- Who are you? I’m Catherine – a writer who lives in the Hills outside Melbourne. I write for children, young adults and poetry for adults.
- When and why did you start sewing? I started sewing because I wanted to make my own clothes. I was at boarding school and they offered evening sewing classes as an extra curriculum subject. I made a shirtwaister dress and an eight gore cotton velveteen skirt – but I didn’t allow for the nap. I can still remember my disappointment!
- What is your favorite/proudest make? My Marcy Tilton cirque dresses. All of them!
- What is your most disastrous make? Too many to list – but one of the funniest was this horrible reversible dress – I think the pattern may still be available. Do. Not. Make. It.
- Where is your favorite place to go fabric shopping? We’re lucky to have great fabric shops in Melbourne. My favourite is The Fabric Store, closely followed by Clearout, then Cleggs.
- What is your most used pattern? Marcy Tilton’s Cirque Dress pattern – Vogue 9112. I love the way you can ring so many changes to the fabric choices and that you can use a smaller amount of cherished fabric for the bottom bit.
- What is your most dreaded sewing task? Buttonholes! I’m always worried they will be: crooked, too big, too small or simply stuff up before the sewing machine has finished them. My Brother refuses to sew them these days – I wonder why?
- What is your favorite sewing task? I love the meditative calm of handsewing. In complete contrast I love the zoom zoom of the overlocker…
- What is your favorite sewing entertainment ? Watching movies on my laptop. But I’m also going to try some audio books in the future.
- Printed or PDF? Printed, definitely. I’m slowly getting my head around PDF, but printed patterns consume less time. However, I totally understand that the PDF patterns are cheaper for indie designers and there are so many great PDF patterns available, I’m learning patience!
- What sewing machine do you use? I mainly use my Singer Ultimate Quilter – that would be because Helen, my daughter is using my Brother. I have an Elna Overlocker.
- Do you have other hobbies? I knit and spin yarn. I occasionally felt. I like cooking and particularly love baking sour dough. I’m learning French and love going out to hear good music.
I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I discovered the work of Frida Kahlo but her stern self-portraits with their challenging, sometimes even hostile gaze, enchanted and disturbed me. I read a biography of her and was charmed by her suffering, her wildness and her impetuosity. Back then I believed in art and style, and thought that suffering might well be a necessary part of that equation. My own physical suffering was limited and I read about Kahlo’s with grim, vicarious interest.
I grew up in Brisbane – in the sub-tropics, and I’d been to Central America when I was fifteen, with my step-grandmother. I’d visited Mexico and seen beautiful pottery in a museum, I’d see women weaving by the roadside in Cusco and walked through markets in Guatelmala. Long after the details of the trip faded, the vivid colours, handweaving and playful pom poms remained in my memory. I wasn’t brave enough to buy anything other the ubiqutous poncho, but when I became interested in Frida Kahlo I had a tactile memory of the clothes she wore in those self-portraits.
If I had a style back then, it was eclectic and based more on economics, reading and a wistful imagined life, like those I read about so voraciously – Anais Nin, Colette, Kahlo and others. A phrase from a novel could inspire me – D. H. Lawrence’s mention of coloured stockings in Women in Love sent me on a search for coloured tights – I don’t think I found any in Brisbane in the early eighties! I bought a pale blue Country Road dress because I imagined it was the colour of a prairie sky. I wore khaki overalls I found in Paddington Market in Sydney and which I’d embroidered with an illustration from Le Petit Prince.
At eighteen, I purchased a hand-spun, hand-knitted shawl – it was unbelievably expensive and ate up a good deal of my student allowance, but I had it for years. There was something about the quality of the undyed yarn that I’d coveted. I had a spinning wheel and could spin then, but I wasn’t a knitter and this shawl, with it’s lace border, gave me a sense of what I could aspire to, one day. I was delighted with the old-fashioned nature of the shawl as a garment. Wrapped in it, I could imagine walking on the moors, composing heartbroken poetry as I laboured against the wind and the rain to reach my home and the meagre warmth of a small fire.
My relationship with clothes was like that – I had an exiled Russian princess dress, an ‘Edwardian’ silk blouse, a Colette French dress and an androgynous corduroy jacket that was part Annie Hall, part Radcliffe Hall. I op-shopped keenly but was just as capable of imbuing new clothes with the same glamour – a sequinned boob tube was my answer to Nicholas Roeg‘s doomed protagonist in Bad Timing – a movie I saw at least three times. I didn’t wear it much – the sequins scratched and the stretchy elastic flattened out my already flat-chest. Still, when I put it on, I was Theresa Russell in my head, if not in my mirror.
What has all this to do with Frida Kahlo? I’m now at an age when I can unravel and embraace my own style and eccentricities. I’ve long since relenquished any notion of being ‘groomed’. I just don’t do that well. I love colour, texture, an eye-catching handcraft feel which isn’t too shoddy. One of my favourite garments is a black wool stole my mother bought for me on my twenty-fifth birthday. The folkloric embroidery is a vibrant mix of colours – it’s very Frida.
Last year I found some machine crocheted material at Spotlight in a similar mix of colours. I snapped up a metre. Helen looked at it with disdain and my best friend tried to hide her scepticism. When I put on that skirt with its carnival colours and scalloped festivity, I feel happier and braver in Melbourne’s grey winter. It’s very Frida.
We’re expecting it to be quite a hot Summer in Australia this year, and in fact we have already been blasted by heat a few times. So over the next few months I’m going to focus on heat-resistant clothing – simple shift dress shapes, shell or airy tops, and slightly longer skirts which aren’t uncomfortable when you’re sitting on sweaty seats.
- This Burda cropped top is so cropped! I have made one in a striped linen which looked lovely, except it’s impossible to take advantage of the cool a-line shape when it is this short and you have to wear something underneath it. I can’t wait to try this again though, extending the front to my hip line. Not sure which fabric I’ll choose for this one.
2. Catty found this pattern at the op-shop for 25c! Such a bargain. I love high-waisted slim trousers. For Summer, I’m hoping to make it work with a shorter length, cut just below the knee.
3. I originally had this pattern to make trousers from, but actually I think the pattern Catty found is much more sleek and attractive.
4. So this is my fabric for the first go at these trousers. It’s a simple cotton gingham, but the little daisies are kind of sweet.
5. A while ago I bought a black linen pencil skirt off ASOS that finishes below my knees and features a split at the center front. It’s very flattering, cool in Summer, and doesn’t let you stick to seats! I’ll be making view C, with a slim waist and a bit shorter than shown here.
6. This is the soft chambray I will use to make the pencil skirt. I’m going to try and find some dark wooden buttons to match this fabric.
7. Ever since I watched Lisa from Sew Over It UK’s vlog on her shift dress collection, I’ve longed for a shift dress pattern. I hate printing and cutting out patterns from all the A4 sheets though, so I haven’t bought her pattern. Instead, I’ve found this one with my favourite v-neck, and a couple of others to round out my options.
8. Originally I was going to make this into pyjamas, but I kind of think the fabric is too unique and interesting for something hidden. So I’m going to showcase it with the shift pattern, and try and find some white embellishment for the neck.
9. Aren’t the cape and jacket adorable?! I can’t wait to make them in Winter. This is another potential shift dress pattern, for when I don’t want a v-neck.
10. I’m going to give this a go without sleeves or the belt. I’m trying to dress more bravely like Catty does – so I think the option for contrasting fabric will be a subtle way of achieving this.
11. Vie Domestique has made the most beautiful interpretation of this dress! That’s why I bought the pattern. Again, there is the opportunity to use a contrasting fabric.
12. So, this is actually an old sheet of my step-dads…Because it is so old, the fabric has become so lovely and soft. I have always loved the print too. This will become a simple shift that’ll be great for heatwaves.
13. Again, an old sheet. I’m not sure what I’ll make from this – another shift with contrasting yoke in the blue?
14. So this is the most versatile fabric I have ever bought and I am In. Love. I also have it in grey tones and it was only $5!! A meter! At spotlight in the upholstery section. I have it in these greens and also in grays. I might make a shift dress from this, or another open back tank top, or who knows…
15. I think this will be a really useful pattern to wear under sheer shirts with high-waisted trousers or skirts. I love vintage patterns, as you can probably tell. I don’t like looking all pin-up or all rockabilly though. Something like this is great for me, because I can pair it with very modern shaped shirts, leather-look jeans, etc.
16. I think this fabric is so adorable, it reminds me of a Kimya Dawson song. I’m going to make it into the halter top.
17. O.K so this fabric was originally a tulip dress, which was never very flattering on me. The bodice is beautiful, and I’m thinking of leaving it intact and just adding some matching halter straps, again to wear under sheer shirts.
18.Another little halter top will be made out of this, to match a full circle midi skirt that I have already made. This will probably be my first go at the halter top pattern. This fabric is synthetic something, and not the nicest to touch, but it does look nice and it’s not super uncomfortable. But I still don’t mind wasting it if the pattern doesn’t turn out right.
19. This open-back tank has been an absolute lifesaver during the couple of heat waves we’ve had already this year. I’m definitely making more!
20. I got this as a remnant for $1.65, and it matches a Zara shirt I just got perfectly! It’ll be a simple, high waisted straight skirt.
I mean, that’s not too many projects…right??
Plans for 2016 sewing (with a little bit of knitting!)
- Beat the heat – I love Marcy Tilton’s cirque dress & have made three now, all collarless. I’m planning on making another two out of summer weight fabric & a third for winter to wear with long sleeved t-shirts.
- Merchant & Mills factory dress – I ordered this pattern ages ago but it wasn’t until I saw a version that had different fabrics for the bodice & skirt that I decided I had to make it. I also want to make some more from the All Season Wardrobe Workbook.
- Working on finding a good long-sleeved t-shirt pattern for winter. I’ve tried a Burda boatneck & might modify that.
- Working also on some good cardigan patterns for winter & in-between
- Also want to find a good short- & long-sleeved top pattern, suitable to wear with skirts & jeans. At the moment, I’m tempted by Style Arc.
- I also want to try the Marcy Tilton patchwork dress for an in-between seasonal dress.
- More leggings! There was a beautiful cherry red velvet pair in one of the Poirot series which made me crazed with envy – I am definitely on the look-out.
- The long-sleeved Marcy Tilton shirt might be one of my shirt answers, too. I have a pale blue chambray denim for this. I plan to have feature buttons.
- A pair of knitted socks each month – how hard can that be?
- More hats – I won’t actually make these….but I might make the patio lounge pants to go with them.
- Knickers – part of my waste-less year. Beautiful knickers from scraps.
- Spinning! Yes, please….
2016 sewing is going to be about colour & texture & handstitched details. It’s going to be flowers & appliques & artful patches. It’s going to about fabric combinations that are unexpected & pleasing, buttons that draw the eye. I want hats for summer, shawls for winter & berets with pins. I want bold tights, gorgeous leggings & colourful socks. I want strappy summer sandals & stompy winter boots, boots & more boots! Marcy Tilton may just be my favourite designer at the moment, but I’d like to give Merchant & Mills a run for their money & I will be returning to Style Arc & Burda, too. This is the year I’d like to trace patterns, keep better track of patterns & make pattern notes. I’d like an organised stash, an organised workspace & a mending basket. I’d like to reduce impulse buying, but be bold about colour choices & fabric mash-ups.
I want to also try my hand at some fabric printing – oh the plans, the joyful plans. Now, if I can just ditch my day job….