Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The bag lady

I’m really not much of a bag lady. Some ladies have hundreds, I have just a few and tend to stick to only one, small shoulder bag with enough room to squeeze the bare essentials and a book into. That was my bag lot and I was content with it. Then I was given the Cath Kidston ‘Sew’ book for Christmas which came with a free bag to make, complete with cut-out fabric, buttons and even label to sew on. It was practically ready made so, even though the prospect didn’t thrill me, I thought I’d assemble it and see what it was all about. The pattern was incredibly simple, but clever, and looked almost professional. It came out much smaller than I’d imagined, certainly not book squeezable, and with a distinctive Cath Kidston floweriness that isn't really me.
I wonder, I thought, bag lust suddenly seizing me. Perhaps I could make a bag similar to this, but bigger, and use fabric that I actually like…
I dug around in the material bag and pulled out some vivid, Fanta orange corduroy that saw brief light of day once in the antlers of a moose. It was quite flimsy fabric compared to the original, so I decided to add a green floral lining and, in a fit of daring, to incorporate an internal zip for valuables. The actual making of the bag was easy. Trying to slot in the zip was a nightmare that I quickly regretted, but persevered with anyway. I sewed the whole lot together, added a few woolly flowers for good measure, and hey presto. A bag truly fit for a bag lady.

Monday, 4 October 2010

The minty paradise dress

Gardens and Mazes

The last time I went to John Lewis to look for fabric I was disappointed. Then I heard that Peter Jones had a good selection and trotted down to Sloane Square to investigate. First impressions didn’t live up to the vast, Aladdin’s cave of floor-to-ceiling splendour that I’d imagined, but there were quite a few fabrics that I liked, and two that I just couldn’t choose between. Both were Amy Butler and both were green – one, Garden Maze, was an eye-boggling geometric pattern while the other, Paradise Garden Mint, was a psychedelic jungle of swirling hippy dippy flowers. Unable to resist temptation, I bought them both, thinking to make a dress from one or the other.
I thought, and thought, and then decided, scary though the idea was, to take the leap. The last (and only) time I had made a dress I’d had training wheels on, so to speak, as Mum was on hand with advice, Diet Coke and the Unpicker. Now I would be going solo with nothing to stop me spilling out of the saddle.
A daunting prospect but I leapt anyway, taking the whirly swirly material and unfolding it onto the floor. With so much going on, a simple pattern was best, and I dug out one that once upon a time yielded my blue haggis dog dress – just two panels, front and back, a zip and a couple of darts.
At the time it was just a disposable, tongue-in-cheek summer dress but I ended up keeping it much longer, so long in fact that the haggis dog, from being just a humble Scottie, had been adopted as the symbol of handbag-and-shoe-emporium Radley, giving my frock an unasked for expensive allure.
I digress. I hadn’t realised, when buying the fabric, that I’d spend quite so long landscape gardening it – trying to get a line of flowers dead in the centre on both sides. Having done that, I sewed in the zip first, still too nervous to use the zip foot and ending up with a much-too-wide margin. After sewing darts into the front, I tacked the two pieces together and by some miracle it was more or less the right size. The hardest, fiddliest, awkwardest part was the straps. Supposed to be about 2cm wide, I sewed them slightly narrower than that and was faced with the almost impossible task of turning them inside out. I had a long, barbecue skewer-like implement with a hook on the end designed to help, but the fabric proved too thick and resistant. In the end I had to pull it through by finger, millimetre by unyielding millimetre, a job which took several hours of my life that I’ll never get back and ruined my nails.
Done, in the end, the straps were sewn on, when, to my horror I discovered that one of the straps was thinner than the other. Fat strap, thin strap. And don’t say you’d never know, because I know. And so do you now.
But still, it could have been worse. Whilst not quite a utopian paradise, I’m still quite pleased with my minty garden. It’s not perfect, but it’s wearable, and I doubt I’ll ever see anyone walking down the street wearing exactly the same pattern-fabric-strap combination. It inspired me to keep up the gardening… now I just need to figure out exactly what to do with the maze.