Saturday, 25 October 2014

Review: Gertie Sews Vintage Casual

First up - this is a full on book review, so if you just want to know about the patterns go to the part marked PATTERNS half way down!

I bought this book as I've always been interested in styles of the past, but don't have a life that requires cocktails dresses or suits. Also, I look strange in some of the 'vintage' styles. The subtitle is 'A Modern Guide To Sportswear Styles Of The 1940's And 1950's', so I purchased it with much hope.

As you can see, the format is spiral bound hardback. 

I found Gertie's writing style light hearted while still being clear - if you like her blog, the book has the same tone. 

Photogprahs are clear and appropriate to illustrate techniques described in the text.

The first section is SKILLS. Unless you are completely new to sewing, these sections can be really boring. The information here was more comprehensive/detailed than many similar books I have read, and while I did know most of it there were a few useful reminders, such as where to interface - an area I could really improve on. I've had a few problems with my zips recently and had completely forgotten about stabilising the area with strips of interfacing!

The whole book is made much more attractive by the addition of gorgeous illustrations such as this one, drawn by Sun Young Park.
They add the charm and style that seduces me in the same way as vintage pattern covers.

Also in this section is a chapter on fitting and a chapter on pattern making, necessary because of how the patterns work (more below).

I thought I would try a pattern before I wrote this review because otherwise reviews can be like selling something for someone else when you don't really know if it's any good. I fully admit the pattern I choose is hardly a departure from my normal style. I had this organic cotton stripe jersey in my stash for a summer t-shirt that never happened, so it was the economic choice. When I make something woven from the book I'll put a new link in at the end of the post.

This is the Boat Neck Top I made in the book:
And here is mine IRL:
How the patterns work is there is a core of 10 full size, multi-size patterns on which all the garments are based. There is some overlay (nothing major) so you trace off whatever you want to make, then follow the instructions to alter the patterns to produce variations. This top was based off the Knit Sweetheart Top pattern (garment picture below).

To make it into a boat neck, I resized the shoulder area, re-drew the neck (using French curves) and swapped out the sleeves following the instructions. It wasn't difficult at all but maybe not ideal for complete beginners. There is quite a bit of flipping back between pages to refer to method for the base garments during construction as well, so there is some room for confusion for a total newbie. Having said that, none of the designs are complicated. For me, it's a nice 'step up' book, giving a little confidence in altering and fitting basic designs.

Sizes are 32" - 46" bust, 24" - 38" waist and 36" - 50" hip. My bust measurement fell between two sizes so I went for the larger one which was a good call as this top is just as fitted as the photo suggests.
I would have to be feeling pretty body confident to wear this without a cardigan. I think a little looser, more figure skimming than figure hugging does me more favours. However, I would consider making it again in black, as I am firmly of the opinion that this will turn me visually into a B cup ;)

Here's the back view for reference:
I shortened it by an inch or so but I am petite so there's plenty of length there for everyone else.

Pictured below are a couple of the designs I really like and can see complementing my existing wardrobe.

would also love this but know I couldn't carry it off.

Most of the patterns in this book are relatively simple shapes that can be adapted to produce different variations. Some, such as the jumpsuit, zip-front house dress and sailor blouse feel like they do have a more old school vibe and I really like those too. A massive plus for me though was that the majority of the patterns could be styled in a modern/classic or vintage direction - exactly what I was looking for - and I this will surely widen the book's appeal. I think it would make a nice present for a sewer who wanted to move on from the basics, especially if they didn't have a large pattern collection. It is a very cost effective way to get a collection of basic garment patterns.

Have you seen or bought this book? What do you think of it?

As ever, I paid for this book myself, don't know the author from Adam, and all opinions expressed are my own :)

Happy sewing, 'till next time,

Philippa X

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

I have been nominated for three blog awards, and haven't done anything about any of them! I'm putting this right in reverse order, starting today with The Very Inspiring Blogger Award. 

I was nominated for this by Jessica of Chronically Vintage, who shared her seven very interesting random facts hereIf you are wondering what our connection is, you'll find out below!

Seven Totally Random Facts About Me

1. I have been vegetarian for 29 years!

Yes, next year I will have been vegetarian for three whole decades. I have no regrets, zero interest in adding flesh of any kind to my diet, and I love my animal friends as much as ever!

2. My favourite animals are dogs (OK you may have guessed this one) and horses.

My dogs

love the faithful companionship of dogs and share my home with two (at the moment!). They have brought a lot of pleasure to my life, but easy to overlook are the health benefits. Before I had to go out and walk every day (at least twice), I used to get quite down over the winter. Now I actively look forward to those windy and freezing days, when I can come back after a refreshing walk to a soothing hot drink, having blown away the proverbial cobwebs. Yes, owning a dog is a big commitment, but my experience is that they more than repay the inconveniences. As for horses, my father was an amateur jockey so horses were part of my life from a young age. I rode ponies and often dream of getting back on horseback.

3. I have had several 'lives'.

No, I don't mean I have been reincarnated or regressed, just I am one of those people who for one reason or another has worked in lots of different environments and/or trained for a variety of careers, including those as varied as a beauty therapist, counsellor and personal assistant.

4. I am a secret history and vintage clothing enthusiast.

I am sure you are looking at the stuff I make and not seeing this at all. While it is true I dress mostly in modern styles, I have a lifelong fascination with history which is very broad, going right back to the earliest civilisations. I'm particularly interested in what life was like for ordinary people and how they dressed and why is a natural extension of this. I had colouring books of costumes through the ages in my childhood, and studied a module on the subject at college. 

An illustration I drew for my college fashion history file

Long before 'vintage' was a thing, I frequented second hand shops for individual, inexpensive, one-off items of clothing (often with hilarious results). I sometimes altered them, taking collars off men's shirts or putting two garments together, as well as sewing my own. (Note, in my youth there was a fabric shop selling reasonably priced fabric in every small town and literally nobody was interested in old clothes.)

Notes I made from a book called 'Vogue More Dash Than Cash' when I was
a fashion student in the late '80's. They were typed up on my Dad's old typewriter!

The advent of the internet meant a wealth of newly accessible information. Searching 'sustainable style', I discovered people actually wore vintage clothes head to toe (there is no-one doing that round here). For me it was history coming alive, I love to look at original garments and sewing patterns. Vintage appeals to me on other levels, too. One, there is nothing more sustainable than proudly wearing clothes that are decades old. Two, I love the idea of dressing however you want. Jessica's blog is one of the very first I came across, and one of the few 'vintage' blogs that have remained on my blog roll. I love the mix of history and style, especially the photographs she regularly posts which illustrate exactly how (mostly, but not exclusively, mid-century) folks really looked, original adverts, and recipes (which I occasionally try - what people ate is interesting to me too). I'm sure Jessica won't mind me sharing we have some health challenges in common as well, and it was seeing that she could blog, along with this post by So Zo's husband Pat, that convinced me that even if I couldn't blog often, starting a blog was something I could do.

One summer (before this blog) I decided to try dressing in a fully vintage style myself. I didn't know much about casual looks at the time so this comprised a skirt, lipstick and pearls approach. My teenage daughter kindly shared with me that "I looked older than grandma" (kind of the point, but still)! This was enough to convince me that the full vintage ship had sailed in my case. So these days I confine myself to admiring others, and adding vintage elements to a modern wardrobe. I particularly adore classic accessories - currently I own a structured black handbag, timeless pearl earrings and quite a few pairs of vintage or vintage appropriate shoes (brogues, loafers, wedges). Incidentally, Jessica also has an Etsy shop, should you be looking for some unique vintage additions yourself. I also love a full vintage make-up for special occasions/evenings. I have a handful of vintage sewing patterns in styles I think I can pull off, and have just received a copy of 'Gertie Sews Vintage Casual' (review to follow), so while I have dismissed a full vintage look for myself, there may well be some more vintage-style sewing in my future!

5. I'm also very interested in politics and current affairs.

I love to start the day with a good political debate on the radio while I prepare breakfast and the lunches, although I am not remotely interested in celebrity gossip, and become quite offended if this is presented as 'news'!

6. I am content.

Believe me, I haven't always felt this way but now I know I have enough in a material sense. It's so easy to get caught up in the pursuit of things, and miss out on what's really important...material possessions will never bring that deep down, long lasting happiness (however intense the initial hit), and devoting a lot of time to chasing them means missing out on so much other stuff. Even during times of crisis (which come in everyone's life), I try to be thankful for what I have. See below!

7. I have had swine flu and lived to tell the tale.

A few years ago I had a major health crisis, which shook my body and soul. The flu I had led to persistent infections, necessitating me giving up my job working with children and becoming virtually bed bound. I'm not going to go over all the symptoms here, suffice it to say they were horrendous, and had a massive impact on my ability to do anything of significance for a long time. 

Not being able to rely on my previously relatively healthy body (which I had taken for granted all my life) had a major psychological impact. I completely reassessed my life. I realised I needed to live differently to increase my chances of recovery, and began an on-going process of simplification. I scaled down my social life, volunteered less and said 'no' more often. I radically reduced the amount of clothes and styles in my wardrobe, so that getting dressed in the morning was easier. I had to slow down and relax previously high standards, which I found particularly difficult.

Apart from desperately searching for cures and longing to be well, I realised the only regret I would have at the end of my life was if I hadn't spent enough time with my close family and friends. I saw how precious and irreplaceable they are all over again. Time spent with them, even if it's just something ordinary like having dinner together, is the most treasured time of all....hug your family and friends!

Finally, I am a lot better these days although I have been left with a couple of chronic illnesses which do cause pain and some tiredness, but not like the first few years. There are limitations on what I can do (I can't write more than a paragraph by hand for example, as my hand cramps and I am not yet well enough to resume aerobic exercise), but I am going to interviews for (part-time) work outside the home and have managed some long drives, albeit with lengthy stops.

The lessons I learned during those hard years continue to work themselves out in my life, but ultimately I hope one day to be able be able to say I got more from the bad times than I lost. In the meantime, I'm just so happy to be here :)

Finally I would like to nominate:

Solvi of Delfineslise
Helen of Grosgrain Green
Kerry of Kestrel Makes
Debbie of Minnado's House
Kristin of Sunny Sewing

I chose these blogs because I feel they already reflect something of the personality of the blogger, and they've made me curious to learn more! Feel free not to take part if awards aren't your thing, or you've had the award before....if you do take part, I look forward to reading 7 Random Facts about you! Thank you for nominating me, Jessica and giving me the chance to share a bit more about myself here.

Happy sewing, 'til next time,

Philippa x

Monday, 15 September 2014

Little Tie-dye Skirt & Do You Post Everything You've Made?

This skirt is a repeat make of Simplicity 2343, first one here in stretch denim.

The fabric is a firm woven canvas from my stash. I put the darker side of the tie-dye on the front and the lighter side round the back. There was no logic to that decision really. It wasn't particularly nice to sew (see slightly wobbly stitching on zipper lap) - I don't think it's clothing fabric. I puchased it as a remnant intending to make a cushion, but my lack of interest in sewing for the home has been documented before - hence it ended up as a skirt!

This pattern seems to work in virtually any woven fabric and one of the best things imo is if you make the short version it doesn't need much yardage at all (not much more than a cushion ;)).

The top I am wearing here is one of my Cocos, but I am hoping to imagine a better pairing eventually. I do feel like 'me' in this skirt, as it has elements of 'old hippie' in the tie-dye but a more tailored shape which I like on my body.

On a side note, I am wondering whether you post everything you've made, including repeats and fails? I know it's personal choice, but I'm curious because I'm still working out what I want to post. I like to see repeats on other blogs, as if a pattern is made multiple times it's usually a winner, and it's nice to see the same style in a different fabric, too.

As for fails, I see it as a kind of solidarity thing (we all have stuff that goes wrong). They are especially useful if they flag up a problem with a pattern. I don't aim for perfection with my blog as you can probably tell, so at the moment I post everything. For me, my blog is another way to have fun with like minded friends :)

So, what's your view on this pressing matter of great sewing blog importance? Do repeats bore you? Do you hide your fails in a secret place?! There are no right and wrong answers, but I'd love to know your opinions!

Happy sewing, 'til next time,

Philippa x

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Funnel Neck Coco Fleece

When I was talking about my general lack of style direction I forgot about the one part of my wardrobe I really and truly have sorted. I've been wearing variations on this 'look' since my teenage years and would summarise it as 'Cornish fisherman'. The components are: smocks of various types + jeans (any length according to season) + oldest brogues, clogs, deck shoes or loafers I own. Frequently accessorised with dogs, mud and/or sand - never fails.

Please find the latest addition below:
had this version of the Coco pattern in mind all holiday; it would have been so useful for walking/windy beaches. Oh well, next time! (The other versions I've made of this pattern are here and here and give a few more details how it works for my body shape.)

Apologies for indoor photo. This was taken on the day the tail of Hurricane Bertha whipped our neighbourhood. It brought cooler weather with it, and I've also worn this with a long sleeved striped top showing under the sleeves which adds a bit of contrast to all the blue.

Fleece is not a suggested fabric, but as it has a little stretch it worked out fine. (Fleece from recycled bottles, stocked here and bought over a year ago. I was really pleased to see this is still available, as it's the only non-wholesale source of recycled fleece I have been able to find. There is a lot of colour choice, too.)

Pattern alterations:
*Took triangular wedge from the bottom sides of the pattern pieces due to my straighter hips.
*Positioned the seam for the roll collar at CB instead of at the side as pattern directs - with my bulkier fabric, I thought this would look neater - now I'm not sure and will probably do as the pattern directs if I make this again.
*Sewed side seams straight down (no side splits).
*Took deeper hem of 1.5".

Made largely on the overlocker, the inside is as neat as the outside. Hemmed with a twin needle, rather than zigzagged - I'm so glad I've finally mastered the twin needle, it makes such a difference to how professional the finish is on fleeces and knits :)

Here is the top on a nicer day but as you can see I did not pull it down or arrange it in any way so please excuse the triangular boob!!

My only wish is that I'd had enough fabric for some nice snuggly pockets in the side seams. Should I make this again, I'm definitely adding them.

Happy sewing, 'til next time,

Philippa x

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Quick Holiday Wardrobe Fixes + Do You Miss Sewing When You're On Holiday?

I took a few shortcuts for some of the things I needed for holidays this year.

I wanted comfy skirts to travel in. I made this one from a large but I think unworn skirt found in the RSPCA shop:

I cut the yoke off, re-used the elastic for the new waist and saved the lining for a future project. The 'new' skirt is the same shape as Sewaholic's new very beginner oriented pattern, the Rae skirt, i.e. it has panels and an elastic waist. I've not been able to wear elastic waist skirts as an adult as they look so bulky - many of them are just gathered squares - so it just goes to show what a big difference a little bit of shaping makes.

Another skirt was cut down from this striking but unflattering dress from the Red Cross Shop:

This is more of a tube shape and despite being so simple, I've worn it several times already.

I also wanted capri length trousers for windy days on the beach. For these I reused my old jeans which I found among the clothes I use for decorating/gardening. I cut off the stained and frayed bottoms and made cuffs.

They are very soft to wear, having been worn in thoroughly already.

I made another skinny pair from bootleg jeans from the charity shop by taking in the side seams and shortening:
I went a bit over the top with the skinnifying despite tracing my well fitting skinny jeans. Another lesson learned in the differing amount of stretch in fabrics! Next time I will put them on inside out and pin them to the shape of my legs. I think this might give a better result.

I gave up having my photo taken at this point in proceedings. I do not enjoy modelling and although my children do a sterling job of taking my picture and never object, I am easily bored and rarely have the patience for a 'perfect' shot. Sorry!

Finally I shortened these capris from chinos (originally from a charity shop). They were hanging in my wardrobe unworn despite being a great fit and apparently new. They will get some wear now.

Doing these alterations has shown me that sometimes a change of hem length is all it takes to make an item wearable again. The 'new' pieces cost around £10 total as I had most of them already, and very little sewing time. 

Also, Zoe has some great refashions for making old jeans into shorts, which I'm bearing in mind for when the knees on my jeans finally 'go'!

Well I've had my holiday now, which was lovely, and I wore all the things I altered. But after a few days I felt as though I wanted to do some sewing. It's become part of my daily life, and sitting down with idle hands feels wrong (even on holiday!). My way of sewing is 15 minutes here and there, for example while I'm waiting for something to finish cooking or as a break in the day. It is more achievable for me than waiting for several hours, so when I sit down it appears my brain thinks 'sew'! 

Do you miss sewing while you're away? Do you think holidays should be a complete change, or do you take some sewing with you? I'm seriously considering taking some hand sewing next time!

Happy sewing, 'til next time,

Philippa x

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Reasons To Be Cheerful No 1 - Bright Floral New Look 6035

Although this skirt is part of my capsule wardrobe, I think the brightly coloured and patterned fabric makes it feel not so basic.
The fabric was a remnant from someone else's project purchased online, it cost just a couple of pounds, and I'm really glad I bought it - you can't help being cheerful wearing a skirt like this :)

think the fabric is a cotton and linen blend. Anyway, it was easy to sew. I lined it because I find cotton A-line skirts wear very quickly without a lining. I used a pale green gauzy cotton that I bought to make shorts for my daughter, not realising it was both too crisp and too transparent! It makes an ideal lining for a summer skirt that will never be worn with tights (it doesn't need to be slippery). One thing I have discovered through sewing is that I am definitely a 'liner' rather than a slip wearer. Although I have a couple of half-waist slips I much prefer putting on one layer.

Here's the pattern, the 'other half' of my old denim skirt
followed all the directions this time and made no alterations, even to the length, apart from adding lining. Strangely, it turned out to be exactly the same length as my recently made red big pockets skirt (which I fiddled around with), out of the envelope. It's an easy pattern to sew, takes little fabric and I recommend it. 

I also made my first belt loops! Making belt loops is so satisfying - or that could just be me! My eldest daughter contributed an unwanted (by her) red belt to pick out the red top stitching.

First ever belt loops *proud*! One is imperfect, but I'm happy with my first try.

The skirt is really a case of heart over head as if my colour analyst saw this she would be shaking her head over her wasted time. I really do love my autumn palette, but right now I am drawn to bright colours. Maybe because it's summer? Anyway, I'll be pairing this with navy, red or black (which I can wear if I'm showing enough skin), and will try to resist the lure of those cool blues and greens.

Does the season influence your colour palette, or are you fabulously consistent?

Happy sewing, 'til next time!

Philippa x

Sunday, 20 July 2014

New Look 6470 Drape Neckline Tops

bought this pattern during the big trend for these necklines. I have seen some indie versions since, but before I started connecting with other sewers on the internet I didn't know about independent pattern designers. I have a lot of 'Big 4' patterns to use up but I am hoping to try out more indie designers as time goes by.

Anyhow, I made three of these. This seems to be an excellent number for basics, it's not as demanding on laundry efficiency as 'one on, one in the wash', especially when summer tops need washing after every wear.

I choose the style to cover my thick bra straps. (This is my main consideration when choosing summer vest tops.) I thought it would be quick to sew, but I had problems with fit due to my large bust and relatively narrow shoulders. It's not like this is news to me, I had already made a toile out of some non-precious jersey which fit beautifully. This was complete waste of time as two of my three tops were single knit (t-shirting) which behaved completely differently, i.e. has a lot less cling and recovery. 

My real top had underarm gape and the back neckline stood away. (This might be partly due to the very high back neckline for this style as well as my body shape.)

Googling revealed there is no one way to solve this problem. Here are the options as I understand them (my comments in italics):

1. Cut a smaller size and live with the negative ease - I'm not comfortable in very tight tops.

2. Cut a smaller size and do a FBA - this seems most obvious but I can't figure out how to do it on a knit. Would adding a little width to the front work, does anyone know?

3. Cut a smaller back and a large front - not sure about this as I experimented with this with a woven (here) and always wish I had done the FBA. Might work better on a knit?

4. Alter the armscye - this looked complex and would only solve one of the two issues.

5. Lift the shoulders and dart the back - back darts would look strange on a knit.

6. Lift the shoulders and lower the back neckline.

7. Lift the shoulders and create a CB seam which can then have excess taken out of it.

(6) seemed like the only option that wouldn't add darts or seams to the top, so that's the one I decided to go with, then I struggled with getting the tops of the straps aligned (having already top stitched the armholes in the round). Unpicking left a hole in one of the straps and at this point I nearly threw in the towel. Why don't I just go to the shops and buy my clothing like everybody else! (OK almost everybody else). 

Don't answer that....

It seemed such a waste to throw this top on the scrap pile so I have tried to fix it. Here is the finished article. 

Any sewer would know these bits at the top are a half arsed attempt to cover up a mistake, but would a non-sewer know?

I am fortunate to have two teenage daughters, who will generally give an honest and straightforward answer. They thought it was fine. In fact, I had to point out my shoulder amendment. So I will wear it and call it a 'design feature' (mentally, obviously, I won't be pointing it out to people!).

There follows not the most flattering set of photographs I have ever posted and I am making a funny face but hopefully they will give an idea of fit.

As you can see the underarms are still maybe a little low, having said this they cover all necessary when I am not holding my shoulders forward in that weird way. Also excuse wrinkles (in clothes!) had just returned from a cup of tea at the garden centre with my parents, this is what English people do when it's hot :))

For my next version I altered the pattern and remade the top in red. Still some of the back stood away. I was reluctant to make more pattern alterations because I liked the fit everywhere else.

By this point I became convinced I had either chosen the wrong fabric (although the pattern says pretty much any jersey), or was unknowingly stretching out the neckline as I sewed. Although I really wasn't. Honest.

The above are made from GOTS certified organic single cotton jersey from I think the fabrics are well priced and it's lovely to find a site that specialises in organic and fair trade fabrics with a decent amount of variety (there are some especially gorgeous wovens, too). I think they will be my suppliers of choice when second hand fabric isn't available. I was impressed enough to splash out on their sample box (this was some months ago, so it might look slightly different now):
It's an innocent pleasure, going through all the samples and imagining what you might sew. It's also a good way of avoiding nasty internet ordering surprises.
Finally, I made the top again in black. This time I stabilised the back neck with iron on tape to see if that helped then turned and sewed. I should mention I stabilised the shoulders too, although it wasn't mentioned in the instructions, because that's what sewers do.

I used the large top below (bought for £3.20 from the Red Cross shop) to get the fabric from. This was a money saving move. Fibre content is 95% viscose 5% elastane. 
It resulted in a much softer, drapier cowl and is probably the best looking and smartest of the three and the back neck fits better. If I made this again I would stabilise the back neck as a matter of course. The fabric was marginally harder to sew but not unbearably so as I now have stretch needles and they make a massive difference.

Embarrassing post-script:
I had written this and was just waiting for a free teenager to photograph the tops when I found out Kristin is making the same pattern, and Colette patterns have just released a dress with a drape neckline! So I'm reviewing my opening statement; this trend is hot right now!! If you want to see more trends before they happen, you know where to come :))

Happy sewing, 'til next time,

Philippa x