Many dressmakers are attracted to patterned fabrics – unsurprisingly as making garments in black or navy is not very exciting, even though most of us wear neutrals most of the time. But while we make clothes with gaudy fabrics, flamboyant prints, and loud colourful cloth, many of us have difficulty in integrating them into our wardrobes. (I have been meaning to write about this topic since 10 August 2014!)
The most obvious, and safest way to wear pattern is to use it in accessories eg a scarf, bag, or a tie. A little more adventurously I like a patterned blouse or shirt with a business suit. More daring is to wear a skirt, trousers, jacket or coat in an obviously patterned fabric, but most people will pair this with neutrals or at least one plain colour that matches the pattern.
Much more challenging is when we wear more than one pattern at a time – clashy-clashy. Which is why this is a rare look, certainly in London. I really enjoy seeing people, often the highly confident or the artistic, putting outfits together with more than one pattern. I look out for mixed patterns on the tube and always give the person a virtual high-five when they nail it. In fact wearing “clashing” outfits with many prints is almost a faux pas – implying you come from a different culture, or may even be socially or mentally inadequate. I really enjoy those accidental pairings that I photographed in Romania, and love naive choices of kids who are allowed to choose their own outfits. Yellow sweater, pink swirly skirt, frog wellies and a hat. Designers often pair toning patterns to good effect, and artistic types just know what works together.
The high street has some good patterned offerings at the moment, just asking to be combined artistically. These high street outfits (featured in the Evening Standard magazine) really appealed, despite the somewhat pyjamay vibe.
In the photo below (from 2014) I am wearing two patterns together – trousers with a scarf (on a camping holiday by the looks of it!). I may or may not have on a navy and white Breton striped T-shirt as well. I love these two textiles together as they both have a light navy background and pink flowers on them. The colours of the scarf are stronger and brighter than the trousers but they look nice together in the same way that a garden looks good together. Lorraine – a dear colleague from work always dresses beautifully, embracing colour, pattern and interesting jewellery. Although in her case the two fabrics are not as similar as the two I chose, the ditsy flowers on her dress and scarf are similarly orangey pink and green. Like me she has neutral cardigan/jacket which doesn’t fight with the pattern. Maeve, a dancer who works at The Place in Euston, is wearing three patterns which again harmonise nicely. The scale of the flowers on her dress and cardigan are similar and although they are not the same design exactly they look a bit like we have two colourways of the same fabric. For warmth and additional pattern she has added an ethnic woven wrap. This introduces stripes and another set of colours. Finally I have a photograph of Sue, another amazing leader from Notting Hill Housing. Sue has mixed two check garments – an olive and black blouse under an orange and black pinafore dress. Here by playing with scale and using two colours (with black) that harmonise nicely Sue has got a really up to the minute, classic but individual, work look. I love it.
I am not really sure if there are any rules on pattern matching. It takes confidence to do it, and artistic people just know what works, even if it doesn’t. Here are some rules that seem to work for me.
- I like to have one predominant colour – blue for me, and black for Sue.
- Another approach is to stick to one colour group. Sue is wearing deep-warm colours that work well for her. Mine are bright and cool. This helps ensure a harmonious look even when two or three patterns are used.
- Think about scale. Narrow and wide stripes can work well together; equally the same scale but different colours. Sue has larger checks on her dress and smaller ones on her blouse.
- Florals tend to work well with other florals. So do stripes. Or checks (eg three tartans). Or polka dots. But I really like florals with stripes, as does Maeve.
- If you are really confident use at least three patterns. For a less edgy look try two patterns and a neutral like Lorraine.
Do you use patterned fabrics or do you prefer plain cloth? Do you ever wear two or more patterns together? What works for you?
I mentioned I was attending a conference in France last week and I put together a capsule wardrobe. I asked for suggestions and was grateful for your contributions. Many of you have travelled much more for business than I, so I had alot to learn. Some of my ideas worked well. Some less so.
So how did I get on?
Well I dropped the green evening skirt as many of you suggested it might be chilly in the evening. You were right! I included a pair of yellow trousers and a frilly pink over blouse instead. I made the cashmere jumper to match my skirt and took that.
Travelling to France. This involved an early train to the airport, a two hour flight from Heathrow to Marseilles, a two hour drive in France to Cannes, and a lunch on the beach at 1pm. The sun was shining brightly and it was pretty hot. About 20 degrees. Once we parked the car I took off the sweater and tights and put on the red shoes. On the beach I took off my jacket and had a brilliant meal with our Architects.
Day One – afternoon and evening
We had booked to stay at a nice Airbnb, a 20 minute walk from the centre. After lunch we drove to meet our host, parked the car and I was relieved to change out of the woolen skirt. I put on the linen culottes. Many of you had said that linen was too easily creased, but actually this garment was a real success. Cool in every way. I now wore the dark brown shoes with the culottes and no tights. Walking back to town in the afternoon I felt amazing. The sun on my back. The cute blouse with “ovoid” sleeves. The lovely loose skirt/pants and the fashionable shoes with kilt pin. We met several people we needed to see and made useful new contacts, and at about 7.30 I went to an important dinner organised by London First. The topic was about developing homes around transport links and the main speaker was from Transport for London. As my association had just been chosen for the first opportunity
Day Two – daytime
OK the shoes were not really appropriate for business wear. But I could not wear the other two pairs of shoes. So for most of the rest of the week I wore the trainers. Having learnt the lesson about freezing to death, that evening I came back to the apartment and changed into something warm.
Day Two – Evening
Day Three Daytime
More or less the same as Day one – but with a shirt, and the trainers.
Day Three evening
More or less the same as day two, but with a quirky pink over blouse. This is made from pink tulle and I have it on over the red short sleeved top. That evening I had a formal reception (where I kept my blue jacket on), then a relaxed dinner with friends. I was kindly driven to the reception by my hosts (a taxi with blackened windows…) so I was able to wear my heels – trainers were out of the question. But they came along in a leopard-print fabric bag so I could walk home. I felt a bit like Cinderella at midnight in my trainers, wooly coat and shoes in a carrier bag. I bumped into an important contact who found me, and my outfit, somewhat out of place. He insisted on taking my picture (See Day Two, but with pink tights!) Eeek.
So to sum up
Business Casual in warm weather
- Footwear, footwear, footwear. Men wear flat shoes suitable for walking distances in everyday. Even my most comfortable work shoes were uncomfortable with no tights in warm weather. I just didn’t have any appropriate footwear. I usually held eye contact and got my feet under the table as soon as possible. I need something like smart leather trainers.
- The south of France, in mid March, can be very hot. Take sunglasses and sunscreen. I had neither. I got a bit burnt.
- Even when you are in a sunny place it can be cold at night. Don’t hesitate to return to your hotel or flat to change into something more suitable. Next time we will book earlier for a closer location (see footwear above).
- Consider you warm wear as well as your cool wear. I would have liked a lightweight dress but the styles I prefer are not business like. Many ladies wore tight, sheath dresses which I feel are more “women on the stand” rather than female CEO, but that is my prejudice.
- I took a smallish, cross body, zip up bag. This was an ideal size but a little down market. Maybe the same thing but in leather. To go with the shoes, see footwear above.
- My colour schemes made an impact in a sea of men in navy suits/white shirts. I was complimented often on my red/pink tops, glasses, watch strap and lipstick. This goes to show that a conservative outfit (a navy suit and white blouse) can be set off with a few small colourful accessories. You don’t actually need to do much at all to stand out.
- Lots of people suggested scarves for warmth and as a good accessory. It may be just me but I feel scarves are a bit dated these days, especially as many men have given up the tie.
- Selfies are not very flattering or accurate, foreshortening the leg.
What about everyone else? I had to look quite hard to find anyone not in navy. Or female.
Do you knit and sew? Not everyone does. Until the middle of last year I was basically a seamstress who liked wearing knitted items, looking at knitting, reading about knitting, and thinking about knitting, but who had never actually done any knitting. But once I realised I could, with sufficient encouragement and support, make clothes I have to admit I was hooked.
Two weeks ago I made a new clothes making plan.
In summary I said I would knit four items
- An Ankestrick Heavenly sweater
- An Ankestrick Holsten sweater
- Finish my Fara Raglan
- Make a jersey for myself from the left over green cashmere yarn
And I would sew four items (five actually as the last is trousers and a jacket)
- Red Burda coat
- Burda summer dress
- Cord trousers with the Style Arc Talia pattern
- Alexander McQueen suit
Progress so far has been one knitted and one sewn item, so it looks like, for me, they are evenly balanced.
But that would be the wrong conclusion! I have two half finished jumpers now. The Fara (no progress) and the green cashmere. I decided to make another Heavenly – partly because I like the style. But also just to see what happens when you make the same item in a different yarn. Although the Lang and the Colourmart yarns are both 100 per cent cashmere double knit they are very different creatures. The Lang is soft and fragile. The Colourmart is strong, a little stringy, not very cashmere-like in terms of feel. But I enjoyed borrowing Gus’s poloneck in this yarn so I think I will enjoy wearing it. The style of jumper allows it to be worn over a T shirt or blouse so I think it will be versatile for me. I prefer this sort of scooped neck line on T shirt or jersey. I am enjoying knitting something for the second time as it allows me to relax even more and also to avoid some of the mistakes I made first time round (although I made new ones!).
So what of my sewing plans? The Talias were a bit of a pain, and didn’t proceed as expected. They took a few weeks to complete. I have the fabric I need for at least the coat and the suit. I also have the three patterns I need for the sewn items but have not even printed out the Burda’s or opened the Vogue. Why? I am not sure but here are my reflections.
- Right now I am still very excited about knitting. I need to be enthusiastic to compete a task that I don’t have to do.
- I am happy to knit simple things – I am a beginner so I am making fairly easy things that don’t need much fitting.
- Style-wise I am not that keen on the dressmaking equivalent – the Jiffy/Beginner/Easy pattern. Not that I am a snob – I just feel I could buy a T shirt/baggy dress – when making clothes I want a good fit and a stand out design. This is much more challenging to make and requires a fair degree of concentration.
- Previously I welcomed more challenging work – drafting or draping a pattern. At the moment I prefer stocking stitch – with circular needles, and with a TNT! I want to be on auto-pilot.
- I think I have a bit too much on at the moment in terms of work – a huge project looms – and I want to crash out a bit in the evenings
- My weekend routine has been smashed – but in a good way. I am travelling to the country (three to four hours in a train or car each weekend), and then basing myself in a place without a proper sewing area (yet). At the moment I want to sit in our lovely sitting room and knitting or reading seems more harmonious with my environment than going into the back room and doing “industrial” type work.
- Maybe for me sewing is more like work, and knitting more like leisure.
Do you have different feelings about your clothes making activities? What do you like doing best? Do you make clothes for recreation or challenge? Or other reasons?
Lots of people have suggested I try Style Arc, an Australian based company that sells modern looking, mainly casual wear patterns.
The pattern: Talia Woven trousers
I decided to give it a go as I really wanted to make some pull-on trousers that I thought might work well for my new country life style.
I bought a pattern for a pair of woven trousers with a straight waist band at the front, and elastication at the back. The photos looked nice and I ordered a size 8 which corresponded with my body measurements.
As you will know if you have used this company they sell paper and PDF patterns. I decided to try paper as the price was similar. The patterns are fairly pricey – around £12 for a paper pattern posted to the UK from Australia. But they give you a free bonus pattern, so while you don’t get much choice this works out at £6 each which isn’t bad.
I found the drafting and instructions OK but a bit sparse. A friend suggested that the patterns are outsourced to Asia which doesn’t make them bad, but may explain why they have something of an “industrial” feel.
I measured the pattern pieces (which only come in one size) and the hips were a little bit small for me, and the waist a little bit big. I wasn’t sure what to do about the waist as with an elasticated waist item the actual dimension needs to be large enough to pull on over the hips. I added a little bit to the girth at the hips/thigh but decided to risk it in terms of the waist measurement.
The fabric I used for these pants, having written up why I like corduroy, was the left over piece I had after making Gus his cord trousers. I really liked the fabric which has a soft vintage feel in terms of colour and texture.
This was a straightforward construction. The side pockets are quite nice but pretty straightforward. With them being pull ups there was no fly to deal with. One of the bloggers I follow, Paola of La Sartora, made these pants up too and mentions there is a pocket tutorial on the website.
Unfortunately the first version was horrible. The trousers were just too big and the elastic at the back did not really bring them in sufficiently.
The problem was two fold.
- The pattern needed altering for a relatively slim waist without losing the ability to slide the trousers on. As all the gathering in is at the back this is a fairly tall order given my dimensions. I want a hip of about 40″ so there is sufficient ease, and a waist of about 26″ which is fairly snug.
- The problem was worsened by the type of fabric I used. The corduroy is rather thick and doesn’t gather very easily.
So how did I sort this out?
I removed the whole waist band, and I took a little width off at the waist at the sides, but this was limited due to the side pockets. I took a little more off the CF seam (rather than putting in front darts). I created two darts at the back and put an invisible zip in at the CB. When I tried them on (first picture) it was obvious that the legs were too full.
Instead of a waist band I made a facing, and because I was at Rainshore with no overlocker I used bias binding to finish the facing. This lovely William Morris print from Liberty was made by my friend Linde.
They are a nice comfy fit and will work well as country pants. Not “pull ons” as I intended but certainly not too hard to get into. I think they look better with a jumper over them. I will model them on our next visit and share better pictures shortly. I have been away in France this week for the conference so am behind with my blog!
Overall this is not a bad pattern. It was my mistake for using a fabric that was not ideal. They do have quite a high waist and the legs are pretty wide. I am not sure they would be much better in a lighter cloth given my dimensions, but I may give it a go in the summer.
Apparently corduroy started life as a type of Fustian. I remember clearly reading about both fabrics in one of my GCE O level books, The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.
The man was of fine figure, swarthy, and stern in aspect; and he showed in profile a facial angle so slightly inclined as to be almost perpendicular. He wore a short jacket of brown corduroy, newer than the remainder of his suit, which was a fustian waistcoat with white horn buttons, breeches of the same, tanned leggings, and a straw hat overlaid with black glazed canvas. (p1)
I also remember reading about Fustian in Frederick Engels in that it was the most easy way to distinguish the rich from the poor – Fustian in the 19th C included corduroy, jean and moleskin. He notes that linen and wool are now hardly used for the clothes of the poor, and that cotton (not grown in the UK) has replaced both. Men wear fustian (heavy cotton) trousers and jackets. In fact the poor came to be known as “fustian jackets”, whereas the middle classes wore woolen broadcloth. In the Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 he notes that cotton is really not the most suitable fabric for a workman’s outfit, especially given the cold, damp climate and lack of heating within the home.
It is really hard to find any images of working men in corduroy because
- the poor were rarely able to afford a photograph
- initially photographers were not interested in recording social history or “ugly” things
- the pictures that exist tend to be “snaps” rather than quality pictures
- there are more pictures of women than men
- there are more US pictures than UK pictures available on the internet
- some of the men below may be wearing fustian or corduroy
Corduroy still has a working class, slightly rebellious character and became fashionable in the 1960/70s, especially in universities, as men changed out of woolen suits in something more comfortable, but also fairly warm and durable.
But there were times when this unpretentious fabric made its way into high fashion. If you make anything with corduroy here are a few tips
- The wales – the ribs that run down the fabric – vary in size from 3 wale or jumbo cord (just 3 wales per inch) to pincord, which features as many as16 wales per inch.
- Make sure the wales run evenly down or across the garment – consider cutting each piece separately so the wales run along the grain line of the pattern
- You can get pure cotton, or mixed fibres, or cotton with a bit of elastane in it. If you are using an elastance product use a lightweight interfacing around pockets, zips, waistbands etc.
- This is a fabric with a definite nap so make sure all the pattern pieces run in the same direction. I prefer it in a downwards direction.
- A needleboard is a marvellous thing. I used one in college and they work brilliantly. I don’t have one. I would say press on the back side with steam rather than too much pressure, but cord is not too prissy and will spring back in the wash.
- Use a slightly longer stitch length as the stitches can sink in. It is hard to upick!
- Use a slightly thicker needle than usual to cope with several thicknesses
Some of the coolest men look amazing in Corduroy. Some of my favourite actors play on the sensuousness, ruggedness and comfort of corduroy. It is soft to the touch, and creases in an attractive way. It is similar to denim in the sense that it improves with age and wear, imprinting the body inside on the outside over time.
So who should wear it and how?
- Corduroy has universal appeal for casual wear and is ideal for children, men and women
- It is a warm version of cotton so works well for autumn outfits, especially in natural shades, especially the browns. Personally I dislike the very bright or printed versions for adults, but each to his or her own
- A pincord shirt can be a nice item on a man or a woman seeking a warmer shirt
- Great for garments that get quite a lot of wear eg trousers, although they will wear out across the seat and at the knees
- As the material is somewhat bulky, trousers and skirts often work better in slimmer styles. Gathering only works with the lightest weights
- If you are very slim corduroy can add useful bulk, but overweight people should think carefully about light-reflecting and chunky fabrics like corduroy
- Juvenile styles such as mini-skirts, dungarees, overall type garments, baby doll dresses, and shorts all seem to work well in corduroy
- The stripes are flattering worn in vertical direction, making the wearer look taller and slimmer.
- Tailored items look a bit dated these days but good quality 1970s vintage cord items can be fun suitably mixed with modern items. Also companies like COS create corduroy suits for young men that want to wear a suit for work but don’t want to look too grown up or formal. These can be worn with casual shirts, T-shirts or trainers for a dressed down look.
- Corduroy caps and hats are horrible and should never be worn.
The Jewellery making course continues and we have recently finished the most amazing pendants. I really love this design. The first week we were shown three examples of this square, textured pendant in various sizes. The photograph shows different textures – a leaf and a sort of honeycomb pattern, and a further botanic pattern. It is such a simple and elegant piece with no fiddly findings or holes in the piece. The chain just fits between the layers. I bought enough silver bullion produce one larger and one smaller pendant. Nick chose to make the smaller one for his daughter Charlotte, so I decided to make the larger one for myself.
Before we started on the silver pendants we were supplied with some copper squares to try out different textures before committing to our final design. The textures are created by pressing a firm object into the metal, under pressure.
The rolling mill is a very nice old machine that you feed the metal into, closely aligned with the material you want to create the texture with. It’s a bit like a mangle that we used to squeeze the water out of sheets and items we were washing at home.
I used wire, feathers, leaves, lace, linen, paper clips, netting and fine sandpaper cut into shapes. I was keen to try to achieve something sewing related, getting quite a nice effect with linen and lace. After a while of trying all these different effects both Nick and I went for natural forms – feathers (me) and leaves (him).
The pendant has a front and a back so it is possible to do two different textures. When the pieces come out of the rolling mill they were quite distorted and no longer square. It was necessary to file them down so that they were square and matched. We used a set square to achieve this effect. Then they are curved by bashing them into a mould, silver solder is applied to the four corners of each piece and finally they are heated so that the solder melts and bonds the two pieces of silver together.
The soldering process is quite delicate so our teacher Paul helped ensure we didn’t over do it. Then the pendants go into a barreling machine that polishes it to a high shine. It includes water, soap solution and small steel ball bearings (shot) and other particles to polish the silver. It is possible to use a blackening material to bring out the detail but we liked the shiny silver appearance.
I am loving the course and finding it such fun. I really enjoy working with Nick, Jo and Jeanette. I am keen to do another term to embed my learning and to get to designing my own things. We still have three weeks to go and the cabochon stone set ring awaits.
As I have mentioned before we have moved, at the weekends, to live in the Cotswolds. And although I come from a Cotton Town I now find myself in the heart of the ancient wool country.
The Romans introduced sheep with exceptionally long fleeces into the Cotswolds, now a rare breed the Cotswold Lion. And these sheep defined the way of life of this area for 2,000 years. Even the name Cotswolds is thought come from “Cots” means sheep enclosure and “wolds” are the hillocks of the area. By the end of the 12th century the “golden fleece” was being exported to Flanders to be woven into some of the finest fabric. It would be no exaggeration to say that the rich churches, manor houses, beautiful architecture and important public buildings were all brought about by the productivity and quality of the local wool.The wool, from a million medieval sheep on the Cotswolds, was extremely high-quality and a profitable European export. Italian merchants in particular clamored to buy wool from the Cotswolds. By early medieval times, it was said “half the wealth of England rides on the back of a sheep.”
On our walk last week, with the Cirencester Ramblers, we saw 17th century weavers cottages (now owned and rented out by the National Trust) in Bibury. William Morris called Bibury “the most beautiful village in England”. In fact if you have a British passport have a look at the inside front cover – this “typical” row of English cottages is printed there, in three colours. Such is the symbolic representation of the wool manufacturing trade in the wealth and success of our country. If you walk around the small, medieval villages with market places and narrow lanes you can easily imagine how 20,000 sheep would be driven to market. And lots of sheep, lamb, wool and weavers references can be seen in place names. The wool churches are magnificent and were built by wealthy wool traders throughout the area. Look for sheep in the stained glass windows, or brasses set into the floor featuring the different wool marks.
Our local church, St. John the Baptist, Cirencester is one of the biggest and most beautiful wool churches in the area. It celebrates its 900th anniversary this year.
For the wool trade the Cotswolds have a number of natural advantages – a fairly damp climate that helps to create a fine textured wool, rivers and streams of clear water to transport, clean and process the cloth, teasels (to card to wool) grow abundantly nearby (including in our new garden), woad and black walnut (used as a dyestuff) are common, and Fullers earth (used to clean, whiten and shrink the cloth) is found locally too.
In fact the woven Cotswold cloth became even more in demand than the raw wool material. In the middle ages the wool crafts moved from individual cottage industries – where it was spun and woven in the home – to being based in towns. The monasteries were involved as well producing fulled cloth (thickened and felted by being walked on in troughs while being doused with Fullers Earth). I recently read Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth which provides an interesting story about female wool traders. Until the Industrial revolution the processes of making wool and weaving it into cloth were separate activities, with individual weavers working from home. By the early part of the industrial revolution (1750-1820) there were nearly 200 Cotswold mills producing woolen fabrics. The fulling process was now mechanised and the faster flowing rivers were used to drive the mills.
During the Tudor period broadcloth from Gloucester was exported in its natural, undressed, state. In addition teazles were used in factories to raise the nap of the woolen fabric. By the end of the 18th century a factory in Gloucestershire would include fulling stocks, a gig mill and, perhaps, a dye house and shear shop. At this point in history every gentleman in Europe wore a coat made of West of England cavalry twill. The remains of some of these factories in our new area provide a tempting opportunity to learn more and I will visit and report back when the weather improves.
To make a piece of broadcloth the following four processes were used:
Wool would be sorted into different types and grades; this was one of the most skilled jobs and would be the best paid. The wool from the sheep would include lots of leaves and dirt as well as the natural oils from the sheep. It had to be washed. Usually this would be done with soap and alkalis such as potash or ammonia. Originally this alkali would be human or animal urine. The alkali helped to clean and soften the wool and made it easier to dye. After washing the wool would be rolled and then dried using steam heat. Next the wool was ‘opened’. This meant that the woollen fleece was broken down into workable fibres. The machinery used to do this depended on the type of wool. A machine called the Fan ‘Willey’ with sharp metal teeth was used for good quality wool which did not need much opening. Next the fleece is combed (or ‘carded’) to make the wool fibres in the wool run in the same direction. This is important prior to spinning. Carding used to be done by hand, but from about 1790 machines were introduced.
The process here is to take the prepared fleece and to turn it into yarn that could be woven. At first spinning was done by hand – gradually different types of machines were invented to make the process faster and standardised. The early spinning jenny was hand operated, but during the 1820s they became commonplace and in factories in Gloucestershire some spinning jennys had 80 spindles allowing significant amounts of production to be achieved by very few operatives.
The first process is to warp the weaving machine – winding out the warp thread to create a ‘chain’ for the weaver to work on. The warp is then sized – a glue is applied to stabilise the cloth while it is being manufactured. Weaving would be carried out originally by hand but the flying shuttle was introduced in the 1760s in Yorkshire, but did not become common in Gloucester until the 1790s. This is because the quality and size of the Cotswold product was superior and required boarder looms, and this meant that hand loom weaving lasted longer in this part of the country.
Again the product would be scoured using urine or similar products. Fulling and milling – basically soaking the fabric in water to allow it to felt to a greater or lesser extent, was originally done by hand, or by feet, to thicken, clean and soften the cloth. Milling machines came in, in about 1840s. The fabric would be air dried on long, flat, stoves.
We spent last weekend in lovely Lancashire, where my mother lives. Nick and I went up with my (other) son George and his wife Bianca.
I mentioned that Mum had had a nasty fall. Thank you for all your kind words, and I thought you might like an update.
A fortnight ago Mum’s carer arrived to find her unconscious on the kitchen floor, in a pool of blood, with a head injury. It must have looked like a frightful crime scene. Everyone thought it was the end for my 88 year old Mum. Luckily, very luckily, she wasn’t badly hurt – no broken bones and no brain damage. Despite her face being black and blue for a week or two, a scan and a blood transfusion during her precautionary hospital stay, she is back to normal already – this cat with nine lives (she had previously crashed her car into a wall and come away with a little cut) recovers fast. At the weekend she looked amazing and was back in business, with only a rapidly-healing wound on her forehead. Bianca and I did her hair and makeup before we went out for dinner.
The car journey up there and back takes around nine hours, so I had plenty of time to press on with my current knitting project – the Heavenly sweater from Ankestrick.
Anke has always been a knitter but, for her, the turning point to making it her profession was discovering the Contiguous Method developed by Australian Susie Myers, where a jumper is knitted in one piece without sewing up and with a superior fit. She spent time focussing on this technique, always in search of the perfect cut and fit and has developed it further to the so-called Slanted Contiguous method.
Hmm. That is beginning to sound both interesting and scary. Something to investigate, experiment with and learn from as we go along.
What I have discovered is how much I like the all-in-one approach – knitting a jumper in one piece so that when it is finished, it is actually finished rather than looking like several pattern pieces that need sewing together. The smooth finish of seamless appeals too – like a pair of modern tights compared to old fashioned seamed stockings. To my mind the point of knitting, as opposed to sewing, is that it can achieve a seamless finish. Also the top down approach allows you to judge the finished length by trying the jumper on while it is still on the needles. Then you can use up the remaining yarn rather than having lots left when you could have been more generous.
The Heavenly is knitted from the top down – otherwise the construction is rather similar to the Lorelle (bottom to top) in that it has a fairly wide open neck, (albeit higher at the back due to short rows), a yoke, raglan sleeves, and an absence of ribbing. Some of the most challenging shaping is done at the start. You can see the little holes caused by the radial increases in the front chest and the back (whereas the sleeve increases are introduced both sides of the raglan “seam”). Then the boring, but for me rather enjoyable, stocking stitch – which is mindless with circular needles. The plain jumper is decorated at neck and hems with eyelets which can be threaded through with narrow velvet ribbon. I don’t have any but like the idea of a toning or contrasting colour.
With the Lorelle, because the jumper comes up from the hem up, the sleeves are constructed separately and attached and integrated into the yoke. With Heavenly you create a place for the sleeves to go on the way down and then knit them, also from the top down. This way is just as good but it does get a little bit twisty as you knit the relatively short rows of the cuffs. I did try using the double pointed needles, but I found them very awkward and a few stitches slipped off the ends as I struggled. The Magic Loop works better for me. But all’s well that ends well and I really like this sweater.
I knitted the extra small as the jersey has a fair amount of ease but I didn’t want flappy. Also I resisted the A line flare.
I ordered 7 balls of Lang Cashmere yarn which was a stingy reaction to the pattern, but I ran out on a Saturday evening. As we were in Lancashire, I reordered one additional ball online at about 6pm on a Saturday. And, blow me down, if the solitary ball wasn’t waiting for me on our return on Sunday evening! Excellent service Love Knitting. I stepped out of the car having just run out of yarn, unpacked our bags, joined the eighth ball and finished while watching a film on Sunday night.
I popped into playgroup to meet Esme and the children, wearing my new jersey.
No sooner had she crashed out of SWAP than she was already making new plans. Like the jilted lover she deal with her grief by shouting “NEXT!”
I mentioned on Saturday that I hope to create a few items for Gus this year. A bomber jacket, a pair of shorts and some trousers, and a proper pair of jeans. I have loads of time now!
I also have some plans for myself.
- Heavenly jumper in petrol blue cashmere. I have started this and aim to have it finished by Monday 13 March so I can take it to France. Progress so far:
The colour of the sample is much truer than my photo shows – it is a proper petrol blue. It is a top down jersey with a yoke, similar to the Lorelle. I will show it to you next week, assuming I finish in time. It takes 8 balls of wool so I am planning to knit one a day. That should be do-able.
The Fara Raglan colourwork jumper
I got a bit stuck with this as I was behind on the jacket for Gus. But once I finish the Heavenly I will get back to it. You can see that my colour bands are a bit tight, although improving. Dear knitting-readers have advised steaming once knitted so I will try that.
- A second Ankestrick jumper also in cashmere – this time brown and green. I ordered the yarn from Love Knitting (they had a good 25% discount). They have to bring them in from America so I will have to wait a little while. Hey no problem…!
- use the remaining green cashmere yarn from Gus’s jumper to make something for myself.
- I have caught the red bug from Stephanie. I think I need a red coat. I found some beautiful red fabric from Paul Smith (wool and mohair) in Simply Fabrics. I have to be careful with my reds. While I need a true red, or one with a little blue in I don’t look good in the most strident shades. I chose this red as it seems to have just a little bit of softness to the colour (slightly pinky). I plan to make the Burda coat 08/1012. I have made this for my daughter Esme (in brown) and she has worn it to destruction. It is a nice coat with an asymmetric fastening. It’s (to my mind) much prettier than the Paul Smith pea coat which doesn’t look very classy with it’s too obvious buttons and bulky shaping.
- I want to make some cord trousers from the left overs from Gus’s pants. If I wear them with the green jumper we will look like twins. Ha ha. I don’t have a beard (well just the odd, stray hair!)
- I would like a comfortable dress. This Burda dress is very pretty with its pleated asymmetry. Maybe made from the blue/brown fabric I showed you recently or something a bit lighter. Spring is coming.
- I want to make a trouser suit, as trailed earlier. I bought the McQueen pattern. And some blue-grey mohair, again ex-Paul Smith. This is a major project, even more exacting than the jacket I made for Gus. I would ideally like to make this in a tailoring class where I can get some help with the fitting and construction (although this jacket uses that same stretch jersey interfacing!).
Does it all work together? Yes, sort of. There is a blue/brown/red/green theme. Luckily because all my colours work well together (cool palette) I am not too worried. But the plan goes from super casual (the pull up pants) to the formal McQueen designer trouser suit. It’s definitely not a SWAP, but – with no particular time frame – that’s my plan and I hope to stick to it.
Thank you for all giving me your advice on the MANSWAP – where I try to create an 11 piece wardrobe for my son in four months (now two).
I have four out of 11 garments done. If I was pacing myself that should be five and a half by now.
This week I almost completed item four – the Vogue 8988 jacket. I am pretty pleased with it. Gus too. He says he will wear it, which is very pleasing. I have learnt a great deal from this project about fitting and construction. My tailored pockets are passable and improving.
I used some good quality shoulder pads and sleeve roll to make the shoulders look really nice. I lined the sleeves with a decent, firm acetate lining and overall I think the fit is good, especially given the long hard road to get there.
With just two months to go seven garments is almost one a week. The blue jacket took me at least three weeks just to sew. A second one would be quicker – maybe one and a half weeks if all the planets were aligned. If I had a few spare days leave I could take off time to do this project.
I could include a RTW item (say a shirt) and make a quick T-shirt. So while I think finishing on time would still be technically feasible it would involve too many sacrifices and compromises. I would have the satisfaction of getting the boy’s wardrobe done. And I know I would be really proud of it. I really like what I have made so far, and I am learning a great deal that will help the remaining garments go more quickly. But I think on balance I am going to call it a day in terms of SWAP. I did, briefly, play with the idea of submitting what I have been making for myself, plus a few other items I can knock off fairly fast. But no. I have nothing to prove and I am in this for fun, and for learning. Competition (except against myself) is irrelevant.
So that is the end of the SWAP time-table for me. I think I will make up more clothes for Gus, and I will write them up as I do them, but I want to knit, and read, and make myself a few items. So right now the pressure of a time-table makes little sense.
Over time I will be contributing to Gus’s wardrobe, and Gus (who is helpful, engaging, patient and kind) will be helping me to develop my skills. I really appreciate his willingness to be featured on these pages and you will hear from him again.
By Christmas I plan a more modest wardrobe for my son, as follows.
- A second, tailored jacket (However Gus finds the style of the navy jacket “old-fashioned” which I guess it is – maybe classic).
- A painted silk bomber jacket (Gus and I are both looking forward to this project)
- Blue trousers (Brenda’s kind donation)
- Tailored summer shorts (Gus actually “needs” these)
- Jeans (I am keen on the learning involved in this project).
The two tailored shirts are “nice to have” but I think I might prefer to just buy them. These cost about £25 from Uniqlo and I know home-made will not be superior. So until I get the shirt-urge maybe I can let myself off for now. However a perfect white shirt is something I do want to make at some point as I think in many ways it is the garment that sorts out the really good constructors from the also rans (that would be me).
I don’t feel upset or worried about “giving up”. In fact I would say Gus and I are both relieved.
However I am a little bit disappointed. You see I love SWAP precisely because it is so challenging. Although beginners will find they can use it to organise their sewing it really appeals to what might be called “advanced” seamstresses. People who make their own patterns, fabric and plans. People who enjoy the more challenging “plus difficile” patterns, vintage designers or things like corsets. People who find the whole idea of an 11 piece “me-made” capsule wardrobe a fabulous idea – a little bit like being a proper designer. People who think about it for up to a year before they can get started. It seems to me (apart from one year one outfit which is also appealing for more advanced sewists) we need challenges to stretch and test us rather than just “here is something I ran up in a few hours” (which has its place too). So I am disappointed not to be continuing, but also a bit relieved because I can now do a few other things that I enjoy.
Over the next year – as I make a few more things for Gus, and myself, I shall be silently thinking about SWAP 2018 – to create a plan that is challenging and achievable, and within the rules.