Weekend wanderings

30 Apr

So this weekend I went to Reading. Partly to see Andy Owen, partly for Reading Mage and partly to go to Fabric Land.


As I walked through the town centre I was struck by how many shops have changed. I felt sad to discover that the Friar Street Bookshop, once my favourite lunch time haunt and source of so many of my first forays into Pratchett is now an optician. Just like Birmingham it seems to be filling up with pound shops and charity shops. Next time I’m in I must go to more of the charity shops – I found one with some vintage sewing patterns in it (didn’t get any as none of them leapt out at me.) I must also go to the market to see if it still has fabric stalls.


Feeling slightly melancholy about how much has changed I was happy to wander past the unchanged Greyfriars church and Christian Coffee Shop, turn into Cheapside and discover that Fabric Land still has the same brilliant yellow shop sign, and the bridal shop next to it is the same. Fabric Land was crammed with goodies – and absolutely packed with people.


I was aiming to get some bright fuchsia pink suiting for a skirt, but the only bolt I found in the right kind of fabric was entirely the wrong shade of pink. I did find the floral cotton I’d fallen in love with online; and it is as lovely in the flesh. Most definitely a good plan to go and physically see the fabric, feel it and play with it – and hold it against the pink suiting and go “no, that really doesn’t go at all.” So I went hunting through the bolts and found a gorgeous moss crepe in a lovely deep crimson red. So I now have that, lining to go with it, the floral for a blouse and a load of calico to make toiles with. This seems especially important as the patterns I have don’t come in my size. However there are a lot of tutorials online about how to redraft a pattern and grade it up so I have tissue paper, a ruler and a plan.


I had a nice natter with the lady who cut my fabric – I asked if they’d seen an increase in business since the Great British Sewing Bee and the answer was “it’s been completely crazy.” I let her know that there are a whole bunch of blogs about sewing and Fabric Land is being recommended as a source both as a bricks and mortar shop and online. It was nice to see a small shop be so busy. I also had a sympathetic moan with a lady who was buying fabric to make her little girl a skirt because all the skirts in the shops are miniskirts – and she just doesn’t think that they’re suitable for a five year old. I said I was doing the same for myself as I didn’t want to wear a miniskirt to work where I’m sat down all day. Definitely one of the advantages to this making your own lark – you can increase (or decrease) the length to how you want it. Plus add in pockets; what is it about women’s clothing not having pockets?


I also popped into John Lewis – they’ve moved their haberdashery and it’s nice and light and airy, but I’d swear that their fabric selection has seriously decreased. Managed to find a matching zip for the skirt though; plus some fusible stuff to see if I can fix Mark’s cloak. I have decided that I’m going to make self-covered buttons for the blouse. I’m going to make patch pockets for the skirt, and may decorate them with some self-covered buttons as well so I got spares.


I am really hoping to go to the sewing bloggers meet up in June now – apparently the one in London was amazing; and this one aims to hit the rag market. The fabric I have for the skirt is gorgeous, but somewhat heavy. It’s going to be perfect for work, and I think will carry through to autumn, I’d almost be tempted to make trousers for autumn / winter out of it (in a different colour possibly) – but I’m wondering if it’s going to be a bit heavy during summer. So some experienced advice on if some of the cottons about will actually work for a skirt would be most welcome.


So now I have the fabric to make a toile, the actual fabric and all the notions. Next weekend is a bank holiday so I’m going to spend it sewing. I have already popped the fabric into the washing machine and it’s drying on the laundry rack. I need to hunt out the iron – I think I know where it is, and take my ironing board out of its shrink wrap (from when I bought it from Woolworths was closing down … yeah, I don’t iron. This may change.) I also intend to buy some sawdust and make a tailor’s ham and sleeve.


I then ambled from John Lewis into glorious sunshine (which as it had suddenly started raining as we walked up from the station was lovely) and the familiar sound of the Hare Krishnas. So some things about Reading haven’t changed – they still have folks in robes with cymbals and drums chanting. It reminded me of the parade that they once had with a sacred bull in tow.


The Great British Sewing Bee

23 Apr

The Great British Sewing Bee has just finished. Four programmes, eight contestants, twelve challenges. From a child’s sun dress to a stunning evening gown; a man’s shirt and trousers; machine stitching and hand sewing – I have watched in awe struck amazement as these people managed to make such stunning garments against the clock.

And let’s face it – Patrick’s an absolute dreamboat … And Mark may have been eliminated in round two, but where else are you going to see an HGV mechanic who’s into steampunk and creating historical clothing make a dress and insert a zip?

The Bee has resulted in me lusting after sewing patterns and fabrics with a view to making my own clothes after a decade or so of not sewing. I’ve also been lurking around the blogs and I’ve seen a lot of reviews where people are bemoaning the fact that the programme is short, the “make your own slots” are short and simple and there’s not enough emphasis on the sewing. It struck me that a lot of these reviews have come from folks outside the UK so I wanted to point out a couple of things.


In the US there is something called  Project Runway which is apparently a reality show about designing clothes. However, according to the comments I’ve read it seems to concentrate on design not making, and on the drama and tantrums, not calm cups of tea and people actually helping each other despite the competition. As far as I can tell, most of our reality TV shows so far have been watching people eat bugs in a jungle or have raging arguments.

But, there have been crafting programmes showing things to do with your home – Kirstie Allsopp for example, there are a bunch at the moment looking at the competitions at the local farming shows and setting “Proper Chefs” into the “make jam” competitions. But these all seem to be fairly niche – they’re either on during the day in the week or on the “secondary” channels – so Channel 4 instead of ITV1.

What we have also had over recent years are some very popular “surprise hits.” One set have been a bunch of history shows, where a group of historians and archaeologists attempt to run a farm in the same way that they would have been run in times past – they started in the early 17th century with Tales from the Green Valley, moved to Victorian Farm, through the Victorian Pharmacy then Edwardian Farm and finally Wartime Farm – where of course there was a lot of segments showing “make do and mend” and “making dresses from feedsacks”; but in all the others discussions about how they made clothes during that period has featured.

The other one was the Great British Bake Off – and it just exploded. Twelve amateur bakers; two judges,  one professional baker (who also has a fan base of ladies), one infamous domestic goddess who taught during the war years and two enthusiastic celebrities acting as presenters, cheer leaders, comforters and doing history slots in between watching the competitors bake And it’s very very British in competition – they help each other, they commiserate, they natter to each other.  The most dramatic things I can think of off the top of my head was when one poor chap dropped his cake; and another where one managed to seriously cut his hand (another contestant happened to be an A&E nurse – she dropped everything she was doing to help him.) At no point was there any bitching or sniping between the contestants. The spin offs have included books, shows where the two judges demonstrate the technical bakes (including a Christmas special) and atm the baker has his own show demonstrating bread.

You may see similarities in format J . Now, the simple fact is, TV is expensive. No one wants to make a flop because they won’t get funds for a new show. This is why soaps run for years; you get long running series and of course New TV is very rare. The Bee is taking an already proven format – the Bake Off – and tapped into the interest shown in reaction to shows like the historical Farm series, and the “make Stuff for your home” shows. The Bake Off was the “forging new territory” programme.  This is walking into new territory with a winning format. Now it’s short yes. Rather than one person going each week the first two programmes had two leaving. The inset segments with the “make this for yourself” are indeed simple and not detailed. There is however an accompanying book with all the segment projects in detail, other projects including various clothes from the show and access to the patterns.  This is how I found out about it; I found the book in the local supermarket. (It fell in my shopping basket – oops.)

Apparently as a result – haberdashery sales have exploded. People are looking at sewing classes. Traffic on blogs like Tilly’s has increased. This is how come I’m sat here writing this blog (I bought the book, watched the show and then found Tilly’s blog, found several hundred more and decided to make my own) waiting for the weekend so I can go get some fabric to make myself a skirt and top. Today two patterns dropped through my letterbox from a manufacturer I had no idea existed before this programme.

Yes the show has faults. Yes it can be improved. A follow up show with the judges demonstrating techniques would be awesome. But right now, we’re seeing sewing – of clothes – by a variety of folks – on the Telly! And apparently they’ve already commissioned another – longer – series.

Oh and check out this blog – from the consultant behind the scenes 😉



So why this blog title?

21 Apr

So I guess the first question is “Why rebelling against black”?


Two reasons really. The first is deeply personal. Black for me has become indelibly associated with a period in my life that is one of the most painful to look back on; I was wearing black to fit in (and this is not a dig at Rhona or my many Goth friends; however I’m not a Goth it seems); and in a lot of ways to either pretend I was something I wasn’t or to hide. Which contrasts with the fact that I also had a lot of hugely bright clashing colours and again; they were a disguise about how I was feeling – wearing cheerful clothes to project a cheerful personality; but inside parts of me were breaking apart.


Dear lord that was gloomy wasn’t it? However looking back on that time; whilst there are some really good bits that I wouldn’t change for the world; I’m not that person anymore and I don’t want to dress that way now. It’s taken me years to work out those issues; and they still occasionally haunt me – why would I put myself into a black work suit if all it will do is make me grumpy all day?


The second reason is more cheerful. I’ve come to the conclusion over the last few years that black actually doesn’t suit me that much; so the amount of black in my wardrobe is now minimal (and mainly used for character costume!) I don’t like the “standard” solution of black trousers / skirt and coloured top, especially as the colours that best suit me in the main do not look good with black in my opinion; and if I wear white shirt and black skirt it makes me feel like I’ve walked off the set of Men in Black .


I’m finding myself more and more depressed about available clothing. If you watch any of the fashion transformation programs on TV; all of the stylists point out that most people look far better in colour than in plain old black. I know that the style shows aren’t everyone’s cup of tea; but when I watch Gok take someone who is so unhappy with their body and get them to stand, look at themselves in a mirror and cry “I look fabulous” it makes my heart sing. But all the advice he gives about colours and shapes don’t help if they’re not available. He’s got a campaign to help people accept their shapes and find themselves beautiful; a campaign to add body acceptance to the school curriculum; I think he ought to set a challenge to designers to make collections that don’t include any black at all.


Trinny and Susannah once pulled out a street’s worth of wardrobes and found that most of their contents were black. It seems that a lot of Britain’s ladies wear black; and the reasons that they were giving resonated with me: it’s easy; I want to hide; I want to fit in. I would however add “and trying to find colours other than black is practically impossible”; as once more “black is in this season” and everything’s black. Or grey – which if anything looks worse on me than black does; especially with ginger hair. Go into a shoe shop and look – 90% of the shoes are nice safe black; even though browns or nudes look better with more colours. I often people watch; and I saw a lady the other day who was in a gorgeous outfit which was a floaty skirt and top in toning pale turquoise greens and then dull black boots, and the boots just pulled it down and made it look awful.


The colours I suit are Autumnal and warm; browns, reds, greens and golds. Add teals; plums (not royal purple unfortunately); some dark pinks and creams; even French navy and a few acid brights and I have a huge range of colours to choose from – if I could find anything in them. Teal was in one  year; but it was being teamed with blacks and greys, partnering the teal in prints – which make it look dull and lifeless to my eyes; I’d far rather team it with greens or browns. Purple as well – but exactly the wrong shade of royal purple. Scarlet I can wear, but do I really want to wear that in the office? Especially if you team it with black; reminding me of “sexy underwear”; or grey, which looks like my first school uniform.


My neutral base colours are browns not black; but in a sea of black trousers I’ll find one choice in brown and if it’s not a style that suits me then tough. Same with skirts; plus brown or green polyester fibres look like school skirts. Coloured skirts are more common to be fair; but they’re still often in styles that scream “casual” rather than “smart.” 


So that’s why I don’t in general wear black. But there’s more to this blog than a rant against black.


I am 5’ 2” tall and (currently) a size 16 – 20 depending on cut, manufacturer and style. I am an hourglass – I have size 42DD boobs, which basically translates to 48 inches across my fullest point, and my hips are a near match at 49”. My waist however is 40”. Now I am currently losing weight thanks to joining a gym, hefting weights about and revamping my diet. I have in fact lost about 3 stone. But my shape has remained the same. Looking at the ladies on both sides of my family, no matter what weight I lose I will remain curvy – especially on top.


The stylists will say “If you have boobs; wrap styles and open-neck styles will look better on you.” This is (imo) absolutely true for me. However if you look for “work dresses” what will come up is shift dresses. Do we ladies with cleavage not work? I can find a shift dress in my size; but it looks dreadful on me; and if you look at the sale racks at the end of season you can find size 18 shift dresses because I’m not the only one that rejects the “sausage in a too small skin” look. I am not slender; the stylists say that it’s better for ladies of my shape to get tailored outfits – and yet the shops seem to feel that once you’re over a size 16 what you actually yearn is an unstructured, floaty tent – guaranteed to make me look even bigger and / or pregnant.


The styles I suit are open-necked (which can be done without flashing the world your cleavage); I want a waistband at my waist thank you; and skirts that come just above my knee or mid calf. Fashion dictates what I should be wearing is either so plunging I struggle to keep my bosoms within the shirt; or high necked to “cover up” and “be smart”; skirts that hit at the most unflattering point and waist bands that mean I’m constantly wanting to hitch up my trousers as they feel as though they’re falling down. What suits someone with no boobs or hips does not immediately suit someone who has them; what suits someone who is size ten won’t always suit a size twenty and all the shops seem to do is just make the same dress but bigger. I watched a program where the shop representatives claimed that this is what their customers wanted – to make believe that they’d look good in a strappy top that suits their skinny friend; but the reply from the larger ladies they were facing was that this was complete tosh – they wanted clothes cut to flatter and make them feel stylish and as good looking as their sexy friend – which the strappy dress wouldn’t do.


So I’ve dusted off my sewing machine. I’ve plunged into the world of sewing blogs and discovered that there are patterns out there other than the Big Four. I’ve even now got a spreadsheet of the patterns I want. I’ve made my choice for a first outfit, I’ve got the patterns on order and next weekend I’m hitting Fabric Land in Reading as I’m going there anyway. I know what colours I want. I have haunted the Rag Market and Fantasy Silk store in Birmingham and have a mental list of other fabrics I want to pick up.


Wish me luck.