Saturday, 17 December 2016

Cotton, natural and infinately flexible

Cotton is a plant based natural fibre, it comes from the fluff that protects the cotton seed which forms part of the ‘boll’ (the fluffy white seed head that includes the seeds, fluff and casing).  Cotton has been grown to make clothes for at least 7,000 years and has been recorded in the art of Egypt, India and throughout Asia, an intriguing perspective that includes creation myths in India are on the Handy EyeMagazine website.

The vast majority of the cotton used in clothing all over the world is grown in North America and is a cultivar that is a cross of the cotton plants native to the Americas and from the Middle East. Unfortunately the American cotton growing industry was expanded largely on the back of the slave industry during the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries so it has rather a chequered history, it is like most industries now highly automated. A good guide to production in America is on the Cotton Counts website.

While on holiday in Yorkshire in the summer I heard a really interestingn article on the local news about a new Cotton Mill that will be the first in 30 years to spin Cotton in England.  This is truly historical as the North West was nick named Cottonopolis in decades past, thus named because over 90% of the world’s Cotton cloth was produced there.  The company is called English Fine Cottons and as their website states they are not yet fully up and running but it is a really exciting move for those of us making in the bespoke end of the market, and for anyone who is interested in good quality, UK produced products.

The fibres themselves can be grouped into three main types:

1. Long staple fibres – these are up to 55mm in staple length and are of the highest quality comprising the Sea Island Cottons which are the best quality and Egyptian Cotton, the second best.  Such long smooth fibres create the strongest, softest and finest Cotton fabrics.  During my final year at University I once visited the Jermine Street Shirt factory in Gloucester which supplies the Jermine Street shop just off Saville Row, they use South Island Cotton exclusively and it is the most beautiful of shirting cloths I have ever used and it played a big part in my final collection.  This cloth feels more like silk than cotton and creases somewhat less than most 100% Cotton fabric – it’s gorgeous!

2. Medium staple fibres – this is the largest group which makes up over 50% of the world’s Cotton.  It is dominated by the American types and is around 25mm or just over in length and is less smooth, strong and soft than the longer staples; it is far less expensive too.  This type is often mixed with other fibres such as polyester to create hard wearing, easy care cloth for school uniforms, workwear and cheaper bedding as well as a myriad of other products.

3. Short staple fibres – at less than 25mm these fibres are courser and rougher than the longer ones, they are mostly produced in the Indian Sub-Continent and other Asiatic nations.  The cloths made with these fibres have some fashion appeal in the “Ethnic” categories of products but are of a much poorer quality.

Cotton is the most versatile of fibres, it is used to make a huge variety of fabrics from the finest of Muslins and Voiles to the most durable and heavy weight Denims and Canvases.  Some of its major characteristics include;

  • It is the least reactive fibre so is the best fibre for sensitive skin
  • Highly absorbent, conducts heat well
  • Resistant to abrasion, moths and pilling
  • Can be cleaned by washing or dry cleaning
  • Easily takes up colour and is easy to print on
  • Super fabric for learning to sew with
  • Can be mixed with a huge variety of other fibres to enhance the qualities of both; e.g. Silk for greater softness & heat conductivity, Modul (a regenerated fibre that derives from tree bark) for softness, Polyester/Acrylic for easy care and durability
  • Cotton is the only fibre that gets stronger when it is wet
  • Conducts electricity 
  • Cotton is highly flammable 
  • Creases very easily indeed
  • Can easily shrink
  • Deteriorates with prolonged exposure to sunlight

Here is a list of some (though not all) of the fabrics made with Cotton fibres;
  • Utility cloths - Calico, Canvas, Cheesecloth, Denim, Flanelette, Hopsack, Net, Sailcloth, Terry Towelling, Ticking, Whipcord
  • Heavier weight apparel cloths – Bolton Twill, Corduroy, Drill, Fleece, Gabardine, Jersey,  Sateen, Velour, Velvet, Velveteen
  • Lighter weight fabrics – Chintz, Cluny Lace, Crepe, Gauze, Gingham, Muslin, Poplin, Seersucker, Voile.

From left to right here is some plain weave Denim, Cotton Ticking, Corduroy and some jacquard woven upholstery Cotton fabric.  These are pretty heavy weight cloths that can be used for hard wearing clothes and soft furnishings, I use them for bag making too, they carry machine embroidery and all sorts of applique beautifully.

In this photo, from left to right is a lovely Herringbone shirting which is a South Island Cotton and is super soft and smooth, printed polka dot Cotton, Muslin and woven striped Cotton that is dyed with natural dyes.

The last batch in this photo are Gingham, Jersey and Seersucker, these are really great for beginners because they introduce a small amount of challenge without too much difficulty, for the Jersey the only thing you need to remember to use a ball point needle for stretch fabrics and make sure you don’t stretch it when sewing – if you have an overlocker, set it up as a four threader and you don’t even have to use your normal sewing machine for perfect seams.

Cotton is probably the most versatile in the finishes of cloth available, both as a pure cotton fibre and as a mix with something else, it is also the best fabric to start using when learning to sew, even Cotton Jersey is quite straightforward to sew with, with the correct needle.  There are a HUGE variety of printed fabrics available to buy in a number of widths, years ago you could get it in 30” or 90cm wide – although this is rare these days, now it is usually available in 115cm or 45”, 150cm/60” and for bedding 3m/120” (although not so frequently in many suppliers).

Some of my favourite suppliers are;
  •  My - this is a great online supplier of bargain fabrics and they usually have a vast array of colours, textures, patterns and weights 
  • Fabric Land – I love Fabric Land, they have lots of great fabrics at great prices, there are stores at Salisbury, Bournemouth, Ringwood, Bristol, Southampton, Basingstoke, Reading and Portsmouth; they also do a fantastic mail order service that I use all the time. 
  • Hansons Fabrics – Hansons is a bit of a textile heaven for those who sew, and especially for patchworkers, they have the largest range of printed Cottons I have ever seen, there is at least 1,000 designs at any one time on their shelves – it’s amazing!! They also stock lots of haberdashery items and are the only stockist I know that carries both Coates (my personal favourite) and Guttermann threads. They are happy to accept coach trips for larger groups and schools with some notice. It is a massive warehouse full of goodies that I can happily lose an hour or so in and the staff are lovely – especially my friend Ros. 
  • Croft Mill – This is a great company for beautiful suitings, they do have other fabrics available but I have only bought top of the range cotton suitings from them, the staff are lovely and they provide good sized sample swatches on request.
Cotton is so versatile you can make almost anything with it, from upholstery and soft furnishings, heavyweight utility items, hard wearing clothing, pretty dresses to the most intricate patchwork projects. I have had a look around lots of patchworking blogs recently and my current favourite one is Flossie tea cakes, she has a lovely site with lots of tutorials and patterns for some very sweet little projects and she has lots of beautiful patchwork projects too.

As I mentioned earlier it is the ideal starter fabric for learners of sewing, something like some nice plain cotton is best if you are a complete beginner, and when you gain some confidence try out patterns and experiment with how to change the look of projects using the pattern. Seersucker is marvellous for something with a little texture without being too challenging as it behaves itself very well indeed. I love Cotton, it is lovely and cool to wear in the summer and because it behaves so well it is easy to experiment with and the patterns of printed Cottons are pretty well unlimited if you shop around.

To show you a few examples of the kind of things I make for myself I tooksome snaps of some of my togs in the wardrobe;

On the left is a pair of jeans I made with some stretch denim from Fabric Land (that I bought years ago). Next is my brand new jacket – that I wore for the first time today – the purple corduroy was gifted to me with the proviso that I made something wonderful with it, so 1 embroidered waistcoat, and a full length skirt later, this swing jacket is the final piece of the set and sports Cotton Velour details in pink; and there is enough left to make another waistcoat in a different style. The skirt is an experiment made out old vintage printed Cotton that was part of my Aunty Vivien’s fabric library and some naturally dyed muslin and on the right is my favourite dress ever – every time I wear it, it causes a stir.

So this group starts with a godet skirt with printed fine polka dots, a great summer dress that I’ve not got round to wearing yet, my perfect denim skirt, which is the same cut as the polka dot skirt but with pockets and centre front zip (I love the printed denim) and another of my prototype jackets.  After this first one I have made lots of these jackets for clients and for my off the peg range.

I love working with Cotton, it’s wonderful to wear and versatile beyond belief so take a trip to your local stockist, or if you are in the area of Sturminster Newton call in on Hanson’s and drool over all the lovely Cottons they have there.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Affordable Christmas Gifts

Just in time for Christmas I have been making lots of gift items, there are many options to choose from to suit all budgets.

To keep your clothes lovely and fresh with the scent of English Lavender these lovely Lavender Bags are made with potent English Lavender in a wide range of colours and are great value.  Priced at £2.50 each or 3 for £6 they make lovely stocking fillers on their own or as a set for a slightly larger gift.

I love those Wheat Bags that you pop in the microwave for a mo to sooth one’s muscles so have created some Lavender Wheat Bags with nice soft fabrics that will give you a scented relaxing touch of warmth for those minor aches at the end of a busy day.  Each bag has been divided into sections for even temperature distribution and is great value at £12.50.

Here are some more of my Tote Bags, these are two of the large sized ones, they are fully lined with pockets for your smart phone and purse or diary and securely closed with a zip.  They are all made as a one off piece with upholstery fabric to be hard wearing and embroidered with something to make you smile.  Many of my customers love them because they are lightweight on their shoulders and don’t cost too much to post.  This size comes in at £50, medium size is £40 and the small ones are £35, there are lots of colours and decorative designs to choose from.

All of these, and my other goods including Silk scarves, jackets and coats will be available to see and try on at the Sero Christmas Fair at The Exchange, Sturminster Newton from 10am-3.30pm on Saturday 19th November.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Would you like to learn to sew?

Have you ever thought, “I’d love to sew but don’t have a creative bone in my body” or felt a bit lost when confronted by a hem to take up or button to sew on – you are not alone by any stretch!  I meet folk who tell me exactly that at least once a week.

As well as my Fashion & Textiles degree from Bournemouth University, I also have a teaching degree that I studied with The Open University and adult lecturer qualifications from Salisbury College; this enables me to offer tailored teaching for individuals and groups.  At this time of year lots of you are thinking about a hobby for those long dark evenings and what better than learning a great life skill like sewing which can stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

You can learn;

  • A set of universal sewing techniques that will give you a solid base from which to make your own projects.  This is based on the 10 week course I used to teach at Salisbury and covers; Sewing machine basics, Basic fabric know-how, Seams, Sleeves, Zips, Facings, Buttons & buttonholes, Piping, Binding, Applique.  This can be added to if there is a specific skill you would like to learn.
  • Advanced sewing skills; this would include basic tailoring techniques and a lot of other hints and tips which you can apply to your own projects.  I also pass on all the top tips I have learned over the years for dealing with challenging fabrics and students have found this really empowering and have attempted much more advanced projects – and succeeded beautifully.
  • Pattern cutting; which can also be tailored to exactly what you want to do, or you can learn a set of basic pattern cutting skills that will stand you in good stead to change commercial patterns so that they fit you perfectly. For those who wish to make their own patterns from scratch you can extend your skills and make your own Basic Block from which you will be able to produce patterns from your own simple designs.

The teaching can be offered by several means;

  • Individuals can be taught in my workshop with their own equipment or using my spare Singer machine and Overlocking machine to finish seams.  Students usually come weekly or fortnightly for 2-3 hour lessons.  £20 per hour.
  • Individually at your home with your own equipment, I will bring any equipment we will need that you don’t have. £20 per hour plus travel expenses.
  • Small groups of 3-5 at one of your homes, using your own equipment (I will bring my own for demonstrating on).  I have taught family groups like this where a Mother and teenage Daughter have got together with an Aunt as well as groups of friends and they are a lot of fun.  £25 per hour plus travel expenses.

I was very fortunate as a child to learn from my Grandmother, my Mother and a whole host of lovely ladies that my Mum knew when I was a child who were wonderfully patient and intrigued with this skinny little kid who was fascinated by all thing textiles.  I was taught sewing, knitting, crochet (which I really can’t get the hang of other than making a simple chain) and lace making – I loved making bobbin lace at school.  Nowadays, the way sewing is taught in Secondary Design & Technology can put a lot of young people off because the focus is on the design process rather than learning life skills, which I feel is a lost opportunity for many.

I am passionate about passing skills on to as many people as I can in this short life and I love teaching.  The little miracles that occur when understanding dawns, or when students beam with pride at their finished projects, is magical.

So if learning to sew appeals to you get in touch and I look forward to teaching you anything I can.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

A Touch of Silk

Silk fabric is made from the cocoons of Silk worms, these cocoons are made out of a single filament which is 600-900 metres in length.  The fibre itself is triangular in shape and transparent, this lends the finished silk its iridescent quality.  There is a really good history of Silk and its production on the Silk Road page which is very interesting and dates the production of Silk cloth to between 5000 and 7000 years ago.

Raw Silk has a distinctive soft cream/yellow colour and is made using the fibres before the naturally occurring gum, which holds the cocoon together, is removed.  This fabric is called Shantung Silk and the cloth has a very soft handle and heavy slub (uneven threads in the cloth).  This kind of cloth only comes in its natural soft shade as the gum prevents the take up of dyes.  Once the gum has been removed the dying possibilities are endless; most commercially dyed silks are dyed using industrial dyes and come in a huge range of colours.

There are also companies that use natural dyes to create a product that derives from more sustainable sources.  I used to work for a designer who specialised in using natural indigo from the Indigo plant, I once watched her dying some fabric and it was astonishing.  When dyeing with plant indigo the liquid in the dye vat looks somewhat like wee, but when the dyed fabric is exposed to the air it goes bright blue instantly – it’s amazing.  Natural dye stuffs were used right up until the industrial revolution when by products from many industrial and chemical processes were found to create lovely bright and fast colours for the textile industry – usually discovered by happy accident.  I found a couple of really good articles about natural dying if you are interested, the first is a good point of reference on the Pioneer Thinking website and here is an article on successful natural dyeing at home on the itty bitty impact website which shows you how straight forward natural dyeing could be.

Back to the matter in hand!  Silk is made into dozens of different kinds fabrics, from the heaviest brocades to translucent chiffon; there are soft, raw Silks, stiff grosgrains, crisp taffeta and duchess satin and fluid crepes.  Silk can be mixed with other fibres and is often mixed with the finest of Worsted Wool, Cashmere or Alpacca for a lightweight and very luxurious cloth and yarn, or Linen to create soft lightweight suitings that are softer than Linen alone and harder wearing than Silk alone.  Silk has special qualities that make it very highly prized.  It is super lightweight, incredibly strong, it is iridescent and warm in cold weather and cool in hot conditions.  However, it is easily damaged by perspiration and has to be cleaned very carefully.

The following pictures feature just a few examples of those Silk fabrics I have used a lot over the years.

Double Woven Silk Dupion, Shot Silk Dupion

Silk Dupion is what most people think of when they think of Silk, Princess Diana’s famed wedding dress was made out of ivory Silk Dupion.  Dupion has a slub in it and is quite a crisp, paper like cloth that creases easily but adds wonderful structure to garments.  These two examples are a taupe coloured power woven Dupion that creases a little less than most, the mauve on the right is from the Far East and is shot mauve/lime green.

Crepe backed satin, patterned Jacquard Silk

On the left of this picture is one of my all-time favourite fabrics, crepe backed satin.  On one side crepe backed satin is shiny and the other side is matt, this fabric is gorgeous and cascades in large pieces, like a waterfall.  The patterned jacquard on the right is made by the threads woven in such a way as to create a raised pattern, it is made in a similar fashion to brocade fabric.

Naturally dyed raw Silk, Devore Silk Velvet

These two Silks are naturally dyed with cochineal beetle shells that have been finely ground to create a fine powder that can be used for lots of different purposes; the cloth on the left is a heavy raw silk which is hard going to cut and kills sewing machine needles for a pass time, on the right is devore velvet.  Devore velvet is rather special, you can screen print the fabric with a special acid paint which when washed out removes the pile leaving translucent areas behind – Monsoon loves devore velvet!

Naturally Dyed Silk

Looking from left to right in this photo the first and third pieces of cloth are Kantha Silk, this is made in a fair trade workshop in Bangladesh and is produced by hand sewing in concentric squares a layer of silk which is backed with cotton scrim (like muslin). The second piece is the kind of silk fabric used for the Silk layer of the Kantha and the forth is Silk jersey.  Both the green and the blue in these samples are natural dyes.

Some of the other Silk fabrics widely available are;
  • Brocade – heavily patterned stiff cloth usually used for very rich garments and upholstery
  • Grosgrain – ribbed stiff cloth often used for upholstery
  • Crepe – comes in several weights from fine crepe de chine up to heavy Moroccan crepe, has a lovely soft fall and does not crease very much
  • Duchess Satin – stiff, soft sheen and frays like mad
  • Chiffon – lose woven very fine cloth which can be challenging to work with
  • Taffeta – tightly woven crisp fabric that rustles
  • Habiti – tightly woven fine cloth that kind of falls between chiffon and taffeta in character.

This is not an exhaustive list by any measure, there are many other finishes and weights available and specialist Silk outlets have a much wider range and stock a vast array of colours.

Silk can be less expensive to buy than one thinks depending on the quality and where you buy it, most general fabric shops will only stock Dupion, chiffon, crepe de chine, crepe backed satin and duchess satin as a rule and there will only be a few colour available; if you want a wider range of Silks there are several really good stockists in the UK, however, some will require you set up a business account with them – but you don’t need to buy loads of cloth to get one, as long as you buy something at least once a year they are fine with small purchases.  My favourite Silk merchants are Bennet Silks, they have lots of fabulous cloth and wonderful staff too.  The other two suppliers that I sometimes use are James Hare and Pongees, all three have great websites and they will send individual sample swatches or swatch cards with all the colours of a given cloth for a small charge.

A word about using Silk, in my opinion there is no such thing as a difficult fabric to sew with, as with all things you just need to practice to get the hang of it, for the best results here are a few tips;
  1. Measure twice, and thrice, cut once!  Silk is expensive so you don’t want to make any big cutting bloopers so measure grain lines carefully and pin in the seam allowance so you don’t mark the cloth.  When pinning the best pins are good quality glass head pins, glass head pins are made with better quality steal and are thus more expensive but worth every penny, pin quite close together to prevent slippage, around 3cm apart with fine cloth and around 5cm apart with heavier fabric.
  2. ALWAYS pin or tack your silk in the seam allowance when cutting and sewing.
  3. Use the right sized needle, you can generally use finer needles with Silk, crepe de chine and habiti need new needles as they mark easily with blunt ones.
  4. Tack your project if you don’t feel so confident, in the seam allowance, this is especially important with velvet as the pile in each piece will want to wriggle about a bit and will distort the seam if you are not on the ball.
  5. Use a scrupulously clean cotton/linen cloth/brand new tea towel to press silk as some can be water marked, when pressing velvet use a velvet board if you can get one to prevent flattening the pile – and lay it right side down; if you don’t have a velvet board use another piece of velvet to lay the right side against, this won’t entirely prevent flattening the pile but it does help.
  6. Be brave, don’t be afraid of the cloth, there are much more challenging fabrics than Silk in the synthetic fabrics that will slide all over the place, you just need to take your time and be methodical.
The following pics are some examples of the projects I have made using Silk over the years.

These scarves are double sided, often using two different Silks for each side and are piped at the edge, I love making these and they make lovely gifts.  Sometimes I make them with small pieces sewn together with mixed shades of similar colours, it is amazing what goes together and they end up being very useful garments that will go with lots of outfits, it’s a great idea for you to make something special for a delicious gift.

Embroidered Silk Dupion is more often used for curtains but it makes exquisite garments too, this butterfly patterned jacket was worn at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

This was a really exciting project, the Silk velvet was part of an antique opera cape belonging to the client, she wanted to re-use it on a bespoke jacket so we selected a Mutka (raw) Silk that is woven with a silver lame thread.  To utilise the effect of the silver I designed the jacket with panels that are split just below the bust line and the lower panels are cut on the bias (diagonally) which gives the jacket a lovely soft fall over the hips and it gently flares at the hem.

This is the back of the wedding dress I made with the jacquard woven patterned Silk highlighted in photo 2, it was teamed with a heavy Moroccan crepe in pink for the details and I sent some of the jacquard to DM Buttons to make the matching covered buttons. You can see the dress in full in this article.

I hope you will consider sewing with Silk now if you haven’t before, it is a marvellous material to work with and the finish you can achieve is unique and totally luxurious – I love it!!  Silk is also really exciting as a medium for lots of textile techniques such as painting and a whole host of other ideas so if that is your thing, go for it, there are loads of books and courses about that kind of thing.

For something a little different to take a look at, Spider Silk has been used in Madagascar for hundreds of years, it creates something quite delicious, there is a fantastic video on YouTube so take a look, it’s fascinating. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

New Sleeves

You know how sometimes you make a new project and when it is finished you are really chuffed with it, then you wear it for a while and something about it doesn’t work quite right; that is like my lovely orange coat.  I originally made it with priest sleeves, and it soon became apparent these were a bit annoying because I could not wear long sleeved woolly jumpers under it and the cuffs were too tight to get on and off easily.  Grrrrrr!

The Priest sleeves are nice but impractical, this is before the change

So, over the weekend I cut some new sleeves and made them up ready to change them a bit.  I still wanted to retain the brocade detail at the wrist but it needed to be much narrower so I can wear my nice fluffy silk and mohair jumper under it.

Today, in my lunch break I unpicked the old sleeves, removed the shoulder shaping and the old sleeve linings ready to be replaced by all new ones.

New sleeves

These are the new sleeves.  I replaced them after work today and they are perfect.  Because the previous cuff was a little tight at the wrist the strain caused the brocade to come apart a little at the seams and I had had to repair it before it gave way completely.  To prevent future strain on the seams I have double stitched all the new seams and then top stitched them down to make them sit flatter as the fabric is quite bulky.  The new cuffs are much shorter and the full part of the sleeves are longer so I can wear all the woolly pullys I want to.

I have fallen in love with my coat all over again because I have worked out the major design flaw that it had first time around.

Don’t be afraid to change something you have made, sometimes you need to have a second pass at the projects that don’t work out right first time around –  take it apart and make it beautiful so that you will love wearing it until it practically falls apart.  Design is about experimenting, and it doesn’t always work the first time, don’t worry, you will learn more from your mistakes than from your successes!  Dare to fail sometimes, all the most accomplished designers and makers make plenty of mistakes along the way before they reach perfection.

Have fun.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Woolly Works

The second instalment on fabrics and their properties is an exploration of Wool.  As you will all know Wool is a natural fibre that grows on Sheep which live anywhere there is grass to eat.  My fiancĂ© and I holiday in the Yorkshire Dales and they are EVERYWHERE, it’s funny when we have a bit of a stand-off when they are in the middle of the road!

Wool fibres range in length from 3.8cm right up to 50cm.  The shortest and finest fibres come from the Merino Sheep that are farmed mostly in Australia, South Africa and South America.  The wool from these sheep is the softest and most highly prized to make clothes; those of you who make your own felt will know just how soft they are.  Wool is an amazing material, it has astonishing properties and is incredibly versatile.
  • Short soft fibres 3.8cm-10cm long are made into the highest quality cloth and yarns for woven and knitted cloth.
  • Medium length fibres 7.5cm-20cm long are mixed with other fibres, both natural and synthetic, to make cheaper cloth and yarns.  These are derived from mostly British cross breeds such as Blue Faced Leicester and Jacob sheep.
  • Long fibres 15cm-50cm long are very course, strong and resilient and are therefore not suitable for clothing, they are called Carpet Types and are used for carpet.

The major useful properties of Wool are
  • Strength, Wool is incredibly hard wearing and retains its finish for many years if looked after properly.
  • Stretch, because of the natural ‘crimp’ in Wool fibres it is incredibly stretchy, in fact far more than any other natural fibre as it will stretch up to 30% depending on the spin and weave/knit.
  • Warmth, Wool is incredibly warm because of that ‘crimp’, it traps warm air and insulates against the cold more effectively than almost any other fibre.
  • Versatility, Wool is the most versatile fibre I have ever worked with.  It can be woven, knitted and felted into a huge variety of cloth from the finest Challis right up to heavy duty boiled Wool for coats, and other materials.  When old Wool clothing has reached the end of its life it can then be shredded and mixed with courser Wool fibres to make ‘Shoddy’ Wool which is used in blankets and insulating materials for the home and furniture industries.
  • Easy to manipulate, Wool fibres actually need very little to become the most basic of fabrics, felt, but once woven it can be easily shaped using steam and appropriate moulding tools.
  • Flame retardant, Wool does not catch light, it will smoulder after prolonged exposure to flame, this makes it very useful to the emergency services and for insulating our homes.

Natural Wool fleece, processed fleece and hand-made felt

In the photo you can see the difference in coarseness between the two dyed lots of Merino Wool and the two little bundles of fleece I found on holiday last year.  The felt is made out of a collection of Yorkshire fleece from the year before which I collected and made into felt.

All natural colours

All these yarns were spun by the West Yorkshire Spinners from fibres locally farmed and are un-dyed, they show the wide variety of naturally occurring colours from the palest cream to dark chocolate brown

Soft and smooth to chunky and thick

These three fabrics are all of the highest quality English cloth.  They grey pinstriped Worsted suiting is mixed with Cashmere to create a super smooth cloth with a beautiful ‘handle’ or ‘fall’ (these terms refer to how the fabric falls and how well it handles when it is being made up into clothes).  The navy Wool is a double woven (so that it has no right or wrong side) medium weight suiting.  And, the orange you might recognise if you have seen my orange coat, it is a heavy weight coating and I can vouch for its warmth believe me!!

Some of its more tricky properties are
  • Shrinkage, Wool can easily shrink when exposed to detergents, friction and steam, which is why when caring for wool garments you must follow the directions for cleaning.  This occurs because when exposed to the above the scales along the fibres are fluffed up and the fibres ‘knit’ together.
  • Susceptible to moth damage, little holes appear when the small moth larva eat the fabric, mothballs and treatments to wardrobes can prevent damage.
  • Weakened when wet, when washing knitted garments they must never be wrung out and have to be dried flat.
  • Often needs dry cleaning, this is the best way to clean most wool garments if you are not confident to clean it yourself.  You can brush most things off and surface clean gently to remove mud and easily removed marks, but to clean the whole garment, take it to the cleaners!

Before steam moulding

In this photo you can see that I have ‘eased’ this sleeve head, these sleeves are rather full and need to be eased a lot so they sit smoothly when set in to the garment, it is a fairly lose weave but needs a little help to look as beautiful as I want it to.

After steam moulding

I have used the end my sleeve board to mould the sleeve head of the sleeve using the steam from my iron, you will need a sleeve board and an iron that has a steam booster button and can steam upright to do this.  By steaming the cloth after easing you can shrink it so that there will be no wrinkles once the sleeve is set in.

This is the lovely smooth sleeve head once it is in the coat

Shrinking the eased sleeve head creates the perfect shoulder in any Wool jacket or coat.  Because there are lots of air spaces in between the fibres in Wool fabric it can be eased far more than any other fabric, and shrinking with steam gives you a huge amount of shaping potential in a garment.  This quality in Wool will also make a garment mould to the wearer over a number of years of regular use, this will only happen with pure Wool and not with Wool mixes.Some of the tools you might like to get are;

  1. Sleeve board, this is a small ironing board specifically for sleeves which is narrower at one end, the best are home made with wood as the wood retains the steam better for shaping, commercial ones are available but are not very durable.
  2. Ironing Roll, which is shaped a bit like a sausage and is stuffed with sawdust which retains the steam for moulding and shaping.
  3. Ironing Ham, same principle as the roll but shaped like a whole ham and is amazing for manipulating shoulders and bust areas.
  4. A great iron, this does NOT have to be expensive, in fact I usually spend no more than £15-£20, all it needs is a good sized water tank and a steam booster button as well as the facility to steam upright.
  5. Wooden rolling pin, this sounds a little weird but believe me, if you want nice flat seams you will want to use one, when steaming the seams open you apply the stream and then roll it with the rolling pin to ensure it retains the shape forever more.
Here is a list of some of the most common and well known Wool fabrics from down the centuries;
  • Blanket cloth
  • Boucle, a very soft fabric with a non-directional pile
  • Broadcloth, so named because it was much wider than most fabrics for making coats
  • Challis, soft and fine cloth traditionally used for making under garments, resembles muslin
  • Crepe, ‘bubbly’ cloth that is particularly good for dresses as it has a superbly soft fall and does not crease 
  • Flannel, used in suits for over 150 years
  • Harris Tweed, see my last post
  • Melton, this is woven and then boiled which makes it very easy to make with and does not fray
  • Worsted, this is the finest quality wool cloth and comes in a variety of weights
  • Wool jersey, this is a knitted cloth which has usually been pre-shrunk, but don’t assume that it has, if you want a more durable cloth that does not unravel when cutting it is advisable to pre-shrink by gently washing in a weak soft soap solution but do not wring it out – lay it flat on a bath towel and then roll it up like a Swiss roll to gently squeeze out the water.
This is of course not an exhaustive guide but you can extend your research by visiting the links in my previous posting called A Touch of Tweed for Harris Tweed and Moon Tweeds as they have lovely histories of their cloth. 
In my humble opinion Wool is the most versatile, wearable and amazing fibre because of its versatility and warmth.  However, there are some of you who are allergic to Wool or some of the by-products of the Wool industry, such as Lanolin.  Myself, I am allergic to Lanolin Alcohol which is derived from Lanolin and used as a finishing chemical for many woven Wool fabrics – bit of a pain for a tailor!  If you are allergic to Wool you might be able to wear other similar natural fibres such as Alpaca, which is fairly widely available and is now produced and spun in this country as well as elsewhere in the world.

Keep an eye out for the next fabric tutorial which will be on Silk, enjoy.

Monday, 10 October 2016

My First Wedding Fair

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a text by a friend & client who had to drop out of a wedding fair at The Haynes Motor Museum and asked if I would be interested in taking her place.   I had planned to do a wedding fair this year but due to a lot of family stuff going on earlier in the year had not got round to researching and planning dates, so it was serendipitous that I was given this opportunity out of the blue.  The company that ran it is The Wedding Emporium, which I had heard of a couple of times.  The lovely staff there were amazing to organise everything for me so swiftly – even when I text them late Saturday night because I had forgotten to mention my clothes rail and they simply and calmly re-shuffled things around to accommodate it.

On arrival I was delighted to be shown to a huge plot where I could really make a splash with all my goodies.

Here I am after setting up with a couple of my dresses on their mannequins

And this is the full stand

My aim was to create a kind of ‘wall of sound’ in colour, to be as attractive and inviting as possible to draw in brides and their families, given that my business focus is much wider than wedding attire alone.  I had a bit of a helping hand from my sister Tamsin who is the manager at the Sturminster Newton branch of WessexPhotographic, she printed two lovely canvases for me on Saturday ready for Sunday which were very helpful to point out to prospective clients.  Now that I have the measure of what I need for wedding fairs I will get lots of prints of wedding related things that I have done over the last few years to create some new photo books, with separate ones for bespoke Wedding Dresses, Altered Wedding Dresses, Bridesmaids Alterations, Mother of the Brides outfits and Gents alterations and specialist suits.

Dresses and suits to suit all tastes

There were two other stands with a focus on wedding attire, as you can see there were lots of dresses to inspire and I really liked the suit hire stand where the gentleman running it wore a great morning suit with a beautiful pink cravat, although I did not get a chance to talk to him unfortunately.

Lots of gorgeous cakes to taste and see

There were three cake specialists who all had amazing cakes on display and to sample, each took a different approach to the sample tasters, Plan It Cakes who displayed mega opulent cakes is highlighted in the photo, made lots of mini frosted cakes; and Mummy’s Little Cakery offered sample cakes with a choice of frostings for folk to apply with a spatula to their favoured cake sample.  My stand was close to The Art of Cake  made by Tanya Martin, her cakes had an elegance and simplicity that I found very refreshing and she is rather lovely to talk to – I would recommend her to any of my brides.

Floral design that caused a real stir

The stand on the far left of this photo was created by Julia Moore Floral Design and there were lots of people gathered around it pretty much all the time, her flowers were stunning and her approach was incredibly professional.

Either side of me were two of my favourite stands of the day.  Somerset Wedding Campervans had two vintage VW campervans outside that were completely gorgeous – there is a pretty ivory coloured one that Jo and her husband call Lily which is utterly charming inside and out.  Natasha of The Little Photo Company had an amazing stand that included lots of marvellous printed photobooks with many genres of photo styles which were a real delight, Tash is lovely and very approachable and creative in her outlook to her work which is totally fabulous.

A fabulous day all round

I really enjoyed the whole experience and learned a great deal to make future events much more focused and hopefully very successful, and would like to thank the lovely ladies at The Wedding Emporium, especially Meghan who got my slot organised at VERY short notice and gave me some delightful feedback about my work after viewing my website and blog before we even met on Sunday morning.  It was also lovely to meet lots of new suppliers of services and makers of beautiful cakes, there was a surprisingly similar feel to many of the craft fairs that I attend and the venue at The Haynes Motor Museum is wonderful, well lit, lots of facilities and friendly staff.  I will post future dates as soon as I have confirmed them so will keep you all posted about next year.

To all the Brides and their relatives that I spoke to, it was lovely to meet you all and whether or not I hear from you in the future I wish you all the very best for your wedding days and a wonderful future in your married lives.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A Touch of Tweed

At this time of year, with the change of season, one starts to think about all the cosy things in life, warm bowls of soup on rainy days, fluffy new socks and, if you make your own clothes – or like to have something cosy made, woolly things to wear.  You might like knitting or crochet and love nothing better than to have a new project keeping your lap warm and whiling away your evenings in front of costume dramas (I love Poldark, and Victoria – and Downton Abbey, oh how I miss Downton).  Me, I like riffling through my fabric boxes pulling together fabrics to make jackets and coats, redesigning them and referring to all the new season’s colours.  Not forgetting the all-important buttons – I spend ages deliberating over buttons!

The most versatile, hard wearing and divers fabric used in jackets and coats is Wool, which is incredibly hard wearing, gorgeously warm and acts a bit like plasticine with a bit of steam; it also moulds beautifully to the wearer over time – which is why when you try on a well-worn vintage jacket it feels weird until you have worn it in for yourself.  I used to have a huge WWII Naval Trench Coat in my early 20s which I wore with a tiny, tiny skirt, thigh length suede boots along with my bright red, corkscrew permed hair – thinking I was the bees knees.   The most fantastic wool fabric one can get is Tweed.

Tweed can be grouped together in to four main styles; 

Plain Tweed, on the left is shot Black & White and on the right is a printed plain tweed.

Plain Tweed can be bold or subtle, some are made with fibres that have been dyed before spinning and create the soft heather tones you see sometimes.  Some use two colours of thread such as the shot version in the photo above, and then others are embellished with printed patterns after weaving such as the one in the picture. 

Twill woven Tweeds

Twill woven Tweeds are generally in one single colour and come in a wide range of weights from very soft fine fabric to rather chunky and blanket like cloth.  If any of you see me out and about on really cold days you will see me in my orange coat made out of the orange tweed on the right of the picture. 

Herringbone Tweed is varied in pattern dependant on the design of the cloth to be made

The Herringbone Tweed in the centre is very traditional and would be what most folk would imagine when they think of Herringbone Tweeds.  Either side are less traditional patterns that incorporate a variety of colours. 

Check Tweeds are even more varied in their pattern and use of colours

Check Tweeds are probably the most widely worn, and the tweed with the strongest associations with tailoring and culture.  In Scotland each one of the Clans has their own design of Tartan patterned Tweed which were greatly popularised by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 19th Century after their first visit to Balmoral early in their marriage.  Nowadays there are a massive range of checked Tweeds to choose from, I particularly like a lot of the upholstery designs such as the second from the left in the above pic; it seems that weavers are letting loose their creativity and I for one love it.

The most famous Tweed cloth is probably Harris Tweed which has a long history and protected status nowadays.  The weavers all live on and around the Isles of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in Northern Scotland and some produce their work as part of their life as Crofters, using local wool fleece, which is dyed locally and blended to produce the myriad of tones and colours that is unique to Harris Tweed as part of a cooperative group.  This is such a beautiful cloth and is a joy to design and work with.  Given the quality and special nature of this fabric it is in my humble opinion the pinnacle of wool fabrics and it is very good value for money.  One is only limited by your imagination when putting it to use – during my final degree collection I made a lined Bra with sky blue basket weave Harris Tweed, it was most pretty.

Every so often I go window shopping online to drawl over all the delicious colours and patterns that are available at Dashing Tweeds. I was lead to them by another tailor a couple of years ago who is also excited by all the pretty things they produce.

While on holiday in Yorkshire some time back I came across an outlet at the Courtyard Centre   where there was an shop stocking really inspiring jackets.  I got rather excited by the piano facings and creative use of patterned linings and bindings inside these jackets which were produced using Moon Tweeds which are made locally in one of the last remaining mills where raw wool is processed from fleece to finished cloth in the UK.  This year I discovered a smaller outlet that stocks offcuts of Moon cloth for craft uses at Quilting Antics just outside Settle where you can obtain it by the metre or by weight, if you take a look at the Moon website you can contact Quilting Antics and see if they have small pieces of the fabric you like – they have a vast variety in the shop to riffle through – it is cloth heaven for me!!!

Mixing it up

This waistcoat was a recent project made using two different Tweeds, Herringbone for the main body that I bought from Bernie the Bolt who has lots of fab things for very small prices; and the check Moon Tweed from Quilting Antics which was a small piece just big enough to cut the collar, pocket welts and send away the last few scraps to DM Buttons for them to make the covered buttons for me, which are truly lovely against the Herringbone.  Normally I tend to use far bolder colours but some people are more comfortable in softer tones, admittedly, having made this waistcoat I am rather enamoured with wearing Tweed like this now too.

Pocket and button details

As I was saying earlier, I take ages to choose buttons for each project, they can make or break the look of a garment, this is particularly true on fabrics like Tweed because of the tonal quality of the cloth.  Covered buttons are a brilliant solution to make them match the rest of the garment or as a contrasting detail, however, Wooden buttons are also lovely used with tweed because it too is a natural product and will blend beautifully such as the ones in the following photo, you may also consider Leather buttons which I have used in the past and which you will often find on Country Sports jackets in charity shops (vintage leather buttons are amazing on tweed).

How about embroidery too

When using Tweed one can utilise its strength to carry a wide range of embellishments, with my embroidery machine I regularly use text and picture designs to produce bold details on clothes and bags that make each piece unique to the ultimate wearer.

This is not an exhaustive look at the uses of Tweed, take a look at Tweeds and unleash your creativity. Tweed is hard wearing and incredibly versatile for clothes, soft furnishings and accessories as it is so durable and can be surface cleaned if the need arises – less dry cleaning needed than many other fabrics, the patterns also hide a multitude of sins.

Over the next few months I will be exploring lots of fabrics and their uses, addressing some of the more challenging ones and how to handle them.  If you are just starting out with sewing and want to make a big impact I would recommend Wool, and particularly patterned Tweed as it is so forgiving – just remember, steam is your friend.  The next piece will be about Wool in general and will explain how to make use of Wool fabric to achieve the best results for a project.

Enjoy, my sewing friends.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Jackets with autumn in mind

Well, it doesn’t seem right now much like jacket weather with all these record breaking temperatures does it?  But autumn is just around the corner and before we know it there will be chilly mornings to step out in to.  When that almost frosty morning comes around you will be glancing through all those summer togs looking for something a bit warmer and equally sensational.

I love this time of year and really look forward to chilly mornings that turn into golden afternoons and wearing lovely jackets, my own collection grows with a new jacket each year, this year I am designing a shortened version of my Sheba Coat that will also be a little fuller than the previous version.

Here are some examples of jackets that I have made for clients and for my ready to wear range. All these jackets can be tweaked to suit different shapes and sizes, and incorporate any of your own design ideas & fabric choices not forgetting the all important buttons!  

This little Mutka Silk number is sweet and is lined with turquoise and gold cherry blossom satin brockade.  The front skims the body and is finished with wooden toggles.

In the back it is a little more tailored for a soft, comfortable fit.

A very practical jacket is my Oriental, it is a similar shape to the last jacket, but with extra length and lovely big patch pockets on an angle to slip mittened hands into.

Photo 4 – From the side you can see the ¾ length sleeves with their vent which can be made with contrasting fabric inside for a little creative flare.

In the back is the soft tailored outline which skims the hips to just below the bottom.  I made this particular jacket for my sister’s 30th birthday, she loves it because she can fling it on and it always looks fab, she wears it all the time, in fact we often joke about it by me saying, “that’s a lovely jacket, where did you get that” and she replies “oh, it was a little number my personal tailor ran up for me”.

Harris Tweed is deliciously warm for the cooler months and this piece was a client project made with a sumptuous fabric her tailoress Mother had bought over 50 years ago.  The revers have been made with a wool twill that picks up one of the darker tones in the Harris tweed.

From the side you can see the classical tailored pockets and darting at the waistline.

The back is very traditional and you can see the vintage leather buttons at the cuffs here too.  I love using vintage buttons – so much more character and perfect on vintage fabric.

In the pocket detail, you can see the vintage crepe backed satin, also from the client’s Mum’s fabric collection which really sets off the tweed.

Another vintage Harris Tweed jacket made for a client, here the grey tweed has been teamed with turquoise upholstery fabric for the contrast areas.  The covered button was made by the lovely folk at D M Buttons to match the piping and lining of turquoise satin.

 In the back of the Midi Highway there is a box pleat with half belt, this one has a cheeky flower which you get a flash of as the wearer walks along.

Yummy contrast cuffs and tailored pockets here too.

One of my favourite client projects was this jacket made with two tone tweed and decorative panels that have lots of shades of turquoise, green and purple satin ribbon appliqued onto a mix of soft turquoise fabrics and is finished of with matching covered buttons.

The pockets are in seam with a decorative flap and the cuffs as you can see match all the other decorative panels.  It too has turquoise satin lining and matching piping – Turquoise is so popular and suits everybody, at least I’ve not met anyone yet who doesn’t suit that colour.

This jacket makes me wish I was a size 12! (The size I made it in.)  Made with gorgeously velvety two tone chunky corduroy it is scrumptiously soft to the touch.  I am especially pleased with the piping, corduroy makes amazing piping and looks like corded rope because of being cut on the bias.  The vintage buttons with matching grey buttonholes set off the grey panels.

And the cheeky pleat and contrast cuffs completes this delicious jacket which is one of my off the peg jackets that you can come and see at one of the craft fairs I will be exhibiting at.

This year I have had a number of themes for my craft fair offerings to keep things fresh, September’s theme is waistcoats and next month, October, will have Jackets as the main theme and I hope to see you at;

Crafts at the Exchange, Saturday 1st October, The Exchange, Sturminster Newton, 9am-1pm

Tinker Belles Market, Sunday 2nd October, Stourton Village Hall, Stourhead, 10am-5pm

Gillingham Arts & Craft Market, Saturday 29th October, Gillingham Methodist Church, 10am-1pm.

My next date in September is at Gillingham Arts & Craft Market on Saturday 24th September, I have also started to make new bags ready to tie in with this seasons new colours – look out in the next few days for my next post which will be a look at those Autumn/Winter colours.

Look forward to seeing you all soon.