Once again Halloween rolled around and once again it was a week before a party that I started thinking about a costume. I had a little time in central London so wandered around a ‘vintage’ store for some inspiration. I wanted a costume that would work with my teeny weeny Afro. Initially I was thinking Moss from the IT crowd.
As I looked at the dubious vintage items (a bugbear of mine is ‘vintage’ stores that are overpriced and have crappy, samey clothing), I started to feel inspired. I quite wanted to go for an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia costume but didn’t want to buy a new wig- maybe I’ll go as Ango Goblogian if I stumble across the right secondhand wig another time.
I had just seen the new Joker movie and wondered whether there was mileage in that as a concept. I’ve seen on Instagram (good targeted advertising I guess) that they sell hair wax that’s capable of producing vibrant temporary colour on Afro hair and doesn’t look crispy and awful.
Note: I’ve been meaning to write about the experience of cutting my hair but haven’t got around to it. I definitely surprised myself with how strongly my feelings about my gender were tied up with my long hair. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that I felt much more drawn than usual to dressing as a male character.
Anyway, when I went charity shopping a couple of days later, it was the character of the Joker that appealed to me the most. I spotted a red jacket and went to look at some reference images. What would the odds be that I could find a red suit, green shirt and yellow waistcoat all in my size in five days? Would I become desperate enough to violate my ethics and buy something new?
I visited the secondhand shops near my work and came away feeling a little apprehensive. I made the decision to just buy any item I could find that suited my needs- more on this later. As I returned to my office after lunch, I recalled that nearby Chiswick High Street has a fantastic selection of charity shops. Since I had some containers and could pop into the Source as well, I hopped on my bike and went over that very afternoon.
Chiswick sorted me out beautifully. The first thing I spotted in the Shelter store was a bright red jacket for £15. I tried it on and it fit. I decided not to buy it immediately just in case I came across something better.
The next shop came up trumps with a pair of red trousers- I had to ask the volunteer to take them off a mannequin for me. Not perfect but definitely good enough for my needs, especially since they were £6.50. I bought them straightaway so the lady wouldn’t put them back on the mannequin.
The thing I was most worried about was the waistcoat. I’d hardly seen any waitscoats at all on my search, and is a yellow waistcoat an item anyone would want aside for for costume purposes? But the Barnado’s shop contained a golden floral one. Again I didn’t buy it straightaway. It wasn’t quite perfect and I had a couple more shops to visit.
I wandered down to the shop at the end of the road, where my eye was immediately caught by a green silk shirt. It was more olive than I wanted, but a beautiful silk shirt from Whistles seemed too good an offer to pass up at £20- it’s something that can definitely slip into my work wardrobe when spooky season is over and done.
I quickly walked back up the street to collect the waistcoat and jacket, which was a great match for my new pants. It seemed silly to waste time looking any further. I was irrationally terrified that other shoppers would have snapped my items up, but I needn’t have worried.
The only big misstep I made was with the very first item I bought; another red jacket. For the first time, I investigated a weird junk shop that’s opposite my office. There’s no indication of what it is on the outside, just some rails of clothing. I went in and there are hundreds of poorly sorted items and no lighting. It’s so strange. There were people wandering about using their phones as torches. I wish I knew the story behind it.
I found a red men’s jacket in there and hastily bought it for £15. In the gloom of the shop, it had looked okay if a little big. As soon as I tried it on in a proper changing room, I realised that it wouldn’t do. I looked like a little kid in their dad’s suit. When I bought the second jacket, I donated the first one at the same time. No sense bringing it home to take up space when I have absolutely no use for it. I hope that Shelter will be able to make some money back from it at least.
Overall it felt really serendipitous that I was able to get everything I needed within only a couple of hours. Normally my cardinal rule of secondhand shopping is not to go looking for something specific. But this time, it worked for me. As my friend Cayleigh pointed out, perhaps even the men’s red jacket was part of the magic of that day of shopping. There may be some reason that it needed to find its way to the Shelter store in Chiswick.
In the end I paid £49.50 (not including the stupid second jacket) for my costume, which I know is far from cheap. The silk shirt I know will go into my normal wardrobe. And, in fact, I felt really fabulous in the red suit. I wonder if there’s a viable market for renting a single costume only suitable for a size 10 woman. Actually, two costumes since I still have my Wonder Woman dress from last year. I feel grateful that I am fortunate enough to be able to pay a premium to live according to my principles.
The one thing I bought new was the hair wax for £11. I had to use around 1/3 of the pot to get decent colour on my hair. I quite liked the definition that it gave my curls, though it did make my hair quite hard.
Yes I did go out for dinner dressed as the Joker. And yes my two companions were wearing normal clothes.
It was so much fun to dress up in a completely different way to normal. I’ve never worn a trouser-suit before and actually I was living for it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve worn a suit as an adult full stop. I will 100% be looking for any excuse to wear my red suit again. The biggest surprise was probably how hot I was! I suddenly have a new respect for men in three-piece suits on the tube. Continue reading
Just as I was nearing the finish line and working on the final, extremely long, rows at the top of the shawl, I had to take an extended hiatus in order to squeeze in an urgent secret project. Knitting an entire fingering weight jumper in under three weeks killed my desire to pick up the needles for a while. Just as I started work on the wrap again, I hurt my thumb.
However, fortunately it didn’t take too long for me to be able to knit again. Before long, I’d finished the project. I decided to try out a new method of casting off, which apparently looks better on garter stitch. I used this tutorial for the Icelandic cast off.
My shawl came out pretty close to the measurements on the schematic. I blocked mainly to flatten it, and to improve the ‘W’ shapes. Looking at the pics made me realise that some of the lines are far from parallel, but I don’t think that’s noticeable when I’m wearing it.
Pattern: Wonder Woman Wrap (FREE on Ravelry)
Yarn: 1 skein each Ella Rae Lace Merino (Pineapple Soda) and Fyberspates Scrumptious 4-ply (Kiss)
I can’t believe that I’m finally getting to type these words- I have finished making my Sew Over It 1960s coat. Overall, I’m pretty happy with it. Though I’m not that happy with the pictures, this one excites me quite a lot.
This is what the back looks like.
Something I found notable about this project is that I never felt relaxed during any part of the making process. It felt as if disaster could strike at any minute. I suppose that’s the danger of investing such an enormous amount of time and money into something.
All in all, the hand-sewing required after the final class took a full day. There’s a little bit of pulling on the bottom hem that didn’t press out, but I haven’t fixed it because I’m considering taking some length out of the coat.
The next challenge was to select the buttons that would adorn the coat. I took her on a trip to Liberty to try out some different options. Black was the obvious choice, but I wanted to see if anything else tickled my fancy.
In the end, I picked the beautiful black glass buttons in the finished pictures. Nothing wrong with the obvious choice if it’s the right one! I decided to take the coat on a second trip to Soho to have the buttonholes professionally done. Marking out the holes was another source of anxiety. A small mistake could mean that the coat would never hang nicely.
I think my coat enjoyed the second trip into town. I’d rung up DM Buttons the day before to be told that the following day was their last before the holiday, so to go as early as possible. We got to see the Christmas decorations in the early morning light.
Before finding our way down a dark and scary alley to the lovely studio.
It was so cool seeing all the specialist equipment he has to finish garments. And the finished buttonholes look fabulous. I went for bar tacks for any buttonhole aficionados out there.
Getting the buttons to line up took FOREVER.
I have to say that the chances of me making another coat like this are slim. It’s an incredibly labour intensive process, and I’m not entirely convinced that what I can do at home is better than what I can buy. But I am happy with my fabric choices.
My biggest regret is not making the pockets bigger. This is a perennial problem I have with SOI patterns, so be warned if you like a capacious pocket.
Pattern: Sew Over It 1960s coat (size 12 with some fitting adjustments)
Fabric: 3m of wool and lining from Goldbrick Fabrics (I had 1m of wool left over)
I’m never sure whether to include activities like this on the blog, seeing as I was really just assembling my Tatty Devine poinsettia necklace. However, it was still an enjoyable crafty morning and I ended up with a cute seasonal necklace that looks lovely with my two festive-ish sweaters.
As usual, Tatty Devine provided everything we needed to put together this snazzy necklace.
This is what all the pieces looked like laid out. Putting the two flowers in the middle together using a head pin was a new skill (but I forgot to take any pics when I was doing it.)
I found it really interesting to look back at the blog post I wrote about the TD forget-me-not necklace I made. I’m pretty sure I have been to more workshops since, I just haven’t blogged about them. That workshop was one of the first times I wore a totally self-made outfit- my autumn leaves skirt and my rolling rock sweater. It’s nice to see how far I have come on my handmade clothing journey in the past four years.
Homework for the Sew Over It class this week (after week three) was super arduous. I spent the best part of two days working on it.
I started by unpicking part of the collar to insert a hanging chain.
I then tacked the edges of the fronts and collar down in preparation for pressing. That took ages and was quite stressful as my fabric doesn’t like steam. I also had to hand stitch the neckline facings together, which apparently stops the inside of the collar ripping when you hang the coat up.
Another task was putting the lining together, also known as making a second coat to put inside the first one.
The final thing I did was tack the sleeves into the coat so I can check the fit properly. The shoulder pads aren’t inserted in these pics, which is why the shoulders look a bit droopy.
I felt like there was still an awful lot of work to do during the final class, but I spent hours on the homework, so I just had to hope that I wouldget closer to the finish line during the lesson.
After the lesson
Much of the lesson was spent inserting the shoulder pads and wadding. It was quite fiddly and I needed a lot of help from Julie to get the shoulder pads in the right place- this was my first time using them. Inserting wadding wasn’t in the instructions, but it was necessary in my fabric because the seam allowances were showing through at the shoulders, making them appear wavy.
The only other thing I managed to do was attach the lining to the facings of the coat. This was extremely fiddly and required me to go over a couple of bits. The wool and lining are very different weights, so I had to work to get them to feed through the machine at the same rate.
It’s not perfect, but I’m happy enough. The coat looks so much more finished now that all of the guts are covered up.
This is what the coat currently looks like on.
For the first time, I feel cautiously optimistic about coming out with a coat that I’m happy with. I now need to:
- Steam the collar to get it to lie flat
- Hem the sleeves
- Trim and hem the coat
- Buy buttons
- Mark buttonholes and take to DM Buttons to get them done
- Attach buttons
- Remove tacking and gently and press the coat
Still a way to go, but hopefully I will manage to get everything finished for when the cold weather truly comes to London.
I started to feel a bit less grumpy about the coat after getting a bit more sleep following the second class. I have a ridiculous number of things on at the moment and it’s hard to stay on top of it all.
I finished attaching the last piece of interfacing and sewed up some of the seams I was supposed to do in the first class. I managed to cut out all of my lining pieces. I had around 1m left (136cm wide). I was pretty lazy with the lining so could potentially have used less than 2m.
This week, I started to feel like I wasn’t miles behind everyone else for the first time. I attached the collar, which is very fiddly but the coat is starting to take shape.
I have a lot of pressing to do in the next week, as well as making up the lining and doing some work on the sleeves. However, it’s half-term next week and I have the day off on Monday, so I will have some breathing space. I’m hopeful that I will be able to get everything done to be able to come out with a finished coat.
Since I had only attended half of the first class at Sew Over It, I had a LOT of homework to do in the following week. I still had to cut out many of my paper pieces as well as all of the fashion fabric, lining and interfacing; test the fabric for how much steam it can take, test the interfacing, and fuse the interfacing to the fabric.
I had 1.2m of fabric left at this point- with one small piece to cut. Once more, I got fabric of a non-standard width from Goldbrick Fabrics. It’s 152cm wide. This is something to watch when fabric is over £70/m! However I’m kind of excited at the prospect of making a pencil skirt from the remnant.
I think that one of my pattern pieces is missing an alteration so most of the front pieces aren’t cut out. I also haven’t tackled cutting any lining yet. However, I cut and fused everything I was confident with.
After the class
Managed to cut out all of my fabric and interfacing, and fuse them together. The rest of the class was spent working on the pockets.
It’s quite nice to see my fabric and lining playing together.
I have to say I am not really enjoying coat class rn. I booked it before realising I was going to be crazy busy. Essentially, I have a stressful day at work, go and be stressed for three more hours, then get told to do a lot of stuff that I don’t have time to do during the week.
I do think it’s given me a bit more empathy for the kids I work with. Being stuck in a class, knowing that you’re behind and can’t catch up sucks.
Loads of homework again this week, and I’ll also be at a quidditch tournament in Edinburgh all weekend. We’ll see how I manage that.
I’ve wanted to take part in the series of sewing workshops to make the 1960s coat for ages, but the time was never right. At first, I was not an experienced enough sewist to undertake such a complex project. The workshop then became unavailable for an absolute age. So, when I saw that it was up and running again, I booked straightaway. I’ve been wearing some incarnation of a red coat for more than ten years now and my current version is really threadbare. I would have liked to replace it two seasons ago but red coats are not easy to come by. Now I’m going to try and make my own.
Photo taken from the Sew Over It website.
The course notes state that 3m each of fashion fabric and lining, so the first step was to go shopping. My job semi-regularly takes me near the Goldhawk Road and I hoped that this was where I would find the perfect red wool. I didn’t have a huge amount of time, so I just headed to my best-loved shops. I was tempted by a bolt-end of red crepe in Misan West- £50 for 5m was a bargain, but wool crepe isn’t really right for a winter coat. They also had some nice red wool with a sort of herringbone pattern (£35/m) that was my only other option.
Goldbrick Fabrics is my favourite shop on Goldhawk Road. They have a great selection, good customer service, which is very important to me, and they didn’t let me down. The woman who helped me pulled out a sample of a wool and cashmere mix that was utter heaven. A stunning shade of pillarbox red that felt as beautiful as it looked. I balked a little when I saw that it was nearly £80/m, but I had to have it. Yolo. The lady was willing to negotiate, so I thought it made sense to buy my lining there too. I am a huge fan of a jazzy lining, so I had to have this patterned purple viscose.
All in, I spent £220 on the fabric for this coat. The course was just over £160, which means that by the time I get buttons and interfacing, I will have dropped more than £400 on my new coat- double what I spent on my last (red wool and cashmere mix) coat from John Lewis.
I like to be clear about prices because people often don’t realise the cost- both financial and in terms of time- associated with being a maker. On the other hand, this is a wonderful opportunity. I will spend twelve hours in the company of an expert dressmaker learning how to make something that is literally tailored to my body and my style. It makes sense to invest in fabulous fabric when I have someone so experienced to guide me through the process of creating this garment.
I had to leave the workshop early (for very exciting reasons that I hope to be able to reveal soon) so only managed to alter the pattern.
I think my whole Sunday will be spent cutting and ironing!
I lost steam on my knitting again after getting near the end of my Wowligan. That project is on my summer to-do list, so hopefully I’ll get around to finishing off the button bands in the next couple of weeks.
I’ve got a couple of summer trips coming up where it will be nice to have a fairly straightforward project along with me. Something that caught my eye immediately was this beautiful Wonder Woman shawl. I’m not especially into comic books but I am into bold, graphic designs and getting more red into my wardrobe. I picked up some yarn on the Love Knitting website but the red was completely the wrong colour. I decided to finally head to I Knit London, which is currently my LYS, to pick up a suitably cartoonish shade.
I’ve been aware of IKL since my days as a fledgling knitter, when I accompanied them to Camp Bestival to volunteer in their tent one summer. It was good to finally get a chance to visit the store just eight short years later (seriously where does the time go?). I’ve got to say that I liked IKL. Gerard dyes his own yarns and I will definitely have to go back as his speckled wool would make a great jumper. I still have a speckled Humboldt sweater in mind.
Anyway, I picked up some red- a bit more cherry than I would have liked, but I couldn’t be bothered to trek to another yarn store. I had some fun using the swift and ball-winder to wind the yarn, helped by the ladies in the knitting group that was running when I visited. I hate hand-winding so much, it was great to be able to skip that step and be left with a professional-looking yarn cake.
So far the knitting on this pattern has been going well. I’m really enjoying the fact that this project is mindless enough for me to work on while I finally catch up on Game of Thrones. I didn’t get a chance to watch series 5 or 6 (though I did read the books a few years ago) and I’ve been loving bingeing them. The other advantage of knitting is that it stops me from checking my phone and therefore missing bits of the action.
It’s not that easy to get a decent picture because of how the shawl is constructed, but here’s how it’s looking so far. You can see that the W shape is starting to emerge.
Pattern: Wonder Woman Wrap (FREE on Ravelry)
Yarn: 1 skein each Ella Rae Lace Merino (Pineapple Soda) and Fyberspates Scrumptious 4-ply (Kiss)
I’ve called these the Loud and Proud socks on Ravelry because of the fabulous colour scheme of this yarn. The pattern is called Marmolejo, and it’s good in that it’s free but not the best sock pattern I’ve used otherwise. I chose it because I wanted to knit a contrasting heel, which looks best when knit as an afterthought.