My Recycled Plastic Skirt (yes, really!)

THIS SKIRT IS MADE FROM RECYCLED PLASTIC.

My understanding is that the manufacturers melt down loads of old plastic before stretching it out into super-fine threads, before weaving them together to make fabric. I mean, I am completely FLABBERGHASTED by this, and yet really, I wish I wasn’t. Because that’s the way it should be, right? Plastics which aren’t bio-degradable should be reincarnated as beautiful, durable items that we’ll wear time again, instead of filling up landfill and the oceans. How great would it be if recycled fabrics weren’t surprising, but the norm?

Those of you who follow me on Insta might remember that I first posted about this fabric when I bought it back in June. It came from Fabrications in Hackney, which is a great little place offering classes in sewing and knitting, repurposed fashion and home accessories (who knew there were so many things you could make from old shirt sleeves?!), craft supplies and ethical fabrics supplied by Offset Warehouse. It was also a total bargain as it only cost £5 a meter, meaning I could also treat myself to some red organic cotton denim which is still in my stash. I was even given a free cotton tote instead of a carrier bag for my purchases, so they scored bonus points for their green credentials there too.

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It’s a recycled polyester which gives it the most beautiful shine and really makes the colours pop. I’m not normally into pink, but combined with orange, red and black in this design I think it’s completely irresistible. I love the print too – it’s irregular and requires no pattern matching (win!) but doesn’t have the saccharine sweetness of pink florals. Moreover, it hangs beautifully. It’s got a really lovely drape that looks like silk, and it’s got a nice lot of movement.

I spent quite a while deciding what to use it for. I toyed with shift dresses, vintage-style pussy-bow blouses and culottes, but couldn’t get the idea of a gathered skirt out of my mind, so eventually decided just to embrace it. A gathered skirt really is one of the simplest garments you can make, but I’ve been trying to challenge myself with more difficult makes lately and didn’t want to succumb to the quick-fix instant gratification of a skirt you can whip up in an afternoon. But in this case, the temptation was too much.

As with other gathered skirts I’ve made previously, I used this tutorial from By Hand London as a starting point, except that instead of an invisible zipper I made a lapped zip and two button fastening to make use of what was already in my stash. Construction went very smoothly, and the only difficulty I encountered was that the fabric moved an awful lot (which is great for wearing it, but a nightmare when you’re making it!), so I had to use plenty of pins and add more basting than I normally would. I also used bias binding to create a faced hem, firstly because I love the high-quality finish it gives but also to help weigh the skirt down a bit. It’s very lightweight and catches easily on the wind, resulting in a few Marilyn moments (and the potential that some of the people of Walthamstow have now seen my knickers…!).

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I’m really pleased with this one! It’s really flattering, drawing attention to my small waist and away from my ginormous hips, and even creates the illusion of me being quite leggy (I stress that this is very much an illusion – despite being tall, I actually have an unusually long torso and relatively short legs. Weird, I know). And I really love telling people that it’s basically made from old plastic bottles! It’s a great talking point, and makes me feel much better about having to wash up old plastic packaging before it goes in the recycling bin!

Has anyone else worked with different kind of recycled textiles? If so, please do get in touch, because I think it’s a great idea and would like to incorporate them into my wardrobe a lot more. And if you’ve had successes (or disasters…hopefully no disasters…) with gathered skirts, I’d love to hear about that too!

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Rachel’s Bangin’ 1950’s Dress

This is my good friend Rachel. No, she’s not a time traveller. You might recognise her from Instagram, diligently commenting on all my sewing posts, because in addition to being extremely beautiful, she’s also an absolute babe. Ain’t she gorgeous?! And isn’t that dress completely sublime?!

And here’s the fun thing about this dress: she made it. Yes, she had a bit of supervision from yours truly, but without having sewn in over a decade she made this with her own fair hands and I think it looks banging.

At this point I think it’s fair for me to take a little bit of credit because, back in May, Rachel became a bit obsessed with seeing my me-mades every day. She’d studied Textiles at school (receiving an A* at GCSE for a Lord-of-the-Rings-inspired gown, no less… she might have mentioned it once or twice…) but hadn’t sewn since, but MeMadeMay gave her a push to rekindle her love of craft. At around the same time she was invited to a 1950’s themed wedding. “Perfect opportunity to make something“, she thought, and dived straight in by ordering this gorgeous Vogue V8789 Pattern.

Now, the thing about this pattern is that it’s a reproduction of a 1957 original. On the one hand that’s great as it’s true to the era (very much Dior’s New Look!), but on the other hand the instructions were near-on indecipherable and the sizes differed wildly to what we’re used to in the 21st Century. It was certainly a far cry from the modern patterns I’m used to, with their colour photographs and online sew-alongs. Suddenly we realised just how much more adept women in the Fifties must have been at making their own clothes (it was considered an essential skill then, and passed down through generations. I read a great article that touched on this in the Guardian a while back). Not to mention how years of post-war rationing had made them so much slimmer than we are now. It’s therefore super-important when working with vintage patterns to carefully take your measurements in advance, rather than just plumping for your “normal” ready-to-wear size. Rachel (who is very slim anyway) made the dress a full two sizes bigger than she normally would, so it’s definitely worth the bit of extra effort to avoid potential disappointment.

So anyway, the pattern arrives and panic quickly ensues as Rachel realises this might be a bit ambitious for a starter project. No bother, though – we turned what was originally just meant to be a fabric shopping date (that’s a thing, right?) into a full-blown-oreo-biscuit-fuelled sewing bonanza!

We started by buying fabric from Saeed’s in Walthamstow, where we were totally spoilt for choice. We were actually looking for fabric with a border print but abandoned that idea after realising that meant Rachel’s choice would basically be limited to scubas, which aren’t at all true to the era. After a lot of careful deliberation she opted for this romantic light-weight cotton lawn for £8 a meter, and some mustard-yellow chiffon for the cumberbund (which is basically a fancy belt for anyone who, like us, had never heard of it!). Blue and yellow are Rachel’s favourite colours, and the small floral print had the added benefit of no pattern-matching required. Happy days!

fabric and pattern

Next problem: the pattern told us we needed five meters of fabric. “FIVE METERS?! Are you having a laugh?!” (Rachel’s actual words). Even the lady helping us in the shop thought that sounded excessive. So there we were, in Saeeds, pulling out the pattern and agonising again over the instructions all over again, until we concluded that it could only need that much if you were using a border print, and needed to pattern match. Sure, that’ll be it. So optimistically, we purchased the 1.87 meters that Saeed had left in Rachel’s fabric of choice and decided it would be fine. Of course it would.

At this point, anyone who’s read about my Secret Patchwork Coco will notice a theme emerging: I never seem to have enough fabric.

We knew we’d need to use it economically, so we tried lots of different pattern layouts before cutting it out. We made the bodice first, so that we could use whatever we had left for the skirt. We also omitted the inner belt because it seemed like an unnecessary waste of material and we couldn’t work out what it was for anyway. I started Rachel off by showing her how to resize the pattern and make tailors tacks, but other than that she did all the prep herself. Then I showed her how to use my sewing machine and make darts, and off she went! Like a duck to water. The fit was all important for this style of dress so we made a few tweaks to the fit by taking it in a little at the sides and making the darts longer, so it fit her like a glove. We even exceeded our own expectations by making rouleau loops for the button holes (neither of us had done this before, but it turned out to be quite easy!).

Only at this point as we embarked on the skirt did we realise that we probably should have bought closer to five meters of fabric after all. It transpired that we were supposed to cut through four thicknesses of fabric rather than two, although we only worked this out from the tiny diagrams – it wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the instructions! So we only had half the fabric required to make the iconic full Fifties skirt we were aiming for.

We both acted pretty cool about it, but secretly we were gutted. We toyed with the idea of having a contrast skirt, or combining the fabric we had with something else to create vertical stripes, but neither of those would create the look Rachel was after. So instead we decided just to use the fabric we had and accept that it wouldn’t look quiet like the picture. I showed her how to make gathers (I was actually GOBSMACKED at how she got them so nice and even first time) and attach the skirt to the bodice, and after that she finished it off at home, on her housemate’s sewing machine. It took a total of two days for the pair of us working together, and a day and a half of Rachel sewing on her own at home.

I know I’m an eternal optimist, but I genuinely think that the smaller skirt was something of a happy accident. Here are the reasons:

  • If there’d been loads more fabric it would have been much more difficult to gather neatly. As it is, it sits perfectly – look how tiny her waist is!
  • Hemming would have taken FOREVER.
  • We probably would have had to make the inner belt, to support the weight.
  • The smaller skirt makes it infinitely more wearable day-to-day. It’s a very classic shape that looks vintage-inspired without being too fancy dress.
  • Times were hard in the Fifties, right?! I mean, could anyone really afford to buy five meters of fabric for one dress then?!

Sure, a fuller skirt would have looked great, but there’s no doubting that the finished garment is absolutely stunning. The straight neckline and wasp-waist make it very true to the era, and she accessorised it beautifully with white gloves, a string of pearls and a pill-box hat from eBay. It took a total of two days spent working together, and a day and a half of Rachel sewing on her own at home.

She went to the wedding this weekend (which also happened to be her birthday!) and everyone was suitably amazed that she’d made it herself. Now she’s officially got the sewing bug, and there’s talk of her buying her own sewing machine and making a Tilly and the Buttons Cleo (which is much easier, thank goodness) as well as a secret project I can’t mention here. I’m so pleased that it turned out well in the end, and can’t wait to see what she makes next!

NB: July, of course, is the month of vintage patterns on Instagram (for non-intragrammers, #vpjuly is actually a thing!). I’d love to hear what you’ve been making, and what you’ve learned. Please let us know! Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with more pics of this bombshell:

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PS: HAPPY BIRTHDAY RACH! X

“Secret Patchwork” Coco

I realise I am MASSIVELY late to the party here, but I finally made my first Tilly and the Buttons Coco!

I’d been a bit hesitant to get started as stretch fabrics scared me a bit, but I realised during Me-Made-May that I needed to make some casual tops, and Coco seemed like the perfect fit.

Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t start well. When visiting my parents last week, my mum and I called in to The Fabric Place in Beeston, near Nottingham, and I found this big piece of medium-weight polyester jersey in the remnant bin for £2. “Great”, I said, “I’ll easily be able to get a Coco out of this!”. Famous last words.

As it happens, it wasn’t easy to get a Coco out of this at all. Sure, the remnant was 2 meters long but it was a funny shape with big lumps cut out of it, and after laying out all my pattern pieces it soon became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to cut it all out in the normal way.

At this point, anyone with more patience/common sense that me would have put it all away and saved it for a smaller project, but – oh no- not me! I had my heart set on a stripy Coco and I was damn well going to make one. Instead I cut out the bodice front and back, then patched together three offcuts (being super careful to match the stripes, of course!) then cut the sleeves out of the resulting larger piece of fabric. Obviously there was no fabric left for such luxuries as pockets or cuffs (which are optional on this pattern) so I had to make the very simplest top version, with 3/4 length sleeves. I was careful to make sure that the seams were on the back of the sleeves when cutting out, so they were less obvious. I think I just about got away with it, right?!

Can you see the joins here?

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From the back

They’re easier to spot from the inside (modelled here but my glamorous mannequin assistant, Patsy).

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From the inside

Still struggling top spot them? Does this help?

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Joins run parallel to the orange lines – from the back
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Joins run parallel to the orange lines – from the inside

The black and white stripes definitely help – on a plain fabric it would have been way more obvious.

Aside from that though, I think this is a pretty successful make! I spent a long time tracing and resizing the pattern; I’m very precious about my patterns, and couldn’t even contemplate cutting into the original, and I’m really curvy and often have to make a lot of adjustments, and leaving the original intact provides a bit of a safety net. In this instance there was a full three sizes between my waist and hips, creating the kind of shape that looks like it should never work, but it did. I fact, it’s genuinely the best-fitting top I’ve ever owned.

Just like the Cleo I made a couple of months ago, the pattern was perfectly clear and easy to sew up. The instruction booklet included with the pattern is free from jargon and packed with helpful tips, and the colour photos make a helpful visual reference. Once I sat down at my sewing machine I’d made it in just a few hours – there were only three pattern pieces, no fiddly darts, facings or fastenings, and no need to finish the raw edges as (joy of joys!) knit fabric doesn’t fray. It’s a great introduction to sewing with stretch fabrics, and it’s definitely given me a boost of confidence.

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It’s easy to see how Coco can quickly become a wardrobe staple. I’m absolutely delighted with the result – the boat neck is flattering on my broad shoulders and big boobs, the fit is nice and relaxed and I even managed to (mostly) pattern match all the stripes! I know it’ll help make up loads of outfits, and I’m already planning more variations. Plus, now I’ve done the hard work, I’d be able to whip up more in no time.

Let me know if you’ve made Coco, and how you got on. Plus, has anyone else been so – ahem – resourceful with fabric as I have here?! If so I’d love to see/hear about it!

I’ll leave you with this perfectly captured, if not altogether flattering shot by Dave, with added speech bubble:

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Daddy Cool

Happy Fathers Day!

(Okay, so I realise that number of people reading this who also happen to be fathers will be small – and of those one of those will probably be my own father – but it seems polite to say!)

My dad’s pretty fab, and to celebrate I decided to make him the Men’s Cargo Shorts from the book The Great British Sewing Bee; Fashion with Fabric. This is partly because I knew they were his style and would suit him, but also because after participating in Me-Made-May I realised I should try some more challenging makes.

 

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Here’s the picture in the book

This was categorised in the book as “Advanced” and it’s easy to see why. There’s a zip-fly, five button-holes, darts, three types of pocket and what feels like miles and miles of topstitching. But in spite of that, they were surprisingly easy to make!

Admittedly I had a minor mishap with the zip-fly. I’d never sewed one before and the thought of it was giving me the heebey-jeebies, but the instructions in the book were super clear and I basically nailed it first-time. At least, I thought I’d nailed it, before realising that I’d sewed it in the wrong way round, so the zip was back-to-front. A lot of swearing happened at that point, and I had to unpick it all and start again. But it went well then too, thank goodness! My only grumble was that the zip sticks out from under the fly shield at the bottom, presumably because it was too long, but I promised I followed the instructions to the letter…

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The zip sticks out the bottom of the fly shield on the reverse. Whoops…
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But it looks pretty good from the front…
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And it opens!

Other than that though they’re astonishingly easy provided you don’t rush. There are a lot of pattern pieces but they’re really clearly labelled and the instructions are well written. Of course, traditionally cargo shorts are made from strong canvas and that’s such a blessing! I bought my 100% cotton green/grey fabric from Saeed’s in Walthamstow for £8 p/m it was an absolute joy to work with. No slipperiness, no stretch – what a dream! The only slight problem came very near the end as I sewed on the belt loops, and the multiple layers of heavy fabric were a bit much for my sewing machine to cope with, bending two needles in the space of 10 minutes…

On the subject of belt loops, they’re a bit piddly aren’t they?! I definitely get the impression they’re more for show than for anything so practical as, say, supporting a belt. I mean, have you ever seen a men’s belt that skinny? I think the waistband generally is too thin. Next time (and there will be a next time, because the BF has already requested a shorter pair, with fewer pockets) I’ll make the waistband wider, and alter the belt loops to fit.

But in spite of that, don’t they look great?! I’m so pleased with how they turned out. They’re definitely the most complicated garment I’ve ever made, and I’m really pleased with myself for finishing them. Using my over-locker to finish all the seam allowances has made them look really professional, and I think the main fabric and blue printed pocketing work really well together. I’d definitely recommend this pattern – just make sure you don’t rush it. And make sure you measure that zip, and let me know if yours sticks out the bottom too…

Most importantly, Dad looks pretty chuffed with them, doesn’t he?! Has anyone else made something for their dad this year? I’d love to see them and get ideas for next year!

Me-Made-May: An Evaluation

Hey look, I’m writing a blog! And it’s no coincidence that it comes straight after my first ever Me-Made-May.

For the uninitiated, MMMay was started by sewing blogger Zoe on So Zo, What do you know? a few years back. The idea is that designer/makers can make a pledge – any pledge – with the basic aims of wearing and sharing their own work. For some that might mean wearing a customised item each week, whilst others might dress head to toe in a new handmade outfit every day of the month. But most of us are somewhere in between. My own personal pledge was to wear at least one me-made item every day in May, and to post a photo of it on Instagram. Here I’ve included my favourite shots of each garment, but you can look at the whole month’s worth on Insta.

 

Truth is, I went into it just wanting to start a record of my sewing and build some confidence in my own dress-making abilities. Yep – I achieved both those things. Good for me! But the whole experience (yes, I called it an “experience”!) totally exceeded all my expectations. Here are some of the unexpected benefits:

  • The love and enthusiasm of the craft community is overwhelming. I was moved (yes, moved – that’s not even an exaggeration) but the way strangers reach out to one another with questions, answers, advise and musings. Every day more than a handful of skilled sewists diligently hit their “like” buttons for everything I wore, and offered a few words of encouragement or clap-hands and love-heart emojis. I’m so often plagued by feelings of “everyone else is so much more skillful/knowledgable/stylish than me” that I can be shy (embarrassed, even!) to share my work. It gets even more exciting when that praise came from someone you really admire (like when Tilly and the Buttons featured my Cleo dress on their Insta story alongside Charlotte Newlands from Sewing Bee… I was SO excited!). It has been an absolute joy connecting with people. The sewing community really are a helpful and friendly bunch.
  • By following other people’s MMMay posts I’ve discovered a load of indie pattern companies I’d never heard of. I mean, HOW had I never come across Closetcase patterns until now?! I’m completely obsessed by their Ginger Jeans (I mean, SEWING JEANS?! That blows my mind!) and am absolutely chomping at the bit to start their Sew Your Dream Jeans Course.
  • I feel WAY less awkward about being photographed. I started the month all like “ohh, I hate it/get my good angle/my hair looks weird/I look pregnant/I look like my mum”. I used to avoid cameras in the same way that other people might avoid, say, the plague, or fang-toothed tarantulas. But now I’m fine with it, and can tolerate my own image. In fact, some might say I’m now too comfortable in front of the camera…
  • I’ve made better use of all the clothes I own. Day to day, I normally fall back on a lot of shop-bought jersey dresses and a whole heap of flamboyant jewellery, but having to wear me-made every day has forced me to rifle through the lesser-known areas of my wardrobe to create a variety of outfits. I also realised how many of my clothes I just don’t wear, sparking a long-overdue declutter (much to the benefit of a few of my friends, the local charity shops and my eBay account!). I can now actually see the things hanging in my wardrobe, which is a novelty.
  • In fact, it’s made me want to stop buying clothes all together (and there’s something I never thought I’d say!). I’ve come to the realisation clothes bought on impulse and never worn are a waste of money, no matter how thriftily I came by them. By contrast, a “slow-fashion” (handmade) wardrobe has to be more considered. And that has to be better.
  • I’ve identified the gaps in my me-made wardrobe! Let’s face it – as much as I love them, pencil skirts, peplum tops and dungaree dresses will only get me so far. I realised I tend to fall back on the quick-fix instant gratification of easy makes, but I could do with new challenges. Next on my list are super-flared cullottes, a Coco tee, a long coat for winter and of course those seductive Ginger Jeans…
  • I gained a beautiful vintage mannequin, now called Patsy. Until now I’ve been quite shy about my sewing, but when my friend Fiona saw my posts on Instagram she asked if I wanted to take the mannequin off her hands and make use of her. She – a 1950’s adjustable Chil-Daw – was given to Fiona by her aunt, but she and her fiance are planning a move to Scotland can’t take Patsy with them, so they wanted to find her a new home. I’m the lucky recipient. How lovely is that?!
  • I’m absolutely super stoked for May next year all ready! I’m going to make every effort to have a larger me-made wardrobe by then, so day-to-day next May should be easier too. And if you haven’t done it before, I strongly encourage it – it’s easier than you think!

Ultimately, it’s been so enjoyable that I’ve just HAD to start this blog, to prevent any post-May withdrawal symptoms. I should also thank my lovely patient photographers – David, Fereuse, Sam, Babs, Agi, Corrinne and Rachel – and warn them that they might not be off the hook just yet! Sorry guys. I plan on sharing my makes, any new skills, pattern and craft shop reviews among other things. At some point I’ll create a mailing list, so you can follow along if you like! Why not say hello?