Thursday, 29 May 2014

'Turtly' Burlesque Brigitte Scarf

Hello folks!
A bit of a departure from my usual creations here, as I've been busy costume-making with my fellow Sirens for our burlesque show the Upturned Boat, which took place last Friday at The White Lion in South London. It was such a fun night with a great crowd and a lovely venue, but we were flying by the seat of our pants trying to get all the costume and props sorted in time, as well as polishing the choreography on some of our newer pieces!

So, although we made loads of weird and wonderful things for the show- clamshell breast covers for a mermaid piece, handkerchief tops for a gypsy dance, turtle shells for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle piece...Yes, you heard right. As it was World Turtle Day last Friday, we decided that a burlesque routine centred around the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would fit the bill nicely!
 For costume I warped the chic Brigitte Scarf pattern from Tilly and The Buttons new book Love at First Stitch into the perfect ninja masks and arm ties.

Here's my inspiration shot:

Not so far removed from this, right?

It turned out that the scarf pattern measurements are the perfect length for making ninja eye masks. All I had to do was find bright fabric that would be comfortable worn on the face and make the variation with slanted ends. 

Once I'd done that for all four turtles I traced on eye shapes with tailor's chalk using a party shop highway robber mask as a template, then zigzagged around the chalk outline I'd just made and cut out the eyeholes in the middle. However I ended up cutting out the zigzag stitching to make the eyes bigger as I hadn't factored in that drawing on the inside of the template mask's eye holes is going to create a smaller hole than is required- so if for any reason you want to try this I'd add a couple of millimetres around the outside of your line so you can properly see out and let your false eyelashes through! I ended up having to blanket-stitch the eyeholes by hand in the end due to time/location constraints. If you wanted to make these a bit more flattering you'd probably want to do some shaping around the nose too, to fit the masks a little more closely to the face, but I had no time for tweaking!

To make the costumes a little more 'genuine' I also made the upper arm ties from the same pattern, just shortening by about 20cm or so to get the right length for the look.

Brigitte scarf as ninja eye mask- with the party shop mask for template

Here it is on (as the show photos are black and white)
Do you think Tilly ever imagined her pattern being used in this way?!

We Sirens also got crafty making shells from reclaimed corrugated cardboard- here's a snap of us getting started:

Violet Empire and Ottolie Divine hard at work in Lady Libertine's garden
You can see the piles of fabric ready to be cut into Brigitte scarves here at the front, but not the book- this had been snaffled away by Lady Libertine's lovely ma, who proceeded to go ahead and whip up a Delphine skirt that very afternoon! As I had to take the book back to finish off bits at home, and she was so enamoured with it, she went ahead and bought herself a copy. Spreading the Love (at First Stitch)... (Sorry for all the terrible puns). 

Anyway- here's the bit you've all been waiting for...the finished result at the show!

Photo credit: John Barrett
Unfortunately there aren't any photos of the turtle shells that aren't a bit too frisky for a blog like this, but if you want to see more pictures from the night they'll be appearing soon on the Salacious Sirens facebook page.

That was a bit of a fun back-to-basics sewing (a relief after the heartache with my last project) but I'm glad to be going back to slightly more challenging dressmaking. Sticking with Tilly's book I'm currently making a Megan dress with some more African wax-print fabric (this time with birds on it). It's shaping up pretty nicely so I hope to be able to share it with you soon, especially as I've been getting back into Mad Men lately and every dress this season looks like something I could potentially rip off with a Megan variation (I wouldn't be at all surprised if Mad Men is where the pattern's name came from).

Until next time,

NorseOtter (or Ottolie Divine!)


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Completed: Sew La-Di-Da Sweetheart, with a little heartache...

Woah, this creation has been a long time in the works, and I have to say I'm not 100% pleased with how it's turned out. This is partly due to me using the wrong materials. But it's also partly to do with me not really getting on with the pattern and instructions-there have been long periods of me just not feeling up to doing any sewing because I couldn't be bothered to decipher the instructions. I'm not saying it won't work for everyone- but let's just say it wasn't really the most relaxing or pleasurable make for me, and it is supposed to be for 'Beginner Level 1'.  Settle in folks; there's quite a detailed rundown of all my gripes with this pattern below.

My first set-in sleeves! They look a tiny bit lumpy here, but overall they didn't come out too bad. I could probably have taken this in a little more at centre front- more on this below. 
OK, to be fair, let's start with my faults. I thought this would be really sexy in broderie anglaise, as the cut of the dress is quite modest, so having a little peek-a-boo action with the fabric would give it a naughty little edge. However,  to keep the dramatic neckline shape facing and interfacing is involved. I went for the angular neckline rather than the eponymous sweetheart, as I thought it might be easier. The pattern calls for iron-on interfacing, I had some other stuff left over from some vampire capes I cobbled together many years ago and decided I would use that.

Vampire Cape in action, modelled by Lady Libertine
Bad idea. It's far too stiff and made going round all those sharp corners hard work for my poor machine, so the sharp neckline is a little...blunt. It's gone a wee bit lumpy and isn't entirely symmetrical. Plus I had to sew a backing fabric on to my interfacing stop its crisp whiteness showing through the broderie anglaise, which created even more bulk to shove under my needle. I should have thought about this a bit more- broderie anglaise with facing showing through is always going to look a bit daft. Perhaps I should have thought about fully lining it.

Line drawing for the 'Sweetheart' dress
So- the pattern. It looks deceptively simple- but it isn't! True, there are relatively few pieces- the bodice and skirt are all cut in long sections together. But this isn't really a bonus in my opinion- A) because not having a separate bodice means that I couldn't line it, which would have looked far neater and more professional than my daft facings on my fabric, and B) because this means it's very difficult to adapt neatly to get a good fit. Once I'd sewn up all the seams and inserted the zip (I'm getting better at this but still it's still not totally invisible!) the dress was massive on me- it hung down like a tent from my chest. I took it in at all the seams- at the front and sides from bust to waist by just drawing a semi-circle in tailor's chalk and going with trial and error. At the back I took in from armhole to waist. If there had been a separate bodice this would have been much easier and neater! As it is there are tiny pleats where my adjustments have stopped at the waist. Not the end of the world- and maybe even a design feature in themselves? Anyway something easily hidden with a belt. But there are no instructions given on how to improve fit.

Front view with slightly asymmetrical neckline and waist pleats 
I think I've been spoilt really by starting out with the By Hand London patterns and having the online sew-a-long tutorials. It makes going back to grainy black-and-white printed booklets a chore. I have to say, although the presentation and packaging for the Sew-La-Di-Da patterns is attractive and the patterns themselves are printed on hardwearing thick paper, the instruction booklets don't have the highest production value (and mine had missing instructions! Although the missing steps are now available on the website).

Back view with awkward arms! As you can see it's a little bit cheeky and see-through. Depending on the weather/ occasion I could always wear a slip!
And, judge me if you will, I found the instructions myself a bit too brief and cryptic for me, and there are quite a few steps along the way that say 'depending on the nature of your fabric/ machine' without explaining how to make your choice. As a beginner I don't know enough to make a judgement call on what the nature of my fabric/ machine is!  And there are a few points where it feels like a step is missing or has been taken for granted- for example- the instructions for attaching the facings has no mention of joining the shoulders before pinning to the neckline- might be obvious for some but certainly not to a beginner! Also, there's no mention of hand-stitching down the facings once they're sewn on to secure them and finish off. The instructions and diagrams for techniques like understitching weren't at all clear to me- so I just went back again to good old By Hand London and found one of their 'nerdy sewing tips' to work out what to do!

So overall, a cute design but not a beginner pattern. A more advanced sewist could whip this up pretty easily but I'm sure they would make several tweaks of their own to improve the fit, finish and quality of the dress. I know I keep banging on about them, but with By Hand London there are recommendations on the different techniques to use and advice on why you might choose them, and there's always an extra step if you wish to take it to improve the finish or long-lastingness of your garment (such as how to add a lining or use a sturdier type of seam) if you want to go over and above the basic instructions. None of this in this Sew La-Di-Da pattern- in fact it seems a bit 'whack it all together as quick as you can and 'Ta-Da'!

I actually have another Sew La-Di-Da Pattern that I've bought some gingham for, again a gorgeous design, but I might make something easier in between to give my poor head a rest. In fact, as my burlesque troupe Salacious Sirens have a gig coming up I think my next post may be a guest one from Ottolie Divine as there's plenty of costume to whip up between now and showtime on the 23rd May! 

What are you making? Anyone doing Me Made May? I haven't made enough stuff to feel I qualify for this year!

Until next time,

NorseOtter xxx

Confession: I drafted this post before even completing the garment- I started writing to vent some frustration, and at the time still had hems and sleeve hems to finish, as well as neatening up the inside (which I will not be showing- it's a total mess!).