Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Wendy Ward - Culottes

Hi everyone, it is my turn on the blog tour for Wendy's wonderful new book 'A beginners guide to skirts'!


First of all I have been following along with Wendy's progress on this book from the beginning via the magic of Instagram so I was really looking forward to seeing the end product. You can tell as soon as you open the cover that a lot of attention to detail has been paid even down to aaaall the hand drawn illustrations so I was really happy once the book was released and I was offered the chance to review it!


The projects run through the book in order of difficulty, starting with a simple jersey tube skirt and ending with a gathered skirt with button front and pockets, but all look like they could be tackled by an advanced beginner from the offset. What I like about the projects is that they start with a fairly simple template, so my immediate instinct is to imagine what bold fabrics I could use or what pattern adaptions I could make. There is a lot of scope to make your own mark on these styles and as they stand they are really great wardrobe staples. My favourite being the Roehampton culottes I did make and the Rusholme midi A-line with pockets that I have yet to make.

The instructions themselves mainly reside in the back of the book where you are instructed to flick back to for things like inserting zips or making up pockets etc... There is a lot of detail here that could easily be used for projects outside of this book.

I made the knee length culottes in this linen look suiting supplied by Fabworks mill shop. I was trying not to get too excited about the prospect of free fabric and choose something that would slot into my wardrobe nicely and this has a really good heavy drape to it! I even managed to squeeze these out of 1.5 metres of fabric, but this was a risky strategy that I wouldn't advise...


The fit is spot on and the only change I made was to insert a centre back zip instead of in the side seam. I really, really love them! Ok, so that bubble at the top of the zip is annoying and also the waistband overlaps on top instead of underneath. The poppers hopefully make it look intentional, but all I can say is I was deeply distracted by the finale of 'The Fall' (creepy BBC series) whilst making up this area, which if you were watching it too you will understand why I was unable to fully concentrate!


Here we are demonstrating how wide they are!


I personally feel that this style works best in a soft drapey fabric, as they are lovely and swishy, but the book sample does show them in a heavier fabric for comparison.

Because of the plain fabric I had great fun finishing everything nicely with press studs and bias binding on the waistband. I also used a bias binding extension on the centre back seam where it forms the lap over the zip as the seam allowance needs to be wider to account for this (which it is as per the pattern on the side seam). This was only because of my deviation from the pattern, so you probably won't need to worry about that!


 So to sum up this is a great book in my opinion and a great basis for loads of different skirt/wide leg trouser options beyond those in the book!

The only thing that I was not such a fan of was the way the patterns are laid out on the sheets in the back. The leg of the trousers for example are split into a couple of pieces that you need to bring together in the tracing and the lines are all different colours which I found tricky as I was tracing a pale blue line which was difficult to see through my paper. If the publishers offered a link to download the pattern sheets to print at home I would definitely have gone for that and just cut them straight out (note to publishers). Anyway, just a small thing really to improve the user experience when locating the patterns.

Honestly though I really value having this in my collection and just picking it out of the shelf to write this post has filled me with joy and confidence in it's contents!

I hope you enjoyed reading my review and that it has provide you with a rounded view, but if you have any questions then just ask! xxx

Thursday, 10 November 2016

2 leather genoa totes

Hello, I have something very fun to share with you today. Not one but two leather bags!


I was contacted by Anna a couple of months back with a link to her new Genoa Tote pattern, which is what I'm showing you. I must admit that I don't love getting freebies because I can feel my creativity dropping when I feel obliged to use something, but I did not feel like that with Anna at all because it was a fairly casual exchange where I felt she wasn't expecting me to use her pattern. I was thinking of making a bag anyway and found it useful having a template!

On the note of freebies I am reviewing something next week, which is unusual for me, but again I really wanted to make the project for me so it was a joy not a chore ;-)

As mentioned above I used the pattern as a template, but I constructed it how I wanted to because I was using very different materials.

This bag was the first one I made in leather and was a gift for a friend. All the leather was bought on eBay and is reclaimed as it's offcuts that were being sold second hand. The strap leather was reclaimed of sorts as it was an offcut thrown in with something else I bought new! It's thick metallic olive green and is perfect for straps. The kind of thickness used for stachels.


The main front has a reverse applique design from some screen prints I have designed and used many times in the past. I sewed everything on my Pfaff Passport 2.0 with a leather needle in and walking foot engaged and it sewed very easily.


I backed the main back front and back with horse hair canvas for a bit more stability and I really like the structure it has provided. I also made the inside zip pocket a lot longer than the pattern.

I preferred to stitch my straps in place rather than use rivets. I punched the holes in a design to echo the cut outs and stitched them on with a thick waxed linen thread. I do have screw in rivets that I could have used, but I prefer this look! I also left the top edges of the bag cut raw rather than folded over as it looked neater than trying to grapple with the leather to fold over nicely.



The leather facing on the top of the lining only has one join (I didn't use the pattern piece for this) and it is joined flat with a piece of horsehair layered underneath to keep it together and reduce bulk. My leather needle snagged the lining on this one a bit which is a shame, but hopefully it doesn't show quite as much in real life!

Oh look, also my pockets are constructed differently! I don't mean to change everything, it just kind of happens as I try to use things from my stash. My red zip is an open ended one, so I had to cover the bottom of it. Rather than make a pocket with the seams on the inside I bound the edges with bias binding which does the double duty of covering the raw edges of the fabric as well as the opening bottom of the zip!


Next up is more of the same with more reclaimed leather. The orange is actually from my old handbag I am replacing as is the key chain thingy. The yellow strap leather was bought new (the metallic olive leather for the above straps was thrown in with this order).




Oh how I love this bag!


The only thing missing was a matching purse right? Sorted and with co-ordinating cut outs!


I made a very simple little bag which I just marked out straight onto the leather and sewed up. The lining is hand stitched to the inside of the zip.


A little flat gusseted bottom for a bit more room in there.


This was so much fun and sewing leather on my machine was way easier than I thought it would be. I would be interested to see if my old Toyota would handle leather with the correct needle, although the feed has always been a bit uneven on that one and there is no walking foot so I probably wont bother.

A review of sorts, but not really as I'm notoriously bad at following other peoples instructions. The pattern in general is very well put together and the instructions look very detailed, so although the pattern is simple you get a lot of guidance on how to make a really nicely finished bag. Hopefully this will provide you with some inspiration for what you can do to personalise your own bag or if you were thinking of working with leather then maybe this gives you some ideas of how you can make it more individual! No blank canvas is safe!!!

Sunday, 9 October 2016

My first hand made denim shoes!

As mentioned I my previous post, I have started and finished making a pair of shoes! It felt like I just really needed to power through from start to finish even though at times I wasn't confident they were working or if I was going to like them, but this was an important process for me.


First of all, I am totally proud of these shoes. I made the last, the pattern, the heel and all the things! The construction is something I am working on in my own way and I am slowly trying to form a way of making a pair of shoes that do not require glue. There are some really innovative designs out there for no glue shoes, but for now I just want to make fairly standard designs, as I am just getting my head around what shoe design even means and what I want it to look like! I feel like I need to get hands on with a whole process to confidently be able to think about how I can adapt it to my own desires or aesthetic (very much like how I approached bra making).

Enough about that though and more about these shoes. They kind of started out as a very rough mock-up of a shoe idea from some denim scraps. Below is how rough I'm talking here, but I kind of liked where this was going, so back tracked slightly and used this shell to turn into my first real shoe.


As you can see, I literally used the mock-up fabric with raw edges and all which I lined with a thin suede that has been in my stash for a loooong time! I subbed the straps with some leather scraps and topstitched the edges and fixtures of the upper with a jeansy gold topstitch thread.


The heels are stacked leather, which I bought as a massive job lot of scraps. It is suitably thick (5mm), but not what you might immediately select for shoe making. I have no idea what it is, but it has a darker leather central layer, which has a lighter coloured layer on the top and bottom. Almost like it is veneered or like a ply wood looks. You cant really see it in the pictures, but I ike it. It is also has a very soft texture on the cut and sanded edges. I guess this will be a trade mark of any shoes I make for some time as I have 19kg of it!


Everything about this pair of shoes is fairly rustic, even down to the tacked on heels!

The sole and base of the heel is a natural crepe rubber sheet, which I bought from here. I glued the sole on, but nailed the entire heel and base of heel together.


Here they are on! Aren't they cute? How amazing that my fist pair of shoes have gone so well....



Almost, but not quite! They are too long unfortunately. If my foot is rested against the back of the sling back as the picture above then there is quite a lot of room in the toe as per below. This does not make them unwearable, but I expect the toe cap to collapse after a few wears maybe.


If I push my foot to the front of the shoe then there is quite a bit of room behind the ankle. I still haven't worn them out yet, so I need to do that and make a fair assessment, but I have started on another pair of lasts with 0.5cm removed from the front of the foot. I think this is the most logical place to make the adjustment as I like the fit everywhere else. It's hard to know for sure if this is the right thing to do or not.


I have some new old resin lasts to play with now, but I really like using my dodgy homemade ones. I'm keen to make a pair of leather shoes on both and see how I feel about them, but I'm really enjoying analysing my feet in this way.

Now I know some of you want to know more about the construction so rather than do another post about these shoes I'm just going to make this an extra long one!

No pattern making advise here, but check out this site for some ace tutorials!

So I started by gluing my upper to my lining along the top edge and ankle strap using a contact adhesive.



I then cut away the bits of lining that are left in the above picture. I didn't cut them out initially as I felt it would prevent the upper shape from being distorted when I was gluing the two layers together. I then topstitched around all the upper edges with a gold topstitch thread, sewed the loop on my T-bar, sewed up the centre back seam and also attached the leather strap.

Next I positioned the upper on my last and pinned it in place as it is soft enough for pins.


I haven't photographed this part, but I punched holes around my thick leather insole (about 1cm away from the edge) with an awl and handstitched a long running stitch through the holes with a strong linen thread. The theory behind hand stitching the sole is to be able to hand sew the upper to something. Hand sewn uppers I have seen have been sewn to very thick insoles which are carved to reveal a relief channel that can have a thick needle pushed into it. It is a very skilled and labour intensive construction that I'm not sure I can confidently replicate without wanting to throw my shoe out the window, so this is my interpretation of the same concept!

Below is me starting to hand sew the lining to the insole!


Once it was all sewn I trimmed away the excess leather and glued the toe puff to the lining. Again helpfully not photographed, but I used some buckram left over from some hand pleated curtains that I used to make. I think I then glued the upper to the toe puff, but may have only done that on one shoe and not the other, whoops!


I did trim some of the bulkier leather pleats away and then sewed the denim upper to the same linen thread.


The back of the insole has no upper wrapped around it, so I filled this space with a scrap of folded over bias cut denim.


I trimmed my quick fit metal shanks to fit the space and nestle into the denim and glued it onto the insole.


Next up I trimmed three layers of denim to glue onto the front of the insole to make a level-ish surface ready for the outsole.


 I forgot to take a photo of the outsole, but here's a screen grab from a video clip off my Instagram account. I made sure to really hammer it in place once the contact adhesive was ready, as when I tried gluing the crepe sole to a previous pair of sliders, it came unstuck really easily. The mad hammering seems to have done the trick!


The heel is the last bit and was the bit I was most excited about starting and also the most worried about!

I formed an idea of the height and how I would shape it from comparing it to the last and created a block with a slightly stepped top two layers. Traditionally stacked heels are built directly onto the shoe, but I wanted to make mine to attach to the shoe. Now I've done it and kind of understand what I'm aiming for though, I may try building onto the shoe next!



I removed the central core as I could tell the shoe wanted to sit in a hole and then carved away at these top two layers until it fit the back of the shoe in nicely.



I carved away at the sides too, but it is all a bit rough and ready still. I think I need a better blade! (shouldn't really blame my tools ;-)). I could have sworn they looked better than this...


I should add that these leather layers are held together with a few nails at this point, but once I was happy enough, I went to town and hammered loads and loads of nails in to keep it all together!


Finally I attached the heels with some upholstery tacks straight through the insole into the heel. I hammered them in as much as possible to avoid any uncomfortable nubby bits, but if they prove to be annoying I can always glue some leather covered foam there.


Oh, the last bit was actually to position the gold coloured screw in button thing and then they were finished.

Well, that's it in a nutshell! I hope to improve quite substantially with my next pair. I kind of felt like I needed to get a completed pair of shoes under my belt to have some knowledge to build on, but I am excited to move on!

See you shoon! ;-)

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Making shoes and making a shoe last!

I am definitely feeling open to new challenges lately and am slowly working my way through all the things I said I would never do! I am not saying 'never' to anything at the moment since I started thinking about making shoes. Shoes, actual shoes!!! It seems like the ultimate handmade item really doesn't it? If I can make shoes then I can make handbags surely, which covers all the bases really on top of the clothes I can sew and knit. Spurred on by seeing these boots in particular by Joost and also these sandals by Jillian I have recently started to believe I can do this. Why not eh?

So where does one start? Well I have done a lot of online research and you need a shoe last (ideally) if you are going to get serious about making shoes. A shoe last is like a mannequin for feet and are actually not very difficult to get hold of. You find them second hand on ebay and Etsy or brand new if you know where to look! UK dwellers can find recommended suppliers on this site.

I have pretty tricky feet (wide with bunions and a high instep which makes most slip on boots a big no), so I was definitely tentative about splashing out on anything too expensive and decided I could have a go at making my own. As I have gained in confidence I now realise I can also modify some pre-made lasts and have a couple of pre-loved pairs on their way. The thing with lasts is that they are specific to heel height and toe shape, so chances are that one style will not be enough for you to play with anyway!

Here are my finished lasts minus their newspaper covering which came shortly after.


The first and fortunate starting point for me was the new winter boots I recently bought. They fit me well and they have a good width at the front. I did buy a size up to get the width though, but they are good enough. Yet another example of compromising with fit for ready to wear items. I wanted to replicate the shape and heel height (mid heel, not too high), but shorten the foot length a touch.

I suppose the main starting point was to create a pattern for the insole. I used the outsole to create this, tracing the foot and bridge of the foot. I held the paper firmly on the sole of the boot and pushed it right into the heel to trace. I then marked notches at the start of the heel and flattening out my template traced the heel onto the back of the main foot. Because I traced the outsole it was a few millimetres wider all around than the insole, so I just marked and cut it a couple of millimetres inside the line. I also folded out the amount of foot length I wanted to lose just after the heel.


I wasn't sure how substantial my last was going to end up being, but I wanted it to have a solid base, so I cut the insole pattern out of a thin wooden board I found knocking around the garage (you could probably use a really thick card). I split it into three sections to cut. The front foot, the arch and the heel. This allowed me more flexibility to get a nice shape for the heel height.


I taped all three sections of each foot together with duct tape so that they were together, but still flexible. I then taped the cardboard toe filler that came with my boots to the front of the insole. I have been thinking of ways that you may be able to achieve this toe shape without a pre-formed filler and maybe if you line the shoe you want to copy with cling film or something similar and push some modelling clay inside up to the start of the foot arch. If you use air drying clay you could wait for it to dry prior to removing for a solid toe to stick straight to your insole.


I have been truly rubbish at photographing this stage, but I created a paper pattern of one side of the boot I was copying (see boot here) from the centre back to the bottom of the laces. With the paper held taught over the boot I just rubbed a pencil around the shape of the top ankle, centre front and arch/heel shape. I made the centre back square with the base of the heel as I added shaping to this area later on in the process. I neatened out my template from this one side of the boot and traced it onto a cereal box, mirroring it so that it would wrap around the outer and inner foot. Apologies for the absence of photos for this bit! My cardboard boot was then positioned onto the insole lining up the centre backs and taped in place. It does wrap over the toe cap and from here various slashes and modifications to the foot shape were made to make it as close to something that would fit me as possible. I also shaped the back heel and ankle at this point, tapering it in slightly. If you have an idea of pattern cutting or model making then you can really draw on this knowledge to achieve a shape you are happy with. I stuffed the form with saw dust as full and compact as possible to create a solid structure. I was thinking along the lines of a tailors ham???


All sealed up I did a quick paper toile and found the foot arch to be too high. I removed some of the saw dust and slashed and modified a bit more until I was happy.


A final stuff to make it really firm and then I closed it up with a section of card taped over the hole.


It was finally covered with some newspaper and PVA to finish. Please excuse the appearance of the beginnings of a shoe upper. This didn't really become anything as I didn't really like it!


Now one thing I realised fairly late on was that there is no shaping from the back heel to the insole, which probably means that this area is too wide at the insole. It should taper in and blend nicely rather than have such a square junction. I might go back and tinker with this pair a bit more, because they seem to have worked out far better than I could have imagined and it would be worth improving them. I also want to seal them up a bit more and open up the top again to pour some plaster of Paris into the main foot for a more solid block.

There are restrictions I am aware of when using my home made lasts, like the style of shoe I am able to make. For instance I would probably not go for a design which would need too much force for removal at the end of the lasting process as I don't think it would be possible without destroying them. I think I can get a full coverage shoe made on them, but it will require some creative thinking to make it work. I really love the shape though so I'm keen to work around this. Maybe one day I might like to carve some out of soft wood to mirror this exact shape and make the refinements I am imagining, oh and also add a hinge. Never say never remember! As with many things, I am finding the self imposed limitations inspiring!

I have started making a pair of shoes from these lasts and I am really pleased with them so far. I have some very thick leather scraps to build a stacked heel which is very exciting and I have gone for a fabric (jacket scraps) upper because I was slightly concerned the fit would be off and didn't want to waste precious leather. I have sneakily removed them from the lasts for a try on and they fit well (I think), but I don't know if it's one of those things that you really cant tell until the whole shoe is finished. I am trying to use only natural materials (apart from steel shanks required to support the arch) and am having great luck in finding pre-loved or surplus materials. Another thing I want to try and achieve is a no glue shoe, but not sure if I am close to knowing how to do that yet!


I was hoping to give you a tutorial to make lasts in the same way I did, but in the end I think that all I can show you is roughly what I did as there is no hard and fast way of achieving 'a thing'. If you are interested in making a pair of lasts then I suggest cruising the internet for ideas and find one that makes sense to you or combine several methods that may work for you! One idea I did particularly like (but don't have shoes I want to ruin) is to take a plaster cast of a pair of well fitting shoes and cut the shoes away to reveal the casts. I guess you would have to then cover the plaster forms with tape or papier mache to stop the plaster from flaking away.

Interestingly I was just browsing for alternative tutorials on making shoe lasts. One of the most common ways I have come across (and a method I was considering) is to take a cast of your actual feet, but this forum here has a fairly indepth discussion of why this might not be the best method. The same rules of wearing ease (negative and positive) apply to the feet, so is something to consider. It actually makes a lot of sense and when I was thinking about bra making and using some form of stand for draping it struck me that a direct mould of my body would be useless because the form for draping on needs the breasts to be in their supported state (if you know what I mean).

It's blooming marvellous what you can do when you start to break an item down into its individual components and I am certainly in the frame of mind where anything is possible at the moment!

Hopefully I'll be back soon-ish with a complete pair of shoes to share with you, but bye for now!