Instant gratification Part 2: Using PDF sewing patterns

Using PDF sewing patterns topper

If you’ve never used a downloadable sewing pattern before, then we hope that Part 2 of our blog: ‘Using PDF sewing patterns’ will encourage you to take the plunge! Apologies to those of you who are well-versed in all of this – but if that’s the case please do share your top tips!

What exactly are PDF sewing patterns?

A PDF sewing pattern is a pattern that you can download onto your computer and print out. It will often come in two downloadable files; one containing the actual pattern; the other with the instructions and sizing guidance etc.

The ‘PDF’ stands for ‘Portable Document Format’, which is the type of file that you download. A PDF file always displays and prints out in exactly the same way, regardless of the kind of computer you have or what software you use. Your computer, tablet or phone will probably be able to display a PDF using in-built software or your web browser (e.g. Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Windows Explorer).

If your device can’t handle a PDF file then don’t panic!  All you’ll need to do is download free software called ‘Adobe Acrobat Reader’. Your computer probably has it already – if not then you’ll find it here.

How do you buy a PDF sewing pattern?

Couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is complete your purchase online just as you would for anything else (you already buy your fabric online, right?) Then, instead of the usual email telling you that your purchase will be packed and despatched, you get an email which either…

– contains your PDF pattern file(s) as attachments (scroll down when your email arrives – they’ll likely be at the bottom)

OR

– contains a link for you to click on to download your pattern file(s)

Once you have your file, you just double-click or tap on it to display the pattern and instructions.

Producing your PDF sewing pattern

This is the bit that irritates non-PDF sewing pattern aficionados  since it can take a good 20 minutes or so to put your pattern together. At this point I usually remind myself of all the advantages – and that even a paper pattern needs trimming, tracing and cutting. If you have a local print shop they will print your file off for you – and if you’re really irked then by all means give them a call. I promise you can get quite nippy at putting PDF sewing patterns together once you have the routine down.

1. Print your PDF sewing pattern

First off, you need to print your pattern. The pattern pieces will be laid out on a single large sheet, however since your printer will probably take A4 paper as standard, your pattern sheet has to be constructed using multiple ’tiles’ of A4 paper.  Typically the pattern sheet might comprise anything from 20 – 30 pages or more – so this is a good opportunity to use that pile of half-used A4 paper you have hanging around.

TIP: It’s worth investing in a black and white laser printer – far cheaper to run and much quicker than inkjets which tend to be slow, with expensive refills.

WARNING! Some phones and tablets may print your PDF file without a problem but it’s worth checking and testing as others may not. If in doubt, then us a laptop or desktop computer.

WARNING! Whatever you do – make sure you print your PDF file off at full size. There’s always a 10cm square printed on one page – if in doubt then measure this square to make sure you printed the pattern correctly. Your PDF display or your print options both have the capacity to reduce/increase your printing scale – and it’s easy to overlook that (I speak from experience)

using PDF sewing patterns blog print size2. Assemble your PDF sewing pattern

Next comes your chance to release your inner Valerie Singleton – since your next job is to stick those A4 ’tiles’ together to create your pattern sheet. You’ll usually find an assembly plan for your pattern pages as part of the instructions.

Using PDF sewing patterns plan

To help you, each A4 page will usually have a letter and number to indicate how they fit together – Row A, tiles 1,2,3… Row B, tiles 1,2,3… and so on.

Along each edge of each page will be a mark to help you align that page with the adjoining ones

Using PDF sewing patterns align

Sometimes you’ll need to trim the edges of the A4 sheets in order to line it up with the next one.

TIP! I always used long-bladed wallpaper scissors for this – they’re very cheap and make quick work.

EVEN BETTER TIP! Thanks to the Fold Line for this one – if you’re a regular PDF sewing pattern user, consider investing in a paper guillotine for trimming your pages – it makes the job even quicker.

Using PDF sewing patterns guillotine

It’s then just a case of sticking your paper together, matching alignment marks, letters and numbers.

TIP! Thanks again to the Fold Line for this one – use a stick of glue rather than sticky tape – it’s quicker and allows you to reposition pages if required.

I’m lucky enough to have the ClothSpot cutting table for assembling PDF patterns – but whatever surface you use to cut your fabric is perfect. Here are some ideas and here are some more – from fold-down surfaces to a trestle table kept under your bed!

TIP! It’s easiest to stick together one row of pages at a time, then stick the rows together

Sticking together rows using PDF sewing patterns

3. Trace and cut your PDF sewing pattern

You’ll find that different publishers present their PDF sewing patterns in a variety of ways; here are some examples:

BurdaStyle offer a single sheet containing all the different sizes. Each pattern piece is laid out separately meaning that you can cut your pattern direct from your pattern sheet rather than tracing it off.

StyleArc provide each size on a single sheet. You select the size you want when you purchase your pattern – but they also send you two additional sizes in separate files – one size up and one size down from the the one you selected. Again, you can then cut your pattern pieces straight from the pattern sheet if you like.

Named Clothing provide all the sizes on one sheet – but the different pattern pieces are overlaid on the sheet using different line patterns to distinguish between them. You’ll need to trace these off and cut them from your tracing paper.

Of course you may prefer to trace all your pattern pieces anyway – especially if you’re doing alterations. However the advantage of cutting straight from the A4 sheets where possible is that your pattern pieces will be more durable.

TIP! We agree with Marion that it’s worth investing in a roll of tracing paper if you’re adapting any pattern or using PDF patterns regularly.

TIP! Where pattern shapes are overlaid, Sarah suggests it’s a good idea to use a highlighter pen to mark out the one you want to trace.

4. Store your PDF sewing patterns

With no handy envelope in which to refold your patter, you’ll need to improvise. I have two storage system:

I like to use transparent A4 pockets, into which I fold the pattern pieces. I insert the pattern instructions at the front, so I can see what the design is. The added advantage here is that I can fold my final toile into the pocket too! My folders live in a handy white box from Ikea (naturally…)

Using PDF sewing patterns box

For pattern pieces that I use regularly, I have a stash of bulldog clips which I hang from hooks on a coat rack. Another option is to use trouser hangers with clips – they can then which can be hung on a clothesrail.

Using PDF sewing patterns hanging

5. Quick checklist

Here’s a final reminder of what you’ll need to get under way with using PDF sewing patterns. Nothing resembling rocket science equipment we think you’ll agree – a whole world of creativity will soon be your lobster!

– Computer (a tablet or smartphone may work but test first!)

– Printer & A4 paper

– Wallpaper scissors or guillotine

– Sticky tape or gluestick

– Tracing paper (a roll of Swedish Tracing Paper would be good – we use rolls of pattern tracing paper from Morplan

–  Pen/pencil, highlighter pen & ruler

– 20 – 30 minutes of your time (and just a smidgeon of patience!)

…and finally

Please do let us know if you have any handy hints for using PDF patterns – we’d love to know! Likewise if you have any questions then post those too – if we don’t know the answer then we surely know someone who will!

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Instant gratification Part 1: Why we love PDF sewing patterns

PDF Sewing patterns

Regular ClothSpotters will know that we like to offer sewing pattern suggestions for all our fabrics. We think it’s helpful to illustrate the kind of garment that a specific fabric could be used for; it also focuses our mind on the purpose and potential of a particular cloth. Our suggestions regularly include PDF sewing patterns as well as the more usual printed paper versions. Following questions from some of you we thought we might explain why, as well as offer some tips for using PDF sewing patterns.

Pattern anticipation

Invariably we find ourselves carried away by a potential project for every fabric that comes through the door – leading to a certain amount of excitement as deliveries arrive, photographs are taken and fabrics are described for the website

That excitement is a familiar feeling. In my case I’m standing in front of a large, hardbacked Vogue Pattern book in one of the two (imagine – two!) fabric shops in the small town where I went to school. They were a doorway into another world, confined only by imagination, skill and a suitable occasion for wearing my latest creation. In the absence of the latter, ‘wear it anyway’ became my motto as I became bolder and older. For the sad tale of what happened after that, I refer you to my Style Crisis posts – but the enchantment and excitement of leafing through those pattern books is aptly summed up by Stanley Tucci as Nigel the Art Director at the fictitious Runway magazine in the film The Devil Wears Prada.

You think this is just a magazine, Hmm? This is not just a magazine. This is a shining beacon of hope for – oh I don’t know – let’s say a young boy growng up in Rhode Island with six brothers, pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight.

Yes I know – we might all have issues with other aspects of that film – but this moment was heartfelt and a perfect illustration of the positive potential of the fashion press.

Despite my waxing lyrical about those pattern books however – there were drawbacks. Getting to the shop when it was open was always an issue, living miles out of town with a limited bus service. There was also that moment where I’d ask for the pattern number in my size and wait, breath bated, while the shopkeeper fingered through her drawer of envelopes. Sometimes I’d have a list of two or three alternatives – just in case – but on other occasions it was my chosen design or nothing.

Of course the obvious solution to that was ‘make my own pattern’ which I gradually began to do, with varying degrees of success. However where a design involved complicated construction or a new technique, that wasn’t always an option.

But then – the internet! An early adopter because of my work at the time, the potential for downloading sewing patterns as documents was an obvious opportunity for the sewing pattern industry. The excitement – just imagine – any pattern in any size at the touch of a button! My anticipation was almost unmanageable.

The reality was, however, that this vision took a long time to come to fruition, partly because this was the mid-1990s with the home sewing market  in decline as fast fashion took over the high street. However over the course of the last few years the market has taken a turn for the better and we now have a wealth of independent sewing pattern designers and publishers. As you might imagine, I couldn’t be more excited.

Why we love PDF sewing patterns

Here at ClothSpot we have a limited stock budget and what we do have, we like to spend on gorgeous fabrics rather than keeping stocks of multiple sizes of pattern design. That’s in no way a judgement on paper patterns or their stockists – far from it! We love a nice-to-handle paper envelope and we do appreciate a beautifully-produced instruction booklet.

PDF Sewing patterns

Obviously I still have a paper pattern collection!

On the stock front however, we have to cut our cloth according to our means. (Thank you! Yes, we were quite pleased with that too.) So – although we offer some patterns that can be sent direct from the distributor or publisher, we don’t currently stock physical patterns ourselves.

Like many of you, we’re located some distance from a large town – and we’re not immune to a bit of instant gratification when it comes to our sewing projects. For us then, it’s a natural inclination to turn to downloadable sewing patterns as a means of getting what we want when inspiration strikes. Frankly, PDF sewing patterns are a bit of a dream come true – and we love to share the joy, especially now there are so many to choose from. Many independent publishers increasingly offer their patterns in both formats – and the BurdaStyle site in particular has been built around its digital offering for some years now.

However we know from conversations with many customers that many of you are new to online sewing patterns – so in Part 2 of this post we’ll try and to demystify, reassure and offer some guidance on how to get started and make the most of what’s out there waiting for you.

Click through to Part 2!

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Ponte Roma fabric – what’s the story, jersey glory?

At the time of writing we’re about to dive headlong into our fabrics for cross-season wardrobes. We know from previous years how many of you find jersey fabrics to be a practical solution for the unpredictable early-autumn weather, especially ponte Roma fabric. They’re perfect for combining with other fabrics to emulate the elegant layers created by designers such as Eileen Fisher.

Fisher compilation suggestion for ponte Roma fabric

Elegant layered looks by Eileen Fisher

Over the last few years we’ve become much more confident about working with knit fabrics – especially ponte Roma fabric – so much so that it’s now regarded as ideal for beginner projects. There are lots more patterns available for ponte Roma fabrics – in fact we’d go so far as to say it’s the perfect fabric to create your own simple design from scratch.

What’s so special about ponte Roma fabric?

So what are the qualities of ponte Roma fabric that make it so popular? Let’s start with the composition, which usually comprises polyester, viscose and spandex in combination – occasionally with other fibres such as wool or silk. The basic polyester/viscose/spandex balance will vary. Fabrics with a higher spandex content will typically have more weight and will stretch more. A higher viscose proportion will enhance the draping qualities and bring much more softness to the handle whereas more polyester generally gives a ponte Roma fabric more structure and durability. Whatever the precise proportions, the composition of a ponte Roma jersey fabric means that you’ll usually have a fabric with some structure, some crease-resistance, stretch to help with fit and to some extent, a draping and soft handle. Any fabric that delivers on all those fronts can hardly fail to please.

Ponte Roma fabric is a doubleknit jersey. That means it’s knitted on a machine with two needlebeds, using a distinctive combination of interlocking and plain knit structures.

Ponte Roma jersey knit structure

Cut edge showing double row of knit structure

That knit structure means that it’s generally a reversible fabric (therefore perfect for those draping, unlined waterfall-front jackets) with faint self-stripe pattern detectable on the surface of the fabric.

Ponte Roma jersey stripe

Faint stripe resulting from knit structure

Those layers of interlocking knit also mean that it’s a stable fabric; it holds its shape when you cut it and has a much less fluid structure than a singleknit jersey. As a knitted fabric it doesn’t fray and although it might rumple a little bit if you’re sat on a garment, creases will tend to drop out and won’t be particularly noticeable. That makes it a fabulously-practical fabric for travelling and workwear.

Ponte Roma jersey fabrics can be printed – here’s one of our recent favourites.

Violet floral ponte Roma fabric4

Violet floral ponte Roma jersey fabric (sorry – all gone now!)

They can also be striped…

Charcoal and grey striped ponte roma fabric

…and can have their weave structures adapted to accommodate a wide variety of textures, such as this ‘cloqué’ or ‘blistered’ version.

Black and cerise jacquard ponte Roma fabric

And what about that name?

There are a couple of theories – one being simply that Rome (Roma) is historically well-known for its knit fabrics. Ponte Roma fabric is a similar fabric to another doubleknit known as ‘Milano rib’ – so ‘ponte Roma fabric’ could simply be the name given to distinguish it from that jersey.

There is another – rather more poetic – theory, which suggests that the interlocking knit structure used to construct a ponte Roma fabric resembles a series of arches…

Interlock knit pattern forming part of ponte roma fabric

The interlock knit pattern which forms part of a ponte Roma fabric

…which are also a distinctive feature of Roman bridges such as the this aqueduct.

By Emanuele - Flickr: Pont du Gard, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18375492

Pont du Gard: Roman aqueduct

In Italian ‘ponte’ translates as ‘bridge’, ‘Roma’ to ‘Rome’ – and there you have it – the fabric that looks like a Roman bridge. Possibly.

You’ll also see ponte Roma fabric described as ‘Punto-di-Roma’, ‘ponteroma’ or simply ‘ponte’.

What can ponte Roma fabric be used for?

Ponte Roma jersey fabrics are tremendously versatile. They can be used for elegant tops, draping layers of tunics and ‘coatigans’, dresses, skirts and a wide range of trousers from leggings to palazzo-style lounge pants. Fabulous for colour-blocking, they work equally well as casual wear and day-to-day workwear.

Ponte Roma fabrics will vary a great deal in their structure, weight and drape however – and those factors will need to be considered when choosing the right ponte Roma fabric for a specific garment.

For example a softer ponte Roma fabric with a higher viscose content might be best for a draping top such as ‘Elita’ top from Style Arc

ELITA-TOP for ponte Roma fabric

‘Elita’ Top pattern by Style Arc

While a dress such as the ‘Zadie’ by Tilly and the Buttons needs a ponte Roma jersey without too much stretch and a little more structure.

'Zadie' Dress pattern by Tilly and the Buttons for ponte Roma fabric

‘Zadie’ Dress pattern by Tilly and the Buttons

Leggings however require a ponte Roma fabric with good opacity and a higher proportion of spandex to give the resilient ‘stretch-and-return’ required for that garment – Pattern 6173 from McCalls is one example.

M6173s leggings pattern for ponte roma fabric

McCalls Pattern 6173 for leggings

At ClothSpot we describe our ponte Roma fabrics individually. Since they all differ slightly as to composition and structure we think it’s important to tell you as much about each one as we can. If you’re in any doubt as to which to choose for a specific project then just drop us a line – we love a project and we’ll be delighted to help!

Why don’t you drop into ClothSpot Creations on Pinterest to see what people have created using our ponte Roma fabrics? There are lots more ideas than we can possibly tell you about here!

Finally, don’t forget our free sample service if you’re matching a colour or weight – we’re always happy to oblige.

Working with ponte Roma fabric

We’re not about to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the ‘How to’ aspect of working with ponte Roma fabric. Tilly and the Buttons is just one of the independent pattern publishers who offer a range of patterns using this versatile fabric – they come with clear instructions and super illustrations.

Tilly tips for sewing knit fabrics including ponte roma fabric

If you’re new to working with ponte Roma fabric then Tilly and the Buttons also have a really practical piece on how to sew knitted fabrics with a regular sewing machine. Their recent Tips for working with Ponte post (especially for when your pattern is designed for woven fabrics) is really helpful too!

Dive in and have a go!

We try and keep a selection of ponte Roma fabrics in stock throughout the year. We tend to have more colours and patterns available during those tricky cross-season months as well as for winter layering. You can see our current selection here.

We’d love to hear about what you’re making with your ponte Roma fabric – it’s one of those fabrics that can accommodate lots of different styles – and which never goes out of fashion. What’s your favourite ponte pattern – or do you have one on your to-do list that you can’t wait to play with? Do let us know!

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Style Crisis breakthrough: Leah Lounge Pants

Leah Lounge Pants topperNow I admit – a pair of taupe trousers might not have been what you were expecting to emerge from my style crisis deliberations. But please – no eye-rolling or comments about backsliding – for me, these Leah Lounge Pants are more than a pair of trousers – brown, grey or otherwise.

Trouser troubles

Last year I had a shot at fitting a pair of trousers based on a BurdaStyle block (or ‘sloper’) pattern. That fitting process turned into a two-part blog and resulted in a pair of beautifully-fitted (if I say so myself) bronze wool crepe trousers.

Predecessor to Leah Lounge Pants

Bronze wool crepe trousers from BurdaStyle block pattern

However I’m no professional pattern cutter – and although I’m perfectly able to replicate those trousers and cut them in different leg styles, I was struggling to incorporate the right amount of ease in the right places, especially for more tailored or loosely-fitted designs.

I was still hankering after a better understanding of where off-the-peg trousers and commercial patterns were parting company with my fit – in particular my bottom. My style crisis resolution has reached the stage where more trousers are definitely required and so I needed another approach.

Sailing by…

My first outing in this direction proved to be a bit of a false start. I had hopes that Vogue Pattern 9067 might be my solution for a more relaxed cut.

Vogue pattern 9067 predecessor to Leah Lounge Pants

Vogue Pattern 9067

Despite my qualms regarding its elasticated waist (Danger, Will Robinson!) I told myself this was a feature of many a sport-inspired trouser these days. I pressed on, with our ‘Classic capsule’ ivory stretch suiting fabric.

I don’t have many sewing disasters nowadays but these trousers certainly fit that bill, if they fitted nothing else. With a crotch at mid thigh and enough fabric to keep me ahead of the field in Cowes week, my trousers inspired a raised eyebrow and an invitation to bowls from one of my two evaluators – and a suggestion that they ‘might be a bit big’ from the more polite of the pair. In the hope that I can recut the fabric into something a little less accommodating, those pull-ons (and drop-right-off-agains) are now in my ‘rescue’ pile in the ClothSpot workroom.

Retail investigations

With the intention of trying some different styles to see where I might be going wrong, I headed off to our nearest shopping centre with Rebecca (the better-mannered of my advisory duo). There, my gaze fell upon this pair from John Lewis’s Modern Rarity collection.

Modern rarity trousers prior to leah lounge pants

‘Cross-front trousers’ by Modern Rarity at John Lewis (Tent pole not supplied)

These have a fold across the front of the stomach, constructed from the fabric of one leg; my hope was that they would hang nicely with an elegant line down the front.

Unfortunately I don’t have a picture (we were laughing too much) but suffice to say that far from hang, they just about stood up by themselves. Except, that is, for the acres of spare fabric that were collapsing under my bottom. The fabric was uncomfortably stiff and the trousers really were seriously enormous. So much so in fact, as to beg the question:

If a pair of trousers flaps its legs in a John Lewis changing room, can it really cause a tornado in Texas?

“Do you think they’re a bit big? Is my bottom actually in there?” I mused.

“Dunno” replied Rebecca, idly lifting up the front fold with the end of a coathanger. “What’s behind here?”

“Not sure. It’s all a bit mysterious down there”

“They make you look at bit…well…flat. Everywhere. Do you think they’re for someone taller?”

I pointed out that I at almost 5′ 8″ I’m well above average height. Eventually we stopped laughing; I wiped my eyes, got dressed and handed the trousers back before we were thrown out for creating a disturbance.

Over tea and cake, we figured out that in order to cope with a wider leg, my trousers needed something to hang from, other than my waist (e.g. hips, bottom). Otherwise they were always going to look ridiculous. (Is this right? Please, do tell!)

However, further investigation revealed that although my upper hips are in the same size bracket as my waist (let’s leave out my shoulders on this one), my lower hips are at least a size smaller. The challenge now was to find a pattern that could accommodate that difference.

The pattern

A number of you have been reporting lots of trouser success with Style Arc patterns. So, in search of a more relaxed, sport-luxe style of trouser to add to my nascent wardrobe, I eyed up their Leah Lounge Pants and decided to give them a go.

Leah Lounge Pants pattern by Style Arc

Leah Lounge Pants pattern by Style Arc

Working with their PDF patterns (that’s a whole other post) Style Arc helpfully send you the size you order, together with one up and one down from that size. I made a quick toile based on my selected size with no alterations – and lo! What resulted was the best-fitting first-go pair of trousers I can remember, straight off the pattern. It helps that they’re not a high-waisted design, but the crotch shape and rise were near perfect. However I still had quite a bit of excess fabric in the under-bottom area.

Toile 1 leah lounge pants

Is this what I’m reduced to – bottom shots on the internet?

There are lots of online guides on trouser fitting as detailed in last year’s post; one solution in particular according to the handy Colette guide to trouser fitting, might have been a fish-eye dart under my bottom. However before resorting to the numerous toiles that I feared that option might necessitate – I wondered if there was a more obvious solution. What if I simply graded down a size between my upper and lower hip – and flattened off just a sliver of that curve around the hip area?

This I did (thanks to the additional size downloaded) and hey presto!

Toile 2 Leah lounge pants

That’s better…

Running out of old toile fabric here (hence the ankle-swinging), but plenty to reassure that this was the way to go.

The fabric

I’ve been itching to get trousering with our triple crepe fabrics for ages – and the drape in this design seemed to call for a spot of creperie (fabric, not pancakes).

Taupe brown triple crepe fabric for Leah Lounge Pants

Draping taupe-brown triple crepe fabric

My choice of our Draping taupe-brown triple crepe might give just cause for concern to those of you who’ve been urging me to be brave on the colour front – but I reasoned that:

– I needed a neutral colour to work with black, white and ivory – and a plain fabric to cope with a (potentially) patterned top.

– I needed a dark-ish colour for practicality – I might want to go out in these – but I also want to use them for work and not have to worry about being overly careful.

– I know from experimenting in the ClothSpot workroom that this colour is a fabulous base for pinks and teal blues to ‘pop’ against – and that if I wanted to ‘go brave’ with a top then these trousers would be a great complimentary colour.

The making

This triple crepe fabric is wide at 150cm – and had I not forgotten that I only needed one of each of the two facings, (one at the front, one at the back; not difficult, Alice) then at a size 10 (and a few sizes up from there, I’d say) the length of fabric required would be dictated by the length of the trouser leg. In my case 1.2m should have done it.

The triple crepe fabric was surprisingly well-behaved. It was stable to cut and since I overlocked each garment piece right away, no fraying. Aided by the ClothSpot pressure steam iron (the kind that doesn’t have a heating element in the plate) the seams eventually pressed well – I might have had to be a bit more cautious with a regular steam iron.

A word to the wise – the Style Arc instructions are minimal. As in, they’d make a haiku verse look verbose. Fine if you’re confident – but if you’re used to Vogue Patterns’ clarity or Tilly’s pictures then a phone and a friend – or access to YouTube – are advised.

In the event I only had one hiccup – my front facing was at least an inch too small. It was cut precisely to size and although the unfaced trouser front might have bagged when being tried on, it was overlocked so should have been stable. The back facing fitted perfectly. Eventually I cut another and all seemed well.

The result

If I’m being picky then I’d say there is something funny going on with the front waistline which doesn’t quite seem to hug my tummy as it should. I can only assume that I pulled it out of shape when overlocking, hence the non-fitting front facing. Other than that though, it’s a case of ‘Hurrah!’, ‘Yippee!’ and ‘Deck the halls!’

Leah lounge pants front

Trousers!

They actually fit my bottom…

Leah Lounge Pants bottom

Bottoms up!

…and I love the way they drape and pool a little over my feet – suggesting width and excess when in fact they’re not that wide.

The wearing

My Leah Lounge Pants feel incredibly comfortable. They’re about to endure a weekend involving multiple long car journeys, lounging around (fittingly) and general wandering. If they can do that with an air of elegance as well as practicality (and I think they will) then I’m onto a winner. I will report back.

Leah lounge pants jacket

The look of relief…

The feeling

It’s very early days, but in these trousers I really feel like me. I love that they have some movement – and (whisper it) I actually feel a little bit elegant in them. I don’t feel in the least swamped – they make me feel lively and energetic – able to get on with what I need to do.

The decision

Time will tell – but I’m very hopeful that these will be keepers. If the trial weekend goes well, then versions in navy, black and even something bright might be in the offing (not that I’m going overboard or anything). I’d like to try something a bit more decisive on the style front – perhaps a wider leg, a turnup, some structured shape perhaps – but the idea that I can adapt a commercial pattern with a fairly simple adjustment is unfeasibly exciting. In fact, I’m getting quite worked up about the upcoming autumn season.

So…

…any suggestions for tops? For what it’s worth, my Leah Lounge Pants look great with my ‘Selja’ knot tee but I wouldn’t mind expanding my shirt wardrobe… Ideas for that – as well as for other autumnal trouserings – welcome as always!

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Shaping fashion: the Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A

Balenciaga topper

As soon as I found out that the V&A were staging their ‘Shaping Fashion’ exhibition of the work of Cristóbal Balenciaga, I had mentally booked my rail ticket. My knowledge of Balenciaga’s designs was embarrassingly patchy but  enough to know that this was a ‘must see’ exhibition. His is a name that appears in most discussions of 20th century fashion; images of his designs fall into the ‘once seen, never forgotten’ category. However I’d never quite reconciled his later sculptural designs with his more traditional tailoring from earlier years.

As it turned out, not only did this exhibition tie all of these together into a cohesive whole, it also made me wonder that this was the first opportunity there’s been (in my memory at least) to see his work gathered together.

In fact the “Shaping fashion’ exhibition does far, far more than simply collocate Balenciaga’s designs. In the way that only the best exhibitions can, it draws you into another world and despatches you afterwards  with a sense of revelation.

I’m not going to even try to repackage here all the biographical and historical context – there are plenty of websites and books that will do that. What I will do is try and explain why this is an exhibition worth the rail fare (even if, like me, you end up paying twice for the return journey – thanks very much, Virgin East Coast…)

Upon arrival…

I thought it might be fun to take a look at the grandly titled Exhibition Road Quarter, which as of last month, provides access to the Museum across the porcelain-tiled Sackler Courtyard. The courtyard café and the ‘Oculus’ view to the gallery below seem small in comparison to this pristine white space. As a visitor you feel the need to scuttle across to the entrance beyond, rather than pause and appreciate your surroundings.

Sackler courtyard en route to Balenciaga exhibition

The new Sackler Courtyard leading from Exhibition Road

It’s a space which feels as if it hasn’t yet properly been relinquished by the architects – but it is an exciting space which boldly announces the contemporary aspects of the V&A. Inevitably it delivered me into the museum slightly confused about where I’d entered. Once I’d reoriented myself with the help of a nice chap in black, I happily trotted off to the Fashion Galleries.

Adjustment and immersion

There’s a point in every exhibition where you not only step into the gallery space – but you mentally divest yourself of all distractions. For those of you who know the V&A, the Balenciaga exhibition occupies the central ‘core’ of the main costume display space, extending over the ground and mezzanine floors. On the face of it, not a massive space – and indeed that process of initial adjustment is a little uncomfortable as the entrance area by the ticket desk is a little awkward, channelling you into a small lobby area with some timeline information.

Reading this was difficult amid a muddle of people figuring out which way to go and a whispered soundtrack of ‘oops’, ‘so sorry’ and in my case mortification as I stepped back from the first gown (an extraordinary three-tiered number in vibrant green silk) and literally trod on a tiny woman who had clearly been trying to escape my size eights as they reversed towards her. Cue then a parental phone call vibrating in my pocket and a near-flooring of another visitor with my bag as I turned; surely now I was about to be ejected with a discreet tap on the shoulder. Not before time I retreated into a corner and gathered myself with a couple of deep breaths.

Setting the scene

From my refuge I read that Balenciaga trained as a tailor; what set him apart from many designers was his mastery of the different stages of creating garments, from design through cutting, construction, fitting and finishing. Speak to any fashion student and you’ll learn to your surprise how little they are taught of the technicalities of garment-making. Extra-curricular practice, training and apprenticeships are essential to acquire those skills as explained recently by Stella McCartney in her recent Desert Island Discs appearance.

One of the most wonderful things about this exhibition turns out to be how well it demonstrates Balenciaga’s accomplishment across all these areas. Only the ground floor of the exhibition space is devoted to his creations; this itself in a section of a larger gallery. Yet the creative approaches used by the curators to reveal and explain Balenciaga’s skill and inventiveness are diverse and wonderfully effective. They draw on education, design, conservation science and traditional curatorial practice across the board.

Shape & construction

Balenciaga Envelope Dress

Balenciaga’s ‘Envelope’ Dress from 1967

The ‘Envelope dress’ from 1967 is immediately recognisable from much of the exhibition’s publicity. It represents the climax of Balenciaga’s experimentation in garment shapes, stepping away from the body as a template for form, using it instead almost as a display stand for his sculptural creations. A note on the display emphasises this, explaining that the design of the dress made it difficult even for the wearer to go to the bathroom due to the extreme narrowness of the bottom of the dress. This process of abstraction had begun as early as 1957 when his ‘sack’ dress contravened the prevailing fashion rule of the hourglass silhouette at the time, anticipating the simpler shift dress designs of the 1960s.

In other areas of the exhibition, garments are positioned in such a way as to reveal cleverly-positioned darts. Mirrors are used to reflect different aspects of garment shapes and some mannequins are placed on turntables, enabling us to see them from all angles, as with the ‘Tulip’ dress made for Ava Gardener in 1965.

Based on close inspection and even X-ray analysis, as well as the copious notes and drawings on display, a copy of the dress was made and a video produced to explain how the different pattern pieces were shaped and assembled. This in-depth analysis is deployed on a later garment too, providing a fascinating insight not only into the garment, but also the extent of Balenciaga’s inventiveness and experimentation.

Balenciaga tulip dress

Drawing for the Tulip Dress

This silk taffeta evening dress from 1955 was similarly analysed

In some instances as with this silk taffeta evening dress from 1955, the garment has been X-rayed to reveal the internal construction.

Silk taffeta evening dress, 1955

and this is the X-Ray that reveals the complex internal construction.

Xray-fuchsia balenciaga exhibition

X-Ray of the same garment by Nick Veasey

Later in the exhibition, there is a video showing how one of his couturiers went through the process of fitting an entire suit from toile to final fitting – the (very long-standing in every sense) customer commenting how she was ignored as an individual and was simply used as a template – even customer service coming second to the supremacy of the tailoring and fitting process itself.

Fabric

Balenciaga’s desire to innovate extended beyond garments. When the Duchess of Cambridge was married, it was in a dress of silk gazar – not a fabric that I was familiar with at the time (I don’t ‘do’ weddings) however I recall being intrigued by it at the time. We learn in this exhibition that silk gazar was developed through a collaboration between Balenciaga and Swiss manufacturer Abraham in 1958. It’s a lightweight yet stiff-woven silk that Balenciaga used extensively to achieve the sculptural shapes that many of his garments were known for. He worked closely with other fabric manufacturers and was known as a demanding and knowledgeable client. The exhibition explains that for Balenciaga, the fabric was the true starting point in a design; he is quoted as declaring:

It is the fabric that decides.

I’m as much a stranger to elaborate embellishment as I am to elaborate weddings, however even I took pause watching how this extraordinary fabric was produced at the Lesage house in Paris for the most breathtaking evening coat.

Commercial sophistication

We have come to appreciate that to succeed at any creative endeavour in the real world, then you probably need to be something of an entrepreneur. Balenciaga was no exception – but the sophisticated range of commercial activities his company engaged in was extensive. For example the exhibition shows us the order book for his garments at Harrods, which had a special department dedicated to making copies of his garments under strict licence and quality control, using identical fabrics.

Harrods order book for Balenciaga

Harrods’ order book showing the fabrics and designs used for their copies of Balenciaga’s garments

Other forms of department store licensing existed too – and Balenciaga also had a sister label, Eisa, based in Spain, which he used to serve the Spanish market. Details such as these were a vital part of Balenciaga’s story – a reminder that he had a good head for business as well as for creativity and innovation.

Creative play

It’s clear that the creators of the exhibition took the spirit of experimentation as seriously as Balenciaga himself. They recreated one dress in order to understand the role of ties underneath the skirt of the gown. By trying the gown on a model and using the ties in different ways, they discovered that when these ties were attached around the lower legs they caused the skirt to balloon out, catching the air and creating the distinctive shape in Balenciaga’s original design. Similarly, a garment that can be tied around the wearer as a skirt or a cape is reproduced for visitors to try. I didn’t put them on – but I had as much fun watching as two fashion students capered around in them – learning as they played.

Legacy

Upstairs there are some 40 outfits from a range of designers all of whom have demonstrably drawn inspiration from some aspect of Balenciaga’s work. These include a stunning tailored suit by Elsa Schiaparelli through to the futurism of Courrèges. Included too are contemporary designers who play with shape and volume, such as Gareth Pugh; the genetic connection obvious once pointed out.

(An aside at this point – I was struck by the delectable scents also on offer here – one spectacularly-suited gentleman in particular having a marvellous personal aura of mossy cedarwood – it occurs to me that perhaps all exhibitions should have an olfactory dimension.)

At the end of the exhibition upstairs was a personal favourite of mine – but it was a revelation to see this Issey Miyake piece in the context of Balenciaga’s work. The sculptural shape, the sleeves, the obsession with fabric – I now appreciated a familiar garment in a completely new light.

Miyake at Balenciaga

Issey Miyake pleated dress by Naoki Takizawa, 2001

So…

… do go, if you can! If you have the means and the opportunity, then it’s well worth the effort. It’s true that £12 (plus a train fare) is a not-insignificant amount of money to spend on an exhibition which on the face of it, occupies only a space within a gallery. However when that space is used as intelligently and creatively as this, with so much to learn from and to be inspired by, then it’s difficult to begrudge. If you’re craving more, then the permanent fashion display is waiting for you as you exit. In my opinion the sophistication and thought underlying the Balenciaga exhibition is well worth the time and money. Tickets are timed and despite my initial gauche clumsiness, the staged arrival system works well in terms of managing the flow of visitors.

Inevitably my stomach dictated my departure after almost two hours of enthralment and so I headed off into South Kensington in search of food. On my way out through the main entrance hall however I was diverted by an exhibition on plywood. Another 20 minutes of pleasure ensued (the scent here: birchwood!) and I was entertained by the sight of two older women guffawing at a video of a 1950s housewife holding up a piece of ply (in full skirt and lipstick) while her manly husband set to with a hammer and nails. I suspect they would have been more than happy to teach him how to use a nailgun.

Their spirit – and my diversion in the face of hunger – tells you all you need to know about the enduring capacity of the V&A to capture hearts. I finally parcelled up the little piece of mine that I leave there for safekeeping – and stepped through the revolving doors.

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The Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion exhibition is on at the Victoria & Albert Museum until 18th February 2018. Click here for all the details!

Have you been to a fabulous exhibition recently? Do let us know – we’d love to share the joy!

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Last-minute make: ‘Aurora’ slip dress

So here’s the scenario. I’m away for the weekend with friends. Hurrah! I’m in need of something a with a little summer elegance to it and which doesn’t involve jeans or black jersey, however my Style Crisis programme hasn’t really catered for that eventuality. (Weekends away? Perish the thought…) The thing is, a fabric has just arrived that I adore, want desperately to use NOW, and which is screaming ‘summer frock’ at me. Add to that the fact that certain colleagues are on holiday this week – and we have a time crisis on our hands. And yet, and yet, that urge…

I share this dilemma over a morning cup of tea.

‘Well’, comes the helfpul response. ‘You could make the dress during the week – because your sewing machine is here – then you could take your laptop anywhere and do your blog later’.

I point out that the purpose of going away for the weekend is to experience something called a ‘break’.

‘Well yes’ comes the reply. ‘But I’m just saying, you could blog anywhere, couldn’t you? You don’t have to be here’.

And repeat. Several times.

Many of us are fortunate enough to have people like this in our lives. For reference, this one is called David. Wisely, he decides to go on for a morning run.

I mull the situation over and decide, with some maturity, that indeed yes – I WANT MY FROCK!

However I also decide that in order to justify this indulgence I should still post about it, even though it’s going to be a little bit of a rush job and (did I mention?) I’m going away.

I should say at this point that I usually indulge in taking my time over my projects where possible (mostly in order to avoid sewing sleeves on upside down). I’m firmly committed to slow fashion and I revel in the delight of a garment that has been lovingly created over many hours, if not days or weeks, even. However we all find ourselves in situations where we need a quick fix – and so please excuse this inaugural ‘Last-minute make’ post. There will be others, inevitably – but I promise not to make too much of a habit of it. Here goes.

The fabric

‘Aurora’ soft taupe and lavender printed viscose fabric Wonderfully draping and perfect for the job.

Lavender printed viscose fabric for last-minute make

The pattern

Slip Dress 09/2013 from BurdaStyle. Chosen because it had a just a bit of detail at the front, as opposed to being totally plain. Also it was cut on the cross and would (I hoped) make the most of the drape in my fabric.

BurdaStyle Slip Dress for last minute make

BurdaStyle Slip Dress 09/2013

The inevitable tricky bit

That would be the detail at the front. The dart angles are critical, as is the need to keep a really straight line over those tucks. Also, it’s cut on the cross as mentioned. I did take the time to make sure the grain was straight but it slowed me down a tad.

The result

Achieved within the day, and styled (yes indeed, styled) with a plain white tee. I have plans for a short sleeved shell top to layer under it but that will have to wait.

Last-minute make slip dress

About to dash off…

I’m well aware that the dark colour, mostly neutral colour of the fabric doesn’t confirm to my most recent Style Crisis objective but sometimes the comfort zone is just too close to resist. Ideally I would have found a pattern that had some darts too as the shape is pretty undefined. However it looks better with a defining layer on top (e.g. my leather jacket – in my opinion at least) and it moves beautifully – if I say so myself.  I promise to get back on the programme ASAP.

And finally…

Here’s our slip dress post from last year, including lots of styling and pattern suggestions and details of our Slip Dress Pinterest board, too!

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Style crisis: getting practical – a Selja Knot Tee

Selja Knot Tee knot shot

At the end of my last Style Crisis post I mentioned that I was contemplating a navy linen shirt – probably as an unconscious reaction to the doubts I had regarding the print pattern on the shirt I’d just blogged. One of our customers called me up: “Noo! Don’t make the navy shirt!” she pleaded. “Blimey” I thought. “She must really mean it. Maybe I’ll think again”. So I did – and here we are with the ‘Selja’ Knot Tee by Named Clothing.

I had two concerns here.

First – to get back on the horse as quickly as possible. I had a day without any commitments at the weekend and I wanted a quick result.

Second – I was determined to have another go at colour and pattern. That navy shirt might still be on my list but I’d been well and truly warned off retreating to my comfort zone before time.

A top to go with jeans (in the first instance at least) was still top of my list on the basis that it would get plenty of wear and immediately give my daily ‘uniform’ a lift. The priority then was practicality – plus a quick win was what I needed.

The pattern

I was brought up a ‘Vogue Patterns’ girl. In the days before YouTube I was taught to sew by my mother, my grandmother and the instructions in Vogue patterns, as well as a healthy dollop of ‘make it up and try again’. Stepping into the burgeoning world of independent pattern publishers has been like stepping into the unknown for me – but I’m inordinately excited about some of the designs out there and am steadily working my way through the different publishers. I’ve liked the look of Named Clothing’s Selja Knot Tee for some time and we’ve suggested it for a number of our single knit jersey fabrics.

Selja Knot Tee by Named Clothing

Selja Knot Tee pattern by Named Clothing

The simplicity of the cut appealed to me – as, in this instance, did the apparent simplicity of the make. Single knit jersey fabrics are perfect for playing with stretching and draping – and this design seemed to allow for just that – but without too much fuss. Fitted on the shoulders, the knot helping shape it just enough with an interesting asymmetry, but without too much fabric swinging around.

I had one concern in that on the model, the top appears to sit on the upper part of the hip which is never a good place for me.

(Is it for anyone? Really? Surely I’m not the only one who picks up the cardigans in M&S and just cannot comprehend why they cut them like that. Square, down to ribbing which sits on the top of the hips; no shaping; folding inelegantly around the midriff like a toad flattened under a stone. In my opinion.)

I just hoped that the asymmetric drape of the Selja Knot Tee pattern design would avoid any such toadiness.

The fabric

Obviously it was going to be a bit of a drag, sifting through the ClothSpot jersey collection, *rolls eyes* but happily I had snaffled an offcut of our ‘Shadow dance’ red, blue & grey floral viscose jersey fabric a few weeks ago. It still has a soft tomato red in it, but also blues to pick up my denim and lots of subtle neutrals to calm the horses. Based on my previous experience it also seemed appropriate that the print pattern was a much larger scale and more abstract in nature.

This is a particularly soft-handled viscose jersey fabric with some stretch in it – helping with the drape as well as the fit. Perhaps a little bit more ‘gentle’ than my usual work clothing but I decided to be a grown-up and give it a go.

The making

I’m a latecomer to sewing with jersey and so still getting to grips with what my machine can do. Its predecessors were unpredictable and stretch fabrics would often end up being consumed by the feed dog – however my current machine and my overlocker made sewing this fabric as easy as pie. Of course I still managed to make a mistake – I was distracted while stitching the side front seam and took it all the way down to the bottom instead of stopping level with the hemline to leave the two ties free to knot. Doh. I can now tell you with authority that unpicking a stretch stitch on relatively fine jersey doesn’t work. Shamefully, two more front pieces had to be cut and re-sewn.

Aside from that debacle, it was all plain sailing. Aside from my re-cut, the top would have easily come out of the 1.4m of fabric required – in fact I could have got away with less as this jersey is quite wide and there are only 5 pattern pieces to contend with.

Selja Knot Tee cutting layout

I used a decorative stretch stitch to sew the neckband (although that probably wasn’t my finest hour) and the only point where I (respectfully) disagreed with the pattern instructions was to overlock the inside edge of the neckband and not turn it under before top-stitching. I figured this would make for a flatter finish and indeed I think it did.

Slja Knot Tee chest shot

More practice required…

I had toyed with the idea of lengthening the sleeves to above the elbow, but decided not to. Partly because I was working with an offcut of fabric; also because it was warm and I thought I’d see how it looked once finished. I might reserve the right to fiddle in that department with a future version.

The wearing

I was pleasantly surprised at how practical this top is – and how comfortable I was wearing it. Starting at the top, for a round neckline, it sits at just the right point – not so high as to cut my neck off or make me feel throttled. It was a warm day and I didn’t feel overly hot either – the relatively light weight of this jersey helping there. I liked the sportiness of the sleeves – and the fit across my broad shoulders was just right – so for reference the sizing is pretty true-to-size, perhaps bordering on slightly generous.

The biggest relief was the fact that it sat nicely around the lower part of my hips. There was no M&S cardigan toad factor and that angled drape even managed to do something rather elegant across my middle. I was probably least enamoured with the length of the ties – they were a bit dangly for my liking but that’s just an issue of personal taste and easily remedied.

Selja Knot Tee mannequin blog

The acid test was that I went to put it on again the next morning – it did two days on the trot. It even weathered a photography session, which involves me attaching my fabric clips to the hem of whatever I’m wearing. For that reason, dresses are a pain on photography days – but tops are handy – and this one worked a treat.

I still got the inevitable knowing smirks from my colleagues – but they were tempered with (apparently) genuine noises of approval – and I even received a compliment from someone who didn’t know that it was a Style Crisis experiment. (And yes – I admit it was my mother – but it still counts – she’s not short of a direct opinion as previously noted).

The feeling

In terms of a learning experience on the style front, this top taught me lots. I’ve learned that I’m definitely more comfortable with larger, more abstract print patterns; also that my fit preferences (close on the shoulders, a bit of shape through the middle) work well for me. I will also keep an eye out for garments that work some asymmetry into the torso – since they make the most of my wider upper body and bring a sense of movement. (The side front seam in the Selja Knot Tee is a subtle design element but it definitely adds something).

I also learned that I have pushed my tolerance for drapiness just about as far as it will go. Floating sleeves, for instance – or any additional frippery on this design, would have pushed me over the edge. I like the sportiness of the upper half of the top which allows me to feel OK with the draping and knotting around the hips.

I enjoyed the punchiness of the red in among the subtler shades of blue and grey and could easily have coped with more on the colour front. Most importantly though, I felt like me. Admittedly it didn’t elevate my sense of self to ‘creative superhero’ level – or break any new ground – but it fulfilled the ‘practicality’ brief as well as teaching me a good deal too.

The decision

It’s a keeper. It might not sum up every aspect of my inner style self – but it’s easy to wear, has a bit of character and probably a bit more elegance than I am used to. I haven’t tried it with my jackets and although I’m keen to see if it works with those, I’ll definitely do a re-run in due course.

Alice in Selja Knot Tee

Oh, go on then…

However having done two tops, I am now feeling the need to cater for my bottom half. Primarily because even I can’t live in jeans forever and my pants collection isn’t really worth of display. Also, though, because my making is beginning to feel a little piecemeal and I’d like to try coming up with a whole outfit. It might just be a dress – or it might be time for summer trousers. Or both!

Do let me know what you think – as I discovered last week when I was redirected from that navy linen shirt – opinions and guidance are not only appreciated, but apparently, necessary…

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View from the Farm Café: In my style tribe

Farm cafe - Style tribes

This week at the Farm shop I’m wondering whatever happened to fashion sub-cultures. Do they exist any more? And if not, does it matter?

Scroll down too for some pattern news – as well as a reminder that Stella McCartney was well worth a listen on Desert Island Discs.

Also just in case you’re wondering, that’s a kale, banana and lemongrass smoothie. It was delicious – but don’t worry – I didn’t go without my coffee.

Where are the style tribes?

The younger members of the extended ClothSpot family are used to being cornered and interrogated by me on a range of subjects that I feel the need to understand. These might range from the finer points of Instagram etiquette, their views on a new fabric/style/magazine, choosing shoes (a conversation usually terminated at their first downward glance and mention of ‘flippers’), as well as the inevitable reality TV (‘Why?’)

Probably the most frequented topic however is that of ‘style tribes’. As family and employees have returned intermittently from their first ‘proper’ jobs or from university – especially if from some distance away – I’ve enquired about the prevailing styles. Specifically, any ‘style tribes’ that might be emerging. Fashion cliques, trend groupies – call them what you will – I’ve been interested to know how what they are and how my interviewee might identify with them. The answer usually is in the form of a blank look, a tilted head and a raised eyebrow. I explain further and the response is usually either ‘that’s not really my thing’ or alternatively, references to high heels, contouring, fake tans and the occasional mermaid fascination.

‘But where’ I might persist, ‘are the goths, the rockabillies, the punks – or whatever you have these days?’ Again – I draw a blank and give in.

Am I missing something, or is it simply the case that these style tribes just don’t exist any more in the same way? And if not, then is that a bad or a good thing? Does it matter?

It’s difficult asserting your sense of individuality and style as a teenager or as a young adult. The V&A Museum first explored youth culture and style in their ’14:24 British Youth Culture’ exhibition in 1986, revisiting the subject in ‘Streetstyle: From Sidewalk to Catwalk’ exhibition in 1994. Tracing street style from trends such as ‘Ivy League’ and ‘Zooties’ in the 1940s through Hipsters, Mods, Glam, Goths and Ravers, they produced this intricate web of connections through time.

Style Tribes chart

Diagram of Style Tribes through time from the ‘StreetStyle’ exhibition at the V&A Museum, 1994 click to enlarge

Of course there are plenty of subcults not even on that map – but it illustrates just how numerous they have been, and how significant they were in defining identity. As Alison Lurie points out in The Language of Clothes:

Just as the average English-speaking person knows many more words than he or she will ever use in a conversation, so all of us are able to understand the meaning of styles we will never wear. To choose clothes, either in a store or at home, is to define and describe ourselves

Many of us have toyed with more than one of these styles – and in due course, we’ve later developed a sense of our own personal style (in theory, at least…) which may, or may not, be informed by those early group experiments. We’ve moved on with varying degrees of success and comfort – and indeed some choose to stick with their formative style experiences and continue to use them to define themselves.

Anita Corbin is a photographer who documented many of these style tribes in the 1980s, and whose photographs are now touring the country, paired with current images of the women as they currently are. You can find out more about her ‘Visible Girls Revisited’ project here, as well as view further intriguing ‘then and now’ images here.

Style tribes 1980

Helen de Jode (left) and Emma Hall, Photographed by Anita Corbin in 1980 for the Visible Girls project.

But what of today’s style tribes? Interviews with participants in the ‘Visible Girls’ project reveal how much girls enjoyed feeling as if they were part of something. Are today’s girls and young women missing out? Or has social media redrawn the map completely? Now that young girls are linked digitally by their social media networks, has that removed the need to signal their identity visually in the same way? Have they lost something that we might have had in the past – or are they now free to be far more individual, avoiding the need for a visual herd mentality? Were style tribes an opportunity to explore creativity – or did they just encourage getting into a hard-to-escape rut?

What, too, of the tradition for youth rebellion (if that’s not a contradiction) and the role of fashion within that? In the 1980s I could spot a person’s likely political agenda at 50 paces – but how does a young Corbynista, for instance, spot a likely kindred spirit across a crowded room? That might be We’ve heard much about the age divisions within British society following last year’s referendum – and while young adults certainly don’t have a monopoly on unaffordable housing, uncertain employment and low wages, many of them are very definitely at the sharp end of those experiences. Yet to my knowledge there’s no equivalent of the ‘Hard Times’ fashion scene from the early 80s, for instance.

The face hard times style tribes

The Face magazine, September 1982

Of course that doesn’t mean that people are any less committed to their causes – but I’m just intrigued to know whether fashion is any longer part of that picture.

Did any of you belong to a style tribe in the past – if so, then which one? (Pictures – pictures would be fabulous!) How did that experience affect your style today? Have you spotted a contemporary fashion subculture that I’ve missed? Or are they simply no longer relevant? Here at ClothSpot, the likes of Becky, Evé, Freya, Kerry and Lizzie would be grateful if you let me know – it might just give them a break…

Pattern possibilities

On the sewing front, my thanks to Anne P. for drawing to my attention the fact that Style Arc patterns have extended their range of PDF patterns on their main website. We get such great feedback from their patterns in terms of fitting (trousers, in particular) that we thought that might be worth sharing.

Style arc tunic

The ‘Autumn Dress’ by Style Arc patterns

Also if you haven’t taken a look at The Pattern Pages, then you might want to – it’s a free quarterly digital magazine with lots of updates on new patterns in particular.

Stella tells it how it is

Finally, many of you will have caught up with Stella McCartney’s interview on Desert Island Discs last week – but if not we encourage you to drop in on the BBC iPlayer site and catch up.

Stella McCcartney

Stella McCartney on Desert Island Discs

Kirsty Young introduces the discussion from the perspective of McCartney’s preoccupation with ‘Why we wear stuff and how it makes us feel’.

How is what you’re wearing, influencing how you’re feeling today, Stella McCartney?

Which of course, is right up our ‘Style crisis’ street… Interestingly too, she talks about the connection between fashion and music during her formative years – taking us right back to the top.

Have a great weekend!

 

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Style crisis: You say ‘tomato’, I say ‘shirt’

Tomato shirt topper

In an ideal world, this is the post where I would swan into shot on my newly-minted vlog (Ha! Don’t hold your breath…) sashaying elegantly to a tall stool. There, poised and articulate I would announce myself transformed; an accurate representation of my stylish inner self, only slightly distracted by the sound of my alarm clock going off…

Nope – not happening. No surprise that the reality is a little more prosaic. I have dipped my toe into the waters of my new personal style adventure and come up with – a shirt! Now – hold onto your hairpieces there, people – I know it’s not the most inventive of directions but the aim here at least in part, was for me to understand a bit more about me and my style. I’m sure I won’t be challenging Stella McCartney any time soon – and frankly you could probably drape me head-to-foot in Dior and it wouldn’t stop me behaving like a Duracell bunny with an inappropriate sense of humour.

A shirt was the first thing on my list – something cool (in the practical, rather than stylish sense – let’s be realistic) to wear with jeans in the summer. Not only did I make it – but I road-tested it for the day, too. Here’s how it went.

The pattern

Tried and tested, all over the Internet – Vogue Pattern 8772. Minimal agonising here – I had it to hand, knew it just needed a small bust adjustment (SBA) and I liked the idea of a no-sleeves, tunic length version.

Vogue Pattern 8772

Vogue Pattern 8772

Plus, it has a little bit of dart-shaping – enough to give it a bit of shape but not so much as to be too fitted. So off we went, with View E; sleeveless, tunic-length, proper collar, no bow.

The fabric

I’ve had my eye on our Coral-floral printed purple cotton lawn fabric for some time. It first arrived last summer and the colours cheered me up right the way through a long, dark winter, glowing in the cotton store. I wanted to try a cotton lawn for the shirt – and was already inclined towards it for this project when comments on my last Style Crisis post suggested purples and tomato-reds as being colours which might work well with my colouring.

I needed no further encouragement. Stepping away from black and grey was a definite goal for this project and not only does this fabric feature a background of purple and a print pattern of tomato reds – upon closer inspection those red berries almost looked like little tomatoes. Or pomegranates, perhaps? Rosehips? Who knows – tomato-ey enough for a decision to be made.

The making

I think this has to be the cheeriest make I remember. I knew that something was different when I realised that my black/grey/navy/white overlocker threads weren’t going to do the trick – and rummaging in my thread box I found a set of red ones. Red – I ask you! Unheard of hereabouts.

Tomato shirt overlocking

Cheery red overlocking!

Overlocking pattern pieces prior to construction is one of my pleasures in life – it makes me feel in control, organised and tidy. Not a feeling that ever lasts long in my experience – but it served to launch me into my Happy Place with a smile on my face. And in fact, that smile stayed put throughout.

Having shortened the back length by 1.5cm and reduced the bust darts down a size, I risked going without a toile having made the pattern up once before as a sample and knowing it was fairly true-to-size. For once my judgement was fairly accurate; a quick try-on after the main pattern pieces were assembled was reassurance enough on that front.

Rather than hope for an entire day to make my shirt (another entry in my ‘favourite dreams’ catalogue) I spent a happy wet Sunday afternoon followed by a few hours here and there later in the week. I’m a great subscriber to Lladybird’s belief that ‘little and often’ is the key to getting a sewing project done and although I do need a fair run at a project to get it going, I’m fine picking it up in shorter sessions thereafter. (Just in case anyone was wondering, running ClothSpot doesn’t magically conjure up lots of sewing time – quite the opposite.)

Happily however there were no disasters to report. (Something to do with no sleeves to sew on back-to-front, I imagine.) Top-stitching the collar reminded me that I really do need to do more practicing – one collar point requiring a couple of re-runs. My only pattern gripe was with the sleeve binding method. It’s not the first time I’ve had an issue with patterns instructing me to create binding using the main fabric and sew my binding strips in a circle prior to attaching to the armhole. In my experience, the binding strips always, always end up too large, necessitating much unpicking and re-sewing. Any suggestions as to why would be greatly appreciated.

The fabric however was a dream to work with. Stable and well-behaved, it kept its structure throughout (even while unpicking and restitching the aforementioned collar point) and pressed up a dream. My machine (a Janome Atelier 3 which I still think of as ‘excitingly new’ nearly two years on) created 10 perfect buttonholes with ease (oh, joy!) and we were away.

Tomato collar close up

Loving a proper shirt collar

The wearing

This is where it all gets a little weird. I happily went to it on the Monday morning with my (increasingly dishevelled) jeans and my brand new orange clog sandals. Orange is a new shoe colour for me (as I suspect it would be for most) but I felt an infectious jolliness from my shirtmaking when I ordered them with my birthday money. On went the shirt and off I nipped to the local shop to pick up milk and ClothSpot’s traditional Monday lunchtime soup. Walking into the shop, a polite chap stood back from the door to let me through and smiled. Not in a dodgy way – just a cheery smile. Then at the checkout the store assistant commented on my scent and told me all about the perfume her husband had recently bought her. Definitely not the kind of reaction I usually expect – not that people aren’t friendly  round here – quite the opposite. It just seemed…different. My ClothSpot colleagues were enthusiastic (although one of them should know that I caught that look of amused scepticism that she flashed around the workroom).

Alice in tomato shirt

The big reveal. (Ignore the hair. Apparently I did…)

It all went a bit downhill when we had a rescheduled visit from a supplier in the afternoon. My usual habit is to make a selection of fabrics then play with then on the floor so I can decide what works and how. The clogs came off as their wooden soles wouldn’t flex as I squatted on my knees. I then discovered I’d over-cut a buttonhole on my midriff which annoyingly refused to hold onto its button. Finally, kneeling on the floor for half an hour rendered my holey jeans even more so. As a work outfit then, this clearly wasn’t the ‘killer app’ I’d hoped for

The feeling

In my last Style Crisis post I listed all the ways I’d like my new wardrobe might make me feel more like me. There are some feelings I was searching for that my red and purple shirt delivered on; I did indeed feel ‘fresh’, ‘lively’ and ‘energised’. Partly to do with the colours; also the sleevelessness of the shirt worked for me on a hot day. I was cheery and jolly – and, apparently, so was everyone else around me. I’m suspect they weren’t responding to my shirt; is it actually possible they were reacting to the liveliness and good humour that I was projecting, partly as a result of wearing vibrant, happier colours? The jury is still out…

I’m less certain that this is a garment that made me feel ‘inspired’ or ‘connected’ however – and I’m pretty certain that it doesn’t fit my definition of ‘sophistication’, ‘elegance’ or a number of other criteria that I’d set for it. And as it turned out, my outfit as a whole wasn’t particularly practical either – certainly not for the job in hand that afternoon.

The colours I loved, actually. It was just that I had a sense that the scale and style of the print pattern were perhaps less ‘me’. I’m not so used to wearing such a small-scale, delicate print – and just maybe I should have warned myself off wearing actual tomatoes, as opposed to the colour. In addition I think that a longer tunic shape might have worked better in a less crisp, more flowing fabric. So – I might well have another go at the pattern – but possibly with a more draping fabric in a simpler design.

The decision

Keep or give away? Well – it’s hard to contemplate abandoning so quickly a garment that I enjoyed making and which in part, I enjoyed wearing. I’m going to hang on to it for the summer to see if it’s the kind of thing I might like wearing on a holiday road trip or to the seaside. I think it might cheer any of those – but if it doesn’t get that opportunity, even during summer weather like this, then realistically it’s not the style for me.

Opinions are welcome as as ever! Meanwhile a new shirt pattern has just arrived from France and I’m eyeing up our ‘Café Bleu’ rippling navy blue Irish linen fabric

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Style Crisis interlude

I’ve been looking forward to regaling you all with my experience of wearing my first Style Crisis make. It’s all done – I promise – and road-tested too. However the events of the last few days have rather put a stop to any sense of fun that I might have felt in sharing that with you. I am a great believer in carrying on regardless. However the enormity of the fire at Grenfell Tower has proved just too overwhelming to make light of – well – anything, really. I know from conversations with customers, friends and family this week that this disaster has affected us all, however far removed we are from the event itself.

I spent my teens in eager anticipation of moving to London. I lived, loved and worked there for fifteen years. In my first three years I lived at 10 different addresses, cycling everywhere. I knew London, I miss it, and love visiting – but I also know how much it’s changed since my first solo shopping trips in the 70s; since I moved there in the 80s. If housing was difficult to find and expensive then, it’s beyond ridiculous now. Like many I’ve assumed that situation couldn’t continue. A city needs people to run it as well as live in it – and so many have either been forced out or compelled to live in appalling conditions. However not in my worst imaginings did I contemplate an event such as this.

It’s becoming clear that individuals, families and a significant swathe of a community are likely to have died in the Grenfell Tower fire. Some of those affected had already lost everything once, having arrived as refugees. The local community has pulled together, demonstrating remarkable resilience in the face of devastation. For those of us at a distance there may be little we feel able to do. Of course we will donate if we are able – and the British Red Cross has established a national London Fire Relief Fund for that purpose. However like me, you may be left wondering what on earth the world has come to if a tragedy such as this can take place in Britain, in 2017.

Political change and practical actions will clearly be required to make sure such a thing can never happen again. Those of us in a position to help lobby, raise awareness or support individuals will surely do so. However right now, many of us remain at a loss.

Beyond donating and expressing my sorrow and outrage, what next? How is it possible to talk about apparent trivialities such as a new shirt, for heaven’s sake, in the knowledge that others have lost everything?

For what it’s worth, I’ll be trying two things.

First – I’m going to make sure I connect with the people around me. Many of us are fortunate enough to have families, friends and communities to support us and to give us a sense of safety, of belonging, of home. We know there are those who don’t necessarily experience that connection with others – and events such as The Great Get Together, inspired by the death of Jo Cox, a year ago today, are inspiring in their determination to bring people together. I’m not the best at organising parties and get-togethers but I know people who are, and I’ve been saying ‘yes’ to invitations for coffee, tea and even a barbeque this weekend, ignoring my bookish and box-set urges.

Second – we all know and love the process of sewing. We know the pleasure of creating something with our hands; of being in our ‘happy place’. Psychologists call it being in a ‘state of flow’; being captivated by the act of creating. I’ve heard many of you describe the sheer joy of sewing, warning off family and housemates and becoming completely absorbed in the creative process. You can find out a bit more about why and how that happens in this TED talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who helped define that state of pleasure.

I’m hoping then, that finding time to do some sewing will allow me to reflect and also to clear my mind a little.

I’ll also be counting my blessings, as will we all. Following the extraordinary example of the student who sat her Chemistry GCSE the morning after escaping from the fire, normal service will be resumed next week. I’m fortunate enough for that to be an option and the Grenfell Tower disaster has reminded me of that. This is a community I feel privileged to be a part of and if Ines Alves can get on with her GCSEs, then the least I can do is crack on too.

Any suggestions as to how we might all do that are as ever, most welcome.