Sunday, 27 March 2011

And back to sewing ...

So it’s week two of the 50s dress-making class (using pattern V8184), and we were packed off this time with a mountain of homework for next week; the last session so a little bit of pressure (although no more than hoping to wear this to a Vegas wedding in the summer – eek, making something I’m actually planning to wear, who’d have thunk it).  All of it is relatively straightforward theoretically, but I’m sure I’m not alone in suffering from performance anxiety once I’m away from the comforting gaze of someone who knows what they’re doing, can help me read the pattern and generally stop me making a total bobbins of things.

For example, I made a silly mistake on the strap which was part of our homework last week; I basted the ends for the neck edge (I slightly hold my colleague Laura responsible for this as we went out for drinks on Friday night, and it took me two days to recover – poor me).  I did get the edges into a lovely sharp point – something I’ve been practicing - which would be great if it had been for something that needed it, a collar for example, but obviously quite an annoying thing to unpick and made more so because when you read the pattern it’s blindingly obvious that it wasn’t what we were supposed to do.  Anyway, that’s unpicked now and I’m gazing at the pile of other things that need to happen before next week and missing my safety blanket.

This week we boned the bodice; satisfying to see the shape come together and feel how differently the fabric reacts as it gets treated in different ways.  We were using satin lined polyester bones – naturally we leave those whales in peace these days – so we weren’t fussing with sewing on pockets for the polyester strips.  They were marginally less stressful than zips, and the back seams were fine.  The curved front seams posed more of a challenge and I managed to stretch this relatively straightforward task out over nearly two hours which is quite an achievement in many ways, she says ferreting out that silver lining.

It’s a slightly smaller group than the introductory course, and the tutor effectively leaves us to get on with things, occasionally mooching past to check we’re on track.  Having her there, I feel relatively confident about getting on, albeit as slowly as a three-legged tortoise set in reverse, and my sewing speed is gradually improving (apart from round corners where I set the machine to slow and may actually be quicker hand tacking).  We’ve all been quite bold in our fabric choices and have opted for beautiful patterns ranging from quirky – a Liberty paisley print with little ghostly faces peering out - to neat retro florals and bold Moda prints.  It’s really lovely to see how different the same dress coming together can look; and we’re all working away with real quiet enthusiasm and verve so the time flies by. 

Although it’s still such early days with my sewing progress, I am starting to understand how people communicate through stitches.  It sounds very whimsical, but every time I get Bobby out there’s a little frisson of excitement about what’s going to happen.  Often, it’s a little bit of sewing, a lot bit of quick unpick; but occasionally I finish doing a something (like a pocket) that I’ve not done before and think “crikey, I did that”, with rather a lot of help from the pattern and You Tube videos of course. 

But with that in mind, and a rather patchy history of cross stitching dating back for two decades – yes, I was a pretty out there child and teenager, who knows how my parents coped – I booked myself onto an introduction to embroidery at the Royal School of Needlework which happened today (more of that at a later date - so much to mull through after a long but great day).  I met someone two weeks ago who had been accepted to study there, and said that walking into the rooms at Hampton Court Palace, she was struck immediately by how the embroidery that filled the rooms looked as if it had been crafted by angels.  I was as excited at the prospect of seeing these incredible works and being in the presence of that sort of creativity, as I was at learning new stitches and ways of working. 

There are two exhibitions at the V&A at the moment that I would love to see.  One is an exhibition of 80 Yohji Yamamoto creations, the first opportunity of its kind to see this quantity of the designer’s work in a very dynamic format.  The other is a social history of chocolate production and consumption over a 400 year period which I think would be fascinating, especially in light of people’s fairly intense emotional attachment to the stuff.  Next week the Cult of Beauty exhibition starts featuring two of Walter Crane’s works on loan from the RSN, as part of the museum’s exploration of the aesthetic movement during the second half of the 19th century.  I really should find a day, don some comfy shoes, and have a proper explore.

One final thing following the Comic Relief cake baking frenzy –  I was literally cleaning frosting off bits of the kitchen I didn’t know it could have reached for days afterwards – is that Abel & Cole very kindly steered me and my beetroot in the cake direction.  Given they had been so nice to get in touch, I’m now compelled to try this recipe and plan to do that on either Monday or Tuesday evening – I’ll take a photo if it turns out ok.  Sadly, it comes too late for last week’s beetroot (RIP) but if I’m not in the office for a couple of days next week it’s because my baking attempt has left me dyed a deep shade of purple, and/or I’ve gluttonously realised that root vegetables, dark chocolate and cakes are a heavenly match.  I’m ruling neither possibility out.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Springtime (not here yet)

Just a quickie - I've taken the last two Mondays off and both days have been gloriously sunny, crisp spring days.  Is there something in the fact that it has misted over and become very gloomy on the working days?  Hmm, perhaps not a thought to pursue more closely.

Anyway, this Monday I had my food shop delivered by Abel & Cole and couldn't resist taking a picture (I don't have a good camera so apologies for the quality) of how lovely all the fresh fruit and veg looked.  This is springtime.

Now if anyone knows what the devil to do with a beetroot I would love a recommendation.  It peeps up at me from the veg tray everytime I open the fridge and it's making me feel a) guilty and b) embarrassed by my lack of knowledge about what to do with it.

Most people are also no doubt aware that it's Comic Relief today so the team has been aflutter with cupcake baking.  Not the most popular department at the best of times, in a clear act of manipulation, we're attempting to buy our way into the affections of the employee population at large, by stuffing them choc (ha ha) full of cupcakes, vermicelli and icing.  All made with gallons of whole milk and plenty of sugar.  Think it's important to offset the good with the bad (or is that meant to be the other way around) so from the sublime to the slightly ridiculous (and also luminously non-natural looking), here are some of my cupcakes below.

(My first ever attempt at icing - for my brother who was visiting)
(the Lone Cupcake Ranger)
Lordy, a gaggle of Red Nose cupcakes


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Fitting things, just right

My name is CJ and it’s been almost two weeks since my last posting. 

I’ve been struggling slightly with inspiration.  Not on the craft front – I’m a dervish of activity on that side of things, but just in a more general sitting down and scrawling about it.  Part of it, I think, is because it’s difficult to know if anyone’s actually reading and much as my inner narcissist quite likes the idea of an online journal, there’s a much larger part of me that’s actually very shy and finds the idea of being so public and potentially also unread a bit embarrassing.

Anyway, I’m putting those notions to one side as the whole point of the endeavour is to have an outlet for my frustrated creative musings, and if someone reads and I manage to inveigle my way into the wider craft community then so much the better.

It’s been a difficult fortnight to write about such whimsy though, don’t you think (if you’re out there)?  There are very few ways to write anything at the moment without wondering if it’s all a bit self-indulgent given the way the world currently is.  I do wrestle with the notion that one shouldn’t worry about the things we go through on a daily basis when there are people struggling to survive through earthquakes, revolution, tsunami and the threat of a nuclear meltdown.  The world certainly feels as if it’s on the brink of something quite scary and most people I speak to seem to feel they’re in a state of almost perpetual flight or fight but without really knowing why. 

At the same time, in the UK we are very lucky that, with the exception of people who have friends and family in Japan, New Zealand or Africa and the Middle East, we are able to go about our daily lives and worry about the things we always worry about.  The simple fact is that it’s ok to still worry about whether our children (or in my case, nieces and nephews) are happy, well and enjoying nursery/school/their first taste of real food.  It’s alright to fret about our partners who are struggling with a lack of sleep and a job that demands upwards of 80 hours a week.  It would be strange not to worry about friends who are grieving, or trying for babies, or planning their weddings, or thinking of moving house.  Those are the things that make our lives, and to think we should be spending our time in a muddle of anxiety about a crisis we can do nothing about, and not give our own concerns credence is to insinuate ourselves into a situation for which empathy is appropriate and helplessness is unfortunately a fact.  This isn’t apathy, it’s reality.

There are people who are the sorts who can pack up their things and ship out to support in these situations.  I admire them heartily.  I am not that person.  I donate to charities regularly but I don’t actively participate.  It’s rankles slightly, as I do have a view on how caring we are as a society and from a selfish perspective miss having older people in my life following the death of a dear octogenarian friend.  Getting involved in a charity that visits and shops for the elderly has been on my list of things to do for a while and it’s still there, pointing out my poor time management on a regular basis.  Does not doing it make me a bad person?  I think it makes me human; and as such, I believe (but am happy to be disagreed with) that we are programmed to feel terrible (and terrified) by others tragedies because it draws to our attention to the ways in which we wish we could contribute, and the fact that our society appears to have atrophied to the point where it is no longer the norm to reach out and participate actively in the society around us. 

I suppose what I’m saying is that people like me saying things are terrible does nothing to mitigate the circumstance or effect.  Neglecting ones own life and the lives of those directly related to us over which we do have an impact, doesn’t change the situation.  Without the wherewithal and resources to get out there and actually do something, the reality is that the obligation sits with each of us to ensure we do what we can to make things better at home, in our local area and for each other.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t empathise – how can we not - or do things to contribute to alleviating suffering where we can; it’s just to say we shouldn’t forget, amidst the outpouring of international emotion, about the things and people around us.  It doesn’t lessen the situation to acknowledge that this is not my tragedy; these situations are terrible tragedies and the international community must do something to support the people affected.

So that’s all rather involved and actually self-indulgent which was the opposite of where I was trying to get to; and rather proves my point that it’s very difficult to write about anything non-serious at the moment.

Here goes nothing.  My friend seemed to really like her house-warming pinny (though the egg cosies were less of a success – I must practice my making up of knitted things) and I thought I would share what it looks like. 

The enormous pocket was fairly baggy when it was made up so after I'd put in the central wooden spoon pocket I added some pleats across the top to mirror the pleating around the waistband, and shape the pocket a little bit.  It’s tricky for a newbie to the society of crafting to feel ok about giving someone something they made without feeling a little bit as if I’m saying “check it out, I’m brilliant”.  I hope that the very pink cheeks when she opened the present demonstrated to her that I was more concerned that she not feel obliged to say she loved it if in reality she thought it was a rag.  The fabrics were lovely (from the marvellous Owl and Sewing Cat again) and that’s more than half the job done right there.  I also uploaded it to Burda Style which I’ve recently discovered and think is a brilliant resource. 

It has got me thinking about where I want to go with all this.  I used to work with someone who takes a stall at Portobello a few times a year and managed to pluck up the courage to ask whether she would consider pairing up with me at some point this year if I were to make up a sufficient number of things, to see if there’s any market for what I like.  Am planning on keeping it simple – a few variations on the 1950s pinny, which seem to be very popular at the moment, and some hand sewn toys (I can’t stand waste so it's a good way of making use of the remnants I can’t bring myself to throw away).  It’s a way off – I’ve realised that I don’t have a free Saturday to get myself to Shepherd’s Bush Market for a spot of fabric shopping, but despite being rubbish at drawing, I can’t stop doodling ideas for different shapes of pinny, pockets, etc.  Would making them in miniature for the mini-me in the kitchen be too much?  Hmmm, lots to think about.  Not sure what it all looks like, whether I’m totally behind the times or have missed the boat, but I found a very useful book (Kari Chapin’s The Handmade Marketplace) and am currently ploughing through it during my train journeys to work.  Fingers crossed it gives me a steer on promoting the blog and finding my own direction. 

Clearly I’m experiencing an existential crisis of sorts but am not sure that’s a bad thing …

Monday, 7 March 2011

Don't feed the bad wolf

I don’t know what it is about the last two weeks but I’ve been suffering from terrible ennui, interspersed with bouts of vigorous activity that then leave me prostrate on the sofa again afterwards.  The extreme cold has done nothing to help the matter as my inner sloth, often bound and caged in the deeper recesses of my mind, starts to poke a nose out and decide it’s time to curl up for a snooze somewhere that I can’t help but fall over him and join him in a nap. 

It’s not a secret that I work in HR (it’s not something you can hide, though oh how I try) so the news of John Galliano’s dismissal from Dior really piqued my interest.  I can imagine that the support functions are viewed in much the same way at a fashion house as they are in many other corporate environments – there to do something of little importance compared to the fee generators, the creatives or the general client facing population.  Support are fee burners by any measure, and HR has a particularly bad reputation for creating, implementing, and tinkering with intangible things that no one really wants to do.  Appraisals are a good example of that.  As an act of whimsy I’d love to see Galliano’s last appraisal – ‘you’re doing a great job, constructive feedback is that you might want to tone down your outlandish views/style etc’.  In reality, he is clearly a sartorial savant and I imagine most budding designers, pattern cutters, or machinists would put up with an awful lot of bad behaviour just to say they helped put together one of his creations, let alone a whole show.  It is also highly unlikely you’d manage to get someone like that to conform to corporate norms; if anything his outlandish behaviour would set the norm and therefore be seen as acceptable within the confines of his environment, no doubt spawning many pretenders to his style.  On that note, it’s funny how we hear a lot about bad behaviour in kitchens, but not much about the studios and ateliers in Paris, Milan and other fashion centres.  I wonder why that is.  Perhaps they all behave badly and that in itself is an industry norm.

Imagine being the HR person, though, who had to sit down and conduct that disciplinary hearing.  How do you advise the MD of LVMH that they need to sack the man who revitalised a legendary brand.  And where does the succession planning for someone like Galliano start – who will fill the void.  I can’t even imagine the shockwaves reverberating around Dior towers now the charismatic helmsman has gone; they are literally rudderless.  A new designer brings with it an inevitable change of creative direction, vision and culture.  What an enormous shift, and with little or no warning.  Who do you choose to bring people with the brand after that?  It brings to mind that brilliant Friends episode where Monica gets a job as a head chef, displacing a relative of most of the serving staff who proceed to torture her as only employees can; the nature of the fashion industry – long hours, tiring and painstaking work, extreme pressure to deliver both creatively and financially - makes the environment extremely familial with all the dramas, highs and lows that that involves, and garnering loyalty and a following is no mean feat.

It will also be interesting to see how Galliano rehabilitates himself over the coming months and years.  He has hired Harbottle and Lewis as his legal counsel for the court case, the same firm who defended Kate Moss during the cocaine scandal.  I wonder whether this was a deliberate attempt to align himself with someone who has so successfully rehabilitated her reputation, despite continuing to lead a fairly wild lifestyle (well, certainly by my tame Jane standards).  Perhaps I’m being narrow-minded, but I’m not sure that the two scandals can be compared.  One was a lifestyle choice, illegal, but nonetheless a choice, and in reality with little or no impact on other people – Mossy has never claimed she is a role model, she’s never told people to follow her – in fact, prior to the scandal she had barely opened her mouth in public – she was a silent icon of the nineties and early noughties, rather than a footballer or two bit boyband player bleating on about being a role model for young people.  The other is someone trumpeting their personal views – whether deeply held convictions or otherwise – that fundamentally offend an entire population, and an enormous number of people who don’t believe it’s acceptable for someone to impose their views, offensive or otherwise, on other people.

One can’t help but wonder whether someone such as Galliano, who has to constantly reinvent his visual and aesthetic identity, was trying out a position, adopting a posture to see what the fit was like.  Appropriate?  No, but aside from the obviously bathetic sight of a middle aged fashion deity sitting alone in a bar spouting drunken nonsense, used to an environment where people’s quirkier and more outlandish characteristics are tolerated, the boundaries for him may well have been a lot blurrier than for the rest of us.  Whatever the reason, with hindsight, this must feel like a catastrophic act of self-sabotage to the man at the heart of the storm.

Although I know this is probably mean, I was genuinely disappointed by Natalie Portman’s response to it – she did the right thing by threatening to pull her brand away from Dior if they failed to act on the situation – but the phrase that what Galliano said goes “against everything that is beautiful” has to be one of the most vacuous sentences in the English language – I’ve always thought of her as an intelligent and luminous actress, but this is probably why it’s better to watch the end result of the process and not try and learn too much about the actors behind the performances.  The simple fact of it is that his wasn’t an aesthetic position but was about his views and opinions, deep seated neuroses, or long-held prejudices.  They have absolutely nothing to do with the things he creates or his professional role; of course in the rarefied position that he inhabits, his personal, professional and private selves do come under scrutiny and cannot be separated out, but to align his comments only with his commercial and creative output is to suggest the affect of his words is limited only to the fashion world, which in my mind at least is fundamentally not true. 

On a much lighter but connected note, this week I actually made it to the cinema for the first time in months and saw Black Swan which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Beautiful music, of course, and an interesting take on the Odile/Odette dynamic; the oppressive tension throughout made it a film I couldn’t take my eyes off.  Not sure it’s quite the modern classic that people have been saying as I think it has a relatively limited appeal, but good re-entry to the flicks for me. 

I’ve recently become utterly addicted to the Good Life on TV and find myself looking forward to seeing Tom and Barbara’s doings every evening – that runt piglet arriving was a great episode, lovely hankering for the days when you could negotiate with a bobby about a speeding ticket, and it raised an eyebrow for a man to be driving around in his dressing gown with another man’s wife in the passenger seat.  Not quite the high culture of Black Swan, but it does give me a yen to out in the garden and plant some veggies.  Not just yet – possible house move plus freezing weather = total resistance to getting outside.  I do obviously, am not a total hermit, but am just saying, it’s not that pleasant …

On the crafty side of life, I attempted to fit my first zipper to the dress last Tuesday evening and can officially say that zips have entirely overtaken zigzag stitch as my arch-sewing nemesis.  The tacking has to be good and I really don’t like hand sewing (apart from embroidery which I think is rather swell) – plus it was cold (without wanting to commandeer a male argument for failure to impress with one’s performance) and my hands couldn’t grip the needle.  What a blinking nightmare.  The zip took so much time that my planned finish failed and I’ve taken today off to finish it and get it up to scratch.  Can’t wait though as it does actually look like a real, albeit current un-hemmed, dress.  Must get started I suppose – have been working on a house warming gift for a friends since early this morning which should be finished in about an hour, and then onward with the dress.

Crikey, it’s going to be a busy one but what a lovely way to spend a chilly, sunny Monday …