Couture Inside Out

I’m fresh back from the ‘Couture Inside Out – 1950s Paris and London’ workshop at the London Fashion and Textile Museum.

Must blog straight away for fear of forgetting anything! After all I forgot notebook and pen in the first place!

First treat of the day was that I got to meet and enjoy this experience with Handmade Jane. It’s always so good to have like-minded people to raise your eyebrows at, make ‘ooo faces’ with, and give knowing looks to, during a lecture!

It was a very informal 2-hour affair with such amazing content divulged by the lovely Dennis. We donned our white cotton gloves and prepared to soak up all the info we could.

The first thing I learned (and remembered) was the definition of ‘haute couture’. (please spare me if I’ve got this wrong!) It is a term used to describe the highest level of hand-sewn, bespoke garments, in Paris by a delegated team of incredibly experienced seamstresses to strict regulations. Interestingly enough it was a term that was originally associated with the fine work of Charles Worth who was an Englishman.

Of course we have couture in the UK but with much more relaxed rules, apparently!

As the garments were presented, on a white covered table, the polite student audience jostled for position to get a better view and a feel and a photo.

First up was Dior. A gasp as the two Dior creations were revealed from under the tissue.

The fact that both were aged: faded, stained and torn, did not deter from the unanimous awe.

Both dresses were in two pieces which was intriguing. Nothing like a skirt and a top. So much clever scaffolding with fine underskirts attached to the bodices. No waist-stay required.

dior cream dress

Every little bit of both of these dresses were hand-stitched!! Including the tiny rolled hems on all the chiffon layers. Beggars belief!

Please excuse the fuzzy photos taken on a phone whilst being too polite to jostle too much!

dior embroidered dress

dior embroidered dress detail

Next up was a later Dior in a really heavy weight fabric. I will be looking at furnishing fabrics in a totally different light from now on. This was heavier than any curtaining I have ever felt.

It was laid out on the table, ready for inspection! A gorgeously shaped one-piece dress. Made for someone who clearly didn’t eat that much. The waist was super tiny. The seam allowances on the other hand were enormous. At least one and a half inches. All pressed open and hand finished. The fabric had a ridged, pin-tuck like texture. All the rows of which lined up perfectly on the side seams.

dior later dress

No lining, which was a surprise. Though the dress was underlined and interfaced.

dior dress inside

Chanel then graced the table with black contrast dress and two piece skirt suit. Both very classically Chanel.

Chanel black dress

The bling was upfront and out loud on this one but only took shape as a collar detail and chain weight in the hem on the set below.

chanel skirt suit

Chanel only incorporated details if they worked and if they were functional. The little ‘petal’ pockets sit at the hemline, precisely centred with the seams. The chain weights are typically seen in Chanel hemlines. She was obsessed with the way that fabric hung and remained throughout wear and this little trick became one of her many signatures.


Far removed from the finer details of Chanel but not to be sniffed at, is the work of Balenciaga. This Spanish master draped most of his designs and employed much fewer seams than other designers.

This coat was A blooming Mazing. My rubbishy i-phone photos do not do it any justice whatsoever. Firstly the colour. Secondly the texture of this fabric… OMG. It was hand created to get this incredible effect. And yet the design remained oh so simple. I can’t tell you how much I want this coat!

balenciaga green coat

I didn’t care too much for Balenciaga’s Sarong Dress. But you gotta take your hat off to someone who incorporates so much into the under-scaffolding of something that fundamentally looks like a sarong!

balenciaga sarong

Now, will I get shot for not having heard of Courréges? Probably. As these designs were pretty iconic!

courreges blue dress

Jane got right in there! Impressed by those perfectly bound buttonholes.

courreges coat

Dennis couldn’t be sure of the fabric that this Pierre Balman dress was made. It kind of felt like the sew in canvas that I recently used to interface my jacket! But it was gorgeous and necessary to keep that amazing shape. There were cutouts trimmed with velvet at the hemline and on the sleeves.

pierre balman dress

Of course it goes without saying that every detail counts. Balman even ensured that his labels were mitred.

Pierre Balman labels

The following is a really bad picture of the Ellie Saab dress that Halle Berry wore to the Oscars for Best Actress, The Monsters Ball. In stark contrast to the dresses that were 50/60 years older you can see no seam allowances, no underskirts and no hand stitches to speak of. It is undeniably a gorgeous dress and she looked amazing in it, but it is incredible how standards have changed over the years!

Ellie Saab dress

I cannot for the life of me remember who designed this dress but the fine pleating in the linen was unbelievable. An underlayer of shimmering copper gave a depth to the translucent linen and you could also see where the pleating was tacked.

(Thanks to the lovely Angela, I can now confirm it was Sybil Connolly!)

pleated linen dress

detail of pleat dress

Just when you thought you’d seen it all, something very little left me lost for words. If you look closely at all those painstakingly sewn on eyes, you will see that they are all oversewn with thread!

bound eyes

Now it would have been rude not to have mentioned Zandra Rhodes creations at this very museum. She is the founder, after all!

She entered the fashion world as a textile designer and the following two garments are testament to her designs. I’d never be able to carry these off in a million years but you have to admire her total originality in the way that she designed around the design of the fabric instead of sourcing suitable fabrics for a pre-determined design.

zandra Rhodes tunic

Here is her Knitted Circle dress. So called because the fabric design is made up of graphic knitting stitches. I swear there is more fabric in one of the sleeves than in the whole dress!

Zandra Rhodes circular knitted dress

knitted circle design

Both Jane and I left the workshop in a fuzzy reassured kinda way. It made us proud that we hand made our own clothes, albeit perhaps not to the same level of lavishness but there was nothing on show that we could not have handled. Give us a year or two for a deadline and we would gladly knock one up. But perhaps we might delegate the binding of the hook and eyes to someone else!

I did wonder whether I should have posted in so much detail so as not to spoil the experience for future visitors but really, you have to be there to actually see it. You have to feel and you have to hang onto every word that Dennis speaks because he knows everything there is to know!


How my Elisalex ‘test garment’ happened!

So much has happened over this last week. Starting with last Saturday when Rachel hosted her massive meet up! There have been plenty of fine reports of that wonderful day so I am going to cheat big time and point you in the direction of here and here oh and here!

I will however post a few of the pics. Just because I think they are great and our photographer for the day, Digpal Singh deserves bigging up because he was amaaaazing!

Rachels meet up

Miss Demeanour and Me

Miss Demeanour and Me

Anyhoos. One of the meet-up missions was to shop till we dropped in the Goldhawk Road. By this time I’d been so excited to meet everyone, I clean forgot my fabric shopping list and got completely distracted by the presence of Elisalex dresses modelled so beautifully in real life by these lovely ladies:

Amy, Roisin (wearing Elisalex) and Nicole

Amy, Roisin (wearing Elisalex) and Nicole

Lovely ladies inc Tara (wearing Elisalex) on right

Lovely ladies inc Tara (wearing Elisalex) on right

So I bought this fabric with the Elixalex in mind. Got a great deal by tempting Roisin into sharing 5 metres of hefty, stretch-cotton floral with me. £12.50… bargain!

floral fabric for actual Elisalex dress

For those who have yet to discover this fabulous dress pattern (I’ve a feeling I might be one of the few!) It is so brilliantly and readily available from By Hand London. I loved meeting the brains behind this fabulous site on Saturday. Meet Charlotte and Elisalex herself.

Elisalex and Charlotte

Elisalex (left) Charlotte (right) also modelling the Elisalex skirt.

I ordered my pattern as soon as I got home that Saturday evening. A miracle given no of G&Ts that were consumed beforehand! And it arrived PDQ. I’m still so busy with work and there was little hope of me achieving anything else this week but I tell no lies when I say how quick it was to put together. The instructions are very clear and it really is such an adaptable pattern that will tranfsorm with any style skirt or sleeve option. And so here is my first ‘test garment’.

Elisalex test full length

I repeat ‘test garment’ because I had no intention of actually wearing this one out of the house. But Mr O insisted, if I wanted him to take the photos.

Elisalex test pleat

Why you ask? Because it’s made out of a Duvet cover! It’s a pretty 100% cotton, Ikea, duvet cover but bedding all the same! LMO insisted on an ice-cream so there was only one thing for it!  Elisalex test buying ice cream A trip to the local cafe, that sells what transpires to be the most delicious ice-cream ever!

Elisalex test licking ice cream

Elisalex test eating ice cream

I’m actually glad I wore it out. It was a good test drive. Whilst I’m completely smitten with this skirt style on everyone else, Mr O’s rendition of You Can’t Touch This, did nothing for my indecision! It does take a lot of getting used to. I kept the length… and it is quite long. But it does mean I have to take ladylike steps with a wiggly walk which I quite like. I also like very much, that despite the blustery weather, the wind could not blow this skirt up if it tried! Unlike my first summer dress of this year! Proper Marylin behaviour in that one! I Love the princess seams.

Elisalex test princess seam

And I adore the shape of the back… just pretend you didn’t see the bra strap!

Elisalex test back

And I just can’t wait to make the real one in the fabulous floral! I would now like to remove this song from my head. So please take it and enjoy!

Jubilations and hangovers!

I know it’s not sewing related but it would be a shame not to post a few pics about the lovely weekend we just had, celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This is the second of our neighbourhood’s street parties, since I have lived here and despite the typical weather, we all partied hard. Supporters of the Crown or not, you would really have to find a better excuse not to be sucked into and revel in the true spirit of our community. I feel so proud and honoured to live among such lovely people.

True to form, the ‘Villagers’ came out in force to present our now traditional parade in order of ‘The Little Lad of Brackenbury’. A lovely ‘legend’ (written and) performed by a local resident with supporting roles from friends and neighbours.

Incidentally, our ‘village’ is in West London and not in the countryside. Technically a village must have a post office to be called as such and Estate agents would lay claim to the fact that they invented the term (to sell houses at a greater price) but the truth is, the residents themselves have created it. Its all about the people and not about the buildings or the greenery (though we do have a lovely park too!).

So much thanks goes out to everyone who helped to make this such a wonderful event. The party might be over but the bunting is still up and the memories will last a lifetime!

Post War British Textile design

fashion and textile museum

Today, I took full advantage of my freelance status, ditched the children for a couple of hours and headed off to the Fashion and Textile Museum, near London Bridge, to see Designing Women: Post War British Textiles exhibition. What a totally self-indulgent treat!

The intro to the exhibition:

“Britain was at the forefront of international textile design in the 1950s and 1960s. The art of textile design radically changed after the Second World War and three women artists working in England in the 1950s were pivotal in this artistic revolution. The drab days of the War were transformed by the fresh, progressive designs of Lucienne Day (1917–2010), Jacqueline Groag (1903–86) and Marian Mahler (1911– 83). Designing Women: Post-war British textiles showcases their work beginning with Lucienne Day’s ‘Calyx’ pattern of 1951, featured at the Festival of Britain, and moving through textile commissions of the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition features more than 100 works.

Original artist designs with bold abstract pattern, as well as the use of saturated colour, marked a dramatic departure from conventional furnishing fabrics. This new wave of bold textile designs, helped to bring the influences of the art world, in its most recent, refreshing, and largely abstract forms, into the contemporary home.”

The influence of modern art is so strong in all the designs of this period. Its very easy to spot some iconic inspiration from Joan Miró, Alexander Calder and Kandinsky.

Lucienne Day, wife of Robin Day, was the most prolific and successful of the designers having kick started the ‘revolution’  with her ‘Calyx’ print in 1951.

'Calyx', Lucienne Day  1951

'Calyx', Lucienne Day 1951

Heals, though at first very sceptical, was her first client. The work was considered too modern but the risk proved to be a good and profitable move for both parties. Lucienne Day was the first artist to be credited on the fabric itself.

'Diablo', Lucienne Day, 1962/3

'Diablo', Lucienne Day, 1962/3

'Apollo', Lucienne Day

'Apollo', Lucienne Day

'Good Food', Lucienne Day

'Good Food', Lucienne Day

'Trio', Lucienne Day, 1952

'Trio', Lucienne Day, 1952

Lucienne didn’t limit herself to fabric, wallpaper and carpet design…

Tea/coffee set, Lucienne Day

Tea/coffee set, Lucienne Day

Jacqueline Groag was born in Czechoslovakia and emigrated from Vienna to London in 1939. She is one of the key designers in Mid Century Britain having worked with some of the foremost  textile manufacturers and retailers, including John Lewis, Associated American Artists and David Whitehead Ltd. She also produced laminated surface designs for British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The same company my mum used to make pilots suits for!

Untitled, (Traffic Lights), Jacqueline Goag, 1952

Untitled, (Traffic Lights), Jacqueline Goag, 1952

Untitled (Bottles), Jacqueline Groag

Untitled (Bottles), Jacqueline Groag

This ‘Pebbles’ design by Jacqueline Groag is so nostalgic for me. As I stood in front of it, it took me back to my home in the 1970s. I can’t be sure that it was exactly this design but similar enough to generate some serious flashbacks!  My mum had great taste!

Untitled (Pebbles), Jacqueline Groag, 1952

Untitled (Pebbles), Jacqueline Groag, 1952

Marian Mahler was Austrian and emigrated to Britain in 1937. As artist and illustrator she combined both skills to generate designs for the younger, yet sophisticated clientele who were looking to create a stylish home. The fabrics were mostly rayon or cotton and the roller printing process made for fast production and an affordable end product. I just love the birds!

'Bird Chair', Marian Mahler, 1952

'Bird Chair', Marian Mahler, 1952

The temptation to ‘touch’ was too much!!!

'Linear Flowers', Marian Mahler

'Linear Flowers', Marian Mahler

'Mobiles', Marian Mahler, 1952

'Mobiles', Marian Mahler, 1952

Untitled (Sails), Marian Mahler, 1952/3

Untitled (Sails), Marian Mahler, 1952/3

Paule Vézelay was a painter and her skills transferred beautifully to fabric design. So much so that I think a certain Ms Kiely looks to have drawn some serious inspiration, don’t you think?!

'Composure', Paule Vézelay, 1967

'Composure', Paule Vézelay, 1967

'Crescents', Paule Vézelay, 1956

'Crescents', Paule Vézelay, 1956

And I wasn’t expecting to see any of these fabrics in dress form but just look…

Marian Mahler, Linear Flowers dress

Marian Mahler, Linear Flowers dress


I hope you have enjoyed this little preview. I do apologise for the quality of the photos. No flash photography was allowed so they are a bit grainy and really do not give any of the fabrics the justice they deserve!

Well, best I get on with my real work now… the downside of freelanceness!

There is absolutely something about Mary!

Well the ‘Kats’ out the bag. I can hold it in no more. I am truly in love with Mary Katrantzou! I took my son to the Design Museum today for a touch of innovation inspiration at the Designs of the year 2012 exhibition but didn’t expect to be blown away by a MK dress in the flesh, so to speak.

opus mixtum dress

Opus mixtum dress, autumn winter 2011

I didn’t manage to convince the boy-wonder that a dress would have any standing up against a ‘cool’ carbon fibre wheelchair or the ‘sick’ design of an opera house in China or indeed some ‘gotta have’ bluetooth speakers but I did come out of that closet and realise that she, with her gorgeous creations, has been mostly on my mind and in my dreams for at least a year.

It’s such a no brainer to quote Viv, Alexander and JPG as divine inspiration and that is an underestimation. I certainly don’t profess to be a devout follower of designer fashion but when something hits me like this I just get a bit over excited.

Its the all-powerful combination of structure and print, charged up to blow everything else in its path on the catwalk away -package what does it… methinks.

Mary Katrantzou spring 2010

Spring collection 2010


Lampshade Skirts!

Mary Katranzou 2012 collection

Mary Katranzou 2012 collection

Mary Katrantzou 2012 Collection

Mary Katrantzou 2012 Collection

Having dipped my toe into the world of garment construction in an oh-so basic way in just short of a year I am in awe. But at the same time so inspired to challenge myself more. There I was, crying over a welt pocket this afternoon, and now I am all the more determined to master all that there is about design, dressmaking and tailoring for as many years as it takes.

Funnily enough there was an article in the Independent Newspaper yesterday which reported how Primark was ‘copying’ one of her latest designs.

Primark copies Mary Katrantzou

Primark copies Mary Katrantzou

Clever media reporting perhaps? Do you think Mary really cares or is even a little bit worried about the competition? I’m not entirely sure there will be too much confusion! The fashion editor at Grazia thinks its completely ‘shameful’. Purely a timely piece of publicity just before London Fashion week don’t ya think?

I find it really interesting that she separates herself from her work by mostly wearing black and claiming to have a complete lack of print in her own wardrobe! But according to Wiki, and despite how young she is (born 1983), her career so far has been more than colourful:

“She moved to the United States in 2003 in order to attend Rhode Island School of Design to study architecture. She then transferred Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design where she completed both herBachelor and Master. During her studies, she managed to sell some of her prints to Bill Blass. Graduating from her Bachelor course in 2005, Katrantzou switched her focus from prints for interiors to fashion prints. Whilst collaborating with Sophia Kokosalaki in 2006, Katrantzou managed to build up a portfolio for the Central Saint Martins Master Fashion Textiles course. In 2008, she opened the Saint Martins graduating show. Her collection was nominated for the Harrods and the L‘Oreal Professional Award. Supported by a Newgen (talent identification scheme created by the British Fashion Council in 1993) sponsorship for six full seasons (S/S 2009 – A/W 2011), her first Prêt-à-porter collection was shown at the autumn/winter London Fashion Week in 2008.

Her collections are now available worldwide in over 60 high end fashion shops. A collection for Topshop launched for London Fashion Week autumn/winter 2010 and was available in shops in February 2011. Katrantzou‘s work has been featured in publications including Vogue, Dazed & Confused, and Grazia. In 2010, she was awarded the coveted Swiss Textiles award, succeeding Alexander Wang who won the award in 2009. She is one of the designers of Città dell’arte Fashion. Hannah Holman is one of the better known models who recently walked in one of Katrantzou‘s shows.”

Mary Katrantzou

Mary Katrantzou

The Mary Katrantzou website is launching soon but you can still download the press book here. It takes a little while to download but is so worth the wait. I hope it opens your eyes as wide as mine and give you as much joy and inspiration as it did me.

Now… on with my jacket!

Pillowcase dress embellishment party!

I’m a bit slow to report on the lovely evening that was had by all last Tuesday so please forgive me if I am cloning posts here!

The Pillowcase Dress Embellishment Party was hosted by the lovely Peggy Pickles at Drink Shop and Do. The mission was exactly what it said on the tin, to make pretty over 100 pillowcase dresses that will very soon be making their way to Malawi and Kenya via a charity called Dress A Girl Around The World.

Its difficult to say which part of the evening was the best really… so many wonderful aspects to it. Firstly, the shop itself was so cool. A place where you can literally drink, shop and do!

Drink shop and do

Drink Shop and Do, Islington

As you walk in the front door, you are greeted by lots of lovely retro goodies for sale in the shop….

Inside shop

Inside shop

Dansette radiogram

Dansette radiogram

Rugs and cups

Rugs and cups

Cute things for sale

Cute things for sale

Then just up a small flight of steps is the cafe which serves high tea and cocktails, nibbles, cakes and beer! The tea is served in mismatched vintage cups and saucers from floral teapots and I counted over 30 different kinds of teas on offer!

There is a weekly programme of crafting events and all sorts of crafty and vintagy courses you can partake in.

Anyway, more importantly and before I sat down to such delights, I was met by the lovely Peggy Pickles who was the wonderful instigator of the evening.

Peggy Pickles

Peggy Pickles and just a few of the dresses!

I handed over my meagre contribution of 2 finished dresses and then set about finding a seat. It was very apparent that I should have reserved a seat as it was rammed full of enthusiastic sewers and and other doers!

Lots of sewers

Lots of sewers

I was delighted to meet Miss Dibs and Rachel there. Two gorgeous ladies who provided no end of joy and laughter!

Miss Dibs and Rachel

Miss Dibs and Rachel

And just look at Rachel’s recent sewing masterpiece… I have never had such a bad case of cape-envy until now! It looked stunning and felt gorgeous – the photo below really doesn’t do it justice. More info about this at House of Pinheiro!

Cape envy!

Cape envy!

And I had a lovely chat with The (not so) Lazy Stitcher! A real treat to meet blogging friends for real!

Lazy Stitching!

(not so) Lazy Stitching!

The lovely ladies pictured below were apparently ‘non-sewers’. I can’t possibly find big enough inverted commas to emphasize how disbelieving I was. They created these gorgeous dresses claiming either they had never sewn before or at least hadn’t sewn since they were 10 years old . . . yeah right!

The 'non-sewers'... yeah right!

The 'non-sewers'... yeah right!

I managed to embellesh three in total. And here is the first one…

pink bows

pink bows

Well I have to say, the beer went down far too easily and I clean forgot to eat with all the excitement going on. I’d have gladly have stayed for a sleepover… definitely not a place I was willingly leaving!

A trip to the ladies was a bit of a surprise when eventually I did say my goodbyes!

Wrong door!

Wrong door!

Took me a while to realise that the ladies was the hidden door on the left . . . just before the big blue one!

Vintage Simplicity 3320 in plaid

simplicity 3320 in plaid

Vintage Simplicity 3320 outside the Lansdowne Place Hotel, Brighton

Well here is the long awaited vintage Simplicity 3320 in plaid! First worn today on the last day of a lovely few days spent with Mr Ooobop! in Brighton.

It’s taken a good few weeks to get this one together. Not because it was complicated but moreso because of all the finishing. The pattern didn’t call for a lining and to be honest I could probably have got clean away without one. But I wanted the dress to ‘slip’ on and not be a sweaty wrestling routine every time I put it on or took it off.

lining slip stitched to zip

Lining slip stitched to zip

So I lined the bodice and the skirt but not the sleeves. I’m not sure lined sleeves are conducive to sweet smelling ‘pits’! The edges of the facings and the vestee are bound with red bias trim as are the hems of the sleeves.

finishing on sleeve

Finishing on sleeve

By the time I got to the hem, I was all bias-trimmed-out and so I just overlocked and hand sewed an invisible hem.

I don’t know what I was thinking of when I opted for plaid… apart from perhaps a huge amount of inspiration from the lovely Vivienne Westwood herself! Matching plaid calls for a lot more patience and skill than I thought. I will have to research this further. But I did manage to vaguely match the side seams at least!

Vaguely matching plaid on side seams

Vaguely matching plaid on side seams!

This dress isn’t perfect by any means but I really loved the process of making it up. One hallelujah moment for me was managing to fit the invisible zip with the seam lining up where the bodice meets the skirt. I always struggle with this on every garment I’ve made and its always been slightly misaligned but this time, once I had sewed the left side of the zip tape, I marked where the seam should line up and when I came to sew the other side of the zip tape it was pretty much spot on. This is probably old news to most of you and clearly I’m a bit slow on the uptake! But I’m so chuffed it worked!

Yellow chalk marks the seam position

Yellow chalk marks the seam position

Et voilà, totally lined up

Et voilà, totally lined up!

I mentioned before about how I was impressed by the shoulder darts on the toile and I still maintain this is a great feature for me. I don’t think I have ever had a dress that fits me so well across the back and shoulders.

Fits nicely on the back and shoulders

Fits nicely on the back and shoulders

Now the collar is an interesting one. The pattern describes it as a detachable one. Mmmm. In the loosest sense I suppose. I used navy cotton velvet and again bound along the inside edge with bias trim, (I used some green satin bias) and then hand stitched to the inside of the v-neck, sandwiched between the vestee and the bodice. I suppose I could unpick it very easily if I wanted to detach it but a bit over and above the call of duty if you ask me!

Vintage simplicity with not so detachable collar!

Vintage simplicity with not so detachable collar!

Well, all in all this was a fantastic dress to work on. It wont be the last time I use this pattern, though I might opt for a block colour next time!

The picture below was shot by Mr Ooobop! and I think its fab. You can just about make out the old burnt out Palace Pier on the horizon!

Brighton sunset shot by the talented Mr Ooobop!

Brighton sunset shot by the talented Mr Ooobop!