Rainshore update – problems with the bathroom

posted in: Designing | 2

Maybe I am overstating that – “problems with the bathroom” – but Nick has been fretting about the design of the bathroom, and this week we resolved it.

Below you can see a photograph of the room ready to get what it needs to make it into a bathroom. You will see that we now have a house that has electrics, plumbing, plaster and whitewashed. Yea! That is progress and overall once a home is plastered it feels like it’s nearly finished. Like when you sew up the side seams of your dress, put in the zip and try it on. Of course there is still so much to do (facings, lining, hem etc) but you have the form completed and you can try it on. The house is like that now. The next stage will be the floors, skirting and staircase as the woodwork goes in.

So what is the problem with the bathroom? The problem goes back to our design. Most of the homes on the estate are designed for holiday use and lettings. The design maximises the number of bedrooms and bathrooms to give maximum letting flexibility. We didn’t like this approach. We found the bedrooms too small and the bathrooms too large and plentiful. Nick and I use bathrooms mainly for washing etc and, given my daily gym trips I use the shower twice or three times a week. Nick is a bit OCD about personal hygiene and often showers twice a day. I know you are thinking “too much information” and “I hope she is not going to talk about toilets”. OK I won’t. But when you are designing a home you really need to think about what matters to you, how you use space and facilities, where you want your wow factors, what you use storage for, how you want the house to flow. So, in the planning, we talked a lot about the bathrooms (and bedrooms) and how we wanted to use them.

Rainshore bathroom
Problem Bathroom

Rainshore has three bathrooms, all very much smaller than on the original plans. They are functional rather than having the Wow factor.

Now, as you know, I work in property development and wow-bathrooms are all the rage in London. As we build small flats on the whole (land in the capital is eye-watering expensive), often with internal bathrooms (ie no natural light) we have to work quite hard to make them look attractive. Here is an image from one of our new developments in the Royal Docks (Newham). This is not my personal cup of tea, but it shows that modern bathrooms are both fairly large, often include a bath and use interesting and attractive materials. In fact due to disability regulations often the bathrooms are designed so they can be used by a wheelchair user, leaving the bedrooms and communal areas rather small and restricted. I have a bee in my bonnet about how much space we give to bathrooms. So our bathrooms, at Rainshore, and in our current flat, are as small as you can make them, with a focus on functionality.

Notting Hill Housing Royal Albert Wharf
Notting Hill Housing Royal Albert Wharf

So back to our “master bathroom”.

We knew (as well as a WC and WHB – toilet and basin) we wanted a double shower, to allow for shower sharing. Again this maybe too much information but even if you are dedicated to privacy having double the space in the shower is nice. But we wanted two shower heads with two independent sets of controls. He likes very hot, I like hottish. And my showers are shorter as I don’t wash my hair everyday. (See what I mean – it is probably very tedious for you to read this stuff). We also wanted to turn on the water without getting a wet sleeve. The shower heads are recessed into the ceiling so all you see is chrome circle with tiny holes and the water comes down on your head from above (if you stand directly underneath). So all this was considered by us and our architect.

As we went on Rachel (the architect) suggested we put a bath in too. Sometimes you want a bath, sometimes visitors want a bath, sometimes little kids come to stay and need a bath, occasionally crafting activities need a large vessel. OK. So we decided to include a bath. So two showers and a bath were designed. Here are the plans.

Rainshore Master Bathroom Plans
Rainshore Master Bathroom Plans

This week we decided on the type of bath that will go into the back of the bathroom. After lots of mind changing we went with a free-standing bath. This will sit at the back of the space and the two showers will be set in front of it. They may splash a bit onto to the bath, but we think there is enough space to minimise this. It would be possible to have a shower while someone was having a bath, if you wanted. We have specified neutral white and off white wall and floor tiles. And then Nick chose a mirror from the Arts and Crafts period. Together I think these two features give us sufficient “wow”.

And just because you have been very patient here is a picture of my sewing room. It’s going to be magnificent.

Fabrickated Sewing Room
Nick and Nathan in the Sewing room


Women in politics – Theresa May

posted in: Colour Analysis, Style advice | 10

Recently we got our second female Prime Minister, Theresa May. So far she has been doing OK, but she has a heck of a job in front of her. Sorting out a new relationship with Europe in a period of austerity and industrial decline isn’t an easy job. But as I always say this is a style and sewing blog, so what do we think of the clothes?

I have had my eye on Mrs May for a while as one of the very few politicians who seems to actually like clothes and enjoy fashion. Although she is very much a mainstream Tory MP she takes quite a lot of risks with her outfits, which I have to admire.

Theresa has a good semi-straight figure with rather wide shoulders and not much indentation at the waist. I think she may be self conscious of her shoulders as she is sometimes a bit hunched. She ought to feel proud of herself and her country and stand a little taller. Her best feature is surely her long, slim legs and her thick, grey hair.

Theresa in purple dress
Theresa May becomes PM

Let’s have a look at what she has been wearing.

Here are some hits. A clean, sharp outline; tidy hair; largish silvery jewellry, good red lipstick, authority colours – navy and black – with a splash of colour – red, lime green and khaki, sleeves which show off her arms and hands; emphasis on the legs. The first outfit is really nice – I am pretty sure it’s a Vivienne Westwood number with the skirt pulled to the side and the overlarge buttons. The second picture is a little more conservative but very elegant and “in charge”.  The shoes stop it being too much like a school speech day. And I really like the brownish-greenish suit with a black coat in the third picture. I would have found a more interesting bag and gloves to lift this outfit – mauve or emerald perhaps.

Now let’s look at Theresa in trousers. Trouser suits. Pant suits. I just don’t think these work as well. Again I am guessing we have Westwood outfits, so no shortage of wow factor. But somehow by failing to style them effectively Theresa seems to have driven the irony out of them. The first blue-grey suit has a peculiar semi-padded lapel, which just looks a bit like a life-jacket. It might have worked with a more important blouse, in a stripe or a contrasting colour, and the necklace is just too “Marks and Sparks” for the outfit. It needs a gekko or a nice antique brooch perhaps. And the light blue bag is completely wrong.

I feel if you wear an “out there” outfit you need to follow it through and really wear it with conviction. If you don’t it kind of wears you. And the same is true of the tartan pant suit. It makes a real statement (she didn’t wear this for meeting Nicola Sturgeon), but why wear a boring black belt, cream blouse and a teeny tiny pin badge? A neat black cashmere tank top and a big silver ring, or wear just trousers with a bottle green fitted blouse and leave the jacket for another day. Maybe a red belt and shoes would look better? The final outfit is much more conservative and dated. But I like the narrower trousers better than the fashionable wide legs.

Although Theresa looks good in trousers by choosing a wide leg she makes her whole body appear a bit, well, wide. The narrow navy pants show her ankles and look much better. When she shows her legs she looks slimmer and taller.  I think both these Westwood jackets would be better with a neat skirt, bare-coloured tights and cool shoes.

Sometimes Mrs May looks a bit of a mess.  In these images Theresa has made a mistake of creating too much fuss. The patchwork Westwood jacket needs a more streamlined partner. This jacket might just about be OK over say a close fitting green or purple dress, but not with the swagged skirt – she looks like a parcel. The light grey pant suit is too shiny and makes her look rather bulky. The patterned multi coloured coat is horrible and  I am sorry to say that red boots are never a good look. The accessories are poor too – beige gloves, tan bag, red boots and abstract painting coat is just weird.

In conclusion our new PM is interested in fashion and is willing to take risks. She has a sense of fun and drama and is brave and adventurous. The Daily Mail even suggested she is dressing like Cara Delevingne.

The clothes the Prime Minister chooses help to make her more accessible to women and help her stand out in a sea of men. She can look great when she obeys a few style rules. Dear Theresa, here are my suggestions:

  • Get a good hair cut! The accidental central parting, and the sometimes fluffy/messy outline is not so good. You need a hair style that looks good at all times, in all weathers
  • Stock up on a good neutral wardrobe avoiding patterns on the outerwear – navy, charcoal, khaki, dark brown, mid grey, airforce blue
  • Smart dresses in a solid colour with an interesting twist work well
  • Pencil skirts in plain fabrics or a small texture (eg tweed) are nice
  • Wear a proper blouse not a T shirt. You need more authority. If you want a round neck avoid showing the cleavage and chose silk not cotton jersey
  • Trousers suits are OK if they fit nicely and flatter your figure, Consider slim-fitting trousers or shorter lengths eg shorts, culottes, or a nice jump suit
  • Invest in some great coats that cover up everything and look very smart. Strong colours are OK eg red, shocking pink, yellow
  • Think about shoes, belts and bags as a set – not matching but working together to support the overall look. In fact get someone else to carry your bag
  • Get some better jewellery from Liberty or choose interesting vintage pieces
  • Don’t be frightened to wear a hat to church services and other formal occasions
  • Always wear red lipstick and just a little make up
  • Most of your shoes are great but the flashy boots are just a bit too theatrical
  • Wear British designers and include products from Scotland, Ireland and Wales eg knitwear, Welsh woolens, Irish linen, tweeds, tartan and Scottish cashmere
  • Smile more

Experimenting with “free vintage hat patterns”

I am worried my blog about style and stitching, fit and fashion might become a blog about hats! I have gone a bit hat-crazy over the last couple of weeks!

I went on a short course and I hope to do more, when time and funds allow. In the meantime I have searched for hat patterns. Vogue and other pattern houses produced several hat patterns, especially in the 1940s when everyone wore a hat. Today many of these patterns are available as reproductions, but they are rather expensive (around £15 each). As they are very small, essentially rather simple, patterns, I am going to see if I can do it myself. If I can I will share my approaches with you.

My first step was to see what free patterns were out there. The first is from Constance Talbot’s Complete Book of Sewing 1943. Demented Fairy will be pleased to note that Connie knows her triangles!

I like the look of this lady in her intriguing 1940s hat. As I read through the instructions I realised we have a woollen triangle with the cross grain across the top and the bias down the two sides. I cut out a nice piece of blue wool I got at Abakhan and zig zagged the edges. I tried following the instructions for putting it on but they didn’t make any sense to me. Canyou figure it out? I wore it like this – 1940s housewife style – on my day out with Megan. But it was far too hot to keep it on.

The Triangle Scarf hat - free hat pattern
Talbots Triangle Scarf hat


Then there is the Mad Cap pattern. And here are the instructions, from the Art Deco society of California. I cut the rectangle of fabric on the bias, sewed it up and lined the inside hem with a piece of vintage ribbon.


I love this hat. I made one in the same blue wool as the top hat (not a top hat – more like a little scarf) and I got my Mum to model it for me. I have been wearing this hat quite often too. It’s really fun. You can shape and model it once you have it on, in front of the mirror. Alternatively you could mould it into the style you like and then stitch it down. You could easily put a brooch or flower or badge on this hat. You could make it out of fleece or knit one. It is a truly great pattern and I really encourage you to give it a try.


The final hat I tried is more like a blocked hat.

You can find the instructions here, on the Tuppence Ha’penny website. However I didn’t find them very accurate or useful, I am afraid. The diagrams are good (from the original Vogue 8426 (1943), and you will be able to see how to construct the pattern. But I remade the pattern mainly because it was too small to sit on my head. I increased the length of the side band from 18″ to 21″ so that the hat would sit as the drawings below suggest. I also very slightly curved the Side piece by removing 1/2″ in 1/8″ slivers at four symmetrical points. The website also fails to specify the depth of the hat. Having tried on the paper pattern I suggest the depth of the hat would be about 2 1/4″. I used 1/2″ seam allowances throughout. Tuppence Ha’penny suggests using pelmet interfacing (upholstery product) which I think would do the trick. I was keen to use my Fosshape.

Vogue 8426
Vogue 8426

I used the pattern to cut out my fabric pieces. Fosshape shrinks when heated so I didn’t remove the full seam allowances – just 1/4″ all round. I have since found out that Fosshape can shrink as much as 30 per cent. I used the overlocker to join the top to the sides and hand stitching to finish it with a simple overlapped seam at the CB. I steamed it on an up turned glass jar as it needed something to hold its shape when steaming.I used my steam iron and a wet linen drying cloth to do this. Of course a wooden hat block with a nice crisp shape would have been better had I had the right equipment.

I am not very satisfied with this hat, mainly because of the sweet jar being a bit rounded, when this hat needs a sharp edge. I didn’t get the size of the gre wool covering quite right either and it has pulled to one side (since corrected) Also a tiny bit of Fosshape got tucked under when I was pressing, and it’s now permanently bent out of shape. But it’s all learning.

I used the same cheap petals I got at the Earls Court exhibition for £2. Having used some on my 1940s hat I still have enough left to create a third hat. And here is my sweet Mum wearing the hat.

Free hat pattern for 1940s hat
Mother in 1940s Pillbox Tilt Hat


Six Napoleon dress – painting the fabric

The original inspiration for this dress is black, and grey, and somewhat grungy. It is dark and dramatic.

Napoleon Six challenge
Napoleon Six Dogstar dress

I wanted mine to be a summer dress, not evening wear.

I decided to make it white rather than black, but realised this might be a bit wedding-y. In fact when I was cutting out the bodice I reached for some white guipure lace I have, thinking of creating some of the panels with a lace overlay. And then I realised that this was a wedding idea too.

So to subvert the wedding dress idea I decided to add some colour – through painting it with fabric paints. It is a challenge as while the bodice is a solid cotton fabric the skirt is diaphanous and takes the colour completely differently. Here are a couple of samples. In order to create a harmonious look the colours need to work together, but as you can already see one looks a bit like oils/acrylic, and the other like water colour.

I have two ideas that I keep coming back to, in terms of colour. The first is the Burberry/Bloomsbury collection. And actually Burberry do such amazing things with colour.

Burberry summer coats
Burberry summer coat inspiration

The other idea is from Schiaparelli. This 1946 dinner dress is held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and is printed rayon crepe. The print is known as Les Vieux Beaux (The Old Beauties). The fabric was designed by Sache in Paris (Accession Number: 1969-232-28) The Museum writes:

The fabric print, by the master silk designer Sache, features fin-de-siècle boulevardiers twirling canes and wearing derbies, top hats, or straw boaters. Sache provided designs to all the great haute-couture houses, from Balenciaga to Worth, and was responsible for translating Dalí’s design for a lobster onto silk organza for Schiaparelli in 1937.

I like the idea here of drawing some little figures and then colouring them in.

Schiaparelli Summer dress
Schiaparelli Summer dress

I know I can’t get my colours as vibrant with the equipment I have at home. But all these ideas are swirling in my head as I carry out the construction of the dress.

With it having a white background I want to let it breathe so I am inching towards the Schiaparelli idea. Both I and my son Gus love doing little drawings when we are sitting in meetings (listening intently). Doodling was what we all did before the days of fiddling with a phone.

Here are some of his doodles that I love. Maybe a collaboration is possible.

Gus Davies sketches
Sketches by Gus

In terms of actual colours I always come back to the same themes. I wonder if I can break away this time?

If I take the Schiaparelli as my inspiration I would use:

  • bright blue
  • rose pink
  • dark green
  • red
  • mint
  • red
  • mauve

I would leave out the orange and the peachy pink. And I would get a marker pen in navy or dark brown instead of black. This because I find black too harsh, and the orangey reds and peaches are not my best colours. But I still like the idea of having lots of colour on the dress.  I have been painting little faces on cloth with a fabric felt tip and colouring them in. I am not sure if this is going to work. Tune in next week for Napoleon Six progress.


Shopping for fabric in London – market shops review

posted in: Shop Review | 7

I covered the best places to shop for fabric in London and was prompted by a couple of readers to try two of our famous East London markets – Ridley Road (in Hackney) and Walthamstow market (in Waltham Forest). Happily they were ready and able to come with me to take a look, so I had a couple of nice days out.

First it was off to Ridley Road with Gail of Vintage Rock Chic. Gail felt I needed to experience Dalston Mill Fabrics in glorious technicolour. Gill used to be in the police but now she is retired and looking forward to moving to Norfolk to be closer to her family. She is a generous, sensitive and interesting woman and she kindly made me a needle holder from vintage fabrics. I am going to use this to store my special needles. Mary Funt brought me some amazing hand sewing needles, and specialist basting needles. And now I am in the market for “straws” – do you know what they are? – I will put them in there too.

Dalston Mill fabrics
The Vintage Rock Chick herself

We met at the Dalston Kingsland overground station and set off to examine the market goods. But our real objective was to visit this shop which looks very scruffy from the outside – Dalston Mill Fabrics.

Ridley Road market
Dalston Mill Fabrics

Thing about this shop is – they have lots of stock. They have good quality fabrics. They have lots of buttons, zips etc. They have helpful staff. They get some nice end of rolls from Hobbs. But. But the prices are too high for me. The fabrics I picked out were nice quality wools, but they wanted £17.50, £25 and £30 per metre. Far too expensive for me.

Gill could tell I was disappointed. I wasn’t really. It was fun to go out and look round. But if I were to spend this amount on cloth (probably not) I would expect a high street shop, with space, prices on the rolls, not a dilapidated store with the back door open onto the railway to ventilate the place.

We went for a drink at an outside cafe run by an enterprising Eastern European (£1 for a cup of tea – which is good value). We had a good look at the African fabric shops (Gail was looking for pink), the Ghanaian hair dresser, the live African snails, the wonderful fresh fish, the inexpensive vegetables – where the contents of every plastic bowl costs just £1. We had fun talking about children, grandchildren, London, dressmaking and cooking. Gail likes making cakes but is says she is quite conservative with her taste (but she was making a Micky Mouse dress for her great niece’s birthday party).

Ridley Road market
African snails

My other trip out was with Megan from Pigeon Wishes. Megan claims she has a problem with shopping and says she is trying to learn to buy less. As a precaution she came out with just £20 for a whole Saturday. Hmm I thought.

Here is what she spent it on

Six metres of orange drapy fabric @50p p/m £3

Two cups of tea @£1 £2

Jamaican spices for curry £3.50

Aubergines and corriander £2

Black striped fabric for a dress £3.50

Green viscose £4.00

Pink fabric £2

Megan is an expert shopper. She came prepared with a list of the best shops, and a map and whisked me around with just a short break for a cup of tea (also just £1 – these markets are much cheaper than the hipster cafes of Shoreditch or Starbucks etc).

It was while we were having our cup of tea that Megan’s eye alighted on a sign which advertised fabric at 50p a yard (the markets of London often offer fabric in metric or imperial – lots of work for the cashier). We went in and found that most of the cheap stuff was very stretchy. Megan, who wants to make up a full length 1930s bias cut evening dress, was looking for toile material that would behave like silk. I offered to help her with the fitting. I love her sense of adventure.

So what did I buy on two outings to the London markets?

Mainly food – peppers, avos, coriander, parsley, salad. Some prawns. But in terms of fabrics I got some yellow linen from TMOS (£3m), some lining from Saeeds, and some stretch sateen from the Textile centre. Nothing exciting. But good fabric, good prices. The weather was very hot and we had lots of fun. But my advice would be to go early and just try three or four shops. I was exhausted when I got home.


So farewell then Angela Eagle

posted in: Style advice | 20

Earlier this week we said Goodbye to Samantha Cameron – the beautiful and stylish wife of our ex-Prime Minister David Cameron.

And then on Tuesday we heard that the only woman standing for the Labour leadership – the want-to-be Prime Minister – was standing down from a difficult contest. I like Angela Eagle and find her compelling and funny. I would have been happy if Labour had shown it was changing by finally choosing a female leader who is both smart and able to connect with ordinary people.

On the other hand I did not like her sense of style, if I am honest.

Let’s see how she launched her campaign.

Angela Eagle style
Angela Eagle launches her campaign

What does the image say to you? Pink? Barbi? Messy? Unprofessional? Like an advert for a cheap perfume or “body spray”? Funny signature that reads as Arghhhh!? Distorted pink Union flag? Perhaps Angela has a friend who qualified in graphic design a few decades ago who offered her time for free.

I was embarrassed for her. She is brave and intelligent. She is (as I am afraid all politicians now have to emphasise their “personal story” over their political stance) a working class northern woman. She is good on the media, with an engaging manner. But whoever “branded” her, going out and buying the shocking pink and salmon satin jackets, should be sacked immediately.

Angela Eagle style analysis
Angela in another pink jacket

Everyone knows that Labour has, historically, employed style consultants, especially to advise their women how to dress. And there is nothing wrong with that. But if it is formulaic it stops working. Getting style advice is good if it allows you to be the best version of yourself. Not if it makes you into something you are not.

Let’s see Angela before the rebrand. What do you notice immediately? (Apart from her hair, which I will come to).

Angela’s outfits are basically trousers, a top and a jacket. And I would suggest she doesn’t “do” colour. She prefers black, grey and a bit of beige. Her red is dark and boring. Her jewellry is a necklace. She doesn’t worry too much about her appearance because she is a serious politician, and that is OK. If someone has a “natural” wardrobe personality this has to be reflected in how they advised. Angela wants her clothes to be in the background – not to detract. She wants practical, easy clothes. There is absolutely no point making her uncomfortable.

If I was advising Angela I would understand that she likes to look natural (and authentic) and I would encourage her to stop dying her hair as it is making her look drained and old (she is 55). Also it sometimes looks likes she trims her own fringe. I would schedule a six weekly hair cut with a good hairdresser. She needs a modern wash-and-go style that looks good with no blow drying or products. I would find a couple of optional lipsticks that complement her light cool colouring. And I would stick with the neutral trouser suits/jacket and non-matching pants, but would look for a more flattering shape –  most of her jackets and trousers are middle-aged and dated. She might consider a few modern but classic tailor-made suits that would fit well and show off her nice shape. Also there are far better versions of flat shoes out there – the ones she wear are “comfy but frumpy” – have a look at brogues, loafers and more youthful shapes.

But I would also step away from the black. Angela has very light colouring and would look much better if her neutrals were light grey, beige and mid blue – even white. Having chosen a classic suit or more elegant jacket and trousers, perhaps introducing some texture would be flattering.  I would  make the blouse/jumper/top more of a main event too, using colour and pattern to create interest and style. The pastels are a bit predictable but might be good, but slightly stronger colours would work too. I would be prepared to bet that Angela doesn’t like ironing, but I would urge her to try a smart white shirt instead of the jacket sometimes to convey authority and a willingness to get the job done. You can always get them washed and ironed professionally. But getting the hair right is at least half the story.

So what about pink?

I love pink, and I probably wear some pink two or three times a week. It is the traditional feminine colour and it can work very well with an aging complexion, making the wearer look more rosy, healthy and glowing. But it has connotations of femininity that are hard to ignore. It is important not to be afraid of pink, but don’t get hemmed in by it. Wear it with a little irony, if you can (unless you are a romantic dresser). But why Labour’s leading woman was encouraged to brand herself in pink is unfathomable. It just doesn’t convey the authority that is needed, and it is not true to the woman being promoted.

Look at this too. In the last election Labour, in an attempt to get women to vote for the party, sent a bunch of women MPs round the country in a pink bus.

Women’s issues are serious issues – fair pay, job opportunities, the need for affordable child care and housing, the right to choose. And we are interested in foreign policy, and education, health, science, industrial policy and safety too (just like men). So come on Angela – show real leadership – get the party to drop the pink, and fight for women.

Labour pink
Labour’s pink van




Six Napoleon dress – preparing the skirt

With a growing group of international pattern drafters and dress makers, orchestrated by Sew2Pro,  I have been trying to recreate a complicated asymmetric dress.  Known as Six Napoleon, it is designed by Japanese-Austrailian designer Dogstar. I made a reasonable fist of the bodice, receiving a little help from my pattern cutting teacher. But the term ended two weeks ago and I am  on my own for the skirt. Well not completely. The others in the group are posting their experiments and findings on their blogs. Below is the inspiration picture we are all using. You can see that the skirt is very full and has lots of body, despite it being translucent and delicate. It is made with 8 metres of silk organza, and six metres of lining fabric. It appears to have a knee length section and one or two under layers. At its longest point it comes almost to the ground. I think the original hat two colours – grey on black. It looks like the hems are faced rather than hemmed.

The image below appears to be a skirt which looks alot like the Napoleon Six dress and this may just be a similar skirt from the same designer, but it may be the underskirt. Certainly the pleating looks familiar.

Six Napoleon skirt
Six Napoleon skirt

Design analysis

There are several layers to this dress. I will be drafting a knee length organza over skirt skirt; a maxi length organza skirt with distinctive handkerchief point godet; a maxi length underskirt and a lining.

In terms of creating the pattern we could use either draping or flat pattern cutting. The Challenge organiser Marianna originally suggested the skirt should be draped, and she may well be right. But I thought I might try it as a flat pattern cutting exercise. I found it quite a difficult exercise as there are lots of things going on – it is asymmetric, many layered and involves two sorts of pleats, a godet, plus and uneven hem. Although I have done a term of Intermediate pattern cutting, I would say this is advanced cutting. Nevertheless determination, logic and a few books have helped me tackle difficult projects before,  so I was keen to give it a go.

Here is what I did.

  1. This skirt is going to be attached to the bodice so trace off the bottom of the bodice pattern (from the waist) so that you have a hip line to work with.
  2. Mark the CF and CB on this guide pattern
  3. Mark where all the bodice seams join the skirt (as this is where the fullness in the skirt will emanate from)
  4. Now trace off a basic skirt block at the hip line (which means there are no darts) to fit into this guide pattern
  5. Slash the skirt into 8 equal parts and spread the pattern to create a flared skirt. This is your flared skirt foundation and will be used for the underskirt and the lining later.
  6. To make the maxi length skirt: Use the flared skirt foundation and add 26 cms to make it maxi length. Mark where you wish to place a pleat or a box pleat. On the front I created two box pleats and two regular pleats. I used a measurement of 4.5cm for the under/overlap of the pleats. At the back I used less pleats.
  7. Slash along the line of where the pleats are going and add sufficient paper for the pleats (ie 9cm for the pleats and 18cm for the box pleats)
  8. Now create additional flare in the feature box pleat by slash and spread
  9. Create additional flare at the points where the seams join the bodice where there is not a pleat or box pleat already. By doing this I found the front and back patterns became more or less quater circles. When joined together it will be basically a half circle skirt – with flares, pleats and godets.
    Nap6 pattern cutting
    Front skirt piece with inserted pleats
  10. Create a pattern for the handkerchief point godet. This will be seamed in within the feature box pleat.
    Handkerchief point godet
    Godet pattern (since lengthed)
  11. To create the knee length overskirt use the same pattern as the maxi but without the added length and without the godet.
  12. Now create the underskirt and lining. For both I used the flared skirt foundation (step 5) and lengthened it to about 30cm at its longest point.
  13. Add grain lines, seam and hem allowances.

In terms of construction my friend Annie suggests we have a look at McCalls 6396. I think this is helpful, as a start. I intend to face the hems so I will cut some bias strips measuring about 4″.


So farewell Sam Cam!

posted in: Uncategorized | 5

Last week we lost our Prime Minister David Cameron. This is not a party political blog, so I will not comment. This is style and stitching blog so I will comment on his wife Samantha, who is both very pretty and a good dresser. She promotes British fashion, generally dresses beautifully and appropriately and a dear friend (Annie B) asked me to write up her wardrobe.

Let’s start with a quick analysis of her figure and colouring. Helpfully there are lots of pictures of Samantha in a bikini. As she has model girl looks (despite having had four children) she is unself conscious in the nearly altogether. Sam has relatively large shoulders (compared to her slim hips), small bosom, hardly any waist, and nicely shaped legs. Her body type is straight (like Princess Diana). She is also slim and athletic, with her legs slightly longer than her torso, and she has good muscle tone from exercising.

Samantha Cameron style analysis
Samantha Cameron in a bikini

In terms of her colouring Sam has bright blue-grey eyes and her hair is naturally dark. She suits cool colours, brighter shades and deep rather than light tones. Photos of her with bleached hair show that you shouldn’t depart too much from your natural colouring. These pictures also show how many women improve with age (now at 45), gaining confidence, working out what suits them and accepting their “imperfections”.

Let’s look at some of the outfits. In general I would say that Sam rarely gets it wrong. She usually wears a high heel – genearlly in a neutral shade and natural tights for a nude leg look,  and shows off her shapely ankles. She wears a combination of high street and designer, always putting her clothes together well. The first two “occasion” dresses use pleating and folds to create more shape around the bust and hips, creating a waist line. The third more casual outfit emphasises Sam’s rather straight figure in a pleasing way. Although Samantha is a Tory wife and very much a posh woman, she still retains a sense of fun, a little twist and a soupson of daring. Especially when compared to her husband who rarely departs from a navy suit and a dark tie.

Samantha really does look great in a dress so long as it is a pencil skirt or softly draped. A crisp A line is less successful (the blue skirt, L). The black and orange skirts are flared from a slim yoke and do look much better. But again the best skirt look is the pencil – I really like the colour of the final outfit – a rose pink blouse with a grey skirt and important white or light grey belt. In fact Mrs Cameron has a really good, professional understanding of colour and mixes colours together really nicely.

Turning to trousers we would expect a slim hipped girl without much of a waist to look fab in trousers and she does. I think this is her best look. With smart heels and narrow cut trousers she always looks fresh, skinny and fashionable. Even with the school bags and Converse – in jeans and a grey jacket she looks relaxed and comfortable.

Finally let’s have a look at the most formal looks Sam is required to turn up in. I absolutely loved the vintage looking grey suit and flying saucer hat. I also liked the blue striped dress with a black hat that she wore for the Queen’s birthday. I like it because it has a sense of fun and daring. The white dress with a green belt is not as nice – mainly because the cap sleeves emphasise her largish shoulders, the waist looks a little thick and again a stiff A line is just not her best look.

Making vintage hats at Morley college

posted in: Designing | 21

Regular readers will know that I am always on the search for new knowledge and I frequent – as often as time and money allow – various educational institutions across London. Last summer I did a two-day course on Indigo dying. This year I was determined to learn about making hats. I love hats. I made two hats when I was doing my fashion training course in the 1980s (one blocked and one flat pattern cut), but I have not made one since. Hat are not just for keeping the head warm (or noggin as the Australian students Ali and Jan described it), and certainly not just for special occasions. I like to think of hats as completing an outfit.

Of course in winter we need to keep our ears warm and a hand knitted beanie, hood or a scarf can all do the job equally well. But I like to wear fur, or something a bit more dramatic. In summer – to keep the sun out of my eyes – I make do with squashable, brimmed sun hats from the M&S sale.  I prefer love those big straw hats but they are hopeless for holidays as you don’t want to be obliged to wear it on your head when travelling, along with your large donkey from Mihas.

And if I go to a wedding I see this as a chance to wear something on the head. For George and Bianca’s wedding, I made a headdress with flowers. I felt this looked different and fresh rather than the horribly obvious hats from Debenhams or from specialist shops. I personally hate the Mother of Bride type outfits, and wouldn’t wear a fascinator if you paid me, but there are occasions when it is nice to wear a hat to complete an outfit.

Since I started sewing again (two years ago) I have retained my scraps thinking “I could make a hat with that”, and “wouldn’t it be cool to have a hat that matches a dress?”. There are so many nice vintage hat patterns on the internet – I signed up for the course thinking we might be making something like these.

1940s hat patterns
1940s hat patterns

The course that appealed promised an opportunity to make a hat from the 1920s or 1940s suitable for going to the races. I found the marketing a little strange – why would I want to go to see horses racing with one of these on my head?  With no idea what sort of hats were planned I registered and turned up with the suggested materials suggested for a class run by Karen Shannon. My main criticism of the course was that it was badly described, and the materials list was sketchy so no-one came properly prepared. But what greeted us was far more thrilling that making a hat with a sewing machine. We were about to produce brimless, blocked hats in a weekend!

You might wonder (if you have any millinery experience with buckram) how it is possible for a group of ten to produce at least two hats over a weekend.

This was the most exciting thing about the course and, unexpected as it was, it completely blew my mind.

Have you ever heard of Fosshape? It’s a thermoplastic product that looks like white fleecey felt, that you can mould into a hat shape, fix with heat, and turn into a hat by covering it with fabric. In one weekend I made four different hat shapes and got two of them covered.

We were required to produce a turban or a beret type hat. As the course notes had not mentioned blocked hats or the types of styles that would be suitable in the time we had to do our research there and then. I chose some Schiaparelli 1940s turban shapes as my inspiration.

Firstly we were taken through the process of making the hat block out of Fosshape. Wrap your hat block (checking first for size) in cling film, mould the Fosshape to it using pins and elastic to hold the shape, smoothing out all the bumps. Then use steam to set the shape.

You will see that a professional steamer is used in the studio but Karen did say you could use the kettle instead. In fact she said that Stephen Jones, one of our most famous contemporary hatters, had only recently got a steamer.

Once the hat shape is created it is pressed using a wet muslin cloth to get a nice, sharp, crisp outline. Then if it is a cloche shape (for the turban) it is cut to shape on the head. The exact size and shape of the hat depends on the style of turban to be created. I hesitated to show you how funny I look in the swimming hat style. It was even funnier to see five of us looking just as weird. But if you think about it – this process using traditional blocking materials would have taken about a week. I got this result in about half an hour. We could share hat blocks and create some quite sophisticated designs in half a day.

While we were told that you should add an inch to your head measurement I found this too big. My first hat needs to be remade in order to get a better fit. I made two small overlapped darts one inch either side of the CB. This did the trick easily.

The selfies aren’t great. But you can see the potential. The navy hat has since been remade, and worn for work. I need to more of this – either by finding a course or perhaps buying a hat block!

Introduction to Knitting

I have never knitted a garment in my life. Well I made a few items for Esme, when she was a baby, using very simple patterns, the odd scarf and a granny squares blanket.

I know how to knit, but I don’t know how to shape fabric with yarn and knitting needles. And the thing is, cardigans and jumpers are a key part of my wardrobe. I love wearing something soft and snuggly, that keeps me warm. I love the texture of knitting, and I like the “home made”, vintage look often associated with it. I can remember wearing knitted items my mother made for me when I was young. When shopping in charity shops I still seek out handmade children’s jerseys, and Aran sweaters, partly from nostalgia, but also because I appreciate how much work has gone into a hand knitted top and feel sad to leave them in the shop.

Arran sweater and tartan scarf: John Davies
A long time ago
Photo: John Davies

As I begin to think about my casual wardrobe my mind has turned to knitting. I tried to knit a cardigan a couple of years ago, but got into a terrible mess. A French friend (French women, in general, appear to be competent knitters) told me I was mad to start with a cardigan. So this time I am planning to make a jumper.

Lorelle by Purl Alpaca
Lorelle by Purl Alpaca

It is knitted in the round and it is made from alpaca wool. I saw the jumper made up at an exhibition and it appealed to me as plain but with a little bit of detail. I also really liked the natural colours available.  I shared the details with my ace-knitter friend Stephanie in Ottawa. I am going to quote her at length (but slightly edited) as she is an expert. Steph is generous with her time and help, and she understands some of the issues I might have.

It looks like a nice pattern that is doable for someone new to larger knitting projects. The most important thing is spending the time before you start to make sure that you can get the tension right so that you can expect a reliable measurement for the final fabric! When I knit I spend a lot of time measuring as I go as well, to make sure that everything will line up neatly. I generally find that my tension is looser in the round, so it’s important to check tension knitting in the method that you are going to be using. Making swatches is a pain but at least when you start knitting the garment you are confident that you are on the right track. The other thing is that unfortunately the needle recommended in the pattern is sometimes not the one that will suit your own personal knitting tension, so it’s helpful to have a couple of needle sizes around the needle size recommended for the pattern, in case you need to switch. That said, for something knitted at 5mm you might have a bit of leeway. It’s worth making a few swatches on a few different days, blocking them, and doing a good measure to get a sense of what your tension will likely be when you knit the garment, particularly as you don’t knit often. After I’ve made one swatch these days I have a good idea of what my tension will be as my tension is pretty even after all of these years.

I had, naively, assumed that if you buy the right size it will more or less fit. It is after all jersey. If it is a little large or small does it really matter? I was interested to read how precise Steph is with her tension squares and continual monitoring. I bought traditional 5mm needles and was going to practice my tension on them rather than go out and buy the sort of needles that work when knitting in the round. Will it be good enough? (Remember, unlike Stephanie I am no perfectionist).

Also look on Ravelry to see other versions of the pattern made up. People sometimes offer useful tips about narrowing the neckline, for example, or issues they found with the pattern, as in sewing. I have to admit that I usually use Ravelry to see how many “bad” versions there are made up, i.e. to imagine the worst-case scenario or imagine improvements I could make, or to spot something that seems great in the professional photo but that might look less nice in person. That sounds terrible, as I am no guru of a knitter, but often there will be one nice one and fifty fairly so-so or awkward ones knitted up, even though the initial pattern seems great. If there is a higher success rate with the pattern, e.g. 10% nice ones, I get a better impression of the likely end result. That said, as in sewing, having a successful garment in the end depends so much on the yarn that is chosen, the colour, and whether or not the person decides to check tension (or knows what size will suit them), which many knitters don’t bother to do. 🙂 I think we all start out as that knitter and seamstress, me as much as anyone, and then hopefully evolve. I just checked for your pattern and there is only one set of photos of one being made up, but the knitted fabric looks very nice.

I checked too and wasn’t overwhelmed. I just want to complete one garment I can wear.

Check in with a friend who is an accomplished knitter if you run into issues. Most knitting shops abound in people who know their stuff so even going into a knitting shop is an option. Some people like to join a knit-a-long group where women go to the shop and knit their individual projects at the same time. I have never done that and I doubt that you have the time, but I think it probably helps projects to move along given that there is a regular commitment to knitting the project and others can troubleshoot for you.

This is obviously very good advice. I have put out a call at work in the hope of finding someone who can help me in my lunch hour.

I will let you know how I get on.

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