Friday, 26 September 2014

The Swimsuit Issue

I spent my early years (up to age 14) in Northern California. Despite what the rest of the world is led to believe, Northern California, particularly the San Francisco Bay Area, is not particularly warm. Beaches are often 'dramatic;, ie windswept and grey. Watch any film set in San Francisco, and you'll notice people are wearing a lot of coats and jackets, like in 'Vertigo':

Kim Novak in 'Vertigo', at the San Francisco seaside in coat and gloves - that's how cold it can get.

Understandably, I'm not a big beach lover. I'm also not too comfortable with swimwear. At the risk of sounding like a prude, isn't it a bit weird that it's ok to prance around in ensembles which cover less than our everyday underwear? I've come to view swimwear as a necessary evil, that I tolerate for holidays in the sun, and then usually reluctantly.

But then I found this on Ridley Road, my local street market:

Big Cat Kaftan!

I don't know who Hong Zhan is, but I love his/her/their work!



Mr Needles and I were due to visit Budapest and it was on the cards we would be visiting one of their famous spas, so swimwear was going to be required. I'd seen quite a few fellow bloggers make the 'Bombshell' with fab results, but this wasn't going to be suitable - all that sexy ruching would obscure the tiger print. Besides, I was getting a 70's/80's disco vibe from the fabric.

Enter Kwik Sew 3780:



I'm pretty novice with jerseys, and even more novice with swimwear, so I spent AGES agonizing over whether this pattern would work for me. Mainly, I was concerned about bust support. I'm a 32 E, depending on the brand of bra, and hate 'light support' - I like to feel strapped in at all times! I was considering buying a sports bra, and somehow inserting it into the finished costume. But in the end I went with the recommended shelf support, and it seemed to work fine.

I cut the front section from the Tiger kaftan, and the back from a super stretchy red swimwear lycra from Dalston Mill Fabrics. Here's the result!


Szechenyi Baths, Budapest

I'll explain the expertly photo shopped image above, courtesy of Mr Needles. I had every intention of taking a photo while we were in Budapest of the day we spent at Szechenyi baths, bobbing around in the beautiful heated pools, lounging in the steam rooms, and generally relaxing. I loved it! But Mr Needles lost his wristband in one of the pools, and all hell broke loose while we tried to explain to the staff what had happened. Then there was some suspenseful periods of waiting while they went to get the manager, and it was all finally resolved. So taking blog photos kinda got overlooked.



Support isn't too bad in this suit - I wouldn't do any vigorous swimming in it, but the bust shelf worked pretty well. The Kwik Sew instructions are excellent, explaining exactly how much elastic to use for each size, what stitch to use, and so on.

Here's the bust elastic on the inside:



I decided to line the suit with the same fabric as the outer. This gave the suit a stability and firmness that I liked.

Seam sewn with faux overlock stitch
I don't have an overlocker, but the fake overlock stitch on my Elna worked perfectly well. It took a while to get used to the rhythm, coupled with having to stretch the seams a little as you sew, but I think I got the hang of it.

Clear silicone elastic
The pattern says to use 'swimwear elastic' on all the hems and turnings, but I thought that would be a bit thick and chunky. I'd noticed that this clear silicone is often used on stretch hems, so I decided to give it a go. And so another handling technique to grapple with - this stuff is so slippery! I attached it to each leg opening, armhole, and neckline, following the measurements in the pattern instructions and using a 3 step zig zag:

Inside of hem
Once the elastic is applied, the turnings were folded in place and then sewn with a shallow zig-zag:

Hem viewed from right side
And here's the back view; there are a few wrinkles, but on the whole the fit isn't too bad:



I was pretty pleased with the outcome of this suit, so I thought 'Why stop there?' I'd been listening to a lot of punk, and watching a lot of documentaries like 'Punk Attitude'. How could I combine this current interest with sewing? Why, swimwear, of course! I present the Dead Kennedy's swimsuit:


Again, the appropriate background was provided by Mr Needles.

I started with a XXL t shirt from Camden Market - here's a before picture:



Then I carefully picked apart the neck trim and the hem, so I had as much fabric to work with as possible:



Next, I lined up the front piece so that the centre front ran exactly through the centre of the logo:



Then I just used the same construction as the other suit. This one was lined with proper swimsuit lining, again courtesy of Dalston Mill. I also used a bit of one of the sleeves for a gusset. Only the front piece was cut from the t-shirt; for the back I used a matt black lycra - I didn't think disco strength shininess was the right look for this suit. And using the t-shirt fabric at the back would have resulted in a saggy bottom when it gets wet:


The fit of this suit is slightly different due to the fact that the front piece doesn't have the same amount of stretch as the back, but it'll do for sunbathing. Or maybe I'll wear it for Halloween!





I would totally recommend this pattern to anyone not sure of themselves when dealing with lycras. What Kwik Sew lacks in presentation (see my previous discussion here) they make up for in instructions, which I thought were just brilliant. And now my (slight) fear of lycra and stretch is conquered!

Here's some Dead Kennedy's to get you in a holiday mood:




See you soon!


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Hopping on the Blog Hop Bandwagon

I've noticed this 'Blog Hop' thing bouncing around the internet for a while, and now it's come my way. The lovely Coo at Betty Stitchup, who I met this summer when she visited London, has put me forward to answer the 4 questions. Go check her answers out, and look around her blog at all of her gorgeous, retro-inspired outfits.

Let's start!

What am I working on?
I've just finished one project and am trying to decide what to do next. I usually have a big pile of patterns, that sort of acts as a visual 'to do' list. Here's my current pile:


It's usually stacked neatly......
I'm in need of some new work clothes, so it's likely I'll make the bolero in the bottom right and match it with the skirt from the top left. But the Maudella is also speaking to me, and she's saying 'I'm much more fun - make me out of the Japanese print!' You'll see one of these in a blog post soon, no doubt.

I also have a bottomless knitting bag, where nothing ever seems to get finished. It's currently holding some nearly finished socks, and a 2/3 finished jumper:


My knitting bag, with the black and white jumper sleeve(left), and the nearly finished pair of socks(right)
I'm pretty sure the socks will be on my feet in time for winter, but the jumper's a bit further off...


How does my work differ from others in its genre?
When I started, I thought I was the only one out there working from old patterns, but I soon found out I'm not. So I'm not really sure what makes my blog any different from other sewing blogs. Blogging, and then meeting other bloggers, has given me a great deal of confidence in my skills, and where pre-blog I may have held back, or toned down some of my outfit choices, now I seem to push myself further. I don't like 'twee' clothes or themes, and I increasingly find myself railing against current mainstream fashion which to me has very little glamour or rebellion involved in it. So I suppose I aim to present work that's technically and stylistically challenging, but also harking back to the past. 


Yup, that's me being 'technically and stylistically challenging'...

Why do I write/create what I do?
I've been sewing since I was a little girl, but it's always been a solitary pursuit. I've never joined a sewing club, or attended a knitting group. Blogging was a way of finding out if there was anyone else out there. It was also just a way of archiving my creations, a sort of note book to remind me what I've made, procedures and techniques I've learnt, etc.

How does my writing/creative process work?
I make stuff, then I post it - simple as that. I like to explain the inspirations behind some of my projects, like copying a piece from a film or an old photo. I would only write posts about subjects I would find interesting, so every now and then I'll include some holiday bits and pieces (usually with a sewing basis), or tutorials on techniques I think readers will find interesting. I really just make it up as I go along. I work full-time, so I have to squeeze posts in usually in the evenings; you'll notice that some of my post times are at ridiculous hours. Photos can happen any time. It's usually just me and the tripod, so they tend to be indoors, but now and then Mr Needles will help out with some outdoor shots.


Not every photo makes the grade, like this 'Popeye' pose

A fellow blogger recently told me that she'd like to see more about me on the blog, like outfit posts, or hair tutorials. I'm still not one of those people who's comfortable with 'sharing' on line. I suppose my basic insecurities also make it hard for me to believe that anyone would be interested, but I might branch out.


And that's my blog hop - I hope it was enlightening! The next step is for me to pass on the baton to some fellow bloggers. My 3 lucky bloggers are:

Janene Ooobop, who is always effortlessly stylish, with great photographs to boot!

Emmy at My Oh Sew Vintage Life - she makes gorgeous dresses, and regularly takes you through the insides of vintage pieces she owns, which I find particularly interesting.

Fiona at Diary of a Chainstitcher - she just gets better and better, and she's so damn cute.

See you soon!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Minerva Bloggers Network - an End of Summer Ensemble


I sort of mis-timed this months Minerva project, now that the nights are drawing in and the temperatures are dropping. It's more suited to the balmy days we were experiencing here in London a few weeks ago. But weather's never stopped me from wearing what I want - if I'm in a sunshine state of mind, I'll wear the clothes to suit it, even if it's snowing outside!

So here's my End of Summer Ensemble-




The bolero is from Vogue 8721, which I used previously on this project. I love this pattern because you get 4 jackets, 2 of which I really like, 1 I'm so-so about, and the 4th I just don't get, but that's not bad going!


Version C (bottom left)

I used version C, shortening the body so it sits just above the waist. It was really quick and easy to make - no lining, just a facing on the collar and hems, and french seams to keep everything tidy:


Inside view of jacket

I especially like the sleeves and the way they puff out at the shoulder



As for the skirt, I used the By Hand London Flora, but just the skirt part with a waistband added. As seems to be the norm where Flora's are concerned, spontaneous outbreaks of twirling have been known and I'm no exception:






To keep the skirt extra flouncey, I used a deep hem of about 3"/7.5cm so that there's lots of weight at the hem. Then I added a lining with a ruffle to keep it all puffed out:



 I love the final effect of these two techniques, but they are a complete pain to complete, adding several hours to what should have been an easy project. Why am I surprised? I always seem to take the 'long way round' when I sew...


 So that's the outfit; but lets talk about this insanely brilliant fabric:


The camera doesn't do the colours justice - there are neons pink and green, vibrant blues and yellows, and everything tropical in every direction. I couldn't work out which way was up, so I went with the palm trees being upright as they seemed the most dominant motif. That meant the little surfer lost out to gravity, and he's permanently upside down. I'll just pretend he's 'wiping out' or something.

I love this fabric, not just the colours and pattern, but the weight which is just a touch heavier than quilting cotton. And even better - it's on sale! It's marked down to £4.99 on the Minerva website. Get over there and get some tropical in your life!


See you soon!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Cheers! The Champagne Skirt by Capital Chic





A short while ago, Sally from Charity Shop Chic launched a collection of patterns under her label Capital Chic. If you follow Sally's blog, you'll know that she's all about re-creating high fashion, sophisticated looks on a budget, and this ethos is carried through into her pattern collection. These are minimal, grown-up pieces which would work well in the office, or take you through to drinks in the evening.

I'm lucky enough to know Sally, and she was kind enough to offer me a free download to try out. I jumped at the chance to try out the Champagne Skirt:


Sally in the Champagne skirt - she does all her own modelling!

It's a pencil skirt, and it has frills - what isn't there to like!? I decided this would be a perfect work skirt for me.

Out came the scissors and tape - all of Capital Chic's patterns are PDF downloads - and I quickly put it all together. I've only ever used 1 PDF pattern before, and the download of that didn't go well (wrong size, etc), but this was a breeze. Sally has obviously put loads of work into making sure the assembly of the pattern is as pain-free as possible. There are lots of little numbers and letters in strategic places to help you match everything up, and nice clear cutting diagrams.

Enough of my waffling - here's my version:










I'm much more curvaceous than Sally, so the skirt is more figure hugging than in the website photo. I used a stretch sateen, meaning it could be tight without being uncomfortable, and lined it with a rose polyester. This is a size 14, which works well, though the wrinkles across the front are bothering me - either I need to add a bit of room across the hips in future versions, or I've just forgotten how to stand! Also, this fabric does tend to show every wrinkle, despite being black.


Back view
It's a pretty straight forward project, and only really took about a day of sewing to complete (probably less if you don't get distracted easily like I do). The instructions are clear, with excellent diagrams - check out this iron!:


Sally explains all the steps clearly and simply - I think a beginner could follow them easily - but of course I went rogue and used some of my own techniques. First,before I attached the frill to the skirt, I stitched it to it's lining, right sides facing. After trimming and clipping the seam I then turned the pieces right side out and under stitched the seam allowance towards the inside to give the hem a crisp finish. 

That probably sounds like gobbledygook, so here's a picture to help you understand:


The finished frill, with seam allowance under stitched to the inside. 
Then I attached the frill to the skirt, sandwiched between the lining and the body of the skirt; this seam was also under stitched.



I've worn this skirt to work several times already, and even had a few complements on it - this is definitely one I'd make again. Well done, Sally!


But don't just take my word for it - visit Capital Chic for yourself!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Minerva Bloggers Network - the Russian Dolls Blouse

For this month's Minerva project, I decided on something small and sweet, namely McCall's 6020, version C.

Version C in white (top)
On the recent Minerva meet-up, I admired all of the cute little prints they had in stock, particularly this one:


And so I turned it into this:



The blouse was pretty simple to put together, with a some bust darts and little tucks at the waist, front and back, for shaping. The trickiest part was the unusual front closure, which called for lots of clipping to produce these crisp right angles:





The sleeves went in really well - the fabric has a tiny bit of natural stretch, so they eased in without the usual puckering and gathering:


I used a catch-stitch to hold the sleeve hem in pace - you can just see a few of the stitches in the picture above.

I can already tell that there's going to be one thing that will drive me mad when I wear this blouse - the collar. The design pretty much relies on interfacing and gravity for it to stay in place, but of course as you move, it moves. I just know I'm going to be fiddling with it constantly!


But on the whole I'm pleased with how flattering this design is - it makes my waist looks freakily small in these pictures!


To finish, I added 3 little red buttons:


And that's it! Just in time for a short break I've got planned in Budapest at the end of the  month, where there are Russian Dolls everywhere you look (don't know why...)

See you soon!