Check this out – Computational Couture

One of my colleagues drew my attention to a really interesting project called Continuum. The idea is that you go to a website, scribble a drawing of a dress, and a program translates that into a pattern sized to your measurements. You can then download the pattern and sew the dress. It’s only a demo so far, but you can have a play with it at

Mary Huang, the designer behind it, has made three real dresses from patterns generated by the software. You can see them at her project website here although you’ll need to scroll down a bit. The styles produced are very futuristic and angular because the software works by generating a grid of triangles based on the original sketch. Personally I love that sort of thing and I really hope this becomes more than just a demo. She’s currently trying to raise funding to set up production via Kickstarter. This is a pledge bank arrangement – you can pledge to support a project, usually in exchange for promised rewards, but if the project doesn’t reach its target level of support by its deadline then no money changes hands. One of the possible rewards on this project (for a pledge of $25 or more) is your own Continuum dressmaking pattern! So I’ve signed up, and fingers crossed the project becomes a reality.

I should say I have no affiliation with Kickstarter or the Continuum project beyond having signed up – I just think it’s a great idea and wanted to spread the word.

Space clothes or curtains?

I’ve been making a top inspired by this outfit from Blake’s 7. For those who weren’t brought up in Britain in the late 70s/early 80s, this was a TV science fiction series known for its dark themes, strong characters, and spectacularly silly costumes. This is one of the more wearable ones. The character is Jenna, who was the spaceship pilot from the good guys in the first two seasons.

(Picture from Lisa’s Frame Capture Library).

And here’s my version.

The pattern is the top from Vogue 1195.

The fabric is a black and white chiffon bought on Goldhawk Road in London. The fibre content is a mystery. There is no point pressing it, as no amount of heat and pressure will put a crease into it. On the upside, it doesn’t melt even with the iron at its maximum temperature. It frays quite badly and it’s a challenge to get iron-on interfacing to stick to it. I had to press it for twice the time the instructions said. Is there such a thing as Teflon fabric?

I replaced the fabric belt with a loop of wide elastic with its ends stitched together permanently. The belt runs inside the top at the back which makes the back hang completely loose, unlike the original.

The top has a bound neckline and bound buttonholes for the belt to run through. I used Vilene bias tape on the neckline and stabilised the binding strips for both the neck and buttonholes with lightweight knit interfacing; the fabric was far too slippery on its own. This was my first attempt at bound buttonholes and they weren’t as complicated as I’d been led to believe. Not that mine are perfect, but for a first try I’m very pleased with the results.

This isn’t the easiest thing in the world to wear. It needs high, chunky heels and leggings (or possibly very skinny jeans) otherwise it looks like a tent. Even with the heels it looks a bit like I woke up and decided to put on a pair of curtains rather than clothes. Still if I am ever called upon to fly a stolen spaceship I have the right outfit now.

Waiting for the right fabric

Funny how things work out with patterns. I bought Vogue 1195 a while ago in a fit of misguided enthusiasm. It’s a pattern for a very simple dress and a big flappy top; I bought it in order to make the top even though it’s really not my style. I never found suitable fabric for it, and then other patterns came along and it slipped off the must-sew list.

Regular readers of this blog will know I am mildly obsessed with the 70s/80s BBC TV series Blake’s 7. Recently I realised that one of the more wearable costumes from season two was vaguely similar to Vogue 1195. Here are a couple of shots from

So I started half heartedly looking for black and white prints but didn’t find anything, and forgot about it again. And then on my last trip to London, I found some black and white chiffon in a lovely space-age print that I inexplicably seem to have not uploaded a picture of. Edited to add: here it is! This shot is taken from a distance; I’d guess the short side is about a metre.

I think it’s inspired by the work of Eduardo Paolozzi – a sort of mix of organic and machine-like shapes.

So clearly the right fabric will come along if you just wait long enough.

Pictures of the finished top at the weekend, I hope! I have to get my high-heeled boots fixed first for the full late 1970s lady space pilot look.

Photographic frustration

The weather was really nice this weekend so I tried to get some pictures of my most recent project, a long-sleeved version of Burda’s September cover dress. This is a knit dress with all the shaping in horizontal curved seams which wrap around the body. I’ve previously made the sleeveless version in neoprene. The new one is made from a mystery grey two-way stretch knit I bought last year on Goldhawk Road.

I don’t know what it is about this dress. My husband likes it and I’ve had several compliments when wearing it, including a lovely one from someone who turned out to have no idea I make my own clothes but wanted a dress like mine! But it does not photograph well. These are the best shots out of a rather large number; I am much too vain to post the worse ones.

When I finished sewing it I wasn’t quite sure about it at first, but other people being positive about it persuaded me that it was wearable in public. My favourite feature is the extra-long sleeves with thumb-holes. I hadn’t intended to make those, but I made the sleeves far too long by mistake and decided to keep the extra length. They are not as good at keeping my hands warm as I’d hoped, but they add an unusual touch. I think they are a bit more obvious in this picture.

Here’s a back view. The side and back are a bit wrinkly because I think I stretched out some of the curved seams when sewing it. In some of the other shots the wrinkles are doing some really odd things. I have deleted all of those lest they ever escape onto the Internet.

Funny how these things turn out. I shall continue to wear the dress despite the pictures!

Spoilt for choice

One thing I have a lot of trouble with in sewing is finding the right fabric. I don’t know enough about fabric. I can tell a knit from a woven. I remember enough of my GCSE Creative Textiles to know the difference between a plain weave, a twill weave, and a satin weave. But I hear people throwing around terms that I’ve never once seen on a label in a fabric store, eg ‘Ponte di Roma’ (some sort of double knit?) and ‘Bemberg’ (which I think might be a US term for what I know as cupro…but then again perhaps not).

Descriptions in reference guides are all very well but I find that touching (and usually stretching and crumpling) a piece of fabric is the only way I can get a really useful impression of it, and you can’t do that via Google – at least, not yet! I need a collection of samples. So last weekend I signed up for Stone Fabrics’ swatch club after reading about Karen of Did You Make That’s experience with them, and my first set of swatches just arrived. They are great. I’ve just been sitting at my desk stroking them. And trying to whittle down the list of the ones I want to add to the stash to a reasonable length. I think I’ve got it down to seven or eight. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

And in other news, I took all the good advice people kindly left me about sewing on buttons. I reattached the buttons on my husband’s coat using extra strong thread and doubling it up twice, and this time they have stayed put for a whole four days and counting. Not that I’m counting chickens or anything.

It’s not a mistake, it’s keeping my hands warm

I’ve been making another version of the Burda September 2010 cover dress. This has been a fairly popular pattern in the sewing blogosphere – there have been quite a few reviews on Pattern Review. I’ve previously made the dress and the matching skirt in neoprene. However I wanted another long-sleeved dress and I had some mystery grey two-way-stretch knit in my stash, so I decided to make the Burda dress again and put long sleeves on it this time.

We’ll gloss over producing pattern pieces for the sleeves, as it took about a week of head-scratching and indecision. Suffice it to say that I eventually just used the sleeves from McCall’s 2401, a pattern which is approaching TNT status in my collection.

I didn’t fit as I went on this one because I’d already made the dress once and got the fit sorted. Unfortunately something strange appears to have happened when I added seam and hem allowances to the pattern for the knit (the neoprene doesn’t need them so I hadn’t put them on the first version of the pattern pieces). The front hem came out about 3cm longer than the back, and the sleeves ended well over my knuckles. Again.

I chopped the hem off until it was level, which wasn’t the end of the world – guess I added hem allowances to the front and not to the back. However I have permanently cold hands so I decided to keep the extra-long sleeves, but make a thumb hole in the sleeve seam so I don’t have to push them up to use my hands.

I just unpicked about 5cm of seam and sewed round it on the right side to hold the seam allowances in place. It’s not the neatest thing I’ve ever made, but I had such trouble with skipped stitches and thread breaking and mysterious bobbin tangles on this project that there’s no way I’m unpicking and trying again. I’m not sure the size 80 ballpoint needle I used was up to the job on this fabric. You can see the mess if you click to enlarge on this view.

I’d show you some photos of the whole dress, but my photographer is away and for some reason it looks terrible on my dressform, although it’s OK on me; probably time to go and check my measurements again and adjust the dressform! Hopefully we’ll get to take some next weekend.

What couldn’t you make for yourself?

Quite a few of the people whose blogs I read are taking part in Me-made-March, a project where you push yourself to wear one (or two, or more) home-made or refashioned items every day in March and photograph the results. I always like looking at what other people are wearing so I’m really enjoying seeing the result.

I’m far too disorganised to take enough photographs to take part in this myself, but it got me thinking about how far it could be taken. How many of the items that you wear every day could you reasonably make if you wanted to?

For me, one item per day is normal. I mainly wear (home-made) dresses and skirts, usually with a purchased long-sleeved t-shirt and occasionally with a home-made cardigan on top. Two items would be doable: dress or skirt plus cardi, although I’d have to make a few more cardis to get through a whole month of wearing two home-made items a day.

Three items? Theoretically I could make all my t-shirts, although there’s no point spending scarce sewing time on that when I can easily buy plain cotton ones that work under dresses.

Four? Coats would have to count I think. I’ve never made one but I do have a copy of the Lady Grey coat pattern in my stash so there’s always a possibility that I might.

For five you could probably count accessories – handbags are doable. My mum makes great bags. I know some people make their own underwear and that looks achievable, if somewhat fiddly. Some people even knit their own socks and I am in awe of the patience required to do that.

But what on earth could we do to replace tights? I can’t think of anything.

In search of skull-print fabric

There is a very talented webcomic artist called John Allison whose work I’ve been reading for, erm, more years than I like to think about. One of the things I really like about his creations is the clothes the characters wear. His ladies are usually very fashionable or very cool or both.

Last summer he did a picture which included one of the characters from his old webcomic Scary-go-round wearing a maxidress in skull-print fabric. You can see the picture at the link below.

So I’ve been keeping an eye out for skull-print fabric ever since. MacCulloch and Wallis had some a while back but I dithered and it sold out. Since then of course I have realised that their fabric is exactly what I wanted and I was a fool not to buy it while it was available because I’ve found nothing else as good anywhere since. Other places have skull prints but they are not the same.

So on Saturday I was fabric shopping on Goldhawk Road in London, having long ago given up looking for skull prints. And there it was in the window of one of the smaller shops: the exact same fabric. At about a third of the price, too. So I snapped it up. Now all I have to do is draft the pattern.

Skull print fabric

This may be slightly easier said than done as the fabric is only 45 inches wide and the print runs along the crossgrain rather than the straight grain so there’s not as much length to play with as I would like. Still I’m sure there’s a way to make it work.

Clown or chic? Burda March 2011

I love BurdaStyle magazine but I confess I was a little disappointed by the March 2011 issue. It’s the wedding special so I can’t say I was really surprised – I’ve been married for nearly twelve years, so I’m not likely to want to to make a wedding dress any time soon. You can see the the styles here on the French Burda site, although that URL doesn’t look stable to me so who knows how long it will last. The rest of the issue was OK but nothing leapt out at me as a must-sew.

However my eye kept being drawn to model 106, which is one of the wedding dresses. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. Sleeveless, floor length, and, well, egg-shaped. Here’s the line art.

Common sense says that this dress is likely to make me look (at best) heavily pregnant. I can’t quite translate the French captions on the website but I’m pretty sure it says something about requiring a slim figure (‘une silhouette mince’) to wear it, which I fear might be fashion editor code for ‘only size zero need apply’. The English-language magazine, incidentally, simply says ‘you will look charming in this dress’. A case of the French editors being more realistic than the Brits?

Anyway I can’t help wanting to give this one a go, in a really loud print. Although as it requires three and a half metres of fabric it’s also going to have to be a really cheap print. Not like these John Kaldor ones, beautiful though they are.

So am I insane or could this work? I shall certainly be looking out for cheap prints in the next few months.