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

Monday, 2 November 2015

Presence then absence: the private/public dilemma

London, November 2015

Tonight's post comes in two parts: first an update on where I've been and where I'm now. And secondly, a musing on being present or absent in the online and physical world in 2015.

Greetings in Daylight Saving Time and the month of November. 

Where have I been in the last two or three months? Mentally, in a state of disarray; but physically, mostly buzzing around the various campus buildings attached to the University of the Arts London. In September I started a Masters degree called MA Fashion Cultures. This slightly ambiguous title is a vehicle to write about great clothes, bad women, sex, and really messy nights out within an academic framework. To the academics amongst you, I'll clarify that within the Masters, I am focusing on queer theory, gender and sexuality studies, and subcultural groups. And hopefully I'll get some gender-bending films, theatre and performance art into the discussion too.

The Masters is pretty demanding but incredibly stimulating, and it's great to have a viable, positive space to channel my questioning, restless mind. Lectures have led to many more thoughts, and providing I get back on schedule with this blog, should lead to more content here too.

It's become very clear to me the reason why I have never been a successful blogger: my lack of regular posting. In my defence, I think that success in anything requires consistency, which demands stability; and my life in the past 5 years has lacked all of these things. This seems to have made me more likely to give up on things than I would have been a decade ago. After a raucous Friday night out celebrating terror and lost souls with some good friends, my pal Kate said to me quite simply, 'You should just write it again.' And so I am. 

This leads me nicely onto the second subject of this post, which I will only touch upon here as it's a massive topic, capable of generating much more thought and discussion. Being absent in a world of communication is not only difficult, but I believe is actually becoming subversive. I was recently speaking to another dear friend Akeela on the topic of disappearing, and how it's near impossible to do this today. Your phone has automatic GPS built into it; contactless payment is the norm for public transport in London (in fact the only option for buses); payments are made directly into bank accounts. But not only is it supremely easy to be monitored and found by outside forces; we do our own internal monitoring, of ourselves and of others. The tell-all sources of Facebook and blogs have been near-eclipsed by the show-all forum of Instagram, where displaying the private publicly is clearer and less ambiguous than ever. And we want to be seen: merit is placed on neo-celebrities who are famous for being famous, liked for being liked.

Recently, I was informed that David Bowie doesn't have an Instagram or a Twitter. The closest you can get to him in private is via his partner's Twitter account (where she sometimes shows photos of their dinner). Could his choice, as a celebrity [who is actually famous for talent], to continue to keep an invisible inner life be something radical today? Are the most subversive people the ones we've never heard of, doing things we'd never think to follow?

I'd love to hear what you think.

And I'd love to hear what you think I should write about next!

Bis bald,


Azuma bukuro - linen lunch bags

After I finished making my Japanese trousers, I had a few sizeable scrap pieces leftover. I loved the textural linen - slubby and coarse-woven, so that the plain weaving forms the texture. I thought that the pieces would be lovely for some kind of home ware.  Following from my analysis of my textile purchases last year, I know that I should try to make more everyday items such as tea towels. This cloth would have been perfect for that purpose - but unfortunately my leftovers were too narrow. I didn't want to make napkins (boring!) or an apron, so I was a little stumped for what to do as I equally didn't want the cloth to get sucked into my stash. Then I discovered the blog Fringe Association; and more specifically, their sister site Fringe Supply Co's product 'bento bags'. I was smitten!

These gorgeous little textiles are more commonly known as 'azuma bukuro', but I loved the product name 'bento bag' - a textile to stash all your snacks in so that they don't get lost in your backpack; and which folds up very small.

There are several tutorials available online; three methods are reviewed here. After some consideration I chose to follow the simplest method available which uses only two seams. I used the tutorial on Coco Stitch; and there's a clearer diagram available here.  The bag is formed by cutting a long rectangle, hemming it, and folding it into thirds. 

I love how the flat, geometric bag is immediately transformed into vessel and a form, just by placing an object inside. The tied bag has a pleasing quality to it; a bundle of snacks.

I made my first bag very simply, to try out the method. I immediately fell in love with this textile and had to make another from my remaining linen scrap. This time, I added a piece of interfacing into the centre third; and lined it. I bagged out the rectangle with a piece of lovely quilting cotton (leftover from my quilt) and topstitched the seam before sewing it together. This made it sturdier, so you can carry more food in it.

The fabrics look great together; and I was so thrilled by the simplicity of this useful everyday project. I forced everybody that I met the next day to admire my lunch bag (sorry!). 

I'm now excited at the other possibilities that this wrapped textile project can offer. It's a seriously good way to use up leftover scraps that are an otherwise awkward size. There are only so many zip pouches that one can make and give; but this bag has a sense of novelty and fun. I think that it would be a great alternative, eco-friendly approach to wrapping for that big celebration of food and gift-giving that's coming up soon…

Project details
Project details:
Azuma bukuro / Bento bags
Pattern: This tutorial by Coco Stitch. 
Modifications: Interface the central square; bag out to line. 
Fabric: leftovers from trousers and quilt
Cost: £0

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Find Tailoring Tales on Bloglovin

For those of you who like to use a feed reader, you can find this blog on Blogloving.