Monthly Archives: January 2013

Pattern Cutting and a Little Arrogance

DCL Pattern Cutting

I have just bought my first book on pattern cutting. It’s a bit late. I know.

I’ve been sewing for 30 years (I started young) and have figured out a few things (I’ve examined very expensive jackets in fitting rooms, raising sales assistants’ hopes of a sale, watching their eyes glaze over when I hand it back with a convincing reason for it not being good enough – I’m quite good at fakery), taken things apart, fitted and fitted and re-fitted. Some things still give me trouble: the correct angle for the back seam of a pair of trousers; the proper gradient of the front seam of a sleeve.

The comforting thing is though, that I seem to have been doing many things correctly: I make blocks and paper patterns and toiles. I can fit a placket pocket, make a decent shoulder and pleat to perfection. I do like a puzzle: it’s gratifying when you crack it for yourself but I’ve been arrogant enough to think that I didn’t need instruction. Wrong. 

The point is that mustering the courage to experiment is so much easier when you have the crutch of knowledge and I wish I’d bought this book sooner: sound knowledge underpins creativity.

Hats off to Mr Lo…

(And perhaps there’ll be more ‘How To…’ on here rather than faits accomplis….)






Filed under dressmaking, fashion, sewing

New Year, New Poem


A still night

lit by paraffin and candle and camp fire.

An intimate pause with strangers

over white table cloths

in a clearing among trees next to the banks of a river.

We took our seats at table

so far from the north of England.

The fire red-licked our wine glasses and

painted red the artichokes

put before us by thin smiling men

with gilded skin.

We were deep in Kenyan countryside and there were artichokes

for supper.

The newly weds shrank into panicked whisper,

picked up their knives and forks and

put them down again.

Flashes of red vitriol flicked across the table.

It’s not the honeymoon she’d wanted:

it’s mud and monkeys

which sit on the concrete walls of the bathroom

and watch her naked with small black eyes

and steal her things

and laugh at her bareness

and just a man with a bow and arrow

between them and the jaws of an alligator

and unidentifiable insects floating,

decomposing in the pool:

insects with blue bodies, the size of birds.

And a bird the size of a goat

which clacks and pecks at her bed through the tent canvas.

And now something on her plate

which she doesn’t know what to do with.

I took some butter and let it slide down the sides

of my artichoke,

let it pool between the leaves

before I pulled the first leaf and scraped off its metallic flesh

quickly getting to the pale thin-silk leaves

and then to its core,

to its throat spearing choke.

I cut it away,

its shorn filaments pustule-dotted like the head of a sunflower.

And then they came,

the porcupines,

their bristles clicking like heels on parquet.

Three then four

and a small one

rooting, snuffling into the red Kenyan earth.


Filed under poems, poetry, writing


Coral dress Valentino


…..exhibition at Somerset House

What can I say? It’s couture. It’s glorious. It’s (mostly) not me.

I’ve never been a Valentino sort of girl: his clothes are just not austere enough for me – a bit too heavy handed in the ornate beading department. They’ve always reminded me of the opening credits to Dallas – couture blouses and miniscule chiffoned pleating, all terribly matching. Indeed, the clothes on show from that era are overly worked, encrusted and pleated within an inch of their lives and I gave the embroiderers and beaders a nod of appreciation and moved on. Nor did I think that lace was really up my street but the incrostazioni (applique of cut lace onto tulle) incorporated into 1970s bell sleeved long georgette dresses, the colour of Jersey milk, were exquisitely judged – slender restrained whisps of frocks perfect in their execution. And extremely wearable nearly 40 years on. They were my favourites. They remind me of candles and dinner parties and Californian beaches and long easy hair (a bit Charlie’s Angels).

I was surprised at how many of his clothes are sculpted and restrained (as well as the extravagantly fluted and pleated) particularly in the 1960s: a high collared black silk satin evening jacket heavy with jet fringing and a neatly pocketed green silk trapeze dress. His use of kimono sleeves rather than set in sleeves (sleeves which are a continuation of the bodice with a seam along the length of the arm, often with a triangular gusset set in under the arms which allow a garment to be snug but retain its fluidity) make his early clothes look immensely tactile and very comfortable. Such a different feel to the pinched in, tight jacket sleeves of the 2000s which just look mean, for women who don’t really eat.

There is such joy in this exhibition: Valentino has clearly made a lot of (very wealthy) women very happy. Happy because they can afford couture (I expect for some) or happy because these clothes are a joy to wear, because someone has carefully stitched and beaded and embroidered and created something of immense quality. And I take a lesson from it: be bold, wear colour, puff up those skirts and twirl a bit. Stick your chin out and be a woman.

This is a rich, important and exciting exhibition. It reaffirms the importance of fashion as an industry and doesn’t apologise for fashion’s frivolity. It’s a joy. Go and see it.

(Oh…and there’s always room in your summer wardrobe for a short cream heavy silk jacket in an easy shape with 3/4 sleeves…and a few beads…).


Filed under dressmaking, embroidery, fashion, sewing