Sunday, 15 July 2018

Art Schools

Bob & Roberta Smith
It's drawing close to the end of the summer term and with just one week to go, I can safely say this term has been very busy and I'm very tired. The last few weeks have seemed like a treadmill with no time to really relax.

In my head the summer term should be a lot more laid back and chilled - in reality, it's probably one of the busiest times of the year. Reports to write, tests and exams to be sat and marked, new students to meet and some to say goodbye to. Last week the year 6 SATs results came out and it brings into focus for me the imbalance in the educational drive of the UK.

We have great Arts education here but is under threat as more and more schools drop the creative subjects at primary level to focus on English and Maths in order for children to "pass" their SATs. At GCSE level, schools are directing students to take Ebacc subjects which have resulted in some high school arts course completely folding. I hate it! I actually get quite angry when I hear of this happening and the arts being sidelined as subjects you do if you 'cant' do other subjects. I know from my experience that those children who engage with the arts generally do well in other subjects and have a different way of processing information and are more able to think outside the box.

As you can tell I'm passionate about arts education and last week I had the opportunity to take some of our students to London for an arts enrichment experience. We had a jam-packed three days and saw lots of stuff. It was hot and tiring - but brilliant.

44 students and 5 staff set out early from school on Thursday morning, we travelled by coach and checked into our accommodation at 4pm before enjoying a meal out and off to the Cambridge Theatre to see the production of Matilda. Our Friday activities included the Tate modern, a tour and drama workshop at the Globe theatre, focusing on Macbeth and a visit to St Paul's Cathedral. The whispering gallery was the highlight for most students here. We finished the evening at the Underbelly festival seeing Circolombia - the most jaw-dropping acrobatics I have ever seen!

Finally, our weekend culminated in the Royal Academy Summer show. I wasn't quite sure what the Children would think of it. But they really enjoyed it. I'm hoping to go back again over the summer to see it again with my husband. I'm also hoping to see the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A.

Our Arts experience didn't end there as on return to school on Monday I was put to good use finishing off the backdrop for the school show. Plenty of our students took part and were amazing in their performances. 

I'm so thankful that the school I work in values the arts and I know the students got so much out of it. I just hope this doesn't become eroded away under pressures from the government.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Sunday, 8 July 2018

A win and a lose

This week I have sewn two patterns from Burdastyle magazines - one a resounding success the other a fail.

First up  - the win!
A friend gave me this fabric that was light furnishing weight. I think it's IKEA. I had 1.5m and it was 145cm wide. I thought it might work quite nicely as some culottes. This is a trend that I'm still not 100% convinced is me, so sewing up something in a non-precious fabric from the stash seemed like a good idea.

The pattern is 114 from the 03/2016 issue of the Burdastyle magazine. I cut a straight size 38, which is my normal size for Burdastyle, although I sometimes grade to a 40 at the hip on slim fitting styles.

The pattern came together really well. As usual, it's drafted well and was a good fit straight out of the box. I did pinch in a couple of centimetres at the centre back - both the back pieces and the waistband. If I sew this again I'd change the straight waistband to a curved one. I just didn't have enough fabric this time.

As usual, I sewed the hems by hand and also the inside of the waistband. I considered topstitching from the front but decided that a hand-sewn waistband would look better and I think it does. The stitches are all but invisible.

I'm pleasantly surprised with how much I like these. It's a bonus that I didn't need to make a load of adjustments to the pattern.

Secondly the fail - and I really thought I was going to like this. This was style 111 from Burdastyle 05/2016 it's a simple cami top with an inverted pleat at centre front. Easy right?

Yep. Easy to make and sew. It all came together really nicely the bias binding was easy to make and the fabric behaved itself - but...

I hate it. It gapes under the arms. the strap placement is too narrow and it looks odd on my frame. It's already been relegated to sleepwear form my daughter.

So why did I not alter it? TBH I really couldn't be bothered. I've tried a few cami tops and often find them too narrow. I do have broad shoulders and I think that the only strappy thing I've ever made that has been the right width is the Butterick B6453 Gertie princess seamed sundress.

I think I'll just stick with my tried and true Sorbetto tops, I'm wearing one with the culottes in the top picture. I love this pattern - we don't see many around the internet these days. It's such a versatile top and really should still be up there with some of the more recent offerings, it's been updated and there are several different options for it now -  and it's FREE. If you've never tried the Colette Sorbetto - you can download it here.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Burdastyle #116 07/2012

This simple top is becoming one of my favourites.

In the Burdastyle magazine, it's a double layer top and made in a very drapey fabric. It has raglan shoulders and a front/ back - simples. I've made this 4 times now and I have a few tweaks to the pattern.

The neckline is gathered all the way around -I've always done this, but it can make the shoulders a bit bunched. So in my next version, I'll take some width out at the shoulders and leave the gathers at the front and back only.

I also taped the front and back shoulder pieces together to create a single piece, it means cutting out can be a bit quicker.
If I sew bias binding at the armhole I usually take about 1cm of the whole edge to account for lack of hem. I leave it if I am going to hem the edge.

I always finish the neck edge with a bias binding and this cotton is brilliant for making your own. It presses well and keeps the crease - very well behaved fabric but still soft and smooth. I bought it from The Sewing Box in Morpeth - they're moving premises on Monday so do pay them a visit if you're in the area.

I extend the bias binding to form ties. it makes for a quick and easy fastening and means I don't need to bother sewing rouleau loops or using plastic buttons, so this is a plastic-free make.

I also sew the back with a Centre back seam. Again this is laziness on my part and it just makes making a keyhole opening a bit quicker and easier.

All in all this make took about 1.5 hrs from cutting out to final try on and I did redo the armhole binding as I forgot to take the hem allowance off the first time. I've already worn this to work this week. I think it will be in heavy rotation.

Fabric 1m £6
Thread from the stash
Pattern from a Burdastyle magazine I already owned.

Sunday, 24 June 2018


Have you been to see the documentary about Lee Alexander McQueen yet?

What a delight. This film has both inspired and saddened me. There are very few truly creative genius in the world and I think McQueen was one of them. Trailer below.

I'd followed the McQueen collections from a distance for many years, always being inspired by the creative and artistic elements he included. As I began my MA in fine art in 2007 and started thinking about my own artistic practice, I became more aware of contemporary artists and designers. I consider myself an artist, teacher, designer, maker. and all of these facets are linked for me. I have a desire to create - whatever that might be. Sometimes it takes the form of artworks. Sometimes technically accurate patterns and sometimes looser draped ideas. All things that I saw in the work of McQueen. His attention to detail; the inspired impossible clothes and the ideas that underpinned it all.

In my opinion, Lee Alexander McQueen was an artist and a sculptor at that, not just a fashion designer. A true creative. I saw through the film that drive to keep making - it's part of your DNA. Not a choice, but a need - it's part of who you are and I can relate to that - I feel it too. For McQueen, the fame and stress that this bought eventually had a negative impact on him, which ultimately led to his untimely death.
The focus and creativity of the man have been an inspiration and I can say without a doubt that the Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A was singularly the best exhibition I've ever seen. It was Also shown at the Met and you can see a gallery view here.

I love his insects inspired work. Sometimes I have felt that my own butterfly inspired work was somehow influenced by his work. It wasn't - I was working on my pieces before his collection came out - it's just coincidence - or maybe great minds think alike (who am I kidding).


Some of my work with the same subject matter.

Anyway. If you are a lover of high fashion, or art, or McQueen, or creativity, or genius, or inspiration, or real-life stories then you must go and see this film. Go to be inspired, go to cry, go to recognise true talent, go to seek creativity in yourself, go to be touched by a troubled life, but go.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

How to Sew Plastic Free - Fastenings

Well Hello, I feel like it's been ages since I posted - it has. We have had computer issues and the blogger app no longer works on my Ipad. I have posted via bloglovin' and you can follow me there too. But hey, computer sorted and I can now access all my blog stuff.

Back in May, I pledged to sew plastic free for June - specifically fastenings. So far I have succeeded. In fact I haven't really sewn anything as I've been busy with work over the last few weeks. I've been doing quite a bit of felt making and considered how I could make felted buttons/ beads - I'm still exploring that one.

So here I am wondering how I can avoid plastic buttons and zips in my sewing. This is what I've come up with and how these items may be used.

Plastic zips are the most common fastening I use; all my RTW clothes have them and they are easy to find and buy. But what about the alternative? Metal zips. Currently the only place I see metal zips are in jeans and trousers and coats/ jackets, all dress zips seem to be plastic. I think this is due to the wieght. Metal zips are heavier and might not suit a light weight dress. However, those of you who have vintage clothing will be used to seeing metal zips in dresses and skirts, usually installed as a lapped zipper. The advantages are that metal zips are generally more robust, there is less stretching and puckering when installing them and they and be easily shortened and adjusted. It might be worth trying a metal zip even in a dress, unless it is a very lightweight fabric.

I have a large stash of buttons - and they are all plastic. Finding alternatives is tricky, but not impossible. One of the easiest solutions is to buy metal self-covered buttons. These are available in many sizes and once covered match perfectly with the garment. I think self covered buttons look stunning on delicate blouses and tops. other options include wood, shell, glass, leather, ceramic and metal to name but a few. Again many vintage garments will be found to have nonplastic buttons. I hope to try and make some ceramic buttons soon.

Hooks & Eyes/ press studs
The most easily sourced nonplastic fastening in my opinion. Most bar hooks and hooks and eyes are metal, simply because the design lends itself to a metal construction. The best press studs are also metal and they can be manufactured to a high standard. Plastic press studs are generally inferior. The beauty of these types of fastenings is that the fastening is hidden giving a sleek appreance to the garment or accessory.

Snaps and buckles
Again due to the nature of these types of fastenings, metal is better. I often use snap fastning on jacket cuffs and they are great on childrens wear. Some of my favourite fastings are the metal dungaree buckles when paired with a brass antique effect jeans button. I only need one set and I just transfer them to whichever garment I'm wearing, rather than buying multiple sets.

Eyelets are very popular at the moment and I've seen a lot used as design features in garments. I mostly use these when making corsets, but they can be fantastic when paired with decorative laces as a fastening or feature on different garments.

Other options
There are quite a few options for using fabric as a fastening. For example, traditional Chinese corded buttons or frogging can be bought or made (if you have the patience).

Consider if your garment actually needs a fastening. Many times I've made shift dresses with zips in, only to discover I can actually just pull them on! My favourite way to avoid using a button on a keyhole fastening is to add thin rouleau loops to each edge and then just tie them together. If the garment has a bias bound neck, that becomes even easier, as I just lengthen the bias strip, stitch the edges together and tie.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Sew Plastic Free

Since the Rana Plaza building collapsed in 2013, killing over 1000 workers. The fashion industry has become more aware of the poor working conditions in many areas of the world, just to keep us in 'Fast Fashion'. Slow fashion became a movement as well as the Who Made My Clothes campaign.

The big retailers have been forced to look at the conditions their clothes were made in as many of them were named and shamed in the months following the disaster. More recently we have become even more aware of issues affecting clothing production and waste. Companies are springing up all over who are trying to reduce the amount of cutting room waste going to landfill. Great examples are Zero Waste Daniel, Holly McQuillan and Tonle. ELUXE magazine has also identified a range of zero waste designers. These are all great ways to reduce the environmental impact and make fashion more sustainable. The creative Curator wrote a great post about this and you can read it here.

Holly McQuillan

Zero Waste Daniel
Since the airing of Blue Planet a few months ago the world has certainly become aware of the issue with plastics finding their way into the world's oceans. Not just the obvious litter, but also the plastic micro fibres that are shed from our clothing during manufacture and regular washing. How will the fashion industry respond to this - Only time will tell.

Still from the Blue Planet
We can't bury our heads in the sand on this one. We need to reduce our manufacture and use of plastics, especially single-use plastics. But what about the things we use in home sewing? What can we do to make a difference - even a small one?

OK, so where are we using plastics in sewing? I thought this was quite a simple answer at first but then I really started to think about it.

From Plastic is Rubbish - a great source for plastic free living.
Yep - synthetics.
In Brief - We all know that there are issues in the manufacture of natural fabrics - pesticides and chemicals used in the large-scale manufacture of fabric and particularly dyes. However ultimately these fabrics will biodegrade over time and if you can find organic products  -  go for it. There are certainly more suppliers out there than there were a few years ago.
Then you've got the cellulose-based fabrics. Rayon, Viscose, Bamboo - all of which can be blended with other natural fibres or synthetics, and dependent on which will also biodegrade, although the process is more akin to the chemical process used in the production of true synthetics.
So Synthetics are made using completely chemical methods, Polyester - for example, is made from ethelyne which is derivative of petroleum. There are many variations of such fabrics, some that resemble natural fabrics such as silk and some that have their very own unique properties. Many of these fabrics have made their way into our lives and we hardly notice them. Synthetics have many useful properties and are used in performance wear, protective clothing etc. Until someone has found a way of getting rid of them they will forever exist, never biodegrading. The more we make the more there is. (My son wants to be a chemical engineer - maybe I can convince him that solving this issue would be a great thing to research).  You can read more on how different fabrics - and other things - are made at How Products are Made.

I must admit that I do prefer natural fibres - I tend to sweat a lot and polyester does not breath! I also find it smells like turps when it's being ironed! I normally avoid such fabrics but have found myself sewing them a few times over the last few years. I often do like the finished item and then feel guilty about making it! Am I alone in this one?

Plastic Spools

Notions & Supplies
Here's where it gets scary.
Polyester thread supplied on plastic cotton reels - do you recycle yours? Gutterman have started doing a wider range of high-quality cotton threads, but I think they still come on plastic spools.
Sewing machine needles supplied in plastic cases.
Plastic handled scissors - you can get metal ones.
Plastic zips - most dress zippers are plastic these days.
Plastic sewing machine feet - I know some machines have metal ones - my Bernina does.
plastic bobbins - again some are metal
Plastic sewing machines - given these are not single use, but if I'm listing stuff...
Plastic headed pins - I prefer glass, they don't melt if I accidentally iron them.
Various tapes, elastics and clips.
Can you think of more?

So what do we do about it?
Recycle as much packaging as you can - the stuff that you just can't get plastic free.
Buy natural where possible. You can buy cotton thread on wooden spools - go for organic if you can.
Use up your scraps rather than throwing away.
When you replace items go for environmentally friendly organic if you can. Check out Plastic is Rubbish to find where you can buy plastic free. This is a great website with lots of tips to get you started. Go explore.

Take the #Sew Plastic Free challenge in the month of June.

I know it's difficult to go completely plastic free, but what can you commit to for the month of June?
Could you sew only natural fibres? Maybe you could use alternatives to plastic zippers for your sewing projects? Could you replace plastic headed pins with metal or glass ones? Or search out ceramic or wooden buttons. One small thing at a time do check out Plastic is Rubbish if you are planning on signing up.

Sign up

Copy the pledge below and paste it into the comments section below,  include your details and your personal sew plastic-free challenge before 1st June 2018:
'I, (insert name and blog /Instagram handle if you have one), sign up to Sew Plastic Free. I endeavour to..........................................................................During June 2018' 

This post is a stream of conciousness, based on some reading and news I've seen over the past few months. I'm not an expert and I'm just trying to find my place in this issue. Please do email me with any corrections and I will edit.

'I, Claire of Ragbags and Gladrags/ @artcoopsville, sign up to Sew Plastic Free. I endeavour to find alternatives to plastic fastenings during June 2018'


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