Thursday, 22 September 2011

Catwalk Review - Vivienne Westwood Red Label AW 2011

I have a long standing obsession with Vivienne Westwood. Her designs may be wacky, at times to the point of being unwearable, but then I've always been drawn towards costume. The themes of traditional British heritage mixed with punk styling just work so effortlessly and she cuts her clothes with such skill and cleverness. Since I've been interested in dressmaking I can usually reduce an item of clothing to it's component pattern pieces in my mind, even if I can rarely if ever reproduce these pieces in fabric, but Westwood designs often baffle me!

So of the few fashion week collections I make a habbit of perusing each year, Westwood is almost always the first. I may not have a hope of affording any of the pieces, let along fitting in to them if I could, but there are always a couple of themes and unexpected juxtapositions that a mere mortal of average build can reproduce from the highstreet. This year's Autumn/Winter Red Label collection is no exception.
I'm an absolute sucker for a pencil skirt at the best of times, it's the most common shape in my wardrobe, so I'm sure I could whip together something like this. I love the mix of smart, boyish shirt with vampy skirt and the accessories are perfectly understated. Statement belts are everywhere this season, this red suade hinge belt from River Island for £15 is a cute mix of smart and glitz for £18.
For a shirt, though I have always wanted the perfect oxford from a proper tailor, a man's shirt will work just as well. Wearing it tucket tight into something high-waisted will avoid that shapeless blocky look that can come from wearing mens un-darted clothing. Primark have a surprisingly tasteful range of shirts for around £8 or sometimes even less. I already want the fine red and blue stripe slim fit I bought for fiance a while back. Might nick it out of his wardrobe when I get home! Though a blue and white stripe is even more classic.
Layering is my new best friend now the weather's getting cooler. I still want to get the best use out of my chiffon blouses and satin pussy-bows but don't feel like shivering the day away. There are a lot of chunky patterned knits around this season but for me a skinny knit long line cardi is the perfect throw over item when teamed with a skinny belt. This one in rust red from H&M is adorable for £24.99

There's a mustard yellow one in New Look which is equally versatile and would tie in with the mauve and tan thing I already have gonig on from summer. According to the above I wouldn't be out of season with this combo. I'm also loving the print dress/long socks/cardi combo in the second picture. I'm tempted now to nip back to the boutique sale at Awear which still has some amazing reductions and some dresses that would translate well into autumn. This print tie waist dress is only £19 and though the print is quite bold it would look fab with a pale, well draped cardi. Even the shape is slightly Westwood! I may have to swap the knee highs for a pair of opaque grey tights (also popular on this year's runways) to save that inch of inch of chilly flesh.

Colour and shape are always very important in Vivienne Westwood collections and this season's colours are right up my street.

From this skirt it looks like I need to be digging out and stocking up on turquoise, rust, navy and tan. Easier said then done when I found the Clarissa Jersey Midi dress at for only £20 available in both colours (as well as black) and I can't decide! I think this may be the most versatile shape of the season (and look, another sexy big belt) so if I don't decide on a colour soon I may be forced to buy both!

And finally one more amazing dress from the collection. When Westwood does a LBD she does it with some real pazazz,. Look at that draping! I'm going to have to figure out how she does it as I'm now set on having this kind of cowl neckline for my bridesmaids. Mix it with the circle skirt from the dress above and a big sash belt and they should be wonderfully flattering.

Hooray for Vivienne Westwood! She may be crazy, but she's my kind of crazy!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Penny Black - one of my hats in a music video!

I was so excited when I got my first commission from Scottish singer/songwriter Penny Black back in June, and even more excited to find out it was for her new music video!

She had seen my Write Me a Love Letter hat on Etsy (below) and wanted to change the hat band and flower decoration to match the outfit of one of her extras. She was ever so lovely to work with and I always enjoy commissions, and she promised to send me a link to the video when it was done.

Yesterday she did just that, and it's fab! The video has a Victorian vaudeville theme, with a group of ladies being taken for a ride at a fake seance by a very dapper looking Penny (my hat's one of the things that gets pinched, the blighters!) and also lovely Penny in a pink corset and fantastic bloomers with the sparkliest eyeshadow ever. The song's really great too, I urge you to have a listen. My hat is on the very pretty lady in Green:

Click here for a link to the video on You Tube

I'm so proud! Big thanks to Penny Black and hope to work with her again in future.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Blocking Bug

Finally getting around to a making post! I mean to do more of these but it's hard to get into the habit of taking in progress pictures. Usually when I'm in the flow of making something I won't stop until it's done or I've messed it up!

I bought two rolls of craft sinamay months ago when they were reduced in Paperchase with the vague ambition on learning to block properly and they've been sulking untouched in the corner of my sewing room ever since. But with a posh wedding coming up this weekend and having followed the string of amazing fascinators at the royal weddings and the races this year I thought I'd give it a go myself.

I can't afford real wooden blocks at the moment so I started looking around the house for a substitute. My eyes landed upon a stainless steel fruit bowl with a nice curve to it. Then I flipped it over and found a cute pedestal base perfect for a mini crown

I started by using three layers of the open weave sinamay, wet them thoroughly with hot water and started to smooth and ease them over the shape of the bowl. The sinamay not already having stiffeners in it as proper millinery sinamay would I improvised with watered down PVA (a tip I had read in a few craft blogs) to hold the shape and bond the layers together. I obviously couldn't pin the layers down into the metal as you would with a wooden block so I improvised with some elastic straps and a piece of stiff wire.

Whilst the whole shebang was still pretty wet I covered it with a piece of scrap fabric and pressed it hard with the steam iron to start to cook the shape in to the sinamay. Luckily by this time it was late enough to go to bed as I'm a horror for fiddling with things whilst they're still wet and messing them up completely when I should just leave well enough alone.

The next afternoon I was chomping at the bit to get back from work and see how it turned out. I eased it carefully off the bowl (a couple of hairy moments there) and voila:

The bust is another recent make but I'll save that for another time. At the point of this photo I'd also trimmed and wired the edge.

At this point the two dresses I bought from Awear turned up. Both fit, if a little tight, but both had much paler tones than this creamy yellowish sinamay, so I decided to make a second base from the paler, even weave sinamay. It was easier the second time around and I also decided to accentuate the off centre crown that had been an accident the first time. I love fortuitous accidents.

Finally I added a band of navy grosgrain around the edge and a spray of vintage ostrich and stripped coque feathers that I'd picked up at the Manchester Vintage Textiles Fair. A clear comb on the inside and it was complete!

It's wonderfully light to wear and the tilt should be great for hiding from the family papparazzi. The only problem is now I've been utterly bitten by the blocking bug and keep looking at random objects with possible hat shapes in mind. I've already stolen the lid from the coffee jar, much to fiancé's bemusement!

Piwiwiwi and Campervan Dreams

Q. What do you call a Pommy (Kiwi slang for English person) that moves to New Zealand
A. A Piwi.
Q. What do you call a Welsh man that moves to New Zealand
A. A Wiwi?
So when an English girl and a Welsh man move to New Zealand, it makes perfect sense for them to start up a company calling themselves PiwiWiwi… right?

Well it makes perfect sense to me but perhaps that's because I share my sister's sense of logic.

Anna and Niall emigrated to New Zealand earlier this year to set up, a campervan rental service aimed a the surf tourists who head to NZ for the waves and the landscape. It's quite a scary dream to chase and I'm so proud of them for making the leap. Check out the site for some gorgeous scenic pics!

I caught up with sis on Skype a few evenings ago to hear more of their adventures. Amongst the busy practicalities of starting a new business she's still managing to be shame-makingly healthy, active and eco. Whilst I lounge on the sofa most evenings drinking wine and internet shopping or fiddling with ribbons and frippery in my sewing room, she's been surfing, running, hiking, eating poridge and lentils and other such stuff that us ordinary folk promise ourselves we'll do but never quite get round to. A large part of last night's conversation centered around sustainable energy, composting toilets and worm farming! I tease her about it mercilessly but secretly I'm rather jealous of her drive and ambition, as well as her ever shrinking waistline!

4 wheel adventures are rather on my mind at the moment. Future Mother-In-Law has recently bought a snazzily compact and rather bijou caravan and I just re-visited the amazing website of Roulotte Retreats who rent amazingly decorated static gypsy caravans full of sumptuous fabrics and dripping with chic and it all has me dreaming of hitting the open road. The fiance and I had a vague plan to buy a camper and travel around Europe for a month or so for our honeymoon, before we both realised that taking a month off was utterly impractical and campers are darned expensive!

Still, a girl can dream and me being me I'm dreaming of all the little extras I could take with me to make my compact life a little more swanky whilst remaining practical:

I was never much inspired by melamine. It always seemed like the maiden aunt of crockery, slightly dull and utterly unbreakable. I think I was prejudiced at an early age, our family camping set was a couple of shockingly plain seventies brown plates, a few "cheery" coloured beakers and the obligatory thermos. It looks like I judged too early, a quick etsy search and uncovered a host of beautiful pastel shades and iconic shapes like this lovely set for $85:
and this one for $57
Unfortunately most seem to be from the US and I can imagine shipping being astronomical, otherwise one of these sets may already have been on it's way to NZ for use in the PiwiWiwi vans.

Luckily for the more local the trend for vintage-styling has extended to picnic ware. John Lewis has a couple of very cute ranges that I could see gracing the cubby-holes of my dream camper.
Whilst the Brights range is adorable I'm not sure the fiance would be happy travelling in a haven to pastel, plus it being the end of the BBQ season (Boo) it's almost sold out (the set of 4 beakers is reduced to £5) so I think I'd plump for the Summer Folk range (priced between £2 and £11 oer item). OK, it's only marginally less girly, but just about enough to get away with I think and it would certainly brighten up dining alfresco
I've never been much of an admirer of the sleeping bag. Clustraphobic little cocoons made of slippery polyester that take ages to warm up then instantly get sweaty and tangled. On recent camping trips I've abandoned the idea completely and just taken a duvet instead, seriously it's the way forward! I think for the camper I'd choose the Twister double duvet cover (available from numerous stockists including Amazon) cause it would tone in with the crockery and... well it's Twister!
Also essential is a snuggly throw for picnics and campfire moments and I can't think of a better one than  this Fleece Map Throw from the lovely Indigo and Bloom (a site I fully intend to preuse further in future). It may be £95 but it would make route planning our European odyssey a lot more exciting.
Food and drink
I love campfire cooking, so lazy but so satisfying. Chuck a can of chunky veg soup and a packet of instant rice into a cook pot, add some chopped hotdog sausages and in a very few minutes (or an eternity depending on the age of your gas burner and how hungry you are at the time) and you have a hot meal. Our cook set is this one from Go Ourdoors (RRP £20 but much cheaper with a members card). It's the perfect size for two, packs down to nothing and is impressively non-stick. Clever fiance even managed to whip up some impressive poached eggs for us in one of the lids.
Tea is another travelling essential. Whilst the fiance is an absolute tea addict I can pretty much take or leave the humble British brew, but when you're out on the road (especially in the wilds of the British countryside when you're likely to be rather chilly) there's nothing more comforting than a cup of tea to warm your hands and your insides. Whilst heating water in a cookpot is fine for camping, in the dream camper van I'm thinking of something a bit more civilised. A proper stove top whistling kettle is just the ticket, and you can never go wrong with Le Creuset in the classic Volcanic colourway. Rrp £65 but £44.83 from amazon

A china teapot is also one of life's greatest luxuries, but for practicalities sake enamel wins when travelling as it's likely to take a few knocks and this Folklore Teapot is utterly gorgeous and only £16.95 from
 Finally, a decent tea towel may seem a mundane thing to get excited over but this one by Betsy Benn also at is such a classic. I'm a sucker for a union jack at the best of times, and when the design is made up of quintissentially British people, places and things you can't go wrong. Even better the diagonal red cross lists the ingredients and (the website tells me reliable) recipe for Victoria Sponge! £10 may seem a lot for a tea towel, but if it makes the drying up a less onerous task then it may just be worth it.

 Well, that's the dream camper mostly kitted out, now all that's left to do is win the lottery, find the perfect one and set off into the sunset. Or at the very least start saving my pennies for a trip to NZ to stay in a Piwiwiwi van.