Sunday, 20 December 2015

A yukata story

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I used to live in Japan, which was a mixture of cultural clashes, emotional roller coasters and adventures. Since moving back to Europe two years ago, I have been trying to return to Japan every year, because there is a piece of Japan, which is calling me back to the country of the rising sun.

My latest trip in October was quite eventful, starting with an amazing meet-up with some of the Japanese based seamstresses, Novita, Chie and Yoshimi. I was so grateful that they found the time to travel from afar to have this dinner with me. It goes without saying that we talked a lot about sewing, blogging, life. We also drank more than a few margaritas :)

Towards the middle of my trip I went to Kyoto, where I was lucky enough to meet with Morgan, who happened to be staying in the old capital at the same time as me!  It was lovely to meet her, given that I’ve been admiring her style and skills for a while. Have you seen the wedding dress she sewed for her sister? We spent the entire afternoon roaming around fabric and craft shops, and as much as I was tempted to buy fabric (I was even carrying a cut of ivory brocade during the whole time we spent in one particular fabric shop), I decided not to buy it.

During my last day in Japan, I met with a longtime Japanese friend, Chie, who is not only another sewing enthusiast, but also a hoarder collector of Japanese traditional fabrics. She confessed to having all of her closets full of cotton, woolen and silk fabric rolls. Although, I’ve never seen it myself, I believe she was telling me the truth. What I could not believe, however, was that Chie was kind enough to give me one of the fabrics from her stash!

The fabric I received is yukata fabric. Now, I don’t know much about dyeing, but I am intrigued about the method used to dye this fabric. If you know what this method is called or how it is done, don’t hesitate to share this in a comment below. As you can see, the white of the original fabric remains intact, but the other colours have been layered out one after another. Most of the traditional Japanese fabrics, especially the ones for yukata and kimono, come in a 36 cm wide and 12 metres long roll. When I saw this roll, I could not believe, that my friend was able to part with such a precious textile. She only laughed and asked me to promise her that I would use it as soon as possible, which has proven not to be so difficult.

A few words about yukatas. A yukata is a lightweight cotton robe, which people wear after a bath or during hot summer days in Japan. Yukatas are often mistaken for kimonos by foreigners, because the shape looks quite similar. If you stay at a traditional Japanese inn, a ryokan, you end up wearing a yukata all the time. Also, people wear yukatas during summer festivals, matsuri. You can so easily buy a yukata in Japan! Even UNIQLO sells them! If you go to their shops from in early May, you’ll see a special yukata section.

I had intended to make a yukata to wear at home in Ireland, which might make me feel like I am in Japan. I thought about making it knee-length, so it would be more suitable for the everyday wear, without dragging the bottom on the floor. And so I did. Prior to using this pattern to sew my yukata, I coveted an idea, which was to make the pattern from scratch. Chie, who gave me the fabric, sent me a link to a site, where you can find very detailed explanations on how to measure, cut and sew a yukata. Step #7 even contains an Excel document with formulas, so you don’t need to calculate everything yourself, but only need to enter your measurements!

Needless to say that the actual sewing was straightforward in all senses: almost all yukata pieces are rectangular. My flatmate was very impressed with it, and said that it looked like a store-bought garment. Now, when I’ve finished one yukata, I’d love to make more. This is such a simple project and a great present. Who would not like to wear a “kimono” to lounge at home? I am not sure I’ll have enough time to make everybody a Christmas yukata, but this is definitely something I’ll give as a birthday present to a friend.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Ivy Dress or the First World problem

If you follow me on Instagram, you are probably aware of my mini speed sewing drama, which turned out rather well: I made a dress for more or less 10 hours.

Two weeks ago, out of the blue, I decided to make a dress on the evening, preceding a business trip. When I came home from work that day, I realized that I have, ‘obviously’, nothing to wear and I desperately needed to make this Ivy Dress from the winter issue of La Maison Victor. I knew that I would never finish the dress before my flight, but I was determined to, at least, make a muslin. In any case, this dress has only four seams, so making a muslin would not take me tons of time. When I looked in a mirror, wearing the first muslin version, I immediately loved the nice opening on the back and elegant design lines, and my determination to finish the dress increased. Since the fabric for the first muslin was stiff, the dress did not look super flattering on me: you can clearly see this from this picture. Besides that, you have probably noticed multiple wrinkles around the armscyes. The fabric for the second toile was a remaining piece of lightweight muslin and, after all the necessary alterations were made, looked much nicer.
Muslin #1
Muslin #2
Once I finished with the adjustments on the second muslin and transferred them into the paper pattern, I hurried to check my stash and picked a piece of charcoal velvet, which I bought  last year in London, in one of the shops on Goldhawk Road. I have been keeping this fabric to make a pair of trousers. Sorry trousers. ..

Muslin and patternmaking aside, the sewing part turned out to be the most challenging, because

  1. The velvet is quite tricky, when it comes to cutting and sewing, especially, if it’s  silk velvet.
  2. My walking foot broke a few weeks ago, when I was finishing the belt of my latest coat. The fabric, folded in three, was too thick for my poor walking foot to handle.

You can imagine me, desperate to make the dress, half-way through the process, with my flight leaving within 18 hours, still not packed. Mess and distress! I threw opened the balcony door, took a few deep breaths of the chilly night air, and began to calm down. I decided that it would not be the end of the world if I could not finish the dress, I would wear something else or put the dress on with unfinished edges.

To sew the dress together, I used nylon thread, which is the best for knits or any stretch fabric. First, I serged all the edges, to stop them from unraveling and make them look ‘nice’ in case I would not have time to finish all seams. Then, I sewed in organza stays to the neckline and shoulder seams, to prevent the fabric from stretching in these areas. After that, I sewed the shoulder and side seams together and attached the hook. Bingo! A this stage, I would be able to wear the dress! To finish the neckline, I folded the fabric under the wrong side twice, 0.5cm each time. Because my velvet was extremely slippery, I did not trust the pins: I basted each fold by hand, before securing them with the sewing machine. To finish the armscyes, I attached some fuschia bias tape, so it would play a role of a stay and an adornment, in case somebody would peeck inside my armpits ;)

All the processes outlined above, minus adding the bias tape to the armscyes, took me 6.5 hours, from 18:00 until 00:30. I had to wait until the next morning to finish the armholes and hem the dress, and I was in such a hurry, that I messed up and re-stitched the hem three times. You can clearly see that it is super wonky, uneven and uncool, but nobody noticed!

A conclusion of this story: we can do amazing things when under pressure. We think and act quicker, more structured even. In all honesty, I am not sure this dress could look better,  if I had had more time to sew it. Well, maybe the hem. Nevertheless, I will try to avoid similar situations in the future.

And now, that I’ve got a bit of a taste for velvet, I am working on another velvet outfit for a corporate Christmas party! Stay tuned!  

Sunday, 22 November 2015

A Floor-Duster wrap coat or a Windling's coat :)

In one of my posts, I talked about trends and how long it tends to take me to adopt one. This year, though, one of the hot trends has coincided with a hot dream of mine: a floor-duster wrap coat. Since my late teens, I have been dreaming about a long, almost floor-length, wrap coat, which would envelope me like a cocoon. No fasteners, no buttons, just an oversized coat with a belt. Oh, and a pair of pockets! Is there anything better than feeling comfortable and warm on a cold day? Maybe the addition of a cup of hot chocolate/tea/coffee/whiskey/Bloody Mary (replace with your favourite drink)

Last year, when I lived in London, during one of my raids of the Berwick street’s fabric shops, I saw a bolt of double side wool, which completely blew my mind. The right side contained fibres some of which were only partly woven into the fabric, and they created a super cool and edgy look. The other side was absolutely smooth and I loved the proper look of it, compared to the crazy right side. The moment I saw the fabric, my imagination had pictured the wrap coat of my dreams. Unfortunately,  the coat did not happen immediately after the purchase, because I moved to Ireland, and then many things happened, and then the fabric ended up somewhere in the middle of my gargantuan stash. This fabric was re-discovered during my move to a new apartment and I decided to use it as soon as an opportunity presented itself.

I am using the pattern from the January BurdaStyle issue. Although it is featured as a long coat with contrast binding, I omitted the binding, lengthened the coat by as much as my fabric allowance let me. Reading the pattern reviews, I knew that it included huge seam allowances, but I wanted to keep it oversized, as a fashion statement. So I cut a size 38 without adding seam allowances(don’t forget that Burda patterns do not include them). I did not want to add any lining. As simple as that.

One thing, which surprised me was a very high vent placement, but the realization why it was so came only after I cut and basted the coat together. With the end of autumn and its crispy mornings, I find this coat cozy, even though it's not tailored, and makes me look like a wildling. The trends may come and go, but this coat will remain with me for a while.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

In love with the Lola dress

It took me a few years to get a hold of this pattern, a few months to get the right fabric, a couple of evenings to sew it, but only a moment to fall in love with the Lola dress. It’s like a long awaited baby, or rather, an overdue one, because it seems like every single seamstress has already made at least one!

When Irish mornings started becoming colder and crisper, I began to create my winter sewing list. Which garment would fill a gap in my wardrobe, where I did not see any apparent gaps? A sweater dress, said an inner voice from somewhere deep inside me. Immediately, two patterns came to my mind: the Jasper sweater and the Lola dress. The former has been saved for November, when I’ll need to protect my neck from the wind, but the latter was printed and assembled on the same day.

Even though, I bought the pattern a while ago, I refused to make it using regular knit fabric: my imagination pictured an unusual fabric in order for this dress to stand out. I spotted the perfect fabric in one of the amazing shops in Paris, during a sewing meet up with Kirsty, Jo, Lisa and Ninie last January. The shop owner described it as cotton with some stretch; no more, no less. From the right side, this fabric is industrially pressed so that it creates a honeycomb/smoked effect, which made it particularly attractive.

There are so many people who have reviewed this pattern, that I knew the exact alterations I had to make before even cutting the pattern. I ended up sewing a size 4, taking some fabric from the back princess seams and increasing the armscye circumference by 1 cm, which I think I will enlarge by one more centimetre for my next Lola. I was aware that the dress would require some lengthening, but I did not have enough fabric; therefore it’s a mini dress. Since I did not have any ribbing, I decided to skip the neckline hemming, but when I posted a picture of it on Instagram, gaping horribly, the sewcialist community disapproved. Using the leftover scraps from the fabric, I made a neckline binding, which created a lovelier finish to the dress. I also decided to leave a rib knit hem out, keeping the skirt bell shaped, thus easy for cycling.

Like everybody who has ever expressed their opinion about this dress online, I would recommend you get the pattern straight away! It’s comfortable, practical, versatile and amazingly simple (in a good way)! I have never received so many compliments on a handmade garment, like I’ve got for  the Lola dress has. Many girls in the office asked whether I bought it at COS :) Needless to say, this is my most praised and loved garment and a new TNT (Tried and True pattern).

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Burda Style maxi dress and lots of slits

This story goes back in February, when I was choosing a dress pattern for the wedding I attended in Nice last summer. I wanted to invest more time than usual in this garment by using fancy techniques and hand-stitching, therefore it had to be a perfect pattern. I asked my blog readers to share their views on the selection of patterns I envisaged using for the occasion, and, as a result, my choice fell on the Ralph Pink cut-out dress. Alas, this dress has not happened, and here’s why!

Since February, I’ve been distracted by many side projects, and as a result, the dress pattern sat on my shelf until the end of April. When I finally started working on the dress and began putting the muslin together, I realized that certain pattern pieces did not match! I measured and re-measured each pattern piece, but it was quite a big difference (like a few centimetres) between some pattern parts. Panic! Even though I had considered other patterns, the Ralph Pink dress had grown so much on me, that I could not imagine working with any of those other patterns. Disaster! There was no plan B!  Until one evening, I piled up all my patterns and sewing magazines, opened a bottle a Irish red ale and started the pursuit of an emergency dress solution. Guess what? The beer helped and I ended up sewing this maxi dress.

Now, a bit more about the new dress. I chose this patterns for multiple reasons. First of all, the wedding took part in Nice and I knew it would be hot, so if possible the dress had to provide some ventilation. Secondly, I only had a few weeks to work on it. As a compromise to the first dress, the new one had to be relatively easy and quick to sew. This pattern is quite floaty; it features a cut-out on neckline and two side slits. To make it even more airy, I used silk chiffon, which I bought in India a few years ago, for both the dress and lining. I have not used it before just because I had no idea what to make from it, and this dress for a formal occasion was a perfect project!

The actual sewing process was not too complicated. All I needed was a microtex needle and some #60 thread. I cut the pattern in a size 38 without adding seam allowances. First, I basted the main fabric to the lining in order to treat them as one later. I applied a French seam to the neckline and armholes to give it a neat look, then, I serged side seams, preventing them from fraying. Lastly, I applied the rolled hem to all the raw edges. And the outcome? The dress looks good!

I am not mad about this dress, but it’s good enough to grab last minute if there’s nothing else to wear. The fabric does not wrinkle, which is even better for all types of emergency situation! And the fabric makes this dress stand out.

A lesson learnt from this incident is to always have a backup solution, especially if you are working on a piece for a special occasion. In general, I don’t panic about such things such as a dress for a wedding, but because I had cherished the idea of the Ralph Pink dress for so long, not being able to bring this project to life completely defeated me.

Another lesson to take from this story - when in doubt/trouble/panic, a glass of something stronger than tea can alleviate the spirit and point your senses into the right direction. I am sure you have a similar story or two to share. Don’t be shy!  

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Some reflection on owning stuff, a new pair of fluffy jeans & a skirt

A few weeks ago I moved apartments. As with each move (over the last five years I have moved 6 times, including three countries), I start getting rid of things and making good resolutions for not keeping or buying unnecessary ones. With each move I discard many things. Although, I don’t consider myself a shopaholic or a hoarder, somehow, I manage to accumulate certain amount of stuff. In most cases, it’s books, craft-related items, such as patterns, magazines and fabric (oh man, tons of it), but I have also noticed that my wardrobe is getting fuller and fuller. Even though, I sew quite slowly, approximately 1.5 garments per month, I still feel that I own much more than I need. Having sewing as a hobby is so liberating and fulfilling, but can also become troublesome and even enslaving, in a way.

Although, I feel extremely happy that I have the opportunity to master certain crafts and to be able to explore my creativity, something inside me says that I should put a limit on it. How many skirts do I need? How many coats? Even though the time I spend in my sewing corner brings me a lot of satisfaction, I do torture myself for owning so much stuff! Maybe, because during the move I saw how much space all my possessions took? Maybe, because I feel so appalled and concerned by the current refugee crisis? Maybe, because I am sick of being part of our consumerist society? Or, all of these reasons put together?

This change of opinion on the state of things does not stop me from sewing, though. Instead, I am trying to do my best to be more mindful when sewing or crafting. Still, one thing is to decide on something, it is another story completely to make it happen. I don’t think that I will change my habits and desires overnight; however, I expect to feel the impact of the above thoughts with time.

Having said all that, I made a pair of jeans! I had seven pairs, three of which I donated, but, as I was packing my fabric before the move, I found a very cool cut of denim, purchased in Tokyo two years ago. Nuno, the shop where I bought the fabric, is famous for their experimental textiles; you can read more about it in this post. After regularly visiting the shop, I wanted to own a piece of fabric from them, something special, yet affordable. The price tag for cottons, for instance, started from 30EUR/metre. Ouch! So, I saw this fluffy denim, which would be perfect for a cropped jacket and a pair of jeans. Or, at least, that’s what I thought at the time. As I did not need another jacket, a choice of the second garment was not too difficult: a skirt!

Due to my KnipMode fever, the choice of pattern was obvious. I was immediately drawn to a special trousers issue, featuring more than 20 different designs. To showcase the crazy fabric, I went with the simplest design: boyfriend jeans. Armed with knowledge from my previous experience with a KnipMode pattern, I cut the pattern in a size 36. Making a muslin helped me adjust the crotch area and the waistband, but I found the trousers’ leg-length too long for my height (177cm-tall).

The skirt was drafted, using my basic sloper. The remaining denim fabric was enough to make an A-line shaped skirt, but not enough to add pockets. There is not much to say about the skirt other than it’s very comfortable and bike-friendly.

Now, with two new garments in my wardrobe and a few more planned for autumn, I am thinking: is it really worth spending time and fabric on more garments?

Dear readers, I am really at a crossroads: while one part of me strives for a less wasteful and minimalistic  life-style, the other part keeps on seeking the pleasure I get from making clothes.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Sparkly bomber jacket

The reason why I don’t follow fashion trends is that quite often I feel that there is nothing in them for me, that they don’t suit my personality. To make a trend my own, it has to fit with my style and appeal to me. On several occasions, I have followed a trend, but most of the times post factum. This is what happened with this bomber jacket.

Since last year, my lifestyle has drastically changed: instead of going everywhere by public transport, I cycle. The only place I go by bus is the airport :) Before that, when I lived in Tokyo, I wore anything from mini to maxi skirts, from wide-legged trousers to skinny jeans, to shorts, to extravagant dresses, you name it! Living in a place with different climate and adopting a new lifestyle meant that I also needed to adapt my wardrobe to these changes, more precisely, to be more bike-friendly and weather appropriate. In Ireland, it may rain in the morning, be windy in the afternoon and sunny and mild in the evening. The order may change as well, so you need to layer. Many Dublin cyclists wear special cycling gear, or dress very sporty, but I decided to avoid it. I wanted to keep my wardrobe very practical yet feminine and fashionable. I have two perfect pieces for the late autumn/winter/early spring weather, my Andy coat and a ready-to-wear winter raincoat, but when it comes to warmer periods of the year, I have no choice, but to boast two sporty-looking coats. And so, when I saw the bomber jacket pattern from the Burda Style magazine, I knew I wanted to make one!

My all time favourite the Jamie Jeans by Named Patterns 

OK, I tried to make a picture Amanda style, and failed

Once I was sure about the pattern, coming up with the fabric was a piece of cake! I used the remnants of the Crinkled Copper metallic fabric, purchased from the Tessuti Fabrics online shop a while ago. Last year, I made a skirt from the same fabric, and now I have successfully added the jacket! Matchy-matchy! I cut the jacket in a size 38 without making any alterations. The ribbing was bought from a French online shop Ma Petite Mercerie, and for the lining I used the remaining silk voile.

My little creative crew recently came back from holidays, and last weekend we got together again for yet another photo session, this time in a studio. Personally, I prefer taking pictures outdoors, but with the Irish weather being a bit wild for the last couple of weeks, I was happy to be photographed inside. Our goal was to revive the crazy 90’s, and I think we succeeded! Although I am not 100% sure that this shape suits me, it’s super practical and I have already worn it a few times.

Now, back to trends! From the 2015 Autumn trends there are a few which interest me a lot: the Floor-Duster coat, the Eastern Influence and the Velvet Underground. I’ve been in love with the Ingrid Coat by Style Arc for a while, but never had time to make it, and since I completed  my tailoring course not so long ago, I am itching to try my new skills. As a fan of Wong Kar Wai movies, I’ve always wanted to wear a quipao and now I have all the necessary elements to succeed: a pattern and fabric. As for the Velvet Underground, I plan to sew a pair of the foldover-front velvet trousers from a KnipMode pattern, as well as a velvet top. These are my sewing plans for this autumn.

How do you feel about these fashion trends? Is there anything you would consider sewing for yourself?