I have been allocated a client – or a “buddy” – to print for. She is Amandine – a beautiful French girl with thick red hair. She lives and works in Brighton, and has a blog called Fleur de Carotte.
Amandine has warm colouring – in total contrast to my own cool shading. I will relish the opportunity to experiment with yellow based colours and create something beautiful. We love France and go every year. A couple of years ago we did a home exchange and ended up with a marvellous country house in Dinan, Britanny. Here is a photograph of Esme and Shane, who suddently appeared at the window to give Ted a surprise as he played outside with the cat. I really like how this photograph is framed.
Then I came across this photograph of Pablo Picasso, also framed in a French window (“La fenêtre” is one of the few things I remember from school). He looks so cool in his French sea-fareing Breton top, his large artistic hands displayed, his penetrating eyes focused on the photographer, and us – his audience.
Despite its ubiquity I still love the Breton top, and I have a few. My inspiration for Amandine’s fabric therefore include:
- the sea
- living by the sea-side
- sunshine and warmth.
Here is a colour swatch I have developed for this project. No idea where this will go, but I am keen to start experimenting!
The carrier I made for Kit is similar to the Moby sling, which costs around £40. Because I am stingy and a dab hand with a sewing machine (one seam) I offered a homemade version.
If you want to make one yourself it’s quite a simple business. You take 3m of cotton jersey and cut it into thirds of around 20cms deep along its length. Take two of the 3m pieces and seam them securely along the short ends of the rectangle to produce a 20cm x 6m piece of cloth. I tried to do a diagram with Illustrator which I am learning at the moment, but resorted to a felt tip and piece of paper. Sorry.
I then roughly dyed this long slim piece of fabric in some blue dye to make a kind of tie-dye effect (ie I chucked it in a bucket of dye).
The edges are tapered towards the ends of the sling, so that it can be tied securely around the body. The edges are not finished and do not need to be. The whole thing is very soft and nice to wear and is suitable for very small babies. There are all sorts of different ways of tying it on, which can be found on the internet.
The square of cloth in the middle was a piece of white cotton onto which I printed my “small flints” design. I then coloured in the white sections using watered down fabric paints in greens, yellows, turquoise, and blue. If you buy a ready made sling this is where they put their logo so you walk around advertising their company everyday. On this version I put attatched this small piece of self printed fabric over the flat felled seams. This adds reassuring strength, and indicates the centre, that covers Baby’s back. I made up a little bag with the cut off corners and attached another piece of home printed fabric on it. I inserted elastic into the top so that the sling can be folded away when not in use as it is an ungainly item.
Here is a marvellous five colour print made from just one piece of Lino by my favourite artist Picasso.
And you can use the same technique at home to produce a four or five colour design from one piece of lino. You can produce several copies but the work is altered after each colour is printed. It is such a fun project and I will describe what I did in case you feel like having a go. You print each colour and then cut the lino some more so that by the end you just have a little bit left with which to print the final colour. You cannot then go back and produce it again, meaning uniqueness is guaranteed. No problem for Picassso who produced at least one art work each day.
I drew a picture of a girl with a bob hairstyle, wearing a collared, striped top. She sits inside a room with a window, patterned wallpaper, a dado rail and a lamp. The picture is composed of white, yellow, green, red and dark brown, in that order. The white bits are carved out of the lino and it is printed with yellow ink. Then the bits that are to remain yellow are cut away and the green ink is used.
Then the areas that are to remain green are cut away and the red printing ink is applied.
By now most of the lino is cut away to leave the small piece (shown above) which is used to print on the final colour, in this case a dark brown.
I also did one without the red, just to see what would happen.
I used the print on T-shirts for myself and the grandchildren.
I am taking part in Marilla Walker’s Hand Printed Fabric Swap, and am very pleased I have been partnered with Amandine from Brighton who has a blog. She is French and works in a school. She has thick red hair so I am looking forward to developing a colour palette for her and then using it to create 1m of fabric that she can make into something.
Grey is perhaps a low-energy, Mr Nobody type of shade. Grey haired men in Grey suits. The ultimate bureaucrat. The men that stop us doing things.
But conversely it is a reliable, respectable, efficient colour. And for many of us who don’t suit black, it is the ultimate neutral. I love grey and apparently we can see around 250 versions of this colour (rather than just the 50). Grey can be silvery, and a wonderful shade for summer. Dark charcoal is almost black for people with deeper colouring, but it can also shimmer with hints of other colours – there are greenish, brownish, whitish, purplish, bluish greys. There is a whole colour direction based on the elegant, greyed off colours – the Muted set of shades.
One thing I like to do with grey is use it to make an outfit more conservative, especially if I am wearing a bright shade. In fact I wear this cheap Uniqlo jacket so much: I need to make a light grey jacket in a decent fabric to replace it.
Would you put the English football team in grey Marks and Spencer suits with white shirts and diagonal, purple ties? Did this do anything for their chances? What were the image makers thinking – although it sold suits, as English fans flocked to buy one too – they looked like sixth formers rather than elegant, poised and determined. A group of men with well shaped bodies could have looked a lot better, if you ask me.
Grey seems to be a very popular colour for weddings. Here are George and Bianca at their Church ceremony in September 2012.
Deep v Light?
Cool v Warm?
Bright v Muted?
I have quite a lot of grey in my wardrobe, but most of it is RTW. And because I had good supply of my main neutral I have mainly been making garments in colour. But plan to make a grey suit, and have managed to find some high quality, low cost fabrics at Simply Fabrics. They look pretty dull and unappealing here but I am hopeful that they will work well for work wear. Somehow I just can’t get excited about sewing with neutrals. Am I the only one?
One reason some of us like making our own clothes is that it allows us to be ourselves. We get the fit, the colour and the style that we like best, and clothes that suit how we look. For me, the shops just don’t cater for what I want. I find shopping boring (retail is more purgatory than therapy, if you ask me). My idea of therapy is sewing something lovely.
As part of my course – City and Guilds 780 – I was introduced to the idea of surface decoration by Mrs Tregelles. Various techniques were used to change the colour or texture of our raw material. This included:
- Machine embroidery
- applique and patchwork
- painting on fabric
- dying and printing
- pin tucks and decorative darts
- layering and distressing fabric
All these techniques allow us to produce what didn’t exist before. They also slow down the process of making a garment considerably. But we end up with something special – a work of art, perhaps? This was the best part of the course for me as it introduced yet another layer of personalisation. I could get exactly the colour/pattern/scale that I desired, creating a textile that I would subsequently make into a garment.
I have been impressed by Marilla producing her entirely hand sewn jeans. This slowing down is meditative and so much more enjoyable than searching crowded high streets, struggling into ill-fitting garments, and the ultimate dissatisfaction and disappointment that result from shopping. To me making your own clothes, especially clothes that take time, is like cooking your own food. Of course you can buy a cheap loaf anywhere. Or artisan bread, which costs a lot more. But there is nothing nicer than bread you make yourself (ahem, my husband does the bread-making in our house). You soon get used to the flavour of the real thing. And, for me, it’s the same with clothes. I love tailoring as it takes ages, and as you shape your garment you put some of yourself into it, in the same way as when you cook for people you love.
When I was introduced to machine embroidery – being required to produce an embroidered waistcoat in 1985 – my first thought was “what a naff project”! However on a small piece of grey flannel I started to experiment, not with embroidery stitches that your machine can manage, but a simple zig-zag stitch. I bought some wonderful, lustrous machine embroidery threads in blues, greens, turquoise (to look like the sea), and covered my little top in colour. To replicate the waves I added a bulkier light grey thread, some silver too, and then added some orangey-brown shades of a swimmer’s body. In the end I was so happy with the idea of an embroidered waistcoat that I made another one for my daughter, taking the colours from a dress I made, and putting them into a black, cashmere waist coat. I think it has some thick yarns couched on, and hand-made frogging. I don’t have a photo of the first item, but I do have Esme in her dress.
I also got to like smocking which I had associated with hippy clothes, rural smocks and small toffee nosed children. For my lingerie project at college I produced a little dress for Esme (who was about 18 months at the time), with matching drawers (or knickers). This was made from very light white cheesecloth – a crepey cotton. I then used a range of blue embroidery threads from deep to palest blue and smocked the bodice and sleeves. I edged the knickers with the lightest narrow cotton lace. Esme wore this lovely outfit for my father’s 70th birthday (March 1988). Here she is, investigating the olives.
So this summer I decided to have a go at smocking again. This is the pattern I had in mind.
It’s a 1940s pattern I got for 99p on the internet. During the second world war, when materials were short, surface decoration techniques, such as smocking could transform an old sheet into a baby’s dress or a splendid blouse. And even after the war was over clothes were expensive and still rationed. Making do and mending was the name of the game, due to necessity for hard-pressed Britons. Families had far fewer clothes in those days and stitching, knitting, mending and embroidery were essential skills. Making your own outfits was the norm for most working class women. Today we have the opposite problem – far too many clothes (which compete with our living space) and hardly any skill or time to make our own outfits.
I have never worn jeans for work. Except maybe the day we had a spring clean in 2010. Since my time in the Girl Guides I always follow the old BP motto Be Prepared. If a customer, board member or councillor needs to see me I wouldn’t want to be inappropriately dressed. Some dress codes insist on no denim; others say no jeans. There are codes which say smart jeans are OK but not distressed, bleached or fringed (excuse me, when were these policies written?). My take is this. Jeans are inevitable, and in many circumstances fine for work. Many people find them comfortable. Styled well, on the right person, in an appropriate role. Not for senior managers but fine for the front line team. Let’s have a look at what men at Notting Hill Housing are wearing these days.
Last Friday (which is not dress down day at Notting Hill because every day is dress down day), I talked to a couple of Housing Officers who look after our tenants. Their job involves meeting customers in their homes, making sure they pay their rent, getting repairs organised and all other matters. They need to be approachable with just enough authority to show they know their stuff without being intimidating or too “official”.
Here is Housing Officer Ade who I think looks very nice in his jeans. Even though he has teamed them with a denim shirt he has a great sense of style and the whole look is composed and beautiful. His use of colour is very pleasing – cool blues with fashionable brown shoes. He wears a smart, but informal shirt rather than a T-shirt, and it is done up to provide a neat neckline. The narrow turn ups on the jeans individualise and smarten them, bringing the lighter blue in to echo the shirt. This outfit on someone with deep-cool colouring is harmonious. Ade is very slim and quite tall, with a straight body outline. The horizontal lines – turn-ups, contrasting shoe colour and fairly stong contrast between shirt and trousers provides a great look for Ade.
Now let’s meet Chris. I know it was a Friday but I don’t think this outfit is really acceptable for work. And the jeans aren’t the problem are they? It’s the footwear and the comedy T-shirt. The trainers look like he has cloven feet, or perhaps they are inspired by Geisha? And what exactly does this T-shirt say? When I asked him Chris mentioned a film “that your kids must have seen” – but I don’t think a humourous T-shirt works at work. It is saying “I am young and fun!” Finish it off with a hoody and we have a relaxed weekend look for a handsome family guy. Chris has a good haircut, beard and glasses and could certainly carry off a more grown up look. In this outfit he looks a bit too unstructured and possibly unprofessional. There are visual lines going vertically, horizontally and even diagonally (even on his shoes) making Chris look chopped up and more like a diagram than together.
Chris has a sense of humour and he is a great member of staff, but if he turned up at my house to encourage me to pay my rent I would wonder if he knew what he was doing. He reassured me that he was just working in the office on Friday and would not be meeting any customers.
Now meet two people in our marketing team. They are generally office-based rather than customer-facing. If you look at these two they have basically created a long, dark, slim line. In some ways this is the most flattering way to dress if you want to look taller and slimmer but it can be very predictable and samey as the men go round looking like dark blue or grey pencils.
Hello Mohsin. Mohsin told me he used to wear a suit or at least a shirt and tie, but has felt peer pressure to dress down. He feels so long as you wear a collar (a shirt or a polo shirt) with jeans that makes them OK for work. Mohsin’s colour scheme is quite nice but I think the whole outfit needs a bit of a lift. The shirt has epaulettes which have an authority association but the sleeves are rolled up in a casual way. And I like the colour the subtle check gives him. He could experiment with a wider range of deep colours in his shirts and try a better quality, slim fit style. Mohsin could also try leather shoes and belt. These two elements would allow him to become a bit more expressive in his style, and give him more authority, especially if he feels under pressure to dress down. And the turn up are OK because the whole outfit is one, deep tone. But on a shorter frame it is best to avoid horizontal lines.
Andrew, whose marvellous teeth can not be English (he’s #Canadian – yay!), is also involved in marketing our homes.
Andrew looks smart in grey-blue jeans and toning suede sports shoes, with a light coloured sole. His shirt is elegant and his whole well-groomed look is neat and attractive. And yet Andrew who has much lighter, and warmer, colouring than my other “models” is wearing the same deep blues and greys. Its beginning to look like a uniform! Andrew might like to try some lighter and warmer shades for work – pastel shirts with his jeans perhaps? Cream, lemon or peach would look great. As he is tall and slim Andrew could carry off a bit more contrast between his shirt and trouser shades. Perhaps wear a light blue shirt and blue jeans but try tan brogues and belt to bring out the light warmth of his look.
A piece of advice I received was to dress for the job you want, rather than the one you have. If you desire to be taken more seriously, and be considered for a move to a more senior role begin to act like you are already doing it, including looking the part.
My printing on fabric experiments are only an excuse to worship at the shrine of DVF Originals. This is a nice one – perfect for holidays, but maybe for work when its really, really warm.
I showed you my Red “Blades” dress. The beauty of making a lino print is that you can change the colourway, just like in a factory. The DVF Blades fabric originally came in red, green, black, and I think in brown. But I really wanted green.
I printed a few metres of soft white Indian cotton lawn. I used green fabric paint with blue in a ration of 2:1 to produce a slightly bluer green. I used this to make up DVF’s Vogue 1638 with the printed cotton lawn. I lengthened the pattern a little in the bodice and shortened it considerably in the length. The main change I made was to omit the narrow tied straps and to add slightly wider fixed straps, making it a little less beach-like. And because I wanted to be sure to cover the bra straps. It has a self tie belt but looks quite nice with a leather one, or loose and unbelted as in View B. Because the lawn is fairly transparent, it is lined with the same plain white, unprinted, lawn. This is such a comfortable dress, especially when you need a little air to circulate. And I am learning that old DVF likes zips. This dress has a zip – if you make the tie-shoulder version I doubt you would need one.
I have my cardigan on today as the weather can always change.
I had quite a lot left over. So I made some PJ bottoms for me, and a pair of trousers for the baby too.
Monochrome is popularly understood to mean wearing black and white. So ubiquitous is this look that it can be relied on to turn up in large numbers at everything from a provincial office to a middle class wedding. Once reserved for prison officers and waitresses it is now the architypal needs-no-thought-or-effort look. I, for one, ache for a change in the fashion.
Actually to compound the problem this look is also misnamed. Monochrome means one colour – shades of white or black might qualify, if they were colours. But they are not – they are really an absence of colour. The Monochrome look is perfect for people who need a subtle but interesting look. It’s the first choice for people with muted colouring and good for lighter and warmer shades too. Here I am wearing another of my self-drafted Curvy-Pencil skirts with plain Uniqlo T-shirt and M&S cardi. Not only are the three items almost exactly the same shade of turquoise/bluey green, there is an absence of pattern too. What stops this looking too much? Firstly I would suggest that the belt (turquoise with silver) and the shoes are not quite matchy-matchy. The outfit would look wrong if there was a fourth or fifth element in the exact same shade- for example turquoise tights – ergh!). My purple glasses also bring in a second shade. The buttons on the cardi are dark too. I think wearing silver jewellery rather than turquoise (the rock, or plastic) is really important again to provide a little bit of movement for the eye.
I also like to combine Monochrome with layering. Wear say a long sleeved T, a cropped or ahort sleeved one on top and a skirt or trousers in one shade – mid and deep purples, or varieties of deep and light grey-blues. You can also use a plain or patterned scarf or tie to add another layer of a similar shade. Here is a photograph from Hellomag.com that shows a male model (looking “cool” with an unlit cigarette in his mouth) wearing four of five shades of warm brown that beautifully co-ordinate with his own warm brown hair and beard. Here the colours are more clearly differentiated than in my turquoise outfit and we have a variety of textures – the Aran sweater, the slightly furry coat, the smooth fabric of the trousers and the leather bag. But the white shirt (and artful cig), and the dark brown buttons and, I think, shoes, again serves the purpose of making the monochrome work better by providing a contrast.
Here is another nice monochromatic outfit which would work well on someone with light-cool colouring. The model is wearing a light bluish green shirt, a white jumper, mint jacket and light blue coat (with the blue lining revealled by turned back sleeves) with a greenish-blue beret. All the shades are a very similar tone but just different enough to make our gaze move around. The black zip (and her dark hair) actually provides some interest and prevents it looking too sugary. These pictures are just for inspiration!
Here’s a nice everyday interpretation by Nancy Biji who works for Notting Hill Pathways. The close fitting dress and matching bag in a deep pink looking stunning. By keeping her tights and shoes in black, to echo her lovely long hair, we see how elongating and slimming a single shade can be.
Rules with Monochrome
If you want to do monochrome well, here is some guidance:
- don’t assume it’s just black and white – try colour
- neutrals work very well for this look but, again, try colour
- look for slight differences in colour rather than buying a matching set from one shop or range
- if the colour is very similar look for different textures or textiles eg knitted wool with cotton
- introduce a small amount of another colour to set it off (eg lipstick, buttons, shoes)
- consider the accessories – they can contribute to the look
- generally this is a discussion of plain colours but you could try a pattern
- if you do it in pale blue or similar pastels it’s probably best to avoid travelling by tube.
Marilla Walker has launched a fabric swap on her blog. This requires participants to print a metre of fabric and send it to another blogger. I have signed up because I love printing fabric. This dress which I have on today (it’s still boiling in London) is the reason why.
I wanted to try to recreate “Blades” the iconic DVF fabric in order to make – the iconic DVF wrap dress.
Had I wanted an absolute replica I may have resorted to bidding on eBay for a genuine piece (approximated $1000) or I might have tried to get a firm like Spoonflower.com to print a similar version ($26.50 a yard for jersey, plus tax and postage). But I am like the Granny in Goodness Gracious Me, who always claims she can “Make it at home” for a fraction of the cost.
Meera Syal as Ummi. Picture from the Guardian
The fabric I used – Adult Ed cotton – costs around £2.50m. But of course making the fabric took me weeks of labour!
I downloaded images of Blades (based on blades of grass), used tracing paper to copy the design, transferred it to a piece of Lino, and cut out the white sections of the pattern. Hard work, but good for the biceps! Once completed I used Permaset ink in Red to transfer the image to the cotton.
After the lino printing is complete it is left to dry, then ironed with a hot iron to fix the colour.
As you can see the print is roughly similar to the original, but of course the pattern register is far from perfect. But I didn’t even try to get a continuous pattern, and you get see marks on the fabric where the block printing starts and finishes. Block printing is a traditional and rather ancient approach (going back around 3000BC) and to me this is its charm. It is the kind of thing you can do at home. The ink is not especially even.
But the main problem with my project is that, try as I might, I could not get my lino to print effectively on my chosen and appropriate fabric, cotton jersey. The DVF iconic wrap dress is designed for a knitted fabric – albeit silk rather than cotton or viscose. I tried various techniques on cotton and viscose jersey but the ink just didn’t absorb. My tutor suggested trying mixing powdered procion dyes into a binder instead of the commercial ink, but the effect was even more patchy. In frustration I used the lino block on woven cotton and the results were very good. Unfortunately most DVF patterns call for a knit rather than a woven so my project was in jeopardy.
On this occasion I threw caution to the wind and made up Vogue 1553, a pattern I had already successfully made up in jersey. Unfortunately, as every child knows, woven cotton doesn’t stretch much. As a result there was insufficient ease over the bust. The dress is really closely cut around the arms. It looks fine but I had to deploy a little trick. I stitched on the buttons with shirring elastic. It now has just a little bit of give.
Blue is the most popular “favourite colour” beloved by “pop starts” interviewed in girls’ magazines. At least it was when I was a girl. Probably now everyone says black is their favourite colour. Or maybe something more “interesting” such as Parma Ham.
Why do we love blue so much – blue skies, the sea, blue eyes, jeans, blue ink, indigo, cornflowers, blue bells and forget-me-not? The best explanation I have seen is that it is hard to think of a nasty blue. Bright or muted, dark or light, cool or warm blue – personally I feel I could wear any one of these shades and not offend anyone (myself included). You cannot say the same for yellow, or green for example. What about the feet of a Booby? No-one knows why they are blue?
It’s a colour just about anyone can wear for work and formal occasions. It is associated with intelligence, professionalism and trust. It is a conservative colour and is often associated with organisations like banks who want to reassure us that they can be trusted with our money. It is also a political colour for the right in the UK, although in America it is the other way around. On the negative side blue can be associated with emotional distance. I am afraid I always associate a navy suit and white blouse as the “uniform” of a care home manager. And while we love to wear blue those who put it on their walls at home are often dismayed at the way it absorbs light and feels cold. Incidentally I would recommend Farrow and Ball Light Blue for a lovely kitchen colour.
Blue is such a useful colour – both blue jeans and a navy suit are ubiquitous parts of everyman’s wardrobe. Because just about everything goes with blue. At its most striking blue looks great with its polar opposite, orange. Although not everyone can wear orange it looks pretty good on most of those with deep, bright and warm-bright colouring. But with complementary colours pay attention to proportion using a 1:2 ratio for example. And if you are wearing say a navy halter neck with orange trousers add a third colour, or a pattern with navy and orange in it, or bring the blue back in with your shoes. If orange (0r orangey-tan browns) are not in your palette consider teaming red or strong pink with blue. The strongly contrasting look is not good for people with light, muted or softer warm colouring. Here blues are best mixed with more harmonious colours like purples, or greens – colours which adjoin blue in the colour circle. Navy with turquoise, light blue with deep blue, forest/navy/white; shades of “airforce” (muted) blue; pinky purples and blue purples with blues.
Blues work well with pastels and neutrals too. Try those muted blues with grey or pink for an easy-on-the-eye look. Brighter blues look fabulous with white – like a Delft tile, or clear yellows. A deep navy suit looks amazing on a person with deep colouring, with a light pink or blue shirt and a tie in a deeper, bright shade. Black and navy is very smart on deeper colourings too, especially for evening. If your neutrals are warm-browns there are lots of blues that look perfect alongside, and warm blue looks gorgeous with cream.
So let’s see what blues flatter each colour direction.
Deep v Light?
Cool v Warm?
Bright v Muted?
“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”
Have you got something blue?