Quick February Roundup – Three more garments in the bag!

I may have been lacking in blogging since the first Toaster Sweater this year but the sewing has been keeping momentum.

Firstly I managed a second garment in January, a Sew Over It Betty dress in a blue floral cotton. I’d bought that fabric with a 50s style swing dress in mind, and I did have a couple of patterns in stock but they would all have required quite a bit of fitting work, and I know that Sew Over It patterns suit my sizing…so on a whim I bought the PDF Betty pattern. Mostly it went together smoothly, although I did not have enough fabric for the skirt pieces so did some re-drafting based on a GBSB circle skirt I made a while back – it worked just fine and the skirt is plenty big – I took a huge amount out of the Betty pattern pieces so goodness knows how big THAT skirt would have been! I do have some minor fit issues to fix for the next make of this pattern – the back gapes a bit on me, partly due to the straps being too loose and sit too wide on my shoulders. Given I finished this the night before the wedding I planned to wear it to, I hacked a fix by pleating the neckline and stitching a fold in the straps at the seams – I wore a cardi over it so it didn’t matter, but I’ll have to fix it better in the long run. Otherwise the fit was good (worn here with a petticoat!).

Betty dress

Secondly, I finished my Spring shrug that was my first proper knitting project and has been WIP since March last year. Currently wrapping up a few other WIPs and then will start the next knit, which will be a Victory Sweater from the V&A archives.

spring shrug

Thirdly, I knocked out another Toaster Sweater in a few hours this Sunday, from the second fabric I had bought from Minerva for the purpose. I realised this would be my first actual attempt at pattern matching, as somehow everything else I’ve made so far has been plain or in a pattern so busy or large that you don’t need to match. Mostly it’s turned out well! I tweaked the neckline for this and it sits much better than the first one – although that may be in part due to the fabric taking a press somewhat better. I also added to the length because I find the first one rides up a little.

Toaster sweater 2

Finally, in other exciting sewing news, I got my first Sew Hayley Jane box this month (medium) and loved it, so excited already for the next one. The black viscose fabric I think I have earmarked for a pair of Sew Over It Ultimate trousers, a pattern I’ve been meaning to revisit since first sewing it at the workshop. The fat quarters I think are destined for new needle case/ pincushion and maybe a headscarf too.

Aaand I’ve fired off a few entries for the Make It Today Dressmaker of the Year competition, in the vintage and ready-to-wear categories. I’m really pleased with the things I submitted so fingers crossed!

It’s also Knitting and Stitching Show time again next weekend, I’ve already got a shopping list forming so stand by for the haul post next week…

 

Toaster Sweater 2 – the best thing since sliced bread!

So here goes my first #projectsewmystyle make – the Sew House 7 Toaster Sweater, version 2. I got the PDF patterns for both Toaster sweaters with the #projectsewmystyle discount code, but I preferred the interesting half-high neckline of version 2 to the full on turtleneck of version 1. I got a Minerva Crafts voucher as a Christmas present, so I used that towards an order of overlocker thread and fabric. I’ve used this grey textured-look ponte roma for the first iteration, but I’m planning to make a second in this stripy black and teal ponte as well.

I really liked this pattern – the sizing and fit are pretty spot on first time (I cut a medium and shortened the sleeves by about 2″, no other alterations) and the instructions are easy and clear, whilst giving multiple options depending on your equipment. I think this may be one of the quickest makes I’ve done, although that may be in some part down to my new toy…

Shortly after my last post I found out Lidl were selling Singer overlockers for £129, and after a small amount of research online indicating this was a good deal and the machines were reliable, I went ahead and bought one. It sat in the box until this month, but I wanted to jump right in and use it for this project. I have used one once before, at a Sew Over It workshop, but that was already threaded and I really had no idea about all the different kinds of overlock stitch. I bought the Beginner Serging Craftsy class and watched most of those videos before sitting in front of the machine. That was really helpful in understanding the different stitches and the mechanics of the machine.

I really didn’t find threading my machine any trouble! I don’t know why people seem to get so worked up about it… The only issue I spent (wasted) hours on was tension – my looper threads were sometimes spot on and sometimes pulling to one side or other, and my needle threads were too loose and forming loops. No matter how I changed the tension, it was barely making a difference. I was about to post a question to the Craftsy class but looked for other questions on tension issues first – and there was an answer from Amy pointing out that Singer machines are known for very tight tension discs, and you have to really “floss” the thread down into them. Sure enough, I re-threaded and “flossed” and felt the thread pop down into the discs. I re-set the tensions to the manual recommendations, put through a scrap of my ponte fabric and it was perfect…. I’m sure you can imagine how the air was blue at the wasted sewing time!!

So I went right ahead and overlocked all my raw edges and the main sleeve/side seams on this project. I was so happy with how quickly it went from unconstructed to completely finished, well apart from hemming… and for this I decided I didn’t want to counteract my high-street like overlocking with a decidedly home-sewn zig zag stitch hem. So challenge no.2 of this project was testing whether my machine is good for twin needle stitching, and working out how on earth that actually works… turns out it’s actually pretty straightforward, as long as your machine will sew with a twin needle, and mine does. It has a second spool pin, so I just popped a bobbin of thread on that for the second needle. I ran through a test piece but didn’t have to mess about with tension too much – I suspect I got lucky with a super-forgiving fabric and tension might need a bit more work on both overlocker and twin needle for future projects.

The only niggle I have with this sweater is the neckline, the fabric doesn’t really press and the facing wouldn’t stay put, so I had to pin it along the foldline per the pattern and then run a row of tiny prick stitches, invisible on the outside, to keep the facing in place (remembering to stretch out the fabric so the stitches are loose enough to allow the neckline to stretch!) The neckline still feels pretty high at the front, so I might try and alter the pattern for the next one to give it a little more scoop.

Here’s some pictures of the finished garment:

twin needle hem.jpg

twin needle topstitching

Looking ahead to 2017

I’m not really sure where the end of the year has gone. There’s been a whirlwind of some social events, lots of musical stuff and work has been pretty heavy. I haven’t managed to get much sewing done at all. I did make a couple of things as presents but mostly this year I’ve only had time to buy, so I’ve tried as much as possible to buy at local markets, independent shops and on Etsy and Not on the High Street.

I finished the back piece of the cardigan I’ve been slowly knitting since about March, but put that aside to try the first of two Christmas stockings from a kit I bought at the Knitting and Stitching show. Now that I’ve got the hang of it, that’s fun, but I don’t think I’ll finish one let alone both for Christmas – even if there were going to be any stocking presents to fill them with! They can be ready for next year, it’s just nice to be crafting something festive at Christmas 🙂

Instead I’ve been contenting myself with planning next year’s sewing adventure. I bought the Colette Sewing planner (from UK stockist SewBox) and sat down last weekend to fill out the front pages (favourite styles of neckline, sleeves, favourite garments, preferred fabrics, inspirations, measurements) and some of the spring to-do list. One of the things I really loved was that there is a space for a fabric swatch, so for the fabrics in my stash I’m not quite sure what to do with yet, I could stick a swatch down as a reminder and I can fill in the project it ends up destined for later.

I have also decided to sign up for the Project #sewmystyle sew-along/challenge to sew one garment a month next year. They’ve teamed up with a selection of pattern companies offering 20% or more discount on the patterns selected for the challenge. I’ve gone ahead and bought January’s; Sew House 7 “Toaster Sweater”, but to be honest most of the patterns picked are not really in my style, so I’ll probably substitute for patterns I already have or prefer. Part of the idea is to end up with a capsule wardrobe though, so I’ll probably aim to at least sew the same type of garment even if it isn’t the same pattern.

So that’s probably it for 2016, have a good Christmas and see you with the next project in the New Year!

Ethical Clothes – Part 2

Dolly & Dotty – another UK based vintage repro brand, with design based in Brighton, and again nothing on the website about manufacturing or ethical policy. And like Collectif, I couldn’t find anything else online and the clothing labels state “Made in China”. I contacted the brand on 22nd September and although I received acknowledgement I have yet to receive an actual answer to my questions.
Rating: 0/10 With zero information on their website, “Made in China” on the clothing labels and a very poor lack of response to a customer enquiry, it can only be nul points.

Wallis – this brand is part of the Arcadia Group and as such follows their “Fashion Footprint” programme. There’s a lot of structure to this programme, with “pillars” and “stakeholders”, but I’m not sure there’s as much substance to it. Reading the ethical trading pages I get the impression they’re saying all the rights things but the level of what is being achieved is perhaps underwhelming. CleanClothes.org in a recent report rated Arcadia Group as “Dragging their Feet” – scant effort to tackle worker’s rights and have not participated in collaborative efforts to develop best practice, in particular the Ethical Trading Initiative.
Rating: 4/10 Arcadia Group don’t have a great reputation overall, and in this regard they don’t come across as working hard to change that. At least they have some information on their site and have responded to campaign surveys.

Roman Originals – Another brand with nothing on their website about their policy. A google search threw up this Independent article from 2015 (among others) alleging child labour in some factories with Roman Originals contracts. The brand’s reaction was to denounce the practice and sever their contracts with the factories in question, but beyond that they don’t seem to have done much to clean up their image or their practices. Neither CleanClothes.org or RankABrand.org has any up to date info, and neither does EthicalConsumer.org.
Rating: 0/10 No up to date information and investigative journalism from a year ago suggesting highly dubious ethical practices.

Camaïeu – A French brand that I often shop at when abroad, as it’s in most of Europe now. It seems that a French organisation “l’Ethique sur l’Etiquette” (Ethics on the Label) did a lot of campaigning and staged protests against the brand in 2013 following the Rana Plaza disaster, since the brand had had a large order in place with one of the factories, but after the disaster blamed a supplier for unauthorised subcontracting. As a result of the protests, the brand acknowledged responsibility by saying that they would contribute to the compensation fund for victims. If you can read French, this Libération article has a good report. They also mention an “Accord Sécurité” being drafted by some of the big labels, designed to make brand carry responsibility for ensuring the structural security of the factories they use and instill fire prevention measures. Camaïeu was supposed to be signing this but I can’t find any more recent reports than 2013.
Rating: 4/10 Although they did seemingly engage in 2013, given they were involved in such a high profile disaster in the clothing sector, it surprises me that there aren’t more recent press statements or anything on their website shouting about their latest ethical endeavors.

Promod – Another French/European brand I make a beeline for when on holiday. Although they have a lot about their ethos and style in the About section, once again a total lack of ethical policy information available to the customer. RankABrand.org gives them an E for lack of information. They responded to a CleanClothes.org survey, but very briefly and answered “no” to several points. In other instances they appeared to be setting a low bar on what they considered reasonable/possible for them to achieve based on their market share and avoiding increased cost to the consumer.
Rating: 5/10 A mediocre score for what seems to be a mediocre response and attitude to the problem at hand.


I have to say that doing this research into the labels in my wardrobe has been really depressing. With the exception of Seasalt, which is a relatively small and still family owned-and-run business, the majority of the brands have little or no information readily available to consumers and have had minimal response to NGO campaigns and surveys. Even when they are seemingly making the right noises, there’s the sense that consumers really have to take their word for it.

This has all led to me feel even more strongly that I should be making as much as possible and otherwise buying in vintage or charity shops. I’m even going so far as to ask my family (my mum especially) to stop buying me clothes as presents unless it’s a brand like Seasalt which I can trust.

Ethical Clothes – Part 1

One of the reasons I decided to start sewing my own clothes was for better fit and so that I could get the styles I wanted with the fabric and finishes I wanted. The high street just wasn’t offering what I wanted.

But another factor was the ethics of the current “fast fashion” trend, and this has become more important to me over time. I recently watched the documentary The True Cost on Netflix and while much of it wasn’t a surprise, it was still shocking and spurred me to make yet more effort to buy consciously.

Because I do still buy, or get bought clothing as presents. I want to make every effort to ensure the brands I do still choose to buy from are promoting a more ethical approach to fashion. My survey is based on information provided on the brands’ own websites and may therefore be considered biased or unreliable but you can still tell a lot just by the depth and type of information they give, I believe. I also found a couple of independent organizations surveying and collating information on the big brands.

The below is a list of brands currently most common in my wardrobe (aside from second hand, handmade or vintage items), with a summary of the info I found plus my rating. 

Seasalt – a family-owned company originating in Cornwall, they make a strong statement of ethical and environmental responsibility. They have a policy of local or artisan purchasing through their supply chain, and were the first fashion company to have their clothing Soil Association certified as organic, in 2005. They also seem strong about passing their standards down through the supply chain, whether that’s ethical or environmental. Eg. Where organic or fair trade certification is specified by us as a condition of supply, follow the relevant certification organisation’s rules and guidelines. And when that’s not the case, still use eco friendly, fair trade or recyclable materials wherever possible. They also require suppliers to sign various statements of ethical practice, and to join SEDEX and report annually on ethical practices.

Rating: 10/10 Seasalt’s policies seem pretty robust and tick all the boxes for me. They also seem to have a strong methodology for making sure that their policy is also their suppliers’ policy. I also like the depth of documentation they have made available on their website

Desigual – Now a global fashion brand originating in Barcelona, Spain, known for very distinctive clothing which often features bright multi colored prints, decoration and complex patterns, most commonly on dresses, skirts and tops in jersey fabric. To my dismay there is nothing on their website about ethical policies, not even in the Spanish language site. Through a Google search, I found two useful websites which rated Desigual very badly:

Rankabrand.org rated them E – Don’t Buy, with the following statement:

Desigual has achieved the E-label. This is our lowest possible sustainability score, and Desigual has earned it by communicating nothing concrete about the policies for environment, carbon emissions or labor conditions in low-wages countries. For us as consumers, it is unclear whether Desigual is committed to sustainability or not.

The Clean Clothes Campaign also cited a lack of information and only a basic response in terms of company action to ensure ethical working conditions in their supply chain. 

My older Desigual garments state Made in China, but more recent ones have Made in Spain or Portugal.

Rating: 4/10 The lack of openness and information means I can’t rank Desigual any higher, but the fact that more recent garments indicate a shift in manufacturing back to Europe shows that Desigual might be more aware of the issues than they first seem, and have even chosen to support some of the European economies which have struggled in recent years.

Collectif – a rapidly growing London based vintage repro clothing company, Collectif make much of the small team who oversee every aspect of the design, production and sales process. However, there is nothing on their websit about manufacturing, ethical or environmental policies and I couldn’t find anything from a Google search either. The labels in the clothes say Made in China. 

I contacted the brand to see what they had to say. Within a couple of hours I had a reply, which in addition to clarifying that they manufacture in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Romania, Armenia and London and the majority in China, said the following:

All our fabrics are sourced in China, where we have our own facility and office, run by our own staff, who are in constant contact with our team in London. Having our own facility, means we are very aware of everything that happens throughout our production process. Our London design & production team regularly visit China to personally source our fabrics and ensure they are of an acceptable quality and ethical standard. These team members, as well as members of senior management, also make regular visits to our production facility and offices.

Rating: 6/10 I am a bit disappointed that the clothes are mostly made in China, and not having openly available information for consumers is not best practice. However, I was impressed with the speed of response to my enquiry, and based on what they’ve said they seem to have closer ties to their suppliers than many retailers might have, and they are aware of the issues.

M&S – a British institution, although they sell a huge range of products I’m thinking mostly of clothing in my research. The website does carry a statement on Modern Slavery, which make clear that M&S are aware of the risk they carry in their supply chain and sets out what they do to mitigate this. They say they require their suppliers to :

  • Participate in ethical trading audits assessments; 
  • Provide employees with good working conditions, fair treatment and reasonable rates of pay; 
  • Respect workers’ human rights and comply fully with all applicable laws. 

The Clean Clothing Campaign also has a report on M&S which seems fairly positive about the policies and more importantly action the company is taking.

Rating: 7/10 the statement and independent assessment make it clear M&S are actively trying to improve the situation & ensure their supply chain is ethical, but given the volume of manufacture and the size of the retail chain, I can’t honestly rate it much higher.

Next – another British high street staple, and long a favourite of mine for workwear. They have several statements on ethical and environmental policy under the Corporate Responsibility section of the website, but here are their stated priorities:

  • Develop and improve workers’ conditions, including safety and human rights
  • Communicate and support the achievement of compliance to our ethical standards with all our suppliers
  • Support our suppliers to achieve continuous improvement through partnership
  • Implement sustainable programmes and initiatives with suppliers to improve their capacity and ability to deliver to our ethical requirements
  • Continue to develop opportunities to work in collaboration with other Brands and retailers, Governments, trade unions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to pursue solutions for some of the more complex and systemic problems within the global supply chain that we cannot resolve alone and to help achieve lasting change

From an environmental perspective, a standout statistic is that they claim to have diverted 91% of operational waste away from landfill. 

RankaBrand has given them a D rating, or “first milestones recognized, can do better”. 

Rating: 7/10 I think Next seem on par with M&S on policy and at the end of the day they are another large fast fashion retailer.

This post is turning in to a bit of an essay so I’ve decided to split it into two. More brands coming up…

Vintage books & bags

Between Twinwood and my holiday to Cornwall I managed to pick up a few lovely vintage items recently.

The first was a wicker frame handbag from one of the stalls at Twinwood. There were several wicker bags on offer across a range of stalls, and they were all advertised as 1950s/1960s. I deliberated over several but settled on this one as being one of the best condition and also a good size & nice colour. The wicker has a good tone and the brown leather looks quite smart even though it’s a casual bag. It’ll go with a lot of different outfits.

1950s wicker bag

The bag stands on four stud feet and is constructed of a wicker box hinged at the base, with a fabric bag lining the interior. The bag closes with a leather flap & twist clasp. The flap needed some minor repair to glue the layers back together but otherwise the bag is in pretty good shape.

made in hong kong label

There is a label stitched inside which is partially cut off reads “Made in Hong Kong”. Now “made in China” doesn’t have a great reputation generally so this made me skeptical, but a similar label appeared in nearly all the bags on sale so I decided not to dwell on it. I’ve tried to do a bit of research since and it seems there was certainly a strong export trade of clothing and accessories including wicker bags from Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s, but that most of the cited labels have “British Colony” or similar on them, not just Hong Kong, which makes me thing this bag could actually be later eg. 1970s. Never mind, it’s still a good buy and I’m pleased with it! I finally have a vintage bag for my vintage outfits!

The second purchase and the first of two books was also from Twinwood; “The Big Book of Needlecraft” published in 1935.

big book of needlecraft

It’s a compendium for home sewing, with sections on all types of handcraft (embroidery, appliqué, cross-stitch, crochet, weaving, knitting), making clothes from lingerie to children & adult’s clothing to glove-making, household sewing such as upholstery, curtains and rugs, to toys and decorations. It had some great chapter headings such as “New Collars for Old Dresses”, “Needlework in the Kitchen” and “The Laundering of Artificial Silk”.

It has a section on “How to Use Your Sewing Machine” which might have been just an historical interest but for another recent purchase…more about that in another post (and there’s a clue in the picture above)! It has some great passages in it such as:

It is taken for granted today that every household possesses a Sewing Machine of some sort, and whatever may be urged in criticism of modern woman and her lack of domesticity (which is probably exaggerated), her interest in Needlecraft and love of making and wearing pretty things remains constant.

And when talking of choice of machine, the book devotes a good two pages to hand vs. treadle, electric models and wariness of second-hand or cheap knockoffs, but of brands it mentions only this:

We have said nothing yet as to the make of Sewing Machine to choose, but assuming that our readers have a preference for the “home-grown” article, the choice is so limited that it is difficult to go far wrong.

And of course in defence of the machine:

UNCONSIDERED TRIFLES. The domestic Sewing Machine is a very long-suffering friend and will often continue to give passably good results under most trying circumstances and even abuse at the hands of those who should know better.

This chapter also goes into just as much detail as a modern-day manual over needle weights, machine maintenance, bobbin winding, threading, tension, stitch lengths and problem solving, all accompanied by detailed and annotated diagrams.

Although it’s a reference book I can see myself reading this cover to cover!

The third and final treasure is another book, this time from Bookmark, a long-established second-hand shop in Falmouth. It’s “Modern Homes and Homemaking Illustrated” published in 1958. The illustrations are really what makes this book, it’s a fantastic and in some cases full-colour window of 1950s home decor.

1950s homes and homemaking

Chapters include “Furnishings – Present Day Trends”, “The Family Wash”, “Living Together”, “To be a Hostess” and “Getting to Know your Oven”.

Aside from the illustrations, this also has some fantastic (or horrific, depending on your sense of humour) passages that very much speak to the era. The chapter on washing machines mentions:

It is advisable to see several different models demonstrated. This can be done at large stores, and at times it is possible to arrange for a demonstration of the smaller models at home.

A home washing machine demonstration?? Whatever next. Or there is the question of domestic pets, possibly a little less amusing from a modern viewpoint:

Monkeys are extremely amusing but mischievous, tearing curtains and linen. Marmoset monkeys look like little old men and are very responsive to atmosphere. They are inclined to pine and die unless completely happy.

Or of course, relationship matters and keeping up appearances…

Quite apart from the husband being immersed in business once he is well on his way to the top, or having arrived there, there is the question of whether his wife has “kept up” with his progress. Somehow, especially if a man is wealthy, people accept a “rough diamond”, but they are apt to notice if his wife does not live up to his position in the world.

Or, in the decade when “teenagers” first became a thing, a very philosophical statement:

Teenagers these days sometimes talk of the kind of world their parents have made for them. Actually, all children should be brought up to the realization that they have to take their part in  making the world a better place to live in – it doesn’t just happen. It is a very empty life that has the pursuit – or expectation – of happiness as its only aim, and it is in his childhood that a malleable mind can be turned towards expecting something of himself, rather than of other people.

And on introductions:

Here are a few rules to memorize – Introduce the man to the woman. Introduce a younger person to an older one of the same sex or a woman to a man, if he is someone very distinguished. If you are not sure whether they are important, and both people (of the same sex) are about the same social level, it doesn’t matter who you introduce to whom.

Of course, it doesn’t matter….! Clearly social class mattered a great deal.

I could go on and on but I’m sure I will share a few more of these snippets on here and Instagram as I read through the books!

My Sewing Roots

I like to think I have a scientific mind but I also know I believe there is a little bit of magic in the world. Likewise, I do believe that certain traits, passions or tendencies can run in families even though these have nothing to do with genetics. My nan got me into crafting from an early age; I remember having a piece of french knitting going on forever (although we called it corking), and I quickly got into counted cross stitch patterns and tapestry, not least because nan always had and still has a tapestry project on the go.

But in fact it’s my grandad’s mum; my great grandmother Florence Wilkins (née Norton) who was the great dressmaker of the family. This is her, with my great grandfather William Henry – judging from the clothes they are at a wedding, it may well have been my grandparents’. They married on leap day in February so that would fit with the fur collared coat!

great grandparents

I love this photo, for a few reasons. I like that the couple are not both looking at the camera; Florence’s attention is slightly to the right of the person taking the photo. William’s expression is fascinating, managing to look serious and yet with a quirk of a smile. But mostly I love how smartly dressed Florence is, with the perfectly fitted fur-collar coat, gloves and handbag just-so on her arm.

Sadly I never knew her, but both nan and mum have painted a picture with their anecdotes. She was a prolific seamstress, making every kind of garment for every member of the family, from pyjamas to wedding dresses. If you showed her a picture in a magazine she could make up an almost identical garment in a few days. Often she would just make things for people as well, and had a great eye for their preferred styles and what would suit them. The room she used for sewing was always draped all around the walls with fabric, work-in-progress and finished pieces. And she frequented the rag market and the other fabric institutions of Birmingham. Nan says she never said “fabric” though, she’d always say “I found a lovely bit of stuff for you today at the market” and before you knew it that had become a skirt or a blouse. Mum remembers her making a bright purple velvet party dress when she was a little girl, and knowing that no one else would be wearing a dress quite like hers!

It was also her profession, but I have no idea how she had time for paying customers amongst all the family sewing she seems to have been doing!

I think my grandparents are secretly a bit moved that I have got into dressmaking, pretty much independently of finding out all of the above. I guess a little bit of Florence lives on in me, although I am 100% sure I will never achieve the level of skill that she had. Truth be told, I am a little bit moved by it too, and I regret that I never had chance to know her and learn from her.