Project 7: The Fairy Dress

After a (way too) long sewing break, I needed a simple project to put me back on tracks and give me confidence: I was under the impression that I had forgotten everything that I had learned over the past months. Luckily, sewing is just like riding a bike. You don't forget. In the worst case you don't go very straight at first.

I picked a dress pattern in this sewing book that my parents gave me last Christmas. The book looks lovely and is based around the idea of creating simple "tuniques" or blouses. The projects are therefore quite straightforward, but I wouldn't recommend it if you're totally new to sewing. There is no explanation at all as to how you should build your garment, and you must be aware of the sewing basics if you want to make it through.

I decided I would do one of the two dresses, and changed the pattern a bit, because the dress was supposed to be very short: I added about 8cm and removed one or two details I didn't like. Since the design was so simple, I had to find a "Waouw" factor through the choice of the fabrics. The top one is cotton from the last John Lewis Spring sale. The second one was given to me for my wedding by my friends Audrey and Luize along with other marvellous pieces from Africa and Asia. It is slightly shiny and decorated with same color swirls.
A priori, they don't belong together, but once I'd tried, I couldn't believe how good they looked next to each other: the colours and the patterns match so perfectly that the dress became something delicate,original, poetic...a "fairy" dress.

It was very simple to make. the longest part was the collar. I had to cut a black bias (for which I created the pattern, since the book recommended to use a simple ribbon) that I hand-stitched.

It was really the perfect project to start again: it went smoothly and I love this dress, especially the delicate back opening. It certainly makes me want to do more.

So keep looking for the next project!

Catching up!

Dear all,

I'm back. Some of you must have thought I got lost somewhere, or that I forgot about this blog.

No. I "just" got married.

It took me a lot of preparation (=no sewing) and it kept me away from my sewing machine (=no sewing) for weeks. Then it took me some time to recover (=no sewing).

And before publishing my new project, I wanted to share a couple of fashion related things:

1. I was not gifted enough to do my own wedding dress, so I had it made by a skilled (but tough) seamstress in Marseilles, my hometown. I designed the dress according to different inspirations: classic, vintage, lacy, no princess-like but voluminous...I had in mind two non negotiable requirements: I wanted sleeves and that my shoes were apparent -in case you still don't know, I am a shoes addict, and while I didn't change my outfit on the Big day, I had two pairs or shoes, one white, one blue. Here are some views of the dress!

2. Some dear friends, Audrey and Luize, gave me a wonderful wedding present: fabrics from Asia and Africa bought during their travels. Some silk and cotton pieces with wonderful patterns and textures. I am sure it will lead to a lot of projects. See below for a couple of examples of those treasures. My husband already ordered a silk tie.

3. At last, have you checked this awesome video for Lanvin F/W 2011 collection? Albert Elbaz is THE man.

It's time for me now to take some pictures of the new project. I'll keep you posted!

Second hand, high fashion

I used to go to second-hand cloths shop and flea markets in Paris, but I have to confess that England is the heaven of second-hand shopping.
I am not talking about the exciting but very expensive vintage shops of Soho, London, but about the hundreds of charity shops covering the whole territory. In Cambridge they must be 15 shops (including Oxfam, Save the Children, The British Red Cross, The Heart Foudation...) and each of them is the occasion of a priceless (while cheap) find.
Those gems will satisfy most of your shopping cravings and make you contribute to wonderful projects, helping people around the world. Because everything you buy has been donated, and the money you spend goes directly to development projects and health and social programmes.

Some of the shops work only on a volunteering staff basis, with most of them having an expert eye on specific types of items. The lady specialised in vintage watches, or the one who knows a lot about sewing, they will all have precious advices to display. You may still have some doubt about the fashion potential of the goods you can find there. I agree that the combination of "charity", "cheap"
and "old ladies" is not to convinced the reluctant fashionista. But I have been volunteering in one of those shops for 6 months now, and I can tell for sure that it hides some great bargains: among my last purchases lie some almost new Nine West leather boots, and a Miu Miu woolen trousers that is so soft that I want to touch my legs all the time.
I also regularly find funny old-looking things such as a small knitted purse , interesting costume jewellery, as well a
s amazing kid cloths (some of them lovelingly handmade).

YES, you may need to go through a lot of rails to find THE piece you were dreaming about, and NO, there won't be something great everytime you go. BUT, just as for the sale periods on the high street, the expert eye won't miss the precious deal hidden in the overcrowded rack.

Beautiful pieces are entering the shop very often (especially if you go to charity shops in rich neiborhood). "Collections" changes all the time -every week to be precise. And if ou are looking for more basic stuff, such as Primark, M&S or H&M, well just any shop will be your lucky destination. For £1 you can always find something interesting!
If you don't have access to one of those shops, you can visit the on-line Oxfam store (the website is not very glamorous, but it is worth browsing around): look below at the awesome items that I just found!
Some charities also have their ebay store.

Long live the charity shops!

French Connection Dress, £12.99; and Diesel jacket, £14.99

Project 6 : The Serena Dress

The inspiration for that dress comes from two different directions.

First, I had this beautiful fabric that my friend Carole brought back from India (along with the fabric of The India Dress -Project 3). While beautiful, this fabric, which is very light and very fragile, is hard to sew. It slides a lot under the machine's foot, modifying the shape of the project all the time.

Secondly, I must confess that I watch the TV show Gossip Girl (for those who don't know, it is an American soap where extremely rich teenagers use New York as a playground for their mischiefs and manipulations). Rather than for the most of the time upsetting characters, I watch it (or "pretend to watch it") for the high end fashion and stylist work that is put in each and every scene. The clothes are coming directly from the last runway shows and are beautifully accessorized. One of the main characters, Serena, has a tendency to wear boho dresses, very airy and intricated at the same time.

The combination of those two facts made me try something very adventurous: I made a dress without using a pattern. Keeping the Serena style in mind, I listened to my fabric, cutting it the less possible and using the existing length and combination of patterns in the best way I could.

It results in a maxi dress, with a double layer to correct for the transparency, elastic bands at the waist (which were challenging!) and an altar top. I didn't fix the straps, so I can wear them in different ways, according to the mood. I like the way the dress floats when I walk. The top is very naked, but I guess it will be wearable during summers (maybe not British summers though) and holidays. Unless I dare wearing it the way it shows on the top picture: with wellies and a blazer!

Project 5 : The Cape

No one could have missed it: the cape is "the" coat to wear this winter. It started invading our wardrobes last winter and now it is definitively a 2010/2011 must have.

I thought this trend was for me the chance to sew something different from skirts and dresses, using some new kind a fabrics. I hate cold weather and I generally need tons of layers to feel warm. I therefore picked a 100% British wool from the Croftmill website and polyester lining. The lining is really thick and protects even more from the wind. More importantly, the print is colorful and break the all-black mood of the outside. I have always loved contrasting lining and I absolutely wanted one for that project.

The pattern I used was again from Simplicity. It didn't involve lining though, so I had to figure out this part by myself. I put three buttons instead of the one planned by the pattern, so the cape doesn't open too much (I said I hate being cold!). The buttons have a vintage feel, and there are actually old: I bought them from a Save the Children charity shop.

I was very pleased to see that my sewing machine worked very well with the thickness of the wool, even with 4 or 5 layers -at the collar for example. The tricky part was the lining. I thought I had to cut it the same size as the outside fabric, but I should have cut it bigger. It would have given a less rigid feel to the cape. At last I tried for the first time to do buttonholes. The automatic sizing didn't work on my machine, so I had to run a couple of trials. The result looks neat and fits the buttons well. Buttonholes, check!

Overall I would say that I reached my goal: the cape is really warm, and I can wear my biggest sweater underneath, and still feel perfectly comfortable. No need to say this piece is becoming my best friend for the winter. I may even do another one, trying to add pockets, or holes for the arms, or changing the collar. Possibilities are infinite.

The Ethical Network

I have discovered only recently the Ethical Fashion Forum. This is an internet platform which brings together fashion people (designers, communication officers, PR, investors) to promote and spread ethics in the industry. It provides the willing designers with tools and money to support a fair or organic project. A consultancy group is also available to help companies adopting best practices. The Forum is supported by famous designers such as Vivienne Westwood and encourages development through fashion all around the world. Here is a video showing one of their projects in Africa in partnership with the International Trade Centre. Some events (awards ceremony, expo in London...) and a magazine (to be launched soon) also give the Forum some visibility.
The growing success of the Forum is well deserved: their initiatives, their involvement in ethical issues, development, and sustainable innovation through fashion, are unique. They offer an extensive range of services with an acute sense of communication and professionalism. The platform is both very didactic and sophisticated.

Beyond the ethical commitment, fashion is still the main concern of the Forum. And the least I can say is that it is not left behind. Among amazing designers, I find the Spanish jewel designer Leblas particularly eye-catching: Arabel Lebrusan combines her Spanish art references and heritage with beautiful craftsmanship. The material are all recycled or ethically sourced, while the prices remain low. This dreamy ring is one of the marvellous creations that you can find online.
Long live the Forum.

Leblas- The Ethical Tresoro Peridot Ring