Irving Penn – fashion photographer

This week, in Photography 2, we are required to learn about a famous photographer. I chose Irving Penn (1917-2009), one of the world’s best fashion photographers. The image below is of Lisa Fonssagrives, a  super model of her day. Born in Sweden and trained as a dancer, she had a real understanding of how to pose to show off her costumes and form. Penn liked taking her picture so much he married her, in London, in 1950.

It’s an interesting picture. Penn pioneered taking pictures of models where the main thing was the garment, not the background or props, as was the norm at the time. By showing the backdrop he is also taking away the artifice and giving us a little jolt. The model is not going out to a dance, she is standing on mottled paper, in a studio in Paris, barely lit (if at all) with flash or lights. “We don’t call them shoots here,” Penn told journalist Jay Fielden in 2009. “We don’t shoot people. It’s really a love affair.”

Lisa Fonssagrives in Rochas mermaid dress
Lisa Fonssagrives in Rocha’s mermaid dress, 1950, Metropolitan Museum, NY, Conde Nast

I chose to research Irving Penn, known most famously, as the supplier of covers for Vogue. He did 165 covers, more than any other photographer, over 66 years! An incredible achievement. 

Irving Penn Vogue
Vogue cover by Irving Penn

He took pictures of models, fashion, flowers, famous people’s portraits, studies of working men, shots of Mexicans, travel photographs, advertisements (Clinique and Issey Miayke); and he was also an artist and painter.

Have a look at his portraits. He apparently spent several hours with each person, until they stopped posing and became themselves again.

“Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is one they would like to show the world. Very often what lies behind the facade is rare and more wonderful than the subject knows or dares to believe” (1975).

For my project I decided to focus on his still life – an area that I struggled with when I took pictures for my own book. He said that “photographing a cake can be art”. He produced a book of his still life photographs but it is rather expensive. Instead I created a Pinterest page. Many of his images are funny – they make you think. The glorious photographs of food – abundance stacked on a table, or the ingredients of a dish such as mozzarella and tomato salad, or salad dressing – recall 17th century art. By taking the components of traditional still life paintings – such as skulls, fish, jugs and bountiful fare – he also subverts them and makes us do a double take. As he says:

“A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it; it is one word, effective”.

He turns cigarette butts into art so that we notice their frail paper wrappings, their subtle brands, the impact of lipstick and spittle, the grinding down of the burnt tobacco – we look in a new way at something that was previously categorised as rubbish. His photograph Aphrodisiacs features an oyster (naturally rich in Zinc), an erectile dysfunction drug capsule, a Spanish fly and of course money. It’s funny, tells a story and is of course perfectly composed and shot.

Irving Penn Aphrodisiacs

As an artist he also had a great interest in print making, investigating 19th century methods to provide greater control and using platinum and palladium metals rather than the cheaper silver as a key ingredient to get the most luminescent images. He spent hours creating hand-sensitised artist’s paper (stuck to aluminium sheets so it could withstand several coats and prints), and in the dark room perfecting his technique rather than seeking the limelight himself.

He preferred to take photographs in the studio where we could control the environment, and reduce the background noise. His composition, somewhat novel at the time, focused in on the object, stripped of its context. When working on the couture collections for Vogue, he used a daylight studio with an old theatre curtain as a backdrop.  On his many trips abroad for Vogue he focused on making portraits of the people he encountered in natural light. He would use contained spaces like garages or barns to create a makeshift studio, a neutral space, so that the subject would come to the fore. This is how he worked to overcome the cultural barriers between – for example Mexican farm workers or Japanese Samurai.

1948, Mexico, The Irving Penn Foundation

Penn died in New York, in 2009, at the age of 92. In his later years he tidied up his collection, saving the very best prints which he made into books. He also set up The Irving Penn Foundation to preserve the photographs and his legacy.

Next week I will show you the still life photographs that I submitted for my homework.

How to make the Skirt of Joy

As summer ended I wanted a bright little skirt to bring joy to me, the wearer, and the viewer.

Back in Spring 2014 Chanel had included a beautiful fabric, based on colour charts from 1900.

One of my favourite bloggers Karen from Fifty Dresses found a textile that is very similar to this, and made a stunning dress.

So these ideas were in my mind as I looked a small piece of white denim I had been given by a vendor who was unable to fulfil my order. So this skirt was virtually free!

I used a very basic A line skirt pattern. It is McCalls 7938, a 1960s Courreges pattern. I made up the coat from this pattern as part of SWAP but I didn’t like it. Sarah has written a wonderful post about his designs.

McCalls 7938

I cut out a size 10, used a washable felt tip to draw in the four darts and set the two pieces next to each other so I could more or less get the design to match up. I could have taken a little more time and drawn some horizontal lines across the skirt to ensure it lined up. No matter – it was a quick project. You can see the centre front in turquoise felt tip. And my bare legs…

Hand painted denim skirt
Close up of fabric

I started at the bottom with the greens, gradually adding white or blue to change it subtly. Then I did the pinks and reds, and so on. I chose colours I like to wear – the cool bright shades. Most colours look good on white or black. I included some neutrals too – greys, taupe and blue grey. As a result this skirt will go with all my tops. Then I put in a zip and that was it. The facing, hem and seam allowance are all left white so there is never a show through problem.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

For those that want more information the paints I use are Permaset. They are water soluble, and then are fast when fixed with a hot iron. The colours mix well. On a hot day I wore the skirt with one of my table cloth huipils.

Lace blouse and hand painted skirt
Summer dressing

Now it is colder I have worn it with a jumper – my Autumn League pullover. 

Autumn League pullover and skirt of joy
Autumn uniform

And with a Uniqlo down jacket.

Fabrickated hand made skirt
At work

Cultural Appropriation in fashion

There has been quite a row for a few weeks now on Cultural Appropriation. Most notably here in the UK when popular chef Jamie Oliver called a rice dish Jerk Rice, and was criticised by Dawn Butler an MP of Jamaican heritage. Now as anyone knows Jerk is usually chicken, or other meat, cooked by Jamaicans at home and often served with rice (and peas). It is spicy and, if you are lucky, it is tender, tasty and perfectly seasoned. I have made it myself, having been shown how by several friends over the years. While I like it my favourite Jamaican dish is curried goat – this wonderful, delectable meal was laid on by my daughter’s mother in law Faye at Ted’s Christening party. For my mother (then 84) it was a first taste, and she loved it.

Oliver was criticised for “cashing in” on someone else’s cultural heritage and also getting it wrong – “jerk rice”??! I remember a Peter Kay sketch where an old working class English man says “garlic bread”??! The first time you put two unlikely ingredients together it can sound a bit like a joke (egg and bacon ice cream for example).

Of course in one respect people were amused by the charge. Surely we all take from other cultures when we are cooking or eating. Tea (like many things), for example, does not grow in the UK but it is now regarded as a British staple. We appropriated it from the Chinese in the 17th century. As well as our menu (which might have otherwise been barley, potato and bacon stew three times a day), our language has been brought in from elsewhere. Without the Germans, the French and the Italians our language would be quite different, and certainly we have the benefit of so many words, and so many varieties of meaning, that we owe to settlers, travellers and invaders. Only the other day I found myself using bungalow, guru, karma and yoga in normal conversation – what a delight these words are. Many of you will know they are of Hindi origin, learnt and appropriated by the British when they ruled India. See this nice article.

And then of course we need to consider clothes – starting with the Indian origins of pyjamas, dungarees, bandana, cummerbund, and of course khaki Jodhpurs. French words like pret a porter, a la mode and haute couture are almost everyday, especially when admiring your chic, petite silhouette. Not just language of course but clothing and style. Baseball caps were never worn in the UK when I was growing up – we didn’t have baseball – but now we have the hats without the sport. While complete outfits rarely translate elements seep in – Nehru collars, kimono sleeves, harem pants, French knickers – and so on. In recent years “African prints” – what my friends of Nigerian origin call Ankara – have been widely used by white girls. I have a special Kente scarf, woven in Ghana, that I wear in London. I have been stopped several times by delighted Ghanaians who recognise their fabric and are pleased to see it paired with a very British, purple woollen, winter coat. I thought this yellow jacket which our Prime Minister wore in Nigeria, designed by 27 year old Nigerian designer Emmanuel Okoro, head of EmmyKasbit, was wonderful. (I cannot say that about her dancing, but no one is perfect). I love those military uniforms too, don’t you?

Theresa May in Emmanuel Okoro jacket

In the British Isles we of course have lots of cultural heritage of our own – the Kilt of course is Scottish. Tartan is very popular the world over. English country clothing is very much in evidence in the country – Wellington boots, waxed or tweed jackets, flat caps, brogue shoes, corduroy, checked shirts, headscarves, lots of greens, browns and sludgy shades. Wales has its fabrics – and styles of dress. There was an English lace, silk and leather industry – all producing beautiful items associated with traditional (and more modern) designs. Like all designers I plunder my own history and culture all the time, as well as seeking inspiration from elsewhere. All creativity is to some extent an act of appropriation – you “take” inspiration from whatever is around you, from your travels, from your peers, from seeing films or photographs, from music, from books etc. Clearly all this is not only OK, but absolutely essential.

So what about the issue of people taking something from rare or endangered cultures and making money from them? Here are a few examples that created anxiety or uproar: Sikh turbans at Gucci, native American headdresses at Chanel, sacred Inuit motifs by Kokon to Zai, Cara Delevingne wearing corn rows.

Of course it is perfectly understandable that Sikhs find the use of their style of turban as a fashion item disturbing or offensive. Seeing a non-Sikh in a turban has a jarring and slightly shocking effect and this is what fashion often aspires to achieve. Something with religious or sacred meaning is often protected by believers, although the widespread use of crucifixes is tolerated by the Christian church as generally harmless – but then they probably feel secure and protected in most Western settings. Context is everything. The British were the first and most successful imperialists – dominating, appropriating (stealing), desecrating, enslaving, annexing, and extracting. Is it surprising that people whose families and Peoples were turned into commodities occasionally take offence?

Oppressed and marginalised groups can often feel angry by their culture being taken and commercialised. Unlike the big companies they don’t have trademarks or intellectual property lawyers to protect their culture and creativity.

I understand why Dawn got cross and I welcome the discussion. But as people who make our own wardrobes, without commercial considerations, let’s not get paranoid. Seek inspiration everywhere – Russian military wear, Chinese New Year, Arctic fishermen, American sports, Mexican colour palettes, Indian bandanas, French fishermen, Inuit anoraks, cooks trousers, sports wear, 1960s Italian films, Beethoven and Welsh dancers. Whatever you see or love is something to be inspired by. take it and to make it your own. As an artist or a designer we need to push our own creativity and style. But always do it respectfully with a learning attitude and a sense of fun.

Welsh Morris dancers

Here is a useful article from The Week.

What do you think?

English (and Welsh) country dancing

Back to school for Photography 2

Last week we had to produce six photos, so I looked up local events. I found the Stroud Folk Festival was scheduled. We had actually been along the previous year and I knew it would be a good opportunity to take colourful, lively photographs.

A few things you need to know first.

  1. Clog dancing is great fun. Working people throughout the UK used to wear clogs to work. These were wooden soled leather shoes that enabled the wearer to walk though wet and dirty conditions without getting water logged shoes. Although associated with the Lancashire cotton mills, where I am from, they were equally popular in different industries and areas.
  2. Morris Dancing is a particular type of English country dancing, dating back to about 1450. There are many versions but what we watched included Cotswold style, Border Morris, and Welsh Morris dancing. And there is a Lancashire version too.
  3. There is a local tradition of “black face” Morris Dancing. This has proved controversial – see this comprehensive Wikipedia entry.

Clog dancing

Contemporary clogging is fun to watch – not dissimilar from tap dancing – and if you get the chance do participate do give it a go.

Modern clog dancing

The Welsh version is somewhat different. Mererid, who is only 14 and also accompanied the Welsh dancers on the fiddle, was very impressive and accomplished.

Mererid, dressed in traditional Welsh skirt, apron and jacket.

Morris Dancing


The Musicians were very talented and energetic – supported in this case by a man in sheep’s clothing. As you know the Cotswolds is wool country, and this group were the local Stroud team, supporting the ladies in their red, white and green outfits.

Gwerinwyr Gwent 

Perhaps the most interesting group for me were the Welsh dancers. Their beautifully made outfits in Welsh flannel were handmade to fit and I loved all the details down to the brooches they wore to close their scarves.


The modern blackface dancers have adapted to worries that this old tradition may be misunderstood. Nowadays they have introduced more colour and more modern approaches.


Some outtakes.

Nick and I practiced at home first, trying to understand how to set the camera to capture the movement of the dance and get good, in-focus shots of the group. Here I am prancing around with some tray cloths. Although I look quite serious we laughed our socks off. And then we were ready to drive to Stroud, find a good parking place, and get cracking. Unfortunately it rained all day. We managed to find a great shop that made Falafel sandwiches with five balls in them.

Stroud is a nice Cotswold town even when there is no folk festival to enjoy. They have a Farmers’ Market every Saturday and some nice antique and charity shops. Towards the end a dear dog, wet from the down pours, seemed to enjoy the spectacle.

Bedraggled dog


Colour analysis – what is your main colour direction?

What is this all about?

When we do a colour analysis we try to put everyone into one main category of colours Deep, Light, Cool, Warm, Bright or Muted. Most people will suit one better than others, although usually they have a secondary colour direction too. If we can help you identify which one (or two) palettes is most complementary for you – given your hair, eye and skin colouring – it an make it easier to choose outfits or fabrics that enhance and work with your natural colouring.


When I had my book launch my friend Giorgia did quick colour analysis for our guests, which was much appreciated and enjoyed. At the time I thought – how could you give people a very quick idea, of what the palettes look like against their face. So I got some cheap canvases and painted with specific palettes.

Well these are my paintings, some of them inspired by 20th century artists (can you guess who was in my mind?). Each one is painted in a colour direction.

Traditional colour analysis uses what they call “corporate drapes”. This allows the consultant to show someone how they look in the chosen colour direction at one go. I don’t have a set, but they look something like this.

Mixed drape for quick colour consultationsTo my mind there is something very bizarre about draping the client in a multi-coloured cape. I couldn’t do it. I think the capes look like a rainbow skirt, or something you might put on for a new age dance festival. So although I did think of sewing my own version, I tried something completely different. I decided to use a painted surface to give an idea of a colour palette.


Like the “corporate drapes” they have a limitation, but they do give a rough and ready feel, and maybe they would help a client get an idea of what colours they are attracted to, which is often related to what suits them (but not always). I know Nick always says he likes natural colours – by which he means softer shades. So no surprise that he suits the muted palette best. On the other hand I am attracted to bright shades, and while bright is my secondary direction my main cool palette is bright and I rarely wear muted shades, although I do love my neutrals.

If you look carefully you maybe able to see my colour coordinated slippers. I made several pairs of these in various colours to give to my helpers on book launch night.

Recently my friend Lyn Bromley asked her colleagues (what is the collective name for colour consultants? – “a rainbow” perhaps) – what was their favourite palette. I said mine was warm even though I don’t look good in warm colours. I think I am just contrary and always want what I cannot have. I always wanted curly hair too. Of course the cool colours are really my best colours.

As a painting I like the muted one the best. These are the colours we have mainly used for decorating. They are so easy to spend time with and are useful in creating a calm interior.

Which colour direction do you like the best? On you? Or in your home?

Over the next few weeks I will share more of the themes from my book launch event – Nigerian head ties, origami, making slime and make up.

Autumn League pullover

I love everything about this jumper. Choosing it, knitting it, thinking about it, washing it, and of course wearing it. The Autumn League sweater, details here. 

Two of Wands Autumn League pullover


The turquoise yarn I used is splendid. It was a special offer from Colourmart yarns – a “heavy” double knit merino yarn available in just one colour. I chose it because I love turquoise blue.  Although at first I knit it on needless that squashed the yarn,  I finally realised and changed my ways. With a fairly chunky 5mm needle it came out perfectly, with a 4 or 4.5mm needle for the ribbing.

It has heft and weight and has a kind of elasticity and drape that is solid and wearable and perfect for this coolish but still pleasant weather. I have worn it with one or two layers of Uniqlo long sleeved T and I feel comfortable and cosy without being hot and bothered.

The pattern

I was unfamiliar with the top down/seamed knitting approach but it was a nice change from the Elizabeth Zimmermann bottom up/unseamed knitting that I had been practising. A change is always as good as a rest I find, and I love learning new things.

I was a bit surprised by the idea of knitting the jumper as a big cross, as it were, with just the yoke constructed in the round, and then only after the back and forth for the built up back neck had been completed. I don’t really enjoy stitching knitting together, especially as by then I had completely run out of wool. In fact the long tails, evident in the photo below, were all carefully incised, knotted together and used to finish the front half of the neck band. I had to use some beige wool to complete the inside, as it is a folded over neckband.

Autumn League sweater
Autumn League try-on

The instructions are well written I think – all the problems I had first time round were of my own making. But I ripped and re-knitted, and I am happy with the outcome. I can see there is still a loose end – now fixed – but of course this gives a semblance of authenticity. I washed it with a cold wash in the machine, and it all evened out nicely.

Autumn League Pullover
Autumn League Pullover

Most of the feedback I had to my first post suggested I should have knit the body in the round, but do the sleeves back and forth and then seam, as promoted by Karen Templer. So I decided to have another go.

Autumn League, version two

This time I used a very nice cotton/cashmere yarn, again from Colourmart,  in a “dirty white” – a very light, bluish grey. The Two Wands pattern is knitted in a grey cotton (see top photograph) so I guess that was the idea in my mind.

Alterations to Autumn League sweater pattern
Autumn League sweater Second iteration


Second time around I wanted to do as many of you suggested, and that was to knit the body in the round, but leave the sleeves to be seamed at the end. I did one pearl stitch at the side “seam” which is a nice effect. This time the finishing was fairly quick.

The main amendment I made to the pattern was to divide for the sleeves much sooner, at about 6″ rather than 10″, which meant that both body and sleeves were slightly narrower than the blue version.  Knowing full well what sort of stitch numbers I used for my Zimmermann (DK) sweaters I knew I could get away with a body circumference of 180 stitches and sleeves that went from 60 stitches to 40. And so it came to pass.

The other idea I want to mention is the use of traditional needles for the initial part of making the sweater (before it is joined up to knit in the round), and for the sleeves. Using long solid needles rather than circulars (if you happen to have the right size) means the knitting is much quicker and easier. I find doing purl especially fast with long needles, tucked under the arm exactly as my Mum taught me about 50 years ago.

Final tip is making the folded over neckband. The designer’s advice is to bind off, then sew down. Using a Zimmermann technique i sew the live stitches down as it provides a flatter seam. Take a piece of thinner yarn, in a contrast colour, and using a blunt needle transfer all the stitches on to it, removing the circular needles. Now fold the neckband in, matching the stitches so that the collar is evenly distributed. Pin and then using a long tail from the knitting loop into the last stitch and stitch down every stitch. This time I left the contrasting yarn in, as it created a nice contrast inside.

Design-wise my grey version is less “boxy” than the turquoise one, especially as I made the body longer. I haven’t yet soaked/washed this one so things might change, but this photograph gives an idea.

Autumn League jumper Fabrickated
Autumn League Pullover in light grey cotton-cashmere

I am planning a third Autumn League, this time in pink merino.

And finally I must share one more photograph, this time from Helen of Cut it out and stitch it up. 

Helen is a very good knitter (designer and seamstress too) and has done a few EZ sweaters which you can see on her blog. She was mildly embarrassed about arriving late to the striped raglan party, but who cares? She looks amazing. Big round of applause Helen, and thank you so much for joining in.

Helen’s striped EZ Raglan jumper

Finally Finished Frida-ing

posted in: Finished projects | 14

This week Kathy S from Illinois visited London with her daughter in law and we were able to meet up for a visit to the V&A Frida Kahlo exhibition. It was a treat for me to go again. Following my first round up of the Dress like Frida sewalong even more friends have come back with their wonderful outfits.

First I want to share some photos from Barbara who is based in Port Stephens, Australia. This whole outfit is full of joyousness – the flowers (from an old T-shirt that she stuffed and attached to a hairband) and the strong red/yellow/blue colourway in her half circle skirt, enhanced by the black backgrounds is very Frida. She also made her own sandals. Well done – this is such a happy look.

Frida Kahlo sew a long

And then there is Lara, who didn’t manage a skirt or trousers, but found a suitable monkey, which is far more important. He’s a lovely sock monkey too. I must make one of these with some sensational socks.

Dress like Frida sewalong
Lara; Huipil, headdress and monkey

Next up is (another) Barbara from Vancouver in Canada. She is coming to London to see the exhibition and I am hoping to meet up with her next month. What a marvellous top in a Frida print. Love the way you have Frida centre stage there, looking thoughtful in a garden of Fridas. Nice pockets and coordinating skirt, and tremendous jewellery. Very artistic and beautifully executed Barbara – in your bamboo bower.

Vancouver Barbara

Lauren Harris of @selassew made the next gorgeous outfit. She used a Liberty floral and a Style Arc pattern, and the Japanese rectangle skirt from Studio Faro. I love this skirt, and funnily enough always envisaged the folds at the back! But why not at the front. And I love yellow and turquoise together – so bright and cheery. Well done Lauren.

And I am honoured to have Lisa (@sew_what73) and Judith Rosalind (@Judithrosalind), founder of @sewover50 in the collection. They both managed just a huipil, but aren’t they both gorgeous? Lisa included a lovely Indian block print and some jazzy home-made bias binding, and exhibited her top on a bright hanger next to a gorgeous turquoise door. And Judith’s huipil is made from beatiful old French nightdresses. The embroidery and basic shape is preserved through the clever reconstruction. I love the loose, classic look of this top. Like all the participants they took to the challenge and recycled, or used interesting off cuts, and made a garment that was absolutely in the spirit of Frida.

And finally I got some portraits of me.

For me the final Frida Portrait had to have an interesting background that reveals something about me.

I chose a portrait on me when I was about 22 and living in Manchester. It was painted by a man called Paul Smith, who was an art student at the time. He started with a pencil drawing, then used wax crayons for the second version, finally moving to oils for the third portrait. He gave all three to me. I have lost the earlier two, but remember the wax one melting slighting when displayed too near a radiator.

In front of it is a French antique mechanical toy novelty. The man is an apple picker, and you can make the apples fall from the tree. Nick bought it, and he has a few similar objects around the house. Next to it is a jug I bought at Heals soon after Esme got married. She was given a gift voucher which she sold to me, and I bought two jugs for flowers. Behind my head is a standard lamp, based on a peony. This was made by a local craftsman in aluminium and copper especially to fit in to our Cotswold home. We had lots of pink peonies at our wedding and they are one of my favourite flowers (with roses, sweet peas, hollyhocks and delphiniums).  The cabinet drawers contain knives and forks, and white table napkins and candles. It was made by a friend of ours, in maple, designed by my husband Nick, but based on American Shaker designs. I love the joints, the knobs and the simple, elegant design. Finally – the chair. This is an antique (1880) covered in Liberty fabric. I love the look of it and it is nice and deep and fairly low.

The clothes were made as part of the #DresslikeFridasal. I am wearing a blue silk huipil, with an old Chinese embroidered skirt panel from the 1930s or earlier. My skirt is a gathered cotton skirt made with cotton fabric I tied dyed with Indigo. The scarf is hand-woven, courtesy of my friend Bridget. The jewellery is Chinese or Indian, and from the Oxfam shop. And the pom pom Alice band.

In the final picture I have the pastel pom pom Alice band on, and a different shawl. This is actually another embroidered table-cloth I found at my Mum’s.

We are back at college this week so I hope to have some interesting photographs to show you this term.


Vogue 8333 jacket

The pattern

It’s a long time since I cut out this pattern. I think it was about October 2017, so nearly a year ago. And even longer since I bought it. This was one of the first patterns I bought when I came back to sewing in 2014. It was printed in 2006.

Claire Shaeffer is a brilliant teacher – I have enjoyed reading and using her books. I made up a couple of her patterns. I follow her on Facebook, and at one point she kindly contacted me to congratulate me on making my favourite dress. She doesn’t teach any more, but one of my bucket list plans had been to attend a class with her.

I don’t know exactly the story of Claire’s pattern series, except that they have couture sewing advice clearly outlined in the notes. I  made Vogue 8804 a couple of times in both the long and short ways (couture and soft tailoring approaches). Having a look at Claire’s collection it seems likely that she has developed patterns based on interesting vintage designs – maybe jackets, dresses and coats she has in her collection or has examined closely. I think I read that she sees herself primarily as a couture constructor rather than a designer, and I admire her for that. I think there are some beautiful shapes here and if the patterns were available they would be the kind of thing I would like to make up.

This is a really pretty pattern in my view.  I love the look of the jacket on the envelope. The collar and lapel, and the waisted look is a 1940s look in my opinion. The sleeves are narrow and well-balanced. Many of Claire’s patterns celebrate an hour-glass figure. Although I have not met Claire herself she appears to be fairly petite and slim with a shaped figure. In any event I think she likes a classic feminine look.

I decided to follow the instructions to make the jacket B – the quick method including a bagged lining. For some reason I haven’t made a jacket with a bagged lining. Also what was new to me was to underlining the whole bodice, everything bar the sleeves, with an iron-on product. So I decided to try it all out.

The fabric

I haven’t tested this fabric which was sold to me as linen. However I would not be surprised if it included silk as it has a definite sheen. It may also include wool. I would say, although it was inexpensive (about £8 p/m from Simply Fabrics)


It did not occur to me to make a toile on this occasion. I used a fabric that I had bought for another project, a jacket for my son Gus, in the hope that I could make a wearable jacket and learn about the fitting from making it up. I cut out a size 10 which is purportedly for a bust of 32 and a half inches, with a 25 inch waist, and 34 and half inches for the hips. I am actually a bit bigger than this (about 33, 26 and 38) but I do like a fitted look.

Once I had assembled the jacket it was clear there was too much fabric across the centre back. I just pinned it on myself with my hands behind my back, so you can see it is not very accurate. The shoulders and front looked quite nice.

I took 1cm out at each of the seven seams – the two side seams, the centre back seam, the two princess lines, and the style line seams. That’s about 14cms, tapering up and down to the hip! It is quite a lot of fullness to suppress, but I have a fairly narrow back and also I wanted a more interesting style. Often Vogue patterns have quite a lot of ease in them and I have to do something like this.

Fitting V 8333
Too much fabric in the back of the jacket


Although the jacket can be made with couture approaches plan B is not difficult. Even the pocket approach – hiding them in a pleat at the front went together very easily. The sleeves are nice and went in well too. I used shoulder pads. The jacket looks a little bit tight on Camilla, who is a little wide wider in the waist than I am.

Vogue 3888
V 3888

All was going swimmingly. However I have got to the bagged out lining. I can’t understand the instructions! I am sure it will make sense once I do it but I am falling over at the first hurdle. I guess the internet will provide a video or more information on how to do it.

Any hints?


Top down Autumn League jumper

Introduction to my new project

I mentioned in my previous post that I was done with Elizabeth Zimmermann seamless sweaters for a while. I want to learn something new. And I came across this.

Autumn League sweater

I have started to have a go at this lovely, loose, sweat-shirt type jumper. It appealed to me as an Autumn project, and had two interesting features – it is knitted from the top down, and although it is in one piece it has seams at the side and along the sleeves, making it quite a different proposition to the sweaters I have been knitting influenced by dear Elizabeth Zimmermann.

These top down jumpers are a slightly more modern proposition than the traditional way of knitting a sweater – knitted from the bottom up and in pieces (back, front, two sleeves). Mrs Z doesn’t like top down for some reason, but I have found it interesting and enjoyable. The key advantage of this top down method over the Zimmermann approach is that you shape the back neck and overall neckline by knitting back and forth to create a wedge shape, before progressing to knitting in the round, meaning you don’t have to do the short rows as we did with the EZ sweaters.

The yarn

I bought merino yarn in “heavy DK” from Colourmart yarns. It is lovely yarn and I bought 450grms in the sale. I made a few pairs of slippers by using the yarn double. I actually only just had enough for left for the jumper, so all the way through I was thinking – I can always unravel my slippers if I need to!

Turquoise blue slippers made with heavy DK merino

The pattern

This particular pattern has seaming to the sleeves and sides – one long seam on each side, with a slight detour for the underarm. The seams provide structure, and although I was tempted to go seamless which I can see is very possible, I stuck to the pattern on this occasion.

I don’t love using a pattern. It means carrying a piece of paper around, and counting stitches and rows and doing what you are told rather than feeling empowered. Nevertheless, as a learner, I gave it a go. I still can’t “read” a knitting pattern and understand it in the way that I can with sewing, so I have to do a toile. I have to actually knit something up in order to understand how it works in terms of method and shaping.

So I have done a toile. But before I did the toile I made a mistake.

The mistake was not to do a swatch. How daft! I have got over-confident with the Zimmermann method and know how many stitches I need in the yarns that I use and, reader, I winged it. I used a 4.25mm circular needle with my “heavy DK” merino from Colourmart. But this created fabric that was too firm. I only worked this out once I had completed the whole yoke and the front, including the ribbing. It was too dense, and small and blurgh. The other thing I did wrong was the little V at the neck with a travelling stitch. I didn’t know what a travelling stitch was and I didn’t follow the instructions correctly and so right at the CF I had a set of nasty stitches that didn’t work properly. So I pulled it all out and started again.

The undoing of me

Second time around I choose 5mm needles and the size magically came good. Also I was able to more or less do the neck triangle right. Not perfect, but I don’t know yet how to correct something like this. I can pick up a dropped stitch, or a sort out a mistake in the ribbing by going down a few rows in just one column. But I couldn’t see the problem with the V until it was too late. So I will ignore it this time and put it right on my second sweater which I will start once this one is finished.

If you like the look of this sweater, designed by Alexandra Tavel, the pattern is free (with ads) or available to buy from Two of Wands. 

Thank you Alexandra for your kindness in providing this pattern free of charge. I am learning so much from knitting in a new way, for me. I hope to have it finished by next weekend….




Elizabeth Zimmermann striped raglan round up part 2

You may remember the Knitalong I organised in July, based on the beautiful Elizabeth Zimmermann seamless sweater. A few of us went on to do a second jersey, and some of us took a little longer than others. This post showcases the second round (gettit?) of seamless jumpers, and pretty wonderful they are too.

First up is Kim from The Material Lady. Kim is an amazingly gifted knitter and always produces first class work. She has done a great job in the past on the Botanical sweater that is on my wish list for when I get to cables… I also envy her as she lives near the Colourmart yarns shop. Here she used up many of her smaller balls of yarn to produce a harmonious sweater in warm shades. Love your look Kim, very sassy and confident and I am sure you will wear this often with lots of different trousers and skirts.

Elizabeth Zimmermann seamless raglan

Look at Helene. What a gorgeous, elegant woman combining the best of French style with Canadian practicality and order. I love the way the bright colours in her short sleeved, picot-edged, cotton yarned sweater combine with clean black and white. Here she models the bright colour palette to perfection alongside local statues in her neighbourhood. By the way Helene is the best knitter and has ensured that all her decreases slope the right way and there are no jogs in evidence.


Lisa in Australia has made her sweater in lovely bright colours. Look at that red and how well it contrasts with the purple and blue! Lisa was concerned that it was a little on the large side. Do you remember the post on the length of your sweater? This one reaches down to the hip which is a good look, the body doesn’t look too baggy, and the sleeves are the right length.   Could it just be that it stopped too soon? I think another inch at the front neck and a couple at the back would stop this looking a bit big, but that is only my suggestion! Lisa says she will be making another slightly smaller one, so there is always another opportunity to correcting any fitting issues you may feel you have. Well done for reaching the finishing line Lisa, and I hope you enjoyed this freestyle manner of knitting. You may need one of these when you visit the UK later this year!

Elizabeth Zimmerman knit a long

And going for another short-sleeved look is Sue of Fadanista. I love the colours on this sweater, which really look like they are straight from the 1930s to me. Or possibly a box of macaroons – pistachio, chocolate, coffee and rose. Doesn’t she look yummy? I think the top brownish yarn is textured – what an interesting and delightful outcome. There is also a row of embroidered-on knitting stitches (is that Swiss darning?) to cover a row of stitches that Sue thought needed covering up. There is another technique I need to learn. This is Sue’s second version. Her earlier one was shades of orange and blue-grey. I hope she enjoys wearing them although it will be warming up in Australia right now.


And over to Michelle. Oh Michelle – what a great sweater. Again this is a second one – her earlier version was strong turquoise and deep red stripes. This one used very special yarn – each of the four balls slightly different, creating the appearance of a striped sweater. Isn’t it just great? Michelle is now well and truly hooked and says this seamless approach is her favourite way of knitting a jumper. I think this one has hems at the sleeve and hem.


Hila has made a super sweater, although it took a sprained ankle before Hila (nearly) completed it. Photographed here before the finishing process (underarms and sewing in the pesky tails of yarn). Hila, who features prominently in my book as she models the capsule wardrobe, looks stunning in bright, cool colours. And she shows how it is done yet again with her red and purple striped raglan. Hila has a fun blog and vlog. She knits and sews for her whole family (7 including the parents!), and it always inspires me how much she achieves.

Zimmermann raglan seamless

And finally my own version. I now have several of these sweaters and I really must stop. However two of my favourites have been ruined by going in a hot wash – the pink and the blue colourful yoke sweaters unfortunately.  I do love this one though – I like a shrunken boyish look (not really shrunken, see above).. I bought some small remnants of two ply cashmere yarns from Colourmart and meant to create a sweater that went from fairly dark to fairly light using very light and dark grey to punctuate the colour. But going between London and the Cotswolds meant that I lost/misplaced the darker grey and the mid blue, so I made substitutions – mainly using some green. I think it worked out OK in the end although I had planned to match the sleeves to the body a la Sue Fadinista. It is so soft and comfortable and I do like the lightness near the face. And the stripe of red. By the time I got to the end I had misplaced the dark grey so the bottom ribbing is in the mid-grey.

Fabrickated Elizabeth Zimmermann seamless raglan
Fabrickated Elizabeth Zimmermann seamless raglan

I am not sure if there are any more unfinished sweaters out there. If so I would be pleased to include them so do let me know. For myself I have decided to try a more traditional pattern – a top down sweater in double-knit. Always keen to learn something new.