Do Me, Baby*

I’ve always admired those women who can hold down jobs, raise children, maintain relationships, have their creative practice and blog regularly about said practice. I have a job and a cat, and I struggle to blog on a regular basis.  It’s not that I am not organised; I just can’t get it together to blog every week – nor is it that I’m not sewing, or knitting – I’m the sort of woman who can quite happily close the door on the world all weekend, to knit and watch Sex and the City re-runs.  God help me if I ever figure out how to work Netflix, I’ll never leave the apartment!

At the risk of sounding like I’m making an excuse, one of the reasons my blog posts have been so thin on the ground, is that I haven’t really been sewing of late. What I have been doing is knitting, but like many knitters, I’ll see something fabulous that I just have to cast on for, even though there are a pile of half-knitted garments scratching their heads wondering why I don’t love them anymore. It’s a habit I’m trying hard to stop. But sometimes the making up of knitted things just flummoxes me, and the only cure is to cast on something easier, something I imagine down the track will be a cinch to make up.

So in an effort to get some of the unfinished projects off the needles, and into my wardrobe, I’ve decided to start shaming myself.  I am a woman who needs to be held accountable, so please feel free to prod me regularly with a sharp object about when the following garments are going to be finished, sewn up, taken outside and paraded.

Black 3 ply cardigan

First up we have what I’m currently knitting, a 3 ply cardigan that was frogged and re-knitted over the Easter weekend.  On 3mm needles. Yes, I said 3 ply.  Yes, I am nuts. It’s a McCalls pattern that according to Instagram I contemplated 106 weeks ago.  To my credit, I’ve knitted one in a weird pink that just needs a button band and buttons sewn on the front.  I know, I’m rubbish at this finishing business. To distract you from my crapness, here’s a photo of the McCalls sewing pattern.

McCalls Knitting cardiganIsn’t it fabulous?  You’re reaching for the 3mm needles and 3 ply, aren’t you? I wish they still did patterns like this – it has the pattern and sewing instructions for the blouse, it has knitting instructions for the cardigan AND it has instructions for all the beading. I think this is genius – wouldn’t it be great if sewing pattern designers teamed up with knitting designers and showcased their work together?

cotton boleroBack to the wall of shame.  Here is an 8 ply bolero that I cast on last summer from Kim Hargreaves’ gorgeous ‘Vintage Designs to Knit’. I’ve been wanting boleros for some time now to wear over summer dresses as the nights cool.  But there’s a dire shortage of bolero knitting patterns for 8 ply yarn – if anyone has one, please sing out.  It’s getting to the stage where I might have to draft my own pattern, and we could wait years for that to happen. Tash at By Gum By Golly has an almost pattern, which I think I might try. (And I’m trying not to make eye contact with her cropped hearts cardigan) But before I cast on again, I have to finish…

Bow front jumper

From Susan Crawford’s magnificent Stitch in Time volume two, knitted in Bendigo’s 4 ply cotton. I’m a little disappointed in how this one has turned out, but perhaps I should finish it before I pass judgement.

And then there’s the Victory Jumper, the jumper that every Vintage Girl seemed to have on her needles or in her wardrobe.

Victory Jumper

I made a slight colour change, but I love the way this has knitted up – but obviously not enough to get the thing finished.

And just quickly, I want to acknowledge that we lost an incredible talent this week.  There’s a part of my brain that can’t make sense of the fact that this life force is no longer with us. But how lucky are we that we grew up dancing to this man’s music? Vale Prince, the world’s a lesser place without you.

xxx

She’s Got a New Spell

There is something rather magic about a dress.  Be it a full skirted cotton frock with skinny straps that slip from shoulders, or a mile of satin, jewel-coloured, wasp-waisted, manipulated into the most perfect feminine silhouette, there is simply nothing like a really great dress.  And there is nothing like a woman – or a girl for that matter – in a dress she loves.  A great dress can lift her spirit, can empower and seduce in a way no other item of clothing can.

I could not live without dresses, particularly in the Australian summer. Humid days where the air hangs heavy, when all I want is a wisp of cotton voile between me and the world. Or strapless cotton frocks, worn with sandals and a summer hat, bare shoulders slowly freckling in the summer sun. Even the plain black shift, with a brooch on the shoulder and a pair of sling-backs, is effortlessly chic.

And so I suppose that the vast majority of my fabric stash are dresses in waiting. Aforementioned voiles in plains and prints, or over-sized roses and brightly coloured florals, not to mention my devotion to the polka dot; all ironed and folded, waiting to be dreamed into existence. Silks and laces, beautiful pieces of fabric I bought knowing they too would be spun into something elegant and feminine.  It’s amazing how a piece you bought 20 years ago can suddenly be the perfect fabric for a dress you just have to have! I love making dresses, love nothing more than seeing a photo of a vintage dress, or a chic frock on a woman in the street and knowing I have patterns and fabric that can approximate the look I want. I think if I were only ever to make and wear dresses for the rest of my life, I would still be the happiest seamstress in the world.

Which brings me nicely to the point of this post.  You may remember a couple of weeks ago in this post, I was showing off about a dress I’d made last year.  A dress that was inspired by this gorgeous woman:

Dita's Dress

If her new book had only had this image in it, it would have been worth it. Look at that ruffled bust, look at they eyelet lace, those beautifully tied bows!  I looked at that dress, cried, and knew I had to have it. I knew I had a pattern I could hack, and had faith that somewhere in the folded piles was the perfect piece of fabric.

I’ll confess that it wasn’t the easiest.  I’d never made a tiered gathered skirt, figured there was probably a mathematical formula that would help me cut the perfect length of fabric (I had the depth figured out).  But through trial and error, and an afternoon spent gathering, this came to life.

Dita Dress long

In the words of Stevie Wonder, isn’t she lovely? She is tea length and is made of the lightest cotton voile, in little red and pink cherry-type shapes. Look.

Dita dress ribbon close up

I know I’m showing off, but I really love the ruby ribbon on the straps.

Dita Dress Strap close up

And yes, to answer your question, I feel like the prettiest girl in the world in this dress.  I’m not the prettiest girl in the world, which is testament to the power of a dress.

And so, after three frustrating weekends of sewing with black silk organza, which I swear I will never do again, I threw in the towel, and made Dita Mark Two.

Sufjan Dita Dress longshot

She is not that different to Dita Mark One, except that she has three tiers not four,is more gathered in the bust, and has weird sleevie things, which were supposed to be like the ones in the dress Dita is wearing, but clearly are not.

Sufjan Dita Dress bodice close up

But I think the less I say about the weird sleevie-things, the better.

Sufjan Dita Dress bow close up

And so there it is Lovelies.  Two beautiful, ‘I feel pretty’ dresses, one of which is being worn on a hot hot date tomorrow night.

Break, Shatter, Make, Matter

I love making my own clothes. There is nothing like seeing a vintage dress, falling completely in love with it, and knowing you can make it yourself. Going home, raising the fabric stash,making toiles to ensure the fit. Pressing the creases out of the fabric, laying it on the cutting table, pinning the tissue and making that first cut. Ironing interfacing, pining seams, fitting as I go – it really is one of the many joys of my life. And then when the dress – or skirt or shirt is finished – well there is no bliss like that of a finished garment, one that I have made myself, that I have imagined into life. Nothing.

And so it was when I saw this beauty.

Deerfield Vintage dress

For sale at Deerfield Vintage. I knew as soon as I laid eyes on it, that I wanted my version of it. Look at that waist, that fake peplum, that lace and Peter Pan collar.  What frock loving girl wouldn’t want one of these in her wardrobe? And so I set about planning the making of it.  The glorious Fabric Store in Sydney came to the rescue a couple of weeks ago with a 40% off sale, where I bought 4m black silk organza, and tulle for an under-petticoat.  I already had the black lace and cotton underlining at home – all I needed was a couple of weekends to get it made.  I’d decided to make the dress as a skirt and blouse.  And because I no longer have a wasp waist, I decided to cut out a full circle skirt.  Which I did. Twice – because I hated the first version of it. I recut the skirt, taking a little fullness out, made it up again (sewing the circle skirt tulle petticoat, and circle skirt cotton underlining to the organza) and I hate it.  HATE IT.  It’s taken two full weekends to make a circle skirt – which take a day to cut and sew – that I can hardly stand the site of.  I’d resigned myself to spending a third weekend unpicking, recutting and restitching the damned thing.  But then I thought no.  Two weekends on a circle skirt is more than enough. There comes a time in a girl’s life when she has to put down the quick unpick, and step away from the silk organza. So I did this instead.

A Sunday spent cutting

I cut out two dresses that I’ve made versions of, that don’t make me feel like I should be standing atop a cake, that are a joy to sew, and even more delightful to sashay about in.

And as for the organza and lace?  Well, I want to wear it on the 23rd, so I’ll probably come back to it.  Unless I decide to make something else.  I mean, a girl can never have too many vintage style frocks in her wardrobe, can she??

Lily and Parrots

Blue. A summer sky, light-stretched and cloud free, with gulls that dip and fall. Sydney Harbour, deep and murky, dimpled by the pull of the moon. My sister’s eyes, pale and speckled, creased at the corner as she laughs. The hung heads of bluebells, carpeting an English field. Fat round berries that pop in your mouth and weep colour on your tongue and lips. There are endless tones of blue; navy, french, indigo, powder, cerulean, baby, dark. And they are – or at least they should be – the colour of your jeans. We embrace, every now and then, coloured jeans, but they don’t last long, and our faithful blue denim jeans are pulled out and pulled on. It is one of my favourite fabrics, denim. Elegant, utilitarian, classic, conventional and cutting edge all at the same time. My love for this fabric knows no bounds, and when a toile of a garment is to be made, you can bet your fabric stash I’m cutting it out in denim first. Denim jeans, old-school style, straight legged, wide-cuffed, they are the vintage girls’ staple.

For a couple of years now, I have been tinkering with various patterns, trying to find the perfect vintage jean. I’ve ended up drafting my own, franken-patterning a couple of favourite trouser patterns. I love having a waist in jeans that isn’t down around my belly-button, and I love deep front pockets. Inspired by how great all the vintage girls look in their Freddie’s overalls, I decided to have a go at making denim overalls. And not just any overalls – Wearing History’s WWII Homefront 1940s overalls. First I made the pants without the bib front; I wanted to get a feel for the cut of the trousers – were they too high in the crotch, too low, too short? The good thing about jeans is that you should be able to get them cut out and made up in a weekend. (My practice is to sew the pants up – put the zip in, sew the leg seams, and then fit for darts. I’ve never understood why commercial patterns tell you to sew the darts first!) These trousers are pretty straightforward, and I like that the pockets are sewn on the front of the jeans. I tend to line pockets with lightweight gingham; I’ve never been a big fan of the added bulk of facings, and being an impatient woman, I want to get things made so I can wear them. There are other ways of course of avoiding facings (isn’t this the best thing about the internet, that you get to peek into other women’s wardrobes, and see how they did it). I wore the jeans for a month or so, to see how they fit, and I LOVED them. I’m a woman who likes jeans she can eat her lunch in, and these fit the bill perfectly.

And so I bought the darkest indigo denim I could find, pre-shrank it, and cut the trousers out. The bodice was going to take a little more time, given how shaped and fitted the front is. It took a couple of attempts with a FBA, and then a last minute dart at the end, which is fast becoming my signature dart. I call it the “effing FBA didn’t work” dart. I lined the bodice front, back and jeans pockets in navy gingham, and used a pair of wooden buttons instead of metal jeans buttons. I didn’t line the straps, which I now regret because they don’t sit flat. I used a jeans zip in the side, and 3 large extra-strength press-studs at the top. I kept the hems long, because I like a double rolled cuff. And while they aren’t perfect for my body shape, I LOVE them. These are my sassy-pants, cos I feel like there is no messing with a woman in her indigo Homefront overalls.

 

The Midnight Clear

How quickly it comes, this time of year.  I adore this week between Christmas and New Year.  A temporal no man’s land, quiet days where the world exhales. Christmas paper has been torn and discarded, hams have been carved, champagne and beer bottles litter the back step. Living rooms twinkle with Christmas lights, tinsel throws sunlight and shimmies in the breeze, angels gaze down from tree-tops.  These are the days of lounging in front of the television, of afternoon naps curled up with almost-finished books, of mince pies for breakfast and Christmas pudding for afternoon tea. A week of slowing down, of stopping, of allowing ourselves to be still.  And for those of us who live in sunny climes, a week of sand on our feet and salt on our skin as children race to the water, back and forth like the tide. As an adult I have found my own way at Christmas, I have woven my way with the ways of others and in doing so have come to embrace this time of year, a time I used to run from. But as much as I love Christmas Day, it’s this lost week I long for.  It’s a week of rest, but also of reflection. A time of looking back, and a time of dreaming forward, of contemplating accomplishments, and making plans for the next year of days.

I tidied my sewing space during the week.  I pulled half-knitted cardigans from the baskets I had stuffed them into, have half-sewn dresses pushed into a box under a table where I couldn’t see the unfinished projects that pointed an accusing finger. I’m not a woman who follows fashion, so if I want something to wear, odds are I have to make it. Want to make it.  I like living this way, like the self-sufficiency of it. But sometimes the lure of a new project is just too much, and I cast on or cut fabric with abandon.  That’s something I intend to change. But before I berate myself about all the things I didn’t do, I’m going to celebrate all the things I did do. Here’s a few of my favourite Made By Me things from 2015.

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The rose print is a box pleated skirt, and is a beautiful weight cotton that actually sings when I walk.  I think this skirt thinks it’s the Girl from Ipanema.

The top is rather momentous, because it’s the only knitted garment I finished this year. My UFO basket will attest to the fact that I’m very good at knitting, not so good at finishing things. The jumper is the Jan Sweater, from the worth it’s weight in gold Stitched in Time Volume 2. and is knitted in Bendigo Mill’s cotton 4 ply, in Pomegranate.

The jumper pairs beautifully with this skirt, the colours of which my camera has not captured.  The base colour is a rich camel, a beautiful pale tea colour.

Mid-year I made my second Anise jacket, which is one of the most gorgeous jacket patterns I’ve used.  If you think you can’t sew a jacket, buy yourself this pattern and the accompanying how to, and impress the pants off yourself, because you CAN sew a jacket. Ever the practical woman, I made my Anise in denim.  It’s lined in cotton flannel, which makes it the perfect mid-season weight jacket. I seriously cannot express my love enough for this jacket. Thank you Sarai – martini’s on me the next time you are in Sydney.

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In May I drove myself and everyone around me a little potty when I decided to make four dresses for four nights of Sufjan Stevens at the Opera House.  Sufjan was nice enough not to take out a restraining order on me, and sang ‘That Dress Looks Nice on You’, which he dedicated to another woman, but I’m certain he played it just for me. And can you blame him, just look at this frock!

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It is Vogue 1084, is full and swishy at the back, and is a dress that makes a girl feel a million and a half dollars. I mean, look at the back detail. Honestly lovelies, it’s a wonder Mr Stevens was able to resist me in this frock.  But resist me he did, which is just as well, because I’m not that kind of girl. (Even though he played Redford every night!)

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When I came down from cloud 9, I busied myself with winter coats and knitting winter woollens, which remain in the UFO pile.  Oh the shame!  Summer came, and it was time to think of summer frocks.

I made this dress for a dinner date.  It’s a dress a girl should wear when Dean Martin takes her out for martini’s, don’t you think? Alas my date was more Jerry Lewis than Dean Martin, which means my heart still belongs to Hamish. I’m destined to die alone, but with such gorgeous frocks, who cares!

December bought a very Bad Man into my life, and of course a girl needs a new dress when a Bad Man plays the Sydney Opera House.  I discovered the marvellous Marjorie at Hearts and Found this year, and Marjorie – who shares a love for fabulous frocks and Bad Men – sent me the most gorgeous fabric ever. Unfortunately the dress did not turn out exactly as I’d imagined, but that’s another story. Nevertheless, I wore this to Father John Misty, who came mighty close to being one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen Grizzly Bear!

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Of course, there was more to my sewing year than this, but there comes a point in the story where a girl is just showing off.  I hope I’ve stayed this side of the line, but there they are, a few of my favourite sewing things.**

And now here we are, the first day of another year.  A leap year no less, which means an extra sewing day! So the planning begins again, folded piles of fabric are taken from their shelves, contemplated, pondered and dreamed about.  We’re in the first month of summer, so I’ve got strappy dresses to imagine, flimsy cotton blouses and full circle skirts.  There are concert tickets for Beach House, for Brian Wilson, and of course Sufjan returns to Sydney – and if he thought the floral frock looked nice on me, he should see what I’ve got in store for him come February.  And then autumn leaves start falling, and I’ll start thinking about short sleeve cardigans and trench coats, and as the days get shorter and colder, unfinished coats will be finished, winter jumpers will be cast off, and I’ll start dreaming about spring dresses and summer frocks. And that’s the exciting thing about a new year isn’t it?  You can have all the plans in the world, but who knows what the year will bring.

Happy New Year Lovelies – much Joy to you all.

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** I haven’t told you the truth, the whole truth.  There is one dress that blew my mind a little this year.  But that’s another story. Stay tuned!

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Oh God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)

Feb words

I am the very worst kind of woman, the type of woman I’ve worked hard not to be. A woman who makes promises. But for all my good intentions.

I was going to write about pencil skirts and bow-tie blouses and pleated dirndl skirts.

Instead, I wrote my novel. I really wrote it.

To the point that something I secretly thought I would never ever finish, I can now see the end of. Look, just down there, maybe 60 pages away. There it is, the finish line.

I have also been listening to Sufjan Stevens. He’s as bonkers as all giddy-up, but hells bells can the man write a song. ‘Michigan’, in particular.  ‘Seven Swans’ is just sublime, and rarely gets packed away. But ‘Michigan’ is one of those lovely surprises, one I always knew was there, but had never paid any real attention to. And it’s funny, how when you finally see something that was always there, and it winds it’s way, you kick yourself for not seeing it sooner. Because it’s perfect.  Like falling in love with a friend, I suppose.

“There is a design, to what I did and said.”

Sufjan

Wanted – Help

Baby Rocket

I don’t normally do this sort of thing. I reckon there’s enough bloggers out there recommending things, things you may or may not need. Who am I to suggest where you should spend your hard earned cash? But there’s a bloke, down Melbourne way, who has the courage of his convictions, and is changing things, one vegie patch at a time. And he needs a bit of a hand.

For better or worse, I live in Sydney. Which means I can’t put my money down, and get one of Rohan’s organic fruit and veg boxes. One of these days I’ll come to my senses, pack everything, and Hamish and I will move to Melbourne, where I’ll flirt with gorgeous men, have the most extraordinary adventures, and get organic F&V delivered every Saturday.

If you live in Melbourne, and are not already aware of Whole Larder Love, please pop by. Rohan’s photographs alone are worth a visit. And if you do give a shit about good food, or are tired of our farmers getting screwed by the big grocery chains, maybe you could sign up for a box? And if none of that is possible, if like me you don’t live in the delivery area, then maybe you could tell your friends?

Pass it on, peeps.