Friday, February 11, 2011

My blog has moved.

Blogspot is driving me round the twist, so I moved to Wordpress which I like much better. My new blog, also Tropical Threads, which follows on from this one, can be found here. I have moved a few posts over, particularly the ones about the Swing Era dress, for continuity, and will continue posting there instead of here, from now on.

Thank you to everyone who has been following my blog so far! I would love it if you all came over and followed along at the new blog.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fabric acquisition

Here are some of the gorgeous fabrics I have been buying up big in lately. Should see me through for ooh, say the next few months!
Stocking up on basics: these two photos are of fabrics I bought in the after-xmass sales. They are all 'ribstop' cottons except for the black (far left), which is a soft fall linen-cotton mix. Having worked with ribstop before, I love it. Hard-wearing, reasonably crease-resistant, yet light, and fairly cool to wear.

These three gorgeous fabrics are my christmas present from my mother. 1.2 m each (enough for a blouse or skirt) of these three craft cottons from the wonderful Dragonfly Fabrics.

More after-xmass sale fabrics. Left: The two stripes (the pink is barely in the picture, bottom-middle) have the stretch running opposite to each other. The pink has horizontal stripes, the mint has vertical. The plain pink is 'seaspray' cotton-lycra. I love seaspray - heavy t-shirt weight, has a high sun protection factor, and wears well, so when I see it on special in a nice colour I nab some. The apricot is a gorgeous soft rayon-lycra knit. Mmmm!
Right: the label said this was 'seaspray' cotton-lycra, but it is a lot softer than the usual seaspray stuff. Hmm.... Anyway, I bought this today because I realised if I only got ooooh, say, another 40cm of another colour, combined with the leftovers of my warm pyjamas ('seaspray' in lemony-lime) I could have even more fun mixing and matching up knits in t-shirts than I have done so far (having cut a few of them out already).

More of today's acquisitions: Left, a soft cotton called 'bridie', in turquoise. Centre and right are cotton-lycra poplins. (The colour on the right is lilac. My camera couldn't handle the purple sadly).

Last but not least, my mother bought this for herself. A lovely soft cotton, a beautiful mix of colours from the distance (suits her perfectly!) and close up you see the gorgeous pattern (Can I fit any more superlatives into that sentence???)

Another RTW skirt copy

I could get some piccies taken, of the clothes I have sewn over the holiday season. Finally! [inserts long boring technical explanation on why I can't get decent pictures of clothes when it is raining all day every day]*

This one is based on a Glassons skirt, via the local op-shop, and, like the skirt in a previous post, was also a size 8, hired for $4 for the year or so it took me to recover my health. I did this version in a grey cotton-lycra poplin, one of my favourite kind of fabrics.

The original was a dark blue denim skirt which sadly I don't have a picture of. I had thought the heavy denim would make it too hot to wear but the slide-slits worked magic. (It was bizarrely good for practising archery in - easy to move in because of the side-slits, the straight pattern meant no excess fussy fabric, and denim, so I discovered, doesn't pick up grass seeds easily.) (And it has been too wet to try my new version out yet.)

I didn't actually take a copy of the skirt, as it was a simple straight skirt with slanting patch pockets and orange top-stitching. I did what I have done on a number of other occasions and worked directly with the fabric
1) I measured my hip-width front and back (because my quadriceps are big so doing a separate measurement for front and back creates a much better fit), then baste them together for ease of handling.
2) Put the skirt on and pin out darts, and shape the side seams
3) baste the darts and side-seam, try on, refine fit.

This way of creating a straight skirt has worked in the past to create a gorgeous-fitting skirt. Sadly, I don't think this fabric showcases it all that well - I think the fabric is a tad too light for the style of skirt, so it doesn't hang as well as the original did. But that is a fabric issue, not a fitting one.

4) Make pockets - I did this working from memory, and 'eyeballed' it till the looked the right size, with the right angled slant. I tried the skirt with the pockets basted on to make sure the line looked good across the hip. I do think a diagonal line in that area is a flattering addition to a straight skirt.
5) constructed skirt
6) consulted with my Sewing Buddy (aka my mum) about adding an emellished edging and decided it would look good.
7) Embellish in black rayon thread with the satin-stitch diamonds.
8) Model finished product, and conclude the embellishment was the perfect finishing touch, adding a definition the skirt lacked until then.

Although I love the results of fitting the skirt entirely on me from the start, since I see a few more straight skirts in my future, I am wondering if taking a bit of time to draft up a skirt pattern following this tutorial from BurdaStyle would make as nice a skirt with less fiddling round. But, what with planning to do the swing dress sewalong, and my work jacket needing mending, pattern drafting can wait.

*A note for the curious: In case you have (like my sister in London(!)) heard reports of "fierce storms" in Darwin and thought we were in danger of drowning like the rest of Aust, let me assure you it's okay. It is NORMAL for us to have fierce storms at this time of year. We are right in the middle of the wet season, we get weather like this every year, and everything is set up to cope with it. Worry about the rest of the country drowning, not us!
(If we get a category 3 or above cyclone bearing down on us, then worry about us. Meep)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Swing era sew-along, and other pattern delights

Last night I bought my first e-pattern - Sense and sensibility's "swing dress" Never being one to do things by halves, I bought a few BurdaStyle e-patterns. Going back to Sense and Sensibility this morning to check on fabric types, I discovered there is a sew-along on this very pattern, happening at this very moment, and is up to about the muslin/fitting stage. I have never done a sew-along before (I figure the stuff I did in Home Ec at school doesn't count) and am gonna give it a go. Could be a lot of fun! At the very least I may get my dress done sooner than I possibly would have otherwise.

The BurdaStyle part of my shopping expedition started with these gorgeous-looking wide-legged trousers in "half-sizes" ie petites, drafted for women 5ft 3" which I happen to be - plus another half-inch that must not be forgotten, that takes me to 5 ft 3-and-a-half inches. (I reckon the extra half-inch is my curly hair so it shouldn't affect the trouser pattern too much!)

I have been wanting to make a dress in a similar style to this one here. 
This Burda pattern is the closest I could find (I am not too fussed on having a collar).
In thin white fabric, with a scarf and loose hair to tangle in the sea breeze along the seashore, as the pattern photo shows, doesn't strike me as much to write home about (I prefer bathers or board-shorts on the beach!) but the one below, one of Burdastyle's members, is pretty much exactly what I want - but maybe in a soft blue instead?
And last but not least, I bought this just because I couldn't resist the pretty dress. Oh dear.

However, I realise I have in my stash a potential fabric. This cotton-lycra woven sateen.

The flowers are quite large, but with judicious placing of pattern on print, and application of lace and trim, maybe it would work...?

Having thus inspired myself, I am now going to sew.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sewing the history of my life - Brisbane

I wrote this the evening Brisbane was slowly disappearing underwater, but didn't post it, feeling it a bit self-indulgent. But Alex read it and thought it was interesting to see how my dressmaking is an integral part of my personal history. So I figure there is really no harm in posting it, now it is written...

My 22nd year was spent in Brisbane. I lived in Auchenflower and later Toowong, worked in Taringa, shopped in Indooroopilly (Ah, Sckafs, the wonderous Sckafs!). The scars of the 1974 floods were everywhere if you knew what you were seeing. I reckon at least one of the houses I lived in would be underwater today.

All the images, all the names, all the streets and suburbs splashed all over the news has brought memories of my time in Brisbane back so sharply. (I confess, there have been tears).
I was ill, able to work only a few hours a week, and very poor. I had no sewing machine, my wardrobe made up of the few summer clothes I had brought back from Auckland, padded out with the odd op-shop find. Then I got a new flatmate whose prized possession was her grandmother's sewing machine inherited upon her death a year previously. It was one of those old, sturdy workhorses that will still be going when me and my old flatmate are grandmothers ourselves.

With incredibly generousity she let me use it. Suddenly my wardrobe was on the up. That is what I remember of Brisbane! The clothes I sewed. Sadly I have no pictures of them, too poor to take many photos, and the few I have I was wearing op-shop clothes.

But I remember still:
A lovely georgette-with-cotton-lining shirtwaist dress in grey with soft pink flowers, pattern from New Look, fabric from Lincraft.
I had long admired the short-sleeved business suits the girls on the train would wear in summer on their way to work in the CBD. No way I could afford an rtw suit, but with my hands on that sewing machine, a trouser suit in sage green summerweight wool from a clearance fabric store upstairs in Towoong village soon became my prized wardrobe possession. I might have been only working a few hours a week but oh did my 22 yr old self feel so grown up and sophisticated running up and down those stairs at Auchenflower train station!
A few oddly shaped and sewn T-shirts - my first fumbling steps at sewing knits.

One dress needs a special mention. I became very good friends with a woman who lived in Warwick. One visit to her, I found in the local shopping centre, a straight dress of very simple line in white rayon with sprays of purple flowers scattered upon it. (We had a bit of a giggle about going from Brisbane to Warwick to buy clothes - and fabric! The local fabric shop there had some sandwashed silk for $7pm. I bought up big, and still have some of it awaiting the Perfect Pattern.)

Back home in Darwin the next year, (coz you can take the girl out of the Territory but I discovered I couldn't take the Territory out of the girl...) I was able to use mum's machine again, the same one I had learnt on when a kid, as familiar to me as the back of my hand. I needed that machine! My health improving I was starting to be a more healthy weight, growing out of my Queensland clothes, including what had become known as "my Warwick dress". So I simply traced the pattern off it, added a bit at the seams, and made another dress. Then when that wore out, I made another... and another. All 'Warwick dresses'

Years later, my Warwick friend had moved to Brisbane... Lincraft! Need I say more? I couldn't wait till I got home to Darwin to start sewing the gorgeous fabrics I found there. Fortunately I had had the foresight to bring a few patterns with me. The advent of a digital camera in my life means from this time on, I have a lot more photos of me and my clothes.

Blue rayon dress from a vintage pattern from an op-shop in Auckland,, fabric from Lincraft, Carindale QLD.
The grey skirt I made in Brisbane 8 yrs ago (self-drafted pattern) and still wear on my travels south, (Photo taken this Nov in outback Vic.) Fabric from Lincraft, Carindale QLD.
My "poppy dress" from a Burda pattern, fabric from the stash of my friend in Brisbane.

There, in the livingroom of my friend's house, as I crawled about her floor, cutting out the clothes, and sewing on her sturdy old machine, one of the most rewarding things in my entire sewing career happened. My friends daughter, then 15, and already a 'hard core' punk rocker girl (stunning voice! brilliant guitarist) in an up and coming band. Part of her integral Look were op-shop clothes reworked creatively, cut to shape and held together with safety pins. (They were very poor, op-shop clothes were all they could afford. Fortunately punk, springing originally from such poverty or worse, lent itself well to her clothing approach.)
Her mother and I had presumed the safety pins were all part of The Look. Turns out, no, she just didn't know how to sew the new improved-shape seams together again. One afternoon, she brought out a pair of old-man trousers cut down to fit her stunning svelt figure, the sides of the legs held together with safety pins. Sadly the edges were fraying and the pins ripping out.
"Can you help me fix this?"
I could indeed. I ended up teaching her the technical basics of sewing, and spent the next few weeks watching her take what I had taught her and run with it, creating (Or saving one she had made already) garment after garment. Creative, funky, totally unique, thrifty, and completely in harmony with her dynamic personality. I learnt so much from her, as she did from me. Soooo rewarding for us both.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My "Portmans Skirt" - pattern drafted from a Portmans Skirt op shop find

A few years ago as a result of severe illness I lost a lot of weight. Scary (honestly). Too ill to make some new clothes that weren't falling off me, I went op-shopping. Just for the record, the best sizes to be when it comes to clothing availability and variety at op-shops, are 12-14. Size 8 (as I was) is reeeelly reeelly hard to get decent stuff in, 10 is better but nowhere near as good as 12 or 14. (Friend of larger sizes than those tend to have less luck at op-shops too) One of the few skirts I found was a gorgeous little Portmans number, brown with a very subtle pinstripe, cut on the bias, asymmetrical hemline. Perfect. 

When I recovered somewhat and went back to a more normal weight, it got too small for me. A very sad realisation (even though I was glad to be so much healthier!) But... I had a brainwave! I copied it and enlarged the pattern to fit me now, before I sent it back to the local op-shop (I guess I sort of hired the skirt - $4 for a year, not a bad hire rate at all!)

I soon found the perfect fabric on special at Spotlight - a natural but unknown fibre (likely linen cotton mix) in a purplish brown just begging to be made into the Portmans Skirt. Here it is! 

Not sure how easy it is to see but there is a diagonal seam running from the top of my thigh on the right of the picture, down to the mid-hem on the left.
It is a very simple style, two pieces front and back, both the same size and shape but the asymmetrical hemline minimises any potential odd look from it sitting differently front to back. The top piece is on the true bias, the bottom one almost on the straight grain, the different grainlines working together to create a lovely fall to the skirt. The original skirt had a faced waistband (I didn't bother with that, simply stay-stitching the top of the skirt to stabilise it, then folding the top of the skirt down in a narrow hem. Because it sits on the hips and is bias, it has very little shaping along the top so this worked fine.)

This diamond stitch is one of the very few decorative stitches on my beloved but very utilitarian sewing machine. I embroidered along the diagonal seam to give it a subtle highlight (Normal polyester sewing cotton. I know very little about embroidery, machine or otherwise so I just pretended I knew what I was doing and gave it a go. I am pleased with the results)

A postscript to this skirt: not long after I made it, the colour started fading fast. I was pretty upset. The colour is one of the things I adore about it. One of those garments that is a great fusion of colour, style and fabric. And the colour was going! Wagh!
I was doing some dying of dark purple a few months later, and threw this skirt in as well. It didn't change the colour much, happily, but evened out the fading, and hopefully made the original colour more colourfast as well. However when I saw some more of the same fabric on sale at Spotlight after christmas this year I didn't grab any more, too unhappy with the fading to waste either sewing a garment that doesn't last, or have to fiddle around redying it.

Cost: Fabric $6, cotton $2.80 zip $1, redye a portion of $14, pattern $0 = approx $14
RTW price equivalent (from Portmans website) $80
Time guestimate* Pattern drafting 1 hr, cutting and sewing 4 hrs

*It is only ever a guess because I usually sew in little bits and pieces amongst all my other daily life.

Cost analysis of sewing my own clothes

I freely admit, I am getting the heebyjeebies about spending extravagantly on sewing. I have spent $300+ on it in the past month (holiday sewing spree!) Don't get me wrong, I am sure I will eventually use the vast majority of my purchases this year. After all, in addition to sewing up some of the new fabric these holidays I am also sewing up some fabrics that have been in my stash over 5 yrs.

But it set me to thinking - mum taught herself to sew when she was at Uni, as a cost-saving measure. She sewed a lot of us kids' clothes when we were young, and most of her own ever since, for much the same reason (Though now I honestly think it is more force of habit, helped along by not much availability of flattering plus-sized clothes that are suitable for this climate, that has her sew these days.) I have always had such a large component of clothes sewn by me, or op-shop clothes in my wardrobe, I barely know what it would cost to dress myself if I relied mostly on RTW clothes like so many people do.

Out of curiousity (er, well, ok, as a hopeful sop to my heebyjeebied money conscience!) I have tried to do a cost comparison. I have two stumbling points. One, how do you compute the cost of a pattern? Do you count it the first time you use it, then never again? Do you divide it by how many times you have used it? (What about when you use the sleeves of one pattern or the neckline of another used as a pattern adjustment to another pattern?)
And second, I simply don't really know how much I would spend if I was buying mainly RTW. Would I buy at K-Mart and Big W? Or Portmans and Witchery? Or a bit of both? And how much would it add up to anyway?

As I go on from here I am going to do my best to add up the cost of my garmets, and see if I can do some sort of comparison.