Thursday, 18 August 2016

Cuttting Liberty Lawn gives me goose pimples.

I've been lucky enough to get my mitts on some beautiful Liberty Tana lawn for a client in Bath. This stuff is like heroin to a sewist. Maybe that is going a little too far, but just cutting into this fabric gives me goose pimples (I'm sure you guys get this... right?). As I type, I can hear the whimpering of my African Wax stash. 'Pipe down boys I'm most definitely not done with you yet!' Although... just imagine African Wax Print cotton lawn, Blimey. There'd be no coming back from that.

Anyway, the lovely lady in question had purchased the fabrics from Alice Caroline, but neither had the time nor the confidence to sew them up herself. Enter little old me,  I merrily obliged!

Cue the shameless self-promotion: for bespoke orders or commissions you can contact me at

Moving on... I'll dive straight into the fabrics.

Those of you with a keen eye may notice that I am no stranger to the AMAZING fabric on the bottom right. I used Queue for the Zoo in a different colour way for a pair of Carolyn Pajamas not so long ago. These remain (and probably will for all eternity) my favourite pair a jammies. Just look at them...

Who doesn't need a pair of PJs covered in paper aeroplane throwing elephants
and 'detective' chameleons?!!!

This is such a beautiful pattern. I honestly haven't seen a bad pair sewn up. The construction and design are so well thought out, and you get such a lovely finish. If you haven't got this pattern in your stash yet  - YOU NEED IT (even if you are not a fan of nightwear). These beautiful versions should help persuade you: Bianca's and Faye's - but seriously there are SO many more.

I am now desperately fighting the urge to sew up another pair immediately. MUST COMPLETE BLOG POST.

The green leaf print tana lawn (bottom left) was destined to become a dressing gown. My client had sewn herself the dressing gown of her dreams many years ago for the birth of her first child. It has held up amazingly well after 25 years of daily wear. That my friends illustrates the beauty and importance of French seams! This standard of finish gives garments such longevity and is rarely seen in high street garments (Read: Buy or make HANDMADE garments!).

I went ahead and made a pattern from her faithful old friend. The construction of the dressing gown was very simple, so I was able to replicate it from some quick measurements. It all came together pretty quickly, and I invested time in making this dressing gown as special as the first. I used French seams throughout (of course!), pattern matched the pocket, and hand finished the hems and the collar. I found this gorgeous ribbon from my local haberdashery for the waist ties and hanger (Sew 'n'  Sew in the Guildhall Market if you live in Bath).

Pocket...? What Pocket?

Here she is in the 'wild'.

Next up was a fairly similar print in yellow.  My client had purchased McCall's M7096, and we opted for version D (with slightly more modest slits!). Firstly, I altered the fit to sit just above the hip rather than the waist and after a couple of adjustments to the toile we were happy.

I use curtain backing as toile material. Don't let anybody throw old curtains! 

I decided to underline the skirt with a yellow crepe to give the garment some body. I hand basted each skirt piece to the underling fabric then cut the lining. You can watch me doing this here and here if you are interested.

For the last two pieces, we decided to draft a pattern to get a beautiful fit on her petite frame. I was thrilled that I'd get to make a dress out of the Queue for the Zoo fabric. To be honest, I can't quite believe I resisted the temptation the first time around. We opted for a fairly simple darted bodice to show off the print with a box pleat skirt. 

After two fittings and adjustments to the toile, we were happy with the fit, and I braced myself for making that first cut...

I sincerely enjoyed sewing this dress. You can tell as I matched my nails. Always a good sign.

The dress is fully lined in cotton lawn and a matching viscose for the skirt.
We loved the shape of the skirt so much that we went straight ahead and cut the same design in the grey daisy print. 

Such a beautiful way to finish a zip! 

I used French seams and the fold and stitch method to finish the side seams. I lined the skirt in a 100% cotton (from Fashion Fabrics on Green Street, again if you are local) and made bias binding out of the scraps to finish the hem. 

That is all from me. I'm off to cut into some Liberty lawn scraps. I CANNOT STOP MYSELF. 

Friday, 5 August 2016

'ayyy, by gum you are so much like your Gran'

I have just returned from a long weekend in Whitby with my lovely little Grandad.

Three generations and Whitby.
I spent a lot of my time with him lapping up stories and photographs of my Grandma who died in 1992 when I was just two years old. She was a seamstress and despite having no memories of her, I feel sewing has formed a space and time defying bond between us.

My Grandma and Grandad 'courting' in 1948.
They met when they were just 15. My Grandad was working as a clockmaker, in a workshop that overlooked a department store where my Grandma worked in alterations. He spent many hours watching her work on a sewing machine in the shop window before he plucked up the courage to talk to her. They married in the summer of 1952.

My Grandma's dress was made by a colleague and a very dear friend as a wedding gift. The skirt was up-cycled as christening gowns for their three children, but the bodice is still packaged up as it was 64 years ago! 

I tried the dress on and could barely do up the buttons at the cuffs, and the waist was short by a good 7 inches. My Gran had an 18-inch waist when she got married!!!! The construction and hand overcast stitches at the raw edges are beautiful. 

My Grandad's house is pretty much just as my Gran left it. Her reading glasses and rings have been in the kitchen for as long as I can remember. Her embroidery and crochet still adorn the walls and chairs and my Grandad still wears her hand knitted jumpers.

Grandad perfecting a 'selfie' in a Gran knitted jumper.
I'd be in serious trouble for including this if he had the internet!

Gran made dresses. I'd love to re-create the beauty on the bottom right, in African wax of course! 

As soon as I arrived in Whitby, I settled down to some hand sewing and a cuppa tea. I felt my Grandad's eyes follow every stitch: 'ayyy, by gum you are so much like your Gran!' It got me thinking. Could I have inherited my ease with needle and thread from my Grandma?

My Mum had watched my Gran sew and is perfectly competent at sewing a cushion or a button but has little experience sewing clothes. Anecdotal experience suggests that the 'sewing gene' skips a generation, but I'm sure this is down to sociology rather than biology. I suspect this isn't unusual for the 'baby boomers,' rebelling from 'housewife' associated past-times! When the sewing bug hit, I had no choice but to turn to the internet and relied primarily on instinct. There was certainly very little 'sewing nurturing' going on, so could nature have played a part?

You may or may not know that I am a scientist by training. Naturally, I couldn't resist the urge to make a date with Pubmed to put the theory to the test. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much funding in the neuroscience of sewing - I'd be the first in line! However, there is more evidence than one might expect to support the idea that creativity might be inherited. Researchers in Helsinki measured participant's musical creativity through a pitch test, as well as their ability to compose and rearrange music. They found a correlation between musical aptitude and a particular cluster of genes thought to be involved in synaptic plasticity (the brain's 'learning mechanism' to form new, and prune old connections between cells).

Volf et al. (2009) have identified a polymorphism (or alternative form) of the gene that regulates serotonin processing which shows a significant association between verbal and figural creativity. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter primarily thought to be involved in regulating sleep patterns, homoeostasis, and sexual arousal and interestingly plays a key role in many psychiatric disorders. This may not come as a great surprise, the list of creative geniuses that are thought to have suffered from mental illness is endless. Consequently, this link has been of interest to researchers for some time. The largest population-based study into mental illness at Sweden's Karolinska Institute has been ongoing for the past forty years! They observed that creativity in severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, is limited while in people suffering from relatively mild disorders, such as bipolar, it flourishes. The study also follows the siblings of those with mental illness, and while they show no symptoms, they do appear to have increased creativity.

Elevating serotonin levels in the brain is thought to increase connectivity in areas of the brain that play key roles in awareness and internally direct thought. Interestingly this is how selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work for the treatment of depression. Altered connectivity of the two hemispheres of the brain is also thought to contribute to creative thinking or 'thinking outside the box.' The hemispheres are connected by a bundle of fibres know as the corpus callosum and these appear to be smaller in people with creative tendencies. With less communication between the two hemispheres, it is argued that each hemisphere can specialise, and ideas can develop more freely in a process referred to as 'incubation of ideas.' This is by no means causative evidence, and for now, I'll remain sceptical!

By no means am I a creative genius, nor do I know anything about the state of my corpus callosum or whether my Grandma passed down the S/S variant of the serotonin transporter gene. For now, I'll just have to enjoy the things I know she left me for sure...

My Gran and I in 1992 matching in blue.