Monday, 20 June 2016

The rectangle - our starting block

The first 5 designs in 'No Patterns Needed' all spring from the humble rectangle.

5 garment designs based on rectangles (from 'No Patterns Needed' by Rosie Martin)
The 5 rectangle designs from 'No Patterns Needed.' Photography by Victoria Siddle.

The rectangle is a reassuringly familiar shape. We humans love to make things with the rectangle. The laptop I'm typing on is rectangular in shape, and it rests on a rectangular table, which sits in a rectangular shaped room. The four corners are comfortingly regular, the parallel sides reassuringly stable.

In a way, all sewing projects begin with a rectangle - the length of fabric that we watch in anticipation as it is separated from the roll. We treat this rectangle as a blank page. The flat piece of fabric is our canvas, so tantalisingly full of potential. What will we write?
To me, the garment that uses the rectangle in it's purist form is the Japanese kimono. Every piece of fabric the Kimono is built from is rectangular, and it doesn't seek to alter that form. Kimonos are one standard size, and they are brought into harmony with the body through the use of a sash or obi - fabric is gathered and folded and held into place under the obi.

In many ways, sewing does the same work as an obi. Rather than using an obi to hold tucks and gathers in place we use stitches. Rather than collecting up excess fabric and binding it, we often remove areas of fabric by cutting them away, in order to force our initial rectangle into something that fits the body.

When I did a draping course I was struck that the first step is to mark out a rectangle in pencil onto your blank fabric. Draping sounds like it's going to very free and loose, but it actual needs the initial stability of rectangle. Just as the sculptor chips away at a block of marble to reveal a beautiful flowing form, the fabric is then folded, snipped and manipulated until the initial rectangle can't be identified.

My book doesn't get as deep as a course in draping, but I was interested in how a few small changes could be made to a rectangle of fabric in order for it to become a wearable garment.

The 1920s seems to be any era when home sewers embraced the power of the rectangle. It was a time when the fashions of the elite were able to be made and worn by everyone, as the designs were simple enough to recreate at home. Straightforward, illustrated sewing instructions seem to have been all the rage. Damn, wishing I could travel back in time to the 1920s a bit now!

I love the simplicity of the sum, five rectangles = one dress.

 The influence of art deco and the political significance of a move away from a 'womanly' figure meant that the simple beauty of geometric shapes were adopted eagerly in women's fashion. 

This lady looks like she is literally wearing a black rectangle that's pegged to her shoulders. And she looks great!

In modern fashion, I looked to garments where just a few tweaks had been made to a rectangle to transform it into a beautiful piece of clothing. Here, four rectangles are stitched together, their sharp corners smoothed into curves at the bottom with the top drawn in to fit the waist. I actually think I found this on a men's fashion website so I guess this is a skirt du garcon, though I would definitely wear it : D
I also looked at garments where the rectangle was given design prominence. I love this top by Calvin Klein where a rectangle forms a sort of bib. I bet that skirt she's wearing is made of just rectangles too. 

This Christopher Kane skirt is also a very clever and joyful celebration of all things rectangle.
Loving Kitty Joseph's use of the rectangle to create some cool colour blocking.

And whoever designed this has just gone and stuck a rectangle right at the front there, like the cherry on a cake. Who says cherries have to be round? Seriously though, this is some really ingenious construction and an admirably bold pledge of allegiance to the rectangle.

I collected all my design inspiration on Pinterest here. I sketched out and experimented with making a lot of rectangle-based designs. A looooooooot. I mean, the possibilities are almost endless. Only two of the designs sketched here made it into the book. I almost want to write a whole book about making clothes with rectangles now.

But here are some of the ones that made it into 'No Patterns Needed.'

The Maxi Split Skirt, made as a midi here and modelled by Kristina, with slightly shiny faux leather highlighting the central rectangle.

The Asymmetric Mini Skirt, modelled by Linda and drawing attention to the beauty of a right angle.

The Deco Drape Dress, a design based on the slash and gather tutorials of the 1920s, made in silk from House of Hackney and modelled here by Mairead.

The Shirt Dress, the most involved of the rectangle tutorials including some tucks, some gathers and some cutting away, made here in this fabric from Spoonflower and modelled by Melody

The rectangle is the starting block in 'No Patterns Needed,' getting us off to a winning start. In the rectangles section we use rectangular pieces of fabric like bricks, to build clothing instead of skyscrapers, or we chip away at our rectangular fabric so that it becomes more fluid or is moulded to fit a body.

In many ways safe - though with almost endless possibilities when it comes to creating clothing - the rectangle is followed by the wild, tumbling circle. I'll be profiling the circle in a blog post in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Shaped like me; body positivity through sewing.

It's one month until my book 'No Patterns Needed' comes out! Yaaaaaay! I can't believe it is finally here. And here's the cover. I love it! It's designed by the wonderful Evelin Kasikov, as in fact is the whole book. When people ask me what the book is about, I usual start by saying "sewing..." then I garble a few more sentences that trail away disappointingly until I find a way of changing the subject! So I'm going to write down here what gave me the idea for the book and explore the chain of thoughts that really kicked things off.

Yes, this is a sewing book. The aim is for it to enable you to make clothing by providing thorough, visual tutorials with no sewing jargon. It's an action-based book that can be dipped into project-by-project in bite-sized chunks. The ethos behind it is; learn through doing. And, as the title suggests, all the tutorials show you how to make clothes without sewing patterns, based on simple body measurements or on existing items in your wardrobe.

'No Patterns Need' - cover design by Evelin Kasikov; photography by Victoria Siddle; modelled by Linda Peterkopa.

The other key theme of the book is the one that is spelled out visually on the cover - the three simplest geometric shapes; the rectangle; the circle and the triangle. This is the part of the book I have a harder time describing in words. It's actually where the whole idea for this book came from, and that's what I'm going to write a bit about here.
I was teaching a workshop at The Thrifty Stitcher and flipping through a sewing book from Claire-Louise's shelves whilst waiting for students to arrive. It included a page that described different standard body shapes, and the kinds of clothes you should be sewing to flatter your shape. It had an illustration that looked a bit like this.

This kind of body categorisation often crops up on the pages of fashion magazines or even on websites of fashion retailers. It is always accompanied by advice telling you what you should and shouldn't wear to compliment your figure. If I had to fit myself into one of these categories, it would probably be the rectangle, or the 'lean column' as described on this personal styling website called - ironically I feel - the Joy of Clothes. The Joy of Clothes has some scientific advice for me: "You need to create the illusion of curves around hips and bust and of a waist. Highlight your hips and bottom using pockets and pleats." This kind of language really annoys me! It feels as if they're speaking to me about a problem I need to fix, and to which they have the solution. The problem, of course, is my body, but luckily there's a fashion-shaped prescription to ease the burden of my flesh and bone woes!

 I like boxy tops and tight jeans and I can't remember the last time one of my outfits included a pleat. I feel if I follow their guidance I would probably end up in a corset with a dress borrowed from Elizabeth Bennet's wardrobe. I laugh in the face of their advice! To aid my laughing, I enjoy looking at this hilarious illustration by Gemma Correll.

This kind of advice isn't that surprising coming from a fashion retailer, but I found it incongruous in a sewing book. Surely the beauty of sewing is the absolute freedom to make what you want. And a side effect of sewing is a deeper understanding that our bodies cannot be categorised into 'shapes.' In fact, through many a conversation about sewing, I would say that one of the key reasons many women start sewing is because they find their body doesn’t fit the standardized shape that high street clothing pedals. I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with a 'standard' body shape, except for shop dummies!

For practical reasons, of course, mass manufactured clothing has to have standard sizing. Katrina from Papercut patterns has written a great article for Seamwork magazine about how sizing of women's clothing has come about. I feel that this standard sizing can easily give fodder to the  narrative that our bodies somehow aren't 'right.' Shop bought jeans always end about 4 inches beyond my ankle. I have to remind myself that this isn't because my legs are 'too short,' but that the trousers are too long. (Luckily, I can just chop the bottoms off).

Many of us know the frustrations of trying premade garments on to find they fit at the hips but not at the waist, or across the chest but not at the shoulders. We often blame our bodies not the clothing. Part of the beauty of sewing is to allow your body to be, and just to make clothes that fit it, rather than attempt to force your body to fit into clothes.

Human bodies are far more diverse than a categorisation into a generic shape allows. All of our bodies have unique proportions, and it is reductive to try to fit them into a box. We all have our own bumps, curves, lengths and angles. Sewing clothing is a great celebration of this fact. I feel that making my own clothes is a great way of saying:

So, back to the book! I was at the gym and all this was swirling about in my head like clothes in a washing machine. In a moment of clarity that only seems to come to me when I've been sweating on the treadmill for 20 minutes, I thought: "It's time to reclaim geometric shapes, not as a symbol of reductive body categorisation, but as a beautiful building block that allows our bodies to be. Not as a stifling box that is lumped onto us, but as a starting point from which clothing can be made to fit all the bodies unique bits. Many homemade garments begin with a simple shape - a rectangle or a circle - and are manipulated to fit the more interesting, varied shape of the human body. Often it doesn't take much - a few gathers here, a couple of darts there - to force a geometric shape into a beautiful garment. Simple shapes become building blocks and we are in control of them, not the other way round.  Designing with just circles, rectangles and circles would be a playful reclamation of geometric shapes." And from this, a book was born.

Over the next few months I designed 15 garments based on either the rectangle, the circle or the triangle, that can be made at home. (More on the design process and an ode to the individual shapes themselves over the next few weeks.)

So, what is my book about? It is about reclaiming our simplest, geometric shapes and shouting out loud, "These shapes will not restrict us, they will give us freedom! We will wear what we want and we will make it ourselves!"

Now, how do I boil this down into a couple of sentences that I can rattle off in a conversation? Any advice gratefully received.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Making bespoke fabric in London

A while ago, Tree, the one-woman powerhouse behind the YouTube channel 'Stitchless TV' got in touch to tell me about about a fabric printing factory she'd stumbled upon in North London. She was bubbling with excitement about this place that produced custom fabric by the metre, but didn't seem to be known about by sewists.

Here is the factory, Contrado. It's run by Chris - the man you can see busy in the background - and his wife Fran, who set up a digital photo printing service about 12 years ago and have expanded bit by bit to become a full blown bespoke printing and manufacturing service.

So Tree asked Chris if she could bring along a bunch of sewists to see the factory, and Chris agreed. Chris wanted us to use the fabric printing service so he could so how we interacted with it, and to ask us some questions about how we found the process. Basically, he wanted to step inside the mind of a sewist, which we all know is a deep and complicated place, often found to be repeatedly chanting the mantra "I love fabric. I love fabric. I love fabric."

Chris kindly offered us 3m each of fabric printed with our own designs. So I started designing. I've been collecting print design inspiration on Pinterest for a while and generally obsessing over the hand-themed embroidery/jewellery/stickers in the Buried Diamond Etsy shop, so with these in mind I set about doing really crap drawings of my left hand.

With a bit of help from Adobe Illustrator, I made a few variations of a simple repeat and asked my Facebook friends to help me choose the best one.

With lots of helpful feedback on Facebook, I had another go and made this design, which I really like. Thank you, people of the internet!

Inside Chris and Fran's factory, this is where the fabric magic happens. We were there on a Saturday so it was quiet, but normally there are 50 staff working throughout the building.

The range of fabric that can be printed on at Contrado is quite simply jaw dropping. I think Chris mentioned 70, but 70 is just a number and doesn't truly give you an idea of the wondrous possibilities until you start hearing words like neoprene, organza, polar fleece, chunky rib knit and ripstop nylon and breathable waterproof polyester. A custom printed raincoat has now been added to my list of things to make!

They have an absolutely enormous swatch book, which we all had a good rummage through in the office. Tree is on the right there, talking through options with Momtaz, who runs The Make Escape in Hackney and is an all round wonder woman of psychedelic craft. Momtaz ended up getting a print done on velvet, because she is awesome. Also along for the ride were Kate and Rachel of The Foldline and Barley Massey, the pilot at the helm of sewing and craft studio Fabrications and an upcycler extraordinaire.

For a look at all the fabrics available from Contrado, do browse the fabric library on their website.

With difficult decisions made, we uploaded our designs onto the Contrado design suite, which looks like this. For anyone accustomed to using Spoonflower, it's very similar. I'd say Contrado's is actually a bit simpler and more visually pleasing. There are also some excellent design options, like adding text, or adding a background fill colour. They've basically taken some of the simplest elements of Photoshop and built them into their website.

The only thing to watch out for is that their sizing boxes pop up automatically with a width of 1m. This does not represent the full width of the fabric, which as sewists we are obviously used to working with. You need to check the width of the fabric before you get to this point, so you can manually input it into the box.

We sent our designs through, then wandered through to the factory, where lo and behold, my hand repeat was already being printed! At this stage, it's being printed onto paper, which is later used as a giant transfer to press the design onto fabric.


Here is the first printing room. Kate and Rachel are watching their design get printed directly onto cotton. We are all far too excited at this point, and as you can see Barley in the middle is radiant with joy!

While our fabrics went through the printing process, which ends in this room...

...Chris gave us a tour of his factory. We mentioned Sprout Patterns, the Spoonflower off-shoot, and Chris showed us that people use Contrado's services in exactly the same way. If you look closely at the fabric in front of Chris, you can see that the patterned areas are actually printed in sleeve shapes. I think Kate's look of astonishment here represents the feelings of us all.

Let's stop for a moment to appreciate Momtaz's hair. Oooooooo...

We're in the dedicated sewing room at this point. Contrado is not just a fabric printing factory, they actually produce garments there too. This is the area where they experiment with pattern design and construction of new items. You can see they're working on a floppy brimmed hat. 

They make dresses, vest tops, t-shirts, bomber jackets, leggings and all constructed here in their London factory. I find this truly incredible. At this moment, it looks likely that Britain's biggest steel works are about to be shut down. Manufacturing in the UK has been in decline since the 70s and despite a bit of a buzz about 'made in the UK' in the last few years, it overwhelmingly continues to be outsourced to workers who are paid a lot less in developing countries.

In London right now, land has become a commodity. The government and Mayor of London view land as investment rather than a place where people can live, love and be creative. Yet, right here in our capital Chris and Fran have built a business piece by piece, that now employs a workforce that manufactures custom clothing.

Anyway, back to the sewing room. Look at this machine! It purely exists to sew bias binding! 

And look, they make shoes! Those classic espadrille stitches you can see are done by hand.

Even crazier than this; Contrado don't just manufacture things out of fabric. I asked Chris why there was a corner full of wood and he casually said, "Oh we make deck chairs and canvases." So you can get your custom design printed onto fabric and Chris's team will turn it into a deck chair. RIGHT HERE IN LONDON. Here is Chris in deck chair corner.

They have this awesome ironing board in deck chair corner, which obviously I want.

Chris's factory actually makes things out of almost every material under the sun. They vacuum form phone cases, bowls, trays and Xbox control covers (see below). They make sports bags, pencil cases, lampshades, yoga mats, aprons and they even bind books. RIGHT HERE IN LONDON.

The machinery they have and the breadth of their manufacturing possibilities is unbelievable. I honestly haven't been paid to be a salesperson for any of their products, but I am genuinely astounded by the practical, creative possibilities they have at their fingertips. For instance, if you as an individual wanted to set up a shop that just sold plates, tea towels and table cloths with Ryan Goslings face on, you could.

Anyway, back to the factory to see what's going on with my fabric...

... where my design is being transferred onto polycotton. This process is called sublimation, and the dyes from the paper are being transferred to the fabric at the molecular level as they are pushed together through an enormous rolling heat press.

My mind boggles slightly at the science of this. As far as I understand, the dyes aren't just sitting on the surface of the fabric, they are actually reacting to and combining with the 'poly' part of the polycotton, so that they become part of it. The machine is very hot.

And here is my fabric!

In the normal manufacturing process, once the fabric is printed, the transfer paper is thrown away. However, Tree has experimented with taking this home and pressing it onto fresh, blank fabric using an iron. She has produced really strong, bright prints from using the paper in this way. Chris kindly let us all take our rolls of transfer paper home so we can have a go at this ourselves.

This is the second fabric I got printed. It's a thick, quilted jersey. I'm hoping to turn it into an oversized raglan sweater.

I should've got a picture of me and Barley travelling back to Hackney on the overground with six foot long rolls of paper! But I was too busy concentrating on not taking anyone out with a cardboard tube.

It was an incredible day and wonderful to have my eyes opened to this hidden resource right under my nose. Thanks to Tree for discovering such a gem. I would encourage anyone thinking about custom printing fabric to look at Contrado. They've set up a new website that is dedicated to the fabric printing side of their business. Especially for UK sewists who are often hit with custom charges when buying from Spoonflower, this offers an incredible alternative and actually has so many more fabric possibilities than it's US equivalent.

I haven't blogged for a while (a really long while) as life got very busy, but this got me so excited I had to share, and no doubt I'll be back soon to update you all on what I made with fabric : )

Rosie xx

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Liquorice Linden Sweatshirt

Wow, look at this, a blog post. I haven't been here in such a long time because I'm writing a book, which means I have hardly been doing any selfish sewing, or anything at all really apart from writing a book. If you were to stop me on the street and ask, I would say without hesitation that I haven't done ANY sewing AT ALL since September, when this project began, because I am feeling the totality of deprivation. But when I look at the facts I've actually made four things for myself in the last seven months. Three of those have been from stretchy fabric, which I have only recently discovered the joys of, the number one joy being stretchy things are quick to make. As the world of stretchy garment making has opened up to me, so has the world of buying stretchy fabric, which is wonderful! A whole new world of fabrics through which I cam roam!

A few weeks ago I had to go to Brighton for a funeral. It was a very sad day which I won't go into, but never-the-less four good things happened:

1. I got to see this.

2. I got to meet Wendy Ward from Brighton's super cool sewing studio MIY Workshop. I happened to walk past it and give her door a knock and there she was with her two lovely dogs!

3. I caught up with good friends from way back.

4. I found some really nice fabric in Fabric Land. Here it is:

I have just completed a Linden Sweatshirt with the fabric on the right. I have never seen anything like this fabric before. It looks like a sort of black jersey that has had strings of wool felted onto it. If you look closely (below) you can see that the wrong side of the fabric looks almost like a blurred version of the right side. The wrong side feels a bit like fleece, which is very nice.

The fabric tag on the fabric read simply 'Liquorice Jersey' and the woman in Fabric Land seemed pretty mystified by it too. There was another version that was all purples and greens but I resisted that in the name of making something that I would wear a lot. Cake, rather than icing!

I have made one Linden before, also out of a weird fabric that has a sort of spongey waffle texture. That is the first time I have ever used ribbing and I loved it. (Don't look too closely it's a bit loose and wobbly!)

I decided to make my liquorice version baggier than the first as that's more my style, so I widened the body and deepened the armholes by 3/4 of an inch. I think I'll go a bit wider and deeper next time. I also discovered that this liquorice jersey is actually not very stretchy at all leaving me with a gaping neck hole, so I removed fabric by deeply tapering all four of the raglan seams, which also made the neck hole smaller which coincidentally I was thinking about doing anyway but was too lazy to redraft.

It's been a wild day in London weather wise and I decided to write this blog post on the back of the adrenalin rush I got from completing my 11 mile cycle journey home from work - including a perilous dash across London Bridge - in really strong winds! The wind is so wild that I had a load of new arrivals in the yard when I opened the back door tonight. They are plants from the upstairs neighbours roof garden that have blown down into our yard. Here's one. I don't think it looks very happy about it's swift relocation.

Here's a sleeve close up so you can see the texture of the fabric as well as the nice chunky ribbing. The ribbing feels like it comes from an army & navy shop, it's so nice and rough and industrial.

I was outside taking these pictures for all of five minutes, the beginning of which were cold, blustery and gloomy, the middle few saw the sun emerge in kind of a scary hyperactive way and then right at this moment it started bucketing down with rain!

I'm glad I have a warm homemade sweater to see me through the atmospheric twists and turns that April may bring. Happy spring everybody.