Monday, February 17, 2014

Useful post 3: Gadgets and gizmos

I must admit to being a bit of a gadget addict...If I can find a gizmo to do a job, be it in cooking, hat making or sewing then I really am useless at resisting.  Quite a lot of the gadgets I buy are, to be honest a bit of a waste of time and money.... Rouleau loop turner-just use a safety pin, thread snips- just use a pair of scissors like any normal person!  However, some of them are worth their weight in gold and I would probably go quite mad without them.  So these are some of my total essentials that I would recommend anyone who sews a lot invest in.

Walking foot
This rather marvelous gizmo makes sewing annoyingly slippery fabric a doddle. Some fabrics like satin or velvet (or any fabric with a pile ie a furry surface) just will not stay still when you try ad seam them together, no matter how much you pin or baste them; I've even been known to baste and pin out of sheer desperation... Other fabrics like leather, can stick together when you seam them (and actually velvet can do this as well depending on the way the layers are laid). So they bunch up under the foot and end up all folded and lumpy. This can result in many seams having to be resewn and a serious waste of time!  The walking foot ensures that both layers of the fabric get fed under the machine foot at the same rate- with a normal foot the under layer tends to get moved a bit faster than the top layer as it is in actual contact with the feed dogs.  Add to that a slippery fabric or a sticky fabric and it ends up getting very, very frustrating, until you put the walking foot on the machine and then you can sew all these irritating fabrics with total ease-marvelous!  This is particularly useful when you have a costume designer who loves velvet! This foot is available from all major sewing machine manufacturers and is really worth its cost.
Ruffler Foot

This foot isn't as useful as the walking foot, in fact it is really quite frivolous!  It creates beautifully pleated trim that can either be made up by itself or sewn directly onto the project as it is formed.  It works by harnessing the movement of the needle (with the fork like arm being fitted over the needle attachment arm) which powers the front arm to push tucks into the trim.  Its a bit difficult to explain clearly so if you want to see exactly how it works the watch this video by Heirloom Creations.  It is such a fun deice and you can alter how many ruffles it makes by adjusting the lever on the front (in the pic to the right) so that you get a tuck every stitch, every six stitches or every twelve stitches.  You can also adjust the look of the ruffle by changing the stitch length.  I use this foot a lot when making petticoats, as it is so much easier to ruffle up fabric with this foot than having to gather the darn stuff by hand.   I also love to ruffle up ribbons as a decorative trim, I used this to finish the edge of my cerise mini tricorn which would have taken forever if I had had to make it by hand.

Mini Iron
Exactly what it says it is- a miniature iron.  It is extremely useful for ironing seams open and getting the points of darts nice and flat.  It is also invaluable for hat making- it makes forming felt into valleys, such as those in the crown of a pork pie hat, so much easier as you can get the heat and steam easily into the felt and it forms beautifully into the block.  I also use it for flower making as you can use the sharp edges and point to makes really sharp folds that don't flop, you can also get extra ends for shaping petals too.  All in all, my mini iron is on the ironing board all the time.

Pin Pusher
One for hat makers here, another fairly self explanatory tool-you use this for pushing pins into hat blocks.  As my health has got more annoying I find this invaluable as hat blocks as necessarily, really hard! SO this gizmo holds the pin in the tube with a small magnet, and then you can push the tip of the pin into the block and the handle lets you use your whole hand to push the pin in.  It really does give you much more control with how deep you push the pin in than using a hammer as I've seen some books recommend.  Frankly my hat blocks are beautiful and expensive, and I don't want to ruin them by hammering pins into them (as suggested in some books!) that I then cant pull out!

Bias Binding Maker
So bias binding is really easy to make without a tool, but it is a bit time consuming and I always manage to burn my fingers when pressing it.  So if you want it nice and even and no burnt fingers, then these tools are definitely worth it.  I use a lot of bias binding in hat making so these get used a lot. They are very easy to use, you cut your length of bias ribbon and then gently feed it through the tool which forms it into the folds you need and you press it as it comes out of the tool and ta-da lovely, even bias binding.  This video by Whipstitch  shows just how easy it is to use.

Velvet Ironing Cloth
Another too to help deal with velvet-it really is a fiddle to work with!  Any fabrc witha furry surface is a pain to iron because as soon as you press it (on the reverse of the fabric, you never put an iron on the pile!!!) all the pile (the fur) gets flattened down and it looks, well, a bit rubbish.  You then can try and brush it back to looking good again, or only ever steam velvet with a garment steamer (expensive things, and not always that good at removing creases) but with some velvets, especialy silk velvet once pressed flat the fabric just never looks as good again... I found this whist making myself and evening coast from burgandy silk velvet.  It was driving my nuts, until the nice lady in John Lewis mentioned you could get these cloths especially to cope with velvet.  I had to order it online but it is fantastic!  It is basically a large piece of velcro- all the little hooks merge with the pile as you iron it on the back of the fabric.  This prevents the pile from being all squished and when you lift the fabric off, the slight grip of the hooks pulls the pile out and ta-da! No more rubbish looking velvet!
Close up of the little hooks.
Well those are certainly some of my favorite tools that I would really struggle to cope without.  If anyone out in the interwebs has got some personal favorites do comment, I would love to know as I would hate to be missing out on another fab gizmo!

Friday, February 07, 2014

Useful Post 2: Haberdashery

Haberdashery is usually taken to mean all the small items, such as buttons, zips and thread that are used in sewing.  To me haberdashery (or dashahabery as I once spoonerisumed!) also includes all the pretty things in sewing like fringing, beads, cord, tassels, sequins, and anything that you can add to a garment to make it even prettier or more sparkly!  

Barnett and Lawson, Little Portland Street.

This is one of those shops that it is impossible to enter without buying something- I've certainly never managed it!  They provide all sorts of trimmings-ribbons, braids, cords, buttons, buckles, fringes, flowers, motifs, tassels, sequins, ric-rac, you name it, they almost certainly have it and in a range of colours and sizes. Their basement shop is filled to bursting with so many beautiful things, at very good prices and I don't think I got through any show without at least one trip here. They don't do online shopping, but do offer a very good sampling service. For anyone of a magpie disposition like me, this place is heaven! 
-16/17 Little Portland Street, W1W 8NE

Macculloch and Wallis, Derring Street.

Another fabulous source for all sorts of haberdashery, trims and decorations, and also fabric and workroom essentials; Macculloch and Wallis have been supplying the theatre and fashion years for over a century from their central London store.  They are more expensive than Barnett and Lawson, but all their products are of excellent quality.  You can order online, but I do find their website a bit annoying.  Many of the pictures of their products, particularly the fabrics, suggest that they are available in several colours, but when you try and order them they are only available in maybe one or too-this can be rather annoying hence why I don't tend to get much fabric from M&W, but do order trim, zips etc.  
-25-26 Derring Street, W1S 1AT


Probably the last specialist haberdashers left anywhere, their Noel Street shop is currently undergoing renovation, but you can still order online -thank goodness, I rely on them for so many things!  If you need specialist corsetry supplies, zips,  buckles, buttons, webbing, purse frames, fasteners or any random specialist sewing tools, then Kleins probably has it.  The Zip colour matching service alone makes Kliens one of my life saving companies. They also have a great range of trimmings, ribbons and decorative items that are wonderfully drool worthy.  Can't wait for the shop to reopen in March!


Not exactly a haberdashers, as they supply so much more than that (their catalogue has over 5000 items!), but a very good source for thread, particularly large overlocking spools. Morplan is another place I was introduced to at RADA when I was taught pattern cutting, as it is where we bought our marvelous pattern drawing tool - the Patternmaster.  This is a combination, ruler, set square and grader that I use constantly.  I also get all my pattern paper, card, cutting shears and garment bags from this company.  They also do very reasonably priced dress forms and all sorts of workroom tools.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Useful Post No.1 or Where do I go shopping?!

One of the things I often get asked (other than how did I get into this sewing game) is where do I go to buy fabric and other sewing things.  Well, with my New Year's blogging resolution to try and be helpful and spread my sewing knowledge a little, I thought I would do some useful posts about just that, and today it's all about...


Goldhawk Road, Shepherds Bush

Photo Credit Chris Underwood
This is a fabric lovers Mecca! About 15 shops and the market, all right next to Goldhawk Road tube station on the Hammersmith and City line, Zone 2. You can buy pretty much anything here, beautiful silks, Liberty cottons, leather, luminous lycra and sequined fabrics galore and all at really good prices. The brilliant shopkeepers are all extremely helpful and welcome a bit of haggling, this was my go to location for costuming fabric needs and I've sent many happy hours trawling the shops for just the right fabric.

Berwick Street, Soho

A more upmarket version of Goldhawk Road! If you want quality, then this is the place.  Several fabric shops are spread along and around Berwick street in Soho, including several specialists in silk. One of my favorites is Borovick fabrics, a fantastic shop that also does an excellent mail order service including a free sampling service.  The shops here are definitely more expensive than Goldhawk road, but if you are looking for an amazing, couture level fabric, for a very special project this is the place to go.

WBL Fabric

Always known to me as Whaleys, (from my RADA days darling!) this is an amazing source for plain, mostly white, black or natural fabrics in a vast number of qualities and fibres for dying, printing or just when you need a plain fabric. I once ordered 60m of plain cotton sheeting that I then made into a full chorus of ancient Greek togas! I can't think of many other places you can do that as such reasonable prices. You can buy a complete sample range, which is very useful if you need to order lots, or you can order specific individual samples.

If Silk is your thing, then go to James Hare.  Specialists in both fashion and interior silk fabrics their range is stunning and the colour variety is mouth watering! If you want mail order you do need to open a trade account which means you have to be vetted by the company, however the range is also now available to order through selected John Lewis branches and some other fabric shops that you can find via their website search facility, so although a little hard to get hold of it is worth the effort! I have a copy of their full range of fashion fabric samples (which are also available to view in the John Lewis Stores) and I often just flip through them as I find the colours and textures so inspiring. Although silk will always be more expensive in my opinion it is worth every penny because it is just soooooo beautiful and I often recommend it to brides and not just in ivory...

Platinum Bridal Fabrics aka Weisters

I found this online fabric site by chance when searching for a lace motif to put on a friends dance dress.  I was quickly hooked! A really wide range of fabrics specifically aimed at the bridal market, including loads of nets and veiling and they have a really fab range of brocades for groom's waistcoats.  The colours are all available across the different fabric types, which makes life so much easier when you have a design which has for example, satin and chiffon as you can get both with a couple of clicks-hurray!  They have a range of coloured and ivory silks as well, that are well priced.  You don't have to have a trade account and can order online, but if you do sign up for a trade account you get even better prices.  My favorite part of their range has to be the gorgeous lace fabrics and motifs that they are continually expanding and are very competitively priced.

This does exactly what it says on tin! is a really useful place if you ever need to make panto costumes, you can buy all sorts of sparkly, shiny and above all cheap fabrics here that you would not use anywhere else! Or something that only needs to survive a few shows and that will then never be used again... They also do a good range of cottons and polycottons, both plain and patterned and basic fabrics like calico, that you use a lot in costume work or for toiles. All in all, a very useful site.

So these are my favorite places that I go back to again and again for fabric. I'll carry on trying to be useful and do posts about places I shop for haberdashery (all the pretty things like ribbons and beads I get to play with!) and also for hat making things and maybe a blog about some of the stranger places I've ended up searching for costume necessities...

Friday, January 17, 2014

Plans for 2014...

Well it may be a new year but my health did not get the memo and is still behaving like a stroppy child insisting I have IVs every four weeks... I am back on them for my first set of the year so as I'm not feeling very much like doing anything I have been taking stock of what I want to do in the coming months.  Well one major thing that will happen this year is that I am getting married!!!! MR EB is finally making an honest woman of me and we are getting married in June :-)  Whilst I am deliriously happy (total understatement!) I now have to organise a wedding-seeing as Mr EB has a proper job and is going to be travelling a lot in the next couple of months, it seems sensible that I get on with sorting things out.  However, I don't like organising big events, they usually leave me stressed and grumpy, and I've been involved with the wedding industry for several years now and know just how difficult, not to mention incredibly expensive weddings can get. Fortunately Mr EB and I are in agreement about pretty much everything we want and also that I do not get stressed-phew, good start! Unlike most couples getting married, the first list we made was actually not of what we wanted, but what we did not want! This was really helpful as it meant we immediately lost most of the froth of the wedding industry (I don't need colour matching, monogrammed napkins!) and have cut it down to the bare essentials- we want to get married somewhere nice, but not in church, hopefully in the sun (not much we can do about that!) with afternoon tea and then have lots of really good hog roast-my favorite. There won't be a theme and I can't be bothered to have coordinating everything, we just want simple and fun with people we love :-) At least that's the plan, whether we stick to it only time will tell! So between organising the wedding and making my dress I may not be blogging as much, as hatting and embroidery will have to take a bit of a back seat whilst I beat my dress design into shape and actually make it. It's probably just as well that I am making it myself as I really would be the client from hell!

I do want to try and carry on blogging whilst I do my wedding dress tho, so I thought I would try and share some of the knowledge I've picked up over the years.  I've not entirely decided what form this deluge of knowledge will form, maybe the odd tutorial (although there are already so many sewing tutorials out there I'm not sure they really need tuppence worth), some of my historical projects might feature or the odd book review... anyway it will be something that will hopefully be interesting and useful to someone somewhere out there in the ether.

As well as this burst of informativeness, I am also hoping to have enough time and energy, to complete some of the challenges from The Historical Sew Fortnightly, that is run by the rather marvelously named Dreamstress.  This is a brilliant idea, where the Dreamstress sets fortnightly sewing challenges online for the whole of 2014, for historical sewing enthusiasts worldwide to complete and then post about on the Facebook page and their own blogs. It is such a good way to get people interested in costume history and sewing and I'm a bit gutted that I did not know about this when she ran it last year! You don't have to do every challenge (thank goodness), you can do as many as you can manage, or just the ones that interest you. It will be really lovely to do some proper historical costuming again-I've missed doing all the research and unusual patterns and techniques that doing period costume lets you use.

So, 2014-here I come!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A Hat for Christmas

Seeing as the New Year is well and truly past I think it is safe to post some pictures of this hat that I did make in 2013 (so technically should have been in the last post!) but as it was to be a Christmas present I did not want to spoil the surprise so waited and then er... forgot to post til now! I was asked to make it by my lovely friend Helen whose wedding dress I am making this year.  It's based on a hat she owns but that her mum keeps um.. borrowing! So wanting to get her hat back full time she asked me to make a new version for her Mum for Christmas. It is a very stylish cloche with extra pleats moulded into the crown and finished with a folded felt flower. They chose a lovely warm red wool felt for the hat and I used my cloche block with a bit of additional cord taped on to create the shape (this was the same technique I used for my purple fedora only with a lot more cord and tape!)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Black felt pleated half hat

I think I will have finally caught up with blogging about all the hats I've made just in time for New Years-must try harder in 2014! This last one is a black felt pleated half hat, inspired by the styles of the 1920's.   I made it on my malleable head block that I use for free form blocking, drawing the felt over from the left side to the right in several folds that are then pinched together at the right side of the face in a small pleated tail. I kept the decoration to a minimum of a satin binding as the silhouette is quite dramatic in itself and I didn't want to distract from that.

Detail of the pinched pleats.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Black Felt Flower Mini Pillbox

During the 1940's felt flowers were a very popular way of decorating hats and making corsages and even jewellery as a way to cheer up wartime fashions. With rationing in full swing using up small scraps of felt to create flowers was an ideal way to add some much needed femininity to everyday life.  I've made silk flowers and ribbon roses before but wanted to try out using my silk flower tools on felt as I had tried them on the felt leaves for my Autumn Leaves Hat and they worked rather well. The tools themselves do rather look like instruments of torture, and you do have to heat them up so that they mould the fabric...  The ones with the balls on the end are to form a cup shape in the leaf or petal in various sizes.  The hooked ones and the shield shaped one are for creating veins and folds in the fabric.  To help make the shapes the sponge is placed beneath the petal/leaf and then the felt is steamed with a wet cloth and an iron and then you press the shape into the felt with the tool -the sponge allows the shape to form.
I made a lot of the flowers and leaves  first and then spent quite a long time arranging them on the pillbox.  I tried the in all sorts of combinations, in little groups all the way round, in two groups on opposite sides, all on the top, in a line across the top... But eventually settled for one large group on the side and top, on the right side of the hat.  The flowers are finished with a black glass bead as their centre.  I really like this little hat and shall definitely by making more felt flower as they are actually far easier than making flowers from silk!

Lilac and Cream Tribly

I made this trilby on a lightly smaller block than usual, as I wanted it to sit higher on the head than a normal headsize hat, its not a mini perching hat either-its somewhere in  between! THe block was found for me by my lovely friend Ben who happened upon it in an antique shop and very kindly nabbed it for me for the bargain price of £40. The pleating around the crown was inspired by a hat worn by The Hon. Daisy Fellows in Harpers Bazar in 1933- such a fab hat.
I didn't make my pleats as big as the original hat and finished it with a twisted cord rather than a feather, as I prefer to go with what colour trimmings suit the felt and use up some of my extremely extensive collection of decorations... The lilac and cream combination is quite versatile and will go with lots of other colours. I hand blocked the brim as I don't have a brim block in this style and size-yet! It does take a lot more work hand blocking a brim but you do get more freedom over the finished shape.

The rather jaunty snap brim.

Close up of the twisted cord.