Thursday, May 28, 2015

40! Birthday wishes and velvet dresses

I turned 40 today.

It was a good day, mainly spent frantically sewing a velvet dress interspersed with birthday wishes, parcels & flowers. There is an Andy Kehoe resin print on it's way, from my parents, a beautiful ceramic bowl from a friend and a poem and Hazelnut trees from my partner.
Beautiful, lovely and thank you. xxx

Elisalex dress from By Hand London
Fabric: Crushed velvet from the stash c.1996. Blue base and burgundy pile, probably synthetic.
Alterations: Heck yes
Overall Comments: I like the silhouette and I'm glad I stuck with it through the alterations. Once the fit is established it is an easy sew and I will make it again.

THE SEWING DETAILS: lots and lots of them
I love velvet and when I was younger I bought a lot of it, in purples and blues, many shades of red wine and some green but I didn't actually sew much of the woven velvet. I decided that for dinner on my fortieth I would make a dress out of some of that vintage? (18-20 year old fabric). After some deliberation I firmly told myself that drafting a dress from scratch was going to take too long, my skills were too rusty and the lack of a fitting buddy tipped me over to buying a pattern. I chose the Elisalex dress from By Hand London.

Elisalex seems to have been made up almost by every sewing blogger I follow, flattering a wide range of figures in a variety of fabrics... a quick toile and then on to the velvet was how I saw the project. Hah!

In my 20's when I sewed the most I was a very standard Australian size 10 (with a slightly smaller bust and waist). I'm now size 14 with a C+ bra cup. I didn't really think how much a being out side of the standard would affect the pattern fitting (!!!) which is silly really, considering my experience in dress making.

The first Elisalex toile (size UK 16) was an awful fit. Baggy sleeves, shoulder slipping off, big wrinkles under the arms. I almost stopped there. I rang my mother for advice.
Probably the only photo of my first toile i'm willing to share
I made 4-5 toiles in all. After the first one I concentrated on the bodice and sleeves and I did a FBA, sway back adjustment and some fine tuned fitting around the princess seams over the bust.

The sleeves; first off when I saw the sleeve pattern piece I was surprised. In my pattern making training (admittedly some time ago) fitted sleeves had a higher sleeve head. Ah well I thought, I've seen plenty of Elisalex's out there, they look fine.

Elisalex sleeve in comparison to my industry fitted bodice block

I took my mum's advice and fitted the bodice as well as I could, then I inserted the sleeve only in the underarm from notch to notch. When I tried it on, the gap showed me how much the sleeve head was missing. After much discussion with my mum (who had been sent lots of toile photo's) I drafted an entirely new sleeve, which took a few adjustments to get right. I added a dart below the elbow, raised the sleeve head and some width in the bicep area.

Elisalex sleeve
Sewing buddy, about to be evicted
Sewing buddy retreats to a safe place

After all the toile-ing I made up a final toile with the skirt and lining, which due to the double layer of fabric was a bit too firm. By this stage though I was getting close to my deadline, and I decided just to go ahead and make some final adjustments by eye.

I'm pretty happy with the result. I didn't quite finish he garment in time for dinner, but it was wearable by then (the bodice lining wasn't stitched in but all the hems were done). Next time I sew velvet I will take my time (yes dear, you were right) as something must have gone a little skew in the cutting and I ended up having to lower the back neckline by 3cm and the front neckline wasn't as nice as the toile. The crushed-ness of the velvet is very forgiving of any speed sewing stuff ups.

40th Birthday Dress

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Selkie Stories; sketch book & samples

My next focused exhibition is 'Selkie Stories' showing in late August in M16 Artspace's black room. I am developing the themes I was looking at last year with 'Depths & Shallows' by using animation, glass & textiles to portray the transformation and narrative of Selkie folklore. The last few days have been productive, the story board is coming together along with material samples & tests.

I have found some great resource material from on grey seals. They have quite a few filmed sequences which are fantastic for getting the movement of seals in the water. Also David Thomson's 'The People of the sea' arrived in the post today. First published in 1954, the tales he has written down retain a feeling of their oral nature. Also in the post recently was a package from author Kate Forsyth which contained her beautiful book 'Two Selkie Stories from Scotland'.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Autumn musings; fiction, poetry and colour

Autumnal embroidery in silk and cotton floss on calico.

Well it is no surprise that I love Autumn, I take the same kind of photographs every year, I regularly use Autumn leaves for bookmarks and find leaves from past Autumns well pressed in-between pages every year.

I have done my Autumnal re reading of Kim Wilkins' Autumn Castle, such a perfect read for the season and one of my favourite books ever.

The Autumn Castle has a quote from a poem of Kate Forsyth's, another favourite author (Her poems are published under her maiden name, Humphrey).

"So pure and cold the wind breathes. It pares the flesh from the bones of the land - finds at last the essential shape" Autumn, Kate Humphrey.

Kim Wilkins also includes her own translation from a few lines of Hohenburg by Georg Trakl.

"There is nobody at home. Autumn fills the rooms;
Moonbright sonata
And theawakening at the edge of the twilit forest."

This quote reminded me of another, one that when I read it thought... Yes, that's it exactly! Unfortunately all I remember is that feeling and not the quote. Frustrating. Searching my memory I managed to narrow it down to a Charles de Lint novel but despite searching 'on the google' I couldn't find it (turns out I should have remembered the American and Canadian use of the word Fall).

So I started re-reading 'Jack the Giant Killer' and then 'Memory and Dream' and at last I found it.

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape - the loneliness of it - the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it - the whole story doesn't show."
                                                                                                        -Attributed to Andrew Wyeth.

I had read Memory and Dream in a previous Canberra Autumn, where I was feeling incredibly nostalgic. Canberra is planted with many European deciduous trees, reminding me more of German and English Autumns than any Sydney season could give. I was pondering on why I love winter trees (I mean why would a person prefer bare branches to glorious green?) and the Andrew Wyeth quote drew me to an answer. It is that brimming sense of potential, of becoming, of promise. The tension of the moment before the action happens. I love being able to see the 'bone structure' or bare architecture of the tree branches... I guess that is why all my glass pieces have bare branched trees.

OK Autumn gush over!

Well not quite. The trees in my garden, which I take pictures of constantly at this time of year have inspired me to a small embroidery. Yellow and grey are such a great colour combination, that I kept seeing the tree branches and yellow leaves in stitches. So I have started, the background calico is an old piece (20 years) of stitch testing. When I first went to pattern making college, our first lessons where of threading an industrial sewing machine to a timer and practicing sewing a straight and even line. As you can see mine are a little wavy, but I think it works great as a background giving a suggestion of landscape. The calico has a lovely soft texture 20 years later!

Silk and cotton floss on calico sewing machine stitch samples