Bloomsbury Inspiration

16 Jul

One of my longtime favorite art/home deco inspiration sources has been the art and craft of the Bloomsbury group, Charleston Farmhouse, and the Omega Workshops.

I love the aesthetic–the rich yet muted palette of colors–and also the idea of living surrounded by art on all sides, where each component of one’s familiar space is also a work of art. It’s something I’ve long aspired to in my own home (handmade pottery, painted surfaces, etc.) and now, clearly, touching my wardrobe as well.

(fabric by the Omega Workshops, source: http://www.culture24.org.uk/art/art69644)

Lately I’ve been returning to this inspiration again, thinking of fabric design. The Omega workshops translated many of their paintings into textiles for both home use and fashion, many of the participants wore clothing of their own design, with their own fabric patterns as well.

Various companies have done contemporary interpretations of old Omega/Bloomsbury designs, including my favorite fashion retailer Anthropologie:

I recognize this print from my own library as a very close copy of one designed by Vanessa Bell–and they’ve paired it, so cleverly, with Nina Hamnett plaid stockings.

Here’s Nina, in her own Omega-fabric dress, painted by Roger Fry in 1918:

 

“I had a wonderful collection of stockings at that time and wore flat-heeled shoes with straps on them like children do. They made my feet look very large. They cost five francs and were worn by concierges. I had red stockings and yellow stockings and some that looked like a chess board. Modigliani would run after me up the Boulevard Raspail after the Rotonde had closed. He could always see me because of my loud stockings.

-Nina in her delightful kiss-and-tell autobiography, Laughing Torso.

 

At any rate, I’m brewing Bloomsbury-style fashion inspirations. Whether these will be ideas that come to fruition in some future project, or whether they stay in the brew pot of unreachable crafting aspirations, only time will tell.

Make your own biased mess

15 Jul

I got a gadget: the Clover bias maker. It’s nifty. The whole internet offers handy tutorials on the wonder of this gadget, and how it can simplify my sewing by allowing me to easily make my own bias tape at home using the same fashion fabric as the rest of my project.

I’ve had it a while, but it wasn’t until last night that I felt I had the right project for custom, fabric-matched bias tape. So I cut up my strips, stitched them end to end, and started pressing and pulling…and whee! wasn’t it fun!

All that neat, crisply pressed bias tape just spooling out of my gadget, and under the welcoming steam of my hot iron (at right).

But, you say, what’s that on the left? That, my friends, is the same freshly handmade bias tape, on one end of the strip, and how it has uncurled there by the time my Clover magic-maker and iron combination have reached the other end of my strip.

In fact, let me show you my whole piece of so-called “bias binding” so that you can get the whole effect:

Ahem.

 

Yes, there’s a reason I chose to call my sewing blog “Handmade Mess” and I’m afraid, today, that I have run into that reason once again.

It’s okay, I will persevere, as I generally do, and I think it will be perfectly useable for the project at hand. I’m just putting this up there so that you can witness: sometimes the bias maker turns out smooth, crisp lines of tape, and sometimes, with some fabrics (maybe it’s the nature of seersucker to shake out a pressed fold) or in the hands of certain inept seamstresses, it’s not as pretty a process as one might like it to be.

Cherry blossoms

5 Jul

I swore to quickly finish the unresolved details in that last dress. lest it become one more item on the huge mound of “Things I would wear, if only I had taken the time to fix those last unresolved details” pile of sewing. So I sat down with my seam ripper, carefully dissected the pockets, removing them from the side seams, and straightened any strips that seemed to swerve.

The dress looks exactly the same to anyone else, but to me, it is now unquestionably finished, and it avoided that Pile of Doom, which is an accomplishment in my book.

Then, as a treat, to reward myself for persevering through those sloggy details, I made a quick-and-easy skirt project out of fun fabric.

It’s basically a modification of the Easiest Skirt in the World, only I sectioned it in six tapered panels for a little more flare, and I added side seam pockets. (Pockets! If I remove them from one garment, I will insert them back into another.) And since my fabric was a relatively small piece of a very large pattern, I used tracing paper pattern pieces to lay out the shapes on the fabric, in order to get cherry branches that sort of related to one another across the various skirt panels. It’s not really “pattern matching” but just…pattern distribution.

It worked out pretty well, and I had only a scrap about 8″ square left over, but the branches “branch” pretty well, for  a skirt in six panels, on such a large print.

 

The dress that would not be kept black!

2 Jul

It started as Butterick 4386, a versatile sheath dress.

Actually, it remains very much a B4386, as the only alterations I did were to shorten it and add pockets. Well, yeah, that and texturize the heck out of it with long strips of fabric. But that’s it.

I basically just copied a dress I saw a woman wearing in a restaurant. Hers had the sleeves stripped, as well, which I had a whole idea for doing in a way that would make the fronts wrap around the shoulder and match up with the back. But once I got the sleeves set in, I liked the way they looked, solid–like that finished detail emphasized the texture of the body, even farther.


I like this dress. There’s one strip on the front that I can see, from the photos, curves out of line (how does that happen?! And in such a visible place!) that I have to go back and fix. I added side seam pockets because hey–who can’t use pockets? But they do add bulk to the hips that shows in almost all the photos, and they gap open a lot, in spite of a fair bit of understitching, so I believe I’ll just be picking those out, now. Pockets, schmockets…that’s what handbags were invented for!

I think it would also be just fine in black…if ever I have enough black fabric, and am inspired to do it all over again.

Failing the challenge of the little black dress

2 Jul

My “little black dress” project is coming along quite nicely, apart from one detail.
The thing is, it’s…

*ahem*…er, well, it turns out it’s brown.

Yes, brown.  You see, a while ago I bought some fabric on the internet–the first and last time I ever did so. I was looking for some “ponte knit” and it turns out that one can’t readily tell, from pictures and descriptions, what one is going to get. I mean, it was probably a pretty risky thing to start with, a poly double knit, after all! But when the fabric arrived, it was pretty uninspiring, to say the least–but it had been cheap, and I thought I could use it to practice with, for “wearable muslins” of the stretch fabric variety.
And it’s served me well–I used the blue piece to make my “Marginal Folded Skirt“. (Oh, yes: I forgot to mention I got the fabric in four colors. Four.)

One length was black, and one was a deep chocolate brown.

So I saw this dress the other day, and it was in a stretch fabric (heavier than jersey) and used strips of the fabric, raw-edged, as an all-over striping. Not hemmed, not ruffled, just stripes sewn on, with just a bit of soft irregularity…a look that could be easily duplicated, by cutting long strips of fabric by hand. And it looked really, really good. Textured, but simple. Deconstructed, but not sloppily so.

I wanted to make it, and I figured I could use the length of black double-knit to do so. When I got the fabric out, however, I discovered that I had much more of the brown than of the black. And with the stripes all over, the dress calls for essentially double the amount of fabric than is in the dress itself. I simply wasn’t going to have enough of the black, to make the dress.  But I wanted to try, anyway, so I switched to brown, instead, and here I go, sewing seam after seam of flat, ruffle-less “ruffles” on each pattern piece, in preparation for dress construction:

 

So, ah, yes: my dress, it is coming along great, except for the fact that it’s veered sharply off course from where I started, and become something else altogether, in the process.

Such grand plans

1 Jul

I had such grand plans for sewing, today.

Alas, I fear the allure of my couch and sweet Earl Grey tea has somewhat overtaken my ambition.

20120701-112208.jpg

I’m afraid sometimes–well, often, really–this blog serves mostly to highlight the gaps between my intentions, and my abilities to realize them. Intentions toward self-sufficiency, intentions to learn new skills, intentions to realize creative aspirations. Intentions to use up the fabrics in my stash, to learn good techniques and practices, to mend all the projects that are “one step away” from wearable. My intention to sew a pair of well-fitting pants. Intention to create a flattering blazer. To learn all the secrets of “well-fitting” and “flattering” where they apply to my body, my lifestyle.

So many intentions. So here I sit, drinking tea instead.

Rising to the Challenge of the Little Black Dress

30 Jun

I’ve been thinking, since my retail exception for the black dresses, of what it might take, in a sewing project, to make it appealing to undertake a black dress project. Would it be fabric–something with drape, or an appealing texture? A particularly unique design? Some fun technique that I wanted to try so much, it wouldn’t even matter if the fabric was black?

I couldn’t come up with an answer to that question…until a couple of nights ago, out for cocktails, a woman at the venue wore a dress I couldn’t keep my eyes off of. Hers was green, but it had a decorative detail that was so fun and simple and intriguing to me, I thought “I’d like to try to make that, myself…and that’s a dress that I could even make, in black.”

What’s more, the dress requires a knit, with a bit of stretch, and I happen to have a bolt of a smooth black knit in my stash that I think I could use just for this purpose. I’m going to try it: without buying any new fabrics or patterns, I’d like to imitate the effect of the woman’s green dress, for myself: in black.

(Not even close to the black dress I’m attempting…but a pretty neat one just the same. Those women on the far right, they wish they had a black dress!)

Personal fashion from other people’s fabric

26 Jun

I got another really cool gift of fabric. This was actually a while ago, and although I quickly knew what I wanted to do with it, it’s taken me some time.

It was this great length of an African printed textile:


I was describing this fabric to someone, saying “It’s a wide stripe, with another pattern layered over that, and then gold peacock feathers printed over that…” and the other person went “Whoah….that sounds like some fabric!” and I realized that what I was describing sounded really horrible, actually.

But there it is: you can see it for yourself. It’s got wide stripes, and a pattern of lines intersecting that, and then gold peacock feathers scattered over that.

At any rate, it was originally an sarong-style wrap skirt. It was hemmed on the edges, including a kind of wide, stiff hem along one side. I almost suspect the friend who offered it to me meant it to be used as a tablecloth, or in some other home decor application, but I wanted to see it as a more shaped, fitted garment. I was limited by the yardage, though: there simply wasn’t much there, and I was going to have to (gasp!) match stripes.

I used “See and Sew” pattern B5664, which is supposed to be really easy. (It says so right on the package: “YES! It’s easy!”) but it took me a while. I averaged a single step every few days…and it’s fully lined, so once you finish one thing, you get to do it all over again.

I’m quite happy with the way it came out, I have to say. I made one alteration: the neck was too low and the neckline gapped in the back, so I took a full 1″ out of the top seam, along the top of the shoulders, lifting the whole bodice up to fit closer.

What I like best about it is that it has center seams, both front and back. I think this gives it extra curvature–instead of a straight grainline like most dresses cut symmetrically on the fold, this one has a slightly shaped center seam, in addition to the side darts. And with the 1″ lift, the waistline hits me right at the natural waist, so I think, for me, this is a pattern I can/will use again.

When I make this pattern the next time, I’m going to add a kick-pleat in the center back, to give a little extra space for climbing steeps steps, like on public transportation. But I’m keeping the rest the same.