Making a Book #1

posted in: Book writing | 22

My book started with a different topic entirely. I wanted to write about the process of making a merger happen without the people involved getting beaten up. That is what I am doing in my day job and I am trying to live this idea. I am making notes and trying to specifically capture the emotional impact of major change on the individual and collective psyche. A huge project, and definitely one for another day.

In the meantime, and as I already mentioned I wanted a project to focus on in my down time – specifically to protect myself from burn out at this specific moment. I use creative activities like sewing and knitting, but also blogging and writing, as a way of doing something that is challenging but rewarding. I used SWAP for this two or three years in a row. That challenge – of creating a small collection of 11 items – consumed and sustained me brilliantly. But I don’t feel I can do it again. I don’t really want that many more clothes and I feel I have nailed SWAP as well as I ever will. I shall be following along though, on Artisans Square, as it is a fascinating process. For me creative, somewhat solitary work is a very good antidote from trying to look after 3000 people while we create what I hope will be the best housing association in the UK.

So once I had decided I wanted to write a book that covers some of the same material as I have been presenting in the blog for the past few years I had one of those “epiphany” moments. If I write this book alongside the most difficult project I have ever done in my work life the two tasks will be mutually supportive. That’s the idea anyway. I could fail on both counts!!

However here I go. I am writing a book in public! I will share the process – the content is broadly already known to you – and see what happens.

The first thing I did, and this is what led me to drop the merger book project and start on the Fabrickated book project, was sign up to a ten-day business book challenge. This is completely free and takes you through the process of creating a proposal for a publisher based on your “business” (a bit of an issue for me as I don’t have or want a business. I have no time and no inclination to run a business; my work is my business). But as I was writing a business book I joined in.

It was brilliant. Let me give you the details if it might be of interest to you. Alison Jones will help you think through the whole process of writing a book to support and boost your business, but there is much in there that is generally about book writing. The focus helped me work out that I didn’t want to write or publish a business book – at least not now. But I did want to create a book, make a book, and this is now what I am dedicating my weekends (and Christmas break) to.

The lovely Alison Jones

My book doesn’t yet have a name, or a one word summary, or a cover. It is not going to be a commercial proposition, and it is not going to be traipsed around publishers. I actually want to do all the processes myself (with help from friends and family) as a creative process. Apart from writing and rewriting the book, I want to learn all the processes involved. I will write the patterns. I will style the models. I will take the photographs and design the inside of the book (pagination, layout etc). I will do the diagrams.  I will also have to do the marketing and distribution myself! I will have to pay for some of the editing, design, the printing and I will attempt to recoup this outlay by charging for the book. My gamble is that if I do a really nice job, making a colourful, interesting and useful book, then some of you might buy it.

Now there are a few blog-to-book publishing successes, but most blogs don’t necessarily translate well to the book form. It is a very different proposition. A few dozen people have told me they have read this blog from start to finish (a mammoth task – 850 posts), which I found astonishing. Even I haven’t done that – I treat the blog more like journalism – once written it’s over. I even find it a bit hard to make the time to respond to all the marvellous comments once I have moved on to the next article (sorry!). So my gamble, my hunch, is that if I can take the best bits, and polish them, and find an overarching theme and thread, and provide better patterns, and glorious photographs, then I might have something useful and nice and more professional that my friends and their friends might wish to acquire for themselves or buy for someone else.

I am asking myself what have I got to lose? Some money if I don’t cover my printing costs. The time isn’t wasted – I need a juicy project and I am finding this one amazing, so far. I believe the process will help me think more deeply about what I am doing with my life, and I will learn more about the world of books and writing and stories and communication. Doing it with you (if you are willing to join in) will be an enriching and interesting process and it will make the book more of a collaboration or act of co-creation. At the end if you are willing to part with £10 or £15 quid to get one that would be a bonus.

So – here I go – off on another adventure.

 

 

 

Learning to weave in a day

You may recall I have a friend Bridget who we met on holiday. She and her husband sat on the coach in front of us, and while he studied a map of Jordan she knitted. We got on very well, and she introduced me to many things including marvellous patchwork, knitting and weaving. Bridget also kindly follows this blog and when I mentioned a desire to learn to weave she pinged me an email.

“I spent last Saturday with my 10-year-old niece and we wove a scarf in a day – she did it from beginning to end – starting at 11 and finishing by 6. If you fancy that, it would be lovely”.

So last Sunday Nick and i went to see our friends. Bridget’s husband is a bell-ringer, and her son is great fun and works with one of my board members,  so there was plenty to talk about while Bridget and I escaped to her workroom at the top her house. First she showed me some very fine examples of her own work – a silk cushion and a beautiful scarf she made for her late mother. The colour work was gorgeous and the very even weave impressive. My standard was set by a ten-year old however, so I was focused on getting the basics right and then working against the clock. Nick was in charge of lunch and cooked home-made pitta bread, lamb and salad.

Bridget’s loom was found in an attic and gifted to her. When I last saw it, it was in pieces and looking rather sorry for itself. But recently she had had it overhauled, and while all the fittings were in nylon rather than the original cotton bindings, it was sitting waiting for me at 10am.

The loom

I had read that for beginners the foot pedals are much easier to use than a table loom, but they do take up quite a lot of space and are a rather expensive piece of equipment. Bridget wrote:

“Mine is a four-shaft floor loom, 28 inch wide. And sometimes bits fall off, but we can sort it out. I think we should aim for a couple of metres about 30cms wide. I have two reeds, one 12 parts per inch, the other 6 parts. If we use the 6 parts then we will have a loose weave, but we will achieve something and I am all for results. On the warp we need 6 times 15 (say 14”/30cms) and double up for the selvedge times 2.5metres – and that will be our warp – so bring whatever four ply you have and we can organise it. It does need to be the same material as otherwise they stretch differently and that is complicated.”

Absolutely none of this made any sense before I got there, but it does now. I took cotton yarn as I had rather alot of it – a gift from my dear friend Jo – and I thought the wonderful deep teal blues might make a nice scarf. Plus I also had a 50p cone of red cotton yarn that I found in the Salvation Army shop in Walthamstow. Bridget did some calculation of how many threads we would need and we use a fiendish piece of equipment made by her husband. We included two types of teal and a stripe of red. Obviously those who love fabric will have worked out that weaving gets some of its uniqueness by having a variety of warp as well as weft threads. That flash of red looked so nice next to the blues. Bridget was very careful with the counting, using a little pink thread to hold it all together before moving it over to the loom.

The warp threads – one big loop – and carefully removed, loosely knotted are then attached to the loom. A wooden bar takes the looped threads and the cross over (where Bridget is indicating in the first picture) is preserved with two flat pieces of wood.  Then each thread is feed through. This is obviously much easier with two people, especially when one is an expert. I pulled the threads through the nylon holders, and then through the reed, using a trusty opened paper clip. The threads were tied firmly in a bow on a roller near to the weaver so that the yarn is under tension. We got this done by lunch at 12.30.

Now we start weaving! First Bridget wound more yarn around the shuttles and this meant I could go quite quickly. She sat and knitted Christmas presents and amused me with her funny stories (this woman has great comic timing!). She also shared her plans for growing, in the church garden, sufficient flowers to decorate the church throughout the year – what a great project!

Bridget showed me two weaving methods. Using the outside “pedals” I made plain weave. This was fun and fairly quick. She also showed me how to weave a twill type weave using the range of foot pedals. I followed the instructions but also made some of it up, just to see what would happen. Actually it made a bit of a mess but I was very keen to see how the lifting of the different warp threads altered the weave and lengthened the floats.

Look Ma, I am weaving!

This was one of the most fun things I have ever done. If you have a chance to do a course or even spend one day on this marvellous craft, don’t hesitate.You can see below that my work is uneven and rather messy. The stitch patterns are not correct. The scarf is not even finished! Bridget has kindly asked me back to have another couple of hours on it. But what a lovely, life-enhancing experience. Working together with a friend made it even better. Bridget is generous and kind, a great teacher and sharer of knowledge. I can’t wait until my next lesson.

My work so far

I would love to have a floor loom like this. I think I could accommodate one in the Cotswolds. But first I need to go on a course or learn more. It is a most fascinating craft and surprisingly quick – quicker than knitting for example.

Any weavers out there?

Can I make a book?

posted in: Book writing | 28

You may remember a little ramble about how much I had on my plate, accompanied by a few knitted garments looking unfinished and sad. I did promise to have a New Zealand sweater Knit a Long before Christmas. But it was dependent on my working out all the glitches which I have failed to do, as yet. Sorry if you were looking forward to that (next Christmas?). I am also putting the EZ yoke sweater part two together, so I will share that soon.

In terms of having a bit too much on, my plate is now brimming over and there are several peas and chicken nuggets on the floor.

If you have ever done a merger, or even a major change programme, you will know that it is not so much the additional work load as the emotional load that is so exhausting. I need to look after myself (I also have lots of people looking out for me, so please don’t be concerned), and one thing that revives and sustains me is making things. I know many of you also use your sewing, knitting and craft work as a relief from stress, misery, grief and cacophony. Although my job is very demanding (especially from now until Easter) I think an alternative focus, that is demanding but fun, could be just what I need So I might  get my job done with a degree of calm focus.

I am pleased to report that the garments in my previous post are now finished, ongoing or dumped. I have started two new knitting projects. More on these soon.

I also mentioned a long-held desire to write a management book.

Over the last month I had a go at this and it never really took off, so that idea is on the shelf. However my son Gus suggested I write Fabrickated – the book. I thought it was his way of making mirth, at my expense. Ha ha ha. I nearly fell off my chair.

Then he said he wasn’t joking – he offered to do the editing and design and to provide encouragement and support.  I started thinking about it. And rather than aspiring to be the publishing sensation of the year I had a simple thought –

Why couldn’t I MAKE a book?

As a kid I was always making books. Full of drawings, paintings, little stories, italic writing, jokes, maps, diagrams, with tickets and wrappers – like a scrap book, but more writing. It’s a simple pleasure, and there is something adorable about a one-of-a-kind, handwritten book.  My own books were much more eclectic – including the odd autograph, prized photograph and sections in code. And I proudly let family and friends read them. I also wrote a few plays and poems that were sometimes performed to any adults who might give me ten minutes. Can you see where I am going with this?

I was blogging before blogs were invented.

I am a show off! I love writing down what I am thinking or making and getting a reaction. I wanted to be an actress as a kid, but today I get lots of pleasure from public speaking (part of my job) and from all types of communication. It makes me feel more alive – and although supportive, kind enthusiasm is always very welcome I do invite criticism as I am always keen to do better. The blog has allowed me to connect with others and the discussion at the bottom is always the best bit – as I listen to ten or twelve voices I just feel like I am at a party and I find it so stimulating and fun.

So I don’t know exactly what I want to preserve from the blog – it may just be a feeling of having a little party – or it maybe grabbing some of the best posts and re-presenting them with the benefit of the feedback you have provided me with. But this is going to be a new project for me (and one that combines perfectly with the photography course)!

Fabrickated book
Glued to my computer

I am going to write up my progress up every week or two in case the idea of making a book appeals to others, and just to share the journey, and keep myself to task.

I don’t know how it will turn out, and maybe I will never publish it. I know I will need some help from my family and friends, and you will all be in the book, one way or another (with sufficient protection of your privacy). Also I may test out some of my ideas as I go – I trust your wisdom to help me learn and grow and develop as I embark on a new venture.

I am so excited!

 

 

Making Christmas presents from scraps

One of the great benefits of the shoe making course is that I was able to pick up lots of discarded leather pieces. In the photograph below I include my feet, for scale.

Nice (free) leather offcuts     

I think the dark brown is probably sufficient to make a skirt, if it is pieced. Or maybe a pair of shoes! I love dark brown leather. The bright pink, and the green are pigskin, used for lining. Some are patent, some are suede. We have metallics, some stretch, and a piece of leopardskin printed leather. Upper right you can see small sample books – I always say yes to a sample book although these pieces are very small. I thought if I ever make jeans again these would be nice on the back waist band. My friend Linde suggested you could make a colourful binding by stitching them all together which is also a great idea.

I took this selection in case I  get around to making a few little presents for the forthcoming season. I am not doing Secret Santa this year – it is just too much pressure – but I am want to make small, handmade gifts for everyone. You know the time pressures I am under currently so I need something nice, personal, thoughtful, colourful. And quick.

Last Christmas I was impressed with the padded patchwork purses that Jenny the Lilac cat made.  I actually bought the supplies but never got round to it – maybe I will manage one or two this year.

I started thinking about what I might like for myself (useful and beautiful)

  • somewhere to safely store my earphones
  • a little purse for a couple of cards, a fiver and a housekey, when I need a minimalist approach
  • maybe a traditional looking wallet but in interesting colours
  • coasters to protect the surfaces of Nick’s wonderful furniture
  • fabric bags with leather straps (Jenny again)

This weekend I have started to play around with ideas of how to create small leather items.

Thinking of closures I bought an useful piece of inexpensive equipment with hundreds of colourful poppers. These apparently work on leather and will allow me to introduce more colour. I also have quite a large selection of short colourful zips that I won last spring from William Gee. As a garment maker I could not see the point.  Now I can –  they may be good for small bags or purses. They also gave me some strong khaki thread that will work well on leather.

Total cost of the popper set, including next day delivery, was about £13. So if I can do everyone’s Christmas gifts for around a tenner, I will be pleased.

I am going to start with the three sample books.

These are precut leather with a hole that are asking to be made into small purses. I want to add textiles to the leather and I will use two other fabric sample books I have had for ages. One is my Linton tweed plain crepe wools in strong colours. The other is digital printing on different types of fabric that was sent to me by a company that has now gone out of business, Fabpad. So I thought I might combine the leather with the wool lining and use the digital printing for an internal pocket.

Bottom right shows my prototypes. I realise I need rubber glue – after six weeks of inhaling it every Sunday (bootmaking) you would have thought I would have procured some already . Some of the fabrics will need interfacing. Even using a leather needle and the strong thread my machine doesn’t really like doing this.

Any tips at all for someone who has never made non-clothes items?

Making small purses

The problem of writing these posts before Christmas is that everyone now knows what he or she is getting.

Small but perfectly formed

Oh well.

 

Do you care about how you look?

posted in: Inspiration, Style advice | 42

How we look is such an important aspect of who and what we are. Just as we have a character and personality, so too, we have an appearance – a body, a shape, a way of talking and walking. We have colour. Our appearance matters very much to others – they judge us on how we look before they know anything else about us. Our appearance will affect everything in life – from how we attract sexual partners, to our ability to get chosen for the netball team, to how much we earn throughout our career.

Yet we feel so ambiguous about our appearance, reflecting our own love/hate relationship with ourselves.

At any one time I can feel both beautiful and ugly – I appreciate aspects of my appearance, but in other respects I am unhappy. I find it hard to accept the whole person of who I am (with all my attributes and imperfections).

Perhaps we all have an unbalanced opinion of ourselves. True self-knowledge is very rare. Many are needlessly self-critical; some of us are conceited and egotistical. And although we may worry about how we are on the inside – am I kind, self-satisfied, lazy or greedy? – somehow it is a debate we can have with ourselves alone.  But how we look on the outside, is evident for all to see. How we look is how we meet the world, and make an impression on society.

It is odd that concern over appearance can be seen as vain and ridiculous. Vanity, or too much interest in our appearance, is widely condemned. It seems superficial and skin deep missing the real me.  They say “don’t judge a book by its cover” – but we do! We don’t have time to get to know every book, so we check out the covers and very quickly make a decision on what genre, publisher or writer appeals most. And what we don’t want.

Think of the effort that goes into designing a book cover, or a box of biscuits or a car. Those designers and marketeers know what they are doing. In a busy, noisy world they want to convey information fast to screen out those who won’t want the book or item, and focus on those who might bite. Your appearance is the same. It is how people perceive you and this makes it worth some serious attention surely? How you look, if you care about it or not, helps people work you out fast and decide how they feel about you.

Whether you like it or not your appearance conveys your values, your personality, your hangups, anxieties and history. I suggest it makes sense to spend some time considering how you want to look – in terms of dress, make up and hair – if only to make the world more beautiful and pleasant for others.

When I see someone who has thought about how they present themselves (I reckon about one in twenty people make much of an effort with their appearance) I feel a sense of pleasure. A vintage scarf, exceptional spectacles, more than two colours, well-chosen patterns – these details convey that you care about yourself and others. When I see someone with a sense of style, I feel happy. But when ten girls with long hair, skinny jeans, ballet flats – all in shades of grey and khaki – jump on the tube I feel a bit depressed.  I particularly respond to originality and creativity. I have a little cheer when someone dresses vividly – puts colour and pattern together boldly. Although I am a sucker for cool neutrals too. My favourite looks include Art Student (we have lots around Kings Cross), Eccentric Ellder and Too Cool for School.

Kit dresses for dinner

Personally I always applaud individuality and creativity over convention and co-ordination, even when it is a bit off.  I hate the “occasion outfits” sold by department stories where the whole outfit matches. I don’t want my colleagues to wear cardboard cut out corporate outfits that someone has decreed is “office lady” wear.  I love it when people, even little kids, express their feeling about themselves through their wardrobe choices.

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

What to learn next?

posted in: Inspiration | 8

Regular readers will know that my main mission in life is to learn! After the bootmaking Ceci was asking What next? And so were we!

I love travel, exploring nature, meeting new people, eating food especially food I have never tried before – novelty attracts – but most of all I like to know how things are made. I like to discover the “secrets” of a craft.The ah-ha moment when I realise what makes a shoe a shoe, or how patchwork really works, how sourdough bread only contains flour and water, how pattern cutting works, how to knit certain shapes and motifs. Oh my word! There are so many things we  the world only appreciate superficially until we engage with them and learn all about them.  Discovery, and then learning to replicate what we have seen, is so thrilling.

We went to boot making as I had wanted to learn to make shoes for ever, especially as my Mum’s family were all in the shoe trade. The fact that my cousin (the son of my mum’s brother) gave me lasts from the factory makes me feel very connected to my personal history. With a father in textiles and a grandpa in shoes is it any surprise that I have the passions that I have?

Vintage wooden shoe lasts
Vintage wooden shoe lasts

I researched shoe courses but they are rather expensive and intensive – as Mary Funt mentioned they are aimed more towards the semi-professional. I would very much like to have another go one day. But for now I have other considerations. I want an evening course – our weekends are for relaxation in the country. Nick is happy to come with me, and is leaving the choice to me this time (obviously this is my opportunity to select ballet!).

Here are our thoughts to date.

  • Upholstery. My Mum suggested this. She did upholstery herself repairing and improving chairs. She made tapestry seat covers and they are rather nice items. I will get some photographs over Christmas. We are tempted, mainly because we have a nice old leather chair that has been wrecked by naughty little kids jumping on it. We would enjoy restoring it and recovering it. Also as Nick’s carpentry will soon move away from cupboards into furniture I thought it might marry up well.
  • Pottery – we have both had a go at this before at school or adult ed classes. It is such a lovely primal thing, sticking your hands in clay and creating plates, cups, jars and vases. We might be able to create a collection together with a theme for the country house. Nick wants to make big things, and I want to make small, delicate things.
  • Spinning. I see pictures and videos of this and I am very keen to learn. Obviously now I can knit this is a way to get the raw material for my craft. But also, in the Cotswolds, we are surrounded by sheep and local sheeps wool is widely available, straight off their backs.
  • Weaving – related to spinning and sheep and wool. This was always an option at my school but I thought it was far too slow. But inspired by my friend Bridget Cass, who has a loom at home, I would love to do this one day.
  • Textiles. I have done a few printing, painting and dying courses, and I really love making textiles. I can’t get enough of this.

Plenty to be getting on with.

But at the weekend we decided on photography.  With a proper camera rather than a phone. I feel I owe it to you, my kind readers. I expect you are equally dissatisfied with many of the pictures I put on the blog and some of my learning will be in taking pictures of myself that are not bathroom “selfies”. I want to learn what all the knobs on cameras do and I want to know the basics of editing.

My brother was a professional photographer. And my first, late, husband John did photography and video at collage, and was a keen and very precise photographer his whole life. He had a dark room in our first flat – a Council flat in Wandsworth – and there is something about the red light, and the smell, and the excitement of pictures slowly developing and hanging up to dry. And my Uncle Stuart was a keen amature. So I had plenty of people around me who took pictures. But I have never taken a proper pictures myself.

Nick and I will be going to photography classes next term (from January). Hopefully you will find my blog photos improving as I learn.

Last week I met up with Lois. We talked about three choices for where anyone might go next

  • Set up a business/develop your business
  • Get a job/develop your career
  • Do a degree or an in depth course.

The last one was what interested us both and we talked about an Art Foundation course. That would be bliss for me. To learn all those arty things that I have never really tried like life drawing and sculpture. Of course the cost of doing a full time course and not earning at the same time would be impossible for most of us.

Lois
Lois, at lunch

@Lois.h is on Instagram and takes lovely pictures. We are going to meet up again so she can give me some Instagram and iPhone tips.

Some advice on social media names

Love it or hate it, the name we are given at birth usually sticks with us forever. The process of choosing children’s names is taken seriously and is often full of meaning. My kids all got parent or grandparent middle names, a tradition my daughter has continued. Pregnant Mums either knit, or get books from of the library that list all the options, with meanings (eg Adolf, not popular since the second world war, etc). A name can often indicate the sex and age of the person, class, their nationality, ethnic group, even which part of the country they come from. Pet names often presage children’s names by a few years as young couples try out Beau, or Riley, on their Pugs first.

Sometimes it is left to chance. You may have seen how a submarine, named by public poll, got its name: Boaty Mcboatface.

Boaty McBoatface
Boaty McBoatface

Some people name their homes. Nick and I decided to name our house after my father’s childhood home (although to do so in the age of Amazon deliveries is probably an affectation).

If you have been following Sewvember on Instagram (#bpsewvember), organised by Amanda Adams of @BimpleandPimble, you may have noticed (Day One) she asked everyone to explain their Instagram name. It was fascinating to read the stories – especially the really weird and unusual ones. But most of us chose a somewhat obvious name like Susan1962, TwirlyShirley or rely on corny puns like Sewshattered.

I prefer it when someone includes their actual name, as it is easier to comment if you know they are called Susan or Shirley. Sometimes the person becomes the name, especially when the name is chosen to cloak the real identity. I always think of Elaine as Demented Fairy, and Mrs Mole is a complete mystery.

The discussion made me think about how we name and describe ourselves, so here are my two pennies worth of wisdom on the topic. It’s a bore when you change your name as people have only just got used to it. Remember when Marathon bars became Snickers (in 1990)? I am still not that happy about that. We are all creatures of habit and can be easily confused. Do it once and do it right. 

Marathon became Snickers

Tip no 1:

When choosing a name for yourself on Twitter, Instagram etc, give it sufficient time and thought – these names can stick.

Originally I called this blog “Fit and Flare”  – it was a pun too – a blog about fit (one of the main reasons why I sew) but also about flare/flair – style. (And Fit and Flare is a style of dress too). I chose my own identity at the same time – Fabrickated. This name is a portmanteau word combining Fabric with my name Kate D(avies). In fact, at one point,  my email name was Kated so that felt comfortable. As well as encapsulating what I was doing – fabricating things – it had my name on it! Ha ha. I was pleased with the formulation, and it has proved to be memorable, and good fun. I wanted Fabrickate actually but that was taken.

A year into the blog my son Gus suggested I remove the confusion that two different names might cause – was I Fabrickated or was I Fit&Flare? Good question. Although few of us are professional bloggers we do, sort of, become a brand, and you don’t want to confuse people, especially in the fast paced digital world. So, taking his advice I dumped Fit and Flare and now the blog is simply Fabrickated. It is really silly and unbelievable but on three occasions  I have had the embarrassing but delightful experience of someone shouting out, across a shop, or on a bus “It’s Fabrickated!”.

So here comes Tip no 2:

If you have an online presence across more than one platform stick to one name.

 

The internet world is chockablock. Keep it simple or you will just drown. I know people running micro businesses with more names and handles than large conglomerates. Bear your reader in mind.

Finally a point on the sub-title. This is idea from the world of book publishing. You give your book a name, and then follow on with a short summary of what it is all about.

Monty Don, Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom

Mary Berry, Mary’s Household Tips and Tricks: Your Guide to Happiness in the Home

Tim Peake, Ask an Astronaut: My Guide to Life in Space

These “strap lines” are also found in the world of branding. I always liked (the now defunct)

Thames Water: Running Water for You.

The blogging sites, like WordPress, encourage you to choose a sub-title. This allows classification but more importantly it tells readers right away what sort of things you be will covering. Have a look at what your favourite blogs say at the top of the front page, right after the title. It is very revealing, and helps readers decide if they will like the blog or not.

When I started Fit and Flare I gave it a sub-title – fit and fashion, style and stitching – I like a bit of alliteration! Actually having a four-part approach gave me lots of leeway in terms of content. This was never just a dressmaking blog covering fit and stitching – I wanted to write about fashion and style too. And the formulae more or less worked until I started knitting. And jewellery making, and crochet, and now boots. So I toyed with adding the words knitting, or crafting. But as I haven’t been doing much stitching or fitting recently, I have been feeling that the subtitle might be a bit misleading.

Tip no 3 is:

Use your subtitle to make your blog stand out, and  make sure it reflects the content.

On reflection now is the time for me to update my strap line, or my sub-title.

Today I have refreshed it to… (tiny drum roll)…

 

Making Life more Beautiful

How did you choose your Instagram or Twitter handle? Or the name of your blog?

Boots made – the last post

posted in: Finished projects | 13

Last week we had almost completed our footwear and the final week was spent creating the sock – the little piece of slightly padded leather that goes inside your shoes. Then we took pictures, collected email addresses and went home.

Neither of us will wear our boots. But it was a great experience, nevertheless.

Did you notice the nice double row of top stitching on Nick’s toe caps? Or my unique pink tabs?

What I loved about the course

  • Fabulous opportunity to learn a new skill from a skilled shoewear designer and craftsman
  • Modern, state of the art equipment in a beautiful setting
  • Convenient
  • Good value for money (ie about £100 for a day of tuition), plus absolutely all materials supplied such as leather, zips etc.
  • Very small class (only four on our course, although up to 12 are allowed)
  • Starts from the very beginning with designing and pattern making to the final polish. You get a very good understanding of the process  of bespoke shoe making
  • All four achieved a high standard of design and making
  • The students and teacher were nice and friendly
    We are the bootmakers

Less good

  • The styles of the boots were very limited and not what we wanted to make
    • For me I ended up with heels which I find very uncomfortable
    • Nick didn’t care for the shape of his shoes and disliked the “cementing” process. He would like to stitch his own welted, leather soled shoes
  • The style of teaching was idiosyncratic. Our teacher was a craftsperson rather than a teacher. I would have prefered, say, 30 mins of explanation/lecture each session to help clarify what we were going to do and why
  • The pace wasn’t quite right. There were literally hours spent waiting for glue to dry. This time could have been used for a subsidiary project, eg creating a second design, and pattern.

I don’t really have a major problem with having unwearable shoes. I seem to remember my first dress-making classes being forced to make an apron, and later a blouse in a boring style. Certainly with pattern cutting we often made patterns for items I would never make up, or wear (cowl trousers in my case). But I do think the course should take current styles and choices into account. I would have been very happy with almost any version of a flat boot. I think Nick’s requirement was rather more specialist and not realisable in this setting. However if the tutor had asked people about their learning objectives I feel he would have been able to explain/demonstrate the welting process, or perhaps over Nick leather soles.

At the end of the course we both felt we would like to learn more. The London College of Fashion runs other short courses at weekends or for one week, covering ballet flats, court shoes and sandals, all taught by Nafi. I would certainly consider the ballet flats or sandals course (or boots if I had feet size 40 or above). The course Nick wants doesn’t really exist at the LCF. Here are some other classes I have researched.

Nick would enjoy a 12 day handsewn shoe workshop, like this one. But it is very expensive (about £2000).

We might consider another five day course to make Derby shoes in a small studio in East London. Again costs around £700, so quite a commitment.

But I may just have a go at home.

My mother’s family were in the shoe trade and my cousin Hamilton very kindly found me a pair of old lasts in his garage.

Vintage wooden shoe lasts
Vintage wooden shoe lasts

I have started the process of making a pair of shoes from these at home, but I don’t know if I can.

I took off the metal footplate as this is suitable for making shoes that are nailed on. I acquired the correct size and shape of lasting insoles which include a metal shank (they are a bit old too!).

Removing the metal

I covered the lasts with tape and cut them off and I am now ready to create the pattern.

Making shoes at home
Ready to go – maybe?

Whether I go ahead with this new project, sign up for a class, or start to learn something new only time will tell. If you want to see some really great work – both in terms of design and making – have a look at my friend Aida’s website.

I may not make any further progress. But I know so much more about the process, my leather stitching has improved, and I have a very pretty pair of shoes in my cabinet.

How successful senior women are portrayed on TV (British version)

posted in: Inspiration, Style advice | 13

A recent discussion on Meghan Markle found all of us agreed that the outfits the women wore on Suits bore little resemblance to the workwear you might find in a modern lawyers office in NYC.

I guess that is true in the UK too, but it got me thinking.

What do successful, senior women wear in UK TV series and could you really wear these outfits to work?

Let’s start with Gillian Anderson, who plays the part of a senior police officer in The Fall. Although Stella is a senior cop she wears striking clothes – high heels; usually a pencil skirt; occasionally trousers. But her blouses are sexy – draped fabric, often shiny, looking more like luxury pyjamas than a businesslike shirt. Her hair is loose and long, with a bit of a wave, and her makeup is subtle, her skin dewy. I would say she is closer to the American style of senior woman, but her look is not that typical in the police service.

In London we now have a female police commissioner who is rather effective, and out of uniform this is how she dresses. Nothing wrong with a blouse, joggers, trainers, ruck sac and a week’s supply of bananas for a bit of colour. But Cressida is no-one’s style icon.

Cressida Dick on her first day as MPS Commissioner

The other professional woman we have seen recently has been Dr Gemma Foster, a General Practitioner. Her outfits are generally safe classics and the sort of thing you might buy at Reiss, Jigsaw or Hobbs. Realistic, yes, these clothes are the sort of thing and inner city GP would wear. Practical, comfortable, deep colours and neutrals, rather modest and unexciting. However when Gemma goes out she dresses in an overtly, and traditionally, sexy way. She likes lacey underwear, hold ups etc, but I would say the portrayal of her outfits was hyper-realistic. Which is more than you can say for the terrible storyline.

I enjoyed Happy Valley, a series focusing on Catherine Cawood as a front line police officer. She is decidely gritty, often getting punched and duffed up by the Yorkshire ne’er do wells. She bustles around in a big yellow anorak or a bulky high vis stab vest, giving as good as she gets. With so many items hanging from her jacket she reminds me of an Early Learning Centre activity centre. I love that she has ordinary-woman hair – not much of a hair cut, greying roots and a rubber band keeping it off the collar – and a very typical body shape.  She doesn’t do much out of uniform work, but when she knocks off at night she will put on a wooly jumper, or a zip up fleece and loosen her hair.

(I have never watched Broadchurch or Vera, but Karen suggests them as more good example.)

The female detective from Broadchurch appears to have bought a trouser suit at Next and worn it with a pastel blouse. This look was common in the offices of Britain a few years ago, but it is desperately dated now. Whereas Vera with her tweedy coat, Dr Who scarves and comedy headgear is just another English eccentric in the Miss Marple mold. I don’t think many women dress like this, and I don’t think she is a typical detective either.

 

So what is the punch line with these English dramas?

Apart from Doctor, there is just one role for an intelligent, professional woman on the TV, and that is Police Detective. If you are successful in your detecting career you will dress in unexceptional ways to blend in with the dark and dirty landscape. Although some towns, cities and seaside towns are featured to good effect, much English drama focuses on challenging social issues. I cannot think of a series where women have senior jobs in the media, the arts, construction or law. Occasional series feature female  senior civil servants or government ministers such as In the Thick of It, a series I much enjoyed. Nicola, the Minister, wears unremarkable political dress – the comedy is always in her attempts to manage the message. One of her advisors Terri is often put upon – but she can’t fail to be noticed in her terrible, huge-shouldered, jackets. I love the Terri character and always enjoy seeing her horrid outfits which are completely wrong for her. As a short woman with a large bust, a soft, rounded face and figure these jackets in toilet roll colours emphasis her shortness and girth.

Which leaves us with our British diet of stately home and costume drama. Which is a pity.

Stay posted for information on the 13th Dr Who, played by Jodie Whittaker. Judging by the hoody and overcoat this strike for women’s equality will not be accompanied by an interesting stylish look. Shame.

Jodie Whittaker

 

 

 

 

Colourful suggestions for darker skinned people

posted in: Colour Analysis, Inspiration | 13

Do you follow the wonderful, funny, talented  Nakisha Smith’s blog Dressmaking Debacles?  She and I tested a jeans pattern together and I have followed her ever since. The other day she wrote an interesting blog on colour analysis. She concluded that it has nothing to say to people with darker skin shades,   except “dark” – which sounds fairly dire.

Here she goes:

“I would encounter these conversations about colours and season and all that jazz and be utterly confused. I finally figured out the confusion – those “tests” were not for brown ladies! There was always one “dark” and it supposed to cover all of us women of colour. Like really? The cool browns, warm browns, the olive skinned … we are all just …”dark”. And that’s it. So I’ve always just gone off my own reaction to a colour when I encounter it and how I feel when It is on my body”.

Now Nakisha is highly competent at making clothes and she knows what suits her. She is very confident of her look and figure. She looks great in blues, greys and orange and she has agreed to me continuing this conversation on my blog. Although I cannot disagree with her “wear what you want” conclusion I felt I would like to respond to her critique.

The Winter palette

Colour analysis
“Winter” Snow White

The “Seasonal”  approach was the system used in the 1970s and 1980s. Let’s start with “Winter”- the category that most people will darker skin would traditionally be put into. Funnily enough the archetype for this “season” was Snow White – with skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony wood and lips as red as blood.

Of course it was fairly odd to suggest that the whole world could be slotted into just one of four categories. The Seasons gave some people a clue, but it was rather crude and colour analysis has developed since the early days.

More recently the different companies have made the “tests”, as Nikisha describes them more sophisticated, looking to see what primary direction a person will have. Today we decide which of the following dichotomous groups of colour look best against someone’s face.

Deep or Light? Cool or Warm? Bright or Muted?

The old Winter palette would mean (if we tested Snow White herself), Deep (she has black hair and dark brown eyes), Cool (blue undertones) and Bright (lots of contrast and brightness – those lips for example). Walt Disney choosing red, white, blue, purple and orange with little touches of brown for Snow White’s costume – a cool, bright and deep wardrobe to complement her colouring.

The Deep colour direction

So let’s go back to “Deep” or “Dark”.

Deep doesn’t actually mean “dark” – it implies that the colours are intense and saturated. Light colours have lots of water in them, not lots of white. And deep colours are not blackened – they just contain more pigment. Does that help? A dark red might be deep, but so too is a strong scarlet or yellow. A  light red would be pinky, a light yellow might be lemon.

Now let’s turn to Nakisha’s brown ladies or women of colour (some of our UK terminology is different, so please forgive me if I inadvertently offend). She is right that there are infinite versions of skin, hair and eye colour and actually we are all unique. Like white people, there is more than one version of black people in terms of colouring.

Here are a few of my family members and friends just to show what a wide range of skin, hair and eye colours black British people sport. Hello Rosa (Esme’s step-sister back row), Ade (next to Esme), Ted (behind Esme’s arm) and Kit!

Kits Third Birthday

Ade definitely suits deeper (more intense) colours, whereas Rosa’s primary direction is Muted. Ted suits cool bright colours, and I don’t know what is best for Kit as I haven’t run the test, but I would guess he will also suit the cools.

So black people will vary, exactly as Nakisha suggests, and if you do colour analysis on people of different ethnic groups you will see all the colour directions.

However if you have black hair (and you will see that Kit’s hair is brown and more similar to his Mum’s colouring than his Dad’s) you will probably suit black as a neutral. Most of the people of the world have black hair – those who come from India, China, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Southern Europe for example. So whenever I meet someone with black (actually very dark brown) hair, when someone has “blackness” in their colouring, it will normally be enhanced by black clothing. Black as a colour is deep, cool and bright. People who are fairer, who don’t have so much “deepness” or “blackness” in their colouring are usually complemented by wearing softer or lighter colours.

Skin, eye and lip colour is important too, but probably secondary to hair shade. When doing a colour analysis I also try to look at the whole picture of the face/hair/eyes and see which range of colours harmonises best. So there is some subtlety to the “test” beyond sticking people in categories.

While deep (saturated) colours look great against darker skins many black people can carry off a strong contrast in their look. Pair black with white, or pastel shades, or pair deep navy with orange, or put a vibrant pink scarf on with a charcoal overcoat, and you will have a great look.  I would say avoid head to toe black or navy, and get some contrast in there – using pastels, or brights, or pattern.

Also many black people look good in head to toe brights, although in the UK at least (with our drizzly weather and dark evenings) this look can be too dramatic for the average person. I would say that Lupita Nyong’o has bright as her primary direction rather than deep.

Lupita in Orange

The other colour palette that suits most black haired people is the cool palette – colours with a blue undertone. Cool is my primary direction too. So here is an interesting experiment I tried at work today. Shai and I are wearing an almost identical shade of violet. We both have cool undertones in our skin. While I am better in lighter shades, and Shai looks great in the deeper colours I would say this cool-bright colour looks good on us both (but probably a bit better on him!).

Kate and Chay