Tailoring Dummy

Winter field

Guess what? England is pretty bloody cold in November! That means I’ve got winter coats on my mind. I’ve never made myself an actual coat before and I’m excited about taking on the challenge, but I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the tailoring possibilities – especially the vast range of interfacing products available and the many conflicting opinions about which ones you should use. I’ve had mixed results with fusible interfacing over the years and am thinking about giving it up entirely, but does that mean… pad stitching? Scary!


Ah yes, I did make that one jacket. In fact, I’m going to make my winter coat out of the same orange wool. How did I tailor it? Well… I committed a cardinal sin that would have Kenneth D. King and Susan Khalje spitting pins: I just interfaced the whole lot with iron-on interfacing and DIDN’T EVEN add shoulder support. I know, I know. Anyway somebody stole that jacket from the rack at my college, so the poor tailoring is their problem now. I hope they enjoy its stiff sleeves and flimsy facings! I’m not bitter, not at all.

jackets & coats

Since flicking through the tailoring chapter of Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques, I am feeling rather remorseful about my slapdash tailoring. But although I do want this coat to be really well made, I also want it to be made –  and that might mean taking a few tiny shortcuts.

There is a lot of information online about how to tailor a coat: Gertie used a combination of hair canvas and iron-on weft insertion (what??) interfacing for the Lady Grey Sew-Along; Rosie from DIY Couture made an amazingly cosy microfleece-interlined coat and Melissa of Fehr Trade recommended reading The Great Coat Sew-Along archives for tips. To make matters even more difficult, the coat I’ve designed has raglan sleeves – which throws quite a spanner into the shoulder support works!

Anyway, I’ve got a while to think about the options, as there are no specialist tailor shops in Oxford and I’d like to have a feel of a few different kinds of interfacing before making my mind up. I would be most grateful for any advice! Hopefully I’ll be able to get the coat finished before the English weather heats up again… in about five months. They did tell me that England was cold, but did I listen?


If you follow me on Instagram, you might be wondering what on earth this #bpSewvember is. Well, it’s a photo-a-day challenge all about sewing, created by Amanda of Bimble and Pimble. Each day in November has a prompt to encourage sewing people to share images of their work.


Here are a few of my photos. I’ve really enjoyed it so far, especially seeing what everyone else is up to. If you sew, you should join in. There’s still half a month left!

The Language of Yoga

Yoga1The best way to learn another language is to go out with a native speaker, or so I’ve been told. I was never in a position to test out that theory, but one of the things that helped me was going to local classes: swimming, pattern cutting, fashion design, ceramics and yoga. In fact, I have never gone to a yoga class in English and am quite frightened of the idea.

yoga2Recently I happened to hear this BBC radio programme on multilingualism in which Cuban-American writer Gustavo Pérez Firmat talks about how Spanish is his sad language and English his happy language. I’d heard the theory about having different personalities in different languages but felt it didn’t really apply to me, beyond the fact that I’m more straightforward in Spanish because my command of the language is less sophisticated. Then I tried to find some yoga videos and realised that I only really enjoy yoga in Spanish – my English self is too damned cynical to really open my chakras and let the energy flow (cough).

yoga3But even my English self can’t deny that yoga makes me feel great, so I found some Spanish yoga videos on YouTube, got a mat and made myself a yoga mat bag, inspired by Caroline’s recent project on Sewaholic. I used some rather nice ticking that my mum had left over from making curtains, but it was in long strips and had to be pieced together. I also went a bit overboard on the finishing, interfacing the whole thing and adding quite a few froufrou bits. I must have been making up for the long break I had from sewing!

yoga4I decorated the bag with some special hand-woven Argentinian strapping which I bought ages ago from an artisan fair in Boedo. I think I found the perfect project for this stuff, because my English self isn’t enough of a hippie to wear it. Above you can see a close-up of the woven strapping and of the lined pocket, which I’m insanely happy with. My yoga mat is extra thick though (I hate you, rubbish knees), so the pocket’s not much use when the mat’s inside the bag.

yoga5Yes, the bag is lined too! I also added MOAR PIPING and some gold cord for the drawstring opening, because my Spanish and English selves are in agreement that too much gold is never enough. Now I just need my Spanish self to persuade my English self to relax a little bit so that I can take my bag out to a yoga class!

Making Myself at Home

cushion2I’ve been back in England for just over two months now, and I’ve been making a few things for the London flat that we’re moving into in November. It is obvious perhaps that I’m missing my Latin American homes – while I am very excited to be back with my family and old friends, back where people speak English all the time and it’s like I’m hearing all your thoughts PLEASE SHUSH, where your card comes out of the cashpoint before your money (so craycray), back where crisps have many flavours and palitos are a sad and distant memory.

Cushions1The Santiago cushion is made from a bag I made in my batik days, which I decided would get more use as a cushion, and the red cushion is made from a couple of scraps of (quite expensive) fabric from a bedspread that I’d made which was too heavy and bulky to bring home. At least I have a reminder!

cush3In this photo you can see the piping I’ve done on the red cushion. My mum asked me to fix her sofa slip cover when we got back and I’ve been addicted to piping ever since! I’ve got another project with piping to show you… and I’m planning a winter coat with piping, too. There is just something sooo satisfying about sandwiching the piping between seams, even if that does make me sound like a fabric-sandwiching loon.

Anyone who visited me in Buenos Aires will know that my flat there was by no means minimalist, but, knowing that I was leaving, I never really felt free to decorate as much as I would have liked to. I expect I will be making quite a few more (probably piped) home projects in the next few months now that I don’t have moving to a different continent hanging over my head! And I will be found under a massive pile of cushions come spring. Adieu.

Fashion Barometer Friday: Misty watercolour memoriiiiiies

The way we were

“Your girl is lovely, Hubbell” – I am ashamed to say that I am one of a generation who heard those words for the first time in an episode of Sex and the City, despite my well-documented love of all things Barbra. In fact, my mum went into labour with me while watching The Owl and the Pussycat, so it’s possible I imprinted on Barbra in-utero.

Babs the way we were

The Way We Were, just as the SATC girls said, is terrific and terrifically sad; but Babs’ wardrobe does a fine job of keeping the viewers’ spirits up – who can be distressed around such perky lapels, such beguiling prints! She wears almost exclusively shirtdresses for the first part of the film (set during the 40s), providing sharp characterisation for the earnest Marxist activist Katie Morosky, and a contrast to the mimsy, buttoned-up peter-pan collars worn by Hubbell’s WASP girls.

Katie: I don’t have the right style for you, do I?
Hubbell: No, you don’t have the right style.
Katie: I’ll change.
Hubbell: No, don’t change. You’re your own girl, you have your own style.

Barbra polkadot

Babs’ polka dot version in this scene is close to my ideal dress. In fact I have a very similar dress, an 80s St Michael number which I thought was indestructible but is now starting to disintegrate – so of course I’ve been trying to recreate it. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have already seen a few versions. I might never wear anything else. What’s good enough for Barbra is good enough for me!


Next I’m planning on a checked wool version of the red polka dot above, which is made with some Liberty fabric Isabel bought me for Christmas 2011! Got there in the end.

Shirtdress patterns

Make your own:  Grainline’s Alder shirtdress has a simple silhouette, great for showing off fancy fabrics. Jen has posted a tutorial for adding sleeves now, so you can make a winter-appropriate version! If you prefer more of a vintage vibe to your shirtdress, Vogue V9051  has some beautiful details and raglan sleeves, which I’m so into right now. I also love Vogue V9000, which would look great in a light wool. Kathryn at Yes I Like That made a gorgeous pink version of New Look 6180, and there’s the popular Simplicity 2246 Lisette, too. Spoilt for choice!

shirtdresses polyvore

[Click through for details on Polyvore]

Buy your own: I love this Preen green checked shirtdress so much. They have a crazy metallic one too, which… wow. The Saint Laurent one on the left is lovely, too. Just as well I can sew really, because Katie Morosky would never condone spending £2,317 on a shirtdress – and that is just one of the myriad reasons why she is a far, far better role model than Carrie Bradshaw.

Fashion Barometer Friday: Kimono? KimoYES!


A gorgeous vintage kimono on Etsy

Cardigans thought life was cool, the world of chilly breezes and overcast summers was their oyster. But, even for cardigans, pride comes before a fall. Cardigans might have laughed at kimonos in the past, thinking the Western world would forever keep them hidden behind bedroom doors. Now cardigans know better. Kimonos are taking over the world one crisp evening at a time, and unlike cardigans, they are really easy to make.

Kimonos actually have several advantages over cardigans, one of them being that they can transport us back to a time before Helena Bonham Carter professed her affection for the Camerons.


In The Wings of the Dove, the antiheroine Kate Croy (played by HBC) is bankrolled by her Aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling), who apparently decides that what Kate needs to catch a rich husband is some fancy kimonos. Works for me.


Kate makes friends with the sweet-but-dull heiress, Milly (Alison Elliott), who revels in Kate’s bitchy quips without realising that her new BFF’s venomous little mind will soon be used against her, too.


They run off to Venice together, making sure to pack even more glam kimonos and Kate’s impoverished lover, Merton (Linus Roache), who Kate has set as a trap for Milly’s fortune. The holiday coverup power of kimonos is made quite evident in this shot of the doomed threesome lounging in a gondola.

The Oscar-nominated costumes for The Wings of the Dove, made by Patricia Lester (with Sandy Powell as costume designer), are said to have been inspired by the designs of Mariano Fortuny. He worked in Venice at the beginning of the 20th century, when the West had a fancy for all things Oriental. Kimonos seem like a peculiarly Jamesian thing to wear, as the author is forever exoticizing everyone who is not a WASP in his novels. A contemporary reviewer is even quoted as saying “Isabel Archer is only Mr. James in kimono.”


Originating in Japan, kimonos have a wealth of history and significance way beyond the Western fashion world’s adoption of them, which you can read a bit about on the V&A’s website.

wrap top illustration

Make your own: Attract your own rich husband, or penniless journo, with this tutorial at Elle Apparel, of which Julia Bobbin has made a gorgeous version. DIY couture has a new pattern coming soon (free download!) which is also very like a kimono.


Buy your own: You can hardly avoid them these days, they’ve even been given their own tab on most online shopping sites. Victory over the stuffy cardigan is theirs! Laura at Roots & Feathers is rarely seen without one and looks amazing in them, even though her style is so different to mine. That’s the thing about kimonos: you can be a scheming socialite in 19th century Venice, or a nature-loving Texan. They are just so versatile.