Flora – my new bestie!

Flora dress

I can’t tell you how delighted I was to be asked by the By Hand London girls, to pattern-test for them, back in January. All honoured and everything I was!

The package arrived with goodies galore and a link to my fabric of choice from Ray Stitch. How could I resist this gorgeous Liberty Tana Lawn?!
Liberty Tana Lawn

But hang on a minute. The dress in the pictures doesn’t look at all like this fabric!

Well, you see, I kinda messed up a bit. I was clever enough to make a muslin before I cut into this buttery lawn, but I stupidly pre-empted adjustments that so didn’t need to be made. Three more muslins later with differing versions of the same adjustment, I was fast running out of time. What was I thinking? I rushed through the final version before I’d properly corrected MY mistakes. And I emphasise MY mistakes because By Hand London’s Flora pattern is spot on and when I came to make the one you see in the pictures, I made no adjustments whatsoever save a bit of an increase to the waist. Doh! Me and my meddling!!

Thankfully I still have just enough of the lawn to replace the front bodice and I certainly will do that and post it as soon as I can. I just love this dress soooo much!

Flora dress by hand london

So what is this fabric that isn’t Tana Lawn, then? Well my friends, I should have called this dress the Four Quid Flora because that’s exactly what it is! £1.99/m special dress fabric from Dave the Drapers in Shepherds Bush Market! I had a spare zip and some leftover lining so literally this dress cost me just £4. I can’t vouch for any natural threads going on but do you know what? I really don’t care. It has a sheeeeen! So shiny. It shimmers in the sunshine! And it has body. Enough to hold that beautiful structured shape yet just enough drape to create soft pleats and barely any creases.

flora by hand london dress

The dropped hem is clearly the most striking feature about the skirt section. And so I had to take care to finish it all good and proper. It’s not often your insides are on display to the general public! And hey, another Brucey bonus about this fabric is that the polka dots reproduce beautifully in reverse on the wrong side. Or perhaps it was the right side. Who knows? Dave certainly didn’t!

flora dress by hand london

I must just give a quick shout out to Turners flower shop on Hammersmith Broadway, for kindly letting us shoot outside their pretty shop.

And also add that Mr O was risking life and limb to take these photos. I might have been on the pavement but he was practically lying in the middle of the road. Not ordinarily quiet round this neck of the woods! His dedication knows no bounds!

flora dress

I wholly recommend the Flora dress to anyone. Beginner or advanced. Such little input for such incredible output! And so quick to make… so long as you don’t pre-empt unnecessary adjustments like I did! And boy is it flattering. A lovely vintage style neckline and a full structured skirt. Who could ask for anything more? The first place we stopped at, two ladies commented on how they loved my dress. Ego trip or what?!

flora dress on Hammersmith Bridge

It has been such gorgeous weather in old London Town this week. I’m so loving the brighter mornings and I even got to come home from work in daylight this evening. I feel more energised and ever more ready to get on with some more sewing. I feel a few more Floras coming on for sure.

These last couple of pics were taken on Hammersmith Bridge. My favourite bridge of all the bridges in London. And just so perfect to stroll across at sunset.

flora dress on hammersmith Bridge

Now who remembers the Flora ads? I certainly do! Definitely worth a giggle!


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My Vintage Dreamcoat!

My vintage Dreamcoat

And so I present the focus of all my dreams since first bidding all my hard-earned pennies pounds on vintage Butterick 547. It’s taken nearly seven months to realise the nagging vision that was persistent even throughout my busiest months.

At least 2 of the 7 months, were taken up with searching for the ideal fabric. Quite incredible seeing as I’m a stone’s throw from the Goldhawk Road. I watched London folk on a daily basis, as they paraded their neutral tones around town, and that was inspiration enough to fuel a rebellious approach and lead me to an online supplier of ‘quality coating fabric’ – Fabric Dreams. Of all the samples I requested (which were incidentally free of charge and free of postage!) this non-wool, fabric was my favourite. I confused myself with this choice at first believing a quality coat must be in wool. But I went with gut and gut came good!

vintage Butterick 547

The hardest bit about the construction was having enough space to lay out the pieces. They were huge. I knew I was going to have to lob off the usual 4 inches from the bottom but I wanted to construct the original length in case I had a later moment of maxi-madness!

vintage coat butterick 547

This coat was seriously made in hourly bursts. If I had no hours left at the end of the day, sleep was stolen. I could not have done it any other way. Full time freelanceness which often runs into the evenings, with school runs and domestic chores to boot, means little or no time to sew. But UK weather waits for no seamstress and I was seriously going to freeze my butt off unless I got a wriggle on. Good enough motivation wouldn’t you say?!

vintage coat B547

The only issue with working in hundreds of little shifts is that I probably spend as much time getting stuff out and putting it away as I do on actual sewing time. But hey ho. Got there in the end. I really must stop dreaming about one of the children’s bedrooms being a sewing room. Terrible mother!

vintage dreamcoat

I interrupt this post to big up my amazing and wonderful bestest friend and boyf in the whole world, Daniel. I swear this coat wouldn’t look half as good if it wasn’t for his amazing photography skillz! I owe him so many waistcoats, it’s untrue!!

The other great thing about him being chief Ooobop photographer, is that we get to mooch around London together finding lovely locations. Today was mostly the British Museum. Feel like a bit of a fraud for not actually looking at one single exhibit. But we did have a cultural day at the V&A yesterday, honest guv!

vintage dreamcoat back

The coat is made of eight panels which create such a lovely shape. There was stacks of ease and I think I could have pinched out a bit more but I like how it feels and I wouldn’t want to feel restricted in it at all. Interestingly enough, even though the ‘skirt’ is not a circle, letting it hang overnight, the hemline dropped in the same way. A lengthy process to level up the hem, and check it at least 5 times before cutting, was quite painful but worth it.

vintage coat at the British MuseumLining this coat was quite a chore. Even though I chose a real quality, strong, gold lining, it frayed like Billy-O. So I serged every open seam. Because I can. Because I now have an overlocker BTW!! But because I am a newbie overlockerist I got all smug and complacent with the speed and completely hacked through the side-back panel. I swore a bit. But didn’t have time for a proper sulk. I’d come far too far enough down the line to be crying over torn lining. Luckily for my sanity, I had over-bought said gold lining by a metre and a half and so I cut another piece, dutifully unpicked the ruined one and half an hour or so later it was as if nothing had happened!

An entire evening and a morning was spent entirely hand-sewing in the lining with tiny stitches. Around the armholes, down the side seams, all around the facings and neckline and of course the hems. What joy!

But what warmth!

warm vintage coat

I’ve stubbonly been walking around in my draughty Vogue jacket, lovely as it is, refusing to buy a coat, lest it meant I would never finish this one. But now I have. And boy, it feels good to be warm. Bring on the snow!

Of course the warmth may not have been totally down to the coat. Mr O insisted this was a great photo of me having a cheeky snifter! He’s such a bad influence.

cheeky_snifter

A little wander into Covent Garden was lovely on such a bright winter’s day. This coat is great for twirling in too!

twirling vintage coatAnd a little venture into Neal’s Yard to soak up some more colour, if that was at all possible!

vintage Coat Neals YardThank you all for your support and patience throughout my first coat-making venture. It feels amazing to be wearing something so functional, yet so strikingly original and properly fitted. I won’t divulge cost of this project as it has scared the living pants off me but I can honestly say it was worth every single penny pound!

Pinstripes & parasols

pinstripe skirt

Now there’s nowt very exciting to say about a pinstripe pencil skirt. It’s pinstripy and pencilly… and that’s about it really. But it can’t possibly go without documentation, especially since Mr O and his buddy the camera made it look more interesting than it actually is!

pinstripe skirt outside St. Pancras station

I self-drafted the pattern so it fits well and it used up just under a metre of leftover wool-mix fabric and  a piece of purple stash lining which makes it cost-free, sort of!

pinstripe skirt and parasol

The main reason for making a garment so dull, was to rehearse the fitting process before I make a long awaited-skirt for my friend, who bid for it in the school auction! (More about that soon hopefully). But dull and boring as it may be, this skirt does make for a great go-to for work.

back of skirt

I made it a last week but needed some divine inspiration before shooting it. And then I spotted these beautiful brollies over at Masato Studio Boutique! (Yes, they are brollies and not parasols but that would kind of ruin the whole alliteration thing, don’t you think?)

Red Umbrella

It was well worth the investment. Total distraction from skirt but much more interesting photos… win! My little red beauty is made by Love Umbrellas. They do some really cute heart shaped ones too. Rainy days most certainly wont get me down any more!!

pinstripe skirt

Mr O took these shots around St Pancras Station, London, today, Just after I had the most lovely lunch with some of my favourite sewing ladies: Amy, Sally, Clare, Rehanon and Alison. They had all done their fabric shopping in the morning and I was so pleased to catch them for a couple of hours and a couple of G&Ts over at Drink Shop & Do. Boy I love that place! Should have really got Mr O up earlier to get an impromptu shot of us all but heyho can’t have it all!

St Pancras Station

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.

chanel_hem_weight

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!

Vintage 1950 Vogue Jacket

vogue 2934 jacket

And here it is, at last, that tasty little Vogue jacket as inspired by that classy little lady, Ms Nicole Needles. It had to be done. I couldn’t resist!

The pattern is V2934, a reproduction of an original 1950 design. Such a clever and very simple pattern that would whip together so quickly if it weren’t for all the hand stitching. Which, strangely enough, I didn’t mind at all.

vogue 2934 jacket

I’m loving the dolman sleeves and the big cuffs which nicely balance out the short cropped cape-like body.

vogue 2934 jacket

I used sew-in canvas for the interfacing. Really great stuff! It molded beautifully around the neck and shoulders and was the perfect weight to maintain the shape whilst still allowing drape at the front.

vogue 2934 jacket

Initially, I had a slight concern that this shape might make me look like a Weeble, given my lack o height, but I do believe it does nothing of the sort! In fact quite the opposite. It is amazingly flattering for a jacket that is more like a cropped cape and I love it!

vogue 2934 jacket

It is also so warm and so snug. The outer fabric is a wool blend, exact content unknown but at £6 per metre I’m not really that concerned!

But the inside fabric, however…

vogue 2934 jacket

It is the most lavish lining I have ever used. 100% red silk satin, baby! Costing more than the main fabric –but boy does it feel lush.

vogue 2934 jacket

Did you know these things were called frogs? Neither did I till very recently. But they do the job so perfectly. Takes a while to do them up but I’m sure I’ll get quicker with practice!

vogue 2934 jacket

vogue 2934 jacket

vogue 2934 jacket

OK. That’s quite enough of that serious posing Janene. What this jacket really speaks, (apart from sugar-gliders) is aeroplanes!

vogue 2934 jacket

vogue 2934 jacket

vogue 2934 jacket

vogue 2934 jacket

So never let it be said that black jackets are boring! Or indeed difficult to make. If you don’t mind a spot of hand-sewing the old fashioned way this is such a walk in the park.

vogue 2934 jacket

vogue 2934 jacket

Before I sign off I’d just like to give Little Miss O a mention. While we were busy being crazy she was so patiently sitting and drawing the most beautiful picture that I just have to share with you.

drawing at the Park

Pictures by Daniel James Photographic

Half-circle chic

half-circle skirt

This is my first self-drafted half circle skirt. Made from the finest poly-crepe and lined with some heavy stretch satin because gravity ain’t that clever!

I nearly went for wool crepe which I think would have worked even more beautifully, but the idea of messing up 2 metres @£40 was a little bit more daunting than @£9!

half circle skirt front view

The drape is lovely on the poly and I’m so chuffed with how flattering it is around the hips, but my oh my does that cause nasty stretchy bias hemline issues.

To draft the skirt, cut and sew together is child’s play. And it was a perfect project to practice a lapped zipper too. But to get an even hem on this skirt required patience of some saints. I blogged the other day about my time-starved, light-rationed sewing time so I won’t harp on any more about that but lets just say a massive learning curve was attained with the help of some basic tools, a bit of determination and a few swear words!

half circle skirt with jacket

half circle skirt front

I incorporated 2 buttons as a closure instead of the usual hook and bar and used black bias binding to finish the hem. And no I did not do it by hand!

half circle skirt detail

I so needed another black go-to skirt. And it feels right to go back to black. I do love a pencil skirt but I also love how swishy and elegant this one feels. A little bit Grease and a little bit Mad Men but also very much me. I can even run for the bus in it! Just need a few more 50s style blouses or peasant tops to go with it now.

twirling in half circle skirtAmazing photographs by Daniel Selway