Vivienne Westwood – Challenge accepted!

posted in: Finished projects | 12


Vivienne Westwoodalike jacket
Vivienne Westwoodalike jacket

I finished the Westwood type jacket. I have worn it alot already! I lined it with a little bit of left over purple silk. The buttons were chosen by Sharon’s young assistant on Clitheroe market.

Then I made a skirt to go with it, using just 70cms of checked woollen fabric. The pattern – Vogue 6600, used before here – didn’t specify yardage for the skirt alone. But it would be around 1.5yds. Allowing for matching the plaid would have required at least 2m, so I was chancing it here.  I did the front panel across the fabric, and the back along the selvage. An offence, I know, but as the panel stands a little proud I don’t think I will get arrested for wearing it. I think it works better with only one button done up (two buttons was my design addition).

My finished suit (just in time!)
My finished suit (just in time!)

My reflections on Marianne’s Vivienne Westwood Challenge?

  • I love a challenge and a deadline
  • my pattern drafting is better than I thought
  • conversely, my construction skills are worse than I remember, and in need of improvement
  • when copying a designer item think twice about changing anything (i.e. more interfacing and buttons)
  • buy sufficient material to do the job
  • now use the pattern, skills and knowledge to make VW2!

Thanks Marianne for organising the challenge, and I look forward to seeing how you and everyone else got on.


The place of neutrals in your wardrobe

posted in: Uncategorized | 5

Neutral shades are really, really useful. Wonderful, restful, reliable. The don’t fight back. They soothe and provide a backdrop to the drama that is your wardrobe.

Here is a Alison Thain who runs a new housing association called Thirteen. She has chosen light neutrals to go with her fair skin and hair, and doesn’t she look lovely? Totally business-like, powerful but approachable. She is wearing flat but fashionable white shoes and a tan belt, with a toning (rather than matchy-matchy) handbag. Her necklace is petite, like her, and her make up is light too.


Neutrals Rule

But not all neutrals are born equal. Neutrals – like the colours – fit into the categories I mentioned previously. There will be a shade of blue and grey that works best for you, and everyone can wear the mid beige that Alison is wearing. But you can find your best neutral by determining your own colour direction and finding similar hued neutrals to enhance your natural characteristics.

Deep or light?

Deep neutral colour palette
Deep Neutrals

People with deep colouring look great in black, and very dark navy, darkest brown and charcoal. These are the traditional business colours and people with deeper colouring really carry off the look, especially teamed with a white or very light coloured shirt or blouse.

Light neutral colour palette
Light neutrals

People with lighter colouring just look washed out and ill in the traditional shades. Much better is to can choose a mid grey for their business-wear, or a lighter tone of mid grey blue. A light navy can look great, and so can beige, as chosen by Alison above. Cream would be a nice colour for summer, perhaps for a linen suit.

Cool or warm?

Cool neutral colour palette
Cool neutrals

People with cool colouring have a blue undertone to their hair, skin and eyes. The cool colours flatter then and they can really wear any blues or greys for their neutrals and business wear. Very dark brown is good too, and cool beiges and stones will look nice in summer.

Warm neutral palette
Warm neutrals

If you have warm colouring there will be yellow undertones in your hair, lips, eyes and skin. You will probably have naturally golden hair, reddish tones in brown hair, greenish eyes maybe. Anyway if you are warm most shades of brown will enhance your colouring and look good in a business suit. Apparently Churchill (a keen painter) felt sorry for the browns. Some people don’t think men can wear a brown suit, but on the right man or woman it looks wonderful. There are warmer greys and blues too if you prefer to wear more traditional colours. But avoid black.

Bright or muted?

Bright neutral colour palette
Bright neutrals

People with bright colouring – lots of contrast between their hair, skin, eyes and lips – think of Snow White for an extreme example – need to stick to brighter neutrals. All shades of grey to black look good, but brighter blues can be worn for work if you have bright colouring. Perhaps the ideal look is a clear bright charcoal with a bright blue or red tie for a man, or a strongly coloured blouse for a woman.

Muted neutral colour palette
Muted neutrals

People with muted colouring have a lot less contrast, and their natural colours are much softer and more muted. These people suit a muted, greyed off, elegant colour palette. Grey is good, but not the brightest greys. Grey blues are great on people with a muted colour direction. Probably worn with a low contrast shirt or blouse – perhaps a lighter shade of grey-blue and a tie or scarf in similar tones.

 Neutrals for the home sewist

Some  home sewists go mad for bold prints, quilting cottons or colourful fabrics. Compared to cartoon kittens, or a Navaho print, neutrals seem a safe bet. For garments you wear alot they are the natural choice – the business suit, or the coat. Neutrals go with everything. For example a black jacket – if black is your neutral – will go with your entire wardrobe. But you don’t want to dress head to toe in neutrals as they can be a little boring.

A friend visited from the Caribbean. After spending half and hour in London she asked if it was a national day of mourning.     She had never seen so much black and dark, dull neutrality being worn by a population!

Making a number of basic items in the right neutrals for you is a sensible use of your precious sewing time. Colours like grey, black, navy and grey blues suit many of us, but they need some relief. This is why a colourful blouse or scarf, necklace or lipstick looks so good with a neutral outfit.

In amongst the grey and beige you can spot an orange fox (or squirrel)
In amongst the grey and beige you can spot an orange fox (or squirrel)

Cool, bright, deep and muted should find it easy to buy business wear. The two groups who need to depart from the classic palette are people with warm and/or light colour directions. Here is a nice vintage suit in Camel. Its a great colour if you have warm colouring and looks super with both warm pastels – cream, peach and warm yellows, and with deeper colours like burnt orange, teal and brown.

1960s Camel suit
1960s Camel suit

And light mid grey is a perfect colour for people with lighter colouring – it doesn’t overwhelm and looks good with white, pink, lemon and light blue. Or match it with a similar tone of mid blue, pink or like the model below a grey spotted silk blouse.

Light grey suit (lose the black hat)
Light grey suit (lose the black hat)

Inspired by Preen – textile printing experiments

posted in: Fabric printing | 13

I have written about a lovely Preen collection that has inspired me. At first I just loved the colours of the Spring/Summer collection 2012 – the strong pinks, with grey, white, green, blue and turquoise. I went to the shop in Notting Hill, and was allowed to try everything on and really examine the clothes (thank you Miriam). I discovered that the textiles used were created using pixellated photographs of peonies, which were then digitally printed on silk.

Preen S/S 2012
Preen S/S 2012

Obviously not something a home dressmaker could reproduce at home. But I have taken the idea of pastel shaded cubes on white as my inspiration, and have worked on this concept at home and at the Mary Ward centre, where I go to evening classes once a week.

Here is my first attempt at home. I used some washable gutta to create rough squares on a piece of silk, then mixed some silk paints in suitable colours and filled it in.

Testing the colours on silk
Testing the colours on silk

As this worked quite well, I made up a 1960s shell top, from one of the patterns I used previously (for the 2014 SWAP).

Shell top, Vogue 7379
Shell top, Vogue 7379

I sewed the five sections together, leaving it open at the shoulders and CB so that it was more or less flat. This meant that when I painted the squares on it would continue across the seams – providing perfect matching! In fact what happened was that the colours seeped across on the underside creating some less desirable effects. I have yet to rescue this item!

Painting the shell top
Painting the shell top

I have tried a few other techniques too. Here is what happened when I experimented with screen printing.

5 colour screen printed cotton
5 colour screen printed cotton

I also experimented with the heat press at the Mary Ward centre. I painted several sheets of paper with heat transfer inks. These did not look very promising in the tube, and pretty dull on the paper. After letting the ink dry I used the guillotine to cut them into two-inch squares, before assembling them on a piece of very light translucent polyester and putting it into the heat press (which works like a large, very hot, dry iron). Here the fabric is displayed on white backing fabric as I would need to mount it on an opaque background when making up a skirt.

Heat transfer (single thickness)
Heat transfer (single thickness)

It was impossible to get all the little squares lined up due to the very high heat of the press and the relatively flimsy nature of the paper. Nevertheless I was very pleased with the result. As the fabric is transparent I tried folding it over to see what happened.

Double thickness heat transfer print
Double thickness heat transfer print.

This has definite possibilities. Has anyone got any other ideas of techniques or approaches to creating this unique designer look?

Sporty shorties

posted in: Inspiration | 4

I go to the gym most days. I wear running shorts and a sports bra, socks and trainers. All of these items are bought, not made.

It’s the shorts I have a problem with. I like wearing shorts, but not too short. The three pairs I have – bought years ago from Run and Become – are great. They have the following essential features:

  • Classic cut
  • built in briefs
  • comfy elastic waistband with adjustable cord
  • small interior pocket (for my earplugs)
  • non clingy quick dry fabric
  • long enough to look reasonable on a non-Amazonian women
  • side pockets, if possible (for earphones and hanky)
  • nice colours (not black!)

My shorts are mauve, tasteful greyish-brown (think Farrow and Ball), and today’s pair in bright blue (with pink bra top). With constant and daily use all are showing signs of wear but, sadly, I have been unable to replace them.

Decent running shorts
Decent running shorts

I have searched the internet, specialist sports shops, discount outlets and department stores. I did find some boys’ running shorts that nearly met the criteria but the shape and fit were out of the question. In the gym today I looked round and found everyone in my Body Pump class had black shorts on.

Why are (nearly) all the shorts black?
Why are (nearly) all the shorts black?

As usual I am being driven to make my own clothes as I can’t buy what I want.

When I saw that Karen’s Sporty Summer Sewathon I thought I might bite the bullet. This means finding or drafting an appropriate pattern, identifying suitable fabrics, and tackling the construction with an ordinary, ageing, domestic machine. If you know of any patterns or have fabric suggestions I would love to hear from you!


Red Peacock – Liberty print blouse

posted in: Finished projects | 0


When I was doing my City and Guilds 380 training in Fashion I was obliged to make a garment featuring “craft skills”, such as weaving, macrame, crochet or knitting. At the time macrame hanging plant pots were all the rage, and I am not much of a knitter. Just to be different I went with tatting. Here is an interesting blog post about tatting by TinyInc.

tatting shuttle

This little shuttle sits in your hand, and you work on the thread that is held in a bobbin, in the centre of the shuttle. It is slow, repetitive work, but there is a reward of a little click each time a tiny, even knot is created. This continues for many hours until a skinny piece of cotton “lace” appears.  I had no idea what to do with it. I wanted in some way to reflect the William Morris ideal of craft.

“A good way to rid one’s self of a sense of discomfort is to do something. That uneasy, dissatisfied feeling is actual force vibrating out of order; it may be turned to practical account by giving proper expression to its creative character.”

Morris valued craft skills of the humble working man as being of the highest order. Something for me to think about when I was making hundreds of knots. And having thought about English craftiness I was drawn to Liberty of London to provide the fabric for my project. I wondered around the wonderful emporium one Saturday and I bought a piece of their lovely Hera Fabric. Not a very big piece because it was expensive – just enough to make a little top.

Liberty Peacock design "Hera"
Liberty Peacock design “Hera”

I used my princess line block to create a panelled top and used the tatted lace to join the sections together. I don’t remember wearing it, and several decades, and house moves, later it has been lost. But it was with a certain amount of nostalgia that I looked at the “Liberty” fabrics at a shop in Goldhawk Road. I saw the peacock design I loved but in red and pink, and bought three metres for £20. You can also get this fabric from Liberty.

I used a vintage blouse pattern, making up view B, but with full length sleeves as in view A. It has a number of interesting features. The blouse is shaped by darts, inverted darts and released pleats. As a consequence it flares out over the hips. It works well tucked in or out. The sleeves, with minimum ease, are inserted (like a shirt) before the side seams are sewn up.  There is considerable fullness at the cuffs. I had to move the button on the sleeves to produce a tighter cuff – next time I would just make them smaller. The approach to the placket was one I had not experienced before, but it seemed to work.


Butterick 603
Butterick 603


This blouse has silver buttons – perhaps not an obvious choice. In fact they are very plain and almost look like press studs rather than shanked buttons.  I like a metal button – it saves matching the colour and it acts a bit like wearing jewellery. It reflects light and flatters the complexion  – so long as you know what precious metal works well with your colouring.

IMG_0196 IMG_0198


When “dressing up” means a Pirate outfit

posted in: Finished projects | 1

Piratesof Caribean


In my day a Pirate outfit involved an eye patch, a wooden leg, cutlass. And a parrot. One of the highlights of my childhood was watching Peter Pan, where Captain Hook got his comeuppance.

Since the block-busting Pirates of the Caribbean film, and Captain Phillips – which features modern Somali pirates – we have different images in mind. Which was a relief as I had very little time to put an outfit together for Ted to wear to a “Pirate Party”.

Using Jack Sparrow as my inspiration I searched local (well Clitheroe) charity shops for items I could recycle. My haul included:

  • 3-year-old girl’s black H&M T-shirt with leg of mutton type sleeves, in black (99p)
  • billowing brown ladies skirt from Next (2.99)
  • a white Italian unbranded cheesecloth blouse, that was actually quite nice (2.99)
  • a necklace with lots of bits of shell attached to it (99p)

I sliced the collar and sleeves away from the white blouse. I reduced the cap on the sleeve,  and elasticated the wrists. I removed the T-shirt sleeves and inserted the new white sleeves and collar. I cut a piece from the brown skirt (lots left for other projects), and sewed on some of the shells I had prised from the necklace. I made a belt from a torn off strip of some stripy blue cotton.

I understand the moustache was applied when Ted was asleep. Our young pirate was not that keen on being photographed this morning.

Pirate escape
Pirate escape



Vivienne Westwoodalike jacket – coming along!

posted in: WIP (work in progress) | 1

I mentioned I had an original Vivienne Westwood jacket in my wardrobe that I hoped to copy. And a deadline of 7 June.

Notting Hill Housing's 50th anniversary
Notting Hill Housing’s 50th anniversary

I love the print on this jacket, but what lifts it out of the ordinary is the pleated shoulder feature, and the unusual waterfall lapel.

Design and pattern drafting

I liked the fit and design of my existing jacket, but made a few changes. I decided on two buttons rather than one, and changed the rounded collar for a more angular look.

I created a pattern from my personal bodice block, changing the proportions marginally to re-create the silhouette. This meant reducing some of the ease and really tapering the torso/waist area to replicate the shape of the original close-fitting  jacket.  I closed the waist dart, transferring all the fullness to the shoulder dart. This was then folded into a large pleat that finishes about half and inch from the arm hole seam. Once folded I slashed the pattern from the bust point to the CF spreading the pieces to create additional length on the CF. This is what gives the cascade effect of the waterfall lapel.  I used my two piece sleeve block, unaltered.

Choosing the materials

My existing jacket is made of a light weight Viscose/wool blend, digitally printed to look like a monochrome tartan. It has minimal, at least imperceptible, interfacing (except for the collar). I didn’t want to unpick the lining to have a look – but that is what it feels like.

I had decided against using my best (£20m) blue and silver crepe wool for my first attempt, so purchased some turquoise green crepe wool for the toile (£6m at Simply Fabrics).  I don’t often use calico as it doesn’t behave like wool, preferring to make up a jacket in cheaper, but similar, fabric. This allows me to test the pattern, fit, button-hole placement etc, before re-working the item in a better quality cloth. It also means I usually get a wearable garment as well as learning from the dry run.

The drape was good but in the end I went a bit mad, interfacing the whole of the front of the jacket in order to create a proper tailored jacket. I think this was a mistake and plan to provide only the most minimal of support for my final version in blue and silver.

For the  lining I am planning to use a small amount of left over deep purple silk I have in my linings drawer. Even though this is small jacket and the front is self faced (and revealed in the design) I don’t think there is enough so may have to use something else for the sleeve lining.


No problems with sewing it up – it is actually a fairly straightforward design (nine pieces).  The under-stitched pockets worked well, the collar and stand, lapels and facings worked as intended. I like the length and the shaping. I initially thought about  bound button holes but forgot, and in the end machine-made them.  This work in progress photograph (one sleeve basted, one only pinned; sleeve head padding not yet added) shows that this version is a possibly a little stiff.  However what worked really well is the pleat – it forms a kind of shoulder pad and gives the jacket authority and a “V” shape in contrast with the almost corset like waist. In fact there are 12 layers of fabric in each pleat – no wonder it feels padded. I hope to get the sleeves in tonight and then I will cut out the lining.


Under the jacket is a blouse I was working on when the Sew2Pro Vivienne Westwood challenge came in. I will finish that later – maybe after the junior pirate outfit I have agreed to make for Ted. But I have also committed to making a pair of running shorts for Karen’s Sporty Summer Sewathon. Will I get a bit of time this weekend?

Thinking about a Chanel-style jacket

posted in: Uncategorized | 10

I wanted to have a go at making a collarless, open fronted jacket, popularised by Coco Chanel, ubiquitous on any star, and widely seen at golf clubs and other functions for dressy matrons.

Before tackling the more advanced three-piece sleeve “French” or Chanel-style jacket Vogue 8804, I decided I would try to make a jacket using the simplified Vogue 7975. I hadn’t done any tailoring for about 25 years and was fairly intimidated by the amount of time, and cost of materials, that was apparently required to make the “couture” version.

V 7975 is a “Vogue basic design” – not sure what that means other than it can be customised.

Frumpy rather than Fashion Forward
Frumpy rather than Fashion Forward

It features bracelet or full length sleeves; buttons or open front; longer or shorter length; patch or fake welt pockets; and can be finished with or without “purchased” trim. Although the models on the pattern envelope look somewhat dowdy (especially E and D – the buttoned up pair) I thought the younger set (A,B and C) looked quite shapely. In order to test the pattern I bought an inexpensive tweedy cotton from Simply Fabrics and made up jacket B fairly quickly in my size ie b34, size 12.

Big mistake.

The main problem with this pattern, and V 8804 if you progress to that, is the huge amount of ease allowed for. I think this is what stops a lot of sewists persevering. Their toile looks like something a chef would wear. Coco Chanel’s original idea of a “cardigan-jacket”  was that it would be comfortable as well as smart. She wore her jacket in many versions, and looking at photographs, it is clear that she was someone who was very stylish, with an absolutely obsessional attitude to impeccable fit.  Look at how nicely set in her sleeve is.

Style, with cigarette
Style, with cigarette

The Vogue patterns look a bit like they are made of cardboard – cardboard boxy. This jacket is supposed to be flexible, lithe, supple. That is why is is made without interfacing, with applied pockets. In my opinion this pattern is simply not flattering and needs considerable shaping and fitting before it does justice to the woman inside.

Once I had a clear idea about how the pattern would make up I reshaped it, going down to the size 6 (purportedly for a 31 inch bust) across the upper chest and waist line (for a 23″ waist, supposedly), cutting out s8 sleeves, while retaining the s12 cutting lines at the hips, and between 10 and 8 elsewhere. I also lengthened the jacket by 3 inches at the waist line, and did not take up the hem by the same amount. This means it is longer than the B on the packet.

I bought a nice Linton tweed in light navy, with a fairly open basket weave and a silver thread (bottom, centre).

Linton tweed fabrics
Linton tweed fabrics

For once I actually had enough fabric to make both a jacket and skirt. I made a really nice 60’s skirt from Vogue 6600. Both jacket and skirt are lined with an emerald habotai silk.

Chanel inspired suit
Chanel inspired suit


Is there a perfect dress?

posted in: Finished projects | 7

I have argued that the perfect dress isn’t a “Designer” dress, or “Occasion” wear. It is not an item that cost a lot of money or one with an incredible “wow” factor.

For me the perfect dress is one that can be worn anytime, for any occasion, and it always makes you feel your best. It gives you confidence because you know it enhances you, rather than just speaking for itself. While many clothes look absolutely splendid on a tall, skinny, youthful model, very few look as good on ordinary women. In fact there is much mirth to be found in the idea of dressing head to toe in one of these outfits and actually going out.

In my opinion the “perfect” dress is actually a supporting act. It enhances who you are, what you look like, making the most of your attributes, and disguising your less desirable features. When I was being trained we called them “figure faults” (I remember making an alteration for a Dowagers’ Hump!), although nowadays we have to be a lot more tactful. In fact, I actually have an aversion to words like “saddlebags” “cankles” “double-bust”, “dumpy” etc as they are normally used to undermine women’s confidence. But, by the law of averages, women’s bodies are very varied and less than 10 per cent of us will fit an off the peg item to perfection.

So, let’s reiterate what a perfect dress must do.

  1. Its shape must flatter our shape, and disguise our less attractive qualities
  2. It must fit our body well
  3. The colour and scale of pattern must be harmonious with the wearers own colouring

There is a small chance that a RTW item will be “perfect” but I usually find that at least one of the above must be compromised. The only way to achieve all of these elements, every time, is to go bespoke.

For the wealthy having a tailor make up exactly what you want is very attractive. And although getting exactly the right dress or trousers or coat might be a great investment as you know you will wear the item until it disintegrates, you have to know what to ask for and this can be challenging.

The same thing is true of making your own clothes. Many women spend hours making up an item “straight out of the packet” – without fitting it. They choose fabric in a colour that they love, but simply doesn’t suit them. They make up an item which is fashionable – dungarees anyone? – or by a designer they like, or something which is doing the rounds on the blogs. And the said item is just not for them. Look at the sewing blogs and you will sadly see lots of this going on – just because you can sew doesn’t mean you know what works best for you.

I decided to experiment. I know what dress shape suits my body best – it will be fitted above the hips, then flare out in an A line, and end just above or on the knee. It will have sleeves of some description and the neckline will not be too low, nor too high, with a graceful curve. I chose to make the simplest version I could find that would meet these criteria.

A good basic princess line pattern, but the model's not happy.
A good basic princess line pattern, but the model’s not happy.

I used a McCalls 3129 pattern.  I am surprised anyone would buy this pattern as the woman on the envelope looks as dowdy as they come. But of course it is just a princess line dress that is relatively easy to get a good fit in the upper body without relying on a waist seam.

The colour, to suit me, would need to be cool, bright and not too dark. I chose an inexpensive linen from Simply Fabrics, in a nice blue shade that complements my colouring, and made up the dress. I worked on the fit, but the neckline is a little wonky. Excuse me.


McCalls blue linen dress
McCalls blue linen dress

What do you think? I feel relaxed and happy in it, despite it being a very simple dress. It is a dress you can dress up with a colourful belt, or jewellery, but its ideal for everyday. I think it makes the most of my figure, and lights up my face. It is not obvious, or fashionable and won’t get many comments. But to me it is a perfect dress.

Dress down Friday?

posted in: SWAP 2014 | 2
Maybe a little longer?
Maybe a little longer?

I wasn’t sure about including a pair of fairly casual trousers in my SWAP.  I made the trews, to use a 60s word, as I started my quest for a pair of well fitting strides. This shape – fairly fitted, narrow at the hem, and curvy on the hips while fitted into the waist, with a facing rather than a waist band – is good for me. I also like a back or side zip, thereby avoiding a fly front. This gives a very nice smooth line across the abdomen (which is fine if you are fairly flat there – pleats, pockets and other distractions are useful to disguise a tummy). Everyone has a trouser shape that works well for them, and there are other shapes which work just fine for me, and I will blog on trouser shapes and fitting at a later date. But I knew the shape I wanted and found a pattern -Simplicity 6087 – that would be about right.

1960s  "slacks"
1960s “slacks”

All trousers need careful fitting, and while these were pretty good in crotch depth and the hip area I had to reduce the side seams to fit my waist. The leg shape wasn’t great though, and I had to take the side seams in from waist to hem. And then let them out again in the calf. So quite a lot of faff. I would have preferred them an inch or two longer, although I cut them according to the pattern and I think this is the style. The ankle reveal is fine – its just I do like the option of socks and closed shoes – which is, I think, necessary for work. Having said that I have worn them a lot, especially in the summer.

I chose a lovely cotton with around 3% Lycra, reputedly Roland Mouret, in a deep blue-pink that I love. The fabric came from Simply Fabrics in Brixton.

They are very comfortable. They fit. But also they are made in a stretch fabric which I think we are all used to these days. The original pattern is very much for a woven, and I think that is why I had to take quite a lot out of the side seam.


1 78 79 80 81 82 83