Friday, 22 July 2016

Introducing Sewn Sustainably

I have some exciting news!

Over the past months I have been working seriously hard on a project to launch sustainable sewing lessons, now known as Sewn Sustainably.

Sustainable? Huh? Eh?

Well, this is something I am really passionate about, my values having evolved over the years alongside my beliefs that we should make the world a lot kinder to animals (and trees, and clouds...I could go on).

The more I read, the more I looked at what I was doing and what my impact was on the environment. On top of that, I have a husband who is a world-leading journalist in climate policy (climate change deniers look away now) and so I have picked up a fair few points about the state of the world's climate, its future and what needs to happen to make any kind of dent in what looks like a less than good situation.

But what has that got to do with sewing? First off, sewing is fantastic. It's been my therapy for many years now and I have never stopped learning or enjoying sitting at my machine. It's also introduced me to wonderful, beautiful friends. However, I've come to realise it also has its negative points. And, I'm not just talking about fabric scraps.

In the past few years, I've thought deeper about my habits, my purchases, and whether I could truly determine their impact. The answer is no. The cheap fabric by the metre, the endless purchases on a whim, it all has little transparency, and I couldn't even begin to investigate who made my fabric, whether they got paid a fair wage, whether their working conditions were safe. All the while, my cheap fabric sat in a pile on a shelf. I stopped buying fabric I didn't need, started busting through my stash, particularly old vintage textiles that denote a story and history, and only bought ethical fabric with certified labels.

My thoughts then evolved to the idea of providing sewing lessons based on a sustainable concept. In terms of skills, I've been sewing for many years now and took a year off work to do a full-time course in advanced dressmaking and pattern-cutting (see my wedding dress which I designed and constructed). I believe I have the experience required to teach sewing techniques to less experienced sewers, having taught privately and at Ray Stitch in London.

The concept of Sewn Sustainably is based on a capsule wardrobe consisting of classic garments that when made can be interchanged with each other from office to weekend; day to night. Currently, my classes include the classic white shirt, the classic t-shirt and the iconic box jacket. I'm featuring commercial and indie patterns that I have picked specifically combined with ethical fabric kits. In doing so, my students are able to trace the supply lines of their garments down to fabric production (including working conditions, wage and pollution). If you're interested in finding out about how the garment and textile industry and its impact on social and environment factors, check out Fashion Revolution who have an annual campaign which asks "who made my clothes?".

The first class at Sewn Sustainably is the classic white shirt. In my opinion, the white shirt is the timeless, understated queen of the wardrobe. If you need proof, just look at Marilyn in this picture. This was on the set of the Misfits (1961), but I really think you can't date this outfit. The white shirt brings a clean, fresh line to any outfit, equally stunning as both office or casual wear. When matched with the right fit and fabric, it's a sublime garment that will be worn over and over again.

You can read more about the classic white shirt class at my new website Sewn Sustainably and details of the pattern and fabric are in this blog post. The classes will be held in Cambridge as myself and the Szabo clan will be moving there this autumn! London friends, don't despair, I'll be back and forth on a quick train ride, so I'll still be making those sewing-prosecco (sewecco?) meet ups, but I am looking forward to the good things Cambridge can offer such as space, safer cycling and a house with storage!

I understand this won't be everyone's cup of tea and sustainability is a fairly new issue. But I've enjoyed building this idea within a sewing concept and look forward to spreading the word and doing a small thing for a big cause.

Monday, 18 July 2016

La Catarina! Seamwork dress

It feels like summer has finally hit London, so I thought I'd finally get around to blogging my new favourite dress. If you follow me on Instagram you may remember I showed my inspiration dress, which was this lovely maxi dress from Whistles.

 I love the double strap feature which crosses over on the back:

While scouring the internet, I came across the collection of patterns offered by Seamwork. To be honest, I wasn't that familiar with the Seamwork concept at the time, but my eyes instantly zoned in on the Catarina pattern, and it's potential to be tweaked into the Whistles style above. With limited time nowadays, I needed a simple base pattern and this definitely did the job. Voila...

First off, I worked on the back bodice. I sheared my pattern down much lower than the pattern from just below the bust, under the arm and all the way across the back. It makes the dress a no bra zone, but it's not like I am giving Dolly Parton a run for her money anytime soon, and it feels quite nice to be freeeeee. After tweaking the bodice, I then made rough markings (using the pattern's suggestion) for my straps. 

The original pattern calls for single straps with bra-like adjusters. I am a bit fussy about this kind of thing and personally I just don't like bra adjusters on dresses...I don't really know why, just doesn't look right to me. Plus, I wanted to copy the straps on the Whistles dress, so I basically made extra long straps and decided on the desired length before completing the bodice. I simply tweaked the length and positioning by pinning and basting and trying the dress on a few times.  

For fabric, I am still busting my way through my stash and this is more vintage treasure from Mr Szabo's Grandmother. It's some kind of crazy synthetic blend, but it's so drapey and light to the touch it was perfect for this project. My vintage hoard truly is the treasure chest that keeps on giving!

The waist line is gathered and then elasticated, and I used some sort of silky baby elastic I had in my stash from some past project. I also french seamed the insides of the skirt, and hand sewed the hem, which gives the dress a bit more luxury. The bodice is faced and understitched, which gives it a lovely clean finish.

I am loving this dress and am so excited to wear it, hopefully to Rosie's awesome book launch next week (which if you haven't yet checked it out, you can now buy "No Patterns Needed" on Amazon. It seriously is the coolest book). I just ordered some lovely chunky metallic sandals from Esprit for my dress' debut outing and hopefully will sometime, somehow do something with my mop of overgrown hair (on my head!)

Stay fabulous people. Red lipstick helps. xx 

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Coming to America (and Canada as usual)


I've been making (as much as is possible with River and her pooping ways) and have a few cool things to show you all, but I wanted to quickly blog about my upcoming big road trip. We're pretty excited in Chez Szabo as we're visiting some new areas in the States that neither of us have been to before, and I get to see the beauty that is British Columbia as well.

First up, we land in Vegas where I was supposed to see Rod at Caesar's Palace. Unfortunately, that is a dream that is not to be this year (be still my tears), so instead we travel on to San Diego.

Next we'll be heading to LA, so I'll definitely be hitting up Mood.

After that, some time in San Francisco until we venture up the coast towards Oregon stopping along the way.

Next up, I'll be hyperventilating as we take a few days in Seattle. I am fulfilling my 14 year old self's fantasy and am so excited. I don't expect to actually end up in some kind of naked, group guitar playing, wine chugging soiree with Eddie and Stone (after all, I can't play guitar!) but I won't stop believing.

After Seattle, we cross the ferry to Victoria to meet up with family. We'll have time in this area for me to explore too as well as time staying in Vancouver. It's then off to Ontario, which will include Mr Szabo's childhood camp and then some respite in Toronto for a week.

If you'd like to meet up at any point, please let me know!

Hope to see some new and familiar faces along the way.


Monday, 23 May 2016

Getting my jumpsuit on again Vogue 9075

WHHHHAT UP. I am back. And, what have I got for you?

Another jumpsuit! After the success of my much-loved Named Ailaaki jumpsuit, I didn't think I'd find another that I liked as much, but Vogue 9075 comes close for lots of reasons. Plus it's brought me out of blogging hibernation because I wanted to share how awesome this pattern is.

Firstly, when I saw the pattern during a casual peruse online I was instantly drawn to the great sketch on the envelope cover. It's super on-trend with those wide-legged culotte trousers and the simple fitted bodice has potential to be tweaked in several ways. And, it's so much easier than it looks. It's a brilliant, easy sew, which was so enjoyable. It had just the right amount of technicality to get my sewing juices flowing (princess seams, concealed zip, pockets, pleats) but otherwise was so simple. I whizzed through it.

For fabric, I used up what was in my current stash. I am on a sustainable drive (more about that in a future blog post) and haven't bought any fabric in a long time. I am trying in earnest to use up what I already have and to work with the lengths and widths that I am stuck with, unless I absolutely need to buy anything new. For this project, I found just the right amount of chambray in my stock, which in my opinion suits this pattern so well. I really can't remember where I got it from (it's either a Canadian job, or a purchase with Sally from Charity Shop Chic) but it's fab, washed a treat and sewed up very well.

I was incredibly lucky that the chambray was the exact width and length I needed and even then placing the pattern pieces was a game of pattern Tetris - who doesn't love a spot of that sometimes? Additionally, to ensure the project worked out as planned and to prevent waste, I took super accurate measurements from the flat pattern to avoid making a toile. With a bit of time, maths and familiarity with your body and particular pattern brands, it's a great practice to put in place each time and goes a long way to reducing fabric scraps that will only go to landfill.

My Bowie Yamamoto (but less serious)

As my measurements had it, I cut a size 10 on the bodice and graded to a 12 in the waist and culottes. The bodice fits like a dream even with addition of a light cotton lining. The waist is perfect and the pleats provide any forgiveness as well as hide lumps and bumps. It's such a brill pattern for feeling well-dressed on a bog-standard Monday.

Construction wise, the pattern is so well-drafted that it all goes together in a breeze. The bodice is a simple shell with princess seams finished at the neckline by the lining. I used a light floral cotton that had been in my stash for some time - I believe I bought it on a trip to the Village Haberdashery with my sweet friend Jennifer Wiese. There are pleats on both the front and back of the culottes, awesome pockets and a long concealed zip, so nothing majorly taxing yet satisfying to make nonetheless. I think sewing can be even more of a turn on when you've got a major hard on for the pattern to begin with - right?

I chose to keep the short sleeves as the pattern intended. I've seen other people's makes online with the culotte version finished without sleeves, but I quite like the simple t-shirt look - I think it also makes this a bit more day friendly, you know as I'm out walking down Greenwich in orange wedges and a gold belt. Bog standard Monday for me!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Clare Coat!

Hello! I have returneth from the depths of poopy nappies and over-caffeination to proudly introduce my latest make - the Clare Coat! Not only am I a little chuffed with myself for completing a rather large sewing project, but also one that has my name on it. Before you think I've soiled myself in sheer narcissism, no, this is the brand new pattern from Closet Case Files and I'm very touched that Heather Lou has chosen to name it after me. More on that later! First, the coat.

Heather has created, what I believe, is a great introduction into coat-making. Although, if you have already dipped your toe into coats, this is still a unique, very wearable pattern to add to your wardrobe. I made version A, which has an asymmetrical zip, bracelet sleeves, front welt pockets and collar, whereas version B is a more traditional-looking coat yet flaunts a fabulous dramatic funnel neck.

I decided to make version A as I liked that it was different to anything else I have, and I envisioned a cosy, coat with a huge check reminiscent of Westwood or 1960s outerwear. To achieve this, I used a poly-based wool alternative from Minerva (I'm vegetarian and try not to use wool in my sewing), which I am beyond pleased with. And, it's aptly from the 'Quebec' range so quite perfect for a pattern from cool Montreal. Soft to the touch and surprisingly warm, I love the hazy effect of this fabric, plus it coordinates perfectly with River's buggy. As a Mum, you've got to meet the demands of a child who currently has a better wardrobe than you! Life was a lot easier when I was just dealing with Elvis and Don.

In terms of construction, this coat will get your geeky sewing juices flowing without risk of strops and drunken sobs in the corner when it all goes tits up. I made a straight size 10 and needed no alterations. I don't mind sharing my measurements as I think it's helpful for others deliberating sizes: I am 36-27-40 and found the 10 fit me perfectly. For the record, I'm also a tall bird at 5'9 and the coat finishes just above mid-thigh for me. Heather's instructions are super clear and straightforward, reassuring for anyone new to coats who may feel a little intimidated. Don't - this would be such a great starting point. My version only used tailor's canvas in the collar whereas the rest required fusible interfacing to give it suitable support. In my opinion, the finished version hangs very well and I like how the collar sits a little proud from my neck.

The coat has that wonderful long zip, which if you've been swooning over Heather Lou's version with the rest of us, you'll see how you can really pimp that up with a chic zipper tassel. I may investigate this to update my version. I bought my brown zip with bronze teeth from Minerva as Vicki kindly matched it to my fabric for me. Sewing the zip is easy and it's finished with a lovely placket, another nice feature which contributes to the overall polished finish of this coat.


Initially, I wasn't sure whether I would stick with the shorter sleeves or lengthen them. Being tall, I also have monkey arms and even standard sleeves can look short on me. However, I decided to stick with Heather Lou's intentions and I am so glad I did. I love how chic they look pushed up a little more. Take mama for coffee, bubba...yes, okay, I'll pay. Again.

I may forget my name most days but I can
still pattern match!

I've been out and about in it already on my daily walks with River in the park, and I really do love how easy it is to wear with jeans, oh, and my disco chelsea boots. I've also tried it with tights and mini skirts for a full on 60s vibe and it looks great. This is definitely a fun coat, and as you have seen with Heather's own version, it can make a statement with to-die for bold jewel colours. So many options!

You may be asking why Clare, and I can't really answer that either as most days I look in the mirror and see a tired Mama who used to date Don Draper. He left me when I was with child. We're not surprised. But seriously, it feels very heartwarming to be liked and respected enough that, after the huge undertaking of work involved in releasing a sewing pattern, the designer wishes to put your name on their product. It is genuinely so very cool and exciting. Although I fly to Canada at least once a year to visit in-laws and friends, I finally met Heather Lou for drinks this summer in Montreal and fell a little in love. I am just pleased I wore my best perfume and silver shoes. We had dinner with Gillian and the sweet newly-weds Andrea and Ian, then a picnic the following day when Sonja just happened to drop by. What a stalker! (Jokes, my dear Pug Mama!) We had such a great visit and I did try to convince my Canuck to move to Montreal but he said the winters are too harsh - the man doth been in England too long! So for now, I shall tread the streets of Greenwich in my Clare Coat, content in the knowledge that I squeezed both a child and a coat into 2015! Thank you Heather Lou xx

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Funny how time slips away: McCalls 6436

Well, hello there, my it's been a long, long time...

...since, I came round these parts and showed you something I made MINUS a huge, big growing belly full of baby. But, it's no illusion, Mama and Elvis are back in town!

It's been almost 4 months since River was born and within that roller-coaster of newborn chaos and two operations to remove my stubborn placenta (thank you for all your well wishes) I found the time to make a shirt. Not just some quick and easy top, but a SHIRT. Excuse the self-promotion, but I am pretty chuffed with myself and wanted to show other sewers on the verge of motherhood that the sewing machine doesn't have to collect dust when that baby pops out. Snippets of time may just be snippets but they can mount up to a glorious wad of time when added altogether, albeit slowly but surely.

So, here it is - McCalls 6436 in a sleeveless version.

I wanted a shirt for the summer that would be easy for nursing and just the right shape to remain fitted yet hide some lumps and bumps I'm not prepared to flaunt just yet!

As you know, I am a huge McCalls fan-girl so 6436 was the perfect option for me. You can make a sleeved version but I opted for this light and breezy sleeveless shirt complete with fancy epaulets and mandarin-style collar.

Based on my new post-partum bewbies I cut a pattern size 12 (usually I cut a straight 10 from McCalls) but I opted to go a size up for a looser fit. I'm pretty pleased with the finished result.

I first started making this shirt during a lovely stay at my parents. My Mum gave me the much-needed push to get started and while River cooed and googled on the floor, I cut out the pattern. Unfortunately, tracing is a new casualty of motherhood. I will pretty much rely on measuring the flat pattern pieces now and a rough tissue fit as my snippets of time have no time for tracing patterns on my hands and knees again. Also, I've been sewing long enough now to know my body and the changes I need to make to achieve a relatively good fit.

Once the pattern was cut I raided my stash for a suitable cloth. Again, no time or inclination to trek to fabric shops, but instead a welcome push to finally start using up my stash. I dug out this lovely cotton that I purchased in Mood last year on my trip to New York. It's sheer but opaque enough to not need anything underneath.

When I got back to London from my folks, it was then merely a case of whenever there was a window, sew something! Be it, pinning a couple of darts, sewing a seam, basting, pressing a seam allowance. And, hey, suddenly you begin to see the shell of a shirt. I also didn't cut corners and french-seamed side and shoulder seams as well as hand sewing the finish of the button placket and collar band.

As a new Mum with limited time, I actually really welcomed the chance to apply nicer finishes to this shirt. In a new world where a messy house, baby puke and delightful nappies are now standard, it's nice to have something where you can regain aesthetic control. Doing the final press on the french seam or the last hand stitch were like taking a sip of a margarita...ahhhhhhh.

The epaulets are a sweet little addition and super easy to do. The armholes, shown above, were finished with a poly satin bias binding I had in my stash. Buttons were purchased, begrudgingly, from Rolls and Rems in Lewisham - I see their customer service has not improved since I've been off radar having a baby. Sort it out RnR!

I am so proud of getting back on the sewing saddle and making something that I not only enjoy wearing but also a type of garment missing from my wardrobe. My sewjo is definitely re-ignited and I can't wait to start on my next project.

Yes, having a bubba is tough and means your time is at the whim of a tiny little boss, but it's nowhere near impossible. Instead it means you actually have more motivation, more inclination and less time to worry about imperfections. Go on fellow mamas, go sew!

Monday, 23 February 2015

A round belly and a round cocoon coat

Another blog post! I hope this last hurrah of energy means baby Szabobobo is on her way...

I've been meaning to blog my coat since November, but just never got round to it. I've been sewing lots (and not just baby stuff), it's just I never really felt like bringing it to the blog - anyone else ever feel the need for a blog sabbatical? However, with baby almost here, I thought I'd put on my favourite wedges, some make-up and take some pics of me in all my swollen glory. Mr Szabo and I have realised we don't have that many photos of me documenting the pregnancy - so, baby Szabobobo here is what your Mama likes to get up to in her spare time.

Towards the end of last year I made a cocoon-style coat, which I've been wanting for some time having seen some gorgeous versions from Stella McCartney and other designers. I wanted something over-sized, which would work with my pregnancy and after.

For the pattern I chose the Round Coat from Burda - minus the dodgy faux fur panels at the bottom. I initially had the Burda magazine with the pattern, but I took one look at those pattern lines and thought, um... NO! So I bought the PDF, although it might be the lesser of two evils it still made me want to collapse in a broken heap.

For some time I've had this camel coloured wool coating in my stash - it's from Dalston Mill and was quite pricey at the time. Although I don't buy wool anymore for ethical reasons, I didn't want to be wasteful and decided that if I loved this coat, I'd probably keep it for a long time anyway, so it would at least be unwasted and sustainable.

Pattern's Burda, so after the whole nightmare of sticking together the PDF pattern and realising that certain bits were for a completely different pattern altogether, I then had the instructions to deal with.

To be fair, the coat is fairly straightforward to begin with. There's no collar, lapels or even set in sleeves to fuss about, you just sew up the panels and the raglan-style sleeves and you pretty much have a coat! Plus, being pregnant I decided against doing any grand tailoring techniques. I figured this kind of coat is supposed to be loose and slouchy - I also felt that less time sewing, is more time eating.

Turns out my only issue making this was adding the lining.

As you can see I chose a brushed cotton from Calico Laine to make the coat warm and cosy. However, Burda's instructions for inserting this made as much sense to my preggo brain as a life without grape nut flakes (I can eat a box for England) plus the lining didn't fit the neckline facing, so at that point I chucked the instructions aside and did my own thing. I trimmed the lining neckline to make it bigger and then, making sure I had both sides symmetrical, I pinned the lining to the facing and hand stitched it in place, leaving two pleats at the bottom near the hem for ease. It seems to have worked well and the coat hangs nicely without being pulled up at the bottom. Huzzah!

Another step I added myself was to use nylon horse hair in the coat hem. I tried without first but the hem really lacked structure - with the horse hair it has a far better shape, plus is a tiny bit weighted.

To finish, I used medium sized poppers from Ray Stitch, which I self-covered with lining fabric. To do this, cut out a big circle, sew a large running stitch around the edge, make a tiny snip in the middle to push the 'male' part of the popper through, and then gather fabric around the popper. I'm still wondering whether I should have left these silver, but I haven't really felt arsed to change them!

Um, wind.

So, that's my coat! I've worn it lots and it's super warm. If I made it again (which is unlikely) I would probably add more structure to the inside of the two 'button plackets' to stiffen them up. Burda do not make any suggestions for this, but I think it would help the look of the coat when buttoned up.

If you like the style of this, I would definitely recommend you check out Jane's amazing blue coat and Jo's super delish 'coat of many compliments' for similar pattern/fabric options.

Currently on the sewing table is a denim shirt with poppers for easy nursing access - I'm hoping to finish that before the big arrival. However, if I go quiet again, you know why. See you on the other side!