On blogging and context

I had a bit of a shock the other day. I clicked on a referring link to my blog and saw my own face staring back at me from a site I’d never seen before.

Some company called ‘The Style Up’ had used one of my photos on their website – a daily style inspiration service.

skirt

They seem to be yet another internet styling service funded by affiliate income. You sign up and get an email each night with an idea of what you could wear tomorrow. The gimmick is that it’s personalised to your local weather forecast.

I’m not averse to this kind of thing. I love taking frivolous fashion quizzes online and finding out my ‘style personality’ or whatever.

Except. It doesn’t sit well with me that they’ve just taken an image from my blog without asking and then added affiliate links to ‘similar’ products. It’s notoriously difficult to make a business work solely on affiliate income, and I’m sure they’re earning less than pennies on these links, but they’re still trying to use my photo to make money for themselves.

affiliate links

I actually emailed them to ask them to remove the photo, which they promised to do (and haven’t – you can see it here). They also asked if I’d like to join their ‘exclusive blogger network’ which is another affiliate thing and isn’t of much use to me given that my blog is mostly about handmade clothing.

So I’m annoyed, but not upset. It’s interesting to read the comments from their users. When my photo is divorced from its personal context, people are a lot more unfiltered and honest. The outfit in question possibly would look better with a slimmer top, flat leopard-print pumps and one of those fashion-bloggers-favourite J Crew ‘bubble’ necklaces, as suggested by commenters (although you will pry my cardigan from my cold, dead, hands).

Changing context

I’ve been trying to analyse what annoys me about this incident.

Firstly, they’ve taken my photo from the original context and put it into a different arena to be judged as a styled image. I have never claimed to be a fashion guru, and if I wasn’t making the things I wear, I wouldn’t have started this blog. It did come out of an impulse to show off (as most blogging does), but to show off my sewing rather than my styling credentials. It’s a small difference but to me it feels significant.

Secondly, they’re using my handmade, one-of-a-kind bespoke skirt to shill mass-produced clothing. While I still buy shop-bought clothing I am becoming more and more aware of the problems with textile manufacturing. So this rubs me up the wrong way.

As does the fact that they didn’t ask if they could use my photo first.

Lastly, the online sewing community is very supportive and small. I’m sure there are people reading this blog who think I look ridiculous and that my outfits are terrible, but they keep it to themselves. So this feels a bit like cold air blowing in. A reminder of the fact that anything you put on the internet is fair game.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Edited 5th August – Kendall from The StyleUp has emailed me to apologise again for not removing the picture and that it was a result of human error – they’re going to take the page down today.

Epic wedding post – we’re married!

Full warning – this is massively long and crammed with about a million pictures. I’ve put it all in one post so it’s easy to skip if weddings bore you senseless.

We did it! We got married! After 9 years together we finally took the plunge. And it was the best party ever.

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The Dress

Okay, so your marriage is the most important thing about your wedding, but the dress comes pretty close, don’t you think? I really didn’t want your typical white strapless number and initially thought I’d buy vintage or make one myself. But, as you can see, that didn’t exactly happen.

I ended up with this:

flowers wedding

Although part of me is sad I didn’t make my own dress, as soon as I put this one on I felt like Ginger Rogers or Carole Lombard. It’s so glamorous, in an old-school Hollywood way. It was perfect.

So how did it happen?

During the planning process, I tried on this fabulous Alice Temperley gold lace dress. It was love at first sight except for one thing – the price. I started feverishly researching ways to recreate it, even buying a hideous 80s fishtail prom dress pattern on Etsy.

Then one happy day I was browsing the Issa website, and saw this very similar dress, reduced from over a grand to just £500. After dithering for weeks until there was only one size 12 left, I bit the bullet and ordered it, sight unseen. I figured I could always return it.

But as soon as I tried it on, the decision was made. Surprisingly fast for me. It’s the most expensive dress I’ve ever owned, but at least I can wear it again. Not sure where – possibly just to Tescos?

wedding 4

It’s a very simple shape. There are two bust darts, two hip darts, a midriff band, and a skirt in two pieces. The armholes and neckline are finished with a flesh coloured silk binding, and there are tiny buttons on the sleeves so you can get your hands through.

The top layer is gold lace, and it’s lined with two layers of silk – a beige chiffon and a buttercup yellow charmeuse. The lining forms a strapless bodice, which is tacked to the overlayer of gold lace. It’s very well made. The only damage after three hours of strenuous ceilidh dancing was the tacking which came away slightly on one side.

The front may be demure and long sleeved, but the back has a surprise:

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It fit nearly perfectly, but I took it to a London tailors to have about 2 cm taken out of the waistline, and the bust darts curved in.  I could have done it myself, but I was nervous about all that lace unravelling, so for £50 I thought it was worth the peace of mind.

It was ridiculously comfortable to wear and took me about 10 seconds to get into. I just needed some help with the hook and eye at the back.

wedding 6

Hair, shoes, etc

One of the best decisions I made was getting the lovely Alexis Miller to come and do my hair and make-up, as well as make-up for my bridesmaids, sisters, and mum. I really don’t have that much hair, but somehow she magically coaxed it into a Swedish style plait with a side bun, and gave me beautiful smokey eyes.

wedding makeup

A few people advised me not to hire a make-up artist as I wouldn’t end up looking like myself, but I think that really depends on whether you usually wear make-up, and also who you get. I was worried about hiring someone who would slap on a trowelful of foundation and give me 80s bridal ringlets, but Alexis was the total opposite of that.

I wish I could get her to do my hair and face for every special occasion. If I was rich I would definitely have her on retainer.

Shoes-wise, at the last minute I bought these gold leather numbers by Rachel Simpson after eyeing them up for months. They only arrived two days before the wedding. Again, they are more expensive than any shoes I have ever bought, so I plan on wearing them for housework, food shopping, yoga classes, etc etc.

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shoes times two

I do love this picture of me showing them off to Alex though.

shoes

The Flowers and Decoration

Another amazing decision I made (so modest) was hiring Pyrus as our florists. I love flowers but I’m not that keen on typical wedding arrangements. But Pyrus are local, seasonal florists who grow all their own flowers and plants.

They created the most colourful, stunning bouquet I have ever seen. You may notice I am clutching it in every photo – I really didn’t want to let go. It smelt INCREDIBLE. I got yellow pollen all over my nose because I kept sticking it in there.

wedding flowers

They also did gorgeous, wild table arrangements in recycled glass bottles. We had a branch from a fig tree on our table which smelt like heaven.

flowers 1

Alex designed all the table plans, which were named after our favourite places in Edinburgh and London, with corresponding photos.

the river

clissold

I generally think favours are a waste of time at weddings. The only good ones are edible, and who really wants more to eat after a three-course dinner? Having said that, we did them anyway. Weddings make you crazy like that.

They were sweetie bags filled with sherbert dib dabs, love hearts, trivia cards, and party poppers. We designed stickers with our faces on to close them, as a joke, rather than because of our massive narcissism (I hope). There were only a few Dib Dabs left at the end of the night so hopefully people enjoyed them.

favours

The Venue

Teviot Row House, where we got married, is actually part of Edinburgh Student Union. It was built in 1899 and is about a million times nicer than any other student union I have ever been to, and the main hall is beautiful, with wooden panelling and balconies. It was also ridiculously cheap compared to most other venues we looked at – they only charged us for catering.

Even so, the terrace bar still has a slight student-y ambience, so we covered it with streamers and paper pompoms. Cheap, cheerful and colourful. Our friends Solii, Bob and Tom helped us out massively, spending hours up ladders the day before the wedding putting them all up.

streamers

pom poms

I know you can make these paper pompoms yourself, but again I took the lazy option and ordered them from here. One tip though – fluff them up before the wedding day. It takes bloody ages.

The Day

We wanted it to be a big, fun, happy family party, and it was really was. I have never smiled so much.

laughing 2

I found planning was easy until about a month before, when the logistics start to get pressing and I started to get stressed (who’s going to drop off the wine? Where do people sit? How will they get from church to venue? etc etc).

As I’ve already confessed, I did no DIY at all for our wedding, but we were incredibly lucky to have a huge amount of help from friends and family. The social committee at the church made and served ALL the canapes in the garden after the service – more than 1000 (!).

canapes

The Christ Church flower ladies did some beautiful arrangements in church.

church flowers

Alex’s mum Jean made the delicious wedding cake, which was soaked in brandy, and decorated with shimmering white icing feathers.

cake

My beautiful friends (including the lovely Lizzy) acted as bridesmaids and helped me get ready in the morning, bringing champagne and nibbles. Alex, on the other hand, had to go to Greggs for his nuptial breakfast. I think I win.

These ladies are the best, I really can’t thank them enough for being awesome.

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My favourite parts

We walked down the aisle together, alone. We wanted to enter married life as a couple, and I’m really glad we did it like this.

I met Alex outside the church in the garden and then we headed in together. I was a bit nervous, and it was lovely to have a quiet moment together before we saw everyone else.

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garden

Walking down the aisle is a blur. I was so jumpy I couldn’t smile properly without my mouth starting to shake.

wedding 8

But walking back down the aisle, and out into the church garden with my husband (still keep forgetting to call him that), was brilliant.

Coming out of church

The whole morning I was convinced I was going to catch my dress in my heels and fall over and break my ankle in the middle of the church, but luckily this didn’t happen. I even managed walking up and down steps with no problems. What a pro.

out of church

Another great part was making a speech at the reception. I woke up at 4am worrying about it, but it turned out to be one of my highlights of the day. Why should the men have all the fun?

wedding speech

After that, my friend Bea read out a poem she’d written especially for us, which made me totally lose it and start crying (happy tears).

Another highlight was the ceilidh. The band were called Carrie On Dancing and they were really, really good. I switched to flat shoes for this part of the evening. Ceilidh-dancing in thin heels is a recipe for a broken ankle.

ceilidh

For our first dance we decided to do the Gay Gordons, which is the traditional start to a ceilidh. We began it on our own, then people joined in as the music went on. I just couldn’t see us swaying around the floor for 5 minutes on our own to some cheesy love song, so this was a good compromise, although we did have fun suggesting more and more ridiculous first dance ideas to each other (The Final Countdown! Respectable by Mel and Kim! Vibe by R Kelly!)

ceilidh dancing

Actually, I think my favourite thing about our wedding was looking around and seeing so many of our friends and family together in one room. I have never hugged so many people in one day. It was the best.

ceilidh 3

ceilidh 2

ceilidh 1

Our photos

The absolutely definite BEST decision we made was having Caro Weiss as our photographer.

I was a bit daunted by finding a photographer. There are so many out there. Plus, we got married in Edinburgh but organised everything from London, so we didn’t get a chance to meet with most of the suppliers before the day. But we completely lucked out with Caroline.

I’ve been to a lot of weddings where the bride and groom disappear for 3 hours for a mammoth photo sesssion, while you stand around aimlessly, waiting for them to reappear so you can get your dinner. That was something we definitely wanted to avoid.

Caroline only took us away for 20 minutes, so guests got to stand around aimlessly with us instead. And she still got pictures like these:

walking

caro 1

To be honest, I hardly noticed her on the day. She’s like a photography ninja. She captured so many lovely moments, and got the nicest pictures of us and our friends and family that I’ve ever seen.

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The photos in this post are all from her. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can see even more pictures of our wedding on her blog here.

If you’re getting married in Scotland, hire this woman! She’s a genius.

The end

Did you make it this far? I hope it wasn’t too boring. As a bonus, here’s my one piece of wedding advice:

It will be over in a FLASH, so don’t stress about it too much. It’s just one day of your life. As long as you end up married, it’s all good.

(Just try not to set the legal paperwork on fire, as we nearly did while signing it next to a lit candle. That could really have put a dampener on the day).

caro 4

Thanks for reading!

Summer shorts and clothes swapping

I am not a natural shorts-wearer. I feel a bit self-conscious in them unless the temperature is over 28 degrees, so basically they never see the light of day in the UK.

But I have a trip to Italy coming up and it’s going to be HOT (hooray), so I wanted a pair to take along.

shorts 2

As they’ll only get an outing once a year, I needed a quick and easy pattern. I went for this Burda one from the Februrary 2013 magazine, because there’s no welt pockets, no fly front, an invisible zip, and only two darts to sew.

They were definitely a speedy sewing project. This pair took me less than 2 and a half hours to sew, including cutting out, fiddling around changing the thread in my overlocker for 20 minutes, and unpicking an entire waistband.

This outfit also features a new top that I got at a clothes swapping party a couple of weeks ago, which was organised by VoucherCodes.co.uk.

I took Lizzy with me and we had a brilliant time, and I managed to break only one entire glass of wine all over the floor. The swap was very well organised and I came away with two really nice tops.

Here is an embarrassing visual record of our evening (sorry Lizzy)

crazy photobooth picture

Anyway the lovely Fleur who ran the event asked if I’d do a post showing how I styled the things I got, and I’d just finished making two pairs of shorts, so it seemed like a perfect pairing.

I am pretty rubbish at ‘styling’ things anyway, so hopefully my sewing skillz will distract you.

shorts 5

The top above is a green oversized t-shirt from Topshop – the front is viscose and the back and sleeves are jersey, which I think would be an awesome idea for a Scout tee. It’s the perfect summer t-shirt.

Voucher Codes also very nicely gave me 35 pounds to spend on accessories, so I bought these pleasingly massive 70s-style sunglasses and triangle necklace from Urban Oufitters.

The second top I swapped was this chiffon tunic thing from Dorothy Perkins, which caught my eye because of the lovely crochet embellishment on the front.

shorts1

I’m wearing it with some pink shorts which were my first version of the Burda pattern, made from a fabric remnant I got from the big swap in May. It’s a lovely brushed cotton, but it does wrinkle a lot.

Here’s a better view of the two pairs. The blue ones are some kind of strange imitation linen/wool fabric in polyester from Dalston Mill Fabrics, which drapes really nicely.

shorts 4

I added little covered buttons to the blue one and actually did a blind hem (on the machine, I’m not insane), which seems a tad over the top for shorts but topstitching didn’t look right.

Here’s my notes on this pattern in case anyone who wants to make it:

  • It runs true to size. For my second pair I actually sewed a size 14 as I wanted them to sit further down.
  • They are very high waisted, and really nicely drafted so the back waist sits higher than the front.
  • They’re forgiving to fit. The waistband is just a rectangle you cut yourself, and they taper out from there, so as long as you get your waist circumference right, you’ll be laughing.
  • They only take 0.8 metres of fabric. You can make them from the smallest scrap of material ever. Cheap project!

So now I have at least two of my holiday outfits sorted. Huge thanks to Voucher Codes for organising the party!

‘Ageless Style’ and sewing in UK Vogue

There’s a brilliant little article in this month’s UK Vogue, July 2013. It’s the ‘Ageless Style’ issue, and four sets of women and their grandmothers have been interviewed about fashion and clothes across the generations.

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What caught my attention about this article was not just one, but TWO references to Burda magazine. See below:

burdavogue

The grandmothers are more interesting than their granddaughters, who mostly just reel off a list of labels. The older women have fascinating stories, from Natalyia, who was born in the USSR at the start of the 1940s and owned just two dresses, to Katholiki, who grew up in poverty on Rhodes and had to use petrol oil mixed with water to style her hair.

Most of the grandmothers are pretty sceptical about current clothing trends. All of them grew up either making their own clothes, or having clothes tailored for them, but this is not something any of the granddaughters have ever experienced.

My favourite bit is this quote on how sewing turns you from a ‘consumer of fashion’ into someone that makes fashion ‘work for you’. It’s kind of a radical statement to see in a copy of Vogue, which is all about the dream of the £5,000 dress.

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The grandmothers are able to describe the clothes they’ve worn and made in their life in so much more detail than the granddaughters. You can visualise them perfectly.

voguesewing
Please excuse my giant hideous thumb

I love written descriptions of clothing, don’t you? I’ve always enjoyed reading about ‘sprigged muslin’ and ‘biscuit coloured pantaloons’ in Georgette Heyer novels, even though I have no idea what the hell they are.

The pictures are nice too. Check out the shoes and handbag on the left of this photo, belonging to a lady called Dora Yang. She was born in Shanghai in 1928 and always had tailored cheongsams made for her.

voguegrandmothers

It seems unusual for Vogue to cover such a wide spectrum of clothing options. I guess the fact that it’s all in the past makes it okay. I can’t see them writing an article about sewing your own clothes in 2013.

Anyway, it’s worth picking up for a read, or flicking through in WH Smiths if you don’t want to spend £3.99 on a copy.

England’s Dreaming, punk couture, and the Met Ball

Have you seen the pictures from the ‘punk chaos’ themed Met Ball? They’re splashed all over fashion blogs at the moment.

The Met Ball is an annual event, this time in honour of the ‘Punk: Chaos to Couture’ exhibition in New York.

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Punk? No. Fugly? Yes.

The theme of ‘punk chaos’ was tricky for the attendees. Rich people don’t want to look like Nancy Spungen, according to the New York Times (although who does want to look like Nancy Spungen nowadays? Apart from Italian punks hanging around in Camden).

Most people went for tried-and-tested punk shorthand, ie:

  • Safety pins. So many safety pins.
  • Mohawks/spiky hair.
  • Ripped fishnets.
  • John Lydon sneer.

It’s inevitable that nobody would really get it right. I don’t think punk was ever a red carpet thing. But punk definitely was a fashion thing. It all started in a clothes shop, didn’t it? Punk was the definition of style over substance.

There’s an amazing history of punk by Jon Savage called ‘England’s Dreaming’, which is one of my favourite books ever. It’s all about how fashion created and defined punk, from an arty, threatening, exclusive London clique, to the dumbed down mainstream of spiky mohawks and Sham 69 gigs.

Read the book and you’ll get a picture of punk as being all about DIY and dissatisfaction (as well as a nasty undercurrent of teenage stupidity, fascist chic, and random violence).

And if you’re interested in fashion and subculture, you should read this book. Jon Savage’s writing is highly evocative about clothes. Here are some choice quotes on sewing and style:

Vintage Sex Pistols t-shirt from 1976
Vintage Sex Pistols t-shirt from 1976

‘After two years of intermittent tailoring, Vivienne found her own style, suddenly turning her inexperience to her advantage. One day, she was tinkering with two simple squares of cloth, attempting to make a sleeved T-shirt. Then she thought, ‘Why bother with the sleeves?’, and made the simplest possible T-shirt instead, sewing the two squares roughly together, the seams highlighted as much as possible, with holes for the head and the arms. Beautifully androgynous, they fitted the torso like a glove. The heavy, pinkish, felt-like cloth made a suitable backdrop for printing slogans.’
Vivienne Westwood’s first attempts at tailoring

Poly Styrene (RIP)
Poly Styrene (RIP)

‘Take a cheap plastic bag,’ she says, ‘stick a lot of plastic flowers on it and things that nobody would be bothered to buy, then all of a sudden they become very very trendy and people want them. I had little lattice plastic bags and see-through Mary Quant shoes from the sixties: I used to buy up old stock. Anything different. Some of the things were vile but they were so vile they were cute. That was the whole thing: it was meant to be an extreme version of tack.’
Poly Styrene (of X Ray Spex) talking about her market stall on the King’s Road

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Vivienne Westwood looks well ‘ard. You wouldn’t mess.

‘The first person I saw who looked totally brilliant,’ says Simon Withers, who worked with Vivienne Westwood in the early 1980s, ‘was in late ’74 at a bus stop in Kentish Town. He was called Matt Scottley and he had blue two-pleat pegs, plastic sandals, and a blue mohair jumper, with a blonde wedge.’ This was what would later be called the ‘Soul boy’ look: at the time the term denoted not only a musical preference but also some sartorial extravagance’.
The emergence of soul boy fashion – there’s a good overview of the ‘The British soul boy’ here.

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The original bondage suit, designed by McLaren + Westwood.

‘We found a fabric called Black Italian: it was polished black satin cotton which British Rail used for their waistcoats. That fabric became the basis for the designed based on those trousers. I wanted to put the fetish elements in. The sense of making a trouser become tighter even though it’s wide was good: it had that energy, that ability to contract itself. So we got the zips….the straps between the legs…buckles on the calves…Dye it black: make everything black, black, black’.
Malcolm McLaren on the invention of bondage trousers

There’s also some great bits about how the band Subway Sect dyed all their clothes grey in a bath, and how Holly Johnson (later of Frankie Goes to Hollywood) used to go out in Liverpool wearing tampons as earrings and a kettle for a handbag.

So if you want to know more about punk fashion, ignore The Met Ball and get this book instead.

Me-Made-May 2013 – first week! + Maudella denim skirt

So the first week of Me-Made-May 2013 has been and gone. Here’s a round-up of what I wore on days 1-4.

mmm1-4

Man, I am bad at taking photos of myself in the mirror. How do other people manage one-handed phone selfies? It’s so hard! I was complaining about this to my boyfriend but he just laughed at me for using the word ‘selfie’, which is basically a fair comment.

Anyway, you might be able to spot my black and white dress, my brown jeans, my Moss denim skirt, and this blue floral dress which I’ve since shortened into a top.

I’m pleased that I’ve managed to wear 90% me-made clothes, except for knitwear (can’t give up my knitwear). There’s a few new things I haven’t blogged yet. One is a denim skirt from a 70s pattern, which I also wore today:

mmm13day5

It doesn’t look so great with tights so it’s been languishing in a drawer until this week, but I think it’ll be a summer staple.

The pattern is a Maudella classic, very kindly sent to me by Kestrel Makes. The fabric is £1 a metre denim from the Peter Jensen sample sale. Yes, I’m still working my way through my massive PJ haul.

maudella skirt

I added slash pockets from a Burda pattern, ripped off from inspired by the Hollyburn from Sewaholic. Pockets are an essential in a denim skirt, don’t you think? I also added lots of jeans-style topstitching, and a lapped zipper using this tutorial.

denim skirt collage

Here’s a top tip – don’t try and hem a heavy denim skirt by turning it up twice and stitching. The hem will keep flipping up no matter how much you iron it. You’ll have to undo the whole stupid thing, then re-sew it using some yellow bias-binding you have lying around. At least that’s my experience.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the month! My sewing has been super-productive lately, the May challenge is really getting me inspired. I’ve got lots of new things to show you as soon as I’ve got some decent photos.

Jumpsuits – the good, the bad, and the onesie

Let’s talk jumpsuits! Would you wear one?

I know that they can go horribly wrong. Like this one from ASOS.

ASOS Jumpsuit

It’s called the ‘Sexy Boiler Jumpsuit’ but really it’s a mechanic’s overall with lapels. It looks like something the Kwik Fit fitters might wear for their annual dinner dance.

But jumpsuits aren’t all like that. They can also be sublime. Check this out:

pucci jumpsuit

This is a vintage Pucci stretch silk jumpsuit. It can be yours, if you have £600 and a lifestyle to match. Wish I did.

There’s a lot of semantic confusion about jumpsuits. Here’s a handy guide:

  • If you can wear it on the sofa while eating takeaway, or if it’s been spotted on a member of One Direction, it’s a onesie
  • If it ends above the knees, and you could wear it with a floral headband to Glastonbury, it’s a playsuit
  • If it’s made of terry-cloth and sized for a 6 year old child, it’s a romper
  • If it’s made of denim or canvas, and you could wear it for damp-proofing your house, it’s a boilersuit

Then there are the jumpsuits that are properly named, but still a bit dodgy-looking. I think the key is the trousers. If they’re cinched at the ankle, like this Burda pattern, you’re on dangerous territory:

burda jumpsuit

But if they’re narrow-legged all the way down, now you’re talking. Or if the legs are wider and 30s looking, that’s even better, like this truly amazing blue jumpsuit by Paul & Joe, which I really, really want.

paul and joe jumpsuit

I think I’m going to tackle sewing a jumpsuit this summer – I’d love to wear one to a wedding (not my own wedding, although I did try on an interesting wedding jumpsuit in a vintage shop in Brighton).

How awesome would it be to rock wearing something like this blue number? I realise that visiting the loo after a few beers could be slightly problematic, but Iooking good is worth it, right?

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I have to confess I’ve never actually worn a jumpsuit, and I’m a bit hazy on the mechanics. I can just see myself cobbling one together and ending up not being able to get in it. I assume zips are usually involved somewhere?

An initial trawl on Etsy has turned up all kinds of patterns, not all good, including an ill-conceived empire line jumpsuit, and a pattern that includes an ‘evening-length skirt’ option.

If you know of any amazing jumpsuits (to buy or to sew), let me know! I have a board on Pinterest where I’m collecting them.

Book Giveaway: DIY Fashionista by Geneva Vanderzeil

I read a lot of DIY blogs, as you might have gathered from this post. But my absolute favourite is A Pair and a Spare, by Geneva Vanderzeil. She’s got amazing style, her projects are always simple and inventive, and she avoids that ‘I’ve got a glue gun and I’m not afraid to use it’ look that plagues some of the other DIY crew.

So when I saw she had a book out, I asked the publishers to send me a copy, which they very kindly did. And in the spirit of Christmas I’ve got another copy to give away to someone who reads this blog!

I’ve got a fair amount of DIY/beginner craft tomes (mostly presents from well-meaning relatives) which are mostly pretty useless. But I really rate this book, for a few reasons.

DIY Fashionista

Firstly all the projects have great photos and really good step by step instructions. It’s a pet peeve of mine when DIY books have incredibly vague guidelines on how they actually made something (like this one). It’s so frustrating and puts you off ever trying any of the projects.

Not all the ideas in the book are new – if you read the blog, you’ll have seen some before, like this summer dress project, which inspired this awesome version by Elisalex on Stitch Me Softly. But they’ve all been re-photographed with more instructions.

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The sewing skills needed for the projects are absolutely minimal – this is not the book for you if you’re a hardcore sewing technique hound. But there’s inspiration galore for upgrading the projects if you have a bit of skill. For example these silk shorts with lace on the bottom and velvet ribbon belt – you could make the shorts yourself rather than using a thrifted version.

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There’s a very simple maxi-skirt tutorial which looks great and reminds me that I keep meaning to make one of these.

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Secondly, what I liked about this book is the fresh perspective. There’s so much to learn if you get into making clothes that it’s easy to get caught up in technique and forget about the overall look. Often it’s the last details that totally make a project (as you’ll know if you’ve ever deliberated for hours over which buttons to choose). Geneva has a great eye for these.

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I really like this denim shirt with a leather collar, which is actually glued on to the existing one.

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The first part of the book is all about re-fashioning, which I am bad at, although I always like seeing what amazing bloggers like Zoe and Miss P make. But I love the idea of this ‘Boyfriend-shirt skirt’, and you can often find good quality men’s shirts second-hand. It would look awesome in a plaid flannel. Again it’s very easy to make, just gathered with elastic at the top.

Some of the projects are pretty inventive. This is a chain sewn on to a silk top to make a Peter Pan silhouette, which you could just as easily adapt to a self-sewn project like the Grainline Scout Tee or a Sorbetto minus the pleats.

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And how about this Peter Pan collar necklace? It’s genius.

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The other thing I really like about this book is the message behind it – you don’t have to spend loads of money on new clothes to be interested in fashion and trends. There’s an awareness of consumption and sustainability issues. Check out Geneva’s reasons for DIY-ing, which all ring true to me:

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This would make an awesome Christmas present for someone you know who’s into fashion but daunted by the idea of making their own clothes. It’s a nice-quality hardback and the pictures are lovely:

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It’s published by Carlton Books at £16.99, and you can get it from carltonbooks.co.uk

Or you can leave a comment below to win a copy! The deadline for this is the end of next Thursday, the 13th December. You can enter from anywhere in the world, although if you’re not in the UK you might not get it for Christmas (but it’ll cheer up those January blues at least).

Moth Love from Tatty Devine

Have you ever had clothes moths?

Our old Victorian house was totally riddled with them. You couldn’t get a cardigan out of a drawer without discovering a new hole. Eventually we traced them back to a large, rolled-up carpet in the basement that was acting as a huge moth housing complex. There were generations of families living in that thing.

They don’t seem to have followed us to our new flat (yet), but apart from the evil clothes variety, most moths are beautiful. No, really.  Moths are much cooler than butterflies.

That’s why I love this moth necklace from Tatty Devine:

Isn’t it amazing?

I have to admit I’m biased as I spent lots of this summer freelancing at Tatty Devine, part of which was writing product descriptions for their AW12 range. Probably the best job ever (all day looking at and writing about gorgeous jewellery – yes please). But the moths are definitely my favourite. They also do a green moth necklace, which is expensive but beautiful, and moth brooches and earrings too.

What do you reckon, are moths creepy or attractive? Here is a clue as to the right answer:

p.s. You can also get these amazing iron-on moth patches for nibbled clothing from Twisted Twee.

p.p.s. I’m thinking moths should be the new Etsy/hipster wildlife of choice, replacing foxes, birds, cats, bears, trees, and deer etc etc etc

Why do clothes cost what they do?

Everyone who knits, or sews, or makes jewellery, or maybe, I don’t know, bakes macaroons, at some point is told by a well-meaning friend ‘This is so good you could sell it!’.

Obviously this is meant to be a huge compliment. But if you’ve ever spent 6 months knitting a shawl out of overpriced German yarn that costs £30 a ball, only to be told by a friend that they’d pay ‘at LEAST 25 quid for that!’, the market has long ago moved on from the cost of totally hand-made labour.

There are always threads on Ravelry about this, advising people to pay themselves minimum wage, to price their work fairly, not to be undercut by people selling baby socks for £2 a pair. But the problem is that pricing is not actually a straightforward equation, like ‘time + materials + mark-up = cost’. It’s more of a dark art, shrouded in mystery and illusion and resulting in bog-standard looking handbags that cost £25,000 (this is not a typo).

For example, the designer Olympia Le Tan. She makes these beautiful clutches, embroidered to look like vintage book covers. They open up just like a book too, so you can store your Tom Ford lipstick and possibly a single tissue. Sadly there’s not enough room in there for an actual book.

They’re made in limited editions of 16, and they cost about a grand each. The press around them seems to imply that they’re all hand-stitched by Olympic herself, although information on her website is a bit thin on the ground.

Now these things probably do take hours to make (whoever actually makes them). But the reason they’re so popular is that Olympia has hit on the sweet spot between design, craft, high fashion and literary pretension. Hollywood starlets can carry one of these (which after all cost a lot less than a new Burberry bag) and look intellectual, quirky, and cutting-edge all at the same time. Her background in the fashion world and famous illustrator father obviously help a bit with the PR as well. That all adds up to £££££.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I find the pricing of designer clothing utterly puzzling. At some point a human being has been involved in their construction (as Polka Dot Overload points out in this post), but that’s probably the least important aspect in how much they cost.

If you go to Selfridges and get close to some designer clothes in the flesh, you can see that they use nicer fabrics, and better construction methods, but they aren’t sprinkled with gold-dust or guaranteed to make you look stunning. They’re nicer than high-street clothes, but not 200 times nicer. I guess the idea is that you’re paying more for cutting edge design and fit, rather than quality.

Some labels are clearly taking the piss though. Or to put it more politely, establishing themselves as Veblen goods. I give you the £1,225 Lanvin top:

At least it’s lined.

One nice thing about home-sewing is that you can invest where it shows – in materials and equipment that make your clothes look better, rather than having to spend money on marketing, distribution, and staff Christmas nights out.

What do you reckon? Any insights into clothes pricing? With the price of cotton going up drastically, all fashion retailers are going to be affected, and this may be an issue that becomes more interesting to the general public.

(If you’re interested in this there’s an amusing old thread on  The FashionSpot debating the most overpriced designers.)

JW Anderson for Topshop: sewing inspiration

Have you heard of JW Anderson? He’s so hot right now darling. I only really know this because Topshop have done one of their design collaborations with him. WOW I sure am riding the cutting edge these days. Anyway I’m not sure exactly how to describe the look of the collection, except it’s sort of 90s meets boarding-school uniform meets wacky prints.

So it might not be TOP FASHION NEWS any more but I was on Oxford Street yesterday and had a quick look at the collection, and was shocked to find that some of it was actually quite nice, and very ripe for a home-sewing rip-off. Specifically these two items.

This quilted pencil skirt was surprisingly well-made. It’s got a bagged lining and the outer is silk.  The combination of the sleek shape and the padded fabric is really unexpected and great. Plus the print is lovely (if you’re a paisley fan, anyway- I know some people hate and despise it)

This skirt has made me very interested in sewing with pre-quilted fabric, the only problem being that you can’t find fabric like this for love or money (although to be honest I have only tried money so far).

And this skirt could be SO easy to reproduce if I could get my hands on the right stuff. I’ve been searching and searching and there’s nothing out there except for children’s prints and beige waterproof stuff. No chance of any awesome quilted spider fabric. Hmph. I know you could quilt your own but that seems a bit too laborious.

There’s also matching padded t-shirts which I really like. If you bought the whole outfit you could basically nap anywhere you wanted in perfect comfort, which is a big plus in my opinion.

Here’s the second awesome thing I saw. This ‘maid’s dress’ has a removable collar and cuffs.  It’s done very cleverly in real life, the white collar is fully finished and has several buttonholes so you can easily attach and detach it from the main collar.

Again, this would be highly copiable at home. It reminds me of the shirt I made with a double collar, which I have never actually never worn due to fit issues and the fact that, well, I basically don’t wear shirts. Ah well.

What do you think of designer collaborations in general? I guess the idea is that you’re getting Marni style for H&M prices, or whatever, but I can’t help seeing it the other way round, ie. you’re paying 150 quid for something from H&M. Which was probably made in the same factory and with the same quality of materials.

My favourite collaborations are print-based like the Uniqlo tie-ins with Orla Kiely and Laura Ashley. I think that’s why I covet those J W Anderson quilted skirts – the prints are so unique, and that’s something that’s hard to replicate at home. Fabric shopping is a hit and miss affair sometimes.

Finally, if you are a wacky print fan, you must check out this A-line tortoise print skirt which seems calculated to appeal to that coveted sewing blogger demographic.

Sewing blogs vs. DIY blogs – the showdown

I have an enduring fascination with categorising different groups of people, especially online. It must be the frustrated anthropologist in me.

Something I’ve been pondering for a while is the difference between sewing bloggers and DIY bloggers. You’d think there’d be a big overlap, but no! They’re totally separate tribes.  I was reminded of this by a recent post from Karen, and thought it would be fun to pit the two groups against each other, Top Trumps stylee:

In the red corner, we have:

DIY FASHION/STYLE BLOGGERS!

Here we have dip-dye, neon, studding and denim cut-offs. If only there was some chevron-ing involved it would be the Holy Grail of DIY

Leading Lights: P.S. I Made This, Park & Cube, A Pair and a Spare, I Spy DIY, Outsapop, etc etc.

Who they are:  100% female. Mostly thin, beautiful, and young.

What they do: Easy DIY tutorials recreating specific pieces or trends from high-end fashion designers.

Defining characteristics: At least two of the following in every post: studding, neon, dip-dyeing, chevrons, embellished collars, and cut-off denim. Huge images and tiny text. Heavy use of the phrase ‘pop of colour’.

Strengths: Gorgeous photos. A playful, fun approach to DIY and customisation. Accessible to people without a sewing machine. A way to replicate high-fashion looks without spending thousands.

Weaknesses: Too much Instagram, not enough text. Occasionally silly fashion blog poses. Unlikely corporate tie-ins. Sometimes projects look like they would fall apart after 5 minutes wear.

And in the blue corner, there’s the:

SEWING BLOGGERS!

Ahh, a lovely reassuring vintage circle skirt pattern

Leading Lights: Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing, Male Pattern Boldness, too many more to mention (check my links list)

Who they are: 98% female. All ages, sizes, styles.

What they do: Sew things, take photos, put on blog. Repeat. Interspersed with occasional tutorials, sewing tips, and wardrobe planning posts.

Defining characteristics: A love of 40s/50s vintage. Circle skirts. A weakness for decorative buttons. Knitting often spotted. Have made at least one thing from Colette Patterns. Refer to other sewing bloggers by first name with no context.

Strengths: Interesting writing. A strong sense of community. Useful tips and tutorials. Real content (ie. not just ‘curated’ from somebody else’s Tumblr). Clothing which is wearable by those over the age of 25.

Weaknesses: Blog layouts not as professional as the DIY crew. Often small or badly-lit photos. Overuse of the word ‘make’ as a noun. Too many wacky fabric prints. Pattern crazes sweep through the community like wildfire, which can lead to distressing homogeneity.

So who wins? I think we’d have to call it a draw. Personally I read a lot more sewing blogs, and my favourites are those that take inspiration from fashion, like Erica BGrainline and DIY Couture. Maybe both sides could learn from each other – the DIY bloggers could get a bit more in-depth with their making skills, and the seamstresses could learn to love simple, fun projects (although I draw the line at studding everything in sight).

What do you think, gentle readers? Do you read DIY blogs, sewing blogs, or both? Are you interested in fashion or do you prefer to tread your own path? And do you share my love of categorising people into groups, or do you think its like, totally oppressive and unfair?