Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Waaay too easy. Seriously cute.

3 long scarves, destined to be cut in half, sewn together and threaded with elastic into a sheer skirt to throw over bathers. 

Stiched together at random lengths, leaving splits in each seam.  Top turned over and 3 rows of stitching aded to make 2 channels for elastic and a fluttery top edge.

Voila!  I think I'll loosen the elastic and make it into a skirt for a bigger girl.  There's too much gathering at the moment - it looks like I could have used just 5 strips, but that would have thrown the brown-orange-yellow pattern.  Anyhow, why should my little mannequin have all the fun.  Maybe I'll try it on her big sister, who has a waist circumference of 110cm.  She doesn't get out much,  this could be her big chance.

Monday, October 26, 2009


  This is the dress I shortened to make ruffles for the samba dress.  The blue swoops are the former armhole facings of that dress.  I really like the way they curve across the front of the dress, kind of lifts it a bit.  They're just pinned at this stage, when I get a chance I'll stitch them on.  I might use some fusible webbing cut into strips (partly because I'm cheap, partly because I don't want  to make it even stiffer, what with the original vilene already in the facings)  to secure them before I sew, if I think the fabric can take the heat of the iron.  Most polyesters are far sturdier than you'd think, but this one is unusually delicate.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

30 minutes, some fringe and a huge tee shirt

This tee shirt was very large, but I loved the print on the front.  I cut away the sleeves to see what I was left with, and put it aside for later.

This is risky for me - later can extend for years.  However, I had a particular project that required a small scale cheerleader's pompom (don't ask) so I tried to make it a sample out of some ribbon left over from something else.  Didn't work.  But when I looked again, I realised it would look pretty cool as a fringe, and extended it as much as I could.  Then the light dawned, and I remembered the tee shirt, which was the same sort of yellow.  Fished around a bit, found it under a pair of winter trousers that needed hemming back in April (yep, cold legs again this year), and took it back to the machine with scissors and a pink zip.

 Without a plan, and with only 30 minutes until I had to pick up the kids, I dived in.  First I sewed the fringe around one side of the neck.  Nice, but lopsided.  No more fringe, and I didn't want it symmetrical anyway, so I cut the other shoulder seam open, twisted the front and restitched it.  The seam looked messy, so I stitched some leftover ribbon over it.  I looped the ribbon back underneath at the outer edge, with the thought that I could add a tassel or something later.

Then I thought it looked shapeless. Remembering Trinny and Susannah's advice that ruching can hide wobbly tummies, I pleated one side roughly..... and ran out of bobbin thread.  Darn.  So I fished around in my bobbin box, and found a salmon coloured thread already wound and loaded it.   I figured the contrast colour would add a nice, subtle touch, while relating to the touch of pink in the print. I had way too little time for neat topstitching, so I sewed back and forth over the pleating to hold it.  Anyhow, the freeform stitching relates to the hand drawn lines of the hair in the print.   I turned under the armhole edges and stitched roughly around several times, with the bobbin thread showing.  It's topstitching, but not as we know it.

It still looked a little unbalanced.  I grabbed a short chunky zip in pink, and slashed the side seam open for about twice as long as the zip.  Then I pleated and bunched it, and sewed the zip on roughly either side, making sure to tuck the ends of the tee under neatly.  If I'm playing with deconstructivism (oops, my inner philosophy nerd is showing), I like to keep some details neat, to show that it's deliberate, not that I don't know how to sew.  I don't want the unfinished look to be a justification for poor craftsmanship. 

Almost perfect, but a bit baggy through the back.  It made me look barrel shaped.  I figure the small of my back is one part that doesn't put on weight, I should emphasise it, so I grabbed a bunch of fabric right there, took the top off again and stitched exactly what I'd grabbed.  These are not neat pleats, at all, but they do the trick and make the back a bit more interesting.

Phew, 35 minutes, kids were waiting patiently outside the office.

Samba Sleeved Dress Remake

This image from a recent magazine (I think it was Madison) caught my eye.  I love the way the dress is such a simple floral knit it could almost be a chain store basic, but the sleeves looked like they had been stolen from the costume cupboard at an amateur theatre, mardi gras sleeves that had seen better days, but were hoarded away just in case.

  I used two lined polyester shift dresses from an op shop, and a damaged lacy dress from a place I used to work. 

One of the shift dresses, the darker blue one, was made domestically, with hand sewn facings and zip, and dressmaker's carbon paper lines where the darts were sewn.  It was probably around a size 12 or small 14.  The hand sewn facings were quite pretty, and I saved them to use as appliques on the second dress.  The dotted lines marking the dart were a little disappointing, as I wanted to undo the darts to give more of a tunic effect.  They do show, but I figure the sleeves will draw attention away from the marks, and the fabric is patterned enough. 

The other shift dress, light aqua with spots, was a smaller size, and as it turned out was a perfect fit on my size 8 dummy.   The armhole and neckline were bound with a knit or bias satin fabric. I wanted to use some of the fabric for the ruffly sleeves on the other dress, but I didn't want to completely destroy the dress, as that would be taking it out of usefulness and turning it into waste.  Kind of defeats the purpose. 

The cream coloured lacy dress was a retail reject, because the fabric had torn along the zipper seam.  This meant it couldn't be repaired for retail sale, but it left a lot of beautiful usable fabric.  I used the bodice section for the sleeves, and simply hemmed the top edge of the skirt and threaded elastic through, so I have a lacy petticoat or overskirt (or a sheer skirt for those who've splurged on really expensive knickers and want people to notice)

I used new thread, because I am fussy about my thread.  I only use good quality thread, because I want to make sure my sewing stays together as long as the garment does.  If the thread gives up, the garment becomes too hard to look after over time as random seams pop, usually in hard to repair areas, and becomes landfill quicker.  In this case, I used an industrial thread, because I was sewing with my industrial machine.  Domestic thread doesn't go so well when sewing at super high speed, because it heats up and snaps.  Not that I was going fast, but I keep my threads for each machine nearby, and in fact this one was already on the machine. 

True confession time, it's cream coloured, because I'm  lazy about rethreading.  Some of the basting showed a little at the end, so I pulled those stitches out.   I actually don't get too concerned about perfect colour matching, unless it is on the outside of the garment. It's surprising what you can get away with.  In fact, an African designer working in Paris in the early 90's made it his signature to sew everything together with red overlocking.  Apparently he got a good deal on a big box of leftover thread when he was starting out, and turned necessity into a statement. 

I cut the barest minimum off the bottom of both dresses and hemmed them again to turn them into minis.  I also cut the linings back and hemmed them.  I undid the darts on the first dress and took off the armhole facings, setting them aside to use as appliques on the other dress.  I may reshape the side seams to give a tapered shape from underarm to waist, instead of the hourglass shape it currently has, but that will make it into a smaller size, because I'll have to take some off the hips.  Part of me loves that idea, the other part is thinking that if I cut it really short I could have a fitted top for myself.  I'd have to cut it short, there's no fabric to let out to go over my hips, and I don't want to add a contrast because the sleeves are already showstoppers. 

I drafted a sleeve like this:

1, Measure around the armhole from underarm to shoulder, noting where the curve seems to change from horizontal-ish to vertical-ish.   I didn't measure from seamline to seamline, because I figured I would make a simple symmetrical flared sleeve, not a carefully fitted sleeve that followed the contours accurately.  The ruffly layers would make that sort of sleeve a bit bulky anyhow.

2. Draw a vertical line for the grainline, and draw another at right angles to it, the length of 1/2 the upper arm circumference, plus a bit of extra for ease.  Decide on the length of the sleeve, and draw a line parallel to the first that far above it. 

3. Here's the tricky bit.  Draw a line the length of the armhole plus a bit - 1cm or so - from the underarm point to meet the grainline.  Now, remember you made a note of how much length was vertical and how much was horizontal?  Make a mark at that point on the line.  Above it, you will make the sleeve curve swell outwards, maybe 1cm or so. Below it, you will scoop the sleeve a little,  about 0.5 to 0.75cm.  Measure the new stitching line and make sure it is longer than the armhole length.  You will ease it in.  Strictly speaking, you don't need ease with this kind of sleeve, but I find the layers of frills shrinks the seam line somewhat, so I add ease to give myself some leeway.

4. The next thing I did was to slash and spread the sleeve to add flare to the hem.  You really do slash the pattern and spread it apart - I stuck black paper into the slashes to show clearly where the changes were made.  Don't cut all the way through the armhole seamline, unless you want to make it puffy as well.  Don't add too much flare in the underarm area - it will be all bunchy and uncomfortable, and who wants bulky armpits?  Once I sorted that out, I added 1cm all around for seam allowance.  If you are used to commercial sewing patterns, add 1.5cm.  I prefer to sew curved seams with 1cm, it's so much easier to make the curves match.

5. Now plan your ruffles.  I did this by trial and error, and wished that I had planned a little more.  I cut the sleeve out of lining fabric, and sewed a narrow gathered frill made of the original dress's hem onto the bottom edge.  Then I added strips of gathered ruffles onto the base sleeve.  This was the bit I should have taken more care with.  In retrospect I would have measured each one and sewn them onto marked lines.  I didn't, so both sleeves completely failed to match, and the reason you get to see the right sleeve only is because the left looked stupid and is being redone. 

6. The undersleeve was made from the bodice section of a lacy dress that been ripped along the zipper stitching, making it unfixable from a retail sales point of view, but leaving plenty of gorgeous fabric available to be remade.  It had a shaped border, which I didn't want to lose, so I cut the sleeve with the pattern slightly tilted.  This gave it a little too much length under the arm, and some extra gathering on the top of the sleevehead, but I figured it would work out fine. 

I layered the two sleeves, frilly and lacy, and sewed them together so they wouldn't slip while I stitched them into the armhole.  I then overlocked (or zigzagged) the sleeve seam. 


This is a fun way to try drafting a sleeve pattern, because if it's not perfect any bits that don't sit so well will be covered by ruffles.  The most important part is to make sure that it will fit into your armhole easily, and be wide enough to fit around your arm. 

If you try it, or if you have a restyle you'd like to share, please contact me, I'm more than happy to post any restyles, especially if you share your techniques as well.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What, Why and Who?


Swap-O-Rama-Rama is
  • an opportunity to explore your own creativity with the help of experienced designers, sewers and printers.
  • a showcase for talented designers and artists who work with recycled clothing to make new fashion and accessories
  • an event that believes in the power of the community to make real changes.


Everybody is creative.  But for a long time, we've listened to the corporations whose own creativity is directed towards encouraging us to make their shareholders wealthy.  They've very nearly persuaded us that consuming is a creative activity in itself.  But for some of us, styling ourselves a look each day from the limited options at the shopping centre has become less satisfying.  We wanted more.  We wanted to feel that our clothes expressed our own personality, instead of labelling us with one of their's.  We learnt to sew, and discovered what happens when a consumer crosses the line to become a creator.  And it's good.

Why reuse old clothes?

Well, because there is so much around. Manufacturing has become so efficient that fashion changes faster and faster every year, and for many people, the lure of the new means they throw out the old before it has worn out. It's not at all uncommon to find brand new stuff, never worn, being sold as second hand. But where does it go if it doesn't get sold? Landfill. The stuff gets thrown away. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not sure where "away" is. Just because it's not at my house doesn't mean that it has been unmade, removed from existence. It's still somewhere, and it's taking up space that would surely be better used by wildlife, or agriculture, or low-cost housing, or sports grounds, swimming pools, concert halls, and community centres.

Believe me, I know what is underneath the beautiful park opposite Stirling Council offices. We used to drive past the Stirling tip quite often when I was a kid, and we'd hold our noses at one end of the street, and gasp for breath at the other. The smell was in 3D. You could just about grab smellballs and throw them at your siblings. Dig down 10 metres or so, and you could well find the first ever carrot peelings I produced as a child, or the plastic ice cream tub I melted in the microwave in 1982, or the teenage love letters I threw out when the object of my affection found someone new, scrunched into tight tearstained balls and carefully shrouded in plastic bags with the handles tied tightly to make sure nothing escaped. Ever.

How did SwapORamaRama come to be?

SwapORamaRamas began in America, developed by activist Wendy Tremayne.  Over the course of several years, they became more and more popular, each taking on the character of the community that held it.  

Here in Perth, the SwapORamaRama is being sponsored by Sewanista Fashion Workshops, a sewing and fashion school based in Malaga.  Director Sandra Bryans realised that the SwapORamaRama was an innovative way to bring together designers, artists, hobbyists, and fashion enthusiasts, while loudly and proudly declaring her belief that we have enough stuff already, let's work with what we've got.