Saturday, 26 March 2016

Forays into corporate wear

Last year, when still decided what I was going to do with the completion of my undergraduate idea, I had an interview for a corporate like job. Having very little suitable in the way of office attire, I set out to make an interview worthy dress in a week. I completed it, and when getting dressed that morning, broke the zipper. I went to the interview, didn't get the job (thankfully) and the dress lagged in the mending pile until my UFO January blitz. The other week I realised I still hadn't worn the dress, and decided if not now, then when? Luckily uni is a good time to play around with more formal attire.

The fabric is a gingham cotton, which is probably not the best type for this sort of dress, as it crinkles easily. (picture taken after a long morning in the library). I also fully lined it in a plain white cotton, so it probably won't work with pantyhose. This doesn't bother me too much. It's surprisingly a very comfortable dress.

The bodice and sleeves are Simplicity 2444, whilst the pencil skirt/waistband is Vogue 1989, a 1980's wardrobe pattern. I cut the skirt quite long and pegged it. There is a lined kick pleat at the back.

I am very pleased with some of the smaller details on this dress. I fully lined the bodice using this method which worked really well. My favourite part though is the hand picked zipper. Not only did I match the gingham, I made the pick stitching a decorative feature. I love little details like these.

I actually quite like this dress, its a break from the usual for me, but I think it turned out well for a first attempt. I got a good number of compliments on it over the day, which I took as a good sign. And this is a really comfortable dress, so that is a major bonus. Because I think tights will cling to the lining, it should be a summer only dress, but you have to wear it with heals. As my black heels need a trip to the cobbler, I wore this with my absolute favourite red t straps. I love red and black together, so it set off the outfit well.

I'm thinking of making more formal wear pices this year; I quite like the sheath dress look, and I have plans for more pencil skirts and blouses. It won't be all black and grey and white though. Seeming as I'm training to work in the museum/heritage sector, I think I can keep the formal, but fun clothes going for a good while

Monday, 21 March 2016

Vintage style fashion: the green blouse

Today's outfit is built around one of my favourite opshop pieces; this fantastic green blouse. I found it a few years ago for $5 as the lace paneling was scorched at the bottom. I trimmed it back, and a perfectly wearable, vintage style blouse. I'm not sure if it's actually vintage, but the quality of construction makes me think it is. The hidden button placket is satin, and it has pearl buttons. One day I'll do a post just dedicated to the detailing on it, it's exquisite. For today's out I think what really sets it off is the hair scarf. The pink and blue contrast beautifully with the green, why did I not think of this before?

Blouse: op shop
Skirt: Black knee length pencil skirt, op shop
Shoes: Target black ballet flats.
Earrings: op shop costume jewelry pearl drops (worn for my wedding0
Necklace: Pink pearls
Hair scarf: Made by me

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Keeping costs down whilst sewing

As a university student, my budget for sewing related expenses is not very big. And on top of this I am naturally not a big spender. There is a lot of discussion online about whether or not sewing actually saves you money, which I feel has a lot of personal variables. My clothes spending has never been big. I went from shopping at Target as a kid, to opshops, and then to sewing my own. I cannot think of a time I have spent over $60 on a single item of clothing. I think where sewing comes into its own is the quality, and personal choice aspects. Within this though, how do you keep costs down?

1. Alternative fabric shops I can get most of the new fabric I need from the Vietnamese/Chinese fabric stores around Sydney. Their prices are incredibly low, and they usually have extensive stock. They are also great for zippers, cotton, and buttons. I got my bridesmaid dress fabric (floral cotton) for $6/m and this morning got silk lining for $8/m.

2. Opshops Opshopping has been a favourite past time of mine for years. Sometimes there will be good sewing finds. Doona covers and sheets make for excellent muslin fabric, and if there's a nice print, it can be an actual garment. Occasionally there will be notions and sewing patterns hidden up the back, but it can be hit and miss. I find opshops best on the garment front. A large, sack like garment can yield good fabric yardage, or inspiration for a refashioning project. Also depending on how cheap the opshop is, clothes can be a good source of zippers and nice buttons.

3. Plan projects well I often buy more yardage than needed so I can squeeze an extra project out. This may or may not save money in the long run. Muslins also save money in the log run, as they an save costly mistakes.  When I want to sew something new, I always check the stash first to see what I  already have fabric and pattern wise.

4. Buy patterns strategically. Unless we are going into the realm of experimental fashion, there are a limited number of fashion designs, and most are variations on each other. When buying patterns try and focus on silhouettes, and if a new patterns grabs your attention see if you already have something that is pretty similar. Learn how to make small pattern adjustments: combining different bodices and skirts, using dress patterns for separates, changing necklines, and a couple of patterns can yield a lot of designs.

5. Best sources for patterns: Opshops. Big 4 are best bought on sale. Buy Indie if you really love it, and cannot find anything comparable. The internet is great, especially for cheap 1970s patterns, which often have great basic silhouettes once you look past the questionable pattern art.

6. Sew high quality projects Sewing less items saves money, and make sure what you're sewing are things of high quality, and that you really like. Taking time with seam finishing, and other good quality techniques will really make the garment last longer in the end, and you can feel better, knowing you've sewed something high quality for a lower price

7. Fabric markets Depending on your local sewing scene there could be fabric markets. I've been to one in Sydney where I bought fabric really cheaply, and in a few weeks I'm going to a swap, where I am offloading some stash my end in exchange for other people's fabric. I am a little excited.

8. Ask around This is highly dependent on individual circumstances, but chances are there is someone that you know who doesn't sew anymore, or is looking to offload a deceased estate. Most of my sewing equipment/most of my stash was inherited from my grandmother. I sometimes see large lots of fabric/patterns/sewing machines going cheaply online, because family members just want to get rid of it.

9. Repurpose I have never donated any of my old handmade clothes. Whilst most old RTW goes to the opshop, I pop anything I've made and don't wear anymore back into the sewing stash: take off buttons, pull out zips, use fabric for other items. A lot of my muslins end up being made of old project scraps.

10. Build up slowly If you're just starting off sewing, don't buy everything at once. Get a decent second hand sewing machine, good scissors, and one of those sewing kits from the cheap shop, and go from there. Over time you'll work out what equipment you need, and what you don't.

Feel free to pop any more money saving tips down below. I strongly believe sewing is only as expensive as you want it to be.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The best ever skirt pattern

I am quickly becoming of the opinion that Simplicity 6862 is the best skirt pattern:
1. It only takes one meter of fabric
2. No darts, pleats, tucks etc, it's incredibly quick to sew up
3. The shape is really flattering
4. If I wanted to, there are some fun pocket pieces and belt tabs
5. You could easily have a whole wardrobe of these, this was my Mum's main skirt pattern back in the 1970s
6. There's a few patterns on Etsy and Ebay, even if they'd be single size, it would be a really easy pattern to resize.

I first made this skirt last year out of some tacky pink wool. I thought it would become a good wardrobe staple, but the waistband was never finished nicely, and Mum, who is thankfully always honest with me, told me she hated it. It was also a smidgen too tight. I wasn't prepared to give up on this pattern yet though. For a while I have been wanting some floral skirts, so found this small length of cotton in the stash. It has a deep brown background, so I think it's from the 1970's, and it's much too stiff for anything other than a skirt.

To fix the sizing I just let out the seams slightly. I sewed the centre front and side seams at 3/8 inch, and kept the back at 5/8. This is an incredibly quick sew, only complicated b the fact I had to redo the zip multiple times. I decided to finally try a tab on my waistband, which worked wonderfully after a few goes of aligning the zipper. I finished it off with tw small press studs. Only tip would be always cut the waistband much longer than you need.

I liked the length of the skirt as is; it falls just below my knee, so I finished with mauve bias tape.

I absolutely love this skirt. Even if it's a bit different from what I usually wear. At the moment it just goes with my white blouses, but I am hoping to soon fix the no plain blouses problem as well. The colour scheme will hopefully allow it to be worn through autumn as well.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

On the sewing table

I am planning some outfit photos later this week, but for now I wanted to share the various projects I am working on. My aim to make more blouses is coming along well. I realized the other week I am going to have to get the fit on Simplicity 1692 perfected as I have a lot of small pieces of fabric that will work fantastically with that pattern. In the meantime, I am continuing with the Mimi blouse, and Smooth Sailing. The other week I spent the day cutting out these three blouses to see if this would make the sewing up process easier, as I wouldn't have to constantly be getting out my sewing table. So far I can report the plan has gone well, but the fading marking pen I use had almost disappeared over the course of a few days, so tucks and darts had to be marked back in. The front two blouses are Smooth Sailing blouses cut from left over yardage from these two dress projects. I love being able to stretch out fabric like this. The back blouse is a sleeveless Mimi blouse, cut from a 1980's Liberty Laura Ashley dress. It's one I got a lot of wear out of, but the incredibly full, almost ankle length skirt was a bit too much. I have kept the bodice intact so as to trace off for a pattern, as it was a great fitting princess seam bodice.


Here are the first two blouses in varying stages of construction. The first one is very much a summer time blouse, and am hoping to get it finished before Sydney decides that it is Autumn (the cooler weather cannot come fast enough). The Smooth sailing blouses will be able to be more transitional pieces, due to the darker florals. I am imagining them with a pencil skirt and cropped sweater with the collar peaking over the top for winter, but time will tell whether I can find any knitwear like this.

I love the notched collar on the Smooth Sailing blouse. This tutorial is incredibly straight forward. I am enjoying experimenting with new techniques this year. I am still gearing myself to begin my wool suit, but with the weather this horrible this far into March I think I have some time up my sleeve.

 I am also back at university this year! For my fifth year at the University of Sydney, I have started a Masters of Museum and Heritage Studies. So far I am loving it, and am really excited to get the opportunity to do hands on work with sharing my love of history. The only downside to being back into full time study is less time for sewing. Because of this, I am trying my hardest to keep the sewing areas as tidy as possible. I started  by organising out all the cottons. There are a lot. I popped a bit of sticky tape over all the loose ends to stop them tangling, and then combined them all into two boxes: one for white and cream, and another for colours. The ones I use frequently are on the door of the sewing cabinent. I am hoping this is a small start to getting the out of control stash into some sort of order. Also when going through things a while ago, I found this lovely cross stitch I had begun on the train in Germany (and soon realised I could not cross stitch and take in landscapes at the same time!) I love having handwork on the go, and hopefully this will enable me to get little amounts of sewing in
every now and again when I don't have time to set up the machine.

My vintage pledge is coming along well. Simplicity 1459 is half made in this fantasitc rose print, and I have also managed to buy myself some proper vintage patterns. I had a small amount of birthday money left, and then found these 1950's Home Journal Patterns on ebay. Isn't the cover art gorgeous? I am hoping to do a full post soon on these patterns, as they are very interesting

I also want to say thankyou for all your comments on my last post, I really enjoyed hearing all your thoughts on the topic, and hello if you're new to reading the blog. I've finally gotten around to making a "finished projects" tab , as I know I love being able to snoop through people's project archives easily.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Mimi Blouse in Liberty, and some thoughts on 'Love at First Stitch'

In the quest for a nice vintage button up blouse I came across Tilly and the Button's Mimi blouse, from the book Love at First Stitch. I liked the unusual collar, and the gathering at the yoke, and decided I would make it when I found out my local library had the book.
The blouse was a very straight forward make. I cut a size three, as I do with the Mathilde blouse, and found the fit spot on. I quite like how the pattern comes with built in hip shaping! My one minor complaint is with the sleeves. I swapped out the sleeve pattern for M6696, but I think I need to redraft the armhole as the sleeves are a touch tight.

 The fabric is Liberty Carline in red. I bought around 5-6m of this at a fabric market in Sydney almost two years ago. It's the gift that keeps on giving: this blouse, a half finished full skirted 1950s dress, and so much yardage left over I am unsure what to do with it. I used small green buttons from the stash, and sewed them on with red thread for contrast.

Photo credit goes to my lovely friend Miriam who snapped this for me at uni after a coffee date. She calls it "1950's florals meet industry"

 I thought I'd also give a little book review of Love at First Stitch, as what I can find on line is overwhelming positive, and I have some reservations about it. Firstly, I think it's a very decent book for beginners. I gave it a good read through, and Tilly is very clear with her instructions. I also like how it builds on skills with each project. Each of the patterns looks good, and not tacky, though the Mimi is the only one I am going to make.

Now onto my dislikes:
1. The book design. I really hate the cover. The pastels are way too pale and everything looks washed out. There's no strong colour focus and if I'd seen this on a shelf I would not have picked it up. The entire book design is the very dreamy pastels, and feels like a girly art film, including Tilly blowing bubble gum.

2. Tilly's writing style. Whilst I feel it's very clear for beginners instructions wise, a lot of things annoyed me. She constantly scatters French phrases throughout, in a very cutesy "I love French pastries, striped tops and the Eiffel Tower" way. It adds nothing to the book, and comes across as very twitty. She is also not concise. When she introduces French seams, she gives a good explanation, but then every time she suggests using one in construction, she reiterates the entire technique, every single time. I felt this was deliberately dumbing down the book; we are adults, we can flick and cross reference. I also found the "Make it a Lifestyle" sections quite silly, especially "How to behave in a fabric shop". I would assume fabric shop etiquette is exactly the same as other shops, and this is something we learn as children.

3. Beginner mentality. This is not as much a criticism of Love at First Stitch than of Tilly's brand as a whole. Her market caters exclusively to beginner sewers. In and of itself this isn't a problem, there's obviously a market niche, but this often leads to dumbing down, hand holding and "oh my everything is hard" mentality. My dressmaking skills are mostly self taught (though I have been sewing for many more years than I've been dressmaking) and once you know the basics, there are a wealth of resources, online and in books to grow your skills. I feel Tilly's technique is to set herself up as the guru of sewing, and her handholding instructions that she overcharges for is what sets her apart. Case in point, her latest pattern is an elasticised waist dirndl skirt, basically the pattern is a rectangle, for £12.50. According to her it's worth it for the instructions. When these kind of skirts are free tutorials all over the web, and could be made in an afternoon by a six year old girl, I can only think of the saying "a fool and their money are easily parted." Of course Tilly isn't the only sewing related person on the web to cater to the "sewing is so hard" group, but I feel she emulates most of issues with it. There seems to be a general fear of the "Big 4" sewing pattern companies. Yes, their pattern art is awful, and you usually have to size down due to ease, but their instructions are not sparse if  you know how to think for yourself and look up things online.

4.  Lack of substance. The French post modernist philosopher, Baudrillard came up with the concept of hyper reality. This states that what is "real" becomes lost in the modern world behind a facade of marketing and style over substance. I would not have much of a problem with Tilly's patterns if I felt there was substance in them. What she has done is taken the most basic sort of patterns, and dressed them up with pretty pictures, colours and a marketing facade that lets the consumer feel they are buying into a lifestyle. The patterns themselves are basic; in the case of Miette, which is ever 1970's wrap skirt ever; or downright bad:  Francoise, Coco and Bettine seem to be poorly drafted, and often quite frumpy, but for some reason people kept lapping up these patterns. If they'd been released by Simplicity or Burda, no one would have bought them. Tilly's brand has become something people buy because it's "Tilly and the Buttons", not because it's good in and of itself. The other thing that gets to me about Tilly's lack of substance is the dumbing down of her blog over the years. I began to follow Tilly before she commercialised, and enjoyed her personal sewing projects. Then, after she started releasing her own patterns I have barely seen her sew anything that is not part of her marketing; there seems to be one item in the last two years. Part of me wonders if Tilly only got into sewing as a marketing opportunity, rather than a hobby that then grew into a business. (For more dumbing down of patterns see Colette's Seamwork patterns, versus their original offerings). Though I know she caters to beginning sewers, I feel there needs to be more substance and variety in offerings, because developing in a hobby should involve growing skills, and making interesting things, that don't involve hand holding, and move beyond being swayed by pretty pictures and marketing.

What do I want from online sewing resources? I want more complex offerings across the board, I want people who design vintage inspired patterns complete with the amazing details and construction techniques of the originals. I want the decline of fad patterns that everyone makes and swoons over. We sew to break out of the world of trends and styles, but so often I see this take over online.
I'm really interested to know what you think. Tell me what you think about Indie patterns. Is it all style over substance? How do you pick what you sew; does marketing suck you in, or do you use line drawings, and browse online to see what others have made, as I do? What do you want to see more, or less of online?

{I am sorry about the random font changes, I have no idea how it has happened, as it does not show up in the draft}