulfilling hobby. After  several years of this however, it becomes obvious that you should start making choices more carefully. As I discovered in my last post, I currently own far too many pretty summer dresses, and not enough clothing that actually fits with my current lifestyle requirements!

I'm one of those people who likes sewing clothes as a way of slowing down consumption. Though Rachel at House of Pinheiro freely states that she's a child of capitalism and sewing is part of that too, I personally try to have the opposite mentality. I try to make the things that I need and want, so that I don't have to spend too much money and so I don't end up with excess things that I have little attachment to; that are poor quality, and which end up breaking or being discarded. I dislike shopping and try my best not to hoard fabric. I also try not to buy too much. I'm not always successful in these things - we live in a consumerist society, after all! - but I do try.

When I was 15 I made a pledge that I would only buy underwear - everything else had to be handmade or second hand! I've had several slips along the way, most of them being in the couple of years when I had some disposable income. Whilst this pledge isn't at the forefront of my mind, it's something that has informed my inner life for the past 9 years.

After writing the post about making clothes that I don't have, rather than just what I whimsically feel like sewing, I started thinking about what I had purchased over the past 12 months. And considering if any of those items could have been made instead. I'm not including items which were gifts, but I am including second-hand items that I acquired from relatives or purchased.

12 months of textiles
I have bought…

  • Bras (pretty + everyday)
  • Knickers (pretty)
  • T-shirts (several)
  • Socks (several)
  • Leggings
  • Vintage dresses (several, bought & from relatives)
  • Waterproof jacket for cycling
  • Shoes: boots x2, heels x2
  • Cotton tea towels
  • Bedsheets
  • Pillow cases & hand towels (acquired from my granny)
  • rugs, oriental & a few sheepskins

It's really not too bad. The things that I've purchased tend to be everyday items that get worn out: underwear, socks and T-shirts; and tea-towels and bed linen for the home. I could probably make the next batch of tea-towels when I need them, out of fine linen. The true anti-consumerist thing to do (also thrifty - the two go hand-in-hand) would to use everything until it's in rags and not buy new! I'm not quite like that yet though. It's nice to have things that look clean and new sometimes….

I would like to start making my own underwear, loungewear, and a new winter coat. In theory, this should mean that in the near future the only items that I need to buy are socks, sportswear and shoes.

Naturally, I didn't need to take 10 dresses into my wardrobe (4 of which were gifts from my partner!), but I don't feel too bad about that. I also need a new pair of flats, and no more heels!

What about you? Are you happy with your bought : made ratio? Do you think that I'm being ridiculous and futile, or are you trying to do something similar? Do you think we can ever really escape capitalism?

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Last chance to support The Vintage Shetland Project!

Susan Crawford is a designer, writer, researcher, textile historian, and all-round powerhouse of everything knitting. I first worked with Susan several years ago when she published a few of my designs for her online knitting magazine Knit on the Net. She was an incredibly supportive editor, and as a young designer (I was only 17, and applying for art college) I was thrilled to have her support. However, Knit on the Net closed a short while later to allow Susan to work on her own personal projects. These have gone from strength to strength: 'A Stitch in Time' volumes I and II  are books which showcase stunning vintage knitting patterns, re-worked with multi-sized patterns, modern yarns and new photography. Both were self-published, and Susan has also created a whole host of other pattern booklets, with her own designs very much inspired by great knits of the past.

The Vintage Shetland Project is Susan's latest endeavour. Once again, hugely ambitious in scope; and wonderful in its archival and historical context; as well as importantly being very relevant for the modern knitter to enjoy. In Susan's own words:

The Vintage Shetland Project is the culmination of several years research I have carried out at the Shetland Museum archive and on Shetland with the help and support of Carol Christiansen, Curator at the Shetland Museum. Through this research I have chosen 25 items and have transcribed their construction, stitch by stitch, row by row, and have then recreated them for the Vintage Shetland Project. These have then been developed into comprehensive multi-sized knitting patterns, complete with instructions, technical advice and of course, beautiful photos all shot in Shetland. The story behind each hand knit is also told throughout the book along with a fascinating chapter about the four year project and the work involved. 
Click here to read more about the project & campaign on Susan's blog.

Susan created a crowd finding campaign to fund the printing of the book last month. (I am embarrassingly late in writing this post!) Amazingly, within only a few days she surpassed her original goal of raising £12,000. Susan graciously wrote about this here, where she also details how she plans on using the rest of the money.

There are now just 2 days left of the crowdfunder campaign, and I've just supported the project by pre-ordering the book. I hope that there might be a few more people out there who will contribute to the project, in order to give Susan as much help as possible in bringing the book to the final stages of completion. Above all, Susan is a passionate textile historian and a truly lovely person. With all the additional financial support, she will surely be able to keep doing what she does best: preserving history. By not merely archiving items and filing them away, Susan is bringing them out to the public, so that they can continue to be enjoyed!

Click here to watch an interview with Susan about the project.

Click here for the crowdfunder, with more information about the project. (It closes on 9 August)

Click here for Susan's blog.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Plain black Hemlock

I'm terrible at sewing toiles.
I know that I should do it.
I had to do it a lot at uni.
Sewing toiles would definitely save tears and tantrums when I have to hack up clothes that are nearly finished.
Toiles would also mean that I get to make mistakes on boring fabric, and save the goodies for garments that will definitely fit.

One of the reasons why I've come so late to sewing stretch fabrics is because I've often found it hard to find it in colours and patterns that I like. I look for pretty much the same thing in whatever cloth I'm working with: as high a percentage of natural fibre as possible; a good handle and weight; great colours and patterns. I'm a total pattern junkie, and traditionally have always bypassed the stack of dull-looking solid jerseys for exciting, fun cotton prints in my favourite fabric shops.

In the spirit of sewing toiles, I therefore bought 1m of this really lovely, drapey black viscose jersey the last time that I was on Goldhawk Road. I had to force myself to examine the aforementioned pile of jerseys in an unassuming-looking place in the entrance of Classic Textiles. (Normally I march straight through to the striped linens and floral cottons.) The black stood out because it had a lustrous sheen, and a really soft handle. It was only £3.50 for a metre so I brought it home, intent on finally sinking my teeth into sewing jersey.

As this was meant to be trial fabric I decided to make a toile version of Grainline Studio's (free!) Hemlock T-shirt pattern. The pattern comes in only one size and incorporates a lot of positive ease. My printer for some reason printed the test square 1/8" smaller; but I decided to just go with it as I don't tend to wear such oversized garments. I like drapey clothes, but tunic-length tops are not really my thing; I much prefer a cropped length if the garment is going to be boxy. So I left a whole page off the length, holding the pattern up to my body in the mirror to check the proportions.

The result is so-so. I had to cut the top with a centre front seam (due to impulsively cutting some knickers from the fabric the day before I decided I should also make a T-shirt!). I'm not overly keen on the line that this creates, though with some more careful pressing I might be able to make it more discreet. 

I love the effect of the neckline band.The sleeves came out a bit of a funny length, so I added 1" bands onto them. The bands also allow me to roll up the sleeves more easily, which I like doing. I'm definitely going to be using bands on hems a lot in jersey projects!

As you can see, the fabric is incredibly drapey. It really moves all over the place! It glides all over my body, and is really comfortable and cool to wear. This makes a great lightweight layering piece that I can fold up small, stuff into my handbag, and pull out to cycle home in during cooler evenings. 

The main problem with this T-shirt is actually the length. It's too short to properly tuck into waistbands, and even with trousers that sit on my natural waist, it's so drapey that it just wriggles straight out. I'd hoped that a cropped, slightly boxy/drapey silhouette would look good with leggings, but I'm not sure that it really works. Vis:

I can also see from these pictures that this top is doing something very strange at the centre front hem! I think that the lack of weight to anchor the fabric (i.e. length pulling it downwards) is allowing the front to rise up over my bust and fall more over the back of my shoulders. I think that drafting a slight curve on the hems would help counter this problem - either curving down to compensate for the upwards drift, or else a more pronounced curve up to make it more of a decisive design feature.

Overall, this is a perfectly wearable toile, though I don't love it. But if I don't end up wearing the T-shirt much this coming autumn, at least I'll be able to cut it up and make knickers from it!

Project details:
Plain black Hemlock (toile)
Modifications: the printer made it 3% smaller; I shortened it by about 7" by taking a page out of the length and smoothing out the side seam curves.
Fabric: viscose jersey from Classic Textiles, Goldhawk Road
Cost: £3.50 

Sunday, 2 August 2015

What to sew (when you've got too many clothes & like to cycle)

17-year-old self in a me-made 1960s minidress
21-year-old self in a me-made, 1947 Retro Butterick sundress
19-year-old self in the Butterick Walk-Away Dress

Like many sewists, when I began sewing I used commercial sewing patterns, and picked pretty, frivolous dresses. I soon discovered that I could re-create vintage looks for a fraction of the price; and my home-sewn frocks would never have the splitting seams, fraying fabric, or dreaded underarm yellowing that inevitably follow vintage purchases! Sewing summery, full-skirted dresses catered to my love of dramatic prints; and I often layered thermals underneath and hand knitted woollens on top during cold spells. As a result, my wardrobe and my fabric stash is filled with beautiful cottons.

In the 8 or so years since I started dressmaking, my lifestyle has changed a lot. The biggest change has come most recently, as I've started cycling quite seriously. I've even traded in my beautiful Dutch-style upright bike for a sleek, aluminium-frame roadie! I love the independence that comes with cycling, but as many will have found, it wrecks havoc with your clothes. Too many pretty, full-skirted dresses have been caught in the wheels, endangering me on the road and sadly often tearing. And I've lost count of the times that I've discovered black grease marks on fabulous clothes, which can't always be bleached out. Much as I love sewing pretty frocks, my cupboard is full of them and my lifestyle demands different things.

F & I recently went though that modern-day relationship milestone of purchasing and building a very large wardrobe from Ikea. Woohoo! No more sharing just one (small) wardrobe between the two of us! Lots of space to hang our vintage! No more rotating seasonal items!

Right? Yeah, right.

Naturally, all the space has been filled. How did that happen?

I have an annual wardrobe purge just before Chinese New Year, and thanks to Marie Kondo I got rid of two bin bags full of uninspiring clothes back in January. But still, the cupboards are full. Moving all my clothing around made me take stock of what I have, and made me think of what I should make next. My conclusion? I have an awful lot of cotton frocks, many of which I now can't regularly wear! 

19-year-old self in Prague in a me-made 1947 Retro Butterick dress
17-year-old self doing interpretive dance in art class. Er…..and wearing a self-made1952  Retro Butterick dress, fabric from Ikea! And yes, I can still fit into the clothes I wore as a teenager.

After a long period of sewing nothing for myself, I recently decided to rejoin the sewing world (hello, Internets!); but a genuine lack of storage space in my flat means that I need to choose what to make more wisely than I have done in the past. Whilst many of my clothes are now self-made, I've identified a huge hole in normal, boring, everyday clothes. I've made so many pretty and exciting dresses; it's finally time to tone down.

I need to make:
  • Clothes that I can move in
  • Clothes that that I can get dirty
  • Clothing that is hard to make, and which I might normally buy in a shop
  • Practical clothing, for sports and wet weather
I don't have much experience of making these types of clothing, nor or sourcing and handling the materials used in them, so this will truly be a new chapter in my sewing journey.

What I'm planning on making, that fits into the above categories:
  • Bras. I need a new bra, and am planning on diving in with Watson, a non-underwired, non-padded, nipple-showing pattern that fulfils both  my vintage and feminist criteria! 
  • Knickers. I am infamously bad at buying practical underwear, especially from shops like M&S, so why not make it myself?
  • Exciting lingerie. Yes, that too. I have some  pretty vintage things and some silky lacy things from small designers, but let's face it: a girl can never have too much gorgeous lingerie. And when an Ayten Gasson slip costs over £100, I'm even more inspired to delve into the world bias-cutting slippery fabric to look fabulous and save a few bob.
  • Leggings. Though I'm taking a break after my introduction to leggings (that look and feel like they were sprayed-on out of a canister), I do plan on making more. I especially need one or two more pairs of velvet leggings which will be nice and warm for cycling in the winter.
  • T-shirts. I could do with some more jersey things that can be layered as I have many (woven) blouses. I'm thinking the Hemlock and Plaintain patterns, one loose and one tight! 
  • Quilt. I started one in November. It was meant to be for the summer. Obviously it will not be finished until it's winter again. On the plus side, this should help us save on heating!
  • A backpack. For the bike. That doesn't look terrible. (Why does practical clothing usually look terrible?) I made various tote bags when I was learning to sew, so this will definitely be a step-up in the bag-sewing arena. 
  • A cycle-friendly winter jacket. Sadly my wonderful dreams of a princess-seamed, fur-collared, calf-length Hollywood starlet coat may have to be postponed for yet another year. I think that the bike will require a shorter jacket with a less full skirt,  a jacket length hem which can tuck away safely on the saddle, possibly even a hood (!), and definitely with some kind of clever reflective piping.

These days I am generally loathe to buy sewing patterns. I studied pattern drafting at uni, plus I already have loads, plus I'm a bit skint and those things ain't cheap! Despite this, I've decided that I'll splash out on a couple of patterns since I'm learning new things. That way I'll also get to support some independent pattern designers - which I'm really happy about. Making everything on that list will still be cheaper than buying it in a shop, and I'll fulfil double-edged anti-capitalist fantasies of being self-sufficient and supporting small companies. Hurrah!

Underwear, t-shirts, outdoor clothes and accessories are those essential everyday items which seem so specialist. I've always been intimidated by all of these things, so I've never made them, sticking to dresses and, err, historical tailoring and period clothing. Time to get out of my comfort zone, and hopefully make the conversion to a fully me-made wardrobe!