The best costume of all… clothing your true self

The best costume of all… clothing your true self

A year or two ago, I opened my closet full of fabulous historical evening gowns and felt… tired.

Inside were all those impossible confections I’ve made for countless Costume College Galas. Days, weeks, months of blood, sweat and tears are represented in that stuffed wardrobe, along with many happy memories of friends and fears overcome. Every single time, I’d figured it out and finished the dress in time.

And I had to ask… why am I doing this, anyway?

You may be concentrating on the imagined sight of those folds of taffeta and satin in front of me, but I was looking down at my jeans. What the hell is this all for, anyway? Why is all this expertise shut in a closet for 99% of its life, and why am I wearing synthetic rubbish, mass produced in sweatshops I’d rather not think about?

From time to time it’s worth remembering why we got into this, anyway. It’s so easy to get caught up in the rush to have something new to wear for this event, or that event, that we forget why we learned to sew in the first place.

Here are the matching drawers for that beautiful Edwardian chemise

Here are the matching drawers for that beautiful Edwardian chemise

Remember the Edwardian chemise I made earlier this year?

Well, if you keeping hunting around in the Metropolitan Museum archive, you’ll come across a matching pair of drawers (top of page). They’re part of a set containing an identical chemise to mine – the lace is unmistakeable. So obviously I have to make the drawers too.

What can you do if people don’t get it? Communicate.

What can you do if people don’t get it? Communicate.

So this was fun…

Last week I was delighted to have an opportunity to speak to a Muggle audience about corsets.

Well, ok, I spoke to an audience of entrepreneurs about business, using corsets to make my point. 🙂

My audience included personal trainers, accountants, healers, coaches, gardeners, herbalists, stylists, tech wizards – an extraordinarily diverse group of experts in all kinds of fields, who are all building businesses online using the same tools and principles. You can imagine the double takes the first time they hear what I’m doing online.

A membership site about making corsets and historical dress?? It’s unimaginable!

What singing taught me about sewing

What singing taught me about sewing

Some of you know that I’ve been having voice lessons… for about six months now.

I’ve always wanted to learn to sing, but it’s difficult to summon up the courage to try a new hobby. I mean, the courage not just to try it, but to sustain that courage long enough, and keep practising long enough, to feel really good at it. Good enough to really enjoy it, you know?

Well courage is neither here nor there, now.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve been forced into voice lessons by a problem with my vocal cords. It’s not so much singing lessons as “voice rehab”… because although my singing is alright, speaking is a struggle.

I don’t know how it began – maybe stress, maybe a physical issue that cleared up and left bad habits behind; all I know is that I am physically fine – the doctors can find nothing wrong – and yet right now, my speaking voice is a croaky, whispery mess.

What does this have to do with sewing? Stay with me.

Every day I’m bustling

Every day I’m bustling

You’ve heard it before, I’m sure: you need the right foundations to get the silhouette right.

Sometimes you need them even when you re-purpose historical dress as everyday modern dress, and discard the corset.

I’ve been working on an 1890s wool skirt to just wear around the house this winter. I drafted it from an original set of instructions in the Keystone Jacket and Dress Cutter, with a smooth front, and a back that explodes in acres of gorgeous pleats. I should have guessed that this plan led to an engineering snafu…

Creativity and your mental health

Creativity and your mental health

Mental Health Awareness Week passed me by last week, ironically enough, in a haze of anxiety. Yeah, newsflash: I deal with this stuff too.

So many of us, from the everyday knitter, painter, writer or sewer to the celebrated household name, accept a terrible imagined bargain… that we must pay for creativity with our sanity. But despite my own issues, I have come to believe that I don’t have to take this crap lying down.

Having been there before and made it back to reality, I find these days that I know what to do. So here it is, for what it’s worth, my tried and tested bag of tools for maintaining good mental health (or regaining it when it’s eluding me). Borrow any that speak to you, and feel free to add your own in the comments.

How to Make Do and Mend, Victorian Style

How to Make Do and Mend, Victorian Style

I love wearing vintage, but sometimes I feel bad about wearing really old clothes… especially if an accident happens. 😖

My favourite vintage dress shirt has been hanging in my sewing room with a 3″ L-shaped rip for months… and I finally decided there was only one thing to do… mend it the same way its original owner might have done…

Why should you put yourself out there?

Why should you put yourself out there?

They say that winning isn’t everything; it’s about the taking part, right? Right. The “taking part” is a journey of discovery. It’s a trajectory that takes you places you’d never be able to go otherwise.

As far as I’m concerned, you literally can’t lose when you put yourself out there, in a competition or in any other capacity. You can only win. Isn’t that worth a little bravery?

1955 Dior-esque accidental Disney princess gown

1955 Dior-esque accidental Disney princess gown

I had so much fun making this dress, and it was remarkably comfortable to wear. The foundational corselette was made in breathable cotton bobbinet. It was hooked tightly at the back but not drawn any tighter than that (as a corset would be), so it felt like I was in my pyjamas compared to any Gala gown I’ve made in the past. Being strapless, my shoulders did not feel restricted, which is so often a pain point for me, and I genuinely felt like an ultra-femmey 1950s Enchantment Under The Sea dance princess. I could have worn this dress for days! So if you’re considering this style, I highly recommend having a go. I wouldn’t mind making another myself!

All the love and support you need is already here

All the love and support you need is already here

Tell me if this resonates.

You’re an artist – it’s in the fabric of your being. You have big ideas, beautiful ideas, and you love to get out those delicious materials and get “in the zone” whenever life allows, so you can make a little bit of the beauty of your inner world REAL in this world.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes your head is just in the wrong place. You get scared/anxious/blah/down, and the beauty stays inside you.

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s painful to keep it all inside.

So how do you create more “uptime”, get that creativity out of your heart and into the world, and minimise the challenging times?