Autumnal favourites

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There’s a chill in the air all of a sudden (and about time too, amiright?), Game of Thrones references are circulating throughout the internet, and I wore a really chunky jumper dress yesterday. I’m seeing winter wardrobe planning popping up all over my favourite sewing and fashion blogs, and I even had my first pumpkin spiced latte the other day. In a word, underwhelming. Autumn is officially a go!

Stripy Coco top

Yes, that is another Coco top (see Cocos one and two here), and yes, it is awesome. Probably my favourite to date; worked in a cheeky sale purchase medium weight stripy double knit from Minerva, smart enough for work but casual enough to slip seamlessly into the rest of my closet. I love the weight of this fabric, it is more substantial than my previous Cocos and has a lovely texture. I tried my best with the stripe matching as well… sort of… While I firmly believe that one woman’s ‘wardrobe staples’ are another woman’s snooze-a-rama, the striped top beloved by many a fashion fascist is also one of my key pieces. Along with a neoprene sweatshirt.

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And to add to my stripy wardrobe I have some new fabric, which I have been looking for since at least forever. Or since I started making Cocos, because quite frankly a classic jersey dress pattern is just screaming out for a classic Breton stripe. I’ve been hunting high and low for the right one for ages, and at last the Fabric Godmother came to my rescue with this pile of loveliness. I am so excited to wear the dress that this fabric will become!

DSC_1351_editI also splashed out on this month’s edition of Burda Style, because there was one pattern in there that really caught my eye: a really simple top with raglan sleeves. The pattern suggests silk, which I’m sure I’ll work my way up to eventually, but for the time being there are some lovely light cottons in my stash that would fit the bill.

Also a sure-fire  way to get my interest in a pattern is to model it in pale pink for some reason. Or a lovely marl grey. Gotta love that Grace Kelly headscarf styling as well.

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And finally, a little love for some Autumn staples. As I got older something quite odd happened to me, the mass consumer of all things fashion: I became the pared down wardrobe woman. One coat, one scarf, one pair of boots. One nice thing as opposed to fifty average ones. My last pair of perfect boots died earlier this year, and I have newly replaced them with these beauties from high-end H&M spin off & Other Stories, who I think are nailing it with their footwear this season. Perfect for someone like me who wants a good quality basic with a fash-un edge. I bought some plain black court shoes for work there recently that I love (not something I ever thought I would feel about work shoes).

And who needs more than one scarf when you have one this frickin’ cosy? I bought it on a Christmassy trip to Edinburgh last year from a shop on the Royal Mile called “Thistle Do Nicely” (win). It doubles as an excellent blanket when fights break out over the temperature in the office (which happens a lot).

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That’s all folks, I wish you all the pumpkin-flavoured crispy-leaved joys of the changing season. If anyone needs me I will be masochistically purchasing a pumpkin spiced latte. Again.

Five Firsts

I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things post conferences, and decided to dust off the old keypad and the shutter button finger and have some bloggy fun time. I have so many projects to share and ideas for posts, so I’ll be doing my very best to get those up and running over the next few weeks. I thought for today, and for something a bit different, I would rustle up a bumper trip to nostalgia town.

I’ve come to sewing blogging part way through my handmade wardrobe exploits, but I do have quite a long pre-blog history of making my own clothes and not all of them were outfits for Sylvanian Families (if you’re very lucky one day I’ll dig out the photographs of those for a post). Under the bed in the spare room/study/sewing room is a box containing all the old makes that I don’t wear any more, but am lovingly keeping as a reminder of those early slapdash sewing days. And some of those have even survived my many ruthless wardrobe culls and are still in action today.


The ‘never let Mae Martin see these seams’ dress

DSC_1335_editThis pink dress for example. This is the first dress I ever made using a pattern, spending hours tracing the pattern out of Burda Style magazine, carefully selected a wool blend poly weave fabric in palest pink, and spent a day sewing it all together. I was completely ignorant of notches, my seams are pretty wonky and let’s not even look at the underarms, but I love it. And still wear it, come the winter this cosy dress will become one of my work wear staples.

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One day I want to make another of these dresses, using all the tricks I’ve learned to make it perfect (not to mention my beloved overlocker) and in a really fancy wool that doesn’t smell of fish when I iron it… Aah, cheap fabric.


Knitted capes of joy

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Although I have now graduated to knitting jumpers – I have two on the go at the moment – my first attempt at knitting anything more substantial than, well, dolly blankets was a lovely black wool cape with jazzy fuzzy trim. The chunky yarn just slipped off the even chunkier needles like a dream, and I finished the first one in a few days and the second in a few hours. I’ve actually now made three of these – two for me and one for my mum, which is, of course, the most beautiful in a gorgeous rich navy. Plus I made it extra long for winter schnuggling.  Once my jumpers are finished I am really tempted to make another for me this winter in another colour. On a dark winter night there is nothing better than cosy pjs, big fluffy socks and one of these bad boys to keep out the chill. I like to accessorise this look with a glass of mulled wine.


The First Dresses

orange dress swimmers dress

Excluding outfits made for Sylvanian Families, these were the first dresses I ever made. I rustled up the orange number a few years ago when I didn’t know the difference between a weave and knit. I just knew I wanted to make an orange dress, and not really knowing anything about fabric or where to buy it I pottered into John Lewis and bought two metres of something orange, for the orange dress I was going to make. When I got home I picked a sleeveless top to use as a template, drew straight around it onto the fabric, cut it all out and sewed it together. I had a vague notion of how bias binding worked, so I added some of that, and some sketchy looking pockets with BIG FAT buttons on the front. With hindsight, the only reason this dress works is because of the knit fabric. Subsequent attempts to make a bodice the same way using woven fabrics failed miserably, but I couldn’t figure out why!

The swimmers dress is the the only one of all these makes that no longer exists. When I made this dress I was every inch the fashion blogger in Swedish Hasbeen wannabes and a cute printed frock. Some people totally rock this look, but these days I feel much more comfortable in some simple flats and something loose. This was another ‘make it up as I go along’ dress – I used the same vest top from my orange dress to design the bodice, and then ran up a circle skirt with the help of my mum. Once I gave up on wearing this style of dress for good I took it apart. The fabric from this dress is stashed away, carefully washed and pressed and waiting for a project more relevant to my personal style.


That time I pretended to be a fashion designer

And finally, I have to share this little gem, because it was a pretty stressful but very proud moment for me – my first (and probably only) clothing collection. I took part in the UCL Fashion Society’s annual show, and while my little offering wasn’t the most skillful and definitely not the most wearable I was still pretty proud of it. Keen eyed viewers might spot one of my knitted capes!

So there you have it, a little glimpse into my sewing history. What were the first things that you ever sewed? Do you still have them, squirrelled away somewhere? Or do you perhaps continue to wear them?

Neoprene

To say my life has been nomadic for the last couple of weeks is stating it mildly. It’s political party conference season, and as I work for a science advocacy organisation we have been doing our bit to promote the cause ahead of next year’s general election. Time for sewing has been thin on the ground, and time for blogging even thinner; the days I get off are spent in laundry and repacking my case. But luckily I do have a few projects from before the conference craziness to share. When I have time to photograph them obviously!

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So I thought I was being fashion forward with my predilection for neoprene garments, but apparently not. A trip down Oxford Street in search of a new winter coat (not something I feel confident enough to make myself yet) revealed a plethora of neoprene sweatshirts in all colours. Oh well, I never really had high hopes of being a trend setter! I think the love of neoprene comes from all those childhood holidays spent on Welsh and Cornish beaches, where a wetsuit is the only sensible form of swimwear. That smell is more reminiscent of holidays to me than salt water!

Both of these are Capital Chic White Russian sweatshirts, which is one of my favourite patterns of the moment. Super easy to sew, a lovely fit and very stylish. Or at least very my style, which as we’ve already discussed is not as cutting edge as I’d like it to be. I do like a good sweatshirt.

Incidentally I’ve had a stab at making the Manhattan skirt from the same collection, but the sizing is weird on me – too tight on the hips and too loose on the waist – so I shall need to do some work on that one.

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I made this navy blue version back at the end of August, using some cheap ‘scuba’ fabric that I bought from Rolls ‘n Rems in Lewisham. I was so excited when I found it that I went a bit nuts and bought six metres, so I’m still working out what to do with the remainder! This fabric is not what I would really consider neoprene as it doesn’t have the same structure or thickness, and behaves more like a heavy weight knit. But it was great for testing the water, so to speak, and I’ve ended up with a really nice, wearable sweatshirt.

DSC_1271_editFor my next trick I went for the real deal. Finding actual neoprene is not as easy as you would imagine; it can be found on ebay in sheets designed for wetsuit repair, and very rarely on the roll. Most places sell ‘neoprene’ of the kind I used for the first sweatshirt, but not the real deal. Cloth House came to my rescue in the end with a vast array of neoprene in all colours and thicknesses. At £28 per metre it isn’t cheap fabric, but buying 1.5m and making your own sweatshirt still works out cheaper than shelling out £60 – £260 for a branded one.

I went for a relatively lightweight fabric, about 3mm thick in an ivory off white colour, and because it’s not very stretchy I increased the pattern by one size. I’d heard horror stories about neoprene and home sewing machines, tales of skipped stitches and broken needles, but this stuff worked up like a dream. Although I suspect that if I’d used anything thicker I would have had all these problems and more.

DSC_1262_editRegardless of how fashion forward this make ended up being, I am really happy with it! For winter I love to mix up the textures in my wardrobe – wool, leather, cotton, and now neoprene. And if I really want to cement my status as a trend-setter maybe I need to abandon more passe uses for neoprene like sweatshirts and go for the big leagues. Trousers perhaps. Hmmm…