Friday, September 30, 2016

The "Isabella Blow : A Fashionable Life" Exhibition

So wearing my gorgeous new suit from my last post, I travelled to Sydney to see the Isabella Blow exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I hadn't heard of this amazing and inspirational woman until I saw some photos of the exhibition on a friends Instagram.  That photo showed me that there was at least one Alexander McQueen garment I could get close to, so I knew I had to go.

There were many, many McQueens.

Isabella Blow was a magazine editor and stylist who was both colourful and eccentric. She worked for US Vogue (under Anna Wintour), and Tatler and The Sunday Times in the UK.  She was muse to milliner Philip Treacy, and was credited with discovering Alexander McQueen.  After her suicide in 2007 (we'll get to that later), her entire wardrobe was purchased by The Honourable Daphne Guiness who then established the Isabella Blow Foundation.  This exhibition showed some amazing pieces from her wardrobe put together into outfits as she wore them, and often accompanied with little stories and quotes.

The first outfit was this one:

I just died.

The jacket is McQueen for Givenchy, and the headpiece is Phillip Treacy.  The story goes that she purchased the jacket (which is a short jacket with incredible sleeves... and that collar!), corset belt and skirt for 35,000 francs and tried to expense it back to her employer as business attire.

"I just adore trains... wearing them, always getting them caught in taxi doors... trains are so romantic, dragging along the ground is romantic, don't you find?"
Isabella Blow

This is another McQueen piece.  Sadly the photo I took of the description plaque came out blurry (it was so dark in there!) but I'm pretty sure this is a piece from Alexander McQueen's graduate collection from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.  It was inspired by the killing spree of Jack the Ripper in Victorian London.  Isabella Blow purchased the entire collection after seeing the show.

"I do just love breasts.  They're so old-fashioned"
Isabella Blow

This coat was AMAZING.  On a cold winter morning sometimes you don't want to get out from under the doona cause its freezing outside.  With this coat you don't have to!  It is basically a silk doona filled with down THAT YOU CAN WEAR!!!!  Mind you, this is Alexander McQueen (as homage to Charles James none-the-less), so none of us could afford it, but you know.... the thought is there!  Maybe I'll make one in homage to Alexander McQueen in homage to Charles James...

"I don't like crap.  I like craftsmanship with a little room for fantasy"
Isabella Blow

The above is my new motto, by the way.

This dress was pretty amazing.  The underskirt is silk, the bodice is leather, and the overskirt is rubber lace.  So basically, the skirt is one of those nasty plasticy table cloths!  I've been looking for one (or two) ever since I saw this exhibition.  No luck so far!

"My style icon is anyone who makes a bloody effort"
Isabella Blow

The last outfit you saw as you walked out the door was this one:

And here it is on the lady herself

I left the exhibition (which I shared only the smallest bit of here) with the impression that Isabella Blow was one of those special aristocratic people that used their wealth to support the arts, and the art she had chosen was fashion.  But as well, in the way of some aristocratic people, she was completely mad.  She was funny and outrageous.  She never dressed 'appropriately', she wore whatever she felt was suitable - even if it was a coat made out of brightly coloured garbage bags to meet a farmer to discuss farm business, or a necklace that said Blow Job to a party at Princess Michael of Kent's.

She was inspiring, colourful, outgoing, and crazy.  But there was something that was niggling at me.

It was only when I was at home doing some reading about Isabella Blow that I discovered that she suffered terribly from Bipolar Depression - the same as me.  And suddenly everything I'd seen and read and felt made a lot more sense.

Isabella Blow committed suicide in 2007 by swallowing a weed killer called Paraquat.  This successful attempt came after many unsuccessful attempts.  But calling this a success makes you think death happened quickly.  It didn't.  This poison slowly shuts down the body's internal organs, and once the process has started there is no stopping it.  It is a slow and tragic way to die - but also theatrical and romantic I suppose you could say.

Isabella's funeral was equally theatrical and romantic.  Six dark bay horses with black ostrich feather plumes pulled a gothic Victorian funeral carriage bearing her coffin, covered in white flowers.

 The mourners were dressed in black, in outfits definitely inspired by the person they were there to mourn.

I think I aspire as much to her funeral as I do to her wardrobe and the confidence she had with fashion.  

If you ever get the opportunity, you really should go and see the exhibition.  I found it so inspiring.  Getting that close to so many McQueen garments (the tailoring!), and to see the fearlessness with which outfits were put together really got me thinking about my sewing, and what I wear.  It was truly eye opening.

Has anyone else seen the exhibition?  Either in Sydney or in other countries?  Did you have the same response?


Monday, September 5, 2016

A Red Suit for a Sewalong

Way back in April I joined a Vintage Suit Sewalong group on Facebook.  The idea was to sew a vintage style suit from any era, work at approximately the same pace as one another as per the guidelines, and share our experiences.  I thought it sounded like a fun idea, but was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it on time since I didn't have anywhere to sew at that point!

I found my inspiration care of the Instagram account of a friend of mine:

Killer shoulders - tick!
Killer sleeves - tick!
Killer neckline - tick!

Then I found a pattern to use as a starting point:

Yep, you're right.  It looks nothing like it!

Then I found the perfect fabric - some grossly expensive 100% wool crepe, and some novelty print rayon lining:

 There's lady beetles!

I started out redrawing the pattern, resizing it as I went and adjusting the front so it crossed over, and turning the sleeves into full length one piece really full bishop sleeves.  The sleeves were probably the most daunting part really, not having ever played with sleeve shapes before.  But I've never let a thing like no experience stop me!

Since my fabric was so expensive (it really was!) I decided I should make a muslin and check that the adjustments I had made would work.

And besides the top half of the sleeve being a fraction too tight around my bicep, I was very happy with how I'd done!  That left me with the chore of cutting out my wool crepe, rayon lining, inter-lining and hair canvas.  Which would seem like a bit of a chore if the fabric wasn't so beautiful to work with.  100% wool really is worth spending the money on just once if you can.  Its an experience!

I then set about sewing the fronts together and putting in the hair canvas, which I did by hand.  It will never be seen, but there is something satisfying about putting the time in and doing it by hand.  I tacked the seam allowances down as well, but I didn't do any pad stitching, as the hair canvas is only there for support not shaping.

I also use fun coloured bias tape because I can!

The back of the jacket didn't need any hair canvas, but I didn't want to leave the crepe unsupported, so instead I used some organza as an inter-lining, but only down to the waist.  This was put in the same way as the hair canvas.

The only parts that didn't get supported was the collar, and the sleeves.  I wanted those sleeves to be as flowy as possible.

A lovely detail was created in inserting the sleeve.  To make the sleeve wider for my bicep, I added 2 inches straight down the centre.  To offset that and make the sleeve cap easier to fit, I made 3 half inch stitched pleats in the cap.  This left only a small amount of gathering to be done to make the sleeve fit the jacket.  It fitted beautifully, and I was over the moon with the result.

The centre pleat ALMOST lined up with the shoulder seam...

I tried it on and it fitted beautifully, but I realised I was going to have to make some pretty epic shoulder pads to hold this suit up in true Joan Crawford fashion!

Shoulder pad goals.

I had a bit of a google and all I could find were a tutorial for shoulder pads more designed for rayon dresses, and my shoulder pad tutorial - hahaha!  And I knew that neither of them were going to cut it for this suit.  So I mulled over it for a few days and eventually came up with the solution at about 2am one morning.

Is everyone's best thinking done at 2am when they should be sleeping?  Or is that just me?

I realised that what I needed was a shaped 'pocket' filled firmly with something like wadding to help create the shape, with a cotton batting layer on each side of that, and a steam-shaped piece of collar canvas over the top of that for the suit to sit on.

I started out by using the suit pattern pieces to cut an appropriate sized semi circle with a shaped outer edge to match the suit.  I then cut out 2 in hair canvas, 2 in cotton batting, and 1 in collar canvas for each shoulder.  I copiously steamed the collar canvas pieces and wrapped them around my sausage shaped tailor's ham and pinned them to cool into shape.  I then set about making my padded pockets.

I pinned the pairs of hair canvas pieces so that there would be a decent sized space to fill when the pieces were curved on the shoulder.  Then I sewed them around the semi circle edge.

Then I put all the sandwich layers together on the shoulders of my mannequin, and stuffed the pockets full of fibre filling until they were firm.

Once I was happy with them, I cut another piece of cotton batting and hand sewed it to the open edge to close up the pocket.  Then I put them in the jacket and sewed in the lining.

Because this jacket is made to stay closed (and not be worn open) no-one will see the lining or my bias detail, but I'll know its there.

Here is a really interesting comparison between shoulder pads and no shoulder pads:

The picture on the left has no shoulder pads.  The picture on the right has shoulder pads!  The jacket sits so much better with them than without them.  See the folded floppy bit between the bust and the shoulder along the sleeve edge on the picture on the left?  Well its gone in the picture with shoulder pads.  Thats because this jacket NEEDS those big shoulder pads to sit properly.

And with that, the jacket was finished!

I ummed and ahhed about the skirt.  I didn't want to make the straight skirt from the pattern I used for the jacket, so I pulled out a few other 1940s suit patterns to see what options I had.

I thought about it some more, and I ended up going with the 6-gored skirt on the right.  It sewed together so easily that I didn't take a photo of it during construction at all - I just totally forgot about it!

A few days later I travelled to Sydney to see an exhibition (that I will talk about in my next post) so OF COURSE I wore my brand new suit!

I teamed it with an amazing hat from High Hat Couture on Etsy, a bakelite and celluloid necklace and bakelite "Macarthur Heart" brooch from Brighter Bakelite on Etsy, and shoes from Miss L Fire.

I'm really happy with the final outcome.  I was comfortable all day and I got plenty of compliments!  Sewing this suit really cemented in my mind how much I love sewing with wool, and how much I enjoy making tailored garments, so expect more of this kind of thing from me even when it gets too warm to wear them!

So tell me, have you ever sewn a suit?