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.