Blue and green pencil skirts

So one of the things I realised recently is that i need a green, blue, or teal pencil skirt in my wardrobe.

Mostly because i am developing an allergy to the non-colour black. I have been avoiding it in shoes successfully for years, and i’m trying to get back to it on the clothes front.

My first step, therefore, was to go on polyvore and compile a list (ok, a board, fair enough) of some existing pencil skirts in various colours, to get an idea of what i was attracted to.

Here is what i found:

Blue and green pencil skirts

Dagmar neon pencil skirt
net-a-porter.com

Slit skirt
windsorstore.com

A Wear midi skirt
$34 – awear.com

Teal pencil skirt
$74 – glam-net.com

Zara skirt
zara.com

Printed pencil skirt
$22 – newlook.com

how I let out a pair of tuxedo trousers

Well this is going to be a bit embarrassing for someone…

Last week, The Man and I were going out with a friendly couple. It was my best friend’s birthday, and she shrieked ecstatically when I suggested, months earlier, that we go to Herr Kettner’s Kabaret to celebrate. We immediately decided to dress up to the nines for it. With a background in theatre and neither of us being particularly shy, we kindly suggested to the men that they might like to take the gentlemanly way out and wear their tuxedos. Both complied very happily. I have to say, I’m completely smitten with mine, he looks _so_ ridiculously handsome in a tux! You’ll get to see if you agree later.

First, the alteration!

The night before, The Man was smart enough to try on his tux and see how it fitted. He looked dashing, and immensely uncomfortable. Then he tried sitting down. I feared for his mirrored wardrobe. Since the last time he’d worn it, he’d clearly had a few too many late evenings at work and heavy dinners followed by cake. (mmm… cake….) With Kettners Kabaret being in less than 24 hours though… this was a disaster.

So I looked at the trousers. They seemed designed to be altered. There was a single straight seam running up the seat of the trouser. No belt loops, nothing complicated.

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So The Man had a few options:

  1. Wear the tux as it is and risk embarrassment while being seriously uncomfortable
  2. Wear something else (but at last minute, what??)
  3. Take the tux to be altered somewhere near work (but where? And can they turn it around in half a day?)
  4. Go buy a new pair of tuxedo trousers and hope the black colour matches
  5. Give me the trousers, let me alter them, and I can bring him the tux to work before we go out

For some strange reason, despite a mild googling session for options 3 and 4, he was brave enough to go for option 5.

I’ve replaced a zip in a man’s trousers before. The front zip. It was a royal pain and incredibly fiddly, but the trousers were as good as new. And I have altered about 3 pairs of my own trousers (the devils had belt loops in the back, I cheated and removed them) when I lost weight. I was never going to throw away bell-bottomed blue-grey waist-high trousers! Nor navy blue velvet boot cut ones! Never in a million years! So they went from a size 14 (UK) to a size 10 (UK). So I’d done it before. But a tuxedo? On the day of the party? Jesus no!

Thankfully, I was working from home on the Friday, so I logged on a bit earlier than I would have otherwise, and used the more generous lunch break that earned me to do the alteration. It did take about 60-90 minutes, but I was going slowly, I was way too scared to mess something up.

So here it is, step by step. And I should warn you. I cheated.

First off, open the seam up. There were some elastics from the elasticated adjustable waistband that you’ll find in all good men’s trousers. I had to snip off the seams attaching those before being able to open up the seam properly flat.

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This is the seam all flattened and open.

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This is where the cheating happened. A professional seamstress would most likely have unpicked the seat seam first, then reassembled the garment. I, however, am not a pro. I’m an engineer. So I went for the duct-tape solution. I used the existing seam as my “tacks”. Instead of needing to align the fabric and pin it or tack it in place, I used the old seam for that, and just ran the sewing machine with a new seam just next to the end of the seat. See how beautifully made the trouser seams are? Love the finishing! This is part of how I could tell they were built to be altered.

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Then I unpicked the old seam. That took a _while_. I had to be very careful not to unpick the inner (new) seam at the same time!

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When that was done, I had to pull the elastics through a bit more, and re-attach them to the reinforced panels of the waistband. That was a bit tricky, as you don’t have much clearance to sew around that spot.

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The last step remains undocumented, and involved doing a few little stitches to secure the waistband in a folded position.

I also don’t have a photo of the trousers from the back or anything. I didn’t think of it. They looked flawless though! You wouldn’t have been able to tell that anything had been done to them!

And since I’ve been so terrible at showing you the trousers, maybe this will make up for it. I’m not shy by any means, and like I said neither are my friends. So here is a photo of the four of us, at Kettner’s Kabaret, to whom I also dedicate this post. Without that insane absinthe-soaked, burlesque-dancing, ukulele-singing, vintage photography-taking night, this blog post would never have happened. Well. Not in June, in any case.
I tried embedding the photo i wanted using Pinterest but their code didn’t work here. So here is the link to the photo if you want to see where it’s hiding in my pinterest boards.

And here is the photo itself.

The Man looks happy, doesn’t he?

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I’m applying for the Great British Sewing Bee! Will you?

sewingbee

I haven’t yet seen the last episode (it’s sitting on my iPlayer, faithfully), but I will be applying for the next season of the Great British Sewing Bee, mostly because I would have loved to meet every single person in this first season’s four little episodes. That and I think I’d learn a lot from seeing others work. I’ve been doing all of this alone for my entire life. Time to move on.

Apply for the Great British Sewing Bee >>

oyster card holder v2.0 (more pocketses!)

After having done it once, and seeing that the two pockets I’d made weren’t enough for the cards I was starting to need to carry (driver’s license, M & S card, oyster card, credit card, some cash and a few business cards), I decided to make a second version with more pockets. I’d especially liked the diagonal pocket, so I made two of them.

I cut out the pieces carefully, even though I didn’t bother measuring them.

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I then pinned the edges of the pockets so I could get nice angles on them.

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This side will have one full-length pocket in which I will hide the oyster. See it never needs to be removed to be used, it can work through the oyster card holder’s fabric, which means I can put it in the nearest-to-the-outside pocket, and hide it completely from view quite safely.

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After stitching all around the flipped “innards” of the holder, I cut the edges closer to the seam with crimping scissors. This means that when I flip it inside-out, the edges will be less poofy. (what do you mean, “poofy” isn’t a technical term?)

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Ta daaaa!

As I was making it, I decided to add a strap. I cut a length of fabric about 5cm wide in the diagonal of the fabric to make sure it will have some extra stretch, and stitched it inside-out along the long edge. This made for a tube, which I trimmed close to the seam and flipped inside-out to get a simple strap. I then anchored the strap between the “innards” (green pockets of the inside) and the blue rip-stop canvas outer, and made sure it stayed put when I stitched around the edge.

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This is the oyster card holder v2.0 in use.

 

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Handbag design: more sketches

Our task for last week was to draw out the handbags we had thought up. These are my simple sketches for the bags in the small range I’m thinking of.

First off, there is a classic design, loosely inspired by the Birkin bag, with two short handles and one long strap to hold from your shoulder or from across the body.

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Then there is a basket-like laptop bag, which I would like to make in neoprene. It’s thick, solid, and protective both against bumps and water. Perfect for a laptop bag. It doesn’t look supremely professional, but it depends if you’re a scuba-diving web designer or a cycling city girl… errr… yeah. I’d have said city boy, but I don’t think men would be attracted to this shape.

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Next up, the holdall. I love going away, and this is what my ideal duffle bag for a weekend getaway would look like.

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Ok, I have no idea what I was thinking when I doodled this. It has pockets though!

 

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Oyster card holder in 30min

A few weeks ago I was handed a cute oyster card holder from some guys advertising specsavers at waterloo station. Having moved back to london more or less that week, i took one and started using it. Yesterday, it split in two and became unusable.

In the few weeks i’ve had it, i’ve discovered that if i add my cafe loyalty cards and a credit card in there (and sometimes my driver’s license for picking up things at the post office) it becomes my “pop to the shops” or “night out with a teenie handbag” wallet. So when it broke, i was left with a bigger problem than i had imagined an oyster card holder could create.

My immediate thought was, of course, “easy, i’ll make one”. So i did. Here are the photos of me making my first ever – and slightly wonky – oyster card holder in about 30min. Complete with sewing machine deployment and re-tidy. Yes, speed was essential. I was going out.

Step one: my big fat canvas backing

I forgot to take a photo of that… I underestimated the length of canvas I would need and cut it way too short! So I had to go back and cut a nice long strip again for the entire back of the oyster holder. One doesn’t realise quite how long two oyster cards can be!

Step two: ok, so i’m not going to iron these into shape… Ah! Let’s sew them on the flip side!

I originally thought I would sew the pieces flat onto the canvas. Then I realised I’d want nicely trimmed / rolled edges, to I tried rolling them under the edge and pinning them down. That didn’t work. I would have needed to iron them. Or have fingers a large as a newborn’s. Neither were going to happen, i’m 34 and was in a rush. So I just sewed them together as you would a little pouch, inside out, guaranteeing myself a nice even finish once I flipped them.

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Step three: i should’ve done it on one big piece…

As an amusing replay of the canvas being too short, I didn’t think of cutting one long piece of the green fabric to make the inner backing of the folding oyster holder. So I had to stitch the two halves together before placing the long piece with flipped pockets onto the canvas for that final stitch around the edges.

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Step four: niiice and easy

This last stitch is the most visible piece of the oyster holder. I also, bravely for someone in such a rush and refusing to use a ruler, decided to do that in yellow thread. I had to be very very very careful when running that last stitch! I also used a longer stitch length, which makes the stitches themselves more visible and more decorative. (they look more like dashes than like a dotted line)

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Step five: ok, it’s a bit wonky, but it works!!

So here it is. Completed and used. I ran out of the house about 5 minutes later and was flashing it to a bus driver’s yellow oyster sensor a couple of minutes after that.

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The one thing I forgot was to add some kind of marker for which side to have facing me, so I would know which side the oyster card is on. It’s important, as that’s the side you want to touch to the oyster NFC sensors (near field communication) in tube stations and buses. But hey, it worked!

And of course the star of the show: my beloved Singer from 1919. Such a joy working on that every time!!

 

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better t shirts please!

Not enough t shirts with wide necklines.

I used to laugh at my grandmother who would chide me “cover yourself up, I can see your stomach” when I was playing on the floor with toys. Then I grew up. The chiding (and my peeking stomach) didn’t quite stop. Then I grew up some more. Moved to the UK. Crossed into my thirties. And realised, all of a sudden, that despite having survived temperatures in the negative 30s (yes, I’ve breathed minus 39C air. It hurts.), I was cold.

t shirt in kelly dress Of all places, I was cold in London! Why? I think it’s the humidity. So I took to wearing a tee shirt under everything in the winter. This is excellent practice as it protects jumpers, dresses, etc… from being sweat into. However, unless you’ve got a very closed collar, you end up having an ungraceful and unprofessional tee shirt neckline peek out.

When I’m wearing a very rare, 1950s Grace Kelly-esque vintage woollen dress with silk ribbon edging, I do _not_ want my Primark tee shirt to peek out from inside. I do want it to act as a barrier between my skin and the wool (in both directions, wool itches), but I don’t want anyone to know I’m wearing it.

This is a call to all t shirt manufacturers to think about how their t shirts are worn – most often under another garment – and make them easier to hide. Wider necklines. Soft fabrics. Long enough to tuck into low trousers or skirts. The closest I’ve found are the tees from Primark, but given that sometimes the people assembling them miss a seam… or the neckline trim is quite thick (and not something you want to show off in an office), I use them sparingly. And patiently wait for another company (perhaps H&M? The Gap? – the Gap has always had amazing jersey) to step in and do t shirts right.

As for my belly, it’s fairly toned, and still peeking. Except now, 30+ years on, I know why. I’m long-waisted. My waist is 1 to 2 inches lower than what most companies design for. This means I can’t shop for tailored dresses anywhere… (except at McQueen – which I can’t afford – or REISS) and it is the reason why this blog, and my sewing hobby, are kept alive.

Reiss dress

Reiss dresses do fit me properly

In fine style #infinestyle at Buckingham Palace

IMG_0112Last week, I was invited for a preview visit to the In fine style exhibit at the Queen’s Galleries in Buckingham Palace. It was a bloggers’ breakfast, you see. And we got a guided tour as well, which was really great!

If I were to summarise the whole thing, I would say “If these clothes could talk…”, because that was precisely their purpose. From fabrics lawfully restricted to those of royal birth, to building a silhouette that makes you look bigger, taller, manlier (Henry’s codpiece anyone?), every single garment, piece of jewellery and painting thereof had something to say.

Exotic feathers for travelling and links to the orient. Ruffs as a sign of wasteful wealth, given how expensive they were to make, and even more, to maintain! Hand-washed, ironed, and set in those overwhelming folds by hand, with sticks and starch. About embroidering certain things to showcase your lineage on your dress and then having an official portrait painted, to the King who had his son depicted wearing breeches and leaning nonchalantly against a column at the age of 5 – when most other children are still wearing dresses and caps – to signify to the world that this was the next King! Amusingly enough, this was in the second of two paintings. Clothes really tell a story, don’t they?

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A very interesting piece was what I’d call a triptych. King Charles had a collar made of lace, which he wore when posing for a bust of him. The collar features in it, and the artist hasn’t managed to render the meticulous detailing of it, but you can see it worn as it was in real life. Then, a painting of the man himself, colourful, friendly, and of course with the collar taking centre stage on its owner. Beautifully rendered in painstaking detail on the canvas. The last piece of the triptych is, surprisingly, the collar itself! Made of the most exquisitely and head-spinningly detailed lace, it has survived and is now sitting near the bust and the painting, to be seen in all its real life glory.

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So many customs have been forgotten. Like how we should all wear hats, so we may uncover ourselves in front of someone of higher rank. There is a painting in the collection which is almost a showcase of this particular point of etiquette. It also features, unwittingly perhaps, an interesting detail: the back of the head of one of the ladies, where we discover how it was put up and decorated.

For instance, unlike today, where we can pick up a dress for £10 from Primark, wear it five times, watch it deteriorate in the wash and then throw it away, in those days, it was more of a Make it and Mend it attitude. This is why collars, ribbons, hats, and other items have survived better than skirts and petticoats. Those were invariably scavenged for their swathes of fabric and turned into bodices, children’s clothes, or smaller items still. I wonder how many lives one piece of fabric really had!

And with the growth of the Empire, the discovery of new lands, new fashions and new fabrics, the joke was that the English were incredibly fickle with their fashions and changing them so fast, they risked showing up naked due to indecision (or a seamstress’ inability to finish something new quickly enough).

Surprisingly enough, there wasn’t quite as much as I had hoped on patterns, shapes, fabrics, and other everyday details. Well, none that I could use in my projects, anyway.

I did delight in meeting the organising team and talking about technology, fashion, and children-yet-to-come with them. They are all really lovely individuals and did a great job at putting the morning together. Everything was beautifully organised, and I’m really glad I was invited and took the day off to attend!

On the way out, I dropped in on a strange exhibit. The man in red. All we have to puzzle out who he is, is what he was wearing! Can you guess?
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handbag design course: six bags, six scenarios – first sketches

So I’m doing a handbag design course.

Our second task, from week two, was to design six handbags for our client. Like a good User Experience Architect, I started with six usage scenarios…

I’ve also listed each bag with the largest most likely items it needs to contain.

  1. day bag for the office: laptop, A4 pages, iPad, kindle, …
  2. day bag for running around the city: camera, kindle, A5 notebook, …
  3. date night clutch: oyster, keys, credit card, phone, lipstick, …
  4. weekender / overnighter / carry-on bag: shoes, 2 clothes changes, book, magazine, tickets, …
  5. popping out to the corner shop clutch: phone, oyster & credit card, keys. (just the holy trinity, minimised)
  6. emergency carrier bag: the ubiquitous shopper, in parachute silk. For your jacket if the day gets too warm, for the milk on your way home, for that amazon delivery that arrived at work.

And here are the sketches I came up with. I need to spend more time exploring alternatives for each, but our time on the course is very limited, and given my full time job has yet to be replaced with full time blogging and photography (I wish), I am constrained in what I can achieve.

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