With a casualness that belongs to another time (was it only a matter of weeks ago?), I went to the V&A. In general I don’t feel like I take enough advantage of the range of available culture that living just outside London offers me. The V&A is different though: it’s my favourite museum by a long mile, its exhibitions are fascinating and beautiful, and being a member means that I can saunter in and skip the long queues that build up. I just love it.
The current (is it current when the whole place is closed?) exhibition celebrates the art, construction and beauty of the kimono. The pieces we saw during our visit demonstrated the simple structure of the garments, set against the breathtaking artistry of the embroidery, intricate resist-dye techniques and weaving. The exhibition moved from the history into recent designer pieces that have been inspired by kimono – from Alexander McQueen to Star Wars.
Soon after our visit, the museum closed and then London closed – and while I’m very lucky in my home and my lovely cohabitants, it’s a very odd feeling. Part of me longs to sew and be creative, but at the same time I don’t. I don’t feel I need that quiet solace that I get from sewing when everything is so … contained.
It made me think back to that exhibition and draw some probably-stretching-a-point parallels with the life we’re living right now. The simple structure of one place to be in, with no variation and no urgency (or option) to be anywhere else – well maybe that’s the simple structure of the kimono. We can make it beautiful with decoration – but the simple shape is already everything that’s needed. Maybe the need for embroidery comes later.
On that basis my isolation sewing is not going to be very adventurous. I’m planning a Stella hoodie dress from the TATB Stretch book – because I need comfy clothes to lounge around in.
I guess I really ought to say that I’m going to learn to resist dye with rice paste (seriously mind-blowing skills), focus on intricate and detailed embroidery or learn new weaving techniques – but actually I’m going to keep things simple and be calm.
I’m very pleased that I had the chance to see this beautiful exhibition when I did – and when normal 2.0 is installed, I hope I never again take for granted how lucky I am to be able to experience such amazing art.
One of the best things about sewing is being about to make totally unique and personal presents for people that you love. A gift that represents your (sometimes literal) blood, sweat and tears, shows that you’ve really thought about the person you’re sewing for, and that you want to give them your time, your care and your creativity.
One of the worst things about sewing is knowing that the gift you’re giving is less polished, more expensive and possibly never to be used/worn, despite the above-mentioned blood, sweat and tears.
As you may have guessed, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks making presents for two of my dearest friends – both of whom have had sad times recently, losing people that they loved. I decided to make them each a kimono, using the Seamwork Almada pattern. It looked like a really interesting pattern, that would hopefully be forgiving given that I wouldn’t be able to measure or fit either garment.
Preparation is key – and as with all PDF patterns, I’d anticipated spending a couple of hours piecing together the print-at-home A4 sheets. However Seamwork has partnered with Patternsy to allow you to easily get the pattern printed and sent to you. I was tempted, but thought it was a bit indulgent – after all, sticking together A4 sheets is not too hard. Then our printer stopped working, and the £6.21 to get it all beautifully printed and sent seemed like a wonderful idea.
I was very impressed with the service from Patternsy and would definitely use it again – I ordered the pattern on a Sunday afternoon, paid by Paypal, and the printed envelope arrived on Tuesday. The tissue it was printed on was flexible but strong, and it was all full colour. Now I just needed the fabric.
I searched in my usual fabric shops and online for some cotton lawn that felt right – I wanted the structure from the lawn rather than an overly slippery and drapey fabric, but also wanted that fluid softness that you get with a nice lawn. I couldn’t find anything that I liked – or maybe just indecision was keeping me from moving forwards. Anyway, the Handmade Fair arrived at Hampton Court while I was trying to make my choice, so being local I felt morally obliged to go and spend some time wandering around investigating the options.
The good news: I did find some beautiful cotton lawn at the Sew Over It stand – buying the Lisa Comfort Elderflower Press in navy and the Busy Blossom (now out of stock), also in navy. The bad news: I then wandered around the fair, looking at beautiful handmade products – and noted hundreds of lovely kimonos, for similar or cheaper prices than I’d just spent on fabric, all expertly finished.
Here’s hoping that my friends decide that it’s the thought that counts …
So, the Almada is a nice pattern to make. After reading some reviews, I made the size medium, but extended the length to the longest size setting, for decency. I made a few miles of bias binding from some beautiful green silk that I bought in India this summer, that co-ordinated well with the colours in the lawn. I’d already decided that I wanted to try Hong Kong binding on the back seam, because it would be seen when it was hanging up – and the pattern also calls for quite a lot of bias binding to finish the edges of the fronts and neckline.
It was interesting to be making two kimonos at the same time – not something I’d normally do. It certainly took longer than making one item, but much less than making two separate things, if that makes sense. I’m sure that I learned from sewing different stages on the first one, and that the second time of sewing was sometimes a little more exact – but as I switched which one I was working on first regularly, hopefully the final garments are equally good/not-good.
I was pleased with the Hong-Kong binding – I’m increasingly enjoying the inside of garments looking pretty, and the way it met with the neckline binding was something that gave me a lot of satisfaction. I totally failed to get a picture of it though – sorry. I was also pleased with the way I applied the binding around the front edges – I left a thin edge of the binding showing on the outside, because the green is such a lovely shade.
I suppose my final reflection is that this is a nice pattern, and the fabrics were lovely to work with and I hope they’ll suit my friends. I’m nervous that they’ll be on the big side, but hope that a kimono is a flexible enough piece that they’ll still wear them.
More importantly, now they’re packaged and sent off – I hope that the ‘fabric hug’ that they represent as far as I’m concerned, is the thing they actually receive.
I was quite nervous, packing my sewing machine into a suitcase that wasn’t really big enough, and getting an early train to the #sewingweekender in Cambridge on Saturday. I’d been so determined to get a ticket, and had been gutted not to have been able to attend in previous years …. but, I normally sew by myself at home with only my family around, and the thought of meeting so many new people (there were about 100 of us there) and sewing in front of them, was pretty daunting.
When I arrived (ridiculously early) at the venue, I was momentarily confused by the Buddhist meet up that was also going on in the building, but almost immediately reassured by a bright smiling woman saying “oh you must be here for the sewing weekender”. I think we must give off a secret siren to other sewists. That or she had suspicions about the reason for the taxi driver putting his back out while getting my case from the boot of his car.
I took my seat in one of the workshop rooms with about 50 other women and got set up, checked the goodie bag (so exciting) and started sewing. I realized quickly that my hands were shaking, and before 10:30am I had melted the top part of the kimono I was sewing with a too-hot iron.
The point of sharing all this was the multiple conversations I subsequently had during the course of the day with other sewists, who said the same thing. How nervous they’d been; how they nearly didn’t come even though they’d booked their ticket months ago and been counting down the days; how they hadn’t slept the night before; and how hard it was to walk into a group of new people and chat.
I suppose it’s not a surprise that there might be other introverts here – sewing is something we do quietly; in my case a kind of meditation and way of relaxing and working things through. But everyone I met was, without fail, lovely! I hope that my experience was a shared one – that by being present and getting on with the sewing, I eventually relaxed and stopped melting things. And I began to really enjoy it, particularly meeting all the other attendees. There were no big egos – even those icons within the community who everyone recognized, the ones who’d written books, have blogs with enormous followings or who were producing amazing work, were just as friendly and happy to be there as the rest of us. There were no cliques – people that knew others were interested and welcoming to those of us who knew no one.
In terms of the sewing, I’d decided to make a kimono – the pattern from the #sewoverit Vintage book. I really like this book because the patterns aren’t provided for you – instead you get a layout plan and clear instructions about how to map your measurements to draw and create the different pieces you need. For a pattern like a kimono, which is basically just a few rectangles, it’s brilliant.
I chose to use fabric that my lovely daughter Alice had given me for my birthday – a shiny, drapey navy material with a white flower print. I carefully tested a scrap on one of the irons and then forgot that different irons might be on different settings ten minutes later: hence the melted top portion of one of the fronts. It wasn’t my best moment, and I spent the next half an hour cleaning the iron, but I managed to shorten the whole gown and lose that section without too much of a long-term problem.
Full disclosure: it’s not my best sewing. It’s a slippery fabric, made into a garment that I constructed while chatting and getting to know new people and working in a much smaller space than I have at home for spreading out. But at the same time, it’s a dressing gown, it feels lovely to wear, it’s made with a gift from one of my favourite people in the world, and no one is going to come and check my seams. Please.
For anyone who is nervous about coming to this kind of event or meet up, I’d just say that my fears are now well and truly put to rest. You start with such a good shared connection; and the imposter syndrome quickly takes a back seat because we all seem to feel this way. Thank you to @englishgirlathome and @thefoldline for such a fantastic weekend. The venue, the food, the speakers and the support have all been excellent.