Two challenges to see Spring through

It may not feel like Spring what with all this BLOODY SNOW but there’s nothing like a sewing challenge or two to pep you up for some warmer months.

Sew For Victory



The first comes courtesy of the lovely Rochelle of Lucky Lucille, who has challenged the blogosphere to a trip back to the ’40s – when fabric was scarce, fashion took a back seat to the war effort and everyone was encouraged to make do and mend.

She’s already provided a plethora of inspiration to get us going over on her blog since the challenge was announced, which means I should really get my skates on! I have a pattern picked out but have yet to actually get cracking on a muslin or even choosing fabric, erk!

I was in two minds about this challenge – with dreams of making a pair of high-waisted trousers and pairing it up with the Mathilde blouse from Tilly and the Buttons, which would have been more 40s-inspired than an accurate reproduction.

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But then I found this great Butterick repro pattern (Butterick B5281) from 1946 which has remained in my sewing box unmade for a number of years now. The pattern looks absolutely beautiful on the envelope, but then I saw Butterick’s version, which just looks AWFUL.

I’m starting to worry a little bit, even more so because i haven’t started work on it at all! 

Being a post-war pattern, I feel I can plump for a brighter colour like purple, but I may still keep it to a darker shade. At this stage, anything could happen!

Mad Men challenge

Secondly, we’ve got Julia’s Mad Men challenge. How did I miss this last year?!

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As it happens, this challenge is far simpler for me! I’ll let you all know a bit later which particular dress I’m hoping to emulate, but it’s definitely a Joan make, for sure. I may not be as bombastically curvy, but I’m sure I can rock a good wiggle dress…

Those of you who have signed up for the super-fun-cool project for Seamless – THANK YOU! I’ll be sending out the top-secret instructions ASAP. There’s still time to register your interest – head to the post here to find out a bit more.

Me Made May ’12 – Second-hand as good as new

If I’ve learnt anything while doing the Seamless pledge, it’s that second-hand clothing is just as good as new, if not better.

charity shop oxfam boutique

Most people who’ve been around the sewing blogosphere long enough for the likes of Wardrobe Refashion, New Dress a Day and Sew I Thought will know charity and second-hand shops are a godsend for anyone keeping an eye on their clothing consumption. It’s starting to become more and more mainstream as belts continue to tighten, with the likes of Marks and Spencer’s “shwopping campaign”, as Zoe wrote about on her blog recently, becoming de rigueur.

I do most of my second-hand shopping at charity shops, being lucky enough to live around the corner from Albany Road in Cardiff, where some real treasures can be found on the numerous charity shops along the street. But charity shops are obviously a two-way thing and they rely on our old and unwanted clothing to keep going and keep raising money.

Last year, 64 per cent of you told me you donate your old clothes to charity, but I also found charity shops are struggling somewhat when it comes to donations. Hard times mean less shopping and fewer wardrobe clearouts.

This month, cancer charity Tenovus is running a campaign in my area to try and get people donating. Liz Rawlins, the charity’s PR and Communications Manager (and fellow blogger!) explained the difference one bag of clothing could make to a charity shop:

“Every single item donated to any one of our shops raises vital funds that enable us to support cancer patients and their families across Wales.

“One bag of clothing makes on average £20, and that £20 means we can continue to provide services such as treating people closer to home on our Mobile
Cancer Support Unit, bereavement counseling and keeping our freephone cancer support line open 7 days a week”.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much, much rather be helping to make this extra £20 for a charity than contributing some extra pennies to a multi-national company.

For the “Worn by You, Loved by Us” campaign, Tenovus set up a great little fashion shoot in Cardiff using clothing from their shops, modelled by staff from Tenovus. All the photos were taken by Amy Davies of Cardiff Arcades fame, so they’re pretty schnazzy to say the least, showing off second-hand clothing AND one of Cardiff’s amazing arcades.

As it happens, Me Made May Day 24 happened to be all about the charity shops, as I donned my refashioned vintage skirt and skinny men’s belt for a day of exam mocks and revision. In fact, aside from the cardigan, my whole outfit had passed through other hands before they arrived in my wardrobe.

The scarf is yet another vintage one from Lush, the necklace and my cream lace top were both birthday presents and my Mum bought me the shoes this time last year when she noticed how full of holes my favourite pair of pumps were.

But here’s the fun bit – I was heading back from the Students’ Union when someone working for More! magazine stopped me to ask if they could take a photo of my outfit. For those of you who aren’t familiar with More!, it’s a fashion/celeb women’s magazine which is pretty popular over here.

I won’t lie, it felt like a small victory to attract the attention of someone employed by a magazine with a direct interest in promoting fashion and the high street.  Score one for second-hand fashion!

So I’ve divulged my favourite charity shop haunt, what about yours? Where do you, without fail, manage to find something fab to refashion. I promise I won’t tell…

Me Made May ’12 – Off to Brighton

I love a good train journey, I do.

Ha, not really, but I’d definitely understand if you thought I did. Truth be told, a 7.55 train to Brighton is not my idea of a perfect Sunday morning, but on Me Made Day six, that’s what had to be done.

Day six’s outfit is proving itself to be quite the seasoned traveller – this is exactly what I wore on the way to York! Dresses are just so much easier than seperates, you don’t need to mess about so much with worrying about what tucks into where and print-clashing and whatnot.

Happily, this little number has not been lying neglected in the back of my cupboard lately, but I’m ashamed to admit it did for some time after it was made. The fabric is beautiful, navy blue with flocked velvet hearts, and the shape is very, very flattering, so why was it left unworn?

Well, truth be told, the problem lay with the sleeves. They were pretty puffy and just a little too cutesy for me. So a few months ago, I snipped them off and finished the sleeves with some bias binding. Voila, a dress worn far, far more often.

I nearly ended up giving this one away! Just over a year ago, I was roped in to doing a charity fashion show with various gubbins I’d made. It was quite funny really, because, unlike the retailers showing their clothes on the day, there was actually no theme or correlation between my items whatsoever.

Leonie looking fiiiiiiiine – picture by Leah Tew

My then colleague and good friend Leonie threatened to steal the dress from me after she wore it down the catwalk and I seriously considered giving it to her, because I just didn’t wear it that much. But, to be honest, it’s probably the most well-made garment I’ve ever turned out.

Unfortunately for Leonie, that means it’s a keeper! I still have the pattern, so I’ve always meant to make her one – she’s getting married soon, so perhaps it could be a gift to the bride.

Oh and I definitely should mention that yesterday I got to meet the lovely Zoe in person! Yay! Along with her fiance, Pat, in his Zoe-made shirt, and the brilliant Rehanon in a fabulous me-made mint dress, we had a nose at some of Brighton’s open art houses.

Basically, artists open their houses to the public for a month, showcasing their work in a homely environment. It’s  a surreal experience, wandering around a stranger’s living room and looking at their art, but definitely one I’d recommend.

I should probably get to sleep now, as I begin my placement at journalism.co.uk tomorrow! Eek! Wish me luck!

Is fashion shallow?

There’s an interesting post over at Gertie’s New Blog For Better Sewing today about her recent trip to see Wicked on Broadway. The costumes really captured her imagination:

What’s most impressive is how the clothing tells a story in such an authentic way. It’s first a product of good writing, I suppose, that Elphaba’s iconic witch costume comes off as real, rather than kitschy. There’s a story behind each piece: the hat was given to her as a cruel joke by classmate Glinda, for example.

You can check out the full post here, it’s a lovely read, as is the rest of her blog.

As Gertie does often, she threw the discussion to her readers, asking:

Are you ever made to feel shallow for being interested in fashion and garment construction? Do you think that fashion is a powerful art form, or is that overstating it?

For me, fashion and sewing have always been two separate things. Sometimes I’ll take inspiration from fashion supplements in newspapers, but more often than not, my sewing habits pay little to no homages to the current trends.

There are certain aspects of fashion which I do find shallow. After all, fashion is all about how you look. When I think fashion, I inevitably think of Cardiff high street (or any city’s high street for that matter) and its plethora of cheap, fast fashion on show.

For those of you who have read/listened to my interview with Zoe, she speaks of the “feeling of dissatisfaction” which seems to drive the industry, and I can’t help but agree. We’re bombarded with advertising which subtly promises something “better” if you upgrade your wardrobe. In the world of the glossy and the airbrushed, you can achieve anything if you have the right dress and shoes.

Yet, as Gertie says, there are often times when fashion truly is an art form in its own right. I’m sure more knowledgable fashionistas could list off many designers who do great things with their seams!

As for me, I don’t necessarily look to haute couture – I’m the kind of person who identifies more with grassroots projects, and it’s this human touch which adds depth to fashion and clothing. Inevitably I look to the online sewing community for that and there are countless examples of people on the street who can pull off statements with an outfit alone.

One particular example deserves a post all its own, but take a look at this video from The Uniform Project. The idea was to wear the same dress every day for a year to raise money for the Akanksha Foundation. I always think of this example when I think of fashion which makes a point and makes a difference.

Uniform Project Picture Book from Uniform Project on Vimeo.

As for sewing, I can honestly say I’ve never been made to feel shallow for making my own clothes. Sewing is a craft and a skill in its own right. It may be growing in popularity, but it’s not as common as it used to be. As a trainee journalist, I’m learning shorthand, and I often think you could draw a lot of parallels between the two skills. People wonder why I’m learning shorthand when I could just buy a dictaphone in the same way as some people wonder why I’m sewing a pencil skirt I could easily buy for under a tenner.

What do you think? Is fashion shallow?