Category Archives: Sustainable Sewing

Start Thoughtful Sewing With My Sewing Planner

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Stop making garments you never wear and get your sewing on track with my Sewing Planner! I’ve had a lot of fun putting this together, it was inspired by my recent ideas on summer sewing and the proliferation of colouring books…..

The downloadable 12 page A4 PDF booklet includes:

  • fashion drawing croquis that you can trace and use to plan your garment sewing
  • fashion drawing croquis that you can draw straight onto
  • a sheet for each of my patterns with flat drawings of all the different options so you can play around with colours and prints and really make it your own style
  • a fun colouring page of outfits
  • a copy of my Sewing With Knits shopping checklist.

To get yours just join my newsletter here and you’ll automatically be sent a link to download your copy.

Happy planning!

The Quote That I Live By

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I’m going to tell you a story about this page from one of those daily calendars.

Fashion Revolution Week happening at the moment and this post I wrote are what got me thinking about it.

Tuesday 27th February 2001 was quite a momentous time for me; it was the week I would leave my job as the sole boyswear designer for Matalan (a big corporate business which provided a career with a pension and career progression routes, etc), where I produced designs like this

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at a rate of 80+ pieces per year with no idea where my designs were actually made. To work for Gossypium (a brand new business that would consist of just me and the two founders)

where I had time to research, test and develop my designs (both in the UK and in India working with our manufacturers) with the result being our first yoga wear collection being stocked in Harrods and Gossypium still selling clothes I designed 15 years later.

I’ve kept this page in subsequent diaries for the last 15 years as a reminder of what I did and it’s become a guide for how I try to live my life.

To give up without even trying is the thing that is almost guaranteed to frustrate me about people; I can put up with and try to make excuses for a lot of behaviours but not being willing to try, no, I just can’t stand it.

I have no idea who this quote is attributable to (if anyone), but I think it’s very relevant on Fashion Revolution day, as an argument that I regularly hear along the lines of “What difference can I make?” is the “But if we stop buying from there then they won’t have any jobs at all and that will be much worse”. I find that a profoundly lazy argument. We can make a difference, companies like Gossypium and People Tree among many others have proved that and how did they manage it? Because they TRY and often need to try some more and then try again.

It saddens me that lots of people have their priorities all wrong; that they consider the most important things to spend money on are houses, cars, holidays, electrical gadgets and cheap processed food (mostly in that order in the UK). If someone can pay £000’s per month on that stuff you’re not telling me they can’t spend a bit more on better produced clothing. If you went to a restaurant and were given a piece of meat on your plate and the waiter wasn’t able to tell you what animal it had come from, how it had been cooked and when, I’ll bet you wouldn’t dream of eating it.

Make a difference, just try it and see.

Fashion Revolution Week Starts on Monday

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Did you know it’s Fashion Revolution week next week from Monday 18th to Sunday 24th April?

No idea what I’m talking about? It’s happened every year since 24th April 2013, the day of the devastating, but preventable collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh which housed a garment making factory used by many of the clothing brands on our high street. 1134 people were killed in that incident and over 2500 more injured. All in the name of feeding the West’s appetite for more and more and cheaper and cheaper clothing.

ranaplazaThe collapsed Rana Plaza building – photo from bbc.co.uk

In response, Fashionrevolution.org started a simple campaign; for ordinary consumers of clothes like you and me to look at the label inside the clothes we’re wearing and to ask the brand on the label just one question: “Who Made My Clothes?”

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Image from fashionrevolution.org

The campaign gains momentum every year online through people taking selfies, tagging the brands on their labels and asking the “Who Made My Clothes?” question. Just search the hashtags #fashrev and #whomademyclothes on Twitter and Instagram and see what comes up.

I think it’s an ingeniously simple idea as it not only encourages brands to be more transparent about their manufacturing processes, but it also prompts us consumers to actually think about the question ourselves; arguably the more important effect in my humble opinion, as big business responds to demand and that demand must come from us.

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This subject is close to my heart as anyone that knows me or has been a regular reader of my blog will know. In my early career in the fashion industry I spent 4 years working for a company called Gossypium who produce clothing made from organic fair trade cotton.

When I worked with Gossypium everything was made in India using Indian grown organic cotton and I was lucky enough to visit many of the people who manufactured cloth and garments for us.

wendyinindiaMe looking like a giant in a small village in Tirupur in southern India where villagers could earn a decent living hand weaving organic cotton fabrics in their homes. (2003)

My designs for Gossypium were even stocked in Harrods. I’ve seen with my own eyes what a difference responsible sourcing and manufacturing can make and that even though it can be challenging, it’s not impossible.

clothesthatmatterImage from fashionrevolution.org

This job was in stark contrast to the one I did before, where as a fresh naive graduate I became the sole boyswear designer at Matalan. A role where I found myself literally churning out designs working 60 hour weeks and had no contact at all with anyone on the manufacturing side of the business (at that time it seemed to me that no-one at head office knew exactly where Matalan’s clothes were manufactured).

Before all of that, while still doing my degree, the subject of my dissertation was sustainable textiles. (Quite a revolutionary thing to do on a fashion degree in the late 90’s!)

“It’s sad that something we love to do: making clothes, can be used to exploit people and environments to satisfy the greed of others.”  Tweet this.

Now that I’m a maker, teaching and encouraging others to make, we can say “I Made My Clothes” which is brilliant, but now we need to start asking “Who Made My Cloth?”

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Organic fair trade fabrics available by the metre to home dressmakers can be hard to find and seem costly, for the same reasons that sustainably and fairly made clothes cost more, but just like consumers of ready-to-wear clothing we have a responsibility to try our best where we can. In this spirit, I have included a sample garment in my new book which is made from hand dyed organic denim, it’s a stunningly beautiful garment and I’m hoping to use much more fabric like this in future.

To find out more about using sustainable fabrics in your dressmaking, I wrote this post almost 3 years ago detailing where you can buy organic fabrics (which I try to keep up to date) and have a read of my inspiring interview with Charlie Ross of Offset Wharehouse that I did last year for Love Sewing magazine.

Want to know more and do something?

Start by having a look at the Fashion Revolution website, there are some brilliant free resources to download (such as the poster above for your selfies) and to print and share online alongside links to all of their work. They also have an excellent resources page which links to news articles, websites, books and more about the subject, it’s here: http://fashionrevolution.org/resources/further-reading/

Then, watch the film “The True Cost”.

If you’re local to Brighton, there is a local Brighton Fashion Revolution group on Facebook who are organising lots of events you can get involved with next week, including a screening of The True Cost film with a Q&A where you will find the knowledgeable Siobhan of Brighton’s Fair shop on the panel.  I’m sure there are similar local groups all over the world.

If you want to read all the posts I’ve written on this subject, here they are:

“Knowledge is power; with knowledge you can take action and make decisions that you can live with. #fashrev”  Tweet this.

So, this has turned into a bit of an epic post, but it’s an important subject that we need to take seriously.  I hope you’ve found it both inspiring and useful, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject….

I’ll leave the final word to Dame Viv…..

westwoodquoteImage from fashionrevolution.org

Is Sewing Good For You? My Q&A For This Month’s Love Sewing Magazine

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Remember that call out I posted just before Christmas about the beneficial impacts of sewing and generally making things with your hands? Well here it is in print in this month’s Love Sewing magazine.

As is inevitable within the limited space of magazines, things get edited so here’s the full version of what I wrote. Thanks so much to everyone who so generously contributed to this piece. It’s a subject I hope to return to later in the year.


Do you ever lose track of time while you’re sewing? Getting so engrossed in what you’re doing, so concentrated that you completely forget all about those niggly things that have been annoying you? Suddenly realising you have figured out a solution to that tricky problem at work? Feeling much more relaxed and in a better frame of mind than when you started? It’s called flow and is one of the acknowledged benefits of practicing any practical skill, be that sewing, knitting, drawing, throwing pots, making jewellery or playing a musical instrument.

Flow or being “in the zone” when making can send you into an almost meditative state with all the positive health benefits that brings. A clinical study commissioned by the American Home Sewing & Craft Association in 1995 showed measurable drops in heart rate and blood pressure amongst women engaged in sewing and an online survey conducted by Craftsy in January 2014 showed 93% of respondents believed that crafting can help them manage stress and 87% believe that crafting will help combat depression. Pretty powerful stuff.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MAKING?

Being creative and making something with your hands keeps your hand eye coordination sharp and your fingers and hands nimble. I once saw sewing described as yoga for hands – I wish I could remember who said that! Not to mention that learning a new skill keeps the little grey cells busy.

Particular to any kind of making is the “reward” your brain gets from the end result of your efforts and seeing the tangible progress that you’ve made. The same effect can be had from the challenge and glory of problem solving so often necessary in making; you must have experienced getting horribly stuck with something to the point of frustration, walking away and coming back to it with the answer and the elation of not letting it beat you?!

There was a big exhibition at the V&A in 2011 which celebrated the hand made called “The Power of Making”. It included examples of finished objects and lots of video footage of skilled makers at work; for me this was the absolute best bit, I find watching skilled craftspeople working with their hands almost as relaxing as making something myself. You can still see lots of these films online at the V&A website: www.vam.ac.uk and search “Power of Making” they’re well worth 5 minutes of anyone’s time.

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BENEFITS FOR THE INDIVIDUAL

I teach lots of students who lead busy stressful lives and many of them place their sewing classes very high on their list of priorities stating that; “it’s the one time in the week that’s purely for me” or describe their class as “the best part of my week” and will even arrange work and family commitments so that they don’t interfere with their sewing. It’s obviously important to them (not to mention lovely for me to share so many best bits of peoples’ weeks!).

A lot of the benefits that come from creative activities could be labeled as “mindfulness”, something that’s allover the place at the moment; you can read books, download apps, do some colouring-in and take courses to improve your mindfulness, but all it basically means is experiencing and being completely in the here and now. Something you have to do when you’re sewing.

For a while I was teaching an occupational therapist in my dressmaking classes and we regularly chatted about the benefits of working with your hands and being creative, she confirmed that this was a big part of her work; that as humans we’re programmed to want to make stuff and use our hands and that working within mental health for the NHS she regularly used craft and activities like gardening to successfully help patients.

BENEFITS FOR GROUPS

I’ve witnessed people who hardly know each other share fairly intimate stories and experiences in classes. I think it has something to do with the shared experience of being creative in a group, keeping your hands busy and perhaps most importantly; not necessarily making eye contact. It’s easier to talk about difficult stuff if there’s something else going on too, rather than just an intense conversation while looking someone in the eye. The practical activity kind of takes the edge off and helps people open up. How many times have you found yourself fiddling with something in your fingers while having a difficult conversation?

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During my years teaching in adult education, I taught a lot of courses in outreach centres; teaching hard to reach adults to help them take their first steps back into education and working life. In small groups I was teaching people who wouldn’t have gone to college, where it was often an achievement to just get out of house, enabling them through creativity to meet people, enjoy the camaraderie of creating in a group where they would support and encourage each other and eventually making new like-minded friends.

I’ve taught students with self-confidence issues, depression and bi polar and the pride they have all taken in creating something, their sense of achievement and that they can see the progress and improvement they are making is tangible. The seemingly simple processes of setting goals, planning and organising that are also involved in learning a creative skill can be hugely empowering for vulnerable people who may have been living a life where much of that control has been taken away. Group creativity and learning can have similar effects on people with serious physical health issues, I’ve taught people who have suffered strokes or undergone intense radiology treatment which has damaged their concentration and short term memory and it seems the repetitive nature of sewing allowed them to feel that it was possible for them to learn something new, a process they had previously found difficult.

Learning is good for you, you have to focus and concentrate and it stops your mind wandering into darker places and worrying about problems.

When I decided to write this piece I put a call-out for people to share their experiences with me and literally within minutes I had anecdotal accounts coming in. You don’t have to look far to hear about the impact that making has had on peoples’ everyday lives. Here are a few accounts that respondents were kind enough to let me share:

Emma Miles @dressmakerssocial on Instagram who came to classes with me using money left to her by her beloved Nana when she died:

“I made my friend her wedding dress in September this year. She hasn’t had the easiest few years and it was whilst I was sewing that I was thinking about both our journeys over the past three years.

I loose myself in my thoughts when making and find that some relaxed dressmaking time works wonders for my mental health. Without attending sewing classes during my own difficult time of depression following my Nana’s death I wouldn’t have had the skills to make the dress.

Making the dress was an emotional time. It felt like all of the grief and difficult times had enabled me to produce something good.”

@robins_thread on Instagram:

“My aunt has tremors in her hands and is currently on a nasty batch of chemo. She knits beautiful moss stitch and ribbed scarfs and her hands don’t tremor when she does it. All the stitches come out just great. She likes doing scarfs because the rhythm and counting is better. It has really helped her feel better with all the chemo side effects too, and loads of the extended family have lovely scarfs from her.”

@misspbluedeva on Instagram:

“Sewing and all things crafty are great for distraction therapy. At my Pain Management Centre they strongly recommend it. It is a great way to turn the pain down and it helps with self worth, which is something we CRPS patients can loose. It gives you a purpose! It may take us longer to complete a project but it feels fantastic to give that project as a present and for it to be appreciated. For anyone with illnesses/disabilities I highly recommend it. There’s nothing better than getting lost in the sewing room for hours on end.”

Take it Slow

Even though, as we’ve heard, sewing is undoubtedly good for you and can have positive impacts on your health, I’m seeing an increasing impatience amongst some makers and an insatiable need to make something quickly and finish it in a class. I understand where this comes from (I’m the same sometimes), but it does make me a bit sad as it takes away from the point of the activity: to enjoy the process. If you don’t enjoy the process, well, you might as well just go out shopping.

In response to this, there are growing “slow textiles” and “slow fashion” movements at the moment; makers who celebrate slow processes such as knitting, hand embroidery, hand-sewn patchwork and hand finished details. These processes force us to slow down and savour the process and the benefits it will have on your life rather than just focussing on the end result. Have a look at “Slow Stitch” by Claire Wellesley-Smith for some inspiration.

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Thanks to everyone that helped me to write this article, I wish you all continued health and happiness and much joyful sewing.

Clothes That Tell Stories

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I love clothes that wear thin and fade and take on the shape of their wearer. Especially in these days of so-called “fast” and “disposable” fashion.

These are my winter gloves given to me by my dad.  They’re a little big for me and have kept the shape of my dad’s hands, I’m still coaxing them to mould to mine.

These gloves and my last post got me thinking during this most consumption driven time of the year.

I have a great dislike for “ready aged” garments; jeans sold with faded patches and rips, I feel it’s a reflection of our impatient society that people can’t wear a garment long enough to achieve this cherished wear and tear organically. Authenticity and history has to be earned and takes time.

I love to see an authentically aged, worn and torn garment with a bit of honest mending. Take a look at Tom of Holland‘s visible mending work and a gorgeous collaboration he recently worked on with Brighton vintage shop Wolf & Gypsy.

If you want more, also have a search online for Japanese boro textiles; and the quilts of Gees Bend. Just beautiful and a beauty that was born out of necessity and functionality that makes it all the more beautiful in my book.

“Slow Fashion” and “Slow Textiles” are ideas that have been around for a while in the textile art world, but seem to be gaining some momentum in the crafting world. I wonder, is it because this insatiable impatience for a quick fix that we all seem to have is now creeping into our sewing? I saw this great video on the BBC website recently about designer Carin Mansfield who sells beautiful clothes that are crafted to last and “Slow Stitch” a book by textile artist Claire Wellesley-Smith has been on my wish list for too long. Ruth Singer is another textile artist that has written some great books on textile manipulation and uses a lot of “slow” textile processes in her work and her current exhibition “Narrative Threads” explores the emotions, histories, stories and memories caught up in textiles.

Creativity is always at its best with limited materials or techniques available, it’s a great practice to test your creativity, give it a try.  Anyone can throw money at a project, it takes true creativity to make the best of what you have and I find work in this style to be the most inspiring.

I hope you enjoy your sewing in 2016 and cherish the process as well as the end result.

Is Sewing Good For You?

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Dear lovely reader, I’m writing something about the positive effects (mental + physical) of sewing, crafting and making with your hands. Do you have experiences (either yours or witnessed in others) that you are willing to share and would be happy to be quoted on?

I can keep names anonymous if you’d rather, just let me know. If you prefer, you can email me on post{at}wendyward.co.uk

Thank you!

Why Use Ethical Fabrics in Your Dressmaking?

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What are ethical fabrics?

Most of us are aware of (and probably also buy) fair trade food and several factory fires and collapses in overseas garment factories over recent years have widened awareness of ethical fashion. There are lots of brands now championing the movement; probably the most well-known being People Tree.

But what about the fabric you use in your dressmaking? One of the reasons I love to make my own clothes is that it puts me in direct control of a major part of the garment making cycle – I made my clothes, so I know that no workers were exploited or environments damaged in making them, right? Well it’s a start, but what about the fabric?

Issues of sustainability and ethical production have been an interest of mine for a long time, in fact it was the subject of my dissertation for my degree 16 years ago! Here are a few facts and figures to get us started:

  • Around the world, £40 billion is spent annually on textiles.
  • In 2009 the UK fashion industry alone spent £229 million on textiles.
  • 2007 to 2011 saw a 75% increase in the market for ethical fashion.

A not insignificant part of our economy!

To find out more about how those of us that make our own clothes can use ethical fabrics I approached Charlie Ross an ex fashion designer trained at the Royal College of Art and went on to set up Offset Warehouse to see if she would agree to an interview. I was over the moon when she agreed to share some of her knowledge with us, so here it is.

Wendy: What makes a fabric ethical?

Charlie: Ethical fabrics are those that are environmentally or socially beneficial, and preferably both. This includes fabrics that are organic, Fairtrade, made from responsibly-sourced raw materials, are recycled, and are manufactured by workers who are paid a fair wage or have a stake in the business.

Wendy: I guess if I’m going to use ethical fabric in my next project I should also consider how all the other parts are made such as threads, zips, binding, elastic, etc, is it also possible to buy ethically produced versions?

Charlie: Absolutely! We stock all sorts of ethical haberdashery: organic threads and zips, upcycled buttons, organic interfacing, bias binding and ribbons. Sourcing these smaller items can be difficult though as the range available is still quite small.

Wendy: What are the main ways that fabric production can be socially or environmentally damaging?

Charlie: Phew, this is just such a massive and complicated subject, but the two main areas we are concerned with are:

The Raw Materials and the Production Process

In many cases, the damage is done before the fabric even becomes a fabric! A prime example is cotton – a fabric we are all led to believe is natural and therefore good – which it certainly is if it’s organically produced. But commercially-grown cotton is not. Its production covers 55% of the world’s cultivated land, yet it’s responsible for the release of US$ 2 billion of chemical pesticides each year! Just under half of these chemicals are considered toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organisation. That’s just shocking, and not enough people are aware of it.

The Aral Sea in Central Asia is another example. In the early 1960s, the Soviet government decided to divert the two rivers which fed the Aral Sea in order to irrigate the desert so they could grow cotton and other crops. The result of this was the entire sea was completely drained, and the lands left behind were turned into carcinogenic wastelands – all because of unsustainable farming.

That’s why I love sourcing and designing fabrics made with more unusual fibres, such as hemp, soy, bamboo and banana. I know what you’re thinking – common perceptions are that these more ethical fibres can be scratchy to the touch, but I source some of the softest, most beautiful, fashionable fabrics in amazing eco fibres! Hemp, for example, has a terrible reputation for being hippy and grungy, but we sell the most stunning hemp silk blends in amazing colours.

The People

Driven by today’s culture of fast consumerism, and in order to compete with increasingly low prices, the textile industry has had to cut corners. Most conventional fabrics are produced by untrained, underpaid (and sometimes not paid at all), overworked staff, in unsafe surroundings. These textiles require highly toxic chemicals to produce them, and these are often handled by workers without the proper safety equipment.

This was one of the main driving forces behind my quest for ethical fabrics – and how I eventually came to start Offset Warehouse. I couldn’t bear the thought that my sewing creations might be harming someone, and I never considered they may have been a product of slave labour.  All of our manufacturers and weavers are paid fairly for their fabrics. We also work with very small communities, who weave outside their houses and choose their own hours. They set their prices and their manufacturing timelines, and we never, ever, pressure them to decrease either.

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Wendy:  Is ethical fabric better quality?

Charlie: Like all textiles, ethical fabrics come in a range of qualities. An organic fibre will behave no differently to a non-organic one – except there are no nasty chemicals in there – so they can be woven in exactly the same way. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason that an ethical fabric should be of a lower or higher quality.

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It’s sometimes easy to mistake quality for the finish of the fabric.  We sell ethical fabrics that are machine woven, which have a much more consistent surface, and those that are woven by hand, which are more “slubby” and irregular. It’s easy to look at the slubby and irregular fabric, and think it’s a “lower” quality, but we couldn’t be more wrong. I actually prefer hand woven fabrics because of the incredible work that goes into them, their authenticity and character. Both processes produce beautiful products, and each suitable for different things.

Wendy:  Do I have to treat ethical fabric any differently to my regular fabric?

Charlie: Absolutely not! In fact, when opting for more sustainable fibres like hemp, linen and soy, you’ll find that your fabric will be a lot easier to care for.

Where can I buy ethical fabrics?

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They’re still not that widely available, but there if you look for them. Some online fabric retailers have started to add organic collections or special limited collections sourced direct from artisan groups in places like India, there are also a few specialist online retailers if you search “where to buy ethical fabrics” you should set off on the right track!

Where can I find out more?

http://www.labourbehindthelabel.org

http://www.ethicalfashionforum.com

Some of Charlie’s Top Tips:

  • If you can’t find ethically produced haberdashery – recycle and re-use! Before you get rid of old clothes take off the buttons, zips, clips, hooks and save them for future projects.
  • Did you know that the most impact from a textile comes right from our very own homes? With the amount of energy and chemicals we use just by using our washing machines, we are pumping huge amounts of pollution into our air and water on a daily basis. Washing on a quick, low-heat wash – or better yet, hand washing – can make a huge difference.

A huge thanks to Charlie for this interview and providing me with facts and figures. I interviewed Charlie for issue 21 of Love Sewing magazine (out now) and this is the full un-edited version of the interview which was a wee bit too long to fit in my pages of the magazine!

What is Offset Warehouse?

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Offset Warehouse is a social enterprise which brings together a huge range of hand-picked eco fabrics and haberdashery. All of Offset Warehouse’s products benefit either the people who make them, or the environment, and usually both. This includes products that are organic, Fairtrade and made in cooperatives.

Charlie Ross founded the company five years ago. Graduating from the Royal College of Art with a Masters in Menswear Design, she continued on to work with some of the biggest names in the fashion industry.

Charlie and her team source the most beautiful, hand-crafted and fairly-sourced fabrics, trims, threads, dyes and glues from across the globe, and sell from one to hundreds of metres at affordable but fair prices. And because of her fashion background, the website is always up to date with current and future trends, proving that you can be eco and fashionable. Most importantly, you can feel good knowing exactly where your fabric has come from, and who has made it. And that’s a good thing, for everyone.

Not Just Double Denim, TRIPLE Denim Refashioning!

I don’t like to do things by halves. So, when Portia invited me to take part in her fabulous “The Refashioners 2015” project I offered to do not one, but two projects! My first one, the formal bib shirt dress was on Portia’s blog last week.

This week, see how I turned these 3 lovely specimens…….

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……into this denim fest!! Read how I did it here.

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A Refashioned Dress Shirt

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I love men’s traditional formal dress shirts those with the bib fronts, I think that bib section is crying out for a bit of textilian magic and have had ideas buzzing around for a long time, so what more perfect excuse than the Refashioners?!

I was so happy when super creative refashioner extraordinaire Portia asked me to take part in her project and this one is up on her blog today.

I used one of the patterns from my book “The Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking” as a starting point, read all about how I did it.

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Refashioners – My Getting Shirty Projects

Date updates!

My projects for The Refashioners 2015 Get Shirty project will be on Portia’s Makery blog in the next 2 weeks. Teaser shots below!

the refashioners 2015This one will be up first on Tuesday the 18th August…..

the refashioners 2015…..then a bit of the old denim stuff on Tuesday the 25th.

Have you been getting shirty and joining in with a bit of refashioning? You should there’s this amazing prize bundle on offer for whoever comes up with the best one. Get those scissors out……