The Great British Sewing Bee: Fashion with Fabric review

Ever watch the Great British Sewing Bee and think: I could TOTALLY do this. I definitely could speed sew as though my life depended on it on national television.

dsc00405

Well, you know what, I never have. Even my mum agreed I’d be pretty bad at sewing quickly. Yet what did I do in the course of preparing my review of the Great British Sewing Bee: Fashion with Fabric? I challenged myself to the GBSB experience at home. And it was messy.

Long story short, my room now looks like a thread-filled hurricane hit it. It’s made me wonder just how many helpers the GBSB crew have to help keep the sewing room clean and if I can possibly borrow some to clean this mess up.

Before I get to the project which unleashed such chaos on my room, let’s have a little nose at the book, shall we?

OBLIG NOTE THAT YOU SHOULD NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT ANY GBSB SPOILERS

Continue reading

Nevermind the wonky pockets: 9 things I learnt making my first coat

I have wanted to make a coat for absolutely ages.

coat1

Much like trousers, they’re one of those garments which seem hella daunting. It’s taken me years to finally brave it. But just before Christmas, I got there! Hurrah! Made from a fuzzy wool tweed and a satin lining, it’s the perfect slouchy coat and has certainly got me through the Winter months. The pattern is the Gerard by Republique du Chiffon. Marketed as a ‘boyfriend’ coat, the slouchiness makes it the perfect beginner coat. (Sadly the instructions don’t, but more on that later)

coat 4

Basically even though I’ve just noticed the pockets are wonky (I MEASURED AND EVERYTHING WHYYYYY) and I had a minor social media meltdown over the pattern pieces, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve achieved.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Instagram will have seen all the ups and downs already, but here’s a little more about what I learned:

Continue reading

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope your stockings were full of sewing goodies and you’ve had a great day with the family. I know I have!

Well, the cat likes her present anyway. Merry Christmas everyone!

A photo posted by Elena Cresci (@elenacresci) on

The past month has been a touch hectic as you can imagine but I’ll get round to posting some updates (including on my coat!) as soon as I’m back in London.

Making my first coat

Oh crikey – I’m not entirely sure what I’ve let myself in for with this one.

I’ve wanted to make a coat for forever, but have never quite had the guts to actually go ahead and do it. Sometimes I feel like my sewing techniques are a little too slapdash for the more complicated projects. But how do you get better if you don’t try and stretch yourself every now and then.

Luckily for me, the “in” shape (basically the coat everyone in London seems to be wearing) is a slouchy, boxy boyfriend coat, usually in varying shades of pastel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to follow trends usually, but it makes it a lot easier to find inspiration when you see it on the Tube every morning.

I had a look at a few boxy-type patterns and ended up going for Republique du Chiffon’s Gerard coat and I think I’ve found a great black and white tweed fabric in a shop near me . I had thought about going for some ridiculous colour, but I think I’d rather something a bit more neutral for my first coat.

That said, I’m not overly encouraged by this pattern so far. It’s been quite a bumpy ride, and I’m not even halfway through the toile. Being a French company, all of RDC’s patterns are, of course, in French. But some of them are also available in English PDF versions. I thought: great!

My least favourite bit. And I've also got to trace some pieces. Buggerit.

A photo posted by Elena Cresci (@elenacresci) on

Unfortunately, all the pattern pieces are still labelled in handwritten French, so you’ve got the job of deciphering the handwriting as well as matching the pieces to the English in the instructions. They do have a key, but a couple of the pieces aren’t numbered, which makes it a bit confusing. Also, I really wasn’t keen on having to tape the pattern pieces together and also trace them afterward. I’m told this is common with French patterns, but I’m a firm believer in not having to trace if you spend an indordinate time taping the pieces together.

On top of this, because I’m a bit thick when it comes to instructions anyway and keep getting confused, the toile keeps going wrong. I’ve sewn wrong bits together, got confused by which pieces they mean (I really wish they’d referred to the numbers in the instructions) and just made a bit of a mess of the whole thing so far.

I wish this was a more positive update of the coat-making! But I’ve had a super-frustrating evening and I haven’t even begun fitting the damn thing yet. I’m kind of worried the shape is going to look awful on me and I’ll have to scrap the entire thing.

*sigh*

If anyone’s made this pattern and has any tips, they’d be much appreciated…

MailOnline screenshot

Feminist T-shirts: garment workers’ rights should not be a political football

SEE BELOW FOR UPDATE

Because we sew, we know exactly how much work goes into a garment.

If I’m on a roll, it can take me a couple of evenings to make a skirt. Imagine doing that over and over, day after day… for just 62p an hour.

As a feminist and a seamstress, I was pretty disappointed to see the front page of today’s Mail on Sunday, which claimed workers in a factory in Mauritius were working on ELLE’s feminist T-shirts under pretty terrible conditions for a pittance. These T-shirts cost £45. If the conditions are as bad as described, then there’s absolutely no excuse.

The Fawcett Society does some excellent work, so, while this particular campaign wasn’t for me, I am disappointed for them. Their statement makes it clear they were concerned the T-shirts weren’t being manufactured in the UK. As far as I can see, they may have been quite badly let down by Whistles. I should state here, the Fawcett Society has asked for evidence to back up the Mail’s claims. Their statement adds:

If any concrete and verifiable evidence of mistreatment of the garment producers emerges, we will require Whistles to withdraw the range with immediate effect and donate part of the profits to an ethical trading campaigning body.

Whistles has said they’re investigating the allegations “as a matter of urgency”.

Let’s be clear: while this is an important story, the only reason it’s on the Mail on Sunday’s front page is because it’s an excellent chance for them to have a pop at Labour (and maybe feminism too while they’re at it). Nick Clegg wore the T-shirt as well, but he hasn’t been mentioned on the front page. One of the things I despise about politics is how people’s lives and working conditions become political footballs pre-election season. And it’s only going to get worse.

The exact same thing happens with coverage of the Welsh NHS. Normally, the national press doesn’t care too much about what happens in Wales. But because it’s run by Welsh Labour right now, the right-wing press sees it as far too good to not have a politically-slanted pop. I wouldn’t mind, except I know full well when May 2015 comes and goes, Welsh issues will return to the back of their minds, relegated to the back pages.

I digress.

Long-term readers of this blog will know I’m not someone who buys new clothes on a regular basis. That said, since my pledge ended and I’ve had less time to sew, I have inevitably been buying the occasional basic if I can’t find something decent second hand on eBay. Thanks to a hefty overdraft, I stick to the places I can get a T-shirt for cheap, feeling like a complete sellout.

It’s become increasingly difficult to find ethical and affordable clothing. As wages are squeezed and the cost of living gets higher, cheap clothes are so much more accessible. But we know cheap clothes come at a human cost. It’s been more than a year since the Rana Plaza disaster – and I’m not sure anything has changed. My colleague did a quick video around the time of the anniversary, asking some people if it had changed their shopping habits. Not that many people said yes. You can watch the video here.

People sign up to the Seamless Pledge for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they want to sew more or perhaps they want to cull their wardrobe to the basics. But the majority of them say they’re concerned about the way the items in their wardrobes are made. They want to take ownership of the ethics in their wardrobe the only way they know how. True, there’s still an issue with sourcing ethical fabric – but at least you know the conditions in which your clothing was made.

We absolutely should be talking about the rights of the people who make our clothes, but not just because some Labour MPs wore these shirts. We need to be talking about ethical manufacturing all the time and we need to demand better for the sake of the people who put the clothes on our backs.

As for me, I think it’s high time I renewed my pledge.

Also I have to emphasise again: the Fawcett Society does some amazing work, so do go check them out and perhaps donate if you’d like to.

On a completely separate note – YEP, I’m blogging again. More on that soon…

UPDATE Weds, November 5: The Fawcett Society has said the T-shirts were in fact made ethically. Full report here.

Found this quote pretty interesting:

Laura Harvey, lecturer in the sociology of media at the University of Surrey, criticised the newspaper’s report. “It was a cynical political move against an important feminist campaigning organisation. If the Daily Mail really cares about workers’ rights why aren’t they running stories about the garment industry more widely and the campaigns to improve worker’s rights?” she told the Guardian.

My point above still stands – ethical manufacturing is still a huge issue and I agree with Laura Harvey: we should be reporting on it as much as possible. If you’re interested, the Guardian did an interactive earlier this year about the human cost of the Bangladeshi garment industry.

In progress: the maid of honour dress

Every now and then, you get to sew something a bit special.

Tonight's progress #sewing

A photo posted by Elena Cresci (@elenacresci) on

A couple of weeks ago I got a text from my buddy Tom telling me that he and his fiance Karl had set a date for their wedding. I did a little dance, told him I’d definitely be there and that I couldn’t wait to make a dress for it. To which he answered: “Well, you might have to think about coordinating colours because I was wondering if you would be my maid of honour?”

I did a little scream, scared my housemates, danced up and down the stairs… and then told him OF COURSE I BLOODY WOULD.

Soon to be on my sewing table

A photo posted by Elena Cresci (@elenacresci) on

Said wedding is now just under a month away, so it’s been full-speed ahead on the dress. It took me the longest time to decide what I wanted to do. I had hoped to do something akin to Gertie’s recital dress or   , especially when I found the perfect burgundy polka dot flocked tulle. In the end, I’ve stuck with a strapless number, using the strapless party dress from Gertie’s book.

I love it when a plan comes together. Excuse the lumpy seams, it's mostly pinned together still. Almost done! #sewing

A photo posted by Elena Cresci (@elenacresci) on

Strapless dresses being what they are, I wanted to make sure the bodice would fit me so I used it as an excuse to make ANOTHER dress from the pattern with a slimmer skirt. Hey, you can’t have enough floral numbers in your wardrobe right? I wore it out the other night and I can confirm: it fits. And it stays up. Hurrah! I’ll post more details about the construction in a later post.

I’m working on the circle skirt right now and will be sure to update you once it’s all done. In the mean time, I wrote about sewing for the Guardian’s Live Better network today! It’s been a sewing-heavy month for us – earlier this month, I got to write about Me Made May. Yay sewing!

What’s on your sewing table right now?

Me Made May ’14 so far

I can’t believe we’re 13 days into May already! Time’s going so quickly…

mmmay14

If you don’t follow me on Instagram, you may not have seen my updates from Me Made May so far, so here’s a quick collage of what’s gone on outfit-wise.

What have I learnt so far? Despite saying it almost every year, I really don’t own a great deal of me-made basics. Most of my basic items were either bought before I began the pledge or are second-hand. It’s partly because basic items don’t feel as fun to sew, perhaps? If anyone can recommend some great basic sewing patterns in the comments below, that would be great!

Also finished a new skirt today, hurrah! Though I did manage to stab myself with the seam ripper. Boo.

How’s Me Made May going for everyone else? And in case you missed it, I wrote a blog post for work about the challenge. You can check it out here.