Friday, September 30, 2016

The "Isabella Blow : A Fashionable Life" Exhibition

So wearing my gorgeous new suit from my last post, I travelled to Sydney to see the Isabella Blow exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I hadn't heard of this amazing and inspirational woman until I saw some photos of the exhibition on a friends Instagram.  That photo showed me that there was at least one Alexander McQueen garment I could get close to, so I knew I had to go.

There were many, many McQueens.

Isabella Blow was a magazine editor and stylist who was both colourful and eccentric. She worked for US Vogue (under Anna Wintour), and Tatler and The Sunday Times in the UK.  She was muse to milliner Philip Treacy, and was credited with discovering Alexander McQueen.  After her suicide in 2007 (we'll get to that later), her entire wardrobe was purchased by The Honourable Daphne Guiness who then established the Isabella Blow Foundation.  This exhibition showed some amazing pieces from her wardrobe put together into outfits as she wore them, and often accompanied with little stories and quotes.

The first outfit was this one:

I just died.

The jacket is McQueen for Givenchy, and the headpiece is Phillip Treacy.  The story goes that she purchased the jacket (which is a short jacket with incredible sleeves... and that collar!), corset belt and skirt for 35,000 francs and tried to expense it back to her employer as business attire.

"I just adore trains... wearing them, always getting them caught in taxi doors... trains are so romantic, dragging along the ground is romantic, don't you find?"
Isabella Blow

This is another McQueen piece.  Sadly the photo I took of the description plaque came out blurry (it was so dark in there!) but I'm pretty sure this is a piece from Alexander McQueen's graduate collection from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.  It was inspired by the killing spree of Jack the Ripper in Victorian London.  Isabella Blow purchased the entire collection after seeing the show.

"I do just love breasts.  They're so old-fashioned"
Isabella Blow

This coat was AMAZING.  On a cold winter morning sometimes you don't want to get out from under the doona cause its freezing outside.  With this coat you don't have to!  It is basically a silk doona filled with down THAT YOU CAN WEAR!!!!  Mind you, this is Alexander McQueen (as homage to Charles James none-the-less), so none of us could afford it, but you know.... the thought is there!  Maybe I'll make one in homage to Alexander McQueen in homage to Charles James...

"I don't like crap.  I like craftsmanship with a little room for fantasy"
Isabella Blow

The above is my new motto, by the way.

This dress was pretty amazing.  The underskirt is silk, the bodice is leather, and the overskirt is rubber lace.  So basically, the skirt is one of those nasty plasticy table cloths!  I've been looking for one (or two) ever since I saw this exhibition.  No luck so far!

"My style icon is anyone who makes a bloody effort"
Isabella Blow

The last outfit you saw as you walked out the door was this one:

And here it is on the lady herself

I left the exhibition (which I shared only the smallest bit of here) with the impression that Isabella Blow was one of those special aristocratic people that used their wealth to support the arts, and the art she had chosen was fashion.  But as well, in the way of some aristocratic people, she was completely mad.  She was funny and outrageous.  She never dressed 'appropriately', she wore whatever she felt was suitable - even if it was a coat made out of brightly coloured garbage bags to meet a farmer to discuss farm business, or a necklace that said Blow Job to a party at Princess Michael of Kent's.

She was inspiring, colourful, outgoing, and crazy.  But there was something that was niggling at me.

It was only when I was at home doing some reading about Isabella Blow that I discovered that she suffered terribly from Bipolar Depression - the same as me.  And suddenly everything I'd seen and read and felt made a lot more sense.

Isabella Blow committed suicide in 2007 by swallowing a weed killer called Paraquat.  This successful attempt came after many unsuccessful attempts.  But calling this a success makes you think death happened quickly.  It didn't.  This poison slowly shuts down the body's internal organs, and once the process has started there is no stopping it.  It is a slow and tragic way to die - but also theatrical and romantic I suppose you could say.

Isabella's funeral was equally theatrical and romantic.  Six dark bay horses with black ostrich feather plumes pulled a gothic Victorian funeral carriage bearing her coffin, covered in white flowers.

 The mourners were dressed in black, in outfits definitely inspired by the person they were there to mourn.

I think I aspire as much to her funeral as I do to her wardrobe and the confidence she had with fashion.  

If you ever get the opportunity, you really should go and see the exhibition.  I found it so inspiring.  Getting that close to so many McQueen garments (the tailoring!), and to see the fearlessness with which outfits were put together really got me thinking about my sewing, and what I wear.  It was truly eye opening.

Has anyone else seen the exhibition?  Either in Sydney or in other countries?  Did you have the same response?


Monday, September 5, 2016

A Red Suit for a Sewalong

Way back in April I joined a Vintage Suit Sewalong group on Facebook.  The idea was to sew a vintage style suit from any era, work at approximately the same pace as one another as per the guidelines, and share our experiences.  I thought it sounded like a fun idea, but was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it on time since I didn't have anywhere to sew at that point!

I found my inspiration care of the Instagram account of a friend of mine:

Killer shoulders - tick!
Killer sleeves - tick!
Killer neckline - tick!

Then I found a pattern to use as a starting point:

Yep, you're right.  It looks nothing like it!

Then I found the perfect fabric - some grossly expensive 100% wool crepe, and some novelty print rayon lining:

 There's lady beetles!

I started out redrawing the pattern, resizing it as I went and adjusting the front so it crossed over, and turning the sleeves into full length one piece really full bishop sleeves.  The sleeves were probably the most daunting part really, not having ever played with sleeve shapes before.  But I've never let a thing like no experience stop me!

Since my fabric was so expensive (it really was!) I decided I should make a muslin and check that the adjustments I had made would work.

And besides the top half of the sleeve being a fraction too tight around my bicep, I was very happy with how I'd done!  That left me with the chore of cutting out my wool crepe, rayon lining, inter-lining and hair canvas.  Which would seem like a bit of a chore if the fabric wasn't so beautiful to work with.  100% wool really is worth spending the money on just once if you can.  Its an experience!

I then set about sewing the fronts together and putting in the hair canvas, which I did by hand.  It will never be seen, but there is something satisfying about putting the time in and doing it by hand.  I tacked the seam allowances down as well, but I didn't do any pad stitching, as the hair canvas is only there for support not shaping.

I also use fun coloured bias tape because I can!

The back of the jacket didn't need any hair canvas, but I didn't want to leave the crepe unsupported, so instead I used some organza as an inter-lining, but only down to the waist.  This was put in the same way as the hair canvas.

The only parts that didn't get supported was the collar, and the sleeves.  I wanted those sleeves to be as flowy as possible.

A lovely detail was created in inserting the sleeve.  To make the sleeve wider for my bicep, I added 2 inches straight down the centre.  To offset that and make the sleeve cap easier to fit, I made 3 half inch stitched pleats in the cap.  This left only a small amount of gathering to be done to make the sleeve fit the jacket.  It fitted beautifully, and I was over the moon with the result.

The centre pleat ALMOST lined up with the shoulder seam...

I tried it on and it fitted beautifully, but I realised I was going to have to make some pretty epic shoulder pads to hold this suit up in true Joan Crawford fashion!

Shoulder pad goals.

I had a bit of a google and all I could find were a tutorial for shoulder pads more designed for rayon dresses, and my shoulder pad tutorial - hahaha!  And I knew that neither of them were going to cut it for this suit.  So I mulled over it for a few days and eventually came up with the solution at about 2am one morning.

Is everyone's best thinking done at 2am when they should be sleeping?  Or is that just me?

I realised that what I needed was a shaped 'pocket' filled firmly with something like wadding to help create the shape, with a cotton batting layer on each side of that, and a steam-shaped piece of collar canvas over the top of that for the suit to sit on.

I started out by using the suit pattern pieces to cut an appropriate sized semi circle with a shaped outer edge to match the suit.  I then cut out 2 in hair canvas, 2 in cotton batting, and 1 in collar canvas for each shoulder.  I copiously steamed the collar canvas pieces and wrapped them around my sausage shaped tailor's ham and pinned them to cool into shape.  I then set about making my padded pockets.

I pinned the pairs of hair canvas pieces so that there would be a decent sized space to fill when the pieces were curved on the shoulder.  Then I sewed them around the semi circle edge.

Then I put all the sandwich layers together on the shoulders of my mannequin, and stuffed the pockets full of fibre filling until they were firm.

Once I was happy with them, I cut another piece of cotton batting and hand sewed it to the open edge to close up the pocket.  Then I put them in the jacket and sewed in the lining.

Because this jacket is made to stay closed (and not be worn open) no-one will see the lining or my bias detail, but I'll know its there.

Here is a really interesting comparison between shoulder pads and no shoulder pads:

The picture on the left has no shoulder pads.  The picture on the right has shoulder pads!  The jacket sits so much better with them than without them.  See the folded floppy bit between the bust and the shoulder along the sleeve edge on the picture on the left?  Well its gone in the picture with shoulder pads.  Thats because this jacket NEEDS those big shoulder pads to sit properly.

And with that, the jacket was finished!

I ummed and ahhed about the skirt.  I didn't want to make the straight skirt from the pattern I used for the jacket, so I pulled out a few other 1940s suit patterns to see what options I had.

I thought about it some more, and I ended up going with the 6-gored skirt on the right.  It sewed together so easily that I didn't take a photo of it during construction at all - I just totally forgot about it!

A few days later I travelled to Sydney to see an exhibition (that I will talk about in my next post) so OF COURSE I wore my brand new suit!

I teamed it with an amazing hat from High Hat Couture on Etsy, a bakelite and celluloid necklace and bakelite "Macarthur Heart" brooch from Brighter Bakelite on Etsy, and shoes from Miss L Fire.

I'm really happy with the final outcome.  I was comfortable all day and I got plenty of compliments!  Sewing this suit really cemented in my mind how much I love sewing with wool, and how much I enjoy making tailored garments, so expect more of this kind of thing from me even when it gets too warm to wear them!

So tell me, have you ever sewn a suit?


Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Summer Dress in the Middle of WInter : The Lipstick Dress

I love Decades of Style's patterns - they do great vintage style patterns for several eras, but they also have their own pattern line called Decades Everyday.  The latest release is called the Cats Cradle Dress, and I fell in love with it immediately.

Ok, so at first glance it might not look like a pattern I would be interested in, but what I've learned to do with vintage patterns is look at the DETAILS.  So, with that in mind, look at the illustration again.  Look at the neckline.




I purchased the PDF pattern and looked through my newly organised fabric stash and waited for inspiration to strike.  It didn't.

A week or so later I was scrolling through Instagram and I saw this photo:

Bingo!  There is my fabric!

This dress is a Bernie Dexter dress that is being sold exclusively by Unique Vintage.  Because I pay attention to these kinds of things, I had noticed that quite a lot of her dresses were made from quilting fabrics designed by people like Robert Kaufman... so I jumped on to (who have a fabulous search engine of the extensive fabrics they stock - you should try it) and found the fabric!

Except they were out of stock of the black *eye roll*.  Back to google, which lead me to an etsy seller... and Taa-daaaaaa!

Its so fabulous in person, I can't even.

I had been thinking of making a few modifications to the dress.  The bodice was perfect just the way it was, but I thought a circle skirt rather than an A-line skirt would be much more 'me'... and some pockets, of course.  The fabric isn't very wide though, so I had to agonise over a few design decisions with the skirt.  It was either make it much less than a circle so the skirt could be two pieces, or have it be a circle cut in four pieces forming a chevron pattern.  I thought about it, and eventually went with the full skirt with chevrons option.

After cutting it all out I got to sewing up the bodice, and making the fabulous neckline.

The neckline is done with the help of tearaway, which is something I haven't used before.  It was fun!  I had three choices for the ribbon, and I chose gold because... well... why not!

Basically what you do is you trace the shape on to the tearaway, then you tack the tearaway on to the bodice, tack the ribbon down over the shape you traced, stitch it, then tear away the tearaway!

Tearing this off was pretty scary - I was worried about breaking the stitches.  It didn't happen.

I couldn't wipe the smile off my face when the bodice was finished!

Then I moved on to the pockets.  Patch pockets are fun.  There are so many great designs, and I always save the photos of the good ones I see for reference later.  These ones are based on a gorgeous green vintage dress from Canary Club Vintage on Etsy. (Dress has sadly been sold)

I love the scale of these pockets, and I love the darker green contrasting border, and thats what I wanted to try to capture with mine.  But I also wanted to echo the neckline.  This is what I came up with.

I am really missing the natural light that was in my old sewing room for photos...

Looking back on it now, I should have used black for the pocket outline, but at the time I chose red so thats what I've got.

I put the whole thing together and then it hung about for a week waiting for me to hem it.  And then once I'd hemmed it, it waited around for several more weeks waiting for the weather to warm up so I could get some photos in it!  I mean, I love you guys, but wearing a summer dress in winter and freezing my butt off just for photos doesn't sound like fun!  Thankfully the weather has been superb recently - I think spring has arrived early!

Photo time!

I am completely over the moon about this dress and I can't wait until the weather warms up properly so I can wear it out somewhere.

I really can't recommend this pattern enough.  The PDF pattern was simple to work with, and the design is amazing.  I even think its a pretty good price!  If you decide to give it a go I'd love to see your finished dress - post it on my facebook page, or tag me in a photo on Instagram (@beccieleathley).

I hope you have enjoyed my first sewing post after my hiatus.  I promise that the next one will be a doozy!


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Its been so long....

I can't believe that I haven't written a blog post since September 2015.  Really, I can't.  10 months!  I had to pack it away for the sake of my mental health, but I had no idea so much time had passed.  And while I am feeling better, I still am not better - more that my husband and I have developed ways to manage me so I can be as productive as possible.  I can't hold down a job, I can't sew all the time, and I often can't get out of bed, but when I am feeling ok I can do small amounts of work for my husband's business, do a bit of sewing, and feel useful.

But I want to catch you all up on the exciting things that have happened in the last 10 months!

As you know I was working on a wardrobe for the Art Deco Weekender in Napier in February of this year.  I got a lot of things made, but it was touch and go whether I would actually be able to get on the plane.  I went, even though I wasn't feeling all that great, and I made the most of it.

Why yes of course I purchased duty free french champagne on my way there!

Here is an outfit I made for our fancy night out - a lace evening dress lined in nude chiffon.

By far my most successful outfit (and the one I worked hardest creating) was my beach pajamas.  I wanted to recreate ones I had seen in an old photo from the 1930s.  This is the photo:
I loved the outfit on the left the most
So I went about making the closest thing I could to that outfit, and honestly, I think I did awesomely!

I made it in colours to compliment the amazing 1920s hat I found.

And here we all are on our last night in Napier.  It really was a fun event and I would definitely go again - especially since I have outfits half made that I didn't get to wear!

Just before this event, we moved house.  Moving is stressful at the best of times, but when you have bipolar, it has the potential to be an absolute disaster.  I got a lot of help from my parents, and from Steve's parents, and for a few days either side of the move, I went and stayed with a friend.  I then had help from Mum unpacking.

I love our new house - it is amazing, but there is no room for a sewing room.  Luckily, we had a plan.  More on that later.

In April, a new fluffy bundle came to join my family.

Meet Dita von Schauzer!  Here are a couple of photos I took as I travelled home after picking her up from the breeder.  She came from a cattle property just outside of Mendooran in New South Wales, which is a bit over 3 hours from where I live.

 I will be honest - Stella wasn't much of a fan when Dita arrived.  Especially because Dita needed fairly constant attention from me.  But I made a concerted effort to spend quality time with Stella too, and in a couple of weeks she came around, and they are great friends now and play constantly.

Miss Dita is a rambunctious and inquisitive little character and often gets into trouble for doing things she shouldn't.  For example, yesterday she managed to find a small sachet of rat bait in my Dad's garage (where she shouldn't have been).  Luckily, Stella (who is a dibber-dobber) barked loudly for my Mum to come (its true, she's done this to me too) and Dita was caught before too much of the rat bait could be consumed.

I love the look on Dita's face "I know we all know I'm the devil, but I'm cute so its ok, isn't it"

So today they both ended up at the vets having blood tests to make sure they were going to be ok.  This is just the current adventure that has seen her end up at the vets.  But I wouldn't swap her for all the tea in China, she is a wonderful little character, and I look forward to seeing her grow up.

Right, now back to my sewing room.

Luckily, the house we moved in to is just around the corner (like 100 metres away) from a holiday accommodation property that Steve and I own.  The property has two buildings on it - at the back is the lovely two bedroom house, and at the front is the garage with a little flat on top.  My husband runs his business from the flat upstairs, and the garage was given to me to have as a sewing room... with one condition - it must be able to be turned back into a garage if we ever sell the place.  So therefore no carpet, and no removal of the garage door.  I was, however, allowed to have air conditioning (thank goodness!)

After we moved all my sewing room stuff (and some other stuff) was left in the garage for me to deal with.

I'm sure you can see how daunting this is

And it has taken me from February until two weeks ago to get the space finished. 

First of all a lovely builder friend of my Dad's cut a hole in the bricks and put a door in so I had my own entrance, and some natural light

I could not believe how much difference this door actually made in regards to the amount of light in the space.  Amazing.  Thanks Laurie!

Then I painted the bricks and the back plasterboard wall.  And with so much stuff in the garage this wasn't straight forward.  I had to move everything to one side, paint the vacant side, and then move everything to the painted side and paint that.

Look!  Normal Beccie!!!

And of course, I painted it lilac.

Then I moved everything on to the driveway so I could sweep and vacuum the years of dust and dead bugs and leaves and yuck off the cement floor.

At this point, a lady and a man rode past on their push bikes and said "Ooh - garage sale" (yard sale).  I called out "Ahh - No!"

Then I put the rugs down, and put the furniture in approximately the places I thought it would go.

And then I started unpacking - which took forever - and bought more shelving from Ikea, and organised Dad to create a bench tops for the draw units (on the right), and help me hang the curtains I made to hide the ugly cupboards and the garage door, and pick up furniture from here and there, and blah blah blah.

But somehow it got finished.  And it is wonderful!  I am so proud of this space, and so thankful to have it.  It may have taken almost 6 months, but it was worth it.

The plastic tubs on the right hand side are no longer there - it was my trouble corner, but I fixed it.  And note the very large curtain (actually 4 curtains) that hide the garage door.

My desk and kitsch shelves

 The girls also come down to my sewing room with me, and they have bean bags to sleep in.

My sitting area, where I can sit and hand sew (or unpick) or have people visit for tea.  I have since purchased a new/old lounge suite which is exactly the same as these chairs, but with different upholstery (see couch photo below) 

As much as I was happy with the chartreuse chairs, I really wanted a matching lounge, so I chased down a three-piece set and found this one - the blue fabric is VERY pretty.  Stella approves and now sleeps on the lounge rather than the bean bag.

My sewing shelves!  And a better view of trouble corner, which was fixed by.....

...buying an amazing art nouveau style edwardian wardrobe!  I have named it Narnia (for obvious reasons)

 My front door!  And another huge curtain hiding the back of some very ugly metal cabinets.

Thank you for hanging around and waiting so long for me to get my act together.  I hope to get back to blogging now - but not regularly - it will have to be in a more haphazard fashion, but at least I will still be here.

So, what have you all been up to in the last 10 months?