A few years ago Nick and I went to Finland, to the wilderness, close to the Arctic Circle. It was full of snow and ice, the freshest air imaginable and the clearest skies. We had hoped to see the Northern Lights, which never appeared for us, but we cross-country skied. We walked in snow shoes. We climbed an ice wall with picks. We went out, pulled by Husky dogs and on a Skiddo. We played Frisbee and hockey in deep snow, sledged, and laughed our socks off. We built an igloo and I caught a fish in the ice. It was like being a kid, and such fun, and I still hold such a sense of achievement.
We also fell for the Moomins. I really loved the naked Hippo-like creatures with a retro feel and I wanted to buy a whole set of mugs at Helsinki airport. (But I didn’t). I had tried the stories as a youngster but didn’t really get them. I re-read a couple as an adult and found them both charming and profound. Not really children’s books at all.
So I was excited to read about an exhibition at the Southbank Centre which will be our Christmas treat, ideally with Ted, in the run up to Christmas. I love Scandinavian design – strong Swedish/Danish approaches, and our new home in the country has very much been influenced by Scandinavian style. We hope it will be a place we can truly experience Hygge – the log burning fire, the underfloor heating and the fact that it is built for comfort within a natural setting is all part of our thinking. On Nick’s birthday later this month we are planning a meal cooked outside (sadly without snow).
But the real reason I wrote this post is that I recently learned more about Finnish author Tove Jansson who both wrote and illustrated the books. Apart from the Moomin books she was a talented artist. I love the beautiful soft colours, the moody interiors and the femininity of the paintings. They remind me of Gwen John (the sister of Augustus), although Tove is on the scene 50 years later.
And of course, as ever with artists, I was interested in her clothes and appearance. She was precocious, drawing and painting and even publishing a book as a child. She was productive and driven. I love the pictures of her in her studio, surrounded by her wonderful art. I love her pleated, pocketed trousers, her little jumper and serious footwear. I love her slicked back hair and reticent look. Her wonderful flared pants and open-necked shirt in the second picture are also beguiling with a relaxed but industrious feel. And finally, at her summer-house in Finland, where people swim naked in the sea, enjoy the sun shine and being outside in fresh air she wears an amazing flower headdress. a chunky silver necklace and quite possibly the same shirt she wore 30 years earlier. What a beautiful woman – so much talent, so much experience, and quite a lot of sadness.
In the lead up to Christmas here is her recollection of Christmas in Finland and Sweden (her mother was Swedish). Uniqlo and Moomin have collaborated for years, so if you fancy a T-shirt or nightgown you can find an inexpensive one here. On the other hand Finnish designer Tuomas Merikoski’s latest collection was inspired by Moomin. He says “All the characters have very different personalities – some nice, some not so nice, some intelligent, and some not…it’s these differences that make a balanced society”.
PS. From this week I will be dropping my Friday posts and blogging just three times a week. One or two posts will cover SWAP and my other sewing/knitting projects, and one or two will cover general topics of style, art, fashion, exhibitions and history, like this one.
Thank you to (grumpy) Karen who suggested I tried Make My Pattern. I was sceptical, to be honest. I have nice vintage men’s trouser patterns – why would I want Aldrich blocks?
Then I looked at the website and discovered it is a brilliant concept.
Joost de Cock has, apart from a memorable name, created a site that allows you to print off patterns (mainly for men) with your own measurements. He has not only digitised Winifred Aldrich’s basic trouser patterns, he has devised an algorithm to create the right dimensions, and he offers the patterns free. It is an amazingly generous offer.
But does it work?
Joost offers a standard male trouser block and a slimmer, fitted trouser block. As my model is slim I went for the more fitted look. After a little puzzlement I typed in Gus’s measurements and ran off the pattern – on A3 paper, which is half the work. So far so good.
To test the pattern I made up a basic toile, omitting the pockets and fly. I put a (dark green) zip in the CF which is not very beautiful but it allows the trousers to be fitted. I used some remnants of an Ikea curtain for the waistband and ironed on some interfacing.
You can immediately see the trousers are too long. That’s my fault as I measured the length generously. The waist is a little bit big too. But overall Gus was pleased with the rather old-fashioned, high waist look, which came to exactly the right spot for him – about 2cms below the navel.
With the back view you can see there is a little wedge that can come out of the CB waist band and about 1″ down where Gus is fairly flat. I pinned this out.
Once I had pinned up the hems and taken out about 1cm at the CB I think the fit is pretty good. Once the pockets, belt carriers and fly front is in these will look quite classy I think.
Gus’s back waist is higher than his front waist. This is something I might fix, but overall for a straight “out of the packet” experience this was second to none. Gus liked them. Even more surprising my daughter Esme gave them the thumbs up. Unbelievable.
Sewing with a Plan
Gus and I think we can use this pattern, as it is, for two pairs of trousers. The trousers will be one pair of cords, one pair in linen. We discussed the shorts and I suggested we might need a different pattern – perhaps slightly fuller. Esme argued that the waistband should be lower for shorts. In the end Gus prevailed. He thinks shorts should mainly look like cut down trousers. And he likes the high waist and wants it as a feature on his four pairs of trousers (cords, linen, shorts and jeans). So, apart from the jeans, we have the bottoms sorted. Not bad for just over one hours work.
Joost provides very detailed instructions for making tailored pants. For me they look a tad too detailed, but they are written for beginners – men who are being encouraged to make their own clothes. I think they are great for this purpose and there are some videos too, which I haven’t watched. When making pants for myself and Esme I wrote a post on the order of work part 1; and 2; I think I will refer back to this as it is slightly shorter. When I mentioned that Makemypattern trousers seemed promising Sue Stoney admitted her husband wore nothing else. No other under pants I mean.
While I am engaged in making a small wardrobe of clothes for my son Gus I will still want to make a few things for myself, but there is no pressure.
Some will be sewn, of course. I am not yet at the stage of conceiving a knitted skirt or dress. Nevertheless I did like the skirt Kari-Helene of Purl Alpaca was wearing when I met her. Here she is, plus the pattern. The third photo is from my Vogue book. It is a 1953 mohair skirt – rather wonderful I think, especially with the deep V necked sweater. It is very gathered into the waist – maybe there is too much fullness in it. It would need a slim waist and deep belt I think.
For me the main area of knitting action (at least for now) is the upper body – T shirts, long sleeved jumpers and a jacket. But mainly the pullover. These items suit my more relaxed life style to come – our home in the country is nearing completion and in the winter months it will be jeans and a jumper. Or as Lynn Mally taught me (to avoid saying elasticated waist trousers) “pull-ups” with a pullover – eeek – all that pulling! What about “pull ons”? What are those (shoes?) or pull-offs? I remember my mother using “roll-on” (deodorant), and wearing “roll-ons” – a kind of elastic band to which the stockings were attached, providing a little constriction in the stomach/thigh area.
Anyway I thought I would show you a few patterns I am impressed by, and seek your views, you amazing knit-people.
I have come across Anketrick, a Berlin-based designer, who makes soft, light weight patterns that appeal to me for wearing inside, in the warmer months, or under another jersey. While it is cold in the UK at the moment we rarely get snow and to be honest the main issue is the short, grey days rather than actual cold. This is one reason why I love a little colour, and if I make any of these up I shall probably avoid the neutrals. I am also playing around with the idea of just making a very simple sweater with lots of different colours – remnant yarns and bits and peices, but to date I have not created very much waste, more or less using up all the yarn that was specified for a project.
Next up are the chunky patterns, with texture. I have not done any cabling, although the Lorelle does require the most elementary moving of one stitch to another line, so a bit of proto-cabeling I guess. But I really want to have a go at this style of knitting, as part of my learning. (I have got a stranded colour/Fair Isle style top on the go, but will report on that after Christmas). My friend Bridget sent me a photograph from Purl Soho of their botanical sweater which is rather wonderful, but I am not sure this is the right look for me. I think it would be ideal on a straight figured woman. I was encoraged to try on the Mayan jumper by Tracey of Purl Alpaca and it is a nice top. I wanted it to come down quite a bit longer and would want to create a dark brown version, but I think this may be a good introduction to cables.
Finally I come to the designer patterns. I was very interested in the Perry Ellis designs and Erica sent me a pdf of the short pink cabled top from her book – thank you! In the meantime the book arrived and I have seen some lovely projects there. I especially like the red cardigan. I have been feeling quite anxious about doing a cardigan and a collar but this is such a gorgeous item (with the hat and lipstick), I might have to give it a try.
I am not yet reaching out to sock patterns, but I am keen to have a go at hats. I love the idea that for people who come to stay at Rainshore there will be a coloured hat to suit them, when the venture out into cold weather. I am not sure what is a good wooly hat style to go with, that will suit all the people in all the sizes. I am not that keen on this sort of jelly bag hat myself, and find it rather unflattering. Also it doesn’t really cover the ears very effectively. So I am still researching that one.
My dear husband is a keen member of the V&A and bought tickets to hear Donatella Versace “in conversation”. I was really excited, as last time Nick organised one of these with Christopher Raeburn it was fantastic. Again we cycled across the park, and ate duck on rice afterwards. This was a different matter, but I couldn’t help but enjoy the evening.
The Museum described the event thus:
Donatella Versace, Creative Director of the renowned Italian fashion house, celebrates the launch of her new book, Versace, and discusses her life and career.
The talk was illustrated by sumptuous photographs from her new book (signed copies of which were available…).
Donatella arrived only a few minutes late, in a showy but relaxed navy blue skirt and sleeveless top, entered the auditorium and spent a good five minutes kissing people that she knew in the front row, including photographer Bruce Weber. She looked tiny in the lecture theatre, and eventually sat down opposite the interviewer. She stared at him throughout, not turning to look at the audience once, wrapping one leg over and under the other, holding her knees, and writhing a little in her seat. She struck me as an introvert, not comfortable with herself. Rather shy and slightly vulnerable. Unfortunately her English is heavily accented, and she has something of a lisp. Add to that a face-mic that was too close to her swollen lips and for the first few minutes it was impossible to understand a word she was saying.
Much of the initial conversation was about the photographers she had worked with, and the models. Most of whom were “difficult”. Prince was lovely, private and gave lots of money to charity. Madonna. Kate Moss. Supermodels. Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton – most of them were “difficult”. The discussion veered off to cover Donatella’s thoughts was about men and women, power and image. It was fairly interesting, she wasn’t particularly self-aggrandising, but she didn’t really have much to say. It ran along quite well, but mainly because the interviewer Tim Blanks, Editor at large of The Business of Fashion who worked hard to help make it so.
Yet she has taken hold of a company that was floundering after the murder of her brother Gianni, founder of the house, in 1997. Over the past two decades she has turned it round from near bankruptcy to an annual turnover of $500m. She has employed a good team, both to run the business and to design the clothes, and it seems to me that she is a competent and effective leader. Her approach to fashion is to create powerful, strong women, often dressed head to toe in tight black outfits, or flamboyant, colourful dresses fit for red carpet events. There is some superb fashion coming out of the house across all the ages, all types of clothes, different ranges and price points and lots and lots of inspiration. The luxery brand even did a link up with High Street shop H&M.
Unfortunately a long history of extreme plastic surgery and facial alteration has made her look unnatural and freaky, and her face is devoid of natural expression. With her unusual appearance, somewhat determined but flatly expressed opinions, with a fondness for bling and logos, it would be pretty easy to send it up, and it won’t surprise you that has already been done.
Despite her human faults you could not help feeling warmth and understanding, as well as excitement about her achievements. She lost her younger sister as a child, and her brother was murdered. She was obliged to take on the family business in the midst of her grief, which has been commercially successful. She is personally worth over $2bn She had a serious drug habit for 20 years, and looks old for her age. I felt that she was genuine and had created something very beautiful. She gives money to AIDS charities and she has given clothes to the V&A including this pink one, on display on the night.
25years ago, in about 1988, I heard Jean Muir speak at the V&A, in the same lecture theatre. She too was rather eccentric with her blueberry lips, skeletal appearance and verbal tics. It is not uncommon to find the humans behind our favourite books, art or fashion to be flawed and somewhat unusual. Creativity is a gift that thankfully surpasses the frail individuals that possess it.
In order to inspire myself to sew menswear I have been considering who my style icons are. Here are a few men who I think dress well, whatever the period.
- Arthur Miller
- Frank Sinatra
- James Dean
- Sean Connery
- Steve McQueen
- Clint Eastwood
- Yves St Laurent
- Robert Redford
Notice most of these are dead, or getting on. My taste is decidedly retro, although I also appreciate David Beckham – I know – he is not everyone’s cup of tea. I am really talking about the style – the way they wear their clothes. I recently wrote about GC Peter Townsend, who was quite good looking, but it was his clothes that I found most interesting.
Anyway of all these names the one that stands out for me is Steve McQueen. Oh yes. Here are four reasons why he would always be the top of my list.
Formal with a twist
A number of roles played by McQueen required a suit and tie. But he always looks like he is not taking it terribly seriously. I enjoyed this blog post which shows him shopping for formal wear (second picture is from the feature in Life magazine that was never published). If you have to wear a suit Steve would suggest casual footwear, a jersey instead of a shirt – anything to show that you are not really serious.
He was amazing in knitwear. Polo/turtle neck jumpers, Aran sweaters, chunky knits and fine. Very snuggly and soft looking, with a tough edge.
Short jackets (Harringtons and bombers)
Although Steve looks amazing in a three piece suit, he made the cropped jacket his own. It is a relaxed look that exposes the groin and buttocks to full view, an effect that is emphasised by wearing light coloured jeans with a darker jacket.
Shorts and sports
I looked for pictures of Steve McQueen in short trousers. There are a number of images of him, but mainly on the beach. He wears his shorts short, and revealing. Not for streetwear. And jeans.
Steve died, in 1980, from the complications associated with cancer. He smoked heavily all his life and was exposed to asbestos. He liked guns, camping, motorbikes and fast cars. He was confident that women found him very attractive. He was simply a great dresser. I hope some of the outfits I will create for Gus (including jeans, shirt, bomber jacket, corduroy, poloneck knitwear and tailored jacket with a twist) might enable Gus to put together some cool and stylish outfits. I do think the footwear helps – brown desert boots, white sneakers, lace up outdoor boots and slip ons help create the relaxed, sexy and cool image that McQueen is known for.
Gus wrote a post about his first hand knitted jumper. That turned out to be my most popular blog post ever, and I didn’t even write one word of it! Thank you everyone who made a comment – I know the warm feedback will encourage Gus to write again, as we go on.
Anyway my MANSWAP plan includes two jumpers.
Gus has requested is a polo neck (also known as a turtle neck in the US) to keep his long neck warm. I asked for suggestions of a polo/turtle necked pullover with set in sleeves not raglans. I thought maybe cables and rubbing. Thank you SO MUCH for your suggestions of knitting patterns – lots that did not fulfill the brief exactly, but are nice jerseys in any event.
Here are some of the proposals you kindly put forward. There are some brilliant looks here. I have shown them to Gus. I have also started a Pinterest page for him if you want to see what I have saved.
I absolutely love these suggestions. In terms of meeting the brief I think Stephanie’s Vika (lots of you suggested Jared Flood of Brooklyn tweed, who designed this one) and Verona’s vintage gave us what I really wanted. So what is Gus’s opinion as in this matter the customer is always right? Gus admitted he didn’t really know what he was looking at in terms of specification. He tried to imagine wearing the item, but found it hard to get past some of the model pictures. He turned down an illustrated pattern because it was not a photograph. He evaluated some of the patterns in terms of did the model look like him or not. So he turned down a) and related to b), even though he definitely didn’t want a cabled cardi with a shawl collar. I must admit the vintage sweater really appealed to me, mainly because it is body hugging, has the slim sleeves that I think Gus likes. I thought the subtle stripes at the extremities. I think I could knit this nicely for Gus’s “carrot” shape. On the other hand although many of the Brooklyn Tweed outfits are modelled by beardy young model-boys but maybe a bit too “flappy” for Gus (his words).
I have got an image that Gus is comfortable with. It is a 1952 vintage pattern, and I was just about to buy it as a pdf, when I discovered it is free to down load here. It appears to be a very simple pattern and I think it would suit Gus (obviously very boring to knit but what else is Netflix for?). I do need a little help please. What sort of yarn would this use? The original pattern specifies 23oz of “AMERICAN THREAD COMPANY “DAWN” KNITTING WORSTED” in “Nylon or Wool”. It seems worsted is an American type of yarn. The guage is 5 and a half stitch per inch. Is it double knit or finer? And are the needle sizes ie “3” and “5” correct in terms of modern needle sizes? These very simple jersey shapes and patterns seem to be too boring for the modern knitter, but I really think this may well be the kind of jersey that men prefer to wear. I am not sure what sort of yarn to use, but I would like to use a deep grey-blue – airforce blue. Again, any suggestions would be warmly welcomed.
I loved my first Purl Alpaca jersey (sorry for going on about it but I wear it all the time – soft, light, warm and such a gorgeous colour) so much that I decided to make another Kari-Helene design. At the Knitting and Stitching show I was able to try on several items and ended up purchasing (at a slight exhibition discount) the Cyrene jacket kit.
I want to make it in the featured colour – brownish grey “Rain”. Or taupe as I like to call it. After a French mole. This ashen-brown is the underlying colour of my hair at its darkest, although it is getting very grey these days. I am thinking of making a pair of taupe corduroy trousers to go with it. My friend Deon-Nadine wrote (on Instagram)
“I know you like vibrant colours but I love the depth and warmth of this colour @fabrickated. Lovely!”
Yes it is an interesting shade that seems to change colour with different light. Reminds me of the Farrow and Ball colours that are going on the walls at Rainshore, as I write.
My Lorelle was knitted with “fine”, whereas Cyrene requires “medium”. If you knit any of the Purl Alpaca patterns, and want to substitute a yarn, this may help:
Our yarn comes in two thicknesses; Fine and Medium. Fine is equivalent to Sports weight (this thickness is in between 4 ply and DK) and Medium is a Worsted weight (this thickness lies between DK and Aran).
For the Cyrene, I knitted it, as proposed, with 4mm needles, and the medium yarn creates a much firmer fabric compared to much looser, softer feel for the Lorelle. I think this texture is right for the garment, but the finer yarn felt alot softer and more “snuggly”. But obviously this one hasn’t been soaked in water or washed yet.
But first I have to finish the jacket!
I found the pattern both curious and challenging. The border (in moss stitch or seed stitch as I think you Americans call it) is knitted first. Then the body of the jacket is created between the edges, in one big piece, knitted on circular needles as there are so many stitches (nearly 300 to start with). I got into trouble fairly early on by making messy corners on the border. Here is a nice version by prolific knitter, Susan Crowe.
I failed to understand how to create the lower curve. This involves “short rows” and something called wrapped turn, just WT on my pattern sheet. That took a little while to understand, with You Tube, and emails to Kari-Helene (“trust the pattern!”) but it was surprisingly successful. I was learning. But there were lots of failings. My mitred corners, for example. But also I didn’t understand that each of the middle rows just needed to pick up the border at the end of a row. Once or twice, or even more often, I had a strange compulsion to pick up stitches at the beginning too. This used up too many of the border stitches. in the end I knew I needed to start again. I looked at the moss stitch borders, counted the stitches and realised it would never be long enough to come right up to the upper chest. Also I felt the jacket it would be better if I had an extra inch or two in the hips. But I couldn’t bring myself to destroy what I had created.
It took alot of resolve.
In fact I had to step away from my work for a whole week to gather the courage to tear this up. Completely. Kari-Helene suggested I could just go back to the border. But I wanted higher quality plus that little bit of extra width in the bum area. So, sitting in the car at 6am on a Saturday morning, I unravelled this jersey right back to nothing. I even undid the loop that you start casting on from, to create a sort of empty Zen headspace.
I was left with a gigantic ball of wool and nothing to be seen on my needles. But, like creating a toile first, I now knew what I was doing. For four and a half hours to Lancashire, several hours sitting with mother, and for four and a half hours on my return journey I reknitted where I had been before. Creating a new jumper that was Small at the base and Extra Small from the waist up, I reknitted the jacket.
By Tuesday night, with a little bit of sneaky knitting at a conference organised by Becci, I had almost reached the armholes!
I am worried I may not have enough yarn, but I am really enjoying this knitting malarky. I hope it fits…!
I mentioned how I loved the dolls I had made 25 years ago, despite the fact that their skin, hair and clothes have faded over the years, and they sport a stain or two.
So when I saw some lovely handmade dolls from Dalston Dolls on my Instagram I committed to attend a class to make a baby doll – one that resembles my youngest grandchild, Kit.
The deal is that for about £70 you get to make a doll in a day, all materials included (not clothes). The tutor is Mopsa Wolff who will also make you a doll for about £95 (through Etsy). So I guess you are working from 10 till 6pm, to save £25. But look at this way – you create a doll that you have filled with love, and moulded it to look like someone you love, and you have learned how to do it so you can make several more if you want to. So along I went to Fabrications in Hackney, run by the marvellous Barley Massey.
Six adults, one accompanied by her charming little boy, spent the day making dolls. Oskar is only six but he had already got one doll and wanted to help make another – he chose an Native American with long black hair. He was very patient and stuffed his doll very effectively while his Mum did most of the sewing. On the table you can see the stuffing – which is natural Yorkshire wool. My previous dolls have been stuffed, I think with kapok or recycled plastic beakers. Stuffing with natural wool is so much nicer. The wool comes in sheets that are pulled apart and fluffed up to make them soft and smooth for stuffing. We packed the filling into the arms and legs first.
Once the limbs are stuffed they are attached to the body. I used hand stitching throughout, although Mopsa uses the sewing machine which is available throughout. Then the body is stuffed and the small seam allowance across the shoulders and neckline is tacked down. This took us to our lunch break. The class takes place in Fabrications which is in Broadway Market so plenty of choice of delicious food. The second half of the day starts with making the head. We started with a “brain” a wound ball of waste yarn, then covered it with strips of wool. Once it is large enough the head is encased in a cotton bandage. In order the shape the head to make it come to life we bound it tightly with cotton thread, concentrating especially on the ey line and curve at the back of the head. There is a stem on the head to enable it to sit within the body cavity.
Now we covered the head with the cotton jersey and to stitch it closely to the head form, across the back and top of the head. All of this is eventually covered by the hair. And then the only really tricky bit – inserting the head into the body cavity and sewing it very neatly in to place. I started by sewing the neck at two places first, then sewing up the shoulders.
After that we created the features using embroidery floss. Mopsa had lots of great white people’s eye colour, but I had to try to mix a dark brown. The lip colours were varied and very nice. Making the features is a bit weird – you use a very long, thick needle and stab the poor dolly through the head. However the lightly defined facial features allow the recipient to project their own feelings onto the doll. Mopsa said many people make the dolls to look like their children, and she finds it funny that often the birth stories come out while people are making their baby dolls.
Creating the hair takes a further hour. I was able to make a start in the class, but I had to finish it at home. First I learnt to crochet using some natural brown organic wool. You make a little cap that fits over the head. For a little baby doll the crocheted wig is enough. But with the child doll you add hair to the base. I enjoyed this part the most. Once I had put lots of hair on to the doll I unravelled the wool to make it look more like Kit’s hair. I was quite pleased with the effect. I think the boy needs some clothes before he really comes to life.
I enjoyed the class very much indeed, barely taking ten minutes to eat the soup Nick had made for me. I worked hard to ensure I was nearly finished – I am hoping this might be a suitable Christmas present for Kit. I will clothe him too, if I can find the time. The opportunity just to take a day to sew, and spend time with lovely people, and to relax and switch off is great. I made a doll that I am proud of as Mopsa is on hand to make sure all the stages are completed properly.
I had been fascinated by this pattern for some time. The “deceptively simple” design means that you cannot see the one seam or the zip fastening in the skirt as the folded over wrap covers both. It is apparently based on a Chanel skirt. As someone who is interested in clever cutting and really enjoys wearing skirts this pattern was on my radar for a while.
My friend Ruth gave it to me after she had made a couple of versions for herself. The first one is in jersey with no zip, and the second is a much more tailored one. I love this version, worn with a cute blouse.
This pattern comes in a range of sizes but doesn’t indicate what size is which. Whatever. I measured my hips which are close to the size 12 in this skirt so that is what I cut out. There is one large piece, cut on the fold, and two long bias cut ties. The skirt joins at the front, where the zip is inserted, and the skirt folds over to cover the zip and seam. The skirt is then tied round the waist with the long ties. Ruth altered her own version in a very clever way. The waist bands become a sort of high waisted corset.
I wasn’t sure how the skirt would fit so decided to make a “wearable toile”. When I last visited Woolcrest in Hackney I got a few fabrics for £3 p/m that I thought might be good for toiling jackets and skirts. One of them was a nice, pinky red tartan, made of polyester or viscose, with a soft feel. I decided to use this. As there are no seams to be seen I thought tartan would be ideal for this project. Having lines that help ensure the fabric is on grain and evenly matched is a real boon. And I enjoy wearing tartan – it has more edge than floral but also goes with lots of colours.
Unlike Ruth I kept to the brief, especially with my first version. So my ties are regulation length and shape, and I kept the skirt long, as designed. I actually think it would look even better as a short skirt. It was fairly quick to make. The underfold can be tucked into the waistband tie, and this is what I did. I didn’t use the back facing, but finished the seams and edges, including the hem, with a piece of vintage pink bias binding. It took about 3 hours to make this skirt, just in time to wear for work last week.
The pattern is badged as an “educational” pattern, assuming you know what you are doing. I was OK with that. But I was annoyed that the tie on the front cover is shown as having a wide base, whereas the actual one tapers to quite a sharp point. And the pieces could have been trimmed a tiny bit so that they fit onto the average width of cloth. I minimised the seam allowances at the tip of the tie, without any problem, and saved quite a lot of fabric as a result. Overall the skirt is frugal on fabric but as the ties are cut on the bias it uses up at least as much again. But a nice skirt and certainly a fun project.
If I was doing SWAP (for me) I think I might have wanted to include it. In fact if it “belongs” anywhere it is probably in last-years-SWAP-that-never-happened – my inspired by Vivienne Westwood collection.
Wearing the finished skirt really reminded me of a kilt-like skirt I got in the Margaret Howell sale a few years ago. It’s been put away for a while but I will get it out soon. I had my portrait painted in this skirt. Polly Nuttall, the artist, did a series on “senior women”. We invited her to be the artist in residence at Notting Hill Housing. It was a great initiative, where she shared her work, skills and techniques with our staff and contributed to a very special project involving Housing Officers and their tenants. Anyway the Margaret Howell skirt I is glorious and I love it. It has red, navy and dark green in, against a natural white background. I am wearing it with a navy cashmere sweater in the painting. The belt is worn over the high waist and the skirt is basically made in the same way as the CC Fold Skirt.
Before the SWAP rules were announced I had a rough idea of a capsule wardrobe for Gus, consisting of 11 items:
- Long sleeved T shirt
- High waisted jeans
- Smart shorts
- Casual trousers
- Tailored jacket
- Bomber jacket
- Alpaca “Lore” jumper
- Polo neck jumper
Since the rules were published I have had to rethink my plans a little, mainly because no more than eight patterns are allowed. The obvious thing to do is make shorts (6) and trousers (7) from the same pattern, which I think I will do. The long sleeved T (3) and the bomber jacket (9) could share the same pattern. I may drop the T and do two shirts – one with long sleeves and the other short. Also I am tempted, if I get a good fit on the tailored jacket, to do it twice – once in a wool and once in linen so that Gus’s wardrobe has both a winter (7 plus 3 and 4) and a summer set (to go with 5 and 6). This would mean leaving out (11) the coat.
I have also been thinking a bit more about patterns, especially the jacket. Thank you for your advice on sweater patterns – I will come back to the pullover in a later post.
So back to the jacket. I had another go at the 1940s jacket, and I think I made good progress with altering the paper pattern. Then I thought about another toile, and doing the sleeves later, and trying to get some canvas and shoulder pads that were just right for a 1940s jacket and I felt a bit fed up. The wise words of caution of Ceci and Lynn Mally came to me as I was working away. And mostly what Cherry said:
I too am a lifetime sewer who enjoys a challenge. I also have two sons and the elder is built just like Gus, although a little older. I have also made vintage costumes for the stage.I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but based on my experience this is what will happen:
You will eventually get to a toile which looks something like a fit, although Gus will still be pushing for more modern lines. You will go ahead and buy expensive tweed, sew it up to your best standards, pad-stitching and all the rest. Gus will allow a photo shoot and it will look great, in a vintage sort of way. After that you will never see him wear it again. If challenged he will say “it feels weird” or “I never go anywhere I can wear it”.
If you feel like making a vintage jacket, all power to you. But accept it is for you!
I realised that Gus had not really signed off the pattern. Despite expressing enthusiasm for the vintage project his desire to have a different shape may be worth responding to. During the second fitting he requested narrower lapels, two buttons, and no pockets. But I had no idea what sort of jacket patterns he really wanted. Is he sophisticated enough to really understand the options? When I make for myself I more or less know what I can have, and roughly how to make it. I often get what you might call “indirect” inspiration – in the case of Hila it was the graphic design of a penguin book. Other times it is more direct – say the copying of the Sache silk design from a Schiaparelli dress, and combining it with the Dogstar Napoleon Six design. Other times I directly copy an existing garment.
I have learned that making for someone else is a challenging area. You can either do more or less exactly what they tell you – ie copy this, or you can use your skill and judgement to create something they might have never thought of. I prefer doing the second as it is much more exciting and uses more skills. But you run the risk of creating something inappropriate that wont be worn or loved.
When we designed our new holiday home our architect took our ideas and changed them quite a lot. She didn’t want us to do the design – she wanted us to say what we wanted and how we lived. She did the designing. She said “My job is to give you what you didn’t know you could have”. I loved this.
So I having chosen items for Gus, and apparently getting his sign off, I now feel a bit flat. Have I got the designs right? How much leeway can I have? Gus is fairly tolerant, but I would like to create a wardrobe he loves as much as I do with my SWAP set. So I am thinking again about more modern patterns.
Karen suggested MakeMyPattern which is a brilliant site. Joost has digitised some basic Winifred Aldrich men’s patterns and included an algorithm to size them correctly. How brilliant is that? I have decided to give it a go with a pair of trousers. MMP also has a shirt, and tie, but no jacket yet.
I asked Gus for an image of the jacket he would like and this is what he sent. It is actually a suit and rather more formal than I had envisaged. It has peaked lapels and only one button. I think I know why Gus likes this; the colour, the subtle, smooth look of the fabric, the close-fitting waisted look and the one button which actually emphasises the slim waist line. I am not sure how important the peaked lapels are. It has pockets which he says he doesn’t want (he never cuts them open, preferring instead to stuff things into the trouser pockets). Maybe no pockets is a modern, sleek look – maybe worth a try? It is possible these pockets are fakes – at least the breast pocket.
I found a Vogue pattern that might work. However it is much more casual – it is unlined and appears to be made up in searsucker. Which is strobing and hurting my eyes. Also it is more boxy and looks like an American sack suit (compared to the Italian look of the Reiss – an English brand – suit). Can I taper it in a bit to get a closer fit?
Here is a modern tailor-made jacket with the peaked lapels. I have asked my male work colleagues what they think of this look, and I got a mixed reception.