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Sunday 31 March 2013

My So Called ...Sewing...Life

1993: Secondary School
This wallhanging is the first thing I ever made at school. I was 12. We only had one term of Textiles, the other two were spent in Woodwork or Cooking. We were tasked with testing out different techniques;  it was my first taste of silk painting, printing, tie-dye and patchwork. Rather than keep my pieces as samplers I decided to create a giant wall hanging which required using a sewing machine.
My mum was a home seamstress, she had an old classic singer sewing machine on which she would make clothing for the British high street. But it was her most precious belonging and none of us were allowed to touch it, let alone use it.
So I sewed my hanging at school. I have very clear memories of the first time I used a sewing machine...it wasn't on fabric, but was on paper. We took a 'driving test' punching holes along a hand-drawn road to ensure we could manuovere corners.
 1998: College: A'Level Fashion
I hated school. I was a bit too alternative, so when I was 16 I moved to a sixth form college. I found the only one in London that did A'Level Fashion. Finally I felt like I belonged. I had real friends and I could ditch my school uniform for homemade clothes. 
With my first pay packet from my first weekend job I bought a sewing machine and used it to make my own dresses. 
The first one was inspired by Klimt, it was gold and ethereal looking probably because all 17-year-olds are obessed with his painting The Kiss.
Then I progressed into making my own fabric (tie-dye of course!) before making my own patterns from fabric bought from Roll & Rems - the haberdashery I still swear by.
2001: University Customising
I couldn't take my sewing machine to university so instead I customised things inbetween Geography lectures. This is when I turned 'crafty.' Instead of just sewing, I discovered the joys of beading, embroidery and embellishment. To make some extra money on the side of my student loan I started taking commissions selling bespoke handbags and accessories.
2003: Post-graduate: Fabric fanantic
After university I couldn't get a job and I didn't want to be a Geographer anyway so I did a post-graduate diploma in magazine journalism. The chance to be a student again meant I could continue dressing as creatively as I liked and because I was living at home with my sewing machine I started making my own clothes again. This is when my obsession began for buying gorgeous fabrics (this flamingo print cotton was bought in Ikea).
2006: Working: Clothes for other people!
By now I was fully immersed in the world of being a writer and crafter but didn't have as much time to make clothes. Instead I took up the challenge of making my first garment for someone else and learnt that childrenswear is sooooooo much easier than making adultswear!
I made my niece some ladybird dungarees and later a bear for her sister and blanket for her brother.
    2013: Now: Historical dressmaking project
Fast forward 20 years (scary how the 1st photo in this post was taken in 1993) and I'm still sewing, learning and continuing to make clothes.
This week the BBC launches it's new programme The Great British Sewing Bee which is causing a huge buzz in the craft/sewing community. It's predecessor The Great British Bake Off has turned the nation into homebaking obsessives and I'm pretty sure that the Sewing Bee will inspire more people to sew.
There are already many more sewing courses, classes and workshops going on (in London at least), but while other people are getting to grips with machines, I've gone down a different path - the art of historical dressmaking.

Last year I embarked on a new creative adventure, becoming a Fashion Recreator. Over the last 12 months I've been studying dressmaking from the 17th, 18th & 19th centuries and am currently making an exact replica of a dress that existed in 1818.
In replicating it I have to use the exact techniques.....in other words the entire dress in stitched by hand as there were no sewing machines then.

I'm now in my last month of finishing the piece which will  be exhibited at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in July (for one day!) and the story of how I made it will be recorded in a book.

Until I put this blog post together I actually didn't realise I had been sewing for 20 years. It blows my mind. 

I'm honestly not the best of sewers, in fact I think I'm pretty rubbish because I'm not a perfectionist. My seams don't always match up, my fits aren't aways perfect and some times I skip 'proper' steps; but one thing I can say with pride is that I really, really enjoy sewing and I hope I never have to stop doing it.

Sunday 24 March 2013

Street Style at the High Tea Tweed Wool House Closing Party

'It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on.'
These were the opening words of Guy from Dashing Tweeds who addressed a room full of tweed clad guests at a special High Tea Tweed Party to mark the closing of the Wool House exhibition that's been organised by the Campaign For Wool, held at Somerset House for the last 12 days.
High Tea?
Well....there were yummy sandwiches...I re-discovered my love for cress...
and not just any old macaroon...typically tweed coloured macaroons in brown, beige and green.
So, who was in attendance? A room full of tweed fans!
This colourful couple co-ordinated so well. The gentleman confessed that although he was wearing a great tweed jacket, he has quite a collection at home and had wished he had opted for a different one while the lovely lady with him got her tweed jacket yesterday in a charity shop. It's lucky she did: there was a very strict dress policy....no tweed: no entry.
This is how you do tweed infused country chic in the city. Great cap.
I also had the pleasure of meeting David Evans aka Grey Fox who is on a mission to discover fashion and style for older men. He's fascinated by how they choose to dress and blogs about the subject. He also photographed me and my Harris Tweed bag. In fact you can see more photos on his blog of the party here.
I love the very different style of these jackets..but both are tweed. The lady on the right was wearing amazing tweed shorts too and had a toddler with her who was wearing a really cute tweed baby dress.
Now here's the kind of smart and happy chap I wish I could see more often. Dapper from head to toe.
A classic tweed two piece with a pleated skirt, this is the kind of Sunday best look that more women should strive for.
Here's a man who knows a thing or two about tweed and style. He's one of the proprieters of Earl of Bedlam, a South London based fashion label that create bespoke tailoring and screen prints.
95% of the room (100 people) had the usual brown themed tweeds on..but not this girl on the right! She had a fab, blue tweed jacket with gorgeous tartan lining.
This lady slipped into my photos...I'm not sure what tweed she was wearing but she had fab glasses on.
Showing that tweed is not just about smart suits, this fashionista opted for a tweed mini skirt teamed with a wonderful crocheted cape she found for 50 cents in a charity shop. Bargain alert!
Matt Ponting, grandson of Kenneth Ponting, a famous woollen mill owner and writer is photographed here with  bottle of finest tweed whisky, the tipple of the party. Ken wrote numerous books about textiles including Sheep of The World. And an interesting fact about Matt's very smart tweed jacket, he found it on the pavement. It was laid out in front of him one day as he walked passed (not dropped, someone had arranged it beautffully making it look inviting), he tried it on and it fit perfectly so he gave it a home. As you do.
It was also a real pleasure to meet tweed super fan Nina Head. Nina embraces tweed in her every day life and believes more people should wear it, especially city workers. She customised her tweed jacket with some gorgeous animal brooches made from tweed....one of which (the very happy cat I'm wearing) she gave to me as a gift.
They are handmade by Andrew Duncan Graham who sells them on Thursdays and Fridays in Spitalfields Market London. Look out for them if you are passing that way. It's an easy way to incorporate tweed into your life if you don't think you can wear a whole garment.
I didn't manage to photograph Nadia's yellow tweed trousers so here's another picture of her with her tweed cap and bear.
In Guy's speech he talked about the fun associated with wearing tweed, how he discovered it and how he and designer/weaver Kirsty have launched their own modern tweed label, suitable for the urban city dweller - changing the notion that tweed is a rural tradition. 
Check out some of their modern tweed cloths on their website.
On show at Wool House was one of Guy's ideas - creating cycling wear made from tweed, and even tweed with reflective yarns.
Elsewhere in the house, I particularly liked this reconstruction of a Saville Row tailor's shop, you can see the tweed sample books at the front which gentlemen flicked through to choose the type they want for their suits.
Or if you can't afford an entire bespoke suit you could opt for an accessory like tweed headphones by Conran.
How amazing are these boots by Vivienne Westwood? They were definately made for walking in. Not sure if they are strictly tweed but they are patchwork so may have had a tweed patch on them. Regardless, they deserved a mention.
Now this is my kind of tweed. Sadly it doesn't show up well in my photo but there were three samples of shimmering, sparkling blingtastic tweeds encrusted with Swarovski crystals by Dashing Tweeds. Just what we need for the current arctic climate we're in. The good news is Dashing Tweeds sell remnants and offcuts of their tweed ... maybe I could get a bit and make something super special like a DIY Couture cloak?
After High Tea - which was the perfect way to spend a Sunday; meeting tweed fans whilst taking tea, I had a chance to look around the rest of the incredible exhibition:
The best I've seen in a while. I particularly loved how it was about wool but not knitting. 
This was wool in all it's forms, with infinate uses.
There were some gorgeous interiors installations showing how wool can be used as an interiors fabric.
Well it was a wool house...
My favourite however was this felt wall by Anne Kyyro-Quinn. Felt is one of my favourite craft materials but it's usually seen on the small scale in the craft world - to see it used in such a unique way got me really excited. I want a felt room too!
Oh...and this woolly mammoth sofa by Amy Somerville...made from Mongolian Longhaired Sheep... I tried and failed to find a photo of one. 
Sadly Google led me to long haired bovine instead so I'll have to imagine what they look like.
Such a shame the exhibition was only on for 12 days. 
I'm so pleased I went, I'm going to remember it for a long time.
Wool House by The Campaign For Wool took place at Somerset House 13-24 March 2013. 

If you enjoyed this post - check out more about people who love tweed on Lady Velo's Tweed Run blog post.

Sunday 3 March 2013

Manish Malhotra's London Catwalk Show 2013

Sometimes amazing things happen on the spur of the moment like being given a days notice that I was off to one of the most exciting fashion catwalk shows that has ever taken place in London; the first runway collection on British shores by Indian designer Manish Malhotra. (Pictured with me above, photographed by Swani.com)
For the uninitiated, Manish has been designing costumes for Bollywood movies for over 23 years and has worked on over 1000 including some of the most successful films ever made. He also dresses stars for dos and functions....one of his muses is Kareena Kapoor (above) and last year he designed her bridal outfits for her. He's also had his own label for seven years.
The show was part of a Gala Charity Fundraiser event to raise awareness of and money for The Angeli Foundation who work to empower women in India and 'Save The Girl Child.'
As well as the wealthy society types attending The Do were a host of British Asian celebrities (like Eastenders star Shivani Ghai), most of whom I managed to grab for a quick interview. 
'Red carpet' interviews are so bizarre. Every media person there is trying to muscle in and you only get about 1 minute per celeb, it's not one of my favourite jobs but it keeps you on your toes!
I've appeared on radio host Nihal's BBC Asiannetwork show so many times as a guest but this was the first time I've had my photo with him. I was very impressed with his choice of specs.
Pictured with celebrity baker Dhan from Exclusive Cakes 4 U, presenter Anushka Arora, singer Kiran Dhanoa and hair stylist Aamir Naveed.
Guests (and press!) were treated to a delicious meal - my favourite part wasn't actually the main course but the tandoori paneer served as appetisers. It was delicious and took me back to my childhood when I used to eat tandoori chicken; it was the closest veggie alternative I've ever found.
Pre-catwalk there was a charity auction, live performance by singer Avina Shah and a raffle.
Then it was time for the main event. 
Manish's stunning collection.....the following photos are all shot by Swani.com.
Manish has a reputation for appliqued panels...
He also has an obsession with women's backs...

And makes flamboyant sherwanis for men. 
The show stopper of the catwalk show was Bollywood newcomer Parineeti Chopra. 
I haven't seen her act yet but she was pleasant enough when I interviewed her!
The highlight of the evening was when Manish actually commented on my own style and colour. 
Now that's a compliment I won't forget!