Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Rita's Birthday

Today should have been my Aunt Rita's 73rd birthday. Hard to believe she's been gone 10 years next month. If I think of Grandma and Grandpa when I putter (American) / potter (British) around the house, I think of Rita and Mom when I sew. Mostly Mom when hand sewing, mostly Rita when I run the machine. I'm still using thread, buttons, fabrics that came to me from them.

About this time last year I found a 'sewing bee' run by a couple of ladies in Felling, only about 10 miles away, but across - actually, under - the River Tyne, so a bit of a nuisance - actually, £1.70 expense. I go a bit out of my way and loop through Newcastle for the return, crossing the river via the Tyne Bridge. Traffic is heavier that way, but I never fail to appreciate the wonder of this amazing bridge. 

The 'sewing bee' is just three hours of protected sewing time in the presence of some serious dressmaking expertise to bail me out when I get stuck. At £10 a session, I think it is a bargain. My initial visits were sheer hell, given that the other women (and, for a while, a man) seem to go there as much for a chat as to sew. 





I selected a shirt/tunic pattern that was by no means a beginner's pattern and the instructions seemed to be in Greek at first read. I had to work hard to shut out all the distractions and focus on what I was doing and I left the first sessions completely drained by the effort. I explained at the end of one session that I was quiet not because I wasn't interested in the conversation but because sewing was damned hard work for me and it required all my concentration not to make a hash of it. I was surprised to hear that some of them didn't even like sewing, just the outcome. I am pleased to say that I love the process as much as the product, maybe even more.





Of course patterns are made for women with B-cup sized boobs and mine are some double letter I can't even believe. I'm sure it's a made up system to keep me confused. So I had one of the ladies help me with fitting. She mutilated my pattern, cutting, taping and re-cutting until the darts were deep enough to fit my particular curves. Of course we had to take miles off the shoulders and arm lengths. Petite patterns are a rarity these days it seems.





I went to South Shields market one Saturday and bought 10 metres of plain white cotton (£2/metre) for making toiles (practice garments to work on fit). I think I made two or three practice bodices to check various things. I still need to copy the final pattern back onto paper. The white cotton can become a bag lining or something...




The shirt was a challenge. I remember thinking their method of doing the plackets on the sleeves was akin to origami and I spent one whole three-hour session sewing, unpicking and re-sewing - I lost count at 6 times - the collar. Then I had the idea of tacking it in place by hand and it went so much smoother I kicked myself for not having done that sooner. I bought some good quality (Gutterman) thread but only used buttons I already had in my stash. I wasn't bothered that they didn't match, in fact I kind of enjoyed that.




I hated the tunic when it was finished. I'm not happy in loose clothing with no waist. We did all sorts of darts to take in some of the bagginess, but it never looked right to me, a light weight white cotton tunic over thick black leggings. So we chopped it off into the shirt length. Only somewhere in there we didn't measure the front and the back, so the front ended up longer. I was sick of it, so put it aside. I learned a great deal from making it so I couldn't consider it a waste of time. I will go back and fix that, probably before next summer when I'll be wearing it again. 




I had bought some nice grey chambray from The Sewing Box in Morpeth, but I wasn't going to cut into that fabric until I was confident of the outcome. The next practice shirt was from some print fabric I loved. No idea where it came from. I'm sure it's polyester, which I would never buy these days, but I thought I would enjoy a shirt from this anyhow. The print makes me think of a party with streamers and confetti; Bill says it reminds him of something French in the 1950's. 


Clearly, I need a different set up for photos, one what doesn't include the shadows from the window frames. Sorry about that.



I used some clear buttons I had in my stash, including a couple of glass buttons on the middle of the sleeves where they could be rolled up and held with a tab. I had this feature on the white shirt, but later realised that a) I was never going to roll up the sleeves above my elbows and b) I hadn't made the plackets large enough to roll up that far anyhow. 




So I just removed the tab and button and the cotton fabric sleeves stay rolled just fine anyhow. The polyester sleeves needed that tab, which I now knew to place lower down. See? I learn a lot by doing. Except that I cut the opening before sewing on the placket, which is wrong, and not only that, I cut in the wrong place. However, the print being as it is, I just stitched up those cuts and carried on with the right method. I can't afford to be a perfectionist just yet.





Taking these photos I see that there are still a million little threads to be cut. Also that the front of the print blouse is also slightly longer, but I can live with this. I have worn both the white and the print shirts several times this summer, more as 'jackets' than an shirts, unbuttoned with white jeans and coloured tank tops (American) / vests (British). I don't like bare arms (unless it's really hot) any more than baggy clothes. I had a brief attempt at making a vest just before we went to France, but it didn't turn out well. The result was much tighter and low cut than I would care to wear in public. However, neckline aside, this may turn out OK after all. Vests are put off until next spring.





Since I've been losing weight slowly - about 10 pounds now since the first of the year - I'm sure I need another fitting session before I make the grey shirt. I was kind of tired of doing shirts for the moment. Winter is Coming (yes, I have read the Game of Thrones, but not seen any of the TV stuff since I don't do Sky and probably never will) which means I will live in long sleeved t-shirts and wool cardigans, probably with jeans and with something thermal underneath.




I have a knack for getting tiny stains on the front of my tees and whether bought new or thrifted I was loathe to toss a whole t-shirt just because of one speck of discolouration. I have plenty of renovation ideas, but needed to hone some skills. 

I attended a weekend workshop at The Centre Front a few months ago where we learned to copy garments without dismantling them. I managed to make a pattern for a t-shirt and a sweater-jacket. I made a toile for the t-shirt out of a couple of Bill's old technical race t-shirts and was amazed it fit just right. Not wanting to chop up my own tees just yet (exactly the right colours are hard to find), I thrifted 100% cotton t-shirts in mens' sizes L and XL for £1 each. I keep uncovering old (ie 1999) cotton race t-shirts in the attic and so have an ample supply of practice fabric. 




My first real t-shirt is made from (the reverse side) a L navy t-shirt and part of said 1999 Coastal Race tee in an almost white marled grey cotton. Sewing a contrasting neck band proved a major challenge, but I aim for a balance of my Mom's extreme patience and Rita's race-along 'it'll be fine' approach. I must admit I'm more on the painstaking side, but hope for more of Rita's confidence as I improve. 

Neither of them took quite the frugal approach I do, though Mom made many of my grade (American) / primary (British) school shift dresses from my aunts' hand-me-down circle skirts. Mind, dressmaking fabrics, patterns and notions weren't as expensive back then nor did the concept of 'disposable clothing' exist. I have my own ideas about natural (biodegradable) fabrics and about as-near-to-zero-waste as I can get. I think Mom would be proud of me, but Rita would think I was crackers. Rita didn't do frugal.

I've meant to learn dressmaking for absolutely ages and I'm really excited that this dream is finally unfolding. Rita loved clothes and sewing for all the years I knew her and I know she would be pleased that the dressmaking bug has at last bitten me. 

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