Well, well, I’ve only gone and done it!

Done what? Got a job at a bonafide Savile Row tailoring firm, that’s what! I am now a full time Assistant Cutter, which is brilliant.

The OED defines a Cutter as the “person in a tailoring establishment who takes measurements and cuts the cloth.” There’s a whole lot more to it than that short summary implies (isn’t there always?); I’m starting to learn how to draft patterns for suiting and lay them out correctly on the cloth, which is trickier than it sounds when you’re expected to reach the highest standards! I fully expect it to take a few years of training to get to a point where it becomes second nature.

Chalking the pattern out

Chalking the pattern out

I didn’t take the most obvious route to this career, but here I am. Hooray!

The workshop (could do with a bit of a tidy up!)

The workshop (could do with a bit of a tidy up!)

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A year of becoming a tailor

A year ago I left my sensible full time job to embark on a new venture: training to be a bespoke tailor. Along the way I have enjoyed costume making, embroidery, beading, done work experience at some brilliant places (Savile Row, Royal Opera House), and taken on my first few commissions.

 

Here’s my year in pictures…

 


Created with flickr slideshow.

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Cotswold wool

Once upon a time there was a mill in Chipping Norton called Bliss Mill.

Bliss Mill

The building is now swanky flats, but back in the day they wove lovely tweeds there. The only clue to this now sits in the entrance hall:
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Early this year a lady brought a length of cloth from the mill to me. She’d been given it by her mother-in-law and it had been sitting around providing a tasty snack for the moths for years (it was a little bit of a challenge to cut round the nibbles!). I was pretty excited to get my hands on a little bit of local history.
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Today I handed over an A line skirt, lined with silk from Gloucestershire. She seemed really pleased to finally have a garment in her cloth! I’ve often wondered what the cloth from Bliss Mill was like, so this was a fun project.

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Everybody loves Linton

If you browse my project photos in my galleries, or on facebook, you may notice certain fabrics turning up regularly. There’s silk, and there’s wool in pretty shades, and then there’s Linton. Oh Linton; its just so lovely.

I should explain – Linton make the most sparkley, colourful, fun tweed imagineable. And guess what folks? They’re a British success story! Based in Carlilse, Coco Chanel loved their tweeds, and indeed that iconic Chanel jacket is Linton tweed. Now here we are in the 21st century and they’re still going strong, and just as gorgeous as they ever were.

This is Linton tweed (photo courtesy of Jigsaw), as is the background picture on my website.

Linton tweed

See? Pretty. They get that lovliness by an eclectic approach to weaving: A Linton tweed could include up to 8 different yarns in up to 20 different colours. It might use cashmere, silk, chenille, cotton, Lurex, Cellophane (!), or any combination of these. If you want a couture tweed you can play around with up to 300 yarns to get the effect you want.

Well, it turns out that Coco and I are not the only one with a love of Linton. Jigsaw’s Autumn-Winter collection includes a little Linton suit. Now why would I tell you this? Well, as part of the process of producing the collection the Jigsaw team visited Linton in Carlisle. They’ve blogged about mill and archive, and it makes interesting reading. Check it out here.

One of my favourite bits is watching the looms at work in this video:

Behind The Tweed – Jigsaw Spring Summer 2013 from Jigsaw on Vimeo.

But I’m also very jealous as I’d LOVE to get to look through the archives of fabrics!

Here are a couple of jackets I made with Linton last year (oh, I’m so ahead of the curve!). I hope there will be many more garments in the future. Afterall, I have a piece of Linton in marvellous golds, browns, and purples waiting to be turned into a lovely garment – this has reminded me to get on and sew!

Linton jacket
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Embroidery

Its no great secret that I’ve been fascinated by embroidery for a while now. I was quite keen on it as a little girl, and have the cross-stich samplers to prove it, but in the last few months I’ve started to realise how much exciting and beautiful work is being produced by embroiderers in the UK.

Here are some of my favourite recent finds.

Michele Carragher is a London based artist and embroiderer. She does some amazing embroidery work, using really unusal techniques and creating amzing 3-D pieces. This bug is created from embroidery!

 

 

Michele also embroiders the costumes for the TV series Game of Thrones. Look how beautiful and how detailed the work is:

 

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Check out Michele Carragher’s website here.

Following up a suggestion from a friend’s mother I recently discovered Japanese silk and gold work. There’s a woman called Midori who teaches the techniques and sells kits to get you started. She teaches in London and around the UK. The work is beautiful. Very delicate but colourful. Here are some examples:

Japanese silk work

Japanese silk work

Japanese goldwork

Japanese goldwork

And this is Midori’s website if you fancy having  a try yourself. I’m going to have a try at a beginner kit over the next few weeks.

Lastly, Hand and Lock are a London company specialising in military and insignia embroidery. Want a military unform made on Savile Row and covered in goldwork? Hand and Lock are probably the ones who will do the embroidery.

Every year Hand and Lock award an embroidery prize. In the past its always been a student prize, but in the last year or so its been opened up so there’s now a student category and an open category. This gorgeous work is the creation of the 2011 winner of the open category, an Australian currently in London, Karen Torrisi.

Hand and Lock prize Karen-Torrisi-Read more about Karen’s competition entry and the Hand and Lock prize here.

I feel inspired, and also despairing at the possibility of ever being able to produce such lovely embroideries!

 

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Tailoring

Woooo…2 blogs in 2 days! Here’s my tailoring news since May.

First up: Work experience at Anderson and Sheppard.

Working on the principle of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ I wrote to a couple of the Savile Row tailoring houses to see if they would offer a lowly first year student some work experience. Amazingly I had an immediate offer of a day with Anderson and Sheppard.

Anderson and Sheppard are tailors to the Prince of Wales, and make a softly-tailored style of suit. Don’t mistake soft for drapey – the suits still have plenty of structure, but everything’s relative, and their style doesn’t have quite the strong lines of some of their more military-inspired neighbours.

Having done a rekkie to the Anderson and Sheppard shop on Clifford Street a week or so before, I presented myself to the bespoke premises on Old Burlington Street on the appointed day.

Shop

Anderson & Sheppard shop

 

Anderson & Sheppard Bespoke premises

Anderson & Sheppard Bespoke premises

(Are you keeping up? – to be classed as a Savile Row Bespoke Association tailor you don’t have to be based ON Savile Row, but you do have to be within a specified distance of the street.) I was immediately sent off to workrooms close to Carnaby Street to spend the day alongside 2 of A&S’s most experienced tailors and 2 apprentices.

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They were a kindly bunch, very complimentary about my standard of sewing (although I notice I need to up my work-speed by a considerable amount!), and even willing to share their chocolate and strawberries. I found the day interesting – as much for listening to the news from T’Row as for the sewing.

Next: back to college, and making a start on the waistcoat which was the assignment for the spring/summer. We were given the pattern, so I didn’t have to draft one which saved a bit of time on this occasion. The assignment was a single-breasted waistcoat with no collar or lapel. We were advised to buy a plain cloth to work with as it would be less challenging, but ever the glutton for punishment I decided to use a pinstripe. This meant that I had to cut the left and right front pieces separately to ensure the stripe balanced, and constructing the pockets was a bit more of a challenge as I had to ensure the stripe aligned through the waistcoat and pocket welt.

I chose a purple lining fabric to compliment the purple pinstripe, and a navy blue twill for the waistcoat back.

Here are a few pictures of work in progress:

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And the final waistcoat:

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I like the detail of having the bottom buttonhole in lilac instead of navy, and I’m developing a signature quirk – my tutors inform me I will have to have an embroidered motif on all my garments now, as they all liked the little ladybird by the right pocket.

I finished my waistcoat with a week to go before the end of term. Apparently this has never been done before, and infact most people don’t complete the garment at all. (Smug? Moi?!) I’m now working on drafting my own pattern for a waistcoat and plan on making a couple more over the summer months so that the process sticks in my mind a bit more thoroughly.

As part of my college course we were given a masterclass on waistcoat construction at Henry Poole (Winston Churchill’s tailors). The masterclass was interesting, but the biggest treat was seeing the inside of the building. Just like at Anderson and Sheppard the area for bespoke clients is very old-school: all wood panelling and leather sofas.

Inside Henry Poole, Savile Row

Inside Henry Poole, Savile Row

I loved looking at the uniforms in their display cases. Check out the goldwork on this!

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And finally…

I passed my course, so I now have a Level One Diploma in Bespoke Tailoring and Garment Construction. Earlier in July my college informed me that they are putting me straight through to the Level 3 diploma course in September, skipping the year of studying for Level 2: I’ve been fast-tracked! They’ve never done that with anyone before, so its quite a vote of confidence. I hope I can keep up with the workload, but its pretty exciting. I’ll be getting some regular work placements on Savile Row, as well as moving on to learning the process for making tailored jackets and trousers Bespoke-style.

Any that brings us up-to-date. I have a month to catch my breath, then back to the studying in September (but you know me; I’m likely to fill my month off with lots of projects).

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Oh dear…

…MAY was the last time I blogged. This is not a good state of affairs. So what’s been keeping me off the internet over the last few months? Well, it turns out that hours of bus commuting to college and hours of hand sewing aren’t particularly compatible with maintaining regular blogging.

So what’s my news? Well, I haven’t been idle, so to keep it simple I’ll break it down into a tailoring update and a non-tailoring update. Here’s the non-tailoring news:

I’ve learnt to make pretty silk roses:Rose 1Rose 3

I took a class to learn how to make boned ballet bodices. I decided to make a bodice to go with my plate tutu (the sticky-out one!). Here it is as a work-in-progress.

 Bodice
Apparently some ballerinas are rather naughty and will take their nail scissors to the costumes to cut out bones, thereby destroying the costume. You therefore make ballet bodices wth a few different techniques to a normal eveningwear bodice so that if that happens it doesn’t require a full re-make of the costume, which is both expensive and time consuming. My bodice is not yet finished, but I’m nearly there, so check back for a finished photo later in the summer.

I’ve made two silk dresses in very different styles: the silver one for a 50th birthday party (its a bit baggy on the stand but looked great on the person), and the teal silk as a performance outfit for a talented young soprano.

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I’ve conquered my fear of sewing suede and soft leather and learnt a few tips and tricks. I’ve practiced samples of quilting, seams, pockets, zips etc on scraps and I think I’m now ready to move onto a garment now. Watch this space for a blue suede mini skirt!

RecentlyI decided it was high time I turned my hand to some bridal alterations. Have you ever seen the inside of a wedding dress? Its a strange creature!

Wedding dress inside

I’d always been a bit scared to try my hand at bridal alterations – afterall its someone’s dream dress! – so I took the cautious approach. I spent several days with an absolute expert, who showed me how the dresses are made (which helps know how to take them apart and put them back together), how its best to do some of the most popular alterations (letting the side seams in and out, adjusting the length for various types of hem, adding darts, adding extra loops in the back etc).

Wedding dress
It turns out that wedding dresses are not anywhere near as scarey as I’d thought, and my lovely mentor told me to go forth and alter, as my sewing skills were definitely up to it. I’m hoping to get back to spend a few days with her later in the year.

Wedding dresses sewing

Its great to have someone willing to share top tips, industry knowledge, and all the expertise gained from decades in the business. I’m hoping to tackle construction of gowns and bridal bodices next time: so yet again, ‘watch this space’!

And finally…you know how I said I’d been spending hours commuting? Well, that has given me loads of time to do bit of tailoring handsewing on the bus, and also to practice hand stitched buttonholes.  But also, in the last week of my commuting for this academic year I finally finished the embroidery design I’d bought in the first week of the course back in February. Hoorah! (I’m definitely the bus wierdo.)

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So, other than a growing amount of alterations, that’s my non-tailoring sewing news. I’ll let you know how the tailoring’s been going very soon!

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Royal Opera House

Months ago I decided to be a bit cheeky and apply for some work experience at the Royal Opera House. I wasn’t sure what the chances of being allocated a placement were, afterall I’m not studying costume, but I figured nothing ventured, nothing gained and applied to them anyway. Amazingly, I was offered 2 weeks work experience in the Men’s Workrooms. I was excited, but as the date approached I got increasingly nervous. One doesn’t want to mess up at the ROH!

I felt like it was like my first day at school again as I packed my sewing kit, thimble, and travelcard and headed for the big smoke.

Well, I managed to get through the two weeks without messing up anything, even if I was WAY slower than the tailors who’ve been working there for years. I basted shorts for ballet boys, sewed linen shirts for the opera, helped out a little on a rush-job on two suits for an opera star, got to tour backstage, watch a Magic Flute opera rehearsal, and watch a Royal Ballet morning class (which made me the envy of my friends because Carlos Acosta was taking part).

Here are a few pictures….

Shorts for the ballet

Shorts for the ballet

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Trouser waistband – suit for the opera

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Linen shirt for the Opera

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Alice in Wonderland tutus stacked up to ship to Tokyo

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Sewing in the label on a linen shirt for the Opera

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Workshop

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Tutus on display in the Women’s Work room

 

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Hand sewing, hand stitching, hand sewing

Oh dear, oh dear….I’ve been reprimanded by my younger sister for not posting on my blog regularly enough!  So here, my dears, is what I’ve been up to:

Hand stitching, hand stitching, and then hand stitching some more. Oh, and now we’ve got to the Easter holidays and I have a couple of weeks off from college, guess what I’ve spent my time doing? Yes: hand stitching!

With 6 weeks of my tailoring training gone already, I decided to spend my Easter break acquiring some skills which I could use to embellish my tailored garments, add to my portfolio, and hopefully make me more employable. So I headed back to school to learn embroidery.

Embroidery?!  Oh yes, I know it doesn’t sound like all that much of a useful life skill. But, you see, I quite fancy the idea of tailoring for the military, or at least working for a firm where that’s part of their business, and there’s a lot of braiding and gold embroidery on military uniforms so I figured it was useful to know how it’s done.  On the other side of things, evening gowns and other pretty garments often have an element of beading or embroidery (in fashion beading falls under the general term ‘embroidery’) to add a bit of glamour and sparkle. Plus, my final justification for indulging my love of embroidery was that at the very least it would keep my fingers accustomed to working with a needle over the college break!

So, now I’ve given you all my reasoning, shall we proceed?!

First up, given my military tailoring ambitions, I enrolled on an introductory class in Goldwork embroidery. Goldwork is the technique used on the majority of military badges and uniform embellishments. It involves using various types and thicknesses of gold coils and threads to create the design. The gold is never actually passed through the fabric, but is stitched onto the surface (couched down) with waxed sewing thread. The design possibilities are endless, but we started with a leaf shape which wouldn’t be too ambitious for us beginners, but would still give us the chance to learn a few different ways of working the gold.

Here’s my class, working away hard:

Goldwork class, my work in the foreground

 

Goldwork class (I’m in the middle looking inquisitive)!

Goldwork needs to be applied to a prepared surface, and there are a few different ways to do that. The two we tried were using felt to create a flat padded surface and using couched down embroidery threads to create a raised shape. You can see both in this snap – felt on the right, threads on the left.

Once the design area has been prepared you can choose how to apply the goldwork. We used rough purl over the raised shape, stitching through the coil of gold with doubled waxed sewing thread, covering half of the leaf in little diagonal stripes of dull gold. On top of the felt pad we went for a much more glitzy look, using a rose gold bright check to create a sparkling mosaic of little pink-gold chips. To edge the design we used a third type of gold: pearl purl. Pearl purl is a stiffer and thicker coil of gold. The coils can be slightly stretched out, which we did just enough for a thread to slip between them, and then we couched it down using a single waxed thread along the edge of the leaf. Et voila; three different types of goldwork tried!

Here’s my leaf, part way through, but you can see examples of each technique already.

A bit more bright check on this one!

I’ve got a load of practice and experimentation to do before I get good enough to do professional-standard goldwork like the bits on my Dad’s Royal Navy cap badge here:

But, I have extra gold to play with and a certain determination (or stubbornness) to improve, so watch this space.

The Great Embroidery Experiment doesn’t end there though. This week I have spent 2 days at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace learning a variety of other techniques which I could use on garments.  It was a great class, and in glorious surroundings. I was lucky enough to be there on a warm(ish) sunny day – rare at the moment! – and so had a wonderful lunch break strolling around the Palace and Gardens.

Hampton Court gardens

 

The course I did was called ‘Embroidery for Fashion’, which basically meant you could learn anything you liked! It was very free, with people choosing all kinds of different techniques to try, so even if you didn’t cover all the techniques on offer you could watch the demonstrations and take notes for future attempts.

I had a try at silk shading (according to the tutor I’m ‘a natural’ at it, which is lovely, but she was probably just been being kind!), then moved on to a bit of monogram-style lettering, before having a try at trailing with wire and some raised/textured stitches. I didn’t finish anything, but did enough of each technique to get the hang of it so I could finish in my own time.

Here’s my silk shading underway:

Lettering: 

I’m going to have a go at two other ways of embroidering lettering in the coming days: a satin stitch on larger letters, and a different stitch creating a similar effect to the monogram above.

My last item was a little bumble bee.

The tutor suggested quite a few different techniques to create this little chap. He will have a fuzzy striped body for which I am using Turkey Rug Stitch. It looks like a mess as you stitch it, as you can see, because of all the loops that have to be made, but once its complete and trimmed to shape he’ll have a cute velvety body.

For his head I will use padded satin stitch, so it will be slightly raised but lovely and glossy, and his legs are also using the technique called trailing. Trailing is when a wire or thread is stitched down on the surface of the fabric by stitching over and over it in another thread so that it is completely covered. I’m making the wings separately and will attach them last.

To make them I have taken paper-covered cake wire (yes, really) and stitched it down onto a fine silk using the trailing technique so that the wire is completely covered. I then added a few beads to give a little bit of sparkle, and next I’ll cut them out CAREFULLY.

Once my bee’s complete I will attach his wings so that they stand proud of the fabric and can flutter a little. He’ll be a handsome little gent once he’s done! I’ll post pictures once I’ve finished him.

So that’s the skinny on my embroidery crash-course. Now I have further practice to do to improve on what I’ve managed so far, and no doubt there will be more classes to take and techniques to learn in the coming months.

 

UPDATE: Mr Bee is finished! And he’s cute and dapper!

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UPDATE 2: I’ve also finished the silk shading and goldwork now. Hurrah!

Silk shading

Silk shading

Goldwork

Goldwork

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Hartnell and Amies exhibition

When one thinks of Couture its generally Paris that springs to mind, not London, but for a few dacades in the first half of the Twentieth Century London came close to holding its own against those pesky Parisian fashion houses. Spearheaded by Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell some fabulous fashion was created, with fine tailoring, intricate embroidery, and some of the most elegant ballgowns you ever did see. Patronised by the Great and the (probably not so) Good, including Royalty, Hartnell and Amies were important players in stylish circles.

From late 2012 until last month the Fashion and Textile Museum in London celebrated the fashions of Hartnell and Amies in their exhibition ’Hartnell to Amies: Couture by Royal Appointment’. I’d been itching to see the exhibition since I heard it was going to be on, but I only managed to make it there in the final week of the exhibition.

The exhibition included designs by Hartnell and Amies from the 1920s through to 1961.  A case of embroidery samples made by Hartnell’s studio for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 set the tone for the exhibition

Embroidery Samples for the Coronation, Hartnell 1953

There were numerous embroidery samples created for State occasions and official visits, always by Hartnell (clearly the Queen’s go-to guy for this!) 

Embroidered panel for an official visit to Italy, Hartnell 1961

Hartnell, 1957, detail from an embroidered panel for the Queen’s visit to Canada

Perhaps is worth explaining at this point that in Fashion beading counts as embroidery!

So moving on from my embroidery envy, I wandered into a room FULL of exquisite tailoring and elegant evening wear: It was like heaven!

Rather than writing lots of unnecessary prose it seems best to just show you what I mean, so picture alert!

Amies Highwayman’s style coat. Wool barathea with velvet collar and beaded decoration, 1948

Detail of Hardy Amies wool barathea coat, 1948

 

Taupe fine wool with embroidered details, Hartnell, 1946

 

Hartnell satin organza and silver corded lace wedding gown, 1956

Hartnell designs
L to R: 1959 gown, White gown with vermicelli pattern crystal beading (Hartnell’s favourite design of 1959), Sky blue and white silk faille gown with matching coat 1953, Satin organza wedding gown 1956

John Cavanagh design 1962

Hartnell and his models, Parkinson for Vogue 1953

Black wool suit with embroidered pockets, Hartnell 1948

I hope that gave you a sense of some of the ‘Best of British’! The embroidery and embellishment was particularly stunning: Some absolutely exquisite work. If you want to see more I believe the Victoria and Albert Museum has some examples of clothing by both Hartnell and Amies, or we’ll have to campaign for the return of this show!

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