Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Greatest Vintage Fabric Haul of all Time.

Just before Christmas I went to stay the weekend with a lovely old friend of my Dad’s from their glamorous days living in Bahamas in the '60s.  Lovely weekend in a  smaller version of the Downton house.  I LOVE these style of homes – massive, rambling places, filled with hundreds of years worth of possessions. Lots of space, lots of stuff, accrued over the generations.  1930s wallpaper and 1830s furniture... One-pipe heating system rumbling around the house... That only gets turned on one hour a day. A Wurlitzer in the entertaining room and an Aga running full tilt all winter. But the fun part is that my friend's lovely and generous wife heard I sewed, took my to her late mother’s house (equally full on Wes Anderson... A ten foot long replica of hubbie’s WWII battleship in the living room...) and gave me stacks of amazing fabric from the 50s-80s.  Truly the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in about 5 years. 

Out of all the fabrics - this one above is my favorite.  It's cotton, I'm guessing late '60s or early hippy era '70s and the quality suggests Liberty of London.  The beauty of the print - look at those birds and snails in the trees - breaks my heart.  It's absolutely one of the most gorgeous fabrics I've ever owned.  The fabric is - as you can see - printed "longways" with the left side of the fabric a smaller, finer print.  The larger trees run down the right side of the fabric.  I think these "matching" prints were perhaps designed to be used as a bodice (smaller print) and full skirt (larger print).  Which is exactly what I'm going to do.  i see a hippyish frock in my future.

Inheriting a stash is like inheriting a little piece of someone's soul.  I love that my unknown benefactress - besides having very high standards for quality (very few synthetics here) - had very definite tastes.  She had a winter palette which was ruby reds, rich blues and greens:

I'm guessing his is an '80s woolen.  Enough here for a great winter dress

gorgeous silk - amazing quality

My second favorite woolen.  Look at those colors and the rich, vibrant print.

Another woolen - this time a slightly odd '70s print

 Then she had her summer palate:  All blues, yellows and florals.  Again. Amazing quality - there are a few polys and blends in here, but for the most part we are looking at silks, linens and cottons.  

this is an oddly heavy cotton with a big repeating pattern. Almost feels more home dec weight.

The bulk of the summer collection - the yellow and grey floral is the right weight for a summer coat, the blue floral is a light-as-air cotton voile - in a great long length.  The other blues and yellow are linens or silks.

I do see this as either a blazer for a daring man, or a coat for me.  The yellow isn't this yellow- it's actually closer to a peach tone.

One of the few synthetics.  I'm never sure whether to sew with these highly flammable fabrics - perhaps if it's lined in silk it's less dangerous?  There is ALOT of it, and I think it's probably one of the oldest fabrics in the collection - it looks very '50s to me.

And then she had her blouse weight collection.  Amazing shirt lengths from Liberty among others.  The poly with the trellis pattern is one of my favorites - is has an amazing crinkled texture.  Super architectural and really elegant.  

I clearly remember my mother wearing blouses similar to this in the '80s
I always think of polyester as "bad" but I think it actually had a certain cachet and respectability  in years gone by - due to it's ease of laundering and durability.  I was still surprised to see that Liberty sold it.
I love this cotton shirting - the stripes are on the bias which I think is a cool feature.  My Mom wore these kind of fabrics in her Nassau heyday in the early '70s.

 And then she had her party time fabrics:  An amazing lurex - tons of it - enough for a maxi if I felt inclined 

 and this funny black silk shantung plaid.  i have such clear memories of Sloane Rangers wearing "party dresses" made out of this kind of stuff in the early '80s.  

All told this amazing stash was pretty much the best thing that happened to me last year.  I feel very grateful to my friend's wife for offering it to me.  And grateful to the woman I never knew, who collected and cherished this fabric for decades.  I suppose some people would put this on eBay, but that would feel like a major betrayal of my friendship with the family who gave it to me.  I have been hatching a crafty plan to start sewing for $$, and part of that plan has a vintage, re-used theme.  So maybe some of these fabrics will end up  being used in my new venture.

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.