Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Lovely Mum

The last two years have been unbearably sad and incredibly difficult both for me and my sister and my Mum.  Two weeks ago my Mum finally passed away, after a long and painful decline that stripped her of much of her dignity and all of her independence.  I almost can't think of any appropriate words. It's probably too soon to be able to express how I feel, in fact, almost too soon to even really feel anything.  I'm sure all that will come.  Instead of words, here is one of my favorite pictures of my groovy Mum, living a glamorous life in Nassau, with her prize winning beagle, Charlie Brown.  No one is quite sure how Charlie Brown hoodwinked the judges into awarding him first prize as he was an absolute menace by all accounts.

The best thing about this picture, besides my Mum's happiness, is of course, her dress.  No doubt sewn by her own hands, from a pattern mailed over from the UK by her mother, and fabric bought from Sweetings, the local department store at the time.

I don't think there's much more to say than that.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Savage Beauty / London Money

Was anyone else oddly disappointed and even saddened by the Alexander McQueen exhibit? I went on the third to last day; not great timing but literally my only chance to see it.  The exhibit was MOBBED, mostly because people had cottoned on to the fact that anyone with a V and A membership can walk in, circumventing the pre-sold tickets (with time slots).  As a result the mournful, slightly perverse and certainly thought-provoking design of the exhibition was lost in hordes of brand new V&A members, none of whom seemed to have any obvious interest in fashion or style (meow).

Even worse was the way in which the clothes felt tired.  I was primarily interested in seeing the black jackets -

They look fabulous in the photographs, but in reality they felt exhausted, like they were melting under the heat of the lighting and the humidity of the crowds.  I saw what seemed to be buckling interfacing in lapels and puckers in sleeve heads. One spectacular dress, designed to mimic a tuxedo jacket, literally seemed to be warping, especially at the faux lapel (that curved into a deep U neckline).

Of course, many of these were early and very well-worn garments (if I'd bought one of his pieces in the early '90s, I would have worn it a thousand times too).  Other pieces, especially the bold tartan dresses, looked sensational.  But somehow I felt utterly dispirited by the exhibit.  I can't really say why.  Perhaps I'd have enjoyed it more if I'd been able to go when the crowding was better regulated and the atmosphere was slightly more peaceful. Perhaps it was the fact that he died so recently, and as a result it felt oddly premature. Perhaps it was his clearly very complicated feelings about women and femininity. I don't know. The designer himself felt oddly absent from the exhibition--as did his muse, Isabella Blow. 

After the exhibit my friend and I walked along Old Brompton Road, to watch the supercars.  Again--dispiriting--though less surprisingly so.

London has always been flush with money, but the money no longer makes sense.  My friend's Australian hedge fund neighbor has bought all the flats around her modest-but well situated-home. He is building a "super-house" that completely encloses her 1-bedroom flat.  He is slowly buying up the six-story building next door, because he wants an indoor pool.  That--plus the roar of supercars racing up and down her local streets--makes London feel distinctly less open than it used to.  Money trumps everything and there isn't much room here for those of us lacking it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Worst Burda Cover of all time?

I'm just going to say it: this gives me bad kinds of flashbacks:
She looks like the teenage "good girl" from every schlocky movie made at any point in the early '80s.  She's the one whose going to get eaten by the shark / stalked by the killer / run over by the runaway truck / buried in the earthquake.  It's so uncool that it's almost interesting.  Perhaps this is what hipsters look like now.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Bee in my Burda Bonnet

I am a bit obsessive about my Burdas.  And right now I have a major issue with BurdaStyle US.  My sewing group friends are probably SICK to death of hearing about this, but I'm incredibly frustrated with BurdaStyle US's silence about the revamp of the US edition of Burda.  They refuse to answer tweets, forum posts or any kind of interaction. Get it together Burdastyle!  This is ridiculously bad customer service - if you have a core contingent of dedicated customers, communicate with them.  Get them excited, keep them up to date on how a product is developing.  Don't ignore then when they express enthusiasm or excitement for your product.

I have a strong suspicion that the relaunch is DOA and not actually going to happen.  Anyone have any news?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Prada Unravelled

It took a while, but I finally made my Prada inspired cocktail dress.  Prada's Spring / Summer 2015 show was, at least to me, one of the most profound statements about the ecological and economic future of the First World*.  Maybe I read a lot into a few dresses.  However, the idea of women walking the New First World, wearing dresses roughly pieced together out of the slowly disintegrating silks and brocades of the Old First World, really resonated with me. I think it's likely that in twenty years we will look back in utter astonishment at the way we wasted essential commodities--not just oil--but things we don't even think about right now: cotton, silk, wool, leather.

My Wiltshire neighbor gave me a random assortment of old fabrics that were sitting in her attic when she moved out of our village.  The original piece of fabric was an odd shape--she'd already cut a garment out of it.  However, by chopping up the front skirt pattern, and giving it some Prada-ish seam lines down the front skirt, I was able to squeeze the dress out of fabric.  The lining was also from her attic, and also cut into strange shapes.  The piecing allowed me to "make it work."

So, this dress is literally made out of salvaged scraps.  The fabric is, I think, some sort of a silk-ish blend.  It has a grey ash but continues burning when you remove the source of the flame from the fabric.  I don't know enough about burn tests to interpret that.

There's not a huge amount to say about the actual dress.  The pattern is the "Sofia" pattern from the Vintage Burda book that come out last fall.  I stripped off all the added bits and used the bodice and skirt pieces only.  I took advantage of the fact that the front skirt is already in two pieces, with a seam line coming straight down from the innermost dart on the wearer's left hand side.  I then added two more seam lines, coming down from the upper side seams and meeting at the vertical seam line.  The end result is an upside-down triangle on the skirt front.  Having four skirt pieces to play with allowed me to cut out the skirt.  I also like the piecing effect as it (obviously) harkens back to my beloved Prada S/S 2015 collection. I also topstitched all the seams and darts, a la Prada.

Unfortunately the glossy black fabric sucks up the details - they proved almost impossible to highlight in the photographs.  You'll have to trust me that this dress has a ton of interesting detailing - the seam lines really are great, as is the topstitching.

Originally I planned to add black silk organza to the seamlines, to add some rough, fraying edges.  But I couldn't find the material where I am.

Finally I hemmed the dress by leaving the edge raw, and adding a grosgrain ribbon backing which allows the fabric to unravel a little, but stops it from fraying too much. I wanted some element of rawness to this dress. It could easily have been a bit too staid and formal otherwise.

Vivienne Westwood is another of my favorite designers.   I love watching her navigate the paradox of being a designer, selling goods, but also being someone who is also strongly anti-consumerism.  I don't know how successful she is at it, but she is direct about the conundrum of being in business but also having essentially anti-business views.  Perhaps the future for ethical designers is something like this dress - scavenging remnants from local sources, piecing them together to create something that's a hybrid of new and old.  Obviously, the scale of production would be impossible.  But maybe that's not a bad thing?  After all, if there is one thing that home sewers know it is that quality in clothing is often more about effort than financial investment.

Thank you Nhi for the photos and the vineyard!

*I differentiate First from Third World, because I the problems I'm describing are problems that already exist in the Third World.  Mostly thanks to us.

Monday, March 02, 2015


I feel like there is a bit of denim fatigue in the online sewing community.  It's been fun seeing dozens of perfect, "I can't believe you sewed those yourself" Gingers.  However, I have a sneaking suspicion that for every perfect pair of skinny denims being blogged about there are at least three shitty pairs sitting at the bottom of everybody's cupboard.
The original GVs, funny how dated they looked a few years ago and how much fresher they seem now.
Here's my third pair of jeans.  I'm classing them as "janky with potential."  Really, the shape seems pretty great, but it's kind of ruined by my fuck-witted machine's refusal to to a decent, consistent top-stitch.
I really like the front view - more or less perfect Hasbeens Jeans.

NOTE:  it is IMPOSSIBLE to get decent photos right now.  These are the best of the bunch, and involved a self-timer, two very elderly neighbors and my mother's ultra-sweet, but not camera-savvy carer.  Don't be surprised if this post shows up again in your reader once I get some decent shots.

This is after a few days wear - the back almost seems too big - or the length of the back legs too long?  They don't look super hot, do they. Having said this, my store-bought jeans look way, way worse than this after a few days wear.  The high waist is stopping these jeans from slipping down and looking super baggy-butted.

Better in this shot, no?

Yup.  Getting pictures is kinda frustrating right now.

I wanted the high-waisted skinny-legged Ginger affect, but without the unfortunate mono-butt that Gingers give me.  This is the same, fabulous, Burda pattern from 3/2014.  It's a super skinny jean, with a low-rise.

Changes:  I added 3cm (I speak Europe now) to the waist height. 1.5 cm to the yoke and 1.5 cm to the back and 3cm to the front all in one place, just below the waist. I folded out a horizontal wedge from just beneath the bottom of the zip to the side seam - this seems to have taken care of the excess fabric at the cr*tch. I wish I'd been thinking clearly enough to experiment with the leg width - I really want jeans that are closer to stovepipes with a tiny flair at the bottom to accommodate heels. Yes, bootlegs by another name. As they are, these are the perfect jeans to wear with Hasbeens.  In fact, I believe I will call these the "Hasbeen Jeans."  I subbed in the Ginger waistband, but increased the center back fold angle - i.e., made the curve of the waistband more extreme.

I cut off a sliver of both front and back at the upper, inner thigh to make them just a tiny bit tighter and more flattering.

There are lots and lots of mistakes.  the zip faces the wrong way, the button isn't in the right place, etc.  In fact the front of the jeans looks a little askew.  I can't tell if it's an optical illusion because I don't have top stitching on the opposite side of the fly. But oh well.  Next time!

High waists are where it's at!  It's taken me a little time to get used to it, but with the higher waist my jeans are more securely anchored; I tend to get saggy-butt in my store-bought jeans by mid-afternoon, since the fabric stretches and slips down as the day progresses.  High-waisted styles grip my high-waist in the right place.  They feel more secure, and I no longer have to worry about flashing my underwear around town. If anything I suspect that I'll make the waist a teen bit narrower, to really hold me in with that Brooke Shields / My Calvins / Gloria Vanderbilt disco look.

The iconic Brooke Shields image - exactly what I want right now!

 I reckon I could have made a fully tailored coat in the time it's taken me to noodle away at these jeans.  A big part of the problem has been the endless unpicking and restitching of the damn top-stitch.  If' I'd just let it go they would have been done much sooner.  THe economics of making your own jeans are funny:  it's probably about $20 of materials but $500 dollars of human-time.  Having said that I think this is a skill, and once you learn, and make lots of mistakes, it will begin to pay off.  I'm obsessed with making a denim wardrobe, more or less as worn in this picture. If I can wrap my head around the necessary skills, and streamline my sewing, I'll be attempting something like this in the future:

It's strangely difficult to find images from the short lived high-fashion relaunch of Gloria Vanderbilt.  I think the jeans are still being licensed and sold, but even Gisele, Kate and Daria (?) couldn't get people thinking of them as "fashion" again. There seem to be three distinct styles here, a capri mid-waist, a high-waisted flare and a high-waisted boot-cut. All told this is pretty much my dream denim wardrobe right here.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Prada Redux

Fashion "Week" has gotten so bloated in the last few years that it's lot a lot of its original meaning and purpose.  The Prada (and, to a lesser extent, Vivenne Westwood, Miu Miu and Marc Jacobs) show is pretty much the only one that can be consistently relied on to make you think and ask some questions about femininity, women's role in society and "where are we all going?"  And, of course, she provides a ton of sewing inspiration in terms of cut, fabric and color.

Having said that the Fall/Winter 2015 show, while charming, was less thought provoking-at least for me.  Maybe she was taking a mental health break after her darkly beautiful, yet ominous show for Spring/ Summer.

 I loved the thick wool jerseys that she used to make coats, suits and pants.  They have a glossy, lush glow, that apparently a lot of people at the show mistook for neoprene. There's something very modern about the fabric.  Perhaps this is the point of the show?  The past remixed for the future? All of these shapes feel very familiar, but in the same slightly disconcerting way that the space-age flight attendants in 2001 were recognizable yet clearly belonged to a futuristic version of reality. I love how Prada dresses women for a world that really only exists in her head; I suppose all great designers do, but she and Marc Jacobs are the most extreme in their conviction.  Certainly her version of the world seems like an interesting place to visit.

2001: A Space Odyssey, flight attendant

 Prada has a sensational eye for color; who else would mix grey, mustard and pink and expect it to work?

 The shape of the pants, a kind of truncated boot-cut, were fabulous, especially with the low heeled shoe.  So flattering if you have a nicely turned out ankle.  Sewing group--I will be asking your help to frankenpattern this ;-)!

 The Pink Coat lives to fight another season. Love the emerald gloves and metallic baby-blue shoes.
Perhaps this show is the light at the end of the tunnel.  If her last show was the dark vision of post-social-meltdown survival, then perhaps this is a more modern, rational and scientific world reborn from those ashes.  Maybe I have too much dystopian science fiction on the brain, but these look to me like clothes that a truly evolved society would wear.  Clean, comfortable lines, sewn up in soft and forgiving jersey, with colors so rich and saturated that they look like they came from another (better?) planet.