I’ve just published a new vlog to my YouTube channel, featuring my favourite sewing and knitting related things for October, and my own current projects and plans.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
I thought it was about time I blogged a finished garment. This is my Vogue V9253 (i.e. that Vogue dress with the really low neckline which everyone raises). I made this to wear to the Sewing Weekender, and to Phil’s sister’s wedding, which was two weeks later.
It’s no wonder this pattern has been so popular; as everyone has told you, it’s a quick and easy sew, it has a flattering fit since the bodice is fitted but it’s loose from the waist down, and it would work in a wide range of fabrics. I think it would make a great winter party dress in a heavier weight fabric like a crepe or velvet, however, I already have a Trend Patterns 70s Dress cut out, which I was planning to wear to last year’s Christmas party, and am hoping to actually sew in time for this year’s.
I love the look of this fabric, but it is a lesson in buying good quality fabric. This is a polyester which cost £2 per metre from Birmingham Rag Market. I love the print, but the fabric feels cheap – it’s sweaty in hot weather, it’s already started to pill (after approximately four wears) and snags easily. Since this was my first time making the pattern it’s not a huge loss, since it basically acted as a wearable toile, but how much better to have made it in a fabric which would last for years. I would say lesson learned, but the Rag Market is so tempting, and SewBrum will be here in a month’s time, so no promises!
I made some exceedingly rookie errors, which may have been due to me trying to sew quickly to finish this before the Sewing Weekender, or may just have been due to me being generally a little absent-minded. I sewed, and overlocked, all the way up the skirt back seam, meaning that I needed to unpick my stitches to insert the zip. I then repeated the same mistake on the bodice, and because the bodice is fitted there then wasn’t enough seam allowance left to insert the zip and for the bodice to fit. I didn’t have enough fabric or patience to re-cut the bodice, so I cut some narrow strips and attached these to either side of the bodice back seam – voila a bodice which fits. I also completely forgot that the dress was supposed to have waist ties until I found them hanging over the back of a chair while packing to leave for the Weekender. I wore the dress without waist ties at the Weekender and added them before I wore it to Lucy and Jack’s wedding; I think the dress works fine with or without ties.
I had an early start yesterday, catching a train to Leeds for Sew Up North. Today I’ve done the opposite, and spent the morning on the sofa, blogging and watching The Fashion Fund on Netflix (recommended, it’s like Project Runway, but documentary as opposed to reality show). I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to everyone at Sew Up North, and am really inspired to sew as a result of seeing what everyone was wearing and my fabric purchases. Today’s task is to make some progress on my Refashioners Project – I’m determined to finish in time to participate in the challenge, and am not letting myself work on any other sewing projects until it is complete, as added motivation.
Ahh, I love a good meet-up. I’ve just booked my train ticket to Leeds for Sew Up North this weekend, and before too long passes and the memory fades, I wanted to blog a few thoughts and a few photos from the Sewing Weekender.
The third Sewing Weekender took place during August at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge. It was the largest Weekender yet, with 100 attendees (including 5 speakers & experts, 3 organisers – that’s me, Kate and Rachel – and 92 attendees). 24 of our attendees had attended before, and it was lovely to see a mix of good friends and familiar faces, but also to meet some friends in person for the first time, and to know that different people are managing to get hold of tickets, given that they sold out in no time yet again this year.
To squeeze in one hundred attendees we were split across two rooms, coming together for tea and coffee breaks, and for lunch in the College dining room on Saturday. As in previous years, attendees worked on a sewing project (or two) of their choice. I’m always impressed that attendees manage to finish projects during the weekend. I think I’m quite a slow sewer, and am sure I would be slower than ever when there is so much opportunity to procrastinate talking, drinking tea, listing to talks, and attending workshops.
I’m also always impressed by how beautifully dressed our attendees are. Being surrounded by 100 sewists is a great opportunity to see a range of patterns made-up and ‘in the flesh’ (The Closet Case Patterns Jenny Overalls were a favourite this year). In previous years I have planned but failed to make an outfit specifically for the Weekender, but this year I was determined to, and I managed it! We had a warm, but intermittently wet, weekend, and the V9253 dress I made was ideal for swanning about the College.
When you organise an event, I find that you can never believe quite how quickly it speeds by, after such a long lead time preparing for it. I’ve been really lucky to work with Kate & Rachel (of The Fold Line), who make organising the Weekender very easy for me! One of my main tasks is receiving all of the lovely goodie bag booty from our sponsors, and hiring a big van to drive it, plus irons, ironing boards, and decorations, down to Cambridge. Setting up takes the three of us an age, but this year attendees pitched in when it was time to pack up, and with everyone boxing up a Janome sewing machine each, we were packed up in no time!
Our speakers were, yet again, total pros, giving insights into caring for your me-made (and RTW) garments (Harriet), the history of sewing pattern magazines and the development of the Maker’s Atelier magazine (Frances), setting up and running a fabric shop (Sheona), and practical advice on getting a book deal (Karen).
One of the many amazing things about the sewing community, is being part of a community of people (and mostly women) who are doing so many interesting and inspiring things. From sharing beautiful sewing projects and blog posts, publishing great podcasts/vlogs/newsletters, and organising events, through to making the commitment to start businesses, develop patterns, and write books. One of the other amazing things about this community, is that despite its members being busy, smart, and ambitious, they are also nice as pie. I’ll leave you with pictures of some exceedingly friendly faces, and hope to see you at a meet-up soon.
I’ve just published a short vlog with some favourite sewing (and the odd knitting) related things I’ve spotted recently. All being well, I’m hoping to make it a regular series.
I used to publish lists of some of my favourite finds on the blog, but the vlog seems an ideal way of sharing them.
I’ve had a lovely quiet Sunday morning filming and editing; hopefully it will make for ideal Sunday afternoon viewing. I’m now going to get back to work on my refashioners project, accompanied by tea and a (admittedly complete bilge) Hedy Lamarr film.