As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in a slightly ranty post about minimalism, I’ve been going through my stuff in preparation for an impending house move. I’ve donated/sold a small stack of books, Freecycled a copy of the boardgame Twister, and condemned a few of my clothes to the cut-up-and-reuse fabric stash.
Going through all my stuff has reacquainted me with some of my favourite creations. The fact that autumn has arrived also means I have more opportunities to wear these items of clothing. My preference for black fabric, snuggly jumpers, and always wearing tights with skirts generally means that none of my favourite clothes are made for summer.
So, in this week’s post, I thought I’d share the origin stories of these garments and explain why I like them so much. Hopefully this will inspire you to have a look through your own wardrobe with new eyes or get your creative juices flowing enough to make/customise some clothes for yourself.
1940s Shirt Dress
My first proper job in touring theatre was as wardrobe assistant on The King’s Speech in 2015. I loved the costumes used in that production. The suits were my favourites (I’m a sucker for a good suit) but I also appreciated the relatively sleek and simple cut and style of the dresses. If I’d had the tailouring skills l would dearly have liked to add a few sexy suits to my wardrobe, but at the time my abilities were more suited to making dresses.
The pattern I used was a 1940s pattern bought on eBay. It’s a little later than the period The King’s Speech was set but it had the same look I was aiming for. Unfortunately, I cannot include a photo of the actual pattern because it’s in a box ready to move but this one is a reasonably close approximation.
The finished dress combines four of my favourite things; black fabric, checked fabric, a revere collar, and properly sized pockets.
Despite absolutely loving this fabric I cannot remember where I bought it. I used to have a terrible habit of buying fabric with no particular plan in mind. It could have been bought when I lived in Edinburgh and lingered lonely in a drawer until inspiration hit several years later when I lived in Cambridge/on the road.
Irrespective of where it came from, I like it so much because it’s a simple black and white check. Although I adore tartans of almost every colour, I rarely find one that is just black and white, without any sneaky little lines of brighter colours running through them.
The most difficult part of putting this dress together was lining up the grid pattern where the buttons fasten down the front. My own laziness usually leads me to choose plain fabric and avoid this problem, but I thought it was worth it for this dress.
The neckline is another excellent feature of this dress. At some point, I expect I will do a whole blog post about my love of shirts but for now I’ll just say that the neckline of a shirt worn open is my favourite kind of neckline. I believe this particular style is called a revere collar. It’s more interesting than a standard V-neck without being fussy and gives you the chance to flash some fancy lining if the mood takes you (see my next garment for a perfect example of this).
However, the pockets are my favourite feature of this dress. For a start, it actually has pockets. And you can get a reasonable amount of stuff in them, unlike the token pockets I ranted at length about in a previous post about the injustice of shitty pockets. They were also extremely easy to make.
I’m often too lazy (noticing a theme yet?) and frightened to put as many pockets as I’d like in the clothes I make. These took very little effort and didn’t involve cutting any scary holes in the fabric, like welt pockets in a waistcoat, for example. I was confused by the rectangle with a curved corner missing that the pattern claimed to be the pocket piece. But it suddenly all made sense when I sewed it to the front piece of the skirt and folded it in half to line the edges up with the waistline and the side seam. It was certainly easy to make than describe!
Making more dresses with this pattern has been on my to-sew list for a long time. I just need the appropriate fabric, plain or checked, to fall into my lap.
Power Rangers Jacket
The grey fabric I used to make this jacket scared me. It’s a beautiful weight and hangs delightfully. It was quite expensive and I was too nervous to cut it for a long time. This is another downside of not having a plan when you buy fabric. If you don’t buy it with an intention, you always wonder if the current idea is actually the right thing to make or if you’ll come up with a better idea in the future. It’s easy to put it off and not commit to the decision.
Teaming the serious suit fabric with the fabric from a Power Rangers bedding set took the edge off my nerves. With hindsight, the Power Rangers fabric makes this jacket pretty warm and the cotton is quite grippy so it doesn’t slide over the garments underneath it like the usual slightly silky lining fabrics do.
But I wouldn’t change a thing about this jacket.
My only other attempt at making a jacket before this one was an absolute disaster. I was too ambitious with my fabric choice (oh velvet, thou art a heartless bitch) and I really didn’t have the skills to complete the project. I ended up totally losing my temper with the wretched thing, punching the half-formed crumpled mess of a garment as it lay on my sewing table, and finally throwing the whole thing in the bin in rage.
Making this jacket was a refreshing palette cleanser.
I picked more forgiving fabrics and a less fitted pattern. I also knew it would take time and patience and went into the project with a more realistic idea of the process. With a garment like this you set yourself up to fail if you rush it or fudge any of the early steps. I’m glad I worked my way through the instructions carefully and ended up with a garment I was genuinely happy with.
For me, this jacket has just the right amount of seriousness and silliness. The fact that it’s a blazer made of classy grey fabric shows that I can be sensible and professional but the Power Rangers fabric says I don’t take myself too seriously. I wouldn’t wear it to court, but it would certainly brighten up a boring day in an office, if I ever end up working in one!
This has got all the classic hallmarks of JoJo Lewis customisation project.
Inspired by corsets
I like to think I’m reliable rather than boring and predictable but you could easily argue that I’m kidding myself!
I like zips. Especially if they are black and silver, chunky, and purely decorative. When I decide to customise a plain black garment my first instinct is to cover it in zips. I went to town with the zips on this waistcoat.
I don’t just throw them on willy-nilly. That would be madness. I try to use them to highlight features of the garment. In this case, the zips emphasize the shape of the neckline, the edges of the pocket flaps (that flap over no actual pockets, gosh darn it!), the side-front seam, and the waistline at the back. The zip at the back is also meant to resemble the buckle and strap you often get on waistcoats. There is logic in my zip-based obsession.
I’ve written before about my love/hate relationship with corsets. Although I struggle to wear them comfortably, I try to sneak aspects of the corset style into other garments. The criss-cross ribbon is meant to resemble the lacing down the back of a corset. There’s a lot going on with this waistcoat so I went for black shiny ribbon on matte black fabric to keep it subtle.
Next, I swapped the plain black buttons for a selection of silver buttons. I like using buttons that aren’t all the same on a garment but in some kind of pattern, such as alternating between two styles. It looks more interesting and is a handy way to use up odd numbers of random buttons.
For the finishing touch, I had a go at some art. This wasn’t purely down to a sudden bout of creativity. Any crafty person will tell you that stuff associated with your hobby has a habit of accumulating when you’ve been sewing/painting/knitting for a long time. I bought some silver glittery fabric paint for a project in college about ten years ago and have been trying to use it up ever since. It’s held up remarkably well and I couldn’t justify throwing it away. So, I moved it from Edinburgh to Cambridge and then to Spain before finally managing to kill it off with this bit of space inspired decoration.
All these things combined to create something I’m basically guaranteed to love and this is indeed one of my favourite customised creations.
The Shirt That Went Wrong
I did a terrible job of fitting this shirt.
The fabric I used for the mockup had a looser weave and, therefore, a bit more give than the fabric I used for the final garment. I also got a bit more enthusiastic with the alterations than I should have done after making the mockup. After all that, when I tried on the final shirt after I’d sewn the sleeves in, it was extremely tight across the shoulders. Reaching forward or up was out of the question.
This cockup led me to change the design of the shirt and, ultimately, I think, made it much more interesting.
I didn’t have enough of the black and white fabric to re-cut the yoke and the back piece to make the shoulders wider. So, I had to replace the yoke with a plain black fabric and add a strip of black down the centre back. Then, in order to make it look more intentional and less like I was covering up shoddy workmanship, I added more bits of plain black across the rest of the shirt.
I made the underside of the collar and the outside of collar stand plain black, as well as adding a plain black pocket and some chunky little turn-ups on the sleeves. These details, in addition to the alternating back and white buttons, turned this into my favourite shirt that I’ve made from scratch.
If I’m being totally honest, it’s still a little tight across the shoulders so I need to put some more work into creating the perfect shirt pattern for my rock climbing shoulders. However, this shirt serves as excellent proof that you shouldn’t necessarily give up on a project after a few cockups.
Unless it’s a velvet jacket, which you’re currently punching. Throw that thing away.
What a Pair of Trousers
Apologies for repeating myself but the fabric for these trousers sat in a drawer for a long time after I bought it. Aside from the environmental reasons, I think the fear of wasting or disrespecting beautiful new fabric is a big part of why I currently use as much second hand material as possible. It’s far less stressful.
Anyway, I eventually settled on a big baggy pair of trousers. Again, the actual pattern is packed away but this one looks about the same.
I’ve long been a fan of baggy trousers. When I was a teenager ridiculously baggy jeans were all the rage. Although I wasn’t a huge follower of fashion trends, I enthusiastically hopped, skipped, and jumped onto the baggy jeans bandwagon. My favourite pair of baggy Levis still lives on to this day as a pair of very distressed shorts.
Although I enjoy the baggy style of this vintage pattern, I’ve never been a fan of high-waisted trousers. I have long limbs and a short torso. This is very useful for climbing but I feel like high-waisted trousers make my teeny tiny torso look dumpy and oddly out of proportion to the rest of my body.
When I put these trousers together, I had this exact problem. Teeny tiny torso perched on top of a ludicrously lanky pair of legs. To solve this problem, I chopped off the top few inches from the waistline so they sat a little lower. If I were to make them again I’d probably chop a little less off the top but I’m still delighted with how they turned out.
Considering how much I like them, I really don’t wear these trousers often enough. I think because they are so different from my other trousers, which are mostly jeans, I’m not entirely sure what to wear with them. I usually pair them with this plain black t-shirt but I could certainly afford to be more adventurous with them.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour through some of the items in my wardrobe and that I will soon have some more homemade garments to love and share with you in future posts.