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Jane’s Journal

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Getting back to making clothes

Jane in a dark green linen dress and the Deren cardigan by Jacqueline Cieslak

When I was a teenager I made most of my clothes.

Partly it was financial - buying several dresses from jumble sales (and jumble sales were SO good in the 1980s) and refashioning them was a cheap way to get something new to wear.

Partly it was fit - I had a narrow waist and wide hips, a figure that ready to wear brands struggled to accommodate.

Partly it was style - I tended towards fancy dress in my clothing tastes; Edwardian slips, chef’s whites, satin pyjamas, you probably get the idea. When I went to University, as well as my sewing machine I packed 20 vintage hats.

Partly it was boredom. Growing up in a village in the 1980s left an awful lot of unfilled time.

The clothes were slapdash, sewn in haste, often the hems were held up by sellotape. I preferred to sew a new outfit each week rather than make something properly that would last. I was the sewist version of fast fashion.

I sewed my graduation dress - white jaquard silk with a paisley pattern, gored skirt and antique handmade lace around the neck.

I sewed my wedding dress - a raw silk puff of of a dress with a hand embroidered bodice and an underskirt fashioned from a Victorian crinoline.

I sewed my honeymoon outfit - a navy and white capsule collection made from patterns in Prima magazine.

And then I stopped.

Jane in embroidered linen dress

I made a lot of things for my daughters before they got to the age when pink and glittery became important. But from 1996 until last year, I didn’t make anything for myself to wear.

I don’t really know why.

Perhaps it is that thing that often happens when children are born, that the mother’s focus moves and many activities are simply abandoned or switched.

Perhaps it was a body shame thing, a feeling of worthlessness - steroid treatment for an auto immune condition made my body change to the point I didn’t really recognise or value myself for a long, long time.

Perhaps it was lack of space and time, a lack of intention.

For I always said that I would like to get back to sewing clothes - but I just didn’t.

Last week I made a dress, as I type this I am wearing it.

I ordered a pattern online from Elizabeth Suzann, got it printed by Netprinter, and found some old glazed cotton fabric to make a toile.

You can see that I am aiming to put the slapdashness of the past away.

The toile showed that the style just didn’t suit me - I had missed that the sleeves were part of the body, with fat facing cuffs, I had missed that the neckline was high, that there were no bust darts and, even more distressing, no pockets.

By the time I had cut up my toile and re-cut the pattern all that was left of the original was a beautifully shaped hem, dipping at the back, rising at the front.

I made it from a purple linen left over from some lavender bags we once made for Jason Statham - but decided that I didn’t fancy owning a dress the colour of parma violet sweets, so I dyed it olive green in the washing machine with a pack of Dylon that had been in the cupboard for years.

On Saturday afternoon - killing an hour before picking up rugby watching blokes from the pub - I decorated the hem with freehand machine embroidery, cream poppy seed heads and cow parsley. The instructions are now in the Freehand machine embroidery course.

Jane in embroidered dark green linen dress

I don’t know whether this will be the start of a creative wardrobe - I have worn the dress three times since last week which is encouraging and I love that it is a walking work of art. At University my MA dissertation was on artistic dress - from the Pre-Raphaelites to Sonia Delauney - maybe this is a circling back around and taking inspiration.

I have my next pattern picked out. It is based on an apron dress that Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomins, wore. I just need to work out how to fit a larger bust into it . . . .

Linnet patterns

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Comments: 2

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Corrie Fairlie

Dearest Jane,

The dress is beautiful and you look beautiful in this beautiful dress. Thank you for writing about how you made the dress. Very, very interesting.

No apologies for repeating myself, the Seven Wise Men of Greece did! "Wisdom can be repetitious", according to Thomas Cromwell when he was speaking to his son Gregory in Hilary Mantel's 'The Mirror and the Light'...

Judith Schur

I used to sew loads of clothes from Prima magazine patterns too. I had a file full of ones that I wanted to use but since having children I have only made one dress (and I've only worn that once!!) Reading this reminds me how much fun it was :)