24 October 2013

bias cut silk velvet slip dress

I was very taken by the sumptuous glamour of Louis Vuitton's Fall/ Winter 2013-14 show. Dainty floral silk slips worn as evening dresses, 70s boudoir heels, black lace detailing, fluffy vanity cases and sultry, sexy hues of charcoal, mauve, coffee and pale silver. Winter is so often dominated by sobriety and androgynous cuts; I'm glad to see an injection of colour and assured femininity into this winter. I love the slip worn as a daytime look. It playfully alludes to the night, but not the cold harshness we associate winter nights. It evokes luxury, cosiness and sensuality and is grown-up without being dull.

Here is my version, available at Asos Marketplace, and on Etsy (with customisable options) in sizes UK 6 to UK 12 --

The dress is made from a lustrous 100% silk velvet in a rich purple tone. Geometric inserts on the side panel contrast with the slinky bias cut and soft fabric.

I love how the silk catches the light. It looks different from every angle and would be a fabulous piece for the festive season (thinking far ahead, I know!). And the bias cut means there's a little extra give, perfect for the season of overeating.

How would you choose to style the slip dress?

Alix x

1 October 2013

pleated tartan mini skirt

We've all heard the news that tartan is back. I was skeptical for a while; after all, one can end up looking like a member of t.a.T.u or at the other extreme, Clarissa Dickson Wright (a lively and robust woman but by her own admission not a fashion forerunner). And I couldn't make a tartan skirt without a nod to the 90s, this time in the guise of Cher from Clueless. Kudos to any blond who manages to pull off wearing canary yellow --

I was after a school games skirt look - to think that I would ever be nostalgic for the hideous hockey skirt of my school years! - hence the choice of navy and emerald tartan. You can just get a peak of my new friend, who has kindly agreed to model for me. Meet Brunhilde, who I found hiding away in the back of a charity shop!

Making the pleated culottes this summer I realised just how time consuming and faffy pleating can be. But tartan has the wonderful property of providing a pre-printed grid, which hugely speeds up making nice straight pleats and also cutting in straight and perfectly on-grain lines! This project was pretty breezy (no kilt pun intended) and cheap to boot.

The hardest part was calculating the number of pleats and the width of the waistband. I used the fabric and worked backwards to the pattern. This is because I wanted to avoid the green vertical stripe showing so that the pleated section was predominantly blue, which meant a slightly fernickety pleat width of 2.63cm. And I had to have an odd number of pleats so that the front section could be one pleat wider. When the skirt block is drafted the side seam is usually shifted up to 1.5cm to the back - it just looks nicer this way, and makes your behind look smaller - so half the length of a pleat, i.e. 1.3cm, on either side was about right. I wanted a thickish waist band so I settled on 29 pleats, finished length 76.3cm, which was nicely just above the hip bones. I used my skirt block for the waistband closing the darts to make single front and back yokes that would keep the tartan pattern visually intact. When cutting I matched the pattern across the centre front of the yoke and the pleated section so that the horizontal green stripes would be evenly spaced from waist to hem.

I really love how the skirt turned out. I am definitely making another one in knee-length, probably in a black wool I have in my stash. Of course, that tasteless part of me is still pulling in the direction of a matching jacket like Cher's above. Perhaps a pair of over-knee socks will be enough to sate that side of me...

Alix x

26 September 2013

silk cherub cowl top

I am not usually the silk blouse type. But when I saw this incredible silk charmeuse on Goldhawk Road I could not pass it by --

You may recognise it... have a look at the top of the page (I had to immortalise its greatness somehow)! It is a Marmite fabric, I will admit: you either think it's wonderful in its audacity and over-the-topness, or you think it's utterly vile. I am in the first camp.

Now, if I were still a lucky student with May balls to go to after my exams this would definitely have been transformed into a full-length, jaw-dropping, OMG-is-she-really-wearing-that?! dress. Instead however, I decided to make a sleeveless blouse with a cowl front to show off the beautiful softly draping quality of the fabric.

Paired with what a friend refers to as my butcher's skirt.
No animals were harmed in the wearing of this skirt.

Side seam detail: French seams and inner facing
I made a deep facing inside the top so that when the cowl drapes you can't see the back of the fabric. It also gives the cowl a little more body so it sits better. I used a facing on the back too so that when the shoulders are pushed back--because this is definitely a top for good posture!--there is no naff back of the fabric on show. A facing at the back solved the problem of how to finish the curved neckline. I was reluctant to use bias binding to cover the raw edge as it would have made the pattern look fussy at the top and I didn't want to do a bias binding facing as I didn't want any stitching visible on the outside. 

View of front inside facing
View of back inside facing. The back has two tiny darts at the armhole on the top and the facing.

I managed to avoid fitting a zip (which would be bulky on this delicate fabric) as the cowl leaves enough wiggle room to pull it over the shoulders. The top looks great tucked in but is a little baggy otherwise. If I were to make this project again I think I would make the cowl slightly less roomy and make the tummy area more fitted, and I would acquiesce to fitting a zip in the side seam. But for now, I am very pleased with my continental spectacle (these images don't show it but there's a Monet's water lilies-esque section on another part of the print as well as the Italian cherubs). I just wish all my whole wardrobe had such a sense of decadence, as well as such a sense of humour, as this top. 

That's all for now folks!

Alix x

16 September 2013

hair scrunchies

The 90s revival is in full swing and I am in scrunchie production mode, peoples!

Wrapped around as a scrunchie

All available here on Asos Marketplace or here on Etsy!

Alix x

28 August 2013

velvet off the shoulder top

Posting about the velvet column skirt a couple of weeks ago stirred within me the desire for, you guessed it, more velvet! Check out what I knocked up the other night--

I used an off-the-shoulder top I already have as a pattern, making the pieces a little wider to compensate for the smaller degree of stretch in the velvet. And the wonderful thing is that stretch fabrics are so forgiving when it comes to fit - you don't need to be too exact. When I put it together the sleeves and the body were a little big but no problem: I just lopped a centimetre off at the side seams.

I also have some news for my next post. All I shall say is that I have a new sewing buddy and leave it at that...


14 August 2013

tie-up shirt

When I used to dream about being able to draft my own patterns, I fantasised about producing tailored shirts. And as I mentioned in my previous post, I absolutely love crop tops. Crop top + tailored shirt = sleeveless tie up shirt. It was a gentle introduction to drafting/ making a shirt without the fiddle of sleeves and cuffs.

I bought the sheer, floral embroidered fabric on a whim a couple of months ago and had thought about using it for a ball dress by backing it with a nude fabric to make a bodice that would blend into a bias-cut, white, crepe-backed-satin skirt... but that was 1. very complicated without a dress form to drape the skirt on; 2. brilliant white is not a sensible choice where greasy food, alcohol and muddy ground are involved; and 3. in white there's always the risk of looking a bit desperate for a proposal. And anxious singleton is yet to find its sexy angle.

Instead, the fabric has had a more modest outing as contrast front and back yokes on the tie-up shirt. I really like the way it frames the collar and the satisfying contrast it makes with the block of white of the button stand.

I adore self-covered buttons. If I ran the world only self-covered buttons would be permitted.
Because the yokes are sheer, I had to do a lot of handstitiching. Usually I'd be happy to have my bias binding sit a millimetre or two beyond the stitching line on the inside, stitch in the ditch on the front, and catch the binding on the inside. But when the fabric is sheer you don't want to see the clothing equivalent of an underbite. And same goes for the collar. I had to pick up my humble needle and thimble, and face my fears.

The origins of my sewing endeavours were in textiles class at school where our teacher was an ex factory machinist then pattern cutter for an Italian tailoring company and she put a big emphasis on sewing the industrial way: 'Mass production techniques only, girls!' Hand-sewing was for wimps and amateurs. When I contemplate sewing something by hand I see my textiles teacher shaking her head with a face that says, 'Only dinosaurs still sew by hand!' and I am flooded by a sense of inadequacy and shame. Slowly I have been coming to accept the presence of hand sewing as a mark of pedigree in a garment. Making the tie-up shirt I realised hand-sewing is one of the luxuries of making your own clothes. But enough of my guilt-assuaging aside!

Shameless self-aggrandising moment: check out the topstitching on that collar!

I love this shirt so much that I am considering making a non tie-up, proper shirt-length version. I am even prepared to do more handsewing.

Alix x

11 August 2013

velvet column skirt

As well as an unhealthy love for velvet, I am also a die hard lover of the 90s look. This winter, in a bid to keep warm and try to look good at the same time (barely reconcilable objectives in my mind), I rifled through my stash to see what I could come up with. And it was my lucky day. I had a good metre and half of panne velvet leftover from a ballgown I made a couple of years ago. And so the velvet column skirt was born! Then, when the weather picked up in spring, something even better happened. "Tummy tops", as my friend calls them, or crop tops as they are more commonly known, made a big comeback. My 90s homage was complete...

Eat your hearts out TLC

The skirt is just a simple darted pencil skirt drafted from the block I made at the LCF last year. The velvet is a little stretchy so I made it with no ease (if you want figure-hugging with stretch fabric go for negative ease) so it would fit snuggly but not be tight. It had to have side slits of course: side slits give any long skirt a 90s girl band vibe...

It was one of those projects that only takes a couple of hours to rustle up, with no stress, fuss or even unpicking, and I have had so much mileage from it over the last six months. It is easily the most worn of all the things I have made.

Alix x

2 August 2013

beach dress + holiday

Another summer, another trip to France. And as every woman knows, a holiday calls for a whole new wardrobe. Well, all the summer clothes I prematurely bought in April finally saw the light of day, but I also whipped up a beach dress after finding some fantastic abstract print cotton voile on a trip to Goldhawk Road (for me, a holiday in itself).

The beach dress at Argeles Plage, France

Taken in the lady of the manor's bedroom in the chateau (more about that below!)

I designed the dress primarily with the beach in mind. It had to be long to cover up sun-beaten skin but very light and airy. I wanted to be able to pull it on easily so it had to be free of fiddly fastenings (I figured a zip would have been too stiff and heavy for the fabric any way). Hence why I chose to make a tube with an elasticated waist and a simple tie up halterneck. I chose a halter neck design to compliment my bikini. I always wear halter neck bikinis and now I am further bound to that with this beach dress: I don't know about you but I think there is no greater sartorial clumsiness than a halter neck with bra straps showing!

* * *

But enough about the dress. Check out the chateau I was lucky enough to stay in for four nights--

What I learnt is that living the life of a princess really is tiring. It's no wonder princesses seem to spend their whole time swooning or bolstered by a mass of feather pillows in splendid four-poster beds. It just takes so long to get around the house! A chateau is not a place in which to forget something upstairs. By the time you get back downstairs a few hundred endangered species will have died out.

Where's Wolly - can you spot me? 
I'm on the right, middle window ;)


may ball dress (well, sort of)

Yes, it's that time of year again, when I suddenly decide that it is imperative that I create a new ball dress. And of course, it has to be pink. 

This year I was determined to do another self-drafted pattern. The design was very much dictated by the fabric. I picked up this amazing saturated pink trieste from John Lewis. Now for the shocking truth. It is 100% polyester. No silk here peoples. And then I thought I must at least make the most of one of the benefits of polyester: namely, it makes wonderfully crisp and lasting pleats. I also wanted to jump aboard the palazzo pants/ culottes bandwagon. So pleated culottes and matching bodice it was!

I drafted the culottes using Sai's tutorial. The one thing I changed was the length of the crotch. I plotted a few centimetres short of my actual hip arc measurement as it seemed to me that the crotch would turn out very saggy otherwise! I added 2cm inverted pleats from the centre fronts and backs all the way to the side seams and a narrow waistband. The culottes fasten with a hidden zip at the side seam and a small popper at the waistband. As you can see I put it at the right hand side. Now having tried on other trousers since I realise they should fasten on the left hand side. I'll remember that one for next time! I so love the culottes I'm thinking about making them in black, but slightly less voluminous to make them more casual.

The bodice was adapted from a bra pattern I had already made using gedwoods' tutorial over at Burda. I have been longing to use the techniques in my much loved copy of Claire Shaeffer's Couture Sewing Techniques. The bodice is supported by a corselet made of two layers of fine net with underwired bra cups and plenty of boning. Not ideal for making the most of the endless food available at a May Ball, but now I know why Victorian women never slouched!

Alix x

6 February 2013

the duffel bag

A while back I posted about making a duffel bag. Well, here it is!

My favourite detail is definitely the corded loop pocket. My boyfriend, who this was a present for, loves the Scandinavian inspired pairing of red with greyish beige (I refuse to refer to it as 'greige') and light wood toggles. The outer fabric is twill, and inside the red lining is a garbardine. The beigey fabric is also garbardine. I think that the weave in both these fabrics provides interest, texture and a bit of a formal twist on a casual rucksack.

Inside on the back wall is a cotton elasticated pocket for books and notepads, and a zip compartment for keys, phone and wallet, or travel documents. Outside, the smaller pockets are closed with magnetic poppers and the large pocket with a loop and toggle. The pockets are lined with a red medium-weight cotton. The top of the bag has eyelets all the way round laced with a cord that draws the bag closed. The flap is closed by a loop and toggle.

Next time, a breakdown of how you go about making your own duffel bag.

Alix x

20 January 2013

the little black jacket

This Christmas, I was given a long-awaited and much-lusted-after copy of Claire Shaeffer's Couture Sewing Techniques. Learning the 'couture' way is the obsession, or at least passion, for many of us home sewers and bloggers. Couture is a far-off, entrancing place burried in history and tradition where much skill and knowledge is hidden away in the atelier. The best couture is understated perfection: the fit, the silhouette, the drape all show that one has good taste and an excellent couturier. I don't know about you, but couture is not about the status and prestige for me. It's all about clothes made by someone who has an immense amount of skill and who really understands how to make clothes and make them look great. But of course, the closest most of us will get to couture is Vogue and the V&A museum. So, confronting my coutureless future life, I have decided even if you can't become rich enough to step foot inside Chanel, in time you can become skilled enough to make perfect and beautiful clothes. Therefore one of my projects for this year (I am giving myself an ample timescale, because you can't hurry perfection) will be to make every woman's Mecca: Chanel's little black jacket.

Where to start with the Holy Grail of couture? Well, here is some sewing erotica, a (very condensed) video of the making of a Chanel jacket.

I've been scrolling through the photos from Lagerfeld's The Little Black Jacket exhibition for inspiration. I started to look at the fit of each jacket and noticed that they were all quite different, which is exactly what you would expect of couture. Every jacket has been made to the client's preference and to flatter their shape. Little details like the height of the neck, the sleeve length or the placement of the pockets vary from jacket to jacket, yet on first inspection, the jackets are all the same. 

This is where I indulge my wannabe detective skills (all those hours watching Scandinavian crime drama finally find a use)! In terms of illustrating the silhouette, this is my favourite picture. It is slim, elegant, slightly boyish and boxy, halfway between a cardigan and a jacket. Notice that there is no obvious waistline. With the buttons undone, you can see in the video above that the jacket is a tube (who knew a tube could be so flattering?!). Done up, as above, it is a lightly tapered tube. Here are some details that seem to define the Chanel jacket:

Pattern pieces
  • the front is made of four pieces. It has a large centre front piece and a narrow side front piece. Other Chanel jackets have a princess seam running from the shoulder about an inch from the finished neckline in a straight line to the hem
  • the back is constructed of four pieces in similar fashion to the front

  • when buttoned up, the jacket neckline sits exactly around the base of the neck

  • there are always 5 buttons, equidistant from each other from the neckline to about 3-4 inches above the hem
  • the third button is about half an inch lower than the bust line (the widest part of the bust, usually where your nips are!)
  • the waistline is between the 4th and 5th buttons (if the top button is no. 1), slightly more towards the 4th button
  • the buttons are 1/2 to 3/4 inch from the centre front

  • sleeves are constructed of two pieces, like most tailored jackets
  • the vent is about 3 inches, with two buttons about 1 3/4 inches apart
  • the sleeves fall anywhere from just shy of the prominent part of the wristbone (note that they do not fall half way down the back of the hand like most tailored jackets) to mid forearm

the sleeve has been constructed and pressed so that the back is slight longer than the front

Bottom hem
  • the bottom hem sits at about the mid hip line (halfway between the waist and widest part of the hip); it just grazes the hipbone
  • not a detail you can see, but one that is known the world over: about half an inch above the hem on the inside is sewn a light chain the length of the hem which balances the way the jacket hangs

  • there are 4 pockets arranged in two rows. The bottom pockets are slightly taller and wider than the top ones
  • the pockets are slightly rectangular (i.e. not too far off square) with rounded edges at the bottom
  • the button is centred on the pocket and sits half on, half off the braid. The buttonhole is vertical, the top of the hole falling just short of the braid
  • the lower pockets are set just above the braid and the upper pockets just under half an inch above the top of the lower pocket. The top of the upper pocket sits about 1 inch under the underbust line
  • both sets of pockets are aligned about 2 1/2 inches from the centre front

That was a lot of pernickety detail, I know! But once you start looking carefully at the proportions of the garment you realise all those details which make the Chanel jacket instantly recognisable and make it look like a real Chanel.

Alix x

10 January 2013

Working with silk

Here are some tips for working with that tricky fabric, silk:

  • If you've gone to the expense of buying silk, there's no point (no pun intended!) using a blunt needle. You should use a new needle for every sewing project (although let's be honest, most of us don't bother. But I treat silk projects as a special guests who deserve special treatment). When working with silk changing your needle is especially important, so don't forget to do it! Use smaller sizes such as an 80/11 or a 75/9 needle. The sharper and thinner the needle the better. If you can find them, use speciality sharp needles for silk.

  • Use silk thread. At a real push use cotton, but do not even think about using polyester! Silk is particularly sensitive: if you use polyester thread and press your garment, there will be imprints in the silk wherever there is thread behind it. This unfortunately rules out overlocking/ serging. Only silk thread does not leave imprints when pressed.

  • Remember that silk is like paper. Once your needle has gone through it, you leave a permanent hole. Most fabrics will bounce back if you have to bring out the quick-unpick and the needle marks will disappear, but not silk. Check, double check, and triple check that you are sewing the right pieces together with right sides together before you start sewing!

Silk pins have flat heads.

  • The same goes for pins. Remember to only put pins in within the seam allowance so that the holes are hidden within your garment. Silk pins are a great investment: they have very sharp points and thin shafts so make pinning easier. You may choose to baste more of your seams just to be safe and to ensure you machine-stitch it right the first time.
  • If you try to push a pin in and it won't slide in with relative ease, put the pin aside and grab another one. I've noticed that even good quality pins sometimes have some duffers in their ranks which are slightly blunt, and pins do blunt over time too. If you try to force the pin in you will make a ladder along the fabric.
  • Turn the steam setting off on your iron. Just to be sure, I take all the water out of mine before I start working on a silk project. Water drops and steam can leave unsightly marks on silk that will not come out.
  • Silk tends to fray easily, so handle your fabric as little as possible.

A walking foot

  • Silk tends to be slippery. Make sure the table you are working at has plenty of room to the left of the machine for your fabric to lay upon. If you have a quilting extension table, use it. Also, use a walking foot to ensure both pieces of fabric are fed evenly under the needle.