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A Sewing & Knitting Blog, Made in Birmingham, England


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Dior Bar Suit – Hat Refashion

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

This is my third and final blog post about my outfit for the Refashioners 2018, which was inspired by Dior’s Bar suit, focusing on the process of refashioning a hat.

A number of hats were paired with the Bar suit when it was shown in the 50s, and in photographs since, but I wanted to recreate the hat from the photo which inspired this refashion (more info in my original blog post).

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

The inspiration hat was made of straw, and seemingly had a flat circular area at the top, and a wide, slightly curved brim. Given the ‘basket’ style of the hat, I decided that my best bet for a second hand material for refashioning was a woven bowl.

I spotted the bowl above in the window of a charity shop while on holiday with my family in Dorset and decided to give it a try. You can see from the images above that the original bowl was too large, flat, multi-coloured, and also far, far too heavy, to be used as a hat without refashioning.

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

Once home from Dorset, I took a stitch-unpicker to the bowl. A stitch-unpicker was the ideal tool, but due to the thickness of the material I did break at least five before I finished unravelling it. The trick to not breaking the stitch-unpicker was to keep it as flat as possible against the side of the bowl, but it was easy to forget, lift it up slightly and snap the blade.

As you can see in the photos above and below, the bowl consisted of long strands (of straw or similar) which were bound into a bowl shape with lots of small curls of raffia (or similar material). I cut through and removed the curls, released the long strands and loosely tied these together, until I reached a point where I had a small circular base remaining which I thought would serve as the top of the hat.

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

With the bowl sufficiently deconstructed, I bound the long strands with garden twine to give structure and create a long curved material which would form my hat. I then threaded more twine through a knitters needle and used it to sew (through the existing twine) the hat together.

After that, it was just a matter of trying the hat on and altering accordingly; I made a number of tweaks before I was happy with it, including reducing the circumference of the flat circular top of the hat, and removing quite a bit of depth from the bottom.

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

Now that we’re back from photographing the outfit in Paris (photos below), I have put the hat back to work as a bowl (which it still works as, thanks to the flat base)! The jacket and skirt fit into my daily wardrobe, and the shoes and petticoat will also be worn although less frequently. I’m pleased that I was able to make a dramatic outfit, but also that it consisted of components which will get regular use.

Thanks again to Portia for inspiring and challenging us through the Refashioners series

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

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Dior Bar Suit – Jacket Refashion

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

I wanted to go into more detail on the process of creating a Bar suit jacket as part of my contribution to The Refashioners 2018.

As mentioned previously, my starting point was a second-hand men’s suit jacket purchased in a local charity shop. The jacket appealed as it seemed to be a nice quality, and had labels inside stating that it was made in the UK from British wool. Clearly it differs from the inspiration in terms of both colour and material (the original Bar jacket was made in silk), but I thought a wool jacket would make for a more wearable end result.

The Refashioners Pre-Refashion Men's Suit

The Refashioners Pre-Refashion Men's Suit

Although the original jacket looks huge on me, I had very little excess fabric to play with, so used some blue tweed British wool from my stash (purchased from Beyond Measure) for the contrast side panels and collar. Given that the original suit was made from British wool, I thought that this would be a suitable pairing and also add some interest in terms of colour and texture. I do think the end result looks like a very British interpretation of the Bar jacket, possibly due to the tweed!

In order to achieve the Bar jacket shaping I used Gertie’s Butterick pattern #B5962 as my starting point. A word of caution for anyone interested in my thoughts on this pattern, because I was working with an existing jacket, as opposed to fabric, there were lots of patterns pieces I didn’t use (including the collar, facing and lining pieces), and there were other pieces (i.e. the jacket front) where I only used the pattern pieces to help estimate where to cut or add shaping.

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

I did find that the B5962 pattern contains a lot of ease and I wonder whether Butterick included a standard outerwear level of ease, when a very close fit is clearly needed for this style. Based on my measurements, I originally graded between sizes 10 (bust) and 12 (waist/hip), however it turned out huge so I went back and reduced the top of the jacket (down to the waist line) to a size 8, grading to a 12 below the waist for added volume in the ‘peplum’ section. I also found the shoulders too wide on me so trimmed off 1.5 cm at the sleeve head, grading down to 1cm. I still think there is a little too much ease in the centre back, but I was way too far along to remove this before I noticed.

I managed to retain quite a few features of the original men’s jacket. For the jacket fronts, I used the B5962 pattern to estimate where to cut the inside seam, armhole and shoulder seam, plus where to add shaping – meaning I retained the original hem and front, including buttons, buttonholes and part of the collar. Similarly I retained the existing hem on the back of the jacket (including the back vent), and on the sleeves. The buttons on the sleeve are original, and amazingly I managed to identically match the original buttons on the front (in John Lewis) to increase the number of buttons from two to six. I was initially intending to retain the original collar but decided it looked a little bit dull, so retained the sections on the jacket front and used the remainder of original collar to cut a new version in blue tweed.

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

An awful lot of the time I spent on this jacket was spent on the insides – determining where to add, and where to remove, interfacing and padding. The jacket fronts were already backed with a lightweight fusible interfacing, but strangely the back wasn’t. I added a similar weight interfacing to the back of the jacket, and a heavier weight on the added blue tweed sections, since the tweed was much drapier than the original jacket fabric. I removed strips of canvas which were shaping the original collar and neckline, added shoulder pads, and I added padding (thinsulate, since that is what I already had in my stash) to the peplum section of the jacket to try and add body.

Gertie’s B5962 pattern attempts to replicate the Bar silhouette through a combination of long darts, and through the use of side panels. Having studied images of Dior Bar jackets, I believe that each jacket front is actually constructed of two panels, and I think these are needed to create the really dramatic Bar silhouette (the B5962 pattern uses darts in a similar position instead). There are less images online of the back of the Bar jacket (some good images here), but it also appears to be constructed from multiple panels (the B5962 back is constructed from two). It would have been difficult to retain as much of the original jacket if I had been attempting to recreate the Bar jacket more closely, but I would be interested to try a more faithful recreation at some point.

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

I had read online that hip padding would have been worn under the New Look outfits, to create the required shaping at the hips (see here for a video and here for a related sewing pattern). I decided to try and create some hip padding the evening before we left for Paris, and visited the £1 Shop to see what suitable supplies they might have! I found a pack of three sponges for £1, strung them together on some yarn (I sewed through the middle of each sponge), and tied it around my hips. I’m wearing my ‘hip padding’ in the pictures below (outside the Dior building with the blue door). You can see it does create a more exaggerated peplum effect, but I decided I preferred the silhouette without so I’m not wearing it in the other images. P.S. these images outside Dior (above and below) were taken around the original Dior studio at 30 Avenue Montaigne, founded by Christian Dior in the 1940s.

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

This outfit has occupied almost all of my sewing time for the last month, and I’m really proud of what I achieved, both in terms of overall effect and my ability to bring my plans to life. I definitely think that basic refashioning (like the skirt, which I simply reduced in length) makes for a quick, satisfying sewing project, well suited to a beginner. However, I think that dramatically altering a garment (like the jacket in my refashion) can be significantly more complex and time consuming than sewing with fabric. This type of refashioning makes for an interesting challenge, but I don’t think I would have completed this jacket with less years of sewing experience under my belt. It’s definitely a indication, to myself, that my sewing skills have reached a point where I am able to interpret what isn’t working, and how I might resolve it, as opposed to needing to rely solely on instructions (although nice simple instructions are still very nice!).

I have one further post to share with you about this outfit, about how I made my hat.

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018


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Dior Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

When I saw that the theme of the Refashioners this year was ‘Inspired By’, there was only ever one garment I was going to make. I love visiting fashion exhibitions and have lots of fashion reference books, and there are brands (Biba) and decades (30s-40s) that I’m fascinated by, but there are only two actual garments which I love inordinately: Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress & Christian Dior’s Bar suit.

I’m a huge fan of the Refashioners and devour the blog posts every year, but have only participated once before (the 2015 men’s shirt challenge). My project for this year actually started with last year’s men’s suit challenge, and I’m very happy to have brought it to fruition a year later. (I still have a selection of jeans – old ones Phil was chucking out – from the 2016 challenge which will also eventually get refashioned).

This time last year I was in a hectic period at work and had decided that I wasn’t going to add to my to-do list/stress levels by taking part in the Refashioners, but then I popped into a charity shop during one lunch break and came away with a British wool suit, made in the UK, which was too good to resist. The suit consisted of a jacket and waist coat. I posed in it for the pre-refashion pictures below last year, and Phil told me that I looked like three children stood on each other’s shoulders trying to buy alcohol.

The Refashioners Pre-Refashion Men's Suit

The Refashioners Pre-Refashion Men's Suit

I always intended to refashion the jacket into a version of Dior’s Bar jacket and I made a first attempt at fitting the body last year, but it turned out way too large and I had no time to fine tune the fit, so the jacket ended up hanging on my wardrobe door for a whole year. When Portia announced the theme of this year’s Refashioners, I knew it was time to return to the jacket – and to go a step further and try to recreate a whole ‘look’.

My favourite (and also the most famous) photo of the Bar suit was taken in 1955 (or possibly 1957) by Willy Maywald, modelled by Dior house model Renee, and shot in Paris (more on that later). As you can see from the original photo below, the full outfit consists of the Bar jacket, plus skirt, gloves, hat, and shoes. I’ll go into detail, but for information I refashioned a jacket, skirt, petticoat and hat. My gloves were new as I couldn’t find suitable second-hand gloves in a local charity shop and didn’t want to pay what was being charged online. My shoes were second-hand and are 1950s originals purchased on eBay (for £30).

BarSuit

Once I had decided to recreate the outfit in the photo, I set about finding the other components. I found a suitable skirt (shown pre-refashion below) during another lunch break charity shop trip. The skirt met my criteria for a black pleated skirt and, as an added bonus, already fit me at the waist. To modify the skirt for my refashion, I simply removed 6 inches from the bottom and turned it up by another 2 inches to create a nice deep hem.

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

To give the skirt volume, I used an existing petticoat I bought on eBay years ago but have rarely worn, partly because the shaping never seemed quite right. This project finally convinced me to take my scissors to the petticoat and alter it to my liking – which was as simple as reducing the length of the top layer of tulle (the picture below shows the petticoat after I’d taken my scissors to it). While we’re on the topic of undergarments, the minuscule waist in the original photo suggests a corset, but I had no desire or intention of trying to reduce the size of my waist.

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

The hat was a bit more of a puzzle. If I had been starting out with new materials, I would have been tempted to try crocheting a hat out of raffia (inspired by Emily’s bag), but there was no way I was going to find raffia suitable for crochet in a charity shop. I decided my best bet was to look for woven bowls, and spotted the bowl below in the window of a charity shop while on holiday with my family in Dorset. As you can see from the photos, a refashion was in order since the bowl was too large, flat, colourful, and far too heavy, to use as a hat in its original form.

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

The Refashioners 2018 Outfit in Progress

Once all components of the outfit were ready, one further element was required to recreate my inspiration image – location. I knew that the original Willy Maywald photo had been taken in Paris, and could tell that it had been taken along the Seine, so Phil and I decided to take a trip to Paris to recreate the photo! This wasn’t quite as extravagant an act as it sounds (well maybe just a bit), as we’d been talking about taking a short break and the photos decided the location for us.

We took the photos on a Sunday morning, and on the previous Saturday night Phil and I walked along the banks of the Seine for a couple of hours looking for a suitable spot. We determined that the original photo had been taken on one of the ramps leading down to the Seine from the path above. We became extremely picky with our comparison of these ramps against our criteria (height of wall, cobbled, wide pavement, trees either side, etc.). We didn’t find a ramp which looked exactly like the ramp in the original photo (it my still be out there somewhere…), but we did pretty well.

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

To avoid writing an epically long blog post, I’m going to discuss the details of my jacket and hat refashions in a separate post or two, and finish here by revealing my finished outfit, photographed beside the Seine. For reference, I used Gertie’s Butterick pattern #B5962 as a starting point for the jacket, but very much working with the existing features where possible.

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018

Bar Suit for The Refashioners 2018


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Fashion Designer Autobiographies

As a sewist, I’m fascinated by fashion designers. I’m fascinated by their designs, their design and production processes, and – simply because I’m nosy and love an autobiography – their lives.

I’ve read quite a few autobiographies by designers lately. Phil is in Liverpool for a football match so I thought I’d curl up with a cup of tea (or two, this is a long post) this Saturday and write a review post in case anyone else is looking for a new book and fancies some fashion related inspiration.

Dior by Dior book

Dior by Dior: The Autobiography of Christian Dior

If you’re interested in the personal life of Christian Dior then this isn’t the book for you. This is probably the least personal autobiography I’ve ever read; Dior gives nothing away. In fact he states at the very beginning of the book that this is an autobiography of Dior the couturier, not the private individual. What Dior does cover, in great detail, is the fashion industry of the 1940s and 50s. As a result the book can be a slightly dry read, although Dior has a nice turn of phrase. The book does give a real insight into the life of a couturier at that time, and is great on the terminology and intimate details of haute couture. The sections on the design process at the studio (which included a huge staff), on the role of the mannequins or models, the showing of the collection (including restrictions on the press, who were not allowed to make any drawings) and the fitting of wealthy clients, are all fascinating from a historical perspective.

It is also interesting in terms of understanding the system of fashion houses, where a designer has the financial backing to experiment and develop, and to focus on being a designer. This is in striking contrast to a couple of the books below, where self financed designers write about constantly struggling, and devoting huge amounts of time, to financing their next collections.

Overall, read this book if you’re interested in how, in the 40s and 50s, a dress went from a drawing by Dior to being fitted on a client. However, I would recommend reading it alongside a more prying biography of Dior, to give a sense of his personal life, and of how other people viewed him.

DVF The Woman I Wanted To Be book

The Woman I Wanted to be, Diane Von Furstenberg

This book is the exact opposite of the Dior book above, this is an especially personal autobiography. By that I mean that DVF doesn’t just tell you what happened, she also tells you how she felt, and devotes quite large sections of the book to talking about her emotions, relationships and mental state.

DVF has had a fascinating life, and in this book she comes across as an inspiring, talented, powerful woman. You get the sense from this book that you would love DVF if you knew her in person.

The book covers both DVF’s career and her personal life. In my opinion it chops and changes between the two a little too much. For example, DVF will write about a period in her life, focusing on her relationships at that time and her personal state of mind, and then, in a later chapter, she’ll write about the same time period, focusing on what was happening professionally. I would have preferred the book to have told a more liner story, with the personal and professional stories told at the same time, for a better balance. My only other criticism is that the book can be a little ‘luvvie’ (in the theatrical sense); It isn’t that the book is insincere, but DVF spends large sections of the book talking about how great life is / love is / how we should be thankful for what we have. Not that I’m disagreeing, but somewhere within these sections there will often be a mention of a private plane,weekly facials/massages at home, celebrity friends, multiple homes, boats, etc.

Don’t let that put you off though. DVF is an interesting and inspiring woman and, as well as being a good read, this book will motivate you.

DVF The Wrap Book

Diane Von Furstenberg: The Wrap, Andre Leon Talley

This is a tiny book. It contains a very short biography of DVF, followed by 27 photos. The biography is magazine article length, and isn’t especially revealing. The photos are a mixture of photos of Diane, and DVF catwalk or advertising photos (a number of which are also included in The Woman I Wanted To Be). Due to the tiny amount of content included I wouldn’t advise buying this book; I borrowed it from the library:)

Helen Storey Fighting Fashion book

Helen Storey Fighting Fashion book

Fighting Fashion, Helen Storey

Helen Storey is a British fashion designer who had her own label in the 1980s-90s. Helen now co-directs the Helen Storey Foundation, a London based not for profit arts organisation, which organises multi-disciplinary projects or exhibitions which bring together fashion, art and science. She also supports the development of young fashion designers as a Professor at University of the Arts, London.

Helen’s autobiography tells her story as a designer, first working for other fashion houses and then establishing and running her own label, until it eventually went into receivership. Helen’s illustrations and photographs which are included allow you to get a good sense of each of the collections Helen writes about designing. The title of Helen’s book is appropriate – this book is about the battle, and constant struggle to run your own label. Not just the struggle as a designer to innovate, develop and appeal to your audience. But the struggle to administer a multi-million pound business, while also being creative, and having a personal life. When every collection has to pay for the next, it places a huge pressure on the company and its staff, not only for the collection to be profitable, but also to receive the income as soon as possible as you are constantly short on funds to invest in the next collection.

Fighting Fashion is also a very honest account of supporting a partner through a long battle with an invasive cancer.

It’s a book about what training and support designers need, and how the British fashion industry needs to change in order for young designers to succeed.

It’s one woman’s account of all of the above, and well worth a read.

The Biba Experience book

From A to Biba: The Autobiography of Barbara Hulanicki

(Photo from ‘The Biba Experience’, as I forgot to get a photo of ‘From A to Biba’)

Ok, I saved my favourite until last; I love this book. In the UK, Biba is a part of our consciousness. It’s the brand your mom tells you was on her wish list as a teenager, it’s the brand mentioned in any article or documentary about British fashion or London in the 1960s and 70s, and it’s one of the labels included on permanent display in the fashion gallery at the V&A.

Like Helen Storey, Hulanicki writes about the difficulty of financing a small business. Hulanicki tells great stories, such as desperately trying to locate pink gingham fabric, because Biba sold a huge volume of dresses via mail order before obtaining the fabric or anyone to produce the dress (because the potential number of orders was a total unknown and those mail order payments were needed to fund the fabric, and the production). Hulanicki conveys the atmosphere of being the ‘it’ store of the 1960s, patronised by celebrities and a favourite hang-out of teens. She tells the story of what it means to be a successful brand, and to keep identifying opportunities to expand – from the original mail-order company to Big Biba, a huge department store that was one of London’s most popular tourist attractions with up to a million visitors a week. And of the increased pressure this expansion places on a business, and the necessity of seeking outside funding, which eventually led to Hulanicki loosing control of Biba.

Reading From A to Biba will make you love Biba, it will make you wish you could shop at Big Biba, and it will send you to ebay to calculate the cost of purchasing a vintage Biba dress (p.s. not cheap).

Phew that was a long post, hopefully you’ve been inspired to visit the library or browse Amazon. When I’ve read a few more biographies I’ll let you know.

Disclaimer: Post contains affiliate links; all views expressed are my own.