Thursday, 25 April 2013

Stuff I did when I wasn't here (with apologies for title nicked from The Bloggess)

While I've been cracking on with keeping the shelves filled at the Emporium, you may have noticed I've been a bit quiet recently (damn, I hear you cry, she's back). This is because I've been beavering away with various other creations in the meantime. So to prove I'm not lazy, here's what I've been up to...

This spring has been frock-coat-ageddon as I've been helping with costumes for various plays at my local haunt the South London Theatre. April saw my most ambitious task yet as I made a tail coat for the character of Branwell Brontë in Polly Teale's Brontë. It helped that a) the director of the play is an all-round sewing ninja herself and chose and cut the pattern, so all I had to do was fit it and sew it together, and b) the character in question was being played by Significant Otter himself, so I had a live-in model to stick with pins.

Still, it was pretty tricky considering I very rarely dabble in clothesmaking. Significant Otter is, basically, shaped like Johnny Bravo, which resulted in lots of extra fitting around the waist and some serious shoulderpad action up top. And I have resolved never to work with velvet again, mostly because of the quite ridonkulous amount of fluff and fuzz it created in my sewing machine, on the floor, in my hair and all over my pyjamas (yes, I sew in my jammies, what?). Turned out rather dashing in the end though, I think:

Picture by Philip Gammon. (NB this was part of the play, not an emergency onstage hem repair. Honest)

Buoyed by this, and while waiting for some fabric to arrive for some custom orders, I decided to have another crack at making something for myself. My sartorial leanings are eclectic but generally err towards the vintage. The problem with genuine vintage patterns, however, is that they can be fiendishly difficult to make and fit - something I don't have the time, patience, or dressmaking experience to be doing with. The joy of bags and purses, you see, is that they don't have to fit actual humans. Give me a complicated buckle fastening or a folded strap and I'm all over it, but ask me to grade a dress pattern and it's tantrums and tears before bedtime.

Enter my saviour: Eliza M ( The UK-based Eliza M creates patterns based on staple vintage styles that do away with all the complicated stuff and are simple enough for beginners and intermediate sewers to approach without fear.

This was my first experience with an Eliza M pattern but I will be buying many more - I really can't recommend her enough if you have vintage tastes but modern skills (i.e. you are not an actual sewing wizard like Anne on the Great British Sewing Bee. Incidentally, does anyone else think that 75 years of experience is basically cheating? She was like a sewing Yoda).

I chose the 'Pussy Galore Blouse' (stop sniggering at the back), and a cheap, £6.99 a metre cotton lawn from my local haberdashers in a cornflower blue with white swallows (or possibly ducks. or geese? pigeons, maybe).

The pattern itself comes in a clever A4 slip folder which means no more stuffing bits of tissue back into suddenly-too-small envelopes. I was immediately heartened by the final instruction:

Clearly, these are my kind of peoples.

The instructions are for the most part simple and clear, although I had a bit of an argument with the facing on the inside of the neck, which at one point turned into an Escher-like puzzle and I was in danger of creating the worlds first Mobius-blouse. However it resolved itself eventually and I came out the other end with an Actual Thing:

It's got arms and buttons and everything!

The fit is a tiny bit off, but that's more my own inexperience than anything, and I did mess up the collar a bit, but it doesn't show because of the whacking great bow at the front covering a multitude of sins.

All in all it took me a couple of evenings and not all that much swearing at all. I'm now mulling over which of the Eliza M trouser patterns to attempt to complete the outfit.

So if you've been scared off vintage dressmaking because you wouldn't know a princess seam or a pintuck if it smacked you in the face, fear not! Eliza M is there for you. Go for it, my sewing paduans!

In other news.....this is the fabric I was waiting for. Yup, they now make Star Trek fabric. Bow down in awe.

The middle one is currently available as a made-to-order phone cover , but if you have a burning desire for a Star Trek/Star Wars purse, Kindle cover, bag, teacosy (maybe not the teacosy), then head on over to and get in touch.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Massive Patriotic Stripey Crafting Insect

Not a sewing bee.
Hands up who watched the first episode of 'The Great British Sewing Bee' last night?

Keep your hands up if you started watching with the intention of going "pffft, I could do that". Quite a few of you? Yeah, me too.

Now keep your hands up if you still thought that after the first round of judging? Yeah. Not so tough now, are we?

The challenges sounded pretty simple - make an A-line skirt from a pattern, alter a neckline, fit a dress. But that was before the scariest HE teacher in the world (who looks like she might have swallowed a bee herself), and her sharp suited friend stepped in with their eyes for microscopic detail. Those poor contestants are going to be having nightmares about slightly puckered zips and unbalanced hems for years. I'd have run away, crying, trailing bias tape in my wake within the first half hour.
Also not a sewing bee.

But let's not be downhearted, fellow sewists. Because we all know that what the GBSB contestants face is not a patch on the challenges we face every day of our crafting lives. In order to really give them a fair test of what the real-life home sewist has to cope with, I think they should add the following tasks:

The All-Nighter
Contestants must create a school nativity costume/theatrical prop/fancy dress outfit/party dress from only items they can find in their own house. The challenge will be presented to them at 8.45pm the night before the item is due to be needed. Extra points awarded for sewing quietly and not waking up the house.

Speed Unpicking
Contestants must race to unpick a sleeve from a garment which has been put in upside down. Extra points given for creativity of swearing.

Pin Management
Contestants must tip a box of pins on the floor and attempt to collect every single one within a two minute time limit (the maximum amount of time one realistically has before a barefoot child/spouse/family pet comes in and treads on them all).

Bumblebee does not sew.
Additional Rules

  • For maximum realism, contestants are allowed a constant supply of tea (however, any contestant seen finishing a cup, rather than letting half of it go cold, will be disqualified). For the All Nighter challenge, wine may be substituted for tea.
  • At irregular intervals, several cats will be released into the studio to walk all over the tables and sit on the ironing boards. 
  • And, most importantly, no matter how tight the deadline, contestants must spend at least twenty minutes of every hour procrastinating on Facebook and/or making toast.

 Yeah. That's more like it.